Cheat Meals: Sin or Savior?

Cheat Meals: Sin or Savior?

Dieting can be really tough, especially when there is so much conflicting information out there – eat this, not that; do that, not this. The topic of cheat meals – or even cheat days – is no exception, and the debate it engenders can get a little heated. After all, both food and health are passionate subjects. What’s it all about, though? Is it really possible to have one meal a week, where you eat whatever you want, and still maintain – or even lose – weight? Cheat meal advocates say yes, and they say they’ve got the science to back them up. 

A Psychological Boost

One of the biggest benefits of cheating, advocates claim, is actually a psychological one rather than a physical one. Everyone knows how tough it can be to stick to a strict regime, and the idea is that a cheat meal will allow you to relax your regime once a week, helping you to stick to it the rest of the time. It provides that added incentive to be ‘good’, because you know that you’re earning a splurge on the weekend[1]. That’s a dangerous road though, and only works for some. It can, potentially, lead to that famous slippery slope. Joe Vennare, creator of The Hybrid Athlete, warns that “some people can’t make the switch from healthy to unhealthy. Once they get a taste of sweets, they binge and can’t go back. It throws off their entire diet plan, serving as a setback instead of a small break from the rules”[2].

 

The Eco-Conscious Consumer Part II: Closing the Loop

The Eco-Conscious Consumer Part II: Closing the Loop

It's no secret that the excesses of modern-day consumption are at the heart of the current environmental crisis. Overwhelming demand for cheap, often disposable goods is rapidly depleting the earth's finite resources while filling up landfills, producing air and water pollution, and littering our oceans with chemical-laden, non-biodegradable materials. Environmental advocates and economists alike increasingly recognize that an economy built upon continued growth in consumption rates is fundamentally unsustainable. To truly reduce the environmental impact of our consumption we need to rethink our approach to consumerism altogether.

            In Part I of my Eco-Conscious Consumer series I argued the importance of supporting businesses that prioritize sustainable practices and using consumer power to pressure giant corporations to operate in ways that are environmentally responsible. But truly mindful consumption requires more than just picking and choosing the companies we buy from; it requires us to examine how our own consumer behaviors contribute to the environmental crises we face today. Ask yourself: How often do you buy things you don't really need? What did it take to make those things? And what happens to those things when they're eventually discarded?

            Here, I'll explore the steps consumers can take toward promoting a closed-loop system wherein the earth's precious resources are used as efficiently as possible. A note of warning: being an NYC resident, many of the services and organizations I highlight are New York-based. New York is far from perfect, but we do have a strong coalition of nonprofits and city initiatives that offer a host of resources for living a low-impact lifestyle. For readers outside the Big Apple, don't hate – investigate! Find out what kind of comparable services exist near you. If the options are sparse, considering using the examples here as templates for your own eco-conscious venture. 

What Exactly is so Super About Superfoods?

What Exactly is so Super About Superfoods?

We all know the importance of healthy eating, and we all know the dangers that come with a bad diet and an unhealthy lifestyle, but it can certainly get confusing with all that conflicting information out there. The concept of ‘superfoods’ is no different. The term has been subject to both praise and condemnation since it became popularized in the 1990 book Superfood by Michael Van Straten and Barbara Griggs[1], although it still remains quite firmly in the lexicon of many health-food advocates. In fact, between 2011 and 2015, the number of food or drink products containing the word ‘superfood’, ‘superfruit’, or ‘supergrain’ has doubled[2], and they claim to be stuffed full of nutrients and antioxidants that will not only make you look and feel better, but will ultimately help you to live longer. That’s quite an appealing consequence, but are superfoods really as super as they claim to be?

Superfoods

Alison Rumsey at the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in New York City explains that superfoods are those foods which have a high content of vitamins, nutrients, and antioxidants, and they are important, she claims, because “a lot of things can cause inflammation in our bodies, and cells get oxidized, which can cause many different disease states. Antioxidants help to get rid of these free radicals that happen when you have oxidation”[3]. Superfoods can lower your risk of chronic disease, improve the ageing process, improve depression, increase intelligence, and improve physical ability,[4] according to advocates.

