Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Nutrition Debate #63: Impulse Control and Metacognition

A few years ago, in an effort to understand how (not why) I had recently “fallen off the wagon” with respect to my very low carb diet, I developed an interest in the subject of impulse control. The “why” was too deep and complex – a psychological vortex – and I just decided I didn’t want to “go there.” I’m too old for that stuff, I told myself. Besides, I had already concluded that my patterns and habits of eating were pretty well imprinted on my brain due to a case of “arrested development” in my early teenage years.

I considered the “how” question more addressable. When I mentioned this on line on Dr. Bernstein’s Diabetes Forum (I’m a Type 2 diabetic), a friend suggested I set up a “Google Alert” on the subject of impulse control, so I did. It was really very easy to do and the daily email option was just right. I got a list of “snippets” every day (every day there was a hit). If I thought it sounded interesting, I opened it up and took a look.
One of the first hits introduced the term “metacognition,’ which literally means “knowing about knowing,” but there are many definitions. Look it up in Wikipedia. The operative definition of metacognition for my study of impulse control was “thinking about thinking.” So I started a new “thread” on “Impulse Control and Metacognition” on the Forum. It got about 50 replies and 3800 views. It was, I think, an interesting discussion.
An early reply on the thread from the Forum Moderator suggested that impulse eating might actually be a physiological rather than a psychological issue. She pointed out that Dr. Bernstein has mentioned that with beta cell burnout there is less amylin production as well as less insulin production, and low amylin levels mean the brain isn’t getting the message that you are not hungry. There is a pharmacological “fix” for this (Symlin), but I was not interested in going that route. There is also the leptin/ghrelin hormone interaction, but again hormone signaling to/from the hypothalamus is too high brow and still a new and emerging area of science. I wanted to keep my experiment simple and personal, so I started.
In the discussion, I pointed out that when I have been tempted to snack before dinner, or reach into the bread basket at a restaurant, or hit the freezer for ice cream before bedtime, I was aware that a finite idea had entered my mind: “the temptation.” The idea was usually dismissed quickly, but then usually returned, sometimes quickly and sometimes more than once. On its return, I have sometimes acted on it, always to my disgust, shame and chagrin. I beat myself up. That was an emotional response, not the rational response I was now exploring.
My rational response was to put “the idea” out of mind when “the temptation” first occurred. I just denied the thought. I emptied the brain the way I do when I put my head on the pillow at night to fall asleep. By not “allowing” the thought to stay on the brain, or by substituting another thought for “the temptation,” it went away. It did not persist. If it returned, I just created another “distraction.” I “changed the subject.” It could be another idea or it could be an action. Whatever it was, the idea was to catch the bad thought “in the bud” before it had a chance to get embedded.
Examples: If I am eating in a restaurant with others and the bread basket is presented, I pick it up and pass it (away). Or I start a conversation (not related to bread). Recently, when eating alone in a restaurant, I distracted myself by becoming engrossed in a newspaper. Another time I watched and listened (unobtrusively) to people at another table. In other words, I took quick action (by thought or deed) to side track “the temptation.” Actions are better than abstract ideals like “will power” and “steely resolve.” You have to be limber, imaginative, stay alert for the temptation, and act.
Of course, one of the very best ways to suppress “the temptation” is for it to be out of sight. I am a sucker for food I can see. If I can see it, I get an idea (eat it!). If I don’t see it, I don’t get the idea – even though I know the ice cream is in the freezer or the nuts are in the cabinet. The actual sight of it is the trigger for the idea, and avoiding the sight of it is the best way to avoid “the temptation.” I don’t know how common this phenomenon is, but it is an absolute truism for me. The difference between seeing the food and not seeing it is huge. It has nothing to do with hunger or sugar cravings. I can be mildly ketogenic with low serum insulin and fully controlled, stable blood glucose and still cave to food on sight.
Others have dealt with impulse control in different ways. Some use healthy fears, others the fear of catastrophic outcomes. But you have to experience it yourself, if you want to exercise the mind and relearn a behavior. Supplanting the emotional with a rational response is metacognition, the essential precursor to any action. Quoting Alfred Korzybski from his preface to “Science and Sanity, “…if they are not applied but merely talked about, no results can be expected.”
© Dan Brown 8/28/12

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Nutrition Debate #62: Meatless Monday Madness

A recent USDA newsletter to employees produced a minor contretemps within the agency and a major uproar across the US among beef producers and meat eaters. According to a Fox News online alert, the USDA newsletter said, “This international effort, as the name implies, encourages people not to eat meat on Mondays.” The newsletter continued, “How will going meatless one day a week help the environment? The production of meat, especially beef (and dairy as well) has a large environmental impact. According to the UN, animal agriculture is a major source of greenhouse gases and climate change. It also wastes resources.” The Fox News piece went on to say the newsletter cited “many health concerns” associated with “excessive consumption” of meat. Do I smell a vegan here?
Fox reports that later the USDA said that the passage in the newsletter “was included without proper clearance.”USDA spokeswoman Courtney Rowe said the USDA does not endorse the “Meatless Monday” initiative. So, the brouhaha passed, Fox had a little fun in the chicken coop, with little notice taken by the mainstream media due to the Olympics.
But to me, the big story is how the vegan lobby has embedded itself into the interstitial tissue of the ‘corpus governmentalis,’ or body politic, as it were. The pathway of infection of this parasitic movement is ingestion of vegan messages within the hallways of large centralized government agencies like the USDA, where it hopes to colonize and reproduce. The United Nations, of course, is always a target, given that by design it is a receptive host to parasitic attacks of every nature and from all quarters. In the US, Washington DC is targeted, especially at times of big top-down government with a compromised immune system such as we have with the present administration.
The vegan bug is dormant when it is introduced into the alimentary canal. It is also relatively benign when it manifests in such forms as the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Founded in 1971, this group today masquerades as a consumer advocacy group focusing today on nutrition. It advocates taxing soft drinks and pressures ice cream manufacturers to display nutritional information.  They are also known for their longstanding opposition to saturated (i.e. animal-based) fats. Critics refer to CSPI as "the Food Police" and accuse CSPI of pursuing "a pre-existing political agenda."
Cato Institute’s (a Washington D.C.-based libertarian think tank) Walter Olson wrote that the group's "longtime shtick is to complain that businesses like McDonald’s, rather than our own choices, are to blame for rising obesity." He called CSPI's suit against McDonald's on behalf of a California mother a "new low in responsible parenting.”CSPI is famous for its 1980s campaign against saturated fats—and this was at a time when CSPI maintained that trans fats were relatively benign and had persuaded many restaurants, such as McDonald's, to introduce trans fats. Today CSPI accepts that trans fats are bad but still campaigns vigorously against saturated (i.e. animal) fats.
A much more virulent strain of veganism began to infect the body politic (both in the US and internationally) in 2009 when Robert Goodland, PhD and Jeff Anhang published their seminal treatise on bovine flatulence, “Livestock and Climate Change” in WorldWatch. Subtitle: “What if the Key Actors in Climate Change were Cows, Pigs and Chickens.” 
Goodland, now retired from the World Bank after 23 years as lead environmental officer, is an old friend. I’ve known Goodland since the mid-1970s when we worked together – he staff ecologist (and vegetarian), and I staff architect – at the Cary Arboretum in Millbrook, NY. Robert Goodland, then and now, is a “mover and shaker” and a trend setter of no mean import. In the early 1970’s, he proposed one of the very earliest, large examples of an energy conserving, solar heated building for the Cary Arboretum headquarters. I had the pleasure of managing the design and construction program for the institution.
His latest enterprise aims to be no less earth shattering in its impact. Cleverly, it is itself parasitic. Its vegan premise attaches itself to one of the left’s most fundamental and passionate causes, global warming. The report claims, “Our analysis shows that livestock and their byproducts actually account for at least 32,564 million tons of CO2e per year, or 51 percent of annual worldwide GHG emissions.” Never mind that the UN Food and Agricultural Organization claims 18 percent, and that Frank Mitloehner at Justify Earth thinks that that figure is “much too high for the US.” The report then posits, “If this argument is right, it implies that replacing livestock products with better alternatives would be the best strategy for reversing climate change. In fact, this approach would have far more rapid effects on GHG emissions and their atmospheric concentrations—and thus on the rate the climate is warming—than actions to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy.” Ergo, Meatless Monday Madness! Pretty neat, Robert…and you’re welcome for the free publicity.
© Dan Brown 8/5/12