The 10 best and worst holiday habits

From Dr. Phil Maffetone:

The Best Holiday Habits:

  1. Maintain a healthy lifestyle
  2. Be with those you want to be with
  3. Stick with a holiday budget
  4. Balance work and pleasure
  5. Get enough sleep
  6. Stay at home and have fun
  7. Do things you’re passionate about
  8. Shop locally
  9. Buy & receive only healthy gifts
  10. Share healthy food

The Worst Holiday Habits:

  1. Spending money you don’t have
  2. Visiting people you don’t like
  3. Going to parties you’d rather avoid
  4. Eating things you don’t want
  5. Drinking too much alcohol
  6. Last minute shopping
  7. Holiday travel (especially at peak periods)
  8. Going on a diet January 1st
  9. Gaining weight
  10. Buying unhealthy gifts

How to beat caffeine addiction without really trying

I became addicted to caffeine in the form of diet sodas, especially Diet Pepsi, in my college years, when I was working at a Taco Bell in the late 80s. Employees had free drinks, and the free caffeine was very helpful when working the graveyard shift. Our store stayed open till 3 am to catch the “bar rush” after the bars closed, and we seldom were able to leave the store before 4 am, or even 6 am on holiday weekends.

At first, a single-liter cup would be enough for me, but before long, I was drinking two of them (nearly 68 ounces) through the course of the night. At the time, I hated coffee, so diet soda was my prime source of caffeine. I had begun using it occasionally as a drug a few years earlier; when cramming for exams, I’d buy a 2-liter bottle of some heavily-caffeinated soda to stay up through the night and through test time the following morning. Soon after starting the night shift, I became utterly dependent on it. I needed it to wake up, needed it for energy throughout the day, and especially at night when working.

I was hooked, and in a big way. Although life changed, more than two decades later, I found myself a Web developer Norfolk, Virginia, with a hard diet soda habit that I couldn’t break, though I had tried, over and over again. However, every attempt created headaches that would become insurmountable until I gave in, and then … instant relief! During this time, I saw coffee addicts kick the habit with comparative ease compared to me and my diet soda ball and chain. I’m not saying that a coffee addiction is easy, but a diet soda addiction is undoubtedly more complex. In addition to the caffeine, I believe I became addicted to aspartame itself. It’s thus a double addiction, and in my experience, extremely hard to break.

Nothing helped. Counting the cost of spending more than $1000 per year on diet soda didn’t help. “Cold turkey” withdrawals didn’t help. Weaning myself off it didn’t help. Prayer didn’t help.

But last year, I realized a longtime dream of visiting Spain, and became free on the first day. When I woke up after checking into my rented apartment, I thought I would need to get some diet soda the first thing in the morning. But when I went to Barcelona’s huge market, La Boqueria de Sant Josep, I was satisfied with a small kiwi-coconut smoothie, and to my surprise, the expected headache never came. During my two weeks there, I bought diet sodas only twice, and couldn’t finish them; they were now hideous to me.

A couple of times I did need a caffeine boost, as in waking up at four to catch a cab to the airport, but a simple cup of coffee with cream did the trick, and although I do enjoy a coffee about three times a week now, I’ve avoided becoming addicted.

What happened? How was a day in Spain able to change what twenty years of fighting my addiction in the States couldn’t? I didn’t know till now, until I decided to ask my body what happened through a mental dialogue.

I realized that in Spain I was giving my body more of what it wanted and needed. In Spain, I got outside and began exploring the city soon after waking up every day. I slept whenever I was tired, and woke up without an alarm, free of any schedule. My body enjoyed the sunlight, the fresh air, days full of walking, sightseeing, relaxing in parks, talking, and eating some of the best food I’ve had in my life. Caffeine addiction was my body’s cry for energy and stimulus (Give me something! Make me feel alive!), and with the experiences it was having in Spain, its energy and stimulus cravings were suddenly satisfied.

Now I can’t say that my everyday life now is quite as exciting as a Spanish vacation, but I haven’t become addicted to caffeine again, in spite of developing a taste for coffee and enjoying a few cups a week.

