Friday, December 21, 2007

'Bullshit' artist

The following was excerpted from an essay called 'Silly Bullshit' in 'Strong Enough? Thoughts from Thirty Years of Barbell Training,' by Mark Rippetoe:

What is it that drives the dissemination of silly bullshit? The drive comes from the commercial interest (obviously) and ego (amazing!). Donna Smith could use the money; so can I, so I appreciate the motivation. The magazine people want you to keep buying them, and to buy from their advertisers, and if they make sure to hire writers that have ‘CSCS’ beside their names, they have covered their asses. The fine folks who bring you HipHop Abs, the Ab Roller, and Cortislim are counting on the fact that you will probably fail to do your homework. On the other hand, Dr. Mirkin probably isn’t in a jam for cash, so he just likes the idea of being a Fitness Expert in addition to a doctor (and, for all I know, maybe a very good one in his actual specialty). The orthopod who tells you that full squats are bad for the knees and they’ll stunt your growth, and that you need to just do lighter weights and use higher reps because “they do the same thing,” doesn’t expect you to pay him for this advice; he’s throwing it in for free. He knows he’s qualified because after all he is a doctor. The exercise science people have qualified themselves. And the media don’t care who’s qualified; they just need to fill 45 seconds.

The problem is simple. It is incumbent on you, yes You, to educate yourself to a sufficient extent that you are in a position to evaluate information issued from a position of authority. You are supposed to be able to recognize silly bullshit when you hear it. And I’m sorry if it’s hard to have to think all the time but the consequences of placing your responsibility to do so in the hands of others can result in a closet full of Thigh Masters, which will make it necessary to find somewhere else to hang your shirts – like on your Bowflex.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Lagging behind

When I was in college I spent bored afternoons sitting in the terminal at Logan airport with grounded feet and a soaring imagination. Really I should have been studying for my astronomy class which required extra diligence considering that spectroscopy bored me silly and Dr. Kamal’s incomprehensible Indian accent required a skill of rapid translation that I didn’t possess. In International Departures I was leaving all of that behind me and instead playing Margaret Mead solving mysteries of sociology such as why would any couple purposely wear matching track suits. At this point, if I ever marry, I’ve decided it will be the first Christmas present that I’ll buy my spouse (MY husband would think that was funny which might explain why such a man is so hard to find).

The mysteries just get more interesting as I recently sat next to a gentleman on a flight back to Seattle who managed to combine two classic haircuts – the Mullet and the Caesar – for a look uniquely his own. It’s clear that Caesar wouldn’t have sanctioned that though it had strong potential to scare an enemy. Such a puzzling choice would have dominated all my analytical processes had he not also chosen to wear flip flops with tube socks. The stimulus overload caused my cerebrum to crash into my cerebellum and I had to reboot. I was torn between building the case study and the cost of opening the Pandora’s Box of prattle. If you start chatting to your plane-mate, you have to be prepared to maintain the conversation for the full duration of the flight if he or she decides to keep keeping on. Barring the user-friendly and well-illustrated escape from the well-market exit door, there’s really no place else to go. In the long run, I’d really much rather make an interest-only payment on my ever accumulating sleep debt. This debt has only one useful side effect: when it causes what feels like jet-lag every day of the week, you really don’t feel jet lagged even after you’ve been prattled at cross-continent.

Jet lag is a particular challenge for many people this time of year when the misery of ‘lagging’ is added to the misery of awkward family gatherings that require a heightened readiness to pounce on your own internal edit switch. Thank goodness for Carl Ellison’s trip to Budapest in which he test drove the advice Dr. Singh gave during the talk in September. I’ll let Carl explain:

"Dr. Singh advised me to take 10 mg Melatonin at 4:00 a.m. destination time. I was planning to ease into Budapest time from Pacific over 5 days – maybe 1 or 2 time zones per day – leading up to taking off on Friday morning. I was delayed in that, so I took my first dose of Melatonin on Monday night at 7:00 pm Pacific (4:00 am Budapest). I puttered around and got in bed at about 8:00 pm. At midnight, my eyes were wide open. I was awake and ready to start my day. It never occurred to me that the circadian rhythm reset would happen that fast. So, for the rest of that week, I ran on Budapest time, more or less (lost some sleep in the process – partly from setting an alarm to wake me at 7:00 pm Pacific to take more Melatonin). I believe now (although I haven’t checked with Dr. Singh) that I should have taken only one dose – the day I was flying (or the night before, in this case).

"On the way back from Budapest to Seattle, I did that – took only one dose at 4:00 am Pacific time. I had just boarded the plane in Frankfurt for the leg to Washington Dulles – so I got a glass of water from the flight attendant and took the pills at about 13:00 Frankfurt time. I stayed away long enough to get the meal they served on the airplane – and then put on my eye shades and dozed some from Frankfurt to Dulles. This was max 5 hours of sleep – maybe 4. We changed at Dulles to a flight to Seattle and I didn’t sleep at all on that flight. When we landed in Seattle, it was about 9:30 pm and I felt as I usually do at 9:30 – not really tired but able to go to bed. I got into bed at about 11:00 pm – and had a normal night’s sleep.

"At both ends – Budapest and Seattle (on return) – I had no jet lag. Normally, I have terrible jet lag going East and minor jet lag going West. I’m sold. My thanks to Dr. Singh.”

Don’t try to skip the prep and opt for sleep aids. As this site cautions, ”Some people use sleeping tablets to try to alleviate jet lag. This is a dangerous approach as sleeping pills induce a comatose state with little or no natural body movement, and it is well known that prolonged immobility during flight can lead to fatal blood clots (deep vein thrombosis). This was reported as far back as 1988 in the Lancet, which said it was estimated "that over three years at Heathrow Airport, 18% of the 61 sudden deaths in long distance passengers were caused by clots in the lungs." Picture the leg veins as bags of blood. When this blood doesn't circulate there is a risk that it will clot. In addition, many so-called sleeping pills are variants on anti-histamines and they tend to dehydrate significantly, adding to the already significant problem of in-flight dehydration.”

When I told Dr. Singh about Carl’s results he offered the following, “Thanks for the feedback. I am glad he was able to benefit from the forum. Melatonin is most effective if used under dim light conditions and about 8 hours before the core body temperature minimum. Phototherapy, hypnotics and alertness facilitating agents may also be useful adjuncts. Take care.” Hmmmm, phototherapy, hypnotics – sounds like the same astromony class.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Swerving off the path

I only read Oprah books on Airplanes and then once I get over the novelty, I start to wonder why even then. I think it’s only to lament that my neurosis is not the flavor-of-the-week kind. The most recent book I bought on the way to San Francisco was about a woman who couldn’t find herself - other than on the top of the best sellers list. The tale of her journey in which she gives up her antidepressants in favor of a three month carb coma of pasta carbonara is beneficial to me only in regards to the caloric expense of flinging the book and then chasing it down to fling it again. I actually bought it after seeing the author on Oprah whom I was watching as a means to pass time while my toenail polish dried. I can now see that my initial impression may have been a result of huffing top coat.

My trip to San Francisco for a two-day stint in a communication seminar was a handy way to answer the question ‘How many days does it take to unravel a personal trainer?’ Take it easy Will Shortz, This isn’t a riddle. Given that I traveled without my emergency bomb shelter supplies – the very thing I’d tsk tsk a client for not packing – it was clear I was in trouble. It means I was dependent on my hunter gatherer skills on a very tight schedule. I landed Friday night, and had my butt planted in a chair designed by the same man responsible for refining the technique of water boarding, by Saturday morning at 9 a.m. With two thirty minute breaks until dinner, I needed to track down protein prepared with limited amounts of antibiotics, hormones and preservatives, that weren’t wrapped in, served over or in a committed relationship with wheat, excess carbs or sugar. I’d have greater success heading for the alley, cornering a sewer rat and eating it sashimi-style whole, hold the rice.

Given the health implications of all the wheaty, carby stuff and the likelihood that consuming it would make me fall asleep or leave me wandering through a food fog unable to focus on the seminar I paid for, I elected to ‘fat fast’ on creamy cups of coffee. Yes, half and half is not a great source of nutrition but a few doses in fairly small amounts won’t hit me with a lot of chemicals and the neutral impact of fat on my blood sugar will allow me to stay awake. Plus, the caffeine is an appetite suppressant.

In short, I threw my adrenals under the bus. It’s not a good plan and it’s a lot like answering the question, ‘So, where would you like that paper cut?’ Somewhere out there Dr. Carlston dropped what he was doing and exclaimed, ‘Krikey, someone’s adrenals are in trouble!’ I picture him rescuing abused adrenals and bottle feeding them back to health like baby birds. He’d be really excited about it, too and he’d reach that level of animated concern that would make injured adrenals feel safe. It’s important to note that if I could reach his natural level of enthusiasm, I wouldn’t need the coffee. I can hear Dr. Carlston replying, ‘but without the coffee, Heather, you could probably reach that level of enthusiasm naturally.’ He’d say it with an exclamation point. And damn you get out of my head. There’s my exclamation point.

