Thursday, August 2, 2012

Here I Am

Wow. Almost three months since my last post! Life has been very full, and sometimes perplexing.

Not long after the end of my Whole30, while I was still eating mostly compliantly, I developed digestive symptoms that surprised me. I will spare you the full details. Let's just say I was on the fast track. I struggled for days, then weeks, trying to figure out what I was eating that was making my system so unhappy. My symptoms were severe enough that my energy was getting low--some days I felt wrung out. And sometimes I was even hesitant to leave the house. I cut things out, added things in, but nothing seemed to help. It was very discouraging to be dealing with these issues when I was trying so hard to eat well.

I even resorted to eating regular bread, cheese, and other off-plan foods to see if something would change my gut reaction. Sometimes I would get some relief in that area, but the rest of my body (other than my tongue) did not like that one bit! I was getting achier, more fatigued, and just feeling low-grade crummy.
Through all of this I continued to read voraciously (online and also in print--It Starts With Food, by the creators of the Whole30 program is packed with helpful information and answered many questions for me). I researched the GAPS protocol and gave that some serious consideration. That protocol is specifically designed to enable the gut to heal, and clearly my gut was not in a healthy place! But GAPS is pretty hard-core, so I view it as something I will reconsider as a "last resort" if need be. I saw that even Paleo authors acknowledge that gut health is of primary importance, and I began to understand that, in some cases, the gut may go through a time of being worse before it gets better. When one significantly changes one's diet, the microorganisms that live inside of one must re-balance. Only one way to find out if mine is one of those cases...

So I started another Whole30 on July 1. It turned out to really be a Whole21, because we ended up taking an impromptu trip to the beach for a few days, but it was still super helpful in getting my eating back on track. I also noticed digestive symptom improvements. I am still trying to isolate just what foods are irritating to my gut. I suspect raw vegetables are a bit much for me right now, but particularly tomatoes (one of the Nightshades I had initially left out of my first Whole30). This is something of a bummer, since it is summer, and salads are yummy, and I love garden-fresh tomatoes. But there is still plenty of other yumminess that doesn't give me tummy troubles!

It is all still in-process: figuring out what works for me as an individual. There truly is no "one size fits all" way of eating and there are more things yet to try (such as the autoimmune protocol, which is similar to the beginning of my first Whole30, but stricter). I still have absolutely no desire to go back to my former way of eating--I've dabbled, and it is so, SO, SO not worth it for me.

I am very thankful for the abundance I have been given: abundant information, abundant food (and abundant variety of food), abundant support from family and friends.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

What Works? What Challenges?

I am taking this post to reflect on the things that have worked for me as I have pursued Paleo eating. And I will also describe some of the challenges I have found. This is very individual, of course. Each person will find his or her own triumphs and trials.

