Saturday, June 29, 2013


There I was, driving to CrossFit this morning, enjoying a beautifully cool moment of a day that is otherwise about to go very very wrong in an hour or so with Southeast Asia-style heat and humidity, and I had the first album by Fear on at eardrum-thumping volume. And I thought, as I have many times before, 1. "Wow these guys were better musicians than many of their contemporaries," and 2. "Y'know, if one's sense of irony and sarcasm is not at advanced-placement level, you could get the wrong idea here."

Punk-rock lyrics are always an irony-laden affair, but when Lee Ving screams, "Let's have a war!" or a whole raft of other lines that I won't repeat here, you'd best not take him just at face value.

And it got me thinking about one of my most often-written lines here on the blog (and often-said in real life too): I don't care what you do." Or: "Do what you want. It's your call."

A friend told me yesterday something to the effect of: "Y'know, it sounds like you hate people and don't give a fuck about them."

Oh boy.... Really?

On the odd chance that he is right about that, let's clear this one up.

I believe in free will. In other words, I think you should be able to live your life however you want as long as you aren't hurting anyone else. So while I deeply believe that pizza and beer is likely not your healthiest option, when I say, "Dude, do what you want. I don't care," what I mean is that I do not intend to tell you what to do with your life. I will answer any question you pose about almost anything, and, yes, if the question is, "What do you think about ____? Should I do that?" I will be glad to offer you an opinionated take on the topic. But, in the end, I think it's much worse to trample on your free will than it is to let you know that, in the end, that it's your call and you have the freedom to be a fuck-up.

Easy, right? I hope so, because, yeah, I have a lot of strong opinions on food, sleep, exercise, stress, and I think a paleo/ancestral diet with some quality (but not overdone) exercise, good solid sleep and proper stress management through meditation is a great path for almost anyone.

And I really would be super proud of you if you made a smart choice.

Also, if you ask me a question about any of those topics, I will give you a detailed opinion that probably rambles on way too long (just wait 'til the podcast airs... Haha... "Jesus... When is he going to shut up?"). In other words, I *love* helping people out. I conversely *hate* the notion that I am telling anyone what to do.

So, yeah, I care pretty deeply about all these topics. But in the end, it's your life. Live it well. Or don't. Your call.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, June 28, 2013

30 days to freedom

I did fun stuff last night, specifically recording an episode of the Primal Balance podcast with the very talented Kendall Kendrick. As I told her at the start of the show, she has a cool thing going with this podcast, blending her skills as a radio host (in a past life) with her current NTP/ ancestral-health perspective. I am hoping the conversation is half as fun to listen to as it was to record.

The episode "airs" on iTunes on Monday July 1.

But I'll blab at you later about casting that pod. I have another agenda of sorts right now.

Kendall had this idea. Or I had the idea, and she liked it. Or it was her idea and I stole it. I don't know.... But one way or the other we decided that because I have been chewing your collective ears off over the topic of meditation lately, and because we are all walking, living, breathing stressballs of doom, we should do a sort of meditation-based 30-day "challenge."

You know... Like a Whole 30. But for your mind.

I'm down with that. But, really, the "challenge" is all individual. There are no prizes, except the reward of feeling better than you do now. It's not a competition and you should leave your expectations at the door.

So here's the deal: Monday is July 1. Starting then, for 30 days, you meditate at least once a day for 15 minutes. That's it. Sit the hell down, shut up, and stare at a wall. Empty that mind. Fix yo' head. Be better. At everything.

And, because it isn't a competition, just a way to improve your life, we want to hear your "stories" about how it's going, so post your thoughts in the comments here, or on my Facebook page, or on Kendall's Primal Balance FB page. Wherever.... Just tell us how it's going.

But you know what? Despite my penchant for self-deprecation, I'll urge you to actually listen to that podcast when it comes out, because, man, we hit on all the pluses, and all the potential hard work, of stress reduction through meditation. As I believe I said at some point, "It's simple. But it's not easy."

Finally, if somehow you have missed out in the past, you can go here, here and here if you need a little primer on what all this meditation stuff is really about.

Do it. Your brain will thank you. You have no idea how busy your mind is, in all the wrong ways.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Paleo perfectionism, a.k.a., Everyone, please calm the f%^& down

As you stand at your CrossFit gym gazing at all the very in-shape people, and as you listen to your favorite paleo podcasts and read your favorite paleo websites, it's possible to lose a little perspective.

If you are trying hard to do this thing right, that's awesome, and here's the thing: you should be really really happy with awesome.

I repeat: keep doing your best, but if you fall down, just get back on the paleo/primal horse and forget about all that perfection nonsense. Sure, you can strive for perfection, but when it doesn't happen, just move the eff on, and keep on living as best as you can.

This thought particularly hit me the other day at Citizens Bank Park. My wife and I were there to see a Phillies game, and our friends, whom we were meeting outside the gates because we had all the tickets, were running a little late. So we sat down under a tree, and waited 15 minutes or so, watching the people head into the stadium, and...

It was kind of appalling.

I mean... I realize that the cross-section of people that we were dealing with is best defined as: "Those who like to gather in large numbers, eat fried food, drink copious amounts of beer and watch other people play sports." But, Jebus, man.... *way* too many folks there were really overweight, and really sick and having trouble walking a relatively short distance without assistance.

