Eat, drink and be healthy


There is an age-old question about what’s the “perfect” diet. The idea behind this question is if we just find the perfect diet and we follow it, we can stop looking, stop worrying, stop stressing over too many carbs or sugar or meat or butter.

But what does “perfect” really mean in the realm of diet and nutrition? Perfect for whom? At what age? In what region? At what activity level? In what culture and society? With what kind of metabolism and immunity and digestion and brain function? At what stress level? 

And, perhaps most importantly, will it still allow us to eat kugel?

The answer is complicated. In the health and nutrition fields, you will find more dietary theories than you can possibly imagine. Some nutrition experts believe in looking at what our ancestors ate; others think we should look at our DNA for answers. Then there’s the idea that our blood type might have something to do with our nutritional needs. 

So many people, including health professionals, think of nutrition as pure science — as if the science will lead us to the best diet. Science has us believing that reducing food to its vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, fiber, fat, protein and calories, and consuming those in the proper balance, is the answer. 

What this approach overlooks, however, is that this “proper balance” is almost impossible to determine. After all, no two of us are exactly alike, and there are plenty of other variables: Our well-being is influenced by our thoughts and feelings, our environment, the toxins all around us and in our food supply, the health of our digestive system that determines what nutrients we absorb from the food we eat, and our life circumstances. 

This isn’t to say that you should give up. There are plenty of general guidelines for healthy eating that everyone can follow.

An easy one is to manage what’s on the end of your fork — think quality over quantity. If you eat meat, fish, eggs or poultry, buy organic, grass-fed, pasture-raised, free-range and/or wild-caught.

Stop eating processed junk foods, including regular and diet sodas, and get processed sugar out of your diet. (Also cut out fruit juices, which are high in sugar.) Instead, use natural sweeteners such as maple syrup or raw organic honey — in small amounts, of course.

You should also try to consume whole food in its natural state, where all of its nutrients are fully available. This includes raw nuts and seeds, grains and beans, vegetables and fruits.

Be sure to have lots of green leafy vegetables at least twice per day, and make sure you eat good fats, daily and in moderation (coconut and olive oils, olives, avocado).

When it comes to what you drink, a good rule each day is to consume at least half  an ounce of good quality spring water for each pound you weigh. (It may sound like a lot, but check out how much your water bottle holds and do the math. You can do it!)

Finally, no matter what kind of diet you choose, make sure you eat with joy. No joke — it increases your ability to digest. When you eat under stress or anger, digestion shuts down, leading to weight gain and poor nutrient absorption.

How can it work with Jewish foods?

Don’t think that just because you’re trying to eat more healthfully that you have to give up your favorite Jewish dishes:

  • Substitute almond flour (lower in carbs than wheat) or coconut flour (contains healthy fats and is low in sugar) in breads, pastries and matzo balls. Be careful with ordinary flours, since some people have a sensitivity to the gluten protein found in wheat, rye and barley.
  • Substitute carrots or yams for white potatoes or noodles in your kugel dish. This helps keep down your sugar intake.
  • Gefilte fish is often made with sugar and matzo meal, but it doesn’t have to be. Check out the following delicious recipe without these unhealthful ingredients. 

 

GEFILTE FISH

  • 1 pound white fish (e.g. Dover sole) fillets, skinned and deboned
  • 1/2 pound salmon fillets, skinned and deboned
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt 
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice, freshly squeezed
  • 1/4 cup fresh dill, finely chopped
  • 1 cup grated carrots
  • 1/2 cup parsley, finely chopped

 

Directions

Cut the fish into large chunks and place in a food processor. Pulse until finely ground; do not puree.

Heat oil in a large frying pan. Sauté diced onion over medium-low heat until soft and transparent; cool for 10 minutes.

Pulse onion, eggs, salt, pepper and lemon juice into fish mixture. Pulse in dill, carrots and parsley. Refrigerate mixture for 3 hours.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Shape fish mixture into 1 1/2-inch balls. Drop balls into water and cook for 15 to 20 minutes until cooked through. Place balls in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish and refrigerate to cool. Serve with horseradish sauce made from horseradish root and apple cider vinegar (no added sugar) and garnish with fresh sprigs of parsley.

Makes 18 fish balls.

Recipe adapted from Elana’s Pantry (elanaspantry.com), the website of New York Times best-selling author Elana Amsterdam. 

Passover in the age of paleo


I'm not on a diet and I eat what I want, but without realizing it, I've slowly become one of those quasi-hipster people who favors making soup with turnips over noodles, and roasting squash rather than breaking bread.

I can still rip into a pizza or burger as easily as the next guy. It's just that years of accommodating gluten-free family members and paleo friends has turned me into a kind of pro at problem eating — and no other time of the year places such an extended dietary constraint over a person than does Passover.

For me, Passover meal-planning, which used to be a daunting dilemma, and later became a creative challenge, has now morphed into a task like any other night of the week. As a result, the holiday is no longer about the “no's”: no bread, no cookies, no grains. Rather, it's become about the things I do eat: unctuous matzah ball soup and cheesy matzah lasagna, for instance, and those horrible, nostalgia-igniting jelled fruit snacks, without which no family Seder would be complete.

I love that this unexpected shift in my daily eating habits is turning Passover — already my favorite Jewish holiday — from a week of prolonged dietary abstinence into a personal observance of plenty. Some might say this defeats the point; the Exodus from Egypt is all about being (a little) uncomfortably aware of our collective ancient hardships. I take the opposite view. Switching plates and making favorite Passover foods keeps me just as mindful of my observance, minus the resentful tum.

8 tips for a fuller you

Keeping Passover isn't so easy-breezy for most people outside of these dietary bubbles, particularly when everyday meals are built on a foundation of cereal and oatmeal, sandwiches and wraps, and sides of rice or bread. Transitioning from that daily diet is hard. It takes work.

Luckily, there's a lot that every-day consumers of chametz can learn from people with paleo diets (and others that refrain from eating grains and beans) about staying happy, full, and connected, rather than irritable and unfulfilled. (The paleo diet is pretty extensive. I’m personally all for dairy, especially during Pesach.)

1. Eat real food: Packaged grain-y substitutes that hope to emulate the food you’re trying not to eat is counter-productive (for me, at least.) Building meals out of fresh produce tastes better anyway.

2. Find food that fills you: Mushrooms and eggplant balm the belly. The same goes for hard-boiled or fried eggs, bananas, avocados, and walnuts. Almond butter is a great Passover-safe pinch-hitter for peanut butter if you’re cutting out legumes (you may want to sprinkle in a tiny bit of salt.)

3. Befriend tubers and squashes: 24/7 potatoes are boring. Roasting or mashing some kabocha or butternut squash, or sweet potatoes adds a lot more excitement to the mix. Ditto for roasted turnips, rutabaga, beets, kohlrabi, and daikon radish. They work great in soups, salads, and as simple sides.

4. Double up on veggies: Nobody wants to eat leaves for a week. Or zucchini. Or anything. But if you vary your veg — say one portion of stir-fried veggie medley and and one pile of mixed greens — your taste buds won’t lose interest and you’ll wind up fuller than you might guess. Don’t forget to dress them up (see #5)!

5. Soups, soups, soups: The secret of dieters everywhere. A big bowl of broth tricks your stomach into thinking it’s full. I love making a hearty vegetable-rich soup packed with thick-cut produce and one of those starchier spuds from #3. Extra credit: put an egg on it!

6. Sauces and spice: Homemade pestos, chile, and plenty of spices can give your food a lot more pizzaz. On Pesach especially, that goes a long way. Sesame-based tahini is a no-no if you follow the Ashkenazi dictum for kitniyot, but is a great option for adding heft and flavor if you hew to Sephardi standards.

7. Plan ahead: Snack times are the worst, because everything seems to be bread-based when you’re staring at the vending machine. Some serious meal planning ahead of time nips it in the bud. No need to enslave yourself to a spreadsheet, but at least you’ll have stuff on-hand to nibble.

8: Know where to go out: If you’re comfortable eating out during Passover, scout out a few spots that offer enough options for you to get excited about. These are places with interesting salads and veggie sides, grilled mains, and a healthy attitude toward substitutions.

Sink your teeth into this

Here’s what I’m eating this Passover. It isn’t a full meal matrix by any means, but these are some of the foods I’m going to be making — and eating — this season.

Breakfast

Hard-boiled eggs, fruit salad
Matzah with soft cheese, honey, black pepper
Spicy veggie soup (because I love soup for breakfast.)

Main meals (could include lunchy leftovers)

Roasted chicken thighs with oregano and paprika
Lamb and sweet potato tagine
Shepherd's Pie
Grilled salmon salad with arugula, red onion, hazelnuts, roasted squash or beets, etc.

Sides

Roasted or stir-fried veggies (nearly any kind)
Mashed sweet potatoes or squash
Salads (e.g. Israeli salad, carrot/beet slaw)

Snacks

Dates with almonds or walnuts
Celery with almond butter

Desserts

Chocolate pudding (egg-thickened)
Caramelized bananas with hand-whipped cream
Baked apple with cheesecake -filling topper

There are hundreds of recipes and ideas out there, and if you’re tired of the usual Passover fare, try dipping into paleo recipes. You may just find a new filling favorite.

Nutritionist: ‘Eat to Win’


We know that a cheeseburger, fries and a soda are not the healthiest of choices, but what about the sushi rolls you had for lunch? A typical roll contains the carbohydrate equivalent of approximately two and half to four slices of bread. 

Registered dietitian Rachel Beller exposes the real nutrients in food with her “Food Autopsy.” In this case, she suggests going light on the rice, opting for brown rice or no rice at all.

While most diets stress what you can’t eat, Beller emphasizes what you can eat and tries to make grocery shopping easy. 

“I find what is simple,” said Beller, known as the celebrity nutritionist from NBC’s “The Biggest Loser.” “The difference between getting patients there and getting patients there with confidence is the execution. It needs to be simple and as easy as possible for somebody to start.”

Like many Americans, Beller began struggling with weight gain at a young age, in her case around 11. Although it was never anything extreme, she quickly caught on to how subtle changes in eating created a healthier lifestyle. This transformed into a career that approaches diets in what she believes is a healthy and sustainable way, rather than stressing over calories, carbs and diet fads. 

Beller, a Westwood resident, has created a reputation as America’s get-real nutritionist through her work with the Oxygen Channel series “Dance Your A** Off,” “Dr. Drew’s Lifechangers” show and Glamour magazine. She kicked off the year with her new book, “Eat to Lose, Eat to Win: Your Grab-n-Go Action Plan for a Slimmer, Healthier You.” 

“It’s about time, Rachel!” writes Sheryl Crow in the foreword to the book, in which the singer thanks Beller for changing how she eats. The two met before Crow began radiation treatments for breast cancer in 2006 after Crow’s oncologist contacted Beller. 

The book emphasizes what to eat and how to eat with product visuals, recipes, shopping guides and tips acquired from years of clinical research. From experience, Beller says she found her clients are less intimidated by food shopping when they can reference an image.  

“I have been thinking about it for years,” said Beller who refers to herself as a weight-loss expert with no gimmicks. “It was time. It came to the point where my practice was exploding and it was time to give it [information] away. More people need it.” 

In the book, she reveals her key to weight-loss goals, a nutritional strategy that combines science-based advice with a step-by-step plan. She helps readers understand different types of protein options with her Protein GPS. Her “Flip-It Method” focuses on portion control rather than calorie intake; the base of every meal is vegetables, lean protein, a touch of healthy fat and a small serving of complex carbohydrates. There are snacking tips and more, too.  

“Once I put the book out, I realized I had so much more to say,” Beller said. 

Beller, a registered dietitian whose father passed away from cancer, decided she needed to take a proactive stance in translating scientific research into healthy lifestyle solutions. After studying at California State University Los Angeles, Beller conducted extensive research into the roles of nutrition in cancer prevention at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in West Hollywood and the John Wayne Cancer Institute in Santa Monica. She also served for a decade as the John Wayne Cancer Institute’s director of nutritional oncology research and counseling.  

“For me, developing relationships is very important,” said Beller, who strives to nutritionally navigate patients through their treatment and beyond. 

Previously, she says, she had worked as an inpatient nutritionist and struggled with developing such interactions and seeing results. Patients were always in and out of the hospital.  

Her years in research were fulfilling, but eventually she decided it was time to transition to private practice. In 2006, she opened the Beller Nutritional Institute in Beverly Hills. 

It wasn’t until Glamour magazine found Beller’s evidence-based weight-loss approach attractive and contacted her in 2007 to help design the “Body by Glamour” section that she began to become an everyday name. Vogue also interviewed Beller, and before long she was contacted to consult and change the way people eat on several TV series. 

Beller says her work is about changing lives and watching people transform their lifestyles. 

“My deepest passion is working with patients who have heart disease or cancer,” Beller said. “When people are going through a treatment, I see their attitude and how they transition.”

Her “Fiber Insurance Strategy,” for example, is critical for cardiac health, but that means getting real fruits and vegetables, not manufactured forms of fiber. She notes that women should get 30 to 35 grams of fiber each day and men 35 to 40 grams. 

 “It’s not just about losing pounds; it’s about seeing cholesterol being lowered,” Beller said. Because a diet high in fiber has been shown to reduce cholesterol levels, she includes several recipes in her book that ensure breakfast is packed with at least 10 grams of fiber. Her fiber solutions are even simple for those who are constantly on the run, as it is vital for weight loss and disease prevention.  

Beller, a mother of four children who are all under the age of 13, credits her supportive family for helping her along the way, but really understands what it’s like to be on the go. So she creates plans that work with busy lifestyles.

“People will buy and take anything, but when they have too much going on, then they don’t sustain it,” Beller said. “If the plan doesn’t fit within someone’s lifestyle challenges, then its not so easy.” 

Determined to educate others, Beller volunteers every year to speak at several engagements around the country. It’s the culture she is accustomed to from her days working in the hospital. 

She feels Americans are being pulled in so many nutritional directions, but that things don’t have to be so complex. Success can often come down to something as simple as following a set of shopping guidelines.

“This is a reality check; a get-real moment,” Beller tells her patients. “I am here to say that you can do this.” 

Being American is bad for your health


“Americans are sicker and die younger than people in other wealthy nations.” 

That stark sentence appears in the January 2013 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, and it comes from the authors of a landmark report – “Shorter Lives, Poorer Health” – on differences among high-income countries.

You probably already know that America spends more on healthcare than any other country.  That was one of the few facts to survive the political food fight pretending to be a serious national debate about the Affordable Care Act.

But the airwaves also thrummed with so many sound bites from so many jingoistic know-nothings claiming that America has the best healthcare system in the world that today, most people don’t realize how shockingly damaging it is to your wellness and longevity to be born in the U.S.A.

This is made achingly clear in the study of the “U.S. health disadvantage” recently issued by the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine, which was conducted over 18 months by experts in medicine and public health, demography, social science, political science, economics, behavioral science and epidemiology. 

Compare the health of the American people with our peer nations – with Britain, Canada and Australia; with Japan; with the Scandinavian countries; with France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Austria, Switzerland and the Netherlands.  Side by side with the world’s wealthy democracies, America comes in last, and over the past several decades, it’s only gotten worse.

With few exceptions – like death rates from breast cancer – we suck.  Our newborns are less likely to reach their first birthday, or their fifth birthday.  Our adolescents die at higher rates from car crashes and homicides, and they have the highest rates of sexually transmitted infections.  Americans have the highest incidence of AIDS, the highest obesity rates, the highest diabetes rates among adults 20 and older, the highest rates of chronic lung disease and heart disease and drug-related deaths. 

There is one bright spot.  Americans who live past their 75th birthday have the longest life expectancy.  But for everyone else – from babies to baby boomers and beyond – your chances of living a long life are the butt-ugly worst among all the 17 rich nations in our peer group.

