Nothing in life is free

Marc Armbinder had a fascinating article in the The Atlantic. The article is wide-ranging and thoughtful. The author makes many good points particularly on the subject of national health policy.

I agree with many of Armbinder’s points. However, he poses a thought experiment which I can only characterize as irresponsible. He says:

armbinderThere is a way to beat obesity. But it is radical and expensive. No other diet or weight-loss approach is remotely as effective as bariatric surgery….The only way to cure obesity is to radically rewire the relationship between the stomach and the brain. Diet and exercise can’t do that as quickly or as well.

This perspective troubles me deeply and illustrates the vast gulf separating the CrossFit community from everybody else. Here are few thoughts:

Bariatric surgery might make you thin, but can it make you do a pullup? Body mass is an important corollary to good health, but so is functional capacity. Having a stomach the size of a walnut won’t help you do useful things with your body.

Anyway, who says being healthy should be quick and easy? The consumerist mindset that makes us think we shouldn’t have to get out of our car to eat a hamburger is the same mindset that makes us think we should be able to buy our way out of obesity.

The notion that our stomach/brain circuitry is responsible for obesity is too slick for me. We’re not robots guided by microchips. We make choices. Yes, the agribusiness lobbies make it harder to eat healthy, but YOU are the one holding the fork, and wielding the pocket book.

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As a former obese person, I have great empathy for Marc Armbinder. When you’re fat, the world around you feels like an obstacle course devised in an evil lab by a bunch of hateful thin people. I know this.

Who knows, if I hadn’t discovered CrossFit I might have tried bariatric surgery. Luckily for me it didn’t come to that.

The Summer I started CrossFit I had a 44 inch waist and weighed about 240 pounds! Desktop1After about eighteen months of CrossFit training three times a week I weighed 160 pounds. (Today I walk around at 170.)

But body mass is only part of the health picture. Let’s look at functional capacity.

I’m 43 years old. I snatch 205 and dead-lift 415. I’ve done 10 consecutive muscle-ups. I run the mile in 6:00 flat. Those are respectable numbers for a twenty year old. They are very good numbers for a 43 year old. Would bariatric surgery or fad diets have given me the physical abilities I have today? Not a chance.

Working on myself has not been even remotely easy. After a fifteen hour work day I want to eat Ben & Jerry’s and Doritos in front of the TV just like everybody else. Many days, working out and eating healthy food is a struggle. But I refuse to be part of a culture that is pathologically devoted to convenience and quick fixes.

Nothing in life is free. I learned that in CrossFit.

Sleep Better

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Quality sleep is essential for peak mental, emotional and physical health. Sleep deprivation raises cortisol and insulin resistance. High cortisol and insulin levels are linked to belly fat, diabetes and lots of other bad things that will eventually kill you. Additionally, quality sleep increases your GH (Growth Hormone) and testosterone which are essential for lean muscle growth and repair. Aside from the neuroendocrine benefits, high quality sleep is just fun. Who wants to toss and turn all night and then stumble out of bed feeling like a troop of monkeys has been tap-dancing on your head? Here are a few sleep techniques you can use to silence the monkeys.

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Dark Room – there’s a difference between just turning out the lights and creating a truly dark environment. Some studies suggest that even a small amount of ambient light prevents your pineal gland from releasing melatonin – the hormone that regulates your circadian rhythm. To create a dark room, just drape opaque cloth across all the windows and doors. If you’re afraid of the dark, sleep under the bed so the monsters can’t find you. This solution is easy and cheap and you’ll be astonished at how much your sleep quality improves.

ZMA – this is a commonly available supplement composed of Zinc, Magnesium and vitamin B6. This stuff is supposed to cause deeper sleep with increased levels of testosterone as a desirable side effect. I tried this for a few weeks and did indeed experience very, very deep sleep. However, I stopped taking it because I was having some really wacky dreams. Incidentally, the scientific studies on ZMA do not seem to support the claim that it increases testosterone levels. But most seem to agree that ZMA works as a sleep aid.

