Health & Fitness 101

September 2020

This page contains notes on optimizing body composition, mental acuity, and looksmaxxing with a minimum of time and effort with the goal of living in style long enough to live forever.

(1) In a nutshell: If there’s one thing to take away here and commit to heart, it’s the following:

  • Weight is lost in the kitchen.
  • Gains are made in the gym.
  • Stamina comes from the running track.

(2) Willpower is a limited resource. As such, you need to conserve it by maximizing returns from every unit of willpower that you expend (e.g. by studying and implementing best practice), as well as measuring and quantifying progress, not just as a way to receive prompt feedback and identify pitfalls, but to maintain high spirits through concrete evidence of success.

(3) We are all constrained by our genetics. However, at least so far as physical performance is concerned, if sadly not intelligence, these effects only become dominant once we approach the tails. Although you will, most likely, never become a champion sprinter, especially if you don’t have West African ancestry, a good nutritional and weight-lifting regimen can make a sculpture out of any reasonable healthy young person. We do not have to be slaves to our DNA.

(4) Ancestral wisdom: It is usually a good idea to eat and live like your distant ancestors did (accounting for regional variations!). However, this does not entail paleo fundamentalism. While hunter-gathering may have accounted for the the vast bulk of human history, evolution did not magically stop at the dawn of the Neolithic Age. As such, keeping in touch with our paleolithic evolutionary heritage need not entail rejecting the new food sources, preservation technologies, and adaptations such as lactose tolerance of the Agricultural Age; the food processing and mineral/vitamin-fortification of the Industrial Age; or the possibilities of individualized health analysis (“Quantified Self”) opened up by the Information Age.

(5) Beware of “conventional wisdom” and lifestyle fads. Over the past century, nutrition “experts” have been proven wrong on the Food Pyramid, the dangers from saturated fats (1, 2, 3, 4), salt, eggs, and (possibly) red meat, and the superiority of margarine over butter. There are no magic bullets that will solve all of your health and/or weight related problems – like all science, this is ever a work in progress. Think for yourself!

Disclaimer: This is not medical advice and is only provisioned for entertainment purposes. I am not an accredited professional in any of these fields, nor do I pretend to be any sort of lifestyle “coach” or “guru”. At the end of the day, this is just a glorified “cheat sheet” that I maintain for my own reference. The only reason that I make it public is that the material has served me well, and I suspect that it may likewise be positive value added for many of my readers.

 


Weight Loss

The human body is a homeostatic system, in which body weight fluctuates as a function of energy inputs and outputs. Calories consumed are chemically translated into maintaining a basic metabolic rate (BMR), providing energy for physical (and cognitive!) labor, and packing on any surpluses as mass. At the most basic level, “calories in = calories out” is correct and can be described by the following equation:

Caloric consumption = caloric expenditure
Caloric consumption = BMR + other energy expenditure + weight loss/gain

As we can see, this opens up several approaches for manipulating weight loss/gain.

(1) Increasing or decreasing caloric consumption, literally “just eat less.”

(2) The BMR is dependent upon your age and sex, and there are online calculators that can help you estimate yours. However, the greater an organism’s weight, the higher the BMR needed to maintain it, which puts an ultimate ceiling to possible weight gain; conversely, the closer one gets to one’s target weight, the more challenging that further cuts become. Keeping weight constant, the BMR can be increased by increasing the share of muscle mass, especially the metabolically costly Type II muscle fibers (the “gains” that you see in the gym).

(3) Other energy expenditure can also be dialed up and down – mainly through activity level, but also cold exposure, the precise macro ratios in one’s nutritional intake, and supplements (e.g. fat burners).

When caloric consumption equals caloric expenditure, that is called the “maintenance level.” Your goal is to hit and sustain that equilibrium at an optimal bodyweight body (ideally, <15% bodyfat for men, <22% bodyfat for women).

None of this is exactly rocket science, this is still a bit more nuanced than the advice given given by otherwise well-meaning doctors and colleagues, which most often amounts to “just eat less” and “exercise.” Well, duh. If only it were that easy, there would be no obesity epidemic – it’s not like anyone actually wants to be a sack of suet (“fat acceptance” is just one big cope). In reality, not only is this advice largely ineffective – it also verges on cruelty.

The ultimate reason for this is that people only have a limited stock of willpower. Obsessive “calorie counting”, which is what “just eat less” often amounts to de facto, is psychologically straining, deflates everyday productivity, and often leads to catastrophic relapses that destroy whatever modest progress is periodically made. Although “calories in, calories out” might be banally true at a physics level, it neglects the role of the macros balance on metabolic and hormonal pathways (e.g. glucose spikes; ketosis), as well as psychological factors (e.g. the role of willpower and satiety).

As for “exercise”, some people don’t have the time, or the will, to work out. Moreover, much workout advice is counterproductive. Many people who practice “chronic cardio”, such as long daily runs, often even experience weight gain, as they deplete their fat-burning hormones and are compelled to consume many more calories than they would otherwise offset. Several long-term studies suggest that prolonged aerobic exercise does not result in sustained weight loss.

In short, there are ways of going about weight loss that are smart, easy, and effective, and then there are ways that are stressful and unsustainable. I will try to elucidate the former in this and the following sections.

 

Keto Diet

For rapid weight loss without counting calories, I believe that the ketogenic diet, also known as the Low-Carb Diet, is by far the most efficacious one. During ketosis, the body burns body fat for energy, instead of carbs, using the intermediary ketone bodies generated by the liver. It has also been argued to have positive effects on mental clarity (Moritz 2013). Another factor is that fats and especially proteins are much more satiating than carbs and don’t cause the blood sugar spikes that are often responsible for cravings. Consequently, another advantage of ketosis is that it makes fasting – whether “intermittent fasting” (16/8), alternate days, or longer – much easier. Judicious calorie counting and a smart exercise regimen, both of which will be covered separately, can further turbocharge the process (though their greatest efficacy will be when it comes to losing that last 5 kg).

The basic “trick” to activating ketosis is to restrict carbs to <20 grams a day, i.e. essentially, a diet of meat and green vegetables. That said, looser versions of the diet, in which you consume up to 50 grams of carbs a day, can still provide most of the benefits. If your piss has an acetone smell, it suggests you are in ketosis, though one can confirm it more rigorously with ketone strips. The first few days of a ketogenic diet are also sometimes accompanied by minor cold-like symptoms – this “keto flu” is normal for keto noobs, and will pass in a few days. Leg cramps are another common ailment during this transition and can be managed through magnesium and potassium supplementation.

