Random Thoughts – Randocity!

Will there be a second COVID wave?

Posted in advice, economy, Health by commorancy on May 11, 2020

big waves under cloudy sky

This seems to be a burning question on everyone’s mind. Unfortunately, the information on this front will not be good news. Let’s explore.

CDC and WHO Guidelines

Both the Center’s for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have fairly stringent guidance as to how the world should reopen during this pandemic. Even the White House has come up with its own 3 step plan. Unfortunately, the world’s leaders are far too anxious for their own good. I fully understand why. The economy is tanking, unemployment is now at an all-time high, and many business are on the verge of collapse.

With that level of pressure, any political leader would be anxious to want to reopen. The problem with reopening is not the reopening itself. It’s the second wave that’s looming. We’ve already seen, numerous times (here, here, here and here) that people can’t be trusted nor do they have any discipline to stay home, when given an inch. The only way this can happen is strictly by forced closure. It’s unfortunate that people feel the need to defy closure orders and safety advice, but here we are.

When restaurants open, when bars open, when stores open fully, when beaches and parks open, throngs will (emphasis WILL) head out in droves. It’s not a matter of IF it’s a matter of WHEN. There are many reasons for this defiance, but many who turn out believe that the whole COVID-19 problem is either a hoax or isn’t serious… or they are self-centered and simply believe it does not apply to them.

Whatever their deluded mentally deranged reasons, they head out in droves… and they will again. This is why reopening will lead to a second wave.

Second Wave Deaths and Reopening

Because many people are fed up with staying indoors at home, tired of being around their kids day in and out and eating the same home cooked meals, this sows the seeds for wave 2. After all, many people erroneously and foolishly believe, “It doesn’t apply to me. I’m healthy. I won’t get it.” Additionally, many also justify their actions by, “I’m healthy, why should I stay home?”

It is for all of these irrational thoughts that people flock to flea markets, beaches and other large gatherings… New York City Blue Angels flyover anyone? The point is, people cannot be trusted to stay home. If a crowd gathering event opens, people will come. It’s inevitable.

The point is, reopening of ANY sort will automatically trigger, in many people’s deranged minds, that it’s now okay to go hang out with the masses ignoring social distancing, ignoring face masks and ignoring any guidelines whatsoever. It’s clear, as I’ve shown above, there’s no way any early reopening ends well for the public. The public is not at all well disciplined enough for that.

Double Whammy

yellow dead end sign during day time

The bigger problem is the double whammy effect. People are fed up at staying home. Any chance they have to get their kids back into school or head back into the office, they’re going to take it like a kid grabbing candy from a stranger. That anxiousness will be on overdrive. It will override many sensibilities of health. People will be grasping at ANY straws that lead them into a feeling of comfort and safety when none actually exists.

At this level of desperation, people will begin congregating together in masses simply because the government leaders have relaxed the requirements even just a little. For many, “A little ain’t enough.” In fact, the other adage that applies is, “Give an inch and they’ll take a mile.” And yes, people WILL most definitely take that mile, and then some. Many people have no self-control at all. They’re social creatures and must live in the moment with other people around, regardless of their own safety or the safety of others (if they are infected).

It’s not a matter of IF, it’s a matter of WHEN. When is coming and very, very soon. With both the White House and the state governors feeling the pinch, not only are they feeling that pinch with their own state economies, they are getting the pinch from businesses too. It’s just a matter of time before the states, counties and cities succumb to these pressures and reopen out of desperation to placate businesses, but not to satisfy public safety.

Is COVID-19 subsiding?

In short, no. It is not subsiding. Distancing measures and stay-at-home orders have slowed its progress, but all of that will be entirely undone by reopening. Once people can travel, shop, stay at hotels, visit beaches and generally bunch up together like lemmings, COVID-19 will not only break out again, it will do so with a vengeance the second time around.

It won’t be a sparse set of cases in specific locales, it will be all over the country. Lifting stay-at-home orders is tantamount to ordering a second wave on a platter. In fact, COVID-19 may very well arrive on a literal platter for some.

Let’s consider the infection rate in the US. There are around 330 million people in the US. If 3.3 million people have been infected, so far, that means the United States has only seen a 1% infection rate. That means that 99% of the population of the United States remains susceptible to infection.

While some of those 1% who’ve already been infected may be out and about feeling confident about their ability to withstand another COVID infection, 99% have no immunity at all (assuming a past survivor has any immunity). That means that the vast majority of those who are out and about will be people who’ve never had COVID-19. It will be these people who will strike up the second wave.

Brutal

grey skulls piled on ground

While the first wave was somewhat brutal with potentially up to 3.3 million infected and around 80,000 deaths (and counting), this death rate will skyrocket come reopening day.

Just like 1918’s pandemic, people are now being lulled into a false sense of security because the numbers are dropping. Many justify that the lower numbers are because the virus is not intense, but that simply isn’t true. The virus is not only highly contagious, it’s extremely virulent and, to many, deadly. This is why the second wave will be brutal.

Because of the callous disregard for safety, people will chance their own lives in an effort to get back to some semblance of normal social interactions with their friends, co-workers, clubs, gyms and faith. It’s a chance that will end up in death.

For this reason, the second wave will be even less forgiving than the first. Partly, this will be because of the carelessness of individuals, but partly it’s because this virus has mutated 12 times in 3 months. The virus strain that has been going around Europe has made it onto US soil and believe to be what’s causing most of NY’s cases. It is this strain that may even see even those who have even survived an earlier strain back in bed again, let alone the remaining 99% who’ve never been infected who now get sick.

Hard Lessons and Death Statistics

Death is never a lesson that people should have to learn. Unfortunately, it is a lesson that many are learning, at least via their surviving loved ones. Even seeing the White House is not immune to close colleagues becoming infected, it proves just how easily transmissible this virus really is. If the White House can’t keep it out of their doors, then no one can.

Unfortunately, I believe we are now firmly following down the same path as the 1918 Pandemic which struck and killed somewhere between 20-50 million people worldwide. Yes, you read that correctly: 20-50 million people. The first wave of COVID-19 will seem like small potatoes next to the next wave that’s coming… and coming, it is.

Protecting Yourself

Unfortunately, many of us need to work. At the same, we need to protect ourselves. Many business owners / executives are not amenable to people working from home. For this reason, they may mandate people back into the office earlier than is safe. This is likely to be the first salvo for the virus. Workplaces are communal environments. There’s no way you can avoid becoming infected in such a communal environment. Worse, many rented office spaces utilize recirculated air. These systems can pose a risk to everyone in the building. It only takes one COVID infected individual to cough, sneeze or otherwise expel their bodily fluids and some portion of the building can become infected. This is the reason that people in one part of the building can become infected by others in that same building, but without having any personal contact.

Closed recirculated ventilation systems and other communal office spaces can see to the transmission of COVID-19 across individuals in buildings. You might even get infected by performing something as simple as using the copy machine or drinking from the water fountain or water cooler or touching the faucet handle. Though, transmission through the ventilation system is still a big problem in many, many commercial building structures.

As a personal example, I worked in a 6 story building for 5 years. In that time, I’d had maybe 2 colds the entire time I worked there. These illnesses were within the first year. The remaining years I got sick maybe once. I moved on from that business and hired into another company that rented office space in a 16 story building. I worked on the 11th floor. In the first year that I worked there, I’d had several colds, the flu and an extremely long bout of bronchitis. That building’s A/C system was incredibly bad and seemed to circulate air not only from our floor, but apparently it also circulated air between multiple floors through a common shaft.

This ventilation system left everyone in the building vulnerable to sickness. I’ve never been sick that often in any other business where I’d ever worked. This building was so poorly engineered and because the company encouraged sickness in the office via its exceedingly poor sick leave policy, I had considered leaving the company just from this alone. Even when I attempted such things as social distancing, avoiding the kitchen, bringing my own food, washing hands often and staying at my desk as much as possible, none of it helped. I still got sick too often. There was truly “something in the air”. I finally left that company and I’ve not been sick since. That building was just one big petri dish.

Sick Leave Policies

woman lying on bed while blowing her nose

The whole building situation was made worse by, you guessed it, HR’s sick leave policies. Many corporate sick leave policies are less than ideal. For example, some businesses choose to gang up sick time onto paid time off (PTO). This is a bad, bad idea.

This means that your allotment of PTO must cover for all out of the office situations, including when you’re sick. This means you have to use up precious PTO to be at home nursing a cold or the flu. Not many people are willing to give up their PTO (i.e., their vacations) to be at home sick. Hence, people arrived into the office sick and worked sick at their desks. This crappy sick leave policy actually encouraged people to come to the office while contagious, thus infecting everyone around them. This company also took no steps to send people home if they appeared to be sick.

Companies which choose to separate PTO from sick days off tend to have less problems with people working sick at the office. The company where I worked prior to this poorly ventilated building company had an “unlimited” sick time policy. Keep in mind that “unlimited” isn’t truly unlimited. What that means is that if you’re sick, stay home and get well and take however many days is needed to get better. However, if you’re at home sick often, your job is in jeopardy. This meant that as long as you were truly sick and your boss can see it (or hear it), staying home is an option. Although, even though you’re at home, that doesn’t mean you’re not working. While you have claimed a sick day, you could still be called to work on projects or issues while in the throes of the flu. While an “unlimited” sick time policy is novel, it still has limits and requires manager approval every time you’re sick. Getting this time off can be tricky with many managers.

I’d prefer companies give realistic hard set amounts of sick time off per year. Just define an amount (5 days per year) and hold us to it. Because it’s hard sick time, you don’t need approvals. Just use it when you need it. You will need to inform your boss that you’re at home sick to avoid “no show” problems, but you can use that sick time when you need it. If you run out of the allotted amount of sick days, you may need to consider disability leave or PTO instead. That’s a separate issue from ganging up sick time onto PTO up front, which is not a good idea and encourages the wrong behavior.

COVID and Corporations

Corporations are difficult slow boats. What I mean is that trying to get stick-in-the-mud executives to change corporate standards to help reduce or eliminate sickness in the office can be a real challenge. Human Resource staff might have a better time at steering that slow barge than those of us not in HR. The difficulty is, many executives don’t really care. They want butts in the office. They don’t care about people being sick. In fact, many executives don’t care about the welfare of their employees specifically. That’s left up to the HR team to handle. Many times, the HR team operates benefits from the cost perspective. If it costs too much, it won’t get implemented. This can leave situations like the above, where sick time is ganged up on PTO time. Yes, the HR team came up with that idea and implemented it.

Unfortunately, the costs outweigh the fact that such a policy encourages people to horde their PTO time at all costs. That means seeing people at their desks wheezing, sneezing, coughing, with runny noses and contagious with the flu. Staff simply won’t give up their vacation days to stay at home sick. They value that summer Hawaii trip way more. In fact, many of these people may even show up to work sick facetiously in an attempt to “get back” at the rest of the office for its asinine sick time policy. They are willing to let their co-workers, boss and other office staff become sick just to fulfill a vendetta against a perceived corporate injustice. Yes, this does happen.

COVID won’t be different

architecture barge bay beach

With many corporations, they can be exceedingly slow barges that simply can’t or won’t course correct their corporate culture and policies for something like COVID. Some might, but many won’t. If it’s going to cost the corporation even more money in benefits, then you can bet it won’t get implemented. This means that such antiquated sick time policies, such as the one stated above, will continue to be enforced in a post-COVID world.

Some corporations do legitimately care for their staff. Other companies really don’t give a damn. Only you can review your corporate policies to see if your company is trying to make positive changes with COVID or not.

Unfortunately, many corporate policy changes are simply for show. What I mean is that corporations appear to make policy changes simply to get free press from the industry. However, internally, these corporate changes are mere window dressing. This means that the policies remain exactly identical as before. What’s stated to the outside is not what’s being practiced on the inside. It’s more about making the company look good than it is about that company actually being sincere. There are plenty of companies that follow this asinine example. Yours may even be one of them.

Ultimately, what this means for COVID is more and faster infection rates. Corporations are itching to get their offices open with employees back at their desks so they can continue to sell and make money. It’s all about the money. Unfortunately, the money motivation can remove motivation from keeping employees healthy. In fact, many corporations see employees as disposable commodities. If a position becomes vacant, they believe they can fill it almost instantly. In an employer’s market, that might be true. In an employee’s market, that’s absolutely false.

Economic Impact and Employer’s Market

red and white signage

Here’s where we are. Because employers have furloughed or laid off millions of workers due to temporary closure, it is now back to an employer’s market. That means that any employer who is now hiring has an unfair advantage. This means the employer can demand less wages, poorer working conditions, longer hours, less benefits, more dedication with less rewards and on and on. Because people are now firmly out of work, this means employers who have positions to hire hold the upper hand.

While once we had days where employers were bending over backwards to get new talent in the door, we now have the reverse situation where there’s too much talent looking for work. This means that employers can write bad sick time policies forcing employees to use their PTO as sick time… or even worse, reduce PTO days.

As a result of the poor economy, we have now firmly moved back to an employer’s market where they can treat their staff with all of the careless disregard they so rightfully wish. That can only last for so long, but it’s here for now. The problem is, COVID can easily infect not only staff in the office, but the executives. Unfortunately, we’re likely to see most executives board themselves into their offices and never come out to see anyone. That assumes that many executives choose to even come into the office at all. Many executives may not even show up and, instead, choose to work from home. While those executives practice stay-at-home, they firmly will not allow their staff to do so. It’s a, “Do as I say, not as I do” situation. Unfortunately, these truly one-sided executive privilege situations occur with much more frequency in high unemployment markets, just as we face in 2020.

Worse, these callous self-centered greedy executives will treat their bottom end employees as entirely disposable. Because of the high unemployment rate, this gives them the opportunity to treat employees poorly while tossing them aside with frequency and impunity. If a few of their employees die to COVID, they don’t really care. This also means that COVID will spread with all of the careless abandon it needs to usher in wave 2. These poor corporate decisions will also be one of the primary reasons why wave 2 starts, though it won’t be the only reason why it continues to propagate.

That will be thanks to public transportation, beach gatherings, public gatherings, shopping in stores, restaurants and so on. All of the standard social fare that everyone has become accustomed to every day and on weekends, these will be the method of propagation of COVID-19. It may start in the office, but it will transmit through “open channels”. Though, as I said, it will also transmit due to poorly conceived office spaces combined with executives treating staff as dispensable in a high unemployment market. If someone in a corporation gets COVID, executives won’t necessarily take swift action. They might disinfect the workplace, they might not. It all depends on the corporation. Many corporations, as I said, don’t really give a damn about their employees’ health.

mask-businessWorse, far too many executives are sociopaths. They really don’t care one wit about anyone other than themselves. They put on a good face, but behind that is someone who doesn’t actually care. If someone gets COVID, they don’t really care as long as it doesn’t impact them directly. As long as they continue to practice stay-at-home, they won’t be affected. If half of their office staff gets COVID, they’ll simply fire them and get more staff. However, that might only work for so long until they have a huge lawsuit pending against them for improper staff treatment (and a number of COVID deaths). OSHA won’t take too kindly to sociopath executives playing games with their office staff in this callous and reckless way.

By the time any kind of litigation is forthcoming, the damage will already have been done. This means that COVID-19 will be firmly partway through its second much larger and deadlier wave. Those executives might be fired or the company might have to shut down, but not before the damage to the population has been done.

Second Wave Part II

Don’t kid yourself. The second wave is coming. As soon as the politicians decide that we need to reopen the US (and, indeed, the world) is the day the seeds for the second wave are planted. It only takes 14-28 days to incubate COVID-19. Within that period of time, we’ll see a ramping up, again, of the number of cases. Within 30 days, assuming the politicians keep the economy open, the cases will skyrocket. Unfortunately, we’re presently in the lull just before the storm. That 14-28 days will seem like everything is status-quo. That we’ve gone back to our older days. People will be out and about, happy, content and oblivious. All the while, COVID-19 is transmitting between many people. You can’t see it transmitted. You can’t feel it. It’s there, but it’s invisible. The only way to know is 1) getting tested or 2) getting sick.

Because we, as a nation, seem to have opted to go with #2 as a primary means of detection, this means that we have to wait until its far too late before understanding just how badly the whole situation is screwed up. The numbers of dead in wave 2 will far exceed the numbers of dead we’ve seen so far.

Grim Statistics

Here we come to how this may all pay out. It’s also the place where we need to review numbers. If numbers aren’t your thing, then it’s a good thing I saved the best for last. Let’s get going.

My guestimate is somewhere between 2% – 5% of the nation dead assuming an infection rate totalling at least 50% of the population (165 million).

At a 2% death rate at a 50% infection rate, that’s 3.3 million dead… and that’s just for starters. If the death rate reaches a whopping 5% (likely once hospitals reach capacity), that’s 8.25 million people dead. Those numbers are still less than the total number of dead from the 1918 pandemic at 20-50 million dead worldwide, though it’s much higher than the ~700,000 dead from the 1918 pandemic in the US. Keep in mind that in 1918, the population of the US was around 103.2 million people or roughly 1/3 of the population in 2020. Extrapolating the death rate from 1918 using 2020’s population of 330 million, the 1918 pandemic would have claimed 2.1 million people in the US alone. With COVID, we’re no where near that death rate yet. We’ve got a long way to go, which is why reopening now WILL only lead to a much more severe wave 2 death rate.

The sheer fact that we may not yet have even reached a 1% US population infection rate should be wildly concerning. We’ll need to reach an 85-95% infection rate across the entire US population before COVID-19 is considered “done”. We’re no where near those numbers. Opening the economy at this moment invites many, many more infections. You don’t even want to consider about the numbers of dead once we reach an 85% US population infection rate. Though, we’re quickly heading down this road.

Steps to Reopening

Unfortunately, we can’t stop the tide that is now turning. Politicians are going to do what they’re in the process of doing. If that’s reopen the economy, then that’s it. Come hell or high water, we’re reopening. That means that any published steps for how to safely achieve that reopening are mere suggestions. There’s no way that any leader will follow every step to the letter. Indeed, we’re likely to see some state governors open their entire state back up simply out of fear of political reprisal. Some deluded people have even called for recall of some governors. Governors are doing what they are doing to protect that state’s citizens, not because, as some people have put it, that those governors are “drunk with power”. It’s not a Kool-Aid issue. It’s an issue of public safety.

Though, some people don’t seem to get this. I get it. They’re out of work. They have no income. It’s difficult to make ends meet. I get that wholeheartedly. The problem is, what are we opening back up to if we do it now?

If “you” want to go to back to work face-to-face with the throngs of the COVID-bearing public, go for it. If you get COVID-19 and perish, that’s your choice. That’s a Darwinian Award level choice. While it’s fine to make such decisions for yourself, don’t drag other people into your quagmire along with you. If you have a death wish, that’s yours alone. Leave other people’s lives, health, safety and livelihoods out of it. If we choose to stay out of the public, that’s our choices. Don’t attempt make choices for or force choices on others. We all can make choices for ourselves. If the rest of the country chooses not to have a death wish, you must respect that choice.

If your employer chooses not to have that death wish, you must also respect their choice. If your company wants you back to work tomorrow and you’re willing, that’s also your choice. If your company wants you back at work and you’d prefer to stay-at-home as ordered, that’s a choice companies also need to respect without ramifications. If you can safely and effectively work from home, then a company needs to allow that choice. So long as stay-at-home orders remain, companies should be required to abide by those orders regardless of whether their business is now allowed to reopen.

Corporations and small businesses alike will do whatever is most cost effective to operate their business, rather than operate in the public’s best interest. The difficulty, with both business and government alike, is having a death toll approaching 3 million is catastrophic to any economy. If it gets to has high as 8 million (this is entirely possible), the economy will be way beyond problematic. It is, unfortunately, where we are presently heading with the early reopening that both the President and the governors are pushing hard, regardless of their documented steps.

↩︎

Is loosening Social Distancing a good thing?

Posted in economy, Health, history by commorancy on April 26, 2020

an empty street under cloudy sky

I know a lot of people are going stir-crazy being stuck in without much to do. Movie theaters are closed. Beaches are closed. Concerts are canceled. Work is performed at home. Kids are home schooled. All of the normal social things we do every day, like shopping and restaurants are not really available (other than grocery shopping, of course). Let’s explore what it means to loosen social distancing.

Viruses

Like the Flu or Colds, a virus is a virus. No, we don’t yet have inoculation for even the common cold or the flu. For the flu, we have the once a year flu shot. This shot is formulated to contain a very specific set of inactive flu strains that “someone” deems as the “most likely” to hit the population. When you get a flu shot, the body acts on these inactive flu strains like they would live flu, which teaches the body how to fight off each specific strain.

Unfortunately, the flu mutates regularly and often. This means that it’s easy for the flu shot formulation to miss one or two or many strains that might hit during a given flu season. This is why taking a flu shot can be hit-or-miss. It means that even if you do take a flu shot, you can still get the flu. Why is that?

It’s because flu strains are not all alike. The body can only recognize specific flu strains to combat. If a new flu strain comes along, the body won’t recognize it as something it has fought before. This allows that flu strain to get a foothold and make the body sick before the immune system response learns and kicks in against this invader.

Enter COVID-19 / SARS-CoV-2

Two names for the same virus. SARS-CoV-2 is actually the virus strain name. The difficulty with SARS-CoV-2 is mutation. Like the flu, a mutation could be ignored by the immune system as a past infection. Meaning, if you have had SARS-CoV-2 and SARS-CoV-3 comes along, the antibodies created for SARS-CoV-2 may not be recognized or used against this new virus. This means you could get COVID again. If you’ve recovered the last time, this time it might result in death. Even the strain on the lungs from a previous infection might damage the lungs enough to cause a new infection to kill. This virus is difficult to handle and even more difficult to know exactly how it might mutate.

Yes, it could mutate into an even more virulent and deadly strain. This is why a vaccine against SARS-CoV-2 might be an impossible task. What I mean is that it may be next to impossible to create a vaccine that covers not only SARS-CoV-2, but every possible strain that could follow. If the medical community hasn’t been able to create a flu vaccine that functions against ALL flu virus strains, how are they going to create a COVID vaccine that covers all current and future COVID virus strains?

The answer to this question is uncertain. What does this have to do with relaxing social distancing requirements? Everything.

Herd Immunity

Considering the above regarding the flu, there is no such thing as herd immunity against the flu or even the seasonal cold virus. We regularly get these viruses even after having had previous flu or colds in the past. It’s inevitable and we understand how this works. Some of us are more lucky than others and rarely get these. Some people get colds and flu frequently, like every single virus that rolls around. Logically, we must apply this same behavior to COVID.

Opening the World

Eventually, the world must reopen. That’s a given. The question is, when is the best time to do that? Given the realities of how viruses operate, there’s no “best” time to do it. This virus is here to stay. It will continue to infect the world. At least SARS-CoV-2 will. Unfortunately, herd immunity isn’t likely to work with this virus. It might for a short time, but we all know that any immunity we may have for past colds and flu last, at most, one season. When the next season rolls around again just a few months later, we’re again susceptible, perhaps even to a strain we’ve previously had. We’re never tested for the exact strains of colds and viruses that we get to know for sure if we’re being reinfected by the same strain.

With COVID following the same patterns as the cold and flu viruses, it’s inevitable that the world must reopen. Yes, perhaps to a new more cautious reality. Perhaps we can’t ever go back to the throngs of people crowding together into a mosh pit, club or similar body-to-body crowds. Even large sporting events which formerly drew large crowds, like football and the Olympics, may find it hard to operate in this new reality.

