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How to Be Happy: It Isn’t About the Dopamine

by | Mar 22, 2016


Last weekend I attended a fabulous party. There was excellent champagne, illustrious guests, spectacular food and beautiful live music. The setting was divine, and the cocktails were SO GOOD.

The only thing missing was water. I’m normally pretty good at staying hydrated, but there wasn’t an obvious water station. So to stay cool and keep my mouth from drying out I kept finding myself at the bar.

At least, that was my excuse.

One of the most notorious effects of alcohol is that it effectively shuts down your frontal lobes, lowering your inhibition and turning your mind over to your more primitive impulses.

It is absolutely insane to believe that the best way to keep cool at a party is to have a cold cocktail. It cools you down for maybe 10 minutes and only worsens your feeling of dehydration.

But the part of my brain that considers my long-term happiness was out of commission. My reward pathway had taken over.

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The “I Don’t Feel Like It” Fallacy

by | Mar 1, 2016


Sometimes the subtlest thing can derail a habit.

Of all the Home Court Habits I maintain to keep my healthstyle on track, cooking food at home is the most important. When I cook regularly (4-5 days a week) I can eat practically anything I want, maintain my weight and energy, and almost never get sick.

I don’t love to cook, but I don’t mind it. And over the years I’ve developed a system of supporting habits to make sure I do it regularly. It works for me.

Then last week, it stopped working. Despite having attended two dinners at the homes of friends (when I notably didn’t have to cook), when Thursday rolled around I had zero interest in making dinner.

Just the thought of going to the grocery store, picking out one of the same boring meals and going home and putting it together sounded like torture. So I turned on the charm and convinced my husband to join me at a restaurant instead.

I was relieved, but the situation didn’t sit well with me. I had only cooked dinner once this week, the weekend was fast approaching, and I already had plans for the next two nights. Normally I would jump at the opportunity to control what’s on my plate for one additional meal.

Where was my resistance coming from?

The easy thing to do would be to ignore my disinclination to cook this evening or chalk it up to laziness or my general apathy toward the kitchen. But that would be a mistake.

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Ask Darya: How can I exercise harder without overeating?

by | Feb 23, 2016

Ask Darya exercise hunger

This week our Ask Darya question is from Leslie:

Hey Darya, I have a question for you about that sentence you inserted regarding your exercise regimen.

I’m a healthy person who just wants to stay where I am weight-wise, but I’m working on going from mild to moderate/high exercise in order to increase my endurance and strength. My current challenge is balancing enough exercise so that I’m making progress, but not so much that by body thinks I’m hungry all the time (hello, Hunger Tiger). I know that I’ve read on your site that you are familiar with this phenomenon, that too much exercise can throw your hunger off balance, leading you to overeat. However, I read your weekly exercise description–4x strength training, 2x HIIT, 1x pilates–and when I workout that amount, I get so, so hungry. I know everyone is different, but do you have any advice for how someone can discover a balance between the right amount of food and exercise?

This is a great question because she’s asking about a specific behavior she’s struggling with in her healthstyle. In this video I clarify my own workout habits (I’m not crazy, I swear) and offer some advice on how to modify your snacking habits so you don’t overeat on intense exercise days.

Want me to answer your question? Submit it on the Ask Darya page.



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What it Feels Like to Have Iron Willpower

by | Feb 2, 2016
Photo by Kalexanderson

Photo by Kalexanderson

“I need to get motivated.”

“I need to stop being so lazy.”

“I wish I had her determination.”

“I need to just DO IT.”

I constantly hear people saying these things when they talk about eating better, exercising, or losing weight.

It’s also ingrained in the psyche of our culture. “No pain, no gain.”

Of course, these are all just different ways of saying you wish you had more willpower.

I get it. Willpower is an amazing thing sometimes. And having a strong reserve of it certainly has its advantages.

But there are also serious disadvantages.

I spend a lot of time here on Summer Tomato talking about how willpower doesn’t work for long-term goals. That our brains are built to run on habits, and that self-control should be used sparingly since it takes up so much mental energy.

Whether you agree with this premise or not (apparently this guy doesn’t), today I want to show you that even if you could get healthy through the strength of your iron will, you shouldn’t want to.

I know, because I have really strong willpower. And I used it ruthlessly for 15 years.

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A Life-Changing (But Unsexy) New Year’s Resolution

by | Jan 5, 2016
Photo by melodramababs

Photo by melodramababs

I know, I know. You’d really love to lose 25 lbs this year so you’re cutting out sugar and signed up for a half marathon this spring. I admire your ambition, and I do hope it works out for you.

Lofty goals make you feel good, like you’re committing to something that will have a real and lasting impact on your life. And the New Year is as good a time as any to set your eyes on greatness.

But as we’re looking for big, meaningful new goals to kickstart the New Year, it’s easy to forget that sometimes it’s the little, unsexy habits that help you make the most progress.

