Celebrating Paleo

So, I run the risk of sounding like a major vain mofo here. So be it. I own it. If I come across that way, feel free to disregard me to whatever degree you feel necessary, but I think I have something important to say. Tag along on the stream-of-consciousness journey with me, won’t you?

I’m still in the process of developing my new website, and I thought I would get some nice outdoor photos taken for the project. For background, my husband and I have made a habit of never taking professional photos. We feel just fine with all the candids in our lives, though we made an exception for our wedding. No engagement poses, no holiday card sittings, no weird Olan Mills business. But I had this website coming up, I needed some good head shots for promotional purposes, and I had a photographer friend who owed me a small favor that I was happy to exploit.

This is going to sound funny, but folks, I had no idea I looked like this:

I’m being serious. Like, not pulling your leg at all. I knew Paleo had done wonders for me, I knew that most of the weight I had packed on over the years had melted off, I knew I was stronger from MovNat-style movements and play in the outdoors. But goddamn. Some things just can’t be known without a different perspective.

Because I still have days where I feel bloated and not as svelte as I’d like. I inherited what I affectionately call “Dumpy Butt” from my mom’s side. If I gain weight, my ass starts sliding down the back of my thighs and up into my muffin top until there is one wide, flat posterior. JLo I am not. But here’s the thing.

I don’t count calories. I don’t worry about carbs. I workout less now than ever before in my adult life, usually one or two play sessions a week plus whatever general activity I happen to do, like walking or hiking. My plan is to start going to CrossFit once a week during the winter, but when these photos were taken, I had only been once so far. I eat all the bacon, red meat, butter, eggs, fruit, veggies, and nuts I want. I occasionally eat dairy. When we eat out, I will eat white potatoes, rice, and corn. I love going out for ice cream every now and again. I occasionally make substitution food items like muffins and pancakes. I follow the rules very well, but I also break them when I feel like it. I’m nearly two years into this whole Paleo life and it obviously agrees with me.

Now, there’s a lot of backlash against Paleo right now. Of course we’re hearing it from both the vegetarian/vegan angle and the proponents of the SAD, but it might surprise you that there’s some noise coming from within Paleo as well. I’m not going to go into all of the nitty-gritty of those arguments, but I will use the loudest one to illustrate some points.

Carbs.

*GASP!* I said the C word. [No, not THAT one! I’ll leave that to Richard Nikoley.]

After reading about MovNat in Outside Magazine, which mentioned the Paleo diet which set me on this big adventure in the first place, my other introduction to all of this was Gary Taubes’s Why We Get Fat. I make no apologies for this, though some in Paleo like to use it against me. At the very least, it made me understand that what I was eating didn’t agree with me and that exercise wouldn’t save me, all important things to realize. Where I differ with many is that nothing Gary said made me think that natural sources of carbs were bad: sweet potatoes, plantains, fruit, starchy roots. Sure, our culture is overly dependent on white potatoes—especially the rectangular fried-in-rancid-vegetable-oils ones—but for someone who’s metabolically normal, they shouldn’t present a problem, as long as they’re not displacing more nutrient-dense choices. Reading WWGF made me realize that man-made refined foods weren’t doing any of us any favors, and for me, that’s what I think of when I hear the word “carbs.” Natural sources fall under the banner of “real food” for me, so I don’t think of them as dirty-word carbs, I think of them as real-food carbs—totally distinct categories in my mind.

This last year in Paleo brought us Paul Jaminet‘s Safe Starches idea, which then produced numerous debates about whether such a thing exists. There is a camp that thinks if you dare eat a potato or banana, you will keel over and die—maybe not now, but you can’t possibly live a long, optimal life. I wasn’t sure what the answers on that front were, but I know I feel better and my hair is thicker when I eat some real-food carbs.

Then I saw Chris Masterjohn‘s presentation at AHS12, and something clicked for me. I’ll try to remember to link to it when the video is available, because I think it’s important information for all of us interested in this topic. I’m vastly simplifying here, but he showed how humans have adapted to eat starch since we diverged from chimpanzees in our evolutionary line. Some of us have a little ability to digest starch, and some have more ability.

