Monday, February 25

You Choose! The March of Madness for PJ.

OK. For days, I've been thinking about this dilemma. I've been alternatively angsting and shrugging it off. I've been making excuses, I've been avoiding it altogether, I've been secretly wondering what's wrong with me. The problem is simple:

I don't know what I want to do. It's not a matter of not being ABLE to do something. If I make a firm decision to do something, I do it. It's a matter of the firm decision requiring, usually, some degree of 'want' for that given thing. Otherwise it's not a commitment, it's a whim.


When I first heard of lowcarb, it was easy. Eat <40 carbs! Gosh. Not exactly rocket science if you passed 4th grade math.

But then I discovered that my asthma and allergies were caused by gluten, so I should avoid that, which wiped out all my 'fake bread' lowcarb tortillas and Carbquik and so forth, darn it. For my own good in more ways than one, but STILL.

Granted, my high weight is over 500# and now I'm 375# which isn't a good weight but is a significantly better weight than where I started. I could barely walk to the car when I began; now I can shovel stuff in the garden.

But then I started listening to advice.

Less than 20 carbs! More than 40, under 70. Carb cycling! Calorie cycling! Keep calories to more than 1200. Keep calories to less than 2500. Reduce your fat. Increase your fat! Eat too much fat and you won't lose weight. No, eat coconut oil by the tablespoon! Veggies aren't needed, do meat & egg only! No, add at least six veggies a day to your plan. Count spices to the gram for carbs! No, ignore spices. Deduct fiber from your carbs! No, everything counts. Count sugar alcohol carbs! No, those don't count. Don't eat alternative sugars, that will KIIILLLLLL YOUUUUU. Go ahead and eat them daily, hell it keeps ME on plan. Try slimfast! Avoid frankenfoods. Take supplements! A good daily. And magnesium. Which must have calcium too. And Vitamin E. And Vitamin D. And Vitamin C. And don't forget the B vitamins are important. And folic acid, can't forget that! And water, you've got to drink a lot of water! How much is a lot? More than you're drinking. And exercise is "non-negotiable"! Never mind, it's what you eat that matters. No, go walking! No, do cardio! Here's a good stretch video. No, you must lift weights!

You know this is what it's like. Information overload and the more you read the more conflicting information you have, until you're a useless little ball of confused apathy whining about what a pain in the butt it all is so let's just do Taco Bell.


Well the last 12 week cycle sucked. For six+ weeks I was on plan, and I lost 17#. My goal for the 12 was 30. For the next ~4 weeks, I was more off-than-off, eating rather like I used to before I went lowcarb, which is to say, utter crap. For the next two weeks, I sort of took turns eating LC then not, which was pointless. I gained back what I'd lost, then lost a few more, ending up finally only 8# lower than when I began. Here's the tragic tale in picture:

OK, I could have lost no weight at all. I could have actually gained weight (and given how badly I ate for half of that period, am rather surprised I didn't). I really have nothing to complain about.

I'm complaining.

Because I seem to have lost my interest in any specific approach to food. It's just food. It's just pills in a jar. Who gives a flying pig. Me! I LOVE FOOD! And yet somehow, lately, the whole subject is just boring the snot out of me. I don't know WHAT I want to do. I don't really have any particular preference!

And you know what? I'm starting to think it doesn't even matter that much. That no matter WHAT "plan" or agenda I chose, if I did it consistently, I would probably lose a little weight. A little defined as, vastly less than I should, given my BMI, if metabolism were based on math (as people pretend) instead of chemistry. A little defined as, more than none, which is a good thing no matter what, but a better thing the more it is.

I know I should have a goal. I know I should be eating according to some kind of intelligent plan, since when I don't plan, I'm doomed.

I know there are a million things that are important. The food. The drink. The supplements. The exercise. And a lot of detail within every one of those. Some impacted by what I can't eat (gluten or high-carb) vs. what I won't eat (rutabagas, seafood, brussell sprouts); impacted by what I can't do (normal exercise or constant anything) vs. what I can do (mild walking, simple weight lifting, max 2-3 times/wk); impacted by what I should do (take supplements all the freakin time, drink 2 gallons of water a day) vs. what I usually do (remember them once a month if I'm lucky, drink a quart of water and four diet sodas).

