Saturday, August 24, 2013

That one time we decided to be Paleo

For almost a year now, I have been intrigued by the idea of following a paleo diet. There's been a lot of buzz about it lately, but for those of you who don't know, a paleo diet is basically a diet reminiscent of what cavemen (supposedly, since they lacked instagram to take artsy dinner shots) ate. It's a grain-free, dairy-free, legume-free and bean-free diet, which pretty much leaves you with meat, fruits, vegetables, some fats and oils, and nuts and seeds. Think very hunter-gatherer. For me, the logic that "this is the way we evolved to eat" is pretty impressive, and hard to argue with, as are the reputed results of a lot of people who eat this way. I have been gluten-free before out of both interest and necessity, and I know I felt better then. I have been dairy-free as well and I know I both feel AND look better then. Celiacs and lactose intolerance are both in my family, and I firmly believe in (and have been known to preach) the relationship between what we put in our bodies and how we feel.

All that said, I am not a cavewoman. I haven't the faintest interest in hunting, and I do my gathering at Wegmans. While I am sure a loin cloth would be comfortable, I don't know if they come in maternity sizes, and I can see my legs getting cold trying to rock that shit in the winter. Also, I am a WOMAN. I am a woman who has had 30 pretty comfortable years on this planet to develop all sorts of eating issues and emotional attachments to food and drink (maybe especially drink) and habits both good and bad and downright harmful. So despite finding paleo to be incredibly intriguing, I struggled with finding the courage and fortitude to actually try it. And then I got pregnant. Early in this pregnancy, in the throes of morning sickness and fatigue and a ballooning body, I made it maybe 24 hours grain free before failing miserably. When the kids and the husband were out of town this summer, I tried again for a few days, doing better but stopping when everyone returned with the rationalization that I needed to cook again for my family.

So when my husband, no doubt sick to death of hearing me talk about this, suggested we try a fairly strict paleo cleanse (a la the Whole 30) for a few weeks to actually see what this was all about I nearly fell out of my chair. Here was a guy, an ITALIAN guy, who decided it was reasonable to forego a lot of our family's staples to actually try this thing I was interested in. I was floored. I was challenged. And despite all my misgivings and fears and emotional CRAP, I knew I had to agree. So we did it. For a couple weeks, not for 30 days. We gave up grains, dairy, soy, sugar, legumes, beans, and alcohol. And we survived. It was a very enlightening and educating experience, on many fronts. Here are some observations:

  1. Men and women, or at least my husband and myself, are VERY DIFFERENT. I had about 1000 different and elaborate reasons why a paleo diet was scary and unattainable and impossible, despite me being very interested in it. He was relatively uninterested in it, yet totally willing to try it with so few misgivings. I am left to draw the only logical conclusion that men just don't have the food issues that we (I) do. This was both a curse and a blessing, in that I don't like to be beat, ESPECIALLY by my husband. This kept me honest, and it kept me straight. But it also made me mad. 
  2. Along the same lines, he was better at it once we were on it. He didn't cheat, nor did he really want to. I, on the other hand, started fantasizing about all things pastry pretty much from sun up to sun down. I dreamt in donuts. I would be in a meeting at work and all of my coworkers would suddenly be made out of sugary fried dough. I basically turned into Homer Simpson. It was ugly, and it was odd, because I don't even care for sweets normally. While I didn't cheat (a lot), I WANTED to, and I obsessed over it. I could have debated the finer intricacies of Otis Spunkemeyer with you for hours. HOURS.
  3. It was really incredible to realize how little of what I put in my mouth to eat or to drink is about sustenance. I drink coffee in the morning because it wakes me up, because it is routine, and because it is GOOD. I eat chocolate after dinner because it is sweet and it feels like punctuation. I eat snacks in front of the TV because I am a good American. I have a cocktail or a glass of wine on a Friday (gestation-time aside) because it helps me transition from work week to weekend.  I eat cake to celebrate, bread to soothe, and casseroles because they heal my heart. Transitioning to eating to SUSTAIN was so amazingly eye opening, but if we're being honest, its also a little empty. There's a thrill in that first bite of embarrassingly buttery popcorn in front of a embarrassingly bad chick flick that is hard to replicate in vegetables. 
  4. Finally, and maybe most importantly, it felt GOOD. While I had no desire nor need to lose weight right now while I am pregnant (and to try would have been dangerous), I did stop gaining. I lost all my swelling, and my heartburn basically became non-existent. I stopped being famished with hunger every few hours, and not once did I have issues with feeling faint or low blood sugar, all things I have struggled with (even before pregnancy.) I slept well, despite the donut dreams. And when you cut out all the crap, real food starts to taste a-maz-ing. Emotionally, I felt empowered to be able to finally DO this thing I had wanted to, and I felt connected to my husband, which is always a bonus. 

So what now? I don't honestly know. While eating a diet inspired by our ancestors makes a hell of a lot of sense to me, we are not cave people, and I like NOT being a cave person. I need room in my life for food and drink rituals, happy hours, and my mother in law's lasagna. So we have brought some of the non-paleo foods back into our regular lives, but we have done so with an eye towards moderation, and armed with the knowledge that while we may not always WANT to live without them, we CAN.

I know there's a metaphor for just about everything else in my life in there somewhere.

PS If you want to know more about a paleo diet, this is a great resource.

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