January 30, 2009

Shopping Cart Olympics

I'm afraid this is not a post about athletic contests involving shopping carts.

These do exist. The Chiditarod, for example, looks to be a real hoot. Teams of human "dawgs" pull shopping carts through freezing-ass Chicago streets for charity, complete with special guidelines for sabotaging other teams. What's not to like?

But no, this is about the imaginary Olympic Games that take place in my head when I go to the grocery store. I don't think I even realized how often I play these games until I saw a funny post by Marie from Mousearoo's Mumblings.

Marie confessed to being a "Judgy Mcjudgerson" because she noticed that the woman ahead of her at the store bought two items: hoodia, and a package of Rolo's candies. Marie questioned the wisdom of this combination.

Marie asked if other folks ever found themselves judging the purchases of others and I thought, holy crap, YES YES YES YES!!!

I am absurdly, ridiculously judgmental about the items people buy. Even though I may smile and make conversation with other shoppers as though I were a normal person, I'm secretly thinking:

"Hey, middle-aged wheezy guy with the large gut and red face and ear hair (ok, so the ear hair isn't relevant, it's just kinda gross)--yeah you, Mr. Good Chance of a Heart Attack on the Golf Course Next Weekend: Do you really need to buy all that bacon and salami and sour cream and chips and full-fat milk and pepperoni pizza and Ben and Jerry's? You think that one head of lettuce redeems that whole basket of junk? Buster, that's iceberg lettuce! It doesn't even count!!!"

You think it's immature and obnoxious to judge other people like that? Wait, it gets worse...

I actually feel competitive about the stuff in my cart. I want to have the healthiest bunch of groceries the cashier has seen that day or even that week.

Do I realize that neither the cashier nor anyone in line gives a rats ass what I buy? Well, yeah, if I think about it rationally. But what fun is being rational when self-delusion is so much more gratifying?

For other neurotic nutballs like myself who want to play shopping cart Olympics, here are some handy rules and tips. Notice that these rules are one-sided rules devised to make it easier to WIN! Because what's the point of competing in anything if you're gonna lose?

1. Judge others by your own standards: As we all know, there are many competing nutritional theories out there; research is often contradictory, and folks of different ages and life philosophies have different goals. So let's say you started on a vegan raw food diet two days ago because of something you read a magazine, and you are chatting with a 96 year old man behind you in line who has fought in 7 wars and still runs ultramarathons. If he has a steak in his shopping cart and you do not: score one for YOU!

2. Don't go to the Farmers Market the same day you go to the regular grocery store. Because you bought your produce there, right, and it was all healthy and organic and local? And now you've got nothing but your less impressive, somewhat processed, "compromise" foods in your cart. So yeah, you know you're going to put organic chard and garlic and local tomatoes in your "Barilla Plus" pasta tonight but how will the cashier and the people in line know that?

Defensive trick: If you are shopping with a family member or a significant other, you can restore any lost Farmers Market credit by working anything you bought there into the conversation. Yes, you will sound like a total jerk, but isn't it worth it to let everyone know that you get better produce at the Farmers Market than at the big chain grocery store?

3. Shop only for yourself. What if a friend or relative asks you to pick up a case of Red Bull, a bag of Oreo Double Stuffs, and a carton of cigarettes? People are going to think you're buying them for yourself!!!! It's almost as bad as when your grandmother runs out of that big bottle of her favorite laxative.

Tip: You can ask the cashier questions about these products to clarify that they're not for you: "My friend wants, um, a package of "Marlboros" but she didn't say what kind. Do they come in different colors?"

4. Special rules apply at super healthy hippy stores: It's no fun to play grocery cart Olympics if everyone around you has piles and piles of exotic produce, dried legumes and unrecognizable grains bought in bulk, cheeses made from the milk of unfamiliar mammals, foreign fermented unpronounceable curds, green juices, seaweed and hemp-based food items, etc. Especially if they remembered their reusable little canvas market bags and you never got around to buying one in the first place!

So in this case: You get bonus points for shopping at the same place as these uber-healthy, gastronomically adventurous creatures. This means you get credit for everything healthy in THEIR carts too, just because you shop at the same store. In this case, the cashier is not the imaginary judge who will award you your medal; rather, it is all the people "out there" who might be hypothetically impressed that you shop at such a virtuous establishment.

5. This last tip is so obvious I forgot to include it the first time and had to re-edit: Don't play the game when you've got too much crap in your own cart! We all have those days when we deserve some junk, or at least manage to talk ourselves into the idea that we deserve some junk. Just like an Olympic athlete doesn't need to enter every event, an Olympic Neurotic Competitive Shopper gets to sit out a few contests and freely toss Snickers bars or Pringles tubes or whatever into the cart. No one will notice, right?

Does anyone else feel either Smug or Sheepish about what you put in your cart? Do you notice what anyone else is buying?

Core Rhythms giveaway: and the winner is...

Mr. Random Number Generator was feeling miffed that he wasn't eligible to win this lovely giveaway. Nevertheless, he huffed and puffed and generated the random number that means the winner is...

Emily, of Walking Contradiction!

Congratulations, Emily. Please send your name and mailing address to crabbymcslacker at gmail dot com by Wednesday, February 4th. And get ready to rumba!

January 29, 2009

Detox Diets? Bah. Try the MeTox diet!

What do people mean when they say detox diet?

The term "Detox Diet" has more meanings than Paris Hilton has brain cells outfits.

I understand people wanting to get rid of toxins in their fat cells.
I understand people who want to avoid ingesting toxic fats, like Dr. Sears.
But when people say "Detox Diet" they seem to be referring to a different concept altogether. Usually it seems to be code for "another dramatic way to lose weight."

There are myriad stories on the web about people who spend several days doing things like eating bean sprout (yes, just the one) and drinking naught but lightly steamed water. It makes me wonder -- are they trying to imitate what celebrities do in fancy resorts, only without the high-priced tonic water and paparazzi?

Master Cleanse: More legal than LSD, but just as healthy

The most popular Detox Diet I've found out there is the Master Cleanse, wherein the victims dieters are required to subsist on water, lemons, maple syrup and cayenne pepper for days. They start hallucinating and rave about all the weight they lost. (Okay, not all of them hallucinate. Or at least, not all of them talk about it, like Gwyeth Paltrow.)

Sheesh. It would be much simpler to find a local friendly drug dealer and purchase some over-the-top hallucinogenic substances. You'd enjoy the process as much, if not more so, and hey! You might lose weight!

Oh wait, sorry, the phone's ringing...

What's that? Lawsuit? Oh, nobody's going to... Oh. All right. Fine.

Ahem. I have been reminded that it should be made clear that Cranky Fitness does not in any way endorse indulging in activities whose side effects might include getting arrested, roughed up, or mildly deceased. Please consult your physician, pastor, or parole officer before proceeding.

All the same, I think it makes as much sense to put illegal substances into your body as it does to try and get by, even for a few days, on a diet that provides one vitamin (vitamin C) in small doses and has no other nutritionally redeeming qualities.

What is up with people who insist on these extreme cleansing diets, but refuse to eat sensibly the rest of the time? A diet has to hurt, that's okay with them, but God forbid it should make sense?

The Perfect World Detox Diet

Though you'll never find it on the Internet under this name, there's also the "In a Perfect World" detox diet:

- Switch off the computer, television, blackberry or children* and get some sleep
- Drink unembellished spring water
- Wear only unbleached cotton
- Follow only organic vegetarian-based meal plans
- Rid your mind of all negative thoughts, anger, or resentment
[Brace yourself, here comes the tough part]
-Cut out all meat, dairy, alcohol, sugar and caffeine from your diet

(*And if you can manage that trick, please let the rest of the world know about it. You'll earn the gratitude of thousands and make millions.)

