Sunday, December 29, 2013

Once again, here are some tips on how to succeed on a 30-day paleo challenge

In a few days, our gym is going to be starting a 30-day paleo challenge. The rules are pretty simple.

The real reasons for doing this are also pretty simple.

The side benefits are even nicer -- things like more energy, better body comp, better sleep, better performance in the gym, etc.

Easy, right?

Yes. Except somehow a large percentage of people manage to get themselves all twisted in knots over these things.

So, in a personal fit of helpfulness, fueled by caffeine, here are a few tips from me to get you to your paleo happy place -- i.e., how to finish this thing a month or so from now with positive results. Let's go....

1. Just don't even start with the drama, OK?

Paleo challenges are not, in any reasonable sense of the word, "hard." Cancer is hard. Paraplegia is hard. Strokes and heart attacks are hard. Eating seriously delicious food in an unlimited quantity that makes you happy is not hard. (Yes, in an *unlimited* quantity... More on that in a second).

And OK, yeah, if you are a serious processed-food junkie at the moment, and have been living life on bread, cookies, pasta and beer, the first few days of this may involve a little brain fog, some cravings, etc. But that ends pretty quickly, and let's be serious. Somewhere there is a kid with cancer who wishes her biggest problem was that she didn't have a freaking cookie. Toughen the eff up. Stop complaining. This isn't hard. It is a minor bump in the road to get you to awesome.

2. EAT!

For the love of all that is good and right, eat something! Something paleo, that is. Eat a lot of good fats. They keep you full. Drink bulletproof coffee (coffee with sizable hunks of unsalted grassfed butter (like Kerrgold) and coconut oil blended into it. It will make you perky, full and happy. (Don't drink it late in the afternoon or evening, or you'll mess up your sleep). After years of living with "low-fat" nonsense in packages from aisles of the grocery store where there is no actual food, you may have forgotten something: eating is the best way not to be hungry. So eat. Eat paleo food.

3. Always have paleo food prepared, with you, and ready to eat.

I have already written an entire post on this subject. It's really hard to get hungry when you have food with you. It's really hard to eat non-paleo food when you have paleo food with you. Or if you go and eat paleo food anyway in that circumstance, then..."Sometimes I doubt your commitment to Sparkle Motion." (That's a Donnie Darko reference; if you don't get it, I am sad for you). Does that require further explanation?

4. Prepare a lot more than one meal's worth of food at a time.

You are cooking anyway. It doesn't take three times as long to cook three pounds of meat and veggies than it does to cook one pound. Live on leftovers. They rule.

5. Don't ever let me hear you say, "But I don't have any recipes!!!!"

Please. There are, give or take, approximately 800 gazillion "paleo recipes" on the internet. Find them. Better yet, don't. Instead, stand on top of your kitchen counter, naked if you choose, clutching your mug of bulletproof coffee, and loudly proclaiming, arms stretched toward the sky, "FUCK RECIPES!!!! I am just going to COOK SOMETHING DELICIOUS!!!!" Then leap down from the counter (careful, now...), throw some delicious meat into a pan with spices of your choice, cook it in its own fat (low heat will do this really well; it just takes a little longer, but it's good not to burn the bejeezus out of your food because... cancer), and add some veggies to cook with it toward the end of the whole deal. Boom. A meal. If you cooked a lot of meat and veggies, that would be many meals. That was easy, and fun.

6. Don't step on the scale.

Stop weighing yourself. Weight means nothing. Body composition (body-fat percentage) means a lot. But weight means nothing. How your clothes fit is *really* what matters. You are a CrossFitter. You lift heavy things. Lifting heavy things has the magical ability to make you thinner where you want to be thinner *and* denser in terms of muscle. Muscle weighs more than fat. There are documented cases of women going from a size 14 to a size 2 via paleo eating and heavy lifting and not losing a pound. Yes, you read that right. Not one pound. If those women got all weight-neurotic during that process, they would be sad and miserable. Instead, they got what trainer and paleo author Jason Seib calls "healthy by choice and hot by accident." Get away from the scale. It is an irrelevant tool used to caused neurosis, particularly in women, not a viable measurement of anything. Fight the power. Smash the scale.

7. Don't "cheat."

I have previously made it clear that I hate the word "cheat" as applied to food, but you all use it, so I will too, just this once, for clarity.

