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I Ate a Large Cheese Pizza and This is What Happened

by | Jan 25, 2017
Photo by joeb

Photo by joeb

All I remember is staring at the open box in shock. Did I really just eat 3/4 of a large cheese pizza by myself?

One. Two. Yep, only two slices left.

I was a sophomore in high school and my parents were out of town for one of my brother’s sporting tournaments. I was old enough to be left home alone to work and study.

Normally this meant a free pass for me to subsist on coffee and Frosted Flakes for a few days (remember when dieters were scared of fat instead of sugar?). But this evening something got to me.

Looking back on everything I had going on at the time it was probably stress and anxiety from juggling my daily ballet lessons, teaching at the studio to pay the bills, and getting up before dawn to start my rigorous course work at school.

Or maybe I was just hungry.

I didn’t know what to do for dinner so I called the pizza delivery place that my family loved. I knew this wasn’t good behavior for a ballerina and chronic dieter who still desperately wanted to lose weight, but something compelled me.

It took several minutes after I stopped eating before the sick, bloated, oily feeling took over. The lingering smell of cheese in the house made me feel nauseous, so I took the remaining pizza and box to the trash outside and pushed it as far into the bin as I could manage.

What had I done? I was so ashamed. I told no one.

Read the rest of this story »

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My Favorite Books on Habit and Behavior Change

by | Jul 29, 2016

brain bookshelf

One of the greatest illusions I’ve had to overcome in my life is that I’m a rational human being. Sure I try to be, and sometimes I might succeed. But the more I’ve studied neuroscience and psychology, the more evidence I’ve seen that a ridiculously small number of human behaviors are a direct result of rational, critical thought.

Instead the vast majority of our behavior is directed by habits and heuristics, mental short cuts that prevent us from having to think too much, a perilously slow process that takes far too much effort to be useful in most everyday situations.

Of course that isn’t the way it seems to us as we go through our day. The conscious part of our brain is tremendously skilled at making meaning and reasons for everything we do and encounter, even if it isn’t privy to all the facts.

We come up with stories that jive with our beliefs and what we’ve experienced in the past. Everything that happens to us we view through this lens. To quote Anais Nin, “We don’t see the world as it is, we see it as we are.”

Read the rest of this story »

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Book Review: The 4-Hour Chef

by | Nov 21, 2012

The 4-Hour Chef

In my humble opinion, there are few things on this earth that improve your life (not to mention your physique) more than learning to cook.

Like most urban kids in the late 20th century, I grew up thinking that “cooking” meant heating frozen lasagna or adding orange powder and butter to tubular noodles. Heating food is hardly the same as cooking, but even if you love Kraft’s neon version of Mac N’ Cheese, if this is where your culinary adventures end you’re selling yourself sadly short.

That said, by no stretch of the imagination do I consider myself a chef. The most common request I get from readers is for more recipes. But while I am touched by the overwhelming positive responses to my roasted cauliflower and delicata squash dishes (both ultra-simple kitchen homeruns), it has been difficult for me to provide more detailed cooking instructions on a regular basis.

The reason for this is that I almost never use recipes myself. I find them constraining, which means they generate a certain amount of stress for me—not dissimilar from the feelings I had running experiments in the lab (you can keep your frozen aliquots of DNAse, thanks). It’s slightly comforting knowing I could cook by the book if I had to. But the reality is I have more fun being creative with the ingredients I have at the moment, sort of winging it as I go.

The result of this method is that while I often eat delicious food, I rarely cook exactly the same thing twice, which does not make for reliable recipe development. If I do share a recipe here on the blog, it is usually because I’ve found a simple technique to make an ingredient taste lightyears better than it had ever turned out on accident with my random kitchen hacking methods. These are discoveries I think will change your life, and I am very confident you can reproduce.

Of course when I first started cooking I was not proficient enough to be so whimsical. It took years of kitchen experiments and more than a few screw-ups to get to a place where most of the things I cook at home are edible. This skill level (nothing particularly impressive, but head and shoulders above most open-heat-serve American dinners) is the minimum you should strive for if you’re serious about optimizing your healthstyle.

