Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

“Corny” isn’t necessarily bad — a book and a movie

June 9, 2010

I just read a book and saw a movie, and each had “corny” elements. But I highly recommend the book, and disagree with the critics who said the movie is terrible.  Corny, by the way, can be defined as “overly or simplistically sentimental” or as “trite and melodramatic.”

The book, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, does have a sentimental and predictable main plot triangle, but is very readable and takes you to a world you may not have known about.  It could be minimized as “chick lit,” but this male liked it a lot.

The movie, Sex and the City 2, could also be dismissed as predictable and overly dramatic fluff (as most critics have said), and it is mostly meant for SATC addicts.  However, it deals with several important issues (marriage, parenthood, menopause, women’s rights, sexuality, friendship) and some of the scenes illustrate these issues in memorable ways.  Many will hate it (especially since it is 2 1/2 hours long), but I didn’t.  I found the Abu Dhabi segment interesting; I suspect they accurately portrayed some of the cultural contradictions.  I won’t rate it highly for acting, and the conspicuous consumption (and product placement) can get sickening, so if you go, go with low expectations.

The main reason I decided to write a post about this is I want to defend “simplistic, trite, sentimental and melodramatic” a bit.  Life experiences and lessons learned can be corny, yet also profoundly meaningful.  Melodrama and sentimentality permeate our lives, and seeing them in the mirror of art (or entertainment) can make us uncomfortable.  “Trite” means over-used, and “banal” means commonplace, but the other sides of those coins (to use a trite phrase) are “familiar” and “universal.”  Do we only value that which is original and unique?

What can you learn from your life?

January 21, 2010

Five years ago I began writing down stories from my life. Actually, the process began earlier, when I tried to write the stories of my parents and grandparents (and even great-grandparents).  Newly retired from the full time practice of psychiatry, I had time to explore old photos, letters and records, and to interview surviving relatives.  I wrote about some of what I discovered and sent it to family members.

But, I realized the one person I knew the most about was myself, mostly in the form of jumbled half-memories.  So, I decided to write my life experience as an autobiographical story, and attempted to discern patterns and lessons for myself, and perhaps for my children and grandchildren.  The more I wrote, the more memories I recovered and, as I tried to put them in story form, the more sense they made.  I saw connections between events, people and feelings I hadn’t appreciated before.

Five years later, I have a 250 page book, with 18 chapters, covering 65 years.  And I have learned a lot.  For example:  I am a product of multiple generations of struggle to survive and thrive, including various traumatic events that affect me still; I suffer from some degree of survivor syndrome, with the attendant guilt and impulse to rescue others; my repeated attempts to rescue loved ones have generally failed, but my career helping others has provided some compensatory satisfaction and redemption; my love for, and attachment to, my wife, children, and grandchildren has been enhanced by the process of self-examination; I am beginning to learn what is most important and meaningful in life; I can celebrate my own courage in facing some formidable obstacles; I hope, now, I can draw on this courage as I face challenges ahead.

Why am I telling you this?  To suggest that you, too, may benefit from writing your life story, even if no one else ever reads it.  Don’t have a clue how to begin?  Here are some resources that have helped me (and there are many others):

An update on the history and current status of memoir as literature:  “But Enough About Me” in The New Yorker.

An inspiring book about a way to conceptualize your life:  The Writer’s Journey

Two practical books on how to start your own memoir:

Your Life as Story

Writing Life Stories

Writing as a way of self-healing:  Writing as a Way of Healing

How to write funny stuff about your life:  What Are You Laughing At?

A website containing useful articles and tips about memoir writing (type “memoir” in the site’s search box):  Guide to Literary Agents Blog

Eating tortured sick contaminated animals

November 20, 2009

If you eat meat (or dairy products), there is a lot you can do to minimize the damage to yourself, your family, the planet and the animal. A new book on this subject (Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer) has gotten a lot of attention, and I have included some key links below.

Despite some controversy, there is widespread agreement that meat produced by factory farms causes a lot of problems, such as astounding energy inefficiency, vast amounts of toxic waste, production of antibiotic-resistant microbes that pose a threat to us, severe pollution, and shocking cruelty and suffering of animals on a massive scale.

And, there is growing evidence that red meat (especially beef, also pork) is unhealthy (see The Real Cost of Red Meat: does it boost your risk of cancer, heart disease, & diabetes?).

What can we do about it? The best answer is simple: Cut back on meat consumption, especially red meat. Even a small decrease will help. And, if you decide to include meat in your diet, at least try to buy meat (and dairy) raised on sustainable non-factory farms. Yes, it will cost more, but you can offset the increase in cost by just eating less meat. Go for quality over quantity.

