Japanese Lesson “Leeches” – Tactics

I made a post on the wanikani (Japanese learning website – based on Spaced Repetition Systems) community forum regarding how I address “leeches” and I figured I’d copy it here as well in case it helps anyone else who’s also using it.

Leeches is a term that refers to review items that you get stuck on – this can happen for a variety of reasons, which I outline below. Basically you get it wrong over and over again so it never progresses up the SRS system (which works by using a system wherein the more frequently you get something right, the less frequently it shows up in your reviews until it’s eventually “burned”).

Note: I’m only level 6 on WaniKani (out of 60 total levels) so I’m not that far in, thus it’s possible this becomes less useful the further in I get. But for now it seems to be working well for me.

Later on I intend to write up a full overview of the tactics I’m using to learn Japanese but that will have to wait for when I’ve got more free time.

The post:

My general approach for new lessons is pretty standard, I think. I mostly ignore WaniKani’s mnemonics, and most of the time don’t even read them. I find they often just don’t stick for me, and ones I create are more memorable since… well they fit with how I think better.

So upon a new lesson I try to do the following:

  • Make a mnemonic (usually in sentence form) trying to keep it as short as possible
    Bonus points if the mnemonic encompasses radicals, meaning, and reading all in one
    For example my mnemonic for 他 was “The other (meaning) leader (radical) was a tall (reading: た) alligator (radical)” This isn’t always possible so sometimes I do a separate one for reading and radicals.
    Also, sometimes the kanji is only composed of one radical so I don’t bother adding it to the mnemonic. For example, for 土 the mnemonic is “If something is priced like dirt (meaning) it means it’s too cheap (vocab reading: つち)
  • If I already know a word that uses the kanji and the reading WK is trying to teach me, I’ll also write it down – in some cases I forego a mnemonic entirely if I’m well acquainted with the word and know I’ll remember it. For example I never had a mnemonic for 多 because I already was aware of the word 多分・たぶん and would just think of that to remember it was た
  • Start going through reviews
  • As soon as I notice I’m getting stuck on one repeatedly I evaluate why.
    For example: Is the mnemonic I created not coming to mind easily? Is it coming to mind, but I can’t recall which parts are the key information I need? Am I not recognizing the kanji?

If the mnemonic is just not sticking, or isn’t working well in terms of information retrieval, I make a new one and try again.

If the new mnemonic doesn’t work, I draw a picture that represents the answer. It’s essentially a mnemonic paired with a picture. An example of this is 子. I could not remember for the life of me that the on’yomi reading was し, or す.
So I doodled a picture of a “A child (meaning) in a sheep suit (on’yomi readings: し (sheep) す (suit)”

My drawing of “A child in a sheep suit” to represent 子’s on’yomi reading

I had read in the book Fluent Forever (essentially talking about how to learn a language, SRS usage, etc) that visual memory is far superior in terms of recall to other types of memory, so I use this to my advantage. If I’m really struggling, I’ll draw a picture tied to a mnemonic. This seems to work really well.

Sometimes I’ll do this right away if I suspect it’s going to be hard to remember. This came up recently with 本来・ほんらい because of its more abstract meaning (“originally”). So I just drew a visual representation of a woman named “hon” “writing” (らい) the word “originally” and haven’t had any issues remembering it.

Also, sometimes the mnemonics for on’yomi or kun’yomi readings are replaced with thinking of a vocab word and that mnemonic if it’s easier. E.g. the mnemonics for on’yomi reading of 右 (ゆう) and 左 (さ) got replaced with the mnemonic for 左右 as it contains both of their on’yomi readings anyway.
That mnemonic is “I saw you (reading) looking both ways (meaning)”. Then I just have to remember which comes first and tie it to its reading (さゆう).

If I’m confusing it for another kanji, like 右 (みぎ) and 石 (いし) I try to take my time when doing reviews, or make a new mnemonic to differentiate them. Like “My right arm sticks out of the sleeve” (referring to the part at the top of 右 that sticks up where it doesn’t in 石).

Another common problem I come across is trying to remember the exact spelling of the (usually) on’yomi reading.
Some examples:

In all of them, I couldn’t remember if it should or shouldn’t include a う after the ょ or ゅ.
And in all cases this was resolved when I learned a vocabulary word that used this reading.


For me (so far) it really just comes down to trying to have a variety of tools in my toolbelt that I can resort to if needed.
Handtooled mnemonics I create myself, knowing when to try a new one if the original isn’t working, noticing vocabulary I already know using the kanji/reading I’m learning, drawing a picture paired with a mnemonic, and sometimes just writing the kanji over and over as you’ve mentioned previously.

As a caveat though I also go pretty slow – I work multiple jobs at the moment and don’t always have the mental bandwidth to add new lessons even if I’m mentally ready to (I usually only add new lessons, 5-10 at a time, when I feel I’ve got a decent handle on the previous ones – this doesn’t mean waiting until they hit a certain phase like guru/etc, just when I’m not getting them wrong over and over again even if it takes me a second to think of the answer. In other words when I feel like I’m not “struggling” with the previous lessons).


Recipe – Bone Marrow Panna Cotta


This is a quick recipe that would be perfect as a Christmas or birthday dessert. Start to finish it takes about 45 minutes or so, with a third of that time for roasting the marrow bones.

Finished Panna Cotta in a ramekin

It is easily modifiable to create something that suits your diet. A more savory version could be created by nixing the spices and sweetener, a non-dairy version could be created for omnivores by swapping heavy cream for coconut cream, spices could be changed to suit your preference – go hog wild! I take recipes as suggestions, not hard and fast guidelines. Just be aware if you change the recipe and dislike it – I’m not responsible!

One small note I’d add is not to use granulated erythritol, as it tends to re-crystalize after cooling. Sweetener amounts will vary depending on what you’re using.


