Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Paracletic Walking and Dieting—Discerning Together

Photo from Gallery of Fine Art America

Feature Entry: Paracletic Walking and Dieting—Discerning Together

The MoneyWalker’s blog is in part, an attempt to practice paracletic walking and weight control. The ancient word paracletic is scriptural and is frequently called the Paracletic Canon, or discerning together. While the MoneyWalker prefers solo walking, he gains strength of purpose by sharing his walks with others. In his book “Practice Resurrection”, Eugene Peterson opines that we humans “...need heart to heart talks, soul to soul talks, brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers to hear our confession, cry with us, encourage us, and hold us accountable.” By blogging about exercise, weight loss and maintenance, and the motivation to sustain these positive habits, the MoneyWalker is practicing paracletic cannon.

Paracletic walking as a topic occurred on a recent walk. On an earlier walk, I had found a full pack of Salem cigarettes, about a four dollar value. The moral dilemma followed, trash them or give them away. I opted to give them to one of the numerous “brotherhood of the street” members in the neighbourhood. The brother selected was right out of central casting—unshaved, matted hair, soiled clothes, etc. I knew he was a smoker from previous observations. I spotted him in his usual haunt, nodded our acquaintance, retrieved the Salems, and asked, “Would you like these?” He smiled, then shocked me with his response: “I can’t use that brand.”

We moved on with my mind trying to understand his incredible discernment. Then as often happens during walking, I quizzed myself as to why the word discernment popped into my mind to define his choice to refuse my gift. Why wasn’t this homeless and penniless person eager to accept this significant gift? It wasn’t his lack of perspicacity; it was his quick judgment and discrimination of brand that produced the descriptive “discernment.” And it was his use of words that triggered my several blocks of reflective thinking. When he said, “I can’t use that brand.” he indicated a sophistication of thought processing. Poverty or no, the gentleman obviously doesn’t like menthol cigarettes and possessed the language skills to clearly and succinctly communicate his position. For the MoneyWalker, another stereotype bit the dust.

Now, back to the theme of the blog—Paracletic Walking and weight control. The episode resulted in a thought journey that linked discernment to the strength that is gained when we discern together. The Holiday season is a landmine filled with tempting negative food choices and reasons to forgo exercise habits. But together, we can encourage one another to hold our resolve. When we post our temptations and admit our frailties of purpose, we are following Peterson’s advice to seek “soul to soul talks” with like minded travelers.

It is the holiday season; for walkers it is a time to discern the bad choices and opt for the good ones. It will be easier if we do it together.


Journal Entry Summaries November 16 through November 29, 2010 with seven reports included; averages and grand totals where appropriate for body weight, coinage found, glass bottles, and ground scores.

Weight Average: 174.5 lbs.
Coinage: $9.71 total
Coinage Average: $1.62
Total Pennies found: 295 Pennies Average: 42
Total Nickels found: 18 Nickels Average: 2.6
Total Dimes found: 27 Dimes Average: 3.9
Total Quarters found: 20 Quarters Average:2.9
Total Glass bottles: 66 Glass bottle Ave:11
Total Ground Scores: 24 Ground Score Ave: 6


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Intrinsic Motivation Versus the Ventral Striatum; or Is Extrinsic Motivation Learned or Hardwired

Photo from Desiderata and Motivational Photographs from nature.

Note: Journal Entries located at end of Blog.

Feature Entry: Intrinsic Motivation Versus the Ventral Striatum; or Is Extrinsic Motivation Learned or Hardwired

In the MoneyWalker’s last post, a question was raised about the permanent efficacy of extrinsic motivation. The question is especially relevant concerning positive eating and exercise activity in terms of overweight/obese children and youth.

Edward Deci (Deci & Ryan, 1985, 1991), a self-determination theorist, and his followers would vote no. Deci’s findings support methods that help students to self-motivate also known as intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation occurs when individuals internalize values based upon health benefits rather than expected rewards, social recognition, and money. Reward based motivation is labeled extrinsic motivation. Deci’s findings suggest that intrinsic motivation is superior because with extrinsic motivation, once the incentives are removed exercise is reduced; conversely, with intrinsic motivation the value of exercise and diet are internalized and are performed for their own value; thus, persevere as a life-long habit.

