Intermittent Fasting: Why I haven’t eaten breakfast in over two years!

22 Jul

Breakfast can be amazing… I’ll be the first to admit it.

Seriously, what could be better than waking up on a lazy Sunday morning and going out for a slap-up breakfast of fried pork-parts and pancakes?

That said, I don’t (regularly) do breakfast anymore. I have almost completely eliminated it from my life and it has been one of the best decisions I have ever made (and that includes my decision to switch from boxers to boxer-briefs).

IFs and buts and why’s…
For the past two years I have been practicing a form of eating known as Intermittent Fasting (IF) that has steadily been growing in popularity in recent years.

IF basically means you go without food at regular, defined time intervals to reap the health benefits of fasting, evidence of which is starting to appear in recent scientific literature, including:

  • Better blood sugar levels, lower insulin and prevention of diabetes
  • Improved cholesterol levels
  • Treatment of certain cancers
  • Improved concentration
  • Weight loss
  • Prevention of degenerative brain diseases such as Alzheimers
  • Increased longevity

I’ll take a slice of that pie please!!!

In particular I have been fascinated with research on increasing longevity through diet for as long as I have been interested in nutrition. I like the idea of being able to live a long, healthy, dementia free life and there’s quite a bit of science that says I can help myself achieve that through diet and fasting. The only problem is: I love food way too much to not eat!

This is where IF comes in. IF allows you to achieve the benefits of fasting while still eating regularly. Read on and find out how.

Variety is the Spice of life…
… and accordingly there are a few different forms of fasting that include:

  • fasting every other day
  • fasting two days a week
  • prolonged (modified) fasting for up to a week or more (under medical supervision)
  • daily fasting

The type of fasting I’m going to talk about here is a form of daily fasting known as the Leangains method which was developed and popularized by one of my favourite Diet & Fitness bloggers, Martin Berkhan. His blog, aimed at serious diet and fitness enthusiasts,  goes into serious detail about many aspects of IF. It is a very worthwhile read!

Just so you have proof that Martin knows what he’s talking about here’s a picture of him and his body, all produced by IF.

That is the year-round lean physique of the one and only Martin Berkhan (about 5.5% body fat)

This is the year-round lean physique of the one and only Martin Berkhan (about 5.5% body fat)

The Leangains approach can be (over) simplified as follows:
Fast for 16 hours a day and eat within an 8 hour “Feeding Window” (FW).

Now, there’s much more to Leangains than that but lets just focus on the simplest aspect for this article.

In practice (and to make it infinitely more understandable) what that means for me is that I skip breakfast, have my first meal of the day at 12pm and finish my supper by 8pm (my 8 hour FW) and then fast (don’t consume any calories) for the next 16 hours.

The magic happens during the later parts of the fasting period. First off, your body starts to eat into its fat-stores to provide you energy which helps you reduce body fat and secondly and more importantly fasting causes your body to rev up its cellular defenses against molecular damage. That’s where many of the benefits of fasting come from.

“No Breakfast!!! Madness…Why, it’s the most important meal of the day…”
… I hear you roar! Once again my dear friends, this is not madness, this is SCIENCE!!!

I could write a few paragraphs explaining why everything you think is wrong with fasting/skipping breakfast is pure bulls#!t but Martin does it much more eloquently and in detail in his Top Ten Fasting Myths Debunked. Read and learn.

Besides, many of the people who consider breakfast sooo essential to one’s health are probably eating cereals for breakfast and the majority of breakfast cereals are nothing more than morning candy. I’ll happily go without that, thank you.

Why I do IF
On top of the amazing health benefits I’ve mentioned above, IF has given me two major benefits:

1. It keeps me lean. I’ve always had trouble keeping my weight under control but IF makes weight management so easy that I think I’ll be doing it for the rest of my life. As proof, here’s a few photos from the day before my 30th birthday earlier this month.

OK, so apart from being the whitest human being on Earth, IF has helped keep me leaner than I've ever been before!

OK, so apart from being the whitest human being on Earth, Intermittent Fasting has helped keep me leaner than I’ve ever been before!

I’m lean, stronger than I’ve ever been in my life and my birthday health check showed my blood work (glucose, lipids, liver function etc) results are on the good side of perfect 😉

Obviously, getting lean wasn’t the result of IF exclusively, my actual diet and exercise plan played a role but the great thing about IF is how easily it fits around other diets and exercise regimes. I wouldn’t have stuck with IF for so long if it had interfered with my gym routine.

2. It saves me time. I now only eat twice a day meaning this form of eating is more time efficient than the standard 3-meals-a-day (which is a relatively modern and artificial concept anyway) and especially more efficient than the 6-meals-a-day taken by some people who believe in such madness. In fact, anyone who I have converted to the IF Life has commented on how easy it makes life.

I can now wake up later knowing I don’t NEED to eat breakfast first thing in the morning. I still have lunch and a huge dinner (especially after the gym) and it still allows me to go out for dinner with my friends every now and then. If I eat later one evening I can just eat lunch later the next day. On top of that I now feel more productive in the mornings (another well known benefit of fasting).

Why would I ever want to go back to eating breakfast!

I can’t skip breakfast, I’ll be hungry
Boo F@¢king Hoo! Did that seem callous and uncaring? Good, it was meant to.

Amazingly, I rarely feel hungry anymore. My body adapted after a few weeks of IF. Even if you think you couldn’t handle skipping breakfast regularly, I recommend you adhere to it for just 2 weeks. That’s enough time for your body to get used to the new eating schedule. Your body can adapt to whatever meal-times you follow regularly; you just need to show it who’s boss for a couple of weeks.

Even if you do get the odd hunger pang at the start, here’s a newsflash: it’ll last for less than than 5 minutes and then you’ll forget you were even hungry at all. You can also have as much coffee, tea and water (with no milk and sugar, obviously) as you like during the fasting hours. As an added benefit, the caffeine in tea and coffee helps liberate fatty acids into your bloodstream, helping you burn more fat for fuel.

This is especially true if you keep yourself busy (idle hands and all that jazz). That’s why I recommend fasting during the morning up until lunch; most people with a standard schedule should be able to keep relatively busy with work/study/play until at least lunch time.

Life After Breakfast
As I’ve said, the benefits that I’ve received from IF mean that I don’t give a second thought to skipping breakfast anymore and the life-after-breakfast looks like it has a very bright future indeed . I’m healthier and have more free time than ever before. What’s not to love?!

I may get a craving for breakfast once in a blue moon but other than that I can happily say that it's gone from my life.

I may get a craving for breakfast once in a blue moon but other than that I can happily say that it’s gone from my life.

So why not dedicate a few weeks to the IF-Lifestyle (and it is, very much, a lifestyle). At the very least you’ll gain some extra free time in the mornings and you might feel so good you might say goodbye to breakfast for good.

Eat well folks.

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The Salsa Congress Survival Guide

24 Jun

I can’t feel my legs!

Add to that a serious sleep deficit and a feeling of complete euphoria and it’s pretty obvious that I’ve just come back from one hell of a salsa congress.

This is pretty much how I feel the day after a congress! (just not as cute)

This is pretty much how I feel the day after a congress! (just not as cute)

The 9th Irish Salsa Congress (formerly and nostalgically “Salsa School”) was a roaring success and my thanks and respect go out to everyone who made it so. You did a spectacular job folks 😀 .

I had forgotten how much a congress can take out of you so I decided to write up this quick little survival guide made up of my observations, some of the things I did right and a LOT of the things I did wrong.

NAP!!!
Anyone who has gone to a salsa congress can tell you that you will work up a serious sleep deficit over the course of a few days. Add that to all the dancing and you will quickly wear yourself out.

Grab a nap whenever and wherever you can. An hour here and an hour there will go a long way to keeping your energy levels up for the long, late nights of dance mayhem.

Not a nap person? Neither am I but I learned through necessity at this last congress. Dancing through all the way to breakfast isn’t unusual at some congresses.

If you're not a natural napper, a sleep mask is a great help.

If you’re not a natural napper, a sleep mask is a great help.

Pace Yourself
It’s perfectly understandable to feel that you need to go to every class on the schedule to “get your money’s worth” at a congress. However, you’ll quickly wear yourself out that way. There is nothing wrong with skipping one here and there to have a little extra sleep or to grab a nap in the afternoon.

Do some research and prioritize
Before you go, find out what teachers are doing what workshops and ask around about what classes to do from people who’ve taken their classes before. Then prioritize the classes that you feel you’ll get the most from.

For example, this past weekend I focused mostly on Musicality and On2 classes; two areas that I feel I really need to work on.

