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Skwigg Blog
Saturday, 25 July 2009
The Latest in Casual Freakwear

I went to pick up my Vibram FiveFingers shoes. Instead of burglar black or girly pink, I ended up choosing the mauve/sand color combo. It looked the most normal, you know, as much as goofy toe shoes can look normal. I put them on and pranced around the store for a good long while to make sure they were comfortable. Then I cut the tags off and wore them to the grocery store. I got a few funny looks but only one fitness nut pounced on me and wanted all the details.

It's day two now and so far I've worn them driving, grocery shopping, dog walking, and for a kettlebell workout. Nothing pinches, rubs or hurts. The only place I feel the shoes at all is my left little toe. It doesn't like being separated from the other toes. There's a bit of a stretched sensation. I have no such problem with my right little toe. It's been broken so many times it's used to going off in its own crazy direction.

Feeling the ground is completely amazing when your feet have been trapped in cushioned athletic shoes for years. This is going to sound totally woo-woo but I feel like I'm connected to the earth again. I haven't truly felt the ground since my mother wrestled "school shoes" onto me when I was about five. In the VFFs, the sole is a flexible skin and you can feel all the different surface textures  - the brake pedal, the gravel driveway, the sandy trail, the soft grass, the bumpy concrete, the smushy mud, the ridges in a manhole cover. I'm fascinated by each new surface and tend to linger and grin. I'm sure I look like some kind of blazing super-dork who's never been outside before.

I haven't put any real miles on them yet. You're supposed to ease into it and only wear them an hour or two a day for the first couple of weeks. That gives all of the neglected ligaments, tendons and stabilizing muscles a chance to realize they're supposed to support themselves again (after decades of being supported by Nike and Saucony). Tomorrow, I'm going to try a hilly walk and maybe a short sprint. I'll let you know if anything ruptures.

I have no affiliation with this product. I like it but I don't make any money if you buy it. See my Disclosure Statement. 

Posted by skwigg at 1:34 PM CDT
Updated: Sunday, 8 November 2009 11:04 AM CST
Thursday, 23 July 2009
FiveFingers Shoes, Misfit Cavemen and Vegan Meal Plans

I'm getting some Vibram FiveFingers shoes! This extra goofy looking footwear is all the rage with kettlebell instructors, crossfitters and barefoot runners. It's like being barefoot, only your feet are protected from rocks and broken glass. And unlike flappy flip-flops you can't get the heel caught in the storm door and fall on your face (not that I did that yesterday). Here's a good article from Tim Ferriss explaining why people wear Vibram Five Fingers Shoes: The Barefoot Alternative.

I tried to shop for them online but the sizing was just too damn weird for me to sort out. I had to try them on. Using the store locator, I found the only retailer within a bazillion miles of here that carries them, a backpacking place. They measured my foot but didn't have my size in stock. I tried on a close size, and OMG they are cool and weird!! I decided I like the classic, which is open on top. The clerk said that walkers, kettlebell fanatics and gym rats tend to like the classic. A lot of runners choose the KSO which covers the top of the foot and keeps road dirt out. Also, anybody in deep mud or fast moving water (hikers, kayakers) would want the KSO or the Flow because the straps will keep your shoe from getting sucked off.

My big conundrum is what color to choose. I had them order both pink and black in my size. I like pink because it's cute and girly and will blend better with my little white legs. Though, I suspect it will also collect muddy dog foot prints. I like black because it will hide dirt better, plus it has a whole spy, ninja, cat burglar vibe. Decisions, decisions.

I'll be sure to report once I have the things and am wearing them around. They're supposed to arrive tomorrow. I plan to wear them for kettlebell training, TRX workouts, dog walks and light running. I'm also really interested in the Nike Free which gives a barefoot feel but still looks like a shoe, meaning I'm less likely to draw a crowd of hecklers if I wear them to work.

My food is still vegan(ish). I don't know what's up with that. I read The Primal Blueprint and LOVE his refreshing take on exercise, naps, play, sunshine, and whole natural foods. I've been following a Grok the caveman workout schedule (or anti-schedule) without even knowing it. I can't quite get my brain around the idea that lentils are going to kill me, but I enjoy reading Paleo/primal information and can relate to much of it. I just don't quite fit in. I feel like the demented straggler, trailing along behind the rest of the clan, missing the hunt, and munching on poisonous things.

