Darya Rose on Unstoppable with Kara GoldinToday on Unstoppable I interview Darya Rose, the author of Foodist and the creator of the blog Summer Tomato.

Starting her career with a neuroscience Ph.D., Darya discovered scientific literature on how to prevent and often cure many major diseases in modern society through eating a whole foods diet. When she finished her Ph.D., Darya decided to take a look at her own life and uncover why she was a chronic dieter.

Darya writes about food, health, science, and how to overcome chronic dieting on Summer Tomato. In 2011, Time Magazine named Summer Tomato one of the “50 Websites That Make the Web Great”, and the site has successfully educated its readers about “healthstyles” and Real Food diets.

Listen in to today’s show to learn more about how food can cure diseases (even neurodegenerative ones), how to overcome yo-yo dieting, and how to make a healthy lifestyle more sustainable.


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“I started just getting off the fake health food train and getting on the actual real food train. The more I did, the better my results were and the happier I was. ” – Darya Rose

Show Notes:

  • Why diets don’t work
  • What is a Real Food diet
  • How many types of cancer can be prevented
  • The difference between New York and San Francisco
  • How body image affects health
  • Why we’re being told the wrong thing
  • How to teach teens how to eat healthy
  • Why people want to feel better

“The vast majority of the causes of misery in the old age disease world are things that are massively improved if you eat more vegetables, eat less junk food, and exercise.” – Darya Rose

Links Mentioned:

Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | Summer Tomato

“It’s a new thing. Most people have never heard that before, and they love the idea of being gentle and compassionate with yourself and eating food that tastes good. Just focusing on food that actually nourishes your body.” – Darya Rose