In case you’re tempted to blow off these bleak statistics about American longevity by deciding that they don’t apply to someone like you – before you attribute them to, how shall we put it, the special burdens that our racially and economically diverse and culturally heterogeneous nation has nobly chosen to bear – chew on this: “Even non-Hispanic white adults or those with health insurance, a college education, high incomes, or healthy behaviors appear to be in worse health (e.g., higher infant mortality, higher rates of chronic diseases, lower life expectancy) in the United States than in other high-income countries.”  And by the way, “the nation’s large population of recent immigrants is generally in better health than native-born Americans.”

Why are we trailing so badly?  Some of the causes catalogued by the report:

The U.S. public health and medical care systems:  Our employer- and private insurance-based health care system has long set us apart from our peer nations, who provide universal access.  The right loves to rail against “socialized medicine,” but on health outcomes, the other guys win.

Individual behavior: Tobacco, diet, physical inactivity, alcohol and other drug use and sexual practices play a part, but there’s not a whole lot of evidence that uniquely nails Americans’ behavior. The big exception is injurious behavior.  We loves us our firearms, and we don’t much like wearing seat belts or motorcycle helmets. 

Social factors:  Stark income inequality and poverty separate us from other wealthy nations, who also have more generous safety nets and demonstrate greater social mobility than we do.  In America, the best predictor of good or bad health is the income level of your zip code.

Physical and social environmental factors: Toxins harm us, but our pollution isn’t notably worse than in other rich nations.  The culprit may be our “built environment”: less public transportation, walking and cycling; more cars and car accidents; less access to fresh produce; more marketing and bigger portions of bad food.

Policies and social values:  To me, this is the richest, and riskiest, ground broken by the report, which asks whether there’s a common denominator – upstream, root causes – that help explain why the United States has been losing ground in so many health domains since the 1970s: 

“Certain character attributes of the quintessential American (e.g. dynamism, rugged individualism) are often invoked to explain the nation’s great achievements and perseverance.  Might these same characteristics also be associated with risk-taking and potentially unhealthy behaviors? Are there health implications to Americans’ dislike of outside (e.g., government) interference in personal lives and in business and marketing practices?”

My answer is yes, but I’d plant the problem in recent history and politics, not in timeless quintessentials.  Since the 1980s, in the sunny name of “free enterprise,” there’s been a ferocious, ideologically driven effort to demonize government, roll back regulations, privatize the safety net, stigmatize public assistance, gut public investment, weaken consumer protection, consolidate corporate power, delegitimize science, condemn anti-poverty efforts as “class warfare” and entrust public health to the tender mercies of the marketplace. 

The epidemic of gun violence has been fueled by anti-government paranoia stoked by the gun manufacturers’ lobby, the NRA.  The spike in consumption of high-fructose corn syrup has been driven by the food industry’s business decisions and its political (i.e., financial) clout.  In the name of fiscal conservatism, plutocrats push for cuts in discretionary expenditures on maternal health, early childhood education, social services and public transportation.  The same tactic that once prolonged tobacco’s death grip – the confection of a phony scientific “controversy” – now undermines efforts to combat climate change, which is as big a danger to public health as any disease.

More accidents may be shortening our lifespans.  But we’re not getting sicker by accident.


Marty Kaplan is the Norman Lear professor of entertainment, media and society at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.  Reach him at martyk@jewishjournal.com.

CON PROP 37: Should genetically engineered foods be labeled?


[” target=”_blank”> jewishjournal.com/

From nut allergies to gluten, Jewish camps and schools struggle with dietary limitations


No one goes to summer camp for the food. And school lunches? Used to be fried mystery meat and a side of bogus mashed potatoes, if you were lucky.

But that was before the healthy eating movement—and allergies—changed how camps and schools across America think about the food they serve their children.

Dining halls now feature salad bars and fresh produce, even homemade bread. The Reform movement’s Kutz Camp, a leadership camp in Warwick, N.Y., for teenagers, is launching a state-of-the-art dining program this summer that has banned canned vegetables and machine-made drinks, and includes a salad bar featuring at least three types of lettuce and 10 vegetarian toppings.

“Parental expectations have changed,” says Paul Reikenbach, head of camping for the Union for Reform Judaism. “They want to have healthy choices and healthy menus. And the kids themselves are much more sophisticated about their food choices.”

Whereas 10 to 15 years ago the battle was for high-quality vegetarian meals, today the preoccupying concern is the ever-increasing array of dietary needs and restrictions.

Nut allergies. Soy allergies. Lactose intolerance. Gluten allergies. Combine them with the vegetarians, the vegans, the organic-only eaters and the varying levels of kashrut observance, it’s clear that putting food on the table for today’s Jewish children is no simple feat.

At Kutz Camp, the peanut butter and jelly is now kept in a separate area of the dining hall to avoid cross-contamination.

“It’s our responsibility to keep everyone happy and safe,” says camp director Melissa Frey. “If one teen drops a peanut butter knife into the salad bar, it could be very dangerous for someone else.”

“When I started here 24 years ago, we were just learning about lactose intolerance,” says Anne Tursky, assistant executive director of the New Jersey Y Camps. “We heard about Lactaid and dairy-free ice cream. Then came the peanut allergies eight to 10 years ago. We went from having jars of peanut butter on the table to putting out individual packets.

“Then we had a camper allergic to soy, so we had to start reading every package to see what was in them.”

Most of the push for allergy-free meals comes from worried parents.

Johanna Shlomovich, director of student services at the Ramaz School in Manhattan, meets regularly with a parents’ nutrition committee to go over meal planning for the Orthodox day school’s 1,100 students. She estimates that the school prepares 20 specialized meals daily, ranging from diabetic to dairy-free.

“We are nut-free and sesame-free, to keep all our children safe,” she says. “All our food service workers go to allergy training several times a year. They check all the packaging.”

Finding kosher-certified foods that meet the varied health concerns is an ongoing challenge, Shlomovich says. Ramaz could not find a kosher brand of granola that was also free of nuts and sesame, so now the school prepares its own.

And parental demands keep growing.

“I have a couple of parents pushing for everything to be organic,” Shlomovich says. “But that’s cost prohibitive. It’s always a balance between budget and the parents’ nutritional demands.”

Now there is both greater awareness of allergies and food intolerances, and the actual occurrence of those allergies also is on the rise, experts say.

Anita Redner, the head nurse for the Solomon Schechter Day School of Greater Boston for 19 years, says the number of allergies she sees has skyrocketed along with the incidence of asthma.

“All the medical literature is pretty clear that there’s been an actual rise in real allergies and in asthma,” she says. “I don’t think there’s any doctor that would say otherwise.”

Redner’s school has one student with diabetes, several with gluten allergies and others with similar dietary restrictions. The school does not have a regular lunch program, but allows parents to opt in or out of Friday pizza lunch and infrequent meals brought in from a kosher Chinese restaurant.

“We provide the parents with all the information they need about the vendors, and the responsibility is on them to opt in or have the kids bring their own lunch,” she says.

One of the more serious allergies is to gluten, the protein found in grains such as wheat, barley and rye. Many Americans today tout the supposed health benefits of a gluten-free diet, but for sufferers of celiac disease—an estimated 1 percent of the population—avoiding gluten is not an issue of choice. Even a tiny amount of gluten can trigger a severe autoimmune reaction and sometimes long-term health problems.

Camp and school directors have become hyper-aware of the needs of children with celiac disease. Most ask parents to provide their own food for the children, or in the case of overnight camp, pay for the cost of procuring gluten-free food. But that’s expensive and tends to isolate the affected children.

At some institutions, inclusivity trumps inconvenience. The early childhood classes at Ramaz bake once a week, Shlomovich says, and if even one child is sensitive to gluten, the entire class will bake gluten-free muffins. The same is true of other food allergies.

“Every child must be able to take part and enjoy,” she says.

Kutz Camp always has a handful of campers with gluten sensitivity, according to Frey. Until this year, the camp would buy special food for them. This summer, as part of the new dining program, the entire camp is moving to gluten-free pastas, and the chef will begin baking spelt-based and rice breads.

“We’re an environment based on Jewish ethics and Jewish values,” Frey tells JTA. “We want camp to be a place where no one feels isolated.”

For this summer, the New Jersey Y Camps has partnered with the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University Medical Center to develop a gluten-free summer sleepaway program at its camp in Milford, Pa. A dedicated kosher and gluten-free kitchen will provide meals and snacks for children and teens with celiac and Type 1 diabetes.

Like other camps, the Y camps always catered to celiac sufferers, says director Len Robinson, but did so by requiring parents to buy their child’s food, which he estimates cost about $1,000 a summer. Now these children will stand in line with everyone else instead of waiting at the table for special meals that often arrived late or cold.

The new program was inspired by Pninit Cole, a Long Island mother and celiac activist whose child was diagnosed with celiac disease three years ago.

“Even with her in the camp, I didn’t fully understand the issue,” Robinson acknowledges. “There are so many other things we have to watch.”

The new kitchen cost $30,000, but the parents won’t pay more in camp fees. It’s part of what a Jewish camp or school should be offering, Robinson says.

Cole agrees. Along with the food has come a change in atmosphere, she notes, where children and staffers learn about dietary needs, healthy eating, and how to respect each other’s preferences and restrictions.

“This is the first such program I know of in the country,” Cole says. “I hope it will become the industry standard, so all kids can have a fun, safe summer.”

The Diet Cycle — One Woman’s Journey to Get Off the Bike for Good


One day, almost three years after the birth of my youngest child, I looked in the mirror. I hated what I saw. I had been carrying around “baby weight” through four births, at least that’s what I kept telling myself.  It seemed, though, that I was suddenly able to see clearly that this wasn’t baby weight at all.  I was fat, plain and simple.

FAT. The word is ugly, in every context, and it’s not hard to imagine how it makes people feel to admit that to themselves. My own path to fat started almost at birth. Bad habits ingrained early included regular ice cream trips, twice-weekly dinners out (usually pizza) and a two-a-day Butterfinger candy bar habit. All was fine and good until I hit puberty, and as my body changed, the truth became evident — I had fat genes. God bless my father’s family, they gave me many good things — but they also gave me tree-like thighs and a slow metabolism. And so it began. The summer I was 16, I went on my very first diet, and though I would never be fat again until I started having kids, I would spend the next 15 years thinking that I was fat.

Like so many other women, I was trapped in the diet cycle. It’s an awful place to be. The “cycle” implies correctly that you are not successfully dieting. The emotional ups and downs and soul searching that go along with that cycling is often a painful process. During my early 20s, I spent an entire summer eating nothing but tuna. Then there was the carrot diet, which turned my roommate’s skin orange; the grapefruit diet; and let’s not forget the soup diet and SlimFast. I ate when I was depressed, I ate when I was happy and I “dieted” all the time. I had been taught to literally feed my heart and my head. But I didn’t have the type of body that could process that kind of eating, and where had I learned that behavior anyway? Food had power over me, and would remain in control for a very long time.

Fast forward to Los Angeles, 2008. I am 40. I have a garage full of pre-pregnancy clothes that have been collecting dust for six years. I vow to fit into them again. And this time I mean it. For months I eat nothing but protein and vegetables. I lose 70 pounds in a healthy-feel-good-about-myself kind of way. I am thin again, but this time I know I am thin. I accept that I am thin. I have managed to banish those voices in my head that used to call me a fat pig when I put a cookie in my mouth — which I do with less and less frequency.

I learn a lot while I am dieting.

Judaism, like many religions, is food centric, and as we approach our Passover seders, when our tables will be laden with food, it’s a good time to admit it. We eat when we’re happy, celebrating a baby’s birth or a child’s entry into adulthood with big parties and copious amounts of food. We eat when we’re sad, bringing platters of food to friends and family when a loved one dies. We eat when we’re sick; isn’t chicken soup the cure all for any ill? And when we’re depressed, comfort food is … comforting. And of course, we Jews eat to be social. Kiddush after synagogue on Saturday mornings has turned into a festival of good food — whatever happened to Tam Tams and herring? When did Kiddush become lunch, followed by lunch? Orthodox weddings have the tradition of having a literal smorgasbord before the ceremony, which is of course, then followed by dinner. The bigger the simcha, the more food you serve?

I didn’t have to look very far to figure out where I had learned that food makes everything feel better. Jews are taught to be emotional eaters. As a religion, as a community, we turn to food to celebrate the good and share the bad. Why on earth would anyone expect it to be any different in our personal lives? When you diet, you learn to quickly recognize and replace emotion-based eating. Exercise to clear your head or see a funny movie to ward off a bad mood. A conversation with a friend can make me feel worlds better that the pint of ice cream I might have eaten a year ago. And I am proud of that, but it meant unlearning 40 years of emotional eating. And, sometimes, I still want to eat an entire cake.

While I was dieting, I sat at Shabbat tables and saw with clarity why it is so hard to diet. Not only do we eat to make ourselves feel better, but we constantly surround ourselves with delicious-looking food. A regular Saturday lunch consists of two main courses, several side dishes and a dizzying array of desserts. Sit at my Shabbat table and you will see that I am guilty of this as well. 

As a symbol of the double portion of manna we received prior to Shabbat while wandering the desert, Jews start Shabbat with two loaves of bread and eat two more during Shabbat lunch. That’s four loaves of bread a weekend. And while many of us do not actually eat four loaves of bread, it is there in front of us.

And let’s not forget the multitude of Jewish holidays that start and/or end with large meals. The High Holy Days are always a source of discussion and consternation — everyone I know complains about how much weight they are gaining and how tired they are of eating. I was one of the chief complainers. But this year, as Passover approaches and I think of how many meals are involved in two seders, two days of Yom Tov and then going into Shabbat, it doesn’t scare me. In the past I would have wasted time worrying about all the weight I was going to gain or what I was going to eat, because no matter how much food there was, it never felt like enough on Passover. Or I would dread knowing I would end up eating bags of potato chips because there “just wasn’t anything else to eat.” This year though, I am strong and completely in control of what I eat. And while I certainly have my moments when I reach for food because I am bored, I reach for an apple, not a bag of chips. And that puts me back in charge.

And let’s not forget the additional difficulty of being a Jewish woman on the diet cycle. We were raised by a generation of women who didn’t know “healthy.” We were raised by the Jewish mother who in the same breath as telling us our dress was too tight, was also asking us if we were hungry. Food was love.

At the end of the day, deciding what you want to look like and how you choose to eat is all about willpower. It isn’t easy to decide to diet. It takes time and thought and a ton of emotional effort. It is especially difficult amid a culture where food is the backdrop of everything. However, that is also part of what becomes so rewarding. For me, to be able to sit at Shabbat meal after Shabbat meal, week after week and eat only what I told myself I would eat — that was a huge victory. And I will always remember the Fourth of July barbecue, where I did not eat a thing. And it’s not all the food I missed out on that I remember, it’s how good I felt when I got home.

However, I also believe that for women it is twice as difficult, and we sabotage ourselves every day in so many different ways. Many women are caretakers, breadwinners, housecleaners, taxi drivers, short-order cooks … and the list goes on. We are all things to many different people, and it is draining. We are frequently at the bottom of our own list.  We have to learn that it is OK to make ourselves a priority. Eating right and thinking about what kinds of foods make our bodies and minds feel good are part of those priorities. It is the difference between eating a piece of chicken or that bowl of Captain Crunch we think we really want.

What I really want is to never feel fat or actually be fat again. Not five pounds overweight — fat. Only I can control whether or not this happens. I am no longer 30. At 30, I could eat whatever I wanted because I ran 3 miles every day; I know that my 40-year-old body will not metabolize food the way it did ten years ago — even if I wanted to exercise every day. So, for me, this “diet” has become life changing. I won’t ever veer from my protein and vegetables regimen, because I know it is what keeps me thin and feeling good. And because I am not insane enough to think that I will never again want to indulge in delicious, sugar-drenched, processed food, I allow myself one day each week to eat whatever I want — within limits. For me, that day is Shabbat, when you will find me indulging in all the sweets I love. But at the end of the day, I have learned that food has lost its power over me, or rather, I have found the strength to take that power back. Now I feel clearer; I would rather hug one of my kids and appreciate the pleasure that brings them, as well, than the momentary pleasure of eating a donut that ultimately might make me feel worse.

