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 that 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.


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 feel 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.

The Mindful Way to Study and The Ray Peat Survival Guide

I read two more books on my Kindle app. One was good, one wasn’t.

The Mindful Way to Study

The Mindful Way to Study is a book I wish I would have had when I was a student. It tailors the message of mindfulness with the goals and challenges of being a student. I’ve read other books on Mindfulness, but I had never considered how much it could benefit when it comes to studying. The definition of Mindfulness from the Wikipedia:

the intentional, accepting and non-judgmental focus of one’s attention on the emotions, thoughts and sensations occurring in the present moment

The book goes into how we collectively use terms to define studying as a battle. Hitting the books is the first one that comes to mind. We focus on the results and not the learning. This makes us anxious and stressful. Part 2 is the part I found most interesting. Each chapter walks us through a different stressful obstacle a student can face and how to approach it using mindfulness.

Like I said earlier, I wish I would have been exposed to these ideas when I was younger. I would have been a better student and enjoyed the process of learning much more. The only thing I think could make this book better would be to have a chapter written for parents. If it is an overbearing parent that is the cause of result driven stress, convincing them to support their child as they practice mindfulness would be highly beneficial. My guess is most parents have not been exposed to these ideas and still view studying as they did when they were school. Aligning their goals would greatly increase the chance that the techniques taught in this book will work.

Check out the book if you are a student that is looking for a way to embrace learning and reduce the common forms of stress associated with studying. I also think parents of students should give this a read.

The Mindful Way To Study
The Mindful Way To Study by Jake J. Gibbs and Roddy O. Gibbs

The Ray Peat Survival Guide

The second book was The Ray Peat Survival Guide. I bought it for three reasons.

  1. I was looking for a book that would clarify some of Ray Peat‘s writings. His articles on nutrition can be overwhelming. I understand a lot more than I did a year ago, but I’m always eager to learn more and improve my understanding.
  2. I liked another book Joey Lott wrote, so I figured he would do a good job explaining a complex topic.
  3. As much as Ray Peat is worshiped by some on the internet, there is an absence of well written summaries of his research. Danny Roddy shutdown his website and went all newsletter. Foolish move. Functional Alps is just a useless dumping ground of abstracts with no analysis. I’ve stumbled on other sites, most used writing more complex than Peat himself, so I found them of no use.

The book was a disappointment and maybe it is my fault for buying it. I just ignored the word “Survival” in the title. Instead of being a book to explain complex ideas in easy to understand language, it assumed you knew the principles of the diet and why you did them. The book was primarily about not being super strict with the diet. Since reducing stress is a key component of the Peat diet, it is wise not to get stressed about following the diet perfectly. If that is a message you need to hear, get the book. If you want a deeper understanding the reasons for Peat’s recommendations, the Ray Peat Survival Guide isn’t going to help you.

The Ray Peat Survival Guide: Understanding, Using, and Realistically Applying the Dietary Ideas of Dr. Ray Peat
The Ray Peat Survival Guide: Understanding, Using, and Realistically Applying the Dietary Ideas of Dr. Ray Peat by Joey Lott

Disclosure: I received a Kindle copy of The Mindful Way to Study with a request to review it, which did not influence this post. I paid for the Ray Peat Survival Guide.

Healing Teeth, Hypoglycemia and Sandbag Training

I’ve been adding books to my Kindle for a few months, but until I arrived in California I hadn’t gotten around to reading most of them. This week I read three.

#1 Healing Teeth

How I Healed My Teeth Eating Sugar: A Guide to Improving Dental Health Naturally

How I Healed My Teeth Eating Sugar: A Guide to Improving Dental Health Naturally by Joey Lott

My choppers are pretty awesome, but do anything I can to avoid dentists so I am receptive to any message that we can restore our dental health through the nutritional choices we make. The title of this book is – by the author’s own words – meant to grab your attention. It is not a protocol that uses sugar to fix cavities. But you can use sugar to boost metabolism, which could help the tooth heal. An indirect path.

The book gives a shout out to Weston A. Price’s work connecting dental health with fat soluble vitamins (A, D, K). It is a quick read and you are likely to walk away with a few ideas on improving the health of your teeth. For me I was interested in the discussion of calcium bentonite clay as not only a supplement mix in drinks, but to brush onto the teeth themselves.

#2 Hypoglycemia

Hypoglycemia: What It Is, What It Isn't, and How to Fix the Root Problem

Hypoglycemia: What It Is, What It Isn’t, and How to Fix the Root Problem by Matt Stone

Even though I’ve never considered myself hypoglycemic, I gave this a read because I’ve gotten value from other books by Matt Stone. The beginning of the book leads off with a discussion of hypoglycemia and how our current thinking about it is flawed. The book also talks about why we can sometimes get tired after a meal, especially breakfast. All this ties into more discussion of metabolism and body temperature, which are topics well covered in his books Eat For Heat and Diet Recovery 2.

#3 Sandbag Training

Ultimate Home Gym: Sandbag Training for the Best and Most Affordable Home Fitness System

Ultimate Home Gym: Sandbag Training for the Best and Most Affordable Home Fitness System by Ben Hirshberg

I read about sandbag training a decade ago in the context of grip strength training. I’m sure it was mentioned in one of John Brookfield’s books. But I hadn’t looked into actual sandbag training until I read this book. At first I thought I wouldn’t like this book, mostly because I dislike most fitness books, as they preach high skill movements when a simple plan such as Hillfit 2.0 is safer and more effective.

This book won me over, because the author keeps it simple. He shows you how to make your own sandbag and then walks you through a variety of workout philosophies using the sandbag. One section is devoted to High Intensity Training. Good! Now I wouldn’t do all the exercises in the book, but he has done a decent job of selecting movements that are not too difficult to learn. There are no stupid exercises, such as jumping on a pile of boxes.

I don’t think I’ll start sandbag training, but I could see a younger version of me really getting into this, especially when I had my own backyard.

Yuck! – I Made a Spreadsheet

In December 2012, I received the book Yuck! The Things People Eat. At the time I said:

This is more than a book. It is an eating challenge wish list.

Yuck! The Things People Eat
Yuck! The Things People Eat by Neil Setchfield

I’ve been meaning to convert the book into a spreadsheet. One that I can track my progress and one that others can download for themselves. It is ready.


Although some foods will be more of a challenge than others, I think I could eat them all with one exception. There is no way I could eat dog. Rat sure. Snakes – maybe a small bite. But no way would I eat a dog. Even looking at the photo is disturbing.

I think I’ve had blood sausage and monkfish roe, but I can’t say for certain, so I won’t count them. And I’ve had sheep and ox testicles, but not goat, so I left that unchecked as well.

So I’ve consumed 20 foods out of 123 Yuck! foods (or 16.23%). How about you?

UPDATE: Recalled the post where I ate an octopus. Up to 20.

The Rise of Superman

Disclaimer: This is a book review for a book I couldn’t finish. 

I heard a podcast interview with author Steven Kotler on the Accidental Creative, which inspired me to get his book The Rise of Superman, which is about increasing performance.

The Rise of Superman: Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance
The Rise of Superman: Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance by Steven Kotler

On the podcast we learned that there are 17 flow triggers. Flow being the state of optimal performance. For his research Kotler looked at extreme sports. His reasoning was that performance in extreme sports such as skate boarding and big wave surfing has improved a lot in recent years. And these sports require a high level of “flow” to achieve these gains. Interesting thesis.

Now I personally could care less about extreme sports. All I care about learning are the performance benefits. My view of extreme sports mirrors my view of fitness and investing. We look are the outliers and try to extrapolate back a certain path to success, all while ignoring the failures that did the same thing. Survivorship bias again. In other words, if you give a million kids a skateboard every year for two generations, one will eventually jump the Great Wall of China on a board.

Can we learn deep insights from the most successful or is it a numbers game? I ask that question a lot. In life, I look for the actions that increase the probability of payout, which often not the same as actions which lead to the highest absolute payout.

Back to the book. I was hoping it would focus more on what the author learned and how us regular folks could apply that knowledge and less about how he learned it. Again I could care less how some surfer caught some wave. I would read a few pages about the athletes, get bored, skip ahead, read some more, bored again, skip and repeat. Maybe the second half was better? Eventually I just gave up on the book and decided to see if anyone online had written a good summary.

Thankfully the author did. There is a SlideShare presentation that outlines the 17 Flow Triggers.

My advice is unless you care about extreme sports, just read the SlideShare presentation, take 1-2 of the ideas that makes the most sense to you and implement them into your life. Don’t waste your time with The Rise of Superman. By the way, Steven Kottler co-wrote another book called Abundance, which I loved. It made my short list for the best books ever on my Stuff I Like page. Read that book instead.

Death By Food Pyramid vs The Calorie Myth

I just finished reading two books on nutrition. One was excellent and the other not so much.

Death By Food Pyramid

Death by Food Pyramid : How Shoddy Science, Sketchy Politics and Shady Special Interests Have Ruined Our Health
Death by Food Pyramid : How Shoddy Science, Sketchy Politics and Shady Special Interests Have Ruined Our Health by Denise Minger was outstanding. It has an excellent section on the history of the food pyramid and how what we collectively believe about good nutrition is flawed. The book also has a chapter on how to read nutritional research, but the part that I enjoyed the most was the section devoted to the research of Weston A. Price. Price is an early pioneer in nutritional research and wrote the book Nutrition and Physical Degeneration.

I have been in the Weston A. Price nutritional camp since late 2009. To me it makes more sense than Paleo. We can learn a lot from traditional cultures. Death By Food Pyramid agrees.

I don’t want to give away the entire book, but I do want to share some ideas the author presented in Meat chapter.

  1. Eat the whole animal. Nose to tail. Organ meats. Bone broths. Marrow. Traditional cultures knew this (WAPF), now science can see the different distribution of amino acids and how eating the entire animal balances those ratios. Most people today just load up on muscle meats and discard the rest of the animal.This presents a problem we can have too much methionine and not enough glycine.
  2. How we cook meat is important. Low and slow is the way to go. High heat and charring can be problematic. For the past few years, I cook the majority of my meat in slow cookers or liquid. Good to know I’m on the right path.
  3. Iron overload. If you eat too much red meat, you could get elevated iron levels. One of her solutions is the same as mine. Donate blood. I’ve donated 22 pints of blood since December 2010. Easy win for not only your health, but the health of the person receiving your blood.

Death By Food Pyramid does nutritional history more concisely than Good Calories, Bad Calories and presents the ideas of Weston A. Price better than Deep Nutrition.

The Calorie Myth

The Calorie Myth: How to Eat More, Exercise Less, Lose Weight, and Live Better
The Calorie Myth: How to Eat More, Exercise Less, Lose Weight, and Live Better by Jonathan Bailor

If a book says calories don’t count and then proceeds to tell you how to eat in a way that reduces your appetite so you consume less calories and you lose weight, did the calories count? I would say yes. The Calorie Myth uses the good foods (SANE) versus bad foods (INSANE) narrative to tell the reader how to eat. If I could basically summarize the entire book, I’d say eat a lot of protein. Protein is known to reduce appetite and help with fat loss. No myths. No mysteries.

This is yet another nutritional book that states fructose is bad, but with little evidence to back up the claim. It has been 4 years since Alan Aragon discredited Dr. Lustig’s anti-fructose hysterics. Are we just suppose to assume fructose is evil like we used to assume saturated fat was “artery clogging”?

He also goes into how we need glycerol-3-phosphate to store body fat and we mostly get that from carbs. Isn’t this what Gary Taubes got wrong in Good Calories, Bad Calories? Listen to Carbsane on Episode 39 of Evil Sugar Radio explain this point (jump to 28:20). The implication that restricting carbs somehow gives one a free pass on storing calories as fat is the myth.

Bailor also repeats the most nauseating health advice ever, which is to drink lots of water to boost your metabolism. I don’t think so. Drink a lot of water and your body temperature drops. Matt Stone has been on topic of this for a few years. When I stopped drinking so much water, my body temperature increased and my sleep quality improved.

Unlike Death By Food Pyramid there is no mention of nutrient dense foods such as offal, bone broths and fermented foods. But foods such low-fat dairy, skinless chicken and egg whites are listed. Uggh. From a calculator standpoint, he may be right, but I’m more persuaded by Denise Minger’s approach to nutrition and whole food.

I will say one part of the book that was spot on was his approach to exercise. Bailor is a proponent of High Intensity Training. He gets it. John Little, the co-author of Body By Science, even provided a nice plug in the beginning. My advice is if you want to learn more about HIT, read John’s book.

The Winner Is…

Hands down Death By Food Pyramid beats The Calorie Myth.

UPDATE: The blog No Gimmicks Nutrition has an entire section exposing the incorrect ideas from Jonathan Bailor.

Training to Failure is a Tool

I just finished reading Solving the Paleo Equation by Matt Stone and Garrett Smith. With a minor exception I really liked the book. The audience is not necessarily just those stuck on a Paleo diet, but any dieter that finds themselves stuck, especially those that exercise a lot. This book was an extension of some of the topics covered in Matt’s book 12 Paleo Myths.

Solving the Paleo Equation: Stress, Nutrition, Exercise, Sleep
Solving the Paleo Equation: Stress, Nutrition, Exercise, Sleep by Dr. Garrett Smith and Matt Stone

The one piece of advice I had an issue with was the blanket statement in a chapter written by Dr. Smith that one shouldn’t train to failure. For 99% of what people consider to be exercise, I agree that one shouldn’t train to failure. Not for stress reasons primarily, but for increased risk of injury. However for High Intensity Training, it is fine to train to failure, provided it is done safely. In 2011, I did two posts exploring the debate of if one should train to failure.

I consider Training to Failure to be a tool that I can use to meet my fitness goals. It can be a dangerous tool when used improperly, but perfectly safe and extremely effective when used properly.

My Guidelines for Training to Failure

  1. The exercise must be safe enough to stop at any point in the movement and still be safe. A push-up meets that criteria, a bench press doesn’t. 
  2. Reduced training frequency. I can lift 2-3 times per week with normal intensity. If I train to failure I only need to lift once every 7-10 days. If I go to all out negative failure at a true HIT gym (low temperatures), I could probably reduce by training to once every 2-3 weeks.
  3. Cool temperature. This is something that affects me, but may not apply to other. I discovered it is safer to go to failure when the temperature is lower. I am far less likely to get an exertion headache.

The core message in the exercise section of the book is that many people exercise too much and that is stressful to the body. I agree 100% and that is why I embrace the principles of HIT and Training to Failure. It reduces the number of times I go to the gym and the time I spend exercising. I spend more time resting and recovering. And I don’t injured. What could be less stressful?

If you are interested in learning how to safely exercise to failure, I highly recommend the books Body By Science (gym based) and HillFit 2.0 (bodyweight focus). An interesting side note is that on a page Matt Stone wrote in the same book, he recommends the book Body By Science which discusses going to muscular failure 30 times!

Nose Breathing

Solving the Paleo Equation also makes the case that inhaling through the nose is the least stressful way to exercise. Although that advice might make sense for most exercise, it doesn’t hold true for HIT. With High Intensity Training, breathing will start slow and accelerate quickly as the set progresses. You do not want to do anything that will slow down your breathing. It is recommended that one uses a relaxed jaw.

Skip to 2:30 in this video. Watch and listen to Dr. McGuff perform a chest press. His jaw is relaxed and his breathing tempo accelerates as the set progresses. At 4:20 his trainer reminds him to relax his face. It would not be safe to nose breathe doing this workout. You’d get a painful exertion headache.

UPDATE: Maybe I am wrong about nose breathing and HIT? See The Nose Knows: A Case For Nasal Breathing During High Intensity Training.

Paleo Manifesto, Code Red and Eating on the Wild Side

This post is about three books I read this month.

The Paleo Manifesto

Oh no, not another Paleo book! I had zero plans to ever read another Paleo book again, but I started hearing some positive buzz about The Paleo Manifesto as being something different. And it was. I really liked most of this book. Unlike other Paleo books which get tripped up in the nutritional science or post recipes for Paleo cupcakes that use almond flour, this book takes a step back and looks at Paleo as a system.

The first section of the book is the strongest. It explores the different eras from The Animal Age to The Information Age via stories that apply to thinking about Paleo, starting with a visit to a zoo to see what foods make gorillas sick and what foods help them thrive. Part two goes more into the author’s experience living a Paleo lifestyle in New York City. With the exception of his love for Crossfit, which makes me cringe and his using the discredited Dr. Lustig as his source for fructose restriction, the advice in this section was solid. And the final part is an excellent conclusion.

This book to me was a much needed healthy reset to Paleo thinking. In recent years Paleo has been hijacked by many charlatans preaching overly restrictive interpretations of ancestral diets. John Durant’s book is a worthy successor to Art De Vany’s original essay which sparked my interest in Paleo in late 2007.

The Paleo Manifesto: Ancient Wisdom for Lifelong Health
The Paleo Manifesto: Ancient Wisdom for Lifelong Health by John Durant

Code Red

My two favorite financial writers are Roger Lowenstein and John Mauldin. Lowenstein does the best job with financial history. Mauldin does the best job explaining how sometimes complicated financial topics relate to the current investing environment. John Mauldin like myself is a long term optimist that sees a lot of problems with the current economy.

In Code Red, Mauldin details in common language the actions taken by the Federal Reserve, what their goals are and how things can come undone. To me the best part of this book was his explanation of Financial Repression, a topic Carmen M. Reinhart covered in a Bloomberg article a year ago. Financial Repression is a term used to describe ways the government can reduce debt loads without taxation or an increase in productivity. A brief overview:

  1. The Federal Reserve caps interests rates, especially government debt.
  2. Via legislation force insurance companies, banks and pensions to hold a percent of their portfolio in government debt.
  3. Then the Fed can exert control over banks on how how much capitol they need to hold.

Doing this year in and year out effectively steals a few percent from the savings of the entire population. Cyprus went nuts when their government decided to close banks and loot savings accounts to restore financial solvency. In America it is done stealthy and slowly and very few notice. Code Red noticed.

Code Red is an outstanding book that does an excellent job explaining the often complicated actions taken by the Federal Reserve in recent years. The book also provides investment strategies that are far more reasonable and conservative than what you might hear from some bubble-head on CNBC.

Code Red: How to Protect Your Savings From the Coming Crisis
Code Red: How to Protect Your Savings From the Coming Crisis by John Mauldin

Eating on The Wild Side

My Seattle Paleo book club recently chose Eating on The Wild Side as our book of the month to read. I was a month or two late, but I finally got around to reading it. The book is a well researched exploration into what fruits, vegetables and legumes have the most nutrients. It also covers ways to prepare and store these foods to increase or preserve their nutritional properties.

I liked the book and though the author did a great job, I think the book could have been much better. The problem with this book is most of the conversation about food is about relative strengths of one food over the other written in a novel format. I don’t think that is the best way to share this information. When you have a book with so many great ideas, the reader will do their best to remember and utilize this information when they grocery shop. Even at my book club, members were more likely to recall the book had good ideas than the ideas themselves. During the discussion it was deemed that Eating on the Wild Side is a good “reference” book to own.

Here is how I would have made this book better had I been the publisher.

  1. Look at the layout of Jonny Bowden’s books. Specifically The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth. Full color pictures. Beautiful typography and layout. He covers the nutrition and has stars on the best of the best foods. This is where I would have started.
  2. More photos, especially when you are describing what to look for when picking the best fruit or veggies. Show me a mango with dark orange flesh next to a one without and I’ll be more likely to seek it out.
  3. A better index. All the foods made it in to the index, but not the nutritional properties the reader was seeking to maximize.
  4. Add an appendix explaining what all these nutritional terms and why they are important. Why is lycopene important? A single resource where I can jump to for further reading would be helpful.
  5. Summary tables combining foods across different groups. This work needs to be done by hand by the reader now. At the end of the book we learn a mango has 5 times the Vitamin C as an orange. In the orange chapter we learn about different types of oranges each with their own nutritional profiles. At times I felt like I was reading a word problem in algebra class.
  6. Downloadable or pull-out cards with core ideas one can carry in their wallet to the grocery store.

In fairness to the book, the end of each chapter has notes, which I highly appreciate, but I think the publisher could have done a much better job. I encourage them to either do a 2nd edition or a Visual Guide to Eating on the Wild Side. This post is getting long, so tomorrow I will post some ideas from the book that I found the most interesting. 

Eating on the Wild Side: The Missing Link to Optimum Health
Eating on the Wild Side: The Missing Link to Optimum Health by Jo Robinson

My 3 Issues with Becoming a Supple Leopard

Based of all the reviews and comments I’ve seen on the web, I think I might be the only person that didn’t love the book Becoming a Supple Leopard. This post will be a brief review covering the three reasons I didn’t care for the book.

#1 Who is the Audience?

Throughout reading the book, I couldn’t tell if it was written for me – the person doing the exercises – or for trainers. This book is about safe movement. For many, if not most exercises, the person with compromised movement patterns is unable to see what they are doing wrong. They need an observer to make real time corrective suggestions. As someone that works out alone, I don’t have someone to fill that role. This makes me think the book was really written for trainers, because even if I had someone to watch me, that ability to watch movement and make suggestions is something that takes practice and training.

One idea that Stephan from BioHacks suggested was to video record your movements at the gym and then use that footage to make corrections. This is a great idea provided detecting movement errors is something a fitness hobbyist such as myself could do. This is where the expertise of the movement specialist would be helpful. They know what to look for and where. I might not even setup the camera at the right angle or I might need two different camera to capture the movement from different sides. Even with cameras, feedback is delayed. Being about to make corrections real time would be of far greater value.

Recently I went to see Nikki at Indigo Kinetics about my tight neck and shoulder. Through close observation, she was able to see that my neck was fine, but I was over-recruiting rhomboids, upper trapezius and pec minor and under-recruiting my rear deltoid, serretus anterior, and low/mid trapezius. The result was some unnecessary shoulder elevation and  shoulder blade retraction in my movements. This was causing my neck to tighten up. I never would have caught that from a book.

I came to the conclusion that although there were solid tips sprinkled throughout the book, I think this book was written more for the trainer than the trainee.

#2 Photos of Movement?

This is a technical complaint. Writing a book about movement is like singing a song about photography. It is hard to do. I understand that experts in every field write books on their field of expertise. However, I don’t think the material presented in this book is best suited for print. The book has many photos that show at most 2 points of the movement. Reading about the movement is fine, but this is 2013. This book would be so much more valuable as an application with embedded videos. Instead of carrying a 400 page textbook to the gym, one could bring their tablet. Watch 5 second clips of every movement as many times as necessary. Trainers could use it as an educational device.

The videos I would like to see wouldn’t be the longer educational clips he has on his YouTube channel, but super short crisp videos filmed with a tripod. More like what Bill DeSimone did for his book Congruent Exercise. He describes an exercise and then links directly to the online video clip of that exercise.

#3 Different Training Philosophy

Dr. Starrett owns a CrossFit gym and has a huge audience with that community. I don’t what to pick a fight with the CrossFit people today, but I will say that I am not a fan of ballistic compound exercises done under load. I think they are unnecessary for strength and have a much too high risk of injury. I only bring this point up because the subtitle says “The Ultimate Guide to Resolving Pain, Preventing Injury, and Optimizing Athletic Performance”.  I would think that any ultimate guide to preventing injury would first seek out the safest exercises to achieve strength, not work on techniques to make risky moves more safe. However, if your sport is CrossFit and you need to excel at those exercises, this book should be required reading.

