April 30, 2009

If I can't smoke it, why should I grow it?

The ultimate NIMBY...
Photo credit: aussiegall

I grew up in a neighborhood of immigrants. One year, the guy across the street planted his entire front yard in potatoes. His daughter, not being from the Old Country, was mortified with shame. It was UnAmerican to use a front yard like that. He never saw her point of view but, not wanting to embarrass her, he went back to growing grass like everyone else.

Sometimes convention is habit that's hardened into prejudice, and prejudices cannot be addressed using logic. Surprisingly enough, some vegetables fall into this category. They provoke illogical responses -- especially this one vegetable. I mean, I could say that this vegetable contains the fountain of youth and people would still scoff.

I think the conversation would go something like this:

Me: It's really healthy and full of vitamins .

Friend: Who cares! It's a weed!

Me: It's easy to grow your own -- fresh, local, and organic.

Friend: Who cares! It's a weed!

Me: It can help you lose weight.

Friend: Who cares! It's a --- hmmmn, wait a minute. I don't want to be too narrow minded here. Can you tell me more?

Dandelion leaves fall into the category of healthy green leafy veggies.

What were you saying about it helping weight loss?

They grow, as most people know to their regret, almost any where.

You mentioned weight loss a minute ago?

Not only are they in the top 4 green vegetables in overall nutritional value (USDA Bulletin #8, "Composition of Foods, Haytowitz and Matthews 1984), their diuretic properties work against excess water retention. Most diurectics have the serious drawback of causing you to lose potassium, but dandelions have such a high level of potassium in the leaves that you don't end up with a deficit.

Who cares about all that so long as I'm thin, thin, thin!

All right, you can say it's a weed. But not just a weed. It's a nutritious weed. (Yes, unless you spray it with evil poisons, but those poisons would be bad for you regardless of the food they were sprayed on -- even if you were eating a cupcake.) Dandelions are a "very good source of Dietary Fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin E (Alpha Tocopherol), Vitamin K, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Vitamin B6, Calcium, Iron, Potassium and Manganese."

Note: people take dandelion pills or tinctures for medicinal benefits. (For example, it is used as a traditional medicine for liver problems.) Using concentrated amounts of dandelion extract can have a powerful effect on your system, not always a good idea if you're taking other medications as the same time.

That's not what I'm talking about. I am focused here on eating green leafy vegetables. You take anything in concentrated doses and you'll want to be careful. Ingesting dandelion leaves in a salad is much safer. If you're just concerned with eating a vegetable that's good for you, this is it.

A cup of dandelion greens, 25 calories, gets you:
112% of your daily need for vitamin A
30% of vitamin C
585 friggin' % of vitamin K
24 mg Omega-3
144 mg Omega-6

Dandelion are supposed to have medicinal properties as well. The official name of the plant is Taraxacum officinale, which is fancy language for the "Official Remedy for Disorders." Most of its reputation as a tonic is based on traditional European folklore. That doesn't mean the claims are false, but I'm conditioned to want to hear about health from people in white coats.

There isn't as much scientific research out there as I would like re: its tonic properties. I did find a study that claimed dandelions would help with lipid metabolism of diabetics. Mostly what I found was vague but quite positive. "The well-known pharmacological effects, together with the low toxicity, suggested by other authors, make this underutilized plant a good candidate for use as food source."

All the experts on the web and in upscale recipe books say pick the tender young leaves. However, if you're trying to follow the folklore route and eat this stuff to help your liver, they say you should include some of the older, more bitter-tasting leaves. Southern cuisine pairs dandelion leaves with bacon, Asian cuisine combines it with salty-tasting recipes.

Also, you can use the root to make tea. "The tea made of it is of medicinal importance, has a stomachic, tonic, diuretic, aperient, digestion stimulating, antibilious, blood purifying effect."

Incidentally, another weed that people spend a lot of time and effort trying to get rid of is purslane (Portulaca oleracea). Did you know it is the highest vegetable-based source of omega-3s?

If you want to eat a healthy diet without breaking the bank, maybe it's time to stop thinking of all weeds as an enemy. (Some weeds are definitely still in the enemy category -- I haven't found a single source that claims poison oak has a redeeming quality.)

What, you're still reading this? You haven't given up in disgust and clicked on Bubbleshooter instead? I'm impressed. To most people, the idea of eating weeds that grow in a backyard sounds as absurd as planting potatoes instead of a lawn.

I think it's the same mindset as growing potatoes on the lawn. Eating dandelions might be logical, it might be practical, it might be healthy.

Plus it could help you lose weight! Don't forget the important stuff!

But if you ate it, people would think you weird. Why is this? People don't value something if it's free? You can buy dandelion leaves in upscale trendy grocery stores. Does that make the veggie more appealing?

I think this prejudice falls into the category of "Just Because." Can't see another reason for it. (If you can, please let me know!)

I'm not planning to start a campaign, People for the Eating of Dandelions Dammit (PEDD). I'm just curious -- what's your reason for avoiding them?

Caveats: I haven't been able to verify this, but I've read you should avoid dandelions if you have allergies to latex or daisies. And yes, yes, obviously, avoid it if you're not sure the area has not been sprayed. While supposedly quite helpful for people in the early stages of liver and gall bladder disorders, dandelions are in check-with-the-doc territory if you have gall stones. The bitter elements increase the amount of bile produced.

April 29, 2009

Swine Flu: Why You Should Panic

So Swine Flu has been in the news a bit lately, have you noticed?

There are some ominous signs out there that this new strain of H1N1 virus may become responsible for a horrible unstoppable global pandemic--the stuff of history books and horror movies.

Or... it might not.

None of the experts, as of this writing, claim to know what the deal is yet. It's too early, and flu viruses are unpredictable. A helpful quote to keep in mind: "If you've seen one flu pandemic, you've seen one flu pandemic."

So it's natural to wonder: is all this hoopla in the media really justified? Should we all be worried about catching and/or dying from Swine Flu?

The short answer: Yep, it's definitely time to panic!

Why now, when there's still so much we don't know? Well, here are Five Good Reasons to start seriously Freaking Out about Swine Flu.

1. Flu Pandemic News: It's A Great Break From Lolcats.

If you're online and trying to avoid doing actual constructive work, there are only so many times a day you can visit your favorite blogs and sites without starting to get a little bored. But now with the swine flu outbreak, you just have to work up enough anxiety so that you Need to Know Every Breaking Development. Voila! You have something new and scary and morbidly fascinating to click on every few minutes.

Because at least for the moment, the disease is spreading, so you can fuel your sense of fear and dread and horrified curiosity every time new cases are discovered. You can find maps, read first-hand accounts, and analyze the political and economic implications of the outbreak. You can choose from a large variety of experts either making dire predictions or offering calm reassurance, whichever spin you prefer.

(Note: One good source for info is Effect Measure; there's always the Center for Disease Control; and HealthBolt also has a round-up of good swine flu links. But it is not exactly hard to find Swine Flu news. Just go to any major news site and click, click, click to your heart's content.)

Those of you who can't work up enough worry to care? Sorry, time to go back to your cute kitteh pictures.

