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Forget SAD, get MAD. Developing a Mongolian-American Diet!

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  • Forget SAD, get MAD. Developing a Mongolian-American Diet!

    Hello all,

    I'm about to leave Mongolia, where I have been enjoying tons of grass-fed everything and a pretty self-directed work regime, and go back to New Jersey, where I'm going to have to stay strong at all the restaurants and work events I'll be at with my friends when we aren't spending a ton of time (trying) to write, do research, and get grants and jobs in our windowless office space. I'm a little intimidated, so I'm doing the 21-Day Challenge to solidfy and further develop good habits! For example, I finally started exercising "Primally." I surprised myself by knocking out 5 pushups! Ah well, at least I'm pretty good at squats. Hopefully by the end of the month, when I'm in NJ, I'll have my Mongolian American Diet "dialed" as Mark calls it.

    I actually started doing "Paleo," "Primal Blueprint" etc. a few months back. My boyfriend watched Lustig's "Sugar: The Bitter Truth," met someone doing a Paleo-style diet, read up a ton, and started talking to me about it and gave me some Kindle gifts. He said that he was partly receptive to it because it seemed to match alot how I currently ate (lots of fatty meat and root vegetables in my diet, eating infrequently/rarely feeling hungry), and had already been seeing results from cutting down sugar. Also I'm a student of anthropology we talked about what Cordain, Robb Wolf and Mark mention and I confirmed what I hadn't already tried to bang into his head. This was especially the notion of "The Original Affluent Society" and that the elderly as well as good times are very much around in what most Americans consider to be "nasty, brutish and short" type societies past and present. But I was also powerfully reminded of the archeological evidence about not only height loss but bone "trumpeting" in early agriculturists. And it even came back to me how my biological anthropology professor was so into South Beach!

    Growing up in "red states," my family always ate a lot of meat, even quite a bit of wild meat (mostly elk). I have had two great-grandmothers and even a great-grandpa live well into their 90s, and one is still going pretty strong at 102 swearing by no processed food, cooking with butter and lots of garlic. My mom has always been a healthy food fanatic and is an amazing cook, so I didn't have any aversion to cooking with veggies and such. It also probably helped that when we were picky kids she always made us have fruit and vegetables every day, even when we only ate carrots and apples! Unfortunately she hits the artificial sweeteners and low-fat cooking sprays, but that was nothing, at least in the short term, compared to how SAD screwed me up in university.

    In high school I hit fast food places pretty often for lunch with friends. I had pretty bad acne but weight wasn't a problem I thought. I was also able to engage in some lighter athletic stuff like hiking or marching band. By the end of my college freshman semester though, I had gained fifteen or so pounds and I felt huge and terrible. I was able to reign things in a bit by being a little more selective in the dining hall (we had pretty awesome omelete and salad bars) but was still feeling ten or fifteen pounds overweight. I know for alot of people this sounds like nothing, but it's enough for your clothes to not fit anymore but not enough that you don't just want to suck it up and deal instead of go out and buy new stuff! Now my clothes are too big; I definitely wasn't trying to lose any weight but this spring I've lost a lot of fat, gained some muscle and my pants will not stay up under to my newly hard stomach without a belt (a nice Mongolian leather one).

    In my second year my acne got really bad. That summer I did an intensive academic program and got really bad tension headaches-- bad enough that they did send me to the MRI machine and neurologist. Basically the amount of time bent over the desk, probably crap muscle tone, and stress made my shoulders and neck need muscle relaxants and some cortisone shots before I could even start doing stretches and icing to get things back. (Thankfully I finally ended up at my hometown doctor and he knew exactly what to do.)

    I very occasionally get tension headaches and ice my neck and shoulders but hopefully by the time I get to doing a real pullup I won't have problems anymore. My acne is still a work in progress, but the last couple of weeks I've been working on it and it seems that caffeine has a big effect. I've cut out coffee and black tea, which I was drinking a lot of, and my face is healing up nicely. I should probably lose the dark chocolate too though...