While waiting for Craig and Kardena's Easy Veggie Meal Plans (out on Monday, and now all vegan), I'm reading Vegan With a Vengeance: Over 150 Delicious, Cheap, Animal-Free Recipes That Rock. It looks hilarious and tasty. I've not attempted to cook anything yet. If you smell something burning, you'll know what's up.

Posted by skwigg at 11:09 AM CDT
Updated: Thursday, 23 July 2009 11:13 AM CDT
Wednesday, 15 July 2009
Veggie Meal Plans and The Primal Blueprint

I just downloaded Easy Veggie Meal Plans. If you want to eat more monkey food and need meal ideas, check it out. It's free through Friday the 17th. It includes a 1600 calorie vegetarian meal plan for women and a 2000 calorie plan for men (or hungry women). There is also a report on 10 foods to avoid on a vegetarian weight loss plan. I was eating frosted shredded wheat as I read that sugary cereal tops the list. :-D

It's from Kardena Pauza who has been advising Craig Ballantyne on his veggie conversion. There are some meals and snacks I'd never thought of. I'll have to try the overnight oat-soaking trick. I like that she talks brands and numbers. I kind of wish these had been vegan meal plans, but they do include eggs and cheese. I guess that's good for people who are easing into the meat-free idea.

I got my lab results back from my vegan experiment and they tell me nothing. They're nearly identical to my last test 5 years ago. BUT I don't have any idea what that means because I didn't have lab work done at the start of the thirty days. It's possible that my cholesterol had crept up over 200 during the last few years and going vegan caused it to plummet 40+ points. Or it's possible that it did absolutely nothing and that my total cholesterol will be 160 something whether I'm eating weeds and beans or bacon and lard. My blood pressure was 97/58. My annoyed pulse was 55. It looks like I'm going to live, so I guess I'll continue to eat what I like and what makes me feel good.

I'm currently reading Mark Sisson's The Primal Blueprint. I'm enjoying it. I admire Grok the caveman, appreciate his primal lifestyle, and generally follow eight or nine of his 10 rules. I'm not good at avoiding poisonous things (Pop-Tarts, Pepsi Max), and I'm an embarrassment to cavemen on the "eat lots of animals" front. Except for that isolated barbecue bender, I have yet to consume any varmint, or varmint milk, or varmint eggs. I'm really digging being a plant eater.

Posted by skwigg at 10:24 AM CDT
Thursday, 9 July 2009
Social Support

Here's a question - you mentioned that you eat out infrequently.  A lot of people like John Berardi say that social support is key to living healthy - do you find that to be true?  I have the impression your husband is more of a "normal" eater - does he support your food choices or think you and all your readers are crazy because you photograph food?  :)  What about your friends?  Does your social circle involve other like-minded people, or are you the odd one out?  If you are, was that hard to overcome?

Yes, social support is key. My husband is "normal" eater in the sense that he doesn't diet or worry about food, but he is active, health conscious and has never been above 10% body fat in his life. Most of my real life friends are like-minded health and fitness nuts, and many of the people I interact with online every day are personal trainers, strength and conditioning coaches, Pilates instructors, dietitians, triathletes, Body for Lifers, CrossFitters, Weight Watchers. 

Basically, I have myself completely, hopelessly, 100% surrounded! If I wanted to kick back and not exercise for awhile and gain ten or fifteen pounds, I would need to join the witness protection program.

So yes, I think social support and accountability are absolutely crucial. I've always had it, and in moments of weakness I reinforce it - by following a program, joining a group, hiring a trainer, recruiting a buddy, or setting a public goal.

They say your income is the average of the five people you spend the most time with. I would say that your health and fitness are too. So, if your social circle is currently a bunch of fast-food-eating, non-exercising human sofa cushions, you need to change that if you want to be fit. Not that you need to ditch old friends, but you need to spend more time with people who support you, push you to improve, and expect you to succeed, not people who are going to drag you back down to comfort themselves.

I would love to hear how you feel about social support and accountability. Do you have it? Has it helped you? How did you find it? What happens without it? How do you handle friends and family who are less than helpful?

