The psychology of love

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You’re in love … and it’s a beautiful thing. You’ve never felt so alive, so excited, so hopeful about the future. You feel so lucky: you’ve found the yin to your yang, the sugar to your tea, the jelly to your peanut butter.

Do you ever wonder what made you choose each other?

According to attachment theory, the answer lies in your early childhood. It’s a hot topic, thanks to a best-selling book with the cumbersome title Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find and Keep Love. Authors Amir Levine and Rachel Heller apply the theories developed by British psychologist and psychoanalyst John Bowlby, which are a mainstay in early childhood psychology, to our adult relationships.

Attachment theory found that our behavior in relationships is formed by our perception of safety and security with our parents. Researchers put a child and a parent in a room full of toys. At one point, the parent was asked to leave the room for a short time. The researchers watched the child’s reaction. Even more importantly, they saw three very different reactions when the parent returned.

Some children grew anxious when they realized they were alone, but quickly calmed down upon the parent’s return. Those children had an attachment style the researchers called “secure.”

Another group cried inconsolably, even when the parent returned. Their play time was ruined. Their entire focus became the need to cling to a parent who’d disappeared. They were labeled as “insecurely” attached. Their style was called “anxious.”

A final group seemed entirely unconcerned. In fact, those children pushed their parents away when they returned. This, the researchers concluded, was an avoidant attachment style.

Let’s get beyond what seems like a rather mean exercise, and talk about what this might mean for you, young lover.

According to adult attachment theory, there’s a very good chance that your adult relationship style hasn’t changed much since you were a little tyke. Neither has your beloved’s. The key to making your relationship work is to understand what each of you needs.

First, attachment theory says we have a genetic need to be in a close relationship — maybe more than one. So you’ve got that going for you.

The next step, if you don’t already know it, is to figure out your relationship styles. How? There are a couple of options.

You can pay attention. Do you tend to be insecure? Do you worry a lot? Are you constantly wondering what people think of you? After an argument, do you question your entire relationship?

If you do, you just might be anxious.

Does your beloved behave like a steady ship through any storm? Is she or he calm and reasonable, able to weather relationship and life crises without thinking the world is falling apart? She sounds secure.

Spring trimming

Why is it so much easier to lose weight in the spring? And what’s the best way to keep the momentum going?

I admit it, I pack on some pounds over the winter. It’s not hard to do when you are a fan of comfort food and cookies. It happens to me almost every year.

I knew a pragmatist who said there was no use fighting it. “We’re packing on insulation for the winter,” he said. “It’s instinctual. You’ll drop it in the spring.”

And that seems to be true. As the days grow longer (and this year summer’s arrival seemed for a while to have started in March), my taste buds crave salads and fruit. Consuming heavy stews and pasta are as appealing as eating wet concrete. The outdoors beckons. A five-mile walk which had been a painful ordeal becomes just a good stretch of the legs. Sometimes I even run. The extra insulation is melting away painlessly.

But this year, I’d like to push the process along. If I can use that spring momentum to propel me to a truly optimal weight, why not? And that’s led me to look for shortcuts.

Many years ago, I faithfully followed a low-carb diet. It worked. But there were two problems. One, it’s not a diet I would continue forever, which means some of the weight came back, albeit slowly. Second, it’s heavy on meat. For a number of reasons, I prefer to avoid meat.

So what else can I do?

There’s the liquid fast in its many forms. That will not be happening. I enjoy eating too much to give it up entirely.

I recently stumbled across Natural Healing, a book written by chiropractor, nutritionist and local health legend Jack Soltanoff back in 1988. In it, he suggested a two-day-a-week diet of nothing but grapefruit and celery, a combination he claimed would help detoxify the body and enhance weight loss. I bought the grapefruit. Forgot to buy the celery. Haven’t tried it.

An acquaintance who is maintaining a new, slim and styling physique swears by the eat-for-your-blood-type diet. That’s a problem if you don’t know your blood type.

Another friend said, “Raw food. You’ll drop a pound a day. That’s how the models do it.”

I could almost do it. But no Brown Cow maple yogurt? No peanut butter? At all? I don’t think so. Plus how can you possibly lose weight if you can scarf down almonds and walnuts a fistful at a time? They may be healthy, but they are not low-fat.

