Traineo logo

Traineo is a new website that helps you meet your diet and exercise goals with a bit of peer pressure. An interesting web 2.0 take on it, and one that I’ve been waiting for. Since I’m not much of a diet-watcher, some of the tools seem a little awkward: you have to rate your diet subjectively (poor to great) and that you enter your calories in by number. I’m curious to see whether or not that data has any value over time especially since I don’t know inuitively how many calories are in things.

The best feature is how you can add motivators… these are people that will be emailed either your weight change or your actual weight (you can set that up in the preferences) weekly and will therefore serve to deliver a continuous but friendly stream of peer pressure to you.

(Found via Lifehacker)

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The title of this exercise is a bit misleading.  Watching what you eat usually refers to counting calories.  I mean it more in the literal sense… looking and noticing what you are eating.  Acting on that knowledge may or may not happen, but it's not important for the purposes of this exercise.

Watching what you eat will tell you a lot about your current mental and physical state.  Have you noticed that your appetite for food will be different depending on your mood and your state of current health?  When I exercise, I crave different foods than when I've just gotten into a fight with a friend.  Also, my appetite will be different when I haven't eaten in a long time than it is when I have just finished a meal.  There's a reason salads typically come first and ice cream comes last… the body's appetite when full is less for less healthy food than when your body is actually trying to get energy for vital functions.

You can pretty much take the types of foods you're currently craving as a literal expression of your mood and health.  A healthy mental state will crave healthy foods, and vice versa.  Take note of the things you are craving for a day.  In particular, notice:

  • How sensitive are you to hunger?  Do you eat at the first sign of hunger, or do you put up with hunger longer?
  • Do you eat more healthily when you satisfy hunger immediately, or when you wait it out?
  • When do you eat most the most junk food and what is your mental and physical states at those times?

How much can you tell about people around you if all you had to go on was the food that they eat?  How much of this serves as a personality test for others and for yourself?  Most people believe that you can become more healthy by eating more healthily… but is it possible that the reverse is true as well?  Healthy people eat healthily.  Chicken or egg?  Lest we confuse correllation with causation once again, let's start with merely watching the food we eat and watching our moods. 

Eustress is what they call good stress. The kind you feel when you get a raise, or buy a new house, or go on a great first date. Good in the sense that it makes you feel good, that the stress is enjoyable. Challenges and projects create eustress, overload and problems create distress (bad stress).

However, eustress is not the same as serenity and blissfulness. Eustress is still stress. It still has many of the same symptoms of distress, including:

  • Raised adrenaline levels
  • Raise corticosterone levels (a steroid hormone)
  • Increased heart-rate
  • Increased respiration
  • Higher blood pressure

Good stress will also just as easily lead to physical problems such as heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, enlargement of the adrenal glands, and other illnesses (according to Wikipedia, and when are they wrong).

Stress is a big deal. If you look at the list of 15 ways to live longer, you’ll quickly notice that almost all of them are related to mental or physical stress. Be optimistic, have a pet, be rich, chill out, laugh a little, manage stress, and meditate are all about managing mental stress. Don’t oversleep, have more sex, get a VAP (cholesterol test), stop smoking, eat your antioxidants, and exercise are all about managing your physical stress. What I’m saying, I guess, is be stressed about stress!

What is the purpose of eustress?

I used to believe that my purpose in life was to find reasons to celebrate. It was a general theory I had that by seeking reasons to celebrate that I would seek worthwhile things. Everyone likes to celebrate… our society is pretty much built on this premise: happy hours, Fridays, dessert, holidays that we don’t even know much about other than that we get the day off or get presents, New Years, etc. In a society where we say anything is possible if you work for it, celebration is the carrot of success.

Celebration involves a shift in priorities… up until now you have been focused on working, saving, building, designing, and planning… celebration involves the opposite: playing, spending, taking down, relaxing, enjoying. It involves partying and drinking and perhaps being a little crazy.

