Skip to content

If It’s Complicated, Keep It Complicated

December 7, 2013

I recently posted the following rant on Twitter following a frustrating conversation I had regarding aspartame. I want to use this post to detail and explain why I feel this way.


I am often asked about popular nutrition claims by those around me and I love having those conversations. However, I get irritated when people without a science-based background read inaccurate, sensationalized, overly simplified nutrition information and think they understand the whole field. I think a large part of this is the fault of the media, healthcare practitioners (including Registered Dietitians), as well as self-proclaimed nutrition “experts” portraying information too simply (intentionally or not) or in scare tactic manners in their books, news articles, blog posts, and on their social media channels. The human body is complex and it’s processes very complicated. While it isn’t necessary that everyone know every detailed step of metabolic pathways or physiological processes (let’s be real – NO ONE will ever be able to), I believe it is vitally important everyone know just how complicated it is.

In fact, Siddhartha Mukherjee’s writes in his book The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer that looking into the human cell is more complicated than space missions. Think about that. Would anyone dare to claim that space travel is simple? I hope not. Now realize that cellular function (and fyi- your body is composed of cells) is more complex than that!

I have been wracking my brain to think of an everyday life type of analogy that could be used to get across the point that “hey – this stuff is REALLY hard to understand”, but nothing was sufficient enough. Everything was way too simple and would a disservice to my point as well as a disgrace to molecular biologists everywhere. However – here is my attempt:

Cells are Like Homes

Imagine that your home is a cell. Just like homes come in different sizes from studio apartments to gigantic castles and mansions, so do cells in our bodies. Generally speaking, homes are fairly similar in what they contain – space for preparing food, sleeping, storage, bathing, and so on, as well as the basic functions required to “survival and function” – i.e. – paying bills, bringing needed items – such as groceries – in (aka endocytosis), removing waste products by taking out trash (aka exocytosis), and so on. Cells also have the same general structure and composition with various compartments (organelles) and items (intracellular proteins) which make them all similar. However, differences clearly do exist in what different homes contains just as cell’s have varying components. For instance, some homes have libraries filled floor to ceiling with books while others may only have a few scattered about on bookshelves or coffee tables. Some contain multiple refrigerators and freezers and thus can store more fruits, veggies, meats, frozen pizzas, etc. than those with less fridge/freezer space. Some have TONS of rooms, some have few, and all with varying levels of access which control flow of people and items within the home from open-concept all the way to password-protected safe rooms. These differences (and many others) result in different specializations between homes and cell types.

In addition to the interior of homes and cells being different and thus resulting in different functions, the manner in which individual homes and cells communicate with the outside world (extracellular fluid) and other homes (other cells) is another level of complexity added on. Imagine that your doors, windows, vents, cracks in the foundation, etc. serve as points of entry for other people, rodents, bugs, information, and items similar to how a cell uses various plasma membrane channels, transporters, or diffusion through the bilayer to allow in different molecules. Then of course your home can likely communicate with the outside world via telephone, internet, radio, and TV in a completely different manner, just as the cell can send/receive signals to and from other cells. For example, a telephone call is a direct, specific, and fast means of communication with 1 other home (or more if you have conference calling available). This could be considered synonymous with synaptic cell signaling. Or,  you could send out a blog post into the great wide cyber world, which will only be seen by people who also have internet access as well as a specific interest in the topic you posted and ability to receive it. This could be considered synonymous with endocrine signaling where 1 cell releases a hormone which travels far away and is only recognized (aka received) by cells with a receptor specific for it. Alternatively you can leave your house and knock on your neighbor’s door to ask them to do something for you, which would be similar to paracrine signaling.

In each of these cases, not only is the signal molecule (the message you are sending out) important in determining what response occurs, but so to are the receptors and intracellular machinery of the other cells (homes). For instance, if you receive your monthly bills via snail mail and you have checks, pens, envelopes, stamps, and enough $ in your bank account, you can easily pay those bills and send them off. If you don’t have sufficient amounts of one or all of those items, responding to that signal will take longer as you will need to come up with whatever is short, such as make more $. This is similar to how the response in cell’s can vary. If the molecules needed to react and generate a response already exist, the cell can respond quickly. If a specific protein is not present in large enough quantities the response will take much longer and gene expression may need to change.

