Balance takes time

I have a balance board in my office. So does Ross Bentley by the way. I love Ross and everything he teaches, but I wasn’t shamelessly copying him when I got it. I only found out later he also has the exact same one. Racing is a kind of balancing act. You’re trying to maximize your contact patches through changes in speed, camber, temperature, surface conditions, etc. But that’s not really the reason to use a balance board. They are really different activities and I don’t think there’s much cross-over. The reason to use one is that it improves the motor skills of the foot, which is pretty important for throttle and brake control. It also increases core fitness, which is important for just about everything.

I have neglected core fitness for a long time. I’ve done a lot of exercises, like sit-ups, really incorrectly. 50-ish years of ignoring my back recently put me in a bad way. My back pain was so terrible that I could barely walk, sleep, or do anything at all. So I took a lot of ibuprofen. Too much actually. It did allow me to drive at NYST and Pineview, but I ended up skipping Shannonville the next day as I felt terrible. I say too much ibuprofen because I stepped on a scale and found that I had gained 14 pounds in 9 days. Sudden weight gain can be a sign of kidney failure. I went to the ER and they said to lay off the ibuprofen. I lost the weight over the course of the next week and I’m not sure I’ll ever take pain meds again. X-rays show some arthritis and disk degeneration. So I’m now trying to become educated in back health as one of my highest life-long goals.

Back to balance. The first time my graduate student Hannah tried using my balance board, she could not stay on it for more than a second. Undaunted, she kept at it, but never really improved. Maybe 1 week later she tried again, and suddenly she could do it for a few seconds. She did absolutely no training in between. A few weeks later, she steps on again, and this time she can drink tea while balancing. The last time she tried it, she could have a whole conversation while balancing. In the picture below, she’s experimenting with different ways of standing on the board (here, a bit more of a surfing style).

How did she get so much better without ever practicing? Time. It takes time for your body to learn new activities. How much time? I don’t know, but I would guess a few sleep cycles is important. I think it would be better to do two track days 1 week apart than do 3 track days in a row. I don’t think this kind of learning without trying works very well at the intermediate or advanced levels. You really need a disciplined training schedule at some point or your skills will plateau and eventually degrade over time. But if you’re just starting out, don’t overload yourself. There’s only so much you can learn in one day.

Wait, isn’t this a blog about driving? I had better say something about that!

  1. Novices seek power
  2. Intermediates seek grip
  3. Experts seek balance

There’s a reason for this progression. When you’re starting out, not only do you not know what balance is in the context of driving a car, but there are only tenths of seconds to be gained in optimizing how you interact with your suspension while there are multiple seconds elsewhere. As the title says, balance takes time. It also happens to make time. More on that next week.

You suck at dieting: part 2 of 2

Last week I talked about my general approach to dieting. This can be summed up pretty simply.

  1. Dieting is as simple as calories out > calories in.
  2. Using a scale and calorie counter to track weight loss is like using a stopwatch and telemetry for improving your driving.
  3. There is no need to get caught up in the composition of the food when it is the amount that matters.

This week I want to talk about some specific tips and tricks to help you lose weight.

Eat healthy foods

While dieting is more about the amount of food rather than the composition, when you’re restricting calories, you need to have a balanced diet to stay healthly. Eat nutritious foods. You know what they are without me enumerating specifics. In general, healthy foods spoil when you leave them out. Things that don’t spoil aren’t even food. If bacteria and mold can’t thrive on them, you can’t either. Drink water. If that’s too boring, add some lemon or lime to it. Alcohol contains a lot of calories and prevents you from metabolizing fat, so minimize alcohol consumption.

1 pound per week

While it’s possible to lose more than 1 pound per week, I don’t think it’s good for your body to stress it out too much. 1 pound per week amounts to a 500 calorie deficit each day. That’s enough of a difference to see progress without doing yourself any harm. Note that your weight fluctuates throughout the day depending how much food and liquid you have in your body. Don’t be discouraged if your weight goes up some days. When viewed over the course of weeks, it drops steadily.

The NOBLES diet

Last week I turned my nose up at diets, but I’m going to tell you about one I invented for myself: the NOBLES diet. NOBLES  is an acronym for NO Breakfast or Lunch Except Socially.  It’s a form of intermittent fasting. The diet has absolutely nothing to do with food composition or amounts, but rather when you eat: which is only at dinner. The reason to use this diet is not necessarily to lose weight, but rather to train yourself out of feeling hungry. Having long periods of time when you’re not allowed to eat will give you an opportunity to challenge your hunger feelings. The more you deny your hunger, the better you’ll get at it.

