Tuesday, November 29, 2011

My Story On Salon.com

I was asked to write a 2,000 word essay on my story.  I've written blogs here and there about how I started on my journey and all of the steps I took to get here.  Today, Salon.com published my story that I wrote about the past three years of my life and it ended up on the front page of their website.  Needless to say, I am thrilled and a bit wary at the same time.

I don't mind writing personal things here and there about myself (which I do) on this blog, but I couldn't believe the amount of support as well as criticism I received for it.  Everyone has an opinion and not everyone can do, is willing to do, or even wants to do what I have done and continue to do.  There is a lot of talk about the money I made at my job in the corporate world.  The fact is, my first job after college (and many jobs after that) was minimum wage and I never in my wildest dreams thought I could make six figures.  At one point, I told my boss that I thought I was making too much money.  I am certainly not in that situation today, but it's the choice I made and yes, I am extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to be in that circumstance.

In any case, it's a summary of quitting my job and quitting alcohol to gain a life.

A sincere thank you to all that have followed me, and continue to follow me on this journey and for all of the help I've had along the way from the kindness of strangers.  I enjoy sharing my experiences with you.

To read the full article, click HERE

Another Simple Food Weight Loss Experience

Whole Health Source reader Sarah Pugh recently went on a six-week simple food (low reward) diet to test its effectiveness as a weight loss strategy, and she was kind enough to describe her experience for me, and provide a link to her blog where she discussed it in more detail (1). 

Consistent with the scientific literature and a number of previous reader anecdotes (2), Sarah experienced a reduction in appetite on the simple food diet, losing 15 pounds in 6 weeks without hunger.  In contrast to her prior experiences with typical calorie restriction, her energy level and mood remained high over this period.  Here's a quote from her blog:
Well, it looks like the theory that in the absence of nice palatable food, the body will turn quite readily to fat stores and start munching them up, is holding up. At the moment, the majority of the energy I use is coming from my insides, and my body is using it without such quibbles as the increased hunger, low energy, crappy thermo-regulation or bitchiness normally associated with severe calorie restriction.
I can't promise that everyone will experience results like this, but this is basically what the food reward hypothesis suggests should be possible, and it seems to work this way for many people.  That's one of the reasons why this idea interests me so much.

Read more »

Monday, November 28, 2011

Leonard Knight's 80th Birthday at Salvation Mountain

This wasn't my first trip to Salvation Mountain, but it might be the last one seeing Leonard there.  A few weeks ago, he had his 80th birthday party at the mountain and I knew I needed to make the three hour trek to see him again and to wish him a happy birthday. Leonard Knight has touched the lives of so many by building this mountain out of adobe clay and donated paint.  His motto that surrounds the mountain is, "God is Love."  You will see  this phrase all over the mountain and surrounding vehicles. He welcomes everyone to visit and appreciate his work of art.  As many have seen and experienced, he greets everyone by saying, "Welcome, make yourself at home." The photo above of Leonard was taken during my first visit a year and a half ago.

Throughout the day, there were stories of how Leonard's creation and philosophy have helped them through difficult times and they would in turn, share this with him.  One by one, people came to take a seat next to him for a moment to express gratitude.  He has a hard time hearing so you can see him struggle a bit to understand what people are saying.  Several people enjoyed telling stories to Leonard about how he has touched their life in some way.  He always keeps a positive attitude with his signature "thumbs up" gesture.

My first visit to the mountain and to meet Leonard was in March of 2010.  He was still living at the mountain but since he is slowing down a bit, he is currently living in a home in a nearby town.

Salvation Mountain is a sight to see if you haven't already.  I hope it will be preserved over time so future generations will also be able to enjoy it.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

A Brief Response to Taubes's Food Reward Critique, and a Little Something Extra

It appears Gary Taubes has completed his series critiquing the food reward hypothesis of obesity (1).  I have to hand it to him, it takes some cojones to critique an entire field of research, particularly when you have no scientific background in it, and have evidently not read any of the scientific literature on it.  As of 2012, a Google Scholar search for the terms “food reward” and “obesity” turned up 2,790 papers.

The food reward hypothesis of obesity states that the reward and palatability value of food influence body fatness, and excess reward/palatability can promote body fat accumulation.  If we want to test the hypothesis, the most direct way is to find experiments in which 1) the nutritional qualities of the experimental diet groups are kept the same or at least very similar, 2) some aspect of diet reward/palatability differs, and 3) changes in body fat/weight are measured (for example, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9).  In these experiments the hypothesis has both arms and one leg tied behind its back, because the most potent reward factors (energy density, sugar, fat) have nutritional value and therefore experiments that modify these cannot be tightly controlled for nutritional differences.  Yet even with this severe disadvantage, the hypothesis is consistently supported by the scientific evidence.  Taubes repeatedly stated in his series that controlled studies like these have not been conducted, apparently basing this belief on a 22-year-old review paper by Dr. Israel Ramirez and colleagues that does not contain the word 'reward' (10).