And they appeared to almost all be younger than us. Some were a *lot* younger than us. And they were struggling to move. Some were struggling to stand still. And they outnumbered the fit-looking people by many many times.

It was awful, and it was something that, living in my CrossFit/paleo-centric world, I don't see often in that kind of sheer, unspeakable volume.

People are not healthy, yo.

And I am not ridiculing them. They can do whatever they want. (I *have* made that clear by this point of this blog, haven't I?) Sure, I hope for their health and happiness that they pick a better path, but it's their call.

But you paleo/primal/CrossFit/healthy people, for the love of all that is good and right, stop beating yourselves up over a drink, a dessert, a body-fat number that maybe isn't the *absolute* ideal. Yes, do your very best, but when your very best is an oversized serving of Ben and Jerry's, enjoy the bejeezus out of it, and then get back to the plan. No guilt. No bullshit. No emotional breakdowns. Just get back to the plan.

If you do that, you'll be *fine*. And the rest of us will notice you for all the right reasons as you walk into a stadium.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Answering the meditation mailbag

So, in response to my last post on meditation, I got the following comment from someone named Anonymous. He/she said:

"Truthfully, I still don't get it. Your analogy doesn't work for this reason. If I'm a fat slob, and I eat paleo, I'll get better. It might be hard, it might be really hard, I might not have enough willpower, etc. But if you locked me in a metabolic ward and gave me nothing but paleo food, I'd get healthy.

What about meditating? If I stare at a wall for 15 min/day, I *can* do it, but will it accomplish anything? Will I get (mentally) healthier? Or will I just be wasting 15 min/day doing an unpleasant activity that gets me nothing.

It took me years to learn to stop craving sugar and to eat well, but even when I doubted if I could do it, I never doubted the goal itself. The reason I don't meditate is that I doubt that even if I learn to be able to stare at a wall 15 min/day without hating it that I would have actually improved my life. That's what you need to address to convince somebody like me. Because all I ever see is pablum like "meditation teaches we make ourselves miserable with our negative thoughts". I know that already, and have managed to improve that a lot. Will staring at a wall really teach me that, or anything?

It's about opportunity cost. Do spend 15 min/day doing something unpleasant, I have to expect that it'll pay off adequately. The meditators I've met have not lead me to believe that. I'd *love* to know why I'm wrong, because if it really is a beneficial activity, I'd like to do it."

I was going to respond with another comment, but I decided, oh what the hell... let's make it another post. So let's go....

1. First of all, Anonymous, you think that I want to "convince someone like [you]" to meditate. I don't. I said it in my previous post, and I have said it with respect to paleo eating, and I would say it with respect to *anything* you might do as long as it doesn't hurt other people: I don't want you to do anything. And I am not here to convince you to. I am here to write and, if I am really lucky, maybe some of that writing will help people who want to be helped. My guess, from your note, is that you aren't interested in being helped, but I don't want to assume that, because that would shut us down right here, so we'll move on to ....

2. You use the phrase: "I'd *love* to know why I'm wrong." In 50 years on the planet, almost 51, I have run into few absolutes, but I think this is one of them: I have never heard anyone use that phrase who: (a) would actually love to know why he or she is wrong, or (b) is even open to discussion on the issue of whether he or she is wrong. But again, if that were true in this instance, I'd just walk away now because further conversation wouldn't be productive, so let's indulge the notion that you are the exception to the rule on either or both of those counts, and that, indeed, you would love to be shown why you're wrong....

3. It's your lucky day. You're wrong. And here's why. You say that my analogy "doesn't work" because you "know" that paleo works to help fat people get thin while you have no reason to "know" that meditation works to empty the mind and reduce stress. Let's think about that.

How do you "know" paleo works? Either: (a) you tried it for a while, maybe 30 days, like Robb Wolf suggests and you saw improvements in how you look, feel and perform, or (b) you read things that told you that good things would happen if you ate paleo. Well, we can immediately throw option (a) out the window as somehow disproving the value of meditation because you haven't tried meditation yet. That's the whole point of trying it... to see if it works for you. So it must be option (b) that you find lacking in meditation. But that can't be it either. Like almost any self-improvement program (like, oh I don't know... paleo?) you are going to find proponents and naysayers. Surely you have run into both with paleo. Well, with meditation, you could, first of all, accept my assertion that, yup, it will help you if you actually do it. But never mind me. You could go here or here or here, and see lots of examples of its being a pretty great thing. Successful even. In fact, you would be hard-pressed to find anti-meditation articles with any of the zeal, doom and gloom of the anti-paleo crowd. But yet, you "know" that paleo works despite all the hostility to it that is out there. Me too, but that's ultimately because I worked my way through the pro and con articles, tried it for a while and liked it. If you were interested in trying meditation, that's what you would do too. Try it for a month, every day for 15 minutes.

4. But, unbelievably, you are actually finding a "cost/benefit" analysis that weighs *against* 15 little minutes of meditation per day for a month to see if you feel better at the end of that month. Dude, if you are seriously declaring that 15 minutes a day of something so simple as sitting down and shutting up while focusing your attention on a blank space on a wall is that unpleasant, you may have done more with that statement to prove my overall point than I did. Remember what that original point was: that if your mind is so cluttered that you "can't" meditate, you probably need to unclutter it, and what does that? Meditation. If you can't stare at a wall for 15 minutes a day because it's too "unpleasant," you desperately need to unclutter and uncomplicate your cortex. And what does that?

