Old ‘n moldy…or golden oldie? It’s all in the mind

Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.

–Mark Twain

 

Seventy!

How the hell did this happen?

One day at a time for 25,568 days is how.

Deep in my genes — if not my jeans — I’m still 15. I think like an adolescent and sometimes act the same way, which is often fun for me. Not so often for my wife.

I’m thrilled I don’t look 70 – at least to my mind’s eye. But my back, hips and addled brain scream the contrary. I grunt when I stand up and walk the first 10 steps as if my tie is caught in my fly.

Time to accept the reality that my body has a mind of its own?

Nah!

Ain’t gonna happen. I’m:

  1. a) Too stubborn (a classic Taurean trait);
  2. b) Too dumb (a cultivated misbelief system); and
  3. c) Too deep in denial (see “a)” and “b)”).

Fact is, I’m proud of my diagnosis of PPS (Peter Pan Syndrome). I don’t want to grow up because, well, for me to grow up means it’s time to put me down.

Again, to my wife’s chagrin, I still enjoy being carefree despite the world being trouble-full. I continue to subscribe to the philosophy of that great thinker, Alfred E. Neuman: “What, me worry?”.

Wow! Peter Pan and Alfred E. cohabitating blithely in my head. No wonder I’m so messed up. In truth, they’re just two members of the committee in my cranium – joined by Bo Diddly (my crown prince of Rock ‘n Roll), George Carlin (king of twisted wordplay) and Eugene McCarthy (the gentleman contrarian from my hippie days).

That’s quite a crew to be yammering all at once.

-0-

Cutesy intro, Gil. Now what do you really want to say about starting your eighth decade?

-0-

Funny, it’s been two months since I wrote that last sentence. Maybe it’s because I don’t want to confront the fast-advancing years. Or, more concisely, maybe I’m scared crap.

-0-

And now it’s been two more months since pecking out the previous paragraph…and I still haven’t gotten any younger. What’s occurred to me during these interstitials is that many achievers did some of their best work after stubbing their toes on the septuagenarial threshold.

A quick Internet search uncovered a cavalcade of stars age 70 and beyond. My list is by no means exhaustive or inclusive. Rather, it represents only those oldsters whose names fired across my atrophying synapses.

Let’s start small and end big.

Dearest to my heart is Ed Whitlock, the Running Machine, who — AT AGE 85 — set an age category record last spring by cruising through a half-marathon (13.1 miles) in 1:50:47. That’s an average speed of 8:27 per mile. Ed holds 80 distance-running age-category marks, including a marathon in 2:54:48 at age 73. The only human ever to run a sub-three-hour marathon after age 70, Ed achieved the feat three times, which blows the mind of this old runner, whose best time at 26.2 miles was 3:03 – at age 43!

 

Men do not quit playing because they grow old; they grow old because they quit playing.

–Oliver Wendell Holmes

 

Keeping in the “old athlete” vein, Sweden’s Oscar Swahn won three Olympic “deer shooting” gold medals at the turn of the 20th century while in his 60s and bagged a silver at age 72 in the 1920 Games (no actual deer were harmed in the competition).

All these dry facts making you hungry for some meatier info?

Let’s look at three food industry moguls who made gravy after age 70. Colonel Harlan Sanders accrued his KFC fortune in his dotage, as did McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc and cookie master, Famous Amos. Then there’s the doyenne of cooking shows, Julia Child, whose delightfully ditzy demeanor was just the recipe for keeping her on television into her 70s.

The wisdom of advancing age, along with entrepreneurial spirit, led to two septuagenarians authoring enduring reference books several centuries ago. Edmund (“According To”) Hoyle wrote A Short Treatise on the Game of Whist in 1742 at age 70, and later penned books on rules for other card games and backgammon. Then there was Peter Mark Roget, who compiled his seminal Thesaurus of English Words in 1852 at age 73.

Excellence in the arts transcends age as Anna May Roberston (but you can call her, Grandma) Moses proved when she began her famous painting career at age 78. In 1952, at 92, she wrote her autobiography, My Life’s History. She lived to 101.

Also no slouch was Wallace Stevens, who received a Pulitzer Prize in 1955, at age 76, for his Collected Poems.  Reading his whimsical, The Emperor of Ice Cream, in college helped me reconsider the value of poetry.

In the field of acting, it seems no one ever retires. Actors’ onscreen roles stretch from child star, to leading lady/man, to crotchety or wise senior citizen.

For example Henry Fonda and Katherine Hepburn, two “A Listers” in their prime years, won Oscars for their senior moments in On Golden Pond (Hank was 76; Kate 74). And Jessica Tandy was 80 when she won her Academy Award bauble for Driving Miss Daisy.

But George Burns cops the acting geezer prize for me. He was an Oscar winner at 80 for his supporting actor role in The Sunshine Boys and a box-office magnet with his Oh God films till the time of his death at age 100. Oh, and one more ageless wonder to mention here: seven-time Emmy winner Betty White, who remains ubiquitous at 94.

Currently, four “Septuas” are doing star turns in the acclaimed Netflix series, Grace and Frankie (Jane Fonda, 78; Lily Tomlin 76; Martin Sheen 76; Sam Waterson, 75).

And speaking of adding a wrinkle to TV, how about Dr. Ruth Westheimer, who carried the sexual revolution right into our homes when she was in her 70s. This lovably flaky lady talked frankly to us every week in our own bedrooms about all sorts of formerly verboten topics. She continued to teach at Yale into her 80s.

