Viva Italia Part II


Back by popular demand – more accounts of my trip to Italy.  Believe me,  I don’t need an excuse to blab about the exquisite trip that has left me longing for the mediterranean lifestyle.

See that picture of all the amazing gelatos – this is what is so  great: I had yogurt and chocolate gelato and they tasted just like tart yogurt and 70% dark chocolate.  No wonder a 1/2 cup (at 2.50 Euro, or $4) satisfied.  The flavors were amazing.

Italy reminded me of one of my life’s dreams: to lose about 20 lbs, and then travel the world eating the BEST food and gaining it all back.  Gelato would certainly contribute, though the fat content was much lower than ice cream and  they really weren’t all that sweet (these two flavors anyway) all the time. 


This is a photo from the walls inside the vatican museum.  the art was amazing…and all that oogling made us hungry, so immediately after our 3 hr visit, mom headed to the pastry shop across the street, and bought this:


It was also coupled with a cannoli, but she devoured that so fast, I couldn’t get my camera out in time!


Funny thing about this picture.  When Matt first moved into his home in Davis, his landlord (and art guy) had this EXACT same photo in the bathroom.  I recall contemplating it and wondering what it was.  When I visited Matt post Italy, I lit up, because I knew what it was: The Pantheon – a domed temple that continues to be the model of all models for creating Rotundas (Even our own Washington DC dome was modeled after this).  PS: there is now a McDonalds 100 feet away from the Pantheon.  Do you think the ancients foresaw that modern wonder standing along side their creation??


Who wouldn’t want to eat apples and pears from this adorable street-side store?  Shops like this were sprinkled all over Italy.  Mom and I enjoyed trying to communicate with the ‘limited English’ stern-faced old ladies who ran the show.  They may not have spoken to us much, but they certainly knew how to slice and wrap fresh deli meats.  It was heavenly to stop in daily to such a shop, buy some snacks and just listen to them chat on about the day.  The grocery seemed like an Italian version of a knitting circle.


This is a town in the Cinque terre.  The hike yielded amazing views but was not for the feign at heart.  One town alone boasted a 382 stair climb (after over 1 hour of hiking) to get to the top of the town.  i don’t even remember what I ate here, but I’m pretty sure  that I devoured it and had some gelato to accompany whatever lunchtime treat I discovered.


Until next time, I’ll bid you ‘bona sera’ (Good night), and we’ll hop on the Italian memory train again soon!  Next time, I’ll share some of my videos (they just take a long time to upload)


More on the price of convenience: a NEAT perspective

Recently a fellow blogger, named Jeff, wrote this:

  1. The average long haul truck driver leads a sedentary life and stops at travel centers 5 times each day. Their diet is heavy on snacks and all-you-can-eat buffets. It should come as no surprise that 73% of professional truck drivers are overweight or obese, more than twice the national percentage. Truck drivers may “celebrate the cost savings” but their bodies are clearly paying a greater price.

Yowza!!  5 times/day…….that is crazy.  This topic reminded me of something I was recently reading in a Mayo Clinic newsletter.  It was a discussion on the epidemic of obesity due to lack of physical activity.  Truck drivers are certainly examples of a population who both move very little AND eat very calorie-dense foods.

So, I did a little research on something called NEAT:
you can check it out at this Mayo clinic link.


Looking out over this crowded coffee bar, I see a 40-year-old man reading a newspaper. He is stationary. He sits next to a 30-year-old woman. She can barely sit still. She gets up and curves between the tightly squeezed tables, just to get a napkin and then gesticulates wildly as she talks on her cell phone. He has still not moved. He thinks now of his three-year-old daughter at home; “she just never stops” he thinks. He smiles to himself and scratches his nose. She gesticulates further as she tells a friend of a rat she saw scuttling rapidly on the subway rails. A taxi drives by. The driver immigrated from an agricultural community in the Ivory Coast. Birds soar high over-head. All these living beings exhibit spontaneous physical activity or, Non-exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT).

Human Energy Expenditure (and semantics)
Even lean individuals store at least two to three months of their energy needs in adipose tissue whereas obese persons can carry a year’s worth of their energy needs. It is the cumulative impact of energy imbalance over months and years that results in the development of obesity or undernutrition.