Although, as the American Heart Association point out, there is no set criteria for determining what exactly is and is not a superfood[5], there are certainly some foods that fit the description of being especially nutritious and as a result, seem to uphold the idea that superfood advocates seek to promote. Take almonds as an example. There is solid, scientific evidence to show that almonds are one of the richest sources of vitamin E, and research demonstrates that they can help control cholesterol and blood sugar whilst reducing inflammation. Avocados, similarly, are fantastically rich in nutrients, providing around 40% daily recommended intake of fiber for a woman, 25% vitamin C, 16% vitamin E, 39% vitamin K, and 30% folic acid – all of which makes avocados great for cholesterol control, for diabetes, and even to act as a natural sunscreen. Kale is another oft-stated superfood that has the research to back it up. At only 33 calories for 100g, kale has 200% of your daily vitamin A intake, 134% vitamin C, and a massive 700% vitamin K, making it great for bone health and to help prevent blood clotting[6]. With evidence like that, it’s hard not to take superfood claims at face value.

 

Brain-Computer Interfaces: When Computers Can Read Your Mind

Brain-Computer Interfaces: When Computers Can Read Your Mind

The idea of controlling a computer with your mind seems like something out of a sci-fi novel, something that couldn’t possible happen any time soon, but we might be closer to the technology than we think. Brain-computer interfaces, or BCIs, are machines that read the electronic impulses that our brains release, thus knowing what you want and giving it to you immediately – without you having to lift a finger. Clicking on that mouse button could well soon become a thing of the past!

There are many ongoing research projects into just this, and the technology is being developed for a number of different reasons – aiding disability, telepathy, empathy, education, enjoyment, and supplementing human intelligence[1] being just a few. Elon Musk, entrepreneur and founder of Neuralink, a company working towards the development of wireless BCIs, argues that while initially, the technology will be used to treat disabilities and disorders, ultimately it will be used by everyone. “We are,” he says, “about eight to ten years away from this being usable by people with disability”[2].

 Old Technology

With comments like that, it may feel like the future is fast approaching, but actually, BCIs are not as new as they seem. It’s based on EEG (electroencephalogram) technology that was first developed by German psychiatrist Hans Berger when he was performing neurosurgery on a 17-year-old in 1924[3]. Berger recorded the electronic signals sent from his patient’s brain in order to produce a picture of it – and this technology is still used today in identifying and diagnosing disorders and abnormalities. By 1973, Jacques Vidal was examining the possibility of using EEG-style signals to carry information from the brain to a computer, and it was him who coined the term ‘brain-computer interface’[4].

There are other examples too. Cochlear implants, for instance, have used exactly this technology since their inception in 1982[5]. They bypass the parts of the ear that don’t work, take the sound waves from the air, turn them into electric signals, and sends them to the auditory nerves[6]. It’s a bit more complicated to do this for visual data, but ultimately, BCIs could do a similar thing for blind people – sending impulses to the brain from a camera, allowing the blind person to ‘see’[7].

The Rise of Unassisted Childbirth

The Rise of Unassisted Childbirth

Pregnancy and childbirth are every day occurrences, and the medical care that mothers and their new-borns receive gets better and better all the time. Despite that, more and more people are opting for an unassisted childbirth, which can range from a homebirth with no medical practitioner present to a complete separation from the medical world, including no doctors, no midwives, no pregnancy check-ups, and no scans. It’s still relatively rare, but since the mid-1990s, the popularity of unassisted childbirth has been on the rise and it’s now at its highest since 1975[1]. Those who choose an unassisted birth, however, face the backlash of medical organisations all around the world who warn of the dangers of shunning medical advice and assistance. So why are more people opting for it, and is it really as dangerous as medical organisations claim it to be?

 

What is unassisted childbirth and why are people opting for it?

