Thursday, March 10, 2011


I've had a sense for some weeks (or months?) now of pronounced physical decline. It got bad enough this week that I even talked about it. I wrote my son-in-law that:
I'm feeling more and more over-the-hill week-by-week of late. Some days, going to work is really difficult, in terms of my energy and how my body feels. But I think that giving in to this, saying "Enough!," would be the first day of a quicker decline to even worse levels of well-being. So I'm struggling to forestall the day. But a struggle it is.
    And now, obviously, I've decided to bring the topic here—not to ask for advice (although it wouldn't be unwelcome), but to try to clear my mind and maybe discover a better way to confront my inevitable downward journey than to just go on "struggling" in the way I currently am.
    What I'm currently doing seems to be to just keep on keeping on, or "more of the same old same old."
    A young colleague at work asked me today what I think our recently retired boss is doing. I said, "I don't know, but I don't think he's enjoying it. He's not cut out for retirement. And neither am in, in my own way."
    "But," she said, "you've got so many other interests. Books, movies—"
    And I rushed in with my working assumption about needing to keep struggling in order to forestall a quicker decline.

But maybe she's right. In checking the meaning or connotations of "same old same old," I discovered that it refers to something "especially when it is boring or annoying." I hadn't thought so, but perhaps my current occupations are somewhat boring. Maybe I think of my life as a struggle because I'm not enjoying the things I'm doing, although I like to think that I am.
    Maybe my energy would increase and my physical discomforts decrease (or become less noticeable) if I were doing something new and exciting.

At the very least, I could try reframing. Considering it a struggle to get up, get dressed, and get off in the morning might be a form of myopia, or nearsightedness, which is "when light entering the eye is focused incorrectly, making distant objects appear blurred."
    Maybe I'm not focusing correctly. Maybe I should stop focusing on my immediate feelings of sleepiness, tiredness, and aches and pains, and instead look at more distant objects: goals, things to look forward to today. Thinking continually about being tired and feeling achy is not only a downer in its own right, it's also rather boring!
    My wife probably feels a lot worse than I do, but she consistently avoids that kind of thinking. I should try to emulate her.
    And maybe I could include some new goals, some new sorts of things to look forward to, to make life more interesting....


  1. Hmm maybe there is some scientific basis to the traditional retirement age of 65? Maybe once one hits that age, one is less able to bear the tedium of getting up and going to an office day after day after day.

    If it makes you feel any better, I have the same problem and I don't think I have begun a decline into the grave or anything. I just hate going to work. Such a drag to need money to pay bills and what not. Hopefully I will feel more enthusiasm for my new work from home job!

    How do you feel on Saturday when you know you are waking up to the opportunity to do yard work or what have you?

  2. I think the only thing there's a scientific (and common sense) basis for is to retire when you're no longer able to cope. It happens earlier than 65 for some and later for others (even much later for some).
        Of course, we have to define "what" one is retiring from. You may be disposed to dislike having to keep to an employer's schedule, but would be fine if you were "in business for yourself," doing something that you enjoyed, believed in, whatever.
        In my case, of course, it's a matter of retiring from being employed. I like my job and the environment where I work, so it's not that, per se, that has "gotten to me."
        I have felt roughly the same, I think, on Saturdays and Sundays as any other day of the week. So I believe that what has gotten to me has actually been my own thinking, my own having fallen into the rut of concentrating (myopically, as I discovered in writing this post) on my own aging and below-parness.
        And, like magic?, making that discovery yesterday seems to have made a difference already today. I went to bed last night already thinking that today was going to be something new, and I got up still focused on that. I feel unusually energetic and looking-forward.
        So, I plan to continue to work on my attitude. This isn't something new I've discovered, but something old I've reminded myself of.

