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  Read through my blog below by simply scrolling down the entries, or check out the essays below. I've chosen ones that I particularly enjoy--maybe you will too.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Be a Teacher, Not a Jerk

Today is Guru Purnima, an Indian festival that celebrates teachers. I've had many wonderful teachers, and a few toxic ones as well. You can learn a lot from both. What do I mean by toxic teachers? These are teachers who:

- Break you down more than they build you up
- Get resentful when your skills or success surpass theirs
- Are outright physically, sexually, or emotionally abusive
- Are generally authoritarian, rather than authoritative (see below)

We teach our students a lot simply by the way we treat them. When we encourage them to rest when they need to, we are communicating that they are worth taking care of. When we give them a prop and suggest it might make a pose more comfortable, we are telling them that their comfort matters. When we answer their questions respectfully, we are communicating that their thoughts and concerns are important.  

The reason why our words, as yoga teachers, carry so much weight, is because in the classroom, we are in a position of authority. This can be hard to believe when you first start teaching, and you feel tentative and awkward. But consider this: from the moment we're born, we are in relationship to authority. Your parents start offering you boundaries almost immediately. This is wholly right and appropriate—think of how problematic it is when parents don't fully take on the role of authority figure for their children. As a child, you go to school and encounter a new set of authority figures, your teachers and the administration of your schools. As an adult, you may have a boss, and you are certainly subject to authority of the police, our justice system and our taxation system. Many people are also inclined to defer to authoritative experts on things like their health (I defer to my doctors when I'm really sick, for example) and their finances (I defer to my accountant).

So the role of authority figure is a deeply important one that allows our society to raise healthy children, educate each other, administer justice, maintain civic order, and care for the sick. As a yoga teacher, your role of authority figure allows you to teach people how to do yoga safely. When you do not fully step into this role, your classes lose momentum and your words do not resonate as well. Your students will not trust you deeply enough to move fully into the practice. I strongly encourage you to embrace the seat of the teacher and fully inhabit your role as authority in your yoga classroom!

However, there is a difference between being authoritative and authoritarian. 

Authoritarianism is about power. In The Guru Papers, authors Joel Kramer and Diana Alstad explain it this way, " If an authority not only expects to be obeyed without question, but either punishes or refuses to deal with those who do not obey, that authority is authoritarian." 

Kramer and Alstad describe how hierarchies are necessary in life to accomplish most significant tasks. For example, if you want a house built, you need an architect to design the plans, and a contractor to oversee the workers. "Likewise, a general cannot have his orders subject to evaluation by every soldier in the field." They go on to point out that authoritarian hierarchies are driven by a quest to accumulate and consolidate power, whereas hierarchies like  the one you see in education, in the military, or in a healthy business are "task-driven". The separation of responsibilities and establishment of one person or people in a position of power is about getting a job done. 

Kramer and Alstad describe five questions for evaluating a hierarchy to determine whether or not it is authoritarian:

1. "What is its purpose?
2. "Who decides if its purpose is being fulfilled and how is this decided? 
3. "How free are the members of the hierarchy to enter and leave it? That is, how much coercion is involved in getting people to belong and stay?
4. "How responsive is it to change from within or without, and how open is it to internal and external feedback? This includes who determines what is even considered relevant feedback.
5. "In what direction does the power flow? Does it only flow from top to bottom, or are there mechanisms within the structure of the hierarchy that give the lower rungs a say in who the higher rungs are and what they do?"

Therefore, for an emotionally healthy environment in your classroom, I suggest the following:

1. Remember that the ultimate purpose of your class is to serve your students. 
2. Regularly check in with yourself, your students, your colleagues, your mentors, and if applicable, your employers about whether what you're doing is serving that ultimate purpose. 
3. Don't take it personally when people decide your class isn't for them, and don't manipulate your students into feeling they need to attend your class and only your class.  
4. When your students give you feedback in the classroom, acknowledge it and treat it respectfully, even when it doesn't fit into your mental picture of how the class should go, or how you wanted your students to feel. When colleagues, mentors, and perhaps employers give you feedback outside the classroom, seriously consider it. Note: sometimes good feedback is clouded by lousy delivery. Try your best to find the usable nugget that will help you grow, even if the person delivering the nugget couches it in terms that are hurtful. 
5. Seek out mentors for yourself and connect with them regularly. Give your students opportunities to see you taking the seat of the student. Cultivate your own team of friends, family and advisors who can remind you of your values if you slip. Some of these advisors may be paid coaches or counselors, but at least a few of them should be unpaid friends who you can really trust. Again, stay open to feedback in all forms—you can always choose to disregard feedback after you have carefully considered whether or not it is applicable to you. 