Kara Goldin: Darya Rose, so excited to have you here. Really, really psyched. Thanks so much for making the time.
Darya Rose: Yeah, absolutely. I’m excited to be here.
Kara Goldin: Very, very exciting. Everybody, as I told you earlier today, Darya is the author of Foodist, and also has a great site called SummerTomato.com, which really talks about getting healthy without dieting. We’re super, super excited to have her. As I mentioned, in addition to having this great site, she’s also a neuroscientist, and also named by Time Magazine as having one of the 50 Websites that Makes the Web Great. Super, super fun and great.
Anyway, we’re very excited to have you here, so I’d love to just jump in and really ask you, so what was the key to really starting your site, and what were you thinking about? What is some of your background and your story, as to how you got there?
Darya Rose: Well, I mean, if we’re starting at the real beginning, it goes back into where I grew up, in Southern California. I was a young woman, and my mother was a chronic dieter, as most women were back in the ’80s. But my mom was pretty extreme, and she did all the diets.
So at a very young age, I got into dieting. This is not because I was overweight. I was a normal, skinny kid from the ’80s. But my mom was having chocolate milkshakes for breakfast, and that sounded awesome to an 11 year old. They were the nasty diet ones, but I didn’t really have a refined palate back then. So I just kind of got on this path of having Slim Fast in the morning, which is gross.
Then, as I got older, and became more self-conscious, it just became a way of life, and I thought that’s just what women did. Women just diet, because that’s what they’re supposed to do. [crosstalk 00:02:00].
Kara Goldin: Yeah!
Darya Rose: So I went through all that, through middle school, high school, college. At some point, though, I did start studying science. Specifically, molecular biology and biochemistry, and stuff like that, and I actually started learning things about the human body, and about nutrition. Specifically, I got into neuroscience, and then I ended up going on an doing my doctorate in neuroscience.
Throughout the whole process, I was still dieting. I got better at it, I’d say. I got more scientific about it. I would do the low-carb thing. I’ve done the low-fat thing. And then I was counting specific kinds of carbs, and specific kinds of fats. But it was still always a diet, and I was exercising like a maniac. I was running marathons. But I always still felt like I had weight to lose. I wasn’t happy. I was fairly miserable in social situations, and … I forgot my timeline. It’s really not an awesome way of life.
Then I figured it out. I realized that I was a scientist now, and that I [inaudible 00:03:06], because I could read science. Started digging into the literature, and learned that diets are actually a better way to gain weight than to lose weight. Which of course, I’d been doing for 15 years, so it was really frustrating, but at the same time, matched my experience right on. And that the people who really don’t struggle with this stuff, never diet, they just have a set of habits around health and balance, and they don’t really think about it. I mean, I was just like, “Hmm. That sounds suspiciously [inaudible 00:03:41].”
Also, I read Michael Pollan’s work, [inaudible 00:03:44] conclusion, and I was like, “You know what? I’m going to try this wacky eating vegetables and cooking at home thing, and worst case scenario, I can just not eat for a couple of weeks and get back to my weight, if I gain a bunch of weight by eating breakfast.”
That was my totally embarrassing but true story of starting on my approach. To my surprise and delight, I didn’t gain weight from eating more and focusing on health and cooking and doing all this stuff that … I just basically lived on protein bars and non-fat cottage cheese for years. Not only did I not gain weight, I started losing weight. Super slowly, but noticeably. I wasn’t angry, and hungry anymore. I was eating things that actually tasted good.
One thing led to another. So I started out just trying to cook more at home, then I discovered the farmer’s market. And I discovered all of this amazing produce. Then I was like, “Well, maybe I don’t need to have Diet Coke anymore. Maybe you don’t need to eat boxed Fiber One cereal anymore.” I started just getting off the fake health food train and getting on the actual, real food train. The more I did, the better my results got, and the happier I was, and the more I lost weight. I just couldn’t believe it. It was the most amazing thing.
To be perfectly frank about this, my life got so much better that the weight loss became just a bonus. Just the fact that I wasn’t miserable anymore was so life changing. When I looked at what was happening to me, and I looked at the normal diet advice that I was given, and that everybody else was still following, I was just incredibly angry, I would say.
I was like, “Why are we being told the wrong thing?” And we pay for it. We buy books. We buy these products, and they’re not helping. They’re making it worse. So I felt like I had a social responsibility to start a blog, and tell people my story, and set the record straight. That’s how Summer Tomato started in my third year of grad school, I think. Something like that. Yeah, and the rest is history, you might say.
Kara Goldin: Wow. We have a very, very similar reason for doing what we’re doing, because I had a very similar … Although I wasn’t necessarily formally dieting, I drank diet soda, and a lot of it, and then found that just by giving up the diet soda, and drinking plain water, even though I thought it was boring, I started to lose a lot of weight. I was like, “Wait a minute. I’m not drinking diet anymore, so why am I losing weight.”
