Thursday, April 29, 2021


The numbers you get at the end of a fast are chimeras, of course: they're mostly about lost water, not about lost fat. I knew they would bounce back, and they have; and they may not yet be done rebounding. Still, it was agreeable to see two long-awaited numbers heave in sight: the 32" waist, and the waist-hip ratio of 0.900. 

The 32" waist is not a serious goal: I don't really care what my standalone waist measurement is, so long as it's under 34". But it has long been the purely theoretic number that lodged in my head as the size my waist ought to be: I think it may have been my waist measurement when I was a teenager. Or I may have thought it was: possibly it was the size of my Levis, which would have been total non-information. Who knows. I didn't learn to measure and record with real discipline until decades later. So it's not really what I'm aiming at -- just as 160 lbs wasn't ever really what I was aiming at -- but it eases my adolescent heart to see it.

My weight dropped to 150.9, and bounced back to 152.5 today. This is the least I have weighed in my adult life. When I did my initial big weight loss, I got down to 152 for a few days. I deliberately gained back to 160. At that point I felt like I was too damn little. But I've had a few years to adjust my mind to the fact that I'm actually an average-sized guy: no longer "beefy," or "husky," or "stocky." Maybe 150 or so is where I land: I can live with that. But weight, while it's easy to measure with (spurious) accuracy, is not a serious measure of what I'm really driving at, which is metabolic health. My best number for that is my waist-hip ratio: that is, my waist measurement divided by my hip measurement. I've been aiming at getting that number down to 0.900, and keeping it there.

I got there at the end of the fast yesterday: 0.889. I'm still there today, at 0.896. Since I have a nice data set now, four years of numbers, I know exactly how this graph behaves, so I know that keeping a 7-day rolling average around 0.900 means having that average wander back and forth in the region between 0.890 to 0.910. So it's business as usual until the 7-day average falls to 0.890: it's currently at 0.901. At that point I will cautiously lift my foot from the pedal.

So -- God willing and the creek don't rise -- I'm in the end game, now. It's been a long savage fight, but I think I'm winning this thing.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

3rd Fast

3rd fast: the 36-hour one. This continues to be absurdly easy. You just don't eat. Nothing bad happens to you. You get hungry, and you tell yourself, "so this is what burning fat stores feels like!" and you get on with your life, except that you don't have to fuss about food prep. I feel something of a chucklehead: I tried so many difficult and convoluted methods, and I finally worked my large weight loss with a huge expenditure of energy and attention -- and all the while I could have just not eaten, from time to time. Sheesh.

Early days, early days, of course: I'm sure there's more to learn. And maybe the fasting wouldn't have worked without having established such ingrained habits of eating good food in reasonable amounts. We'll see. I keep tracking the numbers and observing the behavior. I have a considerable bank of actual data, now. It's not easy to fool me about what's going on. If my hunger hormones go "sproing!" and drive me to eating wildly, I'll calmly note it down, and lay my course accordingly. 

The back continues fairly borked. If it isn't much improved in a week's time, I'm going to escalate more resources towards it: do some more reading and see if I can get some physical therapy. This episode is a little different than my former ones -- less of the panic-seizing-up and more of just plain old pain. The paraspinals are remarkably sore from sacrum to mid-thorax. There is a faint possibility that this last ten pounds of weight loss has shifted loads or movement patterns somehow: but I'm more inclined to think that I just pushed too hard on the sprints, and stretched a little too much, and then asked my back on top of that to do a couple things it hadn't done in a year -- viz., a massage, and a drive to Eugene and back. That's still my working hypothesis. If that's so, then it really ought to resolve in the next week or two. Again: we'll see. I am managing to get a fair amount of exercise in now, even though walking more than ten minutes is out of the question. 

At the moment, with a full belly and a spreadsheet full of lovely numbers, my cup overflows with benevolence, regardless of the silly rituals I have to go through every time I transition from sitting to standing. The lark's on the wing, the snail's on the thorn, & etc. 

