Getting Off Coffee — Whom do you believe?

Would you trust this man with your love life?

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about how I want to live my life, lately. I want to be free. I want to be healthy. I don’t want to kill myself through neglect and laziness. I want to eat well, live well, recover well, and have the best life I can have under the circumstances.

I’ve been changing up my diet — adding a whole lot of fresh fruit and cooked (and raw) vegetables to the mix. I feel great. My spouse feels great. It makes a difference. I can’t say I’m that keen on getting really orthodox about what I eat and don’t eat.

For about the past year, I’ve been trying to eat more “Paleo” with lots of meat and vegetables, but not a lot of carbs. Lots of healthy fats and oils. The Paleo diet is big, just like all the other diets that have come along over the years. It makes logical sense to me, and it has emotional appeal.

But does my body like it?

Not so much. It sounded like a good idea at the time, but it’s not panning out over the long term. It feels foreign. Our ancestors may have eaten this way, but they weren’t living under current conditions. They didn’t have constant energy demands. They didn’t go-go-go from morning till night. They had a completely different lifestyle, which bears no resemblance at all to the lives we live now. I would think that would disqualify the Paleo diet from being even remotely considered, but there’s that emotional appeal of “getting back to basics” and ditching all the unhealthy modern habits that have gotten us into the messes we see around us. Countless religious movements have produced lots of different denominations precisely from this mindset. Now health and fitness seem to have taken the place of religion.

For me, if I were living on the savannah, hanging out around the fire, collecting berries whenever I felt like it, and going on occasional huts, yeah — I’d be total Paleo. But my energy demands are many hundreds of times greater than that lifestyle requires, so Paleo makes no sense at all, in my book. That’s not to keep folks from making plenty of money off the illusion that we can ever go back — or that we should, to the extent we can with things we can control… like our diet.

Now, I’m no doctor or nutritionist. I’m just an everyday person who thinks for themself. And I’m thinking that carb restriction and calorie restriction over the long term is just not healthy. If you do it for short periods, it can be very beneficial. But as a continued way of life? No way. Under-carbed people are unhappy people. They are aggressive and combative, in my experience, and arguments with people who are hypoglycemic generally don’t go well.

The other thing is, since I started supplementing my diet with healthy fats and oils, I’ve gained weight. And while I do get a lot of energy off the grass-fed butter and coconut oil, and it keeps me going through the morning, my metabolism doesn’t seem to want to let go of the fat. And it’s storing it up. Supposedly, you can reach a state of ketosis where you’re burning fat instead of sugar in your body, but you have to be so strict with it, and so completely cut out carbs as an energy source, it can take you years to get to that point. And you’ve got a lot of interim pain and suffering to get through.

Plus, if you know about physiology, you know that glucose is a critical energy source for every cell in your body, so if you avoid sugar and carbs like the plague some folks say they are, you’re literally starving your body. And when you starve your body, it turns around and produces more of the glucose it needs from inside — the liver. So you’re stressing your system. That sucks, all around.

And all sorts of interesting things happen to your insulin resistance, etc. You have folks like Dave Asprey (the “Bulletproof Exec”) on medication for Diabetes 2 — an acquired condition that’s often directly related to diet and exercise habits — or the lack thereof.

So, I’m going to take nutrition advice from a guy who’s given himself Diabetes 2 and who says that fruit is like candy — a shot of pure sugar — and should be avoided like the plague?

He’s not the only one out there coming up with all sorts of ideas about how we should eat. There are tons of experts who are infopreneurs making good money off their educational-slash-marketing efforts. And we just eat it up. Literally and figuratively.

Whom do you believe? Whom do you trust?

Personally, I am getting more and more impatient with people who study things in a lab and then turn around and insist they can be applied to real life.That, and folks who insist that correlation implies causation — because two things occur together, then one must be the cause of the other.

It’s patently untrue. Studies are done all the time with too small a selection of people, and the only things that they’re looking at are what’s on their radar. They pick out 5 overweight adults and 5 normal weight adults and give them food choices. They look at who chooses what, and then they say that certain foods will make you fat. Or that certain foods will keep you slim. There’s no gathering of data about the states of mind of the test subjects, there’s no information on who’s been overweight their entire life and who lost the weight or who gained it. The foods they put in front of the participants may or may not have been selected according to broad criteria, and they may or may not have good quality foods, or even foods that taste good and are appealing. There are a million different variables that come into play, including time of day, the current physical/mental health status of the participants, and what happened with them over the long term before they ever participated in the study.