The music industry is another place where getting older is no hindrance. Granted, the voices sound throatier and cracklier, but it’s nostalgia, not harmony, that keeps these troopers in the limelight. Tony Bennett, still warbling at 90, immediately comes to mind. Then there’s a host of Baby Boomer favorites – from McCartney and the Stones to Dylan and Dolly – who are still recording and touring before packed houses.

We dinosaurs also have rocked the fields of social action and politics over the centuries. Let’s begin with that bellwether of liberty himself, Ben Franklin. This jack of all trades was the eldest signer of the Declaration of Independence at age 70, negotiated the Treaty of Paris that ended the Revolutionary War at 77 and inked his name to the U. S. Constitution at 81.

And how about a few of the world leaders who took the helm at a time when most were well into retirement, including:

  • Golda Meir, known as ”The Iron Lady”, who served as Israel’s prime minister from ages 70-76;
  • Ronald Reagan, who became president 17 days before his 70th birthday and left office 17 days before his 78th birthday; and
  • Nelson Mandela, who outlasted a 29-year prison sentence to lead South Africa away from apartheid, governing from age 75 till just before his 81st

This old-age odyssey – relativity speaking – can’t end without a few sentences about the incomparable Albert Einstein. I won’t hazard to sum up his extraordinary contributions here. But I will note how impressed I was to learn that he joined the NAACP in 1947 at age 68 and, in later correspondence with early civil rights giants, W. E. B. Du Bois and Paul Robeson, likened the Jews’ treatment in Germany to that of African Americans in the United States.  Until the time of his death at 76, Einstein continued to research and theorize about wormholes, black holes, time travel and the creation of the universe. What a dude!

I’m sure you have your own list of plus-70 achievers. The ones have thought of help me put my 70th birthday in perspective. It’s a means of self-motivation to remind myself that, although life may not begin at 70, there’s still a passel of good years left, as long as I choose to keep on keepin’ on.

A man is not old until regrets take the place of dreams.

–John Barrymore

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Pandas, Penguins and Elk, Oh My

Once upon a time I wrote for a living. That is, someone actually paid for me to tippy-tap on a keyboard. In my dotage, however, I’ll find any excuse to give my writing away.

Such is the case with the items below.

For the past decade , I have helped out my dear friend, Jim Koplow, with blurbs to go along with the dice games he creates and sells to gift shops and National Parks.

I found a number of fun facts about the latest batch of games Jim has produced and I thought you’d enjoy  reading about pandas, penguins and elk as well as the history of historic Route 66 and the development and manufacture of cheese in three areas of the U.S.

If you want to get more information on the individual games or the entire line of Jim’s entertaining products, please visit http://www.koplowgames.com/

-0-

 

Panda

Class: Mammalia

Order: Carnivora

Family: Ursidae

Genus and Species: Ailuropoda melanoleuca

 

Giant pandas are shy members of the bear family who live alone exclusively in the mountainous regions of central China. The panda population has increased 17 percent in the past decade to more than 1850, but the species remains endangered.

Pandas were meat eaters (carnivores) early in their evolution but adapted to the environment over the centuries and are now exclusively plant eaters (herbivores). They are picky eaters; 99 percent of their diet consists of bamboo found in their habitat at elevations of 5,000-10,000 feet. They eat 20-40 pounds of bamboo a day.

They are similar in size to the black bear – 2-3 feet tall at the shoulder, while on all four legs and 4-6 feet long, and weighing 220-250 pounds. They have distinctive coloring –black on the ears, around the eyes, muzzle (tip of the nose), shoulders and legs. The rest of the body is  white. Their coloring helps panda’s blend into the rocky, snowy mountainsides where they live

Giant pandas, however, have a more gentle, playful nature than other bears and are not generally aggressive. Females give birth to one, and occasionally, two cubs at a time. Cubs stay close to mom for up to three years. Pandas have lived to age 35 in zoos; their lifespan in the wild is assumed to be shorter.

Elk

Class: Mammalia

Order: Artiodactyla

Family: Cervidae

Genus and Species: Cervus Elaphus

Confused about the difference between an elk and a moose? Here’s why.

European settlers in North America who first encountered this large member of the deer family were familiar only with the smaller red deer of their homeland. As a result they named the animal “elk”, the European name for moose (which. In fact,  is much larger, with a long, wide face and broad, flat antlers). The native Shawnee and Cree name for elk is more accurate — wapiti, (“white rump”), which describes the light patch on the back of some species.

Varieties of this formidable beast are indigenous to North America and Siberia, although Elk have been introduced to Argentina, Australia and New Zealand, where they have flourished. The male Rocky Mountain elk, the largest species, can measure eight feet in length, stand nearly five feet tall at the shoulder, carry antlers spanning four feet and weigh more than 725 pounds. Males (bulls) shed their antlers in the early winter, after mating season, and grow new ones in the spring.

Elk live in single-sex herds for much of the year, which helps them ward of predators such as wolf and coyote packs, brown bears and cougars. Siberian elk can fall prey to tigers and leopards.

During mating season, called the rut, individual bulls will follow groups of as many as 20 females (cows) and set up a harem. To attract cows, the bull will make a bugling sound and roll in urine soaked mud, which serves as a perfume to attract the female. The bull protects the harem from other male elk and predators.  Cows give birth to one and, occasionally, two calves at a time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Penguins

Class: Aves

Order: Sphenisciformes

Family: Family

Genus and Species: Aptenodytes forsteri.

