[New Yorker] Against the Grain: Should you go gluten-free?

What’s so bad about gluten anyway?

“To find out the effect something like gluten has on people’s diets is complicated,’’ he said. “We’ll need long-term studies, and there won’t be a useful answer for years. So, instead of telling everyone you are going on a gluten-free diet, what if you said, ‘Hey, I am going on an experimental regimen, and it will be years before we know what effect it might have.’ I don’t know about you, but instead of saying ‘Eat this because it will be good for you,’ I would say, ‘Good luck.’ ’’

‘This is getting out of hand. We are seeing more and more cases of orthorexia nervosa”—people who progressively withdraw different foods in what they perceive as an attempt to improve their health. “First, they come off gluten. Then corn. Then soy. Then tomatoes. Then milk. After a while, they don’t have anything left to eat—and they proselytize about it. Worse is what parents are doing to their children. It’s cruel and unusual treatment to put a child on a gluten-free diet without its being indicated medically. Parental perception of a child’s feeling better on a gluten-free diet is even weaker than self-perception.”


The New Yorker always brings it with nuanced, well-research, and unbiased reportage.

how does stress affect your hair?


Like skin, hair health can be a strong indicator of overall health. How often do you take a look at the texture, shine, or strength of your hair? Hair that looks dull, breaks easily, or has weak follicles might mean that you have nutritional deficiencies you need to address. We’ve all heard about how stress affects hair growth and texture due to malabsorption, hormonal change, or other stressors, but we don’t talk enough about stress-related behaviors. Trichotillomania affects many people. Even those who are not diagnosed with OCD may engage in hair pulling behavior when they are stressed out. Have you found yourself mindlessly seeking out crinkly strands of hair or searching for that patch of itchy hair on your scalp? It can be a really satisfying behavior because it focuses your attention on the sensation rather than whatever worry you have on your mind. Doing this repeatedly can lead to bald spots, some of which can be permanent. If you notice yourself losing more hair during periods of high stress, make a conscious effort to divert your attention from your scalp. Simple, yet very difficult. Take a moment to write down the to-do list looping in your mind and identify what emotions you might be going through. The most effective way of addressing destructive behaviors is to get underneath the habit, to figure what your triggers really are.


False promises

There are also tons of supplements on the market that promises great hair in a bottle. Before you add things like Biotin to your routine, note that it can have really adverse effects on your skin; it can break you out. Like most things, please talk to your doctor before changing up your medications and supplements. People who benefit the most from Biotin are nutritionally deprived of b vitamins. Likewise, other popularly recommended things like gelatin, fish oil, etc., have not been shown to have conclusive ameliorating effects on hair health. If you’re looking at products like Rogaine, beware that the side effects can be very unpleasant, including hair growth in unintended area. It is also not a long-term solution since hair regrowth typically stops when you cease treatment.


LOVED LINKS: skincare

I’ve spent my entire life struggling with bad skin, from an unfortunate combination of genetics and environment. As a teenager, I was a sucker for those adverts for the types of products that promised to nuke your skin. I also foolishly gallivanted in the sun without any protection because laziness. I’ve since atoned. It’s never too late to treat your skin health as lovingly as you can, because skin health is an indicator of overall health and fitness. Not to mention that melanoma is one of the rising killers of Americans.

Instead of half-assing my way towards a skincare routine (what, you have to have a routine!??), I’ve taken the evidence-based route. There is so much misinformation out there about the science of skincare. Don’t be a sucker for fancy packaging and futuristic promises that are too good to be true. Know your ingredients. Skincare doesn’t have to be expensive, but whatever you choose, make sure you are consistent.

Above all, rely on evidence-based medicine, not fads. I’ve learned a lot in my skincare journey. The following are a few of my favorite blogs that deconstruct and analyze claims about ingredients, formulations, and the latest research.

Hoojoo Skincare

Beauty Brains: cosmetic scientists who also have a great podcast!

