The Fastest Way to Lose Weight?

no food Recently, I went to doctor and they needed a blood sample. A fasting blood sample. Normally this is done in the morning, so that you can have the blood taken soon after waking up. But, my appointment was pushed to 2pm, and I ended up having to skip breakfast and then lunch. I ended up not eating until 6pm that evening. Fasting is purposely avoiding food. And, there are many reasons why people do it….

Why do people fast?

Almost all major religions include fasting as a spiritual practice. Fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam, and Muslims spend the month of Ramadan fasting from sunrise to sunset to strengthen spiritual connection to God and to sympathize with the poor. In Judaism, Yom Kippur is the day of atonement that also includes fasting. Other major religions, like Christianity, also practice fasting as a way to deepen the spiritual connection with God.

Others fast in protest, often called a “hunger strike.” Gandhi used hunger strikes throughout his involvement in India’s independence movement. Today, everyone from prisoners in California to immigration activists uses hunger strikes to protest injustice and draw attention to their cause.

Outside the spiritual and activism realms, people typically fast for two reasons: to detoxify the body and to lose weight.

Types of fasts

Fasting varies from the intermittent fasting, which involves incorporating a fasting day into your weekly diet to juice fasting or “cleanses” to water fasting. Intermittent fasting has been shown effective in helping people lose weight. However, those effects may not last. As with many other fad diets, research suggests the weight loss may be temporary. Water-only fasting means no food or liquids except water and can be very dangerous.

Does it work?

Fasting may be the fastest way to lose weight, but it’s likely water weight, and it’s very likely to come right back once you stop fasting. Plus, some research suggests that repeated “quick-fix” weight loss, or yo-yo dieting, may cause slowed metabolism and increased risk for heart attacks.

As for detoxifying, your kidneys and liver already do most of that every day. It’s their job. There is no evidence that fasting detoxifies the body any more than eating a healthy diet.

Fasting may also lead to some unpleasant side effects like nutrient deficiency, fatigue, dizziness, constipation, dehydration, gallstones, and cold intolerance.

On the flip side, other studies suggest that fasting may improve longevity.

So….fasting makes you lose weight…but it may be temporary. Fasting makes you live longer. Wait; no it doesn’t…. With all this conflicting information, how can you decide if fasting is right for you?

Here’s something else to consider: the psychology of fasting.

Those of you who read my diet soda blog know where I’m headed. If you are fasting to lose hungryweight, you may be psychologically setting yourself up for disaster. Because eating food is way more complicated than filling your body’s gas tank; it is a multi-sensory, social, psychological experience. This may explain research that shows a correlation between “perceived deprivation” of food and binge eating behavior. In other words, simply feeling deprived of food or the ability to eat what you want when you want can be enough to trigger overeating. Which may lead to the type of yo-yo dieting that is linked to increased health risks.

And lastly, if you are considering a fast for health reasons, take a moment to think critically about the fasting industry, a growing part of the multi-billion dollar diet industry. Companies are making big bucks on your belief that you need to lose weight or cleanse your body. If you want to learn more about how fasting effects your body, bring it up at your next medical appointment at Campus Health Services. Or, if you want to talk to someone about your diet and weight, see our dietitian for a free consultation.

During my day of fasting for my doctor’s appointment, I felt cranky, slow, and irritable, and I came home and ate three peanut butter sandwiches as soon as I could eat again. People fast for different reasons, and people have been fasting for spiritual reasons way before our modern culture created the diet industry. Fasting can be spiritually and emotionally enlightening. But fasting to “fix” your body? That’s not a message I want to feed.

The Food Police

Every time I order food from a particular take out place, as soon as I hang up the phone I get an incoming call. An automated machine calling on behalf of my bank, reciting “We fear there may be fraudulent charges on your account […] Please contact our identity theft and fraud department immediately at …. “. Sometimes I even get a text with the same information. The most recent time, I received a call, text, and an email which even went so far as to inform me that my account had been put on hold (i.e. my card was useless) until I called them back to go over the most recent charges on my account. Every time this happens I have to call the bank, and listen to a stranger list the most recent purchases on my card- which of course always concludes with a report of the place I ordered food from and the amount charged.
When the very nice stranger on the phone asks me if this is my charge, all I hear them saying is “so- this extremely unhealthy carb full restaurant you ordered from AGAIN…you spent ____….Don’t you live alone? Geez how many people are you planning on feeding?” I feel embarrassed and called out by the universe for my eating choices and frustrated at the fact that I am forced to report them to a stranger. Even so, I have not yet had the guts to tell my bank that they can stop calling every time I order food from this place because yes, it’s always going to be me (I like to eat their food) so while I appreciate your concern and thorough job of protecting my identity, please stop asking me to answer for my food choices.

