When dietary self-control goes too far...

Since my mid-twenties, I've followed a generally low-fat regime with respect to what I eat. This was a reaction to packing on the kilos after I left Un, which brought back the fear of being the "little fat" kid I was in my childhood. Combined with regular exercise, this kept me fit, healty and my weight stable.

Somewhere under a year ago, I finally started paying attention to low-carb diets; not the insanity of the Atkins regime, but the only-too-clear evidence that the high-joule foods consumed in the West was basically the current cause of the "obesity epidemic". In the US, it seems that almost all products are loaded with high-fructose corn syrup, which besides making the food sickeningly sweet, also drastically upped its energy content. Here in Australia, many of our foods, especially those advertised as low-fat, also had very high sugar content.

Taking that to heart, I thought (or so cleverly) that I would incorporate the low-carb approach into my own diet. So, low carbs meant cutting out sugar-based cereals (a surprising number are very high in sugar), eating less bread, rice and pasta, keeping away from high-energy vegetables (peas and corn), and eating less fruit and avoiding fruit juice (loaded with fructose!). However, I didn't alter anything else, maintaining the low-fat constraint, and continuing with my exercise regime.

I lost weigh—a number of kilos—over several months, until it stabilised at around 53kg (117lbs). Very low for my height of 172.5cm (5' 8"), but since it was staying fairly constant, I assumed that all was well.

It's worth noting that due to my obsessive self-control (an inherent part of my personality), I stuck to my dietary rules without exception. No occasional splashing out on ice cream, fish and chips or fast food; I was eating exactly what I set out to eat (or not eat, as the case may be).

In the following months, I noticed a gradual decrease in energy. It was hard to walk up any kind of slope, and my daily runs were getting to be more of a struggle to finish. I initially wrote this off as just getting old (a little premature at 34-35, perhaps). My mood had also deteriorated, with my sense of humour apparently degraded completely, and my patience and tolerance for others at an all-time low. I eventually went to the doctor, who sent me off to have a blood test.

There were some anomalous results: very low red blood cell and low white blood cell counts, while my iron level was fine. The doctor didn't know what to make of it (or so he said), and I was scheduled to see a hemotologist (blood specialist). As you can imagine, I was dreaming up all kinds of dread causes, and was scaring myself silly.

Then I was directed to a web site by a concerned relative that listed the physical symptoms of anorexia nervosa... and I had almost all of them. The low red and white blood cell counts were there. Even the irritability! At that point, it all became only too clear: my dietary self-control was causing me to starve myself, with the result that my body was literally consuming itself, as it desparately tried to maintain basic functions. I had honestly believed that since my weight was stable, even at a very low level, that I was eating enough. As it turns out, I was completely wrong!

I was utterly appalled at my own stupidity, at what I had been doing to myself.

Rectifying the problem has turned out to be ludicrously easy: start eating, stupid! Within two weeks I was back within the healthy weight range for my height, and I have remained there ever since (around 3-4 months now). My mood improved remarkably, and my energy levels started to return to normal. I am now eating far more sensibly, eating not only enough carbs but fats as well, as I finally realise that healthy eating means a balance (while still eating in moderation).

I didn't have anorexia nervosa, as there did not appear to be any psychological element that was forcing me to eat less; I was simply doing what I thought was right in terms of watching what I ate, never realising just what I was doing to myself. Well, I guess you could categorise the extreme self-control as a little unusual, though that obsessive part of me also assists in making me an effective programmer. Not something I really want to change!

I haven't entirely recovered physically; it's taking a while to come completely good, but generally things are infinitely better and steadily improving. In my case, it wasn't admitting I had a problem that was the first step, it was realising that what I was doing was a problem at all.

Live and learn...

NY not safe this weekend!

At least according to these nutters. One wonders what they will say next week when absolutely nothing happens during the specified period. Well, they do say there's only an 85% of the event occuring... so I guess they'll simply claim that we got lucky!

It is yet another example of how human brains are hard-wired to identify patterns, even when such patterns don't exist; witness the sheer volume of conspiracy theories "out there". We all want to believe!

The strangest dream

I rarely remember what I dream; however, last night's was particularly vivid and stayed with me. I found myself in the park behind the house where I lived for most of my life (age 10 into my mid-late twenties). Everything was recognisable, but subtly different in many ways. I worked my way around to the front of the house, where I was confronted by what is now my dog, obviously belonging to the current owner. He didn't recognise me. After knocking at the front door, my mother answers, but she clearly doesn't recognise me, and after some questioning it's clear she never had a child with my name.

It ended there. I'm left wondering what my subconscious is trying to tell me... if anything. I wouldn't normally attempt to interpret my dreams, but this was unusual enough to leave me a little shaken. Weird.