It took me a very long time to get here and a longer time to understand the role my parents and Judaism played in my journey. I love Judaism. I love the tradition and I love the sense of greater community I feel when I think of the millions of other women who are also lighting Shabbat candles on Friday night. I love the feeling of continuity it brings to our household and that it forces us to rest in a world where we often feel there is no time to rest. And I love how social it is — that people come together to celebrate, or mourn, or hang together on Shabbat, and I can appreciate why those things are done around food.

I don’t intend to stop doing any of that, and I hope I can infuse in my children their own love of Judaism. However, what I hope I can change is the importance food plays in their lives. I hope I can teach them the delectable beauty of an excellent meal, but that talking about a problem will make them feel better than eating a chocolate bar.

Now that I have broken my own cycle, I make different choices. I hope by example, that my children will make different choices as well.

Debi Pomerantz welcomes all questions and comments and can be contacted through her Web site at www.dietcoachgirl.com.

Trigger foods can play key role in causing migraines


Rhonda Cadle loves pepperoni, but she has given it up for good.

Pamela Yeager used to savor the veal paprikash served at a local restaurant but now avoids it at all costs.

These women gave up foods they loved not because of calories, cholesterol or fat. Instead, they gave up foods that they realized, after some detective work, were almost sure to trigger headaches.

Certain foods and substances, such as caffeine and MSG, are common migraine triggers, but not all trigger foods prompt headaches among all migraine sufferers. This is because headache food triggers vary among individuals, and also because other factors, such as stress, hormone and weather changes, fatigue and hunger, can also raise the threshold that might trip a migraine. Because there can be so many contributing factors, doctors can find headaches notoriously difficult to treat.

“Migraines are generally not prompted by a single food or other environmental element, but doctors often underestimate foods as a risk factor,” said Dr. Roger Cady, vice president of the National Headache Foundation and director of the Headache Care Center in Springfield, Mo.

Finding the Connection

Further, many people don’t connect what they eat and drink with their pounding headaches.

“It would be logical to think that a trigger food would cause a headache every time you ate or drank it, but that’s not the case,” said Dr. David Buchholz, associate professor of neurology at Johns Hopkins and author of “Heal Your Headache.” “There are also many potent nondietary triggers, including stress, weather and hormonal changes, hunger and fatigue, that pile on the layers that lead to migraine. If the total trigger level is low, you’ve got a wider margin of error with your diet.”

To help patients figure out just what is causing their migraines, both Cady and Buchholz encourage their patients to keep a headache diary. Cadle, who is Cady’s patient as well as the research coordinator in his clinic, did just that.

“The migraines were running my life,” said Cadle, 42, a registered nurse who used to get migraines about twice a week, each of which could last for up to three days.

Cadle used her diary to track her activities and food intake for the previous 24 hours, noting what she ate, her stress level, odors she may have been exposed to, the weather and her hormonal cycle. She also noted what medication she took for the headaches.

Lowering the Risk

It took a few months to see the pattern, but eventually Cadle realized that her risk factors included many nonfood triggers, including changes in weather, stress levels and hormonal fluctuations. Because many of her triggers were unavoidable, Cadle tried to keep her overall headache threshold level low by drinking enough water, getting enough sleep and avoiding the foods and food additives that could prompt headaches, such as MSG and onions. She also learned to take headache relief medication at the first signal of an impending headache for maximum relief. Since taking these steps, Cadle has cut her migraine rate by about half, to roughly four per month.

Yeager’s relief has been even more dramatic. When she began tracking her headaches carefully, Yeager identified several risk factors, including certain perfumes, flashing or fluorescent bulbs and extreme hunger. But her biggest triggers were hormonal changes and foods, including red wine, smoked cheeses and meats, red dyes and dark chocolate, plus MSG.

From more than 100 migraines a year, Yeager, 43, now gets only about four. She’s given up on Cajun food but won’t give up Chinese and only goes to restaurants where she is sure that MSG won’t be hiding in her food.

Buchholz is not surprised by the women’s success. He believes that nearly all migraine sufferers can benefit by first cutting as many known headache trigger foods from their diets as possible and then adding them in one at a time until the problem foods are identified.

The Cold Turkey Approach

Buchholz recommends cutting them all at once, as opposed to one at a time, because food triggers are also inconsistent, leading many people to deny the food-headache connection.

“Headache sufferers often convince themselves that some of the foods they love don’t contribute to their headaches, either because the foods don’t always trigger a headache or because the headache comes a day after the food was eaten, when they assume it would have been immediate,” he said.

In fact, a headache may not erupt until a full 24 hours after eating a problem substance.

Buchholz believes that caffeine might be the top dietary headache trigger, yet people are fooled into thinking it’s a help, not a hindrance.

“Caffeine helps temporarily to relieve headaches because it constricts the blood vessels, but the rebound effect of those blood vessels expanding again contributes to more headaches in the long run,” he said. “When people get withdrawal headaches from stopping caffeine, they may think their headaches are caused by caffeine deprivation, and that reinforces the wrong idea.”

Painful as it is for our caffeine-addicted culture, Buchholz recommends that chronic headache sufferers quit caffeine completely, either by going cold turkey (and toughing out the withdrawal headaches that may follow) or cutting it down and then out within two weeks. This includes eliminating headache medications containing caffeine, such as Excedrin.

After caffeine, Buchholz’s list of the most potent headache trigger foods are dark chocolate (milk chocolate isn’t as bad since it has less cocoa, and white is OK), MSG (which can be hidden by other names, including hydrogenated vegetable protein and “seasonings”), processed meats and fish, cheese and other dairy products, nuts and nut butters, alcohol (especially red wine) and most vinegars, citrus and dried fruits, though even bananas are triggers for some people.

The artificial sweetener aspartame, which goes by the brand name Nutrasweet, is often a trigger for children, as well as adults. Last on the list are vegetables such as pea pods, lentils and other beans and brown onions. Sauerkraut can also be a trigger.

Buchholz acknowledges that it is unclear why certain foods will trip the migraine switch in headache sufferers, but that trigger foods, when added to other nondietary triggers, stack the deck, and migraines can result. He also acknowledges that the list of potential trigger foods is daunting, and that nobody can avoid every one.

But it’s not a life sentence, either.

“Eliminating these foods is a golden opportunity to learn to control and heal your headaches,” he said. “And after slowly adding foods back in, most people will end up with a small, manageable list of foods to avoid. This can potentially lower the dietary trigger by 90 percent.”

And that means a lot fewer headaches and a lot of life restored to migraine sufferers.

As Cadle observed: “The best thing you can do about migraines is to learn to prevent them. That way, you take charge of them instead of them taking charge of you.”

Judy Gruen’s latest book is “The Women’s Daily Irony Supplement.” She has written for the Los Angeles Times, Ladies’ Home Journal, Family Circle and Natural Solutions, where this article first appeared. Read more of her work on www.judygruen.com.

Delivery chef unable to savor his culinary success


Crab cakes drizzled with zesty chipotle lime sauce and peppercorn brandy glazed pork loin are a few of the entrées The Fresh Diet delivers to clients. But its Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef, who developed most of the dishes offered on the meal-delivery program’s menu, has never actually sampled his own dishes, which have been praised by Phil Lempert, food trends editor for NBC’s “Today.”

While it might seem odd for a head chef to have not tasted any of his or her own creations, Yosef Schwartz can’t; he keeps kosher.

The Fresh Diet is one of about 50 meal-delivery programs nationwide that can help take the time-consuming preparation — as well as portion-control and guesswork — out of eating healthy. In the next few weeks, Miami-based Fresh Diet will start delivering to homes and offices in Los Angeles. And if there’s enough of a call for it, Schwartz is hoping to start a kosher version of Fresh Diet here after he returns to the Southland this month.

Schwartz, 27, grew up in Westwood and Mar Vista, attended Yeshiva Ohr Elchonon Chabad near Hancock Park and received his smicha in Israel. While you can call him a rabbi, he would rather be thought of as a chef.

Schwartz wanted to cook from the time he was a teenager. His rabbi father and rebbetzin mother would host 50 people for dinner each Friday night, and Schwartz says he would spend Thursdays and Fridays after school cooking with his mother. “I knew by 14 years old that I wanted to go to culinary school,” he said.

After he received his rabbinic degree in 2001, Schwartz immediately applied to California Culinary Academy to hone a variety of cooking skills.

“My parents were very supportive,” he said.

As far as working with treif ingredients like pork and shellfish at California Culinary Academy and now Fresh Diet, Schwartz says it took some getting used to.

“Once I started working with the product, I was really fine with it,” he said. “There are other senses besides taste. I like to think of myself as a food technician.”

Schwartz worked with a variety of local kosher caterers while he studied in Pasadena. And after graduating from California Culinary Academy in 2004, his high school friends encouraged him to consider joining them to start a food-delivery business based on Dr. Barry Sears’ Zone Diet, which features 40 percent carbohydrates, 30 percent proteins and 30 percent good fats.

The prices for the Fresh Diet delivery service, which currently reaches South Florida, Chicago and the New York Tri-State area, range from $35 to $60 per day. The meals are delivered in cooler bags overnight and include three entrees and two snacks.

“We’ve had people who said they’ve saved money,” he said, referring to busy clients who would tend to eat in restaurants several times each day. “It’s basically a little present at your door every morning.”

Schwartz says exercise and his own kosher version of the meal system have helped him lose weight. He weighed 300 pounds when he started the business with his friends. His shirt size has since gone from XXL to large, having dropped down to 210 pounds.

“I was thinking about doing it kosher before we even started the company,” he said, adding that it would take 30 to 50 subscribers to start a similar kosher service in the Southern California. “If there’s a demand for it, we will do it.”

Ancient sources yield health and diet wisdom


Many diet books promise a better, thinner you in a ridiculously short amount of time, but conventional wisdom holds that many diets stop working by about 6 p.m.

Two recent books — “The Life-Transforming Diet” (Feldheim, 2007) and “The Jerusalem Diet” (Gefen, 2007) — offer approaches intended to help Jewish dieters make changes in eating styles that would work in the evening as well as during the day.

Diet books don’t often include approbations from rabbis, but they’re appropriate for “The Life-Transforming Diet,” a structured eating plan based on the writings of physician and Torah scholar Maimonides.

Adapting this 800-year-old diet, author David J. Zulberg presents a plan for long-term changes using the scholar’s prescriptions for self-improvement.

Maimonides was uncannily accurate in many of his suggestions, including a focus on preventive medicine, reducing salt and red meat and adding daily exercise.

“Overeating is like poison to the body and it is the main cause of all illness,” he wrote.

In addition to practical diet considerations during Sabbath meals, “The Life-Transforming Diet” offers useful information on nutrition, fat choices and Maimonides’ views on red meat. (“Only eat meat if you are bored with chicken.”)

His list of bad foods, from aged meat to moldy food, is remarkably similar to the American Institute for Cancer Research’s list of foods to avoid. But some of the ancient advice doesn’t always translate to a modern audience: “Sometimes I drink soup made from young roosters and then go to sleep.”

And then there’s the difference in lifestyle. In Maimonides’ time, “daily life included physical labor which required a greater caloric intake. Today, people need to eat less to balance the energy equation. Unless you are a professional athlete, you just cannot eat that much,” said Jodi Newson, director of nutrition services for Tower Hematology Oncology Medical Group in Beverly Hills.

Newson suggests that a book can help people make a change, but says that studies have borne out that it’s also important for dieters to seek guidance from registered dietitians or support groups.

“A book cannot encourage you when you hit a plateau,” she said.

Still, one can’t go wrong with Maimonides’ advice that “a person should eat only when he is hungry and he should drink only when he is thirsty.”

“The Jerusalem Diet” doesn’t address how to eat so much as “why” we eat.

ALTTEXTJudith Besserman and Emily Budick refer to their plan as an “appetite for life” and employ guided imagery to unearth the reasons behind overeating.

Besserman, a practicing psychotherapist in Jerusalem and New York City, runs weight-loss groups based on guided imagery techniques adapted from Colette Aboulker-Muscat, a Jerusalem psychotherapist. Emily Budick is a professor of English at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

The authors note that most people already use imagery in some form when trying to lose weight (i.e., visualizing a new outfit for an event). Besserman and Budick suggest using such imagery to understand our relationship to food, and then change habits to feed the “slimmer, healthier self” instead.

Simple exercises that involve breathing are used to identify the roots of eating patterns and to visualize your plate to determine whether the food is there for you to gain, maintain or lose weight.

Guided imagery “translates the stories of our life back into a language we can understand” so that dieters can take steps toward weight loss, according to the authors.

But turning to a book to learn guided visualization techniques might be a tall order.

One exercise, “The Moment After,” is supposed to give the reader the feeling of satiety, as if you’ve eaten a chocolate bar. Even after the exercise, I still want the real thing.

“Visualization is not easy to do on your own. You may want to start with someone who can guide you,” said Shelly R. Cohen, a Los Angeles psychotherapist in private practice.

Cohen says that visualization of a healthier self can lead to hopefulness, an important element to ensure effective change.

“It’s always important to identify and address underlying problems that create an obstacle to weight loss, whether they be physical or psychological,” Cohen said, adding: “Weight loss is tricky, and different things work for different people. Just find whatever works for you.”

Tamar Sofer lives in Los Angeles and writes about nutrition and disease prevention.

Jewish women change their destinies by testing for genetic mutation


Erika Taylor didn't want to know whether she had the breast cancer gene.

“My thinking was I would never get a prophylactic mastectomy,” Taylor, 44, said of the idea of removing her breasts as a preventive measure. “I just thought it was horrible thing to do to myself, and if I was unwilling to do that, why bother finding out?”

[RELATED: Women support each other in navigating genetic risk]

Her grandmother died of breast cancer at 56, and her mother battled and beat the disease in her 30s. Taylor, who is single and the mother of a 14-year-old boy, always suspected cancer was in her future, but taking steps to confirm that was not something she wanted to do. Until she got her own diagnosis.

A routine mammogram last November revealed early stage noninvasive cancer cells in Taylor's milk ducts, making information about her genetic status vital for determining her treatment.

“All of a sudden, the idea of 'I would never do such a thing' goes out the window,” she said. “It's astonishing how quickly you go, 'OK, OK, what do I need to do? I'll do it.'” Taylor's mother tested first, and when she was identified as a carrier of the BRCA 2 genetic mutation common in Ashkenazi Jews, Taylor tested next. In January, she found out she, too, carries the gene that makes it likely that even if she were to rid herself of her diagnosed cancer, it would probably recur.

Like a growing number of women, Taylor faced both the gift and the terror of knowledge.

One in 40 Ashkenazi Jews — compared to one in 500 in the general population — carries a mutation that gives women a 50 percent to 85 percent chance of getting breast cancer by the time they are 80. The genetic mutation, discovered in 1994, also increases the likelihood of melanoma and ovarian, prostate or pancreatic cancer. While within the general population about 5 percent of cancers can be attributed to a hereditary syndrome, in the Jewish community, that number is closer to 30 percent.

Women’s Heart Health 101


Surprise, cholesterol isn’t all bad. Your body uses it to make hormones, vitamin D, and substances that aid digestion. But that doesn’t mean you should make a run for the turkey bacon. That’s because your body makes all the cholesterol it needs on its own, without any extra-fatty foods eaten by you.

More than half of adults have too much cholesterol flowing around in their bloodstreams, a problem that, frighteningly enough, often carries back to their childhoods. Once your total cholesterol reaches 200 milligrams per deciliter, your risk of heart disease increases. And with it, your risk of death from heart disease — the No. 1 killer of women.

But what you may not have heard is that women are less likely than men to keep their cholesterol under control, the American Heart Association reports. But what does your total number mean exactly?

