Project Sexypants: Recovery is a Tough Row to Hoe.

•August 10, 2011 • 2 Comments

There are several things I wish to achieve by regular postings on this blog, but boring everyone with a blow-by-blow accounting or rote catalog of my caloric doings is not precisely one of them.  So I shall try to spare you the inessential details.  However, I am riding high, after my marshmallic disaster of two days ago, on the successes of yesterday and today and want to toot ye olde horn a little, particularly given the upheaval that has become my life recently while we are in transit to New Mexico.  I had quite literally zero faith that I would be capable of doing anything but eating endless pints of Half-Baked® Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream in my off hours*.

I want, first, to acknowledge that I have received some very helpful suggestions from  both friends and strangers.  Some have given sound offerings related to mindfulness regarding my emotional state and eating habits.  One has suggested the intriguing possibility of going ‘primal,’ about which I know nothing, but which at least appeals to my predilection for shocking titles.  This combined with what I have learned through my own efforts promises to be a sound footing from which to continue my journey to slim-town.

I managed salads for lunch both today and yesterday, and dinners involving some sort of either fruit or vegetable and simple proteins**.  Breakfast yesterday included simple a simple egg omelette and fruit.  Today was oatmeal: cinnamon, nuts, no sugar.  I’m experimenting, on the suggestion of one of my kind FB friends, with what actually inspires more energy at the day’s outset: protein or carbs.   So far the oatmeal is winning.  Totally felt like I could run…oh, at least 100 feet or so after I ate it (not that I did.  God forbid, I had all that “watching-someone-do-my-job-for-me” to do).

At the end of the day (JESUS HONEY BISCUITS, I HATE THAT PHRASE!!!) it seems crucial I don’t feel deprived.  Today, for example, dinner was the footnote-mentioned prosciutto and some honeydew melon.  Totally filled me up.  Something about food with a high-water content, not to mention high-fiber, kills the cravings – tears ’em out by the roots.

I have read in several places that it is essential that the body not go into deprivation-mode by the continued restriction of calories.  Various alternatives are offered as a counter to this reality, some of which I have yet to research.  Some methods introduce regular “cheat-days,” days on which you are allowed to eat whatever the holy-fuck you want, so long as you don’t exactly binge, provided that on the other days you either restrict calories or restrict carb-intake.  This resents your body’s metabolism to high-gear, as well as its sensitivity to insulin and leptin: two hormones that appear crucial to maintaining a high fat-burning capacity. 

Another method involves much internal meditation and visualization in order to “program” one’s internal metabolic set point to “high” by convincing your unconscious (somehow, don’t know how solid the science is on this) that food is plentiful, and that the greater threat to survival are predators rather than starvation (if you restrict, you convince your body that food is scarce and that it should store as much food as possible).

I’ve tried many of these methods personally.  The visualization method worked marginally well, but I couldn’t quite bring myself to buy into the woo-woo “at the end of the day” (aaaaahhhhh!).  The carb rotation and cheat day method worked miraculously – I lost an average of 3-6 pounds per week for a month, but I just couldn’t maintain the diet for much longer than a month – carbs are too important to me. 

I’ve read both that combining protein and carbs is counter to digestive health, and that it is essential to allowing the body to process and incorporate protein into muscles repairing themselves after exercise.  The difficulty, for me, with nutrition information is not that there is too little info, but too much, and too little of that has  been studied systematically or scientifically enough to settle debates on which methods or approaches to use.

At the risk of adding to my confusion: what methods to you truck with, and which do you reject?

*My “off-hours” being the few minutes I wasn’t spending watching paid movers do all my work for me.  Exhausting, I tell ye.

**I am, of course, including prosciutto in “simple proteins.” I’m Italian, we’re allowed.

Project Sexypants: Epic Fail

•August 9, 2011 • 4 Comments

My overall reasons for posting updates on my “progress” toward a slimmer, sexier, more photogenic me, are  to provide accountability, as well as motivation.  My hope is that posts entitled “Epic Fail” will be relatively few in number, but if I’m truly to remain accountable to, well, anyone who happens to be reading this, I need to actually post the unpleasant failures as well as the more pleasant successes.

