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Posts Tagged ‘research’

body of truthI’ve decided I’m going to make reading this book a once-a-year activity. Body of Truth is just that helpful. When I read it a year ago before it was even published, I dog-eared pages as I devoured it in just a day or two. I made my husband read it. THIS, this, is what everyone needs to know. I read it again this week in a day, dog-eared more pages, and considered making my husband read it again.

Read my review of the book on Rated Reads.

Now, I was able to keep my review to a reasonable length, but I’m going to write more about the insights I gained by reading Harriet Brown’s book. And I’ll have to split up the info into a few posts so it won’t get weighed down (ha ha). Today I’m just going to address the damage that is done by dieting. And let me tell you, that is one of the takeaways of this book that has me the most furious.

I never considered myself a dieter until the past 7 years or so. I noticed myself gaining when I was nearing 40. But I had actually dieted when I was about 12 by reducing a bit what I ate and not eating desserts. I didn’t keep track of pounds, just slimmed a little of “baby fat,” you could say. And then each time after my three pregnancies I breast-fed, counted calories (stuck to 1800 or so), and kept up my regular exercise. I got back down and a little bit more and was looking nicely trim at 33. I kept it up until, yeah, almost the 40s. Then I saw 10 pounds creep on and got a bit panicked (ha!). Then I happened to move to a new state and put on another 10 pounds, then another 10, then another 10. All of a sudden, I was a lot heavier and was feeling much different than I had before as generally an average-weight, trim-ish person. I dieted first by just really counting calories (and going hungry often) and lost 30, but it only held for a year or maybe two. It came back on, and then I started looking at other options. I did the hCG diet (yes, I know, I never DREAMED I’d be the person to do something drastic like that), but it worked and I at least lost almost 20 pounds and felt a lot better really quickly. That crept back on, and I did it again a year or so later. A couple of years ago, my best friend started doing Atkins, so I tried it. It worked and I did well enough to lose maybe 20 or 25 pounds and feel it was worth the work and sacrifice. My daughter got married, then, last year, and all bets were off. I ate, and I ate, and I ate. I was depressed and stressed and just went straight to food. And what do you know, I am now by far the heaviest I’ve ever been. I went back on Atkins for a few weeks in the fall, then something crazy happened, and then I went back on it this last month, then my grandma died. And I am 20 pounds heavier than my heaviest weight ever before.

So not counting the post-pregnancy “getting back to pre-pregnancy weight” work, I have dieted, lost and gained, at least four main times, plus a few more little times, in the past 8 years. I have been successful. I have been tough. I have focused. And then I’ve either gone back to semi-normal eating (not being hungry) and gained back, or I’ve had some eat-a-lot periods. And what do you know, I’m completely normal. Studies show very low rates of “long-term” success, which is at most watched over 5 years, and almost nothing for rates past that time period (3 years is really even the limit of most “long-term” studies). Evidence also shows that not only do people who diet tend to gain back what they lost, but they gain more on top of that.

So if I had never dieted, I’d most likely just be at my previous “heaviest,” but not the 20 pounds more than that that I am now. I might even be 10 or more pounds below that. And I’d have saved myself a lot of unnecessary work, focus and energy that could have gone to something more productive. I don’t know if you’ve been in this situation or not (likelihood is many of you have been), but this realization absolutely OUTRAGES me.

Brown writes this:

(An) oft-repeated lie about weight and health is that dieting makes us thinner and healthier. At the very least, we consider dieting benign, something that can’t hurt us even if it doesn’t really help. But the truth is, dieting is actually harmful for many of us for all sorts of reasons. And it doesn’t make most of us thinner or healthier. On the contrary.

And she says this: a 2007 investigation (as one example) confirmed that diets don’t work. “The mind-boggling element here is that we’ve known diets don’t work for a long time, and so has the medical establishment.” But still society at large, doctors, individuals … we all think they can work if people just are motivated enough, have enough willpower, work hard enough. And that big fat lie is causing us health problems. Just think: doctors who are all encouraging patients to lose weight may very well be making their patients’ health problems WORSE.

