Should we really be celebrating sugar?

An important holiday is coming up this week. It stands as the marker to the beginning of a two-month long American sugar binge. I realize this makes me sounds like a bit of a Grinch. I love Halloween for the costumes, the creativity, and the spookiness. I don’t love it for the emphasis on sugar. As John Oliver points out in his brilliant monologue, it would be one thing if we didn’t already overeat sugar all year round but the fact is, we do. If we’re each eating, as Oliver puts it, Michael Cera’s body weight in sugar every year, then all the “treats” at Halloween aren’t really even treats anymore. When we are a nation with a growing waistline, and ever increasing rates of diabetes, cancer, and heart disease sugar does not deserve its own holiday.

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I am a self-admitted Food Network addict. Although, after watching some of the programming lately, I have to say this may be coming to an end. While I appreciate the work they have done in raising the public’s awareness of the culinary arts and the value of home-cooked meals, I can’t get over their complete lack of any nutritional guidance. Even just watching their Halloween and holiday programming puts me in a sugar coma. They promote all kinds of Halloween treats with no regard to the fact that looking for more creative ways to consume sugar is the exact opposite of what we should be doing. For example, I shuddered watching Alton Brown make his candied apples for trick-or-treaters as he dumped corn syrup, sugar, and molasses into a big pot. He briefly mentioned the research on artificial food colorings and ADHD in children and then decided to dump the red coloring into his concoction anyway. That is when I turned the TV off.

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In terms of our health I think it’s important that we start celebrating what really matters during this slew of holidays rather than making them a worship of sugar and gluttony. These times should be a celebration of creativity, family, and gratitude. In order to fully be present and enjoy the holidays, we can’t forget to use food to nourish our health and our spirit. It is more difficult to enjoy these celebrations when you are sick. We are, after all, also entering into peak flu and cold season, and maybe it’s not such a coincidence that this happens during our nationally condoned two-month sugar fest.

If you didn’t get enough with my rant, watch this one from John Oliver.

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At least one politician who gets it!

I was excited to come across this new book written by Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan. The book, The Real Food Revolution, reviews our food systems, explores the negative impacts on our health and the planet due to our current food practices, proposes changes to the current farm bill and outlines action steps that readers can take. Watch his video here about more of the inspiration behind the book.

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This book follows his previous publication, A Mindful Nation, about the powers of the mind and meditation. Kudos to Congressman Tim Ryan! We need more forward thinking politicians like him. The state of our abysmal nutrition and faltering health truly needs to be at the forefront of the political agenda. If you need any convincing about the urgency of this issue in terms of not only our personal and environmental health but also our future economic stability and national security then take a look at Dr. Mark Hyman’s review of The Real Food Revolution.

Minding Your Food is Minding Yourself

There is a lot of talk these days about mindfulness. What does that really mean? There is a quote from the mindfulness researcher Jon Kabat-Zinn that sums it up nicely. He says, “paying attention on purpose in the present moment, nonjudgementally.”

An emphasized part of mindfulness is the idea of being in the present moment. Practices such as yoga, Qiqong and meditation can help people to tune in and become more aware of that present moment. I also like that Jon Kabat-Zinn includes the word nonjudgmentally. This I think is a less recognized part of mindfulness. Including this word is emphasizing that one should be aware in the present moment and also not judging oneself or ones thoughts. Mindfulness is about just being without interpretation or guilt.

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I had never before thought about the idea that this same practice can be applied to eating. In fact, mindful eating is in itself a type of meditation that brings us into awareness of the present moment. This realization is powerful because eating is something that we do every day. This idea is also profound because of how unmindfully we do most of our eating. We often shovel food in our mouths without really even acknowledging it. We eat out of stress, sadness or boredom. Many of us eat in front of the TV, the computer or in our cars.

In reality eating should be a sacred act. We are literally placing the earth, rain and sun into our bodies as nourishment. It is no coincidence that most cultures have ritual, prayer and sacrifice as a precursor to meals. It is an opportunity to be mindful, to stop and to be grateful for the labor and nature that are sitting on your plate.

