DROdio http://danielodio.com A Sanctuary for Founders and Entrepreneurs en-us Sat, 28 Nov 2015 10:20:51 +0000 http://sett.com Sett RSS Generator Beyond Fasting: The Ketogenic Rabbit Hole http://danielodio.com/beyond-fasting-the-ketogenic-rabbit-hole I'm about to take you down a deep rabbit hole, on a path that will challenge what you believe about nutrition and health. This is a journey of experimentation, and I encourage you to keep a very open mind, and in fact, I hope you decide to experiment with these themes ]]>

I'm about to take you down a deep rabbit hole, on a path that will challenge what you believe about nutrition and health. This is a journey of experimentation, and I encourage you to keep a very open mind, and in fact, I hope you decide to experiment with these themes yourself. I'm not a nutritionist or doctor, but I am very passionate about finding ways to optimize my body and health, which is why I've been doing intermittent fasting for the past five months -- and that experience has been life changing. I've gone from XL to medium sized shirts, from a 38 to 32 waist, and most importantly, from 34.7% body fat to 24.5% (and my goal is to get under 20%). Intermittent Fasting has put me in control of my body for the first time in my life.

And just when I felt that I was really starting to figure it all out, this rabbit hole opened up. And it's called ketosis.

In addition to intermittent fasting, I'm experimenting with ketosis through the end of 2015, which is triggered by eating a ketogenic diet comprised of 75% fat, 20% protein and 5% carbs. Yes, that's right -- in order to lose fat and become healthier, I'm going to eat mostly fat. The mind blowing counter-intuitiveness of that statement is why I'm writing this blog.

But before we can talk about this ketogenic approach to nutrition and health, we have to understand how the body uses two energy sources -- glucose and ketones -- and why, with your diet, you are probably only ever tapping into glucose (and how that may be making you unhealthier, especially as you age).

See an enlarged version of this picture here. The illustrations come from a video for a ketone supplement called Keto-OS, which I've never tried and don't endorse per-se.

Glucose is the "lighter fluid" energy source that your body uses to create energy for its cells, whereas ketones are the "charcoal" -- harder to ignite, but can power your body for longer when used because ketones burn fat and are a more efficient metabolic energy source. Why does the human body have the ability to burn two entirely different types of energy? The theory is that as humans evolved, we went through periods of feast or famine and had to be able to make use of energy when available, as well be able to as stash away longer-term energy, which was stored on our bodies as fat, and then convert it to energy (via the creation of ketones by the liver) when the glucose was depleted.

But in our modern society, sugar and carbs are all around us, all the time. We never starve for 2 days between meals. This means our bodies dutifully store away excess glucose as fat, but we never tap into those reserves to actually use them -- we don't need to; our bodies can be powered 100% of the time with glucose thanks to plentiful access to calories all around us.

What this meant for me was that six months ago, I was on the verge of having Metabolic Syndrome, and I didn't even know it. Metabolic Syndrome (a proxy for insulin resistance) put me at an elevated risk for getting many types of Cancer, Alzheimers, Obesity, Diabetes, Stroke, and Coronary Heart Disease. One is defined as having it if one has three of the following five indicators:

  • Expanding waistline (above 40"; mine was 38")
  • High Triglycerides (above 150 mg/dL; mine were at 141)
  • Low HDL (below 40 mg/dL; mine was at 38)
  • High blood pressure (systolic BP > 130 or diastolic BP >85 mm Hg)
  • High blood glucose (above 100 mg/dL; mine was at 98)

Astonishingly, the prevalence of Metabolic Syndrome is estimated to be 34% of the US adult population, and if you've got it, you have a 2x increase in risk for heart attack. Dr. Peter Attia has an excellent hour-long talk about the ketogenic diet and Metabolic Syndrome, which I highly recommend to anyone who's flirting with these numbers, as I was. Here's a screenshot from his talk showing his numbers (and I've overlaid mine):

I'm going to get my blood re-tested next month to see how (or if!) intermittent fasting has helped bring my markers down from these at-risk numbers, but I know that at the very least my waist has gone from a 38 to a 32, which is encouraging.

The big take-away: When you eat sugar and carbs, your body burns what it can and converts the rest into fat as storage. But when you don't eat sugar or carbs your body switches to a fat burning mode called ketosis, and it becomes "keto-adapted" which means it gets good at burning fat directly, and your body doesn't care if the fat it's burning is fat you're ingesting, or fat it has stored away. This is why, counter-intuitively, when you almost completely remove carbs from your diet and replace those calories with fat, your body becomes more adept at burning fat instead of storing it. The ideal caloric intake ratio is 75% fat, 20% protein and 5% carbs.

The big caveat here is that you can't have a diet that's high in fat and high in carbs, because whenever you ingest carbs, your body switches to burning them and you fall out of ketosis, which also means you start storing the fat. So if you're inclined to cheat on diets, and you just can't resist eating those carbs, then this approach will backfire on you. And I happen to be one of those people. I just hate having the cognitive overhead of having to think about whether I should be eating something or not (that's why fasting has been so good for me -- either I'm eating that day, or I'm not. Very binary). So why would someone like me who absolutely hates "diets" try the ketogenic diet for a month? It's because, just like with fasting, recent medical research is starting to show that staying in ketosis is very good for one's body, including:

  • Being in ketosis makes your body more efficient, which makes you less hungry. (Many people also experience a clarity of mind when their bodies switch to ketosis, myself included)
  • Ketosis helps get rid of abdominal fat, which is an especially harmful type of fat
  • Being in ketosis tends to lower triglycerides dramatically
  • Being in ketosis is known to raise HDL
  • Being in ketosis dramatically lowers blood sugar and insulin levels (In one study in type 2 diabetics, 95.2% had managed to reduce or eliminate their glucose-lowering medication within 6 months)
  • Blood pressure tends to go down in ketosis
  • Removing carbs from one's diet leads to lower inflammation
  • And most importantly for me: Low-carb diets are the most effective treatment known against Metabolic Syndrome

Eating on a ketogenic diet is interesting -- you can have in abundance the kinds of foods you usually restrict, so long as you don't let yourself go near sugar or carbs. Here are some examples:

A very ketogenic dinner: Pork belly (perfect ratio of fat to protein) and lots of veggies. The glass of wine contributes about 4 grams of carbs (my daily limit is 50 grams).

Dumplings made from cabbage instead of flour... and delicious!

Salami, with some special gluten free, grain free, very low carb "keto crackers" that my wife Sue baked.

For a snack, I have nuts or sardines, an incredibly healthy way to get protein and other nutrients.

If you'd like to go down this rabbit hole with me, I'd love your company. I don't know if I'll keep eating ketogenic past the end of 2015, but I am enjoying the experiment so far. If you want to dive in head first, I highly recommend the following resources:

Tim Ferriss interviews Dr. Dom D'Agostino:

This three hour-long podcast is incredibly medically dense but also incredibly good. If you're skeptical about what I've written above, I highly recommend you give it a listen. This is the single best resource I've found to date about this topic.

Dr. Stephen Phinney - 'Optimising Weight and Health with an LCHF Diet' - Part 1

This is a three-part series of videos (I've only linked to the first video), each about an hour long, and they're spectacular.

Dr Peter Attia on How he changed to burning fat instead of burning sugar

This is the video I linked to earlier in the post.

Peter Attia: What if we're wrong about diabetes?

This is a TEDx talk about re-examining the relationship between Type II diabetes and obesity

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Sat, 28 Nov 2015 05:11:15 +0000 http://danielodio.com/beyond-fasting-the-ketogenic-rabbit-hole
15 Month Performance Review: Betterment vs. Wealthfront vs. S&P500 vs. Other Options http://danielodio.com/15-month-performance-asset-allocation-review-betterment-vs-wealthfront-vs-s-p500-vs-other-options I wrote this post in August 2014 comparing Betterment to Wealthfront, so it's been about 15 months, and I thought it'd be a good time to check in on relative performance, as a buddy of mine recently wrote: "I saw your post on betterment. I'm thinking of moving everythin]]>

I wrote this post in August 2014 comparing Betterment to Wealthfront, so it's been about 15 months, and I thought it'd be a good time to check in on relative performance, as a buddy of mine recently wrote:

"I saw your post on betterment. I'm thinking of moving everything over to a roboinvestor. What's your thinking on betterment vs wealthfront, and whether you'd just dump everything on there?"