Y'know, if you follow this Perfect World diet, it really will help your liver, and your kidneys, and your waistline.

And afterwards, you can go on to solve Global Warming, eh?

I think the only way I would follow this diet with any degree of fidelity would be to move to a shack in the middle of the woods and become a hermit. And even then I'd probably find a way to cheat.

Sure, you probably should avoid all the bad stuff and subsist on lightly steamed bean sprout(s). But seriously -- are you going to do it? For more than a week or so? The Cranky Fitness philosophy is that exercising and eating healthy are both a pain sometimes. If too much of a pain, you probably won't do it, at least not for long.

So why not try a different approach?

The Cranky Fitness Metox Diet

- Switch off (if possible) the computer, television, blackberry or children and get some sleep.
- If you want to get toxins out of your body, then focus on not putting them in your mouth! Avoid meat or dairy that has been messed up with antibiotics or hormones; buy organic vegetables.
- Go work up a sweat with Manuel (Or whoever makes you hot and sweaty.)
-Rather than cut out all meat, dairy, alcohol, sugar and caffeine from your diet, try cutting out two or even three of the five. Leave yourself some leeway for the occasional 'bad' food.
- Avoid any food or drink with a long list of polysyllabic ingredients.
Note: sodas, even Weight Watchers soda, usually include wood ester. The people who make this stuff say the amount is too low to affect humans. The people who analyze this stuff say there are no long-term studies to verify one way or another. Me, I say if you have to add wood by-products to keep the soda stable, then I'll pass.

The Metox principle is to limit the bad stuff to a level that you and your liver can both accept. It's not as dramatic, but it is a lot more doable than some of the other DeTox diets out there. Plus, you don't have to send 3 simple installments of $24.99 to get the secret!

What's that? I supposed to charge people for this information? Oh crap.

Additives to 'flush' your liver? Flush the additives instead!

What really bothers me is when people want to 'flush' the liver with additives. The liver is not a sewer! If you want to flush, use a toilet. Any additive that claims to 'flush' things is definitely wandering into Ask Your Doctor territory. Especially if you're already losing weight.

Even people who advocate Caloric Restriction (severely limiting the number of calories you eat -- not as a short-term diet, but as a lifestyle) do not recommend losing a lot of weight in a hurry:

"Our foods contain various chemicals (e.g. pesticides) that are fat soluble.... losing fat (weight) too quickly will flush lots of toxic chemicals into our bloodstream -- too fast for our bodies to effectively eliminate."

A Detox Diet really should be a list of things not to eat or drink, plus some obvious injunctions to sleep more and exercise more. Things you already know, in other words.

If you want to do something exotic, go on a round-the-world cruise or climb to the top of a secluded Himalayan peak and consult with some ancient guru. But please don't go messing around with any additives that purport to 'flush' your liver without having a chat with your friendly local physician first.

I realize not all the people who advocate flushing your system are trying to scam you. Some really are trying to be helpful. But there are enough dangers inherent in the whole concept that it drives me into skeptical mode.

Here are some more views on detoxing:

Flush those toxins! Eh, not so fast

Woman left brain damaged by detox

'No proof' detoxing diets work

If I sound cranky, it's because it pisses me off to see people being taken advantage of by other 'experts' who claim to 'help' the patients while helping themselves to their cash.

Or else it's because I'm jealous that I'm not hanging out with Brittney and Paris by the pool.

January 28, 2009

Better Use for Cadbury Creme Eggs

Photo: boozysmurf

Pasta Queen just wrote a great post called "busted" about running into her brother at the grocery store just after she had grabbed a couple of Cadbury Creme Eggs. I don't know that I've tried one of these things, but they do indeed sound delicious. I've been totally craving chocolate lately. Is it just me, or do chocolate cravings seem more pronounced in winter?

Anyway, for those of you with a bit of time to kill, here's an alternative suggestion for what to do should you find yourself in close proximity to a bunch of Cadbury Creme Eggs and don't have a sibling available to stage an intervention.

Warning: some assembly required.

Video via CollegeHumor.

(And if you like these Rube Goldberg type videos, here's one for us vicarious pyromaniacs. Anyone else harbor a secret love of setting things on fire? Personally, I limit myself to candles, fireplace logs, and marshmallows, but if I had a setup like this in the garage...)

Also via CollegeHumor.

As may be obvious, I didn't get the chance to write up a real post for today. Just one of those days when Life got in the way. After almost 2 years of blogging, it has finally occurred to me that rather than stressing about it, I can just remind myself that the world won't come to an end if I miss writing a "real" post every now and then.

And if anyone has a some slightly more practical suggestions for avoiding chocolate flavored temptations, please share! I've been trying to take Dr. Judith Beck's advice and "exercise my resistance muscle," but perhaps I need to do a few more reps and sets.

Have a great Wednesday, everyone, and I hope to have my act together by Friday! (Thank goodness for Merry Sunshine!)

January 27, 2009

Should You Work Out Today? A Quick-Reference Guide

There are days when you can't decide whether to work out or not. We have developed the Cranky Fitness Workout Quick-Reference GuideTM to help you with this difficult decision.

Technical note: to read the Quick Reference Guide, click on the image below.

Don't strain your eyes trying to read it as is. And don't ask me about technical difficulties that require this extra step, or I'll start cussing. Not at you, at Blogger.

Obligatory fine print:

The legal department wants you to know that charts found on a blog do not replace serious medical advice.
For that matter, the beagle department wants to know if you'll come outside and play.
The eagle department is currently dealing with ruffled feathers and thus is unavailable to comment.
The Smeagol department is concerned with the finding of a lost ring, presumed stolen.
And the regal department would like you all to sit up straight once in a while.

January 26, 2009

Crankypants Meets Tibetan Bowl

Some folks are adventurous optimists. They assume that all new experiences will be fun. Ask one of these folks: "Hey, optimist, wanna go Naked Ice Fishing in the Antarctic?" Chances are they'll say "Sure, count me in!" And even if they go naked ice fishing, catch nothing but a bad cold and even lose a few extremities to frostbite in the process, you can still ask them next time: "Hey optimist, want to go sunbathing in the Sahara?" And their answer will be: "Sure, count me in!"

And then there are their opposites. I am one of these creatures. You can call us "party poopers," or just say we're "cautious." We are picky about how we spend our time. We assume that most new things outside of the tried-and-true will NOT be fun. Our default answer to most new activities is "no thanks!"

Before you say "how terrible! That's so limiting!" keep in mind that our ability to say "no thanks" is often hard-won. Most of us crankypants cautious types have been talked into outings and parties and performances for decades and we've been assured we will LOVE them. And then we go, only find ourselves bored, anxious, disappointed, or annoyed. We've learned to trust our own instincts and ignore the enthusiastic promises of the adventurous optimists. Don't get me wrong: we Party Poopers still have plenty of fun; we're just way more selective about how we have it.

All this is to say that while in San Diego, Crabby McSlacker, queen of the Crankypants Party Poopers, got talked into a "Sound Energy Healing" session involving the playing of Tibetan singing bowls (and bells and gongs and other exotic objects).

How did this happen? Well, it was one of those situations where despite some skepticism I couldn't really decline unless I wanted to be a total... what's the female equivalent of a prick, anyway? So the Cautious Crab went off with the Lobster to a sound healing session, generously offered by a friend's mother who happens to be a certified Tibetan bowl practitioner (and a very cool person).

So what does a Tibetan Singing Bowl Sound Healing session entail, and does research say it's effective or is it just a whole lot of hooey?

The Science of Sound

Actually, there does seem to research backing the notion that various kinds of sound, music and rhythms can have healing powers. According to oncologist, Mitchell Gaynor, "We know that music is capable of enhancing immune function, lowering heart rate, lowering stress-related hormones like cortisol that raise our blood pressure and depress our immune systems." Other research suggests that music "trims complications after heart attack, calms anxiety, slows breathing and increases production of endorphins, the body's natural painkillers."