Now extrapolate the above concepts from individual cells and cell-cell communication to the entire world (or entire body) and you can see it becomes even more complex. There are different regions of the world just as there are different organs and organ systems in the body. Then think about how various regulatory agents dictate aspects of your life and function of your home (must use certain materials in building, must have smoke detectors, must pay tolls to travel via car across this bridge, must do this, must do that…and so on). Well all bodily processes are also subject to regulation…and even the regulatory molecules are under the control of other regulatory molecules. It is INSANELY complicated!


If you want a picture example, which only partially gets across the point of this complexity, look at this image (click here) from Cell Signaling looking solely at Insulin Receptor signaling. While it is true that insulin binding an insulin receptor causes glucose uptake, it is also not nearly as simple as that. Several other ‘players’ are involved, all dictating how the cell responds.

Hopefully the above example gets my point across and  makes you realize the following:

1) The human body is incredibly complex and thus no one is truly an expert on all things health, nutrition, fitness (or whatever it is they are claiming to be an expert in).

2) Often times attempts to simplify nutrition/health information into black/white type statements (i.e. – carbohydrates are fattening) or labeling foods/nutrients we consume into ‘good’ v. ‘bad’ or ‘healthy’ v. ‘unhealthy’ dichotomous categories is likely a sure way to pass along inaccuracies.

One final point. Don’t take this to mean that if someone asks you for dietary advice to fit their nutrient needs, lifestyle, preferences, and will help them reach their goals that you must give them all of the information from a semester long nutrition course 1st (or entire degree first). Not at all. In fact, that is something that should be provided in a simple and straightforward manner. “Eat all 3 macronutrients in evenly spaced intervals throughout your waking hours from a variety of food sources.” My point is don’t attempt to bring in scientific information to support your recommendations in an overly simplified manner (i.e. – “research shows saturated fats are GOOD, not bad, put butter in your coffee”) as that is where the inaccuracies creep in and get passed along. This creation of ‘mutant’ (aka inaccurate) information and its spread leads to problems for ourselves and society as a whole in a manner similar to how hyperactive mutant forms of Ras (a GTPase protein) are resistant to regulation by Ras GAPS (GTPase activating proteins), which would normally inactivate the protein (I know, that seems odd based upon its name…but trust me), and thus promote the development of cancer….

I hope this post was both helpful and informative. Until next time…


Trail Running v. Road Running

November 23, 2013

To some extent running is running and runners will happily pound miles on the pavement or seek solitude out on the trails. However, key differences exist between the two as well…and if I had to pick just 1 to do for the rest of my life, well trail running wins. Hands down. Here’s why:

{Silent Trails 10 Miler 2013 – Wyoming}

A Culture of Camaraderie: Generalizing here as I realize this is not always the case, but in my experience the trail running community is SO supportive of everyone out there where as the road running community can seem a bit stuck up! In road races, despite being surrounded by people, I feel more alone. Everyone has their head phones on and are plugged into their only little world, monitoring their Garmin. In trail races, despite logging plenty of miles without seeing other runners when you do find yourself keeping pace with someone else you get a new friend out of it! Or at least some great conversation and some serious support on tough sections. Never have I seen another runner at a road race stop to help a stranger who has fallen, is struggling, etc. The kind ones will be sure not to step on you, will ask if you’re okay, and maybe tell a spectator or someone at the next aid station you need help, but they are not letting you mess up their PR! Trail runners on the other hand will stop and carry you out of the woods and stay with you until a race official is there to help you. True story – my friend did fall during a trail race and was cut up so badly she needed stitches. Two other runners stopped and helped her until they met up with a race volunteer who called her an ambulance.

Tanya 13.1

{Trail Nut Half Marathon 2012 – Virginia}

Obstacles: The natural obstacles add to trail running’s appeal and challenge. Road races may have a pot hole or two to avoid, but you can be sure it will be clearly marked. Trail running, your brain is ON at all times helping you navigate rocks (some lose!), roots, streams, snakes, bears, and more! Anyone who has logged miles on the trails can tell you that more often than not those snakes look like tree roots and you don’t realize its true identity until you’re about to step on one!

Pausing for a picture during a run in Zion National Park earlier this year.