Finally, you are likely to immediately drop up to 3 kg upon transitioning to a keto diet over the course of just the first 2-3 days. Though it’s nice to see, don’t get too excited yet – this is just your body losing water weight. Weight loss can be fast with keto, but not that fast; it is a powerful tool, but it is not magic. You can’t permanently lose significantly more than a pound per day even on a water fast.

The effects of a keto diet on weight loss can be supercharged by incorporating fasting, weight and calorie tracking, some forms of physical exercise, and possibly thermogenics (cold exposure). Scroll down or click these links for more details.

I am not going to bother covering the details of which foods are recommended, not recommended, or disallowed on the keto diet since there are about a billion resources on the topic on the Internet. In short:

  • ALLOW: Meat (inc. organ meats), fish & shellfish, leafy greens, eggs, nightshades, herbs & spices, non-industrial oils (esp. olive oil, butter/ghee), nuts, tea, coffee.
  • LIMIT: Fruit, dry red wine & non-sugary spirits, very dark chocolate.
  • NOT ALLOW: Flour, potatoes, rice, grains/bread, spaghetti, sweets, sugar, beer.

Word of caution! Although just transitioning to keto can often be enough to trigger rapid initial weight loss, especially if you’re obese, it won’t do you much good if you insist on scoffing down three daily meals of bacon-wrapped sausages with cheese fondue. The keto diet does not magically negate the “calories in, calories out” principle – it merely makes caloric restriction much easier by increasing your BMR and helping you out with general satiety. This is also often true towards the final stages of weight loss, when you need to get rid of that final 5 kg.

In particular, I would beware of some foods that have an unambiguously “good” reputation, but pack a great amount of calories per unit weight:

  • Dairy products. Cheese typically clocks in at 300-500 calories per 100 g, even milk has 42 calories per 100 ml – it’s not a “free” drink like tea or coffee. A 0.4 ml cappuccino has 120 calories.
  • Nuts, e.g. 100 grams of macadamia has 718 calories, that’s about the same as a medium-sized ribeye steak.
  • One avocado has 322 calories, that’s 2 kg of cucumbers.
  • Above all, watch your oil! Four tablespoons of olive oil is almost equivalent to a Big Mac! A Greek salad with feta cheese, generously oiled, potentially has more than half of your daily maintenance calories.

If you hit a long stall while on keto, instead of wasting more time on what might be a terminal roadblock, I would suggest you start counting calories to identify any foods you are consuming that might be much more caloric than what you were expecting. Then compare that with the expected BMR for someone with your present weight, age, and sex. You should be aiming at a consistent ~500 calorie deficit relative to your maintenance weight.

Another thing worth pointing out is that while they are often used interchangeably, the paleo diet is not quite the same thing as the keto diet:

  • The paleo diet emphasizes eating what your hunter-gathering ancestors ate on the assumption that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
  • The keto diet just emphasizes low-carb foods, regardless if they are “paleo” or “modern”.

In practice, there is a lot of overlap. For instance, honey is paleo, but definitely not keto – although the paleo dieter might ask exactly how much honey the average hunter-gatherer could get in a year. Potatoes and sweet potatoes are another contentious item. On the other side of the line, some “modern” inventions such as the aspartame contained in Coke Zero are solidly keto, even though the paleo traditionalist would question the wisdom of introducing evolutionarily novel foodstuffs into our diet. (FWIW, I haven’t found any evidence above hearsay level suggesting it’s bad).

 

The Keto Pantry

As noted at the outset, apart from calories/keto-compliancy, there are other factors such as variety and cost in time, money, and moral ease that will play a factor in balancing your food choices. Speaking of myself:

  • While I know people who are perfectly happy to subsist on a steak diet day in day out, I cannot stand that level of culinary monotony for that long.
  • I can’t devote too much time to cooking.
  • For ethical reasons, I try to entirely avoid pork consumption, while loading more towards eggs, dairy, and fish.

But even given these constraints, I am able to have a reasonable rich and varied diet:

  • Soups/stews have a plethora of great keto-friendly recipes here as well – East European soups go especially well (e.g. Russian sorrel soup).
    • Making these becomes a breeze with a slow cooker (I have a SkyCooker M903S).
  • Salads that I frequently make:
    • Greek salad consisting of tomatoes, cucumbers, red onion, olives, olive oil (1 tbsp), balsamic vinegar, salt, black pepper is one of my go to staples.
    • Lettuce, tomatoes, turkey ham, and unrefined sunflower oil (1 tbsp).
  • Eggs are nature’s multivitamins – perhaps the best, cheapest animal protein source bar none.
    • My recipe for a shakshouka; one can use parmesan cheese or tofu as an addition or replacement for eggs.
    • Boiled eggs I usually eat with either sriracha hot sauce, or mix of mayo, mustard, and paprika (I suppose you can think of that as a kind of lazy man’s deviled eggs).
    • I eat so many eggs that I have found it worthwhile buying an egg cooker just to boil eggs.
  • Vegetable equivalents for staple grains, such as “cauliflower rice” and “spaghetti squash”, are popular amongst ketoers. Especially applies if you need “filler” for spicy curries.
  • Tofu is a solid vegetarian alternative to animal based proteins, its blandness making it excellent filler for vegetable stir fries and curries. (The signaling against it is an amusing but wrong right-wing Twitter meme).
  • Many different things, such as canned salmon and avocados, go well with the trifecta of lemon juice, salt, and black peppercorns.
  • Quark (tvorog in Russia) is a protein-heavy dairy product, and can be sweetened with a small amount of honey or maple syrup as a dessert.
  • Copiously Coffee-Coated Steak to really jolt your brain up a gear.

 

Dining Out on Keto

Though there’s rarely good reason to bother – you might as well fast – it is entirely possible to maintain keto if dining out. There are some national cuisines that are good for this (e.g. Russian, French, Central Asian) while others are less so, especially Asian eateries:

  • Chinese: While the cheap eateries with sugar glazed breaded chicken can be dismissed out of hand, at middle-tier establishments, you could get buttered vegetables + braised beef.
  • Thai: The soups are delicious and keto (e.g. Tom Yum, Tom Kha).
  • Indian: Perfect if they have a Tandoori selection such as lamb boti, otherwise pretty difficult unless you can handle spices without a rice or naan filler.

