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?
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.
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.
(For those who are interested, I blog in detail about my Barb horses, horse training, and endurance riding at The Barb Wire.)
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
I’m reading this book. It’s fascinating.
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.