June 30, 2009

Ask Cranky Fitness: Weight Loss Issues

This is a lopsided Ask Cranky Fitness. Ms. Crabby is off buying garlic to scare off all her overly friendly mosquitoes. (Garlic provides a lot of healthy nutrients, plus it's also good at keeping away sparkly vampires, which can't hurt.) So if you disagree with any of the answers, direct your beef towards me, Merry.

Another anomaly is that one of these questions was actually sent in by a real reader! See if you can spot which one.

Dear Cranky Fitness,

I’m not a competitive person. I like to encourage and support my friends in their weight-loss endeavors. But I’ve got an etiquette dilemma, and maybe you can help.

Last week I ate right, slept well, and worked out more than Madonna – only to have the scale tell me I’d gained a pound. During the same week, a fiendishly cunning evil nemesis pal did no exercise at all, merely cut out wheat from her diet and ate chocolate and potato chips instead. By the end of the week, she’d lost five pounds. My question is: would it be overkill to hire a hit man to take her out? If so, I’ll exercise restraint and merely egg her house. Please advise.

signed, Jealous in Jersey

Dear JJ,


Bad idea. Eggs do not contain wheat. If you really want to be mean, forget the hit man and bring on the pizza delivery man. Or go on at great length about the great new pasta place that you just found. Or... you get the idea. Of course, you could just grit your teeth and congratulate her. One of these days it's going to be your turn -- do you really want to spend an afternoon trying to scrape egg residue off your house?

- Merry

Dear Cranky Fitness,

My bff and I go to a weight loss meeting each week. It’s supposed to help me stay accountable to get weighed in public and listen to people talk about their weight loss efforts. The problem is, I don’t care about anyone else’s weight loss problems; I have enough of my own. I don’t want to alienate my friend – how can I get out of this meeting without hurting her feelings?

- signed, Selfish Friend in SF

Dear SF,

I suppose this is going to sound movie-of-the-week trite, but if she's your friend, can't you talk to her? Work it up tactfully, like "Y'know, instead of going to the meeting, let's go to the gym and work out. Lots of hot sweaty guys in the gym on Monday nights."

On the other hand, maybe going to these meetings will make you a better person. Or a better friend. If they're really helpful to your friend, you might want to keep going for awhile, see if things get better. Or buy ear plugs and spend the hour fantasizing about all the guys in the gym.

- Merry

Dear Cranky Fitness,

This is a question I often get and I find it both compelling, annoying and completely frustrating as I cannot find an answer that satisfies me: How do you not realize your pants are getting tighter, see that you've gained weight on the scale, or notice that you're expanding to the size of a blimp and not just STOP right then and there? How can you put on 20, 50, 100+ pounds without first acknowledging and handling the situation?

As someone who went from a healthy weight to morbidly obese in the span of a couple years - I feel I should have a brilliant answer. i don't.

- Annabel

Great question, Annabel!

Weight gain acts on your body like a recession on your savings account. If you sit still, inflation's going to catch up to you. Treat your body like a house with a bad mortgage and the 'balloon loan' effect will land you in an unhealthy situation. But until fatty liver or diabetes or such shows up with foreclosure papers, it's easy to ignore reality.

After the first 20, your subconscious kicks in. The average subconscious never wants to face an issue like weight gain, so the natural impulse is to distract the conscious mind with a Bright Shiny Thought or provide anodynes to dull the awareness.

If you don't like your shape, there's a tendency to wear baggy clothes anyway. Harder to face the unpalatable truth if you can find "comfortable" pants that have elastic or a drawstring rather than an unforgiving waistband that gets too tight to be comfortable. A tight waistband is a sign for the subconscious to get to work explaining the problem away.

Common rationalizations sent up from a subconscious can include:

- These pants must have shrunk in the wash.
- Must be that time of the month. (Harder to believe this if the subconscious is male or in the body of a menopausal woman, but hey, a sneaky subconscious will try anything.)
- It's not me, it's the jeans.Clothing manufacturers always mess with size labels.
- I've got too much to deal with right now. I deserve some pizza and television. I'll worry about these pants later. (Notice how the subconscious neatly blames the problem on the pants instead of the body?)

So if you've suffered from the 'balloon loan' effect, it's a sign that you have a Annoyingly Smug Subconscious. Best antidotes for an ASS dilemma are:

- Trying on swimsuits. Fluorescent lighting is a cruel but effective reality check.
- Going to a high school reunion. When you see what time and gravity have done to Suzy Cheerleader or Randy Studlington, it's harder to avoid your own reflection.
- Family reunions. Someone invariably insists on taking your photo at these things. Then they distribute the pics to everyone in the family. The odds of having a family composed 100% of people 'too polite to tell you you've gained weight' are ... well, fairly astronomical.

- Merry

Do you have any better ways to deal with sneaky weight gain, or people who attend weight loss meetings, or for that matter people who manage to lose tons of weight while eating chocolate and potato chips?

June 29, 2009

Happy Annivesary, #@%& Mosquitoes!

Image from: wackystuff

Has it really been only a year since I wrote my last whiny post about mosquitoes?

It seems like just a few short months ago that I posted about how dumb I am about letting myself get bit all the time because I hate bug spray, and how I was trying to find alternatives to DEET because of possible risks like skin irritation and "diffuse brain cell death." Fortunately, there were some that were supposed to be particularly effective, but did I get around to trying them? Err...

Anyway, it seems it's time again for another mosquito post! For one, even if you read it last year, you might have thought "hmm, must look into these DEET alternatives," then totally forgot to do it. Or in my case, you could have gone to the local drugstore, discovered they didn't carry them, made a note to order some online... then totally forgot about it. Anyway, I can remind you what those alternatives are if you're interested.

But another reason for a new mosquito post is I just read some research confirming what many have suspected: some people are indeed mosquito magnets!

Yep, if it seems to you like you're getting bit a lot more than your friends? It may not be your imagination. Due to body chemistry, certain people are just much more appealing to the bloodsucking little pests.

Are You A Mosquito Magnet?

So the mosquito magnet article is over at WebMd. Here are some highlights:

  • Genetics are about 85% responsible for our attractiveness to mosquitoes.

  • High concentrations of steroids or cholesterol on the skin attracts mosquitoes. But it doesn't necessarily correlate with people's cholesterol levels; some folks may be better at processing cholesterol and so the byproducts end up on the skin's surface.

  • Mosquitoes like people who produce excess amounts of certain acids, such as uric acid.

  • Mosquitoes love carbon dioxide, and can smell it from up to 50 meters away. And pregnant women and people who are larger than average give off more carbon dioxide.

  • Also, people who are active and moving around give off more carbon dioxide. (The article then suggests you choose a lounge chair rather than a volleyball game if you're worried about mosquitoes at an outdoor gathering.)

However, on that last point, I say hell no. For one, if you're gonna be out for hours and hours in a location where there are mosquitoes? Just face facts, you're screwed! Bring some repellent. (More on that below). Also, from personal experience, I've discovered that when I'm running, mosquitoes are much less likely to land on me than when I'm walking or sitting, even if theoretically I'm giving off more carbon dioxide and smelling much tastier. Perhaps I'm just living amongst unusually lazy mosquitoes who are too slothful to chase me? Anyway, I wouldn't suggest the "sit on your ass" strategy for mosquito prevention, unless perhaps you're really just in the mood to sit on your ass anyway and would like a good excuse.

