Monday, July 31, 2023

The TLDR as I see it right now (end of July 2023)

 1) Trade sugar, grains, and starch, for rich meals of meat, fish and chicken.  Indulge in fat, protein, spice, salt, and umami, rather than sweetness.  Treat this with a 'food addiction' model, don't have cheat days.  Recognize that it can be incredibly difficult to get back on the wagon if you fall off.  (But also see "treats" in #6 below.)

2) Eat lots of above-ground-growing plants, if only as a way to keep "regular".

3) Don't avoid the natural fat that comes with your food, even saturated fat.   However adding extra fat can get out of control.

4) Watch out for triggering foods that otherwise might conform to the above rules.  For me these are raw almonds, and that popular NJ shore summer dish, tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil.

5) Eat more protein.

6) Avoid artificial sweeteners, let your palette adjust.   It's 100% helpful to have some kind of treat in your arsenal, but you are better off with a few berries than something artificially sweetened.

7) If you find willpower, executive function, or the capacity to change bad habits in limited supply -- and most people do -- focus on changing your diet rather than working out.  If you are massively overweight, there might be a biomechanics argument to make here as well.

8) Being able to do mindful eating effectively is predicated on the diet not being full of addictive foods.  If you have made that change, consider a mindfulness practice, and learning to tune into your bodies own satiety signals.

Structured Compassion, Compassionate Criticism

The last six months, and the last 55 pounds have represented a real shift in outlook for me.  When I started out at 330+ pounds I thought that it was balanced to eat a desert a few nights a week.  Now I go out in public and watch people in similar bodies eating ice cream and think "how the heck can they think that is a good idea?"  

It wasn't so long ago that that was me, but now that feels like "other". It's really easy to be coarsely critical of people still carrying the 55 lbs that I lost, to use words like "fat f*ck*, or "fat a**" and the like.  Maybe it comes from an insecure part of myself, the part that knows you can always recede.  It feels more important to have some kind of compassion as a default mode, and apply it to everybody, not just people eating the right foods.

I write about how the concept of "not denying yourself" on a diet is less about permitting lapses, and more about learning that it is OK to indulge in the areas where it is safe to indulge.  I have written about how I believe "don't deny yourself" means eat luxurious foods like well-seasoned (often well-salted) steak, it means embracing spice, and umami, and letting go of sweetness.  Similarly though, having compassion doesn't mean being permissive about bad behaviors. It means reinforcing the things that work, being compassionately critical of the things that don't, sticking to your guns when it comes to what you think is good and right with respect to nutrition, but also not being a dick.

I also have a ways to go, at 280lbs I can't make any claim to inhabiting a healthy body.

Saturday, July 29, 2023

Why is my goal weight in the "overweight" BMI range?

Weight presents a "J" shaped curve in terms of overall mortality.  The heavier you are, the higher your risk factor, but under a certain weight, it also goes up.  The question is where is the nadir for risk of dying?  One would think that it is squarely in the "normal" weight BMI, but it may not be.

Excerpted from the Science News piece above.

A reminder on where the reference ranges are from a post on

  • If your BMI is less than 18.5, it falls within the underweight range.
  • If your BMI is 18.5 to <25, it falls within the healthy weight range.
  • If your BMI is 25.0 to <30, it falls within the overweight range. [The BMI with the lowest hazard ratio in the Danish study was in this range]
  • If your BMI is 30.0 or higher, it falls within the obesity range.

Obesity is frequently subdivided into categories:

  • Class 1: BMI of 30 to < 35
  • Class 2: BMI of 35 to < 40
  • Class 3: BMI of 40 or higher. Class 3 obesity is sometimes categorized as “severe” obesity.

Monday, July 24, 2023

Making working out less of an "event"...

 I'm a firm believer that really effective aerobic training has to be done at a pretty specific level of exertion.  That working out lower than that just juices your appetite without much training effect, and working out higher than that leaves you prone to injury.  However, I'm trying to reconcile this with a shift towards interleaving workouts at various points through the day, rather than doing it all in one shot at the gym at 8 am.

I mean -- if you had the option: a stationary bike or treadmill, or park easily and safely available, would you do 45 minutes of sedentary desk work followed by 15 minutes of something that requires a higher heart rate? 

I don't want to have to faff with my heart rate monitor to do this, and I know I'm not really working out at exactly my MAF pace or Zone 2, or whatever your target is.  I just think that sitting literally all day, isn't effectively countered by 30 or 45 minutes of aerobic work at the gym.  You just can't sit that much without movement and be healthy.

