Saturday, November 4, 2017

Fad Diets: Are They Healthful, Helpful, and Honest?

By Hallie Schwartz
I recently met with our staff nutritionist, Michel Harris. While engaging in a lively discussion about the misconceptions in nutrition, Michel exclaimed, “Fad diets are not put out by the scientific community!” This sparked my interest, and I began doing some of my own research on fad diets.  
            “Today’s high prevalence of obesity, combined with less than satisfactory results using traditional weight-control methods, has helped foster the popularity of fad diets” (Saltzman, Thomason & Roberts, 2001). But, how healthful, helpful, and honest are fad diets?
            The high satiety value of eggs is well documented, and, additionally, eggs are truthfully a great source of protein. As such, the Egg Diet has become quite the fad. The plan is simple: you eat eggs with every meal. In the short term, if you’re eating mostly eggs, you are likely to lose weight. However, any weight lost could easily be put back on after returning to a less egg-centered eating plan. In the long term, it is not realistic for an individual to stay interested in such a singular eating plan. Further, an extremely limiting diet, such as the Egg Diet, could likely lead to bingeing. Additionally, eggs are also very high in cholesterol. Finally, according to the “Egg Diet Review” on, “Eating too many eggs can cause flatulence and bad gas, which is negative for everyone.”
            Like the Egg Diet, many other plans promote low-carbohydrate, high-protein intake. Researchers Saltzman, Thomason, and Roberts assert that while these diets may lead to weight loss, the potential effects on cardiovascular, bone, and renal health are concerning (2001). These diets vilify carbohydrates. Yet, carbs are the body’s—and specifically the brain’s—main source of energy! The take-home message here is that CARBS ARE NOT BAD! Quite the contrary, actually—carbs are necessary. 
            Environmental Nutrition is an awared-winning, independent newsletter on food, nutrition, and health. In the July 2017 issue, they described diet trends and popular fad diets as “mostly hype.” Based on studies over the past 40 years:
1. Juicing leaves out much of the fiber and nutrients of whole fruits and vegetables and is high in calories and low in satiety.
2. Tropical oils (such as coconut and palm) are high in saturated fats and raise blood cholesterol levels.
3. Gluten-free foods are often highly processed, over-priced substitutions for whole grains, which are high in nutrients and fiber.
            According to Michel, with new and trendy fad diets surfacing, it is more important than ever to be aware of the sources from which you are getting your diet-related information. Websites ending in .com are often unreliable. Consider visiting, the official website for The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Make sure you have all the info you need to know how healthful, helpful, and honest your diet truly is.
Hallie is a graduate intern at The Awakening Center and currently finishing her master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at Roosevelt University. Hallie is passionate about working with clients who are in recovery. She has worked with clients in recovery from domestic violence, substance dependency, and eating disorders.


Egg diet review. (2017). Retrieved from 
Diet trends are mostly hype. (Cover story). (2017). Environmental Nutrition, 40(7), 1.

Saltzman, E., Thomason, P., & Roberts, S. B. (2001). Fad diets: A review for the primary care provider. Nutrition In Clinical Care, 4(5), 235-242. 

Friday, October 13, 2017

Putting the Cleanse Fads in Perspective: An interview with Michel Harris, MS, RD, LDN

By Lily Bowen

Recently, I walked into a new juice bar that opened on my street. The menu board claimed that some of the juice options could “cleanse” my body of “toxins.” I was curious about what this meant, so I asked the cashier. Far from providing answers, our conversation left me more intrigued. I decided to interview The Awakening Center’s Staff Nutritionist, Michel Harris, MS, RD, LDN, to learn more about the research behind these cleanse fads.

Let’s start with the basics. Michel explained that our bodies already have a built-in cleanse system: a bowel movement. Seriously! It’s not any more complicated than that. In other words, your body doesn’t need any extra help to detox. Other organs (like the liver) also sift out anything your body can’t use, and your bowel movement does the actual cleansing. So any company (or infomercial) that claims to eliminate the toxins that hide in your colon has no medical research supporting it. Michel emphasized that those claims are false.