If you think about it, celebration and eustress work to bring you back to normal levels. Eustress is a form of negative feedback designed to spend excess energy, success, money, happiness, and alcoholic tolerance and bring you back to a level that you’re more comfortable with. This is not necessarily a bad thing… saving money your entire life without ever enjoying the benefits of spending it sounds like a life wasted. On the other hand, you can see the symptoms of this with people who rise quickly in fame or wealth… many times they will end up spending it all wildly and quickly end up right where they started.

What is the alternative to eustress?

It makes sense for some systems to maintain homeostasis. For example, our bodies need to regulate on the principles of homeostasis for a number of things such as body temperature, oxygen levels, hydration, etc. When we’re hungry, we should be distressed and seek food. When we’re full, we should feel satiated and energized and expend energy. When we’re cold, we should shiver and when we’re hot we should sweat.

However, there are other systems that may seem to be homeostatic but which sometimes are not. The money in our bank for example. Oftentimes our incomes will remain fairly fixed, and so we know when we’re spending too much and when we have some money that we can safely spend. This triggers the eustress/distress principles of spending… who doesn’t sometimes feel the pinch right before payday and decline on the spontaneous trip to Vegas, and who hasn’t celebrated on a payday with a few extra drinks or a nicer meal? But, if you think about it, there’s no reason why a bank account has to have a particular dollar amount comfort zone. Some people maintain their balance near zero, and others maintain their balance near $100,000… and it makes no qualitative difference if you still feel as distressed at $99,990 as you do at -$10. I’ll give you two choices. Who would you rather be:

  • Someone who spends money whenever they get it, but never has savings.
  • Someone who saves all their money and never enjoys it.

Celebrator or scrooge… those are your two options. Well, of course, everyone wants to be somewhere in between. How does “in between” avoid the problem though? How much should you save? How often should you celebrate? The scroogier you are, the more quickly you’ll amass riches! But what use is amassing riches if you never have fun? The dilemma continues.The answer is simple. Know what you’re working towards. If you know what your ideal scene is, you’ll know why you’re saving, and you’ll also preserve the spirit of the scene that you’re working towards. Use distress and eustress to your advantage… they are tools for promoting change and all you need is a direction to point it.

More about stress:

Or, a refresher on the common correlation versus causation logical fallacy.
According to Forbes, these 15 things will make you live longer:

  1. Don't oversleep
  2. Be optimistic
  3. Have more sex
  4. Get a pet
  5. Get a VAP (a cholesterol test)
  6. Be rich
  7. Stop smoking
  8. Chill out
  9. Eat your antioxidants
  10. Marry well
  11. Exercise
  12. Laugh a little
  13. Lose weight
  14. Manage stress
  15. Meditate

Hey, they forgot some!

  1. Drink more [Miami Herald]
  2. Win an oscar [Forbes]
  3. Be a woman [Bloomberg]
  4. Eat less [The Hindu News]
  5. Eat sushi [Taipei Times]
  6. Get married [Jackson Sun]
  7. Go to church [Warwick Today]
  8. Play the harmonica [CBS]
  9. Live in the future [The Telegraph]
  10. Have a young mother [Health 24]

All I'm suggesting is that sometimes these studies are a bit wacky. For example, people are very bad at confusing correlation with causality. Just because there is a strong correlation between the amount of sleep you get a night and the length of your life does not mean that one causes the other. For example, just because the value of your house and the size of your cat's belly are both increasing doesn't mean that you can increase the valuation of your house by feeding your cat more chow.

Here are three relationships that can be taken (or mistaken) for causation:

  1. Causation: Changes in X cause changes in Y. For example, football weekends cause heavier traffic, more food sales, etc.
  2. Common response: Both X and Y respond to changes in some unobserved variable. All three of our examples are examples of common response.
    • Ice cream sales and shark attacks both increase during summer.
    • Skirt lengths and stock prices are both controlled by the general attitude of the country, liberal or conservative.
    • The number of cavities and children's vocabulary are both related to a child's age.
  3. Confounding: The effect of X on Y is hopelessly mixed up with the effects of other explanatory variables on y. For example, if we are studying the effects of Tylenol on reducing pain, and we give a group of pain-sufferers Tylenol and record how much their pain is reduced, we are confounding the effect of giving them Tylenol with giving them any pill. Many people report a reduction in pain by simply being given a sugar pill with no medication in it at all, this is called the placebo effect. To establish causation, a designed experiment must be run.

