Sunday, January 29, 2012

Celebrity Endorsements

"I am not a role model." -Charles Barkley

 Possibly the wisest words any celebrity ever said:

And so it is with all entertainers flogging drugs, diet and fitness programs: they aren't paid to actually know how any of these work. An entertainer may not know any more than you do about diabetes, losing weight or getting in shape. What these entertainers have that you might not is stage training, the gift of gab, and a contract to shill for a drug company, weight loss program, or food manufacturer. I'm not accusing anyone of lying, but do you really think someone like Paula Deen, as spokeswoman for Novo Nordisk, is going to tell you how to keep your blood sugars under control without drugs? (Novo Nordisk is a major insulin manufacturer and sponsors flawed research supposedly showing that low-carb diets aren't any more effective than high-carb diets for controlling diabetes. See this.) Are some doctors paid shills, too? Oh yes.

In fairness, a lot of people are promoting books and products of various degrees of quality. The question is whether the promoters know what they're talking about, whether the product or system works, and whether they have an incentive to lie. The only way to figure this out is to do your own research: learn about digestion, insulin and fat storage and the kinds of diets human evolved on--it's the only way to begin to tell who's blowing smoke. (An excellent, accessible book on these subjects is Why We Get Fat by Gary Taubes.) Dr. Michael Eades covers these three subjects (below).

Finally, find a system to lose weight or cure or control your illness, and track the results in writing.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Introverts, Fly your Colors

If you've ever been pressured to act a part, you know how exhausting it is. If you're in a world where you don't feel at home, you might think something is wrong with you. This is the theme of a new book called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain.(1) It's estimated that one-third to one-half of people are introverts, yet American culture reveres extroverts and sets up schools, homes and workplaces for interaction. Think open concept offices and schools and big, airy houses.

Give me a quiet classroom and a Craftsman house with private nooks and crannies if I have to live with someone. (I don't, and don't want to.) I spent four years in a noisy open concept grade school, where I quickly developed headaches and insomnia. My mother lost part of her hearing during her rehabilitation in the din of a noisy nursing home.

My life now has a Do Not Disturb sign: no Facebook page, cell phone, listed phone number, iPod, TV reception, roommate, kids, or significant other. I don't go to my own birthday parties and I'd pay not to go to family gatherings (they give me a splitting headache). I'm not mad at anyone or being ascetic, nor would I wish such a life on a social butterfly: this is just who I am, and I'm happy with it.

Cain, the author of Quiet, cites clinical studies showing that introverts' brains process experiences differently--and that we're different from the time we're babies. Basically, introverts are easily overstimulated and our amygdala (ancient reptile brain associated with fear) has a stronger reaction than that of extroverts. We can learn skills to cope with things like public speaking or interviewing, but our temperament can't be molded to turn us into party animals. Bizarre management ideas like putting engineers in a fishbowl-like office or playing laser-tag to build teamwork or trying to change someone by fiat (I went through all of this nonsense when I was an engineer) are a waste of time. And I was frequently sick during that time.

Putting yourself out there wasn't always the norm. Emily Post, for all her advice on getting on with others, states in the 1940 edition of Etiquette, "DON'T ATTRACT ATTENTION" (emphasis in original). "There is nothing that stamps the vulgarian more than advertising his possessions or achievements by loud word of mouth--anywhere! ...Do not expose your private affairs, feelings or innermost thoughts in public. You are knocking down the walls of your house when you do."(2)

If you're an introvert who feels pressured play a role, I hope I've inspired you to be yourself as much as possible. People can spot a phony. They'll respect a real curmudgeon more than a fake conformist. I offer some recommended reading and viewing (below). These aren't introverts who need a makeover to get the guy or girl: they include smart, ambitious, courageous, moral, funny, tough, loyal, and ruthless people. At this writing, all the movies and TV shows are available through Netflix; all the books are probably available at your library. (Only two of these are American. Sigh.)

