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Diet as Alchemy

The Surgeon General's Office instructs us that "Overweight and obesity result from excess calorie consumption and/or inadequate physical activity." Oh. Well, case closed then. Never mind that most studies suggest that many who are overweight eat fewer calories than those who are lean, and may be as active. What does reality count in the face of authoritative pronouncements? There would hardly be any religions at all, if evidence mattered. And even less politics. And no atheists at all. Nothing is so powerful as an idea whose time came thirty years ago and is now thoroughly entrenched. Never mind that in the past thirty years overweight and obesity have nearly tripled.

How can the new standard paradigm, of eat less and sweat more, be wrong? Never mind what kind of low fat and what kind of high carbs they tell us to eat -- is the theory behind it valid? Because if it's not, the implication is that we might, somehow, eat an unlimited amount of calories and not gain weight. Why, that way lies insanity! Calories have to go somewhere. It's physics, the conservation of matter/energy. Either exercise it away or store it as fat. Right? It makes sense.

If triglyceride fat, blubber, can only be formed in the presence of glycerol, what happens to excess calories without glycerol? Well, after general vitality is seen to, and the immune system, and recovery and repair from physical activity -- you know, the reason we eat -- the surplus, since it doesn't go to matter, must go to energy. Heat. That's science.

The simplistic thermodynamic analogy is not valid. True, calories must go either to matter or energy. But a calorie is not a calorie. The caloric value of food is identified by actually burning that food in a crucible in a laboratory. The heat generated is measured, and that's how many calories the food has. Never mind that we cannot digest fiber. That's confounding in only an incidental way. The point is that metabolism is not a crucible, for all that we make heat. It's not a simple energy in-out equation. There are various pathways that lead to multiple outcomes dependent on a number of variables. Well that didn't say a lot, and is quite obvious.

Calories are not about heat. Calorie is another of those misleading-therefore-useless words. What calories are actually about are raw materials, out of which possibilities are made. Thinking in terms of calories is like thinking in terms of carbon -- coal is the same thing as diamonds. Well, yes. And no.

Calories are not just a sort of element, that might happen to manifest as certain allotropes -- incidental forms -- like fats or carbs, as carbon has graphite or diamond, which are both pure elemental carbon. Protein, carbs and fat differ in their fundamental, their elemental nature, and that they burn as calories is as meaningful as the fact that they are made out of matter. Meaningful only because reality is what it is. Protein is as different from carbs as nitrogen is different from, well, carbon. Of course they do not behave the same in the body -- not even as calories.

Absent glycerol, then, triglycerides are not made. Fat would be present in the blood as free fatty acids. Maybe in the liver, maybe in cells, muscle or adipose, but not bundled up for storage. That's not such a good thing, having NO stored bodyfat. We may end up looking sort of skeletal, all hollow-eyed and sunken-cheeked. Heroin chic. It's a look. Like the burlap-bag-full-of-yogurt look is a look, at the other end of the continuum. Somewhere between these two looks is a healthy compromise. But even given an excess of calories, absent glycerol there would be no overweight. You could eat until you just got too hot. Maybe you'd fall into a fevor coma. Maybe you'd spontaneously combust. It's science. But what studies do show is that diets of even 10,000 calories a day do not lead to excess bodyfat, when industrial carbs are limited. Industrial carbs -- those that lead to excess glycerol and chronically or acutely raised insulin.

Gracious. So much science. It's so hard. But if you are one of those nerdy geeks, or would like to be, all skinny, say, but somehow brawny too for purposes of this analogy and rather long and awkward sentence, well, then you are interested in answers both interesting and true.

Be excellent.


CrossFit Burbank


FW was listening to Satan one evening while working out.   "Oh FW, " said the Evil One in a silken and sonorous tone, "you poor thing.  This is so hard, FW, all this hard hard work.  It's so much.  Just go a little slower, FW.   It will be easier, and it doesn't really matter, a few more seconds.   You can make up for it with a strong finish.  Sure FW.  Save nothing.  At the end I really do want you to save nothing.  Full blast, FW, absolutely.   But FW, FW, don't exhaust yourself right now, for heaven's sake.   Be sensible, sensible, FW.  Exhaustion is dangerous!  You're very healthy for where you're at, FW -- you really look so good, for how you've treated yourself -- but blood vessels do burst.  And no one knows how hard it is, for you in particular, FW, and they won't even know if you take it a little slower, a little easier, not that you would ever go easy.  No one will know, FW, not that it's their stinking business ... and anyway they don't even feel sorry for you.  FW, is it hot in here or what?  Man is it hot.  They don't even notice how the sweat is just POURING off you.  And FW, isn't that noise a distraction?  But just keep plugging alone, I mean along.  Heh heh.   A little slowing each time is expected.  Oh!  FW! -- you're wobbling!   You almost STUMBLED, FW!   FW, you must REALLY be working hard.   Did they notice?  No, of course not.  So hard.  Too hard.  And FW, this is only four minutes!  Another twelve?!?  Ridiculous."

On and on he goes, Satan. Thing of it is, he's right. No lies at all. No lies this time. Even the "too hard" -- it is too hard, to do something faster than we can do it. But it's not too hard to do as fast as we can do it. Which this isn't. Satan loves the truth. He loves most of the truth. Sometimes it's all, or mostly, or at least some lies. You can't do it. You're not good enough. But he knows he has to stick with the truth, mostly. Because we can hear the lie, but we can be fooled by the truth. It is hard. There is another 12 minutes. The heat is unpleasant. If we save it now we will finish stronger. You shouldn't argue with what is true. It's just that in this particular circumstance, truth is invented by what you do. You choose your truth.

