Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Walking: It does a body, soul, and mind good

Taking a break, Montreal 2013. 
With the advent of better weather (read: not subzero, frostbite-inducing temperatures), I've been logging even more miles walking than usual. There are many studies citing the beneficial effects that walking conveys to the walker (here is a National Post story from last year in this vein). To be sure, I am interested in these health benefits, but often overlooked are the additional positive effects, such as time to clear your head, mull over complicated issues, or even just to be, with no goal required. Of course, having a walking buddy encouraging you to get your shoes on and get outside helps too.

Monday, April 7, 2014

What to eat, how to move? Stewart's Rules

The spoils from a Stewart's Rules-inspired shopping foraging/gathering trip 
to The Grapevine Deli
It seems as though everyone, including me, is looking for the best way to live our lives. Central to this is how best to nourish and use our bodies to promote health, enjoyment, and longevity. For each person there are times where this is more or less of a focus. Times such as starting university, getting married, starting a family, and other similar, important changes often push our focus to the tasks at hand, and as a result, health and wellness may suffer. Similarly, there are times when we are reminded of our own mortality, and are forced to deal with long ignored issues that have resulted, potentially, in simmering health issues. Illness or death of a family member or friend, or the diagnosis of and realization of one’s own health issues cause us to confront what we should have dealt with long before, but hadn’t, and are now made to do so. Overweight, obesity, diabetes, and other chronic and life shortening maladies are commonplace today. And so, we bounce between dealing with “life”, and dealing with the effects of ignoring the one thing central life, our own health.

The only thing more constant than this struggle to live our lives and manage our health, are the number of solutions available. Books claiming to be able to get us fit, help up lose the fat, whether it is by eschewing animal products, grains, or fat/carbohydrates/protein, lifting big, running hard, you name it, line bookstore shelves. Blogs on all these topics and more abound, some with very useful information, others with promises that often are too good to be true. I, like many, have spent time at each end of the spectrum, dealing with life just to keep my head above water, and then doing the same when faced with a looming health crisis. These health crises started typically and innocently enough. A few extra pounds gained during my first year of undergraduate studies, then dropped in subsequent years, only to be gained back again and lost in cycles corresponding to completing graduate degrees, having children, starting a job, and the list goes on.

Luckily for me, oddly enough, I got my most serious wake-up call, a diagnosis of relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis, in May 2009 when I just happened to be in the best physical condition that I’d been in for years. Of course, this made me ask “How could I be in such good condition and still be diagnosed with such a disease?”. 

My search for answers led me to Primal and Mark Sisson and Richard Nikoley (thanks to an introduction by my friend Aaron Blaisdell), Paleo and Loren Cordain and Robb Wolf, Perfect Health Diet and the Jaminets, Chris Kresser, Stephan Guyenet, Chris Highcock, and many others. The quantity and quality of information I have gained from each of these people is enormous, and I am still learning more from each of them every day.

Along the way I have been more or less “strict” with my diet but I kept coming back to the same place; my maternal grandfather and grandmother lived until 93 (grandfather) and 103 (grandmother – still rocking!), so what were their secrets? This is not to say that they didn’t have any maladies, but that in spite of any infirmities along the way, they lived productively well into their late eighties and nineties. I don’t know about you, but I’ll take that, any day of the week and twice on Sundays, as the saying goes.

Below (edited for typos and spelling) is the results of a facebook-mediated Q & A with Joanne Jenkins (aka my Mom) about Hugh and Elsie Stewart’s lifestyle (work and diet) living on the farm in the middle of the 20th century in Southern Ontario. This is somewhat Spartan due to the medium, but from it you can learn a few rules, I’ll call them “Stewart’s Rules”. These rules are very much in line with the thinking of Michael Pollan, bestselling author and journalist, who told us to live by seven words when it comes to food: “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” You will see from the transcript of our conversation that my grandparents ate minimally-processed, easily recognizable food that either they grew or raised themselves. No food was off limits, there was no fat reduced anything. Just food. And real, honest work that made you break a sweat once and a while.

I am not sure what more I am going to do with this information besides presenting it in this form, since if I were to convert it into a document it would be a very short one. Nonetheless I may do this and then distribute it by the web.

Here’s our “conversation” of messages:

CHRIS: I was wondering whether you could sketch out the type of foods and frequency with which they ate them? I am not thinking of when they were older, but rather when they were farmers. And could you also do the same for how they worked? Like the hours and types of work?

JOANNE: Meals...Breakfast usually porridge and tea or coffee. Dinner and supper both heavy meals of meat, potatoes, vegetable, fruit and or baked goods. Meat would be chicken, beef, or pork...home raised.  Vegetables and fruit would be fresh or home canned or frozen...usually home grown.  Bread always.  Baked goods usually home baked.  Milk from own cows...fresh.  Bedtime snack of cereal or bread and milk.  When evening company sandwiches and baked goods would be served with coffee.

