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Archive for September, 2011

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by Dr. Deah on Sep.29, 2011, under Tasty Morsels: by Dr. Deah Schwartz

I have to write about food.  This week is the Jewish New Year, I’m from New “Yawk,” therefore, I have to “tawk” about food. 

I’m not going to write about the countless ways food and fat are related or the countless ways they are not.

I am not going to write about the gross misconception that ALL fat people have an eating disorder.

I am DEFINITELY not going to write about diets, calorie counting or Kirstie Alley’s latest weight loss miracle.

I just want to talk about the food I ate while I was growing up, in all of its glory and schmaltz.

I was a red diaper baby.  For those of you that are unfamiliar with that term, a red diaper baby is a child brought up by parents who sympathized with the United States Communist Party.  In my part of the world, Queens, a borough of New York City, red diaper babies were frequently the children of atheist Jews involved in politics with a communist or socialist bent.  As a child, this meant attending Pete Seeger and Paul Robeson concerts, learning pro-union songs and attending family summer camps in upstate New York or the Berkshires with names like Camp Kinderland and Midvale.  Because they emphasized the importance of social justice and peace, these camps were considered subversive organizations in the late 1940’s and I attended both of them as a child. I have fond memories of music, marshmallows, swimming and being far far away from the blistering heat of Far Rockaway, my hometown.

Being a red diaper baby also meant that I had minimal involvement with religious Jewish rituals. I learned early on that there were Cultural Jews and Religious Jews. We were the former and hence my sisters and I did not miss the multitude of school days that the Religious Jewish children did, (BOO), nor did we have to attend religious school on the weekends, (YAY)!  But thrice a year we passed over the line and joined the Religious Jews for Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and one night of Passover.

My father was very clear about the reasons for these “visits.”  They had less to do with god and religion and more to do with discrimination and oppression.  In regards to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the holiest of holy days, he’d explain,

“If we were living in Nazi Germany they wouldn’t give a flying f*#k if we went to temple or not, we’d be killed just because we were born Jewish. Today you stay home from school to let everyone know that you are a Jew.”

It was an early life lesson about the irrationality of prejudice and an opportunity to watch weekday cartoons.  Needless to say, we still weren’t fully in the camp of the “temple attending” Jews.

As far as Passover was concerned, that was all about pleasing my grandmother who had both feet firmly planted in the Religious Jew category and both hands firmly creating the most amazing potato latkes I have ever tasted to this day.

I want to talk about the food; the food that accompanies Jewish holidays.  The food I grew up with that offered comfort, closeness, community and cohesiveness.

I don’t want to talk about the calories or the confusion that grew as I grew older resulting from being told to eat and then criticized for being fat. (I did write a blog about that last year and here’s the link if you are interested.)

Mostly, I just want to reminisce with some of you and introduce others to a world of flavors and textures that filled my senses.  I didn’t know it then, but eating my grandma’s cooking was an exercise in mindful eating because in the world of mindful eating it is important to really appreciate food, to relish it, to conquer ones’ fear of it and to recognize satiety.

But satiety was not just about my stomach being full when it came to my grandma’s cooking.  It was about my heart being full of her happiness that we were all together and my arms being full of loved ones and my small hands full of dough as I helped Grandma shape the knishes.  Spoons and ladles overflowed as we fed each other tastes of the proverbial Jewish Grandmother chicken soup that, to borrow a metaphor from Ruth Reichl, was heaven “distilled in a spoon.”

kAnd her kugel, mouthwatering slippery egg noodles, buttery goodness, snuggling in between pillows of sweet pot cheese and a blanket of raisins. The top of the kugel was a comforter of crispy brown noodles.  How did she get the top so crispy and keep the inside so soft, smooth, and velvety?? Miraculously there were leftovers and the next day we would eat it cold. To my delight, it was just as yummy but with a whole different array of textures on the tongue.

And as we would wait for the oven to do its job, she would cut a Macintosh apple in half, scrape out one side with a teaspoon and feed me instant apple sauce…and if her apple tunnel connected to the other side of the fruit without breaking the dividing core with the seeds, I would squeal with pleasure. Then her face, usually furrowed with worries that I didn’t understand, smoothed out, and was replaced with a look of satisfaction with her accomplishment.