Ah, well. Shrug, and get on with my life.

I chose not to renew my LJ subscription. I've paid for two years, but as I never used the extra features that a paid subscription adds in that entire time, it seemed pointless to pay yet again. I've pretty much drifted away from LJ, at least as far as posting goes, though I do try to keep up with friends' postings. My web browsing tends to focus on news and technology sites, while podcasts via my iPod Nano (now there's a device I've got my money's worth from!) fill any time that I'm not doing something that requires concentration (driving, walking, exercising, shopping, chores around the house, mowing). Add work and reading from my endless "to be read" pile of SF/fantasy novels, and you have my life! I really should get outside more, I guess. :-)


Several of the podcasts listen to are about gaming: tabletop RPGs, boardgames, computer RPGs. I used to spend a reasonable amount of time playing computer games when I was younger, though was rarely able to find anyone to play RPGs with, let alone board/card games. For a long time I thought I wanted to change careers and become a game programmer (rather than a regular... er, "non-game" programmer).

I have slowly come to the realisation that I just don't enjoy gaming anymore. Not solo computer games (RPGs, first-person shooters) nor on-line, multi-user games (not that I ever got into the latter). I now feel that spending time on such activities is ultimately pointless, effectively a complete waste of effort. I'm not really learning anything, or gaining new skills. The only interesting aspect is in exploring a new world and learning its rules, and few games these days are offering anything original enough to make this worthwhile.

So I spend more and more time reading novels, fantasy and SF. One could argue this is also a complete waste of time; however, as mentioned above, what I really enjoy is getting to know somewhere new. Stories are also the most natural learning mechanism that humans have developed, and well-told, well-written novels often do convey real life experience to the reader. Sure, it's not really the most productive use of my time... but then again, what does "productive" really mean? It's what I do for leisure, and remains mentally stimulating and interesting (at least if the author knows what they're doing!).

I have also found that I find active competition to be truly distasteful. I get no satisfaction out of "beating an opponent". It makes me far happier to work with others on a shared goal, to produce as part of a group something more than I could do on my own. While I tend to take too much on myself, especially in my job, that's more because the task really can be best done by me; if others can do their part, then together the sum really is greater than the individual parts. The only kinds of meetings I enjoy are small, with people who know what they're doing, where we're brainstorming a design... when it gets going, it's the most amazing feeling, as ideas get bounced around, debated, and enhanced.

Perhaps that's why I've been turned off most gaming... because ultimately it's just canned competition. I certainly find no enjoyment in any kind of one-on-one games.

Am I mellowing in my old age? Or have I just finally accepted that this is the real me, and there's no longer any point in pretending to be something else? I'm finding that more and more in my life these days... I just can't be bothered with the masks anymore. Take me or leave me, this is who I am.

Quiz: Big Five Personality Test

Big Five Test Results
Extroversion (16%) very low which suggests you are extremely reclusive, quiet, unassertive, and private.
Accommodation (42%) moderately low which suggests you are, at times, overly selfish, uncooperative, and difficult at the expense of the well being of others.
Orderliness (72%) high which suggests you are overly organized, neat, structured and restrained at the expense too often of flexibility, variety, spontaneity, and fun.
Emotional Stability (52%) medium which suggests you average somewhere in between being calm and resilient and being anxious and reactive.
Inquisitiveness (68%) moderately high which suggests you are intellectual, curious, imaginative but possibly not very practical.
Take Free Big Five Personality Test
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For fans of Robert Jordan's "Wheel of Time" series...

"Knife of Dreams", book 11 of the "Wheel of Time" series, was recently released. I bought it, but decided not to read it until the remainder of the series had come out and I could re-read the whole thing from beginning to end and get some closure. I've read, in one hit, from books 1 through 10 (I came to it late), and am not willing to invest all that time until I know there's not going to be still more coming later.

So, reassuringly enough, it appears that the next book will be the last! This comes from an interview with Robert Jordan, on the "Dragonpage Cover to Cover" podcast (MP3 here).

The interview starts at around 5:20 and finishes at about 27:40. It covers quite a few topics, includes some (minor?) spoilers for "Knife of Dreams", but the pertinent quote from Jordan is "... one more novel... one more, 12th book, and that will be so even if that book has to be 2000 pages in hard-cover and require a luggage cart and a shoulder strap to get it out of the store."

It's (apparently) not that he's sick of it (even if has been doing it for twenty-one years); it's just that he always knew where the story would end up, and he believes one more novel is enough to get from the end of "Knife of Dreams" to the conclusion.

The interview also provided a link to Robert Jordan's blog, which he started around mid-September last year.

