Robb Wolf’s Liberty Garden concept

Lettuce have some salad!

One of the most important things you do every day is make decisions on what kinds of things you will use to fuel your body. Beef or chicken? Grassfed or storebought? What kinds of veggies? You gonna throw some corn down, or perhaps a big-ass sandwich? Maybe that’s not such a great idea.

Regardless of the choices you ultimately end up making, the choice itself is an important one. Your body is – without a doubt – the most important thing you own. How you choose to fuel it should respect that level of importance, in my opinion. And herein lies a problem inherent in the system – you can make good choices that still end up being less good choices based on how that fuel was raised/grown/created. And while you may not be able to fully know how all your fuel was created, it’s important to take those baby steps to getting to where you would like to be. (If you’re happy guzzling Mountain Dew and Ritz crackers, you can pretty much disregard this. Realistically, you’re probably not reading this anyway.)

Enter the Liberty Garden concept as promoted by Robb Wolf. Here’s the concept in an even smaller nutshell than Robb’s site talks about it: You are what you eat; in order to know what you’re eating, you should grow some of it because factory farming is involved in practices that can be called questionable (not to mention non sustainable), and that a great way to start it is using your own yard/kitchen window/balcony/veranda/fire escape/WHATEVER to start growing some of your own stuff. Sounds easy, right? It is! Just throw some seeds in some healthy soil (dirt is such a dead sounding word), keep it watered as per the directions on the back of the package, make sure the plants have adequate sunlight, and voila! instant food.

The Liberty Garden – Robb Wolf

To start, I would recommend some herbs. They’re usually very resilient and do well. If you think you have a black thumb, go with these to start. They’re almost a sure thing.

So what are you waiting for? Get out there, and get growing!

Three months on the primal fringe-Part One

On Tuesday, April 5th, I will have three months under my belt in my transformation from a rather marshmallowy everyman into an old-is-new archetype. I have lost 18 pounds (230 -> 212) in that time, monitored changes in my body measurements and lost nearly 3 inches overall, while actually gaining inches in my legs and arms. I can do pullups, both dead-hang and kipping, and can run a mile at a respectable speed. I’ve learned the basics of the Olympic lifts, and my max weight on those has been steadily increasing. Overall, my strength has increased dramatically, and I just feel better.

In addition to all that, my allergies have let up to the point where I only intermittently take Claritin, and even then only on the bad days. I have not gotten sick despite working in an office building in a large city where it will hopefully someday stop raining. I rarely get acne or outbreaks, but even the acne I did have seems to be less. My skin in general is healthier – color, elasticity, the whole nine yards. The jury is still out, but it is starting to look like gray hair which had begun sprouting when I was 19, has begun to come in dark once more. My teeth are whiter. I’m sleeping better.

I have been toying with the idea of doing this stuff for years.

I have been aware of Crossfit as well as the paleo method of diet and had looked into it, but thought “Nah, there’s nothing in this for me.” I felt pretty healthy, was in better shape than most of my colleagues, and was in general doing well. Crossfit seemed ‘too hard’, or ‘too intense’. I stuck to spin classes and cycling. My back was weak, so I suffered through back pain from the cycling. I couldn’t quite hold my body rigid over the bicycle, and relied too much on my handlebars. In reality, what I had thought of as ‘doing pretty well’, was in fact kind of ‘being lackluster’. I effectively was lying to myself, justifying my fitness by comparing myself to other people around me. This was a mistake. I was surrounded by people that spend their time in offices and whom are not, in general, athletic. So while I talked myself into thinking that I was doing pretty good in the grand scheme of things, deep down I knew I was fooling myself.

Wherein I learn the truth

The new year was fast approaching, and I had been thinking about my health and wellness as well as my wife’s. We had a new little one that had just turned one, and was beginning to take his first steps. I knew where this was headed – running, jumping, playing, etc. Neither my wife nor I wanted to miss out on that because of our health. I began looking for solutions.

We had recently moved to a new city, so I began to look around for a gym. I wasn’t interested in a gym that was shiny and glittery, or a gym that was tiny and filled with machines. I wanted something real. I remembered Crossfit – indeed I had been watching the main site’s WOD’s (workout of the day) for a while now, but never doing any of them. I looked up crossfit gyms in the area. There were two nearby.