But otherwise, things are considerably easier:

  • Russian cuisine is surprisingly good for keto, e.g. solyanka soup is implicitly keto, while sorrel soup and ukha soup can be made such without potatoes. For main courses, there are any number of meat dishes such as cutlets, shashliks, Beef Stroganoff, etc.
  • Shawarma joints are excellent for this given that they fare in roasts, kebabs, etc.
  • Steakhouses, obviously.
  • Burger joints: Many places now serve so-called “fitness” or “hipster” burgers with lettuce buns. Otherwise, just discard the buns and eat with knife/fork. Obv avoid fries, soft drinks.

That said, at the end of the day, you have to be realistic about these things. Sometimes it will be advisable to not stand out of place, e.g. during an important business meeting. Or perhaps you will get a rare chance to sample an unusual dish or national cuisine that happens to be heavy in carbs. I would not freak about “cheating” in such situations. It’s what you ate in the past month, not today, that matters so far as weight loss is concerned.

 

Alcohol on Keto

Alcohol is a useful social lubricant, so I see no point in teetotalling unless for religious reasons or genetic predilections towards alcoholism/addiction.

  • Beer ≈ liquid bread, so fine in moderation, if not on a Low-Carb diet – one pint contains your 20 g daily allotment. (Hops containing phytoestrogen that will grow you manboobs is a right-wing Twitter meme).
  • Dry wines have a much more favorable alcohol to carbs ratio than beer, and red wine in particular is full of antioxidative flavonoids, as well as the compound resveratrol, which has been claimed by some to improve longevity.
  • Most spirits have zero carbs, making vodka, gin, etc. perfect for hardcore keto dieters.

There is some modest evidence that modest alcohol consumption, or perhaps specifically wine consumption, has positive impacts on life expectancy. I suspect it’s all or almost all a selection effect.

Alcohol destroys ketones, and has ~2x the effect per unit volume on intoxication while on the keto diet anyway, so don’t overindulge. It also decreases muscle protein synthesis and anabolic gene expression, making it very bad for gains, so also try to avoid boozing when you’re bulking. That said, I don’t think the standard 1-2 glasses of red wine a day ever did anyone who is already healthy harm.

 


Nutrition

Websites

Books

  • John Durant – The Paleo Manifesto [my review]
  • Chris Kresser – The Paleo Cure
  • Sally Fallon – Nourishing Traditions
  • Mark Sisson – The Primal Blueprint; The Primal Connection

The keto diet is not the be all and end all to all dieting, even so far as weight loss as concerned, not to mention multiple other considerations:

  • Enjoyment and variety (gourmandry/gluttony, cross out as appropriate).
  • Affordability.
  • Ease of cooking.
  • Body composition optimization in general.
  • General health.
  • Ethics (e.g. reducing animal suffering).

As per the previous section, I do believe that the keto diet is the most efficacious, stress-free, and muscle-preserving (if high protein) method of rapid weight loss. Many people are happy to stay on it indefinitely, and do so; certainly I don’t see how a paleo-oriented keto diet can be worse in the long-term than, say, the much-touted Mediterranean diet (I think that the modest life expectancy advantage of southern Europeans over northerners is a genetic artifact, not an environmental one). Many more people maintain a productive relationship with it, cycling in and out as personal preferences, social conventions, and/or weight goals dictate. Meanwhile, while it is perfectly possible to make gains on keto (e.g. see the Leangains Protocol), I doubt that it’s a coincidence that the vast majority of bodybuilders and weightlifters have settled on bulking/cutting sessions – the former involving long periods of carb heavy “overfeeding” – as the most efficient method of making gains.

 

Standard American Diet

Now in fairness, there are many people who cope perfectly fine with the Standard American Diet (SAD) thanks to good metabolisms and genetic endowments – even if this becomes harder with every passing decade, as obesity statistics suggest. Now in defense of the carb-heavy, three squares a day SAD, the “food pyramid” of the 1950s is not equivalent to that same pyramid today.

Although many reasons have been proposed for the obesity epidemic – the decreasing incidence of hard physical work, rising CO2 levels slowing down metabolisms, environmental pollutants and disposed pharmaceuticals disrupting hormonal processes – in my opinion, perhaps the single biggest contributory factor is the plummeting nutrient-to-calories ratio of grains (Fan et al., 2008see right), vegetables, eggs, and meats. This is a problem implicit to industrial agriculture under profit-maximizing capitalism, which creates incentives to ruthlessly optimize for caloric density at the expense of nutritional richness and biological heterogeneity. This process began in the US in the 1950s, spread to Western Europe by the 1970s, and has been steadily getting worse ever since. Incidentally, this is one reason why free range chicken, eggs., etc. are good, beyond ethical ones. And why a paleo/keto diet is relatively healthier compared to SAD now than it was 50 years ago.

That said, if the SAD works for you, then far it be it for me to dissuade you from it. That said, I would insert a word of caution on a few categories of products:

  • Excess sugar, for standard reasons.
  • Industrial vegetable and seed oils, due to their bad omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid ratios.
  • Predatory fish species, due to high toxic metal content.

The evidence on red meat is mixed – some studies find significant improvements in cardiovascular health from swapping it out for poultry or fish (Bernstein et al., 2012), while other, more recent studies have found negligible effects (Johnston et al., 2019; Leroy & Cofnas, 2019). As the rationalists say, “politics is the mind-killer” – and the politics of food is no exception. On popular platforms, dietary debates tend to devolve into a clash of ideologies between soyak leftists and carnivore rightoids, making it impossible to draw any good conclusions from them without your own scientific grounding in the subject. My own intuition is that red meat isn’t any less healthy than other protein sources, and any advantage of the latter reflects selection effects – many studies neglect to adjust for higher IQ people, who are more robust robust in general, being more likely to listen to official dietary guidelines (Arden et al., 2016; Marioni et al., 2016; Schaefer et al., 2016). That said, my own stance is to restrict red meat consumption to adjust for the chance that my ideological instincts have misled me, as well as for ethical reasons.

