It’s Financial Literacy Month

This week I’m sending out an extra post in case you aren’t on social media and haven’t seen this. I’d love to have you participate in my 1-question survey.

November is financial literacy month in Canada. I just read something that got my attention. Now I’m curious—and am doing a one-question survey. I’d love to know what you think. Go to bit.ly/2zu7pyR to record your answer.

Here’s the scenario: Chris has returned from a fabulous 27th birthday vacation. The entire trip was paid for with a credit card intended for that purpose only. The vacation cost $4268 and the card will never be used to buy anything else. Chris has vowed to make the minimum payment each month, without fail. The first payment is $43 and the annual interest rate is 20%. How old do you think Chris will be when the last payment is made? 35, 40 or 49 years old?

You’ll be entered in a draw for an autographed copy of my book Conscious Spending, Conscious Life. And if you’d like to share this blog-post with people you know, that would be awesome!

Unprocessed.

Last week I introduced Michael Pollan’s concept of establishing personal policies about what we eat. Today I want to explore the idea of a personal policy that eliminates processed foods.

Why pick on processed foods?

As one nutritionist aptly put it, start with the “big rocks.” Removing them first leads to visible progress in short order. Processed food, junk food, and fast food are big rocks. It has become clear that the Standard American Diet (SAD) creates poor health in people eating it. If you have any doubt, remember Morgan Spurlock’s experiment in his documentary Super Size Me.

Big and small rocks

Removing processed food cannot help but make a difference. Without doubt, you will be eating better if you eliminate packaged and processed items from your food choices. And there are many other benefits to you and your community when you choose fresh, real food instead.

But really, is it possible?

The video below tells the story of Megan Kimble’s experiment. At the time, she was a city-dwelling 26-year-old who was busy and broke, living in a small apartment without so much as a garden plot to her name. But she cared about food: where it came from, how it was made, and what it did to her body. So she set herself a challenge: She would go an entire year without eating processed foods.

Megan Kimble is the editor of Edible Baja Arizona, a local food magazine serving Tucson and the borderlands, and is a regular contributor to the Los Angeles Times. Her book, Unprocessed, describes her year-long experience. She says, “My central hypothesis is that eating whole, unprocessed food does not cost significantly more than the ready-made substances you might gather from the industrial food chain. And, more importantly, it does not take significantly more time.”

She concludes by saying that eating whole, unprocessed food makes feeding herself simpler. That’s been my experience too. Your thoughts?

Simplify and Civilize Your Food Shopping

Last week I wrote about dealing with too much information when researching health issues online. Unfortunately, for those of us living in a consumer-oriented culture, the Internet is not the only place where we have to deal with too much to choose from. Think supermarkets. Finding good food and not being distracted by everything else is challenging.

Overconsumption is not an accident… 

Overconsumption is built into the consumer culture, where the story is based on beliefs that “big is better” and “more is best.” Many people buy into that viewpoint with no discernment as to whether it’s in alignment with their values.

Overconsumption, literally, is a major concern with regard to our eating habits. Eating too much and eating the wrong things can cause chronic complex conditions that are debilitating for the person and a major cost to the health care system.

Being aware of our tendencies and habits is useful in helping us manage ourselves, our spending, and our appetite. Self-awareness is a huge asset, and one worth cultivating. to counterbalance  the mindless consumption encouraged by the consumer culture and most  players in it.

Understanding the playing field…

One of our best defences is understanding the forces at play in the consumer culture. When we are informed and aware, It’s easier to navigate the system without being consumed by it.

Checkout at a mega-supermarket

In the world of business as it is widely practised, making a profit is the only point of the game. Everything is geared toward generating that profit. This means inducing consumers to buy—preferably more than they planned to.

That’s the basis of the super-store concept. And it’s why retailers offer “two-for” or “three-for” deals: they want you to buy two or three of an item rather than just one. Most of us do, in an automatic psychological response to the thought of getting a deal.

Supermarkets are arranged to encourage impulse buys. Music is upbeat to put you in a good mood, but slow enough so you’ll have time to see the items you pass. None of this happens by accident. According to Marion Nestle, author of  What to Eat:

…breathtaking amounts of research have gone into designing these places. There are precise reasons why milk is at the back of the store and the center aisles are so long. You are forced to go past thousands of other products on your way to get what you need…. The stores create demand by putting some products where you cannot miss them. These are often “junk” foods full of cheap, shelf-stable ingredients like hydrogenated oils and corn sweeteners, made and promoted by giant food companies that can afford slotting fees [money paid by the manufacturer to “rent” prime shelf space in the store]… and advertising. This is why entire aisles of prime supermarket real estate are devoted to soft drinks, salty snacks, and sweetened breakfast cereals, and why you can always find candy near the cash registers. Any new product that comes into a store must come with guaranteed advertising, coupons, discounts, slotting fees, and other such incentives.

