Personalize Your Diet for Weight Loss

Personalize Your Diet for Weight LossWe each respond differently to the same food.

Specifically, our blood sugar responses differ.

And elevated blood sugar leads to all kinds of health issues, including obesity.

A New Scientific Understanding about Obesity

Like most people who have struggled with being overweight for most of their lives, I’ve suspected for decades that our response to food is individualized.

Because I’ve spent those decades watching my effortlessly-slim sister scarf down all the food she wants.

If I ate like she does, I’d be obese.

I know. Because I used to be.

Obese.

But now, we have scientific proof to back up what most overweight people have always known…

Breaking News: Maybe Overweight People Haven’t Been Secretly Binging & Lying About It All This Time

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Weird diets in the quest for health

Before...
Before…

Our kids are used to our weird diets. As far as they’re concerned, we’re always on one.

I guess they’re right…

Weird diets we’ve tried in our quest for health…

Petra’s health issues:

Borderline obesity (back & forth across the border!) + depression & anxiety

Matthew’s health issues:

Psoriatic arthritis, chronic pain, psoriasis + associated crappy complications

Pre-2009:

Vegetarianism (in Matthew’s case, with an occasional stealthy steak)

Ongoing decades-long struggle with weight, depression & anxiety

Worsening of all symptoms

2009:

4 months on the Specific Carbohydrate Diet

No change

No change

2009-10:

Standard American Diet (or in Petra’s case, back to vegetarianism)

No change

Worsening of all symptoms

2010-11:

Raw vegan

No change

Worsening of all symptoms

2012-13:

Paleo

Alleviation of 9 health issues including obesity depression & anxiety

Worsening of all symptoms

Summer 2013:

30-day Auto-Immune Protocol (AIP)

I have no health issues that I am aware of since going paleo, but both times on the AIP I have experienced a dramatic increase in energy* & mental health: I feel buoyant & fantastic!

No change during, but  afterwards: A sustained alleviation of Psoriasis symptoms

Late 2013-ongoing:

Auto-Immune Protocol (including a low-FODMAP variation we’re doing now)

No change (so far)…

…but given that most other weird diets have resulted in worsening of all his symptoms, no change is an improvement!

*During a 25-day experiment with a super low-carb version of the AIP my energy tanked. Interestingly, I gained weight during that time even with the reduction in carbs, because my energy was so low that I couldn’t exercise as much. After a few days back on a higher-carb (relatively speaking) version of the AIP my energy soared again.

 

Ideal weight

My ideal weight (as I presently conceive of it) is 153lbs.

I haven’t used any formulas to find that number, it’s just what’s on the scale when I feel at my best.

Not coincidentally, it seems to be the weight my body wants to be when I’m paleo-pure.

If I get paleo-sloppy, my weight creeps. Sometimes it just slinks up to 158, which is probably not discernable to others, but I don’t feel as fantastic.

My intent is not to achieve an ideal weight, but to find patterns of living that result in an optimal experience of well-being.

I’ve learned from my paleo experiments so far that when I’m feeling optimal, I weigh just under 155lbs, so my weight is an indicator that helps me dial in peak condition.

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I monitor my weight because it is a quick and unbiased way of gathering data when life is busy. Because well-being is subjective (perhaps especially if you have more than one teenager at a time).

I can be crying luxuriously and still have well-being. I can be infuriated about finding all the bowls (dirty) in my kid’s bedroom, but still be at my finest in every other respect.

I weigh myself as a way to maintain well-being.

And I weigh myself because I am just as inclined toward sloth, gluttony (exactly how many dark chocolate bars can I get away with?) and type-A extremism as any other sinner.

Losing weight can get addictive. All I need to do is dial back my carbs a notch or two, and my type-A extremism can amuse itself by watching the numbers on the scale drop: 151, 149, 148…

But for what?

Although I don’t experience a reduction in energy at a lower weight, my knees clack together in an unpleasant way and I get cold really easily. And being cold makes me sad.