Salubrious qualities have been ascribed to a variety of food products from curcumin and quinoa to chia seeds and chilli peppers. I would generally advise skepticism because there are basic evolutionary reasons to doubt the existence of dietary interventions that can have much of a positive effect on human lifespan (the converse is obviously not true, e.g. poisons), and because many of these studies tend to not competently adjust for important predictors of morbidity such as ancestry and IQ.

I expect much the same is true of so-called “Healthy Whole Grains” (HWG), especially as concerns older people (see right). Refined grains are stripped of the toxic compounds in whole grains, they aren’t as hard on your teeth, and they are much more delicious. Which stands to reason, since we spent thousands of years evolving them to be that way – only to be told by the quacks from the Harvard School of Nutrition that we should go back to the food ways of our Neolithic ancestors, the precise period during which humanity had its shortest lifespans and worst health outcomes.

I suspect this entire shtick of “Healthy Whole Grains” for breakfast (“most important meal of the day”!) with a glass of orange juice is going to go the way of how margarine was once touted by nutritionists as superior to butter.

Because abilities to do something at the age of 10, 30, 50, etc. are separate (even if correlated) traits, they evolve relatively independently of each other. When grains became a large part of the diet, the ability of children to digest them (and detoxify the chemical compounds plants put into seeds to protect them against predators such as us) became critical. If you don’t have genes to help you deal with this new diet, you don’t survive to adulthood and don’t leave descendants. In other words, evolution worked very hard to adapt the young to the new diet. On the other hand, the intensity of selection on the old (e.g., 55 years old) was much less – in large part, because most people did not live to the age of 55 until very recently. Additionally, once an animal gets past its reproductive age, the evolution largely ceases to have an effect (in humans, presence of older individuals was somewhat important for the survival of their genes in their children and grandchildren, so evolution did not entirely cease, but was greatly slowed down).Peter Turchin.

 

Vegetarianism

It is perfectly possible to have a balanced vegetarian diet (e.g. eggs for vitamins, dairy and/or tofu for protein), and even veganism is sustainable with the appropriate vitamin and mineral supplements. In terms of evolutionary adaptation, it’s a safe bet that South Asian women are better adapted to vegetarianism than are, say, Nordic men (Kumar et al., 2016see right). Incidentally, I find that it makes sense that the world’s best vegetarian cuisine comes from India. I could probably spend the rest of my life subsisting on naan and palak paneer and masala chai if I really had to, which I cannot say of any other vegetarian national cuisine.

Vegetarianism has been associated with greater mental disorders, but the relationship does not appear to be a causal one (Michalak et al., 2012). That said, while there have been plenty of vegetarian and near-vegetarian cultures, there has never been a purely vegan one, making the approach questionable from an ancestral perspective.

 

Carnivorism/Zero Carb

Carnivorism, or the zero carb diet, is the direct opposite of veganism, but at least it has the recommendation that there’s at least one traditional culture that is almost entirely carnivorous (the Inuit). Red meat contains the full spectrum of vital vitamins, and experiments from as early as the 1930s showed no discernible health impacts from a prolonged meat only diet (Lieb 1935).

In recent years, it has been discredited in the public eye by the health problems experienced by its most famous proponent, the philosopher Jordan B. Peterson. The transparent shilling of the “beef, water, and salt” diet by his daughter Mikhaila, who successfully used it to treat her complex autoimmune issues but then promoted it as some kind of elixir of salubrity, did not help its case. However, it is worth emphasizing that Peterson’s problems were caused by his benzo addiction, which in turn sprang from psychological problems borne of personal tragedy that were entirely incidental to his diet. I would not shy away from trying it out to treat autoimmune or gastric issues, especially if there were found to be  impervious to conventional treatment or less radical dietary interventions such as a low-FODMAP diet.

 

Organic Worship

Now it is true that organic produce is often denser in minerals and vitamins than its counterparts (though it is rarely more carbon neutral). It is also true that naturally produced meat and eggs tends to have greater nutritiousness and a more favorable ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids, and that the animals used to produce them live better and happier lives. These are all good reasons to prefer organic food, if money is not a constraint.

But that is no reason to make the “organic” into an object of worship. Plenty of things that are perfectly “natural” are very bad. Peasants in the Middle Ages practiced what we would understand to be “organic” farming – they were also literal dwarfs, some 15 centimeters shorter and much less robust than modern humanity in all but the most benighted Third World polities, stunted and beset by a wide range of chronic illnesses.

As John Durant points out, sugar cane can be perfectly organic. Tobacco can be organic. To drive in the final reductio ad absurdum, outright poisons such as arsenic can be perfectly natural and organic.

Organic sugar is still sugar. Organic cookies are still cookies. This foolishness has even spread to cigarettes: American Spirit advertises a variety rolled with organic tobacco and no chemical additives. While it’s less unhealthy to inhale fewer chemical additives rather than more, it’s not as if smoking organic cigarettes is healthy in any conceivable sense of the term. “Organic” actually means “not industrial.” – The Paleo Manifesto by John Durant.

 

Fad Diets

There are a number of diets and approaches that are not just mentally taxing, but obviously negative value added health-wise:

  • Juicing/juice “cleanses”: You are essentially glopping down sugared water without the useful fiber and much less of the vitamins and useful compounds contained in the original solid fruits.
  • Raw foods: We developed fire 2 million years ago for a good reason. You expend more energy to digest raw meat and vegetables than when they are in their processed forms. Cooking is what allowed us to become Big Brain nibbas in the first place.
  • Breatharianism: I assume you are not a ghoul from the Fallout universe.

 


Fasting

Almost all the world’s major religious cultures have developed fasting traditions, which suggests that the practice is adaptive. This has been confirmed by SCIENCE! (summary via LifeApps):

  • Kickstarts the process of ketosis after ~18 hours (Anton et al., 2018); conversely, it is more important to fast on a conventional or vegetarian diet, than on a ketogenic one.
  • Initiates autophagy within a day, in which misfolded proteins linked to Alzheimer’s and other diseases are broken down (Alirezaei et al., 2010).
  • Growth hormone levels up to five times higher as at the start of the fast, which helps preserve lean muscle mass and reduces fat tissue (Hartman et al., 1992).
  • Insulin levels at lowest point 54 hours in (Klein et al., 1993).
  • Old immune cells broken down by 72 hours (Cheng et al., 2014).

