How to Stay Focused on Your Great Journey

Tell me if this rings a bell:

As a kid, your options seem limitless. Whether you want to be an astronaut, build the next supercar, or win a national championship, your possibilities seem limitless. Yet, as you got older, days seem to get shorter. You set out to accomplish one thing, but at the end of each day, ten other things pulled at you, and the goal you are aiming at is still just as far away. Your youthful optimism has been replaced by the realization that your talent and potential are very limited indeed — by time, intellect, innate biology, and luck of the draw.

As adulthood approaches, you adjust your expectations. Maybe you won’t get that Olympic medal after all. Perhaps instead of a mansion a middle-class home and a steady job will suffice. As Henry David Thoreau wrote in Walden in 1854: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation.” In other words: we settle.

And yet, not everyone settles. Some people do achieve greatness. While cynics may attribute success to luck, the fact is that many great men and women reach success not just once, but again and again. Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, and Jack Dorsey reinvented themselves and built empires in unrelated fields. (I’m a fan of tech moguls, but pick your own field, and it will hold heroes.) I am convinced there is a method to success, and while mastering it won’t necessarily make you a billionaire, you don’t have to settle for mediocrity either.

Later in Walden, Thoreau writes: “That man who does not believe that each day contains an earlier, more sacred, and auroral hour than he has yet profaned, has despaired of life, and is pursuing a descending and darkening way.” To me, that “sacred and auroral hour” is an aspiration that when I sit down to work the next day, it will be with a renewed vision for my future, a single-minded focus on my chief goal, and untainted optimism that despite the limited time I have, I will yet accomplish my highest goals.

The “secret” to success is deceptively simple: daily progress. The primary reason for failure is not a lack of talent, intelligence, or bad fortune, but perseverance. As midcentury radio speaker Earl Nightingale wrote “most people live a life of quiet mediocrity and never achieve the success they truly desire because they get impatient. They want easy success or none at all. They see the path to success as a frustration, an impediment. Each day spent short of the ultimate goal is viewed as a time of failure and as an annoyance. As such, they get distracted by hundreds of little things that each day try to get us off our course. Yet the successful among us know the truth.”

Last week was the Jewish holiday of Simhat Torah, which celebrates the conclusion of the annual cycle of Torah readings. Jews celebrate this day by collectively unwrapping the Torah (a single scroll containing the first five books of the bible) around the temple, as the rabbi reads the highlights, starting with Genesis and ending with the death of Moses. Just as the Torah tells the story of the Jewish people, I imagine my life as a scroll that contains my own trials and tribulations. As I wander through the time and space of life, I work towards a single goal: the perfection of my soul. In this mission, I have two aims: to discover the Good and to integrate it fully into myself and my world.

I believe that life ought to be a mission, a destination, and I must stay focused on my Grand Journey to move consistently toward my destination. You are on this journey whether you accept it or not. The only choice you have is whether to choose a destination and make daily progress towards it or to wander aimlessly, circling around to the same place again and again.

Your Great Journey has a beginning and an end, but what is your destination? Psychologist Kurt Goldstein thought it was “self-actualization” — the achievement of your full potential. I see it as the building of one’s soul — from an immature and imperfect one, to one that maximizes the flourishing of all the aspects of being human — social, romantic, parental, professional, and material.

The only aspect of life we ever have total control over is our mind, but the way we perfect our mind is through our actions — which become our habits. Therefore, I make big plans, while focusing on daily habits that move me towards them one day at a time.

In short, this is my advice for fellow travelers: in the journey of life, you will face a daily struggle. Don’t become so immersed in it that you forget to choose a destination. Make big plans, and then take small but consistent steps toward them, and you will reach them.

I will conclude with a quote from 19th-century architect Daniel Burnham:

Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will never die, but long after we are gone will be a living thing, asserting itself with ever-growing insistency. Remember that our sons and grandsons are going to do things that would stagger us. Think big.

McAllen, Texas is consistently the fattest city in America, and they are not happy about it. They can’t figure out why, as they have plenty of parks and organize 5K runs nearly every weekend.

What they don’t realize is that for non-athletes, exercise has very little to do with bodyweight.
The obesity epidemic is caused almost entirely by the consumption of processed carbohydrates, which the U.S. government and the medical establishment still encourages despite many decades of evidence to the contrary.