Monday, April 26, 2021

Mak ye Divel Paye

 Once upon a time, I was greatly impressed by C.S. Lewis' Screwtape Letters, and I was particularly struck by a passage in which Screwtape (a senior demon specializing the temptation of human beings) remarks that, while he is willing to see people get pleasure, if he must, the summit of his art is getting people to sin without conceding any pleasure in return.

I conceived then of the motto for a family crest, which my mind's eye saw (and my mind's ear pronounced) in Middle English: "Mak ye Divel Paye." Abandoning sin, I recognized, might be beyond me, but I could at any rate insist that the devil pay up. I would not guiltily bolt forbidden fruit: I would savor it.

That was nearly fifty years ago, but the motto has lingered, in the persistent way of one's early perceptions and resolutions, and it came into my mind slantwise in regard to exercise when my back is wonky. The connection, as I try to make it explicit, is tenuous, but it is similar somehow. My back pain can make me stop doing some things, but I can insist that it actually make me stop them. After a couple days of initial recovery, I go straight back into my workouts, unloading them or abbreviating them as necessary. My deadlifts today were two sets of zero x four: grasping an imaginary bar and lifting it four times; resting, and doing it again. That's it, and it was iffy. But the point is to not cede any movement territory to the Devil unless he really means to take it. No avoiding things on the off chance that they might be too much. Just find out. Sure, there's some chance of making the problem worse: but the real risk, the existential risk, is being put off of movement. That's when you really lose capacity.

Your mileage may vary, of course. And this is assuming that there is nothing actually structurally wrong; no "issue in the tissue." One never knows, unless one has a personal MRI and radiographer on call.


Von Tal frowns, nearly deletes all the above text from yesterday, but leaves it, for the moment, at least. He suspects it doesn't actually make sense.

What Dale did today, he thinks, is more to the point. He's getting worried about not getting much aerobic work (as we ancients call zone 2 training): but it's damn hard to get if your lower body is offline. It would be easy to trash one's shoulders or elbows trying to make aerobics out of, for instance some mix of push ups and pull ups. But it's been over a week. "Come on, dude," said Dale to himself (because in addition to referring to himself in the third person, his diction swings wildly into bro-isms when he thinks about exercise.) "If you found yourself legless after getting run over by a train, or blown up by a land mine, you'd know you had to figure out a way to get your aerobics anyway. So figure it out."

He's not even really legless, in fact. He can still do, say, heel drops. And he can even do a very shallow squat, if he's well supported. So his dip station -- which is the inside corner where his kitchen counter makes an 'L' -- turns into a squat-and-bob station. He supports himself as for a dip, but does a shallow squat instead; and when that gets tedious he leans forward and bobs: does a thing that's halfway a dip and halfway a hip hinge. He looks like a damn fool (though rather, he thinks cheerfully, like the American Dipper that is his totem); but he actually manages to generate a burn in his quads, and even some work for the glutes, after just ten minutes. Dude. This works, for leg day. Add some inverse rows, and Bob's your uncle. Or a least a second cousin. You've got something kinda sorta like a zone 2 workout. 

"Hah! Mak ye divel paye!" He thinks.

Von Tal frowns again. "I do not think you really know what that motto means, Dale."

"I don't really care, dude. It's my motto, and I'll do what I like with it."

In this mood, it's best to leave him be. And anyway, the metabolic press is on again. Let the back complain all it wants: we're doing this thing anyway.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Fourth Horseman

I have, reasonably enough, focused all my health energies on eluding the three horsemen that are waiting for us most of us monkeys-turned-sedentary-snackers: cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease. They'll take down three quarters of us. I have not given much thought to my health beyond that, since escaping all three, and especially cardiovascular disease, seems unlikely. But sparing a thought for it, it strikes me that if those three horsemen miss me, it's exactly this -- "throwing my back out" -- that is likely to take me down. Oh, they won't write it down as "cause of death." But if you've watched someone decline due to age, you'll know it's a step function: one after another, events knock them down that they don't come back from. Falls, illnesses, infections, car accidents, whatever they are: eventually there's something that they don't rebuild from at all. This is my fourth horseman: someday my back will go out, and I'll stop exercising for good, and then I'll be in the end-game. When the wolf pack catches up with you, it doesn't really matter much which particular wolf takes you down. 

