Grackle & Sun

Archive for the tag “paleo”

Paleo: 365

This past Sunday marked the 1 year point for my paleo experiment.  I would say “Woot!”, but since I see this as my new norm and plan on eating this way forever, it would be a little silly.  Like giving a cheer after brushing your teeth or making your bed.  Well, if I ever made my bed, I might actually give a cheer, so that’s a bad example.  Lol.  My mother would weep if she read that.  She did teach me better, but I rebel.  And digress.

ste gen 7-14-2012 4-28-015

Clearly I like this Paleo thing a whole lot.  It’s pretty amazing and has been instrumental in turning my health around.  Today I just want to hit on the key points I’ve learned while eating Paleo this last year:

1.  The cleaner your diet, the stronger your body’s reactions when you stray.   It seems a little counter-intuitive.  You’d think that by giving your body a break from highly processed, sugar-laden, additive-filled, inflammation causing, gut destroying foods, you would help strengthen your system so that it could better tolerate the occasional powdered donut or bag of peanut M & Ms.  But it doesn’t work that way.  Turns out your body likes feeling good, and when you put bad fuel into the tank, it is more than happy to let you know you done wrong.  And punish you for it.  With joint pain, edema, bloating, headaches, breakouts, hives, sinus congestion, wheezing, diarrhea, constipation, and all manner of gassiness.  The body is fantastically creative with the myriad ways it can hate a bagel.   If you’re going to stray from the path, better make sure it’s for the best meal of your life.  Otherwise, it’s just not worth it.

2.  Sugar.  If this year taught me anything, it is to pay attention to one’s sugar intake.  It effects everything from energy levels to immune functioning to gut flora.  It seems so innocent, but sugar really, really, really is completely and utterly responsible for so very much of ALL THE BAD happening in your body.  Did you see how many unnecessary modifiers I used to emphasize this?  Here’s the thing:  I have a monster sweet tooth.  This sweet tooth, unlike what many Paleo gurus promised, has not gone away in my year of very strict Paleo eating.  So learning to live with this whole sugar issue is important to me (and to the happiness of everyone around me).  I have to find a balance.  What I’ve learned through many much reading is that fructose in particular is the form that is harmful.  And although sugar intake should be moderated no matter what kind you’re ingesting, some forms are better than others.  But always, always in moderation.  If you read point #1 above, you’ve probably guessed already that the cleaner you’re diet, the more moderate your body’s idea of moderation.  So, what was a moderate amount of sugar intake in the first few months of my Paleo diet is now too much, and I’m wrestling with tapering off my sweet binges even more.  Wish me luck.

3.  Legumes.  They really do mess with the gut.  Lectin.  Who knew?  When I started Paleo, this was the one category that I had a hard time believing was actually causing any problems.   I was skeptical.  I grew up eating rice and beans like most people in the States grow up eating mac n’ cheese.   But I was good, and I cut out legumes completely for the first 6 months.  Then I reintroduced peanuts back into my diet.  And then chickpeas (in the form of hummus).  I had my mom’s rice and beans once as a treat, and I ate some Korean gochujang (soy based) a handful of times in the last month or so.  And you know what?  Although legumes are delicious, they are hell on my system.  I never would have suspected any of this if I hadn’t tested it on myself.  And so we refer back to point #1 yet again.  I’m not saying I’ll never eat them again, but it will be a rare treat for sure.

4.  Macronutrient needs are changeable.  Fat especially was incredibly important in helping maintain my body temperature in cold weather—-and as a person with hypothyroidism, this can be so hard to do.   In recent years, I’ve worn long johns under my clothes from October to May.  But this year, I was really happy to have made it through winter with more cold tolerance than I’ve had in years.  I stayed warm, which is really saying a lot.  And I learned at the 6 month mark that unlike the rest of the dairy food group, butter causes no problems for me whatsoever.  That is reason for a WOOT! if ever there was one.   I have a good understanding now that protein is the core food for giving the body long-lasting, stable energy.  It’s common knowledge, I know.  But it’s one thing to read it and another thing entirely to experience it.  But what was most interesting to me was finding the right balance of carb intake.  No matter what anybody says, Paleo is not meant to be another low-carb Atkins diet.  Carbs are important.   Sweet potatoes are great for boosting carb intake—just be careful not to base your diet entirely on carbs rather than greens, veg, and protein.  Your waistline will tell you quickly if you’re overdoing it.  Lol.