Eliminate Caffeine – of all the strictures of the Paleolithic diet, this is the hardest to abide. For me especially, a day without coffee is like a day without sunshine. However, if you do manage to fully wean yourself from caffeine, after the initial grumpiness and headaches subside you will sleep like a log. You will wake up refreshed and alert, rather than groggy and confused. Even if you are already sleeping well, it’s good to eliminate caffeine because coffee raises cortisol which increases body fat.

It amuses me that CrossFitters are up for any mind-bending challenge – but if you try to convince them to do something easy like sleep, their faces go blank and they immediately lose interest. So rather than talk more about the health benefits of good sleep I will close thusly: if you want to reach peak performance in your WODs and smoke every gym record and finish Fran in under 3 minutes you have to improve your sleep! Out of everything we do in CrossFit, this is the only easy thing. Maybe that’s why so few of us bother doing it!

Eat Well Challenge Wrap-up

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This past Sunday marks the last day of our Eat Well Challenge, and I couldn’t be happier with the result.

Six weeks of squeaky clean eating is no easy task, but the group stuck with it and we had almost 50 people see the challenge through to completion!

The idea behind Eat Well was not just to provide some quick dietary changes and momentary results, but instead to leave our members with something that they will be able to use to inform their eating choices for the rest of their lives.

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On our last night, we went around the room and each person said a few words about their experience throughout the challenge. Accomplishments ranging from weight loss (up to 25 pounds for some people!), to increased performance in the gym, to a better feeling of control over their own bodies were just a few of the mentioned results. Hearing all the different varieties of success was truly amazing to hear.

Not only was the group able to end the challenge on a high note because of their progress, but everyone also left with a lasting knowledge of how they need to eat to feel best.

Everyone’s hard work and dedication to themselves and the rest of the group made this a remarkable experience to be a part of, and I am excited at the thought of kicking off another in the future.

Congrats to all of the participants on all your dedication and success!

Coconut Curried Mussels – Thai Style

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This is a delicious recipe for seafood lovers. In fact, this one was even enjoyed by the person in our household who is not quite sold on seafood yet. Give it a try and let your palate experience the flavor explosion.

Here’s what you need:

1 lb mussels
1 stalk lemongrass
2 tbsp coconut oil
1 tbsp garlic, minced
2 tsp ginger, peeled and minced
1/3 cup shallots, sliced
1 tbsp red curry paste
2 cups coconut milk (get the kind without guar gum or whisk in organic creamed coconut like we did)
1/2 cup chicken stock (we used bone broth)
1/2 tsp lime zest
1 tbsp fresh lime juice
2  Thai red peppers, chopped
2 kaffir lime leaves
1/4 cup cilantro, minced

Cooking Instructions:

Soak the mussels in cold, fresh water for about 20 minutes. If any mussels are still open after soak, give them a light tap on the sink to see if they close. If they do not close, throw them away. Remove the beard from the remaining mussels. I just grip it and rip it off with a quick tug at the corner. Place the mussels in a clean bowl of cold water.

Remove the tough outer leaves of the lemongrass until you get to the softer, yellow stock. Remove the bulb and slice up the yellow, fleshy part of the stalk. Put the lemongrass in a food processor and set to high until it is well processed.

Heat the coconut oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the shallots and sauté for about 5 minutes until soft. Add the garlic, ginger, red curry paste and lemongrass and sauté for 1-2 minutes. Add the coconut milk, chicken stock or bone broth, lime zest, lime juice, Thai peppers and lime leaves. Cook for another 8-10 minutes over medium heat. Add the mussels and cover the pan. Cook for another 3-5 minutes, until the mussels open. Throw away the lime leaves. Spoon the opened mussels and broth into bowls, garnish with cilantro and enjoy the deliciousness!

Keep Eating Well

 

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For those of you who committed to the Eat Well Challenge and have made it this far without cheating or dropping out; great job!

I mean it; great freaking job. You took on a difficult challenge, and to this point, you have followed through. You should be proud of your efforts.

Hang in there. It’s not over yet. We have to make it just over one more week to get to the finish line. Don’t stumble now. Just stay the course and you can party when it’s over!

