strong is the new skinny

If you are on the internet at all and into fitness, you might have seen the phrase “Strong is the New Skinny” floating around.  If you’re on tumblr, it’s been jammed down your throat.  Usually it is accompanied by photos like the ones below:

strski2 strski1

 

Looking at those, you might notice something (something apart from how impressive that is).  You might notice that those girls are not just strong.  They are strong and skinny.  Most of the photos look like that.  So it sort of seems like maybe it’s not strong that is the new skinny, but strong and skinny that is the new skinny.  A few people have been posting pictures like the one below as a counterpoint with that same tagline:

2012 U.S. Olympic Team Trials - Women's Weightlifting

And she is, indeed strong, but not skinny.  So now we are looking at two different ideas.  Are people really promoting strength, or are they promoting being skinny but also strong, which at first sounds like more of the same, but now with even more requirements for girls?

I’m about to make the argument that n either is going on, and what’s more, I’m going ot argue that even though this might LOOK like more of the same (hell, it might even BE more of the same) it’s a good thing in the long run.

First, you need to understand the process.  Let’s say you want to get “classically skinny”. Barbie skinny, or Paris Hilton skinny (or Lindsey Lohan after Mean Girls).  You know this look.  Your classic runway model/herion chic look.  How do you attain it?  Well, as the name implies, I hear hard drugs work, but most people are not down with that and for good reasons.  So we look at the classic way that people try to do it:  they starve themselves on a diet that lacks nutrition and do a lot of cardio.  For the majority of people this doesn’t work because starving yourself just makes your body hang onto as much body fat as it can, fearing famine.  And all that cardio just inflames your body and makes you look doughy.  For a very few people though, this works.

If it doesn’t work for you, then maybe you look at memes and listen to come people that are also super skinny and learn that you need to be eating a lot of fresh vegetables and low fat protein.  This is still not ideal, but it IS better than diet meals.  You can eat a lot of veggies and calm your body down a bit and lose some fat.  But the defining trait here is that you are also NOT STRONG.  This diet/fitness regime that women have been spoon fed from birth results in women that are weaker, softer, and less capable than they could be.  Also constantly starving yourself is bad for nutrition which is bad for the brain, and of course it creates stress and self loathing.  Does this sound familiar?  It should, it’s basically the diet industry.  It’s the status quo right now.  And it not only sucks, but actually makes things like gender inequality easier to accomplish.  Women are being dieted and run out of the fitness that they deserve by birth and then people are validated when they make dumb assumptions about women being weaker and unable to do physical things. Anyone who has ever given any thought to the idea of childbirth should know this is complete crap.

So now let’s talk about what you have to do in order to accomplish EITHER of the looks above. First:  you need to eat.  1200 calories of kale and water won’t get you there.  You need lots of protein and fat for energy and enough carbs to run your glycogen stores (which is probably a lot for those women above).  Also, you can’t just run or do hours on the treadmill and get there.  You need to life big weights.  For the first two women, you also need to sprint and do a lot of good work on non-lifting exercises (mobility, accessory work, etc).  But, most importantly, you need to rest well, sleep right, and not overwork yourself.  Those first two women?  They probably work out four days a week.  Maybe three.  Much more and they can’t recover.

And they ARE strong.  Nobody can tell them they need male assistance to lift things or that they aren’t capable.  They’re more capable (much more) than most men I know.

So which is better?  Honestly, I think they’re both fine.  That third woman?  She’s a Weightlifter, meaning that she rocks Olympic Lifting (that’s her at the Olympic trials, if I’m not mistaken).  She looks like she’s pressing 285.  I press like 135 on a good day.  If you’re looking at her and thinking, “Yeah, but she’s so heavy,” then you’re missing the point.  Her goal is not to be a lean pretty fitness model type.  Her goal is to lift huge weights and in order to do that she eats a LOT of food to store a lot of energy.  Her lifting regimen is more disciplined than anything you’ve ever done in your life, I promise.  If she wanted to shed pounds she’d do it.  She knows how.  And let’s not forget that her goal is also not to be perfectly healthy.   She’s an Olympic athlete.  They are not, as a rule, striving for health and longevity.  They’re just trying to push themselves to the limit in their sport. She does that.

I’ll probably get hate mail for this, but being overweight is not that healthy.  Granted, it’s not as unhealthy as many people think and it doesn’t actually cause half the problems that people think it does, but intimately it’s not good.  Why?  Because it’s a symptom of a larger issue.  You get fat by having hormonal issues, being insulin resistant, being leptin resistant, and so on and so on.  The fat is just a symptom of those conditions and those conditions are unhealthy.  That girl in the third picture?  She had to throw those systems out of whack in order to eat enough food to grow huge strong muscles.  It’s a trade off.

So …. why is this a good thing?  Well, there will, I suspect, always be a physical ideal.  Men have this as well.  It’s the Superman, He-Man, male fitness model look.  Lots of muscle, very little fat, six pack abs, etc.  Most men will never attain that look, of course, but society still tells us that we should have it.

Women have, until lately, had a similar ideal that is that skinny, weak, heroin chic look we talked about above.

The act of a man trying to attain that ideal has him eating real food and working to build muscle.  Even if he never gets there, he’s doing something good for himself.

The female ideal has a woman starving and doing chronic cardio.  Even if she never gets there she’s doing something bad for her body.

But.

But this new ideal that is being pushed for women …. that one will have them eating real food and lifting weights … things that ARE good for them and will make them strong.

The rest of it is just the great American beauty cult, which isn’t going anywhere and it isn’t really an issue for us to tackle here, but the end result here is that even if you don’t love that look for women and even if you don’t want to be that strong, this social construct is asking women to get healthy and strong and lean (rather than just skinny).  It’s about the numbers you can pick up rather than just the numbers you see on the scale and I think that’s a much bigger step in the right direction than most people are giving it credit for.  So don’t fret.   Yes, people are still being judged based on their looks, but very soon, if this continues, we might see little girls who want to be able to press their bodyweight when they grow up.  We might see teenage girls sad because they can’t deadlift as much as the popular girls.  And while social pressures and inequality might never go away, at least nobody will be able to push those little girls around, because if they do those little girls will be strong enough and fast enough and clever enough to knock their lights out.  And that will be a lovely thing to see.

 

for more info on strong women, check out Girls Gone Strong.  They’re legit. 

Find Your Deserted Island

I am a comic book nerd.  Not the sort of comic book nerd that reads all the comics all the time (I used to be that sort) but the sort that fondly loves the idea of super heroes and has since childhood, and who is fairly conversant on a lot of the stories and themes.  I watch all those super hero movies and most of the super hero shows on television.

So the other day, I was dwelling on Arrow, which is a series that follows the adventures of a re-imagined minimalist Green Arrow (which I like more than the quality of the show probably deserves).  The story begins when the main character is stranded on a deserted island and is forced to survive.  He trains in the bow, gets very fit, and becomes a super hero.

It’s a transformation that a lot of people want in their own lives (though without being stranded and left for dead).  And it got me thinking:  a lot of super hero stories start that way, with the main character having some sort of tragic event that puts their life on hold so they can go spend years getting really strong and honing their skills and come back a stronger, faster, better trained version of themselves.  In other nerd terms, they level up their life at the speed of a montage, a flashback, or a few panels.

