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Physical activity and psychological health

6 arunbharatula 23 May 2017 04:33AM

This post been have temporarily removed for revision

The time you have

5 Elo 05 January 2017 02:13AM

Original post: http://bearlamp.com.au/the-time-you-have/

Part 1: Exploration-Exploitation

Part 2: Bargaining Trade-offs to your brain.

Part 2a: Empirical time management

Part 3: The time that you have

There is a process called The Immunity to Change by Robert Kegan.  The process is designed to deal with personal problems that are stubborn.  The first step in the process is to make a list of all the things that you are doing or not doing that does not contribute to the goal.  As you go through the process you analyse why you do these things based on what it feels like to do them.

The process is meant to be done with structure but can be done simply by asking.  Yesterday I asked someone who said he ate sugar, ate carbs, and didn't exercise.  Knowing this alone doesn't solve the problem but it helps.

The ITC process was generated by observing patients and therapists for thousands of hours and thousands of cases.  Kegan observed what seems to be effective to bring about change, in people and generated this process to assist in doing so.  The ITC hits on a fundamental universal.  If you read my brief guide on Empirical time management, as well as part 1 - exploration-exploitation of this series it speaks to this universal.  Namely what we are doing with our time is everything we are choosing not to do with our time.  It's a trade off between our values and it's counter-commitments in ITC that's often discovering the hidden counter commitments to the goals.

The interesting thing about what you end up doing with your time is that these are the things that form your revealed preferences.  Revealed preference theory is an economic theory that differentiates between people's stated preferences and their actual actions and behaviours.  It's all good and well to say that your preferences are one thing, but if you never end up doing that; your revealed preferences are in fact something entirely different.

For example - if you say you want to be a healthy person, and yet you never find yourself doing the things that you say you want to do in order to be healthy; your revealed preferences suggest that you are in fact not revealing the actions of a healthy person.  If you live to the ripe old age of 55 and the heavy weight of 130kg and you never end up exercising several times a week or eating healthy food; that means your health goals were a rather weak preference over the things you actually ended up doing (eating plenty and not keeping fit).

It's important to note that revealed preferences are different to preferences, they are in fact distinctly different.  They are their own subset.  Revealed preferences are just another description that informs the map of, "me as a person".  In many ways, a revealed preference is much much more real than a simple preference that does not actually come about.  On a philosophical level, if we have a LoudMouthBot, and all it does is declare it's preference for things.  "I want everyone to be friends", "you need to be friends with me". However it never does anything.   You can log into the bot's IRC channel and see it declaring preferences, day in, day out.  Hour after hour.  And yet, not actually doing those preferences.  He's just a bot, spitting out words that are preferences (almost analogous to a p-zombie).  You could look at LoudMouthBot from the outside and say, "all it does is spew text into a text chat", and that would be an observation which for all purposes can be taken as true.  In contrast, AgentyBot doesn't really declare a preference, Agentybot knows the litany of truth.

If the sky is blue

I desire to believe that the sky is blue,

If the sky is not blue

I desire to believe that the sky is not blue.

Or for this case; a litany of objectivity,

If my revealed preferences show that I desire this goal

I desire to know that is my goal,

If my revealed preferences show that I do not desire this goal

I desire to know that is not my goal.

Revealed preferences work in two directions.  On the one hand you can discover your revealed preferences and let that inform your future judgements and future actions.  On the other hand you can make your revealed preferences show that they line up with your goal.

A friend asked me how she should find her purpose, Easier said than done right? That's why I suggested an exercise that does the first of the two.  In contrast if you already know your goals you want to take stock of what you are doing and align it with your desired goals.


I already covered how to empirically assess your time, That would be the first step of how you take stock of what you are doing.

The second step is to consider and figure out your desired goals.  Unfortunately the process as to how to do that is not always obvious.  For some people they can literally just take 5 minutes and a piece of paper and list off their goals.  For everyone else I have some clues in the form of the list of common human goals.  By going down the list of goals that people commonly obtain you can cue your sense of what are some of the things that you care about, and figure out which ones matter to you.  There are other exercises, but I take it as read that knowing what your goals are is important.  After you have your list of goals you might like to consider estimating what fraction of your time you want to offer to each of your goals.

The third step is one that I am yet to write about.  Your job is to compare the list of your goals and the list of your time use and consider which object level tasks would bring you towards your goals and which actions that you are doing are not enabling you to move towards your goals.

Everything that you do will take time.  Any goal you want to head towards will take time, if you are spending your time on one task towards one goal and not on another task towards another goal; you are preferencing the task you are doing over the other task.

If these are your revealed preferences, what do you reveal that you care about?

I believe that each of us has potential.  That word is an applause light.  Potential doesn't really have a meaning yet.  I believe that each of us could:

  1. Define what we really care about.
  2. Define what results we think we can aim for within what we really care about
  3. Define what actions we can take to yield a trajectory towards those results
  4. Stick to it because it's what we really want to do.

That's what's important right?  Doing the work you value because it leads towards your goals (which are the things you care about).

If you are not doing that, then your revealed preferences are showing that you are not a very strategic.  If you find parts of your brain doing what they want at the detriment of other parts of your goals, you need to reason with them.  Use the powers of VoI, treat this problem as an exploration-exploitation problem, and run some experiments (post coming soon).  

This whole; define what you really care about and then head towards it, you should know that it needs doing now, or you are making bad trade offs.

Meta: this is part 3 of 4 of this series.

