Drink more coffee, damnit

Some good news for us high-caffeine users. 

Caffeine goes along with longevity. You’ve probably already heard that, but now researchers have found a mechanism that suggests it’s causal.

As we age, many of us get chronic inflammation. (As someone who was fat as hell and who has studied and lives the paleo lifestyle, I can suggest that has a lot to do with eating grains and added sweeteners, as well as the resulting obesity.) The mechanism of caffeine is to reduce the inflammatory proteins and free radicals in the blood. Caffeine is anti-inflammatory!

Researchers looked at self report studies, family histories, and mice studies, but then they took the extra step of putting blood in a Petrie dish.

“More than 90 percent of all noncommunicable diseases of aging are associated with chronic inflammation,” said the study’s lead author, David Furman, PhD, a consulting associate professor at the Stanford Institute for Immunity, Transplantation and Infection. More than 1,000 papers have provided evidence that chronic inflammation contributes to many cancers, Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, cardiovascular disease, osteoarthritis and even depression, he said.

“It’s also well-known that caffeine intake is associated with longevity,” Furman said. “Many studies have shown this association. We’ve found a possible reason for why this may be so.”  Caffeine 

It just keeps getting worse

Well then, no need to worry. This is like the secret information Trump had about Russia that he was going to divulge last Tuesday…and didn’t.

In the interview, Mr. Trump provided no details about how his plan would work or what it would cost. He spoke in the same generalities that he used to describe his health care goals during the campaign — that it would be “great health care” that left people “beautifully covered.” NYT

We elected a man who doesn’t read, who gets his information from television and his popularity as well, and treats stereotypes as facts; as in tweeting that Senator Lewis fix the “burning and crime-infested inner city” problems when his district holds Emory College and Morehouse University. But, see, Lewis is an African American, so rich white dude thinks it fair to assume it’s all poor inner city.

I left Facebook to quit hearing ridiculous shit, but this twilight zone we call 2017 hits me with ridiculous shit that’s legitimate journalism every day. And many of my friends and family put him in the White House.

Many did it for “Jesus”. I guess he’s a republican. He’s all down with making poor people poorer because they don’t deserve help–lazy, you know. Making sick people sicker because healthy people want more money to buy shit–Jesus came to help the consumers.

Finding the humility in creativity

I’ve been taking piano lessons for 6 years along with my children. They have caught up and surpassed me in their performance skill. I’m still holding a lead in theory, but I expect that’ll go away in the next few years. The friendly competition helps motivate them: “Look, I can play this piece that Mom can’t!” And “I’ll know theory as well as Mom one day.”

I think of quitting, but not because my kids are better; it’s that I’m not really good at piano and not improving much. I struggle through pieces and never get them polished or up to the speed expected. Is it worth the money and time my family pays to keep me going when I have no prospects of being good enough to perform for someone?

Well, when I consider quitting I get very sad. As untalented as I am, I love it. I have plenty of creative outlets through my art and writing, which I have talents for, so what’s up? Why does piano matter to me?

The rest of this post doesn’t have that answer because I don’t really know.

Creative expression is fundamental to all of us. Yet, how often do we say we don’t have the time, the money? How often do we say we shouldn’t waste resources on something like piano lessons that see no practical reward? Still, if, at the end of the day, you regret not doing something, how will you feel at the end of the week, of the year…of your life? It doesn’t have to be practical or results-oriented. It doesn’t need a reason.

This is one of those “it’s the journey” posts. Sure, a platitude that means little when I see it posted on Facebook, but when I put it in the context of how I feel about learning this damn sonatina, I get it.

Continuing with my study is impractical, but “practical” isn’t the thing that makes me happy. I think it’s because learning piano is absolutely impractical that it is more enjoyable, even stress-relieving, than my other arts. Piano isn’t monetized like my other creative activities, either. With writing and illustration, the product is about selling in addition to simply enjoying. And I really hate that sometimes, but that’s for another post.

