This week we have the pleasure of hearing from Karen Asp.
In Karen’s words: I knew I wanted to be a writer, much to the chagrin of my practical-minded parents, when I was five. Consider these highlights from my early career:
- I became an editor in junior high, assigning myself lengthy reports as summer projects. (Any wonder why my family called me a word nerd?)
- In sixth grade, I won the county spelling bee. (Okay, so the trophy was nice, but the $100 prize was even sweeter.)
- Four years later, I submitted my first novel to a young adult novel competition. The moral of this story? Always shelve your first novel.
Now that I’m all grown up, I write about fitness, health, nutrition, travel and pets for leading national publications.
You’ll find me in the pages (and on the covers!) of dozens of magazines like Better Homes and Gardens, Delta Sky, Family Circle, Glamour, Health, Martha Stewart Living, Men’s Fitness, O the Oprah Magazine, Parade, Prevention, Real Simple, Redbook, SELF and Women’s Health. I’m also a contributing editor for Woman’s Day, a contributing writer for Oxygen, and a contributing editor for Dog Fancy, where I handle the Fun Bites column. (For seven years, I was even Allure’s fitness columnist and for three years, AOL’s Fit Travel columnist.)
And my new book is out! St. Martin’s recently released Understanding Your Food Allergies and Intolerances, which I co-authored with two Harvard physicians. (Check it out on Amazon.com.)
But do I really practice what I write? Absolutely.
I crave physical activity as much as I do ice cream (Edy’s light peanut butter cup or Talenti’s Double Dark Chocolate Gelato, to be exact). My favorite activities? Cross country and downhill skiing, snowshoeing, running, hiking, kayaking, yoga, tennis, cycling, strength training and Nordic walking. Just FYI: I played competitive tennis through college and have completed five centuries on my bike, including one for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training.
So what’s my favorite activity? Anything that involves snow (and the more snow, the better!), which may explain why I’m hooked on Nordic walking. It’s based on Nordic skiing, just minus the snow, so I can do it all year.
In 2007, I won the women’s division of the Marathon Distance Nordic Walking World Championship in Portland, Ore. (By the way, I came in second overall, only four minutes behind the men’s winner, an Olympic racewalker who competed in the 2008 Olympics. How cool is that?). I then repeated in 2008 to become not only the women’s winner but also the overall world champ! As a result, I now hold the women’s world record for the fastest marathon time in Nordic walking(under five hours). And this October, I secured three more world records by winning the Nordic walking half marathon in Portland so I now hold five Nordic walking world records and am rankedNo. 1 Nordic walking woman in the world! (Check out current world records/rankings here.)
I’m also now a triathlete! I recently did my first triathlon via the Toyota SheROX Triathlon in San Diego. I had such a blast you can bet I’ll be doing another (as long as I get over my anxiety about swimming in the open water!). And in 2013, I competed in my first cross country ski race. (Note to self: Wear warmer gloves next time!)
By the way, I earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism and literature from Miami University in Ohio (the real Miami, mind you) and a master’s degree in literature from Indiana University. I’m a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors and the Society of American Travel Writers. I also hold certifications from the American Council on Exercise as a group fitness instructor and personal trainer and have taught everything from step and cycling to strength training and walking.
Just one more thing at the request of my “staff” who begged me to add this: I share an office with three furry colleagues, including two cats, Morgan and Bailey, and a golden retriever named Jessie, whom I’m hoping has a future as a therapy dog like my first golden. (Fingers, er, paws crossed!)
The Slim Is Simple.org Non-Profit Nutrition Education Effort
Jonathan: Hey everyone, Jonathan Bailer here, back with another bonus Smarter Science of Slim podcast. I’ve got to tell you folks, I had to make sure I got a goodnight sleep last night and there is a reason for that. The reason for that is our guest today, her curriculum vitae or how do you pronounce that, her resume for lack of better terms. I had to rehearse, I had to rehearse, because let me just tell you a little bit about our guest today.
