Editor’s Note: This article was first published in June of 2013. It is being reprinted as part of a new weekend series at PJ Lifestyle collecting and organizing the top 50 best lists. Where will this great piece end up on the list? Reader feedback will be factored in when the PJ Lifestyle Top 50 List Collection is completed in a few months…
The hypothesis: a slow carb diet with intermittent fasting, along with continuing to work for greater integration of exercise into my daily life, will help me lose weight and improve my still-too-high blood sugar. This is the third experiment of a 13 weeks duration, in an ongoing series. Follow my daily updates at Facebook and join me on Fitocracy to follow my progress there, of which there will be some. Honest.
13 Weeks: Season 3, Week 3
I’ve been personally interested in weight loss and associated things pretty much my entire life. Long-time readers will remember me mentioning being insulted about my weight — told I was repulsive, in fact — when I was seven or eight. I first started actively dieting, hoping to lose weight and not be repulsive, when I was about 12, and immediately ran into trouble with it. After a certain length of time, even strictly following a 1200 kcal a day diet, I’d stop losing weight.
Since this was well-known to be impossible, it must have been that I was cheating on the diet. I knew I wasn’t, but who’s going to believe a 12 year old?
Fast forward to when I was working on my PhD at Duke Medical School. By this time I was considerably more sophisticated — well, except emotionally, I still felt basically that I was repulsive — and I had started reading seriously about weight regulation. I discovered that a whole lot of things I’d been told were absolutely certain, weren’t. Many of those things are still generally believed, and I think they keep people from doing what is useful, get them to do a lot of things that aren’t particularly useful, and frankly cause many people to despair.
Myth #1: The “Ideal” Weight Is Healthiest.
This one has made recent news. Our idea of what is an ideal weight comes originally from studies done by life insurance companies. The insurance company actuaries spend their time trying to decide how much to charge for an insurance policy, which is essentially a bet: you are betting the insurance company that you will die young, and the insurance company bets you will live to a ripe old age. (I’ve explained the basic math of insurance on PJM before.) So insurance companies, primarily MetLife, did studies in the ’50s and computed ideal weights from them.
These studies were very empirical, and they really were aimed entirely at determining how much to charge middle-aged white people for insurance. They did a good job of that, but they didn’t account for any number of confounding factors. However, once they had published the tables, these tables went from being essentially descriptive — “middle aged people seem to live longest in these height/weight ratios” — to be taken as prescriptive — “everyone’s ideal weight is given by these tables of height/weight ratio.” Now we define these “ideal weights” in terms of body-mass index, BMI, which sounds much more precise and scientific, but turns out to be simply a height/weight ratio.
Pretty much anyone can see that BMI is questionable — for example, a champion bodybuilder with a competition body fat of 3 percent may well have a “very obese” BMI. (On the other hand, it’s unclear that very low body fat is necessarily healthy either — in fact, we know it’s certainly not healthy for women.)
The problem is that epidemiology, the study of health and disease across large populations, keeps finding results that don’t quite fit this idea of ideal weight. Most recently, a study by Katherine Flegel and others published in January of this year showed that the notion of ideal weight was massively oversimplified. The study found two things: first, that for younger people, BMI doesn’t have any strong effects, and as you get older, the BMI associated with the least likelihood of dying increases.
In other words, if you don’t want to die the data suggests you actually want a slightly higher BMI as you get older.
What’s more, other studies say that BMI isn’t as good a predictor as simply the length of your belt — the larger your waistline, the more likely you were to have a whole lot of different health problems like type-2 diabetes. (This one does fit the bodybuilder example, too — bodybuilders do generally have small waists.)
Now, this can be taken too far — there’s no doubt that real obesity has bad effects on your health. (My knees would tell you that, if asked. And if knees could talk.) But the truth is that being a little overweight is either not harmful or may actually be helpful.
It’s going to be a sort of multi-theme column today: I’ve accumulated several things I want to write about while I’ve been suffering keyboard constipation the last couple of weeks. I’ve got some new things to talk about on the exercise front (and the workmonster front as well.)
First the general (and uninteresting) stats: weight is still right there on the same old plateau between 265 and 270, glucose is doing the thing of being high first thing in the morning and low to unpleasantly low in the afternoons. Except for one day when I ate apple pieces and cheese at bedtime, instead of just protein, and got up with my glucose around 100 instead of the 120s. I’m going to the grocery store shortly, and will get more apples to see if that can be repeated.