Why a DEET Alternative?

DEET is pretty darn effective, but as I said, there was some pesky DEET research that suggested the potential for brain cell death--that is, if you use a LOT of it and if you are a RAT. Most mainstream medical sources don't seem too concerned about the safety aspects with occasional use, and talk more about minor side effects like numbness or irritation, or about the fact that DEET in high concentrations will melt plastic. (Which is indeed a pain if you're camping and get it all over your gear).

If you are looking for non-DEET alternatives, there are two that seem to be most recommended: one is Picaridin, which doesn't have the stinky smell that DEET does and won't melt your gear. You can find it in Cutter Advanced. And a compilation of the picaridin effectiveness research and reviews seems to suggest it's pretty effective.

The other is a natural product, and is supposed to be very effective as well: it's oil of lemon eucalyptus, and is found in the brand "Repel."

Backyard Battles:

Speaking of "mosquito magnets," we were so freaked out by having mosquitoes in our back yard that we broke down and bought one of these thingies.

They're pricey, ugly, and a pain in the ass because you keep having to replenish the propane and do other maintenancy things. But they put out carbon dioxide and attract the mosquitoes and really do seem to have helped reduce the mosquito population in our yard. But not, alas, to zero, the only truly acceptable number for resident mosquitoes as far as I'm concerned.

(The most hilarious thing about these mosquito traps? The model names! Would you like the "Liberty?" Or the "Independence?" Or perhaps the "Executive?" The Executive excels at catching the cleverest, most devious, top-level CEO type mosquitoes. Or something.)

Anyway, does anyone else hate mosquitoes? Any tips on keeping them away?

June 26, 2009

Carrot-Raisin Salad and Other Atrocities

Photo: lasuprema

If you are like most people, you frequently combine different foods together in one meal. You don't generally, for example, have just have a big plate of spinach for dinner. Or eat a platter of lamb chops and nothing else.

In fact, if you are clever and industrious, you may even chop up numerous ingredients using a "recipe" and then combine them all into a single dish! This is called cooking.

Yet so often, we read nutritional studies that tell us all about how a particular food is good or bad for us as though we ate it in isolation. As it turns out, nutrition is a lot more complicated than that.

Some nutrients work synergistically, so you get way more nutritional bang for your buck from combining them. Olive oil and tomatoes? Peanut butter and whole wheat bread? Berries and green tea? These friendly foods get along really well and they accomplish way more working together than when they're all by themselves.

On the other hand, other foods don't get along at all, and act antagonistically. They behave just like Crabby when she's PMS and hasn't yet had her morning coffee. One food tries to offer up a nutritional benefit but the other food says, "screw that, I'm gonna interfere with it just because I can!" I think green tea and milk may be one of those combos, though the evidence goes back and forth on that. (And sometimes foods are so grumpy they even fight with themselves. Like, for example, the oxalic acid in spinach keeps you from absorbing calcium... which is one of the nutrients you get from spinach!)

So there's a great post over at Arena Fitness about food synergy, and I thought, well, wouldn't it be nice to copy their post and be done for the day do a round up of nutritional food synergies and antagonisms so that people can know what they should or shouldn't be eating together?

But then when I looked into it further, it all got terribly arcane and tedious. And a lot of foods just end up complimenting themselves, (I hate it when foods get so narcissistic like that) like apple skins and apples, so the message you end up with is "don't peel stuff," which you already knew anyway.

Plus, I ended up realizing that it's hard enough to eat a healthy balanced diet with a variety of different whole foods. If I have to start obsessing about whether I should have my spaghetti marinara with spinach or broccoli for optimal results... I might get so fed up that I'd figure, the hell with it, I'll have a cheeseburger, fries and a Coke! Which is a much simpler meal because there's no guessing; you know it's gonna be bad for you.

However, for those of you who are better able to handle nutritional complexity and would to know more about the topic, the food synergy post has some highlights and also some helpful additional links (like this one at Web Md and this one at Bliss Tree.)

Instead, I decided want to address a whole different issue related to combining foods: Food-Flavor Contextual Anomalies.

Sound scholarly? It's actually a fancy-pants term I just made up to describe a perplexing phenomenon:

There are certain foods I only like sometimes. In the wrong combinations, I can't eat them. And because these defy logic, I wanted to see if any of you have similar weird aversions. Like:

  • I hate olives, green or black. Yet I love extra virgin olive oil, the more flavorful the better.

  • I love a sprinkle of walnuts on a hot fudge sundae, or in a salad. But should walnut chunks dare to appear in a brownie or in a banana muffin I will spit them out into a napkin when no one is looking.

  • Coconut in Thai food? Yumm! Coconut candy? Eww.

  • Carrots, raisins, mayonaise? I like all three of these! But combine them in a carrot-raisin salad? Barfarooni.

  • Celery and... oh wait a second. I hate celery whenever and where ever it appears, even if there is peanut butter involved. That's how much I hate celery.

  • Tomatoes, tomato sauce, salsa, bruscetta... Love me some luscious tomatoes! But tomato soup or tomato juice? Bleechhhh.

Anyone else? Do some foods transform from loathsome to lovely depending on the company they keep?


Over At The Juice

So as I mentioned last week, I'm doing some sponsored blogging over on the Blogher site for a group called The Juice. As part of the deal, I'll be reporting in about once a week on the goings-on over there.

And here's some secret inside info: (she said, lowering her voice...) they have giveaways over there which no one seems to know about yet! For instance, the current Juice Giveaway is an iPod shuffle and a book on work/life balance called "Getting to 50/50: How Working Couples Can Have it All by Sharing it All." And you know what? Hardly anyone has entered yet!

I'm hoping that clever Cranky Fitness readers will take advantage of the awesome odds and pop over and maybe win something while the winning's good. (Though I think you have to either be a Blogher member already or be willing to register on the site. It's free and they don't pester you with emails or anything.)

And there are of course a bunch of cool videos there too. This week there's one on taking Mini-Mental vacations (and Crabby's take is here).

Also, I have to say, the "Getting to 50/50" book raises quite a few Cranky Questions in my mind! What the heck is the deal with lopsided way so many heterosexual working couples seem to split domestic responsibilities? I'll be posting about that over the weekend, if anyone would like to share their thoughts on that I'd love to hear 'em. Hope to see you there!


June 25, 2009

Segregate fat people: a good idea?

Does size matter? Should it?

It's hard to keep up with tall people, I can vouch for that.

Photo courtesy of foxtongue

Usually, when I see the word "segregation," I think the phrase "not a good thing." But is that always true?

The New York Times wrote an article on yoga classes designated specifically for larger-sized people. Apparently yoga instructors who teach regular yoga classes do not know how to teach yoga to larger people. (For example, some obese people can't manage all of the typical yoga positions, but they still want to do yoga.) The idea of segregating classes by size seems to be catching on.

I haven't encountered these sort of classes myself, so I wasn't sure if this was a good thing or not. Belly dance classes have people of varying sizes and nobody seems to care. On the other hand, there is gender segregation at work in belly dance: they're very much female oriented, though there's no reason that a man couldn't do these exercises.

Does it help to segregate?

