Approaching Balance

balancing stones 2A friend of mine was recently diagnosed with Celiac disease and it got me thinking about where I am in my journey and how other people have found their way to gluten-free or Paleo. It also reminded me of something that my dad asked shortly after I started this blog…”When does the balancing come in?” When he asked about it, I think I was probably in the middle of a Whole30 which, admittedly, is not balancing. It’s eliminating and experimenting and learning. I found it helpful to get me started and I learned many things about myself and my eating habits which serve me today, but it certainly wasn’t about navigating the many different circumstances of life.

I questioned for a while how much to share on this blog about what it’s really like for me to try to live Paleo. Even though I fundamentally believe perfection is unattainable – and over-rated – a little part of me would still like to be perfect. If you’re looking for a Paleo blog, do you really want to know that the woman behind it drank too much, ate a ton of smoked almonds, and then collapsed before a couple of s’mores? Because that happened – and it was only a month ago. A few days after that, I ate some amazing sourdough bread and shared a towering slice of chocolate cake with my son. (Incidentally, that night I slept horribly and learned a lesson…). Both of those instances were while I was on vacation, sharing special moments with dear friends, and in retrospect, I don’t regret them. What I’ve been trying to figure out lately is why? Or maybe it’s how? How was I able to off-road so considerably while on vacation and then get right back to eating the way my body functions best? That’s generally not how it goes for me.

In fact, this sense of actual balance is new and I’ll readily admit to loving it. All my life I’ve considered balance to be some elusive, magical theory or maybe something that only truly enlightened people can attain, because quite honestly, I’m a bit of an all-or-nothing kind of girl. I’m either working towards a goal or totally not. But this time feels different. I am still working towards a goal, but I am far more relaxed about it than I typically would be. I’m focused on feeling healthy and strong and giving my body what it needs. This also seems to be what my mind needs. The two are so often interconnected that it’s no wonder some of my close friends can tell how I’m eating based on my mood and energy.

What’s the secret then? Nothing really fantastic or revelatory, I guess. I think the main thing that has brought me here is time and patience. I’ve been eating Paleo more or less for two years now. I initially began with a Whole30 in October 2012, realized that my mind and body were better when I ate that way, and then floated around with long stretches of eating Paleo or NOT eating Paleo. A lot of that had to do with holidays and trying to figure out how to stay Paleo when it was a little harder to do it, but bit by bit, my stretches of Paleo became longer and it simply became the way that I eat.

It wasn’t until this year, actually, when it occurred to me that I eat Paleo nearly all the time. And for the past several months, I’m pretty clean Paleo too (meaning very little alcohol, dairy, Paleo baked goods or treats). I’m just eating meat, veggies, fats, fruits, and nuts. Within that framework, I don’t feel limited or restricted at all. The food I eat is delicious and satisfying. I’ll happily make rice or lentils or toast or whatever my family needs to supplement their meal, but I just don’t eat it, and I can tell you, I don’t miss it. I believe that really has to do with time in this lifestyle. I’ll put just about anything on a salad or use any possible veggie as a wrap. Trust me – today I used a roasted chile pepper as a burger bun and it was awesome.

Change can take a while under any circumstances, and when you’ve grown up unhappy with your body, frustrated with your inability to control your eating habits, and uncertain that you are actually capable of becoming the person you see in your mind, well…then change is also scary and there’s a lot of one-step-forward, two-steps-back involved. At least there is for me. I feel lucky that I was actually given the gift of time. My friends who have autoimmune issues, Celiac disease, and actual intolerances might not have that luxury. For them, it’s critical to make the change immediately and I just want to say to them that it gets better. It gets easier.

I have some thoughts that I want to share in another post about how I make eating Paleo easier, especially when I don’t have time to spend in the kitchen. I also have some ideas about eating out or making things to take on the go. I’ll definitely share those, but for now I’ll stop here and feel grateful for the balance that I’ve attained.

I want to live my life with passion and love and pleasure. For me, that includes sharing good food, a glass of wine, and lively conversation with people that I care about. My goal is to do that in a way that allows me to stay true to what makes me feel good inside and out and if that includes a little ice cream from time to time, I consider that an indulgence worth having and I definitely want a few of those in my life. But I’ve also learned that indulging feels a lot better when it’s followed closely by health.