Our guest today can be found on the pages and on the covers of, ready, here we go, Better Homes and Gardens, Delta Sky, Family Circle, Glamour, Health, Martha Stewart, Men’s Fitness, O, The Oprah Magazine, Pray, Prevention, Real Simple, Red Book, Self, Women’s Health and she’s contributing editor of Women’s Day, contributing writer for Oxygen, is a contributing editor of Dog Fancy, and she co-authored a book with two Harvard Physicians, Understanding your Food Allergies and Intolerances. She’s here and her name is Karen Asp. I’m excited to invite her.
Karen, welcome to the show.
Karen: Hey Jonathan, thanks for having me. It sounds like you did your homework and you had a good night sleep last night, so good for you.
Jonathan: Well Karen, thank you so much for joining us. One of the reasons, I wanted to have you on the show was because as evidenced by your work in the field, you have seen and experienced a diversity of mainstream, health fitness and nutrition media, would that be fair?
Karen: Yes, that is fair to say.
Jonathan: I’m very curious just to open up the podcast with… During your journey, in the mainstream A-list health, fitness and nutrition publication world, have you seen any transitions or trends or like what was the past, what is the present and what do you perceive as the future of health, fitness and nutrition?
Karen: Well I think, Jonathan, one of the that we used to talk ages ago, maybe a decade ago was, everything was really focused on getting your work out in, making sure that we log enough time at the gym on your treadmill, in your basement, wherever your logging that time and I think that we’ve kind of seen a shift away from that largely because we know that we are not a population that moves as much as we should just during the day. I think that one of the things that has evolved over the years, thanks to all of the research and the science that’s been going on, is that, yeah, those gyms sessions are fantastic, and don’t you dare give up on them but even more importantly, it’s really those day to day activities. What are you doing when you’re not at the gym, when you’re sitting at your office all day, or when you’re sitting in a car driving your kids around for hours at a time? Where can you factor more activity in?
I think that is really kind of, for me, an interesting shift in the fitness side of things, just because again, like I said, I think that were finding that your daily physical activity, your daily physical functioning, really kind of may matter more than that gym work out that you are getting. The other thing I think that has shifted too a little bit, we are a nation of sitters.
We sit, for everything, when we go to the movie theatre, when you go to the doctor’s office to wait, when you wait at a restaurant, when you sit at your office desk, you are sitting. We are all sitting. I think, that there has also been an interesting shift to try to get us away from that, again, that sedimentary activity, molding in that more activity throughout the day, so, that has been the big shift, I think.
Jonathan: Well, from a fitness perspective, I really like that. People might be a little shocked to hear that because sometimes my message can be, let’s be fair, my tag line in some ways is, eat more and exercise less but do it smarter. When people hear the exercise less but smarter, “Well clearly, Jonathan, just means sitting on the couch and never moving,” which is actually not what I mean.
What I mean is actually much more analogous to what you just described, which is what we have seen, as potentially one of the most conclusive and non-controversial developments in the fitness arena over the past two decades, is how short bursts of safe, intense physical movement is incredibly beneficial and non-controversially beneficial.
Also, that simple movement is beneficial and that neither one of those things have much risks of side effects but it’s this historical movement that we have of just going to the gym and putting in hours upon hours of aerobic or cardiovascular exercise. It seems like that might be making a way for either end of the spectrum, for lack of better terms. Is that somewhat characterizing what you are seeing or am I taking my own liberties?
Karen: No, you’ve said it perfectly. I think that is exactly what I’ve been seeing too. It’s not to say, if there are listeners out there who are saying, “You know what, Karen and Jonathan, I still love my 30 minute runs or, I love my cross country skiing in winter let say for hour, hour and a half at a time.” That’s fantastic, don’t give that up but I think for those people who really struggling to find their way into the fitness world which is the majority of individuals, the news really is good.