I should learn more about this, about how to train my back to be stronger and more resilient. More of the same may improve my pull-up and push-up numbers; it may improve my endurance, and make my heart, metabolism, and skeletal muscle healthier; but it's not going to fend off this fourth horseman. This, I belatedly realize, is what Peter Attia means when he harps on "stability" as one of the pillars of longevity. The temptation, always, is to train what's already strong. But what I need to do is train what's weak.

It's not that I haven't tried to train my back and my glutes. I have. But it always progresses like this: progressive strength gains, followed by throwing my back out again. Which makes me think: if this problem were going to be fixed by deadlifts and lunges and hip thrusts, or by slow deliberate stretching, it would be fixed by now. (There's always the possibility, of course, that it's unfixable: but I need not settle on that until I've tried more things. There's always time to come to that conclusion.) What I haven't tried is different styles of movement -- light, rapid movements with unexpected twists and turns, for example. Or various exercises at the ends of movement ranges. I overdid my little sprints, perhaps, but I suspect they were one sort of thing I should do. (Not daily: that was stupid. Recovery time, kid: recovery time.) Or something along the lines of hopscotch, maybe. My friend Norman tells me that he cured his back pain by taking up table tennis. That makes a lot of sense.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Hey Hey Hey

 The back is recovering, at last: I'm hoping that day before yesterday was the worst of it. Everything works pretty well now if, every time I get up from sitting for more than a few moments, I spend a little time convincing my lumbar spine that normal extension is not courting death. The two best ways to do this are a) to crawl about on the floor for a while, or b) to do a sort of push-up move on a chair set or counter, letting my whole spine sag into (unweighted) extension. ("Extension" is a technical term here, meaning, in re the spine, "bending backwards.") If I get up from sitting and try to walk straightaway, I can't even fully straighten my legs, and I walk in a weird hobbling gait, with my pelvis in an exaggerated posterior tilt -- like the R. Crumb Hey Hey Hey truckin' guy -- and the back pain sonar starts to ping.

I went so far as to take some ibuprofen, yesterday, which is for me an extreme measure: I don't like analgesics of any sort -- I prefer to receive whatever signals my body sees fit to send me about its status -- and I particularly dislike systemic analgesics that mess with the liver and the kidneys: I like my liver and kidneys, and I hope to have a long and lovely relationship with them. But sometimes pain and inflammation are counterproductive, especially if they're messing with my sleep. So ibuprofen it was.

At least six things converged to produce this back episode: manhandling an unfamiliar massage table in and out of a car (no, I'm not practicing yet, this was a family thing), doing a full massage for the first time in over a year, driving down to Eugene and back, pushing the running of a couple little sprints during my daily walks, stressing about my visit to my dad, and letting myself get short of sleep. Any two or three of those I could probably have gotten away with.

Still I was surprised by this episode. I thought I was done with this sort of back pain. So that's discouraging. But -- live and learn. Next time space the stressors out a bit. All will be well, eventually. This is not my first rodeo; it's not even one of my first twenty rodeos.

Monday, April 19, 2021

Counting Backwards

Am I so sure that no one has anything to teach me? But years, years have past, and no book has done better than wake a thin, knowing smile. "Oh yes. That notion. Yes, nicely put." I admire the shine, maybe, or the labor. But the thought? Or the life it bodies forth? Nah. The idea, particularly, that any 21st Century American would have anything useful to say seems especially absurd. What could anyone who grew up in this absurd travesty of a nation have to say, but "Get out if you can"?

