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The 2 Essential Skills for Getting Unstuck from Your Bad Habits

by | Mar 17, 2014


UPDATE: Thanks for everyone who joined, video of the event is above.

Phew! It’s been a crazy few weeks of work and travel for me. It feels soooo good to be back in my home court habits of eating well and getting exercise. It’s crazy how addictive good habits can be once they become part of your life.

I know that many of you have had tremendous success building a healthstyle you love. I’ve received hundreds of emails from people who have had life-changing results from Summer Tomato and Foodist.

For many it was just one or two simple insights that let them stop struggling and finally get to the level of physical and emotional health they’ve always wanted. Sometimes they realized dieting wasn’t the answer and stopped the cycle of deprivation and rebound. Others realized it was easier than they originally assumed to stop being sedentary and fit in regular activity.

But I’ve also spoken to many of you that aren’t quite there yet. You like the idea of building habits and eating delicious food that also brings you health and satisfaction, but life keeps getting in the way.

You might tell yourself it’s a time thing, or blame stress, money or social obligations. But whatever the reason, you haven’t quite figured it out yet.

That’s what I want to help you with today.
Read the rest of this story »

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Are You Eating In The Matrix?

by | Oct 12, 2011
Do You Think That's Food You're Eating?

Do you think that's food you're eating?

Or to put it another way, do you know the difference between real food and food that was designed to fool you into believing it is real?

It might not be as easy as you think.

(Spoiler Alert! If you haven’t seen the original Matrix film yet, crawl out of your cave and go watch it real quick before reading. We’ll wait.)

In the classic film The Matrix, machines of the future create a sophisticated computer program that produces an alternate reality for their human slaves. The program, the Matrix, placates humans into believing they are living normal lives while their bodies are imprisoned in suspended animation.

The Matrix is plugged directly into the brains of humans. They live the Matrix, breathe the Matrix, eat the Matrix. They’ve grown up with it, and have never known any other world.

Now think about a Twinkie or a McNugget. Can you remember life without them? I can’t. These products have always been a part of my world, even though it has been a long time since I’ve eaten them. I have vivid childhood memories of both products–after school snacks with friends, my 10th birthday party–and my memories are happy.

But I’ve learned to refer to Twinkies and food from McDonald’s as products and not foods because, when you think about it, they really aren’t foods. Sure you can eat them, but that just makes them a novelty–something akin to beating up your friends in Mortal Kombat.

“Do you believe that me being stronger or faster has anything to do with my muscles in this place?” -Morpheus

Real food nourishes your body by providing essential building blocks for your cells and organs. The human body evolved alongside real food and is adapted to digest it.

Edible products on the other hand were specifically designed to fool your brain and sensory perception, but your body, cells and organs have no idea what to do with them.

Twinkies and McNuggets are engineered. They do not come from the earth and are not food. Twinkies were created in the Matrix.

Do you think that’s food you’re eating now?

This may sound like rhetorical foodie fluff, but please humor me and entertain the metaphor for a little while longer.

Food should nourish your body and contribute to your overall health. Even foods that are considered fattening–bacon comes to mind–provide nourishment so long as they are based in reality.

But what is a Twinkie? What is a Pringle? What is a McNugget?

BigMacs may look, smell and vaguely taste like food, but if what you are eating is not sustaining your health and is possibly making you sick, isn’t it time to question whether it is food at all?

These are products that were created in a laboratory. They may have started as raw materials from plants, but the plants were never grown to be eaten. Industrial corn, soybeans and the cattle raised on them have been processed and redesigned to the point where they’ve been stripped of anything that allows for them to be reasonably classified as food.

Shouldn’t we then stop calling this stuff food?

Most people will initially reject this idea. Of course food is food. But I’d argue that this opinion is just another product of our environment. Haven’t we always lived in the Matrix of industrial agriculture?

We have coexisted with McDonald’s for so long it seem preposterous to speculate it doesn’t meet the definition of food.

But let’s take a closer look:

Food –noun:

1. Any nourishing substance that is eaten, drunk, or otherwise taken into the body to sustain life, provide energy, promote growth, etc.
2. More or less solid nourishment, as distinguished from liquids.
3. A particular kind of solid nourishment: a breakfast food; dog food.
4. Whatever supplies nourishment to organisms: plant food.
5. Anything serving for consumption or use: food for thought.

(emphasis mine)

With the exception of the last point, which is clearly philosophical, all these definitions include the word nourishment.

