Category Archives: Health

“Everything in Moderation” Does Not Work as a Diet

I’ve been told by people who care for my well-being that I suck at moderation, especially with things I’m passionate about, and that this very fact will be my downfall. This is true. I do suck at moderation, but I believe I’m not alone in this. We are many. And I don’t believe it has to be anyone’s downfall. In fact, if handled properly, this “flaw” can lead to a beautiful way of life, with the help of self-analysis and self-awareness.

The goal of any diet should be lifelong happiness.

moderationThe path to that goal is in learning the strengths and weaknesses of your own brain. Everyone is different, so above all: know yourself. For me, there are some things (lets call them Apples) I can do in moderation and be really happy. There are other things (let’s call them Pizza) that I can’t do in moderation, and I’m never truly happy with them except in the brief moment of indulgence. If I moderate on the Pizza, I’m not happy long-term. If I indulge in the Pizza, I’m not happy long-term. So the path to a happy diet, for me, is saying yes to Apples and no to Pizza. Here’s why…

In a world of excess, moderation requires willpower. And willpower is something that most of us only have when we’re motivated by a goal. (Example: you have to fit into a wedding dress or you want to make a specific weight class for a grappling tournament.) But goals come and go. A good diet is one that doesn’t rely on goals. A good diet is a lifestyle that makes you happy, that is as natural as breathing.

So my process with food is simple. It’s the scientific method applied to myself. I put food into three categories:

  1. Yes.
  2. No.
  3. Yes, but rarely.

I evaluate food not on some abstract Platonic ideal of a diet, but on personal experience. For each food I have in front of me, I ask two questions (the first being the most important):

  1. Have I shown in the past that I’m able to eat this food in moderation?
  2. Is this food healthy?

I believe that people don’t change. You are what you are. Accept it! Don’t live in denial about what foods you can control yourself with and what you can’t. You might see that your past as something you have grown out of, but sadly, the past is one of the most brutally honest indicators of who you really are.

Sure, I might show restraint now, when I’m motivated. But what about a week from now, a month from now? So, based on these questions I put food in the three categories:

  1. Yes: Healthy food I can eat in moderation.
  2. No: ANY food I can’t eat in moderation.
  3. Yes, but rarely: Unhealthy food I can in moderation.

It’s simple. My diet is made of things I have proven I can eat in moderation (while being happy about it). That might seem at first glance like a diet that is denying me the many pleasures of life. That might be true to an outside observer, but to me, as I live day-to-day, I’m really happy with the food I eat. My brain adjusts to the diet and derives a lot of pleasure from it. No restraint required.

Food-Rewards1

The only pressure there is on me to eat otherwise is peer pressure: the pressure of society to eat the food I don’t have a desire to eat. To me, that’s like coming up to a man happily involved in a monogamous relationship and saying: “Come on! Live a little! There are so many beautiful women out there. Are you really happy with the same girl, day after day?” My answer to that is yes. If I wasn’t happy, I wouldn’t be doing it. I am a man in control of my decisions, my actions, my present and my future.

“Moderation in everything” is an ideal, not a practical likely-to-work strategy for the long-term. It is the gateway drug to excess. It is a myth peddled by dopamine dealers of society who profit by dragging you into overstimulation. Capitalism excels at getting you addicted to more, more, more.

We live in a society where excess, over-indulgence, greed is accepted, often encouraged. In the midst of such social norms, the concept of moderation is nothing more than veiled flirtations: a Siren song luring unsuspecting sailors to their death.

My diet is “select few things in moderation”, because I believe MOST things cannot be handled in moderation, so I cut them out, completely. It’s not restraint. It’s common sense. I am who I am. I know myself. I acknowledge it. I accept it.

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Eat 7 Fruits and Vegetables a Day: A Study Shows a Decrease in Cancer and Heart Disease Mortality Rate

grilling_vegetablesI eat a lot of fruits and vegetables: apples, green beans, cauliflower, etc. I’m not some health nut. I just like to eat large portions of simple things. That includes fruits and veggies, but it also includes steak, chicken, oatmeal, almonds, etc. I don’t particularly care about long term benefits of this kind of diet, but it’s nice to read studies that tell me my diet is at least good for something.

