Aug 202012

I’m almost certainly going to upset someone with this, which isn’t my intention. I feel that it needs to be said anyway.

There are many quirks of language use that I find irritating. One among them, I find irritating for the implications it carries. That’s the phrase “that doesn’t work for me” or the variant “that might work for you, but…” Sometimes, these are valid things to say. When they are said in response to facts, they engender a great deal of rage.

I’ve encountered a pretty wide array of responses since embracing the information set forward in Taubes’s book. Most of the responses are appreciative of the obvious progress I’ve been making (now down eight pounds, even after two parties). Some folks have said variations on “I couldn’t do that,” which is fine. It takes a certain measure of willpower to just slice carbs out of your diet, cold-turkey and some just don’t have that, or don’t want to exercise it. There are also financial or dietary elements to it that can prove problematic–meat’s expensive, and not on the menu for vegetarians. Others have responded with skepticism, which is also fine. I point them at my blog post on the topic first, which in turn points them at the book if the blog post doesn’t convince them or if they want all of the supporting data. Skepticism is good and healthy and I encourage it.

But “that doesn’t work for me” is a turn of phrase that really bothers me. In general, what the person is saying–but doesn’t want to say–is that they don’t think they can do it. As I said above, that’s a perfectly fair position to take. What I don’t like is the implication that comes with this particular turn of phrase that the method is somehow flawed. It would absolutely work for you; you’re a human being and your biological functions are not wildly different from any other human’s. If you tried it, and couldn’t stick to it, that wasn’t a case of it “not working” for you, it was a failure on your part to adhere to the requirements. But “that doesn’t work for me” is a complete lie.

Let’s be clear: exercise is good for you, and has lots of benefits. It’s also going to do next to nothing to get you to lose weight/burn fat. It will help improve muscle tone and thereby contribute to making you look better overall when combined with weight loss, but a single meal is worth more in raw calories than a good two hours of strenuous exercise. I’m not encouraging people to avoid exercise; I’m discouraging people from thinking it’s going to do more than make a meager dent in any weight issues.

Counting calories–and remember, this was an approach I championed until just recently–only works indirectly. When you’re counting calories, you’re generally taking in less of everything, carbs included. But you’re still consuming carbs, which are still prioritized over the foodmass that you actually want to burn off. You’re still stowing the rest of what you eat on your body, because the carbs must be the priority or your own blood sugar level will poison you. There is no concrete evidence anywhere that calorie restriction alone has any impact on weight loss.

If you want to count calories and exercise, be my guest. Just don’t delude yourself into thinking that’s how you’re going to lose weight, and don’t tell me that adhering to a biochemical explanation and method for losing weight “doesn’t work for you.”

Radically changing gears, this weekend was awesome. Cody and I spent Friday afternoon through late Sunday with friends, engaged in various forms of entertainment. The apex of this weekend was a party for a rarely-seen-in-person friend of ours who was in town. However, at the urging of another friend, we decided to keep the guest list very short. In total, we had about ten people involved.

I had forgotten how much fun our small shindigs could be.

A large party takes on a life of its own, which is a great deal of fun. But it also comes with a certain dilution of focus. There are so many people present that it’s difficult to spend any meaningful time with anyone, and depending on the composition it’s difficult to make everyone feel comfortable. Not so with a smaller party. When everyone knows and is comfortable with everyone else, there’s a sort of social magic that happens that I had all but forgotten.

I think most of our parties going forward will be of the smaller variety, with apologies to those this excludes. That’s not to say we won’t have big shindigs in the future; we almost certainly will. They’ll just be rarer than the smaller gatherings wherein everyone can let their hair down.

Aug 132012

Let’s talk about weight loss for a bit.

Ever since I first learned of the Hacker Diet, I’ve been a proponent of the idea that calories in < calories out = weight loss. It makes intuitive sense. Your body is a giant furnace, requiring fuel. You provide it that fuel in the form of food, which it burns if it needs and stores if it does not. It doesn't matter what you eat; if you aren't providing your body with as many calories as you're burning, you lose body mass. Straight-forward, clean, simple. But what if it's wrong? I recently encountered Why We Get Fat (and What To Do About It) by Gary Taubes. I started reading it Sunday morning, while attempting to recover from a rather unpleasant wine-induced hangover. I hardly put it down until I finished it. In less than 300 pages, Taubes not only completely shredded this basic idea that I thought unassailable, but presented a nigh-unassailable case of his own for the identify of the real culprit behind the worldwide obesity epidemic.

It all comes down to carbs.

Taubes is a journalist, not a doctor, a nutritionist, or a professional scientist. He’s not a formally trained expert on these matters. He is someone who takes the scientific method to heart and is no stranger to investigation and research. Rather than accept what major institutions like the FDA, AMA, and so on proffer as “common sense,” he decided to actually delve into the scientific literature surrounding weight loss, obesity, and so on.

