Procrastinating Is Easy When You Are Not Suffering

I recently found myself in a quasi-challenge with a friend to remove a few things from our daily eating habits that were making us generally cranky, or were bothering our guts. No problem, right? Sometimes you are totally ok to walk by the ice cream at the store?

WRONG.

Here’s the thing. We are both very, very healthy. We feel good a lot of the time, AND we eat well, move around, and sleep a decent amount. Therefore, what we are doing is just the window trim, or the fluffy frosting rose on the otherwise done wedding cake. We are fine-tuning.

Dinner Option 1

Dinner Option 1?

And, fine-tuning sucks.

That’s a lot of the source of resistance to “whole food eating” (whether you call it Paleo or primal or ancestral or vegan+bacon, whatever) to average/normal people: normal people feel FINE most of the time. Sure, we have allergies, or we get sick, or our necks hurt a lot, or we poop weird a lot of the time, but hey, that’s just getting older, isn’t it?

Why the hell should we adopt this very specific diet because whatever we are eating now will/might/could make us disease-riddled in 30 years??? Fat chance. And thus, perhaps, we ensure some negative consequences down the road. But they are down the road.

Folks who have MS, rheumatoid arthritis, Hashimoto’s, Crohn’s, or any auto-immune condition – THOSE are the highly motivated who turn their life outlook around when they use diet and lifestyle to fix themselves. They have everything to gain and only some minor inconvenience to deal with as they transition away from ramen and fried cheese balls and Pop Tarts. When they feel better, they feel GREAT.

And then they tell everyone about it. But, those they tell – the rest of us – are not highly motivated, usually. Normal folks are not-so-thirsty horses that don’t really care to be led over to the water, thanks.

Dinner Option 2

Dinner Option 2

I still think the “whole fooders” are right (whatever that means), and they are doing great things like:

But. Hmph. Sometimes the only marginally motivated just want some damn ice cream. Challenge? Hmph.

Ultranutrition: How to not poop out, figuratively

Ultra food of the gods….

Ultras and nutrition seem to be a match made in caloric heaven. Just eat as much as you can possibly stand so that you CAN keep standing, right?

Not quite *that* simple, but for some folks, close.

The key is judging your own effort level first, and your familiarity with digestion on the run second. A 48 hour grind with 90% hiking is a different beast to appease than a 6 hour zippy race. This topic is ripe for detailed digging (and I will, I promise), but here’s an overview for starters. Keep in mind that the golden running rule always applies: YOUR MILEAGE MAY VARY. (No, the golden rule is not, “What Would Anton Do?“)

Here are the types of foods that will help for different effort levels, for a 50 mile distance:

  1. Hard/fast and lots of running: fuel like a marathon with some additional easy-digesting quasi-real food. This would include: gels, sports drinks, water, and other quick foods such as candies, pretzels, m&ms, or even boiled potatoes.
  2. Easy and long effort – lots of hiking over varied terrain, some running: whatever tastes good, no matter what it is. Gels, sports drinks, cookies, sandwiches, soup, burritos, coffee, you name it. If it tastes good and you’re power-hiking tons, down the hatch!
  3. Medium effort – hard uphills but hiking, some good and hard downhills: this one is trickiest. It will depend a little bit on the placement of aid stations and how much food you are willing to carry. The short answer is to eat what tastes good but not stuff yourself, and try to eat/digest when you know you will be walking (usually uphills). Really jarring downhills can mess with any food’s processing, so keeping digestibility high is still a good strategy. This means opt for a jelly sandwich instead of a spoonful of peanut butter.

That’s a really basic primer. More will surely come.

Here’s one bonus tip: candied ginger is the “new” Gu Chew / Shot Bloks. That stuff is amazing on touchy stomachs.

REI Ditches Return Everything Incorporated Nickname

REI's Original Flagship Store in Seattle

REI’s Original Flagship Store (courtesy of Seattle PI)

Social media has assisted in “implementing” the tragedy of the commons – after increasing awareness and braggadocio (spurred by comments in an Outside Magazine article last fall) of a particularly liberal return policy, this summer it hit REI (Recreational Equipment Inc.).