As I wrote in my original post, I put $5k into both Betterment and Wealthfrontto test them against each other. To date, both have under-performed the S&P 500 by a considerable margin. S&P is up 10% since August 2014. Betterment is down by 2% and Wealthfront is down by 5.4%. So, should I just have invested in the S&P 500? And as per my other previous blog, Show Me The Money: Six Strategies to Put Your Cash to Work, how should I re-allocate based on this new data? And what would I recommend to my buddy? Let's dig into the data a bit to come to a conclusion:

Here's a chart in my Betterment dashboard that compares the performance of my Betterment investment (in orange) to the S&P 500 over the same period (in blue). I also threw in a Vanguard bond fund's performance just for a benchmark on how a more conservative investment has done:

Sadly, Wealthfront's dashboard isn't nearly as sophisticated. Here's all they show me:

Interestingly, here's how the Wealthfront has actually performed vs. how they predicted it would:

Meanwhile, in my "six strategies" blog post I referenced investing in peer to peer micro-lending via LendingClub, and then I wrote this update on using the LendingRobot API to be more sophisticated about how I do the P2P lending. Here's the LendingRobot dashboard of my P2P returns to date:

So LendingRobot is predicting that the money I invested in LendingClub using its "automated investing" service (before I knew that LendingRobot existed) will return 8.92%, but the money I'm investing in LendingClub using the more sophisticated rules I've created with LendingRobot will return 13.20%, for a blended return of 9.79%. Needless to say, I've stopped using LendingClub's automated investing service and am using LendingRobot exclusively for all investments in LendingClub moving forward. But let's just assume I can make an average of a 10% return in LendingClub. Does that mean I should move all the ETF investments over to LendingClub?

Well, not necessarily: There are several drawbacks to P2P investing, namely:

  • Income that comes from P2P lending is taxed at ordinary income rates, whereas equities that are held for a year or more are taxed at long-term capital gains rates.
  • Dollars put into P2P are very illiquid because they're deployed into 36 to 60 notes, whereas the Betterment ETF funds are immediately available if needed.
  • The interest rate of those 36 to 60 months notes are fixed, so if inflation were to kick into gear in a big way, those returns would be fixed while costs rise. Arguably equities could perform better in a higher inflationary environment, or at least the money is more liquid so I could move it to other places.

And to add to the complexity, I recently found a Vanguard high yield ETF that's returning a 3.11% yield, which provides for a blended approach: the liquidity and tax benefits of long-term-hold equities with some of the income elements of P2P lending.

So at the end of the day, here's my answer to my buddy who asked: Your decision really has to be based on your goals. Are you looking for an income producing asset? Are you willing to deploy cash in a risky way? In that case I'd focus on putting cash into LendingClub, via LendingRobot. But conversely, are you looking to stash cash somewhere that it can grow with the markets, where you don't need any immediate income from it? In that case I'd go with equities because historically they return in the 7% range annually, they're more liquid and get better tax treatment. And even though the Betterment and Wealthfront investments have greatly under-performed the S&P 500 over the past 15 months, I'm still sticking with them for now (and for the bulk of my cash, with Betterment specifically, which I greatly prefer over Wealthfront from a user experience perspective). Logically, I buy into their approach -- I like the Tax Loss Harvesting, I like the diversification into large, mid and small cap stocks and emerging markets. But I'm definitely going to keep tabs on how things go over the next couple of years, and I'll keep writing these updates (I'm in this for the long haul -- here's to decades of updates!). If I don't see Betterment start to out-perform other alternatives over a multi-year period, I'll likely change my approach.

I'd love to hear feedback from anyone who loves to geek out on this as much as I do! And for those of you who don't invest at all: Start with something small. $50. $100. Just get into it. Try a few things. There's a world of difference between $0 and $100, even just in the way you feel like you're investing in yourself and your family's future.

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Fri, 06 Nov 2015 19:26:57 +0000 http://danielodio.com/15-month-performance-asset-allocation-review-betterment-vs-wealthfront-vs-s-p500-vs-other-options
Optimize the Passive Income on Your Short-Term Cash http://danielodio.com/uid/1233759 When I wrote my orginal post Show Me The Money: Six Strategies to Put Your Cash to Work, one of the strategies I included was leveraging General Electric's high-yield money market account for the cash you want to keep readily available (i.e., cash you might need to acces]]>

When I wrote my orginal post Show Me The Money: Six Strategies to Put Your Cash to Work, one of the strategies I included was leveraging General Electric's high-yield money market account for the cash you want to keep readily available (i.e., cash you might need to access in the next 3 to 12 months). But GE has shut that program down as an overall strategy shift away from its GE Capital business, and so I was left searching for an alternative. In this post I'll detail what corporate money market accounts are, how they work, how they differ from other types of savings or income generating accounts, and which the best alternative is. I'll also tell you what I ultimately ended up deciding to do, which was different than I expected.

Why you should care about this at all:

One of the mistakes I made in my 20s was not being curious enough about financial instruments, and how I could leverage them to reach my personal goals faster. I was so focused on building startups that I didn't pay enough attention to how to optimize my investments. I set out to change that in my 30s, and I've been blogging about it in the hopes that anyone else who isn't yet leveraging these tools can learn about and use them.

As with anything in life, from optimizing your health to optimizing your finances, you have to start with a goal. My family's financial goal is currently optimized for asset growth, with a secondary focus of passive income generation. Since we're still (relatively) young, we're willing to take aggressive stances on both. Here's how this breaks down for us:

Asset Growth:

  • A bulk of our assets are in equities, which we do via 'robo advised' Electronically Traded Funds (ETFs), with the risk dial turned up to '10'. This allows us to reap the benefits of general long-term gains in the stock market over time, while taking advantage of advanced functionality like Tax Loss Harvesting. The two leaders in this space are Betterment and Wealthfront. I've tested both and greatly prefer Betterment. Here's my blog where I detailed why.
  • Some people also turn to real estate, or investing in startups in this asset growth category; I talk more about that in my original blog post.

Passive Income Generation:

  • We also have a big chunk in Peer to Peer lending via LendingClub for passive income generation, which returns about 10% annually. We use LendingRobot to create sophisticated lending rules. I wrote an in-depth blog about how LendingRobot works here.
  • Some people also turn to equities that pay dividends in this category; I talk more about that below.

But what do you do with cash that you want to have more readily accessible, but you don't want to put at risk using the options above? For example, you may want to have 3 to 12 months of living expenses stashed away somewhere where you can access it in a pinch. You could put it into an FDIC-insured savings account, but the return is absolutely dismal -- the average bank savings account return is a crummy 0.06%; basically nothing. Alternately, you could put it into a CD, but then it's locked up for the duration of the CD, which defeats the purpose of having readily accessible cash. This is where these corporate money market accounts come in handy.

What corporate money market accounts are (and aren't):

This article from the WSJ explains these accounts (and their risks) well:

"With these corporate accounts, you essentially lend your money to the companies, and they in turn reinvest your money in higher-yielding investments, such as equipment leases to corporations or car loans to consumers. Because the corporate money-market account's debt is backed solely by the company's promise of repayment, investors in corporate money-market accounts are paid higher yields than they could fetch in traditional money-market accounts, which are typically insured by the FDIC."

That last sentence is important -- these accounts are not insured by the FDIC. This means if the company goes bankrupt, your money is at risk. You have to be ready to take that risk, which is why I recommend these accounts only for short-term cash allocation (cash you want to have access to that you think you could need within the next 3 to 12 months). Also important to note is that interest income is taxed at your ordinary income bracket (vs. stocks that you hold for a year or longer, or qualified dividends, which are taxed at a long-term capital gains rate).

Since GE recently stopped offering its money market account, I went on the hunt for other options. Here are the most reputable ones I found:

The winner of this batch is Ford for its high returns, relative company stability and ease of use. Sallie Mae Bank comes in a close second (and probalby comes in first if the FDIC protection is a must-have for you).

An alternate approach -- and the one I ended up choosing:

If you're willing to roll with the ups and downs of the stock market, but would still like some passive income generation, a good option would be to choose a stock which pays a dividend. This means that the stock throws off a cash payment, usually on a quarterly basis. (Not all stocks pay dividends). A good option here is the Vanguard High Dividend Yield ETF (NYSE:VYM), which is currently paying a 3.11% yield. This ETF invests in a basket of stocks that all pay dividends (its ten largest holdings are currently Microsoft, ExxonMobil, Wells Fargo, Johnson & Johnson, GE, JP Morgan Chase, AT&T, P&G, Pfizer and Verizon), with a low expense ratio of 0.10%. An ETF, while it's a basket of stocks, trades under its own ticker symbol and acts like a passive mutual fund, with much lower management fees than mutual funds charge. I recommend you trade stocks using the Robinhood app, which provides $0 commission fee stock trades. Another benefit of buying dividend-paying stocks is that qualified stocks (like the Vanguard ETF) get capital-gains treatment on income instead of ordinary income treatment, lowering your tax bill. The downside of this approach is that your cash is tied up in equities, and if the market tanks, the value of your investment will fall.

Since our family's primary goal is asset growth, i'm taking the cash we had in the GE corporate money market account and moving it to the Vanguard ETF. While it's subject to the ups and downs of the stock market, it also provides passive income at a 3x higher yield and a lower tax rate than the other corporate money market options above, and since it's an ETF, it's easy to move in and out of the position quickly, meaning the cash is readily accessible when we need it. I wasn't expecting to go this route before I did my research, but it just goes to show the importance of setting a goal and then comparing your available options to your goal to make the right decision for you.

Lastly, at the end of the day, what matters most is that you start thinking about these things if you aren't already. I'm not an expert in these areas, and I'm learning as I go. I'd welcome comments from those who are experts in the comments -- whether you agree or disagree with my approaches.


