November 30, 2011

Smarter Science of Slim Giveaway Winner

And the winner of Jonathan Bailor's book "The Smarter Science of Slim" is...


Congrats Jannifer, and please check in by end of day Saturday Dec 3rd or the Random Number Generator will have another go at it.

And thanks everyone for stopping by!

November 28, 2011

Holiday Stress? Five Self-Defeating Habits And How to Break 'em

Gosh, Isn't This FUN???
Image: Plan 59

Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Festivus, Something Else, or Nothing At All, it's hard not to be at least somewhat affected by the holiday season.  Reminders are everywhere: flashing at us from giant billboards, piled up in displays in every retail outlet, stalking us around the web, cramming our social calendars, tempting us with treats, turning tender tots into greedy tyrants, and swiping all the good parking places.  What are we supposed to be remembering, honoring, accomplishing, celebrating, desiring, and giving this time of year? No worries, we have centuries of tradition and ubiquitous mass media to shove unrealistic and oppressive ideas down our throats help us decide!

Some folks breeze right through all this with nothing but a sense of delight and gratitude. If you're one of those Happy Holiday Campers, then hooray for you! No doubt you can better use the time you'd spend reading this post to do your usual holiday thing, like knitting rifle cozies for an entire division of troops serving overseas, or custom-baking anatomically correct gingerbread cookies for home-bound elderly amputees, or recreating life-sized Nativity Scenes using recycled toothpicks, aluminum cans and hair-clippings donated by local salons. Whatever it is you've got up your busy sleeves, you clearly have the energy and positive attitude to tackle it, so go forth and be happily productive!

But for the rest of us, I've got some "Do As I Say And Not as I Do!" holiday anti-stress tips.  Plus, as a bonus, there's another related post on the same theme by Aimee Gallo over at Vibrance.  And who is Aimee? She's a woman I recently met... at the gym.  Imagine! What are the chances that two people interested in fitness would both end up there?  As it turns out, she's got a great blog full of health, nutrition, and exercise tips. And after you come back from Aimee's place (and please do, ok, it gets ugly here when I start to sulk and pout), you may want to ask yourself: do any of the following five stress-inducing holiday habits sound a tad familiar?

1. Procrastination

Nah, I'm not talking about strategic procrastination, which is a perfectly sensible strategy for dealing with holidays. If you know that you're more efficient if you wait until the last minute, and if you're not tearing your hair out worrying about how you'll get everything done, then by all means, procrastinate up a storm.

But try to avoid the more common, yet clueless sort of procrastination: allowing the idea of all that shopping and mailing and planning and decorating and cooking to get so big in your mind that it overwhelms you into paralysis.

Do you find yourself struggling to get started on your holiday to-do list while others around you are gleefully shouting "all done!" and plopping their smug asses down on the couch to drink spiked eggnog and watch the Grinch steal Christmas for the 87th time?  Wouldn't it be cool to feel as guilt-free and chipper as a Who down in Who-ville for the holiday season, just this once for a nice change of pace?

Well, no brilliant new insights here, because two tried and true bits of anti-procrastination advice are way better than anything I could come up with.

1. Start early and break tasks down into baby steps. Don't worry so much about the big picture, just spend a few minutes here or there you might use checking Facebook updates to start a brainstorming list about gift ideas or menu ideas. Or go browse one nearby store on your lunch hour (if such a thing still exists), or spend a few minutes online with a particular recipient in mind. Make a trip to the basement or attic this evening to find the dusty boxes where the decorations hide. You get the idea. Make the steps small enough not to be scary, and congratulate yourself for everything you cross off the list earlier than you would have last year.

2. Confront perfectionism. The root of procrastination is often not laziness, but fear of making mistakes or coming up short.  Oddly enough though, anxiously waiting until the last minute to tackle holiday preparations--when lines are long, stores are sold out of popular items, flights are booked, friends have made other plans, etc--does not make Holiday Perfection easier to obtain.  Jump in, do your best, and keep in mind that believing you can create the Perfect Holiday is about as helpful as believing Santa Claus is gonna fork over for all your presents squoosh himself down your chimney.  Good luck with either approach to the holidays.

2. High Expectations

These are no problem if every year you have a heartwarming and joyous holiday. If your life is a Normal Rockwell painting, then heck, eat a big slice of apple pie, enjoy your hilarious and kind-hearted relatives, and be sure to laugh together over the zany antics of Fluffy the cat and Rex the dog, neither of whom have ever have fleas, furballs or flatulence!

But is your life a nonstop joyride?  If not, sometimes those lovely shiny expectations of what we should be doing for others, what others should be doing for us, how cheerful we should feel, how our families should behave, how clean and beautiful our homes should be, how bosses should schedule shifts over the holidays... all these “shoulds” we carry with us can lead to hair-pulling anxiety or bitter disappointment. And yet it’s so hard to let go! Even if Uncle Larry has gotten drunk off his ass six out of the last seven family gatherings and proceeded to knock over knickknacks, insult your daughter’s Asian boyfriend, and crack dirty jokes in front of the kids, we still feel we should invite him because damn it, he’s family, and double-damn it, he should know how to behave by now.

The answer to overly high expectations is both easy to figure out, and really freakin' hard to do:

Explore, challenge, and let go of some of the “shoulds” that aren’t working for you. Should you always be the one to host a holiday dinner every year because you are uniquely qualified by being born with XX instead of XY chromosomes? Do you spend weeks coming up with thoughtful and surprising gifts for unimaginative relatives who always buy you socks, hurting your feelings every year? Do you cruise into malls during the busiest shopping days of the year and feel personally outraged when lines are long and overworked sales clerks are gruff because shopping should be a pleasant experience?

Maybe this year, challenge just one of your stress-inducing expectations. Aim low, expect random sucky stuff to happen, and enjoy those precious moments when nothing's going wrong!

