Archive for the “News and Reviews” Category

Interesting items from my inbox, real life, and elsewhere …

Snake Handler, Part Two

Chareva walked into my office at home yesterday and told me there was a snake in her bedroom closet, and she didn’t feel like being brave about it. (You probably recall what happened last time, when she was brave about it.)

So I strapped on my six-shooters and prepared to go rescue my lady from distress, like a good cowboy. Well, okay, I actually grabbed a snake-catching contraption Chareva’s mom had sent to us after the last incident. Either way, I was ready to demonstrate my manliness by man-handling a huge, slithering snake.

Jeez, what a disappointment:

Chareva handles the big snake and gets on national TV as a result, while I get to toss out a glorified worm.  Sheesh.

FitBit Not Fit

I guess there’s a reason people are upset enough with FitBit to sue.  Mine seemed to work well at first — I checked it against my actual pulse and the reading was accurate.  Then it didn’t work so well.  I’d be working out, and according to my FitBit, my pulse would drop from 119 to 66 in mere seconds.  Or I’d tap the screen for a reading and get nothing at all on the heart monitor.  Then the clock started showing 15 minutes behind real time, even after I synced it to a PC that showed the correct time.

So I sent it back.  I’m now sporting a Garmin Forerunner 225, which appears to be accurate — no sudden drop in pulse rate while riding the bike, and I don’t have to tap the face for a reading.  I also like the larger display.  It costs twice as much as a FitBit, but apparently this is a case of you get what you pay for.

Tom Brady’s “Bizarre” Diet

New England quarterback Tom Brady has played in six Super Bowls and won four of them. He may be on his way to another, although I’m hoping Peyton Manning gets another shot this year instead of Brady.

Anyway, a CBS Sports article appeared recently describing what Brady (still at the top of his game at age 38) eats:

On Monday, Brady’s personal chef, Allen Campbell, gave us all a glimpse into Brady’s healthy lifestyle.

“No white sugar. No white flour. No MSG. I’ll use raw olive oil, but I never cook with olive oil. I only cook with coconut oil. Fats like canola oil turn into trans fats. … I use Himalayan pink salt as the sodium. I never use iodized salt.

[Tom] doesn’t eat nightshades, because they’re not anti-inflammatory. So no tomatoes, peppers, mushrooms, or eggplants. Tomatoes trickle in every now and then, but just maybe once a month. I’m very cautious about tomatoes. They cause inflammation.

What else? No coffee. No caffeine. No fungus. No dairy.

The kids eat fruit. Tom, not so much. He will eat bananas in a smoothie. But otherwise, he prefers not to eat fruits.”

A little later in the interview, Campbell also noted that they “stick to gluten free for everything.”

So then, what does Brady eat? The answer appears to be vegetables and lean meat.

“So, 80 percent of what they eat is vegetables. [I buy] the freshest vegetables. If it’s not organic, I don’t use it. And whole grains: brown rice, quinoa, millet, beans. The other 20 percent is lean meats: grass-fed organic steak, duck every now and then, and chicken. As for fish, I mostly cook wild salmon.”

Hmmm … no sugar, no white flour, no diary, no MSG, and the chef only cooks with coconut oil. No canola oil. Easy on the fruit. Gluten free. Lots of organic vegetables, plus grass-fed steak.

Yeah, that’s bizarre, all right. Hasn’t Brady’s chef heard about the newest USDA Dietary Guidelines? They’re “science-based” ya see, so I think Brady should follow them.

Then again, I did mention I want Manning to win the AFC championship game on Sunday.

Glenn Fry is Already Gone

Man, I loved the Eagles when I was a teen. I still listen to them frequently. When I was in a band, we played several of their songs in our set. There were four us, we all enjoyed singing, so we gravitated towards songs with vocal harmonies. Can’t get much better than the Eagles for songs with lovely harmonies.

