The Myth of Stress Notes

I just finished reading an interesting book on stress. I jotted down some of the key ideas.

The Myth of Stress: Where Stress Really Comes From and How to Live a Happier and Healthier Life
The Myth of Stress: Where Stress Really Comes From and How to Live a Happier and Healthier Life by Andrew Bernstein

The author states that stress is not a physical process with a psychological component, but a psychological process with a physical component. Stress doesn’t come from what’s going on in your life – it comes from your thoughts about what’s going on in your life.

…in reality, there is no such thing as a stressor. Nothing has the inherent power to cause stress in you. Things happen (divorce, layoffs, disease, etc.) and you experience stress – or you don’t – depending on what you think about of those things. Stress is a function of beliefs, not circumstances.

The book explains how stress originates from our thoughts, but the effects on our body, feelings, and behaviors are real. This reminded me a lot of my experience with overcoming back pain and understanding how the roots were psychological, but the pain was real. When I changed my thinking, the pain went away.

The Myth of Stress says that insight is the key to reducing or eliminating the effect of stress. And the author defines insight as the realization that what you had believed to be true is actually false so that the real truth emerges.

The book disagrees the wisdom that “time heals all wounds”, by stating that it is actually insight and not time. The problem is this insight can take a long time to arrive. People can spend days, months or years stuck on a problem. The key is to seek greater insight. This is done via worksheets.

Here is how the worksheet process works.

  1. Describe stressful feeling in a should or shouldn’t sentence.
  2. Rank feeling from 0-10.
  3. (a) How do you feel when you believe this? (b) How do you act when you feel this way?
  4. Write a negation of step 1 by adding “in reality at the beginning or “at this time” or “at that time” to the end.
  5. Write proof that supports the negation. Be thorough.
  6. (a) How do you feel when you see the truth of the negation? (b) What actions might come from this?
  7. Read your original statement again. How strongly do you feel this belief to be true now?

This process can lower the initial stress ranking several points.

stress

Photo by Amy McTigue

The book goes through many real examples on a variety of topics including:

  • Traffic
  • Anger
  • Conflict Resolution
  • Weight Loss
  • Success
  • Financial Happiness
  • Uncertainty
  • Broken Heart
  • Having Too Much To Do
  • Regret
  • Discrimination
  • Dying Too Soon

On being calm:

A stress-free life isn’t about trying to stay calm. Calm is your baseline state, and you contract away from it through false beliefs. From this perspective, the opposite of stress is not relaxation. The opposite of stress is education, releasing the contractions by having insights.

On cultural related stress:

The number of counterfactual beliefs in your head, not the number of figures in your bank account, determines how happy or unhappy you are with your life. Some cultures may circulate fewer of these beliefs, and as a result they more enjoy life more. But you don’t have to know what your fellow citizens are struggling with in order to increase your own happiness. Simply find the beliefs you have about how life should be different, and challenge them one by one. The more you do this, the more you’ll enjoy life.

If you are interested in digging into the specifics, The Myth of Stress is worth a read.

No More Low Carb Lies

The original title of this post “Tell Me Low Carb Lies” was confusing, so I renamed it.

I still recall exactly where I was when I discovered that Gary Taubes was wrong about his insulin theory of obesity. It was January 2012 and I was in Long Beach, California staying on the Queen Mary. Someone was trying to engage me in an email debate about carbs and insulin. I didn’t have my trusty copy of Good Calories, Bad Calories with me, so I began searching on concepts that I had learned and been repeating since late 2009.

There I was on the deck of the Queen Mary surfing the Internet looking for the evidence to defend Taubes theory. Only instead of finding the evidence, I found several criticisms. I went down a path that made me less sure and ultimately skeptical of everything that I had been so sure was correct.

Prior to my trip away from home and my GCBC book, I was aware there were those skeptical of his theory. I was there in April 2010 when Gary Taubes first met Stephan Guyenet at University of Washington, which was a year before they locked horns. At the time I recall thinking there was overlap between Taubes insulin theory and Guyenet’s whole food (WAPF) approach, so I didn’t purse it further.

One of the reasons I didn’t look into it more was because after 10 years of being weight stable at ~210, I had dropped to 190-195 rather effortlessly by lowering carbohydrates. My thinking was if Taubes is wrong then explain my ab definition. So there I was on the deck of the Queen Mary reading the series by James Krieger titled Insulin…an Undeserved bad Reputation and my faith in the insulin theory plummeted. Later I would read more validating Krieger on Carbsane.