Glutton for Gluten

GremlinI wish I could say that I made it through Thanksgiving unscathed, but I didn’t. What I can say, however, is that I made it out the other side better off than in years past, and I’m pretty happy about that. Here’s how it went down…

We had company basically from the Friday before Thanksgiving until the Friday after Thanksgiving, except for one night in the middle. They were all wonderful visits with dear friends and much of the time slightly indulgent, but still paleo, foods were on the menu. There were a few cocktails, there was some cheese, and there were some treats made from good, whole ingredients. But somewhere along the way, or more precisely, the day after Thanksgiving, I gave in to my desire to have good old-fashioned-totally unhealthy-oh my gosh-what am I eating??-dessert for breakfast. There was gluten and sugar and a few crazy ingredients in it and my brain did backflips.

Unfortunately, I am not far enough removed from eating things like this and my brain grabbed hold and went a little crazy. The brain is an amazing thing and I believe the food industry has done a phenomenal job of creating things that tap into the reward center in our brains and compel them to do certain things. I’m not using this as a cop-out. I also believe that it is wholly my responsibility to make healthy choices for my mind and my body, regardless of scientific, societal, or other pressures. I’m a big girl, I can handle it, but for some people (and I believe I am one of those people), the call is very strong.

One of the cool things about this experiment is I got to see quite clearly what happens when I eat gluten and sugar. It’s not the worst – some people run immediately to the bathroom or suffer from extreme stomachaches or worse – but I did have some clear signs.

  • A slight but noticeable headache begins within minutes of consuming sugar. It happens with either straight sugar or high-sugar alcohol (like liqueur). I think I will also notice it with natural sugar like honey or maple syrup but didn’t test it.
  • When I eat gluten, as in a slice of bread or graham cracker crust, I immediately lose all recognition of satiety. This is the scariest of the psychological responses for me – I have NO idea that I am full. The desire for MORE is completely overwhelming. The drive to overeat becomes extremely persistent. I start looking through the fridge or pantry for things that are outside my normal, desirable eating patterns. I want snacks while I’m making the next meal. I simply can not wait.
  • The day after gluten, my eyes are puffy and I have deep, dark circles. I can’t say that I noticed the lack of circles when I was doing my Whole 30, but I plan to pay attention next time. What I can say is that when I woke up, I couldn’t find my eyes and that hadn’t been happening.
  • Even after returning to my healthy, energizing whole foods, I am hungry all the time for a day or two afterwards and have to use will power to break the cycle.

I am grateful for what I learned, but I’m also sad. Sad that despite knowing how fantastic I feel when I eat right, the pull to eat things that are not good for me continues to be so strong. Sad that I eat so many different delicious things every day but still feel compelled to revert to old habits.

Here’s the bottom line, though. Last year after my Whole 30 and a paleo Thanksgiving, I got completely derailed and spent months trying to get back on track. During that time, I kept wanting my old favorites – a cocktail, some cheese, baked goods and treats, any social event to use as an excuse to overeat. This year I had a few days that were less than perfect, but I am craving something different this time – I am honestly craving whole foods and bubbly water. I’ll take that!

Carrageenan: Get out of my food!

Carrageenan is an additive made from red seaweed and is found in many foods primarily to suspend/emulsify ingredients and to improve texture and mouth-feel. It has been used for many years in products like ice cream and other dairy (including infant formula), plant-based dairy substitutes (like soy, coconut, hemp, almond milk), toothpaste, and others. It is used in both conventional and organic products alike and it apparently has a molecular structure much like plastic – yum!

In the past few decades, there have been a large number of studies conducted on the use of carrageenan and its side-effects in animals. Guess what they found? Carrageenan is linked to gastro-intestinal inflammation and disease, including cancer (like colon cancer). In fact, scientists have been using carrageenan for years to specifically incite an acute inflammatory response in lab animals. I assume so they can test ways to fix it.