3.Lack of Boundaries

There are lot of extra demands during the holidays, some reasonable, some ludicrous, and some fine in theory but horrific in practice. One of the first obstacles you may run into after successfully Lowering Your Expectations of Yourself (#2) will be dealing with the rest of the world, which may not be in full agreement with your shiny new anti-stress agenda. So, do you get to choose your own priorities?  Or are you going to feel obliged to appease the people who are the most obnoxious, entitled, overly sensitive or persistent and then pay for it with your sanity?

To keep yourself from going nuts and honor your own priorities, it helps to get familiar with the word “No.” Or, more politely, “No thank you, I really can’t this year, but thanks so much for thinking of me!” To be repeated over and over over, without further explanation, as often times as necessary.

However, lots of folks think this sounds like a great idea and yet can’t for the life of them make themselves say something like that out loud to another human.

So what are the next best options for declining demands if unapologetically honest refusal isn't your style?

1. Hedge.  Don't let yourself get caught by a surprise request.  Make it a rule to never to commit to something unless you're absolutely sure you have the time and desire to do it.  Try to leave yourself an out. “Sounds great, but I'm not sure if I'm free.  I need to double-check with my husband/babysitter/boss/voodoo priestess, and then I'll get back to you!"  Then give yourself a chance to really think through if you want to or not.

2. Lie! Yeah, sure, honesty is a better bet from a karma perspective, but hell, I say if it’s white lie that saves you from chasing random strangers down the street with a cleaver in your hand from a bad case of Post Traumatic Holiday Stress syndrome, it’s a white lie worth telling. Invent conflicting social events, illness, injuries, work crises, alien abduction, obscure religious injunctions, strange voices whispering to you in the night… whatever it takes to you the space and time you need to survive the holidays in relatively good spirits.

4. Rationalization

One thing that’s awesome about holidays is that they give us permission to relax our usual sensible rules about working, eating, drinking, spending, flirting, sleeping late, exercising etc. Have some champagne! Have second helpings for dinner! Stay up until 3am! Buy that big screen tv for your family you’ve been wanting for so long!

However, there’s a big difference between a “special occasion” and an “alternate reality.”

If your holiday season extends nonstop from pre-halloween Snickers stockpiling to post New Years Day football festival leftovers, you're probably going to want to inject some common sense into the process. Either that or alter the laws of physiology, psychology, economics and physics. Even if you tell yourself you’re “celebrating,” isn’t it hard to feel truly joyous knowing you’re piling up guilt, regret, debt, organ damage, low-self esteem and excess poundage?

So whats the answer? Again, easier said than done: 

Moderation and Damage Control!  Insisting on perfection is party-poopy and pointless, but so is throwing a holiday “on/off” switch and pretending normal rules don’t apply. Remember all the stuff you normally do to exert self control? Don’t toss it all out the window.  Have a "night off," then get back to your normal routine the next day.  You'll feel better, and will enjoy the next "night off" more than if you make the holidays one continuous excuse to indulge.

Also, think about adding as many positive healthy things you can to the mix: get more exercise, vegetables, meditation, water, tea, nature, music, hot baths, laughter… and then you’ll feel slightly less like snarfing up every single evil temptation that the holiday season offers up.

5. Commercialization

We’re besieged daily during this time of year with messages equating love, happiness, excitement, loyalty, gratitude, confidence, intelligence, excitement… with the crap we buy. Seriously, we can’t think of other ways to show affection besides extravagant presents? Do we really measure self esteem by the number of karats in a diamond earring or the vintage of the wine we pour at a holiday dinner?

Many folks get so caught up in the material aspects of the holiday that they feel financially stressed, inadequate, grouchy, or martyred.

This year, is it going to be different? Let’s Occupy Santa’s Toyshop! Tell that tedious old fart to send the poor elves home early, go easy on all the Christmas list promises, and let the rest of us spend more time enjoying friends and family and less time shopping for them.

Make sure to build in a little time for yourself, too--do something restorative to take down your stress levels so that you can be present and appreciative with Loved Ones.  Sadly, you don't get nearly as much "credit" for getting together with relatives at holidays if you spend the whole time snapping at them or feeling put-upon and resentful.

Another holiday tradition to consider is the notion of  giving to those less fortunate. Go volunteer at a soup kitchen, or help round up presents for underprivileged kids, or even stop in and drop off some cookies to that annoying but lonely old lady next door who lets her poodle poop on your lawn. She may not even thank you for it, but you’ll feel better. (At least until the next time you find dog shit on your shoe).

A Few Random Stress Resources

Mayo Clinic has another round up of ways to prevent holiday stress.

Kaiser Permanente has some free guided visualization downloads and doesn’t seem to lock out nonmembers. There are also free guided mediation downloads at Fragrant Heart.

And of course I have to mention my favorite anti-stress geek/guru/role-model Rick Hanson, who has a free newsletter, as well as anti-stress books, CD's and other resources. Oh, and I can't leave out Sounds True, the company that let me take Rick's course for free--they also have a bunch of free meditation downloads.

So does anyone else get stressed during the holidays? Got any tips or horror stories?

November 22, 2011

The Smarter Science of Slim: Review & Giveaway

Curious to hear more about a book that outlines a scientific, research-based approach to weight loss, yet challenges conventional thinking with surprising studies and some downright radical advice?

Or, even better, wanna win a free copy of the book?

Why yes, patient readers, Crabby’s Crass Calvacade of Commercialism continues! This week we’ve got a review and giveaway of Jonathan Bailor’s soon to be released book: “The Smarter Science of Slim.

And, depending on reader enthusiasm (as measured by total number of comments), the giveaway MAY include an additional hard copy for which Canadian and/or Eurpean readers will be eligible.

