Monday, June 24, 2019

Yet Another Rhythm I Lack: Circadian

Ah, sleep.  The thing I should be doing instead of blogging.

Sleep can be an elusive thing.  Just ask anyone with insomnia.  It's funny in that sleep is one of the few biological factors we need but struggle to control.  If you're hungry, you can go eat.  But if you're tired, you might find yourself lying down only to remain awake, staring at the ceiling, wondering why you can't sleep.

A whole industry has cropped up in response.  Mattress stores abound; sleep aids exist; products you never associated with sleep suddenly want to cash in, claiming they can somehow help insomnia. 

If we can't trust Dr. Vegan, who can we trust?
FYI, I did the math for you.
Most melatonin supplements have about 5 mg.  A pistachio has about 200 micrograms.
So ~25 pistachios, or a handful, is closer to a melatonin supplement.

But what really controls our ability to sleep?  How do our internal clocks dictate when we "should" sleep?

The answer is more complicated than you think.

The term "circadian rhythm" was coined in 1959 by Franz Halberg. Since then, it's a thing your mom says will get messed up if you don't go to bed this instant, young man.

As usual, your mom isn't completely incorrect.  The average person's circadian clock is set to 24 hours and 11 minutes, the equivalent of a solar day, and varies by up to sixteen minutes but rarely more.  That being said, it can be affected by the environment; the modification of the circadian rhythm by light cues is called "entrainment," and the phases of the circadian rhythm can be affected by more than just light.  So going to bed late and waking late can result in grogginess because you're out of a sync with your internal clock.  

And this is where Mom is wrong.  Even if you are operating outside of your circadian rhythm, the rhythm itself maintains a 24-hour-and-11-minute cycle in terms of hormonal releases and metabolic functions.  That's why you feel groggy.  Your pineal gland is releasing melatonin in the middle of the day, trying to reset your insomniatic ass back to a normal schedule that hasn't been butchered by League of Legends and Mountain Dew: Code Red.  

And don't kid yourself about needing "less sleep." You probably need eight hours.  You definitely need at least seven.

The word "need" is easily dismissed by people who claim that they are operating just fine while sleep-deprived.  But missing out on sleep has a whole host of symptoms: .  Like malnutrition in the first world, many people don't realize it's even affecting them.  Feeling tired, cranky, groggy, and needing five Venti cups of coffee to get through the day just seems normal.

But it's not.

Unless you have a wacky circadian clock disorder.  Some people (possibly up to 16%!) have a "delayed phase" sleep disorder, wherein their circadian rhythm ticks by like a under-wound clock, disrupting their typical pattern of sleep.  And delayed phase disorder isn't the only disorder of the circadian clock that exists.  If you have a circadian rhythm that varies by more than an hour from the typical 24 hours and 11 minutes, you might have a non-24-hour rhythm that makes your sleep cycle tick out of sync from everyone else's.  You also might be blind.  70% of blind people experience a non-24-hour rhythm (due to a lack of light cues to help the "clock" set itself), along with people with head trauma and dementia. 

I should probably mention that the "clock" isn't a real clock, or an organ; it's a bundle of neurons in your brain that affect and are in turn affected by a series of molecular interactions and feedback loops in your body.  This is why head trauma and aging can mess up your circadian rhythm.

We've learned a lot about how these interactions dictate sleep by observing the "exception" cases.  In addition to looking at how blind people may experience circadian "drift," we've also looked at people in arctic regions, people in space, and people (or mole rats) who live in total darkness.  The results are interesting.  Some animals have adaptations to maintain their circadian rhythms without light.  (Insects' circadian rhythms are not dependent on light cycles, interestingly enough.)  Some animals' rhythms "turn off" during certain seasons.  Sleep research is a wild new frontier with a lot to learn, because every animal and individual has a different sort of relationship with sleep.  (Giraffes only sleep for two hours a day.  Probably because they look stupid and don't want other animals making fun of them.)

But for all we don't know, we do know a few things.  Like that you need sleep and probably aren't getting enough.