But don’t party too hard. If you’re like me, this has been an eye opening experience. I now realize I don’t have to eat poorly, and that eating poorly is detrimental to my body functioning well. This should be common sense, but for many of us it just didn’t register until we started this challenge.

Eating poorly is letting yourself off the hook. Don’t let yourself off the hook. I don’t know about you but I feel a lot better now than I did when I was eating like crap. Use this experience to guide you going forward and make healthy eating the norm.

Healthy Eating: All It Takes Is Discipline And A Game Plan

foodHere’s the deal: eating well is not that hard. It just takes is a bit of discipline and planning.

Leading up to our Eat Well Challenge, my diet was absolute crap. I’m talking cake, ice cream, cookies, and burritos regularly. It’s no surprise that thinking about cleaning up my diet and eating cleanly made me anxious.

But after waiting for that “hard” part of cleaning up my diet to kick in during the first week of our challenge, and then the second week, it never came. This barrier that I thought I would have to get over never ended up presenting itself. I am not saying that this is always the case, but for me it was. If you hit that barrier, dig deep and bust through it. You are strong enough!

Not once have I craved sugar, pizza, or anything I’m not allowed to eat during this challenge. This isn’t due to luck or superior will power, it’s because I came up with a game plan and then executed the plan. It is that simple. The reason I’m not ordering Chinese food in a pinch is because I have a refrigerator stocked with good, nutritious food.

Every Sunday night we meal plan and make a grocery list. This usually gets us through Wednesday when we make another list and go to the store. Is game planning and going to the store a hassle? Sure, it is a little time consuming and puts a dent in the wallet, but to me it’s worth it. Since I started eating to fuel my body rather than just feed it with whatever food was available to me, I feel fantastic. You can’t put a price on that.

I get it, you’re busy. So if making two weekly trips to the store isn’t feasible, then invest in a meal plan from a company like Origin Meals to get you to your goal of maintaining a healthy diet.

My number one piece of advice to make this work is plan ahead. One of our members has spent two weeks of our six-week challenge on the road. He did a little research before his trips and found that the two cities he would visit, Boston and Dallas, had companies like Origin Meals that would deliver his meals to his hotel.

We are all busy. We can all come up with ten excuses as to why we can’t make a healthy diet a priority. But let’s face it, excuses are a way to justify our weakness. I know; I was that guy four weeks ago. I’d make every excuse in the book to justify making poor food choices. This is why I can tell you that if you really want to dial in your nutrition you can. Suck it up, make sacrifices, and get it done. Don’t be weak. You will feel better, sleep better, and perform better in the gym.

It comes down to whether you want it or not and whether or not you are willing to work hard to attain your goal of maintaining a healthy diet. Commit to your goal and stop making excuses.

Cajun Chicken Marinade

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Here’s an easy recipe for a wonderful dry rub marinade for the chicken cut of your preference. I used chicken breasts, but this would make for some great wings too. I got this recipe from week 3 of the meal plans that the Eat Well Challenge participants are using.

Here’s what you’ll need:
2 chicken breasts (I made 3, so I added a little more of each seasoning)
1 tablespoon paprika
1 teaspoon cayenne
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon sea salt
1⁄2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

How it’s done:
Combine all the spices in a bowl big enough to contain all the chicken. Score the chicken breasts multiple times, then coat it thoroughly in the rub. Cover the bowl and marinate the chicken in the fridge for at least two hours. 
Preheat the oven to 375°. Warm a skillet over medium heat and add enough coconut oil to coat the pan. Sear the chicken for two minutes per side, or until both sides have browned. Then put the chicken on a baking sheet in the over for 10-12 minutes (flipping halfway through). Enjoy with your favorite side!

Choices

stressA couple years ago I saw Chris Kresser talk at PaleoFX. In a panel about adrenal fatigue he mentioned that he deliberately chose to reduce his patient load as a way to manage stress.

As a child of immigrant strivers, this was mind blowing. Let’s just say that in my family culture, self-compassion is not valued.

