Wednesday, March 27, 2013

My Braces are Off...Not!

Do your best to rein in your desire. For if you desire something that isn’t within your own control, disappointment will surely follow; meanwhile, you will be neglecting the very things that are within your control that are worthy of desire. -Epictetus, Stoic philosopher, and Sharon Lebell, author(1)

All week, people have kept asking me if I'm looking forward to getting my braces off. I haven't been anticipating it at all: when I build something up in my mind, the reality hardly ever matches my expectations. Today was a perfect example of why anticipation is a bad habit.

I thought I was going to get my braces off today, but all my orthodontist took off was the wire on the brackets, which his assistant replaced with different wire on some of my teeth. Tomorrow, after the second part of my implant is put in, a different wire is going back on. In a few weeks, I'm going to have to get my braces off for my dentist to take a mold for a crown. I don't know what my dentists are going to do after that--I just show up when they tell me to. That, and my own thinking, are all I have any control over.

I'm not disappointed, though, because I wasn't looking forward to getting my braces off.

1. Epictetus; Lebell, Sharon (2013-02-05). The Art of Living: The Classical Manual on Virtue, Happiness, and Effectiveness (Kindle Locations 135-137). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Vitamin B Deficiency: Latest Wheat-Free Scare Tactic Debunked

Have you heard the latest scare tactic against wheat-free eating? A wheat free diet will give you vitamin B deficiencies. Since wheat flour is fortified with B vitamins, substituting wheat-free food will make you sick because wheat-free flour isn't fortified, and bread and cereals are such a major source of B vitamins, says Holly Strawbridge, Executive Editor of Harvard Health Letter. Dietitian Kristi King over at the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics agrees. Are they right? Let's look at the evidence.

How much vitamin B is in, say, a slice of wheat bread? The yellow row in the table has the answer; the top row is the recommended daily intake of the vitamins. (Click the lower right corner to enlarge)

There's NO vitamin B6 or B12 in the bread, and compared to the recommended daily intake levels, there's only a little bit of the other vitamins.  Fortified cereals have more vitamins, but (as with bread) the B vitamins are added by law because refined wheat flour is stripped of nutrients. Wheat flour is empty calories with added vitamins.

However, a diet high in grains is recommended by the USDA, not forward thinkers like cardiologist Dr. William Davis, paleontologist Dr. Loren Cordain and others in the low-carb and paleo camps who recommend ditching the wheat. They specifically recommend a diet of real foods like those in the table: meat, eggs, nuts, fish, and vegetables. Some of the foods have way more B vitamins than bread (plus other nutrients not in the table). Almost everything has more B6 and riboflavin, and practically everything from an animal has more niacin and B12. If you're concerned about folate, you'll get over three times more by eating a hamburger patty and a cup of romaine lettuce than a slice of enriched wheat bread.

Yes, a wheat-free diet of junk food can give you nutritional deficiencies. (Does anyone old enough to buy her own groceries need to consult a nutritionist to find this out?) But unless you're living on Wheaties, a variety of plant and animal foods will probably provide more B vitamins than a diet based on wheat flour.

 Note: the part about pellagra has been deleted since the disease has to do with improperly prepared corn flour, not wheat flour.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Putting the Elephant to Sleep

They say everyone has a limit, a point where they sink so low that they can't go on denying they have a problem. I hit bottom last week when (you'd better sit down for this) I was too tired to go salsa dancing two Fridays in a row. My problem is that I always go to bed too late, and have to get up at 6:40 to go to work. Previously, going out on Sunday nights, I could catch up on sleep over the weekend, feel fine Monday morning, and tell myself I could get by on six hours' sleep. But having to cancel plans made me face up to reality.

The usual suggestions for getting enough sleep don't work for me. Reading? Part of job is proofreading financial statements and valuation report: if reading those doesn't put you to sleep, nothing will. Going to bed the same time every night? That's fine if you want to party with senior citizens; for the rest of us, things are just getting going and everyone's loose and in the flow at 10:00. Carbs to make me sleepy? That'll just lead to a whole new set of problems. Dimming the lights or wearing sunglasses? I'll trip over the dog. As for changing the bedroom (getting rid of the TV, covering the LED digital clock, getting black-out shades, etc.) I don't have a TV in my room, and the clock and city light that seeps through the blinds don't bother me. I can sleep like a corpse on a crowded city bus. My problem is getting to bed, not sleeping in it.

