Sunday, February 28, 2010

Winter weight could be mental

A student feasts on a footlong in his bedroom during a cold winter day.

In these last few weeks of winter, many are packing themselves into gyms to shape up for swimsuit season. As they run off the extra winter weight, they say so long to those creamy soups and warm fried meals that remind them of home. However, in this unseasonably long cold spell, many find it hard to replace their bowls of warm chili with a salad. “It’s hard when it’s snowing outside to motivate yourself to get to the gym, when you’d rather stay home, bake cookies, and watch a movie,” said Jeff Craighead, a senior at OU.

A lack of motivation may not be to blame for a person's unwillingness to move in the winter. Donna Tall Bear, an educator in the Department of Health and Exercise Science at OU, thinks craving comfort food is a human's most basic instinct. “This time of year we are very good at storing energy, as we needed to be when food was more scarce,” she said.

In essence, a human’s primal brain experiences something similar to hibernation, a survival instinct that shields them from harsh winters. Christen Roy, an employee at Huston Huffman Athletic facility, noticed how the weather effects the crowds at the gym. “It’s usually the most crowded before spring break till around September,” she said, “and on really cold days or rainy days it’s a ghost town.”

Tall Bear said that changes in weather can trigger a form of depression called Seasonal Effective Disorder. She says this disorder is temporary, but can have an effect on a person’s life and eating habits. “The sun provides us with certain vitamins that regulate our serotonin, a chemical that controls pleasure centers,” she said, “and we tend to eat to get the same pleasure response that we did from sunlight.”

Tall Bear argues that much of a human’s connection to food is tied with emotional needs and cultural nurturing. Kait Kishbaugh, a student at Oklahoma City University and native Pennsylvanian, never craved southern foods in high school. “I would always want steak or fish or grilled veggies. Now, having been in Oklahoma for a few years, I want fast food and chicken fried steak all the time,” she said. Tall Bear had similar experiences growing up in the northeast, and noted that Oklahoma's culture around food is quite different from her upbringing.

“The social implications surrounding food and alcohol here are much different. It’s just an accepted part of any social gathering to feast,” she said. She adds that this, in turn, creates an emotional connection with food.

With Oklahoma being the sixth fattest state in the nation, the sight of dishes piled with creamy, high-caloric meals is just a part of every-day scenery. Therefore, during ice storms and snow days, grocery stores notice that they stock certain items more than others. A Wal-Mart stockman remembers most often needing to refill the frozen pizza, cookie dough, and macaroni and cheese aisles.

So is there a way to override biology? Tall Bear said absolutely not. “You cannot override your primal brain. You cannot change your evolution. You cannot change your physiology,” she said. But, she does advise that men and women take a step back and examine their relationship with food.

“Ask yourself, why am I eating this? Am I bored? Am I stressed? What is my connection to this food?” she said.

A survey of 100 people at Huston Huffman shows that most had gained only five pounds, if any weight at all. “If you think about it, losing five pounds will take a college kid maybe a month to lose,” says Roy.

Tall Bear said that the key is always moderation. As long as you enjoy the things you love in small portions, you can maintain a healthy weight and maybe even not need to go to the gym 10 hours a week before spring break.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Society struggles with Lent
Spirituality versus popularity creates an emotional tug-of-war

Stores shelve miles of tempting easter candy during the Lent season.

Since we were children, Lent has always been seen as the time to drool over the pastel packaged bunnies and chocolate eggs until Easter morning came around.

Having given up sweets after receiving encouragement from our Sunday school teachers, we counted the days until we could wake up and feast upon these treats we denied ourselves for 40 long days.

But how much do we truly suffer during this time? We often forget that the root of Lent is to remind Christians of Jesus Christ's suffering in the desert to build a relationship with God.

Today, many people use Lent as a second chance at a New Year’s resolution.

Shinae Smith, a Catholic who chose to attend a Presbyterian church when she went to college, noted this fact.

“People say this gives them extra incentive and accountability to lose weight or stop drinking pop,” she said.

But Smith said that Lent should actually mean something completely different.

“For me, having that hunger pain during Lent will remind me not only of Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice to me, which was himself, but that he suffered for 40 days and nights and knows what it means to struggle.”

Smith is one of the few who still views lent as a spiritual reminder of the sacrifice of Jesus.

Even non-Christians now practice the act of Lent, simply because it is a common, widely-discussed topic.

OU student Katy Deitz says that even though she doesn’t attend church anymore, she still tries to give up something for Lent every year.

“ A lot of my friends give up something. It’s just become kind of a habit to at least try to give up something, cause so many people talk about it,” she said.

Katy is demonstrating what Pastor Mike Girlinghouse of University Lutheran says all humans want and need: the sense of belonging to a community.

“Why do we study in groups or go to football games? Cause it’s a heck of a lot more fun than reading on your own or watching it alone on TV. The same is true for Lent,” he said.

