“Healthy” is a Hydra-Headed Word (Part 2, the Concretes)

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OK, yea, that first post went off the rails quite a bit. I had intended a bit of an intro, and it quickly turned into a rant and I just went with it. At one point, I was just streaming consciousness to such an extent that I didn’t do manual saves as I usually do; and after about 30 minutes…blank, and no WP auto-saves I could find. That pissed me off even more. Luckily, a few tricks later, I was able to recover what I’d written.

What I wished to convey was a short bit about how “health” or “healthy” is so often used metaphorically (at best), to loaded, just-so assertions (at worst). Like: hearthealthywholegrains or healthylowcarblifestyle. On the political side—which was the purpose of the intro that turned into full-on rant—it’s healthyeconomy, healthyjobmarket, healthystockmarket. And the list goes on.

It’s all bullshit. It’s all manipulative. It’s all designed to get you to think: oh, this is healthy!!! (now, turn off brain and don’t think).

The simple fact is that you don’t really know how healthy or unhealthy anything is, excepting outright poison, fire, drowning, falling from heights, tangling with a bear or African cat. You can know that certain things are sustaining: drinking water, eating real food. But can you say with certainty how much different indulging in neolithic foodstuffs 50% of the time, or 5% of the time, makes a huge difference? And if so, how much?  And how does it weigh on your overall sense of well being? …Hell, there are still tons of people out there asserting that the minuscule amounts of n-6 PUFA you get from CAFO beef is unhealthy because it’s a bad ratio with n-3.

Here’s all you can do: Make Reasonable and Educated Guesses. Then CHOOSE.

You can pay attention to how you feel, and other makers of a “healthy” body. By and large, if you feel bad all the time no matter what you eat or drink, something is amiss and you may not be optimally healthy—whatever that means.

So how about a different paradigm? Here’s my modest proposal: view everything as a choice on a spectrum from bad to better to better and better.

To return to what was going to be my intro, democracy and socialism (there’s no important distinction) is better than totalitarian dictatorship. I think anarchy of the mind is a better choice still. Pretend and act as though you don’t need all the handouts, tax incentives, deductions, entitlements, “rights,” and so on, doled out by means of forcing others to pay for all that rot on your behalf.

…Being pathetic is surely not “healthy.” …I’m just guessing.

You’re going to indulge yourself, because you live in a world of plenty and evolution prepared you for a life of scarcity. A-priori. It’s all around you everywhere and it’s enticing and very few will want to resist. Moreover, that desire changes with age. Being ripped is certainly a 20-something value (I was 20-something; I know: pussy). But having a bit of flab at 50…but a shaper, more tuned, critical, educated, and experienced mind as a tradeoff? I don’t begrudge those who want to have both and some will, but is that a “health” debate, or a debate of preference and tradeoffs, where “health” is just a diversion and talking point?

I get criticized all the time for maintaining 15-20 pounds of excess fat at nearly 52 (after losing 60 pounds of it). But I sit and write a lot. I drink too much (helps the writing). Liquid calories fuck up fat loss in that 10-20 pound range. I know this. But it’s also a tradeoff. Am I “unhealthy?” I doubt it. I also know I make better eating choices than about 95% out there, perhaps more.

Everyone needs to relax. This is about good, better, better to better choices (there is no “best”). But it’s pretty easy to know that “this is better than that.” Go with better, most situations. And this works over the entire spectrum. No matter what menu you see before you, you don’t have to go: “there’s nothing Paleo.” You can go: “I’m hungry, I really would like to eat, this looks like the better choice.”

I’ll leave you with a better indulgence, all yooz who crave a grain indulgence now and then. How about start with a classic substrate—a French baguette, made with plain white refined flower and water, basically—but as all French know, the water and the minerals in the water make the baguette.

IMG 1212
Avec Beurre
IMG 1213
Jambon Blanc
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Et Cornichon
IMG 1217
Lil’ open facers with a bit ‘O onion

So there you go folks. Philosophy, practicality, and a bit of better choices.

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  1. Man , this is just so,right on! Thanks for all the good stuff lately, enjoying the hell out of where you’re head is at this moment.

    I just did a post this morning about choosing “better better better”

    Banquette looks delicious!


  2. Baquette ….darn auto correct

  3. I’ve developed a weekly sandwich ritual lately which I like a lot. Can’t eat wheat on a daily basis due to the digestive thing but every Thursday I have a sandwich for lunch, at a nice little nature preserve, at a picnic table.

