Monday, July 28, 2014

The lemming state of mind, or why there's a valuable lesson in "Crossing the Line"

There's an ESPN video about CrossFit called "Crossing the Line" that is circulating the blog/Facebook-sphere. Your reaction to it is, quite possibly, going to be governed by your opinion about CrossFit itself.

If you are a CF hater, undoubtedly you will find something to rant and rave about. "See! CrossFit is dangerous. Women and children (and possibly puppies), are being killed by overzealous, untrained Olympic lifting and crazy gymnastic movements."

And if you are a CrossFit devotee, you may be a little riled. "How dare you, ESPN?! Right in the midst of the CrossFit Games that you are televising, no less! Heresy! Where is your loyalty?"

I'm going to go against the grain a little....

As you may know, I love CrossFit. It changed my life. 

But that video doesn't have me annoyed, feeling defensive or otherwise wound up. I think there is a lot to like about some of it.

As I just recently told you with regard to food choices, I don't think you should be ceding any of your health decisions to others. Sure, get all the good advice you can, but, in the end, whether or not someone else is telling you to eat, or not eat, something, it is going to be you -- You! -- who has to put on the big-boy/big-girl pants at some point and make the call whether a particular food item is going down your own piehole.

Unsurprisingly, I feel the same way about exercise.

Just as it's a bad idea to approach food with the attitude of "Just tell me what to do and I will follow your instructions like a robot," that same mindset is going to cause trouble in a CrossFit gym.

"I'm following a list of rules on The Paleo Diet" teaches nothing but blind adherence to someone else's dogma that may or may not be right for your body.

The same is true of unthinking worship at the altar of CrossFit. "I'm doing whatever the CrossFit trainer says is today's workout even if it hurts me" just may (surprise!) get you hurt.

On that video is a guy who tried to beat his old PR of 30 straight toes-to-bar by doing 40. Not 31, mind you. He wanted to go straight from 30 to 40. In one shot.

If I told you that a guy with a 300-pound max deadlift tried to PR with a 400-pound deadlift, what would you think? "Durrrrr," or something similar, I imagine, right? But this guy is blaming the "culture of CrossFit" at least partially for his resulting injury from the same percentage leap in a toes-to-bar PR attempt. (And I know... he fell on the 31st one, but he was aiming for 40. In his head, a 33% PR seemed just fine, and that's lunacy. And yes, to his credit, he seems to have learned, and changed his subsequent approach to CF).

Look, there's no doubt that the competitive mindset in some CrossFit boxes is greater than others. Hell, I regard the gym that I go to as being full of smart trainers who care about the clients, and, still, I see people trying to do things -- often because their friends are encouraging them -- that are nearly guaranteed to get them hurt. Whether it's trying to do kipping pullups before you have strict pullups, or doing high-speed Olympic lifts even though your body is screaming, "No more!" there are a myriad of ways to royally fuck yourself up in a CF gym.

But a little good sense goes a long way. And that good sense needs to come from you, not anyone else.

Because this is your life, and you're the one responsible for it.

If you get the idea that I am virulently against "just going along" and being a lemming about almost anything, then yeah, you're catching on. And I don't mean contrarianism for its own sake. I mean just simply thinking for yourself. Just because everyone else is doing it makes it neither correct nor appropriate for you.

Something to consider: there is no sport called "High-speed Olympic Lifting" just as there also is no sport called "High-speed Powerlifting." If high-rep/high-speed snatches (or cleans or deadlifts or whatever) leave you in serious pain, this may be a sign that you should sub in another exercise that day. Or maybe always.

An example: I love deadlifts for strength, but I rarely do deadlifts in a metcon. If I try to do them at high speed, I lose the necessary tightness in my abs and lower back and it hurts. In fact, thanks to various non-CrossFit injuries, mostly drumming-related, I often don't use a barbell in a metcon. If I do high-speed overhead work, I leave the gym with an inflamed elbow and in a world of pain. I feel the same way about high-rep pullups for time. I'd rather do weighted pullups with good form for strength.

It's all -- like your food choices, or like, I dunno, life -- a work in progress. You test your limits and sometimes you surprise yourself. But other times your limits rear their ugly heads on what may be a more permanent basis. Maybe, no matter how hard you want it to be otherwise, every time you eat gluten, you feel like shit. I'd suggest maybe permanently backing off the gluten in that instance.

Somehow, though, the ego seems to take more of a hit when the limitation is exercise-oriented, instead of based on food. You see your buddy doing high-rep/high-speed deadlifts with ease in a metcon, but every time you do them that way, you can't walk without pain for three days. The answer really may be that they just aren't your thing, and that you need to sub in something else that will give you just as intense of a workout without the accompanying discomfort.

