Buried deep in a lengthy NY Times Magazine story on psychopathy in children was a comment that rung true. “Physiology isn’t destiny,” said Dan Waschbusch, from Florida International University. Mr. Waschbusch was speaking from a psychological perspective in regards to diagnosing young children as psychopaths, however, his quote can be applied to so many situations. In her article, Jennifer Kahn discusses nature vs. nurture (80% of psychopathic characteristics seem to be genetic vs. the environment in which these people live). In reading this article my first thought was, “I hope my daughters aren’t psychopaths,” and my second thought went back to Mr. Waschbusch’s quote, “If physiology isn’t destiny, maybe I have some control. Or not.” If this weekend past is any indication, I have zero control and eating poorly on the weekends is truly my destiny. Last week I talked about strategies for change. Well, throw in a birthday, Mother’s Day (Happy belated Mother’s Day to all the moms out there!), my partner’s parents, and the exact same restaurants as the weekend prior, and you have an eating extravaganza that laughs in the face of strategy. “In laws in town? Let the Oreos rain down from heaven!!,” I say. In some bizarre world the fact that my in laws come for a visit gives me the extra rationalization I need to eat the leftover Oreos from a student barbeque we had. Weird. I digress.
Reading about diagnosing psychopathy in children as young as 5 is somewhat disturbing, yet the point is made that if true tendencies exist better to catch them young and create a path to success. Physiology isn’t destiny. I often wonder when my challenges with food began. From an overweight 5th grader (who once wore a solid white shirt with a think horizontal stripe for his first day of school) to a graduate student with an eating disorder, food challenges have always been a part of who I am. Is this tendency genetic? Environmental? Both? Are food challenges my destiny? My physiology?
In his opinion piece reviewing several good books on the brain, James Atlas remarks, “Alcoholics can’t stop drinking through willpower alone: they need to alter behavior — going to A.A. meetings instead of bars, for instance — that triggers the impulse to drink.” This is actually Charles Duhigg’s point in his book (Power of Habit) that was being reviewed. I connected it back to Mr. Waschbusch and destiny. If physiology isn’t our destiny, then we need to change the environment in order to succeed. Easy enough. Surely, you jest. My issue is that my environment is everywhere. Food is everywhere. I needn’t get in my car and drive to a bar to be placed in a challenging environment.
What if we could “diagnose” eating challenges at a young age? Would this change destiny? Would this limit the issues we see as children mature (obesity, eating disorders, disordered eating, etc.)? I have no idea. This may be another strategy we can employ, for as Duhigg argues, we cannot change habits, only create new ones. If that is truly the case, let’s get started early.
Finally, in yesterday’s Times another article appeared on weight loss strategies. This one dealing with a new app that you can earn cash for eating well and lose it for eating poorly. This idea takes gaming to a new level. May not work for young children when habits are being formed, but the lure of financial reward at the adult level is something to consider.
I know I am all over the place this morning, but it is Monday and classes ended on Friday. Physiology isn’t destiny, given the right environment. There is some connection to all this early on a Monday, I am simply still looking for it.