In every instance, calorie control resulted in only modest results, and never showed long-term sustainability. In other words, there is no science to back up this seemingly obvious idea. This came as a huge shock to me, as someone who finds the idea of taking anything on faith to be repugnant. I want facts and data and rigorous testing before I accept something as true.

Taubes spent most of the book smashing apart the calorie control argument, and he did it in such a way that was both engaging to read and eye-opening. I don’t want to get into all of the details of it here; you really should read the book if you’re interested in examining the body of evidence he brings forward. Suffice it to say, it was convincing.

Instead, he points the finger at carbohydrates and the villification of dietary fat. Much like Atkins, he champions a diet of unrestricted protein and fat consumption, with minimal carbs. Why? Because carbohydrates spike your body’s insulin levels. So what? Carbs are the first target for digestion, before fat and protein. For every carb you eat, the fat or protein going with it is stashed away for later. This is how we evolved; it’s how things are supposed to work. Carbs are easy energy; this is common knowledge. The insulin spike, throwing off the entire digestive pattern, is the kicker. And what is the entire Western diet based on? Carbs.

But carbs are “heart healthy!” A diet of protein and fat is going to lead to cholesterol build-up and heart disease! Again, this is mostly bullshit, stemming from bad science. A diet devoid of carbs, but rich in meat and fat actually results in an increase in HDL (“good” cholesterol) and LDL (“bad” cholesterol), and a decrease in triglycerides (also bad dudes). Further, it offers a reduction in blood pressure. What’s more, the question of LDL isn’t as cut-and-dried as “good” vs. “bad.” LDL actually comes in various sizes, and it turns out that the protein-and-fat diet enlarges your LDLs, which actually makes them less likely to create the plaque that can cause arterial blockages. You know what makes them smaller and denser, more likely to cause blockage? Yep, carbs. As it turns out the protein-and-fat diets make you more heart healthy than reducing either. And this isn’t limited to certain types of protein-and-fat foods. It’s universal. Eggs, bacon, all of it — it’s actually good for you. It’s the bread, flour, sugar that’s killing you.

“But calorie control does work!” Hell, I touted this line, and I thought it was working for me! Turns out, this is confusing the matter. Controlling calories almost universally includes cutting back on carbs, along with cutting back on everything else. Fewer carbs in the system means less insulin imbalance, means less material stored as fat. So what’s the deal with the insulin spike? Insulin’s whole point is to regulate your blood sugar level. Carbs, especially simple sugars, spike your blood sugar level. The body flushes with insulin to get rid of them so you don’t die. It can’t deal with digesting and using protein and fat for energy while it’s got to deal with carbs.

Everything about Taubes’s arguments slot neatly into our modern problem of obesity, including the attendant rise in diabetes. I said to my wife while reading the book, “This thing is like Christmas.” Taubes even goes so far as to compare the calorie control mentality as somewhat religious, since it plays on the idea that sloth and gluttony are the only reason people get fat. If they could only control themselves, they wouldn’t be obese. It’s a very Christian view of things; no wonder it’s caught on with such fervor. And here I was, swept up in it. I’m ashamed.

It is a question of control, of course. You’ve got to excise carbs, and that’s not easy. Sugar, especially, is little different from cocaine in its addictive response. I want a big bowl of pasta, some cookies, a milkshake. Why? Because my brain’s reward centers trigger when I eat these things. They’re delicious. They’re also screwing me over. Bacon’s delicious too, as are scrambled eggs (or any eggs). They aren’t trying to kill me.

There’s some saving grace for carbohydrates, in the form of complex carbs. I don’t have the list on hand, but there a number of vegetables such that are rich in carbs, but they’re “complex” carbs. They’re harder to break down, have less of an impact on your system, and have an overall lower “glycemic index” (read: they make your blood sugar spike a lot less, which means you need less insulin flushing through you).

It’s not a perfect solution, though. Insulin secretion and reaction to carbs is also partly genetic. Fat parents give birth to fat babies, and what a mother eats influences the genetic disposition of a child toward accumulating weight. Even if you get your insulin issues under control, it doesn’t mean you’re free and clear; it just lets you re-normalize. Staying completely away from carbs (or near enough; Atkins is the most stringent, limiting the initial stages to less than 20g per day; a single hamburger bun is about 25g) will continue to result in fat loss. Your body will burn the stored fat it has, and now go after the easy carbs floating around while storing the other stuff. Introducing carbs back in may result in a return to fat accumulation. It depends on your genetics, and there’s basically nothing you can do about it. That’s the shitty part, but it also handily explains why some people are effortlessly thin, while others struggle non-stop, even with this knowledge. I suspect I’m probably somewhere in the middle of the two extremes.

So, I’m on the no-carb bandwagon now, and off the calorie control one. We’ll see how it works. If, six months from now, I’m in terrible shape, heavier than ever, low on energy, with spiked blood pressure, we’ll know this was horseshit, at least for my biochemistry. If, on the other hand, I’m leaner than I’ve ever been (I was a huge carb consumer, especially before Cody got on me about controlling me eating habits) and feeling amazing in six months…well, that says all it needs to.

