Where we get fit and spin (wool)

This is another of my philosophical musings, so if you came here for the fitness, sorry! Although the person deadlifting the hex bar in one scene had darn good form. I wonder if it’s the actor or a replacement? Anyway, we went to see “American Sniper” last night. Prior to seeing it, the only talk I had heard about it was some talk about whether it was pro-war or anti-war. I don’t remember where I was listening to the discussion, but one person talking said that Clint Eastwood was anti-war.

Seriously? That’s what you got out of the movie?

The movie hit me hard. I didn’t even want to talk afterward. To boil it down to a stance on war, seems ludicrous and petty. After seeing numerous war movies, I have never come away with the feeling that “this movie glorifies war”, or “this movie is a good anti-war movie”. I don’t “like” war movies, but I feel watching them is the least I can do to honor those who have endured what war inflicts. Having seen it, this movie may show more of what motivates someone to go to war, but I’d hardly go so far to say it is in favor of war.

To say someone is pro-war is like saying someone is pro-hurricane, or pro-house fire. I think every war movie I’ve seen shows how terrible war is, the pain and devastation it wreaks on everyone involved. There are never “winners” in a war. Not like there are in sporting events. There may be one side that surrenders, but both sides pay, and pay, and pay.

There was a scene where they were going after a “bad guy”. I don’t want to give anything away, but the guy they were going after was clearly a psychopath. I’m becoming more and more convinced that wars occur because psychopaths get the upper hand. If I’someone willing to kill and torture to get what they want, and gather other like-minded people around them, if there isn’t a strong social structure in place, they will become the leader. I think that is how all the horrible dictators got in power. They made promises, threats, bullied, then finally killed and tortured to get to the top of the social structure. What happens when a psychopath is running the country? Certainly he won’t be making decisions that are in the best interests of others.

So what choice do others have? If there are sociopathic people running a whole country, and the world sits back and does nothing, what happens? Do these people calm down and turn to the business of running a country? Or do they start attacking any and everyone around them? I know we all think “Just get rid of the crazy guy at top, and it’ll be over”. That’s just not true. Those kind of leaders surround themselves with people just as blood thirsty and crazy as they are, and one of their underlings just rises to replace them. Any you know it won’t be good, since they will have to fight off other bloody minded people to take over, so they will have to be smarter and more vicious than the rest.

So no, I don’t think this was a pro-war movie. It was definitely a pro-Chris Kyle movie. I do hope he lived up to his story, he was portrayed as a hero. “War is hell” as Sherman once said, but by definition it creates heroes. Anyone who can do what they need to do, and not lay down and quite under the circumstances war creates has to be a hero.

Until we can find a way to neutralize the psychopathic personalities among us, there will be wars. As long as there are individuals to want power and blood and have no regard for their fellow-man, there will be the need to stop them, and we will have war.

I tend to be a skeptic. People often take a bit of a story, and make a whole different story out of it. Here is a case in point. I read this article “Why is Everyone So Nuts About Coconut Oil“, by Rachel Tepper, whose point was “coconut oil is good for you”. She did say in the last paragraph to use it sparingly, citing another article,”Ask the Doctor: Coconut Oil” from Harvard Health Publications. I just want to contrast a paragraph from each article.

From Rachel’s article:

Our verdict? You can buy the hype about coconut oil.

From the Harvard article:

But, for now, I’d use coconut oil sparingly. Most of the research so far has consisted of short-term studies to examine its effect on cholesterol levels. We don’t really know how coconut oil affects heart disease. And I don’t think coconut oil is as healthful as vegetable oils like olive oil and soybean oil, which are mainly unsaturated fat and therefore both lower LDL and increase HDL. Coconut oil’s special HDL-boosting effect may make it “less bad” than the high saturated fat content would indicate, but it’s still probably not the best choice among the many available oils to reduce the risk of heart disease.

To be fair, Rachel did state to use it sparingly, “like any other oil”, right before she said we can buy the hype. I also think it’s funny that a doctor who studies the health effects of food says soybean oil is better, as all the hype now is demonizing soy. Oh, I forgot, doctors are all short-sighted, evil or in the pocket of the corporations. (Always demean those that disagree with you).