 

Penguins have been around for more than 35 million years, and once were as tall and heavy as human beings. Initially, they lived in warm climates, until the Antarctic broke off from the larger land mass and drifted to its current location at the bottom of the world. Taking penguins along for the ride.  In prehistoric times penguins were capable of flight. before evolution took over and adapted their wings into powerful flippers that allow them to fly underwater at speeds up to 15 mph.

Penguins waddle awkwardly on land but are much more agile at sea where they spend 75 percent of their life. In order to find fish and avoid predators, penguins’ eyes have adapted to change shape underwater to give them sharper vision.

The Emperor penguin – the largest species at nearly four feet tall and up to 88 pounds — can dive as deep as 1,875 feet below the surface and stay submerged for up to 22 minutes!

Of the 17-20 penguin species alive today, two-thirds live north of the Antarctic. All specesies reside in the Southern Hemisphere, although the tiny Galapagos penguin (19-20 inches tall), has been known to wander just north of the equator.

Male penguins incubate the females’ eggs by placing them on the tops of their feet and lowering their down feathers onto the eggs. During the incubation period, females return to the sea to regain the weight lost during laying season, then return as the eggs are hatching. Once the females return, the males head to the sea to restore up to 45 percent of their body fat lost while sitting motionless during the incubation period. Males and females typically stay with the same mate year after year.

Their “tuxedo” coloring serves to camouflage penguins from birds of prey soaring above and sharks, killer whales and leopard seals swimming below.

 

 

 

Route 66

Known as the Main Street of America, Historic US 66 was the first paved road built from the Midwest to the California Coast. The original route, which connected three existing highways, wound its way 2,448 miles from downtown Chicago, to St. Louis and through small towns across of Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona before ending in Los Angeles. It later was rerouted in some of the states to allow for faster travel and was lengthened so that it ended in sight of the Pacific Ocean.

This trailblazing path West took shape in 1857 when the U.S. Department of War ordered the Army Corps of Topographical Engineers to build a government-funded wagon route along the 35th parallel. It took another 81 years before the entire road finally was paved.

(Entrepreneurs Cyrus Avery of Tulsa, OK, and John Woodruff of Springfield, MO, lobbied Congress for this first national highway system to be built. After much wrangling, Avery pushed for the highway to be named U.S. 66, to reflect numerologists’ belief that the number represents optimism, harmony and community spirit.

Avery and Woodruff established the U.S. Highway 66 Association in 1927 to promote tourism along the road and, a year later, sponsored the “Bunion Derby”, a footrace from Los Angeles to New York City that traversed the span of Route 66 as part of the course.)

Because much of the highway was flat, it became a favorite route for truckers, and, as such, spawned many new businesses, including drive-in movies, gas stations, motels and restaurants, including the original McDonald’s in San Bernardino, CA.  The road itself had become a star by the early 1960s, with songs and a TV showed named after it.

Once the Interstate Highway system was constructed, however, the slower U.S. 66, which ambled through ss the Southwest, became increasingly obsolete, leading to many mom-and-pop businesses going bankrupt. The rundown town of Radiator Springs in the Pixar movie, Cars, was based on the plight of life along the mostly forgotten Route 66.

Finally, in 1985, six decades after its numerical designation was assigned, US 66 was decertified by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.

In recent years, however, nostalgic interest the early highway and its alternate bypasses has sparked a resurgence in some areas. Currently, 85 percent of the original route is still drivable and a number of states, including New Mexico (in Abuquerque and Tucumcari, for example) and Arizona (in Oatman, Kingman and Flagstaff, among other spots), have reenergized the special attractions along the road.

 

 

                                         Wisconsin Cheese

Wisconsin produces three billion pounds of cheese a year, making it the U.S. leader in domestic cheese.  Wisconsin creameries churn out 600 varieties of cheese products, accounting for more than 25 percent of the cheese sold in the states.

When European settlers came to Wisconsin in the early 1800s, they were attracted by the rolling pastures that were the remnants of the receding glaciers which covered the Midwest thousands of years earlier.

These early farmers were interested initially in growing their cash crop, wheat. They also kept a few cows to provide meat and milk. Turning milk into cheese to preserve it from spoiling was a task left to their wives and daughters.

Not surprisingly, it was a woman, Mrs. Anne Pickett who opened the first cheese factory in her kitchen near Lake Mills, WI, in 1841. She used milk from neighbors’ cows to start her cottage industry.

Hard winters and poor wheat crops finally led farmers to take cheese production more seriously. In 1864, Chester Hazen built the first free-standing cheese factory in Ladoga, near Fond du Lac. He would buy milk from neighboring farmers, process it and ship it out of state, as well as sell it locally.

Hazen’s success attracted cheesemakers from New York — the birthplace of manufactured cheese in America – as well Germans, who specialized in limburger, and Swiss, who made their own varieties of cheese. Eventually, cheesemakers from Italy, the Netherlands and other European countries brought their own skills and recipes to Wisconsin and later Wisconsonites invented their own brands, such as Colby and brick cheese.

The booming industry got a boost in 1872 with the formation of the Wisconsin Dairymen’s Association, which showed cheesemakers how to improve their cheese and helped them market the products out of state.

In 1885, one of the association’s founders, William D. Hoard, began publishing Hoard’s Dairyman, a newsletter in Jefferson County that brought legitimacy to cheesemaking as a profession. Today, Hoard’s is the nation’s leading dairy journal, reporting on advances and trends in the industry.

By 1910, Wisconsin had become known as The Dairy State and its cheese has been winning awards all over the world ever since. Currently , more than 10,000 dairy farms dot the Wisconsin landscape and there are more than 135 cheese plants in the state, many of which give tours.

