Category Archives: Health

On Gwyneth Paltrow and Reading My Book Out Loud

So that pile of papers is…my book!

In the biz, we call this “First Pass.” The manuscript has been revised, copy-edited, fact-checked and typeset… so this was the first time I got to read my words on pages that look like actual book pages, not a Word document. This is the second time I’ve edited a hard copy — I printed the whole Word doc out to line edit before I submitted my first draft last fall. But I did something a little different this time, which was to read the whole manuscript out loud. I got this tip from Anna Quindlen when I heard her interviewed on my favorite writing podcast; apparently she always reads her manuscripts out loud in their entirety. It sounds sort of obvious, but I can see why most people don’t do it. It is surprisingly exhausting to read a whole book out loud. One chapter takes several hours when you’re stopping to edit and also drink a lot of water. It took me the better part of two weeks to get through the whole thing.

But it was excellent advice. I found I caught far more mistakes and word reps and run-on sentences than I ever do reading silently. So much so that I am now slightly despairing that galleys (advance reading copies — the things that look a lot more like books but don’t have hard covers) are made from these First Pass pages before all my corrections went in. So if you get a galley from me in the next few weeks, please know the final book really is going to be oh so much better and maybe don’t even really read the galley, but just admire it from afar? (Unless I’m asking you to blurb, of course. And even then, maybe sort of skim?)

Okay but here are some things you can read — silently or out loud, your choice — while you’re waiting to read my book.

“If I can afford steak, why worry about buying beans?” Fascinating interviews with black men on how they perceive their food environments.

Should we use prisoners to study salt

Almost everybody gets unhealthy eventually: I love how Dr. Arya Sharma breaks down a new LANCET study, which tried to conclude that even if you’re “healthy fat” now, you’ll end up “unhealthy fat” later. (Short version: You probably will. But so will your “healthy thin” friend. It’s called aging!)

President Obama’s Lucky Pasta

It’s just not nice (or helpful!) to call your kid a picky eater. (And if there’s one thing I learned researching my book: Pickiness is in the eye of the beholder.)

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This is Why a Perfect Pregnancy is BS (Parents Magazine)

Why A Perfect Pregnancy is BS, Parents Magazine, Virginia Sole-Smith

It was the 18th week of my second pregnancy. I lay in a fake-leather recliner, holding my breath and my husband’s hand as a maternal fetal medicine specialist slid an ultrasound wand over my abdomen. This wasn’t your standard anatomy check. The doctor was trying to see if our baby had all four chambers of her heart. And if she would be spared the 12 surgeries, six months of hospital life, and countless moments of pain and panic that our first daughter endured during her early years.

 Violet was born with a rare collection of life-threatening congenital heart defects, all of which were somehow missed on the half-dozen ultrasounds I had during my pregnancy with her. We didn’t know anything was wrong until her heart began shutting down when she was a month old. Violet is now a happy and healthy 4-year-old who begins every sentence with “Actually… ” But her heart condition is lifelong. The question that haunted every conversation Dan and I had about a second child was: What if it happens again?

The odds of that were small, but much bigger than if it hadn’t happened the first time. So my second pregnancy was immediately classified as high risk. I underwent every genetic test and screening because my doctor was determined not to miss so much as a prenatal pimple. And so, after searching the grainy images of our baby on the ultrasound monitor for about ten minutes, my doctor turned to me with a huge smile. “Her heart is developing normally,” he said. “This baby gets an A+. Good work, Mom!”

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Talking Jimmy Kimmel, Heart Kids and Saving the ACA on CNN’s Don Lemon

I had a quick appearance on CNN with Don Lemon last night (watch it here). Pretty much everyone has been talking about Jimmy Kimmel’s beautiful monologue about his son Billy, who was born a few weeks ago with complex congenital heart defects. It’s thoughtful and eloquent (and still funny!), all the more so because he delivered it so soon after Billy’s first open heart surgery. Their family is just beginning to process this diagnosis and the traumatic journey they’re now on. But he recognized the importance of using his platform to raise awareness about protecting the Affordable Care Act, as the Republicans try once again to take it down.

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The Healthy Size Debate

Some Thoughts on What Makes a “Healthy Size.”I’ve been writing about the Health At Every Size movement for several years now. (Pictured above is a feature I wrote for Marie Claire in 2014; here are the archives of the body image blog I wrote for the now-defunct iVillage back in 2011.) And I’m revisiting it again this month because I’m writing the book’s chapter on obesity, and what it’s like to eat when you live in a larger body. So I thought I’d talk about it a little here, in case you’re not familiar with it. Health At Every Size (HAES for short, and I’ve heard it pronounced “hace” or “has”) is part public health strategy and part social justice movement. Proponents argue that we should let go of our national obesity obsession and focus on healthy habits (like eating well and moving more) to pursue improved health directly, regardless of whether we lose any weight in the process.

