Category Archives: Health

The Quest for a Life of Leisure: Prisoner’s Dilemma in Food Production

In a conversation about “vegan food in the workplace,” I heard a thoughtful comment that reminded me of the Prisoner’s Dilemma. Before I paraphrase the comment, here’s a quick video to refresh your memory on the Prisoner’s Dilemma:

So, now that we have a better understanding of the Prisoner’s Dilemma, let’s get back to the comment. Essentially, the person was making the argument that large-scale commercial agriculture and farming is unsustainable, harmful to plants, and harmful to animals. The person was making the point that this problem stemmed from the business models/practices required to sustain them (and not the animals/plants themselves). Further to the person’s point, they explained that we also play a part in this by the way we purchase food. Regardless of whether we buy local, wild-caught food or buy large-scale commercialized food, there’s still an impact on the environment.

Upon hearing this comment, the first thing I thought of was the Prisoner’s Dilemma. Let me explain. There’s a demand for food. Consequently, businesses will satisfy that demand by supplying food. [Econ 101, amirite?] But how businesses satisfy that demand is where things get tricky. They could do so in a number of ways, but let’s simplify it into two: large-scale commercial agricultural production or small-scale local farming. If businesses were to focus on small-scale local farming, they’d be supplying food for the town (or maybe the town and some neighbouring towns). Businesses that focus on large-scale commercial agricultural production aren’t supplying food for a town, they’re supplying food for a country or – countries.

The two-by-two that I see here is that if businesses “cooperated,” they’d be supplying food for the local town(s) and “everyone” would be satisfied (consumers get food, businesses make money, environment is ‘harmed’ as little as possible, etc.). The possible hitch here is that businesses see an opportunity to make more money, so they scale up production into a major agricultural conglomerate (i.e. food for countries). That’s not to imply that this is “bad,” just that the opportunity exists and many businesses seek to seize it. In so doing, that provokes other businesses to do the same – the businesses are “betraying” each other, leading to externalities borne out by things like the environment. [NOTE: I’m aware that this example is very oversimplified and does not represent the state of food in all countries, especially where food shortages exist.]

The irony of the race-to-the-bottom is that, often times, the people running these businesses are all in it for the same thing:

An American businessman was standing at the pier of a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. Inside the small boat were several large yellowfin tuna. The American complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish.

“How long it took you to catch them?” The American asked.

“Only a little while.” The Mexican replied.

“Why don’t you stay out longer and catch more fish?” The American then asked.

“I have enough to support my family’s immediate needs.” The Mexican said.

“But,” The American then asked, “What do you do with the rest of your time?”

The Mexican fisherman said, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take a siesta with my wife, Maria, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos, I have a full and busy life, senor.”

The American scoffed, “I am a Harvard MBA and could help you. You should spend more time fishing and with the proceeds you buy a bigger boat, and with the proceeds from the bigger boat you could buy several boats, eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats.”

“Instead of selling your catch to a middleman you would sell directly to the consumers, eventually opening your own can factory. You would control the product, processing and distribution. You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City, then LA and eventually NYC where you will run your expanding enterprise.”

The Mexican fisherman asked, “But senor, how long will this all take?”

To which the American replied, “15-20 years.”

“But what then, senor?”

The American laughed and said, “That’s the best part. When the time is right you would announce an IPO (Initial Public Offering) and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich, you would make millions.”

“Millions, senor? Then what?”

The American said slowly, “Then you would retire. Move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take a siesta with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos…”

And maybe that life of leisure is closer than we think or, maybe, as the above parable suggests, we had that lifestyle before we “betrayed” each other in the Prisoner’s Dilemma. In an article I read recently in The Atlantic [Emphasis Added]:

The Ju/’hoansi [of Namibia] not only managed to feed themselves better than many in the industrialized world, but that they did so on the basis of only around two hours foraging a day, and cheerfully spent the rest of their time on more leisurely pursuits such as napping, playing games, and making art.

[…]

Over time, a more sophisticated picture of the Ju/’hoansi’s affluence emerged—one I saw firsthand living in southern Africa for 25 years and one I describe in my recent book. The Ju/’hoansi had an unyielding confidence in the providence of their environment and in their knowledge of how to exploit it. This meant that the Ju/’hoansi, like other hunter-gatherers, focused almost myopically on the short term—if the environment always supplied food and materials and the seasons were broadly predictable, what point was there in worrying about the future? This confidence also meant that the Ju/’hoansi did not store food for more than a few days and only expended energy on securing just enough to meet their immediate needs.