Geez. That's exhausting to keep track of especially when what seems "right" or "most appropriate" seems to change by the day.

So here is a challenge for the many experienced lowcarbers out there. March is coming up in 5 days. Present a plan for me that is:

1 - LOWCARB AND SIMPLE (not 'cycling' and not 'moderate carb' and not 'atkins by the book according to OWL modified by xyz...')

2 - HAS NO MORE THAN FIVE MAIN RULES (though a given rule can have details, e.g. if supplements is one of the rules it can have a list/dosage, if fat is one of the rules it can have types/quantity)

3 - WITHIN THE PARAMETERS ABOVE (no seafood or gluten etc.)

Here's what I will do:

1. I will choose one of them and officially follow it for March, from the 3rd to the 31st, four full weeks starting on a Monday -- because that is how my weight spreadsheet is set up LOL.

2. I will track and graph my weight every day

3. AND how I feel every day

4. AND what I ingest/do every day (I use a digital gram scale for measures)

5. AND do measurements before/after,

and at the end of the month we will all see how well that given plan worked out for my body. I may not be perfect on it but I'll track what I do so it's fairly known what degrees of it I may have screwed up.

MY THEORY IS, that since I don't have ANY given goal-setting plan that inspires me enough to make a commitment to it, that instead, I will make a commitment to someone ELSE: the commitment just happens to involve a given lifestyle plan.

Can you do it?

FIVE RULES. That's all. Submit your ideas!! I need some options. :-)


Saturday, February 23

Meeting your Meat

It was 1998, and I had moved to Texas for a contract at Lockheed Martin doing website design. The people I was staying with temporarily had a hobby ranch, and the man of the house, named Guy, a retired Marine, was planning to kill a male pig for an upcoming in-ground barbecue. Guy was a good fellow, working to establish a civilian life, coming home with some PTSD from having been an active participant in 'not a war' that was 'not in Central America' for some years.

I asked if I could help/witness the pig's killing and butcher. This completely freaked out everybody who knew me, of course. I was once a vegetarian for nearly five years solely because of my love for animals and my sense of horror about the conditions our food industries imposed upon them. I can't even go to the animal shelter without nearly having an emotional breakdown about all the little sentient furred souls I can't rescue and take home. (As an aside, this explains the title of one of my blogs, The 8-Cat Garden...)

But it was a guilt issue. A moral issue, the way I saw it. I felt like it was unfair that I got faceless meat in shrink wrap in the store. I felt like everybody who eats meat, just once, ought to have to witness that something gave its life for them. I knew it would upset me. But I felt like it was a sort of a requirement: if a pig was going to die so we could have a barbecue, what right had I to complain that I "had to watch" -- surely, the pig had a more legit complaint about all this than me. I felt like you know, if it traumatizes me, then frankly that's fair.

A little surprised, he was, but Guy said, ok, sure. It was getting dark, just barely on the twilight side of dusk, as we were late to start.

For a former Marine, he was pretty dense about firepower--possibly he had not actually killed a hog before, as I know he was pretty new to the hobby ranch. He normally hunted deer. To say hogs have thick skulls is an understatement. He should have been using a .44 or so. He used a .22, I think.

We went into the fenced barn area and put all of the animals into the barn... except that pig. My heart wrenched. I can anthropomorphize inanimate objects, so you better believe I can project entire situational awareness and emotion onto any animal larger than a caterpillar. I imagined a sense of confusion and dread settling over the varied inhabitants of the barn.

I imagined a sense of panic on the hog's part as he realized that he was suddenly alone in the dirt yard, and there stood the human with a rifle. A sense of guilt for what hadn't even happened yet overwhelmed me. I nearly started crying for the pig. I felt so sorry about the whole situation. I felt like, if I were him, I would be looking to me, the other unarmed human, begging, hoping for some miracle to occur and save me. Like a spider in the bathtub, trying so desperately to save its own life that even I, terrified of them, save them and put them outside, just for the ethics of it all.

