How to “Workcation” and Tips for Long Drives

I’m writing this from my laptop in suburban Pittsburgh. I’m in an empty Panera Bread in a busy strip mall. It’s a brisk day today.  I’m on a weekend-long solo road trip across the state.

I’ve been thinking recently about ways to improve my ability to clear my head and come up with new ideas. Brian Grey of the CGP Youtube Channel likes to go on “workcations” where he goes on a trip to a hotel and just focuses on his work. I decided to try something similar this weekend.

I didn’t have anything specific to work on this weekend. But, I’ve gotten great rest and renewal.

Not this weekend’s hotel room. But a setup from earlier this year that I quite liked. I prefer to keep light hitting my skin while I work and to be able to look out a window for eye fatigue reduction and quick non-invasive distraction.

On Friday morning, I drove from Baltimore to Pittsburgh. I decided to drive in 90 minute chunks. I chose this segment length because…

  1. It’s about the maximum time I can focus on a single task.
  2. It’s about how much time it takes me to digest a small meal.

Every 90 minutes I would stop at a top Yelp restaurant. I found this strategy make the trip go by MUCH faster and I never felt that I was getting burnt out from driving. I have never enjoyed long drives before, but this is beginning to change my mind.

The other thing that kept the drives interesting was having a podcast list from which to pull. I have about 50 hrs worth of podcast episodes downloaded on a wide range of topics I am personally intensely interested in:

  1. Philosophy
  2. Economics
  3. Personal Finance/Investing
  4. Productivity
  5. Psychology
  6. Self-Improvement

These made the trip very intellectually stimulating and created an ability for me to pick out the next audio without being forced into content.

Very good burger from The Girl’s R’ Cooking on the route from Baltimore to Pittsburgh

It also is a great use of my theory of sandwiching anticipation. I’ve found it vastly invigorating and motivating to have things that will excite me coming up next. I’ll often intentionally delay things I’m excited about and sandwich them with boring necessary tasks. This feeling of having something  exciting coming next is phenomenal at keeping my spirits up during boring tasks. I recommend you try this if you haven’t before. It’s one of the reasons I like to plan trips at random times of the year. Because it helps add excited anticipation right after otherwise mundane times of year. In this way, I always leave a few really edge-of-my-seat intriguing  podcast episodes to help me always look forward to getting in the car to drive.

So I got to my destination very quickly from a psychological perspective because I felt the time spent listening to podcasts was time well spent. It didn’t feel like lost travel time. The feeling of travel time loss I think is a MAJOR motivator for folks to avoid travel. Think about ways you can feel productive while traveling. Maybe hold brainstorming sessions in the car, plan out phone calls, etc.

I found myself coming up with a ton of ideas for blog posts, future books I want to read, and people I’d like to reconnect with just by giving my mind this mental space in the car to churn in a different environment listening to episodes I know will perk up my ears at least a few times per episode.

I stayed totally free (I got 5-8 free nights free by signing up for the Hyatt Rewards card which required a $75 annual fee and $2000 spend in 3 months) in an upgraded King Suite at the Hyatt in Pittsburgh. Having a hotel room was awesome. I felt totally obligationless and distractionless. I decided to use the time doing some research, napping, and catching up on Game of Thrones. I didn’t feel like I was being less productive than anyone around me. I didn’t feel I had anywhere to be. I was in “travel mode” without having any real travel goals, other than trying out a few awesome restaurants in the city. The night in a hotel was extremely relaxing. There was nothing to clean up. No noise. And everything I needed was right there in a small, comfortable 1 bedroom environment. The one thing I was dissappointed with was the lack of a bathtub. I really was looking forward to just soaking in hot water. Oh well. There was a heated pool, but I decided not to grab  a used swimsuit from the local goodwill. Could have been fun.

I wouldn’t need much else if I lived on this block in Pittsburgh.

I think what I’m getting at is the importance of creating physical and mental spaces in our lives that allow us to “reset.” The goal isn’t to get anything specific done. Or to visit a person. Or to see sights. The goal is to let your brain work on the things it’s intrigued by in a setting that is wholly free of distractions. Sometimes we are distracted more by our normal spaces than we think.

The other insight here I think is the importance of not allowing the fear of lost travel time to become a roadblock in your exploration of travel and new things. Have a strong list of podcasts downloaded at all times to tap into during road time. I’ve found this actually now has me looking forward to long trips.