The picture above is one I recently took in Hawaii at a friend's wedding. Since this post is about optimizing your finances for the benefit of your -- and your family's -- financial goals over time, I thought the symbolic nature of a wedding and the long-term commitments it produces was a great illustration of the importance of diving into these topics.

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Mon, 26 Oct 2015 14:24:17 +0000 http://danielodio.com/uid/1233759
Fasting Update: Three Months In http://danielodio.com/uid/1232365
NOTE: I've had many people tell me this article has motivated them to try fasting. Here's how to try it in the way that's most likely to ensure success.

It’s been 13 weeks since I wrote the in-depth post on my fasting experiment (read that first if you haven't already), which I originally only expected to try for 8 weeks. But the results have been so life changing that I’ve decided to continue doing it through at least the end of the year, and possibly indefinitely. Here’s what I’ve learned and experienced over the past couple of months, along with the pro-tips I recommend for others interested in trying it themselves, and answers to the questions I get most often.

The main thing I’ve learned in the past couple of months is that fasting is deeply misunderstood by people, including the reasons for doing it, the science and nutrition behind it, the actual experience of fasting, how it makes you feel, and how best to be supportive of someone in your life who’s giving it a try. Fasting just isn’t mainstream enough to make sense to people, and they often immediately respond with “I could never do that” (which is how I used to also feel before really diving into it).

From my fasting experience I’ve also become convinced that the obesity epidemic in America can be solved by integrating fasting elements into our culture. I don’t know if fasting will ever reach that level of cultural prominance, but I do now know with certainty that there’s a solution out there that works, and although fasting is a very individual thing, I’m convinced that it could be codified into an approach that could work for anyone. This also means that if you are unhappy with your current level of health, fasting is something you can do to fix it. It may not be the only thing you can do, but from experience I can tell you that it is absolutely an approach that will work. If you’re serious about trying to become healthy, fasting will work.

Pic at left is from earlier this year, before I started fasting. Pic at right is from a recent trip to Hawaii (thanks Amanda for the acrobatics, and Sarah for snapping the action shot!)

Here are my results from the past 3 months: The most obvious change is in my physique: I’ve gone from 245.8 lbs, which is a weight I’ve been at for the past 7 years, down to 209 lbs, a reduction of 15%. My body fat has decreased from 33.7% to 26.3%, a reduction of 7.4%, and my Body Mass Index has dropped below 30 for the first time in as long as I can remember. My muscle mass has improved from 32% to 36.1% (more on that later). I’ve dropped from XL to L shirts, and even put a medium sized shirt on at the beach the other day, which I never thought I’d do. My waist has dropped 4 belt buckle sizes, from a 38 to a 34, which has meant that I’ve had to donate most of my old clothes. But even more importantly, I feel great — sharper mentally and with more energy overall. I did a baseline series of blood tests when I started this fasting experiment, but I haven’t yet run the “after” set of metabolic panel blood tests, as I want to reach my goal first, which is to get my body fat below 20%. In July I dropped 2.8% body fat, then 2.3% in August, 1.2% in September and 1.1% so far in October. If I can keep a pace of about 1% body fat reduction monthly, I should be able to hit that goal by April 2016, and I’ll run the “after” blood tests then, along with an blog post update.

Although the changes to my physique are the most obvious ones, and the ones that everyone comments on (with people literally saying they don’t recognize me from older photos), those are the secondary benefits of fasting, and they pale in comparison to what I believe are its true benefits, which is that fasting promotes a healthier body that can repair its cells more efficiently, lower the risk of diabetes, lower the risk of coronary artery disease, better regulate blood glucose levels, fight off cancers more effectively, stay mentally sharp longer into old age, and possibly even extend lifespan. This is what makes fasting so misunderstood. People think it’s a diet, because that’s what they see. But I believe it goes much deeper than that. I believe fasting enables my body to perform better, for longer; maybe even decades longer. And few things are more meaningful than having an opportunity to craft a body that lasts longer and serves you better into old age, so you can do more of the things you want to do, with those you love, for longer.

A side note: If you don't know the important stats of your own body, like your BMI, body fat percentage, HDL, LDL, triglyceride levels, etc, then before you really consider whether or not you should fast, you'll have to decide if you want to get serious about your health overall. If you don't know your baseline, you won't know how much you need to improve to get to an overall level of health that's ideal for you.

The science around fasting is still in its infancy, so deciding to fast for reasons other than the immediate health benefits (which alone are tremendous) requires one to make some decisions today about what you want your life to be like several decades from now, and some of those decisions aren’t yet fully backed up by large-scale, randomized, controlled clinical trials, although the early science on smaller mammals and some human studies is promising and fascinating. Here are a few quotes to illustrate what I mean (with a bunch more in my original blog post, if you want to dig deeper):

  • "Together with our prior studies that showed decades of routine fasting was associated with a lower risk of diabetes and coronary artery disease, this led us to think that fasting is most impactful for reducing the risk of diabetes and related metabolic problems." - Medical News Today
  • “Prolonged fasting appears to shift stem cells of the immune system from a dormant state to an active state of self-renewal.” - Medical News Today
  • In mice, prolonged periods of fasting - repeated cycles of 2-4 days with no food - over the course of 6 months, killed older and damaged immune cells and generated new ones. - Medical News Today
  • "A study in the June 5 issue of the Cell Press journal Cell Stem Cell shows that cycles of prolonged fasting not only protect against immune system damage — a major side effect of chemotherapy — but also induce immune system regeneration, shifting stem cells from a dormant state to a state of self-renewal. In both mice and a Phase 1 human clinical trial, long periods of not eating significantly lowered white blood cell counts. In mice, fasting cycles then “flipped a regenerative switch”: changing the signaling pathways for hematopoietic stem cells, which are responsible for the generation of blood and immune systems, the research showed." - Michelson Medical Research Foundation
  • “Intermittent fasting probably lowers the risks of degenerative brain diseases in later life. Mattson and his colleagues have shown that periodic fasting protects neurons against various kinds of damaging stress, at least in rodents. One of his earliest studies revealed that alternate-day feeding made the rats' brains resistant to toxins that induce cellular damage akin to the kind cells endure as they age. In follow-up rodent studies, his group found that intermittent fasting protects against stroke damage, suppresses motor deficits in a mouse model of Parkinson's disease and slows cognitive decline in mice genetically engineered to mimic the symptoms of Alzheimer’s.” - Scientific American
  • “As the researchers report online today inCell Metabolism, the mice shed fat and were 45% less likely to fall victim to cancer. During their lean cuisine episodes, their level of blood sugar fell by 40% and the amount of insulin in the blood was 90% lower. And although brainpower usually declines with age, the mice retained more of their mental ability; they bested control animals in two kinds of memory tests, perhaps because they produced more new neurons in the hippocampus, a brain area crucial for memory. - Science Magazine
  • "Although the clinical results will require confirmation by a larger randomized trial," they add, "the effects of FMD cycles on biomarkers/risk factors for aging, cancer, diabetes, and CVD, coupled with the very high compliance to the diet and its safety, indicate that this periodic dietary strategy has high potential to be effective in promoting human healthspan." - Medical News Today
  • “People on the diet had improvements in blood glucose and decreased body weight compared to the control group. Those with initially elevated C-reactive protein levels (a marker of heart disease risk) had lower levels, while those with normal levels had no change.” - NIH Research
  • “By the end of three months, the participants in the FMD group had reduced markers of aging, diabetes, inflammation, heart disease, and cancer. Importantly, the FMD was linked to lower levels of the hormone insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-I), which previous work has found is connected to cancer risk and aging” - Forbes
  • “We do know for certain that fasting can have beneficial effects for the heart— significantly changing blood cholesterol levels and reducing the risks of heart disease. There is also evidence that it can combat obesity, lower blood pressure, lessen the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis and reduce the risk of Type 2 diabetes. Anecdotally, some patients find fasting before chemotherapy lessens the negative effects of the powerful cancer drugs.” - FOX news

As I read articles like those, coupled with my experience over the past three months, I quickly went from “I could never do that” to “how could I not do it?” The data is strong enough for me to be willing to make a long-term bet on the health benefits of fasting, and even if they don’t pan out, it’ll still have very much been worth it for the immediate benefits in my physique and energy levels. Here are some of the common questions I’ve gotten from people who are curious about what it’s like to fast:

“How hard is it?” This is probably the one I get the most often, and the answer is a bit nuanced. Fasting the way I choose to do it isn’t easy, and I’ve watched some people around me not be able to stick to it. They just get too hungry. But I’ve also built up to a pretty intense version of fasting over the past three months, which I describe below. There are milder forms of fasting that one can start with, and I highly recommend starting with something sustainable for you as you learn the limits of your mind and body. Here are various options, from what I consider easier to harder:

