Weight Loss by the V-Memes — (III) What’s the v-Meme stack look like?

Braden Warm Kokanee

Braden with about 200 or so of his relations — spawning landlocked kokanee salmon in Isabella Creek, Clearwater NF, ID

One of the most popular subjects I’ve written about lately has been my weight loss journey, inspired mostly by Tim Ferriss’ Four Hour Body, which I heartily recommend.  I’ve lost 45 lbs. in about 15 weeks, mostly by modifying my diet.  I’m not done with weight loss yet — my goal is to dump another 25 lbs. and get back to my weight in my mid-20s.

My Story and the Medical Profession

Just a little background — I’ve always been an exercise/bike geek, riding around 1500 miles/year, which is nothing for a hard-core rider, but quite a bit for someone who just goes out for recreation.  I fill the rest of the time with weight training and running on the infernal elliptical 3-4 times a week during the lousy-weather season.  None of this had prevented consistent weight gain. By the beginning of last May, I was 292 lbs.  Trainers in the past have called me a ‘fit, fat guy’.  If there was an advertisement  for how exercise doesn’t prevent weight gain, I was most definitely it.  I still had the increasing incremental health problems that happens when your weight goes up.  Most of these, the current medical community attributes to aging, and that philosophy has become so normalized in this society, when you protest — even me — people shame you for not accepting your slowly degrading fate.  For the most part, they’re all going downhill, too.  And in a low-empathy environment like an academic institution — or a hospital, you don’t get much sympathy, or empathy, for anything.  “Hey, you’re tenured!”  That’s your consolation.

As I write this today, I am 247 lbs., and have fixed a majority of my health problems, which while not severe, were headed in the wrong direction.  As we age (I’m 55 as I write this) you go to the doctor’s office with a new problem.  And they go “tsk, tsk… there’s a pill for that.”  They give you the pill, you go out the door, and even with that symptom remediated, you’re only an annual check-up away until you’re back in the door with a new problem.  And then, of course, they go “tsk, tsk… there’s a pill for that.”  They always ask “do you exercise?” and, in my case, I’m already exercising.  They shake their heads (most of them are also fat, and many are also obese) and give you another prescription, or another study.  In my case, the progression of prescribed pills looked sort of like this:

  • Blood pressure (“well, you’re under stress in your marriage/incipient divorce…”)
  • Gastro-Esophageal Reflux Syndrome (“more work stress!”)
  • Rising cholesterol (“this just happens as you age…”)
  • Anti-depressants/anti-anxiety medicines (“well, we all know the state of the universities and budget cuts nowadays!”)
  • Sleep disorder/apnea (“time for a sleep study — we can get you on a CPAP — that ought to help!”)
  • Erectile dysfunction (“well, there’s this thing called male menopause, where Old Reliable just isn’t that Reliable!”)
  • Pre-diabetes (“you know it’s just increasing in the general population, and losing weight just isn’t an option. 96% of all people who lose weight just gain it back.  So take this pill, or you’ll end up on the dialysis machine.”)

I’m paraphrasing the input I’ve received from the medical community here, but a lot of it has not been far off.  But, not surprisingly, there’s little sense of empathetic, systemic thinking at all.  For example, what might have happened to my health had I been taking all the prescribed medicines and treatments together?  (Just so you realize, I resisted every step of the way, not taking many of the drugs, partially because I was an exercise geek.)  What about the potential interactions?  What about a slowly degrading homeostasis that’s experienced with many of these drugs?  What about the intersection of effects that create mood change?  An experienced endocrinologist would recognize that what’s wrong with me here is likely metabolic syndrome.

But no one in any doctor’s office ever mentioned that term to me during the whole time I was experiencing it.  I was “just getting older.”  And not dealing with the inevitable very well.  For example, if you didn’t understand the connection between visceral fat and increased estrogen production (visceral fat drives estrogen production, which shows up as the discussable gynecomastia– enlarged breasts in men,) how would one then interpret (or even discuss) the surge in Viagra sales in the U.S., a likely side effect of increased estrogen production in obese men, which is far less a subject of polite conversation?

It took a crisis, and a friend, to start the process of figuring out what what was really going on with my weight.  And, of course, I had a powerful tool — the Theory of Everything that I write about on the blog.  Sometimes people ask me “what is all this v-Meme/empathy stuff good for?”  Well — this.  Why?  Because there are so many perspectives on weight loss, all with some piece of information.  And since we as a society have NOT figured it out, someone’s got to pull it all together.  That’s what this piece does — as well as give you a meta-roadmap to your own weight loss issues.

The crisis hit last March.  I was out skiing with my younger son, and two friends, who live in McCall, ID.  It was one of those “powder, but slushing up” days at Brundage Mountain, where it was 8″ of freshies that were DEFINITELY not blower pow.  I was just about ready to head in, feeling unsteady in the deep stuff, when my compatriots ducked a rope for one last schuss through some untracked.  We stopped above a moderate grade with some trees.  Upon start-up, I took one of those slow, twisting falls where bindings only work nominally, and partially tore my ACL.  I ended up taking my first Ride of Shame down the mountain on the rescue toboggan, after wrestling myself back in-bounds.  The poor, geriatric ski patrollers in charge of lugging my 292 lb. carcass huffed and puffed the whole way while dragging me back to the base.

I went to the doctor, and had the usual things done when you screw your knees up — x-rays, MRIs and such.  The diagnosis was a torn meniscus and a partially torn ACL.  Surgery was marginal, and rehab turned into time on my bike, which was what I would be doing anyway.  From March to the beginning of May, I swam, and did the low-impact thing.  Weight loss was never mentioned at the doctor’s office nor with the physical therapist — both of whom are extremely competent and had a great bedside manner.  Compared to many of the people they treat, I’m really not that fat.

And inside my head, I also resolved that if I couldn’t lose weight (remember — I hadn’t figure all this out at this point, and was bombarded with the same bullshit about not being able to permanently take off the pounds) I would take the summer and ride miles on the bike.  I’ve had friends who get to 3000+ miles on the bike, so I could easily re-attain my old performance of 2000 miles.

It was the middle of May when I started complaining to my friend and chronic co-conspirator, Ryan Martens, who’s a sort-of retired CTO of a medium-sized software concern, Rally Software,  in Boulder, CO.  Ryan’s a great guy — and he’s also embedded in a completely different information stream than I am.  “Everyone in Silicon Valley is using Tim Ferriss’ book, The Four Hour Body.  Why don’t you give it a try?  I’m planning on losing about 20 lbs. myself. It’s really not that hard.”  There was no formal competition, collaborative agreement or anything between us regarding weight loss — just a suggestion from a friend.  But at this point, having nothing to lose, I ordered the book, and started.

Below is a graph of my weight loss to date.  I’ve managed to maintain a relatively linear weight loss pattern.  This pattern, through understanding the v-Memes of what is known, is likely to change — but that’s the subject of another post.  Here’s my weight loss for the past 15 weeks.

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I started the diet staring into a a bowl of canned refried beans that I had stuck a cooked Costco Italian sausage in, determined to give it a try.  I lost 4 lbs. very quickly.  The graph starts at that point (288 lbs.)  I also started taking the recommended supplements — the PAGG stack.  The PAGG stack isn’t some crazy concoction — it’s garlic pills, green tea pills, an anti-oxidant (alpha-lipoid acid) and a triglyceride chopper (policosanol) taken essentially with meals.  They are concentrated, of course, so they do give a heightened push to your metabolism.  But it’s not like taking benzedrine or other true amphetamines.  Far from it.

Those that know me also know that once I say I’m going to do something, I do it.  And so I did.  The big thing is on a diet, I don’t cheat.  And the big promise with Tim’s diet was that you’re not hungry.  Hunger was always my bugbear, so a diet that wouldn’t make me hungry was absolutely mandatory.  For me, hunger meant headaches, and incapacitation to think clearly.  I’m the primary income for my family, and having a headache would mean not working effectively.  It was the deal killer with all the usual starvation diets.  I’ve written about this before — but this lack of empathy in understanding hunger is, I think, the real deal breaker in the medical community with recommending diets in general.  Hunger is real — but it means different things for different people.  A key insight I gained in all of this is that it’s a key indicator of what’s happening metabolically in your world.

There are no restricted quantities of allowed foods on the diet — you basically can’t eat sugar, dairy, fruit and wheat — but you can eat in even portions as many eggs, meat, green vegetables and beans (with a couple of exceptions) as you can stomach.  You also are supposed to vigorously hydrate yourself — up to a gallon of water a day.  The beans are the unique separator from other Atkin’s-type diets.  Once a week, you get a splurge day, where you can eat anything you’d like — and you’re supposed to take it.

And the pounds just started falling off.  As I’ve written in previous posts, the first three days, I walked around with my brain in a fog.  I wasn’t hungry, but I definitely felt weird. I kept up the same exercise pace I always had.  Then things started changing.  Not just the weight — but how my body dealt with its stresses.  First thing that happened was my joints stopped hurting.  I still have the occasional twinge of pain from my torn ACL.  But my knees used to hurt all the time.  Now they don’t.  I have a whiplash injury that’s prevented range of motion in my neck that always hurt.   That pain is gone.  My body, and my kidneys, process water very differently than before.  I drink a glass of water — it passes, appropriately, through the system.