And yet, we’re expected to trust those results, and we’re supposed to believe the folks who are quoting their interpretation of the results — usually for a price.

Yeah, I’m not really feeling that.

Anyway, I digress. I guess my point is, a lot of people get really alarmist about nutrition and fitness. For good reason — there’s an obesity and Diabetes 2 epidemic going on in the western world, and it’s spreading to other countries. Like Japan — check out the article. And when you’ve been unhealthy for a while, your reactions are going to be skewed to the extreme. Especially if you’ve had physical injury or mental health issues that either came from trauma or traumatized you (usually works in a vicious cycle – cause and effect feed the trauma imbalance), you’re going to react more precipitously — FREAK OUT — a lot more quickly.

Plus, you’ve got a lot of people haggling and arguing and jockeying for position in the health and fitness field, so you’ve got a higher pitch overall to the conversations — especially with folks who are fundamentally unhealthy (overweight, with terrible bloodwork numbers, and very de-conditioned) who are trying to keep up with the rigors of an active infopreneurial lifestyle.

So, the tone of the discussion is more like a heated argument.

All. The. Time.

Which just clouds the issue for those of us “on the ground” — or as the marketers say, those of us in the target audience.

So, what about this “fast” business (as in quick, not fasting). Make changes fast. See results fast. Expecting things to change for you right away is unrealistic and unsustainable. It takes years and years to see substantive health and fitness changes, and it takes ongoing commitment and discipline to make those changes stick to where you don’t have to deliberately think about it and focus on it.

It takes time and effort to get things to improve. It takes time and effort to heal injuries and get to a point where you are fully functional. Especially with mild traumatic brain injury (concussion, if you will), where the brain — which is constantly working for us — committing to a program of recovery and sticking with it, day in and day out, over the course of weeks, months, years… That’s something our fast-oriented culture just doesn’t know what to do with.

It really doesn’t.

But all the voices in the marketplace are screaming at the tops of their lungs about how damn’ URGENT everything is. Yeah, okay, it is. No doubt about that. But all too often, the ones pushing us to change our ways are only in it for the short-term. They’re with us long enough to make their case and collect our money, then they move on to the next target audience member who hasn’t yet signed up for their life-changing program.

I have friends who are devotees of some famous health gurus. The experts have them jumping through hoops to mix up specific types of smoothies and avoid sugar in all its forms.Their trusted leaders have them so freaked out about the dangers of certain foods, that they’re willing to completely rebuild their lives around this new program — which is expensive and is coming to them later in life, when they are heading into retirement and will not — I repeat NOT — have significant sources of income within a few years.

It kind of freaks me out. Their orthodoxy and strict adherence to this “life-changing program” is well nigh complete… except for when they “slip” and end up bingeing on crap that their bodies would have no interest in eating, were they adequately nourished, to begin with.

All this, because they feel the need to make change FAST, and stave off the demons of their impending demise.

On top of it, these folks look miserable. Every time they post a new picture to Facebook, they look more haggard and drawn… puffy and stressed. It’s just not good.

But they did get their 10 days at “the institute” in Florida, and now they have their special powders and potions to mix up and tell themselves they’re seeing transformational results more quickly than they’d realize them on their own.

As for me, I’ve been a devotee of plenty of independent researchers and health/fitness educators. I sign up for their newsletters. I read their blogs. I watch the videos, and I’m usually impressed by their passion and the way they communicate. But there’s a whole lot they don’t say, and if you look behind the scenes, you see that there’s even more that goes unsaid. Like the Diabetes 2 diagnosis. Like the lousy bloodwork. Like the failed relationships and the weight gain.

It doesn’t take long for a lot of these folks to fall out of favor.

Which brings me back, time and again, to myself. How does my body feel? How does my head feel? How does my life feel? When I use that as a guide and check in on a regular basis, that tells me everything I need.

Like I need to cut back on sweets.

Like I need to cut back on coffee.

Like I really need to eat some red meat.

Like I need to eat chicken or fish or not have any meat for one day.

