Archive | November, 2011

Newbies to Hunting: Pheasant

28 Nov

I choose to eat meat. Recently I have made some pretty big leaps in learning how to transform animals into food. I didn’t just jump into this cold, however. My husband got into hunting a few years back. Mostly he goes for deer and elk, but that’s been pretty slow going. A few years ago he got into bird hunting, and that has paid off much better. This is a pheasant he recently brought home.

Unlike many hunters we know, neither of us grew up in a hunting family culture. We are flying by the seat of our pants here. But with so many great online resources and a few knowledgeable friends we’ve been able to make it work!

My friend Amanda turned me on to this site.  Frankly I see no point in looking elsewhere for instructions on handling your game. This site helps me figure out how to make use of as much of the animal as possible, which is something I am deeply committed to.

Many game birds except duck and geese have thinner skin, so the plucking takes much longer. Most of the time hunters just skin them completely. I’ve done it both ways, and in my opinion taking the time to pluck is key. I did that with this one and I’ve saved all the feathers. I am still not sure what I am going to do with them, but they are just too gorgeous to throw out.

I used this simple recipe and it was perfect, which again I got from this site:

Prep Time: 5 hours, if you are brining the bird

Cook Time: 60 minutes

  • 2 whole pheasants
  • 4 cups water
  • 1/4 cup kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon crushed juniper berries
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil or softened butter
  1. Brine the bird. Make a brine by bringing 4 cups water, 1/4 cup salt, 5 crushed bay leaves, 1 tablespoon of white sugar and a tablespoon of crushed juniper berries to a boil. Cover and let cool to room temperature. When it cools, submerge your pheasant in the brine and keep it in the fridge for 4-8 hours. The longer you brine, the saltier the pheasant will become.
  2. Bring the bird to room temperature. After the soak, take the pheasant out and dry him off. If you have the time, let the bird rest, breast side up, uncovered in the fridge overnight. This will help when it comes time to crisp the skin. When you are ready to cook, take the pheasant out of the fridge and let it sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes and up to an hour.
  3. Heat your oven. Get it to 500 degrees if possible, but at least 400 degrees. Give yourself at least 15 minutes of preheating, and up to a half hour.
  4. Oil the bird. You can do this with olive oil or you can smear butter all over it.
  5. Stuff and salt the bird. Salt the whole bird well, then stuff with a piece of onion or apple and a few fresh herbs. Do not pack the cavity.
  6. Roast the pheasant for 15 minutes at your high temperature.
  7. Take the pheasant out and lower the temperature to 325 degrees. Leave your oven door open to speed this process. OPTIONAL: Baste the bird with either butter or a glaze. I like a boiled-down combination of butter and maple syrup.
  8. Return the pheasant to the oven and roast for 30-45 minutes. You want the internal temperature to be about 155 degrees and for the bird’s juices to run pretty clear. A little pink in the juice — and in the bird — is what you want. The higher end of this cooking time will give you a well-done bird, which I try to avoid but many people prefer.
  9. Remove the pheasant, cover loosely with foil and let it rest for 10-15 minutes. This resting time is vital, as it lets the juices redistribute within the pheasant. It will also finish off the cooking process through carry-over heating.

Serve with potatoes and a veg of your liking.

I also made an omelet with the liver after I soaked it in milk over night.

Now what to do with those feathers?

~Meredith

On the Paleo Lifestyle as a Gift to Your Loved Ones

25 Nov

Happy Thanksgiving! Of course, paleo foodie that I am, I couldn’t resist taking a shot of a loaded plate with my Droid. (You stay classy, Primal Kitchen.)

I am deeply grateful for the paleo, primal, and Crossfit communities – especially that they are so vibrant in our virtual world. Though it’s been so thrilling to finally run into some traditional food folks in the flesh in the last couple of months, I know that there is no way I would have made progress or learned as much as I have without the collective wisdom and shared tips of fellow paleo people all around the world. If you’re an active part of the community, whether as a blogger, a forum participant, or a Tweeter/Facebooker, THANKS for your contribution! I hope that your Thanksgiving holiday weekend offers lots of warm and memorable moments with your loved ones.

And…speaking of Thanksgiving holiday weekend, I’ll wager that a few of you might be braving the crowds today for Black Friday deals. Bravo for you, I say! But even better, if you’ve stopped relying on sugar, grains, and industrial oils in your diet – if you’ve “gone paleo” – you are giving your loved ones a better gift than any you could have picked up at the big box store, even if you were first in line camped out with a tent and power generator.