If you’re trying to beat caffeine addiction, try this:

  1. Recognize that your body craves stimulus. Take a vacation, even if it’s just a few days off from work at home. Break the routine. Make it an “active” vacation, one with plenty of walking, motion, and new experiences. Make this a time to savor as many new and pleasant sights, sounds, and experiences as conveniently possible.
  2. Get outside. Breathe fresh air. Get plenty of natural sunlight. Avoid sunburn, but be careful of using commercial sunblocks; some can actually cause cancer. Use your legs. Discover that your own body is a wonderful mode of transportation.
  3. Leave your everyday worries behind you. If you need to “check in” at home or the office, do what’s necessary and stop there. Your routine is not welcome here.
  4. For these few days, don’t set alarms, don’t try to keep any schedule at. If your body wants to stay up till dawn and sleep till late afternoon, do it. Go to bed when you’re tired, and wake up … whenever. Limit your use of alarms to absolute necessities, check out times, catching a plane, etc.
  5. Eat fruits and vegetables soon after waking. After that, start walking, hiking, swimming, biking, or whatever. As the day goes on, eat whatever you want, but only what you really want; don’t stuff yourself. Make sure that you nourish your body well, with fruits and vegetables constituting the majority of your intake.
  6. Don’t consume caffeine unless it’s absolutely necessary. If you do, take only as little as you need to catch that bus or whatever, and then stop… do you really want more, or is that just habit? You may well be surprised that your body no longer depends on it or even wants it that much.

Leave a comment, or drop me a line. Let me know how it goes!

Death, Life, and Purpose

Steve Jobs spoke in 2005 to Stanford’s graduating class on how mindfulness on death and the brevity of life aids focus and purpose in life.

When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

About a year ago I was diagnosed with cancer …

This was the closest I’ve been to facing death, and I hope it’s the closest I get for a few more decades. Having lived through it, I can now say this to you with a bit more certainty than when death was a useful but purely intellectual concept:

No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

When I was young, there was an amazing publication called The Whole Earth Catalog … On the back cover of their final issue was a photograph of an early morning country road, … Beneath it were the words: “Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.” It was their farewell message as they signed off. Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish. And I have always wished that for myself. And now, as you graduate to begin anew, I wish that for you.

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

(The quotation begins at about 9:03.)

Listen to an excerpt on, or read the entire address, or watch the video of it below.

(This was originally posted at The Wild Things of God.)

Eight reasons to lose weight slowly

  1. Better metabolism: Slow weight loss, if done well, doesn’t send starvation signals to the brain, slowing metabolism. Many fast weight-loss plans do, and after a few weeks of rapid weight loss, metabolism often slows down dramatically.
  2. Habit-forming: In losing slowly, you have time to let the changes you are making become habits. And when your new patterns of eating and exercising become habit, you can sustain them after you reach your target weight.
  3. Saves money, part 1: Clothes: Slow weight loss gives you more time before you have to buy new clothes.
  4. Saves money, part 2: Food: Slow weight loss usually pays for itself in simply buying less food or eating out less, even if the plan has a fee or cost involved.
  5. Less disruptive: Fast weight-loss plans generally work with a dramatic change in eating or lifestyle. Whether that’s the balance of macronutrients (low-carb, low-fat, high-protein, etc.), amount of calories (severe restriction, intermittent fasting, modified fasts, etc.) supplements, or a sudden increase in exercise, you generally need to make a sharp change to your eating or lifestyle for it to work. Slow weight loss can be much less disruptive.
  6. Enjoyability: Slow weight loss is usually more enjoyable, because there are a greater variety of foods available.

    The dramatic restrictions that fast weight-loss plans mandate are usually unpleasant, and require you to read an entire book to persuade you that you will enjoy them if you just *stick with it.* Without the brainwashing (persuasion), few people would ever want to embark upon the changes involved in most get-thin-quick schemes.

  7. Flexibility: The gentler changes of slower weight-loss approaches usually makes them easier to adapt to your lifestyle, such as eating out on weekends, etc. Fast plans often create awkward situations: (Sorry, I can’t go with you to that place, I’m not allowed to have carbs/fats/food!)
  8. Long-term sustainability: This is the kicker. Can you keep the weight off after losing it? Fast weight-loss methods usually aren’t sustainable for the long term. After the shock phase and main weight-loss phase, they usually have a “maintenance” phase that continues the diet in a milder form which is still usually difficult. Most people will abandon it and soon begin regaining.

    A slow method is usually more sustainable almost by definition; you have to sustain it longer to reach your target, and can continue maintaining your desired weight afterwards by staying on the plan or slightly modifying it.

10 Myths about Running

“If one could run without getting tired, I don’t think one would often want to do anything else.”

In October 2009, I was an obese, 48-year-old couch potato who took a 30-minute walk with the goal of eventually running a marathon. I realized that goal this March, finishing the Shamrock Marathon. I’m now an avid road runner, and am training for my first ultramarathon, a 50K. In my first few months, however, I made almost every possible mistake with my training, and suffered the consequences. I resolved to learn from those mistakes, and learn everything I could about safe and productive training approaches.

