More food for thought…

31 05 2013

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For those of you who don’t know me, I guess I’m a bit of a “foodie.” I wouldn’t consider my take on food & eating radical, but I suppose that assessment has more to do with the metric being used. Since we seem to be surrounded here in the burbs by people who live on a diet of highly processed, pre-packaged food, and frequent trips to fast food restaurants, perhaps my notions on food are radical, at least by comparison.

Here’s the simple version of my eating philosophy.

Highly processed foods are bad for you.  The vast majority of the packaged stuff in the supermarket is designed for our industrialized food system. It can be mass-produced, easily transported over long distances, and stored for extended periods. It is highly marketable for it’s convenience to the consumer. It is made from commodity crops like corn and soybeans, which once again, fit well into an industrialized system. Being subsidized also makes them dirt cheap, which makes for greater profit margins. Unfortunately, all of these issues take priority in the marketplace over the one thing you, as the person eating it, should be concerned with; it’s nutritional value.

The healthiest foods are recognizable. A healthy diet consists of lots of fresh vegetables and fruit, lean meats, and nuts. Some whole grains are o.k. The more processed, or hidden in sauces and breading it is, the less it’s got to offer, at least in terms of nutrition. The rule I’ve taught my girls is easy to remember. If you have to read a label to know what it is, it’s probably not very good for you, and if you can’t understand what you’ve read, it’s poison. Of course, they know that the poison part is an exaggeration. It is meant, however, to be a reminder that such highly processed foods should be treated with a bit of skepticism, eaten as an exception to a healthy diet, and not as a staple.

We eat to live, not the other way around. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard someone state, “I deserve this,” “life’s too short,”  or some other equivalent. If one’s consumption is justified by some sense of entitlement, perhaps it’s time for a re-evaluation of priorities. Food is about sustenance, not entertainment. This isn’t to say we shouldn’t enjoy the food we eat, or that we can’t ever go out for an over-the-top meal. Our happiness simply shouldn’t be the main deciding factor in our daily consumption choices.

Let’s face it: fast-food and pre-packaged foods are convenient, and by definition, fast. These benefits have enabled people to spend much more time participating in activities other than food acquisition and preparation. Parents can go to work while the kids go to school, and their evenings/weekends can be filled with baseball, soccer, track, piano lessons, taekwondo, troop meetings, and the drama club.

Is there a trade-off for all the convenience? The answer is simple; your health.

This diet, which is high in calories and low in nutritional value, is also created to leave you wanting more. Remember the Lay’s Potato chip commercials pitching, “Bet you can’t eat just one”? It’s no joking matter. The industry has spent plenty researching what it takes to get sales up, and when we’re talking about food, that translates to increased consumption. They have manipulated the use of salt, sugar, and fat to get us eating more. These three nutrients are vital for our survival, thus our bodies are hard-wired to crave them. These same vital nutrients that were not readily available in the natural setting of our hunter-gatherer ancestors, are now killing us in their over-abundance. The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite, by David A. Kessler is an in-depth look at this issue.

The fast food I grew up with was always an exception, an occasional special treat. (except for my last three years of high school, during which time my friends and I alternated daily between McDonald’s, Burger King, and Wendy’s.) Now this has become the norm, part of many families’ daily routine. Someone eating an otherwise healthy, nutritious diet can occasionally deviate without catastrophic repercussions, however, what’s the result of continually consuming too many calories without enough required nutrients? The answer should be obvious, but to make a point, let’s look at the poor souls at the far end of the spectrum; to the morbidly obese, who are, amazingly enough, simultaneously malnourished. The majority of us, however, don’t show such extreme symptoms. Those who fall somewhere in the middle of the bell curve may be only slightly overweight, may experience yo-yoing energy levels, or may not have any noticeable symptoms at all. Sadly, this lack of any apparent symptoms is more a testament to the resilience of the human body, than evidence that such a diet is indeed unhealthy.

How long can our resilience save us from the very food we eat?





Spring is in the air!

3 04 2013

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There’s nothing that announces, “Spring is here,” quite like three little girls running around in their brand new Easter dresses, giggling as they search high and low for a bunch of brightly colored eggs.  With all of the flora and fauna blooming in the background, it’s a tremendous fireworks show. Bright greens, pinks, reds, and purples pop everywhere, to the music of Black Phoebes, Cedar Waxwings, and Robins, punctuated by the joyous explosions of children’s unbridled laughter.

