Mindfulness Blog Tour - Getting Real Food on your Plate

I'm so thrilled that this post is part of the Mindful Habits Blog Tour, a virtual “tour” where 13 women post on 14 different days about the power of habit for running a business, being healthy, and getting creative. The Tour is run by Sarah Hawkins of True North Business Management. Check out the full lineup of women posting as part of the tour here. Eat real Food

Everyone eats. But not everyone eats food. Less than 25% of Americans get the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables in their diet but the annual sales of dietary supplements exceeds $36+ billion. Perhaps worse, recent studies claim that over 60% of the food we eat is highly processed crap, and that only 2.7% of Americans follow the four pillars of healthful living - eating healthy food, getting enough exercise, maintaining a normal weight and not smoking. TWO POINT SEVEN PERCENT.

Yet, despite our dismal behavioral choices, we are a culture obsessed with quick fixes, shiny packages, flashy logos, and gimmicky tag lines. We are hard wired for novelty and have become obsessed with instant results, rather than long-term health. As a result, we are constantly searching for the next diet miracle, ever distracted by the immediacy of now. And in a quest for instantaneous perfection and promised immortality, we have completely diluted our diet of food – real food.

With cruel irony, we have become obsessed with the prophesies of healthful eating, despite that fact that more often than not, we rarely stick to any particular fad long term. The average diet lasts five-weeks-two-days-and-43-minutes, before we begin to stray. And with the advent of 3-7 day juice cleanses and detoxes, that average is rapidly declining. Once the diet is over, we go back to our old eating habits. We blow it. We become retoxified, decleansed, contaminated, and the weight comes back. Along with the uncertainty and trepidation.

And, inevitably, the story changes. Coffee’s in, chocolate’s out. Or was it the other way around? Each flip-flop making us question the choices in our food truths, perhaps even inciting anger and frustration. Are green smoothies really the secret weight loss trick? Will lemon water actually detox my liver? How dare someone suggest that eggs are unhealthy! Do I need a vitamin?

Tragically, less than 30% of the food we eat is actually minimally processed or not-processed at all – meat, fruits, vegetables, eggs, milk, pasta. When it comes to fruits and vegetables, it gets worse. Only 13% of Americans eat one to two cups of fruit each day, and even more alarming, only 9% eat the recommended two cups of vegetables.

Salad with Hummus

You may think this sounds a bit hyperbolic, but take a second and think back on the food you’ve eaten throughout your life. I hopped on the “Eat-More-Kale” bus in my mid-20’s, but before that I ate terribly, and I had no idea how bad the food really was. My mother worked hard to cook dinner every night, and we were a pretty standard meat-and-potatoes kind of family. But that’s pretty much where the real food ended. Every morning, my sister and I would fight over who got to read the back of the box as we shoveled down marshmallow laden cereal and slurped on pink, blue and green milk. For lunch, we had peanut-butter-and-jelly or ham-and-cheese on white bread, hold the crust, with chocolate milk and a pudding cup. On Friday we had giant greasy squares of pepperoni pizza, fries and a syrup-drenched fruit cup. We grabbed snacks of chips or candy from the school store on the way out to the bus. Dinner was typically a bit better, meat (chicken or steak), starch (rice or potatoes) and vegetable, with milk. Or, sometimes we had spaghetti and meatballs, or tacos, or Hamburger Helper. Rarely did we have salad.

So, how do we overcome the lure of shiny labels and right-now headlines? Especially when that nurturing and temptation starts in our early childhood? How do the Worried Well truly stay well?

This is where the mindfulness part comes in. And I'm not talking about contemplating the wrinkles in a raison kind of mindfulness. I'm talking about setting yourself up throughout the week so you can actually be a little mind-less. Because, while it would be awesome if you had time while you're on a conference call on a Wednesday at 12:30 pm to be chewing your perfectly portioned bento box 100 times per bite, it's just not reality. Instead, put a little thought into your food early on so you're not caught in a proverbial pickle as you make your way through your frantic days.


