The Sound of Silence

The world is quiet now. Growing up in the 1980’s and 90’s, I was accustomed to the sound of cars driving past and planes flying overhead, little fans whirring inside black boxes of electronics, and the hum of refrigerator compressors kicking on at regular intervals. Living in urban areas off and on for most of my adult life, I’m also used to street lights piercing through the night and rowdy teenagers occasionally driving past with bass loud enough to rattle my teeth. Today, most of that noise is gone and those lights are dimmed. There’s a stillness in the world that I’ve never known.

The world is still because there aren’t any people moving through it as they normally do. As of this moment, 286, 816 people have been infected across 167 different countries (see Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Dashboard) with a new corona virus called COVID-19 which is the most lethal viral plague to spread so easily across the globe since the Spanish Flu in 1918. The virus was first detected, as best as the scientists can tell right now, in an exotic animal market in Wuhan, China where wild animals that don’t normally have contact with humans are stacked atop each other in wire cages and sold as medicinal products. There is still a lot unknown about this virus, but currently it is believed it may have started in a bat, passed to a pangolin, and then transmitted to a person at one of these markets. From there, it spread from a very few people, to some of the people they came in contact with, then to some of the people those people came in contact with, until, in November 2019, it became obvious in Wuhan there was a new and dangerous disease spreading between people and spreading fast. The Chinese government initially tried to downplay the virus, but when it was clear it was making people deathly ill and spreading like wildfire, they quickly build additional hospitals and locked down the area. They were, of course, too late, and even keeping people inside their homes could not rewind the clock to a time before the virus had spread far across the globe.

Europe was hit hardest next: first northern Italy, then all of Italy, then France, Spain, and the rest. The virus had been also been detected in America as early as January, but President Donald Trump, certainly the worst president in my lifetime and the least fit to see us through such a health crisis, chose to believe it was “contained”, “under control”, and “would go away.” It didn’t, of course. Because of the interconnectedness of our globalized society and cheap and easy movement of people between countries and continents, the virus is effectively everywhere. Because of the bungling nature of politicians and other rich men who prefer the health of their investment accounts to the health of their countrymen, response has been slower than it should have been which will cause greater spread of the virus and more deaths. According to one projection by the world’s preeminent disease modeler, Dr. Neil M. Feguson, the United States will lose 1.1 million people if we do everything right from now on, 2.2 million if we do everything wrong. While this is only 0.3% to 0.6% of the US’s roughly 329 million citizens, it’s still a sobering prediction. Watching the increasing severe containment measures the French and Spanish news are describing in Europe which is about eight to fourteen days ahead of the US in the progression of the virus, I feel as though I’ve been given a vision of a terrible future by a live-streaming oracle.

Newspapers read like The Book of Revelations, promising visits from Famine from the collapse of the food supply chain, War as superpowers point fingers at each other for unleashing this invisible monster on the world, Pestilence with image after image of overrun makeshift hospitals, and Death tolls climbing on charts updated in real time. But if you turn off whatever screen you’re reading, the world outside is quiet. People are hidden away in their homes, staying as far from other people as possible, cowering as surely as if this novel coronavirus was Plague on horseback prowling the streets. The thrumming of the hustle and bustle of daily life in the 21st Century has been replaced by an eerie quiet that seems out of place in the suburb of Boston I’m living in. Will the world maintain this quiet for the 12-18 months necessary for the threat to pass? No one knows. For now, we can only sit holding our breath and wait. Horsemen of the Apocalypse

Fasting is Key

The last few days have been good for eating and for life in general. I’ve been sticking to the 18/6 intermittent fasting (the right balance for me, at least for now) when I’m not at Mom & Dad’s helping with Ed, and it’s making me feel much better. The food plan is actually really good, but I’m adding a tiny tweak to account for the reality that sometimes I go over the feeding window slightly when trying to work around the unpredictable schedule of Scott and the kids. As what’s important with intermittent fasting is really the length of the fast more than the feeding window, I’m emphasizing that it’s most important is that daily feeding windows are interposed by eighteen hour fasts which means if one feeding window goes a little longer, it just means I start eating later the next day to compensate.

