Who Am I?

End of Overeating 2 – Sugar, Fat, Salt

Posted: April 18th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: End of Overeating | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on End of Overeating 2 – Sugar, Fat, Salt

End of OvereatingSo, the End of Overeating next addresses the big question — why is homeostasis under assault? And there are multiple levels to that answer.

First, it’s critical to understand the scientific concept of palatability. In our common usage, it just means that food tastes good or is pleasant. In scientific usage, it refers to the capacity of a food to stimulate the appetite, thus prompting us to eat more. And the most palatable foods, in that sense, are usually foods that contain sugar, fat, and salt. Why? In large part, that seems to be because those are relatively uncommon in natural food, yet are pretty important to our survival.

However, it’s not simply the case that we can keep piling on sugar or lard and make something palatable. We will quickly begin to interpret that sensory input in negative ways as cloying or greasy or too salty rendering the food unpalatable. No, it’s the particular combination of sugar, fat, and/or salt that makes a food highly palatable. And both human and animal research indicates that the right combination of sugar, fat, and salt creates foods that many of us will eat in excessive amounts.

Dr. Kessler provides many examples throughout his book of the ways different foods are processed and cooked to make them highly palatable. By way of illustration, I’ll quote just one such example here. It’s the Bloomin’ Onion, something I used to enjoy at Outback before I was diagnosed with celiac disease.

“Bloomin’ Onions — the trademark Outback Steakhouse dish — are very popular, and they too provide plenty of surface area to absorb fat. Fried in batter and topped with sauce, their flavor comes from salt on sugar on fat.”

Our constant access to foods high in sugar, fat, and salt is pushing up our bodies’ settling point, the homeostatic point which your body believes is your proper weight. And once the settling point has been adjusted upwards, it’s very difficult to reset it to a lower weight. That’s one reason our weight as a population is increasing even as our obsession with diets also increases. In a way, that’s somewhat ironic.

Sugar, fat, and salt are also clearly reinforcing. In animal studies, scientists focus on two questions to determine if a substance is reinforcing.

Are they (the animals) willing to work to obtain it?

So they respond to other stimuli they’ve learned to associate with the substance?

In this section of the book, Dr. Kessler outlines many scientific studies illustrating the ways that sugar, fat, and salt — especially in combination — are reinforcing. He also details studies that show that three additional features exert a powerful influence on our desire for more.

First, quantity. Give a rat two pellets of food rather than one, give a person two scoops of ice cream rather than one, and they’ll eat more. Portion size matters.

Second is the concentration of rewarding ingredients. Adding more sugar or fat to a given portion boosts its desirability (although only up to a point; in excess, either one can lessen its appeal).

Finally, variety plays an important role.

Dr. Kessler then spends a number of chapters exploring the different ways these stimuli impact and condition our brains. He makes the studies extremely accessible to the lay reader; I learned a lot as I read this part of the book. One of the interesting things I discovered was that we become conditioned by stimuli suggesting that a rewarding food is nearby. Our brains release dopamine when we encounter such cues in order to encourage us to seek out and obtain the food. We are rewarded more for the hunt in some cases than for the actual experience of the food itself. When you think about the way things work in nature, that makes sense, of course. But it works against us in an environment full of highly palatable and highly available foods.

Emotions also help make foods memorable. If you think about meals you remember in your past, most of the time it’s not so much the food itself that makes it memorable. It’s the setting, the people, and the events associated with the meal that fixes it in our memory. And all of that leads to an emotional attachment through association. A particular food spurs a memory of emotion and we begin to link the emotion with the food. The food industry tries to tap into that sort of association in much of its advertising.

Ultimately, our brains can be rewired and a particular eating behavior habituated. I was struck while reading this section of the book how much that habituation resembles what the Christian Fathers have called a ruling passion. It’s a process where trigger leads to action without the deliberate activation of our will. We do something without thinking about it and sometimes even without awareness. Obviously, some of us are more likely to reach that point with highly palatable food than others, but as a population we are clearly susceptible.

 


Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 32

Posted: April 17th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment »

71.  The passion of love, when reprehensible, occupies the intellect with material things, but when rightly directed unites it with the divine. For the intellect tends to develop its powers among those things to which it devotes its attention; and where it develops its powers, there it will direct its desire and love. It will direct them, that is to say, either to what is divine, intelligible and proper to its nature, or to the passions and things of the flesh.

We become like that toward which we direct our nous. At least, that’s how I understand St. Maximos here. Or, to put it a different way, we become like what we worship.


Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free Brownie Mix

Posted: April 16th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Food Reviews | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free Brownie Mix

Bob's Red Mill Gluten Free Brownie MixI wanted to prepare a dessert for our Easter dinner, but spent most of my attention and time on the meal itself. While I can follow a dessert recipe, I’ve never been a major dessert chef. It’s just not an area of cooking I enjoy as much as I do other foods. So I decided to stick to something simple — a brownie topped with vanilla ice cream and hot fudge. (Or, in my case, just the brownie topped with hot fudge.)