More obviously, fasting entails ~zero calorie consumption (which is good for rapid weight loss), as well as implicitly promotes hormesis (positive health outcomes to a low, controlled level of stress and/or uncertainty). This chimes with paleo logic, since “feast or famine” mode was default mode in the pre-agricultural world (you either caught an animal, or you didn’t). While fasting is good regardless, it’s especially helpful on a non-keto diet.

The Chinese noted with surprise and disgust the ability of the Mongol warriors to survive on little food and water for long periods; according to one, the entire army could camp without a single puff of smoke since they needed no fires to cook. Compared to the Jurched soldiers, the Mongols were much healthier and stronger. The Mongols consumed a steady diet of meat, milk, yogurt, and other dairy products, and they fought men who lived on gruel made from various grains. The grain diet of the peasant warriors stunted their bones, rotted their teeth, and left them weak and prone to disease. In contrast, the poorest Mongol soldier ate mostly protein, thereby giving him strong teeth and bones. Unlike the Jurched soldiers, who were dependent on a heavy carbohydrate diet, the Mongols could more easily go a day or two without food. – “Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World” by Jack Weatherford.

More practically, fasting also requires much less in the way of time spent on cooking, which is good for lazy/busy people. It is also often psychologically easier to restrict calories through prolonged fasting than “eating less” per day (see video above).

However, a word of warning that the effects diminish over longer fasts as the body goes into conservation mode, and care needs to be taken to avoid annulling the fast through post-fast feasting (rigorous calorie counting is definitely be a good idea during this period).

There are several fasting regimens:

  • Intermittent Fasting (IMF), or the 16/8 regimen, involves feeding within a window of 8 hours every day. This is trivially easy to accomplish on keto – just make a habit of missing breakfast.
  • One day fasting involves fasting for a day or two every week.
  • Alternate day fasting is what it says on the tin.
  • Long fasts: Fasts tend to be become easier over time, so if you managed to pull an entire day, why not extend it a further day or two into a three day fast or longer (though marginal benefits diminish after that point).

Speaking of myself, I almost never have breakfast so I do IMF by default, and undergo a 2-3 day fast once or twice a month. My personal record to date is 7 days.

There are apps to track fasts, e.g. Life Fasting Tracker and Zero Fasting.

For extended fasts (>3 days), I would also recommend the following supplements to avoid feeling weak and light-headed after a couple of days:

  • Daily RDA of magnesium, potassium, zinc.
  • 2 tsp of Himalayan salt.
  • Cream of tartar.
  • Apple cider vinegar (with water) to enhance absorption of the above.
  • Multivitamins.
  • Plenty of water (tea, etc., also OK to flavor it with lemon juice).

The Boy Scout rule of thumb is that a healthy man can survive for three days without water, three weeks without food, and three months without shelter. This is certainly a reasonable minimal estimate, and people regularly do far longer fasts – one guy called Angus Barbieri holds the world record at 382 days. Fasting, including extended fasting, is not unhealthy per se, and can also elicit interesting meditative and even spiritual experiences.

However, you should “listen to your body” and call off the experiment at the first sign of any real problems.

 


Quantified Self

Genomic Analysis

There are many good reasons to diligently measure what it is you are trying to accomplish or optimize for, be it weight loss, bodyfat loss, emotional state, or sleep quality:

  • The gamification effect adds a competitive element as you strive to be better than the man or woman you were yesterday.
  • Prompt feedback allows you to identify pitfalls early and let’s you see the “cost” of cheating in real time.
  • Willpower is a limited resource, and seeing daily, quantifiable progress is a good way to keep up spirits.

I often say that when you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it; but when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meagre and unsatisfactory kind; it may be the beginning of knowledge, but you have scarcely, in your thoughts, advanced to the stage of science, whatever the matter may be. – Lord Kelvin (on the necessity of quantification).

Here are some tools that I think are useful for any serious optimizer, along with what I am currently using in brackets.

  • Smart Scale that measures weight and bodyfat % with WiFi/Bluetooth connection. [Withings Body+ since 2018].
  • Smart Watch to measure heart rate, steps walked, sleep, and exercise and WiFi/Bluetooth connection. Personally, I like fitness trackers that can pass off as formal timepieces. [Withings Steel HR Sport since 2018; planning to upgrade to Withings ScanWatch, whose inbuilt oximeter is very useful in the age of the coronavirus].

And here are some apps that I can recommend:

  • Withings Healthmate – As per above, I am invested into the Withings ecosystem, and they have very aesthetic versions of their app for both web and mobile with full export capabilities.
  • MyFitnessPal – Most comprehensive calorie and macros tracker, can also be used for recording workouts.
  • Zero Fasting/LIFE Fasting – Good fasting apps, though I rarely bother with them, as they’d be recorded in MyFitnessPal by default.

 


Fitness

Websites

Apps/Tools

Books

  • Mark Rippetoe – Starting Strength [website]
  • Paul Wade – Convict Conditioning [my review]

So far as physical exercise goes, the key question is what are you trying to achieve: Lose weight? Build stamina? Or make gains/get ripped? Let’s consider each of these in turn.

 

Bodyweight Exercises

If you are massively overweight, there isn’t much point to exercising – period. Almost all positive change will be downstream of your kitchen (and your ability to keep away from it). That is because as a calorie burner, what we think of as “exercise” is remarkably inefficient – running burns 500-600 calories per hour, i.e. the equivalent of a Big Mac. Most obese people are in no state to run for that long, and even if they were, the resultant hunger pangs would cancel out its benefits anyway. Or to put it in more visceral terms, one would need to jog ~50 km (a marathon) to burn just one pound of fat; in an obese state, that’s about what you get from one day of water fasting. So just take it easy, perhaps take some long walks, and let your obesity-elevated BMR coupled with keto-aided caloric restriction do the heavy work.

That said, there is one class of physical activity that is highly useful and practical at this stage: Bodyweight exercises, or calisthenics. That is because they send the body the subconscious message that not only should it try to retain muscle, but to accelerate weight loss to make those exercises easier. This doesn’t apply to classical weight-lifting, where only the total muscle mass is relevant (enter the Chad Bloatmaxxers).

There are a number of recommended routines or “progressions” in calisthenics, where you start off with simple wall push-ups and perhaps eventually end up doing things like one-handed pull-ups. In that department, I can recommend the training guide at /r/BodyweightFitness and/or Paul Wade’s Convict Conditioning program (see above).

The most important thing is to commit to a program and stick to it.

