Why ‘Experts’ Are Wrong About Health and Weight

October 9, 2012

You would think that the more I study nutrition, the more answers I would have. After reading yet another book, Gary Taubes’ “Why We Get Fat … And What to Do About It,” I am back to searching for the “truth” about weight-loss and nutrition.

This reminds me of when I was a student at the Institute of Integrative Nutrition (IIN)…

Read the rest of my column at ThePostGame:



Yoga Teacher Going Postal!

January 12, 2011

(or) Before You Yell Hypocrite, Check the Projector

“That’s the thing about a human life—there’s no control group, no way to ever know how any of us would have turned out if any variables had been changed.”

Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat Pray Love

No way. Couldn’t be her. I couldn’t see her face, but from the back, the short brunette had the identical haircut as Claire. She was clearly annoyed, as would be expected from a mere mortal as the line at the post office slowed to a crawl. It only got worse when one of the two tellers, expanding queue be damned, closed her window and headed for lunch.

How did I know the fidgeting, exasperated woman wasn’t my friend Claire? Because Claire is one of the most amazing yoga teachers on the planet. She not only speaks of gratitude, love and acceptance but she’s the living embodiment of it. Even when I don’t feel like doing yoga, I’ll often take her class just to get a dose of her inspiring vibe.

Finally, the brunette made it to the teller and as she headed to the door, I saw that it was, in fact, Claire. She gave me one of her delightful hugs and when I asked how she was doing, she said, “I need a yoga class after that line.”

This reminded me of another yoga teacher who I had breakfast with after one of her classes. When her order didn’t arrive, she not so delicately stormed to the kitchen and demanded to know what was taking so long. I told my friend James this story and he said, “Everyone has a yoga teacher story, most of them involve road rage.”

I find it interesting that if we see someone go ballistic after an anger management class, our natural reaction is, “Well it’s a good thing he’s in class.” But if we see a yoga teacher or a spiritual practitioner lose it, we’re inclined to cry “hypocrite!” What we fail to look at is how said teacher/practitioner would have acted without their practice. For all we know, without yoga, the irritated Claire might have been the batshitcrazy Claire. And rather than jonesing for a yoga class, she may have been jonesing for a shot of heroin.

So why is it so typical to judge spiritual teachers? For one, it’s a test. We want to know if what they’re teaching works and judging their behavior seems like the best way to do it. We also may do it to give ourselves an out. See; it obviously isn’t working for her, so why bother. And yet another reason is one that I’ve been focusing on a lot these days—we are simply projecting. When we ourselves act hypocritically, we tend to be quick to call others out for what we perceive as hypocrisy. Yet is it really hypocritical for a yoga teacher to be impatient? Is it hypocritical for a meditation teacher to smoke two packs a day? And is it hypocritical for a health writer/advocate like myself to occasionally eat ice cream right from the container at two in the morning?

I prefer to use another word that starts with an H: human.

I just returned from Koh Samui, my former home, where my friends are mostly yoga teacher and spiritual practitioners. They do incredible work at Spa Samui and have been instrumental in the healing and happiness of thousands of people, yet none of them would be accused of resembling the Dalai Lama (big hitter). To discount their imperfections as hypocrisy or as evidence that what they do isn’t effective would be short-sighted.  Had I done so, I would have missed out on some of the most transforming experiences of my life.

The first book I read on health was Andrew Weil’s 8 Weeks to Optimum Health in 1997. Twelve years later, he spoke at my school, The Institute for Integrative Nutrition, and I was surprised to see that he looked overweight. So does that mean I should stop eating organic produce, having news fasts, and taking steam baths because Weil, 67 at the time of his speech, didn’t look like Charles Atlas?

More important, is it absolutely true (who loves you Byron Katie?) to say these techniques are not working for Weil? How do I know if he practices what he preaches? What do I know about his genetic make-up or his lifestyle? And going back to Elizabeth Gilbert’s quote, how could I possibly know what he would look like if he didn’t employ these techniques?

Most of us teach what we need to learn. That’s why when I find myself quick to judge, I recognize it as a projection of my own self-judgment. At that point, I remind myself that imperfection makes us human and it’s my choice to love myself, and in turn love others, in spite of those imperfections. Even the painfully inefficient U.S. Postal Service, I choose to thank for inspiring this column. I love you too!




A Substance Problem or a Living Problem?

September 9, 2010

Apologies for the summer absence. I’ve been focused on my screenplay. I’ve loved every minute of the process and am excited to be finished with a solid draft. With all the adrenaline that has come with the process, I’ve had a few nights of insomnia and haven’t been as balanced. Returning to my blog is a step in restoring balance to my writing and my life. Looking forward to your comments on my latest entry.