Unlike me, my wife loves making desserts and brownies are one of her specialties. It only took her a few tries after the kids and I were diagnosed with celiac disease to adapt her brownies to be gluten free. She’s never really recorded her recipe though, and wouldn’t have been able to write it down accurately from memory while recovering. So I decided it wasn’t the time for me to try to make gluten free brownies from scratch.

I saw the Bob’s Red Mill GF Brownie Mix at our neighborhood HEB and decided to give it a whirl. Bob’s Red Mill has always been reliably safe and we’ve tried some of their other products with good results over the years. If you haven’t read about the company and their founder’s philosophy of people before profit, I recommend visiting their site and checking it out.

I followed the directions on the package without varying from them. (My wife tends to experiment and change mixes — usually successfully, but again I’m not the baker she is.) The directions were straightforward and pretty simple.

The results?

The brownies came out chocolatey and delicious! Everyone enjoyed them and they vanished fairly quickly. They weren’t as good as my wife’s, of course, but they were still good brownies. And very importantly, they were chewy. As my son and I joked, there’s a name for “cake-like” brownies. And that word is … cake!

So, if you need a quick and easy pan of gluten free brownies, this is a great mix to use. It gets a definite thumbs up!


Saturday Evening Blog Post – March Edition

Posted: April 15th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Personal | Comments Off on Saturday Evening Blog Post – March Edition

In this month’s edition of the Saturday Evening Blog Post, hosted by Elizabeth Esther, I chose the post with most of my answer to the question, Why Do We Pray?


Weekend Update 04-14-2012

Posted: April 14th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Weekend Update | Comments Off on Weekend Update 04-14-2012

On Ryan Apologists. Yep. David Brooks is one of the worst offenders. And more here on the Gullible Center.

Scripture and Holy Tradition are not a way of looking at certain things. They are a certain way of looking at everything. Indeed.

Grapple with the other side’s best debater, not with their most radical nutjob.” Always good advice.

The Empathy Gap. Krugman is right to be horrified, but I think the problem runs deeper. As a people, we are not naturally empathetic with the hypothetical other. In fact, the norm within many societies has been to extend empathy and assistance to those who are like you — similar social standing, similar class, similar means. There are many reasons that tends to be true. First, those like you tend to be those with whom you associate — even in societies without strict class or caste boundaries. They are the people you know and those in other groups become the others. Sociologists have explored that aspect of human interaction at some length. Secondly, whether we consciously reduce it to those terms or not, it’s those like us who are most likely to help us in turn should we have need, so there is an element of self-interest in empathy for your group. In the ancient Roman empire, empathy outside their group was actually one of the points that shocked people about Christians. They stayed in plagued cities and offered aid, even if they could afford to leave. They cared for everyone — even those who were not like them at all. So why has such a massive empathy gap developed in today’s radical right in America? After all, a huge swath of this group is ostensibly Christian. That’s the question I find more interesting.

So Christie basically lied. He cannibalized a project essential to the long term benefit of his state for short term political gain. Krugman expands on this in his column.

Who knew Christianity was against helping the poor — that our tradition holds that helping the poor robs them of dignity? The rich young ruler should have spoken with Rick Warren instead of Jesus. It sounds like he would have fared a lot better.

The latest lie about ACA costs exposed.

The Buffet Rule is a lot better than the status quo, but sets the bar too low.

Not something to brag about, but the US has the highest share of its population in low paying jobs.

I love John Kelso. And even though he’s semi-retired now, he can still write a good column. This one comparing Panem to the Supreme Court is a good one.

Seniors are neither as selfish nor as stupid as the GOP seems to want to believe.

It will be strange to have a House without Barney Frank in it. He nails Ryan in his comments in this article.

Not that the radical right has any sense of history, but still…

Honestly, I’ve never really fit into any of the stereotypical cliched groups — even in school. Sometimes that meant I didn’t fit anywhere, especially since we moved a lot. I was an athlete (played football and excelled at lifted weights — and ran track because our coach made us). I was something of an academic over-achiever. I loved acting and had some serious training and experience as a preteen and young teen when we lived in Houston. And, of course, I loved playing games and reading — including comics. Still, even if I didn’t have a specific group, I’ve always fit within the over-arching “nerd” paradigm. So I loved Felicia Day’s latest music video by The Guild. It’s pretty cool. (The conclusion is pretty funny, too!)

Frank Warren: Half a Million Secrets. Nothing really to add. If you aren’t familiar with PostSecret, it’s probably time you were.


End of Overeating 1 – We’re All Fatter Now

Posted: April 13th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: End of Overeating | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on End of Overeating 1 – We’re All Fatter Now

End of OvereatingThe End of Overeating begins with something that we are only now truly recognizing. For thousands of years, typical human body weight was pretty consistent. In fact, it was so stable and consistent that scientists believed we had biological systems operating in most of us to keep our weight within certain norms — automatically balancing our consumption with the calories burned.

In the eighties we began to realize something had changed. Or rather, one researcher, Katherine Flegal, began to recognize the new trend. At first, she thought her numbers were wrong. They indicated that in fewer than a dozen years, 20 million people had joined the ranks of the overweight. Her team checked and double-checked their data and finally published the results in 1994. The average weight of Americans had greatly increased since the sixties and the rates of obesity had exploded.

