Sunday, January 25, 2015

Simplicity, as a manifesto

I used to joke with a few readers of this blog who are also friends in real life: "I wonder when I won't have a thing left to say? I mean you can only have so many opinions about health and fitness and all that before you just start repeating yourself, right?"

Right.

It's not that I've reached the end point. But I have to admit that after a few years of holding forth on this and that angle of food and exercise, I'm so happy where I am at right now that the blog posts haven't exactly been flowing out of my fingertips like they used to. I'm kind of locked into a (very good) routine, so to speak, and who wants to hear the same thing over and over?

As I've told you any number of times, I eat whatever I want. That "whatever" has been modified often over the last few years of paleo/primal, through twists and turns of self-experimentation. (Intermittent fasting, anyone? Quitting alcohol for "health" reasons only to learn that doing so makes my LDL particle number soar?) But I've been kind of settled in for a while now. Ever since last May -- when I stopped midway through a morning routine of globbing butter and MCT oil into my "bulletproof coffee," which I was drinking at the time instead of eating breakfast, and wondered out loud, "Who the hell actually does this weird shit... and, most importantly, why am I?" -- I have been on a plan that I call "basic paleo." Or even better: "eating real food."

And it's been spectacular.

For me.

And yeah, this is where I pause for a moment and explain, for the zillionth time, that the subject of this blog is, as always, what works for me. What works for me isn't necessarily what works for you. So caveat emptor and all that. And no, for the love of all that is good and right, I am not telling you what to do, or even suggesting what you should do. But this, in bullet-point form, is what is floating my boat these days -- simplicity -- so do with it what you will:

1. I'M DONE WITH GIMMICKS, OF EVERY SORT

I don't know when it happened, but it happened. Sometime after "paleo" -- you know: eating animals, vegetables and good fats -- got popular, it didn't really stay the same for long. Suddenly, there was "bulletproof" coffee, and intermittent fasting, and a whole lot of people going ketogenic and lots of supplements to help CrossFitters reach whatever the fuck "beast mode" is. And while every one of those things has a limited time and place where it can be effective for some people, it seems like too many of us (and I was one) got dazzled by the shiny fringes and forgot that most of paleo eating is eliminating the bullshit and complications, not finding new, more attractive forms of both.

To take but one example, yeah, a little (unsalted! grassfed!) butter in your coffee tastes great. That's cool. And no, saturated fat is not the demon that the food-pyramid folks make it out to be. But articles like this one have made me question why, in a bastardized version of intermittent fasting, I was skipping a nutrient-filled breakfast of real food for a nutrient-deficient fat bomb in liquid form. I feel like one of two things is going to happen to me from guzzling those buttered coffees: either caloric overload via saturated fat -- which can translate to bad results in lipid levels -- or nutrient deficiencies if I am subbing out real food and having that butter bomb as a "meal." So I quit the bullshit in favor of eating three actual meals a day -- three satiating, nutrient-filled meals of real food. No weirdness. No extreme deprivation either. I eat until I'm full and I hardly ever snack. My coffee, if I drink it? Black, because I like coffee.

And I am adopting this rationale with everything else. These days, the basics are what I stress, and the extremes are what I shun. Very few pills go in my mouth: magnesium (because it's almost impossible to get enough through modern food), a little fish oil if I haven't otherwise eaten enough fish, and a little Vitamin D in the winter when it is nearly impossible to get enough sun. But protein powder or other workout "supplements?" Nope. I ditched that post-workout in favor of this crazy stuff called real food. I am not an "athlete"; I'm just a guy trying to live long and be happy. Simplicity, through real nutrient-dense food, is helping me get there.

2. I EAT A LOT OF VEGETABLES

Somewhere along the line, paleo got labeled as "eating a lot of meat." And I get it; vegetables aren't super sexy, or at least they won't make your friends ooh and ahh like a juicy steak will.  But the one thing I've found the food-pyramid folks have right is a Michael Pollan-ish focus on eating lots of different vegetables, loaded with lots of different nutrients. All that "eat the colors of the rainbow" stuff? Yup. At every meal.

3. I EAT ANIMAL PROTEIN AT EVERY MEAL

Does this require explanation?  Animal protein provides a range of amino acids, B-12,  and other nutrients that simply are not sufficiently available elsewhere. But always (always!) we eat the highest-quality animal protein that we can afford, because you want to know one thing the anti-meat folks have right? Poorly-raised factory meat is really bad for you.

4. I EAT A LOT OF FISH, PARTICULARLY SARDINES

I eat between four and seven cans of sardines a week. Really. Liz Wolfe will tell you why.

5. I EAT (CLEAN) CARBS AT A LEVEL (AND TIMING) APPROPRIATE TO MY ACTIVITY

Type "paleo carbs" into your Googlemachine and you can settle in for hours of reading over the shitstorm that brews in Paleoland over the consumption of carbs. High-carb, low-carb, blah blah blah.

I've opted for what I'll call "appropriate carbs." If I lift heavy, or do something glycolytically demanding (like a CrossFit metcon, or a lot of drumming), then I eat some sweet potatoes, or white potatoes, or plantains. I might even have some fruit. If I have a day where I just walked, and didn't work out, then my body isn't screaming for a recharge on carbs, and I go lower-carb that day. If I get offstage, like I did the other night, semi-exhausted from beating the crap out of the drums and craving massive quantities of salt and carbs, I might even eat a whole freaking basket of French fries (yes, this happened, and no, it doesn't happen often). If it sounds like what I am saying is that I listen to my body and eat carbs appropriately.... yup. That's exactly what I do.

I also time my carb intake, rarely eating them in the morning -- so as to avoid an insulin spike/crash -- and, instead, I eat them as part of a post-workout meal, or even right before bed, because Zzzzzzzz.

6. I DRINK BONE BROTH EVERY DAY

Like this. As a result, I rarely get a cold, and that (maybe) once-a-year bout with some sniffles? It has not once turned into something worse since I began this broth regimen.

Also, before you call that a gimmick, it's just well-sourced soup stock, for crying out loud, not some sort of weirdo supplement.

7. MY CAFFEINE (AND COFFEE) INTAKE IS WAY DOWN

I quit drinking coffee entirely a while back in favor of black and green tea. I saw an extremely positive change in what had become an annoyingly daily acid-stomach feeling. After a few months sans the vaunted bean, things were better enough that I will live it up and have about one or two cups of coffee per week. One of the sort-of side benefits of tea is that, unless you are going to drink a ton of it -- and I don't -- you are going to necessarily reduce your caffeine intake. Which brings us to....

8. SLEEP IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN ANYTHING ELSE (AND MEDITATION -- AND LOWER CAFFEINE INTAKE -- GETS ME GOOD SLEEP)

Eight to nine hours. Every night. It makes everything work better. Mood, digestion, the immune system, just plain feeling good. All of it. And lower caffeine intake really makes sleep better. So does daily meditation. particularly when we are talking about avoiding the dreaded middle-of-the-night worry wakeup.

9. I DON'T EAT OFF-ROAD MUCH, BUT, WHEN I DO, I LOVE IT, AND I MOVE THE HELL ON

There is no "cheating," not because I don't ever eat non-paleo food, but because eating has nothing to do with cheating. It's all about, once again, knowing what you really want. That basket of French fries was a terrible idea, if I repeated it regularly, but I don't. So it was absolutely spectacular, right then and there. I ate it. I moved on. This paragraph is short, because it's that fucking simple.

10. I'VE PRIORITIZED MY FUN

I've learned that the single most important recreational activity for me is playing drums. The payoff -- physical, spiritual, emotional, the whole nine yards -- is more than you can possibly imagine. So every other recreational activity has to do two things: get the hell in line, and don't fuck with my drumming. Nothing is more important than happiness, and drumming makes me absurdly happy. But I'm 52 years old and drumming also exacts an enormous toll on my body some nights. I don't play softly, and I do play aggressively. So basically all my other fun -- CrossFit, particularly -- has to be structured around band practice, gigs and other times when I play drums. When I was 25, I could play drums for three hours, shotgun 12 beers and operate under an illusion that that sort of thing doesn't affect my playing. Now, everything affects my playing: sleep, nutrition, exercise, mood. Everything. So I try and structure my workouts so they enhance my endurance and strength, on one hand, and don't leave me so spent, on the other, that I don't play drums as well.

11. LIFTING HEAVY IS AWESOME, TO A POINT

In the same vein, lifting heavy weights is a great way to exercise, but, if I don't do it intelligently, particularly with smart rest/recovery periods, it will drag me down. So my lifting week looks like a day of squats, a day of rest, a deadlift day, a day of rest, another heavy day (maybe overhead, or maybe another squat session), and more rest. Occasionally I will do a fourth day of maybe slightly reduced weights, but higher reps. But that's it. Usually just three days per week, maybe four. Like that raven said, "Never more." 

12. SHORT SPRINT-STYLE METCONS STILL SUIT ME BEST (BUT I'D REALLY RATHER JUST SPRINT)

Drumming is metabolic conditioning for me, so I don't stress out over skipping metcon work at the gym, but when I do it? It's always short and fast. Chronic cardio? I find it counterproductive to fat loss and to feeling good. So does this guy. (And on the other hand, if long slow distance runs were what I loved, I would do them, because nothing beats happiness; I'd just understand how that affects my exercise/body-comp goals. Fortunately, I like drumming better). And in the end, if all I ever did for "cardio" (in addition to drumming) was sprint a few days a week, I'd be fine.

13. WALKING EVERY DAY IS AWESOME

The pros call it "low-intensity steady-state" cardio (LISS). I call it walking. It has enormous fat-loss benefits without the cortisol-buildup downside of long-distance running or elliptical machines, or any of that stuff that most of the public thinks of as "what you do at the gym."  You can, and should, walk every day, because it doesn't beat you up like other forms of exercise, and it burns fat like a mofo (a technical term). If this whole lift/walk/sprint prescription sounds like I appropriated it from Jason Seib, it's because I did. As Jason says (I'm paraphrasing), the most amount of walking you should do is whatever you have time for.

14. I STILL DON'T TRACK MY GYM PERFORMANCE

As I told you here, I quit tracking my gym performance a while ago. I'm competitive enough already, and I'm not exercising to be the best exerciser. I'm doing it just as a vehicle to enjoying life more. I've learned that whether my one-rep deadlift is 405 or 425 just doesn't fucking matter. What matters is being happy. You may have heard that here before.
 
15. I STILL LOVE CROSSFIT

Because it changed my life (and still does).

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And so all of that is what I do. It's balanced, easy and simple. It never requires a stress response, or a gimmick, and it always urges me to live in the moment. It also focuses me, above all else, on having fun and being happy.

'"Res ipsa loquitur. Let the good times roll."
    -- Dr. Hunter S. Thompson








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