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 goodbye (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.

[Ed. note: Since we’re on the topic of wine, we’re trying something new here in Laissez Faire and we need your help. If you know the difference between the different wines you would find at your local wine shop, then click here and lend us a hand. It could get you two free bottles of wine.]

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.

– Mark Sisson

This article originally appeared here on Mark’s site, Mark’s Daily Apple.

Mark Sisson

Written By Mark Sisson

Mark Sisson is a former elite endurance athlete who has made health and fitness his life’s work. He realized that his calling was as an independent researcher, critical thinker, motivator, and communicator -- to get people to take responsibility for their health and fitness (often in the face of flawed conventional wisdom that can lead even the best-intentioned astray), and to inspire people to be open-minded, passionate, and enthusiastic about leading a healthy, happy, fit, balanced, active lifestyle, with the least amount of pain, suffering and sacrifice possible.