Health Breakthrough 2005

Starting in July 2005 I made a few simple changes in my diet and by the end of the year I had

My weight is now what I consider to be my ideal weight, the same as it was in my 20's, and my body holds this ideal weight even when I deviate from the program for a few weeks. It is once again my "set-point."

I now have at least the mental ability I had in my 20's: I have my mental focus, acuity and stamina back, plus all of the experience I've gained over the years. For me, this is the important breakthrough.

My purpose here is to document the changes I made in case they are also effective for others — perhaps you!

Some background on me before the breakthrough

Despite all of these fairly good things, my weight began to increase from age 29 on, at approximately 1 3/4 pounds a year. Nothing seemed to make much difference:

In my youth I was considered a prodigy in physics, mathematics and computer science. These skills take great mental focus and my ability to do this kind of work had been gradually declining over the years. In my 20's I could work with complex abstractions for 10 or more hours a day, 6 days a week. By a year ago, I was lucky if I could get 6 hours of really good work in a week.

I had been aware for some time that health and longevity could likely be increased through a diet with good nutrition but restricted calories. However, any time I even thought about restricting calories I was inspired to head for the refrigerator and have something extra to eat! Dieting, in the sense of eating less than I want to eat, has never seemed to be something I could do.

When I was in my 20's I would generally eat much more than I have since, but I would also easily forget about eating when I was busy. I always loved rice, pasta and fish. I generally disliked fatty foods. I got lots of exercise, generally bicycling, walking and swimming and I never gained weight.

In my 40's I found myself usually having a large serving of rice at dinner time and having an extra small meal a few hours after dinner — but then I have always tended to work late, sleep late and skip breakfast, so I was actually having three fairly regular meals a day.

The inspiration for the change

I have long had a great deal of respect for the scientist Ray Kurzweil. In early 2005 a friend asked if I'd read Ray's book Fantastic Voyage : Live Long Enough to Live Forever, co-written by Ray and Terry Grossman. Although I was not aware of Ray Kurzweil as an authority on health and longevity, I was intrigued enough to order a copy and start reading.

Ray and Terry, as they refer to themselves, are interested in living "forever" by living into the coming era a few decades from now when they expect technology will be able to begin to slow and eventually reverse aging. This is a passion with them, they are scientifically literate researcherrs and they've put together a highly optimal program. In fact, it is an exacting and intense program, but it is what they calculate will give them the best chance of "living long enough to live forever."

One thing in the book bothered me: their (probably Ray's) "gee whiz" scenarios of the future. For example, how in the future we'll be able to get optimal nutrition through nanobots, rather than the food we eat. I found their futuristic projections embarrassing, with a crude 1950's flavor. It is not that their projections are too far-out, but rather the opposite: I expect the future to offer much more sophisticated and desirable options. But then, I'm of a later generation and my values and expectations are different than theirs. Fortunately, Ray and Terry's futuristic scenarios are irrelevant to their health and longevity program, outside of the motivating effect they may have on some people. If you can't relate to them, simply ignore them as I try to.

I believe that Ray and Terry's program is equally valuable whether or not you're interested in the possibility of living "forever". After all, the first rule of living a long life is to live each day (and each moment) fully. Good health and slow aging is of interest to everyone.

You can get a good overview of what Ray and Terry recommend at http://fantastic-voyage.net/ShortGuide.htm

Although their book outlines a very intensive program, Ray and Terry caution against making big changes quickly. Looking at their various recommendations, I adopted two which I thought would be fairly easy:

  1. Moderately reducing carbohydrates.
  2. Taking a few good supplements.

Reducing carbohydrates

I didn't realize how quickly starches in grains like wheat and rice and root vegetables like potatoes are converted to sugar in the intestines. It happens quickly after a meal. Sugar pours into the bloodstream and the pancreas responds with insulin to compensate. Regular large floods of insulin promote insulin resistance in our cells, leading to a craving for more carbohydrates and you have a classic vicious cycle.

Ray and Terry do not recommend the super-low carbohydrate and generally unhealthy Atkins diet. However, Ray and Terry recommend keeping carbohydrates fairly low. They claimed that if I gave up major starches, I'd stop craving them in a few weeks and wouldn't miss them. I didn't believe it, but I tried it. And it worked like a charm. I give some details below of the diet I now follow.

Taking supplements

Many people say that taking supplements should be unnecessary if one has a good diet, and perhaps is an undesirable distraction from concentrating on getting a healthy diet. This is probably true for young people and people with good genes. As they age, most people's bodies stop doing an ideal job with metabolic processing. Sophisticated tests are beginning to be able to measure defects in metabolism as well as the genes which predispose us to such problems.

In many cases, supplements can supply the support which an aging body needs to function properly. The metabolic deficits are covered by the presence of extra key ingredients, precursors, etc. Ray and Terry recommend a number of supplements, and they take lots of them. I'll give some details of what I take below.

What I did that works for me

Ray and Terry's Longevity Products

I needed to make easy changes, especially at first, since after all, I wasn't really expecting much at the beginning. (I was actually expecting nothing, but I was willing to give it a try.)