Spring is a time of rebirth, or renewal, that agrarian cultures are much more attuned to than the masses clustered together in urban settings.  During this time of year, farmers are preparing fields for planting, while ranchers are tending their herds of newborn livestock.  Through the wonders of technology, and the industrialization of our food system, we suburbanites are so far removed from this experience, that the full magnitude of the season can be easily overlooked.  Sure, we witness the spring bloom, (and all the damnable allergies that accompany it) but our lifestyle doesn’t really change that much, nor are we confronted by the vital necessity of this annual cycle.

The importance of spring was not lost on our ancient agrarian ancestors. Their survival was so intertwined with the seasons that such symbols as the egg and rabbit held powerful, religious significance. These pagan beliefs were so ubiquitous, they were absorbed by subsequent religions like Christianity.  Through the ages, these symbols of fertility and sex, both vital for the successful propagation of all species, have morphed into today’s easter bunny. Here’s a great blog post on the topic.

One doesn’t have to be a farmer to appreciate the importance of new beginnings, nor is this concept reserved just for the physical realm of reproduction.  Anybody seriously interested in self development recognizes the importance of regularly re-evaluating the progress being made towards a goal. Serious athletes do this as a matter of course. Spring is when the desired goal (upcoming competition) is planted.  Summer is spent growing the crop (training), finally culminating in the harvest (actual competition). Winter is a time to recoup, and reassess the previous crop based on the results of the harvest.  Then spring comes back around and it’s time to start planting again.

Obviously, our efforts to improve ourselves aren’t necessarily bound to the seasons like agriculture.  It’s springtime whenever we choose to pursue a particular goal.  Whether one’s trying to lose weight, read more, eat healthier, watch less t.v., or exercise more, spring is as good a time as any to (re)assess our progress or  recommit to an unrealized goal.

What kind of seeds are you planting to make your life, and the life of those around you a little bit better?





C’mon folks, Correlation does not imply Causation!

4 09 2012

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Although we all love to joke about how our children are making us older, we all realize that this is just a joke, right? It is true that they may make us feel older, due to the seemingly constant state of being more physically, mentally, and emotionally engaged than in any other time in our recent memory.  The obvious fact is that we are aging with the passage of time, regardless the number of children, if any, we may have.  Even though the presence and ever-increasing number of offspring may correlate to our getting older, it does not have a causal effect on our age. In life, as in science, “Correlation does not imply Causation.”

According to the Oxford American Dictionary, correlation is defined as a “mutual relationship or connection between two or more things.”  Causation, on the other hand, is “the action of causing something.”  The correlation of things is often very easy to experience, whereas the actual causes might lie below the surface, hidden from our immediate view.

Traffic around here in the suburbs is at it’s worst early in the morning and late in the evening, as the sun is rising and setting.  This very obvious coincidence would have been considered a causal relationship by our ancient ancestors.  Remember the peoples that worshipped the sun and moon?  Their belief was based on the same type of logic.  Over the past few centuries we’ve outgrown such simplistic connections, haven’t we?  We all recognize that, although the increased traffic patterns might correlate to the rising and setting of the sun, one is not causing the other.

Amazingly, these two concepts are still frequently confused, leading to some pretty outrageous conclusions.  Often this confusion is manipulated by those who would obfuscate the truth for their own purpose.  Watch Faux News or MSNBC for some excellent examples.  Much of the vitriolic ranting coming from pundits and politicians in our caustic political arena intentionally blurs the lines between correlation and causation.  People from the far extremes of a discussion are notorious for confusing the two in order to support their claims of legitimacy.  It’s so much easier to make a direct connection between our current economic debacle and the villain of your choice.  One side argues that our sitting President, a black, socialist radical is leading us down the path to hell, while the other side blames those greedy, corrupt bankers and corporations for all our ails.  Both are great story lines for a mini-drama on AMC, but antithetical to actually resolving any part of our very real predicament. (but I digress, this is another topic for another day)

If you’re looking for some fun reading that builds on this causal/correlative issue, try Freakonomics, by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner.

