Beware – Little Things Become Big Things

It was a Monday, and when I backed out of the drive for work, I felt an almost imperceptible rhythmic bumping from the front of my car. It was such a faint sense that if the road was too rough, I couldn’t feel it. After a week, it got a little louder but still not enough to alarm me. I grabbed a flashlight and looked under the car and couldn’t see a thing. Finally, I was driving home from work and – BANG! – I thought a SCUD missile hit the car. A tire blew out and I don’t mean started leaking air. I mean it shredded. It blew a hole large enough to shove a soccer ball through.

So here is my take-away: take care of little things before they become big things.

When I first felt that bump, I could have taken the car to a tire shop and had them poke around. They would have told me that the steel belt inside my front passenger tire is delaminating and, if I don’t replace it, it’s going to go on me. When I’m driving. Instead, I wondered about what was going for two weeks. Then the tire blew. But not at home and not near a tire store. I was twenty miles from home and pulled over into knee-high grass along the side of the road. I got out my mini sledge-hammer to remove the wheel from the car because it’s rusted on. And I’m hoping like hell that the donut I have for a spare will get me to the station. Then, I have to do everything I should have done earlier. Just take care of things, will you?

Closer to home, I remember when my Father’s shoulder began to hurt him. He was in remission from cancer so he was hypersensitive about anything odd with his body. If he dug hard, he could feel a little ‘BB’ rolling around deep inside the joint. He called a friend – a physical therapist who taught at a medical university – who said he had probably just pulled something. Had he attended to the small things, he would have gone to see his oncologist at the first sign of something amiss. He didn’t and we learned later that he had developed a treatable lymphoma. In time, his shoulder pain grew worse. When we finally went to the doctor, cancer had spread through much of his body. Would immediate diagnoses have changed the outcome? I don’t know. What I do know is that your best chance for anything to do with health from a cold to cancer is early diagnosis.

Big things start out as small things. Wisdom tells us to attend to those little things. Laziness tells us to ignore them. So, just like every journey starts with a step, and just like the road to better health can start with one decision,  the path to disease, illness, and injury can start with a simple scratch that goes uncared for.

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Healthy Bodies And Victoria’s Secret?

Healthy Body Image? Not what Victoria’s Secret is selling.

Well, here’s good news for human beings. The MS Business Insider opines that market forces in women’s underwear are shifting away from pencil-thin models toward healthy looking bodies. They cite as evidence a strong uptick in sales of lingerie at stores such as Adore Me and Aerie who market primarily to the non-waif crowd. It seems that curves are in. Or at least getting there.

Part of this issues from the fact that Americans have grown fatter over the past decades. Once anything becomes a norm within a culture, it cycles back onto itself as the de facto standard. In this case, it’s mostly a good thing. People are coming to reject the marketing mantra that you must look like this or be shaped like this to be happy and attractive. And exercise research reinforces what is intuitive: fit and strong, as opposed to wan and weak, are important components of a healthy lifestyle for all adults. 

The Insider ties several marketing moves into the explanation including Sports Illustrated’s editorial decision to include different body types in their swim wear issue and a backlash toward Victoria’s Secret for putatively moving their catalog offerings toward soft-porn. They note Iskra Lawrence as someone who is ‘curvy’ and who is having success in modeling and speaking out against the unhealthy lifestyles of models forced to adhere to the ridiculous standards of advertising executives.

Keep a grain of salt handy. Popularity and fashion do and will change. What makes a healthy lifestyle doesn’t. There will be constant controversies about diets and health and sales people will continue to prop up something new as an essential for what-ails-you. But the science of health is steady: good food, moderate and consistent exercise, and meaningful relationships are what make you healthy and happy.

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10 Essential Tips for Starting a Workout Program

Specifically for the not-so-fit

If you are a twenty-year-old bathing suit model who runs half-marathons in your spare time for fun, you can probably just keep moving along.  If you are like almost every other human being on the planet, and if you are just now starting a fitness program, here is some well-earned advice offered in an attempt to deprogram you from some of the silly and potentially harmful exercise advice many of us have bought into:

For Starters:

  • It’s said all the time and most people will ignore it: check-in for a check-up. You probably need one anyway and your doctor will be impressed with your efforts at better health. Really. They will probably give you permission to start slow and that will comfort you on your first trot around the block. Get the blood-work done, too, and save the results. When you return for next year’s check-up, compare the results of your blood work. You’ll be surprised with how much your work has paid off. You will look better and feel better but these results prove that you actually are better. On the inside.

