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Where are the logic puzzles?

June 22nd, 2017

I sometimes get emails that ask where the logic puzzles are. “I thought your site had logic puzzles, where are the logic puzzles?” they ask.

My site does indeed have logic puzzles, by which I mean puzzles in which you employ logic to solve them. Pretty much every puzzle on my site meets this description. However, I’m being pedantic. I believe the logic puzzles being referred to by my correspondents are the kind that involve a group of girl scouts, sitting at a counter in a Boba shop, each with a different skill badge, a different pet, and a different beverage:

The 7 year old sits on a red stool.
The 8 year old has a schnauzer.
The 9 year old is drinking a green tea boba.
The green stool is just to the left of the white one.
The girl on the green stool is drinking a mocha boba.
The girl with the computer-expert badge has a one-legged parrot.
The girl on the yellow stool has a dancer badge.
The girl in the center is drinking a strawberry boba.
The 11 year old is on the first stool.
The girl with the hiking badge is next to the girl with an ocelot.
The girl with the pottery badge is drinking taro boba.
The girl with the magical pony is next to the dancer
The 12 year old has a home scientist badge.
The 11 year old is next to the girl on the blue stool.
The hiker is next to the girl drinking a plain tea boba.
Who’s got the Ferret?

Although these are commonly called logic puzzles, I prefer to call them “logic word puzzles”, since there are all kinds of puzzles that employ logic, not just these. I’ve also seen them called Einstein’s Puzzle, also a terrible name.

Whatever they are called, I don’t carry them. This is because of those pesky words. In order to produce them, I would have to come up with 4-6 lists of related things (girl scouts, boba beverages, sweaters, mood-rings, troll figurines, etc.) for each individual puzzle, and this would be extremely labor-intensive, especially since I like to put out many thousands of each puzzle variety, so you don’t run out.

This website currently has over a million puzzles on it, and the reason there are so many is because I’m able to use power tools (namely, computer programming) to produce them. I’ve thought about combining various word lists in combinatorial ways to produce these puzzles, but I don’t think the results would be very appealing (there are five girl scouts, each has a favorite muscle car, lives on a different planet, and has a different number of legs). Probably the best solution would be for me to crowd-source the word lists. The idea being that you, the visitors to this website, could suggest lists of things to use in puzzles), but setting this up would also be very time consuming, and would probably require moderation so as not to be abused by spammers and trolls.

For similar reasons, I don’t carry Fill-a-pix, Mosaik, Connect-the-dots, and other puzzles that employ unique pictures for the solutions, not to mention Word-Search and Crosswords. If you want to set up a moderated crowd-sourcing system for word-puzzle and picture-puzzle content that I can use, let me know when it’s running! I’d love to use it!

Krazydad books are coming!

March 1st, 2017

Suguru Book CoverHey folks, I’m currently working on a series of puzzle books which will be available on CreateSpace and Amazon, starting sometime in March, 2017. [ UPDATE: They’re available! ]

I’m starting with a Suguru collection. Each Suguru book contains 300 puzzles and is priced at $9. The puzzles in the books are all new, and do not appear on the website. Learning how to self-publish has been (and will continue to be) an interesting journey. I had a lot of fun figuring out how to make a book cover that uses the Droste effect.

After Suguru I’ll be working on books of Kakuro, Krypto Kakuro, Killer Sudoku and more. If there’s a particular puzzle variety you’d really like to see in book form, let me know!

I’d love to include a variety of short testimonials from actual Krazydad visitors, like yourself, on the back cover. If you’d like to submit a short testimonial, drop me an email with the subject line “Krazydad Testimonial”, and let me know how I should credit you (e.g. “Jane from Pittsburgh”). By sending the email, you are tacitly agreeing to let me publish your testimonial on one or more back covers.

Also, if you’d like to receive (very occasional) announcements by email, when I publish new books, let me know!

Thanks so much!

UPDATE: My first Kakuro books are now available on CreateSpace.

UPDATE: My first volumes of Easy and Challenging Suguru puzzles are now available on the CreateSpace store, as well as on Amazon. Enjoy!

Through the Looking Glass

February 28th, 2017

Part 7. Through the Looking Glass

This is one of a series of posts about my health/fitness journey. The first one is here.

It’s been a while since I’ve written one of these, so here’s a quick update. It’s late February, 2017. I’ve been hovering around 180 pounds (plus or minus 3 pounds) since early November, last year. This is a good thing in that I’ve been able to maintain a healthy weight for several months, and I’m not experiencing diet fatigue (a big problem for me the last time I made it down this far). I’d like to be a few pounds lighter, but I’m very happy with the weight I’m at, especially considering I was at 245 a year ago.

I’m the most fit I’ve been in, well, ever. Certainly since I was in my early 20s, and even then I never exercised. Now I’m going to the gym 4-6 days a week, and I can see the effects in the mirror.

Alice through the looking glassWhen I was a kid, I was fascinated with mirrors. We had a big floor-to-ceiling mirror in our living room, when I was growing up, and I liked to play with it. Early on I discovered the trick of making spiders or crabs, by sticking my hand out on the edge of the mirror, and exploiting the symmetry. A friend and I would stand on opposite ends of the mirrors in department stores, bisecting our bodies as evenly as possible to make it look like we had three legs, or were floating in the air.