Here are very interesting and helpful resources to check out:

In closing, here is a quote from Jonathan Safran Foer:

Two friends are ordering lunch. One says, “I’m in the mood for a burger,” and orders it. The other says, “I’m in the mood for a burger,” but remembers that there are things more important to him than what he is in the mood for at any given moment, and orders something else. Who is the sentimentalist?

Ending overeating

July 7, 2009

Kessler overeating

A very important new book (The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite by David Kessler) accurately describes major factors contributing to the obesity epidemic: cleverly formulated manufactured food designed to seduce us into overeating, addictive ingredients (salt, sugar and fat) which act like nicotine in cigarettes to keep us coming back for more, a profit driven system of marketing and government subsidies which works against our best interests, and the loss of boundaries limiting when and how much we eat. It is indeed frightening to think that a 2-year-old’s appetite “knows” to shut down when enough calories have been consumed, but by the time that child is four (in our culture) there is often a loss of that self-control mechanism.

Kessler’s solutions include re-training our minds to devalue unhealthy processed foods loaded with the Big Three (salt, sugar, fat); reforming our policies and practices which encourage this vicious cycle; and doing much more to educate people as to what they are consuming (such as requiring nutritional information in restaurants).

I agree with all this, but take issue with some of the concepts Kessler promotes. My main complaint is he oversimplifies the issue of food containing salt, sugar and fat by using an addiction model. Too much of these ingredients is indeed unhealthy, but a simple addiction model will not work.

Another problem is his use of the term “real food” (see NPR interview) which is a vague concept, at best. Many seemingly real foods contain salt, sugar and fat (either naturally, or because of the way they are produced), and not all “manufactured” foods are bad (e.g., some fish farmed in a sustainable way are better for us than some “wild-caught” fish). I can buy a chicken that has been doctored with added salt and fat, or I can buy one (usually smaller and more expensive) which has been grown almost organically. To the average consumer, both seem “real.” Also, I can buy “sea salt” and “unrefined real sugar” and think I am getting something healthier than standard table salt and corn syrup, but the bottom line (sodium and calories) may be exactly the same.

Finally, he promotes a black vs. white dichotomy between a disease-like state we cannot directly control (“conditioned hypereating”) and old fashioned willpower, telling us “it is not our fault” that we overeat. Fault, per se, may not be the issue; rather, we should learn ways to increase our resistance to external cues and marketing, educate ourselves about nutrition and portion size, and practice coping skills to enhance self-regulation. I have written about this at length elsewhere.

Don’t fall for the diet Ponzi scheme

January 6, 2009

people-mag-1-09

I seldom use this blog to rant, but now is an exception. If cursing offends you, stop reading now.

I have before me the January 12 “special double issue” of People magazine, and it reminds me of the Madoff Ponzi racket that is shocking the world. What really pisses me off is all the over-hyped bullshit this rag (and many others) is using to sell magazines and dumb products to a gullible and even desperate population.  Don’t buy into this ripoff scheme.

Featuring people who have lost hundreds of pounds by going on severe deprivation programs is not even close to honest reporting.  The case-examples in the magazine went from the worst possible eating behaviors to the most extreme “dieting” behaviors, and that does not work for the overwhelming majority of ordinary people. It is no coincidence this kind of trash appears every January, when people are still hung over and reeling with guilt and shame for their lack of discipline in December.  Now, we are told, it is time to reverse course and shape up, at least until March. By then, the guilt will have been atoned for by a few weeks of exercise and food deprivation, and life will return to normal, so that by next December/January the overindulging/repenting cycle can begin anew.

Is there an alternative?  Yes, Yes, and Yes again!  Read the posts on this  blog, for example (starting here), and go to my website and read excerpts from (and reviews of) Weight Management for Your Life.  If you are serious about taking control of your own life, email me (wmfyl@mindspring.com) and I will mail you a free copy of the book (just mention this blog and give me a mailing address).  But hurry, I will only do this for the first 5 people I hear from.  Taking this action is one small way I am dealing with my anger.

Please, don’t Resolve to “get healthy” in the new year!

December 31, 2008

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There is nothing wrong with setting a goal to walk 30 minutes a day, or to stop buying fat-and-sugar-laden snack foods to keep in the pantry. The problem with New Year’s Resolutions is that they are usually reactive and rarely work.  By reactive, I mean they tend to be the result of a feeling that “I have overindulged” or “been bad” in December, so I will make amends next year.  This kind of thinking is self-defeating.  Diets don’t work, and Resolutions don’t work.  What does work is a full time commitment to practicing specific, realistic behaviors.  The idea of an annual review and re-commitment is not bad, but I suggest the best time to do this might be December 1 — certainly not January 1.