I had just been talking to the pig through the fence earlier. Had visited it for a few days in fact. Had another animal tried to attack it, I would have defended it. Yet here I was helping kill it. I wondered if doing so out of deliberation instead of 'instinct' like animals made humans sociopathic. Then again, maybe one reason humans are sometimes sociopaths and animals aren't, is because thanks to the addition of some degree of autonomous awareness, we NEED to be able to shift into that when necessary: like for killing our food, even if we loved it 24 hours before, even if we are personally not hungry right that second, but planning ahead.

But I was not about to make Guy suffer me being a wimp about it. So I stood stoically, a rope in my hand for the later hauling, and waited quietly.

Guy aimed and fired. It was a perfect shot.

Except, of course, that only being a .22 and at a little bit of distance, it did not remotely kill the pig. The pig screamed in pain, a truly bone-chilling sound, and took off running. I stood with my back against the wood of the barn, holding the rope he had given me, my stomach clenched, my jaws clenched, not even breathing in my horror. The pig ran blindly around the barnyard, a frenetic repeat figure-8 of no escape, marking its path in blood.

Finally, Guy was able to get a lock on it and shot it again. It screamed again, and now it was -- and fairly, I'd say -- mortally pissed off, in addition to being in horrible pain and terror.

This isn't good. A fairly large pissed off hog is not an animal to mess with. Pigs are only cute and cuddly when they are not large, male, and enraged. The pig loped around the yard and turned, clearly rushing toward me now.

I stood there in shock, thinking as fast as I could, given that I had already completely locked up in trauma. Guy couldn't shoot it again now; at that point, he might have shot ME, as he was nearly on the other side of the barnyard. I considered trying to run out the little gate, but I didn't want to let the pig out, because there were farm dogs all over -- dogs that travel in packs and most definitely will attack anything covered in blood. The pig. Possibly even me.

Marine training apparently kicked in. Boy did he move fast.

Guy took three steps running sideways across the yard at an angle and literally leapt into the air, flying over the top of the pig as it ran under him toward me, and landed on him like a wild scripted TV wrestling stunt, a big serrated hunting knife in one hand, his other wrapping around the pig's neck to hold on, which after faltering once under his weight (though he was a fairly thin fellow), instantly started half-dragging him forward.

The pig was now really screaming. Blood was gushing all over the pig, Guy, the ground, and the pig was still running toward me. Guy pulls himself forward and with his right hand literally starts sawing through the jugular of the pig's neck, trying to stop it before it got to me, trying to kill it the only way left, given the total failure of the gun to do the job. Saw-saw-SCREEEEEEEAM-gush, pig falters, pig resumes dragging, saw-saw-SCREEEEEAM -- I think you get the idea.

Guy is kind of yelling something at me that I can't make out over the pig's screams, as they get closer to me. (This is all happening at ridiculous speed, although my retelling makes it sound much longer.) The back of my head translated all this to, "He is probably saying something like, 'Get the hell out of the way!'", but I'm wondering what I can do to help him -- I have a rope in my hands, and I hold it tight in my fists, leaning over a little, ready to try and wrap it around the hog's neck and twist tight while moving to the side if it reaches me, probably futile and dangerous, but the only thing I could think of.

But just at the last moment, the pig faltered again and finally fell, overcome by Guy's weight and its own blood loss, gushing from the neck, bleeding at my feet, as a pool of thick red spreads over the dirt where we are all gathered in a tight little frantic knot by the barn door. Guy is still hanging on to him like a linebacker on the ground with a tackle, breathing hard. He looks up at me, covered in blood and dirt, and meets my eyes for a rather long moment.

Forget the pig. Never piss off a Marine.

Through this entire event I've made not a single sound. Inside my head though, I had a "thought loop." That is something I've gotten at times in my life when I am so mentally affected by something -- extreme mortification or fear -- that literally some single, simple thought just plays over and over and over in my mind. I couldn't stop my head.