Excellent BBQ Eel from Little Tokyo Bistro on Carson St. Pittsburgh

 

Everyone’s dieting: Why aren’t we losing weight?

Insulin is a major factor in weight loss many people overlook and several myths hurting people on their weight loss attempts, some of which deceptively help in the short-term. There are some simple (but often difficult) habits we can adopt to help change our patterns of obesity.

The following explanation of science-based weight loss comes from the book The Obesity Code by Dr. Jason Fung. He’s respected in the field and backs his arguments with research. I’ve seen similar themes crop up in blogs I follow: Ben Greenfield, Tim Ferriss, Charles Poliquin, Dr. Rhonda Patrick, amongst others. These principles may not be perfect, but they are a superior means of achieving lasting health and weight loss, all other factors (disease, sleep disorders, genetics, job hours, etc,) being tabled for another discussion. I’m not an expert on the topic so I can’t speak authoritatively on this, but Dr. Fung presents a strong argument. I’m presenting this information as Dr. Fung does, not as myself or my own personal opinion. It’s worth hearing his opinion out and researching on your own. Get the book. It’s good.

 

 

His hypothesis is that 70% of obesity can be explained by insulin and our resistance to it.

Insulin

Insulin is a hormone that controls blood sugar. We eat foods. They release glucose (sugar) into our blood. The pancreas releases insulin to message cells to take this blood glucose and use it for energy or fat storage. Once functioning cells of our body have enough energy, insulin brings glucose to be stored in fat cells and as fat in our liver.

Insulin Resistance

As we eat more carbs, refined sugars, and to a slightly lesser extent proteins, our insulin levels go up. Due to the excess sugar and insulin, our cells become resistant to the insulin, because it’s trying to bring in excess glucose. Because the body always wants to stabilize its blood sugar levels , this resistance causes the need for more insulin to be created. As insulin levels increase and cells are rejecting it because they already have enough glucose, more glucose is transferred more quickly to fat cells and the liver, increasing obesity.

A person who is insulin resistant will more easily gain fat than someone who eats the same meal but is not insulin resistant. This is because their non-fat cells are slower to accept insulin signals. Excess glucose it quickly swept into fat cells for storage.

The vicious cycle: even if an insulin resistant person switches their diet, their pancreas is still accustomed to set levels of insulin at a high level because their cells are still resistant to the insulin. An insulin resistant person prioritizes fat storage compared to an insulin sensitive person. The secret is to reduce insulin levels and insulin resistance to allow your body to relearn how much insulin it needs to maintain a healthy metabolism.

Foods and Habits to Help

The foods that promote insulin reduction are fats. Protein does spike insulin a bit. But, carbs are the biggest culprit in insulin levels. The more processed the carb, the worse it is. Quinoa is a prime example of a decent carb, all the way to white table sugar, which causes pure insulin level spikes with almost no feeling of satiation.

Fasting allows our bodies to recover from high-insulin periods and “reset” to lower healthy insulin levels. Going from low to high insulin levels was very common in the history of mankind, but is now lost on us through constant snacking. If we want to train our bodies to not store fat, we need to get them in a state where the pancreas isn’t constantly producing insulin, and healthy non-fat cells aren’t constantly pushing away glucose to fat stores in the liver and elsewhere. This can be greatly aided by giving our bodies frequent breaks from food when possible.

 

Actual image of my friend attempting to lower her insulin levels while eating refined carbs.

 

Weight Loss Myths

There are dangerous myths in popular culture about weight loss. They are slowly being dispelled. But they still persist.

  1.  Fat is bad for you. (causes weight gain and heart disease)
  2.  Cutting calories will help you lose weight long-term.
  3.  Artificial Sugars help weight loss.
  4.  Exercise is good for longterm weight loss.
  5. Breakfast is a necessary meal (blood sugar, energy for the day, etc. )
  6.  Snacking improves weight loss.
  7. Fasting causes muscle loss.
  8. You are fully in control of how much you eat.

Fat is bad for you

Dietary fat is not associated with cardiovascular disease or obesity. Healthy fats like coconut oil, avocado, and fatty fishes like salmon fill you up and provide micronutrients.  Even fats like olive oil, nuts, and beef tallow are much less associated with obesity than carbs.

