Spring in February

The weather here in Milwaukee, like much of the Midwest, has been crazy warm for a while. Warm spells in February aren’t unheard of here but this one is longer than usual. While I’m a little bit worried about triggering perennials to bud out too early and then get damaged as temperatures return back to normal, it’s been nice to get outside. The kids and I have been to a few parks, they’ve broken out shorts already, and the ground thawed enough that I was able to do a partial clean out of the chicken run.

Changing seasons has me thinking about change in general. We’re on a good financial path right now. We ended 2016 low in savings but we’re quickly making up that ground in 2017 and by the end of March should be able to resume a more aggressive debt payment schedule. Maria’s variable rate student loan keeps creeping up but the priority remains the much higher mortgage rate. But in mid-January I realized something else did need to change.

I was gaining weight most of 2016 and by early January 2017 I was 240 pounds and feeling sluggish, bloated, and blah most of the time. I was trying to diet but it was clear I was having a hard time moderating carb intake. Despite ridiculing grain-free and, even more so, low carb diets I decided to try eating very low carb. I’m in a ketogenic diet group for inspiration, support, and ideas but I don’t track strict macros. Instead I eat completely grain-free, and eat small amounts of fruit and high carb veggies like potatoes and carrots.

For someone who loves to bake with wheat flour and has invested in such things has stone flour mills, this was a big plunge. Amazingly, I feel great and rarely deprived. I still struggle with cheating certain sweet things, like dark chocolate (in excess), but surprisingly I don’t miss grains much at all. Except beer – I do miss that! – but I should be able to add it back (in moderation) once I reach my goal weight range. Also interestingly, I used to only be able to tolerate cheese in moderation without having bad gas and sinus congestion, but now I can successfully use cheese as a good source of fat and protein with very little discomfort at all.

In a bit over a month I have lost 10 pounds. My mood was, for a week or two, quite unstable – particularly anxiety – but that seems to have also settled down. Combined with the warmer weather I’ve been feeling good enough to be more active again, both doing cardio and some resistance training again. I need to get in shape for the gardening season, after all!

Another change I’ve made is developing an interest in firearms. I’ve always been casually interested in guns but never to the point of even buying one. We recently bought a pistol intended for self-defense use and I’ll be getting my CCW permit in the next month or two. I take the required training class in March and should have my permit to carry by early April. In the meantime, I’m carrying around the home all the time to get used to the weight of a gun and evaluate my choice of holster. Occasionally I will open carry while at parks and such. While perfectly legal in Wisconsin, I do however prefer to wait until I can legally carry concealed when in public.

The pistol I chose, for those curious, is an FNS-9C. It’s a little heavier than single-stack carry guns but it fits my hand nicely and I’m already turning out pretty good groupings at the range for my experience level. I’ll be saving up to buy another gun soon, probably a .22 caliber pistol or rifle, depending on where I can find a good place to begin teaching the kids basic gun safety and marksmanship. I may also set up a little Airsoft range in the garage. They’re too young for most of the ranges around here.


Altering Depression

I’ve been paying attention to my mental and physical moods lately and I’ve noticed some trends I thought I would share. I’ve written a few posts here and there mentioning depression. In general I have felt better since making the decision to quit my job, and the week-plus since actually separating from it have been good. With exceptions.

Depression is there, but I’ve noticed some three clear factors.

Tea is better than coffee (for me). Two months in a row we ran out of coffee and I didn’t want to spend the money until the budget refreshed. Both months I felt great. It was a surprisingly clear demarcation. If you’re not aware, the ‘caffeine’ in tea isn’t caffeine, but rather a caffeine-analog. (This is also true of chocolate, which has yet another different caffeine-analog). I’m guessing I uptake tea differently, in such a way that my moods stay much more stable. There are soothing compounds even in the “strongest” tea that probably also have an effect.

Overeating is terrible for my mood. In my case, it’s overeating carbs (and what other food group is possible to overeat, I mean, have you ever tried to overeat fruit, veggies, or even meat?). Some carbs are critical for me, but if they escape the rough parameters put in place by the food ziggurat I go into total sad-sack mode until my body cleans up roughly 24 hours later. Again, much like the coffee–>tea transition, the demarcation between good diet and bad diet days are really clear now that I am paying attention.

