Come for the Bacon, Stay for the Happy GI Tract

This is my good friend Juliann, being kissed by me right before my wedding in 2004. By the time this picture was taken, I’d already known her for a few years, so we’re probably about to celebrate a decade of friendship now. Wow. I’m amazed anyone’s been able to put up with me that long.

Even though we’ve lived apart for the majority of that time, we’ve managed to stay in touch, always ready for a long phone chat. We try to get together at least once a year, often with other members of a clan that originated in Albuquerque when we all worked for the same café. We’ve drunk together, jogged together, drunk-dialed friends together, attended each others’ weddings, supported each other through grad schools, survived a car trip from Phoenix to the Bay Area together (TRUST me, no small feat for reasons you’ll hear more about below), and drunk together. Did I mention we’ve shared some drinks?

Now, I’m not into trying to recruit folks to this way of eating (WOE) unless they’re interested, but something about a recent issue Jules was having made me break my silence. As she described to me her gastrointestinal distress, the doctor’s lack of helpful advice, and the things she was going to try to change dietarily, I decided to pipe up. She’s been following a Paleo/Primal plan for almost two months now, and I’ll let her tell you the rest.

So I dragged you into this whole Paleo experiment. What were your initial thoughts?
I wasn’t so sure about the whole thing. No bread? No quinoa? NO LENTILS?! How the hell am I to survive without my lentils?! Seriously, my initial thoughts were that I wasn’t sure how I was going to eat that much meat. I know this attitude drives you bonkers but as a former vegetarian and someone who was never really into the whole meat-as-the-main-part-of-my-meal thing, it was a hard shift. On the other hand, I had been dealing with so many GI issues I was also thinking, why not? I could give it a shot and if it doesn’t work, it’s just a month of my life and I can try something else.

Jules at her wedding to Kent, me with my husband Brian.

Then I made you read Gary Taubes’s Why We Get Fat. Have I totally ruined your life? And what were your thoughts about the book?
You haven’t totally ruined my life, you’ve just sort of turned it upside down. Or should I say Taubes turned it upside down. Reading that book was like the first time you nail handstand in yoga and spend some time upside down—it’s amazing how different the perspective is. For so long it’s been a calorie is a calorie is a calorie. And as someone who has enjoyed running, the exercise part blew my mind. I loaned my copy to a friend who works in public health and we’ve had many interesting conversations about the science presented in the book. As a librarian, I can’t help but start doing tons of research on the information.

So you gave this the college try. How’re you feeling? What, if any, changes have you noticed?
Oh god, those pesky GI issues. They’ve disappeared since I’ve gone Paleo. It has been an amazing shift. This might be a bit of oversharing, but for the first time in a very long time I am not constantly looking for the closest bathroom. I don’t get sick after every meal. I went through numerous tests to try and figure out what my GI issues actually are but there were never any definitive results. Tested for Celiac’s? Yup. Colonoscopy? Yup (good times, right?). I was told that I have IBS and given some literature that suggested cutting out dairy, wine, and sugar but said nothing about grains. When I went Paleo, all of my symptoms disappeared. And I’m still eating a little dairy here and there with no side effects. And wine, don’t ever expect me to give up my wine.

You’re an avid runner. And, bless your heart, you ran a race shortly after going Paleo, and it didn’t sound so great. Do you blame the hill or do you blame the diet?
That race was horrible. It was a 15K—a very hilly 15K that took place about a week and a half into my going Paleo. My energy was low and I wound up getting sick after the race. I wasn’t sure if it was allergies (March in Phoenix is horrible on allergies), the diet, the heat, or the hills. Turns out, I had an ear and sinus infection. I’m pretty sure that was my main problem.

Fun times on the Bay Area Rapid Transit system. No! We are NOT drunk! What am I saying...of course we are.

Many people stop running distance after going Paleo. Has this diet changed your perspective on running at all or do you plan to continue with half marathons and such?
Good question. I was feeling like I was over distance running before going Paleo. I found that I wasn’t enjoying any race or training that required me to run more than 10 miles. Anything under that I found challenging but fun. So no more half marathons but I do love the 10k distance. I think I’m going to focus on that for right now. And improving my 5k time. Oh, and having lots of fun when I’m out running.