Remember that some of the teachers may have come from quite far away so this is your opportunity to learn from some fantastic dance-instructors. Prioritize things that you may not be able to learn in your local salsa scene.

Eat well
This will vary at every congress and depends a lot on where you stay. If you have self-catering accommodation you can bring your own food and “cook”. I’ve also heard of other congresses where the only food some people eat all day is the breakfast buffet.

Either way, remember that if you eat healthy you’ll feel much more energetic and enthusiastic dancing. If you eat crap, you’ll feel crap and sluggish and no one wants to dance like that.

Bring healthy foods that are quick to prepare like fruit, instant oats, cottage cheese, protein shakes, eggs, ready-to-eat salad bowls and you’ll feel a lot lighter on the dance floor.

Healthy, Quick and Easy. Healthier food will keep you dancing longer!

Healthy, Quick and Easy. Healthier food will keep you dancing longer!

Make new friends
Congresses are a great chance to meet other dancers from other cities and even from other countries. You’ve all got one thing in common, dance, so take advantage and get chatting to people in the workshops during the day. It’ll probably get you more dances at night.

On top of that it’s great to get to know dancers in other cities; if you ever visit you’ll have a contact with info on the best places to dance and maybe even a couch to sleep on.

Dance with strangers
Don’t confuse this with “dance with strange people”!

As I mentioned above, congresses are your chance to dance with people who normally you wouldn’t otherwise have the chance to dance with again. The more and varied dancers you dance with, the better you’ll become.

Play safe 😉
Again, in relation to the fact that you’ll be meeting lots of new people at the congress (some of whom you may never see again) and coupled with the sensual nature of latin dance… it wouldn’t be a bad idea to bring a few packs of condoms with you… just in case 😉

Know Your Etiquette
If you’re new(ish) to salsa don’t forget to study my Guide to Salsa Etiquette. It’ll keep you from committing any of the faux pas that might otherwise cause some awkward moments on the dance floor.

Bring a SSK (Sasla Survival Kit)
I’ve covered these already in my guide to salsa etiquette but they’re so important that there’s no harm in mentioning them again.
I carry a courier-bag with me everywhere I go and in it I have my SSK:
  • Spare T-shirts
  • Chewing gum
  • Wet-wipes
  • Deoderant
  • Handkerchief
All guaranteed to keep you smelling nice even after hours of craziness on the dance floor.
Everything you need to stay fresh on the dance floor!

Everything you need to stay fresh on the dance floor!

Dress Well
This may seem irrelevant but you may end up getting more dances if you show a little fashion sense. We all know that salseros have “quirky” fashion styles so feel free to put in some extra effort at a congress. That goes for the workshops during the day too. Make a good impression there and you’ll have plenty of dance partners at night (I wasn’t aware of this but it actually turns out it’s a topic of conversation amongst the ladies at congresses)

If you're wearing something like this, don't expect too many dance offers!

If you’re wearing something like this, don’t expect too many dance offers!

Practice what you learn
All that amazing stuff you learn in the workshops is no good if you don’t put it into practice on the dance floor.

Record
If you’re anything like me you may not be able to remember new patterns or styling tips after an hours class. If that’s the case make sure you record the moves you’re taught in the workshops so you can go back and review them later.

You can also share videos with people who have done different workshops from you (another reason to not worry too much about missing classes here and there).

Hydrate
Carry a bottle of water with you. If you get dehydrated you’ll feel crappy, tired and grumpy. Who’d want to dance with someone like that?

Ask questions
If you’re at a workshop and something isn’t clear… ASK!!! More than likely you’re not the only one who’s a little confused. A good teacher will be happy to clarify any points.

Look after your Feet
You’re going to be on your feet pretty much all day so make sure you’re wearing comfortable dance shoes that will help you take the punishment. This goes for practice footwear at the workshops too.
Ladies, I know style is important but there are plenty of dance shoes out there that look great and go easy on your footsies. Ask other salseras what they wear. Make sure you break them in too. A congress is probably not the best place to field-test a brand-new pair of shoes that may end up causing you some serious foot pain.
Also, a good friend of mine swears by a 30 minute foot-bath with Epsom-salts after a hard night of dancing: give it a try. Look after your feet and they won’t let you down when it counts.

OK, so you may not be able to manage the flowers or the personal masseuse but taking care of your feet should still be a priority.

OK, so you may not be able to manage the flowers or the personal masseuse but taking care of your feet should still be a priority.

And most importantly, Have Fun!
Congresses are amazing. You make new friends, dance until the sun comes up, learn loads… it’s some of the best fun you can have with your clothes on (even though they probably won’t be on all the time 😉 ).
Keep Dancing Folks.

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Do Choreography-Groups make Better Salsa Dancers?

21 May

This is it.

Months of practice have culminated in this moment. Your heart is racing. Your palms are sweaty (blah, blah, mom’s spaghetti etc.). You run through what you need to do in your mind. No backing out now. You hear the announcement followed by the cheers of the audience. Your heart stops for a split second with the surge of adrenaline (if you needed to lift a car off someone right now you could probably do it). You grab your partner and strut out. You see lights and camera flashes but you don’t see a single person in the audience, you have more important things to focus on. You move into position and grasp your partner as you’ve done what seems like a thousand times before… but this time is different! This time is real!

Everything goes quiet. Ominously so. You center yourself. Take one last, deep breath and… the music begins.

The next thing you know, you’re holding your partner in the final pose, breathing heavily, the audience  is roaring, applauding and whistling. You line up, smile, bow, smile again, turn and walk away.

Once off stage, you finally snap out of the trance you’ve been in. You realize that it’s all over and you don’t remember anything from the last 3 minutes. Post-Traumatic Amnesia. You don’t care… you did it!

Choreos
A lot of people who dance have experienced exactly this. When people start dancing, be it Salsa, bachata, tango, swing or whatever, inevitably they’ll be presented with the chance to join a choreography group or maybe even asked to do a pair presentation.

I’ve done a few myself over the years; Salsa in Miyazaki, Japan (when I was just taking my first steps in Salsa), Bachatango (I know, I know) in Dublin, Salsa caleña in Cali, Colombia (wearing the most flamboyant costume you can visualize) and Bachata in Belfast this past weekend (hence the inspiration for this article).

Let's not forget the real reason people do performances... Flamboyant Costumes!!!

Let’s not forget the real reason people do performances… Flamboyant Costumes!!!

I’ve always been reluctant to get involved in choreos (I’m a pretty shy guy and despite all my experience with public speaking, shaking my booty in front of large groups of people still freaks me out a little). Despite the initial unease, though, I usually feel pretty happy with myself once a performance is over. It’s a great feeling of accomplishment that anyone who has done a choreography will attest to.

Worthwhile… just not in the way you’d think
Specifically for that feeling of accomplishment , and for a few other reasons I would happily recommend people give choreos a try.

However, I’ve noticed that there are quite a few people that may be under the wrong impression as to what doing a choreography will do for their dance ability. Worse yet, I’ve met way too many people that feel that doing a choreo makes them a dance superstar. Some folks (thankfully a minority) feel that simply having done a choreography makes them advanced dancers. I think everyone reading this will agree that just isn’t the case.

We've all met them!

We’ve all met them!

Choreos and Social Dancing
I think a major assumption that some people have is that skill in a choreography translates directly to skill in social dancing. This isn’t necessarily the case.

Practicing a choreography will make you good at one thing in particular: doing that choreography! Usually you practice with the same partner who knows exactly what to expect. They know what they have to do and they do it, probably even if you make a little mistake here or there. That’s what a good partner does.

Try to do some of the moves you’ve learned in a choreography, however, and you may end up pretty frustrated.

Bruce Lee, often compared practicing martial arts without actual sparring practice to “dry land swimming” and left us this quote:

“If you want to learn to swim jump into the water. On dry land no frame of mind is ever going to help you”

You can compare a performance to practicing to swim on dry land; you may learn the movements but I wouldn’t rely on it to save your ass if you fall into a lake. I’ve said it many times before that the best practice for social dancing is… social dancing. It teaches you how to adapt what you’ve learned in class to other dancers in real life, to react to their idiosyncrasies. There is no substitute for social dancing! (and appropriate practice).

So why join a choreo-group?
Choreography practice and the performances themselves do, however, have benefits to offer that can improve your social dancing.