Although your body doesn’t need any extra help to cleanse itself (you don’t need to train your body to have a bowel movement) some do experience constipation. Michel noted that moderately increasing fiber in a diet will support your body’s built-in process. There are two kinds of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Insoluble fiber—found in foods such as wheat bread, fruits, and vegetables—helps move food and waste through the digestive track. Soluble fiber—found in oatmeal, beans, and other foods—actually binds with cholesterol, and helps remove it from the body.

All the talk about “cleansing” suggests that eating any diet will leave behind something “bad” (or toxic). Recently, I spoke with someone who had completed a 14-day cleanse that involved eliminating a few food groups. I asked Michel if there are any possible nutritional benefits to this practice. Short answer? No! There are no benefits from removing a food group from your diet, even temporarily. All foods are OK, and our bodies require variety. Now some folks actually experience allergic reactions to certain foods. Or might display sensitivities. If you suspect that might be your situation, then consult with your physician and a nutritionist.

I asked Michel if there are any harmful side effects from completing one of these cleanses. She emphasized that even for those without a history of an eating disorder, eliminating food groups can increase the risk to developing one. Many experience temporary water weight loss from a cleanse, which can trigger additional ED behaviors for someone who might be vulnerable. And the individual who chooses to complete a cleanse is more likely to set up the body for a nutritional deficiency. Michel emphasized that eating a variety of foods from all the food groups is nutritionally valuable. For example, a person completing a cleanse might cut out dairy suddenly and leave them vulnerable to calcium deficiency. Ironically, following a “cleanse” diet may make it more difficult to stay healthy.

So let’s put the current cleanse fads (Whole 30, juicing, etc.) in perspective. These are simply dressed-up versions of old trends. Remember the grapefruit diet? Or the cabbage soup diet? These days we laugh at these fads—who in their right mind thinks eating just cabbage soup is sustainable? We should be just as critical and dismissive of current cleanse fads. Resist the temptation for an easy fix, educate yourself and others, and remember to trust your body. It knows how to take care of itself.

Lily is a graduate intern therapist at The Awakening Center, finishing her master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health at Roosevelt University. In her free time, Lily enjoys reading poetry and playing the harp.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

“One Word: Plastics”

By Nancy Hall, MA, LPC
So says Mr. McGuire to Benjamin Braddock at the beginning of The Graduate. “There’s a great future in plastics,” Mr. McGuire goes on to say. And this 1967 observation wasn’t wrong. According to The New York Times, 8.3 metric tons of plastic have been produced since the 1950s. Half of that since 2004. And while there are certainly benefits that come from plastic—lighter and easier to transport—it does not biodegrade. Once it’s made, it’s forever. And that has become a problem.
            According to a July 2017 article published in Science Advances, by 2050, “roughly 12,000 metric tons of plastic will be in landfills or in the natural environment.” That mind-boggling figure makes me want to curl up in my bed and pretend I never even saw The Graduate or heard of The New York Times. Don’t even get me started on Science Advances! How do we even begin to address this problem that seems bigger than impossible?
            Well, we can tackle the problem of single-use plastics. In December 2016, the National Green Tribunal in India banned disposable plastic in Delhi and its surrounding region. The ban was enacted in response to the tremendous amount of waste and illegal burning of plastics creating an environmental crisis. Many US cities are banning or taxing disposable plastic shopping bags. In 2016, France passed a law banning plastic cutlery, plates, and cups that do not contain at least 50 percent “biologically sourced” materials. This law will take effect in 2020 as part the Energy Transition and Green Growth Act.
            Unfortunately, our current president has opted the United States out of the Paris Climate Agreement. However, many businesses and manufacturers are looking to reduce their global footprint and there are things we can do as individuals. Who would have thought tending and caring for the earth would become an act of resistance?
            The Natural Resources Defense Council recommends the following 10 actions to reduce our use of disposable plastics:
            1. Wean yourself off disposable plastics.
            2. Don’t buy water.
            3. Don’t use any product that contains microbeads.
            4. Eat out less.
            5. Purchase items secondhand.
            6. Recycle.
            7. Support bag tax or ban.
            8. Buy in bulk.
            9. Bring your own garment bag to the dry cleaner.
            10. Pressure manufacturers to be conscientious in their packaging practices.
While the statistics are overwhelming and—quite honestly—terrifying, that’s no reason to become paralyzed or give up.
            And being a good steward of the earth supports personal growth. Recovery comes from compassion and love—and that is a bi-directional process. If we make decisions that are kind to the earth, then we better able turn that kindness inward as well. We come from the earth and when it suffers, we suffer too. So connect to your compassion and take care of Mother Earth.