It doesn’t have to be a long arduous work out and I would probably even argue to that, if there people out there who can just get a little more active i.e. walking to the mailbox, doing a little 10 minute walk at lunch, taking your dog out after work for a 20 minute walk. Those all will add up in the very end, so, yes, to your point, I think that you said it perfectly.
Jonathan: I think that is a fascinated distinction Karen. There is movement in being active which oftentimes is conflated with exercise. I personally see exercise ad a bit more, for lack of better terms let’s call it, unnatural, meaning that, when you exercise, you are doing a very deliberate, almost program based Sciency thing for a definite period of time. That’s not to criticize it in any way, shape or form but things like gardening, playing with your kid, going to your mailbox, that is just movement or activity.
Karen: Correct Jonathan, I’d like to refer to it, in my own vocabulary, I kind of say, that there is structured exercise, which is the exercise as you mentioned would be doing your strength training, taking that spin class. It is doing a prescribed amount for whatever intensity you’ve chosen, then there is non-structured exercise or activity, which is really just your daily movement.
Jonathan: Then, I think, there is a fascinating third bucket to it, which is characterizes what you mentioned about cross country skiing, or I always use the analogy of my brother who enjoys boxing. Is boxing a good form of exercise? Well, you get punched in the head a lot, so in terms of side effects… The point I’m making here is that there is a bucket called athletics or hobbies.
From experience, playing football is not a good form of exercise because, I’ve never blown my knee out or torn my peck doing exercise but I have done both of those things while playing football. I love football, don’t get me wrong, but it’s dangerous. If we are doing things to improve our health, one thing we want to keep in mind is the risk of injury because when you’re injured that is not good for your health.
Karen: Absolutely, risk of injury. Definitely, you always have to listen to your body because again, if you can exercise or move throughout the day, you’ve not taken away one of the ways in which you can be healthier, if you’re looking to control that weight or even lose weight.
Jonathan : Really the fascinating and encouraging point here, Karen, you made this earlier is, this is quite brilliant because, whereas historically, the message was very off putting in the sense that, I would say, if there is one thing universally in this country and around the world that we lack it’s, time, so, if our prescription for health is, I need you to spend two hours a day, doing something that is incredibly boring, likely painful and that will not generally results in the short term, you might as well, no.
Before I’m going to do that but if we just say, just move around, take the stairs instead of the elevator and then literally, on the order of minutes, we’re talking, one to five minutes a day. If you do it correctly, or even a week, if you do it really correctly, you can perform an almost therapeutic form of physical movement, which is so intense and so safe, that you can’t do a lot of it but also so intense and so safe that it’s almost analogous to an immunization. It’s like a very controlled stress in your body that then has this widespread physiological impact. It’s quick so it doesn’t take a lot of time.
Karen: Right, now, Jonathan, although I’ll banter with you with one point that you made, which is the lack of time, and I think, while we are a culture that has a perceived lack of time. I don’t know if that it’s necessarily realistic lack of time in that regard. I think that everybody could find 20 to 30 minutes a day to take that walk, go for a run, whatever they want, versus, watching TV. We know that the numbers of TV watching are just sky rocketing.
In other words, what I’m saying is, you make time for what’s important to you. If your health is important to you, then you will make time to do things that are important for your health but the good news is, as you said, it doesn’t have to take a ton of time, it doesn’t have to take hours at a time, for those people who like doing longer work out, it’s fine, don’t stop it. Those people who haven’t, it’s okay not to join that band wagon.
Jonathan: Certainly, it’s also encouraging when we talk about making time, which we certainly should for movement and for these unstructured activities as you call them. The other good news with that, people don’t often think about this but it certainly matters, is you don’t need to go someplace necessarily to do that. We can say 30 minute but if its 30 minutes and then its 20 minutes to drive to the gym and 20 minutes to drive home and you get stuck in traffic, by the end of the day, you got to change clothes so you don’t want to look bad at the gym, you’ve got to put on your cute, little lemon outfit… My point though is going to the gym is only 20 minute of exercise in to a 2 hour ordeal.