Just as you get started, remind yourself about mental attitude. That's a strategy that has to be practiced, trained. Start with a short workout. Develop a monologue, see what works, what's effective. It will be different with different people. It will be a trial-and-error thing, because not all theories are correct. There are workouts designed to identify mental techniques that work. There are p-factor workouts, there are positive attitude workouts. Because every champion understands at some level that he will succeed. No maybe about it. "Champion" is a confusing word, because we think it involves other people. Where most people are, they just have to beat themselves.

It's just psychology. Like the idea of sacredness, separateness. Every religion has it, in the solemnity of its rites. The High Priest of Israel, we read, would be struck dead if he entered the Holy of Holies with an impure mind, with his sins unatoned. That's why he entered with a rope tied around his ankle -- if he where struck dead in there, they could drag him out.

Application: attitude matters. Tai chi is not a form of exercise. It's a form of meditation. Exercise also may be most productive when it is a form of meditation. Because it's all about the brain anyway, its neurons and its hormones. And the brain is just the sponge that holds the fluid of the mind -- as it were. It's just a sort of meat. It is the servant, we are the master. Aren't untrained dogs obnoxious? Isn't it annoying when kids have bad manners and incompetent parents? And isn't it a huge mistake, when you listen to your meathead instead of your wisdom?

There are stratagems. A script, a visualization, a theatre-of-the-mind progression. "Incremental velocity". "Integral veclusion".  Heh.  Who knows -- the universe is ripe with potentialities. Music, for example, bypasses the mind and goes straight for the emotions and subconscious. That's why it's dangerous. The rhythm alone should make a difference, without even touching the subconscious. A matrix, a scaffolding, to organize unconscious energy. A cue toward a mental attitude. A way of keying into and associating with past successes -- picking up where you left off. Something to occupy the mind, other than failure talk.

It's simple and it's complex, exercise. If we didn't have any bad habits, we'd practically be perfect. In any case, the only voice we should listen to is the one that encourages us to excellence.

Be excellent.


CrossFit Burbank

Unknowable Things

No one knows the difference between animal saturated fats and plant saturated fats. The palmitic acid in coconut oil and in beef is chemically identical. It’s just the ratios that are different. So, uh, well, it seems we do know the difference. There isn’t one.

No one knows the role of enzymes in digestion. We have the words, and how they’re used, but no one knows anything about how they're produced or excreted, and what happens to them afterwards. An enzyme is a catalyst, and catalysts cause a reaction without being changed by it, so theory suggests that enzymes are taken up again and reused. But no one knows how that would work. We know that various digestive processes occur at different parts of the small intestine, but no one knows what happens where.

So that’s everything that science doesn't know.

We think of diet and nutrients in terms of broad categories. Fats and proteins and carbs. It’s really not useful. Take protein. We can’t use it. We need dietary amino acids. But we only need eight or so -- the essential ones; all the others we can make ourselves. Why so vague about how many essentials? Some can be converted into others. Messes up the calculations. But current estimates are that you need only about 16 grams of the essentials, if you weigh 200 pounds, not obese. A bit more than half an ounce. Dude, that's like, totally, hardly anything.

There is a qualitative difference between plant and animal protein. No difference between the amino acids, but in the digestion process, huge. Putrefactive bacteria don’t feed on plants. Don’t you just love that word, putrefactive? Putrid. Mmm. Then, if undigested proteins leak into the bloodstream, there may be autoimmune problems. Point is, protein is not just protein.

Same with fats. Saturated fats are there just to supply energy. On the other hand, your skin can get softer, so delightfully touchable,  when you eat coconut oil. It’s a well-known beauty secrets. Yes, it seems something can be both well-known and a secret. And we’ve been through all that with omegas 3 and 6. No one knows if these are ever just metabolized for energy, or if they are used only structurally. So that will have to be added to the list of things science doesn't know. Then there are the hydrogenated and transfats. Poision.

Or carbs. Fibrous carbs -- good. Unprocessed carbs, good. Sugars and refined carbs? Slow but very real poisons. Or cholesterol. The term seems to be useless, when the distinction is not made about which particular cholesterol, HDL or LDL, or even subcatagories of LDL.

So if there’s confusion about what to eat, well, common sense has to play a pretty big role. Because you probably haven’t been told about nutrients at any level smaller than protein or fat or carbs. And these studies that are done, measuring the effect of dietary carbs, but that don’t make a distinction between fibrous and refined … useless? Or that talk about high or low cholesterol, but nothing about the ratios. Or that measure protein in the diet without any understanding about the intestinal microzoa that cohabit with you as your constant dinner guests?

It’s a sort of information that is worse than useless. It’s information that is actually ignorance. Like nutrients that don’t nourish. Empty carbs. Dead proteins. Poisonous fats. Really. Couldn’t you just sit down and give the matter some serious thought, and come up with a sensible diet on your own, without the government spending billions of dollars building its pyramids that end up ruining the economy of your health? Heavens, that was an overly complex metaphor. Honestly though, does a cake really seem like food to you? And how is bread much different than cake? Does eating meat three times a day seem like a natural thing to you? From either an Evolutionary or an Edenic perspective? Does drinking bovine milk seem like a sensible thing for an adult human to do on a regular basis?

If you sat down and just puzzled it out, what do you suppose you’d come up with, as a sensible human diet? It’s not a trick question. It's one of those things science doesn't know. Too many contractions, between real science and garbage science. There is so much bias. It's a scandal.

Competence starts, or is it ends, with results. It's a sort of wading-through-miasmal-swamps thing -- moving through poison to get to health. It's about effectiveness. So?

Be excellent.


CrossFit Burbank
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