It’s a combination pedometer and recorder; you wear it all the time — except it’s not waterproof, so you can’t wear it into the shower, which strikes me as a little bit dumb. The most interesting thing I’m getting is that it does record various things while you’re asleep, and can thus track the quality of your sleep. From this I’ve learned that I am doing much better along those lines, that I can’t really get by on five and a half hours, and that it’s pretty repeatable that Kaleo gets lonely and wants affection around 5AM.
Which brings us to the actual point. The thing is a pedometer, and if anything I’m surprised that I do get some exercise even working at home and all. Most of it comes from running up and down the stairs, which is helped by the fact that I’m apparently constitutionally unable to actually remember everything I went up or down the stairs for by the time I get to the other end.
As I have repeatedly complained, however, it’s not enough and I’m sure it’s not enough, but it’s hard to both be a workaholic and make time for exercise.
At one point as I was complaining, my sometime writing partner Sarah Hoyt gave me an idea. An idea she said she’d gotten from Ginnie Heinlein, who said it was something Robert Heinlein used to to, and for a couple of Heinlein fanboys/girls like us that has to be good, right?
I came to Buddhism, like a lot of people in the 60s, through Zen.
I’ll warn you that the video is about 12 minutes long, but that’s a really good talk by Alan Watts, whose books were among my first teachers of Buddhism. There are probably a dozen columns in it, so it’s a real time saver.
Zen, as Alan explains, is widely imagined in the West to be anti-intellectual, but it really isn’t — it’s, instead, non-intellectual. It says that underneath the intellectual uinderstanding of Buddhism, there is a place where you are already the Buddha; Zen is, as Alan says, a way of directly pointing to that underlying reality that simply can’t be achieved intellectually.
So, of course, I’m going to write today about reading and writing and how my academic studies have affected my understanding.
I didn’t really start reading the sutras until … well, I guess it’s been quite a long time now, ten years or more, but seeing as I’ve been a Buddhist for something getting close to 50 years, it really came rather late in life. I started with the maha-prajña-paramita-sutra, the “Great Sutra at the Heart of Wisdom”. Fairly short, pithy, and very obscure on first reading. There are all these words for which the translations aren’t very satisfactory. So I started reading more widely, into the Pali Canon, the Tripitaka, and reading various people’s commentaries, and paying more attention to studying Sanskrit and Chinese.
This isn’t really foreign to Zen; there are lots of writings used in teaching Zen, and lots to be learned from them. I was thinking about listing some, but I think I’ll save that for another column. In the year I’ve been writing these columns, I’ve really found pretty much everything can be taken back to the Dharmachakra Sutra, the first teaching Buddha offered, directly after his Liberation. That’s where he first explains the Eightfold Path and the Four Great Truths.
I was thinking about my old cat Radar this morning. I was having my usual low-carb breakfast of hardboiled eggs with mayonnaise, salt and pepper — sort of Philip Glass egg salad — and bacon, and remembering how much Radar loved bacon. Now, my other two cats don’t have much interest in people food — oh, Ali’i will deign to accept some scraps of roast pork or turkey skin, but most of the time if I offer them something they’ll investigate it politely, maybe take a taste and then look at me clearly saying “are you nuts?” Radar really liked bacon and chicken.
Radar was something like 13 years old when he died, which is pretty old for an Abyssinian — they tend to have limited shelf lives, which is too bad as they’re incredible cats otherwise — and, unusually for an Aby, he was … plump. And a bit of a chow-hound. Ali’i and Kaleo, the current players in the role of masters of the house, are not at all plump; neither was Vashti, my first cat, nor was Yeshimbra, Radar’s predecessor in the goofy Aby role.
They all have lived on effectively the same diet — some good dry cat food freely fed, and a can of Friskies wet food split among them every day, half in the morning half at night. Oh, sometimes I try different kinds of wet food, but honestly they always seem to like Friskies the best and I can buy it at Costco in 48-can megapacks.
So, okay, you might think the difference is the human food, but Shimbra was even more gluttonous than Radar — his opinion was that if I was eating it it must be good, and that you should never eat anything much bigger than your head unless it’s a chicken — and Vashti was quite willing to accept part of any meal of mine, and was an absolute nut for pudding, especially tapioca.
And yet, four out of five cats had no weight problem at all, and Radar was … plump.
Let’s take a road trip. We’re going to visit all the capitals of all the 48 contiguous states, starting from Denver.