  • Confidence: going in front of a group of your peers and performing, despite being pretty nerve-wracking usually does wonders for improving confidence, particularly for beginners. Anything that improves confidence will improve someones dancing. Just don’t become so full of yourself that you think you’re ready to give Frankie Martinez a run for his money 😉
  • Styling & Shines: This is particularly important for but not limited to female dancers. Performances are choreographed to look pretty so all the practice will usually give you a few ideas of how you can “sex-up” your own individual social dancing.
  • Socializing: Joining a small choreo-group will mean you’ll be spending a lot of time with some people you might not initially know well or at all. By the end, you’ll have probably made some great new friends and feel better connected to the salsa community. This was actually my reason for doing my latest choreo. It was an excuse for me to go to Dublin regularly and I ended up meeting some really wonderful people 😉
  • Muscle Memory: Again, this is something that really benefits beginners but the constant practice of a choreography helps to lock certain basics into your muscle memory. I found this really handy for getting the hang of some of the fast footwork of Salsa caleña.
  • New Challenges: Sometimes we set ourselves new challenges… just because! It’s something new and different and makes us step out of our comfort zones which in my opinion is something we should try whenever we can.

Give a Choreo a try… or not!
Will doing a choreography make you an advanced dancer?… I doubt it.

Will it make you a little better?… Probably (especially if you’re a beginner)

Will it be a bit of a laugh?… Yeah (and you may meet some great people)

If you fancy the challenge, go for it. It definitely won’t do you any harm. If you don’t feel like it, don’t. It won’t hold you back from becoming a great dancer.

Either way, keep dancing folks.

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Salsa: You’re doing it wrong!

29 Apr

“If you don’t have African or at least Latino roots you will NEVER dance Salsa well”.
Did you know that?

Or did you know that “Studio Salsa (whatever that is) is watered-down Salsa that has lost its sabor”?

Or that “Puerto Rican street Salsa is the only real Salsa there is”?

Were you aware that “for Salsa to be good it has to have a multitude of turn patterns, acrobatics and footwork”?

No? Well, neither did I… but according to some of the angry comments that I received on last weeks hugely popular article, this is what some “Salseros” actually think (and very adamantly at that). All those ridiculous statements you’ve just read above were the opinions of people who wrote some rather unpleasant comments on my blog or Facebook page last week.

They were either deleted or never allowed past moderation (my house, my rules 😛 ).

Controversy
Last week’s article did exactly what I had hoped, just on a MUCH larger scale. It went viral and created one of the biggest international dialogues in Salsa that I’ve ever seen (although, in fairness, my Salsa history is pretty short).

People from the entire Salsa sphere gave their two cents; social dancers (like myself), performers, instructors, promoters, club owners… the whole shebang! It was like an international Salsa focus group 😀 . A massive array of opinions and ideas were shared and I couldn’t care less if people agreed with the article’s content or not. The simple fact was: It got people talking and that kind of dialogue is great for the salsa community and I really am proud that this blog was part of it.

The Killers Within
Unfortunately, there were some particularly vocal individuals (and I call them individuals because I’m certain they don’t represent the views of the groups they claim to speak for) who made me aware of the unfortunate way some people think of Salsa. The people who seem to be fighting to keep Salsa segregated.

Salsa-Factionists
Some people got REALLY upset at the article. After reading their comments I realized that the vast majority of them completely misunderstood what I was getting at. The title was intentionally misleading, most people got that, but some people decided to carry their anger from reading the title with them through the rest of the article (assuming they actually read it :/  ) and then took the wrong meaning from virtually everything I said. Also a lot of people completely misunderstood what I meant by a Bah! dancer (someone who, after years, doesn’t even manage the basics well but has no desire to even get their rhythm in order… it’s all about a Bah! attitude i.e. they don’t care about salsa!). People seemed to think I was demanding everyone train to be a performance level, fancy footworked, acrobatic Salsa wonderkid! Nothing could be further from the truth.Some people made some seriously inaccurate ASSUMPTIONS and that unfortunately led to the misunderstanding.

How I felt reading some of the comments! (that guy's almost as white as me!)

How I felt reading some of the comments! (that guy’s almost as white as me!)



Anyway, anger at the article turned into anger at me and that’s when I realized how segregated our Salsa community is. Some nasty comments directed at me opened my eyes wide open. There were even some people who were supporting my views but who had some completely ridiculous (elitist) ideas too which I would never be in favor of.

Our salsa is best
Basically, the gist of everyone’s blame throwing was this: Everyone considered their particular faction to be the best!

I had people telling me that the only way to dance Salsa is studio style (?) with as many crazy combos as possible. Nope, can’t agree with that!

Some said too many Latinos in clubs were the cause of Salsa’s decline. Really? The people who brought us Salsa? I didn’t know where to begin with that one!

Others said that people who “learned” Salsa in a classes couldn’t hold a candle to those on the street. A universal untruth in my experience.

Some told me that Cuban Salsa was the only authentic way to dance with sabor. Funny that I’ve seen people dancing every other style of Salsa with sabor too.

Some people told me that white people like me (I really am as white as you can get :/ ) would never be able to dance well. I know a lot of dancing albinos like myself who’d take offense to that lie.

Some commentors even suggested I should start refusing people dances based on their style or level. Can you believe that? I, for better or worse, just don’t say “No” to a dance. It’s one of my most important rules of Salsa etiquette.

Some people misinterpreted my comment about Cali (which I’ll gladly admit wasn’t worded well enough). Just to be clear, Salsa in cali is “Rica” but if you don’t know what that means look it up because, according to one angry commentor, if you don’t speak Spanish and understand Latin culture you will never dance with real sabor (I know, seriously, so many salseros are doomed).

Apparently we've all been completely mistaken about Salsa!

Apparently we’ve all been completely mistaken about Salsa!

 

***You know what, don’t even worry about what I said last week, these might be the attitudes that are actually damaging Salsa!***

And there I was worried about peoples skill level when there’s a whole heap of people spreading hate like that in the community!

I’ll stick with what works
After all those wonderfully “inclusive” suggestions I received I think I’m just gonna ignore them completely and keep doing exactly what I’ve been doing up until now:

  • I’ll continue dancing with everyone regardless of style or level (good thing I never suggested such an extremist approach in my article. I guess I’m a monster for wanting to encourage beginners 😛 )
  • I’ll continue dancing as many styles of Salsa as I can (there’s a reason I’ve traveled around the world dancing as much as I have {LA, Colombian, Cuban, NY} it allows me to dance with almost anyone I meet on the dance floor. Puerto Rico is on my list too, I’ll get there eventually 😀 )
  • I’ll continue trying to learn and improve whenever I can because I’m still convinced I’ll be able to shake this bright white booty with as much sabor as anyone with adequate melanin levels).
  • And you know what? I think I’ll continue encouraging people to do the same.

I‘m sorry for having such monstrous views. Clearly I’m an awful person

Be different
You know, people will always prefer and dance different styles of Salsa and that’s beautiful. It means we’ll always have the beauty of variety in the Salsa community.

It’s just not cool when people start promoting the idea that one style is better than the others and then ridiculing those who dance those different styles. That is most definitely NOT what I wrote about in my last article.

Thanks for everyone’s opinion
To those of you who wrote ridiculously angry comments to make your point, I’m sorry you’re so angry, the internet seems to bring that out in people. At least you provided the inspiration for everything I’ve written here. And to those of you who gave well rounded, mature comments with genuinely insightful suggestions I want to say thank you for contributing to our Salsa community… And it most certainly is “our” community (see my article on why), no matter what the angry comments say, no matter if your style is Cuban or Puerto Rican, NY, LA or Colombian… no matter if you’re African, Latino, European or Asian… or if you dance street or studio, technical or simple… We are all part of one big Salsa community. I’ll see you all on the dance floor.

Keep dancing folks.

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Why “Social” dancers are killing Salsa

22 Apr

Purely social dancers have started pissing me off.

Let’s get something straight: Salsa IS a social activity. Most people who take it up do so to get out more and to meet new people. That’s one of the reasons I dance myself and I consider myself a social dancer (just not in the sense that I’m writing about here). Long story short, Salsa needs to be enjoyed. Today, however, I’m gonna talk about a very different type of “Social” dancer!

There seems to be a natural progression amongst great salseros that goes a little something like this:

  • They begin Salsa without many expectations
  • They enjoy the new activity and the new social outlet
  • They improve and their improvement leads to greater enjoyment
  • Greater enjoyment leads to greater desire to improve…

    Great dancers continue to get better over time (in an ideal world of course)

    Great dancers continue to get better over time (in an ideal world of course, so in reality this never happens)

… and so continues the Salsa cycle!

This increased enjoyment and desire to improve is what leads to the development of the incredible dancers we get to watch in awe and admiration on dance floors around the world. These people are true Salsa addicts; the simple taste of what it feels like to dance beautifully drives them to strive for more and more intense highs… to strive for perfection.

