Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Are you addicted to debt?

My latest Addiction and Recovery column.

By Bob Gaydos

The holiday season, with its drumbeat of eat, drink and be merry, holds special challenges for people with addictive tendencies. For some, it’s more like overeat, drink ‘til you’re drunk or spend like you really have the money. Recovery from the less-publicized third leg of that addictive triangle -- compulsive debting -- is the purpose of Debtor’s Anonymous, a 12-step program based on the principles of Alcoholics Anonymous.
A society whose economy is dependent on people borrowing money -- to have the perfect house, the right car, a college education, the newest electronic gadget, lots of gifts under the tree -- is rife with opportunities for some people to borrow money even though they have no means to pay it back. According to Debtor’s Anonymous, “Unsecured debt, which is debt not secured by some form of collateral such as a house or car, becomes an addictive and unmanageable part of their lives. Debting is more than just sensationalized shopping. It can cripple and ruin someone’s life. Debt is like alcohol for the alcoholic, food for the compulsive eater, and gambling for the compulsive gambler.”
If you’re wondering whether your debt is something out of the ordinary, DA offers 15 questions to help you decide:
1. Are your debts making your home life unhappy?
2. Does the pressure of your debts distract you from your daily work?
3. Are your debts affecting your reputation?
4. Do your debts cause you to think less of yourself?
5. Have you ever given false information in order to obtain credit?
6. Have you ever made unrealistic promises to your creditors?
7. Does the pressure of your debts make you careless of the welfare of your family?
8. Do you ever fear that your employer, family or friends will learn the extent of your total indebtedness?
9. When faced with a difficult financial situation, does the prospect of borrowing give you an inordinate feeling of relief?
10. Does the pressure of your debts cause you to have difficulty  sleeping?
11. Has the pressure of your debts ever caused you to consider getting drunk?
12. Have you ever borrowed money without giving adequate consideration to the rate of interest you are required to pay?
13. Do you usually expect a negative response when you are subject to a credit investigation?
14. Have you ever developed a strict regimen for paying off your debts, only to break it under pressure?
15. Do you justify your debts by telling yourself that you are superior to the "other" people, and when you get your "break" you'll be out of debt overnight?
If you answered yes to eight or more of these questions, DA says chances are that you have a problem with compulsive debt, or “are well on your way to having one.”
The good news is, Debtors Anonymous offers hope and help from people who have been there and have learned to deal with the addiction. The suggested approach for a beginner is to record your income and expenses for 30 to 45 days, attend at least six meetings, and make a commitment to the D.A. philosophy.
It is then suggested that you meet with two recovering members of D.A. (usually a man and a woman) in what is called a Pressure Relief Meeting. The goal of the meeting is to review your situation and formulate a spending plan and an action plan. And then, one step at a time, to lessen the chaos, drama, compulsive shopping, frequent borrowing, embarrassment, overwork, and deprivation from your life. Contacting DA could be the best gift of all for the holidays.
In the mid-Hudson, the DA website lists meetings in, among other places, Chester, Kingston, Woodstock and Rhinebeck. There are also telephone and online meetings. For more detailed meeting information, go to the website and use the find-a-meeting tool: http://www.debtorsanonymous.org.
* * *
-- http://www.empirestate.org (serving the Hudson Valley and Catskills region)
-- Debtors Anonymous General Service Office
Toll Free: 800-421-2383
PO Box 920888
Needham, MA 02492-0009
e-mail: office@debtorsanonymous.org

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The healthy shopper II

What does ‘gluten free’ mean for me? 

By Bob Gaydos

       There is an aisle of food products at the ShopRite supermarket in Chester, N.Y., that reaches from one side of the store way over to the other side. In fact, it seems to go on forever. Every item on the shelves is labeled “gluten-free.” Similar sections, some even larger, have sprung up in supermarkets across the country, causing more than one shopper to wonder, “What the heck is gluten?” 
Gluten, which comes from the Latin word for ”glue,” is a protein found in wheat, barley, rye, spelt and other grains. It is used extensively in baking to help dough rise and to give the final product -- bread, cake, muffins, etc. -- shape and chewiness. It is also used in many other food products, medications and vitamin supplements to provide texture and as a stabilizing or binding agent. It can be found in products ranging from imitation meats (Tofurkey) to pasta, beer, pizza, cookies, ice cream and ketchup. It is a staple of most processed foods.
         Until the past couple of years, the phrase “gluten-free’ was familiar (and important) primarily only to the roughly 1 percent of Americans estimated to have celiac disease. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder triggered by eating gluten. It can cause inflammation in the small intestine, leading to stomach pain, bloating, diarrhea and even weight loss. Over time, undiagnosed, it can deprive organs of important nutrients. Celiac disease has no cure, but it can be controlled with a gluten-free diet.
The recent boom in gluten-free products at the supermarket, however, also has a lot to do with concerns about gluten sensitivity and wheat allergy (separate conditions), combined with a desire among more health-conscious consumers to reduce their calorie intake. Products with gluten have been linked to weight gain. This consciousness has been fed by social media sites on the Internet which have given rise to a growing societal interest in eating more healthfully and a concern over genetically modified foods, including wheat. (GMOs will be covered in a later article.)
         Of course, there has been more aggressive marketing by food companies responding to consumer demand. And it’s the marketing that can cause confusion among shoppers. While the Food and Drug Administration does not require gluten to be listed on labels, last year it adopted standards under which companies may voluntarily list their product as “gluten-free.” Lesser-known food companies that were already producing gluten-free foods were quick to respond; larger companies, noting consumer interest (and purchases) began to follow suit. More seem to be doing so every day.
         Since a primary goal of this series is to help eliminate shopper confusion, it should be known at the outset that many foods are gluten-free in their natural form, including meats, poultry, fish, fruits, vegetables, potatoes, rice and beans. Labeling them ‘’gluten free’’ is stating the obvious. There is a slight risk of cross-contamination with beans, since some farmers grow them on the same fields or adjacent to crops that contain gluten. Persons who know they are allergic or sensitive to gluten (confirm this with your doctor), might want to look for products voluntarily labeled gluten-free and be alert for another voluntary statement, “may contain wheat.” 
          But labels, even though they may be truthful, can be deceiving. Whether the intent of avoiding gluten is to avoid symptoms of celiac disease or to lose weight, it’s important for the savvy shopper to be aware of everything that is in the product that’s labeled “gluten-free.” A lot of sodium may be added for “taste,’’ or some unhealthful combination of the sugars listed in the first article in this series may be lurking. There may be chemical additives. It’s also wise to be aware of what is being used instead of gluten to give the product the desired texture. 
         It doesn’t take a long time to read food labels once you’ve made it a practice. Knowing what you’re looking for is key. Beyond that, it’s still a matter of taste and texture. Rice, quinoa and buckwheat are among the foods gaining in popularity with the gluten-free consumer.

Not just gluten
        If you want to read more about wheat and it’s possible effect on weight and health in general, Dr. William Davis has written a best-selling book entitled “Wheat Belly.” It’s available at the usual places On Line.

Next: What exactly is “natural”?