The 10% Solution For A Healthy Life, Chapter 9: The Kurzweil Challenge–Ten Easy Steps

March 6, 2002

The Challenge

Suppose I would like to give this life-style a try, but am not quite sure that I’m ready to make a lifetime commitment. What do I do?

I would suggest taking the Kurzweil Challenge. Trying a diet that follows the guidelines of the 10% solution for a single meal, or a day, or even a week, does not represent a fair trial. If you have grown up on the Western “civilized” diet, then you need to allow sufficient time for your tastes to change. Otherwise, you will gain a false impression of what this life-style feels like.

Or tastes like.

The same can be said for exercise. If you’re out of shape and begin a walking or other aerobic exercise regimen, you may find it exhausting and feel some discomfort in your legs. But once you’re in shape, the experience of regular aerobic exercise is quite different. It is invigorating and certainly not uncomfortable.

So how long is a fair trial?

Two months, which is enough time to experience at least some of the phenomenon of having your tastes change. It is also sufficient time to experience many of the immediate benefits, as well as to obtain significant progress in weight reduction, if that is an issue, and improvement in blood lipid levels.

Drug Dependencies

The first step in the Kurzweil Challenge is to deal with any drug abuse or dependency problems that you may have. This includes alcohol abuse, any use of cigarettes or any tobacco product, abuse of caffeine, any use of illegal drugs, and abuse of prescription drugs. It would be difficult to make progress in improving the healthfulness of one’s life-style while continuing a destructive habit or pattern of this type.

Do you mean that there is little value in improving one’s diet if you have a drug dependency problem?

There is unquestionable value in replacing the toxic American diet with a healthful diet under any circumstances. At the same time, it would not make sense to ignore a habit as destructive to health as smoking or abusing alcohol or other drugs. In many of these circumstances, it would also be difficult to establish the necessary discipline to make a life-style change without also dealing with a substance dependency problem.

How do you suggest solving problems of this sort?

That is a complex issue and not the primary focus of this book. For many of these substances, overcoming a pattern of abuse can be far more difficult than making the change in eating patterns that I’ve discussed. In general, one needs the assistance of trained professionals, particularly in the case of abuse of alcohol and other drugs. For alcohol, Alcoholics Anonymous has an impressive record. There are also numerous clinics and treatment centers that specialize in problems of alcohol and drug dependency. Many hospitals offer smoking cessation programs. There are many commercial products that purport to assist one in ending the use of cigarettes, although the effectiveness of many of these products is questionable. In general, the assistance of another person or organization who has the appropriate training and experience is key to making this type of change.

All right, what’s step two?

Consult Your Physician

Step two is to have a full physical with your physician and to discuss the program you are embarking on, including the exercise. He or she will bring to your attention any special health problems you may have that you may need to take into consideration. In particular, if you have heart disease or angina pain, your exercise program needs to be carefully monitored; otherwise it could be dangerous. Exercise is still very important to improve your health in this situation, but it will require careful, professional supervision. If you are taking medication for diabetes or hypertension, this program of diet and exercise is likely to enable you to cut down substantially or eliminate these medications. But this has to be done gradually, as the underlying diabetes or hypertension improves as the result of these life-style changes. Any changes in medication need to be supervised by a doctor.

Note on your baseline record any special health problems that you have.

What if my doctor is not supportive of the type of life-style change?

If your doctor has specific concerns regarding any special health issues that you have, then these certainly need to be taken into consideration. If your physician is cool to this type of dietary and life-style program because of ignorance on his or her part, then that is another matter. Although doctors have, up until recently, received relatively little, if any, training in nutrition, there is a rapidly growing awareness in the medical community of the crucial role of nutrition and other lifestyle factors in the formation of disease. It is important that you have a doctor who is aware of these issues and who is willing to discuss them with you. There are a growing number of doctors with enlightened attitudes on these issues. If you are not satisfied with your physician’s understanding of these matters and willingness to discuss them with you in a constructive fashion, then you could consider finding a door that is informed on these crucial issues. It is your responsibility to select your physician and it is an important decision that deserves thought and attention on your part

Baseline Measurement

The third step is to establish a baseline. Use a copy of the Baseline Chart in appendix 3, “Charts for the Kurzweil Challenge,” to record your current blood levels, physical measurements, and feelings. Three months from now, you will write down the same figures and observations and compare.

To fill out this chart, first have your doctor measure your total serum cholesterol, HDL level, triglycerides, and glucose. Also get the standard biomedical battery of blood tests to screen for kidney, liver, and thyroid problems. It is important that you obtain an HDL reading, which is not always measured with total serum cholesterol. Also note your blood pressure. Have your doctor give you all of these figures, as opposed to just telling you that “it’s okay.”

Next, measure your weight and compute your percentage of body fat, using the tables in appendix 4 of this book. You may also wish to record your chest, hips, and waist measurements.

Write down all of these figures. Also, write down how you feel. How well do you sleep? Do you have any aches, pains, discomforts of a minor or major nature? Describe the state of your gastrointestinal system. Try to characterize your mood and outlook. These are admittedly subjective issues which are difficult to describe. They are, nonetheless, quite relevant, and it is worth recording these observations as best you can. If your outlook or sense of well-being changes, it will be gradual, and you may not remember how you felt when you began this process.

I thought you said two months.

We’re going to be making a one-month gradual transition. Then there will be a full two-month trial.

Monitoring Current Life-style

For step four, we are going to spend about a week just monitoring your current life-style, while you learn about the issues we have been discussing. Each day, write down your calories and fat grams consumed and calories expended in exercise. Use a copy of the Weekly Chart in appendix 3, “Charts for the Kurzweil Challenge.” Review the material in this book and begin to increase your consciousness of the nutritional composition of the food you are eating, particularly its fat content. Note which foods are high in fat and which are low. Note to yourself foods low in fat and cholesterol that you enjoy. Mark a date on your calendar that is about a week after the day you start tracking your food and exercise. That is the date you will start making a change.

So I change my diet and exercise pattern on that day.

Yes, but gradually. Step five begins on the day you have marked. We now begin a three-week period of gradual change from your current pattern to the 10% solution. Begin by eliminating high-fat foods that are easy to do without. For example, you can replace ice cream with non-fat frozen yogurt or sorbet. Start to emphasize those low fat foods that you normally eat. Look around for foods that you enjoy that comply with the guidelines. You will be surprised to discover that this is easier than you may expect. Many people have reported to me that making this change was easier than they had anticipated. Indeed, that was my experience.

Similarly, gradually increase your aerobic exercise until you are exercising four to seven times per week for forty-five minutes or more per session (as long as your doctor feels this is appropriate for your condition). Don’t strain yourself; your capacity will grow naturally.

If you are overweight, then reduce calories to at least 500 below your maintenance level (see tables 1, 2, and 3 in chapter 5), but don’t go overboard on calorie restriction or you will find the experience too difficult. Our primary goal here is to change your diet in a way that you find rewarding and satisfying. Weight loss will occur naturally and gradually. It is difficult to remain overweight if you are eating a diet that is very low in fat. Do not make weight control your primary goal, but it will happen anyway.

Try to do better each week in terms of reducing fat, cholesterol, and sodium and increasing complex carbohydrates and fiber. It is important to continue to write down food calories, fat grams, and calories expended in exercise each day so that you can monitor your progress. While you are making this gradual transition, you are continuing to explore and learn the wonderful world of low fat foods.

Step six, I assume, is to make the full change to the 10% solution.

Two-Month Trial

Yes, after the three-week transition in step five, above, you now begin the two-month period in which you follow the guidelines strictly. You have spent about a month exploring different foods and gradually changing your eating and exercise patterns. Now you are going to give the program a fair two-month trial. I will note that it is possible to skip step five and make a sudden transition. Some people prefer to make the change quickly and then get used to it gradually. Personally, I adopted this way of eating in one day and have never looked back. But most people prefer to have a period of gradual transition. Use copies of the Weekly Chart during this period to monitor your progress and to be sure that you are following the guidelines until it becomes second nature.

What about exceptions? If I blow it, do I have to start over?

The issue of backsliding is a crucial one. Unfortunately, we live in a society that reinforces its unhealthy way of eating with a continual stream of powerful messages. You probably don’t have to walk more than a few dozen yards to find some reinforcement of the American way of eating. Once your new habits are established, you will not find this a difficult life-style to maintain, because the way you feel will be self-reinforcing. But at this stage, you are indeed vulnerable to backsliding.