192lbs was my skinny

Before I went paleo, 192lbs was my skinny. If I starved myself and went to the gym five times as often as I wanted to every week, I could get to 192lbs. But being hungry all the time was exhausting and I could never keep it up.

When I started paleo my goal was to achieve the highest weight that would let me be in the healthy range on the body mass index (BMI) scale. That was 184lbs, according to the old BMI calculator. This seemed like a laudable goal, 8lbs less than my previous skinny and 46lbs less than I was at the starting line.

But paleo living changed me and I soon found I didn’t want to go back to my SAD old ways. Paleo took effort, but I was no longer spending all my energy worrying about being fat. That stress had been eroding my vitality for decades, and the absence of it was like having a band of benevolent angels at my back.

So I celebrated when I hit 192lbs, hardly noticed when 184lbs slipped by, and the first time the scale dipped below 155lbs I felt like I was home.

At 6’ tall, I now have a BMI in the 20-21 range, depending on whether I use the old or new calculator. Before I went paleo I had a BMI of 31-32, which made me obese.

But scales & BMI calculators only provide information. Weight in itself is not an indicator of well-being. If society crumbled and famine hit our land, we could all find ourselves at or below our goal weights without the strength we’d need to survive.

If you’re on a weight loss path, consider letting your ideal weight find itself.

One way to do that is to be paleo pure until your weight naturally stabilizes and you feel terrific. Then experiment with patterns of eating and moving that enable you to tweak the fantastick-ness that ensues:

Com, and trip it as ye go,

On the light fantastick toe.

~John Milton, 1645

Skinny People are Irritating

Skinny people are irritating.

I still think so, even now that I am one.

I am irritating.

I know that.

Especially when I’m at the grocery store in heels, with a cart full of vegetables and meat, feeling great about myself. I’m walking through the store feeling fantastic, and it shows. And as I go about my business I can’t help but notice how demoralized and unwell a lot of people are. And a tall skinny happy lady who is noticing how fat & sickly you look as you pull a frozen pizza off the shelf, is irritating.

Please don’t misunderstand, I’m not walking around thinking I’m so awesome and pitying the sad, fat people. It’s just when you disentangle yourself from dependency on crap food and get used to having prana running through your body, it is shocking to wake up and realize how desperately unhealthy and unhappy people are.

I don’t dis fat people in my mind, or pity them, but I do feel compassion. Because I’ve been there. Quite recently. And I am feeling splendid, and I am really proud of myself, and all of that shows, when a fat person sees me noticing them with a frozen pizza the grocery store.

And when I was the fat person with the frozen pizza at the grocery store, compassion emanating toward me from a healthy person sure looked a whole lot like pity, and that was really irritating.

After I’d lost my 75lbs, a good friend of mine put a picture of fat-me up on her fridge. I was a little discomfited by that. I didn’t want to see fat-me. I wasn’t that person anymore! I didn’t even want anyone to know I had been her. What was my friend’s point, anyway? Was she trying to undermine me?

I looked closer.

In the photo I was standing looking at one of my kids when she was about two. I had quizzical eyebrows, maybe gritting my teeth, plainly exasperated, as she sassed along doing her 2-year-old thing. Not a flattering photo. What kind of mother would people think I was?

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Um, the kind of mother I was.

The kind who loved her kids to distraction and was right there with them while they sassed along doing their 2-year-old (or 13-year-old) thing… but who as often as not had quizzical eyebrows and was probably gritting her teeth. And was fat.

And in looking at that photo I realized that in criticizing my previous self I had been acting like the worst kind of irritating skinny person. The judgemental bitchy kind. And I looked at my younger, fatter self more closely and I started to feel some love. And then I started to really like that photo. And then I asked my friend for it. And now it’s on my fridge.

Skinny Privilege

Skinny privilege is a thing.

Skinny people are treated differently than fat people.

Most of us don’t know that because we get used to how we’re treated. Most people don’t go from a size XXL to a size S (or vice versa) in 5 months. I did. And one thing I was completely unprepared for is that I would be treated so differently.

If you’ve always been skinny, you may not realize you’ve been accruing the benefits of skinny privilege all your life. In fact, if you’ve never been skinny, you probably know more about skinny privilege than skinny people do. But it turns out I was clueless.

