Monthly Archives: July 2013 - Page 2

Review and Interview at PaleoDiet++

I’m still catching up after our vacation, but here is something that may be as interesting as a post: Dee of PaleoDiet++ did an email interview of me, and had some unusual questions I haven’t been asked before. The interview (and Dee’s review of our book) is here.

Beyond Standing Desks: Portable Outdoor Workstations

A note from Paul: I’m happy to introduce Kamal Patel’s first post on PHD! Kamal is the funniest and maybe smartest guy in the ancestral health movement. A Ph.D. candidate in nutrition and a leader in the Ancestral Health Society, you may know him from PaleoHacks or For more, check out Kamal’s bio on our About Us page. Welcome Kamal!

Goal: Do some computer work outside a couple times a week. Get maximal benefits from the sun in a minimum amount of time, while fitting all the necessary gear inside a backpack.

Resources: Tiny budget, free Amazon Prime shipping, access to a sunny park.

Why do computer work outside?

Hi, Kamal here (see below Shou-Ching for a short bio). I love sunlight. You probably love sunlight too. Turns out the sun is important for things outside of just vitamin D production. Ever wonder why indoor cats gravitate towards sunlight, even though they get their vitamin D from food? Probably not, since it just makes intuitive sense that animals want to be outdoors. The desire to be free of inside confines applies not just to indoor cats but also to indoor humans. Yet indoor humans sometimes need to see peer-reviewed articles before changing their habits. Don’t fret, we’ll start with a couple of those before delving into five specific steps for creating an outdoor workstation.

Escape plot foiled by hammock

My kitty’s escape to sunlight, foiled by a vicious hammock

Sun exposure increases production of endorphins and nitric oxide, which can translate into benefits for both pyschological well being as well as disease prevention. Light boxes benefit not only seasonal affective disorder but also non-seasonally linked depression. Brief but regular exposure to ultraviolet light from tanning beds can help the mysterious and painful chronic condition called fibromyalgia, and sunlight may benefit pain after surgery. The draw of UV radiation is so powerful that frequent tanners can literally get addicted to catching rays. Unfortunately, the “pro-sunshine” lobby isn’t pouring billions into research on sun exposure, so the specific mechanisms of sunlight benefit will likely remain more mysterious than the mechanisms of blockbuster medications like Viagra and Prilosec.

Step 1: Dress for success

Look at your skin. Does it look more like Paul’s, or does it look more like Kamal’s?


Debating who has worse posture

If it looks like Kamal’s, you might be getting vitamin D not-at-alls (PS: that’s a rhyming mnemonic). Let me explain. I first got my vitamin D tested in 2008, and it came in at a whopping 19 ng/ml…even with taking a multivitamin most days and getting sunlight at lunchtime! As you probably know, pigmented and/or tanned skin serves as sunscreen, making it tough for darker people to synthesize vitamin D without very long sun exposure times. Indians may also produce less active vitamin D (calcitriol) from a given amount of sun exposure due to genetic predisposition.

But my problems apply to you lighter-skinned folk as well — my outdoor lunch excursions were done while wearing business casual clothing with short sleeves. This means covered torso and legs, leaving only about 25% of my skin exposed for vitamin D production. If you factor in things that can lower vitamin D production further, such as cloud cover, not laying down horizontally, higher BMI, and increased age, then it might be worth it to create a “sunlight maximization” strategy. 

How serious are you about getting that extra sunlight? If you’re moderately serious, consider small changes like taking off your shoes and rolling up your pantlegs a bit while sitting in the park. If you’re extremely serious and okay with looking strange, consider occasional use of…mesh basketball jerseys! Yup, those cheapo mesh tops are made of thin material covered with tiny holes. One day I’ll buy a UV meter and check the actual numbers, but my suspicion is that wearing such a jersey would greatly increase skin exposure to the sun, perhaps doubling it or more. I bought my jersey for about $10 on Amazon, and sometimes change into it before leaving for the park. If you don’t already have blue-light blocking glasses to ratchet down light exposure before bedtime, you can buy a pair of those plus a jersey on Amazon in order to level up to free shipping.