Work for your grandfather depended on the season but always included feeding and caring for animal twice a day...cattle , pigs and chickens.  Winter western steers were added and pigs and chickens year round.  Spring meant ploughing,discing, harrowing, seeding then cultivating as well as haying...cutting, raking, bringing in either loose or later baled. Summer was harvesting wheat and oats...white beans at one time.  Fall was corn harvest. Early on that was cutting, sheaving, and later combines were used.  Machinery repairs, cleaning manure and spreading added to the mix.

Your grandmother prepared 3 meals a day...earlier on a wood stove,  laundry...pumping. heating water,  earlier washing with a scrub board and later a wringer washer,  hanging clothes outside or sometimes in the house in winter.  She also looked after the chickens, cleaned eggs to sell,  separated milk to sell cream, cleaned house, and in summer cared for a large vegetable garden...canning and freezing.  She cut the grass and sometimes drove tractor to disc, harrow,.. and we both helped in haying.

Work started early each morning and finished late.

I'm sure I missed some things but this is an overview at least.  Hope this helps.
Mom  xo

CHRIS: Thanks for all this information! Did they add sugar or grit to the oatmeal? What about meat and/or eggs at breakfast?

And it was always butter and cream in their coffee, yes?

JOANNE: They used sugar on oatmeal.  Some breakfasts were bacon and eggs but I remember bacon and eggs for a main meal too .  Always butter and cream.  Cream on cereal and fruit too.  Mom was just talking about meat preservation before hydro was available.  Meat was put in jars with fat on top and then cooked in the oven so the fat seeped down through the meat to preserve it. Fat was also rendered...pork fat.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

What should we eat to be healthy? There shouldn't (have to) be an app for that!

A recent story on the CBC website spoke about the issues that supposed weight loss apps have in leading people to weight loss or improvements in health. Big surprise. A person who commented on the story summarized the crux of the issue, and I paraphrase : "You don't need an app to tell you that vegetables are health and candy bars are not!"

Maybe this is one this is one area where we really shouldn't have an app.

How did eating healthful, real food become such an difficult issue for us to overcome? I don't pretend to be the patron saint of whole foods and health living, I certainly have been less health conscious that I am currently, but really, this seems like a modern-day, first-world kind of problem. 

Check out some images of what families from around the world consume in one week to get a feel for the issue. This came up recently in my Ancestral Health class, and I speculated what the relationship was between chronic disease and consumption of fake food. I would be interesting to see, independent of what kind of whole food was consumed, how rates of disease varied. Maybe the study has been done already and I am unaware of it, but it sure seems like a safer bet to eat things that aren't sold in a package, driven by large marketing campaigns, if one wants real health benefits and effortless body weight management. 

Food for thought.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Autumn reflections

The leaves they are turning.
We are now almost into October, and it has been nearly one year since I have posted here. For shame! I really ought to post more often and will endeavour to do so; hopefully I can.

This fall marks the third time I am teaching my seminar course on Ancestral Health. The class is once again an enthusiastic bunch. I hope to see more of their enthusiasm and opinions as the student presentations start tomorrow. 

Potato, bacon, and cheese soup for a fall day.
The class format is largely the same as in years past. However, I sense that I have changed in my approach as its instructor (more like "facilitator") in that I am not so much the absolutist, dealing only in black and white with no or few grey areas. 

This year, I find my focus being much more on questions like "How can real people become healthier without taking a second or third job to afford it?", "Am I going to go to nutritional "hell" if I eat sugar?", and "Reducing carbohydrates is potentially beneficial to one's health (especially if suffering from a serious medical condition), but should I reduce them to [insert arbitrary very low number of grams per day here]?" 

Woke up to this today
This shift in instructional style is inspired, at least in part, by my own experience over the last 4 years of my personal ancestrally inspired diet and lifestyle. For instance, I have not become fallen ill after eating white rice, white potatoes, or what some might consider large quantities of fruit. The shift is also inspired by the fact that if real people with real lives and real stressors are going to embrace this ancestral lifestyle, then there needs to be some wiggle room. People like Mark Sisson have talked about this notion for years (see Sisson's 80/20 rule of thumb). Unfortunately in the past I have let "perfection be the enemy of the good". I am hopeful that I continue down this path, realizing that good is still just that; good!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Affordable, high-quality food: $1 a day is all it takes

Over the last couple of months, we've acquired our orders from Big Coulee Farms, our supplier of pastured beef, pork, chicken, and turkey. We were excited to have our turkeys in time for Thanksgiving, and just last week, we had our first meal of pork chops in many months. We only ordered chickens in bulk last year, so when Rusty and Agnes ran out of pork chops we were out of luck until our own order was ready this year. They tasted even better than I remember them. Sorry, there is no photo, we all ate them before I even thought of breaking out the camera or iPhone for a photo. Here is a shot of the freezer and the pork. I'll try to add a photo of the finished dinner product in a future post.