“We’ve discovered that total cholesterol is a meaningless number, at least for women,” said Dr. Barbara H. Roberts, director of The Women’s Cardiac Center at The Miriam Hospital in Providence, R.I., and author of “How to Keep From Breaking Your Heart: What Every Woman Needs to Know About Cardiovascular Disease.” “That’s because total cholesterol is made up of several blood fats, including LDL [so-called ‘bad’ cholesterol], HDL [so-called ‘good’ cholesterol] and triglycerides. In women, high levels of triglycerides and low levels of HDL are more significant risk factors for atherosclerosis [aka hardening of the arteries] than are high levels of LDL.”

Cholesterol, called plaque, can build up in your arteries, the vessels that carry blood full of oxygen and nutrients from your heart and lungs throughout your entire body. High cholesterol has a negative impact on this healthy travel: it encourages the arteries to narrow and block. LDL, the bad type, causes cholesterol to build up in the blood.

Your goal? Keeping your LDL down.

“To lower your cholesterol the drug-free way, eat a plant-based diet, quit smoking, do lots of aerobic exercise, keep your weight under control and don’t fall for the low-fat diet fad,” Roberts said. “Eating low-fat is counterproductive for women because it lowers your HDL; that is, your good cholesterol.”

How to Make Healthy Cholesterol

Forget low-fat diets, and make room for monounsaturated fats in the foods you eat.

“The best type is olive oil,” Roberts said. “If your HDL is low, you should eat between two to three tablespoons per day — either straight from the spoon or drizzled on salads or cooked vegetables, substituting it for saturated [animal] fats like butter or polyunsaturated fats like corn oil.”

And women actually need more of this healthy cholesterol than men do. The lower limit of normal HDL in women is 50 milligrams per deciliter, while in men it’s only 40 mg/dl.

It’s Good to Be a Girl

If you’ve ever blamed your hormones for tears and moodiness, here’s one thing to say “thank you” for: Estrogen may actually help protect you against heart attacks, says Dr. Robert H. Eckel, spokesman and former president of the American Heart Association. From the time your body starts producing it at puberty until production falls in your mid-50s, you’ll have higher levels of HDL than the men around you. Because women make estrogen and men make androgens, women are less likely to have a heart attack than men are (until they reach menopause, that is, when both estrogen and HDL levels drop).

And the Number Is…

“Once you’ve reached your 20th birthday, your doctor should order a full cholesterol panel,” Roberts said.

This is nothing more than a fasting blood test (you can’t eat or drink anything with calories for 12 hours before), but it shows your doctor crucial numbers for assessing your risk of heart disease: your LDL, HDL and triglyceride levels. If your doctor hasn’t ordered one, go ahead and ask about it yourself. Having a family history of heart disease makes knowing your numbers even more essential.

Take a look at your numbers with your doctor, and set a goal level as to where your LDL should be. If you have no risk of heart disease, yet your cholesterol numbers are less than optimal, your goal should be 160 milligrams per deciliter; if you have more risk factors, such as a family history of heart attacks, your goal should be 130 milligrams per deciliter. And if you already have heart disease, your goal should be 100 milligrams per deciliter at the very highest.

Change Your Lifestyle First

Before you blindly pop the cholesterol-lowering pills your doctor prescribes (likely statins, the go-to med for high cholesterol), consider changing your lifestyle first. According to a study from Mount Sinai School of Medicine, 71 patients who had been prescribed statins to bring their “bad” cholesterol down weren’t eating any more saturated fat six months later, as many medical professionals assumed they might (perhaps counting on the medication to make up for a steak or two). Some patients also said they would have preferred to try lifestyle changes before taking the drugs.

And in many cases, lifestyle changes may be all it takes to make a difference. In a five-year study of 535 premenopausal women, researchers from the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public Health found that lifestyle changes, such as exercising and following a healthy high-fiber diet were able to control increases in LDL cholesterol.

As a Last Resort

If your LDL still hasn’t dropped after one month to six weeks of a high-fiber diet it may be time to try statins, Eckel says, but keep in mind that once you start taking them, you’ll probably have to stay on them for life. Before your doctor writes up a prescription, take a test to make sure you don’t have kidney, thyroid or liver disease, all of which can also mimic high cholesterol.

Jenny Stamos writes about health, nutrition, psychology, work, money and love for magazines such as Self, Shape, Glamour, Women’s Health, Prevention and Woman’s Day.

Veggie lovers could fare better in cancer fight


If you’re a middle-aged man (or already past it) here’s what should be on your menu today: tomato sauce, watermelon, stir-fried tofu and veggies, selenium and vitamin E. Wash it all down with a swig of green tea or pomegranate juice and you may be able to ward off prostate cancer.

New and better information is coming to light every day about ways to prevent this common disease. Since doctors are getting better at catching it early, fewer men are dying of prostate cancer. But one in six men will still develop the disease in their lifetime.

Eat your Veggies, Drink Tea

Luckily, if you are at risk, there are things you can do. Prevention may be as simple as eating better, exercising more and taking a few key supplements. Many of these remedies, which cut inflammation, may also help men struggling with a benign enlarged prostate.

For example, eating a lot of red meat, processed foods, alcohol, sugar and high-fat dairy products can lead to inflammation in the prostate gland (and other parts of the body).

“It’s best to have an overall healthy lifestyle,” said dietician Dee Sandquist, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association (ADA). “You need to eat a balance of foods in moderate amounts.”

Processed meats and high-fat dairy have more chemical residues, which also may be related to cancer risk. Instead, Sandquist suggests, eat lower on the food chain. Add more grains and legumes. Go vegetarian a couple of times per week.

One of the most promising natural compounds for prostate cancer prevention is lycopene, Sandquist suggested. You can find it in cooked tomatoes, watermelon and pink grapefruit. Sandquist recommends shooting for two to four servings of lycopene-rich foods per week. Since the body needs a little fat to absorb lycopene, have some olive oil with your pizza or spaghetti sauce.

Green tea can help, too. It’s full of antioxidants that appear to fight cancer. In particular, studies show, it has a lot of promise for preventing prostate cancer cells from growing into a threat.

“Green tea leads damaged cells or cancer cells to commit suicide,” said University of Wisconsin Cancer Center researcher Dr. Hasan Mukhtar.

He points to several epidemiological studies that show people who drink two to four cups of green tea per day have a lower incidence of prostate cancer (men in Asian countries, for example).

A 2005 study by Mukhtar showed pomegranate juice (the equivalent of two fruits per day) has anti-inflammatory effects that may also help with benign swelling of the prostate and cancer prevention.

Cruciferous vegetables — such as broccoli, cauliflower, radish, turnip, cabbage and brussels sprouts — also have cancer-busting qualities, studies show. Soy may help, but since it contains natural plant estrogens — and prostate cancer is tied to hormones — more study needs to be done. All of these foods should be part of a varied diet, Sandquist said. “We get the most health benefits from the overall variety,” she said. “There’s a synergy when these foods work together in the body. No one food has all the nutrients we need.”

Does Selenium + Vitamin E = Prevention?

Meanwhile, a Phase III clinical trial of 35,000 men sponsored by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) is underway. Scientists want to know if a mix of selenium and vitamin E prevents prostate cancer. Doses used in the study include 400 milligrams per day of vitamin E and 200 micrograms per day of selenium (selenomethionine, not the yeast kind). Some of the subjects will take a placebo. Results for this longterm study, known as SELECT, will be released in 2012.

Researchers started the SELECT trial after previous smaller studies revealed benefits — almost by accident. One study (which was actually looking at lung cancer) found men who took vitamin E had 30 percent lower incidence of prostate cancer. Another study (originally aimed at skin cancer) showed a 50 percent decrease in prostate cancer in men who took selenium.

“These are interesting agents that deserve study,” said Dr. Howard L. Parnes, chief of the cancer prevention division of NCI’s Prostate and Urologic Cancer Research Group. “They’re both antioxidants, but that may not be how they work. They might interrupt the process in other ways.”

Zyflamend Shows Promise

Another promising supplement is Zyflamend, a cluster of anti-inflammatory herbs such as tumeric and ginger, for sale by New Chapter (www.new-chapter.com) in most health food stores. Dr. Aaron Katz, director of Columbia University’s Center for Holistic Urology, discovered Zyflamend when many of his patients said they were trying it for prostate problems. His initial research showed the mix of herbs in Zyflamend could stop cancer cells from growing.

“To date, 91 percent of the patients have not converted to cancer,” Katz said.

He estimates 40 percent would have developed prostate cancer if they did not take Zyflamend. The men in the study took the compound three times a day, Katz said.

Mixed Results for Proscar

The only scientifically proven way to reduce the odds of prostate cancer is the conventional drug finasteride (Proscar). It’s currently approved by the FDA to treat benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), or enlarged prostate and male-pattern baldness.

A recent NCI clinical trial showed finasteride reduced the relative risk of prostate cancer by 25 percent. But research also showed the men who took finasteride had a 1.3 percent higher risk of having high-grade prostate cancer — the kind that is more deadly. More studies are underway that may explain the high-grade cancer risk, Parnes said. Studies of a similar drug, dutasteride, may offer additional hope.

Back to Basics

For now, making lifestyle changes and maintaining a healthy diet may be the most effective ways to prevent prostate cancer, experts say. “Obesity is actually an inflammatory state, so being physically active is incredibly important,” Parnes said. “It’s all about the balance between how much we eat and how much exercise we get.”

In other words, get off the couch. And eat your vegetables. Especially the broccoli and tomatoes.

Melissa Knopper is a freelance writer specializing in health and science issues.

Semper Fiber


I am a big believer in New Year’s resolutions, especially of the weight-loss variety. I’ve even been known to renew my vows on a weekly basis. Yet, I have learned
that any drastic promises, such as, “I will never eat another bowl of Ben & Jerry’s Coffee Heath Bar Crunch ice cream ever again,” never work.

Other sure-fail methods include eating “calorie-controlled” blueberry gelatin and promising that you will only eat three ounces of cold turkey (skinless, of course) for lunch every day. A coworker of mine ate this way until one day she opened her mouth to speak but started to gobble instead.
Last year, I also decided that I would only weigh myself on the summer and winter solstices.

Too-frequent weigh-ins can sabotage any diet efforts, because a woman’s weight is a mysterious, jumpy, undependable thing that does not follow any known laws of nature. Over-weighing would lead to stress. Stress would slow down my metabolism, which was already prone to sleeping in late.

When my scale realized it was being ignored, it had a digital breakdown. Now my husband and sons are perplexed why the scale registers a difference of 15 pounds from a Monday to a Wednesday. Finally, payback time.

This year, I looked for fresh ideas on reducing poundage. Fortunately, I found an article that uncovered facts never before revealed to the American public. For example, did you know that Krispy Kreme Doughnuts are full of saturated fats and sugar? Who knew?

Now that I am aware of this and other startling nutritional data, I don’t dare approach within 100 feet of a Krispy Kreme shop. (Frankly, they deserve a boycott for the spelling alone.) But I am going one better: I am also making a commitment to fiber. This inspiration came from my friend Helen, who went from a pleasingly feminine figure to a lean, mean marathon machine.

Each time I saw her, she had dropped another dress size, her skin glowed more radiantly than ever and the threat of middle-aged wattle under the chin had vanished. When she moved her arms, her biceps flexed insouciantly. Helen looked fantastic. If she didn’t knock it off, I would have no choice but to hate her.

“How have you done this?” I asked, faking wonderment instead of envy.

She took my arm and leaned in close. “It’s all about the fiber,” she said. “You’ve got to try it.”
“No thanks,” I said, holding my hands up in a “stop” gesture. “It may be ecologically friendly, but pure fibers are much too high maintenance for me. I bought a linen dress once, and the dry cleaning alone nearly killed me.”

“Not that fiber,” she said. “I’m talking bran cereal, garbanzo beans and broccoli.”

She whipped a small nutrition bar out of her pocket, where she apparently kept a stash. It was made of flaxseed, apricots and at least 25 percent recycled greeting cards.

“Try this. Fourteen grams of fiber in this little bar,” she said. “But don’t say I didn’t warn you,” she laughed.

It was a strange laugh, perhaps the kind of laugh you get after ingesting too much fiber.

“Great,” I said, dropping the bar into the vast black hole of my purse. “If it works, I’ll ask my doctor for a prescription.”

“Oh, no need,” she said. “These are over-the-counter, even the blueberry. But if you’re really serious about prescription fiber bars, I know where you can order them cheap from Canada.”

And so, desperately trying to become sinewy and taut like Helen, I put my trust in fiber. Scads of fiber. My main food groups became split peas, collard greens and psyllium husks. I tossed soy nuts and lentils on everything, even cereal. One night, I dreamed that I had fallen into an open barrel of barley at the local Whole Foods store. I developed indigestion.

After two weeks of uncompromising fidelity to fiber, I had not lost any weight, but my pantry was four pounds lighter, because I had used up most of the lentils and several cans of kidney and white beans.

Then I saw Helen again, who looked more buff than ever. My indigestion flared up immediately. Probably too many raw red peppers at lunch. Not a good idea.

“What gives?” I demanded. “You claimed that you looked so great because of fiber. I’ve eaten so much fiber I could be the poster child for the National Colon Health Foundation. You must be doing something else. Come on, spill it ”

“I’m working with a personal trainer three times a week,” Helen said. “I’m sure I told you.”

I knew there had to be a catch. Helen’s confession vindicated me. A diet of chickpeas and cantaloupe might get you poster child status for colon health but would not get you on the cover of Brawny Babe magazine. The green stuff of Helen’s success wasn’t only kale, it was cold, hard cash for the trainer.

Since then, I’ve gotten used to my more fibrous diet, but sometimes I pine for hours for an empty calorie. Overall, it’s not really that bad, if you don’t mind indigestion. I can’t afford Helen’s personal trainer, but at least I know the secret of her success. Commitment, self-discipline and money.

Who knew?

Judy Gruen writes the popular “Off My Noodle” column at judygruen.com. Her next book, “The Women’s Daily Irony Supplement,” will be published in May.

Sonoma Plan Adds Flavor to Dull Diets


Dr. Connie Guttersen is on a mission to make America smaller. Well, perhaps not geographically, but at least to shrink the size of the average American.

Scientific studies have proven that weight-loss diets that are based on moderate amounts of the healthiest types of fats, such as olive oil, fish and nuts, are more effective long-term than traditional low-fat diets. And since the low-fat diet myth was busted recently with the publication of “The Nurses’ Health Study II,” the public is struggling to determine what role fat should play in everyday meals.

Guttersen explains that a moderate amount of the best types of fat make healthy foods taste better. This is the basic premise behind her best-selling book, “The Sonoma Diet” (Meredith Books, 2005), a Northern California spin on the Mediterranean diet that also encourages plenty of wine consumption, setting it apart from many other structured diets.

A 2001 weight-loss study cited in the International Journal of Obesity compared a Mediterranean-inspired diet (moderate in fat) to a low-fat diet and found that the Mediterranean-inspired diet had more long-term success when it came to weight loss and participants adhering to it. It also found that vegetable consumption actually went up in the Mediterranean diet group as compared to the group that ate the low-fat version of the diet.

Many low-fat dieters fail to stick with their plan because the foods they’re eating simply don’t taste good or fail to satisfy their hunger. A common challenge with low-fat diets is that it may also promote an increased dependence or selection of highly refined processed fat-free grains and snacks. This combination is not ideal for individuals challenged by sweet cravings and poor blood glucose control. The Sonoma diet also differs from the famed South Beach Diet in that there is no glycemic index to check.

The type of fat we eat has an affect on health and the success of weight loss more than just focusing on the total amount. Limiting the amount of saturated fats and hydrogenated fats becomes the real issue for healthy weight loss. Saturated fats, such as those found in animal products, tropical oils and hydrogenated fats can actually contribute to obesity and the health related problems associated with being overweight.

