Sunday, August 15, 2010
Be healthy, y'all (completed, finally!)
Lately I've been fairly preoccupied with what it means to be truly, sustainably healthy, which apparently resulted in this song being stuck on repeat on my internal iPod for some days. For the year that I was vegan, this song was one of my credos, and although I no longer subscribe to the entire list of dos and don'ts, I still love both the message and the fact that it's being presented in a medium that's usually reserved (in America, at least) for rather more trite topics (although that is changing!).
At the behest of a couple of the trainers at Crossfit, I've been researching and experimenting with the paleo class of diets. They're based on the idea that many of our modern ills - heart disease, diabetes, obesity, some cancers; and those are only the biggest ones! - spring directly from our modern diet, by which they mean pretty much all foods introduced after the dawn of agriculture. That includes, for a start, all dairy, all cereal grains, all added sugar, all legumes (peanuts, beans, lentils) and all members of the Nightshade family of vegetables (tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant). Here's an image I've seen tossed around the forum boards a lot, for a visual:Now, I will never give up dairy. That's pretty set in stone. I've pontificated before about how incredible yoghurt is for health (that's free-range, organic, plain, whole milk yoghurt, preferably family-farmed and local, not that sugary crap they sell under the name far too often) and I'm sticking to that position. Neither will I cut out an entire family of vegetables simply because the form they existed in when Ug and Grok were trekking around looking for dinner was a poisonous one. However, in the interests of science and health, I did submit myself to a week's experiment of this diet.
It exists in three "Stages," meant to ease you into the neanderthal lifestyle. The basic gist of Stage One, for the link-shy, is that you drink loads of water and eat ("graze lightly") only fruit and nuts during the day, and then "feast" on whatever you'd like for dinner, with the assumption that you will realise how good healthy foods make you feel and how much modern processed foods do the opposite. It's supposed to simulate the caveman's day of walking around nibbling on berries and looking for something that looks good to eat and easy to kill, then doing both of those things.
Let me stress right upfront that this is NOT a starvation type of diet, despite the relatively light eating during the day. I make sure that I'm getting about 1/2 to 3/5 of my daily calories during the day through almonds (LOVE those suckers) and fruit, then top it off with the evening meal. Anorexia is also a modern ill, and I've seen enough of it to ensure that I will always be overly cautious about developing any habits even close to resembling it.
The site instructs the would-be caveperson to "have Pizza, Burgers, Chips [for the evening feast], whatever your heart desires. You will come to learn how much you really enjoy these foods... not much at all." I've already pretty much figured that out, so I took it a couple steps further, sticking with my normal slab of fish and gallon of leafy green things for dinner (just upping the portions a bit), and cutting out all added sugar (except for a couple cookies and a brownie when Babysis was baking...damn her!), all wheat (ditto) and all caffeine, except for one cup of tea. That's right. No coffee. Nary a drop since Sunday morning last week. Instead, I've tried out the morning routine prescribed on the site: "First thing upon waking - slam down a big cup of water. You will get a 'brain rush' and your body will come to life rather quickly." Zomguh, you guys. This actually worked. I was pretty astounded.
I also feel pretty good, considering what I've heard about how it can take some time to adjust to paleo-style diets, given that we (as modern people) are used to consuming and burning carbs for body fuel, in a relatively quick transformation of food into energy, whereas the caveman stored up and burned fat, the original exercise fuel. The Crossfit trainers all mentioned a good week or more of "paleo flu," where your body is relearning to rely on fat stores for energy (thus burning them), resulting in slight headaches and body soreness, much like a mild flu. I've been able to avoid that for the most part, though.
One thing I was quite worried about was the effect on my workouts - I've always been super conscious about planning meals around them, figuring out what to consume and exactly how long to wait and on and on. A quote from one of the forums ran something like "Cavemen didn't hunt on a full stomach, so why would you?" This whole caveman-this-caveman-that deal can get a bit tiresome, but it is a good point - our bodies should be able to rely on previously stored fuel for energy, not just the quick-burning carbs we had two hours ago. And it wasn't too bad - I didn't feel lightheaded, and neither did I get that bogged-down feeling I sometimes did when I ate too close to a workout. The much-raved-about endless stores of energy haven't quite kicked in yet, but I'll give it time.
So I think this is pretty cool, and doesn't seem to be too harmful yet. I'm planning on sticking to it for a while longer, paying close attention to what it does to me - my body, my mood, my energy levels, my ability to exercise and whatnot. I like what it's doing so far. We'll see how it continues to measure up.