August 31, 2009

Passing Thoughts

Remember last week, when I was all "why should I whine about healthy eating and exercise, when it's all so much fun?"

Well, seriously, how long did you think that would last? Anyway, it's back to more whining, and this time it's a weird one. But bear with me, perhaps another unexpected bout of cheerfulness will break out again soon!

So one of the great things about summer weather, at least if you don't live somewhere scorching hot, is that you get more chances to abandon the gym and go outdoors. Instead of logging dreary imaginary miles on a treadmill, you can run or walk actual physical miles on a trail or path. It feels great to have that tangible feeling of getting somewhere as you exercise!

Whereas if you and your elliptical machine are managing to get very far across the floor of the gym? You are probably doing something wrong.

But here's the thing: say you are outside running, walking, biking, skating, skiing, or pogo-sticking. What if you discover that you are not alone, and there is another person traveling the same portion of the same route, in the same direction, at the same time?

Either you both need to go the exact same speed, to maintain separation, or the faster person is going to have to overtake the slower person.

If there is enough space, this is not a huge problem.

However, in many locations, such as narrow trails or congested paths, some co-operation may be required between the Passer and the Passee. Particularly if either travels in groups. Being a cranky misanthrope, I sometimes have issues with how the whole passing thing plays out.

Anyone else?

I Have Opinions About Everything

This includes how fast I travel. I don't want to have speed up to keep from being in someone's way, nor do I want to get caught behind someone meandering along when I'm in a hurry to get somewhere or am trying to keep my heart-rate up.

So "adjusting my pace" ain't gonna happen. If there is someone else going my direction on the road, trail, or bike path, some sort of passing is going to take place.

Nothing Personal, But Get The Hell Away From Me!

Combined with my go-my-own-speed stubbornness is another trait which makes the passing thing such an issue: I hate to share my personal space with strangers, no matter how nice these strangers might be.

I am happy to smile and wave and comment on the weather or the scenery; I even like these friendly interactions. But I do not want to travel alongside, right behind, or right in front of other folks. I do not want to hear their observations or smell their cologne or stare at their lycra-clad asses. Ideally, the Passer(s) should speed up during the passing process, and the Passee(s) should make way and perhaps slow down a bit until optimal separation is again achieved.

And because I find this process awkward, if I am hiking and there is someone coming up behind me and getting closer and closer, I am hyper-aware of it. If I hear voices, or the crunch crunch crunch of footsteps behind me, I want nothing more than to squeeze off to the side and let folks by.

The poor Lobster, who is not as hypersensitive about personal space when hiking, has been many times interrupted in the midst of a perfectly pleasant conversation by my alarmed cries of "there's someone behind us, let's move over!" As though hiking trails were entirely populated by serial killers, zombies, and life insurance salesmen, requiring constant vigilance to avoid any dangerous or costly interactions.

Likewise, if we are hiking and come up on a person or a group ahead of us, and there's no room to skooch around unless they move over, I immediately start worrying about whether they'll let us pass. Also, being shy, I dislike making confrontational announcements. And I know, to say: "Excuse me! Can we get by?" might not seem confrontational to a normal person. But to me it feels exactly like I'm bellowing "Hey You Lazy-Asses, We're Comin' Through, Get the F*ck Outta Our Way!" I tend to use this technique only as a last resort.

So anyway, in my mind, here the top trail "offenders":

The Inexcusably Oblivious

The most common trail-blocking phenomenon happens when a single person or a group is taking the entire width of a trail or bike lane or whatever, unaware that there is someone behind them who wants to pass. Now if it's a totally remote location where company is not expected, this behavior is completely excusable, and therefore, not irritating.

However, if it's a heavily used route, and a group spreads itself out across all the available space, then it is my opinion that they should be vigilant about faster runners or hikers or bikers coming up from behind, and when hearing approaching voices and shuffling feet, should take the initiative to move over!

The Stubbornly Obstructive

These are even worse. They hear you coming, look around to confirm that you are approaching, and then refuse to move over, figuring you can just wait until they're ready to take a break to get by.

In this case, I will abandon shyness and bark out the icky: "Excuse Me!"


The Laid-Back Parents and the Hyperactive Kids

It's so wholesome and adorable when family groups take to the hiking trails! Except when the parents allow their exuberant children to run freely ahead, "racing" the hikers ahead of them and crowding past, then turning right back around and returning to their parents, then racing past again, then returning, over and over and over again. Sure, eventually they tire of this game, but in the meantime they are learning this valuable lesson from their parents: "You do not need to worry about whether you might be irritating other people with your behavior or not. Other people do not matter!"

The Overly Competitive

So I'm going to be sexist here and overgeneralize: this seems to be mainly a male phenomenon.

Some men hate to be passed by anyone, but especially by women. They will speed up to avoid it, even if they have to struggle to maintain their new, faster pace.

Which would be fine--go ahead and have a heart attack if your ego is that important to you--except that often they will forget after a while and slow back down. And then you have to clear your throat and cough to prompt them to speed up, or you have to pass them again, knowing that this will just incite them to pass you again in return.

Dudes: if you're getting passed by people, male or female, who come up from behind it probably means they are faster than you. However hard this may be to deal with, how about just take a deep breath and get over it?

No can do? Well, if you are a male runner and it is truly important to you to pretend women can't run faster than you, here's an idea: employ the Emergency Windsprint Fake-Out Maneuver.


1. On discovering that a Girl is about to pass you, pick up the pace and break into an all out sprint, as though you'd been doing an interval workout and your real running speed was just your "recovery" pace.

2. Continue sprinting past the Girl for as far as you can until you are almost ready to throw up. (But stop short of actual barfing as this move is not all that impressive.)

3. Check your watch and act like "oh whoops, look at the time-- guess that's it for today!" even if you just started your run. Walk around and do a quad stretch or something to drive the point home as the Girl runs by.

4. Once she's out of sight, jog at your own pace back to your starting point and finish your run in the opposite direction. Think about doing some intervals For Real next time.

5. Repeat every time a woman attempts to pass you until you either get faster or get over yourself.

Is anyone else this nuts about sharing trails and paths with other people, or is just one of those special Crab neuroses?

August 28, 2009

Creativity and Sneakiness: A Very Short Quiz

Ready? Sharpen your pencils:

1. A research study said female bloggers are more likely than the general population to be:

a. angry
b. lactose-intolerant
c. neurotic
d. obese

The answer is in the title of this post here.

2. This week Crabby wonders:

a. what it would take to get universal health care
b. what lab rats are blogging about these days
c. why we give a crap what Michele Obama is wearing
d. why cats always prefer to cuddle with people who are allergic to them

The answer is conveniently located in the first paragraph here.

3. "Eating the Frog" is a handy solution to:

a. magnesium deficiency
b. constipation
c. procrastination
d. a theme party menu planning dilemma

The answer is in the title and at the bottom of Org Junkie's post here.

So yeah, it's "creativity" week at the Juice, and this is my weekly effort to pimp for them because I get paid, hooray! remind you of all the exciting things going on over there. There's also the George Foreman Grill Thingy Giveaway (through Sunday) and a video on boosting creativity.

And don't worry, the "real" Friday post is just below this one; have a great weekend!

