Health is Like a Laptop Battery

By James Wallace Harris, Monday, November 30, 2015

Health has to be more than the absence of disease. I sometimes hear the phrase “optimal health” or “maximum health” as if health is a fuel tank and we can fill her up. We often think of health as giving us vitality, but what then, is vitality? Our bodies and brains are the most complex “mechanism” we know of, but we can’t actually fathom how they work. Not without analogies. Our body is dead when we come to the end of health, and run out of vitality.

The ancient Greeks used the concept of the soul to explain how the body was animated. They claimed the soul made our limbs move, but that was long before science knew about different forms of energy. Getting old feels like we’re running down, running out of energy, or our mainspring needs rewinding. I shall make my philosophical analogy for health be the laptop battery. Before batteries, philosophers used the mechanical clock as a model. In the future, some future blogger will have a new technology to use in her essay.

laptop battery

I went to my annual physical today, and told my doctor she made me nervous every time I visited her because it felt like I was up for an important examination. I worried I’d flunk. At the end of our visit, she laughed and told me I passed. But even though I passed, I don’t feel very healthy, or more precisely said, I don’t feel very energetic, not like when I was younger. At 64, I am not old, but I am not young either. I know my body and mind are in decline, and I wished I could recharge my battery to its maximum capacity again.

On my birthday, I went for a long walk in the botanic gardens with my friend Anne, and then she helped me change out a pole for my outdoor TV antenna. While I had the ladder out, I raked some leaves and limbs off the roof (I’m too old to be climbing on the roof). I probably spent two hours walking and climbing, and that exhausted me. It felt like all the cells in my body were screaming for glucose. When I was younger I could work ten hours at manual labor before I felt that way. Why does my battery run out of juice sooner now that I’m older? Health appears related to stamina, and stamina feels like energy. Does our battery for health shrink as we age? Does it become more inefficient?

If health is a full charge, then shouldn’t eating recharge our battery? Eating too much can make me lethargic. Eating the wrong foods can make me feel unhealthy. But it does feel if I eat the right foods, in the right amount, that I feel healthier. That I have more energy. When I was exhausted after my birthday efforts, I ate lunch, took a nap, and I felt better. But I didn’t feel back to normal until the next day, after two more meals and a good night’s sleep. Food and sleep can recharge my health battery, but only slowly, like how old laptops need longer hours plugged in to recharge.

Getting old feel exactly like an old computer battery that won’t hold a charge as long as it did when it was new. I think one reason why I don’t exert myself like I did when I was young is because I need to conserve my battery. Unfortunately, we can’t buy a new battery like we can for a laptop. Human bodies don’t have user replaceable batteries. Image if they did. I’d buy a high capacity one that recharges quickly.

Is it possible to recondition our built-in battery? When I was a kid, I could eat junk food all day long, and my battery didn’t wear down until the end of the day, often late into the night. Now I can burn up a full charge in a couple of hours. That sucks.

Getting old means learning how to nurse my battery to last out the day. I eat better to make my health recharging more efficient. I exercise to regain a bit of a charge, and keep my contacts from corroding. And sleep cleans out all the bad chemicals that using up a healthy charge creates in byproducts. We often euphemize sexual attraction as chemistry, but it seems everything about our body can be explained in terms of chemistry. Batteries are a chemical process.

Getting old means learning to be efficient. Getting old means learning to conserve energy wherever I can. It’s like being a hybrid car that does everything not to drain the battery, or even recharge on the go. Maybe I should use an electric car as my model of health. Then I could describe exercise as  regenerative charging.

No model is perfect. What I really want to know is exactly what to eat and when, that would optimize the functionality of my aging battery. How much exercise will recharge the system, and when does exercise deplete the daily charge I get from sleep? Sometimes naps are better for recharging than walks. Why? The new health mantra is “Sitting is the new smoking” but getting old seems to require more sitting. Hell, I could claim, “Napping is the new jogging.”

I just wished I knew how I worked. Reading about health, diet and exercise is very confusing. There’s no simple model to understand. I know my health is not an old laptop battery, but it certainly feels like one.

