The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a recall for some Sportmix pet food products, following the deaths of at least 28 dogs after eating the food. So far, there are concerns over the safety of nine total lots of cat and dog foods manufactured by Midwest Pet Food, Inc. for potentially fatal levels of a toxin. The affected products were distributed to online retailers and stores nationwide. Here’s what to know about the recall, and how to keep your pet safe.
Why is the food being recalled?
Midwestern Pet Food, Inc. announced the recall on December 30, 2020, after the FDA was informed of the deaths of at least 28 dogs, as well as eight that have fallen ill after eating the recalled Sportmix pet food. At this point, there have been no reports of feline illnesses or fatalities.
The Missouri Department of Agriculture tested numerous samples of the food, and found them to contain very high levels of aflatoxin—a toxin produced by the mold Aspergillus flavus. When present at high levels (which is possible even if there is no visible mold) it can cause illness and death in pets.
The FDA is still investigating the situation, including conducting follow-up activities at the manufacturing facility. Today, the agency issued a public advisory regarding all the products involved to make sure people don’t feed the potentially toxic food—which may have been purchased a few weeks ago and is still sitting on their shelves—to their pets.
Jaundice (yellowish tint to the eyes, gums or skin due to liver damage)
Because cats and dogs don’t tend to have much variety in their diets, when they eat food containing aflatoxin, it can build up over time, in some cases causing long-term liver issues and/or death. It’s also important to note that some animals suffer liver damage without showing any symptoms, so even if your pets seems to be OK, if it has been eating any of the recalled products, contact their veterinarians.
Currently, there is no evidence that humans who handle products containing the toxic mold are at risk of poisoning, but the FDA recommends washing your hands after touching it.
Which pets foods are involved in the recall?
The FDA says that it will be continuing to update their advisory if/when other products are found to contain the toxic mold, but for now, here are Midwestern Pet Food, Inc. products that are part of the recall:
Sportmix Energy Plus, 50 lb. bagExp 03/02/22/05/L2Exp 03/02/22/05/L3Exp 03/03/22/05/L2
Sportmix Energy Plus, 44 lb. bagExp 03/02/22/05/L3Sportmix Premium High Energy, 50 lb. bagExp 03/03/22/05/L3
Sportmix Premium High Energy, 44 lb. bagExp 03/03/22/05/L3Sportmix Original Cat, 31 lb. bag Exp 03/03/22/05/L3
Sportmix Original Cat, 15 lb. bagExp 03/03/22/05/L2Exp 03/03/22/05/L3
Lot code information may be found on the back of bag and will appear in a three-line code, with the top line in format “EXP 03/03/22/05/L#/B###/HH:MM.”
What to do if you’ve purchased recalled pet food
If your pet looks or acts sick after eating these products, call your veterinarian right away. Bring your pet’s full diet history to your vet, along with photos of the labels (including lot numbers) of the food that you suspect made them ill.
Of course, don’t feed the recalled foods to your pets. If you’re not sure how to dispose of the food, contact the company listed on the package for further instructions, or throw it away in a way that ensures children, pets, and wildlife cannot access them. Finally, sanitize your pet’s food bowls, scoops and storage containers using bleach, rinsing well afterwards with water, and drying thoroughly, the FDA recommends.
How to report a suspected case of aflatoxin poisoning to the FDA
If you suspect your pet has been poisoned by the recalled food, it’s a good idea to report that to the FDA. You can do that electronically through the FDA’s Safety Reporting Portal or by calling your state’s FDA Consumer Complaint Coordinators. If possible, the FDA says that it’s most helpful if you can work with your veterinarian to submit your pet’s medical records as part of your report. More information on lodging complaint to the FDA can be found on their website, specifically: How to Report a Pet Food Complaint.
After the past year’s wall-to-wall cavalcade of death and dreck, it’s not a surprise to see a lot of folks stepping into 2021 with what can best be described as “modest expectations” for the world writ large and their Capacity To Deal with whatever it throws their way. This is the year that we’ve seen people finally embracing the sorts of incremental self-improvements that skew bite-sized and boring, while others have suggested just shrugging off the yearly challenges we typically set for ourselves on January 1.
Personally, I couldn’t be more relieved. This kind of mass permission to just… chill out for once is kind of a radical idea, especially if you count yourself among the vastmajority of New Year’s resolution-ers that fizzle on their way-too-lofty goals after a few short weeks. If you are, you might be familiar with the looming sense of “ugh” that accompanies a set of expectations you can’t possibly reach on your own.
And if you’re really unlucky, then that exact sense of personal failure will stalk you through targeted ads, everywhere, indefinitely.
Specifically, you also likely need to be a cis woman, and you need to have any sort of interest that can broadly fall under the “weight” or “weight loss” umbrella. Talk to anyone that ticks those two objectively broad boxes, and there’s a pretty good chance that they’ll be pelted across the internet with ads promoting new healthcare apps or supplements that all promise to make your supposedly gross body less gross. And nobody really seems to be safe: The ads find their way to plus-sized Instagrammers and gaggles of preteens on TikTok. If it weren’t for a pair of ubiquitous pj’s, the biggest mystery in my inbox this week would be how… disturbingly prevalent these ads are.
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While I can’t tell you if this is some kind of cosmic prank against women as a whole, I can tell you that pool of unfortunate ladies is about to get a whole lot bigger. Buried under the pleas to take it easy on the expectations we all have for ourselves this coming year, we’re also seeing survey after survey after survey unanimously pointing to a U.S. consumer that might want to kick back and relax but still wants to exercise more and lose a bit of lockdown pudge in 2021.
If you’re in the business of targeting ads for a new, hip, totally-not-a-scam diet product, these are the kinds of audience you’re likely going after: one that’s not only going to click on your (again, not-a-scam) product, but one that won’t be bummed out by seeing it on their screen. At least, not at first. A good chunk of these resolution-ers will probably end up throwing in the towel early on, but the data from their fitness apps and wearable devices will keep persisting regardless, meaning that data will still keep being flagged for wellness and fitness brands looking to advertise their goods on every platform—even if you’ve reached a point where seeing those ads makes you want to burrow into a den of self-loathing and empty pints of ice cream.