A firm commitment to at least giving this a fair trial is important to succeeding. If your attitude is that you are going to allow yourself occasional exceptions (e.g., “I’ll just have rich desserts on the weekend”), you will actually make it more difficult for yourself, not less. You will continue a mind-set that indicates that what is really good is the type of food you are trying to get away from, and that this new approach is just an extended period of deprivation. Most important, your tastes will never change. It is like someone who is trying to stop the use of cigarettes by smoking only a few cigarettes every weekend. That is just not a fruitful approach to changing one’s habits. If you are strict about this for a period of time, your tastes will change, but you have to give them a chance. That is, after all, why you are embarking on this two-month trial, to test my assertion that this phenomenon really does occur.

And if I do backslide nonetheless?

Just carry on. You don’t have to start over. Your daily record will indicate how well you are doing. If you are really not achieving 10 percent calories from fat, then you may want to extend the two month period so that you do achieve two months reasonably close to this goal.

Remember that the number of grams of fat you can eat should be about 1.1 percent of the number of calories you eat. For example, at 2,000 calories per day, 1.1 percent equals 22 grams of fat which represents 10 percent calories from fat.

At this point, we’ve made the change, so what’s next?

Progress Measurement

After two months of reasonably careful compliance with the guidelines of the 10% solution, you move to step seven, where you make another assessment. Write down again (using the Progress Chart in appendix 3) all of the measurements as well as the subjective issues that you recorded in your baseline record. This means having your doctor measure again your total serum cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, triglycerides, glucose, other blood levels, and blood pressure. Record your weight, compute and record your body fat percentage. Note again how you feel–changes in sleep patterns, aches and pains, the state of your gastrointestinal system, and so on.

Note improvements by comparing the baseline chart to the progress chart. Have you lost weight? Have your cholesterol levels improved? Blood pressure? Are you sleeping better? Do you feel better? If you had significant health issues such as angina pain, type II diabetes, or hypertension, have you and your doctor noted improvements in these conditions?

Do you perceive improvements in alertness from the increase in oxygenation of the brain that a lower-fat diet provides? Is your gastrointestinal tract happier? Are you more regular? Has your complexion improved?

How do you feel about the fact that this type of diet dramatically reduces the risk of heart disease, stroke, and the most common forms of cancer?

How have your tastes changed? Two months is not enough time to fully experience this phenomenon, but some of your tastes and attitudes toward food will have altered in this time period. Have you found foods that you enjoy? Is the diet satisfying? Are you ever hungry?

I cannot fill out this chart for you. But if you are like most people who have given this approach to diet and exercise a legitimate chance, you are likely to have noted dramatic improvements in many of these areas. But you make the assessment.

Permanent Commitment

Step eight is to consider a permanent commitment. You have already taken the most difficult step, which is to actually change your pattern of diet and exercise. But you have not yet taken the most important step, which is a lifetime commitment to the 10% solution. You should have experienced enough of the benefits by this time to assess its beneficial impact on your life. But two months is not long enough to firmly establish new habits. The benefits you have experienced will rapidly vanish if you revert to an unhealthy pattern. They will be permanent only if the change is permanent.

Another Assessment

Assuming you make this commitment, the ninth step is to make another assessment after another nine months. Use a copy of the Progress Chart in appendix 3, “Charts for the Kurzweil Challenge.” The improvements that you probably noted in your cholesterol levels and in other manifestations of your dramatically healthier patterns of eating and living are not fully reflected after a two-month period. For example, we have substantial cholesterol stores throughout the body which take time to draw down. You are likely to experience further improvements in your overall health after this additional period of time.

That’s only nine points. What is the tenth point?

Write the Author

The final step is to write the author.

That’s you.

Yes. I would be delighted to hear about your experience and add it to my growing file of people who have dramatically improved many aspects of their health and well-being. If you are comfortable sharing your baseline, two-month, and nine-month charts, that will add to my knowledge base. I will keep the information in confidence and use it only for statistical analysis. Any additional comments will also be appreciated. Please send the material to Raymond Kurzweil, care of Crown Publishers, Inc., 201 East 50th Street, New York, New York 10022. Note that I will not be able to respond personally to each of you.

What would you say is the key to your ten point program?

The key is commitment. If your resolve is strong, it is easy. Otherwise, it is very difficult. There is just too much continual external reinforcement in American society of the wrong way to eat, not to mention the subtle though powerful media campaigns encouraging smoking and drinking. The reinforcement to maintain a healthy lifestyle has to be internal. You are likely to gain this motivation if you give the program a chance. Then it becomes self-sustaining. That is why I structured an approach incorporating a two-month trial. That is enough time to begin tapping the internal reinforcement you need to sustain this program.

And that is also why I have written this book, to provide the perspective on how profound a contribution we can all make to our own health and well-being.