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For the Love of Food

by | Feb 21, 2014
For The Love of Food

For The Love of Food

Welcome to Friday’s For The Love of Food, Summer Tomato’s weekly link roundup.

This week low-fat dairy is pointless, farmers may plant foods that are actually healthy, and how the color red can help you eat less.

Want to see all my favorite links? (There’s lots more). Be sure to follow me on on Delicious. I also share links on Twitter @summertomato,  Google+ and the Summer Tomato Facebook page. I’m very active on all these sites and would love to connect with you. (And yes, I took that pepper heart pic myself).
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How I Cured My Chronic Insomnia

by | Feb 20, 2013

Photo by Alyssa L. Miller

I don’t use the term chronic insomnia lightly. Have you ever heard of a kid who fakes naps during preschool just to placate the teacher? That was me.

Despite my parents letting me stay up to 9-10pm when I was 8-years old—way later than most of my peers (thank you Dad, you rock!)—I inevitably drove them crazy by waking up at the crack of dawn (literally) on weekends ready to kick off the day.

In high school I averaged maybe 5 hours of sleep a night. Even today I rely on the occasional Ambien to make sure I sleep through a flight or get enough rest the night before an important event.

My insomnia is multifaceted. I have trouble falling asleep because I am very sensitive to light (sometimes I joke that I have invisible eyelids). I’m also very sensitive to sounds and have difficulty getting comfortable.

Once I’m asleep, it’s also way too easy to wake me up. And once I wake up, falling back asleep in less than two hours is nearly impossible. I wake up at any hint of light entering the room, or any abnormal noise.

I’ve tried melatonin, tryptophan, St. John’s wort, camomile, kava kava and antihistamines. Most of them just make me extra miserable because I get groggy and drowsy, but still can’t fall asleep. Ambien has been the only prescription sleep aid that works for me without major side effects, but it is not for everyone and I certainly did not want to rely on it for my day-to-day sleep hygiene.

But with a combination of these techniques, I’ve been able to control my insomniac tendencies and boost my sleep to a solid seven hours a night.

9 Tips To Cure Insomnia

1. Get on a consistent sleeping schedule

This one is probably the most important. The circadian rhythms that control your sleep-wake cycle originate in a part of your brain called the hypothalamus (specifically the suprachiasmatic nucleus, for you neuroscience geeks).

These neurons are sensitive to light and work to sync your biological clock to regular light-dark hours. The more consistent these are, the stronger your body will respond to natural circadian rhythms and the easier it will be to fall asleep when you’re supposed to.

2. No interactive screen time 1 hour before bed

As mentioned above, bright light can impact your circadian rhythms and staring into a computer screen late into the night can make it more difficult to fall asleep. Working and other mental activity can also keep your mind alert and prevent it from relaxing enough to fall asleep.

I am acutely aware of how difficult it is to unplug when you’re a workaholic, but a good night’s sleep does more for my productivity than I could ever achieve in the 12th or 14th hour of my workday, so I’ve learned to disengage well before bedtime.

Though I haven’t had any problems from watching TV or a movie, it’s best to stay away from any devices that require input from you for the last hour before bed. This means you should turn off the computers, smart phones, video games and tablets, no matter how badly you want to level up. Instead, try to quiet your mind by taking a bath, reading a book, having some herbal tea, cleaning up the house, listening to music or practicing meditation.

3. Don’t eat too late

Eating close to bed time, particularly a high-calorie, heavy meal, is associated with poorer sleep quality. I’ve also noticed this in myself, and when I avoid late night eating I get better, more consistent sleep. If you’re hungry, try drinking a glass of water and going to bed on an empty stomach instead. You certainly won’t starve to death.

4. Exercise daily

The best sleep I ever got was when I was marathon training at 5am every weekday before school. I fell asleep like clockwork at 10:30pm every night. It was glorious.

Heavy exercise is certainly a great way to invoke sound sleep, but even moderate activity like walking 10,000 steps each day can make a big difference in sleep quality. If you aren’t sure how much activity you’re getting, a Fitbit pedometer might be a good investment.