Friday, November 29, 2013

It's Okay Not to Feel Grateful

Yesterday we had our annual Thanksgiving Day practice at our yoga studio. It's one of our favorite events of the year. Everyone comes in cheerful and leaves sweaty, and the holiday is a wonderful opportunity to talk about gratitude--how healthy it is, and how it's a practice, and how we have the chance in every moment to recognize the beauty right in front of us.

After class, one student came out crying. "I'm a wreck!" she said. "I'm down six people this Thanksgiving." Between the tragic death of a dear friend, the subsequent fallout from that tragedy, and her kids' work obligations, this poor woman's usual holiday celebration was much smaller than last year.

I gave her a hug. She said, "I know I'm supposed to be grateful. But I'm having a hard time mustering it up this year."

So I said, "Forget about gratitude this year. It's okay not to feel grateful. Maybe next year."

All my life I've been interested in human emotion, the human spirit, our souls, our psyches--whatever you want to call that part of ourselves that is rooted in our bodies but seems to reach beyond our bodies. I feel it's part of my job as a yoga teacher to speak that language. I love talking about wonder, compassion, joy, surrender, forgiveness, and gratitude because I see that these are concepts that resonate with my students. When I talk about these human virtues and experiences, we all seem to take more pleasure in the yoga.

But I also know that forcing a feeling doesn't work. "To everything there is a season," and sometimes the seasons of our emotions don't line up with the calendar.

Do you feel shitty this Thanksgiving? Do you feel profoundly sad, or angry, or hurt, or resentful? Obviously you don't need anybody's permission to feel that way. But just in case it makes you feel better, here ya go: it's okay not to feel grateful on Thanksgiving.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Day 21, Sunday: In Which Our Heroine Crosses the Finish Line, and Keeps Running


Breakfast: Two hardboiled eggs
Lunch: four slices turkey, pesto slathered on them, peppers
Snack 1: Apple with Bernadette's Paleo Fondue
Dinner: At Egan's. Steak with carrots, green beans, and salad
Snack 2: Cheese stick

Breakfast was dull but efficient. I can't recommend the turkey and pesto combo I had for lunch. I was not happy with it. The pesto is better on eggs, and the turkey is better with avocado. Peppers as usual were awesome. Green apple fondue was awesome. I clink an imaginary smoothie glass to Bernadette every time I eat it. Dinner at Egan's was easy and Detox-friendly. Everyone ordered dessert and Chris and I managed to resist. When I got home, I was still hungry, so I had a cheese stick.

On my last day on the Detox, one of my students who I hadn't seen all summer did a double-take and said, "Wow, you look great! Your skin!" I was very surprised and flattered. That's not why I did the Detox, but it's a nice perk! (Generally, the list of stuff I do to look better goes like this: bathe. Apply two-year-old drugstore mascara.) One of the things I notice when I'm eating whatever the hell I want is that I not only gain weight, I get kind of...puffy. I would not be surprised if there is some kind of systemic inflammation from eating sugar.

I finished the day before Labor Day, and I did a lot of thinking about how I felt about the work of this particular Detox, as compared to the one I did in April. In my yoga classes this week, I explored how work can be a degrading chore or uplifting LABOR that enriches our lives and is an expression and enhancement of our innate human dignity. For me, the first Detox was the former and this second one is the latter. The first one felt like a punishment, like something I HAD to do, like I had a serious flaw (inability to function well on the Standard American Diet, or SAD) and I had to compensate for it with strict discipline. This second one feels triumphant and joyful. I've had a blast planning my meals, doing the shopping, cooking, EATING, and writing about the experience for you and for myself. This isn't something that's a chore or a punishment. It's a reward. How lucky am I? In a world of heavily-conflicting dietary advice, I found a way of eating that makes me feel good! In a world of poison (sugar, simple carbohydrates, and advertising for sugar and carbohydrates), I have the discipline and resources to truly nourish myself and my hubby.

