EPISODE 34
Is alcohol bad for flexibility?

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Julie asks:

Have you got some good tips, stretches or exercises for a sore and straight back? I work in a call center, in front of a computer all day. I’m sitting down all day, and it’s killing my back and neck.

This is a great question, Julie. Even for people who aren’t in call centers, so many of us spend eight or more hours a day sitting at a desk, and the question is what to do. We do have a program called Yoga for Back and Neck Care, which is fantastic and I don’t do a good enough job of telling people about, so if you’re serious about it, for sure check that out.

In the meantime, in terms of what you can do, simple things. The most important thing is that you get up regularly. So I try to get up at least every 90 minutes or so, and 60 minutes is even better, and just try to incorporate some really simple stretches into your routine. The most important things you can do are upper body stuff. Inevitably, you’ll end up walking around at least a little bit during the day, but I find that especially office workers can often get through the entire day without even once raising their arms all the way above their head or without even once taking a full, deep diaphragm breath. And so, that’s something that I always recommend people do.

So if you imagine doing Sun Salutes in your chair, where you’re just sitting down, inhale, bring your arms up above your head and with an exhale just fold down into your legs, things like this. And interlacing your fingers behind your back, I also do a series of wrist stretches to help with my wrists, and really just keeping active is the key thing.

But again, if you’re serious about it, I would take a look at that Yoga for Back and Neck Care workshop that we have. It’s a really great way to do it.

When I do the splits sitting down, I can sometimes get a cramp in my hip. Could I be doing something wrong? And I can’t bend my back and lean forward much in this pose.

In terms of getting cramps, that is normal. You want to back off if you’re getting cramps, but it does happen. In the splits, especially if you have your toes pointed, your leg can cramp up. I’m not exactly sure why. I just think we have tightness from never pointing our toes like that, unless you’re a dancer. So it is normal, I wouldn’t be too worried about it, just do back off and you will find the cramping passes quickly.

Robyn asks:

I’m just wondering what yoga poses would be best for someone with slight scoliosis, about the middle of the spine, thoracic spine? Can yoga actually sustain the curvature from getting worse?

The answer is, Robyn, maybe. Some students find that yoga is fantastic for their scoliosis, and in many cases people are able to use that as a primary treatment. For other people, yoga might exacerbate the condition. So for sure, work with your medical professional, physio, whoever you’re working with. Tell him what you’re trying to do. Make sure to talk to your yoga teacher and just figure out what works for you. There are so many different variations of scoliosis, in severity and in locations, that there is no one size fits all answer.

Fariba asks:

Is alcohol bad for flexibility? Does it work like tea or coffee and make your body stiff?

It’s funny, we’ve never had this question before, Fariba. The thing that alcohol does is, aside from being toxic, which it is, what it really does is dehydrates you, which of course is no good for flexibility. Now ironically, it also relaxes you, which in theory would be good for flexibility, if it wasn’t so lousy for your nervous system.

In terms of alcohol being a huge problem for people and flexibility, I’ve never seen that myself. So I wouldn’t really say no it is. So if you’re somebody who has a couple glasses of wine once in a while, I doubt that’s going to be something that’s going to influence you. You probably won’t even feel it the next day, as long as you stay hydrated. So in the short term, with moderation, really hydration is your biggest concern, which is a big concern, and of course moderation is the underlined, italics, exclamation point word there for you.

Julie asks:

Can you please tell me what are your thoughts on the 80-10-10 diet and Dr. Douglas Graham?

I know Doug Graham through Caravan of Dreams, a restaurant I used to manage in New York City, a plant-based food restaurant. Doug Graham used to come and speak, so I’m very familiar with his work from about 10 years ago.

He came out with a book called the 80-10-10 Diet, which a lot of raw foodists got into. The idea is 80 percent carbs, 10 percent protein, 10 percent fat. Doug Graham comes from a fitness background, and he works with a lot of people who are very serious about fitness, meaning triathletes and runners. And for those types of people, an 80-10-10 diet might work just great.

The real challenge here is that people model their diet after elite athletes, it happens all the time. People want to eat like a triathlete eats. They want to eat like an Olympic gold medalist eats. And the logic is pretty good, but the challenge is your body, your metabolism, what you need is completely different, completely different than some elite athletes or even some amateur athletes. Their dietary needs are very, very different.

And so if you look at ultra marathoners, if you look at endurance athletes, they tend to eat this way. A lot of endurance athletes are actually almost entirely plant-based. They’ll avoid most animal proteins, they’ll eat very low fat and they’ll eat just lots and lots of fruits and in some cases starches as well.

And for whatever reason, for a number of specific reasons actually, that’s what they need to sustain their body, doing those endurance practices. There’s lots of controversy. Is that really good for your help? I can’t really get into that. I don’t think there’s anything definitive out there anyway.

But the key thing to remember is that for most people, if you’re eating 80 percent of your calories from carbs, it’s going to be a real, real quick way to gain weight. It’s going to be a very, very quick way to screw up your blood sugar. It depends on who you are. But unless you’re very, very physically active, I find that if somebody is eating 80 percent of their food from carbohydrates, they’re going to gain weight really, really quickly.