However, there is another cycle that some people get caught in. This cycle is more simple that the first and goes a little like this:

  • They begin Salsa without many expectations
  • They enjoy the new activity and the new social outlet
  • They improve a little and their improvement leads to greater enjoyment
  • They become content with their basic Salsa level and see no need to improve

    Some dancers, however, get to a basic level and stay there

    Some dancers, however, get to a basic level and stay there

I call this the “Bah!” (Basic And Happy!) Cycle.

People in the Bah! cycle have achieved a certain rudimentary level of Salsa, they’ve made new friends and learned that they can enjoy themselves “dancing” without putting in too much effort… and that’s it. They remain in a state of perpetual mediocrity (or worse, perpetual awfulness), they never learn to understand or “feel” the music or the real passion that it brings but as long as they can continue going out dancing once or twice a week, they’re happy! Salsa is nothing more than a “social activity” for them.

Two Extremes
Obviously the two diagrams above are two extremes of the same scale. In reality, there is a huge amount of variation with the progression that individuals make. In reality the top graph is probably never achieved, it’s just there to illustrate a point. People don’t keep improving indefinitely but they don’t need to. Often people achieve a decent level and possibly continue to improve at a much slower rate over time, depending on circumstances and interest. These people fall into a broad category of what constitutes “good dancers”. Importantly, they are fun to dance with. Being good has nothing to do with technicality or turn patterns… it’s just dancing the basics WELL!

Bah!-dancers, on the other hand, have stopped improving at a low level. They may just barely be able to handle the basics, enough to get through a song in a haphazard, not-s0-pretty-to-look-at manner… and not much else. They don’t understand the concept of “feeling the passion of a song” and are generally, not fun to dance with.

Bah! does not mean Beginner
Now of course, I’m not referring to recent converts to the church of Salsa, that would be unfair. Improvement takes time and Salsa beginners need time and encouragement to help improve their level.

In a period of (let’s just randomly say) 12 months both men and women (especially women) can achieve a very decent level of Salsa. However, some don’t.

We all know Bah-dancers
They’re the ones who go to Salsa congress’ to get away for the weekend and have a blast but never actually learn anything new. They’re the ones that go to regular low-level Salsa classes and aren’t really pushed if they don’t pick up the intricacies of a new turn or a lead as long as they get to chat about how “tough” the class is with every new partner they dance with. They’re the ones who often spin out of control, or can’t maintain their balance on turns or can’t keep up with the rhythm but just laugh it off and never stop to think “Why is this happening?” or “Is their something I could do to fix this?”. Often they’re completely oblivious to the issues they NEED to improve.

They can be very difficult to dance with and in some cases even dangerous. I’ve nearly had my shoulder dislocated a couple of times from trying to keep someone (with years of dance “experience”) from spinning out of control and into other couples. They dance generically and don’t react to changes in the music/rhythm of a song, their dancing lacks life and soul.

Talk about the pot calling the kettle black
My own Salsa skills leave a lot to be desired; I’m still not comfortable dancing On2 timing, I still have issues maintaining eye contact with my partner, I haven’t learned a new combination in “I don’t know how long”, my attempts at shines verge on the ridiculous… the list goes on and on and on (humiliatingly so). However, I’m aware of these shortcomings and my need to improve. I sometimes ask my dance partners (those that I’m close with) what areas I can work on or what they don’t like about how I dance. That self-awareness is very important to me and to my development. Bah!-dancers, on the other hand, don’t seem to care!

Bad to worse
Since I returned to Ireland last year after almost two and a half years away, I’ve had the chance to dance with (and see dancing) many people from the Salsa scene when I lived in Dublin 3 years ago. Many have improved incredibly and I noticed it from the first moment I danced with them or saw them dancing.

However, some, amazingly after almost 3 years, haven’t improved at all. In fact, some are worse dancers than what I remember. They are Bah! Basic And Happy!

So let them be Bah!
I’m all in favor of people doing what makes them happy. At the end of the day, if something makes you happy and doesn’t negatively affect you or others, then go for it.

However, the proliferation of Bah!-dancers has far reaching repercussions, well beyond the individual Bah!-dancers themselves.

Let me give you an international example. I moved to Cali, Colombia because I had heard it was the world capital of salsa and I wanted to learn all that I could from those famous Colombian dancers. I went and I was disappointed (but only on the technical level). Cali’s “Professional” dancers are, without a doubt, amongst the best in the world but the regular dancers that you meet in the clubs are a different story. The social activity of choice in Cali is Salsa. This means that everyone attains a certain basic level of Salsa that they can use when they go out socializing with friends, family and colleagues. Theynever feel the need to improve (generally for the rest of their lives) because most people dance at the same basic level. However, at least in Cali most people “feel” the rhythm of music much better than people in non-latin countries. This is, of course, a generalization but from two years of living in Cali, I feel it applies to a lot (obviously, not all) of people there.

So basically, a city known for its fine Salsa dancers has remained in a state of stasis (on the level of social dancing skill) since the Salsa boom in the 70’s. It’s still a great place to dance though 😀

This is why Bah!-dancers are detrimental to a Salsa scene. If the number of Bah!-dancers reaches a certain critical mass, it creates a precedent for others to follow. What this means is that when people are exposed to large amounts of mediocre dancers they have no incentive to improve as everyone is already dancing at the same low level and is relatively content doing so.

And just like a Bah!-dancer gets caught in a cycle of mediocrity, so too can an entire Salsa community. This is just not good for Salsa.

**Now the important thing to note about this is that it’s much more significant for smaller or developing Salsa scenes! Bah!-dancers are probably not even an issue for large, well-established scenes like New York or London where there is an abundance of good dancers.**

This “mediocrity” is a typical “stage” in the development process of any Salsa community but mediocre dancers SHOULD eventually give rise to better dancers, which in turn, encourage others to start improving too. This kind of Positive Feedback is essential for a Salsa community to flourish and grow. The perfect example of this is New York city; it attracts the finest dancers on Earth and because of this other dancers there are not only held to a higher standard but also rise to meet and exceed it. Some of the finest social dancing I have ever seen in my life was on the dance floors of the Big Apple.

This is why we need lots of great dancers in a Salsa community and why I recommend people dance with as many good dancers as possible. Great dancers inspire us, they make us want to be better, to try harder, to go that little extra that takes us away from the safety of mediocrity and down the hard path to greatness. More of us need to taste what it’s like to dance with a cloudy dancer to fuel our desire for greater things. By no means does that mean you need to become a “great” dancer yourself… not “bad” would be a great start for many.

Unfortunately, a surplus of Bah!-dancers reduces the relevance of great dancers. They can be ignored as outliers, on the sidelines of the Salsa community, not part of the main group, unreachable. Most of us still behave like sheep and stick with the herd mentality of “do as everyone else does”. If that’s the case and you’re surrounded by Bah!-dancers, how are you going to end up dancing?

You may think you're pretty damn awesome but you're just too content to notice you're not!

You may “think” you’re pretty damn awesome but you’re just too content to notice you’re not!

I’m a monster
This article is going to make me rather unpopular.

Despite our constant desire to hear it, the truth rarely makes us happy. It’s for exactly that reason that I’ve written this; If I don’t, no one else will and nothing will change.

The only solution to the Bah! Cycle is self-awareness. Awareness of one’s own need to improve. We can’t expect others to tell someone they’re a Bah!-dancer, it could be too easily taken as offensive. But then again, people go years without noticing. It’s a tough one to call. This is where constructive criticism from friends could come in handy.

I’m not saying that everyone needs to strive to be an “amazing dancer”. I’m too much of a realist to assume that’s even possible. I do feel, however, that a lot of individuals and even entire Salsa scenes could do well by setting there standards higher; from “Basic” to “Good”!

If this article has offended you, stop for a minute and think. Why have you been offended? Have I struck a personal chord? Have you realized something about yourself? Have you become self-aware? If so, do something about it!

Keep dancing folks.

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Why Salsa Dancing is the Greatest Fat-Burning Exercise EVER!!!

8 Apr

I hate cardio!

Seriously! I can think of nothing worse than spending 30 minutes or more jogging or doing lengths in a swimming pool. The monotony is mind-numbing. In fact, the only time I ever mildly enjoy jogging is when the weather’s good and I can enjoy the sun on my skin and the view of the mountains from my route… but I live in Ireland where “good weather” is one of those legends we hear of as children but only really get to experience a handful of days out of the year… stupid North Atlantic weather.

Don’t even get me started on treadmills. How anyone can spend more than 5 minutes running in the same place, breathing the same stale air and looking at the same gym scenery is utterly beyond me. People who can spend 30 minutes on a treadmill have truly mastered the art of mentally shutting down and zoning-out. Maybe they’ve learned to meditate while jogging. Or maybe they’re just dead inside!

