Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Band camp, Volume 26

I am not a person particularly bound to tradition. But there is one huge exception: band camp.

I've written about it before: a group of us gets together once a year in a cabin, in either New Hampshire or Maine, and we play music, eat and drink.

And next week's edition, which starts Thursday and runs through Super Bowl Sunday, is Year 26, which means that band camp has been going on now for over half my life. There is simply no other "tradition" in my world that has lasted anywhere near that long.

So the playlist is set -- heavy this year on lots of "Americana" (you know, Neil Young, the Band, Little Feat, etc.)-- and the players are ready, this time with three legitimate vocalists, two of whom play guitar, and a pretty badass rhythm section, if I do say so myself, of me and my brother (who made the switch from lead guitar to bass a few years back). And then there are the, er, less legitimate, but still fun, vocals that happen when a less-frequent vocalist grabs the mic and lets it rip.

Oh yes, Year 26, you're looking pretty awesome. Let's go.

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Monday, January 21, 2013

Tommie Copper update, thanks to the mailbag

A reader asked for a Tommie Copper update. Here you go: I still like my TC elbow sleeves a lot. I *have* changed the way that I use them, though.

Because they are a lighter form of compression than most standard sleeves, you can use them many hours a day. I have found, as I am closing in on ten months since surgery that I don't really need them during the day, unless I am working out, in which case I tend to want something a little more hardcore, like a more standard-issue sleeve (mine is a silver/black Adidas one; my volleyball captain (totally serious): "Did you wrap duct tape around your right arm for a reason?")

But I still wear the TC sleeve to sleep in. In fact, I will often put one on my left elbow as well (a mighty sexy bedtime image, I know; try to stay calm, ladies) because that can get a little banged up in the drumming/CrossFit/volleyball-inspired world of arthritis in which I reside. And if I forget to wear the sleeve(s), I wake up with what I can only describe as a thick, chunky feeling in my right arm (and sometimes my left). Wear the sleeve(s) and all that goes away (mostly, anyway).

So yeah, I am still sold on TC. It was a great post-surgery pickup, and is still helping me out to this day. Get some.

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Saturday, January 12, 2013

Stepping outside the comfort zone with food

"Life is what you want it to be. So don't get tangled up trying to be free."
--Fugazi (Song #1)

If you checked in on my eating habits and preferences ten years ago, besides watching me horse down a lot of beer, pasta and soy meat-substitute products, you would have, if you asked me, learned that I "didn't really like" (and, therefore, rarely ate) the following things:

Sweet potatoes
Brussels sprouts
Coconut of any kind

My wife's list would have been a lot shorter. She was a vegetarian for one simple reason: meat was gross and she hated its taste.

Shift forward ten years. We both eat paleo, love the hell out of it and eat everything on those lists. Fair disclosure: Brussels sprouts are the only thing up there that I do not unequivocally love and eat with extreme frequency.

So what changed?

Not much, really. It was just a choice. We both taught ourselves to like those things because they are good for us. And it didn't take all that long for any item on that list.

"But I don't like ____," you say, knowing full well that it is good for you. Well, I know that we call it taste, but, really, tastes can change pretty frequently.

And there's where the choice comes in. You *can* make the choice to start eating something, and quite possibly learn to like it. That's not something you need to worry about when the choice is some chocolate dessert item versus vanilla. Neither one of those is doing you any favors, but it's a lot different when you are talking kale or coconut or beef or lamb (grassfed, of course). It's simply better to be eating those foods than not.

So here is my suggestion: live a little. Step outside the comfort zone and try something that you know is good for you that you think you don't like. Don't get tangled up in self-imposed rules of your own taste that may very well be completely outdated. You might be surprised at what you learn, and then reap the benefit of a good choice.

Or you might not like it after all, but, hell, you'll never know if you don't give it a shot. And I am betting that your "list" will end up a lot shorter.

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Friday, January 11, 2013

The next step: The Caffeine Experiment

As I have made reference to previously, thanks to probably 1000 little factors, stress has been up lately, and, no surprise, sleep down. So, in addition to all the meditation I have been going on about, I decided, a while back -- maybe a month ago -- to dial down the caffeine intake. One glorious cup of bulletproof coffee (you know, coffee with coconut oil and grassfed butter) each morning.

One cup. Except, I don't always do moderation well, and one cup was, very recently, turning right back into more, with justifications about being extra tired, having had band practice the night before, needing a little BOOM before heading to the gym to lift. Blah blah blah fucking blah. Excuses....