I talk about that a lot, that the reason why I started hint was just because I was angry. I was just like, how had I been fooled for so many years by this industry around food, and what I had been told? As a smart person, who had been educated, and then I thought, here I was, listening to terms like “low fat,” and “diet.” I probably had a Slim Fast somewhere along the way, years ago, and thought that by doing that, I would actually get healthier, and it was sort of the reverse of that. That’s awesome, that you were smart enough, frankly, to really look at it from a “What’s really working, and how do I actually help people by sharing this information?”
I always tell entrepreneurs, too, that there’s nothing wrong with telling your own story, because I think that people remembered things by storytelling, right? And so if they hear that a founder actually has a story, and a reason, and a why, then it just is that much more valuable.
Darya Rose: Yeah. I would actually add that that’s actually critically important, to have a real story and to share it. Because kind of like what you hinted at, that’s the way people learn. I mean, what I really study now is psychology and behavior change, and intellectual facts don’t change people’s behavior, but a good story will.
Kara Goldin: Yeah. No, absolutely. Whether or not people-
Darya Rose: Because it has to do it at an emotional level. Yeah.
Kara Goldin: Yeah, and whether or not people actually look exactly how you look, they pick up on things that you’re talking about in your story that they can relate to. I always hear that. But that’s awesome. Kudos to you for actually bringing this into a site where people can hear your story and really figure out, in their own way, how to actually get health as well. That’s super great.
What are your thoughts, just in terms of what people are really trying to do? Is it weight loss? What’s sort of the key things that you hear people talking about when they think about health? And I guess body image is the biggest part of that.
Darya Rose: Yeah, yeah. It’s a rich tapestry of pain. Yeah, so weight loss tends to be the focus. That’s one of the reasons I have it front and center on my website, even though, like I said, it’s a bonus of doing the things I recommend, is you tend to lose weight. But people get very focused on it, and that’s largely because our society is very focused on it. Doctors are focused on it. Obviously, there’s also just a social pressure to look a certain way.
But at the end of the day, the truth is that people want to feel better. Right? They either want to lose weight because they’re tired, or they’re worried about some disease, or because they feel insecure about how they look. At the end, the outcome of all that is if I change this thing about my body, then I’ll feel better about the world, about myself. Tapping into that is … It’s sort of subtle, but it’s one of the things … That’s what I’m listening for. When I’m listening to somebody tell me their story of what they’re struggling with from a health perspective, I’m trying to understand, like, “What are you really trying to feel here?”
Kara Goldin: Yep. Definitely. Would you say that the majority of people that are coming to your site relate to the whole concept of being a chronic dieter? Is that what you hear people talking about? What is the key things that people see … I mean, you also talk about just the relationship between neuroscience and food, or health. What are people really identifying with in SummerTomato.com?
Darya Rose: Yeah, yeah. Pretty much everybody that comes to my site, or a huge percentage, has been very frustrated by diets. They feel like they’ve tried everything. This goes from very young people in their 20s, to like my mom. People in their late-60s, early-70s, that have been dealing with this stuff for their entire lives, and don’t understand, and are really upset that it’s still not working for them.
Yeah, so when I tell people that, like, “This isn’t your fault, that you’ve been given a faulty message. That you can still be healthy. All is not lost. You’re not genetically flawed.” It’s a new thing. Most people have never heard that before, and they love the idea of being gentle, and compassionate with yourself, and eating food that tastes good. Just focusing on food that actually nourishes your body.
It’s really a very different approach. I mean, when you think about dieting, it’s a very restrictive, self-loathing way to live. You’re like, “I’m broken.” [inaudible 00:11:59], fundamental structure of it. Whereas I’m saying, “You deserve to be happy. You deserve to eat food you like. You deserve to be healthy, and you can have all these things.” That’s [inaudible 00:12:12]. “Let’s focus on what you can do, and get off this rollercoaster that isn’t doing anything good for you.” Really, obviously, that resonates with people, because they’re sick of it. They’re over it, like I was.
Kara Goldin: Yep. Definitely. It’s interesting. I mean, today we’re looking at the political arena, and things like Obamacare and what’s happening with that. I feel like the quick response from people today is, “Oh my Gosh, if we change to Obamacare, or away from Obamacare, or whatever, that I’m not going to be able to get my drugs, or prescriptions that I really need.”
I feel like the consumer has been hooked on that approach, to date, versus if we could actually get people to start to ask their doctors the questions like, “Is it possible for me to start to move off of these drugs that are maybe going to cost me more money?” How do we actually look at disease today from a nutrition perspective versus focusing on drugs. I know you had said, in some quote that I read, “The answer to disease isn’t sugar your drugs, it’s food.” I’d love to hear you elaborate a little bit on what you mean by that.
