Sunday, February 22, 2015

I did the plow pose!

Stock image of plow pose (this is not me)
I'm so excited to have reached a goal I'd had for over a year and a half. Last week I was able to do the plow pose again! It had been years since I could get my body to fold in half like that! I love yoga and my favorite poses are the deep ones that really challenge the muscles and tendons. Since I put on 50 pounds in 2012 and 2013, I could no longer manage the plow pose. It was frustrating to know that my spine and joints still had the necessary flexibility, but my fat was in the way.

But then this past fall a couple of health problems forced me to cut sugar, grains (including wheat) and dairy from my diet. Well, as much as possible anyway. I didn't reach 100%, but I reduced them enough to bring my blood sugar back under control and this month the other health problem finally improved: the monstrual cramps got better! I'm so relieved because those cramps were nightmarish. In fact, I was starting to wonder why I was depriving myself of cookies and blue cheese if it wasn't making the damn menstrual pain go away. I really needed some hard evidence that that this was all worth it, and I finally got it. My menstrual cramps did not have me moaning on the floor this month! YAY!

This all requires daily meditating and guided visualization to manage my sugar cravings and I use Emotional Freedom Technique to keep myself from emotional eating, but things feel like they're really working right now. Since November, I've learned that hormonal imbalance is hugely affected by what we put in our bodies and stopping the sugar, wheat and dairy has stopped my insulin levels from the roller coaster heights and dips they'd been on for decades. Insulin affects levels of progesterone and other hormones. So this is it: a major way to keep my body in balance means I'll only have occasional desserts and things like macaroni and cheese or buttered toast. I'm learning to indulge my sweet tooth with fruit, nuts, lightly sweetened beverages and small amounts of dark chocolate.

I've found that if I stop flooding my body with sugar for a few weeks, I can break my physical addiction to it. Also, my taste buds adjust so I don't need as much sweetness to satisfy a craving. But the thing that's been hanging me up is my emotional need for sweets. I've been struggling with the belief that a life without frosted layer cakes isn't worth living. That belief isn't caused by my insulin levels or my taste buds; that belief lives in my mind. And, goddamn, the mind is a tough thing to change.

But with meditation (I use Joe Dispenza's recordings), it's possible to re-wire the brain's old patterns and I think I'm finally doing it. After months of daily guided meditation, I'm finally letting go of that old belief that sugar makes life worth living. And it's just in time because after a lifetime of abusing my pancreas with sweetened cereals, cookies, cakes, frostings, candy and sugary pastries, my body needs no more sugar. At the age of 48 and a half, I can't continue those habits without risking blood sugar problems (diabetes runs in my family) and I'm determined to avoid that. The side benefit is that I'm losing the fat that was keeping me from my former yoga routine. I feel like I'm getting back to my true, natural weight. It's also nice to have "new" clothes because things that I hadn't been able to squeeze into for two years now fit again.

So the plow pose represents how much I've accomplished so far and the healthy, menstrual-cramp-free life ahead of me. By my 49th birthday in July, I'm going to be the healthiest I've ever been and my 50's are going to be great. Come to think of it, maybe I'll just start calling myself 50 in July. Why not? Adding a year will only make me look better for my age!

Sunday, February 15, 2015

What will make them vaccinate?

Many of us are baffled by those who won’t vaccinate their children. We can’t believe there are people who can ignore the statistics that show that where children are vaccinated, disease rates go down. We think such people are stupid, selfish and destructive. I know I’ve looked at anti-vaxxers as idiots whose grandparents probably thought the earth was flat. But after communicating with some anti-vaxxers on Facebook, and reading articles on what motivates parents, I’m cutting the anti-vaccine movement some slack. There is a method to their madness.

Vaccines are a difficult topic because few people can discuss the welfare of children without emotion. Parents of babies and school-age children struggle with dozens of decisions a day (how to dress the kid, what to feed it, how much TV to allow, etc.). And the fact is, some children do have a bad reaction to vaccines. Only a small minority react badly, and an even smaller minority have the mitochondrial disorder that can be triggered by vaccination (among other things!), but the anecdotes abound. The numbers show that far more children are at risk of catching a disease than are at risk of having an adverse reaction to a vaccine, but personal stories very effectively raise doubt about the safety of vaccines.