What Works:
  • Sharp knives! There is a lot of vegetable-cutting to be done, so high-quality sharp knives make life easier.
  • Coconut This has become the cream in my coffee, the liquid in my greens, the oil in my pan, the soy substitute in my Asian dishes, the flour in my pancakes, the whipped cream *and* the crunchy topping on my dessert... An incredible array of things is made from this homely drupe: milk (I use the full-fat canned version) from which cream may be separated (for coffee, or whipped for dessert), oil, aminos (which taste just like soy sauce), flour, shreds, flakes, and even a "nectar" for sweetening.
  • Avocado I love this fruit now more than ever before! I have eaten it for any meal of the day, or just as a snack. Mashed and made into a dip or a mayonnaise stand-in. Sliced as a side dish. Chopped in a salad. Even just eaten with a spoon, right out of its handy peel-bowl. It goes with everything, sweet or savory. And it is full of fabulous fat.
  • Eggs Once I challenged them on day 21 and detected no obvious adverse reaction I began eating them almost every day. I hard cook a dozen at a time in the oven and keep them on hand for quick eating. My guys really love this.
  • Homemade Mayonnaise Using pasteurized eggs I have made this with both lemon juice and with Bubbies pickle juice. Both ways taste great. The immersion blender makes incredibly quick work of this task. This is the only way other than mail-order to get mayo without any unhealthy oils in it. I use it for tuna salad, on hard cooked eggs, or for dipping cold leftover veggies or meats.
  • Creative eating Keeping myself open to eating things in unusual combinations, or at unconventional times of day. Many people are fond of eating breakfast for dinner, but I have grown to enjoy eating dinner leftovers for breakfast. Some of my most delicious lunches have resulted from just grabbing things out of the fridge and putting them together as some kind of salad.
  • Enjoying foods for what they ARE The coconut aminos I mentioned above do taste just like soy sauce to me, but that is the exception, not the rule. Coconut cream does not taste like dairy milk cream, but it is delicious to me in its own right. I love spaghetti squash, as squash. I do not expect it to taste (or feel) like pasta.
  • Never eating food I don't like Not that every bite has to taste amazing, but I'm not going to subject myself to choking something down because it is touted as being good for me. No way. Knowing that I am going to enjoy every food I put in my mouth is a great encouragement to stay on plan.
Challenges: (with growth areas)
  • Eating out  My husband and I love to eat out, but we have found it surprisingly difficult to find menu items that are Paleo-compliant. It doesn't seem as if finding meat/chicken/fish and vegetables would be so difficult, but there are very few entrees on the menus at our favorite eateries that don't contain grains, dairy, or legumes in some form. Even things described as "grilled" have arrived at our table having obviously been lightly breaded and pan-fried. (We are learning to make fewer assumptions and ask for exactly what we need.)
  • Unsweetened beverages This has been particularly tough for my husband, who loves juice and sweetened tea, but I, too have struggled to stay hydrated. (Citrus slices added to water help, and Good Earth Organic Original herbal tea has a [hopefully]natural sweetness and is good hot or cold.)
  • Planning I am still struggling to plan effectively in order to keep adequate food in the house, and decently-constructed meals coming out of the kitchen every day. With eating out being a challenge, planning is all the more imperative! (I am getting better as time goes on.)
  • Refrigerator space Uncooked vegetables are bulky! Each of the three of us should ideally be eating about 8 cups of vegetables a day. So the fridge can get pretty crowded. (I try to make an additional produce run midway through the week.)
  • Out-of-stock staples Especially eggs. Since I use unconventional eggs (from pasture-roaming hens, as well as pasteurized eggs), they are sometimes unavailable. This has happened with other items, as well. (Sometimes I locate an alternate source. But also I am learning patience and trust and thankfulness for the abundance that I do have.)
Two-Sided Coins:
  • An abundance of online information Lots of helpful things, but it can certainly become overwhelming.
  • Clean kitchen Such an important part of being able to cook efficiently, but it takes a considerable amount of time every day! 
I always imagine the Paleo pros effortlessly serving up perfect meals to their adoring family and friends while snapping magazine-quality photos of each step of the process. That sure isn't what my kitchen is like (or is ever likely to become). I am okay with that. It is great to be having new kitchen adventures, and discovering yummy new recipes, all while feeling noticeably better.  

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

I Did It...sort of...

Wow! I began my 30-day Paleo adventure April 1, and I can hardly believe it is already complete. I began with an even more restricted eating plan (no eggs, nuts, or Nightshades) because I wanted to try to determine if any of those foods is an issue for me. I challenged eggs after the third week and was relieved to not have any apparent adverse reactions to their reintroduction. Several days after that I challenged Nightshades, and I detected no reaction to the ones I've tried thus far. Two huge gastronomic sighs of relief! I have not yet reintroduced nuts because I had several exposures to those during my 30 days, so I need to give my system a bit longer to reset before I challenge those.