Just when it seemed that under every social media rock I found comments about REI and their standing as the place to go buy stuff at full retail because you can always ALWAYS return it no matter what, that well-distributed knowledge has spelled the end of the policy. Now, you’ll get a year for returns – unless the item is actually defective, in which case you still have a lifetime warranty.

The internets abound with stories about customers simply no longer liking their item after many years of happy use, or waterproofing not working after a decade, or the color of a bike not matching the owner’s new car. Yes, for reals.

While the policy went into effect in June, there’s been a recent bump in media coverage from the likes of Entrepreneur and the Wall Street Journal, culminating in a Morning Edition story today on NPR. Perhaps news takes longer to sink in, especially a policy change that won’t affect customers immediately. But when folks try to return their stuff and are met with the new rules, they definitely pay attention.

Other companies still have extremely liberal return policies and do not currently have plans to change such as Patagonia, L.L. Bean, and Orvis; a spokesperson for Orvis says, “We trust our customers to know where the line is,” seeming to imply that REI customers contain a bunch of freeloaders.

In recent months I’d heard from many different sources about REI’s legendary returns free-for-all, something that escaped my notice because, for one, I have a freakin’ conscience. If I took a 10 year old tent back and said it didn’t work for me anymore and got money back and a new tent, I’d feel like crap! Seriously, if the product has a defect or if it does not last as long as it should for the price, that is one thing. But REI had been suffering to some degree (profits down 4% in 2012 to $29 million – and REI is a co-op so that money goes back to the members) at the hands of those who decided it was OK to return anything because they usually paid full retail – as if their brains decided that they had built up a “buffer” of profit for REI that they are allowed to draw down upon when it suited them.

Geez, the more I write about this the more annoyed I get with those freeloaders. Therefore, let’s turn this rant OFF, and over to you. What do you think of the changes? Have you been a happy or guilty beneficiary of the old policy?

Eat Carne Adovada in Honor of Mary Gonzales

Mary GonzalesOn Tuesday, September 17, 2013, Albuquerque lost a legend of local culinary genius: Mary Gonzales of Mary & Tito’s Cafe. Mary, originally from Santa Fe with Spanish ancestry, managed the restaurant she and her husband Tito founded in 1963, with the enthusiastic help of her daughters and cooks that have worked for her for over 30 years.

I had the honor of interviewing Mary in 2008 for an article about their recent James Beard American Classics award, an award they won three years in a row. She was also featured in an Edible article from 2010 about food treasures on North 4th Street. Here is Mary’s story, from my interview notes and my history with dining at Mary & Tito’s. Enjoy.

My first encounter with Mary was about 10 years ago after a tip from Jason Sheehan (the Alibi’s food writer at the time); I was enjoying some fabulous red chile as she perched in the corner of her dining room, ringing up checks and greeting regular customers with a huge smile and about six pounds of turquoise jewelry. She was your mind’s incarnation of a perfect New Mexican grandma, never a matriarch with too much time on her hands, just a gentle person with a smile for everyone.

Tito had just retired from the military and after two weeks of “unemployment” he couldn’t take it any more and decided to open a restaurant. Mary was working downtown at the court and he showed up one day to inform her of his decision. She was pretty dubious about the prospect.

I thought he was out of his mind to open a restaurant!

They opened first at 4th & Mountain with a 5 year lease before moving to the current location. For 10 years, Tito did all of the cooking with one dishwasher and one waitress; after a big expansion into a new building extra help was needed both in the kitchen as well as in the dining room. From the very beginning, Tito served up red chile by the bucket as well as something he called a Mexican Turnover – what we now know as a stuffed sopaipilla. For all I know, Tito freakin’ invented stuffed sopaipillas, right here in downtown Albuquerque, five decades ago.