    I didn't get back to a comfortable weight and see my skin clear up until I went to study in Moscow. I didn't have the money to really spend on pop, and I lost the cravings pretty fast. I did eat quite a bit of oatmeal, pasta and grechka (buckwheat) but I also hit the meat, cabbage and apricot pirojki (sort of filled buns with a very thin dough) as well as beet and other salds pretty much everyday at lunch in the super cheap student cafeteria and made that my main meal of the day. The semester after that I went to Mongolia, and since then my MO has been spend several months in the US and then head to Mongolia for a few months. I thought that I felt better in Mongolia, but just wrote it off as more stress in the US with the pressure to write proposals, help teach, etc. I did get to the point though that I couldn't eat "normal" meat in the US, it just tasted terrible.

    This time I've been in Mongolia mostly uninterrupted since May last year. I started getting unsatisfied with my energy levels and sleep especially. I had been eating oatmeal every day, and once I cut that out after looking into Paleo-style eating I starting feeling a lot better. I used to sleep until 11 or 12 if I just let myself. Now (with the combination of using candles after the sun goes down) I only "sleep in" until 9. I'm still trying to make 10 my bedtime but I've seen alot of improvement so far. I also used to have the occasional sugar binge and crash but for the past couple of weeks two attempts to have processed cookies and ice cream have actually made me have intense acid reflux, to the point that I threw up the sugary stuff.

    Besides being able to get out of bed much more easily, with implementing an at least 80% Primal Blueprint I feel like I have a ton more energy. I always hated competitive sports and going to the gym. I could never get myself in to the "take it for the team" mentality and the gym just bored me and felt like a total waste of time. The idea of "jail workouts" and low-tech stuff like that appealed to me but I didn't implement it. I did also start walking everywhere in Moscow and I saw big benefits, but still want to improve my upper body strength especially. With the 21-Challenge I've especially been focusing on doing the PEM workouts and sprints (which were especially scary for me). I've got a little muscle soreness but can't sit still! I decided I was too sore for my PEM workout the other day, but ended up moving some appliances and furniture and doing some serious floor cleaning. Now my arms are sore too!

  • #2


    Galbitan: Good Idea, Takturitan: Bad Idea.

    There are alot of things wrong with the typical Mongolian diet. Like I say in my journal title, I'm working on taking the best stuff and combining it with some good American stuff: Mexican dishes with avocado... coconut curries... those banana-based "paleo" pancakes... though I'm pissed I probably won't be able to find any sheep tail fat in the US with there not being any Mongolian sheep or other fat-tailed sheep as far as I know. I'll look into it.

    Bad Mongolian food stuff includes not only Coke and a wide variety of processed foods from Germany to the Phillipines (American grocery stores are incredibly boring to me for the past few years), but also ubiquitous sunflower oil (the smell of which brings back such nice Moscow memories when I first started cooking for myself really...) and a taste for floury stuff from bread to dumplings to noodles to doughnutty things fried in the middle of gers with a block of clarified yak butter the size of a overweight newborn. Oh yeah, and alcohol. Lots of vodka and lots of beer brewed the way Germans taught them how to do it.

    I'll get to that stuff when I have some nice anecdotes of the day. But for now, Korean food just came up. Now I'm mulling over a blog post about how South Korea is a great example of the myth of "developed" vs. "undeveloped" countries but I haven't quite got there yet, and going over that material here should provide some background for this post. Basically, I had to live in Seoul for about a month last fall because I needed to arrange a Mongolian visa. My time had run out and visas can't be issued inside the country for some reason. Anyways. Seoul immediately struck me as being alot like Ulaanbaatar. The crappy construction quality that I had thought was blowover from the Chinese construction boom, part of the low status of construction as a profession, inexperience with new building materials and techniques, etc. turned out to be also Korean. Apparently there is a huge influx of people from "the countryside" there as well, many to try and study and get one of the few jobs with one of the few conglomerate companies. Seems like most of them end up doing construction (which is not considered to be a profession, so it is low-paid and laborers have little expertise), getting into trading at the open markets (Seoul has some of the world's largest open markets, incidentally the Central Asian/Russian/Mongolian neighborhood is right next door) or opening up a small restaurant. All of this is pretty much how thing are going down in Ulaanbaatar as well, though Mongolians often see South Korea as a model for development when they don't have experience with working there doing "black labor" and getting very, very badly treated. Anyways though, the small restaurants...

