Why Is It So Hard To Control Our Appetites? A Doctor’s Struggles With Giving Up Sugar

We’ve become convinced that if we can eat more healthily, we will be morally better people. But where does this idea come from? Near the end of the hellish first year of the coronavirus pandemic, I was possessed by the desire to eliminate sugar – all refined sugar – from my diet. In retrospect, it probably wasn’t the best time to add a new challenge to my life. My wife and I had been struggling to remote-school three young kids with no childcare. My elderly parents lived out of state and seemed to need a surprising number of reminders that pandemic restrictions were not lifted for Diwali parties or new Bollywood movie releases.

Like many people in those early days, we were looking around for masks and trying to make sense of shifting government guidelines about when to wear them. In addition, as a doctor, I was seeing patients in clinic at a time dominated by medical uncertainty, when personal protective equipment was scarce, and my hospital, facing staff shortages, was providing training videos and “how-to” tip sheets to specialists like me who hadn’t practised in an emergency room for years, in case we were needed as backup.

It would have been enough to focus on avoiding the virus and managing all this without putting more on my plate. But cutting processed sugar seemed like an opportunity to reassert some measure of order to the daily scrum, or at least to the body that entered the fray each day.

My former physique was behind me and the stress of clinical practice during the pandemic was taking its toll. Maybe it was all the pandemic death in the air, but I started feeling like I was what the narrator in Arundhati Roy’s novel The God of Small Things calls “Not old. Not young. But a viable die-able age.” Maybe doing away with sugar could slow things down? More tantalisingly, maybe it could even take me back to a fresher time, the days in college when I had actually gone sugar-free for a while.

My friends offered condolences on what they called my soon-to-be joyless lifestyle. But I was set, compelled by literature about the deleterious, even toxin-like effects of added sugar. I had my doubts about being able to pull something like this off again, though, so I decided – as doctors often do – to tackle the problem by studying it.

That year, in what was arguably an act of masochism, I began the coursework required to sit for a medical-board exam on dietetics, metabolism and appetite. By earning another qualification, I thought, I would credential my way to realising my goal. After shifts at work, during breaks or once the kids were asleep, I would attend virtual lectures and pore over board-review books in a quest to understand the body’s metabolism.

I immersed myself in the physiology of exercise, the thermodynamics of nutrition, and the neuroendocrine regulation of appetite. But this knowledge didn’t break my pandemic eating habits. Cupcakes and ice cream and cookies didn’t call to me any less. And big food corporations were winning the bet that Lay’s potato chips first made back in the 1960s with its “Betcha can’t just eat one” ad campaign. So, I found myself reaching for Double Stuf Oreos while flipping through my medical textbooks and scarfing chocolate bars even as I correctly answered my practice-exam questions.

My body refused to be disciplined by my intellectual mastery of its operations. I passed the board examination, but my appetite for sugar didn’t change. I was left with more questions than I had when I started. Was sugar really a problem? Or had I internalised hangups about desire from the culture at large? Why did my soul feel so inexplicably sick – so unsatisfied – with the outcome of my first effort to quit that I tried it all again? And what does my “success” – I’ve been sugar-free for a year now – even mean?

I turned to Plato – a man occupied by appetite – for some answers. In his body map of the soul, the stomach was the dwelling place of desire. Reason, of course, resided in the head, while courage rested in the chest. In this tripartite architecture, it was up to reason – with the help of courage – to subjugate appetite and elevate the individual. The thinking went that if we could just rule our stomachs, we might be able to hold our heads up high and our chests out wide. For the Greeks, the right moral posture was key to the good life, or eudaimonia.

Early medical science in the west borrowed heavily from Plato, beginning with Aristotle, who practiced and taught medicine throughout his life. Aristotle agreed that eudaimonia could be realized by moderating the visceral and sensual appetites. He saw the heart as the vessel of intelligence, and arguably the most virtuous of organs. In his hypothesis, the heart occupied – physically and figuratively – a central place in the body, controlling other organs. The brain and lungs played supporting roles, merely cooling and cushioning the heart. The heart was, for Aristotle, where reason flowed.

Five hundred years later, the Greek anatomist and surgeon Galen challenged the centrality of the heart but still adhered closely to Plato’s triadic notion of the soul. Galen’s treatises, foundational to the development of modern medicine, are suffused with Platonic assumptions, and he painstakingly tried to stitch the divided parts of the soul – the rational, the spirited and the appetitive – on to specific organs in the human body.

In a striking display of topographical certitude, Galen writes in On the Doctrines of Hippocrates and Plato: “I do claim to have proofs that the forms of the soul are more than one, that they are located in three different places … and further, that one of these parts [rational] is situated in the brain, one [spirited] in the heart, and one [appetitive] in the liver. These facts can be demonstrated scientifically.”

