Friday, October 4, 2013

Amazon Customer Book Review

"In this book, Lynn provides the reader with the tools to look inward towards what fuels the desire behind not only eating, but habitual responses to all internal and external signals. The book begins by asking a few simple questions, allowing the reader to relax & begin answering truthfully within." 

To read the full review, please click on the following link -

Monday, May 20, 2013

Getting In Touch with KenKen

I've always been a crossword person, even if I couldn't finish the Sunday (or even the Friday) one in the New York Times. Since I got teased as a fifth grader for using big words in the schoolyard, language has always been the most inviting area of the playground, the place to develop mental strength and agility.  Numbers were my nemesis.  Growing up in the days long before calculators, I learned to be arithmetically reliable the hard way.  I still use my fingers, refer to deeply memorized multiplication tables, and add columns two or three times (in different directions). 

How peculiar, then, that I have become addicted to the KenKen puzzles along with my morning coffee.  It happened a while back – couldn't say exactly when – and I found myself trying to figure out what was expected of me in the easy version, just four squares across.  Cute!  Not too hard.  Very satisfying when after a few obvious clues were solved, the answers tumbled into place.  I began working on the daily six-square puzzle and could successfully complete Monday through Wednesday after a few weeks of practice.  Then I moved up to the big league, seven-squares on Sunday.

My style, as with the crossword, is to work in pen, lightly filling in the possibilities until they are certain.  In those tiny, unforgiving squares, it is sometimes necessary to use white out – or even to copy the whole grid on lined paper after a really a messy start.  How embarrassing.  Let’s not even discuss the nearly pathological compulsion that has driven me to work a Sunday KenKen puzzle until the Magazine Section appears on the stoop with next Saturday’s paper.  But it calms me, settles my mind, and kind of clears the decks for other issues and problems I need to sort through. 

What profound life change has made me a numbers person after all?  I ponder this while figuring out in which square the last “5” can reside, or what combinations can be eliminated to fill in the third row down.  What am I doing?  Testing a double “3” and a “7” to make “63X” resolves the connecting horizontal and vertical, and I experience a pleasurable tingle in the brain.

My neural fibers crave this activity.  I need this exercise – now.  I don’t need to be told that “Mental Stimulation Staves Off Dementia,” although I’m pleased as punch they’re doing studies to confirm what my mind and body are already whispering in my ear.  All I have to do is listen.  I’m sure that’s always the best place to start. 

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Remember the Hypothalamus?

I’m thrilled to see the hypothalamus back in the news.  I've been intrigued for years with this pea-sized area deep in the brain that plays such an important role in our relationship to food.  Indeed, the title of a New York Times article that appeared on Sunday (April 28, 2013), “The Brain:  Our Food Traffic Controller,” echoed a title from the same paper I quoted in the late 1960s:  “Obesity is Traced to Signal Failure” (January 23, 1968).  Back then, long before the days of imaging, it was found that the hypothalamus provided “internal eating cues” to tell us when to eat and when to stop.  The mechanism might get out of whack and “set so high that normal amounts of food no longer satisfy.”  The old source proposed a complimentary theory that, without appropriate signals from within, people might become overly dependent on “external eating cues” instead.  To me, that meant diets, paying too much attention to other people’s idea of what we ought to eat.  And, I’m still convinced the stubborn, long-term and constantly escalating problem of overeating owes a great deal to this. 

An approachable synonym for the hypothalamus was coined in those days:  “appestat.”  I pictured a switch on the wall to regulate heat in the winter and thought the workings of the human brain had to be more elegant than that.  The term is defined now as:  “the neural center in the brain that regulates appetite and is thought to be in the hypothalamus.” My italics emphasize the difficulty in pinning down exactly what goes on in there when we eat.  And that’s what Kathleen A. Page and Robert S. Sherwin, authors of this Sunday’s piece, are working on.

Page and Sherwin call the hypothalamus a “primitive brain region” that evolved to support survival in a time when food was scarce and obtaining it was a lot more labor-intensive than a trip to either McDonald’s or Whole Foods.   As scientists and endocrinologists, they have been focusing on observable responses in the human brain to glucose and to fructose.  For example, they find that glucose – an energy source vital to brain activity – while calorically equal to fructose (no commercial pun intended), does not taste as sweet as its relative, and yet is associated with greater feelings of fullness and satisfaction.  Fructose, on the other hand, gets screened out somehow by the liver; not much of it reaches the brain, so the “appetite and reward areas remain active.”  Thus, the notion that sugar is sugar may be nutritionally accurate, but neurologically, it may be worth another look.