Okay, now that I'm done, what am I going to add back in?

Not fruit. It has become clear to me that I really do not do well on fruit. According to Gary Taubes, most modern fruit has been genetically engineered to be much sweeter than the fruit eaten by our early ancestors. I can barely handle the small green apple I eat daily--it tastes really sweet to me and I feel myself teetering on the edge of a crash after I eat it.

Not grains. I don't do well on wheat, corn (witness the corn chip disaster of Day 19), oats, rice, barley, etc. That includes quinoa! Geez, shouldn't quinoa be Detox-friendly? It has a really obscure name, so it must be healthy, right? Not for me.

Not much dairy. I'd like to experiment with raw dairy. I do okay with the occasional dollop of goat yogurt. I seem to be able to handle a small amount of cheese.

The thing I've missed most? Baked potato. My plan is to try a baked potato and see what happens.

But my main plan is to keep eating like this indefinitely. Will I be able to do that? I don't know. However, there are a few factors that make me think that I CAN, in fact, keep eating this way.

1. When I think about eating sugar or grains again, all I can think about is how once I eat them, I'm back on the roller coaster of cravings again. The limits of the Detox have really revealed to me how sick I feel when I eat sugar or grains. Or too much cheese. Or too many cured meats.

2. My husband is really supportive and participates with me. That means that he'll prepare Paleo-type stuff for dinner. And he'll eat Paleo-type stuff when I cook it. This is really important to me because we love to cook, we love to cook TOGETHER, and we try to eat dinner together every night.

3. Over the course of this Detox I've figured out many "hacks" to help me when I'm feeling cravings. Bernadette's fondue is great for sweet cravings. I never even ended up making Paleo Pancakes or Paleo banana bread, but I hear those are fantastic too.

4. I give myself permission to fall off the wagon for any reason I choose, from there not being anything else I can eat at a social engagement, to feeling like I really want a Brown Bonnet from Carvel. The looser I am, the easier it is for me to be disciplined.

Over the course of the Detox, dear Reader, I have tried to share what I was doing without being scoldy or preachy about what anybody else is eating. I do not respond well to scoldy preachiness myself. I can't stand those FaceBook memes with sanctimonious advice for living superimposed over a picture of a 20-year-old dancer in a bikini putting her leg behind her head. Particularly about diet, there is SO. MUCH. scoldy preachiness out there. This scoldiness doesn't help anybody!

Besides, as Hemingway says, "We are all apprentices in a craft where no-one ever becomes a master." He's referring to the Master Craft: Living. And what he's saying is that nobody knows shit. It doesn't matter if you meditate every day, or graduate from Harvard, or look really wise, or live in a big house, or live on the streets. Insert your own "it doesn't matter if...". It is terrifying and marvelous--nobody knows anything!

So look: I don't know anything. But I am pretty sure about the following:

1. The ONLY way to know whether or how much you would benefit from cutting sugar is to do it.

2. If you really want to do it, you can.

Thank you Diane Sanfilippo for creating the Detox and the excellent materials that make it easy to follow. And thank you, Gentle Reader, for reading and supporting me on my Detox. Mwah!

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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Day 20, Saturday: In Which I Don't Give a Rat's Ass What Gandhi Thinks

Breakfast: Half a TB and chard
Lunch 1: Two slices ham and some pickles
Lunch 2: Five slices of bacon
Dinner: Cured meats. Olives. A couple of bite-sized morsels of brie. Beef tenderloin from the grill, grilled eggplant, asparagus, zucchini, and salad. It was so, so good!

I woke up from the previous night's excesses with some EXTREMELY unfortunate digestive sequelae, such as I have not had in many a year. Ever been knifed in the gut? Felt like that, and you know what that is--GAS. I seriously think it was the corn chips, but everyone I've talked to says it was the tequila. So I spent a lot of the day managing feeling horrible and trying to eat stuff that wouldn't intensify the damage. Let's go over how well I did. As you can see, I kept my meals pretty small because I was so WRECKED from the previous evening.