Becoming a Supple Leopard: The Ultimate Guide to Resolving Pain, Preventing Injury, and Optimizing Athletic Performance
Becoming a Supple Leopard: The Ultimate Guide to Resolving Pain, Preventing Injury, and Optimizing Athletic Performance by Kelly Starrett

Last Words

Although I don’t think this book was for me, I think it would be an excellent addition to a fitness library if you are a personal trainer or engage in CrossFit or Olympic lifting. And if Kelly Starrett is reading this post, my advice would be to hire an app developer, get a tripod and start shooting super short professional clips of every movement in the book. I really think people need to see movement. Photos and text aren’t enough.

Revisiting the Paleo Books

Starting around 2008, I read and reviewed several nutritional books on this site, most of which have some popularity in the Paleo community. Although I’ve really enjoyed experimenting with a Paleo diet approach, as time goes by I find myself increasingly critical of ideas that made perfect sense to me just a few years ago.

If one goes back into the archives of this site, the reviews of certain Paleo books are a little too positive. With more experience and more knowledge, I’ve decided to revisit these books with my current thoughts.

Hair-Raising Encounter by JD Hancock

Photo by JD Hancock

The New Evolution Diet by Art De Vany

My original review of The New Evolution Diet was in December 2010. Without rehashing old ideas, I find De Vany’s approach far too restrictive. Carbs are bad and as is excess fat. He dislikes grains and dairy. If I followed his higher protein version of the diet, I would be hungry all the time and bored.

When I ate super clean – not even low carb – I was dropping weight too fast. My face looked gaunt. The food that successfully reversed that was ice cream. It was dairy plus sugar that worked for me.

I may have said this before, but De Vany was a professional athlete long before he discovered Paleo. How much of his current amazing health is a result of his genetics plus training and how much is a result of diet? The longer I go on my nutrition journey, the most I suspect it is the former.

Primal Blueprint by Mark Sisson

My review of Primal Blueprint was from June 2009. When it comes to editing and clear writing, I still think this is a good book. Many of the ideas I still agree with, but its core message that high levels of carbohydrates leads to “insidious weight gain” no longer rings true.

I’ll quote Matt Stone:

In Mark Sisson’s book, The Primal Blueprint, he shows a little chart with carbohydrate levels ideal for weight loss, weight maintenance, and the levels of carbohydrate intake that lead to, in his words, “insidious weight gain.” Get above 150 grams of carbohydrates per day in your diet and you enter the danger zone. I have said this many times and I will say it again – in all the information I’ve ever read on nutrition and health, this could very well be the dumbest and most unsubstantiated tidbit I’ve ever come across. It is downright retarded, with 5 billion…. 5 BILLION living exceptions to the rule that a carbohydrate intake exceeding 150 grams per day triggers insidious weight gain. This is just plain stupid. I couldn’t even believe my eyes when I read it. This guy is, and should be, the laughingstock of anyone who studies obesity or nutritional science. He completely undermines his credibility as an intelligent person with this one uber-knuckleheaded and poorly-thought out conclusion.

The rest of the book is pretty good. Sisson embraces dairy and has a sane approach to exercise. I think because I liked the rest of the book so much, it provided credibility to the carbohydrate chapter that was unwarranted.

Primal Body – Primal Mind by Nora T. Gedgaudas

My review of Primal Body – Primal Mind was from July 2010, which was the first edition. I later read the second edition in December 2011. PBPM is a high fat anti-sugar Paleo. By the time I read the 2nd edition, I was already dismissive of the idea that carbohydrates were evil.

My own journey had already moved away from Paleo and towards a more Weston A Price approach. I enjoyed my expanded diet and the fun I was having learning how to cook traditional cuisines, which were full of those evil carbohydrates.

PBPM is too restrictive for me. Plus I after reading a few posts about the author on Carb Sane, I have serious doubts on what is true or isn’t true in the book. Right now I am teaching myself Malaysian cooking. Wonderful recipes that would be impossible if I followed the PBPM advice.

Deep Nutrition by Catherine Shanahan

Although I posted my review in June 2012, I read it at least a year before then. What I liked and still like about this book is how it combined the principles of traditional food (the Weston A Price approach) and modern nutrition.

Chapter 9 demonizes sugar and carbs going as far as saying they block metabolic function. Using the same observation Matt Stone used above when critiquing Mark Sisson’s “insidious weight gain” comment, that doesn’t appear to me true. I’ve since read from others how sugar can support metabolism.

Sally Fallon posted a review of Deep Nutrition on the WAPF site with a lot of good points, If there is a 2nd edition, Dr. Cate would be wise to work with Sally and the WAPF before going to press. The WAPF needs a book like this that they can endorse. As great as the 1939 Nutrition and Physical Degeneration book is, I can tell you that only a few members of the Seattle chapter of the WAPF have read all 500 pages.

Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes

This was the book I fawned over. I took it to Thailand with me in November 2009 and read it three times. When I returned home I told everyone it was the best book ever. In short GCBG tells the story of how health professionals falsely came to the conclusion that cholesterol and saturated fat were the cause of obesity and health problems. Then it points the blame on carbohydrates.

Although there were critics of the carbohydrate theory, I didn’t pay much attention to them at first. I cut carbs and I lost fat effortlessly without counting calories. It had to be right. Then when I was lean, I added back carbs and stayed lean. Huh? The critics were getting louder, so I read James Krieger’s multi-part series on Insulin: An Undeserved Bad Reputation. It was his analogy that insulin is like a traffic cop that clicked with me.

Thus, insulin is like a traffic cop or a stop light at an intersection. It helps slow down and control traffic. Without a stop light or traffic cop, cars go through the intersection uncontrolled and you get traffic accidents. Likewise, without insulin in the body, gluconeogenesis, glycolysis, proteolysis, ketogenesis, and lipolysis all proceed at high rates without anything to stop them. The end result is hyperglycemia, ketoacidosis, and eventually death.

So insulin was never the bad guy, just like cholesterol was never the bad guy? I heard Taubes on a recent podcast, towards the end of the interview it sounded like he doesn’t even think his insulin theory of obesity is right anymore.

Last Words

The main reason I revisited these books is because I am no longer convinced that carbohydrates are the cause of obesity and health decline. With that said, I can no longer endorse any of these books. I’ve gotten rid of these books and replaced them with cookbooks.

Quick Note: Matt Stone Kindle Books are $3 Today

I have been a fan of Matt Stone’s health articles on 180DegreeHealth for over a year now. Jumping into his site can be overwhelming though. The good thing is he has several ebooks and the great news is they are selling for $3 today.

In March, I read and covered his book Diet Recovery 2.

I also devoured his book 12 Paleo Myths: Eat Better Than A Caveman, which I have not reviewed yet, but that review is coming. This book will help you understand the potential shortcomings of the Paleo Diet. I wish the review was ready for today’s sale, but it isn’t, so trust me that you will learn something valuable from this book if you’ve been following Paleo principles.

12 Paleo Myths: Eat Better Than A Caveman
12 Paleo Myths: Eat Better Than A Caveman by Matt Stone

I just purchased the book Eat For Heat, which I understand expands upon some of the topics in Diet Recovery 2.

Eat for Heat: The Metabolic Approach to Food and Drink
Eat for Heat: The Metabolic Approach to Food and Drink by Matt Stone

Diet Recovery 2 and the “Turn Up the Heat” Experiment

In the past year, I’ve become a fan of Matt Stone at 180DegreeHealth. We agree on many things. The two primary things are we both see the neurotic approach to food and exercise as being unhealthy. My primary health interest is to find sustainable ways to become more resilient in a stressful toxic world. What interested me about Diet Recovery 2 is it provides a plan for boosting health by fixing metabolism issues.

Diet Recovery 2: Restoring Mind and Metabolism from Dieting, Weight Loss, Exercise, and Healthy Food
Diet Recovery 2: Restoring Mind and Metabolism from Dieting, Weight Loss, Exercise, and Healthy Food by Matt Stone

Optimizing Metabolism

When we think about diets and eating healthy, we focus on the good foods versus the bad foods. We try and measure calories or carbs or whatever is in fad at the time. Then we try and quantify our exercise with pedometers and heart rate monitors. And we may get results, especially in the short term, but over time it often becomes unsustainable, which results in a high long term failure rate. What you will learn in the book is that caloric restriction and excessive exercise can lower metabolism.

If you think about this, it makes perfect sense. The body is only interested in survival. If the signals being sent are less food and more activity for extended periods of time, the body will mount a defense. Up until I was exposed to Matt’s work, I knew of a few of those defenses. The first being increased hunger. Followed by increased exhaustion and finally increased risk of illness or injury. In Diet Recovery 2, Matt explains how a stressed body will often have a reduced body temperature.

I don’t have a health background, but this makes total sense to me. The body is a complex system. Calories feed total metabolism. Total metabolism is base plus activity. By increasing activity or restricting calories for long periods, the body responds to that threat by lowering base metabolism. Diet Recovery 2 takes the opposite approach of other health books. It focuses on ways to increase metabolism measured by body temperature. Increasing your body temperature by a degree every minute of every hour will yield greater benefits than focusing on the calories plus activity side of the equation.

What Wrecks Metabolism?

In Diet Recovery 2 we learn a few things that can cause metabolism to drop.

  1. Calorie restriction, especially yo-yo dieting.
  2. Excessive exercise, especially chronic cardio.
  3. Poor or insufficient sleep.
  4. Long term low carbohydrate dieting.
  5. Consuming too many liquids or cooling foods.
  6. Too many PUFAs (Polyunsaturated fatty acids)

Since the items on the list are the ones that wreck metabolism, the opposite is advised to help the repair. Eat more calories. Get off the treadmill. Sleep more. Stop fearing carbs. Quit drinking so many beverages, especially water. And embrace saturated fats over PUFA. The book goes into greater detail and explanations.

Following this advice you are very likely to gain weight at first, but that is OK. Think of the leaky boat analogy. Yes you can paddle it real hard and hope you’ll get across the lake or you can be patient, make the repairs and then make the journey safer and with less effort.

Is Diet Recovery 2 For Me?

When I was first exposed to the body temperature theory of metabolism, I wasn’t sure it applied to me. I’m very temperature resilient. I can take ice cold showers or do a 10 hour urban hike through the hot and humid streets of Bangkok, Thailand. I’m fine with both. However, ever since the 10th grade I’ve had cold hands and toes. I’ve always assumed it was a circulation problem I developed from one brutal Ohio winter, but I’ve been donating blood every 8 weeks for 2 years now. My body temperature is always falls in the 97.0 – 97.5 range. Maybe my metabolism could use a boost?

When I look at the list above, the two items I have been guilty of is drinking too many beverages and consuming too many PUFAs. I’ve never counted calories or carbs and think cardio is a mental illness. However, my entire adult life up until around 2009, I would drink water or coffee all day long. Then I watched Art De Vany’s Evolutionary Fitness lecture and he made a great case for drinking less water. Since then I have cut back on the water. One of the symptoms of over hydration mentioned in Diet Recovery 2 is dry skin. I can attest when I cut back on the water, my dry patches skin went away. As for the PUFAs, I’m years into rejecting seed oils, but until very recently was consuming sunflower seeds and almonds regularly.

Another symptom of excess water consumption mention in the book is headaches. This is where I learned about hyponatremia, which is having low salt levels, often caused by excessive beverage intake. Headaches are a common symptom of hyponatremia.

The “Turn Up The Heat” Experiment

I’m not convinced that I can raise my body temperature or that if I can that I will feel noticeably better, however it does make a lot sense to me. My background is in tech. I recall one project where my team was looking for ways to increase the speed of the application. We could optimize the database tables, rewrite queries, run some reports during off hours or a host of other labor intensive strategies. My project manager had a better idea. He bought a faster server. He threw more heat at the problem and it went away instantly.

I’m ready to give the Diet Recovery 2 protocol a try. Even though I drink far less water than I used to, I could probably still cut back more. I also need to figure out ways to consume more salt. I’m plenty fine on sugar. I’ve begun tracking my body temperature already and I’ve already got two years worth of headache data.

The “Turn Up the Heat” Experiment has started.

My Top 5 Books of 2012

Most best of lists for a given year are published in late December or early January. Not this one. I needed more time to finish reading the books that were published at the end of the year. Here are my top 5 books for 2012.

#1 An Economist Gets Lunch: New Rules for Everyday Foodies

Author Tyler Cowen mixed two of my greatest interests, which are food and economics into my favorite book of the year. If covers all aspects of food from sourcing to cooking through the eyes of an economist that loves food. I love the first review on Amazon that calls this book “Moneyball” for the food enthusiast  That is this book at its core. Using economic principles, he guides us to making better food choices at restaurants, in the kitchen and while traveling.

If you can’t get to the book, at least check out the Econ Talk podcast interview: Cowen on Food.

An Economist Gets Lunch: New Rules for Everyday Foodies
An Economist Gets Lunch: New Rules for Everyday Foodies by Tyler Cowen

#2 Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think

Enough with the doom and gloom. This book is a healthy dose on why we should be very optimist about the future. Author Peter H. Diamandis covers a wide range of emerging technologies, where they are heading and how society will benefit. I found this book more convincing than the similar themed book The Rational Optimist which I read in 2011.

Back in 2008, I blogged that I was a Short Term Bear, Long Term Bull. I still am. Advancements in health care and energy are coming that will radically increase productivity and wealth. Even if this book ends up being overly optimist, you quickly realize that only a few of the predictions need to materialize for society to reap huge rewards.

I know I am going to get a comment about my short term bearish outlook. That is based off the current financial environment of fraud, bad accounting, deficits and bad monetary policy. There are also demographic reasons why we are a few years away from a true recovery. But don’t despair, another “Roaring 20s” is coming, but we aren’t there yet.

Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think
Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think by Peter H. Diamandis

#3 Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder

My guess is half the readers of this blog have already read the latest book by Nassim Taleb and the other half plan to. So this book really needs no introduction. With the exception if his approach to exercise, I loved this book which mixed philosophy and economics.

Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder
Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

#4 The 4-Hour Chef: The Simple Path to Cooking Like a Pro, Learning Anything, and Living the Good Life

I liked The 4-Hour Chef far more than I expected. This is the best book Tim Ferriss has written. In fact, this might be the best edited book I’ve ever read. The book is full color with extremely tight writing and beautiful layouts. Even though I’ve been cooking longer than Ferriss, I had been looking for ways to accelerate my learning in the kitchen. This book was exactly what I was looking for.

Ferriss has created a brilliant guide to learning how to get up to speed quickly in the kitchen. The first half of this book was perfect. The second half was a mixed bag of interesting to weird lessons that were far less relevant to core cooking. The first half of this book will pay for itself many times over.

The 4-Hour Chef: The Simple Path to Cooking Like a Pro, Learning Anything, and Living the Good Life
The 4-Hour Chef: The Simple Path to Cooking Like a Pro, Learning Anything, and Living the Good Life by Timothy Ferriss

#5 The Art of Fermentation: An In-Depth Exploration of Essential Concepts and Processes from Around the World

As someone that has been making ferments for a few years now, I got some great ideas from Sandor Katz’s monster textbook that was released in May. If you are comfortable with fermenting and looking to learn more, get this book. However, if you are a beginner and need more guidance, I’d recommend starting with his Fermentation Workshop DVD. As much as I liked The Art of Fermentation, I think it might be overwhelming to someone just getting started.

The Art of Fermentation: An In-Depth Exploration of Essential Concepts and Processes from Around the World
The Art of Fermentation: An In-Depth Exploration of Essential Concepts and Processes from Around the World by Sandor Ellix Katz

What were your favorite books of 2012?

A Lesson From Mastery

After reading the latest book from Robert Greene, a small part spoke to me as the most important lesson that I can personally put into effect immediately.

Mastery by Robert Greene

Before I go into that lesson, I want to say that I enjoyed this book. There was nothing I would consider to be ground breaking information, but the historical lessons were educational and entertaining. I preferred his early books such as The 48 Laws of Power, The 50th Law and Art of Seduction more than this book. I felt his earlier works did a better job pulling out the philosophical gems from the historical research.

The lesson I found interesting was a mention about how important it is to use our hands when learning a new skill. Learning by hands had long pre-dated language. Humans have evolved to be excellent at learning when their hands are engaged. However, the modern world is becoming increasing hands-free. Today we push pixels with our computers and mobile devices. We are becoming more and more disconnected from using our hands in dexterous movements. By getting our hands involved with learning as if we were still craftsmen, we could become more efficient and creative learners, which will help us on our paths to Mastery.

How can we re-engage our hands if all our work is digital? Some tech friends of mine have becoming skilled at drawing. Here are some examples.

  • Joe Crawford, who is an excellent programmer, continues to create very good sketches.
  • INeedCoffee contributor Paul Muller of Caffination has also been creating better and better sketches over the past few years.
  • Another INeedCoffee contributor Mike Rohde started sketching images during office meetings and got so into it that he shared what he learned in a recently published book titled The Sketchnote Handbook.

The Sketchnote Handbook Video Edition: the illustrated guide to visual note taking (includes The Sketchnote Handbook book and access to The Sketchnote Handbook Video)
The Sketchnote Handbook Video Edition: the illustrated guide to visual note taking (includes The Sketchnote Handbook book and access to The Sketchnote Handbook Video) by Mike Rohde

I haven’t been drawing, although those three examples are quite inspiring. My hands on skill for the past few years has been learning how to cook and making ferments. Today when I make a kimchi, my hands move as effortless as when I’m driving a stick shift. Although it may appear complicated to the observer and especially when you read the steps involved, it does seem as if the hands have an intelligence of their own. The more times you repeat the action, the smarter the hands get.

Thinking about ways we can engage our hands in learning is the important lesson I got from Mastery. What methods of active hands learning are you currently doing?

What Taleb Got Wrong in Antifragile

Let me start by saying that I loved the new book by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, however there was one point I believe Taleb fell for the survivorship bias he warned us about in Fooled By Randomness.

Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder
Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

If he only mentioned this once in the book, I would have let it slide, but I think it was repeated three times. Taleb disses machine based weight training as being less effective than single rep max lifting. There are a lot of poor assumptions here.

  1. The fact that it appears that those using machines are less muscular than than those using weights doesn’t mean that machines are less effective. It could be the application of the use of those machines, nutrition, rest or some other issue.
  2. Taleb critiques machines because they lack the randomness of a “functional” movement such as the deadlift. But biomechanics aren’t random. Our muscles move in certain paths. When you violate those paths with heavy loads, you risk injury. Now, if your skill requires those movements, then by all means train them. However, Taleb’s motivation, like myself, is to just be strong and build muscle. What Taleb isn’t seeing are all the single rep max lifters that hurt themselves and are no longer working out.
  3. He models his workout after his 60 year old friend who does a single rep max deadlift weekly. This was the most puzzling part of the book to me. How did Taleb conclude that this method was ideal based off a single survivor point of data? His friend might be brilliant or he might be the Bill Miller (Legg Mason) of exercise.
  4. Taleb equates the deadlift with strength. The same as picking up a rock. Besides strength, the deadlift is also a highly skilled movement. Skill movements require more than 1 lift per week. When your skill level remains static as the weight you are lifting increases, you are increasing your risk of injury. I don’t think there is a single power lifting coach that would advise their clients to do single rep max lifting every week.
  5. Taleb says it is easy to lift a lot more weight with machines and therefore it forces you into “endless repetitions“. Up until 2010, I felt the exact same way. I still see that 99% of the patrons using weight machines are in the words of Arthur Jonesthrowing weights“. However, the fact that a machine is easier at an equal weight and equal tempo doesn’t make it inferior to free based weights. The key is to slow down the repetition, something that is unsafe to do, especially in the negative portion of a lift, with free weights. By doing repetitions very slowly on machines, you can remove momentum and make the movement more difficult and more safe.
  6. Also in the spirit of the book Antifragile, a max lift deadlift doesn’t gain from disorder. If you attempt to lift too much or your focus is slightly off, you can really hurt yourself. Meanwhile, when I do a slow leg press I truly benefit from disorder. I am trying to get all my muscles fibers to fail. With machines I can still safely lower the weight at the point of muscular failure without risking injury to my joints. You can’t do that with free weights. Machines are Antifragile, not free weights.

I doubt Taleb will ever see this post, but if you are reading this I would encourage you to seek out a High Intensity Training gym and sign up for a workout. You will use machines, you will be humbled and your quest for strength will truly be Antifragile.

Yuck! The Things People Eat

This week I received one the greatest gifts ever. This is more than a book. It is an eating challenge wish list.

Yuck! The Things People Eat
Yuck! The Things People Eat byNeil Setchfield

Yuck! is an awesome photo filled book full of bizarre food items. Lots of bugs, weird seafood and animal “parts”. Some of the ideas from the book I have already tried, such as pig uterus and silkworm larvae. But most of them are completely new to me. Korean penis fish, duck entrails, and yellow scorpions on a stick. Yummy? About half the items in this book can be found a good Asian grocery store. The other half will require actually travelling to Asia. Works for me.

The Kimchi Chronicles is an Excellent Cookbook

I read a lot of cookbooks. For the past four years, I have checked out numerous cookbooks from the library. Most have some merit, but rarely are there any that really stand out as excellent. The Kimchi Chronicles is one of the best.

The Kimchi Chronicles: Korean Cooking for an American Kitchen
The Kimchi Chronicles: Korean Cooking for an American Kitchen by Marja Vongerichten

What makes an excellent cookbook? I have a few criteria that are important to me.

  1. Core traditional recipes need to be included.
  2. Excellent photos.
  3. Minimal ingredients.
  4. Minimal steps.
  5. An overview of ingredients.
  6. Minimal blabber from the writer about themselves.
  7. A comprehensive glossary.
  8. Are you learning how to assemble ingredients or are you learning how to cook? A good cookbook will leave your feeling more confident and empowered. A poor one won’t.

The Kimchi Chronicles is almost perfect. The author goes through the important ingredients to Korea cooking and their different names. Traditional recipes are included in the book along with some new fusion ones. The steps and ingredients are not overwhelming. I made 4 dishes from the book that all turned out great.

Other than the occasional mention of vegetable oil as an ingredient, which annoys me, the only issue I had with this book was the glossary could have been better edited. Bibimbap was not listed under “B”, it was listed under “Main Dishes”. I found that odd. If you are going to use that method at least add “Bibimbap (see Main Dishes > Bibimbap)”.

It is rare for me to recommend a cookbook for purchase. The Kimchi Chronicles is one of them. It feels like more than a cookbook. It is like a took a course in Korean cooking. I am also aware there was a TV show for this book on PBS. I didn’t see it, but if it ever shows up on Netflix Instant, I will watch it for sure.

My Car Battery and the Science of Good Luck

Last winter when I was spending a bunch of money on auto repairs, the mechanic advised me to also replace my battery. He gave me an estimate of $200 for a new battery installed. That sounded high, but when you own a diesel you expect everything to be a little higher. I decided to hold off on getting a battery. For the next few weeks I stopped off at different auto places to get quotes on a new battery. Every place I went didn’t have a battery in stock for my car.

My battery was only failing when the temperatures were very low, so I decided not to replace the battery right away. Throughout the spring, summer and early fall my battery ran like a champ. Then recently as the temperatures started dropping, I noticed it was struggling to start. So once again, I started the process of looking for a new battery at a good price.