The Ju/’hoansi shared their food with one another according to a set of social prescriptions that ensured pretty much everyone, including the young, old, or disabled, got a share. As a result the Ju/’hoansi were also thoroughly egalitarian, mercilessly ribbing anyone that developed delusions of grandeur and seeing no point in accumulating wealth or formalizing systems of exchange.

NOTE: This was cross-posted.

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The Complications of Spoken Confidence

Sometime last year, I came across a speech from the 2015 Toastmasters World Champion, Mohammed Qahtani. If you have a few minutes, I really suggest you take the time to watch it. OK, let’s say you only have a couple of minutes: just watch the introduction.

**SPOILERS BELOW**

While I’m not a fan of Qahtani’s parenting style (either option), I’m going to skip over that for now, as it’s not the main reason for writing this post. I’m also going to skip over the stereotypical portrayal of scientists, again, as it’s not the main reason for writing this post (but I will say that I’ve never meant a scientist who confirms that ‘stereotypical portrayal’). The main reason for writing this post is the first few minutes of the video. The startling anecdote that Qahtani shares about smoking and diabetes. Be honest — did you believe him when he said, “the amount of people dying from diabetes is three times as many dying from smoking?” Based on the audience’s response, I suspect that there are probably — at least — some of you who didn’t know this. To be clear, it’s not my aim to make you feel bad about this. If this isn’t a piece of data you’ve been exposed to at some point in your life, you probably have little reason to know. (Unfortunately, smoking is part of my family history, so I knew Qahtani was up to something when I heard him make that statement. Oh, and if you’re curious, WHO posits that smoking is the leading cause of death where 1 in 10 adults worldwide [!] die as a result of it, whereas diabetes is ‘only’ the 7th leading cause of death in the US.)

Circling back to the video… conviction. Did you notice the conviction with which Qahtani parroted the statistics about diabetes and smoking? He said it so assuredly that it almost makes you want to believe him (or at a minimum, question whether what you thought you knew about those two pieces of statistics was true or not). When I saw him do this, it reminded me of the hundreds of articles you see published each year that advise people on how to sell themselves or their company. The infamous elevator pitch.

Invariably, when you read articles (or books!) about how to give a good elevator pitch, you’re going to find that it’s very common that one of the most important things you can do in that elevator pitch is to be confident (or passionate or some other synonym that fits nicely into the author’s acronym). Don’t get me wrong, confidence is certainly important when it comes to making your elevator pitch, but in seeing Qahtani express himself with an air of confidence, it made me wonder about the human fallibility, with regard to elevator pitches.

Sure, I suspect that for people who’s job it is to listen to elevator pitches on a constant basis will tell you that they have a finely tuned BS-detector, but what about the rest of us who haven’t spent 10,000 hours listening to elevator pitches? I bet you’re thinking that you don’t have to worry about that when it comes to your field because you’re an expert. OK. Let’s accept for a moment that you are — what about all the other fields that you haven’t achieved “expert” status in — what do you do there? Well, I suppose you/we could perfect y/our BS-detector, but I suppose there’s still the possibility that you might make a type I/II error (depending upon your perspective). That is, there’s still the possibility that you might miss the BS for what it is and it’s also possible that you might incorrectly assess something as BS when it’s actually gold!

On that note, I want to leave you with the powerful words of Dr. Maya Angelou, on words:

Wanna Lose Weight? Get Some Sleep!

There was some research published within the last year that you might be particularly interested in, should you be in the middle of or about to go on a diet (or you’re interested in your health in general):

This article provides an integrative review of the mechanisms by which sleep problems contribute to unhealthy food intake. Biological, cognitive, emotional, and behavioral mechanisms all underlie this relationship.

When I first came across this headline — the less you sleep, the more you eat — immediately, I was interested. After reading the source article (which I quoted from above), I’m heartened by the possibilities for progress in this area.

Naturally, the food we eat has an effect on how we sleep, but the insight that the fewer hours of sleep we get having an effect on how much we eat, is really important. While anecdotal, I’ve experienced this phenomenon firsthand. If I find myself up past my “bedtime,” I almost always am hungry. And because it’s late at night, my executive function is impaired. Put differently, my ability to make good choices might be compromised. In this case, a good choice would be to not eat a bag of chips or a tub of ice cream (or anything sugary, for that matter). A good choice might even be to reach for a handful of nuts or maybe an apple.

