the proof is in the pain

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It’s been a solid three months since I began my paleo journey and like all things, I worry that I’m making it out to be more than it is – that I’m imagining or maybe just exaggerating how good I’ve been feeling.

After the past week, I can say – conclusively – that what the paleo diet has done for me isn’t exaggerated.

And it’s most definitely not imagined.

I haven’t fallen off the paleo wagon too far – I’ve managed to stay away from gluten and, in all honesty, I’ve eaten far less sweets than I normally would have during a holiday season.

But…

I have eaten some sweets.

I’ve eaten some dairy.

I ate a whole lot of gluten-free bread from a new bakery near my mother-in-law’s over several days.

And I’ve paid.

Oh, how I’ve paid.

Painful stomach bloating, nausea, stabbing pains, even a return of the gastritis symptoms I felt in September when I started getting serious about paleo. I haven’t slept well, I’ve had no energy at all and I just feel like there’s a gloomy cloud hanging over me.

I’m annoyed with myself for putting my body through this, but at the same time…I’m sort of relieved.

Now I know – how deeply certain foods can wound me.

I know – how little it takes and how quickly it happens.

I know – that Whole30 isn’t just a challenge for me, but the way I need to eat every single day at every single meal. In fact, I’m considering it WholeLife from now on.

Validation, even when it’s painful, can be empowering.

And I’m ready to move on with some hard lessons learned and earned.

paleo Jesus

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I’ve been pondering this topic since I first started seriously researching paleo/primal/ancestral diets. Really, it probably isn’t that important in the grander scheme of things…it’s just one of those things I get obsessed with a bit…something I’ve been thinking and praying about.

Is a diet based on evolution something that I, as a follower of Jesus, am comfortable with?

Obviously, based on the past few months of blog posts about paleo and my recent Whole30 experience, I am.

In case you’re having some of the same wonderings, here are some of the thoughts that settled my mind…and I apologize if it’s a rambly, crazy mess…

I made the decision long ago not to let my personal faith get lost in the debate between evolution, creationism and every possibility in between. Whether God created it all in 6 days and rested on the 7th as Genesis tells us or it all started with a big bang, it doesn’t make a difference to me.

Sacrilege?

No, I don’t think so.

My focus is on the fact that God created.

A loving, all knowing, all powerful God created me, and He created this amazing world from nothing (Genesis 1:2).

He did it so He can be in fellowship with me, and He created me in His image (Genesis 1:27).

And He declared His creation to be very good (Genesis 1:31).

I have no desire to worry about that other stuff, and I refuse to allow that argument to create a barrier in my relationship with my Savior or to be a stumbling block between myself and those around me.

I also believe that while we are all given different gifts and callings, as followers of Jesus we are all commanded to be good stewards of all that God has given to us. To be a steward is to protect and manage the belongings of another – and I believe that this body (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) and mind (2 Corinthians 10:4-5) figure into that immensely.

I’m positive that the best way for me to care for this body is by eating a paleo diet. It’s how my body runs the best, and it’s how my mind works at it’s best. After living with daily headaches for most of my life and chronic joint pain and a fibromyalgia diagnosis that came with nearly every fibro symptom possible for two years, I’m convinced there is nothing pleasing to God about what we are doing to our bodies with food.

I will confess, though - I think we individually need to seek out the best diet for us and that maybe a paleo or primal diet isn’t that for every single person, but I also don’t believe that anyone’s best diet is the Standard American Diet of fast food and processed food-like items.

I’ve come to believe strongly that our bodies simply aren’t designed (or haven’t evolved, depending on your point of view) to eat the diet that most of us eat today. Highly refined and processed foods, massive amounts of grains, oils from things that have to be highly stabilized – it’s not what we were meant to eat.

For me, eating a diet that allows me to feel my best has become a way of honoring God, His creation and the works He is doing in me. And for me, that’s a paleo diet.

an imperfect Whole30: at the end

It’s hard to believe this 30 days is over.

There were a few days scattered throughout that were tough, but really?

It flew.

And at the end of these 30 days of strict paleo eating?

I lost 9.4 pounds and 6.75 inches, bringing my total loss from my highest weight (after I got sick and gained 70 pounds in 4 months) to 61 pounds.