Beautiful with Brains

Brightest Bulb in the Box: Beauty for Critical Minds…. she is the bestest, no bullshit betch

Chemist Corner


PocketDerm: yes, they are a service, but they’re also amazing doctors.

Skin and Tonics: great reviews, esp of Korean products

Moolissa? More like, BOO-lissa: the dish on dairy + acne

You might know me as the person with the best skincare routine ever. I was preaching the gospel of “actives” across the intertoobs. Not one to toot my own horn, but I pretty much miracle-workered myself. Within 6 months, I went from pizza face to one that was fairly clear, smooth, and healing from hyperpigmentation scars. Since puberty, I’ve always had acnegenic skin that managed to be both dehydrated and oily. Genetics, right? What a bitch. Finding r/SkincareAddiction saved my skin. I learned about BHA and AHAs, how chemical exfoliants performed better than physical exfoliants. Tossing out my face scrubs (go to hell, St. Ives apricot!) and creating a routine that kept my skin moisturized and clear (no more oily skin!) meant that I could go bare face more often.

And then… this happened.


acne 7-1 wm

There’s a cluster of acne on the chin with some closed comedomes and whiteheads joining the party.


There’s a lot of contributing factors to acne, almost as many as the number of treatments out there. I’ve been experimenting with some new skincare products in the past month. I know, I know, why mess with perfection? I couldn’t help myself to new skincare! Luckily, no deleterious effects came from the new products. I always patch test and add one new product at a time. That way, I can easily identify the cause of any skin irritation. Aside from a couple closed comedomes, my skin didn’t explode with this level of acne until a week ago. In fact, I haven’t had a break out this bad for a few months. The last time this happened it was because I was consuming a lot of skim milk. I haven’t consumed dairy in earnest for a number of years. From time to time, I’d have some cream sauce, stilton, or ice-cream, but never made the connection between dairy and acne.




Apparently, I am allergic to dairy. I didn’t know that was a thing. I’ve heard of lactose intolerance, but this is a whole different ballgame. I tried lactose-free milk for a few weeks because I thought lactose was the problem. LIES. These past few weeks have been full of fro-yo and ice-cream bars. Bad for the fitness bet, and bad for my face. I should know better.

Should you abstain from dairy for clear skin? Technically, the scientific literature is unclear about this. THERE IS NO STRONG CORRELATION, much less causation, BETWEEN DAIRY AND ACNE/INFLAMMATION. At least universally.  For most folks, dairy products are harmless. In fact, it’s one of the best high-satiety foods for diets. If you have an intolerance or allergy to dairy, however, you might want to double check your skin to see if abstaining from dairy products will make a difference. I know it’s hard, but put down the cheetos. And walk away.


works cited

I quit!

My job, that is.

As silly as it may sound, I picked up a labor-intensive job to boost my fitness progress. It made a lot of sense at the time. Ahem. Knowing that I didn’t want to get a gym membership because I really couldn’t be bothered, plus I’d feel guilty about wasting money, what better way to get fit than to get someone else to PAY you to do it? Brilliant, right?

At first, it worked beautifully. I was breaking a sweat a few nights a week and being on my feet for 8+ hours a day. My eating got regulated (I only ate during breaks) and my mood was better. In retrospect, these endorphins primarily resulted from not sitting on my ass at an office job all day. These results were short lived, though.


The [exercise + eating right = WIN] equation was supposed to work. It failed me miserably, because there was another variable looming in the midst. Motherfucking SLEEP. Damn, right. Sleep regulates your mood, your appetite, and more importantly, your hormones. Becoming nocturnal and sleeping every 36 hours severely fucked up my hormones and hunger signals. Think you can keep a vampire schedule? There’s nothing sexy about sun-starved skin and dead eyes.

That’s the story of how I added 32+ hours of physical activity to my schedule, maintained my diet, and gained 5 fucking pounds. It’s not muscle weight, don’t worry. I’ve gained a dress size in the past 3 months.

Regular sleep is the best thing you can do for your sanity, and your waist line.

