September 30, 2009

The Future of Cranky Fitness?

Crabby, before you take off?
The Venusians want you to review their new power bars.
(Photo: Plan 59)

So in case anyone missed yesterday's understated announcement, my co-blogger Merry Sunshine has indeed left Cranky Fitness.

Want the inside scoop about what Merry's really like, why she quit, how I feel about it, and what happens next for the blog? Hold on to your hats, it's quite a story!

You may have thought from her posts that Merry was funny, clever, creative, reliable, scholarly, and reasonable. But the real, behind-the-scenes truth? Merry Sunshine...

is actually very funny, clever, creative, scholarly, and reasonable. Plus she's warm, generous, understanding, endlessly flexible, and awesomely amusing. She was an absolute pleasure to blog with, and she will be sorely missed.

So did you ever notice that even when Merry seemed to be blogging about literature, or philosophy, or some other high-brow subject, she was still slipping in loads of health information, inspiration, and clever puns? Well, that doesn't happen by accident! (Unless maybe there were a series of freakish high-speed space/time collisions between Merry, her computer, Shakespeare, Einstein, and the New England Journal of Medicine?)

No, it wasn't accidental. These blog posts actually take a fair amount of time to write, and after blogging here for almost two years, Merry decided she'd could use some of that time back for use in her actual life. Fortunately, Merry is still blogging at Sheesh, so you can still catch her on the web.

Just not here anymore.

Heck, I'm a grown up. I can accept the fact that someone who has a demanding full time job, and her own great blog, might one day decide to stop putting in endless hours at an irreverent health blog for practically no money.

So, after careful consideration, how did I react?

Yeah. Okay, maybe not so grown up. I'm seriously bummed.

But the good news is...

We have two new great co-bloggers coming to join us!

The first to arrive will be Jo from Head Nurse and The Wednesday Whine, and I'm totally psyched. I'd been admiring her writing for ages, and was totally shocked when she actually agreed to come aboard.

Well, I did try to sell the blog a bit. I told her Cranky Fitness gets 7 million hits a week, and that I just signed Michelle Obama to co-blog with us.

Hey Crabby, it's Michelle...
What? 1,000 words on organics?
No problem, you got it!

Oh, and I also may have mentioned that "Cranky Fitness, the Musical" had just been optioned for Jo to star in along with George Clooney, Mathew McConaughey, and Colin Firth. They play some of the interns we employ here to do research, screen email, bring us blueberry smoothies, and massage our tired calves after vigorous workouts.

I'm sure Jo won't mind discovering that these were slight exaggerations.

Now of course there are technological issues when it comes to starting up with a new blog, especially when you're working with a customized template. So we hope this works out, but we're not entirely sure the Cranky Fitness machinery will allow a new blog author to just jump in and start posting. The html gears might jam up, blowing the css gaskets and causing the whole blog to burst into flaming hrefs and onblurs and div styles.

Probably should have added a backslash.
(Photo: veo)

But assuming no blogsplosions, Jo should begin posting soon, perhaps by tomorrow.


And in other news...

Massive, Gargantuan, Big-Ass Giveaway Contest Coming!

So in about the third week of October I'll be heading off on my bi-annual cross country road trip. Yep, it's the great Provincetown to California schlep. So I'll be gone for several weeks, which means my posts will probably be a combination of "classics" (i.e., reruns), and trip photos. So thank goodness for co-bloggers with new stuff!

However... to make up for my own vacation posting lameness, I've been saving up a bunch of review and giveaway opportunities. And so there's going to be a multi-sponsor giveaway during the road trip, and the goal is to have enough prizes so that every Cranky Fitness reader who hangs in there and consistently comments on posts will win something, even if it's not a big prize. Is this possible? Well, I have no idea! No promises, I'm afraid. But so far, it's looking pretty good. And we have some very cool sponsors participating. Like remember the TRX suspension system and the way I hogged it for myself for a review rather than host a giveaway? Well, this time, it's a whole different story. Be sure to stay tuned for future details!

Got Ideas?

So as we head into a new era of Cranky Fitness, I may do some experimentation. Video? Twitter? Nude blogging? Who knows what could happen! But before I come up with some half-assed plan, is there anything that you, the readers, would like to see happen here? Seen another blog you admire run a kind of post I could steal? I'm on the lookout for fresh ideas, even if I may be too lazy to implement them. I'm all ears!

In closing, goodbye and good wishes, Merry! Welcome, Jo! And Thank You, readers, for continuing to support Cranky Fitness as it evolves!

September 29, 2009

What I've learned from Cranky Fitness

funny pictures of dogs with captions

Just because something's been fun, that doesn't mean you should keep doing it for the rest of your life. Like blogging. So I'm going to stop.

I'd like to offer some dramatic excuse, like I'm not going to blog here any more because of 'creative differences' with my highly esteemed co-blogger Crabby, but it wouldn't be true. I couldn't ask for a nicer person to work with. Nor do I have any plans for a solo career. I am going to continue to update my little blog Sheesh, but that's just a public way to guilt myself into exercising.

Honestly, I'm just tired. Writing a blog post take a lot of time. Doing anything well takes time, but even writing a crappy blog post takes more time than you would think (unless you've tried it, in which case you're probably nodding your head at this point).

What I learned from Cranky Fitness

While I loved all of Crabby's posts, and some of mine, the ones that have stayed with me the longest were the ones with really great comments. I have to say, of all the blogs out there I think the commenters on Cranky Fitness rule! Not only funny, but very, very helpful.

Some posts where the comments are especially memorable:

But wait! There's more!

I have it from a very reliable source that Cranky Fitness is going to start cranking up the excitement next month! I can't say more, as it would involve breaking a vow of silence and Crabby knows where I live that would be morally unethical. But trust me. There are Plans Afoot!

Well all right. I will give you this little sneak peek. Crabby is going to--

Oh come on. You think I'm going to spill the beans like that? You'll just have to send me a lot of cash in unmarked bills keep reading. It's going to be great!


September 28, 2009

CounterClockwise: Crabby Meets the Anti-Crabby

Photo: hettie gm

A number of weeks ago, I went to a lecture by a Harvard social psychologist, Ellen Langer. She wrote the ground-breaking book Mindfulness, and she has a new book out which I just finished, called Counterclockwise.

Langer has done a lot of research on mindfulness, and the "psychology of possibility." She believes we can use the power of our minds to do amazing things--improve our health, and even, in some ways, turn back the clock and reverse the physical effects of aging.

So what happens when you take a cranky, cynical, slothful, not-particularly-optimistic blogger like Crabby, and expose her to a serious scientist who believes practically nothing is impossible? Someone who encourages us to think that dogs might be taught to yodel and human limbs might spontaneously regenerate? Or who claims we shouldn't expect our eyesight to decline as we reach old age, or that we can melt off pounds merely by thinking differently about the exercise we already do?

Well... sometimes even stubborn crabby cynics find themselves rethinking things a bit! I have to say Dr. Langer's ideas were pretty darn intriguing.

Our Perceptions Affect Our Health?

Well, this notion isn't entirely a shock--we've all heard of the placebo effect. But what did blow me away is just how many surprising ways our perceptions can change the actual physical functioning of our bodies. Langer has been doing research on this for decades, and she's gotten amazing results.