I find this stuff fascinating.  New technology allows even the layperson an appreciation of the elegance and complexity we all know is there.  According to Page and Sherwin, the hypothalamus constantly monitors blood glucose, hormones, and various contributors to metabolism that are intricately involved in energy maintenance, appetite and satisfaction.  The “integrated circuit” they outline includes “brain areas that control taste, reward, memory, emotion and higher-level decision making.” They question how this wealth of new information can be used to help combat the epidemic of obesity, but seem in no rush to judgment.  The work is just starting.

Dr. Norman Jolliffe at Columbia University’s School of Public Health wrote a piece available on the web entitled “How to Reset Your ‘Appestat’ and Reduce Hunger.” I cheer the following quote from his first paragraph: “Infants do not have the natural ability to overeat. Overeating is a learned behavior that needs to be unlearned to reduce hunger.”  Wow!  I couldn't have said it better, and I’m so glad he did.
Then, he loses me – fast.  “Eat less food more often to reduce hunger;”  “Choose lean proteins and healthy fats to keep your appetite at bay;” “Skip simple carbohydrates that cause sharp drops in blood glucose and cravings for more;” “Exercise often, but not for weight loss;” and “Skip the scale.”  There is not a single suggestion here without merit – even though 7 meals a day absolutely does not work for me, and I personally find the Atkins diet onerous.  What I do object to – have always objected to – is the list of guidelines that are nothing but “external cues” as far as I can see.  Jolliffe makes an exquisite case for each item on his programme.  Clearly, it works for him.  But, how can one re-activate one’s own primal, evolutionarily-tested internal cues while following someone else’s?  Sorry to criticize, but I think that’s the wrong way to go.

It’s not going to be so quick and easy to glean solutions to overeating from what we have begun to learn about the brain, I think Page and Sherwin would agree. One statement in particular suggests to me an area in which more study would be useful.  They write:  “When food is restricted, the hypothalamus sends signals that increase your desire to ingest high calorie foods.”   Wow!  I knew that.  My body knows that.  I couldn't have said it better, and I’m so glad they did.

So, how about doing a bunch of studies that follow brain activity under dietary restriction?  Does restriction trigger deprivation signals all by itself, without regard to what is forbidden? Let’s see what the brain does in the context of diet regimens of various kinds.  Let’s take a closer look at the mechanisms of desire. In those gorgeous scanned images of indigo, gold and magenta, could we observe the mechanism in the brain that makes going off a diet a sure thing?
I want to know what happens in the hypothalamus when one is made to feel chronically guilty or afraid about food choice.  How do we store in our memory and constantly reinforce the admonition that foods are fattening, unhealthful, or bad?  For example, would the phrase “Sugar is indeed toxic” trigger a stronger or weaker signal in my brain to eat more or less of it?  I only quote Mark Bittman here because he’s one food writer whose opinions I truly value.  Conversely, does a sense of self-righteousness about healthful choices affect satisfaction levels in a positive or perhaps in a negative way?  Do these effects last?  How are satisfaction levels affected by limited or unlimited choice?  Could we study how hypothalamic activity is conditioned, as well as the reversal of it?  Could we examine conflict of interest arising between “internal” and “external” cues?

I don’t think we’ll ever free up the channels to our “Food Traffic Controller” until we answer some questions like these.  They may not be tops on the agenda for endocrinologists, but they are certainly relevant to the issue of obesity, to health and to pleasure in eating – which is of course the object of the exercise. 

Friday, March 29, 2013

Plaza College's Online "Seasons" Magazine Article: Professor Lynn McCann Publishes The Anti-Diet

Professor Lynn McCann Publishes The Anti-Diet

Professor McCann loves working with her students.

In addition to her success in the classroom, esteemed Plaza College English Professor Lynn McCann recently celebrated another major accomplishment: a published book!
Professor McCann recently spoke with Seasons about revisiting a book she first wrote in 1966, and the steps she took to publish the book once more … on her own!