Meta: this took 5+ hours to piece together.  I am not yet very good at staying on task when I don't know how to put the right words in the right order yet.  I guess I need more practice.  What I usually do is take small breaks and come back to it.

Cultivate the desire to X

3 Elo 07 March 2016 03:40AM

Recently I have found myself encouraging people to cultivate the desire to X.

Examples that you might want to cultivate interest in include:

  • Diet
  • Organise ones self
  • Plan for the future
  • be a goal-oriented thinker
  • build the tools
  • Anything else in the list of common human goals
  • Getting healthy sleep
  • Being less wrong
  • Trusting people more
  • Trusting people less
  • exercise
  • interest in a topic (cars, fashion, psychology etc.)

Why do we need to cultivate?

We don't.  But sometimes we can't just "do".  Lot's of reasons are reasonable reasons to not be able to just "do" the thing:

  • Some things are scary
  • Some things need planning
  • Some things need research
  • Some things are hard
  • Some things are a leap of faith
  • Some things can be frustrating to accept
  • Some things seem stupid (well if exercising is so great why don't I automatically want to do it)
  • Other excuses exist.

On some level you have decided you want to do X; on some other level you have not yet committed to doing it.  Easy tasks can get done quickly.  More complicated tasks are not so easy to do right away.

Well if it were easy enough to just successfully do the thing - you can go ahead and do the thing (TTYL flying to the moon tomorrow - yea nope.).

  1. your system 1 wants to do the thing and your system 2 is not sure how.
  2. your system 2 wants to do the thing and your system 1 is not sure it wants to do the thing.  
  • The healthy part of you wants to diet; the social part of you is worried about the impact on your social life.

(now borrowing from Common human goals)

  • Your desire to live forever wants you to take a medication every morning to increase your longevity; your desire for freedom does not want to be tied down to a bottle of pills every morning.
  • Your desire for a legacy wants you to stay late at work; your desire for quality family time wants you to leave the office early.

The solution:

The solution is to cultivate the interest; or the desire to do the thing. From the initial point of interest or desire - you can move forward; do some research to either convince your system 2 of the benefits, or work out how to do the thing to convince your system 1 that it is possible/viable/easy enough.  Or maybe after some research the thing seems impossible.  I offer Cultivating the desire as a step along the way to working it out.

Short post for today; Cultivate the desire to do X.

Meta: time to write 1.5 hours.

My table of contents contains my other writing

feedback welcome

Calories per dollar vs calories per glycemic load: some notes on my diet

6 Andy_McKenzie 14 March 2015 04:07PM
Recently I decided to try to better measure and improve my diet a little bit. These were some of the parameters that I was and am interested in: 

1) Ease of preparation. My time is scarce, and more importantly my willpower is scarce, and I often will just not make foods if they take too long to prepare, and then sometimes the ingredients will just end up going bad. I know, #privilege, but I'm trying to be honest with myself and realistic here. 

2) High calorie to glycemic load ratio [1]. I need to consume calories -- obviously -- but while I'm doing so I want to minimize the number of times that I experience high glucose levels in my bloodstream, which appears to be toxic both in terms of increasing risk of diabetes [2] as well as decreasing cognition [3]. 

3) Minimizing animal suffering. I'd prefer foods whose preparation didn't entail the suffering of animals, or at least foods that came from places that tried to decrease it, like cage-free chickens.

4) Taste. I try to minimize the importance of this and think that I do a decent job, but empirically it has prevented me from more commonly eating certain foods, such as sardines, at least for now. Very open to suggestions here. 

5) High calorie to dollar ratio. Because money is the unit of caring.  

6) Available on FreshDirect. Because I'm lazy. 

Food is heavily moralized and politicized, and I'm expecting to be judged for this post by readers who are veg*an, by readers who are into organic food, by readers who are anti those groups because I am perceived as pandering to them, as well as a variety of other groups that I can't fully anticipate and might not even know about [4]. That said, I'm posting it because a) I think it might be useful to others and b) I'm interested in feedback. 

In terms of influences, I've been most influenced by the book The Perfect Health Diet, which has truly a terrible name, but which includes lots of discussion of trade-offs of different dietary approaches and seemed to (the relatively uninformed) me to be pretty reasonable. It advocates a medium-carb, high-fat, medium-protein diet. 

Below is my main result. You can find more details at this google spreadsheet and plotting code at github [5; 6]. 

A few notes: 

1) The top cluster is obviously artificial -- their glycemic load of each of those is basically negligible, so instead of infinity, I set those ratios to 1. Still, it's interesting to note that none of those are blockbusters in terms of calories per dollar in the same way that lentils, rice, or potatoes are. If you know any such foods, please let me know. 

2) I was surprised that sweet potatoes did not fare better in terms of calorie to glycemic load ratio. I suppose they may be more nutritious in other ways than the other starches included, though. 

3) Nuts and cheese came away from this analysis as having a lot of desirable properties, so I'm trying to eat more of both of those food groups. 

I'd appreciate any feedback you might have. 


[1]: Glycemic load per calorie makes more sense to me since it normalizes to the number of carbs you actually get from a given amount of food, rather than glycemic index which uses the same number of grams of carbohydrate from each food tested.

[2]: http://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/34/Supplement_2/S120.abstract. Note that there is some conflicting evidence here so caution is warranted. 

