Ten-years and About that “diet”…

(Part 72 of 72 in ~ My Journey)

Recently a friend of mine emailed me and asked, “Hey Craig, tell me about that diet you went on a few years ago.” He was referring to what I did from ~2008 to ~2016—the photos above were taken in 2008 and 2016. Below is my response and this just happens to all coincide with the “ten year challenge” currently all over social media.

I did a few things. Each of these took a few months of trying/fiddling until they felt comfortable.

I tried to avoid refined carbs like the plague; I tried to eliminate all added sugar, all refined grain (bread, pasta, etc), and even eliminated granola which was a go-to breakfast staple (with plain yogurt). What really happened was that it forced me to become aware of the carbohydrates I was eating. I still ate pasta and bread and even sweets, but by focusing on, “I am the type of person who eats fish, meat and veggies,” I was able to shift my diet significantly. I started to make choices such as, “if I’m going to eat pasta, I’m not eating shitty pasta, I’m going to my favorite Italian restaurant so I really enjoy it.” I did not count calories. This was not fun as I [in my opinion] was addicted to the blood sugar spikes from eating a lot of carbohydrates. Shifting my dietary balance had the effect of changing my energy metabolism; it caused changes in my liver function and cellular mitochondria performance.

After many months of that, I next worked on my addiction to eating. I started intermittent fasting. (Without consulting my doctor I just jumped all in.) I did (and still do, many years later) “16/8” intermittent fasting; meaning I’m fasting 16 hours-a-day, and permit myself an 8-hour “feeding window.” (Aside: What I now call ‘normal human eating.’) The way I like to do this is to aim for consuming no food after about 7:30pm. That makes it easy to have a normal dinner, including social eating which is super important to me. Then I basically don’t eat breakfast. Around 11:30, (16 hours after 7:30 the previous day,) I have my break-fast while everyone else is calling it “lunch.” Most people never notice I’m doing this. I could talk for hours about intermittent fasting. BE CAREFUL with this; you can faint, or have low-blood sugar problems depending on how wacked your metabolism is.

It’s important to note that I did the above things separately, one after the other. My reading indicated that reducing carbohydrate intake would force my cells to up-regulate all the cellular processes for burning fat—my own pre-installed fat. So my “lower carbohydrates” work was in preparation for the intermittent fasting work. If I was planning to not eat for 16 hours, my body will have to switch to mobilizing the fat from fat cells; the liver has to be able to put glucose into my blood stream from stored-like-a-battery glycogen in the liver, and from glucose created chemically from other substrates. Those in particular were cellular processes that I was hardly using for decades, when I was always-eating and eating lots of carbohydrates.

So the big picture for me was to change my energy metabolism—to recover my [natural, normal, hey humans are awesome] ability to run on various fuels, (be that carbohydrates, protein, or fat I put in my face, or the pre-installed fat.) I did that by first reducing carbohydrates, and then starting to fast.

I’ve written some of my thoughts up on my web site, but it’s all scattered about. Let me know if you want more information on any of the above and I can give you more and point you to specific resources. If you want to learn more, start with my health or self-improvement tags.

All that said…


I can train like a machine all morning, not having eaten—in fact, if I eat I feel worse when I try to work hard. I’m considering using longer fasts (days, even up to a week) because there are long-term benefits seen in some studies; fast for a week, have improved blood markers for months. But this is definitely out in the land of, “I’m experimenting on myself.” (If you want to learn about long-term fasts, check out Peter Atia’s podcast, The Nothing Burger, it’s a long discussion of a one-week long fast he did with insane amounts of medical science.)

Finally—this is subtle but important—I did not intentionally increase my physical activity. It was not, “I’m exercising to get in shape.” My activity level spontaneously went up in response to feeling better. “I feel like running 2 miles,” is a thought I now have [sometimes] and now I can go run just for fun. It’s a virtuous cycle though; I feel better, I feel like more activity, I feel more better, I feel like more activity, …


Thought experiment

We should apply the same ruthlessness to our own habits. In fact, we are studying philosophy precisely to break ourselves of rote behavior. Find what you do out of rote memory or routine. Ask yourself: Is this really the best way to do it? Know why you do what you do—do it for the right reasons.

~ Ryan Holiday, p24 The Daily Stoic

I sometimes imagine that the things I can choose to do can be placed on an aspirational spectrum. It’s not a linear, ordered list, but rather a thought experiment to do the pair-ordering; for any two things I could do right now, which is higher on the aspirational spectrum?