So what about the Cooper created FitnessGram? Is it based upon intrinsic or extrinsic motivation principles? By not giving a traditional “grade” to the six areas of fitness including Body Mass Index (BMI),it can construed as intrinsic. However, the green zone/red zone designation is easily converted to extrinsic motivation by perceptive students that quickly assign value to their zone location and compare their scores with others. Glory is a powerful extrinsic motivator, and gaining an optimal BMI green zone placement can result in enhanced peer standing by image conscious children and youth. Note the reaction of Nicole to Harriet Brown’s blog providing negative critique of the FitnessGram: “Wow, that is horrible. Do they have no idea about how vulnerable an 11-year-old girl is?”

But is Deci’s research the last word? Among many studies that refute Deci is Eisenberger et. al. (Psy Bulletin, 1999, vol 125 No. 6) which found that external rewards do not reduce "interest" in tasks for their own sake. Students that received rewards when compared to students taught with intrinsic motivation where not significantly different on reported “interest” on follow-up studies.

Both Eisenberger and Deci’s findings resonate with the MoneyWalker. Motivation for losing weight and keeping it off is hard work and both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation is important for success. In fact the body seems to be hardwired to utilize both types of motivation. Recent neuroscience findings (Elger and Falk, Science Daily, Nov. 23, 2007) report a specific “reward center” in the brain, the Ventral Striatum. The Ventral Striatum reveals high activity when subjects successfully perform difficult attention demanding problems; more so if they receive a reward and even higher activity if competing successfully with others. The Ventral Striatum is the reward seat of extrinsic motivation, not intrinsic. It can be extrapolated that external rewards are necessary for tasks that are considered difficult to achieve, especially in the beginning stages of acquisition.

The MoneyWalker applauds the Cooper Institute and the Texas/Delaware adoptions. The plan by educating and rewarding positive exercise and nutrition behaviors is providing both intrinsic and extrinsic reinforcement to assist our youth to maintain healthy levels of fitness including BMI, both now and into their adulthood.

Budda has a point, but so does Elger and Falk.


Journal Entries

Nov. 15, 2010: Weight 175.6 lbs.: Coinage = $2.02, 42 pennies (one wheat), 3 nickels, 7 dimes, 3 quarters; 3 glass bottles; 2 ground scores (eight paperback books on the curb).

Nov. 14, 2010: Weight 176.0 Lbs.; Coinage = $2.88, 63 pennies, 8 nickels, 6 dimes, 5 quarters; 20 glass bottles, 4 ground scores.

Nov. 11, 2010: Weight 176.0 lbs.; Coinage = $3.10, 115 pennies, 6 nickels, 9 dimes, 3 quarters (one super find in the folds of a discarded lounger [1 quarter, 3 dimes, 1 nickel, 3 pennies] and one wheat penny); 20 glass bottles, 7 ground scores.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The FitnessGram and Childhood obesity

Note: The MoneyWalker's journal entries are at the end of this blog.

Feature Entry: The FitnessGram and Childhood obesity

Recently the MoneyWalker was invited to a Past Presidents Reception sponsored by the Louisiana Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance (LAHPERD). We had no agenda except small talk and past pleasures, but the informal conversation eventually led to two topics of interest for this blog. One was “exercise as medicine” and the other was childhood obesity. We eventually talked about what Louisiana schools could do to reverse what has become a national epidemic according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). One solution was to adopt the well established FitnessGram, a product of the world-famous Cooper Aerobics Center of Dallas, Texas.

Two states, Texas and Delaware require that the physical fitness assessment tool be administered each year. In Texas, all 3rd through 12 grade students are administered the test and the results sent to parents. Students do not “pass” or “fail” the tests, rather they are evaluated against established standards denoting a healthy level of fitness including the body fat index, a measure that sends cautions for both anorexia and overweight/obesity.

Data from the mandated test indicate that 42 percent of Texas’s 4th graders are overweight and 36 percent of 11th graders were overweight. Other data point out that the Texas data reflects similar findings in most U.S. state. There are six sub-scales in the FitnessGram—aerobic capacity (the ability of the body to sustain long bouts of cardio respiratory work), body composition, muscular strength, endurance, and flexibility.

