Saturday, December 31, 2016

Annual New Year's Posty Thing, 2016-2017 Edition: Fear and Action

4 years ago on New Year's Eve, my mother called me.  She was coughing up blood, she said, and she was at the hospital.  They might put a tube in her, and if they did, she wouldn't get to talk to me for a bit.  

That was the last conversation I ever had with my mom.  She died about a month later of lung cancer and pneumonia.  

My mother was a remarkable woman in many ways.  She graduated from Cornell University and became a doctor at a time when it was very unusual for women to do so.  She started her own practice and it thrived.  She worked up until the day she went into the hospital.

As remarkable as she was, my mother was also a very fearful woman.  She lived in fear of many things, cancer being one of them, and organized her life in such a way that she thought she might avoid or prevent her fears from becoming reality.  Living like this, I believe, contributed strongly to my mother's final condition.  Even more so, I believe it prevented her from doing a lot of things in her life.  

I see this pattern often amongst people I encounter.  With clients, I see it manifest in fear of the weights (which prevents them from lifting what they want to lift), fear of lifestyle change (which prevents them from making the changes they want to make), and, as odd as it may seem, fear of changing their bodies or their health (in that they may use their current condition as a sort of comfort or shield from other things in their lives... more on this in another post).  Outside the gym, I see it manifest in various ways that prevent people from making changes, taking action, or realizing dreams.

To many people, the change in year doesn't mean much.  Time is time, no matter how you label it.  While this may be true, I see the new year as a symbol that may help people become motivated to take action.  

I value action.  

Someone posted on social media the other day that they wondered why certain people were dying, but they were still here.  Here was my response:

To me it doesn't matter WHY I'm here so much as THAT I'm here. And as long as I am here, I am going to try to make good things happen-- for myself, for other living creatures, for the planet. Make the most of the life you have, and instead of questioning your existence, celebrate it and make the most of it. 

Hopes, prayers, and good thoughts are all wonderful things, but without action they do very little.  I've seen lately that people have been feeling helpless due to the election, to events in the world, to events in their own life.  I am writing this blog today in the hopes that I can help at least one person feel empowered to take control of what they are able to control.

Here's how you can take action in the things you want to do.

LIFESTYLE CHANGES:

I wrote this blog post a while back about ways to begin a healthier lifestyle.  I wrote this blog post last year about making resolutions stick.  While it is fitness-related, I believe these rules apply for just about any lifestyle change you'd like to make.  

CHANGES IN YOUR CIRCLE:

There is no bad time to clean out your closet.  Whether that means getting rid of things you don't need, getting rid of thoughts and patterns that don't serve you well, or getting rid of poisonous people in your life, it is a valuable and very empowering thing to do.  While it can be scary to let go of something that's been around you for ages, making that leap and clearing out the garbage can do amazing things.  I cannot recommend it enough.

If the people close to you are going through tough times, great times, or neutral times, the best thing you can possibly do is be there for them.  Whether that means letting them know you love them from time to time, going out to lunch or dinner when you can, or just dropping them a note/text/PM/whatever to let them know you're thinking of them, these little actions can mean a whole lot.  If there's one thing I've learned in life, it's not to wait for someone to die to celebrate their life.  Be the friend you'd want someone to be to you.

CHANGES IN THE WORLD:

If you want to see change in the world, you must use the resources that are available to you.  This generally translates to either time or money (or both).  So you can:

Volunteer.  There's a good chance there are tons of opportunities to volunteer near you.  If you're not sure where to find them, VolunteerMatch is an excellent website to help you discover ways to donate your time in your area for causes you care about.  This year, I started volunteering at a local school to help children with their literacy skills, and I also spend a lot of time helping local animal rescues locate foster or forever homes.  

Donate.  CharityWatch is a great place to research the places you'd like to donate to to ensure that your money is going to the right places.  Some of my favorites are EarthJustice, International Rescue Committee, Animal Welfare Institute, Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, Farm Sanctuary, Environmental Defense Action Fund, and the Cancer Research Institute.  I also donate to local animal rescues and homeless organizations.  For local organizations such as these, you don't even have to donate money-- they often are in need of things like:
           

I also carry Ziploc bags filled with toiletries, nonperishable food items, and dog supplies (for people with dogs) in my car to distribute to homeless people I often see on my commutes.  

I realize this post is a bit different from what I usually post on New Year's, but I feel like it's an important one.  I hope it helps someone.  I wish you the very best in the new year, and every year.  May it be full of love, good health, and plenty of action.


Do you have suggestions on good ways to take action?  Post 'em here!

ROCK ON, 2017!