Nancy is a staff therapist at The Awakening Center. In addition to seeing clients for individual therapy, she also leads the adult Dialectical Behavior Therapy Group and the Eating Disorder Therapy Group. You can contact her at

Monday, August 14, 2017

Finding What Makes You Come Alive

Photo courtesy of Nancy Hall

By Rachel Baker, MA, LPC
In recent months, many of us have felt the desire to give back, to stand up for what we believe in, to become politically active--in short, to make the world a better place. Watching the news and reading our social media feeds, it is clear that there is a lot of work to be done. This can feel like an incredibly daunting task! So, how do we begin?
            First, it’s important to remind ourselves, we are each just one person, and we only have to do our share of the work. Phew! Now the task is to figure out what MY share of the work is going to look like. Howard Thurman said, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” The world needs us to hone in on the issues that makes us feel most alive, most energized, most ourselves.
            A great place to start is to really explore what makes you come alive. Do you feel energized while creating art? Do you feel most alive playing pick-up softball with friends? Do you feel most yourself while giving a speech on a topic that excites you, or do you prefer one-on-one conversation? Maybe you love being around animals. Whatever it is, it’s helpful to get clear about the things that light you up.
            Second, get curious about the world issues that you care about most. Which articles to do stop scrolling through your newsfeed to read? Do you turn up the volume on news stories about environmental issues, women’s rights, Black Lives Matter, education, religious freedom, education, or something else entirely? It’s likely that you care about many issues, and getting clear about one or two that you care about most will help inform how you decide to take action.
            Now it’s time to put it all together. How can you use what makes you come alive to support issues and organizations that you care about? If hanging out with your friends on a Friday night feels awesome, why not start the night by writing letters to your House Representative regarding an issue you all feel passionate about? If you love to perform, could you present a concert to benefit an organization you care about? If you love animals, volunteering at an animal shelter might be right for you. Don’t be afraid to get creative! The world need to you to “come alive.”

Volunteering Websites
Rachel is a staff therapist at The Awakening Center. In addition to seeing clients for individual therapy, she co-leads the Yoga-Informed Therapy Group. You can reach Rachel at 773.929.6262.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Lots of Progress, But Still Far To Go

By Amy Grabowski, MA, LCPC

For The Awakening Center’s #awakentoaction, we are celebrating LGBTQ Pride this month! 

I was thinking back to the mid 1980s when I took a graduate school course “Abnormal Psychology.” The way the professor taught the course makes it my favorite class, to this day! As we worked our way thru all the various mental illness diagnoses, she taught us that every diagnosis was on a continuum, and we (the students in her class) were on the same continuum too. She wanted to eliminate “them” versus “us” mentality. Rather than “Those people who have Schizophrenia” we could feel empathy for our clients whose symptoms were more profound than what we ourselves experienced. 

One day, the professor stopped the class and said, “I am supposed to teach you that homosexuality is a mental illness, but I refuse to do so!” She gave us an assignment. For the following week, we were supposed to pretend that we were gay and we had to hide this from everyone we knew. Some of us who were married, and since same sex marriage was not legal way back in 1984, we had to pretend that we were not allowed to marry our current partners. We were not allowed to hold our partner’s hand in public for fear of getting harassed or arrested. We were to remove pictures of our partners from our workplace, for fear of getting fired! We had to hide who we lived with for fear that we would be evicted from apartments or would not be allowed to purchase a house with our partner. 

The next week, the class discussed what it was like to hide something fundamental about who you were deep inside. The reactions ranged from humiliation and shame, to rage and indignation. This experience has stayed with me to this day. And I was relieved that soon afterward homosexuality was removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual.  