At the seminar, there were eyebrows raised at my second cup of coffee and some inquiry into whether or not I was going to eat anything. These inquiries were made by fragile women smugly nibbling performance bars that they thoughtfully packed as bomb shelter supplies. In my head I played a coldhearted game of ‘which cancers will that cause,’ before answering ‘I’m fine.’ Everyone knows that’s a blatant cry for help. The answer in my head went something like, ‘no worries. Without protein, my body will happily snack on my biceps. Thanks for asking.’ I smiled a little broader mainly because, in a communication course, I feared clairvoyance. It’s no surprise to me that I was attending a class about communication considering how clear it was that my internal conversation was far richer than anything I was willing to let fly.

During the real meal break in the evening, I was consumed by a singular mission of refueling. I ordered fish stuffed with fish and wrapped in fish with a side of fish. Stuffed to the gills with protein, I salvaged my nutrition at least a little. It didn’t stop me from meandering into every convenience store on the walk to Reza’s where I was staying so that I could pretend to buy snacks. The marketing implies that food can be found in such places and that was blatantly untrue. I bought nothing though trying to remember what a Pringle tasted like was food for thought. I remained alert however as I approached Reza’s neighborhood. To say he lived at the gates of hell would be to imply that hell was the kind of gated community in which the influential feared joy riders casing the neighborhood and breaking into cars. Nope, hell has no gates and its contents leaked to Reza’s doorstep.

The next day I spent in recovery, entrenched in pjs catching up on e-mail. I abandoned the second cup of coffee and replaced it with a handful of chocolate truffles I bought at Godiva when I went out to forage the first cup. It was mildly celebratory since I was no longer trapped on a hard chair after two days of abuse and mildly reactive to two days of bad nutrition. What it became, however, is the answer to the question, ‘how do you give yourself a splitting headache in two easy steps?’ (By the way, it runs in the family. When I told my Dad about the truffles he told me that the last time he ate chocolate he fell off his porch. It’s something to look forward to in my sixties.)

With debauchery behind me, I started my day with a 5:15 wake-up call for the 6:00 a.m. CrossFit San Francisco class. I arrived, filled out my paperwork and answered that ‘yes’, I have some experience with this CrossFit stuff. Anyone with a background in Martial Arts will tell you never enter somebody else’s Dojo with a swagger. I didn’t make loud noises, stare down the locals or exaggerate my warm-ups with standing back flips or a six pack of muscle ups. Partly because I can’t do either. When the coach who was helping me determine the appropriate weight for six sets of ten back squats said, “Your one-rep-max is over 200 pounds? That’s heavy,” I replied in an ‘I suppose so’ kind of way. I was there as a student not as a stop on my victory tour.

Ah, back to all that's good and pure! After an exhilarating return to reality, I swung by Starbuck's for a cup of coffee.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Agriculture Supported by Customers— not by the Government

George Vojkovich
and a side order
from Skagit River Ranch

If you become complacent about the quality and the source of your food, you won't have the choices we have today. And with industrial organic, we barely have any access at all to animal products and produce cultivated under proper conditions. As the demand for organic increases, we find more and more ways to reduce the quality in order to increase the profit until the word organic becomes meaningless. The Farmer's Market isn't just a way to salvage nutrient density, it's a way to preserve the wisdom in the natural order of things that defies mass production and for very good reasons. When I was buying eggs on Saturday, I asked George if I could reprint this post from his website:

It is said by year 2020, we will have 1.2 billion more people in the world. Yet, do you know in 2005, the world produced less food for human consumption than it did in 1984? The agricultural productivity is going down, not up. Why? Two thirds of the natural resources in the world are used up. Our past ignorance and greed are destroying the plant support system; ocean, rivers, forest, atmosphere and lakes. I am convinced more than ever that if we are to have a future for our children, we all have to grow “nutrient dense” food through sustainable, non-toxic farming that would produce more yield than the conventional method. There was a sustainable system of agriculture called “Terra Preta” that supported millions of people in Brazil before the mid-16th century. “Sustainable” farming is nothing new, and will work for us today if we try. Economically, spiritually and environmentally, food must be produced sustainably if we expect to leave this earth in tact for our future generations, and the right choices must be made today.

Sadly, here is the U.S. agricultural policy in a nutshell. You hear politicians talk about the Farm Bill? The Farm Bill was supposed to protect farmers, but it actually hurts small farmers like us. Each year, something like $24 billion goes to subsidize farms in the mid-west that grow corn for a few Mega Agri corporations. 75% of the U.S. agriculture is raising feed corn (and now ethanol) in the mid-west. Now that the corn price doubled in 2006, these farmers are making the biggest profits ever. They need no subsidies, but with government’s free flowing money, secured by the powerful agri-corporations, they have no incentives to change their chemical driven farming methods to more sustainable, less harmful ways. Their subsidized feed is so cheap-- “below” cost of production, making it impossible for small farmers like us to compete on a level playing field. Now we, west coast farmers are now competing not only with foreign countries, but also with subsidized U.S. farms. So how do we survive?

The only way that I can think of is to have customers who understand the situation, share the same desire to make this earth a little better place for our children, and are willing to pay the higher price for clean, locally & sustainably grown organic food. When I was listening to Michael Pollan speak about his new book, “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” last fall, he said that where we spend our “food” dollars is not yet regulated by the government while everything else seems to be. And he is right. As a tax payer, I don’t have a right to prevent my tax dollars going to big Agri-corporations without going to jail. But the government won’t arrest you for supporting a farmer like me through your purchases. So, Eiko and I thank you, all of our faithful customers, for your support and making this style of farming possible.

Here is the newest article by Michael Pollan on “Farm Bill”…. Please read it and tell others… Nobody can explain it better than he can .

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Seriously, There's a Point . . .

I watched an entire marathon of ‘What Not to Wear’ while continuously combing the cat I agreed to ‘sit’ while my friend was out of town. I made threadbare the one good coat the cat was wearing while I promised to no one in particular that if I could just make it to the store in these sweats without ending up on the next episode, I’d sacrifice them to the slob gods as soon I got home. And borrowing most of the cat’s coat thanks to the mindlessly excessive maintenance I subjected it to wasn’t making either of us look any more chic. On an up note, I always thought my tragic fashion sense would some day qualify me for handicap plates in a neighborhood with no legal parking. I never guessed that a crippling social disorder would ultimately win pole position in that race.

The disorder became obvious just last week while on a mission of mercy. Michael asked me to get him beans at Vivace - the best coffee in my neighborhood and everybody else’s’. Since my days are always perfumed with the brew, I understood the urgency. If any independent coffee house in Seattle appreciated that people only breeze in at 5:30 a.m. when they have someplace to be, I’d be spoiled with exceptional coffee but since they all act as if I have all the time in the world while they busy themselves making sweet love to the beans, I go instead to the corporate colossus of coffee. I stood in line and savored the pretense that I was the kind of person who sauntered into Vivace because the world can wait for me to caffeinate and still I worried that I stank of a lowbrow grind.

As I stood in line, the man in front of me turned around and then turned again. I pondered whether it impressed him that I was in line at Vivace before I remembered that so was he. We chatted like northwesterners while I beat down the instinctive northeasterner suspicions that pushed me to data dodge by way of bullshit. I was a confident, successful business woman having a casual conversation until he asked if I wanted to join him for coffee. Immediately I became a nervous ninth-grader still holding tightly to my mother’s warnings about strangers. My eyes went wide, I jammed my hands into my pockets and mumbled something about having to go home and go to bed. For the love of God please tell me I didn’t just tell a grown man that I couldn’t stay out because it was past my bedtime!

So I understand that as a segue to a conversation about sleep, this was terrible but, as my sister points out, I write this blog because I amuse the heck out of myself and the fact that I can spar with a man but sharing coffee with one scares the bejeebers out of me – well, that’s just laugh-out-loud funny. Or tragic – depending on whether or not you’re my ovaries.

I’ve been collecting data about sleep since I asked Dr. Singh about napping. I was looking for solutions to my sleep deprivation and he told me that naps longer than twenty minutes can cause sleep inertia. Ah, yes. I nodded knowingly. What I knew, however, is that I had no real idea what he was talking about so I looked it up. Following are studies that I compiled in my quest, but first, a definition of sorts:

Sleep inertia

Sleep inertia is a transitional state of lowered arousal occurring immediately after awakening from sleep and producing a temporary decrement in subsequent performance. Many factors are involved in the characteristics of sleep inertia. The duration of prior sleep can influence the severity of subsequent sleep inertia.