As you know, I am the mother of two daughters, aged (almost) 2 and 4. While I know that, despite my wishes, I can’t protect them from everything, I know that I can do my best to protect them from a lot of unnecessary ills. If I make it a priority for us to eat foods that our bodies are meant to use as fuel, and I ensure that my girls get lots of fresh air activity outdoors, I’ve gone a long way to protect them from:

  • Childhood obesity. If kids’ day-to-day menus are chock-full of nutrient dense foods (and inherently lower carb than standard industrial diets), their metabolisms will operate as intended and won’t degrade over time.
  • Inactivity. Fueling kids with quality food gives them the long-lasting energy needed to support lots of healthy playtime, climbing, running, and anything else their little bodies wish to tackle! Meanwhile, overdoses of sugar and other less desirable ingredients (especially from processed foods as a dietary staple) only serve to deplete energy and offer up a blood sugar roller coaster.
  • Childhood disease. There’s still a lot we’re learning about cancer, diabetes, and other illnesses that shouldn’t be a part of any kid’s life – but it’s certainly becoming clear that wholesome nutrient dense diets partnered with outdoor play and healthy Vitamin D stores result in healthier populations on the whole.

As an adult, “going paleo” has a similar set of benefits! If you’ve been waffling or thinking about “going paleo”, I urge you to consider giving it a 30 day try! You’ll be amazed by the difference in how you feel (even in the one month short term), and even more by the long-term benefits reaped.

When you and your kids are eating the food you’re designed to eat – and getting sunshine, fresh air, and exercise, you’ll live longer and have more energy to do the things you love, and the “best you” is a gift that keeps giving!

Going paleo is one of the greatest gifts that you can give your loved ones – especially in the legacy it leaves your kids!

This post also appears on Primal Kitchen: A Family Grokumentary.

A Quarter Life Overhaul

23 Nov

I am Primal Kitchen’s Family Grokumentarian, and I’ve been blogging about my family’s path in the paleo lifestyle since our transition to it in June of 2010. I am 28 years old, a wife, and a mother of two girls, 4 and almost 2 years old. This is my story so far.

I was a normal-but-maybe-a-tiny-bit-chubby weight-wise until about age 8, when I had my school physical. I distinctly remember the day because I weighed in at 88 lb. The doctor explained to my mom (in front of me), “Mrs. So-and-so, you must avoid feeding your daughter hamburgers, cheeseburgers, Lucky Charms…” I actually had the thought, “But, what am I going to eat?”

Of course at that point the zeitgeist was all about low-fat, low-cholesterol. My dad suffered from high cholesterol, and my dad’s side of the family has a history of multiple heart issues, we were suddenly eating so many low-fat and fat-free foods, which happened to include high-fructose-corn-syrup-laden salad dressings, SnackWell’s cookies, and so on. I actually remember my mom sitting my brother and me down for a talk – and telling us that for the sake of my dad’s heart and our health, we were going to have not so many meat-based meals, but instead more pasta meals.

And would you believe it? I became fatter. (It’s like those foods were doing the opposite of what was intended.) We moved at the end of the summer before I started sixth grade, and because there was a while where we were surviving on restaurant foods while in traction before finding a permanent home, by the time I weighed in during the school weigh-in, I was around 155 lb., which could be a great weight for a tall and fit adult female, but I was decidedly stout, wearing junior size 15 jeans. Life was not fun.

One thing my parents did rightly recognize: I needed exercise in my life. Despite my lack of enthusiasm, they had me join the local swim team wherever we lived, and so by middle school I was swimming several hours a week. My growing self-awareness about my body had me packing my own lunches. They were very low-calorie, albeit nutritionally bereft: maybe an applesauce and a couple of fun size candy bars. By 8th or 9th grade I was in the 130s, wearing junior size 7 jeans.

By college, I wasn’t quite so active, and the dreck served at the cafeteria didn’t help. I gained some weight, and suddenly decided my sophomore year that I wasn’t going to eat “dairy or carbs” – bizarrely shorthand for paleo, though I had no concept of that at the time! I got back into the 140s for a time, before the call of sugar was back in my life, and I was in the 160s by the time I graduated.

I married my sweetheart right out of college at a size 10 or so, and decided to do Atkins with lots of cardio and free weight work. I was eating soy-based frankenfoods a lot of the time, but it worked. I got down to about 159 lb., but fairly toned, wearing size 8 pants and size 4/6 tops. (A far cry from the 150s shape I was in as a sixth grader…) Definitely the best shape of my adult life.

Then, I was pregnant! My doctor wisely advised that I lay off so much soy in my diet (phytoestrogens and all…). I started eating carbs again, and surprise! I gained just over 40 lb. at the peak of that pregnancy. My daughter arrived, turning our universe (in that wonderful, crazy way) inside out. I struggled mightily to lose the weight, but truthfully the stresses of parenthood, being a working mom, and my evening grad classes took a major toll, and soon certain snacks (especially sugary carbs like chocolate covered pretzels) were comfort food extraordinaire. No surprise, I hovered generally in the 180s, until shortly after weaning my daughter at 18 months, my second daughter was conceived. I was elated, but also internally stressing out, because I knew that it meant another swell of weight gain.

I was right; though I lost some the first trimester from nausea, soon I topped that pregnancy at 208 lb. At my six week postpartum checkup I weighed in at 191. But the stresses sure didn’t dissipate; they only increased! I was miserable and still eating for comfort. Meanwhile, my oldest daughter had always - since I could remember – been interested in eating more food than seemed logical for her age and nutritional needs.