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[On Reading]

This week, I’ve been reading Bee Wilson’s First Bite, which is the fairly masterful book everybody asks “have you read…?” when I say I’m writing a book about how we learn to eat. This is actually a reread and I am once again dazzled by how poetically Wilson writes about scientific findings. Anyone who has to read medical journals on a regular basis knows that scientific studies are mostly written in the least exciting language possible, but Wilson has a real talent for turning those dense nuggets of research into accessible stories. She also tracks down some of the most incredible early research, like a 1926 study by Dr. Clara Davis, a pediatrician from Chicago, who “borrowed a number of infants” (mostly orphans) and fed them in controlled laboratory conditions for six years, in order to understand how our appetites and food preferences develop.

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It Cost $2.5 Million to Keep My Child Alive (Slate.com)

I’ve got a new piece up on Slate on how repealing the Affordable Care Act could impact families like mine (yes, even with employer-sponsored insurance). And it will do even more damage to poor families relying on Medicaid to pay for their children’s complex healthcare needs. A little background there: As part of their ACA repeal goals, Republicans want to convert Medicaid and Medicare entitlement funds into block grants, which means that the amount of money a state receives will no longer depend on how many of its citizens need coverage. When that happened to welfare, we saw states tighten up eligibility requirements so much that 74 percent of American families with children living in poverty are now no longer able to get cash assistance when they need it.

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New year, not so new diet trends.

A Mighty Girl

Ah, the first week of January. When my inbox overflows with press releases from weight loss companies, fitness experts and diet gurus, and even sober and reputable media outlets, like the New York Times, propose we all go on crash diets. (This year it’s op-ed columnist David Leonhardt telling us to go cold turkey on sugar for 30 days). It always sounds so possible, and even downright sensible, after the weeks of holiday excess. I know at my house, we’ve had a constantly refilling tray of cookies and a bowl of candy on the kitchen counter for much of the past month, and it was with no small relief that I dumped the last six stale cookies in the trash yesterday, after realizing I wasn’t morally obligated to finish them just because they were there.

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On Carbs, Comfort and Kids

This week, I’ve been interviewing parents of picky eaters, as well as a few adults who are themselves intensely picky. And there’s been an interesting moment in every conversation when I ask, “so, what do they eat?” Because almost every human, as it turns out, eats carbohydrates: Toast, pancakes, waffles, pasta, mac and cheese, bagels, pizza, some cereals, French fries, and maybe a heavily breaded chicken nugget. The most selective eaters may not be able to handle that whole list (one mother told me that the smell of pasta being dropped into a pot of boiling water can make her daughter gag). But they all eat at least a few foods on it, and often, very little else.

This makes a lot of sense. Every cell in our body requires glucose as its primary source of energy, and our brains, especially, depend upon it. (A child’s growing brain, even more.) Plus, carbohydrates, especially the processed kind, are predictable. “Bagels are always round, always the same color, and I know they’re filling,” one adult selective eater told me. “They feel very safe.” No other food group is as reassuringly uniform. The texture of a hamburger is entirely different from a steak or a chicken breast. Fruits and vegetables offer even more variety, as the flavor, color and smell of a single banana can transform completely from the day I bring it home, slightly green, from the store, to when I offer it for breakfast three days later, now covered in alarming black spots. Is it still the same food? Is it still safe to eat? My three-year-old doesn’t have the life experience to navigate these questions and she is understandably suspicious.

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On Sugar Fixes (and Fixer Upper)

Ice cream

This week, I’m thinking a lot about sugar. It’s almost Halloween, which means all of the (mostly) moms in the online parenting groups I follow have been despairing about how to manage the coming candy deluge. There’s a lot of pressure to make elaborately healthy treats from scratch, or at least buy organic lollipops in order to tempt kids away from the Mini Snickers. Meanwhile, the American Heart Association recently updated their guidelines to say that children under the age of 2 should consume no added sugar, while kids between the ages of 2 and 18 should consume no more than six teaspoons per day.

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The story of Violet’s heart. #CHDAwarenessWeek

The story of Violet's heart. #CHDAwarenessWeek

I’ve written about writing this piece before, so I won’t go into all that back story again. But I wanted to share the essay once again, since it’s the last day of Congenital Heart Disease Awareness Week. Already, since I first published this piece last August, several more states have passed laws requiring the pulse oximetry screening — which is truly terrific news. But it’s still not required in all 50 states. And even states that have the law on the books may be slow to enforce it — as was the case for us. So if you’re a new or expecting parent, it’s worth asking (and then double-checking) to be sure this life-saving test is performed.

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