In 1989 Tito passed, and Mary kept up the very popular business with the help of her daughter Antoinette and long time employees. They continue to make the red chile sauce just the way Tito taught them, from whole pods from Hatch, NM. Here’s how: the pods are washed, boiled until soft and then hit with some serious blender action. Into a huge stockpot the vital red slurry goes with a “tiny” amount of shortening and salt to season, then cooked for another half an hour. That’s it – you can make your own red chile in the style of Tito, but you will not get near the experience of actually eating in this comforting establishment that feels like home. Even Mary had little interest in non-local cuisine; while she like most folks she has a sweet tooth, when asked about her favorite non New Mexican food she was clear:

Really, all I want is chile, chile, chile.

Mary was beloved, and that’s a great thing. She WAS appreciated while she was still around, and I hope that she really understood how much people were in awe of her contribution to the Albuquerque food scene.

2013 is the 50 year anniversary of the start of Mary & Tito’s, five whole decades since Tito marched up to Mary and said, “I’m bored. I’m starting a restaurant.” We’ve all been rich with New Mexican spice ever since.

Plumpy’nut Is Not Food; Also Not Death

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plumpy’nut

500 kcalories of processed survival food

More than a decade ago, a European researcher noticed how darn tasty and fattening Nutella was, and realized that with a little tinkering, something like it could be created for famine sufferers in Africa, who needed something to get them through to better days. He used a bit of creativity and technology to create a super food. This “super food” has a two year shelf life and contains protein, carbohydrates and some fat as well as a bunch of added vitamins. As a category, this kind of food is known as a RUTF: Ready to Use Therapeutic Food.

No, it’s not Pop Tarts, it’s Plumpy’nut. (Though as you can see below, the ingredients are not that different from Pop Tarts, after all.)

Ingredients in Plumpy’nut: peanut paste, vegetable oil, powdered milk, powdered sugar, vitamins, and minerals

Manufacturer: Nutriset, in France. Plumpy’Nut was Invented in 1999 and recently more visible with articles by well known folks like Dr. Sanjay Gupta (“The Funny Sounding Nut Paste That’s Saving Children’s Lives in Somalia“) and websites as big as Huffington Post (“Just How Much Can This Peanut Paste Reduce Hunger?”). I do disagree somewhat with Dr. Gupta’s assertion that the ingredients of Plumpy, as it’s called locally, are “nearly the perfect ingredients for the starving  human body . . .”; I could come up with a better formula in a heartbeat with slight change in cost. The New York Times is similarly cautious about the future of peanut paste supplementation due to some (seemingly petty given the cause) patent and copyright concerns.

Box for Plumpy’Nut Challenge

Campaigns also exist to raise awareness like The Plumpy’Nut Challenge by the British charity Merlin, which asks otherwise well-off westerners to eat nothing but Plumpy’Nut for one day while Tweeting about their experience and pledging money for charity. Not a bad idea, and ONE DAY is easy. Really, really easy – despite what most participants say. A week or a month would be harder, but no one would sign up for that. Shockingly the success rate for this one day challenge is not 100%. People are wussies, but I digress.

For those kids that consume Plumpy’Nut as a means to NOT DIE, the situation is different, obviously. Later, when death is no longer a threat, one hopes – one REALLY hopes – that a return to traditional foods is the final step. This is a topic I will continue in another blog post – how vastly different a grain-based traditional African diet is from the grain-based stuff that is eaten every day by Westerners.

Stay tuned, and don’t worry about the stress of signing up for the Plumpy’nut Challenge – there isn’t another one until 2014.

Five Years Since Starting Hot Yoga And I Got . . .

