DRMacIver's Notebook

Dietary Experimentation

Dietary Experimentation

Content Warning: Food, weight.

Attention Conservation Notice: Person on a diet is talking about the diet he is on.

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor please do not take any of this as professional medical advice.

I’m fucking around with my diet a lot at the moment. This is a post about some of the things I’m doing, how I’m making them doable, and why I think it makes sense. It’s 50% note to self, 50% explanation of what this weird thing I’m doing is.

This is still very early days, so although initial impressions are positive and I am hopeful about its effects, it is very much not advice to follow my specific diet. Even I don’t intend to follow this diet indefinitely.


As you may or may not know I have a lot of lowgrade ongoing health problems. I’ve been considering the possibility that some of these might be diet related for the while but not really doing anything about that. I recently read Valerie Aurora’s post on the subject in which she lists the following problems as possibly diet linked:

  • Skin problems (acne, blackheads, red spots, redness, scaly skin, oily skin, rashes, etc.)
  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Insomnia
  • Gastrointestinal problems (acid reflux, gas, IBS, diarrhea, constipation, etc.)
  • Joint pain
  • Muscle pain
  • Migraines or headaches
  • Asthma
  • Frequent colds and sinus infections

Remember when I said I have low grade health problems? What I mean is I experience literally all of these (except maybe asthma. My doctor is trying to convince me I have asthma, but I disbelieve their statistical methodology. I think I have some sort of non-asthma related breathing problem and all of the interventions they claim allegedly reversed some of it were noise they were pretending was signal).

Some of this is obviously the Barnum/Forer effect. These are all things that “everybody” has to some degree, but I’m an outlier on most of them. I don’t consider this conclusive evidence of anything but it’s at least a nudge that this is something I should be looking into.

I identified the following as candidates for suspicion:

On top of this I’ve already been trying to eat more vegetables, and I’ve recently decided to make a concerted effort to lose weight (although haven’t been doing a great job) so I’ve been trying to reduce the amount of carbs I eat on top of that. While I experiment with the dietary restrictions these are not the priority, but it would be nice to keep them up if I can.


My approach is to change literally everything about my diet. This probably sounds like a terrible idea, but it’s OK - I promise I know what I’m doing. It’s not completely outside the realms of what people advise, and it’s something that works well with my particular psychology and health level.

The point of changing everything is not to learn what is causing the problem or to fix things. The point of changing everything is to find out if there is a dietary intervention that will have a non-trivial effect. The new diet is not intended for long-term use, but is an existence proof.

I know that the new diet will be safe for me because I don’t have anything really badly wrong, just a lot of low grade problems, so I’m free to experiment and basically shunt my entire diet onto a new and very diffierent equilibrium point. Once I have reached that point and observed the results, I can triangulate between it and my prior diet - reintroducing things, eliminating things, and see what happens as I make incremental changes. I’ve alluded to this approach before

So, I’m making the following dietary changes:

  1. Eliminate everything on the list of suspicious foods.
  2. Remove almost all of my normal restrictions - e.g. my diet is normally low in meat and contains almost no fish, and I try not to buy snack food.
  3. Generally aim for a high-protein, high-fat, high-fiber diet.
  4. Eat a lot more fruit.
  5. Meals should still be at least 50% vegetables.
  6. As long as I satisfy the above requirements I may eat whatever I want, and I am forbidden from feeling guilty about doing so.

Initial Results

How’s it going so far? Well, it’s a lot of fun.

Yes, really.

There are roughly three things going on here:

The first is what I’m terming “restriction as reward” for the moment, though that name isn’t quite right. Because I have such strong restrictions in place I am explicitly giving myself permission to not feel guilty about what I do once those restrictions are met. I made meatballs recently! I bought chocolate! I’m going to experiment with variations on my brownie recipe to finally perfect a gluten-free dairy-free version, at which point I will nom the hell out of them. Although I am putting restrictions in place, the fact that I don’t have to think about what I’m eating beyond those restrictions makes the whole thing a mini holiday - here David, have a delicious reward.

(If this causes me to eat too much sugar then I might have to dial it back a bit, but the meat and fish are a pretty big part of the reward aspect and they are an active part of the experiment).

The second is that this gives me an excuse to experiment. I like cooking, and have fallen into a bit of a rut, so this is forcing me to try all sorts of new things that I don’t normally do. Expect a bunch of recipe posts on the notebook as a result. This aspect is also a useful learning experience for how to cook better for people I know with dietary restrictions, which is always nice (I would describe myself as “good but not great” at this normally. A large chunk of what I cook is naturally almost vegan and almost gluten free, so it’s not too hard to adapt that, but it tends to result in food that is on the less interesting end of what I’d normally make)..

The third is what you might think of as the “tube strike effect”: When there’s a tube strike, a lot of commutes permanently change afterwards, because the constraint forced people to try something different and they discovered they liked it better than their existing system (repeat after me: People are not optimizers). Trying out these restrictions gives me a kick to find out things that I would like and keep eating even if the restriction is lifted. For example, I have learned (or possibly been reminded - I can’t imagine ever not knowing, but I might not have known that I knew) that fresh pineapple is ridiculously cheap and I really like it.

Is it helping? Hard to say so far, but I think so. Subjectively I feel maybe a bit better. The period since starting it has been incredibly productive, but it’s hard to distinguish hypomania from health.

My bowel movements have definitely become more regular. I have dropped almost a kilo in the two days since starting dothis. I’d be alarmed by that fact except that I’m pretty sure I literally dropped it (and then flushed it), so it’s probably just a happy side effect of whatever has made me more regular. All of this should be treated firmly as anecdote and not data.

Will report back later.