As a tribute to the world-changing man Seth Roberts I am re-blogging his final column, submitted to the website BetaBeat.com just before he unexpectedly died while hiking last weekend. I met him over a year ago and he was shy yet child-like in his curiosity and wonder. Seth is already missed but has helped so many people take charge of their own health by tenacious self-experimentation and the philosophy that in our own “experiments of one” we can find something close to a happy and healthy life. Seth is NOT in a better place. He should be here, still doing his beloved work. -Andrea
Oh, yes, it happened. The “limited run” legendary whipping-boy sandwich from KFC called the Double Down is back after a multi-year hiatus, to the chagrin and delight of the Internets.
When first unleashed in 2010 the Double Down was the scorn of nutritionists and the bane of foodies alike – a strange alliance given that the two camps are often at odds over concepts they believe cannot exist together like “health” and “deliciousness”. The vitriol from both was rather frothy.
But perhaps in the context of our “eat less evil foods” culture, popularized by sites like Eat This, Not That and YumSugar, I can look at the Double Down within my own paradigm – that of valuing foods that are less processed as the better choice. (Note, my book proposal – no joke – to Rodale for “Eat This, Not That: Paleo” is yet unanswered….)
What does the Double Down have going for it? Let’s take a look:
- Low-carb option for those on the Atkins or other ketogenic diet (though not rock-bottom due to likely seasonings in the meat, for a grand total of 11 carbs vs. 35 carbs in a regular KFC fried chicken sandwich)
- Made from three sort-of straightfoward ingredients (if you get the grilled chicken option instead of fried and skip the sauce): chicken, cheese, bacon. I’m pretty sure I don’t have to tell you what kinds of awful go into making sandwich buns at fast food joints (like dough conditioners also used in yoga mats).
- It’s a chicken cordon bleu for $5.49. Yay.
Um, that’s about it.
How about the Double Down-sides? I can come up with a few:
- The cheese. Likely a frankenish creation that has mere molecules of dairy as an ingredient in order for it to use the word “cheese” in its description. Also source of part of the low-carber’s unwanted carbohydrate grams.
- The chicken. I won’t even go into the horrors of life as a battery chicken; here I will only talk about nutrition. There ain’t much that resembles what a real chicken should taste like after you’ve raised the birds on soy and antibiotics, injected the meat with saline, and then slathered it in a crusty spice layer (which includes wheat, according to KFC’s website). I’ll stop there.
- It’s a chicken cordon bleu for $5.49. Ick.
Interestingly, even with a bit of nutrition education, I (just like the rare blogger back in 2010 who said Double Downs were not the most evil thing they could imagine) would put the Double Down far ahead of many, many things recommended by the likes of Eat This, Not That and their ilk. I do give some kudos to that series’ desire to allow folks to make incremental changes from where they are now in their habit. However, I think their “evil” list is misguided, namely in their rote avoidance of saturated fat, sodium, and cholesterol.
So where does this leave us? My dude and I (mostly him, OK) tested out a real Double Down, for science. It was breaded and weird. It was not at all like the “extra tasty crispy” stuff you expect from KFC. The cheese didn’t have time to melt, the sauce was unnecessary if they’d only use bacon with flavor…. but…. it didn’t make us throw up in our mouths. So, good job, KFC?
Part One of several posts about how health care can be a heck of a lot better in this country.
It’s about the least surprising thing to say when talking about health and medicine in the western world: it’s totally fucked up. The system doesn’t serve people in the best way for their health, opting instead in many cases for pure survival. And that’s just the actual medical establishment, the place folks end up when something is going really wrong, whether it’s emergency trauma or the culmination of a chronic illness.
The pieces of health are not just what it takes to not “spend your last 10 years in a diaper and a wheelchair” (a genius post by Chris Kresser, who lured me into a lot of this research about 5 years ago by those very words). No, the pieces of health are far larger than just showing up at the doc’s office or the hospital when things are really wrong (or even just somewhat painful).
Emergency medicine in our society is extremely effective (and expensive), so if you are in a car crash, even if you don’t have money, you can and will get “fixed”. That means you’ll have bones pinned together, skin sewn up, fluids replaced, and (hopefully) infections prevented or addressed.