Seriously, Do We Need Another Freakin’ Diet Book?

Well, maybe not, but I thought this one looked interesting. So many weight loss books either rehash the hard truths you already know, or are written by self-proclaimed experts who come up with amazing new weight loss discoveries by simply making shit up. Whether the book then hits the best-seller lists depends mostly on which celebrity has written it or can be bribed into endorsing it.

Sadly, the Breatharians are still in dire need of a celebrity.
Hmm...Gwyneth? You Busy?

So while I tend to turn down most diet book review pitches, this one caught my eye. Jonathan managed to acquire a bunch of impressive and enthusiastic pre-publication blurbs by lots of sciencey bigwigs, including John Ratey. (And who is John Ratey? Well, he’s a researcher whose name still lures innocent googlers to an ancient Cranky Fitness post on exercise, BDNF, and growing new brain cells, so I brightened up considerably when I recognized his name). Anyway, I liked the fact that a whole slew of academic types endorsed the research in this book.

So What’s Radical About this Weight Loss Book?

Well, maybe “radical” is putting it a bit strongly. It’s certainly not the first book to suggest that the weight loss picture is more complicated that calories in, calories out. We’ve gotten pretty used to the idea that some exercises are more efficient than others, and some foods are “good” or “bad” for weight loss in ways independent of calories.

But I don’t think I’d ever seen a respectably researched book proclaim that there is so little relationship between calories consumed, hours of exercise accumulated, and weight loss.

In short, The Smarter Science of Slim says: If you want to lose weight, eating less won’t help. Exercising more won’t help either. In fact, to lose weight for the long term, you need to eat more and exercise less. If you stick with this program, Bailor claims you can change the way your hormones work, rejigger your weight "set point" to a lower number, eat a ton of food, exercise for ten minutes a week, and look like a fitness model.

The catch? Well, you gotta eat the right kind of food and do the right kind of exercise. And, hint: Twinkies, Doritos, and long slow walks in the park aren't on the list.

Studies That Got Me Thinking.

While I know that the kind of food and exercise one gets are important, I'm pretty old-school in how I approach my own weight management. In fact, I recently went back to counting calories, which is downright quaint in fitness blogging circles. So to read study after study in this book about the absolute failure of the "calories in, calories out" model to achieve long term results was a bit sobering. It only works about 5% of the time.

In fact, as many hard-working dieters have discovered, weight loss achieved by calorie restriction with low-quality food can totally backfire, leading to rapid regain and a higher set-point weight that makes weight loss even harder the next time.

And, when overweight people restrict their calories, their bodies don't behave the way thin people's do. The book cites a study in which thin people burned off nearly 50% more body fat than heavy people when put on the same zero calorie diet. And sheesh, how unfair is that, when you think about it? Heavy people, who had extra fat to burn, had become unable to burn fat the way slim people do.

This and a bunch of other studies were pretty convincing that something funky is going on with obesity, calorie intake, and weight management that has nothing to do with calories in, calories out. There is a lot of research discussed in the book about hormones, changing your set point, how our bodies deal differently with "high quality" vs "low quality" foods, and how different kinds of exercise impact the body differently. I won't go into it all here because I'm way too lazy Bailor explains it all much more clearly, but I have to say that it made me think very differently about what it takes to lose weight and keep it off effectively.

So What's the "Smart" Way to Eat in Order to Get Slim?

Simple! Eat only "High Quality" Foods. Bailor has an acronym (which you may find either cute or annoying) to describe them: SANE, which stands for Satiety, Aggressiveness, Nutrition, and Efficiency. These have to do with how full foods make you feel, their glycemic index and load, what sort of nutrients they contain, and how easily they are stored as fat in your body. (And since you actually want InEfficient foods that don't get stored as fat, the acronym should probably be SANI, but gotta admit that's not terribly catchy).

The Bottom line of Smart Eating:

Eat as many non-starchy vegetables as you possibly can, especially deeply colored and leafy vegetables. But stay the hell away from corn and white potatoes, and limit other starchy vegetables like turnips, yams, etc. You also want to eat lean protein at least five times a day, plenty of fruit (particularly berries and citrus), and plenty of nuts and seeds.

You can also eat, but go easy on, beans and dairy products.

What do you steer clear of? Oil, whole and refined grains, any form of starch, and all sweets.

And What is "Smart" Exercise?

Rather than piling up tens of thousands of steps a day on your pedometer, running marathons, swimming lap after lap, or taking back to back cardio kickboxing classes at the gym, Bailor says the smart thing to do is ditch all that. You can change your body's hormones and torch off fat in an extremely short amount of time by doing high intensity interval training, and deep muscle resistance exercises using extremely slow, heavy, eccentric movements. (I.e., slowly lowering a weight much heavier than you could lift).

Now here's where the whole notion of Smart Exercise starts to sound, well, a bit incredible: You start with two 10 minute workouts a week. Then, when you get better at it, you can cut back to one 10 minute workout a week. That's all you need to do, according to Bailor.

Again, there is a lot more in the book about pragmatics of the diet and exercise, and lots of research and explanations on how and why this is all supposed to work. Let's just say it's a relatively simple, but not necessarily easy, plan to follow.

What I Liked About The Smarter Science of Slim

As I said before, I liked the way there were actual studies to back up the recommendations. Confession: white lab coats and multiple regression are big Cranky Fitness turn-ons.