  1. You should always stretch out before a run

    Many of the most respected runners and coaches advise against stretching before runs. Ultramarathoner Danny Dreyer allows post-run stretching but none before the run. Running author Jeff Galloway, endurance coach Philip Maffetone, and champion runner Stuart Mittleman, holder of the American 6-day run record, all advise that stretching makes you more likely to suffer injury, because you are moving your joints beyond their usual range of motion. What to do instead? Spend several minutes in warm-up / cool-down walks and jogs before every workout. These energize the specific muscles that you’ll be engaging most during a run, and with similar motion.

  2. You should “carbo-load” the night before a race

    Not if you’re interested in training your body to draw upon its vast fat reserves (and yes, even skinny people have them) instead of the skimpy carbohydrate reserves. And even if you do plan to run on carbs, carbo-loading is best done over the several days leading up to the race, not in one big pasta dinner the night before, which might well having you running to the bushes before you run across the finish line.

  3. You should get the most cushioned shoes you can

    Born to Run author Chris McDougall makes the case that over-built, over-cushioned running shoes have increased the rate of injury for runners. Unnecessary padding encourages harder heel strikes, which is bad for the knees, and sometimes even the back. Instead of buying the most cushioned shoe, look at the ones with the best fit, cushioned just enough to feel comfortable running on hard surfaces.

  4. You should always wear sunscreen

    Only if you are going to be out so long you are likely to burn. Sunshine is an excellent source of vitamin D. Also, it’s important to know that while sunscreens protect against the easily-treated basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers, some kinds can actually increase the risk of the most dangerous skin cancer, malignant melanoma. According to Dr. Maffetone, a light tan is the best protection. For long runs in daylight, I use coconut oil as a light, natural protectant.

  5. You need to train fast to race fast

    Many runners make the mistake of always training hard. The sad fact is that overtraining cuts short many a runner’s racing career. Even fitness runners often run too fast, too often, and suffer unnecessary fatigue, injuries, and burnout. Optimal training is a balance of work and recovery. Train to race. Don’t race to train.

  6. No pain, no gain

    That is true (to an extent) in strength training. However, in running, pain is not generally a sign of gain, but of trouble. Ideally running should be pain-free, although at the end of long runs and races it is normal to feel minor “complaints” from the body for a short time. Ouchiness, however is not a good sign and should be addressed.

  7. You should run the same amount every week

    This is fine for running for basic fitness, but in preparation for races, a gradual build-up in duration and distance to the 2-3 weeks for the race (base-building) is better, followed by a sharp decrease in the week or two before the race (the taper).

  8. Your perceived exertion is a good guide to how hard you’re running

    Perceived exertion tends to rise and fall disproportionately after hard runs and soft runs. For instance, a day or two after a hard run, perceived exertion may high for even a gentle run, due to the body’s energy being used for recovery. And after rest days, perceived exertion may be lower for strong efforts. However, heart rate is a direct measure of actual work being done by the body. A heart-rate monitor can be an invaluable tool in monitoring the actual amount of work, and developing the aerobic system.

  9. You can’t drink too many fluids during a long run

    Yes, you can. Drinking too much can be as dangerous (or more) than dehydration. Hyponatremia is a dangerous depletion of sodium levels caused by the combination of sweating and excessive water intake. The important thing is to find the optimum amount of fluids for your body.

  10. Running is only for the young

    One of the finishers in the 2011 Virginia Warrior Dash, a grueling obstacle course, was an 86-year-old woman. There is no arbitrary age limit for running, or even beginning to run, if eased into intelligently and carefully. No one seemed a more unlikely runner than me the day I began. Now it’s a way of life for me, and I feel better than I did twenty years ago as a non-runner.

Note: Besides revisiting these topics in more depth in the blog, I am writing a book covering all this and much, much more, which will be available on this site in April 2012 (possibly earlier).

Coming October 12th!

Welcome! will be up and running on October 12, 2011. Check back for great content about running, nutrition, weight-loss, and inspiring refreshment for the spirit.

Upcoming posts:

  • Review of the amazing movie, The Tree of Life
  • 12 Myths about running that everybody “knows”
  • Why restaurant salads usually suck, and how to make some that don’t
  • How to beat caffeine addiction
  • Omega-6’s and Omega-3’s and your health
  • The dying art of the apology
  • Why no news is good news