A 2006 New York Times article said of Wisconsin: “Cheese is the state’s history, its pride, it’s self-deprecating, sometimes goofy, cheesehead approach to life.”

Today, Wisconsin residents, particularly Green Bay Packers fans, refer to themselves as Cheeseheads and many wear Cheesehead headgear to games. The nickname started as a derisive term that Germans gave to the Dutch during World War II. Chicago Bears fans adopted the insult in the late 1980s to taunt fans of the then-hapless Packers.

One Green Bay fan, Ralph Bruno, turned the slur on its head. He cut a piece of foam from his couch, decorated it and wore the “cheese wedge” hat to a game. His joke on himself led to him launching Foamation, now a huge company that manufactures a full line of Cheesehead products.

 

 

Vermont Cheese

Vermont farmers have been making cheese for nearly two centuries. The practice began as a way for individual dairy farmers to preserve excess milk, since they had no refrigeration methods.

Nearly every village had at least one cheesemaker and some had as many as six in the middle of the 19th century.  Manufacturers then would sell their products locally, as well as ship them by train to other locations.

By the 1880s, large factories began to appear in Vermont and, in 1912, a cooperative of dairy farmers formed Cabot Creameries in Cabot, VT, to manufacture and sell their cheese more efficiently. Today 1,200 dairy farms in throughout New England and New York make up the Cabot cooperative, which sells its brand nationwide and elsewhere in the world.

But many other cheesemakers also thrive in the Green Mountain State. A total of 46 cheesemakers produce 150 varieties of artisan cheese; 43 of them are along the 280-mile Vermont Cheese trail. Twelve of these factories are open for tours and others will schedule visits by appointment.

The Vermont Cheesemakers Festival is held yearly at Shelburne Farms in Shelburne, featuring products to sample and purchase.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tillamook County, OR, Cheese

 

The Tillamook Valley in Northwest Oregon offered the perfect climate for the first settlers in the 1850s. The moist climate and abundance of rain along the Pacific Coast made dairy farming a natural fit.  And once residents worked together to build a schooner, the Morning Star, in 1855, they had a way to ship their milk products that was quicker and more efficient than the rutted wagon trails. The Morning Star logo has appeared on every package of Tillamook cheese ever since.

Cheesemaking blossomed into an industry in the valley when, in 1894, residents hired Canadian Peter McIntosh away from a Washington cheese factory. He taught the farmers how to make cheddar and, a decade later, McIntosh’s all natural cheese won its first award. His prize-winning recipe remains the hallmark of the Tillamook brand today.

The next big step came in 1909. when several creameries joined to form the Tillamook County Creamery Association. The Tillamook brand has grown ever since; it has won more than 700 awards and offers a full line of dairy products, including ice cream and yogurt. Today, more than 400 farm families belong to the Association, which proudly notes in its literature that they are: “Tillamook farmers not shareholders.

The factory in Tillamook is open for tours.

 

 

 

 

 

The History of Cheese

Evidence of cheesemaking in Switzerland dates back as far as 8,000 years and solid proof of dairy farming can be traced to 6,000 years ago, where native people of the Sahara appeared to have made hard, salted cheese that would survive in the desert sun.

One ancient legend claims cheese was discovered accidentally. According to the story, an Arabian merchant was traveling across the desert carrying milk stored in the pouch made from a sheep stomach. The natural enzyme rennet from the animal’s stomach lining, combined with the extreme heat, caused the milk to separate into solid curd and liquid whey. When the traveler opened his pouch at night, he found that the whey satisfied his thirst and the curd (cheese) had a delicious, nutty flavor to curb his hunger.

Whatever the origins, it is clear that, by 3,000 years ago, cheesemaking was an accepted procedure in Asia, as is recorded in the cuneiform writings of the Sumerians. Their knowledge was brought to Europe and became well established in Ancient Greece as well as in parts of the Roman Empire.

Cheesemaking was practiced by monks throughout Europe, including in a monastery in the Po valley in Italy, where Gorgonzola was first made in 879 AD. Ancient records also show that Roquefort cheese first was made at the monastery in Conques, France, as early as 1070.

The craft flourished, with many new varieties being created, over the next six centuries in Italy, France, Switzerland, Germany and elsewhere. Cheesemaking know-how crossed the Atlantic on the Mayflower with the Pilgrims in 1620.  They adapted the procedure to the climate and available grasslands of the New World over the next two hundred years, making cheese in their homes. The first cheese factory in the United States was opened in 1851 in Oneida County, NY, by  a farmer named Jesse Williams.

With Westward expansion, cheese factories sprang up in throughout the Midwest, especially in Wisconsin, where grazing conditions were ideal. By 1880 there were 3,923 dairy factories nationwide producing 216 million pounds of cheese.

Today, The United States leads the world in cheese production, averaging approximately 11 billion pounds annually!

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

So What Did I Expect?

I know the key to happiness: Expect nothing.

Notice I didn’t say I’ve found the key to happiness. That’s because I sometimes still expect things to turn out the way I want them to.

But life is what happens while we’re making other plans and we –specifically, I – have to accept that fact or be perpetually unhappy. Even miserable.

I confront my own expectations throughout each day. Occasionally they get met. Most often they don’t.

*Call someone on the phone. The person doesn’t answer.

* Go to the store. The item I want is out of stock.

* Ask for a favor. My friend can’t/won’t do it, or, worst, doesn’t do it the way I want it done.

* Plan on getting paid. Sorry, not today.