Call it providence, good timing, or just flat out good luck, but I found that one had an end of the year deal going on, and additionally offered an introduction program for new initiates. This intro program was designed to acclimate an individual untrained in the sport of fitness that is offered by crossfit, as well as train them in many of the movements and lifts which would be frequently used in the WOD’s offered at the gym. After asking a few questions of the gym owner, particularly surrounding the fact that my wife was traveling fairly far outside of her comfort range, we signed up. I had a good feeling about this place, despite never having been there. I was excited.

I get whipped

The first week was the sorest that I think I have ever been. We ran, lifted little or no weight, practiced ‘double unders’ (a method of jumping rope where the rope travels under your body twice for every jump you make), box jumps, pullups, pushups, situps, deadlifts, and a myriad of other movements. I was torched. I ached everywhere. I started taking fish oil to help lubricate my joints. Glucosamine chased that, as well as a nice morning dose of ibuprofen. I am not one to take to a something half assedly, and I was feeling it. I could tell this would be a long journey.

As the weeks wore on, the soreness and fatigue wore away, and successes began to mount. With the passing of time and the gaining of familiarity, I grew more comfortable and stronger, trading old non-fringe fat for new primal muscle. I traded slow, deliberate movements for speedy explosive ones. My cardiovascular system improved greatly, and I felt better than I had when I was cycling 60 miles or more per week.

An additional benefit of membership at the gym is the workshops and classes they offer. Our first week there, they were offering a class on the paleo method of eating. Sure, I thought, why not? It’ll at least be interesting. How true that statement would turn out to be.

The workshop was very interesting, and Jessica, the gym’s resident RD (registered dietician), was very frank and honest about the research she had done and about the benefits she personally had reaped from moving to this diet. I was intrigued, and – having had very little success in losing the weight I wanted to (and getting to a point where I had six pack abs), I did a little more research. Robb Wolf is one of the larger characters in this ‘paleo diet’ business, and was one of the first places Jessica referred the class to on the web (he offers free meal plans and shopping lists for the first 30 days). I started reading through this, seeing the issues it had the potential to address, and instantly thought of my dad.

My dad has been fighting with his health since before I was born. In many ways, he is a medical textbook, having suffered through a gauntlet of different and serious medical conditions. So much of what Robb Wolf claimed was like it was designed exactly for my dad. So I began to look into it even more deeply.

I began to voraciously read articles and websites about paleo, primal, natural movement, crossfit, etc. It was all very interesting and something about it really spoke to me. I decided almost immediately that I would ‘go paleo’, at least for  the 30 days, and see how things went.

Beef and squash soup – a tasty adventure

1.5# beef (we used tenderloin, but any can be used) cubed.

1 whole large butternut squash, peeled and cubed

1 large onion, chopped

2 cups chopped celery

1 tbsp minced garlic

1 bay leaf

1 tbsp dried parsley flakes

3/4 tsp rosemary

1/2 tsp ground cloves

2 cups mushrooms, quartered

8 cups Beef base/broth – just enough to cover the vegetables

2 tbsp butter or other saturated fat cooking oil

 

In a large pot, saute the vegetables  in the butter, being sure to add in the herbs and spices (reserve the bay leaf for later) until just beginning to soften.

In a separate skillet, brown the beef cubes.

When the vegetables are ready to go, add the beef base/broth to the pot and bring to a simmer.

Add the bay leaf.

When the beef has browned, add it to the soup pot.

Continue to let simmer until vegetables reach desired tenderness (they should be easily pierced with a fork).

Salt and pepper to taste throughout the cooking process.

 

Enjoy! It’s a great soup, and quite simple, too. The butternut squash and cloves give it a sweeter character, but it adds to the whole of the soup, offering up a nice counterpoint to the richness of the beef.

Primal living – a simple life.

The alarm clock buzzes, trills, and honks, injecting tendrils of wakefulness into the depths of the dream Joaquin’s mind had only moments before been so thoroughly involved with. The  dream regretfully evaporates, and he can no longer remember exactly what was happening. He had been hunting – or had it been the other way around? The thrill of it all still coursed through his body, culminating in a wiry contracting in his shoulder blades, a slight anticipatory tension in his legs. He had been ready to spring – and by all rights still was. As wakefulness rudely crowds out the last vestiges of the dream and any hope of sleep, he pushes himself slowly onto his side, reaches over to the nightstand and, without so much as a twitch of his eyelids, fumbles three times before finding the button to silence the horror that is the alarm clock. For a moment he contemplates a long, luxurious return to the mattress, but grumbling slightly to himself, manages to push his fleshy body up to a seated position. His forehead is already wrinkled in a mix of pain, grief, annoyance, and frustration. It’s definitely going to be one of those mornings.