Here is an excerpt from Weight Management for Your Life that may give you some idea why I think December, with all of its “special occasions,” would be a good time to review and renew your healthy-living plan:

If you have been successfully working on changing your eating and exercise patterns for some time, you will encounter situations where someone will say to you “This is a special occasion, so go ahead and eat that cake!” The cake is not the issue, but the implication behind the statement is. People observing your healthier lifestyle will assume you are in a constant state of self-deprivation, and will want to see you “loosen up.” It is important to them to feel okay about
their own “indulgences.” The problem with your buying into that theory is that it discounts the fact that you already are eating (and exercising) the way you want to. You are not depriving yourself – in fact, by doing what you want, you are indulging yourself. Your ongoing healthy lifestyle is its own reward.
Another problem with going back to old unhealthy habits, even temporarily, is that such “special occasions” come up frequently: out-of-town trips, weddings, graduations, birthdays, holidays, cruises, office parties, etc. etc. Add the special occasions with their special “indulgences” or “rewards” up over the course of a year and you have put on an unwanted five to ten pounds. … Special occasions are even more special when they don’t throw you off your chosen path.

Happy new year!

Lessons for living longer

June 15, 2008

Author Dan Buettner (The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest), in partnership with National Geographic and the National Institute on Aging, traveled the world to find out who lives the longest and what we can learn from them.

From the NPR story:

Buettner says one such zone, the Italian island of Sardinia, has the highest number of male centenarians in the world, while another, Okinawa, Japan, has the longest disability-free life expectancy. In Loma Linda, Calif., a community of Seventh Day Adventists has a life expectancy that’s nine to 11 years greater than that of other Americans. And middle-age mortality is lowest on Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula — where Buettner says middle-aged residents have about a four-fold greater chance of reaching age 90 than people in the United States do.

Some commonalities which seem to correlate with long, healthy lives:

“One of the idiosyncrasies we discovered is that people who eat nuts four to five times a week, 2 ounces at a time, tend to live two to three years longer than people who don’t eat nuts. That was a big surprise for us,” Buettner says.

Some may think the secret to longevity lies in strenuous physical activity, such as running marathons or triathlons or pumping iron. But Buettner says he has identified four things people can do that can potentially increase life expectancy: Create an environment that encourages physical activity, set up your kitchen in such a way that you’re not overeating, cultivate a sense of purpose and surround yourself with the right people.

“These are long-term fixes that have been shown over and over to add not only more years of life, but better years of life,” Buettner says.

These findings are consistent with the findings from Vaillant’s book Aging Well (see previous post), and with many other studies (for example here).

The weakness of this kind of research is that it only shows correlations (does not prove cause and effect) and suffers from the “cohort effect” — all the people studied, by virtue of their similar age, grew up under unique socio-cultural-historical conditions which may never occur again.

Rethinking Thin

June 12, 2008

Gina Kolata, author of the book Rethinking Thin, has a point of view: it is almost impossible to lose significant amounts of weight and keep it off. I respect her work, but take issue with her pessimistic tone. Here is a review of her book I placed on Amazon.com:

Most books on diet and weight control, and there are hundreds, fall into one of two categories: research-based but narrowly focused and selective in order to promote a specific point of view; or completely opinion-based and hyping some fad or promoting a product (which may be the book itself). Rethinking Thin falls into the first category.

Author Gina Kolata, a New York Times science reporter, contends that being “overweight” has been oversold as a health problem. She correctly criticizes the hugely profitable “diet industry” for capitalizing on people’s belief that they can and should try to change what they weigh. Her major argument is that people have little control over their weight and that, like height, it is mostly biologically determined through a poorly understood interaction of heredity and environment.

I agree with Kolata that being overweight is not necessarily a medical problem and also agree with her criticism of dieting, but I disagree with her emphasis on how little effect our behavioral choices have on the outcome. For example, she writes, “It must be that free will, when it comes to eating, is an illusion.” She throws out the baby “willpower” with the bathwater of self-blame and shame. The problem, as I see it, is not with willpower but with the misuse of it in trying to comply with worthless diet plans and attempting to achieve unrealistic goals.