I went to the one place you can be certain to find authoritative answers to almost any dilemma: the hair salon.

“What’s your best weight-loss plan?” I asked.

I was disappointed to hear rational, reasonable ideas.

“Weight Watchers.”

“Portion control.”

“Exercise.”

What? No maple-syrup and lemon-juice fasts? No cabbage soup? What about the metabolism diet: a cup of black coffee and one water cracker for breakfast? What about the Russian Air Force diet, the bread-and-butter diet, the chicken-soup diet or that golden oldie, the Scarsdale diet?

“Bottom line,” said the salon experts, “you have to cut down what you eat and rev up your metabolism.”

Drat.

Perhaps I will surrender to common sense. Eating less and eating well is probably the answer.

I am convinced that the correct mental attitude is the key to successful weight loss. When you are determined to drop some pounds, it happens. Without the right attitude, self-sabotage is inevitable.

So far, I’m not tempted by Russian rye, chocolate-chip cookies, maple-walnut ice cream, lasagna with 16 kinds of cheese. Okay, I admit the melted cheese sounds kind of wonderful.

 

I find myself watching food porn. The show that takes me to diners and dives across the country, showing incredible, fat-laden inventions that look so darned easy to make, is nearly irresistible. But I’m not snacking while I watch it. That’s not cheating, is it?

In my opinion, a Buddhist diet is the answer for me. That doesn’t mean meditating every time I dream about a spoonful of peanut butter. Rather, it’s about paying attention. Buddhism demands mindfulness. Notice what you’re doing. Much of my overeating happens when I’m distracted by watching television, doing email, looking at pictures of puppies, or dreaming over online tours of romantic Italian villas and Caribbean cottages. Even a good book can be enjoyed while snacking; and before I know it, the bag of walnuts is empty, the embarrassingly massive tablespoon of peanut butter gone.

If I pay attention to every bite I take, taste everything as I’m eating it and check in with my body to find out when it’s had enough, I’ll be doing my body a big favor.

But I’m still a bit curious about that grapefruit-and-celery thing. It couldn’t hurt, right?

A stealthy death by a sugary dagger

Perhaps you’ve heard. We’re killing ourselves with sweetness.

According to a highly publicized report from the University of California-Davis, Dr. Robert Lustig has been right all along. Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist at the University of California, has been the voice in the wilderness, trying to alert us that sugar is killing us.

The study backed up Lustig’s claims that excess consumption of high-fructose corn syrup dangerously increases artery-clogging cholesterol. And don’t feel smug and secure if you eschew “corn sugar.” Lustig says that sugar in any form is toxic. There’s a link among sugar, obesity, heart disease, diabetes, even cancer.

This is bad news in our house.

I live with a sugar addict. I like sweets myself. We don’t sit around popping Sweet Tarts all afternoon, but we love our hot beverages sweet. Together, we have been known to wipe out the raw sugar packets at our favorite coffee joint, and to ask for more.

What’s insidious is that our ultra-sweet coffee and tea isn’t the biggest issue. There’s sugar added to everything these days.

I just went to the pantry and looked at a few random items:

Canned green beans (hate ’em, but my guy loves ’em): one gram per serving.

Canned cream-style sweet corn (hate it only slightly less): seven grams per serving.

Organic vegetable soup: six grams per serving.

Light honey-mustard salad dressing: seven grams per serving.

Cereal: 11 grams per serving.

Mac and cheese: eight grams per serving.

Pop Tarts: 15 grams per serving (That’s not a surprise. With Pop Tarts, you deserve what you get.)

Bread crumbs: two grams per serving

Get the picture? How are we going to avoid extra sugar when it’s stuffed into almost every single thing we eat? According to the experts, no- and low-fat foods are even worse. They pile on extra sweeteners to make up for the taste lost when the fat is reduced. Low-fat food will make you fat. And sick.

What’s the answer? Dr. Lustig says we should avoid processed foods. No soda. No fast foods. No dinner from a box.

This requires learning to cook again. That idea scares me. I’m not a terrible cook, but I’m not a good one. I was raised in the everything’s-better-with-more-butter school of Midwestern cooking. As life got busier, cooking became more of an ordeal, and an intimidating one at that.