Of course, he reflects, as he slides his feet between the layers of nine hundred count Egyptian cotton sheets, over the edge of the bed and to the soft StainMaster(tm) carpeted floor below, every morning seems to be one of those mornings.

He manages to swing just enough of his mass over the floor to propel himself upward. Not bad, he thinks to himself, no hands today! It’s the little things that count. He stumbles past clothing hastily doffed in a rush to get into bed and get to sleep and heads towards the five piece master bathroom. AS he crosses the threshold, his hand snakes out and flicks the light switch. His eyes, currently normalized for sleep, are not any kind of ready for the visual assault the bathroom lights offer him. His eyelids, still puffy with too few hours of sleep, snap then squeeze tightly closed. He forces an eye open the scantest of distances and manages to see the glass shower door, which is covered in a haze of soap scum and some pinkish bacteria that seem to be thriving on the low levels of they municipal water district has infused into the water. With a tug, the shower door swings open silently. Moments later, he has turned on the shower water and is anxiously awaiting the pseudo-scalding he enjoys in the morning.

***************************************

This is an all too familiar scene in the houses of many modern day ‘Westernized’ men and women. Instead of listening to the natural rhythms of their own bodies, of their sleep cycles, and of the diurnal and seasonal cycling, modern man has instead opted to become beholden to another decider of things: the clock. A paleolithic man would look at a modern man and his strict adherence to the clock and wonder What kind of magic powers does that clock have over this man who wears shiny and bright clothing, wraps his feet in something like tree bark, and looks as though a mile over rough terrain might well kill him? The paleolithic man would find this clock worship amusing (or perhaps hysterical) and would not at all understand why someone would take such a large part of their day and give it to pursuits which have no bearing on real life. He would then, probably, go off, kill a rabbit or two, grab some bulbs or tubers out of the ground, and proceed to eat. Being around in a modern country, he might well go and take a nap. What else is there to do, for today, really?

“The things you own end up owning you.” – Tyler Durden, Fight Club

Flippancy aside, a primal modern man daily walks a tightrope between wanting to enjoy the conveniences and luxuries of modern society, while still respecting his own life and anthropological history. We modern primals have electricity, petroleum powered locomotion, 60″ television sets, 5000 Watt surround sound THX certified home theater systems, video game consoles, refrigerators, super markets, malls, space age fabrics, and shoes so thick that even a princess couldn’t feel a pea beneath them. And to compound the whole thing, every last thing is wired up to the internet so you can check in, let everyone know what you’re doing RIGHT NOW, all 9000 of the people that you know so incredibly well that you’ve agreed to be friends with them on face-ter.

This is not necessary.

This is the background noise modern primals must adapt to. No longer do saber-toothed tigers stalk us through the wilderness, nor in general do we have to contend with hyenas or bears or things that go bump in the night. Instead, we have to contend with something much more insidious – the things we own.

Now, I’m not advocating stripping your life clean from the vagaries of technology – far from it. I have a very fond place in my heart for technology – indeed for many of the things I listed above. But a modern primal must determine a way to use these tools to his advantage, and not vice-versa.

But, for example, what happens when you limit your email exposure? Is it really so terrible that you only check it twice a day (or only a couple of times per week)? Does the world come crashing to a stop? The reality is that it won’t, and after you get over the initial anxiety of not checking your email every hour or half hour or ten minutes (as you probably do – via your phone or instant notifications or whatever), you’ll discover something wonderful – you don’t have to deal with your attention being fragmented, you can focus on the task at hand, and end up getting a lot more done.

As I take a journey towards becoming a modern primal, You can rest assured I will be taking steps to ensure that my devices do not control me. I have already taken steps at work to limit my email exposure (exactly as detailed above – twice a day, at 12 and 3), and have further taken steps at home. My wife and I cook nightly and, while we don’t get to bed as early as we should (and have a little one that acts as an alarm clock), we manage to do all right. My wife enjoys needlework some evenings, and today we spent time in the garage building furniture, took a trip to the park, and even cooked dinner outside. It was a great day, and I even managed to wake up without an alarm clock (or the little one).