Humorous Pictures
there will always be Lolcats

2. Washing Your Hands Is A Good Idea Anyway!

The more worried you are about catching something potentially deadly, the more likely you are to pay better attention to those Health Experts recommendations about frequent hand washing. As well as those lectures about not touching your face or rubbing your eyes or brushing itchy strands of hair off your forehead unless you've just washed your hands. So even if it turns out there's no epidemic after all, a nice sense of panic will make you much less likely to catch some other unpleasant but less notorious bug than could still make you really miserable.

3. Panic is A Bonding Experience

Most things people get really worked up about are either too personal to share with casual coworkers (the painful details of your divorce, for example), or they're controversial and might cause disagreement (your feelings about corporate bailouts or legalizing drugs or universal health care or whatever).

However, very few people are in favor of massive illness and death. You can pretty much assume that it's safe to share your worries if you have them and no one's going to get offended. And if things do get worse? Oddly enough, people who are scared for their lives often pull together and act much more reasonably and generously than they do in ordinary times!

So keep this simple trick in mind if any of the people you have to deal with on a daily basis are irritating asshats: just whip up a little frenzied fear that a scary awful bug is going to sweep through your office and strike random victims... it could make even the most obnoxious coworker seem suddenly way less annoying!

4. Panicked Overreaction Makes A Great Cocktail Party Story

Once the danger is over, you can tell funny stories about the case loads of face masks and hand sanitizer you stashed in your basement during the Great Swine Flu Scare of 2009. Anxious types who have, in the past, done things like stockpiled duct tape and garbage bags and iodine pills in the aftermath of 9-11, or who hoarded canned goods and cash for when all the world's computers were going to crash in the beginning of the new millennium... well, these folks always tell the best humorous anecdotes at parties. The cheerfully neurotic raconteurs are always more fun to listen to than the smug "I knew from the beginning there was nothing to worry about" types.

5. Er, We Could Actually End Up Having a Swine Flu Pandemic

In which case you will have gotten your panicking done way ahead of schedule, and will be all exhausted and unsurprised and relatively calm while those who didn't think it was going to be a big deal will be freshly reeling.

But What If Panic Just Isn't Your Thing?

I suppose you could just console yourself with the fact that (1) it's probably still really unlikely that anything bad will happen to you personally; and (2) other than take sensible precautions, there's not a lot you can do to stop the spread of swine flu, properly panicked or not. So if you'd rather leave the freaking out to people who actually enjoy it, I suppose being all calm and collected is probably OK too... Ya Big 'Ol Party Poopers.

What about you folks, worried about swine flu yet?

Giveaway Winner: This Book Will Make You Fat

Well, thufferin' thuccotash, the Random Number Generator has picked POD as the winner of Charlie Hills book!

Congrats, POD, and please send your mailing address to Crabby McSlacker at gmail dot com and I'll forward to Charlie.

Thanks everyone for playing!

April 28, 2009

The Cupcake Dilemma Flowchart

So... you can hear the siren call of the cupcakes calling your name. What do you do?

What would Pinocchio do?

Seriously? You're hesitating over this decision? Then let me take this opportunity to salute you. You're good.

We have provided a handy flowchart that might help you resolve this dilemma. (Warning: do not give the flowchart a half-truth. It gets cranky when you do that.)

Should you eat that cupcake? Click on the flowchart to determine the answer:

Obligatory disclaimers:

There are 181 calories in the average Hostess cupcake.

An adult who weighs 150 pounds with an average metabolism would need to exercise for half an hour jumping rope, kick boxing, or cross country skiing, to burn off two average cupcakes.

More serious disclaimer stuff:

The flowchart is directed toward people who, like St. Augustine, want to be good --- but not just yet . It does not apply to people with serious eating disorders, who might find one of the following sites a lot more helpful:

A couple of great blogs:

The Great Fitness Experiment

Scale Junkie

And some professional organizations:

NEDA (National Eating Disorders Assn)

ANAD (Assoc. of Anorexia Nervosa and other Asssociated Disorders)

Something Fishy: a great resource for everything ED. Forums, treatment finder, etc.

USF Hope House for Eating Disorders

(Thanks to Charlotte and Diana for their link recommendations.)

April 27, 2009

Show of Hands?

So here's a weird study I read last week:

If you are going to be tested on rote memory, and you are right-handed, you may want to first sweep your eyes back and forth for thirty seconds. It will help you remember more.

If you're a lefty, it won't really help.

Weird, huh? Apparently the eye-sweeping helps because it improves communication between the brain's hemispheres, which seems to aid in recall.

And so why does this trick work better with people who are strongly right-handed, like I am?

Because apparently our two hemispheres suck when it comes to communicating with each other! Well, at least compared to lefties or more ambidextrous folks. We extreme righties are more likely to benefit from tricks that get the two sides talking.

Otherwise, apparently our left hemispheres are all: "shut up, right brain, I don't have to listen to you, I'm dominant!" and our right hemispheres are all "oh, sorry, I didn't mean to interrupt, but I just thought you might want to know this thing I noticed which was..." but then our bossy left brains are still like "Get lost! Lists of words are my department. Didn't I tell you I got this?" And then meanwhile all the ambidextrous people and the lefties have finished up the word memorization task and have gone on to get elected president or whatever.

Yeah, he's a smarty-pants lefty.

OK, so I may not have gotten the physiological details exactly right.

I did try to do some research on this whole handedness and hemisphere stuff. Alas, I ended up more confused when I finished than when I started.

But at least I can try to pass along some interesting answers to questions I never thought to ask: like, for example: who's smarter and earns more money, a righty or a lefty? And who's more likely to be a schizophrenic or a pedophile?

First Off, How Right or Left Handed Are You?

Of course "handedness" is more of a continuum than a flat out category. Folks vary to the degree in which they prefer one hand or one side over the other. There's a handedness test here, although for me, this was not exactly a difficult question.

I am SO right-hand/left hemisphere dominant that none of the questions even came close to soliciting a left-handed answer. I do everything with my right hand. I also chew on the right side of my mouth, and favor my right eye even though my left eye actually sees better. When I go to the gym, I can lift more weight with my right arm even though I'm supposed to stop doing that and wait for my sissy left arm to catch up. (I've tried, but it never does. I finally decided: screw it, the right arm is more awesome and it gets to have bigger muscles. Deal with it, left arm. You get to wear the watch and the wedding ring, ok?)

But how about you guys--righties, lefties, or somewhere in between?

Handedness and Hemispheres

According to an interesting article over at How Stuff Works, the two hemispheres of the brain mostly process the same information, with data passing back and forth between them. But a few tasks, like language processing, tend to take place in one hemisphere or the other. While righties primarily use the left hemisphere for language processing, many lefties process language using both hemispheres of the brain.

And, so good news for you lefties: apparently you guys "have brains that are more conducive to simultaneous, bi-hemisphere processing of information."

Drawing from the Right Side of the Brain or Whatever

I went to look for the whole "right vs. left side of the brain" research, and specifically, how you can you get your hemispheres to talk to each other better? (Maybe intra-cranial couples counseling?) But it all got way too confusing. I was remembering all those books and articles from the 80's about how we need to use our intuitive creative right brains more, and not so much our uptight, linear, logical left brains. And how if we use our left hands for things and breath in through our left nostril we'll be the next Vincent Van Gogh.

Alas, there seem to be a lot of folks now saying: er, the left brain, right brain differences other than language aren't that big. We use both sides for most things. And a cranky Scotttish neuroscientist (a man after my own heart) claims that much of this brain training stuff is a waste of time.