And finally, I am blessed with abundant energy.  I am never tired.  I breathe differently, likely largely a function of the loss of fat around my liver that formerly pushed up on my diaphragm.  And I can go camping again without fear of insomnia because of my sleep apnea.  I used to wake myself up from snoring every 30 minutes.  And while I’m not exactly sleeping through the night, I can easily sleep for two hours without my CPAP before waking.

Starting our Understanding of WHY the Four Body Diet Works – National/Cultural and Deep Paleo Diets

But WHY did it work?  Tim alludes to some of the effects in the book.  He’s famous for running experiments on himself.  A classic Performance v-Meme individual, if someone comes in with an idea, he’ll say “well, let’s give it a roll.”  He’s wired himself up to blood glucose monitors, weighed his inputs, and his, well, outputs.  So there’s no question that the Four Hour Body diet works for lots of folks.  And he’s done some digging.  There are allusions to performance heuristics and connections.  All that could be enough — and is enough — for most people.

But not for me.  WHY?  Why did what he invented work so well for me?  And how is it different from other diets?  Or rather, instead of thinking in status-based terms (which of the Four Hour Body/Atkins/South Beach/Paleo/etc. is the BEST diet?) maybe we can really get off the Mario Kart level and understand the deeper dynamic, not just behind the Four Hour Body, but all the diets.  Let’s look at the v-Meme stack — the meta-diet representation.  And then you can deal with the comments that inevitably come when one starts talking about diets.  You’ll likely hear from many people “well, everyone’s different.”  Or “you just have to count calories.”  Or some such icks.  Because what these statements REALLY are are low-empathy declarations that prevent larger coherence.  They keep us trapped in a superficial paradigm that directly disallows the development of a larger, current collective intelligence.  Yeah, everyone’s different.  But how are we also the same?

And here’s the kicker — with the near universal extreme modification of national/cultural diets, which were our back-up protection for basically all our history, we’re doomed, unless we come up with a new, shared understanding of food.  National/cultural diets are fascinating things, which like culture itself, are compacted information from up and down the v-Meme stack, that we can only guess at the origins of.  But they have kept respective societies healthy for the past 10,000 years.  And through the spread of ubiquitous, various processed food products, all these diets are changing.  And as a consequence, everyone, around the world, is now getting fat.

In this previous post, I talked extensively about what I call the Deep Paleo Diet, which is really what Tim’s diet has at its core.  The short version of the Deep Paleo Diet is that if you roll back our diet not 10,000 years ago, but 100,000, or even a million years, you have the diet that proto-hominids evolved to eat.  What THAT diet contained was ten months of protein, fats, grass and beans during the dry season, along with two months during the wet season of fruit.  During the wet season, everyone would bulk up on sugar, the newly accumulated fat would make the women estrogenic, fertility would be achieved and babies would be made.  During the ten months of dry season, we naturally would shed excess pounds — not through some wild agony of starvation, but through metabolic (and as I know now, ketogenic) processes because that would increase our fitness to go club bunnies, or impalas over the head.  We’d fill in the gaps catching easy prey like lizards, and eating the occasional seed source we’d find.  And so we would thrive for a million or so years.

Yes, there were influences from extinction and starvation events.  But the idea that hunger dominated our profile our entire existence is absolute nonsense. Our collective nature, and the empathy it fundamentally requires, belies this Authoritarian, depressive lie.  In order to move up in social organization, collective agents (read as tribes of humans) would have to have put hunger aside as a driver.  You can’t get consistent, coordinated collective living habits if everyone is grumpy all the time.  When you add in the fact that female humans have both hidden estrus, and are relatively constantly sexually available (at least biologically!) this also belies the starvation stories.  Humans are deeply social, and attachment behavior is a cornerstone of our existence.

Larger cultural/national diets came next, as humans spread all over the globe.  It’s important to understand those national/cultural diets and how they evolved, and place them in the context of maintaining entire populations in healthy homeostasis.  If you live on the Beaufort Sea, the Inuit diet has salmon, whale and seal meat.  If you’re in France, it’s red wine, creamy soups, vegetables, cheese and bread.  Northern Germany, pigs, sausages, cabbage and beer.  And so on.  All those diets represent mythic-level, long-term, time-averaged data for success, built on food availability now having to do with different seasonal requirements, as well as different ecosystem productivities, deep cultural knowledge of preparation, the balance of micro-nutrients, and so on.  They have been modified only slowly over time (potatoes were in the New World, and didn’t show up in the Old World until Columbus returned, for example) and the fact is that they work.  Because if those diets did to their populations what our current diet is doing to the world population, they would perish.  These diets were not just built as buttresses against starvation, which is the popular model.  They were also constructed as nourishment for societies facing different levels of challenges at different times.  As a core part of the energetic requirements of civilizations, national diets often directly dictated ranges of cultures and their success against competing cultures, which often wanted to kill them.  Empathy and negotiated boundaries between In-Groups and Out-Groups are relatively new phenomena in human existence.  If your diet wasn’t adequate, you couldn’t maintain a national or cultural identity.

One of my favorite myths involves the Yaqui Indians, who were originally vegetarians, but received a vision that they should eat deer after the Spaniards invaded, because they needed the strength to fight.  The Yaquis, who had a reputation for being particularly ferocious, were one of the only unconquered tribes during the whole Spaniard conquista.

Those cultural/national diets haven’t completely vanished.  Japanese still have sushi, and if you go to Taiwan, you’ll find roast squid on a stick. Russians still have borscht, and the French still have duck l’orange.  Mexicans have rice, beans, and steak, and we, well, we still have hot dogs.  But everyone around the world now has ice cream, and Twinkies, and Coca Cola, which no one 1000 years ago could have predicted.  There are large thematic ingredient differences between past and present.  We have machines that grow food, and crops that produce macronutrients (like high-fructose corn syrup) that used to be exceedingly rare.

The entire story of global food is a long one — but the core notion is that we are not going to recover our health through reversion to national diets.  We need a different understanding of food, and how it affects us on all levels, than what we have now.  It has to be Global Holistic, AND well-scaffolded by the lower v-Memes.  Because if it isn’t, we can’t share the important information and diversity that’s out there.  We remain trapped in rejection of information because of perceived differences, instead of understand our fractalized, self-similar genetic backgrounds that actually dictate what happens with our bodies and our health.

And here’s the big rub — if we’re not healthy, we can’t be the more evolved, empathetic humans we so need to be.  We’re much more prone to being depressed, and as such, limited in our curiosity toward others.  And much more likely to be manipulated by psychopathic relational disruptive Authoritarians toward needless conflict.  In short, not understanding the diet thing is really gonna kill us.  Really.

So here’s a start below, where I give the Four Hour Body diet a v-Meme once-over.  As a mechanical engineer and complex system scientist, I fully realize that what below is incomplete.  And yeah — it starts from one guy, reading a bunch of material, and understanding his own body.  But it has to start somewhere.

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So here goes.

How does the Four Hour Body diet work?  And WHY does it work, at least for some of us, so well?  The first thing we need is an understanding not so much of food, but of how the body works.  And that is metabolism.  Metabolism is the top, Guiding Principles place where we have to start our journey.  All humans across the globe possess, in varying amounts, the same metabolic processes.  We breathe air, and utilize energy with two primary methods — glycolysis and ketosis.

For any of us that have taken an introductory biology class, we’re all intimately familiar with glycolysis.  This is the process of breaking down glycogen into glucose, which our cells use to create energy.  We’re taught about how the body takes food, converts it into glycogen, which is always readily available to convert to glucose, and then burns this when we exercise.  When we “hit the wall” during a run, or “bonk” — it’s the result of your body running out of glycogen and glucose.  For most folks, it usually happens about an hour or so into whatever intense physical activity you’re participating in.  After that, you need to suck down some Gatorade, eat a candy bar, or something, to keep going.  And this, if you believe most of the textbooks, is the END OF THE STORY.  We need glucose, sugar, whatever — because if we don’t get it, we don’t have any energy.  And then the body consumes itself, or something, and we die.

As with many understandings of how our bodies (or our world) functions, it’s not wrong. It’s just not the full picture.  There’s another half — and that’s ketosis.  Ketosis is what your body uses for energy when the glucose runs out.  Sort of. Ketosis is your body burning ketone bodies for fuel when glycogen and glucose hit critical levels.  Ketone bodies come from fat, and so ketosis directly burns the fat cells you have saved up, that your body has socked away using insulin from the various foods you eat.

The reality is that these two are in some form of balance at all times in your system.  And that balance is a direct effect of your diet.  How your body reacts to the homeostasis that you establish will directly affect how you feel.  I can’t find any studies about how the body balances that, so any of my readership wants to add comments, let me know.

First, I’ll tell you that most of our deep Paleo ancestors likely ran mostly on ketosis.  Humans aren’t speed hunters, like cheetahs or lions.  We tend to follow animals until they’re exhausted, and then put a spear or something in their side.  That means that we evolved to hunt this way — no human alive can run as fast as the slowest antelope.  But we keep going.  And that pursuit is likely an all-day affair.

