Real food/Paleo fan TV recommendation: Meat Eater

Since I began learning about the benefits of grassfed versus conventional meats, I've started to understand how the best meat sources could be even more than "grassfed"--wild. Products from grassfed or pastured animals are without a doubt higher quality than food from commercial animal feeding operation "conventional" sources, providing more Omega-3 fatty acids, more vitamins, and other benefits (see a few sources here, here, and here). But even responsibly raised animals like cows, hogs, and chicken are probably not the same quality as the animals our hunter-gatherer ancestors ate (if we're taking "Paleo" somewhat literally). I would love to eat mostly wild meats, freshly caught after they've been walking around in their natural habitat eating the diets meant for them. They say it's impossible to eat the actual diet of wild foods that humans in the Paleolithic era did, so isn't the most "Paleo" thing we can do to eat wild game and local produce?

One of the big mysteries in our culture is the perfect falseness of the American supermarket. Rows of bland uniform eggs, identical chicken legs, packaged, dyed bologna, pre-cooked vegetables... this monotony and easy access make us so disconnected from the sometimes painful, visceral, process than had to occur for us to find those prepackaged slices on the shelf. How disrespectful to this animal, to never recognize where it came from and the sacrifice it made to be my nutrition.

If part of why we've decided a Paleo diet is good is to be connected with our food and understand and respect it (that is, the quality, type, and quantity), having an intimate connection to the foods we might have eaten many years ago is the ultimate goal.

One step toward this connection to my food was visiting the herd at Kookoolan Farms where we have purchased beef and hog shares. We didn't get to see the specific cow we purchased, and didn't watch the killing or butchering process, but it was a good first step. However, these steps are nothing compared to what people have been doing forever, which is hunting and processing their own food.

The idea of hunting was totally foreign to me. I grew up never knowing any hunters and knowing nothing about hunting. I never realized how hunters might be living the close connection to their food sources that I would end up holding in such high regard. So much of the focus in popular hunting culture (magazines, TV shows, advertisements) is on getting the biggest buck with the biggest antlers to put on your wall as a trophy. This, by itself, has next to no appeal to me, and it never did, which is why I mostly wrote off hunting as a beneficial activity.

But then I found the show Meat Eater, a reality show on the Sportsman Channel that follows writer and host Steven Rinella. I was introduced to Steve's knowledge and methods, including fair chase hunting, eating every animal you kill, and not shying away from cuts and dishes that we don't often see in the typical American restaurant.

Steven Rinella is an avid outdoorsman, writer, and television host. He is the author of The Scavenger's Guide to Haute CuisineAmerican Buffalo: In Search of a Lost Icon, and ... Meat Eater: Adventures from the Life of an American Hunter. Rinella's writing has also appeared in many publications, including Outside, Field and Stream, the New Yorker, Glamour, the New York Times, Men's Journal, Salon.com, O the Oprah Magazine, Bowhunter, and the annual anthologies Best American Travel Writing and Best Food Writing. In 2010, Rinella hosted The Wild Within on Travel Channel. Currently, he is the host of MeatEater, on Sportsman Channel. He was born in Twin Lake, Michigan.

I was blown away. Every episode I watched, I learned countless new things about being and eating in the wild. I admired the respect and understanding Steve had about the dozens of animals he hunts--and I was always impressed by his  cooking skills both over the fire and back at home. 

I loved seeing Steve take some first-time hunters (and some of my favorite podcasters) out on a hunt (they've since been out a few times). He's been hunting his whole life so his perspective is very different than mine, and it's cool to see other beginners out there. It made me start to feel like hunting might be something I could actually do.

I also introduced my wife to the show. She was vegan and vegetarian for 13 years before starting to eat Paleo about two years ago, so she had even more discomfort with the concept of hunting for many years. Yet she loves the show now as much as I do. Steve is respectful, knowledgeable, and smart about how he hunts and leads by example, and I think his message rings loud and clear. He shows that hunting is primarily about the experience of being in the wild, looking at and appreciating wildlife, and bringing home food to feed your family. It's a huge adventure, and a huge unknown, every time you step out.

So while I've come to think that hunting might be the ultimate way to be in touch with my food, be respectful to the animals I eat, and to achieve my personal best as a human, I'm still not sure how I'll find an opportunity to hunt. Now my wife is interested, too, but we still don't know many hunters. We're hoping to take the steps to learn about the tools and knowledge we'll need.

Bottom line: I highly recommend the show! Meat Eater, check it out.

You can also check out Steve's book, Meat Eater: Adventures from the Life of an American Hunter and this cool post about it.


Holiday 2014 Gift Guide - for the mobility & fitness fan

A gift guide for and from those of us who are interested or learning about fitness, training, mobility, and movement--regardless of skill level or athleticism.

I spend a lot of time thinking about strength and have been making big gains in my performance in the weight room, but mobility is equally, if not more, important. My dad and I often compare notes about our latest mobility exercises and tools, and my wife gets as excited as I do when we figure out a new technique or get new at-home equipment.

Last year at Christmas, my dad gave everyone lacrosse balls for rolling and smashing on muscle tissue and some bands for active stretching. We use them all the time. This got me thinking, there are some great gift ideas you could give friends and family to get them started with mobility work that feels good and helps training or everyday performance.

  1. Resistance bands for assisted pull-ups and banded distraction. This set of 4 or this set of 2 would be a great gift. I use them for banded distraction for my hips as well as higher rep  sets or working strictly on form in the pull-up.
  2. A high density foam roller is a great tool for working out tissue and a fun way for someone to start doing rolling work before and after workouts. (Or while watching TV!) We have the longest one (36") and use it all the time.
  3. I've worn Chuck Taylor Converse for years, but now when learning about weight training and natural movement patterns, I understand the importance of zero-drop shoes--especially for weight training. A squat or deadlift in positive heeled shoes feels so strange now. My Converse get worn out before I replace them, so I think these are a great gift for anyone like me or someone who's used to working out in Nikes but wants to start wearing flat shoes.
  4. Becoming a Supple Leopard by Dr. Kelly Starrett really is the "Ultimate Guide to Resolving Pain, Preventing Injury, and Optimizing Athletic Performance." It's thick and comprehensive like a textbook, but easy to read and goes over so many of our questions about movement and strength and conditioning. I bought a copy and showed my dad, then he had to buy a copy.
  5. We use basic lacrosse balls for rolling out tight tissue. One or two of these would be a great stocking stuffer. Or get a few and tape two together to create a roller for the neck and down the thoracic spine.
  6. Kettlebells!!! The ultimate portable, versatile fitness tool. (You can read about our experience kettlebell training here.) Even if you only have ONE, you can get a good workout with swings (single- or both arm), goblet squats, and more. I think the 35 pound one would be a good one to start with, but a cheaper option that would be good for a beginner (or intermediate trainer doing Turkish get-ups) is the 15 or 20 pound one. I add these in to an otherwise mobility focused guide because working with kettle bells in proper form will really show you all of your weak spots. Whether it's tight hamstrings, shoulders, poor posture, short pecs. etc. Kettlebell training will help you improve your total body awareness and point you to spots you need to roll out with a roller or lacrosse ball, in addition to getting you stronger!
Hope you enjoy these gift ideas for family and friends!