I’ve worked hard in recent years on letting go of expectations. The result is I am less agitated and even serene when I don’t get what I want on demand, most of the time.

ut I have yet to make peace with the reality that each passing day brings a “new normal” in my physical abilities. I keep thinking that my body can handle the same abuse I put it through five, 10, 20 years ago.

Uh-uh.

Just yesterday, I helped out two fellow owners in my condo development who were digging a trench to lay wiring for a lighting system. Perfect, I said to myself. I’ll get some exercise and give these “old guys” a break.

Within a very few minutes of swinging the mattock (ground-breaking tool), I had ripped open a blister on one hand. An hour later, I was sweating buckets and fairly sore.

This morning I awoke with a stiff neck and throbbing quadriceps muscles. By 2 p.m., I’d already napped for 90 minutes. Now I’m so incapacitated that the only things I can lift are two fingers to tap out this short trifle.

What I’m just now starting to understand is that maybe this is the grand plan for me today. I’ve been avoiding writing for many months and, perhaps, this is what I’m supposed to be doing with my time.

It’s NOT what I expected to do. And the piece is much shorter than what I expected to write. But it’s all I’ve got in me.

Hmm. Double hmm.

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Eating over What’s Eating Us

I wrote the following blog for the latest issue of Innovative Health Magazine/Florida edition. It is reprinted here with permission of my publisher — gp

Gil Peters, LMHC, LADC-1, CADC II

Staying healthy is not as easy as a-b-c. First, we have to solve for “y”, or, more precisely, why. As in: Why do we repeatedly choose actions and behaviors that are harmful to ourselves?

But before we can solve this problem, we have to enlarge the definition of “healthy” to include emotional well-being and a sense of purpose to life.

First of all, I believe — based on personal experience as much as on scientific research – that physical health is inextricably tied to our mental and spiritual fitness, and that how we deal with stress plays a key role in wellness and illness. For example:

  • Persons who speak their minds calmly, then let go of resentments tend to live longer.
  • Individuals who explode at perceived injustices and get easily upset in difficult situations are far more likely to suffer heart-related episodes.
  • Those who stoically swallow their feelings rather than express them are much more prone to develop cancer (1, 2).

As a licensed dual diagnosis counselor whose clients present with co-morbid psychological and addiction issues, I’ve had a front-row seat to the corrosive effects of unresolved trauma, and even “garden variety” emotional upsets and disturbances.

Individuals who internalize what we call “Big T” and “little t” traumas tend to battle anxiety, depression or both repeatedly until and unless they seek help. And those who act out their Traumas/traumas tend to get ensnared in a smorgasbord of addictions and consequent legal issues.

Sadly, we all have family, friends and co-workers who combat their demons with alcohol, drugs, gambling and a host of self-destructive behaviors. An entire industry has mushroomed to treat sufferers of these addictions. One more opinion about methodology and success rate won’t be useful.

Rather, let’s focus on the insidious devil hiding in plain sight, the addiction that gets no respect: life-shortening eating practices.

The literature is filled with tomes on anorexia and bulimia, which affect a disturbing 13 percent of Americans (3). Both are devastating disorders, and rehabilitation centers have sprung up around the country to deal with them.

But it’s the far greater, underserved segment of the population that worries me – the two-thirds of us who are killing ourselves through nightly binges and daytime grazing, one slab/slice/sliver, one box/bag/fistful at a time.

I’m talking about compulsive eating behavior. This affliction was ignored entirely and went undiagnosed officially until two years ago with the latest revised edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders(4). Finally, the publishers, the American Psychiatric Association, included compulsive eating behaviors under the category of Binge Eating Disorder.

I maintain that B.E.D. still is not taken seriously by the public because, unlike other substance abuse disorders, binge eating is not judged to be illegal or immoral, even though such eating practices are most surely physically harmful and ultimately fatal.

This lack of respect for the subtly deadly addiction flies in the face of the avalanche of evidence to the contrary, showing a nation of out of overweight, out of shape children and adults.

The National Institute of Health notes in its literature that:

  • More than two in three adults are considered to be overweight (Body Mass Index [BMI] of 25 to 29.9 — percentage of body fat ).
  • More than one in three adults is considered to be obese (BMI of 30+).
  • More than one in 20 adults is considered to have extreme obesity (BMI of 40+).
  • About one-quarter of children ages 2-5, and one-third of children and adolescents ages 6 to 19 are considered to be overweight or obese. (5)

Reports on the Internet and airwaves cite cookies, chips, and other sugary, salty snacks as the chief culprits. These so-called junk foods hijack the brain as powerfully as heroin or cocaine, according research (6).

In an effort to bring Americans’ eating habits back in line, federal, state and local agencies keep launching programs espousing healthier food choices, mandating alterations in school lunches and banning the sale of sweetened beverages in public places.

Fueling the attention about obesity are diets by the dozens promising quick weight loss, and floods of pop magazine spreads depicting beautiful people who have shed gobs of weight in mere weeks.

The problem is that none of the diets or pretty pictures addresses the underlying question: What am I doing to myself?

Or, put more directly: Why am I committing suicide on the installment plan?

Suicide? With food? Gimme a break, you’re saying.

Explain, then, based on the NIH statistics cited above, how approximately 215 million Americans are categorized as overweight, and how half of those are determined to be clinically obese.

We know that heavier people are more prone to a spate of illnesses, starting with heart disease. Yet the snack food/fast food companies continue to get fat on our denial (which, in therapy-speak, stands for: Don’t Even Notice I Am Lying).

Again, I ask: Why do we do this to ourselves?