 

Chronic Cardio

Unless you have very specific goals, such as training for a marathon or a hiking expedition to the Himalayas, I do not recommend persistent endurance activities (i.e. what Mark Sissons calls “chronic cardio“). Running burns ~550 calories per hour, which isn’t massively bigger than just walking, which burns ~300 calories per hour, and which basically health people can do without strain practically all day. Nor does it promote the growth of fast-twitch muscle fiber, like short bouts of sprinting. Unlike both those walking and sprinting, jogging/running stresses the joints, places you at greater risk of developing cardiac arrhythmias and atherosclerosis, and strains the nervous system (many endurance runners suffer from persistent cold-like symptoms).

 

Do You Even Lift, Bro?

If/when you are at a reasonable level of health, there is no good reason not to start lifting heavy weights.

  • It makes you look good.
  • It makes you strong.
  • It also makes it easier to keep your weight down in the future.

Let me explain (or watch the above video). There are two basic types of muscle: Type I (slow twitch), which are the small, stringy muscles that you use in everyday life, such as walking and jogging; and Type II (fast twitch), which you use during bouts of anaerobic exertion, such as keeping the train roof from collapsing on your family after a terrorist bombing. Our predecessors transitioned from ambush hunting to the use of bows and atlatls even before the Agricultural Revolution, which privileged slow, steady work over explosive strength. Think tilling the fields versus ambushing a boar with a spear. Consequently, since Type II muscles are metabolically much more expensive – a pound of the stuff burns around 300 calories just in your sleep – they do not tend to appear unless we specifically tell our bodies to produce more of them. To do that, we need to train to failure – always trade duration for intensity.

I am not going to go into the fine details of a weightlifting training program – for that, I suggest Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength, or a professional coach. Instead, I will highlight some useful tips:

(1) Muscles are primarily built in the kitchen, not the gym.

(2) Most bodybuilders and weightlifters build their physiques through bulking/cutting cycles. In summary:

  • Bulking: Eat ~500 cal above maintenance (BMR + exercise), with ~1.5-2g of protein per kg of body weight, to maximize muscle hypertrophy. Unfortunately, you also gain some fat, though this can be partially mitigated with fat burners.
  • Cutting: Eat ~500 cal below maintenance, with ~1g of protein per kg of body weight, to eliminate the accumulated fat during the previous bulk while retaining most of the muscle mass.

There is no hard guide to how long bulking/cutting cycles need to last, though the consensus seems to be that they each need to be at least 3 weeks long to see effects.

(3) It doesn’t much matter whether you eat throughout the day (the idea of keeping your body “constantly fueled”) or have just two main meals a day. However, it is important to always keep some protein in you, especially during a bulk. You can do this by consuming your proteins together with fats in order to slow down digestion; by consuming casein protein powder before sleep, which takes a long time to absorb; and/or by consuming protein-heavy snacks (e.g. tofu, quark/tvorog, low-carb protein bars such as Protein Rex) throughout the day.

(4) Before a lifting session, warm up with stretching exercises and jack up the cardiovascular system with a four minute sprint. It can be helpful to wrap up the session with 20-30 mins of moderate aerobic activity.

(5) Counting both calories and macros is important for maximizing the effects of your weight lifting exercises. You can wing it, but you’ll run the risk of making systematic errors.

(6) As I keep saying, willpower is limited. There will be days when you say “fuck it” and don’t want to turn up to the gym. Those days can potentially turn into weeks and months. This is where peer pressure and/or a trainer can really make themselves felt. When you are accountable to people whose respect you value, you are much less likely to waver in your commitment.

 


Hormesis

Hormesis is the scientific term for when a positive response to toxins and/or other stressors on the part of an organism when administered in small, manageable doses. It is also an example of N.N. Taleb’s concept of “antifragility”, in which exposure to randomness and uncertainty can make systems, such as finance or the human body, stronger.

 

Thermogenics

Making yourself cold forces your body to burn calories to maintain itself, it also involves less work than most exercise, so good for lazy people.

In order of “severity”, ideas can include:

  • Walking barefoot in the house and going undressed for the local climate. This also builds up the immune system’s robustness.
  • Drinking a refrigerated glass of water upon waking each morning (~8 calories burned).
  • Cold showers.
  • Cryotherapy.
  • Ice baths if you’re really hardcore.
  • Walking 30 minutes in -20 C temperatures, like “The Iceman” Wim Hof. See also his breathing method.
  • Skinny dipping with the beluga whales in the Arctic Ocean, like Natalia Avseenko.

However, remarkable as it is, there doesn’t seem to be a scientific consensus on the amount of calories burned during thermogenics – and, relatedly, whether it makes this worthwhile for weight loss. There’s probably a lot of individual variability. Regardless, there are doubtless substantial hormonal and hormetic (see below) benefits to cold exposure, so certainly no reason not to explore it.

 

Praise Atom!

So yeah, those caricatures of pre-1960s nuclear propaganda may actually have something do them. Residents of a Taiwanese apartment that was accidentally contaminated with Cobalt-60, and left undetected for two decades, observed much lower mortality from cancer relative to the age-standardized population average (Chen et al., 2007). Contra expectations, Japanese survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki had modestly elevated lifespans (Sutou 2018). These are admittedly still rather “anecdotal” findings, with modern society’s atomophobia probably making serious research on the possible health-enhancing aspects of moderate radiation exposure impractical. Still, it does suggest that negative health effects from things like X-Rays and frequent flying isn’t something that you should worry about.

 

Commanding Heights of Health

Although seeding your apartment with a healthy atomic glow or setting up camp in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone isn’t an option for most, another strong hormetic effect you can actualize is moving to a higher-altitude location. There is a large and impressively replicated body of work showing strong associations between higher altitude and lower obesity levels, greater cardiovascular health, and life expectancy (Faeh et al., 2009; Hart et al., 2010; Voss et al., 2013; Burtscher 2016). It’s also great for skiing, one of the best sports out there.

 


Ancestral Wisdom

List of useful health-related things that I haven’t mentioned so far. Most of these are based around safely recreating evolutionary common situations that are rarely encountered in the modern world.