Question: When did you first start writing The Anti-Diet?
McCann: In 1966. We actually did have electricity back then, but my typewriter was a manual, and it didn’t even have a plug. 

Question: What drew you to this particular subject?
McCann: I never dreamed I’d write about dieting.  A good friend who had watched me overcome an eating problem by increasing awareness instead of cutting calories suggested that I write about the experience. “I can’t do that!”  I said.  “Sure you can!”  She said, and kept encouraging me. I finally gave it a try, and it took about two years to write.  It was a learning process. 

Question: What response did your book receive when it first came out?
McCann: I appeared on a radio talk show and a TV program to promote the book in the U.S.  I also went to London to promote the book on TV there.  It was exciting.  But, I think the book was a little ahead of its time, and I was disappointed when sales didn’t go through the roof.  After a while, I began to get letters from people all over the country, and from Canada, saying that The Anti-Diet had really helped them a lot.

Question: How many years passed between its initial publication and your decision to revisit it?
McCann: It came out in the U.S. in 1971 and in England in 1972.  After many years, I noticed that some of the Anti-Diet ideas had gone mainstream (“conscious eating,” “mindful eating”).  Even Weight Watchers was talking more about the importance of awareness and satisfaction.  When I started teaching at Plaza College five years ago, I was already working on the revision.    

Please click HERE to read the entire interview

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Original Anti-Diet: I Am Not a “Cougar”, But...

I go to the gym in kind of a rush because my husband and I have a dinner invitation up in Westchester tonight.  We want to miss the Friday traffic, and I still have to find a little gift for our hostess.

I hop on my favorite bike, punch in the resistance setting and plug in my earphones. The little TV screen in front of me is tuned to The Talk. One channel up there’s a sloppy soap opera. Soccer dominates the next – and so on. I put the machine on pause and go over to the desk where the media controls are. I've never seen the guy on duty before. Not a day over 25 with bright eyes and dark curly hair. He’s very cute and fit.

“Could you get CNN on there, please?” I point to the rank of TVs over the machines.

“Whaddaya want that for?”  I’m surprised when he challenges me with a flirtatious smile.

“Well, it’s not a great station, I’ll grant you, but it sure beats a studio full of shrieking women.” 

Who is this cheeky upstart?  Just put on the damn news, I mutter to myself as I climb back up on the bike and start pedaling. 

A few minutes later, I still can’t get CNN.  I glance back at the desk.  The young man is sitting there slurping a smoothie through a straw.  I catch his eye and shrug reproachfully, like the school teacher I am.  He puts the energy drink down and strolls over to my bike, comes around to the side.

“It’s not on?”

He leans in toward the screen.  His well-defined bicep is brushing my arm.  How peculiar. 

I scroll to the channel where CNN is supposed to be.

“Looks like ABC to me.”  

To create a more comfortable distance, I sit back on my seat, but he closes it up.  What’s going on here?  I sense pheromones, and I’m old enough to be his great grandmother!

“Thought I had it right,” he’s checking very carefully indeed.  “Sorry, I’m new here. Guess I don’t know how to do that. ”
Now, I have a choice.  The kid is obviously trying to be friendly and nice.  I should probably drop my schoolmarm attitude and be nice back.  I pull out the earplugs and drape the cord around my neck.

“I thought so.  Congratulations!  Are you a trainer?”

He really lights up at this.  Besides athletes, he tells me he works with pregnant women and new moms, business executives and housewives. His pitch is infused with the unmistakable promise that working with him would bring, at least, a blush to my cheeks.  I know I’m getting the prospective customer treatment but I still feel like he might just climb on the bike with me.

So, I do my best to steer the conversation safely around to the topic of my book.  It’s part of my campaign for everyone on staff at my gym to know about The Anti-Diet and recommend it to the membership. This seems like as good an opportunity as any. Maybe I can get the guy to go to my website and “like” me on Facebook. 

“It’s all about awareness,” I say, “and it’s the same, I believe, with food and with exercise,” I’m pedaling hard now.  “Somewhere, somehow, we all know what we really need if we can just get in touch with it.  And that’s the best place to start.”   

“Definitely!”  My new friend has a dazzling smile.  “So, when did you publish this?”

“First time, in 1971, and the revision came out this November.”

He looks at me oddly.

“I’m 76.”  

“No way!”


Now, I’m impressed.  I feared I would scare him half to death by coming clean.  But he steps back, appraises me with a professional eye, then re-establishes the cozy distance he’s maintained from the start. 

“You really don’t look it.  You’re in great shape.”


“And your face – you just can’t be that . . .”
“Old.  I’m afraid so.”

He grins a little sheepishly but holds his ground.
“I would have . . . come on to you.”

I speed up a little on the bike – only three minutes left on the clock – and smile gratefully.

“I know.”

This really makes my day.  I must be doing something right.  
Please click HERE to read more about Lynn Donovan McCann and her book THE ANTI-DIET: Learning To Be In The Moment With Food

Monday, January 28, 2013

Listening to the Body aka “I've Fallen, and I CAN Get Up!"

On January 7th, in one of those moments that can alter the life of a 76-year-old, I fell on my way to a faculty meeting at school before start of the new term.  Rested and relaxed after the holidays, enjoying a sunny day and a quick commute, I missed the last step going down the stairs from the train.  As I crumpled to the landing, my right knee bent under my full weight much more tightly than it should and my nose pressed to meet it.  Surrender was the only option. “Give,” I pleaded through tan corduroy stretching over the joint, and I heard a tiny pop near the surface of it.  Not good.  My entire focus zoned into that knee, into the hip I found myself sitting on, into my lower back and the hand I’d used to break the fall.  But before I could assess the damage, a man was hoisting me by the armpit.  “Wait!”  I put him off, then stood cautiously and assured him I could manage. 

And manage I did, hobbled the two blocks to school and propped my leg on a chair during the round table discussion. I hardly heard a word that was spoken for the “chatter” that was going on in every cell of my body.  I think that’s part of what shock is, an overload of the information system and the exhaustion that comes from trying to sort it all out.  I found an ice pack in the teachers’ fridge to apply during an hour or so of training for the new campus website.  I was busy the whole time replaying and analyzing the fall in my mind, in slo-mo, like a sports mishap on TV.  There had been no impact and no torque or twist to the joint; it was just the deepest plié I’d done in 30 years.  There was practically no swelling and no discoloration.  Pain came only when I moved.  

Nevertheless, by mid-afternoon, I was a wreck.  Standing completely still, it felt like I had no knee to hold me up, nothing at all.  When I walked, commanding my leg to stiffen like a splint, it really hurt.  My husband came to get me, brought a cane, and got me home where I spent the evening Resting, Icing, Compressing and Elevating.  I lay there imagining my supportive colleagues wheeling me from class to class in a chair, or on a gurney.  (A certain sense of drama is a useful quality in a teacher.)  Surgery for a torn ligament, even a knee replacement did not seem out of the realm of possibility.

But I slept okay that first night without Ibuprofen.  The next morning, I was surprised there was still only minor swelling and no general discomfort, but the joint still felt like a bowl of Jell-O.  Cut to the diagnosis which I hastened to get from an X-ray within 48 hours:  a stable, hairline fracture of the patella that would likely heal completely on its own within 4 to 6 weeks – unless I did something really stupid. 

At the time of this writing, about half way through the miraculous healing process of which all our bodies are fully capable, I am teaching, walking normally indoors and out, taking stairs slowly, and pondering the odds – my odds – according to recent statistics selected from a government website:

·        One out of three adults age 65 and older falls each year.
·        Among older adults (those 65 or older), falls are the leading cause of injury death.
·        Rates of fall-related fractures among older women are more than twice those for men.
·        People age 75 and older who fall are four to five times more likely than those age 65 to 74 to be admitted to a long-term care facility for a year or longer.

Not me!  That’s not the life change I’m looking for, not yet. 

I’m back at the gym today for a gentle spin on the stationary bike and some easy stretching.  I welcome the gift of acupuncture sessions from a friend even though I’m needle-phobic.  And I will listen, listen, listen to every single little signal my body sends to tell me what it wants and needs, where it does and does not want to go.  And therein lies the secret of my knee healing like a youngster’s.

A long history of dance training prepared me well for this.  I learned the truth of “use it or lose it” before it became a cliché and I honor the need faithfully.  I do 3 or maybe 4 twenty-minute sets on a bike at the gym each week, and with very low resistance.  I do other lower body work to keep the leg muscles tuned, but I hardly break a sweat.  If I skip my workout (for reasons of illness or a holiday) I start to “lose it” in about two weeks, meaning that I feel unbalanced, less energetic, prone to kinks in my neck and fatigue in my back from sitting.  Digestion is affected, too.

But I am astonished by how little “using it” is necessary to maintain ownership of my body.  It seems I have completely underestimated the edge my modest, regular attendance to exercise has given me.  Along with the ever so slightly broken bone, an MRI revealed that my right knee has developed considerable arthritis.

“How can that be?” I exclaimed defensively to the PA on the phone.  “It’s completely asymptomatic.  I haven’t had a moment’s trouble with that knee until I fell.” 

She had no good answer, and I really want to know why the “arth” part of my condition shows in an MRI while the “itis” part is non-existent.  I wonder if the “arth” part of arthritis, a thickening of the bone, just comes with age.  Maybe avoiding the painful, inflammatory part is more of a choice many of us already make and many more of us could make, without drugs.  It’s abundantly logical that keeping the sinew strong will undercut the pull of gravity and reduce abrasion of bone on bone.  To make a stronger case for the long term benefits of “using it,” why aren’t there studies of the incidence of asymptomatic arthritis and the lifestyle choices of older people who have this but function perfectly well and do get up from the occasional embarrassing spill?

I think young people, middle-aged people, and older people are put off by unrealistic images and daunting regimens from doing the simple, little things that make a difference.  My acupuncturer (as I have dubbed her) makes a house call, slips in a needle and agrees: 
“There’s got to be some ground between ‘couch potato’ and ‘six packs galore’.” 

I’m not watching her, and I welcome the distraction, because I really don’t like the idea of needles.  I ’m showing up for this because even with all I know about the body I live in, there are many wondrous and mysterious things to learn.  A wake-up call, like the fall I took, is a chance to open up new possibilities.

On the table, a towel over my eyes, I report an extraordinary sensation, a slight fluttering of the diaphragm.  I associate this with a reaction I sometimes have listening to certain singers, or a live chorus.  I feel tremendous energy, but it is diffuse, directed to no purpose.  I am very relaxed.  It seems as if every cell in me is communicating with every other.  The next day, my knee feels much stronger and I succeed at three movements I have not attempted since the injury. What‘s the connection? I do not know.  I don’t have to.

I just have to pay attention.  I only need to trust the subtle cues that tell me it’s okay to rise up on my tiptoes again, that the twinge I feel in my knee as I carry the groceries home is a necessary stretch and not a harbinger of more trouble.  I must heed the larger message that – having survived a potential calamity rather well – every moment of the day from now on is going to feel a little more like a gift. 

Lynn Donovan McCann is the Author of "The Anti-Diet: Learning to be in the moment with food"

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Into the Grammar Fray: “Healthy vs. Healthful”

Type this into a search engine and see what you get. I’m delighted there’s still an argument about how to use these adjectives when referring to food. The words that come out of my mouth are as important to me as the foods that go into it. In fact, I’d rank the need to preserve good grammar and promote healthful eating right up there with saving the planet from global warming.

First, the grammar issue. A website called englishplus reminds us that “In formal English, things are healthful (i.e., good for one's health). People or other creatures are healthy (i.e., in a state of good health).” Thus, “broccoli is healthful” means that it’s good for you, and “broccoli is healthy” means that it’s still bright green, perky and undamaged by a long trip in a refrigerator container from Mexico.

Simple guidelines like this evoke my 8th grade English teacher, Georgiana Gilbert whom I channel daily as a teacher of basic writing skills at a small college in Queens, New York. “Use who for people, and use that for things,” Miss Gilbert would prescribe crisply as she wielded her red pencil back in 1951. When I quote her today, my students have no trouble understanding the rule when I ask them which pronoun they would choose to objectify their mother. “My mother who works in a hospital,” beats “my mother that works in a hospital,” hands down.

But, ah, my foes, and oh, my friends – Miss Gilbert’s lovely candle is guttering in the meltdown of language as it is being spoken, written, tweeted, abbreviated and horribly abused today. Listen up, folks. You’ll hear everyone including me use that for people and breaking other rules with embarrassing frequency.

The author of the grammarist website explains why we’re throwing in the towel on good grammar. “We can’t fault writers for using healthy in place of healthful,” she writes. “This practice has been standard for so long that it’s probably irreversible, and we would be crazy to call it incorrect.”

