Weekend Reading, 11.2.14
November 2, 2014

Weekend Reading | The Full Helping

Hey all! I’m writing from New Orleans, where I’ve had a great weekend visiting Chloe. Here’s a sampling of the reading material I’ve been looking at today.


I would like to eat this cheesy farro bake with mushrooms, tomatoes, and shallots right now, please. Thank you.


I adore delicata squash and totally overlook it in my cooking. These salt and pepper delicata squash rounds are a lovely reminder to have some soon!


This sweet potato and wild rice salad with chili lime vinaigrette is a perfect mixture of so many of my favorite flavors and ingredients. Yum!


A perfect fall breakfast treat: double glazed vegan pumpkin scones!


Raw, vegan apple pie bars with cream cheese “frosting?” Yes, please!


1. Back when I was an editor, I worked on a wonderful book called A Life Worth Living. The author, Robert Martensen, was a physician, medical history professor, and bioethicist, and he sought to explore how complicated end-of-life questions intersect with contemporary medical technology. The result was a very nuanced and thoughtful meditation on death and dying. Robert passed away himself a few years ago, and I think about him all the time: his gentle manner, his incredible wealth of knowledge, his decency, and the way he kindly urged me forward when I was debating whether or not to apply to medical school. I didn’t know him very well or for very long, but I miss him, just the same.

This article by Atul Gawande reminded me a lot of A Life Worth Living. It’s also an examination of end-of-life questions: how do we choose to pass away? Is there no alternate option between aggressive/experimental treatments (which can sometimes shorten and decrease quality of life) and “giving up?” Rather than examining these questions abstractly, the article tells one woman’s end-of-life story. I found it quite moving.

2. Yesterday was World Vegan Day, and I’m afraid I didn’t post anything to commemorate it! But I did like this article, which discusses what major companies can do to promote and support veganism.

3. Love this article on the myths behind “detox” diets. Juice fasts, “cleanses,” “juice till dinner” programs, smoothie cleanses, and the like have gained incredible popularity lately. These liquid meal plans may tout themselves as profoundly health generating, but they’re typically nothing more than dressed up crash diets. I’m always pleased when folks speak out against them, as the RDs interviewed in this article do.

I was also pleased to see someone mention correct use of the word “toxin”; in strict biological terms, a “toxin” is actually something produced by a living organism; the cholera toxin, for example, is produced by the bacterium Vibrio cholera, and it’s what’s responsible for the watery diarrhea that’s characteristic of cholera infection. A “toxicant” is a toxic substance. That term is used rarely, but it’s probably what’s being spoken of when one reads about “environmental toxins” or “toxins” in our food.

The article describes the distinction well:

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a toxin as “a poisonous substance that is a specific product of the metabolic activities of a living organism.” Venomous snakes and the bacteria that cause life-threatening botulism (the same stuff in Botox® that gets injected into furrowed brows) produce bona fide toxins. Of course, detox diets are not clearing out snake venom.

In the context of alternative health treatments, toxin is a vaguer term, usually referring to substances alleged to cause health problems. Toxins might include pollutants, pesticides, chemicals or anything else deemed “unnatural” or unhealthy.

Our fixation on “toxicity” is not likely to abate anytime soon, but the more evidence-based information out there, the better.

4. An interesting article about self-injury by Carrie Arnold, who has written extensively about anorexia in the past. Self-injury is often equated with cutting, though it can also refer to burning, head banging, punching walls, piercing of the skin, and other behaviors. In my mind, food restriction and bingeing/purging can be thought of as self injury, too. Whereas increased awareness has helped to lift some (not all) of the shame surrounding EDs, however, self-injury remains unfortunately stigmatized, in spite of the fact that some statistics suggest that 1 in 5 women and 1 in 7 men has engaged in it (and the numbers may be higher than that).

I’m one of the 1 in 5 who has committed self-injury. It happened in college and in the years right after. Interestingly, it only happened in between relapses; without food restriction to serve as an expression of my self-loathing, I sought out another outlet. Arnold’s words about the self-hatred involved in her cutting resonated with me:

“Intense, negative emotions I didn’t know how to manage always preceded an episode of self-injury. Sometimes, the goal was to feel better. Other times, the desire to turn down the volume on emotions such as anger or anxiety was tinged with an urge to punish myself. I deserved to hurt, I deserved to feel pain and have scars so that the world would know I was a horrid person.”

Arnold describes how neurological findings, coupled with psychological exploration of self-directed anger and hatred, are helping us to better understand how and why self-injury happens:

“…this led Joseph Franklin…to ask whether differences in pain perception might contribute to self-injury. He brought 25 individuals who regularly self-harmed into the lab and asked them to place their hands in ice-cold water, a common way to measure pain.

Compared against 47 controls, the individuals who self-harmed were able to leave their hands in the ice-cold water longer, indicating a diminished pain perception. Franklin also found that those with the greatest difficulties in regulating and responding to emotions were also able to withstand the pain the longest. It was as if their emotional pain was distracting them from the physical pain.

A related study by Nock and colleagues at Harvard showed that self-criticism also increased the amount of time for which individuals who self-injured could withstand pain. Franklin believes that people who are overly self-critical might push themselves to endure the pain for longer. These two factors – emotion regulation and self-criticism – seem to be independent, and their appearance together would likely increase any risk of self-injury even further.

This finding hit home with me. Some of my worst periods of cutting occurred after struggles in graduate school, whether it was difficulty completing my thesis, a bad grade on an exam, or just generally feeling not good enough. I wallowed in self-hatred. Experts would likely say that my feeling I deserved the pain, or had somehow earned it through my behaviour, made it easier to tolerate.”

Interesting stuff. I’m so glad that more work is being done around self-injury, from scientists, journalists, and memoirists who are willing to share their stories.