Remember – this is not about restriction, or withholding, or technological abstinence of any kind. This is about asserting your control over the things that you own, taking your life back from the beeps, boops, and blips of modern conveniences, and ultimately living and enjoying your life without dependency on the electronic doodads and jimmywhatsits that are so everywhere today. After all, what good is life if all we’re good for is operating machines? We aren’t just, thumbs, fingers and eyeballs. We’re a whole being – let’s get out there and use it.

Primal chili – chili on the fringe

mmmm... chili

Just wanted to relay a recipe I made up this evening for primal chili. Being well aware of what goes into a conventional chili, I was able to cobble this – dare I say amazing? – chili recipe together. Overall, it’s pretty simple, and probably serves four or five. It’s hearty and delicious and has a nice beefy flavor. In order to go full primal/paleo, you should probably omit the red wine, but I certainly didn’t lose any sleep over having it in there, and the flavor speaks for itself.

Without any further ado, here we go!

  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 7 stalks of celery, diced
  • 4 cloves of garlic, finely diced
  • 2 lbs grass fed ground beef
  • 1/2 cup sliced mushrooms
  • 1 15 oz can diced tomatoes
  • 1 15 oz can tomato sauce
  • 1 cup red table wine
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 3 tbsp cumin
  • 3 tbsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 2 tsp fresh minced oregano
  • 1 tbsp irish butter

Sarah and I do the majority of our cooking in cast iron, so I threw the butter, onion, celery and garlic into a large cast iron skillet, careful to keep the heat low to keep oxidization down. On top of that, add the cinnamon. Cook these until tender – about 20 minutes or so. Meanwhile, brown the 2 lbs of ground beef (again, I used another cast iron skillet).

When the onions and celery are looking pretty close to translucent, clear a space out in the middle of the skillet and throw in the mushrooms and oregano. If needed, add a little more butter to help the mushrooms cook more thoroughly.  This should only take about 5 minutes until the mushrooms are tender. Add the wine to the onions, celery and mushrooms. It should sizzle and deglaze the skillet, as well as add a nice color to the onion and celery. Transfer this mixture into a good sized pot so we can finish the chili.

Next, add the tomato sauce and diced tomatoes to the pot, followed by the salt, pepper, chili powder and cumin. Stir until everything is thoroughly coated in tomatoes and tomato sauce. Finally, add the ground beef to the rest of the chili. Bring to a simmer and it’s ready to go! We added cubed avocado to ours, as well as a little cottage cheese for the little barbarian. If you want it a little spicier, add cayenne pepper (not more chili powder). 1/8th of a teaspoon goes a long way, so be gentle.

I hope you enjoy it. If you try it, let me know what you think. The red wine really works to intensify the beefy flavor of the beef, and adds a nice level of body to the pot of chili in general.

Bon apetit!

Merrell Trail Glove – it’s no marshmallow

grippy enough to hold me airborne

This past weekend, my wife and I finally tracked down the elusive Merrell “Glove” line at a small store called “Born To Run” in downtown Bellevue. They had the entire mens line, and only the ‘PowerGlove’ was missing from the women’s line… but I don’t know how much of a loss it really was. It was my least favorite of the line on paper.

However, we saw the rest of the lineup, and proceeded to try on most of the rest of the lineup. I tried on the Trail Glove and the True Glove. My wife tried on the Pace Glove and the Pure Glove. We ended up with three different pairs: the Trail Glove, the Pace Glove and the Pure Glove (I’m sure some marketing guy somewhere is cackling in delight because all the Gloves marketed to men begin with a “T” while all the women’s marketed shoes begin with the letter “P”). Sarah loved both the Pace and the Pure initially, because they felt comfortable, natural and fit her feet near perfectly. I walked away with the Trail Glove, because I felt like the toe box felt larger than the True Glove. I did not try on the Tough Glove, but probably will at some point in the near future.

