QS + Paleo = ?
diet and weight loss | sleep
Seth Roberts offers an interesting perspective on how he has been able to accelerate his own self-discovery. He suggests combining the QS rigor of self-experimentation with the Paleo ideas on diet, exercise, and lifestyle. Seth believes both QS and Paleo communities can benefit by learning from each other. In the video below, he also compares his experiences at the Ancestral Health Conference and the Quantified Self conference.
Okay, so that’s one way of thinking, and I’m just using that as shorthand for the idea of the Paleo idea that meat is important, fat is important. And this is a small movement of people who are sometimes called hippies on Atkins.
Anyway, the QS point of view, here’s an example; I’ve begun tracking by measuring my sleep using the Zeo sleep coach and I’m now trying to expand in diet and measuring the various effects of meals that these have on my energy levels. So this was posted in the QS forum by a Journalist recently.
To me that doesn’t sound very different you know one is a kind of a French health movement and the other one has got a very scientific geeky thing, but I think they have a lot in common. This is why think, I think they need each other but they don’t know it. In other words, they would have a lot to gain by learning about the other things, but that’s not on their mind.
The reason I think this is because I see many examples, and I’m going to tell you these examples and I’m going to start with myself. I saw the patterns in myself very early. So I started tracking my sleep about 30 years ago when I became a professor, because I didn’t sleep very well; I would wake up too early but I wouldn’t be able to fall back to sleep. And I believe as probably all of you believe that if I measure something about this I might be able to improve it. If I don’t measure it it’s hopeless, but if I measure it maybe I’ll get somewhere. And it took a long time it took me about 11 years before I figured out anything.
I had ideas about what controlled sleep but they were all wrong. Unfortunately for me, they were all wrong. Maybe eight or nine ideas, they will all wrong and I had no more. But eventually I did make progress, and what I figured out by accident more than anything else was that breakfast was bad for my sleep. Breakfast was causing me to wake up to early in the morning. Okay fine, and there was good reasons to think that, not just my data.
Well I thought about that and how long it had taken me to reach that conclusion and I thought you know, it was not intuitive at all but it made some sense, because back in the Stone Age people did not eat breakfast. So it made some sense that doing a non-Stone Age thing would be bad, and I always just missed the talk about we are fit for Stone Age and I would say well so what.
There’s 1000 differences between modern life and Stone Age life, how can you sort through them? What good is that? But after this discovery I began to reconsider my belief that looking at the story’s life was useless.
And after paleo, and after I came to this realization of it wasn’t a useless idea, I was able to make progress much faster, and that’s the point of these two lists which is that before Paleo, before I took it seriously it took me 11 years to get somewhere.
And after I took it seriously I was able to make what you might call steady progress. In other words I made a lot more discoveries in the next 11 years and that’s my point. And each – and I will go down to details, but each one of these discoveries was motivated by thinking about what people do in Stone Age life. One was about the effect of morning faces, and the other is about the effect of standing, on sleep. The Shangri-La diet is about new ways to lose weight, and a new theory about weight control. Omega 3 is about the many beneficial effects of flaxseed oil. One laggard standing is an improvement of the idea of standing helps you sleep.
And as Arnie talked about the idea more recently the discovery of butter makes my brain work better. So you know that a lot, I really benefit from this and perhaps other people would too. As I repeat, all these discoveries were helped along by considering Stone Age life.
So that was an example where QS needs Paleo because I was a very QS person and paleo really helped me to make more of my QS.
He is the other direction of influence for paleo really needs QS.
In 2000 for someone named Lorraine Cordain was very interested in paleo, and some collaborators published a paper about acne, where they went to two primitive tribes of people and they found they didn’t have any acne. Well you know, whereas you know in Palo Alto high school there is lots of people who have acne. And their explanation was well they don’t eat any food that causes their insulin to spike. Okay fine. That was good, and I think that was really interesting data.
The problem was is that it wasn’t followed up at all. There has been nothing since then to verify that this was right or show it was wrong or anything. There’s just been nothing on the subject of acne to follow up this finding which apparently means that if you get the right diet you will never have acne. I mean I believe it, but what exactly is the right diet and a lot of people would like to know. I used to have acne; I would have liked to have known.
Well, I gave a talk at Chinua where I teach and afterwards about myself experimentation, and a student came to me and said that was very interesting. And so I convinced her to track her acne; she had really bad acne.
So what happened next? Well we tried this. This was one of the first things we tried; cut all sugar out your diet. She ate lots of sweets. Well it did help a little. Maybe it reduced it by 20%, but you know there was a long way to go. And she kept on tracking it and she wasn’t able to find something really that made a difference.
So in other words that was a really great start, but it wasn’t really a long way from something that would help average people get their acne way down. Somehow it’s possible, but a lot of work needed to be done, and they weren’t able to do it. But I’m saying doing a study with people with acne where they systematically vary to what they eat would go a long way to helping, and that would be a good place to start but that doesn’t happen. So my point is obvious perhaps, is that if you do QS and you looked at paleo ideas for inspiration about what to change, you would do a lot better than if you would do one of those by themselves.
I just came back from the ancestral house emporium in Los Angeles. This is a T-shirt, and I had been to the QS conference in Mountain View, and I saw a lot of similarities and differences and I think there interesting. Partly because I think they show that these two movements have quite a bit in common. First of all they have lots of enthusiasm, that’s the most important thing of all I suppose. They have lots of novelty and terms of new things, new ideas about the world and how to improve it. They have a lot of potential obviously. They have a lot of young people. They have a lot of data and they have a lot of examples. These are all really excellent things, but they have a lot of differences to which may suggest how QS will change in the future.