My city of Denver is the healthiest in mainland America, but walking around town, the obesity epidemic is still evident.

What’s interesting is the comparative rate of obesity in different grocery stores. Whole Foods shoppers have 1/10th the rate of obesity than mainstream grocery store shoppers. (According to researchers at the University of Washington.)

Yes, Whole Foods is about 15% more expensive, but what are the shoppers buying? A 15% markup on food for a 90% decrease in obesity rates would be a great trade-off. Is simply switching to Whole Foods a viable diet plan?

Most of the price difference is the much higher price of meat, dairy, and seafood (30% more) at Whole Foods. The prices of most other products are comparable to mainstream stores.

The difference between Whole Foods and Kroger shoppers is all in the name: Whole Foods customers prefer whole foods, not endless derivations of processed corn syrup.

Top ten ways you can appear rich even when you’re poor

1: Be fit and slim: there is a strong negative correlation between wealth and obesity. Why?

Contrary to popular belief, the rich are not slimmer because a healthy diet is more expensive or they can afford personal trainers. They are slimmer because they invest more thought into what they eat. This is because the wealthy have a lower time preference: they are willing to forgo the short-term pleasure of a sugar rush for the long-term reward of truly delicious food, good health, and good looks.

In developed countries where calories are cheap, our choice of food is determined by three factors: stress, culture, and availability.

Stress is the main determinant of time preference with food. Chronic stress makes us unable to make intelligent decisions about diet, and dietary sugar is the main pharmacological compound we used to deal with stress. Sugar and other processed carbohydrates are the main cause of obesity. For non-athletes, exercise has nothing to do with it.

There is much more to say on this topic, but to sum up: if you can learn to manage your stress, you will learn to manage your cravings. You can choose to develop a culture of cooking real food, and even though good food will not be as available to you, you can learn to go out of your way for it.

2: Wear well-fitting clothes: the rich are not fashionable because they can afford luxury brands. They are fashionable because they are conscious about fit and style. You don’t need to go to a bespoke haute couture tailor to dress well: you can find something that fits you at Goodwill. You just need to do free online research and make a conscious effort to design your wardrobe.

3: Show up on time: this is not to say that the rich are always punctual and the poor are late, but that the wealthy can afford to be physically and mentally present for occasions that they deem worth their time. The poor are usually distracted and either physically or mentally absent.

Like with diet, the root cause is stress: it’s much easier to be present when you can throw money to make your distractions go away. But if you’re poor, there is something else you can throw away to make your stressors go away: attachments. All relationships and possessions cost time and money. Some relationships and possessions are worthwhile and produce a positive return, while others are a net drag. When you are poor, it’s much easier for minor things to drag you down, so you must keep your load to a minimum. Partying is expensive. Owning a car is expensive. Owning the latest iPhone is expensive. Let go of attachments that are not vital to your long-term success and you will thrive.

I didn’t have a car until I got my master’s at 23. It’s not that I couldn’t afford or didn’t want a car (living in a small Texas college town). I knew that it would be an ongoing cost and a distraction from my main goal of completing my education.

4: Be young: no amount of wealth will give you a younger body, but you are in control of the two biggest causes of aging: obesity and sun damage. You may not be able to afford plastic surgery, but you can control the main reasons why the rich need plastic surgery in the first place.

5: Have a big family: while there is a strong relationship between poverty and more children, the cost of raising kids is one of the main reasons parents don’t have more children.

Children are expensive at all income levels since the expectations on parents grow proportionately. But I think the problem is the same: parents think that being good parents means spending money on their idea of a good parent rather than spending time being a parent. For example, in my family, we took our daughter out of an expensive private school because we found that she learned more from us at home. We don’t spend our time shuttling her from one activity to another, but go hiking, play chess, and cook together. Being a parent is cheaper and more rewarding than hiring someone else to parent your child.

6: Have a successful marriage: There is a very strong relationship between divorce, single parenthood, and poverty. Why do the poor get divorced more often? The root cause is an inability and unwillingness to negotiate conflict: all relationships take work and generate stress. Successful couples can take time to do the work because they manage their stress. Couples who divorce let stress and resentment build up. It is said that the overwhelming reason relationships fail is “lack of commitment.” But why are people not committed to relationships? It’s because it does not create value for them. Once the sensual aspect wears off, the inherent friction of human relationships overweights the positive aspects of the partnership. Poor people divorce for the same reason they get fat, and it has nothing to with money. The root cause of poverty, obesity, and divorce is high time preference.