One thing to realize is that simply because the world reopens doesn’t mean people will venture out in it. Just because parks or beaches or concert halls or Broadway have reopened, doesn’t mean the crowds will come.

COVID is still dangerous

Simply because the world has reopened doesn’t mean that COVID has magically disappeared. It is still very much being passed from person to person. Worse, not even 1% of the US population has been infected as of the numbers being released today in late April. The population would have to see at least 3.3 million infected before we’ve even reached 1% of the population. Consider that we must see at least 80-90% of the rest of the population infected before this virus may ever be considered “over”.

Second Larger Wave is Coming

Considering these above grim statistics, relaxing social distancing requirements WILL lead to a second even larger wave of infection. It’s inevitable. If at least 90% of the population is still uninfected, that means this virus has a lot more work to do before this situation can be called “over”…. let alone consider relaxing shelter-at-home requirements.

These states which are relaxing social distancing are doing so at their own peril and without any reason for doing so. They’re relaxing requirements because of social and economic pressure, not because it’s prudent or in the interest of public safety.

This is where things get grim… very, very grim. As I said, since 90% of the United States population has not been infected, relaxing shelter-at-home is only likely to “stir the pot” causing an even larger second wave.

Depending on how much gets relaxed, it could get much worse much, much faster this second time around. Why? Because any relaxing of requirements indicates to many people that the situation is over… that they’re now safe… that the virus has been contained… and such similar thought rationales. These are all false assumptions made based solely in irrational actions by local government leaders. Basically, these leaders are leading many to their deaths by these reckless actions.

Milestones

The only two ways we can ever be safe from COVID is to know that 99% of the world’s population has had this strain or that it has been eradicated 100% from the population. Unfortunately, the former assumes there are no other strains out there. The latter is almost impossible to achieve at this time. With any virus, we know there are other strains. In fact, with COVID, there were, at the time of the Wuhan outbreak, 2 strains. An earlier strain and a newer strain. It was this newer strain that jumped into humans and began its deadly trek around the world.

It will again be a new strain that jumps around the world. How many strains will there be? No one knows. Will those new strains be as deadly, more deadly or less deadly than the current strain? Again, we don’t know.

We also don’t know that someone who has survived one strain of COVID has any protection from any future strains… and this is the problem with relaxing any social distancing or, indeed, reopening the world.

How can we proceed?

This is the basic problem to solve. So, how exactly do we proceed? As much as it pains me to write this, we may have to open the world and let the chips fall where they may. Whomever dies, dies. Whomever doesn’t, doesn’t. The Herbert Spencer adage (usually attributed to Darwin) of “Survival of the Fittest” may have to win this situation in the end.

Whomever is left after COVID-19 does its dirty deed may be the only outcome available to the world. It’s not an outcome without major ramifications, however. If we can’t eradicate the virus from the world in another way, then letting it play out in the population as a whole is the only other way to handle it. There are two choices here:

  1. Find a reliable and quick testing methodology. Require everyone to be tested, then force isolate anyone who is found infected until either they die or they recover. Isolate any recovered persons for another 30 days to ensure they are no longer contagious. Rinse and repeat until no one else left in the world has it. Difficulty level: 10
  2. Allow the virus to run its course through the entire world’s population infecting everyone it can and let the chips fall where they may. This is the “Survival of the Fittest” approach. Whomever lives, lives. Whomever dies, dies. Difficulty level: 1

While scenario 2 is the easiest, it’s also the most costly to the world’s population, and indeed the economy. All told, if everyone in the world becomes infected and 1.25% is the average death rate holds steady (hint: it won’t), that means up to 96 million people dead across the globe or up to 4.13 million dead in the United States.

This assumes status quo and that the virus doesn’t mutate into a second deadly strain with an even higher death rate. If the virus mutates into a single deadlier strain, scenario 2 will lead to even more millions dead. If it mutates into multiple deadlier strains, then it could end up with a billion or more dead.

Yes, scenario 2 might be the least difficult, but it is the scenario that leads to an untold number of dead not only in the US, but around the globe.

Scenario 1, on the other hand, has a high difficulty factor. It will lead to not only a high economic toll, but it could change the world economy forever. Though, with scenario 1, we may be able to contain COVID-19. We may even put the genie back into the bottle (i.e., eradicate it from the population). Attempting this one could could save many, but at a huge economic cost.

Economic Impact

Either scenario affords major economic impact across the board. Billions of dead means much lower tax base for all countries. The US had been relying on 330 million people in tax revenue (the estimated population of the US). If 10 million die, that’s 320 million in a new tax base. Assuming any of those 10 million who died were high contributors to the tax base, that revenue has dried up. That’s a lot of money to lose and a lot of economic impact.

If under Scenario 2, multiple mutations sweep the world and kill 10x more than expected, that’s 100 million dead in the US. The new reality could see the United States at 230 million… the same population that the US saw in 1981. If the population gets to 200 million, that’s the number the US saw in 1968. The more who die, the worse the economic impact for the United States and the farther back in time we go. Millions dead means many empty houses, a huge mortgage crisis and the list of economic problem goes on and on.

Flattening the Curve

This concept is important for one specific reason. What does it mean, though? By attempting to slow the infection rate through stay-at-home measures, this keeps hospitals above water for patient load. Relaxing the stay-at-home orders means more people out and about and more people getting infected. More infections means more people sick at once.

This is the exact opposite of flattening the curve. Relaxing social distancing will have an inverse impact of flattening the curve for an already overtaxed hospital system. What that means is that those who become infected during a higher demand hospital period are more likely to die at home. Hospitals have limited numbers of beds, limited staff and limited means to treat very limited numbers of people in a given area.

In densely populated urban areas, hospitals will become overloaded quicker. This means densely populated urban areas like Los Angeles, San Francisco, Houston, New York City, New Orleans, Atlanta, St. Louis, Detroit and so on will see significantly higher death rates under scenario 2. The death rate will climb and never stop if stay-at-home orders are lifted AND people venture out in the expected droves that they always have.

Ultimately, scenario 2 will likely lead to a much higher death rate than the currently estimated 1.25% simply due to the saturation of patients with not enough hospitals to cover the load. This scenario playing out is inevitable with an early relaxing of distancing requirements by reopening of social areas, shops and businesses.

What can I do?

You can say, no. Basically, if the United States (and the world) adopts a “Survival of the Fittest” approach to handling this crisis, then your health is left up to you. If you want to believe that everything is safe and you can venture out into the world without a care, then that’s your choice. If you get COVID-19, expect that you may end up trapped at home in your own bed without any means or access to medical care. Hospitals will likely be over-saturated with patients. You’ll be left to fend off the virus yourself. If your body can survive, it will. If it can’t, you’ll die.

This also means you can end up bringing the virus home to your children, your parents, your friends and your partner. You could end up infecting them as well. They, like you, will take their chances with the virus… at home… and very likely not in hospital care.

“Survival of the Fittest”

This may end up being the approach that governments are forced to adopt in the end. The world economy can’t survive without a population to operate it. Unfortunate, this catch-22 situation of opening up the population also means a much higher death rate once the dust settles. It’s effectively a no-win scenario for any government leader. Scenario 1 is almost impossible to achieve without some severe military measures enacted (see China’s handling). Scenario 2 is the easiest to achieve as it takes little to enact. Scenario 1 likely leads to death from people starving and unable to live due to economic impact. Scenario 2 leads to death from an overburdened hospital system while the economy flounders along at a snail’s pace, along with exponential growth in infections.

Unfortunately, death is an entirely inevitable as an outcome under either scenario. Unless the government leaders step up and halt the concept of money and the transfer of money between businesses as a metric of success and instead ask businesses to operate their businesses without quid-pro-quo for an extended period of time, this no-win situation will see to the deaths of millions of people in time no matter which path is chosen. Money flow must halt while society heals and the virus is eradicated from the population. This is the only way scenario 1 works.

Money and its Continued Necessity

The root of this situation is money. In fact, it is the single thing that’s leading our entire situation. If our economy was founded on something other than money, we might have had a chance to survive this situation with a minimal death toll.

Unfortunately, money is driving the need to reopen the economy which is driving the “Survival of the Fittest” scenario. No one can predict how the world will look in 2 years. We simply can’t foresee the number of deaths that might result. The higher the number of deaths, the worse the economies will fare. It’s a vicious cycle being driven by the insatiable need for ever more money… a silly metric when world survival in at stake.

Instead, survival in this world should never have been about money. It should have been about the positive benefits that humans can offer to one another without the driving need for acquisition of a piece of paper.

We are put on this earth to learn, grow and understand our universe. That’s the driving need why we are here. Knowledge is the currency. It’s what keeps our society functioning. It’s the scientists, architects, mathematicians, engineers and thinkers who keep our society flowing, growing, moving and functioning. It’s not money. Money is a means to an end, but is not the end itself. The end goal is the acquisition of knowledge, not money.

That’s where society needs to rethink money’s place in this world. Does money help acquire knowledge? No. It helps acquire sustenance and material possessions. Do we need jets or fast cars or million dollar houses? No. That’s unnecessary luxury. What helps humanity is the acquisition of knowledge and using that knowledge to progress society and humanity further. In that goal, computers are important, but only from the need for access to and for acquiring knowledge.

Money, on the other hand, doesn’t have anything to do with the acquisition of knowledge. Sure, higher learning institutions take money and, in quid-pro-quo form, teach you something. Though, technically, you could learn that something on your own. You don’t need to pay an institution to learn. You can read the books for yourself.

Sounds like Communism

I’m not advocating communism here. I’m actually advocating something beyond communism. I’m advocating that we need to learn to rebuild a society based on the currency of knowledge and the acquisition of knowledge rather than of money. The more “wise” you are, the more you contribute to the world’s betterment, the more you are afforded and the more you are revered. That’s what the world needs to achieve. This is the ideal a prosperous world needs to grow well into the future. Those who do and learn and give back are afforded the riches of the world. Those who choose not to learn are afforded much less.

Money, at this point, is an antiquated measure of success that COVID has clearly shown is the world’s Achilles heel. Success should not be measured by how much you have in the bank, it should be measured how much you’ve contributed to the world in problem solving. Let’s use the brains we have been given to solve societal problems and better our world condition, instead of trying to acquire and throw silly printed pieces of paper at it.

How would a new society work?

This is where this article must diverge. Such a new society would need a fully realized manifest across all sectors describing how to accomplish such a transition away from money. That’s way beyond the scope of a few paragraphs. Perhaps I could write this manifest in a book entitled, “How to transition society away from money”. I might even write such a manifest. Unfortunately, that goes way beyond the scope of this article. I’ll leave that manifest for another day. Suffice it to say that it is possible for society to exist in a new state without money as its primary motivation. Let’s get back to the topic of relaxing social distancing.

The World’s Ills

Unfortunately, our leaders are very much constrained by the ills of our economy revolving around pieces of paper. As such, our leaders are now constrained to look for solutions based on this ill conceived narrow situation of our own making. None of these leaders are attempting to think outside of the box. They are firmly rigid in their thought processes regarding how to restart our economy “as it once was”.

Our economy as it formerly existed is over. It will take full eradication of this virus from every person in the world, coupled with about a decade for this situation to recover the world back to where we were just a few months ago. A decade. Yes, I said a decade… and that’s a conservative estimate. It could take several decades.

Consider that if we lose 10% of the United States population, we’ve taken our economy back to the point where we were 38 years ago, in 1981. 20% of the population lost and we’re back over 50 years ago, in 1968. 50% of the population lost and we’re back to an economy that ended 64 years ago, in 1955. Don’t think that losing even 10% of the population is enough to cause major widespread problems in the United States, let alone throughout the world.

Losing a vast number of people in a short period is enough to send ANY economy into a tailspin. Because this virus is not at all selective towards whom it targets, it will kill anyone indiscriminately in any age group and in any economic status from young to old to male to female to rich to poor. It may even kill animals. Granted, poor people may fare worse living in closer proximity to one another, but this virus doesn’t care about age groups, race, gender, economic status or, indeed, anything else. It only seeks a host to survive and that’s exactly what it is doing.

Reopening

At a less than 1% infection rate while planning to reopen the world, Wall Street, main street or any other street is a guarantee for a second even deadlier wave. It’s a fool’s errand and foolhardy. These reckless actions will trick many people into believing that they are safe, when in fact our leaders are setting themselves (and the population) up to be a death statistic.

This article serves as both a cautionary tale and as a solemn warning to world leaders. Opening up the world at this point is effectively looking down the barrel of a gun while playing Russian Roulette.

When the second COVID wave hits, and it will, it will leave hospitals with zero space while the death toll catastrophically soars well beyond that of the statistically averaged 1.25%. Perhaps this hard lesson is what the world leaders need as a wake up call? Unfortunately, this lesson learned will be on the backs of so many who died.

If you’re reading this article, don’t fall for this reopening trick. Stay at home and urge your workplace to remain closed. If you value your health and, indeed, your own survival and your family’s survival, stay at home even after reopening. We’re still only at the beginning of this… there is still a much, much longer and deadlier road ahead.

↩︎

Causes of Obesity in the US

Posted in food and dining, Health, obesity by commorancy on April 10, 2020

buffetThere have been many people espousing different ideas around the obesity problem within the US. One I’ve recently come across is Dr. V, otherwise known as Duc C Vuong. He has a YouTube channel and attempts to impart the reason for obesity. I have other thoughts. Let’s explore.

Medical Doctor Credentials

One of the problems I have with MDs espousing their opinions, particularly on platforms like YouTube is that far too many viewers believe this advice wholeheartedly simply because this person has a degree. They don’t rationally think for themselves and use their own critical thinking skills to understand which parts of his extolling are valid and which parts are fallacy. Opinions are always opinions no matter from whom they originate.

When it comes to obesity, there are many thought rationales. One just needs to peruse the virtual book shelves at Amazon to see how many weight loss books there are, each with differing opinions on the topic. Let me dissect his special brand of thought and then talk about what I believe to be the actual reason for obesity.

In all of this, let’s keep in mind one tenet: KISS or Keep It Simple Stupid. It’s a phrase that means don’t go looking for complex answers when there’s a much simpler explanation staring you in the face.

Dr. V’s explanations are too long winded, complex and give too much credit to psychological pressures. Psychological pressures do play a part in the role of obesity, but not so substantially that you can’t get around it.

Psychology and Weight Loss

Dr. V explains that “Circle of Influence” is a big factor in obesity. What does he mean by “Circle of Influence”. These friendships are all psychological. The circle encompasses whom you choose to befriend and hang around with socially. These people can influence your social interactions and, more specifically, your eating behaviors.

This is true, but to a point. Unfortunately, Dr. V tends to give way too much credit to this aspect of peer pressure than is due. You don’t just bumble your way through life being towed along by your friends. Everyone wants to be known as a unique individual with individual likes and tastes. Yes, we are influenced by what our friends like, dislike and sometimes eat. However, we do also have our own tastes, including taste in food. Just because a friend likes sushi doesn’t mean I must also like it.

If peer pressure were the complete answer to obesity, then cutting off your friends should cause weight loss. Does it? No. Your eating habits are your own and you are responsible for how you eat. You may be influenced in some small way by what your friends are eating or the peer pressure they apply to you, but even when you are alone you’re still going to eat at your favorite restaurants in the same quantities. Is that psychological pressure? No, that’s personal habit.

In other words, blaming your obesity on your “circle of influence” is like blaming your friends for all of your problems. You can’t do this. Everyone must take responsibility for their own actions, including what they put in their mouths. No one forces you to shove food in your mouth. You do that all on your own. You can make smart choices or you can make not-so-smart choices.

Restaurant Influence on Obesity

With that said, there is one level of influence that does matter and is much larger than “circle of influence”… and it definitely matters a great deal. This influence is a restaurant menu. When you sit down to eat at a restaurant, we tend to assume the plates are mostly “set in stone”. What I mean by that is that the entrée comes to you as-is. A big part of this issue is that you have to buy the entrée sight-unseen. This means that you won’t really know how much food that plate holds is until the plate arrives from the kitchen.

This also means that it’s difficult to know how much food you will be consuming until you see the plate. Additionally, the pressure to send perfectly good plates of food back to the kitchen is also almost never considered. Most people won’t do this because they realize it will probably be thrown away and no one wants to see that happen to perfectly good food. Anyway, who would send a plate back to the kitchen because the portion size is “too big”? No one.

This is a ultimately a psychological pressure that goes back to our parents. Parents chide us for not eating all of the food on our plates. We continue to live with this stigma into adulthood. It stays with us every time we sit down to eat a meal. Restaurants prey on that. They give us excessively large plates of food knowing that patrons will typically eat every bite. This leads to obesity.

On the flip side, though, restaurants also do this because of cost to enjoyment ratio. Restaurants want to get maximum bank out of every plate served. Offering up larger portion sizes equates to a happier customer and larger per plate fees. Restaurants have no desire to decrease portion sizes to be inline with the recommended daily intake. Instead, they wish to line their banks with lots of greenbacks. To do that, they have to provide a good “bang for the buck”, so to speak. That’s exactly what restaurants do, but at the cost of serving way too much food and contributing to obesity.

This means that restaurant goers need to wise up to this ploy. When you eat at a restaurant, it’s important to understand that the restaurant is planning to serve you way too much food. Way, way too much food. This is something everyone needs to understand. It doesn’t matter if it’s McDonald’s, Chili’s or Olive Garden. All restaurants do it (except one type which I’ll talk about in a moment). McDonald’s (and other fast food) does it through its “meal deals”. Chili’s and Olive Garden play this game through oversized sized plates and sometimes all-you-can-eat breadsticks or salad.

In recent years, some states have forced restaurants to fork over the estimated calorie content of its meals, sides and drinks. This has helped some, but some restaurants have realized the need to pull this information off of the main menu and instead offer a separate calorie menu that you must ask to see. They don’t leave this calorie version on the table. Though some restaurants do have it on the menu (particularly restaurants that have a “health conscious” bent and some fast food places), many choose not to do this and instead begrudgingly offer up a separate menu… a menu that, unfortunately, can be exceedingly difficult to read with extremely small text. Worse, in these separate menu restaurants, if you ask for one, you may be greeted with “Sorry, I can’t find one”… leaving you high and dry to know how much food you’re actually eating.

Five Star Restaurants

The exception to the above for portion sizes can be five star rated restaurants. Instead, of serving you excessive sized meals, they tend to serve much smaller portion sizes. This occurs for a number reasons. The first reason is cost. Most five star restaurants purchase their foods fresh almost every day. The second reason keeps their quality high. What at you consume at a five star restaurant is almost assuredly the highest quality ingredients possible. These ingredients are usually hand selected by the chef. Though, sometimes they are delivered from higher quality grocers. The third reason is variety. You can find more exotic type meats on the menu, such as pheasant, quail and even Japanese Wagyu.

When you order a meal at a five star restaurant, you’ll receieve a smaller portion size more inline with the calorie levels you might find on the government’s daily intake requirements. This isn’t always true, however. Many five star restaurants utilize heavy cream, wine and other ingredients to flavor the meal. This can add hidden calories. As for presentation, you can usually find your five star meal stacked as layers in the center of an excessively large plate or bowl. Potatoes on bottom, then veggies and then protein on top with some kind of fresh garnish. It’s neatly stacked on the plate to make it presentable and pretty. Some chefs plate their meals with other layouts, but this is a common chef presentation. It looks good and it keeps the rest of the plate neat and tidy.

That’s not to say that all five star restaurant portions are small, but many are. The unfortunate problem with these restaurants is that you’re likely to pay at least $100 per plate or more for your meal. While in some cases these expensive meals may offer a more healthy food choice, it’s way too pricey to eat every day for most people. It’s also not a feasible meal choice option. Even here, you have to be careful because hidden calories can still have more calories than you might expect.

Bars and Drinks

Here’s a second area where there is zero nutritional oversight by the government. Alcoholic beverage creators are not under ANY obligation to add nutrition labeling. In this day and age where the “Nutrition Facts” label is extremely important in understanding what we are eating, it is incredibly disheartening to find that wine, beer and spirit manufacturers STILL aren’t required to place a “Nutrition Facts” panel onto their products.

How is it that the alcohol industry has remained so unregulated for nutrition when it is one of the biggest sources of unlabeled calories? Let’s explore to better understand these unlabeled calories.

Red Wine

A standard bottle of Red Wine contains 750ml or a little over 25oz. You can get five standard glasses of wine from a 750ml bottle of wine. We’re talking a standard sized pour here, which is approximately 5 ounces. A 5 ounce glass of red wine has between 120 and 130 calories per glass. If you consume 2 glasses, you’ve consumed 240-260 extra calories on top of anything else you’ve consumed.

White Wine

White wines fare a little better at around 115 calories per 5 ounces.

Beer

A 12 ounce beer can contains 154 calories. A pint glass of draft ale (the standard size served in bars) is 16oz (473ml) and contains 196 calories. Drinking two, three or four of these adds up fast.

Liquor

A shot of alcohol, about 1.5oz (44ml), ranges between 96 and 115 calories depending on the specific hard spirit. This category doesn’t include specialty liqueurs like Bailey’s Irish Creme, any flavor of Schnapps, Kalúha, Midori or any other sweetened alcoholic liqueurs. That’s next.

Liqueur

A shot of Bailey’s Irish Creme (44ml) contains around 147 calories approaching the number of calories in a 12oz (355ml) can of beer. A shot of Midori, however, contains only 80 calories (less than a shot of many liquors). The range for liqueur is somewhere between 80 and well over 147 calories per shot! These sweet alcoholic beverages can really land on the waistline fast.

Whiskey (or Whisky depending on your part of the world)

One shot of whiskey (86 proof) contains around 105 calories. From livestrong.com:

If your whiskey or vodka is 40 percent alcohol, or labeled as 80 proof, you’ll get less than 100 calories from the 14 grams of alcohol in a 1.5-ounce shot. Having the same amount of 45 percent whiskey or vodka, which is known as 90 proof, will give you 110 calories from the nearly 16 grams of alcohol. A 50 percent whiskey or vodka liquor, or 100 proof, has closer to 125 calories from nearly 18 grams of alcohol, in that same 1.5-ounce shot.

As the proof increases, so too do the calories. If you’re unsure of the proof of what you’re drinking at a bar, ask the bartender to allow you read the bottle or ask them for the proof.

Alcohol’s Double Whammy

Unfortunately, alcoholic beverages are also a double-whammy food. If you consume fat along side your wine, that fat (and some of the alcohol) will be taken up much easier (and faster) into adipose tissue due to the presence of the alcohol itself. From vice.com:

First, less than five percent of the alcohol you drink is converted into fat. However, that doesn’t mean it has no effect on weight gain. Rather, alcohol reduces the amount of fat your body burns for energy. Just two drinks of vodka and diet lemonade has been shown to cut whole body lipid oxidation—a measure of how much fat your body is burning—by more than 70 percent.

This means that the consumption of alcohol while on a diet can not only lead to halting your fat loss progress, it can actually lead to a net gain in fat with regular binging. This goes with the consumption of any alcohol, not just wine.

Alcohol changes the metabolism due to the alcohol itself and how alcohol is metabolized within the body. You’ll want to carefully consider ingesting alcohol with your meals (or even in general) if you’re concerned about controlling your weight. Overindulgence with alcohol can halt weight loss and actually put on pounds.

Restaurants and Bars

These two institutions in every day life are primarily what’s leading to obesity within America. Eating out and heading to bars are definitely everyday conveniences. One nourishes us (sometimes too much) and the other lets us blot out our everyday pains with the warm and fuzzy of alcohol, making us happy (and loopy).

