Easy Summer Breakfast

It’s the height of tomato season around here and we’re overwhelmed with tomatoes. I may or may not have overplanted this year but I just picked a pound of yellow pear tomatoes and there are more on the vines. With that kind of production, you have to find interesting ways to eat more tomatoes. I came up with this recipe after reading an article in Garden & Gun regarding black cherry heirloom tomatoes. It’s an easy breakfast or lunch. Depending on your protein choice and your Paleo interpretation, you could call it Paleo though I used cottage cheese which might make some people’s toes curl.

Sauteed Heirloom Tomatoes and Onions
Some olive oil
1 onion chopped
Cherry or pear tomoatoes, a handful per serving
Torn basil
Fresh cracked pepper
sea salt
A protein of your own choosing. I used cottage cheese but this would be good on eggs, leftover chicken or black beans.

Heat the oil in a cast iron pan over medium heat. Saute the onions until slightly soft. Add the tomatoes, salt and pepper and saute for just a minute or so. You aren’t trying to create sauce, just get them to release the flavor a little. Add the basil and remove from the heat. Put your protein in a bowl and top with the tomatoes, onions and basil mixture.

Time Spent Reading About Nutrition Is Wasted

Except of course things I write about nutrition. That is not wasted time and may save your life. I jest. Only slightly. In an informative blog post at the NY Times, we find out that new findings on nutrition questions whether fat really gives you heart disease. For decades now, since Ancel Keys screwed us all over with a crappy study attempting to relate diet to heart disease, we have been told, nay yelled at until we were deaf, that saturated fat was killing us, that butter was the enemy, that bacon was Satan’s way to convince men (who liked it better than apples) to stray from their wives and sin. I exaggerate only slightly. We were told to use hydrogenated vegetable oils instead of lard, magical trans fat human made margarine instead of butter, grains and bread instead of steak. Like so many things the government told us, it was all wrong.

As it turns out, nature is difficult to improve upon. We ate animal fats for centuries. Hunter-gatherer populations (the Inuit) who subsist on fat have low incidences of heart disease. Hunter-gatherers (the !Kung) whose diet is made up in large part by the mongongo nut, a high (80%) fat nut have a low incidence of heart disease. It starts to look, when we actually bother to examine things, that fat isn’t that bad. Except the fats we super smart humans make up like trans fats which turns out kills us on a regular basis. Imagine that, something man-made, a supposed improvement on nature, turns out to be highly toxic.

In the linked study, we get this gem from Alice H. Lichtenstein, lead author of the original American Heart Association’s dietary guidelines, which recommend that people restrict saturated fat: “it would be unfortunate if these results were interpreted to suggest that people can go back to eating butter and cheese with abandon”. Ahem. Back in 1910, we ate tons of butter and lard. Guess what, low incidence of heart disease. Of course she has to say that, she wrote the original guidelines saying saturated fat is bad. We can’t admit mistakes, now can we? Someone might sue us.

Common sense ought to tell us that the following things are good for us: meat, vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds. These are the things Mother Nature taught us to eat and we’ve been doing pretty well as a species for a little while now, nutritionally speaking anyway. Things that can sit on a shelf for 24 months and still be “edible”? Common sense ought to tell us to stay the hell away from those. Made up foods that were created in a laboratory? Highly dangerous. Foods that consist almost entirely of sugar? Deadly.

Speaking of sugar, it’s almost worse than made up fats from Uncle Sam’s laboratory. Dr. Richard Johnson has done some amazing research into sugar and it’s extremely negative effects on our bodies. Sugar and its man made evil cousins are the reason why obesity and Type 2 diabetes and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is rapidly becoming the epidemic of our age. Sugary diets are far more likely to cause heart disease and inflammation than saturated fats. But our government can’t tell us that because there’s a sugar lobby not to mention that little problem with having told us saturated fats are bad for decades.

The real story here is that nutritional “science” is in its infancy and we have no idea what we’re talking about. The best thing we can do is eat things that are actually food. If there is an ingredient list, don’t eat it. If it’s second ingredient is sugar, don’t eat it. If it has something made in a laboratory in it, don’t eat it. If it can sit on your shelf for years and when the zombies come still be edible, keep it just in case the zombies do come but don’t eat it on a regular basis. It’s ok to have Spam in the house but only for emergencies. Eat real food. Things that you know had a face at one point or things that you could grow in your backyard. There is no Doritos tree. Stop eating crap and you’ll be amazed at how good you feel.

