Healthy Kid

Am I doing it right?

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I think I’ve rambled about this before, but I am simultaneously concerned and dismissive of my health. I think my issue with healthy eating is how stupid everyone involved with it tends to be. We have diets coming out of every orifice, told not to eat this, but eat all of this, only don’t if it’s a windy Tuesday. I have countless acquaintances who have been on countless diets, and none of them worked, but even if one had, the arbitrary nature of it tells me it had more to do with the person finally changing his life than the specific diet. It’s one of the “fields” in which opinions seem to matter way more than they should. People care about GMOs and sugar and carbohydrates, without ever really showing why we should. The science behind most trends is lacking. I read articles that are constantly discussing what food is good and what food is bad, then qualifying that by mentioning you have to eat 50 pounds of it every 40 minutes to get the harmful effects.

I don’t doubt that eating quarts of ice cream three times a day is bad for you. But how bad is some ice cream sometimes? How bad is more if you are incredibly active? Do you know how many scoops of ice cream will lower my life expectancy?

Why the skepticism? When I was younger I was constantly told coffee is bad for you. A few years ago a friend of a friend on facebook posted about how coffee causes cancer. I’m sure he didn’t just make that up, he read it somewhere or someone else read it somewhere and told him. But it’s not true. Or at least definitely not conclusive. In fact, evidence recently has shown a correlation between coffee consumption and lower rates of certain types of cancer.

Now does this one case make everything you hear about health trends false? No. But it makes me skeptical of who is saying it and why. The general idea that comes out of most of what I read is moderation. Sugar is fine, if you don’t drink packets of it instead of touching water. And I’m good with that general outline. Maybe my mindset will kill me a few years early. Maybe it won’t.

 

 

*Just for fun. In the picture we have a white chocolate mocha, smores ice cream with a snickerdoodle cookie crumbled on top of it, Odwalla smoothie, and a big cup of water.

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Healthy Kid

Moral Implications of Psychology/Therapy

I’m fascinated and disgusted by self-help books and have been on a long journey of exploration, in order to to articulate my problems with what self-help books preach. On the printed-word-road to happiness, I came across positive psychology, which is basically a (mostly) science guided self-help. The positive psychology pop-sci books are generally written by practicing psychologists or research psychologists. They have actual studies, and not just anecdotes, to support what they preach. But underlying all the surveys and self-reports, the brain scans and journal keeping, positive psychology looks a lot like self-help. They have more numbers in their books, but the message is still vague enough to apply to a great number of people and not quite do much more than scratch the surface of the majority of problems.

One example I’ve come across multiple times, is the gratitude angle. There’s the idea that you should make lists of things you appreciate, but they tend to be too superficial to help. The psychologists like to talk about journaling instead. The exercise that I’ve seen in multiple books can be, more-or-less, described as imaging your life without something you currently have in your life. For example, if you want to appreciate your spouse more, you’d think of what your life would be like if you had never met your spouse. You think about (and/or write about) all the ways your life would be different had you two never met. This has been shown to help you appreciate the object (in this case a person) more by making you think about the multitude of ways this thing (your spouse) has influenced your life and all the wonderful experiences you would have missed out on. It’s pretty simple to see how that would be helpful.

But this exercise might not be doing much more than tricking people into appreciating someone or something by tapping into our human inability to accurately predict how we will feel in the future. It’s called affective forecasting. And we are terrible at it. In general we imagine horrible events (a serious accident) will demolish our lives and great events (marriage) will fix everything. As in, “If I win the lottery, everything will be better.” But it turns out we adapt and adjust. We are on the hedonistic treadmill, also known as hedonistic adaptation, so major events, good or bad, don’t make us completely miserable or completely happy forever, or for very long, really. As an example, when asked to imagine a physical disability, people inaccurately judge their future happiness. In truth, people who experience a paralyzing accident generally recover to previous levels of happiness. In short, we’re resilient (in the face of adversity) and we get bored (with good things).

(On top of that is what is sometimes called, rosy recollection. But I don’t want to get into that at the moment.)