This idea is very appealing to people, because it cuts things down to the bone.  Nobody wants their parents to be shot, or their plane to crash or their boat to sink, but the idea makes it simpler:  if they were stranded or in a desperate situation they would have no choice.  They would have to learn to survive.  They would have to grow strong.  They would not have the option to eat pizza and ice cream, living instead of insects and fish and coconuts.  That is:  they would not have to exercise any control over the situation.  The strengthening would just happen to them.

Think about that for a moment, because I’m sure you have had a fantasy that is similar, if not in the same vein as as super hero story.  Zombie apocalypse, world war three, whatever.  Something big happens, you are forced into a situation where there’s no such thing as processed food or easy money, and where laying on the couch all night and watching television isn’t an option.  And maybe in this small fantasy you aren’t even getting healthy.  Maybe it just means you finally have the time to read books or learn how to till the soil or hunt or have a family.

Dwell on that for a moment and ask yourself what’s stopping you.

Think about what you’re saying about yourself.  On some level you think it would be easier to suffer terrible hardship than to exercise self control.  That’s really what we’re saying here.  That eating clean and exercising and focusing is hard.  That pizza and beer and sleeping in is just so easy and rewarding.  That we do not have the strength to do these things willingly, so we would have to be forced into it by the wicked hand of fate.

Then take a deep breath and say, “Screw that!”

Make your own deserted island.  You don’t need zombies of super villains to do it for you.  You know all that unhealthy junk in your house, including the stuff stashed in cabinets and behind jars of good stuff?  Get rid of it!  Donate it to charity.  Give it to a homeless person.  Pitch it.  Just get rid of it.  You don’t need it.  You’re on a deserted island and all there is is healthy food.

You know that workout routine you never do? Do it.  You have to, because now you’re building a desert island and if you don’t work, you don’t eat.  Want dinner?  Lift stuff.  Want a place to sleep?  Swim some laps to get there.  Want to visit friends?  Walk (you can literally do this if your friends are not too far from you, right?  Why are you driving a few blocks?  No more!).

Sit down and create your deserted island and create the rules that occupy it.  Create obstacles for yourself and overcome them (literally if you can – make an obstacle course in your yard or around the house and run that thing).  Have you always wanted to learn how to shoot, climb, grow food, paint, play music …. anything.  it’s on your deserted island now.  Make it happen.  On a deserted island, there is no prime time television, so sit down and play that instrument while watching the sun set instead!

Why does this work?  Research tells us that willpower is a finite resource, and you spend it throughout the day for little things (getting up, getting dressed, going to work, doing your work, not eating crap at lunch, etc).  By the time the work day is over, you may not have the willpower left to decide to go to the gym when the couch is calling.  So you take away your option.  You train your mind not to think of the couch as a choice that you have.  You train is to know that going to the gym or taking a walk is just as much a necessity as eating and sleeping.  Do you still have a choice?  Well, of course you do.  But no need to tell your brain that.

You don’t have to take this to the extreme.  Please feel free to bathe, but think about how much of your life you spend doing totally irrelevant crap and focus on creating an environment in which you actually have less choices, and where the choices you DO have are healthier ones that benefit you.  THAT is how you get from being you to being Batman or the Green Arrow.  The same way you get to Carnegie Hall.  You are the one with the control, but sometimes in the moment it’s hard to remember that.  Creating a set of hard and fast rules and a virtual environment to hold those rules can really help you keep yourself on track and keep your focus.  Give it a shot and let me know how it goes.

How to celebrate our favorite holiday like a human

Being a pagan, this is probably my favorite holiday (not to mention the start of the pagan new year).  From a secular stand point, it’s also a holiday that is about ghosts and zombies and other scary things.  It’s about dressing up and getting candy and carving pumpkins (and as adults it seems to be mostly about sexy costumes and drunken parties, but that’s a different post altogether).  There’s a metric ton of posts in the ancestral health community about how to celebrate Halloween in a healthy way, or what to give our to trick-or-treaters, or how to make spooky treats that won’t hurt your gut much.   There’s even costumed workouts.

So I’m not going to talk about those things (though if I could make one suggestion:  eat pumpkin).  Instead, I’m going to talk about the “ancestor” part of ancestral health.  See, for me this is a time of the year to communicate with our ancestors and feel their presence in my life.  Even if you’re not religious, the start of the fall season is a great time to focus on people in our lives we’ve lost, because the reminders to think about it are all around us:  trees losing leaves, farms taking animals to slaughter, warm vibrant weather being replaced by a chill … and of course all the skeletons, grave markers, and other decorations of the season that draw it to mind.  This is hardly the place to talk about how you should honor or commune with the dead in your life …. but is IS a place to talk about their role in your health, your food, and your fitness.

For starters, this is a good time to take a look at your parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles (by blood).  Assuming you know these people, take a good long look at them and start seeing places where you might need to focus your attention.  Did your grandparents all have diabetes?  Alzheimer’s?  Did they lose a lot of muscle mass as they got older?  If so, now might be a good time to make some changes to the way you eat or work out to ensure that you have the best chances of avoiding those fates.

Does your grandfather have the same great calves you do?  Does your mother have that great thick hair you’ve always been so fond of?  Drop them a card and say thanks.  It can’t hurt.  If they’ve already passed (and you’re not the praying sort) drop a line to someone else in your family and let them know you noticed.  That’s the sort of stuff family thrives on.

Next, let’s take a look at your heritage.  This step is not super useful if you’re a mostly-white mutt like me, but if you’ve got some well defined cultures in your toolbox, take a look at their traditional diets and lifestyles.  I’m not about to tell you that every person of German descent needs more fermented foods in their diet … but then again, maybe you will thrive on that!  Maybe your Ethiopian heritage means that some naturally made sourdough might be a better addition for you than for most.  Make some at home and give it a shot (Here’s a good link to some easy sourdough that is Russian, but it should work for most people with similar backgrounds.  Alternatively, here’s a recipe for Injera).  I know, normally I decry bread, but bear in mind that the majority of the bread people eat is made from modern wheat, filled with trash, and laden with GMO products and sweeteners.  There’s a pretty big difference between that and a quality product you make in your own home that starts as fermented dough.

And that’s not the only ancestral food!  I’ll bet that if you called up your gran, or your mother, or an aunt you will have someone in your family who collects old family recipes.  In my family it’s paprikas and sweet and sour cabbage soup.  Sometimes I alter these a bit to use more natural and positive ingredients (I use a bit of honey rather than sugar.  I use lard or tallow instead of vegetable oil if the recipe says that), but let’s be honest, when those recipes became cultural staples, there was no vegetable oil and sugar was really expensive, so all I’m doing is putting them back the way they were.  Take a look into your past and see what foods your ancestors ate.  You might be surprised at how satisfying you find these foods.

Finally, you can take a look at what your ancestors DID.  I use walking, lifting, and sprinting as a catch-all because it covers what the majority of our ancestors did without going too in depth, but if you’re into it, dig.  I know I’m about half Native American, but I have no idea what that means (I presume a lot of walking, but that never fails).  Figure out what the climate and terrain are like where your ancestors came from and that will be a good starting point.  From there, just explore and see what you like.  Is it walking?  Climbing?  Swimming?  Fighting polar bears? Give it a shot (disclaimer:  Fueling Fitness doesn’t suggest you really fight polar bears … but we agree that it would be epic if you did).