  3. So it all boils down to "attitude is everything" as usual...

  4. PG, Do I detect some frustration with me in your most recent comment? I tried to make my post clear on the point that it's not just attitude (looking forward and outward to what awaits me each day, rather than concentrate on my own aches and pains, for example), but it's also finding some new and different things to look forward to....
        Such as joining the gym, now that we're on a new health insurance plan that will actually cover the membership fee. I'm going up to the gym this morning to turn in my paperwork.
        Another change of that sort that I'm considering is to not read a book that I "can't put down"; I realized just yesterday (in considering Thursday's post) that some of the books I've been reading take more work than is justified by the reward I've derived from them. By definition, almost, I can't look particularly forward to returning to a book that a large part of me would rather not pick up....
        Note that the adjustments that seem to be required to make a significant difference in how I feel are not that complicated or difficult. At least, that's how it appears to me.

  5. Have you checked the pollen count lately? (

  6. The answer to your question “Is quinoa a starch?” is the same as “Is quinoa a plant food?” All plant foods contain starch to some extent. Starch is most abundant in the roots (potato) and seeds (quinoa, rice, grains) of plants.

    Starch is a carbohydrate and as such is not listed as an ingredient on labels but is lumped in with the general term “carbohydrate”. Therefore plant foods high in carbohydrate are also high in starch. Out of 100g, quinoa contains 64g of carbohydrate of which 52g are starch. Quinoa is right up there with white rice which contains 79g of carbohydrate per 100g. (However, I prefer brown rice for the added fiber as I’m a regular kinda’ guy.)

    According to Wikipedia (and dare I say McDougall) Starch … is the most important carbohydrate in the human diet …

    So eat quinoa and other starchy foods to your hearts content.

    But be careful not to add any oils. OIL is a three letter word for FAT. So French fries are not the way to get your starch!

    Contrary to popular belief it’s not starch that makes us fat. It’s the oils we add to the starch that does. That’s why the potato has been much maligned. It’s the added butter, sour cream etc and the oil which fries the potato that is the fat culprit.

    So THINK oatmeal - butterless corn on the cob – oil free mashed potatoes - steamed vegetables over rice or potatoes or quinoa or whole grains etc.

    Finally, my dear friend, I must say it is my opinion that only attitude you need to change is your attitude toward food. Once you get your diet as nature intended it, your struggle will be over!

  7. Jim, thanks! I probably get 75-85% of my calories from plants. I eat brown rice too, several times a week, and my wife serves a fairly wide range of steamed vegetables regularly, along with a green salad virtually everyday for dinner, which I prepare. It typically contains Romaine lettuce, cauliflower, cucumbers, tomatoes, pecans, walnuts, almonds, and dried cranberries, sometimes avacado. My breakfast typically includes whole grains and nuts or oatmeal, with sliced/diced fresh fruits and a few ounces of nonfat yogurt and nonfat (skim) milk. We may have one or two slices of multi-grain bread, with no butter or anything else spread on it. Lots of beans. Occasionally a small serving of chicken or fish.
        My lunch, as you know, is typically a few ounces of peanut butter mixed with honey and spread on multi-grain crackers.
        So, I believe that I can reasonably infer that you were joking about my main (only) attitudinal adjustment's needing to be dietary?
        There are a number of attitudes I'm changing, including (for example) my attitude toward reading (I've decided to read only books I "can't put down") and looking forward to accomplishments and enjoyments each day (and if I can't identify any already scheduled, I'll invent something) rather than focusing "myopically" on (for example) my arthritis pains.
        And I've joined my wife's gym to return to regular workouts (something I've done in the past, but not for the past few years).
        I'm already almost overcome struggling. Feels good.

