The Instagram Diet

The Instagram Diet is my name for taking food photos with a smartphone to help you lose weight. The photos are shared on blogs and social networks and through Instagram, a free app that makes pictures look 50-year old. Last weekend at Fitbloggin’12, a conference and networking event for health-bloggers, I was amazed by the number of people who took pictures of their food.

As I was gathering my thoughts about this a new diet phenomena, Dana at Diets In Review emailed me questions about Joy the Baker’s ‘Friend Diet.’ Joy the Baker, a food blogger, and her friend take photographs of everything they eat and text it to each other for accountability. This is  what I am talking about. The questions helped to clear it for me.

Q:  What bugs you about people taking pictures of their food?
I’m not so much bugged as curious. The concept of taking pictures of food is spontaneous and organic and I respect that, and it helps people to lose weight, all for free. It just seems to be generational for people who grew up in the digital age and with the Food Network as entertainment. Part of if seems juvenile (“Look at me!”) but it is fun to make easy art. Personally, find unprofessional food photos unappealing,

Is it a trend you’ll ever try out yourself?
It’s not for me and I wrote about it in one of my first blogs, This is Not a Food Blog, Mostly.  I’m interested in it from a nutrition/public health intervention perspective. Since it is useful and free and people enjoy it, let’s encourage it. I love to look at my clients’ food pictures.

When you hear “food porn,” what do you think?
I don’t like the word “porn,” but food porn (tempting others with mouth-watering pictures of delicious food) is not exactly the same as taking food photos to help with weight loss. But, food porn does exists in this society because we salivate for food we can’t eat. Temptation bombards us, but we cannot partake, and so we cope and partake with our eyes.

How can taking pictures of our food be helpful, harmful?
For weight loss, food photo fans say it leads to mindfulness, accountability, and inspiration. That’s helpful, and for all food photographers, it’s about pride, connection and entertainment. (As for me, the food is getting cold.) Harmful? If food photos take the place of eating for anorexics or cause friction at the dinner table, then that’s not good.

This is how I summed it up for Diets In Review: 
…the most important thing is to find a solution that works best for you. “People are most committed to the diet plans they invent for themselves, and so I say, ‘Go for it.’ Everything in life is temporary but that doesn’t make it less important.”

Your thoughts: How would you answer Dana’s questions?

Looking in People’s Shopping Carts

“Judge not lest ye be judged” notwithstanding, who among us has not looked into the shopping carts of others and thought, “What a bunch of crap!”  Well, I have proof that other people’s shopping carts are, in fact, truly that crappy. The proof is this list of the top 260 U.S. Food (and other supermarket items) Sales for the latest 52 weeks ending June 10, 2012 compiled by the SymphonyIRI Group, a Chicago-based market research firm.

Number 1: carbonated beverages (soda!) $11,679,250,000 in sales last year. Number 4: salty snacks (chips!) $8,759,148,000 in sales. And because almost one third of Americans don’t know how to cook, frozen dinners and entrees are #9. Also in the top ten, are beer (#5) and wine (#7), but cigarettes fell from #10 in 2011 to #12. Ice cream is #11, cookies are #17, and chocolate candy is #23. Addicted to sugar? I guess so.

But where are the vegetables? Number 30! Okay, bagged salad is #27, but frozen plain vegetables are #44 and tomato products are #80. Hot cereal, more likely to contain whole grain, is #98, but cold cereal, more likely to be sugared and refined, is #8. And, friends of nutrition, dried beans are sadly #151 directly under the moist towelettes.

Meanwhile, SNAP benefits [food stamps] can be used on any food, and the currently estimated cost of obesity is $190 billion a year.

Your thoughts: What’s wrong with this picture?

