The Year of Living Paleoly

One year. I don’t recall the exact date, but sometime this week last year, a book was read, the pantry was cleared, and a grand experiment was begun.

Despite the timing, it wasn’t a New Year’s resolution. It probably had more to do with the publication date of Gary Taubes’s Why We Get Fat than anything, but it also had to do with the fact that I had reached my limit. My daughter was born in August 2009, and I gave myself a year to be kind to myself and not freak out about the state of my physique. So January of last year was 5 months after that allotted time period, and in those 5 months, I had run, swam, yogaed, and eaten “healthy” only to be stuck at 10 pounds over my high school graduation weight, most of which was sticking in places it never had before like my midsection and butt. No bueno.

I can’t think of a single lifestyle change that has brought me more happiness and focus. As I’ve mentioned before (here), I was perfectly primed for the switch at that point in my life. A year in, and I still have the worst time trying to explain Paleo in a nutshell because it has so many facets to it. When you start with food quality, it leads you down the path toward the politics (government subsidies, legalizing raw milk), the philosophy (dairy yes or no, Omega6/3 ratios), and the practice (food porn!). Then you just might start questioning all the other sacred cows of our culture: dentistry, footwear, healthcare, exercise methodology. Before you know it, you’re a full-on anarchist. I love it.

The successes of my past year, let’s break it down:

  • Whether you eat substitutions or not, you gotta admit those are purty.

    Diet.It’s getting pretty squeaky clean. I started out more Primal and clutching my 80/20 rule. I leaned heavily on dairy, but for the first few months, I went pretty low carb, if not totally very low carb (VLC). The weight came off in a matter of months. Once there, I felt okay adding in more starches like sweet potatoes, which seemed to help with a low level of anxiety and some sleep troubles. Substitution food items (muffins, cookies, etc.) have been fewer and further between (minus the holidays) as I just don’t need them to convince me that this lifestyle is okay. However, I am eternally grateful to Elana’s Pantry for providing the know-how for great treats when they’re needed. I recently made her meringue-filled chocolate cupcakes that look like Hostess cupcakes and some carrot cake cupcakes for a friend’s birthday and everyone, grain-eaters included, loved them. I Whole30ed in October and learned A LOT. Since that time, I’ve scaled back on alcohol, dairy, and off-plan food choices. I “cheat” less and less, generally saving those times for restaurant meals, and even then, I keep it within pretty tight parameters these days (I’m talking steak with creamed spinach). I am almost completely gluten-free at this point, even small amounts just don’t seem worth it anymore, though I had a cookie at a New Year’s party and it didn’t kill me. I feel confident navigating social situations, either pre-functioning with a fatty meal or bringing my own items to share. It helps that I’ve converted a few friends to this WOE and can count on them for a meal free of hidden nasties. One of the biggest victories, in my thinking, is sourcing as much food as possible locally: buffalo, pork, lamb, eggs, chickens, vegetables, fruits. This also has the side effect of keeping our food seasonal.

  • Exercise. Well…as I’ve been honest about in the past (here), exercise has fallen off my radar a bit in the past year. And that’s okay. After reading Taubes, I was able to disconnect calorie burn and exertion from any claims of health. I’ll talk about what I can improve below, but there have been amazing developments this past year. I switched over almost entirely to a more functional approach with bodyweight exercises.

    Running is done either barefoot or with minimal footwear and a barefoot stride, and usually not for more than 30 minutes at a time. I began leading a weekly workout at the park with friends, where we play around on equipment, get tired, and gab (see here and here). For Xmas, I bought some exercise equipment for my husband and I (kettlebells, pull-up bar, medicine ball), and we’re in the process of setting up some space in our guest room for exercise. The first step toward that goal was getting rid of our treadmill and we’ve never for one minute regretted it.

  • Personal Care. I’ve been working on this gradually over the years (here), but this was the year I finally went for less toxic and more natural personal care stuff. I’ve been ordering make-up through and loving everything there. You can order samples to try, which I highly recommend. Soap is Dr. Bronner’s unscented and I use it for everything (cleaning, shaving, face). I switched to a glycerin-free tooth powder called Eco-Dent that is supposed to harden tooth enamel without fluoride.
  • Unplugging from the Machine. For me, going Paleo was the first step toward becoming the most annoying skeptic ever. All of a sudden, anything repeated without research or evidence to back it up became suspect to me. As mentioned above, educating myself on food began a huge unraveling process, and all of a sudden, I am very nearly a cultural dropout. We don’t have a TV, and I don’t miss the ads and shows churned out by a media whose interests are intimately tied in to the rest of the garbage that is trying to make us unhealthy and dependent. As an introvert, the less noise in my life the better. It’s amazing to me that the advice spewed out is often in direct conflict with what is actually healthy for humans. Take sun exposure for example. We’re experiencing a massive vitamin D deficiency, and yet, the “experts” want us to cover every square millimeter of flesh and slather ourselves in toxic sunscreens? Really? Whenever I have a question about something, I try to imagine what the answer would be if it were a thousand years ago, and in the case of sun exposure, the answer was to get out there and celebrate the return of the sun. ‘Nuff said.