And the diet advice seems consistent with my own experience: I'm already mostly eating this way, and it seems to work! (Though I'm only about 90% compliant, but hell, that's as good as I ever intend to be on any diet. At least not until I find one that puts cupcakes and kettlecorn on the "eat more" list.) It's weird, because I approached my eating plan from a totally different direction: the unfashionable, completely discredited "calories in, calories out" model. But when I discovered far too many calories were incoming relative to outgoing, and I started looking for ways to optimize, I ended up with a plan strikingly similar to the "SANE" model. I eat more protein than before, a ton of vegetables, I've started going easier on beloved whole grains and starches, and I'm a big fan of weird but convenient ingredients like whey protein, egg whites, canned salmon, and big-ass packages of frozen blueberries. The sweeteners I use somewhat guiltily are Splenda and Stevia, which the book says are OK in moderation. I've found I can eat a big-ass portions with this plan, which is awesome, because portion control is not my strong suit. So personally, I had to like a book that confirmed my own trial-and-error experimentation.

Another good thing about the book is that Bailor doesn't insist on perfection. He's got a chart saying how to modify the plan depending on your goals. What does it look like to eat like a person who is Obese? Overweight? Typical? Hot? A Fitness Model? There are different targets for different levels of obsession commitment.

It's also nice to see an exercise plan with specific how-to's for HIIT and deep muscle training workouts--there are both gym and home versions.

What I Didn’t Like So Much

The "easier said than done" factor. As many of have discovered, there is a ton of sensible diet and exercise advice out there... and very few people actually follow any of it for more than a few weeks. The fact that this may turn out to be a more optimal weight loss plan than most isn't gonna be much help someone who chooses to stop at Dairy Queen rather than face one more whey protein smoothie or spinach salad. Bailor's premise is that you can "fill up" on protein and fiber to the point where you're "too full" for sweets and starches. Well, sorry Jonathan, but welcome to Planet Crabby, where the laws of physiology and psychology dictate that there is no such thing as "too full" for dessert!

On the other hand, all the motivational tips and tricks that are lacking in this book are available a million other places. (Or hell, pick up this book for guidance, then hire yourself a newly minted, not-too-expensive, shamelessly self-promoting wellness coach to keep yourself on track!)

Also, I had some ambivalence about the exercise claims, but couldn't manage to execute the recommendations well enough to test them properly.  You are supposed to be doing these exercises so f#@cking intensely that it's impossible to do anything other than moan for quite a few days afterwards.  I swore I tried really hard, but could still jump on the elliptical or go to spinning class within a day or two, so was clearly doing it wrong.  And yet my "not quite intense enough" version was still mighty unpleasant, if mercifully brief.   I am definitely a believer in both HIIT (or, well, at least some similar SHIIT) and heavy lifting, but I'm not sure I can (or want to) ditch my other cardio activities.  But then I'm a 51 year old post-menopausal slacker. You kick-ass go-getter types may have better luck reaching the required intensity necessary to make the Astounding Amazing Miraculous Fat-Blasting happen with just 10 minutes a week.

Overall?  Even if one didn't want to jump totally on the "Smart," bandwagon, it's a fascinating and well-researched book with plenty of thought-provoking ideas and pragmatic tips for health, weight loss and fitness. You can checkout the The Smarter Science of Slim on Amazon and it even has it's own facebook page.

And now finally... on to the Giveaway!

So, here's the deal. Enter by leaving a comment below by Tuesday November 29th, and the Random Number Generator will pick a winner on Wednesday November 30th. If there are fewer than 50 comments, we have one copy of The Smarter Science of Slim to give away, and it can only be mailed to a U.S. address. However, if we can get more than 50 comments, a second copy will magically appear, which can go outside the U.S. because I will be mailing it! Note: winner(s) will need to check in by Monday Dec or I'll redraw.)

And in case I don't get around to posting again this week, have a Happy Thanksgiving or just a Happy Thursday!

November 18, 2011

Giveaway Winners, ManCandy and An Awesome New Health Hazard

Photo: swiped from Kelly Olexa's Blog

So, did you win Jillian Michael's BodyMedia Fit Armband?

Or were you perhaps one of 5 winners of the Magically Nutritious Mushroom Powder with Vitamin D? (And sorry, magic mushroom googlers, these mushrooms do not feature that particular kind of magic.

And what newly diagnosed medical condition was I entirely delighted to learn about? Find out more in this edition of Lazy Links, now with bonus gratuitous pictures of chiseled hotbodies!

First up:

Giveaway Winners!

So, the Random Number Generator had a busy morning and was last seen gasping with exhaustion and headed for a long nap.  But before retiring, the RNG picked the following five winners of the Dole Mushroom Powder:

Big Girl Bombshell
Kat at Balance and Spice

And who did the RNG pick for the Bodymedia Fit armband and 6 month Activity Manager subscription?

That would be: S.P. Avenger!  

Important Note to Winners: You just have until Wednesday November 23rd to claim the prize, or we'll have another drawing!  Email me at Crabby Mcslacker at gmail dot com (some assembly required) with your name and mailing address.

'Round The Web:

Fun new medical diagnosis: Don't you love it when media outlets invent new medical disorders? Well, the new maladay of the month is... Sleep texting!  Can't you picture the possibilities?

Sadly, though, the sleep texting alarmists are sorely in need of better case studies.  So far, they just seem to be talking about a few people dozing off and sending gibberish texts. C'mon folks, we can do better!  This could be even more hilarious than Sleep Eating, another sad disorder in which sleeping people arise, prepare, and eat things like cigarette sandwiches or cereal bowls full of dog kibble.  Sleep texting has GOT to have some funny anecdotes, don't you think? Has anyone heard of any? Fortunately, with my fat thumbs I can't text a coherent sentence even when awake, so I'm not too worried. But for you youngsters prone to late night texting, the docs advise you to keep your phone well out of reach.

Diet tip: Is it possible to enjoy a satisfying spaghetti dinner for 100 calories? I didn't try the recipe, but it sounds promising, as well as quick & easy.

Quinoa!  I'm a fan, but had forgotten why it's so good for you.  Fortunately Jody at Truth2BeingFit has the scoop, along with an awesome looking recipe.