Karen: Totally, Jonathan, in fact I have actually to be very honest. As athletic as I am, and as much as I move throughout the day, I don’t belong to a gym because it choose a time. It’s easier for me to make that movement at my house. That’s not for everybody but it is easier for me to do that. It’s time, you spend all that time, driving, changing and it’s a mess.
Jonathan: Certainly, its sounds like an encouraging development, we can do it in a smarter fashion, it can take less time, and we can incur less injury. That’s all goodness. What do you see in the nutrition arena?
Karen: Jonathan, in the nutrition arena, we’re seeing again that return and I know that it’s going to go along with your message and I’m a very strong believer in this as well but that return to eating to real whole foods. I think there is more of an emphasis on really choosing foods, loading your diet with plant based foods more than anything.
I’m not suggesting that you have to go vegetarian but I am suggesting that most of your meals should be those plant based foods, whole real foods. It’s a message that has been out there, with all of the recent studies showing the benefits of a more plant based diet, the harm in eating from all these other foods, I think that’s going to become an even stronger message throughout the next year, down the road even.
Jonathan: Karen, I’m so happy you brought that up because I get a little frustrated by what I think is a false dichotomy, that’s currently put out there. For example, a plant based diet is analogous with health, which is not true and a plant based diet is analogous of being a vegetarian, which is also not true. In fact most people do not realize this but a sane lifestyle or the form of eating that my research recommends is 100 percent plant based. If you define plant based as, the volume of food that goes into your mouth should be 70 to 80 percent derived from plants and derived from high quality plants.
That doesn’t even necessarily mean that majority of your calories, necessarily, would be coming from vegetables, because it is nearly impossible to get all those calories from vegetables. Certainly, a plant based diet which is sugar, based in plants and wheat is very different from a plant based diet which consists of ¾ of your plate, consisting of a healthy plant based fats, vegetables, low fructose fruit. That’s ¾ of your plate. That’s a plant based plate. That doesn’t mean you can’t have a big old piece of grass fed beef or wild cut salmon on it as well.
Karen: Absolutely, Jonathan, I agree 100 percent with you but again, it’s very interesting one of the things that I like to do, people often complain, I’m a huge time management girl. When I’m standing at the grocery store waiting to check out, I actually don’t mind waiting in that grocery store line. I say it because, it’s kind of an experiment for me to watch and see what everybody is pulling out of their carts and putting on that conveyor belt.
To the people in front of me, to behind me, it is very interesting, Jonathan, to see most of the people are not choosing the foods that you have just mentioned. Most of the foods are in boxes, I’m not saying that boxed foods are bad, I’m not saying that but most of the foods are very processed, they’re very packaged. You look at the shape and size of the individual who is purchasing these products and you can understand perhaps why they are a little bit more round than they should be.
We should be loading our plates a little bit differently. I think that’s something we have forgotten throughout the years, and also our environment does not make it easy, necessarily. You have to kind of work a little bit harder, it is possible but our environment doesn’t make it easy to load the plate like that.
Jonathan: Absolutely, I don’t think this has ever happened but I’m curious about your commentary here. I think it’s a bit of human nature to focus on differences and to try to turn things in to more of ideological right versus rational. The reason I say this is, by the time this podcast airs this won’t be recent but, the Dr. Oz show recently had Dr. Lauren Cordain, a wonderful blogger and author Neil Stevenson, a paleonista, talking about Paleo diet.
Oftentimes, you see to me, in the internet community, you’ve got Paleo versus vegetarians. Ironically, that is a complete false dichotomy, if you watch what Neil and Lauren were saying actually, 2/3 to ¾ of your plate is absolutely plants. It’s just the most nutrient dense plants you can find. It seems like everyone basically agrees, like let’s eat the most nutrient dense plants we can eat and we eat the nutrient dense animals we can eat and let’s ensure that both of those have as little poison in them or applied to them because they both can. GMO corn is a plant, but I am not sure that it is best thing for any of us.