Thinking of this reminded me of something that Dr. Michael Eades said:

Listening to your body is giving the elephant free rein.(1)

The elephant?

Dr. [Jonathan] Haidt describes our minds and bodies (and by bodies he means not just our corporeal bodies but the working mechanisms of our bodies) as being akin to a rider on the back of an elephant.  Our conscious, thinking minds he casts in the role of the rider, and the rest of us as the elephant.  The rider can control the elephant as long as the elephant wants to be controlled.  And if the elephant is okay with being steered and directed, then to all appearances, the rider is in control.  But, if the elephant has other ideas, the rider basically just goes along for the ride.(2)

Dr. Eades is referring to the book The Happiness Hypothesis by Dr. Jonathan Haidt. I happened to have a book checked out that referred to the same idea called Switch: How to Change Things when Change is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath. Their metaphor for change is directing the rider, motivating the elephant, and shaping the path.

One trick for directing the rider is "finding the bright spots: investigate what's working and clone it."(3) Well, I got to bed early on vacation in San Diego. There was no TV or computer in my room. Being winter, it was cold outside and sunset came early, so I didn't want to be out late. I walked a lot during the day. Despite all the noise, bright light from the street, waking up around 5:30 AM and even leaving the building during a fire alarm one night, I never woke up tired.

Motivating the elephant? Easy: dancing on Fridays. Hard: the payoff is up to a week away. But like people whose vanity keeps their love of carbs in check, maybe my vanity (tied to dancing) could keep my bedtime in check. Strangely, the chapter on vanity in the book The Narcissism Epidemic by Jean Twenge and Keith Campbell just made me want to be more vain than I already am. (I wonder what the authors would think of the song "I Wanna do your Makeup," about someone who generously wants to help a friend indulge her vanity.) So did the documentary The Great Happiness Space, even though nobody looked very happy. (Note: the documentary is not for kids.)

Shaping the path: one trick is to build a habit."When a behavior is habitual, it's 'free', it doesn't tax the Rider." The habit I've chosen is to start getting ready for bed by 9:00, the aim being to be in bed by 10:30 (10:00 if I got to bed late the night before). If I'm ready before bedtime, I can stay up and do housework or read. No computer games or internet.

I've been at it for a few days, and so far, it's working.

1. Tips & tricks for starting (or restarting) low-carb Pt I by Michael Eades. May 30, 2011.
2. Why low-carb is harder the second time around, part II by Michael Eades. January 22, 2009.
3. Switch: How to Change Things when Change is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath. p. 259. 2010, Broadway Books, New York.
4. Ibid.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The End is Near: Getting Rid of my Braces

What do you get when you put a dentist, an oral surgeon and an orthodontist together? I'm hoping I'll get a final resolution to my dental injuries.

Regular readers may recall my bike accident from last summer, when I fell on the pavement and broke my eye tooth, knocked two other teeth out of place and fractured my arm. I got braces a few days later to straighten out my displaced teeth and make room for a dental implant. The first part of my dental implant is in place and healed, and a temporary tooth is attached to my braces; in a few weeks I'll get the second part of the implant in, and a few weeks after that, my dentist will take a mold of my teeth to make a crown.

What this also means is that I'll soon be getting rid of my braces. They can't take a mold of my teeth with braces on them, so my dentist plans to attach a temporary tooth to the adjoining teeth right after my next surgery. We can't just leave a gap in there. First, I don't want to go around missing a tooth. Second, the surrounding teeth might drift out of place--and there's barely enough room for a crown as it is. If all goes according to plan, my orthodontist will take all this metal out of my mouth in a few weeks.

