Category Archives: health

cheesy bread and health

Not to confuse you, but today’s post contains 2 completely unrelated topics: my love for cheesy anything bread, and my battle for regular, routine physical activity to promote overall good health. I am not insinuating that cheesy bread promotes health, although it might promote mental health. A life without cheese or bread is not one worth living, in my humble opinion (I don’t know how those paleo folks do it…).

First… cheesy goodness

Have you ever been to a Brazilian steakhouse? If so, you might be familiar with those delicious, soft, chewy cheesy bread rolls that you are supplied with in endless quantities. I found the recipe today and am looking for an excuse to make them! And yes, as a vegetarian, I have been subjected to the extremely overpriced salad bar at numerous Brazilian steakhouses. The cheesy side dishes were the only redeeming quality of these visits.

Now… burn those calories

I started the Couch 2 5K program yesterday, after downloading the handy app. (This, of course, makes me feel validated to bake the previously mentioned cheesy bread). The app was great in that it allowed me to listen to my own music selection, and just chime in every 60 or 90 seconds and tell me to either start running or walking. I was dripping in sweat after the 30 minute workout, and have slightly sore quadriceps today, so I’ll take that as a success! (as a grad student success – I also was able to finish my class reading during the run/walk workout!)

In starting this C25K program, I feel the need to find a way to motivate me to see this program to completion. Two ideas are floating in my head. First is to sign up for a local 5K event in November. I should’ve been able to make it through the 8 week program by then, and even if I cannot run the whole 5K, I will be much more successful and confident than I am today!

I know from personal experience how motivating it is to already have a race in sight. I trained with Team in Training for 2 half-marathons (2008, 2009). I kept detailed workout logs, with each session documented (weather, attire, mileage, physical symptoms, etc). For anyone who knows me, this shouldn’t come as a surprise Smile


So, a race can be a great motivator, something to set your sights on for the long-term. But what about something to motivate you during the training process? When regular workouts are getting old/boring/time-consuming, and/or grad school becomes ever-more-intensive.

Well, having a team or a friend to workout with is always helpful. We call this accountability. And it certainly helped for my half-marathons. But right now, I don’t have that.

I’m considering an iPhone app called Gym-Pact, which uses financial incentives (i.e. the threat of taking your money away if you don’t workout) to keep you on track. You make a pact each week for how many workouts you plan to do, and how much money you’re willing to lose if you don’t. You then log in those workouts at your local gym (using GPS check-ins) and either make money if you successfully logged in enough workouts, or lose money if you fail. Where does the money come from? All the couch potatoes who don’t make it to the gym.

It’s grounded in wonderful behavioral economics theory (which we all know I love), which might actually be the biggest reason I’m considering it. haha. It’s not a method for getting rich or anything, but the threat of losing money is a powerful motivator, especially for poor graduate students!

I’ll keep you updated on how it goes…


heavy breathing

This Monday, I had the day off from school, although we had a take-home midterm exam to complete, so it wasn’t really a day of rest. My plan was to complete the take home exam… until my bike shop called and said that my bike was back and ready for me to pick up.


I was so excited to have my working bike back in my little apartment, that I immediately mapped out my first “real ride” to conquer Tuesday after work. I was aiming for 10 miles, but settled for this almost- 8 mile route through Chapel Hill neighborhoods. I got the route sent to my phone, started my timer, and was off.

Below is the elevation graph. I had seen this before the ride, and knew it would be hilly, but I live in Chapel Hill, so I wasn’t too concerned. After all, isn’t that what having a bike with 24 gears is for?


Yeah… see that this route ranged from gradients of –4% to +5%? Do you know what they means? Let me tell you…

It means that the first 2 miles of your ride is really nice. Flat greenways through neighborhoods, riding past families out with their dogs, feeling happy with the breeze blowing in your face.

THEN you hit mile 2.5 and it the road becomes a flipping cliff straight up into the air. Of course, I changed into a lower gear, but didn’t make it very far at all. Even my quick stops for water and checking the map wouldn’t help restore my legs. I ended up walking up most of that hill, and even walking was a struggle because my poor quads were screaming for pain. I don’t remember ever breathing that hard in my life!

The next few miles had some ups and downs, but it wasn’t too bad overall (until I forgot to continue my timer on my iPhone during one of my many water breaks that I take because I’m not coordinated enough yet to drink water while riding) . And then you hit mile 5.5 going downhill. I never realized how scary downhill can be! Granted, I was also on the very narrow sidewalk of a really major road, and the sidewalk was bumpy and not fun, but I was having to completely ride my brakes the whole way down to control my speed. It was potentially more terrifying than the uphill. At least I could stop going up a hill (and lay down and cry). If something happened flying down this hill, I’d most likely fly off the bike and die seriously injure myself.

And then the last 2 miles were perfectly fun and flat. Why can’t it all be like that??!!?