I could go even farther than just the pair-wise comparing and imagine all the things in my life might be orderable as…

a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z

Fortunately—not a typo—the incessant work of ordering things to pick what to do next is exhausting. It forces me to notice that when I zoom out, I could imagine I’m doing things in the “j” through “q” range…

a b c d e f g h i ( j k l m n o p q ) r s t u v w x y z

I can make things better simply by making some space in my life. If I just drop that “j”-thing entirely I can be comfortable in knowing I’m improving, without having to actively micro-worry about everything all day. Dropping that “j”-thing leaves me with…

a b c d e f g h i j ( k l m n o p q ) r s t u v w x y z

Whereas before my average was between “m” and “n”, just by eliminating something from the lower side, my average moves up. Clearly I can improve my life appreciably by occassionally thinking about all the things I’m doing, and identifying a lower-end thing to drop.

Yes, of course things aren’t really this simple. But it took me a long time to learn the lesson that removing something can produce marked improvement. Some would say that removing is the very definition of how to approach perfection.


The absurdity


We usually (though not always) recognize the absurdity in blaming animals, inanimate objects, or the weather for the annoyances they cause us. Shit happens, and most reasonable people can accept that. But somehow, if we can in any way pin the inconveniences in our lives on a failing of another human being, we are quick to do it.

~ David Cain

Replace every instance of we with I in the above quote and it once fit me perfectly. I sometime mention the fundamental attribution error and that is a significant part of what he’s talking about. But there’s more to it than just that error.

This is something I’ve managed to transform into a snide condescnesion; for example, when driving, I often think, “…aaaaaand, cut me off,” just before drivers do so. I recall how I used to get angry in such situations. Really angry. Fortunately, more than a decade ago, after a lot of meditation, I learned to first witness the anger, then to know when to expect it, and finally to not bother creating it.

Current project: Witness the condescention. Learn to expect the condescension.


How to make life agreeable


You’ll feel much less of a need to control outcomes, which — in a brilliant instance of irony — frees your capacity to control your response, and create an outcome you like. If there is some action you want to take, you can take it with grace and cool-headedness instead of frustration and desperation.

~ David Cain

This reminds me of my thought about enjoying standing in line at the post office.  Not in the sense of, “I’m great, I have this mastered.”  Rather in the sense that I recall what it has felt like and I recall the impatience and urge to get away from situations which I had decided were disagreeable.

Obviously I’ve not mastered this; there are still plenty of instances where I judge a situation unworthy and begin my squirming to escape.  But, I’m making progress.  I’d go so far as to say that I’m getting comfortable sitting in my inability to sit comfortably in situations I’d normally resist.


Mistakes in thinking about the future


One of the most liberating discoveries I ever had was that thinking has an insidious snowball effect. Thoughts trigger other thoughts, and if your initial thought carries even a hint of insecurity or worry, subsequent thoughts can explore it and magnify it until you’re profoundly agitated. You can end up pulling your hair out and dreading the rest of your life, just from idle thinking.

~ David Cain

The snowball effect is probably my biggest problem. Small things—now that I think about it, it’s always small set-backs—kick off these long trains of thinking.

Have you ever heard a freight train start to move? It’s called “stretching out” because every rail car adds a few inches of slop… space in the couplers, etc. If you’re at the front, you hear the engine throttle up, and this crashing sound starts at the engine and moves away along the train.

If you’re not at the front, if you’re just somewhere randomly along the train, what you hear is this eerie, rolling-crashing invisible monster that comes tearing along at high speed and goes past you, but nothing is moving. Yet.

This reminds me of my trains of thought. They start with the first nudge of negative thought which sets this terrible monster running along the train. At first, nothing appears to be moving. But slowly that nightmare train begins to move, and if it gets up to speed it can take me days to recover from the ensuing disaster.


Existential boredom


Toohey argues that boredom, unlike primary emotions like happiness, sadness, fear, anger, surprise, or disgust, takes a secondary role, alongside “social emotions” like sympathy, embarrassment, shame, guilt, pride, jealousy, envy, gratitude, admiration, and contempt. He delineates between two main types of boredom — simple boredom, which occurs regularly and doesn’t require that you be able to name it, and existential boredom, a grab-bag condition that is “neither an emotion, nor a mood, nor a feeling” but, rather, “an impressive intellectual formulation” that has much in common with depression and is highly self-aware, something Toohey calls the most self-reflective of conditions.

~ Maria Papova

In that article, there’s an interesting list of self-assessment statements—one of those self-assessments where you rate your level of agreement with each statement, total your points, and see where the Sorting Hat places you on a spectrum of total scores. There was a time not so long ago when I would have immediately answered the questions, totalled my score, and investigated the implications of where I had been sorted.

It would have gone like this: For each question, “here’s my current level of agreement to this statement, …what should it be? …how do I move in that direction?” For the total score, “here’s where I am on this spectrum [of resistence to boredom], should I and could I move along the spectrum?” There would also have been enormous effort to consider the statements themselves, the methods used to compose them, are they the right tools to evaluate sorting within the spectrum, does the spectrum make sense, and so on. It would have all been very much analyze-then-act, all very much forward-looking—I’m at situation/position ‘A’ and how do I move towards ‘B’?

