Nutrition & Physical Activity
Kudos for thinking about how your behavior might affect your long-term health and writing in to ask about it. What you describe is called pica, an eating disorder where people frequently eat non-nutritive (non-food) substances. Depending on what a person eats, pica can be very dangerous. Ingesting dangerous substances or large amounts of some substances can lead to medical problems, including poisoning. There is also a risk of infection resulting from some substances, such as soil, and stomach problems including constipation, and other issues.
Fortunately, in your case soap is not a very dangerous substance, though in large amounts over time it could disrupt your health. Soap is generally non-toxic and should not lead to poisoning. However, it can cause diarrhea, vomiting or skin irritation.
The causes of pica are not known but some suggest that the following may contribute to the desire to eat non-food items:
- Nutritional deficiencies. Some speculate that pica is your body's way of telling you that you are missing some important nutrient. Iron, calcium, zinc, and vitamins C & D deficiencies have been found in people with pica.
- Culture and family influences. There is some suggestion that certain cultures and social groups accept eating non-food substances. Also, if your parents encouraged this as a child, you may still have the urge to eat these substances.
- Stress. The desire to eat non-food substances may be a coping strategy for stress.
- Underlying biochemical disorder. In some cases, pica may result from chemical imbalances in your brain.
You mentioned that eating soap makes you feel good when you're stressed. This could be a sign that your stress level is too high and your body is reacting by craving soap. You could consider finding alternative ways to deal with your stress. See Stress, anxiety and learning to cope and Number one cause of stress for some tips on other ways to combat stress.
Pica is rare in adolescents and adults, and can be the sign of other medical issues including nutrition deficiencies so you should consider contacting a health care professional to help figure out what might be causing this behavior. Columbia students on the Morningside campus can call 212-854-2284 to make an appointment or log on to Open Communicator. Students on the Medical Center campus can contact Student Health at 212-304-3400. You may also want to consider talking with a counselor about healthier strategies for coping. Columbia students can make an appointment with Counseling and Psychological Services (Morningside) or the Mental Health Service (Medical Center).
You took an important first step in asking about your behavior, but it's also important that you take the next step and talk to a health care professional who can help you figure out if there is some underlying cause. Taking care of your health is not silly — it's smart.
All the best,
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Thank you, I thought that I was the only one and I searched high and low. I feel better knowing that there is a name for it. I opened up and told two relatives and I got scared when...
Thank you, I thought that I was the only one and I searched high and low. I feel better knowing that there is a name for it. I opened up and told two relatives and I got scared when they hinted that it may cause sterility. I also only eat bar soap and it relaxes me. I will take a chunk out of it and it's kinda like woosaa.
Thank you for this post and thank you for opening up soap eater.
It's wise to keep a healthy skepticism about the marketing efforts of some of these huge food corporations. Dannon's probiotic-fortified yogurt, Activia, is certainly an example of a highly promoted product. In recent years, the global market for "functional foods," has grown to billions of dollars annually, and since these supplement-food hybrids are appearing on the shelves ever more rapidly, the FDA doesn't have a chance to evaluate all of their claims. While there is evidence that probiotics do help to improve digestion and gastronomic health, it is hard to say that one brand over another is more effective at doing so.
Probiotics, beneficial bacteria that live in the small intestine, are believed to improve digestion. These gut-friendly bacteria actually help you to digest and eliminate your food, while crowding out the unhealthy gut-dwelling bacteria that cause gas, constipation, and bloating. Studies have shown that certain probiotics can help relieve irritable bowel syndrome, diarrhea, constipation, atopic eczema, and may also help protect against various infections and colon cancer. Researchers have found that stressed-out rats have benefited from a serving of water containing certain probiotics. Not a flattering comparison for us people, who might feel like stressed-out rats from time to time, but the findings of the study may be helpful. Probiotics are found in many types of fermented foods, like yogurt, sauerkraut, tempeh, and miso.