Nourishverb (used with object)

1. To sustain with food or nutriment; supply with what is necessary for life, health, and growth.
2. To cherish, foster, keep alive, etc.: He had long nourished the dream of living abroad.
3. To strengthen, build up, or promote: to nourish discontent among the workers; to nourish the arts in one’s community.

(emphasis mine)

If it doesn’t provide nourishment, it is not food.

But relying on dictionary definitions is both semantic and impractical. It also becomes confusing when companies market products that are not real food but have added back nutrients to give the appearance of nourishment.

The important question is how do we break free?

Being convinced that these products are not food is not enough. Like the Matrix, McDonald’s is so closely tied to your perception of reality that it can fool you even when you know it isn’t real.

Remember, when Neo makes his first attempt to jump across the building roofs. He doesn’t make it.

“Everybody falls the first time.”

That’s because the Matrix feels so real that not believing it is almost impossible. Likewise, knowing that edible products are not food and that they will in fact make you less healthy is often not enough to prevent you from eating them. Your senses are easily fooled.

But better decisions are not impossible and your food world doesn’t need to be 100% black and green. Even small steps in the right direction, back into reality, can improve your health.

The first small changes you try also make subsequent steps easier.

Unplugging from the industrial food Matrix does not need to happen all at once, but you can extract yourself from it eventually. The first step is starting to see it clearly.

“I’m trying to free your mind, Neo, but I can only show you the door. You’re the one that has to walk through it.”

Are you eating in the Matrix?

For your viewing pleasure: Morpheus is fighting Neo!

This post was inspired by commenter Martin Levac who gave me permission to roll with his awesome idea.

Originally published November 11, 2009.

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Lifehacker: Get Fit

by | Sep 19, 2011

Lifehacker is one of my favorite websites and podcasts, and this week is their Get Fit episode.

Because cooking at home is my #1 piece of advice for losing weight and getting healthy, I shared some of my best kitchen tips in this week’s episode. I hope you enjoy.

What are your favorite cooking hacks?

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Healthy Vegetarian & Vegan Diets – Episode #4 – Summer Tomato Live [video]

by | Apr 6, 2011

Thanks to those of you who participated in episode #4 about healthy vegetarian & vegan diets. I learned a lot while researching this post, and there’s valuable info on omega-3 fatty acids, essential minerals and other nutrition information that’s important for omnivores as well.

All show notes, including my annotated Kindle notes of Amazon’s most popular vegetarian nutrition book (I’m not a fan) are below. Everyone should at least skim through them, there’s a lot of great information/clarification in there.

Episode #5, Dairy: Friend or Foe? is airing on Monday, April 11 at 6:30pm PST. Does milk help or hurt your chances or getting osteoporosis? Does calcium cause prostate cancer? What’s the role of milk in acne? What about raw milk, is it really the holy grail? Join us on Monday to learn the answers.


March 29, 2011 | Episode #4 of Summer Tomato Live. The topic is healthy vegetarian and vegan diets (with lots of interesting nutrition information for omnivores too).

Live participation is only available to subscribers of the newsletter Tomato Slice. You can sign up at any time, even during the show, and the password for participation will be emailed to you immediately.

Click here to sign up and get the password

Read this for more information on the show and newsletter

To watch live and join the discussion click the red “Join event” button, login with Twitter or your Vokle account, and enter the password when prompted.

I encourage you to call in with video questions, particularly if your question is nuanced and may involve a back and forth discussion. Please use headphones to call in however, or the feedback from the show is unbearable.

The show will be recorded and released to the public next week. Show notes are below.

Show notes:

Follow Darya on Kindle

Darya’s Kindle notes on Becoming Vegetarian by Vesanto Melina and Brenda Davis



I hope to see you there!

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For The Love of Food

by | Dec 4, 2009
For The Love of Food

For The Love of Food

I had to take a little break from reading articles this week since I have a big project I’m working on in lab right now. Instead of the usual awesome links, today I want to share with you a video lecture by UCSF professor, Robert Lustig.

It is long, but absolutely worth watching.

And it is particularly important if someone you know is suffering from type 2 diabetes or other chronic disease.

Dr. Lustig argues that sugars, and specifically fructose, are a direct cause of the current obesity epidemic and more similar to alcohol (poison) than to food. His discussion of the effects of fructose on children is heartbreaking and makes his arguments particularly poignant.

It also helps answer the question I often get about why cultures that depend largely on pasta and white rice (Italian and Asian societies) aren’t as unhealthy as Americans even though we all eat “processed carbs.” The answer is that it is both the processing and the additives that cause the problem, and Dr. Lustig explains in detail the science behind it all.