We aren't all made of the same stuff. That fact seems more palatable to the average person when considering food tolerances, so when your bestie orders double-cheese fries and you're lactose-intolerant and fries always make you feel awful, you have the good sense to pass on that magic. Or if not and you slip up, you "get" that the only person to blame can be found in the mirror. But when your CrossFit friend does 30 butterfly pullups and you don't even have one strict pullup, somehow you still feel the need to try to match her by doing what Greg Everett calls "kipping labrum tears." And then the "fault" lies in the "culture of CrossFit?"

Yes, you should choose your CrossFit gym carefully. Yes, there are all sorts of different skill/competence levels out there amidst the CF trainers in the world. I'm lucky, like I said; our gym is awesome.

You can can still get hurt at our gym. 

Unless it is very (very!) early in your CrossFit "career" when you truly know nothing -- and I'd argue that if you join a CF gym (or, hey, anything else in life...) really "knowing nothing," you should be doing everything you can to catch yourself up to speed with research on your own time -- if you get hurt by pushing far past your limits, the blame for that is on you. Not on the "culture" of CrossFit. Not on your trainer. Not on your friends.

Use your head. Put your ego away. Your successes, and your injuries, are your own. Don't just blindly follow someone else's plan for food, exercise or anything.







Thursday, July 17, 2014

The day white potatoes made my head explode (or: "Usually I'm nicer than this")



Today, the smart folks over at Whole9 decided to modify the Whole 30 to allow for white potatoes.

Cool. I think that unless you have an issue with nightshades, white potatoes can be a fine thing to eat. They are a real, unprocessed food. You might want to use them to carb-load at night after a late-afternoon lifting session, or, on the other hand, you might want to go light on them in general (just like any starch) if fat loss is your goal.

Whatever. It is all a reasonable choice that you have to work through.

What makes me somewhat loony -- and by "somewhat loony" I mean "positively fucking stabby while yelling, 'What the fuck is wrong with you?'"--  is people's reactions, particularly the ones that go something like: "Oh, thank [Jesus, Allah, Baal, Yahweh, Flying Spaghetti Monster, Other Divine Being], I really wanted to eat potatoes."

What?

If you "really want" to eat something, why don't you eat it? Or else decide that you don't really "want" it because it is going to do something bad to you?

We call that "being an adult about food."

In other words, isn't this whole paleo/primal/Whole30 deal an exercise in figuring out how you really want to eat? And I can definitely tell you that it's specifically not a lesson in being a robot who follows orders. We call that "dieting."

And we hate it.

In all seriousness, why are you treating Dallas and Melissa Hartwig like they are controlling your food intake?

You, motherfucker. You're the one doing that.

So grow up and do it.

(And yes, it's fine to look to them -- because they are good at what they do and know their shit -- for guidance and advice, but stop treating them, or anyone else, like puppeteers controlling what you put in your mouth.)


Sunday, July 13, 2014

Shock the monkey




Fifteen minutes.

Alone in a room.

With nothing but my thoughts.

It sounds.... Effing glorious is how it sounds. That's why I meditate. Because letting those thoughts free-flow and, ultimately, spending some time with an empty, less-cluttered mind is liberating, invigorating and helps me focus on what's really important.

But, apparently, there is another point of view. And it's making men particularly look really bad.

I saw this article entitled "Most men would rather shock themselves than be alone with their thoughts," and I initially thought, "Another ridiculous headline that distorts what really happened." So I decided to read it -- y'know, to see what really happened.

The headline was pretty accurate.

It seems that researchers would put a person in a room and tell the person to let his or her mind wander freely. "Think about anything you want for fifteen minutes" was the command. The participants had only one option: administering an electric shock to themselves.

48 people participated in the study, split evenly by gender. Of the 24 women, six shocked themselves -- a number I initially found fairly appallingly high. "That's ridiculous. One-quarter of these women couldn't bear to be alone with their thoughts for fifteen minutes!" I said.

But then there are the men. 18 of the 24 men shocked themselves rather than be alone in a room for fifteen minutes. One guy administered 190 shocks to himself in fifteen minutes.

Go ahead. Read those last two sentences again. And wonder if we are doomed.

Are you kidding me? Is this what we have become in the modern world? It seems that, on average, males are a gender so accustomed to having others amuse us that our brains are now so boring that two-thirds of us can't stand to be alone with ourselves.

Now I realize there are a couple holes in this study. The first is the small number of participants. It could be that this sample of 24 people included a greater-than-average group of dolts on the male side of the group. OK. But how much greater than average could it be? Remember, I think there is a pretty fair point to be made that even the 25% score that the women in this study got is pretty awful. So even if the men were particularly ape like, we should still be collectively ashamed. The second potential hole is that it's possible that if the "amusement" device were changed to a different type of unpleasantness, the women's scores would get worse. Maybe electric shocks just sound more awful to most women than men?

But still.... I think there is a simpler answer: whatever the "real" numbers are, a sizable portion of either gender is so pathetically used to shutting their brains down so something else -- television, video games, whatever -- can provide all their mental stimulation that their brains have atrophied to the point of being so boring that they would rather inflict pain on themselves than be alone with whatever thoughts their stifled minds can create. And most likely, men are significantly worse than women in this regard.