How do we mould this into a more common denominator, eat more nutrient dense, less poisonous food? Less of plants are good, animals are bad or ideological debate. What do you think?”
Karen: You know, Jonathan, all of your points are 100 percent. I would say yes to all of them. I think the message is, if you want to make it simple, it is quality over quantity. As consumers we have to be very conscious of what we do put in our mouth. That’s not to say that I am not going to eat the occasional snickers bar, or M&M or whatever it might be but 90 percent of the time I’m going to be choosing foods that are high quality, nutrient dense foods.
I think too Jonathan, one of the things that I am perceiving is that people are so confused, there are so many messages. As you said, there so many “diets” going against each other. You’ve got the Paleo, you’ve got a vegetarian, which is more of a lifestyle kind of way of eating, not necessarily a diet, you’ve got the Mediterranean diet. All of these diets, I think that people are very, very confused about what to eat and so it all gets kind of lost.
I wish that we could make the message simpler, which is just that, it’s really quality over quantity but you’ve got to know what quality means. If you are somebody that who is concerned about your health and I wish we all would be, I wish we all would take responsibility for out health, then you’re going to educate yourself about what’s a quality food versus a non-quality food? What should I be eating?
Jonathan: I love this paralysis by analysis that I think a lot of us face which is, because there is so much debate about, what I would characterize as what’s right or perfect versus, what would just stem the obesity and diabetes epidemics. Let’s for a second forget about this Tower of Babel approach, which is that somehow you could perfect your health and live forever, we’re all going to die. There’s an element of will eating X, is it good for you or bad for you? It’s bad for you to the extent that it will cause cancer, if you could consume it for 300 years.
It’s irrelevant, because you are not going to live 300 years, you’ll die from something else before that kills you. If we just rewind and we say, instead of having paralysis by analysis, start with the simple rule of, the further away it is from something you can find directly in nature, the less, generally speaking, the less healthy it is for you. This, to me, is actually quite helpful for things like sugar and some grains. If you could eat sugar cane, if you actually want to eat sugar cane, eat it because you will not eat very much of it and if you actually want to eat wheat off the stalk, go ahead because you will not over eat that and you’ll probably feel that it’s disgusting, so I’m not going to eat it.
Karen: Absolutely. Your message Jonathan is, the simpler you could make it and I think it is that way with fitness too. There does not need to be a “prescription,” necessarily, just move more throughout the day, bringing it back to basics.
Jonathan: Move more throughout the day and also I would say, don’t torture yourself because I feel like some of this, not only from a dietary perspective but also from an exercise perspective is, when you think about, you characterized it perfectly and this is also reflected in my work, is the quality over quantity paradigm shift. The old movement of eat 1200 calorie a day is literally torture.
If you are a POW, they restrict your calories. Do moderate intensity exercise for extended period of times, like hours, if you are POW, they will make you do hard labor for extended period of times. It’s literally torture, it seems like we are moving away from that and a bit more making healthy again, which is a tautology but it seems like we’ve gotten away from that.
Karen: I think so, I think that if you living a healthier life, it is an overwhelming thing but there are some very simple things you could do as we already talked about. If you are sitting a lot, every hour 5 minutes, make sure that you’re getting up. I actually use a standing desk now, so, I don’t sit and I actually, in my day, I have reduced my sitting time to about under 2 hours a day.
That includes meals and things like that. I’m also a big fan of if you want to go this way and if you’re a data person, I love body monitoring devices that show you where you are being sedentary in a day and where you’re being a little bit active Again, kind of an advanced version of a pedometer. All those things are just designed to motivate you to move a little bit more, to do things like that.
