Monday, April 28, 2014

Book Review: The Wahls Protocol (Hint: It's for more than just M.S.)

"I got my life back. I wrote this book so that you can get yours back too."

Dr. Terry Wahls is one of those secret superstars of the paleo movement. She may not have the instant name in recognition in Paleoland of a Wolf, a Wolfe or a Sisson, but if you say, "You know... the doc who did the Ted X talk! The one that cured herself of MS!" everyone knows who she is.

In 2000, after increasing indications that she was having neurological troubles -- vision issues, facial tingling and, then, a "foot drop" -- Wahls received a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. For someone who had previously been a marathoner and mountain climber, the problems that followed -- significant physical deterioration to the point that, after a few years, she could no longer even sit in an ordinary chair and, instead, needed a tilt/recline wheelchair to get around -- were a 180-degree shift from her previously active life.

After not very long, the standard MS medications were not even holding the progress of the disease at bay, let alone improving her condition, and Wahls decided in 2007 to take matters into her own hands. Driven by the burning desire not only to get better, but also to make sure not to burden her partner and kids with her disability, Wahls experimented on herself -- primarily with food.

She designed a dietary protocol intended, first and foremost, to properly fuel the mitochondria in her cells.

A digression: you may recall that I was a biology major in college. You may also recall that I wasn't a very accomplished one. You might even recall that I am a lawyer now (even though we don't ever talk about that here). The career change is not a coincidence. I totally "get" the Fourth Amendment and all of its permutations. Biology? I'm still catching up. So if you can't remember from high-school bio class what mitochondria are/do, join the club. I couldn't either. Fortunately, The Wahls Protocol brings you up to speed, with just enough detail to make you understand the basics of those "cellular engines," without leading to that glass-eyed/drooling stare that I had on my face throughout most of college biochemistry.

If this book has one overarching motto, it is this: food is cellular fuel. Or, as Dr. Wahls puts it: "What your cells use to fuel the chemistry of life comes directly from what you feed yourself." Put sugar in the gas tanks of your cellular engines and disastrous consequences are possible. Conversely, feed yourself well, and good health is more likely. Some of us have genetic susceptibilities to chronic diseases that others do not, but whether that genetic predisposition becomes fully realized in the form of an actively debilitating chronic disease has a lot to do with the quality and type of food a person eats. Food also has more than anything else to do with potentially bouncing back from a chronic disease to overcome the disabilities that it inflicts.

Terry Wahls is all about bouncing back. Compare this:

to this:

The overused adjectives of our time -- those would be, in this order, "awesome," "amazing" and "epic (dude)," if you are keeping score at home -- seem flimsy and worthless when applied to this situation.

I'll cut to the chase of the story: Terry Wahls beat MS with food choices -- really specific food choices involving eliminating the bad stuff, piling in the good stuff and then adding some more good stuff after that. She went, in nine months, from that awful tilt/recline wheelchair to commuting to work on a bicycle. Like this:

I don't even think the next most overused expression of our day -- that would be "amazeballs," if you are still keeping score -- is satisfactory for this situation. In fact, I am pretty sure that even my usual liberal sprinkling of my posts with F-bombs wouldn't convey the necessary awe that I feel when I see those pics or read this book. Dr. Terry Wahls got punched in the face, and responded by taking names, kicking ass and giving you a manual to do the same.

And here's the thing -- because I hear you, you contrarian bastard, saying, "But I don't have MS!" -- this dietary protocol, in its three-level/hierarchy form, works to help you achieve the momentous mitochondrial milestones (I did that on purpose, because, apparently, it's Alliteration April) necessary to allow you to send almost any autoimmune condition running for cover. At the cellular level, most autoimmune diseases have far more in common than they have to distinguish them from one another. So the protocol, by addressing mitochondrial health across the board, can be used to improve the life of anyone suffering from any autoimmune issue.

The Wahls Protocol also helps keep still-healthy people healthy.

It can be successfully employed by anyone to achieve good mitochondrial health -- a prerequisite to good overall health because, to quote Dr. Wahls: "Cellular nutrition is everything. It is the very basis of health. It all comes down to the cell, because when cells malfunction, eventually organs malfunction. When organs malfunction, eventually you malfunction."

So what is it, this protocol?

At its most basic level, dubbed the "Wahls Diet," the protocol is all about clean, unprocessed foods and an elimination of common allergens along with an emphasis on ingesting a broad spectrum of micronutrients. On the "no" list are gluten, dairy (other than ghee), eggs and any more than just occasional legumes. On the "yes" list are at least nine cups of fruits and vegetables per day, consisting of three cups of leafy greens, three cups of deeply-colored items like beets, berries, carrots and squash, and three cups of sulfur-rich vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, asparagus, turnips and garlic.

Then Level Two, called "Wahls Paleo," kicks into gear, transitioning the reader into elimination of grains, legumes and white potatoes from all but two meals per week. Added to the protocol at this point -- which also happens to be the level that most people stick with over the long haul -- are sea vegetables, organ meats, daily animal protein, fermented foods, raw foods and soaked/sprouted nuts and seeds.

Finally, particularly for those who have an autoimmune condition and those who know of a predisposition to such an ailment, there is the Obi-Wan Kenobi level of the protocol (and I barely even like Star Wars, so I don't actually know why I just did that). It's called "Wahls Paleo Plus," and the intent of it is to help your mitochondria reach a just-ketogenic(fat-burning, rather than glucose-fueled)-enough state to reap the benefits of ketosis while you are still ingesting high-quality micronutrients in significant quantities that are often not present when hardcore levels of ketosis are reached.

(Indeed, there is even a detailed description of how to measure nutritional ketosis with inexpensive urine-ketone tests. Reader's Digest version: if your cells are still burning glucose, rather than ketones, a cheapo urine-ketone test will show zero ketones, and that's all you need to know -- i.e., am I, or am I not, in ketosis, not how far, how much, etc.)

Wahls Paleo Plus eliminates all grains, legumes and potatoes. It lowers the "nine cups a day" standard for fruits/veggies to six (because you won't be as hungry, and you want to maintain mild ketosis, which too many carbohydrates can wreck) but still emphasizes making sure to eat a varied mix of leafy greens, colors and sulfur-containing vegetables. Starchy vegetables are limited to twice a week, and fruits are limited to only low-glycemic/deeply-colored ones like berries and cherries. Additionally, coconut milk and oil are ingested in fairly large quantities -- good fat! MCTs! -- and an eating window of eight to twelve hours per day is urged, with fasting the rest of the day.

The level of detail provided for in every aspect of the Wahls Protocol is impressive. There are testimonials from happy fellow "Wahls Warriors," along with charts which not only answer yes/no questions on the propriety of any possible food item at any stage of the protocol, but which also explain why that food is deemed good or bad.

There is flexibility at work here as well, as opposed to rigid dogma. No, Terry Wahls is not going to tell you that it's cool to have a donut-and-beer bender, but she does freely admit that different folks are going to buy into the plan at different levels, and that such varied approaches are not only understandable but just fine, depending on your circumstance. Not only is her protocol about as far removed from the caveman/"meatitarian" caricature of paleo that gets played-up in the mainstream press (that's nine effing cups of veggies and fruits a day, haters; nine cups!), but she even provides a template for vegetarians to buy into the Wahls Diet portion of the plan. She also gently discusses the nutritional "dangers of vegetarianism" in a balanced way to try to convince the meat-squeamish to try at least the Wahls Paleo portion of the plan.

Another thing I love about this book -- and, yes, this is the biased view of a guy who was just on a Paleo FX panel called "Beyond Food": it's not all food. After the food plans (which, by the way, are full of menus and suggestions, in addition to explanations and reasons why to eat this way), The Wahls Protocol spends ample chapters on exercise (including independent areas of focus on strength, balance, movement, even electrical-stimulation, aka "E-stim," therapy), a detailed discussion of which dietary supplements might be needed/appropriate even with such an already nutrient-rich dietary regimen, and, maybe most critically of all, a whole chapter on stress reduction and its fundamental role in good health. Despite its importance, even the stress-reduction discussion is beautifully non-dogmatic, emphasizing the value of any and all stress-management techniques ranging from the simple (get outside! take a walk!) to the more intense, but more deeply rewarding (meditation!).

I love this book. You should get it, read it and start employing its dietary regimen to your life. Get rid of the junk. Eat the good stuff. Eat a lot of the good stuff. Fuel your cellular engines properly. Stay (or get) healthy.

"We're learning new things every day about the body and disease, but what I do know is this: When you align yourself with what nature intends for you, remove impediments to your biochemical functioning, and restore what your mitochondria and cells are missing, you can maximize your biochemical health at the cellular level to optimize your life, whatever your health challenge. The Wahls Protocol gave me my life back. Give it the chance to restore yours."

Hell yeah. Get this book. It can save your life.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Wussy --"Teenage Wasteland" live

This is my favorite song of 2014 so far -- a paean to being that 15-year-old kid hearing Quadrophenia and Who's Next for the first time and digging it all so fucking hard that it hurt.

Oh, and Wussy is the best damn indie band in America, but you knew that already.

Friday, April 18, 2014

The one thing I forgot to say on that Paleo FX panel

I was fortunate enough to be on a panel at Paleo FX 2014 called "Beyond Food." We were addressing a myriad of topics other than simple food choices that can affect someone's ability to optimize his or her health and happiness.

My fellow panelists and I all agreed that the Big Man (or Woman) driving the bus on all such issues is stress. We all have it in our lives. The trick is to manage it properly; it'll never be eliminated. The modern world is insane, and, even when doing your best to minimize their effects, our stressors are still ever-present and nearly completely different -- and of a much more enduring, rather than punctuated, nature -- than Grok ever faced in the Paleolithic. The key is how you react to stress. Do you let it float on past, or does it run your life for you?

So we Beyond Food-ers discussed meditation and flotation, even just the simple act of taking a walk outside, as stress-management techniques. We hit on play as exercise, and the effect that stress has on sleep and digestion. And I recall that, as our 45 minutes or so onstage drew to a close, I had made almost every point that I wanted to….

Except one. We'll call it:

An N=1 Story of Digestion. ("Uh oh," you say….)

My favorite kind of vacation is the outdoor kind, specifically the hiking kind. Go somewhere beautiful and set up house in a rental. And get outside as often as possible. My very favorite place to do that is in the Eastern Sierra Nevada mountains of California. I've been there a lot over the last ten or so years with both family and friends. Each time we stay in the town of Mammoth Lakes.

When we are there, usually for a two-week blast of sunshine, fresh mountain air and hike after hike, a typical day looks like:

--Get up with the sun, or not soon after.
--Eat a glorious, huge breakfast.

--Throw food and water into a backpack and head out the door.

--Spend most of the day outside, hiking, on mountains that we just don't have out east.

--Return "home" wonderfully exhausted and totally jazzed to do it all over again the next day (documented by "Look happier than is actually humanly possible to be" selfies).

--Eat dinner.
--Go to sleep.
--Repeat. Every day.

And then there's... the Ben and Jerry's.

Mammoth Lakes has a Ben and Jerry's store. Invariably, at the end of almost every day in Mammoth, one of us says, "So, whadya think... Ben and Jerry's?"

The answer has never been, "No."

We eat so fucking much ice cream out there that it's ridiculous.

If as part of my everyday life at home I ate ten percent of the ice cream that I eat when we are on vacation in Mammoth Lakes, the State of New Jersey would get a court order to forcibly commit me to solitary confinement in a bathroom for life.

I really don't do very well, digestively speaking, with regular dairy. So I don't eat it regularly.

Except on a hiking vacation.

And then? I can eat it whenever I want without incident.

I have only one explanation for this demonstrable dichotomy of dairy digestion***: vacation is a stress-free existence, outside, involving tons of natural Vitamin D****.

And you may recall: the famous smart people will tell you that stress impacts digestion in a big way.

And after the famous smart people leave, I'm here to tell you that a lack of the usual stressors does exactly the opposite.

It just happened to me again, on a much smaller level, in Austin, during my absurdly happy time at Paleo FX, where I had three scoops of delicious grassfed ice cream from Lick on my last night in town and I had not a hint of a twinge of a whisper of digestive upset. After a day at work, the same three scoops would be more, er, eventful for me (and for those within, uh, range). In fact, I remember thinking, "Do I really want to do this the night before I have to sit on planes for four hours?"

I did, and it was fine.

Dismiss this lesson as N=1 nonsense if you wish, but let me repeat: I don't usually eat dairy, but when I am essentially living outside, mostly stress-free, on vacation, I can.

That may be N=1, but it's also awesome.

And delicious.

And good to know.


***I'd like to think that if life were just and fair, somewhere there would some sort of award of many many bonus points coming my way for that little piece of alliteration. But no….

****True story: Vitamin D is not actually measured in tons.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Paleo FX 2014 -- the happy wrap-up post

Paleo FX really is the Super Bowl of the paleo/primal world. Last year, 2013, I dove headfirst into the conference, then in its second year -- but its first in expansive digs at the Palmer Events Center in Austin, Texas -- with my brain set on what I dubbed "learning mode." I had been to plenty of music conferences in the past, and I knew how to talk anyone's ear off just fine, but last year's PFX was going to be all about amassing as much high-level paleo knowledge as I could. The socializing could take a back seat for once.

And, as I told you in my review of PFX 2013, I followed that plan really well, seeing countless presentations and panels that blew me away. I left with my mind crammed with information,  a lot of great meals stuffed into my gaping maw and a vow to come back for another round.

But this year's conference, from April 11-13, 2014, at the same location, held a different attraction for me. Yeah, I still wanted to see great panels, but I wanted to meet people too -- paleo idols, fellow bloggers and regular conference attendees.

Additionally, I had been asked by Kendall Kendrick from Primal Balance to be the "meditation/stress-management" guy on a PFX panel called "Beyond Food." 

I had been a guest on Kendall's podcast last July. We had a great conversation, hit it off well and staged a couple of "30-day meditation challenges" thereafter. The idea of the Beyond Food panel was going to be a group of people, each with a different skill set and experience, addressing all the "other stuff" a paleo/primal person can do to optimize life. You know… play, sleep, stress-management, etc.

My initial reaction: "Wow. That sounds vaguely terrifying…. [Pause]…. But sure. I'd love to!"

My slight reticence wasn't from a fear of public speaking. I do that in my day job all the time. It was more of a bit of: "Whoa... I'm just a reasonably smart guy with a blog, and a point of view, and a big mouth full of opinions.... but, seriously, I'm no Robb Fucking Wolf." [Actually his middle name].

And then I realized I needed to knock off the minor self doubt, sack up and get involved.

I was in.

For PFX 2014 in Austin.

As a panelist.

I passed out cold. (Not actually true, but that's not really Robb Wolf's middle name either).

I recovered (predictably not hard to do when the passing out didn't happen) and off I went, full of enthusiasm.

So, for me, PFX 2014 went like this....

The "Socializing" (or, like the fancy folks say, the "networking") Part of the Conference

I flew into town already lucky. I had lots to do in Austin on Thursday night April 10, the evening before the PFX kickoff. There was an "official" pre-party, but I never bought a ticket to that soiree because, before I ever knew anything about the official wingding, I had accepted two other invitations. One was to a publicly-advertised "meetup" at 6 p.m. at Wholly Cow Burgers (grassfed! delicious!) downtown. I was staying only a few blocks away, so that was a no-brainer. I logged the details into my social calendar (code for "iPhone").

Next was going to be a private party at a secret location. I am really unsure how I got so fortunate as to be invited to such a nice friendly gathering of Important Paleo People (IPP), because I am nowhere near IPP level, but I was really appreciative -- so appreciative, in fact, that I am not going to tell you much about it -- because it was all secret and stuff, and full of IPP.

The plan was Wholly Cow first, and then the party. When I had gotten the party invitation, I had  figured that I was likely to meet someone(s) who might want to go to the IPP party after the Wholly Cow chowdown. So I cleared that possibility (one or two guests in addition to me) with the IPP host and she graciously said it was cool.

So I went to Wholly Cow. But damn, I was late. Really late. Like 7 p.m. My flight had been delayed. I saw two people there; they were eating. For the life of me, I couldn't remember the name of the dude organizing the meetup. So I approached: "Um, are you guys part of a group from a conference meeting here in town?" [Brief pause while couple suspiciously evaluates whether I am armed and/or dangerous…. "No, honey, he's just a paleo dork."] They were the meetup organizers! Kiley and his wife Jessica couldn't have been nicer. But they were almost done their meal. We talked for a bit, and they headed off for another event.

My friend Petra and her roommate/friend Marcy showed up at Wholly Cow shortly thereafter, later than me. Petra is an FB pal who has previously participated in a meditation challenge here on the Paleo Drummer page. She's super nice, but she's Finnish. They are not a wordy people. (In Finnish the really extra-long version of the Gettysburg address would have been: "Come on, people. Let's get it together, hmmm?" followed by 15 minutes of silence.)  So honestly, when I heard she was going to the Wholly Cow thing,  I was terrified that my caffeinated Philadelphia-isms were going to scare the living bejeezus out of her. But no. She weathered my wordy onslaught well, and after we ate delicious burgers, she and Marcy said they would like to go to the IPP party. So off we went to Whole Foods, bought hard cider, and then drove to the IPP party. It was great. I ran into people I knew already, which surprised me a bit because, as you may recall from many paragraphs ago, I didn't do all that much socializing last year.

I will not identify any of those people -- because the party was all secret and stuff -- but let's just say that the shindig started off well for us when Really Important Paleo Author Whom I Am Lucky To Know Already (RIPAWIALTKA) sees us coming in the porch door at the party and says, "Hey! What are you doing here?!" Cleverly, because I am nothing if not clever, I countered with: "What are you doing here?!" (because I thought she wasn't getting in until the next day). Many conversations were had thereafter, first with RIPAWIALTKA -- whom I introduced to a pretty-excited Petra and Marcy -- and then with lots of others, some of whom I "knew" from online interactions with their IPP FB pages, and some of whom I met for the first time that night. It was all very cool, and the three of us felt super fortunate to be there. If the person who invited me is reading this, really... that was nice of you. Thanks.

But all of that general awesomeness -- and I like very little more than meeting new and interesting people -- paled in comparison to the next day's adventure. Melissa Joulwan and I are blogger buds. She's the famous author one and I am…uh... not. We hit it off a couple years back when she and her husband Dave were in Philly for a book tour for Well Fed, her first cookbook. I knew she was a big Social Distortion/Mike Ness fan, and at the time I thought the then-new Social D record was a small step down from their previous glory, so, like the serious music geek that I am, I introduced myself and said, "So, I don't want to talk paleo with you. I want to know what you think of this new Social D album."

This strategy paid off in a bonus-length conversation about music, specifically punk rock, and we have been paleo/punk-rock pals since then. So, when I knew that PFX14 was looming, I contacted Mel to make sure we'd have some time to shoot the proverbial shit. We decided to take a walk around the lake at lunchtime on Friday. We covered a boatload of topics, never shut up once, and I learned a whole lot of important info about a paleo-related topic about which she knows a lot, and which plays into future plans of mine (about which we will not talk for a considerable time, thankyouverymuch…). It was a great hour or so. I left the conversation with a few things: (1) an abiding gratitude that I hit it off with her so well way back when, because she's awesome and smart and I like awesome and smart; (2) a ridiculous selfie inspired by her declaration, "Let's make mean faces!"; (3) a lot of much-more-concrete-than-before future plans of my own for that idea of mine (about which we still will not talk for a considerable time, thankyouverymuch….); and (4) Mike Ness's leather jacket.

Really. Mike Fucking Ness's leather jacket.

Mel bought it many years ago on a fannish lark, and, now that she and Dave are downsizing and moving out of town, she asked me if I wanted the jacket -- to "keep it in the family." It doesn't really fit me well. He's short. I'm tall. It doesn't matter. It's Mike Ness's leather jacket. Totally badass. How lucky am I?

                                                            photo by Jen Cray

If the day's socializing had stopped there, I would have been just fine. But no…. That evening was the Speakers' Dinner at a local farm. I got in great offbeat conversations (who knew Darryl Edwards has a trip-hop(ish) album from a few years back? Not me, until I talked music with him that night. Who knew that Jimmy Moore gleefully walks around with sticks of Kerrygold butter ready to devour them? OK, you may have known that), and my fellow tablemates Tony Federico, Roger Dickerman (from Philly!) and Joe Johnson were a veritable laugh riot. Thanks for letting me into the festivities, guys.

Oh, and if you ever have a chance to talk about floating with Evan Brand, do it. The dude takes my enthusiasm for the subject and multiplies it by ten. It's downright infectious, I tell ya.

On Saturday, I reconnected with Petra and Marcy for a delicious and fun lunch at El Alma. And then that evening I met our "Paleo Posse" -- the product of a great idea from the PFX organizers: match a conference speaker/panelist or two with a group of six or seven other conference attendees and let the whole group organize an outing (and PP is their clever name for it, not mine). Jimmy Moore and I were the speaker/panelists in the group -- he the famous one, me the…uh… other one (you may notice a repeating theme here). Jimmy is great. I love him. He puts everyone at ease. He mentions butter a lot. He cracks jokes. He mentions butter again. He yells the word "ketone" in public places, often coupled with "butter." He and I were joyfully busting on each other soon into the gathering. And the other folks? Damn, what a nice bunch of people. I am now Facebook/Twitter pals with most of them (and the rest should get on that… hint). There were Morgan, Bryan, Aaron, Adam, Mireia, Lisa and Kristin, and every one was a pleasure to hang with. We laughed (a lot). We ate (a lot of) mediocre barbecue at a place that Morgan the local warned us about. I talked (a lot). They didn't seem to mind (much, anyway). It was a blast.

And then Sunday night, those of who remained in town did it all over again (with new members Krista and Julie), but this time with a stop at the 24 Diner for glorious food and at Lick for grassfed ice cream in weird flavors that nature may have never intended, but which work really well together. (Goat-cheese/thyme/honey ice cream. What?! Yes please, and it was delicious).

Really, fellow Paleo Posse members, you made my conference experience extra fun. Thanks.

So 800 zillion words into this, you might be thinking, "But did he like the actual conference?"

He did.

The "Conference" Part of the Conference

I saw a lot of great panels and speakers. I missed a bunch of other top-notch ones because the ones I was at were so good. The scheduling conflicts were unreal. The organizers had so many smart and amazing people on four or five different stages at once that you had to just commit yourself to the notion that you couldn't possibly see every last thing that you wanted to.

But amidst the great were a few presentations that really stuck out as even better than that. Everything I saw was wonderful, certainly never worse than an "A-" and usually a solid "A," but some were "double freaking A+." Those would be these ones:

Hacking Stress (Under Pressure) panel -- If you hang around these parts at all, you know that I think stress management is the key to everything. If handled poorly, stress disrupts sleep, hormones, digestion and… well, life. This panel (A. Jolly, Nora Gegaudes, Ben Greenfield, Evan Brand and Sara Eye) each contributed their own specialized take on the subject. I particularly noted how Evan wowed everyone with flotation talk (I know more than a few people did their first float that weekend because of his enthusiasm for the topic) and how Sara's salty take on growing up, getting your act together and ditching the excuses for failing to address stress was really refreshing (Ben Greenfield with the play-by-play on Sara's early contribution: "Wow. That's three shits and a fuck so far!"). An extraordinary hour.

A Nervous Tap: Your Nervous System is Talking. Are You Listening? -- This was a heart rate-variability (HRV) talk by Jason Moore. I loved it. I thought I already knew a whole lot about HRV, but this was the best-organized presentation I have seen yet about why knowing and managing your HRV can lead to better exercise performance, and a better life. And I got to ask geeky questions of Jason afterwards. He was super accommodating in that regard, and I appreciate it.

Living a Happy, Intentional Life panel -- Happiness is not underrated. But, as you get older, more cynical and more mired in your ways, you can forget that the intentional, driven pursuit of happiness is critically important to making your short ride on the planet the best it can be. Every member of this panel nailed that concept, from multiple angles, over and over. I thought that Hilary Bromberg and Dean Dwyer were particularly entertaining and cogent, but the rest of the panel (Michelle Norris, Nicole Avena and Darryl Edwards) were right there with them leading the charge into Awesomeness. I went to this presentation originally figuring that I would like it, but also sort of strategizing that if I saw this one, I would already be in the room for the next panel: the Robb Wolf and Mark Sisson show. It turned out that, yeah, I enjoyed those uber-famous guys, but this? Off-the-charts amazing.

(A "networking" digression: in keeping with my view (previously expressed here) that a really heartfelt compliment is a great and genuine thing to give (and, sadly, too-rare), I always try to track down folks whose work I appreciate so I can tell them so. When I saw Hilary Bromberg later, I told her that she was great on the Happiness panel. When I ran into Jason Seib and Sarah Fragoso, I told them how much I love their work and their attitudes. (And I may have kinda swooned when they both told me they read my stuff regularly. Nice….) And when I saw Stefani Ruper -- whose work I really admire and with whom I have occasionally tweeted back-and-forth recently -- and Dean Dwyer sitting at a table together signing books, I decided to talk to them quickly. I introduced myself to Stefani, and, as she came around the table to give me a hug, I turned to Dean and said, "Dude, I just want to tell you that you were fucking fantastic on that Happiness panel. I wasn't familiar with you previously, but now I have a lot of catching up to do with your podcast." Stefani (to Dean), laughing: I like Steve... because Steve likes me! That's how blogging works, right?" Dean: "I like Steve because he really knows how to compliment an author! Thanks, Steve!")

Perception is Reality: the Biggest Lie in the Fitness Industry -- I love Jim Laird. His coaching philosophy, which stresses movement and mindfulness over beating oneself senseless in the pursuit of health and longevity, is right up my alley. (I like health. I like longevity. I'm fucking old. I'd like to be here, happy, for a while.) I have heard Jim on a few podcasts, but this presentation was something special. Jim was in pure Henry Rollins mode. He didn't say anything that surprised me, mind you. It was all in the same general neighborhood of "smart training and meditation trumps overtraining every time" but he seethed a little more than any of those other times. You could tell that he was on a mission. Two microphones broken and 30 minutes later, with folks like Sara Fragoso, Jason Seib, Roger Dickerman, Eva Twardokens and Joe Johnson cheering him on with the rest of us, he finished -- the last presentation of the last day of PFX, and it was a raging mofo of perfectly-placed righteousness. Boom.

So then you might ask yourself, "Wait, wasn't this loquacious bastard blogger on a panel himself?"

He was. It went like this.

The "Panel That I Was On" Part of the Conference

Our panel was called Beyond Food. The idea -- as I said earlier, to put five folks with slightly different skills and perspectives on one panel to address a myriad of ways that one can optimize life "beyond food" -- was Kendall's. She's great that way, and, man, when I heard who was on the panel with us (Tony Federico as moderator, Darryl Edwards, Dan Stickler and Kyle Maynard, in addition to me and Kendall) I thought two things: (1) "Wow, what a group that is," and (2) "I'd better bring my 'A' Game, or my super-smart fellow panelists are going to crush me with their super-smartness."

I'll leave it to someone else to tell you how I did. I made every point I came in intending to make, save one (and that'll be the next blog post, because that is how blogging works, hmmm?), plus added some thoughts here and there on new topics that came up, so I had fun and was happy with my work up there. But my fellow panelists were really and truly fantastic. Kyle brings such optimism and grit to the table that he inspired me from the second I saw him leap out of his wheelchair, bound across the stage and get on his barstool. What he had to say thereafter focused on life optimization in a beautiful and multi-faceted way. Dan had the smart-doctor end of the conversation covered completely. Whether the topic was sex hormones, sleep or stress, he nailed it. Kendall has the whole gamut of digestion/food-availability/sourcing/etc so well organized in her mind from her many presentations on those topics that she speaks and I think, "How the hell did she just say all that so clearly and perfectly?" And her contributions to the rest of the discussion, whether on stress, sex or just getting outside, were spot-on. Darryl -- ever-present in his outside "play" groups all weekend -- brought his funny, cogent take on play and doing what you love for a living as the fundamental missing links in exercise and happiness.

And Tony? If I told you how organized Tony was about this whole panel from behind the scenes, you'd want to fire the rest of us for slacking in comparison. He is a rock star of panel moderation. And a funny guy. Funny, you may recall, is good.

I thought our panel did really well. And I am truly proud to have participated. Thanks, Kendall, for the opportunity! Thanks all of you for kicking ass.

So then you ask yourself, "Are we finally done with this ramble? I have a life to get on with."

We are. After this….

The "Big-Take-Away" Part of the Conference

Notice something? I hardly used the word "paleo" at all to describe what actually impressed me most about this conference. Yeah, the word is right there in the name, but my experience this year -- and what really resonated with me -- was everything having to do with happiness, life optimization and stress management. Whether it was more networking in the first evening alone than I did at all last year's conference, or attending some mindblowingly great panels, PFX 14 was all about being happy this year -- and all the ways you get to that lofty, and sometimes elusive, goal.

Damn, I had fun.

I'm happy about that.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

It just doesn't matter what you eat (today)

This post has knocked on the door of my brain so many times recently, asking to be let out, but I hadn't figured out precisely what would happen if I just threw open the door and let it run around. Well, here goes....

I've talked before about how food and guilt just don't belong together.

But have I told you all the real secret: that it just doesn't matter what you eat today?

And by "matter," I am not talking about the predictable side effects of today's pizza/beer/cupcake bender.

What I mean is something a bit heavier. (Are you sitting down?)

Here's the thing: in 200 years, chances are that no one's ever going to know anything about you or even know that you were here. Yeah, there are going to be some notable exceptions -- politicians, world leaders and the like -- but think about it: how many people from 1814 can you even name? Now take out all the politicians, you history majors. How many "regular" people are on your list?

Without turning this into the paleo version of the Total Perspective Vortex, the point is.... Well, I think you get my point. Your trip on the planet is brief, and, more likely than not, is going to leave very few permanent marks.

More precisely, in 2214, no one's going to give a fuck whether you ate a bagel today.

So should you care?

I think you should care about anything that affects your happiness and the happiness of others. Because there are really only a couple strong motivators of human behavior: fear of the consequences, and happiness. But fear is a shitty emotion, let alone an awful motivation, and we should be striving to eliminate it, not basing our decisions on it more than necessary. Fear makes my stomach hurt.

So what about happiness?

That bagel (or, if you prefer, the pizza/beer/cupcake bender....this is Hypothetical Land, after all. It doesn't matter. Oh wait, very little matters... sigh....) is going to be delicious. So there's the positive effect on short-term happiness involved there. There's also the presumed negative effect on your slightly-longer-termed happiness. Or maybe we should switch to the pizza/beer/cupcake bender after all and cut to the chase: you are going to feel bloated and awful the next day. "Worth" it?

This is where it gets a little tricky, I guess. Answering that question is a careful balancing act between pain and pleasure. And you are just the adult to make that call.

Make it without guilt, but also make it understanding that this one decision really doesn't matter.

What matters is your long-term happiness.

I suspect that your long-term happiness is going to take a bit of a hit if you string together a bunch of dietary horror shows. But again, you're just the adult to make that call as well.

There's an old anti-anxiety mantra that goes something like: "Will it matter in a day? What about a week? What about a year? What about ten years?" You'll find that very few decisions in life register on the ten-year list. But I dare say that none of those -- not a single fucking one -- is a solitary food choice that you will make today.

Yes, your overall dietary approach affects your happiness. And your happiness affects the happiness of those around you. But let's not pretend for a moment that one dietary choice "matters." It's your mindset and your overall behavior that affects your long-term happiness.

And let's digress to make clear that if you think this is my way of saying 80/20 paleo sounds like a good plan to me, it's not.

But neither is stressing about an individual food choice. Have a plan. Deviate from the plan when you need to, or, more specifically, when you really want to. Get back on the plan.

Know what you want. Be an adult. Be happy.

Or as the single most wasted talent in rock and roll once sang back when he was still brilliant: "Make the best out of the bad; just laugh it off. You didn't have to come here anyway."

Because if anything really "matters," it's being happy and spreading a little of that around. Go do that.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

A reminder: Paleo FX is coming!

As I have told you before, I'm on a panel at Paleo FX this year. April 11-13, 2014. Austin, TX. All the details are here and here.

And really, if you are there and you don't say hi to me, it's going to bum me out. So be social and unafraid. I plan on it.

Sometimes the solution is simpler than all that

Every now and then I get in a conversation -- about food, exercise, meditation, whatever -- and it makes me think that I need to remind some of you not to think too hard.

Last night, a paleo/CrossFit friend expressed concern that having "bulletproof coffee" for breakfast just wasn't holding her through the morning. She said she wakes up hungry, staves off the hunger with a mug of coffee, butter and coconut oil, and then is starving again by 10:30 a.m., whereupon she eats her lunch earlier than expected.

That generally doesn't happen to me.

But we're not all the same.

If you want a veritable treatise on why we aren't all the same, you could read Stefani Ruper's fine piece from a couple years ago about why intermittent fasting often doesn't work for women. (You could also, if you are either (a) a woman, or (b) a paleo professional who counsels folks on food, etc., read Ruper's new book Sexy By Nature for a more in-depth look at how to make paleo/primal living work in a way that is properly integrated into a woman's hormonal profile).