Beware the Infomercial

Photo: Lusi

Ever found yourself tempted by an infomercial for workout equipment? I know I have. I see the cheesy ad and I start to laugh, yet by the end, I find myself mesmerized, secretly yearning for a new miracle fitness solution.

It’s just hard not to envy those people exercising in the commercials. I want their lean muscular legs, their strong capable arms, their cute butts and washboard abs and sparkly white teeth! (It’s not clear to me how one gets white teeth from exercise equipment, but it seems to be part of the package).

And the equipment looks so practical and fun. It folds and stows and adjusts to different heights; you can use it eight different ways; it comes with three handy accessories; it works every major muscle group in your body—and just costs $19.99 a month!

Although it seems curious: why do the commercials never mention how many months you have to keep paying for? Do people really not care?

Honey, did you just buy a vinyl seat, eight elastic bands, and four adjustable aluminum rods for four thousand dollars?

Four thousand dollars? Is that how much it actually costs? Why yes dear, I guess I did! But it will exercise our entire bodies in only 15 minutes. And don’t worry, our payments are only $19.99 a month!

But even knowing how much they cost, and no matter how tempting these things look, I could never bring myself buy an infomercial product. I was raised by skeptical parents who instilled in me a simple rule that I am powerless to disobey: if a product is only sold only on TV, you must not buy it. If it was really any good they would sell it in regular stores.

Is this actually true? Perhaps not. There are probably plenty of exceptions, which I hope you'll tell me about in the comments. But for those of you who did not grow up in a cynical household, here are a five good reasons to think carefully before dialing that phone when you see an exercise infomercial:

1. It’s Not The Product That Makes Those Exercisers Look So Good.

That guy who looks like he could bench press a Ford Explorer or do squats with a refrigerator balanced on his head? He is a fitness model. It's his job to look like that for every project--whether he's promoting a kickboxing DVD, a chin-up bar, or performing in a gay porn video. And trust me, he did not get that way by using stretchy elastic bands or 10 lb kettlebells.

2. High Quality Exercise Systems With Many Moving Parts Are Expensive to Build.

If the infomercial product does exactly what the $20,000 system at the gym does but it only costs $159? That’s because it’s crappy! Paint will flake off, parts will squeak, it won’t feel stable, and the whole thing will probably fall apart minutes after the warranty expires.

3. Exercise Equipment Does Not Come With a Container of Willpower.

Do you fantasize that with a new piece of equipment, exercise will suddenly become fun? It won’t. In fact, twenty minutes after you set it up, the novelty will wear off, and you may find the new piece of equipment much less fun than running, walking, biking, swimming, tennis, rollerskating, or other options you may already have available. So before investing a lot of money, figure out if you’d really use the thing.

4. They are Lying When They Say it’s a Limited Time Offer.

This stuff will only get cheaper if you wait and you’ll get even more “And that’s not alls!” So don’t yield to a sudden impulse and a fake deadline; take some time to think it over.

5. Product Research is a Pain But You Need To Do It.

To find suitable home exercise equipment, you have to look beyond television marketing pitches. Ask a gym rat or consult a personal trainer or read consumer magazines or check fitness web forums. Or go to a real live fitness retailer and try stuff out! There are a lot of great home workout options, but so much of it depends on your interests, budget, space, and commitment. It's worth investing a little time in your search.

Ever bought anything from an infomercial, or been tempted?

August 27, 2009

Organic food: just as nutritious with pesticides?

Studies suggest... you should avoid grapefruit.

Sometimes I wonder about people.

Journalists, for example.

Researchers published a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, which found that "found no differences in most nutrients in organically or conventionally grown crops, including in vitamin C, calcium, and iron. The same was true for studies looking at meat, dairy and eggs."

The BBC ran an article about this report. It was titled "Organic Has No Health Benefits."

Excuse me? WTF?

In what universe is food that has been grown with pesticides considered the same as food that's grown without pesticides?

Look, journalists. "Organic" fruit and vegetables are grown with a minimal amount of pesticides. Pesticides are bad.

Pesticides can be endocrine disruptors. These are linked to reproductive cancers.

The New York Times ran an article on a common weed killer, atrazine. "Recent studies suggest that, even at concentrations meeting current federal standards, the chemical may be associated with birth defects, low birth weights and menstrual problems." [The link may require you to login. But it's free, and they don't send you spam -- at least, they don't send it to me. Maybe they just like me.]

So how can these journalists say organic food doesn't have any benefit?

I figure this calls for a graph.

Yes, I am taking the argument to an extreme by suggestion people who ingest potassium cyanide might just possibly not be doing a healthy thing. But it's no more absurd than judging organic food by the extremely narrow criterion of whether its nutritional value is vastly higher than regularly grown foods -- and completely ignoring the wee bit about pesticides being Not Nice.

I'd started this post awhile ago, then set it aside so it could 'mature.' (Unlike moi, who just gets older.) Thanks to reader versweet for reminding Crabby and me of how absurd these news articles can be!

Am I being too cranky here? Should I just shrug and go back to worrying about Global Warming or Scrabble or something like that?

August 26, 2009

The Healthy Hedonist

Photo: Joits

With a name like Crabby McSlacker and a blog called Cranky Fitness, it would be easy to assume that I'm always whiny when it comes to good nutrition and exercise.

And, okay, maybe most of the time I am. If someone were to compile a bitchy-to-cheerful ratio of my posts, it would probably be a very large number. Or heck, how about a pie chart?

Of course a lot of my orneriness is a reaction to what's out there already in the media. With so many health magazines and books shouting "Easy!" and "Fun!" and "Effective!" and "Instant!" and "Permanent!"and "Young!" and "Sexy!" you'd think adopting a healthy lifestyle would take maybe two weeks, tops. And that it would never involve sacrifice. And that when you were "done," you'd be totally fit and strong and hot and lean and smart and energetic. Oh, and immortal. Because we all know that if you eat enough antioxidants and do enough high intensity intervals you will never, ever, die.

So I try to provide a counterpoint. But sometimes I just have to come out of the Cranky Closet and admit: sure, at times it can be a pain in the ass but there's a lot to love about healthy living! And the funny thing is that so many of the pleasures feel just as self-indulgent and sensual as vices, only somehow, they're not.

So for a change of pace, here's a random list of a bunch of things I recently remembered that I love that aren't even bad for me. Some of these I've written about before, but what the heck, Cranky Fitness readers are noted for their patience with, and kindness to, repetitive Crabs.

Things Crabby Enjoyed Recently That Weren't Bad For Her:

1. Getting high on the elliptical again, and not even caring that I was making a fool of myself by dancing and mouthing the words to my iTunes songs. (But not singing them out loud. I'm not a complete ass).

2. My breakfast:

Surprise! Crabby's photos still look like crap.

Actually, by "breakfast" I don't mean the very first meal of the day, which is always liquid because to me, the thought of solid food first thing in the morning is totally barfy. Instead, I start with a gigantic cup of strong coffee that also contains almost two cups of warm nonfat milk, plus a small glass of orange juice. Then after I work out, I eat breakfast number two.

I've been obsessed with this breakfast (or similar variations) all summer. I look forward to it starting the night before! (The Lobster is often amazed at how much I love food. I truly do. Eating is one of my favorite past-times).

