Peace at the Table

Peace at the Table

Can a vegetarian and a carnivore agree in the kitchen? Add a little respect
and garnish with understanding, and eating in harmony may not
be as challenging as it seems.

By Susan Weiner, Energy Times, April 2011

When you met him, Cupid’s arrow struck. Handsome, intelligent and well-traveled, he shared your fundamental understanding of life. More importantly, he laughed at your jokes. It was a heavenly match sealed over red wine in a lakeside restaurant on a warm summer night. There was just one caveat: As a lifelong vegetarian you were gazing longingly into the eyes of an avid meat eater.

This scenario is becoming increasingly common. Whether for health, principle or simply the desire to save money, many people are cutting down on—or eliminating—their meat intake. In what is still an overwhelmingly omnivorous country, however, that trend can lead to kitchen conflicts in families (or families to be).

It’s hard to argue with the health benefits of a produce-powered diet. In one study comparing low-carb diets based on either animal products or vegetables, the veggie lovers had lower rates of hypertension, coronary heart disease, diabetes and LDL cholesterol along with decreased risks of colon and breast cancer, and lower overall death rates (Annals of Internal Medicine 9/10).

Sustainable Choices

Sara Moulton, a chef who showcases both meats and vegetables in her recipes, is frustrated by a lack of vegetable-based fare at many eateries. “Let’s face it. Eating meat is easier,” says the sustainability-minded Moulton, a cookbook author and Food Network veteran ( In her latest book, Sara Moulton’s Everyday Family Dinners (Simon & Schuster), she includes suggestions on how to make any recipe vegetarian. “I was trying to get away from the slab of meat, the piles of starch and the vegetable. I tried to use meat more as a flavoring,” she explains.

Moulton was a vegetarian in college because she could only afford vegetables and grains. Now, as family cook for her husband and two children, “I eat some meat every so often and poultry,” she says. “I am a huge fan of fish and eat that as often as I can. At home, I am trying to cut down on the meat portions for the whole family, and I will often use it as a flavoring, not as the center of the plate. We probably eat vegetarian once a week.” At home, Moulton doesn’t believe in preparing special meals for picky eaters. She made a point of exposing her kids to foreign cuisine when they traveled. “Everybody’s palate has to grow up,” she says.

Still, each member of the Moulton family has food preferences that Moulton manages to accommodate by “bulking up the vegetables. My son likes meat and starch, my daughter likes some meat and lots of vegetables, and my husband will eat anything, so I just make sure there are lots of choices, especially in the vegetable category,” Moulton says. “At home, I always make sure we have plenty of options around. I don’t believe in forcing anyone to eat what they don’t want.” That same easygoing attitude towards menu-planning can help defuse tensions in a family where not everyone eats meat.

The Reeder family has pondered the significance of food choices ever since five-year-old Olivia introduced her vegan friend as a “meat orphan.” “And thus began the meat versus non-meat discussions in our home,” recalls Diane Reeder, chef and executive director of The Queens Galley Food Insecurity Resource Center in Kingston, New York, an educational center and soup kitchen serving over 9,000 chef-prepared meals each month (

“The balance we strike is not a choice between having meat or not, but rather making a determined effort to buy meat that is raised humanely with as little impact on the environment as possible. I buy meat when I know the name of the farmer that raised it,” Reeder says. “It does cost significantly more, so we purchase smaller amounts. When meat is raised with care and respect for the animal, that transfers to our plates.”

Tricia Barry agrees. As communications director at Farm Sanctuary, a group working to change the way society treats animals (, Barry went from meat eater to vegan when she learned about how commercial livestock are raised.

“Animals raised on today’s industrialized farms are crowded in factory farm warehouses and confined so tightly that they cannot walk, turn around or lie down comfortably,” notes Barry. According to a 2006 United Nations report, animal agriculture contaminates soil, damages crops, pollutes lakes and rivers with waste runoff and pathogens, and releases greenhouse gases.

Talking About Eating

Troubled by the poor quality of mass-produced food, Reeder teaches a class in which she takes students shopping. “It’s literally an aisle-by-aisle walk through the various departments, pointing out the pitfalls, myths and mysteries in the supermarket,” explains Reeder. “The bonus points come when you start to look at the things in your cart and decide not to buy chicken that is neon yellow and ‘enhanced’ by a seasoned broth.” If you are the vegetarian in your family, taking such a tour can spark a discussion that will allow other family members to make informed choices about their eating habits.

While Barry’s husband, Ian, is a flexitarian—someone who consumes fish or meat on occasion—the family maintains a vegan kitchen. “Within our household, we agree to eat vegan and I only cook vegan,” says Barry. “Our child has been raised a vegan thus far. However, I know that as he grows, he will come to his own decisions and I will respect that.”