I should warn you that about half way through he starts going into some serious biochemistry, but don’t let it scare you. That section is short and you don’t need to understand the details to get the take home message. Those of you with some undergrad chemistry under your belt will enjoy it, but that is by no means required. Scrub ahead if you must.

My favorite quote:

“Fructose is ethanol without the buzz.”

In other words fructose is much, much worse.

Watch this and share it with your loved ones.

P.S. Thanks to those of you who downloaded How To Get Started Eating Healthy. If you thought you should have received a copy but didn’t, you are probably signed up for the blog post emails but not the newsletter. The difference is explained here. Fill out the newsletter form to get a link to the free guide.

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The Habanero Experiment

by | Nov 9, 2009
Extra Hot Peppers

Extra Hot Peppers

Hot chili pepper season is one of my favorite times of year. But working with these little devils can be tricky and, if you’re not careful, really painful.

If you’ve made the mistake of working with spicy chili peppers without gloves in the past, you know what a huge mistake it can be. Not only will chili pepper burn your skin for days, anything you touch while the pepper oil is still on you (it doesn’t wash off) will also feel the burn. Just a couple weeks ago a friend of mine got jalapeño spice all over her face and didn’t recover for more than a day.

In an attempt to cure “Hunan hands” I tested several common heat neutralizing recommendations. One friend recommended I try mouthwash, which I thought might work through menthol, a substance with receptors similar to those for capsaicin–the active ingredient in chili peppers. In biology, sometimes some good old fashion competition can be enough to change an outcome. To test this hypothesis directly, I also tried a 2% menthol gel from the drug store.

But despite the theoretical plausibility of the menthol hypothesis, the skeptic in me went directly to the source for more information. I contacted UCSF professor David Julius, the scientist who discovered the sensory receptor for both capsaicin and heat to see if he had any ideas for alleviating pain from chili peppers. He didn’t know for sure, but directed me to an article where baking soda was used as a treatment.

In my research, I had also learned people recommend various solvents including rubbing alcohol and vinegar. I decided to try the powerful solvent acetone (nail polish remover) and lime juice as well.

You can watch my experiments below. I had to clear my camera’s memory card before the last shot, during which time the sun went down (lousy winter). Please accept my apologies for the obnoxious light reflection in the dark windows.

Since making the video I’ve discovered a few other topical treatments that may provide some relief from capsaicin burns. The first is a milk compress, though the degree of effectiveness is questioned. The most consistently reported relief is from the application of lidocaine jelly or oral analgesics (topical anesthetics)–treatments that block sensation in the affected area.

My #1 tip for preventing chili pepper burn is to prevent it in the first place by wearing gloves to handle them and being especially careful with the seeds.

Have you had any luck alleviating pepper burn? Do you have any capsaicin horror stories?

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Farmers Market Update: Prepping for Asilomar

by | Sep 20, 2009
Hawaiian Apples

Hawaiian Apples

My goal at the farmers market today was to get everything I need to survive the next few days at the annual neuroscience department retreat at the Asilomar conference grounds in Monterey, CA. Last year they served us some of the most unspeakably disgusting food I’ve ever eaten in my life, and budget cuts forecast this year to be even worse.

Almost certainly I’ll be stuck eating fewer calories than usual, but I like to have a few of my own things to make sure I am at least somewhat nourished. For a complete rundown of what I’m bringing, watch the 3 minute video clip below.

How do you survive conferences and events that serve horrible food?

Since I also won’t be cooking dinners or making salads at work for the next few days, I didn’t buy my usual cornucopia of vegetables this week. But I certainly wanted to!

Peaches and Pomegranates

Peaches and Pomegranates



The seasons are changing before my eyes. Autumn fruits like pomegranates, pears, grapes and apples are downright abundant. You can also find pumpkins, carrots and beets, all wonderful for roasting in the fall. (Try this recipe for delicious roasted beets with mint and chevre).

I even found chestnuts at K & J Orchards!

Brussels Sprouts

Brussels Sprouts



I learned today that Brussels sprout season is early this year (it usually starts in October-November). I decided to buy some since I know they will keep well until I return on Tuesday. They are really small right now, which is how you want them for the best taste. I used to hate Brussels sprouts, but have since learned the error of my ways.

Roasting Pimentos

Roasting Pimentos

Peppers and Eggplants

Peppers and Eggplants

The good news for those of us who adore summer produce is that most of it is still spectacular. Tomatoes, peaches, plums, zucchini, melon, peppers (oh the peppers!), eggplant, figs, okra and green beans are what I’m going to focus on for the next few weeks while they are still around.

