As I was getting ready to go out the other day, I realized, I couldn’t button my pants up all the way. I realized, I was gravitationally challenged, and that I had been growing in all the wrong directions. So I started doing what any reasonable person would do in my situation - jogged my way to work every morning, checked the gluten content in the rice I was about to eat, intermittent fasted daily, and ate celery like it was my cheat meal, you know... the usual.
It... didn’t quite work out.
But now that I was back from the hospital… and the therapist, I actually found the “smart” way to lose weight.
Yes, chess grand-masters actually lose an astonishing amount of weight over competitions.
Over a tournament, they have been known to burn over 6,000 calories per day. To put that into perspective, at the peak of his training, that is about as many calories as Usian Bolt ate. Even the obesity inclined population of the United States only manages to eat about 3,000 calories per day. And as any dietician would tell you, the concept of weight-loss can be simplified down to the idea of calories in, calories out.
If you are eating more than you are burning, you gain weight. But if you are burning more than you are eating, you lose weight. If these chess grandmasters were on the typical American diet, they would still be operating on an astonishing calorie deficit of 2,200 calories! Even body-builders who are cutting their calories don’t cut more than 300 - 400 calories per day. Of course, these chess, let’s say, athletes, know this, and eat more to compensate. But, it takes quite a bit of eating to do that, and so most grandmasters end up losing a remarkable amount of weight over the tournaments.
Some of them burn as many calories over a 2 hour game as Roger Federer playing an hour of singles tennis. There was also a championship that was called off simply because the players lost too much weight. It’s all so baffling considering sedentary games like chess are usually not associated with anything physically intense that could cause such extreme weight loss. Of course, that is till you realize that our brain consumes about 20% of all the calories we eat. Chess, being one of the more cognitively demanding games out there, ramps up that caloric demand dramatically, which would explain this bizarre phenomenon. But anything to lose some weight and look good, right?
But if you’re in the mood for some delicious calories anyways, why don’t you drive to a Michelin star restaurant in a car with Michelin tires? Wait, do the two have anything to do with each other? The tire company was founded in 1889 and certainly predates the restaurant rating franchise, so they certainly weren’t founded at the same time.
But are they connected is the question.
As it turns out, Michelin realized they need people to buy more cars and drive farther for there to be a profitable demand for their tires. Driving far was something that people at the time were not in the habit of doing, at least not back then. This was partly down to the fact the transportation revolution had only recently started, and people were accustomed to travelling only as far as a horse carriage would go.
To get people going farther to make use of their tires, Michelin came up with the idea of a list that would rank restaurants based on how much travel they warranted. For example, a 1 star restaurant would simply be a good restaurant in its category, not much else to say; a 2 star restaurant would be worth a small detour, and a 3 star restaurant would deserve a trip of its own. The first edition of the guide was given out for free. With nearly 35,000 copies distributed, it mostly contained routes, gas stations, hotels, and so on. With time, the guide, eventually known as the Michelin guide, gained legitimacy in the food industry to slowly become the hallmark of fine cuisine that we know it to be today. So yes, Michelin tires and Michelin stars are related to each other!
You know, it’s unbelievable how far some companies will go to promote their products. But if what Michelin did wasn’t enough for you, let me tell you what Red Bull did to ramp up demand for their energy drink. As energy drinks gained popularity, Red Bull realized they needed to do something to grab people’s attention, something a bit unusual. To give people the illusion that Red Bull was in hot demand, the company started filling trash bins around London with empty cans of the drink. They also gave free samples to DJs and intentionally left cans lying around pubs, all to give people the illusion that people couldn’t get enough of the drink. And once that gets people thinking, half of the job is done.
They then started wondering what about the drink makes it so seemingly popular, and so they went ahead and tried it themselves. And that is the story of how the advertising of Red Bull gave it wings… oh wait, about that. So you know how Red Bull's slogan used to be that it “gave you wings?” Well, Red Bull does not, in fact, give you wings. Of course, you and I know that.
But the fact that they claim it does was considered deceptive advertising by some customers of the drink. The company tried to defend itself by claiming that while it does not give you wings in the physical sense, it does boost cognitive and athletic performance by way of increased reaction speeds and concentration. However, even these claims were somewhat murky and ultimately did not deter a class-action lawsuit against Redbull. The company paid over $13 million US dollars to settle the case, and allegedly offered $10 dollar checks to people who were disappointed that the drink did not literally give them wings. I am not sure whether to be disappointed that people expected an energy drink to actually give them wings or be kind of impressed that they actually went on with a case like this and actually got some money out of it.
Speaking of energy and concentration, some of us are, well, getting old. And while all that wisdom on Reddit has made us all sages in our own right, our newfound wisdom is showing itself in more than just the memes we share: we’re getting wrinkles.