Along with millions of other fans, I was so sorry to learn that Glenn Fry, one of the band’s founders and songwriters, died this week at age 67. May he rest with a Peaceful Easy Feeling.

I don’t know what Glenn Fry ate, but according to his manager, the drugs he took for rheumatoid arthritis probably contributed to his death:

Eagles singer Glenn Frey’s death is being blamed partly on the drugs he took to combat rheumatoid arthritis: While used to treat thousands of American sufferers, the medicine can leave them vulnerable to serious infections, experts say.

Many of the medications that treat the autoimmune disease, which affects around 1.3 million Americans, come with a slew of possible side effects, from heart failure to tuberculosis.

That’s because some of the most effective treatments, known as disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs), work to suppress patients’ overactive immune systems, which can make them vulnerable to infection.

Frey died Monday at age 67 from pneumonia and colitis, as well as the long-lasting effects of the arthritis on his body, his manager, Irving Azoff, told the website The Wrap.

Azoff added that the pneumonia he contracted was a side effect “from all the meds.”

Like I said, I don’t know what Glenn Fry ate. But I will mention that Loren Cordain was once quoted in a WebMD article as saying he believes cereal grains may trigger rheumatoid arthritis. Some months ago, Dr. William “Wheat Belly” Davis posted about a woman whose rheumatoid arthritis diminished when she went wheat-free:

Carol is thinner, yes, but has also reversed the autoimmune damage to joints. This happens because she has removed the initial trigger for autoimmunity, the gliadin protein of wheat. She has also removed the abnormally increased intestinal permeability permitted by the gliadin that allows bacterial components such as lipopolysaccharide to enter the bloodstream and trigger inflammation. She has also removed the exceptionally inflammatory protein, wheat germ agglutinin. It all adds up to dramatic reversal of autoimmune inflammation.

Sticking to a wheat-free or paleo or “bizarre” Brady diet isn’t just about avoiding illnesses. It’s also about avoiding the nasty drugs used to treat the illnesses.

And speaking of bizarre diets …

The “Power of the Vegan Voice” goes after a burger restaurant

Q: How many vegans does it take to change a light bulb?
A: That’s NOT FUNNY, you @#$%ing MURDERER!!

In case you need more proof that vegans are by a large a humorless lot, check out this article on a U.K. vegan website:

Our message of compassion goes a long way, especially when heard in large numbers. Gourmet Burger Kitchen found this out the hard way over the weekend, when complaints came flooding in for their latest ad campaign, forcing them to backtrack and pull the ads after just two days.

One of GBK’s three ads seen across London showed a picture of a young cow together with the caption: ‘They eat grass so you don’t have to.’ Another read: ‘You always remember the time you gave up being vegetarian’, with a third depicting one of their burgers, with the caption ‘Vegetarians, resistance is futile’.

Now, if you choose not to eat meat but your body still contains a funny bone, you respond to those ads by chuckling and getting on with your meatless life.  Heck, I laughed out loud at this ad and didn’t feel the last bit insulted or threatened:

I didn’t feel threatened because I have a sense of humor. Not so in the case of our vegan pals:

GBK were inundated with complaints, as were the Advertising Standards Agency. The burger chain was accused, among other things, of picking on a minority group. Indeed, they appeared to be as unaware of the legal status of Veganism as a protected belief under equality laws as they were about the size and strength of the vegan community.

Picking on a minority group … a protected belief under equality laws.

Yeah, because if you poke fun at vegans in an ad, that’s just like refusing to allow African-Americans into the local public school, doncha know.

Good grief, the weenification campaign is apparently world-wide.  Millions of people are now convinced that if they’re offended, Something Very Very Bad has happened to them, and it must be stopped.

We’ve got college students demanding a “safe space” where no one is allowed to disagree with their beliefs (no matter how illogical), students demanding “trigger warnings” about books containing words or passages that may offend them, and there’s even a movement in some loony-leftie circles to repeal the First Amendment because …well, you know, it allows people to say things that other people find offensive!