I've made a few posts about diet and the necessity of self-control when it comes to eating healthy and maintaining one's weight.  Sleep, like food, is something we need and something that, despite having a biological component that we don't control, is also something that is within our power to modulate.  Your only excuse is if you are living in total darkness or currently hunkered down in the arctic circle.  Don't use space as an excuse; even astronauts have found ways to help maintain their circadian rhythms.  It should only take you 10-15 minutes to fall asleep.  If you're having trouble, here's some useful tips for sleep hygiene:
  • Keep your room dark.  Light cues disrupt your circadian rhythm.  This includes night-lights and screen light from phones, TVs, and computers.  If you live in a city, get heavy curtains to avoid light pollution from leaking into your room.  (Fun fact: you will sleep best without a moon and not as well during a full moon, because of the light the moon gives off.)
  • Keep your room cool.  One of the ways the body signals for sleep (and an important component of keeping the circadian clock ticking) is by dropping the body temperature.  If you don't have or like to use air conditioning, taking a shower before bed in another good way to lower your body temperature and prompt sleep.
  • Don't eat for a few hours before bed.  Especially not complex carbs, breads, pastas, or sugar.  The best snacks before bed are things that contain melatonin (such as a small handful of walnuts, almonds, or pistachios) and that have healthy fats (such as yogurt or avocado).  These are also metabolized slower, so you avoid the immediate perk of energy followed by the crash that sugars and carbs prompt.  (Note: sugars and carbs are, however, excellent for breakfast because of how quickly they metabolize into energy.  Eating a full breakfast will help wake you up in the morning and can be of benefit to your sleep cycle!)
  • Waking up in the middle of the night?  Don't worry.  That's actually normal.  Get up, pee, have a glass of water, and lie back down.  Avoid light as much as possible.  A 20-minute or 30-minute wake-up in the middle of the night is part of a normal REM cycle.  People in the 17th century were all about the midnight waking period, and often used their midnight waking to pray, journal, sew by moonlight, or go say hi to the neighbors.  (People in the 17th century also totally wore nipple rings.)
  • Try to schedule daytime naps and exercise early.  Doing them after 5 or 6 pm will keep you awake.
  • Avoid drugs.  All of them.  Alcohol, caffeine, all of it.  Even things that "help" you sleep are really just knocking you unconscious and preventing you from achieving restful REM sleep, which requires a sober brain to achieve ideal patterns.
  • Don't delay getting up.  I'm guilt myself of this.  I love the snooze button.  But hitting it repeatedly can mess up your sleep cycle.  It's best to get up when you wake, especially if it's already light out.
  • Don't be a giraffe.  If you discover you are a giraffe (one of the telltale signs is a long neck), speak to your doctor immediately.
There's a lot to be said and a lot still to be discovered when it comes to sleep, but the truth is... I should be sleeping now.  And limiting my screen time is part of that.  So, adios for now, readers, and remember: strive to control what you can, and stop making excuses.  You're worth more than that, and you deserve a good night's sleep.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Journalism Class Is Its Own Story!

Strap in, boys and girls and everyone else, 'cause it's gonna be a bumpy ride!

Journalism school has been going well.  I'm about 1/3rd of the way through at this point.  (Go, me!)

The hardest part hasn't been any of the technical skill, which is what I worried about initially.  Rather, it's been the forced interactions with my peers.  Once I have an idea, it's easy for me to sink my teeth into it and get to writing.  Inspiration can be difficult, but the writing itself is usually a breeze.

But then there's the dreaded peer review.

 Me after 10 minutes

I should specify that I don't mind interacting with others.  It's just that I don't like peer reviews.  For one thing, it's not what I'm paying for.  I do not want my own work reviewed by a person with similar or less expertise than me; most peer reviews I get are not helpful.  And reviewing another person's work is not my job, either.  It's the professor's.  You know, the guy who is getting paid to do that, and who presumably has more experience than I.

The program I'm in is open enrollment.  This means that it caters to people who already have degrees and/or aspire to have degrees, but the threshold to enter is low.  There is little competition and a minimal barrier for entry; the admissions process involves ensuring you are literate enough to write a check to UCLA.  And if you can write a check that doesn't bounce, you're in.  The main reason people go into the program is either to bolster their professional credentials or to change their career path.  (I, for example, have a degree in biology.)  So there's a pretty wide spectrum of skill and talent within the program.  Some writing is artful, lovely, and insightful.  Other writing is... well, not.

I bet you can guess which one I'm going to talk about here!

Specifically, this week I'll be talking about a lovely lady by the name of Amanda.  I haven't changed her name for reasons that will soon become apparent.

Early on in the class it became apparent that Amanda believed in a lot of what I would call "woo-woo bullshit."  The structure of the class was such that we were supposed to write a single, long-form article (10,000 to 12,000 words) over the course of the semester, going through multiple drafts that were edited and improved upon based on instructor and peer feedback.

When the class began, there were over a dozen bright-eyed and bushy-tailed "writers" eager to get into it.  Until they realized what a slog writing can be.  One by one, they dropped off, unable to keep up with the rigorous demands of the class.  By the end, only three of us remained.

One of the other students wrote about her experiences living abroad in the United Arab Emirates as a Black women from Georgia, and the Black ex-pat community that exists there.  Her article was illuminating, culturally relevant, timely, and included eloquent scene descriptions.

