Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
10 Dec

Sensible Vices

One issue I have with our modern lifestyle – of many – is the emphasis on perfection. Newer, slimmer, bigger, better, faster: the message of perfection screams out to us from glossy magazines, slick television ads and popup ad after popup ad. (Or purrs, cajoles, teases, and smothers.) While I do believe fundamentally in pursuing whatever your personal best happens to be, and I think we could generally be doing far better in terms of diet and exercise, I have a hard time with the constant barrage of images telling us that, in short, we suck.

Which brings me to vices. I’m a pretty disciplined guy – okay, very disciplined – but I stop short of attempting perfection. Sure, I suppose I could forever kiss ice cream good bye (yes, Sisson still occasionally indulges). I could angst over those missed workouts when I’m vacationing with my wife and kids. I could work on my flaws and vices. But…why?

Great health is about maximizing the potential output for the minimum input. Philosophically, that’s what informs my Case Against Cardio. Wailing away for hours every day on the treadmill or measuring every calorie may yield you marginally more benefit than having that piece of dark chocolate or sharing that special cab, but such perfection puts the emphasis on the means rather than the end. After all, we work hard so we can look and feel good in order to enjoy life and get more out of our activities and interests.

“I’m with you, Mark, except…dark chocolate and red wine are good for you in moderate quantities.”

My point exactly! Many “vices” aren’t vices at all. Not only are many indulgences – when moderate and planned – good for you, they’re actually a sensible part of your personal health and prevention plan, as they’re more likely to give you a sense of value from your efforts. So stop flagellating the elliptical. Put away the carrots and raisins. Here are some very smart so-called vices:

5 Sensible Vices

1 – Dark Chocolate: most of us know by now that dark chocolate is rich in antioxidants and brain-stimulating compounds. I’d really be in trouble if that weren’t the case. Come Halloween my youngest never gets the chance to try the chocolate treats (don’t worry, he’s not a chocolate fan). I make that residual sweet tooth work for me by choosing dark chocolate and eating small portions. I don’t feel an ounce of guilt. Chocolate is great for your mood, so permit yourself this “vice”.

2 – Being a Couch Potato: while it’s important to exercise frequently – at least 4 times a week – it’s also important to take time to unhook from the hurried, stressful pace of modern life. I don’t watch television unless we’ve Tivo’d it first so we can skip all those obnoxious commercials. We’re really into movies in our household, but whatever you choose to veg out to, don’t feel guilty about “idle hands”. We all need time to decompress and be a little lazy.

3 – Wine and Beer: I have a beer or a glass of red wine with dinner, and if alcohol is something you enjoy and can consume moderately, go for it. Sure, these are “empty calories”, so you don’t want to go overboard, but the antioxidants are worth their weight in, well, liquid gold. Wine is a bit better for you than beer, but this is one relaxing “vice” you can sensibly enjoy.

4 – Steak and Bacon: oh boy, saturated fat. I don’t recommend eating traditionally-raised and chemically-loaded red meat, but grass-fed, uncured cuts are loaded with valuable fat, pure protein, and vital nutrients. Just make smart choices when you go for the more decadent meats. (No factory farm hunks and sodium-laced strips.)

5 – Playing Hooky: whether it’s work, a party, or practice, the occasional personal day is a great thing, as long as you don’t make it a habit. Use that time to catch up with a friend, have sex with your spouse (remember that?), get a massage, go window shopping, or flip through your favorite catalog. Give yourself a break!

The caveat: there’s always one. Whatever your “vices”, be sure they’re not self-destructive. Drugs, alcohol, days off and rich foods can quickly derail your health and your life, so choose smart.

srsphoto Flickr Photo (CC)

Further Reading:

Sensible Vices: Round 2

How to Cheat

How to Eat More Chocolate and Drink More Wine Every Day

5 Tips to Avoid Temptation

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You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. I totally ride the dark chocolate wave with you. The higher percentage cocoa, the better.

    Koko wrote on December 10th, 2007
  2. I broke down three days after Thankgiving and had a piece of pecan pie. My piece, before I ate it, did cover 1/3rd of the pie plate but I digress!
    :-) I’m giving in to some occaissonal “vices” on the food side, but I still have weight to lose before I join the “wine and dark chocolate” set.