Being a lazy blogger and not a fancy University Professor, I decided to put off further investigation for another time. Instead, how about some goofy facts about the difference between right handed and left handed people?

Lefties Have Some Cognitive Advantages

And not just in rote memorization. A recent left handed psychiatric research roundup (written by a leftie, btw), noted that:

Left-handed Pakistani subjects were significantly more intelligent than right-handed Pakistani subjects.

Left-handed college-educated men earned 15 percent more than right-handed college-educated men did.

But Lefties Are Also A Bit Nuttier

Sorry, lefties, but research suggests you're more likely to have certain mental disorders.

Like, a unusually large percentage of left-handed or ambidextrous people have autism, dyslexia, stuttering, or neurodevelopmental disorders.

Oh, and, um, schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder, and pedophilia.

(The numbers are still really small though. But just in case you were feeling all cocky about the being smarter and more financially successful than us poor right handed folks.)

So where do you all fall on the left/right continuum? Done any brain training, and did it help make you more intuitive or creative? And for the lefties, I imagine being left-handed in a right-handed world comes with some challenges that we righties don't even realize?

April 24, 2009

Why Your Last Diet Failed You--And Why This Book Won't Help You On Your Next One

This guest post is written by Charlie Hills, who has a hilarious book out about weight loss that does NOT promise easy, effortless results. Cranky Fitness was lucky enough to be the final stop on his whirlwind virtual tour. Check it out, you could win a copy! (Note: due to the increasingly annoying Blogher ad guidelines, we must do the actual giving away over on our review page. So after you click "read more," make sure to leave a comment over there, not over here, if you'd like to have a chance to win! And even if you already have a copy, check out his post anyway--where you will find the sexiest exercise demonstration pictures we've ever posted! (OK, so maybe we've never posted any before...)

Book CoverI'd like to thank Crabby for hosting the very last stop on my virtual book tour. It's been a great ride and I don't regret the undertaking one bit. I mean, what a great way to rack up thousands of virtual frequent flier miles.

Over the past two weeks I've tackled many food-, diet-, and book-related topics. Yet only now have I realized that in all my yacking, not once has the F word come up. Therefore, now that I've landed at at Cranky Fitness, I feel the topic is at last unavoidable.

Read More!

April 23, 2009

Random Thursday posts cause a flat stomach!

My personal theory is that reading Random Thursday posts causes people to become healthy, fit, flat-stomached, and fully prepared for anything that the rest of the week may bring.

Photo credit: luiginter

Sisters make people happy

Sisters spread happiness while brothers breed distress, experts believe. Researchers quizzed 571 people aged 17 to 25 about their lives and found those who grew up with sisters were more likely to be happy and balanced.

Except... I have more brothers than I do sisters, so does that mean I'm more distressed than I am happy?

People who snore heavily burn more calories

People who snore heavily or have sleep apnea burn more calories when resting when the condition is more severe, researchers have found. Researchers at the University of California at San Francisco found that the average number of calories burned during rest was 1,763 per day. But those who scored the worst on a scale of apnea and disruptions in breathing burned 1,999 calories per day, about 300 more on average than those who scored the lowest.

Since people who live with heavy snorers are themselves likely to have trouble sleeping, and since lack of sleep can interfere with the ability to lose weight, that means the snorers will be thin and the non-snorers won't be?

Do people who take the bus to the gym get extra credit?

People who use public transit are three times more likely to meet fitness guidelines than those who don't, say researchers at the University of British Columbia.

When I first read this article, I thought "Well, duh." The researchers asked people to keep travel diaries for two consecutive days in two consecutive years, which sounds a bit skimpy. However, they interviewed over 18,000 people, which sounds more impressive. (Also sounds like a lot of work to me.)

Maybe Nike should try doing this...

This has absolutely no relation to health or fitness... or even whining... but I thought it was kinda cool. This website lists different shoes and articles of clothing made by the company Patagonia. It describes what part of the world the clothing was made in, where in the U.S. it's distributed from, the carbon dioxide emissions involved in transporting it... okay, so I ended up feeling a bit guilty after reading these things. Still good to know: Patagonia: the Footprint chronicles.

A Random Thursday post traditionally finishes up with a S.A.V. (yes, Silly Animal Video). Today, it's time for a change.

[Text for the video-impaired: musical rendition of ordering food in a restaurant. Kind of like the Monty Python Spam sketch, only with classier music.]

My other, and more probable, personal theory is that people who read Crabby's marvelous post tomorrow will tend to be healthier, thinner, fitter, richer, flat-stomacher, and better suited for the weekend.

What, you got a better personal theory?

April 22, 2009


You know how every now and then you can't quite get your act together to plan and prepare and shop for a nutritious meal, and so you think: "screw it, I'll just see what I've got in the fridge?" And so you pull out maybe some grapes and cheese and bread and a leftover chicken drumstick and maybe some cut-up vegetables and dip, and you take all these snacks and throw them on a plate and say, "voila: dinner!"

OK, maybe you don't. But I do, and to stretch the analogy reeaaaaly far, that's sort of what today's post is. I just have some random things to say about various foods, and rather than think and plan and come up with a coherent meal theme, I thought I'd just throw three unrelated food items out there on one plate page and say, "voila: Wednesday's post!"

Note: viewer discretion advised. One of the treats I will confess to eating will leave you SHOCKED and AMAZED that any health blogger, even one named Crabby McSlacker, could seriously recommend it.

The Curious Case of The Irresistible Almond Butter

So it wasn't that long ago that I wrote a post about portion control in which I mentioned I sometimes enjoy peanut butter or almond butter sandwiches. (With honey, bananas, and a big glass of milk).

And sure, I'd noticed I was starting to eat these sandwiches more frequently. I just assumed that, as happens with a lot of food items, my cravings were a "phase." I often go through periods when a certain food appeals to me a whole heck of a lot. I eat it like crazy, then... phhhhttt! I don't feel like it anymore for a long time.

But it's been months now that I've been totally obsessed with peanut butter and almond butter sandwiches! Well, I don't write poetry to them, or sneak out of bed at 2 am to have a rendezvous or anything. But I do seem to require one pretty much every day.

What is UP with that? Has a similar food obsession ever happened to anyone else? Is there a cure?

And it didn't help that a few weeks ago I got an email on behalf of Justin's Nut Butters saying: wanna try some samples of our portable peanut butter and almond butter squeeze packs? They come plain or in flavors.

Normally, in a non-nut-butter-obsessed time of my life, I'd remember that accepting free stuff to eat means I eventually have to write a review of said free stuff, which I never actually feel like doing. So I would have said no.

But, well, in a weak moment fueled by almond-butter-lust I said yes.

So these little portion controlled squeeze packs arrived, and they are indeed cute!

And they're convenient, especially if you're going somewhere where hauling an entire jar of peanut butter around might not be practical. The packs are also portion controlled--there are little 100 calorie packs and bigger 180 calorie ones.

As to the flavors, I have to admit I was skeptical. I thought: almond butter should come in one flavor, almond. But the Almond/Maple and the Honey/Peanut varieties? Both tasty! The maple, in particular, could have easily been gross and fakey and disgusting, but instead, it was subtle and pleasant and not overly sweet. The peanut butter also comes in cinnamon flavor, which seemed to me a really bad idea. Sure enough, I tried it, and for me--yuck. Those are two flavors that are both lovely, but not together. Others of you may be more open-minded about that.