Although most studies have focused on sleep inertia after short naps, its effects can be shown after a normal 8-h sleep period. One of the most critical factors is the sleep stage prior to awakening. Abrupt awakening during a slow wave sleep (SWS) episode produces more sleep inertia than awakening in stage 1 or 2, REM sleep being intermediate. Therefore, prior sleep deprivation usually enhances sleep inertia since it increases SWS. There is no direct evidence that sleep inertia exhibits a circadian rhythm. However, it seems that sleep inertia is more intense when awakening occurs near the trough of the core body temperature as compared to its circadian peak.

A more controversial issue concerns the time course of sleep inertia. Depending on the studies, it can last from 1 min to 4 h. However, in the absence of major sleep deprivation, the duration of sleep inertia rarely exceeds 30 min. But all these results should be analysed as a function of type of task and dependent variables. Different cognitive functions are probably not sensitive to the same degree to sleep inertia and special attention should be provided to dependent variables as a result of the cognitive processes under review. Finally, sleep disorders represent risk factors which deserve new insight in treatment strategies to counteract the adverse effects of sleep inertia.

H SAYS: For all of those folks who dozed half way through that you should pause to marvel all the evil implications. Four hours of sub-par function behind your desk equals low productivity which then means later hours to catch up. Plus, as Dr. McCleary points out, lack of sleep actually shrinks the hippocampus which means you'll never remember that I told you how dangerous sleep deprivation can be because that's what the hippocampus is supposed to do. Spending the first couple of hours at work trying to remember where you're supposed to be, what you're supposed to be doing and where you put you're coffee mug isn't getting you promoted during this review period (that should keep you up at night). Just saying.

Effects Of Sleep Inertia As Bad Or Worse Than Being Legally Drunk, Say Researchers

A new University of Colorado at Boulder study shows that people who awaken after eight hours of sound sleep have more impaired thinking and memory skills than they do after being deprived of sleep for more than 24 hours.

The study showed test subjects had diminished short-term memory, counting skills and cognitive abilities during the groggy period upon awakening known as sleep inertia, said CU-Boulder Assistant Professor Kenneth Wright, lead study author. The new study has implications for medical, safety and transportation workers who are often called upon to perform critical tasks immediately after waking, since cognitive deficiencies following 24 hours of sleep deprivation have previously been shown to be comparable to the effects of alcohol intoxication, he said.

The study appears in the Jan. 11 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. Study authors included Wright and Adam Wertz of CU-Boulder's integrative physiology department and Joseph Ronda and Charles Czeisler of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, which is affiliated with Harvard Medical School.

"This is the first time anyone has quantified the effects of sleep inertia," Wright said. "We found the cognitive skills of test subjects were worse upon awakening than after extended sleep deprivation. For a short period, at least, the effects of sleep inertia may be as bad as or worse than being legally drunk."

Following six nights of monitored sleep lasting eight hours per night, the study participants were given a performance test that involved adding randomly generated, two-digit numbers, said Wright. Based on the results, the researchers concluded the subjects exhibited the most severe impairments from sleep inertia within the first three minutes after awakening, he said.

The most severe effects of sleep inertia generally dissipated within the first 10 minutes, although its effects are often detectable for up to two hours, according to the study authors.

Studies conducted by Dr. Thomas Balkin and colleagues at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Washington, D.C., have shown cortical areas of the brain like the prefrontal cortex take longer to come "on-line" following sleep than other areas of the brain, Wright said. The prefrontal cortex is thought to be responsible for problem solving, emotion and complex thought.

The CU-Boulder study has implications for medical professionals who are often called on to tend patients in crisis on a moment's notice, often at odd hours, Wright said. Medical residents, for example, who may work 80 hours or more per week and who "catnap" at times, could be prone to make simple math mistakes when calculating dosages of medicine during bouts of sleep inertia, he said.

The results also have implications for emergency medical technicians and firefighters who may be hastily awakened and called upon to drive a vehicle to an emergency scene, putting themselves and others at risk, said Wright. The study also has implications for commercial truck drivers, who frequently pause for quick naps in their vehicles' sleeping berths during cross-country excursions, he said.

Wright and his colleagues said further studies are needed to measure the effects of nap interruption and "recovery sleep" in on-call, sleep-deprived individuals.

The study also illuminates the challenges faced by everyday people who are forced to make crucial decisions following abrupt awakening. "If a person is awakened suddenly by a fire alarm, for example, motivation alone may be insufficient to overcome the effects of sleep inertia," he said.

The paid study volunteers, nine of whom were included in the sleep inertia study, slept eight hours per night during the month leading up to the study, had no medical, psychiatric or sleep disorders and were free of medication including alcohol, nicotine, recreational drugs and caffeine. The subjects also spent several hours each day during their six-day, in-patient stay practicing the math test used to quantify sleep inertia.

"These were very healthy people who had performed the test hundreds of times, making the results even more profound," said Wright. Located at Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital, the sleep lab used in the study contained infrared video cameras, audio equipment and physiological recorders that monitored sleep patterns of participants through the night, he said.

The More You Sleep, The Longer You Live

Dr. Keith Humphreys
Sunday, September 2, 2007

It's done in bed, it feels great and most Americans don't get enough of it. It's sleep, of course, the most undervalued contributor to optimum health and performance.

Did you know that sleep had anything to do with success in sticking to a diet? Get to know leptin and ghrelin. They sound like a Hungarian comedy act, but they are hormones that regulate appetite. Ghrelin is produced in the stomach and signals the brain when it's time to eat. Leptin is secreted by adipose tissue (i.e., fat) and has the reverse effect, telling your brain when you are full. Chronic lack of sleep increases ghrelin and decreases leptin, leading you to feel hungry when you don't really need to eat and to keep eating after you have gotten the calories you need.

Hitting the weights at the gym? Good sleep will bring you the results you want more quickly. The body repairs itself, including rebuilding your sore biceps, during the deepest phase of sleep. That's why a good night's sleep will not only make your workouts more productive but will also boost your immune system in general.

Despite these and other benefits, including greater mental alertness, improved concentration, better mood - even lower risk of car accidents - sleep remains underrated when it comes to health promotion. Maybe people can't believe that something as mundane as consistently getting seven or eight hours of sleep a night can have such a positive impact on their health. Or maybe, in a culture of double cappuccinos and Ambien, sleep deprivation goes unrecognized in the first place.

If you get stuck in a period of weeks or even months where sleep is hard to come by (e.g., new baby, a big work deadline), pay off your sleep debt with extra sleep as soon as you can and you should suffer no long-term ill effects. But don't make sleep deprivation a lifelong habit. A study of almost 7,000 Alameda County residents, over a nine-year period, found that people who routinely slept six or fewer hours a night had about 70 percent higher risk of dying than did people of similar age who slept seven or eight hours a night.

H SAYS: Again, dying - not a good strategy for promotion during this review cycle.

There are many common sense ways to make it easier to get to sleep, including keeping to a consistent schedule and avoiding big meals, caffeine and intense exercise just before bed. A full list of strategies is available from the National Institutes of Health.

The Institute's strategies for better sleep are useful, but they work only if you make sleep a priority, which many people in the compulsively busy Bay Area do not. If you think you don't have time to sleep enough, remember that survey research shows that most people grossly underestimate how much time gets away from them in the evenings when they are idly surfing the Net or half-watching TV. If you feel tired, turn off the machines and go to bed. And if you believe you absolutely must see the next episode of "Big Brother" or a rerun of "Gilligan's Island," remember that TiVo and VCRs were invented so that we can watch such programs later, when we are rested enough to appreciate their nuanced messages and enduring contributions to our culture.

Keith Humphreys is a professor of psychiatry at Stanford University. He does research in addiction treatment and national mental health and drug policy. He has written for the New York Times and other publications.

Monday, November 26, 2007


Recently I commented to a group of friends that it’s a good thing that no more than one percent of the people I talk to actually take my advice. Otherwise the egg line at the Farmer’s Market would be insufferable and would require a greater dedication of my resources. As it is, juggling appointments to drive to Ballard and wait in line on a Sunday morning for my ration of one dozen seemed a little irrational. You’ve got to wonder what my other errands were that this was highest on my list of priorities. It was a neat little social triumph however that I could find a couple dozen people with matching food eccentricities willing to wait for eggs including the ex-boyfriend who claimed we had nothing in common. I saved him a place in line.

I was also lucky enough to get in line behind Don who spent the otherwise boring thirty-minute queue pondering all the ways the government is trying to eliminate us with various food toxins and healing my right kidney telepathically. He also tried at least five different ways to persuade the farmer, George, to up our ration – the good little egg-eaters at the end of the line be damned. In spite of Don’s many talents, George wasn’t budging which made me fear for my right kidney a little. On the plus side, the organ I didn’t know was faltering until the inline diagnosis was now giving me no more trouble that it was before the mind massage. I was still feeling as if I got my money’s worth. The eggs were $5.50 and the kidney treatment was free. (What’s truly amusing is that I don’t make this stuff up).