Posted by skwigg at 8:14 AM CDT
Tuesday, 7 July 2009
Vegan(ish) Meals

Another fine question from the comments:

Did you eat eggs and soy during your "experiment?" Any chance you can share your meal plan approach? I know about your What I Eat page, just wondering if you randomly threw together meals based on whatever was in your fridge, or if you did some advance meal planning....? Did you live on banana tacos? :)

I ate whatever I had around and whatever I was hungry for. I didn't eat eggs because I was avoiding animal products. I don't eat a lot of soy because I see it as hormone-tampering goo. The first week, I probably ate more soy than I wanted because I didn't know what to have and I hadn't discovered the alternatives. Once I found veggie burgers made out of veggies, ice cream made out of coconut, and milk made out of almonds, the soy versions I'd used before were mostly out of the picture. Still, I don't freak about having small portions of soy couple of times per week. It's having heaps of the stuff several times per day that will turn you into a pumpkin.

For breakfasts I often had green smoothies with spinach, mango and berries. Or fruit and nuts. Or blueberries, flaxseeds, cereal and almond milk. My "cereal" is often a bowl of berries or sliced banana with like two tablespoons of something crunchy added. If I pour a whole bowl of the stuff, I make sure the bowl is tiny. I like to have Pop-Tarts on Friday mornings. I realize monkeys and cavemen don't eat those, but I enjoy them. Last week I found organic toaster pastries that are like Pop-Tarts but you don't need a chemistry degree to decipher the ingredients. Those do have trace amounts of whey or gelatin in them but I don't stress about traces.

For Lunches (or brunches if I skipped breakfast) I might have a mixed greens salad with lots of veggies, a black bean burger, an ear of corn, and two big handfuls of cherries. Or maybe a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on Ezekiel bread with pretzels, carrots, and grapes. Or a bean burrito with avocado, salsa, blue corn tortillas, and a couple of cantaloupe wedges.

Dinners, I usually pack and take to work with me. A lot of times they're some variation of beans and rice, plus a big salad, and fruits and vegetables. Like black beans, rice, red peppers and onions plus pineapple and cherries for dessert. Or lentils and rice, a salad and cantaloupe wedges. Or vegetable rotini pasta with tomatoes, peppers, onions and olive oil, plus a salad, and some fruit. I suck at cooking and kitchen prep, so I shortcut all of this by making one batch of something that I divide up and eat all week. I also buy bagged and washed salad greens and cut and washed fruits and vegetables. That way there's minimal prep time and days of meals.

Snacks, I like vegetables dipped in cucumber hummus. I like blue corn tortilla chips dipped in guacamole and salsa. I make "guacamole" out of a smashed avocado, diced onion and lime juice. It really doesn't need cheese or sour cream. I'll eat a handful of nuts and a piece of fruit. I like Fig Newtons. I love Kombucha tea. I'm a sucker for the freshly baked vegan cookies from Whole Foods. Those don't have any calories, right??? :-P

Restaurants are tough because there is meat and cheese in nearly everything, but for example, I went to Macaroni Grill and ate a garden salad with balsamic vinaigrette, Capellini Pomodoro, and some bread and olive oil. That's a meal that would make some people scream, "Aaaaagh! Carbs! Carbs!" But as long as you realize that a typical restaurant entree is FOUR SERVINGS and you don't eat out that often, who cares? Panera has breads, soups and salads that are vegan. Chipotle and On the Border can fix you up with tortilla, bean, rice and vegetable options (which may or may not contain lard). You can order a loaded veggie pizza with no cheese. There's always a way to eat out if you want to but if you're hardcore vegan, it's kind of a pain in the ass.

Because I eat out fairly infrequently, I think those will be occasions where I might choose meat and vegetables, or not care if there's cheese in my salad. My idea of carefree dining does not involve quizzing the server about ingredients, placing complicated special orders and picking my meal apart. I just assume that restaurant food is fairly crappy (recall David Kessler's fat on salt on sugar on fat on salt explanation) so I eat it rarely and in small portions.

If you're looking for vegetarian or vegan meal plans, I think Craig Ballantyne and his veg nutrition expert are working on that very project. I can't wait to see what they come up with. He's taking it a step further by cutting out processed grains and going mainly raw vegan this month. I thought of him while I was eating barbecued ribs yesterday. :-D

Posted by skwigg at 4:54 PM CDT
Monday, 6 July 2009
Paleo Vegan Monkey Food Thoughts
















I just finished up a month as a vegan. More important than just cutting out meat, my little experiment required me to knock off the cheddar cheese, sour cream, ice cream, butter, milk chocolate, and nacho cheese Doritos. I feel FANTASTIC! I was really hoping I'd feel like dog poo, because then I could say, well see, it doesn't matter what I eat. But no, I'm all lean, energetic and happy, my skin is glowing and I'm sleeping like a lump. Damn it!! Cursed healthy monkey food and all the annoying feel-goodiness...