Enter: The 4-Hour Chef. Despite the cooking theme, this is not a cookbook. Think of it more as a cooking class, where each recipe is designed to teach a skill (e.g. braising, sautéing, knife skills, etc.) and every subsequent recipe builds upon those of the last. The idea is to teach the principles of cooking, so that after finishing the book you can tackle any recipe you come across and, more important, have the skills to improvise on your own.

If you’ve struggled with cooking in the past, this alone is enough of a reason to pick up the book. Not only will it ensure that you have the essentials under your belt, it’ll also give you a few crowd-pleasers to dazzle dates and parents alike. But the fun doesn’t stop there.

The 4-Hour Chef is divided into five main parts: Meta-Learning, The Domestic, The Wild, The Scientist, and The Professional. For those familiar with Tim Ferriss‘ previous work, these subdivisions make perfect sense. If not, here’s a quick rundown:

Tim* is a bit of a self-made savant, and has built his career on starting as a no-name, know-nothing then transforming himself into a world-class _(fill in the blank)    . The “blank” for Tim has included holding a world record in tango, being a champion Chinese kickboxer, #1 best-selling author, etc. The full list of Tim’s accomplishments is astounding. As such he’s developed a reputation for learning things incredibly quickly, unusually and effectively. In The 4-Hour Chef he unveils the secrets of this “meta-learning” using cooking (a skill he’d always struggled with) as an example.

At first glance I was most excited about the Meta-Learning, Domestic and Scientist sections (go figure), and I was not disappointed. In “Meta” he breaks down the basics of deconstructing problems (e.g. language learning, tango, swimming, tasting, launching companies, etc.) and solving them in the most effective way possible. (It also includes how to say “I must eat” in 9 different languages. Win.). Long-time Ferriss fans will love this section.

Despite having a decent idea of how to navigate a kitchen, I learned a lot from the “Dom” section as well, and found its instructions far more logical than most introduction cookbooks. He focuses on transferable skills, like learning to “eyeball” measurements (while clarifying when you need to be exact) and knowing when something is “done.” There are also dozens of little tips and tricks that’ll instantly skyrocket your kitchen confidence, which is half the battle of sticking with it. Though I didn’t cook my way through the lesson plan (I’ve only had the book for a few days), it seemed highly approachable and even a little fun. The first day you’ll learn to make osso “buko” without ever touching a knife.

The “Sci” section wasn’t at all what I expected (come to think of it, I have no idea what I expected—I just like science). It turned out to be a crash course in molecular gastronomy, which left me a bit crestfallen at first. While I love eating at fancy restaurants that serve elegant foams and spherical droplets of surprising flavors, I’ve never had any desire to recreate these things at home; some things are best left to the professionals. But the second I saw his “Crunchy Bloody Mary” recipe where chipotle infused vodka and bloody mary mix is transformed into a gel used to fill mini celery sticks, I had a change of heart. Reading the science behind all the culinary magic of restaurants like Alinea and El Bulli is fascinating, and I picked up a few parlor tricks to impress my friends. This section is a great way to feed your inner food geek.

I didn’t expect to be as impressed with the “Wild” section. Catching city pigeons in the park with my bare hands? Thanks, but no thanks. Yet sure enough, I was roped in after a few pages. The recent devastation of Hurricane Sandy really drove home the importance of this section. Though he dives deeper into shelter building and arrow carving than I probably need (Tim may beg to differ), this section is an excellent lesson on the value of life, the importance of life skills, and even a few things you’ll use on a more regular basis, like quartering a chicken. To my surprise, I found myself enthralled by the details of cooking a squirrel over a fire and removing pigeon (aka squab) breasts from a whole bird (feathers and all) with bare hands. Yum.

The “Pro” section was another surprise. As I’ve said, I’ve never aspired to cook like a pro at home. I just want simple, tasty food. And the quicker the better. But this section is essential for transferring the skills from the rest of the book into things you can use in the real world. It also covers some essential “classic” dishes, like roasted chicken, that weren’t covered in the “Dom” section. Most important, this section teaches you the basics of kitchen creativity, and how to branch out and improvise on your own using the techniques from the earlier sections.