If you have no clear ancestry, or you have no idea what it is, then now is the time to experiment!  Pick a group you like and try their ways for a month or so and see how it goes.  Change it next month.  Keep doing that till you have a path that feels right and then just use it.  Just because your genes might say you’re Mediterranean is no reason to expect that your modern body might not do better on a South African diet and fitness regimen.

Overall, this is a good time to year to begin looking backwards and trying to use that information to help you look forward.  We do it a lot around here, and we think it will help you in your life.  Drop a note in comments and tell us what you think of your own history.

And Happy Samhain.

Samhain_Autumn_Face

American Weightlifting from Catalyst Athletics

In a few weeks there’s a documentary about modern American Weightlifting coming out.  it was put together by Greg Everett over at Catalyst Athletics.  That film? American Weightlifting, of course!   Check out the trailer below:

Trailer

Unlike you unfortunate people, I was lucky enough to get an early look at the movie.  After, Greg answered some of my questions and I’m going to give you guys a gander at the interview below as well as my thoughts about the movie.  Before I begin, I will say that the best thing about interviewing Greg (in text form) is that I received no typos or poorly constructed sentences.  Seriously, the guy is just really easy to communicate with.  That matters to me. And now, without further ado …

Interview

1. A common one: Why this documentary? The website says that American Weightlifting is a sport in turmoil. What is the biggest threat facing the sport now and how do you hope this film will help?

A movie seemed like the most universal medium to reach as many people as possible. The biggest problem for the sport is a lack of exposure and a near complete knowledge of its existence by most people in the US. If this movie interests people outside the weightlifting community, it’s addressing that problem.

2. You have said before that it’s great how movements like CrossFit have made people aware of the Olympic lifts. I agree, but … just because you hauled a bar from the ground and got it above your head does not mean you did a clean and press. How can your average Joe at the gym take that enthusiasm and make it a benefit?

In order to get more top-tier athletic talent into the sport, i.e. people who actually have the potential to become world-class weightlifters, we need more people period—that includes people who have absolutely no chance of being anything but low-level recreational lifters. Why do we have so many good baseball and football players in the US? Because millions of kids play the sports for years. The ones who can’t hack it self-select out, and the ones who have potential are pushed forward with college scholarships and the possibility of professional opportunities. So anyone getting involved in the sport of weightlifting, at any level, for any reason, is ultimately a benefit to the sport, no matter how indirect.

3. That average Joe from above … what can those non-Oly boxes (and trainers) do to help him?

Steer him to people who can really help him. The best trainers and coaches are the ones who know when they don’t know, and refer people appropriately. And if that Joe wants to train in that gym, get him some space and equipment!

4. Seriously, did this movie wreck you? You talked to a LOT of big names. Who were you most in awe of?

Absolutely. It required time I didn’t have to spare, so to get it done was incredibly difficult and stressful. That’s part of why it took so long to complete—I had to work on it when I could, which was often infrequently and irregularly while I did everything else I had to do day to day. I don’t know that awe is the right word, because I’m not the kind of person to get star struck, but also because I already knew everyone I spoke to. However, this was an opportunity for me to find out a lot of background I hadn’t known before on many of the coaches. Burgener, Thrush and Schmitz have been around for decades in the sport and it’s incredible to think about how many lifters they’ve coached in their careers—and not just lifters, but good ones. For example, Schmitz has been to something like 45 consecutive national championships. I haven’t even been alive that long.

5. Did this film contain everything you wanted, or was there stuff you wish you could have gotten more focus on? If so, what’s the biggest thing?

Not even close. There is so much more I wish I could have gotten into it, but the problem with the movie format is that you have a relatively brief span of time to get everything across. I pushed it as much as I could (the movie is 2 hours long), and it still meant cutting out so much and not getting other things I wanted to. One of the big things I wasn’t able to do was go more in depth with individual athletes—I would have liked to take a closer look at the day to day of some lifters, but it was impossible to do it all in a single movie.

6. A lot of my readers are general health/longevity types. Is Olympic Lifting for them? To what degree?

It’s for them to the degree they enjoy it. It’s not a necessity. You can be fit and healthy without ever doing a snatch or clean & jerk. But they’re very satisfying lifts and people often love learning and trying to master them, and part of being healthy is enjoying your life and challenging yourself. The Olympic lifts can be a great way to do that.

7. What is the biggest tell of a bad Olympic Lifting coach?

Never producing good weightlifters is the obvious one. There are other things that come to mind, like being pre-occupied by novelty, trying harder to be different than effective, and calling yourself Coach, but I can also think of exceptions to each of those.

8. Who was your target audience for this movie?

It was really difficult to decide who I wanted to make the movie for—the weightlifting community, or everyone else. Of course I want the weightlifting world to enjoy the movie, but ultimately, it’s not very useful if there’s no appeal outside of it. It will do the most good for the sport if it’s seen by people who aren’t already involved in the sport. So I tried to find a balance and make it something that weightlifters and weightlifting coaches would enjoy, but also something that had some universal appeal and might interest people who don’t know anything about the sport.

Review

So, did Greg accomplish his goal?  Is the movie easy to digest, fun to watch, and really fascinating?  Well, the short answer is yes.  I loved it.  It opens strong, easing into the movement in a subtle way.  It will strike people accustomed to modern film and documentary – with their eye popping charts and graphics and zany music – as stark and plain, but I think that’s part of what makes it work.  The documentary is a lot like Weightlifting itself.  Yes, you’re looking at the same lifts over and over again, but by the end even someone like me, who has never done Weightlifting with any real seriousness, could appreciate the differences.  I could start to see a bad lift before it was obvious and I began to understand the intense concentration that this sport requires.  Honestly, that connection is key to understanding and enjoying Weightlifting for any culture, but I think it’s especially challenging for Americans with our short attention spans.

I will admit that the movie is a bit slow in the first half.  I think Greg made a good decision in putting the majority of his action and emotion in the second half.  You spend the first half being given a rough history of not only American Weightlifting, but of many of the big names that really make it happen and their stories.  Along the way you see lift after lift after lift.  By the time you start to have a feel for how they work, the movie is just about to start talking about them.  It breaks down what, exactly, the sport of Weightlifting is and how it works.

As the film (which is quite long at almost exactly two hours) winds up in the second half you start to see the stories of these lifters and just how much of an impact the sport has had on their lives.  By the end you have a real feel for what the sport needs in it’s future (namely enthusiasm and bodies …. most of the rest of it falls in place with those two things spreading).

Are there flaws?  I think so.  Greg is a writer and it shows.  The verbal narrative is more engaging than the visuals, for sure, unless you are already a big fan of Weightlifting, and for a population like the US, that’s not saying much, but I think that’s only a minor point, because Everett’s skill as a communicator really does come through in those words (even if they’re not all his).  The stories he manages to tell here are really personal in many places and they make you feel like you are being brought into this intimate community.