With compassion and understanding, Barry believes meat-eaters and vegans can dine in harmony. “It’s a bit unrealistic to assume that whichever person one plans to be in a relationship with will share all of your ethics, beliefs and habits,” says Barry. “I think for the sake of a healthy relationship, though, it helps to find someone who values one’s choice to be vegan. My husband has always respected my decision to be vegan. He sees it as a more compassionate way to live.”

As far as Heidi Skolnik is concerned, vegetarians and meat eaters living harmoniously under the same roof is a no-brainer. “Where is the conflict?” asks Skolnik, MS, a certified dietician nutritionist and president of Nutrition Conditioning, a nutrition consulting practice serving the greater New York metropolitan area ( “As long as the vegetarian allows the meat eater to eat meat, and the meat eater is willing to eat vegetarian options, what’s the big deal?”

With so many aspects to a meal—salad, soup, vegetable, starch, appetizer—protein compromise is easy, says Skolnik. “The meat eater can have chicken or beef for an entrée, the vegetarian can eat tofu or beans. Instead of having a chicken noodle soup for a starter, you can have a lentil soup,” suggests Skolnik, who has provided nutrition counseling to the New York Mets and the Juilliard School of Music. When children opt to go vegetarian or vegan, says Skolnik, shop for books or take a cooking class together. “You need to help ensure they’re nutritionally balanced and support them in their choices.”

Your new husband hasn’t given up his carnivorous ways. However, he does eat the vegetarian meals you prepare. What’s more, he has begun experimenting in the kitchen with vegetables, grains, meat substitutes and spices, and has switched to reduced portions of mostly organic, free-range meat. You haven’t imposed your food preferences on him—but life in the kitchen is peaceful for both of you.

March 28, 2013 Posted Under: Energy Times, Healthy Eating, Vegans, Vegetarians   Read More

Head and Heart

Head and Heart

Beyond pain: Migraines have been linked to higher cardiovascular disease risk.

by Susan Weiner, Energy Times, February 2011

The French have a saying that translates as “the heart is forever making the head its fool.” For those who endure migraines, the opposite may be true: Migraine sufferers are slightly more prone to heart attacks and other cardiovascular ills than others.

According to the National Headache Foundation (NHF,, 70% of the more than 29 million Americans with migraine are women; fluctuating estrogen levels may be the reason. While the precise cause of migraines is not fully understood, swelling of blood vessels in the brain can trigger throbbing pain in the eye, jaw or face, sensitivity to light and sound, and nausea and vomiting. Stress, lack of food or sleep, anxiety, weather changes and certain foods can set off an attack.

Visual disturbances known as aura—such as partial blindness or seeing flashing lights—that may accompany migraine appear to be especially problematic. Among women 45 and older who experience aura, the risk of dying from heart attack, stroke and heart disease is twice that of women without migraine (BMJ 8/24/10 online).

People with migraine were found to be twice as likely to experience heart attack, diabetes or a heart abnormality; aura pushed risk to the highest levels (Neurology 2/23/10).

However, the threat posed by migraines is not as great as that of other risk factors. “Being twice as likely to have a heart attack translates into 4.1% of people with migraine compared with 1.9% of those without, which is not that much of an increase in real numbers,” explains Carolyn Dean, MD, ND, author of The Magnesium Miracle (Ballantine;

Most migraine sufferers would tell you that reducing the risk of an attack is a worthy goal of its own. In one NHF survey, nine out of 10 reported not being able to function normally when a migraine strikes.

Life-Altering Headaches

Jodie Pulkinen knows how migraines can disrupt one’s existence. To relieve the pain she has hidden in dark rooms, driven to the emergency room for shots of Demerol and ingested enough ibuprofen to cause liver damage. She’s also struggled with a heart condition marked by chest pain, fatigue, rapid heart rate and palpitations.

In 2004, Pulkinen’s resting heart rate stayed at the very high 220 beats per minute for several hours. Soon after she underwent a mitral valve catheter ablation, a procedure that fixed her heart and unexpectedly lessened her migraines. “I never thought the migraines and the heart condition were connected,” says Pulkinen, 43, a project coordinator for the American Lung Association in Burdett, New York. “After the surgery, I had fewer headaches. If I’d known, I could have done something about my heart a long time ago.”

After the surgery Pulkinen made dietary changes. “I cut out all caffeine,” she says. “No coffee, no soda, no chocolate. I’ve reduced my sugar intake as well.” Migraine sufferers should also avoid an amino acid byproduct called tyramine, found in a number of foods and food additives including MSG, aged cheese, sauerkraut, alcohol and preserved meats. Eating cold foods can trigger migraines, as can skipping meals and becoming dehydrated. In addition, extra body fat has been found to both provoke migraines and increase heart risk.