Food Plan with Emphasis on Intermittent Fasting

  • Consume calories during a 6 hour feeding window each day ending at or before 7PM (which hours is unimportant, though during the daylight is preferable) which I’ll measure using the Zero app on my phone. Daily feeding windows must come after an 18 hour fast; this will compensate if timing is slightly off with the feeding window. Tasting tiny bits of food for seasoning while cooking is permissible outside this window. This rule is suspended when at Mom & Dad’s helping care for a cancer patient.
  • Consume all solid food on a dining surface (e.g. kitchen or dining table, breakfast bar, etc.)
  • Eat only foods that Great Grammy Chaplin would have been able to prepare in her kitchen back in the 1920’s (if she had access to ingredients anywhere in the world) with the exception of Huel Powder (vegan meal replacement).
  • Consume 66% or more plant-based products
  • Consume at least 1 cup of leafy greens every day
  • Never eat high fructose corn syrup
  • Never eat store-bought foods with any type of sugar in the first three ingredients. In the case of jam, chocolate chips, or other ingredients that are composed of sugar and another ingredient by definition, these should be kept to no more than two servings each day.
  • Drink at least 64 oz (half a gallon) of water each day

An Encouraging Binge

This weekend was pretty challenging where sticking to my food plan was concerned: eating in an 8 hour window at Mom & Dad’s is tricky with all the dietary requirements of everyone up there. I figured I’d tweak my food plan to say the intermittent fasting was optional up there; in this case, spending time with everyone while I can is more important than sticking to the feeding window. If I stick to the other food rules, the worst thing that’s likely to happen is not losing weight those days.

I also had a sort of weird binge last night. I got back to Massachusetts around 5PM after spending Friday evening to Sunday afternoon in Vermont trying to help Mom by cooking and doing some cleaning, and I was tired. The work in Vermont is one thing, but given it came after a crazy week at work to be followed immediately by another week at work, I knew the only time I’d have to myself was yesterday evening. I wanted to spend the time finally watching Terminator: Dark Fate with Scott and, of course, I wanted to have movie snacks even though it was time to stop eating. I’d already eaten outside the window, so I figured, “what the Hell?” Pig attack!

What was weird was that I felt like I was in control and sort of just going through the motions of bingeing, not deriving any joy from it. It was oddly encouraging actually; I ate a lot less food than I normally would on a late night binge, and sort of got bored with it quickly. It was an instructive experience showing me that I really can control this and can say, “No, Pigula! Back to the shadows with you!” I even setup my new Fitbit Aria 2 wifi enabled scale last night, so I wasn’t too far off track really.

I think to balance weight loss without feeling like I’m going to die, I’m going to set my feeding window to the happy medium of six hours of eating per day instead of four or eight. I’m losing weight and feeling better and actually want to keep going! How exciting is that?! I’m going to keep journaling, weighing myself, and I’ll obtain my goals before I know it! I can’t wait to take my next vacation a thinner version of myself! 😄


Food Plan for Dealing with Cancer Patients

  • Consume calories for a maximum of 6 hours each day ending at or before 7PM (which hours is unimportant, though during the daylight is preferable) which I’ll measure using the Zero app on my phone. Tasting tiny bits of food for seasoning while cooking is permissible outside this window. This rule is suspended when at Mom & Dad’s helping care for a cancer patient.
  • Consume all solid food on a dining surface (e.g. kitchen or dining table, breakfast bar, etc.)
  • Eat only foods that Great Grammy Chaplin’s mother would have been able to prepare in her kitchen back in the 1920’s (if she had access to ingredients anywhere in the world) with the exception of Huel Powder
  • Consume 66% or more plant-based products
  • Consume at least 1 cup of leafy greens every day
  • Never eat high fructose corn syrup
  • Never eat store-bought foods with any type of sugar in the first three ingredients (except for jam, chocolate chips, or other ingredients that are definitionally sugar and another ingredient).
  • Drink at least 64 oz (half a gallon) of water each day