Bingo.

A lot of the internal conflict within Paleo comes from some serious misunderstandings. There are many different reasons and motivations to be Paleo. For me it was about losing weight and feeling better. For others it might be for physical aesthetics, athletic performance, solving a health crisis, autoimmune issues, being a science geek, or any combo of these. The idea that one true Paleo diet exists is wrong. This is a trap that we humans fall into time and time again, and it’s time for us to utilize our neocortex to override our limbic brain on this issue. When we make a decision for our lives, we have to be convinced of its rightness in order to follow through, but we have to learn to accept the subjective nature of human experience and make room for others to figure things out for themselves. Just because I make the occasional almond flour muffins for my family no more makes me a neo-food addict than it makes you an orthorexic for eating nothing but meat and kale.

By posting these photos of myself, I’m not saying that if you follow my plan you’ll get my results. The human body is so much more complicated than that, and it’s time we respect that and quit trying to reduce the mysterious beauty of it to a rote formula. I have nothing to sell you, but I do have a story to share.

I did not look like this two years ago. I was tired, pudgy, uncomfortable in clothes. I couldn’t do a pull-up. I was developing a lovely bunion from all the crappy shoes I was wearing. I farted so badly that my husband dreamed of inventing a vacuum-underwear system I could wear at night. I had anxiety that seemed to be getting worse with each passing year.

It’s all gone and I’m tired of feeling guilty about Paleo working for me. Just as I think it’s important to hear from people frustrated by their lack of success in Paleo, it’s also important to hear that it’s a viable and doable option. It’s so crazy, it just might work! And if it doesn’t, then by all means, keep searching because your health and well-being are worth it.

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21 Responses to “Celebrating Paleo”

  1. Wow!!! Beautiful photos and congratulations for finding what works for you…that is the key we are all searching for!!!

  2. Ok, so I have more to say…
    This post is really encouraging to me and your pictures are as well. I really had to think on this before I posted at the risk of sounding shallow or vain or well, whatever. I’ve been really struggling with this lifestyle…I went gluten and refined sugar free in 2007 due to being diagnosed with gluten intolerance, dropped about 60 pounds and 20% BF…I maintained it effortlessly eat a diet of whole foods which included quinoa, rice, occasional oats and legumes, some dairy (mainly yogurt and raw milk cheese)…I began having some joint pain/swelling in February 2010 (I was training for a marathon at the time) so attributed it to that until I came across Primal Blueprint…eliminating grains and legumes made sense to me so I did and the joint swelling subsided (but I had also quit running at the same time…). This was in August 2010…since I would say about March 2011 I have struggled immensely with maintaining my weight and BF% (since November 2010 I’ve gained 15 pounds and about 10% BF)…I’ve run the gamut with lower carbs, eliminating dairy, Whole 30, higher carbs…blah blah blah. As I’ve read and re-read tons of Paleo websites and even all the hub-bub about the way “women look” that are paleo compared to the men…I’ve started to really get discouraged until today reading your post. And (as shallow as it is) seeing your pictures. I know it’s all about finding what is right for our bodies and I had really began to question this lifestyle but now I’m feeling more empowered to try some different things to get my body to work the way it should and can.
    Thank you.

    • I’m so sorry to hear about your struggles. I understand your frustration, having gone through some strange stuff in the past year too. It can really drive you crazy, sending you down all sorts of rabbit holes and wondering what it is you’re doing “wrong.” My husband initially lost 15 pounds and has gained some of it back, some is muscle for sure since he’s working out with weights now, but probably not all of it. We’re all so individual! And it’s frustrating, because wouldn’t it be nice if one thing worked for everyone?
      I wish you luck in finding a balance for yourself. Keep me posted!

  3. Reblogged this on Post-Neolithic (n̄) and commented:
    Funny how your body image changes imperceptibly when you stop worrying about your mass and focusing only on your feelings and health. That’s a nice surprise to have when its working right.