Now, since we’re taking vacation days to do this, we don’t want to visit any capital more than once, and we want to do this in the least time, or in the shortest distance traveled, which is pretty much the same thing.
Starting from Denver, if we only want to visit one other state capital, planning the trip is easy. Denver to Cheyenne. Boom. Two capitals is easy — you can either go Denver to Cheyenne to Topeka, or Denver to Topeka to Cheyenne. Add in Santa Fe, well, there are several routes. Ignoring, for the sake of keeping my readers awake, some details, basically as we expand the number of cities, we have to explore every possible ordering of the cities. So if we stay in Denver, visiting exactly one capital, we have exactly one route. Visit one other city, we have two choices of trip plan — Denver Cheyenne Denver, or Cheyenne Denver Cheyenne. Visit two other cities — so three cities total — and there are six choices. (Remember this includes trips where someone wants to start and end in Santa Fe or, Gods forbid, Topeka.) So, no other cities, you have 1 choice. One other city, you still only have 2 choices. Two other cities, you have six route choices.
Three other cities? Well, you can use all the routes for two other cities, and go to the new city from each of them. So you multiply the number of routes you’ve already got by the total number of cities. In other words, if we have n cities, we want n × n-1×n-2 … 1.
Many of you already recognize this as n! — “n factorial” — which is an important idea in a lot of different areas of math.
Sometime in the 6th century (see “About Dates” below) not far south of the Himalayan mountains on the Indian subcontinent, a man laid out a simple idea: people are unhappy, lack peace of mind, because they cling to their illusions and fantasies about the world instead of seeing things as they are.
Traditional accounts agree his personal name was Siddhartha, “the successful one” or “the one who achieves”, which was a popular name then and is popular today. His gotra family name was Gautama, and he was born into a clan called the Shakya, of the Kshatriya or “warrior” class. His father was named Suddhodana, and his mother was named Mayadevi. Suddhodana is usually called a “king” but he was an elected ruler, and the Shakya’s government was something more or less like a republic.
The traditions say he was born prematurely, and unexpectedly, under a tree in a place called Lumbini, and recent archeological discoveries show that there was indeed a tree-shrine at the location the tradition identifies. Mayadevi died shortly after Siddhartha’s birth.
Siddhartha was raised as a rich princeling, but he left this life of wealth to become a renunciate, and eventually became known as a teacher called “the one who woke up” — the Buddha.
The first written records we have, however, are from at least a century after his death, and most of the written texts describing his life and teaching were first written down more than 500 years after he died. Many of these stories are fantastic, magical — and, as they say, they probably grew in the telling.
Can we look into these stories, the sutras, and see more clearly what this man’s original teachings were? What he taught before the sutras were written down?
What can we learn from the Undocumented Buddha?
What, it’s Saturday already? And my deadline is Friday? Oh, hell.
So here’s the update, first of all, on the whole diet thing. Basically, not good, not bad: my glucose is holding steady with morning fasting around 120 and mid-day down to the low 100s and below. My weight, according to the new round to the nearest 5 pounds once a week rule, is about 270 — which means by the scale I’ve gone from 267 to 269, or in other words, same old same old plateau.
Which is actually good, because my compliance with the diet and exercise plan this week has sucked. I haven’t left the house since I went grocery shopping last Sunday and I haven’t done any exercise besides jumping to conclusions and chasing deadlines. And I haven’t caught any of them.
Oddly, however, I’m very happy. Which is the topic of this column.
My friend Donna is often after me about exercise — she skis and walks and Gods know what all else — and she said something that I think was more insightful than she realized.
“The problem is that you don’t like exercising.”
Frankly, that’s a good bit of the problem. I’ve done extended exercise things. IBM had me in Rochester Minnesota for one whole winter, and while I was there, I went to the amazing health club in Rochester pretty much every weeknight on the way home from work. There were several reasons for it, but the biggest one was that honestly there’s nothing to do in Rochester except eat and work out. And that was right when I’d gone vegetarian, and eating wasn’t all that interesting either.
Some things about it were good — I was race walking more than 20 miles a week at up to 6-7 miles an hour, which is extremely taxing cardiovascularly, much more than running 6-7 miles an hour. When I was called upon to run through the Detroit airport, I was pretty much astounded that I wasn’t even breathing very hard.