All told, this movie is really a good introduction to the sport.  There’s a lot more to learn, but if you have any interest at all, please give it a look.  The movie comes out on November 16th.  Link below:

http://www.americanweightliftingfilm.com/

PS:  Why should you care, if you’re not into weightlifting?  Simple.  Because this is yet another way of promoting hobbies that lead to fitness rather than hobbies that lead to an early death.  And in the realm of sports that are good for your body, Weightlifting ranks really high.  It has a lower instance of injury than most other sports and it promotes good neurological development as well as building muscle, which is never a bad idea.  Too much running can whoop you into crashing your adrenal system.  Weightlifting has a much bigger grey area.   Give it a try!

 

PPS:  Greg did a great IMA over at reddit.com.  Check it out here.

Things you REALLY need in a home gym

I read an article today about a number of things you need in a home gym.  The article, unsurprisingly, was crap, including things like dumbbells and barbells and a yoga ball. Classy.

So, I thought I might help you fine people out and talk about some stuff you really need in a home gym.  But, of course, the home gym you will have depends entirely on who you are, what you want, and what you DO.  I know, work work work, right? But I’ll make it easy. To begin with, I’ll assume that you’re a human and your general goal is something akin to what humans are made for.  That means that we’re looking at some sort of general health, longevity, fitness, etc.  If what you’re looking for is to be a bodybuilder, an Olympic athlete, or a professional of some sport, odds are you DON’T want a home gym for anything but supplemental work and what you really want is a good external gym.  And a trainer.  And maybe a therapist and dietitian and …. you get the idea.

First:  here’s what you absolutely positively 100% need for a home gym:  You. That’s it.  With just that you can do things like squats, sprints, push ups, pistols, burpees, floor based gymnastics, yoga, etc …. all the things you need to get pretty fit. If you were going to go this route, you might assume your results would be limited, but you’d be wrong.  Using just your body and a decent bodyweight program, you can get very fit and strong.  But, let’s assume you also want to be very functional, so that you never encounter a situation in your life where you’re helpless.

Well, then you could add a bar somewhere for chin ups and pull ups.  With this one simple addition, you will be able to train for things like climbing and hauling yourself up over the edge of a building.  If you want to make this even more versatile, get some towels.  Hanging towels over the bar will allow you to do towel pull ups and simulate rope climbs (alternatively, you can get 4 feet of rope and do the same thing).   This, combined with your base of squatting, pushing, pressing, and crawling will be very solid.

But I hear you.  You’re afraid that you won’t get strong enough that you can really haul huge loads.  To be honest, this equipment and these sorts of routines can get you a LOT stronger than you fear (especially with the right food and sleep), but I can understand sometimes wanting to haul a lot of weight.  You might be thinking that the best option is a barbell set.  Man, that’s a great tool!  They’re made to be lifted and nothing will get your numbers up faster, that’s for sure.  You will be hard pressed to find a tool that will surpass it for ease of gaining numbers and gaining strength quickly.

However …. well, I love barbells, but they are a pretty single use tool.  They’re big, expensive, and hard to move.  Plus they take up a lot of space.  This is a home gym, not a gym home, right?  So maybe you don’t want to go that route (disclaimer:  I have a set).  But you still want to be able to haul big weights and test your limits and add difficulty to a number of exercises.  Okay, then I have your best must have tool:  sandbags.

These are versatile, cheap, easy to make, and can go anywhere. They need not even be sand.  Personally, I make mine out of rock salt, but you can use sand, rocks, powdered shell … hell, this may be the only thing that flour is ever good for!  How do you make these?  I’ll do a demo soon, but the long and short is that you get some bags (I start with grocery bags and wrap them in contractor bags).  You can even loop on handles with duct tape and make them easier to carry (or swing like kettlebells!).  I make mine around 10-15 pounds.  What good is that for heavy weight?  This is where the second part comes in:  you need another bag.  Ideally a duffle of some sort.  I use an old army parachute bag.   Now you can load that bag up with any weight you like from 10 all the way up to something like 300 pounds (some bags will hold more than this easily and not even sweat it).  Next, you use it for lifting!  Deadlifts?  No problem.  Squats?  Great, just carry it in front of you Zercher style.  Press?  Clean it up and get going.  The great news here is that it’s unwieldy, so you have to work harder to maintain stability.  it can also stand up to a lot of wear and tear that barbell weights will not (unless you have bumper plates).  Plus, it’s versatile as hell!  Throw it across the yard, drag it behind you, tie it to your hips and sprint!   Plus, when you’re done, all those bags will go inside the duffle and you have your storage solution and workout tool in one!  And the bag is machine washable!

Honestly, I have a very hard time coming up with anything else you NEED in a home gym.   This should cover anything you want to do, but I’m going to list a few other items that are invaluable to helping you get yourself in shape that you probably haven’t thought of.

Some exercise bands.  Not the kind with handles on each end, but the kind that look like huge thick rubber bands.  Those are epic.  They are good for long rep low impact resistance work (if you ever decide to sculpt a particular muscle) and for rehab/prehab of areas you know are problematic.  They are great for helping you get over plateaus or hurdles (for example, they’re great for getting you from “almost pullups” to “pullups” by adding just a bit of help at the bottom).   They’re also pretty cheap and live forever.

A foam roller.  I don’t care if it’s plan, fancy, hard, soft, etc … you should get a foam roller.  If you can’t be bothered, then make one.  Or buy some of those pool noodles and put something solid inside.  Anything.  Rolling out your muscles before you work out really helps them do their thing.  Rolling them out after prevents stiffness and pain.  Rolling out a problem area will help you regain mobility where you do not have it now, or when you get tight from too much exercise.  Just get one.

Tape.  I was about to suggest a speed ladder, but using tape to outline one on the ground is every bit as effective.  No, you won’t get the joy of tangling yourself up when you do it wrong, but on the bright side, you don’t get to tangle up when you do it wrong.  It just means you need to pay a bit more attention.  Plus tape does all sorts of other stuff like caps cut rope, fixes those bags, marks spots for you to jump, etc.

A 2×4 of some length.  This is probably the hardest thing to store, but I love it.  Get one as long as you can manage.  Remember that crawling you were doing?  Once you get good at it, try it on here.  Remember those farmers’ carries?  2×4 again.  Jump onto it.  Jump off it.  Squat on it.  Use to for walking lunges.  It will really help you amp up your game.

There are, of course, any number of other things you can add.  I like barbells.  I like kettlebells.  I like dumbbells.  I like those wheels that you grab or put your feet on.  I LOVE rings and ropes.  But you don’t need any of that.  hell, you don’t need most of this, but I admit that having a space to work out in makes working out easier for me as it does for many people.  Sometimes you create that space by setting aside a room (I did this) and sometimes you create that space by taking out a bag full of other bags, throwing a towel over a pull up bar, and creating a circuit for yourself to do for ten minutes.  Ultimately the benefit of any workout space is based on your form, your effort, and your diligence, not on what it costs, how neat it looks, or how pretty it is.

Get going!  Start a plan today!  Start easy and small and so it!  Feel free to submit questions for some advice (just my opinions here, but I like to think they’re valid).

Mud Ninja: Human Approved

Let me define this using their own website.