These interactions with my bank, although unintentionally and indirectly on their part, are a great example of food policing. I’m sure that many folks prone to food policing out there mean the best. Sometimes it’s good to catch ourselves though and ask – what good is food policing really doing?

If you’re concerned about a friend’s health, it will probably be much better received if you express those concerns in the context of health and caring for your friend instead of commenting on if they’re “going to eat all that”, asking them “if they need to eat that” and making comments such as “you sure don’t look like a vegetarian”. Food policing ourselves, i.e. making comments like “oh no, I don’t need anymore, I’m trying to be good” can have a similarly negative effect on those around us. Food policing may sometimes even sound like compliments such as “great job choosing that salad!”.

Unless a friend or partner has come to a plan of healthy eating or exercising on their own or at the suggestion of a doctor and specifically asked for your support, food policing may be more harmful than helpful. Hopefully you’ve been hearing a lot about eating disorders and how they affect college students over the course of this past week. Even if you think information about eating disorders seems a little too extreme to apply to you and your friends, we can all still be mindful of how our own food policing-whether directed at others or at ourselves in the presence of others- is affecting our friends and their body image.

nutrition1If you’re genuinely concerned about a friend’s eating habits, make it a point to talk to them while they’re not in the middle of a meal or about to sit down to start eating. You may consider suggesting they make an appointment at Student Wellness to meet with a Clinical Nutrition Specialist or Nutrition Education Consultant on campus. They’re great folks who can help you, your friend, or a partner go over healthy meal planning and choices for them and their body. If you’d like to host a program on healthy body image or nutrition for your student group or hall, check out the health education and training services available at Student Wellness.


Are you a self-proclaimed “foodie”? If so, today is a special day for you. Today is National Food Day, a day dedicated to celebrating healthy, affordable and sustainable food.
The typical fast-food driven American diet has severe health implications such as increased risk for disease and premature death. Acknowledging these consequences, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) created the Food Day campaign just one year ago as a movement toward a better food system.

In only one year’s time Food Day has become viral, engaging all Americans to “eat real”! Food Day supporters believe that Americans of all ages, races, incomes and geographic locations should have the opportunity to select healthy dietary choices.
Learn more about this movement by watching the food day video here:

Want to get involved?



Only two things that money can’t buy
That’s true love and home grown tomatoes
–Guy Clark

We all know we’re supposed to eat more fruits & vegetables.

“Make half your plate fruits and vegetables,” they tell us. That just got so much easier! Why, you ask? Because it’s summer in North Carolina! Do you know how lucky you are to be right here, right now? You’re probably cranking up your AC and slapping mosquitoes and looking at me funny, but I’ll contend we have it good because we live in a community with so many amazing farmers and farmer’s markets. What do I love best? Their tomatoes!

Find a farmer’s market near you!

Don’t Put Tomatoes in the Fridge

This discovery changed my life. Have you ever eaten a tomato that’s never been refrigerated? Try it and tell me if it’s not markedly better than what you’re used to. I was delighted to discover that Elizabeth Baldwin, a researcher at the USDA who investigates “flavor quality of citrus, tomatoes, and tropical/subtropical products” has found EVIDENCE that refrigeration diminishes tomato flavor.

If you don’t have access to home-grown tomatoes, the next best thing is your local farmer’s market for never-refrigerated tomatoes. If you’ve only ever eaten tomatoes still chilled from the grocery store, you might be shocked by how much better they can be with appropriate handling.

I recommend you buy tomatoes as you go. Buy what you can eat in the next couple days, because in this weather they aren’t going to last that long at room temperature. Keep them out of direct sunlight; if they’re pretty ripe, farmers have advised me to keep them in an open paper bag in a dark pantry. Closing the paper bag will trap the ethylene and further speed their ripening. If you keep them in a darker place, just don’t forget about them. However you keep them, lay them flat in a single row because they are sensitive to bruising. If you discover that tomato has a break in the skin, I’d recommend eating it immediately.

If you buy too many, here is a simple solution: eat them. Have people over to eat them with you. If you cut a tomato and don’t use all of it, eat it. If you refrigerate it, it’ll get mealy and bland. If you wrap it up and leave it at room temperature, it’s probably going to mold & attract fruit flies. Just sprinkle a little S&P on it & eat it! Easy as pie!