    • Ignore stretching and warming up at your peril. Prep your body for the work ahead. Warm up slowly and ease into stretches. I will tell you from experience: it is stupid to lose a month of training time while you recoup after tearing a muscle because you couldn’t spare five minutes to stretch. If you only have twenty minutes and can’t get your full workout in then focus on stretching. You can run tomorrow. The earth will still turn.

    • Wear good shoes on a forgiving surface. My preferred gym is my garage when it’s ninety degrees outside. I wear heavy running shoes and have a sturdy carpet on the concrete to cushion my legs and feet. If you are doing more weights than cardio then consider a pair of heavier gym or cross-fit shoes. They will give you a solid foundation and help hold your ankles in place. They don’t have to be expensive but be sure they are of good quality.
  • Most guys won’t be able to do this – we’ve simply been too brainwashed about what it means to be manly – but if your program uses weights, I highly recommend going through the first day or at least the first set without the dumbbells. Learn the movements. Your body is used to doing everything in a straight line. The very best way to hurt yourself is to get excited about losing forty pounds, grab a fifteen-pound dumbbell, and start swinging it sideways. I can almost guarantee that while the weight goes in one direction, your lower back or your hamstring, which hasn’t made a turn like that since the fifth grade, is going to stay right where it is. When one part of you moves and the other doesn’t? Not a good day. You can still work up a good sweat without the weights so start in easy.

For the mind:

  • “No pain, no gain” is stupid. Pain means that you are doing something wrong or moving something too far or aren’t ready for the movement. I’m not talking about soreness or the feeling of pushing yourself. I’m talking about that feeling of having an ice pick jammed into the side of your left knee when doing a squat. Quit immediately and adjust if you feel pain. It took you fifty years to mold the body you have today. It’s okay to take some time to bring it back into a healthy condition. Working through real pain will only set you back as you take the time to recover from your dopey and misleading belief.
  • Remember that the people featured in those videos you are watching are fitness

    models and fitness professionals. While true that you can reach their level of fitness, you probably don’t have six hours a day to exercise while a professional chef waits in the wings to cook your meals. Be nice to yourself and take some time. Learn to enjoy feeling your body improve.

  • Don’t worry if you can’t work at a 110% or 50% or 10% effort through the entire workout. Keep at it bit by bit and you will finally do it. Maybe next week. Maybe next month. Maybe next year. But to rush because of false expectations only invites injury or frustration and both will detract from your efforts and goals. Feel free to rest for a set or just to take a few breaths. Enjoy the workout! It’s not a punishment.


  • If you want to lose weight then you’ve got to do some kind of food plan. It’s becoming more and more clear that while exercise promotes fitness and health it does not always equate to weight loss. Eating less equates to weight loss. I really, really, like the container system used by the Beachbody programs. It takes away the guessing and calorie counting and tracking. You’ll be hungry sometimes and that’s okay. Find a program that suits you and your personality. I know that I won’t stick to anything too complex to explain to the nearest third grader. The simple fact is that if you want different results then you need to cultivate different habits.

  • Avoid eating at least a half-hour before your workout and avoid heavy fats or protein. In time, you will learn what your body likes. I feel best and do my most energetic workouts in the morning before I eat anything.  I don’t use pre-workout shakes or meals though many people enjoy them. I doubt that they provide any real boost but experiment to find out what you like.

  • Do nibble on or drink some protein after your workout. The efficacy of protein for
    post-workout muscle repair and replenishment is one of the very few sports nutrition guidelines that you can trust. Your muscles are hungry after a workout and as our bodies age, we have a more difficult time metabolizing protein. So you want to replenish what you have burned and add a buffer for building new muscle.

A bonus!

  • Don’ t be stingy with the water. It’s free out of the tap and is the single best ‘nutrient’ to can put in your body.

An anti-bonus!

  • You can always forget about exercise altogether. Running around the block in silk shorts while you sweat like a dog isn’t the only path to a better life. Some of us like to do this stuff. I do. But if you don’t there is golf, gardening, walking, yoga – any kind of movement will improve your health. For more on healthy living without spandex read here and here.

