Primal summer, redux

Summer is on. It’s time to make the most of the sunshine and warmth and green grass.

In my house we are committing to getting back to basics, to living more primal lives, to simplifying and culling and embracing the essential.

The days are long. Make an art of crafting days worth remembering this summer.

Walk barefoot in the grass. Jump into the water. Eat real food. Dream in a hammock. Read books. Take walks. Gaze at the stars.

Have real conversations where you listen deeply without even considering what you might say.

Get stronger and leaner. Physically and mentally. Shed your shoes and discard your clutter.

Embrace a crazy idea. Encourage a discouraged friend. Start something audacious.

Shine in the sun. Live now. Have a story worth telling when the chill of autumn blows in.

“‘Cause a little bit of summer’s what the whole year’s all about.” –John Mayer

A book that goes the distance: Born To Run

Born-to-Run-

I have a stack (a virtual stack, that is) of unread books that I am genuinely interested in reading. I often go through long periods of dipping in and out of different books, making little progress on any one book. My potentially unlimited access to almost any book I want at any time is a bit overwhelming and regularly keeps me from actually reading a book all the way through.

However, Born To Run pulled me in and kept me intrigued all the way to the end and beyond. When I opened my iBooks app in the past week, I didn’t hesitate to open Born To Run, and only Born To Run. I didn’t stray or skim through another title in indecision. All Born To Run, all the time. It was a delight to read, and it was a delight to find a book that had the magnetism to hold my attention and push all other reading material behind it.

The author, Christopher McDougall, did a masterful job of weaving together a fascinating group of characters (real people that I found intriguing enough to google and explore further) into a narrative that was truly compelling. And I’m not even a runner.

But this book has sparked a new appreciation of distance runners and a curiosity about the science and engineering and anthropology behind truly great running form. I even, in preparation for an upcoming trip, bought a pair of the Luna Sandals whose design was inspired by the story in this book. And I have definitely never been a sandals guy. At all. (Though, the similarity of these particular sandals to what I think gladiator/Roman emperor sandals would have looked like makes them a bit easier to accept.)

A book that entertains with a page-turner of a story that also educates and challenges assumptions and has you trying a new approach to your basic daily habits (and buying sandals, of all things)… A fine accomplishment for an author.

I see that McDougall has a new book coming out this month with a similar vibe: Natural Born Heroes. Pre-ordered.

 

Born To Run: Christopher McDougall’s TED Talk

I am reading Christopher McDougall’s book, Born To Run, and it is fascinating. So much so that I’ve been Googling characters from the story and found the author’s web site and got lost in videos on his site today.

Again, I’m no runner, but the story McDougall tells is intriguing. It’s beyond just an exposition of running fundamentals. It gets to the heart of our potential as a species, physically and socially. What we were. What we’ve lost. And what still resides within and can be reawakened by getting in sync with our primal nature.

And the book is simply a good story, well told. And it will make you want to ditch your overly cushioned athletic shoes.

Here’s the book’s author giving a short talk about the key themes in his book:

Eight weeks left in 2014: Walk on

december-31st

I’ve been counting down the weeks left in the year, and we are at the eight week mark today.

I’ve been consistent with the hundred pushups challenge, but not so much with my reading habits. Get on that, man. Wake up earlier. Stop getting lost in internet mazes. What if I read eight more books before New Year’s Day? Compiling my list tonight.

I’m adding a new habit this week: walk a mile every day. It’s an easy, quick distance to cover. The dog needs the exercise and the attention, and I need to get moving more often.

Walking is a simple, primal activity that is good for body and mind. Mark Sisson published a post recently detailing the prolific walking habits of some great thinkers – Aristotle, Thoreau, Wordsworth, Dickens, and Beethoven among others.

Sisson quotes this from Soren Kierkegaard:

Above all, do not lose your desire to walk. Everyday, I walk myself into a state of well-being & walk away from every illness. I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it. But by sitting still, & the more one sits still, the closer one comes to feeling ill. Thus if one just keeps on walking, everything will be all right.

The author of my favorite book, Brenda Ueland, wrote about the therapeutic benefits of leisurely, meandering walks. She went on a solitary, five to six mile walk every day to tend to her creative spirit. Harry Truman was famous for his daily, brisk walks and lived a long and interesting life.

Few things refresh and recharge like a walk. And sitting for a living as most of us do necessitates some intentional movement for a healthier life. Setting a goal of just one mile each day, which takes twenty minutes or less, makes this so doable. I could do this at lunch or early in the morning or include the whole family in the evening. I’m using the Runkeeper app to track my distance traveled.

I want to be stronger and healthier and building my day around healthy routines and productive habits will make a bigger impact than setting random goals.

Wake up knowing you’ve got to get your mile in each day. Walk on.

