It was moment-of-truth time: high plank position (“top of a push-up”) at free community yoga.
It was our first Sunday-at-sundown, coed gathering of the new year, following a three-week holiday break, and I had been eating appropriately indulgently for some time: juicy chuck roasts, pan-seared T-bones and salted butter troweled on thick slices of homemade bread.
After a month of inertia and rich food, could I gracefully lower myself from high plank down to the mat, or would I collapse like a ledge of wet snow sliding off the roof?
Shockingly, as I bent my elbows and lowered my shoulders, my legs and torso held. I paused, knees, chest and chin inches above the mat, still as a board — my first-ever low plank!
The rest of the practice, I had the same sensation of being in the wrong body. A complicated (for me) double-eagle balance pose felt like child’s play. When my arms were extended for warrior poses, I kept lifting them higher, searching for the familiar edge of extreme discomfort. No luck. My arms seemed to be resting in invisible slings.
Afterward, the only similar experience I could remember was what I call the Brazilian Steakhouse Effect.
Whenever I eat at one of those fixed-price Brazilian steakhouses where they parade grilled meats around on giant skewers, I skip the everything-in-the-world buffet that precedes the meat service, saving all my stomach space to gorge on rare beef. I should bring a small scale the next time I go to see if I actually consume 2 pounds worth of beef, which would be my best guess-timate. Every time I do that (sadly only once a year, tops), the next day I feel like Wonder Woman. It’s a great energy high that lasts at least a day.
Conversely, when I’m on vacation in the Florida Keys and subsist on fish and fruit, I feel light as a feather and content, but not strong and amped.
A couple of days after the extreme yoga experience, I discovered a possible explanation for my affinity for red meat. One of the books that had been languishing near the bottom of my nightstand stack was “The Big Fat Surprise,” by journalist Nina Teicholz.
Teicholz spent nine years researching nutrition science. In her book, first published in June and released in paperback this month, Teicholz concludes, “Almost nothing that we commonly believe today about fats generally and saturated fat in particular, appears, upon close examination, to be accurate” and “…all our dietary recommendations about fat — the ingredient about which our health authorities have obsessed most during the past sixty years — appeared to be not just slightly off track but completely wrong.”
As trendy as it is to blame Big Food for the sorry state of the American diet, Teicholz paints a different picture: Beginning with a study back in 1937, a faulty assumption that dietary cholesterol translates to higher blood cholesterol levels has driven all official nutritional recommendations.
The English language doesn’t help, with what Teicholz calls an unfortunate homonym: How easy to think fat makes us fat. Only it doesn’t.
Over decades, weak science was exacerbated by ego-driven researchers who cherry-picked facts to support their hypotheses and launched full-out attacks on peers who dared question their conclusions.
But the theory that a low-fat diet is heart-healthy never held water, and it has been dumped by the British and most European nations.
“What if saturated fats are actually the key to reversing obesity, diabetes and heart disease?” Teicholz asks.
Teicholz reveals that government health officials have long ignored studies that found heart disease to be virtually nonexistent in several populations around the world where the diet consisted almost entirely of saturated fats from meat and dairy. They have also, in a rush to get the public to switch from animal fats to vegetable oils in cooking, ignored troubling questions about what happens when the unstable vegetable oils oxidize at high temperatures.
Two of my favorite morsels from the book came from Italy. One, the expression that somebody “looks like Lent,” meaning ugly, unpleasant and thin from undernourishment. Two, that the Italian government resisted officially adopting the “Mediterranean Diet” craze when it was embraced in the U.S. because Italians didn’t want to “medicalize” eating, which in their view should be an entirely pleasurable act.
At the end of presenting her exhaustive research, Teicholz has this advice: “Eat butter; drink whole milk, and feed it to the whole family. Stock up on creamy cheeses, offal, and sausage, and, yes, bacon. None of these foods have been demonstrated to cause obesity, diabetes, or heart disease.”
And I might add, in the spirit of the fast-approaching carnival season, laissez les T-bones roulez.