An Introduction – Day 1

Joseph Merrick 'aka' The elephant Man
Joseph Merrick ‘aka’ The Elephant Man

Let’s start slow here, OK?

Once upon a time a guy went on a low carb diet and lost 80 pounds, bringing his decidedly pudgy exterior down to a perfectly fine 185. Of course, weight never stays off unless you are a total maniac about your diet – and this guy wasn’t – he was pretty awful at low carb, though some points should be given for some amusing hare-brained experiments along the way.

The weight loss stayed for about three years but the onset of middle age – and perhaps a well-honed laziness crafted into a fine art- caused the weight to creep back on. It was manageable for many years and a diligent return to a hard-core low carb diet each time things got out of hand always got it back down, though later years the weight tended to stay in the low 200s.

Then a decade passed. a WHOLE FREAKIN’ DECADE on a low carb diet. That’s a lot of time on a diet that makes one a bit of an oddball. Despite a lot of evidence that a low carb diet is helpful and safe for a lot of folks – and personal experience showed that it worked for this particular schmuck, he kinda drifted away from it.

There were some valid reasons for this drifting away. Some less so. Regardless, this guy went from someone who struggled with following a low carb diet pretty much every day – even if he failed miserably – to someone who wasn’t even trying anymore – and that gradual drift happened oh-so unconsciously, until the man awoke to find that perhaps he didn’t know how exactly to do a low carb diet anymore. Perhaps they didn’t work for him anymore and what once worked no longer would. perhaps the person he was 10 years ago when he lost the weight was gone and the person he was now couldn’t do what he had done then.

Perhaps he just didn’t want to be on a diet forever anymore.

This was all well and good, but a very real problem existed: he was getting fat again. He was outgrowing the fat clothes he bought.

Breathing in his clothes might become a problem. Buttons might begin to pop.

It was fun to eat Italian deli sandwiches. Bread is an awesome thing. So was pasta. But it seemed there was no way to dance on the knife-edge of having some without having too much. His appetite went out of control and a taste always became more than a taste.

Joseph Merrick, known as ‘The Elephant Man’ was a normal human stuck inside a deformed body. The story that I had heard was, because of his deformity, he had always slept upright.

But one time he wanted to sleep like a regular human being – lying down. His simple desire to be like other humans is supposedly what did him in: due to his deformities, lying down choked him to death in his sleep.

Perhaps there’s a lesson there the man needed to accept.

So with only that thought as a start, the man, with little of that wide-eyed optimism most dieters have when starting a sparkly new diet, just said: “Here we go again.”

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My Next Approach to Low Carb

Perhaps taking a vacation from blogging – and low carb – after a decade of thinking about the diet *every damn day* was a good thing.

As mentioned previously, I gained weight toward the end of last year and no matter how much effort I put into low carb – even going so far as to go on an extreme low carb diet  used by some cancer patients along with calorie-restriction, my weight didn’t want to move much outside of a 220-225 range.

I then just gave permission to myself to forget about low carb and blogging for a while. I ate what I wanted, when I wanted. Now doing a low carb diet for a decade certainly changes your habits quite a bit so the ‘eating what I wanted’ still had a lot of aspects of a low carb diet. While I stopped monitoring and measuring things, I did form a routine of sorts that, while it did not lead to weight loss, did not lead to weight gain, either.

This routine left me way more relaxed about eating and removed a lot of the obsessiveness about food. After all these years, removing this yoke was a revelation.

I realized that for a decade, there was an extra family member besides myself, my wife, and my two daughters: my diet.

Like every other family member, this apparition had wants and needs and was part of many conversations. Every family member needed to make room in their lives for this apparition and put up with its peculiarities.

And now I saw clearly what a burden this family member had become.

It’s presence in a household of foodies that all enjoy good food and enjoy the ritual of enjoying good food together led to a distancing between us. Everybody seemed to eat on their own schedules and there was no such thing as a ‘family meal’ at home except on the rarest of occasions or when entertaining.

This summer I consciously began to form a new ritual of a family meal. Sometimes it was my wife who would cook. Sometimes it was me. Sometimes it was my older daughter. Sometimes everybody pitched in. Whatever the result, and no matter the carb count, we all sat down, held hands, said a prayer of gratitude to whatever-the-hell allowed us to have the great fortune to be together at the moment, with a roof over our heads, sitting around a table sharing a meal of good food together. The incessant TV in the background, mumbling and laughing and crying and screaming at random times, got turned off. The iPhones, and iPods got put away, and we all leisurely spent some quiet time eating and talking and enjoying the moment, the food, and the company of each other.

It was unexpected to see that such a simple thing as a common meal held so much power. I suppose it is a ritual etched in our DNA: the communal meal, another day without starvation, another victory against the misfortunes of life that permitted at least one more celebration of life and of food together as a family. So many of us lack one or the other – or both. The kids are getting bigger and this brief window of time where we will all be able to sit and talk and eat will quickly pass.

Low carb, the extra family member, helped prevent this from occurring. It wasn’t the sole reason, but it was a part of it.

This summer we also put a major dent in the family finances and went to France. While my bank account will need to endure a long convalescence to recover, it was a transforming experience for me.

It was a life-long dream of my wife to travel there. I am a reluctant traveler: I like having traveled but do not like traveling. for years I made excuses and we would go places less expensive and easier to get to – and my wife accepted these consolation prizes in place of the Grand Prize she had always held on to.

When she announced that she had found insanely-cheap plane tickets due to a combination of luck, mileage points from some business travel, a credit from the airline that was expiring in October, and other savvy-traveller tricks she pulled out of her bag, I decided that now was the time for her to have her dream – and I would do my best to suppress my bundle of anxieties about traveling and let her have her experience – and allow myself to fully enjoy it as well, because if I brought my anxieties along (another family member), they would reduce my wife’s enjoyment of the trip.

I couldn’t entirely dismiss my traveler’s anxiety, of course – we can’t simply turn off our anxiety. Instead, I prepared and did a bunch of things to reduce it. I am sometimes considered negative because whenever I am involved in a project I think of all the things that can go wrong at the outset. People take this as negativity but I see it as a necessary preparation to prevent things from going wrong. 