The 4-Hour Chef is an incredibly ambitious book, but it is clear from the beginning that the goal is always to simplify and distill the essence of any task to its basic elements. It teaches the principles of cooking (and learning in general), not one-off recipes that you may or may not get around to making. I anticipate using it for years as a reference, whether it’s to find restaurant recommendations in NYC or as a reminder of the essential few ingredients that define a specific ethnic cuisine. I’ve flagged dozens of pages to revisit in the future.

On that note, I’d highly recommend getting the hardcover if you plan to buy it. I have both the print copy and the Kindle version, and while the latter will certainly suffice (and is much lighter, if that’s an issue for you) you really miss out on the beautiful design and experience of the printed book. That said, both the print ($21.00) and the Kindle versions ($4.99) are on sale right now, so you can get both for less than the price of one originally priced hard copy ($35).

Lastly, I also love that Tim revisits life philosophies in this book, which I loved in The 4-Hour Work Week, but missed in The 4-Hour Body. The 4-Hour Chef touches on several invaluable life lessons, including why it is important to not waste food (especially if it comes from an animal), and how cooking is a path that brings you closer to love and life. Feeding ourselves is one of our most basic human needs, and is at the root of our life, our culture and ultimately our happiness.

Bon appetit! 

*Full disclosure: As many of you know, Tim is a friend. He even included a jumbotron shot of me stuffing my face in the first few pages of the book. Hence my using his first name in this review and not his surname, which is more conventional in journalism. That said, he did not ask me to write this review, nor am I being compensated in any way for writing it (unless you count the $0.20 Amazon affiliate commission I’d get from reviewing any book in their inventory—blogging isn’t particularly profitable). The truth is I would have reviewed The 4-Hour Chef whether I knew Tim or not (I was a fan before we were friends, The 4-Hour Work Week changed my life), because I knew it had the potential to be particularly valuable to you (my readers). You may think you want more recipes, but what you really want is to feed yourself well in as many ways as possible. This book is the equivalent of teaching you to fish, rather than giving you fish. If you still have conflict of interest concerns, feel free to voice them in the comments. Just keep in mind that nothing trumps trust on the internet and I’ve spent years working to gain yours. As much as I like Tim, I’d be an idiot to jeopardize that.

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5 Reasons I Still Like Fitbit Better Than Nike+ FuelBand

by | Mar 26, 2012

Last month Nike jumped into the high-tech pedometer game by introducing the Nike+ FuelBand. It’s a fun device, and a certain tech dude I know thinks it’s the coolest ever. But I’ve held off on sharing my opinion until I had a few weeks to play with the FuelBand, in order to avoid another early review debacle.

My overall sentiment is positive, and I think the social Facebook integration has A TON of potential. The most obvious comparison is to the failed Jawbone UP, and for the most part I think it is an improvement. The device display is beautiful, and the wireless sync definitely 1-ups the Up. The FuelBand doesn’t appear to break after a week either, which is a nice feature.

I’m disappointed that the device doesn’t have the buzz reminder feature that notifies you when you’ve been inactive for a set amount of time, which was my favorite feature of the Up. The FuelBand also doesn’t even pretend to help monitor your sleep, though I didn’t find that feature of the Up particularly useful since crawling into bed with a bulky plastic wristband isn’t exactly conducive to a good night’s sleep.

All that said, you’re probably reading this just to know whether or not the FuelBand is worth buying over the only true competitor remaining on the market, the Fitbit.

5 Reasons I Still Like Fitbit Better Than Nike+ FuelBand

1. Battery life

I’m a tech geek and being plugged in is a way of life. Frequent charging doesn’t bother me too much, and I expect the cool colors and graphics of the FuelBand to eat a little more battery. But when I know I can get 2-3 weeks of life out of a 20-minute Fitbit charge, FuelBand’s 45-minute charge session for a measly 2 days of activity seems like less of a bargain.

I’ve heard some people get better battery life (a whopping 4 days!), but that hasn’t been my experience.

2. Comfort

The most immediately noticeable difference between FuelBand and Fitbit is how you wear it. Though the FuelBand bracelet is slightly more comfortable than the Jawbone Up, I wouldn’t exactly call it unnoticeable and it still makes putting on long sleeves (aka getting dressed in San Francisco) less than simple. Also, my skin has been pinched in the USB clasp more than once. Ouch!