Her knishes were flawless; the flaky pastry that my cousin Susan and I would help her prepare were filled…no stuffed, with spicy peppery potatoes and the crispy top was so alluring that I would burn the top of my mouth every year because I just couldn’t wait to taste one.

And then there was the tsimmis, the only dish that could transform a prune into a good time for anyone under the age of 20 and the brisket that evaporated on my tongue, if it got there, it was so tender it would often slip through the tines of the fork.

Grandma’s matzoh balls would go down like a cloud but live in your stomach long enough to warrant jokes about issuing the knadlach a tenant’s lease, charging it rent and giving it a name! 

My grandmother had very old china and each dish was dedicated to a specific portion of the meal.  A covered bowl was the vessel for the kasha varnishkes, health food before health food was health food…who knew kasha would later be a staple during my hippie days? Years later I would be living in a tipi in New Hampshire, where I was one of the only Jewish people around, cultural or religious, and shopping at the co-op one day, I found kasha living off the radar, safely hiding underground under the alias of groats!

So here it is, the week of the Jewish High Holy Days.  And as I think about the food that accompanied my childhood years of celebrations, I find comfort in knowing that there are ways to connect with my family and other Jewish people that transcend our personal beliefs about god, or our worries about calories. Instead we sit down to a family style banquet that has to do with nurturing, and embracing our culture. I am satiated as I take in the smells, tastes, textures, memories and company, all ingredients of the holiday food that surrounds me.

Is there any wonder that it is called comfort food?


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by Dr. Deah on Sep.15, 2011, under Tasty Morsels: by Dr. Deah Schwartz

For women of a certain age, the slogan, “You’ve come a long way baby,” will light up memories of a certain ad for a certain cigarette.  In 1968, capitalizing on the feminist movement, a brand of smokes was introduced with an ad campaign intentionally targeted towards women.  Never mind that the slogan used a demeaning term for women or that using the product was suspected to shorten the very lives being recognized for having come such a long way; the ad was specifically designed to recruit new women smokers or seduce women smokers to wrap their lips around Virginia Slims.

Yes, the cigarette was actually called Virginia Slims and it was a very slim and slender cigarette; dainty and frilly and oh so feminist.  Take a deep breath now and inhale the irony that the Women’s Tennis Association Tour was sponsored by Virginia Slims back in the day. Ahh those were the days…days of feminist fire breathing tennis players.  But lest you think this is a tale of a time long ago, in 1990 Virginia Slims introduced their Virginia Slims Super Slim 100’s! Because we all know you can’t get slim enough!  Four years later, we were asked to suck on their Virginia Slims Kings…ironic really.  I would think that a cigarette with such strong feminist roots would call their product Virginia Slims Queens.  But perhaps that is more telling than it seems.

As I write this piece, it is fall, and no longer the 1990’s.   For most of the country, this means leaves changing colors, people turning back the clocks, and fashion articles about runway shows with special magazine inserts devoted to style style style.  And like the swallows to Capistrano, we are “visited” by the token plus size “fashionista” article, the outrage of underage underweight girly model stories, and pieces by writers like me opining away about the cancerous proliferation of eating disorders.

But this year, as I thumbed through the Style Magazine of the N. Y. Times, I noticed a drastic difference in the models; The MALE models.  Without exception, each was exceedingly thin, dressed in clothing that hung on them like shrouds…shapeless and limp.  Toothpicks of men standing next to toothpicks of women.  In the wake of hurricane Irene, I couldn’t help but flash on images of trees snapped in half by the wind as I looked at these bodies barely able to stand; looking equally frail and vulnerable.

Body dissatisfaction and eating disorders, once completely associated with girls and women, are now increasing among boys and men. Because I work in the field of ED (Eating Disorders, NOT Erectile Dysfunction a totally different male affliction) I have been aware of this trend for a while via journal articles and conference sessions.  What has been missing for me, however, was seeing evidence of this in my day to day life. Unfortunately, the prevalence of ED and Body Image issues among girls and women cannot be ignored. Every day is a new day filled with reminders of that cultural trend, but I hadn’t been bombarded with the male side of it until now.

