More food for thought…

31 05 2013


For those of you who don’t know me, I guess I’m a bit of a “foodie.” I wouldn’t consider my take on food & eating radical, but I suppose that assessment has more to do with the metric being used. Since we seem to be surrounded here in the burbs by people who live on a diet of highly processed, pre-packaged food, and frequent trips to fast food restaurants, perhaps my notions on food are radical, at least by comparison.

Here’s the simple version of my eating philosophy.

Highly processed foods are bad for you.  The vast majority of the packaged stuff in the supermarket is designed for our industrialized food system. It can be mass-produced, easily transported over long distances, and stored for extended periods. It is highly marketable for it’s convenience to the consumer. It is made from commodity crops like corn and soybeans, which once again, fit well into an industrialized system. Being subsidized also makes them dirt cheap, which makes for greater profit margins. Unfortunately, all of these issues take priority in the marketplace over the one thing you, as the person eating it, should be concerned with; it’s nutritional value.

The healthiest foods are recognizable. A healthy diet consists of lots of fresh vegetables and fruit, lean meats, and nuts. Some whole grains are o.k. The more processed, or hidden in sauces and breading it is, the less it’s got to offer, at least in terms of nutrition. The rule I’ve taught my girls is easy to remember. If you have to read a label to know what it is, it’s probably not very good for you, and if you can’t understand what you’ve read, it’s poison. Of course, they know that the poison part is an exaggeration. It is meant, however, to be a reminder that such highly processed foods should be treated with a bit of skepticism, eaten as an exception to a healthy diet, and not as a staple.

We eat to live, not the other way around. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard someone state, “I deserve this,” “life’s too short,”  or some other equivalent. If one’s consumption is justified by some sense of entitlement, perhaps it’s time for a re-evaluation of priorities. Food is about sustenance, not entertainment. This isn’t to say we shouldn’t enjoy the food we eat, or that we can’t ever go out for an over-the-top meal. Our happiness simply shouldn’t be the main deciding factor in our daily consumption choices.

Let’s face it: fast-food and pre-packaged foods are convenient, and by definition, fast. These benefits have enabled people to spend much more time participating in activities other than food acquisition and preparation. Parents can go to work while the kids go to school, and their evenings/weekends can be filled with baseball, soccer, track, piano lessons, taekwondo, troop meetings, and the drama club.

Is there a trade-off for all the convenience? The answer is simple; your health.

This diet, which is high in calories and low in nutritional value, is also created to leave you wanting more. Remember the Lay’s Potato chip commercials pitching, “Bet you can’t eat just one”? It’s no joking matter. The industry has spent plenty researching what it takes to get sales up, and when we’re talking about food, that translates to increased consumption. They have manipulated the use of salt, sugar, and fat to get us eating more. These three nutrients are vital for our survival, thus our bodies are hard-wired to crave them. These same vital nutrients that were not readily available in the natural setting of our hunter-gatherer ancestors, are now killing us in their over-abundance. The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite, by David A. Kessler is an in-depth look at this issue.

The fast food I grew up with was always an exception, an occasional special treat. (except for my last three years of high school, during which time my friends and I alternated daily between McDonald’s, Burger King, and Wendy’s.) Now this has become the norm, part of many families’ daily routine. Someone eating an otherwise healthy, nutritious diet can occasionally deviate without catastrophic repercussions, however, what’s the result of continually consuming too many calories without enough required nutrients? The answer should be obvious, but to make a point, let’s look at the poor souls at the far end of the spectrum; to the morbidly obese, who are, amazingly enough, simultaneously malnourished. The majority of us, however, don’t show such extreme symptoms. Those who fall somewhere in the middle of the bell curve may be only slightly overweight, may experience yo-yoing energy levels, or may not have any noticeable symptoms at all. Sadly, this lack of any apparent symptoms is more a testament to the resilience of the human body, than evidence that such a diet is indeed unhealthy.

How long can our resilience save us from the very food we eat?

Kill your T.V.

22 02 2013

00025 Kill your Television

(click here for link to this bumper sticker)


The media’s actions are understandable, albeit unscrupulous.  The nature of the  entertainment industry, of which CNN, FOX, and MSNBC are part, is to increase viewership.  Increased viewership means increased ratings, which translates to more advertising dollars, which is how broadcasting makes money.  Braodcasting agencies are driven, as is any corporate entity, by what generates profit.

