Chronicles of Less Urban Living, Fresh from In the Night Farm

Primal Lifestyle

What Women Want

TBFitness12-12d 
Screw pretty. I’d rather be strong.
Pretty fades over time. Strength gets you through the bad shit.
 
~ Thea Harrison in Oracle’s Moon

Stop Being Stupid

Last Friday night, as a houseguest, I witnessed the following:

A loving grandmother, whose cooking options were limited due to the recent demise of her stove, fed dinner to an 18-month old, a 4-year old, and a 12-year old.  Cereal came out first.  Cheerios and something along the lines of Cinnamon Toast Crunch.  Cow’s milk (especially for the baby — good god, what is she, a calf?).  Orange juice — oh goody, liquid sugar!  And (blessedly), a salad with black olives.

As soon as the new stovetop was working, Grandmother heated water for Kraft mac n’ cheese.  She usually makes it from scratch, she told me, as if that excused shoveling gut-damaging pasta down the children’s unsuspecting throats.  It seems the grandchildren regularly visit on Fridays, so they always have dessert and “kid food.”

“Kid food,” apparently, is what one feeds to little brats whose parents have been too lazy to feed them real, healthful food.  Or maybe the parents just assume that kids “won’t” eat healthful food, so there’s no point trying.  Or maybe Grandmother just wants to make the little children smile.  Whatever the case, surely anybody in their right mind (even if their only health information comes from quacks like Dr. Oz and the USDA) knows that cheesy hotdogs and macaroni isn’t going to build healthy individuals.

Think the easy, cheap food choices don’t matter?  (After all, they’re young and resilient!)  Just look at the eldest grandchild.  She has fat rolls and weighs more than I do.  Her belly hangs over her waistband and bulges out beneath the hem of her shirt.  She has more than one chin.  She is clearly metabolically deranged and insulin resistant.  Type II diabetes nips at her heels.  She is twelve years old.

Does anybody else feel sorry for this kid?  Does anybody else wish that, when exposed to information about how to effect better heath through proper nutrition, the adults in her life would listen?  Does anybody really believe that feeding her even a single swallow of muffin or juice or cereal isn’t killing her?  Her situation is dire, folks.  Without major nutritional changes, this kid is doomed to a short and painful life.  And how many years will it be before her young cousins exhibit similar symptoms? 

Oh, I know this isn’t all Grandmother’s fault.  She doesn’t provide most of the kids’ meals.  But really, are “treats” that kill really treats?  Are they okay because they kill slowly, over decades rather than minutes?  Is “just a little” french toast drenched in sweet pancake batter and topped with powdered sugar acceptable because it’s…What?  Saturday morning?  Company is here?  We have a new oven?  Am I missing something that would make this decision appropriate?

Let’s review:

Grains create holes in the lining of the small intestine.  The more you eat, the worse it is, but even small amounts cause some damage (worse in some people than others).  These holes permit foreign or incompletely digested substances to enter the body.  There, they aggravate the immune system, resulting in inflammation and allergies, and they contribute to autoimmune conditions ranging from eczema and rheumatoid arthritis to acid reflux and IBS to Parkinson’s and MS. 

Whole grains also feature phytates in their bran.  These substances bind the minerals in the grain (and whatever is consumed with it), making them unavailable for use by the body.  So, while it is true that “healthy whole grains” contain some nutrition, your body can’t use it.  It may as well not be there.  (Get your fiber from a butternut squash, dummy.)

Finally, grains represent a calorie and carbohydrate dense, nutrient poor, food source.  Sure, they’re cheap and yummy and will make you feel good as their morphene-like compounds reach the pleasure centers in your brain, but they’ll also send your blood sugar skyward, demanding the release of insulin to bring it back into a safe range by storing it in the tissues…bodyfat tissues, unless you just completed a substantial amount of high intensity exercise.  As a result, you get a blood sugar crash (and cravings for more carbohydrate) about 2 hours later.  Over time, excessive carb intake and resultant excessive insulin release leads to insulin resistance, type II diabetes, obesity, systemic inflammation, and high triglyceride levels.  Enter cancer, cardiovascular disease, and autoimmune conditions.  Hooray!  Just what we want for the grandkids we adore.

So…remind me why anyone would want to feed a child cereal, pasta, and toast.  Anybody?  Anybody???

And if your answer was “it’s all they’ll eat,” just shut the hell up and spare me the whining.  Cut the crap.  Grow a backbone.  When they get sufficiently hungry, they’ll eat real food.  Until then, at least you won’t be killing them with stabs and scoops of their spoons and forks.

Pass it on.


Rhythm

In the southwest corner of Idaho, there is a broad swath of wilderness known as the Owhyee canyonlands.  It is rough country, parched and hewn, studded with rock, split by canyons, gnarled with sagebrush, swirled by dust, bedded deep in sand.  Brisk dawn gives way to sweaty days.  At night, stars pour across the sky like cream. 

I spent all last week there, riding 50 miles per day on horseback as part of a 5-day endurance ride.  It’s a sport I’ve loved for years, one which never loses its challenge.  Every ride is a test of fitness and horsemanship, and every successful finish a triumph.  Many rides last only a day or a weekend, but this one stretches over enough time to impose its rhythm on us riders.

We rise early, before the sun, to feed and prepare our horses for the day.  Few of us sit again (saddle notwithstanding) until the 50 miles are ridden, the horses cared for with electrolytes and baths and leg poultices and grazing and walks to limber up.  We must also wash hoof boots and tack, make repairs, pack crew bags for the next day.  The only downtime comes at dinner, which we eat in a cheerful group.  Then we concentrate again while the ride manager reviews the next day’s trail.

At last, as the day’s heat leaches away, we crawl into bed, at once exhilirated and exhausted.  It is only 9pm, but the day has worn us thin.  We sleep well, wake naturally, step outside to live and move and breathe and work as bodies were meant to do.  On our best days, we never hurry, never tarry.  All that needs to be done, is done, and nothing more. 

And it is the best feeling in all the world.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

(For those who are interested, I blog in detail about my Barb horses, horse training, and endurance riding at The Barb Wire.)


Five Days

I’ve been busy.  It has been all I could do to jot down my food journal, which you’ll find below.  You’ll see how I navigated the ubiquitous “work food” problem, elected for less physical stress in the face of other stressors, and thoroughly enjoyed a week of food and motion despite the frenzy.  I’m finally learning.

PBC Day 7

Fuel:  Coffee with heavy cream.  Grassfed burger (no bun) with grilled tomatillo salsa, sauteed onions, and cotija; sweet potato roasted in coconut oil; grilled asparagus.  Grilled lamb ribs with homemade barbecue sauce; baked sweet potato with butter; squash ribbons with sizzled garlic and sage leaves.

Workout:  None whatsoever.  I was busy checking out my new camper, plus I was dealing with a minor cold on top of seasonal allergies.  AaaaCHOO!  It’s nice that farm life requires at least forth minutes of general activity per day, no matter what else is going on.

PBC Day 8

Fuel:  Scrambled eggs with hot sauce.  The meat and lettuce off a Quiznos sandwich (I was at an all-day meeting, with lunch provided.  In anticipation of the usual lunch boxes, I brought a plastic fork and was able to dissect my sandwich with relative grace.  I donated my chips and cookie to my endurance-athlete friend and colleague, wincing sympathetically as I did so.)  Nuts and dried cherries.  (Supplementary lunch supplies!)  Kippered herring.  Primal enchiladas (beef and sauce, no tortillas, topped with cheese); plantains oven-fried in grassfed butter.  Shiraz.

Workout:  Bodyweight.  4x rotation of pushups, thrusters, pullups, planks, side planks.  Toss in some farm chores and an evening walk with my staghound, Wyrsa.

PBC Day 9

Fuel:  Coffee with heavy cream.  Eggs over easy with primal enchiladas (beef and sauce) topped with grassfed cheddar.  Watermelon.  BBQ lamb ribs, roasted sweet potatoes, grilled asparagus and garlic.  Blackberry, mango, and banana with cinnamon and heavy cream.  Gin on the rocks.