The first item is a fruit and vegetable smoothie. (This one: 1 cup frozen blueberries, 1/2 cup raw cauliflower, 1 1/2 cup raw spinach, 1/4 cup frozen banana, 1 cup nonfat milk, some vanilla and some Truvia (the newfangled stevia that doesn't taste as nasty).

And the other item is a whole wheat english muffin with a little almond butter, a little honey, and a bunch of walnuts on top. I'm especially proud of the walnut invention, because I don't tend to like walnuts in most settings. If I'm eating a brownie or cookie and come across icky walnut pieces, I will spit the intruders right out, precious Omega 3's and all. But when paired with almond butter and honey, walnuts become suddenly lovable!

(Note: those of you on calorie restricted diets must be going: WTF??? How the hell much does she eat every day? The answer: a LOT. Weirdly enough, as I've switched to healthier foods and gotten smarter about high intensity exercise and weights, I can eat way more calories than I used to when I weighed an extra 25 pounds.)

3. Tea Dance, which will have to be the subject of a post of its own sometime. Basically, it's a high-energy summertime dance party at a local waterfront gay bar. The coolest thing? It's full of boomer-aged folks (mostly men, but plenty of women too) so we don't feel out of place on the dance floor. And, get this, it takes place before it gets dark, from 4-7 p.m. When I was in my twenties, "going dancing" meant heading out late at night to a smoke-filled bar, and it involved more standing around feeling self-conscious than it did dancing. To have rediscovered bopping around to great music for an hour or two, cooled by fresh bay breezes and surrounded by other folks having a blast? It's hard to count it as exercise it's so much fun.

(And okay, the pre-dancing low cal mojito we have before we get there may have something to do with it.)

4. Bootcamp. Well, not while I'm in the middle of doing push-ups or lunges or burpees or whatever. But the feeling of camaraderie and accomplishment more than makes up for the temporary burning muscles and the gasping for breath and the wanting to die.

5. Biking. Why am I always reluctant to climb on my bike at the beginning of the season? It takes me half the summer to get back in the habit, but once I do I spend the rest of the time congratulating myself for discovering such a pleasant, efficient form of transportation.

6. Shrimp and broccolini pasta. I make it with tons of garlic and olive oil, a bit of whole grain pasta, and I garnish it with a ridiculous amount of pine nuts and some parmesan cheese. Heaven! The Lobster opts out of this one, being a broccolini hater, so it's my go-to meal when it's Fend For Yourself night.

7. The Rock Walk. I wrote about this walk along the breakwater when we first moved to Provincetown, and I was afraid I might burn out on it. Nope! Still beautiful and peaceful,only now it's even better: lush and green instead of staid and brown.

8. Looking forward to running on my favorite trail again. So this is kind of a cheaty one, because I'm only enjoying the memory of it. My actual runs now take place on a high school field that hosts a flock of geese and a lot of goosesh*t. But soon I'm gonna try my old route, which is a gently rolling foresty fire road that goes by several ponds. The stupid mosquitoes stole it from me in the height of summer, but I'm ready to take it back.

9. Watermelon. What's not to like about fresh sweet watermelon?

10. The Gym! I know I've been blogging about how much I hate the gym, but getting a good break from it helped to make for a great recent workout. I know soon enough I'll be hating it again, but, note to self: all that stuff about "mixing it up" and "trying new things?" Er, not actually a bad idea!

Anyone else find stuff to love about healthy living?

August 25, 2009

I survived a 5k!

Out of the way! Runners coming through!

People who run 5ks are scary:

  • They wear the right sort of special running clothing.
  • They run in packs (okay they call them running groups, but I have dark suspicions that these are really a type of gang activity, the sort that we've all been warned about)
  • They are so 'into' their gang running group that they show up to a 5k wearing a shirt with the team logo, socks with the team logo, and even skin with the team logo. (One woman had their logo tattooed into her calf.)

  • Oh yeah, they are also into wearing the appropriate footwear.

Unlike a certain blogger who shall remain nameless, who forgot her "running" shoes in the trunk of her car and only realized her mistake after she and her friend showed up at the start of the race. Yes, I was the only person at the place who was wearing her ordinary walking-in-the-street shoes.

No, not street walking shoes...

As it happens, I was with a friend who really wanted to do this 5k but was not in shape for anything but walking. I had planned to stay with her during the walk anyway. It was just the Sticking Out Like an Idiot aspect of the matter that bugged me.

There's another scary thing -- these people were all there to race.
See? They're all going so fast everything's a blur!
Now, I'm not one of those people who all stand in front and link arms and maybe even sing during a 5k, forcing people to go around them and plug their ears while they pass because the singing is so off-key. I'm cool with people who are faster than I am and who want to go fast. But these people were so damn intent on their racing, warming up and doing little preliminary sprints, that it made me nervous. I slunk around in the back hoping nobody would notice the only person in the place not wearing the right shoes. Bad enough that I was easily and by far the largest person in the place.

You know what? Scary as these runners were, not one of these speed racers gave me any crap, or sniggers, or nasty remarks about not coming dressed for the party. Everyone was cheerful and encouraging. Even the serious speed racers, when they stopped racing, were actually quite nice and friendly.

The only unpleasantness I encountered was when the route took us out of the track area and into the neighboring streets. Usually with a 5k race, as I understand it, streets are marked off, neighbors are warned, and everybody is cool with the brief inconvenience. This time, there was one woman who threaded her SUV down the road swerving left and right around groups of people and finally got so mad she just screamed at a bunch of women with strollers "get out of the damn road!" Aside from that, the good people of Sherwood were fairly friendly.

I was surprised at the number of people who'd brought their dogs along to the 5k, especially as this was a fund raiser for the Cat Adoption Team. I was even more surprised when they held a timed mile after the 5k, and even the people running with dogs made it in under 5 minutes. (Probably these people don't have arthritic old German Shepherds who have trouble even walking a mile, let alone running that far.)

But she's good with The Sad Look.

Of course, the best part was when we got to the end of the 5k. The finish line was on a high school track, with a camera set up at the end of the straightaway. So I persuaded my friend to run with me down the track, resulting in a picture that shows us running, at a 5k, outpacing all those slackers who were walking. This means I can have photographic proof that I ran a 5k. This could come in handy someday, presuming I want to cough up $30 for the picture.

Moral: even if you're not well shod and look a bit odd, runner at a 5k won't bite. Even if you aren't wearing appropriate shoes.

Next time, I'll be better prepared.

I have seen the light!

Any other social mistakes to avoid when you're doing a race? I've got: don't block the faster runners, wear the right shoes, get a tattoo, don't argue with the cranky lady driving a car... any others?

Yes, I know... some people can carry off a tattoo...
But can he do a 5k in walking shoes?

August 24, 2009

Willpower and Won'tpower

Photo: chotda

Remember that annoying article in Time Magazine claiming that exercise won't help you lose weight? Well, I still think they cherry-picked the research, ignored lots of relevant studies, and came to a silly conclusion. However, they mentioned some research along the way, in the course of causally discouraging millions of overweight sedentary folks from getting more active, that I thought was quite interesting. Did you catch it?