I’m not some truffle pig on a foodie foraging mission and these are not Faberge eggs laid by chickens that drank nothing but merlot and married for love. These are just healthy chickens that lay healthy eggs. What’s interesting is that in a city full of people, the couple dozen of us standing in line at Ballard Market are among the few who eat what we’re supposed to and we’re standing in line for eggs produced by the few dozen chickens out of millions who are actually eating what they’re supposed to. As apposed to the supermarket designation ‘Free Range’ which means nothing if you know anything about chickens. To Cliff note it, chickens are healthy when they eat grass and bugs but most of the time the area they have access to is too small for the number of pooping chickens. The nitrogen in their droppings kills everything and leaves nothing but a grass-free, bug-free dirt track that does little for the chickens or their eggs other than drive up the price per dozen.

Craig Cooper, NW CrossFit Coach, spends his Sunday morning in Skagit River Ranches’ egg line and given that he typically eats six eggs per meal, 4-5 meals per week you can understand why quality matters. Cooper said, “As far as I can tell, the farmer's market is the only reliable source of TRUE free range eggs; eggs from chickens who spend most of their life outside, eating grass and bugs.”

Most supermarket egg cartons don’t have a label that covers a chickens’ questionable taste in grub. Though most shoppers are content with the pretty adjectives that paint an image of frolicking chickens who are tacky enough to do the Chicken dance even when there’s no wedding, it’s worth doing the research to know what you’re buying.

The egg comparison in Mother Earth News’ tested eggs in hopes of proving that there’s a difference. Mercola reported in his newsletter, “Without citing any research of their own, most egg industry advocates hold fast to their claim that commercially farmed eggs are no different from pastured eggs, and that hens’ diets do not alter their eggs nutritional value in any significant way,” he continues, “Mother Earth News points out the flawed and downright fraudulent definitions of “true free-range.” The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines “free-range” as chickens that have “access to the outside.” However, it does not define their diets, nor whether or not the “outside access” is to a cement courtyard or a field fit for foraging."

“After reading all of the egg cartons at the grocery store, even Whole Foods, I wasn't convinced that any of them were truly free range, because the USDA and FDA control the labeling of such items, so freerange doesn't really mean free range. I decided that the only way to be certain would be to ask the farmer direct, which brought me to the farmer's market. I felt confident of the quality of their eggsbecause I could ask them questions like "do your chickens REALLY spend a lot of time outside?" and "do your chickens eat grass and bugs, and what else do you supplement their diet with, if anything?" Cooper said.

Free-range, free-roaming – either way free-association when it comes to eggs is ‘cholesterol’ and most people haven’t looked beyond the behemoth American Heart Association to get the skinny on saturated fat for themselves. Here’s where I could geek out and drown you in data but I’ll let Larry McCleary, MD explain it straight out of ‘The Brain Trust Program’:

While it’s quite true that eggs are a source of cholesterol, science now agrees that eating them doesn’t particularly raise the cholesterol level in your blood. In fact, dietary cholesterol only accounts for 10 to 15 percent of the cholesterol in your bloodstream. Your body, itself, makes the other 85 to 90 percent. In a fail-safe maneuver to be sure you have enough of this important raw material, if you eat less, your liver will simply crank up production.

What’s more you need cholesterol to make many hormones as well as vitamin D. It also plays a vital role as a structural molecule in the membrane of every cell in your body. The brain, especially, is a cholesterol-dependent organ. Research in animals, including nonhuman primates and humans, shows that deficiency of dietary cholesterol results in depression, aggression and agitation. It is interesting that the average cholesterol level among prison inmates is lower than the average of the general population.

If you’ve been running from cholesterol as if it wears a hockey mask and wields weaponry, you can tell us - once you get over being pissed at the waste of your time - how easy it is to find it in food. If that’s all eggs had to offer, I’d be sipping my coffee at home on Sunday morning in my fuzzy socks taking advantage of my long distance minutes.

Cooper said, “Omnivore's Dilemma opened my eyes to the virtues of getting true free range eggs. After reading the book, and following up on his research, it became apparent to me that the quality of the eggs you eat are directly affected by the lifestyle (exercise & nutrition) of the chicken who laid it. Because chickens are omnivores, they require a diverse diet that includes primarily grass and bugs. When fed optimally, a chickens' meat & eggs will contain a favorable Omega 6: Omega 3 ratio, and be much more nutritionally dense (more vitamins and minerals) than their conventionally fed counterparts.”

Dr. McCleary believes eggs are great brain food based on the total nutrient profile. Said McCleary, “They are an excellent and inexpensive source of complete protein and important vitamins, such as A, E, B12, and folate. The yolk is rich in lutein and zeaxanthin – two nutritients that research has shown will reduce the risk of macular degeneration of the eye. The macula is the most important portion of the retina, the screen at the back of the eye onto which we focus images to see. Macular degeneration is a leading cause of blindness. Also, don’t forget that the eye is merely an extension of the brain so it stands to reason that what’s good for the eyes is good for the brain as a whole. But there’s even more. Eggs are also rich in choline, another B vitamin family member and key player in maintaining brain health. Choline and folate work hand in hand to lower levels of homocysteine, which, if you recall, puts the brain at heightened risk for memory failure when allowed to build up.”

Knowing that nutrients are far more bioavailable in food, eggs become a great little nutritional supplement especially too because making sure to include enough protein in your meals will keep you from craving sugar later in the day. When Mother Earth News finished their latest egg-testing project, they included my favorite farmers in their study and found the following:
Compared to official U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) nutrient data for commercial eggs, eggs from hens raised on pasture may contain: 1⁄3 less cholesterol , 1⁄4 less saturated fat , 2⁄3 more vitamin A, 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids, 3 times more vitamin E, and 7 times more beta carotene.

All this thanks to a belly full of bugs and whatever else it is that chickens choose to scratch up. But before the testing even began, those of us in the egg line knew we were on to something. "We have many loyal customers who stand in line 30 minutes before the market opens to get our eggs," George & Eiko Vojkovich of Skagit River Ranch said in the article. Even before we knew the nutritional density, we at least knew they tasted better.

According to Cooper, “True free range eggs have a much thicker and fuller yolk, which results in a richer, creamier taste. If I cook the eggs, I just fry them, and keep the yolk as runny as possible. The yolk is where all of the fat is, and it's prone to oxidation if heated beyond a certain temperature. The white should be solid, because it contains antinutrients that are potentially harmful if not killed by cooking.”

Great, you’re eggs or mine? I’ll be there at 8 a.m. with hot coffee and my fuzzy socks.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Tripping on Tryptophan

My few words of wisdom around Thanksgiving follow. Frankly, the holiday takes on a whole different flavor when you've lived on a farm and had to help wack the bird first. It changes your appetite a smidge. But here's my strategy:

Skip the Veggies

You’re planning to be calorically irresponsible. Don’t try to maintain a facade by eating the dinner salad. Don’t even try to pull it off. You’ll only look all the more ridiculous in an hour when you’re pinned to the chair by your bloated belly and you’ve got gravy on your shirt. It is what it is. You’re the drunken single 30-something bridesmaid pretending you don’t know why all the men want to dance with you. Just eat the things you really want and don’t try justify it by eating all the ‘good’ food, too. Sometimes it’s just extra and, if you didn’t prepare the food, you don’t know how much extra (think puddle 'o butter).

Salad Bar Paradox

Some things just don’t belong together. On a Saturday night, the single people are at home nodding vigorously as they read this with one lonely spoon in the ice cream. Inevitably they’ve brushed up against this truism in horrifying ways – driving them knee-deep into the pint. Truly sharp lines of reason can only be blurred with alcohol which will make mismatches tolerable or, later, forgettable. This applies also to all buffets and salad bars. Just because you like strawberries and canned tuna does not mean they should be nestled next to each other under a blanket of blue cheese. Have a strategy folks. Bite o’ this and a bite o’ that never turns out quite the way you thought it would. My friend Taha never got this and he would do things at buffets that were clearly an insult to the palate though it fascinated him from a purely scientific perspective. Unless you’re eating off a Petri dish, even ancient scripture will tell you that eating some things on the same plate simply aren’t kosher. It’s not heartbreak if dishes go untasted and frankly all the sampling will lead to an unexpected amount of food. Stick with reasonable helpings of favorites.

Dead Man Waddling

This is by no means your last meal unless you intent to make it toxic or eat enough to blow a stomach staple. Consider that there will be leftovers. Instead of seconds, squirrel some away for tomorrow when you could actually savor it rather than forget to taste it because you’re so busy strategizing how to tuck it into the last empty space to the left of your liver. If you’re visiting, be presumptuous enough to bring your own Tupperware. You’re hostess will appreciate that. I’ve given away so many meals that I’m down to one kitchen plate and I’ve designed elaborate rescue missions to liberate the others from the captivity of bachelor kitchens all over Seattle. Warning to my bachelor friends: until you all get better at returning my plates, I’m scooping food into your pockets.