But even if you are faced with a relative trauma, the current state of the system can take down to slivers the savings of most average adults. Take, for example, something that happened just a few days ago at a massive health conference in Austin, TX called Paleo f(x). Darryl Edwards, one of the activity gurus, ended up with a mis-timed head butt and split open his eyelid. He didn’t think it would need intervention at first, but then he was convinced it wasn’t just a scratch by folks who kept noticing the bleeding gash.
Once he finally figured out that he really did need stitches, someone wanted him to get an ambulance. BUT. Because Darryl is from the UK, an ambulance would be about $4K right out of his pocket. Ok, so he should find someone to drive him to the ER. BUT. Emergency rooms have pretty long wait times. It was suggested, “go to urgent care”. Finally, word got around to the wife of a local dermatologist. He was taken right to their office and was taken care of, sewn right up to the tune of 25 stitches as a favor to a fellow health guru for no charge. The dermatologist told him that it would normally cost about $12K. TWELVE THOUSAND DOLLARS.
Even before the ambulance when it was looking like $4K out of his pocket, Darryl considered getting on a first class plane back to UK so that he could walk into a local doc and get things taken care of for free. The fact that someone without insurance considers a transatlantic flight in order to NOT spend about $16K on stitches is, a little, crazy.
In the next few blog posts I’ll go from panic-inducing examples like this to somewhat of a means to a solution. It involves the word OWNERSHIP. And we’ll get there.
There are a lot of recommendations out there for what kinds of foods are good to purchase, or at least which kinds of foods are those that should be avoided, based on the ingredients list. **see NOTE at bottom before hand-wringing.
You’ll find admonishments to avoid:
- ingredients you can’t pronounce
- ingredient lists more than 5 items long
- products your grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food
Unfortunately, these rules run into some problems. Here are 3 reasons the “five ingredient” rule can be sending you down the wrong path to health.
1) Natural Flavor
You could eat a lot of questionable additives if following the “x” number of ingredients rule, even if it’s only five. One of the biggest culprits in this realm is “natural flavor” as an actual ingredient listed. Really? What, legally, can be in something called “natural flavor”? This is from the FDA’s website and is current as of 2013:
The term natural flavor or natural flavoring means the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional.
So that means if you start with a “constituent” of a plant and then use enzymes OR heat OR roasting OR distillation OR extraction OR fermentation on it to produce something that will flavor a food, it’s “natural”. Yep. This is a massive industry, featured once in a while on investigative/hyped TV programs.
2) Food now ≠ food 50 years ago
If you follow the grandmother rule, you might eat food that LOOKS like real food but isn’t anything like it was 50 or 80 years ago. Wheat’s protein structure has changed quite a bit over the last 40 years (and that’s one of the theories about why wheat sensitivity is much higher now than ever before). Many factory farmed crops are genetically modified to grow in concert with amazingly complex biological killers (a.k.a. pesticides). And even simple ingredients, like “salt”, have been refined, processed, remolded, and stripped of their original minerals and physical form.