3 Marrow Bones, raw

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp cardamom

2 pinches of saffron

1 cup of heavy cream

1/4 tsp vanilla extract

1.5 tbsp confectioner’s swerve (depending on preference)

(Optional) 28g cocoa butter

1 tsp gelatin


  1. Preheat oven to 450 F (230 C)
  2. Roast marrow bones on a baking sheet for 15-20 minutes once oven is to temperature
  3. Remove marrow bones from oven and place a wire rack on the baking sheet with the marrow bones on top while they cool.
    • This allows the fat to collect in the pan for later use.
  4. Once the marrow bones are cool, empty the marrow into a separate bowl using a chopstick or similar to swirl around the inside of the bone to easily remove the marrow, or use your preferred method.
    • 3 marrow bones gave me about 2.2 ounces of marrow and residual fat
  5. Pour the fat (about a tablespoon) from the baking sheet into a medium sized saucepan on low heat, coating the entirety of the bottom of the pan
  6. Add your spices to the marrow fat and roast on low heat (being careful not to burn them!) until fragrant
  7. Add heavy cream and stir until spices are thoroughly incorporated (be careful not to scorch or boil the cream – be sure to stir constantly)
  8. Add vanilla extract and confectioners swerve
  9. (Optional) Add cocoa butter, stirring until melted
  10. Pour cream into bowl with bone marrow and use immersion blender until completely smooth, being careful not to whip the cream (a food processor or blender can also be used)
  11. Pour cream mixture through a fine mesh strainer, back into the saucepan, to ensure there are no lumps
  12. Add gelatin, gently whisking on low heat to incorporate into cream mixture for 1-2 minutes
  13. Pour cream mixture evenly into three ramekins or molds
  14. Refrigerate until completely set (usually 4 hours or overnight)
  15. Eat!


The bone marrow panna cotta does not have a strong marrow taste. With cocoa butter the taste is very chocolate-y, and without cocoa butter it is more of a cinnamon swirl flavor. The texture is creamy, and it is very rich. It is loaded with animal fats (plus cocoa butter if you opt for it), particularly saturated fat, so it makes a nice, small, dessert.

I don’t particular like to cook unless I have company, so this is something I’d keep to holidays and special occasions. But if you have marrow bones laying around and you need something to do with them besides eating them roasted, or in bone broth, perhaps this is something you could give a try.


One day on twitter there was a little happy accident. This happy accident was seeing the below image while browsing through Twitter and misreading the slogan as “When the desire for marrow-based confection prevails[…]”

Misreading “mallow” as “marrow” started it all

Upon re-reading and realized I’d misread a rather crucial word, I then gave a little thought to the concept of a marrow-based confection. Could such a thing be possible? Should such a thing be possible? After a while I decided bone marrow panna cotta may be the perfect way to achieve such a thing. After looking up various panna cotta recipes to get a feel for what they generally consist of, and a couple of test runs, the above recipe came to be.

If you decide to try out (or modify) this recipe, let me know how it turns out! Have suggestions for improvement? Know of a way to make, e.g., a dairy free carnivore version? Put your own spin on the recipe? Let me know below!


Carolyn. “White Chocolate Panna Cotta – Keto Recipe.” All Day I Dream About Food, 15 Feb. 2020, alldayidreamaboutfood.com/keto-panna-cotta/. (archive)

LC Editors. “Roasted Bone Marrow.” Leite’s Culinaria, 6 Feb. 2020, leitesculinaria.com/78928/recipes-roasted-bone-marrow.html. (archive)

Recipe – Christmas Pickled Pork Fat Brine

Since I started high fat carnivore, the search for fat sources I enjoy consistently and in large amounts has not been an easy one. I don’t particularly like cooked fat (such as on steaks) due to the texture, rendered/liquid fats don’t often sit well with me, and dairy can be problematic when it comes to weight loss.

Raw fat has been the closest to ideal I could find, but the texture isn’t always quite right (sometimes not firm enough for me to enjoy eating).

Luckily, my current housemate Amber got the idea to make pickled pork fat from Umbrellix on twitter, and when I tried it I was pleasantly surprised. Originally, Amber was making the pickled pork fat with leftover brine from store bought pickles. But, after my sister scolded me for not making my own, I decided to give it a go.

Instead of a traditional pickle brine, I went for something more on the “sweet” side, instead of sour, although there’s no sweetener. This is accomplished by using apple cider vinegar, and more “sweet” spices. I feel this compliments the richness of the fat, and the taste is something I can enjoy every day, as opposed to traditional pickle brine that I tend to get sick of after a few days.

I eat the finished product right out of the jar, or in a large bowl, plain.

Note, that because this doesn’t involve any processing (e.g. a hot water bath, and salt in the brine) it probably doesn’t preserve the fat – however one jar usually lasts about a week if I’m eating it alone, so it isn’t an issue for me. Make a smaller batch, and freeze off the rest of the raw pork fat if you’re not sure how much you’ll eat.

Also eating raw anything, even if pickled, comes with risks. Use your best judgement.

Pickled pork fat in the jar and on the plate! With some beef roast.


  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 tsp whole cloves
  • 1 tsp whole liquorice root
  • 1 tsp dried ginger chunks

Combine all ingredients in a large, clean glass jar or other container. Add your raw pork fat, chopped up into small cubes, separating the pieces if they’re stuck together so the brine comes into full contact with all the fat. If you’ve filled the jar and some of the fat isn’t covered by brine, add additional vinegar/water in equal portions until covered or split into two containers.

Seal, and let set for two or three days, and enjoy.

You could also add other christmas-y spices like cinnamon (I might do that myself next time) or whatever else you enjoy. Either way, I quite like the end result, and am quite glad to have another source of yummy fat in my diet with minimal effort.

Thinking Backwards – Part 1 – Society’s Barking Dogs

What are society’s barking dogs? After reading the introduction to this series, this may have been the first suspicious question that poked its head up, whispering in your figurative ear. Or, perhaps, with great confidence you thought of several examples for yourself of what society’s barking dogs may be.

Perhaps city after city filled with obesity was brought to the forefront of your thoughts, or an image of the people in which Alzheimer’s occurs, or the self mutiny of autoimmunity, or even the onslaught of diabetes being fought — but in actuality the reality is that all of these are barking dogs. All of these and more I’m afraid to say, but don’t worry because I’ll make the case for these and more and explain exactly why I dare say so aloud.