One interesting finding from the Cooper researchers is the existence of a strong correlation between physical fitness and academic performance: “There is a direct correlation between a student's physical fitness and school performance. Data shows that students who were able to achieve a Healthy Fitness Zone in at least five out of six FITNESSGRAM tests scored higher academically and had fewer discipline problems in school.” However, caution should be followed before interpreting this data as causal. For example, we know that being overweight is also highly correlated with stress, anxiety, and lower self-esteem. These factors are also associated with academic performance. Perhaps it is a more positive self-image that is driving the better grades data.

Accompanying the FitnessGram sent to parents is the Cooper Fitness Activity Pyramid designed to resemble the popular CDC food pyramid. At the activity base is “lifestyle activity.” The second level is “aerobic activity” and “aerobic sports”; third is “muscular activity” and “flexibility activity”; and the apex is “rest.” Examples of lifestyle activity include walking, bicycling, playing active games, and work-active jobs. Aerobic activity examples include aerobic dance and running while aerobic sports include field sports such as football and soccer. Examples from the third level, muscular activity and flexibility activity, include gymnastics, weight lifting, stretching, and yoga. The rest level includes school work, home work, reading, computer games/TV/videos, eating, and sleep.

The levels are not value ordered. The Cooper pyramid is provided as a simple way to inform students and their parents of what activities promote a healthy lifestyle and that prevent problems associated with becoming overweight.

As might be expected, there has been pushback from parents and others concerning the Texas requirement. Harriet Brown’s popular blog, Brave Girl Eating, and the parent of a daughter diagnosed as anorexic suggest that an unintended consequence of the Texas law is to promote anorexia in school children. Others have warned that the test will damage the self-esteem of the children in that it amounts to a negative external motivator, fear of peer labeling and bullying to pressure school children to follow unproven “best practices” for maintaining or achieving health related physical fitness practices. Still others reported that schools should be spending scare resources on more academic pursuits.

The length of this blog is already beyond the MoneyWalker’s knowledge of how long a blog can hold the attention of his readers. A future blog will address the motivation issue. In the mean time, we applaud Louisiana’s effort to follow Texas’s lead in their effort to combat the rapidly growing problem of childhood and youth’s alarming propensity to be overweight.


Journal Entries: November 5, 2010 through November 10, 2010

Nov. 5: Weight = 175.8; Coinage = $2.09, 53 pennies, 2 nickels, 7 dimes, 3 quarters; 5 Glass bottles; 3 ground scores.

Nov. 6: weight = 173.6 lbs.; Coinage = $3.31, 56 pennies, 2 nickels, 9 dimes, 5 quarters (one super find and one wheat); ten glass bottles, 5 ground scores.

Nov. 7: Weight = 176.0 lbs.; Coinage = $6.17, 122 pennies, 17 nickels, 21 dimes, 8 quarters (two super finds including $1.75 in a newspaper coin return); one glass bottle; 8 ground scores.

Nov. 8: Weight – 175.2 lbs; Coinage = $4.52, 72 pennies, 9 nickels, 11 dimes, 9 quarters; four glass bottles; 3 ground scores (two more super finds).

Nov. 9: Weight = 174.4 lbs; Coinage = $3.95, 35 pennies, 2 nickels, 14 quarters (13 quarters provided by Jason at the Mid-City Car Wash as a donation to the Friendship House); 14 glass bottles.

Nov. 10: Weight = 174.0 lbs; Coinage = $2.10, 70 pennies, 3 nickels, 5 dimes, 3 quarters; 3 glass bottles; 5 ground scores.

Note, each of the six day reports above indicated a coinage total of $2.00 or more value, easily a MoneyWalker record.


Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Recidivism, Diet, and Exercise

Negative thinking or just contemplative?

Journal Entries, Oct. 27-Nov. 2, 2010

October 27: Weight = 172.4 lbs.; Coinage = $.96, 11 pennies, 1 dime, 3 quarters; Glass bottles = 3; Ground Scores = 3.
October 28: Weight 173.2 lbs.; Coinage = $2.29, 94 pennies, 1 nickel, 13 dimes; GB = 6.

October 30: Weight = 175.2 lbs.; Coinage = $.48, 18 pennies, 1 nickel, 1 quarter; GS = 6; GB = 5. One interesting event was a movie set in Mid City NO. More than 50 trucks, technicians everywhere, busy action, and giant lighting equipment. I wonder which of the people where the stars and which movie was being shot. We have so many movies and television series shot in our fair city it is becoming known as Hollywood South.