3) Ingredients with ingredients
In other words, five ingredients might not be five ingredients. There was a (rather reactionary oh-my-gawd-the-sky-is-falling) article several years back about the 59 ingredients in a McDonald’s strawberry milkshake that went moderately viral. The article delved into the 59 chemicals used to comprise the “strawberry flavor” part of the strawberry syrup. Each ‘ingredient’ was listed as the specific chemical compound name which, to many folks, sounds SCARY. Chemicals are not inherently scary. Everything is chemicals. If you listed all of the molecules in a banana by their chemical name you’d be freaked out. One of the chemicals that gives a banana its aroma is Amyl Acetate. If you take that chemical all by itself, it is a fruity-smelling solvent akin to nail polish remover. Eeeek! But it is in a banana, naturally. That’s why over-hyped articles like the “59 ingredients” one can be unhelpful. (**again, see NOTE at the bottom)
However, the non-molecular chemical ingredients are just as dubious. Note that when you initially see the list of ingredients for that milkshake, it is FOUR. That would be allowed under the “5 or less” rule, so what went wrong??? Here are the ingredients:
VANILLA REDUCED FAT ICE CREAM, STRAWBERRY SHAKE SYRUP, WHIPPED CREAM, MARASCHINO CHERRY
Hey, that’s not so bad . . . right? However, when you take each of those four ingredients and expand it – from the very same McDonald’s official pdf file – you end up with this:
VANILLA REDUCED FAT ICE CREAM (Milk, Sugar, Cream, Nonfat Milk Solids, Corn Syrup Solids, Mono- and Diglycerides, Guar Gum, Dextrose, Sodium Citrate, Artificial Vanilla Flavor, Sodium Phosphate, Carrageenan, Disodium Phosphate, Cellulose Gum, Vitamin A Palmitate.), STRAWBERRY SHAKE SYRUP (Sugar, Water, Corn Syrup, Strawberries, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Natural (Botanical Source) and Artificial Flavor, Pectin, Citric Acid, Potassium Sorbate (Preservative), Caramel Color, Calcium Chloride, Red 40), WHIPPED CREAM (Cream, Nonfat Milk, Corn Syrup, Sugar, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Contains Less Than 1%: Mono-And Diglycerides, Carrageenan, Polysorbate 80, Beta Carotene (Color), Natural (Dairy and Plant Sources) and Artificial Flavor, Mixed Tocopherols (Vitamin E) to Protect Flavor, and Whipping Propellant (Nitrous Oxide)), MARASCHINO CHERRY (Cherries, Water, Corn Syrup, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Sugar, Malic Acid, Citric Acid, Natural (Plant Source) and Artificial Flavors, Sodium Benzoate and Potassium Sorbate (Preservatives), Red 40, Sulfur Dioxide as Preservative (Contains Sulfites))
Here’s the flip side of this. Many of the “scary” sounding ingredients are simply the chemical names for compounds that could be individually present in real foods. In this case, they are also used in the artificial flavoring. Each of those chemicals is, by itself, neither good nor evil, and many of them are present in REAL fruit. HOWEVER. It does not change the fact that those ingredients were deliberately combined to make artificial flavor, as opposed to a strawberry growing on a plant and then being blended into the shake.
Stressing out about every thing you put in your mouth is also counterproductive to your health. What is important is having knowledge about real foods, and making choices in your life that are better than before, little by little. Moving from hot dogs to processed reformed deli meat to roasted sliced packaged meat to real/whole animals to organic animals to YOUR OWN animals is a process that has benefits at every step of the way, and you should feel good about each step, not just when you reach the end.
Armi Legge writes very well about this topic, especially his post called “The Myth of Clean Eating“. He straddles a nice divide between using real ingredients and not freaking out too much about straying off the path. Good job, dude!
… and it’s both terrible and wonderful.
Can I be harsh here? Of course I can; it’s my fucking blog.
I recently saw a mention of the possibility of an Oatmeal Generation of runners in the works. This is really interesting, especially given that the bulk of Oatmeal readers are in their early 20s and might not have a history with exercise. If a good portion of them take up running, we could have quite the bump in running participation. It has happened before…
Previous Running Spikes
Running has been through quite a few little boomlets in the past 40 years, either competitive or participatory in their orientation. Some have stuck around for decades, while others peaked and then fell due to catastrophe or just general trends in the larger society. Like the 1970s which culminated in the Jim Fixx apex (and sort of backlash after his death) and the 1980s and 90s Jeff Galloway devotees, and the post-1995 Oprah legion of marathon completers, and recently the Born to Run crowd. The most recent crowd is a harbinger of the Oatmeal Oodles, with a return to running as a natural human activity that brings joy and peace completely independent of competition and even racing.
Go Running, Rah Rah U S A!
