Monday, June 13, 2011

Amelia's Food Evolution

Weight Watchers.
Jenny Craig.
Low Carb.
Intuitive Eating.
Health at Every Size.
Gluten Free.
The Metabolism Miracle.
The Paleo Solution.

To say I’ve been searching all my life for the best way to eat/live to lose weight and be healthy for life is an understatement. I have tried almost everything. Throughout my dieting sojourns, I have learned a great deal. My understanding of nutrition and activity’s effect on my weight and health has evolved over this time. Recently, I’ve read a couple books that have truly blown my mind and helped me turn everything I thought I knew on its head: Why We Get Fat and The Paleo Solution.

While following the Metabolism Miracle, most recently, I did extremely well on the lowest carb stage but ran into a plateau when I moved to eating a serving of carbs every 4-5 hours as instructed. I liked having more carbs but felt that eating on such a schedule was a little artificial. Right at this time, I happened to read about an eating style called Paleo on a new blog started by an online friend, Sally: Paleo Pleasures. At first, I thought that nixing pretty much all processed foods including grains, seed oils, dairy, legumes, and sugar seemed impossibly strict and dismissed it as out of hand. However, the more it kept popping up, the more intrigued I became.

Finally, I sat down and downloaded The Paleo Solution to my kindle app. I could not put it down. This guy (Robb Wolf) was talking to ME. So much of what he was talking about overlapped with what I had learned in Why We Get Fat (sugar/carbs are the culprit in weight gain and things like heart disease, not saturated fat). I was already sold on that point: looking at the science, it was impossible to deny that fat cannot be stored without being in the presence of insulin, which is secreted in response mostly to carbs. OK… But the Paleo Solution took it one step further. The quality of the food is just as important, if not more so than the macronutrients (carbs, fat, protein). In fact, many Paleo folks are not particularly low carb: fruit and starchy tubers like yams/sweet potatoes are perfectly fine. However, if one is trying to lose weight, it’s generally understood that the carb content needs to stay low while that goal is on the table.

I finally had a rationale to help explain why the traditional dieting paradigm wasn’t working for me (or most people, for that matter). Grains and legumes contain many anti-nutrients that are the plant’s natural defense system. Those defenses wreak havoc on our digestive system as cause a myriad of problems in ways one wouldn’t even necessarily suspect (the damage doesn’t always show up as GI issues). Many auto-immune conditions have been linked to this issue. The most notable being Celiac, which is quite obviously tied to gluten consumption, but almost every other autoimmune condition can be helped by adopting this diet. Dairy, I knew was an issue for me, but now I understood why the lactose (milk sugar) and casein (milk protein) were problematic. I have since discovered that I can tolerate high fat dairy items that are low in those two components like heavy cream, butter, a little aged cheese, and yogurt.

Seed oils like soybean, corn, and even the vaulted canola oils are all modern concoctions that simply didn’t exist until we had the industrialization needed to refine these products. They are very delicate and easily oxidize in the blood stream causing systemic inflammation and a cascade of medical issues. Yes, the very “heart healthy” oils we’ve been told to use instead of real butter, lard, and tallow are causing much of the disease of civilization. I’ve had to do a lot of work to un-learn my fear of fat, particularly saturated fat. Coconut oil is now my friend. Olive oil is still good to use, but mostly on raw items because it too can oxidize if heated too much.

To combat the inflammatory seed oils and other high levels of Omega 6 fats that are abundant in our food supply, it’s important to minimize those as much as possible and off-set it with Omega 3s. We’ve been eating a lot more wild caught salmon and other fish as well as enjoying lots of free range eggs. Fish oil capsules are a daily habit, but I'm about to switch to fermented cod liver oil, per some great info from The Healthy Skeptic. Grass-fed beef is also higher in Omega 3s than its conventionally grain fed counterparts. It may be a bit pricer, but it is sooooo much better. I’ve actually started eating beef jerky, it’s so good. First time EVER!

The Paleo approach is very much based on looking at how our hunter-gatherer ancestors ate/lived before the relatively recent advent of agriculture (in an evolutionary sense). This argument is interesting to me, but not at all the focus in my mind. There is too much wiggle room for argument concerning what they actually ate/did and how we can best emulate it in our modern world. To me, it’s a thought experiment but my rationale comes mostly from the practical evidence that this type of eating/living works best for me right here, right now. I do not feel good when I eat processed food, for sure. Now, I understand why and what I can do about changing the way I source, prepare, and enjoy my food.

I thought this transition might cause some strife with the Cute Man. It IS a big change, after all. However, he’s been 100% supportive and super appreciative of the uptick in fresh homemade food. He is not completely Paleo himself, enjoying his brown rice and raisin bran as usual. He loves pretty much everything I cook, though, and is thrilled that we’re both getting healthier. Over the past few months, including pre-Paleo days, he’s lost over 50 lbs and I’ve lost about 25.

So far, it’s only been a couple months of eating this way. There seems be a vibrant online community with tons of great recipes so I have little fear of getting bored (see my “favorite places” on the right for links to great recipe sites and more). I’ve also been able to avoid the whole “I feel so deprived because I can’t have that” syndrome. I just don’t think of that way. I eat the stuff that makes me feel good. I’m my own boss – I can eat whatever I want to, really. The couple times I’ve deviated have left me feeling sluggish and exhausted. I’m sure there will be times when those effects will be worth it, but for the most part, I’d rather feel as good as I do eating Paleo foods.

So, as usual, I'm a work in progress but feeling so incredibly thankful that I've been able to implement these changes in my life.


MJ said...

I'd be interested in following/talking with you on how you think it's going. I am finishing the Primal Blueprint, which quotes The Paleo Solution a bit, so that's next on my list. I, too, feel better not eating the processed stuff, although I still will on occasion have some rice (sushi) or couscous. It's doubly a challenge for me as I still do not want to eat meat (I do eat fish), but this is making me focus all the more on protein, which I've needed to do for some time! Great community of folks on myfitnesspal as well (if you're of the mind to track still), and I love Mark's Daily Apple (the Primal Blueprint author's blog).


Hey MJ! It’s been going really great for me and I feel a whole lot better. My husband has been avoiding red meat and chicken for the past few months because it just didn’t seem to be agreeing with him. As a result, he’s been eating mostly Paleo/Primal but relying on seafood for most of his protein. The key with that is I focus on making sure he gets a good deal of “good” fat from other sources as well. We do a lot of avocados, butter, coconut oil, and olive oil. As hard as it was to wrap my head around it, it’s really about switching from being a carb burner to a fat burner. As a result, it’s almost impossible to overeat on fat in the absence of sugar/grains. I could eat a ton of pizza or French toast, but there’s only so much buttered veggies I can take in. I’ve also been getting him tins of sardines/mackerel, tuna, canned salmon – stuff that’s easy, fast and high quality. Incidentally, I don’t like that stuff but I have the meat in my diet to balance. It’s all about finding the way to make it work for you.

I’m going to add you to a facebook group my friend started where we’ve been talking about this stuff – it just started up, but it’s a great group so far!