Side note: how well does a paleo diet work for weightloss? It took me almost 2 years to lose the first 30, and 8 months of very strict calorie counting and hard working out to lose the next 15. In the past 10 weeks of eating paleo, I’ve lost another 15…with no calorie counting, no obsessively writing food down and very little exercise.

It works.

It wasn’t a perfect Whole30 – there were a few very minor bobbles, nothing major – and I chose to push through for one reason:

I’m seeking good and not perfect.
Perfect leads me to dark places, frustration and giving up.
Good is something I can sustain and build on.

The best parts?

I stayed away from the scale and the tape measure for the entire 30 days.

I remained dairy free the entire 30 days, something I’ve never been able to do for more than a week.

No refined sugar and almost no unrefined sugar. My one sugar failure was during a sinus infection last weekend, when all I wanted was hot cocoa. I made do with coconut milk, a really good cocoa powder, a drop of vanilla and another drop of pure maple syrup. It was so rich, I drank about a third of a cup and was good.

In all honesty, I should have started over…but again, my goal wasn’t perfection and I chose to focus on the good.

I’ll shoot for perfection when I do it again in January.

Most of all – and this really is the biggest success for me – I feel awesome. Even after fighting a nasty sinus infection for a few days, I feel great. My energy levels have been consistently high. Other than the hot cocoa, I’ve had no food cravings…or mood swings…or crazy hunger pains.

My relationship with food has been completely changed through 10 weeks of paleo and even more so after 30 days of Whole30 – it’s just food. And the scale addiction I’ve fought for so long – often weighing myself 2 or 3 times a day is done. I weighed last Wednesday at the end and haven’t stepped on the scale again since.

And I need to point out, again and again – not once did I feel deprived. Never. Eating out was the most difficult, but even then I was always able to make Whole 30 appropriate choices, regardless of the restaurant we were at by asking lots of questions and…well…my orders were just weird sometimes. I got over my insecurities and made the requests I needed to take the best care of myself.

I am going to give myself a little slack for the next few weeks – I’m going to add in a little bit of dark chocolate and a few baked goods…once in a while…as a special treat, which is what they should be for all of us.

Other than that, I don’t really see any other changes I’ll be making.

This feels too good to muck it up.

links: paleo love

I ended up taking an unexpected week off (excuse: raging sinus infection + 30 people for Thanksgiving = CRAZY!), but I have been keeping up with my reading. Here are a few of my favorite paleo reads from this week:

  • Painted into a corner, Jason Seib on everydaypaleo.com – yes, yes and yes.
    Despite my bias, it seems like common sense to me to give up Starbucks, drive a cheap used car with good gas mileage, live in a cheaper home, stop getting your nails done, and/or buy non-designer clothes in order to feel great, look amazing, and live a long, disease free life.
    You need to read this.
    Twice.
    And then remember – you are worth making your health and wellness a priority.
  • I’m grateful for the hindquarters, by Cavegirleats – love her, love her writing and I’m learning to love my body. This helps.
  • Paleo lifestyle as a gift to our families, by Primal Kitchen – amen. The greatest gift we can give our children is a healthy start.
  • Forever changed, on Mark’s Daily Apple – dude. I love a success story and this one is phenomenal. Awesome.
  • The perfect paleo biscuit, by Simply Living Healthy – it’s rare that I get cravings for something breadish, but I’m trying these next time.
  • Half my weight, on Robb Wolf – another testimonial. Preach it, brother!
  • How to make really good gluten-free stuffing, from Ginger Lemon Girl – I had every intention of making a paleo friendly bread for my stuffing this year, but the whole sinus infection thing really messed with my plans. Thanks to Carrie, I pulled a loaf of kind of yucky brown rice bread I’ve been hiding in the freezer out, cubed and toasted it in the oven and made the best stuffing I’ve had in years. Was is paleo? No. But it was gluten-free, I made sure there was more other stuff than the bread and it helped me to not feel like I was missing out. I’m good with it.
  • Holiday Gift Guide, also on Robb Wolf – I’d say any of these would make a great holiday gift for any kitchen, but I really want a julienne peeler.