So I was left with a mystery. Taubes was wrong, but I was leaner. What happened? Although it didn’t feel like I reduced calories, I did. Looking back I now believe the 3 elements that explain the fat loss were:

  1. Intermittent Fasting, which lead to a calorie reduction.
  2. Move to a more whole foods approach. Thanks to Paleo and WAPF, I was cooking much more at home. Whole foods are more satiating.
  3. Higher protein. When I reduced carbs, I likely added foods with higher protein. Protein reduces appetite more than carbs or fat.

Digging around on the Internet reading long scientific articles debunking the claims made by many low carb advocates can be tiring. Simple narratives are easier to explain than the more complex reasons why those narratives are false. Yesterday I was made aware of The Low Carb Myth: Free Yourself From Carb Myths, and Discover the Secret Keys That Really Determine Your Health and Fat Loss Destiny. I’m half way through the book and it is outstanding. In plain language it goes myth by myth destroying the lies propagated by the low carb community.

low-carb-myth
The Low Carb Myth: Free Yourself From Carb Myths, and Discover the Secret Keys That Really Determine Your Health and Fat Loss Destiny by Ari Whitten

If you are low carb and have an open mind, please check it out. There are reasons that low carb diets work and they are acknowledged in the book, but they aren’t the ones the carb hating low carb gurus are promoting. The Low Carb Myth is not an anti-low carb book. The Low Carb Myth is an anti-low carb dogma book. This book does a stellar job of advancing the discussion of fat loss by destroying the myths that are holding us back. I only wish this book was around in late 2009 when I first read GCBC.

5 Ideas From Food For Mood

Matt Stone just released a new book titled Food for Mood: Dietary and Lifestyle Interventions for Anxiety, Depression, and Other Mood Disorders. Like his other books it is an extension of the metabolism discussion. This particular book focuses on the role that our food and beverage choices and timing can have on both reducing or inducing anxiety.

food-for-mood
Food for Mood: Dietary and Lifestyle Interventions for Anxiety, Depression, and Other Mood Disorders by Matt Stone

For the most part I enjoyed the book. Here are some ideas from the book that I found most interesting.

#1 “Dieting lowers thyroid and raises cortisol with 100% consistency.”

I knew this to be true, but when I read that sentence again, I immediately thought of the person who has struggled with fat loss for years. It is very likely that past diets have put them into a higher stressed state before they “begin again” with another attempt to lose weight. The more years dieting, the greater the likelihood their metabolism has dropped as a result of lower thyroid and increased cortisol. Starting yet another diet is likely to fail without first addressing that stressed state.

#2 Dieting too hard can result in anxiety and poor sleep.

My #1 tip on the post Better Sleep for the Too Early Riser is Sleep Before Other Goals.

You may wish to gain muscle, lose weight or both. Maybe you have performance goals. Until you are sleeping like a champion, put them aside. Once you are sleeping better, body re-composition goals will become much easier. You do not want to stack stressors.

#3 Shallow and Slow Breathing Reduces Anxiety and Increases Metabolism

This was the most interesting part of the book to me. I was aware that slowing the breath reduces anxiety. However, I hadn’t though much about the depth of breath. The style of breathing discussed in the book is Buteyko. This is something I’ll be looking into more. The slow part makes sense to me. The shallow part doesn’t.

#4 You Can Induce Anxiety by Drinking Too Many Beverages

This is an extension of an idea that was discussed in more depth in his other books Eat For Heat and Diet Recovery 2. Basically drinking a lot of beverages can reduce body temperature. This lowers metabolism and can result in feelings of anxiousness. When I did my “Turn Up the Heat” experiment, I cut back on beverages. The result was I slept better and my body temperature went up by 1 degree. Not that I felt anxious before, but I did experience more calmness. I give part of that credit to drinking less water.

#5 Consume Salty and Starchy Foods During an Anxiety Attack

It doesn’t even have to be an anxiety attack. Anytime you are feeling stressed, salt seems to help. I use it my late night sleep dust. I’m also very aware of stressors and when they happen simultaneously I go for something like potato chips.

Other Ideas

Food For Mood also had sections on mood stability, depression and why increasing serotonin might decrease metabolism. At the time of this post, Food For Mood is available for FREE on Amazon.

Understanding Willpower

People believe I have amazing willpower. They see me giving up certain foods or habits and sticking with some form of restriction as evidence of that fact. And I believed my willpower was strong as well. Exactly two years ago, I gave up coffee for an entire month. Me! The guy who has been running the website INeedCoffee for 15 years. But something seemed off. If my willpower was so strong, why wasn’t I more successful? That answer came to me in an outstanding book recently.

I love accidentally finding gems. I was looking for another title on my library’s audio-book section and the system didn’t have what I was searching for. But I noticed in the search results, the book The Willpower Instinct. I am so glad I found it. It has been 3 weeks since I listened to it and the lessons are still resonating with me.

