Meet Mark

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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July 09 2018

Dear Mark: Japan and Meat, Circadian-Friendly Nightlights, Barefoot Hiking Tips

By Mark Sisson
22 Comments

For today’s edition of Dear Mark, I’m answering three questions from readers. First up, what was my main takeaway from the “Japan and meat” video posted last week? Second, are there any circadian-friendly nightlights—ones that don’t negatively affect our natural secretion of melatonin or disrupt our circadian rhythm? And finally, what are my tips for barefoot hiking? How can someone get their feet acquainted with the natural ground, deal with sharp rocks and gravel, and learn to enjoy their barefoot experience in nature?

Let’s go:

Sharperhawk wrote:

That video on Japan was incredibly misleading. If you are determined to be a carnivore in Japan, I’m sure you could do it. But the Japanese eat a lot more carbs in the form of rice and noodles than Western people do. They eat meat and fish with meals, but typically in much smaller portions than Westerners do. In endorsing that video, Mark really jumped the tofu shark. I guess he has never been to Japan.

That’s a fair comment. As I’ve written in the past and never denied, Japan and other Asian countries definitely eat their share of rice.

First of all, I want to confirm that Asia eats a lot of rice. It may be a “side dish” or not the main course, but there’s no dancing around the fact that a lot of rice gets eaten – the stats (PDF) are pretty clear on Asian rice consumption.

What struck me most in the video was the total lack of hesitation in the interviewees proclaiming the healthfulness of meat. That’s something you don’t see in most Western countries. We dilly, we dally, we hem and haw. Even when we do eat meat, it’s a sinful pleasure, an extravagance that we assume our hearts and lifespans will pay for down the line.

And yes, I’m sure you could find some Japanese vegans willing to say the opposite, but you’d really have to dig—vegans are a rare breed in the country.

Even the official dietary guidelines for Japan reflect this casual relationship with meat. Rather than obsess over individual nutrients, they suggest 5-7 servings of grains, 4-6 of meat, 4-6 of vegetables, and spend the rest of the time emphasizing the importance of how we eat:

  • Eating as many meals as possible with friends and family.
  • Eating local foods.
  • Getting involved with farming and fishing.
  • Learning how to chew and savor food.
  • Eat at regular times (to establish circadian rhythms).

It’s quite refreshing.

All that said, meat consumption in Japan is growing by leaps and bounds.

Jennifer L asked:

Any thoughts on how to use night-lights effectively? My older kids no longer get up at night to use the bathroom, but my 2-year-old does wake up and having night lights is handy when we’re trying to navigate our way around the bathroom. All of ours are motion sensitive, so they turn on at random times when the cats are meandering about in our upstairs hallways.

These are pretty good, albeit fairly dim. The red light doesn’t negatively impact your circadian rhythm—it actually improves sleep quality—and it gives the room a nice ambience.

Another option is to use camping headlamps with the red light option. If you use the red light setting, you’re good to go. I’ve actually been experimenting with using a red camping headlamp at night in bed for reading. It definitely works, and I’ve noticed an improvement in sleep quality. I fall asleep much faster and wake up feeling more refreshed, possibly because half the time I fall asleep with the red light on, so I’m bathing my body in red light all night.

Spider asked:

We are also hikers. What was the transition like to bare feet and what kind of surfaces do you hike?

You asked Liver King, but I’ll offer a response. First, some tips for dealing with natural surfaces.

Maintain a strong, stable torso. When I’m trying to ingratiate my feet to a rough surface—gravel, rocks, etc—I find that keeping everything strong and stable up top takes the strain off the feet. Sometimes I’ll even tighten up my torso like I’m preparing to deadlift. What this does is eliminate unpredictable swaying and weight shifting up top that alter the amount of pressure placed down below. It’s the unpredictable shifts that catch you off balance and hurt.

Smile. If you grimace, your nervous system assumes you’re dealing with some painful stuff. Every step becomes perilous on a physiological level. The sensation of every rock and root underfoot is magnified. If you smile, your nervous system eases up, assumes you’re in a good place. You’ll be more relaxed. Those rocks underfoot won’t hurt so much; they’re just sensations, data, information for dealing with the environment.