Jan 032011

I saw a lot of people glad to be done with 2010. The general feeling seems to have been that 2010 was a less-than-satisfactory year. For my part, I’m inclined to disagree: in March, I got a new job at an awesome company working with awesome people on an awesome project; in July, my groomsmen took me to Atlantic City; in August, I got married and then went on my very first cruise; in October, Cody and I went as a very convincing Rose and the 10th Doctor for Halloween; in November, my parents finally came down to Maryland for Thanksgiving; December featured one of our best New Year’s Eve parties ever.

So, y’know, go 2010. May 2011 be as good or better.

To that end as is custom this time of year, I have a list of goals that I’m planning to work toward this year. They’re not “resolutions” and they’re not carved in stone; either notion is folly. But they’re things I care about and want to get better at, which I think carries more weight.

  • Devote some time each evening to writing or playing guitar. The main thing here is taking care of my “daily chores” in WoW, and then setting it aside while I spend some time doing either of the above activities. Once I’ve put some good effort in toward either, I’ll allow myself to go back to playing more WoW. I love my WoW hobby, but I can’t continue neglecting my others!
  • Get better about watching my diet again. I’ve slipped a bit since the wedding, which is probably entirely unsurprising to anyone who’s gotten married. I haven’t backslid irrevocably or anything drastic, but it’s noticeable enough to me that I want to do something about it. So, I plan to. Having a Droid will, I hope, make keeping track of my food intake a little easier.
  • Finish unpacking the house. This includes getting some additional furniture (bookshelves) and also tidying up the pantry shelves so that we can actually start making use of the damn thing.
  • Build the vacuform machine I’m always talking about. I intend to for Halloween to be very interesting this year.

That seems like an ambitious-enough list to start with.

Oct 092009

I originally caught this at Lifehacker, which posted from the NYT. I’ve paraphrased the list and condensed it, with explanations below.

  1. Don’t eat egg salad from a vending machine.
    • Or eggs from a carton.
  2. You can’t leave the table until you finish your fruit.
  3. Meals prepared at home, served at the table, are more appreciated and more healthful than food eaten on the run.
  4. Breakfast, you should eat alone. Lunch, you should share with a friend. Dinner, give to your enemy.
    • I don’t understand this rule.
  5. Don’t eat anything that took more energy to ship than to grow.
    • The emphasis here is to buy local, organic foods rather than imported food. It’s usually fresher and has required less chemical processing.
  6. Never eat something that is pretending to be something else.
  7. Don’t yuck someone’s yum.
  8. Make and take your own lunch to work.
  9. If you are not hungry enough to eat an apple, then you are not hungry.
  10. Eat until your are seven-tenths full and save the other three-tenths for hunger.
    • The point is to enjoy what you eat without eating too much.
  11. Eat foods in inverse proportion to how much its lobby spends to push it.
    • Key example: corn byproducts (i.e. high-fructose corn syrup).
  12. Go ho, go shiki, go mi (Japanese for five cooking methods, five colors, five flavors) for each meal.
    • Go ho: Five cooking methods (i.e. steaming, simmering, grilling, sautéing, raw)
    • Go shiki: Five colors
    • Go mi: five flavors (i.e. sweet, sour, salty, bitter, spicy)
  13. Avoid snack foods with the “oh” sound in their names
    • Doritos, Fritos, Cheetos, Tostitos, Hostess Ho Hos
  14. The law of diminishing marginal utility from economics: each additional bite is generally less satisfying than the previous bite
    • 3 bites from 5 plates/dishes is more satisfying than 15 bites from 1 dish
  15. Don’t eat anything you aren’t willing to kill yourself.
    • I suspect this is aimed at we carnivores from vegetarians.
  16. No second helpings, no matter how scrumptious.
  17. When drinking tea, just drink tea.
    • Tea is not a tea bag, water, milk, and sugar. Tea is a tea bag and water.
  18. When eating, don’t talk about other past meals, whether better or worse.
  19. Don’t create arbitrary rules for eating if their only purpose is to help you feel in control
    • If you have to choose between eating ice cream and spending all day obsessing about eating ice cream, eat the damn ice cream.
  20. It’s better to pay the grocer than the doctor.
  21. Emphasis added to the rules I consider most important.

Losing Weight

 Posted by at 10:03  No Responses »
Jan 272009

In March of 2008, I made a commitment to start losing weight.  At that time, I weight 206 pounds (and had already come down from my all-time high of 215, which I only reached through lots of drinking and junk food during college).  My goal was to get down to 175 pounds, which was 5 pounds less than my lowest weight during high school.  Once I achieved that goal, I would evaluate from there.  175 pounds would place my BMI at around 24.4 — the high side of normal and probably closer to “true” normal, given my frame. 

This morning, I weighed 181 pounds.  I still have a little ways to go, but I’ve managed to shed 25 pounds and that seems like it merits some commentary.

Continue reading »