Archive for February, 2011

The impossibility of body image objectivity

I’m 5’2.  Currently, I weigh around 114 pounds, ish, maybe more like 117, whatever, I don’t keep track at all, I’m just guessing,  But I once weighed in at 138, which was fine.  This is technically “overweight” on the BMI scale.  When I found out, I was appalled.  Sure, I could stand to lose some weight–and I in fact hated myself for not being able to–but overweight? No way!  I look normal.

This is a phenomena I’ve heard a lot of people talk about.  Our only frame of reference is the mirror.  The person we see looking back at us changes so slowly that we can’t ever see past how normal we look.  Even when we have standardized measures, such as scales and tape measures and body fat percentages to give us objective numbers, and even when we see concrete muscular changes, we still lack a truly objective lens.   We just can’t see everything, and certainly not in a time-sensitive manner.  This fact is exacerbated enormously by internal and external pressures.

I always knew that I wanted to lose weight, and I was always trying.  Still it was not a matter of managing overweight to me, or even of health.  Just vanity.  A couple pounds.   I look… like I always look.  normal. A little bit overweight. And it’s true– here’s a photo of me, not quite at my highest weight, probably around 130 or so, but it’s the best one I can find right now.  I had a whole lot of muscle, I ran long ass distances, and I lifted just as heavy weights as I do now, but no one could ever tell– it was all filled in with body fat.  I also had a bit of a chubby face, which is more visible in the second photo.  In any case, just a couple of pounds, I thought.  I look normal.

Not too bad, eh?  If you like ‘em curvy– goodness, I didn’t even know I was curvy then, just NORMAL–I certainly had something going on.  Looking at this photo now, I see a healthy size six, athletic, curvaceous woman.  I like what I see.

But I also look at photos where my larger spots are more obvious and think: “God I was big.“  (I’m sorry, this is society’s fat phobia reaching it’s ugly hand into my psyche.)

My dramatic weight loss occurred about 18 months ago.  As I mentioned before, throughout the whole period everyone expressed their concerns, and my pants kept getting bigger and bigger, and I couldn’t pinch as much fat on my hips as I had been able to before, but it didn’t really make a difference.  I couldn’t really see the difference.  I definitely felt more confident about my appearance than in my old body, but other than that I didn’t really have perspective on what I looked like to other people.  To me, it was just normal. And I was, of course, “a few pounds away.”


Yeah, haha, laugh it up– they’re both ridiculous photos.  But I chose them because they show, as best as any photo I can find, the differences in my body.  I recognized some of these differences at the time, but many I did not.  For example, I knew that you could see the muscles in my arms and my legs and my abs, and I loved it.  I knew that my breasts shrunk considerably, too.   I was willing to make that sacrifice.  I also knew the ribs in my back were visible when I bent over.  Some things I didn’t know were that my hands had gotten a bit gnarly, that the width of my shoulders basically disappeared, my legs looked really fucking thin from different angles, and that my collar bones were prominent.  I just didn’t see a lot of changes because they happened so slowly, and they happened in places I didn’t know to look.  My body was drastically different from the time of the first photo to the time of the second two photos.  But I never really felt it.  I looked n o r m a l.

What’s more, at every single stage I could always “stand to lose a few pounds.”  This applied at 138, and it applied at 108.  I always pinched my inner thighs and thought– “Sarah Jessica Parker doesn’t have fat there, and she’s healthy, so clearly I can do the same thing” — … Ridiculous.  Look at me.  Do I look like I could have lost another pound in that final picture and still have been healthy looking?  Attractive?  I don’t know.  Not from my perspective.  Not now, anyway.

When I got down to around 108, a friend of mine told me that he used to find me sexy but didn’t anymore.  I was devastated.  I couldn’t win.  I can’t be attractive when I’m big, and I can’t be attractive when I’m small, and goodness can’t people tell I’m always a flawed body?

Which I guess is what it all boils down to.  It is possible to have objective measures.  And I know that it is easy to observe concrete changes, such as muscle emergence.  These are things worth celebrating!  Huzzah!  But when we live in a world in which our feelings about our bodies are determined before we even get an objective look at them, when we are never perfect, when we are watching ourselves change in the mirrors so closely that we actually miss the big picture, we are viewing the world through a legitimately fucked up lens.