One of the things which interested me and also repelled me was that Ray and Terry set up a company to provide nutritional products aligned with their book. With all of the unscrupulous marketing of product tie-ins in our economy, this sort of thing puts me on guard. But the products looked useful. Fortunately, I have two friends who are nutrition experts and I asked them to evaluate Ray and Terry's products. My friends gave the products high marks, so I ordered three of them:

My new diet

The Meal Replacement Shake is basically a high-protein, low-carbohydrate and low-fat alternative to skipping meals. Instead of skipping breakfast, if I don't feel like making a proper breakfast I have the MRS. I think that this one change has made a huge difference. I probably have Ray and Terry's meal replacement shake for breakfast five days a week. Sometimes I add a double-espresso! Once in a while I'll have it as a replacement for another meal I would otherwise miss. It is sweetened with Stevia, about which more later. And now it comes in three flavors although I prefer the "chocolate" (really cocoa).

At dinner we no longer have a major starch component. No bread, pasta, rice, corn or potatoes. Instead, we have four or more non-starchy vegetables, as separate dishes or in some combination. We try to include at least one vegetable from each of the following families at each meal:

We don't always hit all of these kinds of vegetables, and we often include others like artichokes, asparagus, eggplant, etc.

We eat fish several times a week, preferring the fish which are high in Omega-3 fatty acids.

We are not vegetarians, although vegetables are now the largest component of our diet.

When we cook (most nights), we are careful to make extra, so that there will always be plenty of healthy things for lunch and snacks in the refrigerator. Sometimes we bring home healthy things like Thai food (but no rice), and again, we make sure there's plenty.

I still drink coffee, but less than before, one or sometimes two double lattes or espressos a day instead of the two or three I drank before. I've increased my tea consumption, including green tea. I've also gotten very fond of cocoa. These things are very satisfying alternatives to unhealthy snacks and are great pick-me-ups when my energy is low.

For the cocoa, I mix two scoops of Droste's excellent unsweetened cocoa into water or lowfat milk or unsweetened soy milk and add a tiny amount of stevia. Stevia is a healthy alternative sweetener which works very well as long as you don't overdo it. It is 32 times sweeter than sugar but has an off-taste if overdone. So I undersweeten, leaving the cocoa slightly bitter, which I prefer. If often add vanilla and/or cinnamon. Yum!

The supplements I take

In addition to the three Ray and Terry's supplements mentioned above, I also take:

I take each of these five pills twice a day, in the morning and at night.

Pregnenolone is a precursor to a number of essential steroid hormones. I get it at the local "health-food" store.

I get the time-release Ester C at Trader Joe's, another local store which is also a chain. I've found that it helps me avoid picking up colds after long airplane flights, so I've been taking it for many years.

Just recently I've added a few more Ray and Terry supplements - they've really expanded their line in recent months. However, the ones I've mentioned above are the ones I took during the time I've had the health breakthrough. Whether the additional ones I'm taking will provide additional benefit remains to be seen. With all supplements, the benefit is a function of one's individual metabolic situation. I figure that some of the supplements I'm taking are very beneficial and most of them just make for expensive bright yellow pee! Until sophisticated tests make it easy and inexpensive to know what I really need, I'm going to take a fairly broad set of supplements on general principles.

My exercise program

One of the benefits of my health breakthrough is that I have more strength, stamina and vitality than I did a year ago. I feel more like exercising. My wife and I joined the local YMCA about a year ago, and after our health started picking up we increased our exercise regime.

Starting about half-way through the breakthrough period and continuing to this day, we work out 3-6 days a week. We do weights 2-3 days a week for about 45 minutes, swim 1-2 days a week for about 30 minutes and do yoga 2-3 times a week. Sometimes we take a walk or a dance class instead. I've never before maintained such a good exercise practice. I'm guessing it has improved the health benefits I've gotten.

How it's worked for my wife and housemates

I live with my wife Sher and two friends, Cat and Bill. All four of us have read the book. Bill does most of our cooking (he's really good), but all of us have some cooking ability. Only Sher and I have significantly reduced carbohydrates. All of us have been experiencing improved health, but only Sher and I have lost significant weight and gotten a reduced set point. Sher has lost 60 pounds! Sher does not tolerate milk or the less fermented soy products, whereas both work well for me. Unfortunately for her, the meal replacement shake contains soy protein so Sher hasn't felt like braving it. Her alternative is to eat fruit for breakfast, which somehow works for her.

We also started out with a household agreement to not eat between dinner and breakfast. I wound up breaking that agreement as my weight got closer to my ideal. Sher modified the agreement to allow fruit after-hours if she's hungry.

I want to emphasize that the weight loss has been effortless in my case, and fairly easy in Sher's case. We aren't totally strict with carbohydrates: if we're at a party, we eat what is there. I eat a lot of chocolate - probably several pieces of dark chocolate a day. We also eat several pieces of fruit a day, much more than we used to and I think that this is a good use of our carbohydrate "budget" (we're not actually counting them). Our appetites are lower and we are more easily satisfied than before. We are not exercising greater "will power" — in fact, I'm certain I'm not exercising any!

All four of us are finding our way into practices that we like more than the old practices. We're eating delicious foods in quantities which are satisfying. Dinners are better. We're doing forms of exercise we enjoy, again in desired quantity. It's key that we're doing this as a household: Our shopping, stocking and cooking are consistent. We eat very little processed foods. We are eating in restaurants less, and we've learned how to ask for healthy modifications of restaurant meals which are just as satisfying. Sher and Bill and I support each other in heading out for exercise: I always enjoy it once we're there, but I wouldn't go very often without the support.

Finally, please note that what I say here about Ray and Terry's book and their recommendations is a gross simplification of their research and their program. What we do is working very well for us, but then we've picked out the pieces of their program which fit our needs. Your might find that a somewhat different subset of their program works best for you.

My we all live long and healthy lives!


J. Greg Davidson