[4]: If you insist on reading this footnote, I'll note here that I have tried to go both vegetarian and vegan before, but each time I found it both difficult logistically and literally tiring -- I think there was some sort of nutrient that I was missing that made me worse-off. And this was after some research to make sure that I'd get other nutrients that I needed, including B12. I concluded that it wasn't that easy, and instead made a small donation to the animal welfare charity Certified Humane to offset some of my guilt. If I had more money, I'd donate some more. 

[5]: Note that I manually shifted some of the data points to make the text labels more legible, which you can see in the code. 

[6]: As an addendum, here are some foods you won't find on there, and why: 

a) Salad. There is actually a way to get pretty cheap salads around where I live, but historically speaking, salads leave me substantially more hungry two hours later and basically have a tendency to ruin my day, so I avoid them. 

b) Insects. I recently became intensely interested in eating insects for 30-60 minutes, but on cursory internet research, couldn't find anything that came close to justifying a calorie to dollar ratio worth considering. Please enlighten me in the comments if you can. 

c) Bread. Subjectively, I seem to be especially sensitive to its glycemic effects -- after eating it, I often feel my heartbeat increase and can feel my blood vessels pumping "harder," which I expect are signs of post-prandial hyperglycemia and is unpleasant, though of course I could be wrong. I still eat bread, but I'm trying not to eat as much. 

d) Mealsquares. Unfortunately, as far as I can tell these contain eggs and I seem to have developed a food-only (!) egg allergy, plus eggs are like the poster child of the "these are surprisingly unethical, at least when conventionally farmed" camp, so I'm not that motivated to solve my apparent allergy. This allergy/opinion is pretty rare and I don't think they should change just for me, but it means that I didn't do much research into them. 

Are Cognitive Load and Willpower drawn from the same pool?

5 avichapman 23 February 2015 02:46AM

I was recently reading a blog here, that referenced a paper done in 1999 by Baba Shiv and Alex Fedorikhin (Heart and Mind in Conflict: The Interplay of Affect and Cognition in Consumer Decision Making). In it, volunteers are asked to memorise short or long numbers and then asked to chose a snack as a reward. The snack is either fruit or cake. The actual paper seems to go into a lot of details that are irrelevent to the blog post, but doesn't actually seem to contradict anything the blog post says. The result seems to be that those with a higher cognitive load were far more likely to chose the cake than those who weren't.

I was wondering if anyone has read any further on this line of research? The actual experiment seems to imply that the connection between cognitive load and willpower may be an acute effect - possibly not lasting very long. The choice of snack is made seconds after memorising a number and while actively trying to keep the number in memory for short term recall a few minutes later. There doesn't seem to be anything about the effect on willpower minutes or hours later.

Does anyone know if the effect lasts longer than a few seconds? If so, I would be interested in whether this affect has been incorporated into any dieting strategies.

Optimal eating (or rather, a step in the right direction)

5 c_edwards 19 January 2015 01:35AM

Over the past few months I've been working to optimize my life.  In this post I describe my attempt to optimize my day-to-day cooking and eating - my goal with this post is to get input and to offer a potential template for people who aren't happy with their current cooking/eating patterns.  I'm a) still pretty new to LW, and b) not a nutritionist; I am not claiming that this is optimal, only that it is a step in the right direction for me.  I'd love suggestions/advice/feedback.


How do I quantify a successful cooking/eating plan?


"Healthy" is a broad term.  I'm not interested in making food a complicated or stressful component of my life - quite the opposite.  Healthy means that I feel good, and that I'm providing my body with a good mix of building blocks (carbs, proteins, fats) and nutrients.  This means I want most/all meals to include some form of complex carbs, protein, and either fruits or veggies or both.  As I'm currently implementing an exercise plan based on the LW advice for optimal exercising, I'm aiming to get ~120 grams of protein per day (.64g/lb bodyweight/day).  There seems to be a general consensus that absorption of nutrients from whole foods is a) higher, and b) less dangerous, so when possible I'm trying to make foods from basic components instead of buying pre-processed stuff.

I have a health condition called hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) that makes me cranky/shaky/weak/impatient/foolish/tired when I am hungry, and can be triggered by eating simple sugars.  So, for me personally, a healthy diet includes rarely feeling hungry and rarely eating simple sugars (especially on their own - if eaten with other food the effect is much less severe).  This also means trying to focus on forms of fruit and complex carbs that have low glycemic indexes (yams are better than baked potatoes, for example).  I would guess that these attributes would be valuable for anyone, but for me they are a very high priority.

I'm taking some advice from the "Exos" (formerly Core Performance) fitness program, as described in the book Core performance essentials. One of the suggestions from this that I'm trying to use here (aside from the above complex carb+protein+fruit/veg meal structure) is to "eat the rainbow every day" - that is, mix up the fruits and veggies you eat, ideally getting as many colors per day as possible.  I'm also taking advice from the (awesome) LW article on increasing longevity: "eat fish, nuts, eggs, fruit, dark chocolate."

When possible I'm trying to focus on veggies that are particularly nutrient dense - spinach, bok choy, tomatoes, etc.  I am (for now) avoiding a few food products that I have heard (but have not yet confirmed!) are linked to potential health issues: tofu, whey proteins.  Note that I do not trust my information on the potential risks of these foods, but as neither of these are important to my diet anyways, I have put researching them as a low priority compared to everything else I want to learn.

So to recap: don't stress about it, but try to do complex carbs, proteins (120g/day for me), fruits, and veggies in every meal, avoid sugars where possible (although dark chocolate is good).  Fish, nuts and eggs are high priority proteins.