  • Detective Sherlock Holmes is likely the most revered introvert of literature. 
  • Reclusive detective L investigates the mass murder of criminals in the TV series Death Note. (For all the creators' attempts to make L unattractive, hordes of fangirls adore him.)
  • Jane Austen heroines Elinor Dashwood of Sense and Sensibility, Fanny Price of Mansfield Park, Jane Bennet of Pride and Prejudice, and Anne Elliot of Persuasion prudently navigate the social minefield of Regency England.
  • Zoe kicks butt, Simon plots capers and digs out bullets, and River will either "blow up the ship or rub soup in our hair" in the cult TV drama Firefly.
  • Quiet samurai Jin clashes with extrovert Mugan and everyone else who gets in his way in Samurai Champloo.
  • Shy IT guys Moss and Roy get up to mischief in The IT Crowd. If you like silly comedy, this TV show is knee-slapping funny.
  • A humble hotel maid takes up chess and takes on a champ in the movie Queen to Play.
  • Will, a hyperobservant psychiatrist, and go-to guy Henry help unusual creatures and deal with others' outsize egos in the TV show Sanctuary.
  • Genius researcher Lisbeth Salander exacts justice and takes on all comers in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl who Played with Fire and The Girl who Kicked the Hornet's Nest.
  • If you haven't read or seen Harry Potter because you think it's just for kids, go check it out (starting with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone). Introverts Neville and Luna stand up to Harry's nemesis, Voldemort, while Professor Snape swims with the sharks in stories about friendship, courage, sacrifice, and adventure.
1. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain. 2012.
2. Etiquette by Emily Post. 1940, pp. 36-37.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Economics Recall FAIL

"The last President of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, is said to have asked British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher: How do you see to it that people get food? The answer was that she didn't. Prices did that."

The quote is from a book called Basic Economics, a subject I should have considered before I wrote in my last post that low-carb food costs more because it's high quality. If that were true, a pound of nutrient-dense chicken liver would cost a lot more than a sugary (but tastier) piece of pumpkin cheesecake roll at Denver Urban Homesteaders where I buy meat. It doesn't.

As a former freshman economics student, I should have remembered that prices are a function of supply and demand. As economist Thomas Sowell put it,

Prices in a market economy are not simply numbers plucked out of the air. While you may put whatever price you wish on the goods or services that you provide, those prices will become economic realities only if others are willing to pay them...

There's much more to it, of course, but I was wrong to say that better foods are necessarily higher priced. I live in a time and place where low-fat food is a health-nut staple and sugar and starch are almost hourly indulgences. There's a line in the documentary Fathead that you'd have to pay people to eat more vegetables. Full-fat meat and dairy is in the dietary equivalent of Siberia (or Norway, where odd summer weather and a low carb craze have caused a butter shortage and high prices for the stuff). Here in the U.S., if you prefer fat, juicy hamburger to boneless, skinless chicken breasts and plain coffee to confections in a cup, so much the better for you and your wallet. But if you want brownies that are better for you than what you'd make from the ingredients in a $2 mix, I'm afraid you'll have to shell out more money for better ingredients.

Basic Economics: A Common Sense Guide to the Economy by Thomas Sowell, 4th Ed., 2010.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Why Low Carb Food Costs More

"Price is what you pay, value is what you get." -Warren Buffett

EDITED TO ADD: See if you can spot my poor reasoning in this post. That, and $1.75, will get you a plain coffee at Starbucks.

Why does low carb food cost more? In general, it's more filling, it's more nutritious, and it has little or no added sugar or refined flour, which are nutrient sinks. Check out the macronutrients in a Starbucks double chocolate brownie(1) compared to a low-carb walnut-mocha brownie(2,3,4) (click for larger image, press ESC to return):

I'm not putting down Starbucks--the results would probably be the same for any brownie made of flour, sugar, eggs, chocolate, etc., including homemade brownies like Grandma used to make. My point is that even though the low-carb brownies cost more to make than Grandma's and are less convenient than Starbucks, they're real food. With all natural fats, 14 grams of protein and no added sugar or refined flour, they aren't junk food. They're made mostly of almonds, eggs, butter, coconut oil and unsweetened cocoa, and sweetened with the sugar substitute of your choice.

More expensive? Yes, but don't you expect to pay more for high quality than junk? Having made two batches of these brownies, I can tell you they're filling. I used to have a hard time controlling myself around brownies (the kind with flour and sugar), but one of these fills me up for hours: protein is more filling than sugar, and with few carbs, there's no blood sugar spike and subsequent drop a few hours later to make you hungry.

If you still think low-carb is too expensive, I figured out last year that I was saving $958 per year(5) by eating this way.


