Violet Crown Cinema

Posted: June 18th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Restaurant Reviews | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Violet Crown Cinema, in downtown Austin, is a place I would call another local gem. My wife and I don’t go downtown that often anymore, which is the only reason I can imagine it took us so long to discover it. (Violet Crown has been open for a bit more than a year now.) The cinema shows independent films in four small theaters with very comfortable seats. They are also built so there really are no bad seats in the house and are stadium style so you don’t have to worry about tall people in front of you. We saw Bernie to celebrate her birthday and had a fantastic time.

The cinema has a snack bar which includes an espresso bar, hummus, and vegetable snacks in addition to the traditional popcorn and soda. The theater also has a cafe, lounge, and bar. Arrive early, enjoy food and drinks. And take anything you want into the theater where the seats have small fold-out tables. I understand if you don’t have time to get your food before the movie starts, they will give you a pager so you can go get it when it’s ready. Unlike places like the Alamo, there is no food and drink service in the theater, but the way their theater is arranged, that’s not really an issue.

The menu is not large, but it clearly marks the gluten free options. There aren’t many options, but it’s a small menu anyway. Moreover, since nothing else is fried, the sweet potato chips and hand cut fries are gluten free! No cross-contamination concerns. I had the sweet potato chips and they were delicious.

My wife and I will definitely be returning in the future. If you live in the area and like independent films, then give Violet Crown Cinema a try. I highly recommend it.


Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 40

Posted: May 15th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 40

86. Food was created for nourishment and healing. Those who eat food for purposes other than these two are therefore to be condemned as self-indulgent, because they misuse the gifts God has given us for our use. In all things misuse is a sin.

Straightforward, but perhaps even more appropriate for out time. We misuse food today in so many ways and are, in turn, ruled by it.


End of Overeating 8 – Food Rehab

Posted: May 11th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: End of Overeating | Tags: , , | Comments Off on End of Overeating 8 – Food Rehab

End of OvereatingThe End of Overeating offers an intriguing set of foundational principles for what Dr. Kessler calls Food Rehab. To provide a sense of those principles, here’s a summarized list.

  • Conditioned hypereating is a biological challenge, not a character flaw
  • Conditioned hypereating is a chronic problem that must be managed, not cured
  • Effective treatment breaks the cue-urge-reward-habit cycle
  • Diets that leave us feeling deprived magnify the loss of control at the core of conditioned hypereating
  • New learning sticks only when it generates a feeling of satisfaction
  • Restoring control over eating requires a comprehensive approach
  • Lapses are to be expected
  • Eventually, we can begin to think differently about food

The core of the program requires us to replace unplanned eating with planned eating. Planned eating is much less subject to impulse. It replaces chaos with structure. It’s important that we plan meals that will satisfy us and that we enjoy but which do not fuel hypereating.

Dr. Kessler outlines the shape of a rehab plan and many of the elements it must contain to be successful. Moreover, he makes the information readily accessible while recognizing that each person is unique and no one size fits all cookie-cutter approach exists.


End of Overeating 6 – Start With Awareness

Posted: May 2nd, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: End of Overeating | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on End of Overeating 6 – Start With Awareness

End of OvereatingDr. Kessler, in his book the End of Overeating, devotes the latter section of his book to the theory of treatment. And before we can even begin to protect ourselves from all the stimuli, we have to recognize just how vulnerable we are. And to do that, we must be mistrustful of our brain. We have to learn to recognize when a conditioned response is being triggered and stop our response. And that’s not easy.

Effective intervention draws us away from the conditioning power of a stimulus before it triggers its usual response. It reminds us that it’s possible to say no. Intervention begins with the knowledge that we have a moment of choice — but only a moment — to recognize what is about to happen and do something else instead.

Our vulnerability to the stimuli will not disappear. Once those pathways have been established in our brain, we can lessen their force and we can build new ones, but the old connections will remain. Dr. Kessler uses ex-smokers to illustrate the way the connection between a cue and a memory is never fully severed.

Cigarettes are a good illustration because they build the same sort of highly reinforced connections as hyperconditioned overeating (and cocaine addiction, for that matter). For many people, the urge for a cigarette never completely goes away and can resurface at certain times or in response to certain triggers even decades after you’ve quit smoking. While the substance itself may have been removed from the body and we have worked through any systemic physical withdrawal, our brains have been rewired by the addiction.

I could certainly empathize with that description. I quite smoking on July 26, 1996 after smoking — often quite heavily — for roughly two decades. That was almost sixteen years ago, but hardly a day goes by that something doesn’t trigger a desire for a cigarette. I can still remember the sensation and anticipate the “rush” from that initial drag. And it takes an act of will each time to tell myself I’m not a smoker. After this many years, it’s not particularly difficult to resist anymore, but those old pathways are definitely still there.

Of course, we can live without cigarettes. We can’t live without food. So how do we overcome conditioning and create a more healthy pattern of eating? The very first step is awareness.

Being aware means that you have a conscious knowledge of the risks of a given situation. “You have to figure out the situation that leads you to eat, that leads you to start the chain of behaviors,” said Miltenberger. “That is the absolute first step — to catalogue all of the stimuli, all of the situations, all of the cues that start that chain.”