Back in ye olde darke ages, private schools, especially colleges, used to be for male or female students only. Some schools are bringing this trend back, claiming that female students tend not to speak up in classes that are mixed.

I saw this myself during a women's self-defense class. So long as they were only speaking to other women, all my classmates were able to act out scenarios where they had to practice breaking someone's hold on them, or knowing when to be firm and say "no!" During the last class, the teacher brought in some big intimidating men for us to practice with, and suddenly half the women in class were hanging back. They were shy.

Excuse me, could you introduce yourself before doing that?
Photo credit: KyleMac

Can you apply the same idea to exercise classes?

Would you feel less shy about working out if everyone around you were the same sex or size? Except for workouts designed for pregnant women, I can't think of a biological reason why workouts should be separated by gender. I can think of a lot of psychological reasons for gender or size segregation:

- Some women worry about looking "unfeminine" around men, i.e. getting all flushed and sweaty.

- A lot of men don't like to look weak and wimpy around women. Personally, every time I pass a male cyclist, he makes a point of passing me again, even if he practically has to burst a blood vessel to do it. (Hint: it's easier to pass someone going downhill rather than up. Wait a few minutes and you won't have to work so hard.)

- If everyone else were the same size (or gender), perhaps people would feel accepted and be willing to work out hard.

I know "in theory" it shouldn't matter what other people think of your exercising, but it does.

Example: at lunch time, I have a choice of two green areas where I can walk. One is a sports center with walking trails around the soccer fields and tennis courts. You'd think that would be a good place to walk or jog, even if you're a larger than usual size. But the only people exercising are all small children. The adults sit on the sidelines and stare at you as you walk by. Frankly, they don't look in very good shape themselves (the adults, I mean), but apparently it never occurs to them that grown ups need to move the body too.

The other choice for lunch-time walks is the headquarters of a company that sells sports equipment. Even larger-sized people can walk the trails around their campus without receiving a single smirk or stare. Everyone is on their lunch break exercising, so you're met with a polite nod or a smile from passers by. All the difference in the world from the sports center.

If classes and gyms are like the first example, then definitely segregate.

Another problem is pacing.
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If I'm next to a thin, lithe size 0 who's kicking my butt fitness-wise, I'd feel intimidated. If I'm next to someone who's my size and they're kicking my butt, then I think "hell, I can be that fit too!" It's a whole lot easier to keep up when you're thinking like that.

I'm starting to talk myself into thinking that voluntary segregation might be a good thing in this case. Anything that helps get people out there working out is a good thing. So long as it's voluntary.

Do you think this is a crazy idea, or will it actually help people?

June 24, 2009

Lightning is Frightening!

So did you know this week is National Lightening Safety Week?

It comes complete with a nifty slogan: "When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors!"

(And if that's the one they chose, you kinda wonder how bad the rejected ones were? "When Thunderclouds Threaten, It's Time to Start Frettin'!" Or: "When You Hear Thunder Boom, Don't Leave Your Room!" Or perhaps: "If You See Lightning Strike, Cancel The F@cking Hike!" )

Not only does Lightning Safety have a slogan, it even has it's own "quirky" mascot: "Leon the Lightning Lion!"

Parental Warning:
If Your Kid's Soccer Coach Looks Anything Like This?
Find Another Team. Lightning is The Least of Your Worries.

Actually, it seems the folks at the National Weather Service may have some ambivalent feelings themselves about skeezy ol' Leon. Check out the "kids game" over at the NWS lightning site: it's a little quiz, and if you guess wrong about an unsafe situation, poor Leon gets zapped by lightning and electrocuted before your very eyes!

Seriously. This is one creepy public safety campaign.

Anyway, as a San Francisco Bay Area transplant now spending summers on the East Coast, (and as a congenital worrywart), I do not need a lot of help in being scared of lightning. I'm already quite good at it.

On the west coast, lightning wasn't all that frequent. And when we did get some, it usually occurred in the middle of a winter rainstorm when I didn't want to go outside anyway. So it somehow seems weird and unfair that a perfectly warm summer day can entice you out to the beach or tempt you into a long hike, and then... Dark Clouds? Rain? Thunder? Lightning? Untimely death? WTF?

So I'm one of those people who will try to remember to check the radar before I go for long outdoor excursions, but even with some level of paranoia about it, I've still been caught outside in thunderstorms.

Was I really in any danger? What should I do if I'm outside and hear thunder? And am I safe if I'm hanging out indoors?

Well, the National Weather Service has put together some lightning safety information to answer some of my questions, but they left me feeling more paranoid than ever. (They also have a video that they advertise with inappropriately enthusiastic teaser "New 30 second video of teen struck by lightning!" Note: no teen is actually struck by lighting during the video, but it's actually pretty darn poignant. Here's the Youtube link.)

But anyway, on to the informational portion of this post. There's much more over at the NSA website.

Watch for Developing Thunderstorms. Towering cumulus clouds are often the first sign that you're going to die a thunderstorm may be developing.

It Doesn't Have to be Raining for You To Get Hit. Lightning can strike as far as 10 miles away from where rain is falling. Coincidentally, this about how far away you can hear thunder, which means...

If You Can Hear Thunder, You're Within Striking Distance. This totally freaks me out. If you're outside and you hear thunder, lightning can get you. Yikes!

Safe Places Are Really Hard To Find Outdoors. In the "Electrocute Leon the Lion Game," there are a bunch of examples of places you might try to seek shelter, but you (and Leon) are doomed because unless they are a large building or an enclosed vehicle you are screwed.

So all us hikey-bikey people who do not always travel everywhere in cars and could find ourselves a long way from shelter during a thunderstorm? People like us need to pay special attention to the weather!

You Can Be Zapped Indoors Too: "Stay off corded phones, computers and other electrical equipment that put you in direct contact with electricity. Stay away from pools (indoor or outdoor), tubs, showers and other plumbing."

I always wondered about this. So you could be minding your own business taking a bath and a thunderstorm comes along and... Eeek! You should also buy surge suppressors for key equipment and install ground fault protectors on circuits near water or outdoors. And "wait 30 minutes after the last clap of thunder, before going outside again." (And, um, how do you know it's the 'last clap?"

Don't Be Afraid to Help a Lightning Strike Victim: They don't carry an electrical charge, are safe to touch, and need urgent medical attention. Call 9-1-1 immediately and perform CPR if appropriate.

And be careful out there!

--- Crabby

Anyone have any tips, fears, scary stories, or other thoughts about lightning?

Primal Blueprint Giveaway Winner

So the winner of the Primal Blueprint Giveaway is Katie Jane Wennechuk!

Katie, please email us by Sat, June 27th at Crabby McSlacker @ gmail dot com (some assembly required) with your mailing address and we'll have Mark or one of his busy bees send you a copy!

Thanks for your comments, everyone!

June 23, 2009

Truuuust me... it's Random Tuesday time

People are getting jaded.

No, that doesn’t mean they’re turning into greenish-colored stone. Really. Nor would it be correct to refer to a person as a jade, on the off chance that the person you’re referring to thusly turns out to be an Elizabethan scholar, who slaps your face.

Scientists are churning out studies every week, and every single one contradicts all the others before it.

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Okay, not every single one. Sure feels like it, though. It’s easy to get cynical. Even some scientists are getting attitudinal.