Now, these aren't easy, but here are three simple tips to get you started:

  1. Plan Ahead - Listen, this whole business of cooking a literal feast on the weekend so you can pack away (previously mentioned) perfectly portioned bento boxes all week completely escapes me. I can't do it, and frankly, I don't want to eat 5 day old salad in a mason jar. BUT, you can make a healthy 3-5 day meal plan, buy the ingredients in one single trip to the grocery store, and set yourself up for success throughout the week. And, if you're really clever, you can make a little extra healthy dinner to pack for your lunch the next day. One way to make that happen is to portion out your lunch before you serve yourself supper. In this way, you not only have a real food meal for a mid-day meal the next day (instead of a bar you had in the bottom of your bag and some crackers you found in the break room), but you also keep your portions and calories in check at dinner.
  2. Don't Buy Crap - If it's not in your kitchen (or desk drawer), you won't eat it. Instead, put a bowl of fruit on your counter. Research says that women who had a fruit bowl visible weighed about 13 pounds less than neighbors who didn’t and that normal-weight women were more likely to have a designated cupboard for snack items (and less likely to buy food in large-sized packages) than those who are obese. So, just don't buy it. But if you do, buy a treat in a small package and put it away in a place with a door to keep it out of sight.
  3. Avoid Packages - Food that comes in packages is way less healthy than food that does not. It's really that simple. An apple is better than a protein bar, and is equally as portable. In fact, most fruit comes with its own wrapper (unless you shop at Whole Foods and they peel an orange for you and sell it in a plastic container...wtf...). Add in some nuts and intact fish and meat (not fish sticks or cold cuts). From there, go to one ingredient containers - rice in a bag, quinoa in a box, and beans or tuna in a can. Then sprinkle in some multi-ingredient food as needed - pasta, hummus, yogurt, cheese.

And, that's it. It's that simple.

It's funny, I teach a course on nutrition and wellbeing at the Harvard Extension school, and every year, the students leave feedback that run the gamut from, "Life altering..." to "...all we did was talk about eating healthy" and they always make me laugh. Because, THIS IS SIMPLE STUFF! It is just so effing hard to make happen.

Remember, there are no tricks, or diets, or made-up super-foods that can save us. But, we can do this. We must simply #EatRealFood.

Don't Eat Crap

  • If you’d like to continue the conversation on getting real food on your plate please join me and the other Tour Guides in the private Facebook community.
  • Learn more about Tour, and meet the 12 other Mindful Habits Tour Guides here.

Who Am I?

Dear SP Readers, Today is an incredibly exciting day for me. Today is the day I join forces with my amazing sister, Leia, and open up the Strong Process world to her wisdom and thoughtfulness. While my focus has always been the evidence from science, she is a master thinker - introspective and infinitely aware of the subtleties of our world. I believe our combined voices will help bridge the divide between the evidence of our day and the knowledge we have gleaned by simply living life. She is the yin to my yang, and you are going to love her guest posts. ~RMP

From Leia:

leia 2

"Who Am I?"

Every single day we are engaged in a miracle that we do not even recognize, or should I say, millions of tiny, microscopic miracles.  So before we can even begin to ask who am I, it is more essential to ask what am I?  In this modern era of technology, it is all too easy to become overwhelmingly distracted by societal pursuance and compulsively driven by everything that exists externally.  Many fail to recognize and respect the perfection of this innate intelligence that permeates every living creature, let alone its mere existence. Rare is the man that consciously chooses to dive into an understanding of the vast reality of the mind and intricacy of human physiology - microscopically examining the trillions of processes that occur simultaneously and then further the perplexity of the level of the soul.  For most, it is far too much to think about and seems to lack importance when compared to the stress and immediate pressures of everyday life and making it to the end of each day.


I want to know - where exactly is this invisible field that, all on its own, promotes biology in every single living organism, supporting natural order and progressive growth?  All processes work together in the most fascinating way to bring us back to a natural state of balance – always.  Why is this the case?  We know that our bodies mimic nature, in that, we have built-in evolutionary mechanisms that follow a progressive rhythm, while promoting a homeostatic environment for us to maintain life.  Charles Hannel states, “No arbitrary condition can exist for one moment – all human experience is the result of an orderly and harmonious sequence”.  And this must be the case, otherwise our Universe would be in a state of chaos, not cosmos.

This perfection exists and pulses without us needing to interfere one bit.   In fact, it appears that our interference may actually be the reason we manifest dis-ease and disorder of the systems. So if you can interfere and cause disease, there must be a way to link up these gaps in our self knowledge, tap into the mainframe, so to speak, and accomplish just the opposite – live a life of unbounded potential in every single aspect.