That ought to terrify all of us, because besides meaning that there is a decent chance that the nearest male is a complete moron, it means that maybe we really are headed here.

Ugh. But really, go ahead. Fire up that Playstation. Or maybe you'd just like to press this button instead....







- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, July 4, 2014

"How can I lose body fat?"

I get asked this question a lot at the gym. Someone -- OK, every time it's a woman, because guys don't ask other guys this question for whatever reason -- says, "Hey Steve, I'm eating paleo. OK, I'm mostly eating paleo. I'm doing CrossFit. And I still am still fatter than I want to be. What can I do? I want to lose weight."

I usually quickly clarify that the person doesn't actually care at all about "losing weight." That phrase is a carryover from the diet-crazed age we live in. What she cares about is getting leaner. You know... losing body fat. Looking good naked. Looking good with clothes on. Happy with how she looks.

In fact, the question comes up so much that I can't believe I haven't done this post already.

So let's go....with two caveats:
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Caveat #1:
I don't pretend that this is the only way to lose body fat. There are catastrophically stupid, dangerous and utterly unsustainable methods for doing almost anything in the fitness world. But this method has a few advantages:

--It actually works without endangering your health.
--It won't cause you to lose muscle mass and become skinny and sick. (In fact, it might make your ass look fantastic, but I'll leave that evaluation up to you).
--It shouldn't cause you stress.
--It really isn't very hard to do. It just runs against the grain of the "burn it all off" theory of modern fitness and it's not a "quick fix."
--It lets you live your life and stops an obsession with exercise that is actually counter-productive.

Caveat #2:

Even this simple, safe, natural method can be taken too far. There are all sorts of hormonal** negatives to losing too much body fat. If you haven't read Stefani Ruper's Sexy By Nature, you should. It's an empowering, relentlessly positive and well-informed approach to women's health that I reviewed here. I am going to assume that you really are carrying more body fat than you think is healthy or ideal.
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NINE IDEAS FOR FAT LOSS

1. Sleep more.
I don't mean: "Go to bed 15 minutes earlier sometimes." I mean shut your damn television, computer, iPhone and iPad off long before bed to give your brain a break from flashing lights. I also mean: "Get a lot more sleep than you do now." Seven hours is often touted as the minimum. That's to survive in a reasonably healthy way. If you are trying to get your body's out-of-whack circadian rhythms in tip-top shape for proper cortisol (and other hormone) regulation, you need to do a lot better than seven hours. Start with nine hours.

Yes, nine. And if that's impractical, decide what the best you can do is, and do it. But understand that nine hours' sleep is going to do more for your fat loss goals than perhaps any other single thing. Fall short of that, and this whole plan likely won't work as well.

I also mean: "Get into a rhythm of going to bed and waking on the same schedule most nights." If you want to party like a rock star on weekends (or whenever), fat loss is going to be difficult. And by "difficult," I may mean "impossible."

As one of my favorite philosophers said, "Buy the ticket; take the ride."

2. Eat paleo and drink water.
This should be mostly self-explanatory. Animal protein. Vegetables. Water.

Anything that you add beyond that has the potential to slow/stall fat loss. Carbs -- and this includes fruit -- are tricky. You can eat some, particularly on a day when you either lifted heavy or sprinted, particularly at night on those days, and, even better, within an hour of that exercise session. But go light on all that carb-y stuff otherwise.

If this sounds like "low-carb-ish" paleo and drinking a lot of water, yup. Like I said... it's mostly self-explanatory.

3. Eat to satiety, every single time.
Severe caloric restriction is a signal to your body to store fat. Your body thinks you are starving yourself to death. Stop doing that. Eating until you are full (to satiety) gets your hormonal/fat-storage regulation back where it should be. On the other hand, unlike some paleo folks, I don't think it's necessary to add a ton of extra fat to your animal-protein/veggie meals. But definitely eat fatty cuts of well-raised meat. Cook your veggies in butter, ghee or coconut oil. Fat doesn't make you fat. "Low-fat" foods do that. Fat keeps you full. If you are eating normal portions (enough to fill you up) of animal protein that hasn't been industrially stripped of its natural fat (no skinless chicken breasts, people!), you will almost necessarily get a proper amount of dietary fat into your system. And you will be full, and happy.

4. Stop drinking alcohol.
Or don't do it very much. As little as two or three drinks a week can stall fat-loss cold.

Understand: this is not some arbitrary rule fueled by asceticism. I love alcohol. In fact, I have one drink every day for reasons that have nothing to do with any of this body-comp stuff. But if you are trying to lose fat while drinking any significant amount of alcohol, you will likely be as successful as the guy trying to find an actual rock song at a Billy Joel concert. It ain't gonna happen.

5. Walk. A lot. Outside. Preferably in the sunshine.
 Jason Seib recently wrote that the optimal amount of walking is as much as you can do, and that's also the minimum amount. What he said.