Going Without

Yesterday, I did a 24 hour fast as a first step into Intermittent Fasting (IF). For the uninitiated, IF is a eating pattern where you do not eat for certain periods of time. This can be 1-2 24 hour fasts during a week, skipping a meal like breakfast and only eating between the hours of 12 and 8 PM or restricting caloric intake to a fraction of normal on fast days, say 400 calories while eating normally on all other days.

The reasoning behind IF often is historic in nature, i.e during our evolution we did not have access to McDonald’s 24-7 and thus our bodies are acclimated and even tuned for periods of feasting and famine. The constant availability of any calories we want is a fairly new phenomenon in human history and may have a negative impact on our overall health. The scientific literature in support of fasting is almost entirely positive. Of the many benefits are weight loss, increased sensitivity to insulin, decreased LDL and triglyceride counts and increased growth hormone production.

I have been considering playing with IF for a little while. In many ways, it’s always been a part of my eating habits as I’m prone to not eating dinner occasionally though that could be an artifact of snacking throughout the day occasionally. Being mostly unaware of the types of IF, I decided to start with a 24 hour fast, eating a meal Monday night at 8 PM and then not eating again until Tuesday evening at 8 PM. In theory, this sounds relatively easy. Who couldn’t go 24 hours without food? As it turns out, this guy can’t go 24 hours without food (though I did go 22 which I figure is close enough).

Obviously, sleeping and fasting is something most of us do all the time. I’m assuming there is probably some aberrant portion of the population who sleep eats but as a general rule, we fast when we sleep. This makes the first 12 hours or so of a 24 hour fast reasonably easy. As the astute reader will know, I’ve recently been doing non trademarked something less than Kevlar protected coffee for breakfast lately so I was prepared to fast through the morning. Though the coffee drinks have a substantial amount of calories, they are still liquid and tend to disappear fairly quickly. All this to say, yesterday morning wasn’t bad and actually was very productive and focused. The work I did in the morning was pretty good in quality (says the guy who hasn’t been to work yet today to actually verify that since he was in no state to verify anything yesterday afternoon though we’ll get to that shortly). I felt mentally alert and not overly distracted by hunger. I’m the type of person who doesn’t ever skip breakfast so I took this as a positive sign.

About 11, the hunger set in. At first, it was normal run of the mill “hey it’s time for a meal” hunger. I treated that with more coffee which is what I tried to use all day. By 12:30, I could tell this was going to be a much harder challenge than I anticipated. Working alone over lunch, I found it increasingly difficult to ignore the fact that my body seemed to be willing to sacrifice a kidney for a meal. My ability to focus began to degrade and continued to get worse throughout the remaining hours of the fast. No amount of coffee or water seemed to slake the desire for food. My body is apparently so used to regular meals that when they disappear for just 24 hours, nothing else of importance can rise above the hunger. I did manage to do some basic work in the afternoon but only through pair programming. I’m afraid I would have stared at the computer for 3 hours without that. The low throbbing headache that had shown up about 2 PM got worse and worse.

My original plan had been to workout around 6 PM as there are anecdotal studies that show a workout towards the tail end of a fast has increased effect on muscle growth and strength gain, likely due to the increase in growth hormone during the fast. However, at 4:30, I was at the point where further work was practically impossible so I headed out. I could tell that there was no way I was going to go home and manage a workout. I did manage to ignore the siren song of every fast food joint on the way home, a feat of willpower only surpassed by the fact I had to go to the grocery store to get cat food and I managed to exit with only the cat food, a rotisserie chicken and a Snicker’s almond bar in tow. There was a moment where I nearly sat down in the cookie aisle and ate an entire bag of Oreos on the floor of Brookshires but I assume the store management would have frowned on that.

They say you should never go to the grocery store hungry because you’ll buy stuff you’ll never eat like hominy. That may be true but go to the store after a 22 hour fast and you’ll eat practically anything. Without that Snickers, I’m pretty sure I would have eaten a can of cat food on the way home. The destruction I did to the chicken would shame normal human beings.

Once I had eaten (and by eaten I mean taken a tour through the kitchen stuffing anything I could find into my greedy maw, leaving the kitchen in a state that looked like they filmed 9 1/2 weeks there), the mental clarity returned with some slight modifications. For a little while, I wasn’t terribly sure what day it was or what I was supposed to be doing. Often after a big meal, I want to take a nap. My body seemed to want this as well but my mind was completely alert though uninterested in actually doing anything other than watching TV.

Throughout this first world ordeal, I regularly considered what it must be like to deal with actual hunger. I was voluntarily giving up food in pursuit of better health. That must seem like an insane act to those who deal with hunger all the time. We are fortunate to be born in a civilization where even the poor often eat enough food. Going without is a way of life for many people around the globe and it puts many things in perspective.