Here are some sobering points Brown tells us:

  • “Dieting nearly always makes people heavier over time. In one study of Finnish twins, the more diets people went on, the higher their risk of becoming overweight and the faster they gained weight later in life.”
  • “Dieters tend to have higher levels of cortisol, sometimes called ‘the stress hormone,’ and free fatty acids, and dieters tend to exhibit diminished executive function, (‘strained bandwidth’), maybe because using so much mental energy thinking, worrying, and negotiating about food choices leaves them too distracted to think about much else” — which in turn actually causes us to gain more weight.
  • Dieting actually has been shown in studies to lead to binge eating. It’s not just psychological, either; physiology on various levels causes us to eat more after dieting, reversing all our work (brain circuitry even changes!).
  • ”An ever-growing body of research suggests that weight cycling, or yo-yo dieting, correlates with higher levels of heart disease, impaired immune function, cardiometabolic risk, insulin resistance, triglycerides, hypertension, and abdominal fat accumulation.”
  • Studies have “found correlations between weight cycling and disordered eating, higher stress, lower well-being, and less confidence about food and eating. In other words, the more loops of the yo-yo you go around, the worse you feel about your weight, your eating, your very self.”
  • Each loop of the cycle then is harder. It’s tougher to drop the weight every go-round. Dieting changes metabolism. “People who have intentionally lost weight generally use about 15 percent fewer calories than non-dieters to perform exactly the same activities, which means they gain weight eating fewer calories than non-dieters.” As one research professor told Brown, “We know there’s some sort of derangement of the metabolic pathways, and that has a cascade effect on everything from the hormones involved with obesity to hunger.”

So people who feel fat or have been told they’re fat and need to lose weight feel “incredible shame.” Our whole culture reinforces that. Doctors reinforce that. And it’s not helping anyone. It’s not helping health; it’s not making anyone motivated; it’s not making us feel good; it’s a wicked prejudice that is still allowed. Feeling the outrage yet?

In the next few blog posts, I’ll focus on some of these last ideas and more.

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I love this tribute to Williams by Disney.

I love this tribute to Williams by Disney.

Four days after the devastating news of Robin Williams’ suicide, I’m still feeling the loss of someone I never even knew personally. Perhaps it’s because his genius acting work has been a part of my life pretty much ever since I can remember (oh, yes, I was watching when he first hit the airwaves with “Mork and Mindy”). I can mark important times in my life with what movie he was doing at the time; for instance, my husband and I saw “Aladdin” on our first date nearly 22 years ago. Even now, our family quotes from that movie.

But another part of the reason this event has affected me so deeply is that it strikes close to home. I started this blog to write, in part, about mental illness, to just put my own experience out there. And Williams’ death has had me thinking a great deal in relation to how I can understand it and how I want to be able to continue to share my feelings with others. There have been some poignant tributes and some spot-on blog posts and articles about suicide, about depression, about the almighty struggle some experience with their mental health. I don’t think I can do any better, but I can just share my viewpoint.

Just a few weeks ago, I participated in a study focusing on cognitive issues in women who have breast cancer (I was part of the control group). I was happy to do my part for science, even if I had to drive a few hours away to get to Stanford University. Since the study is looking at cognitive effects of cancer or the treatment for it, it included questions and assessments not only about impairment of cognitive processes overall but also about emotional status. Since I had indicated on the questionnaires and intake forms that I take medication for depression, the researcher who worked with me asked me at the end of our time a little bit about my feelings and opinions on it. She said she focuses on psychology and has noticed in her time studying it that there are still not nearly enough treatments available for depression and other mental illnesses. Some people in the blogosphere and media have wondered why Williams, for example, didn’t just “get help.”

Here’s the sad truth: there isn’t nearly enough adequate “help” out there, whether it’s in the form of medications and other medical interventions and treatments or it’s in the form of professionals and non-professionals who really are good at what they do and can give superior guidance.

There is still an epic shortage (in my experience and opinion) in the number of qualified professionals who can treat people from all economic and health-care-coverage situations. This is particularly true in the case of the number of doctors or other practitioners who specialize in and are licensed to provide medications. In my experience, for instance, there are three psychiatrists covered by my health insurance (which might also be the total of all the psychiatrists in my city), and only one is taking new patients. That one I didn’t particularly like, and it’s crucial to have a certain level of rapport with someone who’s treating you for your brain chemistry. So I was lucky enough to hear about another provider who ended up being a better fit for me, but her office is an hour’s drive from my home, and her practice is not covered by my insurance. I am also lucky enough to be able to afford paying out of pocket for her care. But what about those who don’t have insurance at all, who can’t afford out-of-pocket costs, who don’t have access to transportation, etc.? There are a LOT of people not being served.

Then we move on to the issue of actual treatments available, even when one has unlimited access to doctors, therapists, and whatever medical intervention is available. And as the researcher and I discussed a few weeks ago, there are far too few options. I’m on an antidepressant that’s worked well enough for me the past couple of years to get me to where I can cope adequately with life’s challenges without being taken down completely. But there have been times medications weren’t doing enough for me, and it was hard.