The economic impact of running cannot be ignored. It has a noticeably good effect on the overall economy, in that it drives a shit ton of purchases. Just ONE race, a popular 12K event with 50,000 participants, drives an estimated 10 million dollars into the local economy. RunningUSA compiles great statistics about runners in the country, and as of 2012, there were 487,000 finishers of marathons (a slight decrease) and 6.2 MILLION finishers of 5Ks (a 17% increase just over the year before). That’s a heck of a lot. That is a heck of a lot of business for companies like:
- running shoes
- running books
- magazines about running
- social and training groups
- technical apparel
- energy bars
- race-time foods like gels
- electrolyte drinks
- hydration hardware
- hats, gloves, arm sleeves
- compression socks
Also, to add to that rather significant contribution to the economy, consider that someone who might not even go out to eat that much is likely to want to splurge on a big honkin’ pizza after that long weekend training run, or a few beers, or some oversized bowl of pasta. The running boom just keeps giving and giving to corporations’ bottom lines, with very little overall effect on health outcomes.
Why Are the Oatmeal Oodles Wonderful?
Basically, a new crop of runners could be a good thing because The Oatmeal’s ‘brand’ of running is that of personal exploration, not of competition or acquisition of race medals, despite the economic junk I just threw at you. The good about running? Honestly, running, once you have at least a little bit of fitness, is quite fun. Research backs this up – you create happy chemicals when doing a run that don’t often get the chance to appear in the course of taking, say, a daily walk. Matthew Inman, aka The Oatmeal, is a Born to Run kind of runner. He does it to challenge himself and does race occasionally, but it seems that his joy from running is the foundation from which all other ancillary activities grow. His comic, inspired by the novelist Haruki Murakami’s memoir about running life called What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, is called The Terrible & Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances. And now, since I began to write this post months ago, there’s an Oatmeal sanctioned/created/endorsed race. A real bona fide honest-to-gawd race. In the spirit of the blobby character who is every runner’s nemesis, it is called “Beat the Blerch“. Now, if Inman had wanted his legion of fans to really emulate him, he’d have started a 50 mile ultramarathon, the kind that he wrote about in an earlier comic. But it’s actually great that this race starts with a 10K. It is a good chunk of miles to bite off, and actually not as painful to race as the more popular 5K distance. There is also a half and full marathon distance for those who want to be out eating cake for much longer (oh yes, the races will have cake). The Oatmeal’s legion of fans is so, well, legion, that the race registration site crashed and entries were sold out in a matter of minutes. No surprise there.
Here’s the Terrible (Maybe)
Running, per se, isn’t the best way to get in shape or lose weight. (This is the topic for another upcoming post.) If these new participants are doing it just for the joy, then, OK, no argument here. But if they associate it with getting skinny and eating all the shit that they want, they’re dead wrong. Sorry, but it’s true. (But hey, at least it won’t ruin your knees. Can we finally put that misnomer to bed?) With all the talk earlier about how awesome this sport is for the economy, it might have a slightly negative effect on individual runner’s pocketbooks. First, because someone has to MAKE all of those purchases, but also there are doctor’s visits from injuries and sick time from work if one gets overtrained or REALLY injured.
And all of those economic perks are a sign of our tendency to overcomplexify everything we do. You don’t need all of that shit. You probably need some shoes and clothes that won’t rub raw spots on your skin when you’re out and about. That’s all runners had generations ago, and they still made those happy chemicals just fine. Getting overly concerned about having all the right gear isn’t unique to running, of course, but it certainly can add stress to something that really should just be plain fun.
A Takeaway, Of Sorts
I embrace any interest in physical activity. I reject the notion that it requires more than a few dozen dollars’ worth of expenditure. I think between those two ideas, we can have a lot of young and excited runners to come in the next decade. Let’s not “Americanize” the very act of running with stuff and stuff and stuff, and we should be just fine.
Welcome to the second episode of “a letter to restaurants”, a series in which I try to help and admonish and poke and scold eating establishments who are missing easy opportunities to deliver good experiences to their customers.
I call restaurants like you now and then. Many of your customers do. We often need to check the business hours (because who knows if whatever is listed on Yelp is accurate or current), verifying that you still serve a particular dish, or finding out if there’s a crowd and a wait time to get in. These are all valid reasons to dial the digits.
