Posted by: Alton | April 13, 2009

Trust and Personal Experience

This last weekend was Sakura Con here in Seattle, and I was dragged along as a staffer for the Programming department. The convention itself is run by an all-volunteer crew, each working shifts of at least 16 hours- so I actually spent most of the weekend hauling equipment, guiding guests, and dealing with administrative headaches like missing badges. The time at the convention led to two or three interesting anecdotes.

First was from a dinner I had on Thursday night. I had a conversation with another person from my department that I thought shed a little bit of light of why it can be difficult to engage with people on the subject of nutrition- summed up quite well with this clip from Lewis Black regarding milk and water- and later, a 115 year old man, whose diet consisted of wine and fatback. [Mild Warning– Lewis Black uses some rather colorful language- probably best to save listening to that when you’re at home]  The person in question is very overweight, but expressed to me frustration with her prior efforts, saying “I did everything right, made sure meat was a side dish and not the main part of a meal, ate plenty of vegetables…”

I’m sure by now if you’ve been fortunate enough to engage on the topic yourself, you’ve winced quite severely. But the real kicker was her next comment. “Yeah, I don’t trust science anymore.”

Is there any more damning indictment of science than saying that the predictions it makes about reality are inaccurate? That the hypotheses held in regards to proper nutrition do not match up with the actual effects when implemented? The fundament of all scientific endeavors must be that when hypothesis meets reality, reality wins, every time, with the caveat that ‘real world events’ must be understood in their complete context, as they’re implicitly anecdotal in nature. When this standard is not met, regardless of cause, the ‘science’ that ensues betrays the public trust. Worse, the betrayal creates a reticence to engage on the topic, resulting in unhealthy, unhappy people who –willfully- remain so due to the understandable skepticism engendered by such acts.

The entire episode was somewhat of a letdown, though I’ve grown used to the sizeable inertia that is the personal experience of an individual. I can’t help but draw analogies to conversations I’ve had with people regarding ethics and friendships- but at least in this context I’m armed with more concrete ammunition to bring to the table. Regardless of context, wellness is a difficult subject to engage on, as invariably the ideas involved touch on very personal aspects of life. The topics also are perceptually subjective, in that most of the topics have at best a sense of ‘collective wisdom’- but that wisdom of sorts is easily tossed aside in the name of personal experience, especially if it offers little to no substance. If science can’t pass the “smell test” in peoples’ lives, then relying on scientific justifications for persuasion won’t get anywhere.

So the question for me to ponder this week is how do you engage with someone about ideas of substance, when they deny the context that those ideas exist in in the first place? I’ve some preliminary thoughts on this subject, but I’ll let them sift around a bit before I post later this week with a more complete treatment of the idea.

This weekend was also the longest period of time I’d spent on my feet in ages- running around constantly, and even during my downtime I went to spend 5 hours training at Popkin-sensei’s Daito Ryu seminar. I have to say, that while I had a few moments here or there when my energy level was running a tad low, I made it through the weekend without much difficulty. It certainly helps to weigh less than I used to- my joints stood up better than they have in the past.

That being said, I probably pushed myself a bit harder than I’m ready for at this point. I noticed a few muscle spasms in my abdomen on Sunday, with mild hamstring cramps later on that evening- at the moment I’m digging into the subject to see why cramping incidence may be on the rise. I suspect that it may be due to overcompensation with magnesium, but at this point, I can only admit that I’m not sure. The level of exertion combined with a slightly skewed meal schedule may have made it simply that I hadn’t eaten enough that day. I haven’t felt any other side effects attributable to magnesium since I started taking the supplements, and the mild muscle twitches that occurred beforehand have most assuredly disappeared.

One final note- over the last week or so I’ve been experimenting with ways to ‘loosen’ restrictions on my diet while still maintaining the vast majority and substantial core of what I’ve learned about nutrition. I’ve found so far that foods with minor carb presence (ketchup, certain hot dogs, etc.) are still acceptable, so long as they are only present during one meal a day. I noticed little to no difference in my body between days at 0g and days at 20g of carbs, other than the mild trepidations in the back of my mind that I wasn’t “being healthy enough”. My general rule is that of the meals of the day, I can play a little loose with one of the meals, but I ‘earn’ that by being super-strict on the others- with maybe ONE bite of bread on the very last bite of the meat, so the flavor can linger a bit.

That said, it’s easy to go too far in that direction. Friday’s lunch for me was at a Johnny Rocket’s diner, and I ended up splitting part of a milkshake- I had been craving one for a while, and thought I could limit my portion to an appropriately small enough size that it wouldn’t be problematic.

Turns out I probably had 80+ grams of carbs from that meal- and I can tell you that I DEFINITELY felt it later that evening. Even worse, the following morning was a real low point in energy, with a pretty solid headache in the car going to the Daito Ryu seminar- but fortunately that had passed by the time I got on the mat. It wasn’t a complete crash, but I wasn’t feeling good at all.

Moral of the story- a little leeway is fine, but don’t play it too close to the ketogenic ‘buffer’ for carbs.




  1. Regarding the more than 0g carbs– up to 10g at a sitting and up to 60g in a day is likely fine; generally I’d say 30g in a day is the max I’d recommend for weight loss. Even more important is the ratios– generally no more than 10% calories from carbs in any interval (sitting, day, etc), with more than 50% from fat. I’ll have more on the basic page soon. Anyhow, my only point is that 20g of carb in a day versus 0g shouldn’t make a difference, from a macronutrient perspective.

    Regarding the cramping- three days of that much activity when you’re not used to it, and it probably shouldn’t concern you so much. It’s possible you were just dehydrated and didn’t realize it from all the business and running around.

    If you get cramping normally without excessive activity then I’d think it’s worth looking into– but magnesium actually helps with calcium balance.
    A 1:1 ratio of Mg to Ca is a more traditionally accurate one and you/I are running 1:2 right now. The Mg also will keep Ca from building up too much where it doesn’t belong, but won’t keep it from going where it needs to be in the right amounts. Lack of Mg can cause cramping, actually. Anyhow, I would guess it’s not a Mg or Ca deficiency, and is likely muscle overuse or dehydration.

    Of course, if it happens again or regularly, let’s check it out.

  2. As an experienced staffer, staying hydrated is incredibly important. As you probably saw, I walk around with a hydration pack and am constantly filling it.

    You probably did a lot more walking than you realize. Our stage manager for main events had a pedometer strapped to his person for the whole event and he logged in 32.5 miles, and he was pretty much only in one room the entire convention. If you work next year, bring one and find out just how much excercize you end up getting.

  3. […] entirely. They end up saying things about how nobody knows what a nutritional diet is, or that science doesn’t have all the answers, etc. This blog serves as a forum for the authors’ thoughts, but more importantly, I hope it can […]

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