Here are just a couple of the studies she discusses in her book:

The "Counterclockwise Study": This one took place back in the 1970's, but the scientific world didn't quite know what to make of it back then. Now that the idea of a mind/body connection doesn't sound so wacky, it's gaining new attention. Apparently the study is even going to be the subject of a movie starring Jennifer Aniston! (Sigh. We're still waiting for "Cranky Fitness, the Musical" to get snapped up, yet oddly enough, the phone is not ringing off the hook).

Anyway, in the study, Langer took two sets of elderly men away from their dreary nursing homes and sent them to a cabin for a week. They fixed things up at the cabin so that everything looked like it did 20 years earlier, in 1959. They surrounded these guys with songs, pictures, magazines, and tv and radio shows from the era. They gave them more autonomy and responsibility than they normally got, and did a bunch of other cool things for them too, but I'll let you read the book for further details.

One group of these old dudes, the experimental group, was told to live as though it were 1959. They were instructed to be who they were at that age, to not discuss anything that happened after time, and to try to reflect in their conversations and interactions that it was 1959, not 1979. They were also told that if they did this successfully, there was reason to believe they feel as well as they did back then.

The control group was also surrounded with the same 1959 environment, but told only to reminisce about the past, not to live as though they were 20 years younger.

Not to spoil the movie or anything... but holey moley, what a difference that week made!

It actually produced improvements for both groups, but especially the experimental group. After a week of living as though they were 20 years younger, their hearing and memory improved and the guys gained weight (and most needed to). The experimental group showed significantly greater improvement in joint flexibility, manual dexterity, and finger length; they increased their intelligence scores; and they improved in their height, weight, gait, and posture. Objective observers said all of the experimental subjects looked noticeably younger after the study was over.

Cool, huh?

The Hotel Maid Study: This study was another one that I thought was incredible. (So incredible I even scoffed a bit when I first heard about it).

Langer was curious as to why hotel room attendants were burning lots of calories in their demanding jobs, yet were still overweight, had high blood pressure, and other signs of poor health.

I woulda figured: well, because maybe they don't make much money and have crappy junk food diets? Langer wondered instead: could it be because they don't think they're getting enough exercise?

So guess what happened when some of the maids were told that their jobs actually burned enough calories to meet the surgeon general's definition of an "active lifestyle?" They changed nothing else about their routines except their expectations. And with their altered perceptions, they started losing weight and lowering their blood pressure. Those who weren't told they were already getting enough exercise... didn't.

I almost hope there were some methodological flaw in the study or something, because that result totally messed with my head. Can you really think away weight?

Challenging Medical Research and Low Expectations

Langer is respectful of research and the scientific method, but she thinks that the way we rely on doctor's diagnoses and research can be limiting. A study can be conducted thoughtfully and rigorously and still produce a "truth" that is not true for us.

Does it make more sense to be careful, mindful observers of our own health, and to think in terms of the possible rather than our limitations? What if we didn't accept the "fact" that our eyesight would start to decline in middle age? What if we thought instead that our eyesight might improve? Could it?

The Key is Mindfulness

Langer thinks we are far too mindless in the way we accept negative stereotypes about aging and conventional medical thinking about our health. By attending to the variability in our own bodies and environments, we can notice what works for us, and make incremental changes toward improving how our bodies function. She points out, for example, that a "depressed" person is not depressed 24 hours a day. But if we focus only on the depression, we may miss noticing what is occurring when that person is NOT depressed and try to make sure there's more of it going on.

Langer observes that "we apply convenient labels to most everything we encounter, blinding ourselves to alternative ways of understanding that...could turn out to be far more useful."

Lots More in the Book to Inspire

This book summarizes decades of research, and I realize I'm not doing it justice with this brief overview. (Ellen is also a very entertaining speaker, btw; if you get a chance to hear her sometime, I'd jump on it). So I may have to do another post some day on her research. I was particularly intrigued by the numerous studies she reported in which our subtle perceptions of how old or unhealthy we are can actually impact our health and longevity. And heck, if I can trick my mind and body into acting like, say, 30 until I croak at a ripe old age? I'm thinking that would be worth trying to nag myself occasionally to become a bit more mindful.

Brief Interview

So here's yet another demonstration that Dr. Langer is indeed the Anti-Crabby. After seeing her lecture, I got up the nerve to ask her if I could send her some interview questions for the blog. She said "sure!"

Almost two months later, I finally emailed her. I only asked her 3 questions because I was so embarrassed it had taken me so long to get her book and read it.

Less than an hour later, she'd responded. Ellen McSlacker, she is not.

Anyway, here is our brief interchange. Were I less of a slacker, there would be a lot more questions.

Crabby: I've been feeling vaguely guilty for years because I don't meditate. But you suggest that meditation isn't the only path to mindfulness, and that the key is "attending to variability." Which I fully intended to do after hearing your lecture, then forgot all about it a few days later.

Are there any techniques you can suggest to encourage our meandering brains to attend to what's going on around us instead of lapsing into mindlessness?

Ellen: Simply notice new things about whatever you're attending to. To make it formulaic, notice 5 new things. This will make it clear to you that you didn't know it as well as you thought you did and it will then become more interesting.

Crabby: You seem to be far more optimistic than many scientists about what the mind can accomplish. Is there anything you believe to be outright impossible, or do you stay open-minded about everything? Say ESP or psychokinesis or other parapsychological phenomena?

Ellen: Yes, I try to stay open to everything.

Crabby: I love the research about the subtle ways our perception of our own age can actually affect our physical health. Do you have any practical suggestions for cultivating a younger mindset and fooling ourselves into feeling like spring chickens again?

Ellen: It won't be a problem if we recognize the effects mindless age-related cues can have on us, and either become mindful or replace these old age cues with younger ones.

Crabby: Thanks Ellen!

So do you folks believe you can "think" your way to better health? Or does this notion seem far fetched?

September 25, 2009

Vitalicious Giveaway and More!

So I'm happy to report I've completely recovered from my recent bout of leprosy. In fact, I was feeling so good yesterday I was able to do some product sampling of some Vitalicious muffiny things! This means the main post for today is over at the Cranky Fitness Review page, where you can find out what Crabby and the Lobster think of all 9,743 flavors of VitaMuffins, VitaTops, and VitaBrownies.

If you go over there and enter, perhaps you'll be one of 3 winners who can try a big-ass sample pack for yourself!

Back already? Well you're just in time for the weekly Juice Quiz!

This week's theme over at the Juice was "managing workplace relationships," so Crabby tried to offer up some helpful advice for those who work in offices. Which of these does Crabby recommend?

1. Swapping out the "Decaf" and "Regular" coffeepots in the break room to test the placebo effect.

2. Putting laxative chocolates in the office fridge to deter food thieves.

3. Spreading malicious gossip and stealing office supplies.

4. Going completely naked on "casual Friday" for an hour or two to see if anyone notices.

Stumped? The answer is here! Also, there's still a little time left on their KitchenAid blender giveaway.

Have a great weekend, and do watch out for swine flu, leprosy, and EVS!