Most ladies I know strap the Fitbit effortlessly to their undergarments and forget about it. Dudes can clip it to their belt or pockets on their jeans.

3. Style

Another problem with wearing a big plastic bracelet is wearing a big plastic bracelet. It’s not hideous, but it isn’t exactly chic either. Personally I prefer my pedometer to be a concealed healthstyle weapon.

4. Simplicity

The graphics are kinda cute, and the social part of the app is definitely cool, but introducing a bizarre new measurement unit seems pretty unnecessary. We already have steps and calories, why do we need NikeFuel? I know when I have gone to the gym, so giving me a number that will be predictably higher on gym days doesn’t add much. I suppose it makes it slightly easier to compare activity among friends, but I still think total steps is a more important number to track.

To be fair Fitbit added an extra number in their latest version—flights of stairs—but this unit actually makes sense to me and adds value beyond simple activity. And in case you’re wondering, no FuelBand doesn’t tell you flights climbed.

5. Price

The $150 price point isn’t crazy, but the Fitbit is about $82 on Amazon right now. That’s almost half the price.

What do you think of the Nike FuelBand?

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Book Review: Folks, This Ain’t Normal

by | Dec 19, 2011

Joel Salatin is one of the most interesting people I have ever met. Self-described as a “Christian-libertarian-environmentalist-capitalist-lunatic-farmer,” you’re probably more familiar with him as the “beyond organic” owner of Polyface Farm featured in Michael Pollan’s landmark book The Omnivore’s Dilemma and the documentary Food, Inc. (note: if you haven’t read/watched those do so immediately).

I sat down with Joel recently to talk about his latest book, Folks, This Ain’t Normal. On the outside, Joel does not appear abnormal in the least. He was well dressed, well spoken, extremely polite and fiercely intelligent—a gentleman in every way. But once you get him talking you quickly see that his ideas make him an anomaly in modern society, not because they are far-fetched, but because they come from so many different sides of the political and societal spectrums. People are rarely this thoughtful and well-rounded, and after finishing the book this is the point I keep coming back to.

You are almost certain to disagree with some of Joel’s ideas. Folks, This Ain’t Normal runs the gamut in controversial topics. He touches on politics, religion, the environment (including global warming), sustainable agriculture, big business, peak oil, taxes, protectionism, meat eating, government regulation, women’s role in farming (he told me to my face he’s “sexist”) and likely a few more subjects that will get your blood boiling. But this is not your usual liberal-conservative political banter.

Joel is a thinker, and just a few pages into the book it is clear that he has a more intimate understanding of these topics than most experts and advocates could even dream of. Folks, This Ain’t Normal is by far the best ecology lesson I’ve ever had, and I try to be a responsible person and keep up on sustainable food issues. While most people discuss this subject academically, Joel actually knows how an ecosystem works, because he works with one every day back at Polyface Farm. For example, despite the cries of some environmentalists to do away with cows and replace them with tofu (aka soy beans), Joel explains in detail why a tillage-based crop like soy depletes soil, while a grass-based system of herbivore feeding builds and protects soil, and is necessary for environmental sustainability.

Food politics is another topic where Joel’s position runs flatly against conventional wisdom. Most of us in the food movement agree that Monsanto is the devil, and Joel is no different. But while most foodists lean liberal and think more regulation is the answer, Joel explains why those very regulations are what protect the big companies and put small farms like his out of business (exactly what Monsanto wants). So contrary to what you might guess, his position on this topic is strictly laissez faire.

As mentioned above, there’s almost certainly something that Joel writes that will offend you. (Yes, he takes more than a few shots at urban farmers market goers with award winning poodles—Joel, in my defense I at least use my fancy kitchen and make my own sauerkraut). But I’ll argue that this is precisely why you should read the book. When crafted by a thoughtful, intelligent person, opposing viewpoints are among the most valuable thing in a thinking person’s arsenal. Even if he doesn’t convince you to change your opinion, at least it forces you to question your beliefs, think a little harder and refine your position. There are no worthwhile topics that don’t have valuable insights from both sides of the fence. Thinking is good for you, and it is something that is sadly laking in our current political environment.