It’s worth noting that unassisted childbirth is different to a homebirth which includes an attending medical practitioner, be it a doctor, nurse, or midwife. Unassisted births are more about ‘going back to nature’ and are usually attended by a non-medical birthing partner or family and close friends only[2]. Also called ‘freebirth’, as coined by Pavrati Baker[3], the notion of unassisted childbirth grew out of the Natural Childbirth movement fronted by, among others, Grantly Dick, that promoted the idea of childbirth without medical intervention and in particular, without anaesthesia[4]. Dr. Amos Grunebaum, the director of obstetrics at the New York Presbyterian Hospital and Weill Cornell Medical College explains that homebirths have risen in popularity by 79% in recent years, and of those 140,000 homebirths per year, approximately one third of them are unassisted[5].

The arguments that pro-unassisted childbirthers make are surprisingly simple. The medical system is negative and sterile, many say, and an unassisted pregnancy and birth is more exciting, more loving[6]. Women have been giving birth since the dawn of human existence and all this medical intervention is relatively recent occurrence, others argue. If women could do it before, why not now? After all, childbirth is not a medical emergency – it’s not an illness or disease or injury – so why is a hospital required[7]? Marilyn A Moran, a proponent of unassisted childbirth argues that childbirth is an inherently private and sexual matter[8] and Laura Kaplan Shanley argues that “birth is sexual and spiritual, magical and miraculous – but not when it’s managed, controlled, and manipulated by the medical establishment”[9]. Ultimately, then, the desire for unassisted childbirth arises from a disillusionment with the medical world, and a desire to stay as natural as possible.

 

The Eco-Conscious Consumer Part I: The Case for Voting with Your Dollars

The Eco-Conscious Consumer Part I: The Case for Voting with Your Dollars

Whether we care to think about it or not, every purchase makes a statement. Too often that statement is “I don't care who gets my money.” But we should care. Many of the companies we routinely hand our hard-earned dollars over to are the same ones who have polluted our air and water, exposed us to dangerous chemicals, and poured billions of dollars into lobbying against environmental protections. They are also the same companies who have created the false narrative that economic prosperity and environmental conservation are mutually exclusive goals. And while we may vehemently disagree with these company's actions, most of us, knowingly or not, continue to support them, often with the assumption that we have no other choice.

         The good news is we do have choices. More and more companies, big and small, are recognizing that their continued existence depends on embracing sustainable practices; moreover, the wonders of technology offer a host of new ways to for consumers to learn about a company's environmental practices and to discover alternatives to polluting conglomerates.

Break Eye Contact: Become a Better Conversationalist

Break Eye Contact: Become a Better Conversationalist

Although often subtle and rarely talked about, eye contact is an important feature of our social lives. It can help us build relationships, lead us to make character judgements, help us in business, and it even has the power to change how we feel. Eye contact can make a situation comfortable and enjoyable or awkward and tiring. It has to be just right as well – not too long and not too short, not too intense yet not too distant either. There are times when making eye contact is important and there are times when breaking that non-verbal communication is not only natural but necessary. While all that may seem complex, it’s something that most of us seem to know and understand instinctively, but that simply raises more questions than it answers. How do we know when to connect and when to avert our gaze, why do we do it, and why is it so important?

The Importance of a Loving Gaze

Eye contact seems like an innate form of communication, an inherent skill that we know from birth, and research shows that this is probably right. It’s been shown, for example, that babies even just two days old prefer to look at faces that are gazing back at them. By four months, an infant’s brain activity increases when making eye contact with other people[1]. In fact, a lack of eye contact is one of the ways in which autism is identified in children, as looking other people in the eye is such an ingrained social behavior[2]. By adulthood, communicating via eye contact increase bodily awareness and self-consciousness, and research shows that after engaging in this way, we judge the other person as more sophisticated, more self-controlled, morally upstanding, and more socially adept than those who avert their eyes or whose timing is off[3].

It can have even deeper effects too, as shown in a study by Giovanni Caputo in 2015. He paired volunteers and had them stare at either a blank wall or into one another’s eyes, unwaveringly, for ten minutes. Once completed, he questioned participants on their experiences and came to the conclusion that intense, prolonged eye contact can actually alter your state of consciousness. While those staring at the wall reported no change, those who gazed at each other reported seeing hallucinations of monsters, their relatives, and even of their own faces.

Body Confidence In Children: Is There More That We Could Do?