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Food Plan that Lets Me Eat Dinner with My Family

While the 20/4 intermittent fasting scheme might be the quickest way to lose weight, it’s not really working with my life. It’s really hard to consume enough calories in that window, especially in the middle of the day, which leaves me irritable and possibly slowing down my metabolism. Additionally, it basically means I can never eat dinner with my family again, which doesn’t work for me. I figure if Hugh Jackman can get ripped on a 16/8 schedule, so can I. It will also have me stop eating before late at night which will still help with indigestion and maybe not have me feeling like I’m going to die from stuffing myself midday. Finally, it’s far more sustainable.

Food Plan for Dinners with the Family

  • Consume calories for only 8 hours each day ending at or before 7PM (which hours is unimportant, though during the daylight is preferable) which I’ll measure using the Zero app on my phone. Tasting tiny bits of food for seasoning while cooking is permissible outside this window.
  • Eat only foods that Great Grammy Chaplin’s mother would have been able to prepare in her kitchen back in the 1920’s (if she had access to ingredients anywhere in the world) with the exception of Huel Powder
  • Consume 66% or more plant-based products
  • Consume at least 1 cup of leafy greens every day
  • Never eat high fructose corn syrup
  • Never eat store-bought foods with any type of sugar in the first three ingredients (except for jam, chocolate chips, or other ingredients that are definitionally sugar and another ingredient).
  • Drink at least 64 oz (half a gallon) of water each day

Food Plan for the 21st Century

My food plan is actually working really well, but I think in the interests of making intermittent fasting actually work properly–eating in a short span of hours while still getting the right nutrients in a world where there’s never enough time for food prep– I need to make one small edit to allow Huel (a complete meal replacement formula made of organic oats, no artificial sweeteners, etc.). It’s mostly all natural, but it’s definitely not something my great-great grandmother would recognize as food. Adding an exception for that should make this plan very doable.

Food Plan to Enprison the Pig v2.1

  • Consume calories for only 4 hours each day (which hours is unimportant, though during the daylight is preferable) which I’ll measure using the Zero app on my phone. Tasting tiny bits of food for seasoning while cooking is permissible outside this window.
  • Eat only foods that Great Grammy Chaplin’s mother would have been able to prepare in her kitchen back in the 1920’s (if she had access to ingredients anywhere in the world) with the exception of Huel Powder
  • Consume 66% or more plant-based products
  • Consume at least 1 cup of leafy greens every day
  • Never eat high fructose corn syrup
  • Never eat store-bought foods with any type of sugar in the first three ingredients
  • Drink at least 64 oz (half a gallon) of water each day

I started reading another book by the author of Never Binge Again called An End to Nighttime Overeating which is very similar to his first book but with additional tips on avoiding nighttime eating: my greatest weakness when it comes to unhealthy eating. Some of the chapters are basically a verbatim copy of the first book with “The Pig” replaced by a more fleshed out villain named “Pigula” which I like better as a metaphor as it does feel like the insane “lizard brain” circuitry run amok that it refers to is a dark parasitic force of the night. I will say that while it might be a little nuts to shout, “SHUT UP, PIG!!” at a craving that comes out of nowhere, but it’s actually a very effective technique. I’ll trap this soul-sucking nocturnal swine demon for good and be happier for it. I’ve done it before, now I’ll do it for good.