In this spirit, the types of people who would certainly benefit from reading Folks, This Ain’t Normal include: vegetarians, carnivores, environmentalists, McDonald’s patrons, farmers market shoppers, Chipotle patrons, Tea Partiers, liberals, Christians, scientists, atheists, politicians, big farmers, small farmers, city folks, country folks, the 99% and the 1%. In short, everyone who eats.

What Joel wants us to understand is that it isn’t him who is historically abnormal. What’s not normal is having no idea where food and water come from, nor how to keep them healthy and safe. In other words, it is the rest of us who have lost the basic life skills necessary for survival. This, he argues, is what isn’t normal.

Grade: A

Note: The audio version of the book is particularly wonderful, since Joel reads it himself.

What’s your normal?


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Book Review: Wheat Belly

by | Dec 14, 2011

I had no idea what to expect from Wheat Belly, the new book by Dr. William Davis. Several of you had asked me about it so I picked it up, not knowing much about the author or its content.

Davis is apparently a medical doctor who treats patients for heart disease and other ailments using a wheat-free diet. Though this isn’t particularly revolutionary I was immediately intrigued by the first chapter of Wheat Belly, which gives a detailed explanation of how modern wheat is different both physically and genetically from the wheat “our grandparents grew up eating.”

How interesting!

He explains that selective breeding and genetic manipulation to increase wheat yield have dramatically changed the chromosome number of modern wheat compared to earlier versions grown before the 1950s. This, he claims, fundamentally changed the molecular properties of wheat and we are supposedly not yet adapted to the new product.

I haven’t gone through all the plant biology to determine if any of these claims hold water, but the premise is fascinating. If modern wheat were really a primary cause of the health issues plaguing Western society, not only would gluten be off the hook (once I started reading I thought this was going to be another gluten-free diet book), but all other grains would be back on the table, even older versions of wheat.

Had Wheat Belly gone on to further explore the differences between modern and traditional wheat and, most importantly, how they affect people differently, then this could have been a groundbreaking book. Unfortunately, that isn’t what this book is really about.

Davis doesn’t present a shred of evidence that modern wheat has a worse (or even different) impact on human health than pre-industrial wheat. The only anecdotal case he makes is that he personally found a farmer who grows traditional wheat, made a loaf of bread, ate it himself and seemed to be fine. This is not science.

Instead the rest of the book focuses on how his patients have benefited from removing wheat (presumably modern) from their diets, a premise that is much easier to swallow but brings us right back to Dr. Atkins. Wheat is the most abundant refined carbohydrate, and refined carbohydrates are almost certainly the biggest contributor to human health problems on the planet. Is it any wonder that eliminating the major one—not to mention the ingredient that is most often paired with sugar—would make people feel better?

When push comes to shove, the bulk of Davis’ argument is not about modern wheat at all, but about the Glycemic Index (GI) of foods (he’s sure to point out that the GI of wheat is even higher than sugar). His prescription is not just wheat elimination or even gluten elimination, but removal of all grains, sugars and starchy foods like potatoes and even beans.

Haven’t I heard this somewhere before?

To his credit, Davis promotes a relatively healthy diet. He discourages the use of gluten-free flour substitutes because for the most part they are just another form of unhealthy food. Though these ingredients can obviously play a role in the lives of people with serious gluten sensitivities, I agree that they do not qualify as health food just because they do not contain gluten. But extrapolating from processed carbohydrates to nutritious whole foods like beans and potatoes that most of us can eat without increasing risk of disease or obesity is less than helpful.

But all my criticisms aside, I think there are some valuable messages in Wheat Belly worth considering. Gluten (and maybe just modern wheat, who knows) is known to be one of the most inflammatory substances consumed by humans and many people would likely benefit from cutting it out. Davis recommends eliminating wheat for 4-8 weeks to see if there is an improvement in symptoms.

If you regularly struggle with any of the following issues, a temporary gluten-free experiment may be worth it for you:

  • fatigue
  • depression
  • arthritis
  • irritable bowel syndrome
  • autoimmune problems
  • attention deficit disorder
  • hair loss
  • bone loss
  • anemia

And there are probably many more. The nice thing is that while eliminating gluten for 4-8 weeks does take some effort, it is still a relatively simple, non-invasive way to troubleshoot health problems and potentially improve your life dramatically. If nothing improves, you can always go back to your bagels and Cheerios. It is important to keep in mind though, that many symptoms require an extended period without gluten before improvement is seen.

