It’s a pretty great tweet.
It’s a pretty great tweet.
Okay, so this post is kinda crazy. But here goes.
My whole life, except for one summer when I was very poor in 2006 or so, I’ve easily sunburned and so avoided the outdoors like crazy unless I was covered in sunscreen. At one point, I when I was a lawn-guy, I gave up entirely on sunscreen and just wore breathable slacks, long-sleeve shirts, and fishing hats to mow (this is smart by the way, I was in the sun for like 7-10 hours a day).
As recently as February 2018, I’ve been sunburned to the point of peeling by sitting on a picnic table for the last half of lunch break at work (we’re talking 15 minutes). So when I came across Tucker Goodrich‘s idea that reducing linoleic acid in your diet by removing seed oils reduces sun-induced skin damage, I was willing to try it.
Now, in February 2018, I had already cut such oils from my diet for about 30 days when I tried the carnivore diet for a 30 N=Many experiment. But I figured I’d keep seed oils like soy, canola, safflower, etc out of my diet for the foreseeable future. I mentioned earlier the sunburn I got sitting on a picnic table for no time at all, well as that year progressed, I experimented with more sun exposure during yard work, just to see what would happen. I tried 30 minutes while mowing. 45 minutes with my wife and daughter at the pool. No burns, but this could have been due to repeated bouts of brief exposure, that led to tolerance. Now, in my past, this is not what would have happened, so I was already suspicious of greater sun tolerance.
So, starting this Winter, 2019, I continued the experiment, doing yard work without sunscreen and without a hat. The yard was huge, and I know how it feels when I start to burn, so I just continued working (about 3.5 hours of work) waiting to get that sunburn feeling. Nothing happened. As the year has gone on, I have yet to wear sunscreen, I still look quite pale with my shirt off, and I have not burned once. Just today, I went swimming in a river that runs through a desert in direct sunlight for 45 minutes. In the past, I would have been toast. Instead, I just feel fine.
Rewind: In 2006, I went on a service project and forgot to take my sunscreen. I was digging in the sand and took my shirt off to avoid chaffing. We dug a giant hole after a few hours. And all I could think of was how horrible my sunburn would be. I went the rest of the week without getting burned and no sunscreen. How did this happen? Well, back then my diet was basically beans, tuna, oatmeal, eggs, peanut butter, and butter. Coincidence? Probably.
Seth Roberts wrote The Unreasonable Effectiveness of My Self-Experimentation. He explains how self-experimentation improved his sleep, mood, health, and weight.
Self-experimentation is similar to foraging and hobbies more than strict lab-science, he says:
“My self-experimentation resembled foraging, hobbyist, and artisanal exploration, Professional science is a poor match for any of them. The similarity of foraging, hobbyist, and artisanal exploration suggests that our brains are well-suited for jobs with a lot of exploitation and a little exploration. Although full-time scientists are expected to explore full-time, full-time exploration is very uncomfortable.”Seth Roberts
The idea is that foraging and hobbies involve exploration followed by rewards in a way that lab-science does not. In other words, self-experimentation is an engineering approach to personal problem solving using aggressive-tinkering. Taleb reminds us in Skin in the Game, “The knowledge we get by tinkering, via trial and error, experience, and the workings of time, in other words, contact with the earth, is vastly superior to that obtained through reasoning, something self-serving institutions have been very busy hiding from us.”
This makes sense. Now, self-experimentation involves some major problems. If you tinker with small changes in a way that increases risk, you’re making unwise gambles. For instance, experimenting with strength training almost guarantees health and strength gains. Experimenting with drugs to improve strength may sacrifice long-term health for short term strength.
Sometimes, when you have a specific problem, you can look up published research, determine the process used to test a hypothesis, and then try something similar on yourself if your problem was solved or improved by the experiment. But you want to do this in a risk-reducing fashion. For instance, when I used Kjaer’s chronic tendon loading research to cure my 8-year bout of patellar tendinitis, I knew that squats had never made it worse. I knew that my back was healthy. I knew that the highest risk I had was getting weaker over a few weeks or making my knee feel a bit worse.
If you go to any gym, you’ll find a great deal of unusually specific information about strength training. Strangely, you’ll find very little in-depth knowledge of anatomy, physiology, or scientific literature appended to it.
This information is Bro-Science. The problem with Bro-Science is that it differs from gym to gym based on a combination of the shared experience present and the amount of time people spend on the Internet and what lifting forums they frequent.
I used to make fun of Bro-Science. Truth be told, some Bro-Science could kill or a least injure you.
But some of it has proved remarkably prescient. Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy, occlusion training, increased protein for cutting fat, training to failure, and the rep-ranges for muscle growth all seem to have been discovered, not by bespectacled dorks in white lab-coats but by oiled gym-bros in sleeveless shirts. But what process gives us bro-science?
Enter Nicolas Taleb. Taleb describes systems in terms of three traits: fragility, robustness, and antifragility. Fragile systems break when they encounter chaos. Robust systems survive. Antifragile systems grow and adapt. He describes this process in connection with tradition here:
Consider the role of heuristic (rule-of-thumb) knowledge embedded in traditions. Simply, just as evolution operates on individuals, so does it act on these tacit, unexplainable rules of thumb transmitted through generations— what Karl Popper has called evolutionary epistemology. But let me change Popper’s idea ever so slightly (actually quite a bit): my take is that this evolution is not a competition between ideas, but between humans and systems based on such ideas. An idea does not survive because it is better than the competition, but rather because the person who holds it has survived! Accordingly,Taleb, Nassim Nicholas (2012-11-27). Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder (Kindle Locations 3841-3847). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
wisdomyou learn from your grandmother should be vastly superior (empirically, hence scientifically) to what you get from a class in business school (and, of course, considerably cheaper). My sadness is that we have been moving farther and farther away from grandmothers.
In other words, bro-science works because the people who practice bro-science are still in the gym. Sometimes this is because their genetics and luck helped them survive and thrive under dangerous training methodologies. But s
I’ve mentioned before that I have a genetic bone disorder and have utilized my interpretation of scientific publications to self-experiment.
This self-experimentation has had positive health results. Other times I have merely yielded knowledge about what does not help. For instance, I’ve had pretty bad acid reflux for the past few years. I recently discovered from my mother that I also had terrible reflux as a baby. I might even have a weak LES muscle. I don’t know, I haven’t been to the doctor for it for years because they just prescribe proton pump inhibitors or histamine blockers. I can buy those and as far as I can tell, they have long term deleterious effects on the human body.
In this article records the case of five individuals who self-initiated a low-carb diet found themselves without frequent symptoms of heart-burn and indigestion. It is published in an alternative therapy journal, but it’s still peer-reviewed.
The Pay Off
So, I started an extremely low carbohydrate diet about two weeks ago. The main purpose was precisely to decrease symptoms of heartburn that had become more frequent that non-heartburn. My existence had become somewhat miserable because if I happened to even eat a small snack, within minutes I would feel very full and bloated. I would have heartburn (even if I took medicine prior to eating) and the full feeling would last for several hours. If I ate lunch at work, I usually was not able to eat dinner or go to the gym at night. The only way to get food in prior to the gym was to eat around 10 am, then just be full and miserable all day at work. This started around March, but the heart burn goes back to my early twenties.
Anyhow, I started the diet, eschewing the conventional wisdom that fatty foods lead to heartburn. For the first two days, I ate less than 20 grams of carbohydrates, continued drinking coffee, and obtained most of my carbohydrates from sauerkraut, spinach, and mushrooms. My protein and fat came from butter and meat. I expected my digestion to remain slow, but to at least experience less heartburn. Within two days, I had my first day with no heartburn and no medication. Upon increasing my carbs to about 50 grams per day, and allowing myself one “cheat day a week,” I have had only one serious experience of heartburn and 7 light flare-ups that went away as soon as I took an antacid or dissipated by the time I walked to the medicine cabinet. My digestion has sped up as well. Just Tuesday I ate a rather large lunch and was able to hit the gym by 3:45 without losing my food after deadlift.
So, despite conventional wisdom to the contrary, a high-fat, low-carb diet may assist with the relief of symptoms related to GERD and indigestion.
I tried the carnivorous diet to contribute data for N Equals Many. During it I had no heartburn at all. This makes sense.
Researchers have found that under the typical conditions of care for obese and overweight individuals that:
“current nonsurgical obesity treatment strategies are failing to achieve sustained weight loss for the majority of obese patients. For patients with a BMI of 30 or greater kilograms per meters squared, maintaining weight loss was rare and the probability of achieving normal weight was extremely low. Research to develop new and more effective approaches to obesity management is urgently required.(58)”
The article isn’t entirely pessimistic and it ends on a positive note, I recommend reading it.
The point I wish to highlight is that once a certain threshold of weight gain is reached, it can be difficult or impossible to reverse.
I do not mean to take away hope from people who have overfatted themselves. The data reviewed was from the UK primary care database. That means, it doesn’t include people who see dietitians, personal trainers, or who take personal ownership of their own well-being through research and hard work. That means it doesn’t include you. Why? Because if you read this blog you aren’t the kind of person who lets a statistic enslave you.
My doctor friends tell me that it is rare for patients to respond positively to non-surgical and non-prescription intervention recommendations. And there is some evidence that doctors often don’t tell patients that they are over-weight. The same article linked in the previous sentence indicates that many doctors to not feel competent to help patients lose weight and keep it off.
As the Fildes article states, “the greatest opportunity for tackling the current obesity epidemic may be found outside primary care (58).” While your doctor may not be able to help you lose weight or prevent you from gaining it, you can choose to do it. You can lift weights, you can base your diet on meat, eggs, and veggies. You can throw away all of your junk food. You can walk every day. You can lift 3 days a week. You can make food your fuel rather than your fun. You can do these things. And if you finished reading this post, you will.
Alison Fildes et al., “Probability of an Obese Person Attaining Normal Body Weight: Cohort Study Using Electronic Health Records,” American Journal of Public Health 105, no. 9 (July 16, 2015): 54–59.