Anyway, I give Justin and his Peanut and Almond Butter packs two sticky thumbs up!

Easy Tasty Guacamole Recipe

I love guacamole, and it's one of those foods that tastes too delicious to be good for you. It's like the Nutrition Gods weren't paying attention when they invented avocados: wait, these things have fiber and antioxidants and potassium and folate and oleic acid? They should be all stringy and gross and bitter! What were we thinking, how did they end up so yummy and creamy?

Anyway, the trick to easy and tasty guacamole: have access to good salsa.

If you can get a container of good fresh salsa from your grocery store deli or local Mexican place, the guacamole work is all done for you!

Just mash up avocados, and gradually add salsa and garlic salt until it it tastes wonderful.

You'd think you'd need fresh garlic (and it's probably better for you) but garlic salt seems to work just fine.

Note: this is eat-at-home guacamole; it turns brown pretty fast. If you want take-to-the-potluck guacamole, you might want to squeeze some lemon or lime in there too.

Dessert Fake-Out

Ever feel like just a little something sweet, but know that you need to be limiting the amount of sugar and butter and white flour and bad fats you eat?

There are, of course, virtuous ways to handle that dilemma: just say no. Or have fruit. Or eat some anti-oxidant-packed dark chocolate, the healthy 95% kind that tastes as bitter as 3 day old coffee grounds.

The whole 100 calorie pack industry exists for just this reason, for damage control, but somehow these never work for me--they're too small for 100 calories, and they remind me of my junky treats from my youth without actually tasting as good.

So my new cheat option, when it's not yet time for a real splurge? Tiny little vanilla mini-meringues from Trader Joes.

These things are so silly! Each one is only about the size of a peanut M&M. And there is nothing nutritionally "good" about them, other than that, to my knowledge, they don't contain poison. But they are only 1 calorie apiece. One calorie! Nothing with actual sugar in it is ever one calorie!

So with my immature toddler brain, quite easily fooled on matters of portion control, I can have like 25 or 30 sweet crunchy meringue thingies and feel like I've had "dessert." (Note: they must be eaten One at a Time to achieve this fake-out effect). Plus, if I have them along with a nice healthy cup of green tea, in my mind, the green tea virtue cancels out the tiny bit of meringue indulgence and it comes out even.

Anyone out there have any food obsessions, or any nifty snacks or treats you've discovered that you want to tell us about?

April 21, 2009

The 2nd Annual Cranky Fitness Exercise Review

It's time for the second annual Cranky Fitness exercise review. Once more we have assembled experts on various forms of exercise to give us their best suggestions, and once more they have disappointed us by turning in serious, researched, and well thought-out reviews. Since that sort of thing would make the rest of our posts look bad by comparison, I decided the only thing to do was conduct the review myself.

Boot camp

Pro: Some of them boots are pretty stylish looking.
Con: There are no happy boot-campers. Not until the muscle soreness fades.
Tip: Don't show up in drag.

It's not that kind of 'camp.'


Pro: This can really work the diaphragm muscles.
Con: You can't have a burpee without a burper, right? So methinks this form of exercise is not suitable for all social occasions.
Tip: Drinking a lot of carbonated drinks beforehand can help with this workout.


Pro: This fitness program will make you feel like a martyr to exercise. No wait, sorry, I was confusing this with Crucifix-fit. Crossfit is a fitness program designed to make you feel cranky. And fit.
Con: You might feel like a martyr anyway.
Tip: Sounds like it would be a good idea to get fit, at least a bit, before trying crossfit.


Pro: You don't have to worry about Fido canoodling with the couch while you're at the gym.
Con: This is a form of yoga where your partner might lick your face. (I understand this is not common in other forms of yoga.)
Tip: Do not wear the burger-scented cologne to the gym.

Mmmmm... smells good...


Pro: Can be done on your lunch hour.
Con: Unless you're a cattle farmer or someone else who doesn't live in a city.
Tip: Do not try vaulting over a police car, especially if you're running away from a bank.

Parcour dress code FAIL.
(Note the
bolt cutter between his legs, and no that's not a euphemism.)

Pole dancing

Pro: Really works the arms and core muscles.
Con: Wearing a helmet while learning to dance might make you look silly.
Tip: Make sure your outfit has pockets in case people want to stuff money into your clothing.

I still think that's rather sweet...

Editor's Note: If anybody has any other, better exercise reviews, please let me know.

April 20, 2009

CrossFit for Cranky Crabs

Photo credit: crossfit

Many of you may already be familiar with the exercise program Cross Fit, which is designed to "forge a broad, general, and inclusive fitness."

Crossfit says its regimen can be adapted by almost anyone, including "terrorist hunters, skiers, mountain bike riders and housewives."

(Note: I assume by "terrorist hunters" they mean: "people who hunt terrorists" and not: "hunters who use bombs to scare the bejeesus out of ducks and deer." )

So, are you interested in becoming a terrorist-hunting, skiing, mountain-bike-riding housewife who can kick some serious ass? Then maybe you should think about CrossFit!

But how does it work? Well, CrossFit gives you a simple list of exercises to perform every day. Unless it is a Rest Day, in which case you get to rest! The list is different each time, but it is rarely very long.

If you are a CrossFit regular and know what you are doing, then you just man-up or woman-up and do the exercises. If you are new and clueless, the routines are explained somewhere else on the site. You can do the exercises in a gym specially designed for CrossFit, a regular gym, or you can buy exercise equipment for your own basement or garage.

(Not actually suggested by CrossFit.)
Photo: plaidstallions.com; thanks Camevil!

I confess: I have kind of a crush on CrossFit.

Now it's true, I've never actually done a CrossFit workout, but check out all the reasons CrossFit seems so cool:

What's Awesome About CrossFit:

1. Really tough, strong people do it and get even tougher and stronger.

2. The list of things you need to do each day usually looks pretty short.

3. There's a whole community of people who do their CrossFit thing and then post pictures or videos of themselves doing them. It's sort of like amateur porn, only it's not dirty.

4. The CrossFit people often give their workouts sweet names like "Pamela" or "Betty" even if the routines themselves might totally kick your ass down the stairs and across the street.

5. There are supposed to be ways to modify the exercises to make them doable for anyone, which involves clicking around the site more than I felt like so I haven't found them yet.

6. As a cranky crab, how could I not be drawn to something that starts with the word "Cross?" Because I'm always cross when I try to get fit!

Then Why Don't I DO CrossFit, if I Have Such A Crush on It?

Well, just because you may have a crush from afar, this does not necessarily mean that you are destined to spend your life together with the object of your affections. Perhaps some things are just not meant to be.

Sigh. (And don't worry, the Lobster has a
big ol'crush on Rachel Maddow too).

Oh wait. Let's see, most Cranky Fitness readers are heterosexual females... Sorry about that, I'll translate:

Sure, nice to think about--but you might not want to go
clear out a space in your garage or basement for him just yet.


On its face, CrossFit appears to be a simple, powerful, and effective approach to getting fit. But when you delve a little deeper, you might discover that a lot of these exercises are really hard, and the way you're supposed to use the equipment may make you unpopular at your current gym, and there may not be a special CrossFit gym near you, and that the DIY approach to turning your garage into a CrossFit facility is more than a bit daunting.