Taking a magnesium supplement and eating magnesium-rich foods such as green vegetables and whole grains can not only fend off migraines but also help maintain a steady heart rhythm and lower blood pressure. This mineral, which prevents blood vessel spasms and regulates pain receptors, has been shown to help ease migraine (Magnesium Research 6/08). “A deficiency in magnesium will cause migraines and heart disease. Treating with magnesium can treat both,” says Dean.

Relaxing for Relief

Migraines and heart disease run in the family of Andrew Levy, PhD. In addition to taking blood pressure medication that eases migraines, Levy, an English professor at Butler University in Indianapolis and author of A Brain Wider Than The Sky: A Migraine Diary (Simon & Schuster), eats less, exercises more and practices stress reduction. “The fact that doctors have told me about these potential links between heart disease and migraine has actually not been a source of stress for me,” says Levy. “It has helped me to understand my own body better from a holistic standpoint.”

As Levy has discovered, learning how to relax is a key to reducing migraines. In one study, a combination of gentle yoga postures and breathing exercises lessened migraine frequency and pain, and improved mood (Headache 5/07).

Migraine sufferers can also benefit from the herb feverfew, which slows the production of inflammatory compounds and helps maintain proper vessel tone. A combination of folic acid, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12 may reduce migraine frequency and lower levels of homocysteine, an amino acid linked to coronary disease and migraines (Pharmacogenetics and Genomics 6/09). CoQ10, a supplement best known for its cardiac benefits, may help reduce migraine frequency.

If your migraines persist, see a practitioner and don’t assume the worst. As Aristotle once wrote, “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.”

When It Isn’t a Migraine

It’s hard to find an adult who hasn’t had a headache at least occasionally. But for some people headaches are, if not a daily occurrence, frequent enough to interfere with their quality of life. Besides migraine, the National Headache Foundation classifies chronic headache into the following categories:

  • Cluster: Described as even more severe than migraines, these headaches occur in groups and with little warning for weeks or months before disappearing for months or years. They tend to strike late at night or in the morning. Most sufferers are men, and both smoking and alcohol use are precipitating factors.
  • Hormone: These headaches can occur as part of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) or accompany the menstrual period itself; some women may experience hormonal headaches as they pass through menopause. Pregnancy usually brings relief from migraines because hormones don’t fluctuate the way they usually do during a woman’s menstrual cycle. Migraines that do occur during pregnancy tend to strike in the first trimester.
  • Rebound: Headaches triggered by the over-use of medications, particularly those that contain caffeine.
  • Sinus: Headaches triggered by infection, inflammation or other problems with the sinuses. Symptoms include a dull ache in the forehead or behind the cheekbones and a sense of sinus fullness.
  • Tension: Most headaches that occur every once in a while fall into this category, but some people experience tension headaches on a chronic basis. More annoying than throbbing, these headaches are often centered in the forehead, temples or back of the head and the neck; some people feel as though a band is being tightened around the head. Chronic tension headache can stem from physical causes—poor posture or lighting, eyestrain, misalignments of the jaws or teeth, spinal problems involving the neck—or emotional ones such as anxiety or depression.

A sudden, severe headache can signal the occurrence of a stroke; such headaches are medical emergencies, especially if accompanied by a sudden lack of balance, difficulty speaking and/or weakness on one side of the body. A relatively small number of headaches can stem from other organic causes such a brain tumors or infections, or other serious—but fortunately rare—conditions.

If you suffer from frequent headaches, try keeping a pain diary: when the pain starts, the nature of the pain (throbbing, dull, piercing) and where it occurs, any other symptoms and what you took for relief. If you can see a pattern, trying also keeping a food diary as well—sometimes a simple change in diet can do the trick. Some people find relief through acupuncture, massage and other kinds of bodywork. If your headaches are stress-related, make your you get adequate supplies of vitamin B and both calcium andmagnesium, which are available in combination supplement form; the herb white willow bark may also help.

February 15, 2011 Posted Under: Energy Times, Health & Wellness, Migraines   Read More

Love Yourself Thin

Love Yourself Thin

You don’t have to spend the rest of your life bingeing and feeling bad about it.

by Susan Weiner, Energy Times, January 2011

Sometimes your strongest cravings for food take place when you’re feeling the weakest emotionally. A stressful day at the office may steer you to the nearest fast-food eatery for a double cheeseburger, while an night spent arguing at home might end with a bowl of ice cream.

