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Archive for the ‘Health’ Category

Flywheel: Spin Class for the Truly Masochistic

Flywheel, in case you do not keep up with the stationary biking/clubbing scene in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Seattle, Florida, Atlanta, North Carolina, Texas, or—now—Philadelphia, is a descendant of SoulCycle, another New York-based spinning cult. By “spinning,” I mean a fitness class where you ride on a stationary bike in a dark room, sprinting up imaginary hills to a soundtrack of Lady Gaga and Nicki Minaj. And by cult, I mean, well, cult. In my one and only SoulCycle class (a single class in Manhattan costs $34), I watched a group of ponytailed, aggressively fit women—many in makeup, at least one carrying a gold-embossed SoulCycle gym bag—line up on the sidewalk on Manhattan’s Upper East Side outside what used to be a bodega-sized store called Champagne Video. Their $34 did not buy them a locker room, or even a shower. It was good only for 45 minutes in a small room that was packed so tightly with bikes that it was difficult to maneuver between them, and a sound system so loud that I took them up on the complimentary earplugs. “Change Your Body, Take Your Journey, Find Your Soul,” read the manifesto on the wall

For Slate, I reveal my competitive streak.  Did I mention that I won?

Diabetes in the New York Times

Before I received the diagnosis that I had Type 1 diabetes, I saw food as food, and ate it as such — simply, casually, with no real thought attached.

The winter of my senior year of college, after a bad cold and a painful breakup, I began eating more — not to cope, but to feel full. I was hungry, always hungry. Hungry and thirsty and tired, piling my tray in the dining hall with pasta, cheese, dessert, getting up in the middle of the night to slurp water from my dorm’s bathroom faucet.

I gorged myself and yet my pants were looser, my arms thinner, my stomach flatter. One afternoon I threw it all up, convinced I had food poisoning. My stomach eventually settled but my mind did not. The world swirled. I couldn’t stand without stumbling. On February 17th, 2001, I entered the hospital, and since that day, food has never been the same.

Tara Parker-Pope at the New York Times recently published an essay of mine in the Well blog called “Thinking About Diabetes With Every Bite.” about my experience living with Type 1 diabetes. Not only was I thrilled to have such a personal piece placed in the Times, but I’ve been incredibly touched by the wonderful feedback I’ve gotten from other people with Type 1 (and Type 2). It’s inspired me to keep writing about diabetes — if you want to read more, check out my Reluctant Diabetic blog over at the diabetes website, A Sweet Life.

Breast Friends

Me, my ladies, and the mechanical milker.

If you spend two weeks in close proximity to goat udders, it’s inevitable that you’ll think differently about your own breasts.

Or at least that’s what happened to me. My husband and I had signed up to spend two weeks volunteering on a French farm where the farmer took one look at our soft hands and assigned us to what he considered his easiest job: milking the family’s 27 dairy goats. And so once in the morning, once in the evening, Peter and I wheeled out the milking canisters and pumping gear (this was not a hand-extraction affair), lined up the goats at a feeding trough, and worked our way through the herd.

The monotony of the task was strangely satisfying, and I found myself looking forward to my time with the ladies, as I called them, skittish and ornery, with soft ears and narrow,Avatar-like pupils. Much like women’s breasts, their udders came in all shapes and sizes. Some were huge and swollen, bumping into the goat’s back knees as she waddled up to the milking station. Others would barely have qualified for a training bra. Some goats had lopsided udders, including one young animal whose left teat was so tiny that we didn’t bother to milk it.

Usually, there’s a clear distinction in my mind between the pasteurized, cereal-friendly stuff I buy in the grocery store and the baby-nourishing liquid that may one day emanate from my chest. But as I worked my way up and down the goats’ ranks, massaging their udders to help the flow, the difference between the two became less obvious. I found myself suddenly very curious about milk.

For Slate, I write about Deborah Valenze’s new book, Milk: A Global and Local History, and how it has forever changed my view of goats.

Mindfuless Meditation for O

I’ve been meaning to start a daily mindfulness meditation practice for a long time, but thanks to this assignment from O, The Oprah Magazine, I actually started one. (And then got to participate in a full-day photo shoot that involved almost getting attacked by a bull.)

We’ve all had the experience of sensing time decelerate naturally when we’re not so thrilled about what we’re doing (think torturous spinning class or hour-long “synergy workshop” at the office). As my dear grandmother would have said, it takes only one colonoscopy to prove that time is relative. But what about the more enjoyable times in life? I hoped that practicing the popular and proven type of meditation called mindfulness—which focuses on bringing awareness to the present moment—might help me slow those times down as well.

White Whiskey

I’ve got a small piece in Men’s Journal about the resurgence of small batch distillation. It’s called White Whiskey:

If the greater number and variety of local and regional spirits at your neighborhood liquor store have you tempted to call micro-distillation a cool new trend, you’d be half-right — it’s more of a comeback. Early Americans were masters at turning harvests into hard alcohol using corn, potatoes, grain, apples, grapes — almost anything they could get their hands on. Converting food to booze didn’t just preserve the value of perishable crops; it also created a rich repertoire of homemade liquors, from rye whiskey, vodka, and bourbon to applejack, peach brandy, and unaged fruit spirits known as eau-de-vie.