I hate to make nutritional information any harder for people. There is SO much partial information, hype and hysteria about food right now. What I hope you take from this is that everything you read and hear if filtered through people. People with biases and emotions. If you are on the paleo bandwagon, you will only hear positives about coconut oil and saturated fat. If you are vegan or vegetarian, there are plenty of studies that will support the benefits of eating less meat and saturated fat. Food is not magic or evil.   If one way of eating was so much better than any other, we would have ample evidence, since there are so many people, eating so many different ways. We can see the “Western Diet” does have serious hazards, and large amounts of processed foods are linked to health problems. But does every octogenarian eat a paleo or vegetarian or even whole food diet? If so, adopt that diet. However, I think they are eating a variety of diets. Health is strongly influenced by our choices, but not all those choices are about food. Look at George Burns, he certainly didn’t follow any of the current diet trends, and he lived to 100.  One of the biggest factors is just don’t eat too many calories. All diets that cause weight loss result in improved health markers.

We are deeply influenced by peer pressure. If everyone around us is saying something is great, we will tend to think that way. However, what are they basing their support on? Do you know the difference between an article and a study, published in a peer-reviewed journal? Does the person you are taking advice from know the difference?

I just read the book behind another highly hyped diet, and while I don’t think the diet is awful, the book is. They are claiming their diet can cure illness. In fact, lots of illnesses. Any diet or product that claims that is automatically suspect. While diet has a role in many illnesses, illnesses don’t all have the same etiology, and they don’t all hinge on diet. Cleaning up you diet, exercising and losing weight will make you feel better, but it won’t cure you, unless your illness is caused by diet, like hypertension or type 2 diabetes. I’m not naming the book, as I don’t want to debate it in this article.

Use common sense, don’t get caught up in hype, don’t look at food as magic or evil, use caution when reading. Did I forget anything? Oh, eat your veggies, everything else in moderation.

I probably ought to give my articles more straightforward titles, but I like playing with writing a bit. Anyway, this entry is based on an article I just read, “Coming Soon to a Workplace Near You, “Wellness or Else””. It was very interesting, as it plays into some of my favorite thought patterns.

First, I love listening to and economist’s take on things. I read “Freakonomics”, and I listen to the “Planet Money” podcast. This article focuses on the economics of workplace wellness, and do the perceived savings really add up, or are the savings coming from other sources? The article states that much of the savings come from throwing more of the health care costs back on employees in the form of penalties or denial of coverage if they don’t participate in wellness programs. It states the actual cost benefit is programs costing 100$-300$ per person, with only a 25-40$ drop in medical costs per year. If direct health savings were the only incentive for companies, obviously they don’t have a lot of reason to institute these programs.

Second, I’m fascinated by incentives and whether they work, or, as my title implies, create unintended consequences. Are health incentives helping motivate us to get healthier, or are they coercive and unfairly punishing people? For example. Let’s say I offer to pay any employee to quit smoking. How do I prove it? Do I demand blood tests? If I’m a non smoker, it hardly seems fair. If I restart, can I get the quitting bonus again? Incentives seem like a great thing, till you see how they play out.

I want everyone to do everything in their power to get healthier. We know that people will engage in unhealthy behavior, in spite of repeated negative consequences. It is hard to know what will motivate people to change. It seems like this is a positive tool, but maybe not. What do you think? Do you have any personal experience?

I was reading this article about how upset the Harvard professors were over the changes to their healthcare plan. I have to admit a certain amount of malicious enjoyment as major universities, such as Harvard, were behind the impetus for the Affordable Care Act. Like congress, I guess they wanted to make laws that would only affect the “other guy”.

Faculty members were quoted as “not being concerned for themselves, but for less well paid employees”, and “It’s the principle”. No, lets face it, any time you give something to someone, there is an outcry when you take it away. The fact that they are the elite of American society, living in a world where they are largely sheltered from the realities of poverty and having to make ends meet makes their belly aching less palatable. The objections they have are what the rest of us have been living with for years. MOST healthcare plans have high deductibles and copays.

I say “why not?”. We need insurance to pay every time we go to the doctor? How about save that sort of transaction for those horribly expensive things, like surgery, cancer, etc. I know there are those who would argue that health care should be free, a right. The sad truth is, nothing is free. Every “free” thing you have ever gotten was paid for, just not by you. Why don’t we educate doctors for free, then they won’t have high debt, so won’t need high salaries? Why don’t we pay their malpractice insurance, relieving them of that cost, so they can distribute their services for free? Why don’t we pay pharmaceutical companies for their R&D, so they don’t have to charge large amounts for their medications? If those ideas sound ludicrous, why then do we insist someone else should pay at the other end?

