My Weight Loss Experiment

This content is sponsored by Flat Belly System.

Over the next three months, I will be attempting to lose weight “the Epicurean way”: while not depriving my body of nutrients or of the pleasure of great food. I’m not obese, just slightly overweight and recently set a goal to attempt to lose about 15-20 pounds in the next three months. I was at 173 pounds last I checked (a week ago at my brother’s house)–however, today I just had to readjust my belt buckle for the first time in years down one size, so I assume I’ve lost a few pounds this week already. I attribute the pounds I’ve lost thus far to Huel, and to Glucomannan (see below).

I love a good challenge, and I love learning new things in the kitchen so I do not feel that losing weight needs to be an austere project–and this is also an opportunity to share my learning adventure with my readers.

Prebiotics and Weight Loss

One of the most complete introductions to prebiotics that I found online is a Guide to Prebiotics and Probiotics for Weight Loss. It cites a study that involved fecal transplant in mice and humans, and showed that transplanting fecal matter from a skinny subject to an obese one will make the obese subject lose weight, and vice-versa. This means that body weight is, to a great extent, a function of the types of microbiology that is found in our guts. If we change the gut flora, the body shape will change.

This is something that I’ve always found intuitive. If we have lots of yeast in our stomach, we will crave more sugar (well, THE BUGS INSIDE US will crave it, but since there are enough neurons in the gut that it has been compared to a brain the size of a cat’s brain, obviously these cravings are passed on to us). And the more sugar we feed the yeast in our guts, the more the yeast in our guts will grow, creating a feedback loop–hence the notorious “beer belly” effect.

The good news is that the same logic applies to bugs that feed on healthy food! Furthermore, we now have evidence that prebiotics reduce body fat in overweight children, and these studies are further reinforced by another study that confirms prebiotic fiber works for weight loss.

Now, I’m a fairly disciplined eater. I do not drink alcohol, and usually don’t have dinner. I have two large meals at breakfast and lunch, lots of yerba maté and other teas during the day, and typically on weekdays I replace dinner with kava. And so my small excess of weight, I think, must be attributed to the gut flora. For all these reasons, I will focus on the gut flora this year, and will also incorporate a prebiotic supplement into my diet.

Pleasure Starts in the Belly – Epicurus

More importantly, I’m changing my diet to feel better. There are studies that show that gut flora also has an effect on moods. As an Epicurean, I’m very interested in how our choices and avoidances affect the quality of the experience of the sentient being. I personally experienced in 2009, and many times after that, the mood-boosting effects of chocolate, durian, and other feel-good foods.

When we’re sick, we feel depressed and lacking energy due to–usually–certain kinds 0f germs or bacteria in some part of our bodies. Similarly there must be bacteria and microbiology that have the opposite effect of lifting us up and healing our moods–and in fact, this New York Times article on microbiota and moods discusses several studies, including one in which mice that were fed certain gut bugs “behaved as if they were on Prozac“, were more chill and relaxed. The article elsewhere says:

It seems plausible, if not yet proved, that we might one day use microbes to diagnose neurodevelopmental disorders, treat mental illnesses and perhaps even fix them in the brain.

For all these reasons, I prepared kombucha and bottled it in four flavors: blueberries, turmeric-ginger, maca-cinnamon-clove and Greek Mountain tea. I also made sauerkraut and kimchi. I won’t share the recipes here because a quick search on google or YouTube will yield dozens of recipes, and it’s pretty hard to mess up sauerkraut.

My Weight Loss Plans

Some of my plans for weight loss include: I will continue to brew kombucha, and make homemade sauerkraut–these fermented foods bring probiotics into the gut. I may even make kim chi from scratch (I’ve done it before). I have miso paste in the refrigerator, and may make miso soups with seaweed and veggies, and I will add more yoghurt to my diet.