Things I learned from this:

  • Don’t do a 24 hour fast if you’re a knowledge worker and think you’ll be productive at all during the latter parts of the fast.
  • Be prepared for a sensation considerably worse than “I sure am hungry.” It will dominate your focus in the latter part of the fast unless you can ever manage to get over the hunger pains. I expected them to fade somewhat but they never did. Perhaps future fasts will be better.
  • The food you eat will increase in gustatory enjoyment. That was the best rotisserie chicken I’ve ever had and it was nothing special at all.
  • Normal functioning will be difficult towards the end of the fast. Leaving work, I felt slightly disoriented. I did’t remember the cat food until I was practically home which is unlike me.

Was it a positive experience? Yes. Not only did I feel good for a portion of the fast, it is humbling to think how easy it is for us to get whatever food we want whenever we want it. I’m not sure if there were any health gains obviously but I plan to keep playing with IF to see what’s involved. Several people I know responded on Twitter with their results and they were all very positive. They all chose to do a regular 12-8 PM feeding time with a fast overnight and through the morning which is probably a great deal more pragmatic for knowledge workers. Going forward, my 24 hour fasts will all be done on the weekends when I have less need to mentally focus on tasks. In fact, I think a 24 hour fast from 8 PM Saturday through 8 PM Sunday would be both easier and less likely to result in my eating a raw steak at Brookshires.

If you’ve been considering IF or if you are now considering it after reading about it, I do encourage it. The science is starting to strengthen in support of it as well as strengthen against our normal diet of eating constantly throughout the day. Our bodies respond well to periods of feast and famine and I’m looking forward to giving it another try. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go eat a dozen eggs for breakfast.

CrossFit Open Prep Day Minus 38

It’s funny how fast days seem to go when you’re counting them down towards something. Already four days into this journey and feels like it’s only a month away. Today, the plan was to go to the gym at lunch to lift and then do boot camp after work. But then the WOD on the main site was row 5k so I decided to do that instead. Ran to warmup and then did 5K in 22:03. This was the first time I’ve done a row of this length and I prefer it to running. It’s hard but there are so many variables to play with on the monitor on a Concept 2 that I can keep entertained, even on a day like this when I forgot my phone holder and had no external amusements. Stretched for cool down and then ran the boot camp after work without participating in it which was another first. I didn’t think an additional workout of intensity would be beneficial, especially when I plan to yesterday’s brutal main site WOD tomorrow.

When did we start naming our winter storms? I understand hurricanes to some degree, there is a precedent there but isn’t this just sensationalism? The Weather Channel has become the CNN of meteorology and I know I can always find a video there of a black widow spider found in a bag of beans or a python eating an alligator which must affect the weather in Japan like a butterfly flapping its wings. Still, this ever increasing need to grab attention seems to be a slippery slope for which we have no good way of stopping the slide. Naming winter storms and shoving that in a headline is just link bait, a way to get more eyeballs on another page which ironically (possibly the Alanis Morrissette kind) I just supported by linking. It’s enough to keep me from going to the Weather Channel website. I remember the days when you could watch the Weather Channel on TV and actually see local weather. Now Weather on the Eights has probably become Weather on the Eight O’clocks and sensational weather related terror all other times. And ESPN used to show sports and MTV showed music videos. Hey you kids! Get off my damn lawn!

Tonight, I made Stuffed Peppers from a recipe out of Paleo Comfort Foods which is a fantastic cookbook if you’re looking for low carb, paleo friendly recipes. One word to the wise, if you’re really going to be committed to paleo, there are some things you have to give up and I’ve decided fried foods are on the list. They have pictures in this cookbook of fantastic looking fried chicken and okra made with coconut and almond flour. I’ve tried both and frankly, what you get is coconut flavored goo encased chicken and okra.

Other than that, the recipes have been outstanding including some to die for like the beef short ribs and the gumbo. Oddly, coconut flour and almond flour do not materially alter the roux for Cajun food. Highly recommended if you’re looking for variety in your Paleo cooking. Also Nom Nom Paleo’s latest cookbook Food for Humans comes highly recommended though I haven’t gotten it yet.

In other news, Mara is starting a 40 day challenge thing-a-ma-bob with Yogasport and included in that is “drinking in moderation” which for us probably means “drinking on her birthday and Super Bowl but no other times”. And overall, that’s probably a good thing in the general scheme of things. I planted tomato and pepper seeds for transplants on Saturday, hope springing eternal especially after last spring’s 2 tomato harvest. 270 plants total though we’ll have to wait and see how many actually come up. I’ve got room to plant about 20 so the hope would be to sell the others for a buck or two each and recoop costs. It’s good to have a plan.