I like my optimism to be reality-based, so I worried to myself about things like keeping the house safe during our trip, reading about problems American tourists have in France so I could avoid these, while my wife read the travel books and thought about where we would go and what we would see.

I learned that pickpockets are a big problem in France, for example, and got myself a travel wallet that hangs around the neck. I also jury-rigged a little device with my iPhone and a gizmo to find your keys and had my younger daughter wear this around her neck. The crowds of tourists in Paris can be a crush in August as I read, and this gizmo would go off if she strayed too far from me.

I was also anxious about the tales of French rudeness to American travelers and wanted to know why. I started from the proposition that it wasn’t them – it was something about us that galled the Gauls, so I talked to a person that taught courses in intercultural relations for business people and was recommended two books on how the French think. After all, we were going to be guests there – the least we could do is be well-mannered guests and not do the international equivalent of sticking our napkins in our shirt collars and picking our teeth at the table with the steak knife.

I could not be more amazed at what I learned. The French are a people with a very different worldview than Americans. They are proud of their country, their government (though they are almost always protesting something or other), and their culture. When in public they tend to be more formal in their interactions with other people because for them it is a sign of respect. They also believe in projecting an image of being ‘well put together’. It’s not that you need to dress formally, but walking around in shorts wearing a T-shirt that says ‘I’m with stupid’ or some other typical American casual dress projects to them that you don’t have respect for yourself.

I left my shorts home and dressed ‘business casual’ for the most part, which meant that you might not have been able to tell we were tourists from a block away.

They also always greet people with a formal ‘Bonjour, Madam’ or ‘Bonjour Monsieur’, and expect a ‘Merci, au revoir’ when leaving their presence after an interaction. Again, to them it shows a respect for the individual. I see nothing wrong in that. We Americans once also had this same sense of formality but seemed to abandon it a number of decades ago when we embraced an casual ‘Hey-buddy!-anything-goes-wear-sweatpants-to-church’ informality that didn’t expect such niceties to be the standard.

You could argue that their way is a bit stuffy – but that wasn’t the point.

I didn’t want to change France – I wanted to see if France might change me. Perhaps there would be lessons learned here that might make an understanding of the culture I was about to immerse myself in make the trip more than just seeing sights and taking pictures in front of monuments as a sort of trophy to show off on FaceBook.

I think it did change me. It went way beyond a ‘vacation’.

Paris was a breathtaking experience The grandeur of the place, the almost seamless mix of ancient and modern, great works of art and architecture a part of any glance in any direction, with charming little bistros, brasseries and cafes on every street seemed surreal, perplexing – and unnecessarily expensive to a practical mind. So many things useless except to look at in awe in every direction. No sane US citizen would put up with the taxation necessary to erect and maintain such uselessness which is why we’re a nation that has left behind marble and gilt for Tyvek and vinyl siding.

This left me obsessing over the question: “What kind of people would create a city like this?”

Thankfully I had my two books on France and the French that answered a lot of questions. I read these in my free time back at the hotel. I certainly did not turn into a French cultural expert overnight, but some of the insights at least began to explain some of what I saw.

At one point in the trip I stopped taking pictures. I realized that you can’t fit Paris into a rectangle. Go to the Louvre and stand in the center courtyard and try to take a picture. Compare it to what you see standing there. Nope – doesn’t cut it.

Throughout our trip, almost every French person we dealt with was friendly and gracious. We met many who spoke perfectly acceptable English and patiently put up with our horrible French. I suppose it came down to: treat people as you would like to be treated. It also might have been because it is said that everyone goes on vacation in Paris in August and the city is left to those who remain behind – and to tourists.

Perhaps we might have encountered more grumpiness in September when the Parisians return to take their city back from the tourists – I don’t know.

We also ate their food. Funny: I was asked that question twice. “Are you going to eat their food?” That would be like asking me if I was planning on breathing their air.

The first memorable meal was some duck cooked rare in a raspberry reduction with mashed potatoes. No vegetable side. Each flavor and texture complemented the other. We didn’t eat at any fancy places – just some of the many bistros that don’t get listed in travel books – yet all the food was prepared with such concern for the ingredients that each meal, no matter how humble, was like the random art found around every corner in Paris: unexpected and pleasurable.

To keep costs down we found a French grocery store across the street from our hotel in Paris and ate some meals of fresh baguette, foie gras, sausage, and cheese in the hotel room.

Over the weekend we spent there we left Paris and went to Amboise, a town of about 10,000 people less than 2 hours by train outside of Paris. The centerpiece of the town was a castle-fortress and not too far from there, a short walk down a cobblestone street, was Leonardo Da Vinci’s home for the last few years of his life.

This was wine country and we just happened to arrive during a wine-tasting festival with a downtown marketplace with the most amazing foods and local crafts. Very little in the way of tourist trinkets of the Eiffel Tower made in China – this market was for the locals. The wife and I tasted wines while the kids took a nap back at the hotel (a 5-minute walk from the center of town where the festival was held). We bought some brioche and other foods from the market and a little sweetshop across from the open air market and the next day a much larger weekend market filled a parking lot a 10-minute walk from the hotel. Farmers from miles around brought their fresh-from-the-farm goods and there were many booths cooking fresh food. We bought a huge container of paella from one vendor and bread and foie gras from another and had a picnic on the banks of the Loire river just steps from the hotel.

The way the French eat has always intrigued me. I don’t recall seeing a single fat French person. They ranged from rail-thin to plump, but no one was obese in my estimation. How could they eat like this? Yeah – they eat a lot of fat – but they love their bread and their sweets as well.

The answer was in one of the books I was reading and had to do with part of the main reasons why Americans think the French rude and they think we are rude: a difference in what is considered ‘public’ and what is considered ‘private’. This was a fascinating read. The French consider money to be vulgar and tend not to discuss it in public, don’t want to be asked ‘what do you do?’ in conversation, consider a stranger asking their name to be rude, and if they were to invite you to their home would most likely NOT ‘show you around the house’ or want you to peruse their bookshelf unless invited to do so.