I once participated in a Dartmouth study on body image. As a subject, I was asked how I felt about various parts of my body.  I have always felt fine about my glutes, so I told them that.  My stomach was flat and attractive at the time, so I liked it, and told them that too.  Yet most importantly: I had always loathed my thighs, so I told them that.   Then I was put in an MRI.  And I was shown shown computer generated pictures of women with body fat stored in different locations, and asked to rate their attractiveness.  What I discovered about myself was that I thought all of the women with larger legs were the ugliest, and the ones with more fat in their butts or stomachs I still found attractive.  This means that I took the things that I hated most about myself, and I turned them into an obsession in general.  I thought that–objectively, seriously– people with larger legs were the least attractive.  I had taken my own insecurities and magnified them onto a huge scale, such that a part of me someone might find neutral or even attractive was an abhorrent abnormality.  Objective my ass.  My (and society’s) obsession with perfection compelled me not just to lose my objectivity but my love, and to replace it with an inability to ever see my body as a stranger might.


My takeaway points, thus, are as follows:

Do you hate your body?  Do you hate specific parts of your body?  Take some pictures of yourself from time to time and try to comparing them to others. If you saw that body on the street, would you like it?  Why or why not?  These are super important questions.  If you end up having that sort of loathing, recall what I just said about the study in which I participated.  You are not objective.  You are you.  Bodies are bodies and are not meant to be designed and weighed and balanced and measured but cherished and utilized.  Breathe, and step back as much as you can, and smile, goodness, because isn’t that the most attractive thing of all?

If you are losing weight, and you are making progress, and it’s healthy, AWESOME!!! I’m so proud of you I could just up and die, float along to paleo heaven, and lounge happily for the rest of eternity.  But know this, and know it well: your body IS changing, but the society and environment in which you live is NOT, and it will always be pressuring you to seek perfection.  Don’t let it.  Throw it the bird.  Tell it to fuck off.  Weight loss helps with body image and with confidence, but it does not necessarily make you love yourself.  Accept your body and your metabolism for what it is, and achieve the best health you can.   That’s the best thing you could ever possibly do for your body and your spirit.  Trust.

Tying up loose ends note: I am not currently as thin as I was in the two photos I posted above.  I put on some weight when doing hormone therapy this winter, but I am currently losing.  And this post is relevant to me right now because I’m debating how low I want to go.  How do I know when to stop?  Am I objective enough to stop before I get too thin?  Yeah, I like to think so.  Do I like food too much for that to really be an issue?  Yes, that might be true as well.  But– well, if you have any ideas, I’d love to hear ‘em.


02 2011

Eating Paleo in Taiwan

I have to tell you something.  It breaks my heart a little bit to do so, but I’m happy to do it nonetheless.

Taiwan, my friends, is the world’s best kept secret.

It’s a paradise.

No joke.  I’m okay with letting you in on it, but don’t tell too many people, because I love Taiwan too much to give it away.  The people are warm, the weather fantastic, the opportunities endless, the recreational drugs affordable, and the food out of this world.  Honestly I can’t ask for anything else.

I wrote a post a little while back about how glad I am to be living in Taiwan and not cooking my own food.  This means that I don’t know much about the home cooking scene.  I’ve heard that the produce is fresh and the health consciousness pretty powerful, too.  What I know about is my cafeteria, general trends, and street food.  And I can tell you this: eating paleo is easier than it ever was in the states for me.  It’s more of an adventure, too.


For protein, you have your choice of: fish filets, whole fried fish, squid, octopus, shrimp, escargot, shellfish, chicken, chicken heart, liver, duck–that is, an entire, fried duck, beak and all– blood tofu stew, beef skewers, pork bones, and every cut of beef or pork you can think of.

For fat, you get brilliant sauces that come from a combination of native Taiwanese, Chinese immigrants from the north and south, some Indian, and even European influences.  You also get: brains, chicken feet, fish skin soup, fried chicken or pork skin, vegetables stir fried in strips of pork fat… goodness, you name it.  None of that low fat bullshit here.  Not at all.  Lay it on, friends!  Come and get it while the getting is good.

And their eggs! You can get them scrambled with vegetables, with cheese, plain, over-easy, poached, hard boiled, hard boiled in tea (boil your eggs a little bit, then crack their shells, and simmer them in a pot of tea, anise, soy sauce, and whatever else you want for a couple hours– it’s amazing, go do it, do it, do it), or–get this: deep fried!  Fry your eggs over easy them throw ‘em in a deep frier.  It’s worth trying. Trust me.

Vegetables are well prepared and hugely variable.  I honestly have no idea what half the vegetables I eat are, but there are giant varieties of mushrooms and eggplants, and seaweed. I eat at least three servings of seaweed a day.  I think it’s really, genuinely helping with my PCOS.  They also have: kale, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, carrots, onions, tarot, tomatoes… all of it.  The whole gambit, and then some.  Bamboo!  Oh, the bamboo, the bamboo! Is it ever tasty.

