Views on weight loss, worried parents and the Wahine.
Thoughts on overeating, under-resourcing – and a reader’s North & South- inspired career choice.
Last month, North & South featured the coverline, “The End to Overeating: Have NZ scientists finally found a pill that controls hunger?” ( Hungry No More, April). I’m hungry. I’m always hungry. Except when I’ve eaten so much I’m way too full. I’m either hungry or way too full. I don’t really know what it means to be “not hungry”; I do theoretically, of course – just not actually. But is hunger the same as appetite?
In New Zealand in 2006, you could be prescribed the diet drug Reductil. It is now not available. I took it in 2006 for 12 weeks – it took away my hunger. It took away a few of my hungers, actually. But it also took away my appetite. I lost a lot of weight in 2006 – you can read about it online. “Monster to Marathon Man” was the headline on one story about me. I ran a lot; you could say I was hungry for it.
Twelve years later, my hunger is back, and so is my appetite. But Reductil is banned. Have New Zealand scientists finally found a pill that controls hunger? The article is alluring, but it is also a lure.
Hunger is complicated. Of course, it starts from a not very mysterious biological root; anyone who has had to contend with a newborn understands what must be the most pure of appetite expressions. The baby wakes because of hunger – and then the baby screams that need. Its entire little body is wracked with hunger. The baby needs food; nothing else works.
School-aged kids, however, wake up hungry – not because of hunger, just hungry. They have words they can use to explain what will satisfy them. They want to know that you understand what they’re hungry for. Here, “feeding” is not enough. They want to eat something you provide with love. Hunger is more than just a need for feeding – it is more than appetite. It is desire.
This is what drew me to your story: Have New Zealand scientists finally found a pill that controls hunger? The real question is whether these scientists have found a pill that controls desire. They haven’t, of course. What they have done is a nifty little bit of science; they’ve identified a compound that triggers a response in the body. That response, it seems, regulates appetite; it sends a message to your brain that essentially says, “Don’t eat any more right now.” It wears off over some time. The preliminary studies look exciting – it reduced the energy intake in a group of normal blokes by a decent amount. If it did that for me, I’d lose weight.
How many other compounds, how many other pills in the past, have claimed to control hunger? Hundreds, probably. It is elusive, a Holy Grail project for the capitalist-scientists among us. In our world of hyper- everything, a nonchalant looking “plant-based” pill that will enable you to shed the pounds without any work is a money press.
I’ve signed up for the updates. There’s no way I won’t spend $59.99 per month to at least try this thing that might control my hunger. Maybe you should try it, too? But when you do, remember hunger is not appetite. Appetite is what babies are expressing in their anguished cry – the cry that fades to joy on application of the teat. Your hunger is a thought process, mediated through language. Controlling that is a different thing altogether. DR ANDREW DICKSON, SENIOR LECTURER, MASSEY BUSINESS SCHOOL *LETTER OF THE MONTH
THE WHY OF WEIGHT
Alison Smith charting her weightloss surgery journey raised several questions for me and no doubt for other readers ( Losing It, April; Why I Went Under the Knife to Lose Weight, NOTED.CO.NZ). The most obvious is, why is she overeating in the first instance? Will she stop overeating after her surgery? After reading her account, I doubt it very much. When it was time for her surgery, she couldn’t even control her urge not to drink water, admitting to “covert sips of water when no one was looking as waiting is thirsty work”! The anaesthetist would have been appalled that she was so reckless – there are good reasons why patient are “nil by mouth”
before a general anaesthetic.
Smith states that “absolutely everything possible is done to ensure the operation and the post-op recovery goes as smoothly as it can”. Except she sabotages the [doctors’] efforts by admitting, “I did cheat a bit.” She had a few boiled eggs and a little cheese, which probably means a lot of boiled eggs and cheese and, yes, it did come back to bite her later on. She’d been given the information about why she needed to lose weight pre-surgery and how to prepare for her operation. This was so her liver did not get in the way of her stomach surgery. She didn’t seem to care that her “boiled eggs and cheese” was going to jeopardise this.
She cheated before her surgery, so she is going to keep cheating after her surgery. Her first meal after the operation was fettuccine carbonara, puréed. Bacon, cream and cheese! Her food choices are appalling for someone who has undergone banding. Creamed spinach, bacon sauce, mash with melted cheese... Did Smith read the dietitian’s notes? It appears not. Once again, she says, “I know with certainty I will lose 40kg unless I eat sweet and fatty things all day.” Everything she has eaten so far, I believe, would be considered fatty.
Having seen a number of people struggling with their weight, and surgery, to overcome the same, I believe tiny portions are never going to be a pleasure for Smith until she has dealt with why she needs to overeat. BRENDA BARNES, AUCKLAND “I wrote the article to assist people who were in the same situation that I’d been in. I deliberately gave details of all the mistakes I had made during the process, to show that I am only human. Perhaps I overdid that a little, so the good decisions I’d also made were not so apparent. Any choice to have weight loss surgery (in this case a gastric sleeve procedure) is a very personal one and it is impossible to set out every single reason for why any of us does the things we do. I can say that since I had the surgery, I have lost 3-4kg each month, and my surgeon is satisfied I am right on track. If it’s any consolation to the writer, I do have at least five servings of fruit and vegetables every day! Also, if the details of my journey have clarified for just one person what their own actions should be in the face of obesity, I am content.” – Alison Smith
I was interested to read the firstperson account of bariatric surgery and its aftermath. Will you be doing a follow-up piece about someone who has been living with their new reality for a few years? From what I understand, there are some real mental health issues at about the 18-month mark as the reality that this is the permanent state of being hits home. Also, I’d be interested to hear about how the new, slimmer version of the person experiences changes in their personal relationships, and how they negotiate social occasions and celebrations where food is the centrepiece. Do they experience pressure to consume in the same way that a person who is alcohol-free experiences pressure to drink, and how do they negotiate those social pressures? J. WALTERS, NELSON
The story of the Wahine sinking was interesting and did justice for some ( 50 Years On: Wahine Remembered, April). Fifty- one people died and 684 were saved. For a roll- on/roll- off vessel, it’s amazing the loss was not greater. This was because of the actions of the ship’s crew. Cooks, stewards, seamen, engineers, deck officers and the captain all did what they were trained to do. Their professionalism kept distressed passengers fed, warm and comfortable, and children accounted for. The stewards kept passenger areas clean and continually checked cabins. They were totally committed to passenger welfare throughout their ordeal.
Seven crew paid with their lives, including one who was travelling to his job as bosun of the Aramoana. He lost his life taking care of children. Those who drowned that day were: Howard Hounsell (engine room), Christopher Morrah (assistant purser), George
Murphy (steward), John Ross ( pantry man), Laurie Sayers (crew guest), Samuel Symons (motorman) and Robin Udall (steward).
We will mourn the loss when we gather in Wellington on April 10. In other countries, there would be a plaque naming the crew who lost their lives doing their jobs. Dunedin’s Northern Cemetery has a monument to the stewardesses from that city who lost their lives on the Wairarapa [which sank off Great Barrier Island in 1894]. It is high time Wellington paid those valiant men of the Wahine the same respect. GERRY HILL, WANAKA
SPECIAL EDUCATION REVISITED
I spent a career as a psychologist and academic in the complex field of special education and it has left me with some hard-won conclusions ( The Curious Incident of the Boy in the Headlines, March; and on NOTED. co.nz). First up, parents, teachers and schools either believe in the inclusion of students with special needs or they do not. This belief and commitment is secondary to ( but does not deny) the importance of resourcing. It does, however, stand in contrast to strategies that separate and stigmatise children, such as streaming, special units, intelligence testing, diagnosis and marooning kids in classrooms with excessive teacher aide support.
I worked with some wonderful principals and teachers who welcomed students with additional needs (the so- called “magnet” schools), and I also suffered alongside parents at other schools where principals blatantly made enrolment conditional on extra resourcing from the Ministry of Education [MOE].
The second point is that successful inclusion is typically dependent on a teacher and parent collaboration. Needs-based assessment and individual education planning can be extraordinarily powerful methodologies, but they rely on both parents and schools stepping up. Where there are behavioural difficulties, parents and caregivers do need to be prepared to look at their own management practices as the power of parents to influence children, relative to teachers, is overwhelming. In this country, we are fortunate that the MOE and other providers have supported the evidence-based Incredible Years parent programme and, in essence, what works for “regular” kids is equally applicable to children with more challenging behaviour.
Picking on the MOE is almost as popular a pastime as knocking the old CYPFS. However, the MOE doesn’t do itself any favours with its own ambivalence about inclusion. Ironically, the MOE is also unsure about the place of knowledge and expertise in special education and regularly employs resource teachers and “advisors” in place of fully qualified psychologists. Again, this is not an irrelevant point in an endeavour as complex and demanding as responding to students with special education needs. DR PETER STANLEY, TAURANGA
I read with interest How Not to Retire (March). I retired last year, and can relate to the retirees who feel at a bit of a loose end, and those who would prefer to stay in the paid workforce.
I came across a solution that really suits me and satisfies my need for a bit of structure in my life. It also allows me to meet a lot of wonderful people and have the opportunity to give a little back to society. I give a few hours of my time to our local hospice shop as a volunteer. We’re all just ordinary people, not one “sanctimonious do-gooder” in sight.