I'm on a fairly limited budget.  This means trying to focus on the seasonal fruits and veggies (which are typically cheaper, and as an added bonus are likely healthier than the same fruit/veggie when out of season), aiming for less expensive meats, and not trying to eat organically (probably worth a separate discussion of organic vs not, meat vs not).  This also means making my own foods when the price benefit is high and the time cost is low.  I often make my own breads, for example (using a breadmaker) - it takes about 10 minutes of my time, directly saves me about 3+ dollars or so compared to an equivalent quality loaf of bread (many breads can be made for ~$.50-1$), plus saves me either the time of shopping multiple times per week to obtain fresh bread or the grossness of eating bread that I've frozen to keep it from molding.  Additionally, my budget means that I prefer that my weekly meal plan not depend on eating out or buying pre-made foods.


While I'm on a fairly limited monetary budget, I'm on a very limited time budget.  Cooking can be fun for me, but I prefer that my weekly schedule not REQUIRE much time - I can always replace a quick meal with a longer fun one if I feel like it.

The Plan

My general approach is split my meals between really quick-and-easy (like chickpeas, canned salmon, and olive oil over prewashed spinach with an apple or two on the side) and batch foods where a somewhat longer time investment is split over many nights (like lentil stew in a crockpot).

To keep myself reasonable full I need about 6-7 meals per day: breakfast, snack, lunch, (optional snack depending on schedule), post-workout snack, dinner, snack.  These don't all need to be large, but I'm unhappy/unproductive without something for each of those meals, so I might as well make it easy to eat them.

In general I've found the following system to fulfill my criteria of success (healthy, cheap, quick), and it's been much less stressful to have a general plan in place - I can more easily figure out my shopping list, and it's not hard to ensure I always have food ready when I need it.


Quick and easy is the key here.  I typically have either


  1. Yogurt with sunflower seeds and/or nuts, a handful of rolled oats (yes, uncooked, but add a bit of water at the end to make them tolerable), and sometimes some fruit on top.  Add honey for sweetener as needed (I typically don't do to hypoglycemia).
  2. Bread (often homemade, but whatever floats your boat) with some peanut butter on top, a banana or other fruit item on the side.
  3. (if I have the time) Scrambled eggs mixed with chopped broccoli or bell peppers, bread, and a piece of fruit.
(also a big glass of water, which everyone seems to think is important)(also coffee, although I'm considering transitioning to a different caffeine source.



I have three "batch" meals here (I make enough for 3+lunches, so I cook lunches ~twice a week):


  1. salmon mash plus "spinach salad" (spinach with olive oil and either lemon juice or balsamic vinegar), fruit item.  salmon mash is a mix of cooked rice, canned salmon, black olives (for flavor - not sure that they're useful nutritionally), canned black or garbanzo beans, pasta sauce.  It sounds disgusting, but I find it pretty decent, and it's very cheap and filling, and super balanced in terms of carbs and proteins.  I do proportions of 1 cup rice, 1 large can salmon, 1-2 cans beans, 1/2 can black olives, 1/2 can pasta sauce (typically I do a double batch, which lasts me about 4-5 lunches.  Your mileage may vary)
  2. Baked yams and boneless skinless chicken breasts plus spinach salad or other veggies, fruit item
  3. pasta salad: pasta, raw chopped broccoli, tomatoes (grape/cherry tomatoes are easiest), chopped bell peppers, sliced ham, olives (for flavor again - not important nutritionally, I think), and some olive oil (you could use Caesar salad dressing if you like more flavor).  
If I haven't prepped a batch lunch, I just put salmon and beans on top of spinach, add a little olive oil, and throw in a slice of bread and a fruit on the side. Alternately, PBJ plus veggie and fruit.



I aim to make one batch dinner per week and have it last for 4-5 meals, and then have several quick-and-easy dinners to fill the gap (this also makes it easy to accommodate dinners out or food related social gatherings).

Some ideas for Batch Dinners (crock pots are your friends here):


  • Lentil stew, bread, sliced carrots or bell peppers, fruit item (apple, banana, grapefruit, whatever).  That lentil soup recipe is ridiculously cheap, healthy, and quite tasty.
  • The potato-and-cabbage based rumpledethumps recipe (which freezes very well - make a huge batch and throw half of it in the freezer), plus a meat of some sort, a fruit item and maybe a vegetable something 
  • Other crock pot soups: chicken tortilla soup, chili, stew.  Add a veggie on the side, a fruit item, and maybe a slice of bread.
  • Large stirfry (these often take a bit longer than crock pot meals), rice or noodles, fruit on the side.
Note that since I only make one batch dinner per week, those bullets are sufficient to cover a month (and depending on what your tolerance for repetition is, that might be enough for years).

Some ideas for quick-and-easy dinners:
  • Salad made from salad greens, some form of precooked meat (salmon is good), beans, maybe sliced avacado and tomato, maybe sunflower seeds.
  • Rice/pasta; scrambled/cooked eggs or baked chicken; munching veggie like carrots, raw broccoli, bell pepper; fruit item.  Note on chicken: while there is a reasonably large elapse time from start to finish, your involvement doesn't need to take long.  Typically I have a bunch of boneless skinless chicken breasts in the freezer - pull one out, throw it in a ziplock with soy sauce, garlic powder, ginger (or whatever other marinade you prefer), put the ziplock in a bowl of warm water, preheat oven to 370ish.  Once chicken is thawed, put in a pan and cook in the oven.  Ideally do enough rice/pasta and chicken for several nights.



