Sunday, 27 December 2009

How Five Fingers Turned Me into a Transvestite

It's cold in the UK at the moment. Brass monkey weather.

Walking though the city recently, I was aware of a gaping hole in my insulation. Whilst my feet were kept warm by snugly-fitting Vibram Five Finger Treks and my legs by fleece-lined trousers, in between there was nothing. A whistling gale sliced across my ankles like a razor.

I was passing a ladies' accessories shop, when it struck me.

Have you got any leg warmers? I enquired within.

Over here, pointed the young lady assistant, coming out from behind the desk in spite of the I-don't-want-help vibes I thought I was giving.

Before us lay an array of multi-coloured Cindy Lauper-esque leg warmers.

She, ahem, wants them in plain black, I said.

The girl removed a pair from the display. We've only the fishnets in plain black, she said.

I looked doubtful, but she grinned encouragingly. Go on - girls like a bit of kinky!

Okay, I said weakly. My deception had left me unable to reason convincingly.

Later, under the scrutiny of my compadrés, I was naturally subject to ridicule. You're gay, was the sing-song verdict of one. Another emailed this YouTube link.

Ridicule I can tolerate, but cold ankles I simply won't stand for.

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Sunday, 20 December 2009

Making the Most of Animals: Part 2 - Glorious Fat

In part 1 I talked about the importance of eating the meat from animals that have been well treated. Quite apart from any ethical consideration, the fact is it's better for you.

I also mentioned the cost benefits of including offal in your carnivorous repertoire - first, because bought separately it's very cheap, and second because if you bought the whole animal in the first place, you are getting more food for your money.

The same arguments apply to another part of the animal people routinely squander - the fat.

For example, when you buy a lamb chop, very often there is a fairly thick rind of fat on it. This probably contains more calories than the meat (as most of you know, fat has 9 cals/g whereas carbs and protein has 4) - but how healthy that fat is depends very much on how the animal was reared.
Quality Matters
As I wrote in part 1, it's not wise to compromise to eat the fat from industrially farmed animals: they are fed with food like corn and wheat, and kept in unnatural conditions, as a result of which their fat contains more omega 6 and less omega 3 than wild or free-range animals. Eating the fat from such meat is probably not very good for you, though ironically this is not for the reasons the sat-fat-heart brigade claim.

Some Photos of My Fatty Meals

Pork scratchings

Chicken skin

Lamb fat

Duck skin
They key point: fat from free range, organic, or pastured animals is actually good for you.
Eating the Fat Makes the Meat Cheap
Another irony lies in people's tendency to avoid buying organic, pastured or free-range meat because of the cost. Very often these same people can be seen scraping the fatty offcuts into the bin after a meal or carefully separating the skin from a duck or chicken leg.

The point is that if they bought high quality food, and therefore were able to eat all of the serving, they would need less to be satisfied because of the additional calories from the fat - and it would taste nicer too.

When Mrs M and I buy a small organic chicken, it makes up to four meals. There are all kinds of fatty parts to the animal, many of which become crispy if cooked properly. Personally, I am happy to guzzle the fatty parts whether crispy or not, so I can be satisfied by a much less meat than I would otherwise need.

A £10 organic bird therefore means £2.50 per meal. If we bought a crappy, industrially farmed bird for £5 we'd have no choice to but to avoid the fat, so the cost would be the same because we'd only get two meals out of it.

As an aside, I do appreciate some people may be getting their meals for £1.25 because they eat all of the chicken, in spite of the conditions it was raised in, and that for some this is the only way they can afford to live.
Conditioned Avoidance
We have been conditioned to cut the fat off our meat.

The diet-heart hypothesis - the idea that eating saturated fat leads to heart disease - is so thoroughly entrenched in the psyche of most people that there is an instinctive urge to avoid conspicuous animal fat.

I won't bore you with the science here, but regular readers of the blogs in my blog roll will know this is a notion that's being quietly and systematically demolished by authors, commentators and researchers, leaving an ever-dwindling group of establishment die-hards holding aloft a tattered flag.

Even Mrs M, now a fully paid up Paleo queen, cuts the fat off meat when it's not crispy or when there is what she perceives to be 'just too much of it.' As for my Mum and Dad, who themselves have been Paleo for some time, it took them quite a while to get used to the idea that fat is good.
The Power of Indoctrination
What gets me is that nobody wants to leave the crispy skin from a chicken breast. I don't know many people who'd pass up a pork scratching (albeit accompanied by ooh, I shouldn't) and the crispy fat from a lamb or beef steak is surely divine.