  • Overnight fasting for 8ish hours: The good news is that unless you get up in the middle of the night to eat, you’re already doing this one. Congratulations! They don’t call it ‘break-fast” for nothing; you’re literally breaking your fast from the night before when you eat breakfast. If you want to slowly build from this base you’ve already established, try eating your last meal earlier. Maybe you don’t let yourself eat after 8pm, for example, and then don’t eat again until 8am the next morning. You’ve just extended your 8 hour fast by 50%, to 12 hours this way.
  • 8/16 fasting: This is a more extreme version of the overnight fasting above: You only eat in an 8 hour window each day; say from 10am-6pm, and then you fast for 16 hours. Most people who utilize this approach maintain that eating vs. fasting window for 5 to 7 days of the week. I skipped over this level so I can’t speak to it, but I’d love to hear from people in the comments who do it.
  • 6:1, 5:2 or 4:3 fasting: This is my preferred fasting approach. I fast for two (5:2) or three (4:3) days per week. Fasting for 3 out of every 4 days of the week means fasting every other day, which is why a 4:3 fast is also often called Alternate Day Fasting, or ADF. NOTE: There’s also a modified, easier version of these fasts which is called a “Fasting Mimicking Diet” or FMD. There’s some science that shows that one can consume up to 25% of your normal caloric intake and still achieve the scientific benefits of fasting described above. This would mean, for example, that a male could consume about 600 calories on fast days. When I started fasting, I would do FMD by having dinner on fast days, but I pretty quickly dropped that because by dinner time I wasn’t hungry. More on that, plus how I choose between fasting for 2 or 3 days per week, below.
  • Multi-day fasting: This is what most people think about when they first hear about fasting; going without food for days at a time. I’ve never tried this; while I might at some point I don’t feel the need to now. The science to date is pretty solid that you don’t need to fast for consecutive days in order to reap the benefits of fasting, so my current attitude is “why put myself through it if it’s not necessary?” Dr. Michael Mosley did a four day fast in the BBC documentary on fasting I embedded in my first post; it’s a good watch to understand what the experience was like (spoiler alert: not great).

“What kind of fasting do you do?” I’ll fast for two or three non-consecutive days per week, with each fast day comprising a 30 to 36 hour period without food. An example would be that I eat dinner on Sunday night, then have nothing except water, coffee or tea on Monday, and I don’t eat again until breakfast on Tuesday. Depending on the week, I’ll either do that one more time (say, on Thursday or Friday) or I'll do it two more times (say, on Wednesday and Friday) later in the week. I try to plan my fast days based on how much I know I’ll be eating on other days. For example, I was just on vacation in Hawaii for the week and knew I’d be eating well there, so for the two weeks leading up to Hawaii, I fasted three days each week instead of my usual two. Then, I fasted on the day I traveled to Hawaii, as well as the day I traveled back from Hawaii, which meant that I was able to fast just one day while actually in Hawaii. I found this to be a good balance between indulgence and fasting.

“Do you eat more on your non-fasting days?” For me, fasting has been an incredibly liberating experience, as I wrote in my initial post, because it’s the very first time I’ve ever felt like I’m in control of my body. I’ve always had a really hard time not eating when food is in front of me, even joking that food ‘talks’ to me — or at least, that’s how it feels. Fasting removes all of that difficulty: There are days when I eat, and days when I don’t. On the days I eat, I don’t try to control myself like I used to, which means that I definitely eat more than when I was constantly battling myself. But over the course of the week, my overall calorie count is still greatly reduced. For example, I used to eat 2,500 calories per day, seven days per week, for a total of 17,500 calories in a week. There’s science showing that people who fast eat about 115% of their normal intake on non-fasting days, which feels about right to me. That means that in 5:2 fast weeks, I’m ingesting 2,875 calories per day, five days per week, which still creates an overall deficit of 3,125 calories in a week (and in weeks when I fast 3 days, a deficit of 6,000 calories each week). So fasting gives me the ability to not need to battle my food consumption desires on my eating days, which is incredibly liberating.

“How does nutrition play into fasting?” Our family prioritizes fresh, organic, and less processed foods (i.e., the foods you’ll find around the edges of the grocery store, not in the middle aisles). I limit all types of sugars (fructose, table sugar, honey, agave, etc) by not adding them to anything I eat (i.e., I don’t add sugar to coffee) and I also treat carbs (bread, pasta, beer, etc) as indulgence vs. everyday items. You can think about fasting and nutrition as separate but related: You don’t have to change your nutritional habits in order to begin fasting, although by fasting you’ll likely become more aware of nutrition generally. The more hardcore you are with nutrition, the more effective fasting will be.

“Aren’t you starving all day?” Surprisingly, no. On fasting days I’m hungriest between lunchtime and late afternoon for about five hours. By dinnertime, I’m not very hungry and by the next morning, I’m not at all hungry. If you can get through the part of the day when you are hungry, it’ll go away. Not being hungry in the evenings is what allowed me to drop the evening meal on my fast days.

“Do you exercise when you fast?” Yes! Exercise has played a key part in my fasting. As I wrote in my original post, fasting is a part of a larger goal I have to get back into the kind of shape I was in when I was younger. I primarily do two things: CrossFit 3x per week for strength, and indoor rowing 4x to 6x per week for endurance and general fitness. Interestingly, I’ve found that if I do CrossFit the day after a fast day (say I fast on a Tuesday, and then have CrossFit on a Wednesday morning) I’m noticeably weaker. Fasting keeps me from hitting personal records around max weight movements as quickly as I was before I started fasting. However, I’m also getting leaner, which helps me improve in other CrossFit workouts that aren’t just about lifting max weight, and as a percentage of my weight, my muscle mass has increased, so not hitting PRs as regularly is a trade-off I’m happy to make. In contrast, I find that my rowing often improves on fast days, which was completely unexpected. If I fast on a Tuesday and row that night after fasting all day, I find that I can often hit a rowing PR. There’s something about having already exhausted the glucose in my body earlier in the day, and rowing with energy my body is getting from fat stores that makes for a longer, more even power output. It was really a surprise. So I’ve found fasting to be bad for pure strength output but great for endurance output.

“Will you fast forever?” Possibly. All I know right now is that I’ve found something that gives me control over my body in a way I’ve never otherwise had. I expect that once I hit my goal of getting my body fat below 20%, I’ll likely switch between 6:1 and 5:2 fasts, meaning on some weeks I might only fast one day per week, and on other weeks (say when I know I’m going out to a big dinner that week) I’ll fast two days. What I do know for sure is that I’m happily extending my eight week test through at least the end of the year, and likely through mid next year so I can reach my goal.

“What’s the best day of week to fast?” I’ve found weekdays, when my mind is on work, are much better than weekends. I’ll only fast weekdays with one exception: When I’m traveling, I’ll fast on a travel day, which is often a weekend day, because eating while traveling is usually a pain anyway since it’s hard to find healthy airport food. I’ve found that traveling West, while generally easier, is harder from a fasting perspective since the day is longer than when traveling East.

If you'd like to give fasting a shot, I highly recommend starting with the hour-long BBC documentary embedded in my original post. I've also been reading a free PDF e-book written by Dr. John Berardi, a nutrition expert, who tried various types of fasting and wrote a detailed review. But most of all, I encourage you to post your questions and comments below. I'd love to know what kind of impact fasting has in your life!

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Mon, 19 Oct 2015 08:07:46 +0000 http://danielodio.com/uid/1232365
Elon Musk goes Back to the Future http://danielodio.com/elon-musk-goes-back-to-the-future Elon Musk did a fireside chat (why is the fire always missing from these fireside chats?) with Steve Jurvitson of DFJ at Stanford this morning to celebrate an event called FutureFest. In the movie Back to the Future, Marty McFly went 30 years into the future to October ]]>

Elon Musk did a fireside chat (why is the fire always missing from these fireside chats?) with Steve Jurvitson of DFJ at Stanford this morning to celebrate an event called FutureFest. In the movie Back to the Future, Marty McFly went 30 years into the future to October 2015. Now that we're 30 years into that future, how does it compare to how people thought it would look? Steve also grilled Elon on what he thought the world would look like 30 years from now (except he made it 20 years to account for the increasing speed of change).

Since there was a long queue of Stanford students waiting outside to hear Elon who weren't able to get in due to space restrictions, I captured the talk on my phone. The audio's pretty poor, but if you wear headphones you can make their conversation out reasonably well.

Here's the video. And below that are some of the things Elon covered, which include:

- How we could re-imagine self governance on Mars, including ways to improve democracy (moving from a representative democracy to a direct democracy where everyone participates now that technolgoy enables that to happen; was impossible 200 years ago when everyone had to send letters to each other to communicate across vast distances.)

- Why AI is a big deal, including how it's accelerating, as evidenced by Elon's timeframe for self-driving cars being technologically possible moving from 10 years into the future two years ago, to five years out last year, to three years out now.

- How Elon thinks about 'the headline' when imagining change, and then dials back to a set of prioritized actions he has to achieve to get there.

And lots more. As someone who's been betting on Elon for many years and knows about content like the WaitButWhy Tesla and SpaceX posts, the majority of what he talked about was known to me, but it was interesting to hear more detail on how Elon's approaching the success of Tesla and SpaceX (for example, he and the SpaceX team are spending 30 minutes per week thinking about how to transport a high volume of people to Mars).