But when I read this article I had a completely new experience.

Novel. First time. Startling.

I read the statement, “in situations where I have to wait, such as in line, I get very restless.” My reaction was not, “score, 0, strongly disagree.” I had a flash of a feeling. A moment where I felt transported—not metaphorically speaking, but rather I felt myself standing in line at the post office. I could see it, hear it, the people, the employees, etc.


Pleasant in the way laying in a hammock in afternoon sun dappled through a tree’s leaves is pleasant. Pleasant, as in I felt a tiny pang of regret to realize my feet are currently chilly [winter, wood stove, hardwood floors; it’s not unpleasant, just visceral] and to be standing up on them would be nicer. Pleasant, as in it would be interesting to hear the small slices of Regular Life—yes, even the ill-behaved children and adults distracted on their phones—you get standing in a queue. Pleasant, as in…

Wait wat? “zero, strongly disagree” …and I was snapped back into at least vaguely gauging wether I was disagreeing or agreeing with the statements [I was all over the map by the way] as I skimmed the list before I moved on from the article.

‘Curiouser and curiouser,’ said Alice.


The only way out is through


But that won’t work. The “sickness” is not that some nasty people have come into power, but that human beings across the board are still working primarily from their stone-age instincts. The detractors of The Establishment are just as consumed by their own needs for personal power, righteousness, security and social dominance as the people they so proudly hate.

~ David Cain

To some extent, this article is cynical. Although, it’s not nearly as cynical as this pull-quote I’ve selected makes it sound.

After reading it, what interests me is the idea that the more difficult path of wading into the society—as opposed to trying to remain “untainted” by it—may be the correct course of action. I like the idea that, yes, there is a great deal wrong with humans, but nothing so wrong that can’t be fixed through the continued application of some compassion, reason, and logic (in no particular order.) I used to think it’d be easy to be happy if I was just in an idyllic environment, but that continuing to strive in a lesser environment was to take the higher road. But in more recent years I’ve been thinking that it may not be possible to be truly happy in an idyllic environment; that having something against which to measure oneself may be a necessary component of happiness.


Clutter and focus


When your environment is cluttered, the chaos restricts your ability to focus. The clutter also limits your brain’s ability to process information. Clutter makes you distracted and unable to process information as well as you do in an uncluttered, organized, and serene environment.

~ Erin Doland

My personal experience agrees. Having spaces set aside for whatever-it-is-you-want-to-do pays off. Sometimes that’s a dedicated space. But sometimes it’s a space which has multiple purposes, which I somehow convert when I’m changing uses.

Having a space which I intend to be uncluttered also gives me the opportunity to clean it up and prepare it for the activity. Sometimes I’m just not feeling the vibe I need to begin whatever-it-is, and taking a few minutes to prepare the space — and maybe prepare some coffee too ;) — puts me into a focused and energized mood.




The greatest revelations are not when you discover something new and profound, but when you actually apply something you already “knew.” That is when information becomes real wisdom. Only then is it finally able to change who you are instead of just what you think.

~ David Cain

I’ve been referring often to David Cain’s writing recently. Nothing wrong with that per se; it’s great stuff that makes me think. Anyway, you may wonder why that happens. Why do I seem to run in dashes of particular source material. It has to do with how I queue up reading material. I’ve some interesting hacks that I hope one day to share with the world. I hope.



(Part 71 of 72 in ~ My Journey)


The problem comes from how we deal with the feeling of insecurity. We might curl up and hide, lash out at someone in a hurtful way, harden our rigid views of the world so that everyone else is wrong and we’re continually angry. We might procrastinate and run to distraction, use social media to avoid feeling insecurity, try to control others or the world around us to end the feeling of insecurity.

~ Leo Babauta

I have been lucky—repeatedly over the course of several years—to have had Leo Babauta’s writing available to me. One theme that he repeats is the idea of being kind to one’s self.

The insecurity that I’m not good enough, in my own judgement, is deeply held. I regularly and often flee to easy comforts; it’s been many things over the years, but in the most recent years, it is food.

Not often enough, but sometimes, I find a way to practice being kind to myself. One that works well is: “Spend 30 minutes balancing on a rail. If you fall, simply get back on. Take your time. Be kind to yourself.” Each time I do this I know I will reach a barter-stage where I’m ready to be done. Each time I do this I know I will fall off often—it’s hard for me to even leave out the word “too,” from the phrase, “fall off too often.” Each time I do this it makes me sweat from the physical effort not from, (for example,) the fear. I do fear that some day this exercise will no longer work for me.