I don't want this post to be considered a rebuttal to Crabby’s post. (Not that her post was a buttal to begin with.* More a plea for common sense.) Me, I'm not in the mood for sense. It's a beautiful summer's day outside, and I hafta go to work. So I'll sum up my theory of science and research studies and what to do about them before going on to the silly cat video. It's time for... [cue dramatic music]... Random Tuesday [da da dahhhhhh]

Merry's theory du jour:

Obviously, the thing to do is to believe everything you read in Cranky Fitness. All others pay cash.

Psst… Crabby? I think we might be onto a money-maker here. I mean, we could tell the scientists, "You want me to believe your study, show me da money and I’ll say nice things about you." As opposed to the Cranky Fitness review page, which is a “show me the money and I’ll write what I really think about the product” page.

Okay, Random Tuesday Time!

I found a great way to climb hills without having to do any of that nasty exertion stuff.

It's a... well, a foot lift in Norway. You pays yer moneys and put yer foot in it and it carries you up the hill. A cyclist, for example, sits on her bicycle and puts one foot on the lift. The lift... er, lifts her and the bike up to the top of the hill. Personally, I think these things would be a great hit in San Francisco.

Look, if you thought that topic was only remotely linked to exercise and fitness, then it's time to stop reading. Because it's downhill from here...

This video is clearly linked to fitness. "Staring at the swim team gets you killed by a gang of ninja men who know how to twirl." Clearly, it's important that you be informed of such a contingency. Besides, it made me laugh.

Good Act Gone Bad: In Ohio, a man was arrested for mowing the lawn in a city park. Hey, it's not as if anyone else was doing it.

Quiz du jour: IQ test to prove whether you're "smart or stoopid." Yes, of course you can tell a person's IQ by a few random questions. Would I lie?

Strange du jour: You have to admire a man who, when trying to make friends, admits that his interests include having fun with cheese, or kites, or time machines. Wait... did I say "admire"? I think I meant to say "back away slowly from."

Kitty video du week

Hey, it's not a random post without a cat video. And this one deals with refusing to eat the food you're supposed, and pleading for the food you want instead, which is clearly related to health... and whining...

On the bright side, Crabby will be back tomorrow with another great post!


*Look, I doubt that's a real word to begin with, but even if it does turn out to be listed in some obscure dusty dictionary in the back of the library, I know it doesn't mean what you think it means. Shame on you.

June 22, 2009

More Studies I Plan To Ignore

Sometimes I come across health studies that are perfectly legitimate... but they don't persuade me to do anything differently.

For example, there was that study that says raw broccoli is much better for you than cooked broccoli. Or another one that said room-temperature watermelon has more antioxidants in it than if it's refrigerated.

Well, I say the heck with those studies! I hate raw broccoli and like my watermelon cold and so I'm going to barely glance at the details.

However, if you are someone who likes warm watermelon or raw broccoli, these studies are not lame and ignorable, they are great discoveries! So I realize that one persons "health news" can be another person's "health snooze." (Sorry... that was really awful, wasn't it?)

So in the spirit of "I can't think of anything the least bit interesting to blog about today" "we're all different and isn't that wonderful," here are some recent studies that for various reasons, I didn't want to know much about but you very well might!

As it turns out, there are many different reasons to blow off health studies. So I've grouped these in Crabby-centric terms: why I didn't want to look much beyond the headline.

1. Because I know I'm Not Gonna Bother:

Cooking carrots before you cut them preserves about 25% more falcarinol, an anti-cancer compound, than if you cut the carrots first and then cook them.

Well, when I cook carrots it's mostly in soups or stews. And I do not want to start cooking the damn things whole and then fishing them out all hot and drippy and messy and then cutting them up. I'll just assume that that the sneaky little falcarinol stuff is now hiding in the soup. And if you scientists happen to know that it doesn't work that way? Don't tell me, ok?

2. Because I've heard the opposite thing too many times:

The New York Times Health Page has been torturing me lately with their "guess what, everything you ever heard is wrong" reports. Remember when they said exercise isn't all that good for you? Well, this one is equally annoying but more specific, and has to do with strengthening your core.

So you know how all the exercise experts always tells you the same thing: be sure to pull in your stomach as you work your abs. This is so that you can strengthen the "transversus abdominis" muscle which will help prevent back injuries.

In fact, exercise expert Rupal over at 101 Exercises just recently explained the importance of activating the deep abdominal muscles. And she's very convincing!

So now there's a smarty-pants New York Times article calling this into question. According to them: "There’s growing dissent among sports scientists about whether all of this attention to the deep abdominal muscles actually gives you a more powerful core and a stronger back and whether it’s even safe."

Well dagnabbit. I hate when exercise advice changes!

But to be fair, there are some good alternative core exercises they suggest, like side planks, bird dogs, very-very-modified crunches, and something called "stirring the pot." The video is pretty darn helpful as this stuff is hard to describe. (And thanks to reader Lulu for drawing this article to my attention!)

But I think my favorite source for Core Workouts? Still gotta be Bossy:

3. Because some new statistic pisses me off and/or depresses me.

A new study about teens and contraceptive use says that: "After major improvements in teen contraceptive use in the 1990s and early 2000s, which led to significant declines in teen pregnancy," contraceptive use declined between 2003 and 2007. And it's not because there's been any decrease in teen sexual activity.

"Teens are still having sex," one of the study's authors said, "but it appears many are not taking the necessary steps to protect themselves from unwanted pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections."

The report suspects the reason might be faltering HIV prevention efforts and "more than a decade of abstinence-only-until-marriage sex education that does not mention contraception unless it is to disparage its use and effectiveness."

Which of course is what most of the health educators and experts predicted would happen. But we got federally funded "abstinence only" sex ed anyway.

I do not have a teen, so that's another reason for me not to spend too much time pondering the why's and wherefores. (And if I did, rather than take the high road and try to educate them myself, I suspect I'd send them over to the Midwest Teen Sex Show and let the fabulous Nikol school them on condoms and other sex ed topics. (Caution, graphic language and very NSFW).

4. Because it's a silly study.

Did you know that if you participate in a research study you think is about choosing colors, and the researchers offer you some soup for lunch, but don't tell you that they've rigged up your soup bowl to re-fill automatically...

...that you'll end up eating more soup than someone with a regular bowl?

Er... duh?

It's true that the people who didn't have sneaky self-refilling bowls had servers visibly refilling them, so the study does say something about how lame we are at telling just from our stomachs how "full" we are. But is this really a surprise???

And this study just seemed doofy on all kind of levels. Doesn't the whole "let's stop and have soup for lunch during our research study on colors" cover story sound kinda unconvincing? As a suspicious crab, I'd just assume they might be watching what I was eating and I'd try to control myself--though I suppose it would be the same weird artificial experience no matter which kind of bowl you had.

Anyway, I thought it was dumb use of research money. We haven't yet found cures for cancer and MS and all the other awful diseases out there. But we have money to rig re-fillable soup bowls to confirm the obvious fact that people use visual cues to tell them how much to eat?

Note: to add an additional embarrassing level of irrelevancy, this study was posted on the well-respected blog Cognitive Daily less than a week ago. But it turns out it's a rerun from 2007! Science blogs are allowed to have reruns? Crap! Why do I always notice the dates on studies after I write them up? Anyway, sorry, next time I'll check more carefully, and try to bring you recent silly studies, not old ones.