But it leaves me stupid, and getting stupider. Stupidity fairly oozes from me, these days. Dull ignorance and prejudice. I grow brittle. I roam my little spaces and think my my old stupid thoughts. The sky is a little airless cap over my little airless neighborhood. I count, and count, and count: the number of breaths since I started trying to sleep; the seconds until I take my eggs off the stove, the eighths of inches my waist has grown or shrunk, the number of pull ups done today. Sometimes I count backwards: from thirty to zero, while I wait for the oximeter to stabilize its numbers. For the novelty and piquancy of it. That's how large the sphere of my mental operations has become.

This is where some extravagant meditation on natural beauty is supposed to come in: some memory of Mt Hood seen over the railyards at sunset, or the glowing fume of a waterfall before it drops into the deep green shadow of the Columbia Gorge. Really? I'm going to address this stupidity with images borrowed from picture postcards? Is anyone disposed to believe in that? Certainly I'm not.

All right. So that's my state of mind. And my body? My back is totally borked, as it has not been in years. I had thought I was done with that affliction, but here it is again. And it gives the lie to the dreams of immortality I've been indulging of late: dreams of becoming so very healthy, so lean and fit, fasted and refitted, that I simply never decay. Such nonsense. 9% life extension in female mice: that is not immortality, Mr Favier. That's another couple years of being an elderly male primate. If it translates at all.

Well, "these are complaints enough to dampen the merriest feast": but where do I come in? Because I'm here too. Not quite extinguished, not yet. There's sometimes a moment, when I'm lighting a candle, when I can't tell: the flame of the match has been cowed by the candlewick, but the wick hasn't yet kindled. Have I lit the candle, or extinguished the match? I have to wait a second to find out. Sometimes it's one, sometimes the other. But not being able to see the flame for a moment doesn't mean it isn't there. And if the match has gone out, then -- I get another match out of the box and try again.

To say that there's something missing is to assert that there's something to be missed, nicht? You can't have it both ways. If there's nothing to be missed, then get the hell over it. If there is something to be missed, then get out and look for it. Bitching and moaning is not going to help.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021



The mainspring contains a lot of energy. Clocks and watches have to be disassembled periodically for maintenance and repair, and if precautions are not taken the spring can release suddenly, causing serious injury. Mainsprings are 'let down' gently before servicing, by pulling the click back while holding the winding key, allowing the spring to slowly unwind. However, even in their 'let down' state, mainsprings contain dangerous residual tension. Watchmakers and clockmakers use a tool called a "mainspring winder" to safely install and remove them. Large mainsprings in clocks are immobilized by "mainspring clamps" before removal.

"The mainspring is gone," I said. "Or I guess, to muddy the metaphor, the mainsprings are gone. My life still works, when I need it to. But the motive is gone.

"So what I'm hoping to understand -- to make -- is a new mainspring. And I thought, you know, I'm not proud, if there's a chemical shortcut I'm happy to take it. I think what I need, what I'm looking for, is a vision, an intense, clear vision, of...

"Okay, let's leave that be for the moment. If I could clearly describe the object of that 'of' then I wouldn't be here. I used to be able to tell you, pretty specifically. It was childish, but I knew what it was. It was the City on the Hill where the Cool Kids were, and I would go there and I would be King of the Cool Kids and all the women would want (in due order and without indecorous pushing or shoving) to sleep with me. 

"But I no longer believe in the City on the Hill. I no longer believe in the Cool Kids. I used to want in. But that doesn't drive me any more. So I'm adrift. I'm not particularly in pain, but... I'm not under sail any more. I'm just bobbing on the water."

"And you want to be under sail again?"

"Seems like madness, doesn't it? Isn't that precisely what the Buddha spent his life trying to achieve: freedom from being driven by fears and desires? And here I am, free at last, asking to be enslaved again?"

"That's one way to look at it, certainly. I can think of others. It's not how we typically look at it, in our profession, but we're not very philosophically sophisticated." Her smile hovered for  moment and disappeared. "But certainly a person needs a reason to get out of bed in the morning."