As part of my efforts to nurture the right balance of gut flora, I’ve brewed maví at home. This is a homemade root-beer-like beverage that the Tainos of the Caribbean used to make. Today, we brew it with ginger, cinnamon, and I add a little maca to make it a superfood. It’s great for the summer months, and typically enjoyed very cold. It’s naturally bitter, but can be sweetened with brown sugar, agave nectar, or other sweeteners. Lemon water is also recommended for weight loss, as it helps us to feel full, and so is green tea–and I have decaf green tea available to me at the lunch room at work. I’ve been mixing these with yerba maté, which I drink daily.

I must say a word here about Dandy Blend. Dandelion and chicory are both known to be great prebiotics–that is, they are food for the healthy gut flora. Dandy Blend was recommended to me by Jarvis, a friend of mine who delves into live foods from time to time. It is marketed as an instant drink that can replace coffee. People who are trying to overcome caffeine withdrawal might benefit from slowly replacing regular coffee with both decaf and Dandy Blend, which is the best similar-tasting alternative to coffee out there. Another alternative to try is the Teeccino products, which have some of the same prebiotic benefits, and are made to brew and taste like coffee, but are not (in my opinion) as tasty as Dandy Blend.

I wrote a testimonial a few years ago on How I Overcame Caffeine Addiction. I stopped drinking coffee in 2009. In fact, overcoming caffeine addiction is what made me want to detox and delve into the live-foods lifestyle that year. My relationship with my body and with my diet changed completely that year. I unfortunately discovered a few weeks ago that I still have a strong reaction to caffeine to this day. I experienced jitters after drinking a whole glass of Japanese matcha tea, which is otherwise nutritionally dense and good for you, but its caffeine content is comparable to regular coffee! Instead, now I would recommend wheatgrass juice, which is actually very sweet and tasty.

I am incorporating Dandy Blend to my Huel (see below), as their flavor combination is actually pretty tasty!

Pineapples and Juicing

Pineapples (because of their fiber and other nutrients) are known to help lose weight, but only in moderation because of their high sugar content. The so-called pineapple diet is overhyped–in fact, any diet that omits a large variety of the nutrients we need is probably a bad idea. People need a balanced variety of nutrients. Having said that, I love pineapples and am incorporating them and grapefuits into my food plan.

Concerning portion control, I will never forget something that I learned from Chicago food entrepreneur Karen Calabrese, who would form a fist with her hand and say: “This is the size of your stomach! You do not need to eat more than this!”. Karen is an advocate of the live-foods philosophy, which involves juicing fruits and vegetables frequently and never cooking foods. I will never be a raw-foods fanatic, but–since this is a learning adventure–I’ve been juicing kale with fruits. The idea is to make the flavor of the greens more palatable by sweetening them with fruits, juicing or blending them in green tea, yerba maté, or coconut water as a liquid base.

Huel and Glucomannan

I do not believe in using only one method to accomplish anything. One should always have a Plan B, and a Plan C, etc. In addition to the above, I have begun to use a meal replacement several times per week. I recently stumbled upon Huel (which stands for “human fuel”) randomly, and since I had been thinking about losing weight and writing a diet plan blog, I decided it would be a good idea and a fun experiment to purchase one-month’s worth of meal replacement from them. They offer me and whomever I refer a 10$  discount if you use this link.

Huel is convenient and inexpensive. For less than $70 I got pouches of both chocolate and vanilla flavored powder (enough Huel for one month if used daily), plus eight flavor-boosts (which will allow me to try different flavor mixes), two scoops, a shaker, and a free t-shirt. Each meal comes to about $ 1.77 if both scoops are used to make a shake (400 calories), but if one is on a diet one may only use one scoop (200 calories) and one would be paying half the price per meal. The shakes are filling and taste like a yummy cream of oatmeal.

Huel markets itself as a complete and convenient vegan meal replacement product which supplies all the nutrients one needs and is prepared in less than two minutes. From the reviews, it seems that most other people enjoy the flavor as much as I do. I’m fairly good at blending various ingredients to produce the meal experience I’m looking for and–unlike some other weight loss products–it has no caffeine. I have been replacing an average of one (sometimes two) meals per day with Huel.