I went to the doctor to get lab work done today. I'm curious what, if anything, a month of no animal products has done to me. I would like to say that following my fasting bloodwork I didn't drive straight to Jack Stack Barbecue for a slab of ribs, but I totally did that!! OMG! I don't even know what to do with me! Plant eaters will be appalled and the paleo/primal eaters will be jumping up and down. The rib craving started this weekend when, with my judgement clouded by barbecue smoke, I began plotting a yard ninja operation to steal my neighbor's 4th of July ribs out of his smoker. Luckily, I managed to contain myself until I had the blood drawn for the vegan experiment. I don't have the results yet but I'm ultra curious.

I've developed a baffling new interest primal eating and paleo diets. I blame whoever sent me to Mark's Daily Apple a few weeks ago. I totally love that blog! I went over there initially to see what mean things he might have to say about vegans. Much to my surprise, he was smart and funny and I agreed with nearly everything he said.  I was stunned by the number of vegans lurking over there. And I got the biggest kick out of some of his posts like Escape from Vegan Island where he got carted off to McDougall camp, and Spoutin' Off on Veganism (Again) where he explains the obvious pitfalls of living on soft drinks, soy pizzas, wheat crackers and Rice-a-Roni.

Here is what struck me. These modern cavemen who eat mostly vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and meat are actually quite similar to vegans who eat mostly vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and beans. In caveman terms, the vegans are just bad hunters. I think that people tend to stereotype one side or the other and miss the common ground. Not all meat eaters consume a junky, unhealthy Western diet. Not all vegans live on sugar, processed carbs, and soy burgers. In fact, comparing some of the primal and vegan menus I've seen, they're pretty much identical up until dinner time when the caveman might club something over the head and add it to his pile of salad greens. Both sides are concerned about the food supply and the environment. Both sides buy organic, support local agriculture, despise factory farms, etc., etc.. As an outside observer, I found that interesting.

What does it mean for me? I don't know. Now that I've satisfied my lunatic barbecue urge, I think it's right back to plant food. I like it. I feel great. I have fun. Meat or no meat, I think my consumption of cheese and sour cream was out of control and needed reducing. I've broken up with Ben & Jerry. Still, I'm not calling any food off limits or declaring myself a follower of any diet. The more freedom I give myself, the better my choices become and the more I enjoy healthy eating. Nobody could have forced me to follow a vegan diet for a month. I could never have done it as a weight loss scheme, scare tactic, or guilt trip, but left to my own devices and free to make my own choices, it was totally fun. My new mantra is, "I eat whatever I want." And I actually say that to myself A LOT. The more I say it, the happier it makes me and the better I eat. Weird, eh?

Posted by skwigg at 2:10 PM CDT
Updated: Monday, 6 July 2009 2:10 PM CDT
Saturday, 4 July 2009
Quit Blogging?

From the comments:

If Evangeline Lilly has less muscle and more fat than your average *anything*, I'm in the wrong place.  She looks like a bobblehead, she's so thin.  And she's got shoulder muscles and obliques that I couldn't have ever.  Is she 'softer'?  Softer than what, a baseball?  

Until we quit blogging about our menus and workouts and photographing our food, all the while proclaiming we're carefree and happy about our eating and body, we're just not there yet.

Evangeline Lilly has less muscle and more fat than ME during hard training, for example.










Or than the fitness competitors that many of my blog readers idolize and try to emulate.


















I've learned that training harder and dieting more isn't always the answer, and I like to share what I've learned. That's all. If you already know it or don't need to hear it, I'm happy for you. You're way ahead of the rest of us heavy lifting, insane dieting, macronutrient calculating, kookballs.

I've been on a crazy journey from anorexia, to overweight binge eater, to an athlete training hours per day through injury and exhaustion, and now to the happiest and most relaxed I've ever been with food and exercise. I like to share the journey. I guess you're right. I could just say, wow I'm done, and stop blogging, but how does that help anybody else make the connection? And is anybody ever really done learning and growing?

