April's CR Diary

A diary of a 30 year old woman following CRON, or Caloric Restriction with Optimal Nutrition, for health and life extension.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

The Site of Your Armageddon Is Clear

[This is a re-post of an entry from Jan. 19 for those who are just joining us. Scroll down past "Don't Ever Think That You Can't Change the Past and the Future" for some more recent stuff if you've already read this one.]

This blog has always had a bit of a whimsical, fun, and occasionally self-depricating flavor. I've joked that (with great respect to Helen Fielding) it had a touch of "Bridget Jones Lives Forever... or Dies Trying." And yet it is the story, told mostly through recipes and calorie counts, of my real life. Details are omitted here and there and you're left to read between the lines perhaps more often than you'd like, but you still get the truth as I experience it day to day. You've come with me on a long journey, and for over a month now you've gotten hints that our journey is about to take an interesting new turn. Well, the press release is out now and I'm finally ready to tell you what happens next.

"When we set out on this journey, there were no doubts in our minds..."

--Sting, "Something the Boy Said"

Back in March I set out on a journey to rescue my health from the destruction of the Standard American Diet, or in my case, the high fat vegetarian crap diet. I had been a lowfat vegan for five years, than had gradually given up those ways in favor of a lifestyle involved bagels and cream cheese and that was gradually wearing away my youth. In desperation as I got tired, gained weight, and saw (gasp!) the first signs of aging on my face, I reached back into my memory and found the chapter in Ray Kurzweil's _The 10% Solution_ that talked about CR. When I read that book at 22, I made the mental note to re-approach the subject when I neared 30. So sure enough, six months before my 30th birthday, in March 2004, I did a google search on "calorie restriction" and came upon the CR Soceity webpage at www.calorierestriction.org.

Wow! I found a wealth of information that gave me hope... hope that I could feel better, get better, look better, and maybe even add a few years not just onto the end of my life but to my youth and health. I owe much to those who put together the CR Society, because without it, I would never have had any idea how to do this thing that has changed me forever.

I also discovered the CR Society email list. For months, I actually read every single word of every single post. I thought everyone did! I don't have internet access at home, so I'd come to work early and stay late so that I could catch up on my list. I couldn't really separate out the sense-making stuff from the idiocy at first, but I gradually began to follow some of the discussions and note that some of the frequent posters seemed to know a lot.

I also sent email to the address listed for the CR Society Human Study, asking how I could help. I got a message back (after a little over a week, during which I sat around wondering "Why does it take these people so long to answer their email?") from a person whose name I had come to recognize from The List. There are two things I remember distinctly about this email. One was that in response to the question on the study questionaire "How long would you be willing to stay on the diet?" I had written "forever," and the person who wrote me back said:

"... but hopefully, someone's going to come up with the CR-mimetic drug (or something better) long before then!"

Huh? What's he talking about? I had no clue, but shelved it for futher investigation.

The other thing I distinctly remember was this line:

"Many folks just starting out are very enthusiastic, and are delighted to meet others already practicing CR. They often immediately want to jump into the discussion with all of their questions and ideas. While this is just right for the CR Community list, it often leads to some 'heat' on CR society, as curmudgeonly old-timers like me don't take well to a zillion 'beginner' question."

Okay, well, I'm definitely never posting to that list, thought I! Scary!

So I began to practice CR... a very easy version at first, aiming for 1200 calories on weekdays and not worrying too much about it on weekends. I kept track of my calories on Excel spreadsheets, ate a lot of hardboiled eggs, and kept on reading The List as though my life depended on it.

The immediate effects were shocking. I started to lose weight, felt dramatically better, and I walked around my office repeating "We are Dr. Walford's mice, we find a longer life quite nice."

Then in June, a post came across the CR list that changed my life. No, it wasn't from MR... well, it was from a woman whom I later affectionally referred to as Little MR. Mary Robinson posted that she had started a CR blog on blogspot. The second I read it, I knew that I had to start my own blog.

I'd been wanting to write for a long time, but had felt like I had nothing I could safely write about. Certainly I could write about food! I also thought it would be a great accountability tool. After all, I would eat better if I believed the whole world was watching!

So I started this blog, and quickly became absolutely obsessed with it. I talked about the blog as though it were a person. For example, when something interesting would happen to me, I'd say, "I have to tell the blog about this."