In general my snacks are super simple: just combine some kind of munching veggie (carrots, bell pepper, raw broccoli, snap peas, etc) with hummus, some fruit item, something protein-y (handful of nuts or sunflower seeds, usually) and (optionally) a slice of bread or other carb source.  For whatever snack I have after a workout, I want to make sure there is plenty of protein, so I include either hard boiled eggs, baked chicken, or salmon (on bread).


So over the weekend, when I plan my week and go shopping, I choose the following:


  1. One batch dinner to cook (usually I need to buy the stuff for this)
  2. One type of quick-and-easy dinner to eat for 2-3 nights (often using staples/leftovers I already have)
  3. Two types of batch lunch to make from my list of three.
  4. 2-3 kinds of munching veggies - enough veggies total to include in ~3 meals per day (so like 6ish carrots per day, or 2 bell peppers, etc).  Think carrots, raw broccoli, bell peppers, green beans, sugar snap peas, cherry tomatoes, etc.
  5. 2-3 kinds of fruit items.  Think apples, bananas, grapefruit, grapes, oranges, etc.
  6. Two kinds of protein for post-workout snacks, chosen from: eggs, chicken, salmon
  7. Bread recipes to make 2-3 loaves (which might just be a single recipe repeated)
I also make sure I have enough yogurt and other breakfast supplies to get me through the week.  I drink milk with most of my meals at home, so I check my milk supply as well.

Boom!  Planning done, shopping list practically writes itself!  Once per week I make an small effort on cooking a batch dinner, two or three nights per week I put an extremely minimal effort into quick-and-easy dinners, two evenings per week I make a batch of lunch foods and maybe prep workout protein (hard boil eggs or bake chicken breasts), and otherwise my "cooking" consists of taking things from the fridge and putting them onto a dish (and possibly microwaving).




I'm still tweaking my system, but it has been a marked improvement from the last-minute scrabbling and suboptimal meals that tended to characterize my eating before this.  It's also a big step up in terms of utility from the more elaborate and time-consuming meals I sometimes cooked to compensate for feelings of inadequacy generated by aforementioned scrabbling/suboptimal meals.  I tend to feel fairly energetic and healthy, and it's a huge reassurance to me to know that I always have food planned out and typically it's available to me without needing to do any cooking.  It appears that it's considerably cheaper, too, although there are several confounding factors that would also drive my grocery bills down (transitioning to not-organic foods, trying to hit sales, etc).

Are there things I'm missing?  Suggestions for meals?  (note that I'm a bit wary of meal-replacement shakes) Alternative systems that people have found to hit that sweet spot of healthy, quick, and inexpensive? Is this something that might be useful for you?

EDIT:  Tuna is high in mercury, and shouldn't be eaten in nearly the quantities I had originally planned.  I've replaced canned tuna with canned salmon.

Ethical Diets

2 pcm 12 January 2015 11:38PM

[Cross-posted from my blog.]

I've seen some discussion of whether effective altruists have an obligation to be vegan or vegetarian.

The carnivores appear to underestimate the long-term effects of their actions. I see a nontrivial chance that we're headed toward a society in which humans are less powerful than some other group of agents. This could result from slow AGI takeoff producing a heterogeneous society of superhuman agents. Or there could be a long period in which the world is dominated by ems before de novo AGI becomes possible. Establishing ethical (and maybe legal) rules that protect less powerful agents may influence how AGIs treat humans or how high-speed ems treat low-speed ems and biological humans [0]. A one in a billion chance that I can alter this would be worth some of my attention. There are probably other similar ways that an expanding circle of ethical concern can benefit future people.

I see very real costs to adopting an ethical diet, but it seems implausible that EAs are merely choosing alternate ways of being altruistic. How much does it cost MealSquares customers to occasionally bemoan MealSquares use of products from apparently factory-farmed animals? Instead, it seems like EAs have some tendency to actively raise the status of MealSquares [1].

I don't find it useful to compare a more ethical diet to GiveWell donations for my personal choices, because I expect my costs to be mostly inconveniences, and the marginal value of my time seems small [2], with little fungibility between them.

I'm reluctant to adopt a vegan diet due to the difficulty of evaluating the health effects and due to the difficulty of evaluating whether it would mean fewer animals living lives that they'd prefer to nonexistence.

But there's little dispute that most factory-farmed animals are much less happy than pasture-raised animals. And everything I know about the nutritional differences suggests that avoiding factory-farmed animals improves my health [3].

I plan not to worry about factory-farmed invertebrates for now (shrimp, oysters, insects), partly because some of the harmful factory-farm practices such as confining animals to cages not much bigger than the animals in question aren't likely with animals that small.

So my diet will consist of vegan food plus shellfish, insects, wild-caught fish, pasture-raised birds/mammals (and their eggs/whey/butter). I will assume vertebrate animals are raised in cruel conditions unless they're clearly marked as wild-caught, grass-fed, or pasture-raised [4].

I've made enough changes to my diet for health reasons that this won't require large changes. I already eat at home mostly, and the biggest change to that part of my diet will involve replacing QuestBars with a home-made version using whey protein from grass-fed cows (my experiments so far indicate it's inconvenient and hard to get a decent texture). I also have some uncertainty about pork belly [5] - the pasture-raised version I've tried didn't seem as good, but that might be because I didn't know it needed to be sliced very thin.

My main concern is large social gatherings. It has taken me a good deal of willpower to stick to a healthy diet under those conditions, and I expect it to take more willpower to observe ethical constraints.

