Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Hi, My Name Is Scott and I'm a Carbohydrate Addict

It has taken me years to understand—and admit—that I am addicted to carbohydrates.

All foods are broken down into three basic nutrients: protein, carbohydrate, and fat. Most foods consist of at least some of all three nutrients. Of course, the balance of the three differs. An apple, for example, is mostly carbohydrate, but it also contains a small amount of fat and protein. Regular peanut butter, on the other hand, is about two-thirds fat, two-ninths carbohydrate, and one-ninth protein.

"Eating fat makes you fat," I read years ago. Heeding that commentary, I spent years eating a very low fat diet. For a long time my diet consisted mostly of complex carbohydrates. I eschewed refined carbohydrates, which have been long touted as bad for you

While all carbohydrates are ultimately broken down and metabolized as simple sugar, the higher the complexity of the carb, the longer the metabolism process takes. A longer metabolism time reduces blood sugar spikes. Excess carbs in the system from these spikes not only cause moodiness, they are quickly and easily converted to stored fat.

Knowing that there are "good" and "bad" carbs, it should have made sense that the relative healthiness of fats and proteins is also on a sliding scale. That understanding came over time.

Eventually my diet morphed to where I focused on eating a balanced set of nutrients at each meal—a moderate amount of protein, carbs, and fats. I tried to eat high quality nutrients. But even when I was doing this, I struggled to maintain optimal weight.

I also struggled with cravings and binge eating. What I craved most was carbohydrates. When I would take a dietary 'vacation' for a meal or two, I would go crazy eating all of the treats I had been denying myself.

It was only after going on a low-carb diet that I began to lose those cravings. It was only as these cravings began to subside that I realized how addicted I have been to carbohydrates throughout my life. My addiction cycles matched those of people addicted to other substances and behaviors.

Joshua Yelon has notes that "Sugar makes your brain release beta endorphin, a chemical with effects like Valium." Rats in tests used sugars and opiates interchangeably. Like smoking, carb infusions relieve stress. But carbs also lend to fat storage.

Not everyone responds to carbohydrates as strongly as has been my case. Our body's management of substances is strongly tied to both psychology and physiology. Given that no two of us are exactly alike in these ways, no two of us respond precisely the same to any substance. For that reason, there is no effective one-size-fits-all diet.

I don't know what will work for you. But I have discovered that significantly reducing carbs—both complex and refined—in my diet helps me feel better and more readily enables me to manage my weight and body composition.

Like all recovering addicts, I still crave the treats that I deny myself. But the cravings aren't as strong as they used to be. On rare occasions when I sample some of these foods, I find that they aren't nearly as satisfactory as they once were.

Quite honestly, that's psychologically frustrating. I have very deep-seated memories of how I felt when I ate these foods. Now when I indulge, I get nowhere near the physical or psychological pleasure that I once did. Sometimes it seems like a violation of my memories.

I have found that having strong goals helps me maintain a defense against the yearnings for carbohydrate-rich foods that I suspect will be with me in one degree or another throughout my life. Is my current diet the apex of my journey of dietary self discovery? I doubt it. Given my track record, my understanding and practices will likely continue to evolve.

Let the journey continue.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Long and Short of a Short Sale

A couple of months ago I wrote about the challenges of moving my Mom out of her home of 50 years. Mom had such difficulty dealing with the emotional side of the move that she ultimately opted not to look for a new home until she was out of her old home.

After staying with a relative for a few weeks, Mom started to get tired of living out of boxes and suitcases. She longed for her own home. This caused her to get serious about her wants and needs.

Having looked seriously at homes in another part of town, Mom determined that it would be best for her to live close to the area where she had lived for decades. That's where her support system was.

Fortunately, this decision helped us focus on what was available in the target area. Mom looked at a number of homes. The more anxious she became for getting into her own home, the more she was willing to compromise away desires for some unnecessary features.

After getting somewhat serious about a home that was far larger than she needed, a home just a few houses away came on the market. It was a lovely, relatively new home in a planned community. While it lacked certain features, it looked to me and my siblings like the perfect place for Mom.

After considering the matter for a couple of weeks, Mom made a reasonable offer on the home, about 2.2% below the asking price. The one drawback was that it was a short sale. That is where the sale of the property will garner less than the outstanding loan balance and the owner cannot afford to pay the deficit. In essence, the lender agrees to take a loss on the loan.

In a short sale, the lender becomes the main party that has to be pleased. The property 'owner' may agree to the sale, but the deal only becomes binding when the lender agrees. The process of getting agreement from the lender can be long and painful.

However, the real estate agent handling Mom's offer was certified to handle what is known as distressed property transactions. She had been in contact with the lender and had priced the home according to her understanding of what the lender would accept.

Mom started to get antsy after a couple of weeks went by. We pestered the agent, who pestered the lender. (We were not permitted to know who the lender was.) After four long weeks, the lender made a counter offer of 3% MORE than the original asking price—more than 5% higher than Mom's offer. Moreover, the lender said that this was the final offer and that no counter offers would be entertained.

At first Mom was furious. She was ready to tell the agent that the deal was off. But I knew which other homes were available in the area. Certainly another acceptable home would eventually become available, but there was no telling when that would be. I also knew that even at the higher price, the home was still an acceptable value. It wasn't a super deal, but it was in line with market rates.