I think you "know" what my answer is. But I'll say it just to be sure: meditation.

And maybe here's the ultimate point: do you have a better idea? Surely you don't contest that most of our minds need to be emptier and more uncluttered by stress than they are? The only method that I have run across to do that is meditation. If you have another, go for it. Or don't do anything at all. But stress deeply affects digestion, sleep and overall health. If you meditated for 30 days, 15 minutes a day, with an open mind, that is -- not with the unduly crabby attitude you are currently sporting -- you could make some progress toward happiness through lower stress. But, in the end, really, it's totally your call.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

The worst excuse ever for not meditating

Meet Bob: "I can't meditate. My mind isn't quiet! I have 100,000 thoughts at once all competing for attention. It's like there is a nest of bees in there, buzzing away. Forget it."

Meet Lou: "I can't eat well and be fit and healthy. I'm fat! I am out of shape! I eat like crap! Forget it."

I will assume, if you are reading this blog with any frequency, you can immediately spot Lou's ridiculousness from a mile away. There's a problem: Lou is fat and out of shape. Lou is presented with a way to defeat that problem -- let's say a paleo/ancestral lifestyle -- but rejects it as impossible to achieve because of... the problem. He can't be fit because he isn't fit. The smart people call that circular reasoning.

So... being a Fantastically Helpful And Possibly Even Smart Yourself Amateur Paleo Person, you put on your Fantastically Helpful And Possibly Even Smart Yourself Amateur Paleo Person Hat and say to Lou, "Well, duhhhh, dude, I *know* you are fat and out of shape. *That's* the problem. *That's* what I am trying to help you change." And you either work your way past that, or, else, Louie decides to stay fat, sick and out of shape.

Easy to understand, right? In fact, presumably, Lou's attitude seems so defeatist, ridiculous and obviously silly that, maybe, you are wondering if it's even possible that Lou exists.

I don't know if he does. (This is the theatre of the hypothetical, and Lou is a mere stage prop.) Lou is just here to help me make a point. So we are going to leave Lou, whom you fully understand, waiting over there....

Let's go back to the first guy: what about Bob? (People who know me well know that I have been patiently waiting seven paragraphs to say that, so again....) Yes, what about Bob? Let's see...

Bob is a modern being like the rest of us. Bob has stresses that are simply, like the rest of our stresses, unequalled in human history in terms of their *constant* nature. Everyone since the dawn of time has been worried about putting food on the table and raising their kids, but we modern folk have decided, through the miracle of TV, the Internet, scheduling conflicts with our children's Little League games and a gazillion other distractions, to *add* to all those traditional stresses with, oh, about 75,000 more.

So, really, it's no surprise that Bob is stressed-out with his brain about to explode into 100,000 shrapnel-laden thoughts. Why? Because, unless you are a very rare individual, you have all those thoughts and stresses too.

And, as I have told you so many times that I don't even want to bother providing the links (just search this blog on the word "meditation"), the only way I have figured out to manage stress properly is meditation. If you have another way, go for it, but it's the only game in town as far as I am concerned because it is the only one that doesn't *just* relax you; it actually empties your thought-clogged brain.

So you and the Bob-ster have a little talk. You explain meditation to him, and he gives it a shot.


He doesn't like it. it was "dumb." He couldn't "concentrate." His mind was full of thoughts. He comes back and hits you with that line from the beginning of all this. Bob, it seems, can't meditate and clear his mind of busy thoughts because his mind was too busy.

You begin methodically pounding your head against a wall because it feels so good in comparison to talking to Bob.

Seriously, what the hell, Bob?

Bob is no different than Lou. He has a problem, and when you suggest a solution, he tells you he can't solve his problem because he has ... that same problem. Gahhhhhhhh.... (Sound of frustration).

Yes, Bobs of the world, your heads are full of 100,000 thoughts. Your heads are beehives and the bees are busy.

The big (not-so) secret: we are *all* like that. *That* is the problem.

*That's* why you are sitting down to meditate.

I repeat: *that's* why you are sitting down to meditate.

And I know. This stuff (meditation) is hard work. Really. If you have a physical, metabolic, body-comp, etc. problem, somehow the solution -- and the critical fact that it is going to take some serious freaking work, over a period of time, to achieve it -- is relatively easy to understand. In real life, Lou generally understands that being fat and out of shape is not an excuse for not being fit and in shape. It's the problem. And it is going to take hard work.

But somehow, when the stressed-out contents of your brain are the issue, the whole shebang collapses into circular (and lazy) reasoning.

Put differently, how long do you think it took to build up all that shizz in your brain that is buzzing like an overdriven guitar amplifier?

Yeah, it's been building for a while. Like your whole life, maybe? (And by "maybe," I mean definitely). So fixing it is going to take.... (Here it comes... Wait for it...) ... a while.

I have said this one before too, but it's important, so I will repeat: the first time you sit down to meditate for 15 or 20 minutes, if you are able to get just a few clear seconds of pristine emptiness in your brain, you are a rock star of meditation.

And there are very few of those. (And by "few," I probably mean none.)