To summarize, I really wish Davis had done a better job of convincing me that it is modern wheat and not processed foods in general that is particularly problematic in the Western diet. From that perspective, this book is just another Atkins diet with a better title. That said, I do think Davis does a good job of illustrating how many ways patients could benefit from a temporary wheat elimination. The prescription is easy and harmless, and definitely worth trying if you have health problems you and your doctor can’t seem to solve.

Grade: B-

What did you think of Wheat Belly?

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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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Book Review: Why We Get Fat, by Gary Taubes

by | Mar 2, 2011

I hadn’t planned on writing a formal review of Gary Taubes’ latest book, Why We Get Fat, because I already wrote an extensive review of his first book, Good Calories, Bad Calories, and the messages (and my criticisms) are basically the same. But after finishing the book I think Taubes is worth revisiting.

My biggest problem with Taubes’ first book is that it was very difficult to read, and that of course means most people won’t finish it. In Why We Get Fat Taubes repackages the data in a way that is much more logical and easy to digest. The book is substantially shorter, and is mostly free of the rants and tirades that peppered Good Calories, Bad Calories.

Instead, Why We Get Fat takes the reader through a clear and concise explanation of why all calories are not created equal, and that carbohydrates are the reason for the vast majority of the health and weight problems plaguing modern civilization. He also does a fantastic job demolishing the currently prevailing hypothesis that dietary fat and blood cholesterol are the causes of heart disease. They aren’t.

That so few people understand these points is why I recommend everyone read this book. It breaks my heart every time someone writes to me for nutrition advice and proudly points to their butter-less popcorn or baked chips as proof of their already “healthy” diet. Until it becomes common knowledge that fat is good for you and processed carbohydrates are the worst thing you can eat, I think this book is the best resource we have to explain it.

Still I do not agree 100% with Taubes’ conclusions. Though I do think the evidence is overwhelming that all calories are not created equal, I disagree that calories therefore do not matter and cannot be manipulated to help with weight loss. Taubes argues that how much we eat is dependent on our hormone levels (specifically insulin levels) that regulate energy balance, and that depending on this balance we naturally regulate our feeding and energy expenditure (exercise) so that we maintain our weight.

Taubes makes a compelling case that severe calorie restriction is counterproductive in weight management, and I agree. However there is some evidence that a small calorie deficit, on the order of 100-200 calories per day, is within the range of our natural homeostatic mechanisms and can be effective at controlling body weight.

In his book, Why We Eat More Than We Think (another must-read), Brian Wansink explores study after study where environmental cues are manipulated to get people to eat either significantly more, or significantly less than they believed. Importantly, the participants never reported any difference in satiation no matter how much they ate. Wansink argues that people can make small dietary changes resulting in a moderate 100-200 calorie per day deficit that does not affect hunger levels and can be used to effectively control weight.

Similarly, in The End of Overeating (here’s my review) Dr. David Kessler discusses how eating can become uncoupled from hunger when it is associated with external cues, making a strong case that some of us really do eat more than we need to. I think many of Kessler’s points about overeating are valid, particularly for emotional eaters. His argument is further strengthened by individual case studies of people who learn to eat less without experiencing sensations of starvation that are predicted by Taubes. One such example is Frank Bruni’s book Born Round (my review), in which he overcomes his weight struggles by moving to Italy and changing his relationship with food. Bruni is able to maintain his weight even after accepting the job of food critic at the New York Times.

These accounts conflict with Taubes’ argument that people overeat to satisfy a caloric deficit caused by a carbohydrate-induced faulty metabolism. Though there is good reason to believe Taubes’ metabolic hypothesis accounts for a large part of the health issues in today’s society, I think it is premature to conclude that this is the only force at work in why we get fat. Indeed, some research suggests learned feeding cues can directly impact insulin and metabolic pathways even in the absence of food. This data does not refute Taubes’ hypothesis, but rather makes it more complicated than he implies.