Kettlebell workout lessons from The Warrior Room

My wife and I recently got a chance to spend 3 months taking classes The Warrior Room kettlebell gym in Milkwaukie, Oregon. I'm excited to tell you about our training experience at this fantastic facility. In short, it has a great atmosphere, has amazing coaching, and really kicks your ass.

Kettlebells? Functional movement?

An entire gym completely dedicated to that most simple, and yet dynamic, of weight training equipment: the kettlebell. That's what The Warrior Room offers. You've heard me talk at length about functional movement and strength, real world applications of the exercises we do, and hence why free weights are better than machines and chronic cardio, but kettlebells take that principle to the next level. In fact, the first part of this great source-heavy site about kettlebell training defines functional movement. As opposed to isolating an individual muscle in an uncommon or unnatural way, functional movement training promotes intramuscular coordination of muscle fibers and muscle groups, strengthening reflexive pathways and training the body to move in a functional position without constant thought.

Kettlebells can be traced back to ancient Greece, although came into wider use in Russia in the 1700's and 1800's (super interesting piece with documentation about the history of kettlebells here.) Originally pyramid-shaped weights used on scales to measure crops, over time the tool changed in shape and size, and began to be manufactured for strength training by the Russian strongmen. The kettlebell is a unique weight lifting tool because its center of mass extends beyond the lifter's hand, allowing for smooth ballistic and swinging movements.

However, it's only since 2001 that kettlebell training has become more widely known in the U.S., after the first instructor certification program was developed here (the RKC (Russian Kettlebell Challenge)).

Why kettlebells rock

As The Warrior Room says, Kettlebells are "a devastatingly effective piece of work out equipment that’s been proven by The American Council on Exercise to “boost strength and cardiovascular fitness, while also increasing balance and flexibility.” Kettlebell exercises are great for building strength, especially targeting the lower back, legs, glutes, and shoulders (i.e. the posterior chain), and can also increase grip strength and endurance. (Source)

The basic kettlebell exercises activate muscles throughout the entire body at once in a way that mimics functional movements we perform in real-life situations. Every kettlebell exercise involves the spinal and core muscles. Kettlebells are often used by physical therapists for rehabilitation for patients with hip, knee, and back pain. (Source/direct sources: Kettlebell swing, snatch, and bottoms-up carry: back and hip muscle activation, motion, and low back loads. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21997449,
Mechanical demands of kettlebell swing exercise. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22207261, Kettlebell swing training improves maximal and explosive strength. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22580981.) Lots more info and sources at KettlebellScience.com, too.

The Warrior Room kettlebell gym

Classes, structure, and coaching style

The gym has a bunch of different classes to choose from, including Kettlebell Conditioning, Endurance,  ½ Isolation + ½ Tabata, and Boot Camp. We mainly attended Kettlebell Conditioning as it fit our schedules best, was highly focused on skill-building, and was still a brutal, awesome workout! We also tried several of the other classes so we would know what the gym had to offer.

Going in on our first day was a new experience because, at that point, we'd been doing CrossFit on and off for 8 months and this was a big change of direction from that. Even though a CrossFit gym doesn't have big machines everywhere, they still have weights, tons of racks and pull-up bars, and a wide variety of different equipment.

The Warrior Room has a completely different feel from most of the CrossFit gyms we visited, both in equipment and in attitude. The single line of painted kettlebells along the front wall, the floor covered in mats, and a couple of tires and boxes in the back seemed a little bare at first. It was also new to us that we removed shoes and socks in the Kettlebell Conditioning basics class, and felt the ground under our feet as we used the bells. It all seemed so simple! Instead, I found out very quickly why exactly you can have an entire gym dedicated to this one implement. The kettlebell is basically a cannonball with a handle attached, but this simplicity and balance allows it to be one of the most dynamic strength training tools known to man with a diversity of techniques that is not present in any other tool.

A typical Kettlebell Conditioning class goes like this:
  • Quick warm-up
  • Initial technical instruction (ex: the swing)
  • Timed workout #1 (6-10 minutes 2-3 movements including the previously trained skill)
  • Partner coaching
  • Timed Workout #2 (same deal, different movements, adjusting to different weights if needed)
  • Partner coaching 
  • Additional technical instruction (something more complex ex: snatch)
  • Timed Workout #3
  • Partner coaching 
  • Guided practice through Turkish Get-Ups with very low weight for beginners. 
  • Cool-down/mobility work (foam rolling, etc.)

As you can see, it's jam-packed. All throughout the hour-long class, the coaches (we took classes from Ashley and Alexis) are spending time with individual students, and making technical corrections to our movements. The timed workouts are extremely challenging, and then you typically get a break to partner with someone else in the class and take a break while you trade coaching each other, but it's also incredibly valuable to pay attention to what the movements look like on another person and how your movements look to him or her. It helps to have someone looking at your form, but also gives you direct experience in how to assess the finer points of the complex movements.

For example, the Kettlebell Swing, even as a relatively basic technique, has many technical details that can be challenges for some people, and many of us need that individual assessment and repeated help. This was something I felt The Warrior Room excelled at by having a formula that allowed everyone to actually get the one-on-one time that they needed, while still having a larger enough class size that the prices are extremely reasonable compared to branded workouts or one-on-one coaching.

Here I am getting coached after our first class.