Where to start

If you’re new to the wild world of heirloom tomatoes, it can be daunting. There are so many different kinds! Talk to your farmers — the people who grow your food often have great advice about what to try first. Personally, my absolute favorite tomatoes are sungolds and Cherokee Purples. Rinse off the sungolds and eat them like candy. Cherokee Purples make sublime tomato sandwiches. But matters of taste are very individual! I did an informal survey of my friends, asking, “What are your favorite tomatoes?”

“Green Zebras are my fave. Firstly they are striped, and that’s sexy, but also they are sweet and tangy at the same time – I eat em like apples!” — Erin

“I don’t like the goop inside of the tomato, so I tend to like smaller tomatoes. Because they have less goop.” – Diana

“Heirlooms are trendy and all, but I love beautiful, fresh grape tomatoes in a great panzanella salad. I love the question, by the way. Tomatoes are our friends.” — Leslie

“Cherry! Tart, tiny, tasty!” — Cameron

“Fresh off the vine, don’t matter the kind” – Alysse

“Whatever is still warm from the sun” — Joanna

Go exploring! Maybe try one new tomato every week. Ask the farmers what they like best! Try them with balsamic & basil or feta & cucumber. Be adventurous or be classic.

At the end of the day, remember that Latin maxim — “De gustibus non est disputandum” – “No disputing matters of taste.” You like what you like! You might like tomatoes more if you try them ripe & fresh & in season.

Is meat bad for you?

I’ve found that many students want to know – is meat bad for you?

We can easily see that industrial meat production (in facilities such as certified animal feeding operations) harms the environment and facilitates antibiotic resistance.  But does meat really harm human health directly?  Should someone avoid eating meat altogether – even sustainably or organically grown beef and lean meats? Or are there benefits to eating meat in moderation? Overall, we believe that all foods can be part of a healthy diet – including meats.

Saying “meat is bad for you” is a very strong statement, and one that would be difficult to prove based on the scientific evidence we have. Understanding why requires digging into some of the overall challenges with evidence-based nutrition. For example, if we do a study and find that people who eat lots of meat are more likely to get cancer or be overweight, we still can’t know for sure whether it was the large amount of meat, the additives in processed foods or the lack of fruits/vegetables/whole grains that made them sick. Additionally, we don’t know that eating a moderate amount of meat in a single meal is going to cause any problems. If we imagine that we could prove meat causes bad health, we still wouldn’t know what makes meat harmful. Is it the meat itself, or just a component of the meat (i.e. saturated fat)? If the culprit was saturated fat, we could get just as sick drinking coconut milk even if we don’t eat meat.

Meat isn’t bad for you. That being said, we can use common sense based on proven nutrition science to understand the role of meat in a healthy diet. We know that:

  • Meat has some important nutrients in it like protein, vitamin B12, iron and folate.
  • Eating too many calories will make you gain weight.
  • Eating too much saturated fat can cause health problems.
  • Depending on the type of meat and how you prepare it, the calories and amount of saturated fat in it change.

The Mediterranean diet, for example, includes plenty of meat, and at the same time has been linked to improved health and lower risk of disease because it focuses on lean meats like chicken and fish.

Vegetarianism is not for everyone and it is certainly not the only way to be healthy. To get the most health benefits from your meat, focus on lean meats like chicken and fish and opt for baking or grilling rather than frying. Limit high-fat meats like bacon and beef. Try to eat meat for one meal during the day, and get your protein from beans, nuts, eggs or yogurt at other meals. Meat isn’t bad for you; indeed it can be part of your healthy and balanced diet.

So Cosmo Says You’re Fat

…well, I ain’t down with that!”

Maybe you don’t remember Sir Mixalot’s quintessential curvy-girls anthem, “Baby Got Back.”   But I do.  Growing up, I was sandwiched between skinny and fat in that gray area people called “sturdy” or “thick,” and I memorized every last lyric to this fat-bottom tribute because I knew I’d never look like those magazine models, and I assumed that beauty centered on some fixed, universal standard that I would never meet.  Then, in 2008, I moved to Ghana, West Africa and my perspective changed completely.

In Ghana, a place where food can be scarce and abs are chiseled by years of manual labor, roundness has become the sought-after ideal.  Women don’t compliment each other on their weight loss.  Quite the opposite: “Have you put on weight? You are looking so good these days!” I can’t tell you how many times my friend Judy, a nurse I worked with at a clinic in Ghana, greeted me with “You are looking nice and fat today.” Now, I have spent years nourishing a healthy body image, but “nice and fat” still feels like an oxymoron.

