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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About the Author

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.

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22 thoughts on “Sensible Vices”

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

  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.

  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.

    1. 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?)

  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! 😉

  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!!!

  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.

  7. 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.

    1. 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:”

  8. 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!

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

  10. 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.

    1. 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.

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

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

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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.