Last night was a sad, sad, sad failure – all the more so because it was so close to my first success.  The morning began well with a nice, pansy breakfast of yogurt and agave nectar.  Okay…there was a LOT of agave nectar, the yogurt practically swimming in it, but it wasn’t pancakes for fucks sake.  For lunch? *Shudder* A salad.  Okay, it was a Chef’s salad, but again, not pancakes (and yes, it is entirely possible that I would have had pancakes for breakfast AND lunch).

Dinner was similarly in line with my aspirations.  We did eat out, but at a Japanese restaurant, and my choice was Beef Negimaki: thin strips of beef, if you are unfamiliar with the dish, wrapped around slices of green onion.  Drowned in a sauce I strongly suspect was 90% sugar, but, otherwise acceptable for a first day.  No rice.  I even ate a 2nd salad right before the main course.  That’s at least 3 servings of vegetables in one day.  Halleluja.

The trouble came where it always does.  We’re lying on the couch watching old episodes of Torchwood, with nothing but the long stretch of a snackless evening laying before us, when the cravings attacked.  I drank water to fill my stomach.  My stomach said…nope, sorry, no good: we know it’s just water.  FEED ME SEYMORE!

I thought…maybe a cracker or two might quell the horrible, terrible, wrenching in my guts.  One entire sleeve of saltines later, crumbs scattered across my chest like evidence at a crime scene, the real monster awoke.  NO, I SAID: FEEEEEED MEEEEE!!!!

I desperately scrambled around the cabinets looking for something to quiet the beast.  Something with sugar in it…brown sugar?  No, no, no…that’s sick.  More agave nectar?….too messy.  Wait, is that….marshmallows?

One entire bag of marshmallows later and I’m doing crunches on the couch to mitigate the damage.  Finally, I just turn myself in to the health police, give up the day as a bad job, and console my wounded ego with promise of: there’s always tomorrow.

As a recovering addict, I know this trick of course.  It’s the opposite of “one day at a time.”  You can always recover tomorrow, right?  Well, tomorrow never comes.  At some point, I’m going to have to face down this bully-beast TODAY.

How do you fight cravings (and remember, I tried the “drink water” trick).

Project Sexypants 8.8.11

•August 8, 2011 • 2 Comments

As my inagural post on this topic, I thought I’d better provide some background.  My relationship with exercise, and further with healthy eating, is tentative and distrustful.  I played lots of sports (badly) all through my tender, formative years, but once I hit college, I simply realized I didn’t have to do that anymore.  While most will recognize the familiar refrain, “No pain, no gain,” my mantra was more of the “No pain…NO PAIN!!!” variety.

There was a time, now legendary (in my own mind), when I was extremely fit.  Four years ago, I’d decided to take on a total body transformation in order to facilitate my re-entry into the acting world after a brief hiatus.  I got myself down to 185 lbs and 10% body fat, near the statistical upper range of normal for a 6’2″ male.  I was very proud.  I ate fish, I ate salad, I worked out 2 hours a day, 5 days a week.  I did this for 18 months.  Returning to that lifestyle now seems, well, like returning to an extremely unpleasant and ascetic religious order after having lived among a jolly tribe of hedonists.  It’s going to take more willpower than I fear I possess.

My relationship with food is even simpler.  If it tastes good, eat it.  If it tastes really good, eat a LOT of it.  And if it’s healthy, it’s guaranteed not to taste good.  Never mind those fanatics who insist kale with pine nuts and garlic is honestly very tasty, if cooked just right, they’re lying to themselves.

Sigh.  So somehow these attitudes must change if my behavior is to change.

Complicating these factors is the reality that I seem to have two settings: stop and faster.  There is no such thing as making a few small changes in the beginning, and compounding them with further changes, slowly, as I adapt to a new lifestyle…no, no, no, no, no.  My immediate instinct is to go right for the tilapia and spinach, and a nice 2 hour sweatfest, otherwise, I’m not “doing it right.”

Which seems, upon reflection, to be setting myself up for the proverbial fall.

ALSO complicating matters is that this change in lifestyle is something I’ve promised myself for after we move to our new home.  New home, new life.  Seems like an easy, natural deadline. But I have a week before that happens, and more time on my hands than I care to admit.  I could honestly try to change something before we get there.

Any suggestions?