September 24, 2009

Cranky Fitness Goes Political

I had lots to write about, things that seemed really interesting before but now they're all really, really stupid. In fact, all ideas are stupid. Because I'm stupid...
blather, wince, and repeat for a few pointless cycles

hugh laurie

Have you ever gotten yourself on the Stupid cycle? The soundtrack gets going in your mind and the next thing you know you're blaming yourself for the Great Potato Famine and the invention of 'child-proof' medicine caps. (Children are about the only people who seem able to open those dang things.)

So, since I was feeling stupid... I decided it was time to go into politics.

Must... resist... urge... to ... include... pertinent... picture of a certain politician... not shown here...

Cranky Fitness Goes Political

I'm thinking of forming a new political party: The Cranky Fitness Party.

Our Platform: freedom of whining about exercise, and a cupcake in every kitchen.

Or maybe that's our motto, and our platform should be something that people can actually stand upon. Since standing on cupcakes is usually a short-lived and mushy enterprise at best.

Stand up for your rights ... and walk for them too...

Included in our constitution is going to be the right to a daily constitutional.

Look, newsflash here, but you have the right to exercise. It wasn't officially enshrined in any kind of political constitution, but that's because it was so basic a necessity those guys figured we didn't need it in writing. I mean, why do you think a walk is called a 'constitutional', eh?

If you look up the word "constitutional" the first two definitions have nothing to do with any kind of government.

1. (adj) constitutional
a regular walk taken as a form of exercise

2. (adj) constitutional
of benefit to or intended to benefit your physical makeup

What's wrong with just taking a daily walk? It might not have the cachet of a whole marathon, but a brisk walk can get you breathing faster -- especially if hills or stairs are involved.

Want to sneak in exercise?

Sneak out for a quickie at lunch

- tell your husband/wife/significant other that you want to meet them
for a quickie at lunch. They don't need to know that it's a quick walk until you get them outside enjoying all that fresh air.
- stuff the kids in a stroller, side-bicycle, or car trunk, depending on whether they're toddlers or teenagers and just get out the door. Once you're at the park, it'll be easy enough to encourage them to get out and run around.
- tell the boss that a walk at lunch will save heaps o' money, since you'll be more awake and productive and not drink so much coffee in the afternoon.
- tell your friends that walking and talking is a great way to lose weight /and/ gossip at the same time.

And if they like science, you can throw studies at them.

Remember the researchers who got obese mice hooked on exercise and
then took away their wheel? They found an amazing 100% increase in fatty liver disease. (I'm still amazed about that. It's rare to have 100% in any study.)

Now some other researchers have gotten smart and studied the reverse
in people, i.e. what happens when you get people to exercise.

I didn't like the size of the study, 19 is a small group, but I liked some other things that they did.

- They studied people who lived a sedentary lifestyle and were obese, i.e. with body mass index >30 kg/m2 (Yes, I know some people can have a high BMI and still be fit, but those people are not living a sedentary lifestyle)

- Some of the group did the placebo route, with some stretching thrown
in, while the rest did aerobic cycling for four weeks.

- The scientists measured specific, quantifiable stuff like "hepatic triglyceride concentration (HTGC) and hepatic lipid saturation index (SI), intramyocellular triglyceride (IMTG) levels, visceral adipose tissue (VAT) or amount of fat stores in the abdomen, cardiorespiratory fitness, blood biochemistry..."

After four weeks, they checked the results:

- Body weight and BMI didn't change

- cardio fitness was up in the cycling group, though not the placebo people

- There was a 21% reduction in HTGC (bad triglycerides) and 12% VAT volume (fat in the abdominal area) in the group that did the aerobic cycling.

"Our data provides the first direct experimental evidence that regular aerobic exercise reduces fatty liver in obesity without concurrent changes in body weight or abdominal fat," explained researchers.

I thought this study was important because I know a lot of obese people who figure they'll lose weight only by weight lifting. That way of thinking seems especially common among men.

A lot of women, small or large, think it's "icky" to do aerobics because they'll get sweaty. (Someone please introduce these women to the concept called "a shower"!) Likewise, a lot of larger people don't want to get up and move around because of wobble issues.

Merry's philosophy, summed up in two lines

"People will point and laugh," they say.
"Screw 'em," I say. "Work out anyway."

Not a rant against Fat Acceptance

This is not an anti-Fat Acceptance rant. The people in the FA movement, so far as I understand it, believe that it's possible to be healthy even if they're not thin. I'm just saying to be healthy, especially if you're obese, you need the aerobic exercise.

Especially when you know it has a direct influence on your health.

Exercise your constitutional right today!

Speaking of stupid, or at least strange, here's a video. I am not sure what it is supposed to be advertising, or why the people in the clip behave the way they do, but the special effects were kinda cool.

Washington at night photo credit: Laura Padgett
Washington and a bunch of other presidents photo credit: Loscili

September 23, 2009

Calling in Sick

Full confession: back when I worked in an office, I used to occasionally call in sick when I wasn't actually sick at all. I felt a little slimy about it, and hated to lie, but on the other hand, I never got sick so those days specially set aside for me to cough, sneeze, barf, and ache? They'd have been totally wasted!

But now I'm more grown-up and honest and ethical. So I'll just come right out and say:

Sorry there's no Cranky Fitness blog post today. It's because I screwed around doing other things and ran out of time came down with leprosy.

Everyone knows you can't blog with leprosy.

Note: you have my complete permission to call in sick today to your own blog, job, household chores, book club, cooking class, or whatever the hell else you need a break from. Let's see if we can get CDC's attention with a scary new nationwide outbreak of leprosy, shall we?

Go ahead, little slackers. Call in sick.
You do look a little feverish! Must be leprosy.

[Photo: gem66]

Back Friday!

September 22, 2009

Ask Cranky Fitness: running shoes & exercise break ups

The good news: yes, it's another Ask Cranky Fitness post!
The bad news: it's a Merry-based post. Ms. Crabby is off making sure Michelle is doing her arm exercises correctly.
Okay, that's a completely untrue rumor that I just made up. Actually, she's off making the world safe for slackers. Which is an important job, even if it doesn't involve many trips to the White House.

Dear Cranky Fitness,

For nearly two years, I have been in a monogamous relationship with my running shoes. I haven't been consistent about running, but whenever I exercise I wear these shoes. They've been good years, on the whole, but now I'm starting to wonder if we should break up.

"Experts," i.e. people who run more than I do, say it's not good to be exclusive with one pair of running shoes for more than six months, as the wear-and-tear on the shoes could damage your feet/knees/joints. But these experts are hardcore runners. I'm more of the softcore type, myself -- isn't it okay to wear them longer?

Runaround Sue

Dear Sue,

We feel your indecision. Or at least, I do. Crabby runs circles around me (and squares, and sometimes even polygons).

People who are addicted to running get so they can usually tell when it's time to go shopping. If you're not sure, try this: get another pair of running shoes as backup. Switch back and forth between the new and the old pairs. When your original pair start to feel less springy/cushiony/comfortable than the newer pair, that's a sign. Or, if your foot starts to hurt after running, that's another sign. If you start running on a more regular basis, then definitely go for the hardcore approach and shop more often. You can either pay at the shoe store or at the foot doctors.

