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9 May

Here’s what I spent my weekend with:

Sensory & motor systems… yay neuropsych!

Daunting, right? I may or may not have had a few mini-meltdowns over the sheer amount of material I needed to learn. But after a little impromptu run (! More on that later), I started to think about the real take-home points.

Because regardless of whether or not I ace this test, the following things are still true:

The cone receptors in my retina will still synapse just fine and allow me to see the brilliant colors of roses in the sunshine.


My temporal lobe will still process some of my visual pathways and allow me to recognize the faces of those I love.

The many olfactory glomeruli in my nose will still help me smell (and taste!) delicious cookies.

Like crazy-salty-corny cookies!

My motor cortex will still send messages via the dorsal corticospinal tract to activate my leg muscles and power me through my first run in 6 months (spurred by a near anxiety-attack over aforementioned test… at least it started back up my running mojo!).

The sun will still shine, the flowers will still bloom, there will still be stars in the night sky & a million other little things that make me happy, I will still have people to love and ways to show them I care, & in the grand scheme of things, this little test doesn’t matter at all.

That’s my perspective.

How do you keep things in perspective?

teaching your children about nutrition.

27 Feb

So I didn’t watch the Oscars. Sue me. I saw one of my good friends perform instead! It was awesome… I took some pictures, we’ll see if any turned out! And pretty much all I’ve done today is eat strawberries and pretend to do work (aka get nothing done). I decided to go with a hopefully-informative and possibly boring post today…

I alluded to a Developmental Psychology project I did last week. I managed to talk my whooole group into getting on the food&nutrition bandwagon and do a report on how we teach children about nutrition/influence their eating habits. Here are the main points we focused on…


Children who eat dinner with their family almost every day are 1.5 times more likely to consume the recommended 5 fruits and vegetables per day than children who eat with the family never, or rarely (Gilman, Rifas-Shiman, Frazier, Rockett, Camargo, Field, Berkey, and Colditz, 2000). This may be more of a function of increased opportunities for modeling healthy choices (as discussed below) or may be more focused on the meal itself. Similarly, introducing television at mealtimes can increase consumption of red meats and salty snacks Coon, Goldberg, Rogers & Tucker, 2001). It has actually been shown to decrease the amount eaten by 2-3 year olds during the particular meal, but increase their caloric consumption overall (Francis & Birch, 2006). In part this is because the television distracts from satiety signals and from the experience of eating.

Modeling good behavior

Multiple studies (such as one by Vereckeen & Maes, 2010) have been done finding significant correlations between the snack choices of parents and their children; whether this is a question of availability or modeling is up for some debate, but there’s no doubt that kids learn a lot from their parents, including food preferences. I know I probably gained some of my ridiculous love of all things bread from my equally carb-addicted mother… ;)

On the more negative side, one study also found a strong correlation between parents’ need to eat in response to stress and similar trends in their children. Parents who eat for emotional reasons model this behavior, and their children tend to do the same (Brown & Ogden, 2004).

Controlling Food Intake

Of course, setting food-rules is not an altogether negative thing; being entirely lenient and permissive in feeding style has been shown as correlated with an increased consumption of sweets and soft drinks (Vereecken, Legiest, De Bourdeaudhui, & Maes, 2009). But too much control can also have negative effects… Stringent food rules tend to be correlated with increased consumption of unhealthy foods, and force-feeding kids (i.e. making them clear their plate every time, or eat when they aren’t hungry) disrupts satiety signals and the child’s natural ability to calorically regulate. Using food as a reward can also tamper with the child’s relationship with food, and increase the child’s desire for the reward food (Sleddens, Kremers, De Vries & Thijs, 2010). It also adds an emotional component  makes eating seem like an action based on thought rather than a need to refuel our bodies.

Ultimately, I think this is the fundamental problem. Much of the way we learn about food as children emphasizes thinking about what we should eat, rather than listening to our body’s internal mechanisms that can help guide our consumption. We are told to eat everything on our plate, rather than the amount that makes us satisfied; we are told that we should be eating certain foods to influence our body shape (how many diet magazines are we exposed to, even at a young age?). This simultaneous disconnect and obsession with food seems to me to be a core reason for both the epidemic of obesity and eating disorders in modern society.