By the time daughter #2 was about 6 months old, my brother-in-law and sister-in-law came for a visit with their two kids. My nephew has always had the appetite of a bird. I remarked something to the effect that it had never been the case for my daughter, and that she was seemingly always hungry. My brother-in-law, a family practice physician, made a remark that eventually changed my life: he said that in some people the leptin hormonal pathways differ, so satiation doesn’t comes into play the way it should. He also said offhandedly (in a later conversation the same visit) that if anybody were to eat only what the cavemen had access to eat, that person would lose weight.

I ruminated on that for a couple of weeks. I knew that I had eating issues. I also knew that I was always. SO. hungry. — and so was my oldest daughter! I dreaded her having to go through the pain that I had as a child – being constantly teased about weight, self-depriving with ridiculous dieting to fit the image of skinny that society was demanding, etc. I wanted a long-term, sane solution.

I started Googling. Soon I found Loren Cordain’s web page, which somehow led to me to Mark Sisson’s site. I was reading more on biochemistry pathways that I had since my college years. It all made lots of sense, and yet was still blowing my mind. You want me to add how much fat?!

So I started eating primally in June of 2010, around 198 lb. I suddenly experienced great things: mental clarity, sustained energy, etc. – and weight loss! But then I got cocky last fall…all of this talk of people still managing to eat potatoes or even white rice with little detriment. I was making allowances for honey and eating a lot of Clementines. My carb count wasn’t managed at all. The holidays came and went with a vengeance.

Any time I manage to keep my carb count down with careful food journaling, I do much better, both emotionally (without sugar spikes)  and in terms of weight loss. The last time that I did this, keeping less than 30 grams of carbohydrates per day (through March 2011), I lost about 15 pounds – and left my appetite steady and low. The problem is – when you’re in charge of feeding a preschooler and toddler every day (and that means preparing and feeding their growing bodies and brains carbs!), managing, counting, and journaling one’s own carb counts can be exceedingly tedious.

After March, I was loosey goosey with my carb count in the spring – until July 2011 when I did my first whole30, which was strict paleo, no dairy, no added sweeteners. While I was fairly whole30 compliant, I still noticed how much my diet’s fat content relied on pastured dairy prior to that point. I was also very hungry during the whole30 due to my sudden drop in fat consumed – I compensated with increased legal carbs like fruit and sweet pototoes. By the month’s end I had lost 3 or 4 pounds, but my digestion was thoroughly out of whack. That much sugar (even natural sugar) and fiber does not agree with me! Knowing what I learned from the July whole30 experience, I’m considering doing a modified version in January – one that includes butter and heavy cream, but generally avoids fruits and foods that are full of both carbs and fiber. Our family also recently made its first bulk pastured beef purchase in the form of a half cow, so I can now rely on tallow from a quality animal source as part of my fat intake.

I also knew that I needed to exercise – I hadn’t had regular exercise since my prebaby days of chronic cardio. I’d been yearning to try Crossfit for months, when this last summer my husband and I finally found a way to make committing to Crossfit work financially – but only with the help of a generous gift from my parents. I finally made it to my first rampup intro course at the end of September.

Going paleo was hard, but starting Crossfit was harder. Of course it was tremendously physically challenging, but for me, the hump was mostly mental. Would my local Crossfit box work with an atrophied cream puff like me? Luckily for me, I soon saw that my local Crossfit box is full of a wide range of folks – different ages, personalities, many parents, including lots of inspiring and capable women of varying fitness levels who push themselves to new standards every time they work out. I’ve been heartened thus far to find in my instructors and fellow Crossfitters a welcoming and congenial community which pursues individual goals while also encouraging camaraderie and teamwork. I’ve come a long way even in two months, and though almost every single workout of mine remains scaled in one way or another, I can observe my strength and capabilities increasing in little ways every week.

My greatest current struggle is adapting to the energy required to Crossfit weekday mornings before my girls wake up – I’ve had to add some carbohydrate in the form of a small meal of a pre-workout banana (along with some boiled egg or meat), and I’m still tinkering with figuring out what macronutrient ratios (and when!) will work best for me. It may well take me months or even years to find my stride nutritionally and fitness-wise, but I’m starting to become OK with the notion that my story won’t be an instant-fix one.

Being, Having, and Doing: The Metaphysics of Disease

22 Nov

Several years ago, I had an acquaintance who had previously been diagnosed with diabetes. He began a low carb diet, against the advice of his doctor, (this was in the dark 90′s), and over a period of time his symptoms abated, until one day his doctor announced that he no longer had diabetes (though in a bizarre, but perhaps common feat of cognitive dissonance, she could not help but advise him that he “really should eat more carbs”). Of course, my friend hadn’t actually stopped being a diabetic. If he were to have started eating carbs again, as recommended, he would quickly have returned to his diabetic state. What it means to “be” a diabetic is to have the susceptibility to manifest diabetes under the right, or perhaps I should say wrong, circumstances.

