The wonder of not exercising for your health

I have been using Strava for only a few weeks and already I feel that it has changed how I feel about exercise (it remains to be seen if this change is permanent). The instant availability of my speed and distance have a strangely motivating factor about them. I used to run for exercise (it was a chore). Now I run to improve my speed or distance – it’s even (just a teeny tiny bit) exciting.

A strava themed meme (generated by the author at memegenerator.net)

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Real meat pollution

“What if you could turn it all around? Lose weight, regain the ridiculous energy levels of your youth [….] How about if you could do that while still eating really well? You know… all the good stuff […] juicy steak, eggs pretty much any way you like them, roast chicken, heavenly bacon and more?” – The Real Meal Revolution

The above is a quote from a suddenly popular book, The real meal revolution, which proposes that people should follow the Banting (low carb, high fat) diet for weight loss and health (it is essentially a paleo-style diet as I understand it). In two previous posts I considered, respectively, healthy eating and ethical eating. One of my problems with these new-fangled diets, in my opinion, is that they make it much harder to do something I find to be an ethical imperative: eat less meat.

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Food wars (Part 2)

In a previous post I briefly discussed the difficulties of trying to eat healthily with all the pseudo-scientific claims about what is healthy. The topic of food ethics is, perhaps, even more convoluted. Vegetarians, vegans and environmentalists all have a view. There is Fair Trade and non-GMO (Monsanto is evil, apparently). With all this clamour there are so few unambiguous truths and I feel I would need several PhDs and two lifetimes to be able to sift through it all.

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Faux pas power

 

Have you ever forgotten about a lunch date with a friend? Or told everyone the concert started at 1800, but it was actually at 1700? I’m sure you felt mortified. So did I when I completely forgot to meet a friend for coffee. And I apologised profusely. I assume my friend was upset and disappointed, even angry with me. However, as I discovered recently, that might not be all he was feeling.

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Food wars (Part 1)

Now that I am no longer a student, I find I have some need not to eat like a student. I’d like to eat proper food, perhaps even food I myself prepared, with some thought for things like health and ethics. This is starting to feel like Herculean task. What on Earth is healthy and how do you know what is ethical? In this post I will write about eating healthily. I’ll look at ethics in a follow-up post.

On the health side, there seem to be a host of “healthy” diets being propagated. The adherents of these diets, which have names like “paleo”, “low carb”, “Banting” and “mediterranean” are more fervent proselytisers than most missionaries. They claim to rely on studies and books, but I have trouble distinguishing them from mere ideologies. 

I do not have the time or inclination to wade through the mess of opinions, half-substantiated claims and assumptions that underlie these fad diets. Nor can I wait entire lifetimes for these diets to truly prove their worth. Unlike with, for instance, smoking, I no longer think that just sitting down and reading the relevant information will make how to eat healthily much clearer. For many things there are no real answers. Some things are clear and you need to act on those, for the rest you will need to use heuristics.

I think the following simple approach should be effective. There are three principles:

1. Change the easy things first: This is simply because I am lazy and have better things to do. If I tried to give up all carbs, I’d starve as I would not know what to eat, so I focus on making the carbs I do eat of a better quality.

2.Then change the most clearly harmful things. It seems everyone agrees that sugar (refined carbohydrates) is the most destructive fiend. Thus, for instance, cutting out fizzy drinks and juices.

3. Everything in moderation. This is a simple risk management strategy. Eating a moderate amount of something that turns out not to be too healthy is unlikely to do a lot of harm. Eating nothing of something that you need could be very dangerous. Similarly for eating lots of something that turns out to be harmful. This is why I am sceptical of the Banting diet (proposed by Tim Noakes) – it has virtually no carbohydrates and lots and lots of saturated fat. If the diet is founded on facts, great. But there’s a large risk that we find that over the long term too few carbs are harmful.

If you have any ideas on how to eat healthily, feel free to leave a comment, particularly if you can substantiate your claims.

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Headlines ahead of the facts

It is amusing and annoying that internet news coverage seems to be driven by creating the most sensational headlines to serve as “link-bait.” It hardly seems to matter what the content underneath that link is. Someone out there is being paid to find the most enticing phrase of 15 words or less that will get you to point your browser there.

This article from Time is a case in point, proving that even supposedly more respectable providers feel the need to compete with Buzzfeed and Upworthy. The article claims “everything you know about breakfast is wrong” and then goes on to describe how two studies described in recent journal articles prove nothing of the kind, certainly nothing that warrants the mega-sensational headline.

I am inclined to think of Nassim Taleb’s proposed newspaper format: it would contain lots of pages when there is actually relevant news and be empty when there is not (which would be most of the time). We are moving ever further from that ideal.

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Smoking a bit too much actuarial science

I was recently at a party where some students were smoking. I’ve become quite a believer in the futility of telling people why they should not smoke. Sometimes, as I see people smoking, some of these arguments come unbidden, and I can’t help but indulge in the futile practice.

On this night, however, I was sorely tempted to say, “Don’t you know that if you take out life insurance, you will be paying smoking rates, even if you’re only a casual smoker.” But of course, these people were years away from caring about life insurance premiums.

I kept quiet. Clearly too much actuarial science has an adverse effect on the brain. Perhaps I should consider quitting actuarial science, maybe become a beekeeper, and try not to think about whether beekeepers have higher disability insurance premiums.

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