Paleo: It’s about Health, Not a Number!

beauty_and_worthI haven’t done any extensive surveys on the matter, but I have noticed that a lot of Paleo-oriented websites and blogs mention the amazing potential for weight loss as one of the many benefits of following a Paleo diet. So, okay, that’s something, but I’m here to let you all know that that is not why I transformed my way of eating. You will not see any “Before and After” photos on this site, because goddammit, I look amazing already, and as long as I am healthy and happy, I will continue to look amazing. To me, eating Paleo is not about my weight, it’s about bringing my body towards optimal health, wellness, and balance.

As I mentioned in my post “Changes,” one of the main reasons that I decided to change my diet was because I had become aware of the way my relationship to sugar was addictive in nature, and this awareness had begun to bother me. My energy was up and down through the day, and then I had trouble sleeping well at night. All too many of my thoughts were basically fantasies about sugary, wheat-laden foods that I wanted to eat. I would tell myself in the morning that “Today, I will eat simply, I will eat in a way that nourishes my body,” I would even make plans to cook something at home for dinner, and instead later that same day take the walk-of-shame to the pizza shop on the corner yet another time. Or, if not pizza, I would eat yet another of the cupcakes that I make every day at work, or just one cookie (okay, maybe one more), or just a few bites from a bag of candy… Okay, maybe just a few more… Just one more…

And the effects of this that I was most aware of were not on my weight, but on a certain heaviness of my energy and heart.

No, this would not happen at every meal: on average, I had a pretty darn good diet. It certainly doesn’t hurt that I work at a place where I am surrounded by organic produce, ethically-raised meat and fish, farm fresh eggs, etc., nor does it hurt that these are the foods I was raised on and taught from an early age to value (thanks, mom and dad!), nor does it hurt that I love cooking my own food. But still: I was aware of a way that I could bring my body towards even greater thriving, and I decided to dive in.

I have this crazy idea that when we honor our bodies, hearts, minds, and spirits, a natural equilibrium is reached that brings us towards flourishing health, and that what it means to flourish often looks differently on different people… and that uniqueness shining through is part of what makes this world such a beautiful place.

A little over two years ago, I consciously began a journey of bringing myself towards greater health. This journey has been gradual and gentle, and I believe that that is precisely why it has resulted in lasting changes. I would make one change at a time, and simply focus on that one change until it began to feel natural, until it was integrated as nothing more than another aspect of my life. At that point, I would carefully consider what in my life was next in need of healing attention, and focus on changing that one thing, again waiting until that next change felt natural. In this way, I have transformed my life without losing a sense of continuity, comfort, and willingness.

Here’s just a sample of some of the shifts towards greater health and wholeness that I have embraced in the last several years: I quit smoking; I quit drinking alcohol; I simplified my life by moving into a smaller place; I changed jobs to get out of a cubicle and into a profession where I could be creative and active; I have worked at developing a functioning budget (still an ever-shifting process, but I’m so much more mindful of this than I used to be!); I became more vigilant about setting aside time for me to spend writing, meditating, praying, and doing yoga; I put energy towards maintaining connection and communication with the people who I love and respect; and now, my current shift towards Paleo eating.

None of these changes were motivated by some quantifiable desire to get to a certain point (“Make this much money, publish this many poems, weigh this much, meditate this many minutes or hours, go to this many sweat lodges, talk to this many people each day, hold the downward-facing dog asana for this long, go this long without a drink or cigarette, be happy enough that you laugh and smile x number of times per day…”) at which point I would be A Success, because I had reached The Finish Line.

In fact, I think the very idea of a set, quantifiable goal can stand in the way of life-long growth, because it all too often allows us to think that there is such a thing as Arriving. “Ah-ha! I’m healthy now! Let me just put me feet up and settle in… nothing more to accomplish here!” Not that goals aren’t valuable, because they are… as long as I don’t allow the attainment of one to get in the way of my willingness to move towards what comes next!

Life is precious, life is short, and what we do with our moments and our energy matters. And when I spend my moments and energy moving gently towards greater balance and equanimity; when I consider the effects of my words, actions and choices; when I consciously move towards letting go of unhealthy attachments and towards the mystery of freedom… then not only does my body automatically move towards optimal health, but so do my mind, heart, and spirit.

Having this faith in my body’s ability to seek out its own point of balance has come out of a lifetime of experience. Since my teenage years, my weight has spanned from just under 100 pounds up to 210 pounds. Although either of those numbers could easily represent optimal health for other people, neither extreme reflected health for me. The simple truth was, I was not honoring the sacredness of my body when I was at either point of the scale, and so my body was unable to thrive.