While the big questions remain unanswered in a sense, I am confident in one thing.  Optimal health and vitality is available for every single person on this planet.  However, it does not come without personal contribution of a passion for wisdom and understanding of the bigger scope of life.  We can choose health over sickness.  We can choose to be energetic over being overtired.  We can choose happiness over suffering.  But here is the key – we have to make the choice.  It is each of our responsibility to be honest with ourselves, separate from the ideals of others and discover our true and authentic purpose. The only way to achieve that is to take time out and explore the subtle world within and take responsibility both physically and emotionally.  Doing so will gradually result in a sustained sense of balance and true alignment with what we are meant to accomplish and learn.  We must stop taking this extraordinary life for granted.

The power of our minds is the ultimate key to unlock true health. Through recent rapid advancements in the field of neuroscience, the mainstream, western world is finally starting to openly admit the importance of “tuning in”.  In fact, the interaction between mind and body processes has become one of the most exciting and revolutionary areas of medical research and trends of our era.  We are (re)discovering that the vastness of the mind isn’t limited to the small space inside of our skull.  This isn’t a new concept by any means – it is an essential and intimate element of being and human history - the majority of progressive researchers of the modern era have just simply lost touch.  If you are ready for a complete shift in perspective, read the short but potent, “As a Man Thinketh”, by James Allen.  If you have already read it, I suggest reading it again.  And again…

 “The body is the servant of the mind. It obeys the operations of the mind, whether they be deliberately chosen or automatically expressed. At the bidding of unlawful thoughts the body sinks rapidly into disease and decay; at the command of glad and beautiful thoughts it becomes clothed with youthfulness and beauty. Disease and health, like circumstances, are rooted in thought. Sickly thoughts will express themselves through a sickly body. Thoughts of fear have been known to kill a man as speedily as a bullet, and they are continually killing thousands of people just as surely though less rapidly. The people who live in fear of disease are the people who get it. Anxiety quickly demoralizes the whole body, and lays it open to the entrance of disease; while impure thoughts, even if not physically indulged, will soon shatter the nervous system.  Strong, pure, and happy thoughts build up the body in vigor and grace. The body is a delicate and plastic instrument, which responds readily to the thoughts by which it is impressed, and habits of thought will produce their own effects, good or bad, upon it.”

Whether grand or small scale, contributing and living a life of service to others and to our planet should be our priorities – to me, it is the core meaning of “Strong Process”.  Keep it simple and direct.  Realize your own limitless potential.  Take responsibility for yourself and discover the things that make your heart sing.  Every single “now moment” should be carried out as a thoughtful and well balanced pursuit of excellence, and nothing less than.  We should strive for happiness in everything that we do – an unwavering and potent sensation of pure joy.

Leia on the MTN

So – perhaps it could be said that the meaning of life is whatever meaning we give to it.  As science takes us on the rapid journey of discovery and understanding of the physical self, we have the amazing gift and ability to personally give our own unique meaning to every single moment in time.  Cause and effect is real and pertinent, and our minds harbor the dormant seeds of our thoughts, good and bad – ready to sprout at the moment we choose to nurture them to fruition.

“Man is the master of thought, the molder of character, the maker and shaper of condition, environment, and destiny.”  - Allen.

Discovering your purpose is up to you alone…you, the sole master of your life.

Finding a #Rest Area.

It's been a while since I wrote a "rest" post, but I was so inspired by Ariana Huffington's commencement speech at Smith College that I feel as though it is imperative. http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=UJ25qEHgcM4

As a young person, I loved to read. I would read and read and read. For hours. It drove my parents completely insane. I'm honestly not sure if it was because they thought that I should be vacuuming the hallway or emptying the dishwasher or simply playing outside...but, it made them bonkers. As a result, and in combination with the immense pressure I feel now as an adult to SUCCEED, I have a sh*t of a time relaxing.

I feel immense guilt when I sit on the couch and while away in a good book...or take a nap...or just be quiet by myself.  It's as if I'm wasting minutes...seconds that I will never get back. Time that I could have been reading journal articles, or writing manuscripts, or composing blog posts, or exercising. What is that??!! Why are we so programmed to work? To run errands, and do chores, and be "productive"? It's not right and it's making us sick.