Folks at University College London published a paper in March 2014 that analyzed the data in the Health Survey for England. What they found is kind of amazing: Eating 7 or more fruits and vegetables a day reduced the relative probability of death (hazard ratio or relative mortality rate) from any cause by 40%. That is amazing! In more detail, eating 7+ fruits and veggies:

  • Decreased all-cause mortality by 40%
  • Decreased cancer mortality by 30%
  • Decreased heart disease mortality by 37%

What if you eat less than 7? Here is the results for the less fruit-veggie-crazed:

  • Eating 1-2 portions decreased all-cause mortality by 16%
  • Eating 3-4 portions decreased all-cause mortality by 29%
  • Eating 5-6 portions decreased all-cause mortality by 37%
  • Eating 7+ portions decreased all-cause mortality by 40%

The reason this result is more powerful than previous results is because the sample group is more representative of the general population. The number of people considered is huge. They follow a random sample of the “free-living” general population, rather than a local sample or a cohort based on occupation or disease status.

Here are some of the specifics of the experiment they ran:

  • 65,226 participants
  • All 35+ years old
  • Duration: 8 years

Its main strength is following a random sample of the free-living
general national population, rather than a local sample or a

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Marigold Kitchen: A Re-Introduction to Food

For my mom’s and dad’s birthday, we went to Marigold Kitchen that Philly mag put at #2 in their list of 50 best restaurants in Philadelphia. In general, I like eating dinner at my parents’ house instead of a restaurant because then we can be more relaxed, stay longer, yell and laugh more obnoxiously, and drink as little or as much as we want, plus the food my mom makes is almost always better. But still, this was an experience that I won’t forget.

marigold-kitchen-sample

I can honestly say (as far as I remember) that this was the best restaurant food experience of my life. That sounds dramatic, but I just can’t remember a better one. It was basically 15-20 meals of various (all very small) sizes. I felt like the chef literally introduced me to the different possible tastes that food can have: from sweet to bitter, from fatty to dry, from crunchy to liquidy, from spicy to bland, from cold to hot, etc. I am insufficiently sophisticated in my vocabulary to describe the various characteristic of the things we ate. But I would summarize it this way: When an alien species visits Earth and asks how we (hairless apes) fuel our bodies, I suggest we take them to Marigold Kitchen. They will be thoroughly confused but may decide that human civilization is curious enough to be studied instead of completely annihilated.

Also, on a side note, I enjoyed the awkwardness of the hipsterish waiters and waitresses that have lived in this Alice in Wonderland of food for way too long and thus has completely lost any grounding in reality.

My Favorite Food

The experience of writing this blog has made me reflect on my relationship with food. I have had bad metabolism early on (meaning: I get fat easily). So, I was forced to learn and experiment with nutrition from an early age (wrestling didn’t help much with that either). The result is that I’ve developed an appreciation and taste for simple plain foods like steamed veggies, grilled chicken, plain oatmeal, etc. Believe it or not, I actually really enjoy eating those “tasteless” foods. To me they have a ton of taste. And when I do get a chance to experience something more complex and rich, it blows my mind.

In particular, more than any restaurant, my favorite food, throughout my life, has always been my mom’s cooking. In fact, every time I visit my parents for dinner, I’m nervous about the onslaught of the deliciousness. Unlike Marigold Kitchen, where the tiny portions are decided for you, in my mom’s kitchen the portions are up to me. My willpower often fails under such strenuous demands.

 

 

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There is No Medication for Life

“Psychiatric diagnosis and treatment is particularly subject to fads and undue drug company influence because judgments are still based on subjective data that cannot be confirmed or disproved by laboratory tests.” – Allen Frances, Professor, Duke University

The statistics on people who suffer from depression are staggering. For example, according to the National College Health Assessment of college students (carried out by the ACHA):

  • 86.8% of students felt that they were overwhelmed with what they had to do.
  • 86.1% felt like they were exhausted.
  • 61.0% felt very sad.
  • 57.3% felt very lonely.
  • 46.5% of student felt hopeless.
  • 31.3% felt so depressed that they found it difficult to function.
  • 7.1% seriously thought about committing suicide.
  • 5.5% intentionally bruised, burned, cut or physically hurt themselves.
  • 1.2% attempted suicide.

good-doctor-adviceA significant percentage of people in the above survey undoubtedly suffer from a clear-cut chemical imbalance that can be helped by (and only by) medication. By significant, I don’t mean 61%. I mean fractions of 1%. Everything else is the ups and downs of life. Part of being human is learning to ride through that rollercoaster without falling off.

Unfortunately, it’s very difficult to determine whether a person requires medication, or if a more proactive life-oriented action would be more productive, such as change of diet, lifestyle, career, relationships, etc.

Steven Rinella on Joe Rogan podcast mentioned the counter intuitive notion that when you’re camping and you’re freezing, you don’t want to move, but the right thing to do is to start moving and in so doing you begin to feel great. I think of the state of depression in the same way. It’s a dark place that you get out of by doing stuff you don’t want to do at first.