Here’s a simple example from the concrete, physical world of fitness.  (I won’t mention any names, in order to protect the guilty)  I have been told numerous times by individuals, who quite frankly, don’t like to run, that “running is bad for you.”  The claim is that it’s bad for the knees, hips, (insert body part of your choice here) because of the impact involved.  Their desire to prove running is bad, in order to justify not running, clouds their ability, or willingness, to distinguish between correlation and causation.  The result of this: people make a potentially detrimental health choice based on misguided logic that running, an activity the human body was designed to do, is bad for you. Running can and often does correlate to injuries, and the more a person runs, the more opportunity there is for another factor to cause injury, but it does not cause injury.

So, what does cause injuries while running? Here’s a list in order of importance. Fortunately, you will also note that the most important ones are also the ones we can do something to remedy!

  1. Improper diet.
  2. Insufficient water intake.
  3. Poor sleeping habits.

I grouped these together at the top, because they create the foundation upon which everything else is built. As with most of our western medicine, we want to be able to simply take a pill to fix whatever might be ailing us. It can be too overwhelming to consider that the core of our entire lifestyle is the root of our predicament.  The hard truth of the matter is clear: to expect any fitness routine to achieve a high level of success without addressing these fundamental things as well is really naive!

Here’s the other causes

  1. Running incorrectly. I believe this is the biggest cause of most problems that occur. There is an assumption that running is just running. Unless you’re learning to do hurdles or pass a baton, I don’t think there’s a lot of instruction ever done on “how to run.” Because of my personal experience, I am a huge proponent of the “Pose” method.
  2. Running too much too soon. Just like any other fitness routine, you need to build your body up. Increase your distance and intensity as your fitness improves.
  3. External forces (i.e. Inappropriate equipment, rocky/slippery terrain).
  4. Genetic defects. Some individuals may have joint or other structural issues that make running an inappropriate choice for fitness.

Before you write off running as an activity that is just too “dangerous,” identify the facts and base your judgement accordingly.  Before you pass judgment on the hot topic of the day, (i.e. politics, religion, economics, parenting) do your research.  Don’t be deceived by the correlation of seemingly causal factors.  CORRELATION DOES NOT IMPLY CAUSATION!





In the beginning…

15 08 2012

How seriously should we really take ourselves?I’ve found that I talk about myself way too much.  I always seem to find a way to weave some life experience of my distant past into whatever conversation I’m a part of at the time.  I can only imagine that this must be annoying to those around me who might just have their own thoughts to add to the conversation.  The first step toward fixing something is recognizing it needs to be fixed, right?  Well, I’m working on this one.

I could claim I’m just a product of a surreal technological reality where everybody has something so important to say, that everybody should want to read it.  Never mind the fact that nobody really gives a rat’s ass that I just arrived at Starbucks, or that I’m having a really super-great day:)  I could blame it on Facebook, or the Blogosphere,  but that would be bad science.  All of this techno-stuff arrived long after I had already honed this habit of mine.

It could be argued that this tendency is proof of my egocentrism, and this may be the case.  I don’t think of myself as being that self-centered, but does anybody?  Perhaps I’m really insecure and am just trying to build myself up in the eyes of those around me, thereby creating a safe haven for my otherwise very fragile ego.  What would Sigmund Freud and Karl Jung have to say about all this?

My intent, however, is not to brag about myself, nor make myself the center of every conversation.  I just fall into the trap of thinking that if a person understands how I came to a particular conclusion, that it will help them come to the same understanding.  This can lead to rather long, looping diatribes, because my understanding of any particular topic comes from a whopping 47 years of thoughts and experiences.  You see, it all started when I was just a wee lad…

What is the point of all of this, and how the hell does it have anything whatsoever to do with making the world a better place?  I believe we all need to look deep inside ourselves and try to better understand what makes us “tick.”  We should  take some time on a regular basis to re-evaluate ourselves.  Where are we? How did we get here? Where are we going? The answers to all these questions will help us achieve whatever goals we set for ourselves, but only if we are brutally honest with ourselves.

I believe that to be effective, a person has to lead by example; so here it goes.  One of the things I need to work on as a husband, as a father, and as a teacher, is to be a better listener.  I need to talk about myself a little bit less, and listen to those around me talk about themselves a little bit more.  Finally, we come to the point of this entire entry: What can you work on improving?








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