Finding the right dose. I’m on a half-dose of my SSRI now, and mental clarity is definitely up, even on “down” days. In the past, this has emboldened me to do a full taper, but I think I’m going to be wiser and stick at this level for a few months and observe before deciding to go further. Since needing to be on medication, I’ve never stayed completely off for more than about a year.

Since I’ve talked about my depression before, I thought I would share the progress. My overall wellness is definitely up this year so far, between these observations about depression, my weighlifting regimen, and the psychological burden-lifting of freeing mental space devoted to wage slavery to completely focus on stewardship and parenting.

Taste and Satiety

The more I learn about cooking, food production, and my own relationship with food I am a food traditionalist. Simple, real ingredients. Animals raised in a bio-mimicry environment (e.g. pasture). Produce sourced from as local as possible, preserved (if necessary) in the most nutritionally dense form (cellaring > dehydration > freezing > canning).

I’m not a dietician, biologist, food scientist, or anyone with alphabet soup credentials. I’m a cook, a gardener (an aspiring future farmer), and a parent. I go with what tastes good, but like my last post, we can make an important distinction:

  • How does this taste to me?
  • How do I feel when having eaten this food?

Lots of things can taste good by overloading our biological wiring. Sweets. Industrial ‘junk’ food. But if we connect the intake sensory input with the output sensory input, it tells a very different story. There’s a reason junk food is called junk. It’s not because it has high fat, high salt, or any other thing. It’s junk because our body can barely run on it. It’s like putting watery, low-octane gasoline into a finely tuned race engine.

Eat what makes you feel good. Ideally, eat what tastes good and makes you feel good afterwards. What makes me feel good? Pastured meat. Even the fat lines on these animals are delicious. My body feels how satisfying it is. Good produce. A smoothie containing greens like spinach and kale with enough whole fruit to provide sweetness, palatability, and their own vitamins can provide fuel for hours despite having relatively few calories. In this case, nutrient density trumps raw energy. In the Western world, calories are in vast surplus but nutrients (especially trace minerals and vitamins) are not.

Let your hunger response catch up to your digestive system. This can be challenging. We’re taught to eat until we’re not hungry anymore. But no one tells us when we’re supposed to feel full. Full while eating. Full half an hour later? Just like the personal finance challenge of evaluating what is ‘enough’, it takes time to re-connect with your body. You might feel ravenously hungry but eat a small meal, wait, and then the hunger disappears. The immediate hunger response of “eat now!” is turned off primarily by raw volume. That’s why drinking large volumes of liquid can (sometimes) aid in dieting. But nutritionally worthless inputs do nothing to satisfy long-term hunger. On the other hand, even if we continue to feel hungry after eating something, giving the body time to uptake the nutrient load may turn off the hunger over the long-term. When snacking, I’ve found it helpful to eat a small helping of something packed with nutrition like fresh produce or nuts, but in small amounts, then wait at least a half hour to see if the hunger disappears. Quite often it does. My body didn’t need much in the way of calories, but was craving some other macro or micro nutrient.

Understanding satiety is one key to a deep, dynamic mind/soul/body relationship. Maybe you’re already in good health. Keep up the good work! Remember that life only thrives with disturbance. Continue to push yourself. Continue to feed your body the best possible inputs you can get. Maybe (like me) you have room for improvement. Starve your body just a little bit on raw calories, but make sure you’re feeding it the most nutritionally dense foods possible. Dark, leafy greens. Produce sourced from as locally and as in-season as possible. Pastured meats free from toxins and with good omega-3 to omega-6 balance. Nuts and seeds. Only then while it thrive. If you’re morbidly obese, hey, I’ve been there too. Use the same strategy as the mildly overweight person with the added element of patience. If necessary, practice mindfulness meditation to replace the mental association of junk food’s immediate sensory reward with the longer-term crappy feeling it gives you. This has helped me become significantly stronger in reducing the temptation of junk food, but it’s even better to eliminate the temptation.