Low-carb > low-fat

Big news in health this week. A major new study has shown that eating a low-carb diet is healthier than eating a low-fat diet.

From the New York Times story about the study:

By the end of the yearlong trial, people in the low-carbohydrate group had lost about eight pounds more on average than those in the low-fat group. They had significantly greater reductions in body fat than the low-fat group, and improvements in lean muscle mass — even though neither group changed their levels of physical activity.

While the low-fat group did lose weight, they appeared to lose more muscle than fat.

And this:

In the end, people in the low-carbohydrate group saw markers of inflammation and triglycerides — a type of fat that circulates in the blood — plunge. Their HDL, the so-called good cholesterol, rose more sharply than it did for people in the low-fat group.

Blood pressure, total cholesterol and LDL, the so-called bad cholesterol, stayed about the same for people in each group.

Nonetheless, those on the low-carbohydrate diet ultimately did so well that they managed to lower their Framingham risk scores, which calculate the likelihood of a heart attack within the next 10 years. The low-fat group on average had no improvement in their scores.

This story, that a low-fat diet is less beneficial than previously assumed, has been brewing quietly for the past decade. I switched to a mostly low-carb, high-fat diet in 2009 and very quickly lost 20 pounds without any exercise routine. And my blood work has been excellent since then.

Conventional wisdom is hard to turn around, but it finally seems it could happen on this topic. So many people have followed bad advice since the low-fat guidelines became a sort of dogma in the 1970’s. And obesity has only skyrocketed since then. At least, maybe we can now begin to take a fresh approach to what it means to eat a healthy diet.

Carbs are ruining your brain

I just downloaded Grain Brain on iBooks today. It’s a potentially game changing book by a prominent board-certified neurologist, David Perlmutter, who also happens to be a Fellow of the American College of Nutrition.

The basic point of the book: carbohydrates are toxic for your brain. Seriously. Even so-called healthy whole grains and most fruit.

He’s even got traditionally conventional low-fat/whole grain-touting Dr. Oz turning around on this. Here’s Perlmutter on Oz’s show discussing how carbohydrate consumption may be a key culprit in the rise of Alzheimer’s.

Conventional wisdom has been stubborn, but I’m seeing more mainstream acceptance recently of the merits of a low-carb/high-fat diet. Usually, it’s related to fighting obesity and diabetes. This focus on brain health, though, is startling and may make for a double-whammy that begins to change our culture’s attachment to the old, failed emphasis on cutting fat and eating more whole grains.

I know just reading the first few pages of this book has me recommitting to a low-carb approach. Both my brain and my waistline will thank me.

Grain Brain cover

Sugar: tasty, tasty poison

This video (h/t Diet Doctor blog) makes a very compelling case that we’ve been misled about the roots of the obesity epidemic:

Sugar and processed carbohydrates are the culprits. Demonizing dietary fat turns out to have been a mistake, though the conventional wisdom doesn’t seem to be catching up with the science quite yet.

I know, I know. Sugar tastes good. But, it has no redeeming qualities otherwise. It’s poison…tasty, tasty poison.

Up until just over four years ago I didn’t give much thought to cutting back on sugar. I drank Cokes and sweet tea and enjoyed the heck out of desserts. Vending machines were my friends.

Then, I changed my diet completely, drastically cutting back on processed foods and carbs and making sugar a rare treat. I switched to unsweetened tea gradually, going from half sweet to just a splash of sweet to all unsweetened. And I got used to it. I completely dropped soft drinks. I quit making dessert a regular expectation. I discovered the delight of super dark chocolate, which is comparatively low in sugar. A little taste of 85 percent dark chocolate became a sensory pleasure each night and satisfied my sweet tooth.

And I lost 20 pounds within a few months of making these changes and have kept the weight off for more than four years, all while actually increasing my consumption of saturated fat. Eggs for breakfast almost every morning. Plenty of butter. Coconut oil as my cooking oil of choice. Bacon. And more bacon…

Sounds delicious, but dangerous, right? At least it does according to conventional wisdom. But I just had my annual physical last week, and my lipid profile put me in the “below average risk” for heart disease. My doctor told me to keep on doing what I’ve been doing.

I’m worried that I’ve already missed the boat with my kids, though. Their sugar love is strong, and they can’t imagine happiness without it. Maybe we can focus on one area at a time, like eliminating sugary drinks for them first before moving on to the harder stuff, like candy and cookies.

It’s worth making the effort to cut the sugar you consume. The obvious sugar is, well, obvious. It’s the sneaky stuff, like the added sugar the food industry puts in almost every food-like substance that comes in a box or jar or can, that is just unfair. I avoid products that have health claims, like “Low Fat”, on the label. It’s likely that sugar was added to make up for how bad it tastes once they removed the fat. Skip that stuff and just get real food.

You’ll miss sugar at first, but your health will be a lot sweeter without it.