How Psychologists are making you addicted to junk food.

I have a confession. I love Cheetos. Back in college, they were my go to junk food. Especially the spicy kind. I couldn’t get enough. I could eat multiple bags and still not be full.

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Thanks to an article last week in the New York Times, I now know why. Cheetos, along with every other type of junk food/processed food, is the result of thousands of hours of scientific research with the ultimate goal of making that food as addictive as possible. Not just the marketing. It’s a well known fact that primary colors attract kids, especially orange, that red stimulates the appetite etc. What I didn’t know is that everything down to the sound that the chip makes when it crunches, or how fast the cheetos dissolves in my mouth (a term dubbed “Vanishing Caloric Density”), has been tested over and over to find what is most appealing to consumers.

The article follows one of the prominent Food Psychologist, with a PhD from Harvard, as he talks about several products on the shelf today, from Dr. Pepper (high carbonation added to it’s popularity) to Prego Sauces (as much sugar in a 1/4 cup as two oreos and chunks of mystery meat skyrocketed it to #1), Lunchables (built with a three month non refrigerated shelf life, “cheese” and all, as well as almost much saturated fat as a kids supposed to have in a day) and Potato Chips( the perfect mix of starch to give you a quick glucose sugar rush, fat to send happy signals to the brain, and salt to satisfy our most basic animal cravings).

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If the idea that your food is being psychologically designed to make you an addict doesn’t disturb you enough to make you think twice about processed foods, then I’ll bring out the gross factor. Lots of ingredients that make up anything from your Starbucks to your ice cream to your gummy bears are “enhanced” by ingredients that aren’t publicly advertised.

Let’s take the natural flavoring “castoreum”. It’s used to enhance vanilla flavoring, like in ice cream or candy. It is indeed natural, that’s no lie, but that’s because it is made from Beaver Anal Secretions. And it’s even FDA Approved. 

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Don’t eat vanilla? Well how about that mushroom pizza you ordered? Or should I say, that Maggot Mushroom pizza? The FDA approves up to 19 maggots and 74 mites in every 3.5 ounce can of mushrooms. Next time, buy them fresh.

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Lastly, I’ll leave you with the one that hurts me the most, because I love them. Gummy Bears/Worms/Fish you name it. First, if you’ve eaten any gummy item that has red dye in it you can proudly say you’ve eaten a beetle, because that’s how it get’s that lovely red color (Same with those Strawberry Frappuccinos you love so much..).  But Gummy Bears don’t stop there, the gelatin used to create that fun texture comes from boiled connective tissue, most likely pig.

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Now don’t get me wrong. I still love my gummy bears, pig skin and beetles and all. I try to follow a 80/20 rule, as in 80% of the time I eat clean, 20% I allow myself cheats. But keep in my mind how much junk food you may be eating and whether the hours of time put into making it addictive are working on you.  Remember they don’t have your best interest at heart.  As the head of General Mills said, “Don’t talk to me about nutrition, talk to me about taste. Talk to me about sales.”

Swimming Workout #1

I have a tendency to forget that swimming exists. Maybe it’s because it’s not as easy to do as running unless you have a pretty awesome house where you can just step out your door into a pool.

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You would think that for someone who spent 8 years of their life swimming 2-4 hours a day, every day and traveling from pool to pool all along the east coast every weekend, I would remember what an amazing workout it is.

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Prior to my ankle injury, I hadn’t been in a pool to workout in over 5 years. After I broke my ankle, it was the only form of cardio (just pulling, no kicking) that I could do. But once again, as soon as I could run again the pool was just a distant memory.

Until this week.

Last Wednesday morning I woke up to go for a run and my legs were killing me. They were so tight that I could barely extend them far enough for a full stride. I thought about going to yoga, but it’s not really my cup of tea, so instead I decided I needed a date with the pool.

The minute I jumped in and the cold water flooded over me, I remembered just how much I love to swim. Here are some reasons swimming is good for you:

1) It’s perfect for people with knee problems (or other injuries like, say, bum ankles)

2) It builds longer, leaner muscles compared to the more short and compact ones you get from weight-training.

3) It’s perfect for cross-training, as it can give your joints a break from the pavement pounding.