5.  Water.  I’m going to state the bleeding obvious now:  The body doesn’t work right when it’s not properly hydrated.  What is not bleeding obvious is exactly how much water intake is necessary to be properly hydrated and just how quickly the body gives signals that it needs water when intake has been inadequate.  Signals that have nothing to do with thirst.  You have to pay attention.  Again, as mentioned in point #1, the ways that this translates in the body are many and varied.  The subtle symptoms of low-level dehydration are much more noticeable after you’ve started to feel better in general.   After all, when you ache all the time, what’s one more discomfort?  But when you feel good, it’s much easier to pinpoint the cause of dis-ease.  There was a time when I would have considered being so sensitive to everything as a weakness, but now I see it as a really amazing, fine-tuned diagnostic skill.  It’s very cool to be that in tune with your own body.  It is useful—but only if you listen to it.

6.  Exercise.  Bring the ass, and the mind will follow.  My mantra.  Moving around is crucial to health and well-being—both physical and mental.  It is absolutely one of the most fundamental aspects of the Paleo template.  You can eat the cleanest diet ever, but if you don’t use your body—-if you don’t move it and lift heavy things and run and play—-you will never achieve true wellness.  I also learned that if you don’t maintain regular exercise, the body reverts back to it’s old ways very, very quickly.  If you take a week off, prepare to hurt a little when you get back to it.  If you do like I did, and get all anxious and depressed and don’t exercise for, oh, 4 months, prepare to basically start over from scratch.  Especially if you are on the far end of your 30’s.  Ahem.

7.  Greens.  You need ’em.  By the bale.  Paleo diets can vary a lot—some people eat tons of meat, some only eat fish, some are near vegetarian.  But the one thing that needs to be a dietary focus no matter how you eat Paleo is the intake of a wide variety of dark, leafy greens.  Greens are nutritionally dense and supply vitamins, minerals, and fiber that you’re just not going to get with any other foods.   I crave them.  I daydream about grazing on kale.  It’s a little (or a lot) weird, but I think it’s my body’s way of making sure I get all my micronutrients.  Clever brain.  Which brings us to…

8.  The gut is the second brain.  If it doesn’t work right, not much else in your body will work at it’s best either.  And it absolutely effects mood and thought patterns.  So, if you want to be healthy and happy, you gotta have a healthy gut.  Everything I’ve been reading points to the fact that excess sugar in the diet feeds harmful bacteria in the gut.  This negative balance of intestinal flora not only messes with basic digestive habits, but it often leads to inflammation of the intestinal lining, and therefore an inability to properly absorb nutrients and to uptake serotonin.  It can also lead to leaky gut syndrome which is a big deal if you have any autoimmune issues like I do, because it causes further negative autoimmune responses and inflammation in the body.  I think the importance of this point cannot be stressed enough.  The gut is the key.

9.  Keeping it simple.   The further I go on this journey, the simpler I want my food.  Fresh ingredients prepared with as little fuss as possible.  That’s what I crave.  I don’t know if it’s a psychological thing or a physical thing or both.  But it has been a persistent theme this year.  With the exception of the occasional paleo brownies, I’m not interested in recreating “normal” food with Paleo versions.  First of all, I don’t like cooking that much.  Second of all, a lot of those recipes (much like in the raw food diet) are really nut-heavy, and it’s just not very good for you to eat that many nuts.   I do think, in part, that it’s helpful to eat simply when having to weed out food intolerances—not only from a practical standpoint, but also because it is tiring to spend so much time thinking about what you can or can’t eat.  Keeping things simple in the kitchen allow you to get on with your life outside of your food allergy/intolerance issues.   It feels really good to just get on with it.

10.  Fine tuning.  Your body’s needs change frequently, and it’s important to listen and respond accordingly to those needs.  What works in the winter probably won’t be good in the summer.   You might find yourself craving foods as they naturally come into season, but not want them otherwise.  That was me with apples this fall.  Normally, they make me feel sick, but this fall I couldn’t get enough of them.  I figure it might have had more than a little to do with the fact that they were in season locally.   As long as you listen to your body and respond accordingly, it all balances out.  Most importantly, let your body—not a dietary dogma—be your guide.

Future plans?  I still hope to experiment with some raw, cultured dairy.   I miss yogurt.   Strangely enough, I also miss oats.  A lot.  I’ve been reading about raw, sprouted oats, and I wonder how I’d respond…  Worth an experiment, yes?  Aside from these two things, I’m pretty happy.  I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything at all.  My main goal now is to lower my sugar (by which I mean honey) intake, eat simpler, more nutrient dense foods, make my own fermented/probiotic foods, drink more water, and buy a kettlebell.   A good plan.