A Food Plan I Can Afford

I like the food plan I put together a couple days back, but after spending $225 on groceries and making a bunch of vegan food that I don’t think anyone else will help me eat before it goes bad, I’m remembering why being vegan is so challenging in a family setting. The whole point of going vegan is to maximize the amount of fruits and vegetables in my diet, not to go bankrupt or spend a zillion hours I don’t have in the kitchen each day to cook two different meals. The kids will eat some healthy plant-based stuff, but there’s a lot of vegan food they won’t touch. Additionally, I wanted to put exceptions in the plan for holidays and birthdays because while I might be able to never have Christmas cookies or birthday cake again, I don’t think I actually want to be that Draconian about this. I can be in perfect shape without having to eat nothing but lettuce for the rest of my life. I think the cornerstone of this plan has always been the intermittent fasting. Being vegan is great, but I’ve got enough life experience to know I can eat pretty poorly as a vegan, especially nowadays (vegan Pop Tarts and Oreos, anyone?). Instead of strictly being vegan, I think I’ll stick to Michael Pollan’s advice in “Food Rules” regarding what food I can eat when not fasting.

Food Plan to Enprison the Pig v2

  • Consume calories for only 4 hours each day (which hours is unimportant, though during the daylight is preferable) which I’ll measure using the Zero app on my phone. Tasting tiny bits of food for seasoning while cooking is permissible outside this window.
  • Eat only foods that Great Grammy Chaplin’s mother would have been able to prepare in her kitchen back in the 1920’s (if she had access to ingredients anywhere in the world)
  • Consume 66% or more plant-based products
  • Consume at least 1 cup of leafy greens every day
  • Never eat high fructose corn syrup
  • Never eat store-bought foods with any type of sugar in the first three ingredients
  • Drink at least 64 oz (half a gallon) of water each day

Live Fat & Die Young vs. Live Slowly and Enjoy the Longer Ride

A great piece of advice in the book I’m reading (see here) is that when restricting what we consume (or do) for that matter, we can feel deprived of things we love, but that part of the mind is good at hiding the deprivation caused by giving in to temptation. I’d never really thought about it, but you’re deprived either way when you’re dieting, but you’re deprived of much worse than a piece of cake or potato chips when you actually give in and eat them. You’re deprived of so many better things in life! Here’s a list of things I can think of that eating poorly and staying fat is depriving me of every time I do it:

  • A body I feel comfortable in
  • Going out in public without feeling judged for my weight
  • Traveling to France/Europe without feeling like a humanoid walrus
  • Not worrying about limitations when horseback riding or going to amusement parks
  • Wearing clothes that make me feel attractive and fashionable
  • Being physically comfortable and free of the aches and pains brought on by inflammation and obesity
  • Additional energy throughout the day
  • Mental clarity and peak cognitive performance

I think the world has gotten too soft, at least in America. Only a generation or two ago people didn’t expect to constantly be happy, to follow their bliss at every moment, and to always be perfectly comfortable. My grandparents and ancestors before them had realistic expectations that life wasn’t always pain free or comfortable and the resolve to persist through the hard times to get what they wanted. They knew contentment, but weren’t worried about being constantly happy because that’s only a foolish child’s notion of reality. Life is painful sometimes, but that pain is a necessary part of living the life we want. I’m from New England; I know what it’s like to deal with difficult conditions to survive. If I can make it through the winters here and find ways to enjoy them, I can make it through the discomfort of not always giving into my every whim when it comes to food by keeping an eye on the long game. Like I know spring will come again, I can also remember that what I truly deprive myself of by giving into every food temptation is worth enduring a little discomfort for in the short-term. When the spring does come, imagine just how glorious it will be. Better yet, when it comes to food, the winter need never come again.