CrossFit Open Prep Day Minus 39

Today is shaping up to be a rest day other than a dog walk and that’s probably a good thing. I may do some stretching and skill work later this evening but there are plans to smoke ribs so I may also sit in the lawn chair with a glass of bourbon and contemplate life while the smoke does its magic. These will be the first two racks of ribs from the hog I got back in October and I’m interested to see how they turn out. I’m only doing a dry rub, no marinade or mustard so it will be slightly different from most ribs I’ve done in the past.

On the diet note (because one of my fabulous readers asked), here’s a link to Bulletproof Coffee from the source. I’ve made some modifications mostly just for ease of use. For one, I have only so much room in my life to worry about things diet related and moldy coffee isn’t on that list. So I use plain old Folger’s Dark Roast because good coffee is another thing I don’t worry too much about. We’re currently using Kerrygold salted butter because that’s what comes in the big tubs from Sam’s. It’s not nearly as evil as it’s made out to be. I may switch to unsalted Horizon Farms or something in the future just to see if it’s any different tasting. I use plain old coconut oil from Sam’s or Sprouts as well. The original calls for MCT oil but again, my inner caveman takes over and I just use what I can get relatively easily.

My process is to put 1-2 tablespoons of butter and 1-2 tablespoons of coconut oil in a big coffee mug and make coffee using the large Keurig setting. I put a scoop of Sprouts Whey Protein powder in a Magic Bullet container, dump the coffee, butter and oil into it and mix it in the Magic Bullet for about 10 seconds or so. Without a Magic Bullet, I’d use a blender because I don’t think a shaker ball will get you the same consistency. I typically transfer the entire thing to a big plastic cup with some added milk for the morning commute. I usually take a piece of fruit and have it for a snack around 11 but for the most part, I don’t get hungry until lunch with this as breakfast. Depending on the amounts you use, this is typically around 400 calories but it’s almost entirely good healthy fats.

Fast Paleo Goulash

I came across this great looking recipe for Hungarian goulash last week. I’m going to try it soon but since I only had 45 minutes today for lunch, I made a fast version with hamburger that turned out pretty good. It can’t compete with anything cooked in a slow cooker for hours but it makes a great 1 dish meal that you can make in under an hour.

1 pound of ground beef, bison, venison, elk, whatever. I used grass fed beef from a local farm.
1 onion, chopped
1 yellow squash, diced
1 zucchini, diced
1 bell pepper,diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced or run through a garlic press if you’re lazy and in a hurry like me.
paprika (I just threw some in until it looked nice and red)
cumin (ditto)
1 tablespoon of tomato paste
1 cup of beef broth
black pepper to taste
salt to taste
coconut oil (I liked the flavor it added but some people might just stick to the lard)
lard (yup, lard. It’s good for you. Trust me, anything that comes from bacon is good for you)

Brown the beef in the coconut oil. Remove all of the above from the pan. Melt the lard and add the onions, paprika and cumin. Saute for until it looks and smells good, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and tomato paste and stir everything together. Add the meat back in along with the squash, zucchini and peppers. Add the broth and stir everything together. Cook on medium heat until the broth is reduced by half. Add pepper and salt if so desired. I added a little more cumin because I’m addicted to the stuff.

I ate it straight out of a bowl but you could serve it over sliced cabbage or cauliflower rice. The upside is that if you leave and come back home later, your house will smell fantastic.

Thinking About What We Think About When We Think About Food

At the risk of sliding down an exceptionally slippery meta-cognition slope, I’ve been thinking about food and thinking about thinking about food a lot lately. This is partially due to what many observers from the Western world would see as a rather restrictive diet I’m currently on (where diet does not mean “A fad to lose weight” and instead simply refers to the food I choose to eat). It’s also caused in part by attending a lecture by Michael Pollan last Thursday in which he talked about the average Western diet, specifically American, its effects on weight and health and rules from his Food Rules book which is 240 pages meant to give you guidance on what you should and should not eat (if the neurotic anxiety sensors in your head just went off, don’t worry, you’re not alone. While I appreciate Pollan’s desire to simplify food choice through simple, common-sense rules illustrated with pretty pictures, the last thing I want to deal with is 240 pages of what I should and should not eat. “Eat Food, mostly plants, not too much” was a far better idea from Pollan though I’d hazard a guess it’s hard to sell many books with only 7 words.) Thinking about food is an interesting activity, one fraught with potential pitfalls and obsessive tendencies (not that I would know anything about obsessing about eating Oreos). We all know people who seem incapable of thinking about anything else even when fully sated. We also know people who just don’t seem that concerned with food. Typically the former have trouble curbing their eating while the latter go on to obsess about something else.