So, any studies or advice you've seen lately that you've chosen to ignore?

June 19, 2009

Crabby Gets Juiced

(The badge down on the right sidebar is actually clickable.
This is just a fake one that won't do bupkus.)

So I'm pleased to announce that as of Monday June 22, I'm going to be over at Blogher a couple days a week, hanging out one of their groups called The Juice. It's a healthy lifestyles kinda thing, with topics like functional fitness and work/life balance. I'm going to be a Community Facilitator! Or maybe a Community Moderator? Something like that, anyway.

Also on board is Laura from the blog I'm an Organizing Junkie. Which is a obviously a good thing--since I'm so disorganized I can't even remember what my job title is. The group owner is Jory Des Jardins, a co-founder of Blogher.

The Juice is sponsored by Tropicana. Not sure how long the gig will last, as it's structured as a temporary sort of deal, but it looks like at least a few months. And I'm psyched! Not only does it look like a lot of fun, but they plan to pay me actual money.

(I have been known to blog in exchange for free packets of peanut butter, so a paid role doing anything related to blogging is a thrilling development in my little world).

Now part of my role at the Juice is to let folks here at Cranky Fitness know what's going on over there. So in coming months, I'll be putting up some posts doing just that. But fortunately, the folks at Blogher and Tropicana are very upfront about the whole "sponsored blogging" aspect. They believe in full disclosure, which is excellent, because I completely suck at being sneaky.

But I don't feel the least bit sleazy telling you what's going on over there, because there's some cool stuff coming up! They have giveaways and videos, and discussions about various things that Cranky Fitness readers are likely to have opinions about. These discussions are admittedly a bit on the quiet side at the moment, but they should be heating up soon if all goes according to plan.

The coolest thing? If you're a blogger yourself there are gonna be some opportunities to get noticed and publicize yourself and build blog traffic. The earlier you start hanging out, the more chance there is that your suggestions and/or blog posts might be featured in one of the Juice videos. (For example, if you are reading this before Friday, June 26th, go to Jory's "Blogher Shout Out" post and find out how your blog post or video could be featured at the upcoming Blogher '09 conference! I would totally love to see a Cranky Fitness regular appear on that episode.)

So please stay tuned, and maybe I'll see you over there this coming monday!


Crabby vs. Grok; Primal Blueprint Giveaway

Many of you are already fans of Mark's Daily Apple, the blog by Mark Sisson and his clever and dedicated "worker bees." (Note to Merry: hmm... Worker Bees? Suhweeeet! Do you think we could get some too, and just pay them in pollen and house them in hives?)

Anyway, as many of you know, Mark's Daily Apple is a great resource for healthy living tips, recipes, and news about the latest fitness and nutrition studies. Mark is an advocate of the "primal" lifestyle, and now has a book out called The Primal Blueprint. In it, he explains why you should eat and live more like "Grok," a caveman from 10,000 years ago.

What happens when a modern-day slacker like Crabby meets up with her hairy cave-dwelling ancestor, Grok? And how can you win a free copy of the Primal Blueprint? Please follow us over to the Primal Blueprint giveaway post over on our product review page to find out!


The End of Overeating Giveaway Winner

The random number generator has chosen Chelsea as our End of Overeating giveaway winner!

Congrats ! Please email us at Crabby McSlacker @ gmail dot com to claim your prize by Wednesday June 24th!

June 18, 2009

Belly Dance: Exercise or Embarrassing Exhibitionism?

Photo courtesy of Mike Lawrence

Belly Dancing makes me feel like an atheist in church.

In other words, I don't fit in and I figure if I speak up I might offend somebody. But since this place is called Cranky Fitness, I figure that it's okay to get a little ornery now and then.

Remember when you were a kid and exercise used to be fun? That's how I felt when I tried a belly dance class. I am sure that I looked extremely silly, but it didn't matter. It felt fun. Then the instructor moved away and I tried DVDs instead, and ran into the atheist-in-church phenomenon.

I dislike belly dancing because:

- it's like a country cousin that's gone to the city and had its head turned by the bright lights and glitter. In other words, when you see someone performing belly dance today, it's a faint distant echo of the dance's original roots
- people are so damn serious and solemn about it! It's dancing, for Nijinsky's sake. Lighten up a bit.
- far too often, the outfits are not really that flattering and get in the way, sometimes literally, of the dancing itself

I like belly dancing because:

- it's a whole lot more fun than situps
- it's easy to move when you've got a good drum beat
- dancing is fun
- it teaches isolation of muscles as well as balance (see the video below)

All right, that's freaky. But it's incredible muscle control, too. And it's the kind of control you can learn through belly dancing.

[Text for the bandwidth-impaired: What Delilah is doing is moving three coins on her stomach. Without using her hands, she moves them one at a time down her abdomen. She tells you which coin she's going to move, and then she uses her stomach muscles to move the coins. Now that's control. (Okay, you could also say that's insane. I think both apply. Fascinating, in a weird way.)]

I love the idea of anything that works the abs without laying down. Especially first thing in the morning, lying down tends to make the body think I'm being really cool and nice and letting it go back to sleep for awhile. It's not inclined to work out in the a.m. anyway, why encourage it to be sloth-like?

Belly dancing also teaches balance

While I'm not a fan of the outfits in general, the hip scarves or coin belts that dancers wear do serve a purpose. Belly dancing deals with isolation of muscle groups. If you're shimmying your shoulders, the hips aren't supposed to follow along. The jingly scarves will tell you if your hips start jiggling along with the upper body when they shouldn't.

When dancers become more adept, they show off how well they've mastered the trick of isolating moving the hips as opposed to the upper body.

[Text: this dancer is swaying her hips while squatting down and then kneeling ... all the while keeping a sword balanced edgewise on top of her head. Other dancers have performed while balancing a tray of glasses, or a lit candelabrum on the head while dancing. That's balance.]

If you want to try belly dance

The best way to learn is of course to find an instructor you like. But if that's not an option, there are a whole lot of DVDs that purport to teach belly dancing. Some are pretty damn silly. There are also a lot of DVDs that use "belly dance" in the title but are actually aerobic videos designed to give you a workout. Nothing wrong with that, so long as you don't expect instruction.

Below are a list of my most and least favorite DVDs out there.

Instructional Belly Dance DVDs

Warning: these videos are designed to teach you how to dance. So there's a lot of learning the movements, practicing them, then doing a bit of choreographed dancing. In other words, don't try these DVDs if you're looking to work up a sweat in 20 minutes. Try the Aerobic DVDs below instead.

For learning to belly dance, I love Delilah's DVDs. (The woman who did the coin trick video.) And I say that in spite of the fact that I find the music annoying, the warm up excessively New Age, and her hairstyle pure 80's. (I can get really persnickety sometimes. Probably because I do these DVDs first thing in the a.m., when I am at my most cranky.) None of those snippy little drawbacks matter a damn compared to the fact that Delilah is good at getting a concept into the brain.

Also, not that I'm getting paid for this, if you live near Portland (OR), Delilah is performing live at the end of the month.

If you want to ease into belly dancing, you might try the "belly dance twins" Neena and Veena's DVDs. They teach authentic belly dance, but they ease you into it gently so if you're not sure what you're doing, you never feel overwhelmed.