Walking is a low-impact/non-cortisol-creating/low-stress activity that may do more than anything else except proper sleep to reach fat-loss goals. Do it every day. As much as you can.

Conversation I had with my trainer recently:

Me: "I learned on my hiking vacation that all I need to stay fit is to walk every day, lift weights a few times a week and sprint sometimes."
Him: "Yup."

(We're a wordy bunch, I tell ya).

The "sunshine" part? Vitamin D is enormously important. But if the only time you can walk is on a treadmill at night, do it then. Every day.


6.  Lift heavy three times a week.
Presses (bench or military). Squats (front or back). Deadlifts.
Really, those three powerlifts burn more fat than any other. Sure, you can Olympic-lift (snatch, clean, jerk) too, but while those are great fun and good for you, they are speed lifts. The pure power stuff stokes the metabolic engine the most efficiently.

If you are already a CrossFitter or gym rat, this stuff is likely in your repertoire already. If you don't know what I am talking about, go see a trainer, even if it's just for a few sessions just to get the basics down.

You will not "get huge." People who "get huge" lifting weights are following training protocols designed to do precisely that. No one ever accidentally got massive from lifting a barbell. In fact, no one ever thinks they are going to look like Ben Johnson or Carl Lewis from recreational sprinting. Why do people think recreational weightlifting is going to turn them into a freak? It isn't. It is one of the best ways to health and fat loss.

7. Stop doing "cardio" and long "metcons." Do sprint-based conditioning instead. Just two or three times a week.
It is the single biggest myth in fitness -- that long-grind "cardio" sessions are going to "burn" fat efficiently. That stuff creates cortisol, which actually causes fat storage. Sure, do a ton of it, and you may lose some pounds. Often those "pounds" were muscle. But even if they were partially fat, long cardio/metcon sessions are hideously inefficient, like taking four steps forward and three back, when it comes to fat loss. Cortisol is a fat-storage hormone. If it's out-of-whack, it disrupts everything hormonal. You are beating the living crap out of your body in a completely counterproductive manner if fat-loss is your goal and you are doing long cardio sessions to get there.

And I am not just talking about distance running or elliptical machines. CrossFit-style metcons that are more than 12 minutes long get you easily up into that cortisol-creating zone. So yeah, all those "Filthy Fifty" or "Lumberjack 20"-style long metcons? You may love them, but they aren't fat-loss workouts.

Sprints. High-intensity interval training. Short metcons. Two or three times a week. Yes, just two or three times a week. These sessions create efficient fat loss without beating yourself into cortisol production. That other stuff for fat loss? It's like someone trying to run with his or her shoes tied together. There's a better, less-laughable way to get the job done.

8. Lose/manage your stress.
Whether it's by meditation, flotation or some other means, stress-management is vital. You know how I said the "wrong" form of exercise triggers cortisol? Cortisol is a stress-created hormone, so what do you think stress does? Yes, stress makes you fatter. Get it under control. Stop unnecessarily creating it.

9. Throw away the scale (or save it for your next flight).
The only reason to own a bathroom scale is to make sure your luggage isn't overweight. If you think "weight" has anything to do with fat loss, just read this.
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The basics of all this are sleep (nine hours!), food, walking (every day!), lifting (3x/week), sprinting (2 or 3x/week) and stress-management (always!). Chances are that I just told you that, if you want efficient fat loss, you should do something you aren't doing, stop doing something you are doing, or both. Chances are that you hate me for this. I'm OK with that, because I'm not the one who thinks you need to drop body fat. I think the the single most important thing is being happy. If you are happy now, great. Keep doing whatever you are doing. But if you are asking the fat-loss question of me or anyone else, then this is the best advice I have. Whether you want to follow it is your call. Have fun. Be happy.


**Speaking of hormones, if you happen to be on a birth-control pill, it's quite possible that your fat-loss struggles will be more pronounced even when following my advice.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

So you think you want to do a 30-day "paleo challenge," huh? Here's a suggestion.



You have seen the headlines lately: 30-day paleo challenges like the Whole 30 are getting really popular.

And you are thinking about trying it.

Good for you. I think there is a huge value in staying super squeaky-clean with your food for 30 days. When you emerge from that month, you feel great. Then you can then do a little tinkering (emphasis on "a little") over the next few months to figure out how you really want to eat for the long haul -- continuing to feel great, but probably departing somewhat from the super-strict template of the challenge in ways that work for you.

You may recall that one of my favorite phrases is: "I eat whatever I want." For me, that means eating in a way that makes me feel good day-to-day. So, yeah, I'm almost entirely paleo. All my meals start with animal protein, a lot of vegetables, good fats and maybe some fruit. But I also eat a little bit of full-fat dairy and enjoy a non-gluten alcoholic beverage, and every so often (a few times a month) I even eat things like white rice, beans or corn. What I don't ever eat are horrible vegetable oils, soy, grains (other than that occasional white rice) or processed foods. The key for me is not ascetic perfection; it's eating extremely well in a non-inflammatory and sustainable way. So I buy very high-quality animal protein, almost as high-quality vegetables and fruits and try not to ever regret food choices.