I find it helpful to talk about my nutrition and training philosophy as it evolves. Putting it all out there keeps me focused and honest, and hopefully helps someone else. Now "helping" may mean somebody says, "Wow, she's nuts. I don't want to go down that road."

Hey, if you can't be a role model, be a cautionary tale. ;-)

Posted by skwigg at 9:05 AM CDT
Sunday, 28 June 2009
Food, Inc.

I haven't seen this yet. I am eagerly awaiting its arrival.


Posted by skwigg at 12:53 PM CDT
Sunday, 21 June 2009
Fitness Bliss

There was a post somewhere, I think Leigh's blog again, where somebody sent in their own bikini photos along with pictures of Jessica Biel and Evangeline Lilly from LOST and said, "I want to look like them. What do I do? How much more do I need to lose?" And the surprising answer was that she was already leaner and more muscular than either one of them. She just couldn't see it. So, dieting more and training harder isn't always the answer. Female celebrities are tiny, no doubt, but they tend to carry less muscle and more fat than your average gym rat. So trying to bodybuild or crossfit your way to that physique doesn't necessarily produce the desired results.

I've only recently, like in the last year, acknowledged that bigger and leaner isn't always better. I admire bodybuilders and fitness competitors and I know the dedication involved. It's a beautiful thing if it's what you want, but it's an exercise in futility if your "ideal" is actually smaller and softer. I'm grateful to people like Valerie Waters and Leigh Peele for explaining the size/leanness thing in a way that my frazzled and obsessive brain could finally grasp.

I think I fall somewhere in the middle. I can't stick to the light weights and stretchy bands that celebrities like. I want to be functionally strong and able to do pull-ups and whatnot, but I'm not big on weight machines and heavy deadlifts anymore. I've found a nice groove with the TRX, Pilates, kettlebell, body weight stuff. It's very challenging, but the challenge doesn't come from always going heavier and heavier on the weights. And on the nutrition front, I see that it's not all about chicken and broccoli and six meals per day. If you want a bodybuilding/fitness look maybe it's still about that, but if you want to be a regular person who has nice tank top arms and can wear a bikini to the pool, you don't have to be quite such a spazzy freak about it. It's ok to just be happy.


Posted by skwigg at 1:17 PM CDT
Updated: Sunday, 21 June 2009 1:28 PM CDT
Saturday, 20 June 2009

So, last night in the comments, RG said, "Renee, please just take your calipers out and tell us your body fat.  It doesn't take more than 5 minutes.  I'm betting it's up to 19%"

To which I wrote a fabulous response about how I'm happy with the way I look and the numbers just don't matter anymore, blah, blah, blah...

Faithful readers probably know exactly what happened next. I woke up this morning and went running for the calipers like a lab rat crossing an electric floor for a Froot Loop. :-D

For the five people who care, the average of three 3-site caliper tests was 18.2%, the Tanita scale (fully hydrated on "athlete" mode) says 20.5%, and the mOron hand held (fully hydrated, doesn't have an "athlete" mode) says 22.8%. Since my vague notion of a goal was 18-22%, I would say I'm right in there somewhere.

Interesting tidbit, I once had Leigh Peele and her amazing body fat analyzing eyeballs give me her best guess on my percentage of body fat in various photos that I had a caliper reading to go with. In every case, my self-inflicted caliper readings were about 1-3% lower than her expert guess, which was a relief because it means my readings are at least consistent and close, maybe a little optimistic but not like completely delusional.

So, RG, your 19% guess is probably right on. It's funny how my ideal floats. Lately it's sort of a girly-but-fit look, definitely smaller, lighter, and less ripped in terms of veins, striations and muscle size. Speaking of which, did you guys see the post/comments on Leigh's blog about Bulky Muscles and Female Training? Those survey results blew my mind. Jessica Biel and Hillary Swank are not what I would consider big scary muscle chicks! And I had to watch the video clip twice to figure out which group of women were the "amazons." They all looked the same to me.

I also went back and read a good rant by Josh Hillis about How Thin Is Too Thin. I seem to remember that the first time I read it two years ago, it made me madder than hell. Now, I can't recall exactly why I got so bent. These days, I tend to agree with his 18-23% range for everyday happiness. I also agree that most women can't see it. If they're 18%, they want to be 17%, and if they're 17%, they want to be 15%, and if they're 15%, they still don't like their thighs.

Posted by skwigg at 2:40 PM CDT

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