Food Preferences

I’ve been pondering food preferences. I prefer ice in my water. I hate sweetened tea. I love hot coffee, like iced coffee with milk, and cannot stand room temperature coffee.

The origin of some of my preferences is clear. My dislike for sweetened tea began when I was three or four. My grandmother wouldn’t let me have a glass of sweet tea until I’d had one without sugar. At some point, the sweetened tea began to taste overwhelmingly sweet and I no longer preferred it. But I can’t explain my coffee preferences or why I like blanched broccoli better than raw broccoli (even in salad).

While my tastes lean toward specific preparations of a wide variety of foods, others only like a narrow variety of flavors or textures. Some preferences may be learned. Others stem from visceral response. Still others may be attached to memories that aren’t specifically food related.

Then there are preferences related to biology. Some foods can activate the mesolimbic reward system in a manner similar to alcohol and frequently abused drugs. For instance, studies have shown that consuming fat and sugar produces an increase in the synthesis and secretion of opioids and dopamine within the central reward system. No wonder it’s so hard to get kids to stop eating sugary treats.

Obviously, it’s preferable for food to be pleasing to our senses. But if that leads to habitually unhealthy food choices, perhaps pleasure shouldn’t be the primary goal of an eating plan. And while most of us might argue it’s not, we tend to choose each individual meal within our plan based on what we find appetizing that day.

The key is how often what we find appetizing in the moment is at odds with our overarching health plan. For some people, the two will almost always be in sync. For me, the problem area doesn’t fall so much in planned meals. I love fresh vegetables, meat, poultry, and fish fixed millions of different ways. And I love playing with flavors.

My problem area is quick grab meals and snacks. I am more likely to want to reach for chips, crackers, or chocolate than raw carrots as a snack. As long as that’s rare, it’s no big deal. When it’s daily, it’s not healthy.

There are many ways for me to manage my choices. And because I love to sink my teeth into a fresh tomato or juicy peach, it doesn’t take too much planning. But watching my grandchildren, I wonder whether that management will be more difficult for them. Their preferences are being set with a less robust variety of fresh, unprocessed food and many more packaged products.

I think we’ve already answered that question with the increase in childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes. And yet, I’m not sure we’ve spent much time researching the issue from a parenting for healthy eating perspective. Which brings me to the reason I’m pondering food preferences.

There seems to be a huge opportunity for learning and teaching. I love a good opportunity!

I Want To Be The Minority

We listened to a lot of Green Day when my sons were in high school. The song Minority was always in the mix. I think about that song off and on. I’m not sure I WANT to be the minority, but I often feel like I am.

I used to think I was just a contrarian. Now, I don’t think that’s really a fair assessment even though it’s not unusual for me to see things differently from most of the people with whom I interact. Lots of days feel like opposite day in my world.

On car rides, my dad liked to choose a current event and ask my opinion about it. Whatever I said, he’d express the opposite opinion and we’d discuss at length. It was immaterial whether I agreed with what I was saying. What was important was that I be able to think through an issue thoroughly.

That became my habit. Look at something. Explore. Look at it from the other side. Explore. Come up with arguments that support each point of view.

I’m not always sure where I’ll land on an issue, but I routinely have an opportunity to see things from a different perspective before I figure that out. I love it that this became an ingrained habit. I also feel like a sore thumb sometimes.

We are all unique and even if you are more mainstream than I, there will be times you feel different, misunderstood or like your opinion is not valued.

How can you feel good when that happens?

There may be no avoiding feelings of frustration, irritation, annoyance, or anger in the moment. Sometimes, you may momentarily feel less than. However you feel is okay. The key is for those feelings to move through without affecting how you view yourself.

Here are a few things you can do to help:

Set boundaries – There are times you may want to avoid sharing what you think or feel. You’re under no obligation to share if doing so will harm you.

Recognize the power of your voice – When you’re standing alone, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by opposing voices. This can make you feel torn between staying silent and offering your view.

