Mike the Psych's Blog

What if psychologists ruled the world? In real life?

Autism charity supported at Tesco Burnley

Alison Booth, a member of staff, has volunteered to live inside a glass cage for 50 hours to raise money for the Caudwell Children charity.

She says “I’m really passionate about generating much needed understanding and acceptance of autism and can’t wait to help Caudwell Children raise vital funds for their support services. Wish me luck

It’s not the only support this Tesco store provides. See earlier post

Well done Tesco!

Did feminism cause obesity?

Yes according Rosie Boycott, a senior food policy advisor to the Mayor of London and founder of feminist magazine Spare Rib.

She said “there is now a lost generation of people who rely on fast food and processed dinners“.

Speaking at the Hay Festival of Literature she said encouraging women to go out to work rather than become housewives resulted in everyone giving up cooking.. “I said “don’t cook …. you’ll get ahead” We lost it. Schools gave up cooking. Everyone gave up cooking.”

(The obesity crisis has ) certainly been fuelled by the fact that women work and that we have allowed this huge change to happenSocieties change, women start working, and the fast food and takeaways arrive“.

Cooking was seen as drudgery by feminists and has been blamed before for the spread of fast-food chains although it is unusual for feminists to actually admit it.

She thinks we should start cooking again, men as well as women. (I’m writing this as the roast chicken dinner I’m preparing for the family is nicely browning in the oven. Just saying.)

And though my mother worked she still cooked us meals, although we helped during the week preparing the vegetables etc. And working mothers back in the day didn’t have all the labour saving devices that you find in a modern kitchen either. Perhaps if women had to go out to work to make ends meet was that doesn’t count as feminism?

Of course other factors have also been blamed such as car use, computer games, clever marketing from food companies pretending they sell healthy food, and sedentary occupations.

And while Scottish hospitals ban the selling of junk food on site English hospitals make a profit from it – now that is unacceptable.

But back to her key point re feminism. The genie is out of the bottle for most people although there are some cultures which discourage women from going out to work and expect them to stay at home and look after their families. Are they less obese? Perhaps the Mayor of London has a view on that?

The NHS thinks that 1 in 4 adults is obese. Obesity levels have trebled in the past 30 years. If the trend continues half the population could be obese by 2050.

The consequences are well-known: diabetes, stroke, cancer and heart disease.

When I posted on this 6 years ago feminism hadn’t been brought into the mix but it’s fascinating thought isn’t it?

Running is popular but there’s a dark side

There’s no doubt about it, running is popular. Increasingly you see people out and about clutching their bottle of water and wearing hi-tech clothes and running shoes.

All to the good you might think, and there is evidence of the health benefits of running e.g. enhanced mood and self-esteem as well as the physical improvements to your body – although there is also the potential to damage your health if you go to extremes.

However the evidence about the downside has been largely about physical damage. In the June 2017 edition of The Psychologist, Andrew Wood and Martin Turner, both lecturers in Sport and Exercise Psychology at Staffordshire University, wrote about the psychological downside of running – what they called the dark side such as eating disorders and exercise dependency.

Using rational-emotive behaviour therapy (REBT), which is based on the concept of rational and irrational beliefs, they found that many athletes they worked with did in fact have irrational (i.e illogical, rigid and extreme) views and responses to setbacks and adversity. So in dealing with setbacks, injuries, or rejection and failure their distress was coming from irrational beliefs such as:

  • I want to, and therefore I must exercise (demandingness)
  • It would be terrible if I could not exercise (awfulising)
  • Not being able to exercise makes me a complete loser (self-deprecation)
  • I can’t stand it when I can’t exercise (frustration intolerance)

In turn the athletes who were dependent on running would say things like “I can’t stand missing a run” or “I hate myself for not running” and felt guilty or anxious and in some cases started eating less.

In high performance athletes having irrational beliefs can actually help them to be more dogged and determined to win e.g. “I must not fail and I’m a loser if I do” no matter the cost in injury or pain.

And there’s the rub (no pun intended). Extreme and irrational beliefs may propel these athletes to success but at what cost? Runners pushing their bodies too hard, over-training and ignoring their personal well-being leading to exhaustion and burnout.

Rather than seeking to discourage people taking up what is a healthy pursuit for most people they simply ask you to exercise caution and monitor your relationship with your running: do you do it as a healthy choice or are you driven to run – at all costs?

Cheese please

People might be choosing to go gluten free or give up dairy products. More fool them.