A 100% pure diet would be much harder for me to achieve than an almost pure diet, and it takes some time for me to shift my habits. So for this year I plan to estimate how many calories I eat that don't fit this diet, and aim to keep that less than 120 calories per month (about 0.2%) [6]. I'll re-examine the specifics of this plan next Jan 1.

Does anyone know a convenient name for my planned diet?




0. With no one agent able to conquer the world, it's costly for a single agent to repudiate an existing rule. A homogeneous group of superhuman agents might coordinate to overcome this, but with heterogeneous agents the coordination costs may matter.

1. I bought 3 orders of MealSquares, but have stopped buying for now. If they sell a version whose animal products are ethically produced (which I'm guessing would cost $50/order more), I'll resume buying them occasionally.

2. The average financial value of my time is unusually high, but I often have trouble estimating whether spending more time earning money has positive or negative financial results. I expect financial concerns will be more important to many people.

3. With the probable exception of factory-farmed insects, oysters, and maybe other shellfish.

4. In most restaurants, this will limit me to vegan food and shellfish.

5. Pork belly is unsliced bacon without the harm caused by smoking.

6. Yes, I'll have some incentive to fudge those estimates. My experience from tracking food for health reasons suggests possible errors of 25%. That's not too bad compared to other risks such as lack of willpower.

LessWrong Hamburg Meetup Notes - Diet

4 Gunnar_Zarncke 30 August 2014 09:40AM

Review of our LessWrong Hamburg Meetup - Diet

After I was approched a few times about another meetup I scheduled it on short notice and six of us met yesterday evening at my place.


It was an mostly unstructured talk where we discussed diet from different angles and a few other tangential topics. I also reported from my participation in the LW Berlin Meetup a few weeks ago (which led to a side-track about polyphasic sleep).

We discussed the benefits and risks of misc. dietary recommendations and seemed to agree on most points, most of which coincide with those discussed on LW before:

Links about polyphasic sleep:

Other LW Hamburg Meetup reviews

[question] Recommendations for fasting

5 Gunnar_Zarncke 30 August 2014 12:36AM

I consider fasting for two weeks in October, but I'm unclear about it being beneficial in general or for what kind of fasting it might be beneficial and healthy. Thus this is a kind of request for rational discussion of this topic.

I looked for relevant LW posts but couldn't find clear evidence. I think this is an underrepresented and possibly underutilized lifestyle intervention.

continue reading »

A Ketogenic Diet as an Effective Cancer Treatment?

5 notsonewuser 26 June 2013 10:40PM

Yesterday, my mother (not a rationalist) told me that she had recently heard somewhere (most likely on a popular television program) that, as simple as it sounds, an effective cancer treatment is cutting back on glucose intake. According to her story, cancer cells can only efficiently use glucose as fuel, and will be unable to multiply (or will starve, or something like that) if you don't consume any. Meanwhile, normal cells can convert other forms of energy into glucose inside their membranes, and then will continue functioning normally.

My first two thoughts:

Reality just can't be that nice.

Hey, wait a second, doesn't the body just convert everything into glucose before it's released into the bloodstream, anyways?

So I did some Googling and I found out that what my mother was referring to is called a ketogenic diet (from Wikipedia):

The ketogenic diet is a high-fat, adequate-protein, low-carbohydrate diet that in medicine is used primarily to treat difficult-to-control (refractory) epilepsy in children. The diet forces the body to burn fats rather than carbohydrates. Normally, the carbohydrates contained in food are converted into glucose, which is then transported around the body and is particularly important in fuelling brain function. However, if there is very little carbohydrate in the diet, the liver converts fat into fatty acids and ketone bodies. The ketone bodies pass into the brain and replace glucose as an energy source. An elevated level of ketone bodies in the blood, a state known as ketosis, leads to a reduction in the frequency of epileptic seizures.

So, prima facie, my second objection was dealt with. More Googling led me to discover these two references to what my mother had mentioned:

According to the paper:

Abnormal energy metabolism is a consistent feature of most tumor cells across all tissue types [14]. In the 1930 s, Otto Warburg observed that all cancers expressed high rates of fermentation in the presence of oxygen [15]. This feature, known as The Warburg Effect, is linked to mitochondrial dysfunction and genetic mutations within the cancer cell [14], [16], [17]. These defects cause cancers to rely heavily on glucose for energy, a quality that underlies the use of fluorodeoxyglucose-PET scans as an important diagnostic tool for oncologists [18]. Ketogenic diets are high fat, low carbohydrate diets that have been used for decades to treat patients with refractory epilepsy [19]. Ketogenic diets also suppress appetite naturally thus producing some body weight loss [19], [20], [21], [22]. Dietary energy reduction (DER) lowers blood glucose levels, limiting the energy supply to cancer cells, while elevating circulating blood ketone levels [6]. Ketone bodies can serve as an alternative energy source for those cells with normal mitochondrial function [23], [24], but not for cancer cells [25]. DER has been shown to have anti-tumor effects in a variety of cancers, including brain, prostate, mammary, pancreas, lung, gastric, and colon [14], [26], [27], [28], [29], [30], [31], [32], [33], [34]. DER produces anti-cancer effects through several metabolic pathways, including inhibition of the IGF-1/PI3K/Akt/HIF-1α pathway which is used by cancer cells to promote proliferation and angiogenesis and inhibit apoptosis [35], [36], [37], [38], [39], [40], [41], [42]. Additionally, DER induces apoptosis in astrocytoma cells, while protecting normal brain cells from death through activation of adenosine monophosphate kinase (AMPK) [43].