Before I go through the chain of events of what happened next, let me tell you about the book I was reading during this time period.

The Luck Factor
The Luck Factor by Richard Wiseman

The Luck Factor is about the science of luck. The author has done numerous experiments on people that consider themselves lucky and those that consider themselves unlucky. A lot of luck is how we interpret and respond to a situation. “Lucky” and “unlucky” people will respond to similar situations differently, which affects the actions they take or don’t take, which affects the outcome. This was the section I was reading that Saturday morning:

Principle Four: Turn Bad Luck into Good

With that in mind, let me resume the car battery story.

My car battery would likely not last another month, so I went to a Walmart hoping to get a good price on a car battery. Plus they had free installation. A grizzled old Walmart mechanic looked under my hood for a good 30 seconds before asking me “Where is the battery?” and “Did you drive here with a battery?” I’m not kidding. Not a good sign. BAD LUCK. Then his side kick appeared and let me know they didn’t have a battery for my diesel. Now normally that would be BAD LUCK, but given that their mechanic couldn’t even locate where my car battery was, I left with a sign of relief. GOOD LUCK.

Then we had another week of warmer temperatures, so I waited until last Friday to resume my battery quest. I had thwarted the Car Battery Gods for too long. It was time to get a new one. When I went to start my car, it was dead. I had waited one day too long. BAD LUCK. Now I needed a jump. The day before I met one of my neighbors at Trader Joe’s. We had been neighbors for two years, but we never formally introduced ourselves until that day. Saturday morning I was able to get my newly met neighbor to provide me with a jump. GOOD LUCK.

Photo by Mohammed Alnaser

Unfortunately, my car battery was completely dead. It wouldn’t even take a jump. BAD LUCK. Now I would have to pay for a tow. I’d also have to cancel my Espresso Road Trip event to Tacoma scheduled for Sunday. When I cancelled, I got an email from a member volunteering to come over and help me get a new batter and assist with the install. GOOD LUCK.

We got an inexpensive battery at Sams Club that actually fits my car. He was a member. Unlike Costco which is a zoo on weekends, very few people shop at Sams Club in Seattle. There were no lines. GOOD LUCK. He also bought some tools to help with the install. When we got back to my car, I popped my hood and ran into the house to get some scissors to open the tool package.

When I returned to my car, my friend was chatting with a guy that we thought was changing a flat tire nearby. The guy looked at our tools and said they that we had purchased the wrong ones and that we needed metric tools. BAD LUCK. Then I looked into his car, which had tons of tools. I learned he wasn’t fixing a flat tire, he was a mobile mechanic. He had every tool under the sun in his car. I hired him on the spot to install my car battery. GOOD LUCK. He wanted $50. BAD LUCK. I countered with $20. He accepted. GOOD LUCK.

I thought installing a car battery was a simple task. Not for my car. I watched as this guy changed my battery. His hands moved like a surgeon. My friend and I later chatted that we only thought we could change the battery, but after watching him work, we knew finding him was a Godsend. And we only found him, because he parked directly in front of where my car had died the day before. AMAZING LUCK.

In the end, I spend $98 on the battery and $20 on the install. A sweet bargain. At every turn where there appeared to be BAD LUCK. I thought about the lessons from the Luck Factor.

Lucky people see the positive side of their bad luck.

When Walmart didn’t have my battery it was bad luck, until I met the incompetent mechanic that was going to install it. Then it was a blessing.

Lucky people do not dwell on their ill fortune.

Despite numerous setbacks, I kept my eyes focused on solving the problem without focusing on everything that had went wrong. The result was my car was up and running by Saturday afternoon and I was able to attend my Espresso Road Trip event the next day. There are some excellent lessons in the The Luck Factor, which I will cover in a future post.

The Guinea Pig Diaries

During a recent trip to the library, I spied this book out of the corner of my eye under Staff Picks. Just look at that cover. I had to read it.

The Guinea Pig Diaries: My Life as an Experiment
The Guinea Pig Diaries: My Life as an Experiment by A. J. Jacobs

I pride myself on my nutritional experiments. Seems I’ve been thinking way too small. Writer A.J. Jacobs is much more imaginative. In this book he did experiments where he spent a month as if he were George Washington, living by his 110 Rules of Civility and Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation. Another month he practiced Radical Honesty, where he had no filters on what he thought and what he said. My favorite chapter was The Unitasker, where he went to great lengths to perform only a single task at a time. This includes wearing a blindfold while talking on the phone, to prevent his eyes from engaging in another task.

This book was very funny. If you are looking for a quick enjoyable read, check out The Guinea Pig Diaries. I hadn’t really thought too much about extending my personal experiments into social experiments, although in a future post I will share a body language trick I developed to make strangers walking past you on the street more likely to smile.

What John Gray Missed in Venus on Fire, Mars on Ice

When I reviewed the book Venus on Fire, Mars on Ice: Hormonal Balance – The Key to Life, Love and Energy by John Gray Ph.D., I stated that I felt John Gray missed something important in his analysis in regards to his 90% number. For those that didn’t read that post, John Gray believes the key to successful relationships are when each partner gets 90% of what they need emotionally from the world and just 10% from the man or woman they love.

Venus on Fire, Mars on Ice talks about earlier times when women engaged in nurturing activities with other females during the day. When her man came home, all her emotional needs had been met. This is not true today. The book makes a case on why it is more important for men to engage in romantic gestures today than ever before. Because women lack these nurturing outlets, the man needs to step up and be more romantic. I don’t disagree with this assessment, but being more romantic doesn’t solve the core problem, which is the fact she isn’t getting 90% of her emotional needs met outside the relationship.

by James Vaughan

If a man is working twice or three times as hard to be romantic, because she is getting less than 90% of what she needs emotionally from the world, she has less incentive to increase than number. She is getting her roses and massages, why should she drive across town to meet her girlfriends for yoga class? She is having her stress levels lowered and receiving attention.

This sets up the problem. Men are by nature energy conserving. We are wired to do specific tasks and then rest. That is how we restore our testosterone levels, which reduces our stress level. Increasing romantic gestures has an energy cost. Comedian Dante Nero has wisely stated that when you do something for someone three times, it becomes expected. Over time a romantic gesture can quickly turn into an obligation. Now we have a situation where a man is not only expected to perform those obligations that were once romantic gestures, but he needs novel ways to continue to be romantic. He has created a romantic arms race against his past self.

I think John Gray missed what I see as the logical response.

One of my tech skills is optimizing database queries. Figuring out how to retrieve the data result I want as quickly and efficiently as possible. Fix the bottleneck and everything works better. The bottleneck here is the 90% number. A man should be spending more time encouraging his woman to seek out positive social networks that lower her stress level. If he doesn’t, then that de-stressing task becomes his responsibility.

Stress by Bernard Goldbach

I was in a relationship with a girl that had a healthy nurturing network. She was active with dance classes, she meditated, went to church, was involved with several groups and had a supportive best friend. During the time we were together, she stopped dancing, going to church and attending her groups. The relationship with her best friend also soured and her work responsibilities increased. Most of her nurturing network was gone. Eventually she found herself unhappy and I was only one left to blame. Knowing what I know today, I would have been pushing her to restore her social networks or build new ones.

So if your girl starts hinting that she is unhappy and you can see she lacking a nurturing network or other outlets to de-stress, take her out on a nice romantic date. During the date make a stop at an art supply store, pass by a dance studio that offers classes or any other hobbies she might be interested in participating that are not based on competition. Encourage her to build out her network and hobbies in a way that support her emotional needs. Otherwise it will all blowback on you.

I’m no expert on this topic, but I am surprised Dr. Gray missed this point. It is simple arithmetic.

Venus on Fire, Mars on Ice

This summer I stumbled upon a lecture that fascinated me. It was John Gray discussing hormonal expression in both healthy and unhealthy relationships. I put up the video with my notes in the post Hacking Hormones in a Relationship. I was interested enough in the topic that I had to read the book.

Venus on Fire, Mars on Ice: Hormonal Balance - The Key to Life, Love and Energy
Venus on Fire, Mars on Ice: Hormonal Balance – The Key to Life, Love and Energy by John Gray Ph.D.

Venus on Fire, Mars on Ice is a must read for those wishing to better understand the opposite sex. Never in a million years would I have ever picked up and read a relationship book had it not been presented as a solution to understanding that men and women respond differently to the same hormones. What de-stresses a man is different than what de-stresses a woman at a hormonal level.

Testosterone relives stress in men, whereas Oxytocin is the stress relieving hormone for women. Although women can feel great by engaging in activities that stimulate their production of testosterone, it does nothing to lower their stress levels. They need Oxytocin which is released when they engage in nurturing activities, receive assistance, engage in cooperation and feel they are being listened to.

This is a problem in the modern era. Women are now increasing employed in a traditionally male occupations which foster competition, deadlines and being rushed. All things that stimulate testosterone, which does nothing to lower her stress levels. The networks of supportive females that her grandmother had in earlier times are gone.

The Male Problem

The testosterone levels in men has been falling for decades. A number of factors are cited including an increase in abdominal fat, lack of sleep and environmental toxins. If a man is motivated enough, these things can be greatly improved with a solid diet, good sleep and a sane exercise plan. But that is not enough.

Men no longer need to be as manly as they did when familial survival was dependent upon their success. But a man still requires feeling important in the eyes of his woman. As women begin to earn more degrees and higher salaries, men begin to lose their sense of purpose. Their need is to be needed. When he can sense his contribution is not important or minimized, he loses purpose and motivation, which are unattractive characteristics to the female. Testosterone is fueled by success.

The Female Problem

John Gray makes the case in his book and lecture that the damage of stress is doing more damage to the health of women than men. Men can get their testosterone fix in numerous ways. Women still need to develop the social structure to decompress, which is more difficult to do when her day is spent putting out fires and meeting deadlines, which do nothing to reduce her stress levels.

The book does cover how a woman should communicate with her man in a way that keeps him motivated. Use friendly, brief, and direct requests instead of pointing out mistakes and making corrections. This provides a man with a measurable path to success, which makes him feel important. And when he feels important his motivation increases, which is an attractive characteristic to women.

I did a follow-up post Hacking Testosterone and Increasing Oxytocin for ideas on increasing improving our relationship hormones.

The 90% Number

John Gray encourages partners to get 90% of what they need emotionally from the world and just 10% from the man or woman they love. This is great advice, but it also explains to me why so many relationships fail after the newness factor wears off. When a couple first meets they often will spend lots of time together. This commitment comes at a cost, especially for woman if she is forsaking her social networks that engaged her in a nurturing way, because she is spending more time with him.

I want to speak more about the 90% number and something I felt John Gray missed in his analysis, but this post is getting long enough. Look for a follow-up post later this week. Posted: What John Gray Missed in Venus on Fire, Mars on Ice.

I highly recommend Venus on Fire, Mars on Ice: Hormonal Balance – The Key to Life, Love and Energy. It explained so much of what was previously a mystery to me. The book concludes with a some food and nutritional supplement ideas, which I haven’t looked at too closely.

Deep Nutrition, Perfect Health Diet and The End of Overeating

I’m way behind on my nutrition book summaries. In this post, I’ll cover three excellent books that approach nutrition from different viewpoints that compliment each other nicely.

Deep Nutrition: Why Your Genes Need Traditional Food

Many of the readers of this site know about Weston A. Price. He was a dentist that traveled the world in the 1920s and 1930s studying the effects of how modern food was impacting traditional cultures. He published Nutrition and Physical Degeneration in 1939, which detailed the excellent health people had from different parts of the world before they became exposed to processed foods. As great as Price’s book is, most will not find the 500+ pages accessible. Plus we know a lot more about nutritional science today. That is where Deep Nutrition comes in. It beautifully connects the wisdom of traditional food preparation with modern nutrition.

Deep Nutrition does an outstanding job covering the dangerous of vegetable oils. It also has a great section called The Four Pillars of World Cuisine. These are the nutritionally dense foods used by traditional cultures long before we even knew what vitamins or omega ratios were. Those pillars include Meat on the Bone, Organ Meat, Fermented / Sprouted Veggies and Raw Foods. That sounds like my diet of the past few years. I may not be able to defend the science, but like my ancestors, I know those foods are working great for me.

Deep Nutrition is the best nutrition book I’ve seen directed at mothers. There is a section on what the mother should be consuming during pregnancy and why waiting three years between children is a wise idea. If you are looking for a book that connects the knowledge of ancestors with modern nutrition, this is a great book to own.

Deep Nutrition: Why Your Genes Need Traditional Food
Deep Nutrition: Why Your Genes Need Traditional Food by Catherine Shanahan

Perfect Health Diet: Four Steps to Renewed Health, Youthful Vitality, and Long Life

If you like numbers and getting under the hood on nutrition, you will love The Perfect Health Diet. Like Deep Nutrition it covers which foods are most nutritious and which are the most toxic. Some things you will learn in PHD:

  • Why saturated fats are the safest fat.
  • Strategies for healing and preventing disease.
  • What are safe starches.
  • Why non-starchy veggies should be counted as fats, not carbs.
  • A no hunger method of Intermittent Fasting, which I have tested successfully many times.
  • Which supplements are the most useful and which to avoid.

Perfect Health Diet like Deep Nutrition falls under the Paleo umbrella. I think it is an excellent reference.

Perfect Health Diet: Regain Health and Lose Weight by Eating the Way You Were Meant to Eat
Perfect Health Diet: Regain Health and Lose Weight by Eating the Way You Were Meant to Eat by Paul Jaminet

The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite

An emerging theory of obesity is based upon food palatability and food reward. I first posted about this last August in the post Flavor Signaling and The Shangri-La Diet. The End of Overeating explores how food scientists are engineering food that override our natural appetite. When we get foods that provide an excess stimulus, we become addicted to those foods and over consume them. This is good for profits, but not for our health.

Before I read The End of Overeating, I knew processed foods like breakfast cereals and candy bars were designed to get us to over consume. What I didn’t know was just how pervasive food engineering has become. Many sit down restaurants with visible kitchens aren’t actually cooking the meal on site. They are receiving the food that was assembled and pre-cooked at a different location. This is done not only to drive down costs, but to stimulate more addictive behavior in their customer base. From page 72:

Before the chicken is shipped from the manufacturating plant, it’s battered, breaded, predusted, and frozen. This creates a salty coating that become crispy when fried in fat. “All this stuff absorbs fat, dries out the batter and breading, and replaces water with oil. So now you’ve got batter and breading that is probably 40 percent fat,” according to the food consultant.

All this processing makes the food softer and easier to consume. From page 69:

By eliminating the need to chew, modern food processing techniques allow us to eat faster. “When you’re eating these things, you’ve had 500, 600, 800, 900 calories before you know it,” said the consultant. “Literally before you know it.: Refined food simply melts in the mouth.”

To make matters worse, the fat restaurants typically use is the very cheap and inflammatory soybean oil. Not good. By layering sugar on fat on sugar on fat, food scientists have figured how to get you consume past satiety. If this book doesn’t make you want to start cooking your own food, then nothing will. I’ve read a few posts where smart people have critiqued this theory of obesity. Although it may not end up being complete, after I ran my own Food Reward Test: Almonds vs Almond Butter, I became a believer. The more you chew you food, the less calories you need to reach satiety.

The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite
The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite by David Kessler

Testing Myself For Autism

One of my interests is economics and one of my favorite economists is Tyler Cowen. I love his interviews on the Econ Talk podcast. This summer I’ve read three of his books. One of the books is titled Create Your Own Economy: The Path to Prosperity in a Disordered World. At first I didn’t know where this book was going. It began with a long discussion of the autism spectrum. Then it connected how those on the autism spectrum often excel at categorizing and organizing data relationships, which is characteristic of the Internet itself.

Create Your Own Economy: The Path to Prosperity in a Disordered World
Create Your Own Economy: The Path to Prosperity in a Disordered World by Tyler Cowen

Create Your Own Economy is three years old so many of us are more knowledgeable about social networking today than when it was published. I still enjoyed the book and ended up learning more about autism than economics. Instead of viewing autism and Aspergers as something you have or don’t have, the book explains there exists a wide spectrum.

Until I read this book, I thought I had nothing in common with autistic individuals. I find social interactions mostly easy. But I also have other traits, such as strong data analysis skills and pattern recognition. I often notice change that others don’t recognize. I can smell coffee roasting from a mile away and sometimes I can detect sounds that escape others. Some of my blog readers might recall how I obsessed over a spacing issue with the layout of this blog. When I look at menu, my first task is usually to find spelling errors and not to pick out what I want to order.

So this morning I took the Autism Spectrum Quotient Test. Here are the score brackets for the test.

  • 0 – 10 Low
  • 11 – 22 Average (Male Average is 17, Female Average is 15)
  • 23 – 31 Above Average
  • 32 – 50 High

The test states that those with Asperger Syndrome or high functioning autistic people score about 35. I scored a 24, which places me in the Above Average category. Had I taken this test prior to reading Tyler’s book, this might have alarmed me. But I learned in Create Your Own Economy that having some autistic characteristics can be leveraged and extremely valuable in the digital age.


Photo by hepingting

My only concern after taking this quiz is how I can go about improving my relationships in a way that is most effective for me. Kind of like how I hacked my diet and exercise. Find the rules that yield the maximum gains, implement and test. Spoken like someone with slightly above average autism tendencies. :)

UPDATE October 2014: Retook the quiz and got an 18.

Heal Your Headache: The 1-2-3 Program for Taking Charge of Your Pain

I just finished reading a book that provides a new framework for understanding my headaches. Since March 2011 I have been diligently trying to track down the cause of my late night headaches. I’ve had them for many years, but only recently decided to seriously pursue their cause. I’ve done many tests and tried numerous supplements, but haven’t found the cause. At times I felt I was getting close, but the data hasn’t shown that I’ve made any improvements.

Part of the problem I discovered when trying to research headache causes is that there is a web page out there for every suspect. You can go mad trying to figure out and weigh true risk factors from the extremely rare conditions. Heal Your Headache has a clear message about the roots of headaches and what steps we need to take to fix the problem.

Heal Your Headache

Heal Your Headache: The 1-2-3 Program for Taking Charge of Your Pain by David Buchholz, M.D.

It’s Likely Migraine

The first thing Heal Your Headache explains is that most headaches are migraine in nature and that a lot of misunderstanding stems from that label. A headache with migraine roots need not have classic migraine symptoms. A migraine can manifest as sinus pain or neck stiffness or tension headaches. The author makes a very strong case that what I’ve falsely labeled as a sinus headache is really migraine in nature. A good chunk of the book goes into this labeling and why other explanations for headaches are often false.

The 1-2-3 Program

The 3 steps of Heal Your Headache are:

  1. Avoid the “Quick Fix”
  2. Reduce Your Triggers
  3. Raise Your Threshold

The Quick Fix

This section deals with how we respond to pain. What medications we take. The author states that some of the medicine we use to alleviate pain can actually makes things worse once the drug wears off. This section was the least relevant to me since I find almost no comfort from any over the counter pain medicine for headaches. I do medicate a little with caffeine, which I’ll discuss later in this post.

Reducing Triggers

A headache occurs when the cumulative triggers exceed our pain threshold. That makes sense. Triggers can be dietary, weather and/or stress based. They can also come from medication we are taking. Headaches may or may not occur at the time those triggers are present or they may occur later when the triggers aren’t present. This makes the testing approaches I’ve taken so far pretty much worthless, because removing a single trigger (or class of triggers) may not be enough.

Heal Your Headache advises a strict dietary approach that removes the major triggers and then after being 4 months in the clear, start adding back foods to see if specific triggers can be isolated. Four months is a lot longer than any test I’ve done so far.

Raising your Threshold

I didn’t understand most of this section. It talked a lot about specific medications taken in small quantities that could raise our pain threshold once we’ve removed our triggers. This seems like a nice place to be. My take is that I need to focus on finding and reducing triggers first. If I win that battle, I can always revisit this section later.

Dietary Triggers

The good news is that if I accept the premise of this book and remove the dietary triggers that my headaches could be cured or greatly reduced. The bad news is the #1 trigger for migraines is caffeine. Caffeine also paradoxically can make the migraine pain go away in the short term. The author states that this help in the short term increases headaches in the long run.

Other dietary triggers include:

  • Chocolate
  • MSG
  • Processed Meats and Fish (bacon, sausage, ham, etc)
  • Cheese, Yogurt, Sour Cream, Buttermilk, Kefir
  • Nuts
  • Alcohol and Vinegar
  • Certain fruits and juices (citrus fruits, bananas, raisins, raspberries, plums, avocado, figs, dates)
  • Certain Vegetables (onions, sauerkraut, lima beans, lentils, navy beans, fava beans, pea pods)
  • Fresh Yeast-Risen Baked Goods
  • Nutrasweet
  • Maybe List – Fermented soy, tomatoes, mushrooms

This book does give me hope that solving my headaches may be possible. However, the idea of living without caffeine in Seattle may be too much of a challenge even for me. Coffee isn’t just a drink for me. It is an important component of my social network and a core hobby. If caffeine is the culprit, I may need to move away from Seattle. Heal Your Headache has given me a lot to think about.

The Art of Fermentation Comes Out Next Week

My fellow fermentation fans, the wait is over. The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Katz is available for pre-order and will be shipping next week. From Amazon:

The Art of Fermentation is the most comprehensive guide to do-it-yourself home fermentation ever published. Sandor Katz presents the concepts and processes behind fermentation in ways that are simple enough to guide a reader through their first experience making sauerkraut or yogurt, and in-depth enough to provide greater understanding and insight for experienced practitioners.

While Katz expertly contextualizes fermentation in terms of biological and cultural evolution, health and nutrition, and even economics, this is primarily a compendium of practical information-how the processes work; parameters for safety; techniques for effective preservation; troubleshooting; and more.

I just ordered my copy of the 528 page book. I’m a big fan of Sandor Katz.

Art of Fermentation

The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Katz (AMAZON USA)

5 Spices, 50 Dishes

Now that I’ve conquered the Gyro Meatloaf, my number cooking priority is getting much better with Indian cooking. To date it has been the most challenging cuisine to cook. I love the Indian food that I get in restaurants. Not certain dishes, but every dish. After a visit to an Indian restaurant, I usually come home fired up and motivated to replicate what I just ate. I find what I think are equivalent recipes and do my best. However, although the end product tastes good enough to eat, it never wows me and often tastes nothing like what I had at the restaurant.

Then I stumbled on the book 5 Spices, 50 Dishes: Simple Indian Recipes Using Five Common Spices. Instead of hitting you over the head with countless ingredients and steps, it goes straight to the basics. Before posting this review, I made two of the recipes in the book.

Dish 23 – Lamb Meatballs in a Spicy Malabari Curry

Most of the dishes I’ve had at Indian restaurants have brighter colors. This one didn’t. I feared I had screwed up the recipe right up until the moment I took a bite. It was amazing. This coconut milk based curry has a little kick. This was an Indian dish that I had never had before. It was a simple recipe that worked.

Lamb Meatballs - Malabari Curry

Lamb Meatballs – Spicy Malabari Curry

Dish 34 – Baked Fish in a Spice Broth

I got a sweet deal on some cod, so I made this dish. Just like the previous recipe, it was a dish I had never had at an Indian recipe. It had less heat, but it took a boring piece of white fish and made it delicious.