(or) Overheard at Alcoholics Anonymous

“What’s really helped me,” the man said to kick off the A.A. meeting, is to consume small amounts of alcohol throughout the day. It’s the grazing concept.” This touched off a big debate before an Ayurveda expert took the floor and explained the importance of not mixing alcohol for proper digestion. He showed chart after chart of medical research proving that it’s best to allow six hours in between drinks and to never drink before bed. Then, a woman stood up and said everyone was missing the point. The question wasn’t when but what, and said that as long as the alcohol was local and organic, how much one consumed didn’t matter. The topic then shifted to liver detox, and a fasting expert (a woman after my own heart) said that the key to metabolizing alcohol is to detox the liver through a rigid three-day procedure once a month. As long as this is done, alcohol will be assimilated better and one will have more freedom to drink what one wants.

Have I made my point?

In truth, (though I’m an infrequent drinker) I did attend an A.A. meeting with my friend Neil. He said the simplest thing, yet it hit me like a ton of bricks. “I don’t have a drinking problem,” he said. “I have a living problem.”

Neil was self-aware and honest enough to realize that his “living problem” led him to drink. Yet unlike most of the people with living problems that lead them to eat, Neil chose to attack the problem (the living) and not the symptom (the drinking). Granted, the obvious difference between alcohol/drugs and food is that food is necessary for survival, but I do think many of us with food-related issues (myself included) focus on the symptom (eating) and not the problem (living).

That’s why at The Institute for Integrative Nutrition, school founder Joshua Rosenthal talks mostly about “primary food”—relationships, exercise, career, and spirituality.  Rosenthal says, “All that we consider today as nutrition is really just a secondary source of energy.” As Health Coaches, we are trained to look for “living” problems that manifest themselves into food issues before we recommend what you should eat for breakfast.  This idea led me to write the column “What Are You Hungry For.”

It’s no wonder that treating symptoms not only doesn’t solve the underlying problem, but perpetuates addictive behavior. If you have a headache because you’re dehydrated, taking an aspirin is a temporary solution—and one that you’ll likely keep repeating–until you take the less expensive, smarter, healthier step of replenishing your fluids and minerals. The bookstores are lined with books on diet and nutrition yet the obesity rate keeps climbing. Could it be because these books are missing the point?

When someone eats a gallon of ice cream at midnight, we’re not seeing the big picture if we start talking about carbs versus protein, why it’s better to eat early in the day, or how dairy causes mucus. I’m all for nutritional information and I’m not ready to throw out the baby with the bath water. What, when and how we eat plays a role in our ability to feel satiated and make healthy choices regarding food. But let’s also not forget that most substance issues are really living issues and the solutions are not likely to be found in a diet book.

If you have a substance problem, take a page from Neil and focus on the problem not the symptom. It takes self-awareness and honesty to get to the core of your living problem, but the reward is that when you do, your “substance” problems likely will vanish. After all, when someone drinks a fifth of whiskey, no one ever says “it must have been because you were thirsty.”

What are you Hungry For?

July 7, 2010

(or) Getting at the Essence of Addiction

I knew a guy named Titus who went to Atlantic City with $300 to gamble. Once he lost it all, he dug into his pockets and found one last twenty. He went right to the craps table, put it on the pass line and won. He did it again. And again. And again. He now had $320 and could go home even. But that wasn’t even a thought. He bet it all and won. He did it again. And again. He suddenly had $2,560 in chips in front of him.

Before this trip, if you told Titus he was going to double his money, he would have been thrilled. Had you told him he would win a grand, he would have been over the moon. So with more than $2,200 in winnings, what do you think he did?

I won’t answer yet, but I’ll give you a hint. Geneen Roth, author of eight books, including The New York Times bestseller, When Food is Love, spoke to my class at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. Innocently enough, she asked us to turn to the person next to us and answer one question:

What are you hungry for?

I was floored. Speechless. Embarrassed.

When I finally snapped out of it, that question became the catalyst for me to look at food and addiction in a whole new light. It’s also the same question I would like to have asked Titus when he was at the craps table: what are you hungry for?

When you look at anything done to excess, it’s usually an indication that no amount is enough. There’s a void so deep that it can never be filled. The simple explanation is that Titus, like most compulsive gamblers, was hungry for action. But what does action really mean? And where does it stem from? And does the catch-all word “love” really alert us to what’s missing in our lives?

Geneen’s question forced me to look at myself and my patterns around food. I learned that when I traveled, I craved salty food. This suggested that I was looking for food to ground me. I uncovered that when I couldn’t sleep at night, I would use food as a way to slow down my mind and help me sleep (the proverbial food coma). When I looked deeper, to places that weren’t as comfortable, I understood that I looked to food as a way to fill up the emptiness in my life—whether it was feeling lonely or lacking love and support. I also realized that I developed a pattern from my family, passed down from generations, to turn to food as comfort, or even worse, to anesthetize any feelings at all.