Now, well, I’m not sure exactly what I weigh. I don’t even own a scale. Let’s just say I’m somewhere between the two weights, probably a bit closer to 210 than 97, but pretty close to the mean value of the numbers. Though that’s entirely conjecture. All I know is that I love feeling healthy, and I’m willing and able to take steps that move me towards greater health and balance. I figure that the numbers will just take care of themselves.

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Changes (or, why I’m transitioning to eating Paleo)

Greetings, all!

It has been a long time since my last post. Quite frankly, I let myself get too busy and too distracted. However, a series of events have conspired to bring me towards a renewed commitment to food, writing, and my blog (where the two get a chance to meet up). So, without any promises regarding the specific frequency with which I will be making posts (I do best when I am able to be gentle and adapt to life as it comes), I will definitely be on here more than I have been!

So, here’s the thing: I’ve recently embraced the Paleo diet. This may come as a surprise to some of you, given the frequency with which I have posted vegetarian and vegan recipes in the past, some changes that have occurred within my ever-growing understanding of nutrition and food philosophy,  and some misconceptions about the Paleo diet.

But, surprising or not, it’s Paleo for me, one day at a time, hopefully for long into the future. Because the truth is, I feel better than I have ever felt before: physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

For a long time, my basic philosophy of food has been that the more mindful I am of eating locally available foods that are in season and minimizing processed foods, the better my health will be… and, by extension, the better my energy will be as I move through the world, and therefore the greater my chances will be of behaving skillfully, responsively, and compassionately as I encounter situations in my life. And the truth is, this already had me a good ways towards a Paleo-esque diet, which is “is based upon eating wholesome, contemporary foods from the food groups our hunter-gatherer ancestors would have thrived on during the Paleolithic era, the time period from about 2.6 million years ago to the beginning of the agricultural revolution, about 10,000 years ago” (quotation from http://thepaleodiet.com/getting-started-with-the-paleo-diet/). So, yeah: when you eat foods that are available where you live and eschew boxed crap, nitrites, and nitrates, you’re not too far off.

However, my diet definitely had some shortcomings when it came to eating in a way that my ancestors would have: first and foremost, I ate a lot of sugar and grains. A LOT. It was so east to justify: my diet was so good in other ways, why shouldn’t I have a bag of gummy candy, or an irrational amount of cake, or three slices of garlic bread, or a plate full of pasta, or… or… or.. The list goes on and on.

And dairy. Oh, goodness, can I ever down some dairy products with reckless abandonment. Moderation was not invited when cheese and I would get together.

And let’s not even mention cheesecake, where dairy and sugar get together for a crazy delicious dance party of flavor! Oh, the stories I could tell about cheesecake… (Confession time)… like the multiple times that I made two-layer carrot cakes and put an entire cheesecake in between the layers, and covered it all in cream cheese frosting…

You could say I had a problem with my attachment to sugar and dairy. You could have, but I certainly wouldn’t have admitted it. In fact, several times in the past couple of years I’ve overheard conversations about the Paleo diet (after all, I work in a health food store… conversations about different approaches to diet are a common thing there), and thought to myself “Ugh. What extremists. I would never do that. Give up wheat? And cheese? And SUGAR? No way!!”

But, as is often said, many people simply have to reach bottom before they’re willing to accept help. Or, another way to put it… we stay the same until the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the pain of changing.

So what changed that made me willing to make a shift? As is often the case, many things shifted at once (or, more accurately, within a very short period of time).

One thing is that I have been going to a sweat lodge almost every month for most of the last year or so. On the night of the new moon, I gather with several like-spirited people for several hours of prayers, surrender, and purification. And some of the people who attend the lodge are hunters. Now, I grew up in rural Indiana, so I’m no stranger to hunters… but the way these individuals approached their hunting was something entirely new to me. There was such an obvious respect… even love… between these people and the animals who offered their lives for food. I was particularly touched by the man who said that a part of his morning prayers was to the animals in the area, that he sent out prayers to them to let them know that a hunter lived there, and for them to please stay away unless they wished to offer themselves for the nourishment of others… and then offered further prayers of thanks whenever he made a kill.

After the lodge ceremony concludes, we all gather for a potluck dinner, and a frequent offering at these dinners is venison stew made from the flesh of the animals who offered their lives to the above-mentioned hunter. I cannot put into words the experience of eating this stew… it is like eating pure, loving light. And I became aware of how deeply alive, healthy, and flourishing I felt after eating it.

So that planted one seed.

Then there has been the fact that I have had chronic sleep problems throughout my life… previously, it was dream-disturbed sleep, but that hasn’t been nearly as much of a problem the last several years as it used to be. More recently, it’s been my body waking me up in the middle of the night, wanting a snack. Seriously. Usually something sugary. This was something new for me, and I wasn’t entirely comfortable with it. In fact, I was downright bothered. It reminded me of the way I used to behave back when I still drank alcohol… if I got up in the night and couldn’t get back to sleep, I’d just go to the substance of my addiction and use it as an unskillful tool to lull me back to sleep. And here I was, doing the same exact behavior… but with sugar.

Really acknowledging the truth of this helped me reach a moment of clarity that something had to change. And there was the second seed.

So, while I’m busy processing the information that was growing from these seeds, one of our customers where I work inquired why we don’t carry any Paleo food items… after all, we specialize in offering foods for people with dietary allergies and restricted diets. My knee-jerk reaction was that we are a meat-free kitchen, which would make Paleo foods hard. But then I thought, why not do some more research? After all, we offer an extensive line of gluten-free baked goods, so why not see if I can rise to the challenge of developing some meat-free Paleo options?

The result was that I dove into some research to see what this whole Paleo thing was really about, and whether or not I could make it happen at work… still with absolutely no plans on taking it on as a part of my own life. And what I found surprised and inspired me.

First, I learned that Paleo foods would definitely be something that I could integrate into what we make at work. Although we won’t be offering a full Paleo diet from a vegetarian kitchen, there is still a lot that I can do. I have since made some incredible salads, sides, cakes, cookies, and muffins that use only Paleo-approved ingredients. So, yes: if any of you kind readers are in the Rochester, NY area, please swing in to Lori’s Natural Foods and check out what we have available, or make some requests! And of course this realization meant that I could be Paleo without having to eat meat in every meal, something which I had incorrectly assumed wasn’t an option.

Second, I realized something that I alluded to in the previous paragraph: a Paleo diet CAN include things like cakes, muffins, and cookies! I love to bake and eat such tasty treats, and do not expect that I will ever want to fully sacrifice the joys that come from making and tasting such delights. No, a cakeless existence is not for me. So it was a pleasant surprise that (with plenty of almond meal, coconut flour, eggs, and coconut oil, all of which are things I love) I could continue to indulge in baked goods.

Third, while I feel strongly about refusing meat from factory farm sources, I have come to believe (and no, you don’t have to agree) that it is entirely possible to be a spiritual meat-eater… it just takes the willingness to spend some extra time researching where my meat comes from and to set aside some extra money in my budget for it. I am at this point in my life decidedly omnivorous, and it’s working for me. (Don’t worry, dear vegetarian and vegan followers… there will still be recipes for you that will be posted! Although I do eat meat, I certainly don’t feel it’s a necessary component of all recipes or meals!)

And finally, I realized that the information that I was reading made a lot of sense to me, and I got that deep-down feeling in my hara that said “Yes, this.” Something just… shifted. And I realized I was willing.

So, I’m a complete newby. Today is only my fifth day, so all of you Paleo old-timers can scoff if you must. But here’s the thing: I’m a hard and fast convert. The food I have been eating is so delicious and so satisfying that I haven’t even suffered anything more than an incidental craving for anything else. And, while this wouldn’t be true for most people, I’ve found I’ve actually been spending less time preparing my Paleo meals than I spent preparing my non-Paleo meals. Check out this list of just some of the things I’ve made this week for my gustatory enjoyment:

  • Roasted Free-Range Chicken with Kale, Fennel, Carrots, Celery, and Fresh Herbs
  • Braised Salmon with a Cashew “Cream” Sauce
  • Poached Egg on Roasted Vegetables
  • Coconut Coffee Cake
  • Pumpkin-Apple-Carrot Spice Muffins
  • Bison Meatloaf stuffed with kale, onions, pickles, tomatoes, and jalepenos
  • Kale Salad with Citrus, Pear, Currents, and Honey-Roasted Almonds with an Herb Viniagrette
  • Honey-Roasted Sweet Potatoes
  • Paleo Quiche
  • Apple Spice Cookies
  • …and more!!

Not only have I been won over by the deliciousness of the foods, but I’ve also rapidly noticed improvements in how I feel bodily and mentally. It’s like a fog has been lifted: I cannot believe what a difference letting go of refined sugars has made on my energy levels, my ability to be present and equanimous, AND my ability to sleep soundly. Seriously, I have just had the four best nights of sleep in my entire life. If this is the difference I feel in less than a week, I’m excited to see what will follow!

For those of you who have been following my blog but who have little to no interest in Paleo eating: no worries! I had no interest at all, either, until I did. Whether you are Paleo or not, I can guarantee that I will only post recipes that are delicious, and I encourage you to give them a try!

It is late, and I have rambled on. I am going to go ahead and post this, and I’m sure that further explorations of Paleo eating will follow in later posts… Posts which will also include recipes! 🙂

Before I finalize this post, though, I am going to include a helpful image that details the basics of what foods are and are not considered Paleo-friendly. I hope you’re all as excited as I am to see what comes next!

is_it_paleo