Taiwan is also well known for it’s fresh fruits.  This one stall I walk past every day gives out free samples of guava in this salty sauce, and it’s incredibly tasty. Honestly, though, my only other fruit experience was some grapes of my roommates.  Oh, but they were so good!

Taiwan does do rice, and they do do noodles.  However, at a restaurant, if you don’t want ‘em, they just give you more veggies!  It’s amazing.  They also have a fair number of bakeries.  I just don’t go. Do they tempt me a little bit?  Sure.  The Taiwanese also love chocolate.  My professor tries to get students to do homework by promising us chocolates.  It’s absurd.

Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure the Taiwanese use canola and sesame oil a lot.  I try to make up for these by eating a lot of their delicious whole fish.   On the other hand, I know that animal fats are used a lot, too, as evidenced by my ‘pork fat green beans’ and the ‘pork fat seaweed’ I eat every day at lunch.  I know pork doesn’t have the best PUFA ratio, but I am glad that I get to eat animal fats as often as I do.

I had my first conversation yesterday explaining my eating habits to people.  Pretty hard to do in Chinese, and I ended up, duh, resorting to English.  People didn’t think I was as crazy as I had thought they would, and even knew what insulin was, and what causes diabetes!  It was pretty cool.

And now, the photos!:

Seaweed and whitefish soup

Seaweed and strips of whitefish soup.  This was maybe the best soup I’ve ever had.  Ever.  Ever.

Braised chicken heart

Some chicken heart on skewers.  They’re sold all over the place.  Enormously tasty, and two skewers costs about 1.50 USD.

Pork dumpling, seaweed, and tea egg in broth: 7-11 staples in Taiwan

Pork dumpling, seaweed roll, and tea egg in broth.  This is a real quick meal I like to get from 7-11.  Each 7-11 (and there’s about one on each corner) has a station with a variety of foods like this floating in broth you can choose from.  Each food item costs about 10 NT, or 30 cents.  You can take as much broth as you want, so I usually get a bucket full.  Other items available at the stations include shrimp rolls, bamboo, and all varieties of meat balls.

Squid on top of steamed broccoli and ginger sauteed seaweed

My favorite meal right now: a bed of greens, composed mostly of seaweed, topped with whatever seafood is being served.  This time, three giant hunking squid.  The flavor in them is just out of the world.  Giant thumbs up.  Two dollars for this meal, and it’s simultaneously super filling and super tasty.

I have many more photos, and I can post some more soon, but these are pretty representative of my palate right now.  Loads of seafood and veggies and flavor.  My life is a wonderland.


02 2011

The psychology of making changes

I can think of few things in the world more full of positive changes than the paleo movement.   Objectivity compels me to nitpick the movement and to do things like log onto paleo hacks and ask: “Are there any anti-paleo testimonials out there?”…and still come up with nothing.  Or at least very little, and nothing conclusive.  I just typed a few searches such as: “paleo sucks testimonial,” “tried paleo failed,” “didn’t like paleo,” and “fuck paleo” into my google search bar, and didn’t get any results, either.  It seems as though most failures with the paleo diet have to do with incomplete compliance, or not giving paleo guidelines enough time (though honestly you don’t need all that much) to work their magic.

But getting started can be a doozy.  Changes always are.  And even maintaining the diet, for people who have struggled psychologically with food and other lifestyle habits, is also a doozy.  DO NOT FEAR.  Psychologists have come to a pretty solid understanding of how people go about making big changes in their lives.  Each recommendation varies in specificity and number–for example, AA uses twelve steps, whereas Dr. Phil uses seven (which are you going to trust?)–but they are, in essence, the same.  An awareness of these steps can help us understand and better live our own journeys.

These steps were crafted and are today mostly used for overcoming addiction.  In the paleo movement, this is relevant for a variety of substances, including: foods we have conditioned responses to, caffeine, alcohol, artificial sweeteners or carbohydrates.  However, it is helpful for a whole range of situations and problems, such that I consider them steps for “making changes” rather than just addictions.  Some things we might want to change: our diets, our sloth, control over our health, compulsive behaviors, negative thought patterns, and, in general, bad habits.  Always a grazer?  Never run out of excuses to avoid exercising?   Still counting calories and obsessively measuring your intake?  These problems, while not officially addictions, are still Monsters with a capital M, and it takes a very certain willpower and process to get over them.