Remember why you are really doing this paleo challenge -- to detox your body from atrocious food choices that are wrecking your insides in ways that you can't currently even fully comprehend. Yeah, there are tons of great side benefits, and after a month of "paleo challenging," more beautiful people that you didn't even know cared will say nice things to you, perhaps even complimenting your butt, BUT (I did that on purpose)... all that stuff isn't why you are doing this. You are doing this, first and foremost, to detox. What happens if while "detoxing" from ANYTHING you pour back in some of the bad stuff? Well, durrrr, you just re-poisoned yourself and you are back at (or towards) Square One. Don't be a dope, OK?

That's all I have. Charge into this thing with enthusiasm. Yes, there may be mild moments of suckage. They will be dwarfed and rendered irrelevant by your future awesomeness.

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Friday, December 27, 2013

A new 30-day meditation challenge starts January 1, 2014

About six months ago, Kendall Kendrick had me as a guest on her Born Primal podcast. I had a blast. I used to do some college and community radio, and Kendall used to be a pro radio personality in an earlier life, so our biggest danger was talking over top of one another out of a burning zeal to Say All The Funny Things. But somehow, we hardly interrupted each other at all, and we had a great time.

Best of all, that podcast kicked off a 30-day meditation challenge that went for most of July. And while participation was modest in terms of numbers, I feel like we got quite a few people into a daily meditation practice that they still are continuing. In fact, a couple of them -- Jim Eaton and Wren -- even checked in here with guest posts about their experiences.

So.... We are going to do it again. Once every six months seems about right for one of these things.

Starting January 1 -- and really, what's a better time than the beginning of a new year? -- we need at least ten minutes a day from you for... nothing. That's right, meditation, the conscious act of thinking about nothing. Our modern lives are so stressed and our brains are so busy that sleep, digestion and *everything* get affected. Meditation, as little as ten minutes a day of sitting and staring at a blank wall and thinking about that wall (a.k.a. about nothing at all), empties your crowded, crazy, busy mind and lets you wind down a little from the madness of existence.

I have written a lot on meditation previously, so I am not going to repeat it all now. But here is a link to the kickoff post from the last meditation challenge, which has further links in it to all sorts of other meditation posts of mine including why you can do this even though you *think* you are too busy to slow down (and yes, that is supposed to sound as stupid as it does).

Let's just say that I can't find another way to empty the mind that is even half as effective. Those ten to twenty minutes a day of sitting down, shutting up and staring at a wall can quietly change your whole outlook on life.

Are you in? If you are, check in here, or, better yet, on the Paleo Drummer Facebook page, and tell us how it's going. And yeah, maybe there's a guest blog post in it for you.

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Monday, December 23, 2013

The goddamned goal board, or how I distracted myself off the path of health/longevity

"What are you doing? You can't change your numbers on the goal board!" My friend looked incredulous.

I laughed, and then kept erasing where it read, "Steve K: 300-lb front squat."

"I'm not changing it. I am removing it. I am too immature for this sort of motivation," I said, not missing the irony that I was about twice the age of the guy I was talking to.

Somewhere in the early fall each year, the "goal board" appears at the CrossFit gym to which my wife and I belong. It's, generally speaking, a perfectly good idea: have people set a performance target -- maybe a first muscle-up, a particular lifting goal, whatever -- and try to reach it by the end of the year. And, again generally speaking, it is a very good motivator for a lot of people.

Sadly, I am not "a lot of people." I am way too obsessive to be on the goal board.

I spend a fair amount of time at CrossFit suppressing my natural competitive nature and, instead, focusing on general health, fitness and longevity goals. I not only have learned not to give a rat's ass about becoming "a good CrossFitter"; I don't want to even get near the subject in my mind. I don't care about beating anyone else at anything at the gym. I am there to be generally fit and happy. And simply doing that makes me fitter than most 51-year-olds. And it keeps me from getting injured.

But -- and it's a very big but that does not lie -- my real problem isn't competing with other people. It's always trying to top myself. For instance, I figure that I started deadlifting just before I turned 48, and, not long after that, I pulled 300 pounds. Now that I am 51, I can deadlift 405 for one rep. This means, in my mind, that, with that kind of progress, I should be able, at age 81, to deadlift... about 1400 pounds.

Because that's how it works, right?

OK, so even I know that it really doesn't. The reality for the older athlete is that every day is a balance between going reasonably hard and not crossing the line into injury. This can be a particular struggle if you are also prone to saying things like: "Life is a constant self-improvement project. Never be completely satisfied" -- which I truly believe.