Dear Cranky Fitness,

I have a relationship problem. I finally found a partner who seemed like the perfect match: we were both somewhat out-of-shape but wanted to become fit meisters. She's a one-time athletic friend who has gained a lot of weight in the last year or so, and she really sounded enthused when I used words like "5k" and "training." Now, she complains about how her leg muscles hurt when we do even a quite easy walk. I'm worried -- she used to run rings around me, but now she can't keep up? I would swear I haven't improved -- at least I haven't gotten thinner -- so maybe she's becoming ill and I shouldn't expect her to train with me. What do I do? Should I go on alone or wait for her to keep up with me?

Anxious in Arizona

Dear AA,

Sorry. I know the excitement of thinking you've finally found The One: an exercise partner who can keep pace without leaving you in the dust or holding you back as you try to improve. Face the fact that no one is perfect, not even an exercise partner. A friend will try to understand as you forge ahead, but will probably feel hurt all the same. If she's truly a friend, then I suggest you think of your outings together as good occasions for bonding, not as training. Do training on your own if you have to. Join running clubs, or cycling groups, or exercise on your own until you're up to joining a formal group. Keep your friend, and honor your time with her as good in its own right.

Dear Cranky Fitness,

How do I get my relatives to stop spamming me? I wouldn't mind it if they wanted to communicate via email, but the only time I get something from them it's a chain letter that's been forwarded 10,287 times, and has 26 lines of email addresses, 1 subject line, and 2 lines of pink text with a picture of a saccharine kitten. They never check before forwarding the latest Nigerian-Prince-needs-a-new-lung-because-his-kidneys-were-stolen story, and they don't seem to get it that I Don't Want To Hear It. What can I do to make them stop, aside from changing my email address or leaving the country?

Email Rebel

Merry: Um... Crabby... doesn't anybody screen these emails? What's this got to do with health fitness or... oh damn. I suppose it does come under the heading of 'whining.'

Dear ER,

At this point, I should probably say something Zen-ish like 'you cannot change others, you can only change yourself.' Unfortunately, someone borrowed my only copy of Zen and the Art of Enigmatic Wisdom, so I don't have any profound koans to offer.

The best thing I can say is that this is a great opportunity to practice patience. And respond to their emails with a Snopes link pointing out why their email was a hoax. It won't help to do this; at least, in my experience these people almost never read emails, they just send them. But it might teach them not to be so credulous.

Evil thought... you could always open a post office box near your home, then send them emails about how if they send cash to this address, they'll receive the winning ticket from the National Nigerian Lottery. Okay, no, don't do it. No, really. It was just an evil thought. Patience, grasshopper. Patience and

What, you don't like these answers? Please, please feel free to offer comments on when to get new running shoes, or how to break up with an exercise partner, or spam meisters!

September 21, 2009

Avoid this Dangerous Health Hazard!

Nah, I'm not talking about swine flu. I'm not a doctor or an epidemiologist and I know nothing about swine flu. Well, I do know that despite its name, it will probably not turn you into an actual swine.

Which is good! Because suddenly finding yourself with pig-brains instead of human-brains and hooves instead of hands? That might cause some pretty major lifestyle adjustments. Your boss might disapprove. And you wouldn't be able to visit your favorite blogs anymore. And your sex life? Well, let's hope your partner is very understanding and flexible.

So no, the health hazard I'm referring to is not swine flu. It's a common but insidious disorder that you've probably never heard of.

In the comments to Friday's post, reader Tina mentioned a scary bout with it. Fortunately she recovered.

So have you ever come down with a case of EVS?

That's short for Escalating Virtue Syndrome. And yeah, it's something I just made up.

It's just a subtype of perfectionism, a known motivation-killer that I've already blogged about many times. But it's such a sneaky type of perfectionism! It's so easy to get infected with it, and it's contagious, so I thought I'd do a brief public service announcement to warn you of its dangers.

What is Escalating Virtue Syndrome?

Basically, it's doing too much of a good thing until it backfires and forces you to be bad again. But here's a more technical definition:

EVS is the phenomenon that occurs after you discover that some sort of virtuous behavior is not nearly as bad as you thought it would be. Say you take up running, or you try to eat more whole foods. You hang in there for a few weeks; accomplish more than you thought; and you find out that the smug feeling you get is totally exhilarating!

But you're not content to leave it at that. You want more smugness! The next step, "escalation," involves incremental increases in the amount of virtue. You run longer and harder and more often, or you eat more and more healthy whole foods until they make up your entire diet.

If you pump up the virtue slowly and carefully, paying attention to your physical and psychological reactions and adjusting accordingly? No worries. You don't have EVS, you have Motivation and Determination and that's great!

But if all you're paying attention to is the lovely smugness, you're at serious risk for EVS. Because one day, you may suddenly wake up and realize that your virtuous behavior doesn't feel wonderful and rewarding and effortless like before. In fact, the whole routine kinda sucks!

Running 2 or 3 miles a couple of times a week was fun. Running 10 miles five times a week? Not nearly as much fun. Learning to eat 5-9 servings of fruits and vegetables a day? Not so bad! Eating 18 servings a day? Aaack!

Of course there's an easy cure for the problem of taking a smart behavior and doing to much of it. That would be: dial it back a few notches until it's not so burdensome anymore.

But what's the typical response? Quit completely because it's all too hard.

I have to confess: I struggle with EVS infections all the time.

For example, I've blogged before about adding vegetables to my fruit smoothies. And if I keep it to 2/3 of a cup or less of chopped cauliflower, or 2 cups or less of raw spinach leaves, the smoothie tastes great, and I get vegetable credit. Hooray!

But damned if the vegetable-induced smugness rush hasn't tempted me into adding more and more vegetables. What happens if I go overboard? The smoothie goes from a milkshake-like indulgence to a funky composty tasting medicine. And who looks forward to medicine for breakfast?

The other place where I'm struggling with a creeping case of EVS is when it comes to High Intensity Interval Training. I know from previous experience that if I try to do as often and as intensely as many experts recommend, I will stop entirely. That's the whole reason I frequently suggest that readers try the less hardcore SHIIT workout instead. And yet I read the blogs of people who are fitter than I am, and I feel like a slothful slacker, and I start trying to do more and more sprints, more often, like the fit people do.

I know better, damn it!

Because this escalation will work great and give me huge burst of delicious smugness at first... until one day I'll realize that I just don't want to drink smoothies or do intervals at all anymore.

So, I am going to actually pay attention to the little warning signs this time, and I am going to consciously STOP ESCALATING for now. In order to do so, I need to give myself lots of credit for what I already do, and savor the existing smugness I can get from that. Later, if I get a new burst of motivation and don't feel any tell-tale foot-dragging, I can always drink compost every morning for breakfast and sprint my ass off all week.

So here is your Cranky Fitness public service message for today: If anyone else has been ignoring signs of EVS, and you realize you're getting very tempted to skip your workouts or blow off your healthy eating plan because it's so miserable, then DIAL IT BACK, but DON'T QUIT ENTIRELY!