Because we’re habituated to numbing ourselves from the daily dramas of life, that’s why. And because food is both an instantly available and socially acceptable numbing agent.

Bless you healthy ones, who say: “I can take or leave a bag of cheese puffs.” “One handful of jelly beans is my limit.” ‘I don’t feel like having dessert, tonight, thank you.”

But what about the rest of us who long ago flunked the Lay’s Potato Chips challenge: “Bet you can’t eat just one”?

The only long-term answer for this food junkie, who had lost and regained the same chunk of weight repeatedly over the years, was to “get down to causes and conditions,” as we say in the recovery field, and then make permanent changes in my diet.

Through self-examination, professional help and support groups, I finally became willing to look at the truth about my eating behaviors. I saw I had spent 25 years trying fruitlessly to manage my weight by:

  • Exercising to burn off the empty calories I had crammed down the previous night.
  • Fasting for two days after a period of out-of-control bingeing, before resuming my runaway eating; and
  • Adhering to fad diets in short bursts followed by plundering the cabinets in a scene right out of Fatso.

But newfound self-knowledge was only the start of the equation. I still had to solve for Why.

Incrementally, and with help from therapists, nutritionists and recovering compulsive eaters, I became increasingly able to recognize times when food had owned me.

Clearly, the urge for sweet, salty and crunchy “treats” had nothing to do with being physically hungry. Rather, the cravings for such food grabbed me by the throat when I was emotionally starved – those times when I was feeling stressed, fearful, anxious, depressed or isolated.

Once I could get to the root of my sense of dis-ease, I then could take alternative action to shoveling “comfort food” into the hole in my soul, which only had gotten bigger the more I tried to fill it.

Much of my own journey to wholeness is a result of finding healthy ways to reduce the stress I may feel, to allay the fears that paralyze me, to tamp down my anxiety, to mitigate my depression and to ­break through the sense of aloneness I sometimes experience even in a crowd.

Each of us has to develop his or her own self-soothing techniques, but we all have the innate ability to do so, just as we all have the capability to dig up the buried reasons why we feel the way we’re feeling. At least for me, the answers were there, once I became willing to pick up the shovel.

And having solved for Why, the answer really was as simple as a-b-c.

I first needed to gain awareness of what I was feeling, then develop the belief I could work through the unearthed emotion without bingeing to rebury it, then make a change in my response to the upsetting incident.

Amazingly, the awareness/belief/change model not only restored emotional balance, it reduced the number on my scale by 25 pounds and has kept it there for nearly three decades.

Try it’ You’ll like it and start loving yourself more, too.

-0-

Next time, I’ll talk specifically about kinds of questions to ask yourself about your eating habits and behaviors. I’ll discuss the types of foods I do and do not eat and how I arrived at a food plan that works for me.

 

 

References

  1. Mind/Body Health: The Effects of Attitudes, Emotions and Relationships (5th Edition) by Keith J. Karren Ph.D. (Author), Lee Smith (Author), Kathryn J. Gordon (Author), Kathryn J. Frandsen (Author), 2013.
  2. Minding the Body, Mending the Mind – Revised and Updated, by Joan Borysenko, 2007.
  3. National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders — anad.org/get-information/about-eating-disorders/eating-disorders-statistics/.
  4. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition, American Psychiatric Association, 2013
  5. National Institute for Health — http://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-statistics/Pages/overweight-obesity-statistics.aspx .
  6. The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food, Michael Moss, The New York Times Magazine, Feb. 20, 2013.
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Wash your brain by working your body

The following article appeared in the inaugural Spring 2015 issue of Florida Innovative Health Magazine.  It is accessible online and through Facebook. It is reprinted here with authorization of the magazine publisher.

Gil Peters

-O-

Exercise is good for your health.

Duh!

Who doesn’t know that exercise strengthens every part of our bodies, from our heart to our bones and tendons, while aiding our breathing, digestion and so much more?

And who doesn’t know that we feel better about ourselves when we expend some sweat equity to tighten up our bellies, and that we feel guilty, embarrassed and even ashamed when we “let ourselves go”?

Fewer of us realize, however, that a 45-minute workout is a powerful antidepressant. And we’re not talking figuratively here.

An entire arm of the mental health field is devoted to looking at the chemical changes in the brain after exercise, from a 20-minute walk on up. Whether we’re lifting weights, doing yoga, riding a stationary bike, or running, our brain makeup morphs for the better.

And continuous motion exercise produces the most positive results.

Here’s what I know from personal experience. At age 69, I am far stronger physically, light years healthier emotionally, and on a different plane spiritually than I was a half-century ago when I was in what the medical profession called my “prime”. Not only am I twenty-five pounds lighter, but I actually feel that I fit in my skin.

At 19, I didn’t know who I was, a typical state for a young person. But worse, I didn’t like what I was becoming and, more to the point, I lusted after who I wasn’t. For that reason, I tried to escape from myself through a variety of unhealthy substances and behaviors. Sure, I got married, had a wonderful child and held a responsible job. Still, I was insecure and anxious – all the time. I had no sense of self.

I struggled through life for two more decades and then some, stuffing down my self-loathing with food, alcohol, a drug that is now legal in two states, and a number of unhealthy and inappropriate behaviors. None of them worked because none of them got me any closer to me.

In fact, I even began jogging at age 30, but it was to lose weight, not to gain sanity. My wife would tell me as I laced up my sneakers to plunge into the rain and snow, “You’re not going for a run, you’re running away.”