The Harvard classicist Mark Schiefsky writes that, in Galenic physiology, equilibrium is understood “as a balance of strength between the three parts; the best state is when reason is in charge, the spirited part is strong and obedient, and the appetitive part is weak”.

Should we be sceptical of this aspiration to tame appetite? Sigmund Freud doubted whether desire could ever be so readily controlled. In tossing Plato’s map aside, Freud erased the “soul” and instead sketched a three-part atlas of the “self” and its ratio of desires and repressions – endlessly fractured, negotiating between order (superego), consciousness (ego) and appetite (id). For Freud, appetites could not be overcome but only better managed. Perfect harmony and permanent equilibrium were nowhere in sight. Rather, in Freud’s idea of the self, anxiety for order loomed above the ego, with desire buried beneath it. Appetite was the subterranean tether that consciousness could never escape, but only sublimate.

There was something talismanic about my focus on sugar. So often, liberty is conceived of as the ability to say yes to things. To make affirmative choices: to open this door or that window. But there is also a flipside to that freedom: the power to say no. To refuse. Increasingly during the pandemic, I felt like I was powerless in the face of my cravings. If there was a knock at the door of appetite, a tap on the window of impulse, I had to answer it. And this felt shameful. Why couldn’t I say no? And why was realizing this so painful?

I don’t pretend to anything approaching total understanding of my motivations. But there were a few loosely detected currents worth illuminating here. For one thing, not being able to say no to sugar sometimes felt like a form of bondage to the demands of the body, the very body that I was eager to assert power over, particularly during a global health crisis that was damaging bodies everywhere.

If I couldn’t control this plague, could I not at the very least control myself? I wonder now if this insistence on regulating appetite was my sublimated response to the coronavirus’s immense death toll – a way of denying mortality in the midst of its excess. In this respect, perhaps there was not as much separating me from other kinds of pandemic deniers as I would like to believe. Were we all just coping with the inexorability of our decay – laid painfully bare by Covid-19 – in different ways?

Maybe. But there was something beyond the exigencies of the pandemic on my mind as well. The inability to resist sugar cravings – to break the habit – seemed like a victory of the past over the present. It felt like the triumph of the mere memory of pleasure over real satisfaction in the moment. Saying no to that memory – the neurological underpinning of craving – became important, because it felt like the only way to say yes to imagination. “I am free only to the extent that I can disengage myself,” the philosopher Simone Weil wrote.

Detachment from an indulgence, however small, felt like a way to stop being beholden to an old storehouse of desires (and aversions and beliefs). Developing the ability to refuse to reach for the cookie was also a way to break free from the impulse to reach for patterns of the past, from the compulsion of replicating yesterday at the expense of tomorrow. It’s the trick of habit to convince us that we are reaching forward, even as we are stepping back. Or, as the British scholar of asceticism Gavin Flood elegantly summarizes: “The less we are able to refuse, the more automated we become.”

If Freud dismantled the soul, modern medicine mechanized what he left of the self. But where Freud’s psychoanalytic theory allowed for a pinch of poetry, materialist models hold comparatively dry sway today. A look at the biomedical literature on appetite reveals a tortuous mix of neural circuits and endocrine pathways. What’s clear is that if there was a moral aspect of appetite for ancient philosophers and physicians, it’s not readily discernible in the language of contemporary scientific literature.

There are upsides to this development. In the modern era, medicine’s tradition-bound framing of appetite as a moral problem has been demoralizing for patients, who often felt – and still feel – objectified, policed and discriminated against by institutions that sermonize about it. The stigmatisation of appetite remains pervasive in the culture, in and out of medicine. The loss of at least an explicit moral charge in the scientific literature is a welcome shift.

In the century or so since Freud’s conjectures, appetite has been atomised by medicine into a problem of eating, or more specifically, of fighting the body’s tendency toward “disordered” eating. In the pursuit of better and longer lives, maladies of appetite – of eating too much, too little, or not the right kinds of food – have been studied and treated with varying degrees of success. The empirical study of digestion and appetite in the laboratory moved hunger from the moral arena into a biochemical one. Still, in both experimental physiology and clinical medicine, the ancient impulse to locate the appetite persisted: was it in the body or in the mind? Lines were drawn – and defended – between diseases of the stomach and diseases of the psyche.

What was at stake in the difference? Pinning down the appetite – claiming it belonged to the gut or the brain – was arguably the first in a series of steps leading to its regulation. Understood this way, medicine’s mission to uncover the mechanisms of appetite, despite the erasure of the soul from scientific databases, cannot escape Plato’s legacy. Whether we’re trying to improve or curtail appetite, we seem unable to resist the desire to control it.

It would have been different – I wouldn’t have felt the need to go all-or-nothing with sugar – if I could have simply walked away after a few bites. But increasingly during the pandemic, I wouldn’t stop even after I was full. What started off as pleasure would morph into painful excess. Sure, there’s pleasure in abundance, in overdoing a thing. But I found myself barrelling past that threshold.