Essay #983 – Table of Contents

Treating Back Pain Without Drugs 2.0

By James Wallace Harris, Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Three years ago I wrote Treating Back Pain Without Drugs. Since that essay keeps getting hits and I’ve learned a few more things about dealing with pain without using drugs, I thought I’d write an update. I’ve had chronic back problems for years, but I’ve been mostly pain free without using drugs. I have spinal stenosis, which keeps me from laying flat or standing for long periods. If I aggravate the spinal stenosis it tends to spread to the muscles that causes back pain.

I have three kinds of symptoms which I control without drugs:

  • inflammation – tends to magnify other symptoms
  • neuropathy – feet, legs, mostly on right side
  • muscle pain – lower back, hips, sometimes legs


I went through years of trying to deal with back pain using drugs. They’d cover up symptoms, but I never could escape the pains entirely. I kept trying other ways to fight pain. I’d tried different sleep positions, a better bed, and using pillows between my legs or under my knees to align myself symmetrically while I slept. Nothing helped for long. I’d always wake up feeling worse. I finally concluded it was lying in bed that was causing the problem, so I started sleeping in a recliner. That made a huge difference! I still took pain pills and anti-inflammatory drugs, but sleeping in the chair seemed to fix most of my problem. It was around this time I began going to a back specialist. I thought I was having hip problems, because most of my pain was in my hips, with numbness down my legs. They did a MRI and said my hip was fine, but I had spinal stenosis due to arthritis and some bad discs. I was sent to a pain management specialist; he prescribed physical therapy. That was the second major remedy I found!

I’ve since learned that if I do my physical therapy exercises daily I can keep the pain down to almost nothing without drugs. Mostly I’d have numbness in my feet. If I skipped a day of exercising I could feel the muscles tightening up in my lower back. If I skipped another day or two, I start having a fair amount of lower back pain, spreading into my right hip. If I allow the pain to gain a foothold,  I’m back on drugs, and I’ll have a hard time moving around, especially getting up and down from a chair.

One of the annoying things about the spinal stenosis is I could no longer walk for exercise. I eventually found Z-Coil shoes, which have big ugly springs in the heel that act like a shock-absorber for my spine. Without the Z-Coil shoes, I’d frequently feel like I was stepping in a hole or slipping on ice, which I think was caused by pinching my nerve stepping too hard. With the Z-Coil shoes I could walk about a mile without causing too much numbness. But, the more I walked, the fatter my feet felt. If I keep pushing it, the numbness would work up my right leg. If things got really bad, I’d have numbness in my left leg.

Between sleeping in a chair, doing physical therapy exercises and wearing the Z-Coil shoes, I felt pretty good most of the time as long as I didn’t stand or walk too long. My feet remained somewhat numb all the time.

Unfortunately, the anti-inflammatory pills I was prescribed started bothering my stomach, so I stopped taking them. It was then I started reading about anti-inflammatory diets. This really helped with the numbness. Last summer, I started on a plant based diet to lower my cholesterol. I lost 25 pounds. I don’t know if it was losing the weight or the anti-inflammatory properties of the diet, but I was able to increase my walking to 2 miles at a stretch, and the numbness in my feet practically disappeared. This made me very happy. Later on, I was feeling so good that I started cheating on my diet, having some fun foods again, and on some days skipped my physical therapy. I didn’t gain weight, but I started having trouble walking again. The numbness returned. I had to stop walking for exercise for a couple weeks. I then went back to faithfully doing my physical therapy and sticking to the plant based diet,  and I’m now able to walk two miles in the morning again, and the numbness is almost gone.

I’m amazed by how much the plant based diet helps. It drastically lowered my bad cholesterol, let me lose 25 pounds in three months, and significantly reduced inflammation. It’s hard to believe some food can be so inflammatory, but going on and off the plant based diet has let me feel the inflammation come and go. I think the anti-inflammatory aspects of the diet were more important than losing the weight in helping with my back.

Along the way, I’ve discovered the B12 helps neuropathy. I take either sublingual tablets or get shots.