Gaynor is a big proponent of using Tibetan bowls to help cancer patients, but says that there is more going on than just the effects of relaxation. He implies that there is something special about these bowls that taps into spiritual energy that can help cancer patients heal.

Furthermore, in a sound healing article in the New York Times, one practitioner explained: "When the body is sick - it could be a cold, a broken bone, an ulcer, a tumor, or an emotional or mental illness - it's all a matter of the frequencies of the body being out of tune, off balance, out of synch. Vibration can help bring that back into balance."

Er... maybe. I'm frankly skeptical about the whole vibrational balance explanation. I think that there is so much evidence about the beneficial effects of stress reduction, meditation, and even placebo power that we don't even need to go there. But hey, if people believe that the sound vibrations are going into their bodies and messing with their cells in positive ways and resetting their frequencies or whatever, I think that's a good thing, whether it's true or not!

What is a Tibetan Bowl Sound Session Like?

It's pretty cool.

We went into a room that had dozens of Tibetan bowls of all sizes as well as some bells and who knows what else. (If I were a proper reporter instead of a lazy blogger, I probably would have thought to ask what all the stuff was). Tibetan bowls can be struck or rubbed, and they have a very rich sound with lots of overtones. Apparently they are tuned to the frequency of "aum." In more technical terms, they sound pretty.

As instructed, we removed our shoes, lay down on a comfortable mat, were covered by a blanket, and were given nice little eye pillow thingies. This triggered pleasant massage associations and was a nice surprise.

Then I start to forget the order of things. Did our host make the trance-inducing suggestions about letting go and ripples and ponds and hearts blossoming open and such before she put the bowls on our chests and bellies? Or did the cool bell tones and chimes start first and then the suggestions and then the belly bowls?

Anyway, I do at least remember that the sounds the bowls made being struck and rubbed all around us (and on us) were VERY soothing. The tones were rich and warm and layered and luxurious. Because I could feel the vibrations, the sounds seemed to worm their way into deeper places in my head and body than regular music normally goes.

By the end, I was so relaxed I could barely speak.

I didn't go in with any specific medical issues to deal with, so I can't attest to the pain-relieving, disease-fighting properties of Tibetan bowls, but I can say that they are pretty wonderful things to be around. As someone who sucks at meditation, I am always looking for ways to turn down the mental chitter chatter a few notches. (Which is not to say that the yapping in my brain went away entirely, but at least it was contented, meandering, quieter yapping).

Anyway, the Crankypants Crab will continue to defend to her dying day the practice of saying "no thanks!" to new experiences. But, um... sometimes new experiences actually turn out to be awesome. (Thanks Diáne!)

(For more information on Tibetan bowls, Tibetan bowl music cd's, or attending sound healing concerts or presentations, check out Diáne Mandle's Sound Energy Healing site.)

Anyone else try something new that you didn't think you'd like? Were you right or were you wrong?

January 23, 2009

Raw Broccoli: Crabby Draws the Line

Cartoon by Natalie Dee

I may have mentioned before that I'm one of those crackpots who will often heed the results of the health studies I read.

For example, years ago I read that red bell peppers have more nutrients than green ones, and blue potatoes have more than white ones. So I will actually go out of my way to buy blue potatoes and red bell peppers.

I know full well that often these studies are followed up by newer studies that say the opposite. But when I'm not tearing my hair out cursing all the conflicting studies, I tend to remember the last thing I read, and if possible, I do what it says.

On the other hand, sometimes when I don't like the results, I pretend I never even read the study.

Like when I read that you shouldn't put milk in your tea or you won't get any of the antioxidant benefits. I tried tea without milk, didn't like it, and so I said "Feh! I'll drink it the way I like it!" (Actually, I'm guessing I used a different word than "feh," but I bet it also started with an "f".) And while the jury is still out on the whole issue, at least one tea with milk study came along and said--nah, it's ok--go ahead and add milk if you like.

So what's the latest study I plan to ignore?

One that says raw broccoli delivers ten times more of the anti-carcinogen sulforaphane than cooked broccoli.

Which is great news for all you folks who like it raw!

But I hate raw broccoli and don't mind it cooked. More specifically, I like it best if it's overcooked, and combined with other tasty ingredients like olive oil or garlic or cheese.

(And yes, there was indeed an earlier study that said the opposite: that cooking broccoli increased antioxidants. But alas, there's a difference between how much of the good stuff is in the food, and how much actually ends up in your bloodstream, so that's part of the reason the studies go back and forth. Am I ridiculously obsessed with stupid unpredictable antioxidants that keep changing their minds? Yep, apparently so!)

Anyway, as much as I like the idea of all that virtuous sulforaphane being ready and available in raw broccoli, I'm still going to cook the hell out of it. Of course, I could just eat TEN TIMES AS MUCH broccoli as I used to in order to make up for the fact that I cook it, but I think I'd rather say "screw it" and croak a decade or so earlier.

Oh wait. Wasn't I just saying the other day about how I'm feeling all inspired to be more positive on the blog from now on, and not quite so Cranky?


Well, um...

Hang on, I'm thinking...

Got it!!

(If this blog had a soundtrack, harp music would now be playing...)

Broccoli may have been the vegetable they studied, but it isn't the only one that has sulforaphane in it, right? There's cabbage and cauliflower and some other ones too. I bet they're also pretty powerful cancer fighters if eaten raw.

Raw cabbage... that's coleslaw! And raw cauliflower.... that's not so bad! Especially if you dip it in something yummy. (At the moment, let's ignore the fact that most yummy dips are full of saturated fats or the wrong omega's or whatever.)

So until the scientists change their minds again, I'll skip the raw broccoli, but please pass the raw cauliflower and dip. And I'll take a side order of coleslaw!

(Anyone placing bets on how long this whole "have a more positive attitude" thing is gonna last?)

Does anyone else read about health research only to ignore the findings they don't like? Anything in particular you're ignoring at the moment?

January 22, 2009

Salsa is a dance? Core Rhythms giveaway (US/Can)

Another review? Merry, what were you thinking?
I was thinking that I needed to balance out the last review with a positive one.
(Can I mention here that the vast majority of PR people are all kind, professional, polite, and nice to work with?)
I reviewed the Core Rhythms Starter Pack, a 4-DVD set featuring Jaana Kunitz and Julia Powers. There's a Kick Start DVD, a Quick Workout, a Full Workout, and a DVD called "Latin Dance Made Easy."

Have to confess, the title of that last one made me nervous. I liked the instructors, Jaana and Julia, but they were definitely slim and flexible, like lithe greyhounds.

Me, I resemble a different kind of greyhound.

Also, I had thought that salsa was something you ate with chips while you were waiting for your enchilada. Not the hippest chica on the block, in other words. I wasn't sure how they could turn me into a hot Latin dancer, but I was curious to see whether I liked the DVDs.

They passed the first test. My new criterion for whether I like a DVD or not is how much talking takes place before they start the warm up. In this case, I estimate it to have been about 12 seconds. Very impressive. Also impressive was the enthusiasm both women displayed. I got the impression they really thought these exercises were fun. They took the time to explain the movements, using the backup dancers as demonstrators. Most of the moves are similar to those in belly dancing, lots of emphasis on using all the core muscles around your waist, but the Latin dance rhythm gives the workout a different tone.

Below is the quick summary. If you click on the Read More, you'll see the full review and details about the giveaway, which incidentally is open to Canadians.

Good: The workouts were fast enough to get me sweating, but not so fast that I felt I couldn't keep up.
Better: The Latin beat made me want to get moving
Ugly: In most of the DVDs, there was a huge close-up of a dancing torso in the background; it was both distracting and surreal. (See the picture at the top of the page to get an idea of what it's like.)