Pastor Girlinghouse said he is a spiritual man, but he is aware that Church more often serves as a place for people to be social rather than experience something spiritual.

He also said that people want to participate in Lent because we crave the desire to follow discipline.

“We live in a culture where there aren’t many disciplines, so we manifest those in our habits. These same patterns are found in those who make New Year’s resolutions,” he said.

Alex Shumate, the son of a Baptist preacher, said he sees church as a habit because he went with his parents every Sunday as a kid.

“It’s not that I don't feel spiritual when I go to church, because sometimes I do. But, like Lent, I go because it's what I've done my whole life,” said Shumate.

Shumate enjoys being able to discuss what he’s giving up for Lent with his friends, but he won’t flaunt it as he said some tend to do on their statuses for social networking sites.

“Like with praying, you don’t go up to people and say ‘I prayed to God today!’ It kind of defeats the purpose of building a spiritual relationship if you brag about it,” he said.

Shumate adds that people discuss their Lent accomplishments because it commands a certain amount of respect if you make it all the way through the 40 days without your chosen vice.

For most people, that vice is food.

“If you’re going to sacrifice something, you need to sacrifice something essential,” explains Pastor Girlinghouse, “and it doesn’t get more essential than food.”

So when you walk by the rows of candy at WalMart and want to cave in, either remembering your Christian faith or a committment to a friend will make easter morning that much sweeter.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

I hear...

Whatever it may be...the vacant lot in a sea of McMansions calls to me. The neighborhood is eerily empty. Families and couples out celebrating the holiday and their love for one another, as they should be. I am able to focus immediately. I hear what is immediately around me first...

I hear leaves. Dead leaves. I hear them rustle under my puppy’s feet. I hear them whisper to each other as the wind winds through their dreary, crispy maze. I hear them tumble over one another to escape the piercingly cold weather, only to be halted by the rattle of a chain link fence. I hear the leaves daintily crumble under the pressure of the puppy’s foot.

I hear her collar jingle. Softly, at first. She must be turning her head in curiosity. I visualize the collar turning with her, creating a ripple effect, only slightly behind its controller. She runs to satiate said curiosity, the collar running with her. It gains momentum, clanging at first, but increases so that it may be mistaken for an overzealous dinner bell.

The ringing collar stops abruptly. She must be distracted. I focus on enlarging my sound circle, extending it to the song of birds in trees I imagine to be high of the ground. They sound far away. Hopeful. Cheerful, even. The day's bright sun pierces through my closed lids and inspires them to sing to one another, wishing for the winter months to fade into warm summers. Ah, but it’s a tease. The biting wind whizzes past my earlobes, simultaneously stinging the skin’s surface and drawing blood towards the exposed appendages. My fingertips grow numb.

The ever-present sound of engines had been in the background until this moment. A polite honk of the horn, perhaps someone stuck at a green light, grabs my attention. I am now very aware of the consistent hum of vehicles. They climb the sound barrier, beginning as a distant whirr, building to a slow and constant vroom, and fading just as quickly as it climaxed. I am completely drawn to this sound. My mind challenges me to hear beyond it, and yet the cacophony refuses to cease. Instead of nature, I am reminded of technology and concrete and greenhouse gases.

It takes several moments of concentration, but I begin to listen again. I hear a bark, but not one whose origins are canine. This bark has bounced off of many walls and fences and trees to reach my eardrums. It is the end of an echo, the last sound wave of many.

There’s a bang to my right. It startles me. I hear it only once, and attribute the noise to old ramshackle storage sheds slowly dismantling in the neighborhood behind me, or an abandoned crowbar thrown poorly atop an unstable surface, unable to hold its resting place. Once I have convinced myself of this, I hear it again. And again. And again, but louder. I cannot see where the noise originates, but my ears tell me it is to my right. There is not a soul within 100 feet, I’m sure of it. I recognize the thought as silly, but I entertain notions of danger. Should I return to the safety and warmth of my home? Or satiate my curiosity?

The dog hears it too. Her feet trot across leaves long forgotten, leaves that became a part of the earth once their glorious fall color faded to a moth brown. She is heading to the right, towards the sound. Her fierce but apprehensive bark halts the banging. I feel her looking back at me for reassurance. I attempt to remain calm, and cheerfully call her to me. Drawn to happiness rather than danger, she joyfully sprints across the crusty ground to meet my embrace.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

It's the largest amount of superficial energy gathered in one place. It's lights flash in your pupils, bringing you to a sense of inertia, entrancing you to waste an entire paycheck in the slim hopes of doubling your money. The neon glow is only intensified when the bells and buzzers elicit a delighted squeal from a voice you can't see through the crowd. ...Could you be that voice? Maybe one more dollar...

Person Without a Portrait

Monday, February 1, 2010

dog picture - story to follow