And very early on, I discovered some of the laws of mirrors. For example, I noticed that if you looked at someone’s reflection in the eyes, then they would see that your reflection was making eye-contact with them. And the corollary of that: if you can see someone’s eyes in a mirror, then they can see you.

I remember looking in the mirror at the age of six or seven, and imagining what my future adult self would look like. I imagined an older single man, with the same bowl haircut and bangs, his house filled with boxes of the froot loops my mom wouldn’t buy (too much sugar!). As I grew into my adolescence, and got more into music, I would look in the mirror and imagine my future album covers, posing as a serious brooding rock star.

I found mirrors more troublesome in my twenties. I remember a Mexican restaurant near my work that had a wall of mirrors. I found that if I sat facing the mirrors, it was difficult for me to concentrate on what my colleagues were saying, because I would be distracted by my reflection. I learned to sit with my back to the mirror.

And as I continued to age, that distraction became more unpleasant. I stopped wearing bangs pretty quick, and pretty soon, by my early 30s, I lost a lot of my hair. My dreams of being a cereal-eating guy with bangs were dashed! The slight double-chin I had developed in my late teens became more and more pronounced, and I grew a beard to cover it. As I grew into my thirties, forties and fifties, the act of looking at myself for long periods in the mirror became a distant memory. The occasional Hitchcockian glimpses of the mirror became almost frightening – reminders that I wasn’t the abstract cereal-eating child in my head, but a physical creature, mortal, fat and frail.

It had been so long since I was at a healthy weight that I thought I had created a permanent condition. The fat on my belly had become a big hard slab. The idea of reversing or easing my condition seemed like an insurmountable wall. At 53, I thought I had probably abused my body so much, that I was basically done; just watching the clock until the end. Of course, I didn’t allow myself to think about this very much; I spent most of my time (as I still do) “in my head”. But, I was far more distressed than I allowed myself to realize.

And of course, there was that whole “endomorph” thing. Based on my conversations with others, and my reading, I had classified myself as an “endomorph”. It was the equivalent of Cartman on South Park insisting he is “big boned”. I was endomorphic, that’s the body type I had, and there was no changing it. I wished I was an ectomorph, but you get the genes you’re dealt, or so I thought.

So now, I can say, with the benefit of hindsight, that the whole endomorph/ectomorph thing is pure and utter bullshit. When I first met a nutritionist I was working with, last year, she told me confidently I was an endomorph. A few months and about 30 pounds later, I asked her, “if I came in for the first time today, what would you classify me as?” “A mesomorph” she said.

So was I fat mesomorph? Am I now a skinny endomorph? No. I reject the whole notion. To paraphrase Popeye, I yam what I yam (which is mostly yams, if it’s Thanksgiving).

If you have only a passing familiarity with the terms ectomorph, endomorph, and mesomorph. I suggest you read the wikipedia article about William Herbert Sheldon, the doctor who invented “somatotypology” back in the 1940s. He published volumes of nude photographs of young men and women, with very precise descriptions of their body types, and it is very clear, from reading his actual work (I bought his 1954 book “The Atlas of Men” on EBay) that the guy was an utter quack. It is also quite possible, by the way, that nude photos of Bill and Hillary Clinton are included in his photos of Yale students which are sealed at the Smithsonian!.

While it might be useful to use somatotypological language to discuss the state that a body happens to be in at the moment these terms should definitely not be used to describe a permanent state-of-being from you which cannot recover. Any health professional who casually uses those terms to describe you is participating in a form of pseudo-science, not much different than astrology or phrenology.

So at the moment, I look at the mirror again, after all these years, without fear or disgust. I can see that I am not an endomorph, ectomorph or mesomorph. I am me. It is certainly clear that I have some issues which are different than you, different than some of my skinny friends who seem to be able to consume vast quantities of beer and fried foods. My issues aren’t really with my body type. They are with my relationship with food. I know that if there is a plate of cookies in the house, I am going to be thinking about that plate of cookies, nearly continuously until the plate of cookies is gone. I know that if I have a plate of food in front of me, I’m going to finish it. Those issues are pretty much the same as they were a year ago. What is different is how actively I am working to prevent those issues from running me into the ground.

My frequent visits to the gym are a huge part of this. Let’s be clear: the exercise is not having much of an effect on my weight loss. I cannot lose weight simply by exercising more. But it has a massive effect on my energy levels, my positive outlook, and my muscle tone. I have regained some of the narcissism of my youth, actually enjoying periodically gazing at my biceps in the mirror, trying on clothes, looking at them — something I thought I would never do.

And I’ll allow myself a little narcissism at this point. I’ve been on the other side of the mirror.

An advanced Kakuro technique

January 18th, 2017

I got a letter a few days ago, asking for help with a particularly intractable Kakuro puzzle: 8×8, Volume 14, Book 99, Puzzle #8. Since my Kakuro puzzles are arranged by difficulty, this is a particularly hard one, since it is in Book 99. Here you can see where the solver got stuck:

I was able to make a little progress using an advanced technique I call “Implicit pairs”. Take a look at the 4 circled cells near the top of the puzzle.

The vertical ovals show two containers, each containing a pair of cells, with the clues 13 and 11. The top horizontal oval is also a 2-cell container, with the clue 16. The bottom horizontal oval is around a pair of cells which are part of a much longer container.

Because we know the 4 cells sum to 13+11, we can work out the sum for the bottom two cells. It must be 13+11-16, or 8. So we can treat the bottom two cells as an “implicit pair” which sums to 8. Since it sums to 8, we can see that we can’t use the 4s, because 8 = 4+4, and this would cause a duplicate number. So we can eliminate the 4s, and this enables us to solve the four cells.