I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry.

Guy got up, and took the rope from me, and wrapped it around the pig, tied some special knot I guess, and starts dragging it. I carried the rifle, and we left the barnyard and went around to the front of the property, an out-building next to the house, and he took the pig and hung it up in this area where he normally skins other things (like deer I think).

Guy went to clean up a little. Silently, with every muscle in my body still tensed, my stomach feeling like iron, I just stood there and looked at it for a long time.

It was chilly outside, not that I felt the temperature. Its head hung down, with a big terrible gash at the neck, and as blood ran out in a small but steady stream onto the dirt, thick steam rose up from the gaping wound where body heat hit the air.

I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry.

But as I stood there for quite a long time, a curious thing occurred. My perspective started shifting. I felt it happening inside me, like a change in awareness of some kind.

I began to realize that for me, it was not the pig anymore. I no longer felt like, "This is the mangled body of the pig I was talking to yesterday." Rather, I felt like, "This is a carcass." I no longer had a sense of spirit, of identity, of sentience.

It just seemed like meat now.


The next morning its butchered carcass went into the barbecue pit.

I didn't really like the taste of it though. I never much liked pork aside from bacon and sausage (though I've learned to like loin) and I dislike anything even slightly gamey. If that death experience didn't get a lot of nasty chemicals running through it, nothing would.

I feel that spiritually, I brought that trauma on myself by basically feeling that I deserved trauma as part of this event. I certainly got a little.

I do wish the whole death had gone better, for goodness sake. For the pig's sake. And even for Guy's.

But I don't feel guilty.

And the odd thing is, I haven't felt guilty for eating meat since that night.

We are hunters. Animals are prey. If we were not killing them, something in the wild would be. If I had to, I would hunt. And while I would be sorry it was necessary, I would not feel guilty about doing it.


P.S. I was reminded of this experience thanks to a post and comments over at Tracy's "Fear and Loathing in the Kitchen" blog. (Which seems almost appropriate for the subject matter of today!)

Monday, February 11

The Ex-Dieter Complex

They say that ex-Catholics and ex-Smokers can be recognized by others from miles away. I wonder if this goes for dieting, too.

One of the more sociologically interesting things about the whole subject of obesity is how people react to not wanting to be fat.

I don't mean by dieting. (Actually, dieting may be one of the least interesting subjects to me on earth right now. I'm simply not in the zone for it to fascinate me at the moment. I have, temporarily, reduced my eating life to two simple truisms: Eating healthily is good; Eating poorly is bad. This doesn't actually determine my diet. It simply provides moral commentary on it from the background of my attendant guilt complexes.)

I mean by how they behave. There is more to diet-related behavior than what you put in your mouth, of course. Including a good deal of what spews out from it.

Recently I was reading an article from the Sunday Times by India Knight, called Face it, fatty, your genes are innocent (2008Feb10).

There was something curious about it, which was this: the writer, once you waded through the swamp of scathing insult, and if you happened to know something about her aside from this piece, is actually promoting a low-carb eating approach. This is rare enough to see in mainstream media that it's usually almost a celebration.

Alas, the article didn't actually say anything useful enough to do readers any good, but, I don't think that was the point of the article anyway.


I feel that what the article reveals is something that has nothing to do with food, but with prejudice, and the way that socially people adapt to living within a culture permeated by that prejudice.

Obesity-ism has gotten so pervasive and so brutal that fat people have begun developing a world-sized case of Stockholm Syndrome. They now identify more with the people terrorizing them than with their own feelings or those of others in the same role, past or present.

In part to psychologically distance themselves from the horrible role of victim, they become the aggressor, victimizing others with the same demeaning and snide, patronizing and invalidating forms of insult that bullies have used since time began, no matter what the "-ism" being practiced.

Knight wrote:
Fat gene, my foot. Funny how it seems to manifest itself only in the prosperous, cake-guzzling carb-and-sugar-laden West. Where are the obese Sudanese toddlers? The porky Ethiopians?