Yet the same people who seem unable to exercise the willpower necessary to stop eating sugar, cakes or chocolate, appear suddenly to have this iron resolve when it comes to animal fat. As I recall, I was just the same some years ago. I guess this is testament to the power of indoctrination. No one wants to die. You die of heart attacks. We are told fat gives you a heart attack. I don't remember anyone ever saying that about sugar, albeit that it may turn out to be true.
Paleo Subtleties
It would be remiss of me not to mention that there are differing opinions among advocates of Paleo/Primal eating about how much animal fat we should eat. Some say that wild animals are relatively lean and that our liking for fat was naturally regulated when we were evolving by its relative scarcity. Others say we should freely consume it.

I just wing it. For me, variety is the watchword. On some days I eat white fish or offal, which contain relatively little fat anyway - on these days I get most of my fat from olive or coconut oil. On days when I do eat fatty animals I eat the fat freely.

In part 3 - soups and bones. Yes I said bones - you can eat them. Really.

See Also:
Making the Most of Animals: Part 1 - Wonderful Offal
Making the Most of Animals: Part 3 - Beautiful Bones
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Friday, 4 December 2009

The Three-Day Binge Recovery Plan

What I am about to tell you might be utter nonsense. My sole qualifications are that in recent months I have done a lot of binging and recovering. I certainly don’t advocate this, and I'm usually quite annoyed with myself when it happens; but given it does, one must be prepared.

The 3-day plan places structure and context around what I think are important principles, but I suggest you tailor your own strategy based on those principles, rather than assume the three-day timeline has any special meaning.

Less Illness?
Before I describe the plan, I will say this: my theory is that this approach makes illness less likely because it coaxes the body back to full strength rather than frog-marching it there. Being an obsessive, I have in the past worn the hair shirt on days following bad behaviour. In the past, a few binges close together have caused illness. This year, an unprecedented number of consecutive binges have not yielded illness. Anecdotal, but for me, powerful.

Day 0: The Binge
You drink too much alcohol. You probably also eat too much, some or all of which is junk – sugary food, salty food, and processed food – all the things you would normally avoid. The following day, recovery must start.

Day 1: Healthy Food and Fresh air
  1. Eat healthy food: but don’t go hungry; eat as much as you need to satisfy. You may be worrying about all the excess calories you ate/drank the day before. Forget it – there will be an opportunity to compensate on days 2 and 3. Perhaps have some healthy treats. Plan to cook your favourite meal .The spectre of comfort eating will loom - if your binge included alcohol, the chances are your salt and sugar balances will be all over the place, so you may want to have more fruit than usual if you are craving sweetness.
  2. Don’t try to fast: this will be a struggle if you have a hangover – better to provide your body with the nutrients it has been deprived of forced to give up in the last 24 hours.
  3. Don’t go to the gym or exercise: it is tempting to go to the gym on day 1 - you will feel so much better afterwards. But resist this temptation – your body is at a low ebb and the risk of illness is probably greater later on if you kick it while it’s down. Feeling good in the short term does not mean it’s the best thing to do. Let your body recover first, then the benefits of the exercise will be most fully realised, and not at the expense of illness risk. ABOVE ALL, do not do some kind of long, hard cardio session – this will definitely knock back your immune system.
  4. Get some air: you won’t get the same buzz as you would from a gym session, but you will feel better nevertheless. A good walk will make you feel better about the night before without hitting your body in any significant way.
Day 2: Fast
  1. Fast / reduce your food intake. Today, this will be easier. If you already do intermittent fasting, it will come naturally; if you don’t, then just do whatever you can to reduce your calories and give your system a day of rest.
  2. Still don’t go to the gym or do hard exercise! This will be getting tough, but you must continue to resist the temptation. One thing at a time. If you wait one more day then the chances are you won’t suffer a decline in performance as a result of the binge. Plus, if you are fasting or eating less, then the increased appetite from exercise might make it harder, give that you are still not fully ‘in balance’, appetite-wise.
Day 3: Gym/Exercise
  1. Go to the gym or do some hard exercise: now you are ready. By now most of the garbage has worked its way through your system and you are restored to something approximating the day before your binge. As well as making you feel good afterwards, the stresses you apply during exercise will now also confer their usual benefits in the medium term. Short, interval-based intense exercise is better - but of course this applies at all times, not just post-binge.
See Also:
Articles on Fasting, Binging and Appetite
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