A left field entry about diets, hair loss, and transformations

Almost all diets fail. The force of will of most human beings is no match for bodily urges and the peculiar design of the brain, which, because of the relative sizes of the adrenal glands and frontal lobe, is much better at giving into instincts than foreseeing consequences ahead of time. Diets also, by and large, aren’t even meant to make their would-be adherents thinner: They’re meant to separate them from money as well as from free time that could be devoted to so many other projects. The opportunity cost of a diet is immense, as Melissa Fabello once argued in her polemic against diets as tools of capitalism.

My own experience: Diets
Dieting never occurred to me until I was 25, at which point I had gained almost 40 pounds from the baseline weight I had maintained for almost a decade. My gain started sometime in 2009, when I was 22, not long after I had resumed taking Prozac and finished my degree.  I am not sure if any of these events were related but I do remember eating much more regularly than I had before, when I routinely slept until noon and didn’t eat anything until dinner.

2009 was also the first time I noticed a difference in my hair pattern, namely thinning near the temples – “noticed,” because it’s possible that these characteristics had emerged much earlier and I had simply not noticed due to the length of my hair between about 2003 and 2008. I am blonde and sometimes let me hair grow out a lot because it looks shorter than it really is. Looking back through Facebook albums, I can see that distinctive receding temples + prominent window’s peak pattern throughout 2009.

In mid-2011, at my sister’s college graduation, both my weight and my hair had further deviated from my the norms of my college and high school years. I neither noticed nor cared, though, which seems so strange in retrospect. I remember getting comments about my face being fuller one Christmas, but overall it felt like there wasn’t much changing except that I wore different (larger) pants and kept my hair shorter. Much of my time then was consumed with finding work.

A year later, I finally decided to change course because I was feeling sluggish a lot, perhaps from being sedentary at both my job at the time and spending too much time on the Internet at home. I started a VERY simple exercise at-home exercise routine that consisted of:

  1. Elevated pushups (with my feet in a large box full of clothes, so that my entire body was at an angle)
  2. Squats, being sure to go below parallel (agonizing at the time, but seems like second nature now)
  3. A sort of modified sit up, with one leg arched and the other flat, using the chest to lift the body partially up toward the ceiling

That was it for the first few months. Eventually I made some modifications:

  • I got a pair of pushup handles for $3 from a store in Philadelphia one Christmas.
  • I obtained a pull-up bar from Marshall’s and purchased some gloves from Nike so that I could avoid callouses
  • Finally, I picked up a 15-pound kettle weight, also from Marshall’s
  • With this new gear, I added pull-ups and one-legged bar pushups (replacing elevated pushups) to my workout.

I did all exercises at home and did a few walks. The entire regimen cost me maybe $40 between 2012 and today, about $1 for every pound I lost.

I changed what I ate too, although I did not do anything radical. I basically just:

  • Stopped eating cereal for breakfast every day
  • Replaced chips, pretzels and cookies with grapefruits and cucumbers as snacks
  • Switched to stevia from sugar in coffee, tea, etc.

For me(n), it seemed like curtailing sugar intake was the single most substantial dietary change. Everything else was secondary. I still ate lots of high fat food like hamburgers and fries but continued dropping weight.

I am not sure if my advice or case has relevance for the general population. I had always been thin and perhaps had changed body type during an anomalous and tumultuous period in my life (post-college, on antidepressants, etc.) that eventually subsided and allowed me to regress to my personal mean.

My own experience: Hair
Now back to hair. If there’s anything dieting and hair loss mitigation have in common it’s that they feel like – and often are – impossible battles. How many billions (trillions?) have been sunk into dieting and hair loss “solutions” over the years?

My hair seemed to thin out some from 2011-2013, perhaps from stress and MPB. There’s some of the latter on one side of my family but my case, if indeed I have it, seems mild so far. I noticed some temple thinness in 2009 and what seemed like a larger forehead sometime in 2013, when I was in Iowa at a casino on the night of my wedding.

The pattern for me is around the temples but doesn’t seem to affect the crown. The first particular action I took to see if I could re-thicken my hair was to use a Bosley regimen of shampoo + conditioner + thickening treatment. It seemed so-so: Most of its power, I think, came from the sheen it gave the hair after step 3 (the thickener).

In late 2014, I began taking saw palmetto supplements as well as biotin. The saw palmetto is a tree that grows in Georgia and Florida and produces a fatty fruit. It was apparently widely used in Native American medicine and has been compared to Propecia because of its apparent usefulness in treating prostate inflammation. Biotin/vitamin H is a B-vitamin that is supposed to help with protein structure for hair and nails.

Disclaimer: neither saw palmetto nor biotin is clinically proven to have any effect, positive or negative, on hair. Maybe it’s a placebo effect, but I do feel that 6 months of taking the saw palmetto has made my hair…fluffier? It’s hard to describe. I had a lot of hair in the front and center of my head, so maybe the active mechanisms had something to work with.

I also used a shampoo made with Dead Sea minerals, called Premier. Apparently it oxygenates the hair follicles by opening up the pores on the scalp. I cannot speak to its power yet since I haven’t used it for that long, but I like the texture it is creating so far. Overall I am happy with my hair in 2015. It looks a lot like it did in 2009, for what that’s worth.

All of this is needlessly vain, I realize. The “advantages” of being thin and full-haired are often touted by industries staffed by people who are neither. Much of the allure of both traits is just that: A temptation to spend a lot of money on dubious “solutions” that cannot deliver on their promises.

I once read a great Quora post about how the past was the scarcest resource in the world. Nostalgia alone fuels the high prices of everything from New York real estate (“[famous person] lived here a long time ago!}) to hair transplants (“I can look like I did when I was 25 again!”). It’s so true. Dieting and hair restoration are both, more often than not, presented as tickets to a glorious past, a youth that was actually the product of nothing more than metabolism and genetics.

However, I do think it’s possible to go a journey by fighting the uphill battles against dieting and hair loss. I see no inherent virtue in being thin or having a full head of hair (these are such shallow, stupid criteria on which to judge anyone) but sometimes the experience of trying to reverse one’s current state – to simply snap out of whatever the daily norm and routine has become – can be a powerful learning experience and the fuel for personal transformation, not matter what the results.

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