  • Walking barefoot. Apart from the thermogenics aspect, this also helps develop natural musculature in the feet, as opposed to molding it into the footwear.
    • Vibram Five Finger shoes are especially made for this. I wasn’t particularly impressed by them, but YMMV. (But apparently real barefooters hate them too).
    • Commenter TBRS recommends Vivos and/or Groundies.
  • Donate blood. Apart from doing a social good, you are also recreating the periodic accidents primeval people would have had in battles, hunting accidents, etc.
  • Limit sitting. Sitting on chairs is evolutionary novel, for most of history we stood or reclined a lot more. Consider investing into a standing or ergonomic desk.
    • The company Ergostol specializes in this for Moscow.
  • Shitting while squatting is more natural FWIW. “Asiatic” toilets are superior to European crappers.
  • Maintain Alexander posture.

 


Sleep

I have a classic nocturnal chronotype which makes working any kind of 9-5 job a small torture, this probably played some role in me becoming a freelancer and blogger.

But not everyone can carve out such a career path, so here’s some useful tips I gathered:

  • Putting on blue light blocking goggles two hours before bedtime to replicate the ancestral experience of a late night communal bonfire.
  • Installing blue light reducers on electronic devices (flu.x on PC; Twilight on Android).
  • I started talking 1g melatonin tablets one hour before bed in August 2020 and they have been working like a charm, knocking me out flat.
    • The polymath Gwern has the Internet’s most comprehensive writeup on the pros/cons of melatonin and he comes out with a ringing endorsement.
    • Melatonin promotes deep REM sleep over normal sleep, decreasing the amount of total sleep time and increasing productivity. However, normal sleep does have its uses, such as periodically cleaning up the accumulating mental junk in your brain, so it might be a good idea to take periodic breaks from melatonin. I now find this easy to do because melatonin has created a convenient “template” that I can follow independently for at least a few days without it.

Although I am interested in polyphasic sleep, there is no way for someone with my difficulties in getting to sleep to ever come round to exploring it.

I am also fascinated by lucid dreaming. I find that I remember many more dreams and have more control over them when I systemically write them down in a dream diary. I have experienced lucid dreams on the few occasions when I summoned the discipline to consistently jot down all my dreams upon waking.

 


Supplements

Websites

Articles

It’s unclear to me that the vast majority of supplements have positive effects that justify the time and attention needed to set up a regimen, though obviously some people beg to differ (transhumanist Ray Kurzweil is reputed to consume ~200 pills per day).

That said, almost all of them are cheap and a few do seem to have significant positive effects, so adding these to your diet is probably worthwhile:

  • Aspirin is an anti-inflammatory agent and studies show it to be unambiguously good for your health; one suggests it adds a year to life expectancy (Dorresteijn et al., 2016). Take this even if you take nothing else, unless you have specific issues like stomach ulcers.
  • Curcumin (turmeric) is a staple of Indian cuisine and there are a number of studies suggesting it improves longevity and combats depression (Bhutani et al., 2009).
  • Vitamin C supplements kick the immune system into high gear, help preserve muscle mass during the later years, and have been found to help treat cancers in conjunction with fasting (Di Tano et al., 2020).

I am unsure whether the efficacy of the following creeps above neutral. Sometimes I take them, sometimes not:

  • Micellized Vitamin D
  • Vitamin B’s
  • Magnesium, zinc, and potassium supplementation are useful on a keto/low-carb diet, especially if you find yourself suffering from leg cramps.
  • 5-HTP
  • Alpha-Lipoic Acid

There is some evidence that Vitamin E supplementation is a net negative, so you should probably avoid it.

 

Nootropics

I am skeptical about the capacity of nootropics to increase intelligence, because it is largely – at least 60% -determined by genetics (Bouchard & McGue, 1998). No large-scale interventions have been discovered that substantially and sustainedly increase intelligence, which makes it cardinally different from weight loss or weight lifting, in which reasonable diet and exercise regimens can reformat well nigh anyone.

  • Piracetam (3-5mg) + Choline – This classic stack led to marginal improvements (memorizing Hanzi), but it was too modest an improvement to exclude a placebo effect. [~2010]
    • Adding aniracetam did nothing.
  • Modafinil – Extremely good for getting necessary, repetitive, and boring tasks out of the way. Crispy clear focus is why it’s prescribed to French fighter pilots. [~2012]

I would also strongly recommend this comprehensive writeup by the polymath Gwern.

So far as other drugs/nootropics are concerned:

  • Alcohol – Depends. I like dry red wines, sparkling wines, vinho verde, some liquors (esp. balsam). Like Aubrey de Grey, prefer cider over beer. I strongly dislike vodka, sake, baijiu.
  • Tobacco – Neutral. Probably has mildly nootropic effect?
  • Caffeine – Overclocks the brain. (Synergistic effects with tobacco?) Perhaps not entirely an accident that the Enlightenment emerged out of the coffee salon.
  • Marijuana – Dislike, makes me cough. Incidentally, THC content is much higher than several decades ago, so it’s ironic that decriminalization is coming to many countries just as it has become actually dangerous.
  • Amphetamines – Basically like caffeine squared, gives you obsessive focus and hyper alertness – no wonder the Wehrmacht blitzed through Europe high on the thing. Though be careful, since it may also make you want to divulge overly personal information. [2019]
  • Cocaine – Underwhelming relative to expectation. [2019]
  • Shrooms – Seemed to not work. [~2010]
  • LSD – IMO, the most interesting effect is not the psychedelic sensations and disco ball aesthetics, but that it shakes loose one’s existing “lattice” of mental/moral values and coordinates, and it does not always resettle in the same place. Explore with caution.

Andres Gomez Emilsson has done some really fascinating work on “psychonautics.” The scientific exploration of possible mindspaces is only beginning.

 


Looksmaxxing

It’s well known in the “PUA” community that women hit a “wall” around the age of 30, at which point their attractiveness to males begins to plummet. At this point, they really should hurry up with marrying off if they want to avoid spinsterhood. What these people don’t tend to like to admit so much is that the wall also exist for men – it just comes for them about a decade later. It’s also feasible to stave it off with increasing infusions of cash and cocaine. But most men are not Elon Musk or Berlusconi and are shit out of luck.