I also did a big package about the spine called “The Complete Guide To Your Back” — also for Men’s Journal — but I can’t find it online except for this mention. Suffice it to say that you usually don’t need surgery, and that if you’re really hurting, you can ease the pain by sampling some small batch spirits.

Rebooting the Immune System

A sign rests on the windowsill in the office of Jeffrey Bluestone, director of the Immune Tolerance Network and the Diabetes Center at the University of California at San Francisco. Measuring nearly three feet across, it reads “Club Bluestone” in pink and blue neon. It’s the sort of artifact you’d expect to find in a bar. But Bluestone is a world-renowned immunobiologist; his father-in-law had the sign made for him in the late 1980s when Bluestone was working long hours in his lab at the University of Chicago. As the night wore on and their energy faded, he and his colleagues would turn out the lights, turn on the sign and, propelled by the power of Bruce Springsteen, push forward with their research. “It was our version of partying,” he says.

As you may already know, auto-immune diseases like Type 1 diabetes or multiple sclerosis occur when your immune system malfunctions and mistakes part of your own body for a foreign invader. In the case of Type 1, it’s when your body decides to kill off the cells that produce insulin, a hormone necessary to absorb the energy in your food. I think I speak for all Type 1 diabetics when I say that destroying these cells is not the body’s smartest move.

I was lucky enough to participate in a trial for a promising new drug — created by the aforementioned Jeffrey Bluestone — that attempted to stop my system from killing off the rest of my insulin-producing cells. What’s more, I recently got a chance to write about this drug — and others like it — for Popular Science. The article’s called “Rebooting the Body.” Here’s a link to a digital copy.

I also got a chance to speak about the piece on the New Hampshire Public Radio Show, Word of Mouth. You can listen to the interview here.

Diabetes Update

It’s nearly 2010 and, guess what? I still have Type 1 diabetes. Sucks. So I’m writing about it — on a site called A Sweet Life.

My latest contributions:

-a review of Riva Greenberg’s 50 Diabetes Myths That Can Ruin Your Life — and the 50 Diabetes Truths That Can Save It

-a review and taste test of yacon powder, a would-be wonder tuber that’s supposed to be a great sugar substitute

-an interview with Yale professor and researcher (and Type 1 diabetic) Kevan Herold

And, lastly, a guest post on Six Until Me about how to cope with holiday food.

The Sludge Report

phpthumb_generated_thumbnailjpgIf you want to avoid having conversations about your work, I highly recommend telling people that you’re writing a three-part series about sewage sludge. It tends to shut them up quick. Thankfully, though, my personal sludge hell is reaching an end: The series was just published on Grist.

Part one explains current uses of sewage sludge, and the rebranding effort it took to get there:

“The renaming contest [for sludge] received over 250 entries, many of which suggested that even water quality professionals still enjoy a good poop joke. Submissions included “bioslurp,” “black gold,” “sca-doo,” “hu-doo,” “geoslime,” and “the end product”; one person proposed rebranding sludge as “R.O.S.E.” (“Recycling Of Solids Environmentally”). Critics asked whether a rose by any other name would still smell as bad, and in 1991 WEF settled on “biosolids,” a term that Sheldon Rampton, co-author of Toxic Sludge Is Good For You, suggests “must have been chosen precisely because it evokes absolutely nothing in the minds of people who hear it.”

Part two is about turning poop into gold — or, more specifically, figuring out ways to recycle it into a marketable commodity. (Though, actually, there’s a sewage treatment plant in Japan that is literally mining gold out of crap — I kid you not.)

And part three is about shitting in a bucket. Or, more precisely, composting toilets.

The research for this series was provided by a Middlebury Fellowship in Environmental Reporting.

Something Fishy

Oct. 17, 2006 | I can’t say I’ve ever eaten yogurt fortified with microencapsulated fish fat before, but hell, there’s a first time for everything. I’m in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, and Ian Lucas, executive vice president of global marketing at a marine research company called Ocean Nutrition, has just handed me a spoon. The yogurt sitting between us is flecked with peach, but it also contains a surprise: powdered oil from smushed anchovies, encapsulated in pork gelatin. You might say it’s surf and turf in a cup. It’s also just one of a slew of newly developed food products that have been fortified with omega-3 fatty acids.

With the yogurt still in front of me, Lucas pours a large, cold glass of fish-oil fortified milk as I rip open a bag of omega-3 tortilla wraps — all products that contain what’s referred to in industry circles as designer lipids. Food technologists working the world over have been busy figuring out how to shrink fish oil capsules to microscopic size and bake them into bagels. Entire companies have devoted themselves to breeding algae laden with omega-3, which can be dried into flakes and used as animal feed, or sprayed as powder and used in food products. There are already omega-3-fortified eggs and infant formulas on the market (not to mention margarine, gummy candies, orange juice, fruit chews, nutrition bars, chocolate, bread, pizza crust and, yes, yogurt) — and eventually there will be omega-3-fortified cake. There will be cookies. There will be omega-3 ice creams and cheeses. Research has even begun on omega-3 pâté.

I’ll admit it: I went through a year of my life where I was obsessed with omega-3 fatty acids. Luckily for me, Salon shared the love.

Your Body, Explained

For Parade Magazine, I tackle some hard-hitting questions, like what ear wax is, and whether mosquitoes truly like some people better.

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