Note what the sentence with ten citations says. Why have I never heard of this? If the basic claims being made are true, we seem to have an effective way of at least preventing cancer from progressing further (if not killing it off), and it's not even dangerous (at least compared to the alternatives, as far as I am aware of...however, I realize I know next to nothing in this field...that's the reason for this post)! Is there some reason this isn't being sung about on Reddit as a huge victory for science? What is the counterevidence? Or are we still waiting for more research to be done?

For genetic reasons and because humans often engage in motivated reasoning, I am skeptical. I am querying the Less Wrong community for more information...perhaps some of you have already heard of a ketogenic diet being used as a cancer treatment, or would like to do more research than I've done now that I've introduced you to it. The following books may also serve as helpful, albeit expensive, references:

Positive Information Diet, Take the Challenge

4 diegocaleiro 01 March 2013 02:51PM

I looked for Information Diet in Lesswrong search, and found something amazing:

On Lukeprog's Q and A as the new executive director, he was asked:

What is your information diet like? (I mean other than when you engage in focused learning.) Do you regulate it, or do you just let it happen naturally?

By that I mean things like:

  • Do you have a reading schedule (e.g. X hours daily)?
  • Do you follow the news, or try to avoid information with a short shelf-life?
  • Do you significantly limit yourself with certain materials (e.g. fun stuff) to focus on higher priorities?
  • In the end, what is the makeup of the diet?
  • Etc.

To which he responded:

  • I do not regulate my information diet.
  • I do not have a reading schedule.
  • I do not follow the news.
  • I haven't read fiction in years. This is not because I'm avoiding "fun stuff," but because my brain complains when I'm reading fiction. I can't even read HPMOR. I don't need to consciously "limit" my consumption of "fun stuff" because reading scientific review articles on subjects I'm researching and writing about is the fun stuff.
  • What I'm trying to learn at this moment almost entirely dictates my reading habits.
  • The only thing beyond this scope is my RSS feed, which I skim through in about 15 minutes per day.

Whatever was the case back then, I'll bet is not anymore. No one with assistants and such a workload should be let adrift like that.

Citizen: But Lukeprog's posts are obviously brilliant, his output is great, even very focused readers like Chalmers find Luke to be very bright.

Which doesn't tell much about what they would have been were he under a more stringent diet. Another reasonable suspicion is that he was not actually modelling himself correctly, since he obviously does have an information diet


The Information Diet Challenge is to set yourself an information diet, explicitly, and follow it for a week.  

Many ways of countering biases have been proposed here, but I haven't found a post dealing with this specific, very low hanging fruit one. 

If you want inspiration, Ferriss has some advice here.

... but that is not the Positive Information Diet yet...

Information diets are supposed to constrain not everything you intake, but only what you intake instrumentally. If you just love reading about tensors and fairy tales, don't include them in what you won't avoid. What matters is to know that you'll avoid trying to learn programming by reading a programmer's tweet feed, avoid becoming a top researcher in psychology by reading popular magazines on it, and avoid reading random feeds on Facebook that don't relate to your goals in appropriate ways.

General form: I will Avoid spending my time reading/commenting things of kind (A)(Avoid), because I know that to reach my set of goals (G), the most productive learning time is doing (P) (Positve/Productive). 


So here is an attempt:

(G): Interact fruitfully with people at Oxford

(A): Facebook feeds that are not by them; News of any kind; Emails I can Postpone; Gossip; Books/articles not on Evolution of Morals, enhancement, AI; Wikidrifting; Family meal small talk; SMBC; 9gag; Tropes .... and a bunch of other stuff I don't have time or patience to list.

(P): Google scholar on the intersection between my research topic and theirs. Reading their papers by day, watching their videos by night. Re-read what I might help them with that was read before, list topics per person, write what to say about each topic.


What is wrong with this attempt is that (A) ends up being a negative list. A list of what what I do not want to intake. Since possibilities are infinite, this will give me ridiculous cognitive load, and that is a problem. So here is simple solution, which I used for a food diet before, and worked great:  Name not what you cannot do, but what you are allowed to do. Way fewer bits, way easier to check! 

Food example: I'll eat only plants, lean fish and chicken, nuts, fruits, whole pasta, beans and Chai Lattes.

We are better at checking for category inclusion than exclusion. There are so many available categories to exclude from that we don't feel bad that we "forgot" to check for that one. Then after you let yourself indulge in a tiny one, a small one doesn't seem that bad, and snowball effect does the rest. We sneak in connotations to make categories smaller, so our actions stay safely outside the scope of prohibition. Theoretically, we could do the reverse, but it is psychologically much harder. Just try to convince yourself that beef is "lean chicken" to see it.


So let us forget completely about (A). There is no kind or class of kinds to avoid. there is only G and P, and now there is also T, the time during which P is in force, since escape valves might be necessary to avoid "screw that" all-or-nothing effects.

An Improved attempt:

G: Interact fruitfully with people in Oxford

P: Google scholar on the intersection between my research topic and theirs. Reading their papers by day, watching their videos by night. Re-read what I might help them with that was read before, list topics per person, write what to say about each topic. Only Facebook them. 

T: 02:00-23:59 daily.


This is only for "computer use", where I'm most likely to do the wrong thing.