A recent NPR article (Psychological Biases Play A Part In Vaccination Decisions) reveals part of what influences parents’ opinions about vaccines. When making decisions about their children, a parent’s goal is to make a decision they won’t regret. When researchers presented parents with two risks (to their children) to choose between, many people chose the path that didn’t require them to do anything. The researchers theorize that lack of action relieves some of the remorse parents might feel later if their child suffers from their decision. For example, if a woman has her child vaccinated against the flu and complications arise from that injection, she might feel worse than if she hadn’t had her child vaccinated and the child caught a serious case of the flu. It’s as if we associate action with guilt, and inaction with freedom from guilt. The article uses the phrase "doing harm versus merely allowing harm."

The article theorizes that we might increase vaccination rates if we change things so that not vaccinating a child requires more action than vaccinating. If it takes lengthy paperwork and focused effort to get an exemption from vaccination, then keeping your child unvaccinated would become the path of action, opening yourself up to more regret if that decision leads to a negative outcome. (We might already be heading in that direction as more schools make vaccination a requirement for attendance.)

Given all the uncertainty that anti-vaxxers have created about vaccines, it makes sense that many parents lean towards not vaccinating, which feels like not taking a direct action that might harm their child. It’s an emotional decision driven by parents’ need to not do anything they’ll later feel guilty about. This bias also explains how people can ignore the scientific evidence showing that vaccines don’t cause autism. It no longer matters that Andrew Wakefield -- the person who said he’d found a possible link between vaccines and autism -- falsified his data. Anti-vaxxers have heard enough stories about children with suspicious reactions to vaccines to make Wakefield’s debunked research irrelevant.

No one wants to do anything that might hurt their child. Many people would rather do nothing and take their chances with those consequences. What we pro-vaxxers are battling is parents' emotional need to believe they have not taken any action that could damage their child. That's an extremely powerful emotional need that won't be touched by statistics and scientific facts, so let's stop yelling and put down the bar graphs and scientific studies. One of my dad's favorite sayings is "If you can't make them see the light, make them feel the heat." What we need to do is make those exemptions much harder to get so that keeping your kid unvaccinated requires deliberate action that you can't pretend you're not taking. I imagine a future in which you either get your children vaccinated or home school them through the post-graduate level. At any rate, we're not going to convince anti-vaxxers of the importance of vaccination, so we might as well stop trying. The best path is to allow them their fears and anxieties while we change the environment until not vaccinating becomes too uncomfortable a position to maintain.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Share me

A friend asked about sharing my posts on Facebook, so I want to point this out to anyone who might not have noticed: in the bottom left corner of each post is a row of icons for Gmail, Blogger, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and GooglePlus. Click on any one of those to share a post on one of your social media pages.

Below that are options for you to indicate what you think of the post: funny, interesting or cool. Click on one of those, too. Thanks!

Monday, February 09, 2015

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Are you an empathic person who tries to put herself in someone else's shoes and really understand them? Are you baffled by people who won't vaccinate their children because they don't trust the government or the pharmecuetical companies to be working in the best interests of the public? Would you like a little insight into that level of distrust? I like to try to understand people who seem completely wrong to me.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks describes how an African American tobacco farmer who went to the doctor for cancer treatment had her cells used in medical research for decades without her family knowing. Author Rebecca Skloot spent years researching how the global research community used "HeLa" cells, and how Lacks' family was impacted (or not). Lacks herself died young from a strain of cancer that was so aggressive that it served as the perfect lab sample because it was almost impossible to kill it. Her cells were critical in the development of the polio vaccine and countless other medical breakthroughs. In the meantime, her descendents struggled financially and, ironically, went without health coverage for decades. Skloot's book includes interviews with the Lacks family that took place after they learned of Henrietta's eternal place in medical history.

No, this book doesn't comment on current ideas about government medical guidelines or requirements. I simply offer it as a piece of evidence for the distrust that many feel towards the medical establishment and how it can treat individuals. It's also just a good story. Right now the Kindle version of this book is just $1.99 on Amazon.com. I read it when it came out in 2010 and plan to read it again.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Animals


In former vegan Tovar Cerulli's 2012 article in The Atlantic, Hunters Are People Too, Cerulli makes the point that humans' impact on the welfare of animals isn't just about what we eat, but how we eat it. He writes: In great part, our difficulty with hunting stems from the simple fact that we are disturbed by the killing of animals. Most burger-wolfing Americans don't want to know what happens in slaughterhouses. Most yogurt-scooping vegetarians don't want to know that dairy farming depends on the constant butchering of male calves for veal. As a salad-munching vegan, I didn't want to know about the impacts of agriculture.