Are you stuck on a Krazydad puzzle? Send me a snapshot and I’ll try to help!

Happy puzzling!

Serpentomino Puzzles for Christmas

December 13th, 2016

Sample Serpentomino SolutionThere’s a snake in my inbox!

Bulgarian puzzle constructor Galen Ivanov sent me two collections of interesting new puzzles, Serpentominos, of his own design, which I’m passing on to you, as a Krazydad Christmas present. These puzzles share some characteristics with Pentominos, Dominos and similar mathematical recreations, and are quite different from the Sudoku and Slitherlink variant puzzles you may be used to.

As the illustration shows, you fill the grid with line segments, completely filling the grid with 13 “serpents” – each of which occupies 6 squares, and begins and ends on one of the provided dots. Serpents may not cross or touch each other. No two serpents may have the same shape (including rotations and reflections), and due to the constraints of snake skeletal anatomy, no serpent’s shape may include a sharp “u turn” — you can’t make two rights in a row, or two lefts in a row.

Please reread the preceding paragraph carefully, because all the rules are absolutely necessary to solve these puzzles, otherwise you will find them impossibly maddening (as I did, before I understood the sharp u-turn rule).

Galen has provided two sets of these puzzles, small-sized puzzles, as shown here, in which you fill a grid with 13 six-block serpents, and medium-sized puzzles, in which you fill a larger grid with 30 seven-block serpents.

If you get completely stuck, send me a snapshot, and I’ll try to help you make some headway.

113 Small Serpentonimo Puzzles

60 Medium Serpentonimo Puzzles


Celebrity Prayer Candle Rankings, 2016

December 10th, 2016

Celebrity rankings, based on the number of prayer candles for sale on Etsy, 2016 EDITION

Neil DeGrasse Tyson1.
David Bowie


Britney Spears

Virgin Mary
Lana Del Rey
Dolly Parton

Neil deGrasse Tyson
Marilyn Monroe
Leonardo DiCaprio
Kim Kardashian
Kanye West
Hillary Clinton

Zombie Golden Girls
Tina Fey
Steve Buscemi
Our Lady of Guadalupe
Miley Cyrus
Marilyn Manson
Lady GaGa
Kylie Jenner
Justin Bieber
Jon Snow
Han Solo
Edgar Allan Poe
Donald Trump
Darth Vader
Christopher Walken
Chris Pratt
Bernie Sanders
Amy Poehler

Weight loss recipes

December 2nd, 2016

So I’m still down about 65 pounds, currently fluctuation between 179 and 183 lbs most days. I survived Thanksgiving and my birthday, both in near proximity, gaining and losing about 4 lbs over a week. A lot of folks have asked “what plan I’m on”. I’m not really on a plan, just a system of my own reasoning: Eat fewer calories than I exert. However, there are definite trends in my dietary habits. I eat far less sugar, I don’t eat fast food, I avoid quick/easy foods, and eat a lot more fruits/vegetables. I make a lot of omelets, and I eat a lot of yogurt. There are two foods in particular that I am currently eating so often that they show up at the top of my “MyFitnessPal” lists: Protein shakes and homemade soup. I thought I’d give my approximate recipes for both.

I probably have five or more protein shakes a week. I almost always have them in the mornings after I work out. My recipe has evolved – I started out using pre-sweetened/flavored protein powder mixed with yogurt and fruit, and now I use a pure whey protein that I mix with cocoa powder, and I don’t always add yogurt. I’ve gradually been adding “superfoods”
like chia seed and hemp seed, as a way to boost certain desirable properties. I’ve replaced milk with almond/cashew milk to reduce the calories. I’ve replaced Cacao powder with Hershey’s Cocoa, which also has fewer calories. Here’s my current typical recipe:

Krazydad Protein Shake

1 scoop Whey Protein Isolate (Now Sports)
1 scoop Green Powder (Amazing Grass Green Superfood Chocolate)
* 1 Tablespoon Chia Seeds (Viva Labs)
2 Tablespoons Non-Alkalized Cocoa Powder (Hershey’s “Natural”)
2 Tablespoons Psyllium Husks (Yerba Prima)
* 2 Tablespoons Hempseed (Healthworks)
* Optional: 1 Stevia Packet (Stevia in the raw)

UPDATE: I’ve stopped using the ingredients marked with a star in recent months, mostly because I’m trying to simplify things.

All the preceding ingredients can be pre-measured and stored in baggies in the freezer.

1.5 cups Unsweetened Almond,Cashew or Coconut Milk (Almond Breeze)
2/3 cup Frozen berries/kale (Wegman’s Strawberries, Blueberries, Cherries w/ Kale) OR fresh fruit & kale.
1 cup ice

Note, all the dry ingredients are available on Amazon. I’ve put unaffiliated links on each line.

Final numbers: 513 calories, 40g carbs, 26g fat, 44g protein, 9g sugar.

I try to restrict my daily sugar to 40 grams a day, which comes out to about 13 grams of sugar a meal. So this comes in below that and gives me a few grams to play with. It is easy to exceed this number by adding a banana (which adds sugar and carbs) or other fruit (and pay for it with a lower sugar lunch or dinner). I also sometimes add a half container of plain greek yogurt, which ups the protein, and possibly the fat. If I’m working out I also add two BCAA capsules (an amino acid, which may help with muscle recovery).