So here is the Crabby McSlacker alternative approach to CrossFit, which I'll call CrankyFit!

Step 1: Consider reading all the helpful orientation information on the CrossFit site, so you can learn the philosophy behind CrossFit; how it works; what equipment you need; where to find the videos that demonstrate the exercises; where to find a trainer if you want one; how to modify the exercises to better match your abilities, etc.

Step 2: Decide that would take too much time. Instead, check out the exercise for today.

Let's use an example from last week, shall we?

"Do 30 muscle ups for time."

Step 2: Think: well, gosh, I'm not sure what a muscle up is, but how hard could that be? And just 30 of 'em? Awesome, I'm there!

Step 3: Prowl around the site and find out what a "muscle up" actually is. Hint: the show-offy folks in the 100 burpee challenge video did some muscle-ups towards the end; it was that cool looking thing with the rings.

Step 4: Realize there is no way in hell "muscle ups" are gonna happen in your lifetime.

Step 5: Note there is an alternative suggestion: "If you cannot do the muscle-ups, do 120 pull-ups and 120 dips."

Step 6: Note that there is no alternative to the alternative suggestion.

Step 7: Start fantasizing about eventually being able to do 1 unassisted pull-up, let alone 120 of them. Consider purchasing a pull-up bar for home use. Spend 3 hours on the internet selecting the exact over-the-doorframe pull up bar you would purchase, if you could convince your spouse it was a justifiable expenditure.

Step 8: Get out a tape measure and discover that because of the fancy trim you have around your doorways, none of the over-the-doorframe pull-up bars would go over your actual doorframe.

Step 9: Realize that if you want to do 120 pull-ups and dips, you're going to have to go to the gym and use the gravitron thingy.

Step 10: Once at the gym, realize you don't want to do 120 pull ups and dips. Instead, decide to do 8-12 (assisted) pull ups and dips like you normally would, and then go do the rest of your regular strength training routine, and then do some cardio, because, well, that's just what you do when you're at the gym.

Step 11: Come to the conclusion that while the fantasy of being told what to do every day for exercise is very appealing, in reality, you don't actually like to be told what to do, pretty much ever.

(However, if you are not a Cranky Crab, CrossFit may be just what the doctor ordered).

Anyone here a CrossFit fan? Have any other kinds of exercises you have a crush on from afar but have trouble actually committing to?

April 18, 2009

Stuff I Meant to Mention

Sometimes I accumulate various items or links I want to pass on to you guys, but I can't quite squeeze them into regular posts and have them make any sense.

I used to do something called "Random Friday," which was a great place for miscellaneous links. But then, somehow, "Random Friday" turned into a monster, one that constantly needed to be fed.

But if Random Friday were this cute a monster,
I'd probably go ahead and feed it
(Drawing by Dylan)

Unfortunately, if I had two things I needed to say, I couldn't just have a whole "Random Friday" post with 2 paragraphs in it! That would look weird. So instead I'd spend hours and hours surfing the net, goofing off, all justified in my mind with the idea that I was "just looking for "Random Friday" ideas.

Best not to bring back that tradition, methinks. Instead, how about I just pass on the actual things I wanted to tell you about this week?

Blog You Must Check Out

First off, here's a hilarious blog that you folks probably already know about, but I was late finding. (Or quite possibly I found it, liked it, and failed to bookmark it, which happens quite frequently and I really should get all set up in a feed reader but I'm too stubborn and there are too many blogs that would need to go on there so better to have nothing that something imperfect, right?) Anyway, the blog is called Chunky Monkey Mama. It's all good, but be sure to check out Gigi's awesome review of Jillian Michael's 30 day shred DVD.

Moms and Daughters and Body Image:

I had to double-check my calendar that I hadn't inadvertently missed Mother's day, because there are 3 items with this theme!

1. Remember the Dark Dirty Secrets of a Dietician post from last week? Well, Marsha and the other bloggers over at Green Mountain at Fox Run are running a blogging contest about mothers, daughters, and body image. And you know what you could win? A week at Green Mountain! If you are a blogger, you might want to check it out.

2. For those of you who are Blogher members (or want to join), there is voting going on right now about whether to have a panel at their conference this summer called "Blogs & Body Image: What are we teaching our kids?".

So why would a childless crab care enough one way or the other to mention this? Well, not only is a great subject, but the awesome MizFit and others you may be familiar with (like Steph from Back in Skinny Jeans and Roni from Roni's Weigh and some other great bloggers) will be on the panel, if they can get enough votes to have it. See more details over at Mizfit's place.

(And speaking of Blogher... yes, I heard your anguished cries and finally figured out how to disable the Floating Layers ads. I think. Let me know if they reappear.)

3. Dara Chadwick, whom many of you may remember from her blog and her great comments on many other blogs, has a new book coming out that also deals with mothers and daughters and body image. It looks great! It's called: You'd Be So Pretty If...

Charlotte at The Great Fitness Experiment has a review and giveaway, and you can read all about the book at Dara's website.

Silly Animal Video

OK, some old Random Friday habits die hard...

Fed Up from shots Mag on Vimeo.

April 17, 2009

What Would Crabby Do?

Oh look! A road sign! Most exciting thing I've seen in 40 miles...

If you've been reading this blog for any length of time, you'll know that our crab migrates twice a year from the left side of the country to the right side (and back). Somehow, she manages to work in some exercise during the road trip.

It sounds so easy when she does it.

I am currently recovering from a 1500-miles-in-a-weekend road trip. I tried to exercise whilst on the road, honest I did. It wasn't pretty.

Well, for one thing, I-5 isn't pretty. Not in California, at any rate.

If you've ever done a road trip, you can understand the boredom. You're maneuvering a ton of metal down a road maybe 8 feet wide while going 70+ miles an hour, but all that your body is doing is sitting still. After about 10 hours, the cassette tapes, audio books, CDs, DVDs, iPods and sundry are simply Not Enough.

The most exercise you get is from punching buttons on the radio while you try to find something decent to listen to. Or, if you're in the middle of nowhere, anything at all to listen to.

When I found myself eating junk food merely because it was the most exciting thing I could do at that time, I knew I was in trouble. It was time to try I.C.E. (Imitation Crab Exercising.)

I couldn't remember all the exercises that Crabby mentioned in her posts, but I tried to work in some workouts. The results were mixed:

Do shoulder rolls while rolling down the road
Good: Loosens up the neck as well as the shoulders

Better: The other drivers will reallllly stay out of your way once they catch sight of your movements.
Ugly: The nice policeman might want to ask about your recreational habits.

Do jumping jacks at the rest stop
Good: Gets your heart rate up nicely.
Better: Keeps you awake for the next segment of the trip.
Ugly: The local meth dealer might mistake you for a client in need of a fix.

Dance around in the car while driving down the road
Good: Improves your mood.
Better:Amuses the truck drivers.
Ugly: Really worries the dogs.


I tell you, I don't know how Crabby manages.

What would you do if you were trapped in a car for 10+ hours at a time, stoked up on caffeine, short on time for side trips to a gym, and bored out of your gourd on long-distance driving? Enquiring minds reallllly would like to know.

April 16, 2009

Mission: Vegetables before Six P.M.

