Wednesday, April 30, 2014

I Ate a Stick of Butter, Too

It happened recently on the morning I finally learned how to make hollandaise sauce. I'd just watched Julia Child make it on Youtube and got so into it I that before I knew it, I'd used the whole stick of butter to make my sauce. It was just enough for two servings of eggs benedict. What can I say, I was hungry. 

Monday, April 28, 2014

Poor Sleep: Too Much Light or Overstimulation?

I think of my twenties as the years I spent working my butt off and my thirties as the years I spent dancing. I don't want to think of my forties as the years I spent playing video games. To that end, I took one of the video games (Atlantis Pearls) off my computer a week ago. I still have a few others on it; I'll explain why that's OK in a minute.

Since I took the game off, I've been doing more of the things I wanted to do--karate, playing (a game that helps scientists), and playing the recorder. And even though I haven't been getting any more sleep, I've slept better and felt a lot more rested. It's not because I'm off the computer earlier, or getting less light exposure; I think it's because I'm less stimulated when I go to bed.

To me, this makes sense from an evolutionary point of view. We've had fire for 300,000 to 400,000 years, and our ancestors may have regularly slept in front of a campfire. For at least tens of thousands of years, some of our ancestors lived far enough north to have very short nights at the beginning of summer (see map and chart). If people who live in the far north suffer from sleep deprivation in the summer, I haven't heard about it. A Google search on the subject turns up very little. There's also the fact that a lot of people get sleepy in the middle of the day. I often nap on the bus after work.

I'm not an expert on hunter-gatherers, but my educated guess is that they didn't get adrenaline-pumping stimulation at night after their evening meal and before they went to sleep, aside from cozying up to their honey. Even up until 20 or 30 years ago, high stimulation before bedtime wasn't normal for anyone who didn't go looking for it. When I was a kid in the 80s, most video games were played at arcades at 25 cents a pop. You could play games like Donkey Kong, Frogger and Asteroids at home, but there was nothing like World of Warcraft* or Grand Theft Auto. There was nothing gritty on network TV aside from an occasional horror movie; it was fare like The Cosby Show, Magnum PI, and Cagney & Lacey. News wasn't constantly covered, stock prices were updated once a day in the newspaper, shopping was by catalog, classified ads or (usually) at a store, and if you wanted to exchange insults with someone, you had to do it to their face or pay 60 cents a minute in long distance charges if they lived far enough away. It was hard to stay up late if you weren't a night owl or having a party or watching Johnny Carson.

Now we can all be stimulated late into the night. I'm saying no more to overstimulation. The game is interesting, and it's exciting to outrank opponents, but there are long stretches of running programs and thinking of better ways to fold the protein. Maybe some players can go at it nonstop, but I'm not there yet. TV shows that push my buttons turn me off and I've learned not to get drawn into long arguments online. Those thing overstimulate me. But light doesn't bother me enough to give me a bad night's sleep.

*Blogger Sami Paju once mentioned that he dreamed about World of Warcraft, even three years after he quit playing it.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

A Year of No Sugar: A Review

Most of us know the challenge of avoiding wheat, dairy, grains, potatoes, and high-carb foods in general, and a lot of people find it tough, especially at the beginning. But to avoid all added sugar in food--I hadn't guessed how hard it would be until I started reading A Year of No Sugar by Eve O. Schaub.

Specifically, Schaub and her husband and two young daughters avoided all added fructose and most artificial sweeteners (fruit was OK), making a few exceptions: one dessert with added sugar per month, one personal exception with a bit of sweetener (such as ketchup or diet soda), and for the kids, they could choose for themselves whether to indulge at school, parties, etc.

I can relate to the difficult transition to a non-whatever diet. Back in the 90s, I found out that almost everything contains wheat--not just bread and noodles, but almost anything in a box or a can. Same for sugar--salad dressing, most sausage, bacon, yogurt, cereal, pasta sauce--it's in there. Put on an apron and fire up the stove: if you want a variety of food you can eat, you'll have to cook it yourself.