The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It
The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It by Kelly McGonigal Ph.D.

3 Types of Willpower

I learned there are three different types of willpower.

  1. I Will  (study early, meditate, go to the gym)
  2. I Won’t  (dieting, spending too much)
  3. I Want   (a complex goal you work towards)

I am very good at #2. I can give up certain foods, even those that I get tremendous enjoyment from in an instance and not slide back. Readers of this blog will see past experiments where I gave up all sorts of foods for 30 day tests. Because of a rule I made while still in middle school, I’ve never gambled* or even bought a lottery ticket my entire life.

What I’ve been less good about is the I Will and the I Want. I learned from the book that the fact my I Want is not clearly defined or in my case keeps changing makes it hard to gather the willpower to practice the I Will. I view the I Won’t portion of willpower as protection against failure and the I Will as actions moving toward success. But first the I Want must be defined or you won’t stick to your I Will and I Won’t goals.

The Enemy and Ally of Willpower

The enemy of willpower is distraction. Our primitive brains are geared towards the fight or flight response. That was essential for our survival in an unsafe world, but today instead of noticing movement from a potential threat in the bushes, we are being distracted by Twitter and Facebook.

The Willpower Instinct explains how to use Pause and Plan as a response to Fight or Flight. When we slow down, we are better able to exert self control and increase our willpower. Willpower is an internal battle between impulse and impulse control. Naming them as they surface will help.

One of the best ways to slow down is meditation. Meditation strengthens the prefrontal cortex, which improves our willpower skills. Like a muscle it gets stronger through exercise. Even as little as 5 minutes a day can help one develop greater willpower. Other ideas for improving willpower include slowing your breathing down to 4-6 breaths per minute. Slow breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system, increases heart variability, and provides a boost in willpower.

Going outdoors for a few minutes or lying down for 10 minutes are other methods for increasing willpower. In each case, you are removing yourself from responding to distractions in a Fight or Flight manner and letting Pause and Plan work for you.

distraction

Photo by Birger King

Be Excellent to Yourself

Probably the most important lesson from the book was on moralizing our willpower failures. There is a common belief that we need to get tough on ourselves when we fall short. Research has shown conclusively that this is more likely to lead to more failure. Forgiveness and empathy are the paths to greater success.

We want to show ourselves the same level of compassion that we would show a friend struggling to meet their goals. We do this by learning how to make friends with our future self. The book makes it clear we need to stop framing willpower challenges in moral terms.

Thinking in terms or right and wrong instead of what we really want will trigger competing impulses and self sabotaging behavior. For change to stick we need to identify with the goal itself not with the halo glow we get from being good.

It took me until a year ago to figure out this lesson was absolutely correct. Once I rejected Quantified Self, which in many cases is just the quantification of personal failures, my life improved. It was a lesson I shared in the post Better Sleep for the Too Early Riser.

When you try to improve your sleep or anything in life, it can be easy to blame ourselves for failures. Stop that. Show yourself self compassion as if you were talking to a friend with the same problem. Don’t attach yourself to the outcome. Focus on the process. Getting great sleep takes practice. Focus on the practice and not grading yourself.

Predicting Failure

When we create goals we imagine ourselves succeeding and what it takes to get there. That is still valuable, but the book makes a solid case that we should then try and predict our failures. If we can predict how we might get distracted or tempted, we can imagine a healthy positive response before it actually comes. It is our inability to see the future that leads us to temptation and procrastination.

At the time we fail on willpower is when we are most likely to feel bad. Feeling bad leads to giving in, which leads to feeling worse and giving in more. The downward spiral. Having thought about positive responses to these situations before they arise is an act of self compassion.

Great Book

These are just some of the concepts in The Willpower Instinct. I highly recommend this book. I’ve already added it to my Stuff I Like page.

* Not counting the stock market. 🙂

5 Issues I Had With Your Personal Paleo Code

I just finished reading Chris Kresser’s book Your Personal Paleo Code. There is nothing new in this book if you are familiar with his blog or the basics of Paleo. It is a long winded version of Primal Blueprint mixed with Perfect Health Diet mixed with The Primal Connection. For the most part, the information seemed solid, but I would only recommend this book for someone new to the topic.

Your Personal Paleo Code: The 3-Step Plan to Lose Weight, Reverse Disease, and Stay Fit and Healthy for Life
Your Personal Paleo Code: The 3-Step Plan to Lose Weight, Reverse Disease, and Stay Fit and Healthy for Life by Chris Kresser

At 416 pages I found this book could have easily been edited down to about half that size. Other that the length, I recall 5 issues I had with the book. There may have been more, but these stood out.