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First Take Care of The Basics

Two stories to illustrate a point:

The first is about a couple I met a few years ago. They were both overweight, smoked, ate poorly, were inactive, and, all niceties aside, were generally gross and slovenly. And happy as clams about their health. Why?

Two reasons. One was that they had hooked up with a friend who sold vitamins through a multi-level marketing plan. She explained to them that these vitamins – and only these vitamins – were all natural, all organic, and that the special processing used by the manufacturer ensured that they were the highest quality nutrients you could shove into your gut. Of course, they are expensive! The manufacturing process is expensive and we don’t water down our brand through advertising or mass marketing. Besides – isn’t your health worth it? So they spent a king’s ransom each month shoving pills in the gullets.

The other reason they were so happy was their annual Mexico trip. Forget beaches and cliff diving – they went on a ‘health retreat.’ Each year they motored down South of the border for a little chelation therapy¹. This is a treatment used to remove specific heavy metal toxins from the body and is marginally legal in the US for general use. And isn’t that just like the Food and Drug Administration? To keep from Americans just what they need to be healthy? So these folks spend a couple weeks in Mexico hooked up to a needle where chemicals are pumped into their blood which is putatively cleansed of toxins and other nasties. Except that it’s not. And while the FDA isn’t a fan, neither is the American College of Toxicology nor the good folks at the Journal of Medical Toxicology (Read here, here, and here.) Even the Great Bearded Health Guru, Dr. Anthony Weil, is skeptical of non-standard use and considers chelation potentially harmful (here).

But my friends believed that this cured all their ills. They were convinced that if their diet and lifestyle was unhealthy then it was corrected by chelation. So they ate and drank and made merry and then spent a few thousand bucks each winter to clean up the mess.

The other story – happier and with a point not so obvious – is about me and bicycle racing. I took up cycling in my mid-twenties and became a pretty good local racer. I kept racing in bigger and faster races until I did a well-known race where the US Team (Team 7-11!) and several other international teams were competing. I won’t even try to brag: I was beaten so thoroughly it hurt for two weeks. I actually came home and gave away all of my bike racing stuff. I mean, if you can’t win the Tour de France…really, why ride a bicycle?

But along the way, I noticed something truly important: as much as I drooled over Guerciottis and Bianchis I was beating the guys who were riding them. It dawned on me that unless you are elite and racing against other people in the same category then conditioning was ninety percent of the equation. A sweet bike might make you look great but it’s not going to get you across the finish line any faster.

What do these stories have in common and how do they relate to everyday health? Both stories are about people who skip the hard and boring drudgery of the basics thinking that they can buy their goal. It never works. You have to put in the time for the basics.

So what do we do? Start where you are. The most important basic is food. Work on replacing processed foods with real foods. Work on getting at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day. Don’t fret too much if it doesn’t happen overnight. You’ve spent 30, 40, or maybe 50 years of your life building your food habits. It will take time to change them. Learn about nutrition and eschew fads. You will lose weight, can forget about costly supplements that may or may not work, and learn to enjoy real food again. Your body will begin repairing itself and – trust the FDA – you will not need chelation therapy.

Begin to enjoy some kind of activity. If you can’t run a marathon (ugh!) then run a mile. Or go for a fifteen-minute walk after dinner – that’s what I do with my kids. Push the mower instead of flipping down the self-propel lever. In every case doing something is better than doing nothing.  Begin where you are and make friends with your body. When you are tired, or wheezing, or sore…those are all signs that you are getting better and that your body is responding. Get the feeling more often.

Start to remove stresses from your life. Begin to adopt – to really grab onto – the stoic mantra to accept that you can only change some things. Really – ask yourself – what kind of crazy person stands in the way of a moving car? Yet how many hours and days and years do we waste trying to stop or change things that we simply have no control over? Learn to let those things happen. Learn to be happy in the choices you make.

Start today. Take five minutes to do something overtly healthy for you. Skip a cookie and have a couple slices of apple. Buy a loaf of whole wheat bread. It all adds up and you’ll soon see that you have more control over your health that you might imagine.

Note 1: Please understand that there is a useful context for medically controlled chelation therapy. The toxicological technique is used for people who are internally exposed to heavy metals like lead or copper and other metals. It works by injecting a chemical into your blood that binds to metals and helps clean them from your system. One problem is that the chelating chemical can bind to necessary chemicals like calcium and remove them as well causing severe health concerns and, in some cases, death (here).