5. No caffeine after 1pm

This one was hard for me to believe. I’d been a heavy coffee drinker from a young age, and never thought it effected my sleep one way or another. If I was really tired during finals, coffee never seemed to help much and there were a few times when I fell asleep not too long after having a double espresso.

I’m not sure if I changed or if my sleep cycle was just so messed up that I couldn’t detect relevant differences, but now that I’ve switched to drinking mainly tea I’ve noticed that if I drink any caffeine too late in the day it is harder to fall asleep. I try not to drink coffee after 12pm, but 1pm is sometimes more realistic.

6. Use a white noise machine

My old apartment was just two doors down from a bustling freeway off ramp, and as you can imagine the traffic noise was constant. As someone who is very sensitive to noise, this posed a tremendous problem.

I’ve tried sleeping with ear plugs, but I have small ears and find them very uncomfortable. The solution that works best for me to control noise disturbances is the Sleepmate, a white noise machine that is quiet enough to ignore but drowns out most other ambient noise. This thing is a lifesaver if you’re stuck in a noisy neighborhood.

7. Black out shades or sleep mask

I realized early on that I’m sensitive to even the slightest amount of light in a room, even small ones like a laptop charging light.

If you’ve taken care of all the light sources inside your bedroom but are still bothered by light that sneaks in under the door or through the window, consider getting some black out shades or a sleep mask. The shades work great but can be expensive and kind of ugly. If you go with a mask, I find that the cheaper, less cushy ones are the most comfortable. Mine looks a lot like this one for under $2.

8. Don’t drink too much alcohol

Though a small nightcap can often help me relax and fall asleep faster, too much alcohol is proven to disturb sleep and can cause you to wake up early. If you like to party, keep in mind that it may be impacting your life in more negative ways than you think.

9 . Practice mindfulness

Though light, noise and bad habits all play a role in my sleep problems, I’m convinced that at the root of it all is a wandering mind. These other factors just add levels of distraction to my already overstimulated brain.

In our plugged in world, constant interruptions are making it progressively difficult to keep your attention on a single task long enough to get it done. For me, the nightly task that eludes me is sleep.

Practicing mindfulness on a regular basis (e.g. spending a few seconds a day focusing on my breathing or taking the time to eat a bite of food slowly with my eyes closed) gives me the power to truly relax my mind when I’m trying to fall asleep rather than letting it drift to all the things I need to get done the following day.

Mindfulness isn’t easy, but the only way to get better is through practice. Whenever you’re waiting for an elevator, standing in line, walking up stairs, taking a bite of food, take a few seconds to reflect on where you are and how your body feels. Focus on a few breaths, in and out, and get accustomed to letting go of your worries. The longer you can sustain this practice the easier it will be to let go of your problems and get a good night’s sleep.

What helps you sleep better?

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UPdate: Jawbone Up is still really cool, but far from perfect

by | Dec 5, 2011

After a month I figured it’s a good time to check back in and give you my latest opinion on the Jawbone Up, since a lot of you are asking. I had only used it for five days when I wrote my last review (below), and how I’ve been using it over the past weeks has definitely evolved.

Apparently a lot of people are having trouble with the device. I’m on my second one (my first wouldn’t charge properly and eventually stopped working), but to be fair I’m on my third Fitbit as well. Since I’ve had the new one I’ve had no problems and it works perfectly (so does the latest Fitbit). I wonder if it’s working better because I stopped wearing it in the shower? Who knows.

I’ve heard a few people say they are having issues with the accuracy of tracking, but mine has consistently registered within a few hundreds steps of Fitbit, a difference that is virtually irrelevant. Someone in the comments here said their device counts steps when they drive their car, pushing the numbers very high. I don’t drive so can’t attest to this issue, but I would be pretty upset if it were true. I’ve also heard that a lot of people lose their plug caps, which hasn’t happened to me but would be annoying. To their credit, from what I understand Jawbone has been cool about replacing devices and caps for those with problems.

Hardware issues aside I still think the Jawbone Up is really cool, and I absolutely love the hourly reminders to get off my ass and move around. I set these myself, so the nudges aren’t a prerequisite for using the device, but I think they are by far the best reason to get the Up. (Are you listening Fitbit?)