And unlike Americans, they consider eating to be part of the public sphere. Eating is a social activity in France. Meals are meant to be lingered over, preferably with friends and family, and no self-respecting French restaurant would ask you to leave even if you only bought a single espresso and were still hanging out 4 hours later.

Americans, on the other hand, consider most eating to be a private activity: hence we snack, and they – for the most part – don’t.

This brought me back to the ‘family meal’ that I had begun to enforce a month before we left. My seemingly retro notion of a family meal in our house was enshrined in their culture. They lingered over their food and this gave them time to digest and feel fuller on less. They simply ate less of high quality food because it was all they needed and they never ate mindlessly like so many Americans do – hypnotized by the TV with a bag of chips on their laps vanishing bit by bit without being noticed.

Not realizing it, I had hit on something that I thought would derail my diet but now I was thinking might become the center point for it.

The funny thing about the family meal was that I found myself not picking much afterward. There was little ‘raiding the fridge’ after eating whatever meal I had when I came home. We ate later than usual, ate slowly, and ate with a mindfulness – discussing the food itself, it’s preparation, how the different ingredients went together. We discussed future meals – and what we tried that wasn’t liked (while peas were a comfort food for me, neither my wife nor kids like them).

There were also complaints from the family when we couldn’t follow the ritual. It seems it wasn’t something the rest of the family just ‘went along with’ – it was valued by them – despite the prohibition on electronics and the TV.

Perhaps ‘meals’ are more important than ‘eating’. Perhaps ‘dining’ is more valuable that ‘3 squares a day’. So where my head is at present is as follows:

My Low Carb Diet must become invisible

I’ve concluded that talking about diets – especially at a meal with others – is vulgar – akin to talking on the cel phone at a movie theater. It detracts from the enjoyment of others in your company. Discussions about food at meals should only be ones that discuss it as a means to pleasure. Discussing how well the peas and onions complement each other is perfectly acceptable – the carb count, or the discussion about any chemical in any ingredient being shown in studies to do X – is not. Certainly, there is a time and a place for such discussions – like here – but at the table, with dinner companions, conversations about calories, nutrients, and the long-term ill-effects of a particular food is not one of them. I’m going treat any food placed in front of me as I would a guest and not be rude nor denigrating to its presence. Like someone at a party I don’t particularly like, I can avoid them yet still be gracious.

Now, this does present a tricky problem: eating with companions or with family and friends means dealing with what dieters call ‘food pushers’ who might ‘derail your diet’. I’m beginning to think that this sort of thinking might be a misstep. Looking at food from a cultural and communal standpoint, offering food to people is one of the grand gestures of friendliness and kindness that one human being can give to another. In a world that has arisen from one where starving was a very real possibility every day, this gesture is the utmost hospitality – and we dieters reject it. Instead of embracing our humanity we bring science to the table and tear up the social contract that has been built up over thousands of years across almost every culture on Earth.

The diet problem is still there, of course: anyone reading this has probably concluded that they need to control their diet and that certain food should be avoided. I’m beginning to think though that perhaps, once at the table in a social situation, we might be better off focusing on the metered enjoyment of the food we are presented with rather than reciting our list of prohibitions to a table that is more interested in enjoying a meal rather than hearing about your ‘diet’. Again, taking the mindset that the food itself is a guest of sorts, and imagining it as a person you would rather avoid that you bump into at a party, you would probably NOT bring up your list of grievances with them in a public setting, though you might limit your time with them. Do the same with food.

Your diet isn’t ‘blown’ if you participate with smaller portions. At a restaurant you can ask for a double portion of vegetables instead of the side of mashed potatoes. You can still avoid sugary drinks and skip the bread brought to the table. These will be almost invisible to your companions. At a family meal or a when entertaining friends, certain items can be safely avoided – like chips placed on a table before a meal. At the actual meal, where there is some social expectation of participation in the various dishes, taking a small portion and allowing yourself to enjoy it might be more sane and more in the spirit of things than to express your prohibitions.

Either become a monk to your diet or accept the fact that there will be times when the best course of action is the practice of a concealed metering of eating what is being graciously offered.

One meal does not ruin a diet: it’s a series of meals that does that to you. Allow yourself the pleasure of food with family and friends, participate in the bounty we’ve been given, and work to develop the ability to participate fully while watching your diet as much as possible without others noticing you doing so.

Make eating a communal event as much as possible.

A diet is in some ways chasing after wind: “When I get to be my goal weight I will be happy.”

It doesn’t work that way.

Goals are great, but I assure you – you won’t be continually ‘blissed out’ when you attain that magic number on the scale. I’m not saying you won’t be filled with a sense of accomplishment, better physical health if done right, and a host of positive emotions – it’s just that these will fade into the background of your life after a time. Studies have shown that people who win the lottery, within a few years, return to more or less the same level of happiness they had when they weren’t rich. We adapt to our situations – good and bad – and while being thin might bring you all sorts of things you don’t have now, we humans have a tendency to take things for granted after a while.

Make sure you don’t postpone your happiness entirely until a certain number on the scale appears. We don’t know how much time we have left. Our expiration dates can’t be found on any label attached to us. Enjoying a meal with others when possible, when done the right way – focusing on the food with other people who know how to truly experience the pleasures of food – will bring greater happiness to every day of your life.

Should death tap you on the shoulder and tell you you’ve got only a few more moments, I guarantee you: your diet will be the last thing on your mind. Don’t give up the pleasure of good food with good company because of a ‘diet’.

Again, your brow might be furrowing as to how you follow this advice and still lose weight. It seems easier from one perspective to set a goal, sacrifice for it for a certain time, and achieve it. That’s how Americans do it.

That might work for things like passing a test or building a business, but we don’t ‘own’ or bodies in the same way as we might own a car that we’re restoring or own a business or have responsibilities to a job that we can work to excel at. Our bodies allow us to inhabit them, but they breathe on their own, the blood flows without our consent, our hearts beat to the rhythm they choose.