The main reason I’ve stopped using pre-mixed protein powders is that they tend to contain artificial sweeteners like Sucralose which my gut objects to. I have a higher tolerance for Stevia, so I’ll use that sometimes, but not always. The longer I’ve gone without sugar, the less I crave it.

I blend my protein shakes in a Nutribullet, and have learned, through experience, to remove and clean the gasket every time. Ideally, you want to fill the container about 2/3 full – this produces a thicker shake when there is available air to make bubbles, expand and fill the container. If you fill the container with ingredients, the result is soupier and less “shake like”.

I am a chocolaholic so my recipe makes a very chocolaty shake. If you are of the vanillaholic persuasion, do your thing.

Okay, now on to the soup! I make this soup at least once a week, and it feeds the entire family one evening, and then me for another day or two.

I’ve been making all my soup in a 6 quart Instant Pot electric pressure cooker. This is super fast, compared to the traditional method, and gives the meat a great texture.

Krazydad Pressure Cooker Chicken Soup-like substance

1. Saute one chopped onion, 5 cloves chopped garlic, and chopped bulbs of 7-8 green onions.
2. Optional: Once brown, add a cup of a robust grain (Ferro, barley or brown rice) and saute it for a minute.
3. Add a 14 can of fire roasted tomatoes.
4. Add 4 cups of chicken stock or bone broth (when I make bone broth in the pressure cooker, it makes enough for two batches of soup. If you start making bone broth around 2 or 3pm, you can have soup for dinner. More recently I’ve been getting lazy and using a single 32 oz box of soup stock from the market).
5. Add a ton of chopped veggies. My veggies typically include 2 stalks celery, 2 carrots, a half or whole eggplant, a zuchini, a poblano pepper, a jalapeno, some chopped kale or spinach, mushrooms, a handful of pitted kalamata or other good olives.
6. Add 2 or 3 chicken breasts or an equivalent amount of chicken meat.
8. Dried herbs/spices (Oregano, Basil, Thyme, Roasted Cumin, Black Pepper)
9. Pressure cook for 6 minutes (it’ll take 20 minutes or so to get up to pressure), then let it sit for 10 more minutes, and release the pressure valve.
10. Remove chicken, discard bones, if any, shred the meat and add it back in.
11. Add fresh herbs (cilantro or Italian parsley) and juice of 2 limes.

My pressure cooker liner has a “don’t fill above here” line. I totally ignore this line and generally fill the pot to the top with veggies, and then cram the chicken in. It seems to work okay, as long as the fluid level isn’t above the line. The result is probably closer to a stew than a soup, and by the second day, the ferro, if added, have absorbed most of the fluid.

Pretty much all the ingredients in this soup are optional (especially the grain and the non-savory vegetables). The only thing you really need is stock and onions. I use whatever vegetables I have on hand, and try to change it up a little each time I make it. Its hard to imagine a vegetable that won’t work in this soup, although I’d be hesitant to use a lot of beets.

Sometimes it’s closer to a restaurant chicken tortilla soup (cumin/lime/avocado), and sometimes I emphasize the Italian herbs and olives. Every batch is great, but roughly every fourth batch is knock-your-socks-off great. I don’t know why but I suspect it has something to do with getting the proportion of savory ingredients right. Over time, I’ve been adding more and more green onions than I thought I originally needed, and this seems to help.

I can eat two bowls of this soup, for dinner, without too many ill effects.

Tree Growing

October 8th, 2016

Kircher's Philosophical TreeMy surname, Bumgardner, which comes in a variety of spellings (Bumgarner, Baumgartner, Burgrade (!), Bungarner, Baumgart, and so on) means “Tree Grower” or “Orchard Farmer”. I’ve known this for a long time, and have often taken some delight that my profession, which involves weaving and growing elaborate data structures, is a form of tree growing. I am a virtual tree grower, continuing in the family tradition.

This week I got obsessed with another form of tree growing: genealogy. Since I’m still quite new at this, I thought I’d share my newbie findings, while they are still fresh. If your feelings about genealogy are the same as mine were a month ago, feel free to go about having your life :)

The genealogy thing happened almost by accident. Up till now, I thought of genealogy as a hobby practiced in every family by one or more bookish relatives (the genealogy nuts), kind of like stamp collecting. I knew my Uncle Dave was into it at one time, and I have a Swedish family tree that my Mom acquired a while back from another relative who had the bug. I really didn’t know much about my family. I had never met my grandfather, didn’t know his first name, and couldn’t name my great grandparents. Now, 6 days later, I can name almost all of my 32 third-great-grandparents (and many of my wife’s as well).

It started, innocently enough, with a weekend trip to my Dad’s. He’s getting up there, so I thought I’d collect a little information for posterity. I asked him the name of his father, the one I never met. I got the names of a one or two grand siblings, his mother’s maiden name, and the names of her parents. I wrote that stuff down and took it home with me.

When I got home, I thought I’d start assembling the info into a family tree of sorts. I started googling the names, and found a lot of interesting links behind a paywall at I had checked out this site before, but had never signed up for a membership. It always felt a little bit like a scam to me, like I would pay my $20 bucks, and then I’d find they didn’t really have what I was looking for. But this time, I saw they had a free trial, and I said, “What the heck” and signed up. What I found blew me away.