Once we can identify the premonitory urge, the initial step in the compulsion, we can begin to train ourselves so we don’t respond to it. We can set up competing behaviors. And we can formulate thoughts to quiet the old ones we are trying to remove. Most of us also require support. We can’t do it on our own. But it all starts with awareness.


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.

 


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.


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.


Heartland Gourmet Red Velvet Cupcake Mix

Posted: March 26th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Food Reviews | Tags: , | Comments Off on Heartland Gourmet Red Velvet Cupcake Mix

Heartland Gourmet Gluten Free Red Velvet Cupcake MixMy wife was shopping at World Market a while ago when she stumbled across a brand of gluten free mixes she had never seen before. My wife has always been the baker in the family. While I can follow a baking recipe without any problem, I’m much better at other sorts of cooking. My wife, on the other hand, figures out ways to enhance and adapt any baking recipe she tries over time. And she makes some things, like her brownies, without much of a recipe at all. She’s adapted many of the things she bakes to be gluten free now, but the mixes looked interesting and she picked up one to try, the Heartland Gourmet Gluten Free Red Velvet Cupcake Mix.

My wife generally prepares mixes according to the instructions on a mix the first time in order to work out what to add or how to change the preparation of that mix in the future. In her experience, every mix requires some adaptation and adjustment to produce something really good. That’s been particularly true of gluten free mixes.

Not so with this red velvet cupcake mix. The cupcakes were moist with a smooth, rich texture and delicious flavor. They weren’t grainy at all. The cupcakes didn’t crumble. It was hard to believe they were gluten free!

We haven’t tried any of the other mixes yet, but this cupcake mix is truly excellent. If you can find it in your area, give it a try.


Pink Slime – But Not At HEB

Posted: March 19th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Food Reviews, Misc | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on Pink Slime – But Not At HEB

ABC has been airing a series of reports on so-called “Lean Finely Textured Beef” better known as pink slime. In their initial report, former USDA scientists outline how the agency, which is supposed to be a regulatory agency but is in fact essentially run by the industry they purport to regulate, over-ruled their recommendations against allowing BPI to label pink slime as beef. Take a moment to watch the report and discover what you’ve been eating.

In the follow-up segment below, ABC checked with top supermarkets and Whole Foods to see which ones included pink slime in their ground beef. (And in this case, a refusal to answer is as good as an admission that they do.) Although we try to buy organic beef, I was very happy to see that HEB, the supermarket at which we shop, does not add pink slime to their ground beef. I would have to be pretty desperate before I would do any grocery shopping at a place like Walmart. (Of course, that was true even before this report. It just confirms that as a wise choice.)

And it also appears the schools will at least have the choice whether they get beef with or without pink slime from the USDA starting next fall. I only have one child left in public school and she can’t eat the food provided at her high school even if she had any desire to do so. But all parents who have kids who eat school lunches should contact their school districts and make their wishes known.

Of course, pink slime is only one problem among many in our poorly regulated, highly industrialized, and fundamentally immoral food production industry. (It can hardly be honestly called farming or ranching anymore.) When I look at the sheer scope of the depths into which we have sunk over the past four decades, it can be overwhelming. But all we can do is tackle one problem at a time as we try to restore some minimum level of integrity to our regulatory agencies and overall industry.

Personally, I think a great place to start is full disclosure. It should be easy for us to determine what’s truly in the “food” we’re consuming and everything about the way it was produced. GMO? Label it. “Natural flavor”? Fully disclose everything included in the flavors, including any binding agents. Make the categories simpler and require that products be appropriately placed. We have organic, non-organic, processed, and imitation foods. We need to have mandatory, easily understood, and well-defined categories like those. (We used to require that imitation food include that on the packaging. Removing that requirement certainly hasn’t made things better.)


Gluten Free Tamales

Posted: January 2nd, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Food Reviews | Tags: , , | 2 Comments »

This Christmas season, I decided I really wanted tamales. I hadn’t had good tamales since my diagnosis and it’s one of the foods we’ve traditionally had at some point during Christmas most years. However, the first few places I called or emailed replied that they couldn’t ensure their tamales were gluten free as they were made on the same surfaces and with some of the same equipment as their flour tortillas. I was frustrated and decided to search online specifically for gluten free tamales. I was trying to locate a local place, but ran across two different mail order companies which did specify that their tamales were gluten free. Both looked pretty decent, so I decided to get some from both places and compare them.

The first place is The Tamale Company (located in Dallas). I ordered a variety of flavors from them. So far we’ve tried the ancho chili pork and the black bean and both were quite good. I didn’t use the boil in bag approach. Instead I steamed them out of the bag as I’ve normally done. I still have the beef and the chicken tomatillo to try, though, so I may give their ‘boil in bag’ technique a shot.

The second place is Texas Tamale Company (located in Houston). I ordered their beef and pork options. We’ve had the beef and they were yummy. I expect the same will be true for the pork.

Both shipped their tamales in a styrofoam container inside a box with, I believe, packets of dry ice (the dry ice had evaporated by the time they arrived). The tamales arrived in excellent condition. Honestly, both brands were quite good. I would be hard pressed to pick one over the other. If you want good gluten free tamales, and don’t want to make them yourself, I don’t hesitate to recommend either company.