Sunday, August 28, 2016

So Many Trolls, So Little Time

This weekend, I attended a rather spectacular conference (Women's Fitness Summit-- check it out).  An interesting question was raised that struck a particular chord with me, and I thought it was worth writing about.  The question was this:

How do you deal with internet trolls?

Let's face it-- anything you put out there to the public is subject to armchair critics.  No one who puts content online is safe from people who want to drag you down.  And a lot of them are good-- really, really good-- at what they set out to do.  The comments they leave can be really painful if they strike the right nerve.  But you can beat them, and you can do it any way that suits you.

The first thing that is important to realize is that trolls will strike anywhere, anytime, for any reason.  For example, here is a compilation of cute kitten videos.  It has 1,185 "thumbs down" ratings.  IT IS A COMPILATION OF CUTE KITTEN VIDEOS.


I think we can all pretty much agree that anyone who "thumbs down" cute kitten videos is probably a bubbling cauldron of misery.  And there are clearly a large number of misery cauldrons out there.  So if almost 1200 people have serious cute kitten video hatred (or at least have any interest in trying to bring down the awesomeness of cute kittens), it'd be pretty easy for them to try to bring down pretty much everything else good in the world.

My point is, the computer-concealed venom of misery cauldrons has very little bearing on anyone's opinion of you who means anything.  And, truly, the only opinion of you that really matters is your own.  You put content out there because you had something to share that you thought was worth sharing.  When it comes down to it, that is the most important thing, and the people who really matter will appreciate what you have to share.  

That being said, the sting of troll venom can be powerful.  So what can be done to neutralize it?  

1)  Delete and block.  This is probably the easiest, most common, and most effective way to deal with trolls.  Your space is your space, and you can choose who to allow into it.  If someone is spitting toxic goo at you, you have the right to take away their mark and their ability to ever do it again.  No one needs that kind of energy, really.  If you don't have it in you to address the trolls yourself, you can always get a friend or hire someone to do it for you.  Sometimes, ignorance really is bliss.  

2)  If the comment is directed to you personally via message, document it and report it.  Any threatening messages can and should be reported to whoever manages the site (most have a "report abuse" button or something similar).  

3)  Don't feed the trolls.  When it comes down to it, they are looking for acknowledgement.  Don't give it to them.  In addition, when one troll posts, others will often want to jump on the bandwagon.  Deleting and blocking can help stop a trollpocalypse.

4)  Take care of yourself.  Several years ago, I did a series of exercise videos for a company.  I've had a lot of pretty nasty comments aimed at me before, but I'd have to say the one that has stuck with me throughout the years, for whatever reason-- and let's keep in mind that this was an EXERCISE VIDEO-- is:

"She's ugly, but I'd fuck her anyway."

First I scoffed, and then I was in disbelief, and then I just tried to ignore it.  Because I did not own the video, there wasn't much I could do to remove it myself, so there it stayed until the powers that be would do something about it.  And I have to say, just knowing that was out there made me feel dirty and a little bit ashamed of myself.  For publishing an exercise video.  Designed to help people.  

And then I realized:  

I am not the problem.

The problem resides deep within the person trying to bring me down.  This is really the case with bullies of all kinds (and as someone who has been bullied for a good portion of her life, I do understand how difficult it can be to wrap your head around that sometimes).  A bully, or a troll, or anyone who tries to bring you down, is someone who has something very dark inside them.  And as hard as it can be to believe it sometimes, that darkness has absolutely nothing to do with cute kittens, and nothing to do with you.  

That being said, it can be really, really difficult sometimes to just let it go.  So take care of yourself. Surround yourself with people that lift you up.  Treat yourself well, and know you deserve to be treated well.  Try to keep things in perspective.  But most importantly, don't let your voice be silenced.  There will always be people who want to drag you into their darkness.  

Keep your face in the sun.

And just in case you need it, watch some kitten videos.


How do you deal with internet trolls?  Questions?  Comments?  Post 'em here!


Thursday, December 31, 2015

Customary End-Of-The-Year Recap And Goals

It's that time again!  

First and foremost, I apologize for being extremely lax in my posts.  My schedule has been nutty this year, and my blog has been severely neglected as a result.  Goal 1 for 2016 is to start posting again, at least a few times a month.  (Let me know, by the way, if there are subjects you'd like me to cover!)

2015 was an interesting year.  A lot of my friends and colleagues went through terrible tragedies, either personally or within their friend and family circles.  The world has been in turmoil with threats and acts of terrorism, and the media has been lapping it up and ensuring that our lives are constantly immersed in fear, paranoia, and polarization amongst one another.  2015 has not been easy, to say the least.