See if you can remember what you were doing before it all got to be too much, and ease off to that level. There's likely still plenty of smugness to be had if you compare yourself to where you started, and not to some hypothetical superhuman version of yourself. It's way more important to feel like you are still "on track," even if it means adjusting your goals downward a notch. Because what good are lofty goals if you are hiding from them instead of chasing them?

Ever come down with EVS yourself, or have any good tips for avoiding it?

September 18, 2009

A Celebration of Trial and Error

Thousands of studies have been done, and vast sums of money have been spent, trying to develop methods to turn us all into slim, muscular, happy, sexy, youthful, disease-free, energetic, and brilliant humans.

Photo: Kyla Oh

So you'd think by now there'd be a simple formula to follow for healthy living, wouldn't you? Even if it might be difficult to put into practice?

Should you run 10 miles every day and become a vegetarian? Meditate every morning, fast once a week, and set aside an hour a day for yoga? Lift weights and eat lots of meat and stay away from potatoes and flour and fruit? Eat only raw whole foods and run wind sprints three times a week?

I don't know about you guys, but I've followed lots of different and conflicting advice over the years. There's no shortage of it: we're always reading about some great new approach to health and fitness that really works!

Photo: gruntzooki

The problem is, while all of these methods and programs and diets work for someone, none of them seem to work for everyone. Our bodies, alas, all seem to be different. No matter how many other people swear by a particular kind of diet or exercise plan, for many, it just won't get dramatic results.

But I had an epiphany recently: Eureka, I have already found it!

I realize that over the years, I've actually pieced together my own personal health and fitness program that works pretty darn well... for me. It's not perfect, obviously. I'm a lazy slacker, so I will never be a health and fitness superstar, no matter what method I use. However, I'm pretty darn happy with the results I get given the effort I put in. So I'm thinking the whole frustrating "trial and error" thing really does sometimes lead to actual workable solutions.

Which doesn't mean that I won't be off chasing down the next tempting bit of research that comes along. I love short-cuts, and tricks, and learning about powerful superfoods that will make me impervious to carcinogens and as energetic as a 3 year old on a Froot-Loop high.

But before I get distracted by some bright shiny new study touting kiwi seed extract or buffalo lard or or thumb-wrestling, I thought it was worth taking a moment to celebrate all that I have already learned about what works for me. And I know others of you have probably discovered completely different methods that have made a meaningful difference in your health and fitness.

So today, a break from whining! Anyone else want to share some of what you've learned by trial and error? Because I'm finally getting it that there's no one right way to do this stuff.

Here are some of the key things that I think have helped me the most:

1. I have modest ambitions. I set temporary "fun goals," which I then quickly lose interest in, but my bottom line requirement remains the same: don't lose ground.

Wow, really impressive, huh? But for a slothful slacker, this keeps me from feeling too overwhelmed and lame.

I started running when I was 17, and lifting weights in my mid twenties. But I quit many times and it wasn't until years later that I got consistent and smart about it. But these early training efforts did give me a sense of what I could do as a fit 25-year old. Now, I figure if I can hit those same benchmarks year after year, then I'm good! I'm coming up on 50, and so far, I'm on track. Of course I go up and down a bit depending on my schedule and motivation, but it all averages out: I still lift roughly the same amount of weight, run the same speed, and can do the same number of push-ups I could 25 years ago. (Though I still can't do even one f@cking pull-up!)

Note: I haven't hit menopause yet; nor my seriously senior years. I realize some adjustments in goals, attitude, or technique may be required. Or I may lose my memory first! Then I won't have to feel the least bit guilty about blowing off my cardio or lounging on the couch or setting the living room on fire trying to make S'mores by lighting up old copies of Large Print Reader's Digest or AARP magazine.

2. I Can Count Calories if I Have To. Twice in my life I started to gain weight and wasn't able to get it back down with minor lifestyle adjustments. I had to actually go on a "diet." I ate sensibly, measured things, knew how many calories I could have, set gradual, reasonable goals, and I wrote everything down. Both times, it worked. The first time, however, I hadn't mastered maintenance.

Now that I've learned a lot more lifestyle tricks, I'm hoping I never have to go back to that because it was kind of a pain in the ass. I know diets are terribly unhelpful and even damaging for a lot of people. But for some reason they don't mess with me too much, either psychologically or physiologically. I know if I ever need to again, I can suck it up and do it and it won't kill me.

3. But smart eating and exercise lets me eat plenty of food, feel great, and not gain weight. Seriously, my metabolism has noticeably changed. It's way better than it used to be. I don't start to gain weight unless for some reason I'm being completely gluttonous and making really bad choices. And even when that occasionally happens, it just takes a week or two of minor adjustments to get back on track. It's... bizarre. Almost like being a 20 year old guy! It never used to be that way when I was younger, so I suspect it's the accumulation of little tweaks that really does work to keep my metabolism pumping.

(Plus, I have way more energy than I did in my twenties; I pretty much never get sick; I sleep better; and I'm far less moody).

Specific foods and nutritional strategies that seem to work for me:

4. Lots of "good fats"--walnuts, almonds, avocados, fish oils, olive oil, canola oil etc.

5. Protein with every meal, but not too much saturated fat. I'm omnivorous when it comes to protein sources: i.e.: poultry, fish, shellfish, occasionally red meat, nonfat milk, yogurt, eggs, legumes, grains, seeds, and nuts. Oh, and for some reason I don't worry about saturated fat that much when it comes to cheese, just meat.

6. Lots of fruits and veggies even if I don't feel like it. I shoot for 7-9 servings a day. The smoothie trick really helps on this one.

(Oh crap, that reminds me, it's Friday which means it's time to attempt to send y'all over to the Juice! They're giving away a $149 Kitchen-Aid blender, and this week's theme was "healthy breakfasts," something I actually have some opinions about.)

7. Limited amounts of refined flour, sugar, transfats, and saturated fats. I try to steer clear of these as much as possible, but don't begrudge myself occasional treats. Also, while I'm not on a low-carb plan, I try not to eat high-glycemic food all by itself. Nothing is totally off limits, but if I'm going to have a cookie or a cupcake, I'll have it after a balanced meal or at least have some milk with it.

8. Whole grains, not refined white grains. White bread or rice or pasta are for special occasions; for everyday meals it's brown, brown brown.

9. Whole foods whenever possible, processed foods as rarely as possible.

10. Green Tea, which does indeed seem to have mysterious metabolism-boosting, cancer-fighting, immune-boosting powers.

11. I also enjoy lots of things without guilt that others might not approve of: red wine (often) beer & spirits (more rarely); dark chocolate (often); coffee (often) eggs and cheese (several times a week); red meat (once every week or two).

The most shocking thing I consume without guilt: non-caloric sweeteners! (mostly truvia now but also some splenda). I know "research says" that this backfires for most people, but it really seems to work fine for me. I have a sweet tooth, and I used to consume a couple hundred calories a day in sugar before I used 'em. I'm still waiting for more convincing evidence that they're truly bad for me.

But diet is only part of it. I think a huge part of my feeling more healthy and energetic and developing a faster metabolism has to do with exercise. I'm not particularly hard core, but I'm consistent.

12. Cardio: I need to do something huffy-puffy at least every other day; 5 times a week is optimal but I often don't quite manage. I don't do long distances anymore; 25- 30 minutes seems to work just fine and spares my knees.