  4. Great transformations and realisations, Karen!

    Re: the whole low carb/paleo conflict… as I see it, it has come about only by virtue of low carbers trying to co-opt/assimilate paleo. When you look at those who came to paleo direct and not via low carb, there is much greater acceptance of ‘safe starches’ (I shudder just typing that, and still question myself for going to that “debate” at AHS). And I have a theory on all of this. Whilst paleo-types almost universally agree that “It Starts With Food”, we also tend to be a lot more holistic than the LC crowd has typically been. We factor in sleep, sunlight, movement, socialisation, sex, and so on… we don’t get obessed by counting carbohydrate grams… we are just more obsessed by where those carbs come from. 20g of carbs from a starchy root vegetable, not a problem. 5g of carbs from a low-carb bar, hell no.

    Talking at a low-carb meeting in Melbourne earlier this year, it was funny seeing all these long-term low carbers together and hearing their stories of what they ate. Sure, they all talked about how LC had changed their lives immensely – a good thing. But they still didn’t look healthy in the same way as paleo-types do at AHS (if anyone interprets that statement as referring to a certain weight or body type, I will hunt you down – it doesn’t). Any many of them admit to still eating bread and other grains… just not as much. A processed food can still be consumed as long as it is under a certain threshold of carbohydrate grams.

    Again, this approach has clearly worked for many, especially when compared to their previous SAD selves. But then along comes paleo. And even high-carb paleo is still relatively lowish carb compared to SAD. And it is full of all these fit, healthy-looking types with their bright eyes and clear skin. And they are all bright. And their “evolutionary science” is really quite robust. So let’s market “paleo” as a variant of low-carb and show the world what it can do for you!

    But then of course, I don’t want to be in the same camp as the low carb types I see… that camp just doesn’t offer the same “fit” for me. I care not about carb grams. Yes, the way I eat is low carb, but not through obessively counting or avoiding anything with carbs. So when this camp tries to co-opt or assimilate me and suggest that I am a “low-carber”, I’m going to push back – hard. I’m happy to acknowledge the similarities, but I’ll also point out the glaringly obvious differences too – differences that I feel really define the two camps.

    And a quick note on Taubes… Had Taubes not (robustly and appropriately, IMO) questioned the one pony performance, T.O.E from Guyenet, would there have been as much anti-Taubes sentiment in this community? I think not.

    • Your perspective is one I’ve been curious about, Jamie, so thanks for outlining it here! I haven’t mixed much with the low-carb community per se, only via Paleo. And yes, I completely agree that we Paleos are de facto low carb, though the reverse doesn’t necessarily hold. So I haven’t really noticed the low carb takeover of Paleo as much as others have. For me, either you believe in the power of real food and you prove it everyday by eating that way, or you don’t get it and you’re stuck with high-protein, industrialized garbage bars forever. And probably wondering why you still ache, your digestion suffers, etc.

      And yes, there is so much more to this whole primal life, and I’m excited to be exploring those other aspects with such a great group of folks, and I’m glad you’ve let me kidnap you for a project.

      Re: Taubes vs. Guyenet. Wow, hadn’t considered it that way, but I think you’re SO right!

  5. Love this post! I’ve been Paleo since November 2011 and it’s given me my life back, which I lost for awhile thanks to hypothyroidism, adrenal issues, gluten intolerance, and imbalanced hormones. Between Paleo, supplements, and natural thyroid meds, I sleep better, enjoy clear skin for the first time since puberty, have more energy, and have lost 44 pounds. All of the supps and meds helped along the road back to health, but Paleo was the cherry on top for me that really brought me back to life. I don’t beat people over the head to try it, but if they want to know what my secret is, I tell them and encourage them to try it if they’d like. We are all made differently, and I think it’s so important to recognize that!

    • Jen, you sound just like me. Only I have not even started Paleo, but am researching it and thinking about giving it a try. I am miserable. I have been for 7 years. Anxiety, depression, hormones terribly imbalanced and my T4 is starting to drop slightly. The anxiety led to smoking and vomiting frequently. I have terrible GERD and pop Tums every day. I am 43 years old, 5’9″ tall and 212 lbs. I am miserable. This is not who I was before and it’s not who I am inside. I feel trapped within my own body and mind. I never really battled weight issues before…I was a dancer. So I am very glad I found Karen’s blog this morning. It has encouraged me to move forward and so has your comment above! Now…where to start?!? ;-) Thank you!!!

