Archive for April, 2011

Paleo Success Part 3 of millions

Pamela is an enormously beautiful 23 year old soul from Michigan who rocks my world.  She’s a humor-writer, so she writes a blog on cool stuff and smart things she thinks.  She has just started paleo and is writing a series of posts on her journey.  What I love about it is that she’s totally geeked on her progress, but also realistic about the way it’s changing her relationship with food.   Like Pam, I admit, too, that my “problems” with sugar, cravings, and overeating didn’t really get going until I got thin/healthy/paleo.    I think that has a lot to do with (outside of the biology of cravings) drastic dietary change, stupid norms, and deprivation in our society of wicked abundance.

In any case.   With great care, awareness, and kick ass passion, Pam is happy and healthy and moving forward like a champion.


04 2011

Do we really know anything? Science, experience, and yo’ life

Not really.

Or, we don’t know the whole picture.  On my last post, Erin from Pretty in Primal (the bomb) suggested supplementing with dopamine.  She said that it helped her enormously with her Hashimoto’s-fucked metabolism, cravings and general well-being, and I think that’s wonderful.  It never even occurred to me to research such a thing.  See how little I know?

Millions and millions of other examples abound.  I am not an economic specialist, so I don’t come down on either side of cap and trade debates.  I don’t know shit about the politics of medicine (that phrase in itself demonstrates how fucked up the whole deal is) so I don’t come down on health care.   Even if I were a specialist, there would be dozens of people in my field who disagreed with me strongly.  How can I assert my position with certainty?

The issue of the greatest importance for my life right now, however, is nutritional science.   There’s been a lot of talk recently about re-defining “paleo” and making sure the “bad science” stays out, but the problem is that we’re constantly evolving towards a better understanding (we hope) anyway.   The thing is, I think the paleo community has the right idea in general– our health is best maximized by paying attention to the evolution of the human body and what Kurt Harris calls “neolithic agents of disease”– but beyond that, the specifics are still way up in the air.   Do I eschew carbs or make sure I get at least 50 g per day?  Do I supplement with fish oil or is that actually bad for me?  What about vitamin D, the one thing every one has been on board with for the longest?   Not even that is certain.  Conflicting studies are published daily, and to proscribe a certain set of foods and principles with confidence is not just audacious but downright swimming in hubris.  IMHO.

I write my posts with all of this information in mind.  I say “fructose is evil,” and I do certainly think so, based on my own experience and the information I’ve analyzed over months and months, but I still don’t have 100 percent certainty.  You have to decide that for yourself.    Moreover, I try my hardest to write with a style that conveys that.  Hopefully, what you get from my posts is “this is what works for me, and it aligns with current literature in such and such a way, so I think you should try it, but please don’t take any suggestion as a cemented proscription.”  This applies most obviously to my blog posts, in which I am forced to take a position, and often do so gladly.  However, this also applies to the correspondence I have with so many of you.  Take my advice and mull it over, and try it, and then pay attention to your own body.  No one knows your body and your happiness better than you do.

So what’s my point?  I think that anecdotes and experience are really the best sources of information.  I know that there’s a lot of carb-friendliness going on out there in the literature and in the paleo movement, but personally I think I’ve objectively observed that they derail my body fat percentage, independent of changing calories.  Every time I try to add them back in I see my weight not just inch but balloon.  I’m done trying (for now).   This is just what works for me.  I’m not quite sure why–people fight about the importance of insulin for fat storage all the time–but I’m going to keep using this method until I find reason to change it.   The same thing applies for fruits.  I experience enormous fruit cravings, and I just live better eschewing them entirely.  Science seems to support this undertaking.  I’d advise you to try it.  But, well.  Some people feel otherwise.

That said, this manifesto for experience requires a caveat.  Which is: even though no one knows anything for certain (What up Kant!), some of us know more than others.   For example, scientists.  The thoughtful sort.   Or, better yet, scientific data.  And in those cases, we had best listen.   What I mean is:  there are some aspects of the paleo diet and lifestyle that immediately effect our well-being, that we can “experience” and know and immediately feel good about.  A good example of this is my stabilized blood sugar levels, and how I no longer fall down right after standing up.  However, there exist much more subtle benefits.  You could be very slowly tearing holes in your arteries.  You can’t feel that on a day to day basis.  You might be unduly stressing your joints with certain exercises.  Or, perhaps most infuriating, you might say: “but Stef, I still feel good on wheat and vegetable oils!”  Certainly you do.  But some day, you might get sick. You are, in all likelihood, like the rest of us, inflamed.  And it is because you prioritize your immediate feelings over good science.  I see this all the time.  All the time.

