Sunday, 29 March 2009

The Immunity Crunch - are You Treating Your Health like a Credit Card?

Forget the credit crunch – a more pressing matter afflicting the world today is the health crunch. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather be poor and healthy and than rich and sick. That’s no reason not to aim to be both rich and healthy, of course.

But most people treat their health like a credit card instead of a bank account.

Our immune system is our health account. We can make withdrawals - perhaps by drinking heavily and eating junk food for a weekend… or deposits – perhaps by eating a healthy diet and exercising for a week.

With a bank account, when you spend more money than you have, you receive a letter from the bank, informing you that you are overdrawn. In the UK, we are usually charged around £30 for this – about $50.

When you make excessive withdrawals from your immunity, this letter comes in the form of illness.
Financially Vulnerable
If you regularly go overdrawn with the bank, the accumulated cost of those letters starts to mount up, and, of course, you never accumulate any savings. The older you get, the more financially disadvantaged this lack of savings makes you. Once you reach old age, your ability to earn diminishes and you become even more financially vulnerable.

You wouldn’t run your finances like this, so why would you do it with your health? The parallel is clear – if you keep getting ill, it means your immunity is never building up beyond baseline – and the older you get, the less you can rely upon your body to ‘earn’ back its strength after illness.

Sure, this is simplistic – sometimes an illness comes along that’s just gonna get you. But as a general rule, how often you get ill and how ill you get is an index of the strength of your immune system.
Irresponsible Borrowing
I have watched Mrs M build up her immunity in recent months after years of irresponsible borrowing from her health. There was a time when she was ill so often that it was more common to find her ill or recovering from illness, than well. Since March last year, she has been ill only once, and that was manifestly induced by the Christmas junk-fest.
Saving Like Scrooge
My own Christmas junk-fest did not make me ill. I attribute this to having a vastly greater savings account than she. I have been saving like Scrooge for years, squirreling away my health for a rainy day.

You don’t have to be like me. Just don’t be like Mrs M was.

And remember – some people’s banks give more warning than others. Don’t keep squandering your funds without thinking because one day there might be men at the door who have come to take your house.

See Also:
When it Comes to Nutrition, the Glass is Half Empty
... Read more

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

The Key to Beating a Binge or Habit: Creating Something to Lose

I have been corresponding with a friend about the challenges around giving up sugar. By his own admission, he has a problem with it. I think the most telling quote from his emails is this:

I can eat literally huge quantities of chocolate, cakes (especially cheesecake) and other high sugar foods.

I am always talking about Mrs M's legendary sweet tooth, but herein lies a difference - my friend combines Mrs M's insatiable desire for sweetness with the same devastating capacity for volume I demonstrated in my shameful and thankfully rare alcohol fuelled cake/chocolate binge not so long ago.
I am a Mere Amateur
His first problem is that he needs no alcohol to precipitate a sugar-fest; second, the frequency. My binge was very much a one-off, giving we weeks to allow my organs to relieve themselves of whatever they had been forced to retain/absorb as a result; whereas my friend manages binges of comparable magnitude on a regular basis. Here is a sample menu, which I gather took place within a couple of weeks:
  • Over 2 nights an 800g box of Thornton's continental chocolate
  • On another day, an entire strawberry cheesecake
  • On another, 3 Cadbury's chocolate puddings with 3 Cadbury's flakes
  • One evening, an entire tub of Ben and Jerry's Phish Food, a whole case of profiteroles and a ½ a litre of cream
Lordy - I am an amateur, and Mrs M is a mere dabbler.

My friend enlisted my advice in kicking the 'habit' mainly because he was having awful headaches which he had been able to link to the sugar intake. He was also concerned about the history of heart disease in his family - we had, in the past, discussed the role of sugar in the condition.
Breaking the Cycle
This has given me an opportunity to ponder the the dynamics of breaking the cycle and getting back onto the straight and narrow, particularly in the wake of my own lapses at Christmas and the one mentioned above.

I am not a person who finds giving things up hard. I have up smoking after 5 years without blinking. When I went Paleo, I cut out my favourite food, porridge, without question and without return.

Yet at Christmas, my third dessert-guzzling session seemed to tip me into new territory. My normally solid resolve had begun to weaken, and I was unable to resist a fourth, and then a fifth. I hated myself, but I had to do it.
Downward Momentum
I had acquired downward momentum. Put simply, the more crap I ate, the less I had to lose. I had already put on a few pounds and put a dent into my normally good health. With each successive binge the marginal loss of having a further binge was reduced. The further down you go, the harder it is to arrest the downward progress because the less different it makes to you where you are.