 I find it interesting that I’m eating more fruit lately than I normally do.  Usually, I come in around 2-3 servings per week — not per day!  I’m guessing it’s due to the end-of-summer abundance of fresh, local fruit combined with an uptick in my workout schedule.  No biggie.  Fruit isn’t the devil, especially for individuals who are already lean, but it’s an observation worth noting.

Workout:  Heavy day!  5x rotation of backsquats, military presses, deadlifts, and bench presses.  Also, a generally active day as I prepared for next weekend’s 5-day endurance race and moved around some hay bales to make way for another delivery.

PBC Day 10

Fuel:  Coffee with heavy cream.  Four scrambled eggs with hot sauce.  (Easily ignored pile of bagals and sweetened cream cheese at staff retreat.)  BBQ pulled pork, potato salad, fresh fruit, and a few veggies.  (Passed on the buns, chips, cookies, and brownies.  Relatively easy to navigate, as catered lunches go, though I’m sure there was plenty of sugar in the pork.)  Raw nuts and a few dried cherries.  Ground lamb curry and coconut-roasted sweet potato.  Gin.  (Ahhh, so nice to be home alone after all that slow-paced, touch-feely team-building, tools-for-idiots-who-don’t-know-how-to-plan stuff.)

Workout:  Just farm chores and a long, barefoot walk with Wyrsa.  Wore as little clothings as possible to soak up the evening sun.

PBC Day 11

Fuel:  Coffee with heavy cream.  Breakfast (at 11:00am — back on my own schedule, thank heavens!  Leftover bagals in the breakroom held little appeal.  The addiction is broken!) of leftover sweet potatoes and enchilada sauce with ground beef.  A few nuts and berries in late afternoon.  Lamburger with onions sauteed in butter, sliced tomato, sweet and yukon oven fries with seasoned salt and primal barbeque sauce.  Gin.

Workout:  Just chores and another walk with Wyrsa, again barefoot-ish (with Soft Stars) and wearing Vitamin D gear.  Part of me wanted to do more, but the other (smarter) part recognized that I’d had quite a stressful day at work, less-than-ideal sleep, and a weekend of hay stacking ahead.  Just walk, dummy!  So I did.


Real Work

I started bodybuilding a few years ago, when I saw a possible divorce coming down the pike.  I reckoned that if I was going to have to manage my farm — including stacking 25 tons of hay annually, breaking ice on troughs, repairing fences, rototilling, hauling feed and salt, etc. — singlehanded, I’d better get busy getting strong.

I started out with 6 pushups, no pullups, and only bodyweight to work with.  So I worked with it.  Five days a week.  Hard.  I pushed the pushups to 35 on a decline and pulled the pullups to 9.  I added a backpack full of sand to get me through most of a year before I could afford a barbell set.

By the time hay season rolled around, I was able to stack thathose bales.  And break the ice.  And repair the fences.  And rototill.  And all the rest of it. 

Take yesterday, for instance.  I trimmed all four hooves on each of six horses, one after the other.  If you’ve never trimmed hooves, just trust me — it’s hard work.  It leaves a body sweaty, bruised, and sore.  But it’s real work, my favorite kind.

For all that I love getting under the bar, real work is more satisfying.  Farm labor is the fruit of my gym labor.  The bar is the means; the hooves and hay are the ends, and I can make them meet.  I am farm strong.

I often wonder what city folk do for real work.  There must be options.  What are they?

PBC Day 6

Fuel:  Coffee with heavy cream.  Eggs over easy with grilled tomatillo salsa, bacon, coconut-roasted plantain, and blackberries.  Grilled gassfed beef burger (no bun) with grilled tomatillo salsa, sauteed onions, and cotija; grilled asparagus; sweet potatoes roasted in bacon fat.  Whiskey.

Workout:  Nothing official.  Nothing needed!  Those six sets of hooves were plenty.  Ironman and I also took a short walk after dinner


Embracing Discomfort

A Facebook friend of mine recently posted something to the effect that, in order to achieve optimum health, people need to learn to be hungry.  That is, they need to accept temporary hunger as a natural and even beneficial state. 

The thought stuck with me.  I tossed it around for a couple weeks and eventually realized that I believe my friend is onto something with regard not only to hunger, but other physical states as well.  Modern society seems determined to disconnect us from the world, with its attendant unpleasantness, as much as possible. 

We have vehicles to minimize the obstacles of terrain and distance; convenience stores, refrigerators, and plastic wrappers to ensure immediate access to food; heavily padded furniture, floors, and shoes to minimize our contact with natural surfaces.  We have high-tech clothing and HVAC systems and insulated homes to shield us from weather’s whims; machines to dig our holes and raise our beams; drugs to quell the unpleasant side effects of our own immune systems hard at work.

I’m not saying we should all go live in the woods.  I like my automatic dishwasher and flush toilet as much as the next guy.  I’m just saying that, given the extraordinary ability of our bodies to adapt to adverse conditions, perhaps we would be healthier if we actually asked our bodies to deal with more discomfort than our modern environment strictly requires.

Which leads me back to hunger.  Just because food is available on every corner doesn’t mean we are best adapted for a lifetime of full bellies.  Even if we take Chik-fil-A and Peanut M&M’s out of the equation, and assume a squeaky-clean paleo diet, we still don’t need to nosh constantly.  Like many paleos, I have discovered the unique pleasure (yes, pleasure) of hunger.  (I’m talking intermittent fasting, people, not anorexia or Auschwitz.)  It’s a kind of fasting that comes naturally when you really start listening to your body.  I talked about appropriate IF in this post.

But hunger is only one form of healthful discomfort.  What about physical effort?  I once read a Fitness Black Book article hypothesizing that fitness levels tend to correspond with pain tolerance.  That is, elite athletes have an unusually strong ability to push through pain (not injury, ideally) while unfit people are prone to “wimping out.”  Interestingly, exercise may increase pain tolerance over time.  Even if you’re the type that hates physical effort, whether it be occasional white-buffalo-in-the-sky hill sprints or 1RM tests under the bar, it seems you can improve your feelings about exercise by doing more of it.  You can certainly improve your health.

How about temperature?  I’ve mused lately over a series of posts at Critical MAS, in which the author experiments with cold exposure and its role in improving leanness, adaptability to stress, and more.  It’s interesting stuff, particularly since the nights are dropping into the 50’s now and I’m sleeping with the windows open, waking to invigorating chill, choosing to head outside with fewer layers than would keep me perfectly cozy.  Doing so encourages physical activity and, over time, broadens my comfort zone.  I behave similarly in the heat of summer, eschewing air conditioning in favor of letting my body experience the seasons in all their (ahem) glory.

There are other things.  I choose to sleep on an unusually hard surface.  I often avoid backrests in favor of core-enhanced posture.  I delay dinner for an hour or two while I do the farm chores and take an evening run.  I carry a box of tissue instead of swilling Dayquil.

It’s nothing major.  Certainly nothing dangerous.  And as discomfort goes, it feels surprisingly good.

You see, physiological benefit notwithstanding, we stand to gain mental and emotional fortitude by bearing up under — even seeking out and embracing — discomfort.  Call it “building character” ala Calvin and Hobbes, if you will, but it seems to me that improving our ability to deal with stressors makes us stronger.  And I really like being strong.

Just something to think about.

PBC Day 5

Fuel:  Coffee with heavy cream.  Eggs over easy, bacon, spaghetti squash fried in bacon fat, blackberries.  Coconut cream concentrate.  Tomato-cucumber salad topped with cotija, oil, vinegar, and dill.  Ground lamb and onion cooked in coconut milk with garam masala; sweet potato roasted in coconut oil.  Chardonnay. Apple with almond butter.  (And wow, that apple did me in.  Waaaay too much sugar.  I went to bed early, feeling as though I’d eaten a pint of Tin Roof Sundae.  Ugh.  I haven’t eaten a whole apple in so long that I’d fogotten how they affect me!)