But then I was also in an extended fairly severe depression — this was before I finally gave in and tried drug therapy. I wasn’t writing, I wasn’t doing much of anything, and the job was such that I couldn’t actually work into the evening. So what the hell.
So this is how I heard it. On the night before Siddhartha Awakened, as he contemplated the problem of suffering that had caused him to leave home, he became aware of his innumerable past lives. He saw himself as predator, and as prey; he saw himself as deer hunter, and as the hunted deer; he saw himself as the rape victim and the rapist; as the adulterer and as the cuckold; as eater and as the one being eaten. He saw that in every case, actions and their consequences had led to each event, and that consequences had inevitably followed. He saw the suffering in everything, and he felt pity and compassion for every being because he saw in himself the potential for every failing he had seen in others.
In Sanskrit, this is called karuna; you can translate it as empathy, or compassion, or even tenderness.
I’ve got Buddhist friends in many traditions. Some of them were discussing a recent story about Bodu Bala Sema — “Buddhist Power Force”, which really sounds like it ought to be a live-action Saturday morning kid’s show — rallying the Buddhists of Sri Lanka against the Muslim Tamils. This follows the Sri Lankan civil war, which followed the collapse of a cease-fire agreement with the Tamil Tigers in 2002, which followed an insurgency of 20-odd years, which followed anti-Tamil discrimination, which followed … and followed … and followed … on into the past.
Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s book The Black Swan introduced an old term and then, annoyingly, redefined it. For Sir Karl Popper, the black swan was an observation about logical quantification: if you assert “all swans are white” then the observation of a single black swan falsifies the assertion.
Taleb’s observation is different, although related: he’s observing that really unexpected events are unexpected: we have a model of the world that says “The US mainland is secure from attack” that seems perfectly plausible on 10 September 2001; we believe “Islamist terrorism is on the run” and then a bomb blows up in Boston.
(There’s a more sophisticated way to deal with all of these called Bayesian inference. We’ll leave the details for a science column, but in a few words, a Bayesian starts with an assumed a priori estimate of the probability of an event. After observation, they have a new a postieriori estimate that incorporates new experience.)
But there’s yet a third way to think about these that shows us how mathematics and probability can show us surprising things.
(Yes, this is a diet and exercise column, just a little further down.)
The new movie Her is just one of many in which a mechanical or electronic construct becomes a character in a human’s story. HAL 9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey, Commander Data, HARLIE, the robots of Lost in Space and Forbidden Planet, Asimov’s robots, and a hundred less-memorable movies and TV shows.
Okay, maybe Julie Newmar was memorable, but for other reasons.
Her carries it on a little further, when the main character falls in love with the personality that serves as the front end for a new operating system. They eventually consummate their love in what is supposed to be a rather steamy, and apparently mutually satisfying, episode of what’s a whole new meaning of “phone sex.” (I say “supposed to be” because I haven’t seen the movie yet; in any case, this isn’t a review of the movie.)
So here’s a question for you: when Samantha, the operating system’s personality, has an orgasm, is it real or is she faking it?
Expressed a little more generally, Alan Turing started asking the same questions in 1950 in his famous paper “Computing Machinery and Intelligence,” which begins with:
I propose to consider the question, “Can machines think?”
The problem with asking what the biggest surprise will be, of course, is that it’s self-defeating: if I tell you what the biggest surprise will be, and I’m write, you won’t be surprised after all. So the short answer is “the biggest surprise will be something completely unexpected.”
I can tell you some things that will be surprises and shouldn’t be:
Anthropogenic Climate Change
We will continue to hear about how global climate change is happening, is important, is a crisis, and must be handled by massive government intervention, transferring money from rich countries to poor countries through the UN. We will also discover that many of these solutions will involve transforming low-margin commodities into high-margin high-tech products from companies owned by the politically connected.
There will be no case whatsoever in which we will see a clear positive effect from the Affordable Care Act, but we will see an increasing number of explanations for why it’s not the fault of the law that none of the effects were good. This ought to be a surprise, because you’d think just by random chance something in a 2700 page bill would have to be useful.
New exciting things will be discovered, in medicine, in physics, and in nanotechnology. For each one, there will be a learned op-ed explaining why this advance will lead to economic crisis, the collapse of civilization, the end of the world, or the destruction of the universe.
The New York Times…
…will authoritatively report that in fact Hillary Clinton has been retired for the last five years, and was never associated with the Obama Administration in any way.