Both together are what’s leading America to obesity. It’s not brain surgery or rocket science to understand this American dilemma. No one wants to blame restaurants or bars for this, but that’s exactly what we must do. They are leading American’s down the primrose path to obesity.

Psychology of Obesity

Let’s swing back around to psychology and peer pressure. It’s easy to succumb to your friend’s pressures to knock back Jello shots or chug some beer. However, you can say, “No”. If these people are truly your friends, they’ll let it slide. If they won’t, then maybe it’s time to consider new friends.

You don’t have to listen to your friends. You don’t have to chug beer, do shots or do anything you don’t want to do. Eating at restaurants isn’t always necessary and even when you do you can still make smart choices. When at the drive-thru, you don’t need to buy meal deals. If you’re at Olive Garden, ask them not to bring bread or even their bottomless salad. When you order your meal, buy from a menu that lists calories. Choose portion sizes that make sense for what you need to eat to live… keeping firmly in mind the 2000-2200 calorie recommended daily intake.

Home Cooking

Better, create and eat your meals at home. Instead of having to navigate those not-so-great menu choices and attempt to request custom meals from restaurants, eat at home. You can then make choices that fit with your body’s needs. You don’t need to make meals the size of Olive Garden. You can half (or less) the portion size and make smaller meals. This saves on your home food costs and it also means you’re eating healthier, smaller meals.

On the flip side, if you’re consuming a whole chicken in one meal, that’s way too much food. A whole cooked chicken contains between 1190 and 1400 calories for an entire single chicken. If you add onto that bread, mac and cheese, green beans and mashed potatoes, you can easily exceed 2000 calories in a single meal! That doesn’t even take into account the calories in a desert or drinks.

That’s not to say that rotisserie chicken is an unhealthy food, but it IS when eaten to excess. The key to health and maintaining a healthy body weight is eating in moderation… or, more specifically, within the US Government’s daily intake guidelines of around 2000 calories per day.

Isn’t Chinese Food Healthier?

Unfortunately, no. Many Americanized Chinese foods are breaded and fried, making them even less healthy food choices than rotisserie chicken. Breading and frying adds unnecessary calories that you should avoid. However, it is fine to indulge occasionally with these kinds of foods as a treat. Just don’t make them your everyday staple meals.

With Chinese food cooked using mostly veggies and some protein, you’ll need to determine the health of this food for yourself. If it appears to be mostly veggies with limited fat and a reasonable serving of protein, it might be an okay choice. If you want to wok cook at home yourself, you can choose your own oils, veggies and proteins in whatever quantities you are comfortable.

However, even Chinese restaurants fall into the trap of overly large portion sizes when serving to the table. Many Chinese food places even have buffets. Let’s jump right into this one…

Buffets

Chinese restaurants aren’t the only places that choose to offer large food buffet bars. You can find these in many different styles of food. For your weight and your health, you’ll want to completely avoid buffet restaurants. Not only are they not a great deal, they will most definitely inflate your waistline and they can also make you sick.

Buffet restaurants encourage overeating in all of the wrong ways. For consumers to feel that they’ve gotten their money’s worth for a $22 per person fee, you’re going to have to eat what you feel is $22 worth of food. That’s the wrong motivation for eating. You eat to satisfy hunger, not to satisfy your wallet or your guilt for spending.

Buyers remorse is heavy at buffet restaurants. Avoid this guilt entirely. If you must eat out, eat at a restaurant that hands you a menu and makes your food fresh in a kitchen.

There are other more serious health reasons for avoiding buffets to which I discuss in this past Randocity article. Suffice it to say that during winter months, avoiding buffet restaurants is your smartest and healthiest choice. Far too many people touch the serving spoons used to dish up the foods. Unless you plan to wash your hands immediately after plating your food, you’re simply asking to contract the Flu or a Cold virus or even COVID-19.

Restaurant Cleanliness

Ignoring the sanitary issues with buffets mentioned above, it’s way too easy when eating out to contract seasonal viruses even by just sitting at a restaurant table and ordering from a menu. After all, many restaurants barely even clean tables between patrons. When they do wipe down a table, they use a towel that has likely not been sanitized between uses. Think about this for a moment. Worse, when they do choose to wipe down a table, it’s just enough to get the crumbs and sticky off of it. That cloth simply moves the viruses around that were already there (or on the towel). They rarely, if ever, wipe down the seating or other surfaces around the table. Menus fare even worse. Menus are almost never sanitized.

Worse, restaurants with bars have different cleaning routines when it comes to bar glasses. While restaurants do have commercial dishwashers in the kitchen, they take way too long to run a cycle. When bars become low on glassware, the bartenders use a three water bath wash on glasses (soapy water, bleach water, rinse water). The theory is that germs can’t live through this. However, this relies on proper ratios of soap to water and bleach to water. Many restaurants don’t adhere to proper ratios in their zeal to get glasses washed quickly.

This means that your glassware can be contaminated with colds or viruses from a previous use when washed by a bartender. Why is this a problem if you’re not ordering from a bar? Because restaurants which have a bar usually have waitstaff order all drinks from the bartender for speed. This means that even though you didn’t order anything from the bar, you are likely being served in glassware cleaned by the bartender rather than from glassware washed by the dishwasher in the kitchen. This is particularly true of a restaurant during peak hours. If you’ve ever gotten a glass with lipstick on it, this is why. Nasty, right?

While getting sick at a restaurant doesn’t necessarily contribute to obesity directly, it calls out why restaurants aren’t the healthiest places to eat… even above their overly large portion sizes.

Psychology Revisited

Choosing to make your own food at home is really the only choice to reduce obesity. Of course, you also have to make the smart choice. You need to also understand the US Government’s daily recommended guidelines. From the health.gov’s What it is and What it is not information about the Dietary Guidelines:

The main purpose of the Dietary Guidelines is to inform the development of Federal food, nutrition, and health policies and programs. The primary audiences are policymakers, as well as nutrition and health professionals, not the general public.

The difficulty with this “not the general public” statement is that while the USDA and other government institutions try to enforce these guidelines on businesses by setting up such mechanisms as the Nutrition Facts panel on most food products, it has failed to impress the value of these guidelines on actual American consumers. Policymakers don’t care if their constituents become obese. They’re not going to even make obesity a talking point. That leaves only nutrition and health professionals covered. These people are typically only consulted on an ‘as needed’ basis and usually for pay. That leaves the American people in a substantial vacuum for general nutrition advice. Indeed, without this information, there is no advice at all.

Yet, if you read the guidelines, they do offer solid, constructive advice, but they have chosen not to target the general public with this information? How insane is this? Because of this, restaurants, bars and even grocery providers can run amok providing little, if any actual food guidance. It is this policy that leads all other industries by the hand. Yet, this leading hand doesn’t actually lead. It just throws the information out there without anything or anyone on the other side listening.

You can’t teach people how to eat when this information isn’t targeted towards the correct audience.

Schools

This situation get worse before it gets better. Schools simply don’t teach children proper food and nutrition choices. Some schools have limited student access to poorer food choices such as candy bars, soda, chips and deserts. That’s more about preventing those food choices than explaining how these foods can be used in a proper diet. It’s easier to withhold the foods rather than explain proper food choices.

Worse, many public schools don’t even offer nutrition programs as part of the curriculum. Sure, they offer home economics, but these classes don’t impart nutrition. They impart the knowledge of how to operate a home, including cooking.

Schools, in fact, also play a large part in America’s obesity. This is partly because of the lack of curriculum, but also because of bad cafeteria food choices during lunch. School lunches can be some of the worst teachers of food choices. Instead of teaching children the proper way to consume food and teach a child the proper relationship with food, they teach children to eat their poorly conceived cafeteria food choices in 15 minutes or less, by feeding them poor quality nutrition. Pizza and Salisbury Steak aren’t great nutritional choices.

If schools aren’t there to teach a children a proper relationship with food, then who is? Clearly, the parents won’t do this at home because they naturally assume the school is doing this. Yet, schools don’t do this either. So, in effect, no one teaches children the value of nutrition and proper food choices.

Even when attending college, this situation doesn’t improve. I don’t know of many universities that require nutrition classes as part of a generalized degree program. Certain health degrees (kinesiology) may require such nutrition classes as part of that degree, but degrees outside of health programs almost never require this. This further contributes to obesity.

Compounded Information Creates Obesity

All of the above compounds to create a situation where people become obese without understanding why. We’re not taught by our parents or by any schools about how to handle our diets. We’re left to fend for ourselves. This firmly allows psychological peer pressure to take hold and influence bad food choices, but more than that, restaurants and bars are also to blame. People are led astray by restaurants because of their large portion sizes. Many of us begin to believe that the portion sizes served by restaurants are actually the correct food sizes. Instead, we are being taught improperly.

Still, we must all assume the consequences of our own decisions. Only we can feed ourselves. Only we can stop the insanity, as Susan Powter once said. While her delivery of this nutrition information was way over the top, her message was no less valid. We must choose to change ourselves. We must choose to change our relationship with food. We must choose to say, “No” when an 1800 calorie plate is dropped in front of us. We must read food packages with a critical eye. We must understand when manufacturers are trying to pull the wool over our eyes with their silly portion sizes on “Nutrition Facts”.

This doesn’t mean you can’t eat a candy bar, eat a piece of cake or drink a beer occasionally. But, these should be only occasional treats eaten no more often than once a week. Less, if possible.

Food Lifestyle Changes

More than this, we must learn how to change our relationship with food. We must eat to satisfy, not until stuffed. There is a difference. We’re not turkeys being prepped for Thanksgiving meals. We’re people who need nutrition to sustain our energy levels.

To that end, to lose the weight and gain a healthy waistline, this must start in the kitchen, not in the gym. You can’t lose weight by running on a treadmill if you eat more calories than you burn from running. Exercise improves the body’s circulatory system, but it cannot lose weight unless you have a calorie deficit in the body.

This only occurs when you have the proper intake of food. In fact, you can restrict your food intake and still lose weight without entering a gym. The body still burns calories by sitting in a chair typing on a computer. However, the body burns less calories than when running on a treadmill.

Here’s a chron.com article that illustrates how exercise can fail weight loss efforts:

In one hour a 160-pound person can burn 204 calories walking at 2 mph and 314 calories with walking at 3.5 mph. … A 160-pound person can burn 606 calories by running at a 5 mph pace or 861 calories by running at an 8 mph pace for one hour.

Let’s examine the above closely. While this information describes a 160 pound person example, this weight isn’t the norm in today’s world. Even thought this article chooses to ignore the obesity issue and further illustrates its point with an impossibly low weight for most people, this information is no less important to understand. An hour of jogging at 5 mph burns ONLY 606 calories. That’s approximately HALF of the amount of calories in Chili’s Molten Chocolate Cake desert which has a whopping 1160 calories. Even if you increase the exertion to an 8 mph pace, at the increased 861 calories burned, you still burn way less than Chili’s chocolate cake desert!

If you visit Chili’s and eat a meal including that cake desert, you’re still taking in more calories than you’ve burned in exercise. This example is exactly why you can’t rely on cardio exercises to make up for those extra calories you consumed at a restaurant. You would have to double or even triple the amount of gym effort to come close to burning enough calories to justify eating that desert. This is why so many people become disenchanted with gyms and why gym workouts don’t seem to work. It’s because people assume exercise burns way more calories per hour than it actually does. This is why the next section is more important… and it also shows you how you can skip this gym fallacy.

Weight Loss Begins in the Kitchen

Randocity has already written an extensive article on this very topic. I urge you to read this article if you’re interested in this one. What I will say here, in short, is that your relationship to food begins in the kitchen, not in the gym. You can’t lose weight at the gym unless you’ve gotten your food intake under control.

Even fitness centers themselves do not impress the importance of this when looking to sign up new members. They want to teach you the importance of supplements, pills and their equipment… basically, everything that they sell in their store. They want you to buy their junk, not to learn how to manage your weight. Even personal trainers are not versed in this. They will teach you how to do cardio, run you through quick condensed workouts and utilize other techniques, but they will not at all examine your food intake. In fact, none of them really want to talk about this when at the gym. You are firmly left to your own food devices.

Not once when I had a personal trainer did they ask me to supply them with what I was eating regularly. It’s more about making you buy new supplements and gear, but they offer nothing to ensure you’re meeting your weight goals through proper food choices.

The point here is that you can’t rely on fitness businesses that rely on taking your money. You must, instead, rely on yourself and your own accumulated knowledge. You must be curious to learn how the body works, how it burns food and how it gains weight. Once you understand these body functions can you make the proper association with food, understand food choices and buy and consume the proper amounts of food to lose weight and/or maintain your current weight.

Until you make the choice to invest time into understanding your health, you can’t make this choice. No one is going to do this for you. No, not even the government (see above). The government seeks to regulate business and income, not make sure its citizens are healthy. That’s crystal clear. You must help you to succeed. You must choose not to put that fried chicken in your mouth. You must choose to eat foods in the proper amounts. What you choose to eat daily is really up to you as long as you keep the caloric intake at the proper level. You don’t want to eat 2000 calories of nothing but Oreo cookies. This is where you need to be more smart about consuming foods in moderation.

Bariatric Surgery

No, you don’t need a lap band. You don’t need to have your intestines shortened. You don’t need your stomach stapled. You can lose weight by eating properly. The only thing that bariatric surgery does is FORCE you to eat less. The entire point to these procedures is to force you to reduce the amounts of food to be consumed and processed at a single meal. This is exactly the same as eating less. You don’t need a procedure to force you to eat less. You can do this on your own.

You just need to make up your mind towards this goal. In fact, making the choice without surgery means you can maintain it. Surgery means that you will eventually slip back to your old ways. These surgical techniques are temporary until you stretch out the stomach or intestines and which allows you to go back to eating large quantities again. Your body will work around the procedure eventually making it impossible to remain being forced to eat less forever.

If you make the concerted choice to stop eating as much and begin making healthier food choices on your own, you can keep the weight off on a permanent basis. Surgery is a temporary fix unless you also make the choice to also eat less even when that surgery’s temporary nature wears off (and it will). Many people don’t understand the temporary aspect of bariatric surgery.

Overall

In life, we have choices. That’s really all we have in life. The ability to make choices for ourselves. That’s the freedom we own. We can buy and wear the clothes we want. We can eat the foods we want. We can drive the car we like. These are some of the choices that we get in life.

Food choices only seem complicated because everyone makes it appear hard. It’s not hard at all once you have the goal number in your head. That goal number is 2000-2200 calories. Stick to that number and you can maintain your weight. Below this number and you can lose weight. It’s actually one of the simplest things to understand about the body.

Sure, you can blame your friends, you can blame restaurants and you can even blame the government for your weight. And yes, they do play a part in it. However, it is you and your food choices that matter. You can choose to lose the weight. You can choose to do the right thing for your body. It all starts in the kitchen… not in the gym. The gym makes you the body more fit, the kitchen helps you lose weight.

COVID-19 and Stay-At-Home

Now that we’re all stuck at home eating food we must make ourselves, this is the perfect opportunity to jump into making smart choices for yourself (and maybe even your family). It’s time to rethink your food choices and food lifestyle. If anything, this time teaches us that restaurant food isn’t truly necessary. We can eat at home from foods we make ourselves and we can consume the proper amount of food that can help us lose excess weight.

Now it’s up to you!

Good Luck!

↩︎

The U.S. in Peril

Posted in economy, government, Health, politics, security by commorancy on March 19, 2020

book-burn-1920I really didn’t want to write this article, but it must be written. Unfortunately, the US (and probably other countries) have come to a crossroads. As they say, the truth will out…. and here it comes. Let’s explore.

Brutal Truth

These lockdowns and shelter-in-place orders have caused many, many small and medium businesses to shutter their doors and lay off staff. They’re not closed for only a few days, but for potentially weeks and possibly even a month or two.

Practically no business is prepared to run without income for weeks, let alone months. It’s no wonder, then, that business owners and operators are laying off so many of their workers. You can’t continue to hold onto staff when you can’t even pay your own business’s lease and bills. This is just the tip of this iceberg.

You just wait. It gets worse. Much, much worse.

Unemployment

It is theorized that as many as 20% may become unemployed due to COVID-19. I’d guess that this is a conservative estimate and it will go much, much higher than this. 99% of businesses in the US are considered small businesses. This is the highest failure group for an extended lockdown scenario.

JP Morgan Chase writes:

Over 99 percent of America’s 28.7 million firms are small businesses. The vast majority (88 percent) of employer firms have fewer than 20 employees, and nearly 40 percent of all enterprises have under $100k in revenue.

What does this mean for the US? This means that potentially 28.4 million businesses are at risk of permanent closure due to the COVID-19 crisis. That means potentially up to 568 million jobs are also at risk of loss due to COVID-19.

Some small businesses may be able to weather a few weeks of this storm, but not much after that. Again, this situation can (and likely will) get much worse the longer it lasts.

Survival and Economy

With up to 568 million people without jobs, this means that the economy will not only tank, it will implode. The stock market won’t even exist. There will be nothing left of the US economy.

I did say that this can get worse. Yes, it can. And… it can even go beyond this.

Apocolypse

This word is actually defined as “catastrophic change”… with the word catastrophic being the key word here.

Turning out this many people to unemployment means desperation. As people’s ability to feed, clothe and house their families and themselves dwindle, desperate actions will become necessary (at least for some). Once the newly turned Robinhood thugs turn out en-masse to shake down those who “have” to feed those who “haven’t”, it’s going to get ugly. Really, really ugly. In fact, COVID-19 will likely become the least of everyone’s worry.

It will then become mostly about survival of the fittest and who has the “necessary force” to get what is needed to survive.

We haven’t yet reached this level of desperation as people still have small stock of food, water and can live out their remaining rent, but our society is quickly coming to a turning point. Once rents can no longer be paid, food can no longer be bought and gas can no longer be afforded (or even found), the niceties of our former social world will come to a grinding halt. Then, desperation takes hold.

What will ensue is looting, gangs and these folks being forced to obtain food, water and shelter by force. The currency will no longer be the dollar, but the bullet or knife. Violence is in the US country population’s nature. When it becomes necessary to survive (and it will), then all bets are off.

Martial Law

Yes, the Government can roll its military through and declare martial law to attempt to stem the tide of the new age of lawlessness that will begin, but that can’t last. Eventually, the government itself will break down and fail to be of any use. Those in the military will be conflicted about where to take orders and, indeed, where if any place can they even use the money they are being paid.

If small businesses fail, what can you spend your money on? Will that money even be worth anything? Larger businesses like Target and Walmart may be able to last for a bit longer, but eventually the supply lines will dry up as the small business suppliers close. It will become a vicious cycle that won’t end until the country has entirely unraveled.

Making the hard Choice

The country is at a serious perilous crossroads. It can keep everything closed in order to stem the COVID-19 tide or it can immediately lift the lockdown and shelter-in-place orders and let businesses reopen to save what’s left of the economy.

With COVID-19, we may be forced to let the chips fall where they may. We can’t keep society closed forever. We can’t even keep it down for a few weeks. For the US to continue its way of existence, it must be unlocked and allowed to resume.

Yes, we need to be cautious and vigilant to avoid getting COVID-19, but we can’t let COVID-19 grind the US to a halt and, subsequently, to completely unravel the US’s entire way of life.

We have to consider what’s worse? Perhaps 500,000 deaths from COVID-19 or millions of deaths due to a bankrupt US economy leaving millions homeless? Without an economy, the US can’t survive as a country. Having a president preside over a dead country is like not having a president at all.

Believe me when I say that if the US is forced into martial law, it won’t be long before there’s bloodshed… and that won’t have anything to do with being infected with COVID-19.

As I said, I really dislike writing this article, but the outcome of what can become a very real possibility must be said. Right now, the president is basically saying, “everything’s going to be okay”, but that’s not reality. If these lockdowns continue beyond a week or two, much of our country’s way of life is doomed to vanish forever. Even Hollywood may never be able to recover from this… the biggest entertainment producer in the world will be lost. Without Hollywood and the music business, this country will plunge into a second dark age.

With all of that said, cities, counties and even the federal government needs to reconsider these lockdown actions pronto. Staying locked down for months will tailspin the US into unrecoverable territory. This will force many families into the streets without the means to obtain food, clothing or shelter. The homeless shelters will be forced to shutter because even they can’t afford to stay in business. Literally, the entire country will fall back to “the wild, wild west”. People will be forced to take matters into their own hands to survive.

Now, it is difficult to foresee exactly how all of this plays out, but no matter the sequence of events, the end result will be failure, death and loss of the US way of life. We will turn back into small communities together using local services. We will have to barter to live. The technology we so actively thrive on will cease to exist. The computers will still function, but the internet may effectively shut down as more and more businesses are forced to close. Even cell phones may become a thing of the past as lawlessness and anarchy begin driving survival. Even money may become worthless paper.

Alarmist?

This article may seem a bit alarmist. In part it may be, but it is also grounded in current lockdown reality and is based on where we are headed today, while still in the early stages of these lockdowns. Simply reviewing Twitter, you can already see just how many people have been furloughed or laid off due to COVID-19. This is just the tip of a very large iceberg. News articles show restaurants and other businesses with their doors shut and lights out.

Right now is a perilous time and our government leaders needs to weigh what’s coming if we remain on this course. If we don’t change our course now, there may not be any time left to change this downward spiral.

COVID-19 may, in fact, turn out to be the least of society’s worries. Our society isn’t currently prepared to live and work at home on a semi-permanent basis. It hasn’t ever considered or prepared financially for this eventuality. There are just no work-at-home jobs that pay enough to live. Most businesses can’t afford (nor are they willing) to begin paying people the salaries they were getting when they worked in a company office. I’m not even sure that companies can recover enough at this point to pay those former salaries anyway.

Tailspin

We only need to look at the stock market to understand the ramifications of business closures, layoffs and lockdowns. Clearly, people are selling because they know they will need that money to live. The stock market can’t handle this kind of mass sell off. But, it’s inevitable and it’s only going to get worse before it gets better.

This means way less investing overall and that means less investment capital for businesses to stay in business. Businesses will also need to recover any investments they currently have to pay their own bills also, which means more selling. And, unless this COVID-19 lockdown business is unlocked soon, there won’t be an economy left to save or investments worth holding.

Only the currently richest businesses may be able to weather this storm for any length of time, such as Apple and possibly Google. That is, those businesses with billions in the bank. That also depends on how worthless the dollar becomes. Even then, these rich companies will have to start trimming their own workforce or face a cash hemorrhage crisis.

This situation will likely also tumble salaries massively. It will tumble everything including home values, multifamily rent and even phone bills. Not only will it be a recession, it may become a depression forcing major deflation across the board. One might think deflation is a good thing, but it’s not. When few will be able to afford to pay for much, even at deflated prices, we’re in for a rough and violent road ahead.

Prevention?

Can this combined economic and societal tailspin be prevented? It depends entirely on our governmental leaders. If they can find ways to prop up the local economies while allowing businesses to reopen in safe and effective ways, then perhaps. Unfortunately, I doubt that propping up everything is possible. There are far too many people to attempt to prop up every man, woman and child in the nation. Even the measly $1000 grant from the government can’t possibly help to stem this quickly overflowing tide. The only thing it will do is, in fact, make the situation worse.

How can we reopen safely? That’s the million dollar question. The first thing that needs to happen is to find a way to disinfect people’s clothing and surfaces before they enter any large gathering. This way, when they touch any surfaces within, there’s no chance of leaving latent virus behind or picking one up. Second, we need near instant viral load testing. It doesn’t matter the virus. What matters is that the person has a high viral load of any kind. If a person is carrying a high viral load of any kind, they will be denied access to all social gatherings. It doesn’t matter if the virus is COVID-19, HIV, the flu or a simple cold. We can’t be specific here. Testing needs to be general because it’s too complicated to try to determine COVID-19 specifically. This will weed out super spreaders.

