I stuffed my head full of ideas at the Ancestral Health Symposium. Here’s my recap of some of the things I learned in the presentation “Self-Experimentation: The Best Science?” given by Richard Nikoley, the smarty-pants behind FreeTheAnimal.com. For a very comprehensive round-up of other bloggers’ impressions of the conference, visit Richard’s monster post with lots of links to the other bloggers.
You can get your hands on a PDF of Richard’s presentation right here – the brief recap below is really just a brain dump of what he inspired me to think about during his time in the spotlight.
Since the beginning of the great Frankenneck adventure, I’ve had to overhaul the way I think about my life. Learning to be comfortable with self experimentation has been very difficult for me. I like to have a plan with a very clearly-known outcome. Turns out, not much in life actually works that way. Although it’s been a sometimes bumpy ride, there’s also been a lot of freedom in accepting that I will forever be an [ongoing work of art] [experiment in progress] [regular girl] [unique flower] [insert your own descriptor here].
Richard’s presentation was a recap of how he’s tested various hypotheses on himself to lose 60 pounds. But as anyone who’s ever lost a significant amount of weight can attest, while he lost the weight, he gained a new life: funny ideas about soap and shampoo, an affinity for strength training, and a sh*tload of useful advice on how we can experiment on ourselves. I really enjoyed his personal stories about the criteria he’s tested as his own n=1. Alongside my scribblings of the things he said, my notebook also includes a list of future experiments I’ll be conducting on myself. I might even give up shampoo! (That scares me more than when I kicked dairy!)
Things I Liked/Learned In This Presentation
Principles of Self Experimentation
For good results, it’s important to approach self experimentation with the same rigor as your 11th-grade chemistry lab experiments. Richard laid out a checklist for self experimentation, based on the principles of good science:
1. Build a sound foundation.
2. Manage confounders. (i.e., change only one variable at a time)
3. Confront your biases. (I really, really like corn chips, and I still convince myself that “corn doesn’t bother me. LIE!)
4. Be honest with yourself. (See above.)
5. Never stop learning. (This one, for me, translates into, “Be comfortable with experimentation and the not knowing.”)
I’ve been thinking about ways to tweak my habits – nutrition, training, behavior – to not only further wrestle with my body composition but to live a life closer to the one I want: more thoughtful, calm but energetic, centered, fun. In no particular order, these are the areas in which I might experiment a little:
Saying nuts to nuts.
Oh, nuts! So tasty, so problematic with their annoyingly unoptimal 6-3 ratio. I don’t eat nuts regularly anymore, but I do kinda go in waves sometimes: a handful of almonds after work, macadamias before bed. What would happen if I kicked the nuts completely for a while? I DON’T KNOW ‘CAUSE I’VE NEVER TRIED IT. And that’s the point of this presentation, no?
Wash that shampoo right outta my hair.
It was a double-whammy: as I was waiting for Richard’s presentation to start, I read an article in PALEO magazine about a homemade concoction to replace shampoo – then Mr. Free The Animal got all chatty about how he doesn’t use shampoo (and his hair looks just fine, thank you very much). Suddenly, I was thinking about not having to pay for Bumble & Bumble every month. I’m not sure about this one, but an experiment could be fun. The issue: I have a LOT of hair… and I really like to put shiny stuff on it after I use the flat iron. That sentence alone makes me feel like a dumbass.
More leafy greens.
This one feels like such a gimme, it’s hardly an experiment. There is never a bad time to eat more leafy greens. So I guess this one is more of a resolution than an experiment, but I it’s in my notebook, so it shows up here.
I keep trying to make it part of my life, and it just hasn’t gotten a firm foothold yet. Inspired my Richard, I’m going to devise an experiment around this topic, and see if I can’t institute a regular meditation practice for an extended period of time. In the name of science!
What self experiments do you think you want to try?
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