And, as a result, I feel good.... Really good.

I assume that's also why you are thinking about doing a Whole 30 or some other similar paleo challenge: you want to ditch the bad food and feel good. For good. Not just for 30 days.

So let me make a suggestion that flies in the face of our "Here! Now!" instantaneous-gratification world: if you want it to last, take your time with the change.

There may be a few tough folks out there who can credibly and sustainably shift overnight from a Standard American Diet (SAD) of Pringles, pizza, KFC and beer to full-on paleo for 30 days, and then comfortably loosen things up ever-so-slightly thereafter to a still-non-inflammatory/non-SAD way of eating that they sustain from there on out.

But those people are really rare.

I'm finding that the most successful paleo transitions over the long haul generally happen a lot more slowly. Conversely, an awful lot of people who do a 100% full-on high dive into paleo straight from SAD-ville end up leaving the paleo way of life just as quickly. They torture the living beejeezus out of themselves by going all-in right away, spend 30 days in that frazzled state, and then party like rock stars once the 30 days are over.

That approach is kind of the exact opposite of "sustainable." In fact, it just sort of sounds like a "diet." And diets suck. And fail.

So what about that 30-day challenge? Didn't I say there was a huge value in it? Yeah I did, but I think that value is best realized when you are really ready for it.

Everyone's different, and every individual is going to have a different struggle with a transition to paleo, but for many of us the biggest hurdle is to stop eating grains. So, a long time ago I did an article called "How to Start Eating Paleo." The point of that one? Take a step-by-step approach. Ditch grains first -- completely. Then, when you are fully comfortable with that change, get rid of something else, like legumes, or dairy, and piece-by-piece over the next few months you will get where you need to be.

Because, yeah, where you want to end up is with 30 clean days, like a Whole 30, after which you can customize paleo to fit your own individual needs. But if you high-dive your way into a Whole 30, I worry that you may leave the program on as dramatic and precipitous of an exit ramp.

Remember, the point of paleo is successfully and sustainably improving your whole freaking life by permanently bettering all of your food choices. A Whole 30 or other 30-day challenge is a nice way to seal the deal on that kind of permanent change, but it probably is more than you can handle right off the bat if yesterday (and all the days before) you were eating like complete crap. If you want your shift to a non-inflammatory/paleo/primal lifestyle to actually last, consider tackling the individual aspects of "getting to" a clean 30 days over a period of time that really works for you.

And that rarely starts by diving headfirst into a 30-day paleo challenge. Work your way into it. Then do that clean 30 days when you're really ready. Not when your friends or your gym tells you to -- when you are really ready for it.



Friday, June 20, 2014

Thoughts from the hiking trail

You may recall that I am out in California on a hiking vacation right now.

In fact, if you follow my Twitter or Facebook feeds, you may even be sick of that vacation by now, what with daily photo updates and the like.

But really, it's eye-opening in so many ways. Yeah, the world is beautiful, and sometimes we just don't notice. Get on a hiking trail in the Eastern Sierras (or anywhere, really) and you can't help but realize that you are just a small part of something much bigger and more amazing than your usual tiny world. And there's also just no better way to bond with your kids -- even if, like mine, they aren't children any longer -- than on a vacation that you are all enjoying together. The conversations with them, whether on the trail or off, have been great.

But I realized a big one about my own happiness too. For me -- and I suspect I am not alone in this -- life is more fun, and I am more content and happy, if I can strike just the right balance between the familiar and the new.

And I realized this all in a moment of particular clarity after multiple days of hiking out here.

See, this is not our first time in the mountains near Mammoth Lakes, California. We have not quite "done it all" in recent years, but we have hiked a wide variety of trails, from Yosemite all the way south to Mount Whitney. So when we return, like now, we don't want to just keep doing the same old stuff, but -- and this is a big but that does not lie -- I have realized that we also need a certain amount of familiarity and routine to optimize the experience.

So this time around we've kind of inadvertently hit the hiking-trail sweet spot in the balancing act between "same old" and "new." There have been some returns to old favorites, as well as a number of hikes that, somehow, we've never managed to get around to previously. But the most rewarding ones have been those that combined the familiar and the original/new/different. We hiked through the Little Lakes Valley -- a spot we've been through every time we have ever been out here -- but this time we decided to go off on a spur trail near the usual turnaround, and we found a deep, clear gorgeous lake that, really, we had no idea was even back there.





We returned to that area a few days later, but decided to head for the wildly unfamiliar -- a nine-mile round trip on a trail we had never ventured on previously up to a glacial cirque in a no-way-out-'cept-the-way-you-got-here dead end. It was gorgeous -- a real life-affirming blast of something new and different, yet actually only a few miles from the familiar hikes of the past.