  1. Starbucks web site, accessed January 15, 2012.
  2. "Mocha Walnut Brownies" by William Davis, M.D., January 1, 2012, Track your Plaque blog, accessed January 15, 2012.
  3. Weight of mocha walnut brownies from my measuring a one-ninth portion of the prepared recipe (with an additional egg and no walnuts), multiplying by nine and dividing by eight. In other words, it's a one-eighth portion of the recipe.
  4. Nutritional information from (accessed January 15, 2012) and Recipe Box Nutrient Counter software.
  5. "Is Low Carb an Expensive Diet?" by Lori Miller, "Pain, Pain Go Away" blog, June 18, 2010.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Eades Podcast; No More Blood Donations

Amy Alkon Interviews Drs. Mike and Mary Dan Eades

Advice Goddess Amy Alkon writes,

Low-carb pioneers Dr. Michael Eades and Dr. Mary Dan Eades are my guests this week. They are two of the all-too-few out there who are behind evidence-based ways to eat -- dietary science as opposed to the "science" on which so many base their diets....
These two have changed the lives and improved the health of more of my readers -- in absolutely incredible ways. People who read their books, like "Protein Power," typically end up losing weight...and with the pounds are stones falling off a truck.
On the show, we'll talk about how to maintain a way of eating, and debunk a lot of widely held myths about diet -- myths many doctors still cling to. 
Listen to the interview here on or after Sunday, January 15, 8 PM.

I Can't Give 110%

Bonfils Blood Center, where I donate blood, started using slightly larger collection bags and increased the minimum weight requirement for donors. I'm barely over the new threshold, the blood donations are literally taking too much out of me. The last two times I've donated, I've ended up tired and sick. The illnesses could be a coincidence, but I know the tiredness isn't. Perhaps someone out there has reclaimed their health and is well enough to take the baton. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

A Tool to Go to Bed Earlier

I have a bad habit I've been trying to break for years: going to bed late. Even though I know I'll feel lousy as the week goes on, and give myself every good reason to go to bed, I don't do it. I don't have much excuse except that I'm wide awake at 10, 11, and midnight, and later if I stay up. I wonder how I could have been so tired six hours earlier and tell myself I'm not sleep deprived if I feel fine. Twelve hours later, I'm telling myself I've got to get to bed sooner.

It started in basic training, where you supposedly go to bed at nine and get up at five, but in reality it took until eleven o'clock to get everything done. In college, there weren't enough hours in the day to go to class, go to work, finish homework and get eight hours' sleep. Now, I stay out late one or two nights a week dancing. At 10 pm, everybody's warmed up, loose, and in the flow. Since I'm not willing to cut back on dancing, the reasonable thing to do is go to bed earlier when I stay home.

A low-carb diet has helped me make do with less sleep: since I started eating this way, I sleep like a rock, even on the bus. I do pretty well on seven hours' sleep. But I still need more sleep than I'm getting. For me, the best time to go to bed seems to be 11: even though I don't fall asleep for quite awhile, or wake up at 11:45, lying in bed with the lights out seems to help me feel better rested the next day.

The other night, I got a tool I think is going to help. It's Airytech Switch Off, a free program that automatically shuts off your computer at a time you select. Since I'm usually on the computer late at night, my new strategy is to have the computer automatically shut down at 10 pm, at which time I'll get up and get ready for bed. Knowing that my time on the computer is limited is making me use the time better than frittering the night away playing Zuma. I'll post again on whether the strategy is working.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Buying the Basics

If you've shopped for anything basic lately, maybe you've noticed how hard it is to find products that haven't been tricked out. It's like trying to find prepared food that isn't scoured of fat and laced with wheat.

The shelves at Ulta, a cosmetics store, were full of facial scrubs when I shopped there last week. I understand the need for hand scrubs if you're a gardener or mechanic, but have more women started packing their own wheel bearings and wiping their hands on their faces? (If so, may I recommend Gojo hand cleaner.) I wanted a basic facial moisturizer: no sunscreen (my mineral makeup is already SPF 8), no antioxidants (those acne bacteria need to be oxidized), no aloe to clog my pores, and no expensive anti-wrinkle cream that won't make me look 25 again. I ended up getting Aveeno Positively Ageless Firming Body Lotion--it's lightweight, reasonably priced, doesn't smell like perfume or fruit, and hasn't made my face break out. This, along with my winter skin regimen of exfoliating with enzymes and using a mud mask has cleared up my skin and made it a lot softer.

Finding an iron supplement with nothing but iron should have been easy at a place called Vitamin Cottage. It wasn't. Most of the pills had added B vitamins, C vitamins, and berry extracts, none of which I needed. Probably, the best thing they had was canned clams, which have 130% of your recommended daily iron and no additives or carbs, but I also got a bottle of Solaray iron asporotate in case I don't eat clams every day. GNC also makes an iron-only supplement.