What does that mean?  What are the system requirements for running down an antelope?  It likely means we had to be extremely efficient in our locomotion.  And we are.  The research is, for example, well-established that exercise isn’t a great way to lose weight — something like 10% of weight loss, for anyone other than Michael Phelps, is geared to exercise.  That’s because we evolved ourselves to be energy efficient.  As well, we were designed to run all day — not just for an hour until we hit the wall and bonked.  That means the modern runner, strapped on the back with Camelbaks full of energy drinks are not representative of any proto-hominid.  Any self-respecting proto-hominid would likely fill up with water at the beginning of the day, or at a clear stream, and then run with his or her buddies until the game was exhausted.  There wouldn’t be any time to ingest any squeeze packets, eat a Clif bar or sip from a water bottle.  You ran on some residual fat,  for hours at a time.

And if you had to get along with your buddies to make a kill, evolution would not favor you being in a bad mood.  Think about that.  What this really means is that all the stuff we’ve associated with pre-civilization life is mostly bullshit.  It’s not that it was rosy, nor that death wasn’t somewhat common.  Infant mortality was likely high, and you still had to contend with diseases and such.  But hunger?  Not such a big deal.  Or else we could never have evolved socially.  And in the back of all of it was ketosis.  Glycolysis was for the fruit season, where we’d lay around and get fat, have sex, and make babies with the estrogenic women and the extra calories. Fat wasn’t just about some insulation from starvation.  It was actually part of metabolic changes and storage required to make more humans.

And then the fruit would end.  Our bodies would have little use for the extra calories gained during the fat season– fat slows you down.  So we’d naturally shed the weight, with minimal pain, get back to running and chasing bunnies, and wait for the next sex fest when the apples showed up back on the trees.

That’s the REAL “Deep Paleo” diet.  It was geared, of course, to the two seasons we evolved in. And it’s what we evolved in for literally over a million years.  But the transition from one season to another wasn’t some agonizing month or so where we almost starved.  Rather, it was a couple of days for our bodies to get used to sticking the fuel line in the ketosis tank, instead of the glycolysis tank.  The modest disharmony probably worked to spread people out a bit as well, as even in abundant landscapes, there are still only so many lizards per acre.

For me personally, one of the big changes that happened was my need to fuel myself on my bike rides.  I noticed this directly.  Before I started the Four Hour Body diet, I’d pack my energy drink (Cytomax was my chosen tool of destruction) start my ride and wait until about 45 minutes in to take my first sip.  After that, I’d carefully regulate my consumption, sipping along the way, and inevitably gain weight.  I found that if I stopped too soon, or ran out, I’d bonk.  And then that would be that.

After I started the Four Hour Body diet, though, the world changed.  I now ride regularly three hours without anything but a couple of quick stops to pee.  I don’t drink water unless it’s really hot — I don’t even take it with me.  I remain hydrated throughout the whole ride — remember Tim’s requirement of super-hydration?  I have plenty of reserve water.

And interestingly enough, if I’m sitting around typing and getting hungry, the easiest way for me to kill my hunger is to hop on my bike and go riding.  It puts my body back into strong ketosis, and kills the hunger.  My own experience is that the brain runs far better on glucose than ketones, which is an interesting observation deserving its own speculative column about the rise of civilization.  But on a bike ride, I usually practice meditation and audiobooks.  The brain is just not that engaged.  Ketosis now has become a much larger part of my energetic make-up.  And when I couple that, with a change in diet that helps re-balance my energy consumption toward ketosis (it’s not complete — there’s still a mix) I feel great.

Interestingly enough, my cycling times show the change.  After about 500 miles training on a glycolysis-dominant regime, my cycling times between Moscow, ID and my house, around 15 miles, averaged out at an hour.  Now, with a Four Hour Body diet, I average about 1 hour 10 minutes.  This matches the idea that fats burn more slowly and longer than carbohydrates.  It also shows how the body adapts energetically to different diets.

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Everyone knows that if you want to lose weight, you have to burn fat.  You have to have some accelerated ketosis from wherever you’re sitting.  I can directly tell whether I’m in ketosis or not during exercise because I will taste the ketones in my mouth.  They taste kind of metallic, and it’s definitely different from regular breathing and burning carbohydrates.  On my morning bike rides, I’m most definitely in ketosis for the first hour of any ride — any sugars from the eggs and bacon I’ve digested haven’t kicked in.  And I can taste it.

A simple (and incomplete, but still useful!) way of conceiving this top level of energetic process is to understand your body has two fuel tanks.  One is glycolysis/sugar.  The second is ketosis/fat.  If you’re a standard American, you eat lots of carbohydrates and sugar, and run most of the time with your fuel line in the glycolysis tank.  As we get older, running our systems on this readily available fuel source gets more unbalanced, especially because we’re often busy, with our modern diet, dumping tons of processed sugar into the system.  Refined sugar in the quantities we have in the American diet is just awful for our health.  It’s like spraying nitrous into the top of our car’s carburetor/fuel injection system constantly.  The engine revs, and then the insulin floods and packs away all that sugar as fat.  Think about that the next time you bite into a Pop-Tart.

The second fuel tank  is the ketosis/fat system.  The way I like to think of this is more like a diesel engine.  Diesel is a heavy fuel, that takes longer to burn.  But it can keep your system running longer, once you get it going.

And here’s the rub.  If you run your system on carbohydrates, which bias heavily toward glycolysis, then your system gets used to it.  When you attempt, however, to switch over, your engine sputters, and you feel like you want to collapse.  Like you “Hit the wall.”  The reason is your metabolic engine has adapted to running on carbs.  And then if you’ve also been dumping tons of sugar into the system, through Big Gulps and Super-Sizing, you’re just really screwed.  We do know what happens in that system — massive hormonal dysregulation and sooner or later — system failure of your other cleaning/exhaust/engine-metabolic systems, like your liver, pancreas, and kidneys.

So, at the top of Tim’s diet, the fundamental Guiding Principle is to re-regulate your core metabolism by knocking down insulin production.  This works for many of us because we are on this diet because we are obese, and likely have developed insulin resistance.  Right off the bat, Tim says “NO SUGAR”.  That’s a huge one, and likely responsible for many of the problems people have anyway.  He also hits all the “white vegetables” heavy in starch, which are another sugar pathway.  The one easily accessible carbohydrate he does allow in the diet — beans — have tons of fiber, which is useful for buffering glucose absorption in the system, and also aid in digestion.  Tim’s fixations with beans then turns out to be very smart.

Tim also hacks our social system, and then in turn, our body’s metabolic system, by introducing fat into it — especially in the morning.  Our whole society tells you fat and eggs are supposed to be bad for you.  But for the diet, you’re supposed to eat eggs and some fat source (like bacon) every morning.  What actually happens is satiety is increased so you don’t want to eat more.  It’s a metabolic hack in multiple ways.  Once you’re on the diet for a while, by eating fat, in a system already balanced more toward ketosis, it becomes the readily available energy source during the busiest time of the morning.

Metabolism has core drivers.  I’ve focused on researching insulin, because insulin resistance was my problem.  But there are others in this level of systemic understanding.  Below is a figure for our larger Global Systemic/Global Holistic Metabolism top level.  They are all functions of the endocrine system, which regulates our evolved instantiation.Slide1

 

There are a ton of things I don’t understand about dysfunctional metabolism — what happens, for example, if you have a thyroid problem.  And estrogen also seems to be huge.  Estrogen is produced by the visceral fat that surrounds your liver and other internal organs once you become obese, and becomes somewhat a self-fulfilling prophecy.  More estrogen in the system, the easier it is to get fat, which then creates a positive feedback loop producing more estrogen.  You get the idea.  In our Deep Paleo past, it used seasonally to produce babies.  Now it just messes us up.

Next down in Tim’s stack is he has you eliminate all dairy, wheat, and fruit, except on splurge day.  These are obvious caloric sources, but it turns out that they are far more interesting than just that.  One of the biggest things I noticed after starting the diet was the decrease in inflammation across my body.  My joints stopped hurting, and even more interesting, my kidneys (as I mentioned above) started dumping water far more quickly after ingestion.  I’ve thought about this, and what I think is really going on is that Tim is likely eliminating the majority of potential food allergies and various intolerances that different people have.  By reducing inflammation, one also makes water function more normally in the body, not creating edema, and also allowing for more balanced metabolism.  Smart!

At the same time, allergies are different in scale for lots of different people.  My suspicion is that these built-in genetic intolerances are responsible, once core metabolic function has been fixed, for the variable results many people see with different diets.  Much of this is well-documented.  Asians, for example, are known for being lactose intolerant.  So if you dump milk out of the diet, you’re getting down to a much more healthy, well-functioning core metabolism, which then helps you burn fat.

Slide2

Allergies also have profoundly nonlinear effects in the context of diets.  For myself, I can take hay fever season for a while.  But once my system reaches some level of histaminic reaction, I have to take antihistamine in order to knock down my mucus production.  It is  similar with food, of course.  You can eat a certain amount, say, of cheese, or wheat, and lose weight.  But once you cross that threshold, all of the sudden you’re in the nonlinear effect zone for inflammation, and then bad things (like no weight loss) start happening.  Interestingly enough, Tim hedges his bets by dumping ALL the big potential allergy sources.  That’s likely part of the reason for the success.  He leaves you with beans and veggies, which I’ll bet are the least likely to have allergic responses.  Smart.

Getting closer to the bottom of the v-Meme stack, we have the calorie counters.  Many folks swear the only way to lose weight is to count calories.  After all, the fundamental energy balance has to hold, doesn’t it?

