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Ending Dogma

23 Feb

Dogma: the established belief or doctrine held by a religion, or a particular group or organization.  It is authoritative and not to be disputed, doubted, or diverged from, by the practitioners or believers.  Although it generally refers to religious beliefs that are accepted without reason or evidence, they can refer to acceptable opinions of philosophers or philosophical schools, public decrees, or issued decisions of political authorities.  (from Wikipedia)

For 13 years, I had my own Dogma: eating beef.

It was founded on the belief that fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol in my diet were bad for me.  It was founded on the belief that eating beef was dangerous because of E. Coli outbreaks, and Mad Cow Disease.  I saw these attributes and events as the sign of a food source that I should eat.

It persisted for 13 years.  During some parts of that period, my diet was entirely poultry for a protein source. When I started investigating Paleo and alternative dietary plans, it occurred to me that what I thought I knew of fat and saturated fat might not be true.  Although I read the stories and studied the information, my decision to abstain from beef continued.

But in the last month, it occurred to me that I might be missing a nutritionally dense food source that could bring some additional positive results into my diet, if I could find a clean source for the meat.  I knew that grass-fed and finished beef was available at Whole Foods, but still was apprehensive about adding it back into my diet.

It occurred to me that I was holding onto this one facet of my old low-fat diet for the simple reason of momentum: I had been doing it for a long time.  The belief had become dogmatic – that it was healthier for me not to eat beef.  That’s when I knew I had to take steps towards change.

The opposite of dogmatic behavior is pragmatic behavior.  While holding certain beliefs to be true is important, I decided it was more important to accept all of the solutions to “problem” of a healthy and complete diet.

I firmly believe that variety in diet is one of the strengths of the Paleo lifestyle.  I have increased the variety of fruits, vegetables, and protein sources I eat over the past year (and especially in my six month Paleo stint.)  The different types of food give a great variety in micro-nutrients and flavors.

So the perfect opportunity came last week – when returning from a business trip to Asheville, North Carolina my trip took me right through the same area that Brasstown Beef and would give me the opportunity to see where the animals live and get a good price on a cut suitable for smoking.  (As an aside – buying Grassfed beef in this instance was $1 per pound more than conventional beef that was on special at Publix last week.  For a 3 pound cut, this meant a difference of $3.  This is hardly a budget breaker!)

The next time, the beef (a chuck roast) went onto the smoker and smoked until it was to pulling temperature.  It was delicious.

I’m still not sure if I’ll add steaks back in to my diet – the cuts that sound appetizing to me are the larger pieces suitable to slower (and lower temperature) cooking.  That’s probably still partially a mental response, but the large pieces, slow cooked are more appealing to me from pork sources as well.  (I’m more likely to smoke a pork shoulder than eat chops, for example.)

So in the course of a weekend I’ve ended a practice of 13 years that I could no longer hold onto.

These Are Southern Heritage Foods

19 Feb

At some point, the true heritage foods of the Southern United States were lost, obscured or perverted.

I think most people are more likely to associate Paula’s Deen’s brand of deep fried, sweetened foods with the South.

But the true heritage foods of this region: smoked meats, cured meats and fresh vegetables.

I travel regularly in the Carolinas and Tennessee, often by car. Barbecue is widely available in small stores an roadside stands offering meats smoked with a variety of wood smoke and sauces, depending on the region.

The traditional ‘cue of the region: pork and chicken is featured on the menu.  (Beef is more of a feature of the cattle states like Texas.)  Alongside the ‘cue in the best of the restaurants are fresh vegetables – everything from green beans to collard or mustard greens.  A lot of barbecue joints seem to resort to using frozen or canned vegetables instead, but that’s can be forgiven if the barbecue is good enough.

Is there anything more primal than meat cooked slowly over a smoky fire?  Probably not!

Reversing Direction

9 Feb

Just before I graduated from college, I decided to stop eating beef.

I decided that beef, along with its saturated fat load, questionable production methods, as well as emerging health risks (Mad Cow disease) was a good thing to remove from my diet.  It was pretty easy to do, and I didn’t miss it.

A few years later pork followed suit.  I decided pork was at least as questionable – and probably equally easy to eliminate.  Probably the only meal I missed in pork was Southern Pulled Pork Barbecue.

Since my adoption of Paleo, my food attitudes have adjusted.  Back in October, real Bacon returned to my diet regularly for the first time in probably 15 or 20 years.  The world didn’t end – and in fact, my good cholesterol rose versus last year.  I’ve also mixed in a few high quality Pork shoulders, slowly smoked to my diet occasionally.  My pork source: Thompson Farms in Dixie, Georgia.  They use pastured animals, raised from infants to slaughter in the same location and have earned one of Whole Foods highest certifications for animal welfare.

It’s great to see family run farms being rewarded for raising animals well and allowing them to live as naturally as possible.  They also were quick to respond to a question I sent via e-mail.

I’m now on the verge of reversing direction on my first food exclusion – and mixing some grass-fed beef back into my diet.  I’m thinking about a large cut – like a brisket or a tri-tip for smoking.  Again, it’s another Whole Foods-certified local farm – either White Oak Pastures in Bluffton, Georgia or Brasstown Beef in Brasstown, North Carolina as the source.

Grass-fed has a lot of advantages – all originating because it’s how the animal was intended to eat.

Have you reversed direction on a specific food because of Paleo?

Harder Weeks

19 Jan

I got back in the gym this morning to lift weights.

The last time I had visited?  Six days ago.  While it might seem like a normal interval, I’ve worked a pretty good three-day-a-week habit since the first of the year.  We all have them some times when it comes to finding time to exercise or just to feel normal.  This one is shaping up to be one and next week might be the same.