With any high viral load, you can’t fly, you can’t get on a bus and you can’t enter a restaurant, store or any other business. If you’re carrying a high viral load, an isolated medical transport will come to collect you and take you home where you must stay until you can be tested viral load free. If you’re found out and about a second time, you may be jailed. HIV positive people may be a problem in this. But, HIV is also a virus and it does count under viral load. It’s not necessarily spread as easily as COVID-19 appears to be, but it is spreadable.

These actions are the only way we can protect citizens against COVID-19 and still operate society in some kind of normal fashion. Without some semblance of normality resuming quickly for our every day lives, there will be no hope of recovery for not only the economy, but for society in the US as a whole. When TV shows can’t film, when music performers can’t perform, when you can’t go to the movies, a restaurant or even an amusement park and when everyone is scared to even walk out their front door, society grinds to a halt… and that’s where we are now. Society has stopped dead in its tracks.

The things that the US is so known for can’t even be done. All business that revolves around those activities and linked to activities plus the activities secondarily and tertiarily linked will equally suffer. It’s a huge supply chain, with emphasis on the word ‘chain’. When one link breaks, the entire chain fails.

Unless we can figure out a way to kick our society back into gear, fix the chain and keep it going, we’re at the cusp of situation that is bad… very, very bad. So bad that it’s practically impossible to understand or predict just how bad it can really get. Though, we can most certainly guess.

Lawlessness

When there is a large contingent of the working force that becomes not only unemployed, but hungry and homeless, where do we go from here? As the saying goes, “Desperate times call for desperate measures.” What that means is that many people will get desperate to feed, clothe, house and protect their families… and many will attempt to take matters into their own hands to make that a reality, using necessary force if needed. This means I’d expect gun violence and looting to drastically increase.

This lawlessness will drive the government into declaring martial law. Right now, we’re at the cusp. We are teetering on the precipice. But, it won’t take much for that edge to collapse and then society falls in. In fact, we’re currently on the verge of collapse.

Government, Survival, Society and Hard Choices

I urge the governmental leaders to reconsider these lockdowns. Instead, we need to find alternative workable solutions that allow businesses to resume normal operation while attempting to keep them safe from COVID-19.

If we can’t resume a semblance of normal societal operation, we will likely end up in bloodshed. We might even have anarchy on our hands. We could even have more deaths due to unemployment and a deep depression than from COVID-19.

Governments must weigh these risks carefully. COVID-19 is a known quantity. It will kill a number of people just because of what it is. But, attempting to protect every person from it may end up collapsing society as we know it. This collapse could very easily bring about unnecessary violence as people attempt to survive. A societal collapse could even bring about more death, violence and destruction than even COVID-19 and the Flu combined.

When people get desperate enough, they will break into houses, steal food, clothing and use it for shelter. They may even consider killing others to get what they need. They will break into stores and loot. They will break into stores to steal necessities. Is that where we want society? Is that what we want to see? Is that what the current government really wants for its people?

All told, the death toll from violent survivalists could actually kill more people than COVID-19. This risk must be weighed! Letting the virus run its natural course while allowing society to operate may be a better (and safer) choice than having to declare martial law, while attempting to lockdown an entire nation. There are simply not enough troops to do that, which will lead to an even worse outcome. This situation could even trigger a second civil war, except this time it will be between governmental forces and its out of work citizens.

If we let society collapse, all bets are off on how many deaths may occur… not necessarily directly because of COVID-19, but this virus may certainly contribute in some way to that death toll.

This is a serious decision that governmental leaders must consider and they must decide NOW. Complacence and apathy doesn’t work. Strong decisive change must be implemented quickly. It may not be happy news for some, but society can’t be ground to a halt for the 18 months (as some organizations have predicted) for COVID-19 to subside. The US can’t survive an 18 month lockdown. It can’t even survive a 1 month lockdown. We must craft an alternative solution. We must craft and implement that solution NOW, while there’s still time to bring us back from the precipice. There is no other choice.

↩︎

 

Health: How to prevent COVID-19

Posted in family, Health by commorancy on March 18, 2020

virus-1280COVID-19, otherwise known as the Coronavirus, is spreading. The difficulty with this situation is that there is too much conflicting information. Let’s learn how best to protect ourselves from this virus. Let’s explore.

Method of Spreading

There has been a lot of debating and guessing at how this virus is being spread. We simply need to use common sense here. It’s a virus. As a virus, it will spread in all of the same ways as the flu or cold viruses. COVID-19 is not some type of “magic” virus that has the ability to do anything different than any other virus. As I said, it spreads like all other virus types.

How do other viruses spread? There are three primary ways to spread a virus:

  1. Via direct contact with an individual by touching them
  2. Via airborne infection from droplets from an infected person (sneezing or coughing)
  3. Via latent contact of a virus sitting on a surface that you happen to touch

Let’s better understand vectors impact you and the likelihood of infection.

With direct contact with someone who is infected, this has the highest probability of infection. This type of contact is a double-whammy. It has both the latent type of contact, like #3 and can have airborne infection like #2. If they talk to you, cough, sneeze or in any way send spittle in your direction, you could become infected. Direct contact with random individuals should be avoided.

The second highest probability for infection comes from incidental airborne contact. For example, you are flying on a closed ventilation system plane, these droplets could easily spread throughout the plane and infect a number of passengers in the vicinity of someone infected. It could, in fact, infect people throughout the plane. When you’re sitting in a waiting room and someone across the room sneezes or coughs. When you’re standing in line and someone around you coughs. They aren’t near enough to you to latent infect you, but they can aerosolize their body fluids which can land on surfaces or in your nose.

The third highest probability for infection is via latent virus left on a surface after an infected has gone. For example, touching a banister, railing, seat cushion, door handle or even touching buttons on point of sale systems at supermarkets.

These are the same types and methods of infections of cold and flu viruses.

Symptoms or Not?

To be honest, this part doesn’t much matter. Yes, to researchers, people showing symptoms might matter. In reality, there are simply some people are carriers who will never present symptoms, yet they can spread the virus. Others will have symptoms including fever, coughing, sneezing and other visible symptoms.

Some researchers theorize that those who have been labeled as asymptomatic do, in fact, have symptoms. They theorize that some symptoms are so mild as to be shrugged off as a basic cold. I have long believed that there are carriers who never actually become symptomatic. Their systems thwart off the virus quickly and efficiently without ever having a single symptom… with exception of maybe a day headache or something equally easy to be ignored.

This means that these carriers go about their regular daily lives breathing on, coughing on and touching surfaces without ever knowing they have been a super spreader. Yes, there might also be some people who have such mild symptoms that they chalk it up to a cold or the flu. Again, they go about their daily lives spreading it.

Virus Spreading

I’ve always held that people who are visibly sick with fever, coughing and sneezing should firmly stay home. Don’t go out. Don’t go to the store. Don’t go shopping. Don’t do things you normally do. Too many of these people don’t understand that these viruses are highly contagious. Yet, there are many people who simply don’t care or are uninformed. For them it’s, “all about me.” They could care less about whether others become infected so long as they can continue to eat out and shop and do “normal” everyday things.

Having worked at an large theme park a long while back, I saw just how many people showed up sick. I never really understood that. Why would you spend (at the time) $50 (or more) to get into the park while you’re sick? It doesn’t make sense.

Types of Sick People

What I’ve come to learn is that, psychologically, there are several different types of virus infected sick people and the way they handle their sickness (in no particular order):

  1. Don’t Give A Damn — These people are the types of people who really don’t care about others. They hop in their cars, eat a restaurants, go to amusement parks and do whatever they please while in the throws of a virus. Instead of staying home in bed and nursing themselves back to health, they are out running around spreading their viruses to others. These people aren’t intentionally infecting others, but they are incidentally infecting others due to their reckless nature. These people aren’t sociopaths, but they are ignorant of what they are doing.
  2. Stay At Home — These sick people are the cautious types who stay home and stay in. They don’t go out unless it’s absolutely necessary, such as to get medicine or something similar needed to combat their symptoms. They limit their interactions to necessary trips only. These people are cognizant of spreading their illness to others. They aren’t necessarily overly cautious about it, but they don’t run around with wild abandon.
  3. Plan Ahead — These people are sick folks who, like #2, stay home. However, these folks do not go out at all until they are much better. These are also the types who plan ahead by stocking up on necessary medicines, tissue and foods during times when they are sick.
  4. Sociopaths — These are the most dangerous type of sick people. These people are similar to #1, but with the added twist that they actively and intentionally seek to infect others. They intentionally interact with random people and readily leave body fluids behind so as to infect others. These people are intentional super spreaders. These people know that they are sick and they actively seek to infect others. They really have no remorse and honestly don’t care how many people they infect. They may even believe, “I’m sick, so I need to make others sick.” For example, they might go to a grocery store and intentionally sneeze and cough all over products in the store. It’s gross, I know… but these folks are sociopaths. They actually derive joy from knowing that they’re doing this. The danger with these folks is that they are masters at hiding symptoms. These sociopaths can appear normal and healthy and happy, yet be massively sick.

I know it can be difficult to avoid going out when you’re sick, but prudence is always warranted when ill. Staying at home helps you get well faster and prevents making others ill. Nothing is worse than going to work only to find the person sitting next to you has a raging cold or flu… coughing every few minutes.

Prevention

Now we arrive at the section that you have been patiently awaiting. Let’s get started.

With COVID-19, panic has more-or-less ensued. This means that stores may be running low on food, drinks and other essentials. What that means for you is the possibility of heading to multiple stores to find the things you need. You may need to resort to purchasing some foods from Amazon for 1 or 2 day delivery.

While this section isn’t really prevention per say, it does contribute to it. If you have to run out to go get foods and whatnot, you’re putting yourself at risk of infection. Each time you leave the house, you could run into an infected person, but it’s more likely you’ll pick up an item that has a latent virus on it. Let’s get started with those things you can do to help prevent you from getting COVID-19.

1. Social Distancing

This is the act of staying at least 6 feet away from others when out and about. This may be easier said than done depending on the situation. Let’s understand what it means for store owners to fully understand what I mean here.

For store owners, the act of Social Distancing means reducing crowds within their stores so that people can remain 6 feet away from others. The difficulty is that if stores begin limiting how many people can enter and shop in the store at one time, that forces people to remain outside of the store in a crowd. Sure, you can sit in your car, but the store likely doesn’t have any way to accommodate those waiting in their cars. If you want a place in line, you must stand in that line. Standing in crowded line doesn’t afford social distancing.

Worse, some stores have reduced their open hours. For example, Safeway and Walmart formerly offered 24 hour locations. During the height of COVID-19, these stores have drastically reduced their open hours. What that means is, again, damage to social distancing. When you could formerly shop at 2am when there were but a handful of people in stores, you must now shop during these much more limited hours when everyone and their dog must also shop. This doesn’t afford social distancing. In fact, reducing hours has the exact opposite effect.

This means that you have to carefully consider all trips to stores now. You also need to understand their open hours. The best time to shop is usually immediately when they open or within 15 minutes of closing. The problem is, when these hours are firmly within “prime time” hours, you will be unable to perform proper social distancing.

Stores are, in fact, contributing to the spread of the virus by not keeping their regular store hours. For you, as a consumer, you will need to consider these aspects when you head out to the store. If you normally shop during 6am to 9pm hours, it might not affect you. But, if you were hoping to perform proper social distancing, this may no longer be possible due to stores reducing their hours of operation.

2. Wash Hands Frequently, Wear Gloves and Use Hand Sanitizer

With all of the stores selling out of hand sanitizer, gloves and other protective gear, you may find it hard to take advantage of these extra steps. But, you can wash your hands frequently. When you get home after a day of shopping, take your cloths off and wash throw them into the washer using hot water wash. Then, dry them in a hot drier if at all possible. Don’t leave clothes you’ve worn out sitting around unwashed for you to touch again. Then, after starting laundry, wash your hands before you finish dressing and sanitize the washer knobs.

3. Tanning Beds

The UV produced in tanning beds (UVA and UVB) will kill viruses on the surface of your skin and clothing. If you visit a tanning salon and hop into a tanning bed for 3-5 minutes (not enough to burn you or fade your clothing), you can kill any viruses on your skin and clothing. If you use a standup tanning bed, you don’t have to touch many surfaces. Just be sure to wear protective eye gear. After done, wash your hands. This can help you prevent viruses from entering your home. You’ll want to do this just before heading home for the day.

4. Avoid Bars with Restaurants

Bars sanitize their glasses rapidly through a three water bath. These baths are soap water, bleach water and rinse water. They are then allowed to dry. Depending on the bleach concentration of the bleach water, it may or may not be enough to fully kill COVID-19. If you visit a bar, the bartenders follow this glass washing practice because it is the “norm” at bars and recovers dirty glassware quickly. Unfortunately, using a glass washed like this could leave you infected with COVID-19. You’ll want to avoid heading to a bar, if not only for the social interaction reasons, but also for how bars wash their glasses during busy times.

If you’re unsure exactly how a bar washes their glassware, you should ask the bartender. Only drink beverages from glasses which have been properly washed via a commercial dishwasher and not through the quick three bath solution utilized at most bars. Better, perform social distancing and avoid bars entirely. If you must drink, buy your liquor at the store and mix your own drinks at home using your own properly washed glasses.

If a bar is also a restaurant, the server may order your drinks from the bartender (even if they don’t contain alcohol). This may mean the bartender can potentially use glasses sent through the three bath solution instead of through a proper hot washed sanitizing dishwasher. For this reason, it is best to avoid the restaurant + bar combo establishments. Instead, visit places that either serve paper cups or that serve you on glassware that has been properly sanitized in a dishwasher.

5. Avoid Buffets and Restaurants

This one goes without saying. Buffet bars are some of the most unsanitary restaurants in existence. With serving spoons that may have had hundreds of hands touching it, this can easily infect you. During the height of the flu season, let alone COVID-19, you should always avoid buffet bars. Flu season begins around September and doesn’t end until around May. You should avoid buffet serve-yourself restaurants during these months. Until COVID-19 is under control and subsiding, you should continue to avoid buffet style restaurants.

In fact, it’s probably wise to avoid all restaurants. If you must have restaurant food, use the drive-thru or have it delivered. Both of these options avoid the use of glassware and, instead, provide disposable containers which are less likely to hold latent viruses. It also avoids the need to enter the interior of the restaurant and interact with the staff or other customers. It can be difficult to practice social distancing once inside of a restaurant.

6. Close All Windows

While this one might not seem obvious, it will make sense once you understand. If you live in an apartment complex or in a house that’s close to your neighbor, someone coughing or sneezing could have their virus carried into your house. If you want to open your windows, do so during off-peak hours (after midnight, but before 6am). Close your windows during the day to keep the viruses out.

The same goes for driving in a car. If you’re out and about, keep your windows closed and your car’s A/C system on recirculated air. Don’t allow external air to blow inside. Even HEPA filters can’t filter out viruses. The best bet is to keep your car closed up tight.

7. Work from Home

If your company allows, work from home. Don’t head into the office unless you absolutely need to be there. If you have a client meeting, attempt to schedule these through video conferencing. Avoid face to face meetings unless absolutely necessary.

8. Don’t eat or drink after someone else

This should be common sense. Don’t drink from anyone else’s glass or eat food from their plate. It doesn’t matter if it’s your brother, sister, wife or mother. Don’t do it.

9. Take a shower

When you get home after work or after having been out and about, throw your clothes in the washer and then take a shower. Cleaning your clothing and taking a shower will remove any possible latent viruses you have picked up, not only from your hands, but any other portion of your skin or clothing.

10. Cover All Sores

If you have a cut, scrape or scab anywhere on the surface of your skin, cover it with a bandage. If it’s a fresh cut or scrape, be sure to use an antibiotic ointment on the bandage. This gives you two layers of protection. While the antibiotic ointment won’t kill a virus, it does help put up a barrier between the skin and the bandage that a virus will find hard enter. Simply, make sure to cover all cuts and scrapes. Don’t leave them open to the air.

If you have a liquid bandage that you use, I’d recommend covering the liquid bandage (after it’s dry) with a cloth bandage to, again, afford two layers of protection.

11. Wash All Packaging and Cook All Foods

After buying any prepackaged foods from a grocery store and because of the sociopaths of the world, wash everything in hot soapy water, if possible. Toss any outer packaging immediately, then wash hands. For example, many items are packaged in plastic. These are easily washable in the sink. Wash them thoroughly.

For produce (such as lettuce, celery, tomatoes and so on), these may be more difficult to wash. Instead, don’t eat these raw. Cook all produce until such time as COVID-19 subsides. Cooking produce with sufficient heat will ensure that any latent viruses are dead, including COVID-19. Cook all foods.

12. Microwave Takeout

When you get home with your bag of takeout, carefully remove the food from its packaging (preferably without touching the food itself with your hands) and place it onto your own dishware. Use chopsticks or tongs and avoiding touching the grabbing end with your fingers. Throw away all packaging immediately. Place the food into the microwave for 30 seconds to 1 minute to increase the temperature to ensure that the food will be disinfected. Wash your hands while the microwave is running.

If you’re buying raw food like Sushi, Poké or salad, avoid this type of food until COVID-19 subsides. It is recommended not to eat raw cold foods unless you’ve purchased the ingredients yourself from a grocery store and you’ve properly washed them. Still, I’d recommend cooking all foods until COVID-19 subsides.

13. Dishwasher and Dinner Parties

If you have a dishwasher, wash your dishware in a dishwasher to properly sanitize. This is particularly important if you choose to have people over for dinner. Better, avoid having people over at all. If you must, then be sure to wash all dishware in a dishwasher with a heated dry cycle.

14. Avoid Parties and Social Events

This one should really go without saying. Social events should be taken off of the table. Don’t go to parties or visit any large social gatherings. This includes gatherings like conventions and expos, movies, sporting events (whether for your kids or professional), concerts, parades, caucuses and primaries or any other event designed to lure in many people in close proximity. Stay away from these events until such time as COVID-19 has subsided.

15. Don’t borrow someone else’s phone

This section is not exclusively about borrowing phones, but this one is a common request. Your phone’s battery is dead, but you need to make a call. What do you do? You ask your friend to use theirs. Don’t do this. If your phone is dead, find a place to charge it (like in your car) or head home. Better, bring an extra battery with you to refill your battery on the go. Don’t rely on borrowing stuff from others. Not only does using someone else’s stuff break social distancing, it also means you’re touching something which could have latent COVID-19 on the surface and then putting it near your face. If it all possible, avoid touching something owned by someone else. This means, yes, avoiding picking up stuff for someone who drops a bag. Let them pick up their own stuff. Courtesy is all well and good, but you don’t want to risk your life over helping someone pick up a bag of spilled groceries.

16. Public Transportation

If you must travel on public transport, stand up. Don’t sit down. Hold onto the hand rail with only one hand if possible. Make sure your hand doesn’t have any cuts or scrapes and if it does make sure they are properly covered. Wear a glove if necessary. Sitting down means you will touch more surfaces that could be covered in COVID-19. Standing means touching far fewer surfaces.

17. Avoid Touching Anything

This can be very difficult. When purchasing, if you carry exact cash with you, you can drop that cash down and not touch anything in the process (put it onto the counter, not in the cashier’s hand). Giving exact cash means no change in return and nothing to touch. Note that I talk about ATMs including paper and coin money infection just below. The only thing you’ll touch is the receipt, but you can request that the cashier drop that into the bag without even touching it. The fewer things you touch, the less likely you are to get infected. If you use a credit card, you’ll have to touch the screen or press buttons to complete the transaction. If you can avoid this process, you have less chances of contracting COVID-19. If you need to touch a screen, buy and bring with you a touch sensitive pen.

Avoid touching your face including your eyes, nose and mouth. If you must scratch an itch, then wait until after you’ve washed your hands with soap and water or after using hand sanitizer. If you are wearing dispoable gloves while out, toss the glove before you scratch. Then, don another glove.

ATM machines are also ripe for COVID-19. If you must touch the screen or press buttons, carry with you a touch sensitive pen and touch the screen with that pen. Use that same pen to press buttons. Try not to touch any of the ATM with your fingers. If you have gloves, you can use them, but be sure to toss the gloves immediately after or wash cloth gloves when you get home. Note that paper or coin money itself can carry COVID-19.

There’s no easy way to solve this money dilemma other than through UV disinfection. If you have a UV lamp at home, you an place the paper and coin money under UV for a few minutes and kill any viruses on the surface of that money. If only banks would invest in a UV lamp system in their ATM machines to properly disinfect the paper money before it’s dispensed. Perhaps with COVID-19, this will send a wake-up call to ATM manufacturers and banks will follow suit with money disinfection.

18. Receipts and Photos

When you do receive a receipt from a purchase, the best option is to use your phone’s camera to take a picture of the receipt immediately and have the cashier toss the receipt. Though, you can choose keep the receipt if you wish. As long as you retain the photo of the receipt, it should be enough for the store to accept an item’s return. Carrying a photo of the receipt avoids having to touch that paper again in the future.

With stores like Target and when using the RedCard, you don’t even need the receipt. All of your purchases are stored with your RedCard which can be viewed within the Target app. The receipt may not show up until the next day, but you can toss the paper receipt and go with an electronic receipt when shopping at Target using a RedCard. Hopefully, more stores will move in this paperless direction, doing away with the paper wasting receipt.

19. Grocery Delivery

The best way to handle not going out is to order groceries for delivery. The fewer people you have to see, the better. That doesn’t negate the need to wash the items you receive from the grocery store as described in #11 above, but it does mean you don’t need to leave your home to have groceries delivered. For those in the highest risk group, grocery delivery is the best answer. There’s a caveat and risk here, based on the economy. I’ll discuss this aspect last.

20. Face Mask Deception

Loose fitting face masks can’t protect you against viruses. Many people think a mask can, but it can’t. The only masks that are less likely to see you get infected by an airborne pathogen is the one that fits tightly against your skin, not allowing any air to seep through the seal. This forces all air through the mask’s filters. Even these filters, however, may not filter at small enough sizes to keep certain particulate matter from entering your respiratory system.

The only thing the loose fitting masks do is protect others from YOUR coughs and sneezes. If you are sick and you wear a mask, the mask can prevent aerosolizing your sickness onto others. These masks don’t protect you from others who are sick and not wearing masks. The only thing that protects you from others who are sick is staying as far away from them as possible.

Economy

Because much of the US is now shutting down as a result of the fear of COVID-19, it appears that the US may be going into a recession. Because so much of the world culture thrives on large gatherings, cutting down on large social gatherings means less business for those businesses.

It also means that people are now more likely to cook and eat at home rather than dining out. Dining out keeps restaurants afloat. When that stops, restaurants lose. For now, COVID-19 means the economy will need to transition back to less restaurants and more home cooking. This transition was inevitable at some point. This means that grocery stores will need to stock more foods to handle this drastic increase in home cooking. As people transition to cooking for themselves, it means the need for stocking up mostly empty fridges and cabinets.

Stores like Target are bearing this transition out. Just visiting Target, you’ll find bare grocery shelves. Target was never one to stock large quantities of grocery items. For a store like Target, it doesn’t take much for these items to disappear from the shelves. Visiting my local Target, the fresh meat area is bare, the fresh produce area was nearly bare, the fresh fruit area, save for some apples and grapefruits was bare. In effect, this transition is being born right now.