And then two of us nearly got hopelessly lost on the way back from the cirque and its accompanying crystal clear Tamarack Lakes, teaching ourselves a little about clear-headed thinking and calm under pressure as we backtracked our way to our wrong turn and figured out just how we had turned an easy 9-miler into an 11-mile ball of confusion.

There's a lot of time to think out there amidst two weeks of stomping through the woods, over mountain passes and up to beautiful lakes that the more sedentary among us never will see. And I realized, somewhere amidst all the ebullience and cognition -- and, yes, even while nearly getting dangerously lost -- that the aforementioned sweet spot/balance in familiar and new amidst hiking trails applies to my whole damn life.

The familiar aspects of my life are wonderful, awesome even, but new experiences are cool too. And here is the kicker: the best of all is when I can strike the right balance, or even combine the two -- whether it's fun new experiences with the great people in my life, or doing something fairly routine but with a new twist, like (metaphorically) discovering a lake I've never seen before at the end of a trail I thought I already knew.

Not terribly profound, I suppose, but somehow it took a series of beautiful hikes to sort that one out so perfectly in my brain.

We have six days to go out here. If you're sick of the vacation photos, you have a few more days' worth to sit through. Heh.




- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Vacation

My day-to-day life is great. I have no complaints. I love my job, my wife, my kids, my friends and all the fun that life throws at me.

But vacation is still a huge mental reset from the work grind, and I am craving it just about now.

Good thing for me... a hiking vacation starts tomorrow.

You may recall that epic two-week hiking trip to California that I took a couple years ago with my two sons and our buddy Will.

We're doing it again, with some adjustments.

Only three of us are in on this one. Will is sidelined with a knee injury that has him out of the hiking game for now. His presence will be seriously missed. The guy has singlehandedly taught me how to enjoy an entire hike, rather than just the peakbagging elements of it. He's a Zen-like presence that also comes with one-liners that leave us paralyzed with laughter.

Next time, dude. No excuse will be good enough.

Speaking of Will, I still don't know what's going on in this photo.



We are also not headed up Mount Whitney. I've done that 22-miles-in-a-day round trip three times in ten years, and my sons have done it twice (23 y.o. Kevin) and once (19 y.o. Sean) respectively as well. We decided that we didn't want to spend five days doing super-scientific altitude acclimatization hikes, then a very full day hauling our carcasses up and over that giant hump of rock that we've seen so often before, and then another full day recovering. We'll save all that for next time -- 2016? 2017? 2018? something like that. Will has never made it all the way to the top of Whitney and he has a date to sign the summit register one of those years.

Instead we are focused on an almost entirely new batch of Eastern Sierra hikes over the two weeks that we are out there. Some are in Yosemite, some scattered all around the area served by U.S. Highway 395. All have varying degrees of "epic" written all over them.

But lots of other things will be the same: the same condo rental as last time in Mammoth Lakes, CA; the same frequent trips to Ben and Jerry's, to that crazy Lee Vining (pop. 222) Mobil station with the amazing restaurant attached, to the Base Camp Cafe, and to Black Velvet Coffee, purveyors of the best damn coffee I have ever tasted; and the same great opportunities for bonding with my kids.

Shit, when I was 23 (or 19), the last thing I wanted to do for fun was hang out with my dad. I'm lucky that they feel differently.

So we're off.... Vegas first, for just long enough to wolf down some burgers with my friend Ben, and then get the hell out of town (we do not like Vegas, Sam-I-Am), and then a five-hour drive, including a one-lane-at-times mind-melter over a scary, remote mountain pass, on our way to setting up shop in Mammoth Lakes.

Yes, my Facebook and Twitter feeds will likely be full of two weeks of photos of mountain hijinks.

See you next from the road. The ten-day forecast for Mammoth Lakes:


Friday, May 30, 2014

ApoE, cholesterol and alcohol revisited. An N=1 experiment appears to pay off.



"I'm under doctor's orders to drink every day" -- me, starting in late January 2014.

It's a line that got laughs, especially because, just a little while earlier -- as of early August 2013 -- I hadn't been drinking alcohol at all. (In fact, hell, I was so happy with not drinking that I did a blog post about it).

But then, in January, my visit to the paleo doc revealed a bizarre twist: every available measurement of my LDL cholesterol -- small dense LDL, particle number (LDL-p), plain old regular LDL (LDL-c) -- was up forty percent in just under six months, the same "just under six months" that I hadn't been drinking. It was downright weird, and there was only one thing I could point to as a dietary/lifestyle difference over that time: I had quit alcohol entirely. Everything else was exactly the same. I had been paleo for years without an LDL issue. And these LDL numbers were suddenly high. Very high. I wanted to do something.