So what stopped me? A growing sense of self-loathing and recognition that the mountain to be climbed to return to former health and body composition was growing. The scale of that mountain was well illustrated by my post-Christmas body composition chart. It was no big deal compared to the kind of achievements many have made - but for me, who has always been lean, it meant a lot.
Creating Something to Lose
The points is, I had been intending to stop after binge number 3, but didn't. I needed something to lose.

Creating something to lose is the biggest challenge around ending a week of lapses or even years of a habit. The first day is the hardest day. If you eat a cake or take a drink or smoke a cigarette, what have you lost? Nothing.

If you manage to go for a day without something, then what have you got to lose by having some the following day - a little, but not much. You have only gone a day without, so by having some now you would not exactly be interrupting up a glorious run.
Upward Momentum
For me, it's all about that first week - you have to create something you are proud of or pleased with; something which, if broken, would represent a loss. You need to create upward momentum.

During those first few days, recite the reasons you shouldn't lapse. They are different for everyone. For me, the most powerful one is this:

You will hate yourself; you will be pissed off, big time.

I posted about Tough Love - Reasons not to Quit a while ago. It was a tongue-in-cheek analysis, but nevertheless had many elements of truth. Maybe some of your reasons are amongst those.

Maybe for you there are physiological dimensions to your momentum - with sugar I have found the cravings diminish with time. For many days after my most recent binge, I could still feel the tug. Maybe it's entirely psychological - but either way, you might regard these changes as something you have made, acquired, built. By lapsing, you would be throwing that away.

So - whether you are recovering from a brief lapse or trying to break years of habit, figure out what matters most to you, conquer that first week by reciting those things to yourself, then ride the momentum from there on: now you have something to lose.

P.S. Things are not going so smoothly for my friend, who emailed me today to confess to having broken a few weeks of momentum with:
  • 2 slices of chocolate birthday cake
  • a dairy milk chocolate bar
  • a Cadbury's crème egg
  • a bowl of apple crumble
I was disappointed, yet faintly jealous...

See Also:
Sugar Rampage Demonstrates How Alcohol Kills Self Control
When does Intermittent Fasting Become an Eating Disorder?
Tough Love - Reasons not to Quit You Don't Normally Hear
... Read more

Thursday, 19 March 2009

The Worst Cake in the World?

Last week I posted about my alcohol-fuelled sugar binge, during which I bought a cake which apparently needed no refrigeration. On reflection I realise there's nothing new about that. The unrefrigerated shelves of supermarkets have been laden with cake-like foods for years. I suppose I was just surprised by just how much like a real cake this one looked on the front of the box, and therefore by the fact that it did not need to be kept cold.
In any case, all these thoughts were in hindsight. At the time, all I was interested in was getting cake. It was 11.30pm on a Saturday night, I had a skinful of booze, and I was in the midst of a cake frenzy. What brought me round was eating the thing. I had already eaten some chocolate bars and real cakes (these had been bought from another shop, and yes, were in the chiller cabinet,) so was unprepared for the assault on my senses of this franken-cake.

Seriously: it was so sweet, I could feel my toes curling as I ate. As I mentioned in the other post, even Mrs M's normally invincible sweet tooth balked at this one. This felt more like a science experiment than an exercise in baking.

click for larger image
The only comparable experience is one I had when I first visited the US at the beginning of the decade. As a child I had read Marvel comics, in which Twinkies were advertised. Bizarrely, as an adult this was the first piece of Americana it occurred to me to sample. As you can imagine, not quite what I had expected. The enticing images from the comic book pages turned out to have grotesquely oversold the reality, which was a sickly, greasy, chemical taste.

As you will know from previous campaigns, my focus has been around taking to task companies who claim to sell healthy food, yet introduce unhealthy ones by stealth or use misleading marketing to mask the true nature of their product.
Cakes for the Connoisseur
So the company selling this cake seems like a new challenge - not least because they have no web site or email address. They are a small company based in Huddersfield, UK, called "Cakes for the Connoisseur." Connoisseur of what?!, one might reasonably howl.

They were bought by another company in recent years, which itself was apparently bought by another, even bigger company. There has even been the hint of bankruptcy - but as far as I know, they are still trading. Of course, the fact that I was able to recently buy one of their cakes tells us nothing about this, since I suspect you could keep this kind of product on the shelves until doomsday without any material impact on the already-low quality.
So I think a new tactic is in order: subtle sarcasm. Can I convince Cakes for the Connoisseur that I love their cakes and enlist their support in convincing my nagging family that the ingredients are harmless?