Eat In Intervals

Put all the food you intend to eat on the one plate, consume a third, and then stop to chat with the folks at the table. For starters, it’s infuriating for the cook when the clean up and the prep takes four times longer than the meal. And it's uncultured to Hoover you're food, even if it's just family. Eat another third and then make an effort to be witty. Once you've managed to offend at least one person or divulged a family secret, bury your head and chew the last third of your food slowly.

Culinary Beer Goggles

You decided Green Bean Casserole was good at a time when you were willing to eat play dough or just about anything when dared. This is not a refined palate. You’ve grown up and things are different now. If you’re not wearing Toughskins, you’re not putting bows around your pigtails and you don’t think things look better with stickers, you can probably skip side dishes that don’t hold up to your memory or are now considered a carcinogen. Let it go. And fruit cocktail suspended in lime Jell-O is just weird.

Plan a Do-Over

No food served at Thanksgiving is the ‘Brigadoon’ of food (interestingly, ‘Brigadoon’ is the only DVD I own). Stuffing does not go away for 100 years and something far less mundane then the purity of your love can bring it back. If you consider that most of these foods do actually exist and can sometimes be ordered in restaurants, it will be far less tragic if somebody beats you to the last of it. Consider picking a day for a do-over. Figure out where your strategy went south and reformulate your meal with only the crucial dishes, prepare and forage then invite a friend to join you. Disco-diva Linda Ronstadt may have lamented that someone left her cake out in the rain and that she’d never have the recipe again but there’s really no need for that kind of drama. After all, won’t your family provide more drama than you need?

All desert is good, don’t be a whore

Don’t act surprised. There will be more than one type of pie and they all taste good. Pie is like that. Inevitably the best desert is the one you didn’t chose. Try not to lose sleep over that, though the sugar and the overworked innards will probably cause a little of that anyway. Stop acting like this is the last time you’ll ever eat pie. In my neighborhood, you can walk into B&O Espresso at 2am in your pjs and have damn good pie any night of the week. Not that I’d know anything about that. Have some if you want, know that it’s not necessary and understand that you’ll regret it in all the same ways you did last year when you did the same thing.

Repent, Heathen

Eat clean for a few days before. Eat even cleaner a few days after but for God sakes don’t skip breakfast because that just won’t cut it. Don’t show up at your workout and give yourself a good beat down in order to bank the calories. It’s fun to watch but it doesn’t help. Take responsibility for the choice you made and have a plan. Don’t over eat like it was a surprise and then come to me because you feel guilty and you need to be punished which, you’ll note, is not my job. Please look behind you and see the creepy line you just stepped over.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

talk audio

Lug nuts

Walking through a popular dog park with eight pounds of raw meat isn’t even the dumbest thing I’ve done for the sake of expediency. I had to get lamb burgers to a barbecue and I was parked three blocks away from my apartment. As I cut through the park and up the hill, however, my arms started to wilt and my gym bag threatened to slide off my shoulder and knock the tray of burgers right out of my hands. I started to limbo under the load and calculate various scenarios to throw myself between the sidewalk and falling patties. In retrospect lying on the ground unconscious and covered in raw meat would seem all the more harrowing. The lesser-of-evils calculation took less than, um, five seconds – Prime grass-fed livestock going to waste as road kill vs. an unsuspecting burger-eater exposed to billions of bacteria thanks to the 5-second rule (since it was discussed in an earlier article I needn’t mention that, based on square footage, there’s an extraordinary ‘park to poop’ ratio here ). Sure, the squat protocol gives you a foundation of strength but it doesn’t develop the very specialized skills of meat relay. In fact, I find most lugging chores way more demanding then they should be.

Most of my mom clients are involved in their own sport of meat relay but of a more lively variety. They’ve become the beasts of burden for babies and they’ve developed very specialized lugging skills. They would inch up the stairs at PRO Club dramatically leaning to one side to herd one meandering child while another sits perched on a hip prepared to take flight the moment mom is distracted. There were gym bags, diaper bags and purses swinging and a collection of discarded shoes, unruly socks and sticky things that stain to mark the parade route to the kiddies’ pool. There were also straining muscles and very tired looking faces.

I was always exasperated because, after being thoroughly impressed by their heroic feats of lugging, I’d see them in the gym flapping around pink dumbbells in illogical ways. I wanted to shake them and yell, “Get real, sister! You’re life is WAY harder than this! Your child has probably grown an inch in the last hour and you’ll never get that amount of napping weight into a car seat doing this infernal flappy thing you do! Oh, and here’s the shoe you lost or left for dead.”

Sally knows a thing or two about that. Regarding her daughter, she says, “worth noting, this is 24 opinionated lbs that likes to express her own freewill over her entire 2+ foot length. Movements while carrying include: squats, lunges, dancing, cooking, laundry.” And I’ll bet there’s a good amount of the mommy’s-having-a-conversation squirm control that requires honed reflexes and a liquid spine.

Monica understands the art of multitasking, a standard chore she said, “Carry my 35 lb sleeping 2 year old for 20 min while trying to drop of a deposit at the bank.” As her son Archer gets larger, the lugging duration gets shorter. Monica said, “I try to not carry Archer. He’s a moose. But when I do, it’s usually because he’s two and throwing a real fit so it’s restraining and holding and usually only for five minutes or less. If he’s awake, he usually walks.”

On the occasions when Wendy lugs her way from ‘Point A’ to ‘Point B’, she’s got to wonder why B can’t be closer. When she carries her 15 pound gym bag with her 3.5 pound purse along with her 42 pound child she’s in for a workout. That’s a 60.5 pounds ‘Farmer’s Walk’ just to get to the gym’s front door.

As Jill discovered, it’s easy to turn an endurance sport into crosstraining when you lug your 25 pound bike everywhere you go between spurts of riding. “I hoist my bicycle around all the time and it is about 25lbs. It goes up and down stairs, into and out of the truck, etc etc etc. Then add the bag I carry on it - that's another 10 lbs or so!” Jill said. She also walks ten blocks with two full bags of groceries every week and gets yanked around by her 100 pound dog. About that shoulder injury, Jill . . . .

When I’m not transporting raw meat, I like to carry 18 pounds of gym clothes where ever I go. Because I insisted that I never wanted to be a ‘purse woman’, no offense, I carry my un-purse-like wallet in my gym bag with a collection of gym-like things and purse-like things in disguise. My father gave me that back pack eleven years ago and I’ve never considered parting with it except for the months it took me to find and eradicate the fish oil capsule that burst. I’m sure, in the end, that instead of joining the purse people, I’ll have made a more powerful impression because I lug an 11 year old portable bunker with a whiff of fish. But this is what I carry with me everywhere and it takes its toll.

Finally, I had to leave Monica’s list of chores as-is so that it reads like a CrossFit workout. Ladies, this is the WOD:

Backpack/computer bag 5 min 15 lbs
Groceries 4 bags at a time 3-15 lbs each. Plus 2 gallons of milk. 2 min
Laundry up steep stairs 8-10# 1-2 minutes depending on whether the cat is trying to trip me.
Lift, carry (40 feet) and store 10 80# bags of horse feed (3-5 min per )
Carry and lift a spool of 1000 feet of 12/2 wire (3-5 min)
Bend aluminum door back into shape after horse kicked it. 5 minutes of reefing. – yes, it worked.
Raking and moving gravel and clay to make a driveway and lawn area. 35 minutes 3x.
Dancing for 2 hours. With frequent 5 min breaks. Cleaning 3 stalls every day. Includes carrying 60# bags of stall wood pellets from storage area (45 feet). Takes about 6-8 bags every other day.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Ignore-itis, Ignore-amus

Regardless of blood loss, all chainsaw injuries should be considered serious. And most of us with CPR training, common sense or with any luck both would at some point encourage the victim to remain still at least long enough to ponder how close they came to dismemberment. As I’ve mentioned before, we New Englanders prefer the less-reasonable ‘shake it off’ method of triage which offers no life or limb preserving benefits whatsoever. In fact, nobody would bother to turn off the chainsaw given the blind faith we have in the magic of a few colorful expletives, a moment of composure, a nod of acknowledgement from bystanders and the ingenious use of duct tape. What’s worse is we’d brag about it later in a way that implies we’re not really bragging at all and that chainsaw ‘mishaps’ ‘aint nothin’. If statistically we have fewer cancer deaths it’s not because we’re healthier. It’s because we prune our family trees with the artful use of stupidity.

In that spirit, it took a fellow New Englander in the evening class to coin the phrase ‘throwing meat at your feet’ to describe a last-ditch sit-up in which you toss your hands to create enough momentum to sit up. It’s not pretty but more importantly it gets the job done. I’ve been throwing meat– namely my uncooperative left arm – for some time now in the hopes of shaking off whatever shoulder injury was getting in my way while I still managed to get the job of pressing done. Damn my dynasty of the dimwitted.