One of the things that a paleo diet helps to eradicate is chronic inflammation. Inflammation is the body’s natural response to a problem or injury and this is great. The bigger concern is when there is chronic (constant, low-level) inflammation in the body because this has been linked to a host of different diseases.

During my Whole 30, I avoided any products that had carrageenan because that was one of the rules (Melissa and Doug Hartwig, the authors of It Starts with Food, agree that carrageenan has too many high risk factors to be worth it, so it’s out). It got me looking at labels and eschewing almond and soy milk as possibilities in my coffee because, unless you make your own, it is difficult to find these products without carrageenan. I also noticed that there is something about the flavor that I don’t like. I think it makes my coffee taste muddy, but I attributed it to the nuts rather than the carrageenan. In fact, I now believe that it’s the carrageenan that I was tasting and I just happen to be extremely sensitive to it. I think it tastes a bit like petroleum. I have found the same off-putting flavor in products with guar gum (another plant-based emulsifier), like canned coconut milk, and sought out a brand that doesn’t have any of that in it. Now I’m wondering if its molecular structure is similar to plastic too and maybe I just don’t like eating plastic!

Anyway, this post comes about because you might remember that one of the very few things that I missed while doing my Whole 30 was cream in my coffee. I had started reintroducing dairy to see if I had any adverse reactions and didn’t see anything noticeable. We had company this weekend so I decided to get some cream and am trying to stick with dairy from grass-fed/pastured sources so that the fat content is full of nutrients that aren’t found, or at least not in the same quantity, in ordinary dairy. I got Organic Valley’s Pasture-raised Heavy Whipping Cream.

The first morning that I tried it, I thought it tasted weird but figured it was because I had actually grown to prefer my coffee black. I tried it a second time and even asked my friend if she thought it tasted weird. THEN I checked the package. I know…should have done this first, but it’s cream! Fat is what gives food excellent mouth-feel so it never occurred to me that there would be anything other than cream in it. Apparently I’m a slow learner when it comes to what the food industry deems a good idea. There is carrageenan in my cream.

Cream with carrageenan 2013

Ironically, there was a quick blurb in the December issue of a magazine I subscribe to that mentioned the concerns of carrageenan and what Dr. Joanne Tobacman, a physician-scientist at the University of Illinois College of Medicine and the leading expert after 20 years of studying it, had to say.

The report is covered here and it’s eye-opening and distressing.

Some companies have voluntarily begun removing carrageenan from their foods, thank goodness, but many others are putting up a fight. You see, without carrageenan, you might have to shake something, like your chocolate milk, before drinking it. Seriously? At least I’d know what I’m shaking!

What it boils down to is this: We all have to make choices about the food and drink that we consume based on the information we have available. I sure wish I could rely on the FDA to provide that information and guidance because I already know that I can’t rely on the food industry, which has goals very different from mine. So read your labels before you consume and make the best choice you can…for your health!

A few things that I found interesting:

An abstract from the National Institute of Health / Articles like this one, this one, and this one

Note: I am not a doctor or a scientist. I’m just a mom trying to figure out the best way for my family and me to be healthy.

What I learned from my Whole 30

DoneThis is actually the 2nd Whole 30 I have finished (and third attempt) and I think I learned more from this one than any other. Part of the reason is because I blogged about it every day. Of course you don’t have to put it on the Internet, but a lot can happen over the course of 30 days and writing it down is critical to the analysis afterwards. I plan to do another Whole 30 next year because I believe that each time is a little different, providing new insights, but for now…here are a few of my take-aways.

1) Steady energy Before I began the Whole 30, I was finding myself tired in the afternoon. That is no longer the case. I am energized all day long.

2) Sleep Daytime energy was great and at night, I would completely crash. For the most part, I slept deeply, rarely waking up in the night at all. I discovered that I do just fine with 7-7.5 hours of sleep, often waking up in the morning without an alarm clock. I would like to sleep another hour, but my body seems happy like this.

3) Mood I naturally have a pretty steady mood, but even that was improved during the Whole 30. That’s not to say I was suddenly all bubbles and cheer every day; it was actually just a more steady feeling. It seemed like nothing much could derail me, and there were a few things that tried. Even when my hormones shifted, I felt almost like I was watching it happen and I was able to adjust and accommodate the change.