Enter Kitchen Counter Cooking School by Kathleen Flinn. The author of the bestselling The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry is a Cordon Bleu graduate. But Kitchen Counter isn’t about being a gourmet chef. It’s not trying to appeal to an exclusive club of foodies.

This book offers basic tips to shop smarter, cook healthier, and become more confident in the kitchen. It’s simple stuff, really — trusting your taste buds, learning what flavors go together, knowing the right way to use a knife. But it’s liberation between the hard covers of a book.

Emboldened by Kitchen Counter, I’ve experimented with vegetables, tossing together spices and ingredients that made sense but didn’t appear in one particular recipe.

What happens when you commit to creating healthy meals out of whole foods? There’s a bonus beyond having control of what ingredients are included, I’ve found. There’s a real sense of accomplishment. There’s the satisfaction of knowing you’re creating wholesome, nutritious meals while supporting local agriculture.

Try it. It’s sweet.

 

What sugar does

According to research, Americans eat almost 130 pounds of added sugars each year. That doesn’t mean we’re pouring sugar on everything we eat. It’s already there.

Pediatric endocrinologist Dr. Robert Lustig believes the main reason obese children get sick is due to the amount of sugar in their diet. According to Lustig, high sugar ingestion leads to obesity, diabetes, hypertension and heart disease.

A new UC-Davis study also showed that calories from added sugars are different from calories in other foods. Nutritional biologist Kimber Stanhope told CBS News that the liver gets overloaded with fructose and then converts it to fat. This fat then gets into the bloodstream and creates “small dense LDL,” which forms plaque in the arteries.

Eric Stice, a neuroscientist at the Oregon Research Institute, said that sugar is also extremely addictive — similar to drugs like cocaine. Stice conducted MRI scans of frequent soda drinkers, ice-cream eaters and other sugar lovers, and found that eating more sweet foods builds up a tolerance. The more sugar a person consumes, he said, the less satisfaction that person feels — resulting in eating more and more.

CBS News also spoke with Jim Simon, who sits on the board of the Sugar Association, about those condemning studies. He said that eliminating sugar in a diet is placing the blame on just one food, rather than promoting a healthy lifestyle of low-calorie consumption and regular exercise. “To say that the American consuming public is going to completely omit [and] eliminate sweeteners out of their diet I don’t think gets us there,” Simon told CBS News.

Pet med ethics

Just because you can do something medically, should you? Particularly when the patient is an animal?

We’re a household of aging cats. Except for the feisty shelter kitten we brought home last year, everyone’s a geezer. One has arthritis. Another is on daily meds for hypothyroidism. And yet another just had surgery for a hernia.

A visit to the vet’s office is never less than $300, and usually more like $500. There’s flea and tick repellant, blood tests, dental work, vaccinations and the range of illnesses that come with age.

Our latest visit revealed a new tool in the modern veterinarian’s arsenal. A very elderly, nearly motionless dog was being treated with a laser while we waited for our appointment. The laser, we were told, reduces inflammation and pain.

“It’s a great tool for chronic conditions as well as post-op healing,” we were told.

After the procedure (painless, we’re told) the dog lay sprawled across his owner’s lap. If ever an animal looked like there was no joy in his life whatsoever, it was him.

I’ve had animals all my life, dogs, cats, horses, even a donkey. I’ve been faced with enormous vet bills and I’ve scraped together the money when it was necessary. But how much is necessary?

There was an extensive discussion on the ethics of spending $25,000 for pet health care in The New York Times on April 9. Advances in medical technology have made procedures possible that simply weren’t in a veterinarian’s arsenal before, unless you took your pet to a high-tech facility like Cornell. Heart stents for Fido and chemo for Kitty are becoming routine offers. But there’s a price, and not just in dollars.

If we agree to a major medical intervention for our companions, is it really for them?

I know a couple who recently took their aging Yorkie to Cornell for surgery on his cataracts. The outcome is great — he can see and he’s a happy (though still neurotic) little dog. But I question the days in a hospital, pain, bandages, strange smells, major upheaval for a nervous animal and long days at home in a spaceman collar, confined as he was to a small area, frustrated, confused and uncomfortable. Would it have been kinder to simply let him be a blind dog? Who was that surgery for?