I cannot claim to have truly completed a Whole30 program, though. On day 27 I went off the reservation. Due entirely to my own lack of planning and execution, I found myself out of the house that morning with few prospects for Paleo-compliant eats until early evening. So I made the decision to eat fast "food" for breakfast. Not just eggs. And not just a little bit. No, I ate two egg-ham-and-"cheese" muffins. A definite learning experience. The first thing I noticed was, "Hey, these don't even taste like anything!!" I had never noticed that pre-Paleo. The second thing I noticed was that they sat in my stomach like a lump of playdough. It was as if my stomach was asking, "What in the world am I supposed to do with THIS?!" The third thing I noticed was that the lump of playdough was still there six hours later! Yuck. When I got home that evening I peeled a mango and devoured it like an iguana. Within minutes my stomach felt better. And then I got right back on the Paleo wagon and stayed there!

Results? Well, after blank-ty years of eating a pretty typical SAD (Standard American Diet) I was not expecting any astounding changes in the span of 30 days, but here is what I've noticed for myself:
  • noticeably less daytime fatigue (which is a huge deal for me)
  • ZERO cravings during the whole 30 days (this *was* actually astounding)
  • much quicker recovery time after physically demanding activities (another huge deal for me)
  • drastic reduction in cycle-related pain
Those are all subjective "results," of course. Since I forgot to weigh and measure myself prior to starting the adventure, I cannot give completely objective results. But I did compare my current measurements to some I made about a year ago before and after I completed a "detox" diet. Last year I lost 6.5 lbs, and 3/4 of an inch each off of both my waist and hips in three weeks. I know I put some of that back on, subsequently. After finishing the 30 days of April this year, I found that my current weight is 4 lbs lower than last year's "after" reading. My waist is 2.5 inches smaller now than it was after last year's diet. My hips, however, are about the same (or maybe 1/2 inch bigger) as they were after my "detox." Which explains why my pants fit about the same, but cut into me less when I'm seated. My conclusion (for whatever it is worth) is that I have lost a considerable amount of the dreaded "belly fat" that television ads and programs are always going on about. And I never counted a calorie, or a gram, nor did I perform one single crunch (not that there is anything wrong with that).

I was not on a diet this April. I had no intention of losing weight or inches. I just ate Paleo. Yes, there were times that I was hungry, because I hadn't yet figured out how to keep enough of the right foods available for eating. Mainly I ate as much Paleo food as I wanted, whenever I wanted. And I never once ate anything that didn't taste good. Except the aforeconfessed drive-through thingies.

What now? I have absolutely no desire to go back to my former way of eating. It is wonderful to be noticing positive physical changes, but honestly I want to stick with Paleo because I LOVE the food! I am planning to challenge the eliminated foods (dairy, grains, and legumes) to see how my body responds to them. That way I can be an "informed indulger" at social occasions and whatnot. But I feel like I have a whole lot more deliciousness to explore in Paleo-Land! I even bought Nom Nom Paleo's iPad app and have started trying more new things.

So the adventure continues!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Cave is a Verb

Or: If You Are What You Eat, Then I Am a Nut!

Last night I violated my Paleo-minus parameters and ate some walnuts. Do I feel guilty, discouraged, or even disappointed? Nope. It was late, I was so hungry I knew I would not be able to sleep, and there was nothing else quick to eat (aside from fruit [of which I had already eaten too much yesterday], and I know sometimes a high-carb snack can be disruptive to sleep). So I chose a protein-and-fat-rich snack that is Paleo-regular compliant.

It is definitely challenging to stick to the elimination of eggs, nuts, and Nightshades. But especially the eggs and nuts, because they are both great quick-and-easy protein sources. Last night was the first time I have deliberately eaten one of those foods in almost three weeks, but there have been a couple of times that I have unintentionally eaten Nightshade spices or nuts. No eggs whatsoever, though. So by the end of tomorrow I will have gone three full weeks without eggs in any form, and I am thinking to myself that maybe three weeks is going to be enough for me... Just for the eggs. We'll see.

