Weekend Reading, 9.7.14
September 7, 2014

Weekend Reading | The Full Helping

Happy Sunday, everyone, and thanks for your kind words on Friday. I made it to New Hampshire and back, and today I’m catching up on work and enjoying a break in the heat.

I’m also enjoying the following recipes and reads.

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Susan’s perfect summer dinner salad looks, well, perfect! What a gorgeous creation.

PalmAvocadoSalad86L4

Speaking of salads, I love this marinated hearts of palm and avocado salad from 86 Lemons.

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Kale falafel? This one’s new to me. Delightful idea (and beautiful, colorful execution) from Shannon of Yup, It’s Vegan.

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These peanut spinach udon noodles look so incredibly good, and the recipe’s easy enough for a quick weeknight meal, too.

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Aine’s roasted cauliflower fattoush is full of texture and bold flavor. What a great recipe idea!

Reads

1. Oh dear. This week seems to have brought yet another volley in the great low fat v. low carb debate. This time, the spark was a study conducted on 119 test subjects, funded by Tulane and published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. I can’t access the study through my student account yet, and I didn’t want to comment until I’d read it in depth (so that I’d have a sense of the methodology used), but from what I can tell, it was well organized and had sufficient duration to be telling (subjects gave feedback at 0, 3, 6 and 12 months).

Half of the group (sixty subjects) were given a low-carbohydrate diet that included, on average, animal protein and higher fat meals three times daily. The other half were given a standard low fat diet, the type that has been embraced by much of the nutrition community since the 90s (<30% of daily calories from fat). The low-carb group experienced greater weight loss and better cholesterol and triglyceride markers overall.

I’m really interested in the study, but I fear that it will become yet another data point used to vilify carbohydrates and endorse a modified Atkins perspective (a la Gary Taubes). I’m not sure, based on my reading of the evidence, that such a takeaway is necessary. For one thing, I want to see what sort of carbohydrates the low-fat group was given; if it was high in cereals and refined breads/quickbreads, then I’m not surprised that triglyceride levels were higher, because the link between refined carbohydrates and high triglycerides is becoming increasingly well established.

The main reason this study doesn’t make me jump to the “carbs are bad” conclusion, though, is that the carb-eating group was also on a low fat diet. While I know that many people feel good consuming lower fat diets, my experience as a nutritionist has given me overwhelming anecdotal reason to believe that low fat diets tend to backfire on weight loss; satiety is often a problem, and so folks tend to overeat as a means of compensation (or focus on sugar for the energy that healthy fat isn’t supplying). A number of important studies (the Lyon heart study, for instance), seem to support the idea that a Mediterranean-style diet, with inclusion of healthy fats, is most helpful for weight loss and cardiovascular health. I would wager that the carb-eating group might have had more success if they, too, had been permitted 40% of calories from fat. I’d also wager that the low-carb group might have done well with some amount of high quality carbs (whole grains and psuedograins, fruits, root vegetables), and I also suspect that it wasn’t so much the presence of animal foods that yielded their superior results, but a shift away from sugar, refined grains, coupled with satiety from fats that were mostly healthy (the group was permitted quite a bit of meat, but they were encouraged to get most fat from olive oil, nuts, seeds, and fish).

In other words, I think this study supports a couple of important conclusions: 1) dietary fat isn’t necessarily bad for you 2) avoiding refined carbohydrates, and focusing on fat and vegetables, can be helpful for weight loss, at least in a short-term context, and 3) low fat diets may not support either weight loss or cardiovascular health most effectively (a departure from what many health care professionals have previously believed/endorsed). But I don’t think the study is reason to put down your bowl of quinoa, or reach for the nearest steak.

2. OK, I’m a little obsessed with bacteriotherapy (also, I’m weird). This is a fun new article, via The Atlantic, about this brave new world of GI medicine

3. A nice roundup of after school (or after work!) snacks, via Food52. One of the snacks featured is my recipe for raw snack balls with apricots, dates, and cashews, which was featured in my New Veganism column last week! Check it out.