4) No more congestion For most of my life, I have carried nasal spray with me. Okay…I still carry it because I can’t stand the feeling of a stuffy nose, but after about Day 15, I no longer needed it. I remember having this same realization when I did my first Whole 30 last year. I am not sure what I’m allergic to, but I might find that out with a more deliberate reintroduction process. Whatever it is that stuffs up my nose, it’s not paleo.

5) Digestive break If for no other reason, I think it was good for my body not to have all the carbs coursing through it. I know that my belief regarding grains and legumes differs from much of society’s views, but in any case, my body loved not having to digest all those things. I can’t see inside me so I don’t know if I have what is called leaky gut or not, which can lead to inflammation throughout the body, but I do know that I gave my body 30 days to do some healing and I am glad of that.

6) Increased body image This is perhaps one of the most surprising and lovely outcomes I got from the Whole 30. I still have some weight that I would like to lose and I would like to be generally leaner. However, during my Whole 30 I felt my attitude towards my body change. Yes, I lost a few pounds and that helps, but it was definitely more than that. I’m not in a new pants size or anything, but I feel so much better about my body. It is strong, it’s working hard to be healthy, and I developed a new respect for it for those very qualities. Not because the scale showed a different number. In fact, I never once got on the scale during the whole month. I think my body image improved as I continued to treat myself better, giving it the right fuel and energy and not judging it for being more hungry or less hungry. Eating this way felt like an act of self-care and my mental state improved because of that.

7) I eat a lot And that’s okay. I tried to listen to my body and understand what its needs were. Some days I was hungrier than others and I let that be okay. I am guessing that if I continue to feed my body what it needs, over time it will adjust to its very own healthiest place. I am looking forward to that.

8) New recipes It’s important to avoid boredom when doing a Whole 30 so I got a new cookbook, experimented with my own recipes, tried new things (sardines!), and all of that factors in to my success. I need to remember that if I feel like I’m in a rut, it’s probably because I am! Experimentation makes it fun again.

9) Confidence I feel a sense of accomplishment after this. I know I’ve done it before and I knew I could do it again. What I haven’t ever done, though, is put it all out there on the Internet for you to see and sometimes that was a little hard. But even overcoming that added to my confidence and many of your comments reminded me that so many of us deal with these issues. When I drank bubbly water instead of a cocktail, when I recognized that I was eating too many nuts and dates, when I had days where I felt hungry…handling each of these scenarios gave me a little boost, reminding me that whatever happens in the days, weeks, months after my Whole 30, I can handle it. I also feel confident that I can always put my health first, even when it seems hard.

Thank you all for sharing these past 30 days with me. Having you out there cheering me on meant the world to me!

Whole 30 Results

doing whole 30 image12

I’m doing a Whole 30 for a couple of reasons: 1) I want to feel great from the inside out, 2) Putting some stricter guidelines around my food choices keeps me from getting distracted by things that might otherwise tempt me, and 3) Sometimes it takes a while to reap the benefits of a change and having a timeline provides the structure and encouragement I need when I begin to feel impatient.

I plan to share what I eat each day to help me accurately judge what my body needs and to, hopefully, provide a little inspiration or planning assistance if you’re trying to figure out your day as well. If you have questions about anything, please leave me a comment.

Everyone is different, so I hope you don’t judge me too harshly by what I eat. And maybe you’ll see something that resonates with you and, in that case, excellent! If not, I’ll be posting different recipes on the blog too, so don’t despair!

Here’s to the journey!

***************************************************************************************************************

Here’s what happened on the outside during my Whole 30 –

Weight lost: 7.2 lbs.

Inches lost: Chest 1 3/4, Waist 1 1/2, Abs 1/2, Hips 1, R arm 1/4, R thigh 3/4

Total inches (doubling arm and thigh): 6 3/4

I am really pleased with the physical results! I would like to continue losing weight and getting lean and I am honestly amazed at my weight loss, particularly knowing that there were times when I overate (remember the dates and walnuts?) and that I ate when I was hungry and had really satisfying meals. To lose nearly 2 lbs. a week without going hungry or feeling deprived is great!