We all have weaknesses, to a greater or lesser extent. We all have our own special ways in which our bodies break down in response to a poor environment. For some diseases, we call this “being”. We “are” diabetic, epileptic, alcoholic, schizophrenic. For some reason, we identify less with other diseases. A person merely “has” cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, or MS, even though these are not considered less permanent conditions once identified, even if they can go into remission. It does seem somewhat arbitrary that a person who was theretofore “normal” suddenly becomes or acquires a disease that they then are or have for the rest of their lives regardless of whether the disease continues to manifest. There may be a sense in which we are all diabetic, for example, even never having had symptoms. We all have the potential to some degree, no matter how small, and just because the degree is not yet known, it doesn’t make it not so.

In any case, what truly matters to a person who is or has or happens to know they have a genetic predisposition to such a condition, is whether or not their body is doing that which characterizes the disease. It is for this reason that one would seek to optimize their environment: to prevent themselves from “doing” a disease state. The Paleo diet and lifestyle is conceived with this in mind. It is reasoned both from an evolutionary standpoint: eat only that kind of food to which the body is well-adapted; and from a clinical perspective: do not eat foods which tend to cause disease. Without seeking to re-enact the environment in which we evolved — an impossible, and not particularly desirable goal (civilization does have some benefits) — one attempts to create a metabolic environment which is maximally healthful, and to which we do not tend to respond by breaking down in our various ways.

For my part, I am a fat person living in a reasonably fit body. (Fat is one of those rare states that we treat linguistically as transient, even though the obese, pre-obese, and post-obese have a signature metabolic profile such that a formerly fat person is not the same as a naturally thin one. This contributes to the blaming of fat people for their condition that would never be tolerated for other diseases.) I have Bipolar II, but for some years now my moods have no longer been disordered, and I use no medication. I wasn’t able to achieve this with a diet that is “just” Paleo, however, or even just low in carbohydrate. My body continues to do fat and bipolar unless I eat nothing but meat (though coffee and tea are mercifully tolerated). No doubt, there are people for whom even this is not enough, and others for whom it is not necessary. My idiosyncratic susceptibilities are simply deeper than most. However, I consider it likely that a great many people will do without disease simply by following a Paleo or low carb diet, or both. If nothing else, they are starting points that make sense for anyone wishing to give their body the best chance to manifest wholeness and well-being, whatever its underlying constitution may be.

Suddenly Everything Has Changed…

18 Nov

When the things you’ve steeled yourself against go away, you have to then figure out what to live for again.  Andrew Sullivan


From my earliest memories, I recall being a child who was much larger than my peers.  The first memory of being on a scale was when I was seven years old. I weighed in at 107 pounds while most of my peers were 40 or 50 lbs less. That was the opening salvo of my long war with the scale. So traumatic were my yearly physicals that I remember my ages during my preteen and teen years by how much I weighed that year. Twelve years old: 216 pounds; Thirteen: 237 pounds; Fourteen: 265; Fifteen: 282; sixteen: 310. By the time I graduated from high school I topped out at about 350. The weight continued to accumulate even though all through high school I played football and lifted weights regularly.  My parents did what they were supposed to do with such a big problem on their hands. They took me to my doctor too see what was wrong. I was hoping the doctor would tell me that I had some rare disorder that could be treated with a shot or some magic pills, but after a thorough examination it was determined that I had no thyroid problems or other glaring clinical issues that would cause my weight to be unnaturally high. They then took me to a nutritionist who gave me a list of foods to eat- the infamous food pyramid was my new bible and calorie counting was supposed to be my religion- and told me to not exceed 2000 calories a day. That didn’t work out too well because I was hungry all the time, so by the time I was ready to get out of high school my parents and I were frustrated as to how to get me down to a healthy weight.

The summer before I was set to go to college the best thing possible happened to me: my hours at my summer job were cut. So to fill up the idle time, the day after graduation I decided to start running in the mornings. Every morning I would get up at 6am and go up to the neighborhood elementary school and run around the soccer field. Since I had a solid athletic background from playing football, it didn’t take long before I was running several miles a day 5 days a week and the weight melted off. In the three months from my graduation up until I started classes in the fall, I lost about 60-70 lbs from running and playing basketball. I didn’t stop once classes started and by the time my first semester was over I’d went from 350 down to 250- 100 lbs in a 6 month period. During this time, nutritionally, I was eating better than I usual(did I mention that job that cut my hours was a bakery?) but the level of activity was the driving factor. So all through college, I lifted weights, ran and ate a pretty sensible standard American diet(SAD) that kept my weight between 235-245 at about 22-24% body fat, which was decent considering I had a heavy musculature genetically and until that point carried a body fat percentage in the high-thirties.

After college, I started the typical 9-5 where I sat at a desk all day, ate carry-out for lunch and no longer had the convenient access to a gym. Within eighteen months I had ballooned back up to 320 pounds. I joined a gym near home to try to start getting my weight back down but it was different now because, at 24, it didn’t just melt off like it did when I was 18. After months fighting a war of attrition with the scale, on a recommendation from a person in passing, I gave the Atkins diet a shot. It worked great. With a bit of running and weightlifting, f60pounds melted off my frame in 3 months and I was back down to about 260 which was a much better point from which to fight a defensive battle. These were the trenches from which I battled my weight problem through the rest of my twenties.