{Zion National Park 2011}

Nature: Enough Said. Give me the dense woods, awe-dropping mountains or wide-open plains any day over an endless stretch of road! The images you store away on a trail run and the views you see from the top of a hard climb beat the heck out of buildings and a sea of other runners backsides!

While I certainly hit the pavement frequently for my runs (hey, it’s right outside my door and super convenient) my heart is set on the trails! With Blue Ridge Marathon training starting up soon I plan to incorporate at least 1 trail run a week to help keep my sanity and enjoyment of the training process!

Trails or Road…which do you prefer and why?


Into the Darkness Race Recap + Chocolate-Pumpkin Pie Smoothie

November 16, 2013

Last time I posted was right before I was off to participate in the Mountain Junkies Night Time 4 Mile Halloween Trail Run (called “Into the Darkness”). Josh and Gina rock at putting on races; from the organization, to the trails being cleared of slippery leaves, to the post race food spread, and not to mention, giveaways galore…they get an A+! If you are ever in the Roanoke, VA area when a Mountain Junkies race is being held, you MUST sign up. Additionally, if you ever get the chance to take part in a nighttime trail run….you HAVE to do it. Sure, the risk of tripping and getting scraped up is a lot higher, but sometimes all it takes is a few falls to realize you are a lot tougher than cell phone screens circa 2002, and can totally handle it!

The Race: Started off with 3 waves this year vs. 2 from last year and it was SO well done. When we registered we entered our pace and fastest Into the Darkness finish (if applicable) and were seeded into starting waves. Previously there was a whole lot of passing that had to occur, which can be very hard to do on trails…especially at night. This year, it was pretty much right on. I was able to latch on to a group from the get-go and we were all in sync. 1st mile is down a hill and always fast, no matter how much I try to rein it in. That pace is quickly brought into check because the 2nd mile starts UP, UP, UP! From there it is rolling hills, mainly single track with a few spots to make a move if you want. A woman who had been behind me & making sure I was okay approximately every minute when I tripped and nearly fell over various roots and rocks, passed me around mile 2.5. Mission: Hunt her down!! Caught back up to her just as we were leaving the woods towards the finish and passed her! Wooo. Thanks random stranger for giving me the motivation to chase you and finish strong!

Into The DarknessRESULTS: Overall (67/425), Female (9/218), Division (1/34); 36:16 for an 8:57 pace…so actually the same as last year’s pace as the course got a little bit longer this year due to a reroute going down the first hill!

Lots of work to do before the Blue Ridge Marathon next year, but this was a step in the right direction. Hoping that some day soon I am filled with a desire to run rather than forcing myself to do each one!

Now…onto the recipe. I tweeted about this smoothie a while back. Something along the lines of “I want to go to bed now so morning comes sooner and I can have another Chocolate-Pumpkin Pie Smoothie!“. Protein shakes have been my ‘thing’ for breakfast lately. Quick. Customizable. Tasty….also a good way for me to get in enough protein at breakfast without much effort on a vegetarian diet. Since it is pumpkin season, of course I needed a way to incorporate this seasonal squash into my morning routine!


  •  1 cup milk of choice (I use Unsweetened Vanilla Almond Milk)
  • 1 scoop chocolate protein powder (I use a whey protein w/30 g protein, 2 g carbs, and 1 g fat)
  • ~1 cup canned pumpkin, frozen into small ice-cube tray blocks
  • pumpkin pie spice, to taste
  • optional: sweetener of choice, to taste


  • Blend all ingredients, pour into glass…drink through a straw.

Like everything I eat – quick and easy!

CPProteinSmoothieFor more of my favorite protein smoothie recipes, check out this post!

What’s your ultimate pumpkin recipe? How about your best protein smoothie recipe? Send me the link as I am always up for trying out new ones!


Then and Now

October 19, 2013

Last weekend I went back to Laramie, Wyoming – where I attended college – for the first time since I moved away in July of 2010. What a wonderful and also emotionally charged trip this was. I grew up, gained independence, and really learned a lot about who I am and what I want from life in the 5 years I spent there. While I love living in Virginia, I do ultimately see myself moving back west if possible. Wyoming and the Rocky Mountain region in general will forever have my heart.