Before we begin we should likely start by detailing how I define a barking dog – after all, definitions are important, and if I can’t defend my use of the term down the road then you will surely know the entire dialogue was for naught. Without building an opportunity for falsification, there is no meaning. So, allow me to begin detailing the broad strokes of my finer points so we may paint a picture that we can gaze upon together.

What “barking dogs” can you think of?

As discussed prior, a barking dog is a circumstance (disease; symptom) which is presumed to be ultimately caused by faulty genetics, poor luck of the draw (randomness), an inherent flaw that was just waiting to break under even the slightest stress (moral or physical), or some other explanation that implies the issue is inherent, progressive, meaningless, unavoidable, and ultimately serves no underlying function or has no logical/purposeful cause but which is likely is the opposite (a meaningful, functional, avoidable result of a pathway or mechanism which has evidence of carrying great importance to survival under normal circumstances). The last points may seem an odd thing to say given the short list we’ve already built (how could a disease be attempting to serve a function? how could anything about these things have a purpose?). These are questions I have asked myself, as I used to truly believe that this could not be the case, but hopefully by traveling with me through my thought process over the course of this series you’ll understand my perspective, and why I chose this phrasing specifically.

For example, growing up I often heard obesity described as being due to inherent gluttony humans have, or more recently an unavoidable drive to overeat hyper-palatable foods, and I always assumed my own obesity was just due to a lack of willpower. To be fair, every so often it will be described in terms of usefulness (surviving winter, or thrifty genes), but in the same breath discussion of “diseases of obesity” (e.g. disease associated with obesity, such as NAFLD, metabolic syndrome, cancer, diabetes, etc) are also uttered, implying it is a net negative, and ultimately causes harm in-and-of itself. Unsurprisingly, this filled a young me with plenty of guilt and self loathing over my own overfatness, to the point that entries in the journal I kept as a 10 year old are filled with disparaging comments about my own willpower, laziness, and gluttony that only increased as I kept gaining weight. Although there’s research now to contradict the idea that obesity causes disease (as you can reverse metabolic syndrome without actually losing weight), there was no possible way for me to know this at the time I was actually dealing with my increasingly expanding waistline.

I often heard Alzheimer’s described like it was luck of the draw if people got it or not.

Likewise, Alzheimer’s or dementia was described to me as something that happens due to age, or a natural part of getting older, or vaguely described as being caused by the build up of proteins in the brain. As if this is something that occurs by accident, happenstance, out of the blue with no warning. Certainly it instilled in me a fear of my own body malfunctioning as the impression I got was that the brain was a ticking time bomb ready to go off at any moment to steal my memories, due to an unfortunate random error. Going off of what I heard the only conclusion I could come to was that this sort of thing just happens, and the most you can do is play crosswords or piano (to steal a line from Amy Berger). Although more recently I’ve seen the finger being pointed at bacteria in the brain, in which case the recommendation is to brush your teeth more and also hope for the best because ultimately it’s luck of the draw. This, also, was what I believed up to adulthood, because it was all I heard, until I heard voices around me saying this might not actually be the case.

Another excellent example is Type 2 Diabetes similarly either described as caused by hefting around too much fat, or perhaps just genetic and all about potential risk – the last being a particularly troublesome idea to me, as my mom had gestational diabetes when she was pregnant with me and I was always warned that diabetes may be lurking around the corner for me as well. Later, I came to hear instead that diabetes is a consequence of eating too much sugar because humans can’t help but consume endless quantities of it, and this raises blood sugar, and this raises insulin, and this results in stubborn fat cells who refuse to take in more fuel instead of differentiating and proliferating to make more room, and this causes insulin resistance. This was more compelling to me, because at least it explained something about diabetes (and obesity) because at least it implied there was something you could do about it, and I certainly experienced that eating carbs increased my appetite. An answer that explains something is certainly one I’m more willing to consider than one that explains nothing at all – that’s all too reasonable. All the same, though, this explanation, too, hinged on an assumption that in some way, somehow, the body is stupid, and it begins and ends with an inherent malfunction that has the only purpose of pissing you off (probably).

I quickly learned to either hate my body or be afraid of it.

In other words, no matter where you turn, the general impression that I got while growing up, across the board, is that either your body is trying to kill you, via things like obesity or diabetes – likely a punishment for your sins of enjoying things and eating things or god forbid both at the same time – or rather just sucks a bit at staying alive and functional simultaneously, such as we see ascribed to autoimmunity or cancer or Alzheimer’s or chronic inflammation, or any other number of explanations that rely on assuming things happen for no good reason, because, well, life just sucks and understanding suffering is a part of life is a necessary piece of growing up.

But, what if there was an alternative explanation to all of these things? What if it wasn’t many random occurrences (or sneaky punishments) happening all of a sudden to modern people in urban environments? What if it wasn’t primarily genetic, although perhaps genetics could lend people to be more vulnerable in certain areas than others, and there was in fact a trigger, and in fact a plausible and sustainable resolution? What if these things all happen because they are being called upon to happen for some plausible, functional, reason and only when they are driven to the point of failure do we suddenly take notice? What if they are all symptoms of the same thing?

Is the treatment for diseases the same as the cause?

After some time of looking past assumptions (with the help of many other people in the community) I realized that hints abound if you look for them. Indigenous populations – like the inuit, maasai, and others – showing no evidence of modern disease, even in their elders. A scant few cases of cancer, diabetes, fatal myocardial infarction, autoimmunity, seasonal allergies, acne, or obesity to be seen. The list of what they don’t have is tremendously long, in parallel to our own woes – even in cultures that traditionally eat a high carbohydrate diet. Even in societies that eat plants full of oxalates, or indulge in nightshades, or legumes or fruit. Even in societies that gorge themselves on fatty meat, thriftiness and gluttony be damned.

Not only that, but now interestingly anecdotal cases are beginning to emerge from ketogenic, and carnivorous, communities touting improvement or remission of supposedly totally random/genetic/progressive/karmic diseases – all the while eating to satiety what would likely not be described as unpalatable foods. I’m certainly not the first, and undoubtedly not the last, to take notice of this happening and, to be sure, many feel that this confirms that sugar is the problem. But, perhaps the treatment says nothing of the cause. Perhaps there’s more to uncover here, more hints, more possible explanation, more sense to be made of the mess of puzzle pieces we have before us. I certainly don’t feel I have all the pieces in front of me, nor am I absolutely sure of the picture it will make when we’re finally done putting it together (however far off of a future that is), but at the very least I can begin to show you some of the pieces that I and a few others are starting to take notice of, so you can decide for yourself how they may fit together.