Paw Paw Ice Cream

Paw Paw Ice Cream

Oh, and if you’re a fan of paw paws, Langier Ranches made up some paw paw ice cream you can get for only $1!

Today’s purchases:

What did you find at the farmers market this week?

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For The Love of Food

by | Sep 11, 2009
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.

First and foremost be sure to check out my guest post over at Geek’s Dream Girl, Get Fit By Becoming a Food Geek. Also, Michael Pollan wrote a thought-provoking Op-ed on food and healthcare and the Nutrition Diva gives us more to ponder in the world of food and health.

In other news this week I applied to and became listed at the website Alltop. Apparently this is some kind of honor and I’m supposed to put one of these badges on my blog. I’m not sure I feel comfortable putting one in my sidebar, but I’ll show you some of my options here. Let me know what you think.

Alltop. We're kind of a big deal.Alltop, all the top storiesAlltop, confirmation that I kick ass

I read many more wonderful articles than I post here each week. If you’d like to see more or just don’t want to wait until Friday, be sure to follow me on Twitter (@summertomato) or the Summer Tomato Facebook fan page. For complete reading lists join me on the social bookmarking sites StumbleUpon and Delicious. I’m very active on all these sites and would love to connect with you there. (Note: I’ve been struggling with the Delicious tool bar on my browser this week, so my bookmarks there are not current. I hope to fix this soon).

I also invite you to submit your own best food and health articles for next week’s For The Love of Food, just drop me an email using the contact form. I am also accepting guest posts at Summer Tomato for any awesome healthstyle tips and recipes you’d like to share.

This post is an open thread. Share your thoughts, writing (links welcome!) and delicious healthy meals of the week in the comments below.

For The Love of Food

  • Get Fit By Becoming A Food Geek <<Nerds looking to get in shape can take advantage of their inclination toward excessive information. My guest post at Geek’s Dream Girl.
  • Big Food vs. Big Insurance <<Michael Pollan, as usual, offers a brilliant analysis of the benefits of healthcare (insurance) reform, and the residual benefits this will have on our waistlines. (New York Times)
  • Do sugar substitutes hurt or help with weight loss? <<Find out the latest on the controversial topic of artificial sweeteners and weight loss. (Nutriton Data)
  • Fast food lunches contain RIDICULOUS amounts of calories <<Do you eat fast food? Maybe you will stop after reading this. As supplemental reading, here’s my opinion on fast food. (Obesity Panacea)
  • Fruit Even Healthier Than Thought: Study <<Personally I’m not surprised to hear that there are benefits of whole fruits scientists haven’t discovered yet. I bet there are things we don’t know about whole vegetables too. (HealthDay)
  • For Your Health, Froot Loops <<B.S. of the week Maybe that last article explains why the FDA is allowing Froot Loops to be labeled as a “Smart Choice.” Oh wait, that doesn’t say fruit…. (New York Times)
  • Green Onions Recalled <<Yet another recall of industrial food. You have to be brave to shop for food at a conventional supermarket these days. As Arnold says in Terminator 2, “Come with me if you want to live.” (New York Times)
  • 7 Reasons to Eat More Saturated Fat <<Interesting read over at Tim Ferriss’ blog about the benefits of saturated fat. I would take these points with a grain of salt, but it is worth thinking outside of the box sometimes and questioning your long-held beliefs. (Blog of Tim Ferriss)
  • Soybeans With Garlic and Dill <<This recipe looks simple, healthy and delicious, and can be made with items that are available year-round. (New York Times)
  • Slow-motion sneeze is gross, and probably effective <<This video of sneezing is really gross, but I couldn’t stop laughing. Enjoy. (Los Angeles Times)

What thought provoking stories did you find this week?

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Farmers Market Update: How To Transport Soft Fruits and Vegetables

by | Aug 9, 2009
Summer Tomatoes

Summer Tomatoes

In my opinion there is no better time of year to go to the farmers market.

With tomatoes, stone fruits, berries and melons all in peak season, I realized this week I have to be more selective about what I buy or I will easily spend too much money and buy more than I can eat.

This brings up two important issues: what to choose and how to get it home.

Over the course of the summer I have been working on perfecting the art of getting soft produce like peaches, berries and tomatoes home from the market in one piece. It turns out plums don’t do well in the same big bag as melons and sweet peppers.

This video includes my quick tips for making sure you get your soft fruits and veggies home safe.

For the past few weeks I’ve focused primarily on buying stone fruit, but today I wanted to try as many melons as I could carry. I’m happy to report that my tomatoes all made it home safe despite the extra load.