They say the stages of change in overcoming substance addiction are:

1) Precontemplation: not yet acknowledging there is a problem

Remember a point in your life in which you swam in excuses?  Still think you might?  Denial is a mightily powerful demon.  Any human being can rationalize any situation, and it is so fucking hard to step back and be honest with ourselves.  But we must.  If we live in fear of the truth, we’ll never improve, and we’ll never feel at peace with ourselves.  I know that just about everyone in good health or even seeking good health has passed this stage, but it is easy to be here without knowing it, and it’s easy to slide back into it.

What’s the easiest explanation for your current predicament?  Is it that the combination of eating a tomato, an egg, and a slice of eggplant yesterday inflamed your gut, activated your immune system, and gave you acne? Or is it actually that you ate a whole block of cheese, but you just can’t admit it because you love. cheese. so. much?   Consistently feeling really tired in the mornings?  It’s probably your compulsive exercise habits, and not the fact that old Snoopy Snoop woke you up once in the middle of the night.

Look at everything in your life with an honest gaze.  There are other ways to live, but not if you want to optimize your physical and mental health.

2) Contemplation: acknowledging that there is a problem, but not yet ready or willing to make a change

Okay, so I know that being a vegetarian is unhealthy, but I am unwilling to start eating animals.  What do I do?  Do I ignore my failing health, or do I continually do research, look for ways to sustainably eat meat, try eating meat even though historically I haven’t liked it?  Push myself through that process?  Yes, you’ve got to.  The thing is–this is a very transitory stage.  I’m willing to bet that once we’re past denial, we might float here for a while, but facts are facts and we are inevitably pulled along to their logical conclusions.

3) Preparation/Determination: getting ready to change behavior

Go go go!  Get information.  Prepare thyself.  And most importantly, learn to embrace yourself.  Your addiction, your compulsions, your habits–they are an inherent part of you.  They always have been, and even when you are healed, they will continue to be.  This is a constant battle, but it gets easier over time.  Accept this stuff into your heart, and let it settle there peaceably, and move forward with a positive attitude.  Progress is made in increments, not in leaps, and your ability to have patience with yourself and with others is vital to your success.  Breathe. Love. Accept. Give yourself a hug.

4) Action/Willpower: changing behaviors

Kick into gear!  This is the beginning.  Don’t let it scare you, Just. Do. It.  Even if it’s something you’re unsure about– for example, the paleo diet!– give it your all.  If you half ass it, you’re not going to know what a miracle a real change can be.  Trust me, and trust yourself, and trust the information you’ve gathered.  Trust the process.  Don’t cut your calories to 800 because you think the paleo recommendations just won’t work.  Trust!  Do yourself a giant favor.  You’ve prepared yourself thoroughly.  You know the risks and the benefits and the rules and all of that.  Step into the ocean, and keep walking forward.  When the sandbar drops off, you’ll swim.  Water might get in your ears, and it might scare the shit out of you, but it’s not a shark.  You’re going to be okay.  Grab onto a life raft and keep on swimming.

5) Maintenance: maintaining the behavior change

It’s not always easy.   Not at all.  Real step backs will occur– your ears will fill up with water from time to time– but we can’t let the idea of sharks scare us away.  Swim swim swim!  You have a paleo community, you have your family, you have me! Rely on the information you’ve gathered and the people around you, and continue to forgive yourself for lapses.  You will find that, while difficulties occur, momentum is the name of the game.  Get a few hard won battles under your belt, and all the sudden you’re a veteran.  This is awesome.  And you can do it.

6) Relapse: returning to old behaviors and abandoning new changes

Yikes.  I’ve said it before.  The name of the game is momentum.  The other name is trust.  Just because you’ve relapsed doesn’t mean you’ve failed.  You’re wrestling with a Monster.  These things happen.  But did Odysseus give up when the cyclops had him in his grip?  Did Ron Weasley give up when the troll knocked Hermione unconscious?  Hell no.  They were heroes because they pressed on against doubt and failure, and what can we all aspire to be, but heroes of our own lives?


All this said, I am no psychologist.  I’ve only read some books, gotten a B+ in Intro Psychology, and spent a lot of time around people making (or not making) changes.  I really believe that these phenomena exist for everyone in various degrees, and I really do think that being aware of them helps push us in the right direction.  I suggest that you check out other resources online about making changes.  For example, I jest, but I also acknowledge that Dr. Phil has a pretty good set of recommendations.   He discusses acknowledging your purpose, thinking rational thoughts, using alternative coping skills, identifying danger zones, being accountable, having a support system, and rewarding yourself.  These are all incredibly important things, and I hope you pursue them, if you’re trying to jump start change in your life.