So the point is that we have to balance the two lines of thought. On one hand, our experience and feelings are excellent indicators of health.   Science is shaky, people are fallible, and advice is not always good.  On the other hand, scientific data does in fact exist for a reason, and many interpretations (most?  some?) say important things about the body that we should be listening to.  It’s hard to filter what’s right and wrong, and honestly I have no idea half the time, but we’ve just got to think and test and think and test and think and test.  This is another good reason to consider “progress” the ultimate goal.  How can we know even what “perfect” is?  And if we do, how incredibly long would it take to get there?  Best just move forward with our feelings and our minds doing the best they can, and focus on healthful progress.  I have this sign hanging on my wall.  It says perhaps the most important lesson I’ve ever learned on it: Listen, it says.  Listen.  To yourself and the universe and every thing you can.

And don’t ever believe a thing I say.


04 2011

Dopamine signalling findings: Support for a physiological theory of disordered eating and motivation to keep on keepin’ on

Today I woke up to a really awesome, generous surprise in my inbox.   One of my best friends, we’ll call him Dan, recently attended a lecture by Frank Guido, a neuroscientist at the University at Denver.  Dan took great notes, and he took enormously gracious initiative to type them up and send them to me.  And now I am going to pass them along to you.  Unfortunately, I don’t have the details of any of Guido’s studies.  All I’ve got are the take-aways.   So I’m going to put a little bit of faith in Guido’s science (epistemologists say science is a faith anyway) and allow this awesome gift to inform my life and methods.


Guido’s talk focused on dopamine level comparisons between anorexic, bulimic, and obese patients.  Recall that dopamine is a pleasure hormone, stimulated by the act of fulfilling survival needs.  This is (partly) why we eat, and (partly) why we have sex, and all of those other very basic, very human, very animal things.  One thing that’s both fascinating and important to note is that dopamine, while pleasurable, is associated primarily with survival, and not with pleasure.  Therefore, with dopamine signalling, our bodies are trying to make us “healthy.”   They are doing what they can with the resources they have available.  They don’t want to make us have fun.  They want to fix us.  This, in my humble and highly uninformed opinion, supports the “set point” theory of weight loss.  Your body, for one reason or another, has a certain idea of what your “correct” body size is, and will adjust your dopamine regulation accordingly.   So what do you do with this information?  Maybe that means you want to allow yourself to put on a few pounds.  It could help you feel more satisfied.  Or maybe it means you can now more easily forgive yourself for your cravings.  Or perhaps you want to buckle down and fight anyway.   It’s your body, and your decision.


Anyway, first, Guido notes that Anorexic subjects generally have high dopamine levels in their cerebral spinal fluid.  This is because anorexic subjects “are good at delaying rewards,” and “have an elevated drive to avoid harm.”   Bulimic
subjects, on the other hand, have low dopamine levels in their cerebral spinal fluid.  This, according to Guido, correlates to bulimic subjects being “impulsive,” and “having reduced inhibition.”  Third, obese subjects experience lower and lower dopamine receptors the higher their BMI.  This suggests that our bodies give us less and less reward for eating if we are overweight.  This makes sense.  Also, according to Guido, obese subjects ” are also impulsive and poor inhibitors.”

Then Guido discusses his experiment.  In an fMRI, researchers measured dopamine responses to sweet flavors.
This is what they found:

Anorexia nervosa patients experience an increased dopamine response to sweet flavors. We can infer from this information that anorexic patients are hypersensitive to self-harm (i.e. weight change).  Their bodies give them high amounts of satiation for eating.   That’s quite enough!, says the sensitive patient.

Binge eating and obese patients have decreased dopamine responses to sweet flavors.  This means that they need more stimulation to feel satisfied. Binge eaters have developed a “food tolerance,” — much like we discussed before, with drug habituation.   (Read: Food addiction: harder to kick than cocaine?)  Moreover, the more frequently someone binged, the more dopamine they required to feel satisfaction.