Anyway, a convergence of said stress, lack of sleep, caffeine, whatever else, had me pretty wound up. Resting pulse way up. Blood pressure way up. Sleep interrupted. Weird sugar cravings -- for me, anyway -- that had my usual low intake of dark chocolate and fruit up at new record levels. I don't know if it was truly "adrenal fatigue," but it sure smelled like it.

Whatever it was, it needed a more drastic fix or I was gonna go nutty.

So this week I dialed up the meditation, dialed down the caffeine to the one cup per day level again, got the food back in order (honestly, it wasn't very far off, just a little too much sugar), and.... It worked OK. But sleep still wasn't *entirely* right, and if sleep is not entirely right, then the underlying metabolic engine just isn't going to be firing on all cylinders. BP had dropped some. Pulse had too. But they still weren't normal.

I only have me more trick up my sleeve at the moment: caffeine... See what happens if I dump it entirely.

I have mentioned before that my wife has an autoimmune disorder that has been kept beautifully under control via a strict paleo autoimmune protocol. That includes no caffeine. She hasn't had it for a year, and her sleep has gone from fitful and full of frequent waking to "simulating a corpse." She says the change was almost immediate. Within a few days of ridding herself of caffeine, her sleep got markedly better.

So I'm in, for now anyway. I say "for now anyway" because I don't know what it'll be like if, say, I have to drive a long distance or do something else, maybe work-related, that requires me to be 100% "on" with no possibility of mental fatigue. But, after only 24 hours, I didn't wake today with a screaming headache -- probably because I had tapered down to one cup a day before pulling the plug -- and last night's sleep was, while not perfect, the best I have had in a month.

Most strangely, yesterday moved in slow motion -- in a really good way. One of the signs that I am headed for Stressville is when I have a constant, every-day feeling that there just aren't enough hours in the day and the clock is ticking.... fast! That's been going on for at least a month, and probably more. Yesterday? I can't believe how much I got done and how calmly I moved through the whole day. I kept having the thought that it was about three hours earlier than I would have guessed by what I had accomplished. Hell, I even deadlifted in a 3x3 rep scheme right *at* my PR. I never would have guessed that was possible without caffeine. (Full disclosure: I skipped the metabolic-conditioning part of the workout. Grinding myself into bits with a metcon seems counterproductive at the moment. "Lift heavy. Walk," is my mantra this week).

As I sit here with my mug of decaf, I can't promise that this is a forever change. But early reports from the front indicate that it is, for now, a winning strategy. I'll keep you updated.

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Monday, January 7, 2013

Raynaud's update, aka answering the mailbag.

Over a year ago, I posted about how paleo/primal eating had nearly completely ridded me of longstanding Raynaud's symptoms. You know: it's a little (or a lot) cold out and suddenly your extremities, or the tips of them, are numb, tingling, maybe even white and frosty (I never had the white/frosty stuff going on, but I know people who do). By and large, it's a sign of some degree of insulin mismanagement, and what's the best way I know to get that under control? Paleo.


So, just recently, a fellow (or lass) named "Anonymous" decided, in a comment, to ask me for an "update" post on Raynaud's.

Here you go: eat paleo.

It's that simple. The only time I still get minor Raynaud's is if I eat something that had me spiking insulin unusually high or often. The following are sometimes culprits in that regard: booze, protein powder (yeah, sorry), anything with added sugar that I shouldn't be eating anyway, a whole metric shit ton of fruit. Stuff like that. The stricter I stay to paleo, and the more I pay attention to avoiding taking my pancreas on a Nantucket Sleigh Ride, the less often I get symptoms -- ranging from not ever, when I am right on the money with clean eating, good sleep and low stress, to here and there to greater or lesser degrees depending on the extent of my departure from The Way of the Wolf (Wolfe?).

So, there's yer update, Mr. or Ms. Anonymous. Hells yeah. Eat paleo.

And, for no reason at all, here is a picture of a chorizo apparently wearing fishnets.

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Thursday, January 3, 2013

Just call me Master of the Obvious

I love that poster. It's from this website, and, when I saw it for the first time yesterday, it immediately took me back to a conversation I had recently about happiness and stress reduction in which, basically, I realized that I am at my absolute happiest when I am engaged in outdoor summer fun/exercise. You know, as in hiking like I did on this little jaunt.

And after a couple years of paleo/primal living, I guess I shouldn't be too surprised. Mood is almost inexorably tied to Vitamin D, which is tied to sunshine. Add lots of exercise and good food, and, hells yeah: I need to make a concerted effort to live more like that all spring, summer and fall long. Winter? It's a little grim, but we do the best we can.... (extra meditation, an extra dose of this) to make up for the lack of sun.