A friend in his mid-30s who looks a decade younger with a strong amateur interest in skincare writes the following:
  • double cleansing (steps 1 and 2): valid for foids in evenings only
  • exfoliator: valid, though not nec. every day, and can be combined with a toner
  • toner: can be bypassed entirely if non-exfoliating and you cleansed properly
  • essence: complete bullshit
  • treatments: essential
  • sheet masks: once a week and should be considered a luxury rather than something essential
  • eye cream: effect is temporary, otherwise bullshit
  • moisturizer: duh
  • sun protection: essential for people consuming SUGAR and the dreaded SEED OILS (i.e. most moderns), also important for koreans to stay light

One stopgap measure is “looksmaxxing”, most of which boils down taking good care of your skin so that it appears a decade younger than it really is.

I am not (yet) at the point where I need to investigate this closely myself, but in all likelihood that will change and I will fill in this section with useful advice. For now, you will have to settle for some quick notes:

  • For skincare, I use hyaluronic acid (Sakhalin Algae brand in Russia where I live) and it seems to work very well.
  • After shave lotion: Old Spice Lagoon.
  • Just use an electric toothbrush, they are superior to conventional ones in every way. Don’t bother with mouthwash.
  • I use Natura Siberica shampoos.
  • I started going bald at the edges of my pate in the late 2010s. Bad news: I can’t pull off the Klaus Nomi aesthetic. Good news: I do have a nicely shaped skull. Solution: Go bald. Normal electric razors didn’t cut it (ha-ha), while a wet shave either took ages or painted crimsons stripes on the canvass of my skull. I recently splurged on the Pitbull Skull Shaver (Gold) and it’s been very much worth it.
  • I use my Philips OneBlade electric shaver for beard and moustache maintenance. I also continue to use my Edwin Jagger safety razor on the skull for special occasions when nothing but the closest shave would do.

 


Personally, I’ve been hearing all my life about the Serious Philosophical Issues posed by life extension, and my attitude has always been that I’m willing to grapple with those issues for as many centuries as it takes. – Patrick Hayden.

Radical Life Extension

Books & Articles

Organizations & Companies

There are certainly habits and proclivities that are likely to significantly shorten your life, such as alcoholism (e.g. even in the 2000s, the gap in life expectancy between members of the Russian and Swedish Academy of Sciences was just three years, versus a dozen years for those countries as a whole). Another reason is smoking, and drug abuse (e.g. opioids are recreating the late Soviet era crisis in mortality in the US – if at a smaller scale).

Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to work in reverse. I am skeptical about the potential for lifestyle interventions to significantly extent human lifespans, a view that is shared by Aubrey de Grey, one of the high priests of pro-life extension gerontology, and one that I have seen him expound upon in person. For instance, he has advanced solid theoretical arguments why caloric restriction – the most widely touted lifespan enhancing intervention, but also deleterious on quality of life – cannot be expected to work on large, long-lived mammals such as humans (and apparently, it doesn’t even work on all mouse breeds).

First, the degree of life extension that has been obtained thus far in various species exhibits a disheartening pattern: it works much better in shorter-lived species than in longer-lived ones. Nematodes, as I mentioned above, can live several times as long as normal if starved at the right point in their development; so can fruit flies. Mice and rats, however, can only be pushed to live about 40 percent longer than normal. This pattern led me, a few years ago, to wonder whether humans might even be less responsive than that, and I quickly realized that there is indeed a simple evolutionary reason to expect just such a thing.12 It’s a consequence of the fact that the duration of a famine is determined by the environment and is independent of the natural rate of aging of the species experiencing it. – Aubrey de Grey (Ending Aging).

Thinking of adopting habits from the “Blue Zones”, i.e. those bucolic, and typically backwards, places with heavy concentrations of centenarians? I will have to disappoint you by pointing out that these regions – Sardinia, Ikaria, Okinawa, the Caucasus Mountains – also happen to be correlated with socioeconomic underdevelopment that delayed the introduction of good record-keeping, and that are even today, they are associated with higher levels of pensions fraud (Neuman 2019). So I wouldn’t be too excited about finding the elixir of life in those places.

The one major, reliable predictor of longer and healthier lifespan is strong family bonds and high social status. That is really the one thing that you should take away from those places.

At this point, though, I want to bring up a more general point – at the end of the day, why even care about eking out an extra 2-3 years of expected lifespan? All this accomplishes is to marginally delay the inevitable, while imposing social costs by straining pensions and healthcare systems. Any true solution will need to involve not just staving off “the sickness unto death”, but actively rejuvenating the mind and body, that is, returning it to a functionally younger state. Considering that aging is essentially equivalent to moving up the mortality curve, the very concept of a positive relationship between life expectancy and morbidity is revealed as a fallacy.

For millennia, the idea of immortality has remained relegated to legend and myth, often with moralizing undertones about the evils of hubris (see Nick Bostrom’s Fable of the Dragon Tyrant). I would say it is basically the biggest cope in the human condition. But there’s a chance all of this will become irrelevant sometime during this century, considering the flood of good news on the radical life extension front since ~2018:

Because there is a growing avalanche of money going into this sphere, with new companies sprouting up every week (investors don’t tend to bet on moonshots). Moreover, all seven strategies (for engineered negligible senescence) are now under mouse experimentation or will be so by the following year. There is also now a plan to enable human clinical trials of genuine rejuvenation biotech by 2021 (“Project 21”).

In 2019, having long studiously avoided making predictions, Aubrey de Gray was projecting Robust Human Rejuvenation for 2037.

As such, to the extent that one is invested in the idea of “living long enough to live forever” (as per Ray Kurzweil), my strong suggestion would be to place yourself in a position where you would be able to avail yourself of those technologies as soon as they come online.

  1. Focus on making money so that you can be a position to afford the first rejuvenation treatments in the case that they fall within your expected lifespan. This won’t guarantee you anything, but it will probably be a better use of limited time and energy than obsessively trying to figure out the marginal cost/benefits of the latest fad pill or supplement.
  2. Cut down on risky behaviors, e.g. alcoholism, drug abuse, riding without a seat belt, not wearing a mask indoors during a fucking epidemic, etc.
  3. Once the money problem is sorted out, invest in a cryogenics plan with a company such as Alcor (US) or KrioRus (Russia/Europe). While there’s only a passing chance it will actually work, 1% is still infinitely better than 0%.
  4. You can also use your money to promote and help accelerate life extension research. This is possibly one of the most “Effectively Altruistic” causes one can contribute to (e.g., my AmazonSmile charity is set to SENS).
  5. I am skeptical about if, but if you have more of a spiritual disposition, you can also explore the literature on digital immortality.