Workout:  Barefoot trail run.  I also rode 16 miles on two horses and generally kept moving most of the day.


Hoofing It

I have weird feet.

It’s an unfortunate fact that severe bunions are not particularly attractive.  I’ve had mine so long that I remember when I didn’t realize that my feet were the abnormal ones, and all those people with people with perfectly straight feet weren’t cursed with an absurdly boring podiatrical condition.

It’s another unfortunate fact that severe bunions typically result in early and severe arthritis, as bones jammed together in unorthodox ways wear through the cartilage that is intended to slide between them.  I remember many nights during my undergrad work when my late-night studies were accompanied by burning pangs in my the large joints of my big toes.  There was nothing to do but grimace and let it pass.

Years of running (nothing impressive, just 4-6 miles most days, and a half-marathon in my early twenties) did the arthritis no favors.  It continued to stab at me almost daily, growing worse in winter and at night.  Fortunately, I have a high pain tolerance and didn’t figure the fiery pangs compared to the 3-month incapacitation associated with bunion surgery, which involves the chiseling away of large amounts of scarlike calcification, plus the intentional severing and re-setting of several  bones.  No thanks.

So here’s the cool thing:  I’m 33 now, I’ve been primal/paleo for over two years, and the arthritis pain is gone. 

Erm…isn’t arthritis supposed to get worse with age?

I still run sometimes.  In fact, I ran yesterday — just a couple miles along the rutted and rocky irrigation road that runs along the downhill side of my farm.  And get this:  I did it “barefoot.”  (I wore Soft Stars, which are comparable to the better-known Vibram Five Fingers  but lack the toe-shoe feature that I suspect would not accomodate my bunions.)  Barefoot running requires a toe-first landing that I would have dreaded three years ago.

While I’ll never be a yogi, I now make a habit of performing exercises that require the kind of extensive toe flexion that was impossible in my twenties.  Walking lunges.  One-legged barbell squats heavy enough to make my glutes sore for days.  Planks.  Pushups.

Winter still comes and goes.  I’m very active, spending entire weekends and weeknights on my feet.  I wear heels to work, though nothing steep or featuring pointed or narrow toeboxes.

And I hardly ever feel the arthritis.  Maybe once every 4 months.  Really.

Super.  Cool.

I don’t fully understand this.  Alleviation of rheumatoid arthritis, an inflammatory condition related to autoimmune problems, is a well-documented benefit of paleo nutrition.  However, osteoarthritis caused by a mechanical defect, like bunions, would seem to present a different challenge.  My bones are still crunching past each other at awkward angles, right?  So why is the pain gone?  Decreased inflammation?  Improved healing capacity?  Mark Sission shares some ideas here.

Whatever the details, I’ll take it!

PBC Day 4

Fuel: Coffee with heavy cream.  Grassfed ground beef sauteed with bacon and onions; eggs over easy.  Grassfed ground lamb in coconut milk with onions, garlic, garam masala, and sundried tomatoes served over sweet potato roasted in coconut oil.  Chardonnay.  Banana with almond butter and coconut cream concentrate.  (Yes, I often carb up a bit on Friday nights.)

Workout:  Nothing official.  I took a dog and my nano (yay!) for an hour’s walk/run along the canal.  Barefoot running is amazing for calf development.  You gotta try it.


(Not) Too Common

I’m thinking about entering Wednesday’s MDA contest.  It involves submitting my Primal success story, with photos.  The thing is, my success story isn’t dramatic.  I didn’t lose 100 pounds or put MS into remission or reverse type II diabetes.

On the other hand, I did get strong and sexy, and I solved a bunch of minor-but-persistent health issues that I was previously conditioned to accept as “they way things are.” 

So many people accept eczema, GI issues, heart disease, diabetes, acne, arthritis, hypoglycemia, mood swings, cravings, and myriad other conditions — not to mention the supposed age-induced creep of bat wings and spare tires — as “normal.”

These things are not normal.  They are common

My story is about being the exception.

Is yours?

PBC Day 4

Fuel: Coffee with heavy cream.  Grilled lamb chop and shrimp with pesto (no dairy) and garlic butter; herb-roasted potatoes, sweet potatoes, and onions.  Buttered spaghetti squash; stuffed pasilla.  Grilled grassfed burger (bunless) with smoked salt, avocado, bacon, and sauteed onions; cucumber-tomato salad with olive oil, vinegar, and dill.  Coconut cream concentrate.  Red wine.

Workout: 5x backsquats, bench presses, one-legged barbell squats, and military presses.  Feels fantastic to be back under the bar!  I also scurried about the farm for a while as soon as I got home from work, preparing for tan incoming thunderstorm that lasted half the night.  Rain!  And, I did a Feldenkrais lesson before bed.


Sound and Bites

I got a nano! 

Yeah, yeah, everyone else on the planet already has one.  But you have to understand, I am SO not the music or technology type.  But I like podcasts.  And audiobooks.  And it’s so teeny-weeny cute!

I ordered it a little, red jacket for clipping to my shorts for long walks or hill sprints.  I set up speakers in my gym so I can listen while I lift.  Now I just need some good music and a pair of earphones that don’t 1) fall out or 2) hurt my ears.

#2 applies to both the music and the headphones.  Any suggestions?

PBC Day 3

Food as Fuel:  Coffee with heavy cream.  Eggs scrambled with pulled pork, peppers, onions, and tomatoes; plantain roasted in coconut oil.  Coconut cream concentrate.  Grilled lamb chops with walnut-pecan-mint-sundried tomato-raisin-olive oil pesto; grilled shrimp with garlic butter; herb-roasted purple potatoes, sweet potatoes, and onions; anaheim peppers stuffed with cheese, jalipenos, and sundried tomatoes.  Gin on the rocks.

Workout: Play day.  Took my endurance horse out for a quick, 8-mile ride.  Did the usual farm chores.  Set up iTunes and nano.  (Hey, for me, that was a workout.)


At the Very Least

I’m reading this book.  It’s fascinating. 

Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, and Find Your Path Back to Health

In Wheat Belly, cardiologist William Davis, MD, explains how modern wheat — which is vastly different from its ancestors due to extensive modifications that were never safety-tested — not only contributes to bodyfat gain and chronic disease by damaging the gut lining (gluten) and spiking blood sugar more than ice cream or Snickers bars (carbohydrate, glycemic index), but it also stimulates appetite (gliadin) and activates the same pleasure centers in the brain as opiates like herion (exorphins).

If you’re not ready to give up all grains, at least read this book.  If you struggle to lose bodyfat, suffer from allergies or other autoimmune conditions, have skin problems like acne or eczema, deal with gastrointestinal issues from poor digestion to celiac, or worry about cancer or heart disease, at least read this book.

Just read it.  And make up your own mind.

PBC Day 2

Food as Fuel:  Coffee with heavy cream.  Pulled pork with grilled tomatillo salsa.  Grilled sirloin tip; cucumber and tomato salad with cotija, olive oil, and vinegar; green grapes.  Steamed mahi-mahi; squash ribbons with sage butter; baked sweet potato with grassfed butter.  Malbec.

Workout:  Bodyweight.  4x rotation of pushups, air squats, pullups, and planks.  Nothing too spectacular, but it definitely fried some muscle glycogen and made me a touch sore by morning.  Feels great. 

Incidentally, I was running late again last night (got stuck at the office for an impromptu meeting, then had an errand to run).  By the time I got home and did the farm chores, it was almost 7pm and I would really rather have settled into my evening relaxation routine of cooking dinner and sipping wine.  I just didn’t feel like I had the steam for a workout… but I put on my workout clothes instead, and proceeded to have a strong and enjoyable session.

That’s what usually happens.  As Nike would say, Just Do It.


I Didn’t See It Coming

…but I’m going!