We all know we're supposed to eat a lot of fruits and vegetables, right? Depending on where you get your dietary advice from, that can range from 5 servings a day to 9-11 servings a day. (And that doesn't mean strawberry flavored pop-tart filling or french fries, either. That generally means real nutritious fruits and vegetables).

For me, the "fruit" part is easier than the "vegetable" part. Fruit goes great with breakfast and lunch, as a snack, or even with dinner. Fruit is easy.

But vegetables? I do really well at dinner--we pretty much always have a big-ass salad, and there are additional vegetables either in or sitting aside the main course. I seem, however, to struggle with getting vegetables during daylight hours. Not getting vegetables before dinner puts a lot of pressure on dinner! It would be nice to have more of them out of the way before the sun sets.

My problem: I'm not a big fan of salads at lunch. Why not? Hell if I know. I'm just not. And as to raw vegetables like carrots or bell pepper slices or cauliflower florets? I start to tire of them after a few bites, and then start to resent them for not being gone already. Go away, raw vegetables! But they take forever to chew up and swallow and they are, frankly, not very tasty. I rarely subject myself to them anymore. For the most part, I'd much rather grab a piece of fruit than a vegetable.

While I do have a few methods for tricking myself into eating vegetables before dinner, (and have just discovered a new one that I'll share), I could really use some helpful advice!

Lunch Time Vegetables:

Pretty much my only trick here is: Reheat leftovers from last night's dinner. Soups, pasta with vegetables in it, chili, stir fries, takeout Thai or Indian... If there's a tasty sauce of some sort, particularly if it contains oil and garlic, then I'm willing to get vegetables at lunch. Otherwise? Not so much.

Breakfast Vegetables:

A long time ago, when the blog was very very young (it was on Day 2, I believe, and I was still writing in the third person) I wrote a post about a way to sneak in a morning vegetable: I mixed canned pumpkin with yogurt, pumpkin pie spices, and a boatload of my sweetener of choice. (Let's just pretend that sweetener was honey or agave nectar or something natural you'd all approve of, shall we? ) But pumpkin is a very particular flavor, and I only like it every now and then.

And, well, there are scrambled eggs with onion and pepper and tomatoes and maybe spinach in there. But that doesn't happen very often either, because it requires chopping things and washing out a pan and I'm lazy in the mornings.

So what's the newest breakfast vegetable trick I discovered?

Putting spinach in smoothies!

Green Smoothie photo: nic221

Note: And by "discovered" I mean: "read about in many of your blogs and thought no way in hell! Yeccch! You people are nuts! Until then I finally tried it myself and realized you all were actually onto something." That kind of "discovered."

Yep, I put a cup of spinach in the blender with my normal smoothie recipe, and I couldn't even taste the spinach in there! (The spinach was uncooked; I believe this is probably crucial if you want to avoid barfing). Then, feeling even more adventurous the next day, I put an additional cup of raw spinach in. With two cups, I could taste it a little. But it was just a slightly green, grassy taste, not at all disgustingly vile and loathsome as one might assume!

So I confess, it did look weird. Because I used blueberries, the whole thing wasn't green--it was a rather unattractive purplish-gray. But the smugness I felt from drinking spinach in the morning made it totally worth consuming an ugly beverage.

Now I'm curious about other vegetables. Carrots? Bell peppers? Has anyone experimented with what they can get away with in their smoothies? I'm thinking broccoli is kinda unlikely.

But I need more help! Does anyone else struggle with getting enough vegetables in before dinner? Any suggestions that don't involve carrot sticks?

April 15, 2009

Cranky Fitness Declares A New Holiday!

No, this new holiday is not in honor of taxes being due. That's a sucky reason for a holiday.

Nor is it a celebration of this being the Two Year Anniversary of Cranky Fitness.

But it is somewhat related to the fact I've been blogging for two solid years--and have spent a boatload of hours in front of a computer monitor, nearly motionless and hunched over writing about the need for us all to go out and get some exercise.

So here at Cranky Fitness we are rechristening April 15 as:

National Get Off Your Ass Day!!

Seriously, I don't need you sitting on me all day.
Photo credit: coscurro

Now this doesn't mean you have to go out and do anything strenuous (though that might be very good for you).

Here's all you need to do to celebrate this new Holiday: if you are sitting in a chair and have been stationary for more than say, a half hour: STAND UP! STRETCH FOR A SECOND! YES, THAT MEANS YOU, MAGGOT!

Whoops, don't know what got into me!

OK, you can sit down now. That wasn't so hard, was it?

Over at That's Fit, Bev directed me to a very helpful Chicago Tribune article detailing the many reasons that sitting in a chair for long periods of time is bad for you.

Among them... "Sitting puts nearly twice the stress on the spine as standing; slouching while you sit increases the pressure even more." Also, "the disks in our vertebrae are important shock absorbers. When we're locked in one position, we're starving the disks of nutrients...there's no vascular or nerve supply to the disks; they get their nutrition through movement...if we're not moving, everything stagnates."

And who wants a stagnant spine? There were a whole bunch of other bad things too, like blod clots and flabby butts.

Suggestions for preventing problems include simple things like standing up every 15 to 30 minutes and clasping your hands behind your back, as well as more challenging endeavors like switching to a treadmill desk.

Now normally I might plagiarize pass on more of these suggestions, but you know what? I think I'll keep this a short post for once. Instead, go check out the relevant articles at That's Fit or the Tribune. Or better yet, take Rupal's awesome cartoon diagnostic posture test over at 101 Exercises!

Because I'm going to celebrate the Cranky Fitness second Blogiversary, as well as National Get Off Your Ass day, by... getting off my own ass and out of my desk chair for a good part of the day!

Note: thank you ALL, awesome readers, commenters, guest posters, followers, Stumblers, friendly bloggers, most wonderful co-blogger Merry Sunshine, and everyone else, for a wonderful two years!!!!

Oh, and speaking of Merry, don't worry, I haven't had her kidnapped and stashed away just because she's been consistently writing better posts than mine and showing me up. I'm used to that. She's been on a blog break and should be back soon.

So do any of you find yourselves sitting for long periods of time, or are you pretty good about taking little stand-up-and-stretch breaks every now and then?

April 14, 2009

Dept of WTF

Sometimes a study comes along that announces a conclusion s0 crazy-assed improbable that one's first reaction is: "that can't be right!"

But these kinds of studies present a personality test of sorts, don't they?

After your initial confusion, what do you conclude when you read a research finding that contradicts your expectations?

1. Hmm, interesting result. Maybe what I previously thought about this subject might be inaccurate! (Flexible, open-minded personality type).

2. That's a silly conclusion! There must be something wrong with this study. (Stubborn skeptical type).

3. There is something wrong with every single study ever conducted! I don't believe anything science ever came up with. Now let me get back to my TV program, the little people in the box in my living room are waiting for me. (Nutball type).

I am, not surprisingly, a Type 2 personality--a Stubborn Skeptic.

I have discovered, though, that there is a problem with being a Stubborn Skeptic and having a health blog, especially if you are a Cheapskate Stubborn Skeptic. Because my first reaction on seeing a study with a ridiculous result is to want to poke holes in the study's methodology. But often I can't actually read the study's methodology because you have to either be in academia or pay to get to it.

Pay? That's so not happening.