Even if we assume Taubes’ metabolic theory accounts for the majority of our health problems, insulin response (the ultimate cause of fat accumulation) should also be affected by eating rate and exercise, and vary among individuals. However Taubes handedly dismisses the possibility that any behavioral modification other than carbohydrate restriction can impact metabolic function because, he argues, we will modify our physical activity to adjust for any nutritional changes. His case is compelling, but not air tight, and my interpretation is that while carbohydrate consumption is clearly very important, there are likely other factors that may also be helpful in controlling metabolism and body weight.

In his book The 4-Hour Body (my review), Tim Ferriss describes how WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg lost 18 pounds by simply chewing each bite of food 20 times. Extra chewing or “masticating” was made popular as a weight loss technique in the late 1800s by Horace Fletcher and is explored in Gina Kolata’s book Rethinking Thin (not a particularly good read). Extended chewing and eating slowly are both effective at inducing weight loss, likely because they slow the glycemic response and almost always result in decreased meal size.

One of the most interesting points made in The 4-Hour Body was Ferriss’ personal glycemic response to a low-carbohydrate diet of just meat and vegetables. He claims that even with this meal he could easily spike his glucose to over 150 mg/dL (this is very high) by simply eating quickly, and that this effect could be controlled by slowing down and taking a full 30 minutes to finish a meal. Unfortunately I could not find a similar experiment in the scientific literature, but Ferriss’ observation suggests that behavioral modification can have a powerful impact on metabolic response independent of diet composition.

My final complaint about Why We Get Fat is that Taubes never considers that individual variation may preclude his theory from applying to everyone. He suggests that while some people are genetically blessed with a higher tolerance for carbohydrates, others will only thrive on an almost zero carbohydrate diet. Unfortunately this is the one part of the book he does not provide data to back up his assertions.

Though Taubes frequently argues the importance of paying attention to outliers, he never explores the possibility that some individuals may actually do better (rather than less bad) on a diet with slightly more carbohydrates. (Let’s assume for now that I mean slowly digesting, natural carbohydrates and not highly processed sugars and grains.) In a healthy person there is no reason to assume that such a diet would induce insulin resistance, and there may be some additional advantage outside of metabolic health for including such foods. I don’t think this is a possibility we should dismiss without solid evidence.

To summarize, Taubes does an excellent job describing the importance of carbohydrates in both weight management and health but oversimplifies the science, particularly neglecting the importance of behavioral factors on metabolism. However, the analysis presented in Why We Get Fat is still the most clear explanation of the relationship between metabolism and health that I’ve found and is an invaluable resource for the general public.

What did you think of Taubes’ latest book?

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Book Review: Born Round by Frank Bruni

by | Nov 1, 2010

Honestly, I didn’t expect much from Born Round, the latest manifesto in weight loss from the prominent New York Times food critic, Frank Bruni. Maybe it is because the last two health books I read from Times writers, Food Matters by Mark Bittman and Rethinking Thin by Gina Kolata, were both so vacuous and uninspiring. Or maybe it’s because it’s been years since I’ve been inspired by any diet book at all.

But whatever the reason for my skepticism, it was quickly put to rest with Bruni’s brutally honest tale of personal struggle and slow, determined road to health and self-confidence. Born Round is a far cry from the self-righteous, superficially researched works that normally come from dieters and journalists. His story is deeply personal and, though he goes into the scientific theories behind all the popular (and unpopular) diets he’s tried, he never pretends his experiences amount to anything more than his own reality.

It is this honesty that makes Bruni’s work great. It doesn’t take a clinical diagnosis to realize that Bruni struggled with an eating disorder from birth. He chronicles bouts of binging, extreme exercising, drug use, bulimia, excessive weight gain and occasional weight loss. His heart-felt narrative conveys the glaring truth of what it means to live in a perpetual loop of failure flecked with glimses of dietary “success,” and the subsequent torment and self-doubt that comes with each turn of the cycle.

Yet despite the extreme forms Bruni’s misadventures take, anyone who has experimented with diets or struggled with weight can relate to Born Round. We all have weakness, but few are as psychologically destructive as those surrounding physical appearance and body size. Intellectual or personality defects are relatively easy to hide or obscure, but extra body weight must be worn like a badge for all to see.