The TB and chard: excellent choice, as usual. It went down well, it got some things moving. But it couldn't undo the damage. My morning routine was totally off. ("Morning routine" is a euphemism. Can you guess for what?) I felt so sorry for my yoga students because I arrived late and looked green.

My lunch choices created, for me, an important realization. It was helped by a comment from my friend Melanie about how there are different ways to do a low carb diet, and that "it's probably not a good idea to just eat bacon." (Note: technically, Paleo is different from low-carb.) Now, Gary Taubes says that research shows that lots of people CAN lose weight on just bacon and not really suffer any ill effects. So I argued with Melanie a little about it. However, I can definitely say after this day that TOO MUCH CURED MEAT is a problem for me. You were right Melanie!

My holy grail in my food investigation is this: how do I feel? I don't care if Gandhi says that a certain diet is good, if it doesn't make me feel good I don't care. Gandhi did many wonderful things, but as a vegetarian he would probably disapprove of my diet, and I don't give a rat's ass. (Another note: India tends toward being slim, but they have terrible problems with diabetes and heart disease from all the rice.) There's a great, probably apocryphal story about Gandhi and sugar. A mother comes to see him and says, "my son eats too much sugar. It's ruining his health. Please tell him to stop". Gandhi says, "Come back in three days." Mom comes back in three days with the son and Gandhi says, "Hey. Stop eating sugar." Mom says, "Why did we have to wait three days to hear that?" and Gandhi says, "Because I hadn't yet given it up myself." Which, I guess, gives me carte blanche to tell you: HEY. STOP EATING SUGAR! And also give me carte blanche to say: HEY. I AVOIDED SUGAR SEVEN TIMES LONGER THAN GANDHI! T-shirt, perhaps?

So lunch was ham and pickles at like 1:00, then some bacon at like 3:00. It was salty and fatty, and I thought it might get things moving, but what ended up happening was that it dried me out. And I think that's the main problem for me with cured meats, and even with pickled things--I get very dehydrated from them. The cured meat situation continued through the dinner we had on this day.

We were very kindly invited over for dinner with our friends Ellen and Jonathan and their family. Ellen puts out a crazy spread of hors d'oeuvres when we come over for two reasons: 1. she is a good Italian girl from Staten Island and 2. we have been friends for years and she knows we like to (over) eat. The term "dessert sausage" was coined at their house a few years ago when Chris concluded a five course meal by polishing off the rest of a log of sopressata. As usual, the chow was fantastic. The olives were the best I ever had. They were kelly green and not too heavily brined, which is unusual for olives. Two types of cheese--brie and a hard cheese. I only had one. Three types of cured meat--prosciutto, salami, and sopressata. Two types of crackers which I avoided.

While enjoying this epic feast, I noticed that all the cured meat I'd had on this day was making me feel slightly ill. Fortunately, we rapidly moved on to the entree, which was grilled rather than cured. We had a beef tenderloin and a host of grilled veggies, including the tastiest eggplant I have EVER had. Ellen is a good cook and when I asked her, "OMG how did you prepare this eggplant?" She just said, "I just put it in the metal tray and cooked it on the grill!" It was sublime, and tasted very STARCHY without BEING starchy. I am always looking for foods like that. Squash, for example. If you're a carb addict trying to go Paleo or do Sugar Detox, it really helps to have a few luxurious substitutions in play.

Last day tomorrow!!

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Monday, September 9, 2013

Day 19, Friday: In Which Tequila is Consumed, Possibly by Our Heroine

"God--aren't you done with this thing yet?"

Breakfast: turkey burger and chard
Lunch: left over salsa chicken and avocado
Dinner: Chips and guacamole, chicken with onions, savory apple chutney, salad, TEQUILA

Okay, so as you can see, this day started out strong. Good ol' TB and rainbow chard holding down the beginning of the day. Leftovers from last night holding down the middle. I used to hate leftovers. Now I love them. I never really like the way meat tastes the day after you cook it. It's a little gamey. But my vague dislike of the gaminess is overpowered by my laziness. I am so freaking glad now when we have leftovers because it means I won't have to think about what I'm going to have for lunch the next day. Recently this strategy was foiled when I made 42 chorizo meatballs thinking I'd have leftovers and we ATE THEM ALL. Chubby overeaters: 1. Planning ahead: 0.