Women in Ghana are given images of voluptuous role-models: movie stars, singers, actors, even newscasters are all soft, curvy women.  Continue reading

Fishy Business

I’ve been a vegetarian for six and a half years. I eat eggs and dairy so I’m not that strict, and a few times a year I eat fish. With most of the food I eat, I try to ensure that it comes from a local, sustainable or organic source. I can’t always afford to do this, but I definitely try to make an effort. And there are some really great resources out there if you are interested in eating sustainable seafood. Here are a few I use:

Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch:
This group offers suggestions to businesses and individuals about what types of seafood to buy and eat. Many types of seafood are overfished and you can help improve the situation by making informed choices. Seafood Watch also has a free App too so you can look up information on the go.

Marine Stewardship Council
This group creates standards to encourage responsible and sustainable fishing practices. You’ll know that a product meets their standards if you see this blue label.

Core Sound Seafood
This group is a Community Supported Fishery (CSF). Perhaps you have heard of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)? This is where individuals buy a share in a farming operation and in exchange they receive a box of produce every week. It is the same idea with CSFs: individuals buy a share and in exchange they receive fresh fish every week from the North Carolina coast. A whole share can be a lot of food so many people get friends together to purchase one share. If you choose this option, it can be a great excuse to get together with friends and cook a meal!

3 Easy Steps to Stocking Up on Snacks

Having healthy snacks on hand is essential to college life. They are great when you are running across campus for 5 classes back-to-back. They are great when you need a boost to get you through until the dining halls open. But what if you don’t have a car? What if you are on a budget? Still, it’s as easy as 1-2-3 to keep yourself stocked on snacks. Here is a step-by-step guide for those who live on campus, and don’t have a car.

Step 1: Grab an empty duffel bag, back pack and/or reusable grocery sack and take the bus to Walmart. Yes, you have to take Triangle Transit, but do not fear…it’s easy!

Step 2: Shop smart. Don’t know what healthy snacks to buy? Go for non-perishable foods with plenty of protein and fiber. Here are a few options I picked out. 

  • Granola bars:  Try Kashi GoLean Crunchy! (150-160 kcals, 8-9g protein, 6g fiber) or Kashi GoLean Roll! (190kcals, 12g Protein, 6g Fiber). You can also try Nature Valley Crunchy Granola Bars (190kcals, 5g protein, 2g fiber).
  • Nuts: Try Peanuts, Almonds, Cashews, or mixed nuts, all high in protein and healthy fats. Go for less or no salt.
  • Triscuit Crackers: Only a few simple ingredients and high in fiber so you feel full faster and longer!
  • Reduced Fat String Cheese/Cheese Sticks: A good source of protein, and they make a great snack with the Triscuit crackers. You should store them in a fridge after you purchase them, but they will keep in your backpack all day so they still work as a late morning or afternoon snack
  • Baby carrots: Though most fresh vegetables won’t last, carrots are fairly long-lived. They’ll keep well in your backpack for the day so you’ll have your veggies waiting for you when it’s time for a snack!

Step 3: Buy in bulk, but only what you can carry. Pack everything you buy into the bags you brought. You can even take the granola bars out of their box to make everything fit. Then head home…happy snacking!

Once you get the hang of where everything is in the grocery store, and if you pick a time when the bus schedules match up, the total trip would probably take you between 2 and 3 hours, depending on the frequency of the buses. Not bad, considering you probably only need to go every 3 weeks or so. If you think ahead, you can plan to go right before mid-terms or finals start so that you have plenty of healthy snacks to get you through.

What other bus routes do you use to get to Harris Teeter, the farmer’s market, Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s? What are some of your favorite healthy snacks? Do you have any shopping tips to share?

Drinking Myths BUSTED

Becoming more responsible about drinking means knowing the facts, so let’s set the record straight for the myths I most commonly hear from students:

  1. Drinking caffeine helps sober me up.

Some people think the stimulant effects of caffeine can counteract alcohol, but actually the opposite is true. Research suggests that mixing caffeine and alcohol may impair judgment MORE than alcohol alone, although the reasons for this remain unclear. What is clear is that caffeine delays the sleepiness brought on by alcohol which A) leads to more risk-taking behavior because it keeps a drunker person awake longer and B) allows a person to continue drinking beyond his/her natural limit.

As for curing a hangover, caffeine isn’t much help here either. Although it may temporarily relieve a headache, the diuretic effect of caffeine will only intensify your hangover in the end.

Continue reading

5-hour energy: Does it work? Is it safe?