4) It increases flexibility

5) Strengthens your core, as well as the rest of your body.

6) It’s fun to channel your inner child and pretend to be a dolphin.

Here is the swim workout I did. It only took about 30 minutes, but left me feeling so much better.

SWIM WORKOUT #1

1*200 yd freestyle warm up

4*50 yd sprints with 15 seconds rest in between. 1st 25 freestyle, 2nd 25 butterfly

100 yard butterfly kick on back (really works the abs)

4*50 yd sprint with 15 second rest in between 1st 25 freestyle, 2nd 25 backstroke

100 yard back kick

Repeat the 4*50s and 100 kicks again

200 yd “Lung Buster” – First 50 breathe every 3 strokes, 2nd 50 breathe every 5 strokes, 3rd 50 breathe every 7 strokes, last 50 breathe every 9 strokes first 25, then swim the last 25 butterfly breathe every 2 strokes.

Warm down 150

TOTAL: 1,650yds (swimmer’s mile)

Obviously adjust to your own personal skill level. I was a swim instructor and swim coach for 3 years as well, so if you have any questions ask away and I’ll try to help!

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Running in NYC

I knew running in NYC would be different. I had no idea just how different it would be. People always complain about the altitude in the Denver Area, but I would take altitude over running in NYC any day.

On Friday afternoon I decided to take a quick run through Central Park. My Uncle lives about 8 blocks from the park, so I started off from his place.

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That was the longest 8 blocks of my life. Let’s discuss the pros and cons.

Con #1:  People in NYC aren’t aware that they aren’t the only people on earth. I saw an ambulance trying to get down a street, sirens blaring, and people just kept walking in front of it, glaring at it as if it was imposing on them. If they won’t move out of the way for that, they won’t move out of the way for me.

Pro #1: I got a great Plyo’s workout dodging people and jumping over grates.

Con #2: I probably inhaled the smoke from about 5 cigarettes in those 8 blocks, combined with car exhaust. I now have the black lung.

Pro# 2: I will no longer complain about Colorado’s air being so thin because at least it’s clean.

Con #3: New York is pretty flat. It might have a slight incline, but I can’t imagine training for a distance race here.

Pro #3: New York is flat. That means less pain. That’s also a pro.

Con #4: Everyone stares at you, but no one smiles.  (though that may be because I was wearing a neon pink and yellow shirt and hadn’t brushed my hair).

Con #4: I always hate it in Colorado if I’m dying on a hill and some running pro comes speeding down towards me smiling at my misery. So it was sort of nice to be ignored.

Con #5: No one knows what “on the left/right” means. Once I got to central park, people were walking 5 a breast on the sidewalks, but wouldn’t move when I tried to call out to them. They would just slowly turn, look me up and down, and keep right on with their conversation.

Pro #5: The thought of how I wanted to punch them in the back of their smug head kept me entertained for a while.

Con #6: I didn’t see Blair Waldorf or Chuck Bass.

Pro #6: I realized I am probably too old to be looking for Gossip Girl characters.

Overall, it wasn’t as bad as I made it seem. It was nice to look at the buildings and have something constantly distracting me as I ran. I’m sure over time I could get used to all the people and truly come to love it.

Now I’m back in Colorado and ready to get back into the swing of school and work. Yesterday I achieved a PR in Sumo Deadlifts. It wasn’t the heaviest I’ve ever done, but the most weight I’ve done for a high number of reps.

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I was able to do my body weight (145lbs) for 20 reps. Not too bad after a quick vacation!

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have this waiting for me…

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Phoenix Rising

On March 23, 2012 I broke my ankle. Breaking a bone seems like a pretty standard event, a couple months of inconvenience and then you’re back in the game. But, in my case, the experience changed my life. Not the way it happened (it involved some high heels and too much alcohol…) but the series of events after that lead to surgery, paralysis and finally recovery.

I had been in Los Angeles visiting a friend for her birthday. The morning after I broke it, I located some crutches and headed out to Joshua Tree National Park for a camping trip.  I didn’t bother wrapping my ankle, I didn’t elevate it, I didn’t even ice it.  I just thought it was a bad sprain and didn’t want to ruin the fun trip I had planned by causing a scene.