Regular yogurt is made using these live cultures, and serves up a healthy serving of them with each spoonful. But your question, is Dannon's Activia more effective in providing these results than regular good old-fashioned yogurt, is one that begs a good answer. Dannon (of course) says yes. Their Activia yogurt contains Bifidus regularis, a probiotic strain trademarked by Dannon that is not in other yogurts, and they claim that this particular strain speeds wastes through the digestive system and improves immunity in the intestines more effectively than other strains.
Dannon says that their Bifidus regularis, "survives passage through the digestive tract, arriving in the colon as a living culture," whereas other cultures can be destroyed by stomach acids and the natural process of digestion. The consumer reports lab has confirmed Dannon's claim, reporting that about three million of the original three billion probiotic organisms in a four-ounce serving of Activia made it through the stomach to the colon.
There is one other difference you mentioned between this yogurt and the others: the price. Activia typically costs more per ounce than regular Dannon yogurt. There are also other brands on the market that offer yogurts containing probiotics that are similar to those in Activia. If you're willing to spoon out the extra cash for yogurts with these particular probiotics and have noticed a decrease in stomach grumblings as a result, it seems like it working for you and might be worth it. However, now that you know that all yogurts contain healthy amounts of probiotics, it might be interesting to see if those regular yogurts feel just as good as the one with all the advertising. Eat up!
Congratulations on getting a handle on a difficult situation. Anorexia can be life-threatening, so you've essentially saved your own life — something that hopefully makes you proud. As you point out, a side effect of anorexia can be secondary amenorrhea (loss of period for six months of longer). Typically, women in recovery find their periods come back once they get their weight up to what it was before they stopped getting their period. Some women, who aren't underweight, but who stop getting their periods during times of extreme exercise and erratic eating, regain their period once they get back into a routine of healthy eating and exercise habits. So, your concern is warranted. And, yes, it would be a great idea to seek a medical work-up at this point. Before you head to your health care provider, it might help you to get more information.
There are several possible explanations for secondary amenorrhea. Given your history of living with anorexia you may be experiencing functional hypothalamic amenorrhea (FHA). While FHA seems to occur most frequently in women with low amounts of body fat, it can happen in women of various body shapes. The common denominator seems to be erratic eating patterns and/or excessive exercise. These behaviors disturb the thyroid gland and hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal gland in ways that lead to increased production and release of steroid hormones, called glucocorticoids (including cortisol, a major stress hormone). Also, low body weight is associated with lower levels of leptin, a necessary chemical that helps to regulate ovulation. In combination, these chemical changes in the body can affect periods and stop them altogether until the chemical balance is restored through changes in behavior and/or hormone therapy.
While your amenorrhea might be related to your history of anorexia, there are other health-related factors to secondary amenorrhea that you might want to consider:
- Hormonal contraceptives (e.g., some birth control pills, implanted or injected methods, intrauterine devices)
- Pregnancy or breast-feeding
- Extreme mental stress
- Certain medications (e.g., some antidepressants, chemotherapy drugs for cancer, oral corticosteroids)
- Chronic illness
- Thyroid problems
- Hormonal imbalance
- Benign pituitary tumor
- Uterine scarring
- Premature menopause
You can see there are many possible reasons for secondary amenorrhea. It's also important to know that women with secondary amenorrhea can be at increased risk for some pretty serious health conditions like: osteoporosis, bone fractures, cardiovascular disease, and metabolic problems.
You can contact your primary care provider or women's health specialist. If you don't have a trusted women's health care provider, you might consider finding one soon. If money's a problem, you can check out Planned Parenthood's website to find a local health center. Some Planned Parenthood centers offer sliding-fee services and other programs to cover the cost of care for people who qualify financially.
There's no doubt that secondary amenorrhea is a complex issue with many possible causes and consequences. And, everyone woman's situation is different. If investigating the absence of your period is the next step for you, working with a women's health specialist could help you get the answers you need.
To your continuing good health,
January 22, 2013522172
The symptoms you describe sound like what many people call the "food coma." Sometimes, after eating a holiday meal, a big dinner or lunch, or even sometimes after meals that didn't seem that big, you may feel a bit drowsy. Some medical conditions can cause this feeling, including anemia, kidney dysfunction, sleep disorders, infections, or an electrolyte imbalance just to name a few. But even people who don't have any of these medical conditions may still feel tired after eating, because this symptom is also a consequence of normal digestion!