Yummy improv discoveries in the past week plus include:
  • throwing together leftover carrots and green beans with leftover nitrate-free bacon
  • semi-supremed oranges topped with coconut flakes and coconut cream
  • tuna-avocado salad (mashed avocado in place of mayo) lettuce wraps
Melissa Joulwan's book, Well Fed continues to prove invaluable to me for inspiration, and for specific recipes. She describes her method of doing a weekly "cook up" to pre-prep proteins and some veggies, and then on any given evening one simply decides what flavor profile to pursue and then combines protein, veggies, and seasonings on-the-spot to create a fast and delicious meal (she calls them hot plates). My tongue is totally crushing on her Caramelized Coconut Chips (which are almost as fast to make as microwave popcorn!), and her Ras el Hanout spice blend is SO amazing--even without the cayenne (a Nightshade spice)--that it has helped me not to miss Indian and Mexican flavor profiles so much.

My "new vegetable of the week" was bok choy. Shockingly quickly I had a tasty Chinese-inspired "hot plate"combo of grass-fed ground beef, onions, garlic, ginger, coconut aminos (tastes just like soy sauce), and bok choy. It was so good I did it again the following night with broccoli florets! My guys and I loved it.

I still have not gotten into a rhythm of planning, shopping, prepping, and executing. But, then again, I cannot say that I was so great with that before this little adventure began... I just kind of go into a grocery store two or more times per week gathering whatever vegetables look fresh (and trying to challenge myself to try new ones), and trying to stay stocked on protein foods.  

Despite last night's spelunking, I am having a great time trying so many new things!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Eating Rainbow

Yesterday was Easter. My sister came over and together we created an Easter Feast that actually included all of the colors of the rainbow. ROYGBIV. Red were the tomatoes, peppers, strawberries and raspberries. Orange was the butternut squash. Yellow was the lemon zest. Green were the asparagus, avocado, lettuce, and celery. Blue were the blueberries. Indigo were the blackberries (or so we decided). We were stuck for our final color until she proclaimed that the "red" onion she was mincing was, in truth, Violet! We chopped til we dropped, then enjoyed that yummy, yummy rainbow...

Yesterday also began my second week eating strict Paleo-minus. The first week was surprising in a number of ways:
  1. I had NO cravings. There was not a single moment when I was battling the urge to go off plan. Sure, there were times that something "off the menu" sounded or looked good, and there were times when my lazy self would have been happy to grab something easy, but I seriously was not even tempted. I was astounded by this, because I have gone off of sugar before, and it was very difficult.
  2. I ate really delicious food every day. Even when I was ravenous and in a hurry (thank you, Emergency Guacamole and Sublime Sweet Potato!).
  3. I tried lots of new recipes (including two to serve to guests--usually a "don't"). The ones listed above I made up on the spot, but I also made Breakfast Hash, Impromptu Green Salad with Tuna (another "on the spot" creation), two versions of Collard Greens with Coconut Milk, and from Melissa Joulwan, Ras el Hanout spice blend (which I used in beef and greens dishes), Whipped Coconut Cream, and yesterday's Deconstucted Gyro Salad.
  4. I faithfully made a lot of veggies. I am a slacker, so I'm always surprised when I manage to do something that actually takes effort. Collards, salads, butternut squash, cauliflower, spaghetti squash, zucchini, sweet potatoes (lots of sweet potatoes), etc.
  5. I learned to like coconut cream in my coffee as a substitute for cow's milk cream. Even though it is far more expensive and is a bit of a hassle to prep.
Last week I was on "Spring Break" from one of my main occupations. This week my challenge is to continue to eat Paleo-minus in the midst of my normal routine. One challenge I foresee is that I will have to fit breakfast into my morning schedule. Previously I was either skipping breakfast or eating something grabby and sweet (like a Lara bar or yogurt with a banana). I have found that, on Paleo-minus, skipping breakfast is a bad idea because it throws my eating times and amounts off for the rest of the day, and it is difficult to eat enough for that day. And eating anything sweet first thing goes completely against the Paleo grain. Without eggs or nuts my breakfast options are dinner leftovers, or cooking meat.