The Sonoma Diet, inspired by the Mediterranean and California wine country, combines this healthy way of eating with a weight-loss plan to lose weight and gain health with the most flavorful foods. Beyond low-fat diets, The Sonoma Diet focuses on the ideal balance and type of healthy fats, such as extra-virgin olive oil and almonds in combination with lean meats, wholesome grains, fruits, low-fat dairy and colorful vegetables. Although there is much discussion as to whether a diet should be low fat, low carb or even high protein, The Sonoma Diet recognizes the need to clear away the confusion and form a comprehensive approach.

An eating plan with the healthiest foods in the smartest combinations maximizes the health benefits of all foods absorbed and boosts weight loss. For example, combining a medley of roasted peppers and tomatoes with a tasty vinaigrette made with extra-virgin olive oil, not only enhances the flavor, but boosts the body’s ability to absorb the antioxidants contained in the peppers and tomatoes. A salad of baby spinach and other dark greens sprinkled with toasted almonds makes for a delicious and smart combination when it comes to health. An herb-marinated flank steak served with roasted broccoli sprinkled with toasted almonds, and wild rice is another great way to enhance the health and flavor in these foods.

“These combinations are not only delicious, but they enhance the protective qualities of these foods so as to reduce risk factors associated with many diseases such as heart disease and cancer,” Guttersen explained.

Heart Disease

A diet inspired by the Mediterranean lifestyle, with a moderate amount of fat, is more effective in reducing cardiovascular risk factors as compared to the conventional low-fat diets. Monounsaturated fats, such as extra-virgin olive oil, avocados and nuts contain healthy fatty acids, antioxidants and unique phytochemicals that have been found to offer more cardiovascular protection when it comes to atherosclerosis, stroke and inflammation.

Cancer

Studies have confirmed that a Mediterranean diet, characterized by high consumption of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean meats and healthy fats, such as olive oil and nuts, protects against cancer. Many of the healthy fats contribute their own antioxidants as well enhance the protective actions of other nutrients found in fruits and vegetables which act us a protective factor against cancer risk factors.

Â

I Love You, Carnivore


This column is in response to last week’s Torah Portion by Rabbi Zoë Klein, who confessed her secret enjoyment of meat, despite her family’s predominantly vegetarian diet.

To: My Not-So-Flesh-Eating Wife

From: Her Closeted Carnivorous/Publicly Vegetarian Husband

Worry not, my dear, your struggle is safe with me over vegetarianism. I try to be one, but you know the truth of my dilemma, although it is less debilitating for me than it is for you. After 20 years, I think I’m close to being true to myself when I ignore the leftover Shabbos schnitzel from our Hillel caterer.

You see, as you know, I love meat. Love it! Growing up, although it wasn’t kosher, I took extra delight in my mother’s marinated flank steak. She also made great meatballs, and do I ever miss Shake N’ Bake chicken. How fun it was to overcook hotdogs until they blistered on the grill outside, while watching “60 Minutes” on Sunday evenings as a family.

I have absolutely no repulsion toward seeing carcasses; only a sadness that others are troubled by it. Ultimately, “we are like vanity; our days are as a shadow that passes,” as you and I read when we officiate at funerals, so why not accept that the life on the paper plates used in our homes for the kids eating a little meat is temporal? When medical shows present brain surgeries, complete with machines sucking the blood away, I can watch without any angst.

You, on the other hand, must turn the station, and at the site of roadkill, you bristle and say, “God bless it.” Actually, thank you for teaching me to do the same.

“Does it really matter if I don’t turn off the water while I brush my teeth?” one of my environment-conscientious students queried me the other day. Elizabeth had been caught by another conservationist in the throes of committing what some consider a chilul Hashem, desecration of that which was holy. Wasting water is an act of bal tashchit, our tradition’s way of saying that we are stewards of the planet and as such, we have no right to waste or destroy needlessly.

“Industries and big businesses waste far more water every day than people do brushing their teeth and watering their lawns,” she added. “Truth be told, I knew that I should turn off the water faucet, but does it really matter?”

“Maybe the key is to try to turn it off but not feel immense guilt for keeping it on, since it has virtually no effect on the environment,” I offered as a compromise. She seemed content.

As we left this “lunch ‘n’ learn” at USC’s health science campus, I had an epiphany. I wondered whether Elizabeth was channeling Torah from Sinai for me with my struggle to conquer my yetzer hara, the evil impulse toward consuming fleishigs: If I privately eat the Persian kabob leftovers after our weekly Wednesday barbecue, so that no one knows and it has no impact on anyone, might that be the ideal?

My act of civil disobedience — refusing to consume the flesh of once-living, breathing animals — has virtually no effect, perhaps none whatsoever. Agribusiness decides far in advance how many cows to raise and then slaughter without regard to my individual case.

It is almost entirely unlikely that the good folks at Rubashkin’s or some other slaughterhouse would ever take an inventory that would reflect my decision. It seems that being a vegetarian in America is as effective for slowing down meat production as trying to convince our son, Rocky, that muesli tastes better than marshmallows.

However, perhaps eating leftovers is still a kiddush Hashem, a sanctification of these animals. Kabbalah teaches that when we eat foods, we elevate the divine sparks within them, so by consuming these leftovers, I am ensuring that these sparks are not wasted. It would be wrong to let the leftovers get dumped, as that would certainly be a violation of the law of bal tashchit.

The purposeful consumption of leftover meats then makes sense. However, if anyone were to find out that I was not a true vegetarian, they might never consider a vegetarian lifestyle. This would betray my values: While I can’t individually change the meat production levels in this society, creating a vegetarian movement would help keep cows jumping over the moon in perpetuity. I’m pretty much convinced that had my sister, Sylvia, never been a vegetarian, I might have never ended up in this dilemma, which pits my conscience against my cravings.

So, dear, continue to chew gum after eating a hamburger in order to mask the taste of once-living animals on your breath. Even as I argue for public vegetarianism with a strictly private consumption of leftovers, I am beginning to reach the point where even my interest in meat is disappearing. One too many PETA videos, I suppose.

Hoisting and shackling the cows horrifies me, and while kosher, I would much rather take my cues from the likes of Shlomo Goren, Isaac Bashevis Singer, S.I. Agnon and A.D. Gordon, not to mention Albert Einstein, Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan, all famous Jewish vegetarians.

Our prayers are for Moshiach, a messianic era in which the world order will improve in its very essence. When I say “Bayom Hahu,” on that day, I join Rav Kook in imagining a world when we need not sacrifice animals on any altar ever again.

I love you, even if you do sneak a roast beef sandwich from time to time.

Jonathan Klein is the Allen and Ruth Ziegler rabbinic director at USC Hillel.

Scales of Injustice


I was 10 the first time I stepped on a scale. It was the summer of 1978, and I was visiting my grandmother in Florida.

Every day, grandma and I went for our daily two-mile walk, past the golf course, past Publix, the supermarket where the old people bought prune juice and cod liver oil. On the way home we’d stop there to weigh ourselves on the giant outdoor scale.

“Girls have to be thin and beautiful,” grandma would say. “The world judges on first appearances.”

My grandmother didn’t look like you’d expect a grandmother to look — soft and round and smelling of gingerbread. No, this grandma was all sharp angles and points — her make-up and hair carefully arranged, her clothes stylish and neatly pressed. She was skinny, and the needle hovered around 120.

Then it was my turn. My grandmother would peer over my shoulder. “Same as yesterday.” Or: “You’ve lost a pound. Aren’t you happy?”

And I was.

Was I ever really “fat?” Well, no, I suppose not technically. As a child I was a gymnast, muscular, firm; my greatest pleasure was going to gymnastics and coming home to a large cheese pizza, the oil dripping on my leotard and tights. I loved food, loved everything connected with it: cooking it, reading about it, consuming it. I could (and still can) match my father Whopper for Whopper; at the dinner table my mother would shoot me dirty looks when I reached for a second helping. But this food-love was never a problem; as a child I ate pleasurably, without guilt. Occasionally, I’d weigh myself on my mother’s little green scale, wearing layers of clothes, a pair of hiking boots. The numbers meant nothing to me.

They did to my mother. She always warned that if I wasn’t careful I’d “blow up like an elephant.” This had always been impressed upon me; I can’t recall a time when I wasn’t conscious that fat was something “bad.” I remember calling home from a neighbor’s house — I must have been about 7 — for permission to sprinkle “real” sugar into a cup of tea; I was constantly warned by my mother and grandmother never to gain weight. Fat was ugly, undignified, a sign of weakness and failure. But though I was aware of this, I never really worried about it. Fat, like fatal car crashes or terminal illnesses, was something that happened to other people.

And then adolescence hit, and I quit gymnastics. My muscles wilted. My waist cried for looser belts. My breasts grew faster than I could say “D cup.”

Not surprisingly, food stopped being a source of pleasure and became, instead, the enemy. My grandmother refused to let me come to Florida unless I lost 10 pounds. The kids at school came up with all sort of creative nicknames for me (“Flabby Abby!”).

My mother insisted I “get hold” of myself and lose weight. So I joined Weight Watchers, NutriSystem, Diet Workshop. I devoured books on the Atkins Diet, the Scarsdale Diet, the Pritikin Weight Loss Program. I’d be “good” for a day or so, but then I’d binge on cookies, cakes, ice cream.

This Yo-Yo cycle went on for three years, until my grandfather died, left me a few bucks and I had enough money to send myself to a weight-loss camp, or food rehab, as I liked to think of it. Sure, it was expensive — about $3,500 for nine weeks, money I could easily have put toward college — but I thought it was worth it, and I happily forked over the cash. Losing weight seemed something I had to devote all my energies to, a full-time job, and at home there were too many distractions. I couldn’t wait to go to camp, couldn’t wait to return home and lead a different (read: happier, better, party- and boy-filled) life. How would it not be? I’d be thin.

I lost 15 pounds that summer, which I kept off for a little over a year. And then it crept back on (plus 10) and I returned to camp. This went on for six years: thin, fat, camp, thin, fat camp. In the end, none of it really mattered. Sure, I was happier when I fit into a pair of Size 6 jeans, but I was beholden to the numbers on the scale, beholden to a cycle of eating that affected everything I did.

I’d like to say that epiphany struck me over the head and one day, in a flash of clarity, I discovered that who you are on the inside matters more than externals. But the truth is much less exciting. Over time I simply got fed up — pun intended — of dedicating my energy to calories. After devoting six summers and 25 years to my size, I got bored of focusing so much thought on my body and ignoring what was going on in my head; of putting myself in an environment where I could feel superior instead of learning to feel that way in the real world; of being convinced that my life would be better once I knocked off 10 pounds, only to discover that it wasn’t.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that I’ve overcome my obsession with achieving a certain body type (I’d do anything, for example, to be 5-foot-8. Even 5-foot-6 would be fine). Our appearance is endlessly appraised; we live in a culture that values Cameron Diaz over Kirstie Alley, and it’s hard not to fall victim to that. My heart breaks when I see an overweight kid; nothing’s worse than being a fat child.

And food certainly still ranks high in my personal pantheon. By no means am I ready to throw in the kitchen towel and accept fat defeat. I order low-calorie or low-fat meals on airplanes, and have been known to hand the contents of the hotel minibar to the front desk. Still, you can be conscientious without being crazy. You can be a little zaftig and still attractive; some of the sexiest women I know — most of them, actually — have extra meat on their bones. And you can be fit no matter what you weigh.

But I never step on the scale, I don’t deprive myself, and I don’t eat like a refugee who might never see food again. I work out, but not maniacally. If I feel heavy, I eat less. Mainly, I try to remember that there is a wealth of things to worry about other than the size of my thighs (which are really not huge). There’s no reason to miss a social gathering because I’m too fat. There’s no reason so stay home because I’m too big.

After 25 years of dieting, this is what I know: There’s more to me than the sum of my parts, no matter how much they weigh.

Abby Ellin is the author of “Teenage Waistland: A Former Fat Kid Weighs In on Living Large, Losing Weight and How Parents Can (and Can’t) Help” (PublicAffairs, June 2005).

Fit L.A. – The Birthday Party Crasher: Dr. Atkins


Over the past few months, I have relished the apparent collapse of the low-carb industry. Low-carb specialty stores and magazines arrived with much fanfare but soon crumbled like a tired soufflé.

Good riddance to them, I thought — especially the magazine that tried to bilk me after I wrote an article for them. Low-carbism was just another sorry scheme to part consumers from their hard-earned bucks and their bagels.

And who could afford the stuff? I tried an insanely expensive low-carb pasta once. It was heavy, gummy and tasteless — and those were its finer qualities.

But I realized my satisfaction was premature, when I was confronted with the ghost of Dr. Atkins. She was draped in a Size 2 dress and toting a sorry slice of flourless bread between scrawny fingers.

The timing couldn’t have been worse. I was happily toting a batch of homemade bread and a broccoli quiche to a pot-luck birthday party, eager for some good fun and good eats. But I had barely crossed the threshold, when Sandy, the hostess and erstwhile birthday girl, announced that she had lost another 10 pounds on the Atkins plan.

Sandy had always been as slim as an asparagus spear. Why she felt compelled to whittle down to as thin as a blade of wheat grass was beyond me. And telling me bordered on the cruel. I forced a smile at her “achievement” as I placed my culinary contributions on the table.

“Mmmm, smells good,” Sandy said, leaning over to inhale the bread.

If she were still Atkinizing herself, could I blame her for wanting a little inhalation therapy of a wheat product?

“This is home baked, isn’t it?” I detected a plaintive quality to her question.

“Yes, and I made the broccoli quiche, too.”

Hope returned to her voice: “Is it crustless?”

“Uh, no, I’m sorry. I didn’t realize you were still no-carbing it.”

“I’m not no-carbing it; I’m low-carbing it,” she clarified.

“But Sandy, it’s your birthday, for crying out loud. Can’t you allow yourself a measly 50 or 60 carbs today? I mean, look at you. When you turn sideways you disappear.”

Sandy was saved from answering by a knock at the door. Linda and Rachel had arrived, the heavenly aroma of something Italian wafting in after them.

Soon, all the guests had settled around the table. I sliced my bread and passed the basket around. Sandy immediately passed the basket to Linda. Meanwhile, I saw her stealthily uncover a very dark, very thin slice of bread filled with sprouty-looking things from under her napkin.

“What is that?” Linda asked.

It appeared to have been made from at least 40 percent recycled paper products.

“It’s flourless protein bread,” Sandy explained. It was called Ezekiel 4.9, “as described in the Holy Bible,” according to the package, made from lentils, barley and spelt, whatever that was.

Just what we all needed: a “friend” seemingly bent on becoming skinnier than Lindsay Lohan and a loaf of bread that quoted scripture. Sandy offered us all a piece, and we each took polite little bites.

“Who says there’s no truth in advertising?” I asked. “This actually tastes biblical.”

“I thought the Atkins thing was over,” Linda chimed in helpfully, washing down her Ezekiel 4.9 with an eight-ounce cup of H2O.

“Not for me,” Sandy said. “I’m almost at my high school cheerleading weight, which is my goal. You may think it’s silly,” she admitted, ejecting a carrot curl from her salad as if it carried the avian flu.

Rachel was busily serving up a nice portion of the broccoli quiche and some low-fat manicotti: “My sister-in-law is going one better than you, Sandy. She’s only eating raw foods.”

“That sounds exhausting,” I said. “Who has that much time to chew?”

“She says it makes her feel light,” Rachel answered.

“If I want to feel that light, I’ll float in the Dead Sea,” I said.

Was I sounding a tad snarky? I couldn’t help it. I had been looking forward to this birthday party, and the guest of honor was ruining it for me. If only Sandy had warned us all in advance, we could have saved ourselves a lot of trouble and prepared a meal that she could have eaten without picking out half the ingredients, such as a plate of cheese slices and broiled zucchini. Rachel had made her famous Big Fat Greek Salad, but I was distracted by the sight of Sandy making a little hill of the croutons and shunting aside all the tomatoes, as well. What a waste of all that Vitamin C.

I didn’t say so at the time, but it didn’t seem to me that Dr. Atkins’ dietary brainstorm helped him very much, either. After all, he died after taking a fall. Seems to me that if he had had a little more padding on him, he probably could have just gotten up, dusted himself off and went on his merry way.