And they are right — just not with the expected sensitivity to timescale that calorie counters says exist.  Short timescales, like minutes, hours, or even days, don’t matter.  What this means, of course, is that Fitbits and step counters are total bullshit.  Over long periods of time, calorie counting has to be true.  Like a year, maybe.  Or even a month.  But it is not true on any given day, and if metabolic processes are out of whack, different food sources will yield vastly different metabolic outcomes.  If you have insulin resistance, you’re not going to expend the typical “maintenance calories” on a given day.  If you eat two bowls of ice cream, you’re going to feel tired and go to sleep.  You may be under the calories counted for that given day.  But you’re still going to pack on the pounds.  That’s why I found that I could ride my bike to Moscow and back, drink a beer, and eat fries, and then gain weight — my metabolic process was out of whack, and all the calorie counting in the world couldn’t save me.

Slide3

More than anything else, the calorie counter insertion into the v-Meme stack shows the value of scaffolding higher v-Memes with lower ones.  Tim, for example, says “no almonds” in the diet because while they may map to the metabolic process he’s trying to achieve, they’re still too calorie dense to make the diet work successfully.  And at the same time, it also shows why you shouldn’t limit your understanding by limiting your evolution.  There are so many things that calories alone simply can’t explain.  But you can’t ignore them entirely.

Finally, down at the bottom of our stack is the our long-time, averaged, story-based knowledge about diet.  Since the sources of such knowledge are literally shrouded in myth, it’s hard to know what should be taken seriously or not.  At the same time, there is often deep, embedded knowledge that should always be considered when listening to this source.  If you listened to most of the medical community until recently, ingesting omega-3 fatty acid, found in fish, was bad for you and would increase your cholesterol. We now know that it turns out to be very important for a variety of health needs, including even preventing depression.  And Tim, in his book, tells his own mythopoetic story of encountering a homeless man who insisted on eating garlic.

Slide4

From deep jungle herbs to the larger structure of Chinese medicine, humans capture long-time knowledge in their stories.  And stories, through their very nature, have deeply synergized understandings, whose roots may have been forgotten.  Some of these stories may be bullshit.  I wouldn’t eat part of an endangered animal, regardless of what I’d been told, to save my life.  But to point out those as the reason for throwing out all that collective knowledge is just stupid.  Consider it — we have other tools as well.

OK — there’s a ton of information in this post.  It takes a while, pardon the pun, to digest.  But it’s a start on a deeper understanding on the dynamics of a diet like the Four Hour Body, and how it works.

What’s the point?  You can now start understanding OTHER diets from these perspectives.  Atkins, Paleo, and so on.  Notice that almost all eliminate sugar.  That’s hitting things at the metabolic guiding principles level.  Further down, different diets make different choices, usually based on cultural precedent.  Cultural precedent often maps to specific allergies that occur with different genetic types spread across humanity, so it’s not such a bad way to roll.  And if there’s one takeaway I’ll leave you with, it’s this — experiment on yourself.  Here are the basic principles.  Try something.  If it works, keep it.  If it doesn’t, change a variable and track your progress.  At the most basic level, if you dump sugar, and move to a protein and fat breakfast, you’ll lose weight at least for a while.

But you don’t need to starve any more.  It’s not, well, empathetic.  And remember — you first have to empathy with yourself before you can have it for other people.  Same as it ever was!

Intelligence is Intelligence is Intelligence, Redux — the Lesson of the Ctenophore

Hobbits

Conor and Ritche, Hoh Rainforest, Olympic Peninsula, August 2017

I haven’t written for a while — there are a couple of big posts I’m working on that are significant contributions, like how information gets passed between different actors in different v-Meme states.  Hint: once you understand v-Memes as accentuated, or attenuated low-pass filters, kinda like a funky graphic equalizer, you already know what I’m going to write.

This piece on ctenophores in Aeon Magazine, though, was too good to pass up for a shorty piece.  A ctenophore is a comb jellyfish (which really isn’t a jellyfish!), and has the interesting property of possessing a neural net that runs on a totally different biochemistry than every other animal on the planet.  Instead of working with dopamine, serotonin, or nitric acid, a researcher at the University of Florida, Leonid Moroz, discovered a completely different set of chemical interactions that created the same type of sensory capacity seen in other species.

Here’s a pull quote from the piece — one that shouldn’t surprise followers of this blog:

‘There is more than one way to make a neuron, more than one way to make a brain,’ says Moroz. In each of these evolutionary branches, a different subset of genes, proteins and molecules was blindly chosen, through random gene duplication and mutation, to take part in building a nervous system.

What’s fascinating is how these different pathways of evolution arrived at nervous systems that look so similar across the animal tree of life. Take for example the work of Nicholas Strausfeld, a neuro-anatomist at the University of Arizona in Tucson. He and others have found that the neural circuits underlying smell, episodic memory, spatial navigation, behaviour choice and vision in insects are nearly identical to those performing the same functions in mammals – despite the fact that different, though overlapping, sets of genes were harnessed to build each one.

This result maps well to the notions we’ve discussed here about empathy — particularly in this link.  Sentience isn’t dependent on chemistry.  It’s dependent on need, function, and capability, and that underlayment leads support to one of my likely more controversial hypotheses — that there is no ‘alien’ intelligence, in a dog, a horse, a cockroach, or E.T.  There is only intelligence, and social organization.  And that rests firmly back on principles of thermodynamics.  For those that are interested exactly in how THAT occurs, check out my buddy Jake’s blog — he’s making great progress on his book on Social Thermodynamics.

There’s also insight into how scientific communities also track on previous results.  And when that happens on the surface-level, Mario Kart rules supreme.  Another great pull quote:

“In short, the ctenophore’s nerves seemed to look and act just like those of any other animal. So biologists assumed that they were the same.”

Understanding larger function is a lifelong challenge in all fields — from sociology to invertebrate biology.  And just because we don’t see it now doesn’t mean it’s not there, waiting to inform us as we develop deeper insights into connections and synergisms — essentially waiting for our own enlightenment to progress.  And just surface-level description isn’t worth much without some comprehension of dynamic underneath it.  Why things (and people) do what they do matters. That’s one more lesson to walk away from with the ctenophore.

One thing also to note — while it’s true I like to occasionally whoop on academics, Moroz’s research, which may lead to extremely profound results some 50 years from now, shows the value of some small sub-section of society arbitrarily following their scholarly passions.  It may turn out that understanding how ctenophores use different neurotransmitters may lead to an entire, synthetic class of nerve cells that we previously had never thought of.  Something to ponder when you hear a TV pundit condemn what appears as ‘pointless science.’

What Does it Mean to be Global Holistic? Sherman Alexie and His Very Long Day

Roseate Spoonbill Pantanal

Roseate Spoonbill, S. American variety, Pantanal, Brazil, 2006

I’ll tell you right off — I am a fanboy of Sherman Alexie, our nation’s pre-eminent Native American author.  And while I don’t think I’ve read everything he’s written, I think I’m pretty close.  I was introduced to Alexie kind of randomly through his book Reservation Blues, and connected instantly as a child from Appalachia.  In that book, Alexie, who writes mostly from a Native American perspective, makes the acerbic point that “white people want all the good parts of a being an Indian, but none of the bad parts.”  He talks about the reservation store and Wonder Bread, and crafts a truly integrated perspective on his own experience throughout his novels.  Alexis is at the top of the literary game, and has also  made a movie, Smoke Signals.  For a first movie, I thought Smoke Signals was pure genius.  His portrait of an Indian nerd rings true for any kid growing up in a tough background in a depressed area.

He’s got a new book out now, that I haven’t read, but it’s on the top of my stack.  Called You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me, it’s the story of Alexie’s childhood and relationship with his parents on the Spokane Indian reservation.  Alexie’s father was a well-meaning, likable, but fundamentally worthless alcoholic, and his mother was a cruel, and violent, but materially pragmatic matriarch.  I’ve gone to listen to Alexie speak many times, and his message is about as pan-cultural, leavened and holistic as it gets.

One of the things that’s already self-evident, just by listening to his interview with Terry Gross on NPR’s Fresh Aire, is the pathway that Alexie followed to his own enlightenment.  He himself is bipolar, and has worked to process the crazy vicissitudes of the illness his whole life.  The interview is awesome, and I highly recommend it.  The link is below.

https://www.npr.org/player/embed/533653471/533678414

Why does Alexie’s story matter?  If you follow my relational empathy take on how one becomes Global Holistic, it clearly demonstrates one potential path to becoming an enlightened master, removed from the solely self-improvement, meditative path that folks like to trot out as moving toward higher v-Memes.  When you have parents that are seriously disturbed, and you are raised in a climate of constant violence, the first challenge in your own development is to realize that spending a lot of time in the lower v-Memes doesn’t help.  If your mother has a disordered personality, then all the beliefs about how great Moms are that society tells you to believe aren’t going to help you much. And if your father throws parties allowing access to pedophiles to the house, you quickly realize that if you don’t become data-driven and acutely empathetic in your relational mapping, things aren’t going to go well.  You don’t get to believe in Santa Claus for long, because you’re going to end up getting beat at Christmas.