Well. I just have to "Make it work," as Tim Gunn would say. :)

Monday, April 2, 2012

Love and Other Food

April 1 was a very big day. My younger daughter became engaged to a fine young man who is beyond anyone she had ever dreamed of meeting.

And a family friend stepped out of his comfort zone and into my volunteer position to enable me to be part of the surprise party at the proposal.

All of this on Palm Sunday. The day we celebrate the Bridegroom's triumphal entry into Jerusalem days before He gave Himself as a living sacrifice on the cross for His Bride.

A day full of true soul food.

My first day of intentionally feeding my body according to Paleo (minus eggs, Nightshades, and nuts) guidelines.

The engaged couple invited us to celebrate their happy day with them at a local restaurant, so I have already had practice with dining out "on plan." But it was not the food that filled me.

Later that day we drove past an old graveyard with headstones at various angles from all of the years gone by. I thought of all of those lives, and the days they may have had in which their hearts were filled with joy. And all of the others who shared the joy with them. Sorrow is always waiting to come and try to negate the joy. Like weeds in a garden.

But sorrow does not win. With the curse of weeds comes the promise of redemption ( Through the Bridegroom our sorrows are now rendered temporary, though we may feel them deeply for a time, and our joys are transformed into glimpses of the unfathomable and everlasting delight that awaits His Bride.

"So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." (1 Corinthians 10:31) Remembering that even the most delicious food we eat in this life is merely a foretaste of the feast to come (

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Pull the Shades

So, tomorrow, April 1, begins a new adventure for me as I begin eating according to Paleo parameters. As I researched the process I came across some information that suggested that those dealing with chronic health issues may want to take the eliminations a step (or three) further to determine if certain foods may be contributing to their symptoms.

Turns out eggs have a protein that-in those sensitive to it-may cause increased intestinal permeability, which then causes systemic inflammation (a known contributing factor in autoimmune diseases). Then there is the Nightshades family of vegetables (including white potatoes, tomatoes, sweet and hot peppers, eggplant, and spices like cayenne, chili powder, curry powder, paprika, etc. [Google to find more complete lists]). Some people are sensitive to alkaloids in this group of vegetables, and there is a considerable amount of anecdotal evidence that joint pain and other maladies can be associated with consumption of Nightshades in these sensitive individuals. Finally, nuts and seeds have compounds that may be inflammatory for some.

Eggs and nuts are both fairly common allergens, so if one of my purposes in following the Paleo model is to eliminate potential allergens to determine if they are a specific issue for me, then cutting these two out seems almost a no-brainer. If it is even remotely possible that Nightshades are contributing to my joint issues, it seems foolish not to eliminate them along with all of the other things I'm pulling off the menu during April.

I won't lie: coming to the realization that I should omit eggs, nuts, and Nightshades from my plate for these 30 days was the first time I started to think I might have a hard time sticking to my plan. No Mexican or Indian flavor profiles. Paleo breakfasts without any of these three elements are pretty limited.

But, as the folks at Whole9 say: "It is not hard. Don't you dare tell us this is hard. Giving up heroin is hard. Beating cancer is hard." True. And if any of these is an issue for me, I want to know so I can make informed choices.

Time to woman up and eat strong!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Paleo in Comparison

Paleo seems to be a hot trend. For some reason I find the terms paleo and cave(wo)man off-putting. Perhaps because it has connotations of evolutionary theory, and I believe that God created man and woman in His own image (Genesis 1:26-28).

But I've decided to get over myself and evaluate the principles of this dietary approach, connotations aside.