Can the contradictions add up to something that makes sense?

This describes the situation I currently live in, a world full of barking dogs, conditions which are genetic – yet differ in frequency depending on lifestyle – progressive and incurable – yet can go into remission depending on diet – are caused by gluttony and addiction to carbohydrates – yet don’t occur in all populations that consume high carbohydrate diets – are caused by obesity – yet occur more rapidly in those who are less obese than their American counterparts and can remiss in those haven’t lost weight.

No doubt anyone would be temporarily baffled when confronted with these contradictions, as I was. Anyone would be filled with confusion, but – hopefully – also curiosity. All hope is not lost, as confusion merely means we have plenty to learn.

To gain a bit more understanding, let’s not just start working backwards.

Let’s start thinking backwards.

Recipe – Satiety Soup

Don’t worry – I don’t intend to wax poetic about the first day I ever heard of a chicken and how that leads into how I began to ponder over the meaning of life as I prepared this recipe for the first time on a cold winter morning (as is the stereotypical recipe page on a blog). I merely wanted to place this recipe where it was easy to find so I could – honestly – be lazy about it when asked on Twitter. It’s pretty simple, although as a warning if you are fat averse you may be offended by the recipe, and if you fear saturated fat it may result in nightmares. Enjoy.

Without Further Ado…


16oz of cream cheese (softened)

16oz of creme fraiche

Shredded Gouda cheese for topping

~5 lbs of chicken tenderloin (chicken breast sliced into strips)


Preheat the oven to 325 F.

Mix the cream cheese and creme fraiche in a bowl – heating if necessary – and set aside.

Line a large baking dish (e.g. 13 x 9 in) with the chicken tenderloin, packing tightly. Cover with half of the prepared sauce and smooth until uniformly covered.

Add the rest of the chicken, and the rest of the sauce, and a generous covering of shredded gouda (or cheese of your preference) and cook in oven for about an hour or until the cheese is caramelized and the chicken is cooked through.

Suggested Tweaks

  1. If you’d prefer a true soup, try pre-cooking the chicken and cutting into cubes, and mix all of the sauce ingredients (including shredded cheese) in a pot along with chicken broth. Once it is heated, add the chicken.
  2. If you can tolerate spices garlic powder, onion powder, black pepper, thyme, and/or poultry seasoning would all be welcome additions.
  3. If low carb/keto and not carnivorous use as a base for chicken pot pie with fathead crust. Thicken with xantham gum if needed, and add spices and cooked onions/carrots as desired.

Feel free to suggest further keto/carnivore friendly tweaks below if you so wish, and if you do make it (even as simple as it is) let me know if you enjoyed. I’m not much of a cook, barring meats and dipping sauces for said meat, but I’m pretty pleased with how this one turned out.

On Researchers and Implementers

Listen closely, and you’ll hear the war cries as the battle rages on. Listen closer, and you’ll hear the clang of swords clashing into armor, and the ping ping of arrows hitting shields, as the two sides fight on. Yet, they both carry the same banner, adorned with the same family crest. How did it all start? Where does it end? Sit down, and I’ll tell you my observations, and hopefully lend some perspective to both sides of the feud. Please do keep in mind that although the topic of argument was real, the viewpoints of each warrior is based on my idea of where they were coming from, and are not meant to speak on behalf of anyone in particular. With all that said, let’s hear the story of researchers and implementers. A tale of utter woe, miscommunication, and good intentions.

The question of how such a feud started is likely to go unanswered. Perhaps it stretches back to the beginning of communication – and the advent of miscommunication – but it clearly still rages on. Neighbors, and friends, arguing over the equivalent of a trespassing pig. Such a pig will wander past the fence of researcher twitter into the land of practitioner twitter or vice versa. Combine it with a spark of well intentioned correction, and the grease fire alights anew.

Usually, such turmoil begins simply: Dr. Practitioner will begin with some advice they typically use in their practice – this advice is often simplified for the layperson, or is just something that “works well” without anyone necessarily knowing why, or perhaps just assuming it does for some reason or another even if it’s incorrect. After this point, someone else may come in with questions or comments on the method.

For the sake of an example, let’s say the advice was “Eat fiber rich foods for satiation/satiety to fill you up so you eat less”. A discussion has now begun on this method, people all over chiming in that it does/doesn’t work for them, Dr. Practitioner saying it is advice that works for their clientele and so on.

And then the pig trespasses, often innocently, no agenda but the intent to go where it feels it belongs.

Mr. Researcher (citizen researcher or otherwise) steps in, and begins a new discussion on the original advice given, saying that this method or logic is flawed in some way – perhaps the rationale of trying to trick satiety signaling by filling your stomach with undigestable material doesn’t make evolutionary sense to them, or that fiber may result in satiation during a meal but not longlasting satiety.

They provide examples of people not needing fiber for satiety to work properly, that if you trick your body into eating less when it actually needs more it may result in undesirable outcomes, and further: that if you need to trick yourself into fullness this may be a sign something else is going on that needs addressing. If you’re eating properly, your body – and hunger/fullness – should be working like a fine tuned machine, making you hungry for energy and building materials when needed, and full when you have no such need.

Can you smell the smoke beginning to curl its tendrils around the discussion, already? It brings with it a heavy stench that will linger.

Not long after this discussion is started, all hell breaks loose. Even if Mr. Researcher didn’t intend anything bad by the comment, and was merely discussing the plausibility of the advice from their perspective, Dr. Practitioner may feel personally offended, or wronged – after all, they merely mentioned something that works for their patients. Is this other person calling them a liar?

Mr. Researcher likewise defends the dainty princess of scientific integrity and rational logical conclusions – isn’t it more hurtful and less efficient to use methods that mask a problem instead of addressing it?