As a pedometer, the lack of bluetooth wireless syncing bothers me more than I expected. This is especially true since I’m still using my Fitbit, which has a beautiful display of my steps (not to mention calories, stair flights, miles traveled and the time) at the push of a button. Though plugging the Up into your iPhone is easy enough, to get your data you need to launch the app and sync the device. This takes the better part of a minute and feels very laborious compared to the simplicity of the Fitbit that I can check easily without a second thought.

That said I do love that the Up presents my data in a graphical form that has me making progress toward a defined goal (10,000 steps). There’s something innately inspiring about seeing your activity build over the course of the day, and it is even more powerful when you can see it compared with friends (I’ll get more into the social side shortly). Once again, inspiration is probably the greatest advantage of the Up.

As much as I love data, however, I stopped using the Up to track sleep and food. I’m not a big food tracker anyway, but the interface is a bit too cumbersome despite its attempt at simplicity. It just isn’t very intuitive and doesn’t translate well onto my personal eating style (low-maintenance). I’d be interested to hear if any of you have found a way to make the food tracking worthwhile. If not, I’d recommend Jawbone kill this feature or spend some serious time rethinking how to make it work.

The reason I stopped using the sleep tracker is more rudimentary: I don’t like sleeping with a bracelet on. I think Jawbone did a great job of making a sleek, cool looking device for wearing during the day. But when I sleep I have a tendency to move around a lot and I like to slide my arms under blankets, between pillows and other cozy places. In that setting the Up is obtrusively bulky. As much as I love the idea of naturally waking up every morning during the perfect time in my sleep cycle, it won’t happen for me with the current bracelet design.

Back to the app, the social aspect was the part I was most excited about and it kills me how difficult it is to find friends on Up. Why is there no Facebook or Twitter integration? This is baffling. The search function for friends is ridiculously difficult to use, and I don’t think there is any way to discover other friends who are using the device if you don’t already know they’re on there. From what I understand this is a fairly simple feature to add and I don’t understand why it wasn’t built in at launch. I share Alexia’s dream of Up seamlessly integrating with social services, but for now it’s a major social FAIL.

To summarize, I like the Up and still think it has tremendous potential. I still might choose it over Fitbit for that reason (a lot of these issues can be solved with software updates), as well as the buzz reminders. But if you aren’t the social butterfly I am (or if you happen to be an Android user) at this stage Fitbit is still an excellent alternative if you’re just looking to move more for health reasons.

How is your Up working out?

UPDATE from Jawbone (12/8/11):

I receive this email from Jawbone today guaranteeing a full refund, even without returning your Up. They say that have found a few hardware issues and are stopping production until the problems are fully resolved. There will still be software updates as necessary. Here’s the complete letter from the Jawbone CEO:

UPDATE FROM THE CEO
The UP™ No Questions Asked Guarantee
To the UP Community:

Earlier this year, we unveiled Jawbone’s vision to help people live a healthier life with UP. We’ve been thrilled by the passionate response to this product. We heard from tens of thousands of you through emails, tweets, blog posts and on our forums about how you’re changing your lifestyle and becoming consumers of your own health. In just four weeks, UP users have collectively taken over three billion steps, gotten more than 300 years of sleep and captured hundreds of thousands of meals.

While many of you continue to enjoy the UP experience, we know that some of you have experienced issues with your UP band. Given our commitment to delivering the highest quality products, this is unacceptable and you have our deepest apologies. We’ve been working around the clock to identify the root causes and we’d like to thank everyone who has provided us with information and returned their bands to us for troubleshooting. With your help, we’ve found an issue with two specific capacitors in the power system that affects the ability to hold a charge in some of our bands. We’re also fixing an issue with syncing related to the band hardware. Typically, these issues surface within the first seven to ten days of use. The glitches are purely performance related and do not pose any safety risk.

We’ve also received helpful feedback on the application experience, including bug reports, ways to make signup and finding friends easier, user interface suggestions and new feature requests. Your comments are invaluable as we continue to improve, so please keep them coming and check back frequently for updates to ensure you’re always enjoying the latest features and enhancements.