When all this health care debate started, I had hoped to see some of the basic issues addressed. Insurance distorts the cost of health care. The insured person has no idea what the cost of something, but doesn’t care because he’s not paying it. The insured and the providers have this weird dance going on of formulas and partial payments, obscuring the real cost. Without a direct market, there is no competition, no advertised prices and a huge chunk of the medical cost goes to insurers, who are not directly involved in health care at all.

If you pay 2,000 dollars a month to Blue Cross and Blue Shield, and only use 50$ of that for your health care, does the other $1,950 go to another subscribers bills? Not hardly. Not when insurance companies have enough profit to sponsor every last sporting event and charity in your community. While I don’t mind that they are using that money back in the community, wouldn’t be nicer to have that money to spend on health care? If we have to pay a parasitic third-party, why don’t they take all their profits and use them to open clinics in underserved communities? Or pay the outstanding medical bills for someone who is uninsured or underinsured.

The more we monkey with the system, the more cumbersome and less responsive it becomes. Look at our tax system. It’s all one big complicated game with real winners and losers. Health care is the same. Maybe these Harvard professors, now that they see how superficial the changes they championed are, will go back and lobby for some real change. Lets just make sure that we all experience the changes, that way if they don’t work, they will be quickly scrapped.

Let me know what you think. Does all this get your dander up, like it does mine? Do you feel common sense is sadly lacking in the higher echelons of power?

Live Long and Prosper

In case you haven’t figured it out, my obsession with fitness is about living longer. Or, rather, living perfectly healthy to the day you croak. I don’t really care about the exact number of years. I am a bible believer, so I think I am going to a better place, so leaving here isn’t terrifying. What is terrifying, is the idea of spending my last few years unable to care for myself or know that I can’t care for myself. I am around older people all the time, and I can clearly see the last few years can vary WILDLY. If you are 79, you could be in a wheel chair or showing off in physical therapy after your knee replacement. (Both examples of what I’ve seen just this week).

Anyway, Yahoo got me, as they always do, with a link to this article encapsulating some findings of things that will extend your life. It isn’t often that I feel the need to blog after reading “7 ways to…” or “10 things that…” but it was one paragraph that got me:

Low expectations boost happiness. When researchers monitored the brain activity of volunteers as they played a game, they found the degree of happiness players experienced when they won depended on their expectations: the lower the expectations, the happier they were about winning. In the real world, scientists say, people with low expectations are likely to derive more pleasure from receiving gifts or going on vacation. “Happiness depends not on how well things are going,” says neuroscientist Robb Rutledge, “but whether things are going better or worse than expected.”

This plays into one of my strongest beliefs; that how happy we are depends on our expectations. You’ve seen the YouTube videos of the kids opening presents and saying “Is that it?”. It’s true. Nothing you get will make you happy if it doesn’t match or exceed your expectations. conversely, very little in real life can make you as miserable as anticipating negative events.

I believe one of the eastern religions teach something like this, they tell their followers to want nothing, that the end of all desires is the path to happiness. I don’t agree with that, but keeping your expectations in line with reality is definitely preferable to being wildly optimistic or pessimistic.

It has been my experience that having realistic expectations is a function of age. I don’t think I was capable of it when I was younger. I have definitely mellowed with age. I don’t get wildly excited, and I don’t get as low either.

What do you think? Is it “all in our heads”? Are we as happy as we make up our minds to be? Or are we controlled by external factors-are we “made happy” by good things happening and made miserable by the bad? Can we consciously control our happiness by changing our expectations? Or are there other factors I’m leaving out? Let me know.

I was listening to an episode of Ben Greenfield’s fitness, and he was interviewing Lance Roth, a purveyor of commercially prepared bone broth. Here’s the link if you’d like to listen. I have heard of bone broth before, and I like the idea, even though there is little or no proven benefit. Eating collagen has no proven effect on skin, your body breaks it down to individual amino acids, but hey, we need those amino acids.

Before I get all nerdy on you and debate whether this is even worth doing, it led to some unexpected results that I’d like to share.  I cooked the carcass for 24 hours in the crockpot, along with some carrots and celery that were past their prime. Lance suggests putting vinegar in to leach more of the calcium out of the bones, but I forgot to add it. In spite of that, when I took the carcass out and deboned it, the bones were so soft they crushed in between my fingers. I started squeezing all the bones with the same results. I finished separating the meat, bones and broth. Then I took what I would normally thrown out and put it in the blender.

pureed chicken bones and skin

You can make a smoothie out of anything, right?