Personally, 2015 has been setting off my panic button a lot.  I have panic disorder (I've had it since I was a child), and the news is a major trigger for me.  My panic attacks got bad this year, almost to the point in which I was afraid to go outside.  The good news is that I finally found something that has worked miracles on me.  I started doing weekly one-hour sensory deprivation floatation sessions in November, and I am happy to say that I have not had a panic attack since I started.  I'm sleeping better and overall in a much better mood.  There is some interesting preliminary research on floatation tanks which I'll probably write about in 2016.  But they seem to have been used successfully for PTSD, depression, anxiety, and even sports performance.  I can certainly say from personal experience that they are the only thing that has ever worked on my anxiety, and I am absolutely a believer at this point.

In other news, in September, I successfully completed my master's degree in health psychology!  It was a very difficult and frustrating road, but I did it, and I'm pretty darn proud of myself.  A lot of people ask what I am going to do with the degree.  To be honest, the main reason I did it was to learn more specifically about food psychology, and also as a personal challenge to myself.  However, beyond this, I hope to do a great deal more public speaking and possibly teach a weekly class at a local college.  

In 2015 I achieved American records in all three lifts for my age and weight class in powerlifting, which was an exciting achievement.  I also won a bench press for reps competition that I had not trained for, and that I decided to enter literally within a half hour before it began.  I also honed my oldtime strongman skills a bit more and did my very first strongman show (this is a portion of it):



That was lots of fun-- wouldn't mind doing some more. 

Last week, I signed up for my first strongwoman competition (not the oldtime kind-- the kind where you pull trucks and walk with yokes and things like that).  This will be a huge challenge because:

1) I have never done most of the events before or anything like them
2) Everyone in the competition will likely outweigh me by a minimum of 20lb
3) I think I will be the least experienced person in the competition

Still, it's an exciting challenge, and even if I don't manage to complete any of the events (but I hope I will!!), I'm excited to at least try.  I've been getting coaching at a strongman gym about 40 minutes from me (it's the closest one!), and one of my coaches will also be competing at this event, so it's nice to have some company.  I've had two sessions so far, and it's been kicking my butt, but in a very good way!  

So, here's how I did with last year's goals:

Fitness:
  • 200lb squat or heavier  
  • 150lb bench press or heavier
  • 300lb deadlift or heavier
Not yet on any of the above.  Boo.  But I have the feeling I'll get closer to them this year, especially with the strongman training.  
  • Mastering short steel bending (I mostly do long bending at the moment-- short bending has always been very difficult for me)
YES!  (See the above post from my strongman show!)  As a matter of fact, I bend 40D nails on a fairly regular basis now, and am hoping to get to blue nails-- maybe even red nails-- this year!
  • Back and/or front levers
No, but I also have not really been training for them.  I can only concentrate on so much.
  • My friends Jarell Lindsey and Batman O'Brien got me thinking about trying to get my middle splits back, too.
Also have not been concentrating much on this, but got really close when I tested it:  


  • 120lb Atlas stone lift
YES!  It wasn't pretty, it wasn't perfect, but I did it!!!!



Business:

  • Continue to grow Flawless Fitness, Evil Munky, and Steel, Stone, & Sugar.
Two outta three ain't bad.  :)  SSS didn't really have too many workshops this year.  However, Flawless Fitness and Evil Munky have both been flourishing, and I am very grateful for this and proud of my little companies.  Planning on continuing to grow and strengthen both indefinitely.  
  • Graduate my master's program and begin teaching at the community college level (or at a university that will let me teach with a master's degree)
Yes, and I will likely be applying for teaching positions in 2016.
  • Do lots more public speaking (if you'd like me at your event, say the word!)
This year, I got to speak at the NSCA national conferences as well as some other fitness conferences, and I got to teach a strength workshop in Manila, Philippines in October.  I will be doing a few workshops in the UK with the amazing athlete and human Alex Kay in 2016, and can't wait for that!  I will also be speaking for the NSCA in Anaheim in January as well as the NorCal Fitness Summit later in 2016.  Hoping to fill up the calendar with many more speaking engagements!

Music:
  • There will be a new album with the original band I sing with, Maxxxwell Carlisle, this year-- I'm looking forward to recording it, and to hopefully begin touring!
Sadly, the MC project is currently defunct.  However, I have joined forces with a great shredder named Chris Ulrey, and we are in the process of putting together a great original power metal project!
  • I partnered up with Other World Productions this year to create a series of concerts with Ed Force One and other bands to be named later that will help raise money for people who can't afford to pay their vet bills.  As a huge animal lover, this is an issue near and dear to my heart, and I'm looking forward to our first one on February 13!
We did another one a few months ago and raised lots of money for two different animal rescue organizations!  Busy putting together the next one-- can't wait!
  • Hoping to get lots of new shows for all three bands this year.
Yes, there were lots of new shows, and I also joined a new Deep Purple tribute band called Stormbringer.  There may be some big stuff happening in 2016-- stay tuned!