When I got to 30, my body was beginning to break down from years of running and chronic cardio that I performed several times a week to keep the weight from getting too out of control. Around the same time, the Atkins diet didn’t work as well as it used to and I started to feel powerless to stop my waistline from expanding. In the beginning of 2010, at over 290lbs and climbing, I started searching for an answer to a simple question: How can I lose weight with minimal exercise, without being hungry and have that weight loss be sustainable over the rest of my life?

After a lot of researching, I decided to give the Mark Sisson’s version of the paleo diet a shot. Having had experience with low-carb diets prior to going paleo, it was not hard doing a low-carb version of a paleo diet. The results of making this switch was immediate and staggering. The weight loss I expected but the change is focus and mood was totally unexpected. All of a sudden, the fog was gone and everyday it seemed as if I was noticing something noticeably improved in my body- most things i didn’t even realize were not quite right. About 4 months in, I began to up my starch consumption, which I was very wary of doing coming from my low-carb background. To my surprise, I kept losing weight. Almost two years later the weight has come off and stayed off. At 34 years old, I now weigh 218 lbs@16% body fat- a weight I haven’t seen since age 12. My transformation was great but the thing that I’m most proud of is my parent’s coming on board in January. They’ve made amazing progress in the 10+ months they’ve been paleo and have adjusted to the lifestyle change better than I ever expected.

After 30 years of looking at the scale in fear, as part of my routine every morning, I weigh myself. No longer is there a sense of dread or nervousness. Just a quiet knowing that part of my life is now under control and I can spend my time concentrating on other things.

I like to Mov it- Mov it

17 Nov

*This article can also be seen at Julia’s blog*

A few weekends ago, I participated in a MovNat workshop at Rock Creek Park in DC. I really enjoyed Erwan LeCorre’s presentation at the Ancestral Health Symposium, so I was really looking forward to it. The workshop was taught by Clifton Harski, and he had an assistant instructor named Justin, who is training to teach their one-day workshops.

It was a great group of people in the class- there were all kinds of body types, ages, and fitness levels, and I definitely noticed that pretty much everyone was in minimalist shoes. It was a little chilly that morning, so I left my Vibrams at home due to the ol’ Raynaud’s; I had to chuckle to myself because I used to stick out like a wierdo wearing Vibrams at my gym, and now I was the wierdo in normal shoes!

So, what can one expect to get out of one of these workshops? The thing is, as we humans become so advanced that we no longer need to really do anything physical for ourselves, we’ve grown grossly out of touch with how to move. Many of us are spending a third of our lives in chairs; with online shopping, work, and school, we could probably live our entire lives on our asses if we wanted to! We’ve innovated away our instincts, and MovNat is a great way to re-learn skills that came naturally to us as kids, and that mankind used to depend on to survive.

The skills we went over were walking, running, balancing, crawling, jumping, climbing, lifting, carrying, throwing, and catching. Swimming and defense are also part of the MovNat skillset, but weren’t covered in the one-day workshop. We spent a chunk of time on each skill and learned different techniques for each one, such as various methods for climbing a tree, different ways to crawl in order to safely get up and down hills, etc. It’s all about learning to move in a way that is most efficient, safe and natural, and I learned a lot! I’ve always had a fear of going upside-down, and pretty much anything gymnastics-related; doing a ton of forward rolls (even a ninja-style one after hopping off a picnic table!) has made a dent in that. I’ve also gotten more efficient with crawling- I’ve done some bear crawls in my CrossFit workouts, but learned I had been wasting a bunch of energy by sticking my booty in the air. I even learned what the Smith machine is for- Clifton suggested we use it to do some stepping over/lunging under drills, and I’ve been incorporating that into my warmups in the gym!

One thing I really liked about the MovNat presentation at AHS was the emphasis on its intangible, unmeasurable benefits, such as courage, self-esteem, etc. At the workshop, I did some stuff I hadn’t done before, and that’s always a nice feeling; I was able to hoist myself up on a tree branch (still working on getting the full “MovNat leg swing”), and I found that I can pick up an average-sized dude and drag him to safety! I didn’t succeed in fireman-carrying him, but was pleased nonetheless.

I wish I had a better memory or had taken notes during the wrapup; Cliff talked with us about how he likes to work out when not teaching workshops, about eating well while traveling, and some other topics brought up by my classmates.  I definitely remember though, that when speaking about overtraining, he stated that most people are more likely to be under-recovering rather than over-training.  Ain’t that the truth!  So many are eating like crap, sleeping like crap, and thinking it’s all good because they spend an hour on the treadmill every day; if you’re one of ‘em, you’re not doing yourself any favors by prioritizing exercise over recovery.

If you’re able to swing one of these workshops, I highly recommend it. I’m going to work on my leg-swinging and tree-climbing in earnest this winter, and will hopefully be able to attend another workshop next year!