If we zoom to the current decade, many changes are in place. In many states (but not all), tt is no longer legal to discriminate against a person because of their sexual orientation in housing or employment. LGB individuals can now join the US military. It is legal for same sex couples to marry. Gay pride flags and banners wave in stores and windows throughout our city. The Gay Pride Parade just took place here in Chicago and has become a big summer event. 

However this is not enough. We need to continue to move forward with progress in our society to the point that every person, no matter their sexual orientation or gender identity, is treated with respect, worth, and dignity. Every person should be able to live their life without constant vigilance for harassment and persecution. Every religion of the world has a version of the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”; and I would love to see every person of every religion, or of no religion at all, live by this rule.

So how can we help make this change happen?  It starts with ourselves. Those of us outside the LGBTQ community can become allies. A true ally actively combats anti-LGBT bullying and harassment while uplifting the voices of LGBT people. Allyship is more than broadly supporting LGBT people; it's an active, ongoing process of advocating for LGBT individuals (and other marginalized groups) without speaking for them or over them. ( )

Just as it takes courage for LGBT people to be open and honest about who they are, it also takes courage to support your LGBT friends or loved ones. We live in a society where prejudice still exists and where discrimination is still far too common. Recognizing these facts and giving your support to that person will take your relationship to a higher level and is a small step toward a better and more accepting world. ( )

Here are 10 Ways to Be an Ally & a Friend (from:
  1. Be a listener.
  2. Be open-minded.
  3. Be willing to talk.
  4. Be inclusive and invite LGBT friends to hang out with your friends and family.
  5. Don't assume that all your friends and co-workers are straight. Someone close to you could be looking for support in their coming-out process. Not making assumptions will give them the space they need.
  6. Anti-LGBT comments and jokes are harmful. Let your friends, family and co-workers know that you find them offensive.
  7. Confront your own prejudices and bias, even if it is uncomfortable to do so.
  8. Defend your LGBT friends against discrimination.
  9. Believe that all people, regardless of gender identity and sexual orientation, should be treated with dignity and respect.
  10. If you see LGBT people being misrepresented in the media, contact us at
It starts with me. And you! And if we tell two people, and they tell two people, and they tell two people, and so on and so on and so on…. Hopefully, we can help change the world to be a much more loving and accepting place for all!


Amy is proud to be a LGBTQ Ally!


Monday, June 12, 2017

Does Culture Affect Body Image?

By Susan Morlock, MA, LPC
How much does culture effect body image? Studies consistently support that there is a strong connection between culture and how women view their bodies, both positively and negatively. This can have a profound effect on one’s self-esteem over time.
            If we look at African American culture, women and men tend to value a “thicker” body shape. One can see this in Black actresses and role models. Black women tend to not endorse the thin-body ideal and have less body dissatisfaction. Even if a Black woman has a higher BMI she tends to still have higher self-esteem then other cultural groups. Studies show that Black mothers tend to convey their positive weight-related views and, in turn, these views are shared among peers. Overall, Black women take pride in their bodies which sets them apart from some other cultures.
            Women in Asian countries encounter body image issues as well. A September 2016 article in Japan Times noted that eating disorders among women 30 to 50 years old has been increasing because of the pressure to be “skinny.” However, some are challenging this norm, including Japanese artist Naomi Watanabe who helped create the “pochakawaii” (chubby and cute) movement.
            Young people in Iran are running into pressure to be thin as well as noted in an article published in the Archives of Medical Science in 2013. The researchers found that both high school boys and girls tended to describe themselves as either “overweight” or “obese” even when their weight fell within what was considered to be normal parameters.
            Generally, Latin-American women tend to view larger hips, thighs, and butt as a sign of good health. This culture views size 2, 8, or 12 all the same and curvy as good. Jennifer Lopez is a good example of someone considered be a role model for beauty among many Hispanic women and men. Family gatherings tend to be around traditional foods, there is a focus on eating and care giving as a ritual not discussions around body weight and dieting.
            A global study of body image found that Mexico is the most “body-confident” country in the world, followed closely by Turkey and Ukraine. A study of Puerto Rican immigrant women found that weight gain was looked on with favor and as a sign of prosperity.
            Among women of European origin, especially young ones, there appears to be a strong drive towards being thin. The media has had a strong impact on women and how they view themselves by comparison. This group tends to have the highest rates when it comes to having eating disorders among all the ethnic groups.
            There are of course many other cultures in the United States that impact women and how they see themselves however, there has not been a lot of research to establish a relationship between body image and culture. As you can see, culture can have a positive or negative effect on how women view themselves so we can only assume this most likely has an impact among all cultures. Communicating early and often with your children on how they feel and view the way they look is important in any culture and may have the biggest impact and effect on how women see themselves as an adult later in life.