Now the only time that might be an exception, is if you’re truly a raw foodist and you’re really eating almost all raw food. That might work for you. The nature of raw food is that there is so much water and so much fiber that even if you’re eating that many carbs, it doesn’t screw up your blood sugar the same way that it would if it’s coming from starches or other sources. But if you’re eating 80 percent of your calories from carbohydrates and you’re struggling with your weight, I’ll tell you, that is why.

So again, there’s nothing wrong with the 80-10-10 diet, it’s just not for everybody, in the same way that there is no diet for everybody. Everybody is different and everybody has to figure out what works for them. And if you’re working at a call center, that’s very different than if you’re running three triathlons a week, and your macronutrient needs are going to vary greatly. But for the most part, most people, most average people, non-athletes, non-competing athletes, feel better the less carbs they eat, because surprise, surprise there are gobs and gobs of carbs in our world right now. Great question, Julie.

Beata asks:

I need your help with my diet. I am a lacto vegetarian (People usually refer to that meaning that they have milk and usually eggs but no meat) for more than 10 years. I stopped drinking coffee in a natural way and I stopped smoking about 2 years ago. My serious problem is an addiction to sugar. I have tried many different methods, balancing diet, and nothing seems to work. Do you have any ideas to help with this problem?

Beata, I’m going to give you some advice that you might not like, but I’d like you to consider it if you’re really struggling with your health, and it sounds like you are. It’s what I called reverse vegetarianism, and I’d say give up the dairy and eat meat. And I know a lot of vegetarians, that really freaks them out and they feel they have moral and ethical concerns.

If you look at it practically, from a moral and ethical standpoint, in my mind, in my research, it’s a much ethically stronger decision to give up dairy than it is to give up meat. And from a health perspective, dairy is many, many times more complicated than meats. What I mean by that is, our bodies deal with meats fairly well. Our bodies deal with dairy fairly poorly, depending on where you’re from. If you’re from Northern Europe, maybe you do just great with milk, but most of us do really poorly. If you have any kind of African or Asian ancestry, milk is going to be just a disaster. Everything from allergies to digestive problems to chronic sinus problems, so many different things, aside from being just generally inflammatory.

And if you’re having troubles with sugar, what happens is, especially on a vegetarian diet, what I say is people turn into “bread-etarians” or “carbo-tarians,” where they just replace the meat with lots and lots of sugar. Dairy is pretty sweet, too. Dairy has a lot of carbs, different dairy of course different extent, but a lot of milks and stuff have quite a bit of carbs in them.

And so what you really need to do, for anybody who is going plant-based, whether it’s vegetarians or vegans or raw foodists, is you need to really try to keep your sugars down and boost up other macronutrients. There’s only two other ones, it’s proteins and fats. You need to try to eat more of those. People are scared to eat lots of protein, they’re scared to eat lots of fat. There’s no reason to be scared, as long as it’s within reason, especially fat. A lot of people can do really, really great with a higher fat diet. I wouldn’t say a high-fat diet, but a higher-fat diet. 40-plus, 50-plus, even 60-plus percent of your diet coming from really, really nice raw, healthy fats, makes most people feel really, really great.

And if you’re struggling with a sugar craving, Beata, that’s what I would focus on, is replacing that sugar with fat. Dietary fat does not correlate directly with body fat. In fact, sugars are the most lipogenic of all the macronutrients. What that means is, sugars are the easiest for your body to turn into body fat than any of the other macronutrients. The next one is protein, and surprisingly, it’s most difficult for your body to turn pure fat into body fat. It’s completely counterintuitive, and that’s why people get stuck on it, but it is the truth.

So if you’re trying to give up sugar, the best thing to do is to try to replace that sugar with some nice, rich fatty foods. So if you normally have say a really sweet frozen yogurt or some candies or some chocolate or something like that for a dessert, start swapping that out with like a heavy cream, if you’re still doing the dairy. You know, really, really rich coconut oil stuff, like a coconut oil smoothie, something like that. You’ll get the same amount of calories, but it will come from fat and you’ll find it much more satiating and it’s really the best macronutrient to swap with that sugar.

And again, this is a little bit controversial. It’s more than we can go into today, but it’s something that you need to think about, because if you want to get rid of sugar you have to replace it with something else. You can’t just get rid of the sugar. You’ve got to eat more protein or fat. Fat is what I would recommend, especially for the sweet tooth. Really, really fatty desserts that are low in sugar can be even more satisfying than the sugary ones.

Bob asks:

I know it’s better to drink the juice right away, but what if I have some left over? How long will it last if it’s refrigerated? What are the benefits?

With everything, it doesn’t matter if it’s a leg of lamb or some kale or an egg or a strawberry, the fresher it is, the more nutrients it has. Food starts to oxidize and breakdown right away, literally right away. If you’ve ever had fresh-picked anything from the garden, you know that it tastes different. It doesn’t just taste different. Nutritionally, it is different.

So is fresh juice the best? Yes. Is two-day old juice bad for you? No. What you need to do is just stay sane. So do whatever you can do. Like when I’m doing juice cleanses, we always juice the night before and we bottle it up for the next day. Would it be better if we did it right on the spot? Yeah, but then it would take all day. We’d be juicing all day. So you’ve just got to get practical with it. Don’t be obsessed, don’t freak out. Do your best. A fresh juice that you made at home that’s a day or even two days old, is infinitely better than any store-bought juice you’ve got.

So don’t worry about it, Bob, go for it, keep juicing.