Slowly, after turning 40, I stopped running from and began running toward help from professionals and peer-support groups. I let go of the crutches I had used and started to learn about me. Once a scattered, frenetic human doing, I worked on becoming a human being. I slowed down my pace in all things, returned to school at age 50 to get a master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling and then earned licenses as both an addictions counselor and clinical mental health specialist.

The best part of the journey, by far, was the master’s coursework that taught me about brain chemistry. I researched and wrote a number of papers on the connection between depression, exercise and the brain.

En route, I discovered why I got such a rush out of running, in particular. Turns out that the “runner’s high” was not a figment of my besotted imagination; it was a matter of science.  I had heard for years about “carbo loading” the night before a race and I had accepted the premise simply because it offered me another excuse to pound down pasta before a marathon.

But my research gave me a clear explanation: tryptophan. The maligned essential amino acid that still gets blamed for causing Uncle Fred to pass out in front of the football game after gorging on Thanksgiving turkey is, in reality, the fuel for the next day’s big run.

Tryptophan does not exist naturally in the body; it must be ingested through the complex carbohydrates we eat. What happens after 45 minutes of continuous exercise (remember hearing that number at the beginning of this ramble?) is that the body’s storehouse of tryptophan is depleted. To replace the needed tryptophan, the body “eats” the fat cells in the “love handles” and elsewhere. In the process, it hooks onto the albumin in the blood and rockets right through the blood-brain barrier, where it becomes a precursor (building block) in the manufacture of – fanfare, please — serotonin.

Once flooded with this feel-good neurotransmitter, the brain dispatches the fresh batch of serotonin to the amygdala, hippocampus and hypothalamus, those areas of the brain that regulate our mood[1][2][3].

So, no wonder I feel so great after a long run: I have just shot up my brain with self-made joy juice. I may be tired and stinky but, man, I think I’m pretty cool.  Oh, and that self-loathing? No room for it in my ecstatic neurons.

Additionally, I’ve noticed one other change that occurs during the last part of my workout: I’m far more sensitive to my environment and other people, and more creative to boot. I find I can do a fair amount of problem solving while on a long run. The reason is that, with serotonin rolling around my brain pan, my thinking shifts  from linear and logical to creative and sentient. I’m not referencing any articles here. Rather, I can “hear” the gears shift in my head.

On the strength of this highly beneficial brainwashing, I advocate exercise to all my clients as an aid to their recovery. The clients who have embraced physical activity of some kind as part of their routine seem to do better than the ones who don’t. Also, those who exercise regularly are more likely to stay on an even keel — especially those in early recovery from substance and process addictions and those dealing with depression and anxiety.

And one more thing, my clients and I have discovered: During those quiet times of exercise, we experience a state of “moving meditation”. As we concentrate solely on putting one foot in front of the other, or moving into “Downward-Facing Dog” pose, a sense of serenity sets in. Although in motion, we sense a stillness and serenity that no substance or acting-out behavior ever could produce.

So drop down and give me 20. You may get much more than sore muscles from the effort.

Bibliography

  1. Exercise Increases Tryptophan Availability to the Brain in Older Men Age 57–70 Years, Melancon, Michel O., Lorrain, Dominique. Dionne, Isabelle J., Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, May 2012, Volume 44, Issue 5, pp. 881-887, journals.lww.com ,Home> May 2012, Volume 44, Issue 5.
  2. Increase Serotonin in the Human Brain without Drugs, Young, S. N., Journal of Psychiatry & Neuroscience, Nov. 2007, Volume 32, Issue 6, pp. 394-399, www.progressivehealth.com/boost-serotonin.htm.
  3. Exercise– Natural StressCare: Heal Anxiety and Depression, Law, Duane, L.Ac., http://www.naturalstresscare.org/Exercise.aspx.
Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Procrastination is a Self-Con Game

I’ve been meaning to write an article on procrastination for months, but I just haven’t gotten around to it.

Funny, I don’t see myself as a procrastinator. But, then, what procrastinator does? I’ve been convincing myself that I’ve been very busy.

Doing what?

I have no idea. But I know I must have been doing something very important.

Let’s see. Oh, yeah. I spent several months slowly reading and digesting the concepts of a fascinating book, The Power of Habit – Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, by Charles Duhigg (Random House, 2012). Among other things, the book helped me ferret out the genesis of my procrastination about writing another blog.

The author explains that the process of forming a habit occurs in a three-step loop in the brain.

First, there is a cue, a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and   which habits to use. Then there is the routine, which can be physical or mental or emotional. Finally, there is a reward, which helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future:

 Over time, this loop — cue, routine reward; cue, routine, reward – becomes more and more automatic. The cue and reward become intertwined until a powerful sense of anticipation and craving emerges. Eventually,…a habit is born (p. 19).

 The key to changing habits, Duhigg explains, is to alter the routine. We always will have a cue that triggers a craving to do or not do something and the reward always will be dangled out there for us to chase, he explains. How we choose to get from cue to reward — and how to change the routine– is ground zero.

For example, if we’ve had a stressful day at work (cue) and we want to feel better (reward), we may practice any number of routines – from having a drink (or 10), to hitting the gym, to eating something sweet or greasy-salty-crunchy, to taking a long bath, to falling into any of a variety of web sites (Do I really need to get specific?). Any of the preceding activities, done occasionally, may be healthy, or at least diversionary. The frequency of such activities determines whether they’re so routinized that they have become habits.

There have been points in my own life where I became so habituated to the after-work drink that alcohol turned into a problem. Then, in an effort to change that routine, I started going for long runs every day to the point where I got compulsive about that practice.