One thing we pretty much know about our bodies is that they are resistant to weight loss once the weight is gained. Respect this and embrace the notion of slow and gradual weight loss. I know this goes against every notion in a time-bound, deadline-obsessed culture, but your body doesn’t exist in that artificial world that lies outside of it.

So accepting this and making eating a communal event as much as can be managed involves cultivating a pleasure in good food shared with others. The secret to the power of this in an attempt to lose weight is eliminating the notion that eating alone on the couch in front of the TV is acceptable. You are replacing one with the other. Public eating is conscious eating, and conscious eating never ends up with an entire pint of Haagen-Daz disappearing while watching ‘The Biggest Loser’ along with a bag of chips now empty without you not quite remembering how it happened. Communal eating is also conscious eating with little effort. Instead of meditating on each bite of your meal alone, doing it with others occurs in an atmosphere that makes it more effortless.

Of course, if you are coming off of years of binge-eating, there’s work to be done here in terms of portion control and selectivity. Work on that rather than pursuing the goal of ‘hermit dieter’.

When eating alone, make it monotonous

You won’t be able to make every meal a communal one if you are anything like most of the people I know. In a culture obsessed with busyness, schedules conflict, things pop up, and families are separated by work, school, and separate activities. What to do then?

Well, what I am attempting to do is pursue the notion that these meals are unimportant in the grand scheme of things. I don’t want to have to think about my lunch at work, which is usually alone because ‘lunchtime’ is not a certain hour in my business and tends to be the time one can squeeze in between meetings and phone calls and can land anywhere between 11am and 3pm.

What I’ve been doing is enforcing a very small and rigid set of food choices that allow me to not think about preparing a lunch. As I work in an office, I have this luxury, so this is not in any way a recommendation, just an example of what I’m doing.

I’ve narrowed down my daily eating to the following items:

  1. Coffee
  2. coconut oil
  3. Lindt 80% dark chocolate
  4. Macadamia nuts
  5. eggs
  6. Chicken broth

Now, my particular constitution allows me to go long periods without eating with no ill-effect. Perhaps I’ve been in ketosis so many times that my body finds it easy to pull from my fat stores and run on ketones to keep me humming when I haven’t eaten in more than a dozen hours. Maybe my body is like a hybrid car than can run happily on gasoline or propane. So again, this is not a recommendation – it’s just what I do.

My breakfast is always coffee and cream, providing me with a little ‘get-up-and-go’ with between 100 and 200 calories of pure fat.

Around 6 hours later, a half cup of coffee with either 2 squares of dark chocolate or coconut oil melted in it is my next feeding – another 100 to 200 calories of mostly fat.

A few times a week, anywhere from the noontime coffee break all the way to almost before I leave work, I might have a cup of chicken broth with two raw eggs broken in it and nuked for 3 minutes. Or maybe a 20 or so macadamia nuts, totaling somewhere between 200 and maybe 350 calories.

So for 12 hours of my waking day, my input is almost zero carbs, mostly fat, maybe some protein from the eggs, and a calorie intake of anywhere between 200 calories and 750 calories.

Given I’ve eaten almost no carbs, this leaves room for the family meal in the evening. While at present I’m eating anything, my intention moving forward is to continue the ritual – except to artfully cut back on the carbs. Pasta and meatballs with Italian bread? I can have a taste of the Pasta and the bread with butter, and have mostly meatballs. Pork belly with gravy, vegetable and mashed potatoes? Same thing: a taste of the potatoes and vegetable if it’s high-carb, and focus on the pork belly and gravy.

The room that I’ve left in my daily food intake for a family meal allows some decidedly un-low carb foods in small portions to enjoy while also allowing me to keep both calories and carbs within limits that still mean I’m on a ‘low carb diet’ without the appearance of being on one.

 The one prohibition

If there’s one thing I have learned in my decade of low carb, it’s that without exception, no weight loss occurs if I drink alcohol. So in an effort to make the notion of social eating work as part of a weight loss strategy, I am going to sacrifice the conviviality of social drinking. I was never much of a barfly anyway, and most of my drinking was drinks after work at home – nothing that added much to the joy of life as much as calmed the nerves after a hectic day. For many months now I’ve been adapting to not exciting my nerves unduly in the first place – the 3 pots of coffee I once drank is down to a cup and a half, so a less jangled nervous system should be able to forego the drinks I now realize I once needed to unjangle it.

Now comes the hard part

Pretty words you got there, you might say. will it work?

I dunno.

If I can navigate the shark-infested waters of carbs setting me off for an evening of overeating, if I can watch my portions, if I can make it second nature to balance on this knife edge, perhaps it can work. It sounds sane and life-affirming as a lifestyle – but can it lead to weight loss?

I suppose we’ll see.

The April Fool Day 7: Low Carb…or Else

Monday, April 7, 2014 – 229.4

A comment by a long-time reader misinterpreting my existential despair post from the other day made the following comment:

If you had an anaphylactic reaction to carbs and they were going to kill you….you’d find a way to stick to your diet.

Well, anaphylactic shock – which can be caused by a severe allergic reaction to a bee sting or nuts in sensitive individuals – doesn’t exist for eating cookies…or does it for me?

I won’t bore you with my transgressions, but it did involve carbs eaten late at night and the attendant thirst that I typically get when I eat too many carbs. In terms of overall eating for the day it wasn’t all that much of a transgression – given I didn’t eat a good part of the day a total tally would have probably landed me within the normal 200 grams of carbs and caloric intake that was high-normal.

The result of this venial sin was epic, however.

At about 12:30am I awoke choking. I’ve never been diagnosed with GERD, but I would imagine that a combo of eating carbs late at night caused my stomach contents to leak into my lungs. I have experienced this on occasion since my 20s when I was about as fat as I am now – my first experience being with an overindulgence in Eskimo pies late at night.

I never get this when eating low carb.

The feeling is what I would imagine drowning in hydrochloric acid might feel like. The burning in my throat was unbearable. No less than a baker’s dozen of Tums were needed to control the burning somewhat. Even after the fire got put out there was still gurgling in my lungs when I breathed.  I was choking and coughing for at least 20 minutes until I had cleared my lungs and the gurgling stopped. Each cough that cleared my lungs burned my throat again. Both my wife and my older daughter – who I woke from my coughing and came in to see what was going on asked: “Are you OK?”