4. Yoga Journal and Lululemon are doing an interesting, four part series that explores “power, privilege, and practice.” I really recommend you check out hte various interviews that Yoga Journal has featured as part of the series. My favorite so far is with Kerri J. Kauer, who edited the Yoga and Body Image Anthology. When asked what visible barriers she sees working against diversity in the yoga world, she responded:

“I believe the main visible barriers that work against diversity are mediated images of yoga that people see in magazines, on social media and in advertisements for yoga apparel. We are a consumer capitalist culture, so this is what is on the frontlines for people to “consume” if they know nothing else about yoga. The images tend to reflect a homogenous group that look like thin, young, white, cis-gendered, hetero women. I’ve spoken to so many people who believe yoga is not “for them” because their bodies (e.g., queer, fat, black, old, differently-abled) do not fit into this ideal. The lack of this imagery not only works to exclude diverse students of race, body shape and size, but also sends subtle—but just as dangerous—messages about the health, motivation or desire of those who are excluded.”

When asked what invisible barriers she sees, she said,

“Some invisible barriers include language around gender, sexual orientation, ability and body image. I have heard so many comments throughout studios where teachers assume something about a body based only on narrow and essentialized understandings of gender (e.g., “all women move like this”), or make comments about “one more Navasana to get that bikini belly” and these comments can be incredibly offensive and exclusionary. That’s not entirely their fault either. There are very few 200-hour teacher trainings that include diversity and social justice components to their curriculum. Social class is also an invisible barrier, and people that might greatly benefit from yoga often can’t afford drop-in rates, or packages to have the experience of practicing with a community and a knowledgeable teacher.”

These insights resonate with me tremendously. And, if I can add my two cents as someone who writes about body image a lot, I personally find it incredibly problematic when any sort of mediated body “ideal” is assumed by a yoga instructor, and then implicitly endorsed by his or her emphasis on the type of figure that yoga practice will enable (i.e., the navasana and bikini belly exaple that Kauer brings up). Great read.

5. BKS Iyengar passed away over two weeks ago, but I haven’t mentioned yet how glad I was that so many publications addressed his life and legacy. I particularly liked Michelle Goldberg’s coverage in the New Yorker, and this piece from NPR.

Since we just touched on yoga and body image, I should mention that Iyengar’s words about yoga and the body have been very meaningful to me. I found yoga to be transformative for many reasons, but I think the most important one is that it forced me, for the first time in a long time, to fully inhabit my body. When I started practicing, I still had such tremendous disconnect from my body from all of the ED years, and the type of exercise I was used to (fast, hard, burn-focused) only seemed to deepen that fissure. It’s very hard to attend a yoga class and try to hide from your body, the way I used to; this is why I hated yoga, at first. It was painful and hard to have to face my body, day after day, on the mat. Over time, though, yoga has helped me to conncet with my body, to experience it authentically, and even, on a good day, to see it as something beautiful, strong, and transcendent.

Much of what Iyengar has to say in Light on Life throws these same ideas into relief. Two of my favorite quotations:

“Yoga allows you to rediscover a sense of wholeness in your life, where you do not feel like you are constantly trying to fit broken pieces together.”

and

“It is through your body that you realize you are a spark of divinity.” 

Yes, yes, yes.

Happy Sunday.

xo

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    22 Comments
  1. I greatly appreciate your comments about low fat diets. I struggled with my weight and over-eating while attempting a vegan/plant-based low fat diet that looked down on oil, nuts and avocados. I worked with a nutritionist who encouraged me to not be fat-phobic. I had some ice cream one night and experienced feeling “satisified” with no need to search for more food after dinner – that was a turnung point for me on the value of fat in my diet. I probably ate less calories that evening than i had in weeks because I was actually full and satisfied. Adding in more fats (obviously not ice cream every day but but the previously forbidden oil, nuts and avocado) and protein has made meals so much more satisfying and filling and greatly reduced my carb binges and irrational eating.

  2. I don’t mean to be crabby, but I find it laughable that yoga journal would pair up with lululemon to make positive comments about inclusion in the world of yoga. They are a company based on the notion of creating an image of thin white girls as the primary practicers of yoga – “queer, fat, black, old, differently-abled” cited.

    Just one of many exposes of their horrendous marketing tactics that exclude those who don’t fit their ideal image:
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/31/lululemon-plus-size_n_3675605.html

  3. Gena, the raw snack ball picture directly below the bacteriotherapy link… not you’re strongest sell on the snack balls! ;P

  4. I’ve been in kind of a recipe rut lately and those look so delicious! I’ve been craving falafel so I might try my hand at the kale falafel recipe. Thanks for sharing, Gena!