By lucky coincidence, yesterday’s MDA post broke through my ongoing status of Paleo on Autopilot.  Lo and behold, the annual Primal Blueprint 30-Day Challenge is just getting underway, and I’m on board.  I was already planning on a Whole 30 from October 20-November 20; the PB Challenge will just be a warmup.

It’s time.  As is typical, I’m at my lowest fitness level for the year (in terms of strength as measured by weightlifting) because I’ve spent the summer being active in other ways — farm work, endurance riding, horse training, whitewater rafting — instead of officially “working out.”  That’s all well and good.  It gets “play” points from Mark Sisson and “periodization” points from Robb Wolf.  But I’m ready to shift into a higher gear.

The PB Challenge sets up a perfect opportunity for this transition.  In my contribution to yesterday’s mini-contest, I committed to the following:  1 bodyweight workout, 1 heavy lifting workout, and 1 sprint workout per week, plus 100% Primal eating.

Sure, it’s minimal.  That’s the idea.  I still have some decent horse training weather ahead, and I still have 150-250 miles of races to ride.  I’m not giving that up in favor of my full-on, winter workout schedule.  This is just to prime the pump.

As for the food, check out the PB Challenge link above for the rules.  They’re standard Primal, which is rather more hedonistic than Paleo.  (Note particularly the inclusion of moderate alcohol and dairy.)  I’ll simply steer around the rare exception (like corn tortillas) and eat as I usually do.  Finally, I’ll try to keep a little food and workout journal going here, for those who like to see examples of what this lifestyle looks like in practice.

Who else is doing the challenge?  Why not give it a shot?

PBC Day 1

Food as Fuel:  Black coffee.  Pulled pork with grilled tomatillo salsa and cotija.  Ceviche.  Coconut cream concentrate.  Grilled sirloin tip with grilled onions; roasted sweet potatoes; cucumber and tomato salad dressed with olive oil, vinegar, and chopped cilantro.  Gin on the rocks.

Workout:  Bumped to another day due to errands and extra farm chores.  Did a couple sets of pushups (max 33, which isn’t bad considering how long it has been) and pullups while cooking dinner.


On Hold

I am currently on hold with BCOR Fitness. 

I have been on hold for eight minutes now.  I have not spoken to a live body yet.  Their hold music seems to have been obtained by holding a cassette recorder up to the speaker in a Hilton elevator.

…nine minutes…

According to the company’s website, I’m supposed to talk to a representative to “schedule my first class” now that I’ve created my online account.  Of course, none of this information was posted clearly up-front as part of the Living Social offer or the BCOR site, which basically says “just show up!” 

I decided to call to make sure “just show up” was right.  Apparently not.

…ten minutes…

I hope they let us start on December 2 as planned.  Later would probably be better for me, actually, since I’m just now healing up my stress-fractured foot (too much barefoot running without adequate preparation).  But, my mom has travel planned for January and may not be as flexible on when our 30-day voucher deal starts.

…eleven minutes…

Ooh!  Someone picked up!

“Alex” has me scheduled for 6am Friday.  Go Alex.  Do I want to add a BCOR Diet Program to my order?  No, Alex.

I’m supposed to bring water and a towel.  No need to come early for any kind of orientation.  Hmm.  This is slightly alarming.  I’m not worried about myself, because I know enough about form and reasonable programming to keep myself safe, but what about a beginner?  Maybe that’s figured into the instructor’s style.

________

AAAAAND…rewind.  Just as I was about to hit “post,” I got ahold of my mom.  We agreed to delay our start date to December 28th so my foot can be fully recovered.  I think this is a very good idea.  It took 3 months of healing time to get to this “slightly tender” state; the idea of a major setback is not appealing.

Fortunately for me, “Chad” answered BCOR’s phone after only 2 minutes on hold.  He was very nice about making the switch.  So, Wednesday the 28th it is.  And my opinion of BCOR’s customer service is somewhat mollified. 

Someone should give Chad a raise.


Move More

That’s it.

Call it a resolution if you like.  I prefer to think of it as ratcheting one step closer to aligning my behavior with my genes.  MOVE MORE.  People aren’t made to sit around. 

In a hunter-gatherer world, sitting all day was the fast-track to starvation.  Not really an option.  You worked first, and rested afterwards — assuming your hunt was successful.

Not so for me.  Alas, I am obliged to feed myself and my farm full of animals by warming a chair.  I doubt I could get a physical job that pays what my cerebral one does.  Of course, this means that if I’m going to catch up with the hunter-gatherers, I have to spend my relaxation time in action.

I already move more than the average American.  I mentioned the animals.  They like to be fed a couple times daily.  And there’s water to haul, horses to ride, horses to train, eggs to gather, fences to build…

And, I work out.  Mostly bodyweight and heavy lifting, with some metcon thrown in for good measure.  Plus a few sprints.

I’d say I spend about 4 hours per week officially “working out,” and another 20 “moving slowly” (ala Mark Sisson) — double that in summer; halve it in the dead of winter. 

Still, what if I could do better?  Here’s what I have in mind:

  • Get a standing desk at work.  I wrote on my other blog about the back problems that have bumped this up my priority queue.
  • Walk/run more.  Lately, I’ve taken to going for 20-60 minute, evening jaunts with dogs or horses — in the dark and inclement weather if necessary.  This is a good thing.
  • Stretch.  My flexibility could use some improvement.  Hamstrings especially.
  • Feldenkrais.  The benefits are both physical and mental.  I’m always glad when I spend 40 minutes on this.  I need to stop finding “better” things to do.

Want to know my biggest roadblock to moving more?  It’s not laziness or reluctance to do something energetic.  It’s that physical activity interferes with reading.  I’m not talking about web-surfing, either, but real, geniune, reading of actual books.

My iPod helps.  At least I can entertain my brain while walking, running, and stretching.  I listen to podcasts on everything from nutrition and fitness to science and psychology to Freakonomics and economics to religion and philosophy to culture and skepticism and more.  It isn’t the same as reading, but it helps.

So, that’s it.   Reading notwithstanding, in 2012 I will move more.

You?


Paleo on Autopilot

Those of you who follow both my blogs (this one and The Barb Wire), have no doubt noticed that my focus tends to swing between my top two passions:  health and horses.  You have already figured out, therefore — by my lack of posts here and plethora there — that I am currently in an equestrian phase.  I’m hanging out on horse blogs and forums, writing about training and conditioning my endurance mount, and generally falling behind on the paleo scene.  I haven’t downloaded a Robb Wolf or Chris Kresser podcast in weeks.

The nice thing about paleo is that it requires very little concentration.  We nerds can geek out on it all day, every day, when we’re in the mood — but when we’re not, we can cruise along with next to no effort, enjoying all the physical benefits while our mental and emotional attention is elsewhere.  Eat real food.  Move around.  Get plenty of sleep.  Repeat.

Lately, I’ve gravitated toward eating twice daily: a big, fat- and protein-heavy breakfast with some veggies, and a big dinner that’s mostly grassfed meat or wild fish, plus some veggies and usually a safe starch like sweet potato or yuca.  In between, I ride and train horses all day (or as much as I can, if I’m obliged to spend time at the office).  Sprinting can be accomplished with a green horse in-hand.  A few times a week, I stop by my home gym to heave barbells around.

I am fit, lean, and disgustingly healthy.  And it’s so, so easy.


Ancient Culture

I am not Catholic.  I am pissed off.  I am giving up Monsanto for Lent.

This is Day 19.

…but it’s Sunday, which isn’t counted in Lent, so I’ll take a little holiday from talking about Monsanto.  I’ve been experimenting with some new sources of nutrition lately, including grassfed beef liver (fail) and raw milk yogurt (win).

I talked last week about the benefits of raw dairy, primarly to dispel the government-promoted myths about the “necessity” of pasturization.  Incidentally, did you know that pasturization destroys phosphatase, making calcium unavailable to the bones?  Said calcium is instead deposited in muscles, joints, and blood vessels.  Great.