(from Correlation and Causation)

Not all of the ways to live longer are necessarily fallacies, I'm just picking on them because lists like these tend to appeal to our view of the world… those of us who drink a lot like to have scientific studies back us up, and those of us who don't go to church might become a little irate when scientific studies back up regular church attendance. In the meantime, let's all buy harmonicas and have more sex (not necessarily at the same time).

Link: 15 Ways to Live Longer [Forbes via Lifehacker]

This is an interesting development. Biznik is a Seattle-based group of people that are trying some bold experiments. Their primary experiment is to create a "radically different kind of Seattle business networking group", and their latest experiment is to give health care options to its members. The group is comprised mostly of freelancing and contracting professionals in a number of creative industries and so getting health care is a particularly fresh nightmare for most of them. So, ganging up and getting options for health insurance that just aren't possible for small companies or individuals sounds like a great idea. For more details about it, Chris Haddad answered a bunch of questions in this post.

In response to Steve Pavlina's "How to Get Up Right Away When Your Alarm Goes Off":

I like his take on training the body to act without thinking. The ways that the mind can control the body's action are many-fold. For example, you can think "Arm, raise!" and it usually works (unless it has fallen asleep or has been recently exercised too much). Or, you can think "Face, cry!" and there's an intermediate step of first conjuring a sad memory and then pushing it into your subconscious until it returns emotions that potentially result in tears. Or, finally, in the case of the alarm clock where you're trying to influence behavior at a future time when the consciousness isn't at its strongest, you can use thought to train the body in a Pavlovian sense to react automatically to certain stimulus. It's a subtle form of self-brainwashing, and I think this type of behavior is under-utilized in our lives. Because we place so much weight and significance on the power of logic and free will, we oftentimes overlook the fact that 90% of our daily behavior is automatic… either trained into us by our parents, or our peers, or habits we picked up along the way. The true victory of the will over our behaviors (if that's something that you're interested in) will come when we embrace techniques of automatic behavior (sadly demonized by the term "brainwashing") and conscious habit-forming. I like this quote:

We can go a bit further and observe that “benevolent habituation” — the ability to do the right thing by unconscious or half-conscious reflex — is precisely what we normally mean by expertise.

Habituation, Expertise, and Undo Operations

It's true. We associate concepts like "being in the zone" or doing something "by instinct" as the highest form of skill. When you know something like the back of your hand, or could do something with your hands tied behind your back, or could do it while asleep, then you know you really know something. The ironic part is that this only happens when your mind stops thinking about it.

A bunch of the exercises in my list of 101 exercises will involve playing around with our system of habits… forming them, breaking them, revising them, re-experiencing them. Because nothing is as new and fresh than going against habit (breaking out of the routine), and nothing is as instinctual and skillfully done as a well-formed habit.

Here are a few tricks for improving your mornings whether or not you are a morning person:

  1. Set your alarm clock to the real time. That old trick of trying to trick yourself only works for a few days and it's just silly anyway.
  2. Set your alarm to the actual time you want to wake up. Trying to give yourself time to hit the snooze button only means you get less actual sleep and end up more tired than simply waking up when you have to wake up.
  3. Wake up half an hour earlier than you usually do. Most people procrastinate until the last minute before waking up, creating a cycle of having to hurry, being late, being less than ready for the day. All that can be fixed by waking up a half hour earlier.
  4. Wake up at the same time every day. Even weekends. Steve Pavlina explains the benefits of this well in his posts, "How to become and early riser" and "How to become an early riser part 2".
  5. Try it for 30 days, and quit, double down, or revise at that point.

These few simple tricks can turn a morning from a drag to something to look forward to.