This discovery upended conventional scientific understanding. Dr. Kessler’s book attempts to gather both existing and new research together in a way that makes it accessible to those of us without a scientific background.

One of the first points, and a critical one, is that we get fat mostly because we eat more food. While that may seem obvious, it was not clear in the research initially. And one of the reasons it wasn’t clear is that people tend to underreport how much food they eat when they track it themselves. It’s not that people are being deliberately deceitful. Rather, we tend to hide the reality from ourselves and we tend to underestimate how much we are actually eating. So we had to improve our study techniques. Dr. Kessler puts the finding this way.

How much we eat predicts how much we weigh. Sometimes the most obvious explanation turns out to be the right one.

Ok, so it’s important to start with the right basis. But our bodily homeostatic system, which scientists thought was more powerful than it actually appears to be, kept our weight as a population more or less in balance for much of our history. What has changed over just the last few decades to overpower it and render it less effective?

The answer seems to be that the reward system in our brains has overpowered our homeostatic system. In the first part of his book, Dr. Kessler explores the different ways our reward system has been supercharged and the impact that has had on us.


Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 31

Posted: April 12th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 31

68.  If a man has cut off the passions and so has freed his thoughts from passion, it does not necessarily mean that his thoughts are already orientated towards the divine. It may be that he feels no passionate attraction either for human or for divine things. This occurs in the case of those simply living the life of ascetic practice without yet having been granted spiritual knowledge. Such men keep the passions at bay either by fear of punishment or by hope of the kingdom.

I found this text intriguing. It acknowledges that we can break the grip of the passions through ascetic practice without necessarily turning toward God and receiving spiritual knowledge (which I understand in this context to be the noetic experience of our personal God — attuning our nous to God).  Upon reflection, I think that makes sense to me. Some people are highly disciplined and have a strong will. If they turn that will toward breaking the grip of the passions, they may succeed. But that is not the ultimate goal. It’s something to consider, at least.


End of Overeating Intro – Dr. David Kessler

Posted: April 11th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: End of Overeating | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on End of Overeating Intro – Dr. David Kessler

End of OvereatingThe End of Overeating was released in 2009 and led to a number of news stories and interviews. I purchased it in 2010 and have read and absorbed it over the intervening years. As those who read this blog are probably aware, I don’t rush to review the latest thing. When I decide to write about something, it tends to be more in depth and after a period of time.

I want to begin this series with a brief introduction of Dr. David Kessler. He’s both a doctor and a lawyer — which is a significant achievement in and of itself. He was also the Commissioner of the FDA from 1990-1997, first appointed by President George H.W. Bush and later reappointed by President Clinton.

The content of the book and the collection of the science behind it was researched and developed over the course of seven years spurred by a desire to discover what drove people to eat to excess — even when they reported that they hated themselves for doing so. And specifically, what has changed over the past fifty years to make us significantly heavier as a population?

Dr. Kessler introduces the book with a simple statement: You are the target. It’s not accidental, even if those producing our modern highly palatable foods know little or nothing about the neuroscience behind their creations. Those foods are designed to create repeat customers.

In 2009, Dr. Kessler gave a talk at Google. It’s an interesting presentation and covers some of the highlights of the book. His talk is worth the time it takes to watch.


Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 30

Posted: April 10th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 30

60. All the gross passions that dominate the soul drive from it the thought of self-esteem. But when all these passions have been defeated, they leave self-esteem free to take control.

61.  Self-esteem, whether it is eradicated or whether it remains, begets pride. When it is eradicated, it generates self-conceit; when it remains, it produces boastfulness.

62.  Self-esteem is eradicated by the hidden practice of the virtues, pride, by ascribing our achievements to God.

These three texts fit together as they all discuss self-esteem. The Fathers within Christianity have always tended to see self-esteem as a problem, not as something we should seek or desire. That does not, however, mean that they teach we should have what today we describe as low self-esteem. It’s my impression they would view that as a distortion as well. Their focus seems to be that we learn to see ourselves truthfully with nothing accentuated or overlooked. Facing the reality about ourselves is a hard thing, which is why we tend to lie to ourselves so easily.


Gluten Free Easter

Posted: April 9th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Celiac | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Gluten Free Easter

With my wife’s surgery, we knew she would be mostly out of commission on Easter, so she did her shopping in advance for the “kids.” Since Hershey has officially published their list of gluten free candy, that task was made easier. She also mailed a box of Easter goodies to our granddaughter well in advance. That left our Easter dinner up to me.

I discussed it with our daughter and we decided to go with an Irish theme this year — roast leg of lamb with mint sauce, chive champ, and buttered cabbage. I handled to leg of lamb, mint sauce, and buttered cabbage while my daughter cooked the champ. (Champ is mashed potatoes made with milk boiled with scallions and, in this case, chives and lots of Irish butter.) It all turned out wonderfully. My father-in-law joined us and he ate a full plate and took a tupperware container of food home with him.

Gluten free cooking leaves many menu options available without alteration. Everything above is naturally gluten free. I don’t think my kids often feel deprived.