He describes being a vegan who gradually became aware of the full impact of industrialized food on animals (even the way birds and other wildlife that are killed by grain harvesting technology). He began prioritizing how he was engaging with the food industry, beyond what foods he chose to eat, and his decision to start hunting was motivated by his desire to disconnect from the destructive practices of agribusiness (as well as health concerns he doesn't describe).

I find Cerulli's reasoning very consistent and sound. He prioritizes the welfare of animals and found a way to not participate in the destructive practices of the meat industry. He kills only what he consumes, doesn't turn away from the slaughtering process, and prepares and eats animals with his eyes wide open. This all makes sense because his primary motivation is to minimize the harm he does to animals.

We don't all share Cerulli's motivation.

I think we can all agree that Americans are basically self-serving and whenever we find a moral contradiction, we do a great job of ignoring it. Do you want to point out the hypocrisy of loving our dogs and eating our pigs? We'll tune it out as easily as turning up the volume of our Katy Perry download. Failure to realize the granite wall of our disinterest in animal welfare is the problem of most vegans who try to convince Americans to go vegan. I'm regularly stunned by the tone-deaf pitch of vegans who think showing me photos of murdered cows and bleeding pig corpses will make me stop eating those animals.

As little as I can abide cruelty to anyone or anything (even Ann Coulter), the person who comes first in my life is me. I notice that my health is better and my energy steadier when I regularly eat animals (for the purposes of this piece, I define "animals" as poultry, red meat/ruminants, pork, fish and eggs). No amount of reading about the state of our slaughterhouses or the conditions of chicken farms is going to change my physical body so that it thrives on plants alone, so those arguments aren't going to get me to stop eating animals.

But there is an argument that would convince me to stop eating animals: show me that eating animals is more destructive to my body than not eating them. This is a hard one because I, of course, have 48 years of experiential evidence that has taught me that my body does better with animal flesh than without it. However, there is one person who has given me the evidence I needed to get me to make a big change in the way I eat animals: Dr. Emily Lindner who specializes in hormonal imbalances.

Dr. Lindner identified hormonal imbalances as the cause of my horrific menstrual cramps. Under her guidance, I've cut sugars, grains, caffeine, dairy products and alcohol and it's made a difference. My monthly cramps are still upsettingly strong and disruptive, but they aren't as bad as they were and as I continue to detoxify from all the hormone-disrupting foods, they'll get better and better.

Realizing that focusing on hormones is key to my health, I've done more reading on them and how many hormones are pumped into our meat supply. This has finally convinced me to cut back on the amount of regularly processed eggs, red meat and chicken I consume. My health is too delicate at this point for me to not take every bit of good advice I come across. Hormone and antibiotic tainted animal foods? I'm done buying them at the grocery store. (This leaves the problem of what to eat in restaurants, but one thing at a time.)

I wish I could hunt my own food like Cerulli, but I dislike the outdoors, so hunting is out for me. Instead, I've started buying only organic, antibiotic-free eggs and organic animal flesh. That stuff is expensive, so I've also cut down on how much of it I eat and now have more vegetables, beans and potatoes on my plate. I'm making these changes for my benefit, not to benefit animals or the environment or the whales. It's just for me, even though I know that sounds selfish. I realize vegans and environmentalists are more altruistic and I'll be the first to admit that they're better people than I can hope to be. But the reality is that most Americans think the way I do: we want what's good for the health of our own bodies, with animals occupying a distant second priority (or third or thirtieth).

Vegans, if you want to encourage meat eaters to consider veganism, you have to go where we live: serving the best interests of our own individual little lives. Appealing to people's higher morals is slow, slow work.

Saturday, February 07, 2015

The Nightly Show - watch it!

Holly Phillips, Judy Gold, Larry Wilmore, Zooey O'Toole and Mike Yard discuss vaccination.
Hey, looky here: it's a BLACK MAN WITH HIS OWN LATE NIGHT SHOW. This hasn't happened since Arsenio Hall, only this time the man is hilarious and I can't get enough!

Larry Wilmore started out as The Daily Show's Senior Black Correspondent, but he's even funnier sitting at his own news desk. Everyone, watch The Nightly Show! You can watch full episodes on the Comedy Central website and on Hulu.com.

Unlike Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert who review(ed) recent news stories and interview(ed) people, Wilmore's show parodies morning round table shows like Meet the Press. He introduces only one topic per show, gives background and comments, and then discusses it with four guests. The wonderful running bit that he uses is a segment called "Keeping it 100." That means keeping your statements one hundred percent truthful. After the discussion, Wilmore asks each guest a question that he asks them to answer with complete, gut honesty. If they do, they get a "Keep It 100" sticker. If they give a weak response, he tosses them a teabag.