At some point I had to acknowledge it wasn’t working – with or without the colorful expletives. As a trainer too, I knew my dumb-ass behavior would inevitably invite my clients to join me on my little island of idiocy. We could all compare scars and trade surgeon’s business cards. Besides being a bad career move, I set out to be a trainer not a vigilante.

So I’ve suspended all exploration of the fascinating world called ‘Overhead’. Instead I go rolling around on a Lacrosse ball several times a day in the hopes of locating trigger points and eventually eradicating them. In the meantime Mr. Yuck stickers are wasted on me since I have a special poison control feature called a projectile vomit button on my scapula that can almost make me hurl with a little pressure from the ball. Try rallying yourself to roll over that bad boy six times a day.

Some of you might remember that my last run-in with a lacrosse ball wasn’t so pleasant either. My nephew Gunner was whipping them at me while I did laps around his cul de sac. Apparently he’s an intuitive healer with a calling to cure my ills while I had mistaken him for a bored pain in the ass trying to fill the void that Halo left by making me jump and flinch like a sissy. Sorry sugar, my bad.

While I further cultivate my dysfunctional relationship with all things lacrosse, I couldn’t give training the cold shoulder (I know that’s a really bad pun but I write this stuff to amuse myself). So how do I forge ahead with plans of world domination from here? I feel like the exiled trying to stage a coup.

Harlan, our resident poster child for the down but not out, would have some insight on this. He also graduated from the school of Don’t-be-a-Nancy-boy with top honors. He ignored every red flag in favor of goal posts and finish lines.

Of his history, Harlan said, “Sports included baseball, basketball, track, soccer. Soccer and running continued into and after college. Anytime I got injured be it shoulders or knee, I would find a way to work around the pain or most of the time once I got going the pain went away.”
You’re body doesn’t keep asking politely forever. Eventually it has a relationship-altering hissy fit that tells you it means business. In Harlan’s case it became impossible to ignore really fast.

“My injury was a complete rupture of my rectus femoris tendon. Surgery was immediately because I couldn’t walk or move my leg without reattaching the tendon. For many years before the surgery I had knee problems/pain, which was diagnosed as tendonitis and tendinosis. Both of these signals were ignored and my activity level foolishly did not decline. The injury occurred from ‘overuse’ and not enough rest. Ever since high school, a day didn’t go by without a trip to the gym and/or run. I always wanted to see how hard I could go at the gym and how fast I could run,” said Harlan.

The answer to how hard and fast became, ‘not at all’ for a longer rehab than Harlan cared to ponder after years of constant activity. In his defense, Tendonitis and Tendinosis is commonly tolerated without resolution. If I bothered to get a diagnosis, I’d technically be in the same camp. Obviously, this isn’t the path I want to keep jogging down. The problem is that it takes the right practitioner with the right information to offer a better answer than ‘no exercise until the pain subsides’ especially since it generally doesn’t. For competitive folks with passion and goals, this isn’t enough.

Though I think I found the right practitioner and a workable solution, Harlan did not. Because of that, I’m currently looking at the pre-surgical side of rehab and he’s facing the post-surgical slog. Though we’ve both been slowed considerably, his term is much longer.

Harlan said, “Shifting gears to slow down is almost impossible. The most difficult part is mental; realizing you have brought yourself to a certain point and now all you can do is sit there and watch your body weaken is really tough. To go from being active and athletic as a little kid and throughout adulthood to not being able to workout is tough to handle, especially mentally.”

From what I can see, Harlan is always working. He’s in the gym, adapting the WOD and stretching. Yes, it’s not the same intensity but his commitment hasn’t waivered. For me, I’ve been able to continue the squat protocol and design lots of workouts that focus on my lower body while giving my shoulder a break. The trick is knowing when to start ramping up and knowing what the balance is.

In Harlan’s case, he set aggressive goals which may have been too aggressive. “Obviously I wanted to get through rehab as quickly as possible, in hindsight maybe that was a mistake, but I don’t think so, because I always followed the doctor’s instructions. If the doctor told me 6 months for rehab, my goal would be 4-5 months. The other goal I set for myself is to be smarter about training and get more rest. I would slow down for a few weeks or so and then it was back to the old level of high intensity,” He said.

I keep telling myself that I’ve got two weeks before I’m back to full capacity and even though that too might be an aggressive timeline, I’m not ready to consider alternatives. Frankly, it’s frustrating to be moving away from my goals.

It’s a frustration that Harlan knows. He said, “I didn’t realize how difficult it would be mentally to deal with the lack of exercise. I knew there would be frustrations, but having been through major injuries as a kid, it helps me to deal with the frustrations as an adult.”

Currently, Harlan is facing another surgery to try and repair a knee that hasn’t been healing as expected. It’s hard to say what contributed to that but any time you have surgery, outcomes can vary. It’s why the greater effort should be invested before surgery is necessary. Unfortunately our healthcare system doesn’t have a lot of information to offer about soft tissue treatment other than to address the pain with over the counter medications. This isn’t a solution.

My solutions spackles together a few different approaches. Regarding the trigger point therapy I'm doing, Dr. Ladd Carlston points out, “Trigger point therapy is actually really important and necessary for a more speedy recovery of the muscle - BUT if the shoulder is not balanced, the darn thing will keep getting strained and overworked...” Um, that’s ominous. I’m also working with a massage therapist once a week and an ART specialist in Kirkland as much as necessary. It goes without saying that I’m eating to avoid inflammation, sleeping as much as I can and staying hydrated as general maintenance and to promote healing. If it sounds like a lot of work, it is. But it took a lot of work to break me, too.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007


I have a crush on Gary Taubes right now that's Shaun-Cassidy-sized. I'm writing his initials all over my notebooks with little hearts. Ok, I don't carry notebooks anymore but I doodle it in the memo of my checks. The electric company doesn't seem to care. Taubes had me at '. . . Fat Lie?' but now he's just romancing me with 'Good Calorie: Bad Calorie'. This article 'The Scientist and the Stairmaster,' ran recently in NY Magazine and Craig Cooper was kind enough to forward it. Here's an excerpt:

Just last month, the American Heart Association and the American College of Sports Medicine published joint guidelines for physical activity and health. They suggested that 30 minutes of moderate physical activity five days a week is necessary to “promote and maintain health.” What they didn’t say, though, was that more physical activity will lead us to lose weight. Indeed, the best they could say about the relationship between fat and exercise was this: “It is reasonable to assume that persons with relatively high daily energy expenditures would be less likely to gain weight over time, compared with those who have low energy expenditures. So far, data to support this hypothesis are not particularly compelling.” In other words, despite half a century of efforts to prove otherwise, scientists still can’t say that exercise will help keep off the pounds.

I urge you to read the article. It's not long before he'll get the whole 'Atkins' treatment by the media and it will be hard to read his stuff without someone yelling 'quack'. Most likely, that someone will be the AHA who will pray he succumbs to a heart attack. Why not? He seems to be giving the establishment one. No worries. It's unlikely he'll have a coronary given that he's not following any of their guidelines.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The "A' word

Instead of littering my Nissan Sentra with the standard pile of empty coffee cups and ponytail holders, I littered it with relationship residue. My jeep – May it be elevated to a KitchenAid Mixer in its next life – operated a lot like I do. It essentially worked but had a collection of ‘allergies’ and ‘sensitivities’. When I got rid of it and bought my Sentra, I was prepared for a whole new relationship and I tried not to make any assumptions about how the previous owner treated a car in which he wedged Captain Crunch between all the seats. Just because a man is willing to eat corn syrup – obviously with abandon given the splatter pattern – doesn’t mean he maintains his car as poorly as he does his person.

Not that there’s any parallel’s to be drawn between how long it takes me to extricate myself from bad relationships, I can at least tell you with no hesitation how far and how fast I can push a Dodge Colt out of an intersection when necessary. But I had hopes for the Sentra and we were happy together.

It all took a turn one sunny day. I had the radio on and I was singing along to a song that turned the story “we dated, now we don’t’ into something really complex while I was busy making the story, “the hazards were off, now their on,” akin to aeronautics. Even if I had been thinking clearly, the word ‘hazard’ itself implies there’s a problem and since, to my recollection I didn’t put the hazards on, and given my history with cars, I assumed something was broken. Well, I did what any reasonable girl would do. I whipped open the fuse box, brushed aside the Captain Crunch and pried the fuse out with the nail clipper I didn’t know I had but managed to forage along with enough of the cereal for sustenance. Wouldn’t any reasonable gal yank a fuse?

With the exception of a viscous attack to my palm by the business end of the nail clipper, I was satisfied with my solution. Well, until I discovered that my turn signals operate on the same fuse (there are friends who are shocked I noticed.) A couple of days later I caught a glimpse of a big red triangle on a button in the middle of my console just above and to the right of my coffee cup. It was like the pimple on the chin of my dashboard and it was the button for the hazards which, as it turned out, weren’t so much ‘broken’ as ‘on.’ Hey - not a mechanic! I sheepishly returned the fuse and to the sporadic use of my turn signal.