Step 2: Acquire tiny chair and tiny laptop

Now that you’ve freed up enough skin to get some substantial sunlight, the next step is to assemble your outdoor office. This part is fun. Eventually you’ll want a small chair, especially if you’re planning on spending many hours working outside. To get a chair that you can stuff in your backpack, just head to REI or any place that sells camping gear. I chose a collapsible model at REI called “Flex Lite” that weighs only 1.75 pounds and folds down to 14×4 inches. 


Tiny chair and tiny laptop fit into backpack with plenty of room to spare.

Laptops are expensive, so you can totally just use whichever model you have. BUT…if you have a few bucks to spare or your current model is in need of replacement, I’d recommend getting an ultra-light laptop, at under 3 pounds. That way, you can fit the tiny laptop and tiny chair along with a hearty lunch in your backpack. Just remember that a laptop with a matte screen works much better than a glossy screen for outdoor use.

Step 3: Optimize ergonomics

The name of the game when working at a computer is to avoid repetitive stress injuries. Simply by being outside, it will give you more incentive to get up and walk around once in a while. But there are other ways to introduce some structured change-of-posture. You can set a timer for every 20 or 30 minutes or get an app on your phone that reminds you to get up. You could also take a break from sitting in the chair to sit on the grass. Note that sitting with feet in contact with the earth (aka “earthing” or “grounding”) is speculated to have some health benefits, which is another bonus for getting in some outdoor office time.

For those with wrist problems, consider switching up your input method every now and then. Switching from right to left hand on occasion is the easiest way to do this. Other ways are switching from trackpad to mouse or trackball and using keyboard shortcuts more. Later this summer, a motion-detecting input device called “Leap Motion” is coming out that will allow you move the cursor with your MIND! Just kidding, not with your mind. But it does allow you to move the cursor with your hands in the air, Minority Report style, reducing much pressure from overstressed wrist tendons and ligaments. Fancy gadgets aside, if you’re going to spend more time outside, it’s a perfect opportunity to think more about varying your working position and revisiting ergonomics.

Step 4: Get pumped

This is going to sound cheesy, but so be it. Working outside can make you feel more alive. The transition from typical cubicle to standing desk is exciting. Work typically takes up the majority of one’s adult life, and standing cracks the mold of being a robotic office cubicle worker. Incorporating some outside work time removes so much of the drudgery aspect from work that it can confuse the most pessimistic of brains.

Normalizing circadian rhythm is an essential part of the health equation, and a complementary factor is being outdoors in the sun. “Sick building syndrome” doesn’t get a ton of research attention, but it’s a very real thing. One reason outdoorsy vacations provide a sense of well-being could be a lack of droning artificial light, stale air with concentrated indoor pollutants, and disgruntled coworkers. Even an office full of windows isn’t perfect. Office windows filter out UVB rays (meaning no vitamin D production or improved mood through endorphin release) but allow some UVA through (meaning staying indoors behind a window doesn’t keep you risk-free from skin damage and cataracts).

Step 5: Get outside already!


Directions: Stuff into backpack, leave for park while whistling CCR’s “Lookin’ Out My Back Door”.

Above are my typical outdoor office supplies, all of which easily fit into a normal-sized backpack with room to spare. From the top left, there’s a travel-sized sunblock, laptop, collapsible chair, flipflops, coconut chips plus sardines in olive oil, and mobile wifi device. If you don’t want to get a mobile wifi device, you can usually get free or cheap mobile wifi from your smartphone.

In terms of practical recommendations, I advise people with school or office work to gradually spend more time working outside. If you find yourself able to be productive working outside, only then consider buying a chair or other outdoor accouterments. Wearing a mesh jersey might seem drastic, but it has a couple benefits. For darker-skinned individuals, it can substantially decrease the prolonged time needed to produce vitamin D. Very light-skinned individuals who are at higher risk of skin cancer could wear sunblock on parts of the body that are more prone to skin damage (like the face) and couple that with producing vitamin D from a jersey-clad torso.