Of course, the Atkins people like to keep this quiet, but I also heard his cholesterol was higher than the Dow Jones Industrial Average. Despite all his efforts, you still never hear anybody say, “That’s the greatest thing since sliced celery.”

Inevitably, dessert time arrived. We all sang “Happy Birthday” to Sandy, but I wasn’t feeling so happy anymore. The unspoken pressure during lunch had made me peel off the pasta from the manicotti, and even I was reduced to foregoing the croutons on the Greek salad. It’s amazing how fast mass hysteria can spread.

Rachel served her luscious carrot cake, and Sandy blew out the candles before eating a piece. But no matter how long she sat there, no way could Sandy pick out all the microscopic pieces of carrot from a slab of carrot cake.

However, it all worked out in the end. While the rest of us ate the actual cake, we scraped off the cream cheese frosting and gave it to Sandy.

Judy Gruen (www.judygruen.com) is the author of two award-winning humor books, including “Till We Eat Again: Confessions of a Diet Dropout” (Champion, 2002).

 

‘Thin’ Exposes Hefty Secrets and Lies


Alisa, a 30-year-old Jewish divorcee, consumed 200 calories most days. But every few weeks, she repeatedly binged on gargantuan amounts of junk food, then purged by vomiting, swallowing diuretics and Ipecac. After several days, the mother of two usually landed in the hospital.

“I remember at one point thinking … ‘This is the one thing I want so badly, to be thin. So if it takes dying to get there, so be it,'” she says.

Alisa is one of several severely ill eating disorder patients profiled in “Thin,” the film debut of renowned photojournalist Lauren Greenfield. The raw documentary also profiles Polly, who slit her wrists after eating two slices of pizza; Brittany, a goth teenager determined to lose 40 pounds, and Shelly, who was force fed through a surgically implanted stomach tube for five years. Handheld cameras follow their rocky physical and emotional journeys at the Renfrew residential treatment center in south Florida.

The movie joins an expanding body of work on female dietary obsessions, including the PBS documentary, “Dying to be Thin”; Eve Ensler’s play, “The Good Body,” and Greenfield’s own 2002 book and exhibit, “Girl Culture.”

Her documentary focuses less on the complex causes of eating disorders than the Herculean task of recovery for patients who use food the way addicts use drugs. Polly, a shy psychiatric nurse, weighs in at 84 pounds, but blissfully talks about the days when she sucked food out of her feeding tube with a syringe. Brittany reminisces about the “chew and spit” game she used to play with her mother: “We’d buy bags and bags of candy and just chew it and spit it out. We just thought of it as a good time.”

During 10 intense weeks at the center, Greenfield learned that while societal pressures often trigger eating disorders, they are actually mental illnesses with grim statistics. Anorexia is the deadliest of all psychiatric disorders, according to the American Journal of Psychiatry, with mortality rates of up to 20 percent. No statistics exist on Jewish women, but experts say they may be particularly vulnerable, in part, due to more zaftig body types and the drive to look all-American (i.e. svelte).

All seriously ill patients are tough to treat: “Secrets and lies are a big part of eating disorders, because you have to hide your habits from friends and family,” Greenfield explains from her Venice, studio. “At Renfrew, women would clandestinely jog in place in the shower, or conceal weights in their clothing to cheat the scale.”

The center’s rules, therefore, are strict. When Polly arrives at the clinic, staff members promptly search her luggage and whisk away “contraband” such as cigarettes and prescription drugs. In another scene, the usually feisty Polly is obliged to eat a cupcake for her birthday, which she consumes slowly and with disgust. Afterward, she cries bitterly.

Alisa also appears pained when required to sketch a silhouette of herself, which she draws as an obese figure — though after a month at Renfrew she is healthily trim, with an uncanny resemblance to Natalie Portman. She traces her eating disorder to age 7, when her pediatrician declared her fat and she was placed on a 1,000 calorie per day diet.

On camera, she does not discuss how her Reform background fueled her disease, but she answered e-mailed questions through Greenfield.

“Alisa believes that Jews are a proud people; they are very concerned about self-image and there is a strong emphasis on education and money,” the director says. “She thinks that makes for more of a need to overachieve and be perfect, which can drive an eating disorder. So her sense is that being Jewish contributed a lot to her [illness].”

The filmmaker, who is also Jewish, relates to her subjects because she was once obsessed with the scale. At 12, she began physically comparing herself to the other girls at Camp JCA Shalom in Malibu and went on to become a chronic teenage dieter. At Harvard University, she “went on a crash diet and lost 26 pounds, in the process gaining so much confidence that I threw myself into my first serious relationship,” she says.

Eventually Greenfield — named one of 25 top photographers by American Photo magazine — dedicated much of her career to chronicling how the Barbie-doll culture scars women. But her 2002 book only touched upon the life-threatening topic of eating disorders, save for several pictures snapped at Renfrew. The artist remained haunted by one of a gaunt patient standing backwards on a scale so as not to see her weight gain.

In June 2004, Greenfield returned to Renfrew with cinematographer Amanda Micheli to further explore the subject, this time in a cinema verite-style film. But she found that earning patients’ trust proved difficult.

After many setbacks, Greenfield won them over by showing she would turn the camera off whenever she was asked to do so. Polly made the request while on a suicide watch, but changed her mind after the director spent the night talking with her. She allowed Greenfield to shoot her purging her breakfast the next morning, an act that is almost always done in secret and is forbidden at the center.

Alisa also purges on camera, but expresses a moment of hope during one group therapy session.

“For a fleeting moment I imagined a better life,” she says. “And maybe — pun intended — I can taste recovery.”

“Thin” will screen at the Sundance festival Jan. 19-29 and on HBO this fall.

 

Post-Bar Mitzvah Stress Disorder


Our youngest son has just celebrated his bar mitzvah, and I am recovering from a case of Post-Bar Mitzvah Stress Disorder. This is a seriously underreported malady, yet shockingly, the government has yet to allocate a single dollar to research. If this doesn’t change soon, I’m going to launch an awareness campaign, complete with blue-and-white ribbons, pins and car decals.

Post-Bar Mitzvah Stress Disorder (PBMSD) usually follows a case of Pre-Bar Mitzvah Stress Disorder. This is characterized by speed-dialing your caterer several times daily until you actually hear him chewing antacids while you speak; zipping around so frantically from errand to errand that you have no time to eat anything other than large brownies in the car (perversely, this still causes weight gain), and bursting into tears with no warning because your little boy is no longer a little boy but a newly minted teen who has the audacity to catapult into puberty before your very eyes.

You don’t need to be Jewish to understand PBMSD. After all, symptoms are identical to those that flare up after other life-cycle events, the kind that often demand throwing large parties for people, some of whom are not on speaking terms but who will be forced into close proximity with one another for several hours, while having to smile much of that time.

My symptoms became acute as the weeks counted down to The Big Day. The following diary entries explain why:

Five weeks before the bar mitzvah: The invitations arrive, but the envelopes won’t seal shut. Wrestling the envelope flaps down with a hot glue gun for six hours eventually does the trick. I struggle to pare down guest list and fail. Like a powerful Hollywood party hostess, I withhold a batch of B-list invitees, pending the acceptance rates of other guests.

Four weeks and counting: Son is still growing too fast to buy the suit. He practices his Torah chanting each night, perfecting the reading. I worry about his speech, since the boy talks 90 m.p.h. Is it too late to hire a speaking coach?

Three weeks to go: Response cards coming in each day, many including checks. Son discovers that happiness is a positive cash flow. An alarming 90 percent of invitees have accepted. Cannot decide about B-list. Send to all anyway.

Two weeks left: Son has grown another inch and still afraid to buy suit. In meeting with caterer, son insists on a dinner menu of corn dogs and pasta. Fortunately, few 13-year-old boys are on the South Beach Diet. Musician calls me repeatedly, urging me to hire his entire orchestra. I repeatedly refuse, citing budget concerns. This is not a presidential inauguration, I tell him. It’s just a bar mitzvah. Musician sounds dirgical. I remain firm.

One week and a half away: I help son polish his speech, restraining myself from overediting. We simply add a few transitions and a laugh line or two when appropriate. Son’s delivery speed still faster than a major league pitch. Consider speech printouts on each seat?

Seven days: Musician, magician and caterer all need deposits. Consider asking son for loan.

Six days: Should I get a new dress? Daughter and many female friends are asking what I plan to wear. I had planned to lose 10 pounds for the occasion, but failed to take necessary actions. Too late now. Decide to wear ivory-colored spring suit, which still fits. Musician calls again, countering with an offer of just one additional musician. I agree, just to get rid of him. The fraud detection department of my credit card company calls to warn me of an unusual amount of activity on my account.

Five days: Must get son’s suit now. Even if he grows another two inches this week, it will still fit. Son insists all formal shirts in the store are too scratchy. I snag a hand-me-down shirt from the closet, worn at an older brother’s bar mitzvah. Finally, I save money.

Four days: Try to prearrange seating for family dinner. No configuration seems likely to prevent Uncle Harold from starting up with Cousin Norman about … what was that fight about, anyway? Pray that Aunt Shirley takes her meds before arrival. Stock up on my supply of migraine pills just in case.

Three days: Call everyone who hasn’t sent in response card. Some remind me testily that they did send them in, and I must have lost them. Of course they are coming. Several of son’s friends call to ask me if I can arrange their rides to and from the party. I lose my house keys.

Two days: Caterer calls and says he can’t get the special petit fours I had ordered, and a trucking strike on the East Coast may mean we can’t get the sorbet, either. Default to bakery cookies. Photographer calls. An emergency has arisen, and she’ll send her trainee instead. Will that be OK?

Day before: I supervise floral delivery to synagogue. Florist with heavy Italian accent assures me they will be “stupendous” but doesn’t warn me they’re nearly as big as Mount Sinai and will hardly fit through the door. At home, the phone won’t stop ringing. Everyone apologizes for calling, since I must be so busy, but what time is the party called for? Can they bring a niece who unexpectedly flew into town? Two invitations sent to close friends are returned as “address unknown.” My keys have not shown up yet, and I lose my spare set as well. Next move: climbing through the window to get into the house.

The Big Day: Get up early enough to put in contact lenses and dress with care. On goes the ivory suit. While drinking a quick cup of coffee in the kitchen, a crisis erupts. The dog rushes in from the yard, ecstatic at seeing me after an absence of seven minutes. He leaps up to greet me, festooning my ivory suit with muddy paw prints. I’ve got to leave for synagogue in three minutes or I’ll miss son’s big moment, but have no Plan B for another outfit. I race to my room and throw on a dark blue suit whose jacket won’t button all the way. No one seems to notice, so like a dope, I call attention to the unnecessary fact to my friends.

Son chants his portion from the Torah beautifully. He looks both adorable and handsome in his suit, straddling that brief, shining moment between boyhood and manhood. Miraculously, he gives his speech slow enough for most people to hear, and waits as I had instructed him for audience to laugh at appropriate moments. Sometimes, nagging pays off. In his speech, he thanks his father for taking him to Dodger games; me for correcting his grammar. He is in his glory, and I am in mine, even if my dress is too tight.

Four days later: The party goes smoothly. Some computer glitches make the music intermittent, and the silences are hard to explain. Several people wander into the hall, fill plates with food and leave. I have never seen these people before in my life. The desserts are a big hit, especially the brownies. I could have told them that. Keys still MIA.

Five days later: My son’s 15 minutes of fame are over, and he is returning to life as a mere mortal. He announces his first major purchase with his bar mitzvah money will be a chameleon and a six-month supply of meal worms. He also announces plans to grow his hair very long. And each day, he continues his deployment into manhood, standing a little taller, his face and body becoming ever thinner. The next time I see his chubby cheeks, they’ll be on my grandchildren. I am wildly happy that he is not embarrassed to say, “I love you, Mom.”

His dad and I are immensely proud of him, and love him more than any words can say. I am also nearly wildly happy that my keys finally turned up — in the backyard. My symptoms of PBMSD are dissipating at last. Mazal tov!

 

Wake Up and Smell the Fish


For UCLA geography professor Jared Diamond, the fall of a great civilization can come down to fish.

“Fish prices have tripled; fish form a significant part of our diet,” Diamond told The Journal. “At the rate we’re going, most of the world’s major fisheries will be gone within a decade.”

He doesn’t expect Los Angelenos to obsess about it. “Fish don’t focus the attention the way a single earthquake does,” he said.

But Diamond knows what he’s talking about. He’s the author of the best-selling nonfiction book “Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed” (Viking, 2004). His book is the inspiration for a special exhibit at the L.A. County Natural History Museum. Diamond will talk about his book and his ideas on Jan. 10 at a Writers Bloc Presents lecture at the Skirball Cultural Center.

Diamond, who received a 1985 MacArthur Foundation genius grant, won the 1998 Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction with his earlier book, “Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies” (W. W. Norton & Company). The scope of Diamond’s research spans not only geography, but also ornithology, physiology and environmental history.

In the earlier book, Diamond examined how and why Western civilizations developed the technologies and immunities that allowed them to dominate much of the world. “Collapse” looks at the flip side: What caused some of the great civilizations to collapse into ruin and what can people today learn from their fates?

Some of what happens could come down to fish, Diamond said, or to other somewhat overlooked factors. Diamond expects a future massive fish decline to be a global version of the New Orleans levees breaking during Hurricane Katrina. A world without fish, he said, will result in “countries collapsing…. A substantial fraction of the world’s people rely on fish for protein.”

The Cambridge-educated Diamond, who is Jewish, said he has not found evidence that Jews, Judaism or any other major religion played a dominant role in why a civilization ended.

“I have not noticed that one particular religion is more prone or less prone to collapse,” he said.

Nor does he list the modern scourge of terrorism among crucial factors — at least it doesn’t rank nearly in importance with the supply of fish. “People don’t get excited about the gradual disappearance of fish,” he said, “until 2 billion people start sending out terrorists because they’re starving.”

Jared Diamond will discuss “Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed” at Writers Bloc Presents on Tuesday, Jan. 10, at 7:30 p.m. at the Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. For more information, call (310) 855-0005.

Senior Moments – Great-Grand Marshal


As I walked through the grounds at the Jewish Home for the Aging (JHA), I noticed a man in a wheelchair reading a magazine. It was called “Life Extension.”

I had to laugh. Someone must have strategically placed this magazine, like a prop, for the interview I was about to conduct. Talk about life extension! My subject, Sylvia Harmatz, could be the poster child. She’s 107 years old.

And for the sixth year in a row, Harmatz will be grand marshal of the Dec. 4 Walk of Ages, a 5K walk/run to raise funds for the JHA’s vital services.

She called JHA “a haven for people who have nowhere’s else to stay, like me. I sometimes wonder how in the world can they like so many people? They are so good to everyone!”

Since so many people seem interested in living forever, Harmatz is, of course, repeatedly asked: “What’s your secret?”

She smiles sweetly, showing great patience: “I don’t know.”

She doesn’t eat meat, but she does like candy, “because I need something to replace the meat.”

I told her my 14-year-old son would like that strategy. She laughed.

We sat a moment, and then Harmatz said, “You know, my husband lived to 104.”

In fact, Sylvia and Louis Harmatz were married for 80 years.

“He was very much in love with me,” she told me, with a smile.

I said maybe it was love, not a special diet, that contributed to their longevity.

“I think so,” Harmatz agreed. “We were very close. He wanted to be with me all the time. He never walked with me that he didn’t hold my hand. He was afraid I was going to run away from him, because I always walked so fast!”

The couple, who met at a dance in Brooklyn, married in 1921. They continued to love dancing and had a chance to waltz together after they moved to the JHA in 1994.

“We were always together,” Harmatz recalled. “He used to get up at night and cover me [with a blanket], to make sure I wouldn’t catch a cold. He took care of me. And I don’t know why, because I was always very strong and independent. I guess he noticed that I needed to be taken care of. When he passed away, I reassured him that I wouldn’t be long, that I’d be coming to meet him soon. But it hasn’t been that way.”