The Mud Ninja is an adrenaline pumping, thrill seeking, adventure challenge. Experience the splashes of WIPEOUT, the challenges of SURVIVOR and the rush of excitement from the AMAZING RACE, then celebrate your victory with food, beer and music. Whether you are a couch potato or Olympic athlete, insane muddy fun awaits! – See more at: http://www.mudninja.com/#sthash.zGq6mIDY.dpuf

Now, let me be clear:  when they say you should participate if you’re a couch potato, they’re wrong.  It’s rough.  Really really difficult.  This year was even more difficult than usual, because it rained all day.  I have no words for how much harder it is to more around when every inch of the ground is a slick uneven rock and mud strewn surface.  Before I get onto the amazing pictures, I want to tell you what the best and worst parts of this were.

The worst was somewhere around the first third of the course.  I travel slowly over slippery surfaces.  I could not get my footing and my team got pretty far ahead.  How far?  It doesn’t matter.  Five minutes is a lifetime on the Mud Ninja course.  I was alone and plodding and had a tweaked leg and I was muddy and short of breath and I wanted to quit.  But I didn’t.  I kept going and caught up to my team, which made the rest of it a hundred times easier.

The best part?  Team work:  and I don’t just mean my team.  All teams and all participants are on hand to help people up muddy hills, out of muddy pits, or to give advice and pointers.  I literally would not have made it up the Widowmaker alive without some help from the locals.

(For those of you not sure, the Widowmaker is a treacherous scramble up a steep hill for several hundred feet even when it’s dry.  When it’s a muddy mess, it’s a death trap and we waited in line for 40 minutes to crawl up in in ladders, making hand a foot holds for one another as we want.  It was amazing).

But I know you’re really here to see muddy people, so here you go:

If you’re lucky, later this space will have some video.

Accomplishing goals you forgot you had

I am about to tell you a story.  It’s a great story and it has a happy ending. At least I think so.

I grew up in Sandusky, Ohio.  For those of you playing along at home, this means that I grew up about 12 blocks from Cedar Point.  A lot of people wonder what it’s like to grow up there.  Well, it meant that for about five months out of the year we could – anytime we wanted – go to an amusement park and ride roller coasters.  We would take the ferry over after school when the park was deserted and ride these things over and over and over getting right off of the ride and swinging back around (and sometimes, if there was no line and the people running the rides were really nice, we could just stay on for another go round).  I got REALLY good at riding roller coasters and other rides (even without seat belts and lap bars …. caution this is illegal and not safe, do not try).  So in short, it was totally sweet. And I grew up seeing the people who were turned away from those rides because they were too fat (and to be fair, some were too bulky or too tall) and I felt pretty bad for those people.  And I remember how BIG they were!  Holy crap were they giants!  How does a human being get so fat?  Do you set out to do it on purpose? Are you trying to win an award for biggest underwear? Well, it’s funny I should ask (not really).

Three(ish) years ago, I went to Cedar Point for the first time in a few years (my wife’s family goes down often, but this was our first year together as a big name couple that does family vacations together) and so I decided to go on a ride there called the Power Tower (more on that later). Or rather, I tried to go on the Power Tower.  But once I got there the man working the ride tried to buckle my harness and told me that I was simply too fat to get it down and I would have to take the walk of shame before the ride could start. Was that painful?  Even typing it right now was painful.  In fact, to illustrate HOW painful it was, I’m going to tell you another story.

When I was like 22 I had a crush on a waitress as a lunch place I frequented with a friend.  One day after lunch I went BACK IN and STOOD AROUND like a homeless person till she came out to ask if I had forgotten something.  Then I proceeded to drop the most embarrassing line of word vomit that ever came out of a useless mouth.  I’m not usually bad at talking to people, but asking someone out so hard and deep down I knew that asking out a waitress is sort of creepy.  To this day I suspect that if I had not been such a bumbling fool I might have scored a date, but I didn’t even let her talk.  I just apologized about what a bad idea that had been, left in a hurry, and never went back into that building again (the place closed soon thereafter, which I think was caused by toxic douche fumes that I left in my wake).  It was the single worst dating moment of my young life.  A total bomb.  I get douche chills to this day thinking about how embarrassing it was.  My palms are a bit clammy right now.

Pictured: My Ego

Pictured: My Ego

And that was about a hundred times less embarrassing than being shunted off a ride like Fatty McGee.

 

Pictured: my sad face.

Why was it so much worse?  Maybe it’s because I knew there was nothing I could have done.  I could have been less of a dork with the waitress.  I can’t have conned the ride into thinking I was smaller.  There’s no mental exercise or sly pick up line that will change my body shape. The ride wasn’t biased or mean, it was just honest.  Brutally honest.  This is you.  No option for denial.

To be fair, it was also because I had grown up all my life wondering how you get to that point in your life.  And now I know.  You don’t try.  I ate a lot of “healthy” foods.  Lots of grains, lots of low fat crap (you know the drill).  Sure, I had the occasional treat, but I thought I was doing way more right than wrong and the weight had crept up on me slowly, so I figured it wasn’t as bad as I’d feared (despite not being able to tie my shoes without a strange position).   Ouch. Reality hit like a truck.

So I started to really learn about nutrition and health.  That lead me to one of the best places on earth:  Nerd Fitness.  I have no idea how many people were in the rebel community at the time, but it was nowhere near the 65,000+ that are there now.  But what it provided me was a lot of people who were smart, well read, into the same stuff I was, and really eager to get fit.  The Nerd Fitness rebels are not judgmental or angry, so if you’re a vegetarian marathoner, that’s fine.  They will try to help.  For my goals, they said that they thought the paleo diet was a good idea.  I’d never heard of it, but I gave it a shot.  My wife was not as eager as me to give it a shot, but when she saw me drop twenty pounds in a month, she was willing to see what happened.

Without going into a lot of details about the journey (because it’s a long story that I have told many times) I want to clarify that since that time I’ve learned a lot about nutrition and exercise, gotten very healthy, really defined myself as a person in a lot of ways, become a personal trainer, and changed my life for the better.  Losing fat is great, but losing reoccurring knee pain, diverticulitis, and sleep apnea are also great.

All of which leads us to the reason for this post. The Power Tower.

We didn’t get to go to Cedar Point last summer or the summer before (wedding planning, post wedding, etc) but we went last weekend (and for the record, special thanks to the nice men leaving the park who gave us their spare free ticket).  Was I able to ride the Power Tower?  Not only did I ride it, but I rode it with room to spare.

Victory

So, as a reward that I can share, here’s some video of this ride.  I should probably say that it was mind blowing and the video doesn’t really do it justice.

the Power Tower as seen from the Ground.

The scarier version as seen from inside it.

What lessons can we take away from this?  The first is that I can safely say that Steve Kamb saved my life, so shout out to the Steve at Nerd Fitness.  Is that all?  No, of course not.