What childhoods of abuse can do, as Alexie so clearly demonstrates in even this brief interview, is throw you rapidly up the Spiral.  No luxuriating down for too long in the Tribal/Magical v-Meme.  And if you listen to the designated Authorities, or follow the Rules, you’re more than likely to end up dead.  So you become data-driven at a very young age.  The problem with being young and rational is that, well, your brain is not designed for it.  Rational means merely using data to make time-dependent decisions.  And no matter how quickly a seven-year-old can intuitively learn some of these lessons, they still can’t discriminate between good data and bad data.   Scaffolding — and appropriate authority, and legalism matters, as well as creation myths that make sense, and some basic needs at the Survival v-Meme always being attended to.  At least for a less trauma-laden path to greater social evolution.

That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t appreciate Alexie’s enlightened, far-seeing perspective.  I absolutely do.  But I think it’s also important, especially as we grow our own emotional empathy, to remember that wisdom usually comes with a price.  The lower v-Memes are places to grow emotional empathy so that they more fully express themselves in the rational place-taking that one must learn from the exigencies of one’s trauma situation.  Alexie, in the NPR interview, talks about one of the last negative aspects of his personality that fell away in his most recent brain surgery (he was born hydrocephalic and has had multiple operations) was blind rage.

Yet the depth of his self-knowledge exhibit in the interview makes this a must-listen.  Evolving to a Global Holistic v-Meme doesn’t mean you are a holy man, or the as-yet-unannounced messiah.  Or even, necessarily, a pleasant person to be around.  What it means is that one’s mind has coupled deep reflection and their own experience with a connected honesty and grounding about the world around him.  Alexie has done that in spades.  I’m really looking forward to reading his book.

For those interested in the song by Dusty Springfield that Alexie named his book after, it’s below:

Postscript — Alexie is a graduate of my own university, Washington State University, and was likely saved through his connection to creative writing professor, Alex Kuo.  Good teachers can still make a difference in turbulent lives.  I believe it was Viktor Frankl who said all that one needed to get through the Holocaust was one sane person as your anchor.  Thank you, Dr. Kuo.  When we ponder what gets lost when we don’t invest in education, your example is tremendous.

Weight Loss — It’s in the v-Memes (II)

Adapted flycatcher Pantanal

Some type of evolved hummingbird, more designed to eat insects, the alternate food for hummingbirds, than sip nectar — Pantanal, 2006

One of the most interesting things when going through bird species is the different bills that birds have.  Each appears uniquely adapted for a particular kind of food — a prime example of species diversification and adaptation to habitat niche.  But bills are easy.  You can look at ones like the photo above, taken on a birding trip to the Pantanal in Brazil, basically their version of the Everglades, and guess what their favorite food is.  This one I caught with a bug in its beak.  Not that hard.

But how its metabolism works?  Not so easy.  The above species looks evolved from some kind of hummingbird, though.  A little known fact by most folks is that hummingbirds don’t drink nectar all day, every day.  They supplement their diet with bugs. or actually (more likely) eat insects, and supplement their diet with nectar. I’m not a hummingbird expert, but if you are, let me know in the comments!

One thing I’ll bet you don’t think every time you see a photo of a bird, like the one above, or a wild animal, is that the animal is dying of starvation.  Except for lions (cue the Lord Attenborough voice-over) we’re not conditioned by media or messaging to think of animals (including birds) as constantly starving and miserable.  Because, well, they’re probably not.  Their metabolism has adapted to their food circumstances for over millions of years.  And crippling hunger doesn’t serve any sentient creature’s long-term prospect. The food a wild animal seeks out is the kind of food it can eat, and thrive on.  If it doesn’t, then it simply can’t reproduce.  No one makes babies of any variety if they’re starving.  The energetics just don’t work that way.

And if you can’t cut it with your particular feeding/evolutionary strategy, then you go extinct.  Every animal’s presence on this planet is an exercise in ongoing validity.  Are hawks cold in the middle of the winter?  I’m sure that there might be days out there when it’s tough.  But if it were too tough, then the tough would get going.  They’d become migratory, as many birds have become.  And plus,  the more that is learned about birds show they don’t care much about cold.  Bar-headed geese migrate at 23000′ in altitude.  It’s never warm up there.

Why am I telling you this?  It’s because we don’t understand food for our own species in this larger context at all, as far as I can tell.  And don’t think I’m going to go all-Paleo-diet on you, either.  For those not in the know, Paleo is the latest diet that says you should eat what people ate 100,000 years ago.  Well, OK.  But as you read along, you’ll start to understand that just stating that alone is not going to get you where you want to go.  I’m sure there are more sophisticated variants, but without time-dependent behavior, you’re still down in the lower v-Memes, believing another Authoritarian with no sense of temporal scaling or connection.

And now, before you read any further, I want you to sit down.  Take a deep breath.  Close your eyes.  And breathe.  And in the process, move your mind out of the fundamental Belief-Based, Dichotomous, Two-Way Thinking mode that you (like me) and almost everyone else has been trained to think about food.  Food is something that is deep inside our brains — but not because of any Survival v-Meme programming.  What we know about food, and what we should eat, if we’re lucky, is mostly in our Authoritarian/Legalistic v-Meme minds.  If we’re lucky, there might be a little Performance v-Meme and Communitarian v-Meme stuff in there as well.  But mostly, food is built around shame, reward, and most likely, family.  And as the world has changed, framing it in these terms is absolutely killing us.  As I stated in the last Weight Loss post, a huge majority of us (especially in the U.S.) is fat, and getting fatter.  Stephen Hawking said it’s the chief peril to the survival of humanity, and he may be right.

So take that deep breath.  Because I’m about to lay a big truth on you.

You are not supposed to be hungry as part of a standard condition of existence.

Huh?  What does that mean?

OK, here’s an elaboration.  Your body can exist in homeostasis and 99% of the time not be hungry, and you can be healthy.  And it can take you there, even if you’re fat.  You DO have to follow the primal rules of your body.  You can’t get there through just any old path.  But you can do it.  

Well, that’s fine.  What does THAT mean?  It means that if you understand your body in the Survival v-Meme, when we were running around with 8-10 other hominids, your body evolutionarily adapted to that world, and that’s the body you have now.  And while it was decidedly low-empathy (empathy above mammalian attachment behavior, which can still be pretty sophisticated, was in pretty short supply) people weren’t miserable all the time.  They weren’t.  I’m not a fan of the blissful primal state, and I also believe that Ishmael by Daniel Quinn also made the point that we weren’t hungry all the time, but we weren’t hungry.  Just like that hummingbird flycatcher thingy above isn’t miserable all the time either.  Misery doesn’t drive upward social evolution for the most part (though Survival v-Meme crises can create neuroplasticity.)  You have to have increased energy to evolve out of that Survival v-Meme band, and when you look at the sophistication of native art, up one click in the Tribal v-Meme, it’s plainly clear that those folks didn’t nearly starve every year.

Sure, there was a distribution — some communities fell on hard times and such.  But it was far more likely that disease would get you than a lack of food.  And this is true for most species.  Every now and again, there may be a famine.  But I can remember reading a pine beetle irruptive population paper about 15 years ago.  What always got the pine beetles wasn’t a lack of food.  It was disease.  And with our own human cohort, it hasn’t been food supply that’s taken a knock in our numbers at any time since we figured out vaccinations and penicillin.

You have not evolved to be hungry as a standard condition of existence.

If we haven’t evolved to be hungry, then in order to understand hunger, we have to understand how we have evolved to be NOT hungry.  That’s a key insight.

Now things get tricky, because there are lots of stories about all of this.  And as with many human stories, there is some truth in most of them, (we learned that back in v-Meme 101!) but not total truth.  What we CAN learn from an Integral perspective, though, is how to pull the appropriate truths, in the appropriate order, apply the appropriate temporal and spatial scales, and come up with something that looks like an elephant.  It may be wrapped in spaghetti, and not simple.  But we can get there.  Bear with me.

In deep human/hominid time (depending on who you ask, at least .5M-1.6M BCE) we showed up on the planet.  We had the potential for memetic evolution, but really, we were pretty much working on our biological, genetic foundation.  Like most animals, we might have been reaching up there to the first two v-Meme levels (this was before solidified Tribal structures.)  But we mostly hung out and responded to the environment.  This is how we biologically evolved.  The rest of human history is a scant 10,000 years.  And while it may be having a profound effect on us, that part of evolution of humans as a complex, collective being is far more easily charted with v-Memes than with actual genes.  If a good looking human from 50,000 years BCE showed up, I guarantee they could get a boyfriend or girlfriend.  Even if there were some requisite time spent in charm school before you brought them home to the parents.  It might bring some different perspective, however, to the phrase “she’s a total ANIMAL in the sack!”

So what was that deep history life like?  Well, seasons mattered.  Different foods were available during the different seasons, and we likely adapted our diet to those different seasons.  Now here’s the key insight:  Not only the surface level characteristics of our bodies adapted, but our metabolisms also adapted.  We adapted both our habits, and switched our metabolic characteristics, to the seasons of the year.  And these effects came with intertwined timescales.  Not only did the Earth moving around the Sun matter.  As important was our ability to metabolically adapt to changing circumstances, which was much shorter.  It didn’t take all fall, or all spring, to take advantage of the change in food supply — or stop feeling bad because we couldn’t get any more apples.

The standard explanation of seasonal change in food supply is that we are supposed to put on weight in the summer and fall, when fruits were available, and then lose it, under stress, when they were not.  Nothing in that statement is new.  People have been saying that kind of stuff for ages.  Locavore blah, blah, blah. We lost weight in the off-times because we were starving.  And we had to put on enough fat to avoid starving in the winter. And so, implicitly, we had to have foods that help us put on weight.  Like fruits.  Or carbs.  Or whatever.