Then there was Amanda.

Back at the beginning of the class, we'd been asked to pitch three ideas.  Most people's ideas were understandably self-focused.  Hey, they say to write what you know.  It's fine to be your own protagonist.  Though I should note that this class was literary JOURNALISM and so, ideally, the articles we pitched were meant to be non-fiction pieces that were well-researched and could be backed by independent third-party sources.

Amanda's idea was "the power of sound."  I say "idea" and not "story" because that's really all it was.  It wasn't a question to be answered or a person, place, or thing to be examined.  Amanda explained that she had recently "discovered" the "healing power" of sound and wanted to write an article on it.

Our first homework assignment was to go do some work "in the field."  Most people opted for an interview.  Amanda went to a concert.  (She described weeping at the beauty of Beethoven.  It was gag-worthy.)

But I don't want to bore you with her trite bullshit so I'll just say that here's a link if you want to read six pages of absolute garbage.

Now, I had already explained at the beginning of the class that my background was scientific and I saw myself going into science-related journalism.  I tried to keep an open mind and to treat Amanda like what she was: an inexperienced student working hard to improve her writing.  To wit, I dutifully read through every version of her article, titled, "Power of Sound," or more appropriately, "POS."  I corrected the ample grammatical and formatting errors with what I hoped would be easy-to-understand explanations.  (For example, "it's" means "it is."  If you're not sure whether to use its or it's, just replace "its" with "it is" and see if the sentence still makes sense.)

But Amanda's issues ran much, much deeper than merely misusing the English language....

So deep that sound itself could not heal them.

The First Red Flag

In the first draft she submitted, Amanda included a passage in which she went to see a shaman about making a drum.

The particular style that resonates the most to Daithi, is that of sound healing, using the drum beat. I asked Daithi to share with me exactly how healing happens from the drum itself. He explains, “The heart beats at 190-220 beats a minute, ( while in the trance state of drum journey) this is sort of like a drum beat.” he tells me, his while he holds one of his handmade drums on his lap, tapping the front of the Water Buffalo skin with his fingers. “After about 15 minutes of this drumbeat, your pineal gland starts to decalcify and open.” This is what happens when enter the Shamanic journey through playing the drum for another, or even for yourself.

In my review, I pointed out that the human heart beats at about 60-80 bpm.  Her shaman seemed to be having a heart attack.

Artist's depiction

There are plenty of ways to correct this.  The quote, I mean, not the heart attack.

She could simply leave out the quote.  She could, as an aside, state, "The human heart actually beats closer to 80 beats per minute, but I understood what he meant."  She could contact the shaman to ask for clarification.

What she did was to thank me and then edit her submission to correct it.

The thing about direct quotes is that you cannot change them. Horrified, I replied again on the student forum, to explain that she can't just alter a direct quote.  (She could, of course, put the correct information in brackets, but that's what we journalists call a pro-gamer move, and I did not think she was ready for it.)  I explained that altering quotes is basically making stuff up and it's a big journalism no-no.

In the final draft, the quote contained the original error without explanation or comment.

Throughout the editing process, I tried to find polite ways to explain to Amanda that her "article" bordered on unreadable.  She was throwing out jargon like "Once my chakras lined up I felt my third eye open," and I kept saying, over and over, that to me, a skeptic, such rhetoric was a big turn-off that undermined the credibility of her "reporting."  The instructor, likewise, advised her to include more background information, definitions, and so on, adding that she should try to craft an article that appealed to a "broader" (ie, less insane) audience.

And that's how I came to find a much darker side to Amanda's incompetence...

The Discovery

We had been asked to review the final version of each other's papers.  At the end of the class there were only three of us.  Amanda had submitted no peer reviews for anyone else.  That was fine by me; I doubted she could teach me much.  But I was committed to getting an A, even if it meant slogging through pages upon pages of new age bullshit, so I dutifully went through and edited her final paper.  (This is the one I linked above.  Yes, that's the "final" version.  You might note it's only 3,000 words, far below the assignment requirement.)