Of course, now I just have to wait for him to finish writing book 12... however long that will take.

An update

It's been a long time since my last post... or so it seems. I appear to have little urge to "blog" anymore; this may change in the future, but is certainly at a low ebb for the present.

Anyway, a quick summary of where I'm at:
  • I had a week off over xmas and New Year's, which was extremely relaxing and utterly work-free (if unpleasantly hot, as our summer continues to beat down with little mercy)

  • I bought another car (my fifth), trading in my Nissan Pulsar (just reaching 3 years old) for a Peugeot 206 XT: it's small, handles beautifully, has excellent pick-up, and is rated as one of the most fuel efficient and environmentally friendly (according to our Green Vehicle Guide)

  • My fridge died on the day before I picked up my car; I had a replacement installed by lunchtime (a very nice Fisher and Paykel 440L fridge/freeze combo), though the unexpected expenditure was most unwelcome

  • I remain enamoured with my iPod nano, and continue to get tons of use out of it (still only podcasts and radio programmes, of course)

  • Back at work this week, and actually enjoyed it, due to having finally got a number of coding tasks that I can sink my teeth into; having been stuck doing higher-level architecture and design for the past year or so, it is so good to be able to actually build software!

  • I need new insulation in my roof: whatever's there is pretty ineffective, so I've decided to get whatever the highest rating stuff that is available ASAP; good insulation makes an incredible difference, and is a precursor to aircon (and may make it unnecessary)
So, life continues. Not much has changed, though I have several "irons in the fire" in terms of personal/professional development which I am actively persuing, part of a longer-term plan that may see me re-locate overseas to work for some period of time. If nothing else, these side projects are fun and keep me busy in a non-work manner.

I wish you all a productive, enjoyable and satisfying 2006, and hope that you all are presented with lots of growth opportunities which you are able to take advantage of!

Cosmology is cool

What amazes me about physical cosmology is how much understanding of our universe can be derived from an incredibly limited window onto the cosmos.

Think about the data that we have available to us: we create instruments (telescopes of various kinds) that can measure with ever-increasing precision the arrival of photons from all across the electromagnetic spectrum (infrared through visible through ultraviolet, the latter including the part we use for radio and TV transmissions). Since all our instruments are on or around the Earth, that's out point of reference: our window onto the universe.

What makes it truly bizarre is that due to the vast distances involved, even photons must travel for long durations to get here, which means that by looking into the sky we are looking back in time. Because the instruments have become so sensitive (and can thus detect the most attenuated light), this goes as far back as very nearly to the beginning of the universe: 13-14 billion years.

This is counter-intuitive. On Earth, because the speed of light is so fast, and distances are so small, anything we see is effectively happening in real-time. Something happens, we see it immediately, regardless of how away from us it is.

For a given object that we observe in space, its distance from us determines the age of the view of that object. We are seeing it change in "real-time" (as its light continues to stream towards us), but that time can be a very long time ago.

Consider the analogy of a core sample: what scientists do is drill into (say) polar ice, straight down. The further down they go, the older the laid-down ice is. They can thus analyse different layers to get an idea of conditions at different points in history at that geographical location.

Looking into the heavens is equivalent to drilling a core sample into ice at an angle: you can still get information about conditions at different times (the deeper you go, the longer ago), but it's always a different location you're finding out about, since you're never below the same geographical point.

The consequence of this is that, for a given object in the universe, all we can see is what it's doing at a particular point in time. We cannot see it at any other point in its history. Since change on the cosmological scale tends to occur over millions or billions of years, this means that to work out what's going on, we simply have to find different stellar objects that we think are similar but at different stages in their lifecycle, and "join the dots" to work out the process of how those objects were formed, their lifecycle and eventual dissolution.

That cosmologists have managed to come so far in expanding our understanding of the universe is therefore utterly amazing. That said, the number of unanswered questions remain huge (dark matter, dark energy)... certainly enough to keep cosmologists busy for the centuries to come!

SessionSaver extension for Firefox 1.5

I installed Firefox 1.5 shortly after its release yesterday, and discovered (to my dismay) that my favourite extension, SessionSaver, had yet to be officially ported to 1.5.

For those of you who haven't come across it, SessionSaver will restore all open windows/tabs when you re-start Firefox, including page history. It's fantastic, especially if (like me) you open tabs for links that catch your interest, but don't get around to reading them until the next time you switch on your computer. With this extension, you can let them hang around until time permits, without having to bookmark them to come back to (which usually never happens, resulting in a huge list of yet-to-be-investigated URLs).

Anyway, nikolasco has a link to a SessionSaver port that does work on 1.5. I've installed it, and it works fine.