See Supermarket Categories by Dollar Sales

Toddlers & Tiaras & Energy Juice

I hope my upscale readers will forgive me for mentioning an odd thing that happened last month. Twice, I was asked to comment on Honey Boo Boo, a fat 6-year old from “Toddlers & Tiaras,” an uber trashy TV show on TLC. I was asked about the “Go-go Juice” that mama feeds to Honey Boo Boo to make her dazzle on stage. Watch them talk about it here.

Question: “Does offering an energy drink to a 6-year old constitute child abuse?”
Answer:     Well, yes it does, in my opinion, but this is ‘merica, the land of the free, and so, officially, I say,  “The American Academy of Pediatrics warns that all drinks with caffeine (e.g. Red Bull) are off limits to children and teenagers. Energy drinks contain high levels of stimulants that can raise heart rate and anxiety levels and increase the risk of dehydration.” And then Mountain Dew soda has even more caffeine along with water, preservatives, artificial flavors, and empty calories from sugar. Go-go juice is a bad idea for anyone, most especially a child.

In 2010, the F.D.A. issued warning letters to makers of energy drinks that combine alcohol and caffeine citing a health risk, and recently, the state of New York’s attorney general began investigating whether companies that make energy drinks are misleading the public about how much caffeine the drinks contain and the health risks they could pose.

Honey Boo Boo’s pediatrician needs to address her consumption of energy drinks and junk food, as well as her childhood obesity, but given the family and the public’s attention, I don’t think it will work. Honey Boo Boo can serve as an example of what not to do. ’nuff said.

Your thoughts: Do you see little kids drinking energy drinks?

Nutritious Snacks on TV!

Shelley Goldberg and Mary Hartley on NY1

In case you missed my interview with parenting reporter, Shelley Goldberg, on NY1 News over the weekend, you can watch it here.

With back-to-school season among us, now is the time to change your children’s eating habits. In the segment I outline some healthier options for your child’s breakfast, lunch and snack!

For a closer look at these better-for-you nutrition options, here is a list of recommended items and where you can get more info.

Olympus Greek Yogurt
Greek yogurt is a thicker and creamier alternative to typical American-style yogurts. Compared to its traditional counterpart, Greek yogurt contains roughly the same amount of calories, but it can pack up to double the protein, while cutting sugar content by half. But buyer beware, not all Greek yogurt brands are not created equal. Olympus Greek yogurt, one of my personal favorites, as it is the only Greek strained yogurt in America  imported directly from Greece–and the difference is in the taste. Olympus’ deliciously thick and creamy yogurt is available in plain and fresh fruit flavors–including blueberry, strawberry, cherry, vanilla, lemon, peach and honey–making it a naturally filling snack for busy parents and growing children.

KAMUT® Khorasan wheat
Nowadays, ancient grains such as quinoa, amaranth and spelt are turning up in every bread and cereal aisle. They’re healthful and tasty, and packed with whole grains, protein, omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants. Additionally, those have an intolerance to modern wheat (but not with celiac disease) often find ancient grains easier to digest. I particularly enjoy KAMUT® Brand Khorasan wheat, an ancient grain that is non-GMO and always grown organically, has naturally sweet taste, smooth texture and is packed with nutritious value. Recipes made with ancient grains such as KAMUT® wheat help establish well-rounded, nutritious meals that offer higher amounts of protein and minerals than ingredients made with traditional grains.

B-Amazing Food BarsB-Amazing Food Bars
A fresh and colorful diet is one of the biggest contributing factors to overall health, and fruits and vegetables deliver nutrients and minerals needed for our bodies and minds to function at optimal levels. For parents looking to sneak fruits and vegetables into their child’s diet, B-Amazing! Foods has introduced nutritious, all natural food bar made with 50% fresh root vegetables and fruit. Unlike any other bar, B-Amazing! begins with a mixture of fresh sweet potatoes, carrots, yellow beets and squash. Then minimally processed, “real food” ingredients—such as organic whole grains, 5-7 different kinds of nuts and seeds, whole fresh lemons, oranges, cranberries, apricots and other fruits are added to create a delicious flavor.