The Except Socially part of the NOBLES diet recognizes the fact that dieting is not the most important thing in your life. Eating with other people is sometimes critically important in business relationships. Don’t tank your career for vanity. If you have to eat breakfast or lunch with someone, do it, but then you might have to restrict what you eat for dinner or the next day. The Except part isn’t an exemption from dieting!

Dieting is supposed to be hard

One of the critical stages in improving your driving is getting comfortable being uncomfortable. That means taking corners at higher speed and driving with greater yaw. When you first start driving, you’re not comfortable sliding a car around, but that’s how a car is supposed to behave on track. The dieting equivalent is being satisfied with being unsatisfied. You have to get accustomed to hunger.

Dieting sucks, especially the first few weeks. You’re going to feel hungry all the time. You have a few hundred million years of animal evolution demanding that you eat whenever possible because historically food has been scarce. But your ancestors went long periods of time without eating and it didn’t kill them. You can make it through the day on 500 calories less. Poor people the world over do it all the time.

I’m morally opposed to things that are supposed to make dieting easier. Here, take this pill and you won’t have an appetite. Eat only ______ and you won’t feel hungry. One of the most important parts of dieting is you taking control of something that’s really difficult. It’s a mental challenge. It’s difficult, and it’s supposed to be. Don’t cheat yourself out of the experience by looking for shortcuts. Just like race prep, shortcuts end up being the long way around.

No days off

A couple days off can ruin a couple weeks of good dieting. Each day, you’re only missing 500 calories. It’s not a lot. It’s much easier to eat 500 more than 500 less. A weekend of binge eating and drinking could see you easily consuming an extra 2500 calories. That’s 2 days undoing 5. One reason dieting is so hard is that it takes commitment every single day.

One of the hardest things about dieting is convincing yourself that every little bit matters every day. Does every crumb matter? Actually no. But the attitude matters. The world is full of people doing shit half-assed, and it’s not better off because of it. When you get right down to it, dieting isn’t really that complicated. It’s just consuming less food. It doesn’t take a whole lot of mental or physical skill to diet, just willpower. Commit yourself for no other reason than you don’t want to be one of those people who coast through life doing shit half-assed.

A 10 minute mile is just as long as an 5 minute mile

Exercise is an important part of weight loss, but overdoing it will undo the good. This is especially true when you start a new exercise program. There’s a desire to jump in and work out like crazy. Pulling a muscle will set you back weeks. It’s like driving too hard on cold tires. Spinning could send you home early. Start gradually. Weight loss takes months. There’s no reason to rush in the first days or weeks. Incidentally, I don’t think I’ve ever been able to run a 5 minute mile. I’ve only been a timed a few times, but when I was in college in peak shape I barely broke 5:30.

Catch up on TV, movies, audiobooks, and podcasts

Exercise time is a great time for your media consumption. I listen to audiobooks at the gym (and elsewhere). As an aspiring author, I consume a lot of books to understand how people construct them. Back when my knees weren’t totally shot I used to work out with a stationary rower while watching movies on Netflix. It’s hard for me to watch movies sitting on a couch because I always feel guilty, like I’m supposed to be doing something else. Watching while exercising is therefore a useful synergy for me. This Summer, I’ve added swimming to my exercise regimen. I’m not a very efficient swimmer, and it’s a little frustrating. Yet another mountain to climb…

You suck at dieting? part 1 of 2

Dropping pounds is a lot like dropping seconds: conceptually simple, but difficult in practice. I consider myself an accomplished dieter. My weight cycles between 165-173 pounds (75-78.5 kilos). When it gets to 173, I purposefully lose weight until I’m 165. Then I forget about dieting until I hit 173 again. The cycle takes about 6 months. Why don’t I just maintain 169 or something? Because it bores me. I actually enjoy losing weight. It’s almost as fun as gaining weight. But losing weight is hard. Your body doesn’t want you to do it. Well, I like challenges.

As a college student, my weight was a steady 165. I was highly active in a variety of athletics and never considered what I ate. As a graduate student in my mid-20s, I maintained a slightly higher weight: 175. I was still very active (tennis mostly) and ate whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. I recall consuming a lot of pizza and soda. When my wife became pregnant, I gained a lot of sympathy weight. At my peak weight, I was about 190 pounds (86 kilos). Throughout my 30s and early 40s I maintained a weight of about 180-185 pounds (82-84 kilos). And then one day in my mid-40s I decided it was time to lose weight. I got down to 176 pretty easily, but that was a plateau I couldn’t break through until I changed my strategy. Eventually, I got down to 161. At that point a friend asked if I had health problems. I figured it was time to gain weight, and from then on my weight has been between 173 and 165.

This post and the next are about my approach to dieting. Shedding 10 pounds will make your car faster and use less consumables. So this is totally legit race talk even if it sounds like health talk.