The whole thing was so asinine and awful that, naturally, I had to read it to my husband. After all, "misery loves company." My favorite passages to hate came from Amanda's crystal healing session:
  • “The essence is filled with the vibrational signature of the plants and crystals.” The essence she refers to is a 2oz cobalt blue glass bottle with a dropper top. The brand is “Star Essences, Rainbow Frequency Drop.” I open the bottle and gently squeeze four drops down my throat."
    • Wait, WHAT IS IT?! She just ingested it?? Is that safe??
  • She thanks the spirit guides, guardian angels and ascended masters that have joined the session. The music slows and then stops, and Katie draws the curtains of the room that now has heated up again with yummy energies of sound. “Please take your time, I allow extra time at the end of the class so that you may integrate the energies.” she whispers. There peace in the room is like a cloud blanket of calm that has touched everyone there. With hands in prayer and a soulful gaze, I graciously thank her for the healing.
    • What a bunch of narcissistic bullshit. This soulful bitch is jacking off her own chakras at this point.  If angels and "ascended masters" existed, they would have better things to do than hang out in a Santa Monica yoga studio with a bunch of middle-aged white women who are tripping balls.
  • Katie announces that these are “Medical grade chromotherapy” lights. Chromotherapy is the use of the visible spectrum, or color light, to heal the physical, mental and spiritual energy imbalance. Each light, like a grid, is about 12 inches in diameter. As I look overhead I notice that each square represents a color of the rainbow.
    • There is no such thing as "medical-grade chromotherapy lights." Also, how does each square "represent" a color of the rainbow? I think Amanda means the lights are rainbows. I don't know; I think she's had too much good kush to know what the hell is even going on here.
 It's hard to really encapsulate the extent of how bad it was.  Sloppy grammar, sloppy spelling, sloppy formatting, and bizarre content with questionable ties to reality, all of it with a highly subjective and distinctively not-journalistic sheen.  All in all, it was just bad.  But it was about to get worse.

Andrew was the one to catch it.

On the very first page, Amanda states: "there is hope for achieving a happier more serene, and healthy existence if sound also is something that we can look at in a different, more naturopathic way (naturopathic medicine is a form of alternative medicine that employs an array of pseudoscientific practices branded as "natural", "non-invasive", and as promoting "self-healing". The ideology and methods of naturopathy are based on vitalism and folk medicine, rather than evidence-based medicine.)"

Both of us cracked up; her definition of "naturopathy" had just undermined everything else she had said.  We were left wondering if she even understood the words "pseudo-scientific" or "evidence-based." 

But the longer we mulled over the passage, the more and more obvious the tone shift was.  No way Amanda had written that sentence, which was one of the few lucid pieces of her entire three-page trainwreck.  We had already guessed that she must have looked up the definition (at the instructor's request) and regurgitated it without thinking much about what it meant, but it never occurred to us that she might have simply copied it.
Turns out, "Amanda's" definition for naturopathy is the word-for-word definition on the Wikipedia page.  It's literally the first two sentences.

Conflicted, I hopped onto the student forum and pointed this out, explaining that if you take an entire sentence without re-writing it in your own words, or attributing it, then it is plagiarism.

But the longer I thought about it, the more it bothered me.  If Amanda had simply copied and pasted the passage from Wikipedia, all of the formatting would have come with it, such as hyperlinks and ᶠᵒᵒᵗⁿᵒᵗᵉˢ.  And it was clear that Amanda didn't give a rat's chakra about formatting.  Had she dutifully typed out the definition herself?  No; it was clear she was lazy and the lack of typos implied she had directly lifted it.

 Oh shit you guys.

The conclusion I reached was that she must have knowingly copied the passage and then removed formatting to pass it off as her own.  The action was deliberate.

I ended up spending all night Googling passages that felt off, and running her paper through several plagiarism checkers.  And I found multiple passages.

The Reveal

A good way of determining if Amanda was copying or not was this.  Any passage that contained any information that seemed objective was probably copied.  Any passage that contained long, direct quotes was probably copied, because Amanda had already demonstrated that "direct quotes" meant nothing to her.

Here's some of what I found.

The passage on 12-century Tibetian singing bowls was taken from this site.  Of course Amanda wouldn't use such phrases as "12th-century Tibetian" to describe a bowl.  Funnily enough, I had asked her in every draft to cite the "2016 study."  Now I know why she couldn't.  The original site doesn't cite the study, either.  (In my research I did find a study that disproves that shamanic drumming does anything special, at least objectively.)

The passage that had Katie "talking" about how healing works was lifted from her website.  The "interview" was completely imagined.  (Of course Amanda probably has no idea what "neuroplasticity" is.)  The part about the bowl being made of 99.992% crushed quartz seemed oddly specific, and what do you know, a search led me to a Facebook event page that had been copied.  (Of course Amanda probably has no idea what "endocrine" is.)

Even the definition of chromotherapy lights was lifted.

About a third of the paper had been copied, verbatim, from websites, and it was shockingly easy to discover which ones and where they had come from.

She didn't even try.

I went back to the student forum and explained that, after noticing the lines from Wikipedia had been copied, I ran the whole paper through a plagiarism checker.  I then listed each passage and a link to the website it had been taken from.