  8. With regard to your response to my weekend starch comment:
        I believe you get 85% of your calories from plant foods. But how much is from starch? Starch is the key! Eating brown rice several times a week does not make it. Eating brown rice several times a day does! While your salad sounds scrumptious, significant starch content is lacking. Starch is of minimal quantity in plant leaves. Nuts are high fat. From a pistachio nutritional fact chart before me, I see that, of 28g, half is fat, 9g is fiber, 3g sugars, and only 2g carbohydrates, which contain the starch. So nuts should be considered a delicacy, not a source of energy. Your breakfast of oatmeal/grains is a very good start. But your peanut butter/cracker lunch doesn’t make it. Nut butters are no better than nuts and you’d have to eat a load of crackers to get the starch of say a cup of rice. And I don't know of many crackers that are not laced with oil(fat). To compare, my lunch yesterday was a 100g of whole wheat spaghetti with an oil free marinara. It contained 70g of carbohydrates, of which most is starch.
        What I’m trying to get across is that while you may think you are getting enough starch, there is little you are telling me about your diet that would lead me to that conclusion. However if you were to report that lunch is routinely a bowl of rice (or starch equivalent) with steamed vegetables and that your dinners are centered around an oil-free starch dish, then I would have to change my opinion.
        While the exercise and changing attitudes you note are all well and good, none of them will have anything to do with your energy level. Increasing your starch intake to 85% of your caloric intake will! This equates to eating 4 to 5 cups of rice per day.
        In my opinion, the optimal diet should be 100% of calories from plant foods with 85-90% coming from starch.

    PS. Incidentally, I eliminated my arthritis pains 15 years ago when I eliminated all dairy from my diet.

  9. Didn't realize there would be such in-depth nutritional discussion and advice when I happened across this blog, thought it would only be about food for the mind. Very impressive!

    As a vegetarian of 30 years and vegan for nearly 20, I am always looking for ways to use diet to at least slow the inevitable physical decline that comes from no longer being a teenager. Or a 20something. Or a 30...

    From years of doing mountain bike and trail running events, I am a long-time carb "loader" but the accent on starch is a new one for me. What is the basis for the theory on that?

  10. Jim and I went offline to discuss this in more depth, but I didn't want the following information to be lost to my followers:

    I asked Jim: I have a question about fat intake. I weigh less than 155 pounds and have maintained the 150-155 range for several years now. Aside from weight-gain, which doesn't seem to be a problem for me, do you see any other negative effects of eating nuts for me?
        I would have no problem at all adding a bowl of brown rice to my daily lunch (which I might eat with the peanut butter and crackers). I love rice.
        And how would a similar portion of plain potatoes do (not cooked in oil, of course, but served the same way I remember you serve yourself when you have potatoes for breakfast)? Some salt or Mrs. Dash seasoning would be okay, right?

    Jim replied: Again nuts are high in fat (the peanut butter label I'm reading notes 2tbs has 200 calories, of which 150 are from fat—in terms of weight it's half fat). So nuts and nut butters should be considered delicacies to be used sparingly for flavor and dessert. A little peanut butter for dessert after your bowl of rice should be of little consequence. However, if you find yourself gaining weight as you increase your starch intake you might want to dial down delicacies and desserts. (It's impossible to gain weight from oil-free starches). I suspect if you burn your added starch at the gym you will experience little if any weight gain.
        Plain potatoes as I eat for breakfast are a great source of starch. However, don't skimp; potatoes contain more water that rice so you have to eat about 4.5 times more potatoes by uncooked weight to get the same starch as from rice. And there's nothing wrong with a mountain of mashed potatoes for dinner.

    I said: Thanks, Jim, for more info on nuts, although I think you just repeated what you'd already said (fat's effect on weight gain). Okay, so I should (and easily can) eat significantly less peanut butter (I put only a few nuts on the salad, so that's probably not an issue). If I'm eating a couple of cups of rice for lunch (see next paragraph, about today's lunch), I'm probably not going to want much (or any) peanut butter as well, anyway.
        I had lunch in a cafeteria today and had a very simple meal: at least two cups of brown rice with a few spoons of some sort of vegetarian (and I think oil-less) curry and a bread bun. Delicious. I like your suggestion for lunch very much. And when we have brown rice and chicken or fish for dinner, I can eat more of the former and less of the latter, etc.
        Gosh, that much more potatoes for the same starch content!