Every pundit will write at least one article explaining how everything would be better everywhere if the pundit were King of Everything. This includes me.
illustration courtesy shutterstock / AlenD
Because it’s the beginning of a new year, and because I’ve been slack for several weeks on the Buddhism column, and because after all Gautama himself said that he was teaching basically just one simple thing that he found himself just explaining in many different ways, and because finally it’s my column and I can do what I want, I’m going to start this time by repeating again the core of the Buddha’s teaching, suitably rephrased so as to seem creative and original and avoid copyright problems with the people I’m stealing it from. So here they are, the Four Noble Truths, with only as much Sanskrit as necessary.
- Our ordinary lives are full of duhkha, badly translated as “suffering” and better translated as unpleasantness, agitation, discomfort. (The root word is actually connected to the idea of a cart wheel that’s got a bad axle: it isn’t rolling smoothly and the bump bump bump is making us cart-sick.)
- Dukhka arises because of our efforts to re-order the universe to our liking. We thirst for pleasant experiences; we try to make things be just how we’d like them to be; and we try to un-make things that aren’t the way we want them to be. All of these things come down to a kind of ignorance of the way that we and everything around us can’t be made to hold still; everything changes.
- This special discomfort ceases when we stop trying to force things.
- We can learn to stop trying to force things by practicing what the Buddha called “skillful means”, upaya.
Which is all well and good, but how?
Someone once said that a good epic starts in the middle. (Actually it was Horace, it was in his Ars Poetica around 13BC, and he made the distinction between something that started ab ovo, “from the egg”, or in medias res, “in the middle of things”, but then inserting a lengthy side bar with references to Classical Latin in a diet column might seem erudite but really would be sort of pretentious and silly, don’t you think?)
In any case, we’re starting in the middle of this story. Tomorrow, 5 January 2014, I’m starting the fifth (and sixth, more on this later) of my 13 week experiments in changing and improving my health and my life. The first one started in November 2012, more than a year ago, motivated by the most reasonable of things: I don’t want to die. I most especially don’t want to die young, and I felt like both of my parents had.
I have reasons to be concerned. I’ve had problems with my weight since I was six, and at the time I started this I was around 300 lbs, I was well along into type II diabetes, and I had severe sleep apnea that was manifesting in something close to narcolepsy. I live in a two-story house and I was finding that I was pre-planning trips up and down the stairs because they wore me out.
Now, a year later, I’ve made some significant changes. I’m around 265 lbs, my blood sugar is much improved, and I run up and down the stairs with wild abandon and cups of hot coffee. But I’m not done yet. I want to lose more weight, and I’ve got some new challenges in my life, with a new job and a certain feeling that I have more to do.
So it’s a week until my next 13 Weeks experiment, and I’m trying to get my head in order around what to do next, so I’m going to write about it to you folks.
There were some interesting comments last week, the most interesting being, essentially, “don’t think so much, just relax, get out and do stuff.”
Which, well, that’s easy for you to say. But let’s resort to some somewhat discredited pop-psych here: I’m an INTJ/INTP on Myers Briggs, I’m fairly high up the Asperger’s scale, I’ve lost a lot of time and energy to severe depression, and yes, for me this is kinda grade school. I want, even this late in life, to make some things work that frankly most people figure out early.
If you haven’t grown up by 50, you don’t have to.
Now, this has hardly been all bad. From childhood the two things I really wanted to do are work with computers and write, and by golly, that’s what I’ve done, and I haven’t done badly at it despite some of the other challenges: I’ve got around a dozen patents, I’ve done some significant work in software architectures, I’ve written at this point hundreds of articles for actual cash money, including supporting myself entirely through writing for months at a time. But I don’t see any reason to stop; there are still things that would make my life better — and of course there are things to do so I not only make life better but I’m alive to enjoy it.
The tradition says that when Buddha was about 80, he told his followers he would die soon. He was visiting the town of Kusinara, just south of modern-day Nepal, and frankly the middle of freaking nowhere at the time, and for that matter today. He ate a food offering and became violently ill, and died. Depending on the tradition you follow, there were either poison mushrooms or spoiled pork in that last meal, but the Buddha himself insisted it wasn’t the food and told Ananda, his chief of staff and personal servant, to reassure the person who’d given him the food that it wasn’t his fault.
While he was dying, he asked his students to ask him any final questions. His last words were: “Remember, everything that is an aggregate is perishable. Attend to your own salvation.”