Some cultures treat people suffering from major depressive disorders as weak whiners that just need to suck it up, while other cultures treat anyone who is sad with a daily dose of medication and multiple therapy sessions a weak. There must be a healthy middle ground erring on the side of prescribing medication only when all else fails.

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Performance Enhancing Drugs a Century from Now

lance-armstrong-yellow-shirt-seven-winsLance Armstrong was under severe fire from accusers for years. This week he came out and admitted to regularly using performance enhancing drugs. While a lot of people yell their silly-ass hearts out about “cheating”, I have to remind them of the $500 million Lance’s foundation raised for cancer research, and more importantly, of the millions of cancer patients to whom he had given hope (and continues to give hope).

Of course, witch hunts are nothing new, and will always be part of a population that does not frequently suffer from bouts of empathy and rationality.

Moreover, the fact that doping was part of the cycling culture makes me wonder about the future of performance enhancing drugs in 10 years, 50 years, and 100 years. The line between what is and isn’t seen as “cheating” by the public has evolved over the years. It’s a line of the “I know it when I see it” variety. Most certainly there will be technological innovation in the fields of genetics, biochemistry, nanorobotics, prosthetics, etc, that will drastically expand the realm of what the human body is capable of doing with a little (or a lot of) help from science.

Will these be seen as cheating? There are no easy answers, especially in modern-day sports were both PED use and evidence-free accusations are rampant.

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Exploding Coffee from Superheating in the Microwave

exploding-coffeeI got a physics lesson today in a dramatic fashion about superheating and wanted to post a note about it so that it may serve as a warning to others.

Superheating is when a liquid is heated (in the microwave) to a temperature above its boiling point, but it doesn’t begin to boil. Boiling happens when vapor bubbles grow in the liquid, rising and breaking at the surface. If there are no trapped bubbles of air in the liquid (due to imperfections of the container) then the liquid might need extra few degrees to overcome the surface tension of the tiny vapor bubbles. But once these tiny guys grow, they grow fast and hence the explosion.

I encountered this when I was heating a cup of coffee this morning. I put the coffee in the microwave for 2 minutes, which is usually fine. Sometimes it begins boiling right at the end of the two minutes so I know it’s real hot. This time it wasn’t boiling or steaming at all and I (being sleepy) assumed that I accidentally set it for 1 minute, so I put it in for another minute and watched it, waiting for the boiling to begin. It didn’t. When the 3rd minute came to an end, I opened the microwave and looked at the coffee. As I picked it up, my first thought was: “That’s weird, it should definitely be boiling by now”. About halfway through that thought, the coffee exploded upwards in a directed beam of liquid, covering my face, my shirt, my whole kitchen, and most dramatically, the whole ceiling of my kitchen in black/brown Jackson Pollock painting.

I experienced the feeling that most of us do when we do something stupid that requires a lot of cleanup. In retrospect, I’m lucky that for some reason the coffee was not sufficiently hot to burn my face. It definitely hurt, but it didn’t actually burn the skin. My kitchen walls and ceiling are of the material that soaks that stuff up and so can’t be cleaned easily. So until I paint it, I will be left with a daily reminder of how I came face to face with Phantom of the Opera type of disfigurement due to my ignorance of a phenomena that I probably was told about in a high school Chemistry class long ago.

Let this be a warning to you. According to the internet, heat your coffee (or other liquids) with a wood stirrer in the mug, which helps the vapor bubbles form at normal boiling temperature.

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Bridging the Gap Between Doctor and Patient

According Marty Makary‘s book Unaccountable, over 30% of medical procedures carried out in the United States are unnecessary. There are over 200,000 deaths from medical mistakes a year. Medical mistakes and preventable infections taken together is the #3 cause of death in the United States.

The problem is a lack of transparency in healthcare. I think the debate about healthcare in this country has been missing the main problem: in order for consumers to make a decision about their health, they need to have INFORMATION about the health services they’re “shopping” for. There is a culture of secrecy among doctors, as a result most consumers choose their doctor almost randomly based on factors that do not directly relate to their essential unmet needs.

Here’s my example of a good system… First, I Google the symptoms I’m having to get some basic information about the underlying conditions that could be causing the symptoms. As an imaginary example, say I suspect that I have an abdominal hernia. I look it up online, and it says that normally this requires a hernia repair surgery that costs an average of $5,000. I would like to be able to go online and find doctors near me that perform this surgery often and have gotten good reviews. Also, I would like to sort those options by price of the surgery. This data is out there! But unfortunately it’s not easily accessible.