When you can’t escape a certain category of ads no matter what platform you’re on, generally there are two things you should know. A) there’s a ton of money being spent somewhere behind the scenes, and B) there’s a chance that money isn’t being spent wisely.
In short, advertisers aren’t specifically stalking you to make you feel bad about your failed resolutions. In fact, they likely have no idea it’s happening at all.
The Making-You-Feel-Shitty Industrial Complex
Let’s start with a brief breakdown of the $4.2 trillion dollar market that brought these ads into being in the first place. In general, the detox teas and diet pills that are the scourge of Instagram’s ad networks fall under the purview of the “wellness industry,” a dizzyingly broad term that encompasses, as the name suggests, anything that’s marketed to make you feel “well”—think acai bowls, meditation apps, and anything “athletisure.” The flu meds in my medicine cabinet aren’t products of the wellness industry, but the pricey “beauty vitamins” that I bought from my local Sephora definitely are.
In spite of the widespread economic collapse that accompanied the surge of covid-19 across the country, all signs point to everything “well” bouncing back stronger than before. And why wouldn’t it? One recent Vanity Fair piece pointed out that being caught in the eye of a global pandemic will naturally get you thinking about your health more than you would otherwise. Plus, a staggering number of people jobless and uninsured. If Zoom yoga classes and at-home elliptical bikes promise even a brief bit of (semi-affordable) solace, I promise that’s better than being stuck in a month-long state of inertia.
Because “wellness” is such an amorphous term that encompasses healthcare, beauty, and anything CBD-adjacent, it can be tricky to estimate how much marketers are paying in order to target people with these products. A recent Digiday report quoted that the “health and beauty industry”—which encompasses weight loss and weight gain aids, vitamins, and more—is set to drop $1.5 billion dollars on advertising this year, which is a $300 million dollar drop from the figures put down in 2019. Sifting through the data though, marketers promoting “nutritional supplements” were immune from the dip.
Anyone who’s seen their share of supplement ads littering their Instagram feeds can tell you the line between an ad for a generic jar of pills and an ad for a generic jar of pills with weight-loss properties is moderately fuzzy at best. The biggest difference, at least as far as ad targeting is concerned, is that one suggests you’re interested in the nebulous concept of “being healthy,” while you could infer that the second ad was microtargeted towards audiences that are, perhaps, deeply unhappy with the way their body looks.
But how could an ad know that?
The Data Our Diets Leave Behind
I should preface all this with a disclaimer: If you’re reading this in order to figure out why you were targeted on your account with any specific shitty diet ad, this isn’t the place for that.
There’s an infamous quote from the late Senator Ted Stevens about the internet being a “series of tubes,” but that phrase actually perfectly describes the way digital advertising works. Imagine that one 3D pipe screensaver that everyone had back in the ‘90s, but picture one pipe representing each of the more than 8,000 companies underlying the adtech sphere. Data from our devices gets sucked up at one end, and the ad dollars that some anonymous player shoved into that (rapidly growing!) rat’s nest cause a targeted ad to be plunked out the other hole. Companies like Facebook have offered a tiny peek into the “ad preferences” that dictate why you’re targeted with certain ads across its properties, but even at the best of times, the explanations skew kinda vague.
Instead, sometimes the best way to approach these sorts of stories is to hunt down the shady broker or middleman that’s making bank off of this diet-related data. And I do mean bank: Come January 1, you have not only the Whole Foods and Sweetgreen’s of the world looking to reach the wallets of folks embracing the “new year, new me” lifestyle, but you also have the (slowly reopening) gyms and studios looking to reach potential members before the inevitable fall off the wagon. You have companies marketing overpriced sneakers or sports bras, looking to figure out who in their right mind would drop $150 dollars plus on a pair of running shoes before they inevitably collect dust somewhere at the bottom of their closet.
In the brief time I’ve been blessed with the task of researching that aforementioned rat’s nest of trackers, targeters, and Scrooge McDuck-esque piles of cash, I learned that this dizzying scale comes with a silver lining: data brokers need to brag to be heard. Someone with a grip on this particularly profitable health-conscious audience isn’t going to keep that quiet.
After about an hour of snooping, I was able to track down more than a dozen data companies that promoted reaching resolution-makers in one of two ways. In some cases, bundles were marketed for the brands looking to target resolution-makers specifically. Other companies went more general, pitching targeting capabilities for health- and fitness-centric audiences that could be reused year-round. The one thing these players generally won’t brag about is where they’re pulling this data from—but after a few late nights and at least one good rage-cry in my home office, I was able to piece together some of the data sources they’re pulling from. We’ll be following up with a full breakdown on how that works, but since there’s only so much adtech one can read about in a single sitting, let’s get some of the main points out of the way first.
The biggest takeaway here (at least from my POV) is that even the most benign data that our phones leak out can ultimately be twisted into something sinister by a player with enough resources. Here’s an example: The adtech company Inmobi put out a blog toward the end of last year breaking down a rough picture of the type of consumer that was prone to download a popular fitness app to manage their 2020 fitness goals. This consumer, Inmobi explained, was probably female, probably had a mid- to- good-ish salary, and was somewhere between her mid-twenties and mid-forties. She was probably white, married, and living in a state with good running weather, like Florida or California.
Inmobi didn’t have any data that was explicitly resolution-centric, but it had tons of data on gymgoers and wellness buffs that was being promoted for the New Year just the same. Some of these personas are whipped up using Inmobi’s native polling platform, Pulse, that lets partners poll app-users market-research style—but the beating heart of this operation is the company’s software development kit, or SDK. There’s been a ton written on this specific branch of ad-targeting tech, but just to recap: App publishers onboard these tools in order to monetize their product. And from an app developer’s (and Inmobi’s) standpoint, the name of the game here is hoovering up as much data as possible, since well-targeted ads tend to earn these devs a higher payout. And when there are estimated to be more than 11,000 apps—including more than a fair share of fitness apps—within Inmobi’s network, it’s not hard to imagine this company having a pretty clear picture of what the average health enthusiast tends to download, where they go to the gym, and where they buy groceries.