I urged Mom to put emotions aside and consider the value of the deal based on cold facts. She admitted that under those conditions the deal made sense. It was also the quickest way Mom would get into a new home. Mom's anxiousness to get into a new home outweighed her anger at the situation. Since Mom didn't need any financing to buy the home, the deal closed in rapid fashion.

We have spent the last few weeks moving Mom into her new home and reducing the amount of stuff in storage. Just changing her address with all of the places with which she does business has been quite a chore. Mom has given away a fair amount of furniture that won't fit in the new home. She has bought a few items of furniture.

And we still have two storage units that are full of stuff. Some of that may end up in the new home someday. But some of it will never go there. I'd like to say that we will eventually clear out the storage units, but Mom is still quite attached to some of the things that she won't end up bringing to her new home. We might have at least one storage unit for years to come.

This whole episode has been quite an adventure. And it continues to be so. But at least Mom is in a home that is better suited to her current condition. It's in a great neighborhood too. So it's not a perfect story. But it's pretty good.

Monday, November 14, 2011

On My Honor

The first three words a scout promises are, “On my honor.” This is such a common theme that the term “scout’s honor” has been embedded in the English language as a way to denote ultimate truthfulness.

Personal honor indicates far more than being true to others; it means being true to oneself. Someone that is internally honorable has no difficulty being publicly honorable.

The first time I went to Boy Scout summer camp at age 12, we hauled our own food far into the back country. The troop’s provisions were put in the “food tent.” Since we had to obtain all of the food in advance, we didn’t have much in the way of immediately perishable stuff. We lived on canned and boxed foods throughout the week.

While we enjoyed our time at camp, we all looked forward to Saturday morning breakfast, which we would consume as we broke camp. The fare for that morning included commercially packaged pudding in individual servings. This kind of product was relatively new on the market. As such it was a rarity for most of us boys.

About the middle of the week, someone found two empty pudding containers in the bushes at the edge of camp and brought them to the senior patrol leader. He inspected the food tent and found that the containers had indeed come from the troop’s stock. This presented a problem because there was only one container per person.

Everyone in the troop denied culpability. So, under the direction of our scoutmaster, an investigation was undertaken. Our scoutmaster was a criminal investigator by profession, so it didn’t take long to discover the culprits.

As part of the investigation, each member of the troop was brought privately before the troop leadership council and asked to swear to the truth of the matter on his honor as a scout. We didn’t realize at that time that they already knew who had taken the pudding.

When one of the culprits was asked to swear on his honor, he immediately confessed, although, he had earlier denied to the group. Despite having stolen, he took the matter of personal honor seriously and he accepted the consequences for doing so.
Scouts are to promise to do their best to do their duty to God and country, to obey the Scout Law, to help others at all times, and to maintain high levels of physical, mental, and moral rectitude with a profound sense of personal honor.

This proposition is at odds with many of today’s cultural currents. Personal honor is still widely respected, but it is not much pursued. As private integrity recedes, we struggle as a society to invent increasingly stringent policies designed to impose proper behavior. All of these external approaches are poor and failing substitutes for the genuine article.

But there is a reason that people still revere personal honor. Society works best when people have it.

While the broader culture pursues a ‘whatever’ approach to morality, Boy Scouts promise on their honor to be moral actors. Of course, they are youth that are just learning. But when the aim is high, the result is likely to be much higher than when the target doesn’t exist at all.

On my honor ….

Saturday, November 12, 2011

I Will Do My Best

I was painfully aware as a young scout that most of the other scouts in my troop had far more physical and athletic prowess than me. It seemed to me that almost all of the other scouts were just better at pretty much everything we did in scouts.

From my current vantage point I can see that my perspective at that age was grossly skewed. The vast majority of young people feel inferior to their peers in many ways. Each assumes that his feelings of loneliness and inferiority are somewhat unique, when in fact they are the rule rather than the exception.

Scouts promise in the Scout Oath to do their best to fulfill the points outlined in the oath.

My youngest son once remarked to me that his older brothers were all better at scouting than him. I laughed because I knew what his brothers were like at the same age. He was comparing himself at age 11 to boys that had earned the Eagle Scout rank and had spent summers working on Boy Scout camp staff, but who at age 11 were much like him.

I also explained to my son a simple principle that took me a long time to comprehend. When he promised to do his best, it was HIS best he was promising to do, not someone else's best.

We are each blessed with a rather unique set of strengths and weaknesses, challenges and opportunities. We are weak and lazy when we excuse ourselves from trying to do things at which we know others to be better.

Besides, in doing the things at which we aren't proficient, we increase our ability to do them.

As a young scout I knew the square knot pretty well, but not many other knots. Lashings mystified me completely. At age 17 I spent the summer teaching the Pioneering merit badge at scout camp. By the end of the summer I had become quite expert at a variety of knots, lashings, and rope splices. These skills remain strong with me to this day.

Interestingly, when Delose Conner hired me to work on camp staff all those years ago, he didn't ask me how good I was at pioneering skills. Instead he gave me the resources I needed to be successful and he expected me to step up to the challenge. He expected me to do my best. He knew that as I did so, my best would become better. He knew that by the end of the summer my best would be better than my best at the beginning of the summer.

When scouts stand and promise to do their best, they are in essence promising to become better.

On my honor, I will do my best ....