Swords are drawn. Arrows readied. The grease fire of two like-minded groups talking past each other is well underway – there’s little ability to stop it at this point. Each further comment fuels it, each party’s conviction strengthens it, frustration mounts, the trespassing pig lays slaughtered.

But what is really going on here? What name does such a pig have? Could it be anything else, but the desire to help those who are suffering? In truth both of these parties are, essentially, aiming for the same target.

Both Dr. Practitioner and Mr. Researcher are both aiming to alleviate suffering caused by disease. Dr. Practitioner feels that their methods have merit, because the advice they give in their practice (or consultation business, or coaching service, or so on) results in success. Obesity and diabetes driven into remission, ache-y joints and depression gone without a trace, irritable bowel and eczema banished forevermore.

Mr. Researcher feels that, although the general advice Dr. Practitioner gives may overall have merit, as seen by their success, that only the advice that addresses underlying issues should survive. That which is backed by poor or little evidence, or flaws in logic, or acts as duct tape on a leaking dam, must be culled. The importance of this is reflected in prior assumptions that left many casualties strewn on the field, a death toll that still rings loud in the ears of Mr. Researcher, paired with the knowledge that such an occurrence could repeat if we allow assumptions and ‘just-so’ statements to abound the burden of knowing weighs heavy.

Dr. Practitioner, meanwhile, feels frustration mount – they must discuss with people every day how to be healthier, how to be happier, how to make lifelong decisions. If they take into consideration everything Mr. Researcher says, they would never get anything done! They are fueled by the passion to help people get better, and are fiercely protective of their beloved patients. Anyone who threatens that could very well be an enemy.

Dr. Practitioner may accuse Mr. Researcher of overcomplicating everything, of being a nitpicker, or someone who picks fights over tiny details just for their own amusement. “By overcomplicating everything,” Dr. Practitioner thinks, “My clients will be overwhelmed and not want to change anything. Everything has to be simple or no one will listen!”

Mr. Researcher may feel that Dr. Practitioner is being careless – that allowing advice, memes, or logic riddled with flaws and nonsense to leak through leaves the whole movement at risk. “If I can rip apart your statement,” Mr. Researcher thinks, “Then our mutual detractors would do it just as quickly, and even more viciously. Our arguments must be airtight, our evidence the strongest we can manage.”

Passion Shaping Perfectionism

Their passion fuels them both. Their desire to help those who are suffering drives and shapes their perfectionism and ire.

Sometimes these conflicts will result when each party is squarely on their own land, pig nicely contained, and only then do bystanders come by to open the gate and usher the animal through to the other side. For example, Mr. Researcher and his pack of rambunctious friends may be having a discussion on what initiates diabetes and someone else points out that the discussion they’re having is too complicated, will confuse everyone, and the discussion on how to treat diabetes with diet is already answered.

The spark alights again. Smoke can be seen from a great distance. People stand by on the sidelines with snack in hand, or duck to take cover from the impending fallout.

But these two core concepts is often where people begin talking past each other. There are often two conversations happening simultaneously. The first conversation is often had by practitioners, health coaches, bloggers, and so on. They deal with people who have severe health issues and must be given simplified guides, explanations, and advice in order to resolve the issue as quickly as possible. If one or two items on their list is benign, or the explanation isn’t quite accurate, it doesn’t matter because they get results. This is Dr. Practitioner’s job.

The second conversation is often had by researchers. They may also deal with people in impending health danger, but are more likely to deal with edge cases of people who are struggling even with the mainstream advice from Dr. Practitioner and others. More than that, they also tend to be trying to answer how something works, and what triggers it, more so than finding advice that generally works most of the time without understanding of how it does. This is not because they generally want to nitpick everything and annoy everyone, but because they’re well aware faulty assumptions can cause damage if they become widespread. Not only that, but even if you avoid the initial problem (say, diabetes from improper diet) if you don’t actually fix the problem and understand it, it may come back anew in a different form, because you never really understood the problem in the first place. Whack-a-mole with health problems is not a desirable outcome, even if it becomes messy and difficult to untangle. This is Mr. Researcher’s job.

In reality, both Mr. Researcher, and Dr. Practitioner, are doing their best to help those in the community. Dr. Practitioner fiercely defends their clientele, trying to simplify and shield them from the chaos and confusion so they can work on building themselves back to good health, and Mr. Researcher aims to defend the community against outside attacks that may discredit the movement as a whole by defending the strength of the arguments used. Dr. Practitioner may discuss how to treat a disease in ways that generally works for most people they come across, while Mr. Researcher may discuss what truly causes the disease and why certain things help to heal from it.

Certainly, these may overlap, and clearly they may sound quite similar, perhaps why there’s so much confusion and argument, but ultimately they have the same goal.

Perhaps things would go smoother if these two conversation priorities were clearly labeled – although confusion can abound even when clarifications are given. The concept that something which puts a disease into remission may not reflect what actually led to the disease is a confusing one, certainly (and believe me we’ll be thinking backwards on this concept a lot). And likewise, it could be said that even if this is so it doesn’t necessarily change the treatment.

But all the same both sides matter, and are necessary, and probably rooted in good. Perhaps the arguments will continue on forever, just like family bickering over the holidays is surely inevitable for many.

But perhaps at some point in the future we can begin to understand each other’s perspectives, come to compromise where it doesn’t hurt, learn to listen even if it does.

Hopefully my perspective on this amusing tale gave you something to chew on, if nothing else. Or perhaps something to argue about among friends. Until next time, my fellows.

Let’s argue again, sometime.

Thinking Backwards – Introduction

A hello? A yelp of pain? Territorial growls? Barking can mean many things…

This series is not about weight loss.

I know this is contradictory to what I mentioned recently on twitter, wherein I floated an idea about writing a blog series on my strategy/philosophy surrounding weight/fat loss, but trust me on this one. It will make sense as we move forward.

Often, I see the same situation occur again and again, both in mainstream perceptions of health, as well as in communities that I quite like. People start from a point of identifying a problem (aesthetic problem, symptom, disease pathology, etc) and think forward to a solution. Too fat? Eat less. Low carb and too fat? Energy restrict. Inflamed? Anti-inflame. Signs of oxidation? Take some anti-oxidants. So it continues on, seemingly forever.