Here is the letter I will hand write and send in the mail. I think hand writing it will be a nice touch, hopefully convincing them this is genuine:

Dear Cakes for the Connoisseur,

I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoy your cakes and thank you for continuing to make them. I found your address on the back of the cake box and decided to write to you to say thank you for all the pleasure you have given me over the years. I always look forward to a cup of tea and one of your cakes in the afternoon. Since becoming ill I have not been able to get out much, so it's the little treats in life that make the difference.

My wife has been complaining that I should stop eating cake and has been badgering me about the ingredients in your cakes, so I also wanted to get your help. She says that they are all artificial and unhealthy. But I have read the box myself and they look fine to me - vegetable oil is obviously healthy, and so are eggs and wheat. These are also natural. She says the sugar is bad, but I thought we needed sugar for energy so this makes no sense to me.

So if you've got any information to help me keep the wife quiet I'd be much obliged and thanks again for your great cakes!

Yours sincerely,

Pete Harrison

As ever, I will report back on any replies.

p.s. I invented the name - signing off as Methuselah might affect the appearance of authenticity!

See Also:
Sugar Rampage Demonstrates How Alcohol Kills Self-Control
... Read more

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Sugar Rampage Demonstrates How Alcohol Kills Self Control

This is not exactly breaking news, but it has truck me recently how often alcohol is the catalyst for loss of self control.

Everyone has a set of thresholds protecting them from doing the things they have decided they are better off not doing, some of which are stronger than others.

For example, I would not normally eat curry sauce when at an Indian restaurant, because I know they often load it up with sugar and salt (depends on the quality of the restaurant, of course.) Yet after a glass of wine, I usually find myself dipping my grilled tandoori chicken pieces in Mrs M's masala sauce. After two glasses, there is a good chance I will be finishing off her curry for her, which means eating a lot more of the sauce. I rarely go beyond two glasses of wine, but if I do, I may be tempted to start nibbling on poppadoms or other non-Paleo foods I would never touch when sober.
Stress and Cocktails
There is also a baseline level of resolve upon which these different thresholds sit. If I am feeling very determined at the time, then I may be able to resist all these things after a couple of glasses of wine; but after a stressful week at work or a long period of strict adherence to my dietary rules, my baseline of resolve may be lower and I am straight onto the poppadoms after one glass.

The trouble is, the one thing I find it hardest to avoid after the first glass of wine is...another glass. So the crucial moment around which the success or failure of my resolve pivots, is the decision on that second glass of wine.

A few weeks back, after a stressful week at work, I failed the second glass of wine test. I then failed the third glass of wine test and a number of subsequent tests which, thanks to my companions, saw these tests stray increasingly into the realms of cocktails I had never heard of.
Late Shop
What followed was not pretty. I had a sudden moment of clarity after drink number seven, and hauled myself into the unsteady moonlight to cross the city on foot and go home before I did any more damage. Until then, I had fortunately not been in an 'eating' situation, so none of my self-control thresholds had been under attack (other than the ones about each consecutive drink!)

However, as I passed a late shop, something snapped - the culmination of a week of stress and at least 4 strong cocktails warped my reason and drove me into the shop with what was probably a look of wild determination.
King-Sized Snickers
There, I purchased a king-sized Snickers bar and then continued my journey home, eating as I went. As fate would have it, I happened upon another late shop and with my self-control now in tatters and my sugar craving fired up, I bought a Boost bar, a large, chocolate-covered flapjack - which I noted contained nearly 1000 calories - and a boxed cake that was not in a chiller cabinet. More on that in a moment.

I then continued on may way, devouring the Boost in a few bites, before tackling the flapjack, which turned out to be denser than a neutron star. This took a bit more work, but by the time I stumbled upon my third shop, I had disposed of that, too.
Gregg's Bakery
In spite of already having a cake in a box, I had to buy something from the shop I had now found. It just seemed too good to be true that I had found a Gregg's Bakery open at 11.30pm on a Saturday. I bought a vanilla slice and a cream donut. By now well and truly gripped with cake fever, I demanded some fresh cream from the pimpled youth manning the counter. He worriedly explained that they don't sell cream. A cake shop that doesn't sell cream? When I had finished haranguing the poor kid about the absurdity of a cake shop where you can't buy cream, I strode the final half mile home.
Recruiting Mrs M
On the way, I phoned Mrs M to let her know I had cake. As you know from The Great Cake Porn Tour, Mrs M is a sugar fiend extraordinaire and can always be relied upon to stray from the path of righteousness when suitably goaded.