While studying for the board exam in my first, failed attempt at going sugar-free, I was also using various apps and devices to keep track of my body. I had long used a smart watch to log my steps and workouts. I was also using a calorie-tracking app, studiously punching in numbers for every meal and scheming how much I could eat and still remain under the calorie limit. But all that logging and calculating felt joyless and anxiety-ridden. Sometimes, at a meal, in the middle of tallying up numbers like an accountant, I’d explain to impatient friends and family that “I’m just entering my data”. It was a lot of data.

I grew weary of all the inputting, and so I switched to an app with more of a behavioural focus. This app still had me tracking calories, but also came with recipes, a personal coach and “psychology-based” courses, as part of what the company calls your “journey”. The courses were a welcome shift from the myopic focus of calorie counting, and chatting with a coach added an opportunity to get some clarity about my goals.

The coach would share chipper motivational advice and provide tips to overcome obstacles. I diligently went through the app’s courses, answered its behavioural questions and followed its nudges. There were a few weeks where I was able to go sugar-free, but after a couple of months, the coaching advice seemed more and more generic, and the courses too simplistic when I was already spending so much time studying for my upcoming exam. I lost interest and reverted to simply recording calories.

I eventually passed that exam without much to show for it in terms of changes to my nutritional habits. I needed something different, a way to hold myself accountable and mean it. I stumbled upon another app that described itself as being “on a mission to disrupt diet culture and make our relationship with food, nutrition – and ourselves – healthier for good”. It promised live coaching calls with a certified nutritionist, shared recipes, and even offered to tailor my coaching with a vegetarian dietician. It did not ask you to track calories or enter food items from a database. All it wanted was for you to send pictures … of your food. It felt radically different than tapping numbers into a screen: someone else would see this.

The app’s slogan was “100% accountability and “0% judgment”. But, to be clear, it was the judgment that I came for. The simple fact that my nutritionist wouldn’t just know but also actually see what I was eating was the killer feature. I answered a questionnaire about my dietary habits and goals. I made it clear that I wanted to go sugar-free, and repeated as much to my nutritionist during a preliminary call.

She didn’t exactly endorse this goal, but rather acknowledged it as something that was important to me and gently marked it as a topic we would come back to, adding that she hoped I would get to the point where a more balanced approach would suffice. I told her we’d see. I made a promise to take a photo of every meal, good or bad. She kindly reminded me there are not “good” and “bad” foods, and we were on our way.

It’s been a year since I downloaded the app. Every day since then, I have taken a photo of every morsel of food I’ve eaten, whether it’s a handful of pistachios, a salad or a veggie burger. In every one of those pics, every day, I have been sugar-free. I’ve eaten more vegetables and greens and fruits than I’ve probably ever eaten in my life. My plates look balanced (I make sure of it). I take care to snap pictures that look nice for my nutritionist. Though she never judges me negatively, I look forward to the raising-hands emoji and approving words she sends if she sees a salad with asparagus and garlic balsamic drizzle and avocado up front.

Like an influencer on Instagram, I’ll take another shot if the lighting isn’t quite right, or if the framing is off. It’s been satisfying to upload a cache of sugar-free images, all beautifully arranged on the app’s user interface. Even more satisfying has been avoiding feeling like the guy who said he’d go sugar-free only to end up sending in pictures of donuts and cookies. Compared to calorie logs and food diaries, the prospect of someone else seeing photos of what I’m eating has made the potential pain of falling short feel more proximate than the pleasure of eating sweets. So I just stopped eating sugar. And it’s still working. Was this all it took?

Perhaps the persistent effort to control appetite, replicated across many cultures and times, reveals just how vigorously it resists that very control. The seemingly endless proliferation of constraints on appetite – from the disciplinary to the pharmacological – underscores its untamable quality. And yet the training of appetite – both as physiological fact and, more abstractly, as desire – can function as an ascetic practice. In this paradigm, as religion scholars such as Flood argue, the negation of desire amplifies the subjectivity of the individual.

Depriving the body paradoxically accentuates the conscious subject, because hunger unsatiated allows the pangs of the self to be felt more acutely, and renders being more vivid. In other words, appetite unfulfilled creates the conditions for expanding self-awareness. This is seen in the Bhagavad Gita in the figure of the ascetic, one who has renounced the pull of appetite and “attains extinction in the absolute” – in seeming contradiction, gaining infinity through loss.

If philosophy is after theoretical victories, science aims more concretely to hack, or at least short-circuit, a physiological truth. Take, for example, gastric bypass surgery, an operation that cuts the stomach into two parts (leaving one functional thumb-size pouch alongside a larger remnant) and radically reconstructs separate intestinal systems for each segment to restrict the amount of food that can be eaten. By shrinking the stomach to fool the mind into feeling satisfied with less, this surgery builds on growing recognition that the long-embraced brain-gut divide is far more porous than previously thought.