To reiterate because of its importance, a critical concept for office work is VARIATION. The capital letters are to show that I’m not joking around. Combining typical indoor seated work with at least occasional standing work and occasional outdoor seated work is a solid ergonomic base. Increasing the standing to a few hours a week may result in weight loss of several pounds a year. When indoors, a “microbreak” of under a minute could be spent grabbing some water, taking a lap around the office, or climbing a set of stairs. These microbreaks have been shown to reduce muscular discomfort without compromising productivity. When outdoors, microbreaks are pretty much just awesome. Breathe in some fresh air, stare at the clouds, say hello to the doggies at the park. All the studies in the world can’t relay just how nice it is to work outside a couple times a week.

Pictures from Korea

We’re in the midst of our Korean vacation, and I’d like to share a few pictures.

Our Talk at Reebok Crossfit Sentinel

Crossfit has come to Korea in an impressive way. Crossfit Sentinel has opened four gyms in the Seoul area and their facility in Seoul’s City Center, where we spoke, has a golf facility and a café that sells PHD-like food.

On Saturday I gave two talks, one on diet and one on lifestyle. Our photographer (Shou-Ching) neglected to take photos during the talks, but here we are afterward with the leaders of Crossfit Sentinel:

Korea trip 2


Our first priority, once our talk was out of the way, was a trip to Shou-Ching’s hometown, Yeongwol, to pay respects to her father. In traditional Korean Buddhism, graves are marked by a mound of earth, and our first step was to weed the plants on and around the grave:

Korea trip 3a

Buddhism assumes communication between our world and the spirit world, and descendants support their ancestors’ spirits with gift offerings, such as food. Here we paid our respects to Shou-Ching’s father with prayer and an offering of bananas, oranges, and chicken:

Korea trip 3b

We also sprinkled a bottle of wine around the grave to provide him with something to drink, and made a gift of gold and silver, transmuted by fire from gold and silver paper:

Korea trip 3c

Shou-Ching’s father was extremely sociable, the center of Yeongwol’s Chinese community, owner of Yeongwol’s most popular restaurant, the creator of the town’s Chinese school, and everyone’s first recourse in times of trouble. With food, wine, and money for gifts and gambling, he may be equally popular among the spirits.

Yeongwol would be a minor backwater in the Korean countryside were it not for a notorious event in Korean history. King Munjong of the Joseon dynasty died in 1452 when his son was 12 years old. The son, King Danjong, ascended to the throne, but regents ruled in his place. The regency was overthrown a year later in a coup led by Danjong’s uncle. After a counter-coup attempting to restore Danjong to the throne failed, he was exiled to Yeongwol. After a second failed restoration attempt when Danjong was 17, he was forced to commit suicide. Two hundred sixty-eight supporters of Danjong were executed. After the suicide, Danjong’s body was left to decay in the river, and a royal edict threatened anyone who rescued the body with three generations of persecution. However, a local man recovered the body and buried it in a secret grave, which was eventually found a few centuries later.

Over the course of subsequent centuries, Danjong and his followers were posthumously accorded greater and greater honors, in an attempt to appease their spirits; the man who recovered his body was given the status of a royal minister. Danjong began to be honored in art:

Korea trip 3e

His grave was moved to a suitable site for a king, on a high ridge overlooking Yeongwol:

Korea trip 3d

Today the tomb complex is a UNESCO world heritage site, you have to pay admission to visit, and the tomb is roped off. But in Shou-Ching’s youth, it was untended, and the village children would race up the hill to ride on the stone stallions, tigers, and sheep that surround the grave. If the sculptures look worn, it is not only because of the weather!