Once your phone number is actually located (hopefully it is prominently displayed on the website or directory page) and the ringy-dingy is heard on the other end, it is a most frustrating experience to hear one of these two scenarios as a result:
“I’m sorry. The mailbox belonging to 505-123-3456, is full. Please hang up.” <click>
“I’m sorry. The number you have dialed, 505-123-2345, has a mailbox that has not yet been set up. Good bye.”
You see, by cutting off this avenue of communication, YOU as the restaurant are effectively saying, “hey, we might exist. Come by and see for realz! Seriously!” It’s sending the same mixed message as if you had turned on the Open sign and unlocked the doors but barricaded them, or handed over a menu to diners while saying that most of the items are not available today. It makes zero sense AND everyone loses.
Restaurants, learn how to clear your mailboxes and set them up in the first place. Seriously. For realz.
They are a most curious specimen, those first-time dudes at yoga class. They often come at the behest of a friend or perhaps out of curiosity.
They seem willing to give it a go and be amused by the whole thing if that’s what is needed for them to participate. Maybe they pretend they are a super hero to get them in the mood.
Poses are undertaken with an element of skepticism and, if they don’t work well, an uninstructed tweak might be tried. This results in poses that, to the trained yogi’s eye, are somewhat . . . interesting. This ain’t no Warrior I:
Then, if asked to get into a pose that is actually a bit painful – or just uncomfortable – and they’re asked to hold it, hold it, hold it – they might not. If they’re really really tired and need a break, they will take one. They are willing to abandon what is not working.
They are willing to abandon what is not working.
Persistence. Tenacity. Follow-through. All perfectly valid practices in many parts of our lives and projects we undertake. However, that doggedness can also be a huge roadblock or time-waster if we don’t recognize the other side and know when to move on. If you find yourself in one of those ruts, unable to let go of a seriously draining project or something as simple as that bag of clothes that no longer fit, think of the guy in yoga class, and ask yourself, “how is that working out for me?”
Pop quiz: which clinical mental disorder has the highest mortality rate? It’s not bipolar disorder. It’s not schizophrenia. Rather, it’s that heady place where out-of-whack brain chemicals meets up with out-of-whack societal beauty standards and renders a person incapable of eating enough to maintain their physical existence: anorexia nervosa.
Everyone knows that anorexia is horrible-tragic-shocking, but one thing it does have going for it – it is VERY visible.
Do you have any doubt that this person (who is in their 20s, by the way) has a problem?
That’s Ilsa Paulson, who looked pretty normal in high school, only to turn pro after college and got lean. Really, really lean.
On the other hand, how about this person?
Yep. That’s Hollie Avil, who retired from triathlon at age 23 because of trauma from eating disorders, depression, and general breakdown.
That’s the rub – in a strange and bizarre way, anorexia is easier to spot and therefore intervene. I’m not saying that such interventions are successful – there’s a good reason why those mortality rates are NOT falling – but for some sufferers who have hope of recovery, it can make a critical difference to hear someone say, “I really care about you and I think you might be harming yourself. Please know that I love you and want you to not die.”
But for every obvious case, there are likely hundreds who suffer almost in silence. Ironically, they can suffer more because if they don’t look the part of the eating disorder patient it can be internalized as a failure – a failure to successfully execute this disease that they identify with control and perfection.
That’s the gist of this post, during National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, to get you to contemplate people in your life who might be on that edge. Those who could be slipping into habits that lead to a real problem, or those that simply spend years and years and years just under the threshold of a real diagnosis. They can eat just a tiny bit less than they really need (instead of eating a LOT less than they need), while bones are weakening, muscles are atrophying, organs are shrinking (!!!), metabolism is shutting down, the brain itself is undergoing structural changes under one’s skull.
This is not as ludicrous as it sounds – I have weighed 25 pounds less than I do now, and honestly you could look at me and be like, “Ok, yeah, she’s a little smaller, but 25 pounds smaller? She’s not scrawny, like real eating disorder scrawny!” Those pounds came from skin and fat and muscles, yes, but they also came from my organs, and my bones, and my glycogen stores.