Poisoned Peanut Butter: You probably already caught this, but I'll repeat the alert--especially since Cranky Fitness readers seem statistically more likely than average consumers to purchase natural peanut butters.  So if you've got any in your cupboard, do check in about the Smuckers Chunky Natural Peanut Butter recall. (New! Now with salmonella!)

Want a tranquil "Buddha Brain" in a pocket-sized user's manual? Rick Hanson has a new book out called Just One Thing. Since I am a big fan of the guy, you will probably hear more about it in the upcoming Cranky Fitness Holiday Gift Guide, which, I'm sincerely hoping, will come out before the holidays and not sometime in March.

Fitness inspiration Plus ManCandy!

There are lots of other reasons to visit, but one of my favorites is that she finds the best photos! I'm all for the objectification of male bodies, just on general principle to even things out a bit.  But if you're looking for inspiring pictures of strong women, she's a great go-to source for those too.

I don't know where she get's em all, but I appreciate a reminder that there are payoffs for hauling our asses out of bed and hitting the gym.

Strong women are hot!

Random Twitter Stuff:

And sorry, I didn't get a chance to double-check the links, so please let me know if any are broken!

One of those supplements I forgot why I was taking, Co-Q10, helps exercise-related inflammation:

"Expert" advice says don't tell people if you're trying to lose weight. Hmm, 8 billion weight loss bloggers all dead wrong?

High IQ linked to GREATER rate of illegal drug use. Also surprising (to me): only 1 in 6 women have tried pot by 30.

Grossest headline of the month? It's a tie! "Green or yellow phlegm likely to be bacterial",  And "Sex with animals may be tied to risk of penile cancer" from the LA Times.

Good news for light to moderate boozers (less than 3 drinks/day). Study says no increased cancer risk.

Study questions low sodium diets, due to rise in cholesterol: But wait--put down that shaker: lots of caveats.

Yikes, creepy! 20% of people thought to be in vegetative state may actually be conscious:

Good news now that calcium's gotten all controversial: aerobic exercise + omega 3 boosts bone health post-menopause.

More fruit, less meat means smaller waist size: But runners get more leeway.

So that's all we got this week!  Any thoughts, complaints, funny jokes, evil conspiracies, weekend plans?  At Cranky Fitness, it's all good!

November 14, 2011

Vitamin D-packed Mushroom Powder and other Shocking Discoveries (Plus Giveaway!)

A couple weeks ago I was lucky enough to attend the "2011 Dole Healthy Lifestyle Summit" at the Four Seasons Westlake Village, sponsored by the Dole Nutrition Institute and the California Health and Longevity Institute. I had such a great time and came back with so much amazing information that  I immediately cranked out 7 Facebook status updates, 5 blog posts, and 183 tweets I totally freaked out and avoided writing anything at all.  But since I'm sincerely hoping to get invited to blogger events in the future, I thought it might be time to cough up something in the way of a Dole recap.

Now when I first got invited to the event, I swear it was called the "Dole Health and Happiness Summit." But then somehow the name changed! I wonder if the organizers saw me cutting a ginormous swath through the buffet table, swilling up all their pinot noir, cavorting sans swimsuit in the hot tub, making burdensome special requests of hotel staff, giggling inappropriately with the other attendees, and swiping extra free samples of everything in sight? I'm guessing a frantic inter-office email went out: "Change the summit name, ASAP! Crabby McSlacker is obviously WAY too into 'Happiness' and has totally forgotten about 'Health!' Who the heck invited her, anyway?"

Anyway, despite all the fun, I did actually learn a lot of interesting stuff about nutrition and exercise while I was there. Plus, seeing as we're just kicking off Crabby's Crass Cavalcade of Commercialism the wholesome holiday entertaining and shopping season, I thought a healthy food-related giveaway might be in order.

So wanna find out what the deal is with the amazing mushroom powder, enter the giveaway, and learn about some other things I picked up at the conference? (None of which were communicable, btw, so you can put away the antibiotics.)

Here's what we got:

Mushroom Powder: A Natural, Vegan, Kick-Ass Source of Vitamin D.

So what's the deal with the Vitamin D Mushroom Powder?

Well, there's been a lot of press over the years about how important Vitamin D is for health, yet deficiencies are widespread--even among folks who think they're getting plenty. (And say, have you been tested yet?)  Unfortunate health ramifications can include osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, cancer, arthritis, MS, and diabetes.

Many folks who don't want to risk skin cancer with lots of sun exposure try hard to get enough Vitamin D through either their diets or by taking supplements. But if you're vegan or vegetarian, that gets tricky. Most natural and supplemental sources of D come from animals.  The Dole folks also try to scare even non-vegetarians away from conventional supplements with the "ick" factor: they're generally derived from "wool grease, yeast or fish livers."

Strangely enough, mushrooms, like people, are able to synthesize Vitamin D from light. The Dole folks tinkered around for a while, and came up with a way of flashing light on the shroooms, packing 'em full of boatloads of natural Vitamin D, and grinding them into a powder. Voila! A natural, non-animal source of Vitamin D.

 Mushrooms Seeing the Light

But how does the powder taste? Just fine, thanks! We had lots of food during the conference with the powder in it, and it was undetectable. However, if you add a whole bunch to something to make it detectable on purpose, it can either add a little savory mushroom flavor to dishes that could use it, or it has a chocolate-like flavor when combined with sweet ingredients.  Since the conference, I've put tons of the stuff in smoothies, soup, scrambled eggs, and coffee and it hasn't grossed me out once!