For some people there is a major genetic and/or biochemical component to their difficulty in maintaining the weight they desire. Ongoing research concerning the roles of leptin, ghrelin, insulin, and many other hormones in regulating body weight and hunger demonstrates that some obese individuals (perhaps as many as 5% or more) may have genetic mutations affecting their ability to control their appetite. Related lines of research indicate there are biological forces that make it difficult for most people to lose weight once it has been gained. Such evidence suggests that once fat tissue accumulates, a system of overlapping neurological and hormonal mechanisms works to prevent it from diminishing. Even so, most of us do have a significant degree of control over our eating and activity level, and this means we have some control over what we weigh.

Here are some relevant lines of research that Kolata essentially ignores:

  • The important role of “non-exercise activity thermogenesis” (NEAT) in determining what we weigh;
  • The thousands of success stories of people who have lost significant weight (and kept it off) through conscious control of eating and activity (this may be a small percentage of the overweight population, but a significant group);
  • The proven role of social networks and support systems in affecting our weight and lifestyle choices;
  • Exciting research (using sophisticated neuro-imaging) which shows how and where the “conscious” brain exerts influence on our eating and impulse control (including the role of “won’t power”);
  • Extensive research on consumer behavior when it comes to food choice, portion control, and automatic or impulsive eating behavior;
  • Research on stages of self-change and willpower fatigue (and ways to increase self-control and overcome learned helplessness).

Kolata concludes her book with this statement, which is a bit pessimistic in tone, but also offers realistic hope for people who are interested in taking action toward improving their health: “The lesson is, once again, that no matter what the diet and no matter how hard they try, most people will not be able to lose a lot of weight and keep it off. They can lose a lot of weight and keep it off briefly, they can lose some weight and keep it off for a longer time, they can learn to control their eating, and they can learn the joy of regular exercise. Those who do best tend to be those who learn to gauge portions and calories and to keep their houses as free as possible of food they cannot resist. The effort, the lifelong effort, can be rewarding – people say they feel much better for it. But true thinness is likely to elude them.”

Please let me know what you think; are you an optimist or pessimist where weight management is concerned?

Mindful eating vs. mindless munching

May 28, 2008

A recent article in The Wall Street Journal (May 13, 2008) provides an excellent overview of the growing body of information about “mindful eating.” Two quotes from the article will give you an idea of what all the excitement is about:

Chronic dieters in particular have trouble recognizing their internal cues, says Jean Kristeller, a psychologist at Indiana State, who pioneered mindful eating in the 1990s. “Diets set up rules around food and disconnect people even further from their own experiences of hunger and satiety and fullness,” she says.

“Try to eat one meal or one snack mindfully every day,” advises Jeffrey Greeson, a psychologist with the Duke program. “Even eating just the first few bites mindfully can help break the cycle of wolfing it down without paying any attention.”

The article highlights research which demonstrates that mindful eating can reduce binge eating. Research to test whether mindful eating can be taught in a way to help people lose weight or maintain a desired weight is underway.

Here are some more links to sites and books that discuss mindful eating and mindless munching:

Emindful

The Center for Mindful Eating

The Mindless Method program (Dr. Wansink)

the CAMP System (Control, Attitudes, Mindful eating, Portions)

book: Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think (by Brian Wansink)

helpful blog post on Emotional Eating and Mindful Eating

blog: Eat, Drink, and Be Mindful

book (by me): Weight Management for Your Life

There are many other resources and books about mindful eating, but these should get you started (I don’t have any direct experience with the programs listed above, but they look interesting; I do know Brian Wansink is an expert in the field of eating behavior).

I agree that mindful eating can be a powerful tool and one of several ways we can take more control over our lives and the decisions we make.

Please write a comment about your experience with mindful (or mindless) eating.

What we choose to eat affects us, and others

May 24, 2008

We often talk about our food choices in reference to our own personal health, yet how and what we eat has far wider implications. For a vivid illustration of what I am trying to say, click HERE.

One example of how our eating affects the planet is the staggering consequences of eating food from cows. Listen to this recent story on NPR titiled “Is it Better to Eat Locally or Eat Differently?“.

In this NPR story, Michael Pollan has a more humorous and pragmatic take on the food choice issue: “If You Can’t Say It, Don’t Eat It.” He strongly advocates not eating food that is highly processed.

For an excellent book on this subject that might cause you to think more about the food you eat and how it affects others, check out Harvest for Hope by Jane Goodall.

My take: The more aware I become of how we (on this planet) are all in it together, the more I consider these factors in planning what to eat and how and where to shop. I have cut back on beef and dairy products, try to buy food that has less processing and less packaging, and consider the conditions in which the food was farmed and prepared for sale. After reading Goodall’s book, for example, I am much more interested in what types of seafood are endangered and how and where the fish was caught or farmed.

For a related post, see Another Reason to Lose That Weight.