My crankiest old cat is arthritic. He’s also slowly failing. The signs are there: he sleeps more, he’s grumpier with the other cats, sometimes his breathing seems funny. How much should I intervene? I delayed taking him to the vet for fear they’d be pushing batteries of tests that would only tell me what was already obvious, while stressing out an old cat who just wants to sit quietly and be petted.

Thankfully, a new veterinarian in the area who seems to be on my wave length: Don’t overdo the interventions for geriatric animals, depending on the overall health picture. Dr. Eileen Jefferson has started a practice called “Ethical Veterinary.” Her partner and right-hand man is Brian Shapiro, former head of the Ulster County SPCA and a former county legislator.

They make house calls. She examined my cranky cat, pronounced him pretty fit for his age. She came prepared to do the gamut of labwork if needed, but she saw no red alerts. She offered some joint supplements to ease his stiffness and recommended he be allowed to simply be so long as he seems comfortable with no major changes. He stumped off with a definite I-told-you-so swing of his tail.

It’s a fine line. When our animals are miserable, when their futures seem to hold nothing but needles, drugs, scalpels and discomfort (even pain), is it cruel to keep them with us? The one thing we can offer them is a painless death, something we still cannot offer humans, even when we can’t control their pain or avert the inevitable. It’s an incredibly hard decision to euthanize our animal friends, and yet it’s a final gift, too. It’s not something to be done lightly, but I have been in situations where it’s the right choice.

My suffering cat, whose lust for biting kneecaps and diamond rings has descended into glassy-eyed lethargy, showed me when he’d had enough. My beloved dog, who could no longer stand up, made it clear it was time. Quality of life is what counts, in my opinion. Even if I had all the money in the world to try some expensive intervention, it wouldn’t have been right. The bottom line isn’t about me — it’s about them.

The female heart

[wide][/wide]Quick – what’s the number-one killer of women in the U.S.?

Did you say cancer?

The fact is that coronary disease kills more American women every year than any other illness. According to the American Heart Association, 7.2 million women have heart disease. The risk starts to soar after menopause. One in four women over the age of 65 has heart disease. The rate is one in eight among women from 45 to 54. And it’s rising.

But women’s heart disease isn’t the same as men’s. Dr. Amparo Villablanca, a California cardiologist, said the blame can’t be put solely on hormones. We’re facing what she said doctors are calling the “diabesity” epidemic. We’re all getting fatter – and that leads to diabetes. Half the people who are diagnosed with diabetes are also discovered to have heart disease.

“The key is knowing your risks,” Villablanca said. “Know your genetic risks, know your numbers for blood pressure and cholesterol, know your body-mass index. And get them under control. Deaths from heart attacks are going down thanks to efforts to make more people aware of the risk factors. But the rates aren’t going down as fast for young women because they may not know they’re at risk for heart disease.”

That’s information that Dr. Ramin Manshadi, a cardiologist in Stockton, California, hopes to spread in his new book “The Wisdom of Heart Health.” He said the medical establishment was now beginning to understand that women’s heart attacks are very different from men’s. They are often “silent” heart attacks, and they are more likely to be fatal.

“Women do not have the classic chest pain that we equate with heart attack,” wrote Manshadi. “A heart attack, for a woman, may produce profuse sweating, or sudden fatigue that lasts for hours, or palpitations, or light-headedness. The pain might radiate to the center of the chest or even between the shoulder blades. They may not recognize these as symptoms of a heart attack, and it’s possible that a primary doctor might not recognize them, either.”

Those symptoms sound like they could easily be mistaken for symptoms of menopause. That’s why knowing your numbers, as Villablanca calls it, is so important. “If you know you’re at risk for heart disease, you will know that you can’t just ignore these symptoms or tell yourself they’re probably nothing. You know you have to consult with your doctor.”

Dr. Manshadi said women’s hormones were responsible for differences in the way coronary disease manifests. Before menopause, plaque buildup for women tends to erode arteries rather than rupture them as is more common for men and older women. And blockages tend to be more diffuse, making the surgical use of a stent to open blockages useless for many women.

“I’m hoping this book helps make women aware of their risks and makes them more educated about heart disease in general,” said Manashadi, “as they are often the ones who are responsible for health care decisions for their families.” He said he planned to donate the proceeds from the book to purchase defibrilliators for public schools throughout California.