According to Time, self-control studies suggest that "self-control is like a muscle: it weakens each day after you use it. If you force yourself to jog for an hour, your self-regulatory capacity is proportionately enfeebled. Rather than lunching on a salad, you'll be more likely to opt for pizza."

So we only have a limited amount of willpower and then it runs out? And if we use it up doing one set of "good" things, we won't have any self-control left to accomplish other virtuous goals we might have?

Well, I'm not sure the research is in unanimous agreement over this--I seem to recall a study that suggested the opposite. It found that people who tried to make a whole bunch of healthy changes at once (diet, exercise, quitting smoking etc) actually were more successful meeting their goals than the folks who concentrated on a single thing at a time.

But of course I can't find that study anymore! And at the time, I remember thinking it was hooey.

Because I actually do wonder if we have natural limits on our willpower, and can only tackle so many challenges at once. At least I observe this phenomenon in myself all the time.

Anyone else find that if they're putting a lot of mental effort into one goal, the other stuff starts to slip? If I've been keeping up with my cardio and weight training and eating lots and lots of vegetables and no cupcakes, then I might start forgetting to floss my teeth or work on my novel or correct my crappy posture. There'll be tumbleweed-sized dust bunnies drifting lazily across our bedroom floor and I will see them and say "hi, dust bunnies" instead of chasing after them with a mop or a broom.

It's like there's a concrete amount of willpower in my psychological bank account. And if I try to write too many self-improvement checks? The damn things start bouncing.

So, would you like some tips on maximizing your self control and getting the most out of what limited willpower you've got? Well then what are you doing reading Cranky Fitness instead of a real self-help blog?

But hey, while you're here, I'll pass on a few ideas. I'm hoping that people who are not known McSlackers can contribute better tips in the comments.

Crabby's Tips For Conserving Precious Willpower

Dreading something? Then Stop Rehearsing It. Well, not if what you're dreading is a your acting debut in a Broadway play and you haven't bothered to learn your part yet. In that case, rehearse already, dumbass!

But, to use a completely hypothetical example: say you're trying to muster up the willpower to go to the gym, even though you've recently decided you hate the gym. Then why on earth would you keep going over in your head how much you hate doing leg presses and rows and all the rest of it, and then remind yourself how crowded and hot it's going to be when you get there?

Every time you envision something you're not looking forward to, you are giving yourself an opening to bail. And then you have to squander precious willpower to say "no, there's no backing out, you must go. And goddamnit that sucks!" Instead, tell yourself once that you're going, then forbid yourself from dwelling on it and imagining it in vivid, unpleasant detail. The only thing you're allowed to rehearse in your mind is how good you'll feel when your done.

Avoid temptations. Gosh, what a fresh, original piece of advice! Yet I still struggle with this one sometimes. I see some lovely junky treat at the grocery store or the bakery, and I buy it just in case I might feel like it later. Well, duh. If it's in the house, and it's junk, I'm gonna feel like it later. I've learned it works much better for me to keep a semi-healthy reasonable treat like dark chocolate in the house, and save the more decadent treats for when I'm having a total craving. In that case, I can make a special trip and go out and get it--ideally, on foot.

But if I know there's a container of super-premium chocolate ice cream in my freezer, I use up willpower every time I think about it and tell myself "no." And I might say "no" twenty times in an evening, then finally say yes and eat a huge bowl. All that wasted willpower, and I still end up eating the ice cream! Arrrgh!

Prioritize. Don't waste will power on unimportant stuff. So many folks squander buckets and buckets of their limited willpower keeping up "appearances," whether it's their personal appearance or the state of their houses or their gorgeous shiny new automobiles or whatever.

Of course if you love car detailing, or housework, or personal primping, then go ahead! Obsessively waxing your convertible or your kitchen floors or your legs will not use up any precious self-discipline if you like doing it. But if you hate these chores and are doing them so frequently because you're "supposed to?" And then, perhaps, rewarding yourself with half a pan of brownies because you were "good"? Bad bargain! Instead let all the superficial stuff go mostly to hell until there's a special occasion, like a hot date or a dinner party or a sincere threat of divorce.

Accentuate the Positive: Well, as is probably obvious, I'm too Crabby to have thought of this one. Mizfit has a great video about thinking about it as "Willingness" instead of "Willpower."

Build Up Bigger Willpower Muscles: Oddly enough, the Time Magazine article that was citing the research about our self-control "muscles" getting "enfeebled" from too many demands forgot to mention another section of the same article. The author also says:

"Not only does self-control show short-term fatigue effects like a muscle does, it also shows long-term improvement, just as a muscle gets stronger through exercise. In other words, there is a long-term effect of gaining strength with practice."

Aha! That's much better news. You may be stuck with a limited amount of willpower on a given day... but if you practice saying "yes" to lifting weights and "no" to eating banana splits, you may find that "willpower" muscle getting stronger.

And common sense tells us that as we move further away from a mindlessly self-indulgent lifestyle to a mostly healthy one, a lot of what seemed like a "sacrifice" starts to feel normal. Because as exercise and nutritious foods become habit, they don't take nearly as much self-control to stick to.

Er, most days, anyway.

So what about you folks, does it feel like there are only so many self-improvement projects you can tackle at once? Or do you have unlimited willpower? Any tips or tricks?

August 21, 2009

Random Friday: Women's Health Edition

Regular readers may be aware that I have a love/hate relationship with women's health and fitness magazines. Like when we had a recent giveaway featuring a fitness magazine? I spent half the post bitching about the cover. This is a great way to attract more blog sponsors and giveaway offers in the future. Way to market the blog, Crabby! Hey, PR folks, come to Cranky Fitness where your clients can offer up free stuff in exchange for ridicule!

However, for all their faults, there's one thing that keeps me coming back over and over again to these frustrating magazines: somehow they manage to dig up all kinds of research tidbits and tips that I've missed. How can this be? Every week I devote hours and hours to scholarly research about health topics random web surfing, yet these folks always seem to find interesting studies that I haven't seen. Is it possible they have access to real scientific journals that I'm too cheap to subscribe to? Or do they just make this sh*t up?

However they do it, it's the motivation for me to plow my way past pages of filler like "How to Find Your Most Flattering Lip Shade." (My trick: I just rely on the last beverage I've consumed. Works fine for cabernet or pomegranate juice; alas, not so great for green smoothies).

So since I already spent the subscription money, how 'bout if I share some of the news finds from the latest edition of Women's Health?

For example, do you know what physiological phenomenon happens naturally to men between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m., and how you can take advantage of it?

First off, though, a warning.

Printed copies of magazines can not hyperlink to their sources without defying the laws of physics. And they're not crazy about ugly footnotes either. So often there's no mention of where they found these studies. Do their editorial standards require something half-way reliable? Let's hope so, because here we go!

What I Learned from the September Issue of Women's Health:

A low glycemic diet can help acne sufferers.

Brunettes can carry a gene variant that dramatically increases risk for melanoma; it's not just blonds and red-heads who have to watch out.

Acute short term stress that eases up quickly can actually be good for you, boosting immunity and reducing the risk of diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimers. (The theory is that it puts your body into "repair mode.")

Apigenin, a flavonoid found in parsley, celery, and red wine may lower the risk of ovarian cancer.

Need to talk to a guy? Men listen best between 4-6pm, because that's the time when their testosterone levels tend to dip.