Raw milk, on the other hand, offers not only a panoply of vitamins and minerals, but also beneficial enzymes and bacteria.  Better yet, the health benefits of raw milk are multiplied by the process of lactic acid fermentation — which is why I went hunting for a source of local, grassfed, whole, raw milk in the first place.  I wanted to make yogurt.

At first, the idea of intentionally leaving a quart of milk in a warm place for half a day sounded insane.  And disgusting.  But consider this:  Beneficial bacteria trump pathological bacteria every time. 

Here’s an experiment for you:  Set out a pint each of raw milk and pasturized milk.  Smell them after 48 hours.  Which would you rather eat?

Not only is raw, fermented dairy safe, it actally confers magnified benefits including enhanced nutrient bioavailablity, reduced lactose content (the friendly bacteria eat the milk sugar during fermentation, which is why yogurt tastes sour), improved intestional health, and strengthened immune system.  Read more on the subject in this excellent post by Emily Deans, M.D.  No wonder fermentation has been used for thousands of years not just for preservation, but for healing.

I took my first shot at homemade yogurt last Saturday, following this recipe from Nourished Kitchen.  The resulting product was tasty, flavored very much like the Greek yogurt I used to innoculate it. 

However, it wasn’t particularly pretty.  Unlike the thick, creamy product you buy at the grocery, my yogurt was rather runny, featuring small, white lumps floating in whey.  I gathered from a bit of googling that this is common.  Suggested solutions included:

  • Add powdered milk to the yogurt.  (Eww.  No thanks, for so many reasons.)
  • Use less starter, because the bacteria need elbow room to grow and using too much is counterproductive.  (Sounds reasonable.)
  • Add gelatin to the yogurt.  (Many reject this on textural grounds, and so did I.)
  • Use half milk, half cream to make yogurt.  (Sounds delicious, but expensive, and raw cream is hard to find.)
  • Add pectin to the yogurt.  (Ah.  There’s a thought.)

For yesterday’s batch, I modified my technique to implement #2 and #5 above.  I used 3 Tbs of live yogurt to innoculate the 1-quart batch (I didn’t measure last week, but probably used a bit more).  And, I added 2 teaspoons of pectin, dissolved in a tiny bit of warm water, to the heated milk just before putting it in the jar to ferment.

This morning, I have an improved product.  The flavor is milder (maybe a little too mild — I think I’ll let it ferment a couple hours longer next week) and the texture more consistent.  The lumps and watery whey are gone, replaced with a still-thin, but smooth and white, perfectly respectable yogurt.  (Next time, I might try adding a little more pectin to thicken it up more.)

I love how simple this is.  Active time?  About 20 minutes per batch.  Cost?  $3.99 for a half-gallon of raw milk.  That’s the price of a quart of pre-fab Greek yogurt around here.  Benefits?  Myriad.

I should note that fermented dairy is still insulinogenic (all dairy is), so it may not be the best choice for someone whose primary goal is loss of bodyfat.  In a metabolically healthy person, however, it looks like an ideal post-workout snack…which is exactly what I’ll be doing with most of mine.  It’s delicious over a few berries, topped with chopped, raw almonds.

Up next?  I have my eye on cultured butter ala Mark’s Daily Apple, maybe some goat cheese, and other fermented products like saurkraut and preserved lemons.

Tomorrow, though, it’s back to the Monsanto Project.  Be sure to check out the coffee posts if you missed them over the weekend.


Liver Pills

I am not Catholic.  I am pissed off.  I am giving up Monsanto for Lent.

This is Day 16.

One of the pleasant side effects of this Monsanto Project is that it has refocused my energy on finding new sources of safe, affordable, nourishing food.  This has led me to experiment with raw dairy, fermentation, and my most recent interest:  organ meat.

I started with a 2.34 pound hunk of local, grass-fed beef liver.  Slicing the shuddering, bloodred, gelatinous mass was entertaining, and the dogs enjoyed lapping up the raw milk I used to marinate the meat.  Ugly as it had been in its raw form, the liver looked pretty decent fried it up in plenty of bacon grease with caramelized onions and garlic.  It was crispy on the outside and tender to the knife.

Ironman and I really wanted to like it…but we didn’t.  The flavor was tolerable, but that “creamy” texture?  Eww.  I’m pretty sure meat should not be creamy. 

Or as Ironman called it, “glipey.”

Fortunately, I’d been listening to Chris Kresser podcasts and borrowed his plan for ingesting the 1.89 pounds of liver we didn’t care to choke down.  (Sure, I could “hide” liver bits in meatballs and marinara, but why bother?  I want to enjoy my food, not simply bear it.)  I chopped the cooked organ into tiny pieces and froze them in a single layer on waxed paper.

Now, all we have to do is swallow them whole.  Voila!  All the nutrition and none of the pain.  Liver pills!

…not to be confused with Carter’s Little Liver Pills, a form of the laxative stimulant bisacodyl that was popular up through the mid-1960’s.  Want a giggle?  Check out their radio ad from the ’40’s.


The Raw Truth

I am not Catholic.  I am pissed off.  I am giving up Monsanto for Lent.

This is Day 12.

Ahh, Sunday.  Technically, Sundays are not counted in the official number of days that comprise Lent.  Opinions differ regarding whether one’s Lenten fast may be broken on Sundays.  Not that it matters; I’m not interested in a weekly Monsanto splurge.  I will, however, take advantage of this opportunity to write a post about something other than Monsanto. 

_________________

 I bought a half-gallon of raw milk on Friday.

OMIGOD-WE’RE-ALL-GONNA-DIE!!!

Yeah.  And the earth is flat.  It is also the center of the universe.  Furthermore, our government says raw milk is toxic.  Our government says pasteurized, homogenized, skim milk is a health tonic.  Our government cares about us.  Our government wouldn’t lie.  Let us bow before our government’s greatness.

Barf.

Okay, okay.  I’ll take off my bitch wig for a moment.  I understand the difficulty of looking beyond a lifetime of education about nutrition and food safety that says things like “fat is bad” and “raw milk is dangerous.”  But as the flat earth theory illustrates, the mere fact that a belief is dominant in society — and supported by the authorities — does not make it true.

I, myself, have largely avoided dairy (with the exception of organic butter and heavy cream) for many years.  At first, this was due to concerns about the carcinogenic effect of casein, milk’s predominant protein, thanks to the well-debunked China Study.  More recently, I learned that dairy is insulinogenic (causing a greater insulin spike than its sugars alone can account for) and capable of exacerbating an already-leaky gut.  All things considered, it seemed a substance best avoided.

The more I investigate the issue, however, the better I understand that pasteurized, homogenized, skim milk is as different from whole, raw milk as carrot cake is from carrots. 

Let’s look at the issues:

Dairy Intolerance — We’re all aware that many people don’t tolerate dairy well.  The products that upset their stomachs, erupt their skins with acne, and even spark allergic reactions are nearly always commercially mass-produced, pasteurized products.  It turns out that most individuals who are allergic or intolerant to pasteurized milk have no problems whatsoever with raw milk.

Why?  One of the predominant reasons is that pasteurization kills the enzymes present in raw milk.  These enzymes, left alive, produce lactase — precisely what is needed for the digestion of lactose.  Amazing.

Food Safety —  The FDA would have us believe that a sip of raw milk is bound to infect us with E.coli, listeria, salmonilla, or other harmful bacteria.  But guess what!  Various enzymes in raw milk, such as catalse and lysozyme, actively protect the milk from unwanted bacterial infection.  Pasteurization not only destroys these enzymes, but also kills beneficial bacteria in the milk, leaving it vulnerable to the proliferation of pathogenic bacteria.