Benefits for different skill levels

My wife, who was at the time less experienced with weight training and less comfortable with heavy weight while maintaining proper form (her words, not mine!), also had a good experience with the classes and group and individual coaching.

She observed that while kettlebell training is often included in weight training routines you can do on your own, and there are some great videos and articles about doing the movements properly, there was a serious learning curve for her on even basic movements like the Swing. She could tell she wasn't doing it quite right when she started to feel strain in her low back, and it took several classes of practicing and getting coaching from Ashley on what she needed to focus on before she felt comfortable.

The Warrior Room also first introduced my wife to the PVC pipe trick for proper squat form (great for other movements with glute strength and hip hinge) and we practiced with a broom at home to keep our heads, upper backs, and tailbones aligned. It really is a matter of retraining the body to do those movements in proper alignment, and we both improved so much since training with the pros at The Warrior Room!

How to get the most out of your kettlebell workout

The classes are a full hour, and are definitely difficult for students of many skill levels (there was a wide range in the classes we took). We were very tired after our first few classes, not used to doing more cardio-intensive movements for longer periods of time, so I definitely recommend going when you are feeling and fueling your best.

Since there's so much to do during the class hour, the warm-up and cool-down parts are very short, so I definitely recommend coming several minutes early to do some mobility work on the sidelines, and plan to use the foam rollers afterward in the classroom or at home.

Check it out!

As you can tell, we had a great experience kettlebell training at The Warrior Room and recommend it for anyone looking for a fast-pasted, challenging strength training and high intensity workout. Or for someone looking to perfect kettlebell and other functional movements in your own workouts. Supplementing with some Warrior Room classes would be a great idea to stay on track with your form and progress.

Check out The Warrior Room online and on Facebook, or drop by at 1928 SE Washington St in Milwaukie!

Now that I've got that most important message out there I need to add a disclaimer. I was given, in exchange for writing this post, a 3 month trial membership at the gym. My wife and I both went to several different class types during that time and really got to know the range of classes they offer.  I was never told what specifically to write about, how much to say, anything to avoid saying, or any other instruction about how to cover my experience there. I was under no obligation to even write this post if I didn't feel like it, and was never told to not post if I had negative comments. That, my friends, is how a business does marketing with integrity. Now, lucky for me, and for them, that integrity showed throughout my experience there, and I really don't have much of anything but positive comments to make. Thanks so much to The Warrior Room!


Mindful Eating Challenge complete! Next steps...

We've completed our 14-day Mindful Eating Challenge!

You can check out the details on the Mindful Eating Challenge here to learn why we did this and what it means. Read the update halfway through here.

For the past two weeks, my wife and I have paid attention to where, when, and how we eat our food. No standing at the kitchen counter eating a snack, no hurrying through a meal while watching videos on the computer, and no eating breakfast in the car on the way to work. We'd gotten into a busy routine where finding time and a peaceful place to eat was hard, so we needed this reset to get out of bad habits and focus on our food!

The challenge was based on the premise that when we take the time to rest, sit still, and savor our food, not only do we enjoy it more and likely eat the right amount for our hunger signals, we also digest it better and may absorb more nutrients and receive more benefit.

A little nervous system background

Our digestive organs and processes are regulated by the autonomic nervous system, which functions involuntarily and reflexively. The autonomic nervous system also controls other peripheral nervous system functions like heart rate and blood pressure. While these processes happen automatically, we can affect things like heart rate by consciously breathing and resting; we can affect hormone regulation by how we eat, sleep, move, and supplement; and we can affect our digestive health by intentional physical and mental changes as well.

The autonomic nervous system is divided into three parts: the sympathetic nervous system, the parasympathetic nervous system, and the enteric nervous system. Digestion is regulated by the parasympathetic nervous system--when our bodies are in a parasympathetic state. (Read more about this nervous system and how we can choose to eat in that state in the original Mindful Eating Challenge post here.)

Eating mindfully, always, is the goal

While the two-week challenge was a helpful tool for us, we hope to continue being mindful of our food whenever possible. So many benefits - improved digestion, decreasing stress in general, listening to hunger signals/regulating food intake, practicing gratitude for our food and whoever cooked it... great practice in general.

Dinner I made once during our Mindful Eating Challenge - eaten before heading out to a social event, but felt good to sit and eat together at the table (Source: My IG)

If you want to try eating more mindfully at home, try these four beginning steps:
  1. Prepare food ahead of time. We like to cook several things on Sunday evenings so we have some leftovers started for the week's lunches. Using the slow cooker during the week is also a great way to ensure you'll have food ready when you need it.
  2. Set some strict rules for where and when you eat. You can't always force yourself into a parasympathetic state consciously, but you can decide not to eat standing up or while multi-tasking for the next two weeks. After trying it for a few days, it won't feel forced anymore. This simple change of not eating while standing in the kitchen, writing emails, scrolling through Twitter on the phone, or driving to work will make a huge difference.
  3. Take a deep breath before each meal. This can be a shortened version of the Raisin Meditation; a prayer to yourself, your food, your cook, or a higher power; or a yogic breathing exercise--whatever works for you.
  4. Try a Raisin Meditation to practice new sensory experiences and become more comfortable with these elements of eating.
These tips were important for helping us feel comfortable focusing on our food during the challenge, and will continue to be helpful as we (hopefully) continue eating more mindfully. There's no reason we can't take a deep breath together before we eat dinner in the evening, or refuse to eat breakfast in the car as a general practice.

Wishing you the best in mindful eating and health!

You can check out the details on the Mindful Eating Challenge here to learn why we did this and what it means.  Read the update halfway through here.


Mindful Eating Challenge Progress and Update

One week into the 14-day Mindful Eating Challenge, and I have some reflections on the experience thus far!

You can check out the details on the Mindful Eating Challenge here to learn why we're doing this and what it means. Read the summary of the completed challenge here.

The official 14-day challenge was in large part my wife's idea, and I've been learning while doing. Some benefits I've experienced:

I've noticed that taking the time to sit and think about my food and the experience of eating it has really brought a level of relaxation to my whole day that I haven't had in quite a while. When I get stressed and busy it's easy to fall into patterns of eating on the go or losing sleep, but those types of responses to stress just perpetuate the stressful environment. It's becoming clear to me that "mindless" eating has a similar effect on my overall stress level to missing sleep or cramming for a test. I just don't feel as good, the food doesn't taste as good, and the natural cycle of my day gets thrown off. Forcing myself to sit down and stop whatever else I'm doing to eat a meal has been a big challenge, even though it sounds simple. However, after just a week of being mindful and attentive I can see the practical benefits of making the time I eat be a relaxing break from anything else that's going on. I've actually found that I look forward to eating more because I know that I'm going to take that time for myself.

