Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Update on Our Caveman Lifestyle

Nearly five months into primal living, and I am happy to report that it is still going better than we could have hoped.

We eat more whole foods than ever. My son has decided he now (usually) likes spinach, cucumbers, and all the soups, stews and chili I've been making. Our pantry is less cluttered. (No boxes, really, once you get rid of grains.)

Grocery bill ends up being about the same. (More spent on good quality meats and organic purchases, but less on advertising, since most bulk foods like nuts and raisins and fresh produce doesn't come from Big Food.) Also, since we snack less, we actually eat less, too.

Cooking is easy when I want it to be: Some fish with some lemon-garlic butter and sauteed veggies. When I want a showstopper, I can do that, too: Chile rellenos with chicken, cheese, pecans, raisins and lime sour cream, with a side of calabacitas con crema. Yummmmm.

Our energy levels are still sky high, which is my favorite part. (Well, that and the ability to not be hungry for hours on end--and therefore not be motivated nor distracted by food. Life is too short to spend it eating *all* the time!)

Exercise is less stressful than it's ever been. I walk or jog with the dog for 20 minutes once a day, and spend my usual time on my feet chasing my son around. Once a week or so, on Saturday or Sunday, we go to the park and do our sprints, which take all of 10-15 minutes, including resting between sets and chasing the little one. Then we are free to head to the playground or walk around the lake or do whatever we'd like to do as a family. I go to yoga most Sunday mornings. (Not that that's exercise for me--even if it is. It's my church.) Every other night or so, we do push-ups or squats or some other kind of bodyweight exercise, all in about 20 minutes or less. No more worrying about "getting enough exercise." We can do more, if we want, but we don't have to to stay lean. It's awesome.

Additionally, the way we're eating gives us enough energy to do intense bursts and build muscle. Thanks to my awesome "100 Push-Up" iPhone app, I just completed 100 push-ups, which I don't think I ever thought was possible. (It's broken up into sets with a 1-2 minute rest between them, but still!) I'm also well on my way to 200 sit-ups and 200 squats. 

As for weight, we have both lost quite a bit of body fat. I was a size 6-8, and now I'm in the 2-4-6 range. My husband, who had a bit more to lose, has lost enough (more than 24 pounds, and still losing) that he's had to buy new pants and his shirts are quite roomy! And he is continuing to lose body fat every day. His blood pressure, though, has gone way down, which makes me very happy. He's gone from the low end of "high" to the middle of totally normal!

My skin continues to improve. I think this is a sign of my hormones, which are still a bit wacky, balancing out. There's some possibility that losing body fat, which holds on to estrogen, could be responsible for things not being totally normal just yet. I'm going to be consulting with some health professionals soon on this, so we'll see what I find out there. 

As for temptations and cheats, it does happen. Mark Sisson, author of The Primal Blueprint, advocates an 80-20 approach, so that eating doesn't feel too restrictive, controlled or obsessive. I'd say we're doing 90-10. Corn is our biggest cheat, as we love Tex-Mex, so once in a while we'll have a corn tortilla enchilada, and maybe a taste of rice and beans. We've had pieces of cake--my son's birthday was recently--and while I really wanted to enjoy it, I just couldn't. I felt the buzzing of too-high blood sugar almost instantly, and it just made us feel poorly. It also was interesting how addicting it was; I wanted to eat more cake, despite knowing that it would make me feel junky. So we threw it out. We've found that wheat, combined with sugar, seems to be the very worst at making us feel bad.

My friend recently asked these questions in her comment to the post "Primal Bliss":
What I can't reconcile though, is what I know anecdotally about Atkins, which I know is not the same (the quality of this food sounds much higher) but seems fairly similar. I know lots of people who had success losing weight with Atkins, but no one who continued with it in the long-term (say two years or more) which of course led to regaining any weight lost. Of course, the same can be said of any style of eating for weight loss-- I can't think of anyone I know who has lost a large amount of weight on any plan, sensible or otherwise, and kept it off permanently. This my long-winded way of asking, is there something about this style of eating that can help one stick with it long-term? There's something unique about eating habits-- they die really, really hard.
She's right about eating habits, and her questions are good ones. My first thought is that there's something about coupling an eating plan to the science of ancestral health. Basically, if I understand intellectually why these things are good for my body or not, and I can look up the evidence myself, I'm more likely to be internally motivated to eat well. I think internal motivation is key. Someone telling you what you can and can't eat smacks of authority, against which nearly everyone eventually rebels. Further, without the strong cravings for the blood-sugar highs, the temptation to cheat plummets, making success much easier.

And I think another reason why this is working so well is that without the elevated levels of insulin numbing us to the effects of poor choices, we can get immediate feedback about how food affects our bodies. I know I feel better when I'm eating primally, and when I stray, it's like instant negative reinforcement. My body is more finely calibrated, and I'm more mindful, too.

While I'm happy I've lost weight, and thrilled that my husband has, I wasn't really in this 100 percent for weight loss. Mostly, I wanted to feel better, avoid blood sugar issues, and be in optimum health for a long time to come. I was motivated for higher reasons than vanity, which doesn't motivate people for very long, since being heavy or thin is not the source of real unhappiness or happiness. I just want health for myself and my family.

I don't know enough about Atkins to know why it (or any other eating plan) might fail, but I think one explanation of why "low-carb" and other diets don't work for some in the long term is that they allow wheat and grains, and demonize saturated and/or animal fat. Wheat is a powerful appetite stimulant, and where the carbs come from is just as, if not more, important as how many you have per day. Carbs from green veggies behave differently in your body than carbs from grains and sugars. I just read Gary Taubes' "Why We Get Fat, and What to Do About It." In it, he explains the biochemical mechanisms for fat storage, along with the history of obesity research and cures. I recommend reading it for the history alone, but knowing how insulin affects fat storage and metabolism is really important, too. (I've just started reading Dr. William Davis' "Wheat Belly" and that is full of great info, too, on the science of all this.)

Obviously, we've only been doing this about five months, so I can't know if we'll do this for the rest of our lives or not. But given everything we've experienced, we have no desire to change a thing, so we'll be eating this way for the foreseeable future. Only time will tell, of course, but I'll periodically share how we're all doing. I'll also mention that our success has motivated my husband's two brothers and his niece to go Primal, too, and so far the benefits they've experienced reflect our own experience. 

So, to sum up: This decision we've made is working out well, and I'm so glad we challenged conventional wisdom and struck out on this path a little over four months ago.

Peace and good health to you,

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