So why bother?
Well, the cold hard truth is that people do cardio because no one want’s to be fat. Extended periods of moderate intensity exercise (read “cardio”) such as jogging, swimming, biking etc. are good ways to burn body fat. All of these are classified as “aerobic” exercises which means they use oxygen to produce energy. Your bodies preferential fuel source for aerobic exercise is fat as opposed to to anaerobic exercises (such as sprinting or heavy weight lifting) which use carbohydrates as their energy source.

I’m certainly not saying aerobic exercise is better than anaerobic (my own training routine would contradict that), I’m just saying that aerobic exercise has a role to play in getting us ready for beach season.

Bikini season is coming... I've completely lost my train of thought

Bikini season is coming… I’ve completely lost my train of thought!

So what’s wrong with cardio?
Simple answer: IT’S BORING!!!
I actually have to psyche myself up to go for a jog and I know I’m not the only one. As soon as I step on the pavement, all I can think of is “when is this going to be over”. I feel the same way swimming laps in a pool. I’m just counting down the minutes until I can stop. That’s not a good way to encourage physical activity.

Geeky answer: It produces cortisol
Cortisol is a hormone that your body produces in times of stress. Stress can be induced by lots of factors (as we all know) but one of them is exercise, particularly sustained moderate/high intensity cardio.

Now, cortisol is not all bad, it actually induces the beneficial effects of exercise through its catabolic (break down) effects. Basically it signals your body that it needs to get stronger by breaking down tissue. However if cortisol levels remain high your body gets stuck in a catabolic state and can’t get into the anabolic (build up) state that it needs to improve conditioning. Basically your body is stuck breaking down muscle tissue as opposed to building it up. This can result in a whole host of problems such as reduced muscle tone, higher susceptibility to infection, poor sleep and increased abdominal fat (everyone’s favorite type of fat 😉  ).

Excessive cardio (e.g. long distance running) can often result in the body type seen on the right. Probably not the look most people are going for.

Excessive cardio (e.g. long distance running) can often result in the body type seen on the right. Probably not the look most people are going for.

This is a perfect example of too much of a good thing. Excessive moderate/high intensity cardio makes you produce too much cortisol.

Do what you love
The best way to exercise, in my opinion, is to do something you love.

When you enjoy something, you stick with it and when it comes to getting the benefits of exercise, consistency is key.

That’s why it’s better to do something that you enjoy doing for the sake of doing it, rather than just to get exercise. Be it soccer, tennis, basketball or no-holds-barred hopscotch, finding an activity you enjoy is important.

In my final year in Japan I had no trouble maintaining low body fat because I was surfing regularly (I lived next to the sea and had my own car to take my board around). I didn’t go surfing because I wanted to get exercise, I went because I loved catching waves (even though I sucked). I did it regularly and it kept me lean.

Another advantage of doing an activity that you love is that it helps to combat stress which actively reduces cortisol and helps to prevent its negative effects.

Salsa Caliente
I have noticed that I have no trouble staying lean if I’m social dancing around 3 nights a week.

When I lived in Dublin a few years ago, I took a month off form social dancing while I was doing a CELTA course (there was hefty workload in the evenings). Apart from the lack of dancing, my diet and my weight training (which I did in the mornings) didn’t change. I did, however, notice that I was gaining weight. Once I started dancing again, the weight just melted off.

Now, salsa dancing isn’t overly intense. Have a look at the “estimated” calories burned (for someone weighing 70kg) for 30 minutes of the following activities*:

  • Salsa: 214 cals**
  • Biking: 245 cals
  • Jogging: 210 cals
  • Swimming: 315 cals
  • Vigorous Sex: 120 cals (I think they might be doing it wrong)

*Source: http://www.calorielab.com
**Source: SalsaPhD

Now, except for the value for Salsa dancing, I’m very skeptical about the veracity of the remaining values (especially the last one) but lets assume they’re relatively accurate.

Over 30 minutes, salsa appears to have a caloric expenditure similar to biking and jogging. Fair enough, that seems about right. However, I’ve never known someone to go social dancing for just 30 minutes.

The great thing about salsa is that it’s so addictive. When I go social dancing, I can be out dancing for one, two, three or more hours. And I’m enjoying every second of it (as opposed to jogging where I’m just wishing for it to end). So when you look at it like that, dancing for two (very enjoyable) hours could burn ~860 calories as opposed to 210 calories from a torturous half hour of jogging (the value for salsa will obviously be lower due to breaks taken on a night out dancing).

Anyone who has had a good night of salsa dancing also knows how out of breath and sweaty one gets by the end of the night.

Out of Breath and Sweaty?
Sounds like cardio to me. And that’s just what it is. A night of salsa dancing is an extended period of moderate intensity aerobic exercise.

Salsa is one of the best low intensity exercises you can do.

Salsa is one of the best low intensity exercises you can do.

It beats the hell out of jogging as it’s a hell of a lot more fun, it’s easier on the joints, it helps to reduce stress (and associated cortisol levels) and it’s a social activity you can enjoy with friends. You can check out a whole load of other reasons to dance salsa here. Think about it though: Which would you prefer, a half hour of running or 2 hours of salsa dancing?

Why a salsa class won’t help you
Now, after saying all that, if you think going to an hour-long salsa class three times a week is going to give you abs you could grate carrots on, you are sadly mistaken.

Most salsa classes are focused on teaching you new techniques and thus the intensity is far too low. In all honesty, how many times have you been sweaty and out of breath after a salsa class?

The only exception would be Zumba but that’s more aerobics than dancing (no disrespect to zumba, I’m just calling it like I see it).

A few hours of hot and sweaty social dancing, two or three times a week is really one of the best “no will power needed” fat-burning routines you could ever try.

You enjoy it = You do it regularly = You get results

The Secret Ingredient
Let’s not forget the most important factor when it comes to dropping body fat:

“Abs are made in the kitchen”

You can do all the exercise you want but if you’re not eating well, the only time you’re going to see abs is watching Ryan Reynolds movies (damn that guy looks good).

I hate Ryan Reynolds for looking so good!

I hate Ryan Reynolds for looking so good!

Don’t let your good efforts on the dance floor go to waste, make an effort with your food and you’ll be able to put Mr. Reynolds to shame. If you need some tips on tweaking your diet you can check out these articles here and here.

So get up and shake that booty
I don’t have the option to go dancing right now (here in the middle of the mountains) so I have to settle for jogging as my regular cardio (and it is a very distant runner up to salsa). So to those of you who can, get up, get moving and a dance a few songs for me.

Keep dancing folks.

EDIT: After I initially published this article I was contacted by Pablo Alberto Domene, a PhD student at Kingston University who is studying the the physical and psychological benefits of Latin dance. He very kindly corrected the caloric expenditure values I had originally used for salsa (which were too low) based on his own research. You can read up on Pablo’s work on his excellent blog: SalsaPhD
Thanks for your help Pablo and I wish you continued success in your studies.

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Cave-Chicken Casserole (Introducing “The Cooking Irishman”)

25 Mar
Cave-Chicken Casserole: I love me some cave-chicken!

Cave-Chicken Casserole: I love me some cave-chicken!

Champ: “Do you know what they call bats?”
Ron: “Bats!?”
Champ: “Chicken of the cave”
Ron: “No one calls them chicken of the cave”…

After careful investigation I later discovered that, in fact, bats are not known as “Chicken of the cave”!

I was however left with a hankering for some chicken… just not the deep-fried, fast food, could possibly be a bat, kind of chicken. With last week’s article on the Paleo Diet still fresh in my mind, and with the necessity of having to feed my family  (Mam, Dad and four hungry Man-boys) for dinner, I set about rustling up a Paleo-Chicken caserole that would make any prehistoric foodie whip out his iPhone and Instagram the s#!t out of that foodgasm (I’m not sure if “foodgasm” is an appropriate word to use but I really think it’s the word a prehistoric hunter-gatherer would whisper, with his eyes closed in ecstasy, upon tasting this paleo-poultry.

(I really enjoyed writing that last paragraph 😀 )

On top of all that, I’ve also wanted to write a recipe post for a while. I love food blogs and this is my chance to spread my writing wings a little and try something new… (it’s fairly obvious I haven’t been dancing for a while, right!)

Cave-Chicken Casserole
The chicken used in this recipe neither lived in a cave nor was a creepy, flying mammal. It gets it’s name from the fact that everything used in the recipe is Paleo Diet (otherwise known as the Caveman Diet) friendly . Can I get a “Wuhoo”?

