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!
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.
When I woke up this morning, just before 6, I immediately started to slide my feet out of bed. I was feeling more foggy than usual, thanks to my allergies, and I started to run through the day’s schedule and to-do list. What time were my clients scheduled for? How many meal plans were on the docket for that morning? Where was I with my freelance projects, and did I have any substantive writing to do this afternoon? A moment or so later,…
Happy Sunday, friends–and happy first of May! It’s Greek Easter this weekend, which I don’t observe in a formal way, but the holiday does evoke a lot of memories. And, though I don’t have much time for cooking in the next few days, at some point I’ll have to cook up a commemorative bowl of my vegan avgolemono soup, which is my own, private way of keeping tradition. In the meantime, here are some other recipes that are on my mind. Recipes Laura’s vegan grilled asparagus…
Happy Sunday, everyone. Thank you so much for your comments on Jen’s green recovery story on Friday. I know that they’re meaningful to her, and I always appreciate the chance to hear your insights. Speaking of green recovery, it’s now officially National Eating Disorder Awareness Week. In honor of that, I’ve put together weekend reading links that include articles and essays about EDs. I hope you’ll find them interesting and informative, and if you think any of them might be worth sharing with family, friends, or…
I’ve been casually saying that I’m in the home stretch of graduate school all year, because relatively speaking—relative to having been a dietetics or pre-health student since 2010—I have been. But now I’m really in the home stretch, sprinting across my last few weeks of classes. I had to laugh when I read this article about burnout, which described with eery precision the place I’ve found myself in for the last semester (and, if I’m being honest, most of this academic year). Apparently…