Eighty-three percent of meals at tested at 17 big chain restaurants contained more than a days worth of sodium.

Drinking green tea helps prevent gum disease.

A combination of prebiotics and probiotics can reduce symptoms of ulcerative colitis.

You are now allowed to wear white after labor day.

Forty one percent of Americans never check their pantries for recalled food. (And so almost 60 percent do? Reeeealllly?)

Getting sufficient calcium can help you lose weight.

Eating food in a blue-colored room acts as an appetite suppressant.

And finally, the "Guy Next Door" has advice for how you should shave your pubic hair to keep your guy "interested." And heck, this strikes me as so freakishly intrusive and infuriating unusual and offbeat, I thought I'd quote it in full!

"Start with a trimmed-down triangle. After a few weeks, whack it down to a landing strip. Then wait for a special occasion and take it all off. Wait a while, then let the grass grow back the same way it came off--start with a strip, then allow it to gradually fluff up and widen out."

And don't thank me, thank Women's Health!

Where's the Giveaway?

Some Fridays we have giveaways here at Cranky Fitness, but I'm afraid this is not one of them. However, in honor of "healthy barbecue week" there is a George Foreman Grill giveaway over at The Juice. Isn't it, um, cute?

You can also catch Crabby pondering the impact of gender roles on grilling, or offering up sneaky low-cal cocktail recipes. Or are you parent, and already dreading the whole back to school deal? Org Junkie comes to the rescue with some back to school organizing tips.

And have a great weekend!

August 20, 2009

More to Loathe?

Is the object of a reality show watching people express self-loathing on television?
Laughter or tears? Sometimes it's hard to tell.

I ask the question about self-loathing because I just saw the reality show More to Love. My impression?

Hard to believe, but this show makes the Biggest Loser look good.

On the Biggest Loser show, the contestants are equally dissatisfied with their shape, but they're trying to do something about it. (In addition to whining to the camera about it.) I don't agree with the way some of them try to lose weight, nor do I think numbers on the scale should be as important as improvements in fitness, but at least they're doing something. The women on More to Love spend most of their time whining.

Think I'm exaggerating? Below are quotes lifted from the latest episode of More to Love:

  • "A lot of guys have mistreated me before because of my weight."
  • "I've never done things like this before, because of my weight."
  • "I've had some bad relationships, that might have been because of my weight."

As far as I can see, it's not the fault of the guy. He keeps making appreciative comments like "women with curves in all the right places." It's the friggin' women themselves. They're not so much lambs being led to the slaughter as lambs reaching for the knife so they can slit their own throats because it's so miserable being a lamb already.

He says things like, "The women I'm attracted to are women who are confident and comfortable in their own skin." And one of the women responds to the camera thusly, "What makes me confident is the way he looks at me."

Well, okay. A comment like that could have come from any insecure woman, regardless of her size. Even so, these women come across as people who have never had anyone be nice to them ever in the whole of their life. One woman said, "I've never felt so complimented in my entire life." Really? In the whole of your life?

I mean, it's not as if the guy were slathering on the compliments like extra suntan oil; he was polite, not extravagant. But these women lapped it up like kittens who'd never before encountered cream. Needy and insecure. (There was one woman who acted confident, but she got booted off pretty quickly.)

When I achieve world domination, I think I will outlaw reality shows in favor of a better reality. If a better reality doesn't come along, I will at least ensure that 'romantic' reality shows include:

- forcing people to re-read some of Crabby's posts about Fat Acceptance
- a brick wall made of Nerf bricks, so people who hate themselves can hit their head against it
- a genuine "I'm with stupid" t-shirts where the arrow points straight up
- self-help books with titles like "Fat or Phat: A guide to being Cool without undergoing a personality transplant"
- maybe some Oprah re-runs about self-acceptance

I'm not a fan of reality shows in general (or of reality sometimes) and especially I don't like the idea of finding 'true love' from a show where a horde of men/women compete to be picked by their One True Love. Shows like this one take all the outward trappings of romance and parody them in a burlesque of buffoonery. Er... not that I have strong opinions on the subject.

When I wrote a post about the Biggest Loser, some people wrote comments about how the show inspired them to lose weight and exercise. I suppose there might be people who feel that way about this show. If so, could you please tell me why? 'Cause I don't get it. I thought the idea behind the show had merit, but the way it's being played stinks.

Have you seen the show 'More to Love'? If so, am I missing some secret charm? Or is there something fabulous about Reality shows that I'm currently missing? Do tell.

August 19, 2009

Play Ball?

Those of you who regularly enjoy Hilary's stunning photography over at The Smitten Image will probably recognize this cute character as Benny. As will reader's of Frank Baron's amusing blog Baron it All, where Benny makes frequent and hilarious appearances.

So... quick quiz. How does that photo make you feel?

a. Happy and Joyful about Life
b. Amused
c. Energized and Active
d. Suddenly Extremely Affectionate Towards All Living Things
e. Guilty and Uneasy

What?!!? Why is "e" even a choice? Who could possibly feel guilty and uneasy looking at such an adorable photo?

Er, Crabby McSlacker, that's who.

So what's that all about?

Well, first off, I did feel a, b, c, and d first before I settled into e. I'm human, after all.

But if I could capture the weirdness that went on in my head when I looked at that picture, it would go something like this:

Oh, I love that picture, that doggy is so cute!

He's having a great time with that ball.

Because he's playing. It's a game! That looks fun!

Dogs like games.

Hey, you used to like games too!

Remember, Crabby, you would play lots of outdoor running-around games when you were a kid? They're called "sports."

Sports are great exercise.

Remember soccer? You liked soccer.

You get credit for doing cardio and even intervals when you're playing soccer! And it's way more fun than the treadmill.

You are always talking about how much you hate going to the gym.

Hey, why don't you ever look for a chance to play soccer or tennis or dodgeball or something fun instead of going to the gym you hate?

Because you are lame, that's why.

Fear of Failure

Part of the reason I never get around to finding a pick-up soccer game, or a kickball league, or a racquet ball partner, or whatever, has to do with logistics and laziness. I'd need to find something casual and friendly and flexible and not too advanced and not too far away. To find something like that would require effort and diligence and some plain good luck. But that's not the only thing going on.

Because a few years ago I discovered, get this, a weekly pick-up soccer game three blocks from my house consisting of friendly middle-aged women! If the Exercise Gods were trying to devise a tempting sports endeavor for me to try, it couldn't get much better than that. I played soccer as a kid, and a little bit in high school. I wasn't great, but I was reasonably comfortable kicking the ball around.

So I bought a pair of cleats, went three or four times, and that was it. I started making excuses and stopped going. Even though I had fun playing a good percentage of the time I was on the field.

Why did I start to dread the Sunday morning games? I guess it was a combination of shyness, perfectionism, and fear of looking like an ass. The fact that I did not actually do anything glaringly ass-like did not seem to lessen the fear that I would.

I just did the normal screwing-up that anyone who is "average" does when they play a game. I kicked the ball where I did not mean it to go; I failed to stop players from the opposing team from sailing right by me with the ball; I passed to the wrong people at the wrong time. I also did good things, too, like score goals or steal the ball away from better players. And while I was new to the group (and the other women all knew each other already), they weren't snotty and standoffish, they were very personable. I'm sure the pre-game chatting I found awkward would have gotten way less stilted and more fun over time.