Diet has a lot to do with reducing risk of heart disease. Dr. Dean Ornish proved back in the Eighties that a strict vegan diet combined with exercise and meditation to relieve stress could dramatically reverse existing heart disease. Since his groundbreaking 1982 diet book, “Stress, Diet and Your Heart,” the American diet has become less, rather than more, healthy. Dinner from a box was once advertised as a once-a-week break for a busy homemaker. It’s now the usual fare.

Sandra Lee, better known in New York for her relationship with governor Andrew Cuomo and nationally known for a show called “Semi-Homemade,” is the queen of the I-don’t-have-time-to-cook philosophy. A recipe for Creamy Chicken Noodle Soup on her website calls for a store-roasted chicken and two cans of cream of mushroom soup. Lee’s cooking technique, which favors speed and convenience, utilizes prepackaged foods loaded with sugar, sodium and preservatives.

TV food guru Paula Deen’s deep-fried, butter-soaked style of cooking has left her diabetic. Not exactly the healthy role model we’re looking for.

“Dr. Ornish paved the way,” said Vicki Koenig, a licensed nutritionist in New Paltz. “But there are a lot of ways to address our eating habits, lose weight, and reduce the risk of heart disease.” Koenig argued. She has had dramatic success with overweight clients by combining coaching with low-glycemic meal replacements. “I’ve been doing this a long time,” Koenig said, “and since starting to work with my clients using pre-packaged, pre-portioned meals, I’ve seen an 80% success rate. It’s a teachable moment.”

Dr. Ellis Lader, a cardiologist at MidValley Cardiology in Kingston, said that meal replacements, those pre-packaged you-can’t-get-this-wrong entrees, are successful for patients who have to lose weight and have to lose it now. But they present a challenge once the weight is off. They don’t come with a system to transition off the product and back to the dizzying choices in the local grocery store. That means you need a nutritionist.

Or you can drive to Albany. “Dr. Paul Lemanski [an Albany cardiologist who used to have a practice in Kingston] has a great program,” Lader said. “It gets the weight off, then teaches you how to keep it off.”

CardioFit, Lemanski’s program, utilizes Medifast meals to get the weight off, and also educates patients about the importance of exercise. It teaches them to reduce stress and stop smoking, and even offers cooking classes.

You can also learn to make healthier meals a little closer to home.

Roni Shapiro recently opened Healthy Gourmet To Go in Saugerties after years of offering vegan meals to area clients.

“I’ve worked with many clients with heart disease and hypertension,” said Shapiro. “I am convinced that the most important thing you can do for your heart is switch to a plant-based diet. Dairy and animal protein are full of saturated fat that clogs arteries. I’ve seen a plant-based diet work and I’ve seen people’s health improve. It’s easier to switch than it’s ever been. You can go to any regular grocery store and find meat substitutes.” You can also contact Shapiro at [email protected] to find out about heart healthy cooking classes.

Lader said current science points to a Mediterranean diet as the best for heart health, but he said more research is needed.

Exercise matters, too. “Thirty minutes of aerobic exercise a day. Walking’s plenty,” Lader said. “Jog if you’re up to it, but you don’t have to. Some resistance training. That lowers your blood pressure, lowers your blood sugar, lowers your bad cholesterol, and raises your good cholesterol. Just use common sense. If you have chest discomfort – stop!”

Particularly for women, chest discomfort could indicate another issue – one that your doctor may not consider. “It’s called Syndrome X or Small-Vessel Disease,” said Lader. “It is a narrowing of the little vessels, ones too small to see in most tests. But we can measure the reduction in the blood flow during exertion. It causes chest discomfort. We see it most often in women, particularly diabetic women.”

Lader said routine tests for heart disease won’t find Syndrome X, and some doctors will dismiss a woman’s symptoms if they don’t know about it. “It responds well to angina medication and calls for the same changes in lifestyle that other heart disease patients need to make,” said the local cardiologist. “Lose weight, get cholesterol and blood pressure under control, exercise.”

 

The local American Heart Association heart walks are scheduled for this month. On Saturday, March 10 the Dutchess County walk will take place at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie. On Saturday, March 24 the Ulster County walk will take place at Dietz Stadium in Kingston. Registration for both events will be at 8:30 a.m., and both walks will begin at ten o’clock.