Of course, it didn’t help matters that Target also decided to go ahead with their 2 for $10 weekly sales on specific foods like frozen pizza. Target should have suspended all of their two-for sales amid area lockdowns and shelter-in-place orders. They can resume their planned sales after this situation is resolved. In fact, they should have limited quantities and stopped the sales. Having these two-for sales in place incites people to buy large quantities… something that caused Target’s shelves to become bare faster.

Shelter In Place

With some areas of the country on full lockdown and other areas enforcing shelter-in-place (an action just short of a full lockdown), this will force people to stay at home and make and eat homemade meals. Restaurants for delivery may still be open, but even those businesses may tank… forcing them to send their workers home and possibly to even shut down.

For shelter-in-place and lockdown orders, it’s difficult to move about. It also means absolutely no social gatherings at all or face jail time or fines. This means staying inside.

If you live in an area of the country which is not yet under lockdown or shelter-in-place orders, you should still practice the above preventions. Even after COVID-19 has subsided, you should still practice the above. In fact, even during regular cold and flu season you should practice the above precautions. Some of these are definitely a bit over-the-top for a standard cold. If you wish to stay healthy, then the above suggestions offer your best protection.

Caveats — Can the US transition back to what it once was?

This is a great question, but one that doesn’t yet have an answer. We simply don’t know. Once people understand that they can make and eat foods at home, they may be willing to stick with this regimen going forward while still remaining a little bit cautious. What this means to grocers is the need to increase their orders to their suppliers and then increase stock on shelves to fulfill this newly increased cook-at-home demand.

Stores like Target must take this into account. Currently Target’s ordering of grocery items was perfectly acceptable for the shopping amounts before COVID-19. However, Target’s buyers will need to reconsider the amounts of grocery items they are now ordering and shipping to stores amid the COVID-19. They need to do this quickly. Other grocery stores will also need to consider their ordering process.

The difficulty is that stores may not be willing to place bigger orders for fear that much will go to waste, especially with some areas of the country under lockdown and shelter-in-place orders.

Grocery delivery may only last as long as they have business. However, I fully expect home grocery delivery to surge during this crisis. This means that Safeway, Whole Foods and Instacart will likely see a huge boom in deliveries. They may also take advantage of this by increasing surcharges and delivery charges. For this reason, be cautious of delivery services. Make sure you fully understand the surcharges and delivery charges being applied to your grocery delivery order. You may find that it could be 10% or more of the total bill. Also note that some companies like Instacart mark up the grocery items themselves. This can also add to the overall cost of your grocery delivery order. Personally, I call it price gouging, but so far no government organization has taken issue with these delivery markup scams.

Will the economy revive? Sure it will. It will take time for this virus to run its course and subside. It happens with cold viruses. It happens with the flu. It will happen with COVID-19. The question is, how long will it take?

With lockdowns and sheltering in place, it may take less time for COVID-19 to disappear than anticipated. If left unchecked, it will definitely continue to spread. Locking down social gatherings will prevent the spread via latent and active spreaders. The worse case is probably until the hot weather arrives. Hot weather has a way of killing off viruses. Unfortunately, cold and rainy days leaves latent viruses sitting around on surfaces to be picked up by someone’s finger. Once the heat arrives, it will bake these viruses and they will eventually disappear.

Normally, the heat arrives sometime around May or June for much of the US. Hopefully, these lockdowns will slow the spread and give time enough for the economy to recover once they are lifted. I’m not sure that April will be appropriate enough time to make that happen. If April is still rainy and cold, the virus could still flare back up after the lockdowns end. We may have to wait until the summer heat begins before we see COVID-19 begin to fade.

↩︎

Are contact thermometers spreading the coronavirus?

Posted in advice, Health, medical, personal security by commorancy on February 14, 2020

contact-thermometer2This seems a fairly straightforward question and seems like it should have a fairly straightforward answer. With all sorts of makeshift fever checkpoints being set up to screen for the coronavirus by so many cheapskate companies, it’s definitely a risk. Let’s explore.

Contact Thermometers

What is a contact thermometer? It is an electronic thermometer that looks something like so:

contact-thermometer

These contact thermometers must come into skin contact with the forehead or ear to perform its job. Why is this important to your health? It’s important because many makeshift fever screening zones for the Coronaviris (COVID-19 aka nCoV-19) utilize such low cost contact thermometers to check for fever, but at a severe risk of transmitting it.

Sweat and Transmission

Many people believe that sweat can’t transmit a virus. However, if you’ve got a fever, you’re likely perspiring a little. Even still, that doesn’t make using a contact thermometer an unsafe choice by default. But, it can still spread a virus for other reasons.

When people are asymptomatic (or even symptomatic), they can rub their noses or eyes, then rub or scratch other parts of their faces. This can then rub the virus on other portions of skin. This means that using such a contact thermometer could pick up a latent Coronavirus on a forehead or ear and transmit it to at least the next person that thermometer touches.

Unfortunately, there’s no way to protect yourself from such a screening point unless you turn around and leave or refuse to use their contact thermometer. While in the US, such refusals might be met with some consternation until explained, in a country like China, it might lead to much more drastic action by the authorities.

Amateur Hour

However, those in charge over the setup of these impromptu screening zones and which are forcing the use of contact thermometers (without any sanitary protection) are clearly medically untrained amateurs. A virus is a virus. It transmits like all other cold viruses, through contact. If that contact is through the surface of a thermometer or by rubbing your hand across a railing someone has just touched, you can pick up a virus. This type of spreading is called contact spreading. It’s one of the primary reasons that cold viruses spread so easily and rapidly.

You will still need to put your hands in your eyes, nose or mouth to fully infect you, but that’s not at all difficult considering how frequently we touch our eyes and noses and scratch itches. We also must eat, so touching our food with an infected hand is very common. It’s not a matter of if, but when after exposure.

Washing Hands

Hand washing is important, particularly before consuming any food or drink, after having been out and about in public. If someone touches an unsanitary thermometer to your forehead at a screening zone, visit the restroom and wash your face and hands immediately. Don’t wait. Use soap and hot water, if available. Better, don’t allow a fever screening area to touch anything to you.

Non-contact Thermometers

non-contact-thermometerThere are non-contact thermometers available on the market. Unfortunately, they are much more costly than the contact variety. Cheapskate companies may not be willing to shell out the $$$ to buy these more sanitary thermometers. There are also other sanitary versions of thermometers which utilize disposable tips. Either of these two methods of screening thermometers would be fine for use at a public screening check point. However, all skin-to-skin contact thermometers need to stop being used  at public screening checkpoints.

In fact, I might even attribute some of the spread of the coronavirus to such well-meaning, but entirely amateur fever screening points… points which have unwisely chosen contact thermometers for public screening.

If someone intends to place a thermometer against your forehead, say, “No.” If they seem dismayed by your statement, explain, “That contact thermometer is likely already infected, if not even by the coronavirus.” No one wants to get the regular cold or flu, let alone the coronavirus. Nothing should touch your skin when being checked for fever at a public screening point. If that screening point can’t determine if you have a fever without touching something to your skin, that’s a sanitary issue on their part… and not your problem.

Screening Points

Anyone in charge of setting up impromptu screening points to test for fever needs to use a device that either has disposable sanitary coverings between each check or is of the non-contact variety. Preferably, nothing should be touched to the surface of anyone’s skin, then touched to another person. Anything that performs skin to skin contact has a high probability of transmitting viruses from one person to another. This makes these fever screening checkpoints exceedingly risky ventures with a potential for legal liability should death or injury occur.

I’m guessing that these check points were not designed by someone in the medical profession, that or these operators simply don’t understand how viruses are transmitted. Either way, it comes down to amateur hour.

If you happen upon an impromptu fever screening check point, do not allow anything to touch your skin. If they can’t check your fever without touching you, simply leave and go somewhere else. There’s too much risk of infection by allowing someone at a checkpoint to touch you.

↩︎

Virus Outbreak: nCoV-2019

Posted in Health, tips by commorancy on January 25, 2020

virus-1280In recent days, it has been reported that a new coronavirus has emerged from Wuhan city in the Hubei province in China. It is dubbed nCoV-2019. Let’s explore.

Outbreak

The “novel Corona Virus” (nCoV-2019) outbreak began sometime in early December in Wuhan with the WHO being notified on December 31st of a possible new coronavirus strain. It seems the incubation period of this virus is somewhere around 7 and 14 days, after which symptoms begin to manifest. It was first assumed that nCoV-2019 was spread through a seafood market and food items. However, it seems that many in China are now getting the virus without having visited or eaten the suspected foods. The CDC is currently investigating exactly the means of transmission, but it is suspected that this virus has now moved into a person-to-person contact phase. Assuming person-to-person contact, then it is worth following standard winter Cold and Flu virus transmission precautions.

The nCoV-2019 virus is not an influenza or “the flu” type virus. This is an entirely different type of virus, but it does have similar symptoms to a cold virus, including respiratory distress. You can read this CBS news article to understand how it has been determined (so far) that this virus spreads. However, the means of spread should now be considered like most other viruses, including cold and flu, such as through body fluid contact. It may even be able to live on surfaces for a time like other viruses. That means if you touch a surface that has a latent virus on it and you touch your eyes, nose or mouth, you could become infected. It may also be transmitted through airborne contact by a sneeze or a cough.

Cold and Flu Prevention

In 2009, I wrote an article regarding flu prevention during winter months. I updated this article in 2018 to discuss getting the flu vaccine (which that vaccine won’t apply to nCoV-2019). However, this prevention information is now more prescient than ever when a new virus outbreak occurs. While we must all venture out into the public for various reasons, such as grocery shopping and for work. You can help prevent and limit your exposure by taking certain preventative measures as described in my earlier article. Let’s take my previous article’s advice and expand on it a bit further.

Limit Your Exposure

For nCoV-2019, it’s more important than ever to limit your exposure to others and particularly avoid face-to-face meeting with those people who tend to travel to and from China. If you work at a business where travel to and from China is important to your employer’s bottom line, you should warn your employer and the HR team to enforce mandatory quarantine on all staff returning from China. Insist that these folks must work from home for at least 16 days before returning to work. There’s no reason to risk your entire office staff’s exposure to a possible serious contagion by those returning from China. If a person begins showing any symptoms during that 16 day home quarantine, they should immediately seek medical attention.

Face Masks

surgical-maskWhile I know that these surgical face masks seem popular, they can’t fully prevent exposure to viruses. They may help limit the possibility, but they absolutely will not prevent exposure. Why? Because they still allow air around the edge of the mask. Further, you can still touch a surface with your hand or glove and then wipe your eyes. If you have open sores or cuts, you can easily expose yourself to a virus simply by touching a surface. When you can smell odors with a mask on, then the mask allows very small particulate matter through the mask to your nose and mouth (either at the sides or through the mesh). This can allow a virus in. Standard surgical face masks may help some, but they are no where near perfect.

A face mask only eliminates some airborne particulates, but does nothing to stop body fluid contact on surfaces or air flow around the edge of the mask. Shaking hands with someone might also be enough to transmit and expose you to a virus like nCoV-2019… particularly if you rub your eyes. Even a sneeze in your direction could cause you to inhale it through the sides of a mask.

If you must shake hands with someone, use hand sanitizer immediately after. Better, don’t shake hands. If you can get to a restroom to wash your hands in hot water after shaking hands, you can likely wash off any viruses with soap and hot water. Cold water will work, but hot water works better.

Airborne Viruses

While many state that the nCoV-2019 virus isn’t airborne, that’s kind of a misnomer and somewhat deceptive. Once a person begins showing signs and symptoms of a virus infection, such as coughing and sneezing, it’s possible to spread the contagion. These symptoms ensure that the ill become carriers for the virus. It’s all part of the virus’s plan to spread itself. It uses the body’s reflex mechanisms to launch the virus into the air through coughing and sneezing.

If you hear someone coughing or sneezing near you, you should move as far away as possible. If you’re on a multi-car public transportation system (like a train), you should move to another car. If you’re on a bus, you might want to consider pressing the stop bar, stepping off and waiting for the next bus.

If you’re on a plane, you’re kind of stuck. Planes offer closed recirculated air environments, which can actually lead airborne viruses around the entire plane through the ventilation system. On a plane, if someone is infected with a cold or flu or even nCoV-2019, you’re likely going to get it if they are coughing or sneezing even if they aren’t seated near you.

Office Buildings

Unfortunately, like planes, many office buildings also use closed recirculated air systems. This is done to retain the heat or cold air within, requiring less energy to heat or cool that air again. This also means that it takes only one person to sneeze or cough near an intake vent and a virus can be carried and spread over the entire building, landing on surfaces and making the virus airborne.

Yeah, kinda gross isn’t it? If the building uses HEPA filters on its HVAC system, this may or may not reduce the spread of such particulate matter. Unfortunately, HEPA filters are expensive to set up and maintain on so many intake vents in a large building. Even then, HEPA filters may not reduce airborne viruses. Many building landlords don’t and won’t spend for such filtration systems, mostly because of their limited effectiveness.

In other words, don’t rely on a HEPA filter to protect you from viruses.

Wearing Masks Part II

If you want to completely remove particulate matter and drastically reduce infection possibilities, then you’ll need a mask that not only seals tightly about the face, it must contain strong particulate filters. Such a respirator mask looks like so:

respirator-mask

There are many respirator masks similar to this one. It doesn’t have to be this exact respirator mask model. But, it must fit tightly to the face. If you’re a man with a beard, plan to shave your beard so that no beard portion sits under the edge of the mask. The mask must make tight contact directly with skin, not hair, to fit properly and allow for proper air flow through the mask without leaking air around the edge.

When wearing one of these masks, you should notice three things:

  1. No odors should be discernible
  2. The mask should allow for easy air flow through the mask and not get hot
  3. No air should flow around the edge of the mask

You should not have to struggle to breathe when wearing a mask like this. Air should flow easily, but seemingly all particulate matter should be eliminated. If you can smell nothing in the air, even when around solvents, spray paints or food smells, then the mask is working properly and is fitted correctly. If you begin to smell odors or the mask seems to perform differently than it did, it’s time to replace the filters or check the mask’s fit.

The above type of respirator mask is typically used when spray painting, sandblasting, when using chemicals with noxious fumes or when handling other noxious substances.

I used a respirator mask similar to this when I airbrushed T-Shirts at an amusement park. The particulate overspray coming from the aerosolized paint was palpable until I donned a similar respirator mask. Once I donned a properly fitted respirator mask, I could no longer smell the paint fumes or any other odors (not even the hamburger and fries scent coming from just across the way). Wearing the respirator mask made painting so much more enjoyable and allowed me to focus on the job. I didn’t have to worry about breathing in unnecessary and potentially harmful fumes.

If you’re looking for much better airborne virus protection, a respirator mask is a better option to the mostly ill-fitting surgical masks, which those masks offer only limited protection. Of course, a respirator won’t stop surface to surface contact of a virus, but it can drastically reduce airborne infection. In fact, it might be worth wearing one of these styles of masks when flying on a plane… only taking the mask off to eat or drink. Even then, I’d suggest eating and drinking before the flight and not taking it off until you’re off of the flight. If it’s a 13 hour flight, that might be a little difficult, however.

Just be sure that whatever filtered respirator mask that you choose to buy is well supported by its manufacturer. No-name manufacturers tend to discontinue their masks and filters quickly, leaving you with no way to buy replacement filters. You’ll be forced to buy a brand new mask with an all new filter system. If you choose to buy a respirator mask, be sure to buy enough filters with your purchase to last for as long as you think you’ll need. When you run out of filters, you may be forced to buy a new mask simply because the manufacturer has discontinued that product. Don’t think that because you decide to buy a 3M respirator mask that they will continue to support their products indefinitely. A large brand name is equally likely to discontinue a product as a no-name brand. This is the reason to stock up with as many filters as you can afford while they are available. Don’t let brand names lull you into a sense of security with the availability of product. Even just 1 year can see product changes.

Additionally, these masks rely on rubber and other parts that must come into contact with skin surfaces and whatever chemicals you may work around. It’s possible that skin oils and chemical exposure can degrade the mask’s components over time. Expect to buy a new mask whenever you notice signs of wear and tear or if the mask begins performing poorly even with new filters. Don’t forget that you bought the mask to protect you. If the mask has lost its ability to do this, you’ll want to buy a new one.

nCoV-2019

This new virus underscores the need to always be vigilant in our every day lives, particularly during winter months. During the height of winter is our most susceptible time to viruses because they can live on surfaces much, much longer than during summer months when it’s hot. This is the reason why colds, flu and viruses flare during the winter months. Cold temperatures are a great preservative to viruses.

Unfortunately, the nCoV-2019 virus isn’t something that has any protection yet. Taking a flu shot won’t protect you from nCoV-2019. It’s a virus that is a new strain and it’s also not a form of influenza.

When you’re out and about, be cautious of placing your hands anywhere on your face. If you must, visit a restroom first, wash your hands with warm soapy water, then touch your face. If you’ve been out shopping, you’ll want to wash your hands as soon as you leave the store. In fact, you might want to wash your hands in the store’s restroom once you have your bags loaded into your car. If you want, you can use hand sanitizer, but it’s not always as effective as washing your hands.

Shopping for Delivery

With apps like Instacart, Safeway and Postmates, it’s easy to avoid leaving home for certain types of shopping. With services like these, it’s easy to place an order for 1-3 hour delivery later that day. You’ll pay a little more for the delivery, but it avoids leaving the house. You can even use GrubHub and Yelp delivery services for home delivery of meals. This also avoids visiting a restaurant, potentially infecting yourself at the restaurant.

Dine-In Restaurants with Buffet Bars

As was described in my 2009 article, I’ll reiterate this point here. During fall and winter months, October through March, it’s wise to avoid buying foods from buffet bars (whether at a restaurant or a grocery store). In fact, it’s worth avoiding these types of bars year round. These buffet bars are completely unsanitary. The serving utensils are rarely changed throughout the day. This means that perhaps hundreds, if not thousands, of people could have touched that very spoon you are holding. Yuck!

While the serving trays get regularly changed for fresh foods, the utensils remain. Simply by touching one of these utensils, you may infect yourself with a cold or the flu, let alone nCoV-2019.

I can’t even recall the last time I visited a restaurant that had a salad bar or hot food buffet. Not only are these restaurants far too expensive these days, the food is typically grade C or worse. I’m looking for much better quality food. To get that, I visit restaurants with dine-at-the-table only options. Because sit-down restaurants make your order fresh in the kitchen, you’re unlikely to catch a virus by eating at this type of restaurant. However, serve-yourself restaurants may seem like great ideas, they are far from it.

Restaurants and grocery stores with food bars should be required for each person to grab their own clean serving utensil from a holder then place that utensil into a dirty bin when they are done. For restaurants, it’s better to have a waitperson from the restaurant dish out the food to your plate and not allow the unsanitary practice of people serving themselves from dirty communal serving utensils. This practice is so unsanitary.

Worse, while these bars typically have sneeze and cough glass coverings over the food, children’s faces sit under these protection mechanisms. Children can cough and sneeze all over the food… and it is these children who are typical carriers of cold and flu due to their school age nature. Avoid buffet bars!

Diligence

Always be vigilant with your health in winter months, regardless of outbreaks like nCoV-2019. Yes, this virus strain seems particularly virulent, but you should assume (unless told otherwise) that it is communicable in the same way as a standard Cold and Flu virus. This means following all of the same precautions as documented above (with the exception of the respirator mask). The respirator mask is a bit odd looking, yes, but if you’re heavily concerned that you could come into contact with this virus or if you are particularly susceptible to sinus or bronchial infections, wearing a respirator mask (instead of a surgical mask) can reduce your chances of contracting a virus through airborne means.

With a mask, this means that you’ll need to be diligent to keep your hands away from your eyes and keep all open sores fully covered when out and about. You must always be vigilant and maintain strict health protocols to avoid getting the flu or a cold, let alone a virus like nCoV-2019.

In the US, it seems the nCoV-2019 cases are presently limited to but a few. The difficulty with this situation is that it can change quickly. It only takes a few people who are not known to be infected to head home to the US to begin a large scale infection within the US. The CDC is monitoring the situation, but unfortunately, they can’t stop the spread of an infection like nCoV-2019 themselves.

Traveling is the easiest way for viruses to spread around the world. It only takes a few infected people to visit a few public places and the situation can easily get out of control. You, however, can limit your own exposure by taking the steps described to help keep you healthy and well.

↩︎

Can you make potato chips in the microwave?

Posted in baking, Health, howto, smart, snacking by commorancy on September 17, 2019

Why yes. Yes, you can. In fact, it’s pretty fast to make homemade potato chips. But, the speed does depend on your microwave. Let’s explore.

Slicer

The critical piece of the potato chip puzzle is slicing them the correct thickness. To do this, you need to get a potato chip mandoline. This is the critical first step to making potato chips. They can’t be too thick, but they also can’t be too thin. There’s a perfect thickness to make proper potato chips.

The slicer I recommend is the Akebono Potato Slicer set. Though, you may be able to get the potato chips the proper thickness with this Ronco mandoline or this Mastrad mandoline. The reviews show that these do work.

Baker

All of these sets offer a round plastic baker which holds the chips vertical. I’m not a fan of baking them this way. I prefer my chips flat. If you use the vertical version, the chips will fold and flop over, sometimes on themselves. This can make for odd shaped chips. If you like that about the vertical baker, then by all means go for it. As I said, I prefer my chips flat.

To get absolutely flat chips, you’ll want to microwave them flat on a plate. I use glass plates because the chips stick less and seem to bake faster. There’s also no chance of burning a glass plate, unlike paper which can smoulder and catch fire in the microwave.

It’s up to you to choose which baking method you prefer.

Preparation

  • Scrub the potato thoroughly with a vegetable brush under running water.
  • Peel potato if you prefer. I prefer them unpeeled.
  • Slice the potato on the mandoline and place the slices into water to soak.
  • When finished slicing, rinse all of the slices on both sides until the water runs clear (i.e., no starch remains).
  • Dry the chips on both sides and lay them on a flat surface.
  • Jump to baking instructions immediately below.

Cooking Times

This is the critical part. If you have a 1200-1500 watt microwave, your baking time will be about 5 minutes. You’ll need to add more time if your microwave has less wattage. For example, a 600 watt microwave might take up to 20 minutes. To bake, follow these instructions:

  1. On a glass plate, lay the chips out flat so that they are not touching one another.
  2. Place into the microwave and microwave on high for 5 minutes.
  3. Halfway through the cooking cycle (and while the chips are still just a bit damp), lift them from the plate so they are loose. The plate may be hot, so use an oven mitt.
  4. Continue microwaving the chips until they are slightly brown in places.
  5. Remove the chips and let them stand for about 5 minutes to finish crisping.
  6. Enjoy.

I don’t put salt on my chips and I prefer them unsalted. However, if you like salt, salt them before you begin baking them. You only need to salt one side.

A single potato might yield 5 or 6 small batches. This can be a bit time consuming to cook using the plate microwave method. This means running about 5-6 separate batches through your microwave. At 5 minutes per batch, that’s about 25-30 minutes of baking time to make a single potato’s worth of chips. If you want to do several potatoes, it could take several hours. The flat method may not be optimal for large batches. For large batches, you might want to consider the ring baker which holds more chips.

You might also consider baking them in the oven as you can use multiple cookie sheets to lay them all out flat. Baking them in the oven will likely take 20-30 minutes at 350ºF (or until they are slightly brown).