So coming to the dinner portion of my day. There are three elements of the meal that are out of bounds on the sugar detox. Can you pick what they are? We were very kindly invited over by our friends Lisa and Eric. Eric used to be a chef, so you know he's a great cook. Lisa, who easily could have sat on her butt eating Eric's cooking her whole life, is also a great cook. So we knew we were in for something tasty.

First item off the Detox: tequila. When I got there, Lisa was drinking something margarita-ish involving tequila, lime, and something else. She was out of the something else, so I said, inspired by my gimlet experience the early part of the Detox, "just give me a tequila with lime." She said, "Are you sure? Want me to put some soda water in it?" and I said, "Sure!" So I had it. It was not as good as a gimlet. But it slowly grew on me. I probably had less than a shot, but I did get tipsy and did some "dancing" (really more like "flailing around") that really made Lisa laugh. Good times!

Second item off the Detox: corn chips. Eric was doing the cooking on this night, and he made a huge tub of guacamole. Really, it's a sin to BUY guacamole. It's so gross from the store. The texture is all weird because it's been smooshed with a machine. There's a bunch of stuff you don't need in it. (Onions. Guacamole does not need onions.) And the flavors are tired. My strategy with guacamole is to simply use a fork, to make it and to eat it. This does not generally endear me to fellow diners at Mexican restaurants--everyone is daintily lifting a teaspoon of guac into their mouths with each chip and I'm holding the bowl up to my mouth and shoveling it down with a fork. However, this homemade guac CRIED OUT to be eaten with corn chips. So I did. There were other yummy hors d'oeuvres (my husband polished off a wheel of chevre by himself), but I was knee deep in guacamole and simple carbohydrates and did not notice them.

Third item off the Detox: apple chutney. This was a mild cheat because while there wasn't no sugar in it* it probably wasn't a green apple. Eric served it with chicken with onions and scallions. I really can't convey to you how tasty this simple-sounding dish was. The apple chutney was amAHzing. So, so good. We also had salad with a dressing that was noticeably professional. It really is amazing how professionals, in any field, simply have an edge on those of us trying our best at home.

The kids had dessert, we skipped it. Yay us. This reminds me of a funny exchange I had with Lisa when I started the Detox. She said, "Really? You're doing THAT? Are you even that into sugar?" I said, "Lisa. Do you not remember that every time I come to your house I demand that your children reveal to me the location of their old Halloween candy? And then I eat it, even though it's old, and it might be something gross that nobody else wants like Smarties?" And she said, "Ohhhhh, yeah, that's right. You ARE addicted to sugar!"

So, tequila: 1. Halloween candy: 0.

* I inadvertently wrote "wasn't no sugar in it" and I have decided to let it stand. It makes me feel like a character in a Mark Twain story.

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Sunday, September 8, 2013

Day 18, Thursday: In Which I Offer an Assortment of Recipes

It's Recipe Day! Let's get the business out of the way.

Brunch: Drumroll please...hardboiled eggs with pesto!!! The best.
Snack 4:15: Bernadette's Nutella and an apple
Dinner 8:45: Fajita-less fajitas

(Picture at left is from my pre-Sugar Detox days. So ignore the melon and prosciuto.)

Here's a few little secrets nobody tells you about pesto.
1. It is insanely easy to make.
2. YOU MUST toast the pine nuts.
3. YOU DON'T NEED THE CHEESE. Most pesto recipes call for a lot of grated parmesan cheese. What's cheese for, anyway? It adds fat, salt, and a yummy "umami" flavor. (What's umami? It's one of the five flavors of your tastebuds. It's a Japanese word, and it basically means "salty fatty protein-y goodness". I find it completely unnecessary in pesto. There's a ton of fat and flavor in the other ingredients and you can add as much salt as you like.

Here's what you do to make it:
1. Put a fourthish cup of pine nuts into a frying pan on medium heat. DO NOT LEAVE THE KITCHEN. They will be done in probably 1.5 to 3 minutes, and if you are FIVE SECONDS late to take them out of the frying pan, they are black and that's 3 dollars down the drain.
2. Get out the food processor. Wash an entire package of Trader Joe's basil. Separate the leaves from the stems and put the leaves in the food processor.
3. Add your pine nuts. Turn on the food processor and stream in about a quarter cup of olive oil. You can add more if you like it oilier. Add salt to taste. You're done!