Yikes.  So what do we conclude?

The more frequently someone binges, the lower his dopamine response.   Guido also notes that the more (calorie) restricted he is, the lower his dopamine response.  These facts mean that:

1)  If you severely calorie restrict or under-eat in any fashion, or are underweight according to your “set point,” your body is going to try to get you to eat more.   It will require you to eat more food to feel satisfied.  It will do this until you ingest the “proper” amount of calories or until you reach the “proper” weight.  Therefore, it is not necessarily your fault if you feel so restricted and so unsatisfied.  Your body might be veritably begging you to eat.

2)   Your body gives you less and less reward the more and more you binge.  This is because it is habituated to the behavior.  So what do you do about it?  You should binge less.  I KNOW!  CRAZY IDEA!  The thing is:  this motivates me to reach for food less often. It helps me stop.  Because if I don’t binge now, it’s going to make my life easier later.  And how nice would that be?    Every single time I refuse food it is going to get easier and easier to refuse, and my body will get more and more adjusted to my new eating habits.  I will begin to feel more satisfaction from a normal diet, and I won’t have to eat so much to feel satisfied.  Just like my body got conditioned to eating way too much, I can recondition my body to eat the proper amount of food.  All it takes is a first step, and as much diligence as I can muster throughout.

So keep on keepin’ on!  Each time you do a good food behavior you are making it easier to do it the next time.  If that’s not motivation, I don’t know what is.  For real.

Thanks Dan!


04 2011

Eating Paleo in Taiwan Food Porn, 2/6,000,000

Definitely time for an update! Lots and lots of delicious stuff to go around.  Plus I’ve been on an inspiration kick for the last couple weeks and you could probably use a break from all my soap boxing.

You’ll recall from my last post that eating paleo in Taiwan is easy.  Sure, there’s lots of noodles and rice to go around, but they are easily avoidable.   Even when in a specifically noodles or rice restaurant, it is totally cool to request a veggie replacement for your rice.  Buffets are also abundant.  This is great not only because it helps me avoid wading through a Chinese menu, but also because I get to avoid toxins and load up on all the meat balls and fish heads I could ever dream of.

You’ll also note most of my photos are fairly low quality and in take out containers.  This is because I am a giant sissy, and I don’t want to look stupid taking photos in restaurants or at markets and street-side stands, which are the truly interesting shots I’d love to share.  Anyway, this means I hurry up and snatch photos whenever I can, without much attention to detail or composition.


Item number one!  Very common here.  A whole fish on a plate, often in curry or some lemon sauce.  Broiled, baked, or steamed.  This may be haddock.  Possibly mackerel. Correct me if I’m wrong.  I don’t know what half the things I eat here are called, in Chinese or in English.  n00b.

Take out number one.  Steamed fish filet on top of cabbage, seaweed and some sort of noodle (avoided!), and what looks like a mushroomy thang sandwiched in the upper left hand corner.

This is a close up of seaweed sauteed in pork fat.  Touche, Taiwan.  Touche.

Lots of stuff going on here.  At the very top: fried sweet potato.  I’m pretty sure the Taiwanese roll the sweet potato as-is in a tiny bit of sugar then drop it in a deep frier.  Not great for your health, but not horrific, either.  Plus, these things are hugely addictive.  I have to try really hard not to over-do it.  Below the sweet potato is a slab of barbeque-fried mackerel.  I’m sure the fish sauce has some omega 6′s in it, but hopefully that’s balanced by the omega 3s in the fish itself.   It’s a bit sweet (as, unfortunately, many typically savory dishes are in Taiwan, perhaps the only Taiwan downside).  Below that, on the right, is an egg and scallion “pancake,” but it’s just eggs so it’s really no pancake at all.  On the bottom left, of course, is my heaping dose of seaweed again.  I love the curly ones, they’re my favorite.   Or they were.  You should know that I’ve dialed it back on the seaweed.  I think I over-did it once, finding out later I had eaten about 3000 percent my daily dose of iodine for a few days in a row, and I had this really high, no-sleep-for-two-days-but-high-energy, can-feel-my-heart-beating-in-my-chest episode.  It felt nice, rather like some of my favorite recreational drugs, but hyperthyroidism isn’t the best thing in the world for our health.  Moreover, the next time I ate a big portion of seaweed I got enormously ill.  Could be completely unrelated, but now I have no taste for it at all.