It seemed that some of my unknown distant 2nd and 3rd cousins had already done a lot of the grunt work. With the few names that I had, I was able to find all my great parents, and then my great-great parents, and my 3rd great parents, and so on. It turns out that once you get 2 or 3 generations back, it gets much easier, because at that point there are a lot more descendants from these folks, and the likelihood that another genealogy nut has already done the work increases. Things get hard again when you get into the 18th and 17th centuries, when there is less record keeping.

John Miles Bumgarner 1827 – 1898I found this pretty cool picture of my great-great grandfather, Miles Bumgarner 1827 – 1898, and learned that he was a confederate soldier (there were a lot of North and South Carolinian farmers in my family). I found that through my grandmother, I am descended from King John Lackland (the bad King John of the Robin Hood stories), which also makes me distantly related to Alex Baldwin, Nelson D. Rockefeller, James Garner (my 5th cousin), and the Avery family on that Netflix show “Making of a Murderer“.

I found my 6th great grandfather, Peter Bumgarner, who immigrated to the colonies from Switzerland in 1719. I can only assume he came from a family of tree growers. More importantly, I found out who likely inserted the “D” into my surname (Miles’s son).

As I got deeper into this, I started reading the excellent blog, GeneaMusings by long-time genealogist Randy Seaver. I learned that expert genealogists can be a little put off by enthusiastic newbs like me, who dive into sites like and start copying data from one another, without thoroughly vetting it. This can cause mistakes to rapidly multiply, greatly outweighing the nuggets of actual truth that hide among the record. I took a closer look and found a number of discrepancies in the massive family tree I had assembled in just a couple days by copying from other newbs. For example, my great-grandmother was born about 10 years after the death of the man I had originally recorded as her father – it turns out her biological father is unknown to me. Similarly, a number of people have confused Malinda “Linny” Keener with Sarah Malinda Keener, who were born within a few years of each other, creating a composite person Sarah Malinda “Linny” Keener — that one took a while to sort out; I had to look at a lot of census records, birth records, marriage licenses, until a more plausible story became evident.

So now, I’m starting from scratch, and rebuilding my tree more carefully, using only historical records. I’ve found the book that Randy recommends, Evidence Explained to be very helpful, and I’m making greater use of FamilySearch a free site provided by the LDS church, which has more rigorous sourcing than and more closely resembles Wikipedia in their attempt to build a grand-unified tree (rather than a massive collection of individual trees that copy from one another, as sites like Ancestry do). I want the information I collect to last, so I’m thinking about ways I can keep it localized, so it doesn’t disappear into the ether when files chapter 11. I have a feeling I’m gonna be making some software tools for my own use, although there is certainly already a lot of stuff out there.

I’m also, almost as a side effect of this hobby, having a lot of email correspondence with my relatives, especially my aunts, many of whom I see or speak with rarely. Its kind of nice to be in more constant contact with my family, and I’m looking forward to meeting some undiscovered 2nd cousins.

Over the past few days I’ve learned a lot, like what a “5th cousin once removed” is. I also learned, or relearned that Government employees often don’t give two shits when it comes to spelling names in census records, marriage licenses and the like! I mean, really, “Burgrade”? Burgrade…

The surnames shared by my 32 3x great grandparents include Atkinson, Avery, Bandy, Beasley, Beatty, Blair, Bumgardner, Chambers, Cunningham, Erwin, Giles, Gilliland, Keener, McCrory, Propst, Setzer, Shaffer, Sloan, Resberg, Shrum and Stomberg. Think you might be a 2nd or 3rd cousin? Drop me a note.

Befores and Afters

September 27th, 2016

This is one of a series of posts about my health/fitness journey. The first one is here.

Part 6. Befores and Afters

I promised a blog entry on the whole “Endomorph/Ectomorph” thing and it’s coming, but the research is taking me to some interesting places, and it’s gonna take a while to complete, plus I’m super busy playing Pokémon Go. If you want a sneak peak, read the Wikipedia article on Somatotype_and_constitutional_psychology. I’ve ordered some of Dr. Sheldon’s books, and they’re pretty wack-a-doodle. So that’s coming.

In the meantime, I thought I’d give you an update, and also fill a gap I made in my very first post.

The update: I’m now down to 183 lbs, and intend to lose a couple more, than hopefully build up a few pounds of muscle, maybe getting back to 185. That’s the plan anyway.

So, in my first post on this topic of fitness and health, I recited a litany of problems I had before I started this journey. To recap: I felt shitty, I felt invisible, I had man boobs and a nasty chronic cough, I had foot pain which caused a limp.

511765799_43828913da_oI really didn’t like my double-chin (don’t know if I remembered to mention that one), but I’ve had a double-chin pretty much most of my adult life, and I didn’t care for it much. I had crazy food cravings too.

Now what I didn’t tell you, but perhaps you inferred, is that all of these issues have gone away now that I’ve lost 60 pounds.

Nope. Not all of it.

So I thought I’d talk about the stuff that’s changed, and the stuff that hasn’t.

The feeling shitty part has changed, for sure. No doubt I will continue to have bad days, but in general, my overall mood and outlook are significantly better. I credit the exercise, mostly, with providing a huge boost in my energy levels. But I am also genuinely proud of what I’ve accomplished.