The most interesting thing to me about predicting the future is how it always seems to look like the present with a futuristic element. It's like we have a really, really hard time getting the present out of our heads enough to really envision the future. For example, here's a painting from the early 1900s World Fair where an artist envisioned a self-cleaning robot. It looks nothing like a Roomba, because the artist couldn't conceptualize anything other than his or her present, but just doing futuristic things. Predicting the future is a tricky business; I'll be super interested to see how the things Elon said today come to pass.

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Wed, 07 Oct 2015 21:53:20 +0000 http://danielodio.com/elon-musk-goes-back-to-the-future
Need vs. Want http://danielodio.com/need-vs-want Just a quick post to share a decision making pro-tip that I shared with a few people this week. Anytime I need to consider a number of criteria to make a decision on something, I try to suss out what my needs are vs. my wants. (This is a framework my wife and I have been]]>

Just a quick post to share a decision making pro-tip that I shared with a few people this week.

Anytime I need to consider a number of criteria to make a decision on something, I try to suss out what my needs are vs. my wants. (This is a framework my wife and I have been using in our personal & professional decision making for years.)

It sounds so obvious, right? But specifically writing it out brings clarity to a decision, especially when multiple people are involved.

  • Needs = Must have this. Deal breaker if not.
  • Wants = Desired but not required.

For example, when I need hire someone, I make sure to list the skills and characteristics for the two. Is the ability to code in a certain language a need or a want? How about certain type of cultural fit?

Additionally, I try to make the 'needs' section as short as possible and bump those items into 'wants', because I find that many 'needs' are actually 'wants' in disguise. An easy way to tell the difference when recruiting, for example: If a certain skill (say, the ability to code in Python) is listed as a "need," then I would create a filter that disqualifies anyone who can't code in Python, which means I don't even consider them for the role. But if I wasn't comfortable automatically disqualifying anyone who couldn't code Python, then I'd realize that's actually a 'want' even though I thought it was a 'need' before I really thought through it. So make yourself really take a hard look at whether a perceived need really is a true need.

Another example of why this is so powerful: When my wife and I were house hunting, we made a list of needs vs. wants. We found a house that met everything on our "needs" list (i.e., less than 10 minutes from the office; has a separate casita, at least 2 BR, rent below a certain price). It was a hot market so we signed the rental agreement for it sight-unseen and felt comfortable doing so because even though we didn't know if it had all of our "wants," we did know it met our needs -- which it did; the house worked out great for us. Carefully defining one's needs vs. wants helps you make faster decisions because you don't mix the two up. If we hadn't specified the difference, it's very likely we would have had a "want" that we thought was a need which would have kept us from moving as quickly on the property.


Pic above is of our ShareThis board member, Blair, talking with our VP of Engineering, Isaac recently about reporting best-practices. Just seemed like the most appropriate pic for this post!

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Mon, 10 Aug 2015 22:55:58 +0000 http://danielodio.com/need-vs-want
Behind The Scenes of the 2015 Buring Man Temple of Promise http://danielodio.com/behind-the-scenes-of-the-2015-buring-man-temple-of-promise Jazz Tigan, an insanely talented artist, is the lead designer of the 2015 Burning Man Temple of Promise. Burning Man is a festival in the desert that's often misunderstood by those who have never been. It's not just a party, rather, it's a place to experience yourself]]>

Jazz Tigan, an insanely talented artist, is the lead designer of the 2015 Burning Man Temple of Promise.

Burning Man is a festival in the desert that's often misunderstood by those who have never been. It's not just a party, rather, it's a place to experience yourself as you truly want to be. A place without judgement. A place with incredible art and creativity. It's a place to refresh your soul and to re-evaluate your life's priorities.

The Temple sits at the center of it all. If the Man at Burning Man is the body of the event, the Temple is its soul. So when it turned out that the guy who dreamt up this year's Temple design was someone I went to school with, I had to go check out the build site, which is located in Alamedia, CA (just across the bridge from San Francisco) until mid August, when they'll ship everything out to Black Rock Desert to finish the Temple on-site.

Jazz has a special, secret project that he's looking to fund in addition to the main Temple build. He needs $5k to successfully finish this secret project. Think of it as the icing on the cake. If you're interested in donating any amount to make it happen, message Jazz on Facebook and let him know. Sue and I just donated to support it. Also, if you'd like to volunteer to help build the Temple between now & mid August, just let Jazz know. They're on-site in Alameda every day for the next 2 weeks.

The Temple is a place for quiet reflection. It's a place to look inside yourself and take stock of your life, and your loved ones, as well as forgive those who have hurt you. If you've never been to Burning Man, here's the best video I've ever seen that describes what the Temple means to Burning Man:

And here's a video I took at the build site in Alameda:

I asked Jazz how he got the idea for the Temple, and he told me about how it came to him; literally in 10 seconds he had the initial concept worked out in his head. He said it "was like reaching into the void and pulling it out.":

Can't wait to see this masterpiece on the Playa at Burning Man!

Here are more pictures from the build site (you can get high-res versions here), including my favorite one: Jazz and my daughter Devina grooving to the great tracks a DJ was laying down while the build was happening:

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Sun, 02 Aug 2015 20:56:56 +0000 http://danielodio.com/behind-the-scenes-of-the-2015-buring-man-temple-of-promise
Life In the Fast Lane: My Experiment with Intermittent Fasting for Health and Fitness http://danielodio.com/life-in-the-fast-lane-my-experiment-with-intermittent-fasting-for-health-and-fitness

UPDATE: I wrote this update 3 months after the original post below. Read below first, then read the update to get the latest!

I'm turning 40 this December, and that's caused me to deeply re-evaluate my health. In high school I had wrestled at the 152 lb weight level and was a gymnast. In my 20s, I ran two 50 mile ultra-marathons and a half dozen marathons. I had a 33 inch waist and weighed 185 lbs. I could eat whatever I wanted and stay in good shape. But after a decade of doing startups, I found myself in my late 30s in much worse shape. My metabolism hit a wall when I turned 30, and although I didn't eat terribly, I also found it hard to figure out exactly how to get back to where I was in my 20s. My waist was 38 inches and I weighed 245 lbs; 93 lbs over my wrestling weight. My triglycerides were 33% above where they should've been. I'd imagine this happens to many of us as we get older, and I felt helpless as I watched all of this unfold, almost like it was happening according to some script that I wasn't in control of. Most of all, I was really disappointed in myself for not staying on top of my health, but I couldn't find the right balance of eating and exercising to change the path I was on. It felt like I was on a slow motion slippery slope as I got older and more out of shape.

When my daughter was born in 2013, I made myself a promise: I would be in as good of shape when I turned 40 as I was when I turned 30. I didn't want to have a hard time keeping up with her as she grew up. I started doing CrossFit twice a week that year. I signed up and completed a few triathlons. But my weight still wouldn't budge from 245 lbs, and my triglycerides, although lower, were still 15% above the max recommended range. CrossFit was making me much stronger, but that was only part of the puzzle. I had to figure out the rest, and I hadn't quite cracked it.

In December of last year, I realized I was running short on time: I'd really have to hump it to get back in shape within the next year, before my 40th birthday in December 2015. By this time I had upped my CrossFit schedule to 3x per week and I started rowing for 15 minutes before CrossFit started in the mornings. But that still wasn't enough: By April I knew I was going to have to take some much more drastic measures to reach my goal.

This blog is a story of those drastic measures, and how they're going. It's a deep-dive into the rabbit hole that we call 'health' as I see it. It's a journey that I invite you to take with me as we all get older, together. I am only starting to unlock some of the things that affect my body and I would love your thoughts and opinions as well in the comments below.

Let me also caveat this entire blog by saying that some of what I write about below is contrary to the things we've been told to believe, and I fully recognize that. I'm not a medical expert and I'm not telling you to throw away what you believe to be true. But just walk into all of this with an open mind, as I'm trying to do, and more importantly, be willing to try some of these things yourself if you also want to experiment a bit to try to find a better path than you've found so far.

The Mind, or: My brain as my own worst enemy

I've often wondered if I have an eating disorder. I think I might. I've never had it properly diagnosed, but here's why I think so: When I look at food, it talks to me. I don't mean that it's literally speaking to me, but the feeling is that it's like a magnet and I feel this irresistable sense of attraction to it. It doesn't matter what kind of food it is, and it doesn't matter how hungry I am -- if there's food and it's out on a table, I want to eat it. I thought this was normal, and everyone felt this way, until five years into dating my now wife, I told her one day "isn't it crazy how food talks to you?" and she responded with "I don't know what you're talking about." And then I said to her (incredulously) "wait, are you saying that when you look at this delicious food, and then you look at something that's not food, like this glass, the feeling you get from those two things is exactly the same?" And she said, "that's exactly what I'm saying." That was a mind blowing moment for me. I had absolutely no idea that food didn't talk to other people. I have the hardest time not grazing on food that's accessible to me. I've talked to others about this since and I've come to the conclusion that people have this sense of irresistible attraction to food at varying levels. Some people say, for example, "yes I feel that a bit, but it doesn't cause me to pick food up and put it in my mouth." If you feel this a little, but you can control it, then just imagine that feeling but multiplied by 100x whenever you pass by any type of food. That's what it's like for me. And the worst part of having this feeling is that I get mad at myself when I eat the food, and yet I can't help myself from doing it. It's a really destructive thing, and I've literally never been able to control it.