For making small batches, the microwave is the fastest method and produces chips in as little as 5 minutes.

Doneness

The chips are done when they are both lightly browned uniformly and when they’re fully crispy. If they’re chewy or wet in the center, you’ll need to add more baking time. The chip should be completely dry and crispy when done. The chips will also shrink by about half. If you like monstrous sized chips, you’ll need to buy even bigger potatoes. Average sized potatoes produce smaller sized chips. Be cognizant of this when picking your potatoes at the store. I also suggest russet potatoes because they’re the easiest to slice, wash and bake… and they produce tasty potato chips.

Storage

Store any uneaten (wait.. there are some actually left over?) in a zipper bag and keep in a cool dry place. Moisture may seep back into the chips and make them less crispy. You can crisp them up again by placing them onto a plate and baking them in the microwave for 1 to 2 minutes.

Kettle Chips?

If you’re looking for crispier potato chips, like Kettle type chips, then you’ll need them to be sliced a bit thicker. For this, you’ll need to find a mandoline that provides you with this thickness. However, I’m not certain that the microwave will actually produce kettle style crunchy chips. You might need a fryer for this.

If you’re interested in Kettle style chips, then you’ll have to try it and report back in the comments below for how that went and what you did to make it work.

Healthy Chips

Since these are not fried in any oils, they do not have any of the negative oil benefits of fried foods. However, these are still starchy potatoes and still possess all of the glycemic responses as any other potato products. You’ll want to keep this in mind if you are diabetic or need to restrict your carbohydrate intake.

Happy Snacking!

↩︎

Weight Loss begins in the Kitchen

Posted in dining healthy, food, Health by commorancy on May 10, 2019

Many people are under the mistaken impression that you need a gym membership to lose weight. While it’s great that gyms may motivate you to improve your health, it may not help you lose weight. This article = ~19 minute read. Grab a coffee and let’s explore.

Preface

Before I begin this article, I just want to state that I’m not a fitness, medical or diet professional. I have experience with this subject due to my own reading and research on this topic. I’ve also had personal life experiences with weight loss and weight gain several times throughout my life. I’ve definitely come to find what it takes to manage weight properly (although, not always perfectly… we’re human, after all). This article is meant to be informative. It is not intended as professional advice in any form. If you need professional advice for your specific body situation, you should seek the help and advice of a medical or dietary professional who can properly assess your personal situation and weight loss goals.

The Kitchen Part I

Many people mistakenly believe that you need to run, or cycle or lift weights to lose weight. You don’t. Weight loss is not about how much weight you lift or how many miles you’ve cycled, it’s about a healthy relationship with food based on your current energy requirements. That starts in the kitchen.

The body wants to lose weight. It’s the way it was designed. Food replenishes (and gains) that weight if eaten to ‘excess’. The difficulty in knowing how much is considered ‘excess’. This is the key to successful weight loss. Exercise is for fitness. Food is for weight management. The kitchen is where the food is, not the gym.

Resting Metabolism

Most people are only active for short periods of time throughout the day. For example, that might be an hour at the gym or 30 minutes on the treadmill or bike… and so on. The rest of the 23.5 hours of the day, you might be sitting at a desk, sleeping or possibly walking only occasionally. Because the majority of that 24 hours is in a resting metabolic state, you need to eat to cover the resting metabolic requirements, not the small amount of active time requirements.

A good rule of thumb is the 2000 calorie a day diet as “recommended”. However, even this diet may provide more calories than your resting metabolism needs.

If you need to assess your resting metabolic rate (RMR), you should enlist a local diet professional to help you pin it down. There are tests where you sit and breathe for about 20 minutes. During that 20 minutes, the test assesses your oxygen levels and how many calories you burn. That can be extrapolated to an hour, then 24 hours. This gives you a very good baseline on exactly how many calories you need to eat to cover your daily requirements. If you add in exercise for 30 minutes, you can modify the calories of your RMR.

As an example of an RMR, I had mine tested at 24 Hour Fitness as part of a membership. My RMR came back at 1700 calories per day… 300 under the suggested 2000 calories per day. This means that were I to follow the 2000 calorie per day suggestion, I might continue to gain weight. This meant adjusting my diet to eat less than 1700 per day to create a calorie deficit (on days when I didn’t work out). I might be able to adjust my caloric intake upwards a little 100-200 calories if I spent time in the gym.

To put that in perspective, that would be adding an extra piece of bread or two, a piece of fruit or two or a small cookie or two. You can see that’s not a lot of extra food. Even then, I would want to eat these with a meal, not before or after the meal or as a snack.

The Exercise Con

Too many people mistakenly assume that, “If I add some ‘cardio’ to my day, I can eat what I want”. This is not true. In fact, you should continue eating normally even if you do add some measure of exercise into your day… particularly if you want to lose weight. Adding more food in an attempt to compensate for that small amount of exercise is likely to put on more pounds than take them off.

As a case in point, I once had a boss who biked into the office every day. From his house to the office was at least 20 minutes of cycling. In total, that would be 40 minutes of bicycling every weekday five days a week. In the 10 years that I worked for this company, he never dropped a single pound… and I never got the reason why until I realized that weight loss begins in the kitchen, not on a bike. In fact, the company bought us snacks including Popcicles (his favorite), nuts, coffee, cereal and milk. The kitchen was well stocked. This meant he always ate calories in excess if he were trying to drop the weight.

While exercise is great at getting and keeping the body’s systems fit, it might not help you lose weight unless you take steps to make weight loss a reality.

The Kitchen Part II

It’s true that weight loss begins in the kitchen, not in the gym. Weight loss is about what you eat, not how often you use a treadmill. The treadmill is great at cardio and raising your heart rate, but raising the heart rate is not about weight loss, it’s about fitness. There’s a distinct difference between fitness and weight loss. Yes, they go hand in hand, but they are separate distinct concepts requiring separate critical understanding.

To lose weight is all about arriving at a food lifestyle that helps aid you in your weight goals. For example, it’s about creating a food lifestyle goal such as eating only meals at meal times. Snacking is off the table, except only occasionally and only if you can’t make a meal.

Dietary Restrictions

I would be remiss if I didn’t discuss this aspect of a food lifestyle. Some medical conditions require eating only specific foods and sometimes at specific times of the day… particularly if you have diabetes. In the case of diabetes, you will need to keep your blood sugar in check. This means eating the right foods in the right amount to manage that.

Again, even this situation begins in the kitchen and it requires a food lifestyle change. Hopping on a treadmill won’t necessarily manage blood sugar levels (other than perhaps dipping blood sugar after exercise). In the case of diabetes, you should follow the advice of your medical professional in terms of frequency of eating.

Because diabetes can be difficult to manage at times, if you’re intent on weight loss, you should seek the counsel of not only your doctor, but ask your doctor to recommend a dietician who is knowledgeable about diabetes. This dietician can then work with your weight loss goals and still allow you to manage your diabetes properly. In the case of this (or any other weight loss article), you should disregard any Internet advice and follow the advice of a professional who is versed in diabetes, specifically your type.

Healthy Adults

With that said, this article is intended towards adults who do not have extenuating medical conditions that might make weight loss difficult. Even without diabetes or other medical conditions, we should all seek to moderate foods in our diet… including artificial products, refined sugars, white processed flours, processed cheese food and processed meats. We should seek natural, whole foods that are as close to nature as possible. I’ll talk more about this in the next section.

I’m the kind of person that if I have a food in the house, I’ll eat it. For me, that means not bringing home anything I don’t want to eat, such as candy. That means rarely bringing home diary free ice cream, potato chips, cheese dips, candy bars and so on. Because I’m somewhat lactose intolerant, I steer clear of milk, sour cream, cream cheese, extremely soft cheeses, yogurt or anything that contains a boatload of lactose. Milk has a secondary problem for me as well and that problem is casein. Casein is a milk protein that causes allergies in some individuals. For me, milk is a double-whammy of lactose and casein.

To avoid this, I choose alternatives such as non-diary creamer instead of milk when making foods that require milk. Non-dairy creamer is artificial, so I limit my use of this ingredient. But, when I need milk in certain recipes, non-diary creamer is my goto choice because it doesn’t trigger me with lactose and casein. When I make bread, for example, I use non-diary creamer instead of non-fat dry milk powder. For cereal, when I rarely eat it, I choose almond milk instead of non-dairy creamer. It just tastes better on cereal. However, I rarely eat cereal.. and even then, the only cereal I like is Crispix, primarily because it’s not like eating a bowl of straight-up sugar and it stays crispy in milk.

Whole Foods vs Processed Foods

Many people have claimed that processed foods may slow weight loss progress. I can disprove that. I occasionally eat processed foods (i.e., hot dogs, Velveeta cheese, Spam) and I’m still on the road to my weight loss goals. Eating these foods may slow down the weight loss process slightly, but it won’t outright stop the weight loss so long as you keep your caloric intake below your RMR.

What’s more important isn’t processed or whole foods, but calorie dense foods. For example, vegetables and fruits are far less calorie dense than, say, pound cake or brownies. This means you must eat more vegetables and fruits to eat an equivalent amount of calories in a piece of pound cake. For this reason, calorie dense foods should be considered a ‘once in a while’ treat. Another calorie dense food is beer, wine and spirits. Drinking a glass of wine adds a lot of calories to your diet. Think of a glass of wine the same as a sugary can of Coke. It’s basically empty calories. Alcoholic drinks consist mostly of water with, in the case of wine, alcohol and fruit sugars. You don’t get any nutritional benefits from Wine, but you might get limited health benefits from the alcohol due to its blood thinning capabilities.

Treats

You sometimes can’t get away from social situations with food and drink. This means that when you’re out and about at a restaurant or at a party, you might be required to indulge in foods and drinks which aren’t part of your lifestyle. You don’t really need to worry about this interfering with your weight loss goals as long as it’s a ‘once in a while’ situation. At a social situation, you can choose to abstain from eating these foods outright. However, abstinence may be seen by the host as displeasure with the food choices. In other words, you might be judged negatively for not eating the foods or drinking the drinks. If you know you’re going to have a problem in a specific social situation, it’s best to stay away rather than showing up and being a picky eater.

In these cases, you have two options. Attempt to avoid such social situations or choose to lightly indulge in the foods offered. Basically taste them and carry around the remaining food on a plate. You can even throw away the plate after a few minutes and grab something new. If you have a third option where the host provides you the choice of foods you can eat, then take advantage. However, few party hosts are that obliging, particularly if you’re taking a client out to dinner or to a company party. Be prepared to find something at the party to snack on. Or, alternatively, eat your meal immediately before the party and politely explain you’ve just eaten dinner.

You don’t need to eat a meal there, but you can pick whatever you find is the most healthy option. Sometimes they offer deserts with fresh fruits. Sometimes they offer hard cheeses. These are good options to help you retain your food lifestyle. Though, you can mark such social occasions as ‘treat day’. I’ll talk about ‘treat day’ a bit later.

Food Lifestyle

I know I’ve mentioned this term several times in this article and I think it’s about time that I define it properly. A food lifestyle is about changing your habit with food on an ongoing basis. The word ‘diet’ has a long held the connotation of being ‘temporary’. You diet, you lose weight, you go off the diet. You can’t do that and maintain a healthy weight.

To maintain a consistent healthy weight, you need to change your food choices on a permanent basis. This is the act of creating a continuous food lifestyle. A continuous food lifestyle is the goal if you want lasting weight loss, including weight maintenance.

You can’t go ‘on a diet’ and then later ‘go off the diet’. That’s a recipe for weight loss failure and is the key to Yo-Yo dieting. No. You want lasting change for the rest of your life. This means making food choices that you are willing to live with day in and out, week in and out and year in and out. You need to be able to live your food choices.

This also means a balanced approach to food. This means choosing to make home cooked meals over eating out. This means buying fresh whole foods to cook those meals.

If you’re used to eating out at McDonald’s weekly and eating out regularly throughout the week, making home cooked meals may initially be somewhat of a shock. It takes time to cook meals, but with the proper tools, you can cook meals at home in similar amounts of time as McDonald’s takes to prepare your meals.

For example, I can make a homemade hamburger and fries meal at home in as little as 15 minutes. It takes perhaps a little longer than it takes McDonald’s to serve a meal, but my meal means I can choose my ingredient choices. For example, I prefer actual Swiss cheese on my burgers. Few fast food restaurants offer that choice. If I want to use Avocado oil mayo on my burger, I’ve got that choice also. If I want Sriracha, it’s right there. For example, where will you find a burger made with Romaine lettuce and heirloom tomatoes? These combinations just don’t exist at fast food restaurants.

Making your meals at home means you can choose the ingredients that you like, that you will eat and that are hand-selected by you.

Homemade Meals versus From Scratch

Many people think that a home cooked meal signifies that it was made from scratch. In fact, that’s not necessary. For example, hamburger buns are a common thing we buy at the grocery store rather than making them ourselves. I’ve personally made hamburger buns myself and I prefer my home made versions, but it’s a time consuming process waiting for the bread to rise and then baking them.

You can easily make meals at home from packaged foods rather than making everything yourself. Obviously, you’re not going to go butcher a cow just to get a specific cut of meat. You’re going to visit a butcher counter and pick from those in the counter. That’s a time saving example.

Like the bread and steak examples, you can also make other foods from mixes or boxes. You don’t need to spend time doing everything from scratch. Yes, there is a satisfaction to making everything from scratch, but unless you have excessive amounts of time to kill performing these steps, making boxed or bagged mixes is perfectly acceptable time saving approaches to making home made meals.

You can even save yourself kitchen time by using a slow cooker or a pressure cooker. These are other cooking alternatives to getting the job done with the least amount of your time. You just need to find these time saving approaches. For example, using the microwave to grill hamburgers or steaks using specially designed microwave grills. These can be tremendous time savers.

Treat Day

As you approach a new food lifestyle, you’ll want to include a full treat day once a month. This day is the day where you can eat things not normally on your regularly scheduled food lifestyle. These might include eating out at your favorite restaurant, staying home and eating ice cream and/or popcorn in front of a movie. Perhaps you like drinking Coke or Pepsi or making an ice cream float out of these. Or, maybe it’s eating birthday cake.

These are treats you let yourself have once per month. You choose the day and then stick to it only on that day. These days are great days for social events, going to parties or hanging out with friends at a bar. This allows you to eat whatever you want and then fall right back onto your food lifestyle the following day. It’s a day where you don’t have to worry about what you’re eating. However, it’s always prudent to moderate your food intake no matter where you are. Being overindulgent in anything, particularly food, is never a good idea. You don’t want to wake up sick from eating too much food.

This day is actually important to your body. It’s a way to get your body out of its metabolism “comfort zone” and, for a day, make it change how it works. This breaks the monotony of eating similar foods day after day and aids your metabolism achieving your weight loss goals. Sometimes, the metabolism needs a little kick in the pants. That’s why treat day is important.

You don’t have to do a treat day every month if you don’t feel like it. Also, if you need to move your treat day to a different day, that’s also fine. However, having it on the same day makes it easier to manage and know when it is. I always preferred having treat day on a Friday as it was always like a tiny celebration.

You should also include a mini-treat snack once a week. This is a time when you can have a single treat, like a small sundae, a small cookie, a piece of chocolate, a small piece of cake or a dessert after your meal at a restaurant. You just want to tickle these taste bud receptors so you don’t get tired of your food lifestyle. These are to break the monotony of not having a sweet food at your meal. You don’t want to do these often, but you do want to do them occasionally to allow for a piece of chocolate or candy bar or glass of wine. We all need to indulge occasionally.

This system allows you to indulge in your favorite snack foods to prevent you from rejecting your chosen food lifestyle outright, forcing you back to a weight gain diet. You want to be able to treat yourself every now and then. The reason most “diets” fail is because they deprive you of the foods you love. A mini-treat prevents that deprivation problem.

What I have found is that even though I do have a treat available, I don’t always do it. Some days I just don’t want sweets or other treats. Occasionally, I do want them and that’s when I include a single treat during a day or I add it to my chosen treat day. If your monthly treat day is coming up in a few days, just hold on until then and have your snack then.

Note that fresh fruit and fresh veggies don’t count as ‘treats’. You can include these in your food lifestyle. Treats are defined as calorie dense processed foods such as wine, beer, spirits or decadent desserts such as a brownie with ice cream, cake or a candy bar. Yes, even a protein bar, a breakfast bar, a protein shake and even cereal should be considered ‘treats’. Basically, anything that is calorie and sugar dense should be considered a ‘treat’. The rule is, if it’s sugary and/or overly fatty, then it’s considered a treat.

Peanut Butter (or any nut butters)

Peanut butter is an odd food that seems like it should fall under being a ‘treat’. Depending on which version you buy, it might or might not.

The one thing I will say about peanut butter is to moderate no matter which version you buy. It’s a calorie dense food that’s reasonably fatty. If you buy commercially produced “smooth” peanut butters, these contain sugar. These peanut butters should be considered a treat.

If you buy All Natural (i.e., requires stirring), these are not considered as a treat. The difference between the commercial and all natural versions is additives. Commercial peanut butters insert additives to make it ‘smooth’ and to not separate. These additives, like sugar, make this version of peanut butter into a treat.

All natural peanut butters only have peanuts, peanut oil and possibly salt. These are the definition of whole foods. This type of peanut butter isn’t considered a treat, but peanut butter should always be used in moderation. For example, if you can buy freshly ground peanut butter from Whole Foods, this is actually the best type of peanut butter to get.

If you make a PB&J sandwich, this is definitely a treat no matter which peanut butter you choose. Jelly, jam and preserves are definitely considered a treat food because of the excessive amounts of sugar and because of its processed nature.

How many times removed from nature?

Eating natural foods is the goal of a food lifestyle. These are typically whole raw, steamed or cooked foods. You want to eat foods that are as close to nature as possible. For example, eating a raw Romaine lettuce leaf is as close as you can get to a natural food as it exists in nature. Once you process a food, such as turning a raw fruit into preserves, that’s considered to be removed from nature several times. Once to cook it down into a slurry, once to add in sugar and other additives and once to can it.

Bread is a food twice removed from nature. It begins as a whole grain which is pulverized and processed into a powder (once removed). Then that powder is mixed into water to make dough and then baked into bread (twice removed). Once something has been removed from nature more than once, it’s considered processed. Processed foods are not the goal of a healthy weight loss lifestyle. However, bread has a place where jam and preserves don’t.

Bread is a form of fiber and fiber aids in digestion and slows the conversion of sugar in the blood stream. Unfortunately, jams, preserves and jellies have removed all fiber from the fruit, which leaves pretty much jellied sugar. Because sugar is already readily abundant in nearly every food, there’s no need to add extra sugar in the form of jelly, jam or preserves. Yes, they taste good, but they should be considered a treat.

The point is that you need to count how many times a food has been removed from nature to determine if it works towards your weight loss goals. If it’s been removed from nature more than twice, you should rethink that food choice. This goes hand-in-hand with…

Fats, Carbs and Protein

The intake of calories comes from fat, carbohydrates and proteins.

Fat (aka lipid) is fatty acid of any type such as peanut oil, sunflower oil, palm oil, rapeseed oil, canola oil, vegetable oil, corn oil, avocado oil, olive oil and so on. It also includes fats in meats. This category also includes steroids and waxes.

Carbohydrates are any form of sugar including both simple sugars and complex sugars. Simple sugars (two molecule) include glucose, galactose (not generally found as a food ingredient) and fructose (aka levose or levulose). Complex sugars (more than two molecules) include lactose (milk sugar), sucrose (table sugar), sucralose (artificially manufactured), dextrose and maltose. These types of simple and complex sugars can be recognized by the ‘ose’ at the end of the name. Starches are also a form of even longer chained sugar molecules. All sugars and starches reduce to glucose, fructose or galactose in the blood stream. For sugars to be reduced in the body, chemical reactions break the two or more molecule chains into simple sugar molecules for absorption by the body. The body can’t absorb complex sugars, only simple sugars.

There are also sugar alcohols including but not limited to erythritol, maltitol, xylitol, sorbitol, mannitol and inositol. You can identify most sugar alcohols by the distinctive ‘ol’ at the end the name, with the exception of the peculiarly named sugar alcohol, isomalt. Sugar alcohols are curious things. While they can sweeten the food they are in (to a lesser degree than sucrose), they can also add some odd properties. One of these properties is a cooling sensation in the mouth.

Sugar alcohols are used in some cough drops and mints to enhance the mint cooling sensation. Another side effect of sugar alcohols is diarrhea, bloating and loose stools when eaten in sufficient quantity. The difficulty with sugar alcohols is that some people are more sensitive to these compounds than others. It’s best to avoid foods containing sugar alcohols simply to avoid unnecessary trips to the bathroom. It is worth noting that many foods labeled ‘sugar free’ actually contain sugar alcohols in replacement of the ‘ose’ type sugars. The FDA has granted food manufacturers the right to label a food as ‘sugar free’ when it only contains a sugar alcohol. Don’t fall for the ‘sugar free’ label. If you’re watching your sugar intake, sugar alcohols count as sugars.

Other alternative sweeteners include fructooligosaccharides or FOS. This sweetener is derived from the blue Agave plant as well as chicory, leeks, bananas, onions and a few other plants. This sweetener contains multiple molecules of sugar and must be broken down by the body’s chemical processes. This sweetener is not often used in the US, but may be found in some food preparations, including agave based sweeteners. It is a commonly used sweetener in Japan.

Simply for completion, sugars are found in most vegetables and fruits in varying quantities and in varying forms. Don’t get trapped into thinking you’re not eating sugars when eating fruits and vegetables. In fact, fruits can raise blood sugar levels equivalently to candies when eating particularly sweet fruits.

Stevia is short for stevia rebaudiana. While this compound is considered a sweetener, it is not a sugar at all. Instead, it’s actually a plant sterol (aka plant steroid). As a result, the use of Stevia does not raise blood sugar levels. This means it is safe to use as a sweetener by diabetics. However, because it is a type of plant steroid, it may interact with the body’s steroid receptors in other unexpected ways. There is some concern that Stevia may negatively interact with the kidneys, the nervous system and other body functions. It may even interfere with digestion. Toxicity studies assessing side effects around this sweetener are still being determined. As with any foods, you’ll want to assess your own effects after consuming it.

Proteins are any form of branched-chain amino acid. Meats, legumes and eggs all contain chained amino acids. Example amino acid types would include L-glutathione, L-arginine and Leucine which are some of the building blocks of meat, legumes and eggs. Though, legumes contain both amino acids and carbohydrates. Eggs and meat do not contain carbs, but may contain fats. Amino acids are responsible for building muscle in the human body and are responsible for many other building activities within the body.

These three macronutrient types (fat, protein and carbs) form all of the foods in the world. There are also micronutrients within foods. These micronutrient types include the vitamins A, B, C, D, E as well as minerals. All vitamins and minerals are contained in various vegetables including but not limited to green leafy vegetables, beets and carrots as well as minerals (i.e., iron) in meats. Together, the macro-nutrients and the micro-nutrients combine to make up the human food diet.

Man Made vs Natural Food

Above, I discussed how far removed a food was from nature. This is an extension of that discussion. If a food is natural and whole, by its very definition, it is natural. A food made by a human is not natural. Let’s understand natural versus man made in this context.

Corn on the cob is a whole natural food. A tortilla (made from ground corn) is a man made food.

Whole wheat kernels are a whole natural food. Bread (made from ground whole wheat kernels) is a man made food.

Sugar cane is a whole natural food. White table sugar (made from sugar cane) is a man made food.