Food does more than simply fill the stomach when used to feed mounting emotions in situations such as these. At that point it can sabotage good diet intentions and lead to a never-ending cycle of bingeing and self-blame.

While few of us take pleasure in facing tumultuous feelings of depression, anger, sadness and resentment, stuffing these emotions inside can eat away at self-esteem, triggering anxiety and an irresistible urge to indulge. An unhealthy binge commonly leads to feelings of guilt and a cascade of self-blame that tends to repeat itself.

When you take a harsh view of yourself as weak, overweight and unable to lose weight, those negative thoughts only perpetuate weight gain. In fact, when participants in one study engaged in self-criticism and self-blame, their brains showed activity in brain regions correlated with depression, eating disorders and anxiety (NeuroImage 1/15/10).

“When we feel really bad, either from an uncomfortable emotion or when we add insult to injury through criticizing ourselves, we may try to avoid or ward off the feeling by eating. That’s emotional eating, and it’s a defense against feeling bad,” explains Christopher K. Germer, PhD, clinical psychologist and author of The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion (The Guilford Press, ( “We do it to bypass the pain and to feel better. It’s an excellent short-term solution, but the long-term consequences can be devastating.”

The remedy to emotional overeating, suggests Germer, is mindfulness—being aware of your emotions and how they affect you—and self-compassion. These practices give you the strength to evaluate what’s really bothering you and to respond with self-kindness rather than criticism. “That gives us a little more mental space to make healthy choices,” says Germer. “Self-compassion is a new habit that anyone can learn. Deep within all beings is the wish to be happy and free from suffering.”

Baby Steps

After gaining more than 40 pounds, Lauren Tobin learned how to practice self-compassion, which ultimately allowed her to drop the excess weight. “I think back emotionally to what was going on in my life at the time and there was a lot,” recalls Tobin, 40, mother of two young girls and controller for a packaging company in Oaks, Pennsylvania. “You don’t feel well, you eat and then you don’t feel well because you ate. At the end of the day, I don’t think eating a bag of pretzels and dip will change the outcome of how you feel about your life.”

Feeling lethargic and low on energy, Tobin divided her weight-loss strategy into manageable steps that included incorporating healthier foods into her diet, exercising, maintaining a food diary and evaluating the emotional triggers that spurred her to overeat.

“I had to find a different way, when I was feeling down or depressed, to not automatically turn to food. One day I just made a decision,” notes Tobin. “I broke it up into small goals so it wasn’t such a daunting task.”

A simple mental exercise to help you achieve your weight-loss goals is substituting “self-compassion breaks” in lieu of food breaks. Germer suggests that you find a quiet place, put your hand on your heart, take three deep breaths and tell yourself you are in a moment of suffering (mindfulness), that suffering is a part of everyone’s life (common humanity) and that you want to be kind to yourself (self-kindness).

This type of self-compassion, explains Germer, is a self-soothing alternative to food. “These practices can interrupt the automatic connection between stress and eating,” he says.

Releasing Weight

As the handsome star of the popular soap opera “One Life to Live,” Freeman Michaels based his success on how the world perceived him. After leaving acting behind in the mid-1990s, a thriving real estate development company provided Michaels with that same sense of security. “I thought if I was famous, I’d be happy. I thought if I was rich, I’d be happy,” says Michaels. But when his business failed during the real estate crash, his weight ballooned to nearly 280 pounds.

A self-described “latchkey kid,” Michaels admits that he has turned to food for comfort during much of his life. “I ate my way through my troubles. All these attempts in my life to make it from the outside in were never sustainable,” he says. “At no point was I ever really okay, not with myself and not with my eating.”

A speaker, workshop trainer and author of Weight Release: A Liberating Journey (Morgan James), Michaels received a masters degree in spiritual psychology and founded the Service to Self Process (, a life coaching program that helps clients examine food-related behaviors, explore “self-honoring” alternatives and create healthy practices that ultimately become habits.

“A lot of us are feeding something inside. It can be an expression of rebelling, of deflecting unwanted attention, of abuse,” says Michaels. “What we do today is the process of applying compassion to the part of us that hurts. The minute we apply compassion, it lifts.” Instead of reacting from the painful past, Michaels suggests creating healthy rituals such as walking and meditating, generating intention between bites by focusing on healthy food choices, and writing down a list of wholesome foods along with their health benefits for extra motivation.

Learning to break free from mindless, emotionally driven eating—and the self-blame it creates—may feel a little awkward at first if you have always reached for cookies in times of crisis. But Tobin and Michaels say they are living proof that the results are well worth the effort. “When you do something repeatedly, over time it becomes easier to do,” says Michaels. “Compassion allows us to see clearly. It’s a healing journey.”