Well, maybe not.  Maybe there’s actually deep bullshit in that statement, that’s coded into our understanding of our bodies that comes from our v-Memes, and not our actual biology.  And maybe there are other timescales in play regarding food, than just the source.  Maybe adaptation time has something to do with it as well.

What’s really interesting is that no one talks about our bodies LOSING weight as part of the plan.  Or diet.  The whole idea is “we gain weight, and that’s what we’re supposed to do.” It’s just not considered that maybe losing weight is also part of our homeostatic trajectories.

I went looking for one of my favorite historic Nez Perce photos, of an entire tribal subgroup.  The Nez Perce were never a survival band — far from it, so please don’t misinterpret my statements.  But if you were to find a better-looking, cut-up band of body builders, you’d be hard pressed to do it.  This one below will have to do — you can still see that Charles Whirlwind’s (photo credit NPS) band is still looking mighty fine.

Charles Whirlwind

The Nez Perce never starved — they were salmon-based Native Americans, and had the empathetic development benefit of jointly harvesting salmon when the runs came up the Clearwater and Snake Rivers.  I can remember reading similar accounts of Comanche and other Great Plains Tribes, who towered in health and well-being over the U.S. Cavalry soldiers, who were often in poor health and a foot less in height.  Great Plains tribes ate buffalo meat.  U.S. Cavalry ate flapjacks and salted pork.  Nez Perce ate salmon — lots of it.  Save when the camas came in during the spring time, it was elk, salmon, and bison in the fall.

But let’s scroll life back far before that, to the African savannah.  There would be no winter season to fatten up for or starve.  There would be a wet and dry season, a season when plants would fruit, and then a season where you had to chase critters.  And during both seasons, our deep ancestors would have bodies adapted to their lifestyles.  But instead of assuming that they were starving during one season, and flourishing during the other, maybe what really happened is that they just changed their metabolism.  During the dry season, when carbohydrates weren’t available, they just didn’t eat them.  And maybe when they were, they had lots of sex, because we do know that elevated baseline fat level is important for estrogen, and therefore conception.  That’s a very different narrative than alternate starving, and worrying about starving.  Run around a lot one season.  Have lots of sex during the other one.  Or rather, have lots of sex period, but only have babies during the one, because everyone was fit and in great shape for the most part, just like animals usually appear in the wild, but energetic conditions were only right for making more humans during one.  That’s a really different narrative than the chronic suffering one we’re used to.

If there’s a Guiding Principle regarding weight loss that I’ve figured out while changing my diet to more protein and fat, it’s this.  I’m not supposed to be hungry.  I can lose weight and not be hungry.  I can harness my body’s deep memory that this might be the squirrel-chasing season, and not the apple-eating season.  And once I get closer to a healthier homeostasis, I can diverge from that for an evening out with friends without worry.  If I go back to eating lots of carbs, then I will shift my body to the primal state of eating apples and getting fatter.  If I stick with eating protein and fat, I will shift my body back to the primal state of eating rabbits.  My body will gear up to being more energetic because those little suckers are hard to catch.  And not only that — my body will want itself to be skinnier and lighter, because it’s easier to chase rabbits if I’m not dragging around my beer gut.  Or apple gut.  Or whatever.

These types of metabolic changes are what in engineering (or science) we call First Order Effects.  These are the primary drivers that affect how our body function, and they go back a long way.  Intrinsic in all this is that my body is healthy, and that it is capable of achieving homeostasis.  If I’ve already bunged up my pancreas, well, that’s a different story.  But if all parts are in good, working order, then this is the first big choice.

That’s NOT to say that all the other stuff doesn’t matter.  It does.  If you’re exposed your whole life to pesticides, the odds go up in the population that you’ll get cancer.  Exposure to preservatives, and how they affect the transition in hunger, and weight gain, are also likely very real.  If you’re insulin sensitive because of long periods of obesity and inactivity, certainly that matters.  But all these effects — UNLESS you have something non-functional with your core systems — are second order.  You can eat plenty of organic food-based carbohydrates and still be unhealthy and obese.  It’s not going to save you.  You can miss the boat with timing and the Paleo diet will do you no good.  Likewise, if you follow first-order effects and eat hot dogs and beans, odds are you’ll still lose weight and feel fine.  If you don’t drink a ton of water — definitely a first-order effect — you won’t feel fine no matter what you do.  If you never move around, you’ll always feel terrible.  You’re supposed to get up and get on it every now and then.  First order effect.

What’s the v-Meme path toward weight loss?  Start at the bottom with Guiding Principles — carbs to gain weight, proteins and fats to lose weight.  Mostly divided, and consumed at different times — they’ll have that effect.  Almost never be chronically hungry — that’s the truly unnatural state.  I’ve talked to enough people in the last couple of weeks about this to convince me that three, to at most seven days seems to be a magical number as far as metabolic shift.  I get my data from friends going to Europe, changing mostly their breakfast pattern, and walking around a lot.  Folks say they immediately drop 3 lbs.  So do I when I go there.  Your mileage may vary.

And don’t just leave out the knowledge from the other v-Memes.  As you move up, pick the Authority wisely that works for you. That said, Gwyneth Paltrow talking about buying expensive fairy dust is probably a worse choice than Steven Ilg, famous mindfulness athletic trainer.  Maybe you need a scientist.  Or you’re like me, and the Four Hour Body made sense.  Or you’re insulin-sensitive.  You can find your way.  I have faith in you.

But your body, if all systems are still go, has evolved to shift.  Your weight can easily go up — and down.  Because when the fruit rots, and there’s no more left on the ground, it’s time to stop laying around and having sex and start chasing those squirrels again.  Now you’ll to excuse me while I eat some organic beans and a Nathan’s hot dog.  I’ve got some weight to lose.

Postscript — fun Simpsons link.  I love Dr. Nick.  Definitely one of my favorite characters.

 

 

Quickie Post — Reading the Energy Tea Leaves/Media One More Time

100 Islands 2012 (1)

In 100 Islands National Park, Philippines, 2012

One of the interesting things to me about reading tech. media is how often the journalists get it wrong — usually on the pessimistic side of the scale.  And it’s easy in tech to point a finger at the journalist and declare “well, they just didn’t know enough about the tech to have an intelligent opinion.  If they only had XXX engineering degree, they’d have known whether YYY innovation was really going to happen or not.

I’m not one to completely knock having an engineering degree, having more than a couple myself!  But it’s important to remember that the degree provides the scaffolding for any analysis — a set of constituent knowledge parts that still have to be combined into that holistic narrative the makes sense of a potential change.  And that depends on the author’s v-Meme, which will then inform their endorsement or criticism.  Whether they’re promoting a solar satellite in the sky, or tiles on a rooftop spread by neighbors at roof-changing parties, Conway’s Law informs the implementation of the actual design by the design group’s v-Meme.    But the journalist’s background will tell you whether they like or dislike a particular technology, as well as inform on their ability to understand, or even comprehend how a given piece of technology will evolve.

For the most part, tech writing forever has been pretty utopian/absolutistic in nature, either positive or negative (think everything from Star Trek to Brave New World.) And not much nuance — at least until Philip K. Dick came along (the ur-author of the story the movie Bladerunner is based on) or maybe William Gibson’s Neuromancer.  But reporting on tech is still hugely dependent on the writer’s v-Memes — and that’s particularly noticeable in how the writer conveys the sense of innovation, change, and metacognition.

Energy issues are obviously one of the huge areas of tech-speculation, with any new announcement screaming out the v-Memes of the author.  If it’s all about how something large and centralized is going to save the day, I’d be willing to bet a beer that the journalist is an authoritarian/legalist.  Likewise if they say something like ‘large scale energy storage/base load is the thing that will kill renewables.’  Or if any introduced technology is immediately condemned because it can’t instantly replace all the current energy pipelines that run modern society.

That’s why it’s so refreshing to read a story from a naysayer that is starting to understand that change processes are key for technology maturation.  This article, from the online website Treehugger, about Tesla storage substations as replacement for small scale natural gas power generation, is a good example — and definitely worth a read.  The author is talking about the Duck, which is a tech term for the problem with renewables, that peak power generation demands are often right when the sun is going down and wind is dying, and people are turning on their A/C and cooking dinner.  You need some crossover support to make it all happen.

This TreeHugger has been forced to eat a lot of words recently after complaining how net zero building and rooftop solar was going to create huge problems; I noted recently that Tesla’s power wall “is a real game-changer, that erases so many of the problems I have had with rooftop solar and its dependence on the grid, the whole duck curve thing, just gone.”

Whether or not it turns out to be completely true, that Tesla concentrated storage will work to fix this problem completely or not, as all things in the future, has variability and probability attached.  That’s the truly evolutionary thing to say.

A view of long history can help.  One of my more lighthearted hobbies is reading railroad and model railroad magazines.  My railroad of fandom, The Milwaukee Road, ran through our backyard and through the headwaters of the St. Joe River, over St. Paul Pass.  The Milwaukee Road was an innovator, and ran electrified routes over the Rockies and Cascades, starting at Harlowton, MT, over to Avery, ID and on to Seattle.  You can ride part of the Route of the Hiawatha now on your bike, with a nice shuttle if you’re so inclined.  It’s lovely.   See below.