I sometimes imagine this scenario like hearing a dog bark all the time, and thinking forward to the “solution” – the barking is a problem, so inhibit it. Chastise the dog for barking to make them stop, cover their mouth so they can’t let the sound out, get a variety of gadgets and toys to distract them from barking, perform surgery to remove their vocal cords as a last resort.

Now, imagine that there was a barking epidemic in a neighborhood, and not only barking but whining, and growling too. The people in the neighborhood were becoming increasingly agitated as they lost sleep, and became fed up with their pets’ behavior. The problem was beginning to take its toll on people’s wallets, as well, what with the cost of surgeries, medications, and behavioral interventions trying to stop the emotionally and financially costly problem in its tracks.

The proposed solutions did little to quell the problem, however, and the neighborhood became noisier and noisier as the results of thinking forward inevitably failed. Eventually, it was proposed that the dogs were just genetically barkier, or perhaps their vocal cords were malfunctioning for some reason, or maybe the dogs were spoiled in modern environments and erroneous barking occurred as a result.

What would it look like, I wonder, if the residents of the neighborhood had instead started from the identifiable problem- the barking – and thought backwards to try to identify the cause? In other words, what if they tried to understand why seemingly inappropriate barking happens? What if they assumed that the barking was supposed to act as something beneficial, but for some reason, was needed all the time?

If dogs hadn’t always barked all the time, and this changed over the course of a few generations, perhaps something in the environment had changed to necessitate it, or cause a situation where this behavior seemed appropriate to the animals? Perhaps the barking was actually a symptom of an underlying problem, and only by identifying that problem and resolving it could you have a truly positive, long-lasting outcome for the dogs and owners alike.

What if at the start, the people in the neighborhood had noticed the dogs were barking more, and decided to try and identify other situations that may cause dogs to exhibit this symptom? If they had this information, perhaps they could have tried to see if any of these possible causes were reflected by changes in the environment that may have triggered the problem.

Perhaps they’d find it related to degrading quality in care, resulting in injury – in this case, the barking may have been a vocalization of pain from the dogs were experiencing. Perhaps abuse or neglect was the cause – resulting in unwanted behaviors as the dogs vented their emotional turmoil. Or, perhaps it related to poor nutrition causing irritability and poor social behavior – a symptom of their sickness caused by inadequate diet.

If the people in the neighborhood identified these situations accurately, they could quickly rule in or out possibilities, based on whether they fit what was happening in the neighborhood. They could get further context by comparing their dogs to healthy dogs who only barked every now and again and quickly were able to quiet themselves as the situation that necessitated the barking passed on its own.

Once the actual issue was found, they could work as a community to resolve it. Better yet, they could ensure nothing similar happened again as they now truly understood what caused this unfavorable situation in the first place, instead of merely trying to suppress the symptom that annoyed them.

This is the concept of thinking backwards – assuming an identifiable problem is a sign of an underlying problem (not necessarily the problem needing to be directly addressed), and tracing backwards to identify what it could be a reaction to. In doing so, you can hopefully work to fix the environment to stop the behavior or symptom.

Thus, this series is not about weight loss, or fat loss, or fitting into a pair of jeans from high school. Overfatness (or perhaps behavior that leads to fatness, appropriate to a situation you don’t want to be in all the time) is merely one bark amidst a cacophony of howls, growls, and whimpering made by own our own bodies all too often. Although it will be one part of the series, there will be others as well, which we’ll begin to outline in part 2 – Society’s Barking Dogs.

With that in mind, we’re ready to start thinking backwards.

Weight Watchers vs Diet Doctor – Head to Head

Lately all manners of online information channels have been marked by whispers of Weight Watcher representatives hand-wringing as they discussed what ever could be the reason for their recent downward slide. To my (very slight) surprise the reason they gave was that nasty ketogenic diet stealing their customers. They even name-dropped Diet Doctor as the David to their Goliath (my description, not theirs).

They went on to say that ketogenic diets are “just a meme” (which is, I suppose, accurate on a technical level) and further dismissed any concern over long-term impact by saying that there are “keto doughnuts”. Admittedly I’m a tad mystified as to what they were implying with this statement, as Weight Watchers has pre-packaged dessert items as well – including ice cream and, yes, doughnuts. Perhaps there was simply some context that I missed, here.

The Straggler

To be clear, I don’t have even a smidgen of ill will towards Weight Watchers. I was never a member, although I have crossed paths with a few ex-members (most notable remarks being the ever-present hunger, and self blame for long-term failure on WW programs, but I have heard in passing success stories as well), and I really do wish them the best. They have a far reach, and if they caught wind of the changing currents (even if not necessarily by encouraging ketogenic diets) they could easily supply the life rafts that people need in the face of the increasingly pressing worries over the dark clouds of worsening metabolic health and chronic disease that loom in the horizon.

It seems WW is going the opposite route of what one would expect from the advice to businesses to adapt or die. They are refusing to adapt, even to “less extreme” tactics with equal chances of success, staunchly stating that they’ll continue to do “what works” as they have for the past 57 years. But is that wise to do when leaks have begun to appear within your well-intentioned business model? I suppose the ticking of the clock will reveal that one. Perhaps Ketogenic diets, and other tactics which eliminate refined carbohydrate and seed oils, are a fanciful fad that will fade none too soon, but with more science coming out on the effectiveness of these methods, and growing search trends, I do wonder…

What’s The Difference?

I have witnessed people on social media accusing Weight Watchers of having a business model of intentional failure, placing metaphorical banana peels in the middle of their Anti-Tripping classes (The Yo-Yo Model, in other words). To be honest, I don’t know if I believe this explanation, as I tend to err on the side of people-attempting-to-be-good rather than suspicions of malice. But, if this is true, how is it that Diet Doctor – slingshot wielding foes that they’re made out to be – thrives, despite the long-term apparent effectiveness of ketogenic diets? It seems there is a major anatomical difference in the underlying structure of the two companies, identifying them as two different species entirely.