So I did some research. Then I did a really detailed blog post about that research. The bottom line of all that reading was that I am in a rare (10% or so) genotype called ApoE-2 which appears to get a (sometimes very significant) lowering of LDL cholesterol from regular consumption of alcohol. The genetics behind all that aren't terribly complicated, but I have laid them all out for you previously in that old blog post so there's no point in repeating it here. Let's just say that when I talked to the doc about my results, we both agreed that an experiment was in order because of my ApoE-2 status. "Have a drink every day -- not three drinks, not six drinks, and not beer because of the gluten... just one drink a day -- for a few months and then we will retest you," my doc said after I presented him with the Framingham Offspring Study. He hadn't heard of it before. "This is fascinating," he said. "Cheers, doc," I replied, and off I went to buy some wine. **

Really. I went straight to the liquor store.

I am not a man plagued by hesitancy.

But when one is non-hesitant and goes from six months of teetotaling straight to daily alcohol consumption, one's body initially gets a little uppity about it and doesn't fully cooperate. My ethanol of choice was either red wine (white wine grosses me out), hard cider (but it gets really sugary and heavy, so not so often), or either whisky or tequila. And, Jesus Christ, my gym performance took a hit for about three to four weeks. I was fairly sure something like that was going to happen -- after all, I was always the guy telling people that if they wanted a cheap way to up their weightlifting numbers, just quit drinking for a month -- so I just accepted the reverse effect as the cost of doing the lipid/alcohol experiment, but seriously... I was awful in the gym for most of February. But my body eventually adjusted. And I started lifting heavier, eventually nailing some deadlift and snatch PRs by the time May rolled around. And I even got back my aerobic capacity as well. But it took some time.

I was also careful not to overdo things in the alcohol department. So yeah, from late January to late May (now), I had one drink every day. There were also maybe at most a handful of two-drink nights, and I think one or two three-drink evenings, but never more than that. In other words, I never got anywhere close to drunk. I also doubled down on my mindfulness practice during that time. One of the things I really don't like about alcohol is that its depressant qualities can make me think more gloom-and-doom/catastophically than usual. I can get into a sludgy/discontented mental haze if I am not careful. So, knowing that going into this thing, and also realizing how much I dug the "clean" feeling of the six months of teetotaling, I decided that I was going to do my best to meditate every day. Sometimes that was straight-up stare-at-the-wall Zen meditation. Other times I would get out my EmWave2 and work on cognitive training via heartrate variability. But, no matter what, I tried to be really aware that if I was going to pour in some ethanol on a daily basis as part of a "health" experiment, I needed to take extra care to manage my mind and mood.

So, you ask, "What was the result of this lipid/alcohol experiment, Mr. Drummer?" Well... I had blood drawn last week and just got my results back. My first worry was that daily alcohol might somehow screw something up, but no. My HDL is still high, my triglycerides low and every marker of inflammation is lower than ever (and they were already great). Paleo for the win. But, even better, LDL -- in all its permutations, most notably the scarier measurements of LDL-p and small dense particles -- went down to levels even slightly better than I had gotten in my August 2013 tests. In other words, four months of daily alcohol for this ApoE-2 guy and I completely reversed the 40% LDL increase that almost six months of teetotaling had caused, and then I even did a little better than that.***

So now what? It seems pretty clear to me that I get a lipid-profile benefit from a little daily alcohol and that that same alcohol does not cause me an inflammation issue. The most interesting remaining question is whether that benefit has peaked and it is now just a matter of maintaining my current status, or are my current numbers merely a snapshot of today and am I still actually improving? For now, I am willing to say a big "Who cares?" or "Time will tell." In the meantime, it's Genetic Mutant Happy Hour for this ApoE-2. Cheers.

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**I can't overemphasize that this advice would not be given to most of you. As that previous blog post underscores, I am in a 10% genotype (ApoE-2) where the Framingham Offspring Study indicates that alcohol consumption significantly lowers LDL (for men; women are not so clear). No other genotype gets that benefit, and ApoE-4s actually end up with higher LDL if they drink alcohol (and there are more ApoE-4s out there than ApoE-2s, if you were wondering). The point of this footnote: I am a genetic anomaly with regard to this, and you probably aren't. Sorry. You'll have to take solace in the fact that you are probably younger and quite possibly better-looking than I am.

***By the way, don't interpret this post as an acceptance of the notion that high LDL, especially that standard LDL-c measurement that often is the only one you ever get on your standard blood tests, equals a health problem. I am a firm believer that low-inflammatory/low-stress eating/living is the most important factor in health. But very high measurements of LDL-p and of small dense LDL particles are at least minimally correlated with cardiovascular problems. When I got measurements like that in January, I decided it was time to try an experiment, even though my other cardiovascular risk factors are very low (low triglycerides, low inflammation, high HDL).

Friday, May 23, 2014

#100HappyDays: silly fluff, or a secret Zen trick?

Mostly it struck me as a pretty ridiculous idea.

I got an email about something called #100HappyDays. The idea was to "be happy for 100 days in a row." And to prove your commitment to the venture, the email said that, for 100 straight days, you are supposed to post a reference to a thing that made you happy that day to Facebook, Twitter or both -- preferably with a pic -- with the #100HappyDays hashtag.