But one of the great privileges of living in America is that we have choices. Grind, or unwind. More health, or more wealth. In the abstract, the choice is easy, but in practice, not so.

Here’s the thing, and pay attention paleo dieters. Your gut is responsible for getting nutrients into your body. Fatigue and stress severely compromise gut function. So eating nutritious food is only part of the battle. If your gut can’t absorb nutrients you will never be truly healthy.

Unfortunately you can’t buy gut health at the organic grocery. Which brings us back to choices. What’s it going to be today? Are you going to skip your lunch so you can wolf a muffin at your desk?  Skip your workout so you can work late? Get up before the crack of dawn to joust with psychos on the freeway? Where does it end?

Career is important, but I am here to tell you that career success is a booby prize if you feel like crap all the time.

More health or more wealth? That is the question.

Creamy Spiced Kale

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Tired of eating the same old chicken breast, wishing that you had a great side dish to compliment it?

Say no more.

Try this tasty kale dish that takes less than ten minutes before its ready to devour.

Ingredients:

- 1 large bunch of kale

- 2 teaspoons Ras el Hamout (bunch of spices thrown together- look below)

- 2 cloves fresh garlic, crushed

- pinch of salt

- 1 teaspoon coconut oil

- 1/2 cup coconut milk (make sure to buy a brand without guar gum in the ingredients)

- (optional for more spice)- 1/2 jalapeño pepper finely chopped or 2 tsp crushed red pepper

Ras el Hanout- This is good to have on hand for different dishes that you make. Combine all spices and herbs together and mix. Store in airtight container.

- 2 tsp salt

- 2 tsp ground cumin

2 tsp powdered ginger

2 tsp ground black pepper

1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp ground coriander

1 tsp ground cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon ground allspice

1/2 tsp ground cloves

1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

Directions:

- Wash kale and remove large stems. Tear into smallish pieces. Don’t dry off leaves before cooking. Wet leaves are good for steaming and softening harder greens.

- Over medium heat, toss in half the kale and stir until it begins to wilt and then throw in the remaining leaves. Cover with lid.

- In a small bowl mix Ras el Hanout, garlic and salt. If you chose the optional jalapeño or crushed red peppers, add them in.

- When leaves are dark and have begun to wilt, remove the lid and slide the kale to the side of the pan.

- Now add coconut oil to the pan and pour spices directly into the melted coconut oil.

- Lastly pour in the coconut milk and stir until everything is mixed evenly.

This was an instant classic at our house and probably will  be in yours too!!!

Three Tips For Paleo Noobs

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Here are three unobvious tips for Paleo noobs.

1) You need more carbs. Most people source carbs primarily from bread, pasta, and other starchy foods. When you eliminate those things from your diet, you can unintentionally find yourself on a carb-restriction diet. Pretty soon you will go into ketosis which is usually accompanied by fogginess, fatigue, sleep disruptions, and other unpleasantness. This can be easily avoided. Rather than eliminate carbs, replace them with fresh squashes, root vegetables, and maybe a little fruit. At my house we like to bake sweet potato fries, which have a lot of carbs and a very favorable nutritional profile.

2) Turn off the TV. According to the Yale Rudder center kids watch about 14 food advertisements per day and most of those ads are for junk food. Psychologists know that television advertising “primes” eating behavior. That’s a fancy way of saying that watching television makes you eat more crappy food. Eating clean is hard enough without being constantly blasted with imagery of hot-fudge brownie bowls. That toxic nonsense does not belong in your brain or your body. Do yourself a favor and turn off the tube.

3) Get to bed early. The reason ice cream shops and bars are open late is because night time is when people make the worst decisions. This happens because of “decision fatigue”. At the end of the day you are so depleted from making decisions that you are more likely to break down and do something self-destructive. Like a werewolf, you know what the full moon brings, but you don’t need to lock yourself in a cage. But do be self-aware. Understand that feeling tempted in the evening is not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign that you’re human. Short-circuit poor decisions by climbing into bed early.

Be strong, and remember, you are not alone!