The issue here (at least as far as Apple and Google concerned) is that while Inmobi can give a good picture of the type of person downloading fitness apps for the new year, it can’t always reliably track whether that app user gave up and deleted the app. This hasn’t stopped a ton of major adtech players (including Facebook) from trying to get that data through a well-known loophole in the iOS push notification system. As Bloomberg reported back in 2018, Apple lets app developers deliver silent push notifications so they can, say, issue an app update without needlessly pinging the person who downloaded it. It turns out that Google’s hardware can do the same.
What these ad companies figured out, to Apple and Google’s chagrin, is that by jerry-rigging an app to regularly run these notifications—and tracking if they fail to be delivered—they could estimate whether a certain app was uninstalled.
The issues here are twofold. First, I think everyone can agree that push notifications kind of suck, and the mute button is never a bad idea. But when you mute those notifications, it turns out that these silent pings are blocked as well. I’m pretty sure I have notifications muted for just about every app on my phone, which means that to these companies, I just love downloading apps only to delete them immediately (I promise I don’t).
The second wrinkle is that this entire premise very obviously violates Apple’s review guidelines for app developers. Using these pings to traffic “advertising, promotions, or direct marketing purposes,” as Apple puts it, is an easy way to get your app blacklisted from its network. But that doesn’t mean devs aren’t still doing it.
Of course, this approach also doesn’t take into account the apps that we all download but pretty much ignore until we want to free up some space—something that I’m admittedly extremely guilty of. My fellow app hoarders can probably attest to the fact that downloading a fitness app and being tagged as a “fitness enthusiast” are two very different things.
Part of the reason that companies like Inmobi like to hoover up as much data as possible is because—as wild as it sounds—data targeting isn’t always that accurate. Cross-referencing whether someone, say, downloaded a fitness app and also walked into a gym recently is a way to “check their work” in a certain sense. But even this isn’t perfect; when the major data broker Dstillery promises its partners that it has an eye on folks that are promising to get fit for the new year, that’s an insight that largely relies on the people stepping foot into gyms in the first place.
I’m gonna let you in on a little secret here: geolocation data isn’t always that great either, and even data-hoovering giants like Google have been known to flub things on this front from time to time. How does a company really know that I walked by the front door of a SoulCycle in my neighborhood, but didn’t actually stop inside? Retailers can circumvent this sort of issue with some stealthily placed bluetooth beacons that pretty much watch every aisle you walk down, but from what I can tell, gyms haven’t really gotten on board with the concept of a beacon-laden workout. Plus, for now, a lot of people still aren’t able to actually go to a gym thanks to this pesky pandemic.
The answer to any adtech quandary is always just to collect more data: Oracle’s grab bag of new year resolution-ers is one that’s partially based on your point-of-sale data—people that buy a ton of kale and a Peloton bike get flagged as resolving to lose weight, for example. But I know a ton of folks—myself included—that are guilty of binging on workout gear that they use maybe once or twice, total. I try to go running semi-frequently, which means that I have a pretty sizable stock of leggings, sweatpants, and other sorts of workout sundry. But at the start of the pandemic, I became the kind of person who used this gear less for working out, and more for hours-long reality TV binge sessions.
Sure, marketers could try to pull more data from more sources to try to discern which kind of leggings-wearer I actually am, but that’s kind of missing the point.
Sure, marketers could try to pull more data from more sources to try to discern which kind of leggings-wearer I actually am, but that’s kind of missing the point. For all of the garbage that 2020 threw our way, I think we can leave with the knowledge that this was the year consumers finally got the big tech companies to care about their creepy practices. In the coming year, adtech players are going to see some degree of data throttling thanks to the upcoming changes to Apple’s hardware and—fingers crossed—Google’s cookie crackdown in its own browsers. Researchers and reporters have come up with their own tools to tamper down tracking as well.
After enough red flags, the adtech industry started to care too, at least sort of. They came up with new ways to word some of their more invasive practices, or started pitching new sources of data that would either be less impacted by the landscape’s shift or wouldn’t be hurt at all. Whenever I confronted them about how utterly scummy they were being for the sake of the bottom line, they told me that in spite of literally all evidence to the contrary, consumers actually prefer personalized ads, or that they aren’t smart enough to actually know what they want. And what they want, apparently, is to be targeted with ads that make them feel like an utter failure.
You learn a lot of things about yourself during a pandemic, and in my case, that meant grappling with the fact that there’s only so much grief I can comprehend before any empathy I might have had starts to blur into something less crushing. More eloquent reporters have pointed out that, in fact, I wasn’t alone, and that the entire country was going through a “crisis of imagination.” Tech reporters might also call it a crisis of scale—and one that, as we’ve seen just every time before—that seems largely ignored for the sake of profit.
While I can’t promise that I’ll be any more empathic in 2021, my own tiny resolution is to at least try listening more. For its own sake, I hope the data industry does the same.
Now, of course, all those ideas have been adopted at clubs of far greater scale, of far richer history. Where Midtjylland has gone, Europe has generally followed. Danish academies train every day. The vast majority of teams across Europe are committing vast resources to building teams of analysts and statisticians and physicists. Thomas Gronnemark, the throw-in coach, now works for Liverpool.
That is the fate of the pioneer, of course: Once the trail has been blazed, everyone and anyone is free to follow it. Ideas forged in Herning have been adopted and adapted and occasionally lifted wholesale. All Midtjylland can do is what it has always done: try, once again, to see what the future looks like, so that everyone else might, once again, follow.