Right BEFORE we ate breakfast on Sunday. We put away the laptop before eating, I swear.

Also, the food tastes better. It's immediately clear the first time I tried consciously eating mindfully, and it's lasted through the week. If I put a bite in your mouth and tune everything else out, even closing my eyes, the experience becomes so much more vibrant. We all know that when you focus on something the sense of it is heightened, and that our brains have the ability to tune out extraneous sensory information. Think about how your sense of touch feels the air, clothing, chairs, floor all the time. If we couldn't tune out that stuff we'd never get anything done. The same is true for food. When you watch TV, browse the internet, work, or even talk while eating you tune out a large portion of one of the most enjoyable human experiences: that of nourishing you body. Rather than tuning out of my primary goal of eating my meal in favor of multi-tasking, I'm really focusing on the food and appreciating the eating/digesting process.

We have struggled with a few things, too. As we expected when we started, breakfast is hard. Unless we have some left overs or prepare something special, it's hard to eat a real meal before leaving for the day. Also a challenge: getting enough food when we're very hungry after a hard workout, since grabbing a handful of nuts while walking around the house is not a mindful option. Again, we've just got to prepare enough food ahead of time or eat a bigger lunch that will hold us till dinner is ready. Hoping to keep improving these skills as we continue our challenge.

What benefits do you notice from taking the time to focus on your food? What tips and tools make it easier to eat in a rested, seated, calm state?

You can check out the details on the Mindful Eating Challenge here to learn why we're doing this and why it's important. Read the summary of the completed challenge here.


Mindful Eating Challenge - improving where, when, and how we eat

Update: You can read the halfway through update on our Mindful Eating Challenge here and the summary of the completed challenge here.

My wife and I thinking a lot about mindful eating. I imagine "mindful eating" can mean a lot of things (being connected to and respectful of the animals that we eat, for example--something we also do, but for us right now the concept means taking the time to pay attention to and appreciate our food while we eat, rather than putting nutrition in our mouths while distracted or doing something else. It can be so easy to bring a small breakfast in the car on the go, get home from being out hungry and look for snacks before/while cooking a real meal, or emphasize nutrition above enjoyment of food (we have been doing a lot more weight lifting the past few weeks, and when you lift heavy every other day your appetite dramatically increases and we want to eat enough food to fuel our bodies and build muscle--so protein shakes and post-workout bananas in a hurry have looked a lot more appealing recently).

And all of those ways of eating have their place, and certainly getting the high quality, real food micro- and macro nutrients that we need is very important. But if we have the choice and time to focus on eating the best food and the best way possible, we can maximize the nutrition that we are consuming, remove stress, and improve our health in other ways.

Like many things in our modern world, we've gotten away from a restful, biologically appropriate way of eating in favor of convenient, efficient, cheap, or hyper-palatable food.

Eating while working/rest & digest

It makes sense intuitively that eating while relaxed would result in better digestion and nutrient absorption than eating while running, working, being yelled at, or other stressful activity. But it's easy to understand the science behind it as well. The parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for "rest and digest" or "eat and breed" activities - eating, salivating, arousal, digestion, etc. We are in a "rest and digest" parasympathetic state when we are calm and rested, and when adrenaline and cortisol are lowered. Digestion is improved in a parasympathetic state due to the secretion of gastric juice and increase in motility of the gut. No surprise, this is the best time to eat!

Another element of the autonomic nervous system is the sympathetic nervous system, or the "fight or flight" processes. It governs the body in a stress state, and improves our functions for action/performance such as pupil dilation, heart rate increase, more efficient conversion of glycogen to glucose for muscle function, adrenaline release (secretion of norepinephrine and epinephrine), and decreased peristalsis and kidney/bladder function/release. These are the functions needed when we are under stress, running from a predator, working hard on a math problem, running errands in a hurry, etc. If we eat food in this state, our bodies will not be prepared to digest it properly. It's incredible that our responses are measurable by chemical/neurotransmitter release and physical changes, identifiable by body part (love the Autonomic Nervous System table in this post on Neuroscience for Kids!).

And yet, so often in our lives in the developed world in 2014, we don't take time to sit down, breathe, relax, and eat. Even on a Paleo diet, we're often eating high quality food but may end up having to quickly get it in our mouths in the car or standing up while cooking or packing lunches (breakfast, eaten at the time of day when cortisol is supposed to be highest anyway, is particularly hard for many people). Also tough is dinner; after you come home from a day of thinking or working hard at work, if the first thing you do is unload your bags and start cooking the next meal but are hungry from not enough satiety from lunch (not enough fat or protein, anyone?) it's easy to snack on whatever you can find in the fridge while cooking dinner. (In this case, not only is the food you're grabbing probably not as nutrient-dense as a meal (e.g. almonds vs. meat/veggies), your body is probably not in an optimal state to digest it. This can lead to digestive problems as well as weight gain.) So, it's important to think about WHEN, WHERE, and HOW we eat, as well as WHAT we eat.

(This makes sense based on commonsense and anecdotal evidence I’ve heard. We know that thinking about food is first step in digestion--we often become more aware of the saliva in our mouths, and prime our digestive system to produce the enzymes we need to process the food we’re anticipating. Also, we’ve found that often we don't feel like eating immediately after working out (i.e. body in sympathetic nervous system dominance), so we often wait half an hour or so or (at least until we get home) before fueling post-workout with some healthy carbs and quality protein.)

(Great article about the rest and digest vs. fight or flight, plus how to get into a parasympathetic state, here.)

Eating mediation

The Raisin Meditation (info here/here/here/here) is a mindfulness-based stress reduction technique that is a specific meditation, like any guided meditation practice, but is particularly relevant to our mindful eating goals because it is practiced with food (raisin or other food you have around). The Raisin Meditation (while it was created not only to practice mindful eating, but as a stress-reduction technique) allows us to focus on real qualities of the food while readying the mind to eat and focus only on eating.