So instead, I have to work off a summary that gives little more than the conclusion. I have to just speculate as to why it was a dumb study! (Cue sad, sad, violin music.) (And actually, in this case, I'm not sure the study has even been published yet. But everyone else already reported on it last week, like the obviously gullible New York Times--because apparently not all health reporters are Stubbornly Skeptical they don't feel the need like I do to shred studies they do not like into bite-sized little pieces).


So help me out here, does this study on how offering salads affects restaurant menu choices sound like crazy talk to you guys too?

The study claims that offering healthy options on a restaurant menu "can induce some diners to eat less healthily than they otherwise would." More specifically, it says that diners were more likely to order french fries off a menu that had a salad than a menu that didn't include a salad as an option.

Wait... you see a salad on the menu, and even though you weren't going to order french fries, now you decide you need french fries?

Who are these people?

Here's all I could get on the methodology:

"In one study, college students were given one of two menus. One menu featured French fries, chicken nuggets and a baked potato; the other included those same items as well as a salad. The French fries, widely perceived as the least healthful option, were three times as popular with students selecting from the menu that had the salad as they were with the other group."

And here's the researchers' explanation:

“When you consider the healthy option, you say, well, I could have that option... That lowers your guard, leading to self-indulgent behavior.”

So people are giving themselves credit for looking at the word "salad," and they feel like having seen reference to green leafy things, they now deserve a French fry reward?

Another totally weird result? "The diners most affected by the presence of a healthful item were those with the highest levels of self-control, as measured by a widely used test."

OK, so people with more self control are even more likely to translate the innocent word "salad" into a subliminal command: eat deep-fried potatoes?

This really is nutty.

Of course I totally get why people might not want to order the salad. Salads at places with limited junky menus tend to be terrible. They have iceberg lettuce that tastes like preservatives, limp pieces of carrot, shredded cabbage that's usually a bit brown around the edges, nasty dressing, and, if you're lucky, a couple of unripe cherry tomatoes.

But why would considering, but not ordering, this sad little salad make you want to ask for fries you were otherwise going to pass up? To me, saying "no" to even a crappy salad would make me feel guilty. This guilt would make me LESS likely to order fries, not more.

This study result is so completely contrary to how my brain operates that I refuse to believe other people could be so weird.

So with absolutely no information at all about how they conducted this study, I'll take some wild-ass guesses as to what's going on.

A few possibilities:

1. The study did not have a lot of funding and was done on a tiny group of undergraduate psychology students forced to be experimental subjects as a course requirement. They were offered fake-looking restaurant menus featuring a weird hypothetical choices of foods, and knew researchers were watching them. In deciding how to best screw up the results, the non-salad people had less clue what the study was even about, so they picked what they normally would order. The people with salad on the menu, however, guessed that the study had something to do with healthy restaurant choices. They knew to say "screw that" and chose French fries even if they didn't even want French fries.

2. Baruch College, where the experiment apparently took place, must have an unusally high percentage of students who were traumatized by produce at a tender age. When confronted with salads, post-traumatic vegetable syndrome induced these studentsto reach for french fries, a known comfort food.

3. Crabby McSlacker sometimes tends to overgeneralize and believes everyone thinks the way she does. Sometimes this is not actually true!

4. People are crazy.

What do you guys think, is Number 3 the most likely option? Does this result make any sense to you? Perhaps you have a better explanation for what's going on?

April 13, 2009

Brown Fat Leads to Weight Loss?

Sorry, This is NOT what They Mean.

When I first saw the news article entitled "Brown Fat: A Fat That Helps You Lose Weight" I totally got the wrong idea.

Anyone else guess that they were going to say that there's some kind fat that's browner that others that we don't metabolize the same way, so if we ate more if it instead of white fat we'd lose weight?

No one? Ah well. That's where my mind went, anyway. And at first "brown fat" sounded a little gross, and then I thought, well, maybe things like hamburgers and beef stew and gravy and chocolate ice cream would count as brown fat? That wouldn't be so bad!

Alas, the researchers weren't talking about eating brownies or chocolate ice cream.

They're talking about a kind of fat we have in our bodies. "Rather than storing excess energy, this fat actually burns through it."

Scientists knew babies and rodents had brown fat, but until recently, they thought human adults didn't have much of any. Now they're discovering we do--but apparently some of us have more than others. Perhaps not coincidentally, skinny people have more than overweight people. (And women have more than men. And conditions such as cancer or hyperthyroidism can stimulate the growth of brown fat.)

Are you guessing where this is going yet? Probably. But here's some more background first.

What's brown fat for, anyway?

And why would we have more as babies? Well, brown fat works to regulate body temperature. Brown fat cells burn more sugar than regular fat cells, and release the energy as heat. It's inefficient but it works--sort of like throwing your dining room furniture into the fireplace and building a blazing fire when you're feeling chilly. You get warm, sure enough! But you might not choose to do that if you had fully-functioning central heating.

As we grow up, our bodies get better at temperature regulation, so we can just pay the gas & electric company and don't have to burn up our furniture. Or something like that. Anyway, over time brown-fat supplies shrink and we get more white fat.

But, it turns out healthy adults still retain a sizable amount of brown fat in the front and back of the neck. (Really? And how sizable could that be? I don't know about your neck--but mine isn't nearly as well equipped to store "sizable" amounts of fat as my thighs, belly, or ass are).

And so of course scientists want to know: How to Activate this stuff so we can all lose weight?

In the article I read, scientists were just itching to figure out how to figure out how to activate brown fat to burn more glucose. One possibility: brown-fat cells become more active in the cold, when people need to boost their body temperature. Scientists were not specific about what the implications of this were. Does that mean we all need to take ice baths now? I'd personally rather go to the gym or eat less.

But they're going to try to figure out some way to monkey around with this, possibly with some kind of drug. "Brown fat may indeed shift the balance of calorie intake and expenditure — allowing a person to burn more calories with the same amount of consumption — without the chore of going to the gym or sweating through a workout." (OK, I believe that was the Time magazine author speaking, not the scientists, but you know that's what everyone is thinking). A clinician at NIH said: "We have very few interventions aimed at increasing energy expenditure... and here we have a tissue that works exactly with the purpose of burning energy." If they could get this stuff activated, they figured people could burn about 20 % of their average daily caloric intake.

But, whoa, hold on there a minute...

There are lots of problems, of course, with assuming activating brown fat will leads to weight loss. For one, our bodies like to maintain equilibrium--so if we started to burn more calories, we might just get that much hungrier. And, even if drug companies could find a way to activate brown fat safely, that activation could in turn mess with other metabolic systems.

What do you guys think?

So, as usual, I have mixed feelings. I think for some folks with screwed-up metabolisms, who really don't overeat (at least anymore) and who get plenty of exercise but are still morbidly obese, perhaps this Frankenstinian approach to tinkering with brown fat might be better than surgical alternatives--if they could activate that brown fat safely. (And that's a big if.)

But I worry that for the majority of folks who could address the health risks of obesity with healthy lifestyle changes, research like this might just be another excuse to skip the exercise and put off the dietary changes they need to make. Same with folks who just want to lose weight for vanity purposes. Why go messing around with your metabolic processes? As appealing as a 20% calorie credit would be (hmm... how many cupcakes would does that work out to?), I would probably give a hypothetical "brown fat activating pill" a pass.


