Sunday, December 16, 2012

Home Alone in Everytown: The isolation of young males

Not just Newton, Connecticut, not just the USA, but the whole world is grieving right now over the loss of innocents, both adults and children. My town’s paper had the headline about the elementary school mass killing. I could barely see the print through my tears as I read about the grizzly tragic incident and President Obama’s first response.

Just one response has been to focus on the instrument of destruction, the semi-automatic weapons in the hands of the “deranged.” The statistics are certainly telling and compelling. There are over 10,000 shootings in America a year and only a few dozen in other modern industrial countries combined.

Police reports don’t begin to “explain” the causes of such extreme behavior. And they should not be expected to. In one print story, there were brief references to 20-year-old Adam Alanza being on medication, that he was smart but socially awkward and that there had been some tension in his family background.

Millions are on medications; some experiencing serious side effects and others for whom there are serious consequences for withdrawal. Many people are socially awkward and experience major family relationship shake-ups or estrangement.

One place most may not yet be looking for answers and I contend it is a place where we are still hiding our heads like ostriches in the sand, is what is happening to boys and young men in the US.

There is a new book out by one of the world’s most famous social psychologists and someone whose studies I was tested on in my undergraduate years.
 Professor Emeritus Philip Zimbardo at Stanford University in Stanford, California and his psychologist partner Nikita Duncan have just authored a new book that puts forth the idea that the United States is losing an entire generation of young men to video games and pornography. They express their concerns for the future of America’s boys soon-to-be-men in a book called The Demise of Guys: Why Boys are Struggling and What We Can Do About It.

 They write that by the time an American boy hits the age of 21 years, he has probably played an average of about 10,000 hours of video games, which equals 14 months of his entire life, day and night, mostly by himself. The book also points out that the typical U.S. teen boy also watches an average of about 50 pornography video clips every week these days. The effects of those activities are not good, says Zimbardo, who puts forth that “the boys' brains are being digitally rewired for change, novelty, excitement, and constant arousal. Video games and porn are categorized as arousal addictions where variety and the surprise factor constantly feed the attraction.

 Boys are 30 percent more likely to drop out of high school than girls, two-thirds of current special-ed students are male, and girls outperform boys’ at all educational levels, from grade school to graduate school. Other studies show U.S. college males also display rising levels of the fear of intimacy with the females in their lives.
Zimbardo says the real problem is that American boys are “flaming out academically and wiping out socially with girls and sexually with women."

Video games impair the users' ability to deal with reality, and porn creates “a cycle of isolation and indulging in it correlates with depression and poor physical health.” (e.g. obesity and associated health problems continue to rise for boys age 6-19 while leveling off for the rest of the population)
Though gamers and porn fans in the U.S. today might take exception to these conclusions most people would agree with Zimbardo’s premise that “spending one's time making fake love and fake war does not produce a real man.”

Zimbardo does outline ways that we can begin to remediate this social epidemic for boys and young men.
There are others who have made it their life’s work to help boys out of isolation and into a genuine manhood that connects boys to their best and highest selves and to everyone else. In the simplest terms, from isolation to connection.

Earl Hipp, author of Man Making: Men Helping Boys On Their Journey to Manhood,
has provided a realistic guide on how to get involved with groups or create one-on one relationships. He talks about both the psychological barriers around that involvement and ways to overcome those to enjoy the considerable benefits of being more involved in boy’s and young men’s lives. He also has a blog that is thoughtful and informative.

It may be that if we are to help protect the innocents, we must lose our widespread innocence about the deeper problems that no amount of security apparatus and measures or even removal of semi-automatic weapons from our society will cure.

Are there boys and young men in your family or circle that need more human contact and the sense they are cared for and belong to everyone one of us in the human family? This may be a first step for all of us to deal with the problems of boys trying to become men in Everytown. Young men who do not shoot because we asked a lot of questions first.

Randy Crutcher was director of a state-funded men's center and founded the 22 year old Northcoast Men's Gathering for men and boys. He has seen first hand what a difference a village makes in helping to raise its boys. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Bellies to Balls: Get the Wheat Out!