By extension, further foods can be made from some of the above man made foods. For example, white table sugar is the ingredient to make most confections including chocolate bars, candy bars, cake and even bread.

If a food is man made, it is by its very nature, not natural. If you’re in the store shopping and you’re trying to determine if a food is “natural”, it’s easy to determine. If it’s a box on a shelf, it’s man made. If it’s sitting on the produce aisle in its raw form, it’s natural.

Natural Foods

All of the plant produce products on the supermarket produce aisle are natural. The produce industry further sub-categorizes its produce into “conventional” or “organic”. These labels mean various things to various people. However, produce with the “conventional” label typically means that the plant was grown using standard farming practices, including the use of standard chemical (sometimes toxic) pesticides. The produce may be further dressed using waxes and other “beautifying” techniques to make them pretty for store displays.

Produce labeled “organic” typically means the plant was grown using all natural methods of growth, many times without using pesticides or hormones or fertilizer at all. If a pesticide is used on an “organic” labeled product, it is typically of a non-toxic variety (i.e., vinegar or lemon juice concentrate or similar type edible and easily washable, non-toxic pesticide). This produce is not “dressed” to look pretty. You’ll find that “organic” produce may be misshapen, discolored, smaller, more ripe and may go bad faster. The size difference may mean the lack of using hormones or using “organic” fertilizer (i.e., compost).

The difficulty with these labels is that who really polices them? When you get to the supermarket and see the “organic” label and its corresponding higher price tag, is it really pesticide free? Is it really “organic”? You don’t really know. For this reason, I typically opt for produce shopping by price rather than labels. The only time I shop by label is “Grown in the USA” or “Grown in California”.

When something is “Grown in Mexico” or “Grown in Guatemala”, you really don’t know what pesticides were used. In fact, because it’s grown outside the U.S., many U.S. banned pesticides are used on this imported produce. Additionally, many of the workers who harvest these fruits and vegetables in these countries may actually be sprayed by these toxic pesticide chemicals while still in the field harvesting. As a result of these farming practices, I typically prefer to steer clear of these imported fruits and vegetables and I choose to buy produce “Grown in the USA” or “Grown in California”… particularly thin-skinned root vegetables (i.e., carrots, beets) as well as celery, lettuce and tomatoes. Thicker skinned vegetables, like avocados, I might opt for Mexico produce, but only if they’re the right kind and the right price. If locally grown vegetables are available, I always opt for these.

The Kitchen Part III

As we return to the kitchen with our newfound knowledge, our food lifestyle should consist of whole real foods more often than man-made foods. Clearly, bread is a good thing and can be eaten in moderation, even though it is a man-made food. Rice, on the other hand, is a whole real food. Yes, its hull is removed and each grain is dried, but that’s about the extent to which it is modified, unlike grains of wheat.

Rice flour is available just as is wheat flour, but rice flour is less used to make baked goods than is wheat flour. The point is, bread has a place in the diet. However, so does rice. Both bread and rice are carbs. As a result, you want to treat them as the carbs portion of your plate.

When making meals, you want about equal parts fat, protein and carbs or 33% fat, 33% protein and 33% carbs dividing up your plate. Some say you should have less protein than fat or carbs, but that should be based on how your body responds to these macronutrients. If you can’t seem to lose weight, you might want to reduce your fat and carb intake a little, which will increase your protein intake.

There’s a complex relationship in the body between these three macronutrients. Each play off the other to help build muscle or increase fat. The point is, calories are the measure of how much energy you are expending. The macronutrients (which ultimately make up your calories), see to it that you gain or lose weight based on the number of calories you intake versus what you expend.

The kitchen is the place to make weight loss a reality via what you buy, what foods you make and how much you consume. You can add exercise in to help make your body fit and expend a bit more energy. However, if you do add in exercise, don’t get caught by the exercise trap thinking you can eat a lot more simply because you ran on a treadmill for 20 minutes. It doesn’t work that way. 20-30 minutes of exercise might allow you to eat one more piece of bread than you otherwise could. A single piece of bread is not very much food and definitely doesn’t equate to the calories in a candy bar or a pint of ice cream.

The point is, choose your calories carefully. Eat when it’s appropriate. Treat yourself occasionally. Eat in moderation. Don’t be suckered in by the exercise con that leads you to believe you can eat whatever you want simply because you took a 30 minute walk.

↩︎

 

How important is nutrition education in Schools?

Posted in food, Health, nutrition, school by commorancy on January 3, 2019

Stalks2Happy New Year, Randocity Readers! Welcome to the first post of 2019. Here’s a topic that’s been boiling for quite some time, but never quite mashed it into a written article. With the new year comes resolutions. Considering this is typically a new year resolution, it’s the perfect time to roll this article out. This topic is something I think that public schools and even colleges need to rethink. Let’s explore.

Growing Up, Food Choices and School

One of the things that more or less caused me lots of angst throughout grade school (and even into college), as I now reflect on it, was the lack of mandated nutrition education. I grew up in Houston and went to public school there and later went to college up state. At the time I was in grade school, I obviously didn’t know any better about nutrition and wouldn’t have challenged the ‘establishment’ even if I did. No, I was clearly in the dark on this topic.

One thing that I can definitively say about Houston ISD was its serious lack of food education. While there were classes available like Home Economics, these classes were far less about nutrition and more about how to prepare a meal and not burn it and not cut yourself. You know, the logistics of using pots and pans, cooking in the oven, using a blender or food processor, time budgeting and how to handle kitchen cutlery safely. As I said, logistics. While these are incredibly valuable kitchen safety and functionality education conversations, they have nothing whatever to do with smart food choices or in understanding healthy nutrition.

No, there was no such class available in elementary, junior high (now called “middle school”) or even high school. In fact, the cafeteria’s food choices served to the kids was actually some of the worst, least nutritional meals I’ve ever eaten in my entire life. They were edible, yes, but just barely.

Not only was the school remiss in teaching proper food education, the school entirely failed in feeding the students a proper meal that would aid in the nutrition learning process… which is really the most important part of any nutrition program. If you’re falling asleep in class because you ate the wrong foods, then perhaps it’s important to teach better food choices to avoid this outcome?

Unhealthy Choices

Before I dive deeper, let’s talk about the weird food choices from my school’s cafeteria. While I don’t recall exact meals served in my elementary school, I do recall the pints of milk that nearly every student bought and drank each day… sometimes two. Mostly I missed what was served each day due to the fact that I rarely bought a meal from the cafeteria. My parents packed me a lunch each day. However, what the cafeteria served was one from a set menu each day. One day might be pizza, another day might be hamburger and another might be Salisbury steak. If they served any fruit with the lunch, it was usually in the form of Jello. Oh, how I hated the school’s Jello. For whatever reason, it always had a very hard top “crust” that formed on the Jello that resembled more of chewing on rubber than a food product. Horrible.

As I said, I thankfully missed much of that nutritionally deficient and poor quality food fare as I rarely bought food from the cafeteria. Throughout elementary school, my parents made and packed my lunch in lunch box or bag and I would only purchase a pint of milk to have something to drink with my lunch.

When I did rarely eat a meal at the elementary school cafeteria, pretty much any meal served was either way overcooked, under cooked or simply tasted like a really bad 70s frozen TV dinner. I recall that the food mostly tasted of cardboard (little flavor from that grade C or D food). There was absolutely no care in the quality or the nutritional value of the food. It was simply supplied to “feed” the kids and, hopefully, get them through the rest of the day (at the cheapest cost possible).

It’s not that my bagged lunch was so much better, though. I mean, how many days in a row can you eat a bologna and cheese sandwich, some chips and/or maybe an apple or banana? Yep, that’s pretty much what my parents packed… that or peanut butter and jelly. It was a meal that needed to withstand no refrigeration. By the time we were ready to eat lunch, it was room temperature and was, well, not that tasty.

It was definitely a meal that left me wanting. Peanut Butter and Jelly offered its own share of problems, such as solid sustenance. Peanut butter is tasty enough, but it’s no where near filling enough to substitute for actual protein. The Jelly is just glorified fruit sugar. Jelly simply gave you a sugar high that would eventually drop so low as to make you tired and sleepy. Peanut butter and jelly was, in fact, one of the worst meals I could have eaten. I’m not necessarily speaking for others, but for me that meal didn’t work out. Thankfully, I almost always got lunch meat on a sandwich. Better, but obviously not best. It was almost always a sandwich so they wouldn’t have to pack silverware or containers. Occasionally, they might use the thermos in my lunch box to pack some soup, but that also lacked in being filling as PB&J… mostly because it was usually Campbell’s soup.

I don’t fault my parents as they really didn’t know better. Their food education throughout their schooling was as poor for them as it was for me. They made these food choices for us kids even though it wasn’t always the smartest of choices. It was mostly out of cost value or convenience (read speed). I can certainly understand them not wanting wake up two or more hours early to prepare cooked meals for us, then still be required to go to work later. I get it. But it also meant nutrition that didn’t fulfill our nutritional requirements. The cafeteria meals were hot and cooked, but not always that fresh or tasty. Either meal type left me wanting.

Middle and High School

As I moved into junior high and high school, my stance on nutrition only got marginally better. What I mean by that is that in junior high, I ate most of my meals by buying a cafeteria lunch. I rarely brought in bag lunches at this point. I guess, my parents were tired of having to make a meal every day and I was certainly tired of eating nearly the same sandwich every single day. So, I began buying meals at the cafeteria. Not the best choice I could have made in hindsight, but I definitely remember these meals.

These cafeteria meals consisted of a poor quality protein, including fried chicken, chicken fried steak and gravy, pizza (very, very bad pizza), spaghetti, Salisbury steak, hamburger (tasted like it was frozen) and other similarly horrible entrees. Everything served tasted as if it had been frozen solid an hour before. Our rectangular 4 or 5 compartment trays would also be fitted with a horribly overcooked and/or canned side dishes (i.e., green beans, corn, peas, etc) and a desert (Jello, ambrosia, carrot raisin salad, etc). Sometimes one of the tray slots would be filled with bread. The choices and food combinations were questionable, but always predictably the same. Because the school lunch program published its monthly meal schedule in advance, you could avoid the days when the worst foods were served… which was pretty much every day.

As I moved into High School, the whole lunch food dynamic changed for my first 1.5 years (before the school moved to a new location). Because my high school had no cafeteria at all when I started as a freshman, we had to fend for ourselves at lunch. Yeah, I know, it’s weird. Because of this dilemma at the school, a few of the faculty took it upon themselves to run to Del Taco or some other fast food place and buy a bunch of burritos or hamburgers, bring them back and sell them to us. I’d occasionally used this option when I didn’t have much time between classes. Again, nutrition was a second thought. It was less about feeding the kids a proper meal and more about getting the kids fed. It’s that cattle mentality.

Thankfully, our school campus overlapped with part of Houston Community College’s campus. Because HCC had a culinary program (such that it was), the students were tasked with operating an eatery and, thus, there was a school operated cafeteria on the top floor of their classroom building. Occasionally, I would end up there to eat lunch and, I will say, for the first time I had a reasonable quality and tasty lunch. It was probably even somewhat nutritious as they had a salad bar that I occasionally used. The bar was expensive because it was “by the pound”, but the ingredients were always freshly made and tasty. For me, it was a treat to eat this kind of food for lunch rather than burritos.

The last half of my high school years, the school had moved out of that facility and into a “new” building. I put that in quotes because while it was “new” it was horribly lacking in design and it was incredibly small for a high school building. I’m not sure what HISD was thinking when they designed it. I digress.

Anyway, we were again dependent on HISD to provide us with meals. This basically meant, we had to fend for ourselves because, once again, the food was total garbage. Instead of the cafeteria where you ask them to plate foods from a buffet bar, this was a walk up window and there was a fixed menu. One day it might be hamburgers, another day it might be pizza and another day who knows what crappy concoction they would sell us. The food was horrible, salty, sugary and greasy all at the same time. Yet, that’s what they served us at a similar (or sometimes higher) price to McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Del Taco or Wendy’s. In fact, because we had been so spoiled by being allowed to leave the campus for lunch during those 1.5 years at the older campus, we still took the opportunity to leave the campus to go get lunch. However, many of us ended up over at 7-Eleven because it was on the next block over and we could walk there and back in less than 10 minutes on our strict 30 allotted minutes. Fast food places required hopping into a car and driving for at least 5-10 minutes in addition to waiting on the order during a busy noon lunch crowd. You ended up eating your meal in the car on the way back because you had maybe 5 minutes to eat it if you waited until you got back.

None of these were terribly smart food choices, but this is what choices we had as students. Choices that could have been made better if we had had some nutrition classes to teach us better eating habits and had had better food choices served to us in the cafeteria. Or better, offer the students (at least in junior high on up) a real kitchen facility with microwaves to allow us to make our own lunches and offer up a fridge system to store our lunches until lunch time so the lunches aren’t sitting out for 4 hours without refrigeration.

Junk Food, Candy and Time Management

Candy bars, soda and generally sugary junk foods were common staples in my lunchroom beginning in junior high (7th grade). This was in addition to vending machines… which you couldn’t use during lunch because we were captive in the lunch room (doors were basically locked) and the vending machines were in the hall a fair distance away. If you managed to walk buy one during class exchange, you could buy and stock up before lunch, leaving it in your locker. If you did leave the lunchroom to go to the vending machine and were caught, you got detention.

In junior high, there was the cafeteria line which served “hot meals” on trays with very long lines, but there was also a concession booth in the back of the lunchroom that served foods like hot dogs, candy bars, chips, soda, granola bars, gum, candy with a much, much shorter line. It was basically the prepared stuff you’d find at a 7-Eleven or at a movie theater (minus popcorn).

Why is this important? During junior high school, the lunch line was so long, if you weren’t at the lunch room early, you’d be waiting to get your meal for upwards to 25 minutes in a very long line. The cafeteria workers were incredibly slow and it took even longer to pay for your meal due to the “meal program” slowness. Because the lunch lasted 30 minutes on the dot, that meant 5 minutes or less to woof down your meal.

This is an important point. Having enough time to eat a meal is just as important as the food that’s being served. The school didn’t care that it took students upwards to 25 minutes simply to buy their meal. Woofing down a meal in 5 minutes doesn’t offer enough time to properly chew your food. It just doesn’t work. Again, naïve school administration. It wasn’t my fault that my class was the farthest away from the lunchroom and let out last, yet I was constantly penalized with excessively short amounts of time to eat my meal if I chose to buy a meal from the line.

This meant three choices: bring your lunch, 5 minutes to eat or junk food available almost immediately. There were many times were I opted for the junk food so I could at least have 15-20 minutes to sit down and relax before the next class. It wasn’t the greatest choice, but it was “the lesser of those evils.” Junior high school ultimately taught me how to eat fast AND eat junk, but never eat nutritiously.

When I got to high school, the high school’s lunch window (toward the latter half of my time there) sold both a combination of meals and junk food. You made the choice when you got to the window. Because this window wasn’t part of the “official” HISD lunch program, you’d only find out what was being served the day of. This meant asking when you got to the window and then making a choice to buy or not. If you chose not, then you’d have to leave the campus and find a meal elsewhere. Believe me, the “meals” being served from that cafeteria window were some of the most questionable I’d ever had in school. Not only was the food expensive, it was simply horrible quality food. I walked away empty handed and ended up at 7-Eleven far too much of the time. Ultimately, it was trading one bad choice for another. But, at least it was something I could eat.

However, because of lunch period time constraints, sometimes there was no choice. As an example, one of the “meals” my high school lunch window regularly served (more than twice a week) was a Frito Pie. You know, pouring chili over the top of Fritos and topping it with cheese and onions. Yeah, such great nutrition there, if you consider salt, carbs and grease as nutritious. If you wanted fruit or salad, I can’t recall them ever selling that. Because these healthier choices of foods are more perishable than canned, frozen and bagged items, they didn’t want to keep it in the kitchen. Oh, how I longed for the days of the HCC cafeteria. In fact one or two times I decided to drive over there and eat instead. It wasn’t that far from the new school, but it was a hassle to leave and make it back on time. Instead, I’d usually make my way to 7-Eleven to their cold case and buy something prepackaged or to get a piece of fruit. Even then, towards my final year, the school office was trying to enforce not leaving the campus at lunch time. There’s no way that was not going to happen. Many of us still left to picked up lunch from 7-Eleven or McDonald’s or Wendy’s… just try and stop me.

In my senior year, one of the stickler academic instructors tried to hassle me one day for going to 7-Eleven. I simply told them I was on an errand for another instructor, which was a common request. He had to shut up and go away. Thankfully, it was my senior year and I could finally get away from that crap food.

Nutrition Education

The problem with public schools is that while they do a decent job at teaching the academic basics of history, math, biology and general science, schools typically neglect food science and fail to embrace the holistic idea of how food acts on the body. Students might learn about this topic if they happen to have parents who work in that profession, but many won’t learn it from school… which means most students didn’t learn it during my time in school. Today, schools may have added some nutrition classes, but I kinda doubt they’re where they need to be… teaching only the barebones basics and still serving questionable quality meals.

The closest that schools came to nutrition education at the time I was there was Home Economics (or whatever they might be calling it today). Home Economics is less about food and nutrition and more about the logistics of navigating a kitchen safely, knife handling, food prep, using kitchen appliances and timing of cooking so that all of the food lands on a plate at or close to the same time. It might have even included a discussion on budget shopping. That’s not nutrition, that’s logistics.

Basically, I learned nothing about food or nutrition until into my late-30s. I learned about it on my own slowly, which allowed me to better understand some of the problems I was experiencing to better my own quality of life through better food choices. To some degree, I still struggle with this only because of the lack of formal education around food and nutrition, thanks mostly to the lack of public education in teaching this important knowledge area.

Unfortunately, I moved from one type of “school” to effectively another when I took my first job at a theme park. Because the food being served there was only marginally better than my school’s food, I still didn’t learn about food and nutrition while working there. The food choices there were also questionable… and mostly consisted of a hamburger and fries. The park simply didn’t treat nutrition as anything important. It was more important to serve foods that people liked instead of supporting healthy nutritious choices. As employees, we had to suffer through with that food rationale geared towards park guests.

As employees, we also had no kitchen or fridge facilities to store our foods. If you wanted to bring something from home, you had to bring a small cooler yourself and then find a place to store it. Coolers only marginally worked because of the high outside temperatures during summer. For folks who worked in food service, they might be able to store a brought lunch in their restaurant’s fridge if the manager allowed it. That was only a perk for those specific workers. The general staff was offered no such kitchen facility when there was plenty of park space to build and offer such a lunchroom location.

Food is Energy

It’s clear, food is the energy needed to keep the body working. As they say, “You are what you eat.” That is a fairly accurate statement. Food is about balanced nutrition including balancing carbohydrates, proteins and fats in combination with vitamins and minerals. It’s also about understanding which foods contain which vitamins and minerals and understanding which specific foods fall under carbohydrates, fats and proteins by eyeing the food. For example, a hamburger patty is both fat and protein with very little carbs. A hamburger bun is almost all carbs with some fats. When you add vegetables, such as tomatoes and onions, this is primarily where vitamins and minerals come in.

Candy bars are primarily sugar and fats with a bunch of fillers, flavors and cocoa.

It’s really easy to write this now only because I’ve come to understand what is what. But, when you’re 5-18 years old, you don’t learn this. Like a foreign language, students learn best during these early years. Why this information is not imparted to children at that age just doesn’t make sense.

If I had been taught nutrition during my early school years, I could have moved into my 20s much more informed, with a healthier weight and ultimately made better food and nutrition choices during college years. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.

Nutrition Classes

Nutrition is not a hard topic to grasp the basics. For example, understanding the Nutrition Facts label, understanding how to read an ingredient label and understanding what foods fall into which category (fats, carbs, protein) is actually mostly easy today, thanks to the standardized nutrition labeling requirements.

I guess schools thought that the Nutrition Facts label was so simple to understand that there’s no need to teach anything. Well, that’s not true. There are plenty of gotchas when reading a Nutrition Facts label. Sometimes it’s not about what’s on the label, it’s what’s missing from the label, such as food combinations.

Also, it’s quite important to offer sufficient time to consume the food in combination with supplying fresh, high quality meals is what would help the students to perform their best. For a timing example, the short 30 minutes offered to eat lunch in the cafeteria and the 10-15 minutes to woof down breakfast during the first class of the day. Teaching kids to eat fast is not a smart choice. Eating smart and chewing it properly is the smarter choice. As an example, sweet laden breakfasts causes the body to fight against sleepytime as insulin crashes because of the 150g of carbs during breakfast or lunch. This is why understanding smart nutrition is so important… such as how the foods act on the body.

For those students who have diabetes or require special dietary needs, these students become well versed in what to eat and what not to eat because of severe health consequences. Though, temptation is always there, there are severe consequences if they cheat. Kids with diabetes or food allergies learn these consequences early. Why does it take this level of consequence for kids to learn? Why can’t this type of information make its way to the general population of students? Setting up a nutrition class is not that hard to design, but it does require funding by the school. I guess schools just don’t feel that this level of nutrition education is important. It’s a short-sighted point by the schools.

Equipping our Kids for Success

Giving our kids every opportunity to succeed in life should be the goal of every school. Yet, withholding such vital information as how to eat properly in a world full of bad food choices simply doesn’t make any sense.

We teach students about such things as history to help prevent history repeating itself, yet we give students no tools to help manage food, nutrition and their body. Food can make or break the body. As a child, the body is very resilient to the fillers and chemicals placed into junk food. As we age, the body becomes less tolerant to these. This means that as our kids move into becoming young adults, then adults, many will forever struggle with weight issues and food related health problems… because they were given no tools in school.

By failing to equip our students to identify and avoid problematic foods, we are leading some of our kids down a path that will fail them. Knowing history, math, biology and science is great, but it doesn’t fully equip our kids to survive in the world, particularly when it comes to food choices.

Kids need to learn to make smart food choices in elementary school. They need to understand the difference between eating green beans or a salad over mac and cheese and chicken nuggets. They may not like green beans or salad, but they need to understand the positive benefits they could experience by eating them. Kids that age may not want to explore foods like these that early, but with a proper class, we could entice kids to want to explore these foods and become excited over them. This is the benefit of offering food choices and nutrition classes.

Bullying, Obesity and Kids

Much of the reason kids bully one another due to body weight issues. It might be that the kid is too thin and lanky, but it’s just as likely they’ll be overweight or even obese. Thin or fat are two sides of the same coin, usually resulting from improper relationships with food and simply not understanding nutrition. Being overly thin could be a metabolism thing, but it might also be the food choices. Being obese is also a metabolism problem in relation to food choices.

Weight loss or gain starts in the kitchen. The body needs proper nutrition based on the body type. If you’re predisposed to gaining weight, then that requires a different course of action with food than if you’re thin trying to gain weight. It’s all about tailored nutrition.

As I said above, the young body bounces back easily even when the wrong foods are being eaten. This is why kids can be both overweight and still be considered ‘healthy’. At that point, it would be considered a degree of health. Healthy isn’t simply a specific number. There’s variation between levels of health. You can fall under healthy with medical tests, but still feel awful, have aches and pains, sleep poorly and generally feel crappy overall. That’s a degree of unhealthy. Even kids can suffer from this problem.

Growing up, I couldn’t sleep more than 5-6 hours at a time. That wasn’t a sleeping behavior problem alone. That was a food and nutrition problem. When I eat properly at the proper times during the day, I can sleep for up to 8 hours, but generally hit the 7 hour mark before waking. I still struggle with proper nutrition. Today, that’s less about naïvety than time constraints.