Volunteers are the backbone of New Zealand charities, and although I consider my own contribution to be fairly meagre, I feel truly appreciated. ELAINE ELLIS, RICHMOND
Your lead story in the March issue presents two sides of the story in David Bain: Innocent or Guilty [search “David Bain” at NOTED.CO.NZ]. It also fairly suggests the case split the country down the middle. Most cases do because everyone has an opinion, not necessarily based on facts.
The main reason there is such debate about this case is because the police blew the investigation from the moment they arrived. Of course they should have tested for gunpowder residue on everyone. Not just David. Gunshot investigation 101. This would have helped lead to the best scenario of what happened in this tragedy.
One theory that fits all the known facts is that Robin, for whatever reason, got up and began shooting his family, but in his state of mind, forgot David wasn’t home. He was on his paper round. When David returned, he was immediately confronted by his father, intent on shooting him, too. A fight ensued, in which Robin was fatally shot. David, who had been ambushed but escaped his own demise, was then confronted with a dead father and, on discovering the rest of his family, panicked.
He may have reasoned that being the only one left standing, he was likely to cop the blame. He cleaned up as best he could – washing items, arranging his father’s body to look like suicide and taking 25 minutes before he rang 111. Because of this irrational behaviour, his ability to claim selfdefence was gone – although he probably didn’t know it at the time. REX WORTHINGTON, FORMER DETECTIVE SERGEANT, NZ POLICE, AUCKLAND
SPOT THE DIFFERENCE
Regarding the Bain case, could someone explain to me how David’s “rape fantasy story” (which he apparently related to a fellow student at college, explaining how his paper round could be used as an alibi) was considered inadmissible by the judge, while the so- called “incestuous relationship” between
“The police blew the (Bain) investigation from the moment they arrived. Of course they should have tested for gunpowder residue on everyone. Not just David.” REX WORTHINGTON
Robin Bain and his daughter Laniet, based on hearsay and rumour, was presented in court as fact? GARRY CONNOR, OTAKI
The efforts of your journalists to rake over old criminal court cases seems to be a favourite hobby of North & South ( David Bain: Expert Evidence, March). The criminal justice system is the same here as in most Western countries, except we generously pay our criminals’ lawyers to appeal their [cases] and, if successful in overturning the previous judicial conviction, the litigants may get a generous payout.why North & South would think our justice system is worse than any other country in the Western world beggars belief.
The suggested Criminal Cases Review Commission would only add to the appeals process and to an already bloated justice system, with more money being spent on retired judges and high-priced barristers and less available for the truly deprived – to reduce poverty, for instance, or improve the health and education systems in New Zealand. BRUCE WOODLEY, AUCKLAND
LIFE- AND DEATHCHANGING
In August 2003, at the age of 20, I picked up a copy of North & South and flicked through an article about the funeral industry and what goes on behind the scenes when someone you love passes away. I was absolutely fascinated – and 15 years later can say that article inspired my career. I’m now a qualified funeral director and embalmer, and I’m back working at the firm where I completed my apprenticeship.
Funeral work is very much a way of life. In my time as an undertaker, I’ve experienced a vast array of situations, including directing a sea burial and operating a crematorium. I’ve gained diplomas in both funeral directing and embalming; written articles for Funeral Care magazine; trained junior staff; and attended police call-outs for sudden deaths, including suicide, murder, accidents and infant death. It has been a varied, colourful career, one in which I’ve made both fond and gut-wrenching memories.
If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you, and I’m a firm believer in putting yourself outside your comfort zone. The funeral industry certainly offers those opportunities. My career hasn’t been without its challenges, as I experienced difficulty being taken seriously as a young woman in a largely maledominated industry. I took time off to start a family, and found the on-call nature of the funeral business extremely difficult while trying to juggle motherhood and work.
I also experienced personal loss, with the death of my lovely mum a little over a year ago. It was a challenge to step down from my directing role and allow myself to be the client; it gave me a fresh perspective on the invaluable service we provide in guiding families through such an emotional time.
I encourage anyone who has an interest in the industry to get involved. Life is short, and we know that all too well. OLIVIA MARTYN-RIDLER, CHRISTCHURCH
Peta Carey’s article Birds in the Hand – and the Bush (February) got to the heart of the predation of our native birds. What we must do, by fair or foul means, is exterminate all mice, rats and stoats from our offshore islands. The late Sir Paul Callaghan was right on the money when he described a predator-free New Zealand as “our Apollo project”.
My parents were so enamoured of native birds, they named one of their racehorses “Saddleback”. I’ve been endeavouring, so far without success, to convince Radio New Zealand to include the long- extinct huia’s song in Morning Report’s collection of bird calls. As Carey points out, both North and South Island saddlebacks are of the same genus as the huia; the clue is their distinctive tear drop-shaped wattle. BRIAN COLLINS, WELLINGTON
Olivia Martyn-ridler (right) says her rewarding career as a funeral director was sparked by reading this North & South story in 2003.