There are also a whole ton of other health benefits from mushrooms, but I got the sense that from a  marketing perspective, consumers prefer a simpler message. So Vitamin D it is.  Sadly though, while the plucky Dole Nutrition Institute research folks are enthusiastic about the product, it doesn't seem to have the usual behemoth Dole Brand backing.  This means outreach is charmingly grass roots.  They're talking to bloggers and having recipe contests! If you don't win a bottle in our giveaway, you can go to the Dole Depot to order, because the stuff isn't in stores.  Poor mushroom powder! It's so good for you, and could be a staple in vegan or vegetarian households, yet apparently it's not sexy enough for grocery stores.  I have to confess, I'm rooting for it.

What else did I learn at the summit?

Other Health and Fitness Bloggers are Way Better At Everything Than Crabby, But That's OK!


The conference was a bit humbling, but the awesome bloggers who attended were so warm and approachable that I mostly managed to forget how much they all seemed to outclass me in terms of blogging, tweeting, networking, taking photos, demonstrating cooking skills, building marketing empires, and running marathons.  (Seriously, two attendees ran marathons right after the conference was over.) 

For much better coverage of the conference and great pictures, check out several great posts by Meghann at Meals and Miles, starting with The Test Kitchen, Monica's awesome posts at Run Eat Repeat including the Dole Healthy Lifestyle Summit, and two excellent reports by Kristin at Iowa Girl Eats.

Kristin (Iowa Girl) and Crabby,
Eating For the Thousandth Time That Day

Tina also has several great posts about the summit at Carrots and Cake, and just as I was about to post, I found Jenn and Tish showed up at Fit Bottom Girls with another fab recap!

 Knowing Jen & Tish would be there I even went to yoga...!

Perhaps the most fascinating (to me at least) coverage of the summit was by Lorrie from The Token Fat Girl, summing up what it's like to feel insecure and out of place at these sorts of things. I could relate! But she seemed so charming and friendly I had no idea she felt that way at the time.

Not All Big Food Companies Are Out to Poison Consumers, Ravage the Environment and Create a Nation of Junk Food Addicts!

So after a spending a couple of days in luxurious accommodations, enjoying personal wellness consultations, spa services, delicious cuisine, fine wine, and the company of a surprising number of PR and Dole folks, all of whom seemed to be incredibly helpful, brainy, inquisitive, funny, warm, and just generally awesome...the question arises: can one really be objective about the company hosting such an enjoyable event?

Probably not! And yet there seemed to be genuine evidence all around, both in terms of Dole products and company values, that made me question how easily I tend to mindlessly stereotype any large, well-known food purveyor. I tend to think if it's Big and Successful, it's must be doing something nasty to get that way.

Yet from the subsidized company cafeteria which serves incredibly healthy food, to the fitness centers employees use, to the decision to use BPA-free plastics in their packaging, to the reduction of added sugars whenever possible... it really does seem like the Dole folks are trying to be positive force for health.

They specialize in fruits and vegetables, two things I am heartily in favor of.  Some of it, true, is packaged and processed. Would I personally buy their yogurt-covered Real Fruit Bites myself? Eh, probably not; they didn't rock my socks off, and I'm a health blogger who lives a couple blocks from Whole Foods with plenty of healthy snack and dessert options. But I also tried their Apple/Pear Fruit Crisp with a bit of nonfat vanilla yogurt on top, and wow, an excellent alternative to pie with a fraction of the calories, fat, and sugar.  I'd buy that with my own money!

I'm guessing that Dole's packaged products would particularly handy for busy families.  If you're a harried parent of 4 kids with a full time job living in an under-served community looking for a candy substitute with a long shelf life that will actually get eaten and not thrown in the trash? They've got what you're looking for. Their prepared salad kits win health awards; they were highlighting a gizmo that turn bananas into an ice-cream like dessert without adding fat or sugar...  they've got innovative packaging ideas that mean frozen blueberries that thaw into the consistency of fresh, bananas you buy by the bunch but that will ripen over time.  Not everyone has the time or funds to go to fancy specialty food stores and prepare time consuming complicated healthy meals from scratch.

Or maybe that's the 50 minute Swedish massage talking.  Who knows!

Farro, Ripe Bananas, Muscle Zappers, Smoothies in a Bowl, and other Miscellaneous Things I Happen to Remember

Besides the official presentations, there were also lots of opportunities to compare notes with other nutball health fanatics healthy living enthusiasts. There were some great tips from bloggers as well as the brainy folks at the Dole Nutrition Institute (who have a very informative nutrition website, btw). Had I taken better notes, I would have a lot more, but hell, this post is getting long anyway.

  • Farro was a whole grain I'd been meaning to check out because it's really good for you; they served it at one of our meals and it was delicious!
  • Ripe bananas actually contain as much resistant starch as greenish ones. (If you've been following the whole resistant starch thing that the Prevention Magazine folks have been pushing then hooray! If not, then never mind.)
  • If you pour your big ol' green smoothie in a bowl and eat it with a spoon, it takes longer and you feel more like you've had a "real" meal.
  • There's a contraption you can wear that zaps your muscles and makes them contract involuntarily; I got to try it and it was trippy! If I ever test one out for real, I'll be sure to let you know.
  • Future generations may not be as hopelessly screwed-over as one would expect by the proliferation of junk food! There is a program called Teaching Gardens bringing gardening, cooking classes, and an appreciation of whole foods to schools nationwide.

Oh, and if I Ever Become a Powerful CEO of a Multinational Corporation I'm Going Straight to CHLI for an Executive Physical and Then I'm Going to Have a Massage and Perhaps Become Immortal

We got a tour of the California Health and Longevity Institute, and wow, who came up wit the incredible idea to combine medical services, nutrition, fitness and wellness services, cooking classes, weight loss packages, and then put it all in a freakin' Four Seasons Spa??? You can get physicals, serious medical treatment, cosmetic and dental work, and tweak your lifestyle with all kinds of consultants and coaches. Never before have I toured a medical suite and found myself not wanting to leave! Well, not unless heavy sedation with euphoria-inducing controlled substances was involved.  And hey, for reality tv show buffs, apparently Extreme MakeOver Weightloss Edition is filmed there. I got a consultation with exercise specialist Laurie Streff, who was awesome. (And yes, Laurie, I'm still doing my intervals, I swear!)