I’ve also had a few incidents of my upper back going out, giving me neck pain, with the pain running down my left arm. I’ve also discovered upper-body exercises will solve this problem too.

In all cases I’d recommend anyone wanting to exercise instead of using drugs see their doctor about which exercises are appropriate and safe for their condition. My spinal stenosis isn’t cured. I’ve just figured out how not to aggravate it. I feel like I’ve learned to walk a razor’s edge, and if I’m careful, I can avoid pain and drugs.

I’ve been catching episodes of Classical Stretch on PBS with Miranda Esmonde-White. I believe her philosophy and exercises might be an appropriate tool too. Miranda’s stretches are like my physical therapy exercises, but she has vastly more kinds of stretches, which would systematically work the entire body.

Essay 981 – Table of Contents

Gimme That Old Time Meditation

By James Wallace Harris, Thursday, October 29, 2015

Meditation is gaining secular and even scientific acceptance. I first heard about meditation in the mid-sixties when The Beatles ran off with that guru. I even took up meditation in the 1970s during the New Age movement. For most of the last half-century, meditation was something aging hippies in sandals pursued. Then in the last decade, meditation has been embraced by therapists, human resource departments, Christian churches and even the military. All of this is well chronicled in 10% Happier: How I Tamed The Voice In My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, And Found Self-Help That Actually Works – A True Story by Dan Harris. Dan Harris is a reporter and anchor for various ABC television shows. His high-stress career and obsessive personality started causing on-air panic attacks and he began searching for solutions. Harris slowly embraced Buddhism and meditation because of covering stories about them while assigned the religion beat. His book is about his struggle to discover if there is any validity to meditation and Buddhism, and how to separate provable results from spiritual woo-woo. Essentially, he demystifies Buddhism and meditation. This is a great book for anyone skeptical about ancient self-help practices.


What I really liked about this book was Harris’ skepticism. As a reporter he knew how to ask hard questions, and whenever he met a new guru he didn’t hold back. Over the course of this story, Harris meets star gurus of the self-help circuit who promises the masses various forms of enlightening and happiness. Harris eventually concludes, on average, meditation has helped him to become 10% happier. He also believes if he works at it, he might even get an even higher return, but that meditation is no magic pill for transforming anxiety and depression into bliss. In other words, there is no free lunch.


What’s really involved is learning how our brains work. Meditation was discovered long before science, but it’s essentially a systematic way of observing our own brain. We can supplement meditative experiences with modern scientific research on the brain. I highly recommend The Brain with David Eagleman, a 6-part documentary currently running on PBS that’s based on his book. Last night’s episode was about the unconscious mind and how little our conscious mind knows. We all need to become amateur brain researchers to study our own minds, and meditation is a good observing technique.

Harris first encountered Eckhart Tolle after his panic attacks and was very receptive to his message. However, Tolle troubled him with a lot of mumbo-jumbo spiritual talk. Eventually Harris met Deepak Chopra and even the Dali Lama. With each guru he kept pushing them for exactness, and felt each man had some real understanding, but was often confused or turned off by weird unscientific terminology. Harris then he found psychiatrist, Mark Epstein, who was also exploring Buddhism, meditation and mindfulness. Epstein introduced Harris to Joseph Goldstein, a master meditation teacher. Harris, who is Jewish, found practical kinship with these two Jewish meditators, and they connected him to scientists doing actual research on meditation.

This path took Harris years, and he carefully explains all his ups and downs trying to stay sane and happy while pursuing a high pressured job. Harris always felt Eastern wisdom seemed to conflict with Western ambition. At one point he even felt meditation had made him happier and kinder, but mellowness had deflated his drive to get ahead. By the end of the book, Harris is working on increased ambition combined with increased work towards Enlightenment, which is a goal I’d think most Americans would embrace. We all want success and happiness.

10% Happier shows a real difference between Eastern and Western religions. Western theologies just ask their followers to believe, whereas Buddhism asks their follows to work hard and observe. The Buddhists even have a saying, “If you meet the Buddha on the road kill him.” That’s to remind their followers that it’s very easy to get caught up in bullshit.

