Sunday, March 02, 2014
The philosophy behind Paleo is a load of bull. The idea is that if we revert to a lifestyle similar to our cavemen brethren (except with iPads, coconut butter and sunscreen) we will be living The Most Natural Life Possible. This is a load of crock. Biologically, humans are omnivores and historically we thrive from our adaptability. Our bodies are made to eat a variety of goods and process them for energy. Cultures have been raised on rice, grasses, meats, berries, nuts, seeds, bread fruit, whale blubber, and weird fermented things buried under lye. We cannot process sunlight for energy or digest fiber for nutrients (unlike bovines who have enough stomachs to process that kind of stuff) but we can pretty much eat anything that isn't directly poisonous.
Restricting a diet to the meats, nuts and vegetables available in our grocery stores (which are not seasonal, rarely local, and uniformly processed--think about the last time you had to forage for your berries or skin your bison burger) is a charming but ridiculous proposition if your intention is to be a caveperson.
But I'm not here just to badmouth paleo living. The philosophy is faulty and drives archaeologists up the walls with its pseudo-science religious zealotry, but the methodology is sound. The output of a paleo lifestyle (ideally) is one of increased vegetable intake, diversified plant-based foods, attention to meat quality (as well as other animal products such as bones, gelatin, fat, organs) and paying close attention to the feedback your own body is giving you. Furthermore, much paleo living demands mimicking a physically active lifestyle to whatever capacity you can: standing at your desk, going for walks, taking up hobbies that involve play, sunshine, sweat. This is not a bad thing.
When I was living a "strictly primal" diet (primal allows dairy for bodies that don't mind it) I was rarely hungry, often energetic, and felt confident turning down snacks that weren't particularly special. I had checks to my otherwise mindless system of eating and a gentle excuse if I didn't want to partake in junk, "I'm sorry, I'm off grains for now." I bought better groceries, did better, more thoughtful cooking, and was generally happy.
I "fell off" the wagon, as is expected. But what is unexpected is that, despite my disapproval of the philosophy, I want to return to the lifestyle. It is easier for me to think of it as a metaphor than as writ truth. Theoretically, I would like to mainly consume products which I think I could make or prepare myself. This means I would like to one day kill, pluck and gut a chicken. But it has processing limits--I will never, not ever, go through the rigors of making nut flour, pressing oils, or collecting honey. That's okay. I'm more concerned with my ability to take down and slaughter a whole cow. If that gives me pause, maybe I shouldn't be eating beef.
And so, with caveats and asterisks, I will return to a paleo lifestyle. I do not think I will actively align myself with the paleo namesake (nor primal nor Grok) or ever declare myself gluten free, bean free, low carb. But I will return to careful discrimination of products. I ate Doritos yesterday and they were delicious, but they also hijacked my system. I have been hungry, wrought with cravings, nervous and needy ever since. Something as formulated and marketed as Doritos have a profoundly horrific effect on my self-control. Something kinder and more loving like homemade bread nevertheless sends me into an eating spiral of hunger, appetite and nervous chewing.
Here's to a return to the grain free living.
Saturday, December 28, 2013
This week I've given myself a low bar: make water go up, sugar go down, and ensure a paleo breakfast. That is plenty of leeway to nibble breads, sweets, and less-than-paelo treats throughout the day so long as I keep my sugar in check and wash it all down with clean water.
Christmas Eve I invited a dear friend over and we had a primal-style dinner together with fruit for dessert and tea. We went for walks, slept in, and read poetry to each other. My boss gave my fancy coffee beans for a gift, and I greatly enjoyed my black coffee.
Christmas day I went to a friend's house and had some peppermint bark and haystacks (also known as bird's nests). They were yummy and I thought it was okay since I hadn't had much sugar and no alcohol for nearly a week.
The next day I suffered a full-blown 24-hour migraine.
Similar reactions have happened when I've had a sugar dump of any kind: a wrapping headache that feels like an angry octopus is vigorously mating with your skull. A nauseating knot of tension at the nape of my neck and shoulders that suddenly feel as exhausted and put-upon as Atlas. Light hurts. Sound hurts. I find myself caught behind a gauzy barrier that stops me from social interaction, even when I know exactly what I want to say and even when I'm invited to participate.
Surely sugar is doing nothing to help my depression. With this in mind, I gladly forgo drinks and treats in order to avoid such crippling pain. I was worried about this when visiting my parents, who see my visits as an opportunity to break diet. Little did I know what an amazing experience it would be!
