Paleo for the Hard Times

Hey, it happens to the best of us. We talk, think, and dream about food all day long. We prize its healing and mouth-watering qualities. But even those of us who love food dearly hit ruts.

FoggyTunnelThis year, a mildly difficult spring turned into a personally challenging summer. After enduring a scary illness for my daughter and some online bullshit drama, something reared its ugly head and has been a complete game-changer for me. I apologize for being obscure, but I’ll not be talking about it right now. I can say that it’s just one of those bizarro human moments that shock you into remembering that life on earth is always in flux, whether we see it or not. Through all this there were some wonderful highlights too (MovNat Costa Rica, vacation to Hawaii, beginning work with a local graphic designer, buying rural property—more on that soon!), but each carried their own special brand of stress. By the time nasty head-rearer showed up, I was out of reserves and it put me into a bit of a tailspin.

Now, I didn’t completely go off the food rails. No gluten. But sugar, dairy, and alcohol? Come to mama! Especially the alcohol. Not in any smutty addict way, just in a more frequent and one-more-than-usual kind of way. And I ain’t gonna lie, it was helpful for getting through the worst of it all. It just felt like too much to ask of myself to be tightly controlled with my food intake. Chocolate-covered almonds became my evening friend. Rice and rice noodles were becoming a too-frequent feature of my meals. And of course my exercise suffered too.

But then the haze started to clear a bit, the earth continued turning on its axis, and life began to resemble normalcy. And I noticed that my body comp had changed and I wasn’t feeling…shall we say…optimal? And it shows. Everywhere. My posture, my energy levels, my motivation, my brain power, my zest for life.

CompassSometimes we all just need a little nudge in the right direction. I feel fortunate that a certain resource came across my desk recently. I got a copy of Aglaée Jacob’s new book Digestive Health with Real Food for review (which you can see here). My IBS and digestive woes have been in remission since going Paleo, but I’ve always been curious about trying some new food experiments to see if I could clear up the last vestiges of inflammation in my body. But previously, there just wasn’t really a clear guide on how to get started with these experiments. Anyone who has waded through the dross on Paleo forums or tried to go the Western medicine route knows how insane and impossible it is to try to find definitive answers.

But this book is clear and lays it all out in terms even I can understand. It’s geared toward those who are suffering from various gut ills like SIBO, FODMAPs intolerance, and other food sensitivities, but for me it was inspiration to return to a simpler, more nourishing style of eating. I mean, it’s 100 degrees outside and I’m thawing a bunch of my bone broths from the winter for simple soups.

I started with Jacob’s recipe for Grain-Free Chicken Pesto Pasta. There are 5 simple ingredients here: zucchini, chicken, olive oil, basil, and salt. But true to my nature, I can rarely leave well enough alone. And besides, I’m not actually doing the elimination protocols, so I felt it was okay to deviate a little bit. So I grilled some chicken thighs and sliced them into strips. I put long slices of yellow squash and green beans in a sauté pan with a little water and cooked them until they were al dente. When ready, I splashed them with olive oil and some sea salt. Then I put them on a plate, topped them with chicken, and garnished with tons of fresh basil and toasted pine nuts. I thought of it as a deconstructed pesto dish, and it was delicious. Even my husband remarked on it when he got back from work, where it had been his break meal.

Beef SoupToday’s breakfast consisted of 3 eggs scrambled with bacon and leftover broccoli. Lunch was a simple soup made with beef bone broth, chunks of chuck eye steak, green beans, carrot, and Thai basil set off with some fish sauce. These are unpretentious, unfussy, uncomplicated meals that are a joy to put together and eat. It also happens to be great timing since my local foodshed is bursting with amazing seasonal summer flavors right now that need little adornment.

You might ask why I don’t just mark my return to the real world with a Whole30. To which I say that something about rules and timeframes felt too formal and strict for me, even though that may be exactly what I end up doing. Something about the attention and effort required to pull off a Whole30 feels unfriendly to me right now instead of like a fun challenge. Even when I’m doing one under more optimal conditions, I find myself performing mental gymnastics to somehow game the system in my favor, even though nobody cares about it but me. The Whole30 program is great, but it should be undertaken with a spirit of adventure and curiosity. I just need a little more kindness from myself right now.

Shin vs. BoulderAnd yet I also need to kick my own ass a bit. So I’ve been getting out for some MovNat sessions, which have been interesting because it’s a physical measure of my mental state. In the last two weeks, I’ve injured myself three times—one foot stuck in the crook of a tree while the rest of my body twisted around a limb, shin vs. granite boulder, and middle fingernail pinched between a heavy rock and another rock. I’m unusually clumsy and lacking mindfulness right now, but it feels important to keep moving, keep getting out there, keep learning.

It’s nice to have a solid framework to return to. It feels like home after a wacky, involuntary vacation (kidnapping?). For those of you out there wrestling with difficulties, I salute you in all my broken-heartedness and the humanity we share. Please do not beat yourself up for not being hardcore Paleo during your rough patches. This is to serve as proof that we all go through them and we all do the best we can. And when your haze begins to dissipate, we will all be here waiting for you, missing you, and happy to help you in your road to recovery, whatever that might be. When you’re ready for your healing process, it will begin.


13 Responses to “Paleo for the Hard Times”

  1. Just wanted to squeeze you and send you some big fat love. :} That is all.

  2. This one had me in tears. It’s been a tough 6 months for me as well and I have indeed been beating myself up over not being strictly Paleo. Thanks for sharing a bit of your journey and I hope you continue to climb out of your doldrums as well. Continued health for you and your family.

    • Wow, Bianca. Thank you. As much as I feel your tears, I’m glad this is resonating with others out there. Sometimes life just sucks and food stress is too much stress on top of already too much stress. Take good care of yourself!

  3. I love this so much Karen. It made me tear up a bit. It’s not about falling down and struggling with our new realities, it’s about trying to pick ourselves up with kindness to ourselves and hopefully a little grace along the way. Grateful to be able to share this.

  4. What does it says about me that I read your sentence about the Whole30 as “normal and strict” rather than “formal and strict” and yet the former made total sense to me? Maybe I need to loosen up.

  5. Hey Karen, hope whatever you’ve been going through is working itself out harmoniously. This is a great reminder about left foot right foot, chop wood carry water, fall off get back on, and be healed by that process itself, thanks.

    Where have you bought rural property?


    • I wouldn’t call it harmoniously, but more a stumbling through the humanness of it all. :) At some point in the future, it will seem so much more graceful.

      The land is just past the lake, just off Old Highway 99. I’m hoping to post more on it soon. It’ll be a few years before we’re actually living on it, but a fun project.

  6. Thank you so much for this. I have just come through my own rough six months (how odd that so many of us are having a hard time of it this year) and I coped in much the same way you have – and have returned to it in much the same way you have. It feels so good to have it reaffirmed in such an eloquent way, that we do what we must to get through and doing it “right” will be there when the crisis passes. Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

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