International experts have carried out a meta-analysis (that means they’ve looked at 29 separate studies and combined the results) and published their findings in the Journal of Epidemiology

The good news is that dairy products, even full fat ones, don’t harm your health. This confirms a review published in 2014 in Current Nutrition Reports which found that full-fat dairy foods, including whole milk, yogurt and cheese, don’t appear to increase heart-disease risks and may even help reduce your risk for developing heart disease.

As someone who uses whole milk, butter and cheese, that comes a s no surprise to me. (I cringe when I hear people asking for skimmed milk in their latte coffee, especially older people who presumably think its healthy. Apart from anything that might be added to make up for removing the cream, you can’t make a decent latte with it. And don’t get me started on skinny decaffs – what’s the point!).

Anyway according to the Times Body & Soul section there are 6 good reasons cheese is good for you. You can check out the full story in the newspaper.

  1. Cheddar and Gruyère can help you lose belly fat. In experiments volunteers who increased their intake of cheese, yoghurt and milk from three daily servings to five – actually lost more weight than those on a reduced calorie diet. They also had less stomach fat and lower blood pressure. Protein can increase the feeling of being full and the cheeses with the most protein are the harder cheeses such as Gruyere, Parmesan and Emmental but semi-hard cheeses such as cheddar also do the job.
  2. Strong cheeses can help reduce dental decay & whiten teeth. Cheese is sugar free and stimulates the flow of saliva. The stronger the cheese the more saliva you produce and that protects your teeth by neutralising the acids left in your mouth after eating and reduces tooth decay. Cheese might also help reduce staining as saliva washes away wine and coffee. It also contains casein and calcium phosphate which strengthens teeth, especially cottage cheese.
  3. Cheese could help protect bones and prevent osteoporosis. You need calcium in your diet to build bones and keep them healthy. We begin to lose bone density in early middle age which is where hard cheeses such as cheddar, parmesan and gouda, which are a good source of calcium, are helpful.  A 30g piece ofEnglish cheddar can provide 40% of the calcium, along with50% of vitamin B12 and 20% of the phosphorous that we need every day. If we don’t eat calcium our bodies take it out of our bones making them more likely to break easily.
  4. Cheese can help lower the risk of early menopause. A US study of over 100,000 women  found that foods rich in calcium can help lower the risk by 13%
  5. High fat cheese may reduce the risk of diabetes. A Swedish study found that eating high-fat cheese such as cheddar, brie, Roquefort or parmesan, and yoghurt, could lower the risk of Type 2 diabetes by 25%. And a Canadian study found that eating dairy products such as cream and cheese may be associated with lower blood pressure and blood sugar, which are linked to a lower risk of Type 2 diabetes.
  6. Cheddar and cottage cheese could help you sleep. The amino acid tryptophan is found in cheddar, Gruyère and cottage cheese (the highest levels) and may help to induce sleep. Tryptophan is needed to produce melatonin which makes us drowsy. So cheese on crackers for your late night snack!

Drinking wine gives your brain a good workout

As you relax over the Bank Holiday weekend avoid the fizzy drinks that shrink your brain, stick to wine and give your brain a workout.

Doesn’t matter if its red or white. Either will do the job and make your brain work harder.

According to a neuroscientist drinking wine “engages more of the brain than any other human behaviour“.

Professor Gordon Shepherd has spent ten years developing a science of neurogastronomy and researching this subject at the Yale School of Medicine (I wonder what their wine bill has been?) and has now published his findings on wine drinking in a book; Neuroenology: How the Brain Creates the Taste of Wine.

One of his findings is that spitting out the wine at wine tastings prevents you fully appreciating the wine. (I always thought they spat it out so they wouldn’t get drunk before they’d sampled everything).

Swallowing the wine is a key process and vital for “obtaining the most information possible about the quality of the wine”. Well I always thought wine was for drinking so that’s good advice – if a bit obvious.

More seriously he has shown that it is our psychological, sensory and physical response to food and drink that combine to create flavours in objects that don’t inherently possess it.

Taste is an illusion created by the brain largely influenced through smell. The movement of the wine through the mouth and of air through the throat and nose are key, especially the movement of molecules released in the mouth when we breathe out. So sniffing in advance may be a waste of time.

Wine drinking engages more of the brain than listening to music or solving a maths problem apparently. “The molecules in wine don’t have a taste or flavour but when they stimulate our brains our brain creates flavour the same way it creates colour”.

Moving the wine inside the mouth engages intricate muscles that control the tongue as well as stimulating thousands of taste and odour receptors. That is then processed through a frame of reference that is “heavily dependent on our own memories and emotions and those of our companions” as well as the composition of our saliva and our age and gender.