Did you ever stand in the supermarket check-out line, silently judging yourself (or others) as you compared the food you bought with the food of the people ahead and behind you? I stopped at the market tonight to get some dinner things and a few oddments, and the contents were just a little different from what they would have been a year ago. Then: Cereal, milk, bananas, Ben & Jerry’s, an onion and some tomato products. Now: An onion, some tomato products, 2 chicken breasts, a bag of farro, kale, eggplant, zuchini, poblano, an assortment of green olives. By the way, tonight I made a chicken/farro/veggie/olive/eggplant/bone-broth soup that briefly made me reconsider my life-long atheism.

The feeling invisible thing is mostly a manifestation of age, but your sense of your attractiveness-level certainly plays into it. That self-regard is now elevated, but by no means constant. There are mornings where I feel like a superman, and others where I only see the flaws. The difference is, I am no longer avoiding the mirror. I’m interested in what I will encounter there.

I still see man-boobs, but I’m pretty sure every man has them. What are you gonna do? Nipple removal? I am inching closer to removing my shirt in public. Maybe next year.

Health-wise, the chronic cough, which I had for over 10 years, and which had prevented me from teaching classes on a regular basis, as well as singing, started going away after I lost about 20-30 pounds. By the time I lost 40 pounds the cough was completely gone and has not yet returned. I fear that it may return, and I will continue to fear so until a full year has gone by, because the cough used to be seasonal. But an encouraging sign is that I no longer need to take constant doses of Omeprazole, a stomach acid reducer (acid reflux was a likely contributor to my cough). I am singing stronger than I have in years. And if I could play the violin, I would be playing it too.

The foot-pain went away too. At first. It really seemed like I was heading towards an impossible ideal of good health. And since exercise was making me feel good, I kept piling more of it on. But as I gradually increased my exercise to 5 workouts a week, a couple of evening night-hikes at Griffith Park, and dog-hikes every morning, averaging 17K+ steps a day, the foot pain returned, with a vengeance. And with it came some new pains. Knee pain from all those squats, steps, and lunges. I discovered I had a torn meniscus in one of my knees (possibly both), and I found that constant walking and running aggravated the foot pain. I had to take it easy for a while. Now I have slowed my workouts to 3 or 4 a week, and I’ve had to stop the night hikes. The foot pain is still there, but it’s very gradually getting better.

I’ve put my lower back out twice, at the gym, but interestingly, it is not nearly as bad as when I would put it out and I weighed 60 extra pounds. I’m not a complete wreck when it goes out, but I still need to be careful.

I can see a convave curve under my chin, where I didn’t have one before. But I still have a bit of a double-chin below that: I can see it if I do that two-mirror profile trick. Probably genetic. I’m not fond of it, but I don’t look like Alfred Hitchcock anymore. I’m too vain to get my little double chin fixed with plastic surgery.

And of course, I still have food cravings. The other night, in the supermarket, I was compelled, for some reason, to walk down the cookie & cracker aisle. It was an aisle full of stuff I no longer want to eat, and it was all calling to me. “Hello Jim!” said the Oreos. “Eat me!” said the Mallomars. “Come back to Pepperidge Farm!” said the Sausalitos. “We miss you!” said the garlic bagel chips. I really need to avoid that aisle.

And I still clean my plate, a life-long habit perhaps instilled by a misguided sense of thrift. I pretty much have to plan my meals around the certitude that my plate will be cleaned. There is no “I’ll eat half, and take the rest home”, something my wife does almost as a matter of routine.

If you ask about my new-found sense of self-control, I can only tell you I don’t have one. I’ve just found some new foods I like, and have gotten a little better at planning.

There are mornings where I still feel fat. I look in the mirror, and all I see is my fat tummy. There used to be this awful “Special K” commercial in the 80s which asked Can you pinch more than an inch? and it still taunts me. Fuck Special K. I can pinch way more than an inch. I imagine they were trying to make the entire television viewing public feel inadequate.

So I’m still fat. I’ve dropped nearly 8 inches in the waist, and I still feel fat. I’ll probably always feel fat. Just not as fat. And some days, I don’t feel that fat at all. It’s really kind of variable, like the clouds in the sky. It would be nice if there were meteorologists who could tell you how fat you would feel on Wednesday.

I worry that maybe I’m working on an eating disorder. Because I love the losing weight part. I want to just keep going, because it makes me feel good. Eventually I have to stop. Right now, I think I’m eating pretty well, and I feel pretty good, but I’m curious how I will feel in a year.

To be continued…

And now my soup recipe:

Chicken Farro "Mediturreen"

Prepare these chopped veggies & seasoning in bowl:
   One Zuchinni, diced
   One Japanese Eggplant, diced
   One Poblano, chopped
   Few leaves Kale, chopped
   Two stalks celery, chopped
   10-15 good olives, seeds removed (brown or green)
   1/8 tsp Cayenne
   1 tbsp Oregano
   Black Pepper

Brown one whole red onion, chopped and a few cloves sliced garlic in olive oil.  
Add 2 cups Farro (barley would also work) and brown it for a minute too.
Add 5 cups bone-broth or stock  
1 can fire-roasted tomatoes, 
the veggies, 
and two (raw) skinless chicken breasts.

Pressure cook 5-6 minutes and then let it sit 15 minutes before releasing the steam
OR bring to boil then simmer a couple hours.
Shred the chicken and add back to pot.
Add chopped Cilantro and juice of one lime before serving.