On Monday, July 5, after the holiday weekend, I returned to my email to find two very encouraging messages posted to the CR List about the blog. One from Reason, posted to
www.fightaging.org as well as to CR, that said,

"I think that keeping a CR blog is an excellent idea. If more people do it, these blogs would provide a very direct way of showing people what the practice of CR is actually like ... A community of interlinked CR blogs would greatly boost the online profile of calorie restriction in an area in which it is currently underserved - i.e. what's it actually like to practice CR on a day to day basis?"

The other from MR:

Hey, April: this is GREAT! Your obviously good humor, the combination of casualness with careful tracking & explicitly-stated intent to start using nutrition software -- I think that newcomers & the newly-interested would find this very appealing (not that you should start tailoring your blog entries as CR propaganda ;) ).

You can bet I ran around my office that morning frightening my co-workers by screaming, "They discovered the blog! They like it!" Reason and MR were already my heroes by that time, MR from his list postings and Reason from his own website.

Living On Dreams and Eggwhites

-- after "This One's For the Girls" by Martina Mc Bride

I kept writing and Mary and I read each other's blogs every day. She'd write to me with comments about what I was eating, and at one point she sent me a message in which she expressed her concern that I wasn't eating nearly enough protein. That sent me off on the Great Protein Quest... a massive expedition that lasted months and quickly grew from a simple quest for protein sources into a comprehensive reading of gigantic portions of the CR Society archives. Dean helped me find the missing link to the old MR post now referred to as the Albatross, and I had a rather impressive nutritional identity crisis, very well detailed in the blog, as I switched from Priestess of the High Carb Darkness to Moderately Successful (if you just look at the day as a whole, not individual meals) Zone Wannabe.

I discovered "RANT: Moderate CR" and was absolutely blown away by the power of the writing (Stevie Wonder pipes in from my walkman with "Knocks Me Off My Feet," and I remember reading the rant for the first time on a day when I had barely eaten anything and having to lie on the floor for awhile to process. Luckily I was the last one in the office, so I didn't have to explain why an old email about food had caused me to literally lose my balance.) Of course it was the importance of the message that took my breath away (quote the Top Gun soundtrack if you must): if you want to do more than just feel better, (ie if you actually want to LIVE LONGER) you're going to have to do more than just "moderate" CR.

As soon as I read that I had no doubt about where I came down on the question of moderation. I wasn't just playing around with this living longer thing -- I wanted to cheat death no matter what it took. I was a bit terrified of what it might take... social struggles, getting really really thin, fundamentally changing my diet for the very long term... but I knew I had to try. I wanted my extra 20 years of youth and health, and I was willing to pay the price for it.

Today while I was driving from Philly to Pittsburgh I heard a song on the radio called "This One's For the Girls," and the line, "living on dreams and Spaghetti-O's" jumped out at me. I'd call the summer of this year my "living on dreams and eggwhites" period. Searching the archives didn't just make me change my diet; it opened up a whole new world that I hadn't known existed. I became dimly aware that there were people who thought that life could be extended by methods much more radical than CR.

The first mention of Aubrey de Grey in the blog dates back to July 13. I had read something in one of MR's posts that pointed to the SENS website (that's at
http://www.gen.cam.ac.uk/sens/ for any of you who are either a) new to the blog b) have been hiding under a rock for the last two months.) I read some of the articles for non-specialists and was fascinated by what I saw there. But at the time, it didn't seem to have much to do with me. Fabulous that scientists were working on ways of engineering negligible senescence, hope it works, sounds like a great idea. If I were a scientist, I'd work on that. But since I'm not a scientist, I'd better just keep doing my CR, which thanks to The List and its magestic archives is something I can do in the here and now to keep myself younger longer.

"You can step outside your little world..."
-- "She's A Beauty" by The Tubes

But still, there was something so intriguing about de Grey's website that I found myself clicking on it over and over again. Everytime I read another one of the articles found there, I felt like I was sneaking a peak into a world where I really didn't belong, and that made it even more fun. I mean, what's a girl who majored in history in college and forgot to multiply 100 by 4 and note that it comes out to more than half of 800 (bloggie in-joke for those of you who were with me from the beginning!) doing reading all this science stuff? That's fine for people who actually know something, but I was barely able to keep my calorie counts together, much less understand how people might engineer the reversal of aging!

