Master Life Faster: Newsletter

How Not Thinking Helps Athletes Win

Posted in Newsletter by Paul Lem, M.D. on November 19, 2009

Volume 2, Issue 11
HEALTHY: What Chinese villagers can teach you about nutrition
HEALTHY: Why Angus beef is bad for your heart
SMART: How not thinking helps athletes win

“Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food.

What Chinese Villagers Can Teach You About Nutrition

Eat to LiveJoel Fuhrman is a family doctor in New Jersey who specializes in nutrition. He’s also a former world-class figure skater who placed second in the US National Pairs Championship in 1973. On top of these accomplishments, Fuhrman has written Eat to Live: The Revolutionary Formula for Fast and Sustained Weight Loss.

China Study
In his book, Fuhrman discusses the findings of the China-Cornell-Oxford Project. Called “the Grand Prix of epidemiology” by the New York Times, the “China Study” compared the diets, lifestyles, and diseases of 65 rural Chinese counties in the 1970s and 1980s. Some of the county-dwellers ate completely plant-based diets, while others ate a significant amount of animal products.

Results showed a strong association between the prevalence of heart disease and cancer, and the proportion of animal products in people’s diets. In other words, people who ate extremely low amounts of animal-based food were virtually free of heart attacks and cancer.

Power Plants
Fuhrman recommends eating according to the “90 percent rule”: 90 percent of your diet should be unrefined plant food. Processed foods and animal foods should be used as condiments, and make up 10 percent or less of your diet. In addition, his “One pound-One pound Rule” advises you to eat at least 1 pound of raw green vegetables a day, and 1 pound of cooked/steamed or frozen green vegetables a day.

The Life Plan Food Pyramid summarizes his recommendations:

Foods How often should you eat it?
Beef, sweets, cheese/milk, processed food, hydrogenated oil Rarely
Poultry, eggs, oils Once weekly or less
Fish, fat-free dairy Twice weekly or less
Whole grains, raw nuts, seeds 5–20% of calories
Fruits 20–50% of calories
Beans/legumes 10–30% of calories
Vegetables (half raw, half cooked) 30–70% of calories

Healthy Weight Loss
VegetablesWhat benefits can you look forward to if you change your diet? First, you’ll lower your risk for heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. Second, Fuhrman’s Life Plan will help you become thin and fit. He says, “I have tested my recommendations on more than 2,000 patients. The average patient loses the most weight in the first 4–6 weeks, with the average being about 20 pounds…Those following the program continue to lose about 10 pounds the second month and about a pound and a half per week thereafter. The weight loss continues at this comparatively quick rate until they reach their ideal weight.”

Eat to Live is a compelling book. After reading it, I’ve been eating more vegetables and less animal products such as beef, chicken, and pork. Maybe you should give it a try too.

Campbell TC, Junshi C. (1994). Diet and chronic degenerative diseases: perspectives from China. Am J Clin Nutr. 59(suppl): 1153S–61S. Abstract.

Brody JE. (1990). Huge study of diet indicts fat and meat. New York Times. May 8. Full Article.

Campbell TC, Parpia B, Chen J. (1998). Diet, lifestyle, and the etiology of Coronary Artery Disease: the Cornell China study. Am J Cardiol. 82: 18T–21T. Abstract.

“If we gave up eating beef we would have roughly 20 to 30 times more land for food than we have now.”
-James Lovelock

Why Angus Beef is Bad for Your Heart

CowThe China Study found that villagers who ate animal protein had a higher risk of developing heart disease and cancer. Yet field studies of modern-day hunter gatherers have found that they are generally free of heart disease, even though their diets consist of about 65 percent animal food and 35 percent plant food. Why the contradiction?

Wonderfully Wild
It’s quite simple, actually. Hunter gatherers eat wild animal foods, and wild protein is high in heart-healthy monounsatured and polyunsaturated fats, and omega-3 fatty acids. For example, white-tailed deer meat has a polyunsaturated fat content of 16 percent, compared to only 7 percent for grain-fed beef. Similarly, the amount of omega-3 fatty acids is almost twice as high in white-tailed deer meat.

Live Like a Caveman
Not everyone has access to wild meat. Instead, you can choose to eat heart-healthy animal protein such as fish or omega-3 enriched eggs. Another option is getting your protein from plant foods such as tofu, nuts, beans, peas, lentils, and other legumes.

Eat like a caveman, exercise like a caveman, and your body will reward you for years to come.

Cordain L et al. (2002). The paradoxical nature of hunter-gatherer diets: meat-based, yet non-atherogenic. Eur J Clin Nutr. 56(Suppl 1): S42–S52. Full Article.

Cordain L et al. (2002). Fatty acid analysis of wild ruminant tissues: evolutionary implications for reducing diet-related chronic disease. Eur J Clin Nutr. 56: 181–191. Full Article.

“Be master of mind rather than mastered by mind.”
-Zen proverb

How Not Thinking Helps Athletes Win

SamuraiIn ancient Japan, Musashi Miyamoto and other legendary samurai achieved a state of mind known as mushin no shin, a Zen expression meaning mind of no mind. It refers to an absence of anger, fear, or ego. There is no thinking or judging. The fighter is free to act and react without hesitation.

Acting Without Thinking
Swordsmen trained for years to achieve mushin. They repeated the same movements thousands of times until they could perform them spontaneously without conscious thought. In The Book of Five Rings, Musashi wrote: “With your spirit settled, accumulate practice day by day, and hour by hour. Polish the twofold spirit heart and mind, and sharpen the twofold gaze perception and sight. When your spirit is not in the least clouded, when the clouds of bewilderment clear away, there is the true void.”

With his mastery of mushin, Musashi was undefeated in over 60 duels. Why is acting without thinking so powerful?

Brain Delay
In the 1960s, psychologist Arthur Jensen discovered the answer. Jensen found that most people have minimum reaction times of 250 milliseconds. When he asked subjects to deliberately slow down their reaction times by a small amount, he was surprised to find that they could not. Their minimum reaction times jumped from 250 msec to 500–1,000 msec. There was no in-between. In other words, if you consciously perform an action, your minimum reaction time is 250–750 msec slower than if you act without thinking.

A lot can happen in half a second. Consider these examples:

  • A hummingbird flaps its wings 10 times in 100 msec.
  • If the phrase “one Mississippi” represents 1 second, then “one Miss” is about 300 msec.
  • In the 2004 NBA playoffs, Derek Fisher of the LA Lakers caught an inbounds pass and hit a turnaround jump shot at the buzzer to beat the San Antonio Spurs. Total time? 400 msec.

No wonder Musashi was undefeated. In the time it took for his opponents to decide what to do, Musashi had already cut off their heads. Whether you’re a samurai swordsman or a weekend warrior, thinking means failure if reaction time matters.

Libet B. (1981). The experimental evidence for subjective referral of a sensory experience backwards in time: reply to P. S. Churchland. Philosophy of Science. 48(2): 182–197. Abstract.

Eligon J. (2006). Basketball; When a blink of an eye is an eternity. New York Times. December 22. Full Article.

Copyright 2009 by Paul Lem, M.D. All Rights Reserved.
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