13. High Intensity Intervals: These are brutal, but at least they're over quickly. The more I read about human growth hormone, the more I suspect that doing these is part of the secret to maintaining muscle mass, pumping up metabolism, and burning excess fat. I try to get in at least one session a week as my cardio workout; two is better when I can motivate myself to do that. Three would be nifty but I can't see that happening unless aliens take over my brain.

14. Resistance Training. This also releases HGH if you lift heavy, and I think this might have something to do with my improved metabolism as well. I aim for 2-3 times a week. The key for me is low reps, heavy weights, and trying to mix things up a bit--a trick I've learned only recently, and quite reluctantly.

15. Walking. I do a lot of this, both on workout and rest days. I actually enjoy it, so I don't count it as "exercise" but I generally get several miles a day.

16. I don't overdo things. This comes naturally, being lazy, but I understand that some folks need reminding to take rest days. The "repair" part of the cycle is just as important to muscle growth and fitness as the "tearing down" part.

17. Sleep. I get enough, which I understand is unusual!

OK, so this has to be the most boring post in Cranky Fitness history; sorry about that!

So I'd be curious to hear other health and fitness tips that you folks have discovered actually work for you, or, alternatively, which advice you've followed that was supposed to work but didn't help at all.

September 17, 2009

Why marathons are safer than elections

fail owned pwned pictures

All the research I've studied lately seems to lead toward one conclusion: cars bad, bicycles or foot power good.

Marathons reduce road accidents

According to a British journal, "... marathons lower the risk of fatal motor vehicle crashes that might otherwise have taken place if the roads had not been closed."

On the other hand, road accidents rise on election day.

So it seems to me that what this world needs is more marathons and fewer elections. Can we take a vote on that?

Don't drive in the rain

Almost 25% of car crashes occur in bad weather. But apparently, snow and ice aren't responsible for as many crashes as mere rain. More accidents occurred in the southern parts of the U.S., which don't really go in for the ice and snow like the Midwest does.

"Many drivers recognize that snow and ice can cause them to lose control of their cars, but most underestimate the dangers that rain can pose. For this reason, more people travel in wet weather, and do not realize the need to adjust to lower speeds when traveling on wet roads."
Pile up Fail.jpg

On the other hand, runners and cyclists...
tend to reduce speed a whole lot when the weather's bad. Or opt to spend the day at the gym. Or they just go back inside, curl up on the couch, and catch up on the latest in Reality TV shows.
Yeah, we'll run later...
Photo credit: cursedthing

It's true what they say about Those Kinds of Drivers

fail owned pwned pictures

People always told me that Volvo drivers were the worst on the road, because they felt safer in their cars. Turns out there might be something in that theory. (Not necessarily Volvo drivers, but in general people in 'safe' cars.)

According to The Smithsonian, the concept is that humans have an inborn tolerance for risk—meaning that as safety features are added to vehicles and roads, drivers feel less vulnerable and tend to take more chances. The feeling of greater security tempts us to be more reckless. Behavioral scientists call it "risk compensation."

Likewise, airbags and anti-lock brakes seem to thwart their intent because drivers with these are more aggressive.

I think there's a lot of truth in these studies, but I take exception to one part of this research.

These experts go on to say that this practice extends to sports, but I don't see that in my own commute. Cyclists wearing bicycle helmets are not nearly as risk-seeing as the ones who don't wear helmets but do wear headphones. Those are the ones you have to watch out for.

See? Wearing a helmet makes people happy.


Note: no one in this picture is wearing a helmet.

Likewise, a runner wearing fancified running shoes with a garmin or whatever is much less likely to take off his shoes and throw them at you even if you're a foreign president visiting his country. It took too much money to get his shoes; he'll want to keep them near his feet.

I know that if a study agrees with your own observed behavior, you're more likely to agree with it.

fail owned pwned pictures

But I don't see people with fancy types of safety sports equipment being reckless, unlike people who drive fancy cars.

Moral? Buy lots of fancy sports equipment and stop saving up for that Lexus. You'll live longer. So long as you don't vote.

September 16, 2009

Today's Uncomfortable Subject: Circumcision!

(Photo: s0crates82)

It seemed impossible. But at last I've discovered a health issue that has recently appeared in the news, is hotly debated, and is extremely controversial--and yet I have formed absolutely no opinion about it!

Yep, it's male circumcision. The whole cutting-off-the-foreskin thing. Wait, guys? Guys? Where'd y'all go?

So according to the New York Times, U.S. public health officials are thinking of changing current guidelines and starting to encourage routine circumcision for all baby boys. This is in order to reduce H.I.V. risk.

However, there are many out there who feel the procedure is not only medically unnecessary, but that it's painful and unethical and should be not be performed on unconsenting infants.

I'm hoping smart readers may have some thoughts, arguments, statistics or observations about the whole circumcision question, because I'm spectacularly ignorant on the whole subject. Penises? What do I know about penises? This, unfortunately, leaves me bereft of an opinion on a controversial issue. Please, dear readers, help me form one, so I can get all irate when people don't agree with me!

At the moment, all I can do is round up a few random circumcision-related items. Just in case you had a strong opinion about the issue but can't remember what it was.

HIV Risk:

Reading the New York Times piece, it appears the whole HIV risk-reduction issue is pretty complicated.

In African countries, circumcision dramatically reduces risk of HIV; studies suggest that circumcised men reduced their risk of infection by half. But these studies were of heterosexual men who were at risk from female partners. In the U.S., the men who are at greatest risk are those having sex with other men. And in the U.S., most adult males (almost 80 percent) are already circumcised. Worldwide, it's much lower; more like a third.

But... circumcision has been growing less popular in the U.S. since World War II. By 1999, rates were down to about 65 percent of newborns; then rates fell further when many states started dropping medicaid coverage for the surgery. Now once source has rates down to 56%. An additional concern is that black and Hispanic males, who are at higher risk for HIV, are less likely to be circumcised than whites.

Other Medical Issues:

Two fairly mainstream sources, Mayo Clinic and Web-MD have compiled some pro's and cons to the surgery. Uncircumcised males are more likely to get urinary tract infections, sexually transmitted diseases and penile cancer (which is still very rare). However, circumcision can lead to some complications, like bleeding, infection, irritation, and damage to the opening of the urethra.


I'm guessing that even with anesthesia, it probably hurts.

Photo: Topdog1

Do any parents, medical professionals, or males with extraordinary memories (or who had adult circumcisions) have any idea how bad it is? How brutal are we talking here? That might impact my opinion quite a bit.

Psychological Issues

Seems like this is a tricky issue as well. To be "different" always sucks, and if most guys around you are circumcised I can imagine it would be unpleasant to feel like your privates were not standard issue. Hell, when you're a teenager, you can freak out if your toenails aren't exactly the right shape. But with declining rates of circumcision, what's "normal" for guys these days?

Not having been in any male locker rooms, I have no idea what the average male appendage looks like. My only information comes from the occasional X rated movie I've seen. That's where I learned that most men are "cut," not "uncut." Oh, and that's also where I learned that most guys shave off all their hair down there, and their penises are usually about ten or eleven inches long! That's, um, "normal," right?