#1 Too Low in Carbs

Having read Kresser for years and listened to his podcast, I thought he had mostly rejected the low-carb interpretation of the Paleo diet. I thought he was leading voice for moderate intake of carbs. Yet, the recommendations for all but the most active seem low. He advises “most people” to get between 15-30% of their calories from carbs. Buried in a sidebar titled When To Think Twice About a Very Low-Carb Diet there is a mention of hypothyroid symptoms. I think this topic deserves more attention than it received. For years I’ve been reading how this problem is common in low-carb Paleo. I experienced it and I never went that low in carbs.

What is the case for restricting carbs to these levels? It was never made in the book. Hasn’t this assumption that our ancestors were eating high fat diets been gradually eroding as we learn more? All I can think is that these are the macronutrient levels that have worked best for his client base. And if that is the case, I’m fine with that. Just be clear about it.

For the record, I’m not anti-low carb. I’m just no longer convinced it is superior to moderate levels. Many of the arguments I’ve seen supporting LC have been discredited or weakened. If carb levels are optimal between 15-30%, make the case. Your Personal Paleo Code didn’t.

#2 Refined Sugar is “Toxic”

No it is not. The fact there are carbohydrate sources with better nutrient profiles does not make sugar toxic. Chris likes and recommends ice cream, but says sugar is toxic. Well check your ingredient list there pal, ice cream has sugar in it. When I became underweight, I used sugar (in ice cream) to stimulate my appetite to regain weight. I also used a mix of refined white sugar and salt to lower my stress levels to get amazing sleep. Sugar is complicated at best. It is not toxic.

#3 Fear of Phytic Acid in Legumes

The reason Paleo doesn’t like legumes is because they contain phytic acid. Phytic acid binds to minerals. The fear is that eating legumes will make one mineral deficient. Chris does get props for discussing how traditional cultures prepared their legumes via soaking, sprouting and fermenting. The question comes down to is if legumes without traditional preparation are worth eating. Chris says they are best avoided. I am more persuaded by the Precision Nutrition article Phytates and phytic acid. Here’s what you need to know.

In addition to discussing the risks of phytic acid, the PN article mentions the benefit. One example:

When phytic acid binds minerals in the gut, it prevents the formation of free radicals, thus making it an antioxidant. Not only that, but it seems to bind heavy metals (e.g., cadmium, lead) helping to prevent their accumulation in the body.

The PN article paints a more balanced picture. It even provides the tip of consuming Vitamin C or a food with Vitamin C in it when eating something rich in phytic acid. The article concludes with:

To argue that some plant foods are “unhealthy” because of their phytic acid content seems mistaken, especially when phytic acid’s potential negative effects on mineral assimilation may be offset by its health benefits.

I agree. There are many great Indian and Mexican dishes that uses legumes. I no longer buy the Paleo line on legumes, even if the beans are not traditionally prepared. Hell if time is the issue, then according to Food Renegade, a pressure cooker can reduce phytic acid levels significantly.

#4 The Gluten in Beer

I am anti-wheat. Me and Chris are in full agreement. However, unless one has a serious issue with gluten, I don’t think it is necessary to avoid all food with trace amounts of gluten. I also suspect that 100% avoidance could increase sensitivity. Chris was right when he said distilled liquors were safer because they are fermented. Well, beer is fermented too!

Last year I got the idea that my body could handle beer from Chris’s podcast on the hygiene hypothesis. The short version is I used fermented foods to restore my gut flora that was destroyed by heavy antibiotics use. After listening to his show, I decided to test the health of my gut. So I drank a 4 oz beer and felt fine. Clearly a sign that I was healthier. I chose beer over bread, because it is fermented (partially digested). There is no mention of the hygiene hypothesis in the book.

The point I want to share is that one can heal from gluten intolerance and that drinking a small amount of a tasty ale is not the same as eating a bowl of pasta. Exposing myself to trace levels of gluten via beer, soy sauce and gochujang has made me more resilient and thus more healthy.

#5 Extra Protein to Gain Muscle

Chris repeats the myth that one needs high levels of protein to gain muscle mass. No you don’t. In fact, it is often counter productive. One needs an excess of calories to gain muscle. High levels of protein are satiating, which makes it difficult to eat a caloric surplus. I cover this in detail in the post Why Ice Cream is Better Than Protein Powder.

Last Words

Other than the 5 issues I laid out, this would be a fine book for someone new to Paleo. If you’ve already read those books, don’t waste your time with Your Personal Paleo Code. For those of us that have a background in Paleo, his podcast is much better than the book. It is more evolved.