    “Here I am, in the great outdoors, eating my sandwich.”

    It makes me feel bold and daring.

  4. Yes, good for you! Eating sandwich is bold and courageous act of anarchy and rebellion! …I mean, sure, is no like Civil Rights riot bold, or Monk setting self on fire or anything, but hey, for modern day American half sack pansy ass human, is pretty damn bold!

  5. So unpaleo . . . you suck

    by the way . . TJ’s Tuscan Pane toasted w/ a shit load of butter and ham…

    that shits the bomb

    • Yea, my argument is that when you do indulge, then make better choices. Chances are, you’ll indulge less. Least that’s now or seems to work for me.

      That sandwich was last week. This week was a half gallon of raw whole milk from Green Pastures, first milk in a couple of months or more. There is something about milk over a few days, for me. I tolerate it fine and it really makes me feel good, mentally, physically, energetically.

  6. I’ve been a lurker for a long time here and, frankly, the neo-randian stuff makes my stomach turn occasionally, but you are on to something here. I was reading about another Richard recently and in my mind he showed us how to die a good death. He ate a peak-flavor tomato pilaf, washed down with a glass of good red, then laid down for a nap in his stone farmhouse a few km north of Toulouse and died in his sleep at 72. No religion necessary.

  7. I agree with most you have written here but if I had written a book on health and weight loss I would see it as my job to be lean.

    • Just as Dr House presumably should see it as his job to be drug-free and well-balanced?
      Or is just having the best diagnostician around enough for his patients?
      I think this is an interesting area of ethics and, of course economics (if you argument is economic it’s probably correct enough, though there is probably a market out there of people who are daunted by unattainable leanness and will buy lifestyle prescriptions from authors with imperfect physiques but realistic improvements).

  8. Wow. I love it. This is the “paleo” or whatever that has been lost. When I started with this whole thing there were about 3 blogs and the message was that it was relatively easy (no deprivation), it would help you lose excess weight and you would be healthier. That message has been lost and now we hear mostly about 6 pack abs and “PAF”. I think the important part of the message has been lost. I frequently refer people to Devany’s original essay and tell them those are the essentials.

    @neal – I feel that part of he problem with paleo is this idea that you aren’t paleo enough if you aren’t sporting a 6 pack. I think “being real” and healthy (and maintaining a 60 pound weight loss) is just as relevant and important to have out there for people as a possibility as the idea that you will look like a 2o year old athlete. The other side of all this is I think people end up feeling like failures if they don’t end up looking that way.

    • Hello,
      That is not so much a problem with “paleo” as it is with health writing in general. I totaly agree that having a six pack is not only not required but is actually a fairly poor indicator of an individuals health. If a person is going to write and sell a book/ website about health and weight loss then basically they should show that they can get to a certain BF ratio or “ideal weight”. Hunter gatherer men are generally at about 10% body fat so this from an evolutionary perspective might make a reasonable goal.
      If any goal is unobtainable then a solid reason needs to be given as to why, years of a NAD diet or unavoidably elevated stress levels might be such a reason.
      I would add that both this reply and my post above where inspired by lines in what Richard wrote they are not specifically about Richard himself.

      • I think you have to adjust to some extent for age, Mark Sisson seems unusual to me in his ability to stay lean in middle age. In my younger days sub-10% body fat was more of a given than a goal, these days it might still be attainable but it’s a long road to get there.

      • I think the reality is we aren’t hunter-gatherers and that our modern lifestyle is completely different. An interesting article I read about Paul Ryan’s claim to be 6% body-fat. Th article went on to give averages of body fat for different athletes. It was kind of eye-opening. My takeaway was that 10% is very uncommon and is the realm of elite athletes. Not so say we shouldn’t strive or that there isn’t an obesity epidemic, but interesting to think about. Many of us (such as yourself) who eat well and workout think it is attainable with the right plan. The truth is it may require a huge amount of activity as well. I think paleo and a decent exercise plan will take most people to around 15% and anything after that is very specific hard work.

      • Yep, evolution doesn’t give a shit about abs. I think it goes like I heard way back when: men about 15% on average, women about 25%. Marilyn Monroe is an excellent example of a healthy looking woman carrying 25% body fat in her child bearing years.

  9. ladysadie1 says:

    “It’s all bullshit. It’s all manipulative. It’s all designed to get you to think: oh, this is healthy!!! (now, turn off brain and don’t think).”

    “Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thoght? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it.” (1984)

  10. Amy Haines says:

    Whoaa, permission to eat bread once in a while? How long until the skids are greased enough to allow a daily indulgence?