While Weight Watchers is ever identified by weight loss advice and the four letter word moderation (meaning as soon as this goal is achieved, the business has lost its usefulness to the clients) Diet Doctor labels themselves as a “health company”, focusing on lifestyle, and pinning weight loss as a side effect – not the intended goal (meaning the site remains useful for focusing on a healthy lifestyle even after weight loss has been achieved). They also function as a central hub of information, news, updated science, and guides for the layman and medical professional alike.

This means that as keto becomes more popular, not only can they capture the new people looking for meal plans, but also retain the more experienced people (and doctors) seeking science, which will only continue to expand over time as research continues. It’s a business model based around the expected expansion of the science behind ketogenic diets and low carb lifestyles.

In the Face of a Hard Decision…

I have seen companies face similarly treacherous waters in the form of tech companies attempting to decide between continuing their course with on-prem solutions (e.g. selling physical servers, and hardware supply and setup) versus moving into uncharted territory with a cloud-based approach (helping clients utilize subscription based services like Amazon Web Services, or Microsoft Azure). Any decisions are difficult, and inaction can be deadly, as the success of the company depends on choosing correctly.

Obviously, in this day and age, narrowing your scope to cloud-based approaches is the obvious one, as on-prem becomes rapidly outdated and unused. But if you had been one of the lucky ones skilled at spotting the prevailing wind early, and quickly learning as much as possible, you had the possibility of becoming one of The Few who had the upper hand during the transition, while the stragglers were forced to jump into waters they were unprepared for, and unused to.

Stormy Clouds Overhead…

Whether Ketogenic diets (or some iteration of such) will be defined as the Azure of lifestyle approaches is currently unknown, it is nonetheless worth pointing out that some companies considered cloud-based solutions “a passing fad” before it took hold and overran the market. Regardless of which direction other companies decide on, it seems Weight Watchers has chosen their course for the near future, at least. Only time will tell what these uncharted territories hold, and which ships will sink – only identifiable in the future by their abandoned remains. I for one, will enjoy the ride, choppy as it may be, with the knowledge that I can easily course correct as necessary without much disruption. My only hope is that whoever goes down from the stormy weather has enough lifeboats for all involved when they inevitably need them.

I Am Not You

This may come as a surprise to some, but I am not You, although like Me I would be delighted if You were able to find a way of eating that nourishes you, and delights you at every meal, as I have.

However, because You are not Me, in the same way that I am not You, we may not reach this goal by taking the same road, nor even by traveling in the same direction, or using the same tools to make sure we stay the course. Perhaps you decide to take detours, because reaching the goal is not your top priority, or you had to pull over to deal with other Stuff that has interfered with your travel plans.

This is, of course, perfectly delightful, in the same way that we may seek different ways of expunging stress – perhaps this is knitting and blogging for Me, and watching movies with a glass of wine for You. So long as we both find something we can do well, and do often, the method is inconsequential, in my eyes. I wish You the best, however You find it.

Door-To-Door Dietary Dictators

Strangely, I have been accused of “promoting” the way I eat, on a few occasions (I say this mostly with confusion, not with irritation) a dietary Zealot hellbent on converting others, using statements like “I hope you find what works for you” and “Not everyone needs or wants a ketogenic diet” to trick people into eating as I do. This is paired with a curious assumption that when someone asks me for help, that I must give them a copy of my weekly menu as if handing over a pamphlet on The One Way To Health and skittering off elsewhere to convert another.

I don’t really mind this altogether too much, and I certainly don’t blame anyone. Perhaps it does come off as advocacy when I share freely with anyone who asks how I have freed myself from depression, joint pain, and raging appetite by kicking certain things from my diet (and including others). Indeed, I do enjoy discussing it, and it comes up often, but take it to heart that this is not to imply that I recommend it, though I do apologize if I unintentionally gave the impression.

Free From, Free to…

Here is something I believe: Not everyone needs the same thing. This is not the same as saying Everyone Is Different, or The Diet That Works Is The One You Can Do (I don’t think this is necessarily true), but rather that manna to one person is poison to another – even if I mean this in the sense of their ability to enjoy their lifestyle. Some people value variety, the freedom of choice, and are willing to sacrifice some benefits to retain them. Others value simplicity, the freedom from having to choose, or something else entirely.

Recommending a tactic that would delight someone who is soothed by simplicity, to someone who delights in complexity and chaos would be disastrous, not to mention disappointing for all involved, and the same goes for the reverse. I avoid this hectic minefield of Personal Desires and Preference and Actually Enjoying Vegetables quite simply: I give people information, I don’t tell them what to do.

Tapestry Weaving

To be clear, I am not implying that certain dietary options aren’t useful tools for people, but rather this has to be coupled with the act of making a decision and deciding for yourself what to do. Just as doctors or accountants or priests can recommend strategies to attain a health, financial, or spiritual goal the same is applicable to information regarding diet that can be used to build a strategy.

It does nothing for me to try and force someone to do something that may, in fact, help but that they have no desire to attempt just as it is equally useless for a doctor to force a patient to try and take medication they want nothing to do with. It will result in failure, or resentment, or termination of the relationship.

Instead I give people threads of information that they can decide to weave into whatever tapestry they so desire – or that they can give to the birds to use for nest materials. It’s all the same to me. They are the one who has to live with the tapestry taking up residence in their home. Not me, not their doctor, not anyone else. What they make is what they live with.

I Am Me

Have no fear, I will certainly not be cowed by fear of stating a position – I am me and will remain so and that is not what this is about. I will discuss what I know, and what I find interesting, and be honest about what I don’t know, and avoid what I have no interest in. This will inevitably lead to me discussing ketogenic and carnivorous diets more, but I do this with the knowledge that if you are seeking something else you will no doubt find it elsewhere.

But, likewise, I will share my thoughts with people who are vegetarian, paleo, high carb low fat, and so on, on what may help to untwist the knots, and pluck out the brambles they may come across that so rudely interrupted their weaving that they had been finding so much pleasure in.

But all of this with the knowledge that the rest is up to them, and there is no right choice, only choices that they make with their own goals in mind, with my goal being to hand off information as I come across it. No more, no less.

I am Me. You are You. They are They. And I quite like it that way.