Keeping this story in mind, let’s quickly shift gears before anyone starts pondering the reasons why my relationships don’t work (besides, my girlfriends have assured me that men fear commitment and that has nothing to do with me.) Sometimes we act on assumptions that we didn’t even know we made and some of those decisions affect our progress in profound ways. It’s a dialog in our head, often as simple as ‘cars break’ that affects our actions and our outcomes.

I see it with clients all the time. “I’m Clumsy,” “I’m lazy”, “I’m weak” All of which may have been true for an instant or a decade. Some of it was just some silly noise some gym teacher made to explain away an off afternoon and it stuck. But as a result, every failure and every stumble has a ready reason long after the label is outgrown. In fact, the moment I give a client a new instruction or an old reminder, I can almost see the, “I can’t because. . . .” flash by. But if they could see themselves from this side of their eyeballs, they’d see someone who is capable but tripping over their reasons and not their feet.

Consider Client One’s answer when I asked him what, in his development as an athlete, are his obstacles. One said, “The question makes a big assumption, which may be at the root of the issue. I don’t think of myself as an athlete nor will I ever be one, regardless of how much I workout. Maybe that is the initial obstacle to overcome.”

It’s funny because it’s all based on how you define it. Video gamers are now insisting on being called athletes, but a man who spends three days a week with a trainer won’t even consider it. When I talked to another client about what she would do differently if she simply allowed herself that title, she understood that it would impact her nutrition, her sleep and her exercise just by looking at herself from that perspective. And we’re not talking about a shift in schedule, just attitude. Workouts would go from an afternoon play date with a caloric cost to an opportunity to develop skills and make progress.

“The second obstacle is intrinsic motivation,” One continued, “An athlete has a fire within themselves to push their body to achieve…when their minds says they can’t. They look at a weight on the bar, scrunch their face and say there is no way I cannot do that. An athlete sees a mountain to climb a non-athlete sees a really heavy bar and a sweat angel on the floor, even before they pick-up the bar.”

I disagree. I see ‘athletes’ struggle with the same doubts and fears as ‘non athletes.’ The only difference is that athletes have worked through those feelings enough times to know how to ignore them. In my case, I build in support systems to counteract my clumsy, lazy and weak moments. I still have them in my head, but with a whole network of people around me supporting my efforts, that feedback is the background noise of elevator music not a blaring frat party with a screeching punk vocalist yelling, “put the bar down!” so loudly I can’t hear my coach.

One also talked about the stop watch limiting him. He said, “When the stop watch is running, the focus in more on the time then the technique.” This is simply ‘panic.’ The entire first year of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu feels like Panic 101 and so I know the feeling. Experience will allow you to have the presence to focus on both speed and technique but unfortunately you have to believe that the two can coexist or recognize that something’s missing before you can develop it.

I talked to Client Two about what it would mean to be present since the time investment would be the same just the focus and point of view would change leading to greater progress. Two had a chance to think about it and said, “Your point is a great one about being more present and doing it well versus just doing it (where it is whatever cross fit training item we are working on). My default is just bear down and get through it. What’s ironic is that is my typical modus operandi whether in the gym, on the mat doing a martial art, here in the office or even dealing with interpersonal issues.” The reason we had the conversation so pointedly is that I understood how likely it was that he handled other areas of his life in similar ways.

The assumption One made next is interesting. He believes that the inability to visualize success is hardwired. One said, “The mind is typically wired to focus on failure or maybe it can more easily visualize failure then success.” I argue that what he’s identified is the fear associated with failure, which in our evolved world, is the closest we get to actual danger. That’s where the evolutionary hardwiring comes in. As Mark Rippetoe once said, in explaining the challenge presented by the snatch, “it is not instinctual to step under falling weight.” Well said. Identifying possible danger and working to avoid them is how we stay alive. In the absence of sharp-toothed and foul breathed pursuers, workouts are one of the few things we have left to make us wet ourselves.

People just aren’t comfortable with fear existing as a byproduct of successful survival. It always needs to be about something and usually that something is injury. After all, most of us have been injured and fearing injury seems so wise while fearing just to be fearful feels so wussy. Clients almost never say, “Wow, that scares me because I don’t think I can do that!” There’s always some mechanical limitation or some physical malady that no-kidding prevents it. Check out the answers to, what you fear:

Client Two: “Like you, my back has been a concern for me although in my case really only since around 2000. I threw it out and couldn’t walk for a couple of days and that really bothered me. I have thrown it out a few more times but never as badly since. I realize that it has a lot to do with flexibility (especially in my quads). There are certainly times when I am nervous that some movement will injure my back whether that is a twisting motion or lifting motion around my back. I know somewhere mentally that building my core would help protect my back, but I never seem to make extra time to work on that. When I am “good”, I exercise and the flexibility is way better. Doing various exercises with you sometimes helps and other times even when I am nervous about my back works out as long as I do the exercises correctly. I do have some fear about doing something badly/wrong – but you know that is probably more about being aware of what and how I am doing what I am doing. If anything, I believe that I don’t have an awareness of what my body is doing, but our conversation has me thinking that this really boils down to me not paying attention to what my body is doing because I am too busy thinking about something else…”

Client Three: “Internal voice – what I can tell myself I can / can’t do, what’s too heavy or too much, etc. This is often reinforced by the ‘Lack of Knowledge’ because one of the things that constantly gets in the way is something of the form ‘If I run another half mile, will I just be injuring myself’ or ‘if I try to lift another 10 pounds will I tweak something’ and if so, how long is it going to take for the minor injury to go away.”

Client Four: “Reinjury.”

Client Five: “If I was to worry it would be about pulling my back and making it stiff.”

Don’t get me wrong, the concerns are valid. But total systemic meltdown doesn’t necessarily come with a warning ‘twinge’ and even if that was step-one in the process, you’d probably only know it in hindsight. Often a twinge is just a twinge. Bodies are funny like that. In addition, you should know that I can’t read twinges like tea leaves and I can’t diagnose or give insight when what you’ve said all wide-eyed is, “I felt a twinge!” Twinge or no, if you routinely operate inside your workout from the perspective of ‘badknee’, ‘badback’, ‘badankle’ it can limit who you are as an athlete. Progress is measured by injury status and the push to accelerate is dictated by hard-to-read aches and pains which sometimes are just part of the process. It's a whole different workout when you come from the perspective that stellar form will keep you uninjured and you focus on that rather than tragic consequences.

When questioned further, One said he feared, “‘Phoning-it-in’ showing up and doing a workout and not giving 110%. Letting the last few reps be sloppy. Letting my mind psyche me out. I also fear disappointing my trainer. Seriously. I know you believe in me, which is super, super motivating. I don’t want to let you down. So, when my form slips or I scrunch my face because of the heavy weight...even before I pick it up, my mind is getting ahead of me. I look back on the workout later and say I could have done better.” Funny, the same things scared me but I changed it in my head from ‘what I fear’ to ‘what motivates me’. What’s the difference? Mainly the butterflies in my stomach that pop up before the workout are pleasantly fluttering rather than chewing angrily through my intestinal mucosa. Subtle but important.

Back to my driver’s seat: Every gadget I own has a manual stashed in the junk drawer with a trouble-shooting chapter that begins with ‘Step One: Check to see if it’s on’. I didn’t even need to look at the hazards as if I was a mechanic; the answer was stashed in a familiar place I never look. The same could be said if you want to know where to look to be an athlete. It’s the familiar place called childhood where competition was fun, learning took practice and sometimes you got hurt. We just didn’t attach a whole lot more to it than that.

And just so you know, after I returned the fuse, my right turn signal started blinking frantically as if my car is having a panic attack. But only on the right. I’m not going to call it ‘broken’. I like to think of it as a ‘sensitivity’ to right turns. The big squeaky noise that developed is a matter for the mechanic but in the meantime, I prefer to think of it as a small rodent with big vocal cords subletting my catalytic converter.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Hosting posts

Jennifer Adler of Realize Health was kind enough to let me reprint this article from her blog. I was so impressed with the way she handled questions during the talk and I was equally impressed by the concept that if she answered them, I wouldn't have to. I love you all dearly but I know that sometimes you ask questions mid-workout to distract me. From now on, you'll get Adler's business cards and you'll keep friggin' moving.

Alternative Medicine: Improve digestion with lively foods

You are not what you eat, but what you actually digest and absorb. If you are not eating healthy-bacteria or enzyme-rich (preferably organic) foods, your digestive system may not be at peak performance. Without adequate healthy bacteria and enzymes, food sensitivities, indigestion, bloating, gas, constipation, diarrhea, belching, cramping or bad breath may occur.
Our body's natural production of enzymes decreases as we age, making enzymes we receive from foods such as raw honey, raw or cultured vegetables, raw or cultured milk and cheese, and raw fruits such as bananas, pineapple and papaya important for digestive health.

It is estimated that more than 400 species of bacteria inhabit our digestive tracts, weighing up to 3 1/2 pounds. There are both healthy and undesirable forms. It is important to have enough healthy bacteria to maintain optimal health. They help keep the intestines clean and free of parasites. They manufacture omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin K and the B vitamins. They can decrease cholesterol as well as intestinal inflammation and food allergies, and enhance liver function. Inadequate healthy bacteria has been linked with chronic disease.

In addition, healthy bacteria make up about 75 percent of our immune cells. This good bacteria is depleted by prescription antibiotics and consuming meat or dairy from animals fed antibiotics, consuming fluoride and chlorine in our water, as well as coffee and alcohol. It is important to replenish this good bacteria on a daily basis.

Eating cultured and fermented foods such as kefir, yogurt, kombucha, miso and cultured vegetables from the refrigerator section can help replenish necessary healthy bacteria.

-- Cynthia Lair and Jennifer Adler, adjunct faculty for the School of Nutrition and Exercise Science at Bastyr University

Sunday, October 14, 2007


My flight is delayed. Not really but it’s a stall as I cooling my jets in a departure terminal where all I can do is make up interesting lies about the people around me and justify the consumption of comfort food just for something to do. It takes a very dedicated chunk of time and the memorization of multiple formulae in the mastery of calorie calculus just to convince myself that frozen yogurt counts as a protein or that Nachos can somehow meet 40/30/30 requirements. But it becomes so much easier to sit around and I become so much more compliant when I’ve been numbed by carbohydrates and boredom. That’s me in the gym right now – bags packed with 90K, waiting for progress and trying not to put the kind of non-nutrients in my mouth that will just make the job of pushing weight even harder.

I’m trying not to know – if ‘knowing’ makes it so – that the Monday Night Squat progression is going to be a battle as I revisit 90K over and over again. I’ll either push like hell to keep the weight moving up or it will push like hell to keep me stuffed in a compact little bundle buckled beneath the weight. It takes an excruciatingly long time to decide whether or not I’ll bail. At this point, I’m the Susan Lucci of squat night and I smile at each failure like I’m just happy to be nominated.

Nothing personal, I’m sure. 90K and I greet each other politely and I try to pretend we’re working together. I saunter up to it in a friendly enough way and make like we’re pals. I even drape my arms over the bar sometimes and lean casually as if we’re that comfortable with each other. But secretly I think it mocks me and talks behind my back. I want to get passed it. I want to be able to talk about it in breezy tones as if I barely remember our meeting. But somehow 90K knows that I’m only three beers away from drunk-dialing it and simpering about why it doesn’t like me.

I ask myself a lot of questions in the postmortem about what I ate, how I slept, how I trained. These are the kinds of variables that affect me on any given day. At first the notations in my training log were sensical and almost sciency. “DOMS from Friday” but after awhile the shaky and frantic script became a muddled mix of paranoia and superstition like, “the rack was moved into a hell mouth,” “Saturn’s rising and it unbalanced my aura.”

I’m not sure people want to work at my rack anymore and it’s not just for fear of falling objects. I think they fear I’m a contagion of calamity. I’m funking the bar with a heavy residue of a glute deteriorating bacteria or I’m plagued by the ghosts of failed lifts past. Either way, I’m messing with Chi especially my own. And it’s like tripping in public or whatever other graceless act you care to commit, you figure if you jump up immediately it somehow diminishes the memory in other people’s minds so that, if you’re fast enough, it’s like you never did it at all. Um, sure.

About a month ago, it was time to do the CrossFit total. I initially approached it with the same zeal and enthusiasm I’d muster for root canal. With my rotator cuff injury, the only positive thing I can say about the Overhead Press is, at least my arms are short. That makes the process of pushing things to lockout painful but not prolonged. My body generally rejects the effort at about the point when the bar reaches my eyeballs and my brain decides to detour around the supraspinatus by taking some indirect and unsuccessful path around the bar. It’s ugly and relatively harmless. The Deadlift is something I haven’t been dying to do since the strongman competition when I didn’t feel as if I was lifting weight as much as birthing it. And the squat, well, you know about the squat.

I considered the ever appetizing no-show served, to anybody who asked, in a big steaming ragu of reasons and excuses and seasoned with drama. My inner Diva was cooking up a heart wrenching tale of rotator cuff betrayal and the unrequited love of 90K; complete with big dance numbers all bollywood style. But then, unlike the average diva, I considered the other people in the room. First, there was the poor bloke who walked in with a simple question of “are you doing the total?” and ended up with the time-suck of bullshit. Yeah, that shoulda been a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ moment. And, second, all the other women who are looking for a template of what to do when it starts to get hard. ‘Quit, cry on a shoulder, and have excuses ready’ isn’t what they deserve for an answer.

If I’m not remembered for getting passed 90k on the protocol, I’ll be remembered for never letting it drop me. There’s a lesson in this and I’m not going to let that lesson be about how to quit. If other women show up and see me struggle maybe they’ll understand that struggle is part of it too. Or maybe they’ll get that this is about work and not about genetic blessings. Whatever they get, it’s more valuable than anything they’d get from me not showing up.

In the end, I met my goal of 561 pounds. The Squat was a PR, the Overhead Press was disappointing but respectable and the Deadlift, though not a PR, was significantly heavier than my last combined effort. In total, it’s what I set out to do though with a different breakdown than I imagined. It hasn’t stopped the 90K from hitting the floor though. What will keep the weight on my back is this: limit my metabolic conditioning, eat to support what I’m doing which will likely mean a push to gain weight and manage my sleep to ensure at least eight hours. It means becoming a sport-specific athlete.

These aren’t all sacrifices I’m willing to make so in the meantime I’m listening to my coach and doing what I’m told. After all, the point of having a coach isn't to ignore the expertise, do what I want anyway and keep the guy around just to fight with. The carnival ride in my cranium is usually a dizzying tilt-o-whirl of nonsense. In twelve hour bouts that turns out to be fun for only a little while. While I’m busy trying not to throw up on the ride, let him operate that part of my life for awhile. In order to get passed the things I’ve failed at, I’m going to need better inputs then the ones I’ve already used to fail with.

And that brings me to the other lesson I learn as I hang out in this holding pattern: If it’s true that the universe line-drives you with the same crap you’re belting out, then perhaps, as a coach, I should consider how coachable I’m being. Otherwise, my schedule could soon be filled with ornery foot-stompers with questionable fortitude. Hmmm, I’d rather give that 90K another go.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Doc's Dialogue

Step 1: get all the best people in the same room. Check.

For those of you who attended the talk on Sunday, many thanks. You're questions fueled the conversation and gave us all things to ponder. The next step will be the individual interviews and then the final product. In the meantime, the contact information for each of the panelists is available below:

Neurology / Sleep Medicine

Dr. Randip Singh
Board certified in Neurology and is board eligible in Sleep Disorders Medicine

1100 112th Ave NE, Ste 320
Bellevue, WA 98004
(425) 289-3000
Clinic Hours: 8am - 5pm, Monday - Friday
Telephone Hours: 9am - 5pm, Monday - Friday

sleep studies scheduled by appointment only Sunday through Friday


Christina Demopulos MD

7525 SE 24th St
Mercer Island, WA 98040
(206) 230-0330

(I don't have a lot of information to reference on Dr. Demopulos in part because she's new to the area but I urge you to Google her work. She's done some impressive research especially in the area of Bipolar disorder).


Jennifer Adler M.S.,C.N.
Certified Nutritionist, Natural Foods Chef & Adjunct Faculty at Bastyr University
911 Western Ave Ste 305
Seattle, WA 98104
phone: 206-595-0376

See Jennifer Adler again at PCC in Redmond on October 30th, from 6:30 to 9:30p for a hands-on class "Take Time to Speed up Metabolism." As Adler says on her webside, "Take advantage of the coming darker, colder months to slow down while boosting your metabolism. Join us for this exciting, thought-provoking class where we’ll explore the importance of what you eat and how you eat to enhance pleasure and energy while promoting weight loss. In this class, we’ll make some favorite comfort foods, such as Homemade Macaroni and Cheese, Savory Lamb Stew, Slow-cooked Collard Greens and Spicy Hot Chocolate, that will nourish your body and warm your soul. With meat and dairy; no eggs. " I wasn't able to find the event on PCC's calendar, but it may not have been posted yet. Check PCC again, or call Adler for more information.

Alternative Medicine

Dr. Ladd Carlston D.C.
Doctor of Chiropractic

Total Body Wellness
22525 SE 64th Place
Issaquah, Washington 98027

Tel: (425) 557-5975

(Check Dr. Carlston's website for seminar information)