Why? Because our bodies spend a lot of energy digesting food. The stomach mechanically churns the food, produces acid to break the food into tiny pieces, and then controls the rate this broken down food can enter the intestines. In the intestines, enzymes use energy to further break down and absorb food particles into the body. For humans, it is normal for the rate of energy use to increase by 25 to 50 percent after a meal. This increased bodily activity could contribute to your feeling flushed after eating.
One explanation for your drowsiness lies in one of the hormones released during digestion — cholecystokinin. Commonly referred to as CCK, this hormone helps make you feel full, but also activates the areas in the brain associated with sleep. So after eating, when CCK levels rise to tell you you're full, you may also start to feel sleepy. Additionally, meals high in carbohydrates can increase the levels of tryptophan (an amino acid) in the blood. In the brain, tryptophan is converted into serotonin (a neurotransmitter that makes people feel both happy and sleepy). This boost in serotonin could also cause someone to feel tired.
Since you don't feel tired after every meal, you may want to keep a food journal to see what types of food have you craving a post-lunch nap. If carbohydrate-rich or heavy foods like pizza, pasta, or panini slow you down, you could opt for a salad, soup, or sushi on days when you have a lot of work to do in the afternoon. You could also try eating several smaller meals throughout the day, rather than a big lunch, to avoid overwhelming your digestive system.
Feeling tired after eating is a common experience, and not necessarily linked to a medical condition. However, if you feel your symptoms may be related to a medical problem, it's always a good idea to visit your health care provider, especially if your fatigue begins to seriously impair your ability to get your work done. Students at Columbia can contact Medical Services (Morningside campus) or the Student Health Services (CUMC).
Best of luck in staying alert during your post-meal endeavors,
Fish can be an important part of a healthy diet; it's loaded with high-quality protein and omega-3 fatty acids and low in saturated fat and cholesterol. It’s also true that nearly all fish have at least trace amounts of methylmercury. The good news is that many of the commonly purchased fish in the United States, including several varieties of tuna, typically have lower levels of mercury and are safe to eat if the amount you consume doesn't exceed the weekly recommended serving size.
To answer your question specifically, Albacore (white) tuna and light tuna are the two most common kinds of canned tuna. Due to its larger size, white tuna contains significantly more mercury — up to three times more — than light tuna. The EPA guidelines state that it's safe to eat up to twelve ounces of light tuna (or any fish low in mercury) a week or six ounces of white tuna a week. Considering that the standard weight of a can of tuna is six ounces, you may be putting yourself at a risk for mercury poisoning if you're eating two to five cans per day.
So why worry about mercury? It's considered a pollutant and is released into the environment, largely from factories and other industrial settings. It eventually travels to streams and oceans where microorganisms present in the water turn it into methylmercury. Fish then absorb this chemical into their bodies from the water. Mercury levels in the fish depend on what they eat, how long they tend to live, and where they are in the underwater food chain. Larger fish typically contain higher levels of mercury not only because they're heavier and have more surface area to absorb mercury, but also because they eat smaller mercury-containing fish, which increases the larger fish's mercury content. Because of this, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends staying away from shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico, since on average they have higher levels of mercury.
Most of the warnings about mercury poisoning are targeted to young children and pregnant women because exposure to mercury during development can cause neurological defects, including impairments in cognition, memory, attention, language, and fine motor skills. This is especially of concern because infants born with these impairments have been observed even when the mother showed no symptoms of poisoning. Mercury poisoning in adults can cause numbness in fingers and toes, muscle weakness, and speech, hearing, and walking impairments. And so far, research has not found that mercury exposure in humans is associated with cancer, but human studies are limited. If you find yourself experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s best to visit your health care provider as soon as possible. If you feel fine but are scared of prematurely swimming with the fishes, you might want to switch up your fish or seafood meals to include a variety of low-mercury choices, such as salmon, shrimp, pollock, catfish, cod, or tilapia.