Susan Morlock, MA, LPC is a staff therapist at The Awakening Center. She has specialized training in Dialectical Behavior Therapy, Trauma Therapy using EMDR, Discernment Counseling, Internal Family Systems, and Cognitive Behavior Therapy. Her areas of expertise include anxiety, depression, stress and anger management, job and career concerns, eating disorders, and relationship issues. She can be reached at 773.929.6262 ext. 20 or by email at

Monday, May 1, 2017

Reconnecting the Mind and Body

A, 2007 Neil Winokur
By Michel Harris, MS, RD, LDN, CDE

I will admit that I was hard-pressed to find a relationship between nutrition and this month's focus on sexual assault survivor's stories. So I was very appreciative of my colleagues Nancy Hall and Amy Grabowski for assisting me. Nancy told me that victims of sexual assault tend to disconnect from their bodies, similar to how an eating disorder can cause one to disconnect from his or her body while eating.

This disconnection between the mind and body during eating could also be thought of as a mindless process. One of my clients told me that there are many times in which she cannot remember tasting her food once the meal or snack is over. Which leads to the article Amy left me in my mailbox addressing how eating behaviors are changing; individuals are leaning more towards snacking multiple times per day, instead of three meals. While each of us has a preferred pattern of snacks and/or meals throughout the day, most of my client's equate snacking with mindless eating; but truthfully, it does not matter if the occasion is a meal or snack. Mindless eating could occur anytime, anywhere, and in any amount!

So how do you know when you are mindlessly eating? To start, you need to be mindful before the first bite goes into your mouth. The hunger-satiety scale, with 0 being completely empty and having physical symptoms of hunger (headache, dizziness), and 10 feeling uncomfortably full (cramps, bloating), often comes in handy when determining if you are physically hungry. A 0–4 usually indicates the need to fuel-up; you want to avoid reaching the 0–3 levels since extreme hunger could lead to bingeing. Eating until you reach 7–8 usually provides satisfaction without discomfort.

While the hunger-satiety scale works well for some, several of my clients with long-term eating issues are unable to identify these cues. If you struggle with this, ask yourself if there are feelings associated with the food you are about to eat. Are you feeling tense because a coworker made your day miserable and that candy bar in the vending machine looks appealing? Also, when did you last eat, and was it enough? If you ate more than four hours ago or ate lightly, physical hunger is probably setting in.

To summarize, here are some guidelines for mindful eating...
  1. Eat something every three to four hours.
  2. When possible, eat without distractions. 
  3. During your meal or snack, check in with yourself every five minutes and focus on how your food tastes and feels in your mouth.
  4. Before taking seconds, wait five to ten minutes; it takes your body a bit longer to let you know it has had enough.
  5. As you eat, try to focus on how your stomach feels. 
I know all of this sounds overwhelming, but with practice and patience, you will re-connect mind and body during meals and snacks. If you find that emotional eating occurs too often, find another activity besides eating to help cope. Several of my clients have found new hobbies, as well as a sense of accomplishment when they conquer their emotional eating struggles!

Michel Harris is a Registered and Licensed Dietitian and serves on the staff of The Awakening Center. She believes in the mindful approach to develop a peaceful relationship with food and exercise in the recovery process of eating disorders. To find out more or to set up an appointment with Michel, call 773.929.6262.