I had totally forgotten that this was ever a thing.  I got into fitness and I took off with it and reshaped myself.  My new goals are things like doing well at the Mud Ninja and having a double bodyweight deadlift and brachiating.   I was able to come back at this like a normal person and not think about it.  I didn’t have to stand in line fearing that I would be turn ed away because of my size (though I felt a bit of that irrational fear, of course).  but the best thing about it is that I was able to put it to bed in my mind.  That really awful experience has no power now because I put it to bed.  And maybe someday that waitress will call me up and tell me she would have said yes.  Then i can put them both to rest.  But until that unlikely scenario pans out, I’ll just rest on this.  I beat a really dark moment that I hated so much that I had pushed it out of my mind 99% of the time.  And now it’s gone for good.

So go out there and make those moments for yourself.  Climb the old mountains that beat you and make friends with the old bully from high school and ride the rides that you could never ride.  It will be worth it.

If paleo is a diet, what about my lifestyle?

As you may or may not have read, I am a firm believer (contrary to the popular rhetoric) that paleo is a diet and not a lifestyle.   Okay, fine.  So what about the lifestyle, then?  There’s more to this being human than just eating, right?  And yes, of course there is.  There’s not really more to a human diet than what you eat, but your body (created by the marvel that is evolution) expects more from you than just putting the right food in.  So let’s talk about that lifestyle, but first I want to clarify a few things. 

You are not your lifestyle.  There is a LOT more to you than just the lifestyle you lead.  There’s your hopes and dreams and your likes and dislikes and fears and strengths.  All that counts.  However …. I think it counts a bit less than what you do.  I hate to have to quote the Dark Knight here, but what you do matters more than what you are on the inside.  Your insides are great.  they are a sort of kindling for the fires that you will eventually stoke.  But kindling doesn’t cook supper, either.  You need to take those things about you that exist inside and bring them out to truly make the most of them (but that’s a post for another day).

Not everything in your lifestyle needs to be this high level human crap.  I love the idea that we can look at our biology, our evolution, our ancestral history and use that to help guide us on our modern path.   It helps me keep everything in order in my life and it also helps me to keep things in perspective (for example, did you know ancient man had no android operating system?  It’s true.  good times, but  I wouldn’t want to have lived it!).  But that is not to say that I think you need to be serving your evolutionary history 100% of the time.  We are also beings that make progress and change and grow.  There’s nothing evolutionarily appropriate about the internet or the Iron Man movies or the shooting range or a symphonic orchestra … and yet those things are amazing.  They can be some of the great joys in life.  Your lifestyle can and should include things like that; things that make you happy and make your spirit soar.  Of course it should.  These things are not the real problem.

The only real problem is a wild disconnect from nature.  As I will say in another post soon, you are an animal.  A human animal, to be exact.  I say it a lot.  But I cannot say it enough.  Music and movies and art are not disconnects from nature, they are excellent byproducts of it.  They are ways we have taken nature and turned it into something epic.  But maybe staying up till three in the morning every day to watch said movies and then getting up at six to go to a job where you sit all day under artificial light is probably NOT natural.

Ultimately, this isn’t about making “human” or “paleo” or “primal” your lifestyle, but about making small changes to your existing lifestyle that will bring it in line with those ideas.  

Okay …. so let’s say we get all that …. but there are some things we do as part of our lifestyle that matters, right?  Well, of course.  And there’s a few items that matter more than others, in my opinion.  Let’s talk about those aspects of your non-diet life that can make or break your health.

Sleep.  Easily the single biggest lifestyle issue that people encounter is sleep.  Namely, they don’t get enough of it.  Or they get bad sleep.  Or they get not enough bad sleep in a loud room at a poor time of day.  You get the idea.  Evidence keeps piling up about how important sleep is and it’s looking like it was more important than we ever thought.  Go one night without sleep and you have the insulin resistance of a type 2 diabetic.  How’s that for a reason to catch some Z’s?

But it doesn’t stop there.  Sleep is when you rest, but also when you heal.  that’s important.  Just the act of moving every day wears out muscles.  They get tired and worn out and develop teeny tiny tears and bruises and snags that need sleep to work them out.  Your immune system needs you to sleep so that it can do its thing. And if you’re trying to get strong …. building muscle is nothing but growing torn muscles while you sleep.  All that work you do in the gym?  That’s just you hurting yourself.  Tiny tears in your muscle (to be fair, it’s not JUST you hurting yourself, but  the rest of it is more complex than the scope of this subject).

So how do you sleep if you want to be a proper human?  Well, for starters you need a lot of it.  For centuries humans slept when it got dark and woke up when it was light out.  Does that seem strange to you?  It’s not.  it’s what you do not, it’s just that you use electricity to control when it gets dark.  Back before powerful reliable electric lights people crashed earlier.  Ever been camping?  You remember how ten PM felt like three in the morning?  That’s because your biological clock was resetting itself and heaving a sigh of relief.  So, to get your best human sleep, you’ll want to crash out earlier than your usual one AM.  Try this sometime:   when it gets dark, don’t turn on the electricity.  Maybe use a candle or two.  Just for a night or two.  You’ll live, and twitter will still be there in the morning.  But you just might realize something very important about sleep.

Almost as important as getting enough sleep is getting it in a super dark room.  Like dark dark.  Unplug the electric.  Cover your alarm light.  get curtains that actually keep the light out.  If you can see anything, it’s not dark enough.

Did we evolve to sleep in pitch blackness?  Of course not.  There was almost always starlight, moon light, or fire light.  However there was also way less light exposure.  No electricity, no TV, no internet, no getting up in the middle of the night and blinding yourself with the bathroom light …. so we compensate as best we can by making sure that the sleep we get is very dark and as deep as possible.

Insomnia, you say?  Almost everyone will say they sometimes suffer insomnia.  They don’t.  They just suffer from crappy sleep.  Maybe they had too much caffeine or maybe their cortisol is out of whack.  Sound like you?  Try all the above, of course, but don’t be afraid to try some supplementation that might help.  A hot shower before sleep in a cold room does wonders, as does a bit of magnesium supplementation (just don’t go overboard.  A little will help you relax, a lot will help you make number two pretty fast!).  A little melatonin before bed goes a long way to helping you get your sleep in order.

Stress.  Holy crap, stress.  It’s huge, right?  Insurmountable.  Work, family, just life.   How do you get away from stress?  It’s impossible!

Or that’s what the stressors of the world would have you think.  In reality, it’s a lot easier than you think.  Do me a favor.  Think about all the terrible things you have to do today.  And the mountain of debt or backlogged email or training that you haven’t gotten to.  It’s rough.  It’s a lot of things.  Now look at this picture for as long as it takes you to take five good long breaths.  Breathe all the way in and all the way out and don’t stop looking at it till you’re done.

…. and seriously, that’s just a kangaroo.

Now …. better?  maybe not 100%, but I’ll bet that unless you’re scared of water or kangaroos (or both, you poor, poor soul) you’re feeling a bit better.

Are giant rodents the secret to relaxation?  No, but the breathing helped, the blue helped, and taking your mind off that other stuff and looking at a kangaroo (admit it, you asked yourself how it got there, right?) helped.