While there I ran the Silent Trails 10 mile race…a memorial trail run for the 8 University of Wyoming Cross Country runners killed by a drunk driver in 2001. At the start of any race I tend to tear up, especially those that are put on in memory of tragedies, such as this one. It does certainly help to put everything in perspective though. Petty problems & annoyances are seen for what they are – nonsense. Just being able-bodied and healthy enough to be out on the trails running is a wonderful gift that shouldn’t be taken for granted!

While I was glad to be there and be running, this race was a year after I ran the Baltimore Marathon last fall…and suffice it to say, my running has done a total 180 since then.

THEN: Last 10 mile run before Baltimore – Virginia 10 Miler. 8:34/mile pace.

10 Miler

Now: Embarrassing! Walked about 3 miles of it! EEEK. Excuses galore that I could (and did) use…but it really just boils down to, I am NOT in running shape. Turns out that’s what happens when you don’t run more than ~4 miles in the 8 months before a 10 miler! However, Wyoming welcomed me back with gorgeous views and the reminder that, “yes, of course the trails are covered in snow in October!” as well as “welcome to ALTITUDE you flatlander!”

Miles 1-3: Feeling good, mainly downhill.

Mile 3-4: Flattened out, snow became a bit deeper…and I started feeling the altitude and lack of training.

Miles 4-6: Up a steep, snow-covered trail named “Devil’s Crotch”. Let’s just say that if there is snow and any trail with the word “devil” in it, I want skis and to be facing DOWN it…not trying to run UP it. Walked most of this.

Miles 6-10: A mix of “I love Wyoming!” and “Why did I sign up for this?”…and some more walking. Finish line…WHERE ARE YOU??

Happy Jack{Wyoming: Wide Open Spaces}

HappyJackTree{So In Love}

More than just thinking back on the past year, this trip brought back a whole lot of memories about my years in Wyoming. To say I got a bit nostalgic is an understatement.

THEN: Last soccer game in the Fall of 2008. I spent a lot of time sitting on the bench, but it was still a bit weird being back in town years after my time as a college athlete has passed. While searching for an image to put here I actually came across this Athlete of the Week interview I did during my senior season, and couldn’t help but laugh at myself.

Senior Game

NOW: Went on a hunt for the brick my parents bought me as part of Wyoming’s football stadium renovation fundraiser. Success!


Returning back to focus on the present, tonight I am off to run the Mountain Junkies Into the Darkness Nighttime 4 Mile Trail Race. If you’ve followed this blog for a while, you’ll know I did this race the past 2 years and REALLY enjoy it. The organizers do a fabulous job and it has always been a lot of fun.

THEN: This same race in 2012 – with a 2nd place age group finish!

Into the Darkness

NOW: It remains to be seen. Attempting to just have fun and not stress about being so far off of where I was last year. My hip has officially been bothering me for a year, so I am just hoping to get through this without any pain tonight and keep moving forward and progressing!

Runners: Extended injuries or multiple in a year’s time? How do you deal?!?!


Sesame Kale Salad

October 5, 2013

Happy Saturday! Two things on the agenda today – A kale salad recipe AND the winner of the Blue Ridge Marathon Giveaway is announced!

First up, the recipe: When it comes to recipes and food prep, the simpler the recipe and the shorter the ingredient list, the better – in my opinion. When I view recipes with long ingredient lists I am immediately turned off. This kale salad recipe is super simple, quick, and lasts for days – a triple win! For a while I was buying the Harvest Sensations Sesame Kale Salad Mix. It was already prepped and with a little mixing, ready to go. However, I had some experiences where the bag would already be going bad, despite not being passed the “Use By” Date. Also, those premade mixes are expensive, so I started making my own – which I much prefer.

HarvestSensationsKaleSalad{The Bagged Stuff – Good…but not GREAT}


  • 6-8 cups kale, (fresh) destemmed and chopped
  • 4-5 carrots, peeled and julienned
  • 1/8 – 1/4 of a purple cabbage, cut into small strips


  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1/3 cup rice vinegar
  • 1-2 T. sesame oil
  • 1-2 T. white sesame seeds


  • Mix – aka MASSAGE. This is kale and it is tough, so soften it up!
  • Let sit several hours (in the fridge), and enjoy.