Real Life Paleo

15 Nov

My name is Bree, I spend my days as an environmental scientist and my evenings as a wife and mom.  This is Paleo in my slanted version of reality a.k.a my real life.  Oh and by the way – this is not a ‘success’ story.  This is a work in progress.

About a year ago I knew that I needed a change.  My fiancé (now hubby) needed a change.  And I wanted the absolute best for our son.  So out came my research hat and away I went searching for a plan.  I had been a crossfitter prior to getting pregnant (and for a small stint post-pregnancy that resulted in a broken limb) but back in those days crossfit was more aligned with a Zone approach to nutrition and hadn’t quite jumped on the paleo bandwagon; but there were rumblings, and that is how I was first introduced.  The more I read, the more the paleo/primal slant on nutrition made sense.  And of course it made sense; the first reading I did was Mark Sisson. He is an excellent communicator, his books are the go-to for starting off and his cookbook is a gem in my house – even today.

The first six months went great. I was pumping out mouth-watering meals every evening that included plenty for lunch the next day and breakfasts were filled with awesome local range bacon, local sausages and eggs any way you like.  Hubby lost a big chunk of weight (around 40 lbs) and our toddler was thriving.  I felt better, but no weight came off.

The next six months became a little harder.  I got busier at work, I was planning my wedding and add to that the normal business of being a mom.  Stress levels went up quite a bit and I actually started putting on more weight.  Total BUMMER!  So right now I am in an interesting point in my paleo journey.  It almost feels like I am starting over.  I’m in the process of researching some more, ramping up and filling up our larder so that I can knuckle down and stay very true to the diet (ie NO CHEATS, no BAD FOOD) for at least 3 months.  I haven’t yet decided what plan to implement and I am open to suggestions.  It’s going to be hard and I’m going to need some help with accountability.  Will you help to keep me an honest eater??

Going with my gut…

14 Nov

Before! (Yes, it's bread)

Howdy!  My name is Julia; I’m 27, I work in a cubicle and I live in Maryland.  I’ve been doing the paleo thang for a little over a year. I’d struggled with my weight for several years after getting out of high school; I tried Atkins, South Beach, vegetarianism & veganism, tracking calories, you name it. I finally lost weight doing Weight Watchers! I lost about 15 pounds by obsessively tracking calories, fat grams, fiber grams, and minutes in the gym, but became burned out and was practically living off processed foods.  I finally realized that losing weight doesn’t equate to getting healthy.

While all that was going on, I became aware of the fact that I was physically suffering. A few years ago, I began to notice that almost every afternoon, I would come down with abdominal pain, and my belly would become distended. Usually, I looked like I was sporting a baby bump by the time I got home! I let this go on for about year until I decided it wasn’t normal and I ought to figure out what was going on. I did some research and went to a gastroenterologist’s office certain I’d be diagnosed with Celiac disease (I had just learned what that was, and my symptoms were pretty consistent with it). After bloodwork, a sonogram, and an endoscopy, the doctor ruled out Crohn’s, gallbladder problems, and Celiac. A lot of people seemed to think I should be happy about this, but I was getting pretty down about not knowing what was wrong with me.

After!

Eventually I got interested in nutrition; I thought about doing the vegan thing again (thinking it was the healthiest way to go) and did a detox called the Clean Program.  A few days into it, my symptoms were gone, and I was elated!  I finally felt normal again; I had forgotten what that was like.  I had eliminated numerous foods, and upon adding things back in, I learned that gluten was indeed causing my symptoms, even though I don’t have Celiac. I struggled with the gluten-free thing for a few months, and felt mostly better.  During this time I started learning about paleo, and knew I needed to do more if I wanted to really get better. Eventually, I phased out the other grains & legumes, and most sugar & dairy. I’ve dropped ten more pounds, and on most days I feel fantastic.  Sometimes I feel disappointed in myself for taking so long to figure it all out, and in my doctor for his inability to help me, but I really am grateful I figured it out at all.

Soon after I had gone mostly paleo, the GI office contacted me to see if I was interested in participating in a study for a new IBS drug (I wasn’t even aware I had been diagnosed with anything), and I went in to see what it was all about.  The doctor I spoke with was very nice- we discussed my history of gut issues, and I told him how much better I’d been feeling since cutting out gluten and most other grains.  He replied flatly that since I had tested negative for Celiac, there was “no need to eliminate gluten” from my diet.  I was floored.  I still believe that doctors are generally in their profession because they genuinely want to help people, but it was a bit disheartening to tell this doctor that I had figured out what was wrong with me and was fixing it myself, and pretty much be told I’m full of crap and should take some pills instead.  There are many stories just like mine out there; unfortunately a lot of folks are listening to their doctors over their own bodies.

Danielle and I hobnobbing with the celebs at AHS!