Personal:
  • You probably don't know this about me, but panic attacks run in my family, and I am one of the lucky recipients.  I'm hoping to conquer them this year, as they can be debilitating.
Yes I did! :)
  • I want to spend a lot more time seeing my friends' shows and just generally being more social.  I miss having game nights, dinner parties, and movie nights.  Once I graduate from school, I'll have a lot more time (and resources) to start having fun again, and I plan to have lots of fun!  
This, too!
  • I have a few places I'm definitely planning to make time to visit this year.  They include Yellowstone, Portland (Oregon, although I'd love to go to Maine, too), and possibly Idaho.  That being said, I love to travel, and there are tons of other places on my list-- these are just those I am pretty sure I'll be able to make work this year.
Well, I didn't get to go to any of those places, but I did go to Korea and The Philippines as well as Austin and my home state of NY.  I believe there will be much more travel for me in 2016!
  • I started a new tradition this week that I plan to do all year and probably all the years ahead.  Believe it or not, I found out about it through a meme, and I liked the idea so much, I decided to start it.  What you do is, you get a jar (or container of your choice), and every time something nice happens, you write it down and put it in the container.  At the end of the year, you read all the papers and remember all the great things the year brought, since it's easy to forget sometimes.  In the meme they called it a Blessings Jar.  I think I'll call mine the Jar of Awesome. 
Been pretty good at keeping this going!


My goals for 2016 will go something like this:

Health and Fitness
  • Enter and complete at least one feat at California's Strongest Woman competition
  • PR my deadlift (current PR 259lb), bench press (current PR 125lb), and get my squat back to 190lb or higher
  • Bend an Iron Mind blue nail
  • Increase the speed of my phone book tearing
Business
  • Continue to grow Flawless Fitness and Evil Munky!
  • Do lots more public speaking
  • Possibly obtain a teaching position at a local college
  • Write at least monthly in this blog!
  • Submit at least one research paper for publication
Personal
  • Continue to keep panic disorder at bay
  • More travel
  • Continue to spend time supporting my friends at their shows and events
  • Start cello lessons again
So now that this novel of a blog post is done, what are your goals, hopes, and dreams for 2016?

Whatever they may be, may 2016 bring you nothing but beautiful things.  Happy new year!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Ideals

Several months ago, I saw a very well-known trainer friend of mine post pictures of her new body.  She had been in an emotionally abusive relationship for a long time, and had taken great pains to maintain what her ex saw as a "perfect body."  She had a six-pack, she was super lean, she was strong.  And she was miserable and suffered from disordered eating patterns.  She got out of that relationship and started taking care of herself without anyone else's ideals in mind, and she looks great.  She's still lean and super-strong, but she no longer spends her life in the gym or worried about every macro and micro she puts in her mouth.  She's got more body fat than she used to, but she is by no means unhealthy, and is extremely athletic-looking.  She got tons of compliments when she posted her picture.  She also got tons of comments along the lines of, "Woah.  You got fat."

Seriously?

I was reminded of that because of this video trainer Cassey Ho put out.  I think it's eye-opening and worth watching:


Why does good health and strength equate to some weird ideal of the perfect body?  I've written this in the past, but I believe it bears repeating.  I see it in my clients all the time.  They're getting healthy, their clothes are fitting better, their bloodwork is amazing, but "If I could only get rid of this..." (pointing to whatever "arm flab" or "pooch" they are preoccupied with). 

In my gym, I have warped mirrors.  I did that at first by accident, but kept them on purpose so that people could pay more attention to their form and less attention to their "flab."  An interesting phenomenon that has come of this, though, is that certain clients will pick certain spots in front of the mirror, because that's the part of the mirror that makes them look the thinnest.  Some of my clients won't look at the mirrors at all, because they don't want to see "the fat person there."

I get aesthetics.  I totally do.  I was somewhat obsessed with my belly pooch for a long time.  Even now, I catch myself checking my side view in the mirror to see if my stomach looks any flatter.  As a matter of fact, I played a show with one of my bands a few weeks ago, and wore a stage costume that showed the part of my belly that bugs me the most (my lower belly).  I found myself scouring those pictures, thinking:  "Ugh.  I look pregnant."   I get annoyed with myself for doing these things.  It's a hard habit to break.  But I do know this:

  • I am generally between 14% and 16% bodyfat.  Even at these levels, I will never, ever, ever have a six-pack.  It is not in my genes.  It appears I will always have that little pooch in my lower belly.  And I have no interest in dropping below 14% bodyfat.
  • I don't have a thigh gap.  Why would I want one?  
  • Having a six-pack does NOT mean you have strong abs, or even that you're healthy.  It means your body fat is so low that you can see your abs.  Period. 
  • I am extremely healthy (my doctors are always blown away by my bloodwork) and strong, even if I don't have an "ideal" figure.  With the body I have built, I have bent steel bars, nails, and horseshoes, broken state powerlifting records, broken a baseball bat, done 4,000 one-handed kettlebell swings within 2 hours just because I felt like it, and run 10k races without training for them.  I'm proud of who I am, pooch and all.