It’s high in protein, high in fat (none of which are damaged or refined), high in fiber and antioxidants, low in carbs, dairy-free, grain-free and gluten free. It also taste’s like what the God’s of Mount Olympus eat every Tuesday night… you know, the night they all make sure they’re home early so they can get an extra large helping of this awesomeness. It’s that good!

And I think that’s the important thing about this. I call this recipe “Paleo” because it fits in with the guidelines of some famous diet, but the truth is that this is just a healthy and importantly, delicious meal. I wouldn’t change anything about it. There is no need to add non-paleo ingredients to it because it is just THAT good. I might play around with the spices but that would be for a different taste experience. Trust me, I know my food!

The recipe is at the end but the pictures will give you an idea of how it all comes together. You’ll also notice that I cooked loads. This made 9 portions, so it fed everyone for dinner and had plenty of leftovers for lunch the next day (because I’m lazy and didn’t want to cook again).

Materials & Method
(Yes, I’m a science nerd). Cut up some carrots into bite-sized chunks. Chuck ’em in a big casserole dish!

Mmm, cavemen love carrots. Reminds them of their clubs!

Mmm, cavemen love carrots. Reminds them of their clubs!

Next, cut some onions into quarters, separate the layers and chuck em’ into the casserole dish. I got fancy and used half yellow onions and half red onions. Yes, I’m that fancy.

Chickens love onions... Fa

Chickens love onions… Fact!

Next up I added some quartered button mushrooms but you can add whatever type you want. Chestnut or portobello would be great. I really recommend using mushrooms as they really add to the flavor of the sauce when cooked… unless you’re allergic to mushrooms. In that case don’t add them… that would be stupid.

I killed all these mushrooms myself. Super Mario would be so proud... or horrified... I can't remember.

I killed all these mushrooms myself. Super Mario would be so proud… or horrified… I can’t remember.

Next, chop up some bell peppers into chunks. I once again went with my theme of using two different colours. Aren’t I artistic? At this point I realized that the dish was getting pretty full.

On a related note, red and green are the colours of my village's Gaelic Football team. Nice!

On a related note, red and green are the colours of my village’s Gaelic Football team. Nice!

Some of you may disagree with my next choice. I finely chopped two sticks of celery and add that to the veggie mix. Here’s the thing, if you ask anyone in my house what they think of celery they will all say that they hate it. I can’t blame them. It’s not on the top of anyone’s favorite foods list. However, used as a seasoning agent, it adds a savory depth to the flavor of many meat dishes. I started adding it to my lasagnas and now my lasagnas are pretty damn spectacular. Anyway, just chop it up finely and no-one needs to know.

It'll be our little secret ;-)

It’ll be our little secret 😉

For a final, antioxidant-punch I added a chopped up head of broccoli, one of my favorite vegetables (when it’s cooked well). It doesn’t seem I will be fitting much chicken into this casserole dish.

Studies have shown that when cavemen went "courting" they would rub themselves with broccoli to attract mates. True story!

Studies have shown that when cavemen went “courting” they would rub themselves with old broccoli to attract mates. True story!

Next, I needed to make the sauce, the main ingredients of which are coconut milk, tomato puree and seasoning.

Coconut milk has become a staple in my kitchen.

Coconut milk has become a staple in my kitchen.

So to make the sauce, in a separate jug, I mixed up the coconut milk, tomato puree, oregano, a full head of chopped garlic, cayenne pepper for a little kick, sea salt and a generous dose of freshly ground black pepper. If you have it I would also add the juice of half or a whole lemon. Citric acid is a great flavor enhancer. Once mixed together, it came out looking a little like this…

The coconut milk and tomato puree are the two most processed ingredients in this entire recipe. The Gods of Paleo are smiling upon me.

The coconut milk and tomato puree are the two most processed ingredients in this entire recipe. The Gods of Paleo are smiling upon me.

At this point, the one very full dish was worrying me so I snapped my fingers and…

Holy crap. How'd he do that?

Holy crap. How’d he do that?

Next comes the part everyone’s been waiting for. To satisfy the beast-like appetites of my family, I added a beast-like… beast!? Anyway, I threw in some chicken thigh joints on top of the veggies. I recommend using thighs for a few reasons. The meat of the thigh is higher in fat than the breast and so tastes better. The bones in the legs, once they get cooked, add much more flavor to the sauce than chicken breast alone can. They look a lot better once they’re all cooked (you’ll see the photo later) and to top it off, it’s much cheaper than buying chicken breast. However, if you want to go with chicken breast for convenience, go for it. The same goes for other cave-beasts too: cave-pig, cave-sheep, cave-cow etc. As you can see in the photo, I left the skin on but you can remove it before cooking (just give it a firm tug) if you want to reduce the fat content of the dish.

I also tracked and hunted these chicken thighs myself. I have no idea how they were getting around without being attached to the rest of the chicken.

I also tracked and hunted these chicken thighs myself. I have no idea how they were getting around without being attached to the rest of the chicken.

We’re almost there folks. Next I just poured the sauce haphazardly over the chicken and veggies. If you want to slather the sauce over the meat more evenly, go for it. I like to slather… or maybe I just like saying “slather”. I’ll stop now. It will appear that you don’t have enough sauce, don’t panic. Stay calm and add a little extra water into the bottom of the casserole dishes (I used less than  500 ml of extra water between both dishes).

It will look like you don't have enough sauce but don't worry, I got your back!

It will look like you don’t have enough sauce but don’t worry, I got your back!

The last step before cooking is to cover the dishes, this will keep keep steam in the dish and prevent the sauce from condensing too much. If you have tight fitting lids for your dishes, perfect, if not, use aluminium foil sealed tightly around the sides. I don’t like using aluminium foil but sometimes it really is indispensable.

Look at how well I covered that!

Look at how well I covered that!

Now, if we were real cavemen we would collect wood, build a fire using a piece of flint and throw the casserole dish into the fire. We, however, are more civilized than that. We’ll use science (hurrah!)  and put the dish into into a preheated oven at 170° C for about two to two and a half hours. You don’t need to stir it or mess with, just leave the magic fire box do its work and you should get something that looks a little like this:

Oh yeah, that's the money shot right there.

Oh yeah, that’s the money shot right there.

As you can see, all the coconut-tomat0 mix has sunk down to the vegetables and mixed with the juices from the chicken meat and bones to make a sauce that would bring a tear to a caveman’s eye.

The chicken served with the veggies is a meal in itself but if you feel the necessity for extra carbs, it goes great with roasted sweet potato.

Ingredient List
For those of you who at this stage are probably going bonkers due to me not mentioning the exact quantities of my ingredients, here the list (people like lists):

  • Carrots: 6 med-large
  • Onions: 4 small-med
  • Mushrooms: ~500g
  • Bell peppers: 2 large
  • Celery: 2 large sticks
  • Broccoli: 1 large head (~400g)
  • Chicken legs & thighs: 9 (~2.8kg)

Sauce:

  • Coconut Milk: 2 cans (400ml each)
  • Tomato paste: 1 tube (200g)
  • Oregano: ~2 tsp
  • Garlic: 1 head
  • Cayenne Pepper: ~2 tsp
  • Black Pepper: ~2 tsp
  • Salt: 1-2 tsp
  • Lemon juice: ~whole lemon (optional)

 

Nutritional Breakdown
I used the USDA Nutrient Database to help me calculate the nutrient values for this meal. If you tend to get a little OCD about food I recommend staying away from this site, it’s got soooo much information.

Each portion of cave-chicken casserole contains approximately:

  • Calories: 695
  • Fat: 45g
  • Protein: 47g
  • Carbs: 33g
  • Fiber: 7g

On top of that it’s bursting with antioxidants and phytonutrients from the mini vegetable garden we chopped up at the start. Packed with high quality protein and the fat is saturated (which is not “bad” as it has been demonized to be over the years) and a lot of it consists of medium-chain triglycerides from the coconut milk, which are easily metabolized for energy. I personally would have this, as is (i.e. no extra carbs on the side) on a low-carb day as it’s a little high in fat so avoiding carbs will help you to avoid wearing them later 😉 .

The Cooking Irishman
And that’s that. My first endeavor into the world of recipe blogging. May it be the first of many. A very healthy, very paleo feast for all you wanna-be cavemen and cavewomen out there. I hope you like.

On another note I’m aware that my photos don’t look quite as sexy as the ones you can see on Food Porn Daily but I’ll try and improve for the next one. Promise.

Eat well, folks.

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The Best Diet in the World (and why I don’t follow it)

11 Mar

Diets these days are like religions.