Until I tried intermittent fasting. For the very first time in my life, I feel like I'm in control of my body.

I recently saw this BBC documentary that got me started with Intermittent Fasting. If you're interested in the topic, it's a really great place to start. I credit this documentary with helping me find an approach that puts me in control of my body for the first time.

I'm going deep on intermittent fasting in this first health blog installment because although it's just one of several things I'm doing to get in shape by December, it's the most effective and meaningful change I've made. In addition to fasting, I'm also rowing on an indoor rower 6x per week, and I'm going to CrossFit 3x per week. But here's the simple truth: Controlling the food you put into your mouth pays much greater dividends than trying to control how you burn the calories later.

It's not even close -- in our society today, with restaurant dinners that easily surpass 1,000 calories and scientifically engineered foods that trigger our primal savory + sweet cravings, it's hella easy to ingest way more calories than your body needs. If you only try one thing from this blog, my suggestion is that you try intermittent fasting.

First off, some vocab:

IF: Intermittent Fasting. IF means you fast for some period of time on a regular basis (and the time periods vary as you'll learn below.) Here's a guide to five types of intermittent fasting.

ADF: Alternate Day Fasting. Also called a "4:3 fast" because you are fasting every other day (i.e., on 3 out of every 4 days per week). This is one specific type of IF.

I'm two weeks into an eight week, 5:2 intermittent fasting experiment (where I fast for two non consecutive days each week), and although it's been the most meaningful thing I've done to date to lose weight, I'm not even doing it for the weight loss. That's just the great side benefit. I started doing it because of the amazing body of science that's starting to show how ridiculously good fasting is for one's overall health.

Although below I provide a summary of the benefits I've found in researching intermittent fasting (and some associated quotes), watching that BBC documentary above is the easiest way to get up to speed on the benefits of intermittent fasting.

"There is nothing else you can do to your body that is as powerful as fasting." - BBC Documentary

"Fasting alone is more powerful in preventing and reversing some diseases than drugs," said Satchidananda Panda, an associate professor of regulatory biology at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in San Diego, California

" Data show that IF, when done properly, might help extend life, regulate blood glucose, control blood lipids, manage body weight, gain (or maintain) lean mass, and more."

Research on mice as far back as 1945 showed that calorie restriction in mice promotes up to 40% longer lifespans in rodents.

" Mattson thinks that intermittent fasting acts in part as a form of mild stress that continually revs up cellular defenses against molecular damage. For instance, occasional fasting increases the levels of “chaperone proteins,” which prevent the incorrect assembly of other molecules in the cell. Additionally, fasting mice have higher levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein that prevents stressed neurons from dying. Low levels of BDNF have been linked to everything from depression to Alzheimer's, although it is still unclear whether these findings reflect cause and effect. Fasting also ramps up autophagy, a kind of garbage-disposal system in cells that gets rid of damaged molecules, including ones that have been previously tied to Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and other neurological diseases."

"Restricting caloric intake to 60–70% of normal adult weight maintenance requirement prolongs lifespan 30–50% and confers near perfect health across a broad range of species. Every other day [ADF] feeding produces similar effects in rodents, and profound beneficial physiologic changes have been demonstrated in the absence of weight loss in ob/ob mice. Since May 2003 we have experimented with alternate day calorie restriction, one day consuming 20–50% of estimated daily caloric requirement and the next day ad lib eating, and have observed health benefits starting in as little as two weeks, in insulin resistance, asthma, seasonal allergies, infectious diseases of viral, bacterial and fungal origin (viral URI, recurrent bacterial tonsillitis, chronic sinusitis, periodontal disease), autoimmune disorder (rheumatoid arthritis), osteoarthritis, symptoms due to CNS inflammatory lesions (Tourette’s, Meniere’s) cardiac arrhythmias (PVCs, atrial fibrillation), menopause related hot flashes. We hypothesize that other many conditions would be delayed, prevented or improved, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, brain injury due to thrombotic stroke atherosclerosis, NIDDM, congestive heart failure."

"The limited human evidence suggests higher HDL-cholesterol concentrations and lower triacylglycerol concentrations but no effect on blood pressure. In terms of cancer risk, there is no human evidence to date, yet animal studies found decreases in lymphoma incidence, longer survival after tumor inoculation, and lower rates of proliferation of several cell types. The findings in animals suggest that ADF may effectively modulate several risk factors, thereby preventing chronic disease, and that ADF may modulate disease risk to an extent similar to that of CR"

"A large body of evidence for the physiologic benefits and life-extending properties of CR now exists. Restricting daily energy intake by 15–40% has been shown in both animals and humans to improve glucose tolerance and insulin action, which indicates an enhancement in insulin sensitivity (7, 8); to reduce blood pressure and the heart rate, which is consistent with benefits for cardiovascular health (9-11); and to reduce oxidative damage to lipids, protein, and DNA, which implies a protective effect against oxidative stress (12-15). Many other effects of CR have been documented, including increased average and maximal life span (12), reduced incidence of spontaneous and induced cancers (13), resistance of neurons to degeneration (14), lower rates of kidney disease (15), and prolongation of reproductive function (16)."

Here are more specific benefits of intermittent fasting I've culled from my research:

The following are reduced:

  • Lowering triglyceride levels and improving other biomarkers of disease
  • Reducing oxidative stress: Fasting decreases the accumulation of oxidative radicals in the cell, and thereby prevents oxidative damage to cellular proteins, lipids, and nucleic acids associated with aging and disease
  • Alternate-day fasting may reduce body weight, LDL, and triglyceride levels to the same degree regardless of maintenance of low fat or high fat diet on the feeding day
  • Blood lipids (including decreased triglycerides and LDL cholesterol)
  • Blood pressure (perhaps through changes in sympathetic/parasympathetic activity)
  • Markers of inflammation (including CRP<, IL-6, TNF, BDNF, and more)
  • Oxidative stress (using markers of protein, lipid, and DNA damage)
  • Risk of cancer

The following are increased:

  • Cellular turnover and repair (called autophagocytosis)
  • Fat burning (increase in fatty acid oxidation later in the fast)
  • Growth hormone release later in the fast (hormonally mediated)
  • Metabolic rate later in the fast (stimulated by epinephrine and norepinephrine release)

The following are improved:

  • Fasting episodes trigger the process of autophagy [15] which breaks down and recycles dysfunctional proteins and organelles, and perhaps also the process of apoptosis which does the same with cells.
  • Intermittent fasting boosts production of a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which activates brain stem cells to convert into new neurons, and triggers numerous other chemicals that promote neural health.
  • It also protects your brain cells from changes associated with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Research by Dr. Mark Mattson, a senior investigator for the National Institute on Aging, suggests that alternate-day fasting (restricting your meal on fasting days to about 600 calories), can boost BDNF by anywhere from 50 to 400 percent, depending on the brain region
  • Intermittent fasting helps reset your body to use fat as its primary fuel, and mounting evidence confirms that when your body becomes adapted to burning fat instead of sugar as its primary fuel, you dramatically reduce your risk of chronic disease
  • There's also plenty of research showing that fasting has a beneficial impact on longevity in animals. There are a number of mechanisms contributing to this effect. Normalizing insulin sensitivity is a major one, but fasting also inhibits the mTOR pathway, which plays an important part in driving the aging process.
  • Normalizing ghrelin levels, also known as "the hunger hormone"
  • Promoting human growth hormone (HGH) production: Research has shown fasting can raise HGH by as much as 1,300 percent in women, and 2,000 percent in men,2 which plays an important part in health, fitness, and slowing the aging process. HGH is also a fat-burning hormone, which helps explain why fasting is so effective for weight loss
  • Normalizing your insulin and leptin sensitivity, and boosting mitochondrial energy efficiency
  • Chronic fasting extends longevity, in part, by reprogramming metabolic and stress resistance pathways
  • Appetite control (perhaps through changes in PPY and ghrelin)
  • Blood sugar control (by lowering blood glucose and increasing insulin sensitivity)
  • Cardiovascular function (by offering protection against ischemic injury to the heart)
  • Neurogenesis and neuronal plasticity (by offering protection against neurotoxins)

I don't know if all of the benefits above are true. As I said, I'm not a doctor, and everywhere I researched, I kept seeing cautions that most of the real research done so far has been done on animals vs. humans. But I was intrigued enough to give it a try, so I went to my doctor 2 weeks ago and got a baseline of tests done: IGF-1, Hemoglobin, full metabolic panel. I'm going to try a 5:2 fast for eight weeks, and then get another set of blood tests done for a true before & after comparison. I'll also leave updates in the comments below on how things are progressing for me.

This 5:2 schedule allows for one small (600 calorie for men, 500 for women) meal on fasting days, which I've been doing in the first few weeks, but I'm going to try skipping that meal on my next fast day because by the evening of a fast day, I find that I'm not super hungry, as I mention in the video above.