Here’s 5 ways I have experienced skinny-privilege since being paleo:

  1. When I was fat, I was invisible. I could be walking through a crowd and no one would notice I was there. I wasn’t so fat that I stood out. I was just regular fat. Invisible. Now that I’m skinny, people see me.  As an introvert I have found this to be disconcerting.
  2. When I was fat, I was deemed a capable matron. If I was carrying 15 bags of groceries, I would never hear an offer of help or a ‘may I hold the door’. When I was skinny, suddenly I was a helpless damsel. If I was carrying one (1!) cup of coffee and my purse, some magnanimous fellow would rush to open the door for me, and wonder if I needed any help getting to my car. Bizarre. At first it made me mad. I actually wanted to flip the first couple of guys the finger, just for all the times I actually could have used some gallantry, but I just smiled a little sarcastically instead.
  3. When I’m exercising, as skinny person, I don’t have to work as hard and I look better doing it. You know that fat chick dying at the back of the yoga class? That was me. Now I’m that 40-something yogini in short shorts up front. And I know from experience that fat-me was working ten times as hard as I do now, without doing any of the asanas very aesthetically. When I was fat and jogging I would be preoccupied with weird things, like maybe people could hear my breathing. And then I’d be trying not to breathe so loud, which is actually really counterproductive when you’re jogging. Now when I’m running I just meditate and breathe deeply and love how it feels.
  4. As a skinny person, I get the benefit of the doubt. Nobody will look derisively at my grocery cart, no matter what kind of crap I have in there. If I pay for my food with $20 in change, the cashier assumes my life is just so glamorous that I simply don’t have time to spend all those pesky dimes. I actually don’t know if that’s what the cashier is thinking, but the truth is I now get great customer service all time, even when what I’m doing is annoying.
  5. As a skinny person, my clothes are almost free. All those smalls and mediums in the thrift shops and at clothing swaps were the story of my life when I was an XXL. As was the futility of achieving panache, or even funkiness, at the plus-size stores. I used to look longingly at the little clothes in boutiques, but now that they fit me I (mostly) ignore them and hit the thrift shops instead. Turns out all those surplus smalls and mediums are still the story of my life, and my closet is abundant.

In my mind, privilege=responsibility.

If I get something handed to me (a privilege) then I’m responsible for doing something great with it. Even if I worked hard for it, the benefits I receive are still a privilege because they aren’t available to everybody. I don’t yet know what I’m going to do with all the privilege I’ve been reaping since I went paleo, but I do know that the overarching characteristic of this privilege is ease.

My life is just way easier now. Not harder or more complicated because I can no longer shove frozen pizza into the oven, but easeful, despite the commitment that paleo requires. And that ease has freed up a bunch of energy for other things.

For example I woke up at 4 this morning. Full of zip & vinegar. I’ve already cleaned my house & written this blog post and it’s not yet 6.

skinny

So one thing I am doing with my privilege is writing this blog, not for the promotion of skinniness, because I am very aware that our current partiality for skinniness is an unstable social construct, but because maybe something I write will help someone else to find ease, too.

Health 9; Problems 0;

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Health issues that have resolved since being paleo: 9
Health issues that remain: 0

I know some people are dealing with much more serious health stuff, but I felt like my body was disintegrating. And I was only 41. How was I going to make it to 50?

My 9 pre-paleo health issues:

  1. Chronic neck pain that no amount of chiro, massage or acupuncture could assuage;
  2. Carpal tunnel that required a wrist brace with steel supports so I could sleep;
  3. Plantar fasciitis that necessitated orthotic arch supports for my shoes, making it difficult to walk any distances. I even had to stop wearing flip flops, which was actually (I know this sounds overwrought) heart-breaking;
  4. Obesity;
  5. Depression;
  6. Anxiety. And it’s good buddy Ativan;
  7. Periods so heavy we could have made a slasher movie;
  8. One wiry black hair that grew out my chin. I joked that it was my beard (but only to Matthew, because I was actually quite self-conscious about it);
  9. Insomnia. I took increasingly large doses of ‘sleep vitamins’ every night for years;

Wow. Writing that list I’ve just been struck by how much less work my daily life is now that I’m no longer managing a dilapidated body. And how much money I’m not spending on supplements, drugs and therapies. And people critique paleo for being time consuming and expensive!