Which brings us to the goal board.

I don't need a goal board. My whole fucking brain is a goal board. I can tell you, with near-perfect accuracy, my "stats" whether we are talking about lifting numbers, volleyball-team performances, wins and losses as a lawyer, whatever. I clearly do not need to kickstart my self-motivation by declaring publicly that my goal is a 300-pound front squat.

Even though it is.

Because I already know it is.

But what happens when I go and be a team player and write my goal on the board is that I get overly-serious about said goal. No, actually, I get overly serious about every fucking thing at the gym when I do that. I start trying to "improve" too much at once.

Which brings us to the sumo deadlift. I am a perfectly satisfactory regular deadlifter. I should be happy with a 100-pound increase in three years, especially at my age, but no, when I get in "goal board" mode, the change in my plan of attack does not merely infect the pursuit of said goal. The disease spreads more globally into all aspects of my game.

I start saying things like, "I was reading about sumo-style deadlifting, and it seems like it is really a good way for long-limbed guys like me to pull more weight." Now, this is true, actually, but there's a catch: you use slightly different muscles when sumo deadlifting. You need to ease your way into the new technique.

There was little in the way of "easing."

I felt the hamstring go on the third sumo rep at 325.

Fortunately, being the sort of guy who occasionally tries to do things that he shouldn't, I have flat-out torn my right hamstring previously. Black/purple bruise line straight up the back of my leg that other time. So, on sumo day, as soon as I felt it begin to separate, I dropped the bar, straightened my leg out, and didn't bend it again until I got some ice on it. A strict regimen of ice, bone broth, self-loathing and foul language over the next few days followed by days more of foam-rolling and stretching, and I was able to get back into the gym within a week. Three weeks after the injury, I PR'd my regular deadlift. So I got lucky. Really lucky.

Still, there won't be any sumo deadlifting in my future.

But wait, you say, that entry on the goal board was for a front squat. What does that have to do with deadlifting?

Everything. Once I get in that max-lift/PR state of mind, it crosses over into all my lifts. My front squatting over the last year has been solid. I really focused on form and, from October 2012 to a year later, increased my three-rep max from 185 (body weight) to 275. But I did that by focusing on three- and five-rep efforts at generally sub-maximal load, not by trying incessantly to grab the brass ring of the one-rep max. As soon as I wrote the 300-pound one-rep front-squat goal on the board, I started trying the odd one-rep max here and there... and not terribly successfully.

I got, as my wife says, "distracted by shiny things" and went off the health/longevity track straight onto the superhighway of ego.

And then I got the genius idea to push too hard my first time sumo deadlifting.

It's a simple concept, but I need to remind myself of it fairly frequently: health-and-longevity-based training will get you to very good results, with lots of progress, but it's a variation on the "healthy by choice, hot by accident" mantra that Jason Seib teaches his female clients. For me, it's "healthy by choice, stronger by accident."

Not "stronger by writing a number on the goddamned goal board and chasing it like an obsessive nut."

Live and learn. Know yourself first.

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Friday, December 20, 2013

That Dog

She was always The Dog That Could Die at Any Time. I adopted her in 2001 when she was a scared, sweet shelter pup, and, not soon thereafter, Lydia was diagnosed with a heart defect that was the cause of her frequent fainting spells. We were told she couldn't even be spayed because her heart would stop from the anesthetic. In fact, now that I think about it, the way we found that one out was that her heart actually stopped on the operating table when they tried to spay her, and they managed to revive her before calling off the surgery. But, somehow, eventually, the fainting faded away as she grew up, and she even survived a later bout of endometriosis that required anesthetic for a lifesaving hysterectomy. She was a survivor, and a sweet snuggler, and I took many a weekend nap with her. Everyone who met Lydia loved her. At our frequent summer volleyball games at our house, she had a knack for cozying up to a quieter visitor and charming that person with cuddles and maybe a kiss or two. She also came with an unintended rock-and-roll pedigree. Born on D. Boon's birthday, she died on Mike Watt's. And she is featured in not one, but two, paintings by Wes Freed, the man famous for so many Drive-By Truckers album covers.