The Gary Taubes book "Good Calories, Bad Calories," debunked the idea that obese people are only found in 'rich' countries. Foods that create obesity are available even to--and often moreso for--the poor. I did appreciate that she recognized carbs as a culprit, obviously, but this didn't seem to take the argument anywhere different than the typically misinformed dietary commentary, which is a bit odd.

She continues:

The excuses that people make for their own fatness drive me mad (I know whereof I speak and am not wholly unsympathetic: I was very fat myself at one point), and you can just see the mileage they’re going to get out of being told that it’s all down to genes. It’s not. It’s down to taking control of your life and down to choice: you can choose to be fat or choose to be normal. You can choose to make sacrifices or choose to be lazy -- and if you choose to be lazy and remain fat, then fair enough, but accept that it’s your own doing and take responsibility for it.

All the mileage they're going to get out of it. I see.

I agree with her on the part about responsibility. In fact, I don't know anybody -- including just about every morbidly obese person I know thanks to my involvement in the lowcarb world -- who would disagree with the above perspective about responsibility.

But then when I step back and think about it, I realize: exactly who, in today's world, is NOT considered responsible for their obesity?

Despite that thyroid can add weight, despite that other hormones can add to weight, despite that physical ailments and medications can contribute to either gaining weight or not being able to lose it, do you ever -- have you EVER -- seen one of the near-infinite number of fattists, in the midst of their sneers and remarks and jokes about fat people, build-in the caveat that perhaps they should be compassionate as it might not be the fat person's fault? No? Because I never have. Ever. Even in the rare cases where a person IS fat and it is genuinely something they did not "do" (even via ignorance or accident), I have never seen anybody of the nature to snark about "fat people" or "why people are fat", make the slightest allowance for that.

So let's turn that perspective a bit: have you ever known a seriously fat person, no matter what their eating habits, who felt zero sense of guilt or shame or blame for their weight? Who honestly believed that no matter what, they were somehow "totally not responsible" for their weight? I know plenty who will say that little they do NOW affects their weight or metabolism, but I never met a fat person who considered themselves completely unresponsible for their weight in the first place.

Sure, I've met fat people who will attribute less cause to their eating than they should, and I've met fat people who have seriously said (and I happen to believe them) that they eat what person X they live with eats, who is 1/3 their size. But I've never met someone who simply projected the entire situation onto some force outside them, like it had nothing to do with them at all. I think I would probably consider that a form of pathology.

Put it this way: I've never met someone who so whined about it being totally not their fault, that they would NEED someone in an article telling them that genetics don't matter, they just need to quit eating pie.

Someone needed to be told that?

On the contrary, what I have mostly seen is a big world filled with people who feel if anything such a ridiculous level of guilt, shame, and humiliation about being fat, that en masse in the USA alone they are willing to spend upwards of 30 BILLION dollars annually to try and deal with it. They are willing to buy and try infinite magazine advice and TV infomercials and books and more, to help them deal with it; they are dedicated to buying frozen meals and attending meetings and counting calories and weighing protein etc. all of this to "deal with it." To deal, in great part, with their sense of overwrought responsibility, with their sense of utter mortification for wearing the modern sin-mark of Cain on the outside: FAT.

They don't feel empowered. They just feel to blame.

So who exactly is this writer trying to save from themselves with the so-witty sarcasms of, "Fat genes, you see. More pie? Frappuccino with sweet whipped cream to wash it down?"

Maybe in her reality, fat people just love being fat, deliberately go out and do something to stay that way every single day, and feel zero sense of responsibility, let alone any nearly crushing, mind-bending shame that results in not wanting to leave the house, feeling like a personal failure, or whatever (I hear many variations on this theme from others over time). All those self-responsible, socially humiliated, media-mortified fatties are living in MY world apparently.

She added:

It’s no good wailing about rising levels of obesity if you show no interest whatsoever in trying to understand why people overeat in the first place. People overeat for psychological reasons, not physical ones.