Time to change the saying we used to teach kids:

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will send me running to a therapist with deep psychological wounds that need healing … because I’m a weenie.

Here’s the problem with all these campaigns to stamp out “offensive” books, ads, speeches, or whatever: who exactly gets to decide what is or isn’t “offensive”? Why, the weenies themselves, of course.

After demanding an ad campaign they found offensive be yanked, the vegans replied with an ad of their own … which I’m sure some people would find offensive:

Since I’m not a weenie and have a sense of humor, I would never demand they take it down from their site. The right to speak must by definition include the right to say things others find offensive — after all, speech that offends no one doesn’t need protecting.  So for a reply, I had the Photoshop wiz I married put together an ad of our own:

Enjoy your weekend. Looks like we’ll be snowed in temporarily in Tennessee, so I expect I may have to remove more snakes looking for a warm place to sleep.

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It just so happens that some videos caught my attention, so I thought I’d share.  The first one is a TedEd video about simple and complex carbohydrates created by Dr. Richard Wood, director of the Center for Wellness Education and Research at Springfield College in Massachusetts.  (In my speech on diet and the Wisdom of Crowds, he’s the guy introducing me.)

Very nice.  Short and sweet — pardon the pun.

The second is part of an interview Dr. Andreas Eenfeldt conducted with me on last year’s cruise.  As I’ve mentioned before, Dr. Eenfeldt is now dedicated to educating people about diet and health full-time.  He closed his medical practice and has a production team cranking out lots of excellent material.

You can watch the video here.  If you join Dr. Eenfeldt’s site, you’ll also have access to all the videos and materials his team produces, including the full version of our interview.

The last video didn’t exactly catch my attention, because I created it.  At the end of each year, I put together a family DVD.  This is the video that shows our big spring project and trying to rustle the hogs.

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You’ve pretty much got to like a book when one of the main pieces of advice it offers is to slow down. Of course, that assumes you need to slow down – perhaps not a problem for most of us. If you’re already inert, you’d have to take up cycling or jogging and go too fast before “slow down!” would apply.

But slowing down is exactly what some people need to do. I’ve recounted this story again, but it bears repeating: on one of the low-carb cruises, a woman complained to Fred Hahn that she was overweight despite getting up at the crack of dawn several days per week to go running for an hour. Fred explained that she was exercising too much and sleeping too little. As a result, she was almost certainly cranking out stress hormones, and stress hormones can make us fat.

“But what should I do to lose weight if I don’t go running?” she asked.

“Take a nap!” Fred replied.

I could see the resistance in her expression.  This can’t be right.  Dangit, if you’re willing to wake up at dawn and horsewhip yourself into running for an hour before heading off to a full-time job, there ought to be a reward. It’s only fair.

But our bodies don’t operate on fairness. They operate on biochemistry, and the lack of sleep and chronic over-training were creating a biochemical mess for the devoted runner. Fortunately, she eventually learned the lesson. Several months after the cruise, she wrote a thank-you note on Facebook, telling Fred she adopted his advice and cut back on running to get more sleep … and lost 20 pounds.

Now, I don’t know how many frustrated dieters are out there running too hard and too often. My guess is not very many – partly because so many of us have already been there, done that, and found it didn’t work. While going through some old VHS tapes awhile back, I found one that showed me returning from one of my regular jogging sessions – and I was quite noticeably fat.

My diet was crap in those days (although of course I thought all that whole-grain pasta with low-fat sauce was good for me), so that was certainly a big part of the problem. But I’m also pretty sure I was running myself straight into what Mark Sisson calls the Black Hole in his latest book.

The book is titled Primal Endurance: Escape chronic cardio and carbohydrate dependency and become a fat burning beast! Sisson co-wrote the book with Brad Kearns, who was a champion triathlete back in the day. Sisson, as you probably know, was also a champion runner and triathlete in his youth. Back then, he carb-loaded before races and over-trained. The health problems he experienced as a result prompted him to do the research that led to Mark’s Daily Apple and The Primal Blueprint (still one of the best all-around books on diet and health).