The insecurity bred by constant feelings of physical inadequacy can easily turn into obsessive thinking and occasionally to dangerous behavior. Born Round shows us how deep this lack of confidence can reach, even while Bruni himself achieves great success in other aspects of his life. Arguably the most glaring emotional paradox in Born Round is when Bruni describes the insecurity he feels over his physical appearance during his years as a championship swimmer in high school. But despite the irony, most ballerinas, gymnists and figure skaters probably understand what he was going through.

Ultimately, however, Bruni’s mind conquers both his emotions and his body. As with many chronic dieters, Bruni’s affliction was cured with a lesson in food culture he experienced after a move to Europe–Italy, to be specific. While living abroad Bruni learned to eat mindfully, value quality over quantity and develop a relationship with food that isn’t at odds with either his appetite or his appearance. In short, he found his healthstyle.

Even more remarkable is what happened next. Rather than shrinking from his former self, Bruni embraces it completely. Armed with his new skills and confidence, Bruni accepts a job as the New York Times restaurant critic, an occupation that sometimes demands 5-6 multicourse meals per day at some of the best restaurants in the world. Throughout this time, not only does Bruni avoid regaining any weight, he actually continues to lose a few pounds in the first months.

Bruni’s story is an inspiration and stands as a beacon of hope to anyone who battles with food and body weight. By training himself to develop new habits and thoughts about food and health, he was able to transform into a fit, healthy and confident man that trusts himself to eat in any situation.

What did you think of Born Round?

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World’s Worst iPad App?

by | Apr 7, 2010

With the launch of the iPad I was excited to review and recommend a few of the early release health apps for Summer Tomato readers. But after spending a few days browsing apps from the “health,” “diet,” and “food” categories it became clear such a post would be impossible.

At this point there is still nothing worthy to recommend.

So far there are only a handful of healthy eating apps, and by far the majority of them are calorie counters and rudimentary or overly complicated food journals. Some of them seem okay for what they are, but I couldn’t picture myself using them or recommending them to anyone looking to get healthy.

But my time searching wasn’t entirely wasted. In my quest it appears I may have stumbled upon the worst (aka funniest) iPad app in existence.

HealthCalc XL is supposed to be a Body Mass Index (BMI) calculator and health assessment app. I’m not sure why you would need this on your iPad, but since it is free I was willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.

So far, so good.

To calculate BMI the interface is pretty close to what you might expect. Since BMI is a ratio of height to weight, you can enter those fields. Unfortunately, however, the default measurement units are centimeters and kilograms, which isn’t particularly useful for most of us here in the U.S. You can switch over to feet and “lbf” (presumably that means pounds) if you wish, but this requires an extra step.

In addition to height and weight, HealthCalc XL asks for your age, gender and physical activity level. No standardization of what is considered “low,” “middle,” or “high” activity levels is provided.

Once you’ve entered this information you hit the “calc” button for a read-out of your “BMI,” “Ideal weight,” “recommended calory” (no, I did not mistype that), and an assessment of your health in the form of: “You are”

This is where the fun starts.

HealthCalc XL does not sugar coat your health assessment for you. And chances are it thinks you are carrying a few too many pounds.

Anything at the higher end of the normal BMI range (typically measured as between 18.5-24.9) HealthCalc XL considers “a little fat” (see top image). If your BMI creeps above 27, HealthCalc XL is sure to tell you “You are fat.”

And if your BMI is higher?

Whether you agree with HealthCalc XL’s assessment or not might be a point of debate if the BMI was calculated correctly. Unfortunately, it is not.

According to HealthCalc XL, a highly active 5’5″ woman weighing 100 “lbf” has a BMI of 19.4.

In reality this height and weight pair calculates to a BMI of 16.6 and is considered significantly underweight.

But HealthCalc XL considers her “standard.” This is more than wrong, it is dangerous. Young girls are the most prone to body images and incorrect BMI calculations can fuel eating disorders and other health problems.

At the end of the day, HealthCalc XL is both mean and incompetent. I hope it never applies for a service job in San Francisco.

Have you found any decent health apps yet for iPad?StumbleUpon.com

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