As far as fitness in general, has your routine changed?
Well, I’m not running as much. I have a group of friends that I run with a few mornings a week and I like that routine. We’ve been changing it up a little with running stairs at a local track. I’ve also started CrossFit and I’m hooked. It’s tough and it forces me to challenge myself in ways I never have. But how can you not have a good time when you’re swinging kettlebells and cursing as you try to do a pull-up? One day I’ll do an unassisted pull-up…

Do you know if you’ve lost any weight? Gained?
I don’t have a great scale at home but from what I can tell, I’ve lost about 15lbs. Pretty awesome considering that I never feel hungry and am doing so while eating steak and chicken wings.

Any other side effects you’ve noticed, positive or negative?
One of the best side effects I’ve noticed is that I’m no longer shaking from hunger in the middle of the afternoon. I used to always carry food with me because I’d need to eat every 3-4 hours. Now I feel like I can go most of the day without eating.

How has the spousal support been from Kent?
Well, since I do all of the cooking he doesn’t get much say. But honestly, he’s been incredibly supportive. He knows how awful my GI issues were and he is willing to do whatever it takes to support me. It helps that he is a huge carnivore and loves that I’m regularly cooking bacon for breakfast.

Jules causing an international incident at SF's Chinatown gate.

How has the social aspect been for you? This seems to vary for everyone from supportive to tragic.
I’ve found it to be incredibly supportive. I talked to my close friends ahead of time to let them know about my new plan of attack. I think it was helpful to frame it as a solution to health issues. In my experience, it made people who would have normally been resistant to the idea more open and understanding. My social life includes going out to eat. A lot. That hasn’t changed but there are a few restaurants that we no longer go to, but many that I just know how to tweak the menu to fit my new Paleo lifestyle. I’m fortunate that the Phoenix area has numerous restaurants that focus on local, organic food and are accommodating to dietary restrictions and such.

What’s been your favorite meal? Your least favorite?
Hmm…favorite meals. I made a killer steak and goat cheese salad the other night. I loved your recipe for Creamed Mushrooms & Leeks that I served with a tri-tip roast, whipped parsnips, and green beans.

As far as my least favorite goes, I attempted to make a red curry coconut beef stew in the crockpot but it just didn’t turn out well. It was edible but just sort of meh. It needed more coconut milk and more spices so it looks like I’ll have to do some tweaking. I also recently tried a recipe for Paleo Banana Bread but found that it fell short of what I was expecting. It used almond butter which completely dominated the flavor of the bread. So, back to the drawing board on that one.

What unexpected obstacles, if any, have you hit concerning the food (trouble with eggs in morning, etc.)?
I thought it would be difficult for me to eat eggs every morning but I’ve found that for the most part, I’m fine. I try to change it up. I usually have some hard boiled eggs in my fridge for breakfast, snacks, or salads. Sometimes I’ll fry two eggs and put them with leftover steak or stew.

By far, my biggest obstacle has been texture. Let’s be honest, I love cauliflower but cauliflower “rice” just doesn’t cut it for me. I’d rather put the cauliflower in whatever I’m making. I have to say Purely Primal’s almond muffins have been a lifesaver. I usually make them when I have a green chile stew or chicken tortilla soup to give me something to soak up the bits at the bottom of the bowl.

Is there any food you miss in particular? Have you been able to re-imagine a world without it?
Oh, there is plenty that I miss. We have some excellent wood-fired pizza places here in Phoenix and I definitely miss the chewy/crispy crust combined with the fresh mozzarella and basil. And tortillas, I love tortillas. I already mentioned my love of lentils.

The thing is, I can eat these foods whenever I really want them. I won’t die if I eat them and there is no one looking over my shoulder to tell me no. But what I’ve found is that I don’t miss them as much as I thought I would. Considering how fantastic I feel, why would I intentionally do something to make me feel like crap? Ok, don’t answer that. But even when I’ve been at events where I tell myself that I’m going to cut myself some slack that night, I find I’m making the choice to eat Paleo and I don’t feel deprived.

So it’s been over a month now. Are you gonna continue? Are you a convert? Maybe I’ll forgive you if you’re not, but do you really wanna find out?
Yeah, I’m a total convert. Again, for what this WOE has done for my GI issues, why would I go back? I’m headed to Prague and Budapest in a few weeks and I’m curious how I’ll fare when I’m traveling. I’m sure I’ll try a local pastry or two for the experience but my plan is to follow Paleo as much as possible. Wish me luck!

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2 Responses to “Come for the Bacon, Stay for the Happy GI Tract”

  1. so, so hard to make these types of changes and I am SO impressed with Julez. Karen, can’t wait to meet you!

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