Cook up two or three hardboiled eggs, peel 'em, cut 'em half, arrange them nicely on a plate. Then put great hunks of pesto on them. Such yumminess! It's incredibly rich and decadent.

Bernadette's Nutella is a name I've given to an incredible concoction devised by my pal Bernadette. I sometimes also think of it as "Paleo Fondue". It involves nut butter, coconut oil, and cocoa powder. It is INSANELY rich. I'd be curious to hear what non-Sugar Detoxers think of the recipe. To me, it is way sweet with the apple, but maybe that's because of my sugar-free taste buds. Here's the link: If you think you can't do a Sugar Detox, get your hands on a green apple, make this stuff, and try it out. This will carry you through many a craving!

Finally today, on our recipe hit parade: the cashew cheese.

Get a bunch of cashews. Put them in a bowl and cover them with water. Let them sit all day or overnight. Drain them, put them in a food processor. Add just enough water to make the texture "ricotta-y". This makes a very bland ricotta-like substance that you can doctor in whatever way you want. If you were to add tahini, you'd have Paleo hummus. If you add garlic, you have something that goes well rolled in cooked eggplant with prosciutto, covered with tomato sauce, and baked: Paleo eggplant rollatini, like I made. (Remember: I later found out that cashews are not on the Sugar Detox. But they are paleo-friendly!)

Getting near the finish line now. I have one more dietary indiscretion up my sleeve before I end!

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Friday, September 6, 2013

Day 17, Wednesday: In Which I Read "Why We Get Fat"

- Breakfast: TB with chard. Hubby had one too, and he had the brilliant suggestion to put mustard on it. I tried it. SUBLIME. Unfortunately, on the 5th or 6th bite my opposite-of-castiron stomach rebelled and said, "NO. That won't do. Regular TB please." So no mustard.
- Lunchy snack 1: apple with almond butter
- Lunchy snack 2: ham slices with cornichon pickles
- Dinner: Good ol' bacon and egg salad. We freaking love this. Chris said last night he could have it at every meal. Not bad!

Somewhere in here I ran into my student Clif, and he and I had a great conversation. I've known Clif for what seems like about five years, and about three years ago he lost quite bit of weight on purpose.* He told me he'd been following my blog (thank you for reading!) and reminded me that when he lost his weight, he lost it by avoiding carbs. He said, "You know, all those diets--South Beach, Atkins, the Wheatbelly Diet, the Specific Carbohydrate Diet, Paleo--they all tell you the same thing. They all tell you to cut carbs."** We talked about a book that I read several years ago called "Good Calories, Bad Calories", how it is an amazing book but hard to read because it is very science-y. He said that the author of GCBC, Gary Taubes, had written a second version the book that is more for laypeople called "Why We are Fat and What To Do About It." So Clif lent me the book, and it BLEW. MY. MIND.

Taubes's book is a summary of the studies done on obesity for the last 100 years. The vast majority of double-blind studies on weight loss and heart disease DO NOT remotely support the low-fat diet that is currently promoted by the medical establishment. Hmm, I thought, "if that's so, then how come the medical establishment supports that diet?" Taubes explores how few charismatic "experts" (with no experience in the field of endocrinology or obesity) misinterpreted a few fuzzy studies and heavily promoted the idea of "low-fat". They were very successful in promoting this point of view, to the extent that their ideas were picked up by the media and then by big organizations like the American Heart Association.

Taubes explains the big problem with all this: a low-fat diet doesn't actually help most people lose weight or reduce heart disease. (Of course, cutting total calories will help you lose weight, like Weight Watchers, etc, but you lose weight because you're cutting calories from CARBS, not because you're cutting calories from FAT.) A low-fat diet also doesn't prevent heart disease. Taubes shows this over and over again, citing study after study that shows that CARBOHYDRATES and SUGAR create obesity and heart disease. Well, I asked, why isn't every vegetarian overweight? Taubes uses the example of lung cancer--some people can smoke and not get lung cancer. Some people can eat a diet with a lot of whole grains and not get heart disease.