Freezer full of goodness.
Just yesterday I called BCF and spoke to Vicky to order some eggs for this coming week. It was then that she informed me our split side of beef would also be ready for pick-up. When I got off the telephone, I added up our total costs for the bulk orders that will last us until next fall (note: this is not counting bi-weekly eggs in this total). It breaks down like this:

  • 8 chickens ~$250
  • 3 turkeys ~ $280
  • 1 pig $594
  • beef, split side (1/4 beef) ~ $507
  • total = ~ $1,630

I don't have the totals for the poultry close to hand, so include the "~" as a qualifier in my totals. Bear in mind that each of our chickens can easily last for two meals for our famiy of four, and then be turned into stock, the turkeys are 18-19 pounds, our pork was just shy of 99 pounds, and we will be getting more than 60 pounds of beef, I figure. Quite a few meals of humanely, naturally-raised, pasture-fed livestock. It can't get much better than that.

One criticism that people level against eating pasture-raised animals is that the costs are prohibitively expensive. Yes, I realize that not everyone has a large freezer. But given what I am about to describe, it may be worth the initial start-up expense. These simple calculations show that even our large order, when considered in a per day, per person manner, works out to be pretty darned cost effective. You be the judge.

For $1,630 this works out to about $135 per month, about $30 per week, or $1.11 per day, per person for our family of four. When I look at it this way, it makes me wonder why it took us so long to "see the light" and start feeding our family this way. The next time that you hear someone talking about how they can't afford to eat real, healthy food, ask yourself this: Do you spend $1 per day on what you consume? Of course you do. Shouldn't you get your money's worth?

UPDATE 17 November 2012: I just picked up our split side of beef - it came to 82.4 lbs! So we have we now have about 275 pounds of pasture-raised beef, pork, chicken, and turkey in our freezer. 

Thursday, April 12, 2012

sturdyteam registered for MS Walk 2012

sturdyteam at the 2011 MS Walk

We are once again completing the MS Walk (in Edmonton again this year) to raise awareness of and funds for MS research and related programs. As many (most, all?) know, I was diagnosed with relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis in 2009. The disease initially affected my vision and balance. I have been on 2 different medications in the past almost 3 years, Rebif and now Copaxone. (both are injectable - I have written about this before). I have also completely overhauled my diet, fitness, and lifestyle. I won't bore you with the details, but many of the links on the side of my blog lead to other sites that are in line with my changes. Things have been going very well with only small bumps in the road (mostly from the medications themselves). I do not know for certain how much of this is due to the medications, other significant lifestyle changes I have made, or just luck. I guess it doesn't really matter in the grand scheme of things. Nothing sounds sweeter than people telling me that "they had no idea" that I had MS. I hope to keep it this way. Please consider sponsoring us and supporting this worthwhile cause. 

Sunday, February 19, 2012

New Website for Big Coulee Farms!

My friends at Big Coulee Farms have a brand new website! Check it out, and order the most amazing pastured beef, pork, chicken, turkeys, and pastured eggs from them! You'll be happy you did. 

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Man's best friend: Icer's

Well, to be precise, Lee Valley Tools Icer's allow this guy to walk his best friend in the terribly icy conditions, thanks to lots of freezing rain we've been getting recently. Luckily, I don't always need to wear these (see below, Oregon Coastline, Summer 2011, somewhere near Lincoln City), but I appreciate them when I do need them.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

sturdyrant: Getting a hate on for needles

I don't know whether this will be a recurring series of "rant" posts, but I am sure my wife, colleagues, friends, and neighbours will be happy to see me channelling my energy into writing blog posts that they can choose to ignore rather than me bending their ear for an indeterminate amount of time about things that irk me. The point of the post below is just that, a rant, and is my opinion alone, and not that of my employer, or of anyone else of importance. Just me. It is also not meant to serve as a "pity party". Just a rant. Pure venting.

I have been on a so-called "Disease Modifying Drug" (or DMD) since June 2009. I can safely say that any infinitesimal amount novelty that may have existed around the idea of injecting myself 3 (first DMD: Rebif) and then 7 times a week (current DMD: Copaxone) has long since vanished. Lately, I've been getting a healthy hate on for needles and the nightly "routine". 