Lydia was the best dog I have ever had. Fiercely loyal, yet lovable to the core, she followed me around the house so closely most days and nights that at one point I regretted not naming her Shadow. Many was the time my leg inadvertently connected with her hard pit-bull/lab noggin when I would change direction and she would be so close by that we would collide. She loved people, cats, other dogs and, most of all, her family.

But old age sucks for dogs too. And Lydia's thirteenth year on the planet was not kind to her. Failing eyesight and hearing were just the beginning. She started "sundowning" -- that wandering/agitated thing that dementia patients do each night at twilight. She walked in circles so much that she lost weight and got skinny -- *bony* skinny. And then the seizures started. Some were mild, some awful. And each one took a small chunk out of her personality. By last month Lydia was often a sad little shell of her former self, drifting from room to room with a troubled, discontented look on her face, as if searching in vain for The Unseen Problem. But other times, she would still gleefully greet my return home from work, and give us a little hope for her.

But then a few weeks ago, she had a big seizure, and then, last night, she had an even larger one that not only soiled rugs and floors, but sent her into a three-hour-long tailspin where she walked in circles for that whole time, drooling and crashing into walls, furniture and family -- even *after* we gave her a dose of Valium that would have sent most people into an extended trip to Snoozeville. It was awful. I said to my wife, "I am afraid it is going to be time soon." Always sensible, she said, "I'm afraid it's already time."

We took Lydia to the vet tonight. They couldn't have been nicer. They saw us after-hours, so no other animals would be in the waiting room to stress her out. Lydia died quietly with our hands cradling her head. Instantly, I had known that we made the right call. Her deep, relaxed sigh was the calmest one I had heard from her in many months.

As Jason Isbell sings, in my mind "I buried her a thousand times" previously. She was always on a high wire of shaky health. But Lydia's long, beautiful life was that rare sweet gift the universe occasionally hands you. I won't forget her.

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Thursday, December 19, 2013

Gimme Some Truth

Some people suck.

That's quite a revelation, I'm sure. But really, the extent to which certain folks will flat-out lie to avoid the direct result of their own negligence is fairly mindblowing at times.

It was sometime in the mid 1980s and I was driving through the checkerboard grid of streets -- punctuated by intersections with four-way stops -- that is Center City Philadelphia. I watched the guy in front of me come to a full stop at one of those very intersections and then POW! Out of nowhere, an elderly white woman drove her car straight through the stop sign on the cross street without pausing at all and plowed into the front side panel of his car. They got out and started to exchange info, and I had a thought: "I am the only other person who saw this accident. What if that woman lies about what happened?"

So I pulled over too, and scribbled my name and number on a piece of paper and told the young African-American man driving the car that had been in front of me, "Hey, if you end up needing a witness, call me, or give my number to insurance. That lady totally ran that stop sign."

He didn't say much at the time. In fact, I don't even think he thanked me. The two drivers exchanged insurance info and I drove off. The woman was already howling about the damage to her car. His was damaged much worse, but he seemed pretty calm.

The next week an insurance investigator contacted me. He told me that both drivers were denying responsibility, each claiming that the other ran a stop sign. He interviewed me, got my version and assured me that he couldn't see how the guy would be found at fault. "You are the only disinterested witness and your story is very clear."

A couple nights later my phone rang. It was the dude from the car in front of me. He told me that the insurance companies were finding her to be 100% at fault. That was good news. But it was what he said next that stuck with me all these years: "Hey man, I just wanted to call and say thank you. I don't know why you took the time to stop like you did, but it was a very nice thing to do, and I know for sure that if you hadn't, there is no way they would have believed me. No one ever believes the young black guy."

"No one ever believes _____." You probably can fill in that blank with all sorts of descriptions of people. In a traffic accident, I am thinking that, regardless of fault, no one ever believes the kid against the adult, the young black guy against the older white woman, the undocumented alien driving a beater against the Lexus-driving lawyer. Name the scenario, and, unless somebody who doesn't have a dog in that fight steps up and says what really happens, chances are most of those accidents are going to get charged to both drivers, or, even worse, against the less "favored" one regardless of what really happened.

I try hard to suppress my natural tendency to assume the worst about people, but when it comes to driving a car and the avoidance of responsibility, it seems like that instinct is too often dead-on.

This issue all came up again yesterday. Dumbfounded, I watched a car nearly destroy another one by running a traffic light that had been red for four to five seconds. A cop arrived on the scene so quickly that I assumed he had it all under control. And the offending driver had somehow avoided a catastrophic crash at the last second, standing on her brakes to the point that the intersection was filled with acrid smoke. It ended up only being a minor collision, so my thought was that my observations weren't relevant. The cop was on it. I drove on home.