These merchandising strategies expose us to a large proportion of the 30,000 to 40,000 items supermarkets carry. Most of the “food products” in a supermarket would not qualify as food by any reasonable definition. Yet the fact they are referred to as food and are sold in a food store soothes our critical minds and makes us overlook the fact that a powdered drink is nowhere comparable to the fruit it is imitating, except perhaps in colour.

Coping with too much choice…

How does exposure to 30,000 items affect us when we shop? As Barry Schwartz found when he studied the paradox of choice, sometimes our eyes glaze over, we cave in, and buy whatever. Other times we become paralyzed with indecision in the face of overwhelming choice.

Neither caving in nor becoming paralyzed is a constructive response. However, a conscious consumer can beat them at their game. Here are my suggestions for making food shopping a more satisfying experience.

Farmer's Market

My strategies to simplify and civilize food shopping… 

  1. Buy as much local produce as you can at the farmers’ market and go to a small supermarket for the remainder of your grocery list. You don’t need anywhere near 30,000 grocery items, and it’s tiring to sort through the clutter of things that don’t serve you.
  2. Shop the perimeter when you are in a  supermarket. That’s where the basics are, so this strategy allows you to deliberately skip the middle aisles where impulse items and packaged foods are shelved. I learned this early on, when I was shopping for an additive-free diet for my hyperactive child.
  3. Decide on brands you like and stick with them until they no longer work for you. Browsing and “trying new things” is an expensive proposition and usually results in half-used packages cluttering your shelves and your conscience because you can’t bear to waste money by throwing them out. It’s much simpler to purchase judiciously in the first place.
  4. Buy basic ingredients that can be made into many things, instead of purchasing specialty items and packaged mixes. When you have flour, baking powder, milk and eggs, you can make pancakes. No need for a special bag of pancake mix. (Look at the label sometime—there’s not much in a bag of pancake mix besides flour.) If you add butter and sugar to those four basic ingredients, you can also bake cakes, cookies, breads, and scones. With olive oil, vinegar, and a few herbs in your cupboard, you can declutter your fridge because you won’t need to buy a never-ending array of prepared salad dressings. No doubt about it, keeping your cupboard stocked with a few staple ingredients makes shopping and food management so much simpler…and less expensive.

Conscious choice is the deliberate act of deciding between two or more possibilities, choosing with full awareness. The opposite is allowing chance to determine what happens. In the world of food shopping, there are many others who are happy to direct your attention and influence your choices if you are not on the job.

By consciously making food shopping choices that fit with your values and viewpoints, you’ll be navigating the consumer culture on your terms. That’s much more satisfying than allowing those with vested interests to determine what you buy.

Reference chapter: “Spending Consciously” from Conscious Spending. Conscious Life.

Cutting Through TMI

For a long time, consumer educators believed that people make the best choices when they have plenty of information. Consumer education programs taught us how to locate information so we had enough to make good decisions.

That was before the Internet.

These days, the challenge is not in finding information. It’s in learning how to manage an over-abundance of it. There are two issues here:

  1. Discerning what has integrity in a medium without gatekeepers, one in which anyone can say and publish whatever they want to.
  2. Coping with the volume so that we don’t shut down from information overload.

A previous post featured Dr. Barry Schwartz speaking about the paradox of choice. His research discovered that people actually make worse decisions when overloaded with information and choices.

Yet none of us would deny that there is useful information online. So let’s look at some strategies for navigating online information without being consumed by it.

How can we discern what has integrity?

Start with credible sources. Who is bringing you this information? What are this person’s credentials? motivations? mindset?

When researching a health issue online, I like to start where I have the best chance of success. Here are some of my guidelines.

  1. Lean toward doctors with conventional medical training complemented by additional study in functional and integrative medicine. To me, it’s the best of both worlds when they bring all these perspectives to bear on a problem.
  2. Pay attention to whether they base their statements on research and experience, or theories and opinion. I watch for sweeping generalizations and unsupported statements.
  3. Look for someone who is open to learning about new developments, and is not afraid to consider options outside the box of their conventional training.
  4. Research the person, at the very least by reading the “about” page on their website. Usually the content of the about page gives a good sense of the person’s philosophy and mission, which is something I find particularly helpful. Of course they’re going to present themselves in a good light, but it’s unlikely they will lie about books they have written or certifications they have because these are too easily traceable in the Internet era.
  5. Subscribe to their newsletter. This gives you a chance to become familiar with their areas of interest, approach to health, and recommendations. If they are not for you, It’s easy to unsubscribe and move on.
  6. Filter all of this through your intuition. What does your gut say about the trustworthiness of this person and their information?