Jonathan: I love the message of simplicity and sanity. This can’t be that complex, in some ways, it’s a paradox. It seems the more we’ve begun to worry about this, the less healthy we become. How did our grandmothers not get diabetes? They didn’t have these rates and in fact, the obesity rates, the earliest records we have in the early 20th century was about three percent of the population was obese.
No one counted any calories and no one went to any gyms. It can’t be that complex. I’m so encouraged to hear that you’re also seeing that reflected in the mainstream as well because I think that’s really what we need, is a shift. All the bloggers out there, hats off to them but sadly, one celebrity or one talk show that points us in the wrong direction can undo decades of blogging work out.
Karen: That’s true but if you look way back then, our environment is completely different. We’ve made it easier to eat these kind of unhealthy processed food, they are everywhere. One of the things we have also factored movement out of the day, not that I don’t like my dishwasher or my washing machine but to see…
When you think about simple little things like that, evening opening your garage door, way back when you would add a little activity to your day. Now, what do you do, you just press a button. The environment has shifted throughout the decades and I think that we need to pull back and say, how do we change this, how do we not let this overtake us?
Jonathan: It seems there is a pattern there for both movement and from the nutrition arena. It’s returning to a more natural state. The natural state of humans is to move around and to have to do things and the natural state of humans is to eat stuff that exists in nature, that is natural and normal and when we deviate from normal, we become abnormal and we become sick.
Karen: That sounds right, you’ve got it, Jonathan.
Jonathan: That about sums it up. Well, Karen, on that note, I wanted to quickly, talk about your new book, which is quite exciting. It’s called Understanding Your Food Allergies and Intolerances, a Guide to Their Management and Treatment. If you can tell us a quick bit about this book, a partnership with the Harvard Medical School. I’ll let you tell us a little bit about it.
Karen: We know that food allergies and food intolerances are two different things. Risings slightly, most people think that they are in greater numbers. This is a book, that is a basic guide to helping people understand first of all what the differences between allergies and food intolerance and then once they understand the differences, kind of figuring out where they need to go, what their next step is, what the protocol is for diagnosing one of these, what the treatment might be. It’s kind of a basic book to get readers the information that they have about these two conditions.
Jonathan: I love it, love it. Let me get it to focus on quality over quantity, which truly, if we could just embed that in our mind, in and of itself I think would do so much. Karen, what’s next for you, you’re doing all kinds of stuff, you’re like the female Tim Ferris.
Karen: I don’t know about that but I will be at Ever Pregnant in the magazine. My bio will continue to be out there, I’ve got a lot of things coming up with the magazines and things like that. As far as the world record, I’m going, the Nordic walking is where I hold it. I’m looking for what my next goal is for Nordic walking. I certainly have other fitness goals in mind but it’s the Nordic Walking where I will be focusing on and see what I can do with that next and just making sure that I stay as healthy as possible.
Jonathan: I know you spend a lot of time in Portland, Oregon, we are out here in the Pacific Northwest. If you’re ever in the Seattle area, I’d love to get together with you, with a cup of Green Tea or coffee, whichever you prefer.
Karen: Jonathan, I love green tea but I just started drinking coffee, it’s a new addition to my diet.”
Jonathan: I love it Karen. Thank you so much for joining us today. It’s been absolute pleasure.
Karen: Thanks Jonathan thanks for having me. Say hello to Seattle for me.
Jonathan: Will do. Thank you Karen and listeners, I hope you enjoyed today’s show as much as I did. Please feel free to check out Karen’s work. There is certainly a lot of it. Chances are if you read any mainstream fitness health or nutrition media, you’ve read it, already. Check her out at karenasp.com.
Her brand book which is a Saint Martin Press published it, a collaboration of two Harvard Physicians. It’s called Understanding Your Food Allergies and Intolerances. It is available everywhere you buy a book. Remember, this week, and every week after, eat smarter, exercise smarter and live better. Talk with you soon.
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