Also, it was also really cool that these DVD workouts were bi-sexual.

Um, no, not like that.

What I meant was that while most workout DVDs are exclusively women-centric, these workouts had male and female backup dancers. In the Latin Dance DVD, Julia taught the woman's dance moves and her husband demonstrated the man's dance moves.

The workout DVDs all have front and back views, so you can watch the instructors from different sides to follow along easily.
The Help section of the Full workout was really cool. If you are following the workout and can't remember how to do a particular movement, clicking Help pauses the action and shows a video clip demonstrating the movement. I approve of this.
The Quick Workout DVD is good for days when you don't have time for the whole enchilada. A 20-minute workout can still work up a sweat, and this one qualifies.
I loved how the Kick Start DVD had a 'split screen' option so you could see a close-up of the torso one one side of the screen while following the instructor on the other. (This DVD did not have the huge surreal dancing torso in the background.)

The Kick Start is designed to show you the basic moves, while the Quick Workout and Full Workout use the moves to make you sweat. The Latin Dance DVD doesn't give you an aerobic workout; it's a dance video designed to train you in basic Latin dance moves. Which it turns out you've been learning all along unbeknownst.

It was fascinating to try the Latin Dance DVD after going through all the core rhythm workout DVDs. I could see each move as it had been shown earlier: the Salsa, the Rumba, and the Merengue. [Note: Some of the other DVDs demonstrate the Samba but the Latin Dance DVD shows the Rumba. Most of the moves in the Rumba are familiar from the workouts.]

While I was sweating off the calories, I was also learning Latin dance moves! Who knew? (Um... probably people who'd read the fine print on the box, but I'm not that kind of girl.) It's difficult for me to think of myself as having "slinky hips" but so long as the drapes were shut tight, what the hell.

I noted some complaints while I was doing the workout.
- The full workout, I complained at the beginnning that it felt like I was marching in place half the time. However, by the end of the workout I'd scratched this note out. I think the marching was phased out in favor of Latin moves about halfway in to the routine. I do remember stopping and feeling the muscles in my core section. It seemed easy while I was doing it, but the workout did have an effect.
- With the Quick workout, I have a note complaining that the exercises were absurdly easy. Again, by the end of the workout I wasn't complaining. My muscles were.
- Yes, the two instructors talked throughout, but at least it was about the workout. They were good at cueing you for the next move.
- Really, the only complaint I have about these DVDs is that dancing torso in the background. And since I can ignore it to concentrate on the instructors, this isn't a huge drawback.

Core Rhythm DVD Giveaway -- U.S. and Canada!

The people at Core Rhythms are so cool that they'll even ship a copy of the Core Rhythms to Canadians (as well as to USians). Clearly, they're worried about how cold it is in the Frozen North and want to send hot Latin rhythms to keep you from getting frostbite.

To win this DVD set, please leave a comment about how you see yourself: Hot Latin dancer? Or the other kind of Greyhound?

The giveaway ends on Thursday, January 29th at Midnight, Rio de Janerio time. Which by an odd coincidence is 6 p.m. Pacific Standard Time. ('Cause I ain't staying up 'til Midnight my time to meet up with Mr. Random Number Generator, that's why.)

Note to Anonymous: Hmmmn... either Anonymous has entered several comments, or different people have left comments anonymously. If you would like to leave an anonymous comment, but want to be entered in the giveaway contest, could you please leave a name (thanks Sara and Messymimi!) or other means of identification in the comment? A code word, a recognition symbol, e.g. "I'm the anonymous commenter who will be standing by the clock in Grand Central Station at 11 pm next Tuesday, wearing a red carnation." Something like that would be very helpful. Thank you.

This contest is now closed. Sorry.

January 21, 2009

The Scale of Our Ambitions

Photo via The White House

"...The challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America — they will be met." --Barack Obama, January 20th, 2009.

I know not everyone was fortunate enough to be able to interrupt a busy workday in order to catch President Obama's inaugural address. But for those of us who saw it: did anyone else find it moving and inspiring?

Politicians are in the business of stringing pretty words together. They tell us flattering things about ourselves and make far-reaching promises for a bright and noble future. Mostly, I don't pay much attention.

This time felt different.

What? Crabby McSlacker, known for her laziness, skepticism, and whining, felt inspired, moved, and energized by a politician's speech? What's this world coming to?

I have to confess, I heard the inaugural address through a partisan filter. Overcome with euphoria at the long-awaited end of the Bush era, I might have cheered the words of an incoming President SpongeBob SquarePants if that's who we'd voted into office.

But re-reading Obama's speech, I'm pretty sure that at least part of my reaction had to do with his eloquent and stirring call to action, and not just my excitement to see the old administration come to a close.

I Needed A Boost

I spend a fair amount of time on the internet reading about health and fitness. Which sounds wholesome and all, but it's frankly sometimes discouraging. We're an unhealthy nation, yet we obsess about flat stomachs and worship anorexic fashion models and act like a bacon cheeseburger, extra large fries and a 64 ounce soft drink is a normal healthy meal.

But aren't there larger, more important issues than the vanity-inspired quest to fit into our skinniest pair of jeans? Yes, I believe there are. First the Fit Bottomed Girls reminded me with a great MLK-themed post, and then Obama came along and gave me another reason to feel like bigger things were at stake.

His speech was not made to Crabby McSlacker about her little health and fitness blog. But... let's pretend it was, shall we? So here, addressing the direction of Cranky Fitness instead of speaking to a troubled world in dire need of hope and new solutions, is President Barack Obama. (And my goodness is that fun to type! President Barack Obama!)

1. On Finding Common Ground

"On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord... We come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas..."

Wait, we're supposed to all get along?

In the health and fitness world, we all have our favorite theories about food and fitness. The Atkins people and the Vegans and Weight Watchers and Cronies and Primal folks and the marathoners and the weight lifters and even the Skinny Bitches all take different approaches. And gosh is it fun to argue about it!

Yet all these different camps share some universal goals: to encourage everyone to have a fit, healthy, strong body and a fulfilling and active life.

So why do we spend so much time emphasizing our differences? The vast majority of folks out there are still eating Twinkies and need our encouragement eating any sort of healthy food and getting any sort of exercise.

I know I spend a lot of time poking fun at people who say things I don't agree with. So in the future, instead of mocking others for taking points of view different from mine, I'll ...

Yeah, so I'm lying. I'm gonna keep right on making fun of things I think are dumb. This is Cranky Fitness after all.

However, I'll try to mention a few more positives! And I'll also remember to poke equal fun at myself too, for all the dumb things I fall for. Thanks, Barack!

2. On Acting Like Adults

"The time has come to set aside childish things..."

So many of our personal health and fitness challenges could be easily met if we did a better job of acting like grownups. I'm incredibly fortunate: I can afford healthy food; I have enough spare time to exercise, and I have a safe, non-violent, non-toxic place to live and work and thrive. Yet all too often I sabotage my own health with childish decisions and poison myself with nasty chemicals just because they taste good!

So many people don't even have healthy options; how can I just waste mine?

There is something about having a smart, serious, self-disciplined adult leading our nation that makes me want to try harder not to conduct myself like a selfish infant. For example, if President Obama isn't too busy leading the free world to work out regularly... um, just what the heck is my excuse???

So sure, Mr. President, I'll set aside those childish things... er, just as soon as I finish this cupcake.

3. On Earning Achievements (Uh Oh).

"In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of short-cuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted — for those who prefer leisure over work or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame."

No short cuts? No preferring leisure over work?

Sorry, Barack, I'm gonna have to think this one over a bit and get back to you. I'm not sure I'm ready to change my name to Crabby McDiligent. In fact, "the pleasures of riches and fame" sound kinda cool. Is there any way I could have some of that without any actual effort on my part?

Sigh. You're right, though. I'll try, I promise, to be a little less Slacky.

Oh, unless you were just talking to the One Rule For a Flat Stomach folks?

You weren't, were you. Darn.

4. On Helping Others

"For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter's courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent's willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate."

These examples, like the "Dreams" post I mentioned above over at FBG, remind me that so many people are in need. There are families all over the world who are caught in wars, suffer horrible abuse, and don't even have the basics in terms of sanitation, food, and drinking water. And there are plenty closer to home who are suffering as well. Whether it be money, time, or even a kind or encouraging word at just the right moment... there will always be a need for whatever we can spare. There may be scary times ahead before things get better.

So no smartass asides here, Mr. President... this is good stuff.

5. On The Power of Big Plans

"Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions — who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short. For they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage."

I tend to focus on the Cranky part of Cranky Fitness--how hard it all seems sometimes to forego the easy road; to do the work necessary and battle the seductive temptations of a self-indulgent lifestyle.

But I often forget to mention, let alone celebrate, the amazing victories ordinary folks have achieved through determination and hard work! And not just for themselves, but for their families and communities.

Words have power to inspire, and with inspiration comes action, and with action comes change.

President Barack Obama, if the power of your words could inspire me, Crabby McSlacker, into wanting to make changes in my own life... then wow, words must be powerful motivators! Perhaps I should remember to use that power for good occasionally and not just snarkiness.

"What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them."

Has it? Did I just feel something quiver? That would be wonderful indeed.

Does anyone else feel hopeful or inspired despite the hard times that loom ahead? What helps you feel more energized and less discouraged?

January 20, 2009

How to Deal With Picky Eaters

(OK, so I wouldn't eat it either.)
photo: Failblog

I am not a parent. And it has been many, many decades since I was a child.

So I really have no business even addressing the topic of kids who are picky eaters and how to handle them.

But of course that won't stop me! So, just a warning: this post may well offend some of you parents. I'm afraid I'm just an old fuddy-duddy and need some help in understanding the issues involved. Things seem to have changed quite a bit since I was a youngster.

In a nutrition column in the SF Chronicle, a reader recently asked expert Marion Nestle this question:

"I am very concerned about my 6-year-old grandson's diet. I don't believe he has ever eaten fruit or veggies or regular food. He loves chocolate and candy and frosting, and at dinner time has his special foods. His pediatrician says not to worry, but his parents are worried and afraid of making eating an issue. What to do?"

Before we get to the answer, and some actual helpful tips for the parents of picky eaters, can I just tell you how this question struck me? It was as though this poor grandparent had written:

"I am very concerned about my 6-year-old grandson's recreational activities. I don't think he's ever played with a ball or ridden a bike. He loves his assault rifles and bourbon and cocaine and hardcore porn magazines. His parole officer says not to worry, but his parents are worried and afraid to make his hobbies an issue. What to do?"

OK, so it's not quite the same thing... but does anyone else wonder if parental deference to kids' preferences sometimes goes too far?

Most Parents Do a Great Job!

I just want to note that most parents I know handle these issues really well. And I'm sure regular readers at Cranky Fitness are flexible and compassionate, while still managing to get their kids to eat something besides candy and frosting. (In fact, I hope some of you have advice from the trenches you can help us out with in the comments). It must be so frustrating to have a kid go through a phase where he or she hates most normal food. Dinnertime as battleground? I can see how that would be really unpleasant.

But WTF is Up With Kids Being Totally in Charge?

This is more than just a picky food issue. I am frequently surprised to see how parents and children interact these days--all that begging and pleading and whining and pouting! Seriously, parents, it's just not dignified when you do that.

When I was a kid, we also had discussions and negotiations--after all, I was part of the spoiled baby boomer generation. (Before that, I believe kids were supposed to be "seen and not heard.") However, when we discussed stuff with our parents, it was understood that parents had the final say. Kids were expected to understand reasonable adult explanations, like, "because I said so that's why," and not put up a fuss.

Here is some more historical perspective:

How Parents Dealt With Picky Eating In the Really Olden Days:

This is before my time, but I'm pretty sure that kids in the olden days who did not want to eat what was offered did not eat, period. If kids took it too far and accidentally perished, the parents simply made more kids.

Candy and sweets must not have even existed, because kids got all excited when they got one crappy little orange in their Christmas stocking.

Oh, yeah, and parents used to make kids drink cod liver oil for no reason at all except, apparently, sadism.

How Picky Eating Was Dealt With In My Generation:

It varied from family to family, but I don't think my experience was unusual:

Junky foods like ice cream and potato chips and hamburgers and candy were treats, not staples. They were often used as rewards and could be taken away if we were bratty. As kids, trying to demand any of these foods would have been useless, unless our goal was to spend the rest of the day exiled to our rooms.

Dinners were eaten as a family and we all ate the same thing. Kids had to try at least a small portion of everything on our plate or we wouldn't get dessert. No matter how vile a vegetable was, we generally managed to choke down a few bites in order to get something sweet afterward.

Note: these mealtime tactics are now considered akin to child abuse, as they are supposed to give kids eating disorders and traumatize them etc. Oddly enough, these primitive methods worked pretty well for me. Having choked down vegetables repeatedly for all the wrong reasons, I got used to the way they tasted and then even grew to like them. (By contrast, the Lobster grew up in a household where no one much liked vegetables, so she didn't have to eat them. And guess what? She still hates most of them to this day.)

What The Experts Are Now Saying You Should Do

Between the Chronicle "fussy eater" article above, a USDA page on preschool picky eaters and a Mayo Clinic list of tips for children's nutrition, here is a big ol' list of suggestions. Some of these seem really smart! Others, well, I'll be curious to see what actual parents think of them.

  • Model healthy eating habits by eating healthy food yourself.
  • By the time kids are 2 years old, they generally can and should eat what adults eat.
  • With small kids, you can cut or mash the foods, serve smaller portions and don't add sugar or salt.
  • Involve kids in shopping and cooking. "Take the foods home and let kids peel fruit, pare vegetables, mix, mash and measure. Let them taste everything. Teach kids to cook."
  • Kids do not need sodas or candy. You can postpone these indefinitely or reserve them for occasional treats.
  • Once babies can handle solid foods, you can offer a new food once a week. If the child tolerates it, move on to the next.
  • A child's willingness to accept an unfamiliar food depends on how frequently the food is offered. You might have to offer a food at 20 meals before a child will taste it.
  • Start by presenting tiny portions of everything served at family meals, give the child time to play with and taste the foods, and remove anything not eaten after a short while.
  • Have plenty of healthful foods available - and offer nothing else. Do not make substitutions.
  • Try to make meals a stress-free time. Talk about fun and happy things.
  • Offer ultimatums choices. Rather than ask "Do you want broccoli for dinner?" ask “Which would you like for dinner: broccoli or cauliflower?”
  • Offer a variety of foods and let your child choose how much of these foods to eat.
  • Offer the same foods for the whole family. Don’t make a different meal for your preschooler. Your child will be okay even if they don’t eat a meal now and then.
  • Respect your child's hunger — or lack of hunger. If your child isn't hungry, don't force a meal or snack.
  • Stay calm. If your child senses that you're unhappy with his or her eating habits, it may become a battle of wills. Threats and punishments only reinforce the power struggle.
  • No juice or snacks for at least one hour before meals.
  • Don't expect too much. A few bites may be all it takes for your child to feel full.
  • Limit liquid calories. If your child fills up on milk or juice, he or she may have no room for meals or snacks.
  • Don't force your child to clean his or her plate.
  • Don't mention taste. Talk about a food's color, shape, aroma and texture — not whether it tastes good.
  • Eat breakfast for dinner. Who says cereal or pancakes are only for breakfast? The distinction between breakfast, lunch and dinner foods may be lost on your child.
  • Make it fun. Serve broccoli and other veggies with a favorite dip or sauce. (Really, this is supposed to be fun for kids? Now using the veggies to catapult the dip against the wall--that sounds like fun!) Or, cut foods into various shapes with cookie cutters.
  • Be sneaky. Add chopped broccoli or green peppers to spaghetti sauce, top cereal with fruit slices, or mix grated zucchini and carrots into casseroles and soups.
  • If your child doesn't like ingredients thrown together,"unmix" the food. Place sandwich fixings outside the bread, or serve the ingredients of a salad, casserole or stir-fry separately.
  • Be consistent: serve meals and snacks at about the same time every day, and "close" the kitchen at other times.
  • Consult your child's doctor if you're concerned that picky eating is compromising your child's growth and development or if certain foods seem to make your child ill.
  • Minimize distractions. Turn off the television during meals, and don't allow books or toys at the table.
  • And finally, (and the suggestion I liked the least): Don't offer dessert as a reward. This sends the message that dessert is the best food.

Well, sorry Mayo clinic, but dessert IS the best food!!! If we could blame our adult love of sweets on our parents using them as bribes, isn't that a pretty easy problem to fix? Parents, from now on, just say: "Sweetie, you know you have to finish your tater tots or you won't get any broccoli after dinner." Voila, problem solved!

So obviously I have NO idea about how to deal with this issue in real life. Do you folks have any thoughts/opinions/war stories on the Picky Eater issue?

Diet Girl Giveaway: The Winner!

Mr. Random Number Generator had a hard time with this one, I could tell. So many commenters left little compliments for him that he was getting rather smug. Nevertheless, he churned the numbers and declared that the winner is...

Gazelle, from Gazelles on Crack!

Congratulations! Please send your name and mailing address to crabbymcslacker @ gmail .com (yes, without the spaces) by Monday, January 26th.

January 19, 2009

Mad Merry Goes to Skinny Bitch Boot Camp

A note to PR people:
Below are my official product review guidelines. They have not been reviewed by my esteemed co-blogger, as Ms. Crabby McSlacker is currently in re-crab, trying out for American Idol, in seclusion working on her next post driving hundreds of miles to eat at her favorite restaurant.

Yes, I will be glad to review products, under the following conditions:

1 - I like the product, or at least think it will make an interesting post.
2 - You understand that I will write about the positive and the negative aspects of the product.
3 - You tell me up front, before I agree to the review, if there are any urgent deadlines for a product review. Otherwise, my aim is to review the product within 3 weeks of receiving it.

Please keep condition #3 in mind.

In particular, avoid the following scenario:

Do not send me a DVD on a Friday afternoon, then on Monday morning send me an email saying you need me to review it within the week.
If I demur, do not send me an irate email claiming you sent the DVD "a long time ago."
Also, do not then try to nice-guilt me into doing the review asap when I've already explained to you that that would mean breaking my word to other PR people, i.e. people to whom I've already given a commitment.

Okay, are we clear? Good.

With that in mind, I would like to mention that my review of the Skinny Bitch Boot Camp DVD might have a wee bit of a negative bias...

...because right now I'm kind of pissed off.

At the start, all I knew about the Skinny Bitches was a guest post written by the fabulous Jamie back in April. So aside from my encounter with a certain PR person, I put the DVD into the player without knowing what to expect.

I hit Play All and waited. Looking back, that was where I made my mistake.

The DVD started out with a brief talk by the Skinny Bitches. I'm not sure what it was about, because I zoned out after the first 30 seconds, but I think it was supposed to be meaningful and uplifting.

Then after a brief pause there came another uplifting and meaningful talk. Again, I zoned out. It wasn't a repeat of the first talk, because they were wearing different outfits.

Then came the warm up, and damn me if they didn't start that out with more of the uplifting and meaningful crap. The mouths get quite the workout in this DVD.

The Skinny Bitches (Mouth) Warmup:

They did glib little exercises. And they never stopped talking.
Then they did superficial little stretches. And they never shut up.

Most exercise DVDs have an instructor who stands up front and talks a lot, but usually they give the impression they actually mean what they're saying. Listening to compliments about the Skinny Bitches' cute butts got old very quickly. Likewise, comments like "Whew! I'm sweatin'!" one minute into the warm up came across as completely insincere. I found myself wishing they would depart from the "you go girl!" persona and delve into a deeply convoluted dissertation on Wittgenstein's views on neo-Nazi cross-dressing. Something, anything different from this meaningless patter.

Honestly, it was like being at the gym and having a neighbor who's constantly on their cell phone yapping with their friends about absolutely nothing. (You can't turn off the yapping and just listen to the music. I tried.)

A brief interval wherein I praise snarky bitchery

You'd think with a name like 'Skinny Bitches' there would have been some attitude, but it was all platitude -- with a few repetitions of 'bitch' and 'ass' thrown in to show that they were hip and cool. Every would-be sharp comment came out pat and rehearsed, like they were reading it off the script prompter.

I mean, I admire snarky bitchery when it's done right. The Smart Bitches, Trashy Books website is the epitome of snarky b. (These women review romance novels. Here's a link to one classic example.) They can be mean, but they can also be edgy and unexpected and funny.

The two Skinny Bitches... well, no.

The Skinny Bitches Boot Camp (no sweat) workout:

Doesn't the phrase 'boot camp' suggest a workout that's supposed to be challenging? Make your heart beat faster, make you feel like you're asking your body to work a bit harder?

I'm certainly not the fittest bunny on the block, not even close. And yet I had no difficulty keeping up with these chicas. At the beginning, they solemnly warned the viewer that if the routines were too difficult, just keep moving. Do what you can. Then they provide the most lukewarm example of a workout I've yet to come across.

This wouldn't have been so irritating if the workout hadn't been hyped "A Fat-Blasting, Body-Altering, Butt-Kicking Workout!" I had expected to be sweating at the end of the workout, but I wasn't.

The Abs section of the workout was missing from the DVD I was given to review. (The SBs announced "Now we're doing Abs!" Then 2/3 of the screen went magenta. When it cleared, the title read "Cool Down.")

If you want to see what the Abs workout looks like, here's a sample. Mercifully, they don't talk so much in this clip:

Skinny Bitch: Boot Camp- Abs on Mats - The most popular videos are a click away


At the end of the DVD, the SBs included some 5-minute workouts. Five minutes isn't long enough to get much of a workout, but to be fair I tried the 5-minute arms workout. It felt very lightweight, and damn me if they didn't recycle the same @#$! jokes that they'd used in the boot camp section. These were really irritating to listen to the first time, the second time around was beyond irritating. I can't imagine listening to this DVD several times a week. Not without some extra-strong Prozac.

There were a couple of interviews on the DVD as well, but after sitting through all the introductions, I didn't think I could take any more.


On the positive side, this workout is not difficult to pick up. It's a little irritating when they change exercises while the camera is showing an above-the-waist closeup, which happened two or three times, but aside from that it is quite easy to do. And I did like the fact that they threw in some balance work. I can't find any other reasons to recommend this DVD.

I can respect that they want to make this workout something pretty much everyone can do, but they should have hyped this DVD as something other than a "butt-kicking" workout. [Note: I found a couple of other reviewers who agreed that this workout was too easy. On the other hand, this review of the same DVD claims that it's too hard for an absolute beginner.]

I was also sent a second Skinny Bitches DVD to review, but since this review was a rush/screaming emergency I don't feel guilty about putting the second review off for another day.

January 16, 2009

Feckless Friday: Scary Statistics and Sleepy Puppies

San Diego's Balboa Park

So the Crab and Lobster are heading off early this morning on a road trip to visit some friends in San Diego. We're psyched!

(And honestly, while driving is risky too, we are very happy we're not taking a plane. Yesterday's water landing and passenger rescue was one of the most scary/awesome stories I've heard about in a while. Three cheers for a well-trained, level-headed, heroic pilot and flight crew!)

Anyway, in addition to being the home of cool friends, San Diego was my old college stomping grounds. (I'm a UCSD alum, Revelle College, class of 19.. ahem, cough, cough mumble mumble). So there are a number of important scholarly questions I must research! Like: What sort of innovative health studies are going on in those campus science labs? Is Filippi's Pizza still there? How about that cheap Mexican restaurant near the racetrack that used to serve wine margaritas to college freshman without even requiring fake id? Are the health needs of the San Diego population being met in a comprehensive and sustainable matter? Is Black's Beach still clothing-optional? Is La Jolla still beautiful and snooty? Is Hillcrest still gay?) I shall clearly be very, very busy collecting important data.

Anyway, with the Crab off on another road trip, and it being Friday...what does that all add up to? Yep, you guessed it--a random mess of leftover research and random links and silliness instead of a real post.

But fear not, Merry will be wearing the Crankypants this coming Monday, and the Crab hopes to get her act together with a post that's actually about something health-related on Tuesday. In the meantime... let's get rolling with the randomness, shall we?

Obesity Not Going Away Anytime Soon

Keep in mind that being merely overweight is not necessarily a health risk--in fact, research suggests those who are overweight but not obese actually tend live longer than those who have a normal BMI. However, obesity is a health risk, and a recently-released health survey says there are now more obese Americans (34%) than those who are merely overweight (32.7%).

Also, with the cratering economy, many health professionals are worried that even more folks will put on "recession pounds." They say "cheap sources of calories tend to be high in total fats and sugars."

(And speaking of recessions and pounds, Ali from The Office Diet wants people to know that her ebook, Dieting Basics, is discounted to $4 through the end of January. Warning to other folks selling things: Ali is a good friend of the blog and has helped us out with quite a few great guest posts! We don't ordinarily put in random plugs for stuff that's on sale unless you do our work for us, or at least bribe us sufficiently. Plus, Ali is a sensible gal and we trust her diet advice.)

Facing Surgery? Will Your Surgeons Use a Checklist?

Most people would see this study on the effectiveness of surgery checklists as a positive thing--after all, once these checklists were instituted at various hospitals, patient mortality rates were cut nearly in half and complications decreased by more than a third.

But yikes! As a worrywart, this study made me even more nervous about ever needing surgery. In the article, it was noted that even after new policies were instituted, compliance with checklists still wasn't great. And experts are skeptical whether surgeons will keep using the checklists, or will start blowing them off once no one is watching them all that closely. Some of the issues these checklists address, like--is this the right patient? Did we leave any sponges inside?--you really hope someone is double-checking on.

Get More Sleep!

There are a LOT of reasons why you need to get enough sleep. A recent study adds yet another one: a better ability to fight off cold viruses. People who slept less than seven hours a night were about three times more likely to get a cold than people who slept eight hours or more a night.

Moving Vans in Blogland:

Was anyone else terribly sad to hear that the amusing and thought-provoking blog Elastic Waist closed its doors at the end of 2008? (Conde Nast, tsk tsk!) However, the bloggers behind Elastic Waist didn't go away, thank goodness, and you can still catch up with their exploits at their individual blogs, or at their new portal site, Dearest Mabel. Also listed as a potential contributor to Dearest Mabel is Jennette Fulda, otherwise known as Pasta Queen! Sounds cool huh? Cranky Fitness wishes all the best for the future success of Dearest Mabel.

And if you haven't updated your bookmarks--many of you have already caught the fact that Leslie Goldman, formerly of the Weighting Game, has moved to a different corner of iVillage and now blogs at Never Say Diet. She also had a great (and scary) piece in Health Magazine recently about her neck/back injury. (I caught it in the print copy; the online link wasn't up yet last time I checked, but be sure to look for it).


Well, apparently lots of folks are these days. How else to explain the exploding popularity and media coverage of websites such as Cute Things Falling Asleep?

Yep, that's what you see lots and lots of when you go there. Here's just one example:

(Warning: do not attempt to operate heavy machinery after watching this).

For more all-purpose, less specialized cuteness, there's always Cute Overload:

Seriously, if you like cute, this is the place.

Is there a limit? Is Cute Overload just too much cute for some of you? Here's an alternative stress-reducer: at this site, you can vicariously microwave food and other random objects that have no business being microwaved. The Christmas lights and ketchup packages were both kinda cool. (Oh crap, was this a really unfortunate juxtaposition of items or what?)

Hope you all have such glorious, non-stressful weekends that you don't even need to watch cute sleepy furry things to unwind!

Got anything fun planned?

January 15, 2009

Send your mind to the Gym? Lumosity vs. Laziness

Terry Pratchett, a best-selling author of dozens of books, was once asked by his doctor if he had any problems with his memory. Pratchett paused, considered the question, and replied, "Not that I recall."

This anecdote got a laugh when he told it at a book signing, but when he announced a few months later that he was suffering from a rare form of early-onset Alzheimer's disease, it didn't seem so funny.

You'd think the nice part about losing your memory would be that you wouldn't remember that you were losing your memory. No. I think of all the diseases you could get, Alzheimer's must be the worst. The thing is, people often are aware when something's not right. They know there's a problem, though they don't always know what it is.

There was a big kerfuffle on Pasta Queen's blog when the comment was made that receiving a cancer diagnosis would be better than bearing chronic pain and never knowing what was wrong with you. Similarly, Pratchett claims that he'd rather have cancer than Alzheimer's. "I'd like a chance to die like my father did - of cancer, at 86.Remember, I'm speaking as a man with Alzheimer's, which strips away your living self a bit at a time. Before he went to spend his last two weeks in a hospice he was bustling around the house, fixing things. He talked to us right up to the last few days, knowing who we were and who he was. Right now, I envy him."

Even if you don't develop Alzheimer's, your brain will change as you age. It's not all bad news, though.

Richard Restak, the author of the best-selling Mozart and the Fighter Pilot's Brain points out that as we get older, the number of nerve cells decreases, "but the richness and complexity of brain circuitry increases." (My translation: Old age and treachery will always overcome youth and skill.)

Physical exercise can help with memory loss. To quote wonderful Dr. Mirkin (yes, again), in an article he wrote about memory and blood sugar, "Hundreds of other studies show that 1) exercise slows loss of memory with aging, [and] 2) diabetes markedly increases risk for dementia...."

But according to Restak, the memory expert, physical exercise is not the main priority to help your brain. "The best protection against developing a memory disorder? Exercising the brain's memory mechanisms."

This seems to me to be rather important. The thing is, unless I get run over by a bus or develop a horrible disease, I'm going to get older. And I don't want to spend my last years confused while life goes past in a blur. It's heart-breaking to see someone deteriorate from a healthy alert personality to a confused faded forgetful shell of themselves.

While I was pondering this, I got an invitation to try out Lumosity. It's a web site devoted to cognitive learning. Sounds fancy, doesn't it? What it boils down to is a series of mental exercises, in the form of different online games, that are supposed to help keep your memory sharp.

When you start out, you complete a series of memory games that establishes a baseline. Then you perform memory workouts, for about 10 minutes a day, to work on improving your ability. You can also compare your results against the average test results for someone of your age group, which could prove useful.

One thing that I like about Lumosity is that it's a website where games are being updated and new games are being added, as opposed to some other brain programs that I've seen, which allow you to download a static software program.

Why do I want to play these video games? I've got bubbleshooter!

The nice part about doing memory exercises on the web is that I associate them with video games, i.e. it feels like I'm doing something fun. It's like chocolate-covered broccoli: something that's good for me and tastes good. (Okay, so I've never actually tried covering broccoli with chocolate. It's an analogy, okay? Work with me here.)