Below are a few examples of online doctors I respect and trust. This is not an exhaustive list but gives you an idea about what’s important to me. Your list might be quite different. The important thing is that you find the people who ring bells for you, in order to get the help you need.

I care that you think

A few of my go-to online doctors

Dr. Kelly Brogan is a Manhattan-based holistic women’s health psychiatrist. She is the  author of a New York Times best-selling book, A Mind of Your Own, and co-editor of the landmark textbook, Integrative Therapies for Depression. Dr. Brogan is dedicated to helping people learn the truth about mental health and how to reclaim their vitality. One section of her website, titled “Rethink Health” is introduced this way: “You may have noticed that my approach to women’s mental health deviates from the norm—from what is being taught in medical school and what is being offered by doctors around the country. I believe that our current model is outdated and disempowering.”

Dr. Christiane Northrup is a board-certified OB/GYN physician, and a leading authority in the field of women’s health and wellness, which includes the unity of mind, body, emotions, and spirit. She says, “When we find the connection between our thoughts, beliefs, physical health, and life circumstances, we find that we are in the driver’s seat of our lives and can make profound changes. Nothing is more exhilarating or empowering.” Dr. Northrup is an internationally respected writer and speaker whose books have been translated into 24 languages. In 2016, she was named one of Oprah Winfrey’s Super Soul 100, a group of leaders who are using their voices and talent to awaken humanity.

Dr. Sarah Myhill is a general practitioner who has spent many years working with those  experiencing chronic fatigue. Frustrated with the limitations and restrictions of practising  under the National Health Service, she is now in private practice in Wales. Her focus is to  discover root causes of health issues instead of treating symptoms, and her highly successful approach is based on diet, micronutrient status, allergies, and lifestyle. Dr. Myhill is a member of the British Society for Ecological Medicine, the British equivalent of functional medicine. She has a website full of detailed health information, is the author of several books, and recently founded National Health Worldwide to offer people access to a range of health practitioners no matter where they live.

That is plenty about thinking and researching for now. And if this is all feeling a bit onerous, here’s a fresh perspective…

A Revolutionary View of Alzheimer’s

Albert Einstein is frequently quoted for saying that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Much of what goes on in medicine fits this definition. Researchers and practitioners go around in circles, trying small variations on the same approach, and not finding the results they hope for.

The issue is, all of the variations are rooted in the same mindset. In medicine, the prevailing mindset is that the solution to any condition is a magic bullet in the form of a pill to correct the issue. It’s an outdated attitude that worked in the days when penicillin was discovered to kill the bacteria that caused pneumonia, rheumatic fever, blood poisoning and other infections. Penicillin was the magic bullet that ushered in the age of antibiotics at a time when untreated infections were a major cause of death.

However, the landscape has shifted. Today’s health issues are primarily complex chronic conditions. Think heart disease, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, cancer, chronic fatigue and Alzheimer’s. Despite the enormous amount o money and effort put toward finding the magic bullet, it hasn’t happened.

The prevailing medical view of Alzheimer’s is a good example of stuck thinking.

Doctors are taught that once a person shows signs of Alzheimer’s, continued deterioration is inevitable. Drugs might be able to slow the progression, but there is absolutely no possibility of reversing the condition.

As the title of this post suggests, that belief has now been proven to be untrue. But before we look at who says so and why, let’s get a fuller sense of the prevailing medical view. Here’s some of what the Mayo clinic says in its information for patients:

Alzheimer’s drugs might be one strategy to help you temporarily manage memory loss, thinking and reasoning problems, and day-to-day function. Unfortunately, Alzheimer’s drugs don’t work for everyone, and they can’t cure the disease or stop its progression. Over time, their effects wear off.

…Clinical trials testing whether Alzheimer’s drugs might prevent progression of MCI [mild cognitive impairment] to Alzheimer’s have generally shown no lasting benefit.

…Cholinesterase inhibitors [the main class of medication] can’t reverse Alzheimer’s disease or stop the destruction of nerve cells. These medications eventually lose effectiveness… Common side effects can include nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

…Because Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease, your symptoms and care plan will change over time. …Because the effects of Alzheimer’s drugs are usually modest, it might be difficult to tell if the drugs are working. However, you can’t know if your symptoms might be more severe without your medication.

With that as the current view, is it any wonder there is great anxiety among aging adults? What a hopeless situation to face.