A few days later, I read the article, “For Once the Guys Go First,” in which Eric Wilson writes about the male fashions during fashion week.  He is excited that the men are finally getting top billing in this predominantly female-centric arena, one of the few I might add, and the article did a spectacular job of keeping up with the “Janeses” by including the mandatory accompanying photos of models looking blankly into the camera.  One photo stood out; a rail thin soldier boy startling in his apathetic and anemic pose and pout.  If these are the boys being shipped overseas to fight in wars of “men” I’m afraid for their lives. Honestly, I think I could take them down in hand to hand combat.  Kidding aside, my heart ached for them and I wondered why are men volunteering for a war that doesn’t need to be waged?  In the past, male eating disorders were frequently triggered by photos of buff muscular men with biceps like big cigars and abs like…well…six packs.  Male body image dissatisfaction was centered around not being manly enough, and not wanting to look like the 98 pound weakling on the beach. Some folks will say this is progress! Skinny men are considered beautiful now.  Woo hoo!  And I’m not saying that skinny men aren’t attractive but at the risk of being a Dr. Deah Downer, this is a different brand of potential body hate that will ignite a different set of disordered eating behaviors tragic and as potentially deadly as tar and nicotine.

One of the true signs that a legitimate problem exists is if there is an association devoted to the problem.  I visited the National Association for Males with Eating Disorders (N.A.M.E.D.) website and had an email exchange with its director Christopher Clark.  Mr. Clark was very helpful and the newly updated website is filled with informative articles, resources, and statistics for anyone seeking more information or guidance.  It also provided ample proof that eating disorders is no longer just a female problem and that men have succeeded in breaking through the not so enviable glass ceiling of eating disorders and body dissatisfaction.  Females may still be leading the pack, but the males, unfortunately, are gaining ground.  This is not what the Equal Rights Movement had in mind, is it?

You’ve come a long way baby.


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by Dr. Deah on Sep.10, 2011, under Tasty Morsels: by Dr. Deah Schwartz

The expression no strings attached has its origin in the fabric industry.  If a piece of cloth was imperfect, a string would be placed there to let people know that there was a flaw.  A perfect piece of material, therefore, had no strings attached.

The expression no strings attached is also associated with traps and deception.  Elmer Fudd would place a big juicy carrot under a box with a string, Bugs would grab the carrot, a string would be pulled, the carrot would disappear and the box would twap the wabbit. A truly free gift of a carrot, therefore, has no strings attached.

People struggling with eating disorders and body dissatisfaction frequently find themselves tangled up in the strings of their loved ones’, families’, and friends’ support.   It’s a delicate subject to address because:

  • Their intentions come from a place of love.
  • Their concern is authentic.
  • The source of their actions is from the heart.

But a bribe is not support.

When someone says, “When you reach your goal weight I will buy you a new wardrobe,” that’s a bribe.

Or, “When you reach your goal weight I’ll give you five dollars for every pound you lost (or gained), that’s a bribe.

Conversely, if someone were to say, “I know you are strapped for money and if you need help buying clothes, please let me know,” that’s support.

Or, “I know money is tight right now and you want to join a gym, so if you need help paying for that just let me know,” that’s support.

There is a huge difference between the two.  One is truly caring and supportive with no strings attached. The other is a bribe, completely based on the premise, “If you do this for me, then I’ll do this for you.”

Now I know, people will insist they are not saying that you need to change your weight or your eating habits for them.  More likely they insist, “I am only thinking of you and want to help and support you.”

And in my opinion, most people REALLY believe this is true down to their core.  In most cases, our families and friends ARE concerned about our health and happiness.  Unfortunately they are also convinced that optimal health and happiness are attached to a certain number on the scale. But what happens if I accept the support aka bribe?  Does that mean that if I reach my goal weight, you buy me new clothes and I gain the weight back again, that I am unworthy of the support you offered in the first place?  Have I used up all of my “help cards?”

So what if we remove the words, “When you reach your goal weight,” and replace them with, “How can I support you in your decision to adopt healthier and happier lifestyle habits?”  Ahhh, big difference!  Then you are entering into a supportive relationship with your loved one that is NOT outcome based, but process based, on-going, infinite. And isn’t that what loved ones, family, and friends are really there for?

I am not saying this is easy.  This fine line between support and bribery, as I mentioned before, is a delicate subject.  Extrinsic positive reinforcement can be a powerful motivator.  And most of us are used to different kinds of reward systems for attaining goals.  But when the goal is an ongoing lifestyle change that is not attached to a specific weight or waist size, I’d like to suggest that any support offered or taken have…

NO STRINGS ATTACHED; like a perfect piece of fabric.



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