At a micro level (micro enough for our purposes), hunger and the relief of it are a classic example of the pain-pain avoidance conundrum. For most of our history, the idea of skipping a meal would have been something beyond ludicrous requiring mental gymnastics we were actually incapable of performing. Tell my cat she’s going to have to skip a meal to lose some weight and not only will she walk circles around the bed until you get up and feed her, she’ll probably also claw your eyes out and maybe take a dump in your shoe just for good instructional measure. Animals are fundamentally designed to avoid pain at all costs which of course is a fantastic way to stay alive long enough to get ones genes into the next generation. What helped the continuation of the species ten thousand years ago might now be slowly (or quickly!) killing us today as we are not designed from a physical standpoint to voluntarily choose pain over pleasure.

Avoidance of pain and pursuit of pleasure happens at a subconscious level. At that level, our ability to think and rationalize about food entails very little choice. If we see a maple glazed donut, regardless of when we last ate, we are likely to at least momentarily crave it and consider having just one bite because after all, we can always go to the gym tonight and work it off. That’s the avoidance and delay of pain working. Our bodies know that even if we’re not particularly hungry currently, we might be in the near future when the mammoth we killed is consumed by saber-tooth tigers and the caloric input of that maple glazed donut might come in handy.

If you are slightly salivating over the thought of a warm maple glazed donut, you’re not alone. I’m positive I could go to the local donut shop and polish off 4 or 5 of them right now. Thinking about food has been shown to actually causes an insulin spike in people susceptible to hyperinsulinemia resulting in more cravings and higher intake of food. However, some really promising work in the field of habituation has provided evidence that through cognitive thought at the conscious level we can reduce cravings caused by the subconscious or unconscious level. Studies show that direct thought regarding consuming particular foods in abundance can actually reduce cravings of said foods. For example, imagine a box of 30 maple glazed donuts. Imagine yourself eating them all. Not in theory but actually imagine reaching out for the first one. Imagine consuming it bite by bite. Think about what it would taste like, the texture. Get another one. Maybe have a sip of coffee. Get another one. Work through the entire box until you have eaten all 30 (if you can make it through 30 without causing yourself to throw up, you’re mentally stronger than I am). Your future cravings for maple donuts (and I would guess donuts in general, though not ice cream as the study showed that this technique was not transferrable to other items) will be greatly reduced. This is due to habituation. In the same way people who live on a feedlot don’t notice the methane cloud they live in, you won’t “notice” maple donuts and thus won’t crave them.

This is the difference between actually thinking about food and allowing the subconscious to dictate how we think about food. It’s not easy work to overcome but it is doable. Unfortunately, most of us never rise above the subconscious when we think about food. Even though we are surrounded by food, we allow the old mechanisms of pain avoidance to dictate when we eat and what we eat. This is strongly encouraged by our food industry through the constant bombardment of our senses with sounds and images designed to avoid our conscious filters and make their way to our subconscious, rational claims regarding the hydrating properties of Diet Coke notwithstanding. I watched an hour of television last night and probably saw 10-15 commercials regarding food. Almost all of them are designed to subvert your conscious ability to decide when you should eat and instead go straight for the gut (literally, in the sense they try to stimulate your cravings for their products).

This gets to how we are constantly manipulated against our own rational wishes (or in support of them in the case of those of us who want to stay hydrated and who discover that a big important sounding medical committee has said that all drinks are hydrational and thus, when we don’t feel like drinking water, we should just have a big bottle of sugar labeled “Powerade” or “Diet Coke”.) Food marketers are exceptionally good at what they do and their ability to manipulate our choices is based on the very instinctual desire to avoid pain and increase pleasure that we must overcome if we’re going to be healthy. Once upon a time, marketers just showed us food and that was enough to get us to buy it. Now, they are combining instincts in a more insidious message. Carl’s Jr currently has an ad with Kate Upton that combines the base instinct of eating 750 cheese and jalapeno stuffed calories of hamburger with the base instinct to hump Kate Upton (my guess is that the target market for the commercial isn’t elderly women). If you haven’t seen it (and if you haven’t, you don’t watch much TV between the hours of 6 and 7 PM), go over to Carl’s Jr website and take a gander. What probably would have been considered pornography in the 40s is suddenly a hamburger commercial and I’ll be damned if I’m not hungry again (and wanting to hump Kate Upton. Stupid instincts).