Jillina is a good teacher, if you're already a dancer or in good shape. Bit of a steep learning curve if you're not used to dancing or to working out.

Learn to belly dance with Rania. After I started this DVD, I went back and checked to make sure the title really was Learn to belly dance. It feels like a DVD geared toward people who already know how to do it. Get the feeling of being thrown in the deep end and expected to keep up. The pace is too fast if you're a newbie trying to wrap your brain around a concept and persuade your muscles to move in unusual directions. Probably this would work for someone who is already a dancer and who has had some experience with belly dance, and wants to try something different. Would not recommend it to a beginner.

Aerobic Belly Dance DVDs

While I'm not fond of her "Learn to Belly Dance" DVD, I love Rania's personal trainer DVD. (If you haven't tried her earlier aerobics DVDs you'll feel thrown in the deep end when it comes to the cardio portions, at least at first.) What I love is the variety of workouts that are on this DVD. I can look at the menu and decide whether I want a hard workout or a maintenance-level workout, or whether I just want to spend 10 minutes working on my abs. Rania excels at designing a workout that can get my blood pumping in only 10 minutes.

Again, if you're new to belly dancing or not really fit, I would recommend the belly dance twins' aerobic DVDs. Unlike their instructional DVDs, these are not really useful for learning the dance, but they're good for a beginner who wants to do some aerobics. I wouldn't recommend them if you're in good shape, as the routines are repetitive and not that fascinating. Good for getting your breathing rapid, but dull. On the other hand, even if you don't like the workout these women are very good dancers and they include sample dances that are the best I've seen.

Oh dear... I did say I'd include some of my least favorite DVDs... okay, here goes.

The Goddess Workout with Dophina: Bellydance with Veils. The cover and the title kinda tell it all. Do not pick up this DVD unless you have a very strong tolerance for the color pink, and also the ability to listen to a lot of talk about "your inner goddess." Do not expect a great workout. Based on the Amazon reviews, I thought that at least I would be able to give my arms a workout with this DVD. Nnnnnnnope. Though I did admire the way that a fan off-camera blew so that the veil the woman was holding was always artistically draped behind her.

Photo credit: Franco Folini

When you see people dressed up in gauze and glitter, it's hard to take this seriously as exercise. All the same, you ever have trouble getting moving, try a drum solo -- the beat bypasses the brain and goes straight to the feet. Need to get your heart rate up? Try doing a shimmy, tiny little controlled movements, for 20 minutes. While your upper body is doing entirely different movements. When you're doing lateral figure 8s with your hips and vertical figure 8s with your ribs, come back to me and tell me how easy this is.

Me? Defensive? Well... maybe a bit.

I'm kind of embarrassed to tell people I do this. Frankly, I think drug trafficking is considered more reputable. Prancing around in a silly skimpy outfit like an outsized reindeer?

The whole point of doing these exercises, it seems to me, is to be able to work your muscles in isolation. I love the idea of having such control over my body that I can control my stomach muscles to the point of moving coins separately down the body. Or of being able to be performing a side to side motion with the upper half of the body while the hips are following the shape of a vertical figure 8 at the same time. Trying to figure these sorts of movements out occupies the mind wonderfully, so that I can get a whole hour's worth of exercise and not spend half my time watching the clock.

Have you ever tried belly dancing? Or some other form of exercise that made people look askance at you? It's okay, you can tell me. Whisper it. I won't tell.

June 17, 2009

Elliptical Trainers: Ur Doing It Wrong

For those of you who haven't been to a gym in a decade or so, ellipticals are those popular contraptions that people pedal on standing up, with their feet moving in—you guessed it— an “elliptical” shape.

They are sort of a cross between a Nordic-track ski machine and a stair climber. (Though how the equipment breeders ever got the two machines to mate remains a mystery. Nordic-Tracks are notoriously chilly and unapproachable).

Some ellipticals have swinging arm handles that you pump back and forth as you move, as if you were cross country skiing. Others have stationary rails that you can ignore if you have good balance, or that you can grasp onto to keep from flying off the machine and making an ass of yourself.

Even though ellipticals are one of my favorite machines at the gym, I had no idea there was a “right” way and a “wrong” way to use them. Did you?

A while back I came across some helpful advice on proper elliptical form over at Girl At Gym. Then, inspired to do some further research, I interviewed dozens of personal trainers and exercise physiologists consulted Dr. Google and discovered there was all kinds of advice out there about ellipticals!

Swinging arm handles? Handrails? Or Hands-Free?

Here was the place I found the most diversity. Several fitness advisors seemed to like the swinging arm things. However, it was suggested one grab them at shoulder height, not higher.

And everyone seemed to agree that if you’re holding onto the stationary handrails for balance, you should not lean into them. That’s cheating.

But several trainers suggested going hands-free, to work your core muscles and improve your balance.

And for me, this was great news! I love going hands-free. When I try to hold onto swinging arms as I pedal, I am as graceful as a hippopotamus on roller skates. Even worse? If I get stuck using one of these machines and try to ignore the handles, which are moving fast whether I’m holding on to them or not, inevitably I space out and forget. I move right in front of them to grab my water bottle and… SMACK-SMACK-SMACK! #@$%!!

Go backwards as well as forwards.

This is a great advantage of the elliptical over many other machines. The reverse motion recruits different muscles and can help prevent injuries. Going backwards is also an awesome core/balance trainer if you do it with no hands.

Don’t put all your weight on your toes.

Some experts suggest you put most of your weight on the back of your foot, and assume almost a sort of “squat” position; others suggest you start on your heels and roll through your whole foot. Many of us lean too far forward on our toes and don’t use enough of our quad muscles.

Don’t slouch or sway.

Stand up straight, relax your shoulders, keep your back in line with your hips, and try not to move side to side.

Don’t slack off too much.

Unlike a treadmill, which will punish you by flinging you off the back if you forget to run fast enough, an elliptical is all mellow and forgiving if you start dawdling. So check your pace periodically or you may not be getting much of a workout.

Don’t bounce.

Oh Noooo! I hate this advice. I always bounce!

That’s the whole reason I love the elliptical machine in the first place: I crank up my tunes and FLY on that thing like it’s a playground ride. Wheee! And when a really good song comes on, I also dance a bit, bobbing my head, swinging my hips in violation of the no-swaying rule, even tapping out the beat using an imaginary drumstick or tambourine. I am no doubt known around town as “that dork from the gym who thinks no one can see her,” and concerned citizens are probably taking up a collection at this very moment to buy me some home exercise equipment.

But bouncing is considered cheating. You're letting gravity do too much of the work for you.

So all this time I have been doing the ellipitical all wrong.

It’s smart to correct bad form.

Even though bouncing makes my workout way more fun, I’d do less damage to my knees and get a much better workout using a steady motion rather than launching myself up in the air with each step. It’s an elliptical machine after all, not a pogo stick! So there’s really only one conclusion I can come to about the “no bouncing” rule:

I think I’ll pretend I never read about it.

Do you folks pay a lot of attention to using proper form when you work out, or are you more "what the hell, at least I'm exercising?"