The thing that I wanted to mention in conjunction with this research is my suspicion that there’s a cumulative effect. If you stay up late and then pig out on snacks too close to bedtime, invariably, you’ll probably be waking up with less sleep than you need. As a result, your executive functioning (willpower, decision-making, etc.), will be impaired for the duration of the day. By the time you get to the end of the day, you may find yourself more tired than usual such that when it gets to the time when you’d rather go to bed, you might prefer to “reward” yourself or (decompress) by eating some sweets and staying up late… and then it all starts over again the next day. Once you’re out of balance, Newton’s laws have a way of keeping you there.

This reminds me of something I shared a few years ago about Aikido:

One of the exercises we would often do to practice this sense of blending involved our partner (or partners as it was usually in groups of three or more!) to approach us as if they were attacking us. It was our job to then move out of the way, whilst staying centered. The tempo of this exercise usually started out really slow (intentionally). Though, as time passed, our partners would then speed up. You can imagine how it might be challenging to stay centered in this kind of an activity.

During these times of practice, I remember having a bit of an epiphany.

As my partner would approach me and I would step out of the way, I noticed that the quicker (and the more out of balance!) I was, the more out of balance I would be when stepping out of the way for the next partner who was approaching. Think about that for a second: as I stepped out of the way of one partner and I was off-balance, I was that much more off-balance when stepping out of the way for the next partner. It’s almost akin to the Bullwhip Effect.

This idea of eating “after hours” seems to be a mirror image of the off-balance I experienced during the Aikido exercise. So, if you find yourself on the cusp of a diet, I suggest you consider setting (and keeping!) a strict bedtime for yourself. If you’re curious about how to start this new habit, I strongly suggest Duhigg’s book: The Power of Habit.

ResearchBlogging.orgLundahl A, & Nelson TD (2015). Sleep and food intake: A multisystem review of mechanisms in children and adults Journal of Health Psychology : 10.1177/1359105315573427

Psychologists Want an Alternative to the DSM

In another life (or a different timeline, if you prefer) I didn’t change paths and continued on to become a clinical psychologist. In that life (or timeline), I, and many other psychologists are using something totally different than the DSM and the psychologists in this timeline are jealous. Confused?

Recent research published sought to see if the attitudes of psychologists, with regard to the DSM, have changed at all. It turns out, they haven’t:

The results are no different from what was found three decades ago, namely, that a significant number of psychologists are unhappy with the DSM, but almost all of them use it.

So, why do we continue to update the DSM instead of scrapping it and making something better? Well, that’s probably a can of worms for a different post, but it seems telling that in 30 years that psychologists still aren’t happy with what is supposed to be a very important source book for the profession. More than that, as 30 years have spanned, it’s fair to say that even the next generation of psychologists aren’t warming to the DSM.

In reading this study, the most troubling sentence comes from near the end of the article [Emphasis Added]:

They appreciate its help in making diagnoses and supplying reimbursable diagnostic codes, but continue to have scientific, professional, economic, and ethical concerns about it.

That’s troubling, indeed. Scientific, professional, and ethical!

It seems to me that a profession whose bedrock is based in morality and ethics should be motivated to rectify this concern. If they were to change things, what would they change it to? [Emphasis Added]

Even though they may not see the categories in the DSM as merely problems in living, psychologists are interested in alternatives not rooted in the medical model common to the DSM and ICD. Psychologists might be prepared to further develop and use psychologically focused diagnostic alternatives if conditions encouraging them to do so were in place.

That sounds congruent. I remember my time in as a doctoral candidate and many of my colleagues at the time were far more interested in modes of analysis that didn’t subscribe to medical models. There are a number of reasons for this, but for this kind of a wholesale change to occur, I think there needs to be a push from the APA. I suspect that other psychologists would agree with that, but there’s also the possibility that there’s some sort of grassroots “uprising” that starts with individual psychologists. The one hitch with that possibility that I see is that many psychologists work on their own. That is, instead of working alongside their colleagues, they have their own office space and work by themselves. I think if psychologists had something resembling a “union” like there are in some other professions, it would be far easier for them to organize and create the kind of change they’re looking for.

To be clear, I’m not advocating for or suggesting that psychologists should form something like a union, I’m merely saying that if there were this kind of infrastructure in place, I believe it might be easier for there to be a change to the way psychologists diagnose.

ResearchBlogging.orgRaskin, J., & Gayle, M. (2015). DSM-5: Do Psychologists Really Want an Alternative? Journal of Humanistic Psychology DOI: 10.1177/0022167815577897

What if There Were Live Music at the Doctor’s Office?

There was a really interesting study published earlier this year that had live music in a medical waiting room. The aim of the study was to learn more about the staff’s perceptions of this live music, but as you might expect, the live music had an effect on patients, too:

One of the unanticipated results of the music program was that patients often play the piano in the clinic waiting room. This code emerged frequently in the transcriptions and seemed to enhance staff abilities to initiate non-medical discussions with patients, potentially increasing rapport, trust, and therapeutic alliance.