Well, call me crazy. It’s not incorrectness, though, that drives me nuts. It’s lack of respect for simple logic. Here’s an example from a recent article in the “Dining” section of the New York Times. A chef at a high-end restaurant considered adopting a new symbol on menu items to make it “easier for customers if they choose to be healthy.”

Well who wouldn't choose that? Are the customers who choose not to be healthy still chain smoking out on the sidewalk? Choosing food that is healthful makes good sense both personally and grammatically. Options are not people; abstractions cannot choose. And you just can’t pack a life choice for good health into the selection of a luncheon dish.

The author of the grammarunderground website rationalizes that “most people would say that ‘healthy diet’ is more popular and more natural-sounding than ‘healthful diet’,” and calls traditionalists like me “misinformed sticklers.” According to her, “in language, you have to pick your battles.” Mercifully, someone blogged right back: “To follow your usage logic . . . we should just go along with the 'dumbing down' of society!”

Not on my watch. I’m sick of dialogue sprinkled with redundancies like one I recently heard on the 6 O’clock news, “iconic images,” and larded with meaningless hyperbole. (Might we consider retiring the word “devastate” in all its forms?) I refuse to accept the text message on the wall that says grmr rls r 86. Why do I think it’s so important to be precise, to think about the words we use and how they relate to each other?

Here comes the food part. Language, great language, nourishes us greatly. Thoughtless, careless, empty language is our verbal fast food, devoid of nutritional value. It clogs the imagination and generates the emotional equivalent of a sugar high. Weighed down and numbed, we tune out on content and wait for the next tempting morsel of phony drama. This is cause for alarm because language connects us and defines us as human. Learning language in the first years of life informs the way we learn everything else, the pleasure, the curiosity and the diligence we bring to every enterprise. We disrespect and diminish language at our peril.

And how does this relate to the dangers of an overheated of our planet? Of course, there are natural changes in our environment, and surely much of that process is beyond our control. But denial of global warming and/or refusal to deal with whatever we do have the power to reverse, prevent, rescue or protect is just plain dumb. Likewise, dismissing egregious insults to the spoken and written word as inevitable or wave-of-the-future could someday leave us, as the blogger who defends my position concluded, “Emoting sounds and groaning at each other like cave people again.” I would have thought that notion ridiculous until I began to face classrooms of young people who have never acquired the habit of speaking in complete sentences and who find it extremely uncomfortable when they attempt to do so. It’s a slippery slope!

If you want to hear “the King’s English” beautifully written and exquisitely articulated – watch “Downtown Abbey.” Apparently 7.9 million people tuned in to the 2-hour third season debut episode. It can’t be just the fabulous costumes, the intrigue, and the restrained romance. Clearly audiences will sit still for its tightly compressed lessons in history and social class. But why doesn't anybody mention how easy this show is on the ear? All the characters both upstairs and downstairs speak gorgeously and employ a rich vocabulary I wish I could offer my students in a daily pill. No viewer to my knowledge has ever complained, “I don’t understand what they’re saying.” I think people relish whole language the way they take to whole grains and garden greens. I’ll do what I can to stimulate this healthy appetite. (Whoops! Please forgive my exception to the rule in using the term to imply “robust.”)

Monday, January 7, 2013

Original Anti-Diet: In The Moment Eating - 2013

I still love Mark Bittman. He’s always there with the inspiration I need, say, to recover from an indulgent holiday season in which routine went out the window, where unaccustomed richness lured, when the menu was heavily laced with nostalgia.

Bittman’s piece in the New York Times this weekend headlined What to EAT Right Now, starts the New Year with “more than one way to skin a potato.” I rush right out to the farmers’ market at Union Square where creamers, fingerlings, russets, Yukon gold, little gems in purple skins and at least a dozen heirloom varieties I never heard of beg to be mashed, baked, braised or fried. I fill an enormous bag with anything that’s priced $1.50 per pound. Of course, I have to tuck some sweet little carrots and parsnips in the mix. It’s topped off with a hoard of Jerusalem artichokes with skins so light they’ll hardly need a scrub.

It’s so humble, so real – the root vegetable – so in-the-moment. Now is all we have. Enjoy it.