Don't get me wrong, the current drug appears to be "working" (or is it my Whals-esque paleo style diet and lifestyle?) at preventing relapses, and maybe even reducing the number and size of lesions in my brain observed on a 4.7T (strong) MRI, but finding spots to "stick" it is becoming increasingly difficult. (This is at least a step up from the awful, flu-like side effects I had with the interferon and that it kicked the snot out of my bone marrow. I eventually dropped it after two failed "attempts".) Not to mention that I think I may be developing a spot of lipoatrophy on my abdomen as a result of the injections. (It's interesting to note that lipoatrophy caused by Copaxone is one of only two listed causes on the Wiki page, the other being caused by an adverse reaction to medication for HIV/AIDS.) I am not certain about the lipoatrophy, but it is worrisome. Besides appearing unsightly, lipoatrophy causes you to be unable to continue to inject in the affected location. If this happens enough and in enough locations, you may not be able to continue to self-administer your Copaxone. And here's the rub.

You need to maintain a "healthy" layer of adipose tissue to facilitate injecting Copaxone (a product that costs my insurance company almost $17,000 per year, by the way). No fat, or damaged fat, and no injections. Forget being healthy any avoiding all the other ills that can still befall an MSer (such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, etc.) or the fact the the food you used to eat that made you chubby (and a good candidate for injections!) also very likely contributed in a real way (i.e., caused) your MS in the first place. No, don't worry about that. Just be sure to have a little extra junk in the trunk to pump the medication into each day.

In closing, I must add that my nurse, an RN who contacts me periodically to ensure that things are going well and to offer advice, has been excellent. This post has nothing to do with her. I am just choked in general about the situation that is fraught with contradictions.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Save time, the environment, and your health

The Edmonton Journal reported a new study earlier in December that actually quantified yet another benefit of taking stairs over an elevator: stairs are faster. So now people have yet another reason to bypass the line for the elevator and get some fitness on their way to the office (or wherever the upward-bound destination happens to be) . This is even more important in our world today when the destination is an office chair, prolonged periods of sitting, and otherwise sedentary employment given the recent evidence that we should avoid excessive (sitting) "down" time.

Monday, December 26, 2011

The tables have turned: Look who's the experimental test subject now

For the past two years or so I have been participating in an MRI study examining the relationships between MS, disability, and iron in the brain. The study was headed up by my neurologist, Dr. Gregg Blevins and Dr. Alan Wilman, both from the University of Alberta. I also participated in the media release: click here to view Global Edmonton's piece.

Friday, December 2, 2011

When it comes to nutrition, we're on our own

The Canadian government cancelled a program to verify nutritional and purported health benefits of products sold in grocery stores. What does this mean for us, the consuming public? My take of this news is that it is all the more reason to stick to real, whole food, rather than packaged, processed nonsense that comes in beautiful packaging covered in slogans reflecting the latest health craze (omega 3 enriched [insert crappy food here], for instance).

UPDATE: Apparently, the government is "scaling back" testing, not cancelling it outright, as was originally reported (see first link in this post). None-the-less, consumers would do well to not purchase "food" that is packaged and touted as "heart healthy" etc. If the product needs marketing to sell it, you probably shouldn't but it. You don't often see any health claims on whole food in the produce section.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

21.4 minutes or 4 years - you decide

This is my 100th blog post and it may be one of the most important I have written (some might argue that none up until now were important, so at least I am marking the 100th milestone by upping my game). 

Many people feel that they don't have adequate time to eat properly (i.e., eat real, actual food, not the latest cure-all supplement or meal replacement) or to exercise (read: move your body). Well, in a new study reported on today, that 21.4 minutes per day that you save not exercising (they recommend a paltry 150 minutes a week or 21.4 minutes a day) will cost you 4 years that you could have lived. It's your choice: 21.4 minutes per day of some form of activity, or meet your maker 4 years sooner. Moreover, consuming 5 or more servings per day of fruits and vegetables can also add an extra 1.3 years on average to your life. The arithmetic is simple: a little investment now will pay dividends later.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

St. Albert Deliveries: Big Coulee Farms

Here is the content of the new delivery leaflet from Big Coulee Farms (BCF).

Please call to order: (780) 675-9458
We are coming to St. Albert Centre parking lot near Hwy. #2 in front of the Bay on the following dates from 1:00 - 3:00 p.m. with orders only.
(Chicken, Turkey, Beef, Pork and Eggs)

October: 22
November: 5, 19
December: 4 & 17
January: 7, 21
February: 4, 18
March: 3, 17, 31
April: 14, 28
May: 5, 19
June: 2, 16, 30
July: 14, 28
August: 4, 18
September: 1, 15, 29
October: 6, 20
November: 3, 17
December 1, 15, 22

While product is available.
Please pay with cheque or exact cash. You will be contacted thre Friday before delivery with the amount of your order.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Stand UP!

Here's my most recent "invention" - a stand-up workstation in my departmental office. I have been using this for about a month and really enjoy it. I encourage all to give this a whirl. There have been recent studies related to the perils of all the sitting we do each day (see Mark Sisson's post here, for instance), so, I got off my keester, literally, and did something about it.
 I finally got around to posting this after seeing similar posts on Richard Nikoley's blog on John Durant's blog and with some prodding from one of my students (thanks to AM for that!).