Related posts:

Science or Salespitch?
Activated Charcoal? Plain silly.
Learn to spot fake science.
Health and Longevity? It all adds up.

The purpose of food?

Unless you’re French and believe that the primary purpose of food is pleasure there are two needs that food fulfills but only one is ever talked about.  If you read anything about food you know that carbs, proteins, and fats all power your body. Fight it out however you want. Dietary science continues to uphold the fuzzy logic that humans are resilient when it comes to food, that there are no foods that will kill you and none that are super foods. Eat lots of different foods, avoid processed when possible, and eat lots of plants. You’ll be fine.

What you will very rarely hear about is the role of food in providing nutrition. While every cell of your body requires fuel for cellular functions they also require other chemicals. (Yes, nutrients are chemicals!) Many chemicals – minerals and vitamins – are cell, function, or organ specific while others are needed throughout the body. Many are needed in very small amounts and their use is complex and interconnected with other processes making their requirements difficult to understand. A lot of research goes into figuring out just what each person needs but the advice to eat as many different kinds of whole foods in as natural a state as possible is a good.

So when you’re sorting out just what kind of protein drink you need after your HIIT workout or whether or not you should pour turbinado or stevia into your morning tea take a little time to think about the chemicals you need to perform all day long and how our fuel choices provide the chemicals you need. Carbs, fats, and proteins are only half the story.

See the USDA good nutrition and meal prep page here.
Recent post about nutritional silly business – downing charcoal.
My post with guidelines for avoiding food hucksters here.

The Next Big Thing! Activated Charcoal. Save your money.

Have lemon with your briquette?
Have lemon with your briquette?

I was wrong. In my last post about science-based nutrition, I guessed that fermented mango rind would be the next pseudo-science superfood.  It was just a matter of putting three words together and making something up. That’s basically the same formula supplement sales companies use. But an email from Dave Asprey – Bulletproof salesman extraordinaire – caught me off guard. The Next Big Thing is charcoal. And not just charcoal – you can buy that at Ace Hardware for a few bucks a bag. Nutrition grade activated charcoal. Since getting the email from Bulletproof urging me to act now before the stock runs dry I’ve seen several other purveyors of questionable goods hop on the band wagon.

Activated charcoal is charcoal that has been crushed and heated to expand and create a very large surface area. Sorry but it’s no more exciting than that. Charcoal does have a couple unique qualities. Qualities that have made it the go-to of last resort for poison control centers and radiation health physicists for a century. It is full of holes like a microscopic piece of Swiss cheese and it is ionic which means that it is electrically charged. Being charged means that it acts something like a sweater with static electricity – other things, toxic chemicals putatively, that are charged, will bind to it.

The Bulletproof site has a short paper with references outlining the benefits of charcoal. But the references are old – up to forty years – and are marginally applicable. There is nothing wrong with forty-year-old research as long as it applies and has been vetted with newer or more robust research. But there is very little research regarding ingestion of charcoal as most people never imagined that pill hucksters would sell the stuff as a health supplement. Charcoal is used to lessen the effects of poisoning and ingesting radioactive materials. In those cases, it is taken as a liquid at a rate of five times charcoal to the volume of poison ingested. Common dosages on the pseudo-science nutrition pages are right around 25-100 grams for adults. Keep in mind that a 100 grams equals about a quarter pound of charcoal. That is an amazing – amazingly bad judgment – three to four charcoal briquettes. I see, too, that several sites list dosages for children. Dave Aspery, on his sales page for charcoal provides this nugget:

When my young kids (4 and 6 years old) suddenly drop into uncharacteristic fits of whining or tantrums, especially after snacks at a friend’s house, activated charcoal brings them back to normal within about 10 minutes. It is amazing to watch.

This bothers me on several levels. Asprey claims that he’s neither a scientist nor a nutritionist but just a guy trying things out and reporting on what works for him. He certainly makes a strong argument for the former here. As for his kid’s behavior? If true then my guess is that doping them with chemicals when they act like children scares the crap out of them so they shape up.

How does charcoal work when given for poison ingestion? As stated above you would be administered a drink that contains charcoal at an approximate ratio of 5 parts charcoal to 1 part poison. It will absorb anything as it flows through your stomach and into the intestines. Not just toxins but nutrients as well. It can cause intestinal blockage and is often administered with a laxative so that it doesn’t linger in your intestine. It can cause vomiting which, if used for poison relief, is fine. Doctors just want the poisons out and they’re not concerned about which end it does the expelling. For personal use, I’m not sure which sounds worse: black stools or black vomit. Please note that ingesting charcoal will do nothing for anything outside of your digestive tract. It will not clear ‘brain fog’, will not chelate metals, and will not bind serum cholesterol. Really. Just get healthy, eat healthily and let your body do its work. It’s a wonderful machine.

In reading the scant research my opinion is that, like most shilled non-nutritive stuff people shove down their throat, activated charcoal is harmless and ineffective at anything other than making your stools black.  One study indicates a statistical decrease in key nutrients in apple juice when mixed with activated charcoal but I don’t see that this has any frightening application. The amounts used aren’t enough to cause any nutritive imbalance. Poison centers urge that you contact them first prior to self-medicating with briquettes. And if you really want to improve your life with carbon then invest in diamonds.  You get a much better return on investment. This is what the people selling this stuff are doing.

Clean up the junk – your brain will thank you for the peace of mind.

Sometimes what seems small brings great rewards.

A few years ago we moved a couple hundred miles from our home near Seattle. We lived in a 3,500 square foot house and most rooms had plenty of overflow. The thought of moving everything was daunting so we got a little crazy and start selling stuff off as fast as we could list it on ebay or Craigslist. It was fun. We made a few bucks and found things thought long lost. Over the next couple years, we did the same thing twice as we moved to New York and then to South Carolina.

I’ve been surprised at how little I miss my stuff. And what really surprises me is that I don’t even remember anything we sold other than a few tools and my copy of the OED. We were saving stuff because we might need it one day and we never did. And we never have since.

So I’ve become a believer in less is more. Somehow having less stuff on the outside makes me feel less cluttered on the inside.

There are lots of good resources for people wanting to clean up but here are a few things that helped us keep on the narrow path of less:

  1. Get rid of your broken stuff. This is a hard one for me. I want to fix everything. This weekend. Between trips to the dump and the store and getting the girls new shoes. In other words, the want  never quite makes it to the do. In lots of cases it just makes sense throw stuff out. Your closets and garage will thank you.
  2. It really is good advice: if you haven’t used it in a year then get rid of it. Don’t throw out grandma’s old quilt but, really, that half-empty bag of lawn fertilizer? C’mon. You couldn’t break it with a sledge. Toss it.
  3. If you can buy it for the cost a two or three cups of coffee then throw it away. I used to keep all kinds of stuff. I would buy a pack of flashlight bulbs for two bucks and use only one. The one left in the blister pack was like gold. I’d cart it from tool box to tool box and shuffle through stacks of other opened stuff trying to find anything. I admit this is still hard but now I use what I need and through the rest away. I feel wasteful but I don’t have the space for it and I’m tired of moving it. For this same reason, we don’t shop at Sam’s Club much. I don’t want to buy four gallons of tomato sauce at a time. It just clutters things up unless you’ve got an industrial sized pantry. Use what you need and throw the rest away.
  4. We’ve slowly been shifting our mindset from that of rushing out to buy what we need or want to taking time to buy things that are useful and that bring us some joy. We could buy any old pan for cooking but love our Le Creuset pots. Just using them makes me a little happier. They feel good. They’re easy to control. And it makes the purchase something more enjoyable rather than just going out to buy whatever fits the bill.
  5. Give stuff away. First I called anyone who gave us things to see if they wanted it back. Most of them laughed and said they got rid of to clean up. So we gave things to food banks or charities where they could either give it away or sell it to purchase things new.
  6. An educational note for those who have never sold things: you know that hard cover copy of Steven King’s Carrie that you’ve been lovingly dusting and ‘curating’ for the last twenty years? It’s worth about fifty cents if you can find anyone to buy it. We found that a great sale is twenty percent or so of what you paid. Expect five to ten and you won’t be disappointed. No one is trying to offend you – they just don’t want your junk unless you’re giving it away.

So clean up a bit. Start with a drawer or a room – there’s no rule that says you have to go top to bottom all at once. Your brain will feel better.

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