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When I finally went to the doctor almost a week later it turned out I had broken my ankle in two places. I had two options: I could cross my fingers and hope it healed, with a possibility of it healing improperly and a risk of developing arthritis early, or I could have surgery to install a plate and screws.

Prior to the break, I’d been training for my “summer of halfs”. I had registered for five half marathons, with the goal of finally breaking a 1:45 time. I wanted to get back to running and training as soon as possible, so without doing any research or asking for a second opinion I opted for the surgery.

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The surgery was relatively easy. To the disappointment of my friends, I came out of anesthesia without any “David After Dentist” type moments.  I had no doubt in my mind I was on the fast track to recovery.

Then, two weeks later I woke up to the scariest moment of my life.

I couldn’t wiggle my toes.

I couldn’t feel myself touching my toes. Or my foot. Or my calf.  The next week was a blur of trips to my surgeon and two neurologist, all of whom told me the same thing.

Somehow, I had nerve damage and had been left paralyzed from the knee down.  No one could give me answers as to how it had happened. No one could tell me if I would ever regain feeling or movement again.  Without the ability to flex your foot or lift it up so that your toes clear the ground, it is impossible to walk unassisted.

So began the hardest four months of my life. I’m currently a law school student, and I found out about the paralysis about  three weeks before my final exams. Somehow I managed to make it through them, smile on my face, while secretly lying awake at night thinking of all the things I might not ever be able to do again. Run. Hike.  Dance. Climb. Walk.

I went to physical therapy four times a week to receive electroshock therapy. My therapist would send shocks through my leg, watching my toes curl and foot twitch before my eyes as I felt nothing.  I remember sitting in the physical therapy room, tears streaming down my face as I watched a girl running on the treadmill in the gym just outside the office.

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My surgeon recommended I get fit for a special brace that fits under your foot and runs up the back of your calf. It was smaller than the boot that I had been wearing, and would allow me to walk. If my nerves never came back, I would have to wear it everyday for the rest of my life. The man who took the mold for my leg and foot told me that he had never seen someone come back nerve damage after this long.  He told me it was a lost cause.

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The day after I got fitted for that brace, I was at physical therapy doing an exercise that involved watching myself in the mirror as I wiggled the toes on my good foot, then tried to wiggle them on the paralyzed foot. The level of frustration was high as time and time again I tried to lift my big toe and nothing happened.

Then, finally. It did.  My toe twitched.

My therapist screamed in excitement and I just stood, staring at my toe lifting about two centimeters off the ground.  With new motivation, I started practicing my PT exercises at home constantly. Within two weeks, I could wiggle all my toes and I could feel my finger touching the top of my foot, even though it was a bit tingley. Within three weeks, I had about 40% of the flexibility in my ankle back.  Within a month I went on my first run.

Five months after the initial break, I stepped on the treadmill hoping to make it a quarter mile. I made it three.  I barely made it out the door of the gym before I burst into tears. I went home and lay on my floor, sobbing with relief, and joy. I hadn’t realized just how terrified I had been at the possibility of paralysis.

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(First run in 5 months post paralysis)

The weeks and months immediately following were life changing.  I had always considered myself an athlete and a go-getter. I had moved from Los Angeles to Colorado a year earlier with hopes of living the true “Colorado Active Lifestyle”, and escaping the cliché LA life I had been involved in. I had wanted to go hiking, learn to snowboard, run marathons, triathlons, try CrossFit. But I hadn’t. I was still drinking too much, eating a diet of “low-fat-highly-processed” foods that didn’t nourish my body and  I wasn’t pushing myself outside my comfort zone. I wasn’t committing myself fully to physical things I wanted to achieve. And I had almost lost the chance to ever achieve them.

So I decided to change.

With the help of Chef Katelyn (chefkatelyn.com), I became inspired to try the Paleo Diet. I cut out all processed foods, and began learning what to feed myself to reach my full potential.  I got an amazing trainer and started training harder than ever before, incorporating lost of weigh lifting, HIIT exercises and long distance cardio.  I learned to climb. And snowboard.  I stopped talking about it, and finally decided to BE ABOUT IT.  And now, I couldn’t be happier.