Table of Contents

What Would Happen To The Economy If Everyone Ate Healthy?

By James Wallace Harris, Wednesday, September 30, 2015

I’ve been eating healthy for my heart, and hopefully unclog my arteries that have been giving me trouble after a lifetime of bad food choices. Eating healthy is a vast readjustment. When I shop for food, 80% of what I buy comes from the produce section. And if I followed the recommendations exactly, it would be 95%. If everyone ate like this, most of what’s sold in grocery stores would stay on the shelves, and all the processed food corporations would go bust.


Eating out while following these healthy diets is extra hard. Most restaurants would go out of business unless they drastically changed their menus. All fast-food and convenience stores would go belly up too. So too, for vending machine owners. Any beverage company selling liquids other than water and wine would be filing for bankruptcy. And very few people in the meat, poultry and fish business would have any business.

Then, there’s the medical establishment. What if it’s true that healthy eating greatly reduces heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and a host of other chronic ailments our society spends billions to heal? Won’t a lot of doctors and hospitals lose all their trade? And all those people who process insurance claims will be out of work too! And what about all the quack doctors, miracle cure salesmen, and vitamin peddlers?

If everyone ate healthy and actually got healthy, tens of millions, maybe even hundreds of millions, would be out of work. Just think of how many people have jobs because we have long lingering deaths from chronic illnesses. What would happen to all the long-term care facilities and their workers?

I’m not sure we’ve thought this healthy eating thing through. Now I understand why so many conservatives don’t want to fix global warming.


My LDL Drop to 92 on a Plant Based Diet

By James Wallace Harris, Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Back in May when visiting my doctor for my quarterly cholesterol checkup and she was writing out another prescription to fight my cholesterol, I asked her if there wasn’t a way to lower cholesterol without drugs. She told me to lose weight. She’s told me that for years and I never have. But I was sick of trying new drugs. It’s taken me years to learn I can only handle 10mg of a statin, but no more, without getting side-effects.

I drove home seriously thinking about how to fight cholesterol. I got on Amazon and ordered the book Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease by Dr. Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr., and I also discovered that night on Netflix, Forks Over Knives, a documentary that featured Dr. Esselstyn.


I followed this plant based diet for three months and it worked. My August check-up showed I had dropped from 232 pounds to 211. My overall cholesterol went from 187 to 152, my LDL from 130 to 92, but sadly my good cholesterol dropped from 40 to 38.

The plant base diet is hard, but not that hard. No animal products of any kind, and no oils, not even olive oil, which everyone believes is good for your heart. I did cheat a little bit though. I ate peanut butter. I found if I could have one peanut butter sandwich a day I didn’t crave all my other favorite foods. I eat healthy cereal and almond milk for breakfast, and then a lot of salads, veggies, fruits, soups, and especially various rice and bean dishes. The worst thing about the diet was the gas, but over time my gut got better at processing so much roughage.

Now that I know this diet works I’m going to stick to it. Getting below 100 with my LDL amazed my doctor. She was so happy for me, and I don’t want to let her down. This is the first time in decades I’ve been below 230 pounds. I began 2015 at 242, and struggled for five months to lose 10 pounds. Then went on the plant based diet and lost 20 more in three months. The speed of losing weight has tapered off, but I’m going to struggle to lose more.


Another documentary, The Widowmaker, which I recently found on Netflix, also inspires me to keep on the plant based diet. That show claims heart disease is preventable. Forks Over Knives claims a plant based diet is the key to stopping heart disease. I guess I’m one statistic proving it works.


The Delicate Chemical Balance of Health and Consciousness

By James Wallace Harris, Tuesday, April 28, 2015

What if how we feel and think is determined by what we eat?

Human beings are fleshy bags of water and chemicals. Lots of chemicals. Our minds work because of countless chemical reactions. I say countless, because their number is beyond my comprehension, but I suppose scientists might have an exact list somewhere. Both our physical and mental health depend on walking a razor’s edge chemical balance. Every time we eat something we change that balance. Taking medicine also stirs up our chemicals. And drink and drugs do who knows what. And as we age, maintaining that chemical balance becomes trickier.