Recipients of the surgery generally do well in the short term, with reduced appetite, marked weight loss, better control of diabetes and improved health markers. But the percentage of patients who “fail” in the long-term after bariatric surgery (ie achieve less than half of excess weight loss) is reportedly as high as 35%. During that first post-op year, studies suggest, an influx of appetite-reducing intestinal hormones decreases patients’ urge to eat. Crucially, however, there are questions about the duration of those salutary hormonal changes and their effectiveness in controlling appetite as post-surgical days add up.

For a significant proportion of patients, even surgically shrinking the stomach – the historical seat of hunger – doesn’t offer complete freedom from unchecked appetite. This fact is not entirely surprising, given what is now known about the multiple neuroendocrine nodes that govern appetite, but it poses a conundrum for medical science: can appetite, as Freud asked in his own way, ever be fully controlled? And if not, is it a wonder that patients turn back to more personal strategies to pursue the work that prescriptions and sutures leave undone?

I can’t say I fully understand why teaming up with a nutritionist on an app worked so well, so fast. Would sharing pics of my food with friends and family in a group chat or a Facebook page have been as effective? Probably not. The issue seemed to be one of epistemology. My friends and family wouldn’t have been as suitable an audience, since they don’t just know me as I am, but also as I was. That knowledge of what’s bygone necessarily shapes the stories we can tell and believe about one another.

But with my nutritionist reviewing pictures of my meals from god knows what timezone, the app created an epistemological gap into which both of us could step. It was within this gap that my future self – the self I aspired to be, still unrealised and therefore unknown – could intercede in the present with slightly less inertia from the past. The app provided an illusion that daily life could not, offering a space for the dormant commitments of the future to come to fruition in the present. A space for imagination to overcome memory.

As my sugar-free streak extended, I began to wonder about the future of this illusion. Was it a rare example of tech living up to its glitteringly naive promise of liberation? Or was this an instance of the digital panopticon yet again determining our ability to imagine ourselves, revealing just how far-reaching its gaze is? And, more practically, I began thinking about how long I needed to keep eating this way. The cravings that had knocked so loudly at my door at the start of the pandemic now softly shuffled from leg to leg right outside it. I could still hear their shoes creaking at the threshold, but they couldn’t force their way in anymore. Things seemed quiet, maybe a little too quiet.

Whereas the Greeks soughtto regulate appetite in pursuit of the good life, perhaps what is sought after today is a facsimile of it: a corporatised eudaimonia-lite, where the goal isn’t virtue but efficiency; not equanimity, but productivity. In this view, it’s not a better way to live we’re seeking, just a less painful way to work and die – all while “looking good”. A more charitable and poetic possibility is that the constraint of appetite continues to appeal because it provides the same sense of structure to selfhood that metre does to a poem: a limit against which to construct narrative unity of the psyche.

As fascinating as it is to think about this question, even more essential ones – about the links between appetite, scarcity and loss – loom in the writings of Toni Morrison, a writer who provides a necessary counterbalance to the obsession with appetite restriction in societies glutted with luxury. In particular, I’m thinking of Beloved, which tells the story of human beings struggling for survival and wholeness in the face of slavery’s horrors. In portraying this struggle, Morrison uses the language of food and appetite to unfurl narratives saturated with the metaphysics of hunger: the difficulty of sating the self; the confusion between hunger, history and hurt.

I was struck by this unexpected resonance while rereading the book in the middle of my bid to quit sugar. Morrison’s characters think about what it would mean to satisfy what the narrator calls their “original hunger” – and whether doing so is even possible. They imagine getting to a place “beyond appetite”, but are also compelled by history to contemplate the price of doing so.

In my reading of the book, the denial of hunger risks becoming a costly exercise in self-abnegation – a severing of self from history, of self from self – whose consequences Plato doesn’t seem to fully consider, but which Morrison is deeply wary of. I think Morrison is, like Freud, skeptical of the metaphysicians who would have us render hunger subordinate. But where Freud is an anti-idealist, Morrison appears willing to reach for hunger, perilous though it may be. Straddling both the risk of self-destruction posed by contact with the original hunger, and the anguish of self-denial created by leaving it unrecognised, Morrison casts her faith in the human ability to embrace the beautiful, blood-hued predicament of incarnation.

About 10 months into my sugar-free life, a scent from the pantry hit me like it hadn’t for a while. My wife had just baked chocolate-chip cookies for our kids as a treat. By then, I was unfazed by sweets around the house. They might as well have been made of stone. But, at the end of a long day, I found myself unexpectedly at the pantry door. Minutes passed. After a while, I opened the plastic container and inhaled. My mouth began to water. I could almost taste the cookies.

