Are Cupcakes Like Crack?

January 31, 2012

“After all, you don’t see newspaper headlines about obese people holding up convenience stores to feed their potato chip habit.” —Kelly Luck

Most people don’t really believe that junk food is addictive. They think fat people just have no willpower. Sure it tastes good, but you can master it. Look at all the skinny people on TV!

But still, the rising rates of obesity have gotten national attention. Our government can’t ignore it much longer because they are footing the tab for more and more people’s health care. Why won’t people just eat right and exercise more like the experts are telling them too?!

Maybe because the answer is yes, cupcakes are like crack. Here is the News Release from The Scripps Research Institute that makes this claim.

Articles heralding the new discovery appeared in news publications around the world, focusing on the point obese patients have been making for years – that, like addiction to other substances, junk food binging is extremely difficult to stop.

The study goes significantly further than the abstract, however, demonstrating clearly that in rat models the development of obesity coincides with a progressively deteriorating chemical balance in reward brain circuitries. As these pleasure centers in the brain become less and less responsive, rats quickly develop compulsive overeating habits, consuming larger quantities of high-calorie, high-fat foods until they become obese. The very same changes occur in the brains of rats that overconsume cocaine or heroin, and are thought to play an important role in the development of compulsive drug use.

Other points of interest from the article: rats who become accustomed to eating junk couldn’t stop eating it even if they learned to associate painful shocks with the unhealthy foods. If the addictive food was taken away and replaced with healthy food (“‘the salad bar’ option”), the rats stopped eating altogether for two whole weeks! They couldn’t even overpower their natural instinct to survive if it meant replacing junk with a healthy diet.

Now compare these rats to the young girl in yesterday’s article. I’ll admit it… my first instinct was to say that mom should have cut off her nugget supply a loooooong time ago. A kid is not going to let themselves starve, after all! But how many of you moms out there would have had the fortitude to watch your child refuse food for a whole week, much less two?! It’s easy to say, “Well I would never let this happen.” But here’s the thing… it is happening. If you feed your kid (or yourself) a mix of frozen meals, take-out, and boxed foods, you are creating a junk food addict.

On the November 8, 2011 episode of The Biggest Loser, contestants met with Dr. H and his guest Dr. Linden, a brain scientist from Johns Hopkins. Here’s what he had to say:

Typically, a lean person will crave a food much less than an obese person, but they’ll get a greater pleasure response. So obese people don’t overeat because they want food more – it’s that their level of satisfaction is so much less.

The visuals on the show really helped hammer his point home. They showed the brain scan of a thin person eating a burger. The firework show going on in his pleasure center got smaller as he ate. Basically, he derived satisfaction from his food, and could stop when his desire was satisfied. But in an obese person, it was the opposite. The blazing ring of pleasure got bigger as he ate! The more he ate, the more he wanted! It kind’ve broke my heart. Now, we can’t know from this study whether a person is born that way, or whether somewhere along the way he got broken by bad habits. But it does put things into perspective.

I think it’s official. Food addiction is real and we have to start addressing the problem before it’s most obvious symptom manifests. Obesity is not just a moral failure or a lack of willpower. Obesity is the result of a fractured relationship with food. It really is easier for a skinny person to stay skinny than for a fat person to just stop eating.

So tomorrow… I am going to get away from the science and get personal. I think we shall call it tomorrow’s feature: “From Skinny Kid to Fat Chick.”

P.S. This topic reminds me of a documentary I watched at some point last year that discussed the correlation between the FDA’s dietary recommendations, and the rising obesity epidemic. If anyone knows which documentary I am referring to, please remind me, as that will be a topic I’d like to discuss later.

So You Can OD on McNuggets

January 30, 2012

Have you seen this article yet?

It’s about a girl in the U.K. who collapsed and was rushed to the hospital because she has eaten almost nothing except chicken nuggets since the age of two. My goal here is not to vilify McD’s (she would also eat frozen nuggets made at home), but to introduce an idea that is at the core of my problem with processed foods.

Processed foods are junk food. Junk food is addictive.

Let me just tell you, I have been working on this post all day and it just keeps getting longer and longer. I spent less time on certain papers in college. So I am going to have to break it down. Here’s what we are going to discuss over the next few weeks and then tie it all back to the article above:

  1. Some current research concerning addictive properties of junk food
  2. Why processed foods should be classified as junk food, or “edible non-foods” *
  3. What about the children?
  4. Time to stop blaming the victim
  5. How can we get this stuff out of our lives?

*Erika to the rescue! Her blog posts this week (parts III, III, & IV) explain the problems with processed foods! Yay! Go read them. I am not going to try and repeat all that here.

Longing for Community

January 27, 2012

I am still trying to figure out the purpose of this blog. I know I want to communicate my thoughts, but I don’t know to whom. I know I would like to connect with others, but I find it hard to make meaningful connections in my day to day life. I think my angst can all be boiled down to this: I long for community.