The only commentary I offered of my own was, "I am furious and disgusted.  This is not only an insult to the art of journalism, but to me personally, as well as the other students who have spent time and energy this quarter reviewing "your" work and trying to help you improve "your" writing."

I messaged the instructor and informed him of what I had found, and that it was documented on the forum.

The Aftermath

Amanda responded!  I will admit I had hoped she would chime in, like a back-pedaling, dishonest, sneaky, 99.992% crushed quartz singing bowl.

Her reply was neither soulful nor gracious.  She stated that she didn't know better; she was brand-new to journalism and was taking the class on a wing and a prayer, and it was just a mistake by an amateur.  Regrettably, I do not have a screen-shot nor a transcript, because the forum was locked and made private very shortly after this.  Unlike Amanda, I don't invent quotes, so I can only paraphrase what was a long and abstract reply that spent a lot of time philosophizing on how we should all "be kinder" to each other and that, in this crazy mixed-up world of ours, it costs nothing to be nice, and why wasn't I being nice?

 Amanda's depiction of my peer reviews.

She concluded her monologue by saying something to the effect of, "People make mistakes and they aren't perfect, and I hope that when your child makes a mistake you will be more understanding."

I said, "This was not a child's mistake, and bringing my unborn child into this is an inappropriate personal remark.  This conversation is about one thing: your plagiarism.  If you have ever heard the word before, then you know what it is, that it's wrong, and that you did it.  I have nothing more to say on the subject; you need to discuss it with the instructor."

Two days after this all went down, the instructor messaged me thusly: "Thanks for the heads up. I will check the forum. Since she just wrote asking to withdraw, she must see what's coming.  ...I don't think she followed a single note that I gave her. She may not even have read them."

He reported her to the school's administration.

Four days later, I received an e-mail from him.  "The plot thickens: Amanda filed a harassment complaint against you but after I directed the authorities to your exchange, you were exonerated. Not that you were in any danger but with how upside down academia has become, you never know."

Not only was Amanda's complaint tossed, but so was she.  Amanda was removed from the program.

It seems to me like if there's one takeaway here, it's that healing crystals and drums don't work.  They failed to make Amanda a better person, at least.  Her "soulful graciousness" evaporated the second she was caught being dishonest.  She should ask for her money back.

I e-mailed the instructor to ask for a copy of the harassment complaint because I desperately wanted to see how she framed it.  Having someone catch you plagiarizing is a "you" problem, in my opinion.  Did she say that I wasn't "nice" enough?  I was about as nice as a person can be, considering what a disgustingly dishonest and morally reprehensible thing plagiarism is.  I did use the words "furious" and "disgusted" to describe my reaction, but aside from that, there was nothing subjective in my comments whatsoever.  If Amanda's harassment complaint looked anything like her final paper, I bet it was a total shitshow.

Unfortunately, the instructor never got back to me.  For weeks now, my grade has been "pending."  It was my understanding that I had gotten an A, but suddenly I wasn't so sure.

I got paranoid, wondering whether or not the whole debacle had affected me personally.  Could my involvement in the drama have somehow invalidated the class for me?  Finally, taking a deep breath to steady my third eye and taking a few drops of Mystery Tincture That's Probably Toilet Water, I e-mailed the administration.

I didn't get an A, after all.  I got an A+.

Monday, June 10, 2019

"Fat logic" Is As Dangerous As Obesity

"Fat logic" has a mean ring to it, which is a shame.  For many people who struggle with their weight, the words "fat logic" evoke a sort of high school bullying narrative that immediately turns them off.  It's far less friendly than, say, "Healthy at Any Size."

But fat logic is a concept worth examining and one that helped me a lot over the last few years as I shifted my lifestyle toward a healthier and more conscientious way of eating and exercising.  And I'm not the only one; for people who are dealing with the very difficult, uphill battle that is weight loss, peeling back the veil of fat logic can be eye-opening. Weight maintenance has been on my mind; I lost between 30 and 40 pounds last year, but now that I'm pregnant, I'm seeing a noticeable gain.  Weight gain in pregnancy is normal, to an extent; I'm aware that I'll be 20-40 pounds heavier at the end of this endeavor.  But I'll be damned if I'm going to let that be a permanent gain.

Today I'm going to break down (some of) the elements of fat logic and why they're not only incorrect, but also dangerous and harmful.

In short, "fat logic" is any of the excuses people make for being fat.  Favorites include genetics, "diets don't work," and "I may be fat but I'm healthy."  Fat logic is any time someone justifies or excuses their size and, more worryingly, does so in a way that absolves them from losing the weight.