    I developed a taste for Korean food in Mongolia, but in Seoul there was little meat to be had in the ubiquitious small restaurants, though the chicken seemed pretty ok. But everything was also drowning in sweet and spicy sauces. At Korean joints in Mongolia, one of my favorite dishes is a simple soup, galbitang, made from beef ribs cut into cube-like sections. Meat from pastoralist "nomads" is ubiquitous in Ulaanbaatar, and here it diverges from Seoul! Only one place I ate at in Seoul had something like this, a total hole in the wall set up like a place in the Mongolian countryside -- what I imagine North Korean eateries to be like (and indeed, some Korean places in Ulaanbaatar run by North Koreans are like!). Communal long tables, that Soviet shade of blue-green paint, calendars issued by the city restauranteurs' professional organization... But basically what I'm saying is that Korean food in Seoul is now dominated by sugary sauces that disguise the crappy meat quality and feed into the sugar/caffeine addiction of the masses beating themselves bloody 24 hours a day in coffee shops, bakeries and beer joints somewhere along the process of trying to nab a spot in the right school so they can get a job with the right company. It's food for poor stressed-out people, for whom failure means freaking out one's parents who just don't get it partly because they lived through the "boom" of the Korean economy which was of course the result of heavy American and Japanese involvement with the management of a couple of dictators. But it also means one will have to take up a job peddling terrible low quality food and piss beer, disguised just like a bad economy is by myths of economic development. "French" bakeries, Starbucks, Dunkin' Donuts and rice-beer just like Budweiser. At least unlike Japan, it's cheap! No use of inflation tricks to boost the economy in the global arena. Cost of living was similar to Ulaanbaatar. Anyways though, sound like Robb Wolf, Gary Taubes, and Fathead? Fat, sick, poor, and consuming to make yourself feel affluent, successful and developed.

    I can also say that I quickly fell into the cycle and I can at least claim that this is ethnographically-based all the more. Though I produced a pretty successful grant application, I also developed insane sleep hours and mood problems while rotating between donut shop, coffee shop, fast Korean food of the kind I just described and beer joints when there were friendly folks in the hostel or I was meeting with some friends teaching English in Korea. (A phenomenon which of course points to the state of the American economic situation... an epidemic of unemployable twenty and thirty-somethings racked with student debt).

    So last afternoon I was craving a salad at a place that also happens to serve a Korean spicy chicken soup. I was thinking that the salad wouldn't be enough, so I ended up getting the soup as well. Both were amazing. The salad had beautiful lettuce, nice oily duck, and apples. The soup had delicious broth, just spicy enough, and two whole drumsticks. Though now to think of it, I'm pretty sure that they were the highly inferior Tyson imports (coming to Mongolia via Russia even...). Skinny. Like "Bush's skinny legs," the American chicken that Russians got care-packaged in the early 90s and thought was a bad joke because the quality was so terrible.

    After I parted from my friend who had to go to work at 6, I decided to try and find some new green tea to try out in my new infuser. (That I picked up in one of the new Korean shops in town... another sign that the Korean economy is in trouble is how they are trying so hard to expand everything into Mongolia, which has a population of about 3 million people). I ended up going all the way across town and feeling hungry and even getting a sugar craving once the buzz that fueled my wanderings wore off. I haven't had any problems with sugar cravings like this for quite awhile now, though I have eaten sugary stuff if it was right there in front of me. But the last two sugary things I ate, besides ChocoPies (another Korean invention probably concocted with xylitol or some other chemical sweeteners), actually gave me acid reflux so bad I threw them up.

    I ended up picking up some chocolate covered cherries from Poland, which is at least better than the wafers I bought last time I caved to buying crap at the grocery store. Unfortunately, it was only when I got home and had some jasmine green tea and a few of my chocolate-covered cherries (way too sweet, though I still had to kill the sugar craving to keep eating them with some walnuts and bitter chocolate) it finally dawned on me that the soup was probably full of sugar and salt Sweet-and-Sour Pork/Coca-Cola* style.

    *See Sugar: The Bitter Truth - YouTube

    And now it's past midnight! Gotta at least remember to use flux... (f.lux: software to make your life better Check it out.)
    Attached Files
    Last edited by Khainag; 09-17-2012, 08:18 PM.