June 16, 2009

The typical CF reader

What blog do I read? Is this a trick question?
Photo courtesy of Jurvetson

If you’ve been reading the comments that we get here, you’ll know there really isn’t such a thing as a “typical” reader. They come in all different shapes, sizes, attitudes & approaches to health and fitness.

Still, this was my idea of what a typical day-in-the-life would be for three average Cranky Fitness readers.

6 a.m.

Cyndee Sloth: Sleeping
Dan Dogged: Lacing up running shoes
Jack Rabbit: Already out on the running trail

7 a.m.

Cyndee Sloth: Sleeping
Dan Dogged: Cooling down
Jack Rabbit: Heading in to work

8 a.m.

Cyndee Sloth: Sleeping
Dan Dogged: Eating healthy breakfast
Jack Rabbit: At work sending out "looking busy" emails so everyone knows how hard he works

9 a.m.

Cyndee Sloth: Driving to work while putting on mascara and scarfing down a McBreakfast
Dan Dogged: Prioritizing items for a To Do list
Jack Rabbit: Already had two cups of coffee, sent 20 emails, and fired a couple people

1 p.m.

Cyndee Sloth: Reading Cranky Fitness
Dan Dogged: Reading Cranky Fitness
Jack Rabbit: Reading Cranky Fitness

5 p.m.

Cyndee Sloth: Sneaking out for a drink with "the gang"
Dan Dogged: Finishing the last item on his To Do list
Jack Rabbit: Firing a couple more people, just to keep in practice

6 p.m.

Cyndee Sloth: "Well, just one more drink. I'll be extra good tomorrow."
Dan Dogged: A relaxed dinner (salmon & salad) with the family
Jack Rabbit: Dinner at a fashionable restaurant with a date his secretary fixed him up with

8 p.m.

Cyndee Sloth: Watching TV while chowing down on pizza
Dan Dogged: Watching TV while lifting weights
Jack Rabbit: Writing a nasty email to his secretary about her taste in friends

10 p.m.

Cyndee Sloth: Settling down to play games on the computer
Dan Dogged: Drifting off to sleep
Jack Rabbit: Sending more "looking busy" emails to his boss

11 p.m.

Cyndee Sloth: Thinking about going to bed "... well maybe just one more game."
Dan Dogged: Snoring
Jack Rabbit: Surfing internet chat rooms under the alias "lonely boy"

After a year...

Cyndee: Gained 10 pounds. Can't figure out why.
Dan: Maintained weight.Increased average running speed.
Jack: Got voted Most Annoying Employee and was let go during the last re-org.

Moral: Reading Cranky Fitness has been shown1 to help people become thinner, fitter, and blonder, but even reading this blog on a regular basis is not enough to keep you fit all by itself.

Are you a typical reader? Does this day-in-the-life even remotely resemble your day? (Me, I can kinda relate to Cyndee...)

1Merry's Book of Meretricious Statistics, Morally Ambiguous Publishing, Inc., $29.99 at your local bookstore.

June 15, 2009

Personal Day

This is to announce that Crabby is taking a "personal day" today.

Yep, I'm taking off from the blog in order to fly cross-country on personal business***, so I'm gone, but it's not quite vacation. And I hate hate hate to fly. I'd actually rather be home surfing the web for health news and fielding PR pitches for vitamin water than sitting in an airplane... go figure!

But anyway, it's also a "personal day" in the sense that I did an interview with the nice folks at A Weight Lifted, and they're running it today over at their blog.

Now if you're anything like me, you might have a slight resistance to clicking the link. Because you came HERE, and now I'm sending you SOMEWHERE ELSE for today's post. I know I hate to follow a blogger over to a guest post elsewhere. And I have a cable modem, so it's not even about loading time... it's the principle of the thing! People shouldn't be wandering all over the web making you chase after them, dagnabbit!

Anyway, sorry about that. But if you don't mind clicking over to A Weight Lifted for the Crabby McSlacker interview, they're very nice folks over there and they ask fun questions! Remember Marsha, the Dietitian with Dark Dirty Secrets? That's where she blogs.

And as to my "personal business," it's one of those things that's really interesting if you're the person actually conducting the business, but not so interesting if you're not. But if you're bored this morning and want to know what it is...

***Crabby's Personal Business, Explained:

We might be buying a condo.

See, once upon a time, the Lobster and I had a home in California, in the San Francisco Bay Area. But we sold it and downsized into a condo in Provincetown, Massachusetts--one of our favorite places on earth.

The problem? Winter time. In freezing-ass cold weather, Provincetown is not such a favorite place anymore. It's not only cold but lonely. Almost nothing is open and only a few hardy souls hang around.

We don't do hardy.

We are aware that some people, on contemplating a move from a year-round home to a summer place, might think about winter plans before selling their house. But we decided hey, it's a good time to sell in CA, so what the heck! We'll take it a year at a time.

Last winter we stayed with relatives in the SF Bay Area, and this coming winter it looks like we have a house-sitting arrangement lined up in our old Rockridge neighborhood. Hooray!

But at some point we'd like to have a more permanent winter home. So we're attempting to buy a condo in San Diego where it's warmer than the Bay Area, but still close enough for frequent family visits. We found a place we are very excited about (in Hillcrest, near Balboa Park) and put an offer on it. However, we are planning to rent it out for a year or so until we're sure we can actually afford to live in it.

So I need to fly out and make sure the place is not radioactive, or infested with rats or rattlesnakes, or riddled with toxic mold, or located next to a meth lab or a vampire lair or something.

Be back sometime Wednesday morning. Thanks for your patience!


June 12, 2009

The End of Overeating: Review and Giveaway

Sometimes people fail to realize that we have two bloggers at Cranky Fitness: Crabby McSlacker and Merry Sunshine.

(Crabby is the Crabby one, and Merry is the Nice one.)

Of course, some of the confusion comes from the fact that our byline gets dropped on some feed readers and email subscriptions and there's no way to figure out who wrote the post.

Note to self: FIX THAT SOMEDAY!

And other times, folks have noticed a similarity in our styles and come to suspect that we are actually the same person writing under two different names.

Well, in case you had any doubts, here is proof we are two different bloggers entirely:

If Crabby and Merry were the same person, "Crabby" would not have undertaken to write a book review post the day after "Merry" wrote a thoughtful, entertaining, and informative book review post! She would have given you a cat video instead, or she would have, as "Merry," written a lamer, lazier post so the contrast wasn't so obvious.

But, alas, Crabby is a whole different person from Merry, and did not think to check with Merry before scheduling this review and giveaway. So somehow, Crabby has to entice you to read her book-related post, even though we just ran one yesterday on a different book.

Hmm... How to do this?

By taking the low road, that's how!

So here are 5 good reasons why you should follow Crabby over to the product review page to find out more about "The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite."

1. The End of Overeating is near the top of the New York Time Best Seller List and everyone else is reading it so you might want to at least find out what it's about!

2. You might want to learn all about "orosensory self-stimulation" and the "hedonic hotspot," even though the first term is not actually as dirty as it sounds and the second is not the name of a trendy new nightclub in L.A. where you can spot celebrities.

3. The book has some fascinating accounts about what the food industry does to make you willing to sell your grandmother for another bite of their strangely compelling concoctions.