Research in the UK at Oxford University also demonstrated how complicated our relationship with food can be and how our enjoyment of it is influenced by environmental and other factors.

But back to the wine. Once you’ve had a few you’ve saturated the system which perhaps proves the point about having the good stuff first and then moving on to the plonk when everyone’s had a few.

And while you’re digesting this science – and hopefully testing it out in a real world laboratory – you can get rid of your long-stemmed glasses.

Now the only way to drink your wine – and any other serious booze – is from a tumbler. It’s the new relaxed ambience according to those who claim to know these things.

“Formal stemmed glasses feel quite traditional … don’t be afraid to have mismatched selections on your table

This is part of the Polpo aesthetic, the tumbler style of drinking showcased by the award-winning Venetian restaurant as a reaction to the exhausting “sleek, chic” protocol of the early Noughties.

Gosh I sound so pretentious even writing this stuff!

But it’s also a response to the recession, social media and the “democratisation of food” or what a famous chef called “elbows on the table kind of food“. It might also be about wanting to be more relaxed at home where we feel more secure (maybe the Danish Hygge influence?).

Also traditional glasses are breakable, not dishwasher friendly and take up lots of room on your shelf.

Well I have to say I’ve been drinking wine out of a tumbler for a couple of years now. I bought some small wine glasses when I was on medication so I could easily control how much I drank and the habit stuck when I came off the meds.

But eventually the glasses broke and rather than grab a large long-stemmed glass I used a tumbler. Any tumbler from a whisky glass to a coloured cheapy from Tesco that reminds me of those unbreakable Duralex glasses we use to have at school.

More importantly, I’m a big fan of Inspector Salvo Montalbano, the cool Sicilian detective that appeared on our screens a few years ago. And he always drinks his wine from a tumbler!


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Fizzy drinks are bad for you – even the “sugar-free” ones

Scientists at Boston University School of Medicine followed around 4,500 people for ten years and discovered that people who drank sugary drinks were more likely to have a poor memory and a smaller brain, although there wasn’t a link with stroke or dementia. So just a shrinking brain (or brain atrophy as the scientists call it) as measured by MRI scans.

They also found that having one diet drink or more a day appeared to raise the risk of stroke threefold and there was also a link with dementia. 

It doesn’t prove causation so whether people who thought they might be at risk of dementia chose artificially sweetened drinks deliberately is one possibility.

And not everyone is convinced by the results. One researcher at Glasgow University suggested that it might be reverse causality in the case of the artificially sweetened drinks. i.e. being ill forces you to give up things like alcohol or sugary drinks.

He did concede however that sugary drinks were bad for you on several levels being a source of refined sugar and harmful to your teeth.

So while there are risks with artificially sweetened drinks the answer is not to switch to full sugar varieties but to drink water.

Don’t forget that diet drinks can actually help you put on weight

Netiquette for the digital generation (and parents)

It seems schools are now teaching children “netiquette”. A company called Digital Awareness UK is working with schools to raise awareness of what is considered rude behaviour around digital platform use.

Schools have a role to play to model good behaviour and teach children what is not socially appropriate“.

Sorry but isn’t that the parents’ job?

Anyway here are some of the rules:

  • Don’t text at mealtimes
  • Don’t check your phone during a meal
  • Don’t announce deaths on Facebook (only jihadists or murderers are “allowed” to do that)
  • Don’t dump your partner via WhatsApp
  • Don’t interrupt a face-to-face conversation because you’ve just had a message (how many children understand what a face-to-face conversation actually is?)

And back to parents; a third of children surveyed recently (by Digital Awareness UK) said that their parents were terrible role models – always checking their devices. Even when the children asked them to stop it made no difference.

These were kids from top private schools whose parents obviously had terribly important jobs. But I think it’s the same everywhere among parents of young children. You see them out for a family meals with the kids given tablets to play on while the parents have grown up talk.

And the survey revealed that parents have no idea what the kids get up to on online putting themselves at risk of sexting, grooming, addiction and sleep deprivation. Given that almost 10% of kids spend 10-15 hours a day online when not at school is it any wonder. And 10% of 11-18 year olds admit to checking their mobile phones at least 10 times a night.

Many children have said they would like firmer rules and for their parents to be better role models and half said they wouldn’t mind if their devices were taken off them for a weekend. Really?

I’ve posted before about how addictive social media can be and its detrimental effect on children.