Hopefully nothing this drastic.

Great, Karen. Good for you. Now what’s ahead for you this year?

  • Diet. I predict that I will continue making nano-tweaks. I’m feeling good right now. I don’t expect anything earth-shattering to change in the next year, but I would like to work even harder toward sourcing everything locally and seasonally. I could stand to incorporate more lacto-fermented items into my diet, and luckily we have an amazing source for that here. I got the book Wild Fermentation, and maybe this will be the year I actually crack it open. We now have a deep freezer, so this summer I plan to take advantage of the amazing array of U-Pick farms around (cherries, blueberries, peaches, apples, etc.) and stock up on the bounty.
  • Exercise. I just got my husband the book Body By Science for Xmas and while I doubt we’ll incorporate the specific exercises given, we’re pretty sold on the philosophy. I keep finding myself in the trap of thinking I need more “cardio” and this may be the year that extinguishes that fallacy. So my goal is to just incorporate more general movement in my life. I want more hiking, more outdoors. More fun, more play. I plan on continuing the playground workouts. I’m attending a MovNat one-day workshop in a few weeks, and I’m hoping to learn new skills to put to use. I’d also like to get more consistent with my yoga practice.
  • Personal Care. The one issue I’m having is my hair. It’s fine, thin, and oily. Due to having a toddler and needing to be out of the house in the morning, I’m averaging 2 1/2 showers a week as it is, and from that experience, I’m guessing I am NOT a candidate for the no-poo idea. Ugh, my hair gets pretty gross. In addition, I have minor dandruff with some itchy scalp, and natural treatments aren’t helping so I’m back on the Neutrogena stuff. I also cut off a few inches this year after having a ten-year ponytail in an effort to spruce up my look, which worked, but it requires a smidgeon more styling help. The natural options I’ve tried just added to the oily problem, so I’m temporarily using regular gunk until I can get up the courage to try some new stuff. Any recommendations would be appreciated.
  • Professional Life. This was the year of getting back in the game for me. This blog helped me get a job with a local homeopathic doctor working on her new nutrition and lifestyle website, and I’ll let you guys know when that goes live, which I hear will be soon. I wrote an article for Paleo Magazine about using tanning beds as a way to more safely enjoy the outdoors, which should be out in the next issue. Very excited! That idea was born right here on this blog. And now I’m starting out the new year helping MovNat with some writing/editing projects. So stoked! In addition, my plan is to attend several conferences. I’ll be at Paleo F/X in Austin in March and I’m hoping to go to 2012’s Ancestral Health Symposium in August. It’ll be great to finally meet some of the folks in this Paleo-verse. I feel incredibly fortunate to be working in this field I’m passionate about, and I’m so grateful to my husband for supporting me in this pursuit. I’m also feeling more and more creative writing energy (poetry, nonfiction, and fiction!), so maybe something will develop out of that.

It’s not quite my one year blog-a-versary, that’s in February. But sometime this week, I will pass 120,000 page views. Thank you so much for reading and sharing.


7 Responses to “The Year of Living Paleoly”

  1. GREAT post Karen! Thanks for continuing to share your journey. You are a very bright light in our Paleo universe and we can’t wait to see what the next year brings for you (we know WE will also benefit from it!).


  2. wow, sounds like we’ve been journeying at the same time. funnily enough I just wrote about it a couple of days ago
    re hair care, my daughter has the same trouble and a friend (in the know) suggests it could be a fungal problem and wants me to look at probiotics
    (linked to in this post

  3. Thanks to cutting grains I have sadly unearthed an intolerance to nightshades, you might like to test this out. For 3 decades I’ve had itchy, scabby scalp problems that no shampoo could ever resolve, no naturopath trying to cure me of possible candida could come near fixing… and recently realized the cause. I’d hoped the sugar and grain free diet might help, but the main motivation for that strategy was weight loss with scalp improvement as a bonus. But it wasn’t the grains and sugar alone, as I discovered when the scalp was the best it had been for many years. I made a big dish of eggplant, tomato and capsicum one night. Next day, and for several days after I had intense scalp itching. And I realized I have been eating way less nightshades due to eating no pasta, and eating seasonally all winter( so no nightshades through the cold months), and no potatoes having switched to sweet potatoes. Eureka! My partner also had a rash over his torso at the same time, itching badly at night. He gets this periodically, and now I’m almost convinced the cause is nightshades, but we need to test this sometime. The payoff is no itching or sores so I can give up this foodgroup fairly happily, I can even eat small quantities, so long as I space them out, to avoid solanin build-up. That’s great to know, it’s an intolerance not an allergy I suppose. And if my sister hadn’t bought a book on Nightshade intolerance for her own gut problems I’d never made the connection.

    • Wow, thanks Julie! I’ve seen nightshade intolerance mentioned around but have never explored it. I’ll check it out in more depth now. It’s followed me consistently now through a few seasons, and I’m a pretty good seasonal eater, and I’ve noticed no change, but it’s worth a shot.

  4. Great post. Looking forward to hearing more about movnat. It looked interesting from the videos I have seen. Not sure how you would teach it though. I really like this layout of the post too.

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