The truth is, you are not as alone as you believe. You may be the only person in a particular room who sees what you see, but there will be many more in other rooms whose voice may not be heard unless you speak up.

Understand the value of your opinion – When others in a discussion have a greater volume of wealth, education, status, position, or force, it’s easy to tell yourself their thoughts matter more than yours.

The interesting thing is that those things may, in fact, limit their knowledge in some areas. That is where you can fill in the gaps.

And even when there is no gap, you may have a take on a situation no one else has considered. If you don’t speak out, no one will benefit from what you have to offer.

Bounce ideas off someone else – Call a friend whose opinion you respect and give your ideas a test run. Sometimes just saying something out loud helps cement your passion for it.

Forgive yourself – If you end up feeling like you’ve spoken when you shouldn’t or held back when you should have spoken, forgive yourself. Decide whether you will revisit the issue or let it go.

You cannot undo what’s been done. You’ll gain nothing from beating yourself up. That same energy can be redirected to exploring what you learned, how you hope to handle things in the future, or practicing gratitude for the opportunity to make a choice.

I have no doubt that I’ll soon be back in a situation in which I want to be the minority. I’m thinking that’s a good thing.

https://hbr.org/2019/03/how-to-speak-up-when-it-matters

Patient Advocates Can Help

If you are having a tough time navigating medical care, patient advocates can help! Last week I was talking to a friend who recently tore the meniscus in his right knee. He was informed by doctor’s office personnel that he needs surgery. He had a few questions, so he requested a call from the doctor before he scheduled. The response: This is standard care for this type of injury and you don’t need to talk to the doctor. He’s going to tell you the same thing I’m telling you.

My friend was taken aback. As a former Division 1 college basketball player who continued his career playing Masters Basketball, he’s accustomed to superior medical care. He’s also used to being treated as part of the healthcare team. When I told him his experience was not uncommon for the average patient, he was shocked. He also wasn’t sure what to do next.

After some searching, I found the information for the associated hospital’s patient experience team and sent him a link. Unfortunately, it wasn’t as simple as a single search within their website. It took several tries with several keyword variations. This is also not uncommon. It is unfortunate.

The healthcare system is often hard to navigate. When you feel sick, injured, and vulnerable, it can be next to impossible. That’s when a patient advocate can help. If you have a family member who is capable and available to serve in this role, that is ideal. But many of us do not have that.

So, how do you find an advocate when you need one? If you use a clinic associated with a hospital, that hospital may have an office of patient experience. Sometimes it may be called the office of patient and family centered care (PFCC). Sometimes just using the keywords patient centered care will get you to the proper place. Other hospitals will have someone on staff called a patient advocate. If you don’t want to search online, call your local hospital and ask for the extension for the patient advocate or patient experience office.

Patient advocates may have a degree in social work or nursing, but they are not functioning in the same role as a hospital social worker or a nurse. They are more like your own personal communications team. When you run into an obstacle like the one my friend did, an advocate can talk to both parties and help find a solution that works for both.

They can also help you understand a doctor’s instructions, help you seek a second opinion, and help you sort through different treatment options. An advocate can assist your family in understanding how they can support you. Because they work within the system you are seeking to navigate, an advocate may have many avenues for solving a problem that you would not know about.

Not all advocates work for a specific institution. Some work for state health departments. Others work for independent services. When dealing with long-term care, you may receive similar services from an ombudsman program.

It’s always hard to ask for help, especially when you feel vulnerable. Learning about the programs available in your area when you’re well is a great way to prepare. The Beryl Institute gives awards to institutions and professionals that innovate ways to improve the patient experience. If you are a member of an underserved population, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) may have a specialized program to assist you.

You are an important member of your healthcare team. It is important that the rest of the team collaborate with you to achieve the best outcome. That includes creating a treatment plan that considers what’s most important to you. In order to do that, the team must share information and treat you with dignity and respect. Anything less is unacceptable.

There is a shift toward prioritizing the patient experience because it has become a significant measure of hospital quality. That means, now more than ever before, patient advocates and patient experience specialists are available to assist you.