7: Don’t complain: Wealthy people are happier, while the poor are much more likely to be depressed. Part of the reason is that they can throw money at problems. A more fundamental reason is that the poor have a scarcity mindset, while the wealthy have an abundance mindset.

The abundance mindset sees the universe as full of opportunity — for friendship, love, and financial success. By contrast, the scarcity mindset sees everything as a fixed pie and leads to hoarding, envy, and stagnation in every aspect of life.

Poor people with a scarcity mindset think that if their neighbor has something good, whether it’s a possession or relationship, it must be unavailable to them. So they complain about the cruel, unjust universe.

Wealthy people with an abundance mindset see others’ success as an inspiration: if their neighbor has a great marriage, a beautiful house, or a successful business, there is something positive to learn, and potentially a valuable relationship to build. The universe is full of opportunities, so there is no reason to complain about failure – they have only themselves to blame.

8: Enjoy great art: while the rich can afford an original Banksy their wall, and at their kid’s bar mitzva, the world’s greatest paintings are in public museums, and great music and film are nearly free for you to enjoy — if only you developed a taste for it.

It is said that Howard Hughes once locked himself in a hotel room and watched Ice Station Zebra for months. If I developed an OCD desire to watch a movie on repeat for months, it would the 2003 film “Master and Commander.” I’ve heard some people complain that the film is boring and doesn’t have enough action. Once again, high-time preference is at fault. You are addicted to crave the rush of sugar in food, the cheap dopamine thrill of pornography, and the freight train of explosions in the latest Michael Bay Transformers 7: Faster and Exploder.

Nurturing a taste in great art takes patience and time, but if you want to explore the highs and lows of the human condition and be inspired to be a deeper, more passionate soul, you must put in the time and work.

9: Keep a clean house: yes, the wealthy can hire housekeepers to pick up after them. But if you’re poor, you have an advantage they don’t: you have fewer possessions and less space to store them in.

While weekly cleaning is necessary for every household, being organized is more important: by putting things away after you use them (and teaching your kids to do the same) you can keep your home from becoming a mess in the first place.

The messy appearance of poor households has another cause: the scarcity mentality. People hoard things they don’t need because they worry that they won’t be able to get a hold of them again. But possessions you don’t need right now are only a drain on you: they take up physical and mental space in your life. Let go of the things you don’t need with the faith that they will be there when you need them again. There are “Buy Nothing” neighborhood groups all over the U.S. where families freely exchange things they don’t need anymore. This year, I got a punching bag, a shop vac, a kids trike, lightning for my garage, toddler clothes, yard tools, and much more. We gifted just as much. Relying on relationships and having faith in people’s generosity frees us up for physical and mental baggage.

10: Don’t stress about money: in developed countries, stress about money is the worst aspect of poverty, worse than the physical deprivation it forces. Few people in America have to worry about going hungry or homeless, but many more live paycheck to paycheck with chronic stress about money. A $500 surprise expense would put most Americans into debt.

A high income is no guarantee of financial well-being: if your spending rate is greater than your income, you will never have financial security. Real wealth is not measured in income, but financial security: the confidence that no matter what happens to your income stream, your lifestyle won’t be affected.

The solution to money stress is simple: live below your means and build an emergency fund. It’s easier not to stress about money when you’re young and broke. When you’re starting out, all you need to worry about is living below your means and keeping your emergency cash fund topped up. When you’re wealthy, very little of your net worth is cash. You have to balance your net worth between business interest, real estate, securities, and other assets. Managing your portfolio becomes a part-time job – unless you hire expensive money managers, which is another set of worries.


Wealth is one possible reward for developing good habits in life. It takes time and luck to build wealth, but you don’t need to wait to become rich to enjoy the other rewards that result from striving for physical and mental health.