Kale is not your usual salad green and stands up to “marinating” very well. Make a large batch and have it for a few days straight as it won’t wilt. The flavors actually get better overtime! I tend to make a batch twice a week and eat it daily w/fish.

Slightly funny story: I passed this recipe along to a friend one day when he asked what he should make that night. The verdict I got back… “It tastes super healthy”. That left me wondering….so, it was good? Fortunately, he said he did enjoy it! See…healthy can be TASTY! :-)

Kale_Salad_Lunch{Travels well, too!}

Now for the winner: Using…congratulations to… Jon! You have won entry into your choice of the Blue Ridge Marathon or Half-Marathon in April.

BRM Winner

Check your e-mail about details…and I will see you in Roanoke!! Didn’t win this time? Follow the #runblueridge hashtag on Twitter for another chance to win from one of the other Official Bloggers next week! :-)

Have a GREAT weekend.


Giveaway: Blue Ridge Marathon Entry

September 30, 2013

It’s that time of the year again! Time to giveaway an entry into the 2014 Blue Ridge Marathon (or half-marathon if 26.2 isn’t really your thing). Living in Blacksburg, VA I am naturally biased, but the Blue Ridge Parkway has some GORGEOUS views! So if you are looking for a challenging spring marathon you might as well get yourself over to Roanoke, VA so you can have some great scenery to look at when the “Why am I doing this again?” voice starts creeping into your head. Also, Roanoke is a seriously cool town to be in following the race. It’s a small city, but plenty to do and see once you have rested a bit after the race!

BRM Logo

You may recall that I was supposed to run the full this year, but was sidelined with an injury. However, the atmosphere was great for cheering on my friends and they all had a blast running it. Well…maybe there were some moments on the ascents that thought otherwise, but overall a big thumbs up from everyone I know who has run it!



  • Elevation Change: 7,234 feet for the full and 2,500 for the half (well…at least that was deal last year. I have been informed the #s may be INCREASING for 2014!)
  • Named: America’s Toughest Road Marathon thanks to the course going up and down 3 different small mountains!
  • Date: April 26, 2014
  • Course Records: 2:39:48 (Male, Full), 3:19:27 (Female, Full), 1:20:06 (Male, Half), 1:29:17 (Female, Half)
  • Runner Satisfaction Rate: 100% (seriously…the race organizers are THAT good)!
  • Walker Friendly Half-Marathon: With a 7 hour course limit, this is the perfect event for those who would don’t want to run but still want to be out there enjoying the event!
  • Race Social Media: Twitter- @BRM25pt2 , Facebook-


This race SOLD OUT for 2013 and probably will for 2014 as well….so avoid that by committing NOW to run it. :-)

To be entered for a chance to win a free entry into the 2014 race simply leave a comment on this post. For an extra entry, simply send out a tweet about this giveaway. Make sure to include the link, the hashtag #runblueridge and my Twitter handle ( @NutritionNerd ) in it so your entry can be counted.

Get your entries in by Friday, October 4th at 11:59pm EST. Winner will be announced on Sunday, October 5th!

GOOD LUCK and I hope to see you in Roanoke next spring! :-)


I’m So Glad I Chose… {A Poem On Running}

September 22, 2013

Returning to running has been a physical and mental challenge. Thinking back to where I was with my mileage a year ago in the final prep for the Baltimore Marathon tends to get me down about my current mileage (read: VERY low). Each workout seems like an impossible task to complete and I am forcing myself to get out the door and do it. In addition, I haven’t gotten into a great mid-run euphoric groove…runner’s you know what I mean. However, by the end of each outing I am so glad I went instead slacking off and making excuses. In fact, during one of these runs I wrote a little poem about it and finally got up the nerve to share it here. My apologies to all professional writers and poets for potentially disgracing your life’s work. My guess is most of you can probably relate!


Another great written reminder to just GO is this sign I came across a few years ago courtesy of Nike. It may have actually been my Facebook profile picture at one point as well… :-)

Nike SignThis week: No excuses. No hesitation. Commit yourself to your workouts and be fearless.


P.S. – My giveaway for entry into the 2014 Blue Ridge Marathon will begin on September 30th – so get ready! :-)


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 115 other followers