I remembered the delightful way the chocolate melted at the back of the tongue. I remembered the satisfaction of soaking a warm cookie in milk. A part of my brain was humming, eager to replicate the memory of sugar, butter and dough on the cortex. Another part was already dreading the pain of not being able to stop. I picked up the cookie and, having built nearly a year’s worth of muscle memory, simultaneously opened the app on my phone. I centred the cookie in the glowing frame and was about to press send when, looking at the screen, it hit me: what would my nutritionist think?

As of this writing, my streak remains unbroken, despite a few close calls. In many ways the story seems to be going the way I intended: I am eating well balanced, sugar-free meals and haven’t counted a calorie in more than a year. The cravings that were troubling me aren’t gone, but the future version of me – the unsweetened aspirant – grows closer with each picture I snap. I feel the spiritual and physical acuity that comes with ascetic practice.

But I also feel some qualms about neglecting Morrison’s original hunger, with all its attendant risks and possibilities. I think about how I have sacrificed memory at the altar of imagination, recognising the chance that imagination ends up being overrated and memory proves to be the last storehouse of joy. But then I remind myself that visions like Morrison’s may be too large, too untimely for us to inhabit. They come from a place we haven’t arrived at. At least not yet.


Source: Why is it so hard to control our appetites? A doctor’s struggles with giving up sugar | Health & wellbeing | The Guardian

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Treasury Reconsiders IRS’ Use of Facial Recognition Company ID.me

The Treasury Department is reassessing the Internal Revenue Service’s use of third-party facial recognition software ID.me for access to taxpayer accounts amid growing concerns about the company’s privacy practices. A department official told FOX Business on Friday that Treasury and the IRS are exploring alternatives to ID.me. Bloomberg first reported the news.

“The IRS is consistently looking for ways to make the filing process more secure,” spokeswoman Alexandra LaManna said in a statement to FOX Business. “But to be clear, no American is required to take a selfie in order to file their tax return.”

The IRS had previously announced that beginning in summer 2022, users who need to log on to the agency’s website to access the Child Tax Credit Update Portal, check online accounts, get their tax transcript, receive an Identity Protection PIN or view an online payment agreement will need to create an account with identity verification company ID.me.

Existing online accounts, which currently only require a simple email and password to access, will no longer work beginning this summer, the IRS said. At that point, users will be required to create an account with ID.me.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) headquarters building in Washington.  (AP Photo/J. David Ake, File / AP Newsroom)

The IRS has stressed that individuals will not actually be required to go through ID.me or use facial-recognition software to submit their tax returns. But taxpayers will still be forced to use this software in order to take advantage of some of the IRS’ most basic tools. The agency is already urging taxpayers to create accounts “as soon as possible.”

“The IRS emphasizes taxpayers can pay or file their taxes without submitting a selfie or other information to a third-party identity verification company,” the agency said in a statement. “Tax payments can be made from a bank account, by credit card or by other means without the use of facial recognition technology or registering for an account.”

ID.me describes itself as a technology provider that offers secure identity verification by comparing a photo ID provided by users with a video selfie. It was launched in 2010 by military veteran Blake Hall and has quickly solidified its place in the identity-verification business, often on behalf of the U.S. government. Additional IRS tools will begin using ID.me verification “over the next year,” the IRS said.

Users must provide ID.me with an email address, Social Security number, photo ID and take a selfie with a camera that will scan the user’s face to verify their identity.

But the company drew fresh scrutiny this week when CEO Blake Hall admitted in a LinkedIn post that ID.me uses Amazon’s Recognition technology to compare video selfies submitted by users to its own, bigger internal database of previous applicants. Hall had previously claimed the company used so-called one-to-one technology, a process that compares a selfie taken by an individual to an official document like a driver’s license.

“I apologize for that,” Hall told Axios on Wednesday. “My intent is never to mislead.” LaManna noted that ID.me is compliant with the National Institute of Standards and Technology. The software is also used by multiple agencies across the government. 

Still, the news prompted an immediate outcry from privacy advocates, who have warned the practice is invasive and that the IRS is opening the doors to potential data breaches.

The decision “will only lead to further ruin for Americans when their data is inevitably breached,” Jackie Singh, director of technology and operations at the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, wrote on Twitter. She called the practice “very bad,” and called on every “tech-aware American to fight it.”

Source: Treasury reconsiders IRS’ use of facial recognition company ID.me | Fox Business


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Cultivating a Home Yoga Practice

Do your yoga students hunger to build a home practice but struggle to stick with one? Sustaining a regular home yoga practice can be challenging even for the most loyal yoga enthusiasts. But practicing independently—as a complement to learning from a skilled teacher—offers a variety of advantages that make it well worth the effort. Find out why a home practice can benefit your students, how you can encourage them to create the space for it, and what will help them get on the mat every day.