We recognize that this product has not yet lived up to everyone’s expectations – including our own – so we’re taking action:

The UP No Questions Asked Guarantee

This means that for whatever reason, or no reason at all, you can receive a full refund for UP. This is true even if you decide to keep your UP band. We are so committed to this product that we’re offering you the option of using it for free.

The program starts December 9th and full details can be found at http://jawbone.com/uprefund.

For most of you, this program is simply meant to offer peace of mind. Please continue to enjoy your UP band and keep sharing your experience with us. If you encounter any problems with your UP band, contact Jawbone directly for your choice of a replacement and/or refund under this program. It’s that simple.

Jawbone remains deeply committed to addressing all issues with UP, investing in the category and giving our customers the tools to live a healthier life. We’ve temporarily paused production of UP bands and will begin taking new orders once these issues have been sorted out. In the meantime, we’ll continue to release app updates for existing users.

We regret any disappointment we’ve created for our community of users and appreciate the trust you’ve put in us. The fact that you’ve taken the time to talk with us and help us make a better product is simply phenomenal. Our customers have always been part of our team and we’re incredibly grateful for that.

Please know that we’re doing – and will continue to do – everything we can to make things right. This is just the beginning for UP and we are excited to keep improving until we realize the powerful vision of what this category can be.

If there is absolutely anything else we can do for you, please let us know.

Hosain Rahman
CEO
Jawbone

Jawbone Up is the coolest pedometer in the history of the universe

November 9, 2011

I don’t write a lot of product reviews, mainly because I don’t use a lot of products. For my healthstyle I prefer simplicity, and until recently the only health tracking I’ve done regularly involves making sure the same jeans fit me year-after-year. Super fancy, I know.

That was until a few months ago when I realized that it is very easy for me to lose track of how much walking I do, which I’ve learned is absolutely critical for maintaining my weight. Since then I’ve been tracking my steps with a Fitbit (that I adore), and in just two months I’m back down to what I consider my ideal size.

But as much as I love my Fitbit, the Jawbone Up I got last weekend is way cooler.

What is it?

Like any pedometer, the Up tracks your steps. I’ve been wearing both my Up and Fitbit for a few days and the numbers are very similar.

Instead of clipping to your pants like the Fitbit, Up is a water-proof wristband that you wear at all times. The Up plugs directly into your iPhone sound port, and syncs with an app that displays the data.

It has three different modes: regular, sleep and active. There is a single button on the device you use to change modes. Generally you keep it in the normal mode, but if you are exercising vigorously the active mode will give you more accurate readings. The sleep mode tracks how much sleep you get and displays when during the night you were in light versus deep sleep.

The Up allows you to track your meals as well, which is powerful when combined with the various challenges you can set up for yourself. For instance, if you take a picture of your lunch and you have also challenged yourself to eat something green at both lunch and dinner, you will have the option of giving yourself credit for that meal.

Up is also proactive. It has a built in vibration that can be used as an alarm clock that gently wakes you up at the right time of your sleep cycle around the time you specify. Or if you want to break the habit of sitting at your desk for long stretches of time, you can have it nudge you if you’ve been inactive for a set amount of time.

Why it’s awesome

Where Up has a huge advantage over Fitbit is how the data is displayed. For the most part the app interface is beautiful and intuitive, making it easy and fun to use. You can scroll through your days and look for the patterns of activity, and the sky appears to cycle between night and day as you look back in time.

The social integration is also way better in Up than Fitbit, and it is highly customizable for any goals you may have. Your engagement can be friendly or competitive, so you can set it up for whatever motivates you best. It’s really fun when there are two devices in one house, it’s a constant competition here over who takes the most steps every day (I always win).

The sleep mode is also awesome. While Fitbit has a sleep mode as well, it’s a pain to use and doesn’t give you much insight. The Up sleep data is more similar to the Zeo personal sleep manager, but has the advantage of not requiring you to sleep with the equivalent of a camping headlamp strapped to your face, which is nice. The sleep data is simple and gives you information that is actually useful.

I also like what they’ve done with the meal tracking. This is usually a tough sell for me, because tracking can easily become way too labor intensive to be practical. The Up only requires a picture, but it is also proactive in that it will remind you to evaluate how you feel a couple hours after the meal. The simplicity is key, and I think this could actually be helpful in selectively building and breaking various eating habits.

