My first post for my new blog–how I came to embrace Paleo and ancestral nutrition..
I am working on improving my self care, one habit at a time.
I wrote those words for my first blog four years ago, as I began a path of healing. My journey continues. I started this new blog to write about my experiences, and perhaps some of what I share will resonate with you. I will also share my personal resources and inspirations.
Frankly, writing a Paleo lifestyle blog is the last thing I thought I would ever do. When Paleo first came to my attention, I did not understand what it was about. I thought Paleo was ‘just guys eating steaks’.
How wrong I was!
I came to Paleo by an indirect path.
I grew up in a vegan household. Soy milk, tofu, and gluten burgers were our family’s primary sources of protein. We had milk and eggs if we were traveling or I was away from home for some reason.
As a young adult, I would eat an occasional steak, but I did not have the taste for it. My diet throughout my twenties was primarily vegetarian, though not strictly so. In my 30’s, I added chicken to my diet and enjoyed seafood on occasion, but largely avoided red meat. My reasons for avoiding meat were ethical–I hated the idea of animals being killed, and I hated factory farming. I loaded up on pasta, brown rice, potatoes, and whole wheat bread, believing these were healthy foods, based on the now-outdated Food Pyramid, sponsored at the time by our Government. I tried going completely vegan at one point, but did not continue, as I did not get enough protein. The foods many vegans eat for protein–legumes, beans, and the like–upset my GI tract, so I avoided them, and went back to my high-carb, semi-vegetarian ways.
The first time I got fat was the Summer before I headed to college. I stressed over career choices, and ate peanut butter out of the jar–or slathered over white bread, which I ate at my part time Summer job. My weight ballooned up by over 20#, a significant amount for my petite frame. That freaked me out! I did not want to begin college fat, and none of my clothes fit. I followed a low carb/high fat diet and lost the excess 20# before starting my classes.
I struggled with my weight all the way through my twenties. I was in an unhappy relationship, and turned to food, to ice cream and french fries, as well as other unhealthy treats, to cope. I had three different wardrobes, in three sizes. When I left the relationship in my early thirties, my craving for the worst of those foods fell away, and my weight stabilized. I kept only the clothing in my ideal size.
As for my fitness, I worked hard to become fit. In my twenties, I took up running, and worked up to 44 miles per week, before I had to stop, as any type of jogging became too hard on my joints.
In my late 30’s I began weight training and mild cardio. I continued my weight training program for over 12 years. At age 40, I was in the best shape of my life. I was strong and I felt pretty good.
My diet, while weight training, consisted of boneless, skinless chicken breasts, whey or soy protein powder supplements, as well as brown rice, fruit, and vegetables. I did well with my protein intake, but I “cheated” fairly regularly, with bread and pasta. I was careful to follow the standard dietary advice of that day to keep my intake of fats low, and believed I should push the complex carbs to keep my energy up.
However, my weight would inevitably creep up, and I would have to go on a diet to get back to my ideal weight. I dieted by counting calories, which left me hungry, food obsessed, and irritable. I could actually get this to work in the short term, but the results inevitably faded away over time, and I would repeat the cycle.
Every day, I experienced energetic highs and low, which I now recognize were caused by my high carb/low fat lifestyle.
I did not understand then what I have recently learned (according to some experts): Calories are not all the same. Losing weight, and maintaining that weight loss, has more to do with your individual metabolism, your intake of sugar and carbohydrates, and with your hormones, especially insulin–than specific caloric intake and exercise, although they do matter. (You can read more about that here, Dr. Robert Lustig, and here, Dr. Peter Attia).
Sadly, due to a series of events, my dedication to fitness was superseded by other pressing life concerns, and over time, my physical fitness slipped away.
A couple of years ago, I was diagnosed and treated for Vitamin B12 deficiency, thought to be due to my long history of a vegan/semi-vegetarian diet, as well as a problem with absorbing B12 orally.