Long story short, I love these shoes. They fit well, are crazy comfortable, and don’t make me feel like everyone is staring at my toed shoes (while they might be a good conversation starter, I don’t know how much the ladies dig ’em. Some are all for it, while the majority just think you’re strange and a little gross. You know, make you feel like you’re in 5th grade again. Fantastic times, really). I can tell there is a tiny bit of padding there, but not so much that it gets in the way of me feeling the ground (comparing them to my ASICS is like comparing a 1970’s suburban to a Koenigsegg sports car – there really is no viable comparison). They in no way hindered my ability to run on the middle of my foot (which is how you’re supposed to run – see example video below), nor did they feel too heavy or too big or anything like that. Overall, it was a great first experience. I ran two 800 meter runs over uneven blacktop surfaces – some uphill, some downhill. My feet and knees feel better now than if I had run in a pair of marshmallows (which I had done just last Friday, so the experience was fresh in my memory).

I picked them up Saturday and just wore them around everywhere I went. They’re great because they hold the middle of my foot and my heel snugly while letting my toes have the room they need to do their thing.

So, long story short, I’ve only had them for two whole days now, have gotten a ton of complements on them, spread the word a little bit, and my feet have never felt so good. If you’re contemplating whether or not to grab a pair of these, don’t hesitate – do it. You’ll thank me later.

The following video explains how to prepare your body for the rigors of running on your anatomy, as opposed to running on a cushion of marshmallow.

Nightline article on the “Caveman lifestyle” and my experiences with paleo

Ah “Caveman Lifestyle” – a modern day euphemism for someone who is committed to functional movement and eating a paleo style diet.

Nightline clip on the “Cavemen”

Nightline, on ABC.

The segment features Art DeVany and Robb Wolf. It is not a deep treatment of the topic, but it is interesting. It in no way goes into the real reasons for trying the paleo diet, which include: the reduction of inflammation in the body, improved health in general and for people with autoimmune diseases in particular.

Of course, the science is still new on all this, and studies that have occurred are small, but there have been thousands of people (in the video, Robb mentions the number one million) who have at the very least anecdotal evidence that this seems to be wildly successful for them. There are reports of reduced cholesterol levels, triglyceride levels, a reduction in heart disease and diabetes. It’s all very encouraging, and in my opinion, the way to go.

My experiences:

My wife and I have been following a paleo regimen for the previous month and a half going on two months. At first it was a little hard, because we STILL haven’t cleared the products we no longer really eat out of the house. That said, we haven’t had to worry about it so much. In addition to the paleo diet, we joined Crossfit Bellevue. We’ve collectively lost over 11 total inches, as well as 22 pounds… in less than two months. Pretty incredible, really. (Total inches is calculated by measuring around each arm at the thickest part of the bicep, the waist horizontally at the navel, the hips at the thickest part, and each thigh at the midpoint. The sum of those is our total inch measurement.

The interesting thing is that I have lost more overall weight, but far fewer inches than she has. The whole experience has been very interesting and eye opening.

The real reason we decided to try the paleo diet is for the anti-inflammatory and potential health benefits. Neither of us had what we would consider any kind of food allergies – no real issues with dairy or grains or legumes, and we were for the most part healthy. I had some low level hay-fever allergies and she has suffered for most of her life with intermittent bouts with acne.

Our time on the paleo diet has resulted in several unforseen benefits. Her acne is increasingly clear, and my hay fever allergies have been greatly reduced (I only sneezed once today – and that’s a real accomplishment for me). Additionally, we have noticed a general improvement in skin tone and consistency (not blotchy or mottled), greater energy, and whiter teeth. Another unforeseen benefit was that it forced us out of our ‘food routine’, and to really expand our recipes and cooking styles. We cook with coconut oil, as well as butter and animal fats, all in cast iron cookware over low heat to prevent oxidization of the oils we are cooking in – and it is all delicious. I have not had my blood lipids or cholesterol tested yet, but I will soon. (My annual physical is due).

These changes have been among the most positive changes we have ever made. I weigh less and can lift and do more, as well as run harder and further than I did on the day I was married – perhaps ever. I feel like I am in the best shape overall functional shape of my life. I have a picture from before we started this routine, but I won’t post it for another month. I figure 3 months is a good period of time to measure progress.

So you’ll get to see all too much Hal next month. I know you’re all on pins and needles waiting for that. Should be April 5th or so.

If you want to find out more about paleo, check out the following links:

Art DeVany’s site

Robb Wolf’s site

So remember, when you hear someone call you a caveman, they’re really just jealous that you had it in you to cut your addiction to grains, sugar, and the television as well as the intestinal fortitude to really go and make something of yourself – to challenge yourself to constantly improving yourself, making yourself better, stronger, faster, harder – instead of living life on the edge… of your sofa.