Cutting calories

Calories are the metric of food that causes weight gain, but they aren’t the internal metric our bodies use to set our weight, that is insulin. Cutting calories will cut your weight. But, it won’t control your hunger. It won’t control your metabolic expenditure. It won’t control how much energy you have. While cutting calories works short-term, your body will always try to reach the homeostatic state that your insulin  and insulin resistance levels and metabolic state indicate. Ultra low-calorie diets will leave us under-nourished.

Ideally you want to fuel your body to maintain your alertness, energy, sleep, and hunger.

Over the long-term (12+months) your body will compensate for a purely  low-calorie diet and hormonally (through hunger & a lowered metabolic rate) gear you up for weight gain. While watching calories is helpful, it is only part of an intelligent long-term weight loss plan. We also need to cut out refined sugars and probably eat less often.

Cutting calories works. The calories in/calories out theory is not wrong. But it doesn’t show us the whole picture of our bodies response to decreased energy intake. Dr. Fung points out this is why almost all diets work for 12 months, then fail. They cut calories , but fail to train our brain and pancreas, to set our metabolism and cells up for a new sustainable normal body fat level.

Me during a reduced calorie phase. Notice my metabolism causing intense lip pursing and follicular brittling.

Artificial Sugars

Artificial sugars like Splenda and aspartame are just as linked to obesity as real sugar. They trick your body into thinking it’s getting sugar, and thus promote the same hormonal pathways that cause weight gain from sugar. While they do help cut calories, they don’t provide satiation. They spike insulin just like sugar. Thus, they promote the conversion of preexisting blood glucose into fat.

They make us hungrier and more prone to fat gain through insulin spikes.

Exercise

Unless you’re running 3+hrs a day, you cannot out-exercise food from a calorie perspective. Exercise is great for cardiovascular health, but it’s not linked to weight loss. Some exercise (weights and low-intensity cardio) does decrease insulin. But, this is not enough to rely on it for fat loss.

Exercise is good. But we can’t rely on it to beat a bad diet.

Breakfast

Breakfast is not magical. Blood sugar can be stable for days  without food (unless you’re diabetic where insulin is pulling your blood sugar into your cells too rapidly or inappropriately, causing low blood sugar (faintness, dizziness, shakiness, slight nausea, etc.). We don’t need breakfast for energy or health. If we’re not hungry, don’t eat it. Breakfast only forces us into insulin/glucose processing mode for a larger percentage of the day.

Snacking

The more times we eat, the fatter we get. Snacking is not associated with weight loss. Snacks are notoriously unhealthy and loaded with empty refined carbs.  detailed source. It seems like the exception may be if you’re doing bodybuilding and need to get tons of calories into your body.  But for the median person, limiting food intake to two or three meals will be helpful in reducing calories and giving our bodies time to sit at lower insulin levels.

Fasting

Fasting allows the body time to process food. Hormonally it gives us time with low insulin to process fats and sugars. The contemporary 3-meal system is not what the human body was built for. For the majority of human history, humans ate when they could find food, which gave us a lot of time when we weren’t eating regularly set meals.

If you’re constantly eating, your body will naturally think it needs to be constantly producing insulin and storing fats, especially when those calories are coming from refined sugars like bread, pasta, chips, bagels, candy, etc.

You are fully in control

Your body is built for homeostasis. It controls when you feel hungry and full through hormones. If you eat refined carbs and sugar, you will be tricking your body into thinking it’s not getting enough food, so it will keep allowing you to be hungry. This is why we never feel full on cake or ice cream.

On short bursts of time,  we are able to cut calories. But our bodies adapt to burn less and hunger more. This is why, after 12 months, all diets stop working. They are crafty ways to cut calories. But, they don’t address the long-term hormonal nature of obesity.

If we’re going to keep weight off, we need to adopt more intelligent and sustainable eating habits that promote lean mass gain while burning fat. This is primarily done through eating a diet high in fiber, fat, with a balance of whole natural carbohydrates (brown rice, quinoa, sweet potatoes) and proteins. This is becoming increasingly difficult when even our “healthy” vegetables like corn, potatoes, and lettuce are being bred to maximize sugars and size at the expense of fiber and nutrition.

Plan

  • Eat only when you’re hungry. Try to occasionally take 24+hrs between eating.
  • Substitute meal times when you’re not hungry  (if they exist) with coffee, tea, bone broth.
  • Eliminate sugar and refined carbs (bread, pasta, cakes) as foods in your diets. Treat them as special celebration items. If you do eat pasta, rice, potatoes, eat them with fibrous vegetables to reduce the insulin load. If you’re exercising more than 45mins/day, it becomes OK to up your clean carb intake.
  • Add more fat to your meals to fill you up (butter, coconut oil, olive oil). Fat does not affect insulin levels.
  • Drink at least 2 L of water per day.
  • If you do have a big splurge meal :), take 2 tsp of vinegar with it to reduces it’s insulin load.
  • Find a good meal plan for your situation here.
  • Try to eat grass-fed and wild caught animal products. Conventional farming relies on corn feeds that jam animals plump full of sugars.
  • Be aware of your caloric intake, but don’t obsess over it. If you’re following a clean diet, it will be hard to eat too much. Most overeating comes from lack of fiber and refined sugar intake.

For more info do check out The Obesity Code by Jason Fung.  This isn’t a wild and contentious theory. Reducing carbs and eating more fiber has been the classic advice of grandmothers for generations. Dr. Fung explores the social impacts of food subsidies, mass-produced carbs, and changing eating patterns in the 1950’s and how they made us fatter than any generation in history.

 

Ideas in Food Cooking Insights

Ideas in Food

I just finished up the book:  Ideas in FoodThe book is sums up the  findings in the home kitchen of experimental chefs Aki Kamozawa and Alex Talbot. The couple run the Ideas in Food blog which is about testing new ideas in the kitchen. There were several ideas in the book I had never heard before. I thought I’d share some of the recipes and techniques I found interesting. The book is worth reading in it’s entirety for those interested in further developing their cooking skills. I’d only recommend it as a follow up to more basic cooking books: Ruhlman’s Twenty, The Joy of Cooking, How to Cook Everything, The Food Lab, the Serious Eats blog, The Flavor Bible, and How to Cook Everything: The Basics. I first recommend new cook stry at least 10% of the recipes in one of those books before moving on Ideas in Food. This books assumes familiarity with basic culinary concepts.

Image from Khymos Blog

Takeaways

Here are my biggest takeaways from the book. I hope one of them catches your eye and sparks an idea.

In order to respect the authors and their book, I only include the recipes available online.

  1.  Egg Soufflé
    I learned that whipping egg whites by themselves with a pinch of salt is what gives body to many baked dishes. I’ve had trouble replicating this recipe because it turns out whipping egg whites is a very finicky proposition.

     

  2.  Ricotta can be made in a sous vide machine.
    Pretty much any cheese can be melted into a sauce mixing it with a 1.5% weight sodium citrate and warming it over medium low heat in a sous vide cooker.This method is especially good for making a super intensely cheesy mac and cheese without so much of the filler (cornstarch, flour, milk, etc).
  3.  To keep green veggies more crisp and colorful, brine them in a 3% salt by weight for 10 mins, seal them in a bag, and boil them for 4 minutes. This doesn’t work with root veggies like potatoes and carrots.
  4.  Short Ribs are best cooked in a bag at 149F for 24 hours. Pork and Lamb at 152F.
  5.  Xanthan Gum can be used to thicken liquid sauces at .2% weight of liquid.
  6. Salt tastes best at 0.5% weight of the whole food product you are cooking.
  7. Scallops do very well at 30mins in a bag under water that is 122F.


  8. For quick breads (Quick breads include many cakesbrownies and cookies—as well as banana breadbeer breadbiscuitscornbreadmuffinspancakesscones, and soda bread) like these biscuits, use 1sp of baking powder or .25tsp of baking soda per cup of flour used in the recipe.
  9. Vacuum sealing dough moistens it much faster.
  10. Pasta can be soaked for an hour to pre-hydrate and stored in the fridge. This will allow it to cook much faster to order.
  11. Potatoes do well double cooking: once to gelatinize the starches from 136-150F and then to break down the pectin at 185F.
  12. Risotto can be quickly cooked without constant stirring. Cook at 149F sous vide in cheese cloth for 30mins. This cooks out the sloppy starches. Then it can be cooked for 7 mins on the stovetop with 2.5x its weight in stock.
    Risotto with White Truffles

     

  13. Scrambled eggs can be made sous vide. Just take 3 eggs and a tbsp of butter and place into bag. Cook at 163 for 30mins. I tried this one and the eggs came out perfectly done: still super moist but also not runny.

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