  • Find life-enhancing ways to manage stress (such as sports or hobbies rather than food, porn, drugs, or tv)
  • Eliminate relationships that drag you down and distract you from your life’s goals
  • Put as much thought into your appearance as you do into other important aspects of your life
  • Make a concerted effort to nurture your soul with great art
  • Eliminate possessions that do not bring you joy or add more value than the financial, physical, and mental burden they carry
  • Live below your means to avoid financial stress

Why you should embrace the abundance mentality

Why are some people successful — financially, socially, and romantically, while others stagnate and never amount to anything?

The Abundance Mindset

Successful people share many traits, but I think one key attribute is the abundance mindset.

The abundance mindset sees the universe as full of opportunity — for friendship, love, and financial success. By contrast, the scarcity mindset sees everything as a fixed pie and leads to hoarding, envy, and stagnation in every aspect of life.

Think of the friend who forms a circle around them a party in any city, the successful serial entrepreneur, the man or woman who fearlessly starts genuine conversations and asks their romantic interests out on a date — what do they have in common? They recognize an opportunity in any form, and they are not afraid of failure because they know that life is full of chance to achieve their goals.

The Scarcity Mindset

By contrast, think of the failures you know. People you met decades ago who ended up in a dead-end career, unable to form or keep romantic relationships, and still living paycheck to paycheck. What do they have in common? In their relationships, they see the value as fixed and scarce. They bicker with their spouses and their coworkers over responsibility, budgets, and commitments because they see relationships as a tit for tat game over a fixed pie. Instead of using their relationships as a foundation to build value, they wear down their romantic and business partners and sabotage their success — yet they are too afraid of finding someone else to move on.

Learning to identify opportunities, and getting the ability and confidence to act on them is a skill, though some of us come by it easier than others. It starts the same way: with the philosophy that the world is full of opportunity if only we can learn to recognize and take advantage of it.

Resources are scarce. Opportunities are not. People hoard resources because they see the world as fixed, and by extension, they see their nature as fixed. Believing that you are incapable of change is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Abundance and Minimalism

For me, minimalism is an important aspect of an abundance mentality:

The homes of the self-made wealthy people tend to be sparse: they contain only the objects that are necessary for who they are today. Whether it’s an inspirational work of art on the wall or utensils in their kitchen, their possessions serve a practical purpose for who they are now. They do not need to hold on to the objects that embodied who they were yesterday.

Poor people and those who did not earn their wealth, on the other hand, stuff their homes with everything that they ever were. They have no confidence in their ability to find opportunities for either material success or self-growth in the future, so they hoard possessions both in case of material and spiritual shortage. Why spiritual? If you view the world as scarce in spiritual fuel, you must hoard all the symbols that have ever defined you. Think of the middle-aged man with his self-esteem and self-identity still linked to the things he did in high school or college, rather than pursuits he has now.

The same thing happens with romantic relationships and friends: abundant people focus on friends and partners who add value to their lives, whereas scarce people hang out with energy-draining friends and relationships that go nowhere.

Embrace Abundance in All Aspects of Your Life

The abundance vs scarcity mentality applies in many aspects of life: for example, time preference is the preference to enjoy goods sooner rather than later. People with a scarcity mentality have a high time preference and struggle to save their salary for the future. People who save for their future have a low time preference because they can imagine the life of abundance that will result from forgoing current consumption.

Whatever savings they do have, people with a scarcity mentality keep mostly in cash because they attribute their own scarcity mindset to markets and entrepreneurs. Likewise, they vote for politicians who redistribute the wealth of others rather than create an environment that fosters wealth-creation.

The scarcity mentality also causes an unhealthy lifestyle, since the scarcity mindset is unable to visualize the future benefits of a healthy diet, and focus only on the pleasure of immediate consumption.

Don’t blame markets for obesity

For nearly the entirety of human history, the chief concern of most people has been getting enough to eat. The invention of capitalism finally enabled the majority of people in market-based societies to focus on higher pursuits. Yet capitalism is now widely blamed for causing obesity – because of the availability of fast food, “food deserts”, or simply because markets incentivize products to make food as delicious and cheap as possible.

Whether or not you are a fan of free markets, it is personally important for you to understand why this idea is wrong:

The ultimate cause of obesity is not that we eat too much food, or that we lack access to healthy food, or that our food is simply too delicious. The cause is that we eat the wrong foods. The reason so much of the food in America is so unhealthy is mostly due to bad science enshrined in agricultural subsidies and government-issued guidelines.