Good luck with your changes and your optimal health.  Make me a resource.  If you want.  Please.  I can hold you accountable to just about anything.


02 2011

Pepper’s hierarchy of food relationships: a heuristic and recommendations for disordered eaters

I like to think of our relationship with food as having three tiers.  Is this a little bit presumptuous of me, and unacademic, and on the fly?  Try enormously. But I’ve been thinking about and interacting with these issues for some time, and I find that thinking about food in this way helps me to get at both my own mental state and the state of other people I talk to on a daily basis.

On the first level is the immediate vicinity: where is the food, and where am I, and how are we interacting?  The second level is more abstract: what is my relationship with food like in general?  How does food fit into my life?  Why do I eat?  The final level is Meta.  Super Meta.  What is my life like?  Am I happy?  Am I stressed?  We normally don’t think about such big themes in our lives in terms of food, but for a disordered eater, this is the most important level of all.  Food health falls under the umbrella of holistic health, so if we can get the big picture problems under control, the rest can more easily fall in line.

What follows is a description of each level, plus useful strategies I’ve uncovered and tested for handling disordered (mostly binge) relationships for each.


1.  On the lowest level of the hierarchy, it’s you and the food in front of you. What kind of food is it?  How much is there?   Do you know if the food in front of you is a ‘trigger’ food, and if it is just going to leave you wanting more?  Are you going to eat all of it?  Are you going to go back to the fridge when you’re done?   And most importantly, what do you do to forestall grazing, overeating, or even a binge?  Here are some ideas:

Get busy.  Keep both your hands and your mind engaged.  Do whatever you can to get your mind off of it.  Video games are oddly effective, as is playing an instrument, or doing housework.  Often, I used to exercise.  If I had the “good momentum” from exercise behind me, it could keep me off of food for even longer.   Leave the house– go to the library, a Starbucks, or run errands.  Drive.  Meditate.  Go for a walk.  Make a cup of tea.  Chew a stick, or even a whole pack, of gum (make sure you don’t eat when you’re done!).   Try and make sure that only foods that need to be cooked before being eaten, such as steak, or even frozen foods, are in your house.   Ease of access is really demonic for bingeing.  Take a shower.  Dance around in your underwear.  Make a list of everything that is beautiful about you.  Put both internal and external characteristics on that list.    Insist on loving yourself.  Make out with your significant other.  If you don’t have a significant other, find an understanding friend.  You probably have one or two or six hundred of them hanging around.

And if you can’t stop the binge, choose your foods more carefully.  If you absolutely MUST have a sweet, or you MUST have that one food you’re just dying for, try to have a little bit of it and then move on to something less treacherous for your health.  Then, over time (because we don’t punish, but instead congratulate, ourselves for making baby steps) try going for slightly less bad sweets.  For example, eat ice cream instead of cake.   An even better way to do this is to decrease the sweetness over time.  Reach for fruit instead of ice cream next.   And then maybe sweet potatoes.  And then veggies.  When I want to binge now, know what I eat?  Cabbage.  That’s right.   I’ll eat a whole head of cabbage at once.  It gives me the satisfaction (read: serotonin) I crave from continually eating without the calories or the blood sugar problems.  Turning to a food like this is also a good call if I’ve already started a binge.  Just throw a few pounds of vegetable matter in my stomach and see if it can handle anything else.


This brings us to the second level in the hierarchy.  What is your relationship with food?  Are you obsessive?  Compulsive?  Super controlled?   Chances are that if you’re a disordered eater, you’re fairly obsessive, and you think about food and what you’re putting in your body a lot.  You may think that this is good for you because it helps you increase your mindfulness and your health, but it’s possible that you’re wrong.  Being in control of our food, and constantly thinking about what we’re going to be eating next, and what we could be eating next, creates feelings of deprivation.  This turns mindfulness into obsessiveness, and then into addiction.

This is why “cheat days” for dieters often don’t work out very well.   They spend so much time planning cheat days that their minds just get stuck on those few, hyper-desirable, built-up foods.  Psychology has shown again and again that most of the pleasure and pain in our lives comes not from immediate moments but from anticipation.  So we build up foods in our minds way more than they ever deserve to be.