In her speech to the Smithies, Ariana said,

"Here's [a] fact that will likely be no surprise to you: the Millennial Generation, aka you, is the most stressed generation of all, outranking Baby Boomers and the gently euphemistic "Matures." Right now, America's workplace culture is practically fueled by stress, sleep-deprivation, and burnout."

Why? Because we believe that in order to be successful, we need to work our a**es off. Constantly at our edge. At work, in the gym, in our marriages and relationships, with our friendships, on our smartphones and ipads and macbooks...there is never a time when we check out. Because we've been told that is simply what it takes to survive in the world today.

...and I'm not talking about being busy. As it turns out, being busy seems to actually make us happier.  Doing all the things that help to move us forward in life is important and gratifying. What I'm talking about is not being able to shut off when we have a minute. We constantly feel compelled to check and answer email, or update our online status, or check in with the tragedies of the world. Even when we go on vacation we tweet and facebook and instagram. We leave "away messages" on our email accounts, but in reality, we're still checking them. It's truly a problem. Because this long term exposure to stress can actually rewire our brains to continuously be in a state of stress, whether or not you are behind your desk or lounging on the beach.


I am not immune to this insanity. I got up this SUNDAY morning (on a holiday weekend), drove my husband to the airport at 6am (for work), came home and cleaned my house, taught a spin class, answered a crap-load of emails, went grocery shopping and to Home Depot, planted the herbs I got at the store (without really paying attention to how cool they are), and then...at about 4pm, sat down on the couch with the pups and  a new book (ironically, a book about yoga) and just tried to relax. No dice...my mind was racing, my guilt over doing "nothing" was raging.

I was thinking...should I go to yoga to chill out?  And then I was thinking...wait, what??!! You're sitting on the couch, snuggled to two of the warmest little nuggets in the world, and you want to leave this to go work out (for the second time today?!) because you need to calm down?  Something is not right in Denmark, folks.

The problem is, I know what I'm doing to myself.  I understand that being mindful, and getting enough sleep, and paying attention to the little things is essential.  And, I'm trying...!  It's just SO hard to do that, on top of everything else. Yet, I also know that I have to.

So, what am I going to do about it?  Two things:

1) Cook.

Not to worry...I'm not going to start binging on comfort food. I'm talking about taking time this week to search for recipes, buy fresh and healthful ingredients, and unwinding in the kitchen. I cook pretty much every night, but lately I've been on total auto-pilot. Easy quick meals that I don't have to pay a lot of attention to whipping together. But, this week, I will reset that pattern. I know it's not sitting with my feet up, but right now it's the best I can do. I'm not at a point, either mentally or within my daily schedule, that I can just stop.  But, I can spend time mindfully working ingredients from the earth in my kitchen. Making sure that I pay attention to the plants, chopping thoughtfully, mixing intently, and tasting fully. A culinary exercise in mindfulness.

Mindful Eating

2) Make a plan for true rest.

Right now, I can't take a vacation. I can't go away for the weekend. I don't have the time or the funds. And that's ok. There is a time for it all. As summer approaches, I can make a plan for escape. In fact, it's already in motion. My goal is to spend as many long weekends as possible at our new house in VT between the months of June-August. Now, even this isn't going to be rest in the literal sense. I'm not going to be lounging around on those weekends. This "new" house is in fact very old and has a lot of work to be done. But, it will be a place of refuge and relative quiet.  A place to unplug from the work that will certainly be there when we get home  (because there is no internet or cell phone service). A place to be grateful for the opportunity that same hard work has given us.

And this disconnecting, I believe, is so key. As Ariana said in her speech, the constantly wired way we live today is not working.

...it’s not working for anyone. It’s not working for women, it's not working for men, it's not working for polar bears, it's not working for the cicadas that are apparently about to emerge and swarm us. It's only truly working for those who make pharmaceuticals for stress, diabetes, heart disease, sleeplessness and high blood pressure.

So, even if it's only through chopping basil and mindfully contemplating the impossible intricacies of mixing oil and vinegar for dressing...I will unplug. Because I have to. I have to practice it now, so that I'm ready to truly be still and quiet in the coming months. Because if I don't....if we don't...no matter how many hours we work, or how much money we make, or how many papers we publish, we are not whole and well. The rewiring of stress patterns in our brains is proof. It is a major shift, but shift we must. Because this constant overstimulation and overstress is unsustainable. We must #Rest.