    • #3
      What a fascinating journal! It's been a joy to read. I look forward to hearing more
      My Primal Journal:

      16 years old
      SW: 170
      CW: 162
      GW: 140

      Primal since 8/12/12.


      • #4
        Glad you have enjoyed it so far!


        For the last couple of weeks I have had almost no cravings for sugary or other processed food. I graduated from fighting temptations shopping to fighting friends who wanted to go to the shop. A habit that I will miss is getting an ice cream and "gulayat"-ing, or strolling around with friends. At least Mongolians don't do it year round like Moscovites... but I liked the ice cream traditions better there actually, as eating a cold ice cream from a kiosk with temperatures in the teens is pretty bracing. (Does it maybe have the benefits Mark talks about cold showers and plunges having?)

        Anyhow, a few days a go, a friend I will refer to as Badinova insisted I have at least some bites of her ice cream, by which I mean thrusting it in my face so I had to open up just to avoid getting it all over my glasses. Yesterday I was more successful in the same situation with another friend, but still felt that I had to buy something sugary (50% chocolate) following my unsuccessful play to get a mineral water (the rich Russian, Mongolian and Soviet traditions of which I hope to discuss very soon!). At least with the chocolate I could just have a few pieces and save it to throw away later (which I have yet to do...).

        Anyone have tips for these kinds of situations?


        • #5
          Welcome. Sounds like your journal will be a little different from the average one.
          Originally posted by Khainag View Post
          Anyone have tips for these kinds of situations?
          "No thank you, I'm not hungry"

          Also, locate a source of dark chocolate (>70% cocoa) and have it available at snack time if that's what you are doing socially.
          Disclaimer: I eat 'meat and vegetables' ala Primal, although I don't agree with the carb curve. I like Perfect Health Diet and WAPF Lactofermentation a lot.

          Griff's cholesterol primer
          5,000 Cal Fat <> 5,000 Cal Carbs
          Winterbike: What I eat every day is what other people eat to treat themselves.
          TQP: I find for me that nutrition is much more important than what I do in the gym.
          bloodorchid is always right


          • #6
            Thanks merl. I am actually really happy to report that my favorite shop has a pretty good selection of Swiss 70 to 80 percent or so dark chocolate! One positive to the terrible phenomenon here of every kind of imaginable processed sweet from the US, Germany, Turkey, former USSR, South/Central American and SE Asia being available.


            • #7

              Today I've done pretty okay I think. I fasted until lunch, which I was hoping would be a nice fried sheep liver with onions sheep tail fat but the restaurant I visited with a friend unfortunately didn't have it. So I had a lovely beef, pepper and chili dish instead. Unfortunately my buddy, who is eating out with me so much this week because his wife is gone, looks even more terrible than usual. At least he isn't bugging me to eat crap though! I hope I might be setting a good example.

              After lunch, I attempted to do some sprints. I was hoping to make it to the local Soviet-Mongolian friendship monument, situated on a hill like important Mongolian sites for a long long time. So this thing has flights and flights of stairs. Alas, I just did the stairs in my dormitory and the corridor a few times. I don't think it was quite enough, but I'll definitely do more next time. My heart rate was definitely over 55% of max at least, and this is my second sprint so I still have some space to ramp up.

              Tonight, I jump on the overnight train to Ulaanbaatar. Look forward to some posts about it tomorrow or the next day! Might be about dealing with stress in an overcrowded and polluted city (I have to go to Immigration...), might be about discussing Primal, etc. with my mostly vegetarian friend, could be about childcare techniques observed on the train, who knows!

              Also, I just read this overview of Mongolian diet and lifestyle and was very impressed. It describes a lot of what goes on today as well, so if anyone finds it interesting and wants to discuss, please, bombs away!


              • #8
                Swiss chocolate? I'm swooning.
                Haha, childcare rraising techniques? I've traveled around the Middle East so I know what you mean (I think). You see kids sitting in the front seat in their parents' laps, hanging out of windows, or when they're farmers and drive a truck with an open bed they'll just all sit in the's kind of hilarious but also horribly dangerous. I remember every morning a tractor (yes, a big ass tractor) would pass my house taking the 5 or 6 kids clinging to it and each other to school. It's ridiculous.
                Last edited by golangrok; 09-19-2012, 03:05 AM.
                My Primal Journal:

                16 years old
                SW: 170
                CW: 162
                GW: 140

                Primal since 8/12/12.