We’re all used to taking a Tylenol when we get a headache. A fraction of a gram of a single chemical makes our headache go away. But what caused the headache in the first place? Other chemical reactions set off pain receptors. And pain receptors, again work through chemistry, causes our consciousness to experience pain.


I’ve been experimenting with juicing because I saw Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead, and Joe Cross claims it will make me feel great.  Last night I made a concoction called a Mean Green that was quite stimulating, even though it tasted god awful. It didn’t quite make me high, but did made me more alert, energetic and I think speeded up my heart a bit. This morning, after a good night’s sleep, my mind is back to its more sedate steady state. However, on average lately, I’ve been rather lethargic, thus the impetus to try juicing.  Does drinking vegetables and fruits juices make my overall balance of chemicals better, or just give me a temporary micronutrient boost? Is better health a different blend of chemicals?

When studying the pros and cons of a juicing diet I came across an interesting YouTube video by Matt Monarch warning about raw food diets. The interesting aspect of the video was it was from a pro raw food site. Here was a prophet warning people against his own message. Monarch warns eating extremely healthy is hard, and going back to do your old diet would have consequences. He placed a raw food diet at one end of a spectrum, with whole food eating in the middle, and the average American diet at the other end. He didn’t focus on health per se, but how you’d feel on each diet.

If all you know is the normal American diet, then what you feel is normal. And what you feel might be your baseline for what you think of as a health reality. What if eating whole foods creates a different state of mind, and eating raw foods creates even another state of mind? Monarch says there’s a danger to switching to healthier states of mind. This suggests we may prefer our junk food state of mind over health food state of mind. This guy is warning people that the healthy state of mind is different, and if you get used to it, or even addicted to it, he says it might be too much work to maintain, and going back to even the whole foods stage will have consequences.

In Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead 2 Joe Cross deals with falling off the juice diet and what it means. Even he can’t always maintain the discipline.

In the last few years I’ve been eating healthier, and every time I fall off the wagon the effects of eating junk food hit me harder. My junk food binges are also getting shorter because they make me sicker quicker. I’m not sure I can go back to the junk food diet. And now I’m worried about playing around with juicing and raw foods. What if feels bad to return to just eating whole foods? Is Monarch warning us that we can’t return from extreme health once we find it? Or is his extreme health some kind of altered consciousness caused by an extreme diet?

We like to assume that health is like inner vitality. We like to think health is a reservoir of energy that slowly drains away as we get older.  You either have it or you don’t. What if health is like juggling balls – the more you can keep in the air the better you feel. If optimal health requires effort and skill, then being lazy or unskilled means losing health or never gaining higher levels of wellbeing. What if mastering ten balls in the air feels really good, does juggling just five seem unhealthy, even if it’s whole foods? Can we all be Jack LaLane, or should we aim to just be Dr. Joel Fuhrman?

I’m lazy. I just want to feel healthy without any effort. But what I’ve learned from eating a lifetime of junk food is I have an unhealthy consciousness. That the balance of chemicals I call normal is really not what I’d like to be feeling all the time. I think some health is youthful vitality. And when we’re young we have an abundance of wellbeing because our chemical systems are all running in an optimal fashion. It’s robust and its momentum is hard to alter. Part of the bad feeling is getting old could be due to a lifetime of imbibing chemicals that abuse our system, or not eating the right chemicals to maintain it.

At 63 I’m struggling to find the right list of chemicals to add to my body each day. But the complexity of our system is hard to understand. Between my normal chemical processes I’m having to add chemicals my doctors tell me I need, but they have side effects. Whenever I change my diet, hopefully for the better, it has side effects too. At 63 I’m suddenly realizing I’m juggling a whole lot of balls – more than I can count. If I mess up, and they all fall to the ground, I get sick. After being sick, it gets harder to get those all those balls juggling again.