In America, over 1/3rd of people are now obese, and there's been a backlash of people who are trying to stay fit.  Then there was a backlash to the backlash: the fat acceptance movement.  "Fat activism" seems empowering on the surface, but it's anything but.  For one thing, it's riddled with terrible and incorrect advice.

Recently I saw someone claiming that "95% of diets don't work."  This is a very, very common bit of fat logic that, like the "statistic" that you swallow 8 spiders every year in your sleep, is utter bullshit, yet gets repeated constantly by people desperate to absolve themselves of responsibility for when their diets fail.

Disclaimer: I definitely do not drink two liters of water a day.  However, I also don't drink anything laden with sugar.

Here's the reality.  Diets don't fail.  People do.  That's a harsh and unhappy truth that lacks any of the feel-good platitudes of most fat logic.  And the statistic about 95% of diets failing is patently false.

That "statistic" is from a very small study (n = 100) that was done in 1959. The group being studied were obese people who had been admitted into a inpatient treatment program and the conclusion of the study stated that "Most obese persons will not stay in treatment, most will not lose weight, and of those who do lose weight, most will regain it." They regained the weight after leaving the program and returning to their old diets, without actually altering eating habits or behaviors.

Current research shows long-term maintenance is achievable, especially for those who also exercise. About 20% of people who decide to lose weight are able to keep it off; the single biggest factor is behavioral, not physiological. People with more support tend to do better. For example, people in programs, registries, or taking exercise classes who have a social support network to help them maintain activity succeed more than 50% of the time. (Analysis here on how people "succeed" at their diets.)  On average these registry members maintained a 67-pound weight loss for five years. And between 12-14 % had maintained a loss of more than 100 pounds.  (Also of note: "Once these successful maintainers have maintained a weight loss for 2-5 years, the chances of longer-term success greatly increase.")

In other words, losing weight is like quitting smoking.  (In fact, people who lose weight and keep it off is, percent-wise, similar to the percentage of people who try to quit smoking and are successful.) It's hard, and a lot of people fail initially, but it's absolutely possible. It's just a matter of sticking to the right behaviors and ensuring that the program you've chosen is actually sustainable.

Mind you, the definition "diet" itself is a little tricky here.  "Diet culture" does exist and diet products do tend to believe people will fail.  They're designed to cater to those whose weights yo-yo.  My hot take?  All "diet" products are shitty. They are preying on people who want a quick and easy solution to a very serious and complex problem. The reality is, there's no easy solution to weight loss. Diets must be made sustainable and there's no magic pills, shake, or wrap that will give you a perfect body without you having to put in a ton of work. Considering how widespread and devastating the effects of obesity are, I think products that take advantage of people trying to better themselves are downright evil.

Weight loss aside, diet products, like all "supplements," have piss-poor regulation and make unfounded medical promises to people. People who consume these products as vitamins or for "energy boosts" or whatever are typically genuinely trying to be healthier and the companies that market them are scamming people with products that have zero proven value.

Regrettably, the 95% statistic often gets falsely "proven" over and over again, by people who claim they're on a "diet" but who fall off the wagon and regain the weight.  (For example, in this New York Times article about how ANY weight lost can be beneficial, it mentions that only 5% of people sustained weight loss of over 20% over the course of a year.  But it also states that any amount lost is better than nothing.)  (An excerpt: "Compared to people who maintained less than a 5 percent weight loss for one year, those who lost 5 to 10 percent lowered their risk for metabolic syndrome by 22 percent. A 15 to 19 percent loss was associated with a 37 percent lower risk, and those who maintained a loss of 20 percent or more had a 53 percent lower risk.")

In a way, you could argue that "diets," referring to short-term fad diets, do not, in fact, work.  This would be true.  What works is sustainable and permanent behavioral changes.  And, sadly, most people don't associate that with a "diet."

I'd like to take a minute to give a shout-out to /r/loseit, a weight-loss support forum, for helping people to stay on track and provide the sort of support necessary to actually manage one's weight in a long-term and sustainable way.  This forum, along with /r/fatlogic, were two of the forums that most helped me as I regained control of my weight following my motorcycle accident.  But, again, not everyone is ready for the bluntness that comes with revealing "fat logic."  I have been accused of being "fatphobic" two or three times now on social media.  And the funny thing is, they're not wrong.

While the term "fatphobic" is typically used in the same way as "homophobic," to describe bigotry rather than actual fear, I would argue that I do have fatphobia in the literal sense.  I am afraid of being overweight and of losing my mobility and my health.  I am scared of being in pain and of being at risk for things like cancer and diabetes.  These are legitimate fears. 