I love the idea of 'brain games,' the same way I love the idea of playtime exercise as opposed to working out on a treadmill. Some of the games were fun, some were frustrating. (Argh! I do not have an aptitude for spatial memory!) It was encouraging that I could re-try the frustrating exercises and see an improvement.

All that I've learned from playing games like Bubbleshooter was that I have a low frustration level -- and it doesn't improve the more I play the game.

What are these games like?

At first the games on the Lumosity site are childishly simple. I felt like I was playing at the two-year-old level. Then... um ... they're got more challenging.

One game tested peripheral eyesight and memory, which they claim helps with driving. (You had to watch for something appearing on the corner of the screen while remembering a letter that flashed in the middle of the screen at the same time.) Another game involved matching name tags with people, which is something that I have a helluva problem with at parties. Another had me trying to think -- under the clock -- of all the seven letter words out there that start with "Ann_____" I would've thought I was good at that, but not when I've got a clock ticking away.

I keep thinking that I should be able to improve my memory without paying some website $80. On the other hand, how much do you pay for your gym membership? Is your brain worth less than the rest of you? (That's $80 a year, or about $6.66 a month.)

Hell, why can't I just do these memory games on my own?

That's fine, if you've got access to games that will help you improve your memory. And if you're disciplined enough to actually do the work.

There probably are people who are self-disciplined enough to do something like this on my own. Me, I'd find excuses and rationalizations and it probably wouldn't get done. I've had Restak's book on my nightstand for the past three months, intending to go back and do some of the memory exercises that he describes. I'm sure I'll get around to it... one of these years... Why is it that it feels like work to perform exercises from a book, yet I always can find time for ten minutes of playing games on the computer? That's why I'm inclined to like the idea of this memory training website -- I'm more likely to actually do it.

I'm seriously considering giving a membership to my mother, since she's fixated on not losing her faculties.

Try it yourself. No strings.

If you're curious, check the Lumosity site out. They've got a seven-day trial version you can play with -- and you don't have to give any credit card information before starting the trial, which makes for a nice change.

Plus, it's a sweet setup: you get to play video games and no one can say you're not doing something useful! (Except perhaps the boss. Try this at home, eh?)

If you'd like to read more about the theory behind the Lumosity games, here's their Brain training page.

What do you think? Is this something you could (or more important, would) do on your own? Or would you consider trying a mental gym?

January 14, 2009

Mixin' It Up! (Yeah, When Hell Freezes Over)

It really should be illegal for me to have a health and fitness blog.

Put down that cupcake, ma'am--
We're taking you downtown.

(Photo: tysoncrosbieedit)

It's not just that I indulge in frequent bathroom humor, pick fights with senior citizens, or put Splenda in my coffee.

What's worse than all that?

It's that even when I do offer sensible health and fitness advice to readers, I sometimes totally blow it off myself.

Like, for example, with strength training. I said, just a few days ago: it's really important to pay attention to form. But do I pay attention to form? No, I do not! And every now and then I injure myself. (Go figure.)

But the worst example is the way I always recommend variety when it comes to exercise. Sure, it's the best way to remotivate when you're in a bit of a slump. It really is smart to try something different!

Yet, I don't.

I do the same things over and over, even when I'm totally bored with them. Because change involves effort. And doing something new might require some research, or force me to confront my own ignorance, or it could make me look like an ass! Much easier to keep things the same.

Are you one of those stubborn sorts who needs to get out of your exercise rut? Need a little kick in the pants to try something new? Well, here are some of the very few tips I can offer for making yourself do something different.

Note: These are Special Slacker Tips, so no proactive energy is required, and there's no need to summon up any (ughh) motivation. They happen... or they don't. Whatever!

1. Hurt Yourself.

This is the best "mix it up" motivator ever. It's the number one reason I have not done the exact same cardio routine my entire life. If I did not have knee issues, I would go running every day. Probably on the same route, at the same speed, for the same distance, wearing the same outfit, listening to the same music, until the end of time.

But damn it, I can't. Well, I still cling to the same tattered workout clothes year after year, because I hate shopping, but as to running? I can only go a couple times a week, on soft surfaces. And only if I ice my knees afterwards and ignore the creaky crunchy noises I make going up or down stairs.

So instead I mix up my cardio by using the elliptical, walking up hills or on the treadmill at 15 percent incline, or, if I'm really desperate, I do the dorkwalking thing. (And some day I may actually take some sort of cardio class again, like I did in the eighties--as soon as my gym decides to hold a class just for me, with a friendly but not-too-perky instructor, using only the music I like, and scheduled for the precise second I walk in the gym. Not too much to ask, is it?)

But here's the bright side to my not getting to run enough: If I could do it as often as I wanted, I would probably grow to loathe running too! However, since I really probably shouldn't be running at all, when I do it feels more like a treat. (OK, "treat" is definitely overstating it. A big bowl of chocolate ice cream, that's a treat).

2. Go to a Crowded or Poorly Maintained Gym.

Have a favorite strength training or cardio exercise that requires a particular piece of equipment? While you may vastly prefer "your" machine to the alternatives, one way to forcibly shove yourself out of your usual routine is see the dreaded "Out Of Service" sign hanging there, sneering at you. Or worse, just witness a parade of other, less deserving gym-goers hogging your machine and not letting you on it!

Here's a tip: almost anything you can do with one piece of equipment, you can do with another. Just do a bit of research, get some professional advice, whine a lot, and voila: variety!

3. Move Somewhere with Crappier or Nicer Weather than You're Accustomed to.

If you're used to trotting or strolling or biking outdoors in a mild climate, and you find yourself living somewhere with 110 degree heatwaves, torrential downpours, subzero temperatures, or 10 foot snowdrifts, you may be surprised to discover that there are Indoor Exercise Spaces known as gyms! There is also stuff you can buy for your own basement, or even shopping malls where it is possible to at least walk around when the weather is unbearable. While these exercise solutions may not be ideal, they give you a whole different set of accessories to buy, things to do, and people and/or walls to stare at.

Conversely, if you live where the weather is crappy, and you've grown used to hopping on indoor machines so you can run, bike, climb, or row, you may be equally shocked to discover that these activities can be accomplished outdoors when the weather doesn't suck! You don't have to wait for a running trail, or wipe it down afterwards like you do a treadmill. Check it out!

4. Humiliate Yourself.

Have a favorite aerobics class at 6pm every night? Always go walking down the same street at the same hour and wave to the same folks? Whatever your routine, just see how flexible you get about changing it if you suffer an unexpected clothing malfunction, a spectacular fall, or an unfortunate release of bodily fluids. New settings and times of day will start to look much more appealing if you want to avoid re-traumatizing yourself every time you work out.

5. Read blogs by people more adventurous than yourself.

If you have a truly inflexible personality like the Crab, then reading others' accounts of their exercise adventures won't be enough to coax you out of your rut. However, when the unexpected happens and you are forced to do something different, it's nice to know ahead of time what fitness options are available.

One awesome resource is Charlotte at The Great Fitness Experiment. She tries a new experiment every month and writes very entertaining posts about her exploits. Or, if you're thinking of trying Fitness DVD's, the Fit Bottomed Girls have excellent reviews and recommendations of all kinds of different types of DVD's.

I can't help noticing that many of you in blogland are way more adventurous than I am. After all, Dr. J recently took up boxing, and learned to punch the speed bag just like a girl. And Geosomin is doing bellydancing! Even the Bag Lady, following MizFit's lead, has become a champion weightlifter.

Perhaps I'll have to take up some more adventurous form of exercise, like, say, extreme base jumping in a wingsuit!

Yeah right.

Anyone else struggle with getting stuck in the same routine?