The job of the racing driver is to find every tenth of a second to lap as quickly as possible. But the driver also has to do it safely. So it is with the dieter. The dieter must drop pounds as quickly as possible while staying within a safety margin. You should not attempt to drive on a race track unless you are physically fit enough to do so. And you should not attempt to diet unless you are in good health. I can’t stress this enough. You have absolutely no business losing weight if you’re ill. There’s an old saying “feed a fever, starve a cold”. FUCK THAT. Feed a fever and feed a cold. And feed every other malady while you’re at it. The best time to lose weight is when you’re 100% healthy. And then, at a pace that isn’t dangerous.

There are tons of diets that people have invented over the years. Popular diets today include Atkins, cleansing, ketogenic, paleo, raw foods, Slim Fast, South Beach, vegan, vegetarian, Weight Watchers, etc. I don’t do any of that complicated bullshit. I eat exactly the same kinds of foods whether I’m losing or gaining weight. It’s not about the type of food, but rather the amount. When you break it down, dieting is really simple. There is only 1 thing to consider.

  1. Calories out > calories in

The problem with some of the fad diets is that they are often a highly polarized balance of nutrients that help you lose weight by making you less healthy. You can lose weight with a high protein diet or a low protein diet, or a high carb diet or low car diet. None of these is a great idea if you ask me. Another class of diets is those where the inconvenience helps you lose weight. For example, on a rainbow diet, you’re only allowed to eat food that matches the color of the day (such as red on Mondays, orange on Tuesdays). You’re better off learning how to control your hunger rather than having some obscure rules control it for you.

How do you know if your lap times are improving? You time yourself. But that’s an overly simplistic answer. It’s more important to understand why your lap times get faster. What specific things does one do to drive closer to the limit? For that, you need to dissect your driving and understand the process of driving rather than just the result. Telemetry is essential. I use a RumbleStrip and Aim SoloDL. I also just got an APEX Pro, which I’ll review soon. Without the right tools it’s really hard to get faster.

Dieting without the right tools is similarly difficult. Fortunately, dieting tools don’t cost very much. All you need is a scale and a smartphone. The scale is like a stopwatch. It tells you if the results of your efforts are bearing fruit. Trying to lose weight without a scale is like trying to drive faster without a stopwatch. Simple bathroom scales are as little as $10. I have a $72 My Weigh SCMXL700T. This is totally unnecessary for weight loss, but since it has a 700 lb limit, I also use it to get corner weights on my racecars. If you do this, you’ll just need to make a set of 4 shims the same height as the scale (you’d think you only need 3 but it’s easier to swap things around with 4).

The dieting equivalent of an Aim SoloDL is a calorie counter. I use Lose It!, but there are many, many equivalent apps to choose from. Here’s a screenshot showing my weight chart over the last 5 years (everyone asks about the spike in the middle, which was a data entry error).

Don’t want to count calories? Well, that’s like wanting to drive faster but refusing to use telemetry. Good luck with that. Get over whatever the fuck your problem is and start counting calories. Understand the process not just the result. The reason you’re overweight may be simply because of your stubborn refusal to count calories. Remember, the only rule of dieting is calories out > calories in. Fad diets like to make dieting about food composition. Only drink liquids. Only eat raw foods. Avoid high fructose corn syrup. It’s not about the food composition, it’s about the calories. Eat normal healthy food, but less of it.


To illustrate the misunderstandings of food composition, let me rant a bit about high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). This sweetener is used in canned sodas and other drinks. Lots of people look at the modern problems with obesity and diabetes and point to HFCS as the culprit. What exactly is HFCS? Table sugar is a mixture of 50% glucose and 50% fructose tied together in a single molecule called sucrose. HFCS is a blend of fructose and glucose, having more fructose than glucose, typically something like 55%/45%. The health-conscious world has 2 reasons to hate HFCS.

  1. Your body can detect changes in glucose but not fructose. HFCS therefore has more undetectable sugar, which leads to diabetes.
  2. HFCS is inherently bad for you because it is a processed food and unnatural. Better alternatives include honey and agave syrup.

The 10% difference in the balance of glucose and fructose is not going to give you diabetes. You could consume the exact same amount of fructose by simply not finishing the last bit of your drink. It’s the amount of sugar that’s the problem, not the balance of glucose and fructose. If it was the balance that’s the problem, you should also stay away from honey. It has the same ratios of glucose and fructose as HFCS. And what of agave syrup? That shit is 90% fructose. If you’re worried about fructose intake, it’s about the worst possible sweetener you could consume.

What about artificial sweeteners? Why the fuck would anyone want to fool their bodies into thinking they are consuming calories when they are not? That kind of shit never works out in the end. Stop making your diet about composition and start making it about amount. Want some sweetener in your coffee? Use actual sugar, be it sucrose, agave, or honey. And then record it in your calorie counter app.