Speaking of pathogenic bacteria, that’s exactly what you’ll find in milk intended for pasteurization.  Here’s why:

Large, commercial dairies typically feature “supercows” selectively bred to have overactive pituitary glands.  These cows are then treated with artificial hormones such as Posilac (a Monsanto rBGH).  The result is increased milk production of up to 13 gallons per day, which is more than twice the natural quantity.  The cows are not built to handle this overproduction.  Their udders become infected (mastitis), which results in the need for extensive antibiotic use — not to mention pain to the animals and pus in the milk

Raw milk, on the other hand, usually comes from small, local, responsible, farmers who provide their cattle with natural feeds and avoid the use of hormones and the antibiotics that are subsequently required.  Cleanliness standards at a quality dairy are considerably higher than those at a commercial dairy producing milk intended for pasteurization.

You might be interested to know that most outbreaks of disease related to contaminated dairy involve pastuerized dairy — and the pathogens involved sometimes show resistance to antibiotics.  Ouch. 

Basically, the only raw milk worth worrying about, from a safety perspective, is raw milk that was mishandled or intended for pasteurization.

Nutritional Benefits — Remember the carrot vs. carrot cake analogy?  When it comes to nutrition, there’s simply no comparison between raw and pasteurized dairy.  Raw milk is a whole, natural food. Pasteurized, homogenized dairy is a highly processed food whose benefits are largely replaced with costs.

– Raw milk contains all 22 amino acids, including the 8 essential ones; every known fat and water soluble vitamin (including A, C, D, E, K, B1, B2, B3 (Niacin), B6, B12 pantothenic acit, biotin, and folic acid); and numerous minerals (including sodium, potassium, chloride, iron, zinc, phosphorus, magnesium, copper, manganese, iodine, selenium, cobalt, chromium, molybdenum, nickel, silicon, vanadium, and calcium).  Pasturized milk contains many of the same nutrients — but it lacks the carrier proteins that make them bioavailable. 

– Homogenization modifies the structure of milk such that its proteins can be absorbed directly into the bloodstream (leaky gut), the end result of which is autoimmune disease.  Raw milk is not homogenized.

– Enzymes in raw dairy aid digestion of the healthful proteins and fats naturally present in milk.  Pasteurized dairy lacks these enzymes.

– Dairy’s predominant protein is casein, which is demonstrably cancer-promoting.  However, milk also contains whey, which is anti-carcinogenic.

– Grassfed dairy is a rare source of Vitamin K2 (also present in goose livers, but who eats those regularly?), which is necessary for proper processing of calcium.  Basically, it helps the body direct calcium to the hard tissues, such as bones and teeth, rather than to soft tissues, like arteries, where it doesn’t belong.  K2 deficiency is common, and it is linked to heart disease and osteoporosis.

– The beneficial bacteria (aka probiotics) present in raw dairy but absent in pasteurized dairy have been demonstrated to relieve conditions ranging from irritable bowel syndrome to psoriasis to depression.

It’s this last benefit, the probiotics, that led me to purchase my half-gallon of raw milk.  I’m not going to drink the stuff; I’m going to ferment it. 

More on that next Sunday.

Meanwhile, feel free to read more from Raw Milk Facts.com.  We’ll get back to the Monsano Project Series tomorrow.


Corporate Fluff

I am not Catholic.  I am pissed off.  I am giving up Monsanto for Lent.

Today is Day 1.

MONSANTO.

It’s such a huge topic that I scarcely know where to begin.  And so, I will begin with an assumption:

I will assume that you know Monsanto is a massive, politically influential company that sells agrochemicals while engineering and selling genetically modified organisms to tolerate heavy application of said chemicals prior to their unlabeled distribution to the public.

This series will consider Monsanto from as many angles as possible, in no particular order.  Gather them as you would puzzle pieces.  The picture will assemble itself in your mind.

Because crops influenced by Monsanto have found their way into amost every crevice of the modern American grocery store, food will be my most immediate concern during this 46-day Monsanto fast.  Fortunately, my paleo way of eating has already nixed many of the major concerns:

  • Processed foods (nearly all of which contain GM corn, soy, artificial sweeteners, or GM additives such as amalyse, catalase, and lactase),
  • Conventional animal products (livestock is fed GM grain & soy, and dairy contains BGH and/or chymosin, a GM rennet used in most cheeses), and
  • Conventional produce (often GM, and not labeled as such).

Instead, I eat local, organic, grass-fed meats; wild fish; organic dairy (if any); and organic produce (preferably locally grown from heirloom seed).

There are a few items I’ll need to remove from my diet in order to avoid supporting Monsanto.  Canned tuna comes to mind, because it contains soy (often GM, courtesy of Monsanto) as part of the vegetable broth.  I’ll need to double-check the labels on miscellaneous items like hot sauce and vinegars.  Canned tomatoes will have to go organic, pricetag notwithstanding.  And nuts?  I wonder if they’re sprayed with Monsanto’s pesticides.  Better check.

So far, this looks a lot like a Whole 30.  Fair enough.  I was going to do one in April anyway.

Unfortunately, the food is the easy part.  Avoiding Monsanto means doing more than taking extra care about what goes into my refrigerator. 

For example, I hope I don’t have any need to withdraw cash.  Dollar bills are made of cotton.  And cotton is GM.

Clear back in 2003, 73% of the U.S. cotton crop was GM.  By 2007, 43% of the worldwide cotton crop was GM.  I’m almost glad I can’t find a more recent statistic.  Monsanto, of course, is happy to provide plenty of seed — supposedly to reduce pesticide use (1/3 pound of chemical pesticides and fertilizers is required to grow enough cotton for a single T-shirt) — but introducing a variety of new hazards, such as overpopulation of insects not targeted by the GM crops.

I wish I knew more about the health consequences of GM cotton, because we eat the stuff.  Despite being a “non-food crop,” cotton permeates our food supply.  It is used as a filler in livestock feeds.  Cottonseed oil appears in myriad processed foods.  And ‘linters,’ short cotton fibers, are used in a variety of emuslifiers, thickening agents, and fillers.

How about textiles?  Good thing I’m not a fashionista, because it looks like I won’t be buying any cotton clothing during Lent.  Unless I want to go naked, however, I’ll need to wear the cotton I already have.

Back to the cash.  I wonder how I’ll pay at the farmer’s market.  How will In the Night Farm’s customers pay for their duck eggs and strawberry plants?  Are Craigslist purchases out of the question for the next 6 weeks? 

Is it impossible to navigate modern America Monsanto-free?

We shall see.  So far, it doesn’t look good.

_________________

Resource du Jour:  GMO Database, courtesy of GMO Compass.  Type a food into the search box on the left (scroll down to find it) and check for updates on its genetic status.

See all posts in the Monsanto Project Series.


I’m Giving Up Monsanto for Lent

I am not Catholic.

But, I am pissed off.

And this is as good a time as any.

For the 46 days between March 9 and April 23, I am going to do my best to avoid supporting Monsanto in any way.

I suspect that doing so will lead me down (ahem) interesting paths as I explore just how deep the company’s claws have sunk into our politics, economy, and environment.

I’ve heard that to control a nation’s destiny, you must control the education of its children.  I’ll buy that.  But if you want an even deeper hold — an even more immediate and desperate one — why not control the food supply?  And while you’re at it, you might as well think big.  Go international.  Do it in the name of Feeding the World.

Enough.  I want to know if we can still escape.  The best way to find out?

Try.

So, the rules:

1.  No purchasing GMO foods or food products that contain them as ingredients.  All produce, including canned or frozen, must be organic or an item as-yet unapproved for alteration.  Any dairy must be free of rBGH. 

2.  Insofar as possible, no purchasing other products that support Monsanto.  I’ll share with you as I do my homework, but I suspect this list may include such items as gasoline (corn ethanol?), stocks, household products, livestock feed, and more.  It’ll be interesting to discover whether I still have a choice in these areas.

And, the caveats:

1.  I do have a few non-compliant items in my pantry; my budget demands that I use up what I have, but any new purchases will follow the rules.

2.  I’m bound to make mistakes.  I suspect Monsanto products are more pervasive than I know, so I’ll be obliged to make corrections as I learn.

So, feel free to add cautions to the comments.  Warn me of the places Monsanto hides.  And join me if you dare.

_______________

See all posts in the Monsanto Project Series.