As for recipes, my favorite thus far has been a combination of Vanilla Huel (2 scoops) with peanut butter, a teaspoon of maca powder, and Ovaltine chocolate powder. This adds a few more calories, but since I’m well below my required intake of daily calories, I do not worry about this. Plus, drinking the same shake every day would be too boring for me, so I will continue to incorporate bananas, fruits, and other ingredients into my Huel shakes.

Initially, at one point I felt awkward not having something to chew, and went and bought Cheetos just for the crunch! I think this is more habit and psychology than the body needing any extra nutrients, since Huel meets all of our nutritional needs. I just wanted something crunchy, but these cravings subsided and I now look forward to my daily Huel fix.

I looked into various weight-loss supplements in pill form, but many of the marketed ones have caffeine, which my body does not agree with. After a few hours of research, I chose Glucomannan in pill form (it’s also available in powder form). It’s the main ingredient in a tuber–a root, a kind of Asian yam–known as konjac which is rich in fiber and expands in our stomachs when mixed with water, absorbing into it much of what it finds in the gastrointestinal tract. Glucomannan is natural, promotes healthy gut flora, helps with bowel movement regularity, and has no caffeine or stimulants. There are numerous educational videos on it on YouTube and much more information online. I take 2-3 Glucomannan pills about 20 minutes prior to each meal, which contributes to a feeling of fullness for a longer period of time. I started on it about a couple of weeks ago.

I’m avoiding exercise, other than long walks, because I do not want to hurt my lower back again. I believe that, with all these various systems in place, I will continue to lose weight.

Mindset

Is there an Epicurean way of dieting? Epicurus’ Epistle to Menoeceus discusses only engaging in luxury dining on rare occasions and deriving pleasure from simple foods daily, and we know from his biography that Epicurus drank plenty of water. He would have also grown up eating the Mediterranean diet, based on geography: lots of fish and vegetables, lots of cheese–another probiotic dish–and only rarely would he have enjoyed meat.

I suppose that mindset (diathesis, or attitude) is important: we should not do this out of self-loathing, and we should definitely take PLEASURE in whatever it is we eat. In my recent exploration of the hygge lifestyle, I quoted this, which still strikes me as good advice (although a little vanity ain’t never hurt nobody):

“It’s never about looking good, it’s about feeling great all year round.”

“You can’t be healthy if you’re always anxious about food, body, and about life in general.”

As an Epicurean, I want to make attempts to keep the dieting from being too austere. I am not interested in punishing myself or feel guilty for what I eat, or engage in any of the unhealthy emotional eating habits that I’ve seen in some of my friends. I want to enjoy simple foods that have good nutritional value and help with weight loss. I will update my readers within three months.

This content is sponsored by Flat Belly System. Thank you for supporting my sponsors!

Further Reading:

Rediscovering Cabbage

Dandy Blend, Instant Herbal Beverage with Dandelion

Teeccino Java Chicory Herbal Coffee Substitute

How I Overcame Caffeine Addiction

Soak Your Nuts: Cleansing With Karyn

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Happy Twentieth! On the Mind-Body Split


This Twentieth message is sponsored by uShip.com, a service that reviews and compares the shipping prices for a customer in order to provide the most affordable freight services. Whether it’s furniture, cars, motorcycles, even pets, uShip will find the most affordable, customized solution. We appreciate your support for our sponsors!

Happy Twentieth to all Epicureans everywhere. On the Redbubble webpage you will now find the Epicurus is my Homeboy T-Shirt. Our friend Jason reminds us: “Images of Epicurus and the early kathegemones (leaders) were incredibly important to ancient Epicurean practice. Jewelry, paintings, sculpture, household object all have been found with their likenesses decorating Epicurean spaces throughout the ancient world. Today, some of those things are harder to come by but we have screen printing to make up for it. If you want to know more about the Epicurean use of images, do check out Frischer’s The Sculpted Word.

Here are some literary updates:

Some of you may remember that Michel Onfray calls Platonism “the great neurosis at the heart of Western civilization“, and he’s specifically speaking about the Platonic body-mind split. Aeon Magazine recently published Women’s minds matter–a very interesting and worthwhile read–which addresses this problem from a feminist standpoint. In it, Sally Davies is the first person that I’m aware of who attacks transhumanist ideology as an expression of an irrational Platonic anxiety about the body. She also challenges Descartes for a similar reason. Concerning Plato, she says:

Since Plato, generations of philosophers have been gripped by a fear of the body and the desire to transcend it – a wish that works hand-in-hand with a fear of women, and a desire to control them. In the dialogue Timaeus, Plato likens the force of his ideal, immaterial forms to a disciplinarian father, imposing order on all this unwieldy material stuff that was nonetheless ‘the mother and receptacle of all created and visible and in any way sensible things’. Here Plato deploys a well-worn technique for suppressing corporeal angst: carving off the mind (rational, detached, inviolable, symbolically male) from the body (emotional, entangled, weak, symbolically female).

Plato’s legacy persisted into the Medieval world, as the split between form and matter assumed the moral complexion of Christianity. Humans were believed to be in possession of an immortal soul, which reason and restraint should shield from the corrupting influence of earthly pleasures. Women and the female body, the presumed targets of men’s sexual desire, therefore bore the semiotic burden of sin. The theologian St Augustine, for example, chastised himself for repeatedly succumbing to lustful urges in his youth, where women ‘found my soul beyond its portals, dwelling in the eye of my flesh’.

Christianity took the Platonic neurosis to new heights. We must not forget that Eve–like Pandora before her–was blamed for all the evils in the world, and that after the primal so-called “fall from grace” she and Adam are imagined as covering up their nakedness out of shame–shame of having a body, of being a natural being.

With the advent of modernity and the Enlightenment, this wish to detach from the material became a self-consciously scientific and rational enterprise. …

No wonder feminist thinkers have been so skeptical about attempts to raise ‘rationality’ above all else. The concept of reason itself is built on a profoundly gendered blueprint. But a surprising rapprochement might be in sight: between feminists who criticise the mind/matter split, and certain philosophers and scientists who are now trying to put them back together. Fresh theories and findings about human cognition suggest that those feminised zones of physicality, emotion and desire not only affect the way we think, but are the very constituents of thought itself.

…  Within a broad church that can be called – not uncontentiously – embodied cognition, a growing number of psychologists, scientists and theorists are approaching mental life as something that is not just contingent on, but constituted by, the state of our bodies.

Further Reading:

Self-Guided Study Curriculum

A Concrete Self

Michel Onfray and the Counter-History of Philosophy

The Sculpted Word: Epicureanism and Philosophical Recruitment in Ancient Greece

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Good Omens: Short Review

Disclaimer: I have not read the book. This is a review of the series adaptation, and is perhaps why I’m not disappointed (as often happens–as in the case of the reviewer from The Humanist) after having read the book first.

I recently finished this series, which is a cross between Monty Python’s Life of Brian and Harry Potter. In the beloved tradition of Neil Gaiman fantasy–which gave us Coraline, American Gods, Sandman, and Lucifer Morningstar–, Good Omens blends technology and magic, ancient mythology and contemporary urban landscape, and re-enchants the world. Good Omens is light and comedic. The storyline is innocent and can be enjoyed by both adults and children.

The official story is about a 6,000-year-old bromance between an angel and a demon who become friends and decide not to take sides in a battle that makes everyone suffer. They instead take sides with each other and with the world. But in reality–and this is what I enjoyed most about the series, and why I love Neil Gaiman’s literary work–Good Omens flips the great cosmic war depicted in the Biblical tradition between heaven and hell and shows how it’s the Earth that suffers for its cause, and that the REAL Armageddon, the REAL cosmic battle is between the forces of THIS world and those of the other, imaginary worlds for whose sake we go to war and cause misery to each other. For this reason, and for its comedic approach to myth, I greatly enjoyed Good Omens.

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How to Eat Breadfruit

If a man plants ten breadfruit trees in his life, which he can do in about an hour, he would completely fulfil his duty to his own as well as future generations. – Joseph Banks, 1769, Captain Cook’s botanist

I recently introduced my readers to this amazing fruit in my last Puerto Rico Travelog. I didn’t know it at the time, but my neighbor–and fellow Game of Thrones and American Gods fan–liked the breadfruit pictures that I took on the island so much that he framed four pictures from my Puerto Rico trip and gave them to me as a birthday gift a few months later!

If you read the Travelog, you’ll learn that breadfruit is contributing in the battle against world hunger in this age of overpopulation. You’ll also learn that it’s very versatile and that it can be roasted, boiled or fried, but in my family we typically boil it and serve it with a little salt and olive oil. It’s treated as a very simple dish, but does not have to be. There are many wonderful ways to treat this fruit. I’ve made breadfruit salad using an identical recipe from the one people traditionally use for potato salad (with some spices and salt, mayo, a little mustard, sometimes apple, and celery seeds!).

My favorite breadfruit recipe these days is a breakfast treat inspired in a West African porridge known as Koko Hausa (which is made from fermented millet). Many people like to add peanut butter to their Koko Hausa. Upon trying this a few times, I realized this is a great idea, and also changed the millet flour to breadfruit flour to make a breadfruit peanut butter porridge. If you have children, make this for them. They will love it! Here is the recipe.

Breadfruit Meal Recipe

Ingredients

  • If you can’t find breadfruits or 2 tbsp of breadfruit flour, you can buy Jamaica Sun Bread Fruit Slices 540g, boil them and mash them
  • Water
  • 1-2 tbsp Peanut butter
  • 1 tbsp Brown Sugar or honey (if your peanut butter is sweetened you can do less)
  • 1 cup (or more) milk, almond milk, or evaporated milk (for a creamier version)
  • (The picture above looks dark because I added Ovaltine for chocolate flavor, which works great but isn’t necessary).

Instructions

  1. Heat up the milk to just before the point of boiling.
  2. Add peanut butter, keep in very low heat.
  3. In a separate bowl, mix 1/4 cup of breadfruit flour with water until smooth; then add to the milk. If you are using the Jamaican canned breadfruit, you must boil them separately, remove from water, and mash them until smooth using either a mortar and pestle or a potato masher, then add to the milk after you’ve added the peanut butter.
  4. Sweeten to taste.
  5. Stir in low heat for a couple of minutes until thoroughly mixed.
  6. Enjoy.

Growing up, I always enjoyed my mother’s cornmeal and oatmeal, and I also enjoyed breadfruit separately for lunch or dinner, and never thought that one could use breadfruit to prepare a yummy, gluten-free breakfast. It’s a good idea, from time to time, to be adventurous, and to take a second look at the foods that we eat and think creatively about them; to take culinary techniques from another continent and apply them to foods from our own. This is how food evolves! If you do try this recipe, or some variation of it, please share your experience in the comments!

Buy Jamaica Sun Bread Fruit Slices 540g

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Ancient Christians, as depicted in Death of Peregrine

The Christian religion has enjoyed hegemony in the West for more than 15 centuries, so it is difficult for many in the modern world to imagine how dismissive many Pagans were of the Christians in the early centuries of Common Era, how ridiculous their beliefs sounded to almost everyone, and how often they were the butt of daily jokes. Their being fed to lions during the earliest centuries must serve as a testimony of how foreign their belief was to the average Roman citizen–for whom it was unthinkable that centuries later, the roles would reverse and the Christians would end up killing all dissidents, and eventually destroying and replacing whatever remained of classical civilization.

It was only through the persistent repetition of their strange beliefs among the people that their strangeness eventually faded. In the past, I discussed how the cult of Antinous was a legitimate competitor against Christianity in the second century of Common Era. During this same century lived the satirist Lucian of Samosata. Among his many wonderful works, we find Death of Peregrine–a biographical account of a “mystic” who enjoyed taking advantage of people’s credulity.