And Now, Finally, To The Giveaway!

Five count 'em, five, people can win a container of Portobello Mushroom Powder by leaving a comment indicating that you'd like some by Thursday November 17th. The Random Number Generator will pick the winners among those interested.  Kind enough to leave a comment, but don't really want a bottle? Well, in order to keep from hurting the mushroom powder's feelings, there's no reason to go out of your way to say so.  I'll just draw from comments that mention wanting to try it. (And hey, maybe a stocking stuffer for the vegetarian in your life?)

Sadly, due to food shipping issues, this one is U.S. only. (But remember, we still have Jillian's  BodyMedia Fit Armband giveaway going, also until Thursday night the 17th, and anyone can enter that one). Both drawings will happen Friday the 18th, so be sure to check back to claim your prize.

Wow, the post lasted almost longer than the conference!  Want some mushroom powder, or have any thoughts about corporate-sponsored get always, packaged food, fruits and vegetables, or anything else?

November 10, 2011

Jillian Michael's BodyMedia Fit Armband Review--Now Updated!

Remember when Jillian Michaels went to the gym with me, and I got all excited and announced that there'd be an upcoming review and giveaway?

Well it's below, and it's now been updated!  The giveaway is over, sorry.  And speaking from the future (July of 2012) I can add, at the bottom, some follow-up information.

Anyway, technically this is not a review of Jillian Michaels herself.  But as I explained before, I'm easily confused by celebrity endorsements! Jillian has lent her name and image to the BodyMedia Fit Armband, which is a high-tech activity monitor.

At least you don't have to make up the guest bedroom for this Jillian.

So if the BodyMedia Fit armband and Jillian want to merge identities for marketing purposes, then I'm happy to go along. I will continue to treat them in my own mind as a single entity, because that's what a good consumer does.

So what is it like to exercise, go to work, eat meals, watch tv, hang out, have a beer, and go to bed with Jillian Michaels?

November 07, 2011

An Unusually Frank Blog Update

Image: Ace Covers

This is one of those mea culpa posts in which a blogger wastes a whole post explaining what's going on with her blog and making hopeful pronouncements about the future, rather than just sitting her ass down and fixing things by writing a bunch of informative, witty blog posts on crucial and fascinating topics. But heck, this is Crabby McSlacker of Cranky Fitness! So seriously, how likely is the "hunker down" option?

But if you can put up with a paragraph or two of rationalizations and lame excuses, I do have some announcements about stuff coming up on the blog, which may either thrill or horrify you, depending. One thing I am finally learning after many fine decades on this planet is to stop taking myself so f#@cking seriously. So I figure if worst case y'all get fed up and go find a better health blog over the next few weeks, I am fairly well convinced the world will keep spinning on its axis.

So what's the deal with blogging lameness and what's coming up over the next few weeks?

Crabby Encounters Life Transitions and Gets Her Ass Kicked... But Only Temporarily!

Regular Cranky Fitness readers (a rare, intelligent, gentle, and patient breed) may have noticed that I haven't been keeping up too well with blogging, tweeting, or Facebook lately. Why? Well, it's a combination of (1) struggling to get re-settled on the west coast which is taking more time than I thought; (2) attending an awesome 3 day blog conference at Dole, where I met a bunch of great folks, learned about mighty Mushroom Powder and a whole lot of other things (a report on which is upcoming); (3) the surprising and gratifying growth of my Life Coaching practice, in which my first rule is Clients Come Before Blogging; and (4) the sudden and relentless onslaught of menopause-related insomnia, which has me tottering around in a walking coma most of every day. And yep, you can bet your britches there is an insomnia research post in the pipeline, which may well be written at 3 a.m. some night since I've apparently got nothing better to do then.

(Hmm, note to self: Is confessing to be a badly-organized, sleep-deprived excuse-maker perhaps not the best life and wellness coaching marketing technique? Must ponder.)

But it's time for Part II of the Blogging about Blogging instead of Blogging About Health and Fitness Post:

Tis the Season for... Free Stuff!!

I was originally going to title the whole post: "Crabby's Crass Cavalcade of Commercialism!" because I wanted to announce that there will be a whole slew of upcoming review/giveaway posts.   But then I thought hmm... perhaps not the most sponsor-friendly way of proceeding?

Basically, the deal is that with the upcoming holiday season, I've been getting a lot of product review pitches. "Hey Crabby," the friendly PR folks will write, "We've got a nifty new fitness gadget/pair of shoes/natural supplement/self-help book/spa vacation blog conference you might be interested in, wanna give it a go?"  And being insanely greedy curious, my natural response has been:  "Free Stuff? Hell yeah--here's my address, send it right over!"

And you know how you go to Costco and they have a bunch of free sample tables going, and even if you already ate lunch and wouldn't normally keep sampling more and more and more and more things, somehow the notion of "FREE" does this sneaky zombie trick and eats up your normally rational brain cells and replaces them with useless protoplasm and so you keep saying "yes please! yes please! yes please!" to every hairnetted purveyor of snack items because hey, it's FREE!! and then all of a sudden after the 17th sample you remember there may be consequences?

Well, that's kinda what happened.  I kept saying "yes please!" to PR people, things took a while to get to me and for me to assess them, and now I owe a boatload of giveaways and reviews before the Christmas buying season is over.