You may (will) get none at all. That "problem" may (will) persist for a while. But here is the thing: it always gets better, but there is only one way for that to happen, and that is daily meditation.

And really, while it isn't "easy" in the sense that you actually have to do it, and you can't skip it and expect genius results, isn't that true of everything that is worthwhile?

And, really, otherwise, it is pretty freaking easy. You sit down, shut up and stare at a wall. For 15 minutes. Go wild, and make it 20. Go double-wild and do it twice a day. Ditch your expectations, and your impatience, and just sit the hell down and shut up. Your mind will buzz. You will look at the clock and think, "That was dumb," or "Oh my god, it's been only four minutes so far?!" Just keep doing it. Forget about "success" or "achieving" something. An empty mind is not a state you have reached in a very long time, so, actually, you might not even recognize it if it smacked you upside your buzzing head. Just do it, and things will get quieter, and better. But it takes time. And you won't see it coming, because the harder you try and think about it, the busier your brain will be. So just sit.

I have been doing this for ten-plus years, and you know when it doesn't "work?" When I don't do it. That's when. When I am a lazy ass, and, yeah, sometimes we are all lazy asses. But it took time way back then for it to get going. (And it will for you too.) And it takes time to rekindle it when I get lazy and don't do it for a while.

I once wrote a blog piece that said, essentially, that the way to successfully eat paleo is to make sure you have paleo food accessible. Genius, huh? The way to eat paleo is to.... eat paleo. Guess what? The way to successfully meditate is.... to meditate.

And remember, just like I always tell you that I don't care if you eat paleo because that is your choice -- but don't tell me that you "can't" -- don't tell me that you "can't" meditate because you are stressed out with a busy mind.

That's the problem. Fix it, or don't. Your call. But don't make circular excuses.

Fix your head, Bob.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The goal of meditation is not merely relaxation

You may recall that I have talked a lot about meditation in the past. Specifically, here, here and here I have gone on about how it does wonders for me in terms of stress management.

But today, thanks to fielding a request regarding which I doubt my worthiness -- but, what the hell, sure, I will get interviewed for a primal-focused podcast on meditation** -- I got to thinking about it again. "What is there left to say about meditation?" you might legitimately ask. "Haven't you told us how 'simple' it all is?"

Er, yeah, but then I realized that there is a point that, I think, gets lost, or muddled, or rarely made anyway: the goal of meditation is not merely "relaxation."

See, as I definitely have explained previously, "meditation" to me does not mean "spacing out with your eyes closed and traveling mentally to another world/realm/domain." I don't really know anything about that sort of stuff. My kind of meditation is based in Zen concepts -- *concepts*, mind you, not religious dogma of any sort -- that are focused on *emptying* the mind, not distracting it, here and now with a focus on exactly what is in front of you in the moment -- a blank wall.

So, while all of those meditative techniques that I told you about here may very well "relax" you, that really isn't the point; a lot things relax people. Meditation, Zen-style, does something more. A pretty strong case can be made that sex, exercise, and even drinking alcohol have their place in the pantheon of "relaxing" behaviors, but none of those things truly empty the mind. They distract it, often beautifully, but the underlying stress is still there. Only staring at a wall as a meditative practice is the equivalent of flossing your cerebral cortex: it gets out the bad stuff while simultaneously having a positive effect on mental energy and cognition.

Lately, I have gotten a number of meditation-focused questions from friends and readers, and a lot of them go like this: "I don't think I can meditate effectively, but I am going to try _____. What do you think?" And the blank is filled in with yoga or some other relaxing practice. There is nothing wrong with any of those things, but, the more I consider it, the less I think that there really is a true substitute for meditation, because I don't think there is any other activity that focuses so directly on the emptying of the mind in the present. The goal of Zen meditation is simple: the conscious act of thinking about nothing, in the present moment. In other activities, like yoga, or even distance running, there is often a necessary focus on the present, but, in those practices the present is a moving target, always flowing and changing. And so when the present is moving, your mind moves as well. Only when the present is nothing but a blank slate (or wall) can the mind become calm, restful and empty. Focus on the now, when the now is empty, and your focus will, necessarily, be on emptiness.

Do that for 15-20 minutes, preferably twice a day, and somehow, shit falls into place. You aren't just "relaxed." Your mind is clearer. Really.

**More on the podcast once it is recorded, ready, etc. Cool yr jets.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Life, it's bigger. Bigger than you....

The comical absurdity of me sitting down with a priest to plan a funeral was not lost on me. I am decidedly a non-believer. Whether you refer to that as agnostic ("I don't know and I don't really care.") or atheist ("Nope. Sorry.") is your call. It doesn't matter to me because I don't really use either term; it's a little silly from my perspective to label someone based on what the person *doesn't* believe in. But anyway, there I was -- because my dad was More Catholic Than You for his entire life, right to the end -- and, respecting the notion that it was his funeral and not mine, I made the appointment and sat down with a guy with whom, fairly undoubtedly, I have little in common, to work out the details of the service.

I learned something very quickly: wow....I still speak fluent Catholic when I need to.

And I guess that's no surprise. In the very-Catholic Philadelphia area, and possibly especially for people from my generation and older, Catholicism is not just a religion; it's a culture, an essentially ethnic bond that crosses traditional ethnic lines.***

So.... we talked the talk. And we got to a couple key decisions. I wasn't going to bother with a photo collage of my dad for his funeral. All of the good pics were from long ago and the later ones -- few that there were -- were not good at all. But I decided to go the opposite direction with the question of a eulogy. Yeah, I told the priest. I'll do that.