The past year or so, despite being at a good weight for me, I developed a fat belly. I kept it hidden under my T-shirts, but I hated this, both as unsightly, but also because I knew visceral belly fat can be a marker for metabolic syndrome, and while I did not appear to have the other symptoms, I was concerned. (You can read about metabolic syndrome here). I was on my way to becoming “skinny fat”. (You can read more about “skinny fat” here). I knew I needed to change my eating habits, but I put it off, telling myself, “Soon, when life is less hectic.”
Many mornings, I walked to Starbuck’s, and treated myself to a soy latte, a chocolate croissant, and a non-organic Greek yoghurt, sweetened with black cherries and cane sugar. I knew this was not ideal, but I was also in a fair amount of denial.
One day, a friend unwittingly flipped the switch.
My friend had been annoyed about her belly fat. She said that when she quit eating dairy and soy, her belly fat shrank.
At that moment, I woke up. I decided to do a self-experiment for a month.
I stopped going to Starbuck’s.
I stopped eating soy, wheat and grains, and any non-organic dairy.
I stopped eating sugar and all processed carbs, instead getting my carbs from fresh fruits and vegetables.
I stopped eating processed food, and ate only real food.
I ate delicious organic vegetables and salads, fresh fruit, free range eggs, salmon, organic Greek whole milk plain yoghurt, and raw almonds. I used organic cheese only as a condiment, and dressed my salads with olive oil and vinegar.
I did not count calories or attempt to go on a weight loss diet. Instead, I simply ate real food. Gone were potato chips, crackers, bread, pasta, and pizza. I stopped eating out and cooked at home.
After a month, I’d lost my belly fat and my extra weight. I had a flat stomach–Yay! I felt great!
Gone were the highs and lows from sugar and carbs. I felt calmer and more grounded.
I began to read everything I could about nutrition, and discovered that much of what I thought I knew about a healthy diet was questionable, or perhaps, even wrong.
I realized my new eating habits were not far from Paleo, so I decided to learn about ancestral nutrition and Paleo.
Before embracing Paleo, I had to address my aversion to meat, and carefully think through my ethical concerns about eating meat. (I plan to write a future post about this issue, for those of you, who, like me, come from a vegetarian background, but decide vegetarianism is not working for you). For now, I will say my decision to add more meat into my diet was carefully considered and based on my health needs–and I use only animal products from animals that are humanely raised and handled at all times. You can read more about that here. I will skip a meal, rather than eat the product of an industrial farm.
I am now happily following a Paleo type eating plan. I eat fresh fruits and vegetables, beautiful salads, fresh, ocean-caught fish, grass-fed beef, and free-range eggs. I’ve switched to healthy fats. I use olive oil on my salads, cook with coconut oil or ghee, and add grass-fed butter to my veggies. I eat almonds and macadamia nuts in moderation. I have let go of the low fat/high carb dogma, and obtain most of my energy from healthy fats.
I have one hold-out to a pure Paleo approach. I still enjoy my organic whole milk plain Greek yoghurt, and an occasional glass of organic non-homogenized whole milk. That works for me–we’re individuals.
I feel fantastic! I love eating and I love real food. I look forward to each meal, and am satisfied when I finish, with no more lingering cravings. Nutritionists call this feeling satiety, and it comes from eating enough fat and protein. The best is not feeling constantly hungry and wishing for one more thing to eat.
I am on a learning curve about Paleo and ancestral health, and have much yet to discover.
Thank you so much for joining me. I hope to see you again!
Coming soon, future posts:
Grass-Fed Beef–Is it Really Better?
Fats to Avoid–Unsafe Fats.
Vitamin B12 Deficiency–Serious, and Under-diagnosed.
Folate Vs. Folic Acid–What You Need to Know.
Review of Paleo Leap’s Your Guide to Paleo.
Olive Oil Fraud–How to Find Genuine Olive Oil.
Carbohydrate Guidelines–What is Safe?
How to Re-gain Muscle and Fitness in Mid-Life.
Probiotics–The Mind in Your Gut.
Tumeric and Curcumin–Powerful Anti-Oxidants
The Benefits of Walking.
Mindfulness Meditation for Beginners.
Self Compassion Vs. Self Esteem or Self Pity
Holistic Nutrition for Your Dog.
Favorite Paleo Snacks.