I also hear that some guys feel very resentful that they had no choice in such a personal sort of surgery. There are apparently a growing number of "intactivists" calling for an end to circumcision. And many doctors are starting to question the ethics of the procedure, like the sensible-sounding radio guy, Dr. Dean Edell.

But then a whole lot of other dudes seem to scratch their heads and wonder what all the fuss is about.

Religious Issues

I know even less about religion than I do about penises. I have heard, however, that most Jews and Muslims tend to circumcise their sons. As a general principle, I don't buy the notion that "because my religion says I should" is a legitimate reason to do something that is abusive or violent. But then we're back to: is circumcision abuse? Or is it just a minor, incidentally painful childhood nuisance, done "for your own good," like vaccinations or piano lessons?

Aesthetic Issues

Do men, or their sexual partners, have strong feelings about which "look" they like better? I wonder if there's any kind of strong majority opinion. Even if there was, should that matter?

I know some of you readers are males, or are the mothers of sons, or are partnered with guys who have opinions about foreskins. What do you all think: is it good or evil for parents to circumcise their sons? And should public health officials be promoting it?

September 15, 2009

The Cranky Fitness Guide to Shakespeare

Um... isn't this a blog about health and fitness and whining? Shakespeare isn't covered under any of those, unless you're a student with a paper due. So what gives?

Actually, this post is Crabby's fault. It started off as a post about getting back on the exercise wagon and try try trying again, and somehow morphed into a post about Shakespeare. Clearly, Crabby is to blame.

I mean, she said to me, "Merry, write whatever you want -- no matter how weird."

Now, how could I pass up an offer like that? Could you?

The Cranky Fitness Guide to Shakespeare, or Getting going again when you're stuck on a plateau

Hey, anything you try rarely comes out perfect the first time. Look at Shakespeare. According to scholars,* his Romeo and Juliet was originally written as a baseball drama:

Romeo: But soft! Whose ball through yonder window breaks?
Juliet: It is that beast, little Timmy's the one!
Romeo: Kid, what part of 'soft' don't you understand? [Exit, pursued by Yogi Berra]

Then the story morphed into something that students had to be forced to watch.

See, if Shakespeare could start with something like that and end up with a story so well known that it's been turned into a movie with Leonardo di Caprio and a hip, cool soundtrack, and even into manga, then there's hope for you even if you seem totally stuck in something that's not working.

The trouble with the slogan 'try, try, try again' is that it sounds like you're supposed to keep doing the same damn thing over and over again until it finally works. To quote my six-year-old niece, "I don't think so."

Think and Grow Fit

Napoleon Hill wrote a best-selling book called Think and Grow Rich. Haven't read it? I'll summarize the book for you:

1. Make a plan to get rich.
2. Try the plan out.
3. See if the plan is working.
4. If the plan is not working, figure out what you're doing wrong.
5. Revise the plan to correct the mistake.
6. Repeat steps 2 through 5 until you're rolling in dough.

See? Saved you a whole lot of reading right there.

Oh all right, there was a bit more.

[Warning: Crabby, don't read this part. There's some Positive Thinking ahead.]

He wanted you to visualize yourself achieving your goal, and -- this is the clincher -- to concentrate on feeling, infusing the visualization with an emotional tone. According to Hill, the brain isn't activated by rote memorization, but by deeply felt images. You're not going to achieve unless you believe to the point that you feel the belief.

[Crabby, it's okay, you can read the rest.]

Whether Hill was right about the emotional aspect or not, the rest of his steps are so obvious that it's amazing someone put them into a book and made tons of money with them. Yes, if you're on a plateau, maybe something's not working. Analyze what you're doing and figure out if you need to change your routine or need to give your body time to work through an issue (e.g. building muscle rather than shedding pounds).

If you're stuck on a plateau, I don't think it would hurt to try visualizing and adding emotion to the image. It's what athletes do all the time. Seems to me that people who are stuck on a long-term plateau stop when they reach step #4.

They tried something, it didn't work, they stopped trying.

And lo, when you stop trying, you start gaining.

I figure if you're stuck on a plateau and nothing seems to be working, you might as well try something different. Like searching through the works of Shakespeare for inspiration or infusing your mantras with emotion.

Do you have any good tips for getting motivated and getting going again? How do you get off a plateau -- or do you? Maybe I should stop reading so much Shakespeare and start practicing patience instead. Naaaah...

*All right, one scholar. Merry's Disreputable Guide to Shakespeare, Cranky Fitness Press 2009, p. 47

Photo credit:

September 14, 2009

BPA and Other Plastics: Are they Poisoning Us?

BPA, or bisphenol A, has been in the news again recently. You remember BPA, right? It's a chemical found in polycarbonate plastics, like baby bottles, and in canned food and beverage linings.

BPA has just the sort of handy properties you'd want in something that cozies up next to your food and beverages. It's an endrocrine disrupter linked to numerous health problems, like diabetes, heart disease, and liver toxicity. Oh, and pregnant women and children are supposed to be especially careful to avoid exposure because of potential developmental problems. Good thing it's in so many baby bottles!

Most recently BPA has been in the news because the trendy eco-conscious aluminum water bottle people, Sigg, just sheepishly admitted they were using the stuff in their liners until August of 2008. Whoops!

Photo: mcj2a

So all the careful consumers who'd switched from Nalgene's polycarbonate bottles because they had BPA's and went to Sigg's aluminum bottles instead? It seems some of them are a little steamed.

(And let's not even get into the whole drinking water safety issue. Apparently, due to lax EPA enforcement, there's some Pretty Darn Nasty Stuff out there.)

But back to BPA. It was also just in the news because a recent Harvard Study found that drinking one's water out of a hard plastic polycarbonate bottle instead of a stainless steel one does indeed appear to raise BPA amounts in the body.

And it's not just BPA we're supposed to worry about, either. There are other plasticky culprits that one hears are dangerous. Like, for example, phthalates, which are plasticizers found in a variety of products including sweet, innocent-looking toys like rubber duckies.

(But, um, excuse me scientists: Which one of you clever kids decided to coin a word starting with the letters "PHTH"? I think we should ban phthalates based on spelling alone. Otherwise, people will be spitting all over each other trying to say it properly.)

Anyway, after coming across an interesting post over at Truth 2 Being Fit about plastics, I set out to investigate whether this was something I should worry about.

Wanna know what I discovered?

Photo: dpade1337

Actually, there's good news and bad news. And then worse news and even worse news and then maybe some slightly hopeful news.

Too much to digest? Well, I'll make it easy.

Since most of us tend to pick and choose the information we pay attention to based on (1) our typical emotional style, and (2) what we already believe to be true, I'll break it down by pre-existing mindset. Just pick yours, and you can skip all the rest since you won't pay attention anyway!

1. For the action-oriented pragmatists: check out Jody's post mentioned above, or the source of her safety information over at Care 2. These posts remind you that many plastic food and beverage containers come with those little recycling numbers, which can also alert you to the Evil kind of plastics in them!

In short: the numbers 1, 2, 4 and 5 are usually a better bet than the numbers 3, 6, and 7, which could contain dangerous chemicals.