Regardless, if you are overweight (and over 70% of us are), you need to know that the cause is not due to your genetics (our grandparents weren’t all obese), a failing of morality or willpower, or the capitalist system.

When you eat a healthy diet, your body naturality self-regulates the hormonal signals for hunger and satiety to keep you at a healthy weight. It takes years of eating bad foods to cause chronic hormonal imbalances that lead to weight gain, metabolic syndrome, hypertension, and the majority of chronic lifestyle diseases that we deal with today.

I’ve written about the hormonal cause of obesity and what a proper diet consists of elsewhere, but it is also important to understand that you don’t need to shop at premium grocery stores like Whole Foods to eat well.

Organic and groceries considered “health foods” today have only been around for a few decades thanks to health food venture capitalism from people like Whole Foods founder John Mackey. (Follow this link to listen to his story, and you might be surprised about the pro-market views of America’s leading hippie food promoter.)  Food that is objectively nutritious can be found cheaply in most anywhere America, even if it comes in a can on the shelf of a Dollar Store.

Experiments such as “30 Days of Gas Station Food” prove that you can find decent food even if you shop exclusively at gas stations.

If there is interest, I would like to conduct an experiment: identify some staples of a healthy diet, then match them one for one between Whole Foods and Dollar General. I suspect that the building blocks of a nutritious diet can be found in most fast food venues, gas stations, and even “food deserts.”

How I found the one trick to “lose belly fat overnight”

About three years ago, I decided to reach an ambitious financial goal, that would put me in the top 5% of my peers. I engaged in a deep dive of personal finance, which led me to reject the conventional wisdom about career, savings, and investing. I developed new principles, achieved financial success, and moved my retirement date forward by several decades.

Two months ago, I became aware that though I was only slightly overweight, as I got older, my weight was having a detrimental effect on my health in many ways. I decided to engage in a similar process to lose weight.

I already knew that the conventional wisdom of a low-fat diet and more exercise was wrong, but as I dived into the topic of weight loss, what I learned transformed my approach. I’m still learning more every day, but here is the gist of what I found:

The most common explanations for why 70% of Americans are overweight are wrong. Obesity is not caused by eating too much or exercising too little, but by a hormonal imbalance in the body. The human body has a “set body weight” which it maintains through hormonal feedback systems. Inactivity and overeating is the result of obesity, not the cause. This is why diets which focus on eating less and moving more almost always fail — as has been proven by numerous studies. Unfortunately, the lure of hundreds of billions in agricultural subsidies has maintained a false theory of obesity despite 50 years of negative evidence.

The ultimate biological cause of obesity is a hormonal imbalance caused by insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is caused by persistently high levels of sugar in the blood. High sugar levels come from frequent carbohydrate-heavy meals. Cheap and plentiful processed carbohydrates from corn and wheat are the result of agricultural subsidies, which were passed to support the false hypothesis that obesity is caused by excess fat consumption.

Insulin resistance is the cause of fat accumulation. Insulin is a hormone which enables all cells to use and store sugar in the blood. Insulin is essential for the body, but persistently high levels of insulin cause resistance and fat accumulation. Fat storage is thus hormonally mediated. Attempts to lose or gain weight by calorie regulation below the set weight inevitably fail long term because the body compensates in myriad ways:

The body will respond to decreasing fat stores by increasing appetite, reducing satiety, lowering the metabolic rate, decreasing body temperature, and many other ways.
Long term weight control can only be achieved by understanding and addressing the causal factors – the hormones that regulate weight – especially insulin and leptin. This is why people who address weight by regulating calories suffer from a life-long rollercoaster or weight loss and regain. Lack of activity and larger meals is the outcome of obesity, not its cause.

More fundamentally, obesity is caused by dysfunctional emotion-handling skills. Carbohydrates are a highly effective and pleasurable endorphin activator. Like alcohol, tobacco, or heroin, carbs help addicts with chronic stress, anxiety, and depression — which are all common in the developed world. Carbohydrate addicts treat emotional instability with food in the same way as any other substance abuser.

Humans have evolved satiety mechanisms in response to fat and protein consumption (leptin is released to signal satiety). But like alcohol or cocaine, humans have no evolved satiety mechanism for carbs, which causes chronic overeating.