However, despite having mostly a good time at these pick-up games, I'd still dread going the next week. It felt like something that was "good for me" but a little too scary. Since no one was making me go, I stopped.

Which I know was a stupid move. Had I hung in there, I'm sure I would have eventually gotten perfectly comfortable and enjoyed myself more and more each time. And nothing in the world beats exercise you enjoy! When I have a great run it's the best feeling in the world. Endorphins + smugness = unbeatable.

Anyone Else?

A while back, I wrote a post about the current trend of team sports being eliminated from P.E. classes, called: "Gym Class Memories: Happy, or Heinous? And if you haven't read it, the best part is the comments: some funny and also heart-rending tales of miserable gym class experiences. I had no idea how bad it could be! But reading the comments, I also found that there are lots of people who love participating in sports and lots and lots of other people who hate participating in sports. And I could understand both viewpoints! I can't help wondering if I'm someone who could learn to love sports again, if I could just get over myself and stop worrying about screwing up?

Boot Camp Lessons

So I mentioned earlier in the summer that I've been going to a "boot camp" class twice a week, which is something of a departure for me. While I'm no fan of calisthenics, it's been a great reminder that company and camaraderie when you exercise can be, well, motivating.

Duh! I know this is not a revelation to most people, but I'd forgotten that.

Being neurotic, I still managed to feel a bit of "performance anxiety" in an exercise class where no one gives a crap what anyone else is doing. But I got over it pretty quickly, and now only dread the jump squats and the burpees and the suicides, not the imagined judgments of others about how well or poorly I do them.

Who knows, maybe if another pick-up soccer game played by middle aged women happens to locate itself within blocks of my house... next time I'll take advantage of it!

Anyone else ambivalent about competitive sports? Or do you just plain love 'em or just plain hate 'em?

Poetry Contest Winner!

We got some great entries, and several more arrived via email, so it was a really tough call!

And the winner of the SanDisk slotRadio Player is... Scale Junkie!

Thank you all SO much for playing!

August 18, 2009

Top 10 Reasons Not To Read This

10. Crabby didn't write this post. That should tell you something right there.

9. Merry's having an air-conditioner crisis during a heatwave (when else?) and is consequently hot, sweaty, and cranky-beyond-belief. She writes crappy posts when she's h. s. and c-b-b.

8. Your boss is looking over your shoulder right now.

7. He's trying to decide who to keep and who to lay off. (Kinda like Santa trying to choose who's naughty or nice, except that you can't bribe him with a glass of milk and cookies by the fireplace, plus you really shouldn't sit in his lap and tell him (or her) what you really really want this year.)

6. By the time you've read this far, you could have done 20 situps, 10 pushups, or eaten 1 chocolate éclair.

5. Big List of Giveaways is giving away a Strider bike (for 1-5 year olds).

4. For that matter, Short Pump Preppy is giving away a heart rate monitor.

3. Hell, forget the exercise stuff, Will It Change You is giving away $50 to a random commenter. Or at least, he says he is. There might be some fine print that says you have to sell him your soul or make telemarketer calls to people during dinner time, but I haven't seen any catch yet.

2. What, you're still reading this? What can I say. I had a bad day. Nobody loves me. Everybody hates me. I'm going to go sit in a corner and whine. If you throw in some cheese I'll even wine. I'm not proud. Just hot and annoyed. (Which is not nearly as much fun as being hot and bothered.)

And the number 1 reason not to read this...

Oh hell. It's too late now. You've read it.

Please forgive me for failing you. I promise that I'll make it up to you, with lots of Ask Cranky Fitness posts, Flowcharts, quizzes, and generally snarky posts.

Until then, I understand if you want to leave lots of comments complaining about what a bum I am, and telling Crabby how much better you could do this job. (I'll still sniff and feel Deeply Hurt, but I'll understand. Don't mind me...)

August 17, 2009

Summer Traditions

Yes, the days may be growing a bit shorter, and the newspaper ads are already threatening us with "back to school" sales. But it's still summertime, right? And the season holds so many wonderful, familiar traditions: a swim at the beach, the sweet taste of a big fat triangle of watermelon, balmy evening strolls, baseball games, carnival rides, parades, festivals, and fireworks!

Other summer traditions? Well some aren't quite so cherished: boring reruns and sitting around sweating, or alternatively, cranking that noisy wasteful air conditioner up to "high" and then suffering the power outages that happen when everyone else does the same thing.

But one summer tradition almost everyone enjoys? The backyard barbecue!

Many Americans enjoy grilled food.

Yes, this is the time of year when 99% of the population says "Yippeeee! Let's fire up the coals and cook us some delicious burgers/dogs/chicken/tofu-veggie kabobs/ostrich patties!"

The other 1% of us? We sit around fretting about all the HCA's and PAH's.

So what are HCA's and PAH's?

Well, they're carcinogens. They form when you grill meat. Well-done red meat is particularly problematic.

Carcinogens? That doesn't sound good.

What's the point of stuffing ourselves with boatloads of all those virtuous anti-cancer foods if we're going to cancel out all that virtue with a simple backyard barbecued burger?

All for nothing? Dang!

But I have to confess I LOVE the taste of cancer-burgers and cancer-dogs and cancer-chicken and cancer-steaks. And the mouth-watering smell... How are we meat-eaters supposed to resist that char-grilled aroma when it's hard-wired into our cave-woman and cave-man brains?

(Sorry, all you vegetarians and vegans. But I'm guessing you were long gone at the first sight of that burger picture).

How to deal with this summertime dilemma?

My Previous Barbecue Strategy:

1. Try to limit barbecuing to when we are (a) camping or (b) having company. (Despite the fact that The Lobster* is an excellent and enthusiastic griller of meats).

(*The Lobster=My Significant Other, for those who are new here).

2. When the Lobster is finally permitted to fire up the grill, mention repeatedly at the grocery store (in a whiny voice) that barbecued meats cause cancer. Sigh when approaching the meat counter.

3. Announce that while everyone else might be having steak or burgers, I will make myself have a garden burger or a slab of tofu or a veggie kebab instead. Or maybe at least choose chicken or fish.

4. Think about it some more.

5. Guiltily throw an extra package of burgers and/or steaks into the shopping cart.

6. Once the Evil Meat is cooked, have seconds because it tastes so damn good.

Admittedly, not a particularly effective strategy.

Good thing it turns out there are other ways besides guilt and whining to deal with the grilled meats issue. Who knew?

Better Barbecuing Strategies:

1. Marinade! Even a few minutes helps get rid of a whole bunch of the nasty carcinogens, and grocery store dry mixes are apparently fine. This marinade study found marinading reduces HCA's by 87%. The level of reduced HCA's seemed to correlate to the amount of antioxidants present in the marinades.

"The marinade containing rosemary and thyme had the greatest effect on reducing HCAs, but two other marinades with different herbs seasonings were tested and found to be almost as effective. The rosemary/thyme marinade also contained pepper, allspice and salt. Another marinade included oregano, thyme, garlic and onion. A third marinade had oregano, garlic, basil, onion and parsley."