Step lightly. Some folks heel strike. Some land on the forefoot. Some do whole foot landing. What matters is that you step lightly, however you land. Keep your lower legs “soft.”

Pay attention to the ground. Walking along manicured sidewalks in bulky shoes fosters a false sense of security. There’s nothing dangerous on the grounds most of us tread, and even if there were our shoes would protect us. It’s perfectly normal in such a walking environment to stare at our phones rather than our surroundings. When you’re walking barefoot through nature, you need to watch the ground. Just like reading subtitles seems intrusive and conspicuous for the first ten minutes of a foreign film only to become second nature, you’ll start out consciously observing sharp rocks and thorns and coyote poop and soon graduate to subconscious perception and avoidance.

Forest paths are the best. Soft shreds of bark, loamy earth, spongy forest compost. There’s nothing better to walk, hike, or run on. Start there.

Fire roads are the toughest. Manmade. Hard-packed dirt usually strewn with rocks and gravel. Work up to these.

There’s no real need to “tough it out.” If walking barefoot on fire roads makes you miserable and hate nature, don’t do it. If you prefer soft forest paths, no need to progress past that. The point is to get outside and—when tolerated—get your feet dirty and connect with the earth.

That’s it for this week. Thanks for reading, all, and be sure to chime in with any of your questions or answers down below.

Take care and Grok on!

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22 thoughts on “Dear Mark: Japan and Meat, Circadian-Friendly Nightlights, Barefoot Hiking Tips”

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  1. I don’t think I’ll ever progress to hiking barefoot, but when weather conditions are optimal I sometimes walk my dog barefoot in the grass. Definitely feel there is something to the whole grounding thing. It feel a little weird at first but then I get used to it. So far I haven’t been stung by anything!

  2. The part about barefoot hiking got me thinking. I live in a concrete city. Any thoughts on the pros/cons of walking barefoot on roads & sidewalks? I’m tempted sometimes, but also leery of things that lurk on city surfaces (broken glass for one; dog poop and general filth for another). Still, maybe it’s worth the risk now and then. Thoughts?

    And I love the recommendation to smile. When I was a kid we had a gravel driveway and I loved to show off how tough I was by marching on it barefoot. I pretended it didn’t hurt and then after a few times . . . it didn’t! My feet toughened up nicely.

  3. You know you’re doing something right when you already own the night lights Mark recommends!

  4. “Pay attention to the ground.” Amen, brother! I have taken two apparently bad falls (onlookers used the word “spectacular”) recently. And to tell the truth, I wasn’t watching where I was going. In both cases, a little bump in the pavement got me. A little mindfulness, both for terrain and for picking up my feet, goes a long way.

  5. We also do barefoot hikes at least weekly. If life takes us away from this ritual, we ease back into it… I will start the hike off barefoot and put some moccasins on if it gets too painful. Like everything else in life, our physiology adapts.

    Wife always makes fun of me and pretends that her feet are fine (they probably are!).

      1. LOL. I’ve been meaning to get in touch with you. I’d like to send ya some product and talk a little shop.

        I’d love to get an email from ya… brian @ ancestral supplements dot com

        1. I sent an email; I’m not an email-oriented person, so I’m unsure if you see it. If you don’t, I’ll try your company’s email.

  6. Forest bare foot hiking is a no go in my region, too concerned about deer ticks. Every two weeks I dose my hiking boots with Premethrin. Nothing like stony New England beaches to build to callouses though. Unfortunately lots of the sand dune grasses have ticks too!

  7. When I do sunset, sunrise and astral photography up and down the coast, I take off my shoes because they are just going to get wet, sandy and muddy. I also feel my footing is more secure when I’m on the beach, climbing rocks, crossing reefs, and climbing trails. I can feel every contour and get instant feedback on the quality of the surface ( slimy, dry, gripy, slick, smooth, pebbly, lose, firm, etc). This feedback greatly reduces slips and falls.