Here’s to health, healing, and having the guts to heal your guts.  :D    It is so worth it.

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Getting Fit in 2495 Words

Goal:  Husband and I have decided to race the MR340 next year.

This is a crazy race:  paddle 340 miles of the Missouri River, from Kansas City to St. Charles, in 88 hours or less.  It’s really hard, and people who are serious about it train really hard.  Everyone else just hopes to finish at all.  Time to start training.  For realz.

The Klepper.

Hurdle #1:  I am the antithesis of athletic.

Hi, my name is dre, and I’m a 38 year old mother of 2.  I homeschool my kids and work nights as a waiter.  I knit, dye yarn, garden, and watch old British tv shows.  When I grow up, I want to be Felicity Kendal in Rosemary & Thyme.  I’ve never done anything like this before.   I have no athletic abilities.  My sports experience includes swim team and volleyball… in middle school.  I did train horses for a long time in high school and college, but that’s really a different animal altogether, what with the horse doing most of the work and all.  Aside from a tiny little bit of fencing I did with Husband in my early twenties, the closest I’ve come to anything remotely athletic was chasing and hoisting toddlers a decade ago.  I am not kinesthetically gifted like my husband is, and my awareness of my body in space is non-existent.  I am frequently clumsy and occasionally asthmatic.  I lack self-discipline.  I get distracted easily (I forgot I was making the kids lunch while typing this paragraph and almost burned the rice).   I have always been fairly strong—growing up on a farm will do that to you, but I’ve never been super fit.   In my thirties I haven’t even approached kinda fit.

Baseball, basketball, football, volleyball… No. Yarn balls? YES!

Hurdle #2:  I’ve had a lot of health issues over the last decade that have taken way too much of my time and energy.

For ages, Husband has been trying to get me to be more physically active.  In his wise way, he knew that it would help me feel better.  See, I’ve not been well for quite a while.  That’s a long ass post for another day, but suffice it to say that when you don’t feel well, exercising is the furthest thing from your mind—even if it’s one of the things that will feel you better.  So much energy went into my illness(es) and into trying to fix me, that I convinced myself I had none to spare for something as seemingly frivolous as working out.  Sometimes I haz a stupid.

Solution #1:   Healing the body, even a little bit, frees up energy for action.

In December, a major piece of the puzzle concerning a longstanding illness fell into place, and by January, I was feeling like a new person.   One day while driving to work, I passed a billboard that advertised a membership to a nearby gym for only $20 a month.  One of those “New Year’s resolution” memberships.   I thought about it that whole night at work, and realized that it was time to start taking care of my body in a new way.

Solution #2:  A body active is a body healthier. 

I signed up.   That was the beginning of a whole new journey for me, a new process to learn.  One that I want to keep track of here.   My first day at the gym was with a complimentary training session with a personal trainer.  I’m going to post the numbers here in all their glory, not only because I’m proud of how well I’m doing, but also because I think it is incredibly important for all of you to understand that if I can change my eating habits, start challenging my body and become more fit, you absolutely can, too.   Here are the numbers from when I started out:

Height:  5’3″     Weight:  165     Shoulders:  45.5″     Chest:  38″     Waist:  33.75″     Hips:  42.75″     Thigh:  20.5″     Arm:  10.5″    BF%:  35.9

Pre-pregnancy, I weighed 120 lbs no matter what I ate.  Post pregnancy averaged around 145 lbs.  This was the highest I’d been since right after I gave birth.  Twelve years ago.  Ouch.

Hurdle #3: Bumpy starts are bumpy.

The trainer showed me how to use all the equipment, namely all the weight machines.  I’ve since learned that this is standard cookie cutter gym protocol, so watch out for it.  It became apparent very quickly that those machines are not designed for short people.   The pivot points are all in the wrong places, and there was no way to adjust the machine enough to correct this issue.  This discrepancy in sizing meant that a stupid amount of torque was placed on joints, and it hurt.  Not in a “feel the burn” kind of way, either.  It was frustrating and discouraging.  I already felt super out of place in the gym.  This wasn’t helping.

Solution #3:  When something doesn’t work, don’t quit— fix it!

So when I met with the trainer for a follow up appointment a couple weeks later, I asked her to show me exercises that did not involve the machines, and this is when she lit up.  Want to know what she showed me?  KETTLEBELLS.  All caps.  Kettlebells rocked my world!  Finally, here was something that I could get into.  Kari Syme at Eclectic Kettlebell has a great post on why you should train with kettlebells.  Kettlebells immediately challenged me—but in a way that I could build up to.  I appreciated the functionality of the exercises, and the fact that it required me to use my whole body, not just isolated muscles.  Kettlebell training makes you stronger for the real world, for daily life.  And I saw my strength, balance, and flexibility grow quickly.

This new-found, first-in-a-lifetime excitement for exercise got me researching more types of functional exercises.  I found a few great sites that have become my go-to sources for all information regarding fitness.  Two of them are  Angry Trainer Fitness and FitStudio.  Alfonso Moretti, the Angry Trainer, tells it like it is.  He is a personal trainer and body builder and has made it his life’s work to know all the ins and outs of nutrition and fitness.  His site is loaded with interesting articles on all kinds of fitness topics, but my favorites are his how-to videos where he teaches proper form on common exercises and his exercise videos where he shows you exercises that will kick your butt and keep you from getting bored.  Srsly.  Find the “10 ways to do burpees” video and the one where he shows you how to do bird dogs.  Bird dogs changed my life.  Six months ago, I would have laughed if somebody said I would be typing that now.   I used FitStudio’s free video glossary of exercises to learn a bunch of new moves to try.  These clips are all about 30 seconds long, and are a great way to cross-reference exercises when you read other websites and have no idea what the trainer is talking about.  Hey, not everybody knows what a rear delt row is.  (raises hand)  

Two other websites that really helped me out were Bodyrock TV and Zuzana Light’s Youtube channel.   Now, a fair warning—both of these are very… boobcentric.  By which I mean, they really use “visuals” (wink, wink) to get people to watch.  It’s pretty off-putting, because on the surface it’s more about T & A than workouts.  However, if you have it in you to look past that, the workouts are good with lots of creative circuit sets.   I no longer have the time or energy to wade through the all that to get to the workouts, so I’ve stopped using both sites.   I think it’s unfortunate.   I learned a lot about bodyweight exercise by watching Lisa Marie on Bodyrock.  She is infectiously cheerful and encouraging—which just doesn’t fit with the rest of the image the website is using which is pretty bow-chicka-wocka-bow, if you know what I mean.  So in the end, I feel like I don’t know what they’re actually trying to be about.  But despite all that,  it was Bodyrock that got me into using bodyweight exercises, and for that I’m thankful.  I just wish I didn’t have to turn it off when the kids come in the room.  :/  Zuzana was the original host (and part-founder) of Bodyrock TV, but has since left to host her own Youtube channel called ZWOW.  She is awesome—friendly, engaging, and encouraging.  And her form kicks ass.  When she started ZWOW, I thought it was going to be something new and different, but it seems that she’s going to keep doing the whole Bodyrock type thing, too.   Whatevs.   You can still learn some fantastic exercises that require very little equipment.  And with both of these you have the advantage of getting new workouts daily for free and being able to pause and rewind them as many times as you need to.  Totally do-able.   The lesson here is to be able to take what you need and walk away from the rest.

So, armed with an arsenal of bodyweight and kettlebell exercises, I started working out 5 days a week.  Because of my schedule, I could only go after work—usually around 11pm.  I also started adding in some HIIT training.  High Intensity Interval Training is a method used typically with running that involves walking or jogging at an easy pace for a specified period of time, and then running balls out for that same period of time, all for maximum total time of 20-30 minutes.  HIIT training helps achieve conditioning much more effectively and in less time than longer, slower paced runs.  I started this method because I heard that it was particularly good at helping to build lung strength.  As an occasional asthmatic (chief triggers are cats and exercise), I really needed help in this department.  So, I started by walking for a minute and then running for a minute, for 20 minutes.  I did this 3 times a week.  Very quickly I was able to increase my speed until I jogged at 4mph and then ran at 7 mph for the intervals.   Dude, this was a major achievement.  Until this point, I was of the steadfast opinion that running is something you do to save your life.  It is not done voluntarily.  HIIT training taught me to love running.  Mostly.  And my lungs loved it, too.  I saw significant improvements in my tolerance and capacity.