Harmatz laughed, but looked a little sad.

Born in Hungary in 1898, her earliest memories are of her father, a rabbi.

“He took me everywhere with him,” she said. “And I remember him teaching the children who couldn’t speak Hungarian, so they could learn too. I loved to sit and listen to him.”

Harmatz had her fourth birthday on board the ship to America.

Life was hard in this new country, says Harmatz, but she has fond memories of her parents’ relationship.

“My mother was very beautiful and they were very much in love. I used to know when they were going to have relations because [my father] used to leave his yarmulke on the bed.” Harmatz said with a laugh. “He was telling my mother, ‘Don’t forget, I’ll be there tonight!'”

Her father died at 42, leaving his wife with nine children. Harmatz started working at 13 to help out, then went to night school to become a nurse.

After marriage, she became a homemaker, raising the couple’s two daughters. There are now five grandchildren, 11 great-grandchildren, and four great-great-grandchildren.

In 1935, Sylvia and Louis decided to come West, and settled in Hollywood. “I used to go downtown for seven cents on the Red Car!” Harmatz said.

Her political involvement as an avid Democrat goes at least as far back as Franklin Roosevelt. “Politics was my piece de resistance!” said Harmatz, who would go door-to-door seeking donations. “I knocked at a door once and [asked for] a dollar. The woman says, ‘No I’m a Republican.’ So I said, ‘You don’t have to apologize to me, all you have to do is change your affiliation!'”

One thing that pleases Harmatz about being the grand marshal is riding in a convertible. In fact, last year when it rained on the parade, someone suggested they put up the top, but Harmatz wanted it left down.

“I’m not a fussy person, but I do like a red convertible,” she said, laughing. I asked her if red is her favorite color. “Yes, I like red. In fact, I’m going to be buried in a red dress with polka dots.”

Harmatz has been interviewed by CNN, local newspapers and radio stations. I asked if she likes being a celebrity.

“It’s not important to me,” she said. “I like it because it’s helping the Home. I want the Home to have everything they need. They asked me, ‘What do you want for all your trouble?’ I said, ‘I want a little plaque that says: You too can be involved.'”

For registration and sponsorship for Walk of Ages VI, call (818) 774-3100 or visit www.walkofages.kintera.org.

Ellie Kahn is a freelance writer, owner of Living Legacies Family and Organizational Histories and producer of “Meet Me at Brooklyn & Soto.” She can be reached at ekzmail@adelphia.net and www.livinglegaciesfamilyhistories.com.

 

Mirror, Mirror


I think I have body dysmorphia: an unnatural and distorted view of my physique, otherwise known as false body image.

See, I’m the only woman I know who has ever expressed a bit of shock at the Dove advertisements.

They’ve been running for the last few months on billboards, on bus-stop ads and in magazines. Surely you noticed: It’s a veritable chorus line of women clad in the barest essentials of white bra and underwear. But the clothes — or lack thereof — are not what stand out.

It’s the women: Instead of the super tall, super skinny and buxom Amazonians with not one ounce of fat on their bodies, these Dove Girls, as they’ve come to be known, have flab. They’ve got love handles or a little belly or thighs that actually touch and hips made for child birthing. In other words, they’re regular people.

They’re mostly in the Size 8-12 range — which is thin for the typical American woman, who averages out at Size 16. But runway models wear Size 0-4. (Why do they even offer a Size 0?) Every single woman that I’ve spoken to loves the ads.

“Finally, they’re showing what real women look like,” my friends say. “It’s refreshing to see normal bodies on billboards.”

Millions of women have responded favorably to these women, because they’re real, they’re curvy and, truth be told, they’re pretty tight — no jingling or jangling, no unsightly, pockmarked cellulite or varicose veins.

But my first thought was, Don’t you think they’re a little … fat?

Just a little? A teeny bit? I never said this out loud, not in the company of women. Because I’d probably be stoned. I’d be branded a traitor to womankind, flogged and marked publicly with a the scarlet letters F.C.P. — as in Ariel Levy’s new book “Feminist Chauvinist Pigs” (Free Press) which accuses some women of buying into — and perpetuating — male stereotypes of women.

Have I betrayed all my feminist principles and begun to view myself through the prism of society’s — i.e. men’s — standards?

Well, no.

Honestly, this has nothing to do with guys — the standards are all my own. See, I’ve always had issues with fat. But what Jewish woman doesn’t? Although judging by the content of women’s magazines, weight seems to be a national obsession.

Are there any women who were born with perfect bodies who are completely satisfied with those bodies? Women who only eat when they’re hungry and stop when they’re full? Who don’t save up calories for a really big meal? Or go on juice fast days and cabbage soup diets or count calories or carbs or fats or oils or cholesterol or sodium — or the way the letters of the food add up to spell the devil’s name backward?

Maybe there are women out there who don’t act like the rest of us, but I’ve never met one. (OK, I did once, but I killed her.)

Seriously, am I the only person who walks past other woman on the street comparing myself to her?: Is she thinner than me? Does my butt really look like that? Please don’t say that’s what my elbows look like.

The thing is, I used to be skinnier. I used to be in my 20s. I used to be a teenager. Maybe I’m not a sick person; maybe I’m just trying to recapture my youth, or the body of my youth.

Feeling this nostalgia, I sifted through some old beach pictures. And I made an amazing discovery: I wasn’t any skinnier then. If anything, actually, my arms are a little more toned now, my stomach a little flatter, and my tush is a little less, well, tushier.

So how is it that I feel fatter?

Could it be my surroundings, the fact that I’m no longer in New York City, a metropolis filled with Jewish women who have Jewish women’s bodies — which are generally shorter in height, fuller in the hips and bust and wider in the derriere.

Now I live among a people (“Angelenos”) whose arms look like ski slopes and whose hip bones jut out like moguls on a bare mountain. These are women whose necks are so thin you could see the food being swallowed — if you could catch them in the act of eating. These are women who might have been called gawky, or skinny or coat hangers when they were younger, but for the magic of surgery and a sick workout schedule, have now defined an impossible standard of beauty.

Have I violated the Ten Commandments by coveting these bodies, these waifish figures I will never, ever, ever, become?

As I ponder these sins, and wonder how I have become my own worst enemy, I see the Dove ad again. And again. And again.

I still do that thing: Is she fatter than me? Is she fatter than me?

But then I find one woman in the ad who is no fatter, no skinnier, no taller or no shorter than me. She is me. And she is not bad. She is not fat. She looks nice. We look nice.

Not that I’m not completely reformed. I don’t look at Calvin Klein models and think: You are way too skinny, you war victim.

Yet, sometimes, I look in the mirror and say to myself: not bad; not bad at all.

But even that’s not the point, is it?

The trick is to peer into the looking glass and see that it’s only my reflection in there — not the essential me — and to turn around and walk away.

 

Let Your Tasteless Chicken Go


 

For many years, my daughter and I were lucky to be invited out for Passover. Besides joining a big group of people, and sampling a variety of Passover foods, I relished the added benefit of not having to plan, shop and cook for the daunting seder (first and second night) meals. Unfortunately, this also meant no leftovers, no matzah kugel in the refrigerator, no beef and vegetable tzimmes to reheat in the microwave or even charoset to sweeten the lone box of matzah sitting on my kitchen counter.

My daughter was just fine with this arrangement — except for matzah ball soup, she is not a fan of Passover fare. One year, she unintentionally lost weight by avoiding all matzah-related dishes, and living off hard-boiled eggs, fruit and cheese.

So, this year I asked myself how I could create a midweek Passover meal she would enjoy, but I could prepare easily with ingredients on hand, still keeping all bread, pasta and pizza out of sight for the required eight days.

The four questions in the haggadah, intended for the youngest person present to read aloud, begins with: “Why is this night different from all other nights?” and continues with, “On all other nights we eat either leavened bread or unleavened (matzah); on this night why only unleavened bread?” And, “On all other nights we eat herbs of any kind; why on this night only bitter herbs?” These questions, posed by children but listened to by all, bring into focus the Passover food rituals and their significance.

Somehow, these not-so-easy changes in diet are meant to convey a story — of Jewish slavery in Egypt, of the bitter trials of oppression, the unleavened bread eaten by the Jews as they hurriedly fled their oppressors, and, finally, of the fruitful and brave adaptations leading toward freedom.

For my growing daughter and I, a delicious, moist, homemade chicken meal would be different from all other nights. Because on all other nights of the year, we buy our chicken—fried, roasted or baked—from the store. On all other nights, unless immersed quickly and safely into soup, my chicken ends up dry, undercooked, overcooked or tasteless.

Determined to prepare this simple Passover meal, all I needed to buy was potato starch to replace corn thickeners. The menu: Moist Baked Chicken, New Red Potatoes, Creamed Spinach and a One-Apple Charoset.

When I began the chicken recipe, I was filled with images of past failures and anxious about wasting pounds of poultry, let alone my time. But when we sat down to our colorful meal — with orange carrots, green spinach and seasoned red potatoes surrounding truly tasty chicken — watching my daughter eat two hearty portions made all my trepidation worthwhile. I even started talking about other scary chicken dishes I might attempt.

Like the Passover haggadah emphasizes, important changes do not come about without sacrifice, and often they begin by asking a question.

Moist Baked Chicken With New Potatoes
These are the chicken parts I had in the house, but you can use all legs or breast sections, whatever you prefer. The simple ingredients will deeply flavor and moisten each bite, and it is impossible to mess up.

2 1/4 pounds chicken legs (approximately three chickens)
1 1/2 pounds skinless, boneless thighs
1/4 cup margarine
7 gloves garlic, cut in half
8 new red potatoes, washed, cut in half
8 baby carrots, washed
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon paprika

Preheat oven to 425 F.
In large roasting pan, melt margarine. Scatter garlic and carrots in melted margarine. Arrange chicken, skin side down, and potatoes skin side up, in roasting pan. Sprinkle, salt, pepper and paprika evenly over chicken and potatoes.
Bake 30 minutes. Turn the chicken and baste before baking 15-20 minutes more, or until chicken is fork tender.
Serves eight.

Creamed Spinach
I am not a fan of creamed vegetables. But for Passover, I found a version of this recipe in an old synagogue cookbook and decided a little creaminess during a holiday minus soft bread is a good thing.

1 pound chopped, frozen spinach, thawed
1 1/2 tablespoons margarine
1 glove garlic
1/2 small onion, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup soy milk
1 tablespoon potato starch

In a medium saucepan, sauté onion and garlic in margarine until the onion is tender. Remove garlic. In a small bowl, mix soy milk with potato starch. Stir in salt and pepper.
Over low heat, gradually add milk mixture to sautéed onions, stirring continually as sauce thickens. Stir in drained spinach, heat through and serve immediately.
Serves six.

One-Apple Charoset
This simple mixture reminds me of the one my mother serves. She uses raisins instead of dates. It would be fun to try different dried fruits and nuts, whatever you have in the house. You can double or triple this recipe as needed, but for a midweek matzah spread, this quantity is quick and perfect.

1 apple, peeled
1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup crushed pecans
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon sugar
3 medjool dates, chopped small
1 tablespoon kosher-for-Passover red wine

Coarsely grate apple. In small bowl, mix apple and remaining ingredients until mixture is smooth and moist.
Serves four.

 

Got Baby Weight? Try Pilates


 

Too many “When are you due?” comments that came weeks after I gave birth to my second child were all the motivation I needed to reclaim my body. I had gained 60 pounds with my first child, but I bounced back into shape with little effort. Now I was five years older, recovering from a difficult pregnancy and a cesarean delivery. I knew I was going to need determination, patience and willpower if I wanted to put on my favorite pair of jeans again.

My main goal in the first few months was to keep moving. At first I began brisk daily walks with my daughter, Stella, in her stroller. I walked up to 45 minutes at a time (if she would allow it), and fast enough to lose my breath. Then I began integrating exercises I could do while she was with me outdoors: modified push-ups (on my knees), dips (with my hands on a park bench), lunges (holding the stroller in front of me) and some standing stretches (sidebends and hamstring stretches). Doing all of this while caring for my newborn baby meant that on some days I had to be content with just 20 minutes of exercise. Having a good video at home to squeeze in a workout while the baby was napping was also key to my exercise program.

All of the exercise was great, but if I wanted to return to my former size I couldn’t continue to eat as if I was still pregnant. Focusing on a strict diet had never worked for me in the past, so I chose instead to watch what I ate and how much I needed to eat so that I wasn’t hungry. This meant cutting my portions down considerably and restricting dessert to something low-cal once a week. I also kept water bottles with me at all times to make sure I was drinking enough.

After I began to shed pounds, I knew I needed to tackle two other problems: my doughy stomach and my achy back. Who would have thought that caring for a 9-pound infant could wreak such havoc on the body?

This is where my Pilates background really helped. Since Pilates focuses so much on alignment while strengthening and stretching, it took care of both problems. It’s the muscles in our midsection that enable us to stand up tall and take the weight and strain off our backs. All Pilates exercises focus on these core muscles.

Although I’ve owned my Pilates studio for more than 10 years and have been training for over 20, I still had to begin slowly with the simplest of abdominal exercises. Just curling my head and shoulders off the ground was too much at first. Fundamental exercises like knee folds, where the head and shoulders stay down and the abdominals stabilize the lumbar spine, was a better way to start. I had to focus on scooping my abdominals to protect my back.

It was humbling to watch my body quiver as I performed these basic exercises. It’s tempting to just do crunches all day when your stomach is this out of shape. However, listen to your body. Overworking the abdominals at this stage can put you at risk for a hernia. Using Pilates equipment like the reformer, the trap table and even a basic workout ball made these movements a lot easier for me to perform properly. When I couldn’t make it into my studio, I would do matwork at home using a Thera-Band to add resistance.

Although 30 pounds fell off of me almost immediately, the last 15 were reluctant to budge. It was a bit discouraging when my body didn’t meet the deadline I had set for it. It took 14 weeks of hard work before I could perform a roll-up without assistance.

I practiced moderation with my eating over the holidays and resumed my regime with the beginning of the New Year. My workout schedule now consists of a Pilates session two to three times a week and a variety of aerobic exercises one to four times a week.

Stella is 4 months old, and intent on learning to roll over. Her mom is beginning to see those muscles again, but still struggling to lose her last 6 pounds. We are both determined and progressing nicely.

Maria Leone is the owner of Bodyline Fitness Studio in Beverly Hills. For more information, visit

You Are What You Eat


 

I am a vegetarian. I know there was a big controversy brewing over kosher meat, but I’m not sure what the Jewish position

on vegetarianism is. I suppose as long as the vegetables are pulled from the ground in a quick and humane manner, no one can object too strenuously to it. I know God created animals, but I can’t imagine He’d be offended if I didn’t eat them. I’d hate to think of God pouting in His room saying, between sobs, “I worked so hard on that lamb and Nemetz doesn’t even touch it!”

People usually become vegetarians for either health concerns or humane reasons. It is, in theory, healthier to eat lower down on the food chain. Foods are more easily digestible (with the notable exception of my mother’s potato kugel, some of which has been lodged in my small intestine since the Thursday before my bar mitzvah). The problem with doing anything for health reasons is that you’re just staving off the inevitable — like carrying an umbrella in a meteor shower. It may slow the meteor down a tad, but not enough to change your ultimate destiny.

As for the inhumanity of eating animals, while I applaud the sentiment, I think it is a somewhat misplaced compassion — like the anti-abortionists who value the fetus but have no problem killing the abortion doctor. All one needs do is turn on the National Geographic channel to see that, out in the wild, fast eats slow and big eats little — although for some unknown reason, nothing eats the guy holding the camera. If I ever go on safari, I’m renting a Betacam.

I have chosen to eschew meat for a third, more self-obsessed reason — it’s annoying to those around me. You know how some people say that they don’t want to be a bother? Not me. I love being a bother. It really puts people out when they want — or feel obligated to — have me over for dinner (I’ll accept either; a meal’s a meal).