Maybe this is like those adult coloring books that are popular. My girlfriend does them to help her relax, and I’ve seen them at nearly every store recently. They even have apps. So, some people color, and I’ll keep practicing piano. Besides, I’m also doing something I’m not good at. Many people do things only if they do them well, but there’s value in humility. It’s good for me — and for my kids — to see them doing something better than me.

Anxiety is more about yourself than the future

I had an interesting conversation with my girlfriend this morning. She’s dealing with anxiety and finding ways to manage her mood. My husband has the same issue with anxiety.

I’m not really an anxious person. Not that I don’t think of some terrible thing happening and worry what I’ll do. It happens, but not often and not for long. It’s just that I’m older than either of my partners. My much-younger partners often make me feel old (unintentionally). This is one of the good ways of feeling older. Experience, usually accompanied by age, helps alleviate anxiety.

rowdy-vulcan-twilightThis reminds me of the Twilight series movies. Our family has been watching them in order. We’ll be watching Eclipse next. When I mentioned this at group training, my clients had various input. Mostly, they complained about the poor acting and writing. I mean, Bella would rather die than lose Edward when she barely knows him? The whole story is about gazes and smells, how is that enough substance for a lifetime commitment? How can they be SO in love when they know nothing and do nothing with each other. It’s all so unreal, right?

Well, I think Stephenie Meyer was right on the money in this. The characters are adolescents — even Edward (yeah, yeah, a century-old vampire but frozen at 17). I recall my teens. I recall the drama of first love. I recall my twin sister screaming and crying hysterically after her boyfriend broke up with her. She was scream-crying to the top of her lungs in the house and out of the house. She had been dating him for a few months but she was hysterical at the thought of losing him. Why, when a few months before she had a full life, full days that kept her happy? But all of that is now worthless without him, I see. I know another 17-year old who recently tried to commit suicide because her boyfriend broke up with her. She’s 17. She won’t even remember his name when she’s 40.

The younger you are, the less you’ve done, the less of the long view you take. And the less you trust yourself to manage, because you never had to.

Don’t get me wrong. I have shown up drunk at 3am at a girlfriend’s door because she left me for someone else. I know the shock and uncertainty that seizes the mind. That was decades ago. From my eyes now, this is lunatic behavior. This is literal insanity. 

It’s not that I don’t get hurt. It’s that I don’t worry about what I’ll do when I do get hurt. Maybe it’s because I’m 52. I’ve been through a lot of shit in my life. Many relationships, many jobs, health scares, financial trouble — all those things we think we need for security and comfort. I lived through them and didn’t die. Life changed and I changed, and it took time. In fact, I always came out stronger, with new direction and optimism. I trust myself now. Apocalyptic catastrophes aside, I know I’ll be all right with whatever happens.

This is why many of us are anxious: we don’t trust ourselves. We worry “If this thing happens, what will I do, how will I react, will I be okay?” If you have experienced shit and come out okay, you learn to trust that you’ll be fine no matter what happens. You trust yourself. Anxiety is less about the fear of that thing and more about the fear of how you will manage with that thing.

So my advice, should you care, is to do lots of shit. Live big. Fail often. Live through it and you’ll get strong. Anxiety eeks away when you learn to trust yourself.

Stop making decisions – decision fatigue is making you fat

I’m a personal trainer and primal health coach and deal mostly with clients who want to lose weight. Too  many of them have bought into the idea that it’s all willpower and they’re weak. This thought relies on the calories-in-calories-out (CICO) theory being true. It really isn’t. Not exactly. It IS true that if you eat fewer calories than your body uses for fuel and building, your body will consume itself for the extra it needs. It will consume muscle before fat, and going hungry will increase inflammation through chronic cortisol release. Is that the weight loss you wanted?

When you do CICO, you cut calories across all macronutrients. This has two effects:

  1. You likely don’t get enough fat and protein
  2. You definitely get more carbohydrates than you need

Why? Because you don’t need ANY carbohydrates, and you can live on fat and protein. Natural fats and proteins provide fuel, vitamins, and building material. Your liver can make the glucose that you need for a few processes, so you don’t need carbohydrates. Even the vitamins you’re told you get from fruit are found in animal products.