In the days after the death of Diego Maradona, Ankersen found himself — like so many others — trawling through grainy footage of the maestro at work. He would not have been alone in noticing that Maradona seemed to be a Technicolor player in a black-and-white world. “In those clips from the ’80s and ’90s, the game seems so slow,” he said.
What is important, though, is that it did not seem that way at the time. “The coaches would have said that they could not train more, that they could not make the players get thinner or more athletic,” he said. It is a reminder, to him, of a kind of end-of-history illusion: how easily the current version of something — soccer, in this case — is assumed to be final, complete.
Awareness of that illusion is baked into everything Midtjylland does. “The first thing you have to remember is that success now does not mean success in the future,” said Berg, the head of analysis. “We try to be innovative, but it is fundamental that you have to stay curious.”
The newest dietary guidelines from the U.S. federal government are out, and there are some surprising omissions. While the guidelines continue to emphasize the value of a balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables, they don’t recommend that American men substantially cut down on alcohol—contrary to the advice provided by outside experts commissioned by the government earlier this year.
The U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans are updated every five years and are meant to reflect the current scientific consensus on nutrition. Though they’re obviously only recommendations, they do shape federal policies and programs focused on nutrition, such as school meal programs, as well as influence the food and restaurant industry at large.
As part of the updating process, the government brings together a panel of outside advisors to go over the latest nutrition research and suggest any changes if needed. In July, their draft report was released. Among other things, the panel called for a clear change on how much alcohol men should drink. They asked for the guidelines to recommend that men drink no more than one alcoholic beverage a day on days they do drink, down from the previous cap of 2 drinks a day. Women, as before, would be recommended to keep it to one drink a day as well. Now, that doesn’t mean it’s fine to have one drink every day, just that you should limit yourself to one on days you do drink (which is hopefully not every day).
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This change was meant to acknowledge the growing research showing that even light alcohol use isn’t as safe as widely believed and to encourage Americans to cut down on drinking if possible, the report’s authors said at the time. Alcohol contributes to fatal car accidents, raises the risk of cancer, liver and heart disease, and can affect cognition.
The final version of the guidelines, released Tuesday, do include other changes suggested by the panel, such as touting the nutritional benefits of breastfeeding and recommending pregnant women eat seafood that’s rich in omega-3 fatty acids and low in mercury. They also contain language stating that the “evidence supports limiting intakes of added sugars and alcoholic beverages to promote health and prevent disease.” But they explicitly do not endorse the recommended changes to lower alcohol consumption as well as added sugars, arguing that the “evidence reviewed since the 2015-2020 edition does not substantiate quantitative changes at this time.”
The dietary guidelines are the result of a collaborative effort between the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Human and Health Services. Throughout the now-ending Trump administration, both federal agencies have been accused by outside scientists and lawmakers of eroding science-based policies as well as silencing and punishing officials who disagreed with the White House. At least some nutrition experts aren’t too pleased with the language now stripped from the dietary guidelines.
“Despite repeated claims that the guidelines are science-based, the Trump agencies ignored the recommendation of the scientific committee they had appointed, and instead reverted to the recommendation of the previous guidelines,” Marion Nestle, a nutrition scientist and well-known author, told the New York Times.
Just because the new guidelines don’t tell us to limit our booze, though, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t cut down a little. After all, a large global study in 2018 concluded that there is no safe level of alcohol consumption. At least a quarter of American adults engaged in binge drinking last year, while 14 million Americans are thought to have alcohol use disorder. Overall, alcohol is estimated to kill about 95,000 Americans a year, making it the second deadliest drug behind tobacco.
In theory, New Year’s resolutions should make your life less stressful, or at least give you a means to address things about your life you’d like to change. In reality, however, a lofty New Year’s resolution can often loom over you, forming a nagging reminder of your supposed failure to reinvent yourself just because another 365 days have passed.
This year New Year’s, I say screw all that. Twenty-twenty was colored by economic collapse, political fractiousness, civil unrest, and a raging pandemic that’s still spreading throughout the country. Why start 2021 by voluntarily subjecting yourself to stress, especially when the world around you is offering you so little respite from it?
The only kinds of resolutions you should make for 2021 are stress-free ones. Here’s how to set New Year’s resolutions without getting overwhelmed by stress.
Makes sure your goals are actually achievable
We’d all like to emerge like a phoenix from the ashes of 2020 with a bunch of new skills and hobbies, but life doesn’t work like that. If you’re trying to achieve something new, make sure your goal is actually manageable. Are you going to go from not running at all to running a 5K every day, or even every couple days? No, you’re not. So why leave yourself with a mountain to climb?
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The mental health website VeryWellMind suggests setting SMART goals (the acronym stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound).
When it comes to the popular New Year’s resolution of weight loss, the site conveys how a SMART goal orientation might apply:
I will lose one pound each week until I reach XXX pounds in eight months.
I will lose six pounds a month until I reach XXX pounds in one year.
Understanding that a resolution isn’t achieved in January but over the course of a year will help you temper your expectations.
Track your progress
No change comes overnight, so tracking how you chip away at a goal will help you put things in perspective. Putting something into writing will help you internalize and respect the process. Patience is key, being that surveys show how 80 percent of New Year’s resolutions fail, likely owing to people’s fickle attitudes and fluctuating discipline.
Plus, charting your progress—whether you’re cutting back on smoking, trying to lose weight, or read more—will help you understand how far you’ve come, even if your ultimate goal seems far down the line.
Take it step by step
You’re not going to completely overhaul your imperfections in one-fell swoop. That’s why it’s probably a wise choice to tackle one issue at a time. Usually, people want to address the large, life-defining issues they may feel have held them back, such as curbing alcohol consumption. Adjusting behaviors that have been engrained for years is an onerous task, and taking things incrementally is the way to go.
Remember, it is not the extent of the change that matters, but rather the act of recognizing that lifestyle change is important and working toward it, one step at a time.
