The Long Journey Back to the Cave

From R to L - Me, my husband Brian, friend Gabe holding our Edie. And one itchy dog.

This was me.

I was a perfectly happy 30-something living the dream. My husband, young daughter, and I live in Oregon surrounded by trees, mountains, rivers, and trails out our back door that take us there. We don’t take the privilege for granted. We hike, bike, ski, run, swim, raft, kayak, and camp. We are surrounded by friends that we adore. What could possibly be wrong?

I have exercised regularly since the age of 21. I had what I affectionately call a B.S. (for butt spread) job and I hadn’t altered my generally crappy adolescent eating habits. It was time to be an adult, join a gym, and try eating “healthier.” This seemed to work, and whenever I felt a few pounds creep up, I would just reapply myself and work it off. Problem solved.

On my honeymoon in 2004. Ow-OOOOOO-GAAAA!!!

It should be said that I somehow escaped the usual body image issues that often plague young women. I had many teenage angsts, but my figure was never one of them. I had never tried a Diet, but had watched my mother and older sister yo-yo through the years. I figured I was blessed with a better metabolism and that I was just a more consistent exerciser. Oh, how hard the arrogant fall…

Then 30 happened. Nothing drastic, but it began to feel as though a pound was stalking me and would catch me about once a year. At 32, I became pregnant and, luckily, felt good enough to continue exercising. The specter of my sister who gained 75 pounds with her first pregnancy haunted me, and I expected something similar for my fate. Only 22 pounds later, and one 7 lb. 5 oz baby girl later, I was feeling pretty good being able to get back into my pre-pregnancy jeans within two months. But then something funny happened: I started gaining weight.

Summer 2010, 11 months post-partum. Starting to worry...

Aren’t women supposed to lose weight when they breastfeed, isn’t that what they say? I told myself I wasn’t going to worry too much about my weight until the first year had passed. I got there, and everything was oookaaayyy…but not ideal. My new baseline appeared to be about 4 pounds over what I was comfortable with, which itself was 5 pounds over my high school graduation weight. I could not budge the scale no matter what I did. I was running 3-4 times a week, often for 45 min. – 1 hour with hills. I went to yoga as often as possible, 1-2 times a week. I swam 1200 yards once a week or so. Throw in some random hikes, long walks in a hilly town with a stroller, and cross-country ski adventures, and you can probably understand my frustration. I knew I had muscles, but they were obscured beneath a layer of fat that I rationalized as an inheritance from my Danish ancestry. Compounding the issue was the fact that I didn’t look fat fully clothed, so several of my friends, trying to be supportive, would tell me I didn’t need to lose weight. But I was facing my first summer (ever!) of feeling uncomfortable in a swimsuit. In addition, my diet was as healthy as I could imagine, though, like a normal human being, not without occasional splurges. I ate quinoa, whole grains, lots of fresh fruit, lots of veggies, yogurt, and even tofu. I love to cook and almost everything was from scratch, with few processed food items. I drank water all day, except for my one cup of chai in the morning. Compared to the rest of America, I was a poster child for Conventional Wisdom’s advice.

So why wasn’t I thinner?Β  Why were all my friends staying thin and muscular while I continued to get a little doughier with each passing year?

I’m guessing if you’re here, you know the answer.

My January 2011 issue of Outside Magazine had an article about some caveman exercise workshop. Following the idea of functional fitness, most workouts involved hiking and lifting heavy logs. As silly as it sounded at first, I began to pay attention. I have always felt out of place in a culture that prizes endurance workouts. I’ve never felt compelled to ride a bike for 100 miles or run a marathon. I’m simply not built that way. The most I had ever run at one time was close to 7 miles. Conventional Wisdom would say, “The rest is all mental,” as though I’m lacking in some sort of toughness or motivation. I often bemoaned to my husband that I would really prefer an old-fashioned physical education class, complete with a rope climbing course and the standing broad jump (I held the record at my junior high!). I loved boot camp-style classes, but they weren’t offered regularly enough to make it a habit. Although I was athletic and certainly capable, I began to give up the hope that I would ever physically see the results I felt like I deserved. It was beginning to get depressing.

After finishing the article, I went online for a little research and ended up ordering three books that night: Loren Cordain’s The Paleo Diet Cookbook, Mark Sisson’s The Primal Blueprint Cookbook, and, by far the most important, Gary Taubes’s Why We Get Fat. I planned on not discussing anything with my husband, Brian, until I had an understanding of what this was all about. The day my books arrived, Brian came home from work, eyed Taubes’s book on the dining room table, and asked, “What’s this?” I panicked, “Just a book I ordered.” I worried he was going to make fun of me. Instead he asked, “Can I read it?”

Brian is an Emergency Physician and is the most skeptical son-of-a-gun I know. He can tear apart any medical study or flippantly reported media sensation. He devoured this book in two days, told me the science was sound, and asked to start the dietary changes immediately.

I cleaned out the kitchen the next day, and here we are, one month later. Lighter. Leaner. And thrilled about what’s next.

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2 Responses to “The Long Journey Back to the Cave”

  1. I like it!

    Like you, I could never buy in to the chronic cardio stuff. I know I CAN run pretty far, but the sheer boredom and monotony forces me to quit, start walking, or at least add some sprint intervals. I would prefer to sprint-walk 5 miles over a steady 5-mile jog. I love sandbags, rowing, tree climbing, scramblin’ around and doing body-weight exercises. Anything that feels awkward and makes me look like a fool, I like! 30 is creeping up on me, and though I don’t know whether kids are in my & my husband’s near future, I know NOW is the most important time to keep everything in-line with respect to food, hormones and exercise. Here’s to the continuing journey!

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