    Richard, I say that with a smirk and a smile. I know full well from whence you come. I’ve been following a good/better/best model for my eating for the past few weeks. Full of nutrient-dense liver, bone-broth, fresh veggies, eggs, and meats? absolutely. Contain cheats of homemade bread, pizza, and a handful of chocolate chip cookies once a month? Oh, of course.

    And I’ve felt horrible about it; but as one of your friends noted: this is not guru. Sometimes I just want pizza, as my own life experience dictates (as much as my ancestral heritage does). I like bread and I am on a road to perfecting a sourdough technique that yields a bread preferable to my unique tastes and production circumstances.

    I love French food, for many deep reasons. France was the first foreign country I ever visited; it is the first place I was asked to dance, and have a midnight coffee on the Seine, a glass of cider after the heartiest of suppers in Brest, and a Provencal pistou – all in one year. My grandfather is from Alsace and my father’s family played a role in developing my love of food; my mom’s Polish and Czech side did too, but as I did research, I realized that France and Italy played a role in influencing the cuisines of Eastern Europe, and vice-versa.

    I’ve often wondered how I could possibly give up bread, considering its presence in my culinary heritage. I CAN give up bread, but I do not want to do so. Will I draw a line at peirogi? I can’t say until Christmas comes along. But I am glad to see manifest evidence that strict Paleo dogma need not rule my daily diet.

    • You know, it’s like Sisson and his 80/20 deal. 20% leaves a lot of room for some of the things you love and a baguette isn’t a loaf of wonder bread. A few weeks back I had French toast for the first time in years, maybe decades. I can’t see how that is going to be a big deal, just go with a better way to do it, pastured egg, cooked in butter, nice butter on top and real maple syrup.

      • EatLessMoveMoore says:

        Exactly. That’s the sane, human take on the issue. What so many VLC zealots fail to realize is that, while such a way of eating may indeed work in the short term (and work very well), it ultimately reduces one’s quality of life, ability to function in social settings, etc., etc. Drowning everything in coconut oil and butter may lead to that magical land of ‘nutritional ketosis’ – but it also renders the person eating it something of a dietary freak.

      • Amy Haines says:

        I’ve never cared about ketosis or eating VLC paleo. I’ve consumed plenty of sweet potatoes and white potatoes as part of my diet. It was more about GRAIN foods and how they affected me. Rice, not so much – bread and wheat products were a different story. I didn’t have very bad reactions like some report, such as stomach pain or instant sleepiness, but once I got started on a good baguette or a loaf of country sourdough, I couldn’t stop. I could easily eat a whole loaf of bread in a sitting. That’s a lot of calories for very little nutritional value. Going mostly paleo helped me get that behavior under control, to the point where I now bake a loaf of good sourdough two or three times a month, usually for big family dinners so there are plenty of people with whom to share it, and then go bread-free for many days or weeks.

        I’m no scientist and truthfully, I’m not interested in debating what I consider nutritional minutiae – VLC for weight loss, food reward hypothesis, wheat as poison, etc. It’s not that those things aren’t important to the bigger picture, by I know what makes me feel crummy (eating too much sugar, too few meats and veggies) and my own cursory survey of the American food landscape points to a few culprits in the obesity issue: too much sugar esp. in the form of corn syrup, too many grain-based foods and not enough meats and veggies. So I take measures to keep those foods out of my family’s diet and otherwise I don’t stress it too much – because if one thing definitely AIN’T PALEO, it’s stress over every choice you make.

        And I received an order for 10 dozen pierogi for various family events during the holidays (I took over for Grandma as she is too old to manage such a task). I guess I’ll be eating those little lumps of wheaty, cheesy, potato-y goodness after all.

  11. Health is like happiness, an idiosyncratic homeostasis that resists reduction to simple formulae. Different people want different things (and are built differently by genetic and epigenetic endowment). To know your own health (or happiness), you have to experiment on yourself: you have to do things and notice your response(s). You have to see how your machine works and think about what you want to do with it. Other people can tell you about their experience, but they cannot have yours (and it is folly to suppose that their happiness necessarily looks like yours: even if it does, that does not mean that you can acquire it the same way they did).

    All of this makes me think of the inscription on the Delphic Oracle (γνῶθι σεαυτόν). There really is no good substitute for knowing oneself consciously, intimately, carefully, experientially. The more you know about yourself, the better your culture will be (in my experience).