I gave them a thumbs up, which really meant: mind your own business.

Maybe an hour later I was able to get back to sleep, but this time lying with my head up to prevent another incident.

I awoke exhausted.

It’s not anaphylactic shock, but it’s a damn good reminder as to *why* I can’t eat like a normal person. I’m not a big fan of negative reinforcement as motivation, but this is not something I’d like to experience again. Negative experiences do sometimes result in positive outcomes – a good health scare sometimes works wonders to change long-term behaviors.

I’m more the ‘carrot’ than the ‘stick’ kind of guy with myself and others, but the beating I took from this stick is worthy of remembering – and might just tip the scale towards me being more careful about my diet.

If my transgressions have such dire consequences, it might be prudent for me to remember this.

 

Confirmation Bias News for Low Carbers

Confirmation bias is the psychological term for believing information that supports your beliefs while ignoring or challenging information that contradicts your beliefs. We all do it: it’s the way our minds are wired. It’s also fun and simple to do:

  1. Find an article that supports your beliefs.
  2. Cherry-pick the point of the article that most strongly support your position
  3. Leave out any nuances in the article. If there’s a section about disagreement with the conclusions drawn, ignore that.
  4. Don’t research who did the research, what they measured, nor who paid for the research. If they believe what you believe they must be people of intelligence and integrity funded by organizations dedicated to only pure science and free of any conflicts or agendas. No need to check.
  5. Any comments contradicting the conclusions are made only by people with agendas, the misinformed, or by those who lack integrity

Following these fun and simple rules allow you to wrap yourself in a warm cocoon of self-validating information. It’s a wonderful state to be in: you are confident and self-assured. No self-doubt permeates your cranium. You might have a world-view that is neat, simple and wrong – but two out of three ain’t bad. The warm glow of certainty is certainly less burdensome than trying to weigh all the evidence without bias – that takes thinking and risks your preconceived notions becoming frayed and tattered – who needs that?

Let’s see an example, shall we? You’re going to love this.

Study: Vegetarians Less Healthy, Lower Quality Of Life Than Meat-Eaters

ATLANTA (CBS ATLANTA) – Vegetarians may have a lower BMI and drink alcohol sparingly, but vegetarian diets are tied to generally poorer health, poorer quality of life and a higher need for health care than their meat-eating counterparts.

A new study from the Medical University of Graz in Austria finds that vegetarians are more physically active, drink less alcohol and smoke less tobacco than those who consume meat in their diets. Vegetarians also have a higher socioeconomic status and a lower body mass index. But the vegetarian diet — characterized by a low consumption of saturated fats and cholesterol that includes increased intake of fruits, vegetables and whole-grain products — carries elevated risks of cancer, allergies and mental health disorders.

Vegetarians were twice as likely to have allergies, a 50 percent increase in heart attacks and a 50 percent increase in incidences of cancer.

Now – ignore reading the following – it’s called ‘balance’ and it’s a journalistic convention – they have to say this to make the research and the article appear balanced.

the researchers do caution that continuing studies will be needed to substantiate some of the rather broad dietary distinctions, associations presented in this current research.

So fat, booze-guzzling meat-eaters are healthier – yay!

I feel so much better – don’t you?

 

The April Fool: Day 1

Day 1: Tuesday, March 1, 2014 – 225.4

On day one of my ‘real’ diet I had my usual breakfast of coffee and cream – that’s not changing anytime soon. I did read an article that said that drinking dairy with coffee and tea blocks the absorption of antioxidants, but I don’t care. I take nutritional supplements only on occasion. While I was once quite a believer in supplementation, I’ve come to think of it as modern snake oil. Besides, there have also been studies that have shown antioxidants in our diets either have no effect on our health or even a negative effect on our health. Here’s just one example.

Since there’s an almost endless supply of studies from both sides of this, we can debate this endlessly if we like – but I’d rather stay out of the fray, skip the supplements except for a multivitamin every few days, and take the approach that a diet of high quality unprocessed foods, with even only a moderate amount of variety, is probably adequate. The body manufactures its own antioxidants – and it is also believed that oxidation is used by the body to fight infections as well as cancer, so perhaps I’ll not concern myself with an obscure body process we are yet to fully understand, skip the pills, and get on with my life.

There’s also the ‘Magic Amulet Effect‘: if I eat supplements they will magically protect me from my diet of Twinkies washed down with beer.

Like I said: I used to be a big believer in them. Searching this blog might still turn up the massive list of potions I used to take.

Now it’s a multivitamin every few days at most. It’s a personal choice, based on drawing my own conclusions.

Feel free to agree or disagree if you like: I’m not trying to convince anyone of anything.

Anyway, when I got to work I grabbed a sheet of copy paper and did the origami to make my little 8 page book. (There’s instructions here on how to fold it.)

I’ve found there’s an art to this: too many things and it becomes overwhelming and I don’t look at it. I also find that writing things in a particular style helps. Next, the act of writing seems to make it more powerful than typing it. Lastly, each book is designed to last for a week and then put into a pile. I have hundreds of these going back years and they act as a diary of where my head was at in any particular week.

It’s cheap and easy and less ephemeral than an electronic task list where tasks disappear when done. I have tried every app there is – a piece of folded paper and a pen has given me the best results so I’m doing it again.

I start the book by putting the span of time it cover on the front: 4/1 – 4/7/2014.

On the first inside page I list my goals – big goals. Not unachievable goals – realistic ones. I try not to write negative goals – ‘I won’t do X’ – negative goal are harder to wrap your head around than positive ones. As much as possible I try to quantify them with numbers and dates.

Here’s some of what I came up with:

  • I am 185 pounds by September 1, 2014

  • I eat mostly unprocessed foods

  • I swim twice a week

  • I eat until almost full. If there’s leftovers I store for later or toss

  • I only drink martinis – and only outside the house

  • I avoid nightshade vegetables

  • I cook more

Now I’ve broken my own rules here on some of them – how do you quantify ‘mostly’ or ‘more’?