  5. Thank you so much for sharing my kale falafel! The low fat vs. low carb study is certainly an interesting one. As another commenter wisely pointed out, pitting fat against carbs in the first place seems to me like the wrong way of going about things. Both on a psychological level, because we are encouraged to classify foods as good and bad when it’s not that simple, and on a practical level, because it allows studies like this to completely miss the point despite following decent research practices.

  6. Ahh, those last two quotes. <3 Also, super interesting about that study! Can't wait to hear more about it if/when you get to read the entire study. I'm about to go read about Bacteriotherapy now. 🙂

  7. I’m so glad you brought up the Tulane study. As someone who has dabbled in both veganism and the paleo diet, and still feels conflicting pulls toward both ways of eating (veganism tugs on my heartstrings, while my digestive issues and ED mentality tend to do better eating paleo), I have found that focusing too heavily on macronutrient percentages is always damaging to my health–both mentally and physically. Why is it always carbs vs. protein?! Can’t we strike a balance between the two? Whether someone is promoting a vegan or omnivorous diet, I loathe all emphasis on the words high and low. Lately I’ve been experimenting with cutting out grains because I think it helps my digestion, but I by no means am calling my current diet low-carb. I’ve been eating plenty of yams and such. And once in a while when I crave quinoa, I have it. Same with hummus. I think especially for the ED population, these studies only fuel the ping pong games we play in our heads between restriction and moderation–at least they do for me. I think you evaluated the results of this study superbly, even though you didn’t read the actual article. I’m particularly glad you mentioned the refined carbohydrate factor. I would bet money that the high carb diets were full of them.

    Whenever I leave a comment on your blog, I seem to always type an essay. Hah! Sorry. I also just have to say a quick thank you for sharing the yoga series! I recently gave up most of the intense cardio I used to do (I have adrenal fatigue), and have replaced it with yoga. It’s helped me SO tremendously (in more ways than twenty), and I can’t wait delve into some of those interviews. Thanks again for a wonderful selection of reads and recipes! The greatness that is your blog impacts me more than you know! 🙂

    • I love your long comments Jenni and always read them if you get here before me! But yes, totally agree with you here. Whatever happened to “moderation in all things”? What irks me about the high-carb and high-fat diets is their extremity. I’m pretty sure most of us can be healthy and happy with a middle ground!

      Thanks for sharing such great articles Gena. I’m really interested in the Yoga Journal series? Do you have a link? I didn’t see one. Or is it only available as a physical document?

    • I love how you talk about the “ping-pong” games that those recovering from EDs play in their heads. I play that game very often, without even consciously making an effort to do so. For this reason, I’ve been avoiding news pieces and other articles related to cutting out or changing a certain thing about our diets. Thinking critically, most studies are not done in a statistically comprehensive way. Their sample size may be too small, they may not have enough control variables, they may not cover each possible side of a hypothesis. Most of all, a few studies don’t confirm anything, let alone a single one. It takes years of research, at least, to determine with some confidence that something actually causes another. But, as someone recovering from an ED, it is often difficult to listen to my critical brain and instead become overcome by the ED part of my brain, and the next thing I know wondering how I could eliminate a part of my diet to feel that I’m eating “correctly enough”. And I’m very grateful to Gena and her blog as well! 🙂

      • I love, love, love how smart you are with evaluating studies!! Most people do not consider most (if any) of those factors. It’s sad that our ED mentalities distance us from our logical minds. But it says a lot that you KNOW your ED has the tendency to overthrow the voice of your critical brain. Knowing that, you can actively try to buffer ED’s advances over you. Thanks so much for your reply! Gena…you have a way of provoking such great discussion! 🙂

    • I know your comment was intended for Gena but I just wanted to say I completely agree with you that the war between protein and carbs is ridiculous! Everything you said really struck a chord with me. There’s an effort to group foods into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ on the widest scale possible, when in reality, as you pointed out there are huge differences between different types of carbohydrates.

      • I’m glad my response resonated with you! The whole “good” and “bad” war can be so detrimental. Thank you for replying to my comment! It’s always great to connect with others who are on the same page.

  8. I always enjoy reading your weekend reading lists, and your informed take on the latest news, reports and studies. Thank you for the links and views.

  9. “According to Elle” wrote a great response to the low carb study highlighting several loopholes in how it was performed. Its definitely an interesting study, but not at all a definitive answer based on the flaws she identified.

  10. What a wonderful post. Love your thoughts on yoga and the new report on the low carb diet. Also…thanks for the shout-out. Always appreciated!
    xo

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