    Jim said: Yes it's difficult for those relying only on potatoes for starch to get enough. They'd have to eat 5 or 6 large potatoes a day to get enough (1,000 calories). So don't be afraid to eat massive amounts of starchy foods. Eat starch until you begin to sweat. That's what long distance runners do. When they begin to sweat they know the body has stored all the excess starch it can. I'm glad you had two cups of rice as opposed to one for lunch today...How do you feel?

    I said: I feel great! I often eat that amount of rice for dinner (brown rice, as today at lunch).

    Jim concluded: I knew you would.
       More rice and less chicken just might be the right tactic.

  11. Okay guys, what about sweet potatoes and raw oats as starch sources compared to regular potatoes and brown rice. I'm training for a trail marathon and basically live on oats, zucchini and blueberries four days/week and brown rice, mixed veggies, sweet potatoes, tofu and soy protein shakes the other three. I try to maintain 65-70 % of calories from carbs, 20% from protein, and the rest from fat -- mainly from the tofu and an occasional spray of olive oil.

    Any input on what to tweak? The marathon course crosses two major mountains and they seem to get steeper every year.

  12. The Directrix answers motomynd

    There are many varieties of carbohydrates. Starch is a carbohydrate consisting of a large number of glucose units joined together by chemical bonds. Starch is produced by all green plants as an energy store. It is the optimum energy source humans evolved for their use which is why it is the most important carbohydrate in the human diet. Foods containing high amounts of starch are referred to as “starches”: potatoes; wheat; corn; rice; legumes; etc.

    Starch is the “good carb” everyone talks about. When you “carbo load” it is the glucose in the starch you are loading. i.e. the body breaks down the starch and stores the glucose in your muscles and organs for future energy.

    There is little difference nurtionally between potatoes and sweet potatoes. [Raw Potato: Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz) Energy 321 kJ (77 kcal) Carbohydrates 19 g Starch 15 g Dietary fiber 2.2 g Fat 0.1 g Protein 2 g - Raw Sweet Potato: Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz) Energy 360 kJ (86 kcal) Carbohydrates 20.1 g Starch 12.7 g Sugars 4.2 g Dietary fibre 3.0 g Fat 0.1 g Protein 1.6 g]. Potatoes are potatoes.

    The soybean [Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz) Energy 1,866 kJ (446 kcal) Carbohydrates 30.16 g Sugars 7.33 g Dietary fiber 9.3 g Fat 19.94 g] from which tofu is made is a high fat (20%) and unnecessary source of protein. The body only needs 5% of its calories from protein to be healthy. All starchy foods contain sufficient protein to maintain a healthy body. Isn’t nature wonderful? When you get enough energy from starchy foods you also get enough protein. AND you get all the necessary fat too for that matter as well as all needed micro nutrients (vitamins, minerals, etc.).

    Adding soy products to the diet to get protein is not only unnecessary it can be unhealthy. High soy protein “fake foods” that imitate meat (Smartdogs, tofurkey, etc) are just as unhealthy as meat not the least of which is that they create an excess protein situation that the body must deal with. And this puts a heavy burden on the liver, kidney, and bones. The same is true for high protein soy shakes – unnecessary and potentially harmful.

    “Oil” is a three letter word for fat. There’s no difference between olive fat and corn fat. Olive oil is no better than any another processed oils. Oil is oil is fat is fat. Another way to put this is that processed foods whether from animal or vegetable sources should be avoided.

    So the optimum diet is an oil free starch based diet with the addition fruits and vegetables.