  8. Meat is becoming more and more popular throughout asia. Dietary culture is not set in stone – as we should know – and meat just tastes so damned good!

    Plus, meat exporting nations are aware that some of the meat products which ARE traditional Japanese foods, are a high value market and are competing to supply these products at lower cost.

  9. US Navy ships use red light on the Bridge of it’s ships at night. It does not interfere with night vision and allows watch standers to read and observe instruments for controlling the ship. If it is good for the Navy it should be good at home !!!

  10. I found the video on Japan slightly annoying, but not misleading. I was just there in March for 10 days and it lined up fairly well with what I saw. It’s certainly not true that the Japanese eat “a lot more carbs” than Western people. From what I saw, they ate less of everything in general – small portions and all unprocessed real food.

    Going there as a tourist with basically no knowledge of the country beforehand, what surprised me the most in restaurants was how difficult it seemed to find vegetables to order (I’m used to salads and veggie sides with everything living in California). There was always rice and there were innumerable types of meat – fish, pork, beef, organ meats, and it’s the first place I’ve ever seen where you can order chicken gristle (it was very tough, but I had to try it to see what it was like). I don’t think they waste any part of any animal, and they eat far more different types of animals than Americans do. Looking for veggies, I often ended up with just tomato slices with mayonnaise. Or seaweed, and also some kind of Japanese yams (not sweet potatoes, they were crunchy). What surprised my brother (who usually eats vegan) the most was that he couldn’t find brown rice there – they all ate white rice.

    1. Very good comment. When I went to Okinawa and asked if the traditional people were vegan, they said, “oh no, we eat a lot of pork and fish”. The med diet and lifestyle is also very different than the politically correct (i.e wrong) version often described in the US. The message is to be especially distrustful of any information filtered through western mainstream health “authorities”.

    2. White rice was always reserved for the upper class for a long, long time. Keep in mind how long they were under a caste system. Eating brown rice still hasn’t lost the feeling of being lower class? I’m not sure how to say what I’m thinking here lol. Some may admit it’s healthier but that’s as far as it goes.
      Your potato could have been a mountain yam, or a taro. You will struggle to eat vegan because of the marine nature of their cuisine but if you mention shojin ryori or kansha you may get farther though shojin ryori is definitely way more expensive. You could try a Buddhist temple that serves food.

  11. After you, Mark, introduced then-69 year old me to Katy Bowman, I looked out my window to the little Japanese Peace Garden across the parking lot and decided right then to disobey my podiatrist and get out of shoes that immobilized my feet. (He later cheered.) I try in the very early morning (5:00 a.m.-ish, when nobody’s there) to “hike” the little park, walking on pea gravel, volcanic rock gravel, wet grass, river rock, steep slopes, and rough planking. AMAZING how quick my “bound feet” are responding. I’ve found that just standing still on sharp gravel for 10 minutes and allowing my feet to relax takes a lot of “fear” out. Oh, yeah–the bird life in the marsh is far more engaging than my laptop screen for establishing a cheery mental state.

    1. Katy Bowman has been one of my top gurus! I have read all her books and spend 100% of my time barefoot or in vibrams. Only been stung twice…

  12. I love your advice to hike barefoot with a smile. I listened to a Tara Brach meditation this morning, the theme of which was how smiling relaxes the nervous system. Smiling just feels so good!

  13. I wear shoes at work (many times vibrams) or when going to a store. Every night after dinner I have my 20 mins walk barefoot. And at work when I go to the gym it is always barefoot (yes I do Zumba barefoot)
    Workouts in the park – always barefoot.
    But when I go to the park to do my sprints I always wear vibrams

  14. Hi, Mark. Talking about meat, I have read many times in the last 6 years since I found paleo/primal/keto, that the human body hasn’t really adapted to eating cooked meat (fish etc) and that it’s better for the body to eat it raw. Is there merit to this, assuming the meat is not contaminated?

    I’d like this to be true, because it would certainly slow down the eating process, which would be very helpful for me personally.

  15. Is the ‘camping headlights’ hyperlink in this article supposed to lead to the same URL as the ‘these are pretty good’ hyperlink before it?