I think this app has huge potential for habit building. With the challenges and built in reminders, tracking and nudging has never been more simple. And since the key to habit building is repetition and consistency, these tools are incredibly powerful for making meaningful behavioral changes.

Lastly, the Up is surprisingly cool looking and is relatively comfortable to wear. I expected it to look something like the rubber LIVESTRONG bracelets (which fit better on my ankle than my wrist), but the form factor is much more elegant. I got a black band and I love it, but it also comes in bright red, bright blue or silver, and dark brown, dark red and white are coming soon.

Down sides

So far I don’t have many complaints. There is the obvious disadvantage that it cannot be used if you don’t have an iPhone, but I could write pages about why the iPhone is the best thing I’ve ever bought in my life so I personally don’t think this is a major negative.

There are still a few imperfections in the app UI, which can easily be addressed. For example, it isn’t particularly easy to search for friends to add to teams. But presumably all this will can be fixed in software updates.

It would be nice if the Up tracked elevation like the new Fitbits do. I encourage all of you to be taking the stairs whenever possible, and elevation data is a nice feature in that regard.

My last critique is that you can’t see your data with just a push of a button like you can with Fitbit. The Up requires you take it off and plug it into your phone, which isn’t that much of a hassle but makes me slightly less inclined to check my status.

But considering you’re basically getting Fitbit, Zeo and Health Month rolled into one, at $100 it’s hard to beat.

You can order yours on Amazon or the Jawbone Up website.

What do you think of the new Up?

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Unplug And Recharge With One Meal A Day

by | May 26, 2010
Green Apple, Yellow Teapot

Photo by Chris Isherwood back soon

Few things are as irrevocably tied to our health and well being as food. But while much attention is given to the kind of foods we eat, the way we eat and our relationship with food can be just as important.

Eating traditions and food culture have been all but abandoned in the US. Thanks to busy schedules, technological advances, and the aggressive marketing of convenience foods by the food industry it is now both possible and acceptable to eat anytime and anywhere.

But what price do we pay for this new found convenience?

Efficiency and multitasking are appealing in a society where time is arguably our most precious commodity, but we must remember that in the food world what we gain in expediency we sacrifice in quality of life.

When our goals are to cook as little as possible, eat whenever convenient, and not worry about the origins of our food, we lose both the joy and good health food should bring to our lives.

Meal time is an opportunity to unplug from the daily grind and recharge both physically and mentally. Rather than viewing eating as a regular chore that needs to be accomplished as efficiently as possible, we should approach food as a source of health and pleasure to be nurtured and enjoyed.

The most basic satisfaction we take from food is the sensual pleasure of eating itself. Good food is delicious, and appreciating this gift of nature can bring tremendous joy to you and those you care about. A good meal deserves your full attention and requires little more than stepping away from the screen and sitting at a table.

Food also has the power to bring people together and strengthen relationships. A strong social network can have a tremendous impact on your quality of life, and meal time is one of the easiest ways to nurture this basic human need. Instead of gathering around the TV at dinner, try using this opportunity to share quality food and conversation with people you care about.

But the joys of food are not limited to highbrow meals with other people. Both cooking and sitting down to eat by yourself without disruptions from multimedia can create rare moments of peace and thoughtfulness, a chance to break away from the constant demands on your attention. Taking time to reflect each day can do more to reduce your stress levels than banging out just a few more emails while inhaling a sandwich.

Food also has the power to deepen your appreciation of nature and your community. When food is important to you, ingredients (and where they come from) quickly take center stage. Great ingredients are a product of both nature and the skill of the grower. Understanding all that goes into making a wonderful meal helps you appreciate the seasons, the soil and the agricultural community that are responsible for growing your food. Understanding and respecting the origins of what you eat helps connect you to our planet and your local community.

Since we eat three times a day, the various joys we get from food can contribute immensely to our quality of life. Though it might not be possible to slow down and unplug every time you eat, striving to step away from multimedia at least one meal a day can help you work more efficiently the rest of the time.

When we pay it our full attention, food simultaneously recharges us in both body and spirit. In this way, unplugging and enjoying a meal is its own form of multitasking.