The other thing I really like about 5:2 intermittent fasting so far is knowing that I can easily dial it back to 6:1 once I reach my target health goals, or I can ramp it up to 4:3 if I don't feel like I'm progressing enough. This is really what's helped me feel in control of my body for the first time: On fast days, I just say 'no' to all food. I don't have to fight individual cravings.

As this article mentions, we all practice intermittent fasting on a "12/12" basis already. We eat at regular intervals, typically between 8am-8pm, and then we don't eat between 8pm and 8am the next day (largely because we spend much of that time sleeping). The crazy thing about intermittent fasting is that it's not necessarily about restricting the overall calories you eat, but just about when you eat them. There's a lot of science that shows that you can eat the same number of overall calories in a week, but by fasting for several days per week, you still gain many of the benefits listed above. In reality, it's also likely you'll consume fewer total calories in a week if you restrict meals on 2 days, and in fact in the first two weeks of doing it I've dropped from 245 lbs to 230 lbs (the picture at top was of the scale the morning I wrote this blog!) which is a bit surprising. I'll be curious to see how that trend continues.

Exercising During Intermittent Fasting:

As this article mentions, "if you’re fairly sedentary during the fast, you may need the full 20-24 hours without food to realize the benefits. However, if you’re very active, or you exercise purposefully during the fasted state, you may be able to enjoy the same benefits after only 16-20 hours without food." I'm following a pretty robust exercise schedule, so I'll report on specifically how it is exercising during fasting. So far, it's been great -- here's a post I recently posted on Facebook:

That's quite a bit to take in to start! More to come, including more comments below. I'd love to hear what you think, and how it goes for you if you decide to give it a try.

Want to go deeper?

  • Experiments with Intermittent Fasting: A great blog by Dr. John Berardi on his very in-depth experiments with different approaches to intermittent fasting and the results he saw.
  • ScientificAmerican: How Intermittent Fasting Might Help You Live a Longer and Healthier Life
  • New York Times: 4 days, 11 pounds
  • The BBC documentary reporter, Dr. Michael Mosley, has gone on to create a website called "The 5:2 Fast Diet" and wrote a book about it, which you can find on Amazon. I haven't read the book so I can't vouch for it per-se, but it has 4.5 stars w/ 1600+ reviews, so I imagine it's a pretty good place to start if you want to dig in deeper. I'm also not a huge fan of calling fasting a "diet" because to me it's more about creating a healthier lifestyle with a very specific set of health benefits, but I suppose that putting the word "diet" in the title helps sell more copies.


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Sun, 26 Jul 2015 07:43:53 +0000 http://danielodio.com/life-in-the-fast-lane-my-experiment-with-intermittent-fasting-for-health-and-fitness
One Year In: Lending Money to Complete Strangers via an API... And Why You Should Try It http://danielodio.com/one-year-in-lending-money-to-complete-strangers-via-an-api-and-why-you-should-try-it About a year ago, I wrote a blog called "Show Me the Money: Six Strategies to Put Your Cash to Work," where I talked about two new(ish) investment strategies my wife and I were using. I wrote a followup blog about the first strategy, Electronically Traded Funds (ETFs),]]>

About a year ago, I wrote a blog called "Show Me the Money: Six Strategies to Put Your Cash to Work," where I talked about two new(ish) investment strategies my wife and I were using. I wrote a followup blog about the first strategy, Electronically Traded Funds (ETFs), where I compared Betterment vs. Wealthfront. Now here is a followup on the second newish strategy that you're probably not yet trying out, but absolutely should be: Peer to Peer lending... or put another way: Lending money to complete strangers as an investment strategy.

I'm going to write this blog as a step-by-step how-to guide on trying P2P lending. Don't think you have enough money to become an investor? Wrong. Just set aside $25 to invest in each of the 2 biggest platforms. Seriously, who can't part with $50 to try something that will change your perspective on lending?

First, more on what P2P lending is:

  • Historically, banks have been the institutions that take deposits from investors, and then loan money out to borrowers. Banks have shouldered the risk, and the FDIC has ensured investors against that risk. This is a very safe place to park your cash. But it also provides an absolutely dismal return. The national average yield on a savings or money market account is 0.47%. Want a higher return? Put your money in a 5 year CD and you'll make 2.25%.
  • On the other side of the spectrum, borrowers pay interest through the nose. The current average credit card interest rate in the US is 15.91%.
  • That's quite a spread! Banks are paying out a couple of percentage points to investors, yet they are charging borrowers (especially those using credit cards) very high rates, and garnering headlines like this one in the Wall Street Journal: "U.S. Bank Profits Near Record Levels."
  • But technology -- and specifically the sharing economy -- is giving investors an opportunity to connect directly with borrowers, disintermediating the banks entirely. What if you had a little cash to lend out, and you could use a platform to find borrowers that fit the criteria you were comfortable with? This is what Peer to Peer lending is all about: Putting your dollars to work so others can borrow money. You make a higher rate than you would with a bank, and the borrower pays less than they would otherwise pay. In this scatterplot from LendingClub, you can see the median return for investors is 7.4%:

OK, what's the catch?

Just like anything in life, there's are risks to P2P lending. It's important that you really understand what they are. I'm going to walk through each risk that I consider significant, and how to protect yourself against that risk.

  • The biggest risk is that your money is not FDIC insured. When you put money in a bank the first $250,000 of your deposits are protected by the US government. That's not the case when you put your money to work in the P2P economy. This means that if our economy tanks, the people you're lending to are more likely to default on their loans, which means more of the loans you hold will be charged off as uncollectible. To mitigate this risk, I recommend 2 things: Primarily, only put as much money into P2P platforms as you're willing to risk losing. That might just be $50. Or it might be $5k. Or $50k. Etc. Just treat this as a grand experiment where you might lose it all. But don't let yourself be so scared of this risk that you put $0 into P2P lending. The opportunity to leverage technology to disintermediate the entire banking industry is just too compelling to not give it a shot! I'd encourage you to put at least $50 into this so you can at least experience what it's like to put your dollars to work in the sharing economy. Secondarily, you can mitigate this risk by spreading your dollars out across many hundreds of loans. This diversifies your risk and makes it less likely that any one borrower defaulting will completely torpedo your portfolio.
  • Your return is completely dependent on your risk tolerance. As you'll see below, if you only invest in "Grade A1" loans, your expected return will only be 3% ± 1.53%. That means it might be as low as 1.47% or as high as 4.53%. But at that point, you might as well put your money into a 5 year CD where it can return a safe 2.25%. So you have to be a bit more risk tolerant to really leverage the value provided by these lending platforms.
  • These lending companies are startups, and startups have a bad habit of failing. LendingClub recently IPO'd, so it's a bit bigger than the second largest company in the space, Prosper. If one of these companies failed, it's hard to say what would happen to the underlying notes -- I'd assume they'd still be valid debt obligations, and likely picked up by some other company. But I'm sure it'd be messy. So that's a risk.
  • The notes aren't liquid. A huge thank-you to Paul in the comments below for pointing this risk out -- it's a very important one: When you offer your money up to borrowers, it gets put to work for 36 to 60 month terms. That means you can't get your money back until the note matures. This is a problem if you'll need access to your invested funds for some unforeseen emergency or personal circumstance. For this reason, my wife and I think of P2P lending as "Hotel California" -- the money goes in, but it doesn't come out. What I mean is that we only invest money in P2P lending that we know we won't need immediate access to right away. There are some ways you can caveat this risk. There is a secondary market on LendingClub, so my guess is that if you really, really, really needed to get your money out, you could offer to sell your active notes to another investor at a discount. However, in my experience, the pricing on that secondary market will demand a steep discount on the face value of the note, meaning if you have $25 invested with Sally in our example above, and you need that $25 back, you might only be able to get $20 for that $25 note (I'm assuming a 20% discount on the note's face value but I don't really know what the secondary market will offer since I only tested it a bit -- I'd love to hear feedback in the comments on what the discounts tend to be for notes in various stages of maturity / status.) There's another caveat to this risk, too, but this one works in your favor: The entire idea behind getting a 10%+ return is that you won't ever need to touch the principal, because it's working for you. For example, let's say you invest $500,000 in LendingClub notes (that would be pretty aggressive! I'd love to hear from if someone who has put that much in). This would mean that while it's hard to get your $500,000 out in a personal emergency since it's deployed capital, what isn't hard is that you'd be making $50k annually in interest income (10% of the $500k). The median US household income was $52,250 in 2013, meaning you'd be earning as much for doing nothing each year as an average US household earns for working really hard. Of course, the super hard work is in amassing $500k that you can invest into a P2P lending platform in the first place! But you get the idea: Hard to get principal out, but potentially great investment income cash flow.
  • Those are really all the risks I can think of. If you come up with some others, let me know in the comments below and I'll add them to the list.