I left, with a long list of other liturgy-based decisions to make and email back to the priest (what hymns, what scripture, etc... Yeah, I know... Let the non-believer set up the liturgy. It was simultaneously ridiculous and yet something I swore I was going to take seriously enough to at least make it all, I dunno, *nice*) and then a thought hit me: "Oh fuck, what did I just agree to do?!"

It's not that public speaking bothers me. I have to do it pretty frequently for my day job (about which, you will recall, we do not ever speak): rather, it's just that I have never previously dipped my toe into the pond called Eulogy. It's a different talk altogether than any I have ever had to do, from a podium, to an assembled gathering.

So I thought about what, I guess, is the critical consideration for any "speech": know your audience. Well, the audience for this one was going to be small and could be broken down into three camps: 1. Family (not large), 2. His friends (very Catholic, very long-term, and, when he died at age 87, a dwindling group thanks to the ravages of old age), and 3. A few friends of either my brother's or mine, but we had both made it super clear to our friends that attendance was not expected in the slightest and, really, don't worry about it.

I amalgamated all of that into the following: keep it short, to the point, delivered without notes, and, most of all, real. I couldn't, and wouldn't, go up there and blahblahblah in a way to pretend that my dad's *death* was a tragedy. To quote the English Beat: "Being dead don't hurt. Only dying." In other words, his illness -- dementia -- was a dominant enough fact of his last couple years that I couldn't let it go unaddressed. His dying was sad and painful, but his death was a relief.

So, apart from thanking some folks who did very nice things for my father those last few years, despite his often dementia-induced horrendous moods and attitudes (and my brother made a special point of thanking those people too), the gist of my eulogy went like this (and I use quotation marks here just for continuity, not to denote that this is *exactly* what I said word-for-word):

"These last couple years, my father had a swift-moving form of dementia that wasn't a memory loss problem. He knew who he was, who we were, who the president was, what year it was, and he could even discuss college and grad-school issues related to my two sons. But his dementia robbed him of the ability to know *how* to act. And it was a mess. He behaved poorly and offended a lot of people those last couple years, me included. His death has really brought some peace to him and those around him. The dark secret of this illness is that it doesn't just take away the mind of the person with the disease. It robs his friends and family of good memories too. And worst of all, for those people, it leaves them with their last memories of someone as, by and large, pretty awful. So, here is what I will ask of you. However you know my dad [and I went through a list of personal qualities, accomplishments, etc. that don't need to be recited here, but they were all good stuff, from the good years] undoubtedly you have a lot of very good memories. He lived 87 years and did a lot of good things with and for a lot of people. When you think of my father -- particularly if you had unfortunate experiences with him these last couple years -- think about the good times. The measure of someone's life is their whole existence and he had 80-some very good years. Try to leave out the bad stuff at the end when you think of him. That really wasn't him. I know that's what I am going to do."

A friend of mine made me proud afterward: "Christ, I wish someone had said *that* at my father's funeral, where, instead, no one ever mentioned his dementia. Nice job."

Ditch those nasty thought, folks. We all have 'em, and, when it's all said and done, they aren't helping any of us.

Happy Father's Day. Give him a hug if you still have him around, and, if you don't, think something nice about him. He would dig that.


***Two small digressions: 1. To give you an idea of Catholic Philly culture and how ingrained it is in certain generations, my mom -- a wonderful woman who was both More Catholic Than You and More Philly Than Most Of You -- knew Philadelphia, and all of its suburbs, not by neighborhoods, but by *parish*. Do you have any idea how many Catholic churches there are in Philly and its surrounding suburbs? Me either. But it's a lot. And she, and many of her generation, knew every one of them and thought of the area not in geographical terms, but in parishes. 2. A true story about culture, not particularly relevant to anything, but it cracks me up every time: I wish I remember where I heard it, but... A young American guy is crossing the border into Northern Ireland back a couple decades ago when religion-fueled strife there was still hot and heavy. The border guards, two of 'em, start to quiz him. Guard #1: "What religion are you, lad?" Guy (uncomfortable): "Uhhhh...." Guard #2: "Come on, son. The troubles are in full effect here. We ask everyone this question." Guy: "Well, I mean... I guess you would have to say I'm an atheist. I don't want to offend any of you, but I just don't believe in god." Guard #1: "Come on now, boy. We're all atheists here. We just need to know if you are a Catholic atheist or a Protestant atheist."

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, June 14, 2013

Alcohol, dairy and paleo (yeah, again)

I am not a paleo absolutist. I don't care if a food is "paleo" or not. I care how it makes me look and feel.

While you are doing a 30-day paleo challenge, you will be refraining from some foods that, perhaps, you hope to reintroduce into your life once the challenge is done.

Leading that list every time seem to be alcohol and dairy.

So what's up with reintroducing those foods?

Well... There are two kinds of people for the purposes of this discussion: people with ongoing fat-loss/weight-loss goals and... everyone else.

(And I am excluding people with actual illnesses from this conversation entirely. You need a medical professional, not casual food conversation with me.)