Benefits of a Home Practice

Self-discovery. Learning from a skilled teacher is essential for any yoga student, but classes can be full and are sometimes fast-paced. A self-initiated, self-led home practice is an opportunity to enhance body awareness and sensitivity, shedding light on misalignments that might go unnoticed in the studio.

Of course, a good instructor looks out for imbalances and limitations in practitioners, but students who work at their own pace often learn to recognize a physical limitation (such as a tight hip) or an inefficient movement pattern for themselves. One student might realize she puts too much weight on her wrists or slightly bends her right elbow in downward-facing dog. Another might discover that opening his shoulders is far easier for him than opening his hips.

These moments of awareness are important because they inform future yoga practice and enhance students’ knowledge of their bodies and themselves. By applying what they learn through self-discovery, practitioners can challenge their physical edge or correct a muscular weakness. Regular attendance at a studio will yield these same benefits, but they are enhanced during home practice.

A tailored approach. Independent practitioners decide which poses they’ll do and what they want emphasize. Let’s say a student with flexible hamstrings and tight quadriceps attends a weekly yoga class that often focuses on stretching the hamstrings. During her home practice, she can even out her program (and her body) by incorporating more poses that open the quadriceps.

Skill refinement. Home practice provides a terrific opportunity for students to reinforce setup or alignment cues they’ve learned in class. With diligent work, they will refine those skills and begin to store the information in their long-term memory.

Motivation Matters

When class participants ask you about starting a home practice, it is important to understand why that matters to them and what might be holding them back. Ask open-ended questions, such as, “What appeals to you about starting a home practice?” and “What gets in the way of rolling out your mat once you’re home?” When you have this information, you can talk through the situation and help your clients achieve the outcome they want.

Remember that for any person to adhere to any behavior, there needs to be a strong motivational factor for doing that behavior. If cultivating a home practice is something your clients think they should do, but not something they truly care about, they will not be motivated to start, and you may need to address that.

Explore this further by asking questions like “Where did your desire to start a home yoga practice begin?” and “How does starting a home practice relate to who you want to be?” This will help your clients talk about why they want to engage in the behavior versus why they should commit to it.

If motivation is not the issue, and the problem lies in the home environment, then practical solutions can help students overcome common barriers.

Home Practice Solutions

Set the space. A common barrier to home practice is the array of distractions that vie for clients’ attention. These might be objects in the environment (like TV, computers or dirty dishes) or even family members. To win the commitment struggle, it will be important for your clients to “set the space” where they plan to practice.

This could mean moving furniture to the side of a room, creating a permanent yoga space in their home, or using visual or auditory cues to make their environment more conducive to yoga. For example, clients could leverage music to set the mood, even creating a yoga playlist to provide a relaxing environment.

Encourage clients to remove any distracting objects from their line of vision: a laundry basket filled with clothes to be washed, or pieces of mail on the counter, for instance. Recommend setting the space in the morning before work, so clients are ready to go once they get home. And urge them to ask family members to respect the space so that practice can unfold without verbal or behavioral interruptions.

Create a schedule. Your clients will need to figure out a routine that will work for them, whether that means practicing when they first get home, when they get up in the morning or during a lunch break at work. Encourage them to use phone reminders or social support to keep them on schedule.

Avoiding conflict with mealtimes is best, but if clients have to postpone a meal, recommend they eat snacks throughout the day to eliminate large gaps between meals. They should negotiate with family members or housemates, asking them to play music more softly or take kids to another room until the session is over.

Modify or even discard time requirements. Another barrier is thinking the activity needs to last a certain length of time. Some clients might assume they must practice for 90 minutes (as they often do in their yoga class) for the session to matter. For many people, the idea of practicing for that long either before or after work can be daunting, so they may never start.

Help your clients set a realistic and manageable duration goal so that they can succeed. That said, remind them to watch what they’re telling themselves about the length of time they practice. For some, falling short of their goal might mean failure, which could sabotage their long-term adherence. If you notice this tendency in clients, recommend they shift their mindset and recognize value in any amount of practice. Even 10 minutes of yoga can produce an array of benefits.

Let go of expectations. The next barrier to adhering to a regular home yoga practice is pre-existing expectations about what the practice should look like: How many poses should it include? How challenging should they be? These should can get in the way, so help your clients let go of expectations and allow themselves to be present to what feels right in the moment.

Remind them that practicing only a handful of poses can be helpful and that they don’t need to do an advanced sequence for the practice to make a difference. A home yoga practice might be restorative poses one day and a more vigorous flow practice the next, and that’s okay. The practice can be different every time, since a regular yoga practice will ebb and flow based on energy levels, muscular tension, interpersonal stress, and nutritional and sleep habits.

Seek out helpful resources when choosing poses. Last but not least, your clients may find choosing poses difficult when they practice at home. Encourage them to start by practicing their favorite ones first and then add in different or more challenging options over time. Yoga books, online videos or yoga websites might prompt ideas. Suggest that clients keep these helpful resources near their mat while they practice so they can refer to them if they feel unsure about what to do next.

