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Summertime! Is the living easy this year? Vacationing with the kids? Check out “On Being There,” our lead article, and make the most of that time together. Then we have “Obesity: Will We Outlive Our Children?” and “How Much Food Is Enough, or When to Leave Table,” two articles that are clearly related -- each should help you with the other. Happy (and healthy) vacationing to you and yours!

On Being There

Some years ago, at the Grand Canyon, I met a young man coming with his backpack out from the North Rim, which attracts hikers, whereas the South Rim attracts photo-takers dependent on their cars. I asked him how he liked the Rim, and he said he was disappointed, because it wasn’t like the photographs he’d seen.

Few children today grow up, as I did, at a lake , where I could run around freely in woods and make bows and arrows out of saplings I cut myself. A good number get to spend a week or two at the beach each summer, or at camp or in the mountains, but the rest of their experience of nature tends to be vicarious, through books, stories, and mostly through video. And even then the experience is scheduled, organized, prepared.

It’s true. Although a photo in LIFE or National Geographic may be like life, life is not like the photos. The polished, published photo or film is a heightened experience, one to make us feel that we are there, via the photo, an artistic vision very like a painting. When we are there in the flesh, though, the only way to access that heightened feeling is to look with more than eyes, to get out of the car, get into the landscape, experience the rocks and grass, the silence, the bird calls, the air, the fatigue in one’s legs, the deeper breath of exertion: the body then moves to the landscape, resonates with it, and voila, now you have “experience”: kinesthetic, of the body not of the eyes alone.

Last year I went on a Caribbean cruise, with stops at eight islands. I wanted to get a real experience from it so I signed up for activities: swim with (and feed) sting rays and sea turtles, glide over the rain forest canopy, drive the rugged trails into the forest, learn to sea kayak and SCUBA. But because the ship was loaded with the elderly, infirm and overweight, half of my plans were canceled for lack of participants.

Nevertheless, what interested me most, since I myself and a handful of others went on the remaining trips, was the letdown: Once again, the experience seemed canned, tame, and I did not feel much. But this time the limit was not, as with the hiker of the Rim, in my own ability to sink into the experience, but in the limits of the experience itself: it required no skills, brought no risk, posed no unanswered questions. Of course there were mysteries -- the hot springs seeping out of rocks, the quirky personalities of our Islander guides, the women and children who held our hands to prevent falls along the trail (and to encourage tipping). Still, it was a scripted experience -- very little mystery offered.

I think children need mystery. They need to wonder why a thing was made the way it was, how to get from one place to another without getting lost, and how to produce something from materials that anyone else would consider to be nothing. My mother had a tiny collection of Chinese clay goldfish in a box on a shelf high above the stove. Of course I investigated that closet and found the little fish, orange and straight, or curled in the shape of a “C”, with tiny fins and incised scales. I never asked my mother about them, I simply experienced their wonder.

So I urge you, fill your homes with lovely things, so that you can teach your children to wonder. Even small children can learn to respect fragile things if someone takes the time to teach them.

Obesity: Will We Outlive Our Children?

National Public Radio reports that, despite all the publicity about obesity in the US -- among both children and adults,-- our eating habits have really not changed: we still eat too much, too often. And we consume the wrong things: soda pop instead of water, chips and sweets instead of apples or oranges, snacks instead of meals, processed foods instead of fresh or local or vegetables.

Anti-smoking PR (along with taxes that jack up the price) has significantly reduced smoking. Although the 10-year documented shrinkage is not much, -- 23% down to 21% -- it is considered significant. The most encouraging numbers come from surveys of adolescent smokers: 70% of eighth graders smoked then, but now only 6.5% say they do. They have learned that smoking is dangerous, not sexy. Most teens say they prefer not to date a smoker -- i.e., smoking has lost its sex appeal. That’s progress!

But obesity is a tougher problem. Or maybe it’s the same: general news about the issue of nonsmoking didn’t get farhave much impact until all forces were marshalled: lawsuits, taxation and relentless ad campaigns.

The issue is that obese children are now contracting diseases once considered to be associated essentially with aging, including diabetes and high blood pressure. Our kids, and most apparently our boys, continue to acquire the chubbiness that translates to mature obesity and thus to early ill health. The fear is that these diseases will lead to a very sad state in which American children, rather than living long healthy lives, will be outlived more and more by -- their parents.

How Much Food Is Enough, or When to Leave The Table

As a child, I was taught that the amount of food I should eat was the amount of food on my plate: when I’d cleaned my plate I’d eaten enough.

There were, however, times when I had more on my plate (or less) than I wanted to eat -- these often became discussions over what I could or couldn’t leave on my plate. I remember giving mushrooms to my dog under the table and discovering later that she wasn’t eating them either. When eventually I earned the privilege of serving myself, there was no longer a conflict with my parents.

But other conflicts have crept in.
Over the years, -- observing the weight-loss diets my parents tried for themselves, having a family, teaching in preschools and in day care centers -- I encountered many ways to decide how much to eat. The Child Care Food Program allowed certain things, diet books called for others: only fat-free foods or only proteins. Skip carbohydrates, have sweets once a week, eat a certain diet 5 days a week and take weekends off,... And boulemia and anorexia hit the headlines.

Now the problem seems to be childhood obesity. Not that anorexics and boulemics have gone away. There are just lots of fat people, especially chldren.

There are, in fact, individual difference in metabolism: I’m slim and always have been. I got up to 140 pounds once by eating Oreos every night for milk-and-cookies at camp. But when I saw that gaining weight was a trick I could perform at will, I gave it up. Been there, done that, why bother?

And throughout it all there’s the FDA setting RDA’s: so many servings/day of fruit, meat, vegetables, nuts,...If I don’t eat them all, will my body suffer?

My solution is to learn to leave table before I am “satisfied.” That is probably the same as this newfangled idea of “intuitive eating,” Thus, I think about what I eat, about how I feel before and after eating it, and what seems to work well for my body, picking up the little signals -- very tiny signals -- that say, “Stop.”

Some of the signals I get: a sensation of heaviness in my thighs when I eat too much meat. Wanting to inhale deeply before I take a second helping or a last bite. Hesitating over whether or not to take more on the initial serving. Or the most obvious, feeling that my belly is simply bursting.

See what your signals are. Make it your concern to know how you feel when you eat, before you eat, and afterward. If you can do that, you will truly know how to eat.
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These articles provide information of a general nature only, and should be used only to supplement your knowledge. We hope you find the articles interesting, but cannot guarantee the accuracy or completeness of any information contained in these articles. Nothing in these articles is intended as a substitute for professional medical advice. You should always consult with your own physician if you have any concerns about your own health or the health of your child.