What’s more, if you’re thinking about what you’re eating next, you’re making yourself feel deprived.  Feeling deprived makes you ache for food.   Aching for food makes you ignore satiety signals.  You might in fact not be deprived at all.  You might even know logically that you aren’t deprived, but you still feel that way.  (It’s awful, isn’t it?)  I believe this is because you just think about it too much.  Is there a way you can get food off your mind, as well as your plate?  Try letting yourself have foods you like to binge on in small quantities, and then moving on to different foods.  Try to de-demonize foods.  Do I think fruit is kind of the devil?  Sure.  But if I relax that feeling into something more like: “fruit isn’t all that good for appetite management, but it won’t put a spear through my heart” then I can have a piece of apple when my roommate offers me one without fear, without loathing, and hopefully without too much emotional baggage in general.   Be mindful of what effects certain foods have on you, but also acknowledge that you can transcend those demons.  Eventually.  Baby steps are the name of the game.

Aside from these few mental strategies, we can make tangible changes in our lives to help re-balance our relationships with food, too.  For example, don’t buy carbohydrates!  That’s a good one.  Make sure to never shop when hungry, too.  Or perhaps make a shopping list before going out, give yourself a time limit in the store (or go shopping when you’re in a hurry), and come home with only those foods on the list.   Maybe you can ask your significant other to do the shopping for a while.  Or you could try eating out more, if that would help.  Limit the kinds of foods in your house that can be eaten without cooking, such as nuts, fruits, and dairy.  Talk to your friends and family about your “problems” and get them to understand that they can support you by having certain foods banned in the house, etc.  If you live in a house where people insist on having unhealthy foods, try partitioning off parts of the pantry for “you” and for “them.”  And then don’t look in those parts, ever!   They become easier to ignore over time.  Trust.  Another good trick is to buy foods frozen.  Even if you try to eat them out of the bag, your fingers might get too cold.  Perhaps that one belongs in Level 1.  Frozen foods are a go go.

Another good strategy I find, particularly for grazing, is to not eat breakfast.  This gives me a bit of “momentum” with which I can start my day feeling good.  I don’t want to ever ruin that by eating poorly or too much for the rest of the day.  A lot of people experience the same boost with exercise.  Whichever works for you.  But it’s a good one, trust me.

There are, of course, plenty of other ways to have negative relationships with food, including mindlessness, severe restriction, purging, super selectivity, and a range of others.  More on those perhaps another time.  In the meantime, how does food fit into your life, and are there steps you can take in your brain and in your life to make it even better?


The final level in the hierarchy is mental health. If emotions drive you to food, how can you mitigate those emotions?  Some of my family relationships stressed me out, for example, so I moved out of the house.  At school, workloads were enormous.  So I dropped a class.   Are you depressed, worried, nostalgic for the past, or hurting in any way that can be medicated with food?  You can even be a “happy” binge eater and binge when you’re elated because you’ve forgotten to keep track of what you eat.  Or maybe alcohol drives you to food.  Or a certain time of life–”in June I binge because it reminds me of the funeral”–or a certain event–”I always eat after I talk to my mom”–or a certain place–”I always have to stop at Dairy Queen when I drive by because work sucks”–get way from those triggers as fast as you can!  Fix it.  Fix your life.  Fix your heart.  Find peace.  Make time to breathe.   These are Macro issues–Macro with a capital M–and of course they take a long, long time to fix.  But they are about holistic health, and we need that for our bodies as well as our souls.

So that’s my hierarchy.  What’s most fascinating to me is that my strategies and my situations on each level are always changing.  These days, because of particulars on each level of the hierarchy–I hardly have a problem at all.  But I know, I do know, that if my life changed back to how it was a month ago or a year ago, I’d be looking the same old demons in the eye and expecting Buffy and Angel to back me up again.  BUT: Having worked on these issues for so long, with myself before and now with others, I have experience.  I’m better armed.  I’m more aware.  This is awesome, and it’s helped me enormously.  Hopefully it can help you, too, no matter what your current relationship with food is like.


02 2011

Coming this week

I’ve got a lot of projects going at once, and I’m really psyched about all of them.  For my regular readers, chime in if you have any recommendations, particularly for good iodine resources outside of academic journals (my vpn connections are limited in Taiwan).  For new visitors directed over here by Mark Sisson, this can give you an idea of what to expect from me in any given week.  Upcoming posts include:

The psychology of overcoming addiction and making changes

The impossibility of body image objectivity

The dangers of iodine deficiency

Iodine deficiency, hormone activity, and PCOS remediation

Hierarchy of food relationships

Eating Paleo in Taiwan (some photos are up under “photos” already if you want a sneak preview (!) )

Until then, the beginning of the end:


02 2011

PCOS, cancer, pregnancy and more: Why taking Iodine may save your life

One of the first posts I wrote for this blog was about my experience with Poly Cystic Ovarian Syndrome.  That was just three weeks ago, but I’ve had some relevant experiences since then that I think are worth sharing.