Understanding that carbohydrate consumption is an addictive relationship is essential to effective weight loss. Telling an alcoholic to consume less alcohol does not work because any amount of alcohol reinforces the addition. For the same reason, eliminating all processed carbohydrates from the diet is necessary for an effective dietary change.

Adopted sibling studies show that obesity is 70% genetically determined. I suspect that the specific trait is an inherited lack of emotion-management skills, which combined by super-availability of cheap carbohydrates is responsible for the modern obesity epidemic which affects 70% of Americans. Treatment of obesity requires addressing the need for emotional self-regulation and insulin resistance. Weight and fat loss will follow naturally as a result.

Exercise is effective for weight loss not because it burns fat or builds muscle (these effects are trivial and counteracted by the body in non-athletes), but because the endorphins produced during exercise reduce the emotional dependency on carbohydrates in food.

It is impossible to become fat from eating food — real food. Real food contains fats and proteins that trigger the body’s automatic satiety mechanisms. Obesity develops due to artificial food in the form of refined carbohydrate products. You can’t lose weight by eating MORE of anything. You must reduce the harmful effects of addictive carbohydrates.

The solution to obesity is to correct the hormonal imbalance by reducing insulin resistance. Insulin resistance can be reduced by creating periods of low blood sugar, specifically by eating a low carb diet, extending the periods between meals, such as by avoiding snacking and intermittent fasting.

Lowering insulin resistance will signal the body to automatically reduce fat stores, by increasing activity levels and correcting satiety levels. More activity and smaller meals are the *result* of fat loss, not the cause.

Finally, it is necessary to address the underlying emotional needs which cause carbohydrates addiction. Healthier substitutes such as walks, coffee, meditation, exercise, or just more sleep can reduce the dependency to derive endorphins from frequent carbohydrate consumption.

As I’ve discovered these ideas over the last month, I achieved dramatic success with my own health. I now have a healthy BMI for the first time in years and am rapidly moving towards my goal of 10% body fat without calorie restrictions or exercise. By switching to a low carb, high-fat diet and adding periods of intermittent fasting (a restricted daily eating window) I achieved a steady loss of 2.7 pounds per week.

Furthermore, I found that daily walks, coffee, and a concerted effort to get more sleep reduced my need to constantly snack to find emotional balance.

So, here is my one trick to lose belly fat overnight:

Extend your nighttime fasting period:
Don’t eat anything after eight pm or before noon. Have a glass of water with sea salt (to replenish electrolytes) before bed. Your body will use up the remaining sugar in the blood and enter fat-burning mode overnight, and you will pee out the ketones in the morning. Weigh yourself every morning to motivate yourself and track progress.

America’s Deadliest Drug Addiction Affects Everyone

Today, my *web browser* is insisting that I “can help curb opioid abuse.”
Here is my contribution:

Stock photos in the West universally use the presence of a mug in the shot to connote work, just as the presence of soda or alcohol drunks connote fun. The mug presumably contains coffee, a psychoactive compound which may enhance mental performance. What is shocking is that we not only sanction a chemical dependency on caffeine but celebrate not just the coffee, but our very dependency on it.

Americans see no contradiction with celebrating their own drug addiction to coffee and alcohol while jailing millions of their neighbors who happen to use a different plant for entertainment because of a different economic and cultural context. Cannabis, methamphetamines or cocaine may be stronger per coffee per dose — but make no mistake — if coffee were made illegal, the caffeine density of a single dose would increase to those of banned drugs. Keep in mind that cocaine, heroin, and other banned drugs started out as additives to health tonics and soda drinks, while the THC dose in cannabis rapidly increased after the U.S. banned it in 1937.

I have no problem with coffee as such. I drink it most working days specifically for its psychoactive properties and as medication for occasional tension headaches. However, I would be ashamed to be addicted to caffeine and would consider it a moral failure and a threat to my health. Caffeine addiction is a real health threat, though surprisingly little studied given that perhaps hundreds of millions of Americans suffer from it.

While excess caffeine usage is only mildly harmful, there is a far more serious substance addiction which even more Americans suffer from: sugar. Excess sugar consumption is a primary cause of metabolic syndrome, which is a leading cause of obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and mental illness, including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and Alzheimer’s, as well as many types of cancer.