Finally, as an experiment I also started monitoring my diet on Fitday, a free dietary system that helps you keep track of caloric and nutritional intake as well as weight goals.  It is highly customizable, and I found it incredibly helpful in educating me about my daily intake values and my portion sizes.  A real eye-opener.  I’m not going to lie, it’s a pain to keep track of every bite you eat—even with a computer program, but I approached it as an experiment.  I really wanted to see if my caloric intake was way off or not.  So I limited my calories to between 1300-1500 calories a day.  I ate foods that would get me to 100% or over of my daily RDA values for vitamins and minerals.  That was the hardest part.  But I really worked at this.

The results?  After 3 months, I was stronger, more flexible, and more comfortable in my body.  I was more knowledgeable about nutrient dense foods and how to eat in appropriate portions.  But after 3 months of working out 5 days a week and eating a restricted caloric intake, I’d only lost 10 pounds.  I was happy for that 10 pounds, but still, it pointed to something in the equation being off.

Not so much a hurdle as a brick wall:   When your body talks, listen or pay the price.

And then I hit a super stressful couple weeks in May.  Isn’t it crazy how a little bit of stress will derail you?  I ate all the wrong things for me:  wheat, dairy, sugar…  These foods have been on my verboten list for years.  It was stupid, and I paid the price.  I got really, really sick.  Like, my body threw in the towel.  So I said, that’s it.  No more playing around with my diet.  It was time to listen to my body.

Solution to brick walls:  Sometimes you’ve got to turn in a whole new direction.

I’ve known for a long time that a number of my health issues either start with or are exacerbated by food intolerances.  I’ve researched and experimented with this for years, with many frustrations and a few successes.  But it’s hard changing your diet, especially when you seem to have a bit of a threshold.  Well, my threshold went down the tube in May.  It was time to take things seriously and to do what my doctor advised several years ago.  So I went Paleo-ish.  I cut out all grains, dairy, legumes, and sugar.  Now I eat lean meats, healthy fats, tons of greens and veg, and a healthy amount of fruit, nuts, and seeds.  And I started feeling better.  I stopped counting calories, which is awesome, because as informative as that was, it was also unpleasant.  It’s not healthy to obsess over every bite you put in your mouth.  Now, I eat like a hoss—as much of these whole foods as it takes to satisfy my hunger.  It’s wonderful.  I feel good.

A little over a month later, in June, I met with the trainer again for a follow up, and here were the results:

Weight:  145 lbs     Shoulders:  41″     Chest:  36″     Waist:  30.5″     Hips:  41″     Arms”  10″     Thigh:  19.5″     BF%:  32

That’s 20 lbs down, and 10 of it after I went Paleo!  And a bunch of inches!

Then, I quit the gym.

Hurdle #4:  Timing.

Turns out that training late at night sucks for me.  It was jacking up my sleep and taking away family time that I wasn’t willing to part with any longer.  It would have been easy to quit at this point.  But I’d developed some self-discipline with all this working out.  Bonus!

Solution #4:  Location, location, location.

I started working out at home.  That’s right, in the comfort of my own living room!  Lol.  But it turns out that when you’re doing functional and bodyweight exercises, you don’t need a lot of room or equipment.  You just need a floor and your body.  That’s it.  No excuses.  I’ll prove it.  Here’s where I work out now:

The living room, aka my home gym. No contract, no membership fees.

All caught up to speed.

My measurements as of this morning:

Weight:  138 lbs     Shoulders:  40″     Chest:  36″     Waist:  30″     Hips:  39.5″     Thigh:  19″     Arms:  Hard to measure by yourself  BF%:  couldn’t measure

I think this is proof that the Paleo helping.  There have been challenges, which I’ll talk about specifically later, but overall I’ve seen major improvements over the last 2.5 months.  I’ll admit, over the last month or so, I slacked off in working out.  Which is to say, I didn’t work out.  This happens.  But I’m back on track, and now that I have the goal of paddling the MR340, I am more dedicated than ever to getting in shape. When the burpee squats are kicking my ass, and I want to quit, I look up and remember what I’m doing this for now:

Motivation.

For most of my life, I’ve been unhappy with my body, unhappy with my level of fitness.  But I always had excuses.  Not enough time, not enough money for a gym, not the right equipment, too stressed out, too fat to work out, exercise is boring… I justified my inactivity any way I could.  The thing is, that the only way to get fit is to do it.  One burpee at a time.  One sit-up at a time.  One jumping jack at a time.  Whatever you can do, DO IT!  That’s how you get in shape.  You start by walking, you end by running.  And your body will thank you with every step, with every heartbeat, with every breath.

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