Instead, cut only the carbohydrates.

The best part of changing your food rather than simply reducing your food is that you won’t be hungry. It’s tough to overeat when you consume whole nutrient-dense foods. Carbohydrates, such as grains, sweeteners, and fruit, provide lots of calories and minimal nutrients. They’ll keep you alive…and keep you hungry as your body continues to crave what it needs and your brain craves what gets it high.

All these thoughts came about because of this article I read on ego depletion.

The difficulty with calorie restriction is having to always say no to more while allowing only some: it’s the constant decision-making of how much with each meal. When you make the one-time 100% decision that certain things are no longer food, you have made one decision. It is easier to go paleo 100% of the time than to do CICO 80% of the time. Just keep plenty of whole foods you can eat around and never let yourself go hungry.

You can save your decision-making energy for the next important life change: exercise. I’ll tackle that another day.

Decision fatigue helps explain why ordinarily sensible people get angry at colleagues and families, splurge on clothes, buy junk food at the supermarket and can’t resist the dealer’s offer to rustproof their new car. No matter how rational and high-minded you try to be, you can’t make decision after decision without paying a biological price. It’s different from ordinary physical fatigue — you’re not consciously aware of being tired — but you’re low on mental energy. The more choices you make throughout the day, the harder each one becomes for your brain, and eventually it looks for shortcuts, usually in either of two very different ways. One shortcut is to become reckless: to act impulsively instead of expending the energy to first think through the consequences. (Sure, tweet that photo! What could go wrong?) The other shortcut is the ultimate energy saver: do nothing. Instead of agonizing over decisions, avoid any choice. Ducking a decision often creates bigger problems in the long run, but for the moment, it eases the mental strain. You start to resist any change, any potentially risky move — like releasing a prisoner who might commit a crime. So the fatigued judge on a parole board takes the easy way out, and the prisoner keeps doing time.

Ego depletion manifests itself not as one feeling but rather as a propensity to experience everything more intensely. When the brain’s regulatory powers weaken, frustrations seem more irritating than usual. Impulses to eat, drink, spend and say stupid things feel more powerful (and alcohol causes self-control to decline further). Like those dogs in the experiment, ego-depleted humans become more likely to get into needless fights over turf. In making decisions, they take illogical shortcuts and tend to favor short-term gains and delayed costs. Like the depleted parole judges, they become inclined to take the safer, easier option even when that option hurts someone else.
(NYTimes: Do You Suffer From Decision Fatigue?)

Opportunity costs and Facebook

I’ve been off Facebook for over a month now. Feels good. The longer I’m away, the less I want to go back. I quit for several reasons:

  1. discovering most of my online friends were conservatives who lacked critical thinking skills and compassion
  2. the opportunity cost I was paying

I do a lot and want to do more. I’m a published author, illustrator, and personal trainer. I’ve not had time to do any of these things as much as I’d like. It’s true life gets in the way, especially when you have two partners and two children and two dogs and a live-in mother to include in your activities. But there is the 1-2 hours I used to spend on social media every day.

Consider this:

  • What are you giving up because you’re distracted with unfulfilling diversions?
  • What are you willing to give up for the opportunity to pursue your priorities?

rowdy-vulcan-opportunity -costAs a trainer, I can tell you everyone says they don’t have time to exercise. Of course they do. With introspection they would realize they have lots of time if exercise were a priority. But social media, games, restaurants, television, and other entertainments usually come first. As for cost, well, the $5 lattes usually come first, too, as well as satellite television, streaming video, 2-3 cars, and clothes from department stores.

Years ago, I quit television. My evening social activity changed to become group work outs at a box gym. These people became my friends even after I left. Health-focused friends are good to have! I stream one video service now and usually watch during a meal rather than in addition to meals. My clothes come mostly from Goodwill and Stuff, Etc. Choices like these make life easier for me and let me put my time and money to things I value most.