In its essence, Paleo seems to be a bare bones (pun intended) perspective on Real Food. The strictest adherents eschew all grain, dairy, legumes, and sugar (as well as soy, alcohol, white potatoes, vegetable oils, and processed foods). They eat all kinds of flesh foods and eggs, and all kinds of fruits and vegetables (aside from white potatoes and edamame). For oil they use coconut and olive oils. More liberal Paleo people might eat pastured full-fat dairy and white potatoes. And then there are some who are synthesizing Paleo and Traditional ("traditional" ala Weston A. Price [and Dr. Shanahan, from my first post]) adding in cultured and fermented foods, and perhaps soaked nuts and grains.

Paleo (connotations aside!) seemed very daunting to me when I first learned of it. But then I found this super cool cookbook... And I began to rethink...

So now I have gotten it into my head to try to eat (strict-ish) Paleo for one month beginning April 1! Why?!
  1. It is an efficient way to eliminate many of the most common food allergens to see if these may be an issue for me.
  2. It is a great motivator to learn to use a lot more vegetables in my cooking.
  3. It will make a great base upon which to build a solid Real Food eating life.
  4. Melissa Joulwan's Well Fed makes it look both delicious and doable!

Aside from the cookbook, there are dozens of blogs and websites I have discovered to help me along on this little culinary adventure. A couple I've liked (in addition to Melissa Joulwan's, above):

So here I go; back to the future!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Getting Real

A friend asked me last week if my decision to alter my diet was based on personal philosophy or if it was a health-based choice. To which I could only answer, "Yes."

I grew up eating mainly processed, pre-packaged foods. Then I proceeded to feed my family a lot of the same kind of foods.

All the while, from my earliest memories (as a preschool-aged child), I have spent a considerable amount of time in pain or feeling unwell. Headaches began before I started school and continued as a regular feature of my life from then on. Joint and bone pain began in high school. Allergies and asthma began in my early 20's. Fatigue began in my 30's. Because doctors could never really find an answer to these vague symptoms, I gravitated toward researching alternative/natural remedies to try to find relief.
Some things helped a bit, but nothing brought about a dramatic change. Eventually, I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia & Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. And gradually I found some medications that did bring significant relief.

Since my late teens "healthy eating" has been of interest to me, and I've read a great deal and tried many cookbooks in pursuit of this interest. Then recently I finally had a food epiphany: The human body is designed to operate on real food. The food I put into my mouth is the only thing my body has to work with. This seems so obvious (because it is obvious!), but I think our culture (myself included) has forgotten what real food even looks like.

Over the past year or so I have synthesized a personal philosophy that I should feed my body Real Food, and that Real Food consists primarily of things that grow out of the ground, or have fur, fins, or feathers (and the eggs or milk they may produce). And I have come to the conclusion that a body fed in this way will be capable of maximizing its potential for health (which will vary from person to person).

It isn't about turning back the clock, or being "healthier than thou," or being afraid to enjoy a piece of box mix birthday cake. It is just about doing the best I can with what I've got, with humility and joy.

Especially joy!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Through the Looking Glass

I am not sure how it happened. From an early age I have been interested in health topics and cooking, and the natural synthesis of these in the topic of nutrition. But one day recently I found myself on investigating Dr. Catherine Shanahan's "Deep Nutrition: Why Your Genes Need Traditional Foods." The reader reviews were very intriguing. Since it was not available through the public library, I went ahead and ordered it.

Within the week it was as if I had gone though the looking glass...

Aside from current conventional wisdom regarding vegetables, it was as if everything I had heard about healthy nutrition was the reverse of the truth: real butter and coconut oil are great for your body; pastured and wild-caught flesh foods (and eggs!) of all kinds are incredibly healthful; salt is not poison; high consumption of grain products (even whole grains) and fruit is detrimental to the human body.

All meticulously described and documented with over 300 references.

And so my husband and I have now embarked upon a new adventure: eating real food.

This blog is my attempt to chronicle this journey, along with any other "rabbit holes" I may encounter along the way...