McDonald’s currently has an ad that combines that hunger instinct with our desire to be the first to get anything, a ploy Apple is exceptionally good at. In it, 4 people line up outside a McDonald’s to be the first to try the new Fish McBites, the latest FrankenFood from our friends at Mickey D’s wherein they take flaky Alaskan pollack and coat it with a insulin increasing breading and provide it in Snack, Regular and Shareable (or what I like to call “Mistakes I make while drunk in the drive through”) sizes. Even if you think you are immune to the ploys of these marketers, I can tell you that you aren’t. The amount of money spent to find out what will make you eat Fish McBites is probably astounding and the result is effective.

All these things conspire to make it difficult to eat reasonable portions at regular intervals of things that are actually food (and things with more than 5 ingredients aren’t food, according to Michael Pollan, a good rule to live by which effectively eliminates all items at McDonalds except coffee and a salad which sounds like a disastrous combination on a road trip, the quintessential time I want McDonalds). How can we and our weak little impulse control ever hope to eat well?

We have to accept the fact we’re going to live in pain for a little while, a state of affairs that almost every one of us desires to avoid at all cost. It’s not waterboarding pain but it is the understanding that to truly be healthy we won’t ever have the rush of dopamine and pleasure that comes from eating an entire pint of Ben and Jerry’s Everything But The… or an entire pack of Thin Mint cookies. There is ample evidence that sugar and refined carbohydrates are just as addicting as cocaine. Breaking that addiction requires the cognitive understanding and desire to deal with a great deal of pain over the short (and possibly medium) term. Most of us really aren’t that dedicated to changing. I remain unconvinced that I am even though 20 days of almost pure Paleo eating has fundamentally altered how I feel. Still, addictions are lifelong battles as anyone with an alcoholic in the family can tell you. And that speaks to why food addiction is even harder to break away from. If you’re doing lines of coke off a hooker’s ass or drinking a fifth of Jack Daniels after work and with your morning coffee, chances are your family will support you at almost any cost if you commit to cleaning up. But if you commit to stop going to Baskin Robbins or to quit the Sunday morning donut ritual, your family will likely metaphorically take a dump in your shoe the same way my cat does. So far, sugar addictions haven’t reached the same level of societal opprobrium that other fun addictions have. Thus, getting your family and friends to support what you are doing is far more difficult even though that support is fundamentally critical to your success. You’re likely going to have to have twice the resolve necessary to kick a food addiction unless it’s extreme and they are talking about taking you out of the house when you die through the bay window.

Changing eating habits requires the conviction that the pain involving the life-long battle against almost everyone who desires to get us to eat sugary, processed crap is worth the long term benefits to our mental well being and health. As any smoker can tell you, that conviction is hard to come by. Once upon a time, ten thousand years ago, being healthy meant eating enough food to make it to the next day. In our Western civilization, we now have to come to terms with health being completely antagonistic to our impulses and rely on the wonderfully large cerebral cortex that we’re endowed with to explain how pain today is going to pay off with pleasure in the future. I can tell you from personal experience that it’s not an easy battle but it is one that can be one if you stay vigilant and make as many rational decisions about food. Understand that your subconscious is trying to subvert you at every turn and you can win the battle against unhealthy foods.

Eat Real And Other Non-Related Items

Not that anyone has been complaining but it seems like eight days is too long between posts. I haven’t felt particularly writerly of late on any front which is odd. I’ve had a few “ideas” bouncing around where “ideas” means the start of an essay but not the associated desire to actually do anything about it. Such is the life of an unpaid small time blogger.

Regardless, here we are. I started a nutritional challenge called Eat Real with CrossFit Rockwall this past Monday. In short, it’s a full on Paleo diet over 33 days designed to reboot your nutritional system. As an aside, I’m starting to detest the term Paleo, not because I’ve heard it 456 times in the last days and it’s preventing me from eating Thin Mint cookies, but because it has become so nebulous as to be meaningless even among those people who purport to understand the concept. For a little background, the original Paleo diet (well not original original, that would be sometime 45,000 years ago when we were getting killed by saber tooth tigers and pedaling our cars with our feet over to see our neighbor with the hot wife) came from Dr. Loren Cordain. He basically said we shouldn’t be eating a lot of crap like Thin Mint cookies washed down with a 44oz Coke and instead should eat meats and vegetables and fruits. I know, crazy talk. That version of the diet was pretty regimented and, God bless him, is now pretty financially successful if we’re to gauge financial success by Google trends.