                • #9
                  People definitely don't do that on the train! I usually go "platzcart" though which means that you are in a car with about sixty or so bunks. Oftentimes there are alot of babies and small children but you wouldn't even know it, they're so chilled out and well behaved and everyone is just playing with them. As far as motor vehicles, I have been a human carseat a time or two. And seen several people driving Lexus SUVs talking on their iPhones with a baby on their lap. But it's actually pretty hard in Mongolia to ride outside like that though because it can get to freezing pretty much anytime any month of the year. (I'm serious. It snowed here last day of June, and will probably be snowing by the end of next week again.) Also people are likely to be moving a lot of cargo when they take trucks... like that's how people often move their seasonal camps.

                  FASTING WITH A NIGHT SUN

                  Nothing too interesting happened on the train, except when I first got to my seat the woman next to me was arranging some kind of shipments of something from Germany through Poland. (Probably candy.) I didn't have a chance to eat, and unfortunately I didn't have confidence in my abilty to fast so i grabbed my Polish chocolate covered cherries. (I'm actually just realizing all the Poland stuff that has happened in the last 24-hours...). I only actually ate a few of them twice before I went to sleep, probably around 9 o'clock or so. It got dark actually almost immediately when I got on the train, about 7:30. I could have slept before, but I was too shy to ask my (smuggler?) neighbor to put down the top bunk until she made for the bathroom and said (I thought at least) that she wanted to go to bed soon.

                  Unfortunately, there was some issue with the lights, which isn't unusual. Except that usually the problem is the lights going off; last night the lights stayed on pretty much all night it seemed like. I woke up quite a few times when the train stopped, which is unusual. In any case, I woke up feeling pretty refreshed and I don't have any of the shoulder or back soreness that I usually have from sleeping on the train! I also slept in a little after the train attendant started bothering everyone to get up around sunrise (so she could take the sheets and get back to hanging out in her compartment) but not until the train all but stopped at the Ulaanbaatar station as I had been doing! For the past week or so I have been using f.lux and candles after dark and getting to sleep at 11 or so at the latest (working on 10) and I'm seeing really nice results already. I'm waking up with the sun, but not actually getting up until about an hour later (7:30).

                  I had a pretty huge bag (bringing some books and things down now so I have less to take when I come to fly to the US) so I took advantage of one of the guys who wait at the train exit to get a taxi (agreeing on a price). It was reasonable and cheap, though I think he was disappointed I wasn't Polish! The giveaway was when he asked if I was English or Polish. "Do you speak Polish?" And he said yes. Like alot of taxi drivers his age, he must have studied in Eastern Europe back in the day. Don't worry though, he had a very nice Korean car with leather seats, matching his Soviet-style leather cap and vest, so I think he's doing pretty well.

                  As of now, it's 10:30 and I'm waiting for someone to sign a document for my immigration paperwork. Still fasting except for a few cups of one bag of Twinings English Breakfast I caught at my friend's where I stashed my bag... and feeling great!


                  • #10

                    Good at fasting, still need to work on eating well when I'm with other people. So I ended up fasting yesterday for over 24 hours... except for that tea I had in the morning. Basically, I was back in central Ulaanbaatar after the immigration business around 3, got my train ticket, and was back at my friend's place at around 4. I was feeling the hunger finally and figured we would get some dinner not long after that, so I went off to forage at a supermarket after my first choice turned out to no longer exist. I found a Russian sunflower seed candy that I like that is sweetened but not too much it seems... half of the package, or 75 grams, is something like 30 g of fat, 15 g of protein and 25 g of carbs.

                    I did better with Korean food this time, but still ended up with some of the spicy sugary chicken stuff (at this place though, thankfully not as sweet). I wanted to get just some stewed ribs, but when my friend's vegetarian order wasn't there, we decided to just split the ribs and something with chicken.

                    Before I hit the train, I wanted to get some mineral water. Unfortunately I eyed the Haribo nearby after I got some tarag (yougurt) and grabbed something for my aunt that isn't available in the US and some of the licorice. I ended up only drinking the water and tarag, which did turn out to be unsweetened! At that point I was on the train and started to feel exhausted, zonking out around 9 or so.