And, speaking of the obesity epidemic, did you know that the state of Mississippi has both the highest rate of obesity and the lowest life expectancy?  Also, Mississippi, most obese state in 1995, was thinner than the thinnest state now (Colorado).

This is not to say that I revile fat people; this isn't to say that I believe fat people are somehow "lesser."  I believe people have inherent value and we should not judge them based on appearance.  But the simple reality is, being fat isn't healthy.  And "healthy at any size" is a lie.  People who are fat and claim that their health is otherwise "perfect" may be telling the truth.  Their health may very well be great... until it isn't.  Fatness is a risk factor, like smoking, and you may be fat and healthy for a while.  But as you age, the longer you carry excess weight, the more likely you are to start succumbing to the inevitable side effects.  Even if you aren't counting your calories, your body is.  That extra weight is hell on your joints and your cardiovascular system, and sooner or later, you'll have to reckon with it.

The worst part is that the "fat activism" movement is targeting the most disenfranchised and high-risk categories of people.  I'm heavily involved in the queer community, and weight is a huge topic of discussion there.  Lots of people think it's "woke" to glorify obesity.  The feel-good rhetoric masks a darker reality.  And worse, I've seen people who champion "body positivity" put down people who are fit or slender.  (For example, I saw someone claim that others shouldn't share "before and after" photos because it promoted an "ideal" body.  Fuck that bullshit.  People should share any photo that makes them feel beautiful, and for those who worked hard to achieve the body they desired, they should absolutely celebrate it.  Telling others that they should not share a photo of their own body that makes them happy is the exact opposite of "body positivity!")

Here's a prime example of fat logic (from my own Facebook page!) Last year, I posted an article from LiveScience titled "40 Percent of Cancer Cases in US Linked to Obesity."  To me this is some very important information.  No one shared it, and no one liked it.  (This is compared to the 20+ likes I typically get from posting, say, an Avengers meme.)

However, I did have three people comment expressing disbelief.  All three are overweight and they purposefully twisted the information in the article.  Let's observe...

Person #1: So what you're saying is, 2/3rds of cancer AREN'T caused by obesity?
Yes, correct.  You can lower your overall risk of cancer by losing weight.

Person #2: So you're saying being fat is MORE healthy?
No.  I'm saying you can lower your overall risk of cancer by losing weight.

Person #3: But have they established causality?  Does reducing weight actually do anything?
Yes.  You can lower your overall risk of cancer by losing weight.

Person #3 actually brought up some good points and instead of screenshotting my responses and forcing you to read them as a .jpg, I will copy-paste them here.  This has the added benefit of giving you some more links to resources.

One of the major things the study looked at to rule out mere correlation was YOUNG people who got cancer who were already overweight; naturally, aging causes obesity and also ups your risk for cancer, so several of the demographic studies focused on people in the 20-40 age range. You could make the argument that obesity could cause a condition (such as fatty liver) would would in turn cause a cancer (such as liver cancer) and is therefor not a DIRECT causation.

Obviously you can't control for every metric and so the study did not focus on any individual cancer by itself, so it's entirely possible their statistics are elevating the risk. That being said, I think it's been well-established that obesity is a risk factor for other conditions and that, if you are obese, losing weight is generally considered a good thing.
  (Note that the study focused on obese v. "normal" individuals.  I suspect if you looked at underweight people you'd also get some interesting findings; we already know that bulimics are at increased risk of esopageal cancer. Ultimately nearly any dietary or metabolic abnormality has negative consequences.)

Person #3 then stated: "There’s a lot of studies showing that obesity correlates with a wide range of conditions, but my understanding (admittedly from a third person not through reading the literature myself) is that studies showing causation and studies showing that losing weight actually reduces the risk are pretty sparse." 

Oh, ho ho ho ho.

This particular study didn't go so far as to state that reducing weight once you're already obese reduces risk.

HOWEVER, there is AMPLE literature that DOES say that.

Let's look at breast cancer. Adipose tissue stores estrogen (a major factor in the growth of breast cancer). And here's two studies that found that losing AND gaining weight had a clear effect:

Here's one about obese women who underwent bariatric surgery and decreased their risk of cancer. That establishes causation. Also, the most common cancer the obese, non-surgical control group got? Endometrial, ovarian, and breast cancer. All of which are influenced by estrogen.

Here's another bariatric study (compared 6,000 obese patients who lost weight with 9,000 who didn't), in which patients who were obese and then lost weight via the surgery reduced their risk of cancer by 46%.

I don't know who told Person #3 that losing weight doesn't reduce risk, but they're dead wrong. The literature has been extremely consistent on this.
Guess which Avenger died young vs. which one lived to be 100 years old?

Sadly, some of the loudest voices in the "fat acceptance" movement are people who struggle with eating disorders. 

