And why am I here? Besides the call to arms (or blogs) by Stefani Ruper for some female voices of reason, you mean? Well then, I’m here because I’ve been a faithful adherent to the quasi-religion that Michael Pollan calls “Nutritionism” for far too long. I’ve been an anorexic. I’ve been a lacto-ovo-pescatarian. I’ve been a bodybuilder and a compulsive exerciser. Most recently, I’ve been a vegan. And now, frankly, I’m sick, and I’m sick of labels.
I became a vegan after an ankle injury sidelined me from my bodybuilding. I was eating massive amounts of animal protein (mainly in the form of highly processed whey and casein powder mixed with peanut butter, but I did not, at the time, concern myself with that fact). I shot from 120 to 140 pounds, and felt sluggish and awful all the time. I was battling kind-of bad cystic acne (a by-product of polycystic ovarian syndrome, and a battle that’s been raging since Valentine’s Day of 2002, the day of my first cystic acne breakout). I looked at myself in the mirror and knew I needed a change. So I decided that I would “detox” from animal protein for a month. I picked up a copy of Kris Carr’s “Crazy Sexy Diet“, bought a juicer, and got to work.
That first month was incredible. I started doing Bikram yoga (sometimes twice a day, if my schedule permitted it), and I quickly dropped the weight and the mental fog. The acne was still there–worse even–but I felt incredible. At the end of the month, I reasoned with myself: if being a vegan made me feel this good for a month, maybe another month wouldn’t hurt.
By that point I had read the Engine 2 Diet and was following several vegan blogs. I was eating tempeh and hummus and had replaced my whey and casein with garden of life’s Raw protein powder and hemp seed bought in bulk at Whole Foods. By the end of the month, I was a full-blown, dyed in the synthetic wool vegan, and there was no question as to whether this detox diet was going to continue into the next month.
But after almost nine months of horrific, scarring acne (I was still detoxing…?), and a slowly developing roll of visceral fat over my abdomen, which refused to go away despite the fact that I was alternately attending 90 minutes of yoga in a 105 degree room and doing 12 minute “Bodyrock” workouts in my bedroom at the highest intensity I could muster, I realized that veganism wasn’t working. It really hit me when I finally had to acquiesce and do the unthinkable: start taking antibiotics for the acne. (I don’t believe in antibiotics except in cases of extreme and otherwise incurable infection.) I was ashamed to leave the house, and my cheeks and chin were single handedly (facedly?) keeping the Band Aid brand in business.
Something had to change.
I was scared to death of going back to the “lifestyle” I had adopted while attempting to become a fitness model (read: anorexic). Sure, I looked great, but at 112 pounds, I also had osteopenia (a precursor to osteoporosis), bradycardia (an abnormally slow heart rate), and secondary amenorrhea (no “special time of the month” to get me down–or provide proof that I was a fully functioning female with a positive life expectancy).
My mom, an avid and insanely ripped Crossfitter, had been trying to convince me to try a “Paleo” diet for the last several months. I’d been fighting her, tooth and nail, until the acne–my vegan straw that broke the theoretical camel’s back but did not actually cause him harm–made me change my mind. Alright, Mom, I thought. I’ll give you–and Paleo–one month.
For those of you who haven’t heard of it, the Paleo movement (I won’t call it a diet, because that implies a short term weight-loss fix, not a sustainable lifestyle) is based on the concept that our Paleolithic ancestors (read: hunter-gatherers) did not suffer from the diseases that our Neolithic ancestors (read: agriculturalists) and we ourselves do. Diseases like obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and the rest of the Western diseases and syndromes we hear about in increasingly dire news headlines each day. Paleo is simple: eat meat and plants.
That sounds easy enough, but then consider what you’re not eating: grains, beans, legumes, some seeds, dairy…and, of course, like every nutrition movement, there are different camps. Some say that all starches are to be avoided like the plague, while others contend that there are safe starches found in foods like sweet potatoes. There is debate as to whether or not the fructose in fruit is pure evil or a treat to be enjoyed seasonally. There is the Primal offshoot that contends that dairy is okay in the form of raw milk and clarified butter (ghee). There are followers of Weston A. Price who think that some grains are okay, and there are gluten-free eaters who still incorporate things like rice, quinoa, and the like but consider themselves allied to the Paleo movement. There are the crazy cavemen who grow their beards out and go foraging in Central Park, and there are the Crossfitters who speak of their WOD (workout of the day) on religious terms. There are the Intermittent Fasters and the partakers in Cold Thermogenesis and drinkers of Bulletproof Coffee and many, many more.
I was almost loathe to write that I started researching and then eating “Paleo” here because I do not want to a) acquire yet another unhealthy, orthorexic, restrictive label or b) give anyone yet another reason to judge or question this “diet” I’m “on.” So I want to make it VERY clear that my purpose here is to do two things: find a sustainable lifestyle and find one that works for ME. That means that, yes, I’m eating meat and plants. Yes, I’m eating coconut, and, no, I’m not touching grains, legumes, or beans.
It’s been a month now, and I’ve already noticed some positive changes. I’ve lost much of the fat I had as a vegan and replaced it with muscle. My acne, while still present, has lessened (and it seems like a lot of my systemic inflammation has gone down). I still have some visceral fat, and I’m battling my anxiety and terrible sleep habits. I’m developing a healthier relationship with food…but that said, I still have a long way to go.
My purpose here is to try to make sense of the hundreds of different voices, all purporting to speak the truth–to aggregate, analyze, and test the data for myself, so that I can start healing–physically and mentally. I want to share what I find with you, because I know how hard it is to try to make sense of our relationships to food, diet, body, and health alone. If I can help one person avoid the mental turmoil I’ve been fighting in the supermarket aisles, at the gym, and in front of the mirror for most of my adult life, then I consider this little blogging experiment a success.
Join me, and maybe we can all find a our perfect pairs of skinny genes!