    PS. I like to keep it simple. I do not monitor any specific nutrient intake except starch. When I get enough starch from starchy foods to keep me rolling, I get every thing else I need. However, I am not a long distance runner and there may be requirements with which I’m unfamiliar. So my advice would be to do what it takes to win the race…

  13. I also had an offline interchange about diet with motomynd, and I share it here—as motomynd remarked, "A blog that is actually useful, what a concept":

    motomynd: Good for you on the brown rice and oats. Do avoid white rice at all costs, and I highly recommend old-fashioned oats as opposed to "quick cooking," whatever that means.
        If you ever want a quickie "oat & blueberry compote" of sorts, mix together in a bowl 1 cup of raw oats and 1 cup of frozen blueberries, microwave for 1 to 1-1/2 minutes, stir again, and let sit a couple of minutes before you dine.
        For breakfast four mornings a week (the days I run) I shred a medium zucchini, add 2 cups of raw oats, 1/4 tsp New Orleans blend spice I found at Dollar Tree (for taste and for sodium), and 1/4 teaspoon No Salt (for potassium). Add just a touch of water, shape into a pancake of sorts, and cook on medium in a skillet with just a fine spray of olive oil, and cover with another skillet.
        That and stir fry are about as elaborate as I get when it comes to cooking.
        Yes, I am very curious about the starch. I have always heard that starch was the most empty of calories and the trick was to eat carbs that had as much nutrition as possible. Of course, for the first 40% of my life people had me convinced I couldn't live without meat, so the starch advice I have received to date may turn out to be equally incorrect.

    PS: Thinking about your "struggle," do you monitor your potassium intake and other electrolytes, especially when you are working outside in unseasonable heat? In distance trail runs of more than 10K we have discovered potassium and calcium intake are as important as sodium.

    Morris: Thanks for the suggestions as regards oats. I do use old-fashioned oats. In fact, today I cooked oatmeal (a heaping cup by dry measurement) for breakfast (sweetened with brown sugar and with a dozen sliced grapes added).
        And, of course, for the compote, the frozen berries could be my "three-berry" mix from Costco! Lovely. I think I'll have that tomorrow morning. 'preciate it!
        And I worked out at the gym (half a mile down the road) before dinner last night and am going again this afternoon. (I'm working at home.)
        Please tell me more about monitoring my potassium intake and other electrolytes, especially the practice of the monitoring. I mean, what do I specifically do to "monitor"?

    continued in next comment

  14. continued from previous comment

    motomynd: Your three-berry blend with raw oats sounds possibly even better than blueberries! I may steal that idea.
        The basic recommended daily electrolyte quantities and balances are 1,000 mg calcium, 2,000 mg sodium, 4,000 mg potassium. If you are short on any one the others won't work as they are supposed to because they have to be in balance. We drastically increase those amounts for endurance events, especially in heat.
        Monitoring, unfortunately, means tracking what you eat and doing the math.
        I have my training diet on a spreadsheet. The most important columns, left to right, are:
        Protein, Fat, Carbs, Cals, Fiber, Sugars*, Calcium, Sodium, Potassium, Iron (* I personally believe that 50 grams/day of sugar is the breaking point unless you are really working out.)
        The one wild card I throw in there is 2-3 Brazil nuts every other day to max out selenium. And a good Scotch 4 nights/week to clear the pipes for the run the next day.

    Morris: Thanks for further tips on healthful balance, etc.
        "Doing the math" for what I in-take will be a whole new way of "doing business" for me, but I see that it's prudent. Thanks.
        I appreciate the presumed joke about the scotch! (I take it, that is, that you have it because you damn well like it and not for any literal pipe-cleaning. I've enjoyed my scotch, but my body no longer cares for "hard liquor.")

    motomynd: The math isn't that bad. Sensing it might be a new concept is why I kept the columns to a minimum. You don't even want to know what my full spreadsheet looks like. I am a very spontaneous person but my training diet and regimen are nearly robotic.
        No joke about Scotch. Straight up it clears the breathing overnight and half the next day, same effect as some of the (legal) stuff world-class cyclists snort before they ride to open the breathing. And no side effects, as long as you only have one...or maybe two on occasion. I have known several older people who cured their snoring by having a "toddy" at night.