I remember right after I lost a bunch of weight, speaking with my tattoo artist, who said that she was "more healthy now than I ever was when I was dieting."  She went on, at length, about having an eating disorder.

Regrettably this is at the core of a lot of people who believe in "body positivity."  They have an eating disorder, or a disordered relationship with food, and the feel-good rhetoric of "body positivity" preys on that.  Being "happy" with being obese doesn't mean that your eating disorder has been cured; it means that you have a different kind of eating disorder.  And both obesity and anorexia will kill you.

There is more than one way to be "healthy."  There's physical and mental health and, if you have an eating order, they are intricately tied together and require professional intervention to maintain.  "Body positivity" is not a "cure" for anorexia.  There's a whole weight range between obese and skeletally underweight where the body operates at its peak, and that is where people should aim for.

Being a healthy weight isn't just about physical health, mobility, or comfort, though.  It's about self-love.  If you've read this far, that's probably because you already agree with me.  People who believe in fat logic won't get through this, because they will have already left, claiming that I'm wrong.  At its very center, fat logic is all about dismissing scientific and medical evidence, as well as common sense and observable effects, in order to absolve oneself of responsibility and maintain the fat.  Most people don't shed their fat logic, or the fat itself, without a wake-up call.  And that saddens me because I don't want people to have to have heart attacks or get diabetes in order to realize that they need to start caring for themselves.

But I know that people who are already enmeshed in the "body positivity" culture won't read this, so this isn't for them.  It's for people who are flirting with the idea.  It's for people who only just discovered it and thought, see, what an empowering and wonderful and uplifting movement!

Beware.  The body-positivity and "healthy at any size" movements are neither positive nor healthy, and their long-term consequences are dire.  These movements feed into people's insecurities (pun not intended) and do grave harm to their followers.  Don't wait for a wake-up call.  Find ways to manage your weight now.  Your body will thank you.  You're worth it.

Monday, June 3, 2019

June Check-In: Exercising my God-like Powers of Creation

Things have been busy for me lately.  And not merely because of my foray into journalism school or my new job at the gaming pub.

No, I've also been busy making stuff.

For me, it's always been tricky to consider writing as an art form.  Part of it is, I suppose, a lack of elitism.  Everyone has access to words.  When someone says they're a musician and they play an instrument, there's an immediate understanding that they have access to the instrument, and special training to use it.  But words can be used by anyone and in this modern age of social media, everyone has a blog, or at least a Facebook page, and they can write long excerpts on whatever they like, grammar and spelling be damned.  It's led to a case of imposter syndrome for me.  Who am I to say my writing is any better or worse than anyone else's?  Go to a house party and see how long before someone tells you about the book they're working on.

It took me a while to appreciate that words are my medium.  Like a sculptor's clay, they are only as good as the hands they find themselves in.  And I might not be a Michelangelo (who famously did not work with clay), but I'm getting there.  I think.

The secret to good writing is to put words on a page.  A lot of "writers" fail to do this.  Most people who are "writing books" actually only have an idea and never get past the first page.  One of my greatest accomplishments was actually finishing a book.  It was a silly little sci-fi Iron Man adventure but hell if I didn't complete the damn thing.  (For those who haven't already seen plugs for it on my blog, you can read it here.)

Since I've gone back to school for writing, a lot of my creative projects have suffered.  I'm just too busy with school work.  Happily, though, there's one new project where I'm all-in.  It's a prequel to the Umbrella Academy, and it combines my love of campy superhero action with existentialism and childhood trauma.

It's not done yet, but if you follow this blog and wonder why all the entries are being posted late, well, there's your answer.

Here's a link to the AO3 version and the WattPad version (now with a spiffy little book cover!).

 Andrew drew this.

Speaking of playing God and wild power trips, I went and created life.

Meet Lil' Gumwad, who is a shapeless entity that causes ridiculous fatigue and doesn't, as far as I can tell, do much else.  My overwhelming feeling is one of mild concern as opposed to, say, jubilation.  And by "mild concern" I mean "indescribable terror."  I mean, it's very cool that I have the black magic needed to create a whole 'nother human being.  (Even though it takes nine months to work.)  It's sort of a power trip.  But it's also a huge responsibility that involves a lot of discomfort and also, unfortunately, sobriety.

This certainly puts an interesting spin on my budding career as a bartender.

 The hardest choices require the strongest wills.

I want to reassure my readers that this decision was in no way, shape, or form influenced by the character arc of Iron Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  I am still against Tony as a "family man" and have no intention of naming Gumwad "Morgan."

Above: From the Facebook announcement.

Below: The latest image of Gumwad, who has a face now.