It's a plan.

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Tuesday, January 1, 2013

A little bit more on meditation, thanks to a Facebook question

The other day, you may have caught my latest meditation-related post. I didn't really expect to do another very soon, but it spawned an interesting Facebook conversation that went something like this:

My CrossFit-gym friend Kate asked: "Steve where do you put work on your list of importance? 
I really like '1. De-stress. 2. Sleep. 3. Food. 4. Exercise.' but I'm currently getting very stressed by work and it's interfering with #1 (soon it will start to impede on #2, 3, 4 too... probably in that order).
Any tips for dealing with this?? I had no problems balancing #1-4 on my week off, but I struggle once work gets thrown in."

My answers went like this.... First, I said: "Me too. I don't really put it on the list because it is just one of a zillion things to do/balance/etc as part of #1, which, if not properly managed, will then bleed over into 2, 3 and 4, as you said. But, yeah, I can get pretty wound up about work too. And that all brings me back to the meditation thing. And I am serious that it almost annoys me how well it works for me. I mean, how can regularly staring at a wall and focusing on breathing matter so much? But it does, and I give up trying to figure out why, and just do it. Or at least I know that I *should* do it, which, ultimately, was the point of the post. I am effectively on a 30-day twice-a-day meditation challenge for January."

Then, I added: "Don't try and measure progress in meditation. Just do it. It is, unbelievably, kind of hard work. You may want to read my previous meditation post. Truly, if, early on, you can get 30 seconds of empty mind out of a 20-minute session, you are some kind of superstar. More realistic might be five seconds. Really. But stay with it, even when overwhelmed by thoughts that this is the Dumbest Thing Ever. Somewhere I once read an article entitled Zen is Stupid that made the same point. But sometime, maybe a month from now, whenever, you will realize that there has been a cumulative difference in your calm and your mood. But it is nothing at all like CrossFit. There aren't daily PRs in meditation. Then again, if you are wound tight, you didn't get that way overnight, so it figures that it takes some work to unwind out of it."

Hopefully that was all helpful, but I gave it a little more thought and figured I would continue the answer here. 

I answered as I did because there are stressors that you *can* do something about by actually eliminating them from existing, and then there are ones that just come with the territory of life. If work sucks and you have the option to quit and do something else that is less stressful, then, by all means, go for it. But I was assuming -- rightfully so, I think -- that, for most of us, that isn't an option. So then what? Or, as Kate put it, where does work fit into those four categories? 

Well, it doesn't. It's a stressor, and stressors are the things that #1 above -- you know: "de-stress" -- addresses. The way to get a front row seat on the rollercoaster of doom is pretty easy. Try this: let work stress you out; fail to manage that stress; get shitty sleep as a result -- waking up a lot and maybe not getting back to sleep easily when you *do* wake up; and then have diet and exercise fall apart (or add to the stress) as well.

Wheeeeeee!!! First stop: doom. Second stop: gloom. Third stop gets really ugly.

We've all been there. 

Which brings me back to #1. You *must* figure out a way to dump that stress out of your mind. If you don't, it will most definitely affect #s 2, 3 and 4. And kudos to Kate for realizing that domino effect.

Which brings me back to meditation. And I say "brings *me* back" for a reason: I don't personally know any other way. You may swear that running or squatting or deadlifting or MovNat or whatever form of exercise you do empties your mind of all stress. You may be right. But it doesn't do it for me. Those activities are great as *exercise*, but exercise, for me, is not a de-stressor. It is exercise for my body, but it does not empty my mind. Exercise can be very beneficial in many ways, but, technically, it is actually a bit of a hormetic stressor itself -- a potentially really beneficial one, but it can royally fuck you up as well if you go at it when you are sleep-deprived, eating poorly or both.

Which, er, brings us back to meditation (I swear this keeps happening). Use your favorite analogy. For women, it's usually "mental floss." For guys, they tend to like the "big mental dump" analogy. (We're gross; what can I say?)

Whatever works for you, kids. But the goal is simple: empty your mind. You will then sleep better. And then when you sleep better, your body will properly absorb the nutrients that your otherwise awesome paleo/primal lifestyle is providing it. And then you will make huge performance gains in exercise. 

There are always going to be things that stress you -- particularly work -- that you just don't have the option of removing from your life. Instead, you have to figure out a way to floss your brain (or take a big mental dump) to rid yourself of the anxiety that they cause. I'm sure there are non-meditation techniques, but I don't know what they are.

Which, yes, again, brings us back to meditation. Like I said, it's all I have.

In 1970, George Clinton put it a little differently, but it was all the same idea:

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