If your body composition and weight are where you want them to be, you have almost completely free reign to experiment away. Try stuff. See how you feel, and how you look, and how your clothes fit and how you perform in the gym. I'd advise you, as I have said before, to hesitate a lot before trying something with gluten, but otherwise, see how it goes. Take notes. Figure it out. You have some leeway, because your goal is not fat loss. (Oh, and you undoubtedly will have better luck with high-quality foods of whatever sort you are reintroducing).

But then... Then there are the fat-loss folks. A *lot* of people lose weight and body fat during a paleo challenge. A lot of those people are very happy with that change and want to keep that up. They are still not satisfied when the challenge ends, and they want to *continue* to lose body fat.

I have what is probably bad news for you fat-loss people: if you add alcohol or dairy back into your life, you probably will stall out your fat loss. You may even (begin to) reverse it.

A simple analogy: two runners, equally fast, line up for a 400m race. I tell Runner A that, like he expects, he just has to run 400m as fast as he can. Runner B gets the bad news: he has to run 400m as fast as he can too, but every 100 meters he has to drop and do five burpees.

Who is going to win that race? (If you can't answer this question, you need more help than either of us anticipated).

The same thing happens in your body with alcohol, and, very often, dairy. Your digestive system is probably humming along at the end of a challenge a lot like Runner A. You have liver, intestinal and and pancreatic function in tip-top shape. But.... Throw some alcohol or dairy into the mix and suddenly your body gets busy processing that stuff (like Runner B having to do burpees) and it can't do what it is supposed to be doing (zipping along efficiently in hormonal balance much like Runner A).

Drink alcohol with any regularity/frequency and your fat loss will stall. Often, it will even reverse itself. The same is true of dairy (possibly to a lesser degree.... Possibly not).

And, by the way, the same thing may very well be true about a number of technically "paleo" foods. Nuts often stall fat loss. Sweet potatoes and plantains and other starchy roots and tubers can too. Overall, you will likely find that they don't derail/occupy the body (in a burpee-ish fashion) from performing its normal function like alcohol does, and, hence, their negative effect on fat loss can be less dramatic. But it still may hurt your fat-loss efforts to eat those things.

It's all about goals. Certain goals don't mesh with one another, and they force a choice. You would laugh at a guy who told you he wanted to gain 30 pounds of muscle while simultaneously becoming a faster marathoner. But, somehow, the absurdity of mixing those two goals is obvious while the equal absurdity of trying to simultaneously drink alcohol (or eat certain foods) and lose body fat isn't so evident for you.

Look, I don't care if you drink or not. Hell, I don't care what you eat at all, but make sure your goals aren't competing with one another. And when they are, you are going to have to pick one, or else be "surprised" when you suddenly can't meet one of those goals that you once had in your sights.

So, to recap: if your goal is to drink alcohol, then I can't think of a better way to get there than by drinking alcohol. Bottoms up, dude. If your goal is sustained and progressive fat loss, I can't think of a worse way to get there than by drinking alcohol. It's a choice.

"Life is unfair? Compared to what?"
-- Edward Abbey

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Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The science experiment begins, a.k.a. How I learned to stop asking, "Is this paleo?"

As you probably have figured out already by the innumerable references, the CrossFit gym that I belong to is in the middle of a paleo challenge. You know, a 30-ish day headfirst dive into paleo eating to detox, blahblahblah. I get the impression that a lot of the folks doing it were not terribly familiar with the "rules" of paleo before it started. In fact, I think they got pleasantly cajoled into doing this and then figured out somewhere between leaping off the high-dive platform and hitting the water, metaphorically speaking, that they had precious little idea what the hell was going on. "Oh shit...." Splat.

How things change, though.... We are about ten days into this thing as of today, and I think that, 500 or so "Is this paleo?" questions later, we have made some pretty cool progress. People seem to have seriously readjusted their thought processes about food. Some people (we call them the high-achievers) are even starting to think about post-challenge eating and what that will be like.

Let me be clear, if I haven't already: I am not at all convinced that paleo challenges awash in absolutism are actually the best way to *begin* to get your food in order. Yeah, I think eating paleo is awesome, but some people are not as good as others at the high-dive/deprivation nature of a challenge. So, a while back, before this challenge started, I suggested that if you really want to lock this stuff in in a successful way, rather than in a competitive/hardcore exercise in extreme self-denial, you might want to taper down your crappy eating by first eliminating grains and *then* dialing up the rest of your paleoista routine. But that takes time, and challenges are not intended to go on forever.

But, whether you employ the hardcore-challenge method or use gradual tapering, it all gets you to the same place: figuring out how to eat.

As much as I like helping people out regarding food choices, the goal here is actually that you never have to ask me or anyone else *that* question again -- you know: "Is this paleo?"

The real question is: "Is eating this a good idea?" And the real goal is having *you* take charge of your food choices, rather than mindlessly stuffing in the contents of whatever packages happen to be within reach, or always asking other people how *you* should eat. The paleo template is going to give you a nice general guide to follow, but really, outside the confines of a "challenge" who the hell cares if something is "paleo" or not? What you should care about is whether it is going to make you feel good, bad or somewhere in between, and then, like a big boy or big girl in possession of big-boy or big-girl pants, you get to make a rational decision whether you are going to eat that thing.

It's all a big science experiment, performed by you, on yourself. I eased my way into paleo a few years ago and haven't stopped playing around with it since. I figure that, like life, food choices are (or ought to be) an *ongoing* project in self-improvement, not a quick sprint to a figurative place where you stop and think, "Ha! I made it and I never have to think about that stuff again!"

So... When you get to the end of the challenge, you know that word "paleo?" Don't worry about that so much. Paleo rules are a solid guidebook on how to eat, but your goal should be to reorient your brain into making your own good choices, not following a rulebook written by someone else. Yeah, that blog roll on the right side of this page -- where so many of the heroes of "paleo" reside -- is a great place to go for ideas, even advice. (There is stuff on those blogs that will blow your mind with new ideas, strategies, etc.) But this is ultimately *your* deal. You may find that certain foods (maybe nuts or nightshades or whatever), despite their paleo nature, just don't make you feel good. So don't eat them. Or do, and deal with the consequences. Other non-paleo foods *might* not always bug you. Maybe you will find the damage is in the dose. Whatever. Try it and see. Or maybe you will find that you are happiest dialed into the paleo "rulebook."

Most likely, you will find that a large dose of intelligent self-experimentation is in order. Preconceived "plans" of how to eat, paleo or otherwise, are stupid... Until you've tried them out. And the stupidest thing of all is following someone else's rules without making sure they are right for your individualized snowflake self.

So read. Research. Try things out. Think. Evaluate. It's your life. Own it.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, June 9, 2013

What (probably) no one told you yet about a paleo challenge and what happens right afterwards

Apparently, a whole lot of you are hung up on That Favorite Food -- you know, the one that isn't allowed on a paleo challenge. You are sweating bullets without it, full of drama and exclamation points in your Facebook postings. Your LOLs are a little more OL. Your OMGs are more drawn-out/elongated OOO.MMM.GGG. than simple OMG and, generally, your thought processes devolve into cravings at the drop of a hint of a suggestion about That Food.

You could give 13-year-old Ashley and her friends at the mall a run for their money right now in the drama department.

So, a few things about all that, and maybe a little light at the end of the tunnel too? First, I'll probably piss you off, if I haven't already:

-- Keep some perspective. As the smart folks over at Whole 9 once said, "Don't you dare tell us this is hard. Quitting heroin is hard. Beating cancer is hard. Drinking your coffee black Is. Not. Hard." Hint: they aren't just talking about coffee.

In other words, the more you can knock off the drama and just deal, the better this will be. This whole exercise is, in part, an effort to help you, as Dan John says, "stop eating like a child." It's helpful if your attitude is similarly adult.

-- Remember why you are doing this. To detox for a month. During the detox, you feed yourself spectacularly well. After the month, you really may be able to add back in *some* of the delicious things that you miss with minimal negative effect, if you do it in a smart way. Let's talk about that:

Fast forward a few weeks. You have been challenge-compliant. You haven't reignited inflammation by cheating on your food. Your body has had a month to heal your gut. You know, your gut -- the place where most of your immune system is located.
Your post-challenge, non-cheated-upon gut is a sparkling biome of sparkliness (my Thesaurus is on summer vacation). It is ready to, well, party.

Sort of.

The first thing I will tell you about post-challenge life is what the boss always told the other cops on Hill St. Blues: "Let's be careful out there." If you flood your newly-healed pristine gut with a load of godawful food, you may find yourself in a seated position more than usual, in one particular room of your house, if you get my drift. Go easy on the new intestines. They like you so far. Don't make them all hateful and angrypants with you.

Secondly, unless you want to have no idea what the hell is going on inside you, early on in this post-challenge adventure don't combine your off-road food excursions. In other words, if you are going to drink alcohol for the first time post-challenge, don't also eat something else that is off the reservation or, if things get ugly, you won't know which food caused the problem. And becoming a properly-informed eater is a lot of the goal here. Remember, I eat paleo/primal, but I also eat whatever I want.. Because I have figured out what I want.

Then, most of you are going to find the following demarcation between food types:

1. Things with gluten.
2. Everything else.

Gluten is awful for most people. It is an inflammation bomb. It makes your joints hurt and destroys your digestion. Eat gluten and your intestinal lining separates and sends microscopic poop-i-cles (yes, a real science-y word used by scientists) into your bloodstream and inflames your whole system as a result. It is an especially terrible thing to insert in your newly-healed sparkly insides, because the rainbows and unicorns that frolic joyfully there after a well-executed paleo challenge are *very* gluten sensitive. They like gluten like Flyers, Devils and Isles fans like the Rangers. And they react accordingly.

It can be pretty ugly. Or it can at least be degrees of ugly. But even if all you get from the gluten is a massive bloat and a truckload of regret, you have likely damaged your insides into non-sparkliness and restarted evil gut permeability. It's a colossally stupid thing to do. In fact, if you are planning on doing that, I don't know why the hell you are bothering with paleo in the first place.... (Ooh, he's getting crabby again).

So... Beer. Drink something else. If we aren't clear on that, let's try again: drink something else. Or find a gluten-free beer. But gluten-y beer (and it is almost *all* gluten-y) will destroy most of the gains you just made. So will wheat in any form -- cakes, cookies, breads, pasta, pizza. I am not a fan of "gluten-free" products, but if you just can't live without a cookie every now and then, at least a gluten-free one is just bad for you and not catastrophically awful.