So here's the thing: when we had eaten the fresh cakes from Gregg's, I was still good for more, so I cracked open the boxed cake that had not been in a chiller cabinet. Why had it not been in a chiller cabinet, you might be wondering? Perhaps negligence on the part of the vendor? Did it turn out to be off?
The Non-Food Cake
No. This cake was not in the chiller cabinet because it was not food as we know it. It was immune from perishing because it was constructed, so far as I could tell, from non-food ingredients. When I am in the grip of a sugar frenzy, almost nothing can hold me back - but even I could not finish this cake. Mrs M took one mouthful and made a face like she'd had a spoonful of hornets. I thought her hair was going to fall out.

I will save the detail and ingredients for another post. I tracked down the company that manufactures it and am thinking of interesting ways to contact them. Letters of outrage are not necessarily the best way in this case. I am oddly in awe of them, because they appear to have achieved the very apex of food corruption, the zenith of nutritional vacuity. More on this soon.

See Also:
The Worst Cake in the World?
The Great Cake Porn Tour
... Read more

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Sister Blog Launched: Train Now, Live Later

A quick note to announce the launch of a sister blog, Train Now, Live Later. The site will offer 3 things:
Exercise Library: lots of videos and links to give you ideas for workouts and exercises, with the emphasis on the unconventional - all searchable by equipment or body part.
Workout Diary: a record of my workouts - each exercise I mention will be referenced with videos or images.
Articles: thoughts, ideas, comments on the media, references to good posts on other fitness blogs...

Please swing by and take a look - use the comments link for this post to tell me what you think. I have a number of things I plan to improve and am always happy to add your ideas to the list.... Read more

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

My Lost Two Weeks and Blog Hijack

Okay, so I woke up this morning with a head like a badger’s rear end, two weeks worth of stubble and a distinctly strange atmosphere between Mrs M and me. The last thing I could remember was a party at which I was persuaded to eat some mushrooms whose purpose was not nutrition, if you know what I mean.

I can recall some incredibly vivid dreams, the content of which revolve around living with a tribe of hunter gatherers, being extremely cold all the time and being ridiculed for being an unsuccessful hunter. I think it culminated in an immensely chaotic gathering round a fire.

What the hell was going on? I get to work and by boss treats me like I’m some kind of idiot. Big Vern, with whom I normally eat on a daily basis, sat in another part of the canteen at lunch, eying me suspiciously; and I have a number of emails demanding to know why I have failed to deliver various promised documents.

Seriously - those were not normal mushrooms.

This morning, when I appeared following my first visit to the bathroom, Mrs M was for some reason keen to inspect the toilet.

“You put the toilet seat down.”

I was still confused, so I kept it neutral. “Yes.”

She offered nothing further, so I tried “And…?”

“No reason.” She seemed distracted, so I left it.

You put the toilet seat down. What’s been going on round here?

To make matters worse, someone appeared to have hijacked my blog in my absence. I discovered this had been posted a couple of weeks back, followed by a number of further entries. I wasn’t as angry as you might expect because it turns out to be pretty creative stuff and clearly in line this blog’s Paleo philosophy – but I immediately changed my user name and password.

Then, at lunchtime I discussed with Mrs M my lost 2 weeks. She was pretty cagey at first, as though she didn’t buy into my theory that I’d had some kind of crazy, protracted mushroom trip; but when I pushed her for an alternative theory, she clammed up.

“So you can’t remember anything?” she wanted to know.

“Some weird dreams. That’s it.”

“And what about your blog?”

Ahhhhhh – so that was it. She thought I was the author of the caveman stuff.

“So you think this was some kind of stunt?”

“No, not at all…” she trailed off. She was staring out of the window. “You were just….very different for a while.”

“Different how?”

“Doesn’t matter.”

“Come on.”

“Okay – less Jaded. Less cynical. Almost child-like.” She hesitated, then added “..and I’d kind of got used to the stubble.”

I rubbed my clean-shaven chin. Less jaded and less cynical. How do you like that?

Anyway, I think we’re cool now. I’m going to leave the caveman posts where they are, and thanks to whoever hacked in and posted them, but please keep your hands off from now on!

Normal service will be resumed in due course…

See Also:
Letters from a Caveman
... Read more