Television “sells.”  We’re all aware of all the advertising that is continually interrupting whatever fine programing it is we’re wanting to watch.  Even though we realize this is simply part of the television experience, how many of us stop to consider the world view being promoted by all of this marketing? This stuff can warp our sense of reality all by itself.  Over and over we are shown that, “all happy people are beautiful,” as in glamour model, does-not-exist-in-reality beautiful, (see my earlier post Evolution?) and that “All beautiful people are successful, and happy because they own product X!” Obviously, my life just won’t be complete until I do, too.

But what about the bill of goods we’re being sold  under the guise of informing us.  I’m not talking about info-mercials.  The insidious part of all that’s being sold is a skewed perspective of our world, and CNN, FOX, and MSNBC are the frontrunners pitching us a load of crap.

We can dupe ourselves into believing that we’re becoming more informed about the world around us by watching the news, but this is a dangerous, misguided belief.  The news that we’re fed is designed to entertain us, and keep us wanting more.  The purposes of informing, educating, or enlightening come in, at most, as a second priority, and only when it helps achieve the primary goal of increasing profits.

Now we also are being inundated with “reality” t.v.  Now there’s an oxymoron.  (I love the fact that I can reference “reality” t.v. with an adjective that includes moronic.)   Fortunately I cannot claim expertise on these shows.  I have NEVER watched an episode of Survivor, American Idol, Jersey Shore, any of the Housewives, Dancing with the Stars, nor the Kardashians.  From the few episodes of such winners as Duck Dynasty, and The Ultimate Fighter  I’ve suffered through, I can verify that they all suck.  (I just tune into the last 10 minutes of The Ultimate Fighter for the fight)  There is very little reality in a group dynamic when you add a camera crew, and the profit motive that comes from knowing you’re gonna hit a big payday for being a dumb-ass.

I remember seeing a bumper sticker as a child that read, “Kill your television.”  For the life of me, I didn’t get it.  I just couldn’t figure out the joke.  Now I’ve got it, and it’s not a joke.  It’s not even remotely funny.  Turn that damnable box off and go do something.  Read a book.  Go outside.  Play solitaire.  Hug your kids.  Workout.  Go for a walk.  Knit a sweater.  Kill your television.  Really.


Food for thought…

11 09 2012

Welcome home!

After an amazing three days of backpacking with my two eldest daughters, I returned to the suburbs rejuvenated.  Life here can be a bit overwhelming, surrounded in all directions, as we are, by Malvina’s “ticky-tacky.”  I feel the need to escape on a regular basis in order to avoid slipping into the mind-numbing role of complacent, zombie-esque consumer in this superficial, material, and very beige suburbia.  As John Muir so eloquently pointed out,

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.” (Our National Parks , 1901, page 56.)

I jumped back into our daily routine Monday morning, getting the girls off to school, and taking a brief moment to re-engage the outside world through a cursory scan of the headlines and Facebook.  The first one to grab my attention was an NPR article on yet another study regarding diet.

Low And Slow May Be The Way To Go When It Comes To Dieting

This also reminded me of another one I’d read last week, just before I headed for the tranquility of the mountains.  I posted this one from the BBC on Facebook:

People can be fat yet fit, research suggests

These two studies help clarify a few health related issues.  The first addresses the relationship between the glycemic index of food and weight loss, and is one more in a long list that indict the highly processed foods that have become so prominent in our lives. The second notes that cardio-vascular fitness has little to do with body-type, and everything to do with activity level.

Although there are continual advancements in our understanding of the food/body/activity connection, the fundamentals have not changed.  When you read all of the studies, there are a couple consistent threads throughout.  They are summed up in the saying, “calories in, calories out.”  This is simplistic at best, but a good place to start.  The quality of the two factors is of critical importance.  This is where all of the studies continue to separate fact from fallacy.  Here’s a simplified version of what we know, definitively.

  1. Highly processed foods, are bad for you, period.  A healthy diet consists of lots of fresh vegetables and fruit, some lean meats, and nuts.  The rule I’ve taught my girls is easy to remember: Healthy food is food you recognize.  If you have to read a label to know what it is, it’s probably not very good for you, and if you can’t understand what you’ve read, it’s poison.
  2. Regular, physical activity is vital.  The more sedentary your daily routine is, the more important a fitness routine.  For exercise to be effective, it needs to be regular, frequent, and intense.  If your workouts aren’t challenging, you’re probably not accomplishing that much.  They should include a cardiopulmonary response (increased heart rate & respiratory) and resistance training, which is proven to be not only good for the muscles, but for the bones & joints as well.

Good news, right? Given the severity of today’s growing obesity epidemic and the subsequent cost to society at large, two more pieces to the puzzle is welcome news.  Once again, science has confirmed what health/fitness professionals have known for years.  Now everybody is going to start eating more fresh, whole foods, and exercising daily, right?

Probably not.