One of the most interesting passages in the work is Lucian’s depiction of the Christians, of their credulity, of how easily Peregrine took advantage of them, and of how they helped him escape jail for having previously strangled his own father.

It was now that he came across the priests and scribes of the Christians in Palestine and picked up their queer creed. I can tell you, he pretty soon convinced them of his superiority; prophet, elder, ruler of the Synagogue–he was everything at once; expounded their books, commented on them, wrote books himself. They took him for a God, accepted his laws, and declared him their president.

The Christians, you know, worship a man to this day,–the distinguished personage who introduced their novel rites, and was crucified on that account. Well, the end of it was that Proteus was arrested and thrown into prison. This was the very thing to lend an air to his favorite arts of clap-trap and wonder-working; he was now a made man.

The Christians took it all very seriously: he was no sooner in prison, than they began trying every means to get him out again,–but without success. Everything else that could be done for him they most devoutly did. They thought of nothing else. Orphans and ancient widows might be seen hanging about the prison from break of day. Their officials bribed the gaolers to let them sleep inside with him. Elegant dinners were conveyed in; their sacred writings were read; and our old friend Peregrine (as he was still called in those days) became for them “the modern Socrates.”

In some of the Asiatic cities, too, the Christian communities put themselves to the expense of sending deputations, with offers of sympathy, assistance, and legal advice. The activity of these people, in dealing with any matter that affects their community, is something extraordinary; they spare no trouble, no expense.

Peregrine, all this time, was making quite an income on the strength of his bondage; money came pouring in. You see, these misguided creatures start with the general conviction that they are immortal for all time, which explains the contempt of death and voluntary self-devotion which are so common among them; and then it was impressed on them by their original lawgiver that they are all brothers, from the moment that they are converted, and deny the gods of Greece, and worship the crucified sage, and live after his laws. All this they take quite on trust, with the result that they despise all worldly goods alike, regarding them merely as common property. Now an adroit, unscrupulous fellow, who has seen the world, has only to get among these simple souls, and his fortune is pretty soon made; he plays with them.

Lucian, in Death of Peregrine

In the end, even the Christians realized Peregrine was a fraud when they apparently caught him involved in some sexual indecency, and decided to take back some of the riches they had bestowed on him (the author simply mentions “property” being disputed), which required litigation in the ancient Roman courts.

The Christians were meat and drink to him; under their protection he lacked nothing, and this luxurious state of things went on for some time. At last he got into trouble even with them; I suppose they caught him partaking of some of their forbidden meats. They would have nothing more to do with him, and he thought the best way out of his difficulties would be, to change his mind about that property, and try and get it back. He accordingly sent in a petition to the emperor, suing for its restitution. But as the people of Parium sent up a deputation to remonstrate, nothing came of it all; he was told that as he had been under no compulsion in making his dispositions, he must abide by them.

Lucian, in Death of Peregrine

The historical facts are as fascinating to me as the pity that Lucian took on the poor Christians and their “queer creed“. Of course, we can’t say that everyone took pity on them, but based on what we find in Death of Peregrine, and based on the fact that Lucian wrote for an audience that was at least educated enough to be able to read in Greek, we can at least say that this is one of the reactions that people of average intelligence in antiquity exhibited when presented with primitive Christians. He also praised them for how well they took care of their own–the queerness of their creed notwithstanding.

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Passive Income Lifestyle – Program Review

I’m near the end of the Passive Income Lifestyle eight-week mentorship program. The goal of the program is to teach us everything we need to know to start earning a passive income, even if we have no experience in affiliate marketing.

Moving from Consumer to Producer

I was drawn to the program after reading (and writing a book review about) Fastlane Millionaire. This book changed my conception of time and productivity. As many of you know, this year I have been focusing my blog content on Epicurean economics. One of my initial concerns had to do with the massive trend in automation of labor. There will not be enough jobs for the human population in the coming years. This will create a huge crisis, but also an opportunity–but only for those who have the foresight to adapt and diligently reinvent themselves! There has never been as much urgency to move from being a worker to being self-employed in one or various side-hustles; from being mostly a passive consumer to being a consumer and producer.

Connecting Epicurean Theory and Practice

I believe that Philodemus’ 2,000 year-old advise in his scroll on property management furnishes valuable Epicurean moral guidance for our times. He encourages multiple streams of income and ownership of means of production. He stresses the importance of avoidance of toil and of associating with the right people. The scroll offers other Epicurean insights into how to maximize a life of pleasure while still being productive and successful in this world. But it’s up to us to connect ancient theories with modern practice. This is part of why I chose to undergo PIL.

What the Program Includes

PIL includes eight weeks of personal guidance from a tried, successful affiliate marketer. Each week includes several hours of content. This involves everything from how to set up websites, make videos, and sales advice. The student learns the proven formulas that are being used by successful affiliate marketers. PIL gives access to a private forum–essentially a community of like minded people–and to resources and affiliate programs that are being successfully used by others. It also gives access to a weekly streamed video chat, and to all the video chats that have taken place in the past. In this way, the student fully imbibes the emerging wisdom tradition around affiliate marketing, sees what’s working, connects practice to theory, and learns from others.

Most importantly, the program helps the student to develop the right mindset, convictions, and commitment to the path to self-sufficiency. Commitment is the key word here. This program is not for everyone. Only people who have ambition and a strong commitment to implementing this path to autarchy (=self-sufficiency) via affiliate marketing will benefit from this program. Students should not join out of curiosity, but as part of a long-term commitment.

The program requires no previous experience building a blog, a website, a YouTube channel, etc.–although having these things will obviously place you a step ahead of the game.

If you dream of the day when you will emancipate yourself from wage slavery and divorce your precious time from toil while still remaining productive and retaining meaning in your life, this program may be for you!

If you are committed to developing the necessary skill-set and implementing a long-term plan to materialize that dream, this program may be for you!

PASSIVE INCOME LIFESTYLE MENTORSHIP PROGRAM

LEARN MORE OR SIGN UP HERE!

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Autarchy Project: Investing in Real Estate and AirBnB

As I said previously, this year my content will focus on Epicurean economics. As part of my learning adventures, every last Friday of the month I’ll be posting “autarchy projects” blog updates to document some of my experiments in autarchy (=self-sufficiency), both from this year and from previous years, and to share some of what I’ve learned from them.

In his scroll On Property Management (Peri Oikonomias), Syrian philosopher Philodemus of Gadara gave a list of means of earning a dignified income. There, he counted real estate among his income priorities:

Nor is it disgraceful to earn an income from properties rented to tenants. – Philodemus, Art of Property Management, Column XXIII

And so naturally I must include real estate in my autarchy projects series. I have had an account with Fidelity for many years. They frequently manage 401K funds for companies, so that people often end up defaulting to Fidelity when it’s time to roll over their retirement accounts. Their website has a great, free Learning Center, where one may learn the basics (and even some advanced aspects) about different types of investment, including basic economics and how to conduct technical and fundamental analysis of a stock. Real Estate was added in recent years as one of the sectors of the economy. Among its learning resources, Fidelity has an archived webinar titled Understanding the impact of the NEW real estate sector, which I watched and strongly recommend. I believe investors should consecrate some percentage (between 10-20 percent) of their diversified portfolio to real estate, and for this there are smart and easy ways of diminishing risk.

Real Estate Investment Trusts

The aforementioned Fidelity webinar focuses on REITs (Real Estate Investment Trusts) as an investment vehicle. These are fairly easy-to-liquidate mutual funds (although ETFs are also available in this class of investment) by which we may invest in real estate without actually owning properties ourselves or having to deal with tenants, leases, building management services, etc. They are great for someone who lacks the time or interest in managing real estate, but they are also a great long-term investment strategy for many other reasons, and entry is easy: the initial investment can generally be as low as $ 1,000 or even lower.