April 10, 2009

Dark, Dirty Secrets of a Dietitian

So the title of this post is a big ol' lie, unless you count drinking hot Dr. Pepper in one's youth "a dark dirty secret." But if I were honest and titled this post "Interview With a Dietitian Who Gives Sensible, Inspirational Answers to Crabby's Silly Questions," would it have caught your eye?

There is so much ridiculous misinformation out there in the weight loss world, and though I whine about it all the time, I'm not actually qualified to spout off quite as much as I do. So, I thought, why not ask an actual dietitian some questions?

But where to find one?

Well, duh, Crabby, why not look on the right hand sidebar of the blog, below the Blogher ad!

Yes, some of you may have noticed we have some new sponsors. (Hooray for non-conglomerate companies that have healthy products and support independent blogs! Please visit them all and check them out!) And one of these is Green Mountain at Fox Run. They have a great blog there, A Weight Lifted, and their director Marsha Hudnall, MS, RD, is not only a dietitian, but a blogger and professional writer as well.

So here's my interview with Marsha, who was very good-natured about putting up with my goofy questions.

Crabby: How did you decide to become a dietitian? Were you always a healthy eater or did you go around like I did in my formative years, scarfing cheeseburgers and cokes and cookies with complete abandon?

Marsha: I'm from Texas so that might give you a small idea of what I grew up eating and drinking. Lots of Dr. Pepper, for one thing. And, yes, even hot -- a Texan's idea of afternoon tea. Actually, my father was a farmer-turned purchasing agent who never lost his passion for growing vegetables, plus we had chickens, cows, pigs, the whole nine yards. So I got a great start with good nutrition.

Like most teenagers, however, my friends and I had our own idea of eating well. Our typical after-school snack was frozen coke and frozen candy bars (blame it on the Texas heat). Eventually, though, I got caught up in dieting. As is my tendency, I took it to the extreme, and developed an eating disorder.

So my entry into the world of nutrition was an attempt at 'dietitian, heal thyself.'

Crabby: There seem to be a few dietary principles that most experts agree on: eat more vegetables and whole foods; get some protein of some sort; choose good fats over bad ones; and do not try to subsist solely on a diet of chocolate ice cream, Cheetos, and Red Bull. But when you start to get specific, there's so much disagreement out there. Go "primal" and eat lots of meat? Avoid carbs? Go vegan? Take lots of supplements? Never take supplements? Eat everything raw? Eat for your blood type? Watch your calories, or fat grams, or weight watcher points, or sodium, or sugar intake--or don't track anything at all?

I guess my question is: do dietitians have these debates too, or is there more consensus among those with professional training about how we should be eating?

Marsha: When I first started out, I think it was fairly clear -- mainstream-educated nutritionists pretty much agreed on the basics. The other camp was the 'health food nuts,' who weren't necessarily professionally educated on the subject. Today, lines are blurring. First, many of the 'nuts' are professionally educated now; many of them are dietitians. Note I'm not calling these folks nuts; I think moving in the directions proposed by many alternative practitioners offers some real potential. Actually, I think many in both camps are now seeing potential value in the other. They may not really even be separate camps anymore.

Complicating all this is the clear problem that our population is having in terms of achieving and maintaining healthy weights. The debate surrounding that is tremendous, and it's going on among all the players.

Of course, it's important to understand that debate is often what drives inquiry, so it's a good thing.

Crabby: Can you sum up your basic healthy-eating philosophy in a paragraph or two?

Marsha: Anything that goes well with wine. Okay, maybe not for breakfast.

My healthy eating philosophy can be summed up as 'eating well feels good.' First, it's not a cookie-cutter approach -- 'eat this, don't eat that.' Nor is it bland, boring or restrictive. Instead, it's about eating in a way that truly makes us feel well physically and mentally. Walking away from the table feeling satisfied, having enjoyed foods we want to eat, comfortable -- not hungry but not stuffed, either -- supporting a healthy weight that is different for all of us but feels good to us as individuals, helping us stay healthy so we can enjoy our lives. It's also about sometimes overeating because we want more, and making the decision to go for it because that feels good, too. Further, it's about enjoying good food with family and friends, acknowledging that healthy eating is more than just what we put in our mouths. But what it's really about is finding a healthy balance among all the things eating does for and to us so we can get on with the things in our lives that are truly important to us.

Crabby: Sounds good! Now can you do it in rhyme? How about haiku? (Just kidding.)

Er... Unless you can, in which case you will win the Cranky Fitness All-Time Good Sport Award!

Marsha: I want that award so much I am willing to humiliate myself:

Eating well for fun
Concept shatters convention
Like summer snowballs

Crabby: That's awesome! You have indeed earned your Good Sport award.

So next question: What are the typical dietary issues that you see women come in with at Green Mountain, and how do you help them address these issues?

Many of the women who come to Green Mountain at Fox Run have been struggling with their weight for a long time, often since childhood. Others may not have struggled with it for as long, but the diet mentality has become such a part of our society's way of thinking about food, eating, weight and ourselves, they're almost in the same spot. Challenging that thinking is a big part of what we do. We work to help women change their attitudes and beliefs about what constitutes healthy eating, exercise and health, and find what works for them so they can begin moving towards a healthy weight. And we provide a safe, supportive environment for them to do things differently and see how it feels, which of course feels great.

Ultimately, it's about freedom of choice. We help women understand the choices we have -- and the right we have to make choices for ourselves. So much about eating and weight struggles today has to do with what other people think. A much more effective focus is what we as individuals think and feel.

Crabby: So what is the silliest fad diet you've ever heard of?

Marsha: I couldn't even begin to put one above another. Further, it's hard to honor any of them with the word 'silly.' I'm pretty passionate about the misguided thinking that fad diets represent, not just about eating but about our weight and our worth. At the very least, they have done enormous damage by confusing people about how to truly take care of themselves.

Crabby: Any parting words of dietary advice for Cranky Fitness readers?


Find the fun.
Share it with others.
Get a life (I mean that in the nicest way).

Crabby: Great advice! (But healthy living is supposed to be fun? Who knew???)

Thank you very much Marsha!

More about Marsha and Green Mountain at Fox Run:

Marsha Hudnall, MS, RD, first came to Green Mountain at Fox Run as an account supervisor for a public relations firm that Green Mountain hired to do, well, public relations. To better promote Green Mountain, she went through the program and found herself entranced by its non-diet, feel-good-about-yourself philosophy. She also found herself entranced by the director, who subsequently became her husband, and she subsequently became director and co-owner (after serving as cook, bottle washer, nutrition director and program director). Her self-described mission at Green Mountain has been to help participants learn to enjoy food and eating while successfully managing their weight and health. Marsha has written prolifically throughout her career, and now spends much of her time obsessing over her posts for Green Mountain's blog A Weight Lifted.

About Green Mountain at Fox Run: A healthy weight loss retreat for women only, Green Mountain at Fox Run offers a proven healthy lifestyle program that teaches how to eat instead of starve, move our bodies for pleasure and physical well-being, and manage stress and negative self-image for health and healthy weights. In operation for 37 years, Green Mountain pioneered the non-diet approach to achieving and maintaining healthy weights.

What about you folks: are you able to "find the fun" when you eat healthy, or does healthy eating and "fun" ever feel mutually exclusive?