This way of eating has led to so many positive changes- I’ve become more interested in sustainable farming, eating real food, fitness & being an ethical omnivore, and I’ve found a lovely community of like-minded people! Over the past few months, I’ve attended the Ancestral Health Symposium in L.A., a MovNat workshop in Washington, DC, and a Whole9 Nutrition workshop in Bowie, MD. I haven’t been posting as much as I’d like to, but I also write a blog called Queen of the Stoneage and I contribute to Chowstalker.

DC MovNat workshop- October 2011

From “Health Food” to Whole Food

14 Nov

Pheasant

My name is Meredith and I am a health, traditional food and fitness junkie. I am a stay at home mom of two boys ages five and almost two. My husband works for the National Park Service so we’ve moved quite a bit and have had the opportunity to live in some pretty amazing places, but I am originally from Rhode Island.

I landed on Paleo way of eating after a long and exhausting battle with my body and food. I was an overweight child. I lost all the weight in a very unhealthy way and became quite thin. But when I went to college I was so stressed from counting every calorie eaten and burned that I again over-corrected. I ballooned hugely. I stopped weighing myself at some point but I guess that I was at least 70 pounds overweight. But, young and dumb, I just starved the weight off — again.  There may have been Slimfast involved.

To maintain this weight loss I decided that I needed to be hyper-vigilant.  I bought lots and lots of “health food.” It was really all just packaged crap from the hippie store in town. But, I truly thought I was making the best choices.  I counted, weighed, adjusted macros, ran for miles and miles and miles and miles.  But even though I was obsessing about my body I pretty much always felt detached from it – never mind feeling any connection with the quality of my food. As long as it fit some magical macro-nutrient breakdown, I couldn’t care less about what I was eating.

Backyard Chickens

Around 2005 I found the the book the Paleo Diet by Loren Cordain in a podunk little library (yes, I was scouring the “diet” section). It was great timing because I was pretty goddamn tired of dieting. It seemed like a reasonable way to live, and simple, which I liked very much. Of course, I got hooked on Mark Sisson’s site  when it came out and have listened to Robb Wolf weekly. I’ve pretty much stuck to the Paleo way of eating ever since. For me it’s about a simple, whole foods approach to health.

Let me be clear though – my struggles with my body are still somewhat with me. They are probably the same struggles that every woman socialized in America grapples. What’s the perfect weight, pant size, waist circumference, blah, blah, blah.

Fresh Eggs

I am at a point now where I am trying to marry my beliefs about life with nutrition, community, exercise etc.  I strive to provide my family food that is as close to its original source as possible. So now instead of buying packaged “health food”, I am attempting to grow our food, raise laying hens, hunt, fish and butcher my own meats (I do not live on a farm by the way – I have a very small plot of land so interesting challenges abound!). It’s been quite a learning process! You won’t find any boneless chicken breasts in my house, but my freezer is full of whole birds, legs of lamb and roughly 40 pounds of chicken feet (which I confess is really TOO MUCH chicken feet).

My son just started Kindergarten this year, so my current journey also involves learning how to pack lunches that are as close to Paleo as possible and having him actually eat them! My hope is to teach my kids about where whole food comes from. Together we have plucked game birds, dug potatoes from our small garden and collected fresh eggs from our chickens.

Backyard Bounty

I am super excited about this collaborative weblog! It will be fueled by individual posts  from a group of people who I’ve come to adore!  They have taught me so much about food, health and most of all community. It is my hope that this will be fun and enriching not just for us, but also for others seeking answers.

The Middle of the Story

12 Nov

Beautiful beets

My name is Amanda.  I’m a fairly boring housewife-type living in coastal New England with my little family; husband, almost 2-year-old son and almost 4 year old daughter, cat, and two canine mutts.  I’m a social worker and psychotherapist specializing in the advanced treatment of psychological trauma, though I don’t discuss the specifics of my work on the internet.  I’m home with my kiddos now while my career is waiting for me. One reason I choose to stay home is because the first year of my daughter’s life was a rough one.

I had to do fertility treatments to get pregnant with my daughter back in 2007.  I won’t dwell on that except to say that it sucked, and I gained some weight from the hormone injections.  But, it worked and she was born in the winter of 2008.  I was lucky enough to fall instantly and profoundly in love with her slippery little body the second she was plopped on my chest.  We had a wonderful time together in the beginning, despite some breastfeeding challenges and the usual sleep deprivation.  Those six months were some of the happiest of my life, though I didn’t know it at the time.  We never do.

Six months into our life together, I got sick.  I knew immediately that something was wrong, so I didn’t tell anyone, even my husband.  My hands were pins and needles.  I thought it was contact dermatitis, but, it spread and moved around my body.  Soon a band around my chest was totally numb, then my fingers went numb, then my feet.  It was scary and disconcerting, and I finally went in to see my doctor, assuming that she would brush it off as a B12 deficiency, give me shot and send me home.  My blood work came back however with very elevated CRP and Sed Rate, and I was positive for some strange antibodies like ANA and smooth muscle cell.  She immediately called a neurologist who had a cancellation and sent me for an MRI and lumbar puncture.