New Year’s resolutions get abandoned so quickly because they’re usually hard to carry out. That’s why you should pause and take stock of some of the bigger leaps you take towards achieving your goal. If you’re trying to eat healthier, don’t celebrate with a piece of cake, but definitely do something to acknowledge the progress you’ve made.
Understand that setbacks happen
Nobody makes a longterm commitment to changing their behavior without hiccups and bumps in the road. You have to keep in mind that whatever you’re trying to change will likely experience some difficulties. If anything derails you, stay the course, and don’t be shy about seeking help from those close to you.
The APA acknowledges just how common setbacks are in these situations:
Perfection is unattainable. Remember that minor missteps when reaching your goals are completely normal and OK. Don’t give up completely because you ate a brownie and broke your diet, or skipped the gym for a week because you were busy. Everyone has ups and downs; resolve to recover from your mistakes and get back on track.
Even if you manage to hit half of a New Year’s resolution, you’ll still be doing better than if you proclaimed a grandiose goal at the start of the year and abandoned it after your first setback.
Resolutions are overrated, and we all know it. Even if you enjoy making lofty goals for the new year, simply declaring a resolution is not the same as making a plan to get there. But you know what? You don’t have to do that, either. This year, make a resolution that is small and boring as hell.
After all, 2020 has been hard enough, and we don’t know what 2021 will bring. You don’t have to overhaul your life; just pick one thing that will constitute a small improvement. If you stick with that, you’ll be far better off than if you launch and abandon a grand self-improvement plan.
For example: One year, our editor-in-chief Alice Bradley resolved to make her bed every morning. She says that not only was it her favorite resolution she’s made over the years, but she’s kept going with it ever since. “These little things actually make a big difference in your quality of life,” she adds.
We’re talking something like “eat more fruit.” You’re not transforming your diet, you’re just going to have an apple a day. Or “keep my desk neat.” Not your whole house, just your desk. In other words, we’re looking for something that is not only easy to do, but also completely uninspiring. Something that does not tempt you to brag on social media. Something that appeals to no audience but yourself.
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For me, it’s going to be curls. Every gym bro does bicep curls, but I just kind of keep forgetting. Curls will not transform my body or my life, but they’ll contribute to making me stronger and I’ve heard they’re good for the elbows. And so, for 2020, it is time to add this single, boring, easy exercise to my routine once or twice a week.
One of the 2020 holiday season’s most surprising holiday gifts is an unexpected glimpse into the past.
Archaeologists working to uncover ancient Rome’s lost city of Pompeii made a stunning find at the “Regio V” dig site: A largely intact thermopolium, or what is essentially a street food stand. Complete with elaborate frescos, graffiti scrawls, traces of ancient food, and human remains.
It’s been described as quite a find. Archaeological discoveries don’t often pop with as much vibrant color and detail as you see here, and the fact that most of the stand remains intact makes the discovery that much more exciting.
“As well as being another insight into the daily life at Pompeii, the possibilities for study of this Thermopolium are exceptional, because for the first time an area of this type has been excavated in its entirety, and it has been possible to carry out all the analyses that today’s technology permits.”
That’s Massimo Osanna, interim director generation of the Archaeological Park of Pompeii, in a statement shared on the Pompeii Sites website that tracks ongoing efforts to investigate the ancient city. Osanna added that further investigation of food containers found with the stand “are expected to yield exceptional data for informing an understanding of what was sold and what the diet was like.”
For anyone who isn’t familiar with the history here, the ancient city of Pompeii was destroyed following the eruption of the Mount Vesuvius volcano in roughly 79 AD. The city was completely buried beneath 10 to 20 feet of volcanic ash and pumice. There was a not-very-good movie about it in 2014.
A full view of the food stand. You can clearly see in this pulled out perspective just how much remains intact. That’s why this is considered such an exciting find.
The above fresco was the first glimpse that anyone got of the food stand after it was partially uncovered in 2019. The image depicts a sea nymph, or Nereid, of Greek myth riding atop a stylized sea horse and carrying a golden lyre.
This pair of impressively detailed images may have been meant to advertise the food available for purchase. The image on the left is a pair of upside-down mallards, prepped for cooking. The one on the right depicts a rooster with impressively detailed plumage.
The above fresco of a dog on a leash is accompanied by some graffiti scrawled into the surrounding frame (not visible here). The text reads “nicia cinaede cacator,” which hilariously translates to “Nicias shameless shitter!” The Pompeii Sites article on the find speculates that the graffiti was left by a “prankster” who was making fun of someone who worked at the shop, perhaps the owner, named Nicias.
The larger image here, which appears just to the left of the Nereid fresco, is believed to be a picture of the shop itself, “like a kind of trademark.”
In this glimpse behind the counter we see an archaeologist at work looking into one of the openings where hot food was likely kept. The unearthing of the food stand also included the discovery of multiple containers that were likely used to store food and drink.
Regio V is a significant site for archaeological research in the remains of Pompeii. If you’d like a fuller look at the site, this drone tour released in April 2020 (and narrated by Osanna) gives you an up-close peek. The newly unearthed food stand is expected to open for public viewing around Easter 2021.
Companies like Facebook, TikTok and Snapchat earn more advertising revenue the more frequently we use their products. These firms use push notifications and personalized feeds to capture our attention, manipulate our emotions and influence our actions.
So what? As discussed in Netflix’s “The Social Dilemma,” tech firms will continue to follow their profit motive to capture our attention. Governments are no more likely to help manage unhealthy tech consumption than consumption of sugar or illegal drugs. We need to take control.
The coronavirus pandemic accelerated America’s addiction to technology, and it’s making us sad, anxious and unproductive.
My perspective is as a former tech CEO and technology addict. The marketing platform I founded raised over $100 million, grew to 350 employees and sold to a private equity firm last year. Along the way I picked up some terrible tech habits; I checked email constantly and allowed push notifications to interrupt every in-person interaction.