  12. Richard, after reading your health articles I saw so many mistakes in my pursuit of health and surely you see it all clearly. Of course neither I nor the rest of us can put the issue as squarely as you can. I will do my best to study from you how to achieve health as necessary. I’ll do everything to learn your lessons so it will serve me well in my subsequent health pursuit under your fatherly leadership.

  13. Lute Nikoley says:

    OK I confess, couldn’t stand all the replies about bread. So I went and had one of the best BLT’s I’ve ever had. So now I’ve got gas in abundance. Burping constantly. But it was worth it. I might do it again next month and the month after that.

  14. Well shit ol’ dear, guess what? I eat basmati rice once or twice a week! Sisson says it is neutral, so, what the hell? Let y’all in on a little secret: I racewalk. What? That’s not part of the evolutionary lifestyle plan, William! So what, I like it, makes feel grounded, and balanced, plus I hate all of that everyday exercise till you puke, Crossfit nonsense. Not knocking Crossfit, folks, just doesn’t work for me. Once a week of McGuff’s high intensity, a little rice, and lots of glorious racewalking does the trick.

  15. My biggest wheat indulgence is making pizza with the kid, though lately I’ve switched to using to using tortillas for crust, which makes for a surprisingly decent super thin crust pizza, not to mention avoiding the hassle of homemade crust. I worked at a pizzeria for a year in high school, so I think I’ve earned my pizza snob stripes. Oh yeah, I will often bread chicken or liver to make it more palatable for the kid-although potato starch,which is pretty common here, prolly works better for this. And crepes, again for the kid, pretty common, third cup flour,third cup milk, egg, couple tablespoons coconut oil, dash of honey, maybe some raw cocoa. Even so, a kilo of wheat flour lasts a loooooooong time in our household. Ordinary Czech bread is actually quite good, a dark meaty sourdough, but I have to draw the line somewhere.

    • Amy Haines says:

      Sean, I think it’s my kids that helped me have a less-stringent approach to diet overall. There are some memories I have of the kitchen that I want to share with my kids, too. Like eating cookie dough out of the bowl, decorating cakes for special occasions, Sunday morning pancakes, and rolling pie crust. I know all of these things can be modified for the “paleo” diet, but something about them isn’t the same.

      I posted above about how I make bread from time to time. I also make pizza, cookies, and pancakes with half-flour, half-buckwheat. But not every day, or even every week. Once a month, sometimes even longer time will elapse. It’s not hurting us, I’m making memories with my kids, and I’ve learned to put low-nutritional value TREATS in their proper place as…treats. I grew up this way and am not suffering any chronic illness from it. So, on the good-better-best spectrum, we eat paleo-ish most of the time and I think it goes very far in helping avert the cascade of negative effects that would come from daily indulgence in nothing but bread, pasta, and cakes.

  16. the extra poundage is life insurance in times of crisis and famine even Mark Sisson posted something related and trying to be very lean as you get older is more challenging and risky as we age you become more susceptible to a heealth crisis so you are perfectly normal.

    you raise a critical point about should we now focus on the big picture when we are adapted to think and react to the moment. The problem is that few people have developed an inherited trait spatial perception (also known as non-verbal intelligence) for developing ideas altho this can be learned most people choose to not learn and never do. When I try to explain something that requires concepts to my inlaws and many other they have some mental block like the people who could never learn math in school and you just cannot get through to them and they go emotional on the attack. I think this mass of people like these dodos created the housing bubble and other mass movements where everyone seems to follow and few see the disaster coming. The more fortunate people also have inherited traits where they learn from their mistakes and are the creative thinking of our times, I think in some ways you have those qualities that few other posses. I’m no academic but if you check your genome SNIP’s it will tell you what traits you have. 23andme.com I’m lucky but we all have our challenges including me so if you tell me to FO I’m just going to laugh.

    Life is to enjoy we eat out at least once a week pig out every so often even had snake in a chocolate sauce at a 5* place and a steamie hot dog with michigan sauce and fries at a the local slop shop followed by the better ice cream parlor. <10% indulge or whatever keeps you going.

    • Nope RL I hear you. At base my message is to think and get along oneself, and to always learn and consider new ideas and paradigms. It’s just overall in a dietary context.

      I did the 23andme deal. Solidly Northern European, both sides. I’m probably predisposed to carry a bit more BF in older age. But I find that that 15-20 pound excess, which is really only 10% of me weight, is easily manageable. And plus, I retain lean mass very well. I can go weeks not working out with no noticeable degradation in strength.

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