That’s the beauty of this system: next week I will write my goals down again – without referencing these goals. Every week you rewrite them – and each week you restate and refine your goals based upon your experience the previous week. It’s a great way to internalize and constantly tweak and perfect your goals. The ones that are wrong for you can disappear or change – the ones that are right for you get more focused.

During the week I attempt to reread what I wrote. As I also keep mundane things in the book (‘fertilize lawn’) I have to reference it just to run my life – but my goals are alway in the front.

Considering it costs a sheet of copy paper and a little ink each week and take up as much space and a few folded dollar bills, I recommend you experiment with it – you might be surprised where it takes you.

One other note should you try this: don’t write anything down that could be potentially embarrassing should it get lost. I don’t write my name in it or put other information that would identify me. I also don’t write things like: ‘buy cream for rash on ass’ just in case it is found and associated with me. I follow the rule: don’t write anything down you wouldn’t be willing to stand up in court and defend.

My entire eating at work consisted of two hard-boiled eggs with ketchup. I’m glad nobody saw me. I kinda like hard-boiled eggs with ketchup, but I need to be cognizant of not eating it again for a while. I’ve paid lip-service to variety and taken the easy way out and went along with a natural tendency to enjoy the same thing over and over, but perhaps I’ve taken it a bit too far and a focus on variety might be one of the tricks I haven’t really explored yet.

At home there were more eggs but I didn’t go there. Instead, I found leftover chicken legs. I cut the meat off, crumpled in some leftover bacon and nuked for a minute and a half. Then I ate with sour cream – and did not finish the bowl even though only a tiny bit was left. It went in the fridge and I finished up with two baby cucumbers with a little salt.

A little later I had a Fage yogurt with a little vanilla and sweetener, then munched on some dark chocolate and a bit later after that, munched on some pork rinds.

So on day one I succeeded in three of the goals on my hit list: variety, veggies, and not eating to the container. I might have eaten a bit much but to expect to be firing on all cylinders the first day out is perhaps unrealistic for me.

After getting into my bed, I noticed that my younger daughter had left a large rabbit-shaped sugar cookie on my nightstand. It’s as if I live my life in a novel at times. Of course the character on the low carb diet finds a rabbit-shaped sugar cookie on his nightstand after starting his diet – it’s a symbol that temptation follows the character throughout the narrative – he can’t escape it.

Except this isn’t a novel.

Does Fluoride In Your Water and Toothpaste Make You Fat and Screw With Your Brain?

[Update: I got one comment: “What does this have to with low carb??? Do NOT send this crap. And… I disagree with your logic.”]

I am old enough to remember the 60s when crackpots were labeled as such because they thought water fluoridation was some sort of government conspiracy. I don’t consider myself a crackpot, though your opinion might differ.

What I AM doing is taking the tack that modern science, particularly when it comes to our complex biological processes, really has little clue what is good for us and what only appears to be good for us, so my only defense is to minimize the number of ‘modern marvels’ – processed foods, man-made chemicals and the like, and try to eat as little of them as possible. For me, that means eating organic as much as I can afford it, avoiding the household cleaner aisle – or at least staying away from the nastier stuff that lies there and using more old-fashioned cleaners, using glass containers for food rather than plastic, not drinking bottled water that comes in plastic, and putting a water filter on my tap water to remove the God-Knows-What that is contained therein.

It is not that I am convinced beyond a doubt that these things matter – it more that I believe the jury is still out on, say, if the plastic in plastic water bottles leaches into the water and screws up our internal chemistry.

I don’t know – so I’ll avoid it as much as I can.

So I went to purchase a new replacement cartridge for my Pur water filter the other day. When I got it home, I just happened to read the box, which listed it’s features. One jumped out at me (here it is on their website – search for ‘fluoride’):

  • Removes 95% of mercury, while leaving beneficial fluoride in the water.

Beneficial flouride. Hmmm… I did a little digging, and came across a website named Flouridealert.org. I found this on their page ‘50-Reasons to Oppose Flouridation‘:

In the first half of the 20th century, fluoride was prescribed by a number of European doctors to reduce the activity of the thyroid gland for those suffering from hyperthyroidism (over active thyroid) (Stecher 1960; Waldbott 1978). With water fluoridation, we are forcing people to drink a thyroid-depressing medication which could, in turn, serve to promote higher levels of hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) in the population, and all the subsequent problems related to this disorder. Such problems include depression, fatigue, weight gain, muscle and joint pains, increased cholesterol levels, and heart disease. It bears noting that according to the Department of Health and Human Services (1991) fluoride exposure in fluoridated communities is estimated to range from 1.6 to 6.6 mg/day, which is a range that actually overlaps the dose (2.3 – 4.5 mg/day) shown to decrease the functioning of the human thyroid (Galletti & Joyet 1958). This is a remarkable fact, particularly considering the rampant and increasing problem of hypothyroidism in the United States (in 1999, the second most prescribed drug of the year was Synthroid, which is a hormone replacement drug used to treat an underactive thyroid). In Russia, Bachinskii (1985) found a lowering of thyroid function, among otherwise healthy people, at 2.3 ppm fluoride in water.

The above was written by a Paul Connett, PhD – a Professor of Chemistry at St. Lawrence University. He appears to be a legitimate professor (at least he was when I first wrote this 6 years ago – it appears he has since retired).

Oh, Jeez – here’s another thing I know nothing about. Another thing to make me seem even crackpottier than I already am. There is a huge crackpot element that opposes fluoridation. Here’s a comment from Yahoo Answers that shows the kind of nuttiness that gravitates to this subject:

Fluoride is accumulated in your pineal gland. This gland absorbs more fluoride than any body part and in very large quantities; it is now thought it has a lot to do with many of our health problems like early onset puberty in girls. As i have been able to awaken my pineal gland in the past thus access the crown chakra I will use my own self for the control. I do not know another person who has accessed the crown chakra or achieved christos. The feeling of oneness with the Creator and of travelling as if in deep space is gorgeous. The feeling of unconditional love and of peace makes me want to be able to do it or go there more often. Once awoken it is always awoken but you can fine tune it.