The Sinful Pleasures of Food

Carnal pleasures…

A Secret

Here’s a secret. I don’t talk about it much because even for me I consider it weird. I’ve never heard anyone else with this issue, past or present, so I mostly keep it to myself – for fear of people shrieking “Freak!” and grabbing their pitchforks.

The secret is, for a long time, I didn’t enjoy food. Could I taste food? Certainly. Did certain tastes disgust me? For sure. Could I tell when a food objectively tasted pleasant? Yes. But I wasn’t excited about food. When I heard people describing food they were eating as delicious, amazing, and talking about getting goosebumps from eating I was mostly just confused. I thought they were exaggerating, because I had never experienced any such thing. Food was fine. Sometimes it was good. But it was never the moaning-in-delight event that I saw it described.

Is Obesity Merely a Gluttonous Love for Food?

This might seem odd, if you know my history. For quite a long time, I was obese – with my highest weight at 240 lbs paired with a height of 5’1″. You could obviously say – how is it possible to get to that weight without enjoying food? Obviously you were eating too much. Probably true. But I didn’t eat because I enjoyed it – I ate compulsively, to quell the raging hunger. Sometimes I ate out of boredom (or so I thought, as soon as I changed my diet this went away). I would eat the same size meal as other people, but soon would be hungry again. (Apparently this isn’t actually unusual among the obese – who knew!)

I’ve seen some people blame obesity on food tasting too good. Or, hyper-palatable if you like big words. Sugar, salt, and fat: a sinful cocktail of hedonistic delight bent on making us consume more and more. Maybe that’s partially true – but it wasn’t so for me.

Is Blandness the Answer?

I’ve seen some respond that the “cure” to obesity is to only eat bland things, so you’re not tempted down the path of actually enjoying the food you eat. Obesity is obviously a disorder of gluttony (and sloth, can’t forget that one) so to cure it you must do as all animals do and only ingest boring things, lest you tickle your fancy a little too much, resulting in a binge that negates all your previous restriction. Perhaps a tasty bite here and there – but only in moderation! Whatever that means.

I think this argument is a bit odd. All you have to do is watch an animal about to eat – try it with your dog. Make as if you’re about to feed them some meat, some raw steak perhaps. Allow them to sniff it, let them know what they’re in store for, and then look at them. Do they seem bored? Uninterested? On the contrary, I’d say they look pretty excited, ready to chow down, salivating at the idea of getting their teeth in some nourishing food. (Granted you could argue that our pets are becoming obese, but I highly doubt that’s due to feeding them steak – that’s a topic for another day, however)

You can do this with sheep, too. My mom has a farm, plenty of sheep, and she’s pointed out that lambs wag their tails when they’re nursing. Not only that, but older sheep do it too, if they find a particular plant that they like (clover for example, although apparently it varies by sheep) they’ll wag their tails like the happiest little ruminants in the prairie.

She’s also noted that the chickens express great joy when they come upon a tasty frog, or a mouse-y morsel ripe for the picking. Shrieking in triumph, before quickly trying to snatch up and hide their find from the rest of the flock. Are they suffering from gluttony as well then? Where is their obesity, when faced with an abundance of clearly hyper-palatable food?

Food is Supposed to Be Pleasurable

We’re programmed for it. If food weren’t exciting, enjoyable to experience, we wouldn’t seek it out with quite so much fervor. Certainly if we were starving, but what other way do we have to tell good food apart from excellent? Fresh from slightly off? Nutritious from something not worth the energy spent to chew it? A mix of pleasure and disgust helps us distinguish this. So where’s the problem? I’ve seen one possibility aimed at the food companies engineering frankenstein monsters of MSG, corn syrup, and flavoring for making nutrient void foods that taste like foods we’d naturally find pleasurable. Or engineering fruits to be bursting with sugar beyond what is natural. Maybe. But, I think blaming food addiction, or obesity, on gluttony, lack of willpower, and food that is too pleasurable is akin to blaming sex addiction on sex being too pleasurable. Can it possibly be so simple? I don’t think so, not much is.

If this were the case, then why do many lose weight – dropping from obese to normal weight – by switching to food laden with fat, and red meat, and hedonistic pleasures? Many find ketogenic (high fat low carb) foods to be the most delicious food they’ve ever eaten, and some even use sweeteners, with great success. I’ll admit though, I still wasn’t deriving noticeable pleasure from ketogenic food either. I could tell it was better quality than what I had been eating before, but despite no significant change in enjoyment I lost weight. A lot of it. Even stranger than that – my compulsive eating stopped, I no longer felt the urge to eat when I was bored, one or two meals a day sufficed without need for snacks (although I still did occasionally). It was like my hunger had turned from a constant 11 down to a more reasonable 5, no willpower needed.

Why Did I Say Used To?

At the beginning I said I didn’t used to enjoy food. Following the logic or proper grammar, this must mean I currently do. So what changed? Did I finally force myself into realizing that healthy green leafies are delicious, or undergo some sort of radical treatment to fix myself? I guess you could claim the latter. The fix?

I stopped eating plants.

That’s right. Soon after starting a carnivorous diet, I noticed that I started to become excited about my meals. I looked forward to them! Unheard of. Moreso than that, I found myself experiencing the delight in eating that I had assumed was exaggerated. I got goosebumps eating pork. I shivered eating a tasty bit of animal fat. I danced in place while indulging in dairy. Not only that but not only did I not gain weight from this sudden hyper-palatibility I lost weight. My appetite was the clearest it had ever been – making it unmistakable when I needed food, crystal clear when I was done (even in the middle of a plate of food!), and blissfully silent inbetween meals.

So what changed? To be honest, I have no idea. Could it have been that the hyper-palatable foods of the prior ages fried the pleasure center of my brain somehow, resulting in a need to “detox” with less pleasurable (ha!) meat and dairy? If this were the case, if I went back to omnivorous fare would I enjoy it? As it turns out, I’ve tried this, and I’m immediately sent back to a place of lack of excitement, lack of pleasure, and so-so feelings towards food.

So what’s the conclusion? Am I freak? A one-off case? Perhaps some sort of demon who can only delight in the pleasures of animal flesh?

All I know is I’m happy to be able to delight in food, exactly as I’m meant to.