Plus, it saves you money! Real, honest food is cheap. It’s amazing what will happen to your grocery bill if you stick to raw, whole ingredients instead of pre-made food, whether full meals, snacks, drinks, etc. Learning to eat seasonally (and thus locally) will naturally increase the nutrient density, which means you’ll need less to trigger long-term satiety. Sure, local food can be expensive. Pastured meats are definitely more expensive than factory-farmed meat, but you need so much less to feel full, because it’s so much better for you. If you have trouble seeing this, as frugal as I am, I didn’t see it until recently either. Consider tracking in detail your grocery spending along the lines of what I did last month.

It’s only until I broke “food” into diverse categories that I saw the true relationship of dollars to nutritional value.

My categories are as follows, but adapt them as necessary for your dietary needs and desired clarity:

  • Fruit
  • Vegetables
  • Nuts (a handful of raw or toasted nuts makes a fantastic snack, and DIY nut butter is easy).
  • Baking (raw dry ingredients)
  • Dairy (it can be hard, but keep it rBGH free at minimum, and ideally pasture-based)
  • Eggs (free range or homegrown, for health and humane handling)
  • Meat (strictly pasture-based, for health and humane handling)
  • Fats (I put butter here instead of dairy, pasture lard, and then good olive/grapseseed/canola oil).
  • Prepared food (rare purchases these days other than pasta)
  • Non-alcoholic beverages
  • Alcohol

Even when (like now in the dark of winter) produce seems expensive on a per pound basis, think of what else you’re buying that’s a ridiculous financial cost when put in terms of nutritional value. And the longer you live this lifestyle, the better you’ll get at growing your own food or sourcing it in season, then preserving it (when cheap yet high value) against the lean season. Expect plenty of preservation posts from me as 2015 warms up 🙂

Alcoholic Athleticism

I never got around to writing a follow-up post to my Drink Only Water Challenge but it went abysmally. I stuck to it for about two weeks and then was back to drinking just as much alcohol as before. Interestingly enough, it’s when I’ve not been trying to limit my consumption that my body is doing it for me.

Ever since starting to ride my bike every single day, no excuses save sickness or truly dangerous weather (e.g. tornado or blizzard) I’ve become much more mindful of the impact alcohol has on my body. To be frank, I feel like crap when I drink. I still enjoy the taste of a good beer or wine, but if I let myself have more than one (way too easy) I am sluggish and nauseous for a good 24 hours afterwards. My body is a bio-chemical machine operating at a higher peak efficiency than ever before, and introducing a toxin makes the efficiency loss that much more apparent.

Or something like that. I make no claims to be a personal fitness expert.

I’m not about to become a teetotaler but I crave alcohol far less now that I’m aware of just how much it effects me. We’ll see how it goes long-term, but I’m really enjoying my bike routine, so anything that gets in the way of my body’s physical performance becomes that much easier to discard from my life.

My flabby willpower

Willpower is a muscle. It’s only as strong as how often you exercise it.

When it comes to personal fitness, my internal motivation has been strong and remains so. My main limitation is the competing desire to spend time with the Alchemist and our lovely litter of goblins. Our frugality muscles are also quite buff after discovering Mr. Money Mustache, and if you haven’t already, read his article on frugality as a muscle.

Diet, the other cornerstone of health and well-being, is my weak point. I best resist food temptations by not being things in the first place, but there’s been an awful lot of questionably nutritious items in the house from care packages and whatnot during the holidays. I suck at resisting sweets, even though I know they’ll make me feel like garbage. For whatever reason, I resist stuff at work really well, but not so much at home.

My cravings for alcohol have similarly been torpedoing my water only personal challenge this month. My consumption of caffeine is zero, which is a huge plus. Even the gentler teas were giving me comedown headaches as bad as my morning coffee used to before I gave it up. Alcohol consumption is down considerably, but it’s not the zero I want it to be. At the end of January, I’ll let you know whether I got my act together or not. I will certainly try.

I know my food/drink willpower muscle is very flabby. I can resist for hours, maybe a few days when I’m really good, but when my stamina gives out, I collapse like an ill-conditioned marathoner in 110F heat. Habits aren’t built in a day, but I really want to build these habits. Public shame seems to work on me, so expect to see a few more of these posts as I continue to work on aspects of my life that need to change.

If you joined in on the water-only challenge, how are YOU doing?