Instead, as a consumer, we can’t know if the doctor we went to has done zero, one, or one hundred hernia repair surgeries. We don’t know up front what all the options are and what the price of each option is. What are the benefits, what are the costs?

According to Makary, doctors are pressured to hit quotas in the number of surgeries they perform, and maintain secrecy to avoid exposing themselves to lawsuits. I think doctors should be exempt from lawsuits. The only punishment for a screw-up should be whatever the consumer decides is appropriate when that information is made public.

Makary provides a lot of practical ideas for opening the channels of honest communication. For example, he suggests that all patients be provided with the video of their operation.

Check out a C-SPAN interview with Marty Makary where he preaches the message of openness in the medical profession.

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Hikikomori: The Dim Underworld of Society’s Ghosts

I was introduced by a friend to the word hikikomori which is a Japanese term that refers to a person who seeks extreme degrees of isolation. Apparently, this is a widespread phenomenon in Japan.

After reading about it a bit online and watching some videos, this seems to be almost a part of their national identity, and is closely connected to the growing power of computer games to consume an individual’s life to the point that all other activities fall off the radar of interest. It’s a drug with the addictive power of hard drugs, but without the associated ability of those drugs to kill you.

I think many of my ex-girlfriends would characterize me as someone who doesn’t get out nearly enough. I think it’s important to hear that, and understand that, but it’s also important to be able to live life the way I want to without regret. I love good intelligent conversation with close friends. I love reading books that challenge me or fill me with awe. I love doing jiu jitsu and judo. And more than that, I love learning cutting-edge ideas and coming up with new ones myself in and around the field of computer science. Often times, all that somehow adds up to me having to say “no” to a lot of parties and social outings. This creates a perception of hikikomori, but I think that’s very far from the truth.

I’m not scared of life, of people, and of pursuing my passions with all the dedication I can muster.

But I very much find it fascinating that there is large mass of people who are pursuing their passions, and in so doing somehow gradually fall off the path that is healthy for their happiness and productivity, and find themselves trapped in the cage of their sterile habits and dim isolated existence. I suppose it is the danger that anyone with a singular passion risks. But a successful life requires successfully walking the line between crazy and happy.

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Obamacare Requires Disclosure of Calorie Content

I think too many people know nothing about Obamacare except that the name Obama is in the title, and that’s enough for them to like it or dislike this very complex healthcare legislation.

No matter how you feel about it, I think the law is an attempt at reform that at the very least is inspiring an important public discourse on one of the most important subjects that we face as a democracy.

So, I’ve been slowly chipping away at learning more about this huge 2010 law. One of the interesting provisions is that chain restaurants must list the calories of menu items in the menu. They must also provide detailed nutritional content info (fat, sodum, carbs, sugars, protein, etc) upon request.

I knew that this has been a growing trend in restaurants, but I thought that it was due to laws passed in major cities and not due to a federal law. In some cases, restaurants have until 2014 to start disclosing this info, so there still might be a few hold outs.

I am a huge fan of government forcing information down our throats. That’s where big government does the most good in my opinion: help inform the public, and let the public make their own individual choices.

Where a lot of people start feeling uneasy is when laws start popping up that limit what people can eat or drink. For example, the following video discusses a recent New York City law that bans jumbo-sized sugary drinks in restaurants, theaters, and street carts. I like this specific law, but it makes me nervous.

Like I said, I’m all for government informing the public, even forcing that information down our throats. But consumer freedom is essential to the economic vibrancy of our nation. We should limit this freedom very carefully, if at all.

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Centralized Health Care Record Database

I’m a big proponent of “big data”, of giving people the option of storing anything and everything about their life digitally as long as it makes their life easier, better, more fulfilling.

Unfortunately, too many people are still scared of giving personal information over to “big business” or “big government”. In my view, that’s like being scared of pulling down your pants during a physical exam.

There are areas of our lives, where keeping a centralized database of personal information can have dramatic effects of the quality of life. One such area is the healthcare system, where many records are still not kept electronically, and those that are, cannot be easily synchronized from one doctor to the next.

You could, of course, pass laws that require health care providers to (1) keep all records electronically and (2) to use the same standard that work with the centralized database. My hope is that companies like Google come out with a solution that seems obviously beneficial.

Unfortunately, Google Health tried to do just that and recently closed down. The reason is unknown, there are many suggestions, but the main reason is probably that it was bad PR. People seem scared of putting their health records online due to privacy concerns, and therefore if Google helps them do it, that somehow automatically make Google evil.

The following is a C-SPAN program on this subject from a while back:

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