Introducing Project Sexypants

•August 8, 2011 • Leave a Comment

I have decided to publicize a rather personal struggle of mine, along with my more philosophical musings.

You see, I am a fattypants.  Worse, where food is involved, I have the impulse control of a shark when there’s blood in the water.  My researches into neuroscience and addiction have lead me to suspect there is some biochemical and neural network issue involved, but I will have to hope good ole’ fashioned bootstrapping can overcome these disadvantages.

In the last 4 years I have gained 60 pounds.  And it occurs to me now that 60 is a rather outrageous number.  So this is a quest to carve off those 60 pounds of fattitude and return to some semblance of healthy humanity, although it’s less strictly about ‘weight loss’ and more about getting ‘fit.’

What will follow will be my musings on this ancient struggle of man against ice-cream, along with my triumphs, failures, frustrations, elations and ululations along the way to losing weight and the transformation of a Mr. Fattypants into a Mr. Sexypants.

Join me as I struggle, sweat, and yes, probably bleed, in my quest to reduce the amount of me in the world.

Project Change

•August 7, 2011 • 4 Comments

My wife and I are now on the crux of a change that we have put together in short order.  It was already May of this year when we made firm our decision to abscond from New York City life and pursue a dream of life in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  Things are coming together for the change, but we are facing the tablet of our future much as an aspiring novelist might face the terror of the blank page.  What to make of ourselves, and how to make it, are the questions.  Although, in truth, it is more the latter than the former.  We have clear dreams for ourselves, but no clear paths to them.  We know what we want, but doubt our own strength to get us there.  A blind “geographic” cure is a mistake – location will not change hearts and minds by itself (or will it?).  But we know this, and are hoping the new scene will at least facilitate a change in habits.

We want to be strong, vibrant and alive with our own meaning.  We want to lose all the weight our sloth and torpor and misery in NYC put on us.  We want to eat cleanly and healthily.  My wife wants to make writing her main purpose, and me, I want to make my Project of the Mind mine.

The more I considered the Science Writing possibility, the less I liked it.  Pure research may not be the correct path either.  I am continually drawn back to those Philosophers and thinkers that, while well acquainted with the science of the mind and cognition, are more absorbed in the task of modelling a proper theory of mind and consciousness.  I can’t get away from it.

I will be taking courses at the University of New Mexico, in Albuquerque – an hour commute from our home in Santa Fe.  My eye is on a “Research Methods in Psychology” course and a course in the Philosophy of Science.  My hope is to combine coursework in both the sciences and philosophy in such a way as to make myself attractive to a graduate program in the Philosophy of the Cognitive Sciences, a fairly up-and-coming niche branch of Philosophy.  I have taken my GRE’s, about the results of which I was, and still am, ambivalent.  The next step, in addition to the coursework, is to put together applications for the various programs in which I am interested.  My aim is the top programs, but I may have little chance with them.  It is my feeling that if you are going into such a narrow field, you’re best served by studying at the top programs, otherwise job placement will be near impossible.  I must remind myself continually that the GRE’s are done, my academic history “is-what-it-is,” as they say, and the only remaining factor over which I have any control is my writing sample.  All the programs require a 15-25 page paper on a philosophical topic of some depth.  I’m still casting about for my subject, but I’m quite excited by the prospect of tackling the challenge.

I am hopeful in a way I have not been for years.  But still…I have no idea how I will manage to actually attend a grad program should I get in.

Have you had any academic aspirations that brought significant challenges, financial or otherwise?  Let me know your experience!

“I’m a loser, baby…”

•April 8, 2011 • Leave a Comment

So, I started a blog and promptly fell off the face of the blogosphere.  It’s no surprise, really, at least not to those who know me.  But I have returned and I have a few things to say.

I have been warned that I am perilously close to lacking all ambition whatever.  I am a “dreamer,” if by “dreamer” you mean: hopelessly pie-eyed wastoid with delusions of accomplishment.  Sadly, I have little, if any, refutation for this accusation: only sad, and slightly pathetic, acknowledgement.  And it makes me angry, but not in the “I-might-actually-get-fed-up-and-do-something” angry, more in the “what-I-feel-like-doing-is-shooting-myself-in-the-face” angry.  Which is not very constructive.

 You’ll have to forgive me if this deluge of self-pity irritates.  And I warn you, there is much more to come, so if you want to avoid drowning, I suggest you move on.  Just “Next” me.