Doing a similar eating meditation practice before every meal probably isn't practical for most people, though. But during this mindful eating challenge we're finding other ways to focus on food before/while eating.

This concept is not new. The prayer before a meal is a great way to rest and focus on food and company. You don't have to pray to any power other than yourself and whoever prepared the food, but we've found it is valuable to take a moment, close our eyes, take a breath, and express gratitude to each other for the food we're about to eat.

The Mindful Eating Challenge

It's tough, but the next step for us was a 14-day Mindful Eating Challenge. We've done 21 Day Sugar Detoxes before, which were very similar to a Whole30 program for us because we did the dairy-free level... and while these resets can be helpful for to get out of a bad pattern, they are primarily about the content and quality of diet. So, why not challenge ourselves to reset HOW we eat? We've gotten into patterns of rushing and often eating food not because we want to taste the specific flavors and savor it, but because we're very hungry after a tough workout or we know we'll be away from the house and need quality food before we go.

Over the next two weeks, we're reconsidering the way we eat in order to set healthful habits for the future. Here are a few ways to get started.

  1. Prepare food ahead of time. We like to cook several things on Sunday evenings so we have some leftovers started for the week's lunches. Using the slow cooker during the week is also a great way to ensure you'll have food ready when you need it.
  2. Set some strict rules for where and when you eat. You can't always force yourself into a parasympathetic state consciously, but you can decide not to eat standing up or while multi-tasking for the next two weeks. After trying it for a few days, it won't feel forced anymore. This simple change of not eating while standing in the kitchen, writing emails, scrolling through Twitter on the phone, or driving to work will make a huge difference.
  3. Take a deep breath before each meal. This can be a shortened version of the Raisin Meditation; a prayer to yourself, your food, your cook, or a higher power; or a yogic breathing exercise--whatever works for you.
  4. Try a Raisin Meditation to practice new sensory experiences and become more comfortable with these elements of eating.

Four steps, four simple things to try during a 14-day Mindful Eating Challenge. They don't sound that hard, do they? (Imagine if we showed this list to our grandparents when they were young, or people
hundreds of years ago. They'd probably look at us like we were crazy. "Of course I prepare my food. Duh. Of course I don't eat standing up. I sit at the table with nice utensils and cloth napkins. What's your problem?"

So let's try to rewind a little and practice simple changes for mindful eating, improved digestion and absorption of nutrients, and health.

Most challenge programs focus on eliminating problem foods and improving diet/food quality. Those changes are essential for many people, but for those of us who have already found a diet that works well for us, we can improve our habits and lifestyle, and experience health changes, through other factors about the way we eat:

Want to join us? Here are some FAQs for our 14-day Mindful Eating Challenge!
  • You can eat at a restaurant/out or at home, as long as you’re in a relaxed state and location (WHERE)
  • You can eat whatever number of meals per day works for you, and at any time of day; just not while driving, working, or doing other sympathetic nervous system-dominant activities (WHEN)
  • You can eat whatever you want--You don’t have to eat "Paleo" or entirely homemade foods (although as noted above, if you do the first steps of the challenge, it is likely that you’ll be eating higher quality food than a quick snack grabbed from a box or jar, or fast food window). So don’t worry about the content (the WHAT) during this 14-day period, and don’t worry about perfection – improvements just from changing the WHERE/WHEN/HOW of eating 

Try it yourself!

If you think you could use a little more mindfulness in your relationship with food, join us! Hashtag #mindfuleatingchallenge on Twitter and Instagram - we look forward to seeing where, when, and how you eat more mindfully!

Update: You can read the halfway through update on our Mindful Eating Challenge here and the summary of the completed challenge here.


Portable real food snacks - great for airplane travel

I've done a lot of traveling already this year, and am expecting more soon. A little more time spent sitting on planes and in cars than I would like!, but it's been for pleasure as well as business.

Traveling can make it hard to eat foods that make you feel good, and since starting a real food, Paleo lifestyle in December of 2012 I've learned some habits for staying nourished while in a strange place far away from my freezer and CSA subscription. I've found that keeping on hand some high quality protein and fat really help curb cravings and keep energy up when traveling - as you can see in my Bulletproof/Paleo travel tips (we've now successfully brought containers of coconut oil and Kerrygold butter though TSA screenings 4 times!). With the coconut oil and grassfed butter, we know we can approximate Bulletproof Coffee (shaken in a travel mug, at the very least) if we need, and if we're starving in an airport, at least we'll have some quality fat to level our blood sugar and keep us going.

But, coconut flakes, cashews, almonds, and coconut oil do get old after a while, so it was great to have a box of Cave Cravings on a recent trip! They sent me this box to try out just in time for our last trip.

They're a new company with the mission to "cultivate a variety of healthy snack options to fuel your busy life." Organic, quality, all natural snacks - grain free, dairy free, legume free, of course.

Great stuff in here! It was so nice to have the high quality grassfed jerky to eat when we didn't want something sweet, and the Bearded Brothers and Caveman Cookies treats were extra good dipped in a little soft coconut oil. (Going for maximum sustenance!) The Wonderfully Raw macaroons were probably our favorites of the box, though. So smooth and soft, not at all dry, and delicately sweet.

Thanks again to Cave Cravings for the box! Check out their website, Facebook, and Twitter if you're interested - perfect for your next trip!


The Crossfit Experiment

Here we go guys.

Starting in summer 2013, my wife and I have visited as many CrossFit gyms as we could in the Portland area. We've been to 11 of them for a few classes each and have seen the wide variety of communities, training regimens, and attitudes that are present across the CrossFit world. My wife and I had no prior CrossFit experience but had heard so much about it from podcasts and blogs that we decided to do a thorough assessment of CrossFit as a philosophy as well as the quality of the different gyms in our area.

If you're not familiar with CrossFit, here's a quick primer of the basic idea from the official CrossFit website.

CrossFit is many things. Primarily, it’s a fitness regimen developed by Coach Greg Glassman over several decades. He was the first person in history to define fitness in a meaningful, measurable way (increased work capacity across broad time and modal domains). CrossFit itself is defined as that which optimizes fitness (constantly varied functional movements performed at relatively high intensity). CrossFit is also the community that spontaneously arises when people do these workouts together. In fact, the communal aspect of CrossFit is a key component of why it’s so effective." 