Darya Rose: Yeah. It breaks my heart to think … what I know about the system. Doctors have about two hours of nutrition training in their entire medical training. Through all of med school and residency. They don’t know anything about it. Asking your doctor … Unless, I mean, there are doctors, and it’s becoming more common, where doctors are realizing they need to know this stuff.
If they know that stuff, they’ve done it on their own. They weren’t trained to do it. And that’s commendable if they’ve done that, but that’s not an option, sometimes. They just don’t know. They’ll just be like, “Well … ” Actually, I hear this a lot. There’s a lot of patients assume, or say, that their doctors assume that they can’t change their behavior. They’re like, “Yes, sure, losing 40 pounds would clear up your sleep apnea, but we know you can’t do that, so here are some drugs.” It’s really disheartening.
The reason I started focusing more as from a health perspective, and a science perspective, on food, as opposed to what I was doing before, is because I was interested in neurodegenerative diseases. Things like Alzheimer’s disease, Huntington’s disease, Parkinson’s disease. And I just think these are tragic diseases. Well, there’s no cures for any of these, and that’s just depressing. You know what it’s like? It’s like, you don’t want to be a doctor, because you just have to tell people these sad things all day, and that you can’t do anything about it.
I realized that those diseases, not to mention the obvious ones: heart disease, hypertension, cancer. The vast majority of the causes of misery in the old age disease world are things that are massively improved if you eat more vegetables, eat less junk food, and exercise. These are lifestyle diseases. The overwhelming majority. Obviously, there are real diseases, too. But these are things you can modify with your behavior. You can never get them. That’s an option.
That just blew my mind. I thought cancer was random. Well, and to some extent, it is. But you can massively reduce your cancer risk, especially if it’s something like … not idiosyncratic, but the cancer that they don’t know what caused it. It’s not an obvious genetic thing? Massively reduce your risk eating more vegetables and exercising. That’s crazy!
Kara Goldin: Yeah, no, absolutely. Yeah, no, there was just a study that came out a couple of weeks ago around dementia and Alzheimer’s, and how sweeteners are … not just sugar, but also diet sweeteners, are tied to dementia and Alzheimer’s outcome. They’re saying that even if you have the genetics that say that you’re probably going to get one of those diseases, that you may actually get it faster if you are living a life of eating sweeteners every single day. As much as three times faster.
So it’s fascinating how what you put into your body can actually greatly affect … I saw, actually, a bar graph on it, and I was just blown away, that said if you are actually eating sweeteners, which I was on the track of getting there, starting at age 10 or 12, these diet sweeteners. If you continue to do that, by the time you’re 40, you’re going to show up with pretty solid dementia and Alzheimer’s, if you’re living the life on the course that I was living. So anyway, I think it’s, again, if you’ve got the genetics for it, which frankly, a lot of us do.
So anyway, I think it’s just really, really fascinating how just making those small changes is more than anything else. Like hydration. I mean, obviously, hydration is so key to so many diets and plans that are out there. What is your feeling about just water consumption, and how that affects how people live and breathe every day?
Darya Rose: Yeah, I mean, it’s important. One of the biggest reasons is that a lot of people confuse thirst for hunger. If you’re like, “Well, I’m hungry, I want a snack.” There’s a really good chance, if you drink a glass of water, you’ll not be hungry anymore.
But it also … another factor is water just doesn’t come from a glass. The more vegetables you eat, the less water you need to drink. And the more fruit you eat, the less water you need to drink. So there’s a balance there, and the science is actually really not very clear on how much water you need to drink.
It’s interesting, what you said, about the science, and this new thing about the sweeteners, and one of the things that just consistently happens … We don’t have answers to all the science. Do we know why sweeteners are linked to dementia? I mean, not really. Do we know why processed food causes all these problems? I mean, no. Not necessarily. There’s theories. There’s theories everywhere. But at the end of the day, the recommendations are always the same. It’s like, “Eat real food. Drink real drinks. Stay away from the junk.” And you’ll, 95-98% of the time be on the right side of the science studies.
Kara Goldin: Yeah, it can’t hurt.
Darya Rose: You’ll be like, “I already do that.” You’re like, “I’m good.”
Kara Goldin: Yeah, no, absolutely. Absolutely. You’ve lived on both coasts. I know you went to school out here in San Francisco where we’re based. But I’m so curious … You’re living on the East Coast now, and you’ve lived in both places. How do you feel these two cities are different in terms of diet?
Darya Rose: They’re very different. You’re going to get me in trouble with this question.
Kara Goldin: I know. I’m not going to say what city you actually live in, though. Because I’m very fond of that city, so I don’t want any of those people … from that place that has two baseball teams.
Darya Rose: Yeah, well everybody knows where I live. I’m actually moving. I’ve lived in Manhattan and Brooklyn for the last few years, but I’m moving back to San Francisco in a few weeks.
Yeah, no, it’s a very different vibe, for sure. New Yorkers are very body conscious, and there’s a lot of [inaudible 00:20:38] on the corner, which is nice. But there is not the same … I’ve been trying to figure this out for years, because it was super interesting to move from the West Coast to the East Coast. Especially from San Francisco, which is so farmer’s market centric.