Today’s purchases:

  • Charentais melon (Happy Boy Farms)
  • Yellow watermelon (Happy Boy Farms)
  • Italian parsley (Happy Boy Farms)
  • Edible flower salad mix (Happy Boy Farms)
  • Galia melon (The Peach Farm)
  • Heirloom tomato (The Peach Farm)
  • Sunburst squash (The Peach Farm)
  • Heirloom tomatoes (Tomatero Organic Farm)
  • Early girl tomatoes (Tomatero Organic Farm)
  • Cherry tomatoes (Tomatero Organic Farm)
  • Zephyr squash (Tomatero Organic Farm)
  • Eggs (Tomatero Organic Farm)
  • Corn (G&S Farms)
  • Sugar snap peas (Iacopi Farm)
  • Baby artichokes (Iacopi Farm)
  • Poblano peppers (Happy Quail Farms)
  • Sweet Italian peppers (Happy Quail Farms)
  • Mediterranean cucumbers (Happy Quail Farms)
  • Dinosaur kale (Green Gulch Farm)
  • Cippolini onions (Dirty Girl Produce)
  • Italian basil (Dirty Girl Produce)
  • Frisee (Star Route Farms)
  • Wild arugula (Star Route Farms)
  • Peach (Balakian Farm)
  • Garlic (Knoll Farm)

Did your tomatoes make it home in one piece?

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Farmers Market Update: What’s the point?

by | Jun 28, 2009
Green Tomatoes

Green Tomatoes

Healthy eating starts with fresh, seasonal produce, preferably from your local farmers market.

Years ago when I started my column at Synapse and began advocating seasonal vegetables as the best path to health, one of the most common questions I got was, “How do I know what’s in season?”

In response to this I wrote my first Farmers Market Update, and this has become one of the cornerstones of Summer Tomato.

There are many reasons I write these updates every week, but occasionally it is important to step back and make sure my objectives are met with each post.

Here are the main goals I aim to achieve with my Farmers Market Updates:


As mentioned above, I hope that by reading these Farmers Market Updates you will get a feel for what is in season. Even if you are shopping at your local supermarket, seasonal produce is your best bet.

Follow along to get a general idea of what you should be eating this time of year.


For me just seeing the beautiful vegetables, fruit and other goodies at the farmers market makes me want to spend the rest of the weekend in the kitchen–and I’m not exactly the domestic type. With Farmers Market Updates I hope to inspire you to find your own local markets and look for the best seasonal produce you can find.

Going to the farmers market is by far the best part of my week and I wish you could all experience it with me. I realize not everyone has the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market to wake up to on Saturday mornings, but your own farmers market is still better than anything you will find at a big chain store.

There is nothing like spending a little time with the local farmers that grow the food you eat. Every meal you prepare with these ingredients is special, even if it isn’t exotic.


I’m the first to admit that cooking can be scary and the thought of it overwhelming. Most of us were never taught how to use a stove, let alone poach an egg. But we are extremely proficient at using Google to help us figure things out, right?

Cooking is no exception.

I make a point of finding things at my farmers market that I do not know how to cook. Why? Because exploring new foods is one of the most important things in making healthy eating fun and enjoyable. You can even rediscover foods you think you don’t like by buying them at the height of season and learning to cook them properly.

I promise, liking things is more fun than not liking things 😀

I try to convey this sense of adventure in my Farmers Market Updates. This week, for example, I bought all the flavors I associate with Thai food even though I do not have a specific recipe in mind. I also purchased some lemon cucumbers simply because they looked cool.

You do not need to know how to cook something before you buy it. Vegetables are cheap, just get what looks good and figure the rest out later. Email me if you need suggestions!


Farmers Market Update



Brown Turkey Figs

Brown Turkey Figs

Summer officially started this week in San Francisco (according to me). With melons and figs popping up all over the place, there is no way I can keep sitting here and telling you it is springtime.


Thai Basil

Thai Basil

Purple & White Peppers

Purple & White Peppers

Summer tomatoes are already fabulous, summer squash are as sweet as can be (especially the yellow Zephyrs!) and who knew there were so many kinds of cucumber? Green garlic has morphed into the bulbous “fresh garlic.” Green beans are starting to appear and there are 2 kinds of basil. Not one, but two!

Darya is happy.



Fresh Garlic

Fresh Garlic

Check out my first Farmers Market Update video from my new apartment. It is just under 3 minutes.

Today’s Purchases:

What did you find at the market this week?

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