Actually, being unhealthy is time-consuming and expensive.

My health changes didn’t happen immediately, but they’re old news now and I’m not yet 43, so in retrospect it was pretty rapid.

After a while I realized that I’d been peering at my chin for weeks, tweezers in hand, ready to pluck my lone black chin hair, but it just wasn’t growing back.

Over time I noticed my neck, wrist and foot pain was gone. So I got rid of my wrist brace and orthotic shoe inserts. I wore flip flops all summer this year and I’m still wearing them (sometimes) in November, here on Vancouver Island. I’m euphoric about that.

Some issues healed gradually and others transformed overnight. After 7 months of paleo life I was at work one morning when I noticed an odd feeling. And it wasn’t the familiar pre-paleo mid-morning feeling: I need coffee and a muffin stat! so I don’t perish right here on my keyboard. It was an absence of fuzziness or a lack of greyness, sort of like I’d misplaced an itchy sweater I had become accustomed to wearing. It was an unsettling sensation until I realized that what I was experiencing was well-being. For the first time since I was ten (31 long years) I didn’t feel depressed.

That’s when I understood that pre-paleo my depression had become so much a part of me that it didn’t even register unless it got severe enough that I had to hide in my bed. If I could force myself out of bed and keeping rolling the gigantic boulder that was my life uphill, no matter how slowly or ineffectively, then my awareness of my depression faded. That was my normal. Over the next few weeks I rummaged around in the cupboards of my psyche looking for my misplaced depression but I couldn’t find it anywhere. I think it’s just gone.

And I haven’t taken anything to help me sleep since July.

And my Ativan has fallen into disuse at the back of my underwear drawer.

But it does take time. 30 days isn’t enough. The more complex and severe your health problems, the more time they might take to heal or abate.

I’m not suggesting paleo is a cure-all. Many of my health issues resolved because I lost weight. But I lost that weight, and have maintained my new weight, by being paleo. It’s a stormy Saturday morning in November and I’m about to go out for a 10k run in the rain and there is nothing I would rather do. That’s an indicator of wellness I just never experienced before.

So I’m feeling pretty fantastic. Better all the time, actually. 17 months into this paleo experiment I’m feeling finer than I ever have before.

Suprahuman.

Emerald City Soup

Making salad is time consuming. But you know you need to get to the city of greens if you are going to be paleo-awesome.

Eating salad is also time consuming. Really. In my early paleo days I was all about the rapid weight loss and I didn’t really know what I was doing so here was my protocol:

  • Three salads a day. Each salad accompanied by one of those infuriatingly small deck-of-cards-sized portions of meat. Each salad consisted of infinite lettuce and just one cup of low carb veg. Like cucumber, celery & radishes. I was buying lettuce like a madwoman and consuming massive party-sized salads three times a day. I lost 75lbs in 5 months and I will not lie, I spent all of my discretionary time during those months making & eating salad.

I still think it was a good strategy for me at the time, but I want to do other things with my discretionary time now. Like run, do hot yoga, read, write, have fun with Matthew, go for walks with my girlfriends, and try to get my teenagers to hang out with me. That’s my yellow brick road.

I still make salads, a couple of times a week, but I’ve streamlined. Now I’m as likely to make a raw soup, like this one:

Emerald City Soup

  • 1 cucumber
  • 1 avocado
  • 2 handfuls spinach leaves
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 green onions
  • Juice of 2-3 lemons
  • ¼ cup coconut aminos
  • 1 litre (4 cups/1 large mason jarful) water
  • A shake of Himalayan salt
  • A generous shake of Chinese 5 spice
  • A pinch of cayenne
  • 1 cup watermelon cubes (optional)

Put all ingredients in a food processor or blender and hit play. Taste and adjust seasonings. Eat now or chill for later.