"Yes. And for the Buddha it was compassion. And maybe delight, I don't know. The delight is gone too. I mean, it flickers from time to time. But I wonder sometimes now if my earlier experiences of joy weren't just symptoms of my metabolic disorder, blood sugar swashing this way and that. I'm not transfixed by it now, not usually. There have been times in my life when I would turn a corner and see a fruit tree in blossom against a blue sky and I'd stagger, literally stagger, the beauty would knock me to my knees. Where has that gone? Now, now it's 'oh, there's pretty tree.' God help me."

"So you're thinking maybe if you nibble a mushroom, maybe you'll see the fruit tree of all fruit trees, lit up against heaven, and the mere memory of it will get you out of bed every morning for the rest of your days?"

I smile wanly. Why did I think I wanted a smart therapist? That was a goofy idea. "Yeah, I guess so. Something like that. Put that way it doesn't sound very... probable."

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Physics: Biology

 The ridiculous ease with which I'm losing weight on my new regimen makes me think I may have made this whole process much harder than it needed to be, by casting a biological problem (how do you get fat to leave fat cells faster than it comes in?) as a physics-and-will-power problem (how do you reduce calorie intake without overwhelming your will power?)

The physics-and-will-power solution worked, but it worked by main force, and it wouldn't have worked if a) I weren't already a guy who liked measuring things and keeping spreadsheets and b) if I hadn't been extremely canny about managing hunger hormones and c) if I hadn't had a nice calm stretch of water in my life that allowed me to devote the lion's share of my exertions of will to managing my eating. I suspect now I could have done the big weight loss with considerably less effort. But who knows? I still had to go through weaning myself from processed foods, from flour and sugar and seed oils, and that was never going to be easy. This (very mild) intermittent fasting regimen would not have worked if I had been eating as I was four years ago: four years ago fitting more than a day's calories into a ten-hour window was child's play. Now it's quite difficult.

But of course, we're only a month in, and we have novelty going for us, and we also have the nearness of the goal going for us: a .90 waist-hip ratio is very close. My 7-day rolling average stands at .905. I want to take it to .89 before even thinking of taking my foot off the pedal, because there's bound to be random fluctuation of .01 or .02. But it's very close, in the range of weeks, if not days, by now. And that's even without reckoning in prolonged fasts. I am (by my old way of reckoning things) within a couple pounds of my realio trulio end-goal.

The biology of weight loss boils down to having the time that the insulin is low and the glucagon is high -- and hence the entrance to the fat cells is closed and the exit is open -- being longer than the time that it's the other way around. Yes, accomplishing that will generally translate to being in an overall hypocaloric state, but that's accidental, not essential. 

That's my best understanding now. The proof is in the pudding, of course. I should know whether I'm right within a few weeks. 

Friday, April 02, 2021

Anoche cuando dormía...

 Oh well. Sometimes you just have to do something stupid: so here's a shot at "Anoche cuando dormía..." (Antonio Machado, 1903)

Last night as I was sleeping

I dreamed -- blessed illusion! --

that a fountain was flowing in my heart.

Tell me, water, by what hidden channel

do you come to me: spring of new life

that I never drank?

Last night as I was sleeping

I dreamed -- blessed illusion! --

that I had a beehive in my heart,

and golden bees were manufacturing

white wax and sweet honey

out of old grievance.

Last night as I was sleeping

I dreamed -- blessed illusion! --

that a burning sun shone in my heart:

burning because it gave the warmth

of a red hearth; sun because it dazzled, 

and brought tears to my eyes.

Last night as I was sleeping

I dreamed -- blessed illusion! --

it was God that I had in my heart.

There are three obvious things that have to be kept in translating this poem: 1) it needs to be in a popular verse form, something like English ballad measure, with regular meter and rhyme; 2) it needs to be in natural language, with only a few mild poeticisms, and 3) its parallelisms are fundamental and must be preserved.

Okay, so two out of three? It was beyond my powers to render this in any common English rhyme: I had to settle for a rough three-beat rhythm that was a least a little like the Spanish, and no rhyme at all. Yeats could have done it, maybe: but Yeats had his own work to do.