When I posted about going grain free this week and also eschewing some other foods, I got many comments and emails asking what in the Sam Hill I WOULD be eating. I understand the confusion. As a nourished vegetarian most of my protein came from eggs, dairy, grains, legumes, beans, lentils, nuts and nut butters, greens, and protein supplements. This year I have decided to go grain free and pseudo grain free. This means everything from whole wheat and oats, to rice and Quinoa, is on the chopping block. I am also giving up potatoes, legumes, beans, and lentils. I am restricting dairy to just a small bit of cheese and/or Greek yogurt each day as well.
The comments I got in regards to this were a mixture of confusion (what is left to eat?!) and frustration. It is indeed very frustrating to hear that the foods that have been paraded around in front of you as healthy for all your life, actually aren’t so healthy for you after all. Everyone thinks they have the “right” answer as well. The Weston A. Price folks cling to their lard, tallow, and liver like a security blanket, while the vegetarians and vegans sing the praises of their grains and soy. Raw foodies have wisely ditched the grains but go a bit overboard with nuts and carbs. I have followed all of these diets in the past. None of them seemed to cure everything that ailed me though and recently that has really started to bother me. I truly believe that food should be our medicine and instead of accepting certain nagging health issues as part of life I decided I wanted to get to the bottom of mine. I never imagined that I would want to go paleo or primal and in fact last year I would have said you were out of your cottin pickin mind if you told me I ever would. Those folks are fanatical about meat! And they don’t like dairy, like my beloved yogurt!
So what changed my mind? Actually it was by listening to my own body and analyzing all of my food intake in depth. Thanks to my obsession with SparkPeople.com I have tracked every bit of food that has entered my mouth for over a year. I saw exactly how many grams of carbs, fat, and protein I was consuming as well as all the major vitamins and minerals. It is conventional wisdom that guides Sparkpeople so it is naturally aimed me for a high carb, low fat, moderate protein diet as the goal. Even if I knew that fats were not bad as we have been programmed to believe it still bothered me to get a warning at the end of the day if I went over what they considered healthy. It was almost impossible to eat too many carbs though, which seemed wrong to me. I also had trouble meeting the minimum protein requirements many days.
After I got into weight training I realized my protein load was lacking and my carb load was causing me to feel hungry all day. I was frankly sick and tired of feeling ravenous only an hour or two after a big meal. It got to where I was making dinner for myself later and later because I hoped I would be in bed and asleep before the inevitable after-dinner hunger pangs struck. I knew something was off… my blood sugar and insulin levels. I need protein to keep making gains at the gym. I need less carbs so that I won’t be hungry all the time and be causing my blood sugar to spike all day long. I need more fats in the diet for the same reason… fats are what make you feel satiated and full. My analysis leads me to think I would be better served by a high fat, moderate protein, low carb diet.
If I want low carb then I need to stick to fruits and veggies as my source of carbs and drop any processed carbs that cause blood sugar spikes like grains, rice, potatoes, beans, and the like. After reading books like Wheat Belly I learned of another bazillion reasons to ditch them as well, especially grains like wheat. Going raw again was my first thought but I didn’t want to go crazy with nuts just to get my protein and fat levels higher. They are really hard on the digestive system. I am not a fan of avocados the way most raw foodies are either and coconut products are good but not in massive quantities. Plus raw foodies typically eat metric tons of fruit and dehydrated fruit… ala constant blood sugar spikes yet again. Ironically I had just read a blog post by a raw foodie talking about how many raw food dessert bars they ate in one day, uncontrollably. That sealed it. Lots of dehydrated fruit is no good either because the concentrated sugars will cause you to be ravenous just a short time later as your blood sugar drops. I needed to get off that roller coaster, not find a different version of the same ride.
At the same time I also wanted to address nagging health issues. My thyroid problem was not going away and I am still forced to take meds, something I detest. The hair loss in women is a deal breaker for many, me included. I am also suffering from sleep issues, seasonal depression, some annoying aches and pains, bloating, dry skin, and I broke out like a teenager during a couple of my last menstrual cycles. Yeah, something was way off. It isn’t something I started eating, like the soy-thyroid fiasco, because my diet has been constant, it is most likely something I wasn’t eating.
My research kept leading me back to the paleo or primal diet which is high fat, moderate protein, and low carb (no bad carbs). So why not? Well there is that whole vegetarian thing but I never gave up meat because I thought it was unhealthy to eat. It was out of concern for body acidity and environmental impact that I gave up on meat. I will keep things alkaline by going grain free and the eco issues are solved by buying local, pastured, ethically treated meat and not supporting factory farming. I always said I would go back to eating meat the moment we could raise our own on a small family farm but I guess I can’t wait that long. Of course I will have to put my own spin on the paleo diet and keep most of the fruits and veggies raw, drink my green smoothies, and not forgo dairy entirely. Another big factor is that the rest of my family eats meat and cooking/making different meals has got to stop. It will be such a huge stress reliever to make one meal that all of us eat!
This blog is not vegetarian centric in any way but I know that early this year when I posted a picture of a fish my son caught, some readers acted as though they wanted to come through their computer screens and claw my eyes out. I know some may be disappointed or angry to read I am going back to eating meat but I think I have explained some very solid reasons for doing so. It’s worth a try in my opinion.
I started this diet just before Christmas so it is hard to say with certainty how it is going but I am encouraged thus far that I am on the right track. I am already noticing that I am not experiencing bloating anymore, and I am not hungry between meals. Not hungry AT ALL. In fact I am having trouble getting in all the calories I should be consuming because my body already seems to be using fat stores for energy rather than sending messages to my brain that glucose fuel is needed and I need to eat carbs. I have also been sleeping better already, waking up slightly less in the night. No miracles to proclaim but there is improvement. I look forward to seeing what 2012 brings my way.
Right now I am reading lots about paleo/primal diets. It is based upon meats, seafood, nuts, healthy oils, greens, veggies, and fruit. We all know that previous generations were healthier than our own but rather than eating like my grandmother or my great-grandmother did, I am going back a bit further. The science is there and it is fascinating to read about the way we ate for thousands of years, primal health, and even ways we can exercise that can help us achieve the lean but immensely strong bodies of our ancestors. After reading The Primal Blueprint I was ready to kiss Mark Sisson, whose blog I used to eyeball occasionally but never read in depth, until now. He advises against chronic cardio and shows why that is actually not good for us to run marathons and do extensive cardio as so many do these days. I felt like a lazy slug because I had no desire to run long distances. I am totally content with running a mile or two max (and not every day) and yet all the cool kids seem to be doing marathons and half marathons. Now I am completely content to stick with my mild cardio workouts and weights.
Other Books I am Loving:
Everyday Paleo (pictured above)
Hope I have answered the “What Will You Eat” question. I wanted to find a happy balance… WAPF with less grains and dairy, raw with more protein and diverse fats, and less sugar/carbs. I think that paleo /primal is a happy middle ground. Is it the “right” way? The jury is still out.