My tech use hit rock bottom last year on a visit with family. I resolved to put down my phone and garden with my mom, who has advanced Parkinson’s and moves slowly and with intention.
I felt like an addict in withdrawal. My phone was like a magnet pulling me to check for missed work emails or breaking news. Tech overuse had rewired my brain, lowered the quality of everyday consciousness and prevented me from being present.
I stepped down as CEO of my company earlier this year. I’ve spent my time off learning about mindfulness, neuroplasticity and technology addiction. Most importantly, I developed a strategy for managing my tech use that’s made me happier and more productive.
Here’s what I learned.
Tech firms exploit our brains to capture our attention
In their quest for our attention, some tech firms target the oldest parts of our brain, what UCLA psychiatrist Daniel Siegel calls the downstairs brain. The downstairs brain includes your brainstem and limbic regions, which control innate reactions and impulses (fight or flight) and strong emotion (like anger and fear). In contrast, your upstairs brain, including your cerebral cortex, is where intricate mental processes take place, like thinking, imagining and planning.
The downstairs brain is reactive. It’s designed to protect us in emergencies; it can make quick judgements, hijack our consciousness and drive action through strong emotion. The downstairs brain is what is targeted by attention-seeking products. Headlines that make us feel outraged and TikTok notifications that make us feel reactive appeal to our downstairs brain.
Spending time in a reactive state rewires our brains
Our brains change with training. Research has shown that our brains are reprogrammed with the firing patterns of neurons. Our nervous system can be rewired and transformed through repetitive, focused attention or activity in a process called neuroplasticity.
Repetitive device usage is a perfect example of neuroplasticity at work. The more time we spend responding to push notifications, watching videos in infinite scroll or looking for social validation from social media, the more our brains will rewire to want the same.
Our addiction will get worse as firms get better at capturing attention
While many tech firms acknowledge problems from overusing their products, none will make radical changes needed to decrease their share of the attention profit pool. If they did, someone else would eat their lunch.
These firms are selling us sugary drinks. The taste is improving exponentially and the sweetest drinks haven’t been invented yet. The more we drink, the harder it gets to stop. We need to take control of our consumption and habits — we need to follow a technology diet — or we will suffer the mental equivalent of morbid obesity.
We can can rewire our brains to be more productive and happier by changing our habits
If we think of technology consumption as an analog to food consumption, tech products fall into four food groups based on the quality of information and method of delivery. Content quality is important: Some content is valuable (e.g., MIT’s online courseware) or critical (work email), while most is not useful (TikTok) .
The delivery model is also important. Healthy platforms give agency to the user and allow us to pull content that’s useful when we need it. Conversely, harmful platforms often rely on push, sending us information that’s often not useful at a time when we’re doing something else. Based on my experience, here are three steps we can take to implement a tech diet:
1. Eliminate products that reinforce your downstairs brain (low-quality content pushed to you)
Willpower is finite. If we don’t want sugary drinks, don’t keep them in the house. We keep the most distracting applications ever developed within arms reach at all times. These applications prey on our downstairs brain, which hijacks our better intentions and delivers negative value for most people. I believe our best defense is abstinence; we shouldn’t use these apps.
Tip: I use Apple’s Content Restrictions on the iPhone and MacBook. I added the obvious offenders: TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, and some specific to me, which includes Zillow, StreetEasy and NYPost. My spouse has the override code. I can break it if needed, but the process is hard enough that it doesn’t enter everyday consciousness.
2. Consume more products that reinforce your upstairs brain (high-quality content that’s available when we need it)
Good content expands our knowledge and skills and may contribute to rewiring our upstairs brain in a way that adds to our empathy, imagination and mindfulness.
Tip: Make a list of your favorite leafy greens. For me, this includes Kindle, Feedly, tech periodicals and my favorite curation platforms: HackerNews and Product Hunt. Calm, one of several booming mindfulness apps, also makes the list. These are the only apps on my home screen, which encourages me to use them more often. Like a food diet, I set attainable goals for “good” consumption and monitor my progress.
I recommend fasting on technology periodically; I leave my phone at home for walks with my son and dinner with friends. I also recommend nontech activities that promote upstairs brain rewiring like an outdoor hike or learning to play an instrument.
3. Redesign consumption patterns for productivity tools
Email is required for most people. It has the potential to make us productive. But the average message quality is low, and the always-on, high frequency, push-by-default design prevents us from doing our best work.
Tip: I’ve turned off notifications on everything that’s not meant for urgent or timely messages (e.g., texts, Lyft, Tovala oven). Boomerang’s Chrome Extensioncan be set up to deliver all of your emails every hour on the hour. Batch processing email every hour dramatically reduces the volume of interruption without impacting my responsiveness.
We live in relative abundance, with food, goods and security that would make even our recent ancestors envious. But abundance doesn’t make us happy; we’re the least happy on record. We seem to be living in a collective state of downstairs brain, a continuous adult temper tantrum focused on strong feelings, emotion and impulsiveness.
But there’s hope.
As individuals, I found that even a few months of technology dieting helped me become less impulsive and more mindful. As employees, we can stop working for companies that profit from the attention economy. As managers, we can insist that our teams turn off their devices at night, turn off their Slack notifications and take real vacations. As parents, we can help our children develop healthy consumption patterns.
Collective action — and rewiring of our brains — could change the course of our politics and our ability to collaborate and solve the most important challenges of the 21st century.
American innovation dominates the attention economy. It’s time for American innovation to dominate the way we use technology.
As recently as late July, Amar’e Stoudemire was seemingly as far away as possible from joining the Nets’ coaching staff and a high-wattage reunion of Phoenix Suns alumni in Brooklyn. Stoudemire was still playing abroad — and helping Maccabi Tel Aviv win a 54th league championship in Israel.