I’ll never forget the phone call.  I was home alone and Hazel was napping.  He was very nonchalant when he said, “So, you have

Carne Asada and Sauteed Spinach

significant white matter damage.”  I was hysterical sobbing and he told me to go to the hospital so I could get Solu-Medrol infusions.  He told me to look online and pick an MS drug before our next appointment.  The steroids were horrendous and I gained even more weight on top of the pregnancy and fertility treatments.  My husband had to take the week off work while I was recovering.  I had no idea what steroids even were and no one, certainly not my doctor, prepared me for the storm that would happen in my body over the next month.

I put together my list of all four injectable medications available at the time, the pros and cons for each, and a long list of questions.  My neurologist didn’t have the time to go over it all with me, and told me to just take Copaxone, a daily injection.  I discovered later that he receives money from Teva Neuroscience, the drug manufacturer, to give talks to the public about “Current trends in drug treatment for MS.”  I am a good patient though so the nurse came to my house and trained my husband and I to do the injections.  For a year, I did the shots every night, had all my questions ignored by my neurologist, had my MRI every 6 months and slept.  I was so tired beyond imagining.  I felt like I was constantly fighting my way up out of general anesthesia.  It made parenting very difficult.  my hands seemed to be permanently numb even after the high-dose steroids, and any increase in core body temperature, or an ambient temperature above 80 degrees would bring back all the old symptoms.  I would go on a mile long walk and sleep for three hours.  My adipose tissue was degraded where I had to inject, and I was covered in painful itchy welts from injection site reactions.  My life was limited and sad.  I pictured myself in a wheelchair at Hazel’s graduation.

I have always been interested in complimentary and alternative treatments, and received a lot of support from my massage therapist, my chiropractor and my acupuncturist.  I read books about alternative treatments for MS, including Dr. Weil’s Anti-Inflammatory Diet.  Many MS patients don’t stick with diets that are perceived as “too limiting”, but having been a vegan and vegetarian for most of my life, I felt like I was prepared.  At the time, a typical day for me would consist of a bowl of Kashi GoLean cereal with skim milk for breakfast, or a bagel with low-fat cream cheese if I was out of the house.  Lunch was usually a sandwich or wrap of some kind, and dinner would be pasta or homemade pizza.  I did a lot of cooking, but because my husband was a vegetarian I rarely made any meat at home.

Grilled spicy Italian sausage with grilled peppers and onions, and cucumber tomato salad

Around the same time, another woman I know with MS said that she was managing her disease with  the Paleo diet.  I remembered hearing something about the “cavemen diet” that was all steak or that it was like Atkins or something with no vegetables and immediately dismissed it.  I read Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes around the same time that I read Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma and everything started to fall into place.  it seemed so simple and natural, like water flowing down hill.  I had an epiphany, and sat my husband down to tell him that I was going to have to start buying and cooking meat at home.  My diet before was not one that had much to criticize.  My dietitian that I saw when I was pregnant told me that she wished all pregnant women ate like me; fat-free and low-fat dairy, whole grains, occasional lean meat, lots of fruit and veggies, very low saturated fat.

In desperation, I did a total turnaround.  I decided to give it 30 days after I read Mark Sisson’s Primal Blueprint.  I got rid of what little processed food that I had, and was shocked to find that my definition of “processed” had changed with my new information.  I started eating eggs for breakfast, sometimes with bacon.  I started cooking with butter.  I bought my first package of lard from pastured pigs at our CSA.  I started roasting whole chickens, one of my favorite meals since childhood and that I missed dearly.  I started eating even more vegetables than when I was a vegetarian.  

After 30 days, I was off all my medications and not only remained in remission, but I no longer had the symptoms that I was told would be permanent.  The fatigue was gone, I had total feeling back in my hands with no residual paresthesia, and I had no more heat sensitivity.  On a particularly nice day outside for a walk, my husband said to me, “If this was last year, you would be complaining so much about the heat, and going inside to take a nap.”  Everything changed.  I effortlessly lost about 40 pounds and felt like I was ten years younger.  I loved cooking again.  My husband began eating meat again and had similar results.   I was able to do yoga again, and lift very heavy weight at the gym.  My kids felt lighter, and I was shocked at how much I could get done in a day.  I cannot overstate how dramatic the changes were in my life.

I eat meat on the bone, and cook with chicken stock made from feet.  I make my yogurt and crème fresh and ricotta.  I buy a half

Tomatillos from our friends garden

a cow from grass-fed and finished, pastured cows raised by friends.  I eat so many vegetables.  I love food and the options are limitless.  I eat big salads, avocados, fruit, raw nuts, olive oil and homemade mayonnaise.  I braise lamb shanks, and ox tails and stew.  I roast chickens and sear ducks.  I drink tea and stock and seltzer and wine.  I eat butter and dark chocolate and brie and goat cheese.  I will stuff a fresh fig with blue cheese and honey and thyme for breakfast, and snack on homemade pâté.  I have meals of roasted broccoli, cauliflower, squash and beets with lemon juice.  I eat yogurt I make with heavy cream on berries with cinnamon.  I do not feel deprived of anything.

I struggle with sugar sometimes