The National Resources Defense Council's Mercury Contamination in Fish - Consumer Guide to Mercury in Fish provides tools that can help make this transition proceed swimmingly. It contains a list that informs consumers of the frequency that a certain fish can be eaten safely, as well as a mercury calculator that generates a safe value for fish intake based on a person's weight and type of fish. Lastly, if cost is of concern, there are many additional options for protein and nutrients on the cheap. You could also try substituting the tasty and affordable tuna with non-fish sources of protein, such as chopped canned chicken, lean deli meats, or beans; these can also be part of a healthy diet without breaking the bank.
It's often said that the more (naturally) colorful your plate is, the healthier that meal is for you. This saying holds true in the corn arena: Blue corn does contain more of the amino acid lysine and the antioxidant anthocyanin than "regular" yellow corn; however, it loses much of these nutrients when it's processed into a chip. Blue corn chips may be slightly more nutritious in this sense, but if you're trying to increase the amounts of lysine or antioxidants in your diet, fresh and whole fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins are much better sources.
Research has also found that blue corn tortillas (fresh, not fried into chips) contain more protein than their yellow or white corn counterparts. In addition, blue corn tortillas have a lower starch content and lower glycemic index (GI) than regular corn tortillas. Both of these factors may be helpful to people on low GI diets, such as diabetics, because food with a lower starch and low GI breaks down more slowly into sugars absorbed by the blood stream and can help people avoid spikes in blood sugar levels.
Keep in mind that chips of any color are often fried and can be high in fat and calories, so it's probably best to not make them a regular snack. Baked chips or crackers may be a healthier alternative, especially if they're made with whole grains. Look for the words "whole grain" or "whole" before the grain's name on the ingredients label to make sure it falls into this category. Fiber is another important consideration in a healthy snack, and not all whole grain products are high in fiber, so be sure to look at fiber content on the nutrition label. For more information on whole grains and fiber, check out some of the Related Q&As below.
And thanks to you and everyone else for asking the questions.
Feeling lightheaded and/or dizzy, as if you are about to pass out, are not normal reactions to exercise. After an aerobic exercise session, you should feel invigorated, not totally wiped out. Your description sounds as though you are working extraordinarily hard. Do you eat anything before your physical activity? Are you drinking during your run or bike ride? How is your overall fluid intake? Although an exact diagnosis based on your description can't be given here, these few suggestions may help avoid these feelings:
- Eat a snack prior to exercise. If you have less than one hour before your session, fewer than 200 calories is recommended. A piece of fruit and a couple of crackers work well for many people. Your snack can be a bit larger if you have two hours or so until your workout begins: one small plain bagel with jam, a piece of fruit and a yogurt, or handful of nuts and some crackers are a few suggestions.
- Drink 16 oz. of fluid two hours before an event. This promotes hydration and allows enough time to excrete any excess liquid.
Drink fluids during exercise. Weighing yourself before and after exercise can help determine your sweat rate, and how much you'll need to drink.
- If you lose 1 lb. per hour: drink 4 oz. every 15 min
- If you lose 2 lbs. per hour: drink 8 oz. every 15 min
- If you lose 3 lbs. per hour: drink 8 oz. every 10 min.
- If you lose 4 lbs. per hour: drink 10 oz. every 10 min.
- If you are exercising for longer than 60 minutes, add some fuel to your water with a sports drink. These fluid replacement drinks include glucose and electrolytes (sodium and potassium) to help with fluid intake and absorption.
Talking with your health care provider is a good idea if these strategies don't help. Being properly fed and hydrated, as well as getting enough rest and watching your breathing as your exercise, should help make your workouts more productive.
Raw fish and seafood can certainly be tasty delectables. Many a consumer has wondered about the health risks. They are generally minimal — lower than compared to other means of transmitting food borne illnesses. Though most are indeed incurable, many of them go away on their own, though this also depends somewhat on other health conditions of the consumer.