The problem with Paleo in its original manifestation is that it’s hard to avoid Thin Mints and Cokes and bread and pizza. They are everywhere, not just literally but mentally as well. Tuesday night, I had a dream about doughnuts. I assume the set of people who dream about donuts is reasonably small. All my life, I have been a donut aficionado in the way that guy in the Dos Equis commercials is a beer aficionado. I don’t always eat donuts but when I do, I prefer to do it with hot super models and my pet cougar. No, but still, I like donuts. A lot. I was challenged in 6th grade Sunday school once to eat a cinnamon roll in under a minute. This wasn’t one of those wimpy Pillsbury canned cinnamon rolls (of which, I could eat all 8 if given the opportunity). It was a full on 7 inch in diameter cinnamon roll from Donut Stop, the crowning achievement of the donut industry in Amarillo, Texas. I lost the bet but not for want of trying. The point here is that everyone knows I like donuts including my Sunday School teacher in 6th grade who had me try to eat a 700 calorie sugar infused insulin bomb in front of the class. Not that I’m complaining. Yum.

My standard breakfast on the way to the golf course after college was three donuts (cherry frosted, cinnamon roll, buttermilk cake) and the biggest Dr. Pepper they’d serve me. How I don’t have Type II diabetes is a wonder. Suffice it to say, I liked donuts. So Tuesday night, two days into a nutritional challenge that most decidedly does not include donuts, I had a dream about donuts. I don’t recall the plot structure exactly but I do know there was a tasting contest and a monstrous maple frosted long john that chased me through a castle. I guess it’s not surprising I don’t remember the plot structure, sounds like there wasn’t one really. I’m surprised the Pope wasn’t flying an AC-130 shooting donut holes at me in Afghanistan. I digress. For me, the forbidden fruit is a box of sugar laden, fat fried, frosted confections from the donut shop in downtown Wylie and I can’t get away from them even when I sleep.

Most people feel this way (without the long john infested pastry nightmares) regarding the Paleo diet. So they change the definition to fit their predilections. Some people are lacto-Paleo. Some people are chocolato-Paleo. Some people are honeyo-Paleo. I doubt anyone with a straight face would say they were donuto-Paleo but honest to god if they were, I’d try that diet for 30 days. Still, the term Paleo has come to be fraught with definitions bestowed on it by people who want their cake and eat it too while still calling themselves Paleo. Trust me, I get why that happens but still, when I tell people I’m trying to eat Paleo, even those who know what that means, I have to say strict Paleo or lacto-Paleo. Who needs that hassle?

So I much prefer Eat Real. It’s not a term that demands a strict definition and even someone who has no idea what I’m talking about can probably get a good idea of what’s going on. Eat Real. As in Eat Real Foods. Things with no ingredient lists. Things without xanthan gum. Don’t know what xanthan gum is? It’s a food additive created from the bacterial coat of Xanthomonas campestris used as a thickener in foods and as a stabilizer for cosmetics so that they don’t separate. It causes black rot on broccoli. It thickens drilling mud in the oil industry. It’s an all-around thickening machine. And it’s in a lot of our food. If I told you I was eating real, you wouldn’t think I was eating xanthan gum.

Eat Real evokes an idea of eating things you might be able to grow or kill yourself. Eat Real says made up products with 30 ingredients like Doritos probably aren’t included. Ditto cokes or any other manufactured product that is made up of multiple individual manufactured products like high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). The usage of HFCS in a wide variety of products that once just included sugar is probably the biggest science experiment ever foisted on the public. As it turns out, there is a wide public backlash against HFCS largely due to some unsavory studies that show what long-term exposure to HFCS can do. Like greatly increase the amount of organ fat around your heart and liver. Or increase the roaming triglycerides in your blood stream. Or drastically increase abdominal fat in rats. It’s gotten to the point lately where the Corn Refiners Association of America has launched a widespread campaign to patch over the spotty reputation of HFCS including an attempt to get the Food and Drug Administration to rename their product to simply “corn sugar”. I don’t know about you but when a leading industry wants to rename one of their products so that people don’t realize it’s in other products, I get a little nervous.

So, I like the term Eat Real. It’s easy to describe to people and they tend to just get it. Meats, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds. Water, tea and coffee. Simple. In description anyway, the application is a little tougher (see the donut dream above). Still, there is a growing attraction to knowing where your food comes from, what’s in it, what processes it went through in the production stage. Forty years ago, this was just normal life but these days, when you can buy a $5 box from Taco Bell or a $10 dinner box with breadsticks, cinnamon breadsticks, pizza, icing and marinara, eating real seems strangely quaint. That’s what makes it so hard to follow through on. Watching a basketball game last night, I saw no fewer than ten food commercials, none of which had a single vegetable or fruit in it other than the poor little tomato wedged in-between the mounds of bacon and hamburger on the Carl’s Jr. Six Dollar Burger (don’t get me wrong, I don’t have anything against bacon or hamburger).