He didn’t know at the time that Steve Nash, the former on-court conductor of the Suns’ “Seven Seconds or Less” era, was a top-secret candidate to become the Nets’ new head coach. Like most connected to the N.B.A., Stoudemire also had no inkling that Mike D’Antoni — who had built a revolutionary offense in Phoenix around the Nash-and-Stoudemire combination — would soon pivot from coaching the Houston Rockets to becoming Nash’s offensive coordinator.
For most of the summer, Stoudemire, 38, mostly wrestled with whether to keep playing. He was offered a new one-year contract by Maccabi soon after his performance (18 points and 7 rebounds) in the Israeli Basketball Premier League title game earned him most valuable player honors.
“I never really thought much about coaching, to be honest with you,” Stoudemire said.
That all changed in September after Nash, who played alongside Stoudemire for six seasons in Phoenix, was hired by the Nets as their head coach. Stoudemire reached out with interest in exploring his options to begin a post-playing career. Nash, who had also pitched player development roles on his fledgling staff to his former teammates Dirk Nowitzki and Raja Bell, made a similar offer to Stoudemire.
“He’s just getting his foot in the door,” Nash said. “We wanted him to come in and share all the things that he learned from his experiences — but also to learn about coaching, video analysis, analytics and the front office.”
Israel had “absolutely” become a second home, Stoudemire, a former Suns and Knicks player, said, after he immersed himself in Judaism over the past decade and then obtained Israeli citizenship in March 2019. That comfort level only added to the lure of playing one more season with Maccabi, but Stoudemire decided to give coaching a try, unsure as he was, even after 14 seasons in the N.B.A. and three playing in Israel and China, that he had reached an age he associated with the profession.
“I just never liked the title Coach,” Stoudemire said. “There’s not a lot of swagger that comes with that title. I’m still not quite there yet. I’m still very young, and I like to feel young.”
On the Nets’ organizational chart, Stoudemire has been officially named a player development assistant. He brings some experience to the role despite his ambivalence about the coaching label, having hosted a few Nike camps in his Suns and Knicks prime in which he worked briefly with future stars such as Blake Griffin, DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis.
At Maccabi last season, Stoudemire also served as a mentor to the Israeli teenager Deni Avdija, who last month became the first lottery draft pick in his country’s history when the Washington Wizards took him with the No. 9 overall selection. Stoudemire, himself a former No. 9 pick in Phoenix, routinely urged Avdija, a versatile 6-foot-9 forward, to “get a triple-double every single chance he gets” and to “attack the rim with force.”
“We worked on a no-mercy mind-set,” Stoudemire said.
Stoudemire “brings great energy,” Nash said, and can still participate in drills when needed. Nash called him “one of the first true small-ball centers” with much to pass on to modern big men. Nash and D’Antoni have often lamented that their groundbreaking Phoenix teams didn’t lean even harder on smaller lineups, rampant 3-point shooting and fast-paced play — all of which is much more accepted now than it was then. They were wildly successful but ultimately fell short of a championship.
Beyond the practice floor, yet another Suns alumnus from that period — Nets General Manager Sean Marks — has given Stoudemire the latitude to sit in on management meetings to get a taste of front-office planning, scouting and recruiting strategies and integrating analytics with traditional coaching.
“He has complete access,” Nash said. “We’re pushing him to be as involved as he wants.”
“I get to learn from all departments,” Stoudemire said, “to see where I want my career to go.”
The varied coursework feeds into a studious side that took hold of Stoudemire as his career progressed in the N.B.A. and blossomed in Israel, where he had two stints with Hapoel Jerusalem, Maccabi’s fiercest rival, before a January 2020 move to join the Tel Aviv club. Initially inspired to become a student of Torah after joining the Knicks in July 2010 and gaining more exposure to Judaism and its connections to his family’s heritage, Stoudemire enrolled at multiple yeshivas as a Jerusalem player to learn the religion’s Orthodox customs. He completed a formal conversion to Orthodox Judaism in August.
Stoudemire observes the Jewish Sabbath (Shabbat) from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday, keeps a kosher diet and became known in his Maccabi days for arriving at games in all-black Orthodox clothing rather than the trendy gear that has transformed player arena entrances in the N.B.A. into a virtual sport unto itself. Stoudemire, whose Hebrew name is Yehosaphat, said he would work with the Nets to determine the best way to maintain the same level of Orthodox Shabbat observance now that he is back in the United States, where businesses do not shut down on Friday nights as they largely do in Israel.
“My time in Israel was amazing,” Stoudemire said. “It took me to another level of purifying myself and making me more mature. From the first day I got there to the last day to walking off with the M.V.P. trophy, it was simply a remarkable experience.”
Nash said: “I really admire him. It’s not just our history and our relationship, but how open and inquisitive he is. Amar’e never feels like he’s fully formed; he’s always trying to learn more and do more. So when he showed interest, I said, ‘This is the kind of guy I want.’”
The learning continues back on American soil: Stoudemire said he was taking online courses at the University of Miami in pursuit of an M.B.A. to augment his new job. One veteran coach who knows him well, though, thinks Stoudemire is more of a coaching natural than he even realizes.
Phil Weber, known as Drill Phil for his player development work on D’Antoni’s staff in Phoenix, predicted that “players will immediately respect and naturally gravitate towards him.” Weber worked for years with Stoudemire on his shooting after their time together in Phoenix and said it would quickly be evident to the Nets “how much Amar’e cares and how personable he is.”
The Nets’ Kyrie Irving said of Nash and the influence of so many former Suns: “Coming in with Mike D’Antoni, with Amar’e Stoudemire, they have been able to guide us to come together as a group.”
Stoudemire emphasized, for the record, that he had not formally retired as a player. He likewise remains uneasy about Nets big men such as DeAndre Jordan and Jarrett Allen calling him Coach because the connotation, he said, “has kind of an older vibe to it.”
Told that, on the flip side, being addressed in that manner could also suggest he had a higher level of wisdom, Stoudemire said, “I’ll take it.”