CrossFit, then, is about promoting total fitness by doing a wide variety of movements and exercises that are constantly varied. They structure sets of movements into workouts called WODs (workouts of the day) that often provide strength and cardio training across most of the major muscle groups of the body. By doing different things every day you keep your body guessing and promote an overall level of fitness and ability. They combine exercises from Olympic lifting, track and field and gymnastics (as well as others) that promote athleticism while not sacrificing strength to improve endurance or endurance for strength.

Once you get past the basic workout structure CrossFit is also a community, and in order to become part of a community you often need to invest your time and effort into one group. By going to so many different gyms ("boxes") for a short time I definitely didn't spend long enough to get that sense of community and shared experience, but I can vouch for the friendly, communal atmosphere that was present at most of the gyms. While I didn't commit myself and join in, I definitely observed that community taking place. It's so much easier to stay motivated and keep going when you have others fighting right alongside you. I didn't want to become invested in one gym or another because I wanted  to be as objective of an observer of the CrossFit world as I could during this experiment. If there was something to critique, I didn't want to get it downplayed in my head by "drinking the KoolAid" of any particular box.

Local CrossFit gym comparison

Here is a map of the 11 gyms we went to in the Portland area over the past 6 months. (There are plenty more that we didn't make it to, because of schedule or location or other factors.) (I actually have now been to 12 CrossFit boxes, one being a San Francisco CrossFit class taught by Kelly Starrett--posted about here.)

I'm not here to vouch for or bash any of these gyms in particular, because I'm sure each of them is good for some people. I would encourage anyone to check out the gyms in your neighborhood or near your workplace or whatever works for you, and maybe visit a couple so you can see the differences  for yourself. It wouldn't be worth it for me to try to give individual assessments of the gyms because each persons subjective experience will probably vary widely. What I'm trying to do with this post, though, is to give an impression of the broad traits of CrossFit that I saw play out across all the gyms, and try to give recommendations as to whether CrossFit, as a paradigm, is right for you.

Here are some of my conclusions:

CrossFit is an awesome idea. Just like Paleo, it’s a practice/lifestyle/method that has gained rapid popularity recently. And they both come from the same assumption that we, as Homo sapiens, have evolved under circumstances and environmental pressures that have led to us being the creatures that we are, and because of that the best way to care for our bodies is to keep that evolutionary, ancestral perspective in mind, while combining the latest scientific knowledge to develop and sustain a method for human optimization. For Paleo it’s about nutrients; for CrossFit it's about building the body through functional movement, but again, these two are not truly divisible. In theory, this should lead to a system that is open to continual advancement and refinement as new methods and practices become known and new research is done. Sounds great! But did it play out that way? Here are my impressions.

Here's what I liked:

  • The focus is on functional, real human movements that are versions of movements we all do throughout the course of our regular lives.
  • In order to approximate these “real human movements,” CrossFit employs body weight exercises, Olympic lifts, mobility drills, and combines them in unique arrangements to help you build muscle and your gas tank at the same time.
  • A flexible, open, creative structure. You can be in charge of your own workouts and do modifications that cater specifically to your level. However, everyone is encouraged to push themselves so you all end up tired, yet not feeling intimidated by others that can do more than you can. Many of the boxes were great about offering modifications and tools like bands and platforms to help people who can't do all the pull-ups or hand stand push-ups or whatever.
  • Everyone, almost without exception, was very friendly, encouraging and welcoming. There were some experiences where I sort of felt like I was on my own in the corner doing a workout, but for the most part every gym was very inclusive.
  • I always left tired. My whole body had been worked and I was beat. It was a really good bang for the time commitment buck.
  • SOOO many leagues above the structure of a standard gym filled with giant machines that isolate individual muscle groups, restrain you to the built-in movements of the machines, and leave you alone and confused trying to figure out how to structure a workout.

Here's what I didn't like:

  • The potential for injury. Ideally everyone should be going at their own pace and developing skills slowly over time, but total newbies don’t necessarily know their limits and they tend to just throw you into the workouts with just a quick intro. A lot of gyms have "on-ramp" programs that you’re supposed to take before starting regular classes, so many people will have been shown the movements/lifts at least once before, but simply knowing what a movement is doesn't mean you’re going to have good form or be able to safely perform the movement across an entire workout. When you start doing a set of squats, for example, the first 2 or 3 are usually pretty good, but as it gets harder form starts being sacrificed and by the 10th or 20th rep, most beginners are in severely compromised positions that put them at high risk for injury. In order to combat this tendency you need to have someone there monitoring you at the beginning, someone who can stop you when you fault, show you what to do correctly and help you set the right difficulty. The hectic nature of the classes at a Crossfit gym, and the number of people in a class, meant that this level of attention was not always possible, which I see as a major issue facing Crossfit today.
  • Similarly, I saw a huge emphasis placed on pushing yourself to complete the workout at any cost, and sometimes this was at the expense of good form and a proper level progression. I've been told by coaches and trainers my whole life that, in training, if you can only do an exercise or get a rep is by sacrificing form and just yanking on whatever it is, then that means you aren't strong/limber/conditioned enough to do that exercise. In other words, it only counts if your doing the form right. The Crossfit gyms often would show modifications to exercises for people  the couldn't do the full movement (such as using resistance bands to aid in pull-ups or dips), but I felt there was too much of an attitude that "you should find your own level" rather than the expert coaches helping you determine your true level. 
  • I saw CrossFit boxes say they were all about good form and proper skill development and      attention, but the day-to-day reality often left something to be desired. It’s something that worried me, as oftentimes the injuries that come from improper form come after a prolonged period of doing an exercise incorrectly and accumulating stress on your body in a way it wasn't designed to handle. The risks, then, are not necessarily obvious on any given day, and then one day you might throw out your back or tear your meniscus and not even know why. This is difficult to address because it would mean coaches paying strict attention to each and every person in a class, but if Crossfit is going to market itself as the way to go for fitness it's got 