      • Susan, I’m sorry to hear your struggles. When I think back to how miserable I felt pre-Paleo, it breaks my heart to know that millions live that way (or much, much worse) every day and have no idea that the solution may be simpler than they ever imagined. I can’t even imagine where I would be today, almost two years later, without Paleo. It would’ve been a lot of suffering and probably a headlong slide into depression.
        Good for you for doing your research! It’s your first step to feeling better. :) I can say from my and countless other experiences, Paleo can definitely help with all the issues you’ve mentioned above. My anxiety, which got worse after the birth of my daughter, got much better. As for depression, have you been tested for MTHFR deficiency? If not, I would ask your healthcare provider to check that out in regards to depression, since it regulates vitamin B usage in the body. I tested positive on one of the genes, and supplementation has helped immensely. As for the GERD issue, I highly recommend Chris Kresser for research on that (and all other topics too). Here is a summary article, but he has links from this one to several others on the topic: http://chriskresser.com/get-rid-of-heartburn-and-gerd-forever-in-three-simple-steps
        Whether you end up eating according to Paleo principles or not, it sounds like you’re well on your way to improving your quality of life. Best of luck to you! Keep me updated.

  6. Great post. Love the pics. There is a natural balance in Paleo thats easy to find. An intuition is developed that wasn’t there back when you ate SAD. There is no balance in factory food. Its built that way. The tape in your head plays when you eat carbs. Your memory tells you that all hell is about to break loose. But, now you’re consuming real food carbs, not factory. Huge difference right? You’ve achieved a balance, an inner wisdom that makes it easy to find the center. I say throw a little fat on the fire with the good carbs and enjoy!

    By the way, we enjoyed the moroccan breakfast, it was carbadelightful!

  7. Awesome post Karen…I so agree with all of what you said! Great photos of you! I loved the comment about your ass sliding down your thighs…wow what a visual! You’re a crack up girl!

  8. I remember meeting you at AHS12. Great post!

    • Yes, thank you for stopping by! I remember, and meant to tell you at the time, that you were wearing a very cute little black dress at the Barefoot Banquet. :)

  9. Thank you for pointing out that there is not one set rigid Paleo. I listen to my body and believe me…. it tells me when I’ve gone off track. I don’t exercise beyond the daily stuff I do each day at work with stair walking and fast pace too and from and dealing with family. I love to hike and would love that piece more in my life. Fun refreshing movement. Sugar is my enemy. I have reduced pastas and rice and hardly ever eat bread. But I know I can eat those things with joy and be okay. I just limit frequency and am fine with it (pretty good for a girl who used to eat pasta or rice daily along with bread dipped in olive oil). Some people get darn right pissy if you don’t follow strictly their view of what Paleo is. I just say…. I listen to my body and lean towards a Paleo lifestyle. :)

  10. Holy smokes Karen…absolutely stunning photos! Makes me want to go find a rock to carry around! :-)

  11. Also really enjoyed the post. Its refreshing to hear form someone who is celebrating their own success with paleo, but able to note that its not always the one size fits all solution. I think this has a great balance of positive sentiment without sounding like a zealot. I know a lot of people it has worked for and still know many people that look and feel great eating along other lines. Great post and thank you for such an open minded sounding take on paleo and other eating habits.

  12. You look beautiful.
    I am new to all…this.
    I did a Whole 30 in June w/o a slip, but struggled upon reentry. I continued to lose for awhile, but didn’t feel as great. I’ve bounced around it all now with the last month being down right awful. I think a lot of it is my mentality that if I can’t do it perfect, I might as well not bother.
    Thanks for the encouragement to go my own way.

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  2. Celebrating Paleo | eaglecollesano - 10/10/2012

    […] it can be hard to believe your own results when you put your mind to something and stick with it. Share […]

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