There are three principal components of human energy expenditure (EE), basal metabolic rate (BMR), thermic effect of food (TEF) and activity thermogenesis. There are also other small components of EE that may contribute to the whole, such as the energetic costs of medications and emotion.

BMR is the energy expended when an individual is laying at complete rest, in the morning, after sleep, in the postabsorptive state. In individuals with sedentary occupations BMR accounts for approximately 60 percent of total daily EE. Three-quarter’s of the variability in BMR is predicted by lean body mass within and across species. TEF is the increase in EE associated with the digestion, absorption, and storage of food and accounts for approximately 10-15 percent of total daily EE.

Activity Thermogenesis has two constituents, exercise-related activity thermogenesis and Non-exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT). For the vast majority of dwellers in the U.S., exercise activity thermogenesis is negligible. NEAT, even in avid exercisers, is the predominant constituent of activity thermogenesis and is the EE associated with all the activities we undertake as vibrant, independent beings. NEAT has an enormous variety of constituents including occupation, leisure and fidgeting. Because of this, NEAT is challenging to study and its role in human energy balance has been difficult to define.

Non-exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT)
NEAT is likely to contribute substantially to the inter- and intra-personal variability in EE. Argue thus; if three-quarters of the variance of BMR is accounted for by variance in lean body mass and, TEF represents 10-15 percent of total EE, then the majority of the variance in total EE that occurs independent of body weight must be accounted for by NEAT. Evidence supports this. NEAT is highly variable and ranges from ~ 15 percent of total daily EE in very sedentary individuals to >50 percent in highly active persons . Even minor changes in physical activity throughout the day can increase daily EE by 20 percent. NEAT is impacted by environment, but is also under biological control .

NEAT and environment
There are many environmental cues that impact NEAT. Broadly, they can be divided into occupational and non-occupational components.

NEAT and occupation
Matched individuals with highly active ambulatory jobs can have NEAT values of 1000 kcal/day greater than sedentary peers. In areas of nutritional need, this has implications for starvation-threatened individuals. In affluent countries, industrialized can convert high-NEAT jobs to lower-NEAT jobs and this has been associated with increased obesity rates.

Non-occupation NEAT

  • Dish washers
  • Cars
  • Remotes
  • Lawnmowers
  • Drive-through
  • Game-boy
  • Elevators
  • Snow blowers

Leisure-time sedentariness has resulted from the availability and volitional use of pervasive mechanization. When the energetic cost of non-work mechanization is estimated experimentally it approximates to, 100-200 kcal/day; a caloric deficit that potentially could account for the entire obesity epidemic.

NEAT and physiology
With experimental overfeeding in humans, NEAT increases. Those who increased their NEAT the most with overfeeding gained the least fat. This suggests that along with self-evident societal slothfulness, NEAT is biologically modulated. Animal data support this. There appear to be central mediators of NEAT. For example, microinjections of orexins into hypothalamic nuclei increase NEAT whereas antagonists decrease it. There may be humoral mediators as experimental hyperthyroidism is associated with increased NEAT. There also be genetic mechanism at play; during overfeeding twinness in part predicts fat gain. Also NEAT is specific for different genetic strains of mice.
Where to from here?

Mechanism: by understanding the neuromodulators and non-central mediators of NEAT; its biological function will become clear.

Physiology: What are the key components of NEAT? What is the role of NEAT in aging, children, gender, and race? How does positive and negative affect NEAT and its components?

Pathology: What is the role of NEAT in obesity and eating disorders?

Intervention: Targeted, evaluated interventions from person to population.

Having read this abstract, please get up and take and short walk down the corridor (or similar). Repeat for each abstract you read. Please let me know how it went.

Nutrition:The price of convenience

Today I stopped into a Pilot gas station/convenience store to fill up. I decided to take a mosey inside and see what was going on, as the place on I-5 Southbound in the Willamette Valley is always hoppin’. If you don’t know, Pilot “travel centers” offer gas, convenience stores, and usually a restaurant, such as Subway and Taco Bell in this instance.