Body Confidence In Children: Is There More That We Could Do?

Body image is a big thing in today’s society. It affects nearly every single woman in America, with around 91% saying that they are unhappy with their bodies. That’s hardly surprising, given that only 5% of women naturally possess the body that is so often revered by the media and popular culture[1]. It affects men too, with nearly 81% saying that they worry about their flaws and imperfections[2]. What is most worrying, though, is just how deeply it is affecting our children. A study by the Girl Guides found that an astonishing one third of girls between seven and ten years old feel judged by their appearance, while a quarter of them feel the need to be perfect[3]. While we strive to give our children the very best in life, we seem to be failing at giving them body confidence, but what exactly is the problem, what are the causes, and is there anything we can do about it?

The Problem

There are numerous studies on just this issue and they all point to the same conclusion – that our children are suffering. One researcher found that 10% of seven to ten-year-olds have had something mean said to them about the way they look[4] and the American Journal of Maternal/Child Nursing found that a massive 80% of ten-year-olds are afraid of being fat[5]. In a study by the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (PACEY), almost a third of nursery and school teachers have heard a child call themselves fat or ugly[6] and 15% of young girls feel embarrassed or ashamed by the way they look[7]. Those are scary statistics but it gets even worse, as Sam Smethers, chief executive of the Fawcett Society, explains. It’s about more than having the confidence to wear what you want and be who you are without being judged – although they are great things to have. When people—and children in particular—are persistently judged on how they look, Smethers explains, they are likely to suffer higher levels of depression and mental illness[8]. So by allowing society to affect our child’s body confidence issues, we’re not only giving them low self-esteem but we’re potentially making them ill too.

 

Is Casual Sex Bad For Your Wellbeing?

Is Casual Sex Bad For Your Wellbeing?

Casual sex is a controversial issue. Whilst some believe it to be the best way to spend a Saturday night, others condemn the morality of it as well as the physical and psychological dangers. Generally, casual sex has a bit of a bad reputation and that reputation can easily stick to those who regularly partake in it. That said, a great number of people find themselves involved with casual sex at one point in their lives. In fact, around 80% of undergraduate students admit to having casual sex[1], and by the age of 25, around 70% of the population will have ‘hooked up’ at least once[2]. With such a large amount of the population having had some experience of casual sex, even on a small scale, it seems bizarre that there should be a negative feeling around it, but perhaps there are reasons for that. Putting aside the more obvious ones, such as the risk of sexually transmitted diseases or unwanted pregnancies, many are beginning to question whether casual sex is actually bad for your wellbeing.

 

 

The Three- or Four-Day Workweek: Bogus or Beneficial?

The Three- or Four-Day Workweek: Bogus or Beneficial?

Trying to find that perfect work-life balance is notoriously difficult and sometimes, it feels as though we’re working so many hours that we don’t get to enjoy the money we’ve earned. We miss out on family occasions or are simply too tired to enjoy them, and with the explosion of mobile technology, it seems that work can creep into every corner of our lives. It’s becoming increasingly unavoidable, but could there be a better way? Perhaps there is. Many are claiming that the three- or four-day workweek is the perfect solution to our work-life balance issues, and many scientists and business executives suggest it’s both beneficial for our health and great for business.

When around 80% of people believe that it’s acceptable to telephone an employee outside of work hours, and when it seems that modern technological advances have led to an increase rather than a decrease in hours, things are getting out of hand. Many suggest then, condensing the workweek so that the same number of hours are worked but over fewer days – four days of ten working hours rather than five days of eight, for example. This idea is not new either. John Maynard Keynes famously (and perhaps incorrectly) predicted the progression of technology would lead to more leisure and less work time, suggesting that by the year 2030, we’d all be working a 15-hour week[1]. Herman Kahn believed something similar in the 1960s, claiming that all Americans would soon be enjoying a massive 13-weeks’ annual vacation and a four-day workweek[2]. Nowadays, the campaign for reducing the weekly work days, whether to three or four days, is gaining in popularity from all walks of life, from employers and employees, to health practitioners, scientists, and business moguls. So why aren’t we doing it yet?

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