Baked Fish in a Spice Broth

Baked Fish in a Spice Broth

Almost a Perfect Cookbook

The photos in the book are excellent. The directions are clearly written and as I’ve stated before, it takes a simplified approach to what can seem like a complicated process. My one compliant with 5 Spices, 50 Dishes: Simple Indian Recipes Using Five Common Spices is every recipe uses canola oil. Even a cracker like me knows Indians cook with butter, ghee and maybe coconut oil. Make that one switch and this book is great.


You Are Your Own Gym

You absolutely do not need a gym to gain strength. This book is full of exercise ideas that only require your own body weight.

You Are Your Own Gym: The Bible of Bodyweight Exercises
You Are Your Own Gym: The Bible of Bodyweight Exercises by Mark Lauren does a good job illustrating many different exercises one can do one your own without expensive gym equipment. The book is selling right now for $11. Even if you got bored with body weight exercises after a month, you’ll be hard pressed to find a gym with a monthly fee that low.

The book lists 125 exercises starting on page 53. The text prior to this section is not essential to getting started. Not every exercise is equal. Some are heavy hitters, like the push-up and some of the squat variations. I like how he mentions slowing down the movements can increase the intensity. However, I wouldn’t take his advice to use unstable platforms to increase difficulty, as I think the risk of injury would increase without a corresponding increased reward. If you get this book and start experimenting with the exercises, use your best judgement on the safety of the movement. Doing a push-up is safe. Jumping up onto a pile of boxes is only safe if the boxes remain stable as you successfully land on them (p110).

If you are just looking for a no nonsense safe workout with minimal exercises, then I would recommend the plan in the book HillFit by Chris Highcock or my less detailed outdoor HIT workout. If you want more ideas, especially if you are designing a Tabata or another strength interval workout, pick up a copy of You Are Your Own Gym. Just use your best judgement when selecting exercises. Pick the ones that don’t increase safety risk as fatigue sets in.

Adrenal Fatigue? Not For Me

In the post Health Goals – Late 2011 Edition, under #3 Dialing in an Optimal Coffee Level, I asked this question:

Do I have some form of adrenal fatigue?

It is easy to understand why I might suspect adrenal fatigue. I have consumed a lot of coffee in the past 20 years. I even run a website called INeedCoffee. Maybe I’ve gone too far and have adrenal fatigue? I needed to find out more about this topic so I read the go to book on the topic.

Adrenal Fatigue: The 21st Century Stress Syndrome
Adrenal Fatigue: The 21st Century Stress Syndrome by James L. Wilson covers the topic of adrenal fatigue thoroughly. The more I read the book, the better I felt. After reading the symptoms that other people experience, my life seems pretty sweet. The case studies made me seem like a Buddhist monk.

I took the adrenal fatigue quizzes in the book, which asks you to answer for both your current state and for the past. Probably the time in my life where I exhibited the most symptoms of adrenal fatigue would have been when I lived in the Washington DC metro area, which was late 1998 to mid 2000. It was the dot-com days and the traffic was killing me. The results of the quiz had me at low borderline for adrenal fatigue then. Today I am not even close.

Improving my sleep, fixing my diet and exercise has had many spill-over positive effects that have made me more resilient. I also consume far less caffeine today than I did back then. And I still drink 3-4 espressos plus tea now. Back then I was drinking 5-6 large mugs of french press coffee plus tea and cola.

My life and experiences are different than yours. If you suspect you may have adrenal fatigue, check out this book and do the quizzes yourself. The second half of the book has excellent tips for dealing with stress that could be benefit anyone, not just those with adrenal fatigue.

Hillfit: Strength is Not Just For Hikers

For the past few years I have been reading the fitness blog Conditioning Research by Chris Highcock. Although I would be hard pressed to name a favorite nutrition blog, I can easily say Conditioning Research is the best fitness blog. When I started reading the site, I had yet to be convinced on the effectiveness of High Intensity Training. I was still in the Pavel camp of low reps, high weight and high rest between sets. My progress had stalled and I was ready to try something different.

Photo of me hiking slot canyons outside of San Diego in 2007. I would have benefited from Hillfit back then.

It was Chris Highcock that convinced me to give High Intensity Training a try. Not directly though. I saw he shared the same opinion that I did on many other health related topics. Maybe Chris was on to something with this High Intensity Training? So a little over a year ago I went all in with HIT and haven’t looked back. High Intensity Training is a highly effective and safe method for developing strength in minimal time. I refer to High Intensity Training as the espresso of weight training.

In November, I left my gym and took my High Intensity workouts outdoors using body weight exercises. I describe my current workout in the post Escaping the Glitter: Taking High Intensity Training Outdoors. Although I am proud of this post, it probably is not that useful to someone that is new to the concept of HIT. They will need guided instructions, photos and background information to help them get started on constructing their own High Intensity Training program. That is exactly what Hillfit: Strength by Chris Highcock does.

The 52 page Hillfit e-book is the most user friendly introduction I have seen on High Intensity Training. All the exercises in the Hillfit: Strength program can by done from home without purchasing any equipment. Although the book’s title and early pages suggest the audience is for hiking, the reality is that developing strength will benefit you no matter what your sport happens to be. Even if your sport is playing with your kids. I highly recommend Hillfit: Strength as an introduction to High Intensity Training.

UPDATE APRIL 2013: Version 2.0 of Hillfit is now available.

Hill Fit

Click here to visit Hillfit

Disclosure: I received a copy of Hillfit in exchange for feedback on a draft version. I’m also in an affiliate relationship with E-junkie.

Rejecting The Naked Warrior

In this post, I will review a book I bought almost 8 years ago. At the time I thought this book was excellent. Not anymore.

The Naked Warrior
The Naked Warrior by Pavel Tsatsouline is a book that focuses on body weight exercises. It promises secret knowledge to help you get super strong without using weights.

When I got the book in January 2004, I was already injured from doing the Russian Bear protocol from Pavel’s other book Power to the People. My wrist could not handle the massive number of sets. Because my wrist hurt all the time, it was impossible to safely workout in my home gym. I had worked up to nearly a 300 pound squat, which I could have continued doing, but racking the plates wasn’t letting my wrist recover. I had full confidence that Pavel’s Naked Warrior book would teach me how to build leg strength without having to rack weights.

Enter The Pistol

How does one get super strong legs without squatting? Pavel describes in great detail The Pistol. It is a single leg squat, where the opposite leg is held in a straight position to the front. The video below shows an athlete doing a Pistol Squat holding a kettlebell for extra resistance.

Pistol Squat w 40 lb. Kettlebell by alkavadlo

Looks pretty bad ass, doesn’t it? The math of this exercise also makes perfect sense.

If one does a body weight squat with both feet on the ground, they can instantly double their resistance by using a single leg. Actually, more than double the resistance, because the working leg has to lift the full weight of the other leg off the ground. But it still doesn’t work out to a lot of weight for athletes that have years of squat experience. Pavel introduces the Pistol, which places the airborne leg forward, which makes the exercise far more difficult. And as you see in the video above, once that gets too easy, carry some additional weight during the repetition.

The Problem With the Pistol

Even though I could squat 1.5x my body weight for 5 reps, I was never able to do a single Pistol. I spent months working on the technique. Using chairs for support, I tried vigilantly to master one solid repetition. The most I ever was able to pull off were the occasional jerky sloppy momentum filled reps. Nothing fluid like in the video above.

My ankle hurt and so did my knee. Instead of making my legs super strong, I wasted months trying to balance a solid repetition without falling over. The Pistol sucks for us tall folk. From the article Breaking Down the One Legged Squat by Ben Bruno:

Taller athletes may also find it uncomfortable to do full pistols because their legs are too long and it causes cramping in the hip flexor of the inactive leg. I personally use both methods, but for anyone with knee issues or for taller athletes, I would just stick to a parallel one leg squat to a box.

Is there a safer more effective way to build leg strength without weights that doesn’t involve demonstrating a highly technical move that can take months of practice to learn? Absolutely. I’ll save that for the end of the article. Now onto push-ups.

One-Armed Pushups

Push-ups are easy. Push-ups are so easy they bore the average weight lifter. Pavel addresses this in detail in The Naked Warrior.

If a standard push-up is too easy then using one arm will make it much tougher. The downside is you’ve taken an exercise with very little risk of injury and replaced it with a highly technical demonstration of strength that can really put a strain on your shoulder. I could do regular and elevated push-ups with ease, but struggled to do a single one-armed push-up.

In the end, I never gained any super strength using the Pistol or the 1-armed push-up, because they were both too technical to perform. At least for my 6 foot 3 inch body.

Pavel and me

I met Pavel in early 2004

Bring on the High Reps? Not So Fast!

Not only have I rejected Pavel’s Naked Warrior single limb exercises, but I also fully reject the high repetition body weight exercises. Doing 50 or 100 or 300 body weight (aka Hindu) squats will certainly make you sore, but I believe the focus on repetitions as a metric of success is misplaced. My goal is to build muscle by fatiguing my muscle fibers as safely and efficiently as possible and then allowing time for recovery.

Doing ridiculous amounts of reps will make you very good at doing a ridiculous amount of reps, but is the least efficient method for targeting fast twitch muscle fibers. Minimizing momentum and keeping tension on the targeted muscle is far more important than knocking out additional reps. Don’t believe me?

Do two push-ups and two body weight squats. For the first rep of both exercises do it at a normal 1 second up, 1 second down tempo. For the second rep, slow it down to 3 seconds up and 3 seconds down. Humbled? The weight was identical and yet the 2nd rep was far more difficult. High repetition training may be useful if you are trying to develop a skill, but highly inefficient when it comes to building strength.

The Intelligent Body Weight Exercise Approach

When I went about designing my current body weight exercise program, I had 3 goals in mind.

  1. Exercise Selection: The exercises needed to be non-technical, basic movements that would target the major muscle groups. The exercises would also need to be safe enough to take to full failure. In other words, no 1-legged pistols from an elevated squat box.
  2. Full Muscle Fiber Activation and Fatigue: Most body weight exercises end when or before positive failure is reached. That isn’t enough. I want to use movements that let me safely achieve negative failure as well.
  3. Minimal Time Commitment: I strongly believe in the principles of High Intensity Training. As the duration of the workout increases, the intensity has to decrease. You may pat yourself on the back for going to the gym 3 times a week for an hour. The fact is you needed to reduce intensity to make that happen. My goal is to reduce duration and increase intensity. I’m down to a single 10 minute workout every 5-7 days. It is brutally intense and it takes me 2-3 days to recover from fully. Instead of racing back to my next workout to beat my body up more, I allow sufficient time for recovery.

What is my body weight exercise program? I detailed it in the post Escaping The Glitter: Taking High Intensity Outdoors. The short summary is I do a set of normal reps to pre-exhaust the slow twitch muscle fibers and then perform static holds until total failure is achieved. Then I stop.

Sorry Pavel

I know Pavel has a cult like following and I’m certain to receive some negative comments, but I don’t think The Naked Warrior is an efficient or safe method for building strength. That doesn’t mean it can’t be done, but I feel the time one takes to learn those technical exercises could have been better spent.

Healing Your Sinuses

I wrote this post in August, but for some unknown reason, I didn’t hit the Publish button then.

I started tackling my sinus headache problem back in March. My early strategies were based off article I read on various websites. Nothing too scientific. Well, I figured it was time to do something I should have done a lot earlier and that was read a book my a medical profession with expertise in the field.

Harvard Medical School Guide to Healing Your Sinuses (Harvard Medical School Guides)
Harvard Medical School Guide to Healing Your Sinuses (Harvard Medical School Guides) by Dr. Ralph Metson

I learned a few things from Healing Your Sinuses. The most important thing being that my self experimentation is actually a good thing. The author recommends a step-wise approach starting with the simplest treatments first and then progressing to the most advanced. Two initial steps that do not require medical assistance are:

  1. Diet and Lifestyle
  2. Irrigation

Diet and lifestyle is the approach I am testing right now. Common irritants to the sinuses include smoking, alcohol, wheat and milk. So this book validates my most recent 30 day test, which involves going dairy free. This makes sense since I already know alcohol and wheat cause me to have sinus headaches.

For irrigation, I have been using the Netti Pot and experimenting with a sinus spray. The book states that irrigation is a highly effective strategy and I learned I could double the amount I’m currently using.

The rest of the book covers over the counter medication, antibiotics, steroids and surgery.

Wheat Belly – Here It Comes

For the past 30 years, whole wheat has been considered the staple of a heart healthy diet. This may be the biggest lie in nutrition today. Not only is wheat not healthy, I discovered that removing it was the single best step I took to improving my health. Other books including The Paleo Solution and The Primal Blueprint have gone after wheat in a chapter or two. Wheat Belly is an entire book dedicated to exposing wheat for the poison it is. Dr. Davis pulls no punches.

Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, and Find Your Path Back to Health
Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, and Find Your Path Back to Health by Dr. William Davis.

Wheat Belly reminded me of that scene from Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Kahn. The evil Kahn confident of victory tells Captain Kirk that his time is up. Kirk responds by saying “Here it comes..” and launches an attack. Wheat Belly is the “Here it Comes” attack on wheat and all its defenders.

Since I’ve long given up wheat, you might wonder why I read this book. I read it because I really like writing style of Dr. Davis. Too many blogs these days have become bloated PubMed abstracts. It is refreshing to find writers that can educate readers on important health issues using crisp writing. Wheat Belly is highly accessible for the average reader. You do not need to be a nutrition geek to understand it.

Some topics covered in the book include:

  • How wheat spikes your blood sugar more than ice cream and candy bars.
  • How wheat can cause gut permeability, which can lead to a host of health problems.
  • Wheat, insulin resistance and obesity.
  • How wheat has changed as a plant in the past 30 years for the worse.
  • Explains wheat’s role in glycation, which leads to wrinkles and cataracts.
  • Wheat and mental health.
  • Heirloom wheat.
  • Wheat has addictive opiate like properties and how it stimulates appetite.
  • Although it did not cover rosacea, there is an excellent chapter on the damage wheat does to healthy skin.

I only had two issues with this book. The first is something that could easily be fixed in a 2nd printing. I think having photos of wheat today side by side with wheat from pre-GMO days would be instructive. Many of the readers in the book are too young to know what wheat looked like prior to the current dwarf mutant wheat.

The second was the recommendation endorsing raw nuts. Although I think raw nuts are far better than wheat, due to the high levels of phytic acid, they aren’t perfect. This is why many traditional cultures soaked them. Chris Kresser recently posted Another reason you shouldn’t go nuts on nuts, which explores this topic.

Wheat Belly is excellent book if you are looking for motivation or reasons to go gluten-free. One final word, when I cut back and eventually eliminated wheat I didn’t lose a lot of weight at first, what I did lose was inches. That puffiness went away faster than the pounds dropped off the scale. So if you are going to go wheat free as a fat loss strategy, be sure to also take a tape measure reading of your belly. Like me, you may lose the bloat before you lose the pounds.

Also see: The Downside to Life Without Bread.

Flavor Signaling and The Shangri-La Diet

I just read a fascinating diet book that approaches fat loss by adjusting the body’s fat set point by weakening the signal between calories and flavor.

The Shangri-La Diet: The No Hunger Eat Anything Weight-Loss Plan
The Shangri-La Diet: The No Hunger Eat Anything Weight-Loss Plan is by Seth Roberts.

This book provides an alternate hypothesis to reversing obesity, but it doesn’t contradict anything that I’ve learned about nutrition over the past few years. The Shangri-La Diet offers an explanation, which if true, provides a framework for understanding why diets succeed or fail despite identical macronutrient ratios. This diet doesn’t restrict calories or carbohydrates, but instead uses a goal of adjusting the body’s fat point by reducing the flavor signal. Note that I use the term Flavor Signaling to describe what is going on, even though that term isn’t used in the book. In short, flavors that are stronger, more frequent and more predictable will push the body’s fat set point higher. Those that do the opposite, will lower the fat set point.

How The Diet Works

The diet is amazingly simple and could easily be tried by anyone, even those following another diet. At least an hour before one of your meals, consume unflavored sugar water and/or Extra Light Olive Oil. Both of these foods are flavorless and provide calories. The author and many of his blog followers have lost and more importantly kept off the weight using this simple technique. Although it sounds too good to be true, once you think about it from an evolutionary standpoint it makes perfect sense.

Evolutionary Explanation

Paleo man didn’t have a 24 hour grocery store and a McDonalds. Nature varied the amount and variety of food sources. Some regions and some seasons provided more abundant and predictable food sources. For survival purposes, there would have been an evolutionary advantage to increasing the body’s fat set point during those times.

When food is more plentiful, we choose the food with the strongest flavor. When it is not, we take what we can get. Simply having tasty food around would have provided the hormonal signals to store more fat. The more frequent a particular food was consumed, the stronger that association. If a food was rarely consumed, then that flavor would not send the same signal to increase the set point, as that could be an indication of scarce resources.

Back To The Present

In modern times, we not only have access to endless amounts of food, but we tend to eat the same foods over and over. This strengthens the Flavor Signal. You feed your body a Big Mac and Pepsi everyday and even though the meal may meet a normal caloric requirement, permanent fat loss rarely occurs because the fat set point doesn’t come down.

One of the things I’ve noticed about people with chronic weight issues is that they tend to be picky eaters. The common perception is of the fat guy that eats everything in sight. I don’t see that. The people that I see that eat the most diverse diets, tend to be thinner. Those with predictable limited diets, tend to have trouble losing weight or keeping it off when they are successful.

We have a huge problem with obesity in the poor. Poor people consume a lot of fast food and processed food. Seth Roberts calls these “ditto foods“. Foods that taste identical every time you eat them are ditto foods. They send a flavor signal of abundance and are quite addicting.

Why Do So Many Diets Fail?

One of the things that I tend to focus on when researching things is looking for points of failure. This is why I bash personal trainers that are blinded by survivorship bias. I’m more interested in learning why something failed than defending why something worked. Lots of diets work. They tend to work for a while and then the dieter gains the weight back. Usually the dieter is blamed for a lack of discipline, but the failure rates are too high for such a simple explanation. Addressing the set point might be the answer.

Take Away Diet Lessons

Here are some take away lessons one can use from this book to improve their diet.

  1. Consume Extra Light Olive Oil and/or Unflavored Sugar Water – Do this at least an hour before eating. If you consume the sugar water, do it very slowly. The book goes into details on dose size and answers common questions. As of this writing, the hardcover book on Amazon is just $2.70.
  2. Stop Eating Ditto Foods – Or if you do eat Ditto Foods, keep altering which ones you eat.
  3. Vary Your Menu – Get out of the habit of eating the same foods. On the foods that are the same, change the spices.
  4. Eat Slower Digesting Foods – Processed foods digest faster and have stronger flavor signaling. Choose more slower digesting foods.
  5. Cook More – When you prepare your own meals you can alter ingredients, cooking times and spices from meal to meal. This is the opposite of Ditto Foods.

Final Review

If I were overweight, I would have held off on this review and tried the protocol. Then I would have included my thoughts on the book along with my own results. However, I’m already lean and weight stable so I can’t test it. Even if this diet doesn’t work for someone, I really like it, because besides making sense it is a low cost and low effort.

My biggest tips for losing fat have been to cut the sugar and wheat. Sugar is obvious, but The Shangri-La Diet also strongly supports my case against wheat. It is processed and fast digesting. Also, unless you are always varying the type of bread, it can mimic a Ditto Food.

After reading this book, I did some more research and learned that this avenue of obesity research is gaining popularity. Additional resources include The Deconditioning Diet on Getting Stronger and the 8 part series Food Reward: a Dominant Factor in Obesity (Part 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8) on Whole Health Source.

Summer Reading Roundup

I was going to put up three separate posts on the books I’ve read this month, but decided to combine them.

In Fifty Years We'll All Be Chicks
In Fifty Years We’ll All Be Chicks by Adam Carolla is the funniest book I’ve read in years. I was laughing out loud every few pages. The rants, observations and wisdom in this book were highly entertaining. If you liked his radio show or podcast, you’ll love this book.

Think Smart: A Neuroscientist's Prescription for Improving Your Brain's Performance
Think Smart: A Neuroscientist’s Prescription for Improving Your Brain’s Performance by M.D., Richard Restak is a fast paced, easy to read book on brain performance. One thing that stood out in this book to me was the importance of exercising your memory. With information access so easy today, the need to remember things is quickly diminishing. Some have celebrated this fact and believe that cloud computing and search engines have become extensions to our brain. This book doesn’t tackle that point, but it makes a solid case on why it is important not to let your memory skills atrophy.

I’ve read books on brain performance and creativity before. I always enjoy them and two weeks later the lessons are forgotten. Think Smart stresses the importance of deliberate practice for strengthening memory. I always make time to go to the gym and lift weights, yet I’ve shown none of that discipline when it comes to exercising my brain. Starting now, I’m going to add time on my calendar each week to do brain exercises.

Disconnect: The Truth About Cell Phone Radiation, What the Industry Has Done to Hide It, and How to Protect Your Family
Disconnect: The Truth About Cell Phone Radiation, What the Industry Has Done to Hide It, and How to Protect Your Family by Devra Davis covers the safety of cell phones. I picked up this book after listening to her interview on Underground Wellness (June 9, 2011). The book is a detailed look at the topics covered in that interview. The take away lesson is we don’t know how safe cellphones are and that if they do end up causing brain cancer that it could take 20 years. At that point, we may have epidemic. Additional concerns are for children and pregnant women.

Since I read The 4 Hour Body over the winter, I have been powering off my phone before I put it in my pocket. Just in case. I’d rather miss your phone call than risk lowering my testosterone levels. No offense. :) The book is excessive in details, so I would recommend listening to the interview first and then deciding if you want to read more on the topic.

Williams-Sonoma Essentials of Slow Cooking: Recipes and Techniques for Delicious Slow-Cooked Meals
Williams-Sonoma Essentials of Slow Cooking: Recipes and Techniques for Delicious Slow-Cooked Meals by Melanie Barnard is a decent cook book that focuses on the slow cooker. Like every other Williams-Sonoma book, the photos are amazing and the book is cleanly edited.

What I felt was missing from this book was a good introduction that really broke down the elements of slow cooking. There is a book out there on slow cooking that is stellar. I was flipping through it at a kitchen store a few months ago. Unfortunately, I didn’t write the name down. I plan on returning to that store soon for the book.


The Art of Non-Conformity Review

I feel like I’ve read this book before.

The Art of Non-Conformity: Set Your Own Rules, Live the Life You Want, and Change the World
The Art of Non-Conformity: Set Your Own Rules, Live the Life You Want, and Change the World by Chris Guillebeau has a familar tone to it. It is another “define your goals” and “take on the world” book. I think how receptive you are to this style of inspirational book really depends on where you are in your life’s journey and how fresh these ideas are to you.

Although the general thesis of the book wasn’t new to me, I did walk away with a few interesting lessons.

  1. Not To-Do List – Make a list of the things you spend time on that aren’t benefiting you and then don’t do them. I’m a big fan of making To-Do lists, so the simplicity of this idea appealed to me.
  2. “Educational, Inspirational, Entertaining” – The author states that a good blog post will fall into one of more of these categories. I never thought about targeting an outcome in my blog posts. Looking back, I can now see why some posts got really popular and some were duds. I’m going to expand on this idea in a future post.