Enjoy the rest of your holiday weekend! I’ll be back Monday with regular posts, including a review of my first Whole30.

five for friday: leftover lunches

Early on in my paleo journey, I figured out that leftovers were the key to easy lunches. It generally doesn’t take me any longer to cook a couple extra chicken breasts, burgers or pork chops.  Even if it’s a larger roast, I usually throw it in the crockpot and it’s even easier.

Today’s five for friday?

Five of my favorite paleo leftover lunches…

Leftover shredded beef (or even a pot roast) becomes a DIY Chipotle bowl on a bed of lettuce. Topped with diced tomato, avocado and a lot of my favorite paleo-friendly hot sauce, I don’t mind so much that it’s an hour to my nearest fix.

Leftover chicken breast, chopped up with a little onion, celery, grapes and some seasoning makes a great chicken salad. I mixed this one up with a tiny bit of olive oil mayonnaise. Perfect in a lettuce wrap or on top of an avocado.

Yes, I really like avocado.

Leftover any-sort-of-meat, sauteed quickly with chili powder, cumin, onions and bell peppers make a quick fajita lettuce wrap.

Especially good topped with more avocado.

And a side note: any leftover meat in a lettuce wrap is an easy-as-can-be lunch.

Good grief, do I really eat that much avocado?

Leftover grass fed hamburgers from one night, leftover onions and mushrooms with a bonus salad from another.

It always pays to cook extra.

Look – no avocado!

Easy peasy, one pan – slice up a leftover apple chicken sausage and reheat in the frying pan. Remove from the pan and scramble a couple of eggs. Remove from the pan and reheat leftover mushrooms.

What’s your favorite way to use leftovers?

And in case you’re wondering…I usually go through 3 or 4 avocados a week on my own. I get lots of compliments on how shiny my hair is.

Mashed Butternut Squash: Obsession

I’m a bit embarassed to admit how often I’ve been eating this mashed butternut squash.

Let’s just say I’m a little worried I might actually turn orange…and it rhymes with schmaily…and might be a little more often than I actually should.

It’s the perfect accompaniment to scrambled eggs, and I can make a big batch since it freezes and reheats so well. Like the Firecracker Chicken I posted earlier this week, it’s not so much a recipe as a technique – and you can adjust the seasonings to your heat preference. Butternut squash is my personal favorite, but I’ve also made it with acorn and kombucha and they’re all good.

It’s also a great side dish – maybe even for Thanksgiving next week.

Mashed Butternut Squash
Makes: about 5 breakfast servings, give or take

1 butternut squash
1 T. olive oil
2 T. Tropical Traditions Coconut Cream (if you don’t have coconut cream, you can replace with coconut oil…but it isn’t as good)
1 t. cinnamon
dash of cayenne pepper
1/4 c. coconut milk
salt and pepper to taste

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  • Split squash in half, remove seeds and rub the cut areas with olive oil.
  • Place squash face down on a baking sheet and place in the oven for 45-60 minutes.
    People much smarter than I recommend doing this with a quarter inch of water. Every time I’ve attempted that I’ve managed to spill the water…so this is my way of doing it. I also like that it gives a little caramelization to the squash. Either way would work.
  • When squash is fork tender, remove from the oven and allow to cool until it’s easy to handle.
    Or go right on to the next step if you can handle the heat.
  • Once squash is cooled a bit, use a spoon to remove the squash from the skin to a bowl.
  • Add the rest of the ingredients except the coconut milk and mash with a hand masher or an immersion blender.
    Sometimes I add a little nutmeg too. If I can ever find my garam masala, I intend to try it too.
  • Add the coconut milk a bit at a time to reach the consistency you desire.
  • Lasts for several days in the refrigerator or can be frozen to eat later.

The Grocery Cart Challenge’s Recipe Swap

paleo and me

I’ve had a great big bump in blog views lately thanks to my review of Make It Paleo and the amazing authors sharing it on Facebook, and it’s really made me want to share more of my story…and a few photos.

Deep breath…here goes…

I’ve struggled with my weight and my relationship with food for as long as I can remember. I’ve battled between binge eating and obsessive dieting, sometimes falling into unhealthy workout and harmful purging habits. In high school, I discovered fat-free and Snackwell’s and ate pasta every day. In college and my early years as a wife and mother, I gained and lost the same 40 or 50 pounds on a fairly regular basis.