October 31: Weight = 176.2; Coinage = $3.91 including one int. coin (100 Chile pesos), 81 pennies, 10 nickels, 11 dimes, 6 quarters; GB =10.

November 1: Weight = 176.0; Coinage = $1.89, 69 pennies, 2 dimes, 4 quarters; GB = 9; GS = 6.

November 2: Weight = 175.4 lbs.; Coinage = $1.39, 39 pennies, 4 nickels, 2 dimes, 2 quarters; GB = 6; GS =5. Today was a nice walk in the rain.

Feature Entry: Recidivism, Diet, and Exercise
There is no question; October was a disaster for the MoneyWalker in terms of exercise and diet adherence. The month contained three separate trips to see friends and relatives. Weighing ever day—forget about it. Healthy breakfasts, no way. Ninety minute zoom walks—are you kidding me. Portion control, how about raw gluttony. All my old bad habits bunched together in one wonderful guilt-free month of unrestrained eating and hardly any boring exercise. Now my waist line shows the result. Guilt and shame have returned with a vengeance.

My October was a working definition of recidivism. Here is how recidivism works. First, you develop a bad habit. We will call it overeating sweets and starchy carbohydrates. The result is weight gain and being overweight. Second, is a resolution to follow a diet and lose weight. The resolution works and a healthy BMI (body mass index) is obtained. Third, a long vacation is experienced followed by a calorie filled holiday, Halloween for instance. The good eating habits are broken and the lost pounds race back. That is how recidivism works.

Unfortunately for people like the MoneyWalker, losing weight is not just a matter of diet and portion control. It also involves a chain of behaviors including exercise, journaling portions, and daily weighing. With recidivism, all the positive behaviors are victims. Collectively the loss of adherence to healthy behaviors results in a vortex of shame and guilt that leads to more binge eating and denying.

Besides weigh gain, a dangerous side effect of diet/exercise recidivism is loss of self-esteem. Lowered self-esteem can then lead to anxiety which if not checked and if other stressors are also present can lead to depression. Stressors such as abuse, personal conflicts, illness, personal issues such as weight gain, death, and substance abuse can all pile up and lead to clinical depression. Clinical depression is serious and should be treated by professionals, but there are behaviors and techniques that can be used to combat regular depression and similar feelings including episodes of stress, unhappiness, sadness, or grief.

Clinical psychologists often use Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to help their clients understand how to change negative thinking into more healthy feelings. All situations have positive as well as negative aspects. CBT utilizes a series of exercises that help the individual to identify the positive and eliminate the negative. CBT is not recommended for do-it-yourselfers, but a related skill, positive self-talk, is a doable. Positive self-talk is what the MoneyWalker calls “cognitive over ride,” a replacement of positive thoughts with negative thoughts." Elizabeth Scott, MS has provided several ways to practice positive self-talk.

Because self-talk can be both negative and positive, and because people with common depression focus on negative self talk, she recommends that we notice our patterns of negative thinking. She recommends that we keep a journal to jot down negative comments in order to summarize our feelings. Knowing our patterns can help us to practice thought-stopping. When the negative thoughts begin, we just say STOP!, and then replace the thoughts with positive thinking. Some use a rubber-band around their waist and pop it when the negative thinking begins.

It is not always possible to totally replace negative thoughts, but the self-talk can use milder wording. For example, we can substitute “pain” for “discomfort.” When walking and dealing with rude and dangerous drivers, instead of saying “I hate drivers that never yield to pedestrians, they make me so angry!!!” Instead we can say “ I don’t like rude drivers, they annoy me.”
Concerning healthy food choices, we can use positive self-talk to change negative selections to neutral or positive selections. At a party, we can use self-talk to select non-fattening foods and beverages. We can say, “This chocolate brownie will only give me a minute or two of pleasure, but I will feel depressed for hours; I will munch on these veggies instead.” And we can change self-limiting statements to questions. Instead of saying, “I can’t handle this temptation,” we can turn the episode into a question, “How can I handle this sugary food temptation?”

The MoneyWalker is giving positive self-talk a chance. I’m just going to over ride my desire for fattening foods and tell myself to eat healthy. Just follow my journal entry and watch those pounds fall away.