Re-Starting Strength

This injury-recovery business gets tiresome at times.  (So does my day job, which is in government and therefore absorbs more than its fair share of time and energy during the legislative session; hence my dirth of posts lately.)

I can walk normally now, but sudden stops still send an unpleasant jolt through my hip.  I can jog a few miles, as long as I ice afterwards.  I have full range of motion for most lifts, though little strength in my newly-knit lumbar and hip tissue.

Having just stepped back under the bar a few days ago, I decided this is a perfect time to break out the new copy of Rippetoe’s Starting Strength that his been tapping its fingers on my bookshelf since I ordered it last spring.  As long as I’m rebuilding slowly, why not double-check to make sure I have the details right?

The first line caught my attention:  “Physical strength is the most important thing in life.”

Really?  Being at least as much an intellectual as an athlete, I questioned this — and was amused to encounter the end of the paragraph, which read, “A weak man is not as happy as that same man would be if he were strong.  This reality is offensive to some people who would like the intellectual or spiritual to take precedence.  It is instructive to see what happens to these very people as their squat strength goes up.”

Hmm.  Shades of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.  And this post, which resonated with me enough that I shared it on In the Night Farm’s Facebook page.  I wonder whether Rippetoe would agree with me that development of all three elements — intellectual, spiritual, and physical — is imperative to ultimate happiness.

Anyway, I particularly like Rippetoe’s observation that physical prowess (particularly strength) is our natural state:

“We previously were physically strong as a function of our continued existence in a simple physical world.  We were adapted to this existence well, since we had no other choice.  Those whose strength was adequate to the task of staying alive continued doing so.  This shaped our basic physiology…

“Over and above any considerations of performance for sports, exercise is the stimulus that returns our bodies to the conditions for which they were designed.  Humans are not physically normal in the absence of hard physical effort.  Exercise is not a thing we do to fix a problem — it is…a thing without which there will always be problems” (emphasis added).

Amen, brother. 

I’ll admit it’s fun to impress people with my strength relative to my size.  Just about everyone is surprised to see what a small female is capable of — not to mention interested in — when it comes to moving heavy things.   People regularly comment on my “guns” and even my glutes(!).  I’m sure many of you readers share my experience.

To the modern world, we’re weird.  Good weird, but weird. 

To Rippetoe, we’re just normal.

If everyone pumped iron, they’d be healthier and happier.  More confident.  Safer.  Better. 

Normal.


Too Much of a Good Thing: Estrogen and Breast Cancer

Holy smokes.  This cancer prevention series, sparked by my longtime frustration with “crap for the cure,” has turned into a research monstrosity.  If there’s one thing most everyone agrees on, it’s that cancer is a complex disease with multiple modalities and causes.  This is what makes finding The Cure difficult to the point of impossible (let’s face it: all our medical advances over the past 70 years have increased the average life expectancy of cancer patients by mere weeks).  While prevention is rather simpler, the study of decreasing risk still leads me in many directions.

We’ve already discussed many avenues of cancer prevention, including anti-angiogenic dietary choices, adequate sleep, low carbohydrate intake, stress reduction, and more.  Now, it’s time to talk hormones. 

Hormones are a critical part of the biochemical courier system by which our bodies’ myriad components communicate with each other to maintain homeostasis. As with most health factors, the effects of hormones can be thought of as lying on a U-shaped curve.  Too little of a given hormone is detrimental, the right amount is beneficial, and too much becomes detrimental again.

Consider estrogen.  Most women are aware that excessive levels of this important hormone are correlated with substantially higher risk of breast cancer.  High estrogen levels (along with high cortisol, low iodine, low progesterone, and low vitamin D-3) are part of the classic breast cancer patient profile.  Furthermore, over 65 percent of breast cancers are defined as estrogen-dependent (Epstein et al, The Breast Cancer Prevention Program). 

Of course, correlation does not prove causation, but there is sufficient evidence of the estrogen-breast cancer link that women would do well to pay attention to their levels of the hormone.  Happily, even if the estrogen theory ultimately proves incorrect, the action plan advised for reducing estrogen levels will benefit your health in other ways.   

Here’s what most researchers currently believe:  Estrogen itself doesn’t cause cancer, but the ability of carcinogens to produce tumors increases in its presence.  In other words, “Estrogens can take a cell that is capable of becoming cancerous and increase the probability that it will do so” (Dr. Lindsey Berkson, Hormone Deception).

Unfortunately for women, our modern environment is an estrogenic soup.  Dietary phytoestrogens; xenoestrogens in herbicides, industrial waste, cosmetics, and everyday plastics; even prescribed, synthetic estrogens that wind up in the food chain – all these pass through or build up in our systems, sending our lifetime exposure to estrogen skyrocketing well beyond normal levels.

Still, we can take action to reduce estrogen dominance in our bodies:

The most obvious step is to address the quantity of estrogen produced by our own bodies.  We can accomplish this by reducing bodyfat.  Particularly in postmenopausal women, bodyfat is the primary source of estrogen production; in fact, the Harvard Nurse’s Health Study found that overweight women had estrogen levels as much as 100% higher than those of lean women.

Once you understand that insulin promotes the storage of bodyfat, and that cancer cells thrive on sugar delivered courtesy of insulin, you will be unsurprised to learn that chronically high insulin levels, like excessive bodyfat, are associated with increased breast cancer risk.  So, we are well advised to minimize insulin secretion, which will also lead to lower bodyfat levels.  But how?

At peril of sounding like a broken record:  Stop eating foods that spike your blood sugar, necessitating the release of insulin to normalize blood glucose levels.  Specifically, don’t eat grain, legumes, or sugar in any form.  Enjoy meats, vegetables, and healthful fats instead.  You’ll find it easy to keep your total (not net) carbohydrate intake around 50-100 grams per day – and if you compare the nutrient density of your new diet to that of your old one, you’ll be amazed by the super-RDA results.

What other steps can you take to reduce your body’s estrogen production?

Participate in frequent, moderate exercise, which is demonstrated to reduce blood estrogen levels.  “Moving slowly,” as Mark Sisson calls exercise at about 70% of your maximum heart rate (think brisk but comfortable walking), also sets up other hormones to send metabolism-speeding signals and increases insulin sensitivity. 

Limit alcohol consumption.  Sorry, ladies, but alcohol boosts circulating estrogen levels.  According to the New England Journal of Medicine, partaking of 2-3 drinks per day (as opposed to none) increases the breast cancer risk of postmenopausal women by 15%.  (The good news is that one drink per day scarcely increases risk at all, and may provide other benefits ranging from cardiac protection to stress reduction.)

The alcohol effect is amplified in overweight women, premenopausal women, and women taking hormone replacement therapy, because their base estrogen levels are higher.  In fact, E.S. Ginsburg found in a double-blind, crossover study that estradiol (natural estrogen) levels increased by 327% following alcohol consumption by women on HRT.  Not good.

Next, we need to look at any estrogens and estrogen-mimicking substances we are intentionally putting into our bodies.  Hormonal contraception, anyone? 

Yes, I know.  My ObGyn – like yours, no doubt – said the Pill now contains “safe, minimal levels” of estrogen and/or progestin.  Oh yeah?  My thermogram revealed excessive vascularity indicative of a highly estrogenic state — and increased cancer risk.

Even the package inserts admit that use of oral contraceptives increases risk.   This is particularly true when these pharmaceuticals are used by young women and/or for prolonged periods.  Early use of oral contraceptives, like postmenopausal use of HRT, increases a women’s lifetime exposure to estrogen.  The Pill also induces many women to retain excessive bodyfat.

This is tough, I know.  It’s hard to find an option that can compare to the ease, affordability, and effectiveness of hormonal contraceptives.  (My reading on the subject leads me to favor the non-hormonal, copper IUD.)  It’s easy to shrug off the warnings…again and again…but I beg you to reconsider.