Your body wants to relax.  All that’s stopping it is you not taking the time.  Why are you not?  Do you think it doesn’t matter?  Stress affects your whole body.  It causes poor sleep (which feeds the cycle), poor digestion, and is a player in things like depression, anxiety, overall happiness, muscle fatigue, and a lot of autoimmune conditions.  Are we hearing this?  Just taking ten minutes out of your day to sit and relax (maybe do some breathing …. maybe play some soothing music …. is this starting to sound a lot like meditation) will help a lot.  Did that last bit sound a lot like meditation without all the new age crap?  That’s because it was meditation.  All that new age crap that people attach to it like angels or crystals or spirit totems?  We call that praying.  And bully for you if that’s your thing.  If it is, throw in some of that if it helps, but it’s secondary.  An old martial arts instructor of mine said this while we were meditating, “Forget the room. Forget your body.  Forget your mind.  Try to forget you even exist.”  can you do it?  No, certainly not at first, but with practice you’ll learn to tune out a lot of those things.  And the really good news is that you get most of the physical and mental benefits even if you can’t do that stuff.  Just being still and listening to your body and letting it calm is 90% of it.  So take care of the 90%.  The 10% will handle itself.

Sunlight and the Great Outdoors. You’re not an “outside” person.  I get that.  You’re afraid of the sun and you burn like a frozen pizza and you have some impossibly rare sun allergy which makes you the best vampire goth ever.

Okay, let’s be real.  Odds are very very good that you personally do not have a sun allergy.  It’s alarmingly rare.  And if you DO have a sun allergy, odds are very good that it’s caused by an autoimmune condition, which getting the rest of this in order may fix (if not, sorry about your luck.  I recommend some powerful Vitamin D supplementation).  But for those of you who are NOT goth vampires, the sun is your friend.  First, sun exposure really helps your body get your solar exposure straightened out which helps you (seeing a pattern?) sleep well!  Ever notice that sometimes after a day at the beach you crash way early?  That’s your photo period closing fast.

But it’s more than that.  Sun is our primary source of vitamin D.  Your skin actually converts sunlight into Vitamin D (technically it converts precursors to Vitamin D, but seriously …. think about how sweet that is for a moment before you move on.  it’s like our own little version of photosynthesis.  It’s really amazing).   And of course that particular sort of Vitamin D is really well absorbed by our bodies.  It does wonders for your immune system.  Almost everyone you know is deficient in Vitamin D (to the point where it’s very likely that the range that most people consider “normal” is too low) because our ancestors got a LOT of sun exposure and we wear clothes now (and thank you for doing that).

But how did our ancestors not burn up?  Well, think about that.  They might have been a little darker (or a lot darker) but their biggest advantage was not having clothes to wear all the time.  In the early spring they would shed skins and get light exposure.  Lots of it, but the sun was not blazing and the light was less intense, so as the season moved on and got warmer and more direct they would develop a tan (a tan is something you may have seen on the Jersey Shore, but do not be fooled. Real tans are not orange).  It protected them from the worst of the sun.

And of course, nobody really likes being out under the hottest rays of the sun all exposed to the elements, do they?  Of course not.  And neither did our ancestors …. so they stayed in the shade.  It’s no coincidence that a lot of equatorial civilizations have a rest time in the middle of the day.  It’s too hot to be out and they knew it!  But that long period of exposure DID create a need in you for sunlight.  So get some.  I’m not saying you should burn.  Burning is bad for you, but a little tan is a good thing.  And once you feel like you’ve had too much sun?  Well …. thanks to the advent of modern science we have long sleeves and hats.  Put some on.  Seriously.  This is not rocket science.

Joy.  The last bit here is one of the biggest.  Mark Sisson calls this Play.  Joseph Campbell would call it following your bliss.  For some it’s a hobby, or family, or faith.  I’ll stick with  joy.  Find something you love.  Do a little of it every day.  Do I have charts or graphs for you that show you how beneficial this is?  I do not.  I could go find them, don’t fret, but why?  You know as well as I do that joy matters.  Your body wants a way to get up in the morning and reason to rest at night so feed your soul and the rest will get much easier.

In the end, the reason that this isn’t all part of the “paleo”  lifestyle is because it’s not debatable.  If you want to debate the merits and flaws of diet, go ahead.  If you want to debate history and whether it matters, fine.  But don’t lump the rest of this in.  If you lump sleep and sunlight and even relaxation and joy in with the “paleo” baggage then you’re creating more impediments for detractors, haters, and people who fall away from the community.  These are not the things that make you paleo, they’re the things that make you human.  This is part of the lifestyle of the human animal.  You wouldn’t keep a lion in an aquarium.   You wouldn’t put a fish in a field.  You are not different.  These are the requirements of your species.  Learn to live with them and you will thank yourself for it.

Paleo IS a diet … but you don’t know what that word means

It’s very popular in the paleo/primal/evolutionary fitness community to say that paleo is not a diet.  “It’s a lifestyle” they will say.  I’m about to tell you that they’re wrong.  Not only am I going to suggest that, but that it’s important that we understand why they’re wrong and what it means.  Then I’m going to fend off hate mail and deflect angry tweets for a while.

Ask any paleo expert is paleo is a diet and 90% of the time they’ll say, “It’s not just a diet, it’s a whole lifestyle”.  Well, okay, fine.  But them ask them what paleo means and most will give you a list of rules about eating.  My favorite of these comes from Dallas and Melissa Hartwig from Whole9.com.

We eat real food – meat, fish, eggs, vegetables, fruit, healthy oils, nuts and seeds. We choose foods that were raised, fed and grown naturally, and foods that are nutrient-dense, with lots of naturally occurring vitamins and minerals.

This is not a “diet” – we eat as much as we need to maintain strength, energy, activity levels and a healthy body weight. We aim for well-balanced nutrition, so we eat animals and a significant amount of plants.

Eating like this has helped us to look, feel, live and perform our best, and reduces our risk for a variety of lifestyle-related diseases and conditions.

All about food.  And of course, even they said it’s not a diet.  that’s because Dallas and Melissa are smart people and they know what most people think the word diet means. And that is the crux of our problem.

Ask the average American what a diet is and they will tell you that it’s limiting the amount of food you eat to get thinner or, if they are particularly smart, healthier.  They might say that it’s about cutting calories or fat or nowadays carbs.  Fine, but that’s all wrong and that is the root of a lot of our dysfunction.  If you Google the word diet you get tons of hits on diets that work and ways to cut calories.  The image search will give you pictures of tiny sprigs of vegetation like carrots and celery.

But of course, as you may have imagined by now, that’s not what a diet really is.  Not naturally.  For any other species on the planet, diet is just the sum total of the food they eat.  More: their natural diet is the food that they are supposed to eat.  It may vary from place to place and creature to creature, of course.  Predatory cats eat other animals, cows and other ruminants eat grasses, birds, eat seeds and grasses and small animals, even though birds in my back yard eat different animals than birds in Africa.  But they all fall within the context of a species-appropriate diet.

All but us, of course.  Humans like to think that we are outside nature:  that we are smarter than nature and that we are not just animals.  But of course, if you’ve been reading here long you’ll know that we are animals and anytime we try to deny that, it goes poorly.   Diet may be the best example.  I don’t say “paleo” or “primal” very often because those sound somehow specific.  The paleo “diet” is really just a version of a species appropriate diet for human beings.  And of course, as I’ve said before, there’s also hundreds of version of that diet.  A diet that is 90% plants is just as paleo as a diet that is 90% animal.  And depending on who you are and what you’re eating, both may be equally appropriate.

