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?
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).
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.
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.
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.
Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.