Still, there was a page on the SENS website that kept me coming back over and over again. It's right here:
http://www.gen.cam.ac.uk/sens/how.htm/ and it's called "What you can do for SENS." I especially liked the part at the end:

WHOEVER YOU ARE: talk to your friends/family/colleagues about what life would be like without aging and find out what they don't like about the idea. Get better at rebutting their arguments. You'll find that they will very quickly realise they have no arguments, but then it gets harder, because they will try to change the subject. Don't let them get away with this. Read my
reasons why I claim people should be working now to cure aging as soon as possible, and tell me if there are ways in which you think they can be improved or added to. In fact, you're welcome to contact me with any suggestions you may have for how the SENS effort can be expedited, whether by improvements to this site, activities of the Methuselah Foundation, whatever.

There was a section about what you can do if you're a biologist, a journalist, or extremely wealthy, but there wasn't a section about "What to do if you're an organizer." I thought about emailing de Grey, since it's all over his website that he wants people to email him, but I chickened out every time. "But my silent fears would grip me, long before I reached the send button..." [No explanation necessary on that one unless you've been hiding under a pop music rock for over 20 years.] It just seemed silly to write to this rather famous guy and say, "Hey, I'm a union organizer and I've got this blog and is there something I can do to help?"

Knowing what I know now, I wish I had emailed Aubrey earlier. One of the lessons that I have learned from the last few months is when in doubt, hit the send button.

But I was still absorbed in the process of figuring out how to eat to best preserve the body I have now, and I figured the science boys (and girls) didn't need to be bothered with my silliness. It would be several months before events kicked me out of hiding.

Fast foward to the CR Society conference in Charleston, South Carolina. It's an unusually warm Thursday morning and I am standing by the elevator with some vague notion of going back up to my room to brush my teeth for the third time before the morning session starts. I look to my left and see that standing by the front desk, talking to Lisa Walford, was a six foot tall redhead who looks about 22 and can be none other than Michael Rae.

There is a blog entry from Nov. 4 that records what I did at that exact moment: I snuck over to the computer in the lobby to pretend to be checking my email while attempting to listen in on their conversation. Wow! Lisa Walford and Michael Rae, two of my CR superheroes, right before my eyes! It took all of my self-restraint to not run over and ask for an autograph, but Mary and I had made a pre-conference pact that we would absolutely not behave like MR groupies.

I made the decision right then and there to follow MR around and learn as much from him as I possibly could while I had the real live person in front of me. One thing about being an organizer is that you learn to make a pest of yourself in a productive fashion. That's how I found myself in the Great Debate that is detailed in "Don't Ever Think That You Can't Change the Past and the Future," Dec. 1 blog entry. I had pushed a few people out of the way to make room for MR to sit next to me at dinner, then I made him answer questions while he was trying to eat (in spite of Dean's admirable attempt to rescue him... "Let him eat!" I think was the direct quote, right Dean?) By this time I was publically quoting MR to MR, and as it turned out he had been reading my blog (though he was unable to quote it word for word.) When another CR brother came to collect him for a meeting with some other folks about the CR Society medical study, he (the other brother, not MR, who was still being hounded by questions from everyone at the table) suggested that I sit in on the meeting, since a bunch of us were planning to go out bar hopping (I mean, acquiring a source of resveratrol, of course!) after that.

People trailed in and out of the main conference room during the meeting, and eventually the meeting broke up and the crowd gathered for the scene that is chronicled in detail in "Don't Ever Think..."

I left the room that night with many more questions than answers.

There I was, in Charleston for a conference about CR, in the presence of my number one CR superhero, the man whose writing had changed my life, and he's saying that we need to do whatever we can to fund the Methuselah Mouse Prize and do the rodent studies and engineer the technology to not just postpone disease and death by a few years, but to actually reverse aging.

I'd been carrying around a blog entry about the M Prize in my head for about a month at this point, planning to write it up just post-conference once I had clarified a few details. I was already on board with the project, but I didn't think there was much I could do beyond writing my blog entry and giving $20/month, maybe getting a few friends to donate too. Sure, I had fantasies about raising tons of money for the thing, but that seemed like a silly girl's dream (allusion to Dave Matthews intentional.) Not too silly to mention it: the whole debate started off when I asked MR what he'd do with that $23 million that his email signature had referred to for months. But I had never emailed de Grey because I was pretty convinced that I'd never be anything more than a well-intentioned groupie.

I knew I had to write up the debate in a blog entry... it was just too important not to tell my readers about it. And I knew I'd need help with some of the details... while my account is a simplified summary, the actual debate was very complicated and went on for about two hours. So shortly after the conference I wrote to some of the folks who had been in the room and asked if they'd work with me on a blog entry about the incident.