Another way to test the hypothesis is to see if people with higher food reward sensitivity (due to genetics or other factors) tend to gain more fat over time (for example, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16).  In addition, studies that have examined the effect of palatability/reward on food intake in a controlled manner are relevant (17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22), as are studies that have identified some of the mechanisms by which these effects occur (reviewed in 23).  Even if not all of the studies are perfect, at some point, one has to acknowledge that there are a lot of mutually buttressing lines of evidence here.  It is notable that virtually none of these studies appeared in Taubes's posts, and he appeared unaware of them. 
Read more »

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Two Recent Papers by Matt Metzgar

This is just a quick post to highlight two recent papers by the economist and fellow health writer Matt Metzgar.

The first paper is titled "The Feasibility of a Paleolithic Diet for Low-income Consumers", and is co-authored by Dr. Todd C. Rideout, Maelan Fontes-Villalba, and Dr. Remko S. Kuipers (1).  They found that a Paleolithic-type diet that meets all micronutrient requirements except calcium (which probably has an unnecessarily high RDA) costs slightly more money than a non-Paleolithic diet that fulfills the same requirements, but both are possible on a tight budget. 

The second paper is titled "Externalities From Grain Consumption: a Survey", with Matt Metzgar as the sole author (2).  He reviews certain positive and negative externalities due to the effects of grain consumption on health.  The take-home message is that refined grains are unhealthy and therefore costly to society, whole grains are better, but grains in general have certain healthcare-related economic costs that are difficult to deny, such as celiac disease.

There are a lot of ideas floating around on the blogosphere, some good and others questionable.  Composing a manuscript and submitting it to a reputable scientific journal is a good way to demonstrate that your idea holds water, and it's also a good way to communicate it to the scientific community.  The peer review process isn't perfect but it does encourage scientific rigor.  I think Metzgar is a good example of someone who has successfully put his ideas through this process.  Pedro Bastos, who also spoke at the Ancestral Health Symposium, is another example (3).

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Teaching American Slang To Teenagers In Sweden (And How To Meet Strangers Online)

If you told me a few years back that my blog would eventually end up in a textbook to teach English and English slang to kids in Sweden, I would have used way more slang words!  I write like I talk (for the most part) and I don't agonize over words to use that would make me appear like I am some brilliant intellectual writer.  Well, I am but that's besides the point.

At the beginning of my journey wandering the states three years ago, I wrote about my feelings, fears and mostly about what I did (if it was interesting enough).  Little did I know that my blog about meeting strangers in real life would end up in print in a Sweedish textbook.

I agreed and licensed my blog for them to use but really didn't know in what context they would use it.  I didn't really care but it was refreshing that they would reach out to pay me for my words instead of just using them or my photographs without reaching out to me first.

They used my blog I wrote on March 19th, 2009 titled "Meeting Strangers Online."  When I write blogs, I don't think too much about it.  I just sit down, write, add some pictures and click on "publish." I don't think about who reads it or where it might potentially go.  I am sure some of you are thinking, "um, yeah...I can tell."

I would have never guessed that someone in Sweden would think it was compelling enough to publish as a teaching tool to young minds.  I suppose in their eyes I fit into their idea of some crazy American lady that would travel around and meet strangers and other crazy people.  If that's what they were looking for, they found it!

 I am glad I did what I wrote about in the blog.  I met people that will be lifelong friends.  Was it a bit scary and unnerving?  Yes, of course!  Most people would tell me that meeting a guy who lives full time in a van would not be the best idea in the world for a solo female traveler (it really isn't so do not think I am telling you do do this) but I did anyway and that wasn't the last time I met up with him.  We hit it off right away and became friends. The same goes for Cat who is a dear friend to me now.

After I wrote this blog, I went on to meet many more "strangers" who are now part of my extended family.  I will write a blog about each one someday.  For now, here are some iphone images of the book that kids are learning from in Sweeden.  At the bottom of each page there is a blue strip to help kids understand what my words and phrases mean like, "creature of habit", "what the heck" (I approved "heck" over the word I originally used), "keep in touch", "hit it off", "branch out", "pig out"  and words like "killer" "Trailie" and "creepy".