Now, I know what you’re going to say: self-love is the one true answer, love your imperfections, love your wrinkles, and so on and so forth. But if those wrinkles are indeed bothering you, I have the perfect fix for you. Just do what Anatoli Burgoski did and stick your head into a synchrotron beam. Yes, Anatoli Burgoski, a russian particle physicist was taking the stairs on June 3rd, 1978 on his way down to the U-70 particle accelerator in Protvino, south of Moscow. It was the largest particle accelerator in the world at the time and he was heading down there to fix a simple engineering flaw in the device.
As with any such device, there were multiple safety mechanisms, multiple redundancies to prevent exactly what was about to happen. A series of safety failures led to an unlocked door, one which Anatoli walked through, to a live particle accelerator. Anatoli had trained to rely on the numerous safeties, and since none of them really turned on, he carried on with his work. As he bent down towards the beam path of the particle accelerator to fix it, Anatoli was hit head-first with nearly 70 million electron volts. The particles were thought to have deposited 200,000 rads upon entrance into his head. This hyperstimulated the optic nerve which created a sensation of the brightest light ever, as reported by Anatoli.
It takes 10,000 millisieverts to join the living dead club.
Anatoli had received 3 million millisieverts that day.
Remarkably, however, he did not feel any pain. He tried going on with his day, but as a particle physicist, he knew all too well what awaited his fate was not very pleasant. And in just the next day, his face would swell up, show burn marks, and he would lose in the region where the beam entered. As symptoms worsened, Anatoli was soon admitted to an ICU, with little hope of surviving. But upon further analysis, it was seen that Anatoli had accidentally received a proton therapy, a form of cancer treatment.
That may have been positive news if Anatoli indeed had some form of cancer, but that was not the case.
Regardless, the conclusion from the analysis was that despite the tremendous energy of the beam, most of it was never deposited within Anatoli’s brain. That is of course not to say that it did no damage. Far from it. Even after recovering from the initial radiation poisoning, he kept having occasional seizures and lost hearing on the side. Oh yeah, and half his face stopped aging. Even at the time of writing, Anatoli Bugoski at the age of 79 is very much alive. So, next time you’re at the dermatologist’s for a lift, go ahead and save yourself some money by simply sticking your head into the nearest particle accelerator instead.
But don’t let Anatoli’s symptoms fool you, radiation can sometimes be good for you - just ask the people of Chernobyl… well, some of them anyway. There is a concept in mammalian physiology known as hormesis. Basically, it is the biological equivalent of “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Now, don’t take that statement like gospel just yet. For us humans, it applies to things in small doses.
Perhaps the most commonly known example is that of micro-fractures; if you do high-impact training of some sort, you might cause microfractures on some of the bones in your body. The fractures are enough to initiate healing and repair, but they are usually not debilitating like an actual fracture. Over time, as these fractures heal, they heal back stronger. This process is known as hormesis and this type of a response is known as a hormetic response. Hormesis occurs in many other facets of our lives as well. Some biologists hypothesize that hormesis is exactly the reason why people should eat their vegetables, since vegetables engage a stress response in our body that causes it to fight back stronger.
Cold showers are also another type of hormetic stress. These stress responses are so beneficial over the course of a lifetime that hormesis is now being studied more deeply solely for its anti-aging properties. Now, keep in mind, I said, in small doses. If you run a marathon without any training, your body won’t be in a position to “build back stronger,” even if you manage to slug your way through all 26.2 miles. If you punch a wall so hard that you break your hand to pieces, don’t expect some hormetic response to grow you an extra limb. Not that you should be punching walls, but you get the point.
Now, hormesis is so extensive within our physiology that even low doses of radiation - the poisonous, deadly radiation - have been shown to induce hormesis. People around the world who live near higher, but not extreme, levels of ionizing background radiation, either due to geography or their profession, have contributed to over 3,000 research papers that failed to find any evidence for the harmful effects of radiation under 10 centigrays. For reference, 100 centigrays per year for 7 years would lead to symptoms of chronic radiation exposure, so we are not talking about much exposure here, just a small dose of potentially lethal radiation, no biggie.
The 9,000 or so cleanup workers at Chernobyl were exposed to around 5 centigrays. The rate of cancer deaths among these workers was actually 12% lower than the general Russian population. Twin pregnancies also receive twice as many radio-biological examinations, which is something people are afraid to do due to the radiation involved, but there are studies that show there’s a considerably reduced risk of cancer for twins. Breast cancer rates were also 29% lower for mothers of twins, after being adjusted for age and financial circumstances.
So, there you have it. In a literal sense, what doesn’t kill you, really does make you stronger… or gives you radiation sickness. I guess it’s really just a coin flip.
- MA, MM