The hepatitis A virus can be found in some raw shellfish, but it is not common in other seafood. Hepatitis A, unlike types B and C, does not cause long-term or chronic illness. Hepatitis A causes inflammation of the liver and interferes with liver function. Mild cases require no treatment. Once the infected individual heals, s/he will then have immunity for life. Symptoms of hepatitis A can include:
- Loss of appetite
- Abdominal discomfort
- Dark urine
- Jaundice (yellow skin)
- No symptom at all
Hepatitis A's incubation period (the time it takes from eating the food until beginning to exhibit symptoms) ranges from 15 to 50 days. Infected individuals can be sick for up to 6 months, but the liver usually heals on its own within a month or two. You can take a blood test to see if you've already been exposed to hepatitis A, and you can also receive a vaccine, which may be something you want to consider. The vaccine is now given routinely to children as part of their vaccination program. Individuals traveling to certain countries are also given the vaccine. See your own health care provider for either the antibody test or vaccine. Hepatitis A is killed by heat, so it is not a concern for those enjoying cooked shellfish dishes.
Worms (and worm eggs) can be a concern when consuming raw fish. They are preventable and treatable. Your health care provider can prescribe oral medication that is toxic to the worms. Worms are killed when the fish is cooked or completely frozen, but can be passed on in the raw state. This includes not just sashimi or sushi, but also some other popular dishes, such as partially raw seared fish fillets and ceviche — raw fish marinated in lime or other citrus juice. Most worms will pass through the digestive system without causing any problems, but two can cause infections: roundworm larvae and a type of tapeworm species, diphyllobothrium. Infection by either of these two parasites can result in abdominal discomfort, diarrhea, fatigue, and feelings of weakness in the arms and legs. Though the risk is low, it can be further reduced by purchasing fish from reputable stores and also eating at reputable restaurants. Trained sushi chefs have learned how to identify worms or worm eggs in fish, and reputable packing houses use a process called candling (quite simple: holding the fish to light) to check for worms in the fillets.
For all of the above reasons, it's best for folks with certain conditions to consult with her/his health care provider before eating raw fish or shellfish, which includes :
- Liver disease
- Stomach disorders
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Abnormal iron metabolism
- Other autoimmune disorders
There are toxins found even in cooked foods, so when you take this into account, the risks posed by eating raw or undercooked seafood are actually relatively low, but raw fish and seafood still sometimes get a bad rap. Hopefully this information will help you in weighing the risks of feasting on the bounties of the sea.
Curves may be attained in different ways, some of which are more beneficial to health than others. Many Americans have become quite round by eating too many calories and not exercising regularly. Excess weight increases the risk of diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, pregnancy complications, and depression. This roundness may not be the kind of curves you are talking about, however!
Perhaps you are talking about having a more womanly figure; maybe more ample breasts, hips, and/or a plumper posterior. One way to gain curves is by working specific muscle groups in the areas you would like to "shape." Eating a well-balanced diet can help, too. With that being said, it's good to be realistic about the way your body is currently shaped, the shapes that are predominant in your family, and the way you want to look.
If you wear baggy clothing, it may deemphasize whatever curves you already have. If you watch any of the TV makeover shows, you've probably seen that larger, oversized clothes for women in the "before" photos usually hide their waist and make them look boxy. Fitted clothing in certain fabrics, jackets or tops that end at certain parts of the body, and pants or skirts of particular styles may make you appear curvier without requiring that you put on extra pounds. Some women make an appointment with a personal shopper at their nearby department stores to help them select clothes that will emphasize their curves.
Before taking steps to add curves by gaining weight, evaluate your current weight status. One way to do this is by using your height and weight to determine your Body Mass Index (BMI). A BMI value of less than 18.5 is categorized as underweight, 18.5 to 24.9 is ideal, and a BMI of 25 or more is overweight. At 5'4", your ideal weight would range from 108 to 145 pounds. Moving up a dress size would amount to approximately 12 to 15 pounds in weight gain, or 2 BMI points. Going from a size eight to a size twelve would be even more drastic and require that you add 2.5 inches to your bust, waist, and hips. This gain would be beneficial for someone who is underweight, but would increase the health risks if one's BMI is approaching the overweight category.