But I'm also going to try to squeeze in actual health and fitness information wherever relevant, and you'll get a chance to win stuff whenever I was able to extort find giveaway opportunities. (Which is almost every time I deal with a PR person, and as you can imagine, they love me for that). And of course there'll be the usual whining, swearing, odd bits of TMI, gratuitious unrelated pictures, pointless digressions, etc.

So in some ways this is an apology, but on the other hand, there are actually a bunch of nifty-sounding products coming up which you may be able to win.

Anyone else ever get in trouble with "Free Stuff?"  Have trouble sleeping?  Have complaints about health blogs that seem to be all about products?  Or just wanna say hi?  And hey, thanks for your patience!

November 01, 2011

Winter Squash: Where the Hell Have You Been All My Life?

Curious about the health benefits of butternut, acorn, hubbard, turban, kabocha, and other winter squashes? Need some recipes?

And yes, I believe I am the last health and fitness blogger on the planet to discover that the big piles of gourdy-looking objects on display this time of year at the grocery store are actually edible food items. I thought they were table decorations!

As it turns out, winter squashes are tasty. They are not nearly as caloric as you might think, given the gloriously sweet & starchy nature of them. Though some are scary-looking, they can actually be easy to prepare if you're lazy busy, and they have tons of sneaky health benefits. How did I manage to miss them all these years?

So if you haven't already read a million other posts about sweet winter squashes, or if the posts you read had too much actual information in them and not enough swearing or gratuitous cat pictures (always a problem in nutrition posts, don't you think?) then it looks you've come to the right place!

Photo: aturkus

Winter Squashes and Nutrition:

The "World's Healthiest Foods" website has the full scoop on the nutritional benefits of winter squashes, so I'll steal their content pass along some of their info.

For example, winter squash has:

  • Craploads of alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin, and beta-cryptoxanthin.
  • Seeds that you can lightly roast (160-170°F for 15-20 minutes) that have lots of linoleic and oleic acid.
  • Particularly virtuous kinds of starch--pectins--that are "specially structured polysaccharides that in winter squash often include special chains of D-galacturonic acid called homogalacturonan."  Um, yeah. Anyway, these are good because they have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-diabetic and insulin-regulating properties.  And hooray for all that!

But WHF warns you to make sure you get 'em organic, as they are superstars at sucking up nasty soil contaminants, like PAHs.

Squash: A Better Calorie Bargain?

Starches have gotten a lot of bad press nutritionally (unless you're looking at the whole resistant starch issue; a topic for another time).  But check out the nutritional differences when Fitsugar compares squash vs sweet potatoes, and The Washington Post compares kabocha squash and regular potatoes. If you're trying to save a few more calories for inexcusably big slices of cake and big honking cheeseburgers extra portions of healthy fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins, then squash may make an excellent potato substitute.

Squash Recipes

Some of these big-ass squash look so intimidating it's hard to think what you might be able to do with them.

But if you'd rather eat them than disguise them, there are lots of ideas out there!

What Crabby Did

I peeled a butternut squash (pain in the ass, by the way), cut it up, & brushed lightly with olive oil. Baked for over an hour at 350 until the pieces were soft, then mashed them with some chicken broth and nutmeg. Easy-peasey, and tasted good!

Photo:  BourgeoisBee

OK, so that wasn't exactly helpful.  Sorry, frowny cat. But I believe that's a summery squash you're dealing with there anyway.  Hmm, is there anyone else out there who has some ideas for winter squash?

Pathetic Bid for Attention From Reaching Out to New Friends at... the Dole Health Summit!

So if you google squash recipes, especially if you have a particular kind in mind, it's not like there's any shortage.  But in honor of the upcoming Dole "Health and Happiness Summit," (which I'm sure you'll be hearing about later, or I'll never get invited to another blogging conference again),  I thought I'd check out the blogs of some of those folks I'll be meeting. Do any of them have any winter squash recipes?  As it turns out, many of 'em do! However, apologies to @APSandy, who is an awesome twitter person to follow but whose blog I couldn't find, and Tish from Luv and Kiwi who has an excellent blog but saw me coming and hid all her winter squash recipes where I couldn't find them and steal them.

So in no particular order:

Check out the fabulous FBG's  Acorn Squash Dip with Roasted Pumpkin Seeds!

Over at Meals and Miles, Meghann gussies up some hubbard squash by adding hummus, cheese, apples, and other tasty ingredients.

At Bookieboo's ginormous and helpful site, there's a tasty looking recipe for Stuffed Acorn Squash with Quinoa that looks really, really tasty.

Iowa Girl Eats has a recipe and nearly-pornographic pictures of a Butternut Squash Lasagna. Visit if you dare.

Tina at Carrots and Cake tried out Hungry Girl's Cheesy Butternut Bake, adding amusing commentary and a picture of a seriously adorable dog.

Over at The Token Fat Girl, yet another great blog, you can find a quick recipe for Recipe for butternut squash fries. And doesn't the world need more non-guilt inducing fries?

And finally, at Run Eat Repeat, there's a super-easy recipe for pumpkin creme which makes a creme to put on waffles. (Is pumpkin a winter squash? What the hell, close enough.  But dangit Monica, with your tasty breakfast pictures.... suddenly I'm in dire need of a waffle!)

BTW, I've been offline much more than I thought this week, what with our cross-country move and the odious unpacking, storing, schlepping, errands and chores exciting organizational challenges and functional fitness opportunities that's brought.  And I realize I may be a bit distracted by the Dole thing as it's my first blog event ever. (Can't imagine why "Crabby McSlacker" wouldn't be a welcome guest at any marketing event!)   So my apologies for unanswered emails, unvisited favorite blogs etc.  Will catch up eventually, I promise!

So, um squash. Or any new food item you recently discovered, or thoughts about conferences or moving or anything on your mind today? And if you've got favorite recipes, please throw in a link!