  • Sales-ey BS. On occasion I felt a very strong salesman vibe from some of the instructors and it seemed clear that they were going to push me into trying their intro series. Most gyms have an on-ramp program, like I mentioned before, and this is something you usually pay separately for before you get started on a main membership. Several gyms, at the end of our first workouts, were very “clear” with us that the next thing for us to do was to come sit right here and sign up for the on-ramp. Often, when they brought these kinds of programs up without first being asked, it didn't come across like they were just trying to give us information, but instead felt like they were car salesman trying to get money out of us before we walked off the lot. I don't blame businesses for acting like businesses, but it didn't feel that great to have had good interactions with staff during workouts and then have them switch gears into sales mode. Maybe it’s just me, but as a "consumer" I really appreciate it when somebody goes to the trouble of saying "Here are our programs;  here's some information; this is what it costs. If you're interested or have any questions feel free to call any time. Thanks for coming in." I would say, out of the 11 gyms we went to, 4 of them did just that and didn't make us feel pressured, but that’s not a majority. (And no surprise that those 4 were the ones we were most interested in coming back to!)
  • The method, though better than standard gyms, has the potential to be another homogenized system that isn't right for a lot of people. If the WOD isn't right for your body that day, you may be stuck and it could be hard to get the right workout for you out of it. At the end of the day, it's another "system" that you really need to buy into (slurp goes the Kool-aid).
  • CrossFit has many branded, named, themed WODs with specifically named exercises. They employ wall balls that you throw and catch as you squat, several different bars, climbing ropes, boxes for jump squatting, rowing machines, etc etc etc. This gives a cohesive feel to everything and can give the impression that these things are all essential. In truth, you can exercise all the muscle groups of the body and do your conditioning work with a single kettle bell.
  • It is EXPENSIVE. Compared to a membership to your local 24 hour fitness the cost of a Crossfit membership is huge. If you want what they provide (a community of people, unified around a set of principles that work, who help motivate each other) then it can TOTALLY be worth the cost. Getting fit and in shape changes people lives and for the potential benefit the cost is not important, but damn, it's a commitment to spend that much.

Wrap Up:

I don't want anyone getting the wrong idea by my critique that I think Crossfit is a bad system. If I had to sum up all my thoughts in one sentence I would say: Crossfit works to get you fit and motivated, but it still has a long way to go. In order for Crossfit to succeed long term it needs to focus on safety down to the most minute levels and be open to continual evolution and expansion. While the list of movements/exercises employed in Crossfit gyms is longer than other fitness systems, the true number of beneficial fitness modalities is staggeringly larger, if not infinitely so. It employs movements from a bunch of different disciplines, but there are SO many more things that could still be added and improved upon. I hope Crossfit continues to build on its successes by allowing for creativity while staying true to the basic principles of good form, slow individualized progression, and real, functional results. Based on my experiences I'd say that there's a chance that Crossfit will blossom and continue to expand, but there's also a chance that it will wither by restricting it's evolution, growing too quickly and watering down the quality of their end product, which is and should always be the optimization of the real human bodies that are employing it's methods, leading to greater functionality, health and productivity.

This post has become an absolute beast, so I'm going to end it there, even though I feel there's plenty more that can and should be said. It's a complicated topic, but I hope I gave a good impression on my views after doing a lot of qualitative observing and participating. I'd love to continue the discussion, and hear any responses to my thoughts, so feel free to comment or reach out to me on Twitter or by email! Thanks fore reading!


21 Day Sugar Detox Complete!

My wife and I just finished the 21 Day Sugar Detox protocol that we started after the Christmas season. I had been feeling a little gross and my immune system had been dragging over the holidays, in part because of the amount of sugar I found myself eating! It's so easy to indulge when sweet things are all around you (and I had a good time with it, don't get me wrong)--however, I decided that a comparable period of time with very little sugar would be a good reset to do, and Diane Sanfilippo's well-received protocol (and new book) seemed perfect! 

The Detox Experience

Throughout the detox we cut out added sweeteners of any kind, but besides that we pretty much like we normally do. My wife craved chocolate or something slightly sweet after dinner most nights for the first part of it, but after a few days I noticed that my sugar cravings had gone down almost to nothing, which is really one of the main points of the detox. The really interesting thing that I took away from it was how I had been misinterpreting the signals I was getting from my own body. In almost every case, when I had the craving for something really sugary, what I actually wanted was real food! Usually protein and fat. I was really just hungry, and my thought processes were going to candy and ice cream first.

Breaking the Mental Pattern

I started changing my mental pattern and every time I would think, "Oh man, some sugar would be really good right now," I would take a second and ask myself if any other foods also sounded good. Lo and behold, everything sounded good, especially meat. I would end up saying, "Man, some sugar would be good... Oh, wait, some ground pork also sounds really good!" and I would go eat that instead. I've found that I need carbohydrates in my diet to feel my best, and am constantly telling people how the Paleo Diet, as it exists now, is not necessarily a low carb diet, but the mental pattern of reaching for sweets when I was really hungry for nourishment was something it was great to get out of. (Other sources of carbs are usually more nourishing.)

The 21 Day Sugar Detox protocol is great for many reasons, and I feel almost like I could do it any time without trouble. It wasn't hard to keep up, and I found that I lost a few pounds of fat over the course of doing it. If you feel like you're stuck on the sugar roller coaster and want to find some more balance, I suggest checking it out!

You can check out the 21 Day Sugar Detox book and the companion cookbook with more than 100 additional recipes. You can do a detox by just cutting out all sugar for a while, but the book is really great because of all the background information it contains on how sugar works in the body, what issues it can cause, and why people seem to be so addicted to it. It also has individualized plans for people with different needs and has a bunch of amazing recipes, some of which we tried with deliciously great success.

It was also perfect that during our detox we got to see Diane Sanfilippo speak during the Balanced Bites/Nom Nom Paleo/Primal Palate book tour ("#paleotour".) Lucky us!
Source: Wife's IG


It's delicious because it's good for you.

We've all been tricked! Our biology has been hijacked and it's causing us so many problems. When modern, industrial food processing and preparation came along and everyone started buying TV dinners and everything in a can, our taste buds could no longer be trusted. Before this, when there was only local food access, nobody had to worry about whether or not something tasty was good or bad for you. If you were a hunter/gatherer and you found something oily, sweet, or salty, it was a godsend! Precious dense nutrients!

We evolved to think salt, sugar, and fat taste good because, in nature, those substances are the best sources of energy to fuel our body, and they're hard to come by. (There's an entire book by this title. I haven't read it but the concept sticks with me.)

But now, foods that are salty, sweet, and fatty are addictive and we see them everywhere in our culture--and they make us unhealthy.