It created a smooth slurry. I tasted it, it wouldn’t win awards, but it was definitely edible. I had already decided before starting the blender that  whatever it turned out like, at least the dogs would benefit.

So now I have cooked chicken, bone broth, and… Chicken paste? Bone and skin pâté? For those that are into “nose to tail”, this is perfect. I only had to throw out the equivalent of the humerus and femur, they didn’t soften as much. Unless I can come up with a recipe I could use this in, it’ll probably benefit the dogs alone.

So, how does this experiment measure up in food fad terms? Paleo- a yes, our ancestors wouldn’t waste a thing. Vegan and vegetarian, obviously no. Raw foodists, again nope. “Gut health”? Yes, long slow cooking makes food easier to digest. If you are looking for low fat, both the skin and marrow are fatty, so this isn’t for you. It is dairy and gluten free. The “nose to tail” movement that believes in making meat eating more sustainable by eating every bit of a creature would be all over this.

So what do you think? Would you eat it? Have you heard of anyone doing so? Is there any benefit? Do those benefits outweigh the drawbacks? Have any recipes? Have a crossed a line that shouldn’t have been crossed?

Is Your Scale Lying to You?

How do you tell if your scale is telling the truth?

scaleIt isn’t too difficult. First and foremost, dramatic gains or losses. Unless you are Michael Phelps, you are not going into a 3,500 calorie deficit in one day. Similarly, while you might have gorged yourself last night, it would take a real effort to eat that same 3,500 calories in one evening. So, if you see your scale going up and down by pounds in a day, it isn’t fat that’s the answer, it’s water.The reason they suggest 1-2 lbs. a week as a reasonable weight loss amount is that, for most people, that is all that is truly achievable of real fat loss. People love to poo-poo the “calories in/calories out” advice, but the math doesn’t change. Just how you can get there does.

Water, Water Everywhere

Now for that pesky water. It is the culprit behind those dramatic weight loss diets and why people get discouraged when they can’t keep those big numbers going. I want you to do something for me tomorrow, if you are weighing yourself. Weigh yourself first thing in the morning, right after you pee. Now, drink two big glasses of water and weigh yourself again. Do I need to say anything after that? There’s your proof.

Carbs Hold Water

The reason that people on low carb diets appear to lose multiple pounds in their first week is that carbs hold water. You store extra carbs as glucose (glycogen) in your body and with it, water. Strip that out, and *bang*, “I lost 5 lbs. my first week”. Of course, once you start eating carbs again, those 5 lbs. are the first ones back. It’s also why you gained two pounds after a night on the town eating or drinking carbs.

The only other dramatic weight loss/gain factor is how much food do you have on board. In other words, what is in your digestive system? Again, much of this is water, but if you haven’t pooped in a while…. You get the idea. This is also why people appear to lose lots of weight on quick loss diets. Once you empty your digestive system and don’t refill it, that can be 3-5 lbs. right there.

Where to Find the Truth?

First, remember the scale is only a tool. Like all tools, it isn’t the only, or even the best one. It’s only as good as how it’s used. If it is controlling your life, don’t use it.

Second,if you are a frequent weigher, you’ll see a range. I don’t recommend frequent weigh ins, as they can lead to mood swings and eating disorders, but in case you are, you’ll see the numbers fluctuate daily. Your true “weight” lies somewhere in that range. If the range starts to go up, or if it never gets down to where it used to, you’re gaining weight. If the lowest number is a new one, and it pops up over and over, you are losing.

Third, weigh yourself at the same time of day, under the same conditions. I recommend naked, first thing in the morning. Your clothes can weigh anywhere from 1-5 lbs. Your water content should be relatively stable first thing as well.

Fourth, no matter what the scale says, how are your clothes fitting? It is one of those truisms that if you are strength training, you’ll see the clothes change before the scale does. Muscle weighs more than fat, and if you are eating to fuel your workouts, you are holding more carbs/water than before.

Fifth, what direction is it heading over time? Have you seen new numbers that you’ve never seen before? High or low?

I hope this helps, especially if you are panicking. Remember, when it comes to weight loss, you need to take the long view. One spike or dip means nothing. It’s like the stock market. Daily fluctuations mean nothing, it’s the overall trend that you need to look at.

 

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