I was so happy at the thought of getting rid of my braces that I had a celebratory hamburger (without the bun). I may have another one for breakfast.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Machiavellians & Narcissists: More & More of Them

"Machiavellian: A person who is charming on the surface, a genius at sucking up to power, but capable of mind-boggling acts of deceit for control or personal gain."(1)

"Understanding the narcissism epidemic is important because its long-term consequences are destructive to society. American culture's focus on self-admiration has caused a flight from reality to the land of grandiose fantasy."(2)

Exasperating to deal with and dangerous when gullible people believe them, narcissists and Machiavellians really have become more common since the beginning of agriculture. There are several reasons--Machiavellians  producing more offspring and passing on their traits; culture; parenting practices; even viruses. I can only imagine life as a hunter-gatherer, but possibly, living such a life among 50 to 150 people, some who'd known you all your life, meant facing reality every day and knowing who you were and what you could do. Nevertheless, the occasional hunter-gatherer came to be a legend in his own mind. Barbara Oakley writes in Evil Genes,

Psychopathic or self-serving Machiavellian behavior would be obvious in such a restricted environment and would be difficult to tolerate long-term. There is evidence that when such behavior arose in those small, ancestral nomadic groups, it was eliminated in straightforward fashion. Harvard anthropologist Jane Murphy, for example, notes that the Yupic-speaking Eskimos of northwest Alaska have a word, kunlangeta, which means "his mind knows what to do but he does not do it."

....One Eskimo among the 499 on their island was called kunlangeta. When asked what would have happened to such a person traditionally, an Eskimo said that probably "somebody would have pushed him off the ice when nobody else was looking."(3)

Murphy goes on to describe a similar word, arankan, used by the Yorubas of Africa. It is applied to a person who always goes his own way regardless of others, who is uncooperative, full of malice, and bullheaded. Interestingly, neither kunlangeta nor arankan were thought to be curable by native healers. Psychopathy is rare in those settings, notes psychologist David Cooke, who has studied psychopathy across cultures. (4)(5)
The narcissists might have also been subject to natural selection: an inflated sense of one's abilities could be deadly when hunting animals that fought back or when gathering on unknown terrain. And as philosopher Diana Hsieh has observed, no fact is separate from all others: tell yourself one lie, and you have to ignore or explain away evidence to the contrary to keep up the deception. The lies become a bad habit.(6) They dumb you down. "Mistakes were Made, but not by Me," goes the title of one aptly named book on the subject.

What can most of us do about narcissists and Machiavellians you don't have any authority over? Probably just protect ourselves. Charlie Munger, before he was Warren Buffett's business partner, "bought a dented yellow Pontiac with a bad paint job 'to discourage gold-diggers'."(7) (The old-fashioned virtue of modesty might have really been enlightened self-interest.) Gavin DeBecker, a specialist in security issues, notes in The Gift of Fear that charm is a skill, not a virtue. Miss Manners, who says readers often ask her how to politely get others to pay for their wedding or trip or furniture, says there isn't any polite way, and guests or others don't have to pony up. Probably, driving a beater and withholding your money isn't as satisfying as shoving a kunlangeta off the ice. But, hopefully not being a Machiavellian yourself, you won't have to live with any guilt.

1. Evil Genes by Barbara Oakley. 2007, Prometheus Books, New York. P. 409.
2. "Me Me Me! America's Narcissism Epidemic" Excerpt from The Narcissism Epidemic by Jean M. Twenge and W. Keith Campbell.
3. JM Murphy, "Psychiatric Labeling in Cross-Cultural Perspective," Science 141 (1976): 1019-28.
4. Nicholas Wade, Before the Dawn: Recovering the Lost History of our Ancestors. New York: Penguin Press, 2006, p. 128.
5. Evil Genes, p. 265.
6. "Dursley Duplicity" by Diana Mertz Hsieh. Harry Potter and Philosophy. 2003.
7. Snowball by Alice Schroeder. Random House: 2008. Page 225.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Lazy Brown Dog? Not Paleo Dog!

"If your dog is fat, you're not getting enough exercise."

Baloney! It's just one more piece of cute conventional wisdom that doesn't bear out in real life. My dog gets more exercise than I do, and I'm the thin one. She, if anything, eats the healthier diet: home cooked, all paleo, very low carb, no junk or grains. I control her portions, but Molly's an easy gainer.

I don't force her to exercise: after I come home from work and pet her, the first thing she does is jump on the treadmill. Sundays, she bugs me until we go for a walk, a swim, or a trip to the dog park.

Trucking along on the treadmill last week.
Drying her face on the carpet today after a long walk in Confluence Park and (for the first time) swimming across the South Platte River and back.
 A +1 to any reader under age 40 who knows where the phrase "lazy brown dog" comes from. Hint: ask Mom, Grandma or anyone else who didn't grow up with a computer.