But I think maybe the place to start with any issue like this is a simpler question: how do you feel?

If you are waking up hungry, I'd suggest a pretty basic solution: eat something.

Bulletproof-coffee-fueled fasts are great. Unless they aren't. The basic idea behind any intermittent-fasting regimen is that if you wake up in a ketogenic, fat-burning state, it can do wonders for fat-burning, autophagy, etc., to prolong that state through the morning and then have one's first meal a little later, like around lunch.

But if you are waking up with a hunger that rates anywhere between "Yeah, I'd like to eat," or "Stop blocking my path to the fridge, or you gonna die," or if BP coffee doesn't last you for long, I think the way to handle that is by…. eating!

Hungry? Eat? A radical concept, I know….

Just like I have told you in the past not to get yourself all tied up in knots over trying to reach the vaunted and coveted seventeenth level of paleo nirvana -- where Robb Wolf and Mark Sisson appear to you in a hazy dream bearing bacon snacks and effusive praise for your ability to alter your leptin and Vitamin D levels on demand while deadlifting 500 pounds and sleeping like a contented Zen master -- don't get so caught up in the more gimmicky (albeit often legit) "tricks" of paleo that you lose sight of the goal: happiness through living a lifestyle that actually works well for you.

So, my smart friend who tries really hard to get everything perfect, listen to your body. And don't worry about perfect. Eat in a way that makes you happy.

Or, as a wise band once sang: "Don't get tangled up trying to be free."


Review: Wussy live at Milkboy Philly, 4/3/14

                                          Photo by acidjack from

I walked up to Mark Messerly, bass player for the Cincinnati indierock band Wussy, after their gig at Milkboy Philly Thursday night and said, "Hey man, I just want you to know that I have been seeing you guys since the first album, and the way this all has progressed into this amazing controlled squall of complete noisy freakout onstage is really fucking impressive. You all are totally killing it, and I just wanted to make sure to tell you how much I appreciate you coming out here to do this." This huge smile came across his face and he clenched up both fists, and said, "Yesssssssss! That's so great to hear."

That's pretty much the totality of my review this time around.

I have previously gone on (and on and on -- perhaps, yes, like a putrid Stephen Bishop song from the mid-'70s) about the wonder that is this band. So, for that matter, has Robert Christgau.

You could go here to read what I wrote about their 2013 Philly show, or here to get the bigger picture.

I will just add this: the hybrid that Wussy has created of a twang/drone/squall full of melody and harmony is, as far as I can tell, the closest thing to simultaneously unique, powerful and hook-filled that I can find in the music world in 2014. They take the standard Americana vibe, paying particular attention to add extra bits from R.E.M., Neil Young and Gram Parsons, with male/female vocal harmonies that sometimes head for X and sometimes for more standard twang, but they contrast and juxtapose that against a rumble and thunder on the bottom end that brings bits of Joy Division into the room when least expected, and -- in the guitar department -- a controlled fury and, yes, squall (there's that word again) that rivals Sonic Youth and Electr-o-pura-era Yo La Tengo for sheer skronk and waves of chord and feedback-drenched glory. The addition of steel player John Erhardt has upped that guitar-fury ante so high that, when pitted against the formidable rhythm section, I get joyful visions of the Who circa 1975 or so.

Which is kind of ironic, because they opened the show with a gorgeous, building crescendo of a new song called "Teenage Wasteland" that pays deep and geeked-out homage to the wonder of being a (deeply geeked-out) fanboy (or girl) of the Who in the 1970s.

The first time I ever took someone who was completely unfamiliar with this band's catalog to go see them live, he turned to me, approximately 45 seconds into the first song, as Chuck Cleaver and Lisa Walker wailed away about saving money for a funeral dress and the band raged with them, and -- with a look like he had just found Jesus, Buddha, Allah and the Quaker Oats man cohabitating in a way that only John Prine could predict -- he said, "Holy SHIIIIIT, I'm glad I did this."

If you went to see them, you would too.

Which is what you should do.

Check the tour schedule. It should soon be chock full of dates supporting their soon-to-be-released new album, Attica.

And, putting on my Captain Serious hat for just a moment, let's not pretend that, in the modern world where making a living in music is already tough enough, this train of awesome that is this band can continue to roll on the tracks forever without a little more support from the music-obsessed among us. It's fucking hard to take a band out on the road and play for only 50-100 people (or fewer) a night no matter how much onstage glory gets created. (I've been there, and you get off the road after even a five-day mini-tour, and try to mentally walk a path through the never-ending conflict between the joy of the whole process and wondering why you fucking bother. Really).

Go see this band. Buy their albums. Make them keep getting in the van to be as great as they are. You'll be glad you did.

"Do you remember the moment you finally did something about it??
When the kick of the drum lined up with the beat of your heart.
Stuck in the corn maze with only a transistor radio.
Making paths with the sound waves and echoes in old Baba O."