Home Yoga Matters

Regardless of the barriers your clients face, there are ways to help them achieve the benefits they want from a regular home yoga practice. Find out as much as you can about their motivation and help them dismantle environmental barriers. Working together, you can find the solution that will allow their home practice to thrive.


These pointers may seem basic to you, but they can help students get a home practice up and running:

  • Always practice on a mat. It will help you avoid slipping, especially while holding downward-facing dog or warrior poses.
  • Place your yoga mat on a hard, even surface. Practicing on carpet is not recommended, as it affects weight distribution in the hands during weight-bearing poses, and this can lead to wrist pain. Practicing on carpet can also affect balance in standing poses.
  • Have a minimum of two thicker yoga blocks (either cork or foam) to support yourself in seated or standing poses.
  • Aim to have at least one yoga strap. If a strap is not available, use a resistance band instead.
  • If possible, use a woven yoga blanket for support when needed (e.g., to cushion the knee in lunges). A thicker home blanket that’s easily folded provides a good alternative.


Source: Cultivating a Home Yoga Practice – IDEA Health & Fitness Association


Increasing Empathy: Focus On Restorative Practices As Students Return To The Classroom

Our return to brick and mortar schooling is upon us and like any back-to-school season, we are filled with anticipation, hope, and curiosity. To finally have our classrooms filled with children is a gift that we have longed for over this past challenging year. With all this excitement, we need to ensure we are planning with our students in mind.

Specifically, prioritizing their social and emotional health. It’s no secret that our world faced incredible trauma during the pandemic. As educators, it’s important that we increase our empathy and focus on the tools and practices that will support awareness and expression of emotions and dialogue, rather than focus on punishment-oriented outcomes. I’m not suggesting that we should conduct therapy sessions, as that is not in our training and we have school psychologists to collaborate with in  those situations.

One of the main things we can commit to doing is increasing empathy in our classrooms. We can employ restorative practices, a social science that studies how to build classroom community and strengthen relationships. The idea is that when we feel part of a supportive community where we belong, we respect those around us and become accountable for our actions.

It’s about building community and using authentic dialog when responding to challenging behavior in an effort to “make things right.” When these practices are put in place, teachers and students can work together to foster safe learning environments through community building and constructive conflict resolution.

Have you considered bringing restorative practices into your classroom?  It is crucial for educators to plan for opportunities to create and sustain a culture where all learners are accepted, embraced, and heard. When developing restorative practices in your classroom, you should first establish a culture of trust and respect.

A good starting point is to identify the current issue/s in your class, identify the root causes, and then create an activity where you can facilitate restorative practices. There are many ways to begin implementation. For those of you who think restorative practice may add value to your classroom, here are two activities that can help get you started:

Restorative Circles provide an opportunity to have all students share, and listen truthfully in a way that allows the members in the circle to be seen, heard, and respected. Use this opportunity for students to collaboratively approach conflict within the classroom community and find a resolution.genesis3-2-1-1-1-1-1-2-1-1-1-1-1-1-2-1-1-1

Check out this Edutopia video to see how one school implemented a restorative circle as a means to create a safe environment for students to reflect.

Affective Language gives us the ability to identify our emotions and express them to others verbally. By using Affective Language, you can model ways of expressing our feelings and needs. There are four parts to an affective statement.

Observation: Free of labels and opinions. Makes the student feel seen and recognized by using statements such as, “I notice…” and “I hear…”.

Feelings: Express your feelings, honestly by using phrases such as, “I feel frustrated…” or “I am worried…”.

Needs: Express your needs and values by stating, “I need a safe classroom…” or “I need your help in…”.

Plans/Requests: Frame what it is that you want. For example, “Would you be ok with…” and “Next time…”.

When implementing restorative practices, it is important to take the time to conduct thoughtful preparation, and a shift in the adult mindset which requires the allocation of sufficient resources and dedication to implement new practices with consistency and sustainability.

As you begin planning for this work in your classroom, remember to take on each situation with a calm mind, questions to seek student perspective, and time to allow for students to drive the discussion.

Take these opportunities as learning moments for all community members and to open space for student voice. Below I’ve included a planning template that can support you in transforming your classroom as you lead with empathy.

Restorative Practices and PAACC

Here at LINC, we begin all of our planning with the PAACC. The image you see above is our PAACC, aligned to restorative practices. This resource will support you in keeping the “why” in mind as you plan and identify student outcomes based on the restorative practices activity you choose. Click here for our free tinker template to put your planning into action.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and reflections on how we can continue to increase empathy in our classrooms as we focus on creating restorative practice activities as students return to the classroom. If you’re looking for a thought partner, connect with me via Twitter: @CarolynHanser or email: carolynhanser@linclearning.com.