So why am I so adamant that we get away from the paleo as lifestyle thing? A few reasons.  First, it’s not correct.  Paleo is a diet.  It’s a human diet.  Those other diets (grapefruit, weight watchers, the Twinkie diet) those are all abusing the word.  They are not diets, they’re dietary restrictions.  They are a temporary diet change, but not a real human diet. You can’t do those things forever.  But a cat can eat prey forever.  A bird can eat seeds and grasses and small animals forever.  A cow can eat grasses forever.  And you can eat animals, vegetables, fruits, and some nuts forever. You don’t need to eat other things to get by.

But more importantly (and second) is that the lifestyle part of paleo isn’t really the diet at all.  the diet  matters, but the rest is just another part of being human.  When people say “paleo isn’t a diet, it’s a lifestyle” what they mean is that it is also important to move and exercise and play and sleep well and get sunshine and socialize … all of the things that our bodies expect and need and crave.  That is, in fact, part of seeing humans from an evolutionary standpoint:  it’s part of seeing us as the animals we are … but it’s not really “paleo”.  It’s just called living.  I think calling paleo a lifestyle does a disservice to living.  it also put the focus on “doing paleo”.  Because then if you eat a whole cheesecake instead of saying, “Well, that wasn’t supposed to be part of my diet,” and eating better tomorrow, you think, “That choice tainted my whole lifestyle.”  Maybe after you won’t think so much about not getting your sleep or your sunshine because you’ve impacted not just your diet, but your lifestyle.  Ultimately, it gives the food we eat too much power.

But the third, and possibly  best reason, is that “lifestyle” is a big word.  Humans should eat and sleep and play and exercise and move like humans.  That is part of a lifestyle.  But there’s more.  Much more.  We also have families and friends and jobs and hobbies and dreams and ambitions and those are your lifestyle, too.  If you and your friends get together once a week to play board games is that paleo?  No, it’s not.  But neither is is not paleo.  It’s something else.  If you like to mix club music, is that paleo?  What about your religion?  What about your family reunion?  Movies?  putting together puzzles with your kids?

Some of you might be saying that socializing with family and friends is totally paleo, but I argue that it’s not.  It might be human, but I assure you that our pre-civilized ancestors were not going to movies or playing board games or building model trains.  But those things might be a valid and important part of your lifestyle.

In the end, it’s important for people to eat and play and sleep and move like humans, but each of us have our own lifestyle.  Saying that paleo is your lifestyle really limits your concept of a lifestyle.  It limits your choices and your perception of yourself.  I say let this human animal things be your diet and your exercise and your sleep and your recovery, sure.  But let YOU be your lifestyle.  Only you can decide what that word means for you, in the end.

Why celiac doesn’t matter

You’re at a party and someone asks if you want a cookie.  You say no, because you’re being good.  they look at you like you’re a fool.  They spend a long time extolling the virtues of the cookies and how really good they are.  finally you get fed up and, against your better judgement, you say, “I can’t.  Gluten.”

That should be the end of a conversation that never should have happened in the first place, but then they, feeling like Doctor Oz, say, “Oh … do you have Celiac?”

Ignore that they don’t know what the question they just asked you means, because deep down they’re just hoping you’ll say no so they can write you off as a gluten-fearing lunatic who has no excuse not to eat cookies (as if you need an excuse).  So now we’re going to talk about this question they asked you and why it’s entirely unimportant (we’ll save the subject of you getting a higher caliber of friend for another day).

Celiac disease is a term that almost all paleo and primal food types are very familiar with and many of you likely also know it as “that thing where you can’t eat gluten.”  Well … yes, sort of.  But today we’re going to look at what it is, and more importantly, why it’s not really that important.

First, let’s discuss what Celiac Disease is.  Many people think of it as a gluten allergy, but that’s not exactly right (though it is a convenient way to talk about it if you suffer from it).  It’s really an autoimmune condition.  If it were an allergy, your body would attack gluten that gets in it using your immune system (and the small cellular tactical nuclear devices it is made of).  Instead it sees gluten and starts attacking the tissues of your body, thinking they’re to blame (this is the medical version of an abusive relationship).  Specifically they attack the villi of your intestines, which is, of course, where a lot of your immune system lives.  this can lead to anything from inflammation to digestive distress to your immune system being compromised.

So how can I say it doesn’t matter?  Well, like anything in life, It’s a sliding scale.  Some people have Celiac on a very light scale:  digestive distress and some puffiness.  Some people have it on the extreme end:  anything from delayed puberty to spleen damage and more.  These are the people who test positive for this disease.  The test looks for specific types of antibodies that react to this gluten sensitivity.

Okay, so that all sounds pretty bad.  Why does it not matter?  Well, because gluten sensitivity is a scale and Celiac is only one type of gluten sensitivity (the extreme side).  Almost everyone is sensitive to gluten at one level or another, and Celiac is only one way this can present.  Gluten has also been linked to everything from Arthritis to MS.

Sound bad?  It is.  The good news, of course, is that there’s no such thing as “essential gluten”.  You don’t need to ever eat the stuff.  Why avoid it if you’ve never seen any reaction?

Well, gluten is actually made of proteins that damage the intestinal lining.  They are particularly good at tearing open the proteins that make your intestinal lining up and making holes to the outside world.  (The “outside world” here is the rest of your body).  I’m sure you can imagine that having stray food mucking about in your body is not a good thing (this is, in fact, one of the root causes of intestinal permeability or leaky gut that is talked about a lot in research lately).

And this is where we get into it not mattering.  If you don’t have Celiac, that doesn’t mean you’re not sensitive to gluten.  Because of the way it works in the body everyone is “sensitive” to gluten.  It’s just a matter of whether or not they feel it (yet).  It could very well be causing all manner of inflammatory problems that you don’t feel yet or never think about.

And even if you digest gluten fine now (well … fine is a relative term here but work with me) you may not always.  let’s say that next week you have a really bad week. You stay up for three days and you eat a terrible diet and you overwork yourself (basic training, finals week, hell week at work, or any number of other reasons can account for this).  Well, a few hard days can literally have an impact on your body that you can feel for years.  If that little party week causes you to start having issues with gluten, how likely are you to recover from that if you keep eating it, because it never used to be a problem?

Again, there is literally no reason for you to eat the stuff.  It gives you nothing in return.  If you want vitamins and nutrients, get them from real whole sources like meats (especially organ meats and bone broths) and vegetables and fruits.

My point is that Celiac doesn’t matter.  Even if you never test positive for Celiac gluten is still eating away at your gut.  Just because it hasn’t  caught up with you in an autoimmune sense doesn’t mean it isn’t doing damage.  Just because you never ran to the doctor to get a test doesn’t make it a viable food source.

So what do I say when people ask me if I have Celiac?  Often I just say yes, because they don’t care.  They’re not asking because they’re going to use it to verify lab results.  Why even worry about it?  The end result is the same.  The only benefit to Celiac is that people know the word and they know what it means.  Often it’s a shorthand for “please just give me the gluten free menu” and that’s good enough.  But don’t wait till your body is attacking itself to figure out that gluten is a waste of your time.  Start doing without it today.  Your villi will thank you.