Maybe you don't have your ideal figure.  Is it a bad thing to strive for?  Of course not-- not if you're striving for it in a healthy way.  There's nothing wrong with caring about your looks.  Most of us do.  And not everyone needs huge strength goals ("Strong is the new skinny!"), muscle goals, or any goals that aren't important to you.  Your body is your body, and you need to do with it what makes sense for you.  But make sure you are also realistic and honest with yourself, and that your number one priority is your very best health, both mentally and physically, within the goals that you have.

Maybe it's time to re-think our ideals.

Here I am, pooch and all.

Monday, April 6, 2015

I broke a baseball bat in half this weekend!

I did an amazing strongman workshop with Chris "Hairculese" Rider and Eric Moss over the weekend.  Chris called me up before the workshop and said, "Do you think you can break a baseball bat?"  I replied that I had never tried it before, so he brought one, and I gave it a shot. :)  I did this after about 8  hours of tearing phone books and decks of cards and bending steel and driving nails through boards with my hands, so I was pretty wrecked by the time I broke the bat.  I have to say, snapping a bat was probably one of the coolest feats of strength I've ever done, and I'm very proud of it!



Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Current Research on Food Addiction

I actually wrote this paper for my Biopsychology class, but I thought that some of you might find it interesting/useful.  So, with that said, here it is.  Note that this isn't my usual snazzy writing style, so if you need a good nap, this might do the trick.

*************************************************************

Introduction
            There are many factors that contribute to the tremendous obesity problem in the United States and other Western countries.  One of these, food addiction, is a relatively new addition to the scientific world.  Food addiction was first introduced into scientific literature in the mid-1950’s  (Randolph, 1956).  While food addiction was only touched upon in literature about 9 times between 1956 and 2007, 2008 to the present time has seen a huge influx in studies about food addiction, with over 65 studies published between 2008 and 2012 (Salamone & Correa, 2013).  In this paper, I will discuss current findings about food addiction as well as developing research on the subject.  I will note ethical considerations surrounding the subject of food addiction, including those regarding gender and diversity.  I will summarize with my thoughts on future directions that research in food psychology might take, and how this research might be used to improve the health and well-being of our society.
Current Findings
            In 2009, Ashley Gearhardt developed the Yale Food Addiction to diagnose food addictive behavior.  She based her scale on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (APA, 2000; Gearhardt, et al., 2009).  The scale has been validated by a number of different sources as a reliable tool that demonstrates food-related behaviors that are similar to drug addictive behaviors (Brunault, et al., 2014; Pursey, et al., 2014; Gearhardt, Corbin, & Brownell, 2009). 
            Avena, Rada, and Hoebel (2008) argue that the same neural mechanisms that instill the drive to gather food are those that foster drug addiction.  In an animal study, sugar consumption has been found to release opioids, acetylcholine, and dopamine in the brain, which would indicate an addictive response (Avena, Rada, & Hoebel, 2008).  The sugar addiction pattern seemed to follow a pattern of binging, withdrawal, craving, and sensitization, as with an addictive substance.  While the symptoms were milder than those for drugs, they caused significant patterns of uncontrolled overeating of sugary substances and a mild dependency on these foods. 
            Liu, von Deneen, Kobeissy, & Gold (2010) note that alterations in the function and structure of the brain occur as a result of habitual abnormal eating habits.  For instance, when obese subjects were given appealing foods, the portions of the brain linked to the release of dopamine were activated.  The authors also note that both food and drugs utilize the mesolimbic reward system of the brain in order to create a pattern of re-use and craving.  This pattern will cause the food addict to choose the food over the consequences related to eating that food. 
            Another study notes a similar effect of salty foods (Cocores & Gold, 2009).  Sodium tends to be sought out only in circumstances in which the body is deficient in it.  However, the authors found that pregnant rats fed a processed and salty foods diet have offspring who crave these foods and tend to be obese.  There appears to be a relationship between how much salt an infant is fed before 6 months of age and preference of that child for salty foods.  The authors found that salty food intake also activates the dopamine and opioid centers of the brain to create an addictive response, and that non-deficiency-related cravings for salty foods are due to withdrawal of dopamine and opioid stimulation.
            Another study demonstrated an addictive-like quality of a high-fat diet in rats (Puhl, et al., 2008).  The rats in the study that had a very high-fat diet were more likely to self-administer cocaine and display more severe addictive behaviors. 
Current New Research
Food addiction has recently gotten validation in the scientific community.  Binge eating is a relatively recent addition to the addictions portion of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) (APA, 2013).  The APA notes that binge eating is a different and rarer condition from overeating, and that it is linked to significant psychological dysfunction.
Both human and animal studies have shown great similarities between physiological responses between drug addiction and bulimia nervosa—the dopamine response, glutamatergic signaling, opiod system, and neural activity in the cortex all react similarly between drug addicts and bulemics (Hadad & Knackstedt, 2014).  In a study of obese individuals with binge eating disorder, those who scored higher on the Yale Food Addiction Scale had significantly more severe binge eating symptoms and problems associated with overeating (Gearhardt, et al., 2013).  Those who scored high on the food addiction scale also tended to have a younger age of overweight onset but not of dieting onset.   A subgroup of those who had symptoms of food addiction but not a formal diagnosis also showed younger patterns of dieting behaviors.  Those diagnosed with food addiction were related to lower self-esteem measures and significantly higher concern with weight and shape, but did not reflect attempts to curb the eating problem.  Diagnosed food addicts also seemed to have higher measures of impulsiveness, reactivity, and cravings for specific foods.
            Food addiction has been linked to with sexual and physical abuse in childhood (Mason, et al, 2013).  This study utilized a modified version of the Yale Food Addiction Scale to diagnose the addiction, and found that women with a food addiction diagnosis were 6 units higher in body mass index (BMI) than those with no diagnosis.  Of the women diagnosed with food addiction, almost 2/3 had a BMI of over 30 kg/m2, whereas approximately ¼ of those without food addiction met this criterion.  Women who had a childhood history of abuse, either physical, sexual, or both, were significantly more likely to have a food addiction diagnosis, and this number increased proportionately to the number of times they had been abused, as well as with those who had been both physically and sexually abused.
            Despite this evidence, the concept of food addiction is still surrounded by controversy and has not been accepted by all scientists.  Ziauddeen, Hisham, Farooqi, and Fletcher, for instance, note that brain imaging studies have not demonstrated reliable responses by the brain’s reward systems, and that most of the studies done regarding food addiction have been grossly inconsistent in their results.  Smith and Robbins (2013) note discrepancies between the way the brain reacts towards drugs and towards food. 
            Puhl, et. al. (2011) point out that with drug addiction, there is an inherent “wanting” of the drug without necessarily having a “liking” for the drug.  There is also a “wanting” for highly palatable foods in binge eating, but that “wanting” is also paired with a significant “liking” of the food.  Most binge eaters do not crave foods they do not enjoy the taste of.  This, the authors argue, sets binge eating apart from drug addiction and is an argument against the existence of food addiction.
            Several studies make note of the fact that food, unlike drugs, is necessary for survival, which would automatically set it apart from an addictive substance (Krashes & Kravitz, 2014).  It has also been demonstrated that a diagnosis of food addiction does not necessarily precipitate obesity (Salamone & Correa, 2013).  Krashes and Kravitz (2014) point out that changes in the mechanisms that control appetite may be more at play than druglike addictive responses.  When put on a diet, the subjects will find themselves deficient in calories, attempting to fight their body’s reinforcement strategies, and under emotional stress.  This generally will lead to more food-seeking behaviors.  The authors do concede that deficits in the prefrontal cortex, which are related to drug addiction, may also be linked to lack of control over food consumption.  They conclude that the argument for food addiction is compelling, although there remain significant differences between food and drug addiction. 
Salamone and Correa (2013) argue that since food is a necessity to survival, dependence and withdrawal symptoms related to its consumption are meaningless.  The authors also take issue with the fact that the classification of the dopamine system as a reward system is, in and of itself, a controversial matter.  The classification of dopamine as a hedonistic mediator has not been proven—some studies have shown that manipulations of dopamine did not affect mood or motivation (Salamone & Correa, 2013).  The authors note that dopamine plays a significant role in appetite and motivation to eat, which would explain its activation in food consumption.  Furthermore, the activation of dopamine varies based on the conditions, the food supplied, whether or not the food was novel, and the dopamine terminal region of the brain.
Ethical Considerations
            While there are few current ethical conflicts in the study of food addiction, it is important to consider that this is a problem most likely to plague Westernized nations and individuals with access to large quantities of food.  Therefore, it has significant socioeconomic considerations.  While it is a common assumption that fast food, sugary drink, and other junk food consumption combined with low fruit and vegetable consumption is more prevalent among lower socioeconomic classes, it has been demonstrated that these problems span the entire economic spectrum of the United States (Sturm & An, 2014).  Likewise, an increase in body mass index has affected all socioeconomic classes relatively equally in recent years.  Even when prices for healthier foods are lower, people appear less likely to be motivated to purchase those foods without some sort of intervention. 
            There is some concern about a stigma associated with food addiction, as there would be with any emotional or psychological disorder.  As weight discrimination is already a significant problem in Westernized society (Suh, Puhl, Liu, & Fleming Milici, 2014), coupling this with an additional perceived cognitive disorder could have traumatic emotional repercussions on those who suffer from both obesity and a food addict label.  Alternatively, the label might help relieve some of the stigma associated with obesity—if the obese individual is diagnosed with a condition proving that there is a medical basis for the overeating conditions, there might be more compassion towards that person.  There is also a third possibility, in which the stigma of being an addict carries its own weight regardless of obesity.  In a study designed to determine how much of a stigma food addiction would carry, DePierre, Puhl, and Luedicke (2013) explored all of these options.  In the fist portion of their study, the authors discovered that while people would have far more compassion for someone with a disability, they would also generally choose to distance themselves from that person.  The authors also explored the effects of gender and race on the food addiction stigma.  They found that women gave less of a stigma to obesity, food addiction, and other labels, but more towards smokers and cocaine addicts.  African Americans were more tolerant towards addicted individuals than were Caucasians, and obese individuals were more sympathetic towards obese food addicts and placed less responsibility on them than did thinner individuals.  In general, the authors discovered that food addiction carried less of a stigma than did other addictions such as cocaine and nicotine, but carried a similar stigma to obesity.  Furthermore, food addiction and obesity carried more of a negative connotation than did other non-addictive health conditions.  The second part of the study had very similar results.  An interesting aspect of this portion of the study was that when a hypothetical male subject was assessed by the subjects, obesity did not seem to come into play in their opinion of him.  It would be interesting to see the results had the subject to be assessed been a woman, or had the race of the subject varied.
            One study did utilize a hypothetical female subject in their vignette (Lee, et al., 2014).  However, their subject pool was predominantly female, which might skew results.  The authors found, once again, that obese and food addicted participants were more likely to assign responsibility for another person’s obesity on biological causes.  Overweight participants tended to blame environmental causes, while normal weight participants blamed personal responsibility.  Interestingly, obese subjects were less likely to assign overeating as a cause of obesity than were overweight subjects. 
            Few studies have examined ethnic, socioeconomic, or gender differences in food addiction.  One small study showed that African-Americans were more prone to food addiction than were Caucasians (Thompson & Romeo, 2014).  Females of both races reported dissatisfaction with their bodies more than males did.  Females of both races also reported more emotional reasoning such as anxiety and depression behind their tendencies to overeat than did men. 
Conclusion
            While science is becoming more accepting of the idea of food addiction, there has yet to be reliable and conclusive human-based evidence proving that food addiction is, in fact, a medical condition comparable to drug addiction.  While most studies have been dedicated to examining neurological and self-determined aspects that might define food addiction, there appears to be a significant paucity of research concerning gender, ethnic, and socioeconomic factors surrounding the food addiction diagnosis.  If food addiction is, indeed, a medical condition, considering the significant emotional factors that are entwined with overeating, there is likely no one-size-fits-all approach to treating this disorder.  Just as drug addiction and obesity treatment generally require multi-pronged approaches, rehabilitation from food addiction would likely require the same, and would need to be highly individualized.  Research needs to be done on how treatment of co-existing conditions such as depression and anxiety might affect a diagnosis of food addiction—if, for instance, the depression or anxiety is successfully treated, would the food addiction disappear, or would it need separate treatment?  Furthermore, if the stigma of food addiction creates social isolation (DePierre, Puhl, and Luedicke, 2013), research on what sort of support measures can be instilled to help create more accepting communities and social outlets for those afflicted with the disorder, and whether these options might help relieve the need to overeat. 
            Food addiction is still a very new and poorly understood subject.  A standard for its evaluation and a consensus on its existence need to be determined before treatment options can be explored.  In the meantime, in light of current research, it would appear that increasing the appeal of healthier food purchases might be of particular importance (Sturm & An, 2014).  Should junk foods become less popular (or, at least, less available), fruit and vegetables become more desirable, and physical activity be encouraged in schools, businesses, and communities in general, the obesity epidemic might just take care of itself.