The whole story, along with a long summary of the Buddha’s teachings, is in the Maha-parinibbana Sutta — we Mahayana Buddhists have a very different, and way more exciting, version in the Mahaparinirvana Sutra in which the Buddha is attended by 80 billion monks, speaks in a great voice that covers the whole world, and generally would make a lovely manga comic, but never mind that for the moment.
The thing is, this is one of the core Buddhist teachings: you get yourself into this trap, and you have to get yourself out. We live with duhkha, that pain of everything slipping away from us, because we’re ignorant of the reality that there’s nothing permanent to hang on to; we escape from duhkha and enter nirvana, peace of mind and the end of the pain of duhkha, when we really understand that there’s nothing permanent to hang on to. And like personal salvation in evangelical Christianity or recovery in Alcoholics Anonymous, you have to do it yourself. No one can recover for you.
Yeah, I sort of went missing for a while there. As some of you may recall, I had been looking for a new day job, and went out to San Francisco to audition with a startup. The company is Sumazi and it’s in the social media world, but still somewhat in stealth mode, so I can’t talk about it too much yet. In any case, I’ve joined Sumazi; as befits an Internet company, I’m working out of my home in Colorado and not moving to San Francisco.
The interruption of traveling to San Francisco and all did interfere with my previous 13 Weeks experiment; as I said before, sometimes it’s just a learning experience. But in two weeks it’ll be past the Time of Diet Horror and Family Drama and it will be time to start a new experiment, so I’m getting my head around what I want to try next.
In the year-plus I’ve been doing that, I’ve come to see these 13-week experiments don’t have to all be about what I’m eating; several other people have used the 13-week framework to do other things, from reading plans to personal finance. I think now what is important is that by establishing a change to try, and a limited period in which to try it, what we’re really doing is establishing a structure for experiments in living life.
So this last six weeks have given me some other ideas; there are other things I want to change.
In case you wonder why I haven’t been around much recently, here’s the reason. I’m on the run from the North Korean secret service.
Click on the image for your own denunciation.
President Obama, on Wednesday, made a big speech about “economic inequality” and vowed to spend his last three years in office working to increase the federal minimum wage, as well as a lot of other things.
Just as an aside, every time I hear talk about increasing the minimum wage — there’s a strike on today at some fast food places to raise their wage to $15 an hour as well — I have a conversation something like this.
“I think increasing the minimum wage is a wonderful idea. In fact, let’s raise it to $100 an hour.”
“Oh, you’re being silly.”
“No, imagine. Raise minimum wage to $100 an hour. That way, everyone will be making $200,000 a year. We’ll all be rich!
Okay, I’ll grant that it usually takes two or three more exchanges before someone calls me racist, or a tea-bagger, or even an economic royalist if they’re of a classical turn of mind. The one thing I’ve never had anyone do is explain to me why if a $15 an hour minimum wage is a good idea, a $100 an hour minimum wage is a bad idea.
I suspect it’s because they realize that if they do, the jig is up: if they raise the minimum wage that high, companies won’t be able to pay the wage, and either there will be massive unemployment or massive inflation, as companies try to make up the difference. Mostly unemployment and shutdowns, because the money supply can’t grow that fast without a Weimar meltdown. But the trade-off is basically a linear function — raising the minimum wage by a lesser amount just means fewer people lose their jobs or go out of business. In the case of fast food workers, what would happen is that hamburger-making machines would become cheaper than burger-flippers. (In fact, that break-even is already past, the burger-flippers just don’t know it yet.)
In any case, though, this seems to be a solution in search of a problem, because there is no poverty in America, and I can prove it. According to a Cato Institute study published last year, the combined expenditures for federal and state governments directed to means-tested public assistance — “welfare” — is approximately $1 trillion (yes, with a “T”) a year.
There are approximately 48 million people in the U.S. with incomes at the poverty level or below.
The application of advanced mathematics — long division, and I did it in my head thank you very much — tells us that’s about $21,000 per person per year. Obviously, that’s $84,000 for a family of four.
That’s got a problem, though. According to the 2013 Federal Poverty Guidelines, the poverty level for a family of four is $23,950. The total of $84,000 is roughly 380 percent of the federal poverty guidelines.
Obviously, there’s no poverty left in America.
Unless, of course, that money isn’t actually being spent on the poor people at all. I wonder where it goes?
Okay, look, the first thing is I owe you folks an apology: with the new day job and holidays and a half-dozen other ordinary-life crises, I’ve just not gotten columns done. I’m sorry.
The most important thing I think I’ve learned in the last year has been just how complicated the whole issue of body weight and glucose regulation can be. Here’s just a selection of diets that have had reports of dramatic weight loss and health effects:
- Low Carbohydrate Diets
- High Fat
- South Beach
- Low Fat
- Stillman’s Quick Weight Loss Diet
- High Fat
- Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load diets
- Low Fat, High Carb diets
- Ornish Eat More, Weigh Less
- The Okinawa Diet
- Balanced, Calorie Restricted diets
- Diabetic “Exchange” Diets
- Weight Watchers
- Radical Calorie Restriction
- Scarsdale Diet
- Duke Rice Diet
- Protein-Sparing Fasts
- Intermittent Fasting
- Fasting 2 days a week
- Sixteen hour fasts every day.
- Eating more often
- Body For Life
- Dietary Restrictions
- Eliminating wheat or grain
- “Never Eat Anything With a Face”
A friend of mine wrote me the other day with a story I thought was informative. It’a a touch long, but I think it’s worth it; it’s lightly edited to make it fit.
A few weeks back my eldest daughter was having a bad day. It revolved around the typical teenage issues, which she generally doesn’t have problems with. However, I tried to comfort her by saying it was perfectly normal to feel the way she did because everyone wants to be liked and feels bad when they aren’t liked.
Well, that’s when my son chimed in (unhelpfully but innocently) “I don’t”
Now while this wasn’t exactly helpful while I was trying to console my daughter it is true. My son is amazingly centered. I’ve seen him been insulted directly and refuse to be baited and just shrug it off and be fine. So after I had resolved what I could with the daughter, I sought out my son and explained that what he said, while true, and admirable, was perhaps not helpful at that moment. But then I thought to compliment him on his evenness. That’s when I said he was practically Buddhist.
That sparked the question. “What’s Buddhist?” So I tried to explain how the Buddha taught that suffering is caused by desire, and that a lot of frustration is caused by our desires and expectations, and that if we surrender our expectations we actually are happier, less harried. I told him that even though we weren’t Buddhists we could learn a lot from this premise.
So to set up what happens next I have to tell you that recently my son has discovered Dungeons and Dragons, after he was introduced to it by his uncle. He has bought his own dice and is pouring over the manuals. All the conversation lately has been about critical hits, armor checks and saving rolls.
Well tonight we had a minor church event we had to go to. My son went early because he had some responsibility with our young men’s organization which was setting up. When I came later and met up with him his usual calm resolve was disturbed. He had said something to the other young men that had embarrassed him, and he was upset about it and upset that it had upset him. I said nothing. We had to sit as the program was about to start, and he usually works these things out. After a moment of silence he said. “Buddhist Saving Roll” and made a gesture like he was throwing dice. I burst out laughing. Right in the middle of church. He laughed too. People stared, and we quickly composed ourselves, but we smiled at each other and he was fine, and no longer upset.
After the event was over we joked about it. What die do you use in a “Buddhist Saving Roll?” Perhaps a twenty sided die where every face is a symbol of Mu?
At any rate, I was pleased that he had internalized the lesson and made it into a joke with his hobbies and D&D. I will never think of D&D the same way. I hope it becomes an inside joke between us.
And every time I’m frustrated with something, I hope I think “Buddhist Saving Roll” and just move on.
The last two 13 Weeks columns could have been confused with science columns, which is good because I’ve actually missed the science columns, but bad because I haven’t talked about my progress or lack thereof at all. Well, the last couple of weeks have been confusing to me too, if it’s any consolation — I spent a week in San Francisco in an extended interview/audition for a new web startup called Sumazi. I’m now doing consulting for them, but they’re still operating under the radar so I can’t talk a lot about it, except to say they’re doing exciting things with social media data. But the result is that I’ve been busier than a — oh, hell, pick your own cliché. I’ve been really busy.
As a result, the whole diet-and-exercise thing has gotten away from me — hell, I haven’t left the house since last Sunday and last night I resorted to eating frozen burritos I didn’t even know I had because gleanings were getting pretty slim.
Yes, frozen burritos have wheat.
The results are interesting; my weight has crept back up to 269 — that same old stuck point. Glucose is doing fine, and with the exception of the burritos I have been quite good about eating few carbs — what carbs I’m getting are mostly in the yoghurt I’ve continued eating.
