Blog Review: Getting Stronger

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What’s it about?

The manifesto of the Getting Stronger blog is utilizing the biological principle of hormesis – to train yourself to thrive on stress. It’s an unconventional idea. I like it. The author Todd Becker takes that simple idea and applies it across the spectrum, from loosing weight to improving your eyesight. Some of his ideas are more convincing than others, but all of his posts are extremely well-written and interesting.

Hormesis

Hormesis is the idea that low doses of chemical stress applied in a controlled manner can make us stronger. Todd takes the idea of chemical stress and applies it across the board: muscular stress, emotional stress,  oxidative stress, ocular stress, psychological stress, and so on. It is not a widely accepted idea that chemical hormesis applies in all of the domains Todd applies it, but come prepared to be convinced. Despite lacking formal training in biology and its related fields, the blog brings together disparate theories and evidence to make convincing arguments.

The Top Three

  1. Opponent-Process Theory - We get use to the good things that happen to us – lottery winners are on average no happier than they were a year before they won – hedonic adaptation. Todd goes one step further – “Hedonic reversal: a stimulus that initially causes a pleasant or unpleasant response does not just dissipate or fade away… but rather the initial feeling leads to an opposite secondary emotion or sensation. Remarkably, the secondary reaction is often deeper or longer lasting than the initial reaction.  And what is more, when the stimulus is repeated many times, the initial response becomes weaker and the secondary response becomes stronger and lasts longer.” Click through to his blog to learn more about the theory but also real life examples. What this means is that judicious application of stress can, in the long term, actually make us happier (e.g. runner’s high), while short term pleasures can make us miserable (e.g. addiction).
  2. Stoicism - I’m certainly no Stoic, and I think Todd simplifies what it means to be a Stoic, but many of the ideas he recycles from the ancient philosophy are great. In Positive Psychology we fight hedonic adaptation by keeping gratitude journals. Loosing love for your spouse? Remember and be grateful for their hundreds of fantastic traits. It works. In Stoicism, there is negative visualization: “ imagining the worst–for example, contemplating the loss of one’s friends, loved ones, and dearest possessions–in order to foster a greater appreciation for what one already has.” Having used negative visualization, I can tell you, at least for me, it works. In combination with a gratitude journal, we have an effective weapon against hedonic adaptation.
  3. Deconditioning Diet – Todd highlights what he believes to be the primary reason diets fail in the long-term, cravings, and what he suggests you can do about them. Having put his ideas into practice, again, at least for me, they work. Todd suggests a Deconditioning Diet, whose goal is to lower and stabilize insulin levels. He argues that a “sudden rise in insulin levels immediately causes hunger, so to control appetite we must keep insulin at a low and steady level”. The component of the diet I followed is Cue Extinction – “do not eat the very food you were craving! Eat something else, preferably in a different food class. If you craved a sweet, eat something not sweet, like meat or cheese.  If you craved something spicy, eat something bland.” The normal pathway is something like – I’m slightly hungry –> which triggers a craving for a food –> which triggers a rise in insulin –> which reinforces the food craving. By ignoring the food craving, I’m essentially telling my body that it’s tactics are useless – stop the cravings, stop the rise in insulin.

His blog has some great unconventional ideas – you should go there now and read them!

 

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