That second sentence seems important. Allowing the patients to play the piano, it made for a more natural way for a staff member to initiate a conversation with them. I found the next sentence of particular interest:

Another unanticipated result of the music program was that patients often remained in the clinic after their appointments to enjoy the live music.

If someone asked you the probability that you’d voluntarily remain at the doctor’s office after your appointment, I bet almost 100% of people would say that there’s a 100% chance that they’re leaving ASAP.

~

In thinking about this study, the one thing that I find *possibly* concerning is the novelty of the situation. That is, yes, having live music in the doctor’s office would be a new (and enjoyable) experience for many, but I wonder if patients (or staff) would habituate to there being a live musician in the waiting room. And as a result of this habituation, would the positive benefits ‘wear off?’ I suppose given how infrequently we go to the doctor’s office in a calendar year, instead of habituating to the experience, maybe it’s something we look forward to doing. Can you imagine your teenager saying to you, “Yes, I hurt my arm, we get to go to the doctor’s office!”

OK, that probably wouldn’t happen, but I really like this idea of having live musicians in the waiting room. The marriage between live music and waiting rooms seems obvious, especially given the healing qualities of live music. This could also be a great opportunity for younger musicians who have a hard time cracking the lineup at some venues. Instead of playing on street corners or in the subway, they could share their music within the medical community.

ResearchBlogging.orgSilverman, M., & Hallberg, J. (2015). Staff perceptions of live classical music in an urban medical clinic: A qualitative investigation Musicae Scientiae, 19 (2), 135-146 DOI: 10.1177/1029864915583375

Three Months Later and I’m Still Avoiding Dessert (and Sugar)

It’s been over three months since my post about cessation of dessert eating, so I thought I’d offer a bit of an update.

It was actually a lot easier than I thought it would be to stop eating sugar. I’m aware that this might be a result of my conviction to the matter and that some people can have a real hard time giving up sugar (because of habits, addiction, etc.). Since giving it up, I have hardly had any sugar (i.e. refined sugar), but there have been times when I’ve been out of the house and in a pinch, I reached for a chocolate bar instead of a piece of fruit. However, each time that I do that, I’m harshly reminded just how bad it is to eat a chocolate bar (for me). Minutes after finishing the chocolate bar, my stomach almost immediately feels terrible and I wish I hadn’t eaten it. That’s happened a couple of times, but like I said, each time that it does happen, I’m reminded just how terrible a choice it is for me to reach for a chocolate bar instead of a piece of fruit or nuts (or nothing!), even if I’m glad that I’m living in Canada, the land of Coffee Crisp.

There’s only been one time that I’ve eaten something sugary and haven’t regretted it — a piece of tiramisu at a wedding. Each bite was heavenly. With that being said, I should clarify that this one of only a couple of times that I’ve opted in for dessert. I don’t remember the other time, but I remember that it made me feel more like I did after the chocolate bars, so maybe my palate has developed such that I can only eat dessert that is of high quality? I realize that sounds a bit pretentious, but it’s not unheard of for one’s palate to change with age.

Even though I’ve dipped into the sugar pot here and there, it’s still my intention to avoid dessert (and sugar, in general). These experiences with sugar since my “decision of cessation” have taught me just how much sugar can have an effect on my body (including my brain).

~

A few other things I wanted to mention. Did you know that there’s sugar in bacon? I certainly did not, but when I began reading the ingredients of things to see if there was sugar in them, I was shocked to find that there’s sugar in bacon. And it’s not just the ‘conventional’ bacon. I looked through a bunch of “organic” bacon packages and there was sugar in them, too. It was news to me.

Also along the lines of sugar in things that we wouldn’t expect: potato chips. I used to eat Miss Vickies Jalapeño chips as a kid and when I came across the Kettle Brand of Jalapeño chips, I would choose those instead. However, upon turning over the package, I was floored to find that sugar’s an ingredient. It’s not just the Kettle Brand of chips, either. I looked at a bunch of other “healthier” options of potato chips and, surprisingly, sugar is in them, too.

~

Lastly, I wanted to close with something I said a few years ago, with regard to diet:

One could read and try thousands of diets from Alicia Silverstone’s to Suzanne Somers’ and still never find the perfect diet. I think that this is the case because there is no perfect diet for everyone.