I started thinking about this a lot earlier because I heard somebody on the radio say the simple sentence, "Bacon tastes so good, but the fat is so bad for you." Which I know is not necessarily true (note this article, this article. But I wondered how we've gotten to a point in the world where we all think that nothing that tastes really really good can also be good for your body. How have we gotten to this place?

It used to be, tasty foods were healthy

This wasn't always how it was. In the wilderness, things that are poisonous tend to taste really awful. Why? So that we don't eat them! Fruit tastes sweet so that we will eat it, spread the seeds around, and help them pass on their genes. And it has some nutritional value to us, particularly if we're hunting and gathering and need fast energy. Our biology recognizes sweetness as a marker that a food has a lot of valuable energy for us. The same is true with fat, which gives us stable energy. And salt, which contains vital nutrients.

Case in point? Bacon. It's delicious, fatty, and salty. And if you were a hungry early human, you would really need healthy saturated pork fat to thrive! Think about the Eskimo diet of blubber. If we need food, bacon is a great source of healthy fat. (Read this for more).
From my IG: Real bacon from a healthy hog, homemade from our hog share

The trick of tasty food

So, how did we end up getting the situation completely flipped around? It turns out that the industrialization of our food systems has had a bigger consequence than any of us normally imagine. It's not just the pesticides, the preservatives, or the political agendas. It's the fact that we have a system with the fundamental goal not of making the best quality food, but of making the largest amount of the best tasting food possible for the cheapest amount of money. For a large part, food suppliers don't have any incentive to care whether or not their apples are mealy or their tomatoes brown. They have no reason to care about feeding antibiotics, hormones and low quality food to their livestock. As long as the cow gets big, and they can kill it before it's too sick to die on its own, they can cut it up and sell the meat just the same.

The entire structure of our food system, as a planet, since the first chemical pesticide was sprayed on a potato plant has been completely reversed--to the point where everything tasty, instead of being a marker of natural nutrient density, is immediately suspect. We've forgotten that there's a big difference between the wild/cultivated plants and animals that our ancestors used to eat and those exact same species today. And when we combine salt, sugar, and fat in processed foods, they become hyper-palatable and addictive (trust me, I know--I'm halfway through a 21-Day Sugar Detox right now!).

Real food is delicious

Bacon is not the enemy. It's delicious because it's good for you if you're a hungry human in need of fuel. Luckily, the same is true of all real, unprocessed food sources. Real food wins!


Announcing the Grassfed Geek Podcast!

I'm excited to announce that I'm starting a podcast based around my blog concept. It's called (you guessed it), the Grassfed Geek Podcast! Basically, I realized that there were certain things I wanted to talk about that I felt would be better if released in an audio format. I'm still working on the technical side of things, and as I don't have much background in studio recording there may be some issues to work out. Please let me know if you feel the podcast has some glaring issues that, if fixed, would improve your enjoyment of it. This will be a really fun experiment, and I hope you all like it!

Grassfed Geek Podcast Episode #1

For this first episode I talked to Dr. Allison Siebecker. She's a naturopathic doctor here in Portland, OR who specializes in gut health, and specifically SIBO (Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth). We had an awesome conversation a few weeks ago about the human microbiome, the gut issues we all may face in our lifetimes, and the positive impacts of eating a more whole foods, Paleo-type diet.

You can find her through the National College of Natural Medicine Clinic website for more information about her as well as contact info if you are having some kind of digestive issue and would like her help!

She also has a great website dedicated to SIBO that has a ton of info about what SIBO is, what symptoms are associated with it, and what treatment options are available (SIBOInfo.com). There are SO many symptoms that are potentially caused by SIBO and it's more common than you may think; anyone with a persistent digestive issue will want to check it out.

We're finding out more and more every day about how the health of our gut determines the health of our entire body and mind, so I'm so excited to share my conversation with Dr. Siebecker with you and I hope you dig it!


Salt vs. sodium - And why I eat LOTS of sea salt! Why your body needs salt

I mentioned once before that we altogether stopped buying table salt a while ago. And, when you cut out all processed foods (on a Paleo/real foods diet), you tend to dramatically lower your overall sodium consumption. But, neither of these means pure, natural salt is unhealthy at all!

The original "Paleo Diet" by Loren Cordain was low-salt, but since then the Paleo community has evaluated more research about salt and sodium, and nowadays, most Paleo bloggers/authors/doctors/community leaders are pro-sea salt. Nice summary of some real food perspectives on salt here. I, too, used to assume that salt was unhealthy in large quantities, and could cause heart disease or high blood pressure or other conditions.

But when I learned about Dave Asprey's Bulletproof Diet and "biohacking" through diet, sleep, and stress reduction, I heard his recommendation to take a teaspoon or two of ancient sea salt every morning to kick start your adrenal glands, in addition to him talking about the general benefits of sea salt. He even had an extreme guy on this podcast who ate TONS of natural salt for an experiment and did not experience any of the health dangers we're warned about. Not that any of us need to try it at home.

Table salt vs. real salt, and why salt is essential

Table salt is manufactured, not found in nature, and contains toxic hard mineral anti-caking agents (great piece on what all's in table salt here). I do not eat table salt (ever, if I can help it), but I eat real, naturally harvested sea salt (my favorite is pink Himalayan sea salt!). Sea salt contains essential trace minerals and electrolytes (the pink color actually indicates the trace minerals), and Himalayan salt is about 250 million years old, so it was deposited long before the Earth became polluted with heavy metals and pesticides. For many years of history, salt was a precious commodity--"Worth your salt," as they say (in fact, the Roman word for "soldier" translates to "one who is paid in salt").

In addition to the essential minerals in sea salt, sodium is critical to proper function of a number of processes in the body. If you're a nerd for this stuff like I am, don't take my word for it; check out Chris Kresser's thorough salt series:

I've found that when I try the "dose" of sea salt (with water!) in the mornings, it fits in well as part of my stabilizing, energizing morning routine, perfect for starting out with a nice walk or meditation at the beginning of the day. When we're stressed, our adrenal glands are overworked, and we can support them with real salt function (here's a post about healing the adrenals with salt). Adrenal fatigue is commonly talked about these days, and stress reduction is so important--through mental and diet techniques.

You may not be up for eating spoonfuls of salt plain, but don't be afraid to add a little extra natural sea salt to your food!
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