I'm well aware that a lot of people, particularly in my field (software engineering) don't have private offices, don't work at Google's campus with omnipresent nap, workout, meditation, and culinary spaces.  When I did that work I was in a cube in a cube farm, and it would not have been looked at too kindly to escape for that 15 minute movement break with that frequency.

It makes me think of the Pomodoro method, where you set a timer for some period of focus, with a programmed-in break, in order to break through procrastination, and spur creative work.  This is kind of the same thing, but maybe the period is a bit longer, and the break isn't spent looking at your phone, it is spent moving.

You think what I'm eating is decadent? I'm subsidizing your desert.

 You've got to think that the difference in meal cost between steak and eggs at a diner, and whatever crap breakfast everyone else is eating isn't that significant to begin with.  I mean, how much do blueberry pancakes and home fries cost compared to my petite sirloin?    That being the case I have a hard time ditching this sensitivity that I'm being decadent, or flexing, or whatever the modern language is.

I had a waitress reinforce this once by mocking me for ordering steak and eggs frequently, so it's not entirely in my head.

The thing here is, and I've written about this before, is that there are some health externalities to that "cheaper" breakfast.  These health externalities are being paid for by everyone with health insurance.  The cost of all of that obesity is averaged across the whole population, healthy or unhealthy.

So to that waitress who made fun of me -- I'm in effect paying for the guy who waddled to his seat, sat down with a huff, sucks air through his mouth for the effort, and orders a shit-tonne of carbs, and wolfs them down with maple syrup on top.  So by extension, I'm paying your salary twice, once for my meal, and once for his.

This is obviously emotional, but it's also economic.   The $10 price difference in the meals might be the difference between needing to be on exogenous insulin for the rest of your life or not.  It might mean the difference between being able to conceive without help, or between staying healthy and having to engage the services of a cardiologist or cerebral vascular specialist.  All that shit is expensive.

There are other externalities too -- imagine the societal cost to everyone running around with low energy and depression because of their diets?  Imagine the loss of productivity when a huge majority of workers are eating carbs for lunch and then fighting the need for an extended nap at 1pm.  Imagine the kids growing up essentially latch-key because their parents are too metabolically wasted after work to give them any attention.

People say, "oh, I can't afford to eat like that, you must be really rich."  I was going to end this post with a cliche like "can you really afford not to", but that seems unnecessarily glib.  It's frustrating to simultaneously have no views on my writing, but walk through the world with eyes wide people who complain that the world has gone to shit, but can't see that a large part of the problem is on the plate in front of them.  Or the sack in their car.  Or the plastic cup with the Starbucks "classic" (sugar syrup) and caramel sauce.

Saturday, July 22, 2023

It's interesting how this gets reversed...

 If you had a problem with alcohol or drugs, and you walked into a bar or flop, rejecting an offer to join in, it would be pretty clear that the "good" behavior was coming from you, and the "bad" influence was coming from the environment.  Nobody could sanely make the assertion that the "normal people" would have the whiskey or cocaine, and only esoteric, overly controlling, type-a people would abstain.

However, in nutrition, that gets flipped around.  I walk into a house where someone is baking bread, and my behavior (abstaining) is the esoteric behavior, and their behavior (indulging) is the norm.  I'm the special one for electing to pass on the cocaine, they are behaving totally normally, even lovingly, by serving it up.

There is a lot that goes into this: First off is this persistent feeling that obesity is a problem of sloth, of the will -- something that is a failure of the person suffering from it.  If you can't "handle" a little fresh baked bread or apple cider doughnuts hanging out on the counter, then that is on you. "That is your problem fatass."

The second thing that feeds into this is that as a culture, we haven't figured out how to express love outside of serving food.  We don't know how to connect, except at the table.  Modernity has removed other modes of connection like joining in song at a congregation, reading out loud with each other, playing a sport in a playful way, going fishing, or whatever.  The daily automaticity just lands us back at the dining table.

Both of these things, blaming the victim, and a culture of fattening each other up out of love are problematic, but both of them are deeply ingrained in our society.  The only way forward is to be the "weird" one that just says "no".

This "keto" snack almost de-railed my whole nutrition plan

 First thing I will say before I get to it, is if you are going to fuck up your diet, there's a good, recoverable way, and a bad, hard-to-recover way.  I was driving down the road last night looking for a supermarket where I could buy a bunch of cupcakes or brownies.  Where I instead landed was at Wawa, where I had an admittedly very large portion (to the point of potentially it being a binge) of meatballs, and some watermelon.  Really having a huge id-driven meal of stuff that is nominally on the diet versus falling off the wagon and eating a bunch of sugar has the same satiating feeling, but very different implications for your future on the diet.