For me, I think, the biggest difference [inaudible 00:20:59] the Bay Area, specifically, about where food comes from? It’s not enough that it’s just not fattening. It needs to be organic, and it needs to be seasonal, and it needs to be grown from heirloom seed. That’s sort of everywhere. At any halfway decent restaurant, they’re going to have some of that ethos on the menu.
That’s just not as true on the East Coast. It could just be that there’s not the farms, or not … I’m just saying, that obviously the farmland in California’s just incredible. We have access to a lot more produce, so it can be more focused on the menu, without a huge cost. But yeah, no, it was a tough transition for me, for sure. Because I’m just used to being able to pop down to any corner market and getting incredible produce that is in season. And pretty much they best they could do in New York was in one of the high end organic grocery stores, like Whole Foods, or something like that.
Kara Goldin: Yeah, no. I definitely felt the same way. I didn’t grow up in California. I grew up in Arizona, where, in many, many ways, very similar to California in terms of lots of produce, and lots of healthier … Using different seasonings in order to get food an flavor to really be what you want it to be. And I found that when I moved to New York, too, that it was challenging.
I think it’s gotten better, but it’s funny. My day job, as you know, is the founder of hint, and it’s interesting, because whenever I run into people, and they’re like, “Oh, where are you guys based?” And I say, “San Francisco,” and they’re like, “Oh, of course you are.” Because they know that San Francisco is really the foodie capital of the world. It’s always, the joke is “It’s hard to find a bad restaurant in San Francisco.” People are really focused on better for you, healthier for you food. It’s a great place. But I do love both cities, and they both have lots of great aspects about it. But really, really-
Darya Rose: Absolutely. And I should mention that there are a lot of great chefs in New York. It’s just that it’s the produce that’s not there.
Kara Goldin: Yeah, no. I think that’s right. But I remember when Whole Foods went into San Francisco, not too long ago. Excuse me, into New York, not too long ago, and the thinking was, “I’m not sure that this market could survive in New York.” It was-
Darya Rose: Wow!
Kara Goldin: Yeah, and it was really interesting, and today, I think they’ve really changed grocery landscape, not just in certain cities, but in every city, just by really getting consumers more and more aware of what their putting into their bodies. This isn’t an advertisement at all for Whole Foods, but I’m just saying, just in general … These healthier and better for you markets are really what people want no matter where they live.
Darya Rose: Yeah, and you do learn to appreciate it, in a market that doesn’t have the … in a farm-centric place. I was so grateful for the Whole Foods in New York, because I didn’t know where else to shop, where I was sure I could get organic food that tasted good.
Kara Goldin: Definitely. Definitely. I’m curious. This is a totally different question, but I’m the mother of four kids, but I have three in high school now. I’m always concerned when I talk to my daughters, and also their friends, about diet. Diet is something that especially teen girls, I think, are very, very aware of. Obviously, there’s lots of studies around being too focused on being too skinny. Knowing what you know now, what would you tell your high school age self about diet, and what they should really be focused on?
Darya Rose: Oh, gosh! It’s so funny. I used to say this a lot, actually, is that Summer Tomato [inaudible 00:25:18] is designed to be a letter to my 17 year old self, because 17 was, I think, the worst of it. I was so skinny and so miserable.
I think if I had to sum it up in a sentence or two, it would be don’t diet. Because a diet backfires. It doesn’t work. It makes it harder, not easier. Focus on health, and the weight will take care of itself. Focus on real food. Learn to love vegetables. Learn to cook. Be active because it’s fun. And the rest of it will take care of itself.
At this point, I feel like myself and so many of the people I work with, it’s like, the challenge right now … It’s not so much that it’s so hard to stay healthy. It’s more that we have to undo all of the damage we’ve done by dieting for a decade or two. If I could have avoided that … I would pay anything to have not gone through that! You know what I mean? And all I had to do was go buy vegetables? Oh, it breaks my heart!
Kara Goldin: Yeah. But nobody’s really talking to teens about that. I think it’s always … I look at talking to other mothers about it, too, and I really think it’s like … I talk to so many people who have been through it, and looking back in time, what they wish they would have known. I think that’s great advice. Better for you food, learning to cook, really understanding what they’re actually putting into their bodies, is really, really key versus actually focusing on calories and diet. Which really creates that yo-yo effect.
This is super exciting. I’m going to send everybody to SummerTomato.com, and also to go get your book … the Foodist book. Which is super great. Is there anything else you want to tell our listeners today?
Darya Rose: I have a podcast as well. If there’s any podcast listeners-
Kara Goldin: Yeah!
Darya Rose: [crosstalk 00:27:21]. My podcast is called Foodist, as well.
Kara Goldin: Awesome! That’s super great. I’m very, very excited to let everybody know about that, too. Good! Well, thanks again, Darya, and good luck with the move back to San Francisco.
Darya Rose: My pleasure. Thank you so much for having me.
Kara Goldin: Thanks! Talk to you soon.
Darya Rose: Bye.