These two lines converge. We make people imagine their lives without someone or something to help them appreciate something more. But we know people aren’t good at imagining how they will feel as a result of some event.

Something about this feels wrong. It feels like nothing more than giving someone a happiness pill to transform their bad experiences into good. The experiences themselves don’t change, though. If we aren’t helping people face the reality of whatever situation he/she is in. Doing this could lead people to more bad decisions in the future. There is no learning process in this exercise. People are, possibly, being tricked when being asked to evaluate their lives in ways they are not good at doing.

There is no direct connection between the two lines of research that I know of. The gratitude exercise has been shown to help people appreciate loved ones, and other things, more, increasing the subjects well-being. However, I can’t help but think our affective forecasting errors have something to do with this and if it does, we are doing nothing more than misleading people, subtly, into feeling better about something they have no business feeling better about.

Would you complete an exercise to feel better about something if you thought the exercise was exploiting an error in our judgment?

 

 

*Just for clarification, I write here to get out my first thoughts on a subject. I realize I’m probably making a lot of errors in my posts. I’m happy to have faulty logic brought to my attention, so please do so.

Moral Implications of Psychology/Therapy

Run Into The Ground

I’m trying to hang on to ideas when everything around me seems to be falling apart in an melodramatic, operatic way. Before I start complaining I should preemptively acknowledge my position in the world. It’s unfair to an absurd degree. It’s embarrassing that one of my primary concerns is being intellectually stimulated. Oh, and a need for variety. I think my awareness of this is fairly high. But whether that makes my complaining any more dignified is up for debate. I’d venture a guess that it doesn’t.

This is one of those times when little things seem to be piling up and are unusually dense. The same amount I could pick up with ease two weeks ago is pinning me to the floor. Last week I believe I had a flu or a sinus infection or something similar. I slept almost the entire day, two days in a row. Felt miserable any time I breathed. Sore throats make life almost literally unbearable. Existing, without any additional movement or thought, is a pain in the ass. It hurts. Throats are often ignored, except in certain movies, but they are sure as hell important and often used in our daily lives. Have a sip of water or a bite of food without one. Think about how frequently we swallow to rid of that excess saliva. A constant source of annoyance.

Then, I started feeling better and proceeded to do my knee in. It’s gone. Going on four full days laid up in bed with only small excursions outside. Have to limp to get food or water or go to the bathroom, which makes all three seem nonessential. Showers are also an unneeded excess, and consist of me standing under the water and lamely washing all the parts of my body I can reach without bending my left knee. Unless I want to navigate my way to the floor to wash my legs in the sitting position. Sort of like the old sit and reach from middle school PE.

But, hey, guess I can take comfort in the fact that I’m still sick. Which drains me even faster than being in pain alone would.

I can’t imagine what being sick feels like to an infant. It’s this insane, invisible pain. Muscles ache. Your body feels out of your control. You can still feel the dull aches from everywhere, arms, neck, head, legs, throat, back, shoulders, but everything is delayed and heavy. Burdens put on you by something outside yourself. Betrayed by what you thought belonged to you. A transplant that hasn’t quite taken. A baby barely has control over his or her body and it’s already fighting them.

 

There’s not much going on right now, and that’s the source of my disintegration. Any small thing I want to do, work, play, read, sing, etc. all hurt. I can’t get outside because I’m tired from feeling ill and in pain from the knee. Even the most innocuous hold up is a major event right now. Getting dressed requires effort and it’s effort I don’t have in reserve at the moment. An incremental deviation from the norm right now is massive when it’s put on top of a huge pile of frustration.

It’s just that sometimes reading and thinking about child labor, studying philosophy, thinking about morality, origins, how to live, and the brain doesn’t satisfy a basic and simple desire to take a walk.

Run Into The Ground

I’m an Expert

We all suffer from Dr. Google. This idea that we can easily become well informed, intelligent people in a minute or two. It’s not hard to see why we feel that way and why we would want to, but it’s usually unfounded. The truth is, to really learn about something – from climate to health food – you have to spend years and year studying it. You don’t have an equally informed and equally valid position after visiting a few random websites.