So, what put me in this position in the first place?  I think the culprit was this thing called a "Keto Bar", that I can get at the local Rastelli's market.  Unlike the Whole Foods "Keto Cups" that I have written about before the "Keto Bar" is intensely, albeit artificially sweet.  Where the Whole Foods product tastes a little bitter, and is an acquired taste, the Rastelli's product just tastes like a piece of candy you can get anywhere.

The difference is that the Whole Foods product doesn't lead to crazy cravings the next day.  It hasn't triggered any kind of addiction mechanism, it's just a nice little treat that still feels religiously part of the diet.  The Rastelli's product feels like you are getting something for free -- which you are not -- and which ultimately leaves you wanting much more.

Thursday, July 20, 2023

Mindfulness isn't about sitting on the floor - in fact it can be counterproductive

 If you are looking at getting into a mindfulness practice, and are searching Pinterest for how to set up a meditation space, I might gently suggest that you might be doing it wrong.  It's key to have a quiet space, but that can be a couch or a chair, just in a regular old room -- no Buddha statue, falling water fixture, or aromatherapy.

I'm sure it's different for everyone, but for me, what reinforces a mindfulness practice is just sitting down and having a mindfulness practice.  I meditate on my couch, in my car, when I am falling asleep..etc.  If I had to sit on the floor cross legged, with my legs going numb, and my back aching, I don't think I would ever actually practice.  In fact I know this to be the case, because for many years I was into buying special meditation pillows (Zafu and Zaibuton?) and timers, and cordoning off space in my apartment -- but never actually practicing.

One thing I will say though is that quiet is important.  There used to be a meditation class at a co-working space I attended, and it was right outside of a noisy meeting space.   Having people talking in the background isn't really productive for me.  However, even here, I'd say just use your headphones and earbuds to put on a guided meditation or background noise.

I learned to meditate primarily with Joseph Goldstein in the 10% Happier App, and I'd highly suggest finding some kind of guided approach to begin with.  A couple of years in I basically just use a timer.

Saturday, July 15, 2023

I graduated from the Big and Tall store!

 I tried on a pair of jeans at the Big and Tall store, which where too big.  Sam, my regular sales attendant for the past 10 years said, "well, it's bitter sweet, but I think you have graduated to the mall."  

I bought a shirt at LL Bean, and a pair of jeans at the Levis store.  I have to say that just feels amazing.

Monday, July 3, 2023

It is not uncommon for people who have normalized their weight to be exceedingly critical of people who haven't.

 One of the defining characteristics of growing up with obesity is being mocked and tortured by your school peers on a regular basis.  This gets internalized in such a way that we now have our own internal version of those voices saying horrible things to ourselves about our bodies and our behaviors.  This isn't kind, productive coaching, this is just angry, superior, grotesque (because it is now an internal thought process and no longer coming from a bully)...  One way to quiet that internal monologue is to double down on it, externalize it, apply it to others, in the hope that our internal milieu will quiet down, become more positive, allow us to have more self confidence...etc.

This is a defense mechanism.  We were hurt, so we want to hurt others.  A better approach to be more compassionate to others because we know what the opposite feels like.  It is very difficult.

Watch your language...

 I've talked before on this blog about the concept of "not denying yourself" on a diet.   When people say "you can't deny yourself", often it is interpreted to mean that a regular cheat meal or cheat day is necessary.  I have talked about how I follow a model closer to an "addiction model", and entirely abstain from processed sugar and starch.  "Not denying yourself" means that I regularly indulge in meals from people who are more expert chefs, and that I don't consciously limit portions -- although they do get limited as a function of the diet's macronutrient composition.  This can mean eating salty or more flavorful food, with spice, salt, and umami replacing sweetness -- something that it's not always easy for a bachelor chef to come up with.

So when I have a conversation with someone about insulin, or satiety in the context of favoring protein and fat over carbohydrates, and their response is "what has always worked for me is portion control", my hackles get raised a bit.  For me, there are two classes of nutrition and exercise advice, one is useful, one is akin to fat shaming:

1) Advice rooted in function, science, and effectiveness.  Advice that works.

Example: Reduce starch and sugar.  You would do well to break your sugar addiction.

Example: Protein drives satiety.

Example: Fat accumulation is a hormonal problem of too much insulin.  Avoiding insulinogenic foods is more effective than cutting calories which inevitably just suppresses metabolism.

Example: Longer duration, low-intensity training (such as MAF training) is a safer way to exercise for a lot of people than joining CrossFit, but you can't out-exercise a bad diet.

2) Advice rooted in puritanism, in effort-ing, and in castigation.  Advice that feels right, but who's underlying ethos is about blame. Advice that doesn't work.

Example: Eat less and move more.

Example: Portion control has always worked for me.

Example: Why can't you just go for a run / join CrossFit.