Thankfully, alcohol and other ingestible substitutes are no longer a problem, and the drive to exercise has diminished to a more reasonable level. But I still have my “stuff”.

That “stuff” can be traced to emotional roots. Like many of us, I’m still hypersensitive to others’ opinions and criticisms. And that’s where the procrastination comes in.

See. I didn’t get lost here. I merely meandered from the topic in order to set up my theme. (Well, it sure took you long enough! Thank you for sharing, dear critical parent voice.)

My procrastination loop works this way:

I feel embarrassed, ashamed or guilty (cues) and I want to escape to a place where I forget the emotional pain (the reward). Too often in the past my routine for getting from cue to reward was to ignore responding to such situations until they faded from conscious memory. The problem is that the feelings are buried alive and they eventually resurface like a hand reaching out of the grave.

In the case of avoiding my blog for the past five months, the procrastination is an outgrowth of embarrassment, shame and guilt in equal doses. In my last Above the Roar blog post (Celebrity Face Swap, June 21, 2014), I made a reference to David Carradine in Revenge of the Nerds. Big oops.

 The actor in that movie was Bobby, not David, Carradine. My editor had provided me with the proper information, but I wrote the wrong name anyhow, and did not send him my revised version to re-edit.

Pure hubris on my part. (I don’t need no stinkin’ editor to re-edit my editing. Thank you for sharing, rebellious child voice.)

My editor caught the gaffe immediately upon reading the posted version of the column and sent me a terse e-mail.

Starting to get the “embarrassment-shame-guilt troika I was going through?

My response has been to shut down and rationalize a raft of reasons for not getting back to blogging.

But while on a recent run, my damn synthesizing brain linked what I learned in The Power of Habit with my blog-voidant behavior and I finally could face what has been holding me back.

Yet, procrastination being such a firmly entrenched routine – stretching back to early childhood – I still dallied another two weeks after my self-revelation before starting this column…and then took four more days to cop to my habit in print.

Here’s hoping that posting this column clears the mental channel so I can return to the routine of writing regularly.

I mean, the cue to blog the random thoughts that come into my head is always there and the reward of launching it into cyberspace is still a rush. All I need now is to succumb to the good habit of double editing and I’ll be back pestering you with more frequency.

My new goal is to anti-crastinate, that is, not to get bogged down in the morass of negative feelings but to keep up a steady stream of these columns.

We’ll all know soon, eh?

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Celebrity Face Swap

You know who you look like?

No, I don’t. But I’m sure you’re about to tell me.

And tell me they do. I must have a familiar face because, over the years. people have labeled me looking like:

Steven Spielberg — when I had a beard, wire glasses and a nose altered by catching too many rebounds in the moosh.

OJ cop Mark Furman, right after my nose job to repair two deviated septums and the map of Mount Sinai that had grown ever-skyward over the years.

Character actor Peter Coyote (born Rachmil Pinchus Ben Mosha Cohon) with 73 movie and 62 TV credits – my wife doesn’t get this one at all.

Tom Bergeron, the cloying co-host of Dancing with the Stars and the snarky front man for America’s Funniest Home Videos.

The one that freaks me out, though, comes from the owner of a hair salon in Florida, as I was getting a trim last winter:

Until I got real close, I thought Richard Gere was sitting in my shop.

As we used to say in the bad old good old days, I want what you’re smokin’, lady.

Hey, I’m thankful no one has confused me with John Hurt playing The Elephant Man or David Carradine as Lewis in Revenge of the Nerds. (In truth, I did identify with him far more closely than with any of the others).

I started asking myself what it was about me that would lead people to volunteer their opinions of my looks. Seriously, how could I resemble a Hollywood heartthrob to one clearly lonely woman, a second-tier actor to another and a 15-minutes-of-fame cop to a third?

Clearly, facial connections are in the eye of the beholder. Recognizing me for who I’m not must make people feel better for a nanosecond.

And I’m not the only one with this pseudo-celeb status. A who industry has flowered around looking like the glorious and notorious. Celebrity look-alike agencies abound. Elvis impersonators alone are a mega-business.

The reason why other people would get so hooked on something as shallow as facial similarities was nonsensical to me for a long time. But just a couple days ago, a loud voice rattled my brain pan the other day: Hey, yokel. Who are you to judge? You do exactly the same thing.

Damn. I do. Except that most of the people I play the you-know-who that-looks-like game with remind me of other ordinary people, not celebrities. Such as:

The dorky guy on Jeopardy tonight gives me a flashback to my eighth-grade algebra teacher. Man, I hated that guy. And, guess what? I hope this guy loses…badly.

Or, my new dental hygienist reminds me of the counter clerk at the Santa Monica  post office 25 years ago. I liked her. She was one of the few people out there who knew me by name. And, surprise, surprise! I like the hygienist, too.

Come to think of it, I often drive myself to madness trying to identify a facial, vocal, or olfactory doppelganger.

Voice intonations are the worst. Despite my advancing hearing loss, I pride myself on having a “good ear”. I regularly try to connect the timbre in one person’s voice to the similar sound I’ve heard from someone in the past, be it a singer, public speakers or someone I once knew.

But why in the world is it so important to make such connections?

Maybe I’m working too hard to find an answer. Maybe people see someone famous in my face for the same reason that I seek to meld two disparate persons together. Maybe it simply is about trying to make some sense out of a random world.

Maybe we all crave order in the daily chaos that is life.

Or maybe we just do these things because we do them.

Either way, this conundrum got me writing my blog again after a two-month hiatus. So maybe  “maybe” is enough of an answer     

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment