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How to Get Past “I Should” and Actually Become a Healthy Person

by | Dec 14, 2016

boy airplane

When I was a dieter I had a mindbogglingly long list of things I “should” do to reach my goals.

I should go for a run every morning.

I should do 100 crunches per day.

I should be a size 2.

I should not drink calories.

I should never eat ice cream.

It makes me exhausted just thinking about it.

Amazingly I was able to do many of these things (I’ve written before how I actually have pretty strong willpower). But it was a constant battle and it still never felt like I was doing enough. No matter how hard I tried, I was never happy.

It took me years to understand that it was in fact all these shoulds that were holding me back. That I had externalized my motivation, letting it be dictated by goals outside my true feelings, and by doing so sold myself short.

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Are You Missing Out on Mindful Cooking?

by | Nov 30, 2016
Photo by Jules Clancy

Photo by Jules Clancy

Huge thanks to Jules Clancy of Stonesoup for this week’s article introducing me to the concept of mindful cooking. I’ve certainly made the mistake of viewing cooking as a nuisance, even though I know it ultimately benefits me and my family. I love this new way of looking at it.

Jules LOVES real food and hanging out in her kitchen. She has a degree in Food Science and is the author of ‘5-Ingredients 10-Minutes’. For a free eCookbook of delicious 5-ingredient recipes sign up for the Stonesoup weekly newsletter.

Recently I realized I’ve been making a huge mistake. Like many modern food writers, there’s one thing I’ve had completely wrong. Rather than celebrating the joy that cooking can bring to our lives, I’ve been guilty of apologizing for activity in the kitchen.

I’ve stressed how quick and easy my recipes are (I did write a whole book called ‘5-Ingredients 10-Minutes’) instead of sharing how great they taste or how good they make you feel.

I still believe cooking need not be complicated nor time consuming to produce delicious, satisfying results. But I now realize that apologizing for time spent in the kitchen, sends the message that cooking is a chore. Not an activity worthy of your precious minutes and hours.

The thing is, I love cooking. And I want to share that love.

I hope to inspire you to reframe how you think about cooking. Because there’s so much more to gain than just improving your healthstyle.

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How to Be Thankful After Campaign 2016: Foodist Edition

by | Nov 16, 2016

It’s been a heck of week, hasn’t it?

Like many Americans I’ve spent the days since the election trying to process the brave new world that we live in. For me this campaign season has been about more than politics (don’t worry, I won’t go there). I’ve found myself reacting emotionally in a deep, fundamental way to many of the events that occurred over the course of the campaign season and it has caused me to reevaluate my relationship with several of the core pillars of stability in my life.

Some of the things that came up for me are issues that I write about regularly here at Summer Tomato. These are topics I’ve thought deeply about for years, but suddenly I see them in a new light. And while much of what has changed for me started with a negative emotion, the longer I sit with these feelings the more I realize the shift I’ve experienced has brought me closer to the truth. And for this I am thankful.

With Thanksgiving around the corner (and my birthday on Friday) I want to share with you some of the insights I’ve had. Unlike most of what I write here, this is not intended to be prescriptive advice you should follow. Instead my goal is to simply show the messy process of refining your own values when life makes it necessary.

If you do happen to share some of these values (there are no right or wrong values so don’t freak out if you don’t), I hope you can find something to be thankful for this week as well.

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How to Eat Carbs Like a Sane Person

by | Nov 2, 2016

yogurt schnooze

When I first decided to stop dieting the single hardest thing for me to do was let myself eat carbs again.

Bread, rice and potatoes had been banned from my list of skinny-friendly foods for over 5 years. And even though I only weighed about 5 lbs less than when I ate them regularly, I couldn’t help but think of carbs as impossibly fattening. Given my body image issues at the time, I think I would have preferred to eat something laced with anthrax.

What is it about carbs that makes people act insane?

Getting over my fear of carbs required several critical steps. The first big one was digging into the science and learning that the healthiest, longest lived humans on the planet eat intact grains, tubers and legumes regularly. I grudgingly had to accept that they were not subsisting on protein bars and Diet Coke like I was.

The next big test was trying for myself. I slowly phased out processed “diet” foods and started teaching myself to cook vegetables and other Real Foods. I started eating fruit again. But the scariest part was letting myself eat things like oats, rice and breakfast cereal (still not the best choice, but it didn’t matter).

To my surprise and delight I didn’t gain weight. This was a huge win, since it was the first time in my adult life I remember not being constantly hungry. Then, slowly, I started to lose weight.

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What “Thigh Gap” Taught Me About Changing My Habits

by | Oct 26, 2016

Photo by jenny downing

One of my favorite things to do as a kid was sit in bed with my parents and read books. On one particular afternoon I was getting ready to read with my mom, resting my back against the headboard with my knees bent to prop my book.

While waiting for her to join me, I noticed with curiosity that when my knees were together the rest of my legs didn’t touch at all. I thought that was biologically interesting and pointed it out to my mom.

“That gap better stay there,” she retorted unsympathetically.

I was shocked. I simultaneously felt chastised, judged and confused. I was only 8 years old, and obviously had never heard of “thigh gap.” It was also the first time in my life I felt self-conscious about my body.

I didn’t say a word, and we never discussed it again. But for the following days, weeks and years the message sank in: being thin was incredibly important and my mom would be disappointed if I let my appearance slip.

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Use This Mindful Eating Placemat to Remember to Slow Down and Enjoy Your Food

by | Oct 19, 2016

Click image for full size

Eating mindfully is without a doubt one of the most difficult habits to acquire, because by definition if you aren’t being mindful then you aren’t aware of it.

For this reason I have recommended embedding triggers into your eating habits to remind yourself to pay attention to the act of eating. That way even if you are in a distracted or in a preoccupied state of mind you can be pulled out of it and brought back to awareness of the present moment for long enough to regain control of your attention.

Why is this important, you ask? Let me count the ways.

First, for most of us our eating habits are already deeply ingrained. That means that consistently choosing anything outside our normal habits requires awareness of our actions so we can intentionally choose a different course. Whether you have the habit of ordering a burger every time you go out with colleagues for lunch or eating the leftovers out of your kid’s lunchbox, mindless eating is often the instigator and reinforcer of your most unhealthy food habits.

Second, for many of us food isn’t just a source of fuel or pleasure. Instead we use it to avoid uncomfortable thoughts and emotions. We eat to intentionally forget ourselves, and in these moments we almost never choose foods that will make us feel good afterward. Mindfulness is the first step in breaking this pattern of emotional eating, because it is only when you’re aware that you are acting out a self-defeating pattern that you have any chance of choosing a different path.

Third, even if you have a habit of choosing real, unprocessed foods, overeating can still prevent you from achieving your health and weight loss goals. When you eat mindlessly you can easily fall prey to all the cues in your eating environment that trigger you to consume more than you need, including bigger plates, bright lights, fast music, ravenous dining partners and the duration of your favorite show. Mindful eating puts you back in touch with your own needs and desires, and can break the pattern of overeating.

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Six Surprising Habits That Stop You From Healthy Eating

by | Oct 12, 2016


Moving to an entirely new city is the ultimate test in building habits. If you had asked me in San Francisco what the core Home Court Habits are that keep me healthy, I would have smiled smugly and cited eating breakfast, cooking, working out, walking my dog, and meditation. I got this healthstyle thing down, ya know?

But those are just the surface level, obvious habits that give me the results I want. What’s easy to forget is that there are also several Supporting Habits that are necessary for my Home Court Habits to remain functional. For example, it’s really hard to cook dinner at night if you don’t have any food in your fridge or pantry. That makes grocery shopping an essential Supporting Habit.

If you’re struggling to form a new habit, it can be helpful to take a closer look at the actions surrounding that habit. Pay attention to the exact moment you decide to not take the action you had intended and ask what you could have done earlier to make your new habit easier. Sometimes a simple new Supporting Habit can be the secret to creating a successful new Home Court Habit.

Here are some essential Supporting Habits that often get neglected, but keep in mind that everyone has different needs and resources so you have to figure out yours yourself.

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What to Do When Willpower Isn’t Enough

by | Oct 5, 2016
Photo by StepanVrany

Photo by StepanVrany

When I first started grad school I had to adjust to a pretty tight schedule. Classes started at 9am and continued all morning. Immediately after lunch I was expected to show up at my rotation lab and get to work on my experiments. (In the first year each student “rotates” through a new lab every quarter to find a good fit for a thesis project). I’d stay in lab until 5-6pm then head home, make dinner and study.

As a first year student in a new lab this schedule was not negotiable. That meant the only time I would be able workout was in the morning before classes. Factoring in breakfast, a 40+ minute commute and shower, I needed to get up at 5:30am to make it to class comfortably with my coffee.

Waking up in the pitch dark on a cold morning is not fun. And in the first couple of weeks the siren song of my warm, cozy bed kept me from making it to the gym regularly. While staying in bed usually felt like a great idea in the moment, I always regretted it because I could never shake the foggy-headed feeling I had all day if I didn’t get my blood pumping in the morning.

My best intentions weren’t enough. I needed a way to push through my inertia and build a morning workout habit.

It was during this time that I learned to appreciate The Power of One. That is, the value of seeing every repeated event as a new opportunity to experiment with behavior change.

Because I had to wake up and go to class five days a week no matter what, and I was always a little disappointed if I didn’t make it to the gym, every morning was a new chance to get it right.

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Why I Stopped Running Marathons for Good

by | Sep 28, 2016
Photo by Juanedc

Photo by Juanedc

By summer 2005 I had two marathons under my belt, San Francisco and Big Sur. The Big Sur race I finished in April was especially difficult with a couple of notoriously killer hills, but I finished with a respectable time of 4:14:33.

I had been training for long runs for nearly two years in SF and was feeling pretty confident, particularly about my speed on relatively flat courses. So I got this brilliant idea that I should try to qualify for the Boston Marathon.

Back then, to be able to run in the Boston Marathon you had to first finish a race in under 3:40:00 for my age bracket (today it’s 3:35:00 for the same group––one I no longer belong to, alas). So qualifying for Boston would have been a big deal for me, but I was up for the challenge.

In September 2005, I signed up to run for what I thought would be an easy, flat race called the Sacramento CowTown Marathon and gave myself just over a month to get my speed up to qualify. This decision elevated running in my mind from a hobby, to a sport. I have a fierce competitive streak in me, so with only five weeks to train it was game on.

On race day I was pumped. I felt strong and energetic, and the weather was perfect. I was on pace to finish well within the 3:40:00 requirement for Boston––until mile 25, when one slightly awkward step tweaked something in my left knee.

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The Secret Ingredient You’re Missing for Stronger Motivation

by | Sep 20, 2016

heart petal hand

I hear it all the time.

Whether it’s a friend who is struggling to lose weight or someone I overhear talking in line for coffee, there’s always a hint of desperation in their voice:

“I know WHAT to do to lose weight, I just need to DO it. I need to get more motivated.”

There is a grain of truth to this statement. If you can find the right source of motivation, you’d shock yourself with the things you could accomplish.

But if you’re even thinking this way in the first place, you probably already know how important it is to eat well and stay active. You ARE motivated.

In fact, you might even be motivated enough to sign up with a personal trainer, or pay a nutritionist to overhaul your diet.

So why is it still so hard to follow through on these commitments?

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