The ancestral house is way more diverse, way more different types of people; more women, more professors, trainers, people with their own gyms, whereas QS was mostly trackers and entrepreneurs. Intellectually it was way much deeper and a lot more ideas and different kinds of data. It sold out much faster. They had way more bloggers. It had way more controversial crazy and dangerous ideas. It was more passionate, all the ideas it was an, the idea that we should be like this is an ancient idea; it dates back 500 years at least.
It had way more concrete benefits. People would talk about how their health got better with this paleo thing. Somebody wrote an article for the Technology Review about the QS conference and they said, some of these QS people are weird, okay fine.
One of the examples of the weird person was somebody who ate half a stick of butter a day, well that was me as it happens. Oh yeah, and there was someone else who would stand on one foot to sleep better, well that was me too. So there was people doing crazy things that they had to use me twice and pretend I was two different people.
So you could see that if somebody is doing something crazy that’s actually a good thing. And the lack of it at QS was noticed by kind of in a negative way.
On the positive side for QS there were more entrepreneurs and I was thinking that is a really good thing because I think if people can make money from something that’s great. And there was a more human scale to the whole thing, in other words people were trying to improve their own health and I think that’s great. It’s great to start with a simple example and move from there whereas at QS there was some people talking about the big picture and it was unclear with what actually happened.
Steve Omohundro I feel made the most incisive comment of the whole thing. This is Steve Omohundro,’QS feels like a smaller movement for the enthusiast and AHS has the potential to change the health of the world’.
I happen to feel QS does this to. It also has the potential to change the health of the world, but I think Steven’s exactly right, it did not feel that way unless you already felt that way, whereas AHS was way more persuasive of outsiders.
You know you could go to the AHS and they say it’s perfect. It’s wonderful. They will change the health of the world, and that’s exactly what I think. But you know I try to be more realistic than that and I think if you have a skeptical eye that’s not exactly what you see.
You can see problems with paleo. One problem you could easily see or at least I can easily see it all right. It’s not as if every word spoken in the comments is correct, far from it in my opinion.
One long talk that got a lot of attention was about how fructose is making us fat. Well I happen to be the person in the world who discovered if I drank fructose water I lost a heap of weight. They can’t both be true, and I know his data was like big slides about big changes over the entire population of the United States over 20 years. Whereas my data was a simple experiment I did on myself and many people repeated. I know my data is a hundred times better than his, and I was the only one complaining about his talk. Other people were like, ‘Oh this is ridiculous. This is terrible’ and they didn’t know anything about my data. I know he’s wrong but a lot of people don’t.
And it’s a popular idea, paleo that all our ills are due to sugar or high carbohydrate. So that guy hadn’t figured out how to test his ideas. It’s as simple as that basically, and a lot of people I think are in the same boat there.
On the other side of it, they figured out something that works, and then they do it and they get a lot better and the go to the doctor and the doctor says ‘You just got better. Have you done anything to change your diet?’.
You may not believe such a thing happened but I heard two examples at the conference. And I’m saying that if they track their symptoms very carefully and they started showing they’re getting better, exactly on the day they switched their diet, they could show them those numbers and they would have a much better story. And if the doctor looked at that and said no it isn’t the diet that would be laughable I think they would take it more seriously.
On the QS side it’s sort of the dark secret that it’s not easy to change this stuff. Had a good example where he change it but he had a hundred things but he tried 100 things at once, okay, great now what’s the next step., it’s not so obvious.
As those who tracked acne found it was really hard to change the acne, and I think lots of people find, I found at least and I see other people finding it’s really hard to change stuff. These aren’t easy problems to solve when you’re trying to sleep better or get more energy.
On the other side of QS I see it in my friends, the lack of enthusiasm to experiment. I gave my friend a wake mate which measures his sleep and low and behold just like he said he wakes often at night. It’s really a big problem for him, and now he’s been doing the wake mate for like two months and he’s got a bunch of baseline data but it’s kind of hard to change something. So I think if he had some paleo ideas it might make it easier for him to change. if he was enthusiastic about paleo and about the QS methodology.
I think QS and paleo go together a little bit more than you might guess, and first of all that’s because the paleo people are really very brainy. I mean you know they don’t particularly talk that way or show it off but behind many of the talks I heard I understood there was a lot of smart thinking going on, and a lot of scholarship and a lot of critical thinking that they don’t just except something because somebody says it and a very high amount of that at this conference.
And at QS people are kind of obviously geeky, and brainy, and good with numbers and so forth, that’s quite clear. What I think goes unnoticed about the QS community is that it’s very open people. They’re not ridged, they don’t think, ‘Oh I’ve done it this way forever, I’ve got to do it this way. That’s what somebody else say and I got to agree with them’. and of course, openness is a very important trait if you want to make progress because who knows where the right answer might come from.
So my final point is, it would be really a shame if paleo turns out not to be so persuasive enough, because I really think just like Steve it really does have the potential to change the world. It’s changed my own life already a huge amount and many other people at that conference.
And it really would be a shame that if QS main use is communication with a doctor. On med health there’s lots of people tracking stuff; thousands of people tracking stuff, and the main thing they do with all those numbers and all that data and all that technology is communicate better with their doctor.
But people doing QS can really discover stuff. They’ll discover a lot faster if they try to understand what’s already been discovered, and paleo is the best source of that I beelive.