Of course we’re heading for the Season of Diet Horror — Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.
So here’s my plan. I’m declaring this 13 week season a Learning Experience. As my old therapist Joe Talley called it, an AFOG (“Another F-ing Opportunity for Growth.”) This season would be over on 1 December anyway, so I’m gonna roll with it, and just maintain blood sugar and weight until 1 January — or rather until 4 January, which is the convenient Saturday after New Year’s Day. That will give me a chance to consolidate my other life changes.
In the mean time, the plan is to make this first year of 13 Week Experiments into a book, so I want to use the column to consolidate some of my thoughts about this, and to think more about what I can do to help other people start making their own experiments.
So, in no particular order, here are some thoughts about the process and the results.
A very close friend of mine, Tonya Jone Miller, has a wonderful personal show about how her mother, a girl from Indiana, found herself teaching in Viet Nam, and about her mother’s (and Tonya’s!) last minute escape from Viet Nam out of Tan Son Nhat Airbase. She has a Veteran’s Day request:
I am looking for a veteran who served in the Vietnam war, and I need your help. Please share this post, especially if you have any kind of military or veteran connections.
If you’ve seen my show “Threads” you know that my American mother got out of Vietnam mere days before the fall of Saigon. She was there trying to get my Vietnamese father’s family out of the country, and she was 8 1/2 months pregnant with me.
Many random people helped her escape, but I am looking for one in particular. My mother was shoved into the belly of a plane full of to-be-adopted orphans as it was taking off, and if not for the soldier who did that, I would likely not exist.
I have no idea if that man survived the war. I am hoping that if he did, he told the wild story of the crazy lady in labor he pushed into a plane as it was taxi-ing on the runway. Here is a link to a video of this part of the show http://vimeo.com/67752938. Maybe someone will recognize themselves, or their father, or their friend in these details…
Tan Son Nhat airbase, Saigon, sometime between April 10-20, 1975. Mom thinks the soldier was a Marine or an MP officer of some kind. The plane was carrying orphans for adoption and was bound for Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines.
I’d like to find that soldier and thank him. I’d like to tell him how his decision to help my mother probably saved my life and hers. Even if the man is no longer with us, I’d like to have a name to honor in my heart. I know the chances are slim, but maybe a social media miracle will happen.
This week’s big diet and nutrition news has been the news that the FDA has proposed removing the “generally recognized as safe” label from trans-fats. Now, if you’re like me, the first question you might want to ask is “what’s a trans-fat?”
A fat is composed of long carbon-hydrogen chains called fatty acids. A saturated fat has one hydrogen for every possible bond to a carbon; an unsaturated fat has some places where the possible hydrogen bond is replaced by a double-bond between carbon atoms. The terms trans- and its opposite cis- mean “on opposite sides” and “on the same side” respectively, and a trans-fat includes fatty acids that have those carbon-carbon bonds on opposite sides. The effect is that you can have two fats with the same chemical formula, but different geometric structures, like in these pictures cribbed from Wikipedia.
In general, the more hydrogenated, or saturated, a fat is, the higher its melting point. Butter, lard, and beef tallow all have lots of saturated fats, so they’re more waxy and solid at room temperatures; most vegetable oils are much less saturated, and so are liquid at room temperature. But around 1900, the French chemist Paul Sabatier discovered that hydrogen could be combined with carbon dioxide through the use of a nickel catalyst, producing methane or methanol; a German chemist named Wilhelm Normann applied the same process to hydrogenate fatty acids to make fats with higher melting points from vegetable oils. This process is the basis for making both margarine and old-fashioned vegetable shortening like Crisco.
It happens that most — although not all — of the less saturated fats from natural sources are in the cis-configuration, but artificially hydrogenated fats have a much higher concentration of the trans-configuration. So, products like margarine have relatively high amounts of trans-fats compared to natural fats.
Okay, so wake up, the chemistry lesson is over. Those of you who are old enough — most of my readers, I think — still get a little bit of a chill at the phrase “saturated fat”. For most of my lifetime, saturated fats were considered to be unhealthy; advertisements for margarine made a big point about how they were “lower in cholesterol” and therefore more “heart healthy”. In the 80′s, the conventional wisdom, pushed by groups like Ralph Nader’s Centers for Science in the Public Interest (CSPIRGs), was that fats were bad and saturated fats were really really bad.
So manufacturers reacted by replacing more saturated fats with hydrogenated fats that had lots of trans-fats.