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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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December 10, 2007

Sensible Vices

By Mark Sisson
22 Comments

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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22 Comments on "Sensible Vices"

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Koko
Koko
9 years 3 months ago

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

Dave C.
9 years 3 months ago

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.

Christian
Christian
9 years 3 months ago

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.

Ruth
Ruth
6 years 4 months ago

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?)

Oxybeles
Oxybeles
9 years 3 months ago

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! 😉

Donna
Donna
9 years 3 months ago

@ 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!!!

Danny
Danny
9 years 3 months ago

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.

Christoph Dollis
7 years 5 months ago

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
7 years 5 months ago
Nick Hoffman
7 years 2 months ago

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.

Denise
Denise
6 years 6 months ago

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!
cheers!

mtnlady
mtnlady
5 years 1 month ago

What are the approved/OK ways to cook steaks, hamburgers and other meats? Is frying acceptable?
Thanks.

chris in Munich
chris in Munich
4 years 7 months ago

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.

frank from austria
frank from austria
4 years 7 months ago

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.

Phil
Phil
4 years 7 months ago

I eat à lot of steak but commercial/industrial ones. Is it good? I speak about 1kilo and more à week

Caro
Caro
4 years 12 days ago

Red meat isn’t really a vice so much as a staple for me. I’m sticking with it.

Robert Burkhalter
Robert Burkhalter
2 years 8 months ago

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.

Savvy
1 year 11 months ago

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.

grisly atoms
grisly atoms
1 year 4 months ago

Rum and coconut water – now that is a sensible indulgence. No grains, because rum is made from molasses.

Unfortunately, after going full primal for just a few days I cannot drink my favorite beer without feeling horrible the next day.

Joe
Joe
3 months 27 days ago

It isn’t a food but do you think playing video games is alright? I work 10 hours a day, workout and eat fairly healthy (no grains/sugars and limited starch). I play 2-3 hours with friends/coworkers every few days.

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