Upon learning of my restrictive diet, the host or hostess will invariably ask me the same question, “Do you eat fish?” Now I’m not a biologist (although I was a genetics major my first year in college — until my grades came out, at which point the university and I agreed that I should pursue a degree in English), but it seems to me that fish hardly qualify as a vegetable. They’re living things. Granted they don’t have much of a life, but then neither did my Uncle Alec. In fact, he would have loved nothing more than to swim around in circles all day, hiding in fake rocks. He wasn’t what you’d call an overachiever — or even an achiever.

Now, as vegetarians go, I’m not that difficult to please. Aside from a major food group, I will eat pretty much anything. There is another, stricter level of vegetarianism. They are called vegans and they consume no animal products whatsoever. There is even a small sect of vegans — I don’t like to use the word fanatical because fanatics tend to get, well, fanatical when you use that word (go figure) — who are so concerned with not taking any life whatsoever that they walk down the street with brooms, sweeping ants out of their paths lest they crush the poor vermin and take a life. The fact that they sweep the critters onto the road into oncoming traffic seems lost on these well-meaning souls. It is this line of flawed thinking that gave us the leaf blower — it doesn’t eliminate the leaf but it does blow it onto your neighbor’s property where it’s no longer your problem.

I find, however, that while familiarity usually breeds contempt, in my case it breeds indifference. The more often I go to someone’s house for dinner, the less effect I have on his or her diet. At first, everyone eats a vegetarian meal because of me. After a while, the host makes a vegetarian meal with a dish for others to eat. Finally, I’m invited to a meat meal with a dish that I can eat. I can see the writing on the wall. Next I’ll be asked to eat something before I come over. Well, I’m not going to wait for that to happen. I’m going to get new friends. That’s why I’m asking you out there to invite me to dinner. I’m willing to go as far as Calabasas. Just remember, I don’t eat fish.

Howard Nemetz is almost as good looking as his picture.

 

Cohen Jockeys for Position in Racing


What’s a nice Jewish boy doing in a profession where he can’t eat? If his name is David Cohen, he is making the mealtime sacrifice to break into the ultra-competitive Southern California jockey colony at Hollywood Park.

Although his diet could place him at the same table as Gandhi or Twiggy, Cohen knows that overweight and underemployed go hand in hand in the horseback profession.

Cohen, 19, launched his career during Memorial Day weekend, one year after graduating from Laguna Beach High School. He is the son of Morry Cohen, a longtime owner and breeder who races under the name 5 C Stable.

“Because my father owned horses, I pretty much started from the ground up,” said Cohen. “I groomed horses for six or seven months for our trainer, Jorge Gutierrez, and learned everything from feeding to medication with the vets. I did most everything with about 20 horses last summer at Del Mar.”

Cohen envisions a long-range future in racing as a trainer but wants to ride for the next decade or longer. To make that adjustment, he reduced from 122 to 109 pounds.

“I was lifting weights and balanced my diet out,” Cohen said. “I started to eat less quantity and take more vitamins.”

His limited diet nevertheless has a Jewish flavor.

“I start each morning with a wheat matzah and tea,” he said. “Sometimes the matzah is flavored apple, sometimes cinnamon, sometimes peach. A big square is about 100 calories.”

For breakfast, Cohen will eat a small portion of scrambled eggs, for lunch a small salad, for dinner a little chicken with vegetables.

Cohen also has been forced to sacrifice socially.

“I wake up at 3:30 in the morning and am at work at 4:45,” said Cohen of his routine of galloping horses for several trainers. “I haven’t gone out at night in four years.”

Cohen lives with his father in Arcadia, near Santa Anita, and had been exercising horses for about two years before acquiring his apprentice license in May.

He won his first race at Del Mar on Aug. 11 with a bold come-from-behind victory along the rail aboard Quiten Boy, a 45-to-1 long shot. Cohen scored his sixth victory from 87 mounts during the Oak Tree meet at Santa Anita on Oct. 1 with Holy Request, another longshot at 47-to-1 odds, for trainer Barry Abrams.

Jewish jockeys are a rarity. Walter Blum, who rode primarily in New York during the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s before becoming a racing official at Florida tracks, is the only Jewish rider to have earned a spot in the Racing Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

In California, the most successful Jewish jockey has been Bill Harmatz, a contemporary of Bill Shoemaker who won several major stakes during the ’50s and ’60s. Harmatz, a scholastic gymnastics star from East Los Angeles, won the 1959 Preakness Stakes aboard Royal Orbit. He later became a successful businessman in Vista and remains nearly as fit in his 70s as during his riding years.

Cohen has a long way to go to be mentioned in the same breath as Blum or Harmatz. His apprenticeship is considerably different than that of Duddy Kravitz. As a neophyte jockey, he is allowed to ride with a 10-pound weight concession from what his horse is assigned to carry until he wins five races. The weight concession is dropped to seven pounds and later to five until he wins 45 races or one year passes, whichever comes last.

Cohen has ridden most of his early races for his father’s stable.

“I wouldn’t use him if I didn’t have total confidence in him,” Morry Cohen said.

David Cohen will continue to ride at Santa Anita through the conclusion of the Oak Tree meet on Oct. 31 before shifting to Hollywood Park for a meet beginning on Nov. 3.

Steve Schuelein is a freelance sports writer based in Playa del Rey.

A Spiritual Path to Weight Loss


With rainbows of fabric swishing around her 5-foot-11 frame, rings on every finger and bracelets hugging the length of her wrists, Reb Mimi Feigelson cuts an impressive presence — an aura in no way diminished by the fact that she is 80 pounds lighter than she was two years ago.

As Americans debate low carb vs. low fat or South Beach vs. Weight Watchers, Feigelson has brought something else into the mix: God and community.

Using the same spark of wisdom and originality that has made her a beloved teacher among her students at the University of Judaism and in Jerusalem, Feigelson is trying to conquer her lifelong weight problem with her own spiritually based weight management system that swirls together personal teshuvah, repentance, and Divine balance in the world.

"People think about diet and weight loss and they think about deprivation and loss and guilt," said Feigelson, 41, a protégé of the late Chasdic and musical master Reb Shlomo Carlebach. "This is not at all about that. This process is totally life-affirming. It’s about embracing and celebrating life."

Uncomfortable with the idea of "losing" weight, because loss has a negative connotation, Feigelson decided instead to "give away" her extra weight — about 115 pounds when she started. Two years ago she e-mailed 60 close friends and family, and asked each one to take a number corresponding to a kilo (she’s Israeli and thinks in kilos–about 2.2 pounds). When she gets up to that kilo, she asks the designated person to send her positive thoughts once a day, and she keeps thoughts of that person with her. She uses words and ideas associated with the numbers to focus her prayers as she enlists God’s help as well. When she finishes a kilo, Feigelson asks the designated person to donate money to a hunger-relief organization in recognition of that kilo.

"I don’t feel like I’m dieting. I feel that I am part of a process of tikkun [repair] in the world. God has a vision of a just world, and I’m creating the opportunity for that justice to manifest itself," she said.

Feigelson keeps a linen-upholstered journal where she tracks not only how many kilos she has given away, but who she has enlisted for each kilo.

She took the first 13 kilos for herself, corresponding to God’s 13 attributes of mercy. Friends and family chose numbers significant to their relationship with her. Sometimes Feigelson pairs up people she thinks would go well together on a specific kilo, and she has friends whose sole responsibility are her "Jerusalem kilos," the weight she puts on when she goes back home (not the last two visits, she says proudly). The response, she said, has been overwhelming, with friends and family calling, e-mailing, sending cartoons or simply thinking about Feigelson when she hits their kilos.

After two years, her list has grown to 80 people — from West Bank settlers to leaders of the Conservative movement.

"The notion of asking my friends and family for help is kind of revolutionary," she said. "This has always been a very private problem. … I can bare my soul in public, I can share parts of the journey of my soul, but this is different. Because it is not only my soul, it is also my body."

The process became more doable when she took herself out of the center and zoomed out to a wider picture of the Divine balance of resources in the world.

"In the ultimate scheme of things I was eating more than my portion, and someone else in the world was not getting their portion, and this is a way to reverse that," she said. She has a vision — though no specific plans — to spread this approach, harnessing the thousands of pounds people lose every day to feed the world’s hungry.

Feigelson says that vision enables her to step back from the details of dieting and just do the work necessary to get to her end goal.

That has meant exercising regularly with a personal trainer. She is flexible about what she eats — she has gone from vegan to red meat-heavy Atkins and back again, doing whatever is necessary to get past plateaus.

"The eating is a vessel, it’s not the goal," she said. "It’s not about learning to eat a specific way, it is about learning to eat in way that sustains you so you can do God’s work in the world. That is an obligation and commitment that needs to be renewed every day."

While the soul is at the center of her work, Feigelson is not immune to the corporeal benefits. She feels better, not just ethically but physically. She relishes in moments when she doesn’t have to fear a café might have a narrow armchair, or when the tray table on El Al goes down all the way. On a recent flight she could barely heave a 40-kilo suitcase onto the scale, and then realized that was how much weight she’s given away.

Of course for a woman who has been large all her life, slimming down can be a scary change, especially when a personality is so linked to an appearance.

"The work I need to be doing in the world needed a big body, because if I was left to my own devices, I would walk into a room and sit in the corner and never say anything," she said, although it’s a claim those who know her might find hard to believe. "But that is not why God put me on this planet. So by virtue of the fact that I have a big frame, I have a big mouth," she said.

She has already begun to assimilate the idea of taking up less space in the world.

"Whatever I am afraid of in terms of change is already who I am. If it is meant to manifest itself it will, and then I will learn to live as that part of who I am," she said. "I am, God willing, going to be here for a long time and there is work God is expecting me to do in this world, and I need to be healthy enough to do it."

A Sweet Dream Come True


The tip jar at CremaLita in Santa Monica reads, “Make Me Fat,” which is the opposite of why patrons frequent this new, kosher fat-free ice cream chain in Los Angeles.

The trendy, Manhattan-based company dishes out more than 60 flavors — including peppermint and espresso — averaging 60 calories per four-fluid-ounce serving. Its three Los Angeles stores are part of a low-fat craze that has infiltrated the kosher market, with retailers reporting “dramatic” interest in not-so-naughty desserts, such as Colombo Chocolate Sorbet, according to Kosher Today. In Los Angeles, Baskin-Robbins and other franchises offer kosher low-fat fare, although CremaLita is perhaps the only chain in which the stores, as well as the product, are kosher certified, said Rabbi Eliezer Eidlitz of the Kosher Information Bureau.

As for why Jeffrey Britz founded CremaLita with his daughter, Allison, in 2001: “We’re weight lunatics,” he said. The 58-year-old entrepreneur — who rises at 4 a.m. to exercise most days — had sold his physical-therapy business when his thoughts turned to ice cream in January 2001. For years, he’d trekked to a soft-serve joint twice a week to pick up quarts of low-fat dessert. As that brand became a staple for chic Manhattan dieters, he analyzed the competition, opened his first store and soon drew a following. The cast and crew of “Sex and the City” bought 100 cones one afternoon; Us magazine ran a cartoon of that show’s Kristin Davis enjoying CremaLita; and 2001 Miss USA Kandace Kreuger called the brand her “secret weakness.”

But a recent New York Times story suggested the snack might not be entirely guilt free. The article alleged that samples of CremaLita and another brand had more calories than advertised, partly because of oversized servings and insufficient air beaten into the product. The piece referenced that “Seinfeld” episode in which Jerry and Elaine gain weight after pigging out on “diet” fro-yo.

In response, Britz said signs in his stores warn that size matters, but customers don’t seem to care.

“If we serve a strict four ounces, they feel cheated,” he said.

Besides, a big cup of CremaLita is still more virtuous than Häagen-Dazs: “At least it’s a large portion of something that’s low calorie and low fat,” Allison Britz said.

CremaLita stores are located in Santa Monica, WestHollywood and Sherman Oaks. For addresses and information, visit www.cremalita.com .

Doctor Helps Kids Deal With Diabetes


Ask just about any of Dr. Francine Kaufman’s pediatric patients about her and the superlatives will start to fly.

“Fran is one of the busiest people I know … yet she’s still able to find time for me and make me feel like the only child in the hospital,” said 15-year-old Katie Zucker.

Chris Paonessa, 14, calls Kaufman his “mentor and role model.”

“She’s not just my doctor, she’s my friend,” noted college student Lupe Pena, a patient of Kaufman’s for 15 years.

The compliments come despite the fact that Kaufman, a pediatric endocrinologist and the head of the Center for Diabetes, Endocrinology and Metabolism at Childrens Hospital Los Angeles, is often the person who delivers the devastating news to children that they have diabetes. It is Kaufman who orchestrates their transition from having a carefree childhood to one dramatically altered by the constant need to monitor diet, measure blood sugar and administer insulin.

If there’s such thing as a typical doctor, Kaufman surely doesn’t fit the mold. First, as Zucker noted, “She’s the only doctor we know who comes to work in stilettos and a miniskirt.”

While doctors are cautioned not to get too involved with their patients, Kaufman has invited several of them to stay at her home for periods ranging from days to years. One became a member of the family, whom Kaufman refers to as her “near son.” Another currently lives with the Kaufmans during the week while attending college.

Kaufman’s quest to eradicate diabetes extends beyond her direct work with pediatric patients. Among other things, she is a professor of pediatrics at the Keck School of Medicine at USC, the president of the American Diabetes Association (ADA) and lead researcher on two National Institutes of Health (NIH) diabetes studies. That’s in addition to being the wife of a Cedars-Sinai pediatrician and mother of two grown sons.

Kaufman was honored by the ADA as their 2003 Woman of Valor at a tribute dinner on Feb. 6. Along with physicians nationwide, she is alarmed at the increasing number of children diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, which used to be known as adult-onset diabetes.

“Twenty-five percent of new onset diabetes in children is Type 2,” Kaufman noted.

This increase is tied to the rise in childhood obesity, now considered an epidemic, and Kaufman is concerned about the poor eating habits and lack of physical exercise among school-age children.

“We’re seeing too many kids who are gaining too much weight,” she said.

To address this problem, Kaufman chaired the Los Angeles County Task Force on Children and Youth Physical Fitness, which recommended policies to support physical activity and healthy eating among children. She was one of the driving forces behind the Los Angeles Unified School District’s policy to prohibit soft-drink sales at middle and high schools starting January of next year (they are already banned in elementary schools).

At Childrens Hospital Los Angeles, her team is involved in NIH multicenter studies to see how lifestyle modifications can impact children with Type 2 diabetes, and whether diabetes can be prevented in the relatives of those with the disease.

She has collaborated on diabetes initiatives with Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy G. Thompson, who flew in from Washington, D.C., to present Kaufman’s Woman of Valor Award. Saluting her work nationally and in such locations as Israel, Ecuador and Mongolia, Thompson said Kaufman has “the courage and the drive to make a difference in the lives of millions, not just here but around the world.”

When Kaufman sees a need, she fills it. One of the biggest challenges for diabetics is keeping the level of their blood sugar stable, especially at night. Kaufman came up with the idea of using uncooked cornstarch to formulate a patented food bar that reduces the incidence of hypoglycemia by promoting gradual and consistent absorption of glucose. For some patients, it has eliminated the need to wake up during the night to snack or test their blood sugar.

To help children understand the nature of diabetes, Kaufman helped develop a CD-ROM game called Life Adventure Series. And when she noticed that patients were having difficulty calculating the dosage of insulin they needed, she designed a simple slide card that matches blood sugar numbers and corresponding insulin dosages.

With all her roles and accomplishments, Kaufman’s direct impact on her patients is perhaps the most dramatic.

As Paonessa, who has successfully completed a marathon said, “She made me believe that everything is possible, even with diabetes.”

The Life Adventure Series: Diabetes CD-ROM is available
free of charge to children with diabetes and their parents. For information,
visit www.starbright.org/projects/diabetes/order.html