I thought I had finally found a place of health a few years ago after losing 70 pounds on Weight Watchers, but even that was a struggle. I constantly fought cravings and it was nearly impossible for me to maintain my weightloss.

Seven months after I stopped Weight Watchers, I came home from a women’s retreat and became ill. What started as a low fever and body aches quickly developed into frozen and swollen joints, and complete mental fuzziness and confusion within a week. By the end of that month, I had more or less every symptom you could list for fibromyalgia…even though my doctor continued to be certain that it was all in my head. I gained 40 pounds in less than 2 months, with another 30 piling on within the next three.

What followed was 18 months of confusion. I didn’t really respond to fibromyalgia medications and was having horrible side effects to the anti-depressants my doctor was convinced I needed…probably because I didn’t. I’ve lived with depression on an off since middle school – this wasn’t it. My gynecologist thought I had classic symptoms of insulin resistance, tested me for it, and told me to pull all refined flour and sugar from my diet. I ate very little flour and almost no sugar for a month, lost 10 pounds, felt a little better, and then went back to my normal diet when the blood tests said insulin resistance wasn’t my problem.

This went on and on until August 2010. Pain, confusion, stress, anxiety, more pain, more stress, and so much frustration because I felt like my body was betraying me. My normal diet has always been fairly clean, full of lots of fruits and vegetables and lean meats. With the added stress of a new school year and one child having a particularly difficult time adapting, I found myself moving far away from that normal diet to lots of fast food and junk food and feeling worse than ever before.

I noticed, though, for the first time how truly horrible I felt after each meal – especially when they were wheat heavy, like a dinner at Bucca di Beppo that left me feeling like I was in a coma…underwater…and incapable of putting together a coherent sentence - and started to wonder…

maybe gluten was the problem.

I’d felt so much better that month I stayed away from refined sugar and flour. I did a few internet searches and decided to go for it.  Within a few days, the mental fog started to clear. Before the first month ended, the joint pain was gone. At two months, it was beyond obvious that gluten had been my problem all along. Now that I’m over a year gluten-free, I have no fibromyalgia symptoms at all. I lost about 25 of those pesky pounds I gained in the first year, and another 25 over the last eight months. The mild depression that I’ve battled since middle school went away.

I started studying paleo three or four months ago, after a failed attempt at vegetarianism. I’d noticed during that time that I was relying more and more on grains and legumes, and some stomach issues I hadn’t dealt with for a while flared back up. I was fighting for energy levels – even while making certain to get lots of animal free protein. And I just didn’t feel good.

I’ve been reading about nutrition for quite a few years now – spending a little time dabbling in Weston Price stuff, learning about things like micronutrients – and knew that what my body wanted was a whole foods based diet that was also non-imflammatory. The more I studied, the more I became convinced that paleo was something I needed to commit to.

It didn’t take long to figure out that paleo was the answer I’ve been looking for all along. My weight, which had plateaued for the last six months regardless of what I ate or how much I exercised, started dropping again. The stomach issues are a thing of the past. Sugar cravings are gone.

Food is simply that – food. Fuel for my body. It’s not something I obsess about, it’s not something I feel guilt or anxiety over. It’s just food.

Even more than that, I feel good. When I look at that picture from December two years ago, all I can see is how unhealthy I was. Not just over-weight, but chronically ill. My skin looks gray, my face swollen, even my posture is bad.

Now, I feel amazing – I have energy to run through my day, I sleep like a rock for 8 hours straight, my skin glows. I’m finally enjoying the health and wellness I lost and have fought so hard to get back. I can be active with my kids and keep up with my two-year old nephew every day.

I still have further to go. I’d like to lose some more weight, but as Stacy shared last week on Paleo Parents my goal has evolved. I want to be at a comfortable weight – something I don’t have to fight day in and out to maintain. I’d like to go down about one or two more pant sizes, but realize that I have good German birthing hips and I’ll never be a size 7. With cooler weather and shorter days, I’m struggling to get exercise in regularly and I know that will help me firm up even further.

I’m worth it. I’m worth taking a few extra minutes to plan meals…to cook extra chicken for lunch the next day…to order crazy requests at restaurants…to reprioritize my budget when needed to feed my family food that nourishes them in the best possible ways.

Are you?

More of my paleo posts.