How does cooking and eating improve your quality of life?

StumbleUpon.com

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What’s For Dinner? Ask Your iPhone

by | May 11, 2009

locavore-app

Healthy eating can sometimes seem like a daunting task. You know you should be eating local, seasonal ingredients and lots of vegetables, but how do you know what to get? Once you have it, how do you cook it?

Enter iPhone. I can confidently say that my iPhone has made my life more convenient than any single electronic device since my first laptop. Sure plain cell phones are great, but honestly text messages annoy me more than they improve my quality of life.

An iPhone offers so much more than calls and texts, especially when you delve into the world of applications or “apps.” Apps are third party software programs that can be downloaded to your phone to perform specific (usually awesome) functions. Apps are what set iPhone apart from all other phones. Today I’m going to tell you about two apps in particular–Locavore and Epicurious–that can be used together to help you decide what to do for dinner.

Locavore ($3) is an app that finds all the farmers markets near you along with the produce in season in your area. It does this according to your physical location on earth using the built in iPhone GPS. Isn’t that brilliant? (Yes, I’m totally jealous that I didn’t make this app myself.)

I get questions every week about how to find a good farmers market in a given area. Honestly I had never had an answer much better than “Google it.” With Locavore’s “Markets” feature, you get a list of farmers markets in your area ranked by their distance to you. If you click on the market you want to visit it gives you all the essential information, such as what time of year it runs and its hours of operation. Locavore also allows you to browse by region (U.S. only) or specific food to find seasonal availability.

The farmers market information used by Locavore is from a website called Local Harvest. Even if you do not have an iPhone Local Harvest is a fantastic resource for finding farms, markets and CSAs near you. When you have located the market you would like to go to be sure to check near the bottom of the information paragraph for the last time the site was updated. In my experience farmers are not particularly tech savvy and often forget to update their websites. I always recommend calling before you go, just to confirm the market still exists and hasn’t changed its hours.

In the Locavore app, once you have found your market you can check the “In Season” feature. This will give you a list of items that are supposed to be in season in your area (information gathered from the Natural Resources Defense Council website).

Unfortunately, the list is more an approximation of reality than a true market browse through. I’ve been following my own market on Locavore since I first downloaded the app several weeks ago, and I’d say it is about 90% accurate. Definitely I have seen the list include some items that are not available and I would not expect to be available this time of year in my area (e.g. boysenberries). Also, my market is large and specialized enough that there are always unique finds that the NRDC does not know about.

You can, however, get an idea of items that should be easy to find. To avoid hunting down ingredients that may not be available, be sure to check the pie graph icons to the left of each item. These represent the number of months left until that specific vegetable or fruit goes out of season (again, this is approximate and depends substantially on the weather). If there is less than one month left, you probably shouldn’t plan your entire meal around that one ingredient since there is a good chance it won’t be there. If the pie is full (green), that means you can find the item year round in your area. In general, the Locavore produce list is fairly thorough and accurate and can be used to create a seasonal dinner menu.

One of the coolest features of Locavore is its connection to the recipe website Epicurious. If you find a seasonal ingredient you would like to try but need ideas on how to prepare it, simply click the item and a page will open to show you all the states it is available along with the its Wikipedia listing (in case you aren’t sure exactly what it is) and a link to Epicurious. If you follow the Epicurious link it takes you to a list of recipes using your ingredient. Click the dish that sounds the most delicious and get a complete recipe and shepicurious-appopping list. Use this to make sure you get all the ingredients you need at the market.

Conveniently Epicurious has its own app (free) if you already know the ingredient you want to use and do not need to find a farmers market. You can search by meal, event or specific ingredient, and create shopping lists for your favorite recipes. As you can imagine, I’m particularly fond of the “Healthy Lunches” option. Another bonus is the Epicurious app contains the entire contents of the Big Yellow Cookbook by Gourmet.

Overall Locavore and Epicurious are both fantastic apps for anyone interested in cooking local, seasonal meals. Together they are a powerful resource for finding ingredients and cooking the best seasonal meals possible.

Have you used either the Locavore or Epicurious iPhone apps?

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