I’ve also read that acidic marinades are good, like those containing lemon or vinegar.

2. Choose wisely: the American Institute of Cancer Research says the grilling of meat is only a small part of the problem--it's what we grill that's getting us in trouble. Because of the link to colorectal cancer, they recommend we limit red meat to 18 ounces a week and avoid processed meats entirely.

3. Pre-cook in the microwave. Then toss out the juice, where a lot of the carcinogens are hiding.

4. Select small cuts of meat, like kebabs.

5. Choose lean cuts of meat and avoid fat dripping on the coals and causing flare-ups.

6. Flip Frequently.

Um, I meant flip the meat.

7. Avoid really high heat: Use a gas grill, or if using charcoal, don't cook meat too close to the coals

8. Don't Cook the Hell out of It. This one doesn't bother me, as I'm a medium-rare kinda gal, but those of you who like your red meat dry and brown and tasteless well done should probably indulge in grilling only "rarely."

So did this post sound somewhat familiar? Sorry about that!

Remember those other summer traditions I mentioned at the beginning of the post, the air conditioners and power outages and summer reruns? Well, the power went off Sunday afternoon as I was in the middle of researching a post about something else entirely. Since our cable modem needs electricity, and my laptop batteries had a only a small reserve of power, I thought rather than have no post at all, I’d partake of that Dreaded Summer Tradition, the “Rerun.”

Later in the evening, the power indeed came back on! And then went off again. So I'm afraid this is a very slightly edited version of a post that went up last year. But I'm hoping that if you already read it, you’re like me and don't remember a damn thing about it!

So do any of you worry about grilling meat and getting cancer, or is it only me who’s paranoid?

August 14, 2009

Giveaways, Grouchiness, and Silly Stuff

(Yes, I used this drawing by Dylan before. I just like it!)

So it's Friday, which means things are all a bit random here in Cranky Land. However, if you click enough links you'll discover we're hosting a poetry (!) contest with a very cool prize for the best poem, haiku, limerick, or full length opera. We've also got an Especially Annoying Health News Item, followed by some Very Fine Fitness Links (including a video featuring the awesome MizFit in a totally different setting than usual). And there are some other Random Funny Things at the end of the post! So even if you're excited about the poetry Contest and Prize, I hope you remember to come back here for the rest of the stuff.

Shall we begin? First up: the Annoying News Item.

Exercise: Dissed Yet Again!

So Time Magazine recently featured an article called "Why Exercise Won't Make You Thin." It doesn't just suggest that the impact of exercise on weight loss has been exaggerated--no, the article goes much further. Since exercise can make one hungry, and some people overeat because they feel entitled to scarf extra calories after exercising, the article concludes:

"You should exercise to improve your health, but be warned: fiery spurts of vigorous exercise could lead to weight gain. I love how exercise makes me feel, but tomorrow I might skip the VersaClimber — and skip the blueberry bar that is my usual postexercise reward."

Oh gosh, me too!! I'm gonna skip boot camp class; it will probably just make me gain weight. Because obviously if I go out and get some vigorous exercise, I will then have to make stupid-ass food choices the rest of the day. Why should I let a bunch of other studies, common sense, and a several decades of personal experience convince me otherwise?

Hand me my slippers and the TV remote, gosh darn it! I want to lose weight!

Actually, this article came out almost a week ago and I wasn't in the right cranky frame of mind to jump on it. It wasn't all that long ago that I came to the defense of physical exertion after I read another unfair anti-exercise article by a major media outlet. By now, you've all probably read all about this. But in case you haven't, there are some great posts about the Time article over at Truth 2 Being Fit, Feed Me I'm Cranky, and Weight for Deb.

And over at the L.A. Times blog, Booster Shots, they have a very thoughtful analysis and critique of the Time Magazine article that left me realizing anything I had to say would be just be superfluous.

Which doesn't usually stop me from going on for a few thousand words anyway! But perhaps I'll just leave it at this: to say that exercise won't help you lose weight (if you eat a whole bunch of extra food afterwards to compensate) is like saying that hammering a bunch of boards together won't help you build a barn (if you set fire to it once you're done).

Er, maybe you better go check those other links for a better analysis.

Go see MizFit be adorable!

It was Core and Abs week over at the Juice, and guess who showed up in one of the core videos to give some tips? The Amazing Mizfit! (As well as the awesome Jenn from Fit Bottomed Girls, and a couple of other fitness bloggers I hadn't been aware of before, but they're fun too). Go see it, MizFit's on first! Plus there's the official Juice video with a knowledgeable boot camp instructor giving more great core tips. Oh, and because of the grocery store $100 giveaway (ends this Sunday) I offered up some tips on avoiding fake grocery store bargains. I learned a lot from writing that post! For example, if you forget you're not on your own blog and use the word "crap" in boldface type on a corporate-sponsored site? They won't necessarily fire you! (Yet).

(What word would you suggest I test them on next week?)

So Where's The Poetry Contest and Giveaway?

It's over on the Cranky Fitness Product Page. You could win a cool music player thingy which comes pre-loaded with 1,000 songs from top selling artists, gives you the ability to read minds, and has an FM tuner. (And two of the three claims in that last sentence are actually true!)

And What About the Funny Stuff?

I have kind of a blog-crush on Sarah Haskins, because why else would I post a video about doofy husbands? I do not own one myself, and doofy husbands are not a fitness-related topic. (Unless perhaps you want to bench press yours, or use him as a kettlebell).

And speaking of "making fun of husbands who are only trying to help," there was a great post over at Jennsylvia about the fine art of photographing celebrities (and their buttocks). And I could totally relate to Jen's poor husband Fletch and his difficulties taking pictures! Have you noticed there are rarely photos on this blog unless they are downloaded from elsewhere? Well, there is a good reason for that.

Got any thoughts on exercise causing weight gain? Or on the whole doofy husband issue? (And don't forget to go to the product page for the contest!)

August 13, 2009

Farmer's Markets: The Untold Story

Farmer's Markets: impractical exercise in idealism or a Newer Better Way?

Ever wonder? We did. (Okay, okay, I did.) So... our hard-hitting reporter (me) went undercover to get the REAL story, an exposé of the soft flabby underbelly of the world of Farmer's Markets.

This is what I expect to find in a Farmer's Market

Not this:

Myth #1: Farmer's Markets are a place where local farmers can bring local fruits and vegetables to local people. That way, people can bypass big chain grocery stores that have been known to haul food from hundred or thousands of miles away.

Well, they probably have local pies... maybe even fruit pies

Truth #1:
It's local, but sometimes it's animal or mineral rather than vegetable.

In other words, you might have to look hard before you can find a vegetable stand at a Farmer's Market. Our reporter reports that the local market near her house features 3 or 4 food stalls for every 1 vegetable stand. Also, there were stalls selling insurance policies, crafts, and assorted weird stuff. (Yes, I realize the insurance policies and crafts were probably local. I don't care. It's just not the same.)

I have seen the light... Beer has hops... hops come from farms... maybe this is okay...

Myth #2: Farmer's Markets are organic

Truth #2: Really? Where's that written down anywhere? It's local and it's fresh, but that doesn't mean Farmer Phil didn't spray pesticides on his stuff. If it ain't specified, don't assume. It's local, which means it's so fresh you might want to slap it, but that doesn't automatically mean organic. You're going to find a wider selection of organic produce than at the store, but not all of it is.
Organic BBQ?