Apparently 71% of people fail the challenge because they "run out of time." That stat alone made me want to participate just as a matter of Henry-Rollins-esque personal discipline. "For fuck's sake, people...." I crabbily crabified (yes, I just verbed), "I will defeat you, you 71% of weak-willed individuals who probably would also fail a paleo challenge on Day One crying into a slice of half-eaten pizza. Bring it on, happymeisters!"

So I signed up, citing Facebook, specifically the Paleo Drummer FB page, as my platform of choice,  checking off "curmudgeonly bastard" as "occupation," and providing "defeating the weak-minded" as my "reason for joining the challenge."

Let's say that my participation did not indicate that I was really sold on the actual concept.

I mean, come on now.... happy for 100 days in a row? I took it, at first, to mean 100 consecutive days of answering "Yes" to the question: "Did you have a good day today?" And that seemed preposterous.

Let's be clear: no adult human being has a predominantly good day 100 days in a row, unless you define "good day" as "still alive" and "bad day" as "dead." Even if your name is Happy McHappyson, and you live with your happy family on Happy Street in Happy Valley, you cannot string 100 mostly good days in a row. Something is going to screw that up.

And then I had one of those not-so-happy days, and, somewhere in the midst of competitively refusing to fail the challenge and posting some small tidbit of a scrap of something (a dog walk, I believe) that actually brought me joy on my otherwise craptastic day,  I suddenly "got it":

The #100HappyDays challenge isn't about actually having 100 great days in a row. It's not even about the personal discipline of invoking your inner Rollins to follow through on a commitment for 100 days in a row. It's about finding the joy in life, even on a lousy day.

Especially on a lousy day.

See, my life is pretty great. And sometimes I think that spoils the hell out of me and I let the dumbassery of the modern world drag me down too easily. And this silly, even seemingly inane, little "challenge" has done its bit to change that. Because at some point every day (if nothing else to avoid failure -- because failure will not happen... we're clear at least on that, right?) I have to search the memory banks for something cool that happened that day. Most days, it's easy. Like I said, my life is pretty great. I have a job I like, a family and friends that I love, and, most days, finding something "fun" is like shooting fish in a barrel. Until it isn't. It's on those days that I truly love this goofy little exercise.

It's yet another Zen spin on "perspective." And there may be nothing more important than perspective.














Sunday, May 11, 2014

Maybe, just maybe, sometimes some of us are a little out of hand? (Sunday night thoughts and rambles....)

By and large, I don't do a lot of paleo "stunts" or "bio-hacks" (or whatever the going phrase of the day is), but I do dabble in a few of them. You know... eating/drinking excessive amounts of _____ because, you know.... If a little bit of ____ is good for us, then a whole giant effing boatload of it must be the key to general awesomeness, right?

Right?

I am beginning to wonder.

I had an interesting conversation today with a regular reader of my Facebook page. He showed me an article that wasn't a hit-piece on paleo by any means. But it was questioning a common breakfast-y trick that he and I both do pretty often. And I don't want to pick on any one stunt, so I am not going to name it, but let's just say that it necessarily involves me consuming a quantity of butter and coconut oil that is just not "normal" in any sense of the word.

And I got to thinking: if all (ok, most) paleo folks who are "in the know" shun exercise-y things like steady-state cardio at overdone durations that most of our ancestors just wouldn't have done, why are sizable numbers of us seemingly overdoing it in certain areas of the food/drink department in ways that said ancestors wouldn't have embraced either?

On one hand, I fully agree with the standard paleo dogma that says that, for instance, the government recommendations/warnings on saturated-fat intake are comically overblown, and probably even dangerously low. But is it possible that some of us are going overly wild in the opposite direction by doing things like adding fat in such quantities to our food on a daily basis that we have surpassed any reasonable levels that our ancestors would have regularly eaten?

I don't know. I really don't. I am not a paleo professional. But I am wondering about it out loud, anyway, because as I consumed a fairly obscene chunk of butter this morning in just a few minutes, there was a thought that consumed me: "Who the hell actually did this every morning in the paleolithic world?"

While I firmly reject the mantra of "moderation in all things" because some "things" (modern wheat and industrial seed oils, for example) are just spectacularly bad for you in any quantity let alone "moderate" ones, could it be that the time-honored path of The Middle Way applies, generally speaking**, to "the good stuff" in our paleo template?

It's just a thought, and I think I am going to follow it to see where it goes for a little while, because The Middle Way always gets my head in the right place, and it works pretty damn well for my exercise regimen too. Could it be that, dietarily speaking, there is a Paleo Middle Way that can be even better for my body than the Paleo Plus Stunts approach that I have been doing?

Time will tell.


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**Note that I say "generally speaking." There are very good reasons (brain injuries and the like) why more extreme paleo templates are necessary for some folks.