5-hour energy, a popular energy drink you may have tried, makes claims that seem too good to be true… Get immediate energy that lasts for 5 hours, without a sugar crash afterwards and with the same amount of caffeine that is in one cup of coffee [1]. Are these claims true?

What’s in 5-hour energy? Caffeine, B vitamins, a sugar substitute and some other stuff.

  • Plenty of caffeine: Despite the claims on the label, some independent laboratory tests have shown that 5-hour energy contains up to 200mg of caffeine while an average cup of coffee contains just 130mg [2]. While caffeine is generally safe (even when consumed daily) there is also scientific consensus that it affects your sleep pattern, and may cause you to be more anxious, especially if you already experience anxiety [3].
  • Extremely large amounts of B vitamins (8333% of the daily value for one B vitamin): While a few recent studies have suggested that taking a daily multivitamin (with B vitamins, vitamin C and minerals) for 30 days leads to improved concentration and alertness, large amounts of these vitamins are not required to produce an effect [4]. All of the B vitamin levels in one 5-hour energy drink are below the maximum daily intake level, but since many students who use energy drinks tend to use more than 1 in a day, you may consume more than the recommended maximum level. If you experience hot or tingling skin and/or numbing sensations, you may have overdosed on B-vitamins. This is even more likely if you already take a multivitamin that contains B vitamins (especially B3 and B6).
  • Sugar substitute: The drink is sweetened with sucralose (otherwise known as Splenda©) to give it a sweet taste. This ingredient is buried in the ingredient list, so you may not have noticed that before. Since this drink contains no sugar, it will not produce a sugar crash common in some other drinks.
  • Other stuff: A mixture of several metabolic byproducts and amino acids such as phenylalanine, tyrosine and citicoline (a derivative of choline) which the company calls an “energy blend.” These components are all associated with energy and metabolism in the body. Because these compounds occur abundantly in beans, meats and many processed foods, deficiency is uncommon and there is zero evidence that consuming these compounds can improve alertness or cognitive performance unless a person has a severe deficiency [5].

The active ingredient in 5-hour energy is caffeine, plain and simple. Caffeine reduces sleepiness, enhances alertness and restores cognitive function lost due to lack of sleep [6]. The B vitamins might also help improve concentration and alertness, but these effects have only been researched in the context of daily multivitamin use and the amounts provided in 5-hour energy are much higher than needed. None of the other ingredients appear to have any effect on energy or alertness except in rare cases of deficiency or nutrient depletion, and there is no scientific basis for the claim that the increased energy will last longer than it would for a similar amount of caffeine consumed in a different beverage.

What’s the bottom line?

  • 5-hour energy may contain more caffeine than advertised, but it is still probably a safe, albeit pricey, alternative to a coffee boost for those who can tolerate caffeine. Because the caffeine dose may be higher than expected and because caffeine overdose can be dangerous, don’t try to consume more than one drink at a time.
  • If you already take a multivitamin that contains niacin (B3) or other B vitamins, be careful not to overdose by combining it with 5 hour energy.

Lastly, don’t underestimate the value of sleep. As I mentioned above, some research suggests that caffeine does not improve cognitive function, but instead simply restores cognitive function lost due to lack of sleep. Instead of spending $3-4 a pop on what is essentially a caffeine shot, you might try saving your money, and improving your energy and concentration the natural way.



  1. 5-hour Energy Ingredients and Safety.
  2. Perks of 5-hour Energy Put to the Test. CBS News.
  3. Broderick P, Benjamin AB. Caffeine and psychiatric symptoms: a review. J Okla State Med Assoc. 2004 Dec;97(12):538-42.
  4. David O. Kennedy, Rachel C. Veasey, Anthony W. Watson, Fiona L. Dodd, Emma K. Jones, Brian Tiplady and Crystal F. Haskell. Vitamins and psychological functioning: a mobile phone assessment of the effects of a B vitamin complex, vitamin C and minerals on cognitive performance and subjective mood and energy. Hum. Psychopharmacol Clin Exp 2011; 26: 338–347.
  5. Leyton, M; Young, SN; Pihl, RO; Etezadi, S; Lauze, C; Blier, P; Baker, GB; Benkelfat, C. Effects on mood of acute phenylalanine/tyrosine depletion in healthy women. Neuropsychopharmacology 2000; 22(1): 52-63Timothy
  6. Roehrs and Thomas Roth. Caffeine: Sleep and daytime sleepiness. Sleep Medicine Reviews (2008) 12, 153–162