If you are on a dramatic weight loss kick, you might want to omit the watermelon temporarily.

Gazpacho variation

Use a good amount of tomatoes & some bell pepper rather than avocado and spinach.

Eliminate the water & coconut aminos. Add a splash of olive oil.

Your variation

Remove what you don’t like or what you don’t have.

Add what you do like and do have.

Get fancy

 Chop parsley or cilantro or watercress finely with a clove of garlic and some (organic) lemon, lime or orange peel. Sprinkle generously on each bowl before serving.

Get going

Fill a mason canning jar, screw the lid on tight, toss it in your purse (or similar) and get started on your adventure.

Follow petra8paleo Paleo for humans in a decaying civilization; Paleo for people who hate to cook! on facebook.

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Getting started

A lot of paleo gurus suggest that you start right now.

Get a garbage bag, they say, and clean out your pantry of all non-paleo food. Get rid of the rice, pasta, bread, chips, beans, soy products, protein bars and peanut butter. Seize the day! I say if this approach is perfect for you, then go do it now!

But starting by purging your pantry doesn’t to acknowledge that you may live with people who aren’t (yet) paleo keeners: a partner, teenaged children, or roommates whose goodwill you are going to need, and who might react with hostility if you autocratically dispose of their food. In fact, if you want to provoke hostility, getting rid of the sweets and starches that most people rely on to get through the day is probably the most direct route.

If sanctifying the storecupboard and starting this minute is your style, go to it; for the rest of us a little thoughtfulness and preparation can make the difference between one more failed experiment and a transformed life. To be successful at paleo, you will have to relearn how to source your food. This will necessitate a change in habits and a different pattern of interacting with your environment. This can be a fun adventure, but if you’re trying to do it when you’re ravenous because you just pitched the contents of your pantry, it’ll be stressful and you’ll be more likely to bail.

Depending on the state of your health, your current commitment level, and the degree of anxiety you are facing about giving up your Standard American Diet (SAD), you’ll need to pick a strategy. Here are a few:

  • Commit to paleo for 30 days. That way you don’t have to deal with the anguish of renouncing your favorite SAD foods while you’re still dependent on them. After the 30 days you can gradually reintroduce the SAD foods you want to experiment with, observing yourself all the while. You might find you can easily give up some SAD foods after the 30 days. You might find that you feel amazing and are ready to commit fully to paleo life. With this approach, you don’t need to decide about forever right now. Defer that decision. Set a date to start your 30 and begin your preparations. Read about my extreme 30 here. Find help for ‘doing a 30’ at Nom Nom Paleo.
  • Start gradually. Eliminate gluten altogether as a first step. Avoid replacing donuts and pizza with gluten-free donuts and pizza. Start reading food labels: check out the carbohydrates and begin to reduce your carb intake. Try some paleo recipes. Find a source for grass-fed beef. Go to a farmers market. Eat more fish and vegetables. Bake a spaghetti squash and serve it with your favorite pasta sauce. Educate yourself. Keep in mind that you won’t get the increased energy that makes the effort of being paleo effortless until you have committed to paleo eating for at least 30 days and been through the ring of fire that is detoxing from carbs. If you choose to start gradually, think of it as purgatory. Don’t get stuck here. Plan to do a 30 before your next birthday.
  • Commit. If your health is failing, you are beyond tired of being overweight, are weary of a body that isn’t working, or otherwise need a complete change, plan to go paleo, full stop. Set a date (not too far in the future) and hold a wake for the SAD foods that have been your frenemies all these years. Then align the focus of entire life toward your goal, like a housecat stalking a sparrow.

How do you align the focus of your entire life to ensure you’re paleo-ready on the date you’ve chosen?

Try a force field analysis. A force field analysis will give you the insight of a Jedi master.  Designed by Kurt Lewin in the 1940’s, it enables you to identify where the force is with you, where it is against you, and which Jedi moves to use in any situation.