One thing I’ve learned over the past 30 years of teaching and coaching is this: logic is of secondary importance.  A little secret sales people have known for years, is that people buy based on emotion, and then justify the purchase through logic.  That’s why they’re always trying to get you to sit in that new car, feel those leather seats, and imagine yourself screaming down the highway.  Watch a few advertisements on t.v. – it’s all about emotional triggers.  Any logical facts are just thrown in as an afterthought.

Whether it’s a new car or a new idea, emotion is the driving force that initiates change.  Tony Robbins, the well-known motivational speaker, talks about this in his books.  People are uncomfortable with the unknown (change) and tend to be lazy.  Therefore the impetus to change must be greater than the comfort of the status quo.  The two strongest forces for change are emotional: the fear of pain and the desire for pleasure

I’ll use the diet/fitness example to illustrate.  Everybody I know who’s out of shape and eating improperly (it’s usually both) would admit that their diet could be better, or that they need to exercise more.  They might even read the above articles and chuckle about how they should “work on that.”  Yet they don’t make the change.  They’ll wait until the doctor tells them their LDLs are too high, or they have a heart attack, and then fear will motivate them to start.  Or perhaps they’ll start to be embarrassed by their physical appearance (fear of ridicule) and they’ll join a gym in anticipation of eventually looking like Angelina Jolie or Brad Pitt. (anticipation of pleasure)

In addition to our natural resistance to change, it’s difficult  to sort through all of the choices available.  There are so many health studies, “lose weight quick & easy” diets, and  ULTIMATE fitness routines out there, that it can be overwhelming to decide which would be the best.  Furthermore, since these various schemes often contradict one another, they undermine any faith an individual might have otherwise had in their effectiveness.  This just adds to the difficulty already inherent in effecting change.

All of this adds up to a whole lot of people living unhealthy lifestyles and feeling like it’s just too hard to change, if they’re even aware of it.  For those of us who already recognize the importance of these choices, and are trying to live accordingly, it can be hard to understand how anyone would choose otherwise.  I, for one, feel obligated to share my experiences in an attempt to help others make healthier choices for themselves.  Here’s to living well!

p.s.  Here’s how the conversation often sounds (at least the list of excuses) when talking to someone “struggling” with the BIG decision.

C’mon folks, Correlation does not imply Causation!

4 09 2012

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Although we all love to joke about how our children are making us older, we all realize that this is just a joke, right? It is true that they may make us feel older, due to the seemingly constant state of being more physically, mentally, and emotionally engaged than in any other time in our recent memory.  The obvious fact is that we are aging with the passage of time, regardless the number of children, if any, we may have.  Even though the presence and ever-increasing number of offspring may correlate to our getting older, it does not have a causal effect on our age. In life, as in science, “Correlation does not imply Causation.”

According to the Oxford American Dictionary, correlation is defined as a “mutual relationship or connection between two or more things.”  Causation, on the other hand, is “the action of causing something.”  The correlation of things is often very easy to experience, whereas the actual causes might lie below the surface, hidden from our immediate view.

Traffic around here in the suburbs is at it’s worst early in the morning and late in the evening, as the sun is rising and setting.  This very obvious coincidence would have been considered a causal relationship by our ancient ancestors.  Remember the peoples that worshipped the sun and moon?  Their belief was based on the same type of logic.  Over the past few centuries we’ve outgrown such simplistic connections, haven’t we?  We all recognize that, although the increased traffic patterns might correlate to the rising and setting of the sun, one is not causing the other.

Amazingly, these two concepts are still frequently confused, leading to some pretty outrageous conclusions.  Often this confusion is manipulated by those who would obfuscate the truth for their own purpose.  Watch Faux News or MSNBC for some excellent examples.  Much of the vitriolic ranting coming from pundits and politicians in our caustic political arena intentionally blurs the lines between correlation and causation.  People from the far extremes of a discussion are notorious for confusing the two in order to support their claims of legitimacy.  It’s so much easier to make a direct connection between our current economic debacle and the villain of your choice.  One side argues that our sitting President, a black, socialist radical is leading us down the path to hell, while the other side blames those greedy, corrupt bankers and corporations for all our ails.  Both are great story lines for a mini-drama on AMC, but antithetical to actually resolving any part of our very real predicament. (but I digress, this is another topic for another day)

If you’re looking for some fun reading that builds on this causal/correlative issue, try Freakonomics, by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner.