Myth #3: Farmer's Markets are more expensive than the grocery store.

Truth #3: Well, okay, so this one isn't necessarily a myth, or rather it's only a partial myth. In other words, It Depends.

I couldn't find white-coated research studies that dealt with the subject in an ept manner. According to one survey, people bought from farmer's market or roadside stand because 'freshness' was important. That seems so obvious that I wonder why they would ask the question.

On the other hand, when science lets you down, there's always Blogland. The blogger Mama Goes Green led me to the Neighborhood Farmers Market Alliance blog, who conducted their own research and collected data from a class statistics project that showed buying locally actually was cheaper on the whole:

Average savings at market: $.62

Average miles saved by buying local: over 900

Granted with a name like Farmers Market Alliance there just might possibly be a wee bit of bias there, but they obligingly show the data that led to the conclusions.

I think it's really cool to buy local, whether we're talking vegetables or crafts and BBQ. I wouldn't have a problem with people coming to a street near me to sell these things. It just bothers me that it's called a "Farmer's Market" when it's really a no-calories-barred street fair.

Am I being too fussy? Are your local Farmer's Market events full of stuff fresh off the farm?

August 12, 2009

Ethnic Eats: How Healthy Are They?

Remember how back in the nineties, the Center for Science in the Public Interest took on Chinese food? There were headlines in all the papers exposing the fact that the kind of Chinese food Americans were eating was shockingly high in calories and fat and sodium.

So did people get mad at the Chinese restaurants for not trying to make dishes healthier? Or, did they get mad at themselves for ordering the least healthy options? No, neither of those. As I recall, they mostly got mad at CSPI for reporting on the issue at all. CSPI was accused of being a nagging whiny cranky spoilsport for dissing stuff like egg rolls, fried rice and chow mein.

And I remember thinking at the time: duh! Stupid people, don't shoot the messenger! Did you really think the presence of a few chopped up vegetables in your deep fried carbs would magically transform the whole greasy mess into something healthy? But many people thought this was unfair, because clearly they were taking the high road by going to Chinese restaurants, and eating in close proximity to vegetables. So what if they weren't actually putting many in their mouths?

(And when CSPI revisited Chinese food a couple years ago, they found more healthy options. But still, there is a shocking amount of sodium, fat and calories in a lot of these dishes. Like, sometimes 2 days worth of sodium in a single dish. Also, you can end up eating 900 calories in something that sounds light, like an order of stir fried greens.)

Anyway, so here's my problem, and it's one I hope y'all can help me with. I love Chinese food, as well as Thai, Burmese, Vietnamese, Indian, Korean, Ethiopian, Greek, Turkish, Lebanese, Italian, Mexican... and all kinds of other foods from faraway places. (Though for some reason, not a big fan of Japanese. Sorry, sushi!)

And luckily, lots of these food contain very healthy ingredients. Like fresh exotic veggies and nuts and olive oil and healthy spices like curry and a variety of whole grains I don't usually get around to eating.

But... when I go out to eat, I have the same problem I do at most "American" restaurants: it's often hard to avoid a lot of ingredients I don't want to eat much of: like sodium and white rice and white flour, butter, cured and fatty meats, and many vegetable oils that may not contain transfats but are high in Omega 6's rather than Omega 3's.

(Huh? What's wrong with corn, sunflower, safflower, soy, and cottonseed oils? The tedious explanation is back here in this Omega 3 and Omega 6 post).

So I obviously have a few options here:

1. I can go to ethnic restaurants infrequently and order very carefully;

2. I can do takeout from these restaurants a little more often if I healthify the meals a bit when I get home; or,

3. I can cook more ethnic dishes from scratch so I can control the ingredients and make it as healthy as I want, and eat it every damn day if I feel like it!

So far, I've been doing mostly #2 (and I have some suggestions I can pass along on that). But I'm figuring if there's anyone can help me on #3, it would be clever Cranky Fitness readers.

Can you help a cooking-impaired Crab with some healthy international ideas?

First, a few tricks for healthifying Ethnic Take Out:

1. Swap out White for Brown: many Asian restaurants don't offer brown rice; many Mediterranean restaurants don't offer whole grain breads, wraps or pasta; many Indian Restaurants have the white Naan but not the whole grain Roti. If this is the case at your local joint, try to remember to stock your freezer with some whole wheat pita or already cooked and frozen nukable brown rice (Trader Joe's is a good source). Or, many grocery stores now have little plastic bowls of pre-cooked brown rice that sits in your cupboard. (It's not as good as the frozen kind or the real kind but it's easier to find).

2. Spare that Sauce! Often what's wonderful about Indian or Thai or whatever are the wonderful rich spicy curries and oils and gravies. However, these are often full of sodium, drawn butter, cheese, suspicious oils, lard, or who knows what. In my opinion, life's too short to skip these! But often restaurants send you home with far more sauce than you need to douse the other ingredients. So don't mindlessly pour it all on your plate; pick out extra vegetables and meat and use the sauce more sparingly. Then you can often make another meal the next day with the addition of more nuked chopped vegetables, some more brown rice or bread, and an easy protein source like frozen cooked shrimp or tofu or leftover chicken or chickpeas or whatever the heck you keep around.

3. Be a pain in the ass when ordering! (Always fun when the person taking your order is speaking English as a second language). Sometimes, especially if you're a regular, you can get them to go easy on oil, add more of your favorite veggies and go easier on the meat, replace butter with olive oil, etc. Dr. J has a helpful post on how to do this.

4. And don't order stupid things! Sometimes people take a perfectly sensible choice about cuisine "I feel like Chinese," or "Let's do Italian" and then use that as an excuse to eat junky stuff because it's "traditional." A fried doughball is a fried doughball, whether you get it from an Indian restaurant or a Chinese restaurant or Dunkin' Donuts. And even if the "Mediterranean diet" is generally good for you, fettucine alfredo is not a health food.

Okay, so that wasn't very many tips. Whatever. Perhaps you folks have some more good ones!

But What About Cooking Ethnic Food at Home?

Here's why I don't do it enough:

Most recipes you get from American sources, especially "light" cookbooks or cooking magazines, don't end up tasting all that much like real ethnic cuisine. (Premade sauces from the grocery store are even worse). But if you find a more authentic recipe, it often calls for tons of exotic oils and herbs and vinegars and spices that are either hard to find or really expensive. Plus there's usually something Evil in there that makes it taste good, and if you try to modify that too much it doesn't taste nearly as good as it does in a restaurant.

Do you guys have any good suggestions? I suspect there might be some good healthy international type recipes that require just a few non-standard ingredients, not 87.

Like Camevil's awesome lentil salad, which besides the basic ingredients required only the purchase of garam masala. And garam masala turns out to be a lovely spice that I wouldn't have known about otherwise! (The dish turned out to be quite tasty and I'd definitely make it again. And the second day I added some chopped nuts and dried fruit to it cause I'm weird that way, and it was really good that way too.)

So what sort of ethnic/international food do you guys eat? Do you go to restaurants, modify take out, or make it from scratch?