I going to try really hard not to wax all nostalgic about the 50s. I wasn’t there and I know those who were are the same ones telling us they walked to school, up-hill — both ways!! But at the same time, I can’t help but feel robbed that I am living a 50s life with all the work, but none of the perks.

In many ways I am a stereotypical stay-at-home mom who does the laundry, manages the finances, cooks all the meals, and keeps track of the kids. But I don’t have a mom nearby who drops in occasionally with a casserole and hosts big Sunday dinners. I don’t have a neighbor who looks after my kids so I can run to the grocery store. I don’t have a brother who can fix the car once in awhile. And my husband does not have a job that offers a pension and premium health care giving us security about the future. For all the advances we have made in personal choice and feminism, I can’t help but feel we did it at the expense of security, stability, and community.

If anything I long for pioneer days — an entire family living on their own land, raising chickens and a cow or a goat, tending the gardens, working untainted, nutrient-rich soil. Grandpa rocking on the porch keeping an eye on the kids. Going into town, buying, selling, and trading with a small group of people that not only know you, but need you. All of a sudden that appeals to me.

Maybe to better understand what we’ve lost, it would be a good idea to examine what we have now. We do not have communities anymore. What we have are networks (that we often mistake for communities . We have our work network and school network. Some have a church group, other’s a mom network. Kids have their soccer network, and their karate network. But very few of these overlap, so our lives become compartmentalized. We are constantly packing and unpacking our various faces throughout the day and week. [1]

Before I go poking around the edges of this concept, let me try to illustrate it with a quote. John Gatto, an award-winning, New York schoolteacher who now writes books questioning the education system, explains:

Networks, however, don’t require the whole person, but only a narrow piece. If you function in a network, it asks you to supress [sic] all the parts of yourself except the network-interest part — a highly unnatural act although one you can get used to. In exchange, the network will deliver efficiency in the pursuit of some limited aim. This is, in fact, a devil’s bargain, since on the promise of some future gain, one must surrender the wholeness of one’s present humanity. If you enter into too many of these bargains you will split yourself into many specialized pieces, none of them completely human[….]The fragmentation caused by excessive networking creates diminished humanity, a sense our lives are out of control because they are.

That message really speaks to me. “Our lives are out of control.” Don’t get me wrong, I get through my days well enough. I love my husband, my kids, and my family. I like what I do most days. But sometimes I feel so very alone. I talk to acquaintances everyday on Facebook, but can’t remember the last time a friend came over to chat and have coffee. If I want to have the kids next-door over, we have to move heaven and earth to schedule a “playdate.” If I manage to get some other moms over from Meetup.com all we talk about is diapers and extra-curriculars. No one dares offend by bringing up politics, and no one cares enough to ask if you have read anything interesting lately.

Granted, I never felt this way before having kids. But I don’t blame my family. I think in my “previous life” I just never slowed down for long enough to think about anything. Funny thing about taking care of kids… your feet are always moving, but your brain has time to churn. All of a sudden things matter again. It matters to me that we are destroying our foreign relations. It matters that to me that Congress is locked into partisan politics and will not budge. It matters to me that the rate of obesity is skyrocketing, and it matters to me that kids are graduating high school and college unprepared to contribute to society. For a few years now, I have been feeling really dejected and hopeless about these issues. I threw myself into just raising the best family I could and ignoring the rest of the world, and I stumbled upon a strange idea. The things I do have control over, are the things that can turn it all around.

Well, that’s all the time we have for today folks! Johnny just stumbled by like an old man looking for coffee (except he’s looking for PBS Kids). I better feed the horde and start my day!

[1] Diagrams were inspired by the article “Real Community“, from the Kingdom Watcher website.

Okay, I actually never really believed homeschooling was for nut jobs. But the only reason I could ever figure for homeschooling was to keep the nice, Christian kids away from the dirty-minded, regular kids. My parents sent me and my sister to a Lutheran school to keep us from being tainted, but little did they know that all the delinquent kids who got kicked out of public school ended up there too! So homeschooling really is the only way to protect your kids from that sort of thing.

But that is not why I do it. I am not really afraid of my precious darlings mingling with other kids. Yet. My oldest is 6 and all the other 6 year olds he plays with are public-schooled and delightful. I don’t even do it because I think I am better than his teachers. I loved his Kindergarten teacher, and so far the teachers I have met at our public school seem perfectly nice and competent.

What I don’t like is the system. That nebulous, big, bad system. Much like “the man”, the system is hard to pin down, hard to understand, and hard to hold accountable. And I think our country could use a little less of that right now, and a little more simplicity and transparency.