Eating Real isn’t hard in implementation, it’s hard in follow through. We are bombarded by food manufactures who know our weaknesses and how to exploit them. It’s a constant challenge to avoid the temptation of easy food that is anything but real. That’s the hard part, staying conscious of the constant pressures to do something you know will make you feel good. Because that’s a benefit of eating real, feeling good again. I’m waking up feeling semi-energized (except for this morning when after a brutal workout from hell yesterday, I really just wanted that massive maple long john to fall out of my dreams and crush me in bed). I’m able to focus for longer periods of time. The cravings for high carb, high sugar non-foods are subsiding. Of course, some of these benefits might be psychological. It’s clear I have a bias to be looking for them. But it’s hard not to agree that removing things like xanthan gum and high fructose corn syrup from your diet can’t be beneficial, claims of the Corn Refiners Association notwithstanding.

We’re only 4 days into this challenge so who knows what things will look like in the middle of March. Still, Eat Real has fundamentally changed how I look at nutrion if for no other reason than I’m completely and totally aware of what is going into my food at any one point. Most of us don’t think for a second what’s in a Coke or a burrito supreme from Taco Bell or Chicken McNuggets. And frankly, that’s a problem. Just raising awareness can critically change eating habits.

In other life related news, there really isn’t any. It looks like I’m going to have to replant the spinach, chard, lettuce and peas I put out two weeks ago after our little cold snap last week. I started my tomatoes and pepper inside on Sunday, probably far too late for actual use in the garden this year but at least the housekeepers will be shocked that the planting supplies finally moved off the table where they have been sitting in the study for the past 10 months. The squash and tomatillos have germinated but nothing yet from the tomatoes and peppers. No job yet but I’ve applied for one I’d really like. It’s a slow process though. Thankfully, my golf game is getting a lot better though I’d trade a good golf game for a paycheck right about now. I have been writing quite a bit of code related to NBA statistics and that’s been fun. I tried to play the guitar Tuesday and I still can’t feel the tip of my left index finger. Playing the guitar may not be for me. For one, my fingers are apparently too fat to appropriately play the A chord (I can’t get all three on the same fret without hosing things up, chord-wise, downstream). Maybe I could just play songs that don’t involve A. Or switch to A minor. I”m starting to feel like my life is more like a minor chord anyway.

Paleo Bison Stew

I made this up the other day and it turned out pretty darn good. Plus it’s reasonably priced with bison stew meat going for $7.49 a pound at Whole Foods. There’s very little precision to it, it’s “old school, your grandma has leftovers and she threw them all in the pot” stew but it’s tasty and healthy.

1 lb bison stew meat cubed
1 onion chopped
enough garlic to make you happy, chopped
1 large sweet potato rough chopped
1 can diced tomatoes (I used one with peppers and onions)
Any root veggies you want (I didn’t have any on hand but I bet rutabagas would be good)
1 can of diced green chilies
1 jar of Tikka Masala sauce (or cream of mushroom soup or whatever floats your boat)

saute the onions and garlic in olive oil for a couple of minutes until they are translucent. Add the stew meat and brown on medium high heat. Dump that into a slow cooker. Add the rest of the ingredients and stir it a couple of times. Cook on low for 5-6 hours.

The sweet potatoes are a nice contrast to the chilies and tikka sauce. This would probably work well with any game meat.

Change We Can Believe In

A bill has been introduced by a Democrat whose husband does work for Monsanto that would effectively kill farmer’s markets. Under the guise of protecting those of us who never asked for protection, the government is trying to regulate all food we might buy. A new governmental entity would be created out of thin air to handle all this regulation all in the name of higher quality food, leaving aside the facts that the large outbreaks of salmonella and e-coli in recent years have almost always been traced back to large corporations or farms already under regulation. If the government can’t stop it there, why should we believe the regulation of farmer’s markets and small family farms will be any more successful?

We’re not 100 days in yet and we’re starting to see unbelievable crap like this. We’ve elected people who are under the impression that what we want most is to be protected. At some point, there will be a clash between the people who just want to be left alone and this big government that is slowly consolidating power. I have no idea what the outcome will be but I’m starting to get a tad nervous about it.

More here.