Starting small: The ideal minimum investment size

OK so let's say you're like me and my wife -- you want to start small and see what it's like to put your dollars to work on a P2P platform. What's the minimum you should put to work? Like I said above, you can literally get started with $25 on each platform. So if you're debating between doing nothing vs. trying it, then literally just fund each account with $25, and fund two individual notes (the minimum investment size is $25 per note you fund). That's not the ideal minimum, however, and here's why: You want to diversify your risk across many borrowers, so if one defaults, it doesn't torpedo your returns. If you only invest $25 to fund one borrower, and that borrower defaults, then your return will be shot. There's a great article by LendingRobot that shows once you invest in at least 146 notes at $25 each (a total of $3,650), you have a statistically minuscule chance of earning a negative return. LendingMemo takes it a step further and breaks the diversification recommendations down by your risk tolerance -- they suggest funding a minimum of 200 to 300 loans (depending on the note's risk scoring grade level) at $25 each so you can get an expected positive return. 200 notes x $25 invested in each = $5,000. And there's another reason to start at a $5k investment level, as I'll describe below. So, to reiterate: Start with $50 just to experience it. But if you're really going to make this a part of our investment portfolio, invest at least $5k.

A side note about what "investing $25 in a note" really means: Let's say a borrower -- we'll call her Sally -- wants to borrow $10,000 to consolidate her credit card debt. She goes to LendingClub and applies for a loan. LendingClub will take that $10,000 loan and break it up into smaller chunks, and then offer each chunk to individual investors. So for example, Sally's $10,000 loan might be funded by 400 investors at $25 each. This diversifies the risk for everyone. If Sally defaults, those investors each only lose $25 -- a small part of their overall portfolio.

My wife and I use P2P lending for an aggressive part of our portfolio. Although we could choose to fund "A1" grade loans, we want to achieve a return of at least 10% annually, so we tend to fund D,E & F grade notes. In fact, as you can see in this screenshot below, LendingClub has over-allocated us on A,B & C grade notes, and can't fill our demand for the lower grade notes. This is typical because most investors who are putting money to work in P2P platforms want that higher return and are willing to accept the higher risk that comes with it.

But even in this under-allocated state, we are achieving a net annualized return of 11.89% -- and that's after accounting for defaults & charge offs! Here's what I mean: By investing in lower grade notes, we are expecting that a higher percentage of those borrowers will default on their loans, and subsequently, have their loans charged off. But that's why the interest rate on these notes is higher -- to account for the expected charge offs. LendingClub has issued over $9 billion in loans since it started. You can see from this chart that the charge off rate on all loans is 3.6%. When you diversify your portfolio by spreading $25 investments over thousands of notes, you're able to control for the variables that would otherwise be really scary, like "what if someone defaults?!" At these large scales, it all becomes a math equation: How much risk are you willing to shoulder in exchange for what level of projected return net of that risk, and then set your investing criteria accordingly.

And just like a bank or a credit card, if a borrow goes late, the lending platform will try to collect on the loan. For example, below an actual default from our portfolio. This borrower got a $12,925 loan from LendingClub. We pitched in $25 to fund that note. They stopped paying, and for 3 months, LendingClub tried to collect. They eventually charged the loan off, which negatively affected the borrower's credit score. We lost our $25 -- but not without a fight! And LendingClub did all the actual "fighting". (You can see a larger version of the screenshot here.)

Another reason to invest at least $5,000 is that once you do, LendingClub will turn on a feature they call "Automated Investing." If you invest less than $5,000, you have to slog through each available individual note, deciding which to fund. When you put $5k into their platform, they'll handle all the investment decisions for you based on the criteria you set, so it literally becomes a "set it and forget it" experience.

OK that's it for the "P2P Investing 101" part -- I encourage you to give it a try. Start with just $50 to experience it. Give it a solid try with $5k. Or get adventurous if you have the cash: Putting $120k to work on the platform will earn you $1,000/mo in interest income at a 10% return. (Important tax note: This income is taxed at an ordinary income rate, not a long-term capital gains rate, which reduces your net return... talk to your tax advisor, because I am certainly certainly not one!)

But wait, there's more -- here's the best part if you want to go deeper:

For the past year, my wife and I have been using LendingClub's "automated investing" function and happily earning an 11.89% return. But it was driving me crazy that we were under allocated in the notes we most wanted to get into. So I did some digging. It appears that we're not the only ones that have this idea. Hedge funds and other institutional investors have been using an API access layer to snap up notes the second they hit the market -- indeed, faster than even LendingClub's automated investing can pick them up. I wanted in on the API action! So I turned to a service called LendingRobot which hooks into both LendingClub and Prosper through the API interface. I've just recently begun experimenting with it, but the interface looks awesome. For example, I created two "rules" which define how we want to invest our cash in LendingClub. For example, one of our roles is to only invest in notes with a 14%+ expected return, and to borrowers not in FL, AZ, CA or NV (here's why). LendingRobot projects we'll make a 15% ± 7.44% return with these filters.

The second rule is for borrowers who have a mortgage (no renters, no outright homeowners) with zero inquiries on their credit reports in the past 6 months (here's why) with a 12%+ expected return. LendingRobot projects we'll make a 13% ± 6.56% return with these filters.

The downside of using LendingRobot is that they charge a 0.45% fee for providing this lightning fast API access and filtering capabilities, which has the net effect of reducing our overall return by that amount. It's too early to say whether the value created LendingRobot will offset that additional fee, but I'm willing to give it a try. For now, I've kept "Automated Investing" turned on in LendingClub while at the same time letting LendingRobot have access to the cash in our LC account. I figure if their API really is faster, they'll get access to that cash first, and if it's not, they won't. I'll report back after a few months to let you know how the LendingRobot returns are comparing against the straight LendingClub returns -- and I'd LOVE to hear any feedback from anyone who has experience using LendingRobot or any of the other automated investing P2P services springing up out there.

I hope you give P2P lending a shot-- and welcome to the sharing economy! Please leave a comment below describing your experience if you do try it.

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Wed, 01 Jul 2015 05:59:22 +0000 http://danielodio.com/one-year-in-lending-money-to-complete-strangers-via-an-api-and-why-you-should-try-it
The Forest vs. The Trees: A Story About Focus http://danielodio.com/the-forest-vs-the-trees-a-story-about-focus I'm going to share a story about the forest vs. the trees. But it's not the story you're expecting to hear. My last blog post was about Doing Less, Better, which is my theme for 2015. A big part of doing less, better is achieving focus. But that very word is often misund]]>

I'm going to share a story about the forest vs. the trees. But it's not the story you're expecting to hear.

My last blog post was about Doing Less, Better, which is my theme for 2015.

A big part of doing less, better is achieving focus. But that very word is often misunderstood. Focus means the elimination of distractions, not the mitigation of distractions. Let's dig into that more deeply:

The first hard thing in a startup is knowing what to focus on initially. When you first start, you don't have strong product/market fit in anything, so like any good LeanStartup you might start with a hypothesis and work through the build --> measure --> learn cycle as quickly and effectively as you can. The key is to find some early area of traction & demand that you can build off of.

Having a solid initial hypothesis is important, but I would argue that even more important is being close to customers and listening to them intently. You're probably not listening to your customers closely enough, even if you think you are. They will tell you where your hypothesis is wrong. They won't be able to tell you what they do want -- they won't know what they don't know -- but they will absolutely be able to react to what you put in front of them.

So far, so good. But here's what usually happens in startups: You start doing several experiements because you desperately want to find that traction. So instead of just iterating on one thing to make it better, you move on, saying "well that didn't work," except you don't really move on. You keep it around, kind of. Maybe you have a customer or two using it. Or you're generating some revenue from it. Or you've invested so much code, time and cost into it that you can't just bear to completely shut it down. This is where things get dangerous. It's absurdly hard to force yourself to either a) keep iterating on it until it gets better or b) to shut it down completely. In fact, in my experience, this is what separates the massively successful startups from the rest of them. Less successful startups do a lot of mitigation. More successful startups do a lot of elimination.

I've been trying to find a way to explain this simply, and in the shower the other morning, it hit me: Trees.

Let's say you're CEO of a startup that's not yet profitable. Just envision that each initiative in your business is represented by a small, young sapling.

Now here's the kicker: You only have a certain amount of water. That water is your funding. Water is precious and expensive to get. You have to make a choice: Do you concentrate your water on just one of the saplings, or do you water them all equally?

It sounds so obvious, right? You want to grow a tall, strong tree. But it's so very hard to let those other trees die. That's where startups make a false choice: They mitigate by watering the other trees, just enough so they don't die. But not enough for them to grow, either.

And a startup is just like a tree in another way, too: When the tree gets big enough, its root system will be able to capture its own water from the ground. And when a startup matures enough, it too can start to feed itself. It can become profitable. But this only happens when you focus your water on just one tree. If you try to water them all, none of them will reach the stage where their roots can really take hold.

And this is how, ironically, by cutting water off to all your trees but one, your tree will grow big, strong and tall. It will drop acorns around it and spawn other trees. It will create a forest.

But by spreading your water out to many trees, all of them will die, and you will be left with an empty field.

Focus means being ruthless about watering only one tree, so that you can successfully build your forest.

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Thu, 28 May 2015 14:32:26 +0000 http://danielodio.com/the-forest-vs-the-trees-a-story-about-focus