Gentle Reader, if I have offended your sensibilities with this information, I do apologize. You might want to look away now, because I'm going to continue along these lines. Allow me to offer my very crude shorthand for how exactly carbohydrates (including whole grains) screw up your metabolism. (I'm not a doctor or a medical expert, so my explanation is crude and you shouldn't use it as a substitute for medical advice. From a doctor who has read Taubes's book.)

Carbohydrates metabolize as sugar. Sugar raises insulin. Insulin's job is to pack sugar away as fat. The more frequently you eat carbohydrates, the more insulin you have floating around in your system. People eating carbs all the time have a ton of insulin floating around ALL THE TIME. Consequently, they are HUNGRY all the time, because insulin is packing away blood sugar into fat cells and not making it available for other tissues. (One of the craziest things I learned from Taubes's book is that when overweight, carbohydrate-fed rats are starved to death, their bodies will actually start breaking down their ORGANS before they break down fat! Don't get me wrong, they'll lose some fat. But they will die carrying FOUR TIMES as much fat as their lean counterparts.)

Perhaps, like me, you are recoiling in disbelief at this information. I sympathize. However, after reading this book and learning the science, I personally could no more believe that whole grains are good for you than believe in creationism. If you're interested in exploring the science more, you could get Taubes's book, check out the New York Times*** (Link: or just look around on PubMed. A particularly damning study out of Stanford, called the "A TO Z" study, compared Atkins, a Traditional diet, the Ornish diet, and the Zone diet. The lead researcher was a vegetarian. He described the outcome as "a bitter pill to swallow". You can find the abstract online. Here's the main conclusion: "In this study, premenopausal overweight and obese women assigned to follow the Atkins diet, which had the lowest carbohydrate intake, lost more weight and experienced more favorable overall metabolic effects at 12 months than women assigned to follow the Zone, Ornish, or LEARN [Traditional] diets."

Taubes's book clarified WHY I personally do much better on a Paleo-type diet. Why I've struggled with low energy and a range of strange auto-immune problems for a lot of my adult life (if not my childhood). Of course I can't say that it would work for everybody. But it works for me and is supported by a wide range of scientific studies. I'd be a fool to ignore those data points.

Food is always controversial, and perhaps even more so in the yoga community, where some studios insist their employees sign a contract enforcing vegetarianism. However, I wanted to post about this book because I feel so empowered by actually understanding the science behind my metabolism. Even if you are outraged by what I have written, go out and read the book! If nothing else, you will have the pleasure of scoffing all the way throughs. And more likely, you'll be blown away, as I was, by how wrong my assumptions were.

If you are intrigued by these ideas, and want to pursue them in your own life, please bear the following in mind. Taubes writes:

"When you replace the carbohydrates you eat with fat, you're creating a radical shift in the fuel that your cells will burn for energy. ...This shift...can come with side effects. ...In the 1970s, the authorities insisted that these 'potential side effects' were reasons why the diets could not 'generally be used safely,' and the implication was that they shouldn't be used at all. ...But that was to confuse the short-term effects of what can be thought of as carbohydrate withdrawal with the long-term benefits of overcoming that withdrawal and living a longer, leaner, and healthier life. ...These side effects speak to the importance of having he guidance of a knowledgeable physician when making the decision to avoid fattening carbohydrates."

SO: Don't go crazy. Just read the book.

* This actually brings me to one of my pet peeves about weight/food issues. I hate it when you lose weight and someone comes over to you and gushes that you've lost weight and asks you about your diet and tells you you look great, when in fact your life's going down the toilet, and you're losing weight on what my friend Leslie calls "the Misery Diet".

** This is a bit of a misnomer--vegetables are also carbohydrates--but they do not have the effect on insulin levels that grains, whole or otherwise, have.

*** The NYT got diet issues completely wrong during the '80s and '90s--Jane Brody was a particularly enthusiastic proponent of how good pasta and potatoes are for weight loss and heart disease. I am hopeful they are beginning to get it right. The NYT gets a lot of stuff wrong about yoga, too FYI. I love the Grey Lady but in these two areas she has a terrible track record.

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