 Rest Here


Rest in the Mountains

Do you remember the olden days when we didn't have the internet?  When the Facebook creators were still in diapers?  When Twitter was something that birds did in the Spring?  When a phone was confined to the house and a cell was the building block of the body?  Well, I had forgotten.  Until now. For the past 8 days, JP, the pups and I have been hard at rest in the Mad River Valley, VT.   Surrounded by two feet of freshly fallen snow, we hunkered down in an amazing old farmhouse in a back hollow of the Green Mountains.  No phone, no internet, no television.  Simply being.  Figuring out how to enjoy quiet again - reminding ourselves to mindfully catalog the moments that truly matter.

So, in the spirit of introspection, rather than using words, I'm going to show you how magic this week was.  And how grateful I am that humble little towns - yet unscathed by the cacophony in which we live - still exist.

The House.

Farmhouse in the Hollow

The Barn

Spreading Good Will and Compassion to All


The Long Trail

The Road Less Traveled

Snow Pups

The main event.  Sugarbush.

Pup on A Flying Saucer.

Happy Boy in the Snow


The Food.

Dutch Potato Soup & Smoked Porter

American Flatbread Lareau Farm, Waitsfield

Tracks at the Pitcher Inn, Warren


The Beer.

Hill Farmstead Brewery

Unassuming amazement.

The Brews.


The View.


Chilly Walk.


Sunset Over the Ridge.

Nutrition is Science, Don't Let it Confuse You.

Nutrition is Science, not opinion.

So, I had another Thanksgiving post in mind, but I'm going to save that one for another day.  I have a little bee-in-my-bonnet about a few things that have come across my lab bench these past couple of weeks.  Given that we are approaching a holiday that is entirely about eating, I thought it would be as good a time as any to discuss the apparent disconnect in the public between nutrition and sound science (something you all know I am a little fanatical about...). A couple of weeks ago, I posted an article on my FB page written by Dr. David Katz, M.D.  He blogs pretty often for the Huffington Post and he wrote this interesting piece called "The Raw Food Diet, Overcooked".  Basically, his premise was that, despite the very obvious benefits to eating a largely plant based raw diet, there were also some misconceptions within the raw movement that disregarded some of the science we know as fact.  

Photo Courtesy of vegan-raw-diet.com

An interesting point he makes is, "All too often, opinions about nutrition are disseminated with religious zeal, as if gospel...Nutrition IS science...We tend to honor this implicitly in almost every science but nutrition. Unsubstantiated opinions about how to build a suspension bridge, perform neurosurgery, or accelerate atoms are of no particular interest. We recognize in these disciplines that expertise matters...Somehow, though, we make an exception for nutrition." A friend shared my post on his own page, and one of the comments that it received was, "Nutrition is chemistry (as biology is mostly applied chemsity [sic], which is in turn applied physics).  That said, I was under the impression that understanding the nuances of nutrition is still not wrapped up in a tight formula.  There's  still holes and gaps in how nutrition theory works.  Or am I wrong?"  Well, friend, you're right about the first part.  But, here's the thing...no science is "wrapped up in a tight formula".  Go ask Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson if the science surrounding theories in astrophysics are all "wrapped up".   Ask Dr. James Hansen if he's got climate change completely figured out.  Ask the particle physicists that discovered the Higg's Boson (God Particle) while working at the Large Hadron Collider if they've settled that whole quantum mechanics thing.

Great Scott!!  1.21 Gigawatts??!!

