Saturday, May 16, 2015
There are very few things that I get evangelical about. I'm not, like, really committed to a certain genre of music, and I won't corner you at a cocktail party to expound on the benefits of registered GICs versus high-interest savings accounts (LOL, like I know what those words mean). My life moral and message is pretty much you do you, except when your choices are exceptionally stupid, in which case we go into life is a rich tapestry mode mode (and I'll definitely talk shit those choices, FYI).
There are, however, two exceptions to this rule. I'll talk about weightlifting next week, but for now, I'll just go ahead and paraphrase Nicole Cliffe: I love picking up heavy shit. I LOVE IT.
But this week, I'm going to yammer at you about the paleo diet. I know, I know: trust me, I know. And I know that anecdata is pretty much the devil's breakfast cereal when it comes to reasons to believe in something, but here's the thing: following a paleo diet pretty much works for me.
I first started the paleo "thing" three years ago, when I was a good thirty pounds heavier and getting sick every time I ate. My stomach would seize up, and it would be an agonizing cycle of constipation, bloating/gas, and then horrible diarrhea. TMI! But also, my skin was this like, gray colour? And I had had acne for fifteen years? And my farts smelled like something was literally rotting inside me. So, yeah, TMI. But I want to make it crystal clear how foul it was to live inside my body.
When I first read about paleo, I dismissed it as one of those eliminate diets that promise its adherents the moon (but like an hourglass moon instead of a fatty full moon), but in reality is just an eating disorder with a fancy name. Besides, I had tried the gluten-free thing. I had tried giving up lactose. I had tried a low-calorie approach, and its sister, low-fat. Nothing worked. I was still puffy, I was still farting, and I was pretty sure paleo wasn't going solve those problems. After all, nothing else had worked.
For those of you who had never heard of paleo, it's your basic low-carb/high-fat and -protein model, based on the idea that our modern diets have evolved far faster than our ostensibly cave-man guts. Agricultural inventions of the last 10,000 years—things like grain crops, for instance—don't jive with our digestive systems, which evolved over hundreds of thousands of years. The science is a little iffy; for example, humans have developed the capacity to eat dairy only in the last 7,000 or so years, but it's definitely there. Anyone who can drink milk can raise a glass to evolution.
On the other hand, one might argue that the basic tenets of the diet have been borne out by nutritional research (eat whole foods, eat protein, eat vegetables), and that trading cheeseburgers and chocolate croissants for sweet potatoes and red peppers is actually a step in the right direction. And! Even nutritionally clued-in modern humans are pretty bad at figuring out where calories come from. Like, there are 170 calories in two slices of bread, which is roughly the same as an entire can of tuna, and about double the calories in a large navel orange. Grains are a good source of fiber; two slices of bread have about four grams of fiber. But a half-cup of raspberries offers the same amount for one-fifth the calories. It's not like two slices of bread will make a person feel fuller than a teacup full of raspberries, but it's good to be able to wave vaguely at these basic nutritional considerations.
Anyway, I cut out grains, upped my protein levels, and immediately noticed a difference. I lost a whole pile of weight, but I also just felt better in my body. I slept better, I pooped on the regular, my skin cleared up. It was sort of amazing. Over the last three years, I've slid into a lazy-girl's paleo diet: I eat protein at every meal, I load up on fruits and veggies and nuts, and I try to avoid grains. I try to sneak fermented foods in as often as possible, since our gut bacteria is a delicate biome and I have stomped on mine. I like kale. I like kimchi. I like almonds as an afternoon snack, and an egg every morning for breakfast. I eat avocados in bulk.
I also make sure to eat cheesecake and maki rolls if and when I want to, because eating for pleasure is a hard thing to learn after over a decade of treating some foods as inherently evil, and others as "good food." Food is food: sometimes it messes with us, and sometimes it's good for us. And sometimes, eating something that I know will have digestive repercussions is a once-in-a-while treat, because why would Jesus invent chocolate cake if He didn't want us to eat it?
My moral and message is this: it worked for me. It may not work for you! It may turn out that your body is really turned on by, like, yogurt and rye bread. That sounds delicious and amazing. But if you are currently trapped in a body that makes you feel like shit, trying some really old-fashioned eating habits might help. And if not: hey, there are worse things you can do to your body than fill it full of avocados and chicken. I am so happy that I tried this "paleo thing," because it allowed me to come to peace with my body: how it felt, how it looks, and how I feel when I live inside it. That's a victory.
Besides, buying vegetables and meat means I spend so much less time reading the nutritional information on the back of the package. There just is no package. Bliss.