Shopping for a treadmill for Molly a few years ago, every treadmill I saw was gigantic in size and price. What happened to basic treadmills? Some of them are owned by people who advertise them on Craig's List. I got a basic, compact model for a song from a couple who no longer needed it.

A few months ago, I read about concepts for stoves with internet access to look up recipes, and someone told me about an idea for a refrigerator that keeps track of the contents and orders more when they run low. I hope that ideas for even more bells, buzzers, whistles and added ingredients get as far as these concepts have gotten.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Self Control: A Limited Resource

Donating blood yesterday, going to bed late last night, a light breakfast, light lunch, and coming home lightheaded tonight: this is how I account for thinking that a dinner I knew added up to a lot of carbs (46) was a good idea. My resistance was lowered and not replenished. At least I didn't go far over my  daily 50-carb limit, and the meal was real food full of nutrients. But I know that big meals make me feel like a slug.

There's been research over the past few years about willpower being limited. Some clinical studies have looked at glucose's relationship to willpower, others have looked at performance on sequential tasks. Sandra Aamodt and Sam Wang write,

In one pioneering study, some people were asked to eat radishes while others received freshly baked chocolate chip cookies before trying to solve an impossible puzzle. The radish-eaters abandoned the puzzle in eight minutes on average, working less than half as long as people who got cookies or those who were excused from eating radishes. Similarly, people who were asked to circle every “e” on a page of text then showed less persistence in watching a video of an unchanging table and wall.
Other activities that deplete willpower include resisting food or drink, suppressing emotional responses, restraining aggressive or sexual impulses, taking exams and trying to impress someone. Task persistence is also reduced when people are stressed or tired from exertion or lack of sleep.(1)
Add hunger to the "tired from exertion" part, and it's no wonder eating less and exercising more doesn't work for weight loss. (Even if you keep at it, it doesn't work: see this.(2)) Before you rationalize eating cookies, keep in mind that your body only needs a teaspoon of blood glucose, and that it can make it out of protein. Eat some nuts or a low-carb brownie instead.

Limited self-control is a good reason to not allow yourself to get too hungry. Intermittent fasting may be all the rage--well and good if it works for you--but Dr. Atkins told his readers and patients to eat even if they just thought they were hungry(3) and for bingers to binge on protein(4), The New Atkins for a New You permits snacks(5), and Dr. John Briffa recommends having a snack of nuts or seeds if you're hungry between meals.(6) These doctors recommend quelling your hunger now so you don't go on a bender later.

This is why it's good to keep your home free of any food you shouldn't have. Sooner or later, we all get stressed out or run down--but if bad food isn't there, you can't eat it. Likewise, you need plenty of good foods on hand so you don't end up ordering Chinese (it's notorious for jacking up blood sugar too high).

There's a saying that good luck is often with the man who doesn't include it in his plans. The same thing is true for willpower.

Edited to add: It's the next morning, and I'm down a pound since yesterday. As I mentioned, I didn't go far over my 50g of carb per day limit. I just ate a really big meal, which makes me feel lousy.

  1. "Tighten your Belt, Strengthen your Mind" by Sanda Aamodt and Sam Wang, April 2, 2008.
  2. "Weight Gain Caused by Undereating" by Lori Miller,, January 30, 2011.
  3. Dr. Atkins' Diet Revolution by Dr. Robert Atkins, 1972, p. 32.
  4. Ibid, p. 266.
  5. The New Atkins for a New You by Eric  C. Westman, Stephen D. Phinney, Dr. Jeff S. Volek, 2010, pp. 67 and 101.
  6. "How Often Should we Eat?" by Dr. John Briffa,, November 2, 2011.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Is a Small Sacrifice for a Loved One a Punishment?

A friend and I talked today about her grandson, whom I'll call James. At age ten, James is a binge eater and nearly 40 pounds overweight. "His parents need to get all the junk food out of the house," I said. My friend replied that James's father doesn't want to punish his other kids.

Let's consider this for a moment: getting rid of the soda, chips, pizza, cup cakes, ice cream, and any other sugary, starchy junk that provides no nutrients, which is harming one of the kids, is a punishment.

What if two parents had living under their roof a fifteen-year-old alcoholic and a twenty-one-year-old who enjoyed a beer now and then. Getting rid of the beer, wine, liquor, and any other other alcohol, which provides no nutrients, which is harming one of the kids, would be common sense.