All you need to do is brainstorm every single thing you can think of that is standing in the way of your new paleo life. Make a picture like the one below, but give each impediment a customized arrow on the ‘restraining forces’ side. A huge barrier gets a huge arrow, a tiny hurdle gets a mini-arrow. Next, brainstorm everything you can think of that is working in your favor (dig deep), and give each of these an appropriately sized arrow on the ‘driving forces’ side of your picture. Then pause to acknowledge that the combination of these forces are keeping you stuck where you are right now. To unstick, think of at least one way that you can reduce or redirect the restraining forces. You don’t need to eliminate them, just diminish their power. Then generate a list of ways you can strengthen the driving forces, even a little bit. Now you have a list of things you can do to help you get paleo-ready by the date you’ve chosen. Do them.

Once you’re in the paleo groove, a force field analysis is still a great way to approach any situation that will test your resolve, such as houseguests bearing homemade granola, a business trip, or the approaching holidays.

“Already know you, that which you need.” ~ Yoda

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13 reasons we hate to cook

There are lots of reasons why you might hate to cook…

  1. You have no time
  2. You’re overwhelmed & exhausted
  3. You have a (chronically) messy kitchen
  4. You feel oppressed, harried, unappreciated
  5. You have difficulty nourishing yourself
  6. You don’t know how
  7. You’re spoiled
  8. You have a complicated relationship with food & eating
  9. You have no plan
  10. You devalue domestic work
  11. Your notions of progress do not include menial tasks
  12. You have cooking/kitchen trauma
  13. You’ve never seen it done & it seems mysterious or unnecessary

Most of these were true for me. Some still are. I still have a thorny relationship with food, but I’ve improved my rapport with cooking. I’ve been writing this blog in my head for a year because I think that if I can learn to not hate cooking (most of the time), you can too. And if we can learn to not hate cooking, we can ace this paleo thing and transform ourselves. Because I loathed cooking – as in, there was nothing about it that I liked.

Some of the reasons I hated to cook was that I was eating crap food, and that was keeping me in a dispirited state. I wasn’t eating at Mickey D’s or subsisting on donuts, just the standard, nutritionist-recommended food that fills our grocery aisles. In fact, I was a health food-eating fat person: wheat-free breakfast cereal, beans, rice chips, fruit smoothies, bins of cashews, protein bars, spinach ravioli, and soy lattes. I now know the food I was consuming was both the cause and the result of my chronic lethargy, as well as my animosity toward cooking. I was too drained to cook, so I spent as little time cooking as possible, which kept me eating the sad, crap diet that ensured I’d be continually depleted. It’s called the Standard American Diet (and it is really, really SAD).

I ate SAD food (with a vegetarian twist) for many reasons: I had no time; I felt overwhelmed & exhausted; I had a messy kitchen (because I had no time and was exhausted); and on some fundamental level, I had difficulty nourishing myself.

I had a self-worth problem that was ‘cured’ (in minutes!) and exacerbated (for years) with carbs. It was a tidy little enslavement that I was unknowingly perpetuating on myself. But mostly I ate SAD food because I thought I was doing the right thing.  My reasons weren’t excuses. I can totally imagine a fanatical trainer at the gym telling me I was overweight because I was lazy and just needed to get off my butt. But I wasn’t lazy. I was working my butt off at my day job, raising my kids, never getting enough sleep, and going uphill both ways in a carb-focused/SAD-loop of fatness and depression. I was demoralized because of the food I was eating, and the food I was eating was keeping me demoralized. That was my SAD-loop, and I looped that sucker for decades.

YOU ARE NOT FLAWED! I have to emphasize that because I used to think I was flawed. I tried so hard. Ate gluten-free. Went to yoga. Kept myself perpetually insatiate, always craving, went to bed hungry most of the time, in an attempt to feel better and lose weight. I hated cooking, but I cooked anyway – with a superabundance of kids and extremely limited money I had to.

I will not lie. Getting off the carb-centred tilt-a-whirl that has hijacked our bodies is enormously and utterly hard. But it’s also completely doable, and once you’re off the SAD-loop, you’re free.

And when you’re free, the whole world wants to get down with you.

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