We get these talking points, and we stick with them. In this video from Jimmy Kimmel, health nuts drink candy mixed with water and are tricked into believing it’s organic juice. Now we can guess how segments like this are made. They do this all day at the Farmer’s Market and anyone who doesn’t fall for it isn’t aired. That’s fair. And it’s perfectly reasonable to think the vast majority of health food obsessed people were able to notice the differences. But what the video does show is that some people – perhaps many – simply memorize how they should feel and apply it when they think it would make sense, not necessarily when it actually does make sense. They didn’t truly taste anything organic, we’ve seen enough of these types of videos to know there isn’t much of a difference. Penn & Teller did something similar like 6 years ago (at least that’s when it was put on youtube).

Note how similar everyone sounded. “Organic,” “fresh,” “cleansing,” “not sugary” (lol), “good for you,” “natural,” and “no chemicals.” Chemicals? You don’t taste the chemicals? It’s as if they A) can taste specific chemicals in a non-organic juice and B) don’t realize everything is made of chemicals. Besides when you had a sip of some carpet cleaner, do you taste chemicals in any of your food? This manufactured fear associated with all things science-sounding was demonstrated before when people supported a ban of dihydrogen monoxide (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yi3erdgVVTw and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dihydrogen_monoxide_hoax) and labeling food products containing DNA (http://www.consumeraffairs.com/news/mandatory-labels-on-foods-containing-dna-80-of-americans-support-that-011915.html).

There’s no problem with not being aware of big, scary sounding words, but why, just because it sounds like a chemical, does that mean it’s bad? And it wasn’t always the case. The slogan for DuPont used to be “Better things for better living… through chemistry” until chemistry became a bad word and “through chemistry” was dropped (http://www.quora.com/Why-did-DuPont-drop-through-chemistry-from-their-old-advertising-slogan). This is my problem with movements that promote insulated thinking. They aren’t about expanded awareness, they are about pushing their views no matter what. How many people know the actual benefits of organic food and the risks associated with GMOs? How many people go to the source and read the research papers? It seems like people rely on someone selling a product to tell them what’s good for them and distrust any scientific sources that suggest otherwise. The joke of it all is that you don’t need to know anything and you can still feel like organic is better and only consume that. No one is stopping you from eating only what you grow in your backyard, but when factual claims are made you better know what you’re talking about. Like why they should be labeled or why they should be banned. And the sad truth is, not many people do. A recent survey, in line with past surveys, shows the gap between scientific consensus and the public’s understanding. On whether or not it’s safe to eat GM foods, 88% of scientists surveyed said yes and only 37% of the general public said yes (http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/2015/01/29/despite-esteem-for-science-public-at-odds-with-scientists-on-major-issues/?WT.mc_id=SA_Facebook). Why this gap exists and who’s at fault is a discussion for another time, but surely it shows that people aren’t going to the sources to form their opinions.

(To support this, a blog on Discover Magazine shows that only 50% of people know what GM foods are, yet, 67% don’t think scientists have a clear understanding of what GM foods do. So if only half of the population knows what they are, how did they form any opinion on what scientists think/know about them? The article contains another funny video from Kimmel at a Farmer’s Market asking people what GMOs are. (Again take it with a grain of salt as it’s meant for a comedy show.) http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/collideascape/2015/01/30/new-report-highlights-divide-scientists-public/#.VNGD92jF-sg)

It’s all just fear based.

If the only claims were “I like this and I want to do it” then there’d be no disagreements. But when it becomes “This is better for you” there’s a claim to some truth. I don’t like when people try to claim truth because they feel a certain way. Especially when it means they try to mess with how I do things. Eat whatever you want, but keep me out of it. And try not to kill anyone in the process. http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/2014/03/15/golden-rice-opponents-should-be-held-accountable-for-health-problems-linked-to-vitamain-a-deficiency/

I’m an Expert

Good Drugs

Hello Internet people. I’ve been silent for a few minutes here and I thought I’d explain why. Turns out, someone has the flu. That someone appears to be me if my general terrible feeling is any indication. I’ve taken some sort of medicine that I can’t identify, but I can report that it tastes like liquified garbage. Though, in saying that, I have to reveal my gratitude for its existence. I may feel worse when choking it down, but in the long run I am better off for the amazing work done by medical researchers. Hopefully, I won’t need to take advantage of other breakthroughs like my friend’s grandfather had to over the weekend when he suffered a heart attack. He’s on the mend now and all signs point to a swift recovery and that’s all thanks to those crazily educated doctors (and nurses and anyone else keeping that hospital running, like the engineers and electricians and so on).