The best part is the Q and A at the end of the blog entry. I had to think about some of the questions to see if I could answer them on a blog I wrote years ago.  There is a section to "read and reflect" and then to "reflect and share."  It was a good chance for me to reflect and share as well.  Here are the questions if you care to reflect and share (you can read the original blog HERE):

1. Why was Dave a tad creepy, according to Alison? Would you have met him? Why?
2. Which meeting did Alison seem to enjoy the most? Why? (I don't think I said anything about enjoying one more over the others but I suppose that is up to the reader to interpret.)
3. Have you ever met a stranger in the same way that Alison did?
4. Why are we such creatures of habit?
5. What have you done outside of your routine that has changed your life?
6. Would you travel across America in just a trailer? Why? If you were going, what safety precautions would you take?

I would like to know your answers to the bottom half of the questions.  I guess I didn't think it was a big deal at the time and continued to meet more strangers long after this post was written.  I still haven't had a dangerous encounter but then again, I am pretty cautious on who I meet in person.

I think stepping out of our comfort zone is the only way we will grow as a person and learn more about ourselves and others.  Give it a try if you haven't.  I bet you will be glad you did.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Olvera Street and Union Station

I have lived in Southern California most of my life and have to admit that I've never taken the journey to explore Olvera Street or Union Station. It was near Halloween so Olvera street was filled with activities, music, tourists and locals celebrating the day of the dead or rather, "Dia de los Muertos".

I spent a few hours wandering around this small block of outdoor islands.  Many children were getting their faces painted or shopping for masks to be a character in "Lucha Libre" even if they didn't really want to as you can see in the photograph below of a frowning boy.  Needless to say, it was entertaining to watch.

After my short stroll through Olvera Street, I headed to Union Station to take a tour.  What a beautiful train station!  There was a wedding going on so I asked the bride and bridesmaids if they wouldn't mind posing for me...they said yes.  It's easy to be entertained there.  All you need to do is take a seat and observe.  You will see many different types of people come in and out of the station.   I also enjoyed watching people who watched other people.  I turned my camera around on one of the chairs to see what the couple was doing behind me.

It was a fun day of exploring the city I live in.  I look forward to visiting more neighborhoods I haven't had the opportunity to tour.  There is so much to see here.  I love all of the personalities Los Angeles has to offer and I look forward to seeing more.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Does High Circulating Insulin Drive Body Fat Accumulation? Answers from Genetically Modified Mice

The house mouse Mus musculus is an incredible research tool in the biomedical sciences, due to its ease of care and its ability to be genetically manipulated.  Although mice aren't humans, they resemble us closely in many ways, including how insulin signaling works.  Genetic manipulation of mice allows researchers to identify biological mechanisms and cause-effect relationships in a very precise manner.  One way of doing this is to create "knockout" mice that lack a specific gene, in an attempt to determine that gene's importance in a particular process.  Another way is to create transgenic mice that express a gene of interest, often modified in some way.  A third method is to use an extraordinary (but now common) tool called "Cre-lox" recombination (1), which allows us to delete or add a single gene in a specific tissue or cell type. 

Studying the relationship between obesity and insulin resistance is challenging, because the two typically travel together, confounding efforts to determine which is the cause and which is the effect of the other (or neither).  Some have proposed the hypothesis that high levels of circulating insulin promote body fat accumulation*.  To truly address this question, we need to consider targeted experiments that increase circulating insulin over long periods of time without altering a number of other factors throughout the body.  This is where mice come in.  Scientists are able to perform precise genetic interventions in mice that increase circulating insulin over a long period of time.  These mice should gain fat mass if the hypothesis is correct. 

Read more »

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

"The Wedding Guest" Selected For The Portraits Exhibit At The Center Of Fine Art Photography

I am so thrilled that my photograph titled, "The Wedding Guest" was selected by judge Anna Walker Skillman to be in the Portraits Exhibit at the Center of Fine Art Photography in Fort Collins, Colorado.  All photographs selected will be on display at the Center's gallery from January 13th through February 25th, 2012.  I feel very honored to be among the talented artists in this exhibit.  You can see all of the selected images by clicking HERE.

As the Center of Fine Art Photography describes on their website, "Anna Walker Skillman is the owner of Jackson Fine Art, one of the premiere photography galleries in the nation. Anna Walker Skillman began her career working at the Haines Gallery, a leading contemporary art gallery in San Francisco . In 1993, Anna moved to Atlanta to manage the studio of famed Atlanta artist Todd Murphy. After working with Mr. Murphy to establish his career for five years, Anna turned to photography and joined Jackson Fine Art in 1998. In March of 2003, she purchased Jackson Fine Art from Jane Jackson who became curator of the prestigious and renowned collection of Sir Elton John. As the gallery director and co-curator for the past five and half years, she is honored to have the opportunity to continue a reputation of excellence in exhibiting photography by both emerging and established artists."