The author I agree on most topics. Travel is cool, especially if the destination is cheap. Debt is slavery. College and Graduate school are no longer worth it for most disciplines. Frugality is in. Experiences over Consumerism. These topics have been a well-beaten path on this blog for years.

The Art of Non-Conformity invites comparision to The 4 Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss. If you like one, then you will most likely enjoy the other book. Both authors make the case for escaping from your office working for someone else to striking out on your own. With the exception of the fact this book has no index in the back, it is a good book.

I was going to link to the author’s blog, but he has one of those annoying splash pop-ups. A wonderful thing about the book is that you won’t be bothered to sign up for an email newsletter when you turn the pages.

One Man’s Rebuttal to Eat, Pray, Love

When I first saw this book at the library, I thought it was Eat, Pray, Love. Then I noticed what the title really said and I busted out laughing.
Drink, Play, F@#k: One Man's Search for Anything Across Ireland, Las Vegas, and Thailand
Drink, Play, F@#k: One Man’s Search for Anything Across Ireland, Las Vegas, and Thailand by Andrew Gottlieb is the Eat, Pray, Love story told from the man’s side. After a failed marriage, the main character Bob Sullivan, decides to take a year off for himself. He kicks off his year by drinking massive amounts of booze in Ireland. Then he heads to Las Vegas for a few months of gambling and golf. And the final destination has him heading for the beaches in Thailand.

The first 50 pages of this book were enjoyable. It was funny, self-depreciating and felt honest. Then the story got tedious. The gambling section felt like it was written by the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce. Our main character, who was recovering from a painful divorce, stopped being real. The reader is subjected to an 80 page love letter about gambling and golf. Not an ounce of humor or sincerity. I thought the last section in Thailand would save the book, but it was atrocious. The ending was more “chick flick” than any any “chick flick” I’ve ever seen.

Drink, Play, F@#k is the worst book I’ve read in years. It felt like it was written in one sitting. I do love the title though.


I liked the cover of this book, so I read it.

Numb: A Novel
Numb: A Novel is by Sean Ferrell. Numb is about a man with amnesia that has a condition by which he feels no physical pain. He could have a nail hammered into his hand and not fell the slightest bit of pain. This talent is first exploited in a circus and later he convinced to move to New York City for fame. The story is about trust, exploitation and learning who your friends are.

Numb was a quick read and the author did an excellent job of planting seeds of doubt on the integrity of different characters throughout the story. I really liked Numb. I’m glad I stumbled upon this book.

Strength and Fitness For a Lifetime

Last week Fred Fornicola from Premiere Personal Fitness sent me a copy of his e-book Strength and Fitness For a Lifetime – How We Train to review.

Strength and Fitness For a Lifetime is a collection of older fitness enthusiasts that are still around and still in great shape. Almost all those profiled are over 40, with the majority being in their 50s and 60s. Most guys at the gym make the same mistake when seeking role models. They look at the huge guy in his mid 20s and decide to train like him. Not me. I’ve always been far more interested in the survivors. I detailed my thoughts on this topic in the post Rambling Thoughts About Gym Survivorship.

I wanted to learn what enabled these lifters to survive when so many their age had given up or got sidelined with injuries. I expected that answer to be a common sense scaled back version of training that measured risk versus reward. Although there was some of that, I came away with the opinion that these athletes mostly survived through superior recovery ability.

Almost all the athletes profiled began training as teenagers, and a few before then. I don’t know this to be a fact, but I believe that if you start weight training at a young age, you develop an ability to recover faster and that you retain that ability into your later years. So the fact you are muscular at 55 has more to do with the fact you started lifting at 13 than your 4x a week exercise program. I could be wrong, but you almost never see older guys pushing serious iron that started lifting later in life.

My favorite profiles in the book included:

  • Fred Fornicola – His approach was the least rigid. He has the mind of a student. Always learning and exploring new fitness protocols. He also had the most solid nutritional advice.
  • Bill DeSimone – He takes a smart bio-mechanics approach to lifting and recognizes there is a balance between performance and injury and that avoiding injury is the primary goal.
  • Dwayne Wimmer – His training philosophy is almost identical to mine. Perform two brief, highly intense workouts a week and then allow time for recovery.

Some profiles I would have liked to seen in the book would include John Little and Dave Durell. They are both over 40 and have a great understanding of recovery, which is a topic critical to the older lifter. Maybe as I get older I’ll understand the wisdom from many of these lifters, but my opinion is that most of them over train and their body let them get away with it.

The book is a quick read at 96 pages. Fred did a great job with the editing and I also enjoyed reading the introductions. You can purchase Strength and Fitness For a Lifetime at Premiere Personal Fitness.


Ice: A Memoir of Gangster Life and Redemption-from South Central to Hollywood

I saw Ice-T on a recent Colbert Report and thought I’d check out his autobiography.

Ice: A Memoir of Gangster Life and Redemption-from South Central to Hollywood
Ice: A Memoir of Gangster Life and Redemption-from South Central to Hollywood

I’m not really a fan of rap music. I liked the first two Beastie Boys albums, Public Enemy, N.W.A., Ice Cube and of course Ice-T. I’ve since lost interest in rap, but I was interested in reading how Ice-T went from being a criminal to an actor and businessman.

Ice-T was a successful thief, pimp, DJ, rapper, rock artist, movie actor and TV star. He also helped broker the peace between the LA gangs in 1992. Ice-T was also involved in numerous other projects, including making a documentary on the history of rap music. His success in multiple disciplines is what makes for a good book. And I had no idea that Ice-T served in the Army. He even did the same infantry training at Ft. Benning, Georgia that I did.

Although I liked the story, I felt this book lacked something. At several points where Ice-T was earning a new level of success, he seemed to be light on details and not forth coming. Although he went into detail on how he was a hustler in his criminal past, his legit success was written as if he was lucky or just happened to be in the right place at the right time. Ice-T states that he landed his role in New Jack City because Marion Van Peebles heard him talking in the men’s room of a nightclub, liked what he said so much that he offered him a role in the film.

Other acting successes seemed to come too easy in the story. Maybe it happened that way, but I doubt it. My guess is that because Ice-T is still in the entertainment industry, he is keeping his work ethic secrets close to the vest. When I read the 2nd half of the book, I was reminded of Law #30 from the stellar The 48 Laws of PowerMake your accomplishments seem effortless.

…When you act, act effortlessly, as if you could do much more. Avoid the temptation of revealing how hard you work – it only raises questions. Teach no one your tricks or they will be used against you.

I really wish Ice-T would have opened up more in the second half of the book on how he infuses his hustler ethic in the legit world. That would have made it a great book.


The New High Intensity Training

My interest in High Intensity Training continues.

The New High Intensity Training: The Best Muscle-Building System You've Never Tried
The New High Intensity Training: The Best Muscle-Building System You’ve Never Tried by Ellington Darden Ph.D. is an outstanding book on the principles of High Intensity Training. It starts with a history lesson on the early days of HIT with Arthur Jones, Casey Viator and the Mentzer brothers. At first I wondered why it was important to put the history of HIT inside a training program, but it made perfect sense after reading those chapters. Much like the nutrition book Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes, it really is essential to understand how we came to know information that ended up being completely wrong.

Darden does an excellent job covering genetic potential for muscle growth. I already knew that as an ectomorph, my somatype was the least ideal for gaining muscle. After doing the two tests in the book, I confirmed that my physique has the absolute worst potential for size. I’ll share those tests on a future post.

For those unfamiliar with High Intensity Training, it differs from traditional high volume training in the following ways.

  • Shorter more intense workouts.
  • 1 set to failure.
  • Slower more controlled movements.
  • Fewer workouts with a focus on recovery.

There are different methods for High Intensity Training, but those are some of the most common principles. The New High Intensity Training covers a lot of different HIT methods.

The New High Intensity Training is beautifully edited. The book is packed with very tight writing. It has excellent photos that clearly demonstrate each exercise. While reading this book, I was inspired by the photos to try out a few exercises. Last Friday I did negative dips and negative chins using a weighted belt. I used 90 pounds for the dip and 45 pounds on the chin. My arms still haven’t recovered.

My only complaint with this book was the nutritional advice. It was awful. Darden recommends calorie counting and eating such nutritionally empty foods such as whole wheat bread, low-fat dairy, beans, snack bars, orange juice and microwave dinners. This book was written in 2004. I hope his thinking has evolved on this topic. I was misguided back then myself.

One of the key components to the success of High Intensity Training is recovery. My belief is that eating highly nutritious whole foods would help facilitate that goal. What should bodybuilders eat? The foods outlined in the book The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth, with a bias towards more calories and carbohydrates on training days and less during recovery.

The New High Intensity Training, despite the few pages on nutrition, was excellent. I read lots of books on fitness. Very few will ever make it into my personal library. This book will.

The Joy of Pickling

In the past year, I’ve read or skimmed numerous books from the library on fermentation. Most were OK. None of them seemed complete. Until now.

The Joy of Pickling: 250 Flavor-Packed Recipes for Vegetables and More from Garden or Market (Revised Edition)
The Joy of Pickling: 250 Flavor-Packed Recipes for Vegetables and More from Garden or Market (Revised Edition) by Linda Ziedrich is the best book I’ve seen on fermentation. It covers salt proportions better than Wild Fermentation. It goes into vinegar types, spices, storage and supplies. The author even has a witty writing style.

I made spicy fermented cauliflower using a recipe in the book. It took three weeks, but the results were worth it. It tasted slightly pickled with some heat, all while maintaining a little crunch. The recipes are clearly edited and the fermentation times are not wild ranges, but clear estimates.

If you are interested in fermentation, this book belongs in your kitchen library. The last chapter covers pickled meat, fish and eggs, which is something I hadn’t even considered. Pickled beef tongue? See page 368.

Beat the Reaper

I rarely read fiction, so take this review with a grain of salt.

Beat the Reaper: A Novel
Beat the Reaper: A Novel is by Josh Bazell. About two weeks ago I decided I needed a break from all the non-fiction books I’ve been reading. After a little research, I found Beat the Reaper was available at my local library. So I went down to the library and picked it up. As I made my way up to the check out, a librarian saw the book in my hand. She called out to me and said I was going to love that book. She then proceeded to tell me that everyone at that works at that branch has read and enjoyed Beat the Reaper. What an endorsement!

I did love this book. It was a super fast paced action story that connects organized crime and medicine. One reviewer calls it House meets The Sopranos. I don’t think I can improve upon that analogy. That pretty much sums it up. Excellent book.

Vegetables From The Sea

After the radiation story hit, I went out and got a bunch of sea veggies. Then I located a book with ideas on how to cook with them.

Vegetables from the Sea: Everyday Cooking with Sea Greens
Vegetables from the Sea: Everyday Cooking with Sea Greens by Jill Gusman is the best book I could locate on the topic of cooking with sea vegetables. The first part of the book goes through the different types of sea veggies and highlights their nutritional values. It is an excellent primer on the topic.

The recipes have excellent photography, which I appreciate. While I was reading this book, I just started tossing seaweed into my own dishes. I now add different varieties of seaweed to my soups, stews, meat loafs and I’ve even tried it in kimchi. So I never got around to actually trying any of the recipes. The book is still excellent if you need ideas. I guess I just prefer the hacking method.

The Rational Optimist – How Prosperity Evolves

These days I am bombarded with messages of pessimism in the news and financial blogosphere. Some of it is rational and some irrational. On the other side, there are charlatans and politicians that are ignoring reality and preaching messages of irrational optimism. I read this book because I wanted to hear a rational optimistic viewpoint from someone not trying to earn my vote or investment.

The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves
The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves by Matt Ridley appealed to me because it was it written by a science journalist. Early in the book the author makes a very important distinction between financial markets and the markets of goods and services. Financial markets will go through boom and bust cycles. They will encourage speculation, fraud and irrational optimism. However, the market for goods and services is where we should be focusing our optimism.

The book gives an exhaustive history of how human cooperation has made our lives better. By moving away from self-reliance and towards interdependence we all became better off. The history of trade and cooperation and how it improved living standards is really quite fascinating and The Rational Optimist covers it in great detail.

In the section on how our planet can feed 9 billion people, he makes a case against using organic farming, as yields would drop to the point we would be forced to deforest most of the planet. He also defends GMO crops. It is a topic I know little about, but I’ve listened to arguments against GMOs that I don’t think were adequately addressed. Ridley gives exactly one page to addressing the nutritional concerns. It was this page that I lost some faith in our author, when he stated this:

By the time this book is published soybeans with omega-3 fatty acids developed in South Dakota should be on the way to supermarkets in America. They promote to lower the risk of heart attacks and perhaps help the mental health of those who cook with their oil …

Pure Nutritionism nonsense. To think we know all there is to know about food and that we can use this knowledge to tweak Mother Nature has a long record of failure. I suspect that what we know about food is less than what we don’t know.

What I do know is that soybeans unless fermented for over 6 months have high levels of phytic acids which block mineral absorption. Got osteoporosis? Soybeans also contain phytoestrogens and goitrogens which disrupt sex and thyroid hormones. Soybean oil is highly inflammatory oil that is not heart healthy. Ridley also believes feeding cattle soybeans instead of grains is a good solution. So Ridley has optimistically figured out how to feed the planet. The end result is we will all have little sex drive, weak bones, thyroid problems and inflamed arteries. And that is just what we already know.

There is a big difference between cheap calories and cheap nutrition. Feeding people as cheap as possible usually comes with a cost that is paid later down the road. Filling bellies full of wheat, corn and soy is not a sustainable way to keep the human population healthy.

I hate to pick on the nutrition part so much, but it is what I know. The parts of the book that focused on goods, services and trade were very well written. He even made some interesting optimistic arguments about global warming and the future of Africa. The Rational Optimist detailed how pessimist predictions are historically inaccurate and the trend is always towards sharing and more wealth. Despite the soybean stuff, it was a pretty good book.

The Rational Optimist succeeded in helping me make the distinction on where to place my optimism. From a long term perspective our lives are getting richer in terms of goods and services. We tend to focus on solving the problems of tomorrow with the technologies of today.

Why We Get Fat

I just finished reading the slimmer version of Good Calories, Bad Calories.

Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It (Borzoi Books)
Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It (Borzoi Books) by Gary Taubes was written to be more accessible than his book Good Calories, Bad Calories. Although many of us adored the GCBC book (I read it twice), the majority of people don’t have the time or energy to read a 600+ page exhaustive expose on nutrition and nutritional history. But the message is important, important enough that a scaled back version with half as many pages was released.

What is the message? It’s the carbs, not the calories. Carbohydrates drive insulin which drives fat storage. The carbs we’ve been told to eat to be healthy are the ones making us fat and ill. Why We Get Fat also exposes the mistruths about our understanding of cholesterol and heart disease. The book also touches on cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease.

Last year when I saw Gary Taubes give a free lecture at one of the University of Washington medical buildings, he shared his frustration about getting his message out to the medical community. He could have easily sold out Seattle’s Townhall at $5 a ticket, but he wanted to reach doctors, so he brought his lecture to them. Very few people showed up for the lecture. Most were fellow nutritional geeks like myself.

Is this book exhaustive in explaining every pound of excessive fat? No, but I don’t think any one book could do that. Taubes focuses on insulin. He doesn’t go into omega ratios or gut flora or other inflammatory factors that may contribute to obesity. Some will criticize this, but Taubes is not a doctor or nutritionist. He is a science reporter focusing on the role of insulin.

Why We Get Fat is an outstanding book that I think will be more accessible to the public. There are still a few dry chapters on history, but to understand how we arrived at such bad conventional nutritional wisdom some back story is needed.


Power To The People – 10 Years Later

It was almost 10 years ago that a book arrived in the mail that would change my life.

Power to the People! : Russian Strength Training Secrets for Every American
Power to the People! : Russian Strength Training Secrets for Every American is by Pavel Tsatsouline.

Prior to this book I had been lifting weights like the muscle magazines taught me. You know the hit-the-body-from-every-angle with multiple sets of 8-12 reps. It works wonders if you are a steroid taking mesomorph. Not so much if you’re a drug-free ectomorph. You are always sore and your strength levels never seem to go up.

Impressive Gains

Then I read Power To The People and everything changed. Pavel taught me to reduce the reps to just 3-5 and increase the weight. And to get stronger, I’d have to increase my rest between sets. The focus of the weight lifting plan wasn’t numerous isolation moves, but dead lifts and a pressing move. Hammer those two hard and strength will follow was the message of the book. And it worked.

During the first three years of using the Power To The People protocol, I gained almost 20 pounds of muscle. For the first time in my life I was benching my weight. I could squat almost 300 pounds and dead lift over 300 pounds. Not bad for a recovering Stick Boy. This book made me a believer in low-repetition weight training. I’ve been preaching against low-weight high-rep training ever since.

I met Pavel in 2004

The Russian Bear Got Me

A few years into the workout regime, I decided to try Pavel’s Russian Bear protocol for gaining mass. It included:

  1. low reps 4-6
  2. high sets 10-20 (not a misprint)
  3. end each set a few reps before failure.

This was too much for me. I started to get back pain and I hurt my right wrist so bad I needed surgery. I was sidelined for lifting for over 6 months. My body stopped gaining muscle and I was often in pain. Although these days I know better, then I would often work through the pain or work around the pain. That never worked. I’d be sidelined with an injury for weeks. Then I’d return to the gym and start the build up process all over again.

Half Power

For the past few years I’ve played a balancing act between following the basics of Power To The People and focusing more on body weight exercises (chin-ups, dips, push-ups). I’ve reduced my number of workouts and weight as a strategy to avoid injury. I fell into a sweet spot of maintaining a decent amount of strength where I could stay injury free.

Going Forward

Last December, for the first time since 2001, I started a brand new weight lifting strategy. I’m using the High Intensity Big 5 Workout described in the outstanding book Body By Science. To learn more about that style of workout read High Intensity Training at Ideal Exercise. So far I am enjoying HIT. For the first time in years I’m giving 100% in the gym without fear of getting injured.

My 10 Year Review

Power To The People is an excellent book. I can’t blame Pavel for my injuries. I will say that the volume of work described in the Russian Bear section is probably excessive for drug-free ectomorphs. I must thank Pavel for getting me away from the muscle magazine nonsense. Although I don’t follow his program right now, it is the program that has worked best for me so far.

The Age of Deleveraging

I just finished reading a book from one of my financial mentors.

The Age of Deleveraging: Investment Strategies for a Decade of Slow Growth and Deflation
The Age of Deleveraging: Investment Strategies for a Decade of Slow Growth and Deflation is by A. Gary Shilling. Back when I used to spend hours every day watching the clowns on CNBC pump their fists about how great everything was, there were few voices of reason. One of them was Gary Shilling. Like me, he saw early on how the housing bubble was not just a subprime issue and how the losses would go beyond housing and damage the financial markets. That was a very unpopular opinion to have during the drunken days of the housing bubble.

The Art of Delveraging begins with Gary telling us about the 7 great calls he made during his career. Some Amazon reviewers seems to take issue with his bragging. I don’t. Gary has been successful because he often went against the consensus. This invites attacks right up until the moment you are proven right. I don’t know how many times I saw other financial experts rudely berate Gary on CNBC. He always kept his cool and came off as a true gentlemen. He earned my respect. If after ~50 years in the game he wants to write 100 pages saying what he got right without being interrupted, then God bless him.

Hopefully other readers will savior the wisdom of the 7 great calls. This is how a great researcher sized up the economic landscape at different points in our history. His greatest call in my opinion was buying long-term Treasury bonds from the very early 80s to the depth of the 2008-2009 financial crisis. In the early 1980s inflation was very high and so were interest rates. Shilling’s research showed that while everyone else was expecting more and more inflation that the opposite was true. By investing in high interest bonds, the value of your investment goes up when interest rates fall. And that is exactly what happened.

Most investors find Treasury bonds boring, because they focus on the interest. Gary focuses on appreciation. He writes:

A decline in yields from 4.0 percent in July 2010 to 3.0 percent may not sounds like much, but the bond price would appreciate 20 percent. If it occurs over two years, then two years’ worth of interest is collected, and the total return on the 30-year Treasury would be 28 percent. One a 30-year zero-coupon Treasury, which pays no interest but is issued at discount, the total return would be 34 percent.

If you’ve been actively following the banking and housing crisis over the past few years there are sections you might want to skim through. But for others, this book also serves as a great concise economic history book for the last decade.

Gary Shilling has been in the deflation camp since the early 1980s and is still there. After he makes his case for further deflation he concludes with 12 investments to sell or avoid and 10 investments to buy in the coming decade. This book serves as a good balance between the frat boy everything-is-wonderful nonsense in the financial media and the get-your-gun-the-end-of-the-world-is-near message coming out of the financial blogosphere.

Ranking the Paleo Books – March 2011

Now that the paleo diet is becoming more mainstream, I thought I put together a list ranking the paleo books. This list is for the person new to the diet and not my fellow nutritional geeks. Since I expect more books will be released in the coming years, I added “March 2011″ in the post title.

#1 The Primal Blueprint by Mark Sisson

The Primal Blueprint: Reprogram your genes for effortless weight loss, vibrant health, and boundless energy
The Primal Blueprint: Reprogram your genes for effortless weight loss, vibrant health, and boundless energy by Mark Sisson

In my opinion, The Primal Blueprint is still the gold standard for explaining the paleo diet to the average person. It is brilliantly edited into 10 Primal Blueprint Laws. This book proves that the paleo diet isn’t that complicated. Although Mark Sisson’s blog tends to be long and technical, his book is extremely accessible.

#2 Primal Body, Primal Mind by Nora Gedgaudas

Primal Body-Primal Mind: Empower Your Total Health The Way Evolution Intended (...And Didn't)
Primal Body-Primal Mind: Empower Your Total Health The Way Evolution Intended (…And Didn’t) by Nora Teresa Gedgaudas

I really loved this book. It goes into greater detail than The Primal Blueprint and covers supplementation options to accelerate healing from certain conditions. I emailed the author with a question and received a detailed response a day later. This book had some editing issues and will be republished with new information later this year. You can pre-order the new version now.

#3 The New Evolution Diet by Art De Vany

The New Evolution Diet: What Our Paleolithic Ancestors Can Teach Us about Weight Loss, Fitness, and Aging
The New Evolution Diet: What Our Paleolithic Ancestors Can Teach Us about Weight Loss, Fitness, and Aging by Arthur De Vany

Art De Vany is my mentor. It was his influence that started me down the paleo path. I love his writing and interviews. There were some misprints in the book that De Vany has addressed in interviews since the publication. It is still an excellent read. Just know that caster oil and canola oil should be on the NO list. De Vany’s approach to the paleo diet is lower in fat than others. His section on exercise is outstanding.

#4 The Paleo Solution by Robb Wolf

The Paleo Solution: The Original Human Diet
The Paleo Solution: The Original Human Diet by Robb Wolf

If you really dig scientific details and want to understand the evils of grains, then this is the book for you. I liked the detail, but some may find it overwhelming. For most people that want some basic knowledge and recommendations, I would recommend one of the three books above. The 30 day Paleo Challenge is admirable, but most people will fail in days trying to give everything up at once. The “all or nothing” approach tends to only work with people that have already had success with restrictive diets in the past. If you try the challenge and fail, be kind to yourself. Instead of changing everything at once, fix one thing a month. Sugar one month, grains another month, etc.