Like I need more fruits and vegetables.

Like I need to not eat that cake and ice cream.

Basically, I’ve found that following the advice of gurus works best when I do it intermittently, but not constantly. Destabilizing myself with bad science and treating it like gospel is no way to go. I need balance, and I need exercise, and there is usually much behind the scenes of what gurus teach, that we’ll never learn and never know.

So, when I follow my own path and get more information and apply it sparingly, so much the better. Some things work for some people, based on their chemistry and a host of other factors. Some things don’t. Ultimately, it’s up to me, and the proof is in the pudding.

And now it’s time for a walk.


Never let anyone else define you

I’m still learning lessons from my cleaning jaunt on Saturday. I’m still having things occur to me as I remember the whole experience.

One of the things that occurred to me, which has made the fact of my relatively humble experience a lot less hostile, is the fact that although my possessions have not been very extravagant, and I’ve never owned lots of “nice things” on a scale grander than necessary tools like computers and books and toys, all the things I’ve owned, came to me because I chose them.

Granted, I don’t own a matched set of living room furniture, which one would expect someone my age to have. I still have a futon that I bought back in 1996, when my relatives were coming to visit, and I had nowhere for them to sit down. We don’t have comfortable, matching lounging chairs —  the various chairs we have were picked up along the way, either given to us by family or bought at second-hand shops. We don’t have a lot of furniture, period. And what we do have, came from humble sources. As for clothing, my closet is far from full, and the clothes I do have are fortunately “classic” in style, so I never have to worry about them being out of fashion. My life is “furnished” with odds and ends that were picked up along the way, either on a whim or in the rush of necessity. I don’t even own a full set of dishes — the ones we have are mix-and-match affairs that are a combination of hand-made thrown clay dishes from my college years, plates and glasses my spouse and I carried with us over the years, and commemorative items that we purchased at the time our home baseball team was doing well in the playoffs.

But though our material effects are modest, they are ours. We did not acquire the things around us as a result of some marketing campaign by the latest desirable interior design guru. We have not followed along with what the media told us about what to buy and how to look. We have not made “purchasing decisions” based on what the neighbors had. And we certainly have not fallen for the bait of smooth-talking, “enhancement”-peddling shysters who claim to want to make our lives better, while really wanting only to separate us from our money.

Now, don’t get me wrong. We do have some nice things. We’ve picked up some nice artwork along the way. And we do have several computers with wireless and broadband. We have some good books on the shelves around the house, and we do have some decent clothes in our closet. But they certainly don’t look like the kinds of things you see on television or in commercials or in magazines. And they don’t look at all like the things many of our better-established friends have. A formally trained interior designer would cringe if they stepped foot in our house, and a lot of our friends wear  smiles of intentional acceptance when they look around our house and try to find a chair to sit on.

The thing is, just about everything we have in our house — and I have in my life — is there by conscious, deliberate choice. Now, obviously, not having a lot of money will limit your choices somewhat. But within any price range, you can still exercise self-determination. And that’s what we’ve done — it’s what I’ve done. Everywhere I look, from my job to my car to my home to how I spend my time, I have defined for myself the terms of my existence. And while unforeseen and unavoidable conditions have sometimes forced my hand and compelled me to make different choices than I initially intended (falling or getting into car accidents, and hurting your brain in the process can have a somewhat dampening effect), still, given the choices I had in the aftermath, I made up my own danged mind and I did what I decided to do — for better and for worse.

Now, thinking back on some of the choices I made after my accidents — the poor job decisions, the bad money choices, the continuously risky behavior that served to keep me alert with a steady flow of adrenaline (but just ended up eroding my overall health in the long run) — knowing now what I know, and having a much better handle on myself, I would not make those same choices again. But the fact of the matter is, they were my choices. Impaired or not, flawed or not, they were my decisions and my doing.

And if I can decide and do “wrong”, I can certainly decide and do things to set those wrongs to right.

Ultimately, the thing that matters, is that all this is mine. It’s the result of my actions, the result of the events of my life. And I had a hand in creating it all. Even in the shadow of the chagrin I feel looking around at my modest life and regarding my somewhat deprived past, I still have the knowledge that my life is defined by my own self, my own choices, my own actions. And I can feel good about the fact that I haven’t let others completely take over my life with their definitions, their expectations, their requirements, their approval.

In a way, I’m deeply grateful that I was not raised in the midst of people who unconditionally accepted and loved me, no matter what. Learning to survive — even thrive — in the face of disapproval, judgment, and outright hostility, taught me more about how to keep intact in this world, than probably anything else.

Now, don’t get me wrong — I do think it’s a good thing to love and accept children unconditionally and to teach them that it’s okay to be different. But at the same time, if you never learn how to live your life in the face of adversity, what kind of future have you got in the wider world? The constant threat I felt myself under, the never-ending surprises of being unexpectedly punished for being “bad” (I often had no idea I was doing anything wrong), the steady stream of ridicule and antagonism from kids around me, taught me in a very coarse way how to get by in the world and still keep myself intact. I often think of Jackie Chan’s accounts of being trained in the Peking Opera School, where he was put through some very intense rigors — over and over and over again. I think of my own life in those terms, and considering how successful Jackie Chan has become, the benefits of being trained to be tough, early on, is not such a bad thing to contemplate.

I think, in this age of convenience and “focus on safety,” we tend to lose sight of the fact that life can be extremely tough and rough and sometimes demand more from us than we think we have to give. We can also lose sight of the fact that the people who are promising us safety and convenience are not actually our friends, but actual opponents seeking to best us (and get hold of our money) by playing to our self-indulgent, lazy sides. Those people who would tell us the “right” way to dress, to act, to outfit our lives, and furnish our houses, tend to be a lot less interested in making our lives better, than getting something they want from us.

All too often, we are quarry. We are prey. We are targets for the market-makers. And as long as the hunters tell us we’ll be much happier in our gilded cages — and we believe them — we are all too easily captured, if not killed.

The killing is not about our bodies (though that happens slowly through the constant stream of inactivity and over-indulgence of fake products that pass for “food”), it’s really about our souls — the ability and right we have, to make up our own minds about how we will live and how we will use the precious time we have on this earth. The minute we let others tell us we’re not good enough, because we don’t have the right stuff or the right job or the right zip code or the right car or the right letters after our name, we let them take a little more life from us. We let them kill us just a little bit more.

And I realize, in thinking about my bittersweet feelings about the things boxed up in my basement, that whatever time I spend feeling embarrassed about the “stuff” I own or the way I live my life, is time spent letting someone else suck the precious life from me. Our time on this planet is all-too short, and we have fewer and fewer moments to fully savor the life we have, to allow some abstract definition of how life — or we — “should” be to distract us from the business of being who we are and doing what we do.

And when I stop to truly think about what all those “modest” items mean to me — what part they’ve had in my life, what events they’ve marked, what purpose they served me at the time I had them around me regularly — I realize that those things were all about my freedom. Having a crate covered with a cloth for a bedside stand gave me the ability to live more freely, because I wasn’t spending money on expensive furniture I only used a scant few hours a day, before and after waking. Same goes for furniture. A chair is a chair, and if you can sit on it and be comfortable, who cares if it matches the sofa? As for the futon, I don’t spend a whole lot of time sitting around on the couch — and I shouldn’t, anyway. All the “modest” items in my life made the truly important things possible — the computers that let me get my work done without needing to hire a secretary or assistant… the subscription fees for the broadcast syndication, so the show could go on… the vacations to beautiful places that restored the spirit… and the healthcare expenses that have kept both my spouse and I functional, even in the face of daunting odds.

Ultimately, looking around at my “stuff”, it’s clear to me that my priorities in life are very different from many others’. And that’s perfectly fine. Because not everyone needs to build their life around being a good consumer. Some of us need to actually build a new and better world for  future generations. Not everyone needs to have the right clothes and the right car and the right job, to be well-off. And riches come in so many different shapes and sizes, that tying them directly to money makes no sense to me at all.

The bottom line (if there is one) is that the things in my life are there because they have meaning for me. They serve a valuable purpose — to me. Nobody else… not Martha Stewart, not Ralph Lauren, not Architectural Digest… has dictated how I have lived my life. The challenges of just living my life have demanded my full attention. And the fact that I’m here — humble possessions or not — is as much of an affirmation as I could ask for.

Maybe more.

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