I look in the bathroom mirror and what do I see? I take a good look at my face when I shave, examining my hair-line, noticing the color of my skin, noting any new blemishes. What can I say, I’m vain. Invariably my eyes drift down to the middle of my body and there it still is, that heavy band of unwanted flesh that seems to persist. What is it and why does no amount of exercise take it off?  It’s my “wheat belly,” so I’ve come to learn.

A confessed lifelong Cookie Monster, I always wondered why it was so difficult to eat just one, as the Lays Potato Chips commercial used to jingle in days of yore. Now I know. And I have to admit I am still in shock.

Our modern day wheat has been so hybridized and genetically modified it’s 46 chromosomes (up from 14 in the granddaddy to wheat called “einkorn”) have it containing exorphins that operate like opiates on the brain, making you want more soon after you are satiated. That’s right, wheat and crack share that in common, along with what has come to light as the sugar or glucose high cycle whose spike and immediate insulin response crash tamper with your energy level all day long. That cycle reliably turns the excess glucose into fat that attaches to internal organs and eventually bulges out into the wheat belly, fat accumulating by the mega-tonnage on our bodies and the bodies of our children.

From the sedentary to the triathlete, no one is immune, with growing numbers of people experiencing major crippling reactions to the gluten in wheat and symptoms that point to or mimic a host of diseases. Those diagnosed with celiac disease are the most seriously affected but the rest of us who have been literally swimming in a sea of breads, pastries and pizzas along with a thousand and one snack foods, and wheat as an additive ingredient in otherwise non-wheat products in bottled, canned and packaged processed foods subjects us to high daily doses of a substance with now proven links to diabetes and heart disease.

The fat around the belly actually comes to function like an organ in itself that begins to spread inflammation throughout the body while small particles of otherwise necessary cholesterol clog up our arteries, putting us at higher and higher risk for strokes and bypasses. Cholesterol once demonized and thought to be the prime culprit is not. It’s the “healthy whole grains,” we’ve been taught to worship at the base of our food pyramid with heavy promotion, not just by a profit-driven food and advertising industry, but the likes of the American Diabetic Association and the USDA.

Okay, okay, how much of this horror story can I subject you to without the question arising: “What’s a lifelong wheat lovin’ person to do?”

First, you might try reading the #1 New York Times best seller “Wheat Belly” by cardiologist William Davis, MD who has recently appeared on CBS Morning and Doctor Oz. In the book, a fascinating read with some entertaining black humor, you’ll get more of the science both already known and new that supports the paragraphs above, along with stories of people successfully treated, (if you can call stopping eating something a treatment). We are talking about studies ranging from rheumatoid arthritis to autism and Alzheimers.

For those of us guys wanting to look good (there’s that vanity thing again) and younger, feel more energetic and live longer while enjoying a high quality of life consuming delicious protein and fat rich foods, Dr Davis includes his favorite recipes.  Ummm hmm, you read that right. Fat rich foods! Turns out our bodies need good fats to burn fat and contrary to convention most of us are actually good fat starved while we think we’ve been doing the right thing by purchasing the food industry’s well marketed low and no fat products.

What’s happened for me since going wheat-free and low grain (rice, corn, barley, rye and most oats) and eating more protein and good fat rich foods? My cravings are gone, my energy is sustained throughout the day and I am in better moods. After a few weeks, I had to give away my old jeans and buy new ones. An unexpected but welcome expense. The biggest thing though is that an irritation in my esophagus that has given me a chronic cough over the past 15 years is gone. As someone who likes to talk even more than write, getting a clean divorce from wheat (as Davis puts it) seemed like more than a fair trade.

Another book I highly recommend is Mark Sisson’s Primal Blueprint. A former champion triathlete and marathoner, Sisson clearly explains  why chronic cardio exercise can do more damage than good and why we need to mimic the healthy cave man lifestyle the best we can in our modern world. There is even evidence that this lifestyle helps produce more testosterone! Two and half million years of evolution before the “recent” agricultural revolution and more recent industrialism gave us our truly miraculous, self-regulating and healing bodies. Let’s not blow it in one lap!