Virtually all Americans consume unhealthy amounts of sugar, and 70% of U.S. adults age 20 years or older are overweight or obese.  Sugar kills more people than all other psychoactive drugs combined. Excess carbohydrates in the diet are the primary cause of obesity, and bad diets rather than genetics or lack of exercise are the overwhelming cause of obesity.

There is sufficient evidence to link excessive sugar intake to the pandemic of obesity and cardiovascular disease. – AHA

The growth of sugar in American diets is primarily linked to U.S. agricultural policy and regulatory capture of agencies by the farming and food industry. This (not our prosperity or sedentary lifestyle) is why obesity is strongly linked to income levels, as wealthier Americans are less affected by sugar additives in food influences by agricultural policy.

Metabolic syndrome is the result of a dangerously addictive diet, just as addictive and difficult to break as heroin or methamphetamines. “Hard drugs” do kill people faster, but only addiction-vulnerable members of society tend to become dependent on them, whereas sugar is a low-level high which has nearly completely infiltrated the American food supply. One big secret of the War on Drugs is that vast majority of people are unlikely to ever become addicted to hard drugs (whether prescription or illegal) because addiction is the result of certain genetic, social, and psychological attributes.

The *primary* cause of any drug addiction is not the pleasure of the high or the pain of withdrawal, but the lack of mental and social structure to provide healthy alternatives to addictive behavior. This is equally true of cocaine, meth, alcohol, pornography, coffee, or sugar. Drug addicts of all kinds universally suffer from a lack of a social support network which advocates and enables healthy dopamine-generating activities.

Loving weird food: how I stopped being a picky eater

Like most Americans, I used to hold some self-evident beliefs about food:

The three dogmas of the food phobiac:

  1. There are foods I “like” and foods I “dislike” and I ought to stick to the things that I like.
  2. The better something tastes, the more unhealthy it must be and vice versa.  You must choose between a long life of disgusting food or indulge yourself and die early.
  3. There is a value hierarchy for all the edible parts of any animal. For example, top sirloin is the ideal for beef.  There’s a similar value hierarchy for animals themselves. Decisions about which animal and which part of the animal to eat are therefore a simple cost/benefit equation.

Two things completely changed by attitude on food: getting married, and moving to China.

The psychology of taste

Our perception of taste is closely associated with our memories of things such as the taste of past meals, our emotional states, and sensory associations with similar foods.  We come to associate foods with sensory reactions based on many factors such as familiarity, the quality of most meals, the people we were with, etc.  By dissociating taste as such from negative experiences we can learn to appreciate food for its inherent taste, without emotional baggage.  We can learn to prefer the taste of healthy foods by the same process.

Sensory integration therapy for food phobiacs

The first step to fixing food phobias is to recognize the problem: it’s not OK to exclude foods because of food sensitivities.  All the “most hated” American foods are delicious when prepared properly. Having recognized the problem, here is the program that worked for me:

The strategy is to gradually introduce foods in different settings, gradually building exposure and positive associations with certain foods.  For example, when my wife learned that I hated zucchini, she gradually introduced it into my diet starting with small amounts balanced by other flavors, and growing to having zucchini be the dominant ingredient.   Here is what she cooked:

  1. Stuffed peppers with zucchini and sausage
  2. Potato and zucchini frittata
  3. Roasted vegetable meatloaf with zucchini
  4. Grated zucchini topped with marinara
  5. Lasagna with zucchini noodles
  6. Zucchini gratin
  7. Zucchini latkes
  8. Zucchini fried in butter with onions
  9. Parmesan crusted fried zucchini

The same program was used for eggplant, brussel sprouts, avocados, cabbage, and okra.  Once I learned to appreciate food for its taste and texture of foods rather than negative associations and new textures, it was no longer necessary to disguise the ingredients.   When I have a negative reaction to something, I isolate the components of the food (source, flavor, smell, texture) and think about which aspect I reacted to. Oftentimes I react to negative memories and associations and not the food itself. Consciously understanding that a negative reaction has no rational basis is often enough to overcome it.

The importance of ceremony

The ceremonial aspect of dining is very important when learning to appreciate food.  If you merely try to inhale as many calories as quickly as possible, any unusual tastes will be an unpleasant distraction.  A proper sit-down meal is required to take the time to really analyze the taste of foods and form new positive sensory-conceptual associations to replace the old negative ones.