It’s also important to understand moderation and variety in food consumption. Eating the same food day in and out may be tasty, particularly if the food is Pizza or Mac and Cheese, but that doesn’t make it a healthy food habit. It’s easy to become deficient in nutrition if you’re not getting balanced foods… like eating a piece of fruit or vegetables at some of the meals. It’s also about cooking and raw foods. Vegetables can be eaten raw or cooked.

The point is, teaching a proper food lifestyle from an early age can mean better body image, feeling better, more energy and a more positive outlook when at school. By eating only junk food and sticking to a diet that consists of the same foods over and over, the body may not be getting what it needs to concentrate in class or getting proper sleep. This can mean irritability, irrational behavior and perhaps leading to bad grades or being a troublemaker. Eating properly cannot in any way fix mental health issues, but it can improve health and well being, including mental well being. This is why it’s important to give students every possible tool to help them not only succeed in school, but have life tools to help them succeed into adulthood.

Raw vs Cooked

School cafeterias always cook the food until it’s overcooked. However, eating raw fruit or vegetables is a very good way to add more vitamins and minerals to your diet. Because we’ve recently had a spate of problems with raw vegetables (i.e., Salmonella or E.Coli), many people feel that they should be cooking their vegetables. Cooking vegetables is great, but it also strips some of the important nutrients from the food. This is why it’s important to include both raw and cooked vegetables in your diet. If you’re concerned over Salmonella or E.Coli, then lightly steam the vegetables. Let them remain mostly raw, but give them enough hot steam time to kill off any outside bacteria. Try to keep that vegetable as raw as possible. If a green vegetable has turned a dull yellow-green, then it’s overcooked. Green vegetables should remain a vibrant green color even when steamed.

To eat fruits and vegetables raw, wash them with at least water. Better, wash them in a diluted vinegar solution (3 parts water to 1 part vinegar). The vinegar won’t damage the produce and also won’t in any way preserve it, but it will kill off almost all of the bacteria and pesticides (and any remaining soil). You can also buy commercial produce wash solutions like FIT or Veggie Wash, but these can be more expensive than plain vinegar.

If you’re really concerned about this problem, I’d suggest visiting your local farmer’s produce market and get to know your local growers. Ask them how they manage their crops, the kinds of pesticides they use, the kinds of fertilizer they use and also ask about their general produce storage and handling practices (make sure they’re keeping the produce properly stored, such as chilled and that they are packed separately from other vegetables).

Shopping for produce also gives you the opportunity to take your children with you and let them pick out produce that is appealing to them. Shopping lets them explore the fascinating world of fruits and vegetables and lets them pick them up, touch them and see how they feel. It’s a way to get your kids interested in more than chicken nuggets, pizza and mac and cheese. Children are naturally curious explorers. Let’s let them do what they do best and explore the world of fruits and vegetables through new eyes. They may not like everything they try, but that’s okay. They’ll find at least something that they like. Kids are also more likely to like it if you let them choose rather than trying to force the foods on them. Food exploration is an important tool to entice children into trying fruits and vegetables. If you take them to a farmer’s market, many produce vendors cut up and offer fruit samples right there. This gives your child a chance to try the fruits right at the market.

Buying local produce, you can typically avoid many of the problems you find with the large commercial growers who supply your local supermarkets… and that includes supermarkets like Whole Foods and Sprouts, even as much as they tout fresh, healthy, whole foods and produce. Buying local doesn’t necessarily get you better tasting produce, but many times it does. For example, strawberries, blackberries, blueberries and raspberries in the supermarket are often bland and not at all sweet. Buying from a local grower, many times you’ll find much, much sweeter berries at or less than store prices. But, it’s really less about the price and more about the quality of the nutrition. It’s also about food exploration.

College

When I moved onto college, not much changed in terms of food quality. Our college cafeteria treated food towards students like someone might treat feeding pigs on a farm…. just throw some random slop out there and they’ll eat it.

My college cafeteria food clearly created some of the worst food I’d ever experienced at a school. In hindsight, the food itself was probably not much worse than HISD’s food… it was the extremely poor food handling practices that made it much, much worse. For example, when the college cafeteria served hamburgers, they would cook the meat in advance, place them into some kind of flavored water solution and leave them overnight in the fridge. Then they’d pull the metal hot table bins from the fridge, unwrap them and place them onto a hot grill to heat them up for the day.

Not only were the hamburger patties not fresh, they tasted weird. I think I only ever ate one or two before bowing out of that mess. Now keep in mind that the college forced a meal plan on every incoming freshman and sophomore who lived in the dorms. I can understand why they forced it. The food was so grade D that there was no other way they could sell that trash to anyone actually willing to pay at the register. On these bad hamburger days, I’d make my way to Whataburger, who always cooked at least grade B burgers fresh to order… none of that weird floating in hot water grade D nonsense.

It also meant that, for the first time, I had the option to make better food choices for myself. Food choices that not only worked for my budget, but that also provided fresh hot nutritious meals; meals that didn’t leave me feeling lethargic, sleepy and generally crap. That not to say I didn’t occasionally overindulge and get that way, but I began learning much more about nutrition on my own while in college. I also began learning because due to the crap way I had been taught to eat my meals in 5 minutes in junior high (reinforced by my first job) and the kinds of food I’d been taught to eat. I had also begun experiencing digestive problems.

At the time, I’m quite sure the college offered nutrition classes because of their various athletics and Kinesiology programs, but I didn’t take any of these classes. Though, I’m certain they were offered. In hindsight, I probably should have taken at least one class just to find out what I didn’t know. Unfortunately, my college degree already kept me busy. My degree plan just didn’t have any room after I’d filled in all of very few electives with classes that helped me graduate faster. However, my public school days definitely offered no nutrition classes. There was simply nothing available. If I had wanted to take a class like this, I’d have had to do it after school on my parent’s dime. My parents wouldn’t have agreed to this. Though, even in junior high, I was aware of services like Weight Watchers… and I’d even considered joining. I simply had no spare time (or spare money as they required you to buy into their food).

In high school, there were sex ed classes, but there were no nutrition classes… definitely none at my high school. In junior high, if there was any nutrition conversation, the extent of it was in a biology class, usually offering a very academic overview… being less about proper nutrition than the sheer basics about how food works on the body. There were zero nutrition classes available during elementary school, the most formative time when children should be exposed to proper nutrition.

Sure, we understand what tastes good (ice cream, Cheetos and Coke) and what tastes bad (broccoli and liver), but that’s such a basic understanding for a child, it’s just surface understanding of food, but completely skips healthy nutrition. It’s just a “I like this, but I don’t like that” kind of preference… which has nothing at all to do with making healthy food choices or nutrition.

No, it seems many public schools completely ignore nutrition and just how much healthy eating contributes not only to weight, but also to overall health, mental health, well-being and focus. That’s not to say that we should eat nothing but Kale salads with sprouts. Moderation is the key, eating healthy means making choices that allow the body to feel its best, act its best, look its best and be its best. Splurging on ice cream or soda or pizza or fried chicken is fine, occasionally. Everyone needs moderation in their diet. These should be rare events rather than every day. Treat them as ‘treats’, not as ‘staples’.

Controversial Topics, Making Choices

Nutrition is kind of a “he said, she said” world. Because there are so many foods (real and fake) on the market, every food industry wants an edge to get their product to sell. For this reason, this is why there’s all of these conflicting food topics… such as eggs are good, then eggs are bad, then eggs are good again… and so on. This has happened with salt, eggs, shrimp, avocados, sugar, saccharin, food dyes, food additives and even Coke. This is why schools probably shy away from setting up classes.

If you set up nutrition class, you’d have to decide which side of the fence you’re on… or at least so a school might think. This means that they might need to side with the egg industry that “eggs are good”. But then, some parents might not like that their child is being taught that.

Schools prefer to avoid this kind of confrontation with parents, particularly vocal parents who might do damage to the school. This is a misguided reason not to include a nutrition program in the curriculum. It would be simply easy to avoid this problem. You don’t spout the marketing rhetoric at all in the class. For something like an egg, simply offer what an egg is made of, the nutrition it offers and let the student (and parents) decide if the food belongs in the child’s diet. Don’t even bring up the industry politics of the egg. The point to school is to create an environment for critical thinking. After all, critical thinking is what we’re expected to do as adults. We need to think for ourselves and come to our own conclusions. No one can really make a choice about their own body but each person. This is the very message that needs to be driven home in any nutrition class. Basically, don’t blindly listen to an advertisement that says, “Eggs are good” or, “Eggs are bad”. Come to your own conclusion for yourself. If you eat an egg and it doesn’t agree with you, then clearly eggs are not for you. If the parents are strict vegans and they project that onto their children, then eggs may not be for the child.

Teaching students to listen and pay attention to how their own body reacts to eating a food is the only way that student can make an informed choice. For example, if drinking milk equals upset stomach and indigestion, this could mean lactose intolerance. This is the perfect example of listening to your own body. If you try something and your body reacts in a way that you don’t expect, perhaps you eliminate that food from your diet.

That’s the key element that needs to be taught in a nutrition class. That’s smart food choices. That’s choosing foods based on how your body reacts to it. We are not taught to do this as children. But, it’s something we learn going into are 30s and 40s when we can put 2 and 2 together. We learn which foods work for our bodies and which do not. Most of us learn this by trial and error. Some of us never learn and continue to feed our bodies with foods that make us sick and sicker.

Nutrition Concepts

This is why it’s important to introduce nutrition concepts early in a child’s life. Get them thinking about it in 5th, 6th or 7th grade. By this point, most children have probably experienced getting sick by eating some sort of food. Learning by experience is an important tool that schools can leverage in any nutrition class. Teaching young children about these concepts early will help them use critical thinking skills in the future… a valuable tool that can be used for a whole lot more than food choices and nutrition. It may even save a child’s life for critical food allergies.

For example, when I was aged 10-12, I never put 2 and 2 together about food. My parents would drop me off at the YMCA for a summer camp program. We would be out and about on a bus the whole day. I was packed a bag lunch, just like at school. Every day when we arrived back at the Y and before being picked up, I’d have a raging headache… every single day. One thing that I would get nearly every day was a chocolate candy bar from the vending machine when we would get back. Because we ate promptly at noon, we had no other food for the rest of day from then until around 5PM when I got picked up. I was rather hungry when we got back to the Y, particularly if we had run around outside most of the day. I’d save up the 35¢ or so for the candy bar and buy one most every day.

It never dawned on me that it was likely both the chocolate and the sugar rush that either caused or exacerbated the headache. I can’t say it was a migraine as it didn’t last overnight. Looking back now, I’m almost certain it was a sugar related headache. It might have been low blood sugar due to not eating much after our lunch or it could have been the rapid rise and fall of blood sugar from the precipitous insulin rush. It might have also been that I already had the headache and chocolate bar doubled or tripled its effect.

Since I was never diagnosed and because I had no classes in nutrition, it was only guesswork for both myself and my mother. She always found it curious that I had these, but it was never investigated because it was gone the next morning. If I had had nutrition classes during my time at public school, I might have been able to find the trigger and, with my parents help, eliminate the problem so that I could come home each day after camp feeling just fine with fond memories of what we had just done that day. Instead, most of what we did at camp is just a blur because the headaches seems to have not allowed those memories to “set”. Keep in mind that just a few years later, I worked outdoors every day and rarely, if ever, had headaches at the end of the day. I also didn’t eat candy bars after working. It’s one of life’s critical thinking skills that you must learn when considering nutrition and how nutrition and food affects each of us. This is an important lesson that could be taught much earlier to students, but isn’t.

Grade School Today

It has been a while since I’ve attended grade school, so I will concede it appears school districts have implemented some food science and nutrition programs. It seems that HISD is now offering a Breakfast in the Classroom program which allows students to eat at their desks during morning announcements. Unfortunately, what is served is limited to a single entree item. Students are also given a short amount of time to consume the food. If what’s offered is not something a child can eat (i.e., diabetes, allergies or autism), then they go hungry for the morning. I’d also include that some example meals include Turkey Sausage Egg Sandwich, Beef Kolache, Yogurt, Chicken Biscuit and Strawberry Oatmeal Breakfast Bar as the ‘main entree’. Along with this ‘entree’ portion, the students are served regular or skim milk and a selection from: apple juice, an apple, Craisins or similar fruit (basically, something sugary).

While having the students eat breakfast in the classroom isn’t something that happened in my school days, starting the day off with these fatty and sugary foods isn’t a recipe for focus because the foods served are sometimes too rich to start the day. The school should start the day with fresher whole ingredients that satisfy student hunger better with less emphasis on sausage egg biscuits, dried sugary fruits, breakfast bars and apple juice. You can serve these kinds of rich foods once a week, but not every single day. Serving these as “treat” foods gives the students something to look forward to… or better, offer the students a menu and let the parents and/or student pick their morning breakfast in advance. If the student fails to choose their breakfast, then serve them the ‘selected’ entree of the school’s choice. Letting the parent decide what their child eats at school allows the parent to head off health problems with their child.

HISD also claims to be helping students learn about food and nutrition. Here’s an excerpt from HISD’s web site about its nutrition education program:

Houston ISD is committed to teaching food literacy and food inclusion through a nutrition-focused curriculum. Food literacy starts with understanding where food comes from. It then expands to understanding relationships with food. This begins at a personal level; how different foods can be beneficial to the body and how some foods do not have any benefits for the body. This includes an openness to trying new foods and seeking out exposure to new foods. The relationship with food expands to cultural preference with foods, understanding both personal culture and others’ cultures and how that impacts food choice and why preferences vary between cultures. Expanding even further, food literacy includes the relationship with food/agriculture on a global, environmental, and economical scale. Food inclusion promotes a pattern of healthy choices that are flexible enough to fit into many cultural preferences and promote balance, variety and moderation. Overall, this means making delicious choices that benefit your body. The message of health should promote a positive relationship with food, avoiding messaging that use fear instead of facts. Nutrition Services aims to educate our students in the classroom, in the garden and in the cafeteria.

Unfortunately, I can’t find any information on HISD’s web site that discusses its class offerings, its class content, how or when the students can take these classes (i.e., are they electives?, are all grade levels required to learn this?, etc), or even if this curriculum is required by the students. It’s good that HISD has itself learned the effect that food has on students in focus, but I’m not sure that what’s being served to the students and what is taught encourages students to eat healthy meals and understand why some foods are to be considered ‘good’ and some are considered ‘bad’. It seems most of what HISD has implemented is more being driven by bad press against the school district and keeping up with competing school districts than actual commitment to the importance of food.

What HISD has done so far is definitely a step in the right direction. However, it’s nowhere near getting the importance that it needs in the classroom. Food and nutrition is equally important to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) courses. Food and nutrition clearly falls under science, but it is almost never treated with the same level of importance as a biology, physics, chemistry and others. Teaching the students the importance of food in the world may lead one of these students into a food breakthrough that helps out the world. That can’t happen when students aren’t properly exposed to the importance and role of food in everyday human life.

Sure, we must eat food to live. That’s the very basics of food. Food science goes well beyond that by enabling students to become productive adults who might create a food invention that can feed the hungry of the world. Yes, food keeps our own bodies fueled, but food science education can bring about positive food changes in the world. Only these new fresh eyes can see what adults cannot.

Other ISDs

In researching this article, I’ve found many larger ISDs also offering Breakfast in the Classroom programs. For example, New York and Los Angeles both have BIC programs. In the case of LA Unified, the students basically do all of the work from retrieving the food in a cart, to serving themselves, to cleaning up and returning the cart. Here’s a video that describes Los Angeles Unified School District’s program:

Of course, this doesn’t mean every school district offers a BIC program yet. Many still do not. They may offer breakfast in a cafeteria, but apparently participation in cafeteria breakfasts is as low as 30%. It makes sense, arrive at school early to eat breakfast or sleep in longer? I’d say that one is a no-brainer. No student wants to get to school any earlier than they absolutely have to. However, serving breakfast in the classroom is a smarter approach because it means students don’t have to show up early to eat breakfast. Students are already be in their first class by a certain time anyway and eating breakfast during that dead 10-15 minutes while the teacher is performing morning attendance, making announcements and getting their daily plans together is a smarter way to use that time. Though, it is also costlier because someone needs to pay for the meals. I would hope that students could bring their own meals from home and are allowed to eat those instead of eating the supplied food if they so choose.

If I could have eaten food during the first 15 minutes of my first class, I certainly would have taken advantage. However, at the time, my school had a strict no-eating-in-the-classroom policy. Though, some of us did sneak eat when we had the chance. We didn’t do it often because the penalties were pretty severe if caught. It also meant less food to eat at lunch.

While I’m all for the Breakfast in the Classroom program idea, the way it’s currently implemented is a bit lacking both from a nutrition perspective and definitely from a tailored nutrition perspective. In the case of food, one size does not fit all.

Health begins in the Kitchen

While performing exercise improves the body’s conditioning, it doesn’t always help with weight loss. There are many people who exercise every day and never lose any weight. Why? Because their nutrition is wrong. Many people mistakenly believe that exercising equals weight loss. That’s not true. Weight loss begins in the kitchen, not at the gym. To lose weight, you have to eat smart. Eating smart means understanding your body’s energy requirements for the day. In fact, you can lose weight simply by changing your food lifestyle.

I write, “food lifestyle” instead of “diet” because the word “diet” has negative connotations. It also has connotations to mean “temporary”. Meaning, you do it for a short time, lose the weight and then go back to “regular eating”. That doesn’t work. That’s also a recipe for the Yo-Yo problem. Weight goes down, then weight goes back up. In fact, the Yo-Yo problem is actually worse on health than staying at a consistent weight, even if somewhat overweight.

To lose weight, you need to change your thinking about food from “dieting” to making food lifestyle choices. What “lifestyle choices” means is changing the way you think about and eat on a permanent daily basis. For example, drop the candies, cakes and sugary foods from your diet entirely and adopt a cheat day system. Make the healthy foods your primary goto foods. If you want to snack, grab carrots, celery, broccoli and cherry tomatoes instead of a granola bar, a breakfast bar, chips or even cereal.

Adopt a don’t buy it attitude. If you keep the “bad” foods at a minimum around the house, you can’t cheat on them. No ice cream in the freezer? You can’t eat it. No cookies? You can’t eat them. And so on. This is a healthy food lifestyle. Instead, keep carrots, broccoli, cauliflower and cherry tomatoes around. Keep oranges, apples and bananas around. If you have these around the house, then you’ll eat them if you really want a snack.

Better, don’t snack and wait until your next full meal. Sometimes it’s only an hour away. In fact, if you’re an hour or less away from your next meal, get some water and wait for that. In fact, water is a good quencher. If you think you’re hungry, go get some water and drink it first. You might find that that satisfies your hunger for long enough to get you to your next meal. If you do find that you really do need a snack, grab something fresh (fruits and vegetables) over something packaged (chips, granola, breakfast bars, cereal).

For the cheat day, you can eat out, eat ice cream or basically eat anything you want, though I always recommend eating in moderation. Don’t stuff yourself to the point of being sick or uncomfortable. Eat until you’re no longer hungry, not until you are “full”… there is a difference. This allows you to partake in holiday meals, birthday meals and other special occasions. Leave these decadent foods to the special occasions, not your regular meals. Also, don’t skip meals because you’re “not hungry”. Eat something anyway… it doesn’t have to be a lot, it just needs to be enough to keep your body regular. If you want to eat a cookie or a piece of cake occasionally, that’s fine. It shouldn’t be everyday. If you’re single eating alone, don’t buy a gallon of ice cream or full sized pie. Buy smaller portions and individual sizes.

Food Combinations

Without getting into a ton of nutrition detail here, eating certain foods together is more likely to encourage weight gain than eating these foods an hour apart. For example, drinking milk together with cereal is a great way to gain weight. There’s fat (and sugar) in the milk and sugar in the cereal. The sugar in the cereal and milk act on the body to release insulin which then prompts the body to uptake the fat in the milk into storage via adipose tissue. This is especially true when you consider what other foods you might have already eaten that day. You don’t want to encourage the body to store fat. You want the encourage the body to use the fat stores that are already there, this reducing weight.

There are many food combinations that can lead to fat gain. There are also food combinations that lead to fat loss simply by eating certain foods together or eating certain foods far apart (or not at all).

Of course, calories also matter. Calories are a unit of energy consumed versus expended. Unless your body is in a near constant calorie deficit, you could gain weight by consuming the wrong foods together.

There are two ways to get into a calorie deficit. The first is obvious… exercise. The second is through food choices. Exercise doesn’t guarantee a calorie deficit because you can still consume more calories than you have expended. For this reason, exercise doesn’t guarantee weight loss… only a calorie deficit does, and that is achieved in the kitchen, not in the gym.

Kids, Food and Obesity

Armed with that information, let’s bring it full circle. Food isn’t a one-size-fits-all situation. Offering the same Breakfast in the Classroom meal to all students may not be the smartest nutrition approach for every student and may still lead to obesity in some students. For example, if a student already ate a huge breakfast before coming to school, they may still consume the BIC food simply because it’s there. This encourages overeating. The BIC program in no way polices the student to find out if they have already eaten a meal for the day. It simply assumes that every student hasn’t eaten before coming to school. Many haven’t, but some have.

This is a lax approach to nutrition for the students. If the school wants to be responsible for maintaining a healthy student weight, then they should be responsible for all of the meals for the student during their charge. The parents should refrain from serving the student any food other than dinner… and even then, the school should provide a nutrition plan for the student so that the parent knows what and how much to serve the student at the end of the day as a guide. Of course, the parent is free to do whatever they want, but that encourages obesity if they do.

When creating exercise programs for the students, the school should take into account the nutrition being fed to the students and offer exercise programs that work in concert with the amount of food being served. This means that the students will receive a balanced amount of exercise against food intake and lead the student to maintain their body weight.

If a student is overweight or obese, the school needs to have a nutrition counselor on staff who can tailor a meal program to help the student get back into a healthy weight by tailoring their meals to lead to that outcome. This means a tailored breakfast and lunch program. Once the student is back at their correct body weight, put the student onto the balanced nutrition program to maintain that weight.

Right now, the schools are simply throwing standardized food at the students to help maintain attendance (primary goal) and keep the students awake and focused (secondary goal). Those goals, while commendable, don’t aid the student into a healthy body weight. The schools aren’t taking a holistic approach to food, exercise and nutrition to not only keep students focused, but also to help the students maintain a healthy body weight for their height. A holistic approach is a smartest approach for the students health and well-being. School districts are still no where near this level of holistic understanding of food and nutrition for students. If the schools were to tailor food programs to an individual student’s needs, healthy body weight can be achieved and maintained giving bully students one less piece of ammo against fellow students. More than the bullying, it teaches the student how to maintain a healthy body weight going into adulthood (the most important aspect). Empowering students with understanding of proper nutrition and how to manage their own bodies will give them a huge edge when getting a job.

Being overweight or obese can affect your chances at landing a job. Being at a healthy body weight gives you that extra first impression you need when interviewing for a job. Don’t think for a moment that being overweight isn’t considered by a hiring manager. If a specific job requires a certain level of mobility, movement and carrying capacity, a hiring manager might not consider someone who is overweight or who appears overall unhealthy. Weight discrimination is real in the job market. Learning how to manage weight early in childhood and in the teens goes a long way to maintaining that weight into adulthood. Children who fail to be taught this are at a disadvantage when becoming an adult.

Schools need to consider a holistic and individualistic approach to food and nutrition when putting together their food and exercise programs for students. One size definitely does not fit all when it comes to nutrition and exercise.

↩︎

%d bloggers like this: