Thanks again to all that have reviewed the book. We’ve mentioned it before but we are truly grateful. It is a terrifying thing to hope that people “get” what you have done and provide a place for them to leave an indelible, public critique of your pride and joy. But your comments have been amazing. To see reviews from all over the world and from people actually making the recipes and reporting back with rave reviews removes so much of the anxiety. We’re proud to have reviews like that, from real users. Not the kind that write an infomercial sales pitch version of the book with compliments like “looks great”. We strive to be genuine in all we do and recommend. We’d rather put our effort into making something worth liking than trying to fool you into believing we have. Random side note: Much to my chagrin, and at our illustrator’s insistence, I joined Instagram. I’m only using it to “creep” on #primalcravings and #healthbent; I’m not interested in posting anything–like I really need another social media outlet to suck at, but it’s been extremely cool to see what y’all are making.
Some of our reviews mention the starch content in the book in a negative context. We thought we’d address our feelings on that here, for what it’s worth….
We recommend what we’d refer to as a “low-carb” diet, but to us the “low” implies a lesser amount relative to the Standard American Diets 300-500 grams. To those who consider low to be an Atkin’s induction phase (or any other ketogenic diet) at 0-50 grams of carbs per day, it’s probably more accurate to call what we believe in a moderate-carb diet. As we personally fall in the 75-200 grams per day of carbohydrates. The amounts vary based on our training and current goals (and male/female).
To obtain those carbs, we don’t see harm from (and actually see benefit with) starch. We are big fans of Paul and Shou Ching Jaminet’s work in this arena. In their book The Perfect Health Diet, the Jaminet’s argue for including what they call “safe starches” which include plantains, tapioca, rice, and potatoes of all kinds and colors.
Citing several ways at which they arrive at what The Perfect Health Diet would consist of; they argue that in many cases nutrient deficiencies can arise from a paleo diet that is too low in carbs for long periods of time.
We certainly have nothing against ketogenic or very low carb diets. And we know that there are certain conditions that they suit very well, in addition to being very effective for weight loss. We just don’t think that the extreme necessarily means that it’s more healthy long term.We don’t believe that insulin is evil or that rises in blood sugar from sensible choices are unnatural/dangerous in those with normal metabolisms. We agree with Kurt Harris’ assessment that very low carb diets are unnecessary and can be problematic long term. That said, if you were eating very low carb for any reason we still feel the book contains many (90+!) recipes that would be suitable and knock-your-socks-off tasty.
In what I’d estimate is about 30 of the 125+ recipes, we use tapioca flour or some form of starch, with tapioca flour as the basis of our baking. These starches and flours are only used where other traditional paleo recipes would include almond flour. And we’ve written about why we avoided using almond flour. Not only have we been able to use about half the amount of total flour for the same yield out of baked goods (which usually contain coconut flour too, so it’s not all starch), but we also use the minimum of sugar (less than traditional almond paleo recipes) and the carb load is actually not as much as or that different from traditional almond flour recipes.
CrossFitters and all other active folks will likely do well with some starch with amounts depending again on size/activity level/goals/gender. And honestly I’d be pretty surprised if anyone reading this wasn’t incorporating much good activity into their day-to-day since paleo as a lifestyle is about more than just what we eat. It’s about using our bodies to stay capable.
We do think “carbs can be evil” but isn’t this stigma that all carbs are terrible like saying all fat is evil because trans fats are? We just want to be careful with lumping all carbs in the same boat with processed non-food foods. At first, the paleo diet was labeled as “lean meats only”. A trend that has since been bucked and it seems that to some the same is now happening with carbs. The paleo diet can be a very low carb diet but it’s not synonymous.
Last, we do have a great primer to the paleo diet in the front of the book. It’s probably already apparent from the rest of this article that our take is slightly unique in some ways. We say in the book that the recipes are of course the books primary intent, but that since they are recipes about a dietary lifestyle, we’d be remiss if we didn’t touch on what our principles are and how we use those recipes.The recipes in our book are how we really eat within the context we describe in “our philosophy”.
Everyone has their own context of how things work for them. We do get a little sick of the warnings that people try to give about sweets and treats. “Don’t eat this at every meal”…”this isn’t how you should always eat”…and blah, blah, blah. Not only are they likely overstating the supposed “danger” of some carbs (and projecting it onto everyone without regard for individual variance) but it’s extremely patronizing to assume you have to save everyone from their own ignorance. And is there really anyone anywhere thinking that a treat of any kind, paleo or not, is appropriate all day every day?
fictional person: “Well I’m so excited, I’ve made 17 cookie and cake recipes and I’m all set for my meals for the week.”
fictional snob: “You shouldn’t eat treats at every meal, or all day every day.”
fictional person: “Noooooooooooo. Thanks so much for letting me know. Now what am I going to do with all 50 lbs of these treats?”
Sound realistic? To us it’s on par with suggesting a glass of wine or a cocktail can be good for you but feeling the need to add a disclaimer…”Now make sure you don’t drink 413 of them per day or from a beer helmet while on the way to work!” No shit.
To describe our view on the paleo diet we use our “umbrella diagram” expertly illustrated by our artist Danna Ray. We try to make this thing as simple as possible! We get fed up with books and sites that at times seem to want to complicate it and add impractical “rules” that add more hassle and undue neurosis about food choices. Our diagram ties together our motivation for eating this way in the first place, the principles that determine what foods to choose (for autonomous decision making), and what the foods included are. But it emphasizes what to avoid since we really feel that’s the most unifying principle of paleo diet evidence and the biggest impact.
We just wanted to have our view accompany the recipes to highlight our subtle differences but also to provide a solid yet hopefully very reasonable and non-dogmatic version of what the diet is in hopes that the book would make a great gift to those with less paleo knowledge.
There are so many “intro to paleo” books out there now. Our real emphasis for this book was to try and create recipes to blow your mind, but we didn’t want you to need an “intro to paleo” book to go with it if you were just learning about the diet.
We wanted to explain the diet our way and then provide the recipes before anyone can even utter the phrase “so now what can I eat?”.
Spotting an A-hole on the internet can be tougher than you think. Part of their talent can be making you feel like you’re the jerk for feeling the way you do. It’s a no brainer when the insults are direct and overt but that’s not always the case. Today I want to expose some of the more sneaky and subversive types of A-holism. The following tutorial will help you see through their crap, because if they’re pointing a finger at you, they’re probably pointing 3 back at themselves. (Get it?)
Knowing these signs will have you spotting web trolls and pompous editorials in no time. The only thing left for you to do will be to sit back and watch the author’s stupor at those who take offense. The very best examples of A-holetry will use most if not all of the techniques we’ll discuss here. Anything that only has 1 or 2, you’ll just have to make a gut call.
Without further adieu, things to look for to spot an A-hole on the internet:
1. Bias. Typically you’ll see this right up front. The author will lead with a quick but subtle bias in their introduction. They’ll use somewhat vague adjectives with negative connotations right away, things like “frivolous”, “impractical” or “well-intentioned”. An even more subtle approach you could see to undermine credibility is the use of nouns like “fad” or “hobby”. They might even compare the subject to something they know is entirely opposite or unrelated and will be offensive to their target.
Ex. Mainstream a-hole: The Paleo diet is the most popular whim since the Master Cleanse.
2. Passive-aggressiveness. A tell-tale sign would be to notice the author possibly being open minded to other opinions but quickly shutting that down with a backhand.
Ex. Paleo a-hole: You don’t have to agree with us; if you want to let your oblivion kill you, then best of luck to you.
3. Mis-characterization. This can be done in two ways. First, you might get the idea that this person has very little knowledge of what they’re arguing against. This is also known as ignorance. Second, the mis-characterization may come in the form of using only the most extreme examples to illustrate points.
4. Polarization. There will be no shades of gray, only black and white. Remember, they’re using extreme examples, so even though it’s not realistic at all to think that everything is so cut and dry you’ll notice that this will never be acknowledged.
Ex. Mainstream & Paleo a-hole: If you eat a Paleo diet, you can never eat dairy again…NEVER, EVER…EVER.
5. Using rhetorical questions as main defense. Imagine a scene from Law and Order.
Prosecution: “You wanted her dead didn’t you?…that’s why you left the toilet seat up knowing she would fall in.”
Defendant: “No, I uh, I….”
Defense: “Objection your honor, leading the witness!”
Are the points being made with an open ended cross-examination of the things being disputed? The key is to omit actual answers and substantiation.
Ex. Mainstream a-hole: How can you trust someone who eats raw meat and doesn’t wear shoes? How could fat (bacon) possibly be good for you if most M.D.s don’t think it is?
6. Contradiction. No A-hole postulation can be complete without this. There are 2 types of contradictions you’ll see employed. For starters, you may find the author says one thing and then draws a completely opposite or mutually exclusive conclusion just a few words later. Alternately, they could use contradiction known commonly as “the pot calling the kettle black”. Fighting dogma WITH dogma. If you notice the same methods being used as what one claims to be against, BINGO, contradiction.
Ex. Paleo a-hole: You should never eat “Paleo” food that replicates junk food, it won’t cure your psychological problems. By the way, here’s a recipe for Paleo Fried Chicken. (<– this really happens in Paleo blogland. A lot.)
Mainstream & Paleo a-hole: It wouldn’t surprise me that you’d recommend a different nutrition plan to everyone if you make a living off of personal consultations. You should buy my plan instead; it’s a one-size-fits-all plan that will help you figure out what personal adjustments you should make.
Paleo a-hole: I’m so tired of feeling like I should look a certain way based on societal pressure. Now let me tell all you “intellectually challenged” people how you should actually look if you want to be healthy.
7. Condescension. You will perceive this as being ”talked down” to. The writer will appear miffed that anyone would believe something different than they do. Patronizing commentary and sarcasm works for their purpose here as well. You will read things like “waste of time” or even simply quotes around a word to imply eye rolling.
Ex. Paleo a-hole: Questioning what we’re telling you to eat makes you stupid, that’s probably why you can’t understand what we’re telling you. Mainstream a-hole: Including more meat is a great idea, if you love horrible ideas.
8. Assumptions and generalizations. You know the saying about assuming right? NO? It makes an ASS out of U and ME. Enough said. But I’ll say more anyway, this one really ties back into #3 (Mis-characterization.) and #4 (Polarization.) but it’s worth mentioning. The A-train has to keep running and it’s fueled by assumptions and generalizations. You will find continued instances that ignore the practical side of what’s being debated and drive home a few more unsubstantiated accusations.
Ex. Mainstream a-hole: The Paleo diet is a low carb diet. The Paleo diet is impractical. The Paleo diet costs 10 zillion dollars a month.
9. Arrogance. Nothing crushes A-holyness faster than admitting you don’t know it all. That’s why this one is a little harder to detect since it’s more about what is NOT said. You may get a hint of this if you notice claims that are just as hard to prove as those denied…but…since the author knows only black and white (see #4) they will imply that their way is the ONLY way. With all due respect though, they probably are special snowflakes. (#1, #2, #6, #7, #8 all in one!)
Ex. Mainstream & Paleo a-hole: How dare you quote a random study to support your argument! I have a random study right here that says the exact opposite, except this one is right.
10. Big words. The author will need to seem like they are very intelligent so you’ll think, “well, they did say ‘ad hominem’ so they must know what they’re talking about.”
Bonus. Sketchy motivation. (This one is not required but it can really put the icing on the cake.) This can be as easy as selling a product that happens to be the opposite of what is being argued against or even needing attention. Other examples include denouncing things that threaten them or being the smartest, most interesting person on Earth and having a desire to make sure everyone knows it.
Ex. Mainstream a-hole: I work for the government where my job is to sell subsidized grains, however, I disagree entirely with the Paleo diet because you cannot be healthy without hearthealthywholegrains. Paleo a-hole: In case you didn’t know, sugar is not Paleo.
(Starting with “in case you didn’t know” is a classic.)
Well everyone, I do hope you’ll find some use in my tutorial. I wish I could say I totally fabricated my examples, but these examples come paraphrased (and admittedly slightly embellished in some cases) to you from mainstream news and Paleo blog sources. If you need further examples, they’re not too hard to find. If you’re like me you can’t stand a-holes, be sure to come back next week when I release my new e-book, How to Be Nicer and More Humble Than Everyone ($19.95).
*If you already do CrossFit I’d love it if you left a comment here on your experience/what you love about it for those who may read this and like as many opinions as they can get…thanks.
Clearly, exercise and nutrition go hand in hand for many health minded individuals. We always say that nutrition is the most important factor for lifelong health and longevity (avoiding disease!) but what about physical adaptations that can make you more capable today and physically strong for the long haul? How about agility/flexibility/balance/et cetera to benefit you in your fight against aging and decrepitude (physical incapability).
This is where exercise…things like CrossFit come in. Not for “melting body fat” or burning off calories – those are myths for other articles – but for building strength, confidence, and fortitude. I am realizing that there are probably a large number of our readers who are “CrossFitters” but likely a large portion that aren’t…I want to take the time today to describe what CrossFit is…why Megan and I believe in it and think you should try it…and what we believe makes it work so you can implement these techniques on your own if getting to a CrossFit gym simply isn’t in the cards.
I don’t intend this to be too scientific or CrossFit jargon laden (although it is in there)…simply our take on CrossFit…why we do it…and why you should consider doing it too…or something like it.
My personal journeys with exercise and nutrition have both been meandering paths. My nutritional interest began in college when I was starting to cook for myself. Growing up I seemingly was able to get away with eating anything and I certainly never thought twice about what I would put in my mouth. I remember our meals being mostly meat based…good ‘ol southern meat and 3 type plates mixed in with all your other typical American fare. I cringe now when I think about the cereals I thought were synonymous with “breakfast”. None of that changed until my early twenties when I just decided I wanted to look great (read: get more ripped) and maximize my odds for a clean bill of health for as long as possible. I did the Men’s Health conventional wisdom, low fat and lots of whole grains plan for a few years.
From there I first read Cordain’s The Paleo Diet sometime around 2006 and did a lean protein paleo (what I call politically correct paleo) type plan for quite some time but I still didn’t “get it” the way I do now. Megan and I then read books by Pollan and discovered the Weston A Price Foundation and sites like Slow Food and added sprouted grains back to our diets along with some dairy. But it wasn’t until we found sites like Mark’s Daily Apple, Archevore, and Chris Kresser…read books and articles by Taubes…and watched documentaries like Fat Head that we really began to get a much better “big picture” on food and maybe more importantly began to “unlearn” conventional wisdom. All these opened our eyes to “beyond Paleo” scientific explanations that help explain and support a “Paleo template” and allow more adept application of such to a modern lifestyle in lieu of aiming for a Paleolithic reenactment. All grains went back out as we came to see even the properly prepared as merely “tolerable” not “optimal” and we added high quality dairy back on occasion. That’s the abridged version of how we ended up eating a low-moderate carbohydrate, low sugar (especially fructose), high fat (except omega 6), no grains, moderate protein diet that flies right in the face of nearly all conventional wisdom.
Megan and I have been together virtually this entire time. We have grown in this together and shaped each others grasp and application of the subject. When we met I was more nutrition than foodie and she was much more foodie than nutrition. She even worked under highly trained chefs as a pastry chef for a while after we met and was dead set on going to the Culinary Institute of America after getting her undergrad. She was accepted but I selfishly talked her out of it. I became way more interested in cuisine and she in nutrition and Health-Bent was eventually born from our new mutual growth together as the outlet for the things we really do take the most pride and enjoyment from.
What the hell does that have to do with CrossFit? I’m getting there I promise.
Megan and I both grew up playing sports…at the time exercise and “practice” were the same thing. I played baseball and hockey and Megan swam and played volleyball. Physical activity wasn’t designed for the sake of activity but for getting better at your sport…I don’t remember ever thinking it was “work”. Funny how that happens isn’t it? I was introduced to weightlifting around 10th grade and began to actively “train” for sports by doing things other than those sports. Some team mates and I went to a personal trainer, there were after school “conditioning” programs leading up to each sports season. You know the drill. Lifting weights and “cardio” (running and “sucking wind”) were always separate. I carried this philosophy right on through college. I was no longer playing organized sports so I decided I would get very serious about weight lifting and I did. I favored pumping iron over cardiovascular-respiratory endurance and I gained 20+ lbs of muscle my freshman year of college. Megan spent her college days going to the gym, lifting some weights and punching the clock on the cardio deck…typical protocol for most people. As a side note we wouldn’t be together if it wasn’t for the gym at our University…in a roundabout way it’s sorta how we met.
After a few years at this I was realizing that when I would actually run my shins and legs would hurt and I felt that the increase in strength was causing an inequality in endurance. I graduated from college and almost took a 180…I started running more than lifting and became interested in mountain biking. My natural inclination for competition led me to 5ks and 10ks…then mountain bike racing, off road adventure races and triathlons that included a lot of canoeing and kayaking as well. I got faster but I shrunk. I’m about 6’-2” and in the course of two years I went from about 210 lbs to 185 lbs at the same leanness…which means I lost all that muscle I spent years trying to get. My endurance days peaked right around the time Megan and I got married in 2008…a typical race I participate in and trained for was 3-6 hours. I was riding 50 mile training rides on my bike and running at least 6 a few times a week. I still lifted weights but it was infrequent and when I did I was noticeably weaker. Weights I’d used years prior for many reps had me spent at just a few. I didn’t really like it. Now I’m not saying that either way is necessarily bad if that’s what you love to do but it’s certainly specializing on one side to the detriment of the other. Fitness can be a roof peak in which you can slide down either side…but what if it doesn’t have to be that way?
Discouraged about my loss of strength I discovered CrossFit and decided to give it a try. I wanted to gain my strength back and wondered if I could even improve my endurance too. It looked like good “circuit training” to me. Demanding and challenging…I had no idea.
So Megan and I went in to our local affiliate in June of 2009 (she wasn’t as enthused as I was). We were taught the “CrossFit warm up” which consists essentially of 2 rounds at your own pace of: 10 pull ups, 10 push ups, 10 dips, 10 sit ups, 10 back extensions, and 10 overhead squats with a pvc pipe. Mind you…I was still believing that I was a very capable person…knowing I wasn’t as strong as I once was but built up on the idea of “how far I could go”. The current fitness paradigm most subscribe to almost implies that fitness is defined as endurance and I was under that assumption at the time. This “warm-up” whipped our butts. I was able to do all the movements with full range of motion without modification but barely. Megan was shown how to modify them to her ability level and still use proper form and range of motion. It’s worth mentioning that she (along with a large percentage of first time CrossFitters) couldn’t do 1 pull up.
We were then instructed that we were going to try a CrossFit “benchmark” workout…that would show us what it was all about. I was already spent but determined. The workout is called “Helen”. These workouts are named after some of the original crew of the gym that has since trademarked “CrossFit” and it’s said girls names are so fitting because they are like named storms. These workouts are benchmarks because they are used to show progress when you repeat them (although any workout could if done exactly the same). We were shown the required range of motion, depth and extension for the movements of Helen and how to do them safely…3 rounds for time (as fast as possible!) of: 400 meter run, 21 kettlebell swings, 12 pull ups. With a big red interval timer and a countdown of “3,2,1…go!” we took off down the mangled pavement outside the gym toward the 200 m turnaround. I believe this was really the first time in my life that I had demanded my body to “suck wind”, move weight, and do gymnastic body weight strength movements at the same time and it showed. Megan modified the workout as she did with the warmup and I was able to somehow get through it Rx…which in CrossFit lingo means as prescribed. For Helen that means a 53 lb kettlebell for men (36 lb for women) and pull ups without assistance. It took us both 15 minutes and some change.
It was uncomfortable. Lifting weights while talking to buddies OR riding and running at a pace you can maintain was much more cozy. But when we looked around and saw CrossFit members completing the “warm up” and making it actually look like a warm up…we knew there must be something to it. Megan always recalls how inspired she was watching the female coach (shoutout to you Bobbi) show her how to do pull ups by effortlessly jumping up to the bar and doing a few. If you have any sense of “if they can do it then I can do it too” in your body…then this experience is all it will take to sell you. There was still apprehension for what was to come but we dove right in. If that wouldn’t be enough for you…I’m going to go on.
I went through our journey in nutrition above. We were familiar with and practicing a Paleo diet (though still tweaking…and still are!) when we started CrossFit. At the time I felt as if we were the only people in our entire state who had even ever heard of such a crazy thing as eating like hunter/gatherers (I admit we aren’t in the most progressive state). Imagine our surprise when we found out that CrossFit was teaching and promoting a paleo diet and many folks at the affiliate were getting into it. I bring this up because I know you’re here because of the food side. But CrossFit promotes a paleo diet because it is for the most part (and used to be even more so) driven by grassroots evidence based performance. CrossFitters and the CrossFit mentality was to embrace whatever made the most sense and got the best results…no matter how unorthodox or unconventional. So the CrossFit community is putting the same kind of scrutiny on nutrition as you are and has been looking at exercise under the same kind of microscope.
CrossFit is really nothing more than a combination of other things. Each item is not unique…it’s the combination of them that is unique, it’s the shifting of expectation that’s unique. So CrossFit is about looking at human movement, exercise, and exertion the same way Paleo/Primal/WAPF dieters look at food. For food we say: What is food? What should we eat? What should we avoid? Why? Are there individual nuances? With fitness its: What is fitness in the first place? What should you do? What should you avoid? Why does it work? What are the benefits? Individual nuances?
What is fitness in the first place?
This part is a little bit of a synopsis of what you’d get if you went to a CrossFit certification. I told you about how I had been on both sides of the apex of the roof of the “fitness house”. On one hand I was strong but it hurt to run and on the other I could run but lost a lot of muscle and strength. In fitness we can call each end of the spectrum being a “specialist”. Phenoms at cycling like Lance and of bodybuilding like Arnold would be specialists. Society rewards them for being the best at what they do and they have certainly had to sacrifice one side for the other for that success. That’s all fine and good…if you stand to make a lot of money for specializing it would make the decision look a lot different, but what if you simply wanted to be the best you could at everything you can think of and even things you haven’t thought of or anticipated yet? If you specialized you’d know that you would be limiting your success one one side or the other.
But if you decided that fitness was defined as your competence in 10 general physical skills (something CrossFit borrowed from Dynamax):
You would see that being fit means being more “well rounded”. I certainly experienced a shift in my competency based on my training. Since I didn’t forsee a paycheck from either side how could I maximize all of them? Well, that’s by specializing at not specializing. One could argue between being average or above average at lots of things vs. being great at 1 or 2 things…but think about it this way. If you’re eating a paleo/primal diet for health and longevity…then you should be exercising for that as well. So if you’re really strong and powerful but don’t have endurance, flexibility, accuracy, or balance for example…how’s that going to help you play with your grand kids? And if your have lot’s of endurance and flexibility but little strength…how long will you be able to continue to do what you like to do as you get weaker as you age? CrossFit strives to build “functional fitness”…the kind of stuff that translates to your life…anything and everything that could ever be.
So what do you do to become functionally fit?
I told you CrossFit was a mashup of things that aren’t unique on their own. Those things are:
gymnastic and bodyweight movements – pull ups, push ups, hand stands and handstand push ups, air squats, sit ups, back extensions, ring movements like ring dips and muscle ups, climbing rope
traditional conditioning methods – running/sprinting, rowing, sometimes stationary biking
weight lifting – Olympic weight lifting (clean and jerk, snatch) with all variations, power lifting (deadlift, bench press, overhead presses, squatting), kettlebell movements, dumbbells, and other unique combinations of lifts like front squat + push press = thruster
plyometrics – box jumps, burpees, jump rope (singles and doubles)
medicine ball training – med ball cleans, wall ball shots, slam balls
The equipment is actually very minimal compared to what you’re used to seeing if you are a member of a big box fitness type gym. You’ll see pull up bars, wooden boxes, medicine balls, barbells and bumper plates, some rowers, a place to run, medicine balls. CrossFit gyms are commonly called “boxes” because the you just need space for your body and the basic tools to elicit the response. Combining these things into all different patterns and variations and performing them at high intensities is what makes you change in a small amount of time per session. Sure you can mix these things together anyway you like and call it whatever you want…CrossFit is simply the brand that has already done it and makes it convenient for you…and in many ways standardized which is helpful. You’ll come to find out that those fancy machines with cables or levers and cushy seats are just taking up space and slowing you down. See, those machines and equipment reduce and isolate your movements in ways that aren’t conducive to the way you’ll be moving in life. You want to move yourself in different planes and have great body control and balance AND be able to move weight (FREE WEIGHT) efficiently and properly. Unless that bag of potting soil or wheel barrow in your yard has a pulley system attached to it how are those machines helping you? We want your bones to bear weight demanding your core to give you stabilization and strength. This minimal equipment makes our core strong…and you’ve heard this before…your core is where real power comes from.
Exercise performed free of seats and tethers promotes “midline stabilization” which makes you strong all over. You’ll learn to translate that newly found core strength into “core to extremity” translation through these movements. I know it sounds daunting…and this is why I recommend finding a CrossFit affiliate over starting on your own. At least to get the fundamentals down. Most affiliates have great coaches who would scale you (pick the right weights and modifications for you) while teaching the proper form so that your body is safe since they’re teaching you to move it along natural patterns that your body likes and avoiding compromising positions.
Most CrossFit workouts are between 2 and 30 minutes long. And believe me, this is plenty if you are doing it right. Some days are simply strength and technique and the rest are all out “metabolic conditioning (metcon)” workouts…mash ups of all those exercises above. Sometimes two of them, sometimes three and occasionally more. Sometimes heavy weights, sometimes light…higher reps and lower reps…you get the idea. Metcons are usually set to a clock (like Helen) or done in a fixed amount of time for as many reps as you can do in that time. This is going to shock your system so to speak and eventually you’ll be able to do more work in less time. That means higher power output. (Force x Distance) / Time = Power. Now, if you can get well rounded in many movements so that you “increase your work capacity across broad time and modal domains” you’ll really be in business. What that really means is that you are becoming competent in those movements and those skills and you can do them with good output in short time windows and long ones. It’s no wonder many military, law enforcement, and life safety personnel are using these methods. Their life literally depends on their abilities in many, many circumstances. Now, the probability of them being in these situations is surely higher…but don’t all of us face these hardships in some form at some time? How can becoming more comfortable with the uncomfortable ever be a bad thing?
What should you avoid?
Being static. Being sedentary. I love fitness and nutrition because in many ways they are the things you cannot buy. Health cannot be bought. Sure you could have a chef and a trainer…but you cannot buy the results, you have to earn them. I don’t know how to explain to you how the machines in the gym are holding you back without you trying something like CrossFit. But they are. Isolating and artificially supporting your movements are dampering your results. Putting a divide between “cardio time” and “strength/lifting” time is holding you back from your potential. CrossFit OR some form of “functional movements performed at high intensity” is the only way I have found to see the best of both worlds. I rarely bench press anymore and yet I can bench close to the most I ever did back when all I did was lift. I squat and deadlift much more than I ever did, my 5k is as fast as when I was an endurance racer. I have put back on that muscle and currently sit at 210 lbs again but I can do so much more with it. I can do a 150 lb weighted pull up and run a 6 minute mile. Overhead squat 285 lbs and then do 100 jump rope double unders in a row. In many ways I surpassed my capabilities from each respective “specialist” avenue I went down but now I have the things from the other side as well.
I told you Megan couldn’t do 1 pullup on day 1. Now she can do a ton. Dead hang, kip and butterfly. And she could do more than 100 in several minutes. She can do muscle ups and handstand pushups. She can squat and put more weight over her head than she weighs, and has recently run several half marathons. Before CrossFit, 5 miles was the farthest she had ever run.
I told you about our first workout “Helen”. Megan now does this with no modifications in around 10 minutes and I am right around 8. How is that for being able to do the same amount of work in a fraction of the time?
*And before you go and start thinking this is only for men or girls who want to get big…think again. Ladies, if you’re afraid of looking more fit…well I can’t help you…but getting big typically requires special and often illegal supplementation in women. Everyone has a general homeostatic point of muscle they reach…it doesn’t just keep going forever. Women can gain muscle doing this (and that might cause weight gain) but in almost ALL cases this actually translates to a much better body composition/look. Unless runway skinny is your thing.
Why does it work?
Put simply…if you want to get better at something…doing it often usually helps. If you don’t use your body you’ll lose it. One less than obvious reason CrossFit works is because people will stick to it. It’s that simple. If your fitness plan is only interesting enough to keep you at it for a week or a month it doesn’t really matter how good it is now does it? If you join an affiliate you’ll be doing your workouts with a group. You’ll get to know people. You will all be required to do the same things (with different modifications mind you) and you will look over your shoulder and compete. CrossFit will set the stage for you to compete with yourself and give you so many more metrics to do it with than just a 5k time or something. You’ll be in an environment where you see what people have become capable of and it will change your definition of “normal” for the better. “What seemed beyond me becomes me” will start to make sense to you. You’ll be inspired and maybe a little embarrassed all at the same time. Don’t let it get you down…PLEASE. Understand that this really is a sport in and of itself. If you take a liking to it working out will be like “practice” was for me when I was a kid. Yeah you’re working out but it’s about more than just getting work done. But if this is really a sport (the sport of fitness) that takes away the idea of just “getting a burn” for the hell of it you still have to realize that you can’t be great at any new sport on day one. You’re going to have to pay your dues but there will be others there paying them with you.
If you join a gym you’ll never have to wonder what your workout is going to be and plan it for yourself…because your gym will be doing it for you…and for the most part…these gym owners and coaches know what they are doing. It will be like having personal training and direction all the time. It will hold you accountable and push you.
It works because you’ll stay with it…but beyond that it works because of the intensity. The time frame of 2-30 minutes seems short. But going hard for that amount of time makes you better in the medium time energy pathway you’re in (glycolytic) while pushing you out on the short/strength pathway (phosphagen) and the long/endurance pathway (oxidative) all while minimizing time requirements by you. This is how you get the best of both worlds if you do as above and stick with it. Strength, power, and speed WITH endurance, stamina, agility…sprinkle in some coordination, balance, accuracy, and flexibilty. Ta da.
What are the benefits?
I think I inadvertently covered most of these already. I think it’s good for you in case you haven’t noticed.
Naturally, it can help you shed unwanted body fat too, especially if coupled with a Health-Bent diet. And it can do it by improving your insulin sensitivity…and how your body uses/stores nutrients (or doesn’t).
It makes you feel good (even when you’re sore). Of course any exercise is supposed to improve mood and give you that natural high and improve energy…all the more with CrossFit.
And you’ll really feel like you are accomplishing things. One thing I haven’t mentioned is the mental strength CrossFit instills. Many people talk about this but I think it’s still somewhat overlooked. There is undoubtedly a confidence that comes with pushing through what you thought were your boundaries. Starting CrossFit with a lot of hesitation and self doubt is normal…but sticking with it literally forges stick-to-iveness that translates to much of your outside life. For more on the mental aspects of CrossFit and the gusto that physical preparedness can provide I’d point you to some of my favorite articles on the subject by Blair Morrison. The series is called “Fitness Is”...check out Potential in particular.
Individual nuances and caveats?
People with existing injuries and no exercise experience can do CrossFit. In fact, it might benefit those folks even more than people in decent shape. I’ve talked about how it’s infinitely scalable. Don’t let your age or background be an excuse…nobody is good at it when they start and it’s never too late to start improving yourself…you will scale down and take baby steps if you have to. Find a good gym and you’ll be shown how to do any movement at your current level and how to progress from there. Injuries present similar problems but a well trained staff can work around those no sweat. Many times injuries you thought would get worse with exercise and full range of motion movements actually improve a lot with the strengthening and stabilizing that CrossFit promotes. If your coach doesn’t promote form first and THEN intensity…do it anyway, though they probably will. Learn how to do it well with light weight before you ever try to do it fast with more weight. The minimal equipment idea makes it great for doing at home with a relatively small investment BUT we hear time and time again from people who tried to learn it on their own that they really were not “getting it right” until they got coaching. It can be done individually but you’ll miss out on the inspiring and motivating atmosphere and the coaching and probably on meeting some good people. But if there’s not one anywhere near by…try CrossFit.com exercises and demos. Take a look at some of the free articles…see the daily blog for programming and BE SAFE.
Mark Sisson’s Primal Fitness moto will suit you well if you’re trying to design workouts for yourself at home. Move around constantly at a slow pace, lift heavy things on occasion, sprint, and avoid injury. You’ll want to include some days that are just slowly practicing the movements mentioned above, some days where you lift heavy and nothing else, sprint from time to time, and some days that combine the movements into an intense workout you try to complete as quickly as you can. A race to finish your variable amount of work basically.
Whether you’re at an affiliate gym or at home…listen to your body. Overdoing it and overtraining is not good…it’s easy to think more is more in terms of improving – it’s not. You’re going to be sore. You need to recover adequately and recovery is what makes you better. If you’re feeling badly don’t work out that day. 3 days on 1 day off is standard but there is no right way. To start 2 days in a row is plenty unless your gym has beginner workouts to ramp you up (on ramp program). You’ll figure out what works for you and how you feel when you need to rest and recover with time…but just make sure you don’t get overzealous and hurt yourself or put unhealthy stress on your system. This is supposed to be for better health not worse!
I’m not going to lie to you – IT HURTS. But to Megan and I it’s just one of those things in life that is worth having either BECAUSE OF or INSPITE OF it not coming easy. Eating well can be a huge pain in the ass too but it’s worth it. CrossFit can change everything you thought you knew about exercise and physical preparedness just like Paleo changed what you thought you knew about food. If you are like us you’ll wish you had only known about it sooner and you’ll wonder why you ever did anything else. We’ve been at it for almost 3 years now and while our program always evolves we’ll never go back to our old ways. Here is the link to see if there are CrossFit affiliates in your area. And here’s a local article that recently featured Megan and I about our gym.
A program like this can literally double or triple what you’re able to do (sometimes more depending on where you start). It can affect you mentally in profound ways. What are you waiting for? Let fit happen to you.
Again, please share your thoughts in the comments for all those considering giving it a shot.
Here is my latest attempt at “Grace” (a CrossFit benchmark workout)
For Rx Grace a 135 lb (95 lb for girls) barbell must travel from the ground to locked out overhead, 30 times. You do this workout as quickly as possible. My latest time was 2:04. Next time sub 2 minutes. Megan’s latest Grace was 2:34 Rx
Don’t you like my shirt? I know where you can get one.
The world is flat and the sun revolves around the Earth. Paula Deen has type 2 diabetes caused by her beloved fatty food. Anything else is simply heresy.
And yet, here we are…bombarded with media scrutiny at Paula Deen’s expense to make a good headline…under assumptions that are as unfounded as the other two examples were at one time.
You see…it’s the misinformed, guided-by-conventional-wisdom (aka federal policies funded by agribusiness – just a theory) information we’re being fed that’s making us sick…not Paula Deen’s food.
I’m not going to touch on the ethics of endorsing a diabetes medication here…it’s not up to me to decide how she sleeps at night and what threadcount an endorsement of Victoza buys you. Besides, for these journalists to find irony in the situation they have to make 2 bold assumptions.
1. People like Paula and establishments like McDonald’s force people to stuff food down their pie holes. (Apt nickname for mouth in this context.)
And that simply is not the case. In America today…anyone with access to the internet can educate themselves on diet in many ways. You can learn about conventional wisdom approaches…and if you look really hard you can even get beyond that into other ideas about “diabesity” (diabetes and obesity). You can learn about what type 2 diabetes is. You can discover that it has to do with how your body reacts to the insulin your pancreas secretes to lower blood sugar (glucose)…that your cells become “resistant” to the signal insulin is trying to give it or stops producing enough insulin – both leaving you with toxic high blood sugar. And while it’s complicated…and could possibly have something to do with fat intake (as the articles about Deen would lead you to believe is definitive), you might start to reconsider lumping ALL fats into one lot as culprits…and/or looking away from them as a cause of this in the first place…you might start looking at sugars and carbohydrates.
You say – “some don’t have access to the internet”. Nice try, there’s this thing called the library too…and besides…if they’re not on the web…they’re probably not following Paula Deen’s show and “tweets” anyway.
2. What they “think” causes T2 diabetes actually does.
Most of the articles you come across are going to blame fat mostly. The reasoning is that being overweight causes T2 diabetes and fat intake causes you to be fat…therefore, fat intake causes T2 diabetes. Nevermind how illogical it is to immediately assume that lowering fat intake would be the first way to non-medically control your blood SUGAR (as Deen’s sons are out doing with their new low fat show)…what if fat isn’t the main cause in the first place (if at all)? What if being overweight is simply another SYMPTOM that exists in tandem with the conditions leading to T2 diabetes. Could something else be to blame? And are we being hurt worse by the naive implications these editorials sell us?
I believe we are.
As for Bourdain…it’s really the pot calling the kettle black here but he’s famous for being a jerk and getting big reactions…so there’s really no surprise there. He has every right to say whatever he wants and dammit…it is entertaining. But my point is this…the joke’s on him if he thinks pointing a finger at Paula Deen under the presumptions he makes doesn’t do more harm to Americans than Paula Deen ever has. He and all the other journalists writing pieces to demonize Paula Deen are setting a hypocritical trap for Americans to continue to fall into if they (the journalists) are in fact incorrect about what it is she does that is said to be “unhealthy”.
Sure, it’s on the individual to not fall prey to this nonsense as discussed before…but who’s going to hold these supposedly righteous reporters accountable for their part?
Nobody, unless we question the very premise they found their criticisms on. I realize I raised many questions here that I did not answer…and that was my intent. I’d like to use this media instance to reach those who might be nodding their heads in agreement as they read the conventional take on Paula Deen’s plight. If you’re not on board with me…or if you are but know someone who isn’t…let’s see if we can get them thinking about this critically…and use this to at least explore other theories. What could it hurt to expand your horizons? After all, we’re here in America only because we didn’t fall right off the edge of the world on the way over.
Things to ponder:
What is type 2 diabetes? What does insulin do?
How does the body store excess carbohydrates from starches and sugars, and what role does insulin play?
Could carbohydrates and sugar play an even more immediate role in the accumulation of body fat than dietary fat?
Does being overweight CAUSE anything or does it exist in tandem with other symptoms?
What, then, could cause our cells to stop responding to or stop production of insulin?
What is inflammation and what foods are inflammatory?
Should grains, sugars, and industrial oils (omega 6 polyunsaturated fats) be scrutinized before saturated fats?
What were the rates of diabetes in the early 1900s and what was the typical daily fare?
What are the rates of diabetes today and what is the typical daily fare?
Has saturated fat intake increased or decreased in the last century…and what have the rates of diabetes done in the same amount of time?
I apologize for “leading the witness” here but I won’t tell you what to conclude, at least – for fear that I’m no better than those I’m in discord with now. Objection – overruled. Clearly though, I’ve made my camp on one side and it’s a risk I’ll just have to take. It’s possible that the prevailing theories are true…but what if they’re not? What if the paradigm they’re promoting is the real poison we’re being fed?
And, lastly, I want to introduce you to some of the “Aristotle’s” if the cause. Heretics you might learn from if you are so inclined.
Tom Naughton. Fat Head movie – for free. “You’ve been fed a load of bologna.”
The very same day we posted Scarlet Letter last week…a reproval of treats was posted elsewhere. It was presented in an analogy that goes like this (my interpretation).
“Paleo” treat : the “real” thing
having sex with your pants on : having sex with your pants off
I actually agree with this statement…but for none of the reasons its original authors intended.
When taken out of context it probably makes some really healthy people question themselves (unhealthily)…but even in the context of it only being a temporary challenge I think it still promotes ambiguous shame. This was the kind of prescription I was afraid of when writing that post.
I’ll add that they say they are not promoting that we become nutritional members of “the cloth” forever…as they write this in the context of a 30 day challenge. And while in that sense I see where it could have potential, I see its shortcomings as well.
I’m going to post a few thoughts on the subject just to illustrate that there are usually two sides to every story. Many things like this are personal…what works for one may not work for another. So let me be clear – if a strict abstinence period works for you, that’s fine…I know there are those who would respond best to it. However, if it doesn’t…let me show you how this exact same analogy can promote an entirely different method. As with anything…all we can do is determine which one we want to buy.
1. Not the best I’ve ever had?
On the surface this argument seems reasonable. Their first point is that the stand-in treat won’t be good enough to curb your “desires”. I guess it’s true in most cases removing wheat and high amounts of sugar won’t yield you the exact same eater experience. But first off…is it safe to imply that it won’t be really good (good enough to satisfy you)? I don’t think it is…I know many first hand who do enjoy likenesses to SAD treat’s who no longer have any desire for the much-worse-for-you version.
ThePaleo pizza example is used…even if it isn’t as good as a brick fired pie in Naples…couldn’t it still be a hell of a lot better than a lot of other boring and uninspired meals? Is variety no longer the spice of life? Even if it’s not “as good” as the original why shouldn’t the ingredients you do want to eat be made as great as possible? Even if they resemble a delicious innovation that just happened to have been made with ingredients we no longer wish to eat.
Sometimes not having sex is the wise and prudent choice (that part was left out of the original argument)…but why would having sex with your pants on (so to speak) really be harmful? Sure it isn’t the same…but the danger according to the other post is that this will make you want “real sex” more.
I’m having a difficult time seeing how zero sex and “interaction” for an extended period of time would make you want sex less than having some form of safe interaction over that same period of time.
The last point brings up the question…is everything we do and enjoy an addiction? Can an abstinence period make us no longer want the thing in question? With some things (like sex)…it’s hard to think that a normal “need” is something that could or should be cured. It’s even harder to believe that 30 days (or even years – think: POWs) would take away our desire for some things that are innately human (sex/ tasty food). It could probably lessen them or change the way we perceive them but I can’t see how they would go away entirely.
Somewhere the line has to be drawn…we can’t think of everything in life as an addiction similar to crack. Am I a workout-head, a reading-head, DIY-at-the-house-head, a sugar-head? These are all things I enjoy and/or do frequently. I’m not that happy when I don’t do them but is it really the same? And in the case of sugar…you have to eat…even if you lived entirely off the land you would likely eat some form of sugar (seasonally)…I realize that it has an effect on your brain (wouldn’t all food) but is it really the same dependence as someone on powerful psychoactive drugs? Again, I just think we have to draw the line somewhere or we could compare everything that brings us joy to the type of habits that we would kill or steal for.
I don’t feel that our need for exciting food is something that could or should be cured either…simply managed.
3. Quarterback sneak.
I know that folks like to set a goal and go after it. That’s why I see some value in 30 day challenges. But in other ways I believe they can be detrimental. That if you’re living the challenge in a different way than your comfortable/mindful/compromising daily life would be after said challenge…how are you learning/creating the lifestyle that’s going to work for you along the way? Isn’t it possible that instead you learn that restriction is no fun and you just go back to the way you were before? Isn’t it valid to think that if you we’re feeling it out for that month and finding a way to make it all work for you the individual that might lead to a more smooth transition into a different lifestyle?
Why would you practice in a way that’s different than you intend to play (to insert another analogy)? It’s football season so go with this…would you run plays all week that you don’t intend to use this weekend at the game? Shouldn’t you be developing and practicing the plays you’re going to use to go for long term success?
And to use the sex analogy again…does having no sex or sex-like-activities teach you how to have safe sex later on?
4. Let’s talk about sex.
Seriously…what it is FUNDAMENTALLY. A way to procreate. Something that serves only one true purpose that we exploit for enjoyment.
To use the analogy that is acknowledging the idea that sex is more than this…that it’s fun…flies directly in the face of any point you would then try to make to say that we shouldn’t treat food the same way (albeit responsibly).
Food has only one real purpose, to fuel our bodies…and we as humans go beyond that to make it enjoyable on other levels.
So if the underlying premise that makes the analogy work is that humans make enjoyment from things that are otherwise strictly utilitarian…it’s flawed to then argue that we should try to reduce food to fuel only for any period of time. Because we’ve already admitted that they are much more than that.
We hear this a good bit in reference to diet. “I was doing well but I’ve been cheating a lot lately.” I get it…we all feel a twinge of remorse when we make a choice that we know isn’t the greatest…it’s only human. I have a feeling a lot of those reading this are “A type” personalities who have taken their health into their own hands and challenged conventional wisdom in pursuit of optimum nutrition…you are even more prone to feeling like you’ve let yourself down. I just feel that this notion of “cheating” really puts the wrong connotation on what we’re doing when it comes to diet/nutrition. After all, this isn’t meant to be a fad diet…you know that. Going off of your plan for a 1 week juice fast (help!!!) would seem like more of a failure than eating something less-than-optimal in a LIFE LONG commitment you have made to eating well. Saying that not eating perfectly is “cheating” is setting yourself up for certain failure if you think of it this way. You have what’s called “a life”…it’s a life that does not exist inside a bubble. Where everyone does not know about the paleo diet. Hell, it’s a world full of tasty innovations and special occasions…and everyone KNOWS it is not realistic (and probably not necessary) to abstain 100% from these situations (read: it is next to IMPOSSIBLE).
Cheating as we say it implies an unforgivable sin. Are we really comparing eating an (insert your favorite “non-paleo” food here) to adultery? Should we be emblazoned with a scarlet letter for doing such? Come on…we all know that it’s not that serious.
In a way I feel that the guilt is brought on by those in positions of influence…the bloggers and writers and media authorities that put on airs about their compliance to their method. You know the holier-than-though attitude I am talking about. They would lead you to believe that they are always perfect and if they do show a sliver of being mortal…they will chide themselves and make atonement to show that they are really “above” that. (I hope we are not so guilty of this here, though we don’t go out of our way to show you pictures similar to those below.) They have something to gain from this pretense and it may be a lack of security as well, but I think it’s adding to the paranoia. And I would guarantee that behind closed doors they are living at least a slightly different life than they present. Let me be clear…I don’t mean everyone, there are those that seem very transparent in a good way.
I can illustrate this with the thought of politicians and other celebrities that show a storybook life until the headline breaks. And even more easily with a comparison to another type of relationship, a marriage (or committed pair).
So many married couples present a perfect relationship on the surface. It might leave you wondering how everyone else’s marriage seems problem free when you have disagreements with your spouse. Well, guess what…they do have disagreements and they just don’t want you to know about it. It probably stems from pride and lack of security…sound familiar? Saying that a marriage is a failure because you have an argument is like saying you “cheated” on your diet because you did not eat perfectly.
So can I propose that eating imperfectly now be called “having a disagreement” with your diet? I know it’s more of a mouthful but bear with me. Your marriage or committed relationship is very much like your commitment to your nutrition ideals.
1. It changes and evolves
2. When you are committed, a disagreement is tiny bump in the road not a burning of the bridge
3. It does not adversely affect the outcome
At Health-Bent…we feel like we need to relax a bit about not eating perfectly all the time. I’ve written some about the 80/20 rule in the past. Of course, if you use this to justify eating poorly all the time then it’s counterintuitive. What I’m saying is that if you are committed to your relationship with food, you wouldn’t let it be anything more than a relative rarity.
I am not perfect. I eat bullcrap sometimes and can be mean to my wife on occasion. But I am committed to a great relationship with my wife and with food. I know that the amount of time not making both happy better be slim. I recognize that having self diagnosed imperfections doesn’t make me the only one. Everyone does. And as such…it’s just part of the norm…it doesn’t mean anything is wrong. It also doesn’t mean you shouldn’t strive to be the best you can. Just don’t beat yourself up over it so much. It’s just my opinion but I think that is the healthiest way to be. If you’re shooting for perfection you’ll land at excellence…so don’t cry over spilt coconut milk.
I wouldn’t know what a perfect marriage or a perfect diet would look like anyway. In my next post I plan to write about how “cheating” would be hard to define even if we were calling it that because every single thing you eat falls within a scale of values you have set (based on what you can know so far). Since we are learning more and more every day those values change some and any food choice is not a full on perfect or not perfect choice…almost all fall somewhere in between. (another reason you can’t really say conclusively what food would be a deal breaker or a “cheat”) I’ll introduce a way we subconsciously evaluate our food choices as “good”, “better”, “best” using our umbrella parameters.
I hope this helps. If you feel like you’re eating very well the majority of the time…you should be proud of it and own it. That’s all I feel anyone can do…no matter what they’ll have you believe. At the end of the day, Megan and I fundamentally believe that —
Real and lasting, positive change does not come from 100% compliance; it comes from knowing the difference.
We have finally gotten settled into our new home and are ready to get back to business. Meg has been hard at work creating this design and we’re very excited about it. There are probably still some kinks to work out but all in all – things should be working. Check out our new visual “Recipe” menu in the navigation bar.
With this new design we are going to bring back the t-shirts and we have other aspirations we hope will materialize in the near future.
We want to thank everyone that supports and follows us. We don’t know exactly where we are headed but we do know that we are going to continue to provide recipes that we love (for free) in hopes that you’ll love them too.
We won’t just post any marginal recipe…only the home runs…as subjective as that may be. We want you to be able to trust that if you see a recipe here it means Meg and I fought over the leftovers (if there were any).
We know that this lifestyle of eating fresh and healthy (and grain free) can really be a pain in the a$$ sometimes.
The new theme is all about the dedication and fortitude it takes to not settle for less.
That’s right…deceased. It has died at the young age of 19 years. Cause of death…ruled: overcomplication. Seems that the problem with our governments’ dietary recommendations are that we “the people” couldn’t understand them. All along I thought the problem was that the recommendations were just wrong…turns out it’s that we are too dull to comprehend a pyramid graph with words and pictures. Now that it’s been simplified for us…I suppose we will see the end of obesity and the diseases of civilization.
You could believe this…OR…you could believe that doing the same thing (in a different graphical representation) would yield the same crappy health. Einstein defined insanity as repeating the same process and expecting different results.
If you’re reading this…chances are I know how you feel.
If you think an autopsy of the Food Pyramid’s death needs to be conducted…and that maybe it actually died of heart disease…check out the Health-Bent umbrella if you haven’t already. Pass it on.
Health-Bent Headquarters has relocated. If you’ve looked at our last few posts or followed our Facebook page at all you may already be aware. And what started as “we’ll get new appliances” turned into “let’s gut the entire kitchen and start over.” The good news is that (eventually) we’ll have a kitchen that is very much like what we’ve dreamed about for a long time. To us foodies, this is very exciting; you understand. It’s gonna be Christmas in July.
The bad news is: in order to afford this kitchen…we are doing all the work ourselves. Sure it’s kinda fun and rewarding, to a point…but it also has meant neglecting the blog and missing out on the start of bountiful seasonal produce. We also won’t have our garden this year. The transition from cooking and photographing to tiling and installing has certainly taken it’s toll on our diets. It’s hard not to use it as an excuse to just grab the fastest thing you can shove in your mouth to keep going. And as we all know, without the ability to cook it’s damn near impossible to eat the way we like to eat.
This is only temporary…but we’re definitely longing to get back in the kitchen and eat real foods. We’ve always said that the benefits of the diet isn’t necessarily in 100% compliance but in the power that comes with knowing the difference. We will return…and we should have a better space to create recipes and photograph them when it’s all said and done.
We’re grateful that the index of recipes has seemed to keep people coming to the site…and we thank the Foodee for still linking to us.
As romantic as “Paleo” is…this is 2011 and let’s be honest, I think we all have to admit that a modern kitchen is more helpful to your healthy diet than a campfire (more to add to the Paleo reenactment argument). You guys know we’ve never been after a recreation anyway…and I think most of our readers agree. After all, a kitchen is just a tool; and all tools are Paleo.
We are hopefully less than a month away from completion. Stay tuned and thanks again.
It’s the new year. Here’s our perspective on how to Treat Yourself Right in 2011. Maybe cutting out any and all treats shouldn’t be a resolution? We advocate using your own brain to determine if a treat is a judicious choice for you. This post is about how we use ours.
So I’ve argued (part 1 and part 2) that making a Paleo-ified (or at least a no grain, low sugar, dairy optional) treat could have potential benefits to someone who understands their moderation and is prudent about the compromise. As with any of our food choices it becomes a hierarchy of values. We weigh reward vs. perceived risk based on what we know (believe) about metabolism and disease promoting agents as well as our conjecture of what was eaten (and avoided) by our ancestors that contributed to vitality.
This hierarchy of values comes into play every day when mindfully eating. Decisions such as the best bang for your buck (budget Paleo), how to order when eating out (how to make the best of the worst), or what to keep in mind when considering a treat that is more Paleo-friendly arise all the time. The first two could be posts in and of themselves and we may try to explore them on their own at a later date. There is no right answer as it applies to your nutritional priority…as everyone is different. We keep grain avoidance for gut health towards the top of our list. This could be displaced by anything else that you have an individual, acute reaction to. Bottom line, we’re just trying to do the best we can while constantly evaluating what’s best in the first place. This is why we feel that a list of Paleo foods that are “approved” doesn’t do much good in the long term. Not only does it lack promoting benefits of a low to moderate carb diet or make heads/ tails of quality…it doesn’t give you reasons for those choices with which to create a lifestyle. To evaluate every instance you face in life you need principles and some understanding of the effects your food is causing: good and bad. This is the idea behind our umbrella…that knowledge in these areas will give you the ability to create your hierarchy of values and then view all foods through that scope.
I think in the Paleo world “treat” most commonly refers to a likeness of a flour and sugar based dessert (cake, cookie, brownie, etc.) or even savory dish with flour base (pizza crust, bread, pasta, crust for frying, etc.).
At least these are the ones that people get upset about copying. Nobody seems to have a huge beef with lower-carb, higher-nutrient stand ins when they don’t allude to what is generally accepted as “junk food”. I’ve never seen anyone get too perturbed over cauliflower “rice”. Being a Paleo eater certainly changes what you think of as acceptable though, and in need of a tweak. Take a nice bowl of oatmeal for example…if it were something you just loved but wanted to avoid oats (grains) you could find a substitute to give you a similar texture and flavor…while everyone else (non Paleo) in the world thinks oatmeal is the most nutritious breakfast you could eat. Mmmmm low fat! On the other side of that coin, being Paleo affords us the ability to enjoy our bacon without much guilt…but I digress. So for our purposes today I’m going to address the usual grain substitutes as well as type/quantity of sugar.
The following will try to quantify our decision making cascade as it applies to treats we make. As we really do our best to avoid grains (except for occasional rice) this takes precedence for us and is why we will consider a non-grain stunt double. High sugar is a top concern for us as well and will be a large shareholder in the concept of a “better” dessert. Many folks prefer to have the “real thing” every once in a while…and they know what they’re doing, that’s a valid strategy. But for us, for the reasons I just listed, we’re more likely to enjoy a wheat free, low sugar treat in which we control all ingredients than to partake in a wheat/ sugar bomb (though it does happen). 98% of the time it’s just not worth it and we know we can make something satisfying that much better fits our criteria and not make us feel horrible. That being said, what are more specifics about these criteria? and what are other concerns we try to keep in mind?
Low/ Moderate Carb
This one is going to go first because it will overshadow all substitute ingredients as it applies to how much…how to moderate a “treat”. We generally believe in a moderate to low carbohydrate diet for letting your body regulate blood sugar properly, avoiding crashes and chronically elevated blood glucose and its subsequent issues etc. We feel that this amount of carbs is more in line with our genetic experience (hunter gatherers believed to consume around 80g carbs per day, though there are anomalies in traditional cultures). Most treats we re-invent are very high carb and the outcome is usually lower in carbs and added sugars.
All purpose wheat flour = 90-95 grams carbs per cup (3 grams fiber) Almond flour = 20-24 grams carbs per cup (12 or so grams fiber) Coconut flour = 60-80 grams carbs per cup (48 or so grams fiber)
We try to keep our carbs in a moderate range of 75-150 g/day…but even less could be beneficial for you depending on your goals. I like Mark Sisson’s Carb Curve for it’s simplicity. Without even getting into “net carbs”, it’s easy to see that substituting either of these flours for wheat flour will reduce your carbs substantially. This isn’t the only reason we avoid and substitute grains though. More on that next.
With the exception of non-nutritive (fake) sweeteners…most sweeteners pack about the same carbohydrate punch. Since we believe that fake sugars are worse than keeping other sugars low…we prefer to do just that. We like subtle sweetness in our treats and will get into our values about the type and quantity in a minute.
As I said above this one ranks highly on our list of things to avoid. And we prefer to avoid gluten grains entirely. Here is a quote from Robb Wolf’s book (excerpt from Tim Ferris’ blog):
You only need to be exposed to things like gluten once every ten to fifteen days to keep the gut damaged. This can bedevil people as they “cut back on gluten” but do not notice an improvement in their overall health. I’m sorry but there is not a pink “participant” ribbon given out for doing this “almost correctly.” You need to be 100 percent compliant for thirty days, then see how you do with reintroduction.
This is case number one for us to think that gluten free/ grain free – more Paleo-ish, Paleo-ified foodstuff (I’m using the critics terms here) could be better than the “have the real thing from time to time” plan. There’s plenty of grain bashing out there. I’ll link to a few below. You’ve probably seen many of these but they are scary nonetheless. We feel that the toxins found in grains are probably the most out-of-bounds with our genetic experience and use that as case #2 to avoid them more strenuously than other Neolithic staples (like dairy, which is new but more similar to things in the Paleo framework). To be fair…the Weston A. Price camp supports sprouted grains and the data shows that traditional people were able to consume them without the same detriment we get from un-sprouted. I still feel that they are not optimal…and who’s going to sprout their grains anyway? You can buy sprouted flour but my guess from trying sprouted bread is that it’s not going to yield you anything too delicious in the first place. We look elsewhere for a wheat flour substitute.
I’ve already mentioned almond and coconut flour in the low carb bit. Alas, MDA has already written about both of these but mostly about their benefits (almond flour, almonds, and coconut flour, coconut). But are they perfect? No.
Almond Flour/ Almond Butter
I think it’s easy to overdo nuts when going Paleo. They are one of the easiest portable foods and one you can buy and eat without having to cook. The main concerns about them are usually:
1. high in pro-inflammatory omega-6
2. contain phytic acid
3. susceptible to oxidation when cooked
Once again, MDA has addressed these as well. Try finding something he hasn’t written about. His not-so-uptight view on this mirrors how I feel so here’s the link instead of me regurgitating it. And here’s a pertinent analysis of some danger with too many nuts. This one is from the omega-6 stance. The MDA link shows omega-6 content for ¼ cup of almonds and it’s pretty reasonable on the scale. So yeah, keep that in mind as to how much of your almond flour “treat” you eat along with a decent guess of your total carbs. Macadamias have even less omega-6 which makes me curious about “macadamia flour” but I don’t know about you, not sure I’d want to spend that kind of $. As far as the oxidation bit, Mark mentions how the whole nut (or ground) is better for this than the extracted oil. So don’t burn them and keep them to a reasonable amount, you’ll be taking in lots of antioxidants from the rest of your diet.
Phytic acid can bind to vitamins and minerals and affect their absorption. Soaking your nuts can reduce this (pause for laughter), here is a great deal of information on phytic acid. It seems like there may be a catch 22 here. That cooking the nuts can reduce their phytic acid while it may increase the oxidation of the polyunsaturates. Blanched almond flour usually has the skin removed as well which may cut down on the phytic acid. The WAPF article mentions that they don’t intend to make you afraid of phytic acid but aware…that it’s not necessary to completely eliminate it but keep it to reasonable levels. I have not been able to locate any solid citations yet but have read several writings stating that nuts would have been a moderated but frequent component in hunter gatherer diets…presumably those same hunter gatherers who didn’t have Western Diseases or DOC (diseases of civilization).
I think that if you’re already constrained by your carbohydrate boundaries it will be difficult to go too crazy with nuts. Your vegetables and a little fruit are going to take a decent chunk out of your carb allotment so the amount left, if filled by nuts, will only provide so much omega 6 in the first place. And if you’re eating your grass fed beef and fish etc. you’re getting a nice dose of omega 3 as well. Since you’re avoiding industrial seed oils and commercial food (industrialized meats) you’ll be dodging most other omega-6. Remember, you have to get some…it is an essential fatty acid. So if a delicious almond based treat is where they come from…you could do much worse. I think another way to think about how to moderate nuts is to just think of them as a garnish or a small side and not a whole dish. So if you’re going to make a small batch of almond flour pancakes…make them as a side to a huge omelet or something of that nature. An almond flour cookie is just a small cap to a great Paleo meal. You get what I’m saying…
There are many other sources out there…I gravitate to the MDA links for his open-minded, more laid back approach but do search further to understand the implications of these treats. Search: nuts and omega-6/polyunsaturated fats, oxidation, phytic acid.
From what I can tell coconut flour is going to be a good deal lower in polyunsaturates (omega-3 and omega-6) and phytic acid (does contain some). BUT, it’s also much lower in deliciousness in our opinion. We have a hard time making anything too tasty out of it (extremely dry) so for me it’s not even worth justifying as much. Most of the arguments from above apply as it is still a “nut” and not a fruit. We prefer to use the coconut for its oil, and I don’t plan to go into that here.
Now to the sweeteners. This is a big sticking point for Paleo framework treats…that they are a vehicle for sugar. This is of course a legitimate concern. We’ve discussed them a little from a carbohydrate standpoint already. We linked to and briefly discussed our dislike of non-nutritive (fake) sugars so for our purposes I’m going to focus in on the type and quantity concerns of natural (caloric) sweeteners. We have an article on the site already about sugar and our point of view on it, I will go a little more into our values on glucose/fructose in this post. Our last piece was a little more along the lines of “sugar is sugar”. I think that this statement works to help understand why any and all carbohydrates (starch and sugars) need to be looked at…because they will all end up as sugar by metabolism. But, to be fair…in another sense, all sugar is not created equal. For the purposes of what will be an addition to a typical treat let’s just discuss 3 sugars. Glucose, fructose, sucrose.
Glucose is commonly thought of as blood sugar and typically the first fuel for our bodies. Starch is a chain of glucose.
Fructose is usually associated with fruit and of course corn syrup, as HFCS bears the word.
Sucrose…or common table sugar is a disaccharide made up of equal parts glucose and fructose (50/50).
Now, high fructose corn syrup has gotten pretty bad press for a while now, and rightfully so…but what isn’t so forthcoming is that most commercial HFCS is 55% fructose and 45% glucose and regular old sugar is 50% and 50% like we already said. Uh oh, those commercials that said “corn sugar” was just like regular sugar were right (your body can barely tell the difference) but what they didn’t tell you was that it really means that lots of table sugar is just as bad for you.
But the question is, can we deal with some sugar? Is the danger in the excess…and what about it is dangerous? Does it really matter (or does our body know) if it’s more “Paleo” or less refined? What about fruit?
I think it’s generally agreed upon that stone age man would have eaten seasonal fruit and maybe honey from time to time. Now, we know that a reenactment isn’t what we are after. But at least we can again think that maybe it is within our genetic experience to deal with some sugar and still avoid many maladies.
So fruit and honey may be the most quote, unquote Paleo sugars. Let’s take a look at what’s in them. If you take a look at this chart you can get an idea of the glucose/ fructose/ sucrose content of fruit and honey. Keep in mind the sucrose will end up as equal parts glucose and fructose in your body. And while yes…sugar in fruit is bound up with fiber, will come with some bonus micronutrients/ antioxidants and may be absorbed more slowly…the sugar load will still be the same. Now if sugar intake is associated with increased disease and metabolic syndrome but glucose/ starch on it’s own has not been seen to promote disease in traditional cultures…then the finger is now pointing at fructose. Science supports this. Fructose is not metabolized in the same way as glucose. It is thought to put strain on your liver (used for metabolism of fructose) which can lead to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (a fast growing problem in the US), glycate and be inflammatory (free radicals), interfere with leptin (cause increased hunger and confused body fat regulation), and increase trigylcerides and uric acid in your bloodstream.
Sugar and HFCS take most of the blame because they are ubiquitous now-a-days and have been exploited and constantly increased in processed foods. But fruit in large amounts (bred to be maximally sweet) and fruit juice should be scrutinized as well.
We now see some evidence that we may want to weigh our fructose consumption as one of our values. First way is to make a treat and just use a lot less sugar of any kind. It’s nice to get used to subtly sweet treats that have a flavor other than sickening sweetness. So by making it ourselves we’ve just reduced all sugars. But what about fructose on its own?
This is why we’ve adamantly defended our use of small amounts of table sugar. While fruit juice or dates are fine sweeteners in small amounts…they may actually be giving you more fructose even though they are more technically Paleo. Refer to the chart again. Best case they’d be about the same as table sugar anyway. Dates are lower in fructose per 100 g than some of these other sweeteners but I wonder if you wouldn’t have to use more to get the same amount of sweetness thus making this a wash. This is where Paleo vs. not Paleo by semantics may be a gotcha. If we can agree that “grass fed beef” is not technically Paleo because it is not a game animal and is domesticated but applies and fits the square peg in the square hole that is the “Paleo framework”…could we also use this reasoning to say that maybe table sugar with a lesser fructose content (in moderation) could resemble a lesser fructose elaborated “wild” edible fruit? And that it therefore fits the Paleo framework just the same. After all we just want to keep our fructose intake low based on the science but know that a little sugar might not be worth stomping about.
And another thing…just as we say that all calories are not created equal and that they exist in a context of the macronutrient composition and the state your body is in when you consume them (example: glucose stored as fuel after a workout but stored as fat when glycogen is already full)…there is evidence that fructose may be interpreted by our bodies differently based on the context as well. This article sheds some light on the fact that fructose may be converted to glucose in an already low carbohydrate diet (and one in which you’re not overeating…which is aided by a high fat, moderate protein diet). So, the amount of total carbohydrate and calories could set the stage for regulating blood sugar and dealing with fructose in several natural ways.
1. dietary glucose management and storage as glycogen
2. gluconeogenesis/ ketosis (liver produces glucose from dietary protein while burning stored fat)
3. if liver glycogen is not already full…fructose could be converted to glycogen
* also could be dependent on activity level
4. glucose converted to fat for storage when glycogen full
5. fructose converted to fat/ triglycerides when glycogen full
It appears that it is more likely for fructose to be converted to triglycerides than it is for glucose. However, it may be that it is when liver glycogen is already full that the conversion of fructose to dangerous fat around your organs begins.
So, how much fructose? This is a tough one of course. The Mercola article mentions 15 grams a day eaten a century ago. This is at a time when heart disease was a small fraction of what it is today…could be due to other factors as well (like no trans fats and vegetable oils) but again take it for what it’s worth. This article from MDA mentions a rainforest group that could derive as much as 42% of their caloric intake from raw, wild honey. I won’t be trying that out but it speaks to the fact that we are probably equipped to deal with some fructose and it makes you wonder how much other carbohydrate and glucose they were taking in. The Weightology article linked above mentions 60-100 grams per day…though the safe amount by the rest of his article would depend on how much other sugar and calories of protein/ fat you were eating per day…and he fails to account for this in the recommendation. That sounds high to me. I estimate our intake to be around 20-40 grams of fructose per day (1 apple could be as much as 10 grams); between vegetables, dark chocolate, small amounts of fruit and our occasional treats. This is why we like for our multiple serving desserts (4-6 servings) to usually contain around ¼ cup of sugar in total. Here’s an article from Whole Health Source that recommends an amount right around our levels at 15-40 g/day. Our last blood test done in August showed both our triglyceride levels to be below 60 mg/dL (under 150 considered normal) and uric acid levels to both be below 4.5 mg/dL (healthy is considered 3-7).
*We don’t use agave nectar because it’s a very high percentage fructose.
If you’re making the large majority of your food from whole foods, keeping carbs down, eating high fat/ moderate protein, limiting fruit, and the only added sugar you get is from these treats you’re making for yourself…and you’re not gorging on them simply because they’re Paleo…I find it hard to think that this will be way too much sugar/ fructose.
You can of course go farther with anecdotal evidence from yourself. Have your blood checked a few times…observe your body fat regulation/ hunger levels etc. and see how all these indicators respond to zero sugar and then to a small amount of sugar. We can never know for sure, you have to decide for yourself if completely abstaining from these treats will give you much more benefit than including them with moderation and understanding. I’m saying it’s definitely worth thinking about but might not be something we think we should deprive ourselves of all the time or STRESS about.
If these treats help you stay on track with the lifestyle so that it’s better as a whole…and/or having them and not worrying so much relieves some of your stress. This could be a huge benefit right there. Chris Kresser just posted this advice: “and in fact I believe (as did the ancient Chinese) that in some cases it’s better to eat the wrong food with the right attitude than the other way around.”
This is an axiom that hints at how stress management can play as important a role to our health as nutrition…and that we need our mental health to contribute to our physical health. I’m not going to get too much more into stress here. There is a lot of material out there so please keep searching if this peaks your interest.
Wrap it up already
Stephan Guyenet has written a post with a quote I found profound (please go there to read the excerpt from the Genjo Koan). His basic premise was that we only understand the world through the eyes of our experience yet it is infinitely variable and thus inconceivably complex. That perspective is limited by the bounds of what we know and think we know about the natural world. When we apply our already limited understanding to another item through which our understanding is equally distorted…we are really still left guessing (educated). All of this is to say: we just don’t know for sure if avoiding a small amount of sugar or almond flour will be worth it. For that matter we can’t say that about wheat or even cigarettes. However, I feel that the probability is there to compel me to moderate these things or avoid them entirely (cigarettes). By this theory of complexity and uncertainty it’s just best to take a hard look at anything too unique or precise. But at the end of the day it ultimately falls on you, based on what you know and what you think you know…to decide what it’s all worth to you.