When I was growing up, DuPont had an advertising slogan, “Better living through chemistry.” In the 1960s hippies coopted it as their slogan for getting high. Now in the 21st century, the phrase takes on another new meaning. We used to worry about a small list of chemicals that aided health – vitamins and minerals. The macronutrients. Now with whole foods we worry about hundreds, if not thousands of chemicals called micronutrients. It’s impossible to know which recipe of chemicals creates the perfect state of mind.

It’s a shame I didn’t understand the importance of body chemistry when I was a child, and worked to eat healthy right from the start. I’ve waited to when I got on the home stretch of life to study chemistry. Now that my arteries are clogged and my bones are growing arthritis deposits, I’m suddenly needing a PhD in bio-molecular interactions.


The Coca Cola Company Versus the Nanny State

By James Wallace Harris, Monday, April 27, 2015

I saw Fed Up last night on Netflix streaming, a documentary about how the food industry is acting like the tobacco industry when it comes down to choosing between the bottom line and the health of Americans. The documentary makes the case the Coca Cola Company sells only products that will make us fat, and it’s only value to society is the wealth it generates. To be fair, the film targets other food industries, but soft drinks are portrayed as one of society’s main causes of obesity.

What struck me was how food corporations defend dangerous foods in the same way the tobacco industry defended cigarettes.  What’s more, conservatives attack any effort by politicians to keep children from becoming addicted to junk food by referring to such laws as promoting the Nanny State. If you Google Nanny State you’ll find some very interesting political sites and news stories.

Are conservatives right? Should we have the freedom to eat whatever we want? You’d think, by the same logic, they’d be against laws that controlled recreational drugs. And if the FDA keeps our food safe and our medicine effective, is that coddling of the Nanny State?

Should the government regulate products that make us unhealthy? Or should we all be responsible for ourselves? We’ve known that junk food is bad for decades. We know that drugs and alcohol ruins lives. We know what’s bad for us, but how many people do anything about it? Fed Up shows that children have little choice in choosing good food at school, and become addicted to bad food. That’s exactly why we don’t want drug dealers selling to kids. Should kids need an ID proving they are 21 to buy a Coke and Mars bar? Or if the Nanny State theory is correct, should we let kids buy joints and beer in their cafeteria because to not let them takes away their freedom?

The epidemic of obesity has occurred in my lifetime, and I’m obese myself. I’ve been a junk food addict my whole life. This documentary makes a great case that the current obesity crisis is not due to lack of exercise or the ability to diet, but we’re conditioned to eat bad food. I now struggle every day to eat good food. I have to ask myself: Would I have preferred that bad food had been made illegal in the 1950s and 1960s when I was growing up and we lived in a Nanny State, or do I prefer the freedom of choice I’ve had for the past fifty years?

I’m suffering from the results of a lifetime of poor eating, I do wish I had lived in a Nanny State. I have an addictive personality. In the film, they showed an experiment with rats addicted to cocaine were offered cocaine or sugar water. Nearly all of them switched to the sugar water.

Is it really a Nanny State to keep children from becoming addicted to foods, especially when they are offered no healthy alternatives? We know these food makes us fat. We know even as little kids that fat is socially and sexually unattractive. Yet, kids and adults will keep eating the food  that makes them fat, just like rats in a cage. And that experiment has a ring of truth to it. Most people prefer junk food to drugs. Junk food makes us happy. Junk food fights boredom and loneliness.

Do we really have the freedom to choose? Do we really have freedom from the Nanny State when most of us spend our free time drinking Coke and eating Doritos and M&Ms, while playing video games and listening to the television? Is that what makes us free? Or does it really reflect that we’re rats in a cage sucking on a bottle of sugar water?

Is it really a Nanny State to make school cafeterias serve healthy food? Or do we live in a Corporate State where kids are forced to eat what makes the most money? Is it freedom to be free of laws, or to make laws that help make us a better society? I don’t know. I don’t drink or smoke because my parents were alcoholics that smoked like crazy. Will the next generation be horrified at all us fat people and choose a different path? Can they make that decision if they aren’t protected from addictive food while growing up?