4. You can WIN A COPY of the book by leaving a comment!

5. And, in a completely pathetic bid to compete with Merry's scholarly analysis, I've included a whole new photo of the nearly naked Italian Men's soccer team. Which I won't even pretend has anything to do with the subject at hand.

So c'mon, everyone, come join me over at the Cranky Fitness Product Page and learn more about The End of Overeating!

UPDATE: Sorry, I didn't make it very clear that you need to go to the Product Page link to enter the contest! I'll include the first 10 comments here in the drawing too, but from now on, please go comment there if you want to win the book. But if you just have an observation, this post is good too! (It has to do with advertising guidelines--we can't do product giveaways on the main page). Sorry for the confusion!


June 11, 2009

Eat to Live: an apologetic book review

At Cranky Fitness, we don't usually review books, because it's hard to be both polite and cranky. In this case, I thought it was necessary.

I first read about Dr. Fuhrman last year on Diet Blog. And -- I'm sorry if this sounds mean -- I wasn't quite sure if he was legit. Even allowing for the fact that a blog post doesn't allow room for a well-thrashed-out thesis, his talk of Toxic Hunger sounded very similar to catch phrases like Toxic Fat, which have a "marketing to scare people so they'll pay money" sort of feel about it. So I was prejudiced.

And it does seem counter-intuitive that hunger doesn't originate in the stomach but rather in the throat. I haven't experienced that myself -- but you know what? That really isn't relevant to the main point of this book Eat to Live so I'm going to skip over it.

I was impressed with this book. For one thing, it is very, very well researched. Some chapters, it seems like every other sentence has a footnote referring to a peer-reviewed research study that was published in a well-respected journal.

I’ve read diet books where all the references cited lead to other books written by the same author. Fuhrman’s references lead to studies reported in journals that even I have heard of. That’s impressive. One study, or two or three, I could refute/ignore/disagree with out of laziness or feeling contrary. When I find study after study after study all backing up what he’s selling, then it’s a lot harder to disagree with him.

On the other hand, this guy's never going to become a millionaire selling this book.

How not to get rich writing a diet book:

- He doesn’t use the book to promote a lot of His Own Special BrandTM supplements. He promotes eating fruit and vegetables. Unless he’s got a whole lot of stock in Safeway, he’s never going to make a million $ with this approach.

- He’s more concerned with health than with weight loss. (Yeah, like people are going to go for that. What was he thinking?)

- He’s not taking a few facts and stringing them together into a clever theory embellished with a lot of long, pseudo-scientific jargon. (How can you impress people if you don’t use jargon?)

I have to admit to a certain prejudice against Doctors Who Are Selling Something. This always causes me to go into auto-cynic mode, which is probably not fair since some of these doctors are well-intentioned, and doctors have as much right to make a living as anyone else. The thing is, I want them to sell knowledge rather than Success Pills for three easy payments of $45.99. What Dr. Fuhrman does is encourage you to eat foods that you can grow yourself, or at least can go down the road and buy at the grocery store. His website offers the chance to buy additional stuff, but that's not mentioned in the book.

I think I liked what he wrote because it agreed so much with what I've deduced from what I've read over several years. I don't see why he would limit the daily intake of flax seed to only one teaspoon, but aside from that I kinda like what he's saying.

The bad news

This guy's diet is strict. And permanent. The only way to make it following this lifelong diet is to learn to like vegetables. I'm actually getting there. Me, the confirmed carnivore, who can -- and has-- gone days eating only food that came from the meat and bakery departments, now spends most of my time in the produce section. I'm still not going to say I love vegetables, but I do love not feeling stuffed with saturated fat and greasy food.

How strict is strict?

This diet is more strict that Dean Ornish's diet plan, and he's always been my end-point for Strict.

The basic tenets of the diet

- 1 pound raw veggies & fruit (on my scale, that's 1 apple, 1 cucumber, and 1 cup green leafies)

- 1 pound cooked veggies

- limited quantities of grains and starchy veggies

- sayonara to meat,1 processed foods,2 caffeine,3 alcohol4

1That sound you just heard was several people leaving this blog and going to Mark's Daily Apple to complain. Hey, go with what works for you. I'm just telling you what Fuhrman says. Actually, he’s not far from the Primal approach. He figures it’s better to be a semi-vegetarian, i.e. it’s okay to eat some meat if you’re going to eat a whole lot of vegetables as well. (I think he would prefer you not eat meat, but he says it’s vastly better than being a vegetarian who goes around gorging on breads and pastries.)

2There go the Jenny Craig & WeightWatchers-meals groups.

3Ah, just lost the Starbucks crowd.

4The last Cranky Fitness reader shuts the door behind him as he leaves.

Um... is anyone still reading this? Fuhrman says that after six weeks or so, unless you're really looking to lose a lot of weight, re-introduce more grains and starchy vegetables. Avoid processed foods like the evil pesticide-ridden plague foods that they are.

Fuhrman himself says this diet is not for everyone. People will say "hey, this diet will make me so miserable that it's not worth it." I'm not sure I agree. Yeah, changing your mindset and getting your body used to a more healthy diet is no fun, but once you've made the adjustment it seems to me you'll be having a whole lot more fun in life. The quality of life is better if you eat healthy and work out.

Ever tried going mostly vegetarian? Did it help or hinder your health efforts?

June 10, 2009

Six Ways to Banish Belly Fat

Poor unpopular, unloved belly fat! Everyone, it seems, is desperate to get rid of it.

Well, okay, perhaps not everyone.

It's not just a vanity issue either--health experts have been nagging us about belly fat for years, telling us that it's the worst kind of fat to have. Abdominal visceral fat has been linked to health problems like diabetes, breast cancer, gallbladder issues, cardiovascular diseases, and metabolic problems.

So since no one welcomes belly fat, it could probably use a friend. But I do not want to be that friend. I do not like belly fat hanging around. Yet it does anyway--I clearly haven't done enough to discourage it! Perhaps a letter?

Dear Belly Fat,
I'm sorry, but I think it's time for you to go. I know you're very attached to me--quite clingy in fact! But I just don't love you the way you seem to love me. Truthfully? I'm just not that into you, even though you are quite clearly into me.

Scram, ok?


What, it's not gone yet?

Damn. Apparently belly fat can't read!

So if anyone else is looking for a better solution to getting rid of belly fat than writing it letters, there are several tricks that are apparently actually backed up by scientific research.

How To Tell Belly Fat to Take a Hike, According to the Smarty-Pants Scientists:

1. Eat blueberries.

2. Drink green tea.

3. Eat foods high in monounsaturated fats like avocados and olive oil.

4. Reduce stress-related cortisol levels by practicing some deep breathing, meditation, or other relaxation training.

5. Do some Interval Training. (Or, if H.I.I.T. seems too oppressive, try some easier S.H.I.I.T and see if that works).

6. Don't smoke.

While I think it's great that scientists are out there doing research on ways to get rid of our belly fat, I'm still left with two important questions!

Crabby Wants To Know:

1. Why does Crabby still have a respectable amount of belly fat despite doing all of the above things to discourage it?

2. And why there is no research grant money available for the elimination of Ass Fat? Though it may not be as much of a health risk, surely Ass Fat is almost as unpopular and many people would like to get rid it. Yet it's always belly fat, belly fat, belly fat.

So Does Anyone Have Any Thoughts on Belly Fat? Any additional tips on getting rid of it?