You. Yes, you, with your finger poised over the download button of some kind of diet or calorie-counting app. Stop it. I know January, a prime time for weight loss resolutions, is right around the corner, and that some of you might be feeling not-so-great about extra pounds gained during quarantine. Others might feel compelled to start 2021 with a fresh slate of healthy eating. Cool. Great. You don’t need a calorie-counting app for that.
If you do a cursory Google search or follow any health and fitness accounts on social media, you’ll find dozens of articles and influencers touting the benefits of counting calories and recommending apps like MyFitnessPal, Noom, LoseIt!, and Chron-o-meter. Many citestudies that say people who keep food diaries are more likely to lose weight and keep it off. But, my friends, keeping a food diary is not necessarily the same thing as obsessively logging every single calorie that you put in your mouth.
The problem with many calorie-counting apps is in how they’re designed. Typically the on-boarding process has you enter your stats, including your height, current weight, goal weight, activity level, and in what time frame you want to lose (or gain) said weight. From there, the app will use some formula to calculate your basal metabolic rate (BMR). If all you did was lie down all day, without moving, your BMR would be the number of calories your body needs to keep everything running. From there, the app will likely generate a daily calorie allowance—a combination of your BMR, minus a certain number of calories based on your activity level and how fast you want to lose weight. This is some complicated math, but unless you opt for indirect calorimetry, a process that involves hooking yourself up to a ventilator for a period of time to measure the heat generated by the gases you exhale, you’re only getting a ballpark figure that may not even accurately apply to your individual body.
Even MyFitnessPal admits in a blog that its estimates are not 100% accurate. Personally, MyFitnessPal told me that to lose about 1 pound a week, I’d have to eat roughly 1,370 calories a day. That’s a little too close to the 1,200 minimum recommended for women, and if you want to go by my Apple Watch, I burn roughly 2,100-2,500 calories a day. (Though I did appreciate that if I logged less than 1,000 calories in a day, MyFitnessPal chided me to eat more.)
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So your calorie-counting app is probably giving you a daily allowance that’s inherently flawed right from the jump. Still, if you log calories, even if they’re an estimate, you’ll still get a pretty accurate picture of your caloric consumption, right? No!
While these apps’ calorie databases have vastly expanded over the past decade, anyone who’s ever used them for a few days can tell you about the limitations. If you cook a meal at home, you’re going to have to find the exact ingredient you use and meticulously measure the exact quantity you’ve used of said ingredient to get the most accurate measurement. Then, you have to save it as a recipe. This process, even in an app with a large database like MyFitnessPal, is tedious. Some will let you import a recipe from a website, but that feature doesn’t always work and doesn’t account for if you substitute an ingredient or two. Forget takeout or eating at a restaurant, unless it’s a fast-food chain that provides caloric information. This means that calorie-counting apps can incentivize you to eat packaged foods over healthier, home-cooked meals, simply because they’re easier to log.
Even if you heroically commit to never eating out and meticulously creating logs for all your scratch-cooked meals, ingredient calorie counts are only estimates. No two medium potatoes have the same exact caloric content. How does the app define a medium versus large potato anyway? Unless you use a scale to measure your servings on a per gram basis, it’s extremely easy to over or underestimate your actual intake. (And who’s gonna lug around a scale all the time?) This Atlantic report notes that roughly 30% of people underestimate how much they eat. It also found people tended to exaggerate their healthy food intake. On top of all this, you can’t even 100% trust a nutrition label because the Food and Drug Administration lets manufacturers calculate calories using five different methods and allows up to a 20% margin of error. That 100-calorie snack could actually be as few as 80 calories or as much as 120 calories.
Say a miracle happened and your daily calorie allowance was spot on and you actually got an accurate account of how many calories you ate in a day. According to Scientific American, it’s virtually impossible to accurately calculate how many calories you actually absorb from the food you eat. Different preparation methods will impact how many calories you absorb—you get more from cooked meat than you would raw meat, for example. Fibrous foods are also harder for your body to break down. Your individual gut bacteria might also impact how many calories you absorb. I’ve never, ever come across a calorie-counting app that was able to mathematically account for that.
This is to say nothing of calories burned, the inaccuracy of which is a rant for another day. However, many food-logging apps will add back calories burned to your daily allowance, lending credence to the idea that you can outrun a bad diet if you just exercise enough. That’s not how things work! Running a 10K doesn’t mean you suddenly have 600 or so extra calories to “spend” on three slices of pizza—not if you actually want to be healthy in the long run. A 2014 study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine noted that “physical activity does not promote weight loss” and that it actually does matter where your calories come from. The calories from sugar, fat, and protein will be metabolized differently. Can you use a calorie-counting app to track your macronutrients? Sure. But that app’s not going to be calculating where the calories you burned came from. Plus, whatever calorie burn estimate an app gives you for a given activity isn’t universally accurate either. Two 150-pound people will burn a different number of calories based on how much fat or lean muscle mass they have, and how active they are.
The whole point of food journaling isn’t to obsessively pore over arbitrary numbers. It’s to get a clearer picture of why, when, and how much food you eat—as well as how you felt while eating those foods. To do that, you’re better off just writing down what you eat in a notebook. Calorie-counting apps don’t make the process easier, they don’t explain the nuances of why “calories in, calories out” might not work for you, and they’re not even particularly accurate. The kicker is most people who download a calorie-counting app don’t keep up with it. This 2014 study found that when provided with a free self-monitoring app, only 2.58% of participants were active users and that the majority of those active users were already healthy.
These apps focus on calories because it’s an easy way to visualize food intake, especially when it comes to weight loss. You don’t have to account for the nuances of the human body if you just tell people if they eat X calories they’ll lose Y pounds in Z months. The apps certainly don’t account for the false narratives they promote or the eating disorders they’ve been shown to exacerbate. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to lose a few pounds or with wanting to keep track of your food intake, whatever the reason may be. But instead of wasting time on a calorie-counting app that may only serve to drive you bananas, you might want to consult a registered dietician or your physician to safely and sustainably achieve those goals.