What followed was a long process throughout November in which I would write a draft, Michael would read it, he'd write me suggestions and corrections. We quickly moved from the abstract "What should one do?" to the specific, "What should April do?"

With all the scripture-quoting rhetorical firepower of MR pointed directly at me night after night, it was a foregone conclusion that I would enlist in the war on aging. I have thought to myself that the writings of MR were a gateway drug to the addictive, dangerous stuff of Aubrey de Grey. You think you can have just a little... you eat a bit more protein, you read the CR Society archives, you click on the pretty SENS webpage, and it's all fun and games until the next thing you know you're throwing away a successful nine year career in order to spend all your time mobilizing funds for the M Prize.

MR and I had no idea at the time when we were working on the blog entries that I would actually be offered an opportunity to enlist in a full-time capacity. Still, when I read over our letters, there's this sense that something was going to happen. On November 17, on the topic of whether we should put our efforts into converting people to CR or the SENS project and the M Prize, he wrote:

"April, if you really have the fire in your belly to put an end to the clockwork attrocity of one generation after another sliding into aging, disability, suffering, disease, and death -- for yourself, for your loved ones, and for humanity -- then you must put your efforts into projects designed to put an end to the entire horror...

I don't want to dump this responsibility on you, and I frankly fear of sending you down a potentially dangerous road. But if you are looking to throw yourself into an assault on the ultimate degenerative disease, then I think that the site of your Armageddon is clear."

And then later, but still before we knew that we were talking about anything other than what a union organizer might do in her extremely limited spare time,

"Here's another for you, should you need it: 'General, count me in.' -Princess Leia"

And I wrote back a message whose subject line was "General, count me in." What followed was the publication of the blog entries on the topic, and then through a seemingly magical series of events, I was offered the chance to work all the time on the project of raising money for the M Prize.

So here we are. In a few days I won't be a union organizer anymore. But I'll be organizing for what I believe is the most important fight of my life.

That doesn't mean that I'll be quitting CR, or pursuing it with any less passion. I need the health, the life that CR gives me, and I may need the extra 20 years to see this project through to its conclusion! Besides, it has always been my experience that passion is not a zero sum game, and that two passions can feed off each other in a way that magnifies both. To me, CR and SENS are inextricably intertwined over the medium term.

Since I've decided to take on this new challenge, I've gotten a lot of questions about "Why would you want to live longer?" "Aging is something that happens to all of us, why fight it?" "Isn't it selfish to want to cure aging?"

If you are wondering any of those things right now, I want you to try this experiment. Don't think about aging as it is happening to you: instead, picture the person you love most in the whole world. Then imagine that person getting older... not just getting a few gray hairs and needing reading glasses, but having to hold onto things to walk, afraid of going out for fear of falling on the ice and breaking a hip, perhaps even losing the sharpness of mind that drew you to him or her in the first place, perhaps unable to remember who you are. Being eaten alive by cancer cells, or barely holding onto life in an ICU somewhere, attached to feeding tubes and breathing machines and almost wanting to die but hanging on because life if just too precious to let it go, even in the midst of great pain.

Why is that inevitable? Why let that happen if you have a choice? Why would you accept that suffering, not for yourself but for someone you love, if there's anything, anything at all, that you could do to stop it?

You can stop it. Make it stop. If you don't believe me (and I don't blame you, I was a little skeptical at first) go read the SENS website and tell me why it won't work. Go read about the success Dr. Stephen Spindler's research group has had in extending mouse lifespans, with a CR'd Mouse! (check out Charlie's picture at
www.mprize.org, and join the Three Hundred while you're there, would you?) CR is powerful, but it isn't enough. I'm hoping that it's enough to keep me hanging on through the wee hours of the morning and until the dawn of radical life-extending biomedicine.

Don't wait until you're saying goodbye for the very last time, the only time that really matters, to that person you imagined a few paragraphs ago. Join me now in believing that something better is possible, and that together, we have the power to do something about it!

Saint Augustine and I have had our disagreements, but I think that at the end of this entry and at this major turning point in my life, I owe him the courtesy of the last word:

"Let those who think I have said too little and those who think I have said too much, forgive me; and let those who think I have said just enough thank God with me."


  • At 5:12 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    April, you are quite amazing in your dedication and zeal for CR, and your ability to combine information, inspiration, and entertainment in your blog. Clearly both you and your readers benefit greatly from your blogging. Best of luck on your new journey. I hope to be following your success for at least 100 years -- Howard

  • At 12:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Well said and well done.


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