5. I spend a lot of time writing about and reading about the microbiome, and I also review a lot of probiotics (H2PRO most recently). But it’s important for me–for everyone who takes interest in this topic–to remember that the microbiome is a brave new world of medicine, and it’s far from a perfect science. The New York Times has a great op-ed about this topic today; the author makes clear that, because there’s no established standard of what a “healthy microbiome” looks like, there’s also no absolute method of establishing microbiobial health–in spite of what probiotic manufacturers or certain health gurus would have us believe. The human microbiome is a rapidly shifting, complicated, and incompletely understood ecosystem, and we are far from understanding in a comprehensive way how to treat it.

This week, I’ll be sharing a scrumptious recipe for a 5-ingredient sweet potato pudding, a cool new recipe for a bean and legume “sausage” crumble, and a guest post from my boyfriend (!) on his experience dating a vegan, and how our relationship has led to some shifts in his own thinking about food. I’m so touched and happy that he’s willing to share on this topic, and I can’t wait to have his words up on CR.


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  1. I really think you’ve outdone yourself with the links here! Every article is fascinating! The detox myth is something I’ve argued sooo many times so nice to get a good piece of writing on it! IAnd I’m totally with you that eating disorders are self harm, I’m different though in that I self harm at my lowest weights when I’m vulnerable, panicking and irrational – incapable of really dealing with the world with any “normal” strategies. It offers nothing more than a distraction.

  2. As always I love your weekend Readings. This has become a home base for me to read more in depth informative articles of what’s going on in the health and wellness world. I particularly liked the microbiome article and how it essentially refers to that realm within us as our more quickly adaptable genetic make up. They change their states faster than we can adapt. Great stuff!

  3. I have heard people debate about “toxins” and “detox” especially from the medical world that thinks its new age mumbo jumbo . But take a heroin addict that goes through withdrawl from the drug and stops taking it , they are “detoxing “, the same goes for cocaine users . Sugar is more addictive than cocaine so coming off sugar you will experience withdrawl symptoms . White flour also has addictive properties .Also alchohol . Then there is cigarette smoking which is very “toxic” to the body . In fact all these substances are . Then there are other substances like artificial sweetners , chemicals , preservatives ,ect which are also “toxic” to the body especially the liver . And almost anything in excess . So when someone stops doing that and consumes cleansing foods and liquid there is a clearing process , of the blood , lymph , lungs , stomach , intestines , ect ect and this is called “detox”.For example fasting has been around for centuries as a way to purify the body . I don’t know why doctors don’t understand this . Maybe detoxification is over emphasized and that toxicity is the cause of all disease which it isn’t because theres many diseases that are contagious or as are result of deficiency or hereditry ect ect.. Just my take on it .

  4. I’m also fascinated by the concept of the microbiome, & I look forward to seeing how studies around it develop in years to come. In my own experience, I find it profound how much of a “placebo” effect connection there is between my intestinal performance & my mood, to an extent that I recognize it isn’t just a physiological process, but largely psychological, too. I’ve noticed, for example, when I drink too much coffee, peristalsis gets really out of whack for me; without fail, my mood plummets, not just because of physical discomfort, but as someone who’s experienced the disordered yearning for “lightness”, there’s also a mental discomfort related to feeling like I haven’t eliminated properly/completely. When I respond, in turn, with cutting back on caffeine & upping my probiotics/prebiotics, there is a radical, positive shift in both my gastrointestinal functions & my mood within a couple of days. I’m guessing, on a physiological level, this has something to do with nutrient absorption, acidity, & serotonin production, but it’s also simply mentally relieving to not struggle with those IBS symptoms & it quiets the old ED voice in my head.

  5. So happy to see you plug Atul Gawande! I love his work. His new book “Being Mortal” is definitely worth a read if you’re interested in end-of-life issues. He writes about his dad dying and, as usual, shares numerous patient stories as well, all in his thoughtful and surgically economical prose.

    I was also heartened to see the link about self-injury. It is such a seriously stigmatized behavior, especially among health professionals who are trying to help. I once received a not-helpful question from a nurse in the ER when I had to have stitches: “Why did you do this? For attention?” I politely corrected her and told her it made me feel better, but I still felt like I wanted to fade into the wallpaper at that point, or just straight-up leave and live with yet another scar without seeking proper medical attention.

    I’m sorry to hear that you went through it too, but so grateful for your attention to these kinds of issues.

  6. Thanks for another great Weekend Reading edition Gena. I LOVE delicata squash, so it was great to see that in the food line up. I, too, read a loved “The Best Possible Day.” You are very fortunate to have worked with that wonderful doctor. Looking forward to your boyfriend’s post too!! 🙂

  7. I really appreciate your speaking out about self-injury. While it has never been my problem, I’ve known people who did that, and I’m hoping that putting that topic out in the open will open people’s eyes to the reality that is around them every day, even when they don’t realize it..

  8. WOW. What a yummy difference making my own almond and cashew milk. Thanks for the recipe Gena. I highly recommend the purchase of a nut bag.

  9. What a beautiful article on the end of life. I’m glad conversation in the caregiving professions has shifted towards thinking about not only how we can have a good life but (when it’s possible) a good death.

  10. I always love your weekend reading posts (especially the microbiome stuff which is intriguing) so thanks for putting in the time and effort! And curious to read your boyfriends guest blog, very cute 🙂

  11. I find the microbiome SO fascinating. It just shows us that there are still systems in our body that we do not completely understand. Yay bacteria!

    Also looking forward to reading your bf’s post! 🙂

  12. Thanks, Gena. Can’t wait for that guest post from you boyfriend, and sweet potato pudding has me intrigued too. You just gave me lots to look forward to this week 🙂

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