I can also relate to changing tastes and reactions. Like many of us who curtail our sugar intake, Schaub's diet honed her sensitivity to sweetness. Regular "treats" became cloying. To me, as a long-term low-carber, even the grocery shelves full of flavored coffees smell like the candy aisle. It's mildly sickening, like fruity-smelling perfume. (I quit eating fruit in any significant amount years ago because it gives me a stomach ache.) By the fourth month, a sugary dessert left Schaub with a bad headache. The last wheat-flour cookie I ever ate gave me sinus congestion, acid reflux and a stomach ache; some of the symptoms lasted for days. It was the last wheat I ever deliberately ate.

What surprised me was how much sugar gets shoved at kids. When I grew up in the 70s and 80s, we didn't get snacks at school. It was BYO, buy at the vending machines (in high school), or wait until your next meal. Nobody went into a hypoglycemic coma or wept from feeling unloved. At Halloween, we got candy from trick-or-treating. There was some candy at Easter and Christmas, too, but it wasn't like finding yourself in a candy store every day for a month as it is today during every holiday, meaning nearly year-round. Is it any wonder so many kids are overweight or ill?

Many will relate to Schaub's struggle with moderation now that the experiment is over. (You can read her blog about it here.) She says that having a hard, fast rule was simpler than flying by the seat of one's pants. The phenomenon is called decision fatigue--each decision to resist something or control yourself saps your will power and your energy. Revisiting your decision all the time requires you to stop and think about how much sugar you've had, how much you should have, what should the yardstick should be--I know, I was on and off of wheat for years until I completely gave the stuff up. Perfection is so much easier than moderation.

I couldn't relate to Schaub's displeasure at skipping the snacks and the long lines at a gathering. Maybe it's because I've been on a wheat-free diet for so long, or because I don't care for parties, or I have a repertoire of no-thank-yous, or I'm what psychologists call a low self monitor (i.e., I don't make much effort to follow the crowd--it rarely occurs to me to do so). Still, I'm wondering why Schaub was unhappy that there was little her family could eat at a benefit, since everything likely had sugar in it. The family had just eaten lunch and the chow line was very long. What was the problem with skipping lunch #2? Or in the fact that Schaub no longer enjoyed standard sugary fare that she kept describing as "poison"? Likewise, her worries about giving her kids an eating disorder from the experiment seemed excessive. As for a certain cancer rate dropping and rising 60 years after World War II sugar rationing came and went, wouldn't that be around 2003 to 2007 or so--when the Atkins diet enjoyed a revival?

All the same, the Schaub family conducted a difficult experiment and sounded like they were generally good sports about it. Schaub writes about her family's experiment without preaching or hubris, describing their struggles and successes and why the experiment was important: cancer, obesity, and type 2 diabetes are at epidemic levels and the problem, she says, is too much fructose. It's added to many, many products, but a family can whack most of it out of their diet if they're determined to do so.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

USDA Article Brings Back Memories of my Grandparents

This post from the USDA's blog brings back some memories. The post is about how grandparents can help their grandkids form good eating and exercise habits. It urges grandparents,

Take your grandchildren shopping at a farmer's market and the grocery store. Talk about the choices you are making--choosing the juicier oranges or the fresher vegetables. Help them learn cooking skills, which will benefit them them throughout their lives. Encourage them to be active throughout the day. 
Spend time walking in the neighborhood, planting a vegetable garden, or shooting a few hoops. Dance, run, or play hopscotch and soccer with them when they're full of energy...

Up until I was twelve, my mother and I visited my grandparents every year in Missouri. After a daylong drive from Colorado, an orange sunset would find us on the dirt road in front of Grandma and Grandpa's house. Everybody hugged, then we dug in to a savory spinach salad Grandma made for the occasion. During our week there, Grandma took me shopping and showed me how to select the best produce. I was only 12 at most, didn't get an allowance and had no way to transport groceries, but she thought it was never too early to learn. Likewise, Grandma and Grandpa put me to work weeding their large garden, where I sank to my knees in the mud. Grandma rinsed me off and said it was good that I was active throughout the day.