REIT’s are managed by experts who are following all the trends closely. They use many methods to diminish the risks tied to their investments. They frequently choose to invest in commercial buildings whose tenants have 5, 10 or even 20 year-long leases. For instance, large supermarkets or department stores find it very expensive and inconvenient to move their entire infrastructure and inventory frequently from place to place, so they prefer longer leases (which often come with rental discounts). As a result there is low turnover, low vacancy, plus a steady monthly stream of income for investors from rents, which translate into REITs–like funds in the utilities sector–paying frequent dividends that can be reinvested into the fund, or paid out if we need retirement or semi-retirement income. REITs are self-sustaining money trees.

Fundrise for the Long Term

Another highly innovative way to invest in real estate is offered by Fundrise, which offers a unique opportunity because they invest in smaller projects than REITs: these are properties that are typically only available to private equity. In the past, you had to be a vetted investor (aka a millionaire) who knew someone who had access to the investment. It was a very exclusive members’ club. Now, anyone who’s saved at least $1,000 can have exposure to this exclusive portion of the real estate market via crowd-funding real estate investment sites like Fundrise.

One way in which Fundrise manages investment risk is by partnering up with other investment firms which usually take up the bulk of the investment, while Fundrise may invest, say, 30% in a particular project. In this manner, Fundrise ensures that there are other powerful and moneyed players who will defend the interests of investors.

Another way in which they manage risk is by carefully watching the trends in the sector and investing in cities and regions that are experiencing rapid growth, where people are moving in (like the southern third of the U.S.) and new jobs are being created. One of the recent updates I received from Fundrise concerned an investment that unexpectedly yielded 23% within six months: a surprise offer was made that was attractive enough, that it was executed earlier than expected.

The alternative to these funds is personal involvement in real estate investments, which may teach us many lessons and provide us with both semi-retirement income as well as expenses that constitute potential tax benefits, but involves greater time commitment, greater risk, greater difficulty in diversifying, and the potential annoyances of tenants that do not pay, are late in paying, or do not take care of one’s property.

Fidelity does not offer an affiliate program, but if you open an account using this Fundrise affiliate link, Fundrise will waive your investor fees for 90 days.

AirBnB for Supplemental Income

I was under-employed for several years after working for the banking industries as a result of the 2008 banking crisis. I tried many things to make money.

AirBnB is a service that allows property owners to rent their rooms or apartments to tourists or visitors for a night, a week, or other short-term periods. Both tenant and landlord can read the reviews left by others prior to approving a guest/applying for a place to stay, and may also leave reviews after a guest leaves–an online process which replaces personal referrals and builds some level of trust.

Initially, I resisted the idea of AirBnB because I have a small one-bedroom apartment and didn’t want to sacrifice my privacy. However, after a friend of mine needed space to lodge two friends from his home town and they paid me some money for letting them use my bedroom for a weekend, I slept in the living room while they used my room. During their stay, I actually had fun bar-hopping with my guests and friend. After this random house guest experience, I figured that since my financial situation was desperate at the time, I might as well list my unit on AirBnB.

Over the next couple of years, I had all kinds of guests: Australians who were traveling the US prior to attending the Burning Man festival, Chinese students, American students, gay men visiting Chicago for International Mister Leather (and who had loud sex in my room), European tourists, an Indian guy from the Jain religion who came to town to meet a girl for a potential arranged marriage, an American-Mexican couple that took over my kitchen to cook vegan meals every day (at my invitation), and many more guest adventures. Some came bearing gifts. Others took me out for brunch. Most importantly, renting my little room allowed me to make ends meet during the most difficult financial years of my life–plus I met a few interesting people and made new friends.

Eventually, I found a steady job and decided I wanted to enjoy my privacy again, and removed the listing. Looking back, my AirBnB adventures were by far more positive than negative and I would do it all over again, and regret nothing. While AirBnB is not for everyone, this is definitely a useful model by which people can monetize their vacant properties or extra rooms.

Further Reading:

Philodemus, On Property Management (Writings from the Greco-Roman World)

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