It’s not that I don’t have passions.  It’s that whenever I’m truly confronted with the actual amount of effort required to succeed with said passions, I burn out in short order.  I start well, driving fast down the straight-and-narrow in a Cadillac of self-determination…until I drive straight off a cliff.  Or, less flamboyantly and more appropriately, just sputter and run out of gas.  Or the engine gives out under the strain in the first 10 miles.  Whatever.  I don’t handle stress well, is the point, and as you begin to take action with a passion or pursuit, you inevitably reach a point where the demands pile up until you (or at least I) can’t see straight.  At which point, I promptly…take a permanent vacation from it.

The problem is that I have about as much capacity as it takes for an average person to make it through an average day, and no more.  Nothing left over.  Which is a serious problem if you want to do something audacious, like change everything in your life.  Just don’t have the stomach for it.  So, instead, I get frustrated and depressed.  I should be more ambitious.  But I just feel like a loser. 

My passion used to be acting.  I say it didn’t work out for me, but the truth is: I didn’t try very hard.  Well, as I say, I tried hard in the beginning, very hard, but in short order I was putting off auditioning or pounding on agents’ doors for a steady, and uncomplicated, regular day job.  I gave up.  And once you give up, it’s easy to do it again.  And again.

You see, I’m very good at the initial brain-storming phase, when, as popular management-think dictates: “Every idea is a good idea.”  It’s the actual plan development and implementation stages where I lack follow-through.  And if you actually want to accomplish anything, these are the areas in which you want to excel, not be found lacking.

Well, I’m trying to change that.  I’ve decided, with some help, to use this blog to further my plans to pursue another dream-like ambition.   When I started this blog, I wanted it to be about my attempt to pursue my passion in science.  It turns out that becoming a scientist may be beyond my current means, for reasons I will explain later, but I may have a shot at applying to a Science Writing program – a journalism specialty that focuses on reporting the advances in the various sciences to the lay-person.  Which may be a good compromise, I’m not sure yet.  But to do so, I need desperately to practice journalistic writing, specifically about science.  So I’ve decided to begin that here.  Perhaps some sample articles, and if anyone actually reads it, they can comment on it constructively.  That’s my hope anyway.  I’ve subscribed to some rather dense professional journals (Science and Nature Neuroscience), and I have various other collections that I own, so first I need to begin reading and come up with a topic.  I’m thinking the Neuroscience of Addiction.  Any other ideas would be greatly appreciated.

Descartes’ Error

•January 16, 2011 • Leave a Comment

At the close of his first popular success, Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain, Antonio Damasio draws out what he considers to be the broad implications of his life’s work in Neurology and Neuroscience.  I can do no better than to quote him:

“This is Descartes’ error: the abyssal separation between body and mind, between the sizable, dimensioned, mechanically operated, infinitely divisible body stuff, on the one hand, and the unsizable, undimensioned, un-pushpullable, nondivisible mind stuff; the suggestion that reasoning, and moral judgment, and the suffering that comes from physical pain or emotional upheaval might exist separately from the body.  Specifically: the separation of the most refined operations of mind from the structure and operation of a biological organism….

The facts I have presented about feelings and reason, along with others I have discussed about the interconnection between brain and body proper, support the most general idea with which I introduced the book: that the comprehensive understanding of the human mind requires an organismic perspective; that not only must the mind move from a nonphysical cogitum to the realm of biological tissue, but it must also be related to a whole organism possessed of integrated body proper and brain and fully interactive with a physical and social environment.

The truly embodied mind I envision, however, does not relinquish its most refined levels of operation, those constituting its soul and spirit.  From my perspective, it is just that soul and spirit, with all their dignity and human scale, are now complex and unique states of an organism. (1994, pgs. 249, 251-252)”

And Descartes’ Error, according to Damasio, is not merely that he introduced this chasm between res cogitans and res extensa, but that he had identified the “truest” self with the supposedly rational, disembodied thinking substance, and subjugated the body to it in the order of nature and in the order of importance.  But more and more we are coming to understand that to truly comprehend the mind, we must understand its constitution in the body, and moreover, the mutual contribution of traditionally separate sub-entities, such as feeling and reason, to each other’s action.