I was beginning to take estrogen pills the last we talked.  The idea was, since my estrogen was a bit low, these pills would bring my male/female hormones into balance and would help me menstruate.   They worked. The medical community knows their stuff, and if they want to make us fertile, they can do it.  What’s more, the pills helped clear up my acne a bit.  However, the pills also added 12 pounds of body fat to my 5’2 frame!  I legitimately stopped fitting into all my clothes, and in just three weeks.  For someone so acutely aware of body image and weight issues, this was startling.

So I had a period (my first in 15 months, huzzah!), but then stopped taking the estrogen pills (I was on Sprintec, a classic birth control pill) and ordered Yasmin, a birth control pill that’s supposed to be better for acne and for maintaining body weight than the rest on the market.  This should be a better fix than my last birth control pill.   However, I am not going to take it right away.  Instead, I have discovered a new treatment for PCOS, and I am going to experiment with this first.  Birth control pills are clearly just a band-aid over a larger issue, and I want to have the greatest holistic and true health possible.

Onwards, then!  Onwards, I say!


I was staring out the window on a bus ride down the western coast of Taiwan when, listening to a Robb Wolf interview on the Livin La Vida Low Carb Show, the two of them discussed the perils of iodine deficiency.  I know that my thyroid activity is a little low.  I know, too, that the other women I’ve talked to who have started experiencing PCOS since losing weight also have relatively low thyroid levels.  Robb said that he often sees many women experience PCOS and then normalize once supplementing with iodine.  Fascinating.  I decided to do some research.  This is what I found:


Only iodine and chlorine, of the four halogens–(iodine, chlorine, bromine and fluoride)–are necessary to the body. We need iodine in many of our organs, including the skin, muscle, and reproductive tissues.  We need chlorine in the stomach for secretion of hydrochloric acid. Chloride is also an important part of the blood’s regulation of its acid-base balance, so we need chlorine to breathe.  We consume bromine and fluoride in higher quantities than either iodine or chlorine.  Yikes.

Much like we’ve seen before with other elements, each of these halogens attaches to the same receptors in our cells.  Therefore, if we take in excessive bromine (which we do) or fluoride (which we do), we inhibit our ability to take up and use iodine.   Receptors may fill up with bromine, which is common in grains, bleached flour, sodas, nuts and oils as well as several plant foods. Fluorine from sources such as toothpaste, certain teas, and fluoridated water will also take up important spots in halogen receptors.

This information is important because iodine deficiency is not only caused by reduced iodine intake, but also by increased bromine and fluorine intake.  One researcher in particular, Dr. Flechas, has looked into trends in halogen intake over time, with specific emphasis on women’s health.   I found an interview with Dr. Flechas online, at the website, which is maintained by health care professionals aware of the dangers of iodine deficiency.  It’s a pretty cool site.  I went ahead and listened to the interview with Dr. Flechas.  What follows is a summary of what I thought were the most relevant points:

* 84% of women have some kind of cyclical breast pain, which is related to fibrocystic breast disease and linked to iodine deficiency.  84 percent… that’s so many people. Dr. Flechas reports that breast tissues uses as much iodine as the thyroid gland.  The New England Journal of Medicine, on July 24, 2005 reported that women with fibrocystic breast disease have elevated rates of cancer.

* Iodine deficiency in the ovaries leads to ovarian cysts, ie, PCOS.

* A women with hypothyroidism has a 6% chance of developing breast cancer. Once she starts taking thyroid hormone, it doubles her chances. Once she’s been on thyroid hormone replacement for 15 years, it more than triples it – she now has a 19.6% chance of developing breast cancer.  Thyroid hormone inhibits the body’s ability to take up iodine.  Clearly, thyroid hormone is not the ideal fix for this problem.  What’s more, those put on thyroid hormone may still suffer with 90% of their symptoms. For many, they have enough of the thyroid hormone already.  The problem is with the receptors.

* Dr. Flechas argues that the RDA of iodine is too low.  (Surprise!)  The RDA recommends an enough to prevent goiter, but not enough for optimal health.

* Iodine in the body is used as follows: 3% by the thyroid, 70% by muscles and fat, 20% by the skin, and 7% by the ovaries.  I am sure that this has implications for my ovaries and my thyroid and my weight loss, but how is totally beyond me.

* Absence of iodine in tissue allows cysts to grow.  This would explain why iodine deficiency leads to both fibrocystic breast disease and poly cystic ovarian syndrome. In his practice, Dr. Flechas has put women with PCOS on iodine supplementation and has seen their cycles not just return, but become regular.

