“Fat bias” greater for women than men

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Read the Examiner piece here.


Something different

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“When weight loss goes too far;” read the Examiner piece here.

Hunger point

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In my inaugural post on “Grub first,” I wrote about Rosh Hashanah, my favorite holiday of the year. The Jewish New Year begins this year at sundown on Wednesday, September 8th, on my second day of classes. I did not discuss at length in that first post the holiday that follows Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, perhaps for the obvious reason that Yom Kippur, the holy Day of Atonement, is defined by an absence of food. No food, no “Grub.” Right?

Not quite.

Yom Kippur is a hugely significant holiday in the Jewish faith, but it is not one that most secular-but-selectively-observant Jews like myself look forward to. A day of starvation and lengthy synagogue services do not a joyous people make, after all. Even the anticipation of the lavish break-fast to come seems incapable of tempering the austerity of the holiday, and so I have come to consider Yom Kippur the “less fun and more painful” twin of Rosh Hashanah, sweet and vivacious as she is.

As a 10- or 11-year-old, my Hebrew school friends and I decided to join our parents in the annual fast of Yom Kippur. A day without food seemed to us a fun challenge, a feat to later brag about to our goyish friends. We wouldn’t be attending school anyways (score!), so why not test our capability to do without that which was so readily available the other 364 days of the year?

In the years since my struggles with eating first began, Yom Kippur has taken on new meaning for me. Yom Kippur is no longer the day in which I starve and am miserable, but has become the day in which I starve and am miserable, as well as an emotional wreck.

The first year I fasted for Yom Kippur post-E.D. drama, I felt a deep sadness that could only be attributed to such a blatant reminder of what restricting my food intake as an anorexic had felt like. Lying in the bath tub, conscious of my gnawing hunger and empty stomach, I felt as though my emotions had dressed themselves in gaudy costume jewelry and put on an extravagant show for a reluctant audience of one– myself.

I also felt, to my surprise, lonely and alone. No matter that my family was fighting the same hunger pangs just downstairs, my empty stomach had reduced my surroundings to mere white noise. All that mattered was the ridiculous performance my feelings had worked up, sadness trailing loneliness across the stage.

I can’t blame Yom Kippur for the Mardi Gras celebration my emotions so kindly put on, but that incident and the Yom Kippurs since have reminded me that hunger remains a personal and emotional experience for me, regardless if it is sanctioned by the religion I was born into.

Hunger reminds me that I once ceded control of a need so instinctual I have been doing it since birth to disordered thinking. That, sometime after my 16th birthday, I lost the ability to eat without attaching emotion to the act. Hunger is a mournful reminder that I am still, despite greater insight and growth, a card-carrying member of the “eating disordered.” That, despite my current ability to eat dessert without guilt and butter without fear, I can never reverse the hyperawareness of food and body that pre-adolescent Sarah did not have.

There exist myriad opinions on the question of ritual fasting for people who have struggled with eating disorders; I have my own as well. I have in the past year or so come to the conclusion that doing without for Yom Kippur is too much too soon for me. I can’t fast without getting caught up in the heady and emotional nature of controlled starvation.

At least not yet.

I do not believe that I will ever forget that one serving of skim milk has 90 calories, and a slice of bread 70-100. But I do believe in recovery, although it is often elusive to me.

With enough stability in my recovery and years behind me, I have faith that abstaining from food for Yom Kippur, or for, say, a fasting glucose test, will be no different than it would for anyone else.

Until that time, though, I will eat on Yom Kippur as I do the rest of the year, and know that my atonement means as much as any else’s.

Shana Tova Umetukah. A good and sweet year!

Quotations to live by

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“Follow your instincts. That’s where true wisdom manifests itself.” -Oprah Winfrey

Two new Examiner articles up

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Banning chocolate milk in schools?


New exercise guidelines to prevent excess weight gain in women, and how to get more out of shorter workouts.

And now for some organic chemistry!

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I recently started to review my organic chemistry binder to prep myself for the upcoming semester. While they may be unique in doing so, Smith splits up the two semesters of organic, with the long summer break in between. In other words, students take organic one in the spring, and then, almost four months later, are expected to jump enthusiastically back into the subject for the second and final semester the next fall.

Because I learn best by teaching others, I decided to draft a post involving some chemistry. Don’t worry; I don’t go much into detail and have taken care to pick a topic that shouldn’t bore you to tears– saturated and unsaturated fats.

As you likely know, fats, or fatty acids, can be divided into the categories of saturated and unsaturated. Saturated fats are solid at room temperature and include butter and lard, while unsaturated fats are liquids at room temperature, like olive or canola oil.

Pictured is an unsaturated fatty acid, which can be identified from its double bonds, the two sets of double lines at opposites ends of the molecule.

Par contre, below is a saturated fatty acid, “saturated” because it is comparatively loaded (or saturated) with hydrogens, the many H’s present in the molecule. You see, carbon likes to have four bonds, or four electrons, to call its own. A double bond can satisfy two of these four electrons, or the carbon can alternately get its fill of four electrons via, for example, two single bonds to two carbon atoms and two single bonds to two hydrogen atoms, as illustrated below.

While the molecule pictured retains one double bond between the C (carbon) and O (oxygen), it lacks the second double bond of the unsaturated fatty acid. Saturated fatty acids thus lack the multiple double bonds that are the trademark of unsaturated fatty acids.

Unsaturated fatty acids with a single double bond are known as monounsaturated fatty acids. An unsaturated fatty acid with multiple double bonds is called a polyunsaturated fatty acid, from poly, meaning more than one.

What is the significance of these double bonds?