Here is where controversy erupts, at least in philosophical circles.  Damasio, I would suspect knowingly, is making an audacious claim.  He is, in effect, claiming to have settled the ancient mind-body dilemma (although in the notes to his later work, The Feeling of What Happens, he acknowledges the ongoing controversy, perhaps in response to the backlash against his philosophic pretensions). 

While there has been tremendous progress in our developing understanding of the neurology of consciousness (see my earlier post on Christof Koch‘s book The Quest for Consciousness), a well known and stalwart band of fearless dissenters (Chalmers, Block, Levine, Nagel) has been holding out against claims that such a resolution has, in fact, been reached.  David Chalmers introduced the concept of The Hard Problem of consciousness to the public at large, in reference to the puzzle of how a physical system of any kind, describable primarily in 3rd person objective terms, could give rise to a subjective system capable of 1st person experience.  This is the latest restatement of the ancient “Qualia” problem: how can a brain (or body), which, when we examine it, contains nothing but nerves, nerve impulses, tissues, etc., be the same thing as a mind constituted by feels, smells, sights, sounds, and other things of a 1st person nature.  The nerve impulses correlated with the sight of a red rose look nothing like the sight of the red rose.  How can they be the same thing?

Such questions have always struck me as monumentally naive.  Certainly, when I look at a nerve impulse from the outside it will look nothing like the red rose to which it is a response.  But to properly interpret the impulse, it must not be looked at from the outside, but must be received by a properly constituted and specifically designed receptor, and be seen from the point of view of this receiving organ: i.e. from the point of view of the brain structures receiving the impulse. 

This response does not convince many detractors.  Most of those who object to physicalism or materialism just insist that mind-stuff is too different from body-stuff.  After all, the body is extended in space, has location, and is divisible.  We do not primarily think of a thought as extended in space or having a location, although we may consider that a thought could be divisible into more basic constituent thoughts.  But this may all be the result of habitual patterns of conception.  One of the famous arguments against the idea of a heliocentric solar system regarded a logical objection to the idea of a moving Earth.  The objection simply observed that the concept of “movement” involved a change in position relative to the position of the earth.   And so how could the earth move relative to its own position?  Absurd!, went the cry.  But all this showed was that the traditional concept of motion was severely flawed.  Similarly, objections based on the ordinary conception of things do not strike me as terribly persuasive.  Just because we haven’t traditionally thought of a “thought” as having a location, doesn’t mean that it can’t have one – only that our traditional concept may be incorrect. 

Other prominent thinkers, seemingly, to me, to side-step the issue altogether, have claimed to be Neutral Monists, a kind of dual-aspect theory.  Which means, they don’t believe there are two separate substances, there is only one substance, but it is neither a thinking nor a material substance.  It is more basic than that and subtends the mental and the physical.  The mental and physical are, in other words, properties of this substance – aspects of it. 

Persuasive, but my response to dual aspect theory echos an observation made by Thomas Nagel himself, “Though it has its attractions as a way of unifying the radically disparate elements that give rise to the mind-body problem, it also has the faintly sickening odor of something put together in the metaphysical laboratory.”  If it were true, it would suggest that every particle of this neutral substance should have mental aspects.  But, then, why does consciousness proper only appear to arise in a very, very small subset of that neutral material, namely that which is very, very specifically organized into neural systems.  And why should very, very specific aspects of consciousness be removed if specific brain regions are damaged?  If there is some kind of panpsychist, proto-consciousness in everything, wouldn’t that argue for a more global materialization of consciousness – meaning, if a conscious entity does arise, shouldn’t its consciousness, being made up of smaller bits of identical proto-consciousness, be divisible only into identical sub-bits?  Then why should only my ability to recognize faces be impacted if my fusiform gyrus is damaged?

But this is my take.  What is your theory of consciousness and how it arises in biological entities?

Evening Phantoms

•January 13, 2011 • 1 Comment

Under the weird column, add a new ritual my wife and I have recently developed.  I read to her.  No, that’s not the weird bit.  The weird bit is what I’m reading to her.  I recently picked up my copy of Phantoms in the Brain by V.S. Ramachandran (I know, I know – if I’m so obsessed with Neuroscience, why am I just getting to this now?), and began finally to dive into it. 