#5 Neaderthin by Ray Audette

NeanderThin: Eat Like a Caveman to Achieve a Lean, Strong, Healthy Body
NeanderThin: Eat Like a Caveman to Achieve a Lean, Strong, Healthy Body by Ray Audette

The first 60 pages of this book are pretty good. I don’t like how the author attacked coffee, but the rest of the nutritional stuff is the basis for what we know about what the paleolithic man ate. The second half of this book is a poorly written exercise manual. Ignore that section. Check the library or look for a cheap used copy of this book.

Other Books

I never read the original 2002 Paleo Diet by Cordain. A new edition was just released in December 2010. Might be worth checking out. Mark Sisson also released The Primal Cookbook. I gave mine away. I thought it was cheaply put together with poor photography.

The Best Book For You?

My above rankings are for the average person. Below are more customized recommendations.

  • Give Me Some Facts and a Plan – The Primal Blueprint
  • Give Me More Facts and a Plan – Primal Body, Primal Mind
  • Supplement Questions – Primal Body, Primal Mind
  • A High Fat Approach to Paleo – Primal Body, Primal Mind
  • A Lower Fat Approach to Paleo – The New Evolution Diet
  • Best Exercise Section – The New Evolution Diet
  • Best Case to Cut Out Grains – The Paleo Solution
  • Easiest Read – The Primal Blueprint
  • Best Edited – The Primal Blueprint


Static Contraction Training

John Little is one of my favorite writers in the fitness field. He co-wrote the definitive fitness book Body by Science. Recently, I listen to an outstanding interview with him on High Intensity Nation. In the interview he discussed a style of training called Max Contraction Training that sounded interesting, so I checked to see if the book was in my library. It wasn’t, but a book with a similar title co-written by John Little in 1999 was there.

Static Contraction Training
Static Contraction Training by Peter Sisco and John Little is a very quick read. This is a style of high intensity training that uses 1 set to failure for a handful of exercises. Instead of moving the weight slowly like is done in Body by Science and other slow training methods, this uses – as the title alludes to – a static hold of a heavy weight.

The premise is that when you raise and lower a weight, no matter how slow you go, tension is reduced at different points in the movement. An example mentioned in the book is that if you are lifting 200 pounds that no matter how slow the descent, you must lower the tension below 200 or the negative portion of the repetition can not occur. With SCT you take a weight that is so heavy that you can only hold it for 5 to 15 seconds. As soon as you can hold it longer than 15 seconds, it is time to increase the weight.

Safety was my primary concern when I read about this training method. You should be using either a trusted training partner to spot weights, machines or a squat rack with pins in the right position. The weight you can hold will be significantly greater than one you can lift. I think the book could have done a better job in explaining how to do these exercises safely. I’ve been lifting since 1994 and I still have questions on 30% of the exercises mentioned. My guess is this topic is expanded upon in the updated Max Contraction Training.

I did have one problem with this book. The photos. This book has lots of photos of professional body builders who used steroids and built their body using techniques other than SCT. If I were editing this book, I would have taken out all those photos which make up for over half the book and instead put photos or drawings on how to perform each exercise in a safe manner. The book has several photos of Craig Titus, who was later convicted of murder, arson and kidnapping. Not exactly an ideal role model for a training protocol.

What do I think of SCT? The reviews on Amazon are love and hate. I haven’t tried it, but I will. John Little is a smart guy and I respect a lot of the people that respect him. One of the points that John drives home in his podcast interview is something I know to be true. Most people in the gym are over training. They aren’t allowing their body sufficient time to fully recover. Maybe some of the critics to this program are those gym rats that lower intensity in order to squeeze in additional volume? Or maybe it works better for some than others? I’ll let you know how it goes.

The 4-Hour Body

Finally finished reading it.

The 4-Hour Body: An Uncommon Guide to Rapid Fat-Loss, Incredible Sex, and Becoming Superhuman
The 4-Hour Body: An Uncommon Guide to Rapid Fat-Loss, Incredible Sex, and Becoming Superhuman by Timothy Ferriss is a pretty good book. I don’t agree that eating first thing in the morning accelerates fat loss and I think the Geek to Freak chapter is dishonest. However, the book is fun. I’m sure anyone with even a passing interest in fitness or nutrition will find something that sparks their interest. Tim is really good about being an ambassador to some of the great minds in fitness.

People have already started asking me my thoughts on the Slow Carb Diet. My opinion is it is much better than the standard American diet and that many dieters could benefit on that plan. I can see how this diet combined with a cheat day would be easier to follow than a paleo diet. Is it superior? The best diet is the one that inspires you and the one that you stick to and follow. For me it would be a huge step backwards, but I’m already at my ideal weight and not the target audience for this chapter.

If I were to change one component of the Slow Carb Diet it would be the legumes section. I do not see a reason to EVER consume non-fermented soybeans. The other beans aren’t great either, unless they are properly soaked and sprouted. Beans have phytates which block mineral absorption. Soaking and sprouting disables the phytates and it is easy to do.

The highlight of the book for me was the Reversing Injuries section. I knew about wearing flat shoes and have been doing Egoscue exercises for a decade, but I was unaware of some these other techniques. I’m injury free now, but knowing about these other excellent strategies is worth the price of the book. There is also an excellent appendix called Spotting Bad Science, which should be required reading for every medical reporter.

What sparked my interest the most? Probably the bench press chapter. I’ve always had trouble with that exercise. This summer I will try out his plan.

Eat Stop Eat – A Guide Book For Intermittent Fasting

In November 2008 I bought and read the e-book Eat Stop Eat. This book is considered in the fitness circles to be the definitive guide to Intermittent Fasting. The author Brad Pilon was the first to my knowledge to exhaustively pour through the medical literature to study the effects of fasting on the human body.

I decided that I wouldn’t do a review on it at the time. Instead I would test out the information. It would be premature to post a glowing review and then not make any health improvements. Behind the scenes I let Nick at TheTailGunner know what I was up to. He decided to test out IF too and proceeded to lose 50 pounds. By April of 2009, I was convinced of benefit of IF and I posted exhaustively on the subject. Since then I have received several reports from friends and readers of how much fat they lost.

Eat Stop Eat by Brad Pilon

Losing fat on a diet is no big deal. People do it all the time. The problem is that they often will regain the weight and more. This is why I waited so long to post a review of Eat Stop Eat. I wanted to see if the fat loss was indeed permanent. Based off my small sample pool it has been. It has with me. I carried a weight of 208-211 for almost decade, but since implementing Intermittent Fasting I’m weight stable at 190. This is the real deal.

Art De Vany planted the idea of Intermittent Fasting in my head, but I needed more convincing. I wanted to know the nuts and bolts before I undertook such a radical change in my eating patterns. Eat Stop Eat was my guide. If you need help or guidance in beginning an Intermittent Fasting program, I highly recommend Eat Stop Eat. Eat Stop Eat anticipated and answered every concern I had about fasting. I’m 20 pounds lighter and this book gets a lot of the credit.

Below is video by Brad Pilon compare fasting with exercise.

Disclosure: Because I believe in this book, I signed up for their affiliate program.

The 10,000 Year Explosion

I wanted to better understand what happened between the paleolithic age and agriculture. This book came highly recommended.

The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution
The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution by Gregory Cochran is an excellent book that goes directly after the theory that humans stopped evolving 40,000 years ago. In fact, the book makes a solid case that we are still evolving and at an accelerated pace.

This intuitively always made sense to me. All one has to do is look at carbohydrate metabolism. I was able to eat a moderately high amounts of grain and never exceed 20% body fat. I don’t do that anymore, but compare my experience to that of native cultures just exposed to modern foods, especially Native Americans and Pacific Islanders. The island of Nauru was just exposed to processed carbs and now 95% of the population is overweight. A huge decline in health after initial exposure to processed foods is exactly what Dr. Weston Price discovered when he traveled the world in the 1930s meeting traditional cultures.

The book explores a lot interesting evidence, genetics and history. I really enjoyed this book. Does it alter my take on the paleo diet? Maybe a little. I’m clearly of Northern European decent and can handle dairy quite well. So although the paleo diet frowns on dairy, I think I can handle it just fine. Will I ever reach for a Mountain Dew or return to cooking with canola oil? Absolutely not, as no population has has time to evolve to extract nutrients from highly inflammatory seed oils or junk food. But someday they might.

Nutrition and Physical Degeneration

This book is considered a masterpiece in the study of human nutrition.

Nutrition and Physical Degeneration
Nutrition and Physical Degeneration by Weston A. Price was published in 1939 and may be more relevant today than it was back then. The story of this book is fascinating. A dentist from Cleveland traveled the world to study what different cultures ate and how it impacted their health. Dr. Price did this at a time just before the world got completely connected. He was able to see how traditional people lived. He was also able to see and measure the health consequences of people that had just been exposed to modern food.

What he discovered is not a surprise to me or anyone that has been exposed to traditional food preparation. People were remarkably healthy and free of tooth decay before the arrival of white flour, sugar, canned food and vegetable oils. Even more amazing than the story itself are the photographs in the book. The photos show the smiles of traditional cultures versus those that had been exposed to modern food. Even if you never get a chance to read this 500 page book, I highly recommend at least looking at the pictures. Parents especially.

Readers of this site know that I am fascinated with how the body adapts to cold weather and my experiments with cold weather exposure. Dr. Price discovered that the Quichua Indians of Peru were far more extreme than me.

Their capacity for enduring cold is wonderful. They can sleep comfortably through the freezing nights with their ponchos wrapped about their heads and with their legs and feet bare.

What about the practice of fasting to toughen one up? The Aborigines of Australia have a ritual that a boy must pass to become a man.

…he is tested for his ability to withstand hunger without complaint. The test for this is to go on a march for two or three days over the hot desert and assist in preparing the meals of roast kangaroo and other choice foods and not partake of any himself. He must not complain.

Compare that with the parents of today. Below is a photo of moms that showed up outside a California school to hand candy to their children at recess after California put a ban on selling junk food in school vending machines.

From the film Killer At Large.

I loved this book. The lessons are as true today as they were back then. We are very fortunate that Dr. Price got a chance to meet and learn from these traditional cultures while they still existed. If you are interested in food and nutrition, this book is a must read. I highly recommend it. And if you are interested in cooking more traditionally, get the book Nourishing Traditions.

Nourishing Traditions:  The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats
Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats by Sally Fallon.

The New Evolution Diet

The publisher of Art De Vany’s book was kind enough to send me an advance copy of the The New Evolution Diet to read and review. It will be released tomorrow.

The New Evolution Diet: What Our Paleolithic Ancestors Can Teach Us about Weight Loss, Fitness, and Aging
The New Evolution Diet: What Our Paleolithic Ancestors Can Teach Us about Weight Loss, Fitness, and Aging by Arthur De Vany is an excellent addition to the growing library of books that remind us how we used to eat before the age of agriculture.

It was about three years ago this month that I was exposed to the ideas of Art De Vany. At a holiday party I was hosting a guest pulled up his website. The next morning I began my journey into evolutionary nutrition. Later I would purchase the 7 hour DVD lecture which would become the genesis for The New Evolution Diet book. Professor De Vany first exposed me to the idea of Cold Weather Training and Intermittent Fasting. To say his influence on me has been important would be an understatement. I am now 20 pounds lighter and almost never get sick.

The New Evolution Diet goes after the usual suspects: sugars, processed foods, grains and dairy. Some early reviews complained that his diet is lower in fat than other books on the paleolithic diet. I don’t believe this is something to be alarmed about. It really speaks to the resiliency of the diet itself. Once you remove the neolithic foods, it will work fine at lower levels of fat too. De Vany has been practicing this form of eating since he was 47. He is now 73 years. It would be wise to listen to someone with this many years experience on the diet. Instead of feeling threatened that my diet may be too high in fat, I am excited to know that it will still work if I reduce the fat level.

As a side note, I follow a seasonal paleolithic approach. I consume more fat in the winter and more carbohydrates in the summer. Unlike Professor De Vany, I live significantly north of the 37th parallel (Seattle) and rely more on animal fat during the winter months for fat soluble vitamins.

Throughout The New Evolution Diet he promotes seafood as an excellent food source. In his DVD lecture series, he explained that during the Ice Age humans migrated towards the coasts and began consuming much more seafood and sea vegetables. Weston A. Price in his 1939 book Nutrition and Physical Degeneration documented how important food from the sea was to the health of many indigenous cultures. This may just be anecdotal evidence, but have you noticed how people near the coast lines seem to be healthier than those in the middle of the country?

My favorite chapter of the book was The Metaphysics Behind the Diet. This is De Vany at his best. As an economist that studied complex systems, he used that training to study human health. This chapter explains how the human body is a collection of decentralized complex systems. Hopefully this chapter will cure readers of any notion that you can precisely control your health through regimented exercise and calorie counting.

There are many brilliant people in the paleo field now. I don’t believe anyone is as wise at Arthur De Vany. I highly recommend The New Evolution Diet. I also recommend his 7 hour DVD lecture series from 2008. The afterword of the book was written my one of my favorite thinkers – Nassim Nicholas Taleb.

Initial Impression of The 4-Hour Body

Today The 4-Hour Body was released on Amazon and other book stores. I happened to be near a Barnes & Noble, so I stopped in to scan the book. This is my initial impression.

The 4-Hour Body: An Uncommon Guide to Rapid Fat-Loss, Incredible Sex, and Becoming Superhuman
The 4-Hour Body: An Uncommon Guide to Rapid Fat-Loss, Incredible Sex, and Becoming Superhuman by Timothy Ferriss is a beast of a book. It is really a textbook. After scanning the book for more than 10 minutes, I came to the conclusion that Tim Ferriss and I are on similar paths and we each draw from many of the same mentors.

Some ideas that popped out in the book and his recent podcast interview:

  • Paleolithic and cyclical ketogenic diet. I’ve been all over the paleo diet and have been planning on starting a cyclical ketogenic diet on December 22nd (start of winter).
  • Cold Weather training. You know I like that.
  • Alignment exercises with props to Peter Egoscue. I’ve been a fan of Egoscue exercises for almost 10 years.
  • Tim likes Pavel’s training method. This is the 5 rep protocol I started in 2001. I met Pavel in 2004.
  • In the podcast he brought up Charles Poliquin in reference to fixing a shoulder injury. I’ve been reading Poliquin since the mid 1990s and credit him with being the lead on sleeping in a completely dark environment for enhanced performance.

My early review is this book is going to be awesome. Tim Ferriss has earned my trust. I look forward to reading this book and trying some new experiments.

The Leap

This book came highly recommended by a few bloggers that I respect.

The Leap: How 3 Simple Changes Can Propel Your Career from Good to Great
The Leap: How 3 Simple Changes Can Propel Your Career from Good to Great by Rick Smith is nothing new. I think this book has been written a hundred times before. A successful person reverse engineers how they made it and then hand picks a few conforming examples and then presents their findings as the path. Are there good lessons in the book? Sure. The book has quite a bit of good advice, but I never once had the feeling I was reading some new life changing wisdom. I felt like I’ve read this book before.

Just once I’d like to read a business book that doesn’t cite huge outliers like Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and Tiger Woods. This book mentions all three. Does anyone in the business genre understand the concept of survivorship bias? In fairness to the author, he does frame his advice in a way where the reader minimizes downside risk. I also liked his tip to focus on ideas that are big, selfless and simple.

If you are new to the pump-you-up-and-take-on-the-world genre, you may like this book. It said very little new to me.

Your Brain at Work

My streak of outstanding books continues.

Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long
Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long by David Rock is different than other brain books that I’ve read. This one directly tackles understanding the brain as an energy system that is impacted by emotions.

Each chapter lays out a problem with how we respond to our environment in a way that negatively impacts our mental performance. Then the author explains how we are working against our brains and then he details a strategies to improve our mental performance. Every chapter is concluded with bullet point lessons.

Topics covered include:

  • Memory
  • Multi-tasking
  • Distractions
  • Uncertainty
  • Expectations
  • Fairness
  • Status
  • Autonomy

This book is outstanding. If you are in a management role, this book is for you. Many of the lessons deal with our brain deals with social conflict. If you want to sample some of the ideas in this book, watch this 55 minute lecture the author gave to Google employees last year.

Your Brain at Work – Google Tech Talk – Nov 19, 2009

Four New Books That I Can’t Wait To Read

Usually I don’t mind waiting a few months or years to get my hands on a library copy of a book. Not right now though. Here are four books that either just came out or will be coming out before the end of 2010 that I can’t wait to read.

The Age of Deleveraging: Investment Strategies for a Decade of Slow Growth and Deflation
The Age of Deleveraging: Investment Strategies for a Decade of Slow Growth and Deflation by A. Gary Shilling came out last week. Shilling is one of my top 5 financial mentors, the others being Michael Shedlock, Karl Denninger, John Mauldin and Ed Easterling. I could rattle off his resume, but trust me when I say he knows his stuff. He is also an excellent writer and unlike many of the guests on CNBC, he is polite and civil.

The New Evolution Diet: What Our Paleolithic Ancestors Can Teach Us about Weight Loss, Fitness, and Aging
The New Evolution Diet: What Our Paleolithic Ancestors Can Teach Us about Weight Loss, Fitness, and Aging is by Arthur De Vany. Art De Vany is my #1 mentor when it comes to nutrition. His interview with T-Whatever that I read in late 2007 changed my life. I’m leaner, more healthy and more confident in myself thanks in large part to Arthur De Vany. There are many smart people in the evolutionary fitness field. Nobody is as wise.

The Bed of Procrustes: Philosophical and Practical Aphorisms
The Bed of Procrustes: Philosophical and Practical Aphorisms is by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. I got to read some of this book prior to release. Lots of excellent snippets of wisdom from one of my favorite thinkers.

The 4-Hour Body: An Uncommon Guide to Rapid Fat-Loss, Incredible Sex, and Becoming Superhuman
The 4-Hour Body: An Uncommon Guide to Rapid Fat-Loss, Incredible Sex, and Becoming Superhuman is by Timothy Ferriss. I expect much of the information in this book won’t be new for me. However, I do expect to learn a trick or two to improve my fitness level. If I get just one great idea then this book will have been worth it.

A Guide to the Good Life

Background: During my college years I never took a class on anything even close to philosophy. It is still a new topic for me.

A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy
A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy by William B. Irvine is a modern guide to Stoic philosophy. I found this book extremely well written. It took a topic I knew nothing about and explained it to me using modern English. I’m not keen on trying to derive meaning from two thousand year old sentences.

After reading this book I think that I have been a closet Stoic for a while now. Well at least partially. Only I didn’t know it. Simplicity and resilience are two themes that I have been writing about for years now. People seem to grasp simplicity, but fail to understand resilience.

Resilience is ability to resist or recover from a stress. Practicing Intermittent Fasting has made me more resilient against hunger. Cold Weather Training has made me more resilient against temperature. I could go on and on, but to me the goal of continually challenging oneself against known stressors is to become more adaptive to the unknown stressors when they arrive.

Stoicism is a philosophy that is all about simplicity and resiliency. I learned a lot from this book including tranquility, goal setting, the opinions of others, control, personal values and active meditation. The author mentions that Stoicism has a lot in common with Zen Buddhism. One big difference is that Stoicism tends to appeal more to the analytical mind and those that have trouble with empty mind meditation. Me!

I could easily keep on writing about the lessons in this book, but I want to keep this post focused on the book itself. A Guide to the Good Life is excellent. Like I stated in the top line disclaimer, this is a new interest for me. There may be better books on this topic or better philosophies. The author even mentions a few times that although he is a champion of Stoicism, he feels the important thing is to just discover a life’s philosophy. With a life’s philosophy one seeks a life of comfort as a default, which makes one less resilient.

If you are looking a modern interpretation of an ancient philosophy I highly recommend A Guide to the Good Life.

If you can’t read the book, check out this audio interview with the author. The interview begins at 5:56 on the clip and ends at the 39 minute mark.

Curious?: Discover the Missing Ingredient to a Fulfilling Life

I discovered this book on the shelf at a friend’s house. I was curious to read it. :)

Curious?: Discover the Missing Ingredient to a Fulfilling Life
Curious?: Discover the Missing Ingredient to a Fulfilling Life by Todd Kashdan is a different spin on the find your happiness genre of psychology books. The central theme is not about coddling yourself into finding happiness, but about becoming an explorer when faced with adversity. The author states that curiosity is the central ingredient in creating a fulfilling life.

I really liked this book. It logically broke down the emotional process and how by responding with curiosity we can become more emotionally resilient. Here is a snippet from the book about curiosity.

Curiosity creates possibilities; the need for certainty narrows them.
Curiosity creates energy; the need for certainty depletes.
Curiosity results in exploration; the need for certainty creates closure.
Curiosity creates movement; the need for certainty is about replaying events.
Curiosity creates relationships; the need for certainty creates defensiveness.
Curiosity is about discovery; the need for certainty is about being right.

Curious? also jumps into evolutionary history to explain how we evolved to become anxious and fearful.

As part of a group, our ancestors obtained easier access to food, care, protection and enough sexual invitations to ensure survival and the passage of ones genes. The human mind evolved to fear the possibility of being rejected by the group. We evolved to constantly monitor where we stood from the perspective of other people in the group.

These fears and anxieties survived into the modern world. Instead of suppressing them, the book makes a strong case for questioning them. Investigate, explore, discover and learn. I highly recommend this book.

8 Steps to a Pain-Free Back

I heard some good things about this book, so I decided to check it out.

8 Steps to a Pain-Free Back: Natural Posture Solutions for Pain in the Back, Neck, Shoulder, Hip, Knee, and Foot (Remember When It Didn't Hurt)
8 Steps to a Pain-Free Back: Natural Posture Solutions for Pain in the Back, Neck, Shoulder, Hip, Knee, and Foot (Remember When It Didn’t Hurt) by Esther Gokhale is a book with 8 lessons to help the reader eliminate and prevent back and neck pain. The book is full of color photos to assist with each lesson.

I will say that a few of the chapters could have provided more detail in explaining the movement (Tallstanding, Glide Walking). However, I did grasp the core message this book offered and that is that modern man needs to lengthen the spine as much of our pain comes from spinal compression. Think about how rounded your back is when driving in a car, sitting at a desk or even after standing for long periods. This book details why the normal advice to stand up straight fails and how it can bring on a different type of back pain.

In the past two years I have done lots of research on back pain and I promise to post completely on what I’ve learned. The lessons in this book complimented my understanding of posture induced back pain. Parents of infants will also find value in this book as it shows how baby strollers and seats put infants into spinal compression and what proper baby posture looks like.

To Hellholes and Back: Bribes, Lies, and the Art of Extreme Tourism

Since I really enjoyed Smile When Your Lying, I decided to read the most recent book by Chuck Thompson.

To Hellholes and Back: Bribes, Lies, and the Art of Extreme Tourism
To Hellholes and Back: Bribes, Lies, and the Art of Extreme Tourism by Chuck Thompson is a must read. This book is hilarious and insightful. I’m usually the type of reader that is eager to get to my next book – due to my every growing list of books that I need to read. Not this time. I savored every page.

The premise of the book is Chuck will travel to four places that he refers to as The Four Horsemen of My Apocalypse. These are places that he has avoided in his many travels. The Congo, India, Mexico City and Walt Disney World. Yes, Walt Disney World.

Funny stuff. I highly recommend this book.

Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age

This book would have been great four years ago.

Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age
Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age by Clay Shirky was released the same week as Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows and promoted as the pro-Internet argument to Carr’s warnings about how the Internet is rewiring our brains.

Cognitive Surplus is a slow boring tedious explanation of the social sharing Internet we know today. Many of the examples used in the book come other popular non-fiction books such Drive, The Talent Code and Predictably Irrational. Very few ideas in this book were new to me. This book would have been much more useful had it been released in 2006 when primarily early adopters were engaging with social networking. This book was dated the day it was released.

If you experience the audio book version of Cognitive Surplus, look for a setting on your player to speed up the audio. The reader speaks intolerably slow. When the subject is complicated, I don’t mind a slower reading. At double speed this book still moved too slow for me.

Having read both The Shallows and Cognitive Surplus, I can now participate in this debate. They are both right. Skirky is absolutely right that we as a society are now using our free time to share and participate in social media to the benefit of all. Carr’s concern that we are becoming easily distracted and deep thought is becoming more difficult is also true. The benefits that Shirky lays out don’t come without a cost. Both books are right. We need to find a way to strike a healthy balance. If we don’t, someone will design software that will harness our cognitive surplus. Those intentions may be useful or as Carr says they could be “digital sharecropping“.

Despite the fact I felt Cognitive Surplus was about 3-4 years out of date, I did find the tips in the last chapter on creating social networks to be valuable. Shirky is an engaging speaker. My advice is to watch his videos and unless you are completely clueless about social networking avoid this book.

My Review of The Paleo Solution

In my post from April titled The Paleo Diet Is About To Get Huge Again, I rattled off a list of paleo books that were to be published that I wanted to read. The first one from that list is now out.

The Paleo Solution: The Original Human Diet
The Paleo Solution: The Original Human Diet by Robb Wolf starts off with a stellar detailed look at macro-nutrients, hormones and then he goes after grains. The Paleo Solution makes the best case I have ever read for removing grains from your diet.

Then the book went into the exercise portion. During his weekly podcast the topic of CrossFit always comes up. CrossFit is a high intensity strength / sprinting / gymnastics form of training. To me CrossFit appears to be over training. However, I have an open mind and I know Robb is a smart guy. I primarily bought this book hoping he would detail his thoughts on this extreme form of exercise. He doesn’t. The exercise portion appears to have been written for people with minimal exercise knowledge. This is fine, but my guess is most of Robb’s podcast fans are well past this point. Robb does state he will be writing a second book on advanced fitness called Fight Prep.

The Paleo Solution keeps the food chapter simple stressing the fact that the paleo diet really is simple. This is good since helps empower people. Most people eat paleo meals already. Bacon and eggs is paleo (hold the toast). So is a grilled chicken salad (no croutons). The one part that left me puzzled was when he said “find leaner cuts of conventional meats”. Why leaner? He spent numerous pages detailing how it is carbohydrates that cause fat gain and not fat. Why am I am to choose leaner cuts? That is never explained. If I’m already eating 100% grass fed meat with optimal omega ratios, why should I avoid any cut of meat? Everything I’ve read on this topic so far has claimed that Paleothic man favored fattier cuts of meat. *** UPDATE: Gil clarified this statement in the comments below.

Another issue I have with this book is that there is no index in the back. Can you imagine if Good Calories, Bad Calories was published without an index? Many years ago when Dan Duchaine published Body Opus without an index, a dedicated reader stepped up and created one. That home-grown index was widely distributed across the web. I hope that a fan of The Paleo Solution does the same thing.

I agree with the paleo message. I have for over two years now. It works. And although I agree with the message of The Paleo Solution, I couldn’t figure out who the book was written for. It seems the first half was written for his current fan base. Those people like me that made this book a NY Times bestseller. The second half is much more accessible to the person just being introduced to the paleo diet. I just hope those people make it to the second half of the book without being overwhelmed.

I loved the first half of The Paleo Solution. For me the second half was a disappointment. Would I recommend this book to a friend or loved one that needed nutritional help? Probably not. I’d have them read Primal Blueprint or Primal Body Primal Mind first. And then if they still wanted to eat grains, I’d hand them The Paleo Solution.

UPDATE (Dec 9, 2010): Someone listen to me and created an index for the book.

The Talent Code

I stumbled upon an interesting audio book recently.

The Talent Code: Greatness Isn't Born. It's Grown. Here's How.
The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born. It’s Grown. Here’s How. by Daniel Coyle is about talent and how it is formed. In the book we learn that talent is not something you are born with and it is not something that happens overnight. It also doesn’t come from endless hours of practice. It comes from deliberate practice.

Deliberate practice is practice that causes one to struggle, make mistakes quickly and then recover from quickly (learn). The book makes the case that this is the quickest way to build talent. Simply rehearsing a skill without struggle or error does not build the neural pathways nearly as quickly. So repeated studying is less effective for learning than study followed by quizzes.

Most of the examples focused on athletes and musicians. This book is essential for parents, coaches and younger people wishing to develop a specific talent. The only thing I would have liked to have seen in this book would have been a case study of using deliberate practice with someone over 30 that was unrelated to sports or music.

JUNE 2013 UPDATE: Check out this podcast interview on SportsCoachRadio with Daniel Coyle.

Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth

In 2007 I really enjoyed the book Stumbling on Happiness, which explains why this book was recommended to me.

Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth
Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth by Ed Diener and Robert Biswas-Diener was good. A lot of the material I already understood. However, three things stood out to me in this book.

  1. An explanation of how chronic stress affects us at the cellular level by shortening something called telomeres. These are the caps of the DNA that protect our chromosomes. Stress leads to shorter telomeres and greater health risk. Learning how to alleviate stress could keep your telomeres longer and allow your body to replicate cells with “fidelity”.
  2. A mathematical formula on wealth happiness that I discovered years ago, only I never wrote it down. ;) Happiness = attainments / aspirations. In other words, keep your desires less than your income to increase your happiness.
  3. Chapter 11 was excellent. If you can’t find time to read the entire book, read this chapter on Attention, Interpretation and Memory. “Upbeat folks tend to look for positives (attention), often think of neutral events as being positive and find growth in adversity (interpretation), and recall more rewarding memories (memory).”

Despite the lengthy introduction, this was a good book. (you can start reading on page 29)

Hooked: A Thriller About Love and Other Addictions

About the time I finished reading The Shallows, a book about the addicting effects of the Internet, I stumbled onto a recommendation for this fiction book.

Hooked: A Thriller About Love and Other Addictions
Hooked: A Thriller About Love and Other Addictions by Matt Richtel was a great book. No lengthy setups. I was hooked from page 1. The parts of the book that deal with addiction are deep into the story, which I’d love to discuss, however I don’t want to give any plot spoilers in this review.

If you want to read a good thriller, pick up Hooked. Wow, I’ve read two whole fiction books this year. :)

Learning About Epigenetics From Dr. Bruce Lipton

This is a double book review. Actually I listened to the audio book format for both of these books.

After reading The Selfish Gene, I was interested in reading something more recent on genetics. The Primal Blueprint brought up the topic of epigenetics, which the science of changing gene expression by mechanisms other than DNA. Epigenetics explores how the environment can alter our gene expression. I’ve seen many references to the Biology of Belief, so I decided to get a copy. However, the wait time for that book is months long at my library, so I got the author’s two subsequent books.

The Wisdom of Your Cells: How Your Beliefs Control Your Biology
The Wisdom of Your Cells: How Your Beliefs Control Your Biology by Bruce H. Lipton

Spontaneous Evolution: Our Positive Future (and a Way to Get There from Here)
Spontaneous Evolution: Our Positive Future (and a Way to Get There from Here) by Bruce H. Lipton Ph.D. and Steve Bhaerman

I loved both books. Dr. Lipton does the voice work on the first audio book and splits the voice work with his co-author on the second. Both are passionate about the topic. I came into the book with no knowledge of epigenetics and now I feel I have good understanding of the author’s thesis. We are not slaves to our genes. Environment plays a huge role and how we perceive our environment can impact gene expression. Change the environment or our perception to the environment and the cells can alter their genetic expression.

I do not have a strong science background and I know that there are people smarter than me that agree with and disagree with the author. Some critics take aim at the belief angle of these books. Maybe they are right. I know that the new age spirituality folks have embraced Dr. Lipton and that does raise my skeptic flag. However, I know belief is a powerful variable when it comes to human health. The fact belief is not measurable does not make it immaterial. Dr. Lipton does an outstanding job of bridging the gap between cellular biology and our perceptions.

Wisdom of Your Cells is a good place to start to understand epigenetics. Spontaneous Evolution expanded upon the topic and added a philosophical element to society as a collection of cells. Really cool analogies.

I highly recommend both books and hope to read the Biology of Belief once my turn is up at the library.

Con Ed

I rarely read fiction. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the genre, but I always seem to prioritize non-fiction. This past weekend I took a quick break into the world of fiction.

Con Ed
Con Ed by Matthew Klein is about a con man that decides to live a clean life after prison, but is pulled back into the game. The first half of the book was lame. I felt like I was reading the script to some TV show from the 80s. But, I stuck with the book and it got a lot better. By the end of the book I was really into the story.

Maybe I was conned into thinking the book was simple and predictable so I would end up liking the book in the end?

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

This book is a quick read with an important message.

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us
Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel H. Pink has been a hot book this year. The core message is that carrot and stick approach to motivation is not only ineffective, but fails for knowledge workers. Using bonuses and performance metrics are best used for measurable repeatable tasks. I completely agree with the author’s thesis, because I learned this lesson in 2007.

In 2007, I decided to run a single Google ad on each page on INeedCoffee. Even though I had poured a lot of energy into the site and financed all the costs for 8 years at that point, I didn’t feel comfortable taking 100% of the revenue. So I got the idea that I would split the revenue with the contributors. Not only would this help me feel better about taking money on a hobby site, I thought it would encourage more people to contribute to the site. Now that they are getting some revenue, they would contribute more content to get even more.

It didn’t work out that way. In fact, it had the opposite effect. Once the recession hit, ad revenue dropped almost immediately. Just as soon as the writers got a little taste of Google money, it was cut in half. They stopped submitting new articles. Dan Pink would say that I replaced the intrinsic motivation of contributing to a fun established coffee site with the extrinsic motivation of receiving a few bucks. What was fun now had a (low) price on it. After 8 years of steady quality contributions, they stopped coming. The revenue sharing program was a disaster.

Author Dan Pink says that besides a paycheck, a worker needs 3 elements to be motivated.

  1. Autonomy – The ability to make decisions, find creative solutions, do tasks when they want to and not be micro-managed.
  2. Mastery – Getting better at something that matters.
  3. Purpose – Work must have meaning.

Over 3 years ago, in the post The Meaning of Work, I listed 4 ingredients for a good job.

  1. Professional Growth Building a TRANSFERABLE skill set is the most important thing a job can offer. If you arent growing, someone in another company somewhere is and theyll beat you out of some future job offer. Transferable means that you arent growing into their bureaucracy. You are learning skills that have value outside that company.
  2. Meaningful Work At the end of the day does the work you do have any meaning? Did you create something, help a customer or did you just occupy space in a department that had too much money to spend on personnel? Are you building bridges or playing bridge on Yahoo! Games?
  3. Management Nobody likes a bad manager. And Id add that hands-off management can often cultivate a culture of complacency. Lead, follow or get out of the way. Refusal to do all three defines bad management.
  4. Paycheck We work to eat. Living below your means and saving aggressively gives you the freedom to be the director of your own life. Living paycheck to paycheck is surrendering your freedom.

What I call Professional Growth, Dan Pink would call Mastery. Meaningful Work is the same as Purpose. Good management would fall under Autonomy. And a paycheck is a paycheck. I’d say Dan Pink and I agree.

Drive is an excellent book, with excellent resources in the back, including notes if you are short on time and can’t read the entire book. Besides the employee-employer relationship, Drive also provides tips to parents and educators on how to best motivate children.

The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains

When I heard about this book, I knew I had to read it.

The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains
The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr is a stellar book. The Shallows is about how the distracting nature of the internet is rewriting our brains. It is something that I’ve long suspected. As great of a tool that the internet is for researching and learning, it comes with a cost. We all have working memories used to do reasoning and comprehension. Another way to view working memory is as a short term storage. When we surf the internet, our working memories are being full engaged. Being filled and emptied of information. Without time for reflection, what we learn doesn’t make it into long term memory. Not just me or you, but society as a whole. Some believe that off sourcing this role to cloud computers is a positive thing. Like the author, it concerns me.

If you find yourself too distracted to read The Shallows, at least check out the author’s 2008 article titled Is Google Making Us Stupid? In that article, Carr lays down a concern that I and many people I know have.

Over the past few years Ive had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory. My mind isnt goingso far as I can tellbut its changing. Im not thinking the way I used to think. I can feel it most strongly when Im reading. Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and Id spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. Thats rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if Im always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle.

When I first started coding web pages in 1995, the web had more of a magazine feel to it. Longer articles and less use of sidebars. You know what happened next. More photos, videos, sidebars, banners and lists of related articles. Every page got louder with more distractions. Carr details how we are now spending mere seconds on each page. The economics of the web want us to surf faster and faster. More visitors, more page views, more advertisements. Give the user a taste of what they want and then distract them. Twitter and Facebook exploit the fact that our brains are being hard wired for short data bursts. Here is an update. Ahhh!

Today Carr posted a blog titled The unread message about how even the anticipation of data is changing the way we think.

Research shows, for example, that office workers tend to glance at their email inbox 30 or more times an hour, which seems to me to be pretty clear evidence that even when we’re not reading messages we’re thinking about receiving messages – not just emails, but texts, Facebook updates, tweets, and so on.

I’ve written a lot of posts about evolutionary nutrition. What I see as the danger of constant short burst distractions are that they exploit an evolutionary gift we used to survive. The lion moving across the horizon is now a tweet about eating a bagel. I don’t have a solution for using the internet for research while at the same time not becoming a shallow thinker. I tried and failed to pull away from Facebook for 30 days. It’s not like I am a farmer. For the past 15 years my career has been pushing pixels on websites. I am part of the problem.

I highly recommend reading The Shallows. Turn off your computer and read the book.

The Selfish Gene

I really didn’t pay attention in my high school biology class. Now I am making up for it.

The Selfish Gene: 30th Anniversary Edition--with a new Introduction by the Author
The Selfish Gene: 30th Anniversary Edition–with a new Introduction by the Author by Richard Dawkins was a great introduction into a topic that I never really thought much about before. The Selfish Gene is considered a classic work in genetics. The book was written in 1976, but some of the material has been updated in the 30 year anniversary edition.

The Selfish Gene was easily understandable and very well written. Despite my limited science background I had no problem learning the topics covered, which included Evolutionary Stable Strategy and Prisoner’s Dilemma. Granted that this is the only book I’ve read on this topic, so there may be better ones out there. The only downside was the last chapter was really a forced plug for another book. The writing was jumbled and harder to understand. Even the author added that the last chapter was a poor substitute for The Extended Phenotype.

Richard Dawkins is probably best known recently for being an outspoken atheist. This book did not explore religion and stuck to the genes.

Pandora’s Seed

I finished another great book on my reading list.

Pandora's Seed: The Unforeseen Cost of Civilization
Pandora’s Seed: The Unforeseen Cost of Civilization by Spencer Wells is about the effects of civilization. It wasn’t too heavy in the science. The writing was very conversational and the topics were quite varied. Although some of the reviewers didn’t like that, I did. By not digging too much into the details, the author was able to express his own theories and opinions.

Most people that pay attention – even a little bit – to evolutionary nutrition know about how societies are getting fatter and less healthy. Pandora’s Seed also goes into the mental health aspect. As bad as things are physically, things are equally bad from a mental health aspect.

Pandora’s Seed is an excellent book that is also a quick read. This is the type of writing I like in pop science. I plan to read the author’s other book called The Journey of Man.

Primal Body – Primal Mind

This paleolithic nutrition book was high on my list to read for a while.

Primal Body-Primal Mind: Empower Your Total Health The Way Evolution Intended (...And Didn't)
Primal Body-Primal Mind: Empower Your Total Health The Way Evolution Intended (…And Didn’t) by Nora Teresa Gedgaudas is another great book on nutrition. As I continue reading more about this topic, I find that I’m being exposed to less new information. One thing this book helped me focus on was the possibility that I had some level of adrenal fatigue.

For the past 20 years, I have consumed on average 4-5 coffees a day. In recent years, it has been espresso. Before that is was mostly french press. Primal Body – Primal Mind alerted me to the fact that I was actually craving stimulates in a way that some people crave sweets and this could be negatively affecting my leptin, cortisol and even insulin levels. To test the theory, I decided to cut back on my coffee intake. I contacted the author and she suggested taking the amino acid L-Tyrosine on an empty stomach to help. It has helped. My coffee intake is down considerably, but more importantly I am losing my craving for the stimulate.

Every book on nutrition I read provides another piece of understanding to the puzzle. For me this book showed me how my love for coffee could be affecting my leptin and cortisol hormones. I’ve cut back on coffee in the past, but I usually did it much faster and I never established a “new normal“. I just felt bad until the detox was over and then I resumed coffee loading. This time I am taking it much slower and allowing my adrenals time to heal.

If you are interested in reading an excellent nutrition book, check out Primal Body – Primal Mind.

Influencer – The Power To Change Anything

I was interested in learning more about influence. This title jumped out at me.

Influencer : The Power to Change Anything
Influencer : The Power to Change Anything by Kerry Patterson and 4 other authors is full of stories on how groups and organizations can influence change. They break down their strategies into six sources of influence.

  1. Make the Undesirable Desirable – Personal Motivation
  2. Surpass Your Limits – Personal Ability
  3. Harness Peer Pressure – Social Motivation
  4. Find Strength in Numbers – Social Ability
  5. Design Rewards and Demand Accountability – Structural Motivation
  6. Change the Environment – Structural Ability

Most of the book was interesting, but not that applicable to my life. If I were a manager, director or higher in a company, I think I’d appreciate this book more. The one lesson I took away from this book was the importance of stories. Combining lessons and values into stories have a more powerful effect on influence than telling people what they should do.

If you really dig stories on when influence works and doesn’t work, check out Influencer. If you are more like me, just read Chapter 3.

Lights Out: Sleep, Sugar and Survival

In a recent podcast, paleo proponent Robb Wolf rattled off a list of books he recommended. This was mentioned.

Lights Out: Sleep, Sugar, and Survival
Lights Out: Sleep, Sugar, and Survival by T. S. Wiley is an amazing book right up until the end. Readers of this site already know that I am convinced of the evolutionary fitness and nutrition argument. Although my science background is limited (self taught), it makes sense to me. Lights Out makes a compelling case for extending the body of evolutionary health to sleep.

For much of evolution, we did not have night time light. This meant man slept more and moved less in the winter months. Food sources were more scare in winter and strongly favored protein and fat. During the summer, days were longer and carbohydrate sources were more plentiful. Man would eat carb sources in the summer, which would spike insulin that promotes fat gain. That fat would be utilized for fuel during the winter. This is the basic concept of Summer vs Winter Mode, which NephroPal wrote about last year.

Lights Out is mostly about the evolutionary and hormonal aspects to light and sleep. Longer days (more light) tell the body via hormones that it is summer and that means “eat sugar now before winter comes“. Shorter days (less light) tell the body to sleep more and eat less. The problem is we are not only in constant Summer Mode from endless supplies of carbohydrates, we are in constant Summer Mode from excessive lighting and shortened winter sleep cycles. Winter Mode is for repair. When that repair doesn’t happen (no Winter Mode), it can result in obesity, cancer and mental illness.

Even though it goes deep into hormonal science, I found the writing style extremely clear. Some of the reviewers on Amazon did not like the confident, know-it-all tone of the author. I loved it. I felt Lights Out did a brilliant job of digging deep into the science and then stepping back to draw focus on important points.

Before I got to the last 30 pages, I was ready to call this the book of the year. It was that excellent. Then it went down a path of mixing history of the low-fat movement with government conspiracy theories. Unlike the rest of the book, this section seemed garbled and out of place. I lost some confidence in the author. It was enough of a red flag for me to go online and do more research on the author. The results were not favorable – although I could not find anyone that had issues with the first 170 pages of Lights Out. Regardless, I am sitting here having read an amazing book where I don’t know if I can trust the source. My gut says what I learned is accurate, but I think I need to do a lot of follow up research. The good news is winter is still months away, so I have plenty of time to discover if the Lights Out thesis has merit.

Blunder: Why Smart People Make Bad Decisions

A great quick read.

Blunder: Why Smart People Make Bad Decisions
Blunder: Why Smart People Make Bad Decisions by Zachary Shoreis is both a history and a psychology book. Chapters are broken down by cognition traps and a historical example. Great stuff.

The conclusion of the book provides advice on avoiding blunders.

…make a realistic effort to slow our rush to judgment before all the relevant facts are in. If we could grow more comfortable with the uncertainty around us, our daily blunders would not be as great. All kinds of daily interactions would be altered if we suspended our insufficiently informed conclusions over why others act the way they do.

If you are a fan of history or understanding human error in decision making, I highly recommend this book.

This Time Is Different – Eight Centuries of Financial Folly

I love reading financial history and analysis. If you dig through the site archives, you will find reviews to many books that would bore most individuals. Not me. I love the stuff. So when John Mauldin recently praised a book on the history of sovereign debt defaults and financial crises, I knew I had to buy it.

This Time Is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly
This Time Is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly by Carmen M. Reinhart and Kenneth S. Rogoff is a collection of amazing research on eight centuries of global financial data. I am humbled by the depth of the research in this book. However, the writing was extremely dry and pure academic. The authors took a topic that I adore and made it insufferable.

Michael Lewis, John Mauldin and Roger Lowenstein are all excellent financial researchers and they happen to be engaging writers. It can be done. The writers of This Time Is Different earned my trust with their research, but failed on analysis. This Time Is Different will certainly be used as a reference for better financial writers in the future.

When All Hell Breaks Loose

The past few months, I’ve been studying the sovereign debt situation around the globe and have come to the conclusion things are likely to get ugly. Life as we know it is mathematically unsustainable. Governments, be they federal or local, may collapse. This means government services such as water, sewage and electricity, could have interruptions. The riots we are seeing in Greece are likely to spread as governments fail to keep the promises of the past.

Taking more personal responsibility for ones survival seems like a prudent idea. Even though I enjoyed the story Emergency by Neil Strauss, I wanted more of a manual to urban survival.

When All Hell Breaks Loose
When All Hell Breaks Loose by Cody Lundin is exactly the book I was looking for. In fact it was more. The beginning of the book goes straight into the psychological aspects of dealing with survival. To assume you or anyone else is going to remain calm and act completely rational in a crisis is a bad assumption.

Cody Lundin takes you through what is required for survival in order of importance. Having a fully stocked cabinet of ammunition and dual citizenship to some remote country is worthless if you freeze to death or run out of water. When All Hell Breaks Loose breaks it down into a Pyramid of Needs required to survive.

  1. Positive Attitude
  2. Clothing, Oxygen, sleep, water
  3. food, shelter, sanitation
  4. lighting, first aid
  5. communications
  6. cooking
  7. transportation

In most cases survival doesn’t mean living off the land until the end of time. It might mean going without essential services for hours, days or weeks. You can’t trust that the social safety net will always be there to rescue you. Taking responsibility for your own safety and the safety of your family should be your first goal.