The followers of a particular diet, just like those of a particular religion, will often do all they can to promote it, spread it to new followers and if ever their beliefs are threatened by other “non-believers”, well let’s just say that some wouldn’t bat an eyelid at waging a holy war, on that great battleground that is the interweb, in defense of of their dietary gods.

Just as in religion, blind faith and unquestioning extremism only cause trouble. I’ll talk more about this a little later on.

Life as a guinea pig
As a lot of my friends and regular readers know, I was a fat kid. Some would say chubby but either way, I just didn’t look right in a bathing suit.

In my mid-teens I started reading about nutrition and exercise science and this started a passion that burns serious calories to this very day.

I love new knowledge so that’s led me to not only read a wide variety of books on nutrition but to also try out those dietary approaches on myself. Truth be told, there are probably very few of the major eating systems that I haven’t given a try. From strict veganism to hardcore ketosis-inducing Atkins I’ve survived or thrived on a lot of different diets.

Today I want to introduce you to one that I think is really worth your time looking into a little more.

“P” is for Paleo
Many of you, I’m sure, have heard of the Paleo diet.

The Paelo Diet intends to bring us a step back towards our ancestors (no harm there)

The Paelo Diet intends to bring us a step back towards our ancestors (no harm there).

These days it is both popular (and growing in popularity) and controversial. Let me go all hipster on you all and just say “I was doing Paleo before it was cool”. I first gave it a try about 12 years ago and I’m still a big believer in its effectiveness at helping people lose weight and improving their health.

Paleo: Excavation to Explosion
The Paleo Diet got its first real dose of popularity back in 2002 when Dr. Loren Cordain published his book “The Paleo Diet”, extolling the virtues of the foods supposedly eaten by our Paleolithic ancestors and simultaneously tearing a new A-hole in any foods that were part of the agricultural revolution.

His work became controversial (for the wrong reasons) and eventually became popular (for the right reasons) thanks to a reinvigorating kick in the form of “The Paleo Solution” written by Robb Wolf, an apostle of Dr. Cordain, along with the promotion of Paleo eating in the ever expanding world of Cross Fit exercise.

There is a glut of info about Paleo online but I recommend Robb Wolf’s website as a decent starting point.

What Paleo IS
Basically, Paleo is a way of eating that attempts to mimic (as closely as we can in the modern world) the diet of our paleolithic (stone age) ancestors i.e. before agriculture reared its “ugly” head and started throwing its “weight” around and making us all the unhealthy fatties that we are today (please forgive my hyperbole, I’m Irish, we get carried away with such things).

The underlying theory is that agri-foods like grains, legumes and dairy have only been in the human diet for a relatively short amount of time (approx. 10,000 years) compared to how long anatomically modern humans have been around (approx. 100,000 years). Thus, it’s believed that the human digestive system/body hasn’t had enough time to adapt to them and certain substances they contain. So, our bodies react poorly to them resulting in a myriad of diet-related illness’ that we are seeing in ever increasing numbers these days like obesity, Type-2 diabetes, autoimmune diseases etc.

In a nutshell, Paleo encourages the consumption of “Paleo foods” such as:

  • Lean meats (preferably from grass-fed animals)
  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Nuts and seeds

    A good paleo diet should look something like this; plenty of fruit and veg along with unprocessed meats.

    A good paleo diet should look something like this; plenty of fruit and veg along with unprocessed meat and fish.

and discourages the consumption of “Agricultural Products” which are new to the human diet such as:

  • Grains (wheat, barley, rye, oats, corn, rice)
  • White potatoes
  • Dairy
  • Legumes
  • Refined vegetable oils
  • Processed foods in general

Think of it like this: if you were dropped into a tropical rainforest and had to hunt, gather and scavenge your food, you would be eating paleo. You would be saying goodbye to modern day staples such as breads, cakes, candies, chips and “pretty much” anything that comes prepackaged.

What Paleo IS NOT
Paleo is not an excuse to eat nothing but bacon (as some would have you believe).

A healthy diet is not made of Bacon alone!

A healthy diet is not made of Bacon alone! (My God, it’s so beautiful)

Why eat like a caveman?
The very nature of the Paleo Diet dictates that you suddenly begin consuming virtually all of your food unprocessed. Going from the Standard American Diet (SAD, great acronym, right) to Paleo generally means that  you’ll immediately be consuming:

Less
Sugar
Starch
Refined/Damaged Oils
Crap

& More
Vegetables
Fruits
Fibre
Protein
Healthy Fats

So in one powerful swoop the Paleo diet covers the majority of areas that most “other diets” try to improve upon.

The diet claims to help you:

  • Lose weight
  • Treat Type-2 diabetes
  • Improve autoimmune disease (such as rheumatoid arthritis)
  • Control other forms of inflammation such as acne
  • Make you look daaaaamn sexy in a bathing suit

From my own experience on the diet I can honestly say that I never feel so good as when I’m following Paleo. The best way I could describe the feeling of paleo is that everything is just smooth. Like a well oiled engine burning high octane fuel compared to an old, poorly maintained engine running on regular. They both run, but one runs better and is gonna last a lot longer.

I always lose weight on Paleo (due to the drop in carbs and elimination of water retention), my skin is always clear and I feel full of energy. The diet works and it works well.

Additionally, one of the best things about Paleo these days is the huge community of followers that has developed around it which means that finding info about paleo and more importantly, finding paleo-friendly recipes is now easier than ever.

The Devil is in the Dogma
What’s the catch right? There’s gotta be something? Terrible B.O.? Hairy chests? Development of a sloping forehead?

The Paleo Diet will not result in the formation of Modern Cavemen.

The Paleo Diet will not turn you into a modern cavemen (hopefully).

Truth be told, no! The diet itself is excellent, nourishing and far superior to the crap most people eat today.

The problem lies in the fact that, like religion, the paleo diet suffers from its own Dogma.

The central premise is that if a foodstuff could be found by our hunter-gatherer ancestors it’s good. Equally, if a food wasn’t available to those same ancestors, back in the day, it’s bad. This is an intentional oversimplification but I’m going to use it to explain a point.

Therefore, foods like maple syrup or honey are Paleo. Now, maple syrup and honey, in reality, are little more than sugar syrup with extra flavor and some minerals and other compounds in miniscule quantities. They behave in your body in virtually the same way as sugar (anyone who disagrees has no idea about biochemistry and I, thankfully, have science on my side).

Or another example, the humble spud (white potato) is a no-go but the sweet potato (also an agricultural product) is considered essential by Paleo athletes who heavily rely on it as a carb source.

You also encounter (mostly) newbies to Paleo who look at it as an excuse to gorge excessively on meat (see “Bacon” above) or on fruits. The problem with fruits these days is that they have been altered significantly by agriculture and contain far more sugar than their wild/ancient relatives. Paleo isn’t just about meat and fruit but some people (both inside and outside the paleo movement) would have you believe so.

On the other end of the spectrum, certain “modern” foods (such as certain fermented dairy products) may very well be tolerated on the paleo diet but dogma dictates that they’re bad because they’re new.

In fact, this has led to a schism in the paleo movement with traditionalists (those religiously following the original paleo dogma) and “New-Paleo” followers who are less strict and more willing to try “certain” non-paleo foods. Just like a schism in religion followers of both sects (which have far more in common than otherwise) squabble over these miniscule differences. Religious history repeating itself. But I digress…

Why I don’t follow Paleo (at the moment)
I’ve just said that Paleo is amazing and that “it does exactly what it says on the tin” and that it makes me feel great. Why then wouldn’t I follow it?

We’re finally getting to the point I want to make. There are other considerations to make about the food we put into our mouths than simply its affects on us as individuals.

We live on a small planet, with limited resources but with a population of about 7 billion hungry people. Diets in the developed world (and I’m talking about standard diets too, not just paleo) rely heavily on animal products. The problem with that is that producing food from animals is far more costly (monetary investment, space, environment) than producing food from plants. I’m not going to go into details myself but you can read more here and here.

Long story short, eating meat is far harder on the environment and heavier on our limited resources than eating plants.

As a human being, I can’t justify huge quantities of meat in my diet when I know that it simply isn’t sustainable. I’m “trying” to be responsible.

The Hypocrite
So have I eliminated meat from my diet? Hell no!

From my own personal experience I know that I do far better with some meat in my diet than without. Humans are omnivores (science agrees with me) and we and our ancestors have been eating meat for millions of years (the ability to cook meat is often cited as the evolutionary kick-starter of human brain development). I have little doubt that there are substances that we can get from meat far more efficiently than from plants (Vitamin B12 is an obvious example). I’m not going to sacrifice my health entirely by eliminating meat completely.