I know that there will be considerably more challenges during the holiday season that will slow down that process, but that is a part of life. More importantly, I want to continue putting healthy food in my body and enjoying the results from that. I am working on asking myself this question: Does eating or drinking this make me more healthy or less healthy? If the answer is less healthy, then why am I eating/drinking it? I think that’s a really important question for me as I go forward.

I didn’t take pictures this time around. If I do another Whole 30 next year, then perhaps I will. It was enough for me to share all of the details of my food this past month and many people noticed and commented on the physical changes they saw. (Thank you for that!)

Physical results are just one part of the equation. According to the Whole 9 website (which is the origin of the Whole 30), these 9 factors are all critical: Nutrition, Sleep, Healthy movement, Fun and play, Stress management, Socialization, Natural environment, Personal growth, and Temperance.

I am pretty excited about how I tackled each one of those. I logged all the healthy food, slept (mostly) well, did all kinds of different movement, did yoga, created a blog! and spent time with  friends without alcohol, went hiking with a friend, and spent a considerable amount of time exploring why I do/choose things. It was 30 days well spent, in my opinion!

Tomorrow I will share the details of the myriad other things I learned on this journey. I am so excited for what comes next!

Blissful Boundaries

NewPath

I’m a bit of a rule follower. I like structure and boundaries and knowing what’s expected. This doesn’t mean that I never deviate from the path laid out before me, though. If that were the case, I never would have bucked the conventional wisdom of eating more whole grains and less meat in order to explore a paleo eating philosophy. But it does mean that I love it when I know what I can and can’t eat. It makes me feel comfortable and in control.

The Whole 30 was made for people like me. I am an expert at following the rules for specific eating regimens. In fact, I have been successful with Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, Diet Center, the Standard American Diet (SAD) in its healthiest whole-grain/light protein manifestation, low-fat, low-carb…you name it, I’ve probably considered it at some point. You see, I’ve always loved food and I have spent decades searching for a way to eat that satisfied both my appreciation for food and good flavors and my understanding of how my body works and what my body needs.

Let me pause for a moment first to reiterate that paleo works for ME. I think it can also work wonders for others, hence sharing these things on my blog, but I am not in any way a judge of what others choose to eat. At all.

The reason the Whole 30 works so well for me is that it gives me the rules that I need to follow in order to be successful. My definition of success has several different elements to it. Yes, I would like to lose a few pounds and be a little leaner, but I am more interested in a long-term ability to feel thrilled and overjoyed in every eating situation. I have spent too many years worrying if this or that would make me gain weight or slow my weight loss. What I’m okay worrying about, though, is whether or not something makes me healthier inside and out. Physically AND psychologically. The Whole 30 gives me a brief respite from needing to assess if something makes me more or less healthy, if something will trigger a binge or not, even if something is too much or not.

During the Whole 30, I don’t step on the scale – (one of the rules) – so I don’t know whether some meal made me gain weight or not. When I’m journaling what I’m eating, sometimes it looks like too much (and a little part of me wonders if someone is judging that) but what I’m listening for is the signal from my body telling me if I’ve had enough or if I’m still hungry. That part of me has been damaged over the years and its voice is not very loud. What this process allows me to do is to go ahead and have some nuts or a spoonful of coconut butter or another piece of meat and to relax about it, knowing that the food is good for me and at some point I will find my balance.

This part is easy. When it becomes more difficult is when my Whole 30 comes to an end. At that point, I need to make these decisions independently, one by one, and they aren’t always easy. My plan is to stay fairly close to the Whole 30 guidelines, but my previous experience is that as I loosen things up, stray outside the boundaries, I move farther and farther away from them. But I’d rather not because I feel so much better without grains, processed food, sugar, even dairy. The trick is remembering that when social situations or cravings or long-standing habits get in the way.

In a few more days, I’ll be working hard to look at each situation and determine if my choice makes me healthier and, if it doesn’t, is it worth it? Do any of you struggle with this too?