* Iodine is also important for pregnancy. Absence of iodine in early pregnancy = ADD type symptoms in children.  Adequate amounts of iodine in early pregnancy and early childhood improves intelligence.  In China, where there is fluoride in the water and the iodine levels are marginal, many babies born are cretin.  Yikes.

*Bromine is evil. In the U.S., iodine used to be in bread – 160 mcg of iodine per slice of bread. Now manufacturers use bromide because it helps create a “beautiful” bread shape.  Not long after this change occurred, the incidence of breast cancer rose dramatically.  Another interesting Bromine phenomenon: Back in the 20′s, Bromo-Seltzer was used to cure headaches and hangovers.   Yet too much Bromo-Seltzer caused a buildup of bromide in the brain which resulted in paranoia and schizophrenia, which the doctors termed “Bromomania.”  The New England Journal of Medicine reported that from 1920 to 1960, 20% of the people admitted into psychiatric hospitals had acute paranoid psychosis (Bromomania) because of Bromo-Seltzer.  In 1964, the FDA finally caught wind of this, so Bromo-Seltzer left the market. But, that same year, bromide was included in another produce in the form of brominated vegetable oil – Mountain Dew. They use it to disperse the citric acid in citrus- flavored drinks.  Bromide depresses the central nervous system, however, so Mountain Dew is loaded with caffeine to make up for that effect.  Finally, bromide is injected into soil and sprayed on some fruits and vegetables since it makes a great pesticide. Fluoride is also used as an insecticide and pesticide.  In China they have found that no geniuses come from areas with fluoridated water.  Many are of substandard intelligence.

* Iodine also used to be fortified in milk, but is no longer.

* 50% of American women cook with salt that has no iodine. The Journal for the AMA recommends all physicians decrease their patients salt intake by 50%. Where are these patients supposed to get iodine?

* 20% iodine sits in the skin – it helps the body sweat. If you don’t sweat, you may be iodine deficient.  (I don’t sweat!!!)

* Japan has the lowest amount of cancer in the world, even though they’ve been bombed twice with nuclear bombs. Because they eat so much seaweed, they get the highest doses of iodine of any country.  This is a correlation, but one that I think is perhaps relevant, currently, in my own life.  More on that later.

* FSH/LH receptors (important hormones in the menstrual cycle) are also helped by iodine. Dr. Flechas mentions again that patients who aren’t having periods began having regular cycles again.

* Neuro-hormones in the brain also benefit from iodine. Within days, some people with depression find relief.

* Dr. Flechas has been supplementing with iodine for a number of years now. It took him a year to come off his thyroid hormone for hypothyroidism.


So that’s the interview.  Pretty powerful stuff, huh?   I have yet to fact check anything Dr. Flechas said, nor to perform further research on the matter.  I was just too excited about the possibilities for this treatment to wait to post it.

I lived at home with my family in Detroit for the last five months before I came to Taiwan.  While home, my symptoms with PCOS skyrocketed.  I had been infertile and experiencing acne before, but once home it got much worse.  I tried everything with my diet, and nothing was working.  However, I now know that we did not use iodized salt in my home, and I also know that Detroit fluorinates it’s water.  I also drank enormous amounts of tea, some of which may have had excess fluoride in it.  I never sweat, I have low thyroid, I have cystic ovaries, and I have dry skin.

Since coming to Taiwan, I have stopped drinking tea, I drink a decent amount of my water out of bottles, and I have made sure to eat two servings of seaweed every day.   Now, I know that I was on the birth control when I got here, so that might account for my improved acne and skin conditions, but while I was in the states and on the birth control I was still having breakouts.  Since coming to Taiwan, I haven’t had any.   At all.  And my vaginal health has stabilized some, even since coming off of the birth control.  Lots of things have changed in my life here–lots and lots of factors could be at work.  But I think I am on to something, and I am excited.

In addition to having Yasmin shipped to me, my mother is shipping my kelp tablets along as well.  I am going to supplement with them for a few weeks without any birth control, and see what happens.  I will keep doing research into thyroid activity, cystic tissues, and iodine levels.  And I will keep you posted both on my own progress and on what I find.  We seem to be on the right track (duh), with the paleo diet by eschewing foods that are manufactured and contain bromide, but sometimes things fall through the cracks.  I am plugging up those cracks one at a time, and I hope that in your pursuit of optimal health, you get to do the same.

The light of the future is bright and beckoning!



02 2011