Saturday, December 5, 2009

Part 4: Interview Series with Aaron Blaisdell of UCLA

(Above: Janss Steps at UCLA--a great place for sprints!)

Finally, the much anticipated Grand Finale of the excellent interview series with Dr. Aaron Blaisdell, Professor of Psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

Part I & Part II & Part III

KP = Kai Pottenger
AB = Aaron Blaisdell

KP: Have you learned anything with personal self-experiments that inform your research or potential research prospects?

AB: Not immediately. In the back of my mind, I have thought it would be interesting to look at the role of macronutrients in cognitive tasks that my subjects engage in. Since rats are one of the typical models of health outcomes, it would be interesting to apply it to a cognitive approach. It’s not what I am funded to do--but I do a lot of things I’m not funded to do. It just depends on how feasible it is and how interesting it would be to my community of comparative psychologists. It would be more interesting to the Paleo community. Also, it would depend on how feasible it would be to construct such diets. Everything I buy right now is off the shelf. I don’t know if I have the gumption right now to start doing all that. I have so many other really cool things lined up right now.

KP: Share a little about how you have integrated Ancestral Fitness into your lifestyle as a professor--exercise patterns, eating choices, etc.

AB: I basically do the Primal Blueprint type of exercise. I lift heavy objects a few times a week. I used to do weightlifting, pushups, isolation exercises. In the context of my old diet--cereal, pasta--I gained muscle mass slowly. Especially after having kids, it was totally derailed. In the context of my new diet, just working out two sessions a week, on average 15 minutes, with 2 or 4 exercises--push-ups, kettle bells--I have seen huge changes. I have always been a walker, especially at UCLA, a walking campus. I also found a place to do sprints in the quad in front of Janss Steps. The track is closed a lot at UCLA, so it’s hard to find a place to run. I do sprints every two weeks for 10 minutes. That keeps me in better shape physically even though I actually have scaled back from what I used to do. I work my quads in the quad.

KP: What ways do you see promise in altering nutritional choice architecture for people to help improve their health states?

AB: That’s a biggie. Umm … blow up all the conventional stores. I don’t know. Stuff has to be made readily available. It can’t be prohibitively expensive for the general public. The general public is watching bottom dollar. I see it in my house. My wife is Chinese and wants to buy the cheapest priced head of lettuce or chicken. I go to Whole Foods and get the free range, organic chicken, and my credit card bill shows it. Farmers markets or Whole Foods are much more expensive.

It would also have to work in the food industry--restaurants. If a restaurant fries something, they are using corn oil, and obviously such heavy lobby groups keep that in place. I don’t know what kind of forces need to overcome that. Like McDonald’s switching from beef oil to vegetable oil.

One, people have to have knowledge and awareness. Two, good stuff has to be readily available at the supermarket. Third, the price has to be comparable to the other stuff that’s on sale, otherwise they will avoid it.

That’s why I am interested in primal vending machines. It’s changing the choice architecture landscape. A campus like UCLA might have enough people knowledgeable enough to have a tipping point--as Gladwell would say.

We could make it convenient every hundred yards to dispense healthy options. I just picked up Taleb’s book. Looking through the prelude, he talks about the kinds of entrepreneurial ideas that tend to be most effective tend to be further out in prospective from the conventional wisdom. There is going to be fewer competitors. All the low hanging fruit from this paradigm is already taken so you find the low hanging fruit from another paradigm. This vending machine idea fits that description exactly. Nobody is thinking about it in these terms. It’d be fun--and I could make money.

KP: How did you find out about the epistemocrat blog?

AB: I know I had come across Brent’s name in the comment sections of the other blogs I follow like Whole Health Source and Seth Roberts’ blog. I am actually friends with Seth. We met back in 2004 at a conference. I always knew about his work. It was standard reading when I was a grad student. I met him, and he was talking about variability in rats when he was still a professor at UC Berkeley. It was directly related to stuff I was finding in the pigeons I was looking at, so I approached him about my ideas and how they were related to them. We struck up a friendship and a collaboration, and since then, he has started engaging in the Shangri-la Diet and other stuff. He didn’t have the blog back then. Then I started reading his blog and probably started reading Brent’s blog from there.

A final thanks to Kai and Aaron for connecting for this interview!

To good health,