Primal Endurance opens with a nice summary titled 115 Things You Need to Know. It’s essentially most of the advice in the book, boiled down into short paragraphs. The introduction also explains why this book is necessary: too many people trying to get fit are going about it the wrong way, using training methods that are ineffective at best and harmful at worst. In other words, they’re pushing themselves into the Black Hole.

The what? What’s a Black Hole?

Glad you asked. Chapter One is titled Slow Down!, and it explains what the Black Hole is and why you need to avoid it. In a nutshell, the Black Hole is the zone between a proper aerobic workout that burns mostly fat and a high-intensity workout that burns mostly glucose. A brief high-intensity workout is fine – in fact, it’s beneficial. A long aerobic workout is also beneficial. But if you push that aerobic workout too hard and for too long, it’s no longer truly aerobic, and your body has to start cranking out glucose — and to do that, it has to raise your stress hormones. That’s where the trouble begins. To quote from the book:

A chronic approach will lead to poor competitive performance, lingering fatigue, suppressed immune function, persistent stiffness and soreness, increased injury risk, failed weight-loss efforts, and finally – when your fight-or-flight resources become exhausted from chronic stimulation – burnout.

And later:

Metabolically, chronic cardio workouts are slightly too strenuous to emphasize fat as a fuel source, and instead emphasize glucose burning. While this makes the workout more difficult and generates more fatigue and sugar cravings right afterward, the truly damaging effects of chronic workout patterns occur around the clock.

… If your goal is to perform well in endurance events, get leaner, be healthier, and delay the aging process, it’s quite possible that your training sessions are promoting the exact opposite results of your goals.

A lot of us have already heard about the detrimental effects of chronic cardio, so we don’t do cardio workouts at all. No jogging, no aerobics, no Zumba classes, etc. We do slow-burn workouts with weights and let it go at that.

Heh-heh-heh … turns out that’s another one of those beliefs that needs some re-visiting. According to Sisson and Kearns, aerobic exercise is great for health and fitness – in fact, it should form the base of your exercise program – but you have to do it correctly. You have to stay out of the Black Hole. That’s where the “Slow Down!” advice comes in.

Avoiding the Black Hole is actually simple, at least if you have a reliable way of checking your heart rate during exercise. You simply subtract your age from 180 to find your target heart rate. (There are suggestions in the book for adjusting the rate depending on other factors). Then you exercise at a pace that gets you near but not above the target rate.

Sisson and Kearns emphasize several times that you absolutely must monitor your heart rate if you want to avoid the Black Hole. You can’t just rely on how you feel.

You may still feel quite comfortable as you extend your effort well beyond aerobic maximum heart rate. Psychologically, you might even gain a greater sense of satisfaction that you are actually “getting a workout” because of your slightly labored breathing pattern, elevated perspiration, and elevated perceived exertion in the brain…. The black hole has been confirmed by numerous studies as the default landing area for people relying solely upon perceived exertion to govern intensity level.

I can attest to that. Before I even finished the book, I wanted to see what a proper aerobic workout feels like. After some research into various heart monitors, I ended up getting a Fitbit. I like it because if I double-tap the face, it displays my heart rate. (That requires choosing a particular setting in the software interface, by the way.)

So with the Fitbit on my wrist, I got on Chareva’s new bike and began peddling with a fair amount of resistance. A minute or so in, my heart rate was still below 100. Geez, I thought, my legs are working kinda hard here. I don’t know if I can keep this up for 30 minutes.

Then my heart rate began to climb. And climb. And climb. Next thing I knew, it was above 140. I had to slow down, then choose an easier gear with less resistance, then slow down again. I finally found a pace that kept my heart rate right around 120 – and yes, I had to pedal slower than I would have guessed.  Once I settled into the correct zone, it was an easy workout.