 A cosmopolitan attitude to dining

One of the main differences between the Chinese diet and the Western diet is that the entire animal is considered edible. Whereas Americans stuff everything other than “choice” cuts into burgers, sausages, and McNuggets, the Chinese proudly consume the head, claws, organs, and other miscellaneous parts of animals as delicacies. This is not because they’re poorer – the head and feet are the most expensive parts of the animal. Neither do they restrict themselves to a few “blessed” animals – the entire animal kingdom is on the menu.

The difference is that of the food elitist versus that of the food connoisseur. The elitist believes that only a narrow socially accepted list of foods is good enough for him. The connoisseur is an explorer, who uses his palate as the universe-expanding sensory organ it was meant to be.  The elitist lives within the small dietary-social circle he was born into. The connoisseur traverses the biological and cultural realms.

The approach I now take to eating new things now is exploratory one. Instead of responding with “like” or “dislike” I try to understand the flavor components and texture of food. I appreciate meals from many perspectives – sensory, anatomical, social, and historical, to fully integrate it with my worldview.

Note: I have found that  adopting a Paleo diet enhances flavor discrimination. For example, a carrot is actually quite sweet and delicious to eat raw, but a typical carb-addict wouldn’t know it.

None of this is to claim attitude alone will make everything taste good. Meals must be prepared skillfully to taste good. The notion I want to dispel is that taste is either genetic or set by undecipherable psychological factors we cannot affect. Human culture has a rich history of many culinary traditions and we ought to learn to appreciate them without emotional baggage or provincial bias.

It’s time to bring your lunch to work

One stark difference between my coworkers during the time I lived in Shanghai was that the majority of Chinese workers brought their lunch from home, whereas foreigners tended to go to restaurants to eat.  Going out in central Shanghai is not cheap, but like New York City or San Francisco, it has a fantastic selection of exotic dining options.   Chances are however, that if you live elsewhere in the world, you frequent your local Chick-Fil-A or Chipotle simply because it’s the most practical lunch option.  Two thirds of Americans go out for lunch, costing them over $2000 per year.

If you love going out for lunch to eat great food, that’s great.  However, consider that you can save a lot of money and time, as well as eat much better if you pack your own lunch.   I bring my own breakfast almost every day, and it’s not nearly as much effort as most people imagine.  Furthermore,  bringing my own lunch makes it much easier for me to stick to a paleo diet.

The photo below shows the three parts of my lunch box:


  • 3 eggs and bacon or sausage:   each Sunday, my wife prepares two dozen hard boiled eggs and a pan of bacon and sausage in the oven.  These go into individually-packages ziplock bags for the week.   Each morning we throw one bag into my lunchbox.


  • My main course is usually leftovers.   There are ideas online for how to pack a lunch box, but keep in mind you don’t need to prepare food specifically for lunch:  if you go out for dinner, get some to take with you, and if you cook at home, just make enough for the next day.   When I don’t have any other ideas, I grab some single-serving canned salmon or potato salad.


  • My snacks for the today: almonds, dark chocolate,  carrots and an orange.  Like my breakfast, snacks are prepared a week or more in advance in individual ziploc bags.

Swiss Steak with Venison


  1. 2 lb. deer round or chuck steak
  2. 1/2 c. flour (seasoned with 1/2 tsp. salt and pepper)
  3. 1/4 c. vegetable oil
  4. 1 med. onion (chopped)
  5. 2 carrots (fine chopped or grated)
  6. 1 (#303) can sliced stewed tomatoes
  7. 1 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
  8. Roux (2 tbsp. flour dissolved in 2 tbsp. melted butter)
  9. Salt and pepper to taste


  1. Heat oil in iron or heavy skillet over medium heat. Dredge steaks in seasoned flour and brown on both sides slowly over medium heat. Remove meat, set aside.
  2. Add 1 cup water, onion, carrot, Worcestershire sauce and stewed tomatoes. Stir while bringing vegetables to a boil. Reduce heat. Add meat. Cover and simmer until meat is tender. Remove meat carefully with slotted spoon or spatula. Place in serving bowl.
  3. Remove sauce from heat and stir in roux until smooth. Stirring constantly, heat to boiling over medium heat. Cook until slightly thickened. Taste, adjust seasonings. Pour over meat. Serve with mashed potatoes.