- Time to get toned. Whether your weight evaluation has reinforced satisfaction with your weight or motivated you to make changes, increasing physical activity will help you towards your goal of gaining curves. By working specific muscle groups, you'll build up areas that need a boost, which is preferable to gaining fat spread throughout the body. For instance, strengthen your glutes (butt muscles) by doing squats. With your knees directly below your hips, keep your core muscles tight and your back straight as you bend your knees to a ninety degree angle with your thighs parallel to the floor. As you lower and raise your body, keep your weight on your heels and make sure your knees never extend past your toes. Do three to five sets of ten to twelve controlled squats ever other day. To bulk up your bust, do pushups to work the pectoral muscles beneath the breast tissue. Lying on your stomach, place your hands flat on the floor directly under your shoulders (about one foot apart). Keeping your back straight and your core tight, push yourself up supporting yourself with your knees or toes. Lower and raise your body for three to five sets of ten to twelve pushups and repeat every other day.
- Complement workout efforts with healthy eating. Whether you are working to maintain a weight you are happy with, or trying to lose/gain weight, a nutritionally balanced eating plan is important and achievable. If you truly need to gain weight, as indicated by a BMI lower than 18.5, increase calorie intake. The extra calories need to come from foods that provide lots of vitamins, minerals, and fiber — not highly processed junk foods. Have an extra snack, perhaps an apple with a tablespoon of peanut butter, in the afternoon. Increase intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and heart healthy fats (like those found in nuts) while checking out other nutrition and portion size suggestions in the Related Q&As.
If you are someone with a BMI that is approaching the overweight category, your health would benefit from weight maintenance and even a small amount of weight loss. Cut down calories by trading in junk or processed food for whole foods and smaller portion sizes. An added benefit of weight loss around your middle is that the curves above and below that point will be accentuated. To get more tips and ideas on how to modify your diet and exercise regimen, speak with a registered dietitian or exercise specialist.
More than anything though, it's worth it to try to love your body in its natural form. Remind yourself about the features you do like about your body and accentuate those. You may find that changing your dress size isn't what makes the biggest difference.
Dear Fizzy Water Drinker,
It’s no wonder you’re curious about the effect of carbonation on your body’s ability to use calcium. There’s a lot of speculation out there! Here are the facts: the carbonation (or “fizz”) in your water is caused by plain old carbon dioxide, and time and again, researchers have found that this fizziness alone does not pose risks to your bone health or the way your body interacts with calcium. In general, research shows that you should be able to sip carbonated water without any negative effects on bone health. Things do get a little more complicated, though, when we consider other types of carbonated beverages.
Where might all of the rumors about carbonation and calcium be coming from? Well, it turns out that drinking cola/soda/pop (whatever you choose to call it) has been associated with low bone mineral density in studies in women, teens, and in some animal studies. For example, for post-menopausal women, one study found an association between hip fractures and cola consumption. Findings like these may raise some red flags for the cola-lovers of the world. Fortunately, though, researchers are working on figuring out what exactly it is in cola that leads to these effects on bone density. These soda scientists think it’s possible that caffeine, sugar, or phosphorus in colas — ingredients that aren’t in carbonated water — may contribute to bone density problems. However, the evidence for these factors is inconclusive. In the meantime, you can check out more information on what is currently known about soda’s effects on health. Stay tuned as researchers continue to learn more on this topic!
And what about the calcium supplements? While you probably don’t need to start taking them just because you’re into carbonated water, it’s never a bad idea to check in with your health care provider to be sure you’re meeting your personal nutrition needs. If you’d like to read up a bit on the topic first, you might try starting with Calcium, milk, and osteoporosis or consult the National Institutes of Health’s information on calcium supplements. In terms of getting calcium in your diet without supplements, dairy products such as milk, cheese, and yogurt are packed with calcium. Dark leafy green veggies and calcium-fortified juices are good choices, too.
It’s good you’re thinking about calcium, as it is certainly an important player in your diet and in bone health. Now that you know more, you can feel good about grabbing for a refreshing glass of bubbly water to quench your thirst.