You actually get to ride on the abandoned railway and across the trestles — it’s that pretty!

But what was really interesting about the Milwaukee Road was that they timed their trains to provide peaking power back into the grid at the Duck.  In order to slow down, they would use regenerative braking, and feed power back into the system about the time everyone was frying up their evening hamburgers.  Talk about empathetic synergy.

So answers are often out there.  And often, as with all progress, unexpected and nonlinear in nature.  Just like creativity itself, if you need to get all hopey-changey-complex systemy- self similarity on yourself!  That particular solution was used, depending on how you count the years, almost 100 years ago.

If there’s a takeaway, it’s this.  Raise an eyebrow on anyone either unilaterally praising, or condemning any new technology.  The more things change, the more things change.  And like Yogi Berra said, especially about the truly large issues like Global Warming — “it ain’t over ’till it’s over.”

Quickie Post — Brother Leachman’s Thermodynamics of Creativity

Mike and Chuck Older - 1

That’s me and my older soul brother, Mike Beiser.  Though Jake did take this picture.  Who says you can’t have fun with your collaborators?  July 2016, Main Salmon River

Here’s another post from one of my chief collaborators, Jake Leachman, in the School of MME here at WSU.  It’s great stuff —  titled:

Social Thermodynamics: The mathematics of creativity

It’s not exactly for the faint-of-heart, so if you just got done with the Weight Loss post and thought I’d lob you another softball, well, uh, sorry.

For those who are into design, though, it’s great, in that it gives a field theory/probabilistic interpretation of averaged complexity that’s useful in creating larger organizational boundary conditions and forces for change.  As with all probabilistic modeling, it’s not so much descriptive on how individual actors inside a system work together to create new ideas.  But it’s more useful.  I’ve been badgering Jake to make up some Labview models of “virtual instruments”, with little dials and such on the front to show, quantitatively, how these variables are related.  Methinks a quickie creativity-meter looms in our shared future.    It’s a wicked combo — bright, innovative thinkers and me — the iconic old nag.

Contrast this with the deterministic work on creativity in social networks I’ve done, based on nonlinear differential equations.  One of the fascinating meta-things that this little comparison shows is also how the various v-Memes create knowledge structures that, over time, can converge to a larger truth.  Nonlinear differential equations are as Legalistic/Algorithmic as you get — one initial condition gives you one unique solution that may indeed be extremely complex.  But running a bunch of these to make sure it’s the only answer takes forever.  Contrast that to the probabilistic approach of thermodynamics, more at home one v-Meme level up, in the Performance/Goal-based heuristics space.  Here, thermodynamics inherently works on averages inside a larger system boundary.  More compact and potentially easier to calculate.

While both approaches give insight, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that Jake’s approach might be more useful for setting organizational policy, whereas the nonlinear ODE understanding is more useful in understanding individuals interacting, and create lower level training.  And that would also map to the insights of the v-Memes.  Legalistic/Absolutistic v-Memes for rules for an organization, and Performance-Based thinking for larger goal setting.

It’s all great!  We’re figuring it out!

Weight Loss — it’s in the V-Memes

Panda and Kitty Tuxedo - 1

My wife and I.  We like each other.  Most of the time.  2016

One of the things that I’ve struggled with my whole life is weight.  Too much of it, actually.  And I’m not alone.  If you believe the statistics, in the U.S., some 36% or so of us are obese (more than 30% body fat) and two out of three of us are overweight.  Even Stephen Hawking has weighed in.  From the previously linked web page:

““We eat too much, and move too little,” he says. He also offers the solution, which we all already know is true: “More physical activity and a change in diet.”

Well, we kinda know that that solution is true.  Except when it’s not.  What we really know is that mental model of that solution is widely accepted.  We’ve covered Stephen Hawking’s issues with aliens eating us in this piece.  So it’s pretty fair to assume that we know that he’s speaking about weight loss from the same Authoritarian v-Meme that he talks about how us plumping up making us attractive for the space alien barbecue.

The reality of weight gain, however, is far more complex.  And I’m here to tell you, it’s very poorly understood.  It’s certainly not as simple as calories in/calories out.  Here’s a statement from the same NIH page that had the weight statistics:

There is no single cause of all overweight and obesity. There is no single approach that can help prevent or treat overweight and obesity. Treatment may include a mix of behavioral treatment, diet, exercise, and sometimes weight-loss drugs. In some cases of extreme obesity, weight-loss surgery may be an option.1

That’s a rare admission from a Legalistic/Absolutistic v-Meme organization!  Always great to see scientists/doctors displaying some profound metacognition.  Though to be fair to the v-Memes, it’s no surprise that the good doctors at the NIH do interject their ultimate solution — weight-loss surgery — while not talking about anything else in this little blurb!  You can run from those v-Memes, but you can’t hide.

So what does the v-Meme landscape look like in weight-loss land?  Well, it’s pretty desolate.  People are desperate for answers, for one, because being fat is pretty much a constant, reinflicting trauma in our society.  There’s fat shaming, and skinny models, and ideals of femininity and all that.  There’s the actual trauma of being fat — pre-diabetes, leading to diabetes, and clothes that don’t fit or look terrible.  So you can assume that a lot of us that are carrying around more than a few extra pounds are deeply aware of it.  And the trauma may grow so great, that we’re dissociated from our actions.  Trauma is a mother-scratcher.  Ask Daniel Siegel.

So how did I come to realize that there’s a v-Meme problem with all the usual weight loss nonsense?  Well, once again, I’m just the crazy exception to the rule.  I’m a fit fat guy.  I love to ride my bicycle, and I’m a veteran whitewater junkie and Class V kayaker.  I backpack, and have cruised the backcountry of multiple continents, from jungles to mountain peaks.  I’ve also been told that I’m fat my whole life by my family, especially by my mother and father (that’s a book to unpack!) even though there were times when I was working out literally four hours/day, and feeling like Rambo.  Grad school, I miss you.  But now, I am fat — I’m 6’2″, and weigh 285 lbs.  And while I keep up the bike riding (1500 miles or so last year) and go to the gym, it’s pretty clear from all trends, save for a bad divorce and a depressive loss of about 40 lbs. (that happened!)  that I’m going to be a blue whale if I can’t figure this out.  The good news is that I think I have.  But that has to do with (you guessed it!) my v-Memes and my social network.  And empathy.

But back to the v-Memes.

If you’re severely overweight, and you think you’re going to die if you don’t lose weight, I think it’s safe to assume you’re in a deeply traumatized state, and down there in the Survival v-Meme.  That means you’re simply receptive to anything.  You go to a doctor, who’s an Authority, and if they recommend Gastric Bypass Surgery, you’re going to go for it.  You got there because, for some reason, you couldn’t avoid eating.  And as the Legalistic Authoritarians in the crowd will tell you, you’re a fat hog because you just couldn’t put down the donuts.  It’s a moral failing, and you deserve to be fat.  Your lack of restraint got you there, and now they’re going to replumb your system to prevent you from indulging your fundamentally decadent personality.  You deserve the muumuu you’re wearing.

And here’s the other ringer.  You’re just like everyone else who IS fat.  Except you’re worse.  You pig.  You don’t even get the lateral from the NIH in the eyes of society.  But here’s the thing.  That’s telling you more about the v-Memes of the society than your actual situation.

Moving up to Tribal/Magical, we see lots of interventions start appearing for your weight problem.  They’re not all dubious, of course.  Sometimes, herbal medicines work, and are the results of thousands of years of aggregated societal knowledge.  Much of Chinese medicine is a great example of integrated information that can have amazing holistic effect.  There are definitely advantages of 3000 years of stable culture, even if it’s narcissistic authoritarianism.  Because long-term, systems will get to the truth and ground themselves to reality.  Or they fail.

But more often, it’s stuff like this.   Amanda Bacon sells magic in the form of Moon Dust, Moon Juice and such icks.  If you’re desperate to lose weight, and you want to be as beautiful as this 34-year-old snake oil salesperson, who’s made millions and lives in a 4000 square foot home in L.A., then you can buy her stuff over the Internet.

Then there’s the Authoritarian/Legalistic niche.  First, the Authoritarianism’s main problem, which is the way that these social structures maintain power and control is, as we’ve covered before, through suppression.  Which leads too often to depression.  Which, well, can certainly lead to overeating.  Which then means you’re a worthless piece of flab.  And your problems would go away if you’d just stop eating so much!  Nothing like a little black-and-white dichotomous thinking to get your day going!  Now put down that bear claw!!!

Moving up into the Legalistic v-Memes, we now see that there are simple algorithms that explain your problem.  The calories you eat — easily calculable with a diet scale — are more than the calories you’re expending.  Also easily calculable!  There are tables for BMI, and one-size-fits-all!  If you’d just buy a Fitbit, or some other new, infernal device, you could track this down to the last microjoule!  Now, every 30 minutes, stand up and move around.  I do want to pause, and say that there’s nothing wrong with many of these things at this v-Meme.  But it’s still categorization and simple input/output relationships.  Hard to represent the extremely complex and complicated cause-and-effect of the human body, of which only 10% is you.  And the other 90% are those different biotic/bacterial systems that have co-evolved with us.

But if you’ve noticed — that would be you, you fat person! No one’s ever asked you how you feel.