If your own health isn’t enough of a motivator, consider the environment, which affects everyone else’s health, too:  synthetic estrogens are showing up in measurable levels in wildlife that is part of our food chain.  How do these substances get from pharmacy to fish?  Through your urine.  Be responsible.

Take  care with hormone replacement therapy, too.  Breast tissue is, by nature, particularly sensitive to hormonal influence — especially the balance of estrogen and progesterone.  HRT is too big a topic to tackle here, but suffice it to say that if you’re going to mess with it, you’d better be darn sure your provider knows how to properly balance your hormonal levels.

Okay, so you’ve reined in your own estrogen production as much as possible, and you’ve ceased the blatant addition of unnatural hormones to your system.  Unfortunately, there’s a whole other set of estrogen-related factors we need to consider:  environmental toxins.  We’ll cover those in this series’ next post.

____________________________

Previous posts in this series:  Cancer for a FortnightBefore Early DetectionIn the Beginning:  The Cancer-Inflammation Connection, Only YOU Can Prevent Inflammation, Supply Lines:  The Importance of AngiogenesisShort-Circuit:  Inhibiting Angiogenesis Naturally, Please Don’t Feed the Cancer, Blaming the Victim?, Fighting Mad(ness)Crap for the Cure.


I Can Squat! and Other Amazing News

Eight afternoons ago, I was coiled in a ball on frozen ground, dialing 911 while my horse bucked off into the sunset.  I couldn’t walk the length of my ER gurney without breaking into a cold sweat and battling nausea from the pain.  I couldn’t even lift my own feet to recline on the sofa.

Today, I did air squats.  5 sets of 10, perfect, ass-to-grass air squats.  Yesterday, I walked 2.5 miles.  The day before, 1.5.  The day before, I climbed stairs without crutches.

What is going on here???  I’ve done some major soft tissue damage before (the most notable incident involved an aggressive border collie and a torn hamstring, and then there was the time I parked my raft on a rock in a major rapid and slammed into the oar with my thigh) but this is my first trauma since going paleo in August 2009.  And let me tell you, I have never experienced this kind of recovery.

8 days out from incapacitation, and I’m squatting?  And doing planks?  And messing about with dumbbells?  This paleo schtick, to borrow from Robb Wolf, is potent stuff. 

Okay, they’re only air squats.  Big deal.  But I didn’t expect that have that range of motion back for weeks.  It has occurred to me to wonder whether the injury wasn’t as severe as it seemed.  Those who saw me in the first 48 hours, however, insist that’s not the case.

More than one person has pointed out that had I not been so fit, I would likely have suffered even more upon impact; and, had I not been so well-nourished, I’d probably still be on Vicodin and crutches.  As for intense workouts, I reckon it makes sense that a body accustomed to frequent, minor repairs is better equipped to handle major repairs when necessary.

Nerd that I am, I spent some time searching for information on paleo nutrition and injury rehabilitation.  I didn’t find much, but Dr. Loren Cordain’s comments in this Q&A are worth a read.  Anybody got more for me?

Now, don’t worry.  I’ll still be spending plenty of time on my ice pack.  I’m taking this slowly. Hey, I could have gotten under the bar today…but I refrained, like a good little invalid.  Day by day, I’ll do what I safely can, and nothing more.  It surely feels good to have pumped biceps again, though.

Go forth and eat well, my friends.  Lift heavy things.  Sprint occasionally.  Be strong.


Fighting Mad(ness)

God help me, because I cannot help myself. 

I cannot help myself from bringing this up again.

I cannot help walking through this pink-beribboned world with my eyebrows hitched up to my hairline, agog at the depth to which the quest for The Cure has sunk.

Pink buckets of Kentucky Fried Chicken.  Limited edition Kit Kat bars for Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  Survivor photos on boxes of Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Totino’s frozen pizza.

Check out Susan G. Komen for the Cure’s Million Dollar Council Elite, which includes such health-promoting superstars as:

ACH Food Companies, proud purveyor of :  Karo pancake syrup (63g carbohydrate/serving.  Good lord!  We haven’t even added the pancakes yet!), Fleischmann’s sourdough bread mix (29g), and Henri’s Light French Low Fat Homestyle Dressing (13g).

Frito Lay, promoting “sensible snacking” on:  Doritos nacho flavor (17g), Cracker Jack (23g), and Grandma’s Homestyle Oatmeal Raisin Big Cookies (25g.  Each.).

General Mills, bringing you:  Haagen-Dazs vanilla milk chocolate bars (22g), Progresso Healthy Classics Split Pea Soup (30g), and Cheesy Enchilada Hamburger Helper (36g.  No wonder that poor hamburger needs help!)

And the ever-popular Yoplait, featuring: Original Strawberry Yogurt (33g), Blueberry Pomegranate Smoothie mix (19g), and Cotton Candy/Strawberry Kiwi Trix Yogurt (20g in a satisfying, 4-oz serving for the kids).

It gets better.  Want to know who sponsors the Race for the Cure?  Here’s a selection:

  • American Italian Pasta Company
  • Dove Chocolate
  • Dr. Pepper Snapple Group
  • Freed’s Bakery
  • Pepperidge Farm
  • Otis Spunkmeyer

Processed, damaged, unnatural fats.  Grains.  Added sugars.  Chemical sweeteners, preservatives, and additives.  Addictive “food” products that make people sick.

Seriously?

Sorry, pink people, but any organization that’s willing to slap its logo on any godawful product whose manufacturer wants to cash in on the marketing power of pink — including the very products that help cause the disease said organization supposedly exists to eliminate — has sold its soul.

Read that italicized phrase again.  Ponder motivation.  And draw your own conclusions.

_______________________

P.S.   I know Komen does some cool stuff, like assisting families with practical needs while their loved ones are in treatment.  But at what cost? 

P.P.S.  You are welcome to disagree with me.  But before you get furious, please take the time to understand my position by reading previous posts on the subject of cancer and its prevention:

Cancer for a FortnightBefore Early DetectionIn the Beginning:  The Cancer-Inflammation Connection, Only YOU Can Prevent Inflammation, Supply Lines:  The Importance of AngiogenesisShort-Circuit:  Inhibiting Angiogenesis Naturally, Please Don’t Feed the Cancer, Blaming the Victim?, Crap for the Cure.

P.P.P.S.  Great quote from this article:  “If breast cancer could be cured by shopping, it would be cured by now.”  Cheers, Ms. Brenner.

____________________

My Medicine, My Food:  Black coffee, 3-egg omelet with butternut, onion, and spinach; steamed carrots, brussels sprouts, and broccoli with pastured butter; raw spinach, tuna, dill pickle, onion, black olives, and fish oil dressing; braised lamb shanks, wilted red chard, roasted onions and garlic.  Green and red teas.  Ume plum concentrate.  Whiskey.

Workout:  1.5 mile walk, plus some light stretching and “baby” calisthenics.  (Hey, I’m only 6 days out from a major soft tissue injury.)


To Have and to Hold

The more you have, the more you have to lose.

We all know the phrase.  We all know the feeling.

For some, it is a roadblock at the starting block.  I’m the other type.  The type that sets goals and confronts challenges head-on.  The type that assumes success is within reach, and makes it so.

…and then realizes that all I’ve gained can also be lost.

It’s the curse of the wealthy, to fear a stock market crash.  The curse of the beautiful, to fear the ravages of age.  The curse of the athlete, to fear debilitating injury.  The curse of the beloved, to fear rejection.  The curse of the lover, to fear loss.

Fear is a crippling thing.  Too often, it fulfills its own prophecy.  Some fear failure, and so never begin.  Others achieve, then become so focused on guarding their gains that they forget to progress and — worse! — lose track of the who they are that got them where they are.

Don’t let it happen.  Consider what is going nowhere, or going south, in your life.  Consider why.  If the answer is fear, cast it off.

Success, like roses, blooms by season.  What is the point of cultivating rose bushes if you spend all summer dreading the fall?  Walk among the blossoms.  Forget tomorrow, and today will be enough.

The more you have, the more you have.

Period.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 86 other followers