Crack for Lunch: Tricking Our Brain with the American Diet

We all know Americans have a weight problem. For years we have blamed fat people for their inability to “exercise more and eat less.”  We need to rethink that attitude. Research is now showing that much of the food in the typical American diet does not play fair with our body’s natural mechanisms for signaling satiety. The more we eat, the hungrier we feel.

Scientists are seeing evidence that our processed food, especially the food that is deliciously high in sugar and fat, affects the pleasure centers of our brain in much the same way cocaine does. The food gives us a nice hit of happy endorphins that override our appetite-regulating hormones. Complicating matters is the caloric density of our convenience foods. Normally, as we eat our stomach recognizes both the physical sensation of becoming filled and the more chemical knowledge that calories have refueled us. Our modern, processed food lets us meet and exceed our caloric needs long before our stomachs are physically filled. For example, compare the physical space needed for 500 calories of fresh vegetables vs 500 calories of french fries. Thus craveable processed food pack an obesity encouraging double punch — decreasing our satiety signals while giving our pleasure centers a delightful ping.

Packaged foods, convenience foods, fast food, and school lunches are the top culprits. They leave us paradoxically both hungry and full. They contribute to sluggish afternoons. They decrease productivity at work and learning in our schools.

A quick look at the school lunch menu for my kids’ first week of school shows a highly processed diet of  pizza, popcorn (breaded & deep-fried) chicken, fried french toast sticks with fried tater tots, and pasta. Yes, there are vegetables served as well but they are frequently unappetizing and uneaten. Now I know school lunches are horribly underfunded and they feel they need to fix what kids will eat. However, the inexpensive foods served in school lunches reflect our agricultural policies and the heavy lobbying of the meat and dairy industries, not the nutritional needs of our students. The Department of Agriculture sets our official nutritional policies, not an independent, health and science based entity. Given the emerging science about processed food, this needs to change.

Compelling evidence shows higher levels of meat consumption associated with increased cancer risk and links excess iron to Alzheimer’s disease. According to the documentary Forks over Knives, in the early part of the 20th century, Americans ate 120 pounds of meat (beef, pork and chicken combined), 40 pounds of processed sugar, and 295 pounds of dairy each year. All these numbers have more than doubled and along with them cancers, heart disease, and obesity.

We have known for years that we should eat more vegetable and we as a nation have struggled to do so. Now that we are starting to understand some of the body chemistry involved, perhaps it is no wonder that despite all the obvious health benefits, we can’t eat just one.

Confusing Technically Knowledgeable with Gifted

The fast-moving, mobile, cloud, social, gadget industry is now part of our everyday world, web and app technology is seamlessly integrated into our lives. Most readers of this blog get their daily news electronically, reading it on a desktop screen or tablet instead of from paper. Our gadgets, cars, and houses communicate with each other, outside companies, and us in ways lifted from science fiction. We are experiencing the first true wave of the Internet of things on a consumer level and it is an exciting adventure.

Students and employees who are knowledgeable about the latest apps and social media platforms, who can write code and deploy servers, who have experience on the development side of the digital world, are in high demand. In colleges across the country the numbers of classic liberal arts majors are declining while students flock to acquire the engineering and math degrees that employers value so highly. As the economy continues its long road to recovery, many employers are taking the safer bet and hiring specific skills instead of general abilities.

While technical skills are necessary in many businesses these days, the reality is that the basics of being able to evaluate and analyze data, understand the marketplace, build strong relationships with coworkers and customers, and think, are more important than ever. While it is tempting to hire the person who currently has all the correct boxes checked for skills today, it is more important to make sure they will continually learn and make the connections that will drive your business forward.

Too often we assume that folks with deep technical knowledge are smarter than those with deep knowledge in non-STEM subjects. Perhaps this is a holdover from our reverence for the engineers that sent spaceships to the moon and created the home computer and Internet revolution. Those people were and are, not typical, even within the technology industry. Engineering revolutionaries and pioneers, like most innovators, are gifted. Although anyone with strong technical knowledge is smart, and many jobs require technical knowledge, we need to refrain from assuming that one specific category of skill trumps all others. Technically knowledgeable people may or may not be gifted. Beyond mere technical skills, we need people who can see the big picture, find relationships, discover hidden needs, and anticipate paradigm shifts.


altmv Reboot

Since I launched altmv in March 2012 it has been a site focused on parenting and educating gifted kids. Motivation, ADHD, sugar, and public education have all been viewed through the lens of the gifted child and his or her parents. Yet raising gifted children is only one aspect of my life. Over the last month I have increasingly struggled with compartmentalizing the multiple universes that I live in.

My work life has always been in the technical world of ISPs and hosting services, yet I have a strong interest in psychology and wellness. The intersections “the cloud”, our online lives, societal trends, how things work, and what influences us, fascinate me. Beyond gifted children, there is an awful lot ricocheting around in my head that needs to get out.

Appropriately named as a nod to the original Usenet News alt.* hierarchy, altmv will evolve to encompass a bit of everything. (Minus the* and alt.binaries.* sections.) I’ll even be pulling in some ancient articles I wrote on another blog about getting and training my Belgian Sheepdog.

News and thoughts on gifted kids and education will still be covered and easy to find through the use of categories, tags, and menu titles. I am excited about this reboot and curious to see what will happen when I finally let my universes collide.

The Perfectionist Shuffle

We have some young, high-strung perfectionists in our house. I don’t want to get into any judgement call about whether nature or nurture is to blame. They are our biological children and one way or another we are probably the culprits.

This tendency to always want to be right and to always perform at a superior level can make it difficult to learn and do new things. True learning involves failure. Initial attempts are usually messy and ugly. Admitting that something is confusing and knowing that merely following directions will not, in and of itself, create a beautiful essay, an elegant art project, or a masterfully played piano piece, creates issues.

Like many highly gifted students, early learning of the basics wasn’t much of a challenge. They are still developing the mental and emotional muscles they will need throughout their lives to persevere in the face of difficulty and unexpected setbacks. Gumption and tenacity are increasingly important in the work world as well as in life. When they head out into the job market they will enter an economy that is ever shifting. An economy where jobs and companies are constantly changing and their individual success will depend on their ability to welcome new challenges with positive energy and hard work.

They aren’t quite there yet.

Right now, many new and seemingly difficult homework assignments and tasks are greeted with what I’ve taken to thinking of as the perfectionist shuffle. First, there is the avoidance prelude. During this time, they try to pretend the assignment doesn’t exist. They hide in the world of books or waste time on the Internet, without having even read through the assignment.

When they can avoid no longer, usually due to parental intervention, they then start the excuse sidestep. Offered reasons for failing to begin the assignment will range from, not having enough time, to not having the correct materials, to being too hungry to think, to needing “a break” before they get down to work. Once they exhaust their list and it slowly dawns on them that they have to start working on the new, seemingly impossible task, we begin the exciting part of the perfectionist shuffle, the angst whirl. At its peak, if the project seems particularly daunting to them, the next couple hours include Insecurity, arguing, crying and carrying on about how they can’t do it, don’t know how to do it, shouldn’t have to do it, etc. It is exhausting. Amazingly enough, once they have tried all alternative routes, are emotionally spent, and there is no other path save forward, they usually settle down, dig into the task, and do a decent job.

Although it serves an emotional purpose, perhaps helping the kids cope with uncertainty, the perfectionist shuffle is not going to help them in the long run and is not fun for anyone within hearing distance in the short run. Being able to intellectually understand the difference between high quality work and mediocre work has its downside. It can make trying something new seem pointless. The fact that all the world’s experts were beginners at one point is easy to understand but difficult to internalize emotionally. We are trying to help them understand that lack of success after a solid attempt is not the worst outcome. That confronting every new challenge with an emotional firestorm is far worse than just learning to put in a good effort and see what happens. That if they can develop and maintain a positive resilience, success will find them.