Home again home again

I’m headed home after 10 days on the road, which is I think the longest I’ve been away in 10 years since my father passed. I spent four days in Chicago for Light Reading’s Big Telecom Event. Then I spent another day in Chicago for staff meetings. Then Julie joined me for five five days in Columbus and Athens, Ohio, visiting her family, whom we hadn’t seen for three years. And now I’m on a plane back home.

It was an eventful trip. The conference was a success, with much good insight and connecting with peers. I’ll post links here later to the articles I wrote from the conference. I got to meet a few colleagues face-to-face whom I haven’t met before. We’re a very 21st-Century organization, with about 50 employees spread across the US, Canada, and in Britain. My boss is based in a suburb of London, eight hours ahead of me.

After work, we went to dinner. I did karaoke for the first time ever in my life. Rumor has it there is video. I think its safe to say that as a singer I am very enthusiastic.

I ate and ate and ate this trip. I have a bet with myself how much weight I gained over the 10 days. I’m thinking 12 pounds. I am not disciplined controlling eating while I’m traveling. That wasn’t a big deal during most of my weight loss and maintenance, when I was traveling just a couple of times a year. Now that I’m on the road for about 20-25% of the time, it’s becoming a problem. I need to work on it.

Still, I enjoyed every bite. Such a lot of good food.

I’ve become an enthusiast for nondescript hole-in-the-wall places that serve great food. I found a beaut in Columbus: Pho Asian Noodle House and Grill on West Lane Avenue. It’s a Pan-Asian place, which is a highfalultin way of saying the menu has Chinese food and Japanese food and Thai and Vietnamese and maybe other ethnicities I couldn’t identify. I had the kung pao chicken with fried rice, which is a safe choice, and it was delicious. The restaurant is obviously in a converted Taco Bell, with minimal redecoration, which adds to its charm.

Another big highlight of this trip is going to meet our financial planner in Marion, Ohio, about 75 minute out of Columbus. Until now, I’ve left financial planning to Julie. I make the money, she manages it. But this is a bad idea, and so I’m getting up to speed myself. I am impressed by how on top of things both Ron and Julie are. Ron seems very competent — and I liked him personally too.

Why some people are eager to get Soylent

“Soylent” is the name of a powder that you mix with water to make a bland, thick, beige liquid. Its manufacturers say people can live on it indefinitely — it contains all the nutrients anyone needs. Many people are repulsed at the idea of Soylent. But Ars Technica’s Lee Hutchinson describes three reasons people are drawn to it:

  • Some see it as a convenience, not replacing every meal but replacing some or many meals.
  • Some people are intimidated by the very thought of cooking. These people are overwhelmed at the prospect of even browning meat.
  • Some people have problems with food, such as the prototypical 40ish guy who doesn’t exercise and lives on fried food, salty snacks, and candy.

Here we’re going to talk about how the final mass-produced Soylent product fits into my life, without any stunts or multi-day binges. More importantly, we’re going to take a look at exactly what might drive someone in the most food-saturated culture in the world to bypass thousands of healthy, normal, human-food meal choices in favor of nutritive goop. It’s something a lot of folks simply can’t seem to wrap their heads around. Today it’s relatively easy to make a healthy meal, so why in the hell would anyone pour Soylent down their throat?

But if you’re asking that question and genuinely can’t see an answer, then you’re demonstrating both a profound over-projection of your own cultural norms and also a stunning lack of empathy. Food is for some people a genuine struggle. Just because many in the first world have the ability to go to a grocery store and stock up on healthy stuff doesn’t mean it’s easy, or even possible, for everyone. Blithely dismissing someone’s inability to whip up a healthy meal by tossing off a condescending “Soylent? Gross! You don’t need that! Just go cook something quick and healthy!” can be about as wrongheaded and insensitive as telling an alcoholic that they could fix all their problems by just drinking less or telling a clinically depressed person that they’d feel better if they’d just stop moping and cheer up.

The convenience argument seems to me to be weakest. I just had my usual breakfast: Fresh fruit salad with cottage cheese and cinnamon, along with a glass of Spicy V8. For lunch I usually have a frozen meal from Eating Right or some other healthier brand. I eat a lot of veggie burgers and deli sandwiches for dinner, along with the occasional delivery pizza or take-out Mediterranean. That is pretty damn convenient. And while I can brown meat, that’s about as far as my cooking skilz go.

While I’m not going to get all judgy on Soylent-lovers, I really don’t see a need for it, other than specialized niche product, such as feeding refugees or victims of natural disasters.

The psychology of Soylent and the prison of first-world food choices | Ars Technica.

Long-term weight loss ‘nearly impossible’? Pfui!

I was discouraged by a Cory Doctorow blog a few days ago pointing to a CBC article that concludes weight loss is “almost impossible.”

But I finally read the article and came away with a different conclusion.

The article describes research showing only 5% of people who try to lose weight succeed. The article suggests — but does not actually say — that the researchers define success as keeping the weight off after 5-10 years.

Every fat and formerly fat person reading this is now shrugging and saying, “Yeah. Tell me something I don’t know.” Everybody already knows losing weight is hard.

The article (and possibly the researchers) make the mistake of conflating statistics with destiny. And it’s true that some statistical outcomes depend on luck. You can’t do anything about those. But other outcomes depend on individual choice.

The lotery is an example of an outcome dependent entirely on luck: Only a tiny sliver of the population ever wins the lottery. And there’s nothing you can do to improve your odds. The books and people who try to tell you which numbers to pick based on psychic powers are peddling lies. You can’t buy enough tickets to influence the outcome because the number of tickets sold is so vast. Buy one ticket, buy a thousand tickets, your chances of winning are pretty much the same. Indeed, statisticians say your chances of winning the lottery if you buy a ticket are about the same as your chances if you don’t buy a ticket.

On the other hand, the chances of a middle class or poor kid getting in to Harvard are also pretty slim. But it’s possible if the kid works hard and gets scholarships. So it’s worth a try.

Successful weight loss is more like getting into Harvard than winning the lottery.

The headline on that CBC story stinks. Because losing weight isn’t nearly impossible, Five percent success doesn’t say “nearly impossible.” It just says “very difficult.”

The article and the research do touch on a couple of interesting questions: Why do so many people fail at losing weight? It’s not will power. Fat people hold down jobs, raise families, and do all the things requiring will power that thin people do. Fat people have just as much will power as thin people have.

I think part of it is environmental, which explains the global obesity epidemic. My current pet theory: Farmers feeding antibiotics to livestock.

Another cause of obesity is how our brains are wired for food. When I hear recovering alcoholics talk about their relationship to alcohol, it’s like how I feel about food, particularly high-fat, high-salt, high-carb, high-sugar foods. Most people can have a handful of M&Ms and say, well, that was lovely, and move on. Not me. I can eat a one-pound bag of M&Ms and then start looking around for a one-pound bag of mini-Snickers to chase it down.

The other interesting question raised by the article is whether healthcare providers should be presenting alternatives to weight loss. Given that 95% of fat people are going to stay fat, should healthcare providers concentrate on getting them to eat well and be active, making them healthier fat people?

I wrote about this earlier: Research finds long-term weight loss is nearly impossible.

None of this should be taken as a criticism of Cory, the researchers, or the guy who wrote the CBC article, all of whom are doing great work — Cory, in particular, is someone I admire a great deal. Also, Cory lost about 70 pounds and has kept it off far longer than I’ve kept off my weight, so he certainly has every right to weigh in on this subject. So to speak.

Image: Annals Of Weight-Loss Gimmicks: From Bile Beans To Obesity Soap

Research finds long-term weight loss is nearly impossible

Cory Doctorow blogs about research showing weight loss comes back in 5-10 year.

Sobering news for me — I’m only three years into my own weight loss success. I went from a peak weight of about 276 in 2003, to 266 in 2008, then down to 176 in January, 2011, and finally lost another 10 pounds this year. As of Monday I was in the high 160s.

I tend to put on weight when I travel, which is a problem because I’m traveling more this year. I eat a lot of crap when I travel: Candy from hotel minibars,  pastries from the snacks they put out at conferences, fried food, desserts, the same stuff that made me fat to begin with.

Cory describes how he lost 80 pounds 2002-3, and kept it off. Our methods are similar in that we require constant vigilance. I log everything I eat, and weigh and measure it when possible. Corywent for a low-carb diet where I’m counting calories (and probably reducing carbs as a side-effect — I don’t keep track of that).

It’s not a huge deal, but it limits choices. For one thing, Julie and I almost never eat out anymore, which is a shame. I miss going out to eat with Julie. One recent weekend morning Julie suggested spontaneously that we go out for breakfast, and I had to say no. My meals are almost always planned in advance, and the prospect of changing those plans was overwhelming (particularly on an empty stomach, ironically enough).

I’m curious how Cory manages his weight when he travels, which he does a heck of a lot more than I do.

Long-term weight loss considered nearly impossible – Boing Boing.

Marijuana legalization hits bumps

Legalized marijuana in Colorado is leading to problems for beginners who take too much, too quickly, and freak out. Including The New York Times’s Maureen Dowd:

The caramel-chocolate flavored candy bar looked so innocent, like the Sky Bars I used to love as a child.

Sitting in my hotel room in Denver, I nibbled off the end and then, when nothing happened, nibbled some more. I figured if I was reporting on the social revolution rocking Colorado in January, the giddy culmination of pot Prohibition, I should try a taste of legal, edible pot from a local shop.

What could go wrong with a bite or two?

Everything, as it turned out.

Not at first. For an hour, I felt nothing. I figured I’d order dinner from room service and return to my more mundane drugs of choice, chardonnay and mediocre-movies-on-demand.

But then I felt a scary shudder go through my body and brain. I barely made it from the desk to the bed, where I lay curled up in a hallucinatory state for the next eight hours. I was thirsty but couldn’t move to get water. Or even turn off the lights. I was panting and paranoid, sure that when the room-service waiter knocked and I didn’t answer, he’d call the police and have me arrested for being unable to handle my candy.

I strained to remember where I was or even what I was wearing, touching my green corduroy jeans and staring at the exposed-brick wall. As my paranoia deepened, I became convinced that I had died and no one was telling me.

It took all night before it began to wear off, distressingly slowly. The next day, a medical consultant at an edibles plant where I was conducting an interview mentioned that candy bars like that are supposed to be cut into 16 pieces for novices; but that recommendation hadn’t been on the label.

Don’t Harsh Our Mellow, Dude – NYTimes.com.

Dowd goes on to describe pot-users who murdered family members under the influence. Maybe Reefer Madness wasn’t crazy.

The marijuana industry needs to put in place sensible programs for education and labeling. And if the industry doesn’t do it, government needs to step in.

Marijuana should be legal everywhere, but let’s remember that the alcohol and  gambling industries have not exactly proven unalloyed benefits for society.

Sounds awful

Soylent, the high-tech food replacement, is “the most joyless new technology [since] MS-DOS”

Soylent, the high-tech food replacement, is nasty stuff, says The New York Times’s Farhad Manjoo. It takes all the pleasure out of eating.

I just spent more than a week experiencing Soylent, the most joyless new technology to hit the world since we first laid eyes on MS-DOS.

Soylent is a drink mix invented by a group of engineers who harbor ambitions of shaking up the global food business. Robert Rhinehart, the 25-year-old co-founder and chief executive of the firm selling the drink, hit upon the idea when he found himself spending too much time and money searching for nutritious meals while he was working on a wireless-tech start-up in San Francisco. Using a process Mr. Rhinehart calls “scientific,” the firm claims to have mixed acornucopia of supplements to form a technologically novel food that offers the complete set of nutrients the human body needs for survival.

Soylent misses the point that most breakthrough consumer technologies don’t just perform a function; they offer pleasure too, Manjoo says. Uber, for example, isn’t just popular because it’s convenient; “it lets you feel like you’re the boss,” because you don’t have to pay when you get out.

STATE JP2 articleLarge

Great weight-loss and fitness advice from a woman who lost 90 pounds

ChKelley, posting to Reddit: 90 lbs lost. This is everything I wish I had heard when I was starting my weight loss journey. [long post] : loseit

I could have written nearly all of this myself. The major significant difference between her process and mine is that she’s on a more rigorous exercise plan. I just go for a brisk walk an hour a day.

The absolute worst thing a splurge day can do is make you give up. If you give up because you had one bad day it is the same thought process of “I missed one day of work and won’t get paid for that day, I might as well never work again.” Now you know thinking that is stupid, so why would you think that way about living a healthy lifestyle? Yes lifestyle. You are not on a diet, you are changing your relationship with food and your activity levels permanently. In the time that it takes you to reach your goal weight you are going to have a smaller calorie limit than when you decide that it is time to maintain. Like I said I was eating a net of 1150 until I decided to maintain and now net around 1600 with exercise. In that sense you are on a “diet” but when you maintain you are not going to go back to the way you were eating before because you “made it.” And honestly by that time you won’t want to.

These points have been key to my successful weight loss. Sometimes I cheat and eat calorific food. Sometimes I go crazy for a whole day, particularly when I’m traveling on business, where I’m essentially alone, surrounded by rich food, and sleep-deprived. When that happens, I just get back with the program the next day. Or as soon as I can. I continue to weigh myself weekly, or more often when I suspect I may have gained weight.

Like ChKelley, I eat the same as I did when I was losing weight; I just eat a little more. One of the ways people sabotage themselves with weight loss is they think of themselves as being on a “diet,” a temporary eating plan, and when they’re done they go back to their old eating habits. And then of course they put the weight right back on again.

Also, as ChKelley notes, after a while you lose your taste for overeating and for junk food. In 2007, if you showed me a bowl of Doritos, I would’ve eaten the whole thing. Now, I’m mildly repulsed by even one. I genuinely enjoy my fruit and cottage cheese in the morning, apples, carrots and nuts in the afternoon, and fresh vegetables with dinner.

Nobody walks just to walk anymore

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People walk for fitness and to make an ecological statement — to be green. But few people go on aimless, undistracted walks, which promote creativity and thoughtfulness, says Finlo Roher.

I walk a half-hour in the morning, an hour in the afternoon, and about 10-15 minutes before bedtime. Minnie is with me on the morning and nighttime walks, and the afternoon walk too unless it’s too hot for her paws on pavement. In the afternoon I listen to podcasts or audiobooks, but in the morning and night I’m unplugged.

I’m not sure how I fit into Roher’s schema of distracted vs. undistracted walkers. I suspect more on the distracted side.

See: The slow death of purposeless walking

Speaking of walking, time for me to put down the iPad and hit the bricks. This will be Minnie’s first one-hour fast walk since Monday; Tuesday through Saturday were too blamed hot for her. Those long walks are good for our physical, mental, and emotional health — she and I both — and because they tire her out they promote domestic tranquility and sanity in the evening.

Given our lifestyles, Julie and I should not have adopted a moderately-high-energy dog like Minnie. Fortunately, this decision proved to be one of many bad decisions I’m glad to have made.

How do you exercise your dog in bad weather?

With temps over 90 around here, we don’t want to subject Minnie’s paws to hot pavement, which means we’re skipping our one-hour brisk walk in the afternoon. I’m just going solo on that.

What do you do to exercise your dog when it’s too hot for her to walk?

I figure we can just reduce her exercise a few days until the heat breaks, then resume, but I’d like a better option. For one thing, unexercised Minnie is INTENSE in the living room after supper.