They packed up the cake and bottles of wine as gifts for friends, glad to assist me on a road to health. They had *already* been living a low-sugar no-grain diet for their own health and so the fridge was already packed with sliced meats, vegetables, cheeses, eggs, and an abundance of fruit! My father had free visits with a personal trainer and I invited myself along to his gym!
Yes I had one glass of wine. Yes I had half a cup of eggnog ice cream. But maintaining my new diet was surprisingly easy and happily reinforced with a surge in energy and vigor. A friend gave me an Amazon gift card as a gift, with the intention that I would use it to buy Paleo cookbooks suited to my lifestyle.
This won't be easy. But if I'm honest with myself it will be worth it. I know that I will miss cakes, cookies, breads and other baked goods, but one of the cookbooks I found is specifically for Paleo baking!
For the first time in months, I am hopeful.
Sunday, December 22, 2013
Today I had a moment where I realized, if things keep going on like this I will need to talk about medication with my doctor. I lay face-down on my bed, sobbing and wailing. I was spitting and disgusting, a gross mess of grief and depression. I heard myself making laments so deep and terrible that I was ashamed.
No one has died. Nothing is wrong. In fact, my life is getting better.
In the shower, trying to get the snot out of my hair (it was bad) I knew that I'd have to talk to my therapist about drugs. I don't want them. In fact, I will do anything to avoid them.
That got me to thinking.
Part of why I'm having a breakdown (right now at this moment having a breakdown) is because I am failing to treat myself as well as I know I should. My diet is atrocious and out of whack. My exercise is severely lacking. I know, from experience, that both diet and exercise have a strong impact on my depression.
If I have to be medicated, I want to know it isn't for lack of trying. I want to know it is because my chemicals are bad and I need more chemicals to balance them. And so I'm challenging myself, with my therapist's help. I'll give myself three months to turn this around, to use diet and exercise to cope with my depression. If by April 1 I'm still spending days sobbing, still plummeting into a dark melancholy after church, still bouncing between manic-productive/cheerful and fathomless sorrow... well, then I'll seek medication.
This cannot be a flimsy challenge. It must have clear parameters. I must be able to recognize if it isn't working. I know that improving my diet and exercise will alleviate some symptoms, but what I want to see is... can I effectively treat my depression through lifestyle changes? What does success look like? What do I want out of this?
1) Supervision. I will make sure my therapist is in this with me, helping me define goals and what effective treatment will look/feel like. I need an objective and knowledgeable supervisor.
2) Accountability. I will track my diet and exercise through Sparkpeople (it's always been reliable for me) so that I have statistical data to fall back on, this is another opportunity for objectivity.
3) Sustainability. Perhaps I will wean out gluten, perhaps I will go off dairy. This are liveable changes which, although I would find them unfortunate, I prefer to medication. However, I do not want to rely on protein powders, food bars, or a mono-ingredient (coconut everything, soy everything, chicken everything, etc). I am prepared to have restrictions, but I do not want to forsake variety or wholeness. I don't like myself on powders and bars, they feel fake and unenjoyable.
I will start with small changes and make additions or restrictions as I see fit, according to how my body feels and what I know of my history. I already know that sugar has a profound and chimerical effect on both my emotions and body. I will start by reducing my sugar intake. I will increase my water. I will walk (and sometimes run) every day for 30 minutes. I know I felt stronger on protein but that it is difficult for me to eat a lot of meat, so I will be gentle to myself regarding protein sources. During today's episode there was a lot of phlegm, a disturbing amount. I will notice my dairy consumption and make decisions from there.
Saturday, October 19, 2013
The non-stop feasting is coming. I love baking and cooking for these holidays, I love hosting meals for people. I love drinking and laughing and tasting. But I have other goals in mind, too.
I joined a fitness group that will meet regularly on Google Plus to weigh-in and swap information with a personal trainer. It cost me $60 and I was very reluctant to throw that money in. But the support and the personalized nutrition/fitness look promising.
We officially start on November 1, the week before is just for information-collecting and setting up our personal plans. Until then, I'm going to regularize myself at the gym with lifting basics (squats, deadlifts, benches). I'm going to keep tracking my food. I'm going to aim for my numbers. This will be my baseline for a recharge. I've lost weight during the holidays before, I know I can do it again.
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