And that right there is exactly what you’d expect out of all the v-Memes below the Trust Boundary.  We’re externally defined, and statically belief-based.  You’re a professional, you should know better.  You just have to get with the program!

OK.  It’s time for a little more personal background on me.  When I was young — like four years old — my father would grab the back of my head and stuff food in my mouth.  “You’re not going to starve like I almost did!” he would bellow.  He was an immigrant from Iran, and he nearly died during the Great Depression from hunger.  He’s since passed on, but he had a story of a time he was standing in a bread line, and a soldier behind him came forward to steal his loaf of bread.  He put up a fight, and the soldier attempted to stuff him in the bread oven, which happened to be lit.  His father, who was a colonel in the army, came out and beat the soldier to death in the streets.  And my mother also nearly starved during the Depression.  Her story (potentially apocryphal — gaslighting has a long history in my clan as well) was when her older brother offered to cut off his leg so they could eat it.  Epigenetically, it doesn’t look good for me and weight loss.  Compound that with big Scotch Irish genes from my mother’s side, add in a quarter of Swedish long sea voyage stock, and you’ve definitely got someone who could survive a cold dunking for a long time.  Fat?  You betcha!

And then when you add the fact my father would throw a large bag of Doritos at me for a treat, what can I say?  I definitely COULD have a tendency to overeat.  I COULD lack self-restraint.  I obviously wasn’t counting calories when as a 14-year-old boy, I stuffed a bag of Doritos down my gullet.

Except my siblings aren’t fat.  Just me.  Huh.

But back to the v-Memes.  Once we move up into the Performance/Communitarian space, there starts to be a little hope on the horizon for us fatties.  We’re individuals now, with our own histories, including family histories.  Yet at the same time, if you’re overweight, you’re interacting with medical hierarchies, who are all generating thinkers who are not interested in you as an individual.  Empathy is not their gig.  You might be symptoms, but we as a society have decided that, for the most part, being fat is a moral failing.  And just like smoking, you just need to quit.  You have a problem.  Look at me and tell me about your experience, you say to the doctor.

Except they can’t.  I just Googled up ‘percentage of doctors who are fat’ — and the number is 51%!  According to the NPR article, doctors who are fat aren’t comfortable giving advice on how to start losing weight.  Because, well, they’re in a hierarchical, status-based v-Meme of a social structure, and you’re supposed to feel embarrassed if you’re doling out health, and you turn out to be unhealthy.  Our doctors are all failed moral actors as well!  Talk about the Principle of Reinforcement!

So you turn to the nurses. More nurses are obese than doctors!  54%!  At least this article acknowledges stress as a potential cause.  Which would be expected, in the rigid hierarchies that dominate the medical profession.  Nurses, more predisposed to be empathetic, are under these doctors, that are all about their titles.  Not fair!  Give me a brownie!

But back to our more hopeful, empathetic, data-driven space.  People like myself are out there looking for answers, and being told the usual stuff.  You don’t exercise.  You don’t do the RIGHT kind of exercise.  You’re a moral failure.  And so on.  And after a while, at least in my case, you just accept it.  It’s out of your control.  It’s must be large scale environmental toxins, like endocrine disruptors.  Food additives.  Not enough organic food.  Something.  That’s a large scale systemic problem, our whole food system, and there is likely evidence that this is part of the problem, as well.  But overall, there are no answers you can use.  And the deprivation of agency is crushing.  You’re going to be fat forever.  At least you can be comfortable in your own skin.  See below.

Rat Park Lower Salmon

Someone’s got to be the paterfamilias around here.  2007?

The wildest thing in my journey, though, is that no one ever asked me the simple, empathetic question:  how do you feel when you’re hungry?

If any of my health care providers had asked me that question, I would have told them this:

  1.  I feel light headed.
  2. I feel ravenous.
  3. I want to cram food (especially carbs) down my throat until I feel beyond full.
  4. It’s especially bad after exercise.
  5. I can eat all the celery in the world and it doesn’t make me feel any better.

The end conclusion I’d tell them is that I become non-functional when I get hungry.  I feel miserable, and want to die.  (Think Survival v-Meme here.)  If I don’t have that Cheeto snack from the vending machine down the hall, I’m done.

The other interesting question no one ever asked me was this:  what meal makes you last the longest without feeling hungry?  I’d answer very simply: a sausage and eggs breakfast.  I can last almost all day on a good breakfast.

Now while I’m a very connected, self-aware thinker when I slow down, the reality is that I, like all of us, spend most of our time down in one of the 1st Tier v-Memes.  For me, I’m very Performance-oriented.  If you come to me with a problem, the first thing that will cross my mind will be “How can we get this done?”  That’s not, if you’ll note, particularly high on the emotional empathy scale.  I look at the person asking the question, and since I do have a highly developed sense of rational empathy, I immediately assess their needs (I’ve been raising kids since I was 9 years old — that’s a whole ‘nother story!) and then execute. So when the time window opened in my schedule for another opportunity to do more exercise, which, as we’ve been told, should lead to more weight loss (even though it never has for me!) I got the bike schedule out and got on it.  100 miles/week.  I love riding, so it’s not a big deal.  I write on the bike.

First week, no weight loss. Maybe I’m building muscle, I don’t know.  Second week, the same story.  Hungry all the time, light-headed.  All the usual.  At least I can rationalize that beer I want to drink.  Nothing tastes as good as a Bitburger at the end of a long day with exercise.

And then a strange thing happened.  My wife, who is Taiwanese, who was leaving for Taiwan, lined up a new set of vitamins on the counter.  A multi, of course, as well as some new D3 vitamins.  Always happy to have a little more energy.  And then one more — a magnesium supplement.  I’d never taken that before.  So as much to appease her as anything — Chinese people in general like talking about their health like Americans like talking about football — I took it.

And all the sudden, I wasn’t hungry any more.  Or rather, I wasn’t hungry like that.  I was just hungry.  And I could manage it.

I’ve had lots of education, so I started thinking about the Liebig’s Law of the Minimum, which states that “growth is controlled not by the total amount of resources available, but by the scarcest resource (limiting factor).”  Obviously, I was chemically imbalanced.

I turned to Facebook and friends.  One of my chief collaborators, who is just a little younger than me, recommended this book.  What’s interesting about this book is that the writer, Timothy Ferriss, has done a ton of research on nutrition and endocrinology, as well as run experiments on himself.  That means multiple things, from a v-Meme perspective.  One — from the Legalistic/Absolutistic perspective, is that reliability isn’t where you want it to be.  It would be great to see multiple people.  I think. To be fair, he has multiple case studies in the book.

Or maybe not.  If I’m experiencing an exceptional problem, part of the problem with gaining reliability is that you’d want people to have the same metabolic characteristics.  That’s the problem we have with understanding weight loss now. You put too many diverse individuals in the pool, and the real gems of insight are averaged out.

And when it comes to validity, reading the book, it seems like Ferriss is the real deal.  He meticulously tracks what he does, and is very data-driven.  And he is a white male, like myself, from Northern European stock.  So there are at least some genetic similarities.  He calls it a ‘slow carb’ diet, and it seems somewhat ketogenic in nature.  Deprive the body of carbohydrates, and the body relearns to burn fat, as well as burn some ketones in your brain.  You eat until you’re full, and you get to drink two glasses of wine per night.  When I read that, I thought — I can live with that!

So I started.  And returned to my social network.  A lot of the usual advice came through, but one old friend told me about her insulin sensitivity, and how she had lost a large amount of weight.  Now I have something to go back to the doctor’s and discuss.  One of my younger cousins, Ben Pezeshki, who is also a physician, said the same thing in a different conversation.  Reliability from the medical community.  And on and on.

During the whole time, I’m also reflective about the process.  What was also cool about cousin Dr. Ben Pezeshki (shout-out — Pezeshki means ‘Doctor’ in Farsi!) was that he was the first person to ever tell me that typical hunger pangs were relieved when the stomach was stretched.  Hence the eating of celery as a good solution to hunger!  Except for me.  And by knowing that, I knew that this was NOT what I was feeling.  And I could begin to understand myself as a larger system out of balance.

By bringing you this story, I’m harnessing my own development, and in writing, hoping to gain a little Bodhisattva elevation by helping others.  Once you get out of the lower v-Memes, and into the world of high-trust relationships, you can start discussing about your experience.  Which matters.

What’s the bottom line?  If there’s a better illustration of how perspective and social structure shapes the opinions of those telling you how to lose weight, or why you’re fat in the first place, I can’t think of one.  And if there’s one that isn’t more tangled up with who we, quite literally, are, it escapes me.  One might say “well, I’m being empathetic if I don’t tell this person that they may have a larger problem (like thyroid imbalance, or insulin imbalance.)  I can’t say.  But everyone’s different.  And it’s one of those large, wicked problems that are going to require some experimentation (shout out to Tim Ferriss for affixing a blood glucose monitor onto himself to get at some level of the truth!) and scaffolding.  But I think a big first step towards getting to the answer would be for the medical profession to ask each other “so, how do you feel when you’re hungry?”  Now that’s an empathetic ladder that would really help.

Postscript — I’m down 5 lbs. on a profoundly linear graph.  For me, this has never happened — it’s been crazy 5 lb. fluctuations, never ending where I wanted. Let’s hope when I’m writing 30 days from now, I’m down 30. I think that’s a lot.  But I’m keeping on it.  And I’ll keep you informed!