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Ask Darya: What should I do if I don’t have a local farmers market?

by | Dec 18, 2015

ask farmers market 650px

Hi guys,

Today we have another episode of Ask Darya, where Stacey from Denver asks:

“I love your idea of shopping at farmers markets whenever possible, but I’m located in Denver, where farmers markets tend to run from June/July through October-ish. What would you suggest as an alternative during the rest of the year? Should I order produce from a CSA and have it shipped to me? Should I find a farm that does pasture-raised poultry/meats and order through them?”

It’s a good question, and I offer a slight reframe on the value of farmers markets and share some of the solutions I’ve been using since moving to NYC from California.

Want me to answer your question? Submit it on the Ask Darya page.



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What I Learned from 10 Days of Silence

by | Dec 1, 2015
Meditate much?

Meditate much?

Health is about far more than food. If you’ve spent any time poking around Summer Tomato you likely already know everything you need to know about how to be healthy.

Eat lots of vegetables. Source high-quality fish and meats. Be an adventurous eater. Minimize processed grains, sugars, oils and proteins. Be active, not sedentary. It’s pretty simple.

Of course if knowing those things were enough we’d all be frolicking in a field of rainbows to celebrate our excellent health. The reason healthy eating is hard is not because you don’t know what to eat, it’s because you haven’t figured out how to change your habits.

It’s the mental game that holds you back.

From the first days of Summer Tomato I’ve been obsessed with helping people crack the code of behavior change, and time and again the science has led me to the practice of mindfulness.

Mindfulness, or being aware of what’s going on in your head in the present moment, is the secret sauce for success in nearly all aspects of life. For health in particular it helps you make better food choices, eat proper portions, and find the habits that work best for you.

This is because in order to make the best decision––the decision you really do want to make––you need to be aware of the unconscious reactions you have to the world around you. You need to turn off the autopilot and ask if it is sending you in a direction you really want to go.

Mindfulness is the pause that provides the space for wisdom. It is also incredibly difficult to cultivate.

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The No.1 Thing That Prevents You from Changing Your Habits

by | Nov 10, 2015

Photo by Steve Rhodes

When I first went to college the last thing I cared about was learning to cook. Neither of my parents had a degree, and by the time I was in middle school it was clear to me that higher education was my only ticket to salvation.

I remember running errands with my mom one afternoon and seeing her bump into an old classmate she knew from high school. “Oh, hi! Wow, I haven’t seen you in 20 years.”

They exchanged pleasantries and parted ways. It was obvious the two of them had no real desire to keep up with each other and that they were just being polite for etiquette’s sake. We were all glad when it was over.

The school they both attended was only a few blocks down the street and I knew it would be my fate to go there as well. Class of ’97. Go Vanguards.

Oh shit.

It didn’t take much for my brain to leap forward 24 years and imagine myself in her position, shopping at the same Albertson’s with my own children in tow, casually running into one of the mean kids who called me names and harassed me all year long when I was 14.

At the time I couldn’t imagine anything worse.

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The Science Behind Mindful Eating: What Happens to Your Body During a Mindful Meal

by | Oct 27, 2015

For those who haven’t heard, I’m currently on a 10 day silent meditation retreat in California.

Yes, completely silent. No computers, no cell phones, no talking, not even any books.

10 Days! Crazy, I know.

The reason I’m subjecting myself to this strange form of amputation is so that I can experience what it’s like to have the internal chatter in my mind stop completely, and just be present in the current moment.

Few things have benefit my life as much as meditation and mindful practice.

Mindfulness helps me focus and work more efficiently.

It helps me be more aware of my emotions so I can be more honest and compassionate with others.

It helps me feel gratitude for both the simpleness and complexities of life.

It even helps me sleep.

Mindfulness has also had a tremendous impact on my eating habits. I used to eat incredibly fast (“efficiently” was what I told myself), and I didn’t think there was anything wrong with it.

Then I started noticing all the scientific research about the importance of eating slowly and mindfully and decided to give it a try.

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When Is a Habit Not a Habit?

by | Oct 6, 2015
Photo by Sasquatch I

Photo by Sasquatch I

Recently a reader contacted me with a curious concern. She was a big believer in the power of mindful eating and set about diligently performing all the guidelines of mindful eating practice, including sitting at a table, removing distractions, eating only when hungry, chewing thoroughly, etc.

It was going really well for a few weeks, until it all came crumbling down. Something in her day caused her resolve to crack, and without being able to stop herself she continued to break every rule in the mindful eating book: eating while standing, distracted, not hungry, and making poor food decisions that weren’t worth it.

“It was almost as if I was deliberately doing exactly what the guidelines told me not to do.”

I immediately knew what her problem was, because I had faced exactly the same thing when I was trying to build mindful eating habits.

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