Now there is a simple to check list of things I want to do, I could be doing, and I'll try to do until G arrives. I can only do those. If x doesn't belong, don't do it, that simple. I'm free from midnight to two to do whatever, thus I don't feel enslaved by my past self.  No heavy cognitive load is burning my willpower candle (Shawn Achor 2010) by trying set theory gimmicks to get me to do the wrong thing. 


So please, take the:

          Positive Information Diet Challenge

Write your G's (goals) P's (positives) and T's (times), and forget about your A's (Avoids)  



Low hanging fruit: analyzing your nutrition

7 Alexei 05 May 2012 05:20AM

Recently I decided to try an intermittent fasting diet. To do so, I had to figure out how much I could eat on my off/down days. I realized I didn't have a very good idea about how much calories my meals have, and as I was thinking about it, I started to get curious about my diet overall. How many calories do I get a day? How much of it is from fat? Do I get enough vitamins? Etc, etc, etc. All very basic questions, and since my meals are very regular, there was an easy way to find out!

(Note: anytime you feel curious and are about to find something out, make some predictions. I didn't, but I really wish I did, because I was very surprised by my findings.)

It took only a couple of hours, and here is the result.

If you scroll down, you can see that my usual Breakfast+Lunch+Dinner only nets about 1000 calories and gives 30% daily value of fat. No wonder I crave cookies and chocolate so much!

There are many surprising results that I got from this. And knowing that I've been eating like this for the past few years... Wow. This is the epitome of a low hanging fruit. I can't believe I didn't do this analysis earlier!


Edit: I was not trying to say that I only get 1000 calories a day. Of course I get more than that, but the rest is from cookies and post-meal sweets. I always thought I just have a sweet tooth, but the fact that I wasn't getting enough calories from my main meals can also explain this.

Why epidemiology will not correct itself

38 gwern 11 August 2011 12:54AM

We're generally familiar here with the appalling state of medical and dietary research, where most correlations turn out to be bogus. (And if we're not, I have collected a number of links on the topic in my DNB FAQ that one can read, see https://www.gwern.net/DNB%20FAQ#flaws-in-mainstream-science-and-psychology - probably the best first link to read would be Ioannidis's “Why Most Published Research Findings Are False”.)

I recently found a talk arguing that this problem was worse than one might assume, with false positives in the >80% range, and more interestingly, why the rate is so high and will remain high for the foreseeable future. Young asserts, pointing to papers and textbooks by epidemiologists, that they are perfectly aware of what the Bonferroni correction does (and why one would use it) and that they choose to not use it because they do not want to risk any false negatives. (Young also conducts some surveys showing less interest in public sharing of data and other good things like that, but that seems to me to be much less important than the statistical tradeoffs.)

There are three papers online that seem representative:

  1. Rothman (1990)
  2. Perneger (1998)
  3. Vandenbroucke, PLoS Med (2008)

Reading them is a little horrifying when one considers the costs of the false positives, all the people trying to stay healthy by following what is only random noise, and the general (and justified!) contempt for science by those aware of the false positive rate. (I enlarge on this vein of thought on Reddit. The recent kerfluffle about whether salt really is bad for you - medical advice that has stressed millions and will cost more millions due to New York City's war on salt - is a reminder of what is at stake.)

The take-away, I think, is to resolutely ignore anything to do with diet & exercise that is not a randomized trial. Correlations may be worth paying attention to in other areas but not in health.

[LINK] Creationism = High Carb? Or, The Devil Does Atkins

2 Nic_Smith 11 November 2010 03:41AM

Based on the community's continuing interests in diet and religion, I'd like to point out this blog post by the coauthor of Protein Power, Michael Eades, wherein he suggests that biblical literalism tends toward a low-fat approach to nutrition over a low-carb philosophy, by essentially throwing out a bunch of evidence on the matter:

Why, you might ask, is this scientist so obdurate in the face of all the evidence that’s out there?  Perhaps because much of the evidence isn’t in accord with his religious beliefs.  I try never to mention a person’s religious faith, but when it impacts his scientific thinking it at least needs to be made known.  Unless he’s changed his thinking recently, Dr. Eckel apparently is one of the few academic scientists who are literal interpreters of the bible.  I assume this because Dr. Eckel serves on the technical advisory board of the Institution for Creation Research, an organization that believes that not only is the earth only a few thousand years old , but that the entire universe in only a few thousand years old.  And they believe that man was basically hand formed by God on the sixth day of creation.  And Dr. Eckel’s own writings on the subject appear to confirm his beliefs


Of all the evidence that exists, I think the evolutionary/natural selection data and the anthropological data are the most compelling because they provide the largest amount of evidence over the longest time.  To Dr. Eckel, however, these data aren’t applicable because in his worldview prehistoric man didn’t exist and therefore wasn’t available to be molded by the forces of natural selection.  I haven’t a clue as to what he thinks the fossil remains of early humans really were or where they came from.  Perhaps he believes – as I once had it explained to me by a religious fundamentalist – these fossilized remains of dinosaurs, extinct ancient birds and mammals and prehistoric man were carefully buried by the devil to snare the unwary and the unbeliever.  If this is the case, I guess I’ll have to consider myself snared.

In Dr. Eckel’s view, man was created post agriculturally.  In fact, in his view, there was never an pre-agricultural era, so how could man have failed to adapt to agriculture?

 – Rooting out more anti-low-carb bias

While there's a clear persuasive agenda here and I won't present a full analysis of the situation, Eades also mentions biasing use of language earlier in the article. In particular, beware applause lights and confirmation bias in evaluating.