Here’s a simple example from the concrete, physical world of fitness.  (I won’t mention any names, in order to protect the guilty)  I have been told numerous times by individuals, who quite frankly, don’t like to run, that “running is bad for you.”  The claim is that it’s bad for the knees, hips, (insert body part of your choice here) because of the impact involved.  Their desire to prove running is bad, in order to justify not running, clouds their ability, or willingness, to distinguish between correlation and causation.  The result of this: people make a potentially detrimental health choice based on misguided logic that running, an activity the human body was designed to do, is bad for you. Running can and often does correlate to injuries, and the more a person runs, the more opportunity there is for another factor to cause injury, but it does not cause injury.

So, what does cause injuries while running? Here’s a list in order of importance. Fortunately, you will also note that the most important ones are also the ones we can do something to remedy!

  1. Improper diet.
  2. Insufficient water intake.
  3. Poor sleeping habits.

I grouped these together at the top, because they create the foundation upon which everything else is built. As with most of our western medicine, we want to be able to simply take a pill to fix whatever might be ailing us. It can be too overwhelming to consider that the core of our entire lifestyle is the root of our predicament.  The hard truth of the matter is clear: to expect any fitness routine to achieve a high level of success without addressing these fundamental things as well is really naive!

Here’s the other causes

  1. Running incorrectly. I believe this is the biggest cause of most problems that occur. There is an assumption that running is just running. Unless you’re learning to do hurdles or pass a baton, I don’t think there’s a lot of instruction ever done on “how to run.” Because of my personal experience, I am a huge proponent of the “Pose” method.
  2. Running too much too soon. Just like any other fitness routine, you need to build your body up. Increase your distance and intensity as your fitness improves.
  3. External forces (i.e. Inappropriate equipment, rocky/slippery terrain).
  4. Genetic defects. Some individuals may have joint or other structural issues that make running an inappropriate choice for fitness.

Before you write off running as an activity that is just too “dangerous,” identify the facts and base your judgement accordingly.  Before you pass judgment on the hot topic of the day, (i.e. politics, religion, economics, parenting) do your research.  Don’t be deceived by the correlation of seemingly causal factors.  CORRELATION DOES NOT IMPLY CAUSATION!

Excuses, excuses…

29 08 2012

Livin’ the life in the Bozone.

We were on vacation in Montana earlier this month, and while visiting my favorite coffee shop up there, I acquired the latest copy of Outside Bozeman.  It’s a great little magazine that helps keep me in touch of much of what I love about that area.  As it’s title implies, it covers all of the great outdoor activities that the Bozone has to offer, from hiking, biking, skiing, and running, to hunting, fishing, and snowmobiling.  It also plays on the local/native/tourist genre, as various authors make jokes or commentary about all the tourists and “newbies” from the perspective of a local.  The nature of this banter  is not lost on this fourth generation “native,” and I find the irony of such thinking highly amusing.

One of the articles in particular hit upon a subject close to my athletic and coaching-minded heart.  “Born to (Eventually) Run”, by Jeff Wozer, had me laughing to tears – and verifying the condition of my internal organs.  In it he logs his “training” as he prepares for an upcoming race.

In addition to being funny as hell, his was a great expose’ on the human condition.  I suppose that is, in part, why it was so funny.  All too often, we sabotage our ability to be the best that we could be by making excuses as to why we can’t do the very thing we know we should.  We see what we want to accomplish, and understand the steps we have to take in order to do so, but then we “excuse” ourselves right out of ever getting it done.

Here’s one of my personal favorites.

When I still owned a martial arts school, I would often hear from former students who wanted to get back into training.  Of course, I was always very supportive of such a goal, and would do what I could to help them initiate said change, from giving them a current class schedule to offering them private lessons to help with the transition back.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “Yeah, I’d love to, but I’ve got to get in shape first.”

I just love that logic: I’d love to get in shape, but I’ve got to get in shape first.  Let me see if I understand that correctly.  You can’t begin to do something until you do it first.  Now THAT makes perfect sense.

“I’m not smart enough to go back to school.”

“I’m too overweight to lose weight.”

The fact that these statements defy logic doesn’t really matter, however.  I realize that these excuses are just the cover story, beneath the surface of which lie the true, but unspoken reasons.

“I’m afraid.”

“I’d be embarrassed.”

“I’m just too busy.”

“I don’t know how.”

“It’s too far.”

“I can’t afford it.”

Here’s the logic that matters most: in the end it is OUR choice that decides, not anything else.  We can focus on all of the excuses for not doing something, or we can focus on the reasons for doing something, but in the end it’s still OUR choice.  Instead of making a long list of excuses why we can’t do something, we need to get in the habit of making a  list of reasons why we should, and then get busy.


Learning to tackle and grapple.

Werneck Family Jiu Jitsu

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Musings of an aspiring martial artist and father