    Dave C. wrote on December 10th, 2007
  3. There is a specific brand of chocolate that has 70% cocoa in it along with blueberries, anyone know what it is called??
    It is my favorite chocolate bar, and it is healthy as well. It also goes great with Pinot Noir.

    Christian wrote on December 10th, 2007
    • Maybe its the endangered species brand? My favorite are the panther (DARK chocolate) and the dark/raspberries one ( i think thats the grizzly bar maybe?)

      Ruth wrote on November 5th, 2010
  4. Quite an important list. But I like tequila now and then, 100% agave. It’s from a succulent. I believe it had medicinal value for my mind….

    Also, “…have sex with the spouse….” All that I have to do is make sure the spouse has some of that tequila or that red wine mentioned earlier! 😉

    Oxybeles wrote on December 10th, 2007
  5. @ Christian
    Have you ever once in a while melting down that dark chocolate and dipping a few “fresh” blueberries or strawberries, now that’s good stuff!!!

    Donna wrote on December 12th, 2007
  6. Mark, this is one of the things I enjoy most about your blog. A lot of the health and fitness sites – especially the latter – have a real “punish yourself” mentality which I can’t stand.

    Danny wrote on December 14th, 2007
  7. There is a specific brand of chocolate that has 70% cocoa in it along with blueberries, anyone know what it is called??

    Blueberry 70% Cocoa Chocolate – Richfields

    Christoph Dollis wrote on October 5th, 2009
  8. Christoph Dollis wrote on October 5th, 2009
  9. Hey Mark. Why are steak and bacon considered vices? Provided they’re organic/hormone-free and grass-fed, I thought that they’re both staples of the PB.

    Nick Hoffman wrote on January 13th, 2010
    • Read the post, Nick…

      “My point exactly! Many “vices” aren’t vices at all. Not only are many indulgences – when moderate and planned – good for you, they’re actually a sensible part of your personal health and prevention plan, as they’re more likely to give you a sense of value from your efforts. So stop flagellating the elliptical. Put away the carrots and raisins. Here are some very smart so-called vices:”

      Mark Sisson wrote on January 22nd, 2010
      • Gotcha! Thanks for pointing that out, Mark. I must’ve skimmed the article and missed that key sentence.

        Nick Hoffman wrote on January 22nd, 2010
  10. My worst 20% was an overboard indulgence dinner that, let me just say, was a GREAT reminder of what NOT to do. I drank a martini (ok on it’s own) but didn’t stop there and had a piece of crusty bread (for the first time in forever) and…at a small piece of pizza! UGGG
    My stomach hurt for 36 hrs…So my vices now consist of the above mentioned very dark chocolate, red wine and an occasional very dry martini!

    Denise wrote on September 15th, 2010
  11. What are the approved/OK ways to cook steaks, hamburgers and other meats? Is frying acceptable?

    mtnlady wrote on February 23rd, 2012
  12. I hear a lot of talk about dark chocolate, which causes me some frustration. The reason is that I like to eat cocoa beans themselves, without any unhealthy sugar (which is still a significant ingredient in the dark chocolate available on the mass market). If more people demanded the beans themselves, they would lose their weird exclusive aura and the price that goes with it.

    chris in Munich wrote on July 29th, 2012
    • I’m totally with you. Even the >80% dark chocolate contains almost exclusively sugar as second ingredient.
      I go for the plain cocoa powder instead – that’s at least here in europe available.

      frank from austria wrote on July 30th, 2012
      • I eat à lot of steak but commercial/industrial ones. Is it good? I speak about 1kilo and more à week

        Phil wrote on July 30th, 2012
  13. Red meat isn’t really a vice so much as a staple for me. I’m sticking with it.

    Caro wrote on March 15th, 2013
  14. the bacon and the grass-fed meat, when you cook them, contain lipid peroxides. Not good no matter what you say. If you’re interested I can reply about how to eat them while avoiding the toxins produced by cooking. But I’ll bet the portfolio (all in) you’re not interested.

    Robert Burkhalter wrote on July 11th, 2014
  15. BEER is made with GRAINS. This is so hypocritical. When I went gluten free, I gave up beer and realized my “beer hangovers” after having just ONE beer were from the wheat. Wheat beers used to be my favorite. I had the same “beer hangover” feeling from having a 1/2 cup of coucous one night. WINE is made from FRUIT. I will totally stick with a periodic glass over wine.

    Savvy wrote on April 10th, 2015

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