Some similarities in this photo with the last one.  It’s a smorgasbord.  One stick of sweet potato, a tiny portion of scrambled egg, and another serving of seaweed are scattered throughout.  This type of seaweed is kelp, and said to have the most iodine in it.  Also here:  bottom middle: sauteed bamboo.  Savory and tangy and a bit chewy, it goes great with mushrooms, with seaweed, and with eggplant or potatoes.  Bottom left: meatballs, which are surprisingly common here, and which have fairly western flavors.  I like them a lot, despite the fact that I don’t exactly know what’s going into them.  And finally, upper left: chicken stomachs!  A staple at my favorite buffet.  I eat them often.  I don’t know how nutritious they are, exactly, but since they’re organs I snarf ‘em.  My other “go to” buffet has an absolutely to-die-for cucumber, pepper, and liver dish.  I’ll get some photos of that one in the next post.

Finally some food that I know intimately how it was made!  Because I made it!  Welcome to my kitchen.  This is a heaping many-days-serving load of cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, carrots and cabbage in the back, fresh from the street market.  On the right is a dish of minnows and mini shrimp.  This is my favorite snack of all time.  Take a bag of minnows and throw them right on the stove with some butter, salt, garlic, and onions.   Or just them and butter is fine.  Stir ‘em up for ten minutes and you’re good to go to munch on all week.  The little shrimp are the same.  Sometimes I toss ‘em together, and sometimes I leave ‘em separate.   They’re crunchy and salty and fishy in the best proportions imaginable, and I really, really hope I’ll be able to get my hands on some in the states.  On the front left are some cuttle fish.  Like… mini squid?  I guess.  Also for these, just buy ‘em and throw ‘em in a pan to sautee.  I eat them whole.  They taste great but can get a bit.. pungent?.. in the digestive track and brain.  Still, the body and tentacles and whole shebang really is another fantastic paleo snack.

I’ve really been getting my fair dose of omega 3s lately, eating mostly veggies and seafood.  My skin has cleared up enormously, so now I know that a lot of my acne problems were due to inflammation.   There’s also a lot of salmon here, for really cheap.  My favorite buffet (again! told you it’s great!) had salmon in it this week, so I filled up two carry out containers and walked home with EIGHT SALMON FILETS FOR FOUR DOLLARS.  This is the coolest thing that’s happened to me all week.

Finally, some sweet lime-orange-mango-vodka drink thing.  Life ain’t about perfection, it’s about life. Drink up!

Hopefully I’ll grow a strong pair of balls or ovaries and get some awesome behind-the-scenes shots for you for next.



04 2011

Re-define yourself

Here’s another mental roadblock.  The thing about this one, though, is that we all face it, whether we know it or not.  And it goes like this:


What do I mean by “inertia”?  Inertia is a property of matter defined by resistance to changes in motion.   It means that cars don’t like stopping, boats don’t like turning, and planets like to keep going around the sun in their designated trajectories.   When used abstractly, however, inertia refers to all of the mental resistance we encounter when trying to do anything, ranging from trying to get a project done, to confronting an emotion, or to making personal changes.

The point of this post is that, as human beings, we don’t like change.  We resist it.  And often we don’t like challenges, so we resist those, too.  Often this is manifested in really obvious ways, such as my insistence on walking a block further to go to Family Mart (clearly superior!) instead of 7-11 (which is actually the same exact store as Family Mart).  Or perhaps: we all know people who have heard of the paleolithic diet (perhaps we’ve tried to convince them ourselves?) but just don’t want to give it the time of day.  Compelled by fear or inertia or both, friends and family members daily come up with some pretty nifty rationalizations that make their current course of action continue to be the best one in their own minds.  Whether it actually is or not is not the question.  The important thing here is the mental attitude, and the strong, almost irresistable impulse to never change.

This is a pretty well-known fact.  People don’t like change.  Why am I beating a dead horse?   Because I think it goes even deeper than that.