There are simple mindfulness exercises you can do with food that can be quite powerful. Take a piece of fruit such as a berry or an apple and just look at it. Think about the color, where it came from and what it will taste like. Notice that your mouth will likely start to salivate. Take a smell with your eyes closed. Then slowly take a bite, letting the food just sit in your mouth before slowly chewing. Chew at least ten times and then slowly swallow feeling the food descend down your throat. Notice how different this feels from your usual bite.

The nonjudgmental part of Job Kabat-Zinn’s quote is also important when it comes to being mindful about food. There is a lot of self-judgment when it comes to eating. We eat a box of cookies out of sadness or stress and then we ourselves up. Part of being mindful is replacing that judgment simply with being aware. Being aware of what you are eating and why. As I heard a lecturer say, we don’t stumble over one step and then say “well I might as well just fall down the whole staircase,” or if we run one red light we don’t throw up our hands and say “I guess I’m going to run all the lights.” So, why do we make ourselves feel guilty about eating one cookie and then resign ourselves to eating the entire box.

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Practicing mindful eating is one step that is critical to leading a more mindful life. I encourage you to try the exercise I outlined above, stop and take a few slow breaths before your next meal, thank the food and thank yourself and share your meal with a person rather than a screen. If you want more information and tools to help you with eating mindfully this is a great site.

Embarking on a Food Journey

Last week we were excited for the chance to meet Mickey Trescott (photographer, chef, Nutritional Therapy Practitioner and blogger extraordinaire). She is author of the blog Autoimmune Paleo and also of the recently released book of the same title. She has an incredible story of self-healing through diet. I highly recommend checking out her blog for that story as well as some of her delicious recipes.

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We had some great conversation, which not surprisingly focused around diet and health. One point that we discussed was the question of whether our film would focus on a particular diet as the path towards good health. This is an interesting question as there are so many particular protocols and diets available with various health claims. What you will notice when you read any person’s health story is that they didn’t just identify some magic diet, follow it to the tee and then suddenly they were cured. Each person who has really truly healed themselves has had to go on a journey. There wasn’t a magical answer. Looking at Mickey, myself and others who have healed through diet it has been a process of elimination and addition that never looks identical. The journey is also full of the frustrations of two steps forward and one step back, it is rarely a linear process.

So, in answer to Mickey’s question, no, we won’t be preaching the power of any particular diet. We will be encouraging  people to view diet as a means to heal and to embark on their own journey. The journey with diet is almost as much about empowering yourself as it is about the actual food. I believe that to passively follow a diet without tuning in to your own body or realizing the power you have to heal yourself would be missing the point.

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That being said in my research of various healing protocols I do notice many similar themes. All of the diets encourage the elimination of processed foods and refined sugars while emphasizing the importance of eating whole foods dense in nutrients and sourced from quality producers. Many of the protocols also emphasize practices such as fermentation and sprouting for easier digestion and access to nutrients. The word diet often has negative connotations in our society but these diets are about more than simply changing what you feed yourself, it’s about a whole lifestyle. There are many interesting approaches out there, and I encourage you to do some research as a first step on your own food journey. I also encourage you to be skeptical of any diet that bills itself as one size fits all magic bullet solution for all your problems. See my list below for some helpful websites.

The Autoimmune Protocol http://www.thepaleomom.com/autoimmunity/the-autoimmune-protocol

The Specific Carbohydrate Diet http://www.breakingtheviciouscycle.info/

The Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS) diet http://www.gapsdiet.com/

The Wahls Protocol http://terrywahls.com/about-the-wahls-protocol/

Raw food diet http://www.thebestofrawfood.com/

Ketogenic Diet http://www.charliefoundation.org/explore-ketogenic-diet/explore-1/introducing-the-diet

Weston A. Price http://www.westonaprice.org/

Vegan and Vegetarian http://www.vrg.org