                    This morning I was also pretty exhausted, though not right away, so I pulled of a one-cycle PEM workout. I took a shower and then finished my sunflower candy before I hung out on the couch and got hungry and energized to make a nice version of "undugtei khurag" ("egg mixture"). Butter, half an onion, a small green pepper, a carrot, some mutton, and scrambled egg. At that point though someone called and wanted me to come over. It included lunch, which was mutton, carrot, potato and lots of pasta mixed together... at least all that other stuff made the pasta taste great. (By the way, I'm not too upset about this as I feel I really should eat what people serve.) Also on the good side, not only did I get some salty Kazak tea, but som Kazak aaruul (dried curds with a tad of sugar). I got home and to the office feeling pretty crashy still though for at least an hour and a half...


                    • #11
                      IN TRANSITION...

                      Hello all, I was looking forward to having some airag (FERMENTED MARE'S MILK, also known as koumiss in other Central Asian countries) this weekend and writing all about it. Unfortunately, my department didn't go on our company picnic so no airag for me. I did start into some interesting medical literature I have about it though so hopefully soon.

                      I'm getting ready today to go to Ulaanbaatar for three days before returning to the US, so nothing on other topics today either, though I also did some interesting reading about SALT over the weekend and hope to get to that soon. (The Kazak tea I mentioned in the last post is salty! This seems to not be a bad thing about dietary practice in Mongolia though .) I've also been reading some about OBESITY IN MONGOLIA, though need to get through more. Unfortunately this is one of the first results you get if you type "Mongolia" and "obesity" into Google:

                      "Although in Mongolia the diet has traditionally been extremely fatty, the extreme cold climates and the hard physical activity of the Mongolian people has meant that obesity has not been a major problem in the country, although it has had a high rate of prevalence among foreign workers in the country, such as European Russians, many of whome were involved in a more sedentary lifestyle." (51)

                      (Kathleen Keeler, ed. Encyclopedia of Obesity, Sage Pulblications Inc., 2008.)



                      • #12
                        >> "Although in Mongolia the diet has traditionally been extremely fatty, the extreme cold climates and the hard physical activity of the Mongolian people has meant that obesity has not been a major problem in the country, although it has had a high rate of prevalence among foreign workers in the country, such as European Russians, many of whome were involved in a more sedentary lifestyle."

                        I think they're probably referring to the fact there is some evidence that exposure to cold promotes "brown adipose tissue", a metabolically-active type of fat. Mark actually has a blog post on this: Is Brown Fat Good For You? | Mark's Daily Apple

                        But of course, as you point out the problem is probably not their traditional fatty diet but rather the large amount of processed junk that's coming from abroad.
                        Last edited by coldsteel; 09-24-2012, 11:56 AM.


                        • #13
                          Thanks for calling my attention back to that coldsteel, I was wanting to look more into it. I also have a great review article by anthropologists about metabolism among Siberians and Mongolians that I think covers "brown fat" somewhat, hope to reread and discuss here soon! (But yeah, I was mostly appalled by the "calories in/out" argument implied by the quote here.) But yep, processed junk: candy, bread, cookies, soda and BEER (as well as the traditional vodka) are really messing people up.

                          BACK IN ULAANBAATAR

                          Alright all, so I'm still not caught up here yet but hopefully this afternoon. The night before last I had some good party time with my friends and colleagues, which did include some drinking as well as fried sheep liver and vertebrae. They also gave me a beautiful copper bowl filled with aaruul, dried curds from yak milk. Great sustenance on the bus yesterday! I'm just breaking my fast with some bacon and eggs, unfortunately last night I tried out some Japanese fast food down the street and had to eat the udon. Ah well. Now I'm off to hang with a vegetarian friend and consume alot of airag like I had hoped!!!


                          • #14
                            also, I had to do a medical visit last night... friend's dog bit me kinda bad and needed some rabies boosters. Anyways, happy to report that my BP has stayed at 105/70 since the beginning of the year, about when I started ditching grains.


                            • #15
                              According to this: Blood Pressure Chart - Normal Blood Pressure Range

                              105/70 falls in the "Excellent", borderline athlete, category