Sunday, June 29, 2014

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

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

And you are thinking about trying it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

But those people are really rare.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, June 20, 2014

Thoughts from the hiking trail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Wednesday, June 11, 2014


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

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

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

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

We're doing it again, with some adjustments.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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