References
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Cocores, J. A., & Gold, M. S. (2009). The Salted Food Addiction Hypothesis may explain overeating and the obesity epidemic. Medical Hypotheses, 73. 892-899. doi:10.1016/j.mehy.2009.06.049
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Thompson, S., & Romeo, S. (2014). Gender and racial differences in food addiction symptoms, body satisfaction and overeating influences. Journal Of The Academy Of Nutrition & Dietetics, 114(9), A36.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Why Your New Year's Resolutions Aren't Working

If you're like a lot of people I know, you have big, lofty aspirations for the year to come when December 31 comes around.  You're going to get fit!  Lose your gut!  Start exercising!  Eat healthier!  Lose your love handles!  "Get abs!"  Start a workplace fitness/weight loss competition, and freaking win that f@#$ker!  YEAH, BUDDY!!

The first week of your plan goes... interestingly.  You buy yourself some slightly-too-expensive-but-totally-high-tech workout gear for inspiration. You join a gym or start a home exercise program. You eat salad, and you eat more salad, and then you have a celery stick.  Everything hurts.  You're sweaty.  You're uncomfortable.  You hate this.  And while you're at it, you hate celery sticks.



The second week of your plan, you start slipping back into your old habits.  A candy bar here, a fast food run there.  You start skipping your workouts-- you'll do it tomorrow, you promise.

By week three, your life is pretty much what it was before your resolutions began, except you have more slightly-too-expensive-but-totally-high-tech workout gear than you did before.

And so the cycle continues.

So why aren't your resolutions working out?  Why do most people end up not fulfilling theirs?  Well, I have a few ideas.

1)  They are not specific.  "Get fit" is a nice thing.  But what does it even mean?  What should you be able to do if you're fit?  Run a marathon?  Deadlift your bodyweight?  Win an armwrestling contest with your kid?  Figure out exactly what you want to accomplish with your fitness goals.  Same goes for "lose weight/your gut/your love handles," "eat better," and "start exercising."  How much weight do you want to lose?  What does that translate into for inches lost, clothes size, or body fat lost (because, honestly, those numbers will tell you more than the scale will)?  What does "eat better" mean?  How, exactly, are you going to fit exercising into your schedule in a way that is manageable for you?

Which brings me to:

2)  They are not realistic.  Losing 20lb in a month, running a marathon after 2 months of training when you've never run before, and eating nothing but salad are not realistic goals, period.  That leads quite nicely into:

3)  There is no plan of action.  Now that you have a specific long-term goal, how, exactly, do you plan to achieve it?  This is where short-term goals come in.  I've mentioned this before in other posts, but it really bears repeating.  Start setting small, tangible goals that you can easily achieve in the space of 2-3 weeks that will help lead up to your goal.  So, for instance, if you want to lose, say, 15lb in 3 months, what would help you get there?  Hey, how about quitting your soda habit, or eliminating fast food?  Start with something you can manage and measure, and you will be able to see your changes better.

4)  You are uncomfortable.  Let's face it-- most people hate being uncomfortable.  And when it comes to things like weight training and endurance exercise, it's not comfortable, especially if you've never done it before, and especially if you're doing it right and lifting heavy stuff.  Period.  There are plenty of crazy people like me who love it, and there are plenty of others who catch the crazy and learn to love it.  If you hate it, chances are, you're just not going to stick with it.  So find something you love.  Dance.  Go to the trampoline park (holy cow, I love that place).  Get a buddy and take some hikes.  If you hate everything, hire a (GOOD) trainer who can hopefully teach you why lifting is awesome, and maybe you'll catch the crazy.  But do something you can stomach doing on a regular basis, or it's simply not going to work out for you.  Once you get started, you can always branch out and test your limits with other things.

5)  You think eating healthy means eating salad.  It doesn't.  I promise.  Try some healthy recipes from great bloggers like 101 Cookbooks, Sprouted Kitchen,  Oh, She Glows, Sunday Morning Banana Pancakes, or, my personal favorite, Thug Kitchen.  You'll never look at healthy eating the same way again.

6)  You aren't thinking of it as a lifestyle change.  The problem with most fitness plans is that they have an end date.  Once you hit your goal (or get tired of trying to hit your goal), you go back to your old ways.  Not only is this counterproductive, but it will tend to encourage you to try unsustainable or unhealthy things (juice fasts, anyone?) to try to get things done quickly rather than healthfully and permanently.  If you want to make a healthy change in your life, you need to be willing to commit to a healthy lifestyle for the long haul instead of yo-yoing back and forth.  Unless you're a cold-turkey kind of person, do it one step at a time, and slowly incorporate healthy habits for good.  It will be easier and more palatable, and you'll be glad you did.

Did you make any resolutions for 2015?  How's it going?  Questions?  Comments?  Post 'em here!