Buddhist temples are found in remote mountain sites throughout Korea. They are places of retreat and meditation; it was central to their purpose that they were not, in the days before roads and automobiles, easy to visit. City-dwellers would have to make an arduous journey to reach them, and might spend a week in prayer and meditation repenting misdeeds and repairing their spiritual affairs.

A common feature of temples is a source of spring or mountain water, channeled into a drinking fountain.  At Geummongam in Yeongwol, my nieces and I had a contest to see who could stand the longest in a pool of cold spring water downstream from the fountain:

Korea trip 4a

At Baekdamsa in Inje, here is a typical prayer room. Three Buddhas and a large number of figurine monks are mounted on the back wall.

Korea trip 4b

Meditative prayer will typically be led by a monk who chants sutras and strikes a mok-tak to keep rhythm. In the temples we visited, a chanting monk would wear a microphone and loudspeakers around the temple would broadcast the rhythmic chanting.

Baekdamsa also had a wishing pond with water lilies. Tossing a coin into the central reservoir would grant a prayer:

Korea trip 4c

Around the river that runs in front of the temple, visitors had built rock cairns:

Korea trip 4d


We had a delicious meal at a traditional Korean restaurant devoted to an uncommon “safe starch,” acorn starch. Acorn starch is usually served as a sort of jelly, called Dotorimuk, but it can also be used to make noodles or other foods.

At this meal, almost every food (apart from the cured duck – the reddish ham-like food on the left of the large plate – and the vegetables) used acorns:

Korea trip 5a

On Sunday we went to a restaurant made popular by a TV special, which offered a wide range of vegetable dishes made with medicinal plants traditionally used in Chinese medicine, along with pork belly and rice:

Korea trip 5b

Lynh wanted us to blog about eating live octopus, so we had to go to a sashimi restaurant. At Gisamun-ri south of Yangyang, we had this feast.  First, the appetizers:

Korea trip 5c

Here I’m eating a barnacle:

Korea trip 5d

Then the sashimi. Puffer fish:

Korea trip 5e

Two other varieties of fish:

Korea trip 5f

Live squid, tunicate or sea squirt, abalone, and sea cucumber:

Korea trip 5g

Sea urchins (which taste like a seafood pudding):

Korea trip 5h

There is a risk to eating sashimi: many wild fish and shellfish carry parasites. This was brought home to us the next day. After our sashimi dinner, we stopped in Yangyang to buy some fresh seafood – scallops, clams, and octopus. The next day we extracted Anisakis worms from all three foods:

Korea trip 5i

Other Sights

Nearly all free land in Korea that has not been built upon and is flat enough to support agriculture hosts cultivated crops. Here is a rice field in front of a restaurant:

Korea trip 6a

Typically the farmers also operate restaurants or shops. This woman is a buckwheat farmer who operates a stall in the market at Yeongwol selling buckwheat, cabbage, and scallion pancakes:

Korea trip 6b

Here I am with Shou-Ching’s mom at the beach in Yangyang, sporting a seaweed necktie:

Korea trip 6c

Finally, some landscape photos. Korea is over 70% mountainous and resembles West Virginia or the White Mountains of New Hampshire, but the landscape is geologically younger and more rugged. Here are three photos from scenic Seoroksan National Park:

Korea trip 6d

Korea trip 6e

Korea trip 6f


Koreans probably eat one of the globe’s most healthful diets. They eat a tremendous variety of vegetables – probably rivaling the hundreds of species eaten by Paleolithic hunter-gatherers.  However, I noticed that Korean food has become appreciably sweeter and more processed since my last visit 11 years ago; the kimchi is now much less tasty than before, and inferior to our homemade kimchi; bread has made major inroads replacing rice and rice cakes; and the number of overweight Koreans has significantly increased.

Here is a slide from my Seoul talk, based on data from Gapminder. Korea and other east Asian countries have led the world in life expectancy:

Korea trip 7

If Koreans continue to shift their foods toward processed and sugary western foods, I doubt this superior longevity will continue. Korea, I believe, needs the Perfect Health Diet.