Sticking the Pig

I’ve known since I heard the term as a teenager that I was an emotional eater. You need look no further for proof than photos of me at happy periods in my life where I’m thin and stressful periods of my life (where I’m rotund). After stepping on the scales this weekend at my parents’ house and realizing I’ve gained 15 pounds since my surgery, I’m looking for ways to turn the tide. I’m reading a book called “Never Binge Again…” (the actual title is comically long) by Glenn Livingston Ph.D that actually offers some good advice that’s a little different than other approaches. It’s not a diet book, per se, more of cognitive behavioral therapy wrapped in a fun package that aims at stabbing at the heart of the bad habits and learned and innate behaviors that have me tipping the scales at a terrifyingly high number. The approach he outlines actually seems to do away with a lot of the touchy feely mumbo jumbo and gimmicks of diet plans, and focuses on a general approach that can help with weight loss as much as it can breaking other bad habits (though this book is specifically geared toward shutting up the little monster (“The Pig”) in your brain that keeps you shoveling ice cream in your mouth even when you’re not hungry and don’t like the taste all that much).

One of the steps in this plan is to create a simple food plan that I can go all-in on. Given how well intermittent fasting and living as a vegan worked for me in the past, mine is fairly straightforward:

Food Plan to Enprison the Pig

  • Consume calories for only 4 hours each day (which hours is unimportant, though during the daylight is preferable) which I’ll measure using the Zero app on my phone
  • Consume no animal-based products (honey is OK)
  • Consume at least 1 cup of leafy greens every day
  • Drink at least 64 oz (half a gallon) of water each day

This is a good place to start. Once I get comfortable with this, I’ll move towards minimizing processed foods and refined carbohydrates, but that would be a lot to start out with. We don’t learn how to ride a bike or drive a car on the first attempt, especially if we’re asked to master the physics of how balancing on two wheels works or memorize all the roadways in the country first. The first steps need to be basic and manageable. After doing this for a month or two, I’ll see about raising the stakes. The Pig may only have the simple motivation of eating whatever it wants in whatever quantity it wants, but it’s also devilishly cunning when it comes to circumnavigating complex schemes to control it. Simple clear cut steps are the best way to cage the little bastard and stop him from ruining my life on a daily basis.

Grateful Respite

Today was so much better than I imagined. Lately I’ve felt like I was only just outrunning the boulder that was barreling down behind me, threatening to crush me. Be it financial, work, or personal problems, feeling overwhelmed has been my baseline as of late. I was dreading today when I got up for the sole reason that today was the day I would file my taxes for the first time with yet untaxed self-employment income. I was sure I would owe thousands. I had a great time with my family at the Made in Vermont show in Essex, a nice lunch break with Scott when we went to ReSource in Williston to check out the cheap records (I got like 20 for $11), a wonderful time discovering Speaking Volumes on Pine Street where an Austrian gentleman runs a vinyl shop with a remarkably good selection of music and the drink at Zero Gravity afterwards. I was thoroughly relieved when Scott’s flank pain didn’t turn into a kidney stone. But when I got home and fed the dog, it was time to snap back to reality and face the music. I fired up my laptop, logged into HR Block’s website, and started doing my taxes.

To my incredible relief, there was no need to dread the process. With zero exemptions, my regular employment ended up over witholding so my untaxed self-employment income just wiped out what would have been a decent refund! In fact, I’ll even get $2 back from the Feds! Sure, it’s barely enough to buy an unsweetened tea at McDonald’s, but that will be the sweetest drink I’ll have had in a long time since it won’t be accompanied with huge tax payments. I woke up expecting the worst and ended up having one of the best days I’ve had in a long time. Thank you, Universe. I really needed this.

Climbing Mount Everest (en espaƱol)

I finished Don Quijote de la Mancha Today after a combination of listening to the audiobook and reading the 1,600 page paper volume. It was a bit of a slog, but hearing ‘the end’ this morning was incredibly rewarding. It seems a good time to read a story about the blurry line between reality and fantasy, truth and lies. In a world where strongman authoritarian presidents are increasingly attempting to subvert the press until only their version of “the truth” can be heard, it seems a perfect time to be reminded that this is not a new problem. People have been seeing what they want to see, willingly or by way of mental illness, for a long, long time.