Here is what I saw: When you walk in, one of the first things you see is a cooler with mixed green salads, sandwiches and dessert parfaits for 2/$5. Then its the coffee bar/soda bar, which takes up approximately 20-25% of the total store space. There is even a fruit stand where apples, oranges and bananas are 2/$1 – not too shabby.

However, its easy to miss these healthy options because 75% of the store is dedicated to utter garbage. Just look at the monthly specials for Pilot LLC, and you can clearly see the focus is on garbage eating. Most of the people in line with me either had candy bars + soda or the 2 chili-dog special, or a 44 oz soda. Most of the people were 20 – 200 lbs overweight. I felt like an oddball being regular sized.

But, let’s break it down a little. I know that junk food, especially “value priced” appeals to the traveller in need of a little grub and little time. But is it really that inexpensive?
For instance, the king sized candybars (Kit kat, Snickers, etc) were 2/$2. What do you get for that $2, when compared to the salad at $2.50/piece.

Calorically: $2 gets you the caloric value of 2 king-sized candy bars. There are 440 Kcal in the 1.94 oz, which equals (for two): 880 kcal for $2 and 4oz of “food”. That is 220 Kcal/oz of “food”, and 440 Kcal/$1 of “food”.

By contrast, the salad, I’d guestimate at about 100 Kcal without dressing, and 250 with dressing. The size is likely 6-8 oz, possibly more. Let’s say 7 oz/ to be moderate.
Therefore, you get 250 Kcal for $2.50, which is 100 Kcal/dollar. You also get only about 38 Kcal/oz of food.
To compare, the better financial “value” is in the candy bar, at 440 Kcal/$1, versus 100 Kcal/$1 with the salad.

Comparing cost per ounce yields a different result. The candy bar is $.50/oz, whereas, the salad is about $.38/oz, which is a better deal.

Let’s look at the health of it: Do we even need to do any math? The salad will yield much better health and in all likelyhood help keep you “fuller” longer because it is real food being digested by your organs, versus sugary junk food that sends a message to your brain for more, more, more!

Yet, in the line I saw, not one person had a salad, despite the better deal in both the health and the cost per oz perspective. We are all trying to save money and improve our health, right? So why do candy bars and chili dogs win out?

Maybe this will help clear things up: Check out this monthly pilot ad: Notice a theme with what is on sale?


Because marketing shows us that “snickers really satisfies” and “gimme a break” from my hard day with a Kit Kat bar. Sexy models chow down and our subconscious mind can’t turn it off. We want a bite of what they are selling. We all feel like we deserve a ‘treat’ for simply living life. I totally fall prey to that. I’ll think about my hard day and how “good” I was, and suddenly I’m pulling up to those same convenience stores or to a cafe for my liquid pleasure: junky hot chocolate. No joking: one of the apects that keeps me coming back to the black juice is the cost value (ust $.89 – $.99 at a convenience store) and the fact that I can get more volume out of my sugary treat with a liquid than with a solid. I get 12-16 oz for the caloric “price” of a regular sized candy bar (esp since I cut the hot chocolate with decaf coffee or water to cut down on sugar). But somewhere in my subconscious mind the trick that working hard = needing sugar certainly stuck. For me its hot chocolate, maybe for you its chips or nachos or soda, or whatever. Notice that fruits and veggies do not have a marketing campaign? The “5 a day” campaign to eat more fruits/veggies has a budget of 5 million/year nationally, whereas the pepsi corporation alone spends $2 billion/year on marketing……gee, I wonder why we pass up the fruit stand at Pilot and head for the soda fountain. And did you check out the specials this month at Pilot? Buy a gigantic soda and get a Kit kat for only $.24…..what a deal, that is added value – even though to our body less is better. We seem to shop and eat from our pocketbook over our stomach and digestion. More food for less simply = unhealthy people, the body does not celebrate the cost savings like the mind does.

Here’s my suggestion when you travel: pack your own snacks/lunch or find a grocery store with a deli and produce section when you are passing through a town. The food is fresher, cheaper, and offers more variety than a gas station anyway. Seriously, if we want for change on a cultural level, we must be willing to go the extra mile (literally, in this case) to get our health needs met and express them as a priority.

That’s what I think today…but maybe I’m just cranky – I am on day 6 of a liver/colon detox…. 🙂