There have been at least the number of times I can count on one hand, and possibly up to two hands, moments I’ve been in the blackest and deepest abyss and felt suicidal, even if it was only briefly. And I could go on and on about how if you haven’t been there, you can’t possibly know what it’s like. Logically, in a part of my brain, I knew I didn’t want to hurt my loved ones, didn’t want to deprive them of me. (That’s addressing the “selfish act” observation…) But it was a very distant part of my brain and one that was clouded over by the overwhelming despair and hopelessness of my feelings. As I’ve written before, it’s those times and others that I now feel my brain chemistry betrayed me. And it’s a very weird, unnerving feeling to have your brain working against itself and yourself. Even though I could logically call to mind times I enjoyed life and felt fulfilled and useful and vital and important to others, to the world, I just didn’t FEEL it. And it became impossible to imagine or believe I would feel that way again.

No amount of love and support and encouraging words from others (assuming the best, that one does have that kind of support system — believe me, there are plenty who don’t have that, making things even worse) can make that feeling go away. If your brain chemistry is off, it’s off. And that’s why we absolutely MUST find more options to treat that chemistry. There are far too few options now.

I appreciated this one article on Mashable, for example, that asserted, “Finally, We’re Talking About Mental Illness Like Adults.” People have generally been very thoughtful this week as they’ve discussed Williams. I sincerely and strongly hope that this discussion can continue, that a few important good things may come from this tragedy: 1) Let’s stamp out the stigma for good. Let’s work towards a culture in which people who experience any kind of mental illness can talk openly about it without fear of being judged or misunderstood or mistreated. Let’s make it as easy to talk about as any other illness that’s more “physical.” 2) We need to push for more research into more varied medications. There are a number of drugs out there (but not nearly enough) that are made for the treatment of mental illnesses, but a lot of them are similar to each other and work the same way. Pharmaceutical companies need to branch out and work on far more kinds of medications that attack mental illnesses in different ways, from different directions, etc. 3) We need more doctors. We need more prescribing practitioners available everywhere to everyone. This will not only be the kind thing to do, but one that will contribute to reducing many other existing societal problems: homelessness, joblessness, some violent crimes.

These aren’t easily attainable goals. But we certainly need to work towards them. It will make a world of difference to millions.

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Yes, she lights up our lives just as she is, but any improvement for her would be great too.

Yes, she lights up our lives just as she is, but any improvement for her would be great too.

I have a child with Down syndrome, but I’m not involved in the “community” in any way at this stage of our lives. (When she was little, I was on the board of directors of the local Arc, which advocates for and serves people with disabilities, but that’s pretty much been the extent of my activism or involvement.) I get a monthly email from the National Down Syndrome Society (or is it Congress? see: I don’t pay a lot of attention), and I sometimes read it. But generally, I don’t pay a lot of attention to the latest news.

This month, I’m late to the party in hearing about this latest bombshell of research: scientists have found a way to “silence” the extra chromosome that causes trisomy 21 in the lab.

Whoa, dude.

I’m still trying to get a handle on what the research really means. But essentially, it could mean there could be some kind of treatment developed in the future to help reverse some of the symptoms associated with people having a whole extra chromosome. Biggies: maybe reducing the likelihood of heart problems or even the cognitive delays that affect all people with Down’s. Apparently, it couldn’t “cure” DS before birth, but it would be a treatment sometime during a person’s life.

Of course, people who have children or other family members with Down syndrome, or who are self-advocates, have varying opinions about this news. Some worry that “curing” DS would remove a valuable segment of the population that arguably helps teach others about love and understanding.

Here’s my take: if it’s possible to give my daughter a better life, I’m all for it. Of course, I love her just the way she is, and I love how she is just herself and how she contributes in her unique way to our family. But I have every confidence she would be just as wonderful and a delightful contribution to our family and to the community if she didn’t have Down’s. I am not actively seeking or hoping for a cure. No, but if this research were to lead to some improvement in her life, even a drastic change, I’d still take it. If it allowed her to be able to (finally) understand math, for heaven’s sake, I’d take it. Why not?

I don’t expect that this research will lead to any real change or treatment within her lifetime, really. But in the land of what-if’s, I’m firmly on the side of taking a cure. I don’t think Down’s makes her the delightful, amazing kid she is; I think she’s just that person anyway. And if she could lead an even more productive and healthy life, I’d let her. Doesn’t every parent want the best for their child? I know I do.

As for the idea of taking away a whole “culture,” I still feel there are plenty of other people with disabilities of varying types that still teach us that extra love and compassion. I don’t see us curing any of those things wholesale. It would just be a strange kind of selfish to just keep people with a disability disabled if they didn’t have to be, just so we could have another way to help people be compassionate. That just seems upside-down and weird to me.

I’ll be interested to see what comes of this research. I won’t hold my breath for a cure or any real life-changing treatment from it. But it’ll certainly be interesting to see what happens.