Replacing (some) animal protein with plant protein is one step towards a more sustainable planet.

Replacing (some) animal protein with plant protein is one step towards a more sustainable planet.

I’ve come to a compromise with the way I eat that allows me the benefits of meat in a mostly plant based diet. It’s not a perfect solution but it’s the best I’m willing to do. I also don’t want to give up some of my favorite foods  on my cheat days (heaven forbid).

On top of that, my diet changes regularly. Depending on my fitness goals, depending on my health, depending on my budget. I say that I don’t eat paleo NOW but that doesn’t mean that I won’t go paleo (or conversely, vegan for that matter, although I doubt it) in the future. “Never say never” is a dietary policy that has worked well for me over the years.

Food for thought
Our health is vitally important. So is our planet.

They whole point of this article is to introduce an incredibly healthy eating system along with making people aware of the consequences of their food choices. On a planet of limited dimensions, our choices and actions ultimately affect everyone and everything else. I just want people to see the bigger picture.

I’m not telling people to give up meat. I’m not telling people to go paleo. Both would be hypocritical of me (I’ve just realized that saying it like that really puts me in a lose-lose situation). I just want you, as an individual, to be aware of your health, your responsibility and your choices regarding both.

Eat well folks!

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The Salsa Community: All Warm and Fuzzy

5 Mar
If you're in a salsa community you're in one of the best communities around.

If you’re in a salsa community you’re in one of the best communities around.

Let’s get all warm and fuzzy.

Salsa offers us many benefits; new friends, exercise, a new social outlet… I’ve written about them before and the list is long.

Like many others, I started salsa years ago and I’ve stuck with it all this time to reap all these benefits but recently I’ve been appreciating one of them in particular; the sense of community.

I was born and raised in the countryside, in a small village where everyone knows everyone (for better or worse). I was BORN into a community. Whatever social events I went to I would see the same people. I’d see them at mass or at a football match. If ever something happened in my life, good or bad I knew people in the community would always be there with a word of encouragement or congratulations or whatever I needed to hear.

When I moved away from home at 18, my classmates in university became my community. When I worked as an English teacher in Japan, the people doing the JET Programme just like me, became my community. However, as someone who has moved around more than their fare share in life I’ve come to realize that as we get older and move to new cities, it becomes harder to feel part of a community. I think many people will agree with me that the places with the most people are usually the places we feel most alone.

That’s where salsa has helped a lot in my life.

Salsa: Community in the City
I recently moved back to Ireland after almost two and a half years abroad. I’m back home in the countryside but I’ve been going back up to Dublin a lot lately and I love being there. Despite the fact that a lot of time has passed, I simply slotted right back into the salsa community. There are a lot of new faces but there are plenty that I recognize from before and they couldn’t have helped me feel more welcome after my time away.

It’s not just Dublin either. When I lived in Colombia, my main group of friends were those I went dancing with regularly. I would see the same faces out dancing every week. Exposure breeds familiarity and those faces became friends, my Colombian family.

When I lived in Japan, during my final year, I started organizing salsa parties in an attempt to start building a community. I guess it worked because that community is still going strong in semi-rural Miyazaki and I’ve maintained my strongest links, amongst my Japanese friends, with those people whom I danced with.

That sense of community doesn’t even have to be confined to a place where you live either. It can just as easily be formed while traveling.

During the course of my three weeks in Cuba I spent virtually all my time with the instructors from the salsa school I went to. We ate meals together, chatted throughout the day, visited the beach and of course danced our asses off every night.

The best example probably comes from my time in Charleston, South Carolina. When I arrived there in mid-October last year I had only intended on staying a couple of days and moving on to New York. Luckily for me, my first night there I went dancing and met a great bunch of people in the small but close salsa community that is growing there. They welcomed me with open arms and I ended up staying for a week, doing workshops, eating out, going for drinks and dancing our asses of every night (I see a pattern emerging here).

When I was in New York, I was lucky enough to have friends who I knew through salsa who gave me a place to stay and even helped me with some of my first steps into dancing On 2.

I had no connection with virtually any of the people above apart from one thing: We All Love Salsa!

And that’s the real amazing thing about salsa. It brings everyone together. It doesn’t matter whether you’re young or old, the color of your skin, your religion, where you’re from or whether you love Marmite or not. As long as you want to dance, you’re golden!

Love it or Hate...It doesn't matter as long as you dance salsa.

Love it or Hate…It doesn’t matter as long as you dance salsa.

When I go out dancing in Dublin I get to spend time with the most diverse group of people you can imagine; gardeners, tennis coaches, bakers, truck drivers, doctors, geologists, bankers, immigrants, parents, students and manly men with beards (grrrrr!). All brought together by our love for shaking our booties in time with music. It never ceases to amaze me the incredible mix of people I find at a salsa night and eventually end up calling my friends.

I felt the need to write this after the past few weekends in Dublin. Whenever I visit, I always end up crashing on the couch of a salsa friend (thanks Dave). When I go out for coffee, it’s with fellow salseros. When I randomly bump into someone I know on the street there’s a 90% chance they’re someone I know from salsa.

This weekend I went to birthday parties for salsero friends, went dancing and met people who I haven’t seen in years and was greeted with the warmest of hugs, made new friends with people more recent to the community and even learned a load of bad words in European Spanish… all thanks to salsa. I even went out to brunch on Sunday with a huge group of people of whom I had only met two before but ended up having an amazing day and instantly making some new friends because… just because everyone danced. It was beautiful!

Diversity united through salsa!

Diversity united through salsa!

Dublin may not be a huge city by international standards but it is still a city and in any city it’s easy to feel alone or lacking a sense of community. Salsa gives us the community that we need. It makes us feel like we’re part of something bigger, something special and I think that we’re all looking for that… to feel part of something that’s bigger than us.

This may sound ridiculous but I genuinely feel all warm and fuzzy inside when I go into a salsa club alone and spend the first 5 minutes shaking hands and hugging and kissing all my friends who I may have seen as recently as the night before. There aren’t many situations in cities these days that allow someone such a sense of intimacy and belonging amongst the masses. Salsa is a true blessing in this sense.

Nothing’s Perfect…
…nor will it ever be perfect. Just like every community in the world (or just like every family) there are issues. We can however chose to ignore them and just focus on the good (which is what I’m doing with this article).

Basically, what I’m trying to say is: if you’re part of a salsa community you should feel damn proud of it. Appreciate it. Appreciate the wonderful things it has brought you in your life, not least the amazing friends it has probably blessed you with.

Be happy that you have found such a healthy, wholesome way to spend your time.

Keep Dancing Folks.

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What is La Época? An interview with Director Josue Joseph (pioneer in salsa musicality)

18 Feb
Director of "La Época" and salsa musicality pioneer, Josue Joseph

Director of “La Época” and salsa musicality pioneer, Josue Joseph

So, having returned home to Ireland I managed to go a full 30 days without a single dance (quite possibly the longest salsa-free period in my life since I became a salsero). Being back on the farm in the middle of the Irish countryside means that I’m not exactly spoiled for choice when I comes to dance options.

So I was delighted to break my salsa “dry spell” with a trip to Dublin to attend a screening of the salsa musicality documentaries “La Época” along with a day of musicality workshops led by the director, Josue Joseph. Mr. Joseph was brought to Dublin by the great team at Sun Dance Ireland (nice work guys).

Josue was kind enough to do an interview with me after the workshops in which he talks about his work and the response it has received over the years. You can check out the 2-part interview below.
Part 1

Part 2

My take on “La Época”
“Mind blown, brain melted” is how I can best describe how I felt after a day of workshops with Josue and his partner, Sara.

The reason was due to the fact that I had never been exposed to such detailed information on the music that I’ve been dancing to for years. Josue is a musician (amongst other titles) and his movies open up a depth of latin musicality that most people never consider, even after years of dancing. It really makes you start thinking more deeply about how you should interpret music when you dance and this is probably one of the greatest achievements of La Época.

Whether I agree with all of Josue’s opinions is not important. What’s important is that exposure to his work has made me better informed and much more interested in the musicality of latin dance and that can only lead to an improvement in my dancing (hopefully).

If you’re interested in learning more about musicality I can’t recommend La Época enough. Especially for people teaching dance, La Época finally introduces a definitive way to explain how different parts of music can be translated into body movement while dancing. So its a much more satisfactory alternative to simply telling a student to just “feel the music”.

You can find out more about Josue and his work by visiting his site www.laepocafilm.com. You can also find out where he’ll be holding his next film screenings and workshops (Josue is currently based out of Poland). It will allow you to take the next step in making a big improvement in your dance.

Keep dancing folks.

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