UPDATE: I’ve done probably a hundred variations of this soup since acquiring an Instant Pot. We typically have it once a week and eat the leftovers for a couple days. There’s a lot of room for variation.
We like Farro the best, but you can also try other grains or noodles. Often I add mushrooms and green onion tops. There is wide variance in the veggies – I like to have a green leafy one like chard or kale at the end,
and in general its best with a a ton of veggies. If you don’t have bone-broth, a box of chicken stock works great.

Diet Nonsense

September 11th, 2016

This is one of a series of posts about my health/fitness journey. The first one is here.

Part 5. Diet Nonsense

Green Superfood!

Of all the aspects of health and fitness, I believe the most controversial is what we put in our mouths. There is just a huge amount of contradictory beliefs out there about food, and opinions seem to fluctuate all the time. When I was on Weight Watchers, we were on the tail end of the “low fat” era – I think the now infamous “Snackwell” cookies were still on the shelves, and I bought a few boxes. A few years later we were in the midst of the “low carb” era, and I tried the South Beach diet for a while. I ate a lot of bacon, and made an ersatz mashed-potato like substance out of cauliflower. Now a lot of my friends avoid animal products or gluten. Others are doing Paleo, Keto, or all-animal diets. It is perhaps worth mentioning that I live in Los Angeles, which is quite possibly the epicenter of weird food fads.

It is really hard to know who or what to believe.

For a long time I have prided myself on being an objective, skeptical kind of person. I’m an atheist. I buy the Skeptical Inquirer and Scientific American. I like to think that I don’t dabble in wierd woo-woo beliefs (but I suspect we all do, and just don’t know it). I’m pretty sure there is no afterlife or ghosts. I subscribe to Occam’s Razor, all that stuff.

And when it comes to food, what can I say? I’ve got a few woo-woo beliefs. It’s kind of hard to avoid them.

At the moment, sugar is the accursed food demon of choice, and I’m inclined to go along with that irrational belief, even though I know, logically, that sugar is probably being excessively demonized. I’m not eating zero sugar — that is impossible and will kill you, but I’m trying to avoid added sugar. Most of my sugar comes from about a cup of fruit a day, as well as the sugar that naturally occurs in some of the foods I eat, like yogurt.

Another woo-woo thing: I use this green powder in my protein shakes. The label on the green powder is full of woo-woo language (“green superfood!” “antioxidant!” “alkalizing and energizing!”) that should be setting off alarm bells in my scientific head. It’s made of 80% chlorophyll from some unnamed source (a substance for which there is little scientific evidence of any benefit, whatsoever). It smells like a barn. It’s made of freshly mown grass, I think. Perhaps I eat it because it smells like a barn. Its my penance for not filling my milkshake with kale.

I think one of the difficulties in thinking about food is that we eat it for different reasons. We might modify our diet because of nutrition (more kale), or because we want to lose weight (cabbage soup!) or because it confers some psychological benefit (mac & cheese!). Usually some complicated combination of these reasons.

It seems clear that we have to strike a balance of all three of those areas: nutrition, calories, and mental health. I tell myself I’m using the green powder for nutritive reasons, but really, I’m probably doing it for psychological reasons. If it doesn’t hurt me, that’s probably okay. You know what they say about chicken soup for colds – “it couldn’t hurt”.

It also seems clear that food is an intensely personal thing, and what works for me is not necessarily what is going to work for you (particularly when it comes to mental health foods). Nonetheless, I’ll tell you what I did, and what I’m doing.

When I started my new regimen in March, I was principally motivated by weight loss, but I figured I may as well improve the nutritive value of the foods I eat at the same time. I knew (or thought I knew, or had read somewhere) that the most significant factor with weight loss is caloric deficit. Basically, using the model of a car, you want to burn more fuel than you are consuming. Not that cars gain weight, at least I’ve never seen a fat car that wasn’t naturally fat, or big boned, but something like that.

So I googled something like “caloric deficit to lose 1 pound”, and the first thing that came up was this quote:

Because 3,500 calories equals about 1 pound (0.45 kilogram) of fat, you need to burn 3,500 calories more than you take in to lose 1 pound.

The articles I found online often suggested shooting for a target of 1 pound a week. And I said “fuck that”, I’m going for 2 pounds a week. This was mainly because I had done it before, and I knew I was theoretically capable of it, and I worried I didn’t have the mental fortitude to sustain a 1 pound a week weight loss, even though it is probably much healthier and easier to maintain in the long run.

So this meant that to lose two pounds a week, I would need a caloric deficit of 7000 calories a week. This comes out to 1000 calories a day. A nice round number.

Then I had find out what my “resting” or neutral caloric burn rate is. This is not as easy as it sounds – you can’t just google it. I googled it anyway. “Determine your caloric intake” and got this:

Depending on the amount of physical exercise you do, you can multiply the basal metabolic rate by a specific number to determine calorie needs. For example, if you are not very active, your needed calorie intake is the basal metabolic rate times 1.2.

So now I had to figure out what my “basal metabolic rate is”. I used the calculator thing that Google sent me to, and entered in my age, gender, height and weight, activity level. It said I needed 2,355 to maintain my caloric level when sedentary and 3000 calories when moderately active. And this, my friends, turned out to be complete and utter bullshit.

So, here’s a hot tip: If you want to be super objective and sciency, do NOT rely on these simple online calculators. Instead rely on your own observation.