Avoid gluten. Always.

Really, the line is that clear. So if you are going to drink alcohol post-challenge, drink wine, cider, hard liquor (even if distilled liquor started with gluten in the grain, e.g., whiskey, the distillation process destroys the gluten... Nice to know, huh?). Ditch the beer, or ruin everything all over again. If you "need" something that normally has gluten, treat yourself with the gluten-free version.

Then there is everything else -- the non-gluten stuff. Whether your personal craving revolves around dark chocolate, peanut butter, white potatoes, hummus, beans, rice, cheese, whatever, you quite likely will find that some of that non-gluten, but still non-paleo, stuff -- in moderation, here and there -- *may* not throttle you too much.

Now let's be clear, I am not you. The person sitting next to you is not you. Your new shiny internal biome is your own thing and has its own sensitivities and predilections. But here is an example: me. I can eat really good from-grassfed-cow cheese a couple times a week with no ill effects that I can tell. Ramp that up to every day, and I break out in a zitstorm. Eat shitty cheese more than once in a long while? Not good. Zits, queasiness, reflux. Beans or hummus? I am cool with them about once a week. Eat them multiple days in a row, and the digestive rumblings are heard in Kurdistan. White rice, which really is just non-gluten starch: I can eat that pretty often, especially post-workout. Brown or wild rice? It irritates my insides. Dark chocolate is cool here and there. Everyday dark chocolate is not my pal. Alcohol? A drink or two once a week and I am mostly cool with it. More often, I get fat (bloaty) and weak (my deadlifts and squats *suck* the day after alcohol, and reflux reignites from its normally-dormant state). Liquid dairy is, for me, an express ticket to a primo seat on Thomas Crapper's favorite modern convenience. Ice cream? Somewhere in between cheese and liquid dairy in its effects. But have it very often and things ain't right.

How did I figure all that out? I tried it, here and there and noted the effects. I am also not a perfect human being by a long shot, and have had those death-food binges and paid dearly for it with bad skin, poor sleep, reflux and worse. (And once you death-binge, *everything* non-paleo becomes an irritant).

And remember, by and large I am not concerned about my body comp. I am not as strong as I wish I were in some sort of perfect world; nor is my body-fat percentage in the single digits. But I am happy with where I am -- open to improvement, mind you, but content and not freaking out. So if I can maintain, with mild improvement, I am cool with that. You may be coming from somewhere else entirely. You may be unhappy with body comp, or you may be actually trying to make the CrossFit Games. Although these two types of people are worlds apart in their fitness and their goals, they actually share something in common: if they want to achieve those goals, they can't fuck around. Their ability to go off-road with food is going to be pretty small. And none of their goals are achievable with alcohol. (Yeah, you read that right).

So, what is the point of, oh, these many paragraphs? We'll recap:

-- do the challenge right (drama-free!) and don't cheat.
-- once the challenge ends, gluten is still your sworn enemy, but other non-paleo foods may not always be so awful.
-- experiment sensibly post-challenge, with non-gluten non-paleo foods and you may actually figure out how *you* should eat. This can only happen if you know what your goals are and eat in a way that doesn't trip you up on the road to achieving them. That could change your life in a really really good way.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, June 2, 2013

A lot of paleo recipes, collected for you in one place

Everyone seems to want recipes. I kinda hate recipes because I am lazy in the kitchen and my version of "cooking" is: "Cook meat in frying pan in either its own fat or a little added butter, add spices, add veggies, cook more and we call that a meal."

But you are all more clever than that, so you want recipes.

My "recipes," as you will learn, are pretty simple. They are barely "recipes" at all... More like "good ideas." But they do have one thing going for them, though: they are freaking delicious, reliable and easy.

Ok, that's three things.

They are also sometimes my creation and sometimes borrowed from others, to whom (I think) I usually give credit.

Here are a bunch of them collected for you in one place. Now go cook.

World's easiest crockpot meat recipe. Beware: your life may change.

Brisket (or any roast) in a crockpot with cumin/coffee/cocoa rub.

Osso bucco.

Garlic/mango lamb ribs.

How to cook plantains to change your life.

Lamb burgers.

Czech meatballs, but you'll have to buy the book.

Sausage and kale (or collards or chard).

Bone broth.

Beef-liver pâté (with bacon! if you want) that tastes like liverwurst, not liver.

Bulletproof coffee.

Bulletproof green tea.

Paleo "ice cream."

Beef tongue, in a crockpot. Don't be a baby. It's amazing.

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Saturday, June 1, 2013

A brief public-service message for you first-time paleo challengers

I just said this to someone at the gym and on the FB, and I know I have said it here before, but I think it is really important, so....

If you are doing your first paleo challenge, don't stress about the little stuff, like whether you are eating the proper ratio of carbs, fat and protein, or whether that 23rd slice of watermelon this week is the best idea in the world, or whether grilling is the ideal way to cook your meat.

All you want to do foodwise during the challenge is eat things off the good list, while not eating things off the bad list. (Hint: the bad list is everything that isn't on the good list).That's it. We can fine-tune your paleo experience later, when you get to the end of the challenge, but, for now, keep it stupidly simple.

Oh, and eat. Stay full. Stay happy. Make sure you always have enough paleo food with you and you will cruise through this and see good changes.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad