Diet Myths and the Puritan Ethic

Mijara T’ran:

One of the most insidious things about our entrenched set of diet myths is how nicely they dovetail with the other great American myth: that hard work and self-sacrifice cure all ills, raising folk up by their bootstraps from poor house to White House. The great USian traditions of moralizing and anti-intellectualism make the “gluttony and sloth” narrative hard to dislodge.

If we accept that the cycle of carbohydrate intake, insulin resistance, and hormone production in fat tissue describes the progress of obesity and diabetes, then we must accept that we overeat and stop exercising because we get fat, not vice versa. And if we accept that, then we must give up looking at overweight people and saying, “It is their fault for eating so much and sitting around all day! I’m thin, so you can see how much better a person I am than they!”

If we accept that human biology is not well adapted to a diet heavy in grain, then that would admit a victory of scientific understanding over tradition. And we do so hate to yield ground to science! We would prefer to put our faith in the majority, in the old saws of past decades, no matter how ineffectual or thoroughly debunked. (Ever notice how, rather than refute the science behind or effectiveness of e.g. Atkins, detractors dismiss his work as “not mainstream,” how “most nutritionists” don’t subscribe to it?) I’ve always been told that whole grains and fruits will grant me long life; how could that possibly be misleading?

If we accept that there is more going on behind weight gain than “calories in minus calories out,” then that would downplay the mighty power of exercise. No pain, no gain! To get better, you must punish yourself, redouble your efforts, submit to the yoke! Hard work is the American way, the only route to success. Eating more fatty meat and eggs, and cutting out breads and pastas… there is nothing virtuous in that. Even if it works!

It’s not the cause of our current misapprehensions about food and health, exactly (the McGovern Report takes most credit for that), but it does make it harder for us to change course, as a nation. It is far too popular an American hobby to pass judgment on others, to sneer at science, to thump our chests about hard work, for us to let go of it easily. And yet if we do let go of those tendencies, here, we will all be healthier as a result.

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Life as a Game

Kitha Verdon:

You’ve heard of gamification, yes? Using the concepts that make games so compelling–scoring points, earning achievements, competing with others–to make something ordinarily not that engaging into a fun, addictive experience.

This sort of thing is right up my alley. I love games, and I love being productive and improving my habits. So I’ve started tinkering with a game design to get me accomplishing things in life! Especially those creative projects that sit on the back burner for ages. Here’s what I’m thinking so far.

I have a party of up to four characters. They have these features:

  • A name, of course. After a levelup, they’ll also have a title.
  • A level. They start at 0.
  • A sphere, one of Home, Work, Creative, or Chaos.
  • Two skill slots, one daily habit and one project.
  • XP.

It goes like this: I draw up the characters, choosing their spheres (probably one of each), and picking a sphere-appropriate habit and project to equip in their skill slots. Each day I maintain an equipped habit, that character earns an XP. Each day I spend at least one Pomodoro on an equipped project, that character earns an XP. After a character accrues enough XP (I’m still pondering how many), they level up! Level goes up one, they get a title appropriate to their level, and I treat myself to some tangible reward like a new Steam game or RPG book. When a character attains 3rd level, they retire and are replaced with a new Level 0 character.

Bonuses and other wrinkles:

  • Staying on a habit for a full week earns an additional 1 XP. A full month, +5.
  • Completing a project earns bonus XP based on the size of the project, in the +5-10 range.
  • Once per month per project, I can select a Bonus Day. On that day, a character accrues one XP per Pomodoro I spend working on the project, instead of just 1 for the whole day!
  • The Chaos sphere is special. A Chaos character’s “daily habit” is simply “accomplish a significant to-do item”–like this blog post. And the project is chosen at random on a weekly basis, from the general stack of back-burner projects I would ever seriously consider picking back up.

My starting party…
Tani Argonne. Sphere: Work. Habit: 8 solid hours on task. Project: Some work I need to get done for a 5/30 deadline. Bonus Day: 5/21.
Kali Ranya. Sphere: Home. Habit: Lights out by 11PM. Project: Clean garage (might ask the fiancée for ideas for something better, but this’ll do for now). Bonus Day: 5/26.
Adulath Caracai II. Sphere: Creative. Habit: Read fiction. Project: Exploding Kingdoms. Bonus Day: 5/18.
Dmitri Mendel. Sphere: Chaos. Habit: Accomplish a to-do item. Project: “Clan City Lockdown”, a D&D4e scenario a friend ran and that I’m considering editing and PDFifying.

I’m having fun with this idea at least, whether or not it goes anywhere!