Return of the Sugar Dragon

I fought the Sugar Dragon, grappled with it, stabbed it with a dagger in the heart, threw its body over a cliff and watched the corpse tumble down among the rocks, and then I left it for dead.  But I knew it would come back.

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Return of the Sugar Dragon

Slaying the Sugar Dragon

For many of us, too much sugar is a bad thing, and ditto for processed carbs, like bread, pasta, and rice, which are similar to sugar in terms of how quickly they digest and how much glucose they dump into the bloodstream, with unhealthy consequences.

So the question is, if sugar and processed carbs aren’t healthful, why would you ever eat them?

Well, it’s easy to rationalize.  We crave variety in our diet.  Rather than taking an extremist stand, we should”seek moderation in all things.”  And, of course, sugar and carbs taste great.

But here’s the real answer:  in addition to being cheap and ubiquitous, there are reasons to suspect that sugar and processed carbs are addictive.

That’s why the modern food industrial complex stuffs its products with sugar and carbs.  So does your favorite neighborhood restaurant.  Family and friends delight in serving you the unhealthy substances that they themselves may be addicted to.  In the battle to eat healthfully, we’re on our own.

Over the years, I’ve cut back significantly on the sugar and processed carbs in my diet.  It’s been a long journey and a bit of a battle.  But “significantly” isn’t the same as “totally,” and so I’m faced with my own question:  why would I eat any of this stuff?

One day a few weeks ago, feeling in the mood to pick a fight, I decided to embark on an experiment.  The goal would be to cut out fully 100% of the processed carbs from my diet for a period of one week.  It would be interesting to see how hard this would be.

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Slaying the Sugar Dragon

Foodies: Chew on This

This Thanksgiving, if you’re spending time with family and friends, that’s fine, but if you consider yourself an “Epicurean,” that is, someone who places a high value on fine food and drink, unfortunately, I can’t find any philosophical justification for your preferences.

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As a fan of the Stoic philosophers of Ancient Greece and Rome, I thought it was only fair to give the other side a fair hearing, and so I set out recently to learn something about Epicurean philosophy, thinking it would be a study in contrast.  After all, the dictionary defines Stoicism as endurance of pain without complaint, while Epicurean signifies devotion to sensual pleasures, especially fine food and drink.  But I discovered, to my surprise, that this is not the real story.

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Foodies: Chew on This

Before Badwater:  William Lewis Manly’s 1849 Crossing of Death Valley

In 1978, Al Arnold became the first person to run the 146 miles from the Badwater Basin in Death Valley to the summit of Mt. Whitney in the High Sierra.  Since then thousands of runners have completed a “crossing” in one form or another.

Contemporary runners face epic challenges in Death Valley:  brutal temperatures, fierce winds, and endless mountains  – valid reasons for the 135-mile Badwater Ultramarathon to tout itself as the “toughest footrace in the world.”

Runners take on these challenges to show the world that we still have the physical endurance and strength of spirit of our ancestors.  That we haven’t lost their determination and grit.  That in a world of wondrous technology, we haven’t gone soft.

In reflecting on his experience in Death Valley, Al Arnold once said, “If reincarnation is true, then I must have lived before as some kind of scout with an army or with pioneer settlers.  I really feel that you could drop me almost anywhere in the world and, barring human adversity, I’d survive.”

Interestingly, it was a scout who undertook the first documented crossing of Death Valley and the High Sierra.  The year was 1849, and the scout was named William Lewis Manly.  He was leading a group of pioneer settlers, or “emigrants” as they were then called, on an ill-fated shortcut from Salt Lake City to the California goldmines.

Arnold might well be Manly’s reincarnation, as they share the qualities of endurance and commitment.  Yet their experiences were quite different.  Arnold’s crossing was an achievement of training, discipline, and audacity.  Manly’s crossing was a venture gone wrong, a lesson in hunger, thirst, and fear, and a quest for survival.

 

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Before Badwater:  William Lewis Manly’s 1849 Crossing of Death Valley

Pemmican: A High-fat Fuel Source for Ultra-long Distance Running

Nutritionists commonly advise runners to eat a diet high in carbohydrates.  For example, the website Cool Running advises runners to consume 60% of calories from carbohydrates:

Carbohydrates are stored in the muscles as glycogen, the primary fuel you need to keep you moving. When this efficient source of energy wears out, so do you. You hit the wall and can go no further (often after about 90 minutes or two hours of running).

— Cool Running

“Hitting the wall” is a common challenge in marathons.  I remember how my legs would turn to wood after 15-16 miles and my mood would darken as well, as both muscles and brain were struggling with a diminished supply of energy.

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Pemmican: A High-fat Fuel Source for Ultra-long Distance Running