But this morning, I remembered that mid-'80s incident. And I particularly remembered that older woman's attempt to avoid responsibility. And I got a bad feeling. I assumed the worst. Again.

I contacted the cops to see if they wanted my version. Sure enough, I was told, "The woman driving the smaller car" -- the one that ran the red light -- "says her light was not red." I told the officer the real deal, and he took my statement and thanked me profusely. As another cop I know told me, he-said/she-said cases are tough on law enforcement. Disinterested witnesses stepping up are the key to uncovering the truth.

So it all comes down to a simple phrase: do the right thing. Think about who you are and where you'd fit into these scenarios no matter whether you were the driver at fault, or the aggrieved one. Would you try to blame the other guy, even if you were the one who was in the wrong? Or would you fess up and accept responsibility? If you saw it happen, would you call it in? Or would you just figure that was someone else's job? Lots of people talk about fostering a sense of community. Are you doing more than just talking?

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Thursday, December 5, 2013

Nelson Mandela 1918-2013

"The government should be in the dock, not me. I plead not guilty." -- Nelson Mandela, April 20, 1964

He was a very brave man. He lived a fuller life than, well, almost anyone.
Go here to read a brilliant piece about that 1964 speech.

And remember to stand up and complain when you see bad shit happen. He did.

Because there is nothing worse than the systematic abuse of power.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

The serious post (time to make a change?)

It was 2005 and my dad had asked me to do what he described as "a huge favor" -- drive him to a reunion luncheon celebrating his college class's 60th anniversary of their graduation. So I did.

Their *60th* college reunion. The people there were... well, there's no better word: they were old. They were seriously old. I mean... do the math. They were all in their eighties.

They also, across the board, shared another characteristic: none of them were overweight.

None of them.

In fact, most of them were on the thin side.

And I have to admit that, at first, I was kind of surprised. We live in a culture where a simple trip to a baseball game can leave one overwhelmed at the size and scope of the obesity epidemic for what seems like every age group, but then I realized an undeniable fact: the less-healthy members of the class of 1945 were either dead or too disabled to make it to the reunion. I was looking at the fittest of the survivors. Put differently, the metabolically troubled often don't make it to 80.

So, instead of a room full of walkers and wheelchairs, and old folks of all sizes and shapes, which is what I had expected, it was a moderately-full room of spry, thin, seemingly-happy senior citizens. My dad had one of the few canes in the place. Otherwise, the diners were ambulatory and mentally as sharp as the proverbial tack.

Warren Zevon told us a while ago: "Life'll kill ya."

The difficulty is that it kills some of us a lot faster than others. Yeah, there is no doubt that we can only do our best and some nasty stuff is going to take a few of us down earlier than we want no matter how much we eat well, sleep well and exercise smart.

But for the rest of us, there's a critical point -- a time where, if you are metabolically messed-up, you are going to have to make a choice that you probably didn't have to worry about when you were younger: establish healthy habits or live a shorter life than you had planned.

Unfortunately, there is a point in the aging process when lifestyle choices necessarily get serious, and that age is, also unfortunately, different for everyone. There is just not a standard Road Map of Life that applies to everyone. But when you get there, failing to seize that moment to make huge changes can be a costly mistake.

When I say "huge" changes, I am not necessarily referring to going paleo or doing CrossFit. How about simpler (but still big) stuff, like ditching processed foods, quitting smoking and moving your body every day? Or maybe you actually need to take even more drastic steps. Ultimately, I am talking about whatever it is that you need to do to get healthy. Today.

Don't get me wrong.... It's all your choice. Do what you want. I just think you should make that decision with your eyes open, fully aware of the path that you are headed down. Instead, it seems like there are a lot of folks who just kind of passively keep on keeping on with processed food, lousy sleep and a sedentary existence until... Boom. It's actually too late.

Because the tragedy isn't the person who willfully chooses to live a shorter life in exchange for the "freedom" of an unhealthy lifestyle. It's the poor soul who thinks he or she has time to keep screwing around, and then dies of some metabolically-related disorder, all the while abstractly planning to make some big change in the future.

Aging is serious stuff. Like Mr. Zevon sang, it'll kill you. But how and when is often a product of the choices you make. True story.

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