Sometimes we actively want change.  Sometimes we pursue it.  Sometimes we even achieve it.   We do this by making a conscious decision (not always!), by committing ourselves to new pathways, and by following through.  But it doesn’t always stick, and progress is really difficult, and one reason this is true is because we’re stuck in the same ideas of ourselves.
I’m currently pretty thin.  That happened about a year ago.  Up until that point, however, I battled weight loss and body image issues for eight years.  There were a lot of things going on, and I could probably write a book (have I already?) on them.  Yet one phenomenon was particularly vicious.  Every time I started gaining momentum, I up and threw it away. I pinched my thighs after a week or two of good eating and they felt different.  I noticed and this was so cool.  So naturally the first thing I did was walk into the pantry.  For a long time I wrote this off as my desire to “treat myself” for my progress, but after many years and deeper reflection I realized that my thoughts were far more twisted.  My body had changed, and that was weird.  I was in a place where I could be more confident, and that was weird, too.  Stefani (that’s my given name) is not hot.  Stefani is not thin.  Stefani is not confident.  These changes do not line up with who I am.   I need to prevent that change.  I need to put a little weight back on.

And I did it!  I swear to Hera I did this for years. It was never something I was conscious of.  Instead, this monster watched me from the deep folds of my subconscious, and every time I started getting somewhere reached out and dropped this huge rock of inertia (recall: resistance to change) on top of my progress.

I find myself wrestling with the same subconscious resistance to this day.  It’s like… we have this image of ourselves.  A physical image.  And we have this idea of ourselves, this mental, psychological, personality type thing.  And we don’t rock the boat.  Ever.   Whether it’s by other people or ourselves, our unconscious minds work really hard to preserve norms.  Everybody’s does.  It’s how we’re built.

Except it might be worse in people who are struggling.  Your resistance to change might be compounded by feelings of unworthiness. I often thought: “Stefani is not thin, pretty, or confident, therefore I need to restore the qualities that made her otherwise,” but it was much worse when I thought: “Stefani does not deserve to be thin, pretty, or confident, therefore I need to restore the qualities that made her otherwise.”     This is another reason that it is so, absolutely vital to love yourself. It is vital to forgive yourself.  And it is vital to realize that whatever you’re wrestling with is not your fault.  Only after practicing these self-loving mental habits can we dig ourselves out of the mental pits of unworth, and begin to really see progress in our physical, as well as mental, health.

That said, once we’re in decent mental condition and walking on the path of progress, we’ve got to safeguard against subconscious inertia.  We’ve got to break that mental mode.  We’ve got to be in charge of our emotions and our brains, and to make sure the riptide never pulls us back under.   Subconscious perceptions of ourselves are enormously powerful.   Recognizing that fact can help you re-define yourself, and make sure that that definition sticks.


04 2011

Break your bad thinking habits challenge

This post was originally tacked on to the end of my last post.  But I wanted to make it more visible, so I’m giving it it’s own slot.  I am performing the world’s most unscientific experiment.  In aim of coming up with some concrete answers, I have decided to start denying and documenting the two worst mental habits I have.   Between the hours of noon and six pm every day, (because they are my most regularly scheduled, and they include, mostly, me working at my desk at home) I am keeping two sets of tallies:

1)  How many times do I have to derail an urge to get food?

2)  How many times do I have to derail a negative thought about myself or food?

I hope to show you that with practice the volume decreases with time.  And also to share with you the other variables I discover effecting my thoughts and conditioning.   I will keep you posted in another couple days.

In the meantime, why don’t you join me in this exercise?  Carry a note card around with you, and every time you have an urge to eat, banish the thought!  And write it down.  This also might help you be accountable to yourself, and the idea of preserving the integrity of the experiment might help make you compliant.

If you’d like, email me with your intention, your plan, the types of thoughts you want to get rid of, and your results every so often.  I want you to be, first and foremost, accountable to yourself.  But I am also super psyched about your progress and would be honored to serve as your accountability go-to.

Finally, this really puts a lot of our thoughts in perspective, and I think really powerfully reveals the strength of our subconscious minds.  Don’t be shocked by your numbers!  They can be quite high.  I’m looking at an average of 20 urges to eat each afternoon.  That, or much, much more, depending on the day, is perfectly normal, and it’s totally okay if you end up eating from time to time.  Never forget that progress, not perfection, is the name of the game here.


04 2011