What if a family had a child who needed a lot of medical care, and they all had to scale back their lifestyle to pay for it--would that be a punishment, or what families are supposed to do? James has a medical problem, not a willpower problem, and the small sacrifice of keeping the junk food out of the house isn't a punishment. It's decency.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Vet Visit, Weight Loss, and a New Blogger

Molly Goes to the Vet
Although my dog Molly has been on the cavity healing diet for awhile, I found out last week she didn't actually have a cavity, just some scratches in her enamel, which the vet said was probably caused by chewing on bones. The vet says she rarely sees true cavities in dogs. Molly had some gingivitis, but no bone loss or infection in her teeth. She now has a layer of dental bonding on the scratched tooth. We'll both continue on the cavity healing diet.

Weight Loss
This Christmas found me three pounds over my normal weight, and Molly at 64.5 pounds, her weight from three months ago. I know three pounds isn't much, but on my frame, it's enough to make slightly loose jeans tight. It's a step in the wrong direction, and if I kept gaining three pounds a week, I'd weigh 200 pounds by summer. Given how few women in my family weigh less than 200 pounds after age 30, that's a real threat. I knew what the problem was: too damn many dark chocolate bars. I gave them up (and stuck to my usual low-carb diet) and those three pounds are gone. Not only that, but my hair feels cleaner, I feel warmer, and my stomach feels better.

Dr. Davis's recipe for walnut mocha brownies is a pretty good substitute for the chocolate bars; however, for the next batch, I'm going to try adding another egg and using a little less almond meal to make them moister and less crumbly. As is, they're very filling: a one-sixth piece was my entire dinner tonight. Just as Dr. Davis promises, they don't stimulate appetite the way wheat products do. Tasty as they are, I won't want any more tonight.

Molly weighed in at 62 pounds today--down from 64.5 pounds last week and 70 pounds last summer. This week, I stuck closely to her low-carb, lacto-paleo diet of 700 calories per day. She may have unwittingly done some intermittent fasting over the holidays between our eating breakfast late, and then eating again around 3:00 when she let me know she was hungry.

New Blogger in the Blog Roll
I'm pleased to add Dr. Richard Feinman, professor of biochemistry, to my blog roll. Dr. Feinman founded the Nutrition and Metabolism Society and as a professional researcher, he's well qualified to take apart popular junk science studies promoting a high carb diet, and does so with a dry wit. If you haven't yet given his organic chemistry lessons a go, give them a try--they're here and here

Sunday, January 1, 2012

New Year's Project: Clearing out the Clutter

Have you ever had nightmares about being in a confined space, or a weight pressing down on you? This is how I feel about clutter. It's hard for me to sleep in a room full of clutter, and I've had nightmares about the day I will have to clean out the rooms full of papers, nick-nacks, clothes, gadgets, appliances and junk from my parents' house. Sometimes I wonder if firemen or paramedics would be able to help my parents in an emergency amidst the clutter.

I don't buy the argument that people who never get rid of anything are thrifty. When you can't find something, you run out and get a new one. Or spend an hour looking for it.

Over the holidays, I've been de-cluttering my house. Boxes of stuff went to Goodwill, bags of papers went to the shredder, cupboards were organized, and junk got tossed.

Getting rid of things I didn't need or enjoy was key, otherwise, I'd have wasted my time shuffling things from pile to pile and room to room and cramming things into closets and drawers. There's still more to do, but I'm seeing the benefits from what I've done: I'm more relaxed in my house and I'm more organized, which saves time. I don't spend as much time looking for things, and I'm less likely to buy something I already have.

Even though my house is only 800 square feet (74 square meters), I have plenty of room to work out and fix meals. The last owners, a husband and wife, moved to have more room for their stuff. A mutual friend said the husband ended up regretting selling this house, which had been his grandparents' home. Time was when parents raised their kids in houses this size (many still do). No doubt, it had something to do with young adults wasting no time moving out, and the rarity of 30-year-old offspring moving back in.

A few ideas I've used to organize the stuff I kept:
Unconventional places for storage. Towels and hot rollers don't have to go in the bathroom.
By keeping the fridge cleaned out, I don't have to run out and buy more food storage containers. 

Beautiful containers where they'll be seen. This is where I store things to take to Goodwill.

De-clutter the counters, and there's no need for a big kitchen. Ever wonder how chefs make enough food in a single car for a train full of people ? They must be organized.

My research and writing center...

...which is also my dog's gym.