In general, teaching children about nutrition becomes a balancing act: finding a way to incorporate some rules, making healthy food available without necessarily creating “forbidden” foods, and hoping to foster a generally healthy outlook on eating as fuel for our bodies (in addition to being a pleasurable experience!).

Reading about all of this was extremely interesting for me… I think my parents mostly did things right, and I still had a somewhat complicated relationship with food at times, but I was mostly a healthy eater. I definitely remember eating spinach and feta salads as a middle-schooler when some of my friends still thought anything green was disgusting. Nowadays I’m still the vegetable enthusiast among many meat-and-potatoes-type friends. So they must have done something right. ;)

How were you taught about food? Or, if you’re a parent, how do you (intend to) teach your children about nutrition/food choices?

Anyways, sorry if this bored you to tears, I just thought it was interesting and I had fun reading/writing bits about it. :)

Evolution & Brussels Sprouts

10 Jan

Reason number one million why I’m bizarre: I am craving Brussels sprouts like no other. Brussels sprouts and butternut squash. What normal person craves such things? I can only imagine what I’ll be like when I’m pregnant…

Reason number two why I’m bizarre: I was inordinately excited when we learned about Brussels sprouts and broccoli in biology today. And I whispered unwittingly, “I love broccoli.” And the poor frat boy next to me gave me a bemused look and shook his head.

Here is a biology lesson for you today!

For those of you who did not know, my beloved Brussels sprouts, along with my even-more-beloved broccoli, and other favorites such as kale and cabbage, are all derived from the same plant (wild mustard, or brassica oleracea) being selectively bred for different traits. Such as wide, delicious stalks for broccoli. Etc. Etc. Etc.

Incidentally, I hate mustard. Just saying.

In honor of applying this knowledge, I bring you roasted vegetables (very poorly photographed ones, alas…)

This is what I took to Christmas Eve dinner, then made again for dinner during the week (this time featuring tofu), then prepared again for my New Year’s Eve dinner. It’s not fancy, it’s not particularly gourmet, but damn is it delicious.

Well, if you’re addicted to vegetables as I am.

Nicole’s Roasted Vegetables
Serves… Well, I have no idea, because I usually eat more than half…
It’s also not really a “recipe”, more like guidelines.

Pick whatever vegetables you like to roast… here are some of my faves!
Brussels Sprouts, cut in half
Butternut squash, cubed
Yam or sweet potato, cubed
2 onions, chopped
1 lb. mushrooms (they shrink a LOT!)
4-5 cloves of garlic (or to taste!), sliced
2+ tablespoons chopped ginger
Tofu, cut into triangles (optional)

~2-3 tbsp Bragg’s Liquid Aminos (or soy sauce)
~2-3 tbsp Red Wine Vinegar
~2-3 tbsp Balsamic Vinegar
1-2 tbsp olive oil (optional)
~1/3 cup water
Sea Salt

*You could also add some maple syrup, I did so the first time, but my dad doesn’t like ‘sweet’ things, so…


**If using tofu, it’s delicious to slice it up and let it sit in the marinade for a few hours. But I usually make this without tofu, so, up to you, as are most things about this “recipe”

Preheat oven to 375 (hotter if you want it to cook faster, it’s really up to you!)

Spray a large metal baking pan with cooking spray. Spread vegetables liberally around the pan and drizzle marinade mixture over the top. Sprinkle with sea salt.

Cover pan with aluminum foil and let bake for around 25 minutes. Open, stir, and check on the cooked-ness of the vegetables (I like to add the onions in here, so they don’t get too mushy after the full time). If desired, add a sprinkling more of salt or Bragg’s. If there seems to be too much liquid (which can make the potatoes and squash mushy), drain some of it into a separate bowl.

Return to oven for another 20 minutes, uncovered. Continue checking and roasting until you feel the vegetables are adequately cooked.

Basically, play it by ear, and do what you want. But roast some vegetables. And eat them. They’re delightful. These are, quite honestly, what I have been missing most about eating at home. I would kill for a roasted butternut squash.

Instead I’ll just take my bowl of packaged oatmeal and sit in a corner and cry while poring over phylogeny & Brussels sprouts.

Oh, college.