Hmmm. Well, I do know many people who say they eat for psychological reasons. I personally think we attribute far too much to psychology, and I'd like to see obesity research and approach as a whole get back to biology where it ought to be rooted, and out of the armchair of psychotherapy. But I do agree that getting your head right is the first step (for certain), and that a lot of "eating disorders" have firm correlation with psychology. I simply suspect that nearly every serious eating disorder, however, is at least equally if not moreso rooted in physiology. As long as we simply "blame" people for either over-eating or eating poorly, rather than look at what physiology may be driving that, we're unlikely to learn much.

Blaming psychology for fat is an existing precedent, and one of the reasons why obesity is equated with some failing of character or morality. Because it is not seen as a disease -- as "a disorder of excess fat accumulation" as Taubes put it -- but rather, is seen as a psychological state, it can be grafted onto all the assumptions about what's in your head: gluttony and sloth, greed and laziness, emotional weakness, etc.

So while I agree totally with the "personal responsibility" angle, still what I see is just another harmony to that same getting-very-old insulting refrain applied with a broad stroke to all fat people:

Above all, we need to get to grips with the fact that fatness is a personal choice, one that can’t be blamed on anybody - or anything - other than our own greedy behaviour.

For whatever reason, there doesn't seem to be any ordinary humans involved here, only the far-extreme of greedy gluttons who won't be responsible at all.

It appears since India lost weight, she is now entitled to be just as stereotyping and insulting of fat people now as I'm sure others were when she herself was overweight.

In some people, weight loss brings greater wisdom. In others, it just brings the opportunity to leap over to the other side of the fence, and in the determination to not be a victim anymore, to become one of the victimizers.

It is a bummer when I actually AGREE with 90% of what someone says, and yet despite this, still manage to feel like they provided little in an article which could be construed as helpful in any way, and plenty which is pretty plainly hurtful.


It's a fine line. I've seen people who lost weight on low carb have a hard time finding that line: the good intent that wants to demand people take responsibility, step up to the plate (no pun intended), and go to bat for themselves, believe that they have the power to shape their lives and their bodies, and refuse to let anything get in their way, is a GOOD thing.

But there's that fine line to walk, where just on the other side of it, one is ignoring every possible mitigating circumstance, ignoring every detail that makes a unique human situation, and that leaves a person "where they are now" no matter what/how it came to be. That a person IS fat, does not mean they are doing something to be that way right now; it does not mean they don't consider themselves responsible. They may eat better than 90% of the population and work hard at it every day and still be fat.

The whole approach is basically the attitude, "If you want to be fat fine, but don't blame anybody but yourself," but who actually does blame anybody else? Nobody I know. You start wherever you are, and you move forward by believing you can and you're worth it. It is the pompous editorialists who assign blame for obesity: most fat people don't assign it anywhere outside themselves.

The very psychology that makes people feel empowered enough to make a change, that makes people feel strong and optimistic enough to believe they can do it, that this can work for them, is the same psychology that is simply mortified by snappy jibes about their gluttony, by assumptions about their assumed major eating disorders, and by snarky public insults that equate the size of their thighs to the degree of their moral inferiority.

We are taught all our lives to hate fat, and by extension, to resent and belittle fat people. It is not so different than women who clearly hold a sexist bias against women in general, despite being one, because that is the cultural mindset they have grown up in. It is more than possible to grow up inside a culture with pervasive prejudice and, despite being part of that group suffering the bias, to learn to hold that bias yourself.

Even in decent people, even in well intentioned people, the bias still stands out at times, highlighted by the tendency to put emphasis not on proactive shared-empowerment, but rather, on negative demean-the-assumed-weakness.


I call it the ex-dieter complex. Now that they lost some weight, and it doesn't matter how, they feel completely at ease not only sharing the same insulting prejudices that the culture at large already suffers, but doubly righteous in doing so, since "they used to be fat."

Fat is one of the few situations of prejudice that would breed this, of course. People cannot behave that way because "they used to be black." Only in the case of obesity can the victim become a stereotyping, insulting bully and actually walk away from it feeling as if they've done those they just insulted some kind of favor.