I wish this had been true when I was struggling to get a diagnosis for psittacosis and then celiac disease. But I am grateful things are changing. I feel better knowing that when I need them, patient advocates can help!

Distillation

It’s a snowy day and I’m thinking about distillation. We’re having record cold weather – so cold my background noise is the sound of water dripping from the faucets accompanied by water boiling for tea. Today’s high may reach 14⁰ if we’re lucky. A quick review of the supplies on hand reveals several bottles of natural spring water as well as distilled water.

Distilling water was my first scientific experiment. It was eighth grade, and I was in Introductory Physical Science (IPS). I don’t know what the class was supposed to be, but in hindsight I’d describe it as the lab portion of the chemistry class I took a couple of years later.

We were thrown directly into this first experiment, learning the steps of the scientific method along the way. In groups of four, we were also learning about beakers, Bunsen burners, rubber tubing, glass tubing, and, I must confess, redoing experiments gone wrong. As we attempted to identify the distillates without resorting to tasting them, breaking down water into its basic parts seemed hard.

So much of life is like that. We get thrown into situations that require we learn on the fly, record the steps, master the tools, and learn the lingo all at the same time. It didn’t take a pandemic for this to be true, but like IPS, the pandemic has highlighted some weaknesses in our collective skillset.

By the end of the year, I had a top grade in IPS class. But that’s because I was willing to use my Study Hall to go back to the lab and try to distill water without the smell of burning rubber tubing if necessary. Mastery takes a willingness to fail, learn, and try again. Learning is the meat of that success sandwich, but there are other important ingredients.

Improving ourselves, our families, and our communities will require mastery of certain skills. Let me distill a few of them down for you:

Insight

Learning takes place not just in the understanding or retention of facts. Facts need context. Experience leads to greater levels of understanding the facts before us. Without this greater understanding, we may lack insight.

I don’t mean insight so much in the aha sense as in the ability to discern and discriminate between the subtle layers, distillates, of a situation. Without such discernment, it is difficult to find appropriate, durable solutions of consequence.

Empathy

Chemistry and physics don’t change if we have no empathy, but our application of the knowledge provided by them will. Likewise, the practice of medicine may be based on an understanding of physiology, anatomy, and chemistry, but if it is not practiced with empathy, there will be less healing.

As the pandemic has shown, vulnerable populations continue to be vulnerable. Our empathy seems to primarily extend to people with whom we identify. This doesn’t necessarily mean we don’t feel empathy for those who are different, it may only mean that we tend to ride along in our comfort zone without ever thinking of those outside our realm.

Some of us have trouble looking directly at things that are painful to see. It is hard to look horror in the face. But to live empathetically, we must learn to see the holes in our vision and figure out a way to fill the gaps.

Courage

Courage enhances both insight and empathy. It is the thing that allows us to stand by our principles, look horror in the face, protect our children, go out on a limb for our friends. Courage underpins innovative solutions to problems.

Courage comes in many forms and cannot be judged by any standard measure. Any time you do something although it frightens you, you are demonstrating courage.

Nimbleness

Some situations require swift, clearheaded decision-making. Feeling confident in your ability to choose well with or without input facilitates stepping into a role you did not anticipate.

Learning to compartmentalize without getting stuck also makes for more nimble decision making. Of course, it’s important to deliberately set aside time to process the feelings later.

Boundary Setting

No matter how much insight and empathy we show, no matter how good we are at making emergency decisions, and no matter how courageous we are, none of us can do everything. Knowing our own limits and setting boundaries that protect our physical and emotional health is critical. When we cannot, or do not, there is a price to pay.

The current pandemic will be followed by another one. While I cannot predict when or where it will begin or what form it will take, I can say with certainty that we can leave the future better prepared for it than we were.

To do so, we must develop skills that help us distill down the challenges, face those challenges, summon our courage, make swift and sound decisions, and set good boundaries. Then we must use insight and empathy to shore up the systems that support us, especially our most vulnerable.