The first thing I did this week was buy and fill two 7-gallon water containers. My roommates bought 2 as well. Humans need 1-3 gallons of water a day. If an earthquake hits Seattle and water lines are cut, I can now survive longer than I could last week. And that is the essence of my survival strategy. Each week I will take an idea or two from the book and implement it.

Reliance Products Aqua-Tainer 7 Gallon Rigid Water Container
Reliance Products Aqua-Tainer 7 Gallon Rigid Water Container

Me 2.0

I wanted to learn more about personal branding, so I read this book.

Me 2.0: Build a Powerful Brand to Achieve Career Success
Me 2.0: Build a Powerful Brand to Achieve Career Success by Dan Schawbel is about personal branding for the Millennial generation. Yeah, I am Generation X, so I knew going into this book that I wasn’t the target audience. The last time I read a book that focused on the Millennial generation, I gave a scathing review.

Fortunately Me 2.0 provides solid advice in a friendly conversational writing style. Because of my branding problems with Coffee Hero and this site, I wanted to take a step back and reassess things. This book helped me do that, but I fully expect this to be an ongoing process. Me 2.0 begins with a Brand Discovery process that I found very helpful. The second half covers more of how to execute that brand strategy.

Even though Me 2.0 is directly speaking to the Millennial generation, I think most of the advice can transcend generations, especially if you are currently out of work and need to re-brand yourself in a competitive job market.

One of the exercises in the book is to ask this question to friends and co-workers:

What are the top 5 personality attributes others use to describe me?

If you want to help me with branding, feel free to leave a comment answering that question. If you wish to be anonymous that is fine. For SPAM filtering reasons, anonymous comments can take longer to show up on the site.


Since reading The Upside of Down, I have been interested in simple versus complex systems. That is why this book caught my eye.

Simplexity: Why Simple Things Become Complex (and How Complex Things Can Be Made Simple)
Simplexity: Why Simple Things Become Complex (and How Complex Things Can Be Made Simple) is by Jeffrey Kluger. It is not at all like The Upside of Down. It is a collection of stories of different systems that are more or less complex than appear on the surface. Simplexity is written in the pop science format that Malcom Gladwell uses in his books.

For me this book was fun and easy read. It doesn’t cover the growth imperative, collapse or deep collapse concepts that Homer-Dixon explains in The Upside of Down. Maybe it isn’t fair to compare these books, but honestly I only came to this book because I loved The Upside of Down so much.

Marco Polo Didn’t Go There

Two years ago I read the travel book Vagabonding, which I enjoyed. I was pleased to discover the author had written another book.

Marco Polo Didn't Go There: Stories and Revelations from One Decade as a Postmodern Travel Writer (Travelers' Tales Guides)
Marco Polo Didn’t Go There: Stories and Revelations from One Decade as a Postmodern Travel Writer (Travelers’ Tales Guides) by Rolf Potts is a collection of travel stories. Most of the stories had been published before in other formats over the past decade. They were all new to me though.

Rolf Potts is a very good writer and I loved his openness to travel adventures. He goes to places far off the beaten path, such as the remote villages of Cambodia and the beaches of Grenada. He gets robbed. He gets sick. Then he picks himself back up and continues the journey. I wouldn’t consider the book to be funny like Smile When You’re Lying. To me it spoke about having a healthy attitude in your daily adventures with people, be they in the Indian Himalayas or in a small town in Kansas. Recommended.

Note that each chapter has notes at the end. There are not essential to enjoying the book. I only read the ones of the places I may visit in the future.

Decent Taste in Books?

I just learned today that Amazon has a best books of the month page. Although I have my non-fiction queue pretty much set for the near future, I never have a clue on where to start when it comes to fiction. Now I do.

Anyway I looked over the winners for 2009 and discovered that I had read and reviewed two that made the Best Books of 2009 list on Amazon. They were The Next 100 Years and Hungry Monkey. I also had two from the 2008 list: Outliers and In Defense of Food. And The Black Swan made the 2007 list.

I’ve been meaning to read more (some) fiction. The Amazon best of lists appear to go back to March 2007, so I have plenty of ideas.

The Hunter, The Hammer, and Heaven: Journeys to Three Worlds Gone Mad

After I read and thoroughly enjoyed the book The World’s Most Dangerous Places, I add another Robert Young Pelton book to my Amazon queue called Three Worlds Gone Mad: Dangerous Journeys through the War Zones of Africa, Asia, and the South Pacific. Only that book was never available. While poking around on Amazon, I learned that book was retitled and was available.

The Hunter, The Hammer, and Heaven: Journeys to Three Worlds Gone Mad
The Hunter, The Hammer, and Heaven: Journeys to Three Worlds Gone Mad by Robert Young Pelton is three books. The Hunter is about Sierra Leone. The Hammers cover Chechnya and Heaven is about the island of Bougainville. I just want to cover The Hammer. That story rocked.

In The Hammer, the author goes into Chechnya during in the war with Russia at a time every other journalist is pulling out. If you want to know what is like to be inside a country getting pounded with Russian bombs, read this story. I loved it enough that I contacted the author on his site Black Flag Cafe asking if there were any photos online from his trip. Sadly, there aren’t at this time. They are still unpublished.

If you are interested in war reporting, Chechnya or just want a good story, check out this book.

The One Book A Week Goal

My pal Stuart over at Brainmower announced he was setting a goal to read one book each week in 2010. This is an admirable goal, which I completed in 2008 when I read 60 books that year. However, in 2009 I read just 30 books. Guess I slacked off? Or maybe number of books isn’t the best metric to use to measure reading.

Photo Iqra: Read by Swamibu

Last year I read Guns Germs and Steel (512 pages), Collapse (575 pages) and Good Calories, Bad Calories (640 pages). When I had the 1-book-a-week goal, I read quite a few books that were less than 250 pages. It helped me reach my goal, but I never would have tackled Good Calories, Bad Calories in 2008.

So the trick to meeting the 1-book-a-week goal for the first time is load up on short books. Short books to me are like warm up exercises. Once you’ve warmed up enough, take the time to tackle the longer books in your queue.

Hungry Monkey

This book set a record for the longest I have ever had to wait for an on hold item at the Seattle Library. Was the 4.5 month wait worth it?

Hungry Monkey: A Food-Loving Father's Quest to Raise an Adventurous Eater
Hungry Monkey: A Food-Loving Father’s Quest to Raise an Adventurous Eater by Matthew Amster-Burton is about a dad that is able to work from home and cook for his daughter Iris. This book covers their adventures in cooking and shopping for food, from her birth to about 4 years old. I liked this book a lot. It takes place in Seattle and the writing had melaughingout loud several times.

Throughout the book there are recipes that areappendedto the stories. I will try a few, but most are a little too carbohydrate centric for me. Then again, I am a special case. Most children would be far better off eating the recipes in this book. The author embraces lard, whole fat dairy, farmers markets and spicy Asian cooking. Excellent. In the Stew section, the author defends fat with this funny and true line.

Still, admit that you cook with lard and people will react like you keep a loaded gun in your kid’s room.

Having been a long time critic of what parents feed their kids, but having no experience feeding a child, this book was good for me. It taught me there is a path that exposes kids to a wide variety of food, but that there is also compromise. This is an excellent book for parents, people that like humorous writing, cooking fans and the people of Seattle.

Body By Science

This is an outstanding book that challenged many of my beliefs about weight training.

Body by Science
Body by Science by Doug McGuff and John Little makes a damn good case for super slow weight training. As I stated in a previous post, I read this book because I am unconvinced that slow training is superior to normal or explosive training. Did this book convince me? Not fully. I still have my doubts, but far less than before. The slow movement contradicts so much of what others in the fitness field have been teaching. Because of thisI need to do more research on this important point. That debate will be shelved for an upcoming post.

Body by Science will be accessible for most readers, but there are a few chapters that very heavy in science. Those chapters will require several readings for completecomprehension, but they aren’t necessary to put the program into place. Body by Science goes into why high intensity weight lifting is superior to all other forms of exercise. This book trashes aerobic conditioning in scientific terms to the point that no one would ever step onto a treadmill after reading Body by Science.

The chapter on fat loss has a lot of good information that covers hormones and the fallacy that steady state aerobics make you leaner. However, the authors come to same old incomplete conclusion by promoting that caloric restriction is necessary for fat loss.

…there’s no getting around the fact that calories must be restricted.

Gary Taubes in the book Good Calories, Bad Calories, did a brilliant job researching all the medical literature on obesity research and came to the conclusion that one must reduce insulin, not calories, to generate permanent fat loss. Restricting calories will result in weight loss initially, but the body willrespondby initiating a stronger hunger response and/or slowing down. Considering how Body by Science went into details on the connection between elevated insulin levels and obesity, even going as far as to cite how morbidly obese can’t get nutrients to their muscle cells while eating thousands of calories, because of the elevated insulin levels, I am surprised they stated that “calories must be restricted“. If caloric restriction could cure obesity, dietary success rates would be much higher.

Despite their calories statement, I loved this book. Body by Science will take a place in my library and I will refer to it in the future. Will I be following the slow motion weight lifting protocol? Stay tuned for a post that explores that debate and my decision.

UPDATE 2014: Back when I first posted this I was still one of those people duped by Gary Taubes. So just ignore the cross-outed portion. Body by Science is the greatest fitness book I’ve ever read. I’ve become a HIT convert. Doug McGuff and John Little are the best.

I Wanted to “Slow” Burn This Book

Three fitness authors that I respect are supporters of slow weightlifting. I personally have yet to be convinced, but I wanted to challenge my beliefs. This book failed to do so.

The Slow Burn Fitness Revolution: The Slow Motion Exercise That Will Change Your Body in 30 Minutes a Week
The Slow Burn Fitness Revolution: The Slow Motion Exercise That Will Change Your Body in 30 Minutes a Week by Fredrick Hahn can best be described as the opposite method to everything that has worked for me over the past 15 years. That is OK. I’ll keep an open mind and expose myself once again to the logic of the slow movement.

Slow motion weight lifting has the person exercising doing their repetitions, as you may have guessed, very slowly. The goal is remove momentum and take the muscles to failure in an isolated manner. The book states that “studies” show one can get 50 to 100 percent greater strength gains using slow-speed strength training versus traditional weight-lifting. Really? It would have been nice had the author included references to those studies, but I’m a decent researcher. I found one.

Effects of regular and slow speed resistance training on muscle strength. (PDF abstract)

Two studies were done with untrained men (N=65) and women (N=82), (mean age=53.6) who trained two to three times per week for eight to 10 weeks on a 13 exercise Nautilus circuit performing one set of each exercise. Participants exclusively trained using regular speed repetitions for 8 to 12 repetitions per set at 7 sec each (2 sec lifting, 1 sec pause, 4 sec lowering) or a Super Slow training protocol where they completed 4 to 6 repetitions per set at 14 sec each (10 sec lifting, 4 sec lowering). All of the participants were tested for either the 10 repetition-maximum (RM) weightload (regular-speed group) or the 5-RM weightload (slow-speed group). RESULTS: In both studies, Super-Slow training resulted in about a 50% greater increase (p<0.001) in strength for both men and women than regular speed training.

Did you see what I found? They had the regular speed group doing higher reps (8-12). I seriously doubt the slow movement group would have 50% strength gains if the control group was allowed to focus on strength gains at the same lower repetition range. In other words, use a higher weight at a normal speed. I’ve said it before and I say it again, high-reps is not the way to get strong. Note that I’m not dismissing slow motion training, I’m dismissing the claim that this study proves a 50% strength gain. I’d like to see them redo that study where the control group is using a higher weight, equal reps and a normal (not slow) movement. My guess is the 50% advantage would disappear.

Before I say some nice things about this book, I want to explain my fundamental disagreement with the author. He takes this position that humans are fragile and we need to exercise in a controlled isolated manner lest our poorly designed bodies will succumb to injuries. I suppose if your target audience is a 50+ year old that is experiencing pain and is out of shape, this message will sell product.

I believe the exact opposite. Humans evolved over 2.5 million years to perform a wide range of physical activities. We are fully capable of a lot more than we think we are. He refers to a activities as aerobics and roller-blading as having “an almost harrowing amount of risk“. Really? I agree that aerobics are ineffective, but I remain unconvinced that are bodies need to be babied in a super controlled exercise method or we break down. In the exercise myth chapter, he trashes just about every physical activity as being either ineffective or injury prone. He goes as far to state that basketball isn’t really exercise, because it doesn’t make you stronger. Pure nonsense.

Now for the positive side. This book does have a weight lifting plan that stresses heavier weights and low reps. The slow movements are all done on machines for safety. The exercises and plan is a better starting point for gym newbies than the high-rep unsafe exercises I see personal trainers peddling these days. You can do the Super-Slow workout on your own. I also agree with his stance against cardio, but for mostly different reasons.

For me this book failed to make the case that slow motion weight lifting is superior to normal or explosive lifting. Mathew Perryman in the book Maximum Muscle picks apart the failed logic that regular speed weightlifting doesn’t create the same tension as slow motion (page 94). But, I’m still keeping an open mind. I plan to read Body By Science by Doug McGuff soon. McGuff is respected in the evolutionary fitness community and is also a slow motion proponent, so it should be interesting.

UPDATE MARCH 2011: Since this post I have started training using a slow rep protocol. I’m enjoying it and think it has merit. It wasn’t this book that convinced me. It was the much better Body By Science by McGuff and Little. So a year later I can say that Hahn’s protocol has merit, I just didn’t find the writing held the voice of authority I needed. If a quick easy read on slow-training is what you want, read The Slow Burn Fitness Revolution. If you are more like me and want to understand the details better, read Body By Science.

Absinthe & Flamethrowers: Projects and Ruminations on the Art of Living Dangerously

I think it was the cool title and this article on Wired that sparked my curiosity for this book.

Absinthe & Flamethrowers: Projects and Ruminations on the Art of Living Dangerously
Absinthe & Flamethrowers: Projects and Ruminations on the Art of Living Dangerously is by William Gurstelle. This book can be divided into two sections. The first part described how certain people are thrill or experience seeking. The author goes further by explaining how embracing more risky activities is an excellent method for learning and building self confidence. There is even a quiz you can take with questions about caving, mountain climbing and parachute jumping.

The second part was mostly a bunch of projects that one could do that have an element of risk. Like building a flamethrower, making explosives or playing with lighters. If you are comfortable with tools and want to play MythBusters at home, I think you’ll like this book.

For me I enjoyed the first part more than the second. I have no desire to order chemicals and saw things in order to see some explosion. I think I’d rather try parachute jumping, mountain climbing or some of the other cool activities the author mentioned in the quiz he designed.

One Nation Under Fear Book Cover

I was poking around Amazon this morning and stumbled on this great book cover.

One Nation Under Fear: Scaredy Cats and Fear-Mongers in the Home of the Brave (And What You Can Do About It)
One Nation Under Fear: Scaredy Cats and Fear-Mongers in the Home of the Brave (And What You Can Do About It) by Bob Cesca. I have absolutely no desire to read a political book at this time, so I have no plans to read it. I think the cover speaks for itself.

America was once a great fearless nation and now sometimes I think are scared of our own shadow. The rugged characters that built this nation would be sickened to see the fearful weak people that inherited its wealth. We watch the news to be informed, but all we get are stories to make us more fearful. Then we seek out the opinions of experts, because we are afraid to trust our instincts and make our own decisions. Then the experts are wrong and we get more fearful, so we seek out new experts.

What should you do about it? Ask yourself.

A Collection of Gambling Stories

Because I loved the Amarillo Slim book, Amazon recommended that I might like this one as well.

The Man With the $100,000 Breasts
The Man With the $100,000 Breasts is by Michael Konik. The best gambling story in the book is one referenced in the title, which I unfortunatelywas already familiar with. This book was more informative than entertaining. I learned quite a bit about craps, poker, sports betting and Vegas.

As a person that has never gambled a single dollar in a casino* or even bought a lottery ticket, I am probably not the target reader. Gamblers, especially poker players, would probably enjoy this book more than me. I preferred the Amarillo Slim book.

* I don’t consider Wall Street a casino, although I probably should. :)

Tall Skinny Bitter – Notes From the Center of Coffee Culture

I moved to Seattle in August 2007 and from the moment I hit the ground, I started my espresso quest. Since then I’ve been to many great coffee shops and met many great people. Although I loved my random journey, I would have loved to had this book in my hands when I arrived.

Tall Skinny Bitter: Notes from the Center of Coffee Culture
Tall Skinny Bitter: Notes from the Center of Coffee Culture is by Dani Cone and Chris Munson. This beautifully designed book takes the reader around Seattle and Portland coffee shops. It provides history and background on the coffee scene with a sense of humor. It is a quick read, but I learned quite a bit.

After reading this book, I realized that I’ve gotten into a rut. The coffee shop exploring that I used to do weekly has since been replaced by visiting places that I already know are outstanding. This book gave me a few leads on places that I either dismissed or was completely unaware they even existed.

If you are a coffee drinker in Seattle, Portland or points in between, Tall Skinny Bitter: Notes from the Center of Coffee Culture is an enjoyable reference to our coffee scene.

Farm City

What would it be like to be farmer living in a ghetto?

Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer
Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer by Novella Carpenter is a very entertaining book. It tells the story of how gardening in an abandoned lot in an Oakland ghetto expanded into raising bees, chickens, rabbits and eventually pigs.

This book is more inspiration to start a garden. And although I enjoyed reading about raising animals in a city lot, I realized from herexperiencesthat I wouldn’t be doing that anytime soon.

Good Calories, Bad Calories is the Best Book Ever Written on Nutrition

Remember that Top 5 Diet Books post I wrote back in July? All those books can take a HUGE step backwards. I now have a new favorite nutrition book.

Good Calories, Bad Calories

Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes is a stellar piece of research. For me this book connects all the dots between the evolutionary nutrition model, my own experiences and a hundred years of medical studies. Good Calories, Bad Calories tells the story of how we came to believe many of myths surrounding nutrition today and what the actual research says. He makes a strong case that the field of nutrition has been politicized and negligent since the 1950s. Without giving too much away, he makes the strongest case against carbohydrates and the current state of public health that I have ever read.

I love this book. When I finished reading the 460 pages, I started re-reading portions over again. However, unless you are a nutrition geek like me, I don’t know how accessible this book will be for you. I tore through it like a middle schooler reading a new Harry Potter novel. Some topics covered in the book include:

  • The Fat Cholesterol hypothesis
  • How obesity causes overeating and not the other way around.
  • Insulin’s role in stored body fat.
  • The connection between Alzheimer’s Disease and Carbohydrates.
  • Why caloric restriction fails.

When I finished reading the book, I wondered how Taubes amazing research could be communicated to the average person. If the book was dumbed down it wouldn’t have worked. For me the answer is that this book will inspire many nutrition posts in the next year. Many of the concepts that I found to be the most interesting will be expanded and discussed on this blog.

The 50 Law

Back in April, I wrote the post An Urban Version of the 48 Laws of Power and broke my own rule about endorsing something before it even came out. Is the book The 50th Law as good as Robert Greene’s other books? No, it is even better.

The 50th Law
The 50th Law by 50 Cent and Robert Greene exceeded my expectations. The 48 Laws of Power and Art of Seduction are classics (my review here). They are extremely rich with history and drawing out lessons that one could use or defend against in life. Those books to me are strategy books. The 50th Law takes a different approach. It speaks directly to the gut. Whereas 48 Laws and Art of Seduction are about dealing with the external world, in The 50th Law the lessons are more internal. This book is less intellect and more wisdom. I found the lessons more accessible and less manipulative than his earlier books.

My one complaint with this book is the lack of a table of contents and the complete absence of an index. All the other Robert Greene books had extensive indexes, which make them ideal reference books. Although this book is beautifully designed to look like the Bible or a hymnbook, I really hope future printings or editions include an index and table of contents. You can’t even tell what chapter you are on by looking the top margin printing. It just restates the authors names and title.

Despite my issues with the book editing, I highly recommend this book. After I read the library copy of this book, I immediately bought my own copy.

Brain Rules

This was another brain book that Amazon recommended for me.

Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School
Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School is by John Medina who happens to live in Seattle and hold a faculty position at Seattle Pacific University, which is in my neighborhood. Brain Rules is divided into 12 chapters. Each chapter covers one aspect of your brain. The first half of the book covered material that I had mostly learned from other books. The second half of the book is what got me interested. My three favorite chapters were:

  • Chapter 8 – An excellent overview about how stress affects the learning process. The book explains why good students that come from homes where the parents are going through divorce can stop learning.
  • Chapter 11 – Girls are better at language skills than boys and boys are better at math. Or are they? This chapter describes a strategy for teaching girls math to put them on par with boys.
  • Chapter 12 – This was the chapter on exploration. As a fan and student of evolutionary fitness and nutrition, this was my favorite chapter.

In the Explorations chapter, the author connects our evolutionary roots to learning.

Our survival did not depend upon exposing ourselves to organized, pre-planned packets of information. Our survival depended upon chaotic, reactive information-gathering experiences. That’s why one of our best attributes is the ability to learn through a series of increasingly self-corrected ideas. … It is a scientific learning style we have explored literally for millions of years. It is not possible to outgrow it in the whisper-short seven or eight decades we have on the planet.

I am highly recommending Chapters 8, 11 and 12. The rest of the book was good too. There is a companion DVD, which I confess that I never looked at. My brain has difficulty reading when my computer is on. That is Brain Rule #1 for me. :)

Maximum Muscle – The Science of Intelligent Physique Development

This past summer T-Nation (oops, now it is TMuscle) made some radical claims about creating the most amazing muscle building strategy ever. They called it “I, Bodybuilder“. When I saw it, I just shook my head. It was beyond embarrassing. Fifteen years ago, I may have been suckered into believing that they had stumbled onto the secrets to muscle building. The reality is there are no secrets, just a bunch of dishonest people hoping to make lots of cash by convincing you they know something nobody else does.

Me telling you that there are no secrets or superior plans is just me relaying my personal experience of 15 years lifting weights and observing the muscle media. Matthew Perryman went past the muscle media and dug deep into the medical literature. He didn’t just read the abstracts. He compiled everything relevant into the book Maximum Muscle – The Science of Intelligent Physique Development. Maximum Muscle is the antidote to all the dishonesty being peddled in the muscle building industry.

This book is not an easy read. Chapter 2 will require a pot of coffee to get through, but in the end it is all worth it. This is the book I wish I would have had at age 24 when I still naive about designing an effective weight training strategy. I am recommending this book to anyone that is passionate about weight lifting. You don’t even need to read Chapter 2. Trust that the author is a smart fellow and move on to Chapter 3.

The highlights in the book for me were:

  1. A greater understanding of TUT (time under tension).
  2. I’ve stated before that I believe in low-rep training more than Al Gore believes in global warming. I still am a big fan of low-rep, as is the author, but I now will experiment with higher reps for secondary muscle groups.
  3. This book made me realize that I wasn’t directly training for explosive strength. I was dividing my time between volume and power lifting.

Unlike the hucksters that sell their 100 page (triple spaced) e-Books for $39.99, the Maximum Muscle book is free. It is available only on Bit Torrent. I am not sure why the author didn’t use Google Docs or Scribd.com to distribute his book. Not everyone uses BitTorrent, but everyone uses a browser. Details on the book download and how to donate to the author are on the Amped Training website. I donated $10 to the author via PayPal.