So what’s my point? My point is that I think schools really only adequately serve the top 20% (and maybe not even that many… I was #1 and look how I turned out). Parents are starting to realize this, so to make sure their kids make it into the top 20 they are acting crazier and crazier. The pressure on kids these days is enormous. And even if the kids manage to perform like good little circus monkeys and get the grades and the awards, they still often wind up living in their parents’ basements with minimum wage jobs. Because all they know how to do is perform. They did not learn to think for themselves, and they sure as hell did not learn how to be ambitious or think outside the box.

Now I haven’t even begun to make my case yet, so don’t bother to nitpick everything I just said. Like clean-eating, considering homeschooling is a process. I didn’t make my decision in one day, and I am not going to try and explain it in one post either.

We live in a nation that decides its elected officials based on 15 second sound bites. Well how’s that working out for us? You’re not going to get anything good from me in less than 15 seconds either, so if that’s what you want, let me recommend my favorite short, funny, blogs right now!

Michael Pollan sums it up best when he says, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” If you have a good attention span, read that whole article and just skip this post.

If that’s too much for you at this stage of the game, then let me introduce you to my food mentor, Erika Kendall from A Black Girl’s Guide to Weight Loss. If you want to follow the journey of a woman who went from 300+ pounds to fit and healthy through clean eating, then go there now. Anything I say about clean eating will reflect what I learned from her amazing site. But while her website is dedicated to clean eating and body issues, I plan on discussing how clean eating impacts lifestyle and fits into the bigger picture of  an ultra-retro life.

So you don’t want to click on any links?  Fine, then, “let me ‘splain. No there is too much, let me sum up.”

Clean eating is not a diet. It does not require driving 30 miles to shop at Whole Foods. And it does not entail cutting out whole food groups (unless you consider McD’s a food group). Clean eating is simply eating real foods made from real ingredients from sources you can identify, and that your great-grandma would recognize as food.

For example:

Cheese. Ingredients: milk, cheese culture, salt, enzymes.  Clean? Yes. (The culture and enzymes are what helps milk solidify and determines the type of cheese — although once you go hardcore clean, you will have to start looking into the source of the enzymes.)

Pasta. Ingredients: flour, water (e.g. Trader Joe’s dry) or flour, eggs (fresh pasta). Clean? Sure. We can argue the merits of the different flours, but let’s do that later.

Kraft Mac n’ Cheese. Ingredients: whey, milkfat, milk protein concentrate, salt, sodium tripolyphosphate, contains less than 2% of citric acid, sodium phosphate, lactic acid, milk, calcium phosphate, yellow 5, yellow 6, cheese culture, enzymes.

Clean? Take a guess. I will grant you that if you make your own mac n’ cheese you will be adding in some more milk, salt, flour, and spices, but those are all clean. At this point, we are not comparing calories, or nutrition content, we are just talking about eating clean.

Okay so everyone knows Kraft Mac n’ Cheese is fake as all get out…. Let’s try bread.

Bread from scratch: Flour, water, butter, sugar, yeast, salt (the sugar is food for the yeast, it is not added to sweeten the bread).

Wonder Whole-Wheat Bread: Whole wheat flour, water, wheat gluten, high fructose corn syrup, contains 2% of less of: soybean oil, salt, molasses, yeast, mono and diglycerides, exthoxylated mono and diglycerides, dough conditioners (sodium stearoyl lactylate, calcium iodate, calcium dioxide), datem, calcium sulfate, vinegar, yeast nutrient (ammonium sulfate), extracts of malted barley and corn, dicalcium phosphate, diammonium phosphate, calcium propionate (to retain freshness).

Admit it… you stopped reading after the 2nd line! What is that stuff? Why are we eating it? Why are we feeding it to our kids?

Why should we care? Now that’s the $64,000 question. Most people don’t care. But we need to start.

But enough for now. This is a long process, so let’s take it slow.

I Need an Outlet

January 24, 2012

I sure can relate to this family
When I am not chasing after my three young boys (sometimes four), I spend a disproportionate amount of time at the computer. I think I am trying to work through all these major life changes that mark my 30s. Maybe this will provide a better outlet. Instead of just filling my head with the thoughts and opinions of others, maybe I can work it out here.

Why the Ultra Retro tag? Well… the two most important decision of my adult life (other than to get married and have kids) were to switch to clean eating and homeschool. And while these trends are actually very contemporary and cutting edge, if we do it right, then we will be copying a way of life practiced by almost every society a very long time ago.

So…. I actually do feel a little better. Hopefully I keep this up. If this blog turns into something and anyone ever cares to read it one day, then I hope this blog chronicles our journey from being a typical pizza eating, minivan driving, video game playing, well-meaning-but-thoughtless family, to a family that promotes personal responsibility, sustainability, a healthy environment, and lives on a commune growing tomatoes.

Well, maybe not that last part.

Is this what we’ll become?