But that’s my path, with my choices and my consequences. What you don’t change, you choose. If you accept the consequences of whatever you choose without whining, I’m not going to give you a hard time, no matter how different we are. It’s the people who make excuses, as if they’re helpless or as if life is somehow harder for them. I know people who really have had shit lives, and they are the ones who complain least and work the hardest at meeting their dreams.

So I try not to whine and just do. And don’t. My do will be more art. My don’t will be social media. I can’t get rid of it completely due to my businesses. I have to research and post and that means lots of online time. It’s a tightrope, one I’m going to balance on better in 2017.

St. Augustin was not all about sex


Saint Card from my son’s baptism

I named my son “Augustin.” I chose it because I admire the life and writings of Aurelius Augustinus (St. Augustine of Hippo, a Doctor of the Catholic Church). Most of those who have heard of him have also heard a sadly inadequate version of his theology. He’s blamed for making Original Sin all about sex; indeed, for making religion all about sex.

It’s true that Augustin got bogged down in a decade-long argument with other Christian leaders in the 5th century AD. The argument started with discussions of heresies and history but narrowed down more-and-more to “How does the ordinary person live the Christian life?” That argument came to focus on having a right relationship with sex, whether to remain a virgin (unmarried and ascetic) or to marry and have a family.

Augustin said sex is a good creation, given to us by God. And sex was not the result of sin nor the cause of the first sin. But sin caused us to lose our right relationship with sex, so that it too often becomes mere lust for the flesh rather than a binding act of love. So the first sin corrupted sex along with all our other actions. We are incapable of free will now. We are forced to sin…unless we receive Grace.

The argument went off the rails due to Augustin’s attackers trying to pin the label of Manichaen on him. He fought viciously because he had a lot to lose — but also because he was a passionate fighter for truth. He had begun his adulthood as an adherent of the faith of Mani which saw the material world as the creation of a evil spirit and the spiritual realm the creation of the good — a dualist theology. Mani thought that matter, that flesh, was evil, and we are trapped spirits needing to be free of it. But Augustin’s long life of intensive research and reflection changed him in many ways.

He was the ultimate critical thinker and not one debilitated by self deception.

We owe Augustin a great debt. Like George Washington, who single-handedly saved the American experiment when he said “no” to despotic power and stepped down from the presidency, Augustin absolutely saved Christianity from becoming merely another form of Greek elitist philosophy.

Those theologians Augustin argued with were trying to make Christianity a religion with two classes of people: the spiritual elite capable of great feats of self-denial, saved by their own deeds, versus the common sinners who could only hope for Grace because they were weak and incapable of perfection as they lived average lives.

Other theologians (especially Pelagius) lauded the ascetic monks and those who renounced the pleasures of the world. These people were better Christians and worked their way to heaven. But Augustin disagreed. No one can do good without Grace. If a man does a moral act, it is because Grace suppressed his sinful inclination, not because that man is especially dedicated. What the good man does is the reflection of Grace running through him not a reflection of his own effort. Man does not even have free will unless Grace removes his sinful inclination first. You see? For Augustin, Grace GIVES us free will. We do not have it naturally.

It’s an elegant argument. It changed Christianity into a religion of sinners, invalids dependent on God. Every religion and philosophy, even today, has its spiritual elite: those who are better people or more favored by God because of their actions. But Christianity is not like that — at least not in its essential theology. The saved and unsaved are mixed together in the church and on earth, and only God knows which is which. We cannot know, not even by our actions.

Of course many people and many denominations tell us we can work our way into heaven. They even think they can tell us who is going to hell. They also see spiritual leaders like monks or priests as elite castes, as special to God. These ideas are decidedly not in the Bible. These thoughts are an infection from human sin, our competitive desire for hierarchies.

This is why I love Augustin: he alone fought for the equality of all by embracing human mediocrity. He said we’re all equal in our weakness…and in our strength, as well, because our strength is from God. None of us can look upon another with judgment.