Other things you can do: switch to a water bottle made with stainless steel (not aluminum, like Sigg). I've got bottles made by Klean Kanteen and Enviroproducts. They don't have (or need) plastic liners like aluminum bottles do, and you can clean them really easily, by hand or in the dishwasher.

(Note: I'm not even getting paid or free-producted to say that!)

You might also want to choose glass or cardboard or ceramics containers over cans or hard plastic containers; avoid microwaving in plastic; avoid putting hot liquids in plastic; throw away old scratched beat-to-shit tupperware type things; and just generally try to avoid a lot of exposure to plastic or can linings on or near your food.

Also, the Environmental Working Group has some resources on avoiding BPA, like a guide to infant foods and baby bottles, and a report on BPA in canned foods. Canned milk? Not so bad. Canned meat or pasta? Not so good. (Wait a minute...canned pasta? Ewww!)

2. For Those Tired of Melodramatic Health Warnings Who Don't Give a Rat's Ass about BPA or other plastics: Lucky you, there's absolutely nothing you need to know!

3. For Those Who Think it's a Conspiracy and They're All Out to Kill Us: Want further proof of your suspicions? Check out the Newsweek articles on the dangers of BPA and the creepy way the FDA has distorted the research to avoid regulating it. And just spend some time over at the EWG and discover how almost every product in modern life, from sunscreen to shampoo to produce to cell phones, is full of toxins or radioactivity or some other scary crap that's gonna kill us one day, and the government has been not been particularly interested in trying to stop it.

4. For The Only Mildly Concerned, as well as the Lazy, or the Hopeful: So yeah, basically there's all kinds of dangerous stuff out there, and remembering to follow a few of the rules for avoiding unnecessary exposure makes sense. When you can remember. Or when there's an reasonably priced, convenient way to do it.

But there's a little bit of cause for hope! We have a new administration, and there are new people starting to head up many of our government agencies, and there seems to be a growing awareness that our federal regulators have gotten far too cuddly with those whom they are supposed to be regulating. Maybe someday they might actually do something about making sure the stuff we buy is safe!

So which of the above mindsets do I have?

Probably a little bit of all of them.

I'm mostly weary that it's always such a f@cking battle to go to the grocery store and not come home with poison, just because it's more profitable for companies if they don't have to worry whether the stuff they sell us will eventually kill us or not.

I'm just a lazy blogger, not a scientist. I'd like for people with actual qualifications to do real, unbiased research and find out what's dangerous and what isn't. And if it's not safe, perhaps it shouldn't be on the shelves!

What do you folks think about the dangers (or not) of plastics, pesticides, or other potential toxins making their way into our bodies?

September 11, 2009

Earlobe Creases, Thin Thighs and Other Signs You're Doomed

Years ago I came across an article that claimed having creases in your earlobes was an indicator of a higher risk of heart disease.

"Well crap," I thought at the time. Because I kinda-sorta have a faint crease in my right earlobe. I worried about it for a couple of days, then forgot all about it.

Until last week, that is. I was surfing the web and somehow ended up over at The Straight Dope at an article about earlobe creases.

And, yep, while the research is not all in agreement there are yet more studies saying earlobe creases are a bad sign. (For example, in one of the studies the creases had a "positive predictive value" for coronary artery disease of 68 percent, and for people under 40 it was even higher, at 80 percent).

Also, according to the Straight Dope article, there are other weird heart disease "danger" signs out there too, like the color of your earwax, the smell of your breath, the length of your ring finger, and some other gross things I won't even mention.

Oh, and then some study recently came out and said that having thin thighs was a bad thing when it comes to predicting heart disease. Thin thighs, bad? Really? And at first I thought maybe they meant super-skinny folks, but then I went back to the article and measured: damn. Apparently I have thin thighs. Because if you measure "just below the point where your seat meets your legs" and the number is less than 23 1/2 inches? You may be at increased risk of premature death.


So apparently my thighs and earlobes are saying "heart attack," even if my earwax is trying to reassure me, "nah, you're good."

When you read about ominous warning signs for diseases you would rather not end up with, and discover you're at higher risk, do you worry about it?

I used to fret about these sort of articles more, but here's the thing I realized: when it comes to the risk of premature death, I'm already completely screwed.

You know how every article that mentions health risks always gets around to family history? Well, my father died of a heart attack in his early fifties, and both my mother's parents also died in their early fifties (of hemorrhagic stroke and cancer, respectively). My mother, thank goodness, is doing fine, but as I'm getting close to 50 myself, I can't help being aware that my genes are not necessarily my friends.

Is this a bad thing? Well, not necessarily! Because knowing I'm potentially high risk helps me take way better care of my health than I would if I were cheerfully oblivious. While I'm way too lazy to go the gym just to fit in a particular size jeans, I am not too lazy to go to the gym in order to be around to wear jeans at all.

But it still creeps me out a bit when I come across yet another study alerting me to brand new signs that I'm doomed. Are there are any other anxious types out there? If so, here's a reminder of some tricks you can use for blowing off bad news:

1. Wait until another study comes out that completely contradicts the obnoxious one. This may take years or it may take minutes, but eventually, there will be one that says what you want it to.

2. Distinguish yourself from the population under study. Not a lab rat? Excellent, nothing to worry about then! Are you human, but not, say, Swedish, or a nun, or a post-menopausal woman or whatever? No worries then, because they're not talking about you!

3. Eat a big serving of broccoli. It will make you immortal.

4. Develop a selective memory. Note: this gets easier and easier as you get older. Was there some research that said something about heart disease risk? Wait, do we need milk at the store or did we get some yesterday? Pizza sounds good for dinner, doesn't it? Presto! Scary study? What scary study?

5. Reframe your anxiety as a positive: Don't think about yourself as a high-risk worrywart; you are actually a highly motivated health freak! This is a good thing. Unlike most folks these days, you are staying active and eating your vegetables, not sitting on the couch waiting around for a surprise heart attack or stroke to finally motivate you to adopt a healthy lifestyle.

6. Diagnoses are no longer death sentences: Even if you do everything right, you may still end up with heart problems or cancer or diabetes or something frightening. But with modern medicine and a fighting spirit, so many of these conditions are beatable. Even if you should run into trouble, a lifetime of healthy living will give you much more strength than the average schlub to fight off scary diseases.

(And speaking of coping with a scary diagnosis: one of our dear blogfriends, Missicat, could use some kind words and support during a stressful time; you may want to stop by her blog, Missicat's World, if you haven't been by yet.)

7. Lighten up! There are better things to do than worry about things you can't control. Like, for example, you could watch a cat take a shower!

8. Take a Quiz! What does this have to do with earlobes, thin thighs, or heart attacks? Absolutely nothing, but it's Friday and it means it's time for our obligatory Juice quiz question!

This week, the theme at the Juice was "staycations." So with her usual laser-like focus, Crabby blogged about:

a. Staycations for families; staycations for singles; and staycations for couples;

b. Staycations, flatulence, and head lice;

c. Staycations, zombies, and serial killers;

d. Staycations, drag queens, and foot-fetishists;

e. Staycations, spontaneous combustion, and nuclear war.

The answer can be found here or here!

So have a great weekend! And does anyone worry about heightened disease risk or are you all pretty philosophical about it?