If you look back at the first image of an unsaturated fatty acid, you will notice that the molecule’s double bond creates a sort of “kink,” bending the structure. The saturated fatty acid is in contrast straight in orientation, which makes it perfectly adept at packing together and wedging itself into your arteries. That’s why saturated fats (bacon grease, Crisco, etc.) are said to clog your arteries, and lead over time to an increased risk of heart disease.

There. All done. No more chemistry coming your way for a good while. So take a breather, and let me know what you think of my chemistry lesson.

Going gluten-free?

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The summer after my first year of college, I lived for three months with family in Melbourne (pronounced “Melbin”), Australia, nannying for my twin cousins Sammy and Marcus. S & M were almost three at the time, and had already developed quite the personalities. Sammy was affectionate with most everyone, while Marcus liked to stick to himself. As an introvert, I felt somewhat of a kinship with Marcus, and always cheered his solo ventures with Legos, reading and so on.

During my stay in Oz, I was lucky enough to sample countless delicious meals out on the town. My cousin’s husband works part-time as a restaurant developer, and has helped many a Melbourne hot-spot get going. Coupled with he and his wife’s busy schedules, we ate most meals out together as a five-some. While I did eventually desire the comfort and simplicity of a home-cooked meal, I greatly enjoyed the ceremony of meals artfully and delectably prepared in the many eateries Melbourne has to offer.

In our habitual quest for cafés and bistros that would appeal to three adults as well as two small children, we spent a fair amount of time cruising the streets of the city. Relishing as always time in the car as “time off” (with the exception of the occasional plea for the boys to “play nice, please!”), I spent these car rides watching the urban scenery pass by. From an abundance of kosher bakeries to “Op shops” (thrift stores to non-Ozzies), there was so much to see, and I loved taking it all in.

Just days after arriving and settling into my new routine as nanny and frequent restaurant-patron, I began to notice something I had yet to see on any sort of scale in the U.S.– every (and I do mean every) pizzeria, café and bakery we passed displayed signs advertising their gluten-free options. Because I had taken Nutrition and Health my previous semester at Smith, I knew that gluten was the protein responsible for wheat pasta and bread’s trademark elasticity. What I wasn’t familiar with was such a ubiquity in eating options for people following a gluten-free diet. Why, I asked my cousin, was gluten-free so common an offering at the neighborhood bistro? Were Australians uniquely plagued with celiac disease?

Yes and no, she responded. According to the Coeliac Society of Australia (gotta love that Commonwealth spelling!), celiac affects roughly one in 100 Australians, although the Society posits that as many as 75% of the afflicted population is unaware they have the autoimmune disease.

While it is unlikely that Australians are inherently more susceptible to celiac disease (many Ozzies, I will remind you, share the same Northern European genetic background as a large portion of Americans), it is clear that Australians are, as in other arenas, more advanced in their response to and treatment of celiac in the population.

Still, with the disease garnering more and more attention in recent years, it is unsurprising that many Americans have begun to consider going gluten-free. Everyone’s favorite diet whore went 21 days in 2008 without gluten, sugar, alcohol, caffeine and animal products. The View host Elizabeth Hasslebeck adheres to a gluten-free diet, as do a bevy of other celebrities.

If abstaining from gluten made Oprah and Ms. Hasslebeck “feel better,” why not you, then? What have you got to lose?

Improved health and quality of life, if you are indeed suffering from celiac or gluten-intolerance.

And the rest of us? Can simply slashing gluten help the average American without gluten-intolerance or celiac enjoy better health and lose weight?

No, say many dieticians and physicians who have experienced an influx of clientele convinced of the ability of a gluten-free diet to cure them of excess weight and other health complaints. If going gluten-free is not a medical necessity, “there’s probably no benefit” to adopting such a diet, says Massachusetts-based dietician Tricia Thompson, R.D., editor of glutenfreedietitian.com.

And the improved health of celiac/gluten-intolerance sufferers on a strict gluten-free diet? Such effects are not applicable to those without such health issues, unfortunately. Feeling “better and more energetic” on a gluten-free diet, says Thompson, is a result of those previously suffering from gluten-intolerance having felt so sick previously.

What of the argument that going without gluten can prevent and/or alleviate autism? Celebrity mom Jenny McCarthy has famously embraced a gluten-free diet for her autistic son Evan, sharing that a gluten-free diet helped improve his autistic symptoms.

But gluten-free diets tend also to eliminate casein, a protein found in milk that might be responsible for the abatement of symptoms instead. And objective clinical studies have not been able to show that the diet works in autistic patients. A May University of Rochester study that examined the effects of a strict gluten- and casein-free diet on 14 autistic preschoolers reported “no discernable effects” on autistic behavior, attention, sleep and other symptoms.

That said, a lack of conclusive evidence of the diet’s capability to mitigate autistic symptoms should not rule out attempting diet therapy, according to Timothy Buie, M.D., a pediatric gastroenterologist at Mass. General Hospital in Boston and author of a recent report in Pediatrics journal that concluded that a gluten-free diet is far from a cure for the developmental disorder.

Still, what it comes down to is this– a gluten-free diet will help alleviate the many uncomfortable symptoms of gluten-intolerance and celiac disease, but will not for those without such health problems. Nor is a gluten-free diet a surefire way to lose weight for those without a biological aversion to gluten.

So approach headlines that tout the ability of gluten-free diets to do x, y and z with skepticism, and remember that a dietary intervention is only as effective as its necessity.

P.S. Apologies to Oprah for the “diet whore” comment; I love the woman and think she is a fabulous role model. Still, she has sampled every diet known to man…

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