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Exploring a New You in the New Year

2 Jan

newyearsI have a love-hate relationship with New Year’s resolutions. On the one hand, I am obviously all about challenge and change and the practice of self-improvement. On the other hand, I feel like a lot of the way we treat New Year’s resolutions in our culture sets us up to fail. Once the ball drops, we are suddenly “resolved” to do or be something completely different. I will go to the gym everyday, I will lose X amount of weight, I will quit smoking, I will be a nicer person to strangers. Human willpower is a very strong force, but it does have its limits (and also needs to be recharged periodically), so sooner or later we will slip up in our resolutions to ourselves. As I have discussed before, much of our culture doesn’t encourage us to practice self-forgiveness. When we make mistakes we often view them as major failures and an indication that the quest is doomed to failure anyway, so we give it up.

I much prefer the idea of New Year’s paths. Things that are not as much goals but a new area to explore and learn in. Rather than a resolution saying, “I will go to the gym X number of times per week,” a path might be, “I will work on incorporating gym time into my routine, maybe try out a couple classes, see what motivates me, etc.” Now, I’m not saying that structure is necessarily bad–sometimes it is very necessary to advance within a discipline–but when you’re just starting out in something new, it can sometimes be overwhelming and hard to integrate hard-limit structure into our lives organically.

Another way to look at it is like this: we learn best through play, so shouldn’t it be better to approach new areas of learning with a playful, flexible mentality, rather than a rigid one?

I have a personal story that I think illustrates this well. Continue reading


Eat Like a Hobbit

17 Dec

dragoniconFor my entire life, I have been a voracious consumer of the smorgasbord of stories inherent in the worlds of Science Fiction and Fantasy (sometimes collectively lumped together as “speculative fiction”). My early years were filled with activities like watching Star Trek: The Next Generation with my family, re-enacting scenes from Star Wars and Jurassic Park with the neighbor boys, and burning through every book in my local library that had a dragon on the cover. Hell, I even taught myself to play Magic: The Gathering simply because it gave me an excuse to talk to the boys at camp.

My love for such stories has not abated in the least, but my appreciation of them has changed over the years. One noticeable shift is that as I have become a better scientist, I have become better able to see science-related holes in these stories. Many of these holes I’ve noticed are within the realm of biology. I mean, nerd-core fanboys will sit around for days debating reasoning to explain the physics of warp drive and lightsabers, but did no one else notice the fact that in Star Wars Episode III, that lizard-thing that Obi Wan rides at high speed through the canyon was moving in an undulating side-to-side motion, a movement pattern which–in Earth reptiles–actually blocks the lungs from inflating, which prevents the animal from breathing, and thus prevents prolonged aerobic activity except in short bursts? Also the dragons in Anne McCaffery’s classic Dragonriders of Pern series are supposedly boron-silicon based, rather than carbon-based, but boron and silicon are elements that are both heavier than carbon, a subtle difference which adds up when you multiply the number of atoms exponentially to make a full organism, but Pern supposedly is equivalent to Earth in terms of gravity so how the hell do those things fly??

Anyway. What I’m getting at is that as I have learned more about human nutrition and how it relates to health, I have also started to become gratingly skeptical of how food and health are portrayed in such stories. Continue reading

Autumn is Coming

7 Oct

smoonI believe that one of the most salient signs of the hubris of modern society is how we consider ourselves somehow “above” the cycles of nature. The march of progress has been a steady progression away from the fluctuations of natural ecology and toward controlled environments. Why worry about changes of the season when we have buildings and heating/air conditioning? Why notice the length of the day when we have internal and external lights illuminating every step of our lives? Hell I wouldn’t even know the phase of the moon if I didn’t have an app for it.

But I also think that deep in our heart-of-hearts, we miss those fluctuations and changes that allow us to connect with the passing of time. This need can sometimes result in real physical effects. For example, many paleo writers have talked about how light exposure at inopportune hours or wavelengths can throw off our circadian rhythm, leading to serious health problems in the long run. This is something so well-documented that it’s even accepted in the mainstream.

I propose that we also miss our connections to the larger, yearly cycles of seasons, even though the effects of such seasonal-disconnection might not be as severe as in circadian-disconnection (although it occurs to me now that poor exposure to the gradual shift of the changing of the seasons might possibly influence the development of seasonal affective disorder). We might not be buffeted by changes of the natural environment on a daily basis, but we yearn for that connection so much that we find and create our own artificial markers in which to surround ourselves. Instead of observing changes in the  reproductive cycles of plants and the behavior of prey animals, we fixate on fashions, holiday decorations, and flavors of lattes. For most people, their subconscious has perhaps accepted these markers as the definition of the “seasons” (which, possibly could explain why people get so infuriated by holiday decorations and products being put out way ahead of their “proper times.” It’s seasonal schizophrenia that hits us on a biological level.) By this account, we have lost all connection to the natural cycles and have to make do with artificial ones.

Or have we?

Continue reading

…Starve a Cold?

20 Sep

One of the inescapable facts of life that us paleo-people sometimes have trouble with is acknowledging that, while we may be streets-ahead on many variables, we are not immune to common human diseases like cold and flu. I was reminded of my mortality this morning when I woke up tired, achy, with a sore throat and slightly elevated temperature. It seems early for disease season, but many of my close friends and coworkers have done a lot of travelling lately to the far corners of the continent so it’s likely they brought back some novel microbial souvenirs with them. Additionally, I can’t ignore the fact that I live in a major city, and cities have–throughout time–been cesspools of disease evolution and transmission.

In any event, I grumpily resigned myself to a day of working from home under a pile of blankets in bed. After a few hours of this, I noticed something interesting: I was tired, I was achy, but I wasn’t particularly hungry. Even the thought of some fresh baked bacon didn’t stir my appetite. Upon reflection, I realized that this might be a natural response of my body, using a short period of fasting to help my immune system and body cells deal with the stress of fighting…whatever the hell I’m dealing with right now.

Last year, Mark Sission did a multipart series discussing the various possible pros and cons of intermittent fasting. I was especially intrigued with his post that talked about the connection between fasting and improved immune response. He discussed it specifically through the lens of cancer, but I think a lot of the points can apply to other diseases as well. In the introduction, he points out:

Continue reading


30 Aug

One of my earliest posts on the Tumblr feed commented on how the general comprehension of the word “nutritious” has declined in our time. This is still one of my favorite posts and is such a popular association that multiple people have independently submitted similar posts using the same gif over the last year.

It’s probably become a favorite of mine because I have many chances to mentally reference it on a daily basis. See, in the last couple years I have noticed a disturbing trend. Nutritious food has become a trending topic in the public consciousness, partially due to the efforts of people like Michael Pollan, but also possibly due to a bleed-over effect from ideas in the paleo and other real-food subcultures. Now, of course I am all for more people eating more nutritious food, whether or not they are paleo, but the problem is that even though people are more aware that they need to eat nutritious food, they unfortunately have no idea what that really means.

Advertisers know this, and have started to capitalize on it. “Nutritious” is a word with a lot of value in the customer’s mind, but—unlike words like “organic”—there is absolutely no regulation about what food does or does not get to be called “nutritious.” So marketers can slap it on pretty much whatever they want. Sound strange? Well they already use this exact strategy with other words we, as consumers, really like but don’t really have a conscious understanding of.

I came across yet another glaring example of this travesty just the other day, in the parking lot of my local medium-box grocery store. Ladies and gentlemen, consider the following:

What is this I don't even—

What is this I don’t even—

Continue reading

Tantalus at Dawn

26 Aug

berries2This weekend I went camping for the second time this summer. Unlike my previous trip—which involved a full prep-week making jerky and pemmican and planning paleo meals with the least amount of perishability—this trip simply involved throwing a bunch of crap in the car, driving an hour and a half up to the Sacramento River delta, and plopping down on a picnic table with some board games and boxed wine (protip: not paleo).

Our trip did take an unexpected paleo turn when we discovered that the campground was surrounded by wild blackberry bushes. Not surprisingly, most of these bushes were already picked clean, but a bit of intrepid scrambling along the breakwater lead us to a stand that seemed to be untouched by human hands. There were so many berries that we visited it twice, once each morning, and came away with a big haul both times.

With so much to gather, I had ample time to ruminate on the nature of foraging, a topic often overshadowed in paleo conversations by the much sexier themes of hunting and heavy work. One might even say that it’s the Rodney Dangerfield of the paleo-sphere. But my adventures this weekend definitely proved that it deserves a lot more respect. Continue reading

Everything That Ever Made Me Feel Bad About Myself Was Based On A Lie

19 Aug

This was my epiphany moment. I remember it clearly.

I had already been paleo for a few months and things were going very well. I was binging on calorically dense, nutritious food, and my body was loving me for it. At the same time, though, I was starving for information. I spent hours each day reading articles and publications and books explaining why what I was doing was working, looking at the science and the dogmas in a whole new light.

I call this my “deprogramming” period.

Continue reading