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Apparently, the world needs studies to “prove” just about anything. Troll the Internet and you’ll find some great examples, both “duh” ones and ridiculous ones (“clothing keeps you warm” or “soap operas lack accuracy”). The latest I read about today regards parenting.

New studies now refute some previous studies (and isn’t THAT typical as well?) that indicated that parenting made couples unhappier than their childless peers. Now, several are saying that “parenting makes you (relatively) happier.”

I’ve thought about this for, well, about 16 years now. First, I think I can say as a parent, I can speak from both perspectives: as a wife without children and a wife with children, because I was married for almost three years before I had my first child. So I know the difference. Honestly, can people who have chosen not to have children speak from both perspectives? No.

But on to my opinions on this subject. I think that there are days I’d say, yep, parenting can be the pits. It’s sometimes miserable. I was just talking with my 16-year-old a few days ago about the stage of parenting infants and how it can just drive you to sheer desperation. Those early months in which you’re constantly being awakened at night and during the naps you MIGHT be able to try to take during the day are miserable. They’re foggy and hazy and overcast by exhaustion. I don’t do well on small amounts of sleep, and while I was eager to get up and take care of my babies for the first few weeks, my energy and enthusiasm dimmed a bit over time as my sleep meter went down into negative numbers. The sleep loss alone can turn you into a zombie, hungry for energy. Add to that the irritants of incessant crying or fussiness and the huge demand one little baby can create, and yeah, I felt desperate. I can still remember that feeling even now, it was just so strong and overpowering, so much that I simply can’t put it into words. Holding and putting down and picking up again an infant who’s overtired or gassy or just doesn’t like to be put down can make one go quickly insane. Doing that four times? Insanity, indeed.

And that’s only the first months of each new life. Then there are the “terrible twos” and the days they say “no” over and over and throw fits or scratch pictures into the surface of your new wood table with the little tab from an aluminum can (that was merely a week ago with my 5-year-old…). There are the years where you’re in and out of the car, ferrying children to and from school and activities. … I couldn’t possibly keep this post to a reasonable length if I went into even a few examples of each age and stage. Other parents know what I’m talking about here, and non-parents have heard many of the “horror” stories.

But at the same time, I have felt my most sublime joy holding or watching my children. Just this week, I stretched out in my recliner on a Sunday evening after the younger three kids were in bed and invited my oldest to climb in next to me. We cuddled and talked for an hour, which wasn’t what I had planned, but it was wonderful. I don’t consider myself a super-emotional person, but just thinking about it right now makes me a little teary-eyed, it was so perfect. And as much as I remember those days of exhaustion and desperation with that same kid a mere 15 to 15 1/2 years ago (she was a very demanding baby, and there were many times I thought I couldn’t wait for her to grow up), I would not trade away that hour in the cozy chair to save myself those many, many hours of struggle.

I think frequently of a scripture in my faith. A father is talking to his sons and explaining life, starting with the story of Adam and Eve. That first couple could have stayed in the Garden of Eden (in fact, many people think they should have), but if they had, they would have not known the transcendent joys of life. As this prophet put it: “And they would have had no children; wherefore they would have remained in a state of innocence, having no joy, for they knew no misery; doing no good, for they knew no sin. But behold, all things have been done in the wisdom of him who knoweth all things. Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy.”

Yep, the studies are right: parenting can induce misery. And the studies that show parenting can lead to great happiness are right too. As that same chapter says, very wisely: “For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things.” You can’t experience true joy without experiencing misery. You can’t be happy to eat if you’ve never been hungry. And on and on.

Smack in the middle of parenting, if a researcher comes in and asks a few questions on any given day, in one slice of time, the odds are that researcher is going to find that parent frazzled. It’s unlikely he or she will find that mom or dad right in the middle of a sublime moment of happiness. But just because there are more moments of craziness than not doesn’t diminish the importance and amazingness of the moments of joy. And that’s true with everything in life; parenting is just one example. Anything great that requires hard work and sacrifice is worth that work and sacrifice, but don’t ask those people about how great it is while they’re in the middle of buckling down and sweating and crying and pouring their whole selves into the work.

No, I’m not going to go on and on about how amazing parenting is, and be a rah-rah cheerleader about it. I’m a realist in many ways, but I’m also an optimist. I’m not going to sugar-coat, but I will be happy to share both sides of the parenting coin, the hard work and the beauty. If others choose not to go through the experience because they don’t want the bad parts, that’s their choice. But they will surely be deprived of a kind of joy that they couldn’t possibly experience any other way. That’s their choice too. For me, I’ll take the good and the bad, the misery and the joy, just to be able to savor those moments out of time that are almost beyond normal happiness. And I’ll try to laugh about the misery, because that’s the best I can do with it.

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