The weekend shaped up to be a busy one.  While my kids got to play pick up soccer on Saturday and again on Monday, I missed out on my Sunday afternoon game because of a home improvement project that I was finishing up followed by dinner plans with friends.  Monday afternoon I was on a plane out of town for a 24 hour business trip and all of the pitfalls that can occur there.

I did get a few minutes to start researching a training plan for (what I consider) sprint races – I’ve found some good resources like Speed Endurance that I’ll be checking out when I get some more time.  There’s a lot of videos that detail training development for different distances for me to watch and learn from.

How do I try to moderate the effects of weeks like this one?

Food on the Road

It’s easy to get off plan when you are on the road from a dietary perspective.  It’s especially easy when it comes to a lifestyle like Paleo – because when you look at the quick serve and fast food restaurant industries, it’s a white and starchy world out there.

I try and stay out of the fast food channel entirely.  Quick serve restaurants like Chipotle are a little better from the standpoint that the food can be customized and you can usually find a menu item that contains some leafy greens that you can add other vegetables too and a fairly clean protein.

I was fortunate to stay clean this trip – we ate lunch and dinner at full service (although chain) restaurants that I could order salads and vegetables with my meals.

Breakfast was also easy this trip – our hotel had counter service for breakfast and offered bacon and eggs.  I’ve also used Cracker Barrel (of all places!) on previous trips – they have a low-carb friendly menu that features bacon and eggs.  You could probably find a side of vegetables there as well if you wanted it.

Next week’s challenge involves staying on property at Disney, so we’ll see how I can fair in a closed environment.

Daylight and Air

One of my substitutes for getting to the gym is at least getting outdoors in the sun for a few minutes, and preferably to do something active.  After getting my home improvement project done on Sunday, I went out in what was left of the sunshine – the beautiful “Golden Hour” sun before sunset to do some light yard work (I pruned two small trees in my yard).  While I used to find activity like this tedious – I’ve come to recognize that the time outside helps improve my mood and attitude.

I got my dose on Monday morning with my kids pick up game – but Tuesday proved to be a day in the car and in meetings combined with cold and rainy weather.


Sleep is important in weeks like this one.  Even when there’s work pressing – you need to disconnect and shut down in the evening and let your body rest.

For me, that includes at least thirty minutes before bedtime without the laptop on – allowing my mind to slow down and shut down before I go to sleep.  In a hotel, I also use the White Noise Ambience app on my iPhone to help cover up the unfamiliar hotel background noise when I sleep.

Should Recreation Soccer Be Mixed Age?

16 Jan

Our club, up through the U8 age group, uses single age groups. There are U5, U6, U7 and U8 age groups with gender separated groups in U7 and above. U10 is the first group where kids stay in the group for two calendar years.

There are a lot of advantages to using single year age groups.

At this age, there can be a large disparity in skills with a single year’s difference in skills. Players with the adde year, who have been in the sport for longer usually have accumulated better ball skills. They also have the added insights of understanding positioning and some tactical understanding.

There is also the size and speed part of the equation. One year of growth can be a big difference in a player’s physical growth – multiple inches and pounds. Kids also add coordination in these ages.

There’s also the social aspect – matching kids by age group ensures kids are more likely to be matched on teams with other kids from their school.

It’s no wonder that many sports in our area separate each year into different age groups. But what if we combine two years into an age group?

The upside for each player could be tremendous though.

Through pick-up soccer I’ve seen both of my sons develop based on interaction with older and more experienced players.

Aidan has really taken to understanding link up play with another player and looking for crosses. He’s stays well with team mates and is playing more heads-up.

Evan also is picking up his head more and is being alert. So much of U5 an U6 turns soccer into an individual sport – but in pick up he has been listening to older team mates and responding by moving to the ball and playing with team mates.

The older kids are being forced to lead and teach. Both of these reinforce their understanding of the sport.

I’m not sure I’m ready to combine the age groups – but pick up with players of a different age is a welcome addition to our soccer routine.

Real Food Doesn’t Have Boxes or Labels

12 Jan

I shop our local supermarket’s sale circular regularly.  I’m looking for some of my staple foods that I eat every week – spinach, raw meats to cook, fresh fruit, sweet potatoes, and any seasonal items that are available.

This time of year – there’s a heavy emphasis on items that have a “Diet” focus to them – Lean Cuisine and many boxed food solutions to your health problems, whether it’s weight loss, high blood pressure or any other woes.

Just remember, every time that a food manufacturer takes something out of a food – they usually put something else into to fill its place.  Reduce the fat in yogurt and sugar will probably be added to help the flavors.  Reduce the fat in a frozen food and they may need to add stabilizers like corn starch to help improve the texture.

These items aren’t free when it comes to your digestion and health.

I’m committing to myself in 2012 to buy less food with many ingredients and more food with a single ingredient.


What Does Pick Up Soccer Do For Kids?

9 Jan

What does pick up soccer do for kids?  Less “I can’t”, “They aren’t,” and “not fair.”

I’m not sure where kids learn the phrase “It’s not fair.”  It starts early though – and they apply it to everything from gifts to meals to bedtimes to schoolwork.  Anywhere they perceive an inequity between what they receive and what their friends or siblings receive – a “Not fair” is interjected.

But surprisingly, I haven’t heard that from Aidan or Evan following pick up soccer the last several weeks.  Despite being, at times, at the younger end of players on the field, and being not at the highest skills level on the field – neither has complained about the level of play and what they can’t do.

Instead, the ride home has been filled with sentences that start, “Did you see when…” and finishing with their own highlight reels from the hour of play.  Both have already learned the big lesson in sports – that you need to make your own opportunity.  If you fail to attack the ball, you will never be in a position to take the ball.  If you don’t put yourself in an open position, no one will pass you the ball.

Now, if I could only remove, “Awww!!” from their vocabularies.