I was lucky enough to read a column by Roy Cooke in Card Player magazine when I was nineteen that urged me to H.A.L.T. That is, don’t play poker when hungry, angry, lonely or tired. Indeed, as I’ve become more balanced in my life, I’ve become a better poker player. Not so coincidentally, I made my biggest score at the World Series of Poker three months after I hired a holistic health counselor, paid off all my debt, and began making healthier choices. When I watch poker players who consistently lose, I wonder what keeps bringing them back. What is it that they’re so hungry for that allows them to continue to lose their money and pride, day after day?

Awareness is the first step in creating change. By asking myself what I was hungry for, I started noticing patterns and finding new tools and solutions. I now see that when my life is in balance and I feel full from my work and the people I love, food is often an afterthought. When I do have those moments of loneliness and the need to fill a void, my logical mind combined with my awareness takes over. It tells me that food won’t fill those voids. I take a breath and think about what I can do that will. Maybe I pick up my guitar. Perhaps I write. Or maybe I’ll just sit with it and feel lonely—without the distraction of food to get in the way of my real feelings. And sometimes, I’ll make the conscious choice to eat. When I do, I’m honest with myself that I’m seeking comfort. I don’t beat myself up about it, but I also don’t fool myself into believing that I’ve dealt with the void.

As for Titus, I’m sure it’s no surprise that on his next roll he crapped out and went broke. I do think there is much to learn from his story. The next time you find yourself feeling insatiable, whether it’s to eat, drink, gamble, screw, shop, work or whatever you do to excess, ask yourself: What am I hungry for?

How Pointing at the Obesity Epidemic Fattened Me Up

July 1, 2010

(or) Don’t Bother with Not to Do; Focus on What to Do

I wasted an hour watching “One Nation Overweight” on CNBC—an hour I could have spent exercising. Twenty minutes in, all I’d seen were a bunch of overweight people in a hospital. Then I watched a high school in Virginia roll out a “candy cart” to raise money. This came with the obligatory stats on childhood obesity and diabetes along with the rationalization from the school’s principal. Then we were on to interviews with pharma executives talking about the next miracle obesity drug. At the completion of the hour, I learned nothing new and left with zero ideas on what to do about it.  

When I was at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, raw food guru and author David Wolfe, speaking about health in America, urged our class “to stop pointing at the problem” and instead, take an active role in the solution. The media loves to get us riled up because outrage sells. But what good does it do for me to get frustrated when I watch the CEO of Domino’s defend why his company sells so much “nutritious” pizza to schools.

In the majority of my columns, I have lists with action items. I might start by pointing at a problem (like microwave ovens or cell phones) but ultimately I’m going to tie it back to what we can do about it. In that spirit, a quick recap of the problem: 200 million Americans are overweight, which costs $147 billion a year, a figure that keeps rising. Agro-business and pharma companies are out to make a buck, often at the expense of our health. The government approved Aspartame and subsidizes high fructose corn syrup and makes policy often at odds with our health. I could go on pointing at the problem as my blood boiled, but I’m only stating what we already know.

As a shout-out to David Wolfe, let’s get to some solutions.

What to Do About the Obesity Epidemic

  1. Vote with your wallet. If you have an issue with junk food, stop buying it. If you want to support local farmers, buy their food.
  2. Vote with your feet. Walk to your kids’ school or your boss’ office and ask for healthier choices in the cafeteria. Offer solutions as well as your time and support.
  3. Vote with your eyeballs. If you have an issue with glamorizing skinny models or marketing junk food to kids, stop reading magazines and watching programs that do.
  4. Make your own choices. If your school, employer or local market doesn’t change, don’t eat their food.
  5. Make one lifestyle change to improve your health.
  6. Elevate and inspire your family, friends and colleagues (and reduce the cost of healthcare) by looking fantastic and radiating good health.
  7. Actively support organizations like the Center for Food Safety that fight to make our food healthier.

I wouldn’t be offering these solutions if I wasn’t living them. I’ve lost 60 pounds through my own process of trial and error. I spent $800 for a holistic health counselor when I was nearly broke. I now spend the majority of my money on my health—yoga classes, a gym membership, organic food, chiropractic, and fasting retreats in Thailand. I’m not asking anyone else (especially the government, which is to say, my fellow Americans) to pay for my sickness and I’m not interested in paying for anyone else’s sickness. There, I said it. Shoot me. (Actually, I’d prefer that you don’t shoot me but rather express your opinion in the box below. Keep in mind that I am willing to pay my fair share for our health).

Looking to your employer, school, government, or to big pharma to fix obesity is disempowering. Pointing at the problem is a waste of time. Taking your health into your own hands seems like your only choice. While I don’t know that boiling blood actually fattens me up, I do know that sitting on the couch, pointing at the obesity epidemic, does.

Drink Your Problems Away or Think Them Away? Or Neither?

June 17, 2010

Visit ThePostGame.com to read this story.