 

Women and Words: Women Who Read Objectifying Words More Likely to Seek Cosmetic Surgery

I’ve tried to write about this article on a few occasions and had to stop because I simply felt terrible with the implications of the research. In short, as the headline of this post suggests, when women read words that are objectifying, they’re more likely to seek cosmetic surgery. I’ve written about the importance of words and how they can have an effect on us in the past, but this is one of the first times I’ve written about it with such awful implications. Here’s a bit more from the researchers:

Our results provide the first evidence that intentions to pursue cosmetic surgery stem (in part) from being in a state of self-objectification— a state where women are focused on how their bodies look in the eyes of others as opposed to what their bodies can do. Compared to the non-self-objectifying conditions, women primed to self-objectify reported more body shame and a greater intent to pursue cosmetic surgery.

You might consider this finding to be intuitive, but it’s really important when research like this is published and we can say with more conviction that the words we use can have a catastrophic effect on some people. In particular, impressionable young women. I should clarify that I don’t mean for that to come across as paternalistic. The study focused on women (and didn’t include look at whether this effect holds in men, too).

While the headline from the article is mostly “Bad News Bears,” there’s still a ray of hope to be found [Emphasis Added]:

In addition, we found that body shame was significantly lower among women primed with the non-self-objectifying physicality words compared to the neutral words. This finding suggests that exposure to text that emphasizes body functionality and competence without a focus on observable physical attributes may be protective against selfobjectification and body shame.

As the researchers suggested, this should be subjected to further investigation. Regardless, these findings are very important for all of us who write for consumption in any form, but probably more so for folks who write for consumption by young women. Before I end this post, I wanted to include a few more passages from the article that I think are important, with some commentary [Emphasis Added]:

Our research has a number of implications for practitioners. First, knowledge of this link between self-objectification (stemming from a sexually objectifying environment) and intentions to have cosmetic surgery should be useful to practitioners who work with girls and women. In particular, it is necessary to move beyond the understanding that sexual objectification makes women feel bad per se to identify the potentially harmful actions against themselves that women might take in response to such encounters.

For those who are in any kind of counselling profession or role, this seems very important. Understanding the actions that a client/patient may take as a result of their state can be key to offering the right kind of counsel.

Second, community members who wish to advocate for girls and women—including activists, educators, counselors, and policymakers—must raise awareness of the harms of self-objectification more consistently, including the pressure to undergo risky elective surgery.

Raise awareness. That’s why, despite my difficulty in trying to complete this post, I persevered. Persevere is probably too strong of a word, but I felt it important to write this, so that when you read this, you may consider changing your behaviour and hopefully, educate those around you in the hopes that they may change their behaviour, too.

Third, more emphasis should be placed on expanding the self and identity of girls and women to provide other domains in which they can glean social rewards and secure esteem beyond a sexualized appearance.

Please, please, please, rent/buy Miss Representation and tell your friends about it. It’s one of the most succinct (and recent) documentaries exploring the issues with how women are portrayed in the media.

Fourth, it is necessary to provide girls and women with specific actions that can be taken in the face of sexual objectification that do not require modification of one’s body in order to arm them with a greater sense of control over these largely uncontrolled and uncontrollable situations.

This goes back to that first point about those in the helping professions — it’s so important that one is able to offer a different avenue of action for one who is seeking out something like cosmetic surgery as a result of self-objectification.

Fifth, to the extent that self-objectification might be a risk factor for repeated surgery and low satisfaction with surgical outcomes, engagement with cosmetic surgery professionals to at least think about the implications of these patterns is worthwhile.

Almost as a “last resort” kind of thing, as the researchers suggested, it would be important for folk who work in cosmetic surgery offices to have knowledge of this issue of self-objectification (through the words they’ve read). While it may not be “good for business,” I would hope that for folks who work in this industry, counselling their potential clients on research like this would come first. I should clarify that I don’t mean to imply that anyone working in the cosmetic surgery industry is simply in it for the money, it’s as noble as any other medical field (consider those who work in plastic surgery, which is the umbrella that cosmetic surgery falls under, that seek to help burn victims).

Finally, it is critical that practitioners take up the challenge of changing the system of sexual objectification that perpetuates self-objectification and the concomitant consequences in the first place (Calogero & Tylka, in press). In light of the potential risks of undergoing any surgery and anesthesia, the pursuit of elective cosmetic surgery may represent another harmful micro-level consequence of selfobjectification for women, which will require our attention on many fronts.

ResearchBlogging.orgCalogero, R., Pina, A., & Sutton, R. (2013). Cutting Words: Priming Self-Objectification Increases Women’s Intention to Pursue Cosmetic Surgery Psychology of Women Quarterly, 38 (2), 197-207 DOI: 10.1177/0361684313506881