I ate what felt right to me, to where I wasn’t hungry, but also wasn’t excessively full. This turned out to be about 1800-1900 calories. I found, over time, that if I ate about 1800 calories, I would lose about 2 pounds a week, which means my “basal metablic rate” is actually closer to 1900-2100. When I eat 2300 calories, that’s a “cheat day” and I invariably gain weight.

Now if you can eat 3000 calories a day, and maintain net-zero weight loss/gain. Kudos to you — you are a very lucky person! Me, not so lucky.

The point is, my body isn’t your body, and these kind of tables simply do not take into account every single factor that contributes to metabolism. You need to observe, rather than follow.

So, for the past few months, I’ve targetted 1800 calories, and I’ve averaged two pounds a week weight loss. The highest weekly loss was 4.9 pounds, and the lowest was -0.8. Since I hit about 190, the rate of loss has decreased – I’ve fluctuated a lot more, and if I wanted to continue rapid weight loss, I would have to reduce the calories. I’m at a pretty good weight now though, I think, even though by some measurements, like the BMR system, I am still technically overweight.

I stopped eating a lot of things I ate before. I stopped eating breakfast cereal, except maybe once every 2 weeks. I did this because the amount of breakfast cereal I usually eat is about 6 times the serving size listed on the box, and packs a huge caloric wallop. I found that I could satisfy my breakfast cravings with a container of yogurt and a banana, and eventually, I started enjoying plain yogurt and a little pineapple.

I stopped going to McDonalds, In & Out, and ordering pizza. I stopped asking my wife to make lasagna. I significantly reduced sugar and carbs. I saw a nutrition counselor (Sarah Lynn Baird at FitFax) and she suggested I maintain a specific ratio of carbs/fat/protein (using myFitnessPal as a measuring tool) so I did that. It’s pretty much impossible to do, but it gave me a rough idea of proportions

In addition to a lot more yogurt, I started eating more fruit. Before I started, I hardly ever ate fruit, but I’ve grown to like it more. Reducing sugar has definitely affected my pallete – it makes me crave sugar less, and enjoy things like fruit and plain yogurt, that I didn’t enjoy so much before. I currently limit my sugar intake to 40 grams a day (according to myFitnessPal).

I made a lot of sandwiches on low cal bread (my favorite brand is “Alpine Valley” but any bread that is under 100 calories a slice works for me). I make big Dagwood style sandwiches where I pile on the veggies, but try to use sensible amounts of meats & cheese.

I make a lot of omelets. I can’t stand egg-white omelets, but I found I could use 3 egg-whites and 2 yolks, or maybe 3+1, and it’s still prety good.

Both the yogurt and omelets are attempts to increase my protein intake without too much effort. A lot of folks increase their protein intake by eating chicken, but I’m not a huge fan of chicken (especially tasteless white-meat chicken) so I tried to find other, quick & easy ways to get protein.

Because I’m working out a few days a week, and I like to get a small protein burst after workouts, I found a low-sugar protein bar I like, and started eating one of those after a workout. I also started making low-sugar protein shakes, which I have for a mid-day snack or breakfast substitute. My protein shake of choice is a chocolate flavored low-sugar whey protein powder, woo-woo green powder, psyllium fiber, plain yogurt, water & ice. Sometimes I add a little fruit, milk, cacao nibs or ground coffee. This shake is definitely a kind of wierd soylent green superfood, but I enjoy them and they satisfy my “milk shake” cravings.

Lately though, even chicken has been growing on me, especially since I started using an electric pressure cooker, which is an awesome addition to my kitchen. I use it to make chili, chicken soup, stock, and yogurt. It is very effective at concentrating and maintaining flavor, which is important when you’re eating less fat & salt.

A lot of folks are very anti-red-meat. I believe (and hope) this is partially a woo-woo thing, and I allow myself to get protein from red meat, since I like red meat. I still much prefer a steak taco to a chicken taco, and I don’t deny myself the steak, just because there is some minor benefit to the chicken — in this case, I think the psychological benefit outweights the health benefit.

Sara Lynn encouraged me early on to have regular “off plan meals” (aka “cheat meals”). This is huge, and I love the idea. It confers a huge psycological benefit. Think of it: twice a week I can eat whatever the fuck I want, guilt-free. Love this. I typically do a cheat meal for Saturday morning breakfast. This is because early Saturday morning is my weekly weigh in, where I measure my weight loss for the week. The cheat meal is a really a “celebration meal” which marks and honors the day. The first one I had chicken-fried steak & eggs with gravy and toast, hash-browns. This is something that ordinarily would have filled me with self-loathing and guilt, but I could have it guilt-free, and then I had a few free days to burn off the calories.

Because of the cheat meals, I tended to gain a bit of weight on weekends, and then do most of my weight loss during the work week. By having the cheat-meal in the days immediately following my weigh in, I had a long time to burn it off.

I have had 3 or 4 plateaus where I didn’t lose much weight (or had a gentle rise, like a roller coaster bump) for a two-week period. Psychological these are very hard, and you have to trust that the plateau will end. If you stay on the plan, they always will. Sometimes I tried to shake things up by varying my diet, but it’s really hard to tell, over the short term, whether those methods help. There are simply too many variable factors, I think, to do short term meaningful adjustments.

Speaking of woo-woo diets, I think the Body for Wife” blog is excellent, and I agree with most of the stuff James Fell has to say about fad diets, even what he has to say about sugar, even though my nutrition counselor says the exact opposite.

At some point, you also have to trust yourself.

Next: Where are the skinny endomorphs?