By Carolyn Hanser

Source: Increasing Empathy: Focus On Restorative Practices As Students Return To The Classroom LINC: The Learning Innovation Catalyst


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How To Use the 4 Key Elements of Conversation To Make Small Talk That Doesn’t Feel Like Torture


Whether you’re pulling up to a first date, parked outside a holiday function, preparing for a job interview, or in any situation where you have to communicate with people you don’t know so well, you may be plagued with worries about how to start a conversation and keep it going. While small talk isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, it’s possible to partake without it feeling like torture. Simply leaning on the four elements of conversation can help facilitate the process.

The elements of conversation functions like a formula for connecting with others. And that’s great because this connection cultivates a sense of belonging, which is crucial to our well-being. “We all have this internal need and longing to feel like we belong, and the way we make that happen is through conversation,” says therapist Michelle Chalfant. Read on to learn how you can utilize four elements of conversation to get better at small talk.

Use these 4 elements of conversation to learn how to make easy small talk

1. Asking

This element of conversation is exactly what it sounds like: asking a question. More specifically, low-pressure, simple questions that aren’t overly personal in nature are great for getting someone to warm up. Asking someone what music they like, what they’re watching on TV, and what they do for work all fit into this low-pressure category, says licensed clinical psychologist Aimee Daramus, PsyD. “If you’re at a party, [you could ask how they] know the person,” she adds. “If you’re interviewing for a job, you can ask, ‘What’s your experience been like here?’ or ‘How did you get hooked up with a job here?’”

The key to properly using the asking element of conversation is to avoid yes-or-no questions so that you give the subject a chance to respond in more than one word.

Chalfant suggests using this this conversational element as an opportunity to ask for recommendations, which could be particularly helpful if you notice that who you’re talking to isn’t totally into talking about themselves. Start by asking yourself what you might need—maybe an air fryer, a cast iron skillet, or new bedding—and then give that brief context before asking the subject what they suggest. The key to properly using the asking element of conversation is to avoid yes-or-no questions so that you give the subject a chance to respond in more than one word. Related Stories The 12 Most Effective Ways To Open a Conversation, Whether You’re Talking… 7 Tips for Coaxing a Shy Person Into a Conversation That You…

2. Informing

This element of conversation is best characterized as sharing an interesting tidbit about yourself, says Dr. Daramus. If you’re a mechanic, you might say something like, “I was working on this car today and learned that…” Or, if you’re a teacher, this might look like sharing an experience that you’ve had in the classroom. Sharing gives listeners the opportunity to ask follow-up questions and removes the pressure of having to talk about something you’re not totally familiar with.

If you know yourself to be shy or to go blank when put on the spot, consider coming up with something to say beforehand. It could be a fun memory from childhood or something you recently learned about yourself.

Some other ideas? Chalfant adds that If you’re going to a bigger gathering, you could cooking something and bring it, which allows you to share what you made and the story behind it. You could also share what you’re watching on TV and ask others what they’re watching. Or, you could also stick to the basics: A simple, “My name is… and I’m from…” might do the trick and encourage others to share their background, which can serve as an opportunity for people to connect.

3. Including

With the conversation element of including, Dr. Daramus says it’s integral to first listen to what others are saying and notice what they’re doing. If you see that someone is quiet, but their nonverbal communication or body language indicates that they’d like to speak (think, they appear to almost start talking), you can try asking them their opinion on the matter at hand.

Perhaps you observe that someone is standing alone in the corner. In this case, including may look like going up to them and saying something that you think they’d relate to. However, you want to be mindful that you’re not making it about you. Give them a brief example of when you’ve been alone at a party, and let them take it from there. Once they open up, a simple “I totally get that” will build the connection, which might ultimately make conversation more natural.

Including doesn’t all have to be heavy, though. Chalfant adds that giving compliments also falls under this category. Whether it’s something you like about the person’s vibe or decorations around the host’s house, giving a compliment can help start a conversation by engaging the other person.

4. Proposing

“Proposing is…moving things forward,” says Dr. Daramus. You can suggest playing a game or getting another drink when you want to use proposing as a way of making small talk. (Dr. Daramus says you get extra “including” points if you do that!)

You can also tap into proposing to steer the conversation away from topics that you don’t want to discuss. In practice, this might look like saying, “You know, I’d rather talk about…” and follow that up with something that you’re more comfortable discussing.

Another great way to practice proposing, Chalfant adds, is to shift to a lighter topic that folks have strong feelings about but isn’t seriously divisive. For instance, take daylight saving time. Whether someone likes it because it helps them fall asleep earlier or hates it because they find it tougher to stay happy amid shorter days, it’s a good, low-stakes topic that gives everyone the opportunity to harmlessly opine.

Natalie Arroyo Camacho

By: Natalie Arroyo Camacho

Source: https://www.wellandgood.com/elements-conversation/


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