Except…it isn’t hopeless at all.

Dr. Dale Bredesen has created an entirely different outcome for patients by approaching Alzheimer’s from a different mindset. Instead of using the magic bullet approach, he’s using a “magic buckshot” protocol.

Discovery quote

Dr. Bredesen sees patients in the same condition as other researchers and clinicians, but thinks differently about what is going on and what would help. Instead of looking for one therapy for Alzheimer’s, he recognizes that it’s a condition with multiple contributing factors. In the interview below, he points out that looking for a mono-therapy to treat a complex chronic illness is like using a checker strategy for a chess match. It can’t work.

His program, which has been tested and published, considers 36 different entry points when determining how to treat a particular person. As he notes, they are looking for the root cause(s) and this can differ from person to person. You might be surprised to learn that mold in the environment and heavy metals like mercury in the body are among these factors.

The stunning finding is that people experience sustained improvement when continuing on the protocol because they are treating the root cause. Next spring, Dr. Bredesen’s organization will launch a documentary that follows people using this protocol and shows the impact on their lives.

Comprehensive protocol

The research is compelling and Dr. Bredesen has recently published a book to make this new information accessible to all of us. A New York Times bestseller. The End of Alzheimer’s is a manual for professionals and the rest of us, featuring both the evidence behind the protocol, and practical information about what we can do.
In addition, physicians and other health professionals are being trained in this protocol around the world. And an institute is being established where people can go for treatment.
All of that is very encouraging, as is Dr. Bredesen’s assertion that we are at a unique point in history where we are able to attack complex chronic illnesses successfully for the first time. The interview below will give you a chance to hear him speak about his work and the impact it can have…for Alzheimer’s and beyond.

Panning for gold in a never-ending stream of information…

One of my themes is resourcefulness, the valuable ability to devise effective ways and means of meeting any situation we face. I’m curious about how we can increase our capacity for resourcefulness. And about how we can discover and engage with available resources without being duped or overwhelmed.

To engage fully, we must recognize that there are two aspects of resourcefulness—what we find within ourselves, and what we can learn from others.

What are resources?

Our inner resources are the attitudes and skills developed from life experience. They keep us going and make us resilient. When we tap into our inner knowing, we bring these resources to the forefront. That’s why it’s helpful for each of us to find our own best method of accessing that inner wisdom. It makes us stronger and better able to cope. My recent blogs have been about accessing inner resources. But… Continue reading

Does energy psychology really work?

Energy can be felt and experienced, but not seen. That is both its power and its Achilles heel.

Energy medicine has been practised in ancient cultures for thousands of years. The philosophy is that when energy is blocked or unbalanced, the body will develop symptoms of dis-ease. Since the condition originates in the energy system, that’s what is treated. Acupuncture is one of the more familiar examples of this approach.

In Western culture, we are schooled to discount the energetic aspects of our existence. This leaves many people playing the game of life with a poor hand, the best cards still left in the box.

Playing with a poor hand

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Integrative Medicine

When Pamela Wible MD held a meeting to find out what would create an ideal medical experience for patients in her town, she discovered they wanted an integrative approach to their medical care. What exactly is that? And why would they want it?

What is integrative medicine?

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The Woman Who Changed Her Brain

I found Barbara’s story particularly poignant because so many people experience variations of what she described. And it happens all the way along the age continuum…from children with learning disabilities of varying degrees to adults with dementia of various types and severity.

Barbara Arrowsmith Young’s vision is a lofty one—that cognitive exercises become a normal part of curriculum, and that school becomes a place that we go to strengthen our brains. The good news is, she has done something about it. The Arrowsmith Program is offered at schools throughout North America, Australia, New Zealand and Asia.

And what can we do?

Continue reading

Engaging Your Whole Brain

Last week I wrote about using your whole brain when making decisions. That post included a TED talk by a practitioner of Psych-K (psychological kinesiology). As the name suggests, Psych-K uses body movement (kinesiology) to assist the brain in working as it’s meant to.

Psych-K was my introduction to energy psychology many years ago. Psychologist Rob Williams had blended principles of psychology with body movement from Edu-K (educational kinesiology), also known as Brain Gym.

Braqin Gym book

Brain Gym is a set of 26 movements aimed at integrating the two halves of your brain. It was developed by Paul Dennison to help himself with learning challenges when he was a post-secondary student. Seeing the potential to help others, he and his wife, Gail Dennison, developed the Brain Gym program. They found that people doing these movements experienced improvement in a number of areas, including concentration and focus, memory, physical coordination, and organization skills. The photo is my copy of the original book. It is still available on the Brain Gym Bookstore. Continue reading