After the first two sentences, utter and complete New Age nonsense. But because whack-jobs gravitate to it, does that mean that it’s untrue? So now I’m led to the question: how did the notion that fluoride was so good for us that it should be put in most water supplies in the US come about? Think about it – that’s a massive health experiment – making everyone, young and old, with a vast spectrum of health concerns, all take a mandatory medication – that’s essentially what it is, isn’t it? So a visit to Wikipedia gave me an answer:

Community water fluoridation in the United States is partly due to the research of Dr. Frederick McKay, who pressed the dental community for an investigation into what was then known as “Colorado Brown Stain.”[8] The condition, now known as dental fluorosis, when in its severe form is characterized by cracking and pitting of the teeth.[9][10][11] Of 2,945 children examined in 1909 by Dr. McKay, 87.5% had some degree of stain or mottling. All the affected children were from the Pikes Peak region. Despite the negative impact on the physical appearance of their teeth, the children with stained, mottled and pitted teeth also had fewer cavities than other children. McKay brought this to the attention of Dr. G.V. Black, and Black’s interest was followed by greater interest within the dental profession. Initial hypotheses for the staining included poor nutrition, overconsumption of pork or milk, radium exposure, childhood diseases, or a calcium deficiency in the local drinking water.[8] In 1931, researchers from the Aluminum Company of America (ALCOA) concluded that the cause of the Colorado stain was a high concentration of fluoride ions in the region’s drinking water (ranging from 2 to 13.7 mg/L) and areas with lower concentrations had no staining (1 mg/L or less).[12] Pikes Peak’s rock formations contained the mineral cryolite, one of whose constituents is fluorine. As the rain and snow fell, the resulting runoff water dissolved fluoride which made its way into the water supply. Dental and aluminum researchers then moved toward determining a relatively safe level of fluoride chemicals to be added to water supplies. The research had two goals: (1) to warn communities with a high concentration of fluoride of the danger, initiating a reduction of the fluoride levels in order to reduce incidences of fluorosis, and (2) to encourage communities with a low concentration of fluoride in drinking water to add fluoride chemicals in order to help prevent tooth decay. By 2006, 69.2% of the U.S. population on public water systems were receiving fluoridated water, amounting to 61.5% of the total U.S. population; 3.0% of the population on public water systems were receiving naturally occurring fluoride.[3]

So it seems that dentists and an aluminum company thought it would be a good idea for everyone to take unmeasured and varying amounts of a toxic element because it appeared to prevent tooth decay. I have nothing against dentists, but they are tooth-centric, and aren’t exactly the health professionals I want to advise me about a substance that might impact other parts of my body. And why ALCOA, the aluminum company, would be involved is beyond me. This question puzzled me, so I thought to look at who supplies the fluoride. I found this page on the CDC website, which talks about shortages of fluoride, though it mentions. If you read the CDC page, it makes it appear that lack of fluoride is an immediate health crisis – enough to make you panic:

Adjusting the fluoride content of water is a safe and healthy practice that provides significant oral health benefits for a community. For the greatest benefits to occur, it is important to consistently maintain optimum fluoride levels. The three fluoride additives used for water fluoridation are derived principally from phosphate fertilizer production. Although shortages of fluoride additives for water fluoridation are infrequent, they do sometimes occur.

[You will note that some of the links referenced above don’t lead anywhere. Perhaps the CDC has quietly had a change of heart on the ‘safe and healthy’ practice?]

I wrote the above maybe six years ago and never published it. I thought it a bit too crackpot – but during that time I’ve eliminated as much fluoride as possible from my diet and my family’s diet. We still get dosed with the stuff – I still use the water filter that lets through the ‘beneficial fluoride’ but I don’t get fluoride treatments from the dentist for my kids and don’t buy fluoride toothpaste.

Then an article hit the news cycle  about common everyday chemicals that are affecting our brains – and fluoride was one of them.

I don’t consider The Atlantic to be a crackpot site, so I thought maybe I can be comfortable in letting this post see the light of day.

Here’s a link to the article – The Toxins That Threaten Our Brains.

And here is a recent bit of writing I did on the topic. It interweaves with the first part and a good writer would integrate the two to craft a single, coherent article.

But since I don’t have the time nor inclination to do so – nor do I feel the burden of wanting to be seen as a ‘good writer’ – I’m just going to put this out there:

Imagine this. Allergists, in conjunction with a technology company, find that a poisonous industrial waste, when given in very very small quantity, prevent people from developing allergies. Sometimes even severe allergies. What these groups decide to do is lobby the government to have this chemical put into the water supply so that everyone can benefit from the allergy eliminating effects of this substance. Now it is known that it does not work 100% of the time. It is also known to have some side effects. Additionally, depending on how much water you drink you might get a lot or a little so dosing would vary across different people. Children, adults the elderly, the very big, the very petite would all be getting essentially random doses of this chemical. It is also known that not everyone has allergies and so people who have no need for this chemical would also be getting it.

Would you think this is a good idea?

Believe it or not this more or less has already happened. The only difference is instead of allergies its cavities and the chemical is fluorideFluoride has a bizarre story. In the early 1900s a group of people were discovered to have spots on their teeth. These people also had no cavities. Investigations show that the water that they drank had a very high level of fluoride. This caused the speckles on their teeth as well as their lack of cavities. Then the story seems to get a bit murky. Somehow we went from a situation where it was found that a particular chemical could prevent cavities to putting a unregulated dose of a chemical that essentially is like a medicine with side effects and indications and potentially contraindications for people who shouldn’t be taking it and putting it into the water supply. How the hell did that happen?

My understanding of the events in so far as I feel like researching it at the moment has to do with World War II. During the draft of World War II so many potential soldiers were rejected for service because of bad teeth that a decision was made to add fluoride to the water.

This is also a time where we decided to take American citizens of Japanese nationality and lock them up in prison camps. Not every decision that we made because of World War II was a smart one.