It ended up taking me a full hour to do this 7.8 mile ride, which is pathetic, but certainly a humbling experience. And amazingly, I haven’t been sore at all in the following days. Maybe I should go out and try this ‘bike’ thing again…

However, my next route (9 miles tonight!) will have a beautiful elevation graph like this:


Much better Smile

first week of summer school done!

Just made it through my first full week of summer class. I can’t say that being in class (and just one class) for 5 hours a day is awesome, but so far it’s been much more enjoyable than the 3 hour classes I had last semester. It’s a Public Health Nutrition Management course, and so far we’ve been talking about social issues related to health and the role of the public health system.  I was going to write a post of the effect of community and social support on health, but I don’t really have the time for that right now. I need to pack and get ready for my fun weekend!

But to back up to this afternoon – I did all my errands on foot this afternoon (have I mentioned how much I LOVE living in a place where I can walk everywhere??). I walked to Whole Foods for lunch (thanks again parents for the gift card!) and then to the gym for a comprehensive workout sans my trainer, then to the mall and library to pick up some guidebooks for an upcoming trip to our nation’s capitol:


Really weird thing happened both at the gym and walking home afterwards: I got some cramping/twinging in my toes and calves. I’m not sure why this is; I rarely get any type of muscle cramp, but when I attempted to jog on the treadmill, it was like there were aliens in my legs pinching certain muscles to cramp up, and was not pleasant. Reminded me of the last 1/2 mile of the Country Music Half-Marathon in Nashville, where I attempted to run my fastest to the finish line, only to be stopped by terrible calf cramping. What the heck? It wasn’t low electrolytes due to fasting or sweating, and the only thing I can think of was my just eating a decadent lunch at whole foods? Oh well… I cannot resist their pesto portabella pizza slices when I walk past Smile

So now I am off to pack and get ready for a fun weekend with Matt. Hope you all enjoy your weekend – make it a good one!

behavioral economics at the gym

Are you ready for another post related to behavioral economics? I find this topic so fascinating – using our knowledge of psychology and how people make decisions, to subtly change the environment and influence what decisions people will make. Some might think it’s creepy and controlling, but I like it. Instead of big brother, I prefer the term “big mother”. In the public health world, this is all about changing the environmental cues/defaults so people can more easily make healthier decisions (eat better/less, move more, etc).

Again, this is the book I am currently reading and highly recommend!


One of the interesting things I learned this past week from the book is that people would rather never gain something, than lose it. For instance, people would rather not be given $1,000 in the first place than to be given $1,000 and then have it taken away. Makes some sense, right? They’ve been able to determine this through various studies (the mug study is classic) and translate it into real world approaches.

So, how can we apply this principle in the world of public health? Take fitness levels. It makes sense that once you work hard to attain a certain level of fitness, you do not want to lose it. In fact, you might be more willing to have stayed out of shape entirely, than to work hard on your fitness goals, make progress, and then lose all that progress and go make to square one (makes me think of the old “chutes and ladders” game!).

At least… this is how it is for me. Since starting graduate school, I’ve been working out with a personal trainer on a most-weekly basis. It’s funny that I’m paying money for doing exercises that I was fully capable of doing on my own before, but this time there is accountability and it is actually leading me to improvements in fitness and strength. Climbing up the ladder, so to speak, is encouraging me to stick with it. Had I never started this personal training, I wouldn’t have had much “invested” in to keep doing these kinds of exercises. But now, having gained that strength, I don’t want to lose it, and so I (mostly) keep up with it. And then I go and start reading “Nudge” and see that I am a textbook case of … well, being human 🙂

Anyone else enjoying the ideas of behavioral economics?

those clever wansink brothers

Many of you are probably familiar with the work of Brian Wansink, who heads the Food and Brand lab at Cornell, wrote the book “Mindless Eating” and has done awesome experiments to show exactly what makes Americans eat so much (and it has nothing to do with our knowledge about nutrition). Things like big plates, friends that eat a lot, cheap prices… all environmental cues. For people like me who find this fascinating, I highly recommend his book, as well as this one that I’m currently reading on behavioral economics.

Yesterday, however, while watching the CBS Sunday Morning show, I learned that there is another smart Wansink brother – Craig Wansink, who is in the Religious Studies department at Virginia Wesleyan. Put them together, and what type of study do you think they could work on?

How about: portion distortion of the last supper?

Yes! What an interesting idea, says the art historian in me (I took AP Art History in high school, so I am somewhat knowledgeable). Most of us in the nutrition world think about portion distortion as something that has occurred since the 1950s or 60s, not over the past thousand years! However, that is exactly what the Wansink brothers found. Analyzing 52 of the most well-known depictions of the last supper, they found that the plate size increased 66% and overall meal size by 69%, with the largest increase happening between the years 1500 and 2000.

So, if even Jesus wasn’t immune to portion distortion – how can we possibly expect everyone else to be able to eat controlled amounts? My experience with counseling knows that teaching nutrition knowledge does little to make positive behavior changes (i.e. “eat less”) when there are so many environmental cues to eat more. Thus, I think behavioral economics and the changing of “defaults” is the way to go. Stay tuned for more about this topic!