Let me save you the time (although you should definitely check out their work, it's all amazing).  They don't have all the answers.  No scientist does.  It's WHY we do what we do.  We have questions.  And the answer to one question leads to another question.  And so on...to ∞.   One of my favorite quotes is "The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds the most discoveries, is not "Eureka!" (I found it!) but 'That's funny...'” -Isaac Asimov  It's true, scientists do have ongoing questions about nutrition.  But there is a pretty solid understanding of what food does in your body.  Unfortunately, with nutrition, the factual science often gets lost in the messaging.  Perhaps because everyone eats every day, people feel like they ARE experts.  They KNOW what foods make them feel good or bad, which they are allergic to, which make them gain weight or help them shed a few extra pounds.  They're not really sure why these things happen to them with food, it just does.  But the thing is, what's actually going on in your body is less of a mystery than everyone tends to think.   Part of the problem comes into play with the types of studies that examine nutrition (actually that happens in most biologic sciences).  We have (generally) three types of studies:  population, individual, cellular.  Population studies show associations, which tend to be extended into assumptions (i.e. Americans are eating more carbohydrates...Americans are getting fat...Therefore, carbohydrates must be making people fat).   Unfortunately, these studies are more often than not, the end-all for media and food industry messaging.  When, in the scientific world, these studies are really only useful as very general roadmaps - guiding researchers on where to look.  

In fact, when you do drill down a little further, you see that your original assumption about carbs may not be the whole story.  When you actually feed humans carbohydrates, they don't get fat, unless they eat too many of them (as it turns out, you can even eat a diet of Twinkies and not gain a pound if you don't eat too many...I know, don't even get me started...).  And when you look a bit deeper, you can actually see the very specific things that happen to these carbohydrate molecules as you chew, swallow, absorb, and transport them into tissues.  

This is a simple diagram of the absorption of carbs...there's a lot more going on once they're in...

You can even go FURTHER into the cell, and see how these tiny carbohydrates are able to affect your genes - like, literally how they bind to each other.   You can then trace the proteins that your RNA translates after your genes have been stimulated to see which other "signals" are turned on or off...all from interacting with that little carbohydrate.    So, this discovery process leads to a billion more questions (literally a billion...more than a billion...a ba-jillion).  Because then, we can isolate specific cells in the lab from each tissue type (i.e. muscle cells, fat cells, liver cells, old cells, young cells, sick cells, healthy cells, etc) and start adding or witholding nutrients to isolate which pathways are activated in each specific state. Think of this this way...you walk into an unfamiliar dark room and feel for the light switch on the wall.  You find the switch, which is actually a panel of eight switches.  So, you have to start flipping them on and off, one at a time, until you find the one that turns on the light.  Then, you decide that you also want the ceiling fan on, so you start the process again until you get the perfect combination of switches that keeps the light on and the fan whirring.  

That is what we are doing in nutrition science right now.  We are literally making models of cells in a petri dish to purposefully turn on and off switches.  We are way beyond "Do carbohydrates make me fat?"  We are now looking into, "How exactly does this particular carbohydrate (there are several) affect this particular gene (there are tens of thousands) in this particular person (there are now >7 billion)"?  And this is why nutrition SCIENCE is so important (and yet so difficult to translate into mass media).  Everyone has a specific set of genes.  It's why you may be deathly allergic to peanuts, but the rest of your family could snack on the nuts in the bowl on the bar all night.  In general, our bodies respond to food in a pretty similar fashion, but it's the important details - mostly about diseases and disorders - that we are working out.  And here's the thing...the facts are not sexy.  There is no magic diet.  Most of the diets out there DO ignore science, or cherry pick snippets that suit their predetermined conclusions (I'm looking at you, Master Cleanse...).   


In the end, there is no panacea.  There is only food.  REAL food.  There is food that is generally good for you (like vegetables...you should eat a lot of these) and there is food that is generally not so good for you (like saturated fat...although, to be fair, only in excess...so only eat a little).   Then, there are food-like products (like Twinkies...you should never eat these...seriously, even scientists don't really know what's in those things).  

37 ingredients in total...bleh.

If you're confused about what to eat, it's not because science is confused.  It's because the people interpreting and blaring the messages are confused.  It's because the food industry wants you to be confused so they can continue to sell you crap-in-a-box.  It's because celebrities and their know-nothing trainers are trying to get you to pay attention to them.  It's because fill-in-the-blank "expert" wants to make a million dollars on a book touting an amazing new diet where you eat only snozzberries juiced carefully into mystical water from a secret spring in Asia (I made that up, it doesn't really exist...yet).   Don't be confused.  Nutrition IS science, but it really isn't that complicated when it comes to what you put in your mouth.  Put REAL food on your Thanksgiving table and be grateful for how biologically equipped your body is to make use of it.  Then, based on the laws of physics, you probably can't actually burn all the calories you will consume (~4500kcal), so you should probably plan to go for a run...