So why bother with aerobic workouts at all? The book names several benefits, but perhaps the biggest is triggering the process of building new mitochondria.

Exercise not only increases the size and number of mitochondria, but also makes them more efficient by increasing the number of oxidative enzymes found in mitochondria. These enzymes improve metabolic function of your skeletal muscles, boosting fat and carbohydrate breakdown for fuel, and speeding energy formation from ATP.

To reap all the benefits from proper aerobic exercise, however, we also have to burn the right fuels. Chapter Three is titled The Primal Blueprint Eating Strategy, and if you’ve read any of Sisson’s previous work, you can pretty much guess what kind of diet he recommends.

There are also chapters on adding strength training and sprints to the exercise program, although Sisson and Kearns urge the reader to spend a few weeks building an aerobic base first.

If one of your New Year’s resolutions is to start (or retool) an exercise program, this is an excellent guide to doing it right. Sisson’s books are popular largely because of the solid information he provides, but also because he’s a gifted writer who explains things simply and clearly. Primal Endurance, like his other books, passes what I call my Aunt Martha Test: if you gave a copy to your Aunt Martha, she could read it and understand it all without becoming confused or running for a medical dictionary.

As I explained in my previous post, this book happened to come along right when I decided I need to do more than just lift weights during the winter months. I’ve barely started the program, so I can’t yet say if it’s making a difference. I’ll give it few months and write a follow-up.

I hope the results are very good indeed … because if slowing down is what makes aerobic exercise actually beneficial, that would be welcome news to the millions of people who hop on treadmills in January and give up by April when it’s clear the rewards don’t match the effort.

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I hope you all had a good holiday season. I also hope you didn’t wake up on Friday and make lofty New Year’s resolutions you’re unlikely to keep … you know, stuff like “I’m going to lose 30 pounds by March!”

I’m not opposed to New Year’s resolutions, mind you. I just think too many people go about it the wrong way; i.e., they promise themselves they’ll achieve specific results instead of promising to develop better habits. We can choose our habits. We can’t control the results. You may think it would be awesome to lose 30 pounds in two months, but your body’s biological software may not be programmed to go along with the plan. Set yourself an unlikely goal, and the likely outcome is that you’ll end up labeling yourself a failure.

So pretty please with stevia on top: if you have a list of diet and fitness resolutions for 2016, make sure you define your goals in terms of actions, not results.

That being said, if you’re not happy with last year’s results, here’s something you can resolve to do: mix it up and experiment. We’re all different, and a plan that worked wonders for other people might not be right for you. If you’ve been on an almost-zero-carb diet and still can’t seem to lose weight, you can try giving up dairy products. (I’ve seen that break a stall for a few people.) You can try introducing probiotics, resistant starches and more fiber to feed the good gut bacteria. You can try something more along the lines of the lowish-carb Zone diet or Perfect Health Diet. You can try adding a carb night to an otherwise ketogenic diet to see if it jump-starts a slow thyroid.

The point is, if you’re not happy where you’re at, don’t just resolve to do more of the same and hope for better results. It can’t hurt to give other plans a month-long test and see what happens. And if it turns out nothing you try breaks that stall, then let it go and resolve to focus on being healthy.

I didn’t make any dramatic resolutions this year, but I am adopting one new habit: winter huff-and-puff exercise. I get plenty of huff-and-puff exercise during warm months just by working on the farm. Carrying t-posts up the hills, pounding them in (and trying to avoid head-whacking incidents), pushing The Beast through the briar jungles, five-hour sessions pushing a mower up and down the back hills … yeah, that’s real exercise.

But in the winter months, I don’t usually do much besides lift weights once per week. With all the holiday busy-ness and family-and-friends visits this year, I ended up lifting weights just twice between my birthday and New Year’s. My last all-day mowing session was in early November. Toss in some holiday junk food and adult beverages, and by Christmas I was aware of feeling … well, not exactly soft, but certainly less tuned up than in the summer months.