If you’ve done yoga for any number of years, you already know that the above and the below are the WRONG questions to ask or even speculate. Pose the questions and get an immediate game show like buzzer sound:

What has yoga DONE FOR ME? <Errrrrr!>

What do my triceps look like? <Berrrrrrr!>

Can I do Crow yet? <BERRRRR!>

What a person “gets” from yoga is a spectrum from nothing in particular to the tools you need to cope with Western society. No more, no less. You get a little more flexible, a little more gentle, one hopes. It is not about achievement or levels or belts or PRs. But still, a milestone is a cool thing, so I found this in my email box today:

Email from Hot Yoga ABQ

Email from Hot Yoga ABQ today for my anniversary

I have been in and around yoga for exactly 5 years today, with an 18 month hiatus in there along the way. Initially it did wonders for both my psyche and my physique. Of course, like all things the effect wanes with time.

Everyone understands that a drug addict needs more and more as time goes on to get the same effect, but that is hardly limited to drugs. Pretty much anything habitual with a physical component will have a slow compensatory effect, from running to pushups to hiking to coffee brewing techniques to typing speed to . . . you name it.

Our nature is to constantly change with our environment, seek out new challenges (or be bombarded with new problems to solve without any choice in the matter, as was the case for most of our evolution), and leap to a different level or pastime when one has exhausted it’s ability to fascinate. Just before my hiatus I wasn’t sure what was “next” for me with my practice so I decided to just stop and see how long it took to come back. Months, days? It was more than a year; it seems I do well while doing yoga but it does  not take up my life, nor is it a black hole when not a part of my daily routine. I work with it, or without it.

I do still love it – love watching the trembling of balance, the stillness of mind after exertion, the ease of friendships in the studio. For now, I will continue.

Thank you to Molly and Bruce, who made this their entrepreneurial calling nearly 10 years ago, and to Jamesina, who took me to my first class with James and unleashed my monster: it was a downward (dog) spiral from there.

Nudging The Ones You Love

idea generation

Effecting change is a wish of many of us. But usually it remains a wish, and often it can become a burden, an annoyance, an irritating behavior, and a pestilence. Why? In the way-smarter-than-me words of Seth Godin (from his book Tribes, and from his blog):

People don’t believe what you tell them.  They rarely believe what you show them.  They often believe what their friends tell them.  They always believe what they tell themselves. 

I think the biggest long term impact is to somehow change their behaviors without forcing the issue. Nudge-like stuff. Change is hard. Really freaking  hard – James Altucher says so. And I like James. Because he writes silly and interesting things about dead bodies, sometimes.

In the realm of changes toward more physical activity, especially in the evening, here are some ideas I’ve had recently. Start by setting positive context for behaviors that will lead to better health, happiness, mobility, and on (which doesn’t have to mean weight loss, but could):

  • after a meal, “I feel like a short walk – want to come with me?”
  • at the end of a meal (regardless how you actually feel), “Wow, that was filling. Definitely no dessert for me.”
  • walking the dog, “want to come with me?” If NO, then other nudge-like methods, “I’m taking the dog out, want to come and talk about that house project we are working on / that crap that happened to you at work / your parents’ upcoming visit / what we want to do on vacation?”
  • either all at once or gradually, get rid of or fix visual reminders of unwanted behavior: messy environment, snack foods, dirty exercise clothes
  • YOU DO the habits that they will need to do. Set a visual, rather than verbal, example.
  • start training for something. Warrior dash, office arm-wrestling, whatever.
  • don’t personally do the bad habits they should not do: popcorn at movies, extra appetizers, watching TV all night, saying you will workout or do something physical and then bailing out. If you say you are going to work out, fucking go work out.

For lasting change, they really do have to want to drink even if you’ve led them to the water. I don’t think there is much way around this. Again, see Seth’s quote above. Robb freaking Wolf could not change members of his family who had chronic and very uncomfortable diseases that might have been reversed with lifestyle changes. That should not be depressing, per se, but rather help all of us to understand that folks need to come into knowledge from their own divination.

It has to be their idea.

Even if it’s your idea. It has to be their idea.

Let them steal it, and honestly, you BOTH will win. Honestly, isn’t what you wanted for them to change –  not for them to bow before you as a fountain of lifehacker knowledge?