Tuesday, December 29, 2015

GI Distress and Moderation

It started with a round of healthy exercise back in 2012. I was riding my bike one minute and face-down on the sidewalk the next. My dentist predicted the two teeth that were knocked out of place would need a root canal someday, and early this year, one of them did. It took three rounds of antibiotics to clear the infection.

The antibiotics left my already-touchy stomach railing against anything fatty--in other words, my normal diet. A few months later, the stress from a cross-country move where a lot was up in the air for months (my job, the purchase of one house while selling another, getting ready to sell the house, researching where to move), plus taking and then giving up my mother's dog, made 2015 the most stressful year I've ever been through. My nearly hour-long commute and going at ramming speed at work added to the stress. Then I stepped on a nail the night before I was going to pack up my stuff and leave--and I'm bad at packing. I pack up what I think is everything, look around, and see more stuff to pack. Repeat several times--with an injured foot. (ETA: I conveniently lost the antibiotics for my punctured foot after a couple of doses.)

I tend to undereat when I'm stressed out. Therefore, my diet for most of the year was moderate-calorie and rather high-carb. The original reason I went on a low-carb diet was upper GI distress. Probably, I have FODMAPS problems. I can eat a little bit of almost anything without distress, but no way can I eat the recommended six to 12 servings of grains and bushel of fruits and vegetables without bloating and acid reflux.

With little appetite and a lot of adrenaline, though, I could do the recommended high-carb moderation thing, and had to since my stomach wouldn't tolerate anything else. And I ate things like rice, egg rolls, and even a few Hostess cherry pies, which I don't normally eat. It was comfort food, and I needed comforting. (I don't recommend following my lead if a little bad food sends you on a bender or you have a condition that requires strict adherence to a diet.)

Pros and cons:

  • Acne. I had cystic acne, which I hadn't had since my early 20s. 
  • Racing, fluttering heart. 
  • Weight loss. I got down to 118; I look better at 122.
  • I got to eat two Hostess cherry pies and some egg rolls without distress.
  • No tooth decay.


It's hard to say how much was due to stress, diet, or antibiotics. What's really helped everything, though, is probiotics. I've been taking super probiotics at twice the recommended rate and everything has started getting back to normal: my skin is clearing up and my heart feels normal. Yes, I was completely wrong before about gut bugs being unimportant.

I've been eating a little bit more carbohydrate than I did before all this started, though. For years, I've gotten palpitations on very low-carb, and I don't have a need, either for weight control or my stomach, to restrict carbohydrates to an Atkins induction level. That's a good level for some people, but not for me.

There's a lot less stress and more rest in my life now, too. The move is over, my house in Colorado is sold, and in a few days I'll have my new, nicer house completely paid for. My commute is now half an hour and even though I'm working part time, the other day I woke up feeling like I'd been on a long, strange vacation and it was time to go home and go back to work. 

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

What Difference Does it Make Why it Works?

This is the question someone asked me the other day in regards to the good results I've had on low-carb. Beyond just satisfying your curiosity, having a lattice work of mental models, as Charlie Munger puts it, can save you a lot of trouble. Without mental models of (in this case) human digestion, evolution, nutrition research, journalism, medical education, and even politics, all I'd have is just something that works for acid reflux.

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Something that works might only work in certain situations, could be unpredictable, could have unintended consequences, or could just be a placebo effect. Knowing how something works reduces the danger.  As Munger's partner Warren Buffett put it, "Risk comes from not knowing what you're doing."

Yet how often are people overconfident when they only know a thing or two? The web is full of bros who cut down on the beer and pizza, got some exercise and lost 40 pounds--and you can, too! Their moms recommend more fiber, less fat and fewer calories, which everybody knows works: it's in all their women's magazines.

Doing what everybody else isn't can be intimidating. Knowing what you're doing, having arrived at the same conclusion from different disciplines, can inform you if you're on the right track and help you stay the course. Here's where the lattice of mental models comes in: facts are connected to other facts. Those facts form the lattices of disciplines and some of the lattices are connected. To pick an example, veganism weaves an interesting lattice with claims of good health, environmental consciousness, and humane treatment of animals. And a juice fast is something that works for certain health problems. But approach the lattice from the disciplines of evolution, or ancestral diets, or digestion, or nutritional requirements, and the lattice of veganism falls apart.

Without a lattice of knowledge--knowing how a system works--all you have is a collection of facts that may be a collection of fairy tales. Like most collections, it can't do anything but be displayed. It's hard to verify unrelated facts, assuming you can remember them. You can't build on them--anything new has to be through trial and error and luck. It's a way of going through life otherwise known as stupidity. I've done it--I have a mouthful of fillings to prove it.

ETA: This could be one reason engineers are so subject to wackiness (e.g., being overrepresented in terrorist groups and fringe religions): they learn pretty much only mental models of engineering subjects, which aren't exactly metaphors for life. Requiring courses in comparative religion, epistemology, and human evolution for an engineering degree could well rid the world of a lot of terrorists.