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.
*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.
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.