Comparatively, I’m healthy as an ox and I feel that way, besides the moments I feel every viscous, dripping, molecule in my gut, wrenching upward against gravity to spew from my mouth in disgusting glory. Yes, besides that… lovely.

I’m having one of those real lack of crisis periods. Life is stacking up in the corner of this room. Every once in a while I peek over and see the tower leaning, ready to crumble, but I stay calm. Life. Future. Babies. Career. Phd. Parents. Love. Childhood. Words words words. Meaning is buried somewhere in there and I’m digging every day. My little version of manual labor that’s sickening when you think about the true struggles of manual labor. Not as sickening as a virus or bacterium, but you know what I mean.

And being slightly sick and on awesome medicine has one distinct benefit. It allows me to act and write like an insane fool with a beautiful excuse. At the end of this, rather than thinking I’m a terrible writer and seeing my mind deteriorating as each word is written down, a lot of you lovely people will feel empathy to some degree. I can get away with literary and intellectual murder.

 

Away, I plan on catching up on my blog reading tomorrow as I plan to spend 21 hours of the next 24 in bed. I hope you lovely people have written some fascinating stuff for me.

Goodnight.

Good Drugs

All Natural!

If you’re anything like me… I’m sorry. But also, it means you read a fair bit of science and pseudo-science. Everything from climate change to GMOs. There is endless “information” out there that is meant to mislead. One of the arguments I’ve always hated was the “it’s natural” argument, or the Appeal to Nature. You find it in people wanting to legalize marijuana, organic/health food supporters, opponents of gay marriage, etcetera. Then you see it when reading articles like this http://blog.amnestyusa.org/women/discrimination-is-not-natural-it-is-learned-ending-violence-against-women/

The headline is, “Discrimination is not natural; it is learned; Ending violence against women.” Besides being irrelevant to the topic at hand, the writer doesn’t even bother backing up the claim that discrimination isn’t natural. In fact, the only time nature is referenced at all is when the writer uses the same sentence in the post itself. Again, no details explaining the evidence we have showing the discrimination isn’t natural. The trouble is, there are very damning studies that show infants do have preferences when it comes to skin color and accents. This is just what I know off the top of my head, too. If an author is basing an entire argument over what is natural and what isn’t, then you can lose the argument without ever discussing the positives and negatives of the topic at hand. The appeal to nature argument is still prevalent somehow in everyday thinking when it doesn’t make any sense, whatsoever.

I hate this because it perpetuates lazy thinking and poor understanding. It may very well be true that discrimination isn’t natural (in humans?), but plenty of terrible behaviors are completely natural and that doesn’t make them okay! Just like completely natural plants can kill you, natural behaviors might not serve us any better. If you want to make a point, you can’t simply fall back on how you feel about it. That gets you nowhere because anyone else can resort to the same defense and you have a stalemate. If you want to hang your hat on this natural argument, then you better have a lot of data supporting your position. But even then, philosophically, it’s easy to destroy that argument. Simply ask, If discrimination were natural, would you then be happy to let it continue? Most people would say no because being natural is not the value statement you think it is.

The point that could be emphasized is how discrimination negatively affects so many people and how we should call on our reasoning abilities, even in the face of natural tendencies, to help put a stop to this. We humans have a level of awareness that is unrivaled. We can rebel against our natural feelings or behaviors when they do harm.

I’m a fan of Amnesty International. The blog itself isn’t terrible (although the bit about statistics isn’t exactly how statistics work, but I’ll let it go). It was just another example of a common and horrible argument.

All Natural!