The problem with labeling fluoride as somehow bad for you or the results of poor thinking suffers from one big problem: crackpots love this. Dissing fluoride has become a sure fire way to label yourself a crackpot fool. You can’t even question this without people immediately labeling you as slightly unhinged. Why is that? Why can’t we revisit this without being labeled a crockpot? We know a lot more now than we did then and we even know things now that were known then that but weren’t brought up as part of the discussion.

Remember: World War II was a war like no other. Hitler’s plans for America was to essentially turn us into a slave colony. There was a real potential that this could happen. We haven’t had a war since that mobilized the entire country to focus like we did then. We can be excused for the excesses of that war because it truly was a war of good and evil. Studs Terkel the famous author wrote a wonderful book about World War II with that exact thesis: The Good War.

Perhaps almost 70 years later it’s time for us to revisit some of the assumptions without being labeled a crackpot.

Fat, Dumb, & Happy Day 10 – Carb Ennui

March 19, 2014 – 221.2

Down 2 pounds. Still in ketosis. Drank wine and ate chocolate – but no peppers and tomatoes. Maybe it’s a fair trade.

Another interesting tidbit: my blood glucose went from 132 to 95 without meds (I keep forgetting to take them).

Let’s think about this one for a second.  I’ve been in ketosis every day since day 2. That means the total amount of carbs is so low that my body must convert fat into ketones as fuel. Despite this pretty low level of carbs, my blood glucose spiked to 132. It usually stays in the 110s, so 132 is high. This was not only after my nightshade soup, but also after a day where I had ketchup, mustard, raw milk cheese, and Lindt dark chocolate.

Then yesterday I have only roast beef, cheese, cream, Lindt dark chocolate – and wine.

And the number – without medication – plunges nearly 30 points to high-normal – what I was a decade ago.

A quick search on the Internet came up with this headline:  “Compounds found in chocolate, red wine may lower Type 2 diabetes risk”.

(http://www.cbsnews.com/news/compounds-found-in-chocolate-red-wine-may-lower-type-2-diabetes-risk/)

OK – I’m still suspicious of nutrition studies – especially ones from a major news outlet, condensed and twisted to get more pageviews. But what if instead of using this sort of thing to make decisions on what to do, you notice an effect from your own experimentation and find information that seems to explain the phenomenon?

Does a glass of red wine and 4 squares of Lindt dark chocolate before bed control my glucose levels? Or was this a fluke of some sort?

This sounds like a fun experiment, doesn’t it?

It would look something like this: continue to eat ketogenic low carb as I am, avoiding the nightshade family of vegetables, then in the evening have 1 or 2 glasses of wine and the dark chocolate. Track fasting blood glucose and see what happens.

I am not going to try to back this up with research to solidify my position or try to ‘prove’ anything from the current body of science. Instead, I’m going to try to prove it on my own body.

4pm

Stuck in meetings, I didn’t get a chance to eat until a short while ago, so I’ve been fasting since having some cream around 5am. When I went to the kitchen at work there were leftover sandwiches from some guests who came in and had a working lunch. I had a roast beef and cheese sandwich and a ham and cheese sandwich – throwing away the bread and tomato and hoping no one would come in and see me. I also had the tuna salad off another half sandwich as well as a dozen black olives.

7:30pm

I’m really tired, but I’m going to chalk this one up to work-stress. A lot of brainwork and a major launch next week where I’m a big part of the success or failure could mean I might be ‘free to pursue new opportunities’ Really Soon.

OK – maybe hyperbole. But it is a project that could get people fired if things go very wrong. I am lucky to have worked with a bunch of very smart and very hard-working, decent folks and we’ve tried to think of every little detail, but right now I keep running through all the details trying to uncover just one more thing to check, one more thing to test. It’s like a program running constantly in the background. Whether I am consciously thinking about it or not – I’m thinking about it. Brushing my teeth, I come up with things to add to my checklist. While driving I tell Siri – the somewhat intelligent voice-controlled feature on my iPhone – to remind me to check X and double-check Y.

I’m – ahem – *experimenting* with the wine and chocolate to control blood glucose – but ran out of the damn test strips! No fear – I can still perform the wine & chocolate part until I get more strips – science marches on.

As to ketosis, it’s beginning to feel as boring as being a weatherman in Arizona. Today, dry and sunny. tomorrow, dry and sunny. Morning – in ketosis. This evening – in ketosis. Yesterday – ketosis. The day before: ketosis.

How about from this point on I just report if I’m NOT in ketosis.

As mentioned, non-events are hard to notice because they don’t exist. Non-events, however, can be just as important as events.

The sun did not blow up today – that’s pretty important – I have that project to launch.

The non-event was at my late lunch with the sandwiches. I only noticed it hours later: as I stripped each sandwich of it’s bread and threw it in the trash, I didn’t care. I didn’t even see the bread as food – it was merely a container that held the meat and cheese I wanted. The thought of eating it was as foreign to me at the time as considering eating the sandwich bag a sandwich came in.

I’m beginning to notice the same with the goodies around the house. The apple pie doesn’t call to me, nor all the other various and sundry items in the house. Aside from the suspected solanine-induced grazing the other day, I’m just not pining for carbs in general and my favorite carbs – bread – in specific.

Even writing this caused me to fantasize about a fresh, hot baguette – but the fantasy wasn’t all that compelling. It might be described as ‘carb ennui’.

I hold no illusions that this will continue forever, but I’ll take what I can get in the moment.

Evening eats were the last of the Kerry Gold Irish swiss cheese wrapped in a few small grass-fed burgers and a few eggs and cheese.

Both I had with ketchup.

Remember that the ‘toxin is in the dose’? I’m hoping my suspected sensitivity to nightshades was because I simply ate too much of the stuff and a small amount of ketchup – a few tablespoons – might not cause the same effect.

It didn’t. Again, this is all speculative at this point, but the ketchup didn’t start the same cascade of hunger like I had the sunday night and Monday afternoon after having the soup.

Nor did the wine and chocolate.

Before bed I had a big glass of almond milk and then slept fine.