Here’s the thing: you can’t help if they are not ready. But I do believe, strongly, that if you care about someone and you tell them you care enough about them to want them to stay in your life, at absolute worst, it CANNOT HURT. Awareness of self is one of the first steps if recovery will happen.
I lost someone recently who “successfully” managed their level of disorder for more than 20 years. It’s true that you can ‘get away with’ a great deal of abusing your body with lack of food – we are remarkably resilient creatures. But not forever. She was a talented runner and no doubt helped by a very low weight (a subject for another post), but in the end her systems were too beat down, taxed, and on the edge to make it through acute dehydration due to the flu. It’s a fucking shitty way to die. My friend loved helping other runners achieve their goals and loved helping kids get excited about running. If a car came barreling down on them while on a run, I have no doubt she would have gladly shoved them aside to take the impact herself. That would have been an O.K. way to go, especially at 46 years old. How she did die should not have happened. But. It. Did.
Finally, she was not just some anonymous friend that I need to hide. She was Susan “Sus” Brozik.
Find your little-bit-skinny, little-bit-obsessive, little-bit-food-paranoid friends and tell them you appreciate every part of the good things they do. If you think it’s not too much, also tell them that their healthy body is the thing that lets them do those awesome things, and you’d love it if they kept their body around for a long time.
Make a promise, right, now, that the next time you eat at a restaurant, you’ll throw one more question into the pile of “what’s the special today?” and “can I get a side of fries?”. Ask where the restaurant gets their meat.
You can do it gently, a simple add-on, “Ooh, that burger sounds good – is the meat from New Mexico?”
You can do it more directly, “I’m learning more about restaurant ingredients – can you tell me where your meat comes from?”
It will be kind of awkward, and I bet that a lot won’t answer at all, or they’ll deflect. That’s OK. In the Mission District, a writer asked for two years, learning both much and little.
You see, even if they don’t answer, even if they mumble something noncomittally, even if they pretend you didn’t even ask, just hearing the question will make them think about it for one second. Hearing it from multiple diners will make them pay attention. It will trickle up to the managers of these restaurants that their customers want to know. That influences how they choose suppliers and what questions THEY ask when buying meat. Even if the question has to start with, “what country did this meat come from?”
You will help start a revolution.
It is going to be a snowball effect, and I’m asking you to contribute your own snowflake.
I will. Promise you’ll do it, too.
You should know that restaurants come and restaurants go. But all restaurants, yourself included, have an ideal customer to attract or a genre they are trying to occupy. Diners do their no-fuss thing with Bunn-bearing coffee fillers while the truly fancy roll out the white-tablecloth hush-hush treatment.
However, you could be one of those restaurants that want to be FUN, trendy, visually appealing and hip. Sadly, these restaurants lack self-esteem. Yes, self-esteem. In a restaurant. You show it in practices that make you look like you are trying too hard, and one habit stands out the moment courses are served: fear of empty plate space.
This fear can be witnessed in places as diverse as wannabe midscale chains to wannabe midscale local joints with aspirations of hipness. It is on striking display on rims of plates from starter to dessert: an unwillingness to let the food sit unmoored on the dish. You see, plate rims are for holding the contents of the plate in. They do not need a dusting of dried parsley to add visual “whatever”. Here are common manifestations:
- Ubiquitous Raspberry Sauce On (or Under) All Chocolate Desserts
- Balsamic Drizzle On Edge Of Plate Not Using Balsamic Anything
- Dried Parsley On Every. Single. Plate. Always.
- Anything On Crème Brûlée
One caveat, dear restaurant: not ALL showy saucing is superfluous. There are places where the artistic swirl of flame red was an essential flavor component of the dish, to be mixed in and enjoyed as a true sauce. You awesome restaurants follow the sauce/garnish rule, which says that they should: 1) complement or enhance the dish’s flavors and 2) be edible.
Everyone else: just stop it, please.
Restaurants, you do often have other (not so minor) issues like not having a phone number on the website or not being open when you say you are or forgetting food orders between your table and the kitchen. Fix those issues first, and then attend to the trying-too-hard stuff. You’ll be a better place to dine.