Southern Missouri is hot and sticky during the summer, but that didn't stop Grandma and Grandpa from playing with me and the kids next door, Sally and Danny. When I say "hot and sticky," I mean that you could take a bath, dry off, and within five minutes you were just as wet as you were before you toweled off. The heat wasn't roasting, as it is in Colorado, where the sunlight burns fair skin in 15 minutes. It was like a kitchen full of steam with all burners going, but no air conditioning or window. And unlike Colorado, it stayed hot at night.

Nevertheless, Grandma put on the phonograph at night and taught me the Charleston. Side, back, side, front, side, front, side, back--twenties Charleston. She tore up the floor like Prohibition had just ended. I don't know how she did it at 75--there were days after dancing benders in my 30s when I wanted a new pair of knees.

Other times, Grandpa hopped on his bike and rode all over the countryside with me and the neighbor kids. How I hope I am that youthful when I'm 85! I don't ride a bike, since I was badly hurt in a bike wreck a few years ago, but I like to picture myself playing a pickup game of something with nieces and nephews or neighbor kids, platinum blond hair in the breeze, before serving a vegetable tray and reading them stories by the USDA.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Totalfat: Encouragement!

Japan, of all places, has given the world a band called Totalfat. I don't know the story behind their name, but one of their songs ("Place to Try") should be encouraging to someone fighting the well-meaning meddling of people trying to get them to eat lessfat. Even if you don't speak Japanese, the song should encourage you to eat morefat.

English translation from
I'm almost at the end
My legs are ready to give, but I can't give up yet
Now is the time to go

Together we will pave, the path towards our dreams
They call me, beckon me closer
It's not crazy
Fight and fight, try and try for you

I will always be there
Don't give up, not yet
The future is waiting for us

There's nothing to fear so let's get moving
This is a place to try

Today is ending and we're heading for tomorrow
Take my hand and never let go
Let's sing loudly
We are the ones for the future

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Working Smarter to Avoid Neck Pain

I'm still in the middle of insulating my parents' attic. I've spent so much time at my parents' house that my father thinks I live there. It's a slog, but I'll say one thing for it: it's a grueling workout, and after doing it Tuesday and Saturday, along with yoga on Monday and karate on Friday, I felt wonderful Saturday. It's like the exercise does something renewing, anti-depressing, like I'd spent a day in the sun.

Then came Sunday. My neck hurt, even after six aspirin. It was time to start working smarter on the attic, not just harder. The hardest part of insulating the attic is getting the second layer of insulation going crosswise over the first layer. Another problem is that the attic's trusses are 24" apart, not the usual 16," which is about how wide the insulation is. Lying in bed (where Madonna says she gets her best ideas), I wondered if I could lay down insulation between the joists and then lay down a solid layer on top, going the same way and not having to crawl around the low, tight spots, dragging insulation with me, to fill in a second layer crosswise. That sounded fine, but what about having insulation that didn't fill in between the joists, just 2/3 of the area there, plus a (mostly) solid layer on top? Would the insulation between the joists do any good?

I learned at the university that shape affects heat transfer. Having thrown away the textbook long ago, I looked if I could find an answer online. There were solutions involving heat transfer over fins and ribs (like a radiator), but not through them. Heat transfer equations aren't easy to conjure, so I did an experiment. Using some styrofoam to model the insulation, some ice and frozen meat for cold, and two thermometers, I found out that the extra insulation, even though it wasn't a solid layer, would help. The temperature in the Gladware container with the extra styrofoam got to 66F after an hour, as opposed to 64F in the less insulated container. (Ambient temperature was 71F.)

Just rolling out the insulation won't be a walk in the park, but it'll be easier than what I've been doing. When I need a workout, I'll go to karate and yoga.