Top 3 things to quit now for healthier skin

Back to basics. Before you begin your search for the holy grail skincare routine, check to see if your personal habits aren’t detrimental to your skin health. Below are the top three things you can do to keep your skin at its best:

1. QUIT SMOKING. It’s hard. It sucks. But you have to. Really. Luckily, lots of people live in places where cigarettes may be cost prohibitive, or where laws are shunning smokers out of public and private places. With availability and accessibility out of the way, temptation may be easier to resist. If you need any reminders about the hazards of smoking, here they are.

2. QUIT DRINKING. Or if that’s not realistic, make sure you rehydrate well after drinking. Get them electrolytes and sleep it off.

3. QUIT TANNING. UV rays in tanning beds are no better than the rays from the sun. Tanning is skin damage, no matter the source of UVs. Use sunscreen when you’re out and about, and for god’s sake, don’t bake yourself. Melanoma is one of the leading killers of Americans.



The psychology of metabolism:

For a long time scientists thought ghrelin levels fluctuated in response to nutrients that the ghrelin met in the stomach. So put in a big meal, ghrelin responds one way; put in a small snack and it responds another way.

But that’s not what Crum found in her milkshake study.

If you believed you were drinking the indulgent shake, she says, your body responded as if you had consumed much more.

“The ghrelin levels dropped about three times more when people were consuming the indulgent shake (or thought they were consuming the indulgent shake),” she says, compared to the people who drank the sensible shake (or thought that’s what they were drinking).


Go vax yourself

This is a fitnessing blog, not a medical health blog. But what is fitnessing without regard for your overall health? Whilst I’m making a bunch of tongue-in-cheek posts in response to a weight-loss bet, I care a lot about my community’s health. If I didn’t care about my own health, I wouldn’t be trying to lose weight at all.

I make sure to eat well, get physical, and meditate. Oh yeah, I also go to the fucking doctor and keep my vaccinations up to date. I went to school during a time when you had to be inoculated before enrollment. Why? So you don’t fucking kill the other kids by carrying deadly diseases. Like measles, whooping cough, and ALL the heps. I travel a lot and have to prioritise my shots along with my visas. I don’t begrudge my or other countries’ policies. Why? So I don’t fucking bring back the bubonic plague. I can’t believe we’re still having this conversation in the 21st-fucking-century. I am lucky to have a healthy immune system so I can handle all of those vaccines, as a way to protect those who are immunocompromised or otherwise allergic to vaccines. Our communities need you to be vaccinated for herd immunity.


go vax yourself

Parents who are resisting getting their children vaccinated are endangering their own children and those around them. If you think there’s anything amiss with proper vaccinations, you are being fucking lied to. I live in a community with some of the most educated and wealthy folks in the county. Yet somehow this correlates with one of the lowest numbers of vaccinated children and the highest in paranoia. What gives?

What the fuck are you supposed to eat, anyway?

What the fuck are you supposed to eat, anyway?

But what lesson can we draw from the cautionary tales of eggs and trans fats? We would surely be slow learners if we didn’t approach other well-established, oft-repeated, endlessly recycled nuggets of nutritional correctness with a rather jaundiced eye. Let’s start with calories. After all, we’ve been told that counting them is the foundation for dietetic rectitude, but it’s beginning to look like a monumental waste of time. Slowly but surely, nutrition researchers are shifting their focus to the concept of “satiety”, that is, how well certain foods satisfy our appetites. In this regard, protein and fat are emerging as the two most useful macronutrients. The penny has dropped that starving yourself on a calorie-restricted diet of crackers and crudités isn’t any answer to the obesity epidemic.


Let’s not jump so quickly to conclusions. As a commenter noted:

Conclusion from the abstract: Current evidence does not clearly support cardiovascular guidelines that encourage high consumption of polyunsaturated fatty acids and low consumption of total saturated fats.

Which is not the same as saying “now we reckon polyunsaturated fats are good for you”. It means, current evidence is (statistically) inconclusive.


If you’re going to science or interpret science, do that shit right. I’ll stick to my current regimen of everything in moderation. And of course, to eat as intuitively as possible.