The weekend weather gave me a chance to confirm my suspicions. It was 50 degrees on Sunday, so I told Chareva I’d put together the picnic table that’s been sitting in pieces in our garage. I tossed most of the planks and other parts into our garden cart and pulled them up the back hill to a location near her garden.

Holy @#$%, I grumbled to myself once I stopped the cart and unloaded. I should not be breathing this hard after pulling one load up the hill. If this were last July, I’d barely be winded.

So I resolved to get more endurance-building exercise during the cold, no-farm-work months. But doing what? I’ve considered getting a recumbent exercise bike before, but man, they’re bulky. I didn’t like the idea of crowding our limited basement space with one of those.

Well, it so happens Chareva wanted a bicycle for Christmas. It occurred to me that I could just add one of those indoor trainers to her bike and voila! Instant exercise bike for indoors. Now I just needed an intelligent plan for making use of it.

During our visit to Illinois, The Older Brother told me he’d been reading Mark Sisson’s book Primal Endurance, and it made a lot of sense. I wondered why I hadn’t received a copy. Turns out it was in the mail we had held during our trip. I’m most of the way through the book (which I’ll review soon), and it’s definitely given me a plan for using the bike to get into summer-work shape long before summer.

Again, we’re talking about the actions I can take, not the results. The results will be what they will be … but of course, I’ll write about them when I feel there’s something worth reporting.

In the meantime, I thought this might be a fun reader-driven discussion for those who don’t mind sharing:  what’s the dumbest or least useful New Year’s resolution you’ve ever made?  And what’s the smartest or most useful resolution you’ve ever made?

Happy 2016, everyone.

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Whew! It’s nearly 4:00 PM, and I made my deadline an hour ago. Then I celebrated with a round of disc golf. I don’t know what my final score was, because my brain was too busy saying “The book is done! The book is done!” to bother remembering strokes.

Actually, “done” would be stretching the truth. The first draft is done. That’s huge, because it means I’ve said everything I want to say. Now I’ll do what I always do with a long piece of work: let it cool for several days, then give it a full read-through, then say everything again, only better. Second and third drafts are usually where I come up with a lot of ideas for adding humor into the mix.

My primary tool for writing isn’t a computer. It’s a recorder, for a couple of reasons. The recorder allows me to “write” while commuting to Nashville. Most writing time is actually thinking time, and I find it easy to think in a car. Back in the day, I wrote most of my new standup material by dictating during long road trips.

I use the recorder first even when I’m at home and could type on the computer. As I learned the hard way when I first tried doing standup, written English and spoken English are related, but not the same. If you’ve ever heard someone give a speech that sounded like a term paper read aloud, you know what I mean. Natural speech has a different rhythm. When I was a journalism major, the broadcast news professor insisted we learn to write TV copy by using what he called the “Hey, Joe, Didja Know” method. Turn to an imaginary person and tell him the story. Then write that down. Otherwise, you’ll probably write copy that looks fine on paper but sounds clunky spoken aloud.

This is a book, which of course means people will be reading it. But it’s a book for kids, so I want the text to read almost like someone talking. We also plan to produce a companion DVD, so I figured I may as well put the language in a to-be-heard format from the beginning.

We’ve got a loooong way to go to finish the entire project. Chareva has a ton of cartoons and graphics to draw, plus she’s learning InDesign so she can design the book. I haven’t used After Effects or other animation software in years, so I need to seriously upgrade my skillset and learn the latest version.

But the first draft is done. That’s the best birthday present I’ve given myself since the Fat Head premiere party on my 50th.

And now it’s time for my annual indulgence in pizza-with-everything and a few craft beers.  I’m pretty sure I deserve it.

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Almost there on the book.  I’ve got to finish the last full chapter, then I’ll be writing a wrap-up chapter — the title of which will be something like “It’s perfectly good to be good instead of perfect.”

So I may just make that self-imposed deadline, which comes around on Saturday … along with my 57th birthday.

Back to it …

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