Who hasn't wished those talking heads would give just one straight, unqualified answer? Wilmore has tapped into that desire and he does it brilliantly. At the very end of the show, he keeps it 100 by answering a question that he doesn't see until the moment he's on camera answering it. Where does his question come from? His Twitter followers!

Watch The Nightly Show. Wilmore has some excellent writers that finally broadcast opinions and responses that people of color have been shouting at our TV sets for decades. Start with the very first show which just happened to air on January 19th, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Wilmore has covered topics such as the president's State of the Union address, Cuba relations, vaccines and he introduced the topic of Bill Cosby by saying, "Tonight we answer the question: did he do it? And the answer will be 'yes.'"

Plus Wilmore is just funny. One of my favorite moments (so far) was this one from his vaccine show: "We're all familiar with the term first world problem, right? It's when rich Americans complain about something that people in other parts of the world might consider a byproduct of luxury. You know, like when I have to turn on the subtitles on Netflix because I'm eating Doritos too loudly."

Watch The Nightly Show. In over ten years of keeping this blog, I don't think I've ever commanded people to watch a tv show, but this is it. The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore is one of the best things I've seen in decades and is the perfect palate cleanser for anyone who has a bad taste in their mouth from Black-ish.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

BLOWING OFF STEAM!!!

We fucked up. We Americans are so damn smart and so driven to make a buck and create new ways to earn money off each other that we tampered with natural ingredients until -- over the past five decades -- we replaced traditional foods with dead, chemical-based crap because the cheap stuff turns a bigger profit. The American food industry took the natural human preference for sweetness and fat and exploited it, using increasing amounts of chemicals and innovation to make many foods that are just as addictive -- and just as useless -- as opioid drugs. And now look at us! Because of our horrible Standard American Diet (SAD), we’re abusing our bodies with  junk that causes heart disease, diabetes, brain disorders and other health problems, often fatal. We Americans have created a culture of selling ourselves death. We pay money to poison ourselves.

The too-smart-for-our-own-good American food industry developed ingenious formulae to make people want to eat more of certain items whether or not we're feeling actual hunger. For example, Doritos, Oreos, Cinnabon, Big Macs and the entire menus of places like Applebee's and TGIFriday's have been scientifically engineered to mix with our saliva in a way that forms a delicious paste in our mouths with just the right amount of staying power and fade-out. Not only do these foods taste good, but many have been chemically orchestrated to leave an aftertaste that triggers the desire to eat more. Some foods are even engineered to have an aftertaste that's more appealing than the actual taste of the food in your mouth. This irresistible aftertaste, keeps us returning to the bag of chips or sleeve of cookies or refrigerator. [See David A. Kessler's book on this subject.]

God damn it! We Americans did this in our obsessive need to make money, make money, make more money. How can we get people to spend more money on our product? How do we make people unable to get through the day without our food item or drink? By manipulating the ingredients until people's
brains are hard-wired to respond to those substances like heroin.

On the other end, when we begin to notice that our waistlines are getting too wide, a subset of the food industry is there for us with different chemically manipulated food-like substances to give us hope for losing weight. We couldn't have come up with a more lucrative racket if we'd had the financial industry to try to come up with one. The American food industry got us hooked on cheap, destructive products, one effect of which is to make us fat. And then it created another useless industry of cheap crap for those who want to lose weight. Fuck.

And the really damnable part is that those so-called weight loss products are part of the problem. Because Ancel [Asshole] Keyes asserted that natural saturated fats are bad for us and the burgeoning vegetable and cotton oil manufacturers wanted to create a market for margarine, Americans have been operating on the false belief that fat causes fatness and lowfat starches and sugars are the way to lose weight. In fact, sugars and starches cause weight gain, as we can see by how much fatter Americans have become since the birth of the lowfat food industry and the U.S. government's recommendation that we all eat five or more servings of starches a day. Since 1980 Americans have put away tons of breads, pastas, grains and desserts, many of them with reduced fat ingredients. And look at how healthy we are as a result!

Driven by greed and not giving a damn about actual humans, Americans have made money by getting ourselves hooked on non-foods (and chemical beverages) that cause health problems and then selling ourselves more non-foods (and chemical beverages) to remedy those health problems. But those "helpful" products really make things worse, so we need more and more and never-ending more stupid products that we're fooled into believing will help us become healthy. We are fucking idiots! I hate us! We're selling each other DEATH and we're selling it to the rest of the world! Americans suck.