Now, my wife has a ritual.  Every night, as she turns out her light and rolls over to fall asleep, she asks, plaintively, “tell me a story…”  So, one night, recently, I just began reading this book to her.  Not exactly romantic fodder.  The thing is, Ramachandran’s lovely sense of humor, combined with his thorough mastery of the subject , genius for innovation, and ability to spin a good yarn actually make him captivating reading, even for those not already interested in the topic.  He’s so good, in fact, that if you were bored to death by brains before…by the end I’m guessing you’ll wonder why you never realized how desperately fascinating they were. 

My wife has at least enjoyed it enough that I’ve had to pick something else to read on my own – she pouts if I don’t save Phantoms for her.  And this from a woman who boldly proclaimed that she is not the least ennobled by knowing where her Amygdala is (in contrast to me, who finds such knowledge deeply fulfilling).

Ramachandran lucidly illuminates the puzzling phenomenon of “Phantom Limbs,” the puzzling and overpowering sensations, and at times excruciating pain, felt in non-existent, amputated limbs.  From this he promises to draw broad implications on the nature of the mind and the self.  As I said, I’m just getting into it, but I plan to post updates on my readings here.  Hopefully this will inspire others to take up his book as well.


•January 13, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Apparently, I have decided to flirt with the Devil.  Why, you may ask?  Because he made me do it.  No, really.

After much agonizing, sweating, angsting and generally painful self-examination, I have for some reason decided that the answer to “which TWO courses should I take” is “those three.” 

Which three are: Statistical Methods in Psychology, Abnormal Psychology, and Personality.  I knew, all along, that I would do this.  As did my wife (to her great fear and disappointment).

I am desperately hoping there is more fuel in my reserve tank than the “empty” reading would indicate.  It is very likely, however, that I will need to drop one of the courses posthaste.  So why would I do this?  For what possible reason?  Because I cannot claw my way out of my current situation quickly enough.  The faster I get the necessary coursework out of the way, the sooner I can apply to a graduate program with some reasonable expectation of being taken seriously. 

And today was one of those days that drove this message home with particular poignancy.  I was spot on-time for work this morning, and I was still lectured for not being there early enough, as my boss needed me to call tech support for him.  Because apparently he can’t do it without me.  So I’m driven to extremes in attempting to compensate for what has become, by all reasonable measures, a thoroughly unsatisfactory working life.

My wife is terrified that I will quickly drown in this sea of Psychology, and I can see her point.  I don’t particularly handle stress well and I’m easily overwhelmed, historically speaking.  This voice in my head keeps telling me, however, that the time has come to be more than I am.  It is also time, dear reader, for me to change day jobs.


•January 9, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Registration for Spring-Term classes at my local college is fast approaching, and I must make some tough decisions regarding what classes I will take.  The more I ponder the question of Graduate School, the more the Psych department advisor’s recommendation makes sense, in that I will eventually need to take several in order to prepare myself for Graduate School admission.  But for the term immediately in front of me, the question is delightfully open-ended. 

There are, in fact, several courses I could take, taught on either the weekend or in the evening hours, that wouldn’t interfere with my ability to work during the day, all of which could be of use as preperatory material for a Graduate program in Clinical Neuropsychology.  The problem is, I often have the inclination to bite off more than I can feasibly chew.   I do everything that way – I consume that way, I work that way, and play that way.  I don’t seem to have a grasp of the concept of moderation.

In this case, I’m already contemplating taking 3 of the courses, which is insane, given my work schedule.  Last semester, I took two online Philosophy courses from Oxford University, and it nearly killed me.  So I suppose any efforts to talk me down from the ledge will be greatly appreciated.

Statistical Methods in Psychology is a must, as I will need it to proceed to a Research Methods in Psychology class that will be vital, I am told, to pursuing graduate work. 

Beyond that, the choices are: Abnormal Psych, a definite must; Personality, very useful for someone going into any clinical area; Ethology: Animal Behavior, very crucial for anyone going into a research area involving animals, as Neuroscientific research inevitably does; and Social Psych, a somewhat less necessary course.

I’m leaning towards the Stat class and Abnormal Psych.  Plus maybe Personality.  Egads.  See what I mean about needing to be talked down from the ledge?  Any advice or comment would be, as I said, greatly appreciated.

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