LesserEvil Snacks  
Snacks can make up a significant portion of your child’s calories. With only 120 calories per serving, LesserEvil Krinkle sticks are a great-tasting snack option that parents can feel good about giving their kids. LesserEvil snacks are free of trans fats, preservatives, artificial flavors and high fructose syrup, and offer a guilt-free alternative to traditional junk food. They are low in sodium for a packaged snack food and kids will love the taste!

Disclosure: I work with ADinfinitum, a full service PR agency for the natural and healthy lifestyle and wellness industry that represents these products – and I love sticking up for delicious, healthy food!

Building A Better Sidewalk

Subway grates and sidewalk beds

Recently in Scientific American, Better Sidewalks Could Bring Improved Public Health:
A new report recommends 43 public health changes that can make big improvements in overcoming preventable diseases. “To arrive at their recommendations, researchers reviewed more than a thousand studies of public health. Their findings are in the American Heart Association journal, Circulation. [Dariush Mozaffarian et al., Population Approaches to Improve Diet, Physical Activity and Smoking Habits.]  Some surprisingly simple suggestions could be easiest to institute. (For instance) try improving sidewalks and visual appeal of neighborhoods to make people want to walk, bike, or run more often.”

Around the corner from my Brooklyn apartment, policy makers have put the sidewalk recommendation into action. For quite awhile now, like maybe two years, the NYC Department of Design and Construction have been working on the Eastern Parkway Reconstruction Project from Washington Avenue at the Brooklyn Museum to Grand Army Plaza. They installed water mains and sewer replacements and now they are finishing up the pavement, curbs, sidewalks, bike path, catch basins, pedestrian ramps, green spaces, street lighting, and traffic signals. The job is nearly finished.

And so, this is a public health project in action, a benefit of city living, not so “surprisingly simple,” but easier than beating down each individual to change. I, for one, need no encouragement to use the sidewalks and bike path.

Your thoughts: Does your town have good sidewalks?

Winter Sun Rays and Gratitude

Pure light, refracted

Today, winter sun rays hit a prism in my bedroom window to make this picture on the door. The prism itself makes the color by refracting a beam of colorless light. The color spectrum is always the same, think rainbows and chakras for people who see them. I find comfort in knowing that the light plane is orderly, consistent, and pure. It never lets me down. It is reassuring and I am grateful.

Your thoughts: Do you like to think about physical phenomena?


The Man Isle: Guys Being Gross

The Man Isle (not aisle) at the Westside Market in Chelsea

Yesterday, while waiting in the checkout line at the Westside Market in Chelsea, I finally got to see the “Man Isle,” a section of the supermarket devoted to entirely to men. The Man Isle is there to help dudes who want to make a quick exit.

Man Isle Food

The Man Isle is stocked with the most nutritionally devoid, gross processed food that only a knucklehead would eat. There are sugary cereals (Cap’n Crunch, Frosted Flakes), Doritos, ramen noodles, beef jerky, Milky Ways, Snickers, protein bars, Chips Ahoy, Muscle Milk, Red Bull, Gatorade, beer (20 kinds), coffee, spaghetti sauce, hot dog buns, and condiments such as hot sauce, BBQ sauce, mustard, ketchup, and pickles. The non-food items include razors, shaving cream, deodorant, dandruff  shampoo, body wash, and condoms.

Surely, this cannot be what men really want. In disbelief, I called Ian Joskowitz, Westside Market’s CEO. I asked, “Were the foods chosen for the Man Isle based on research or is this a joke?” Ian replied, “It’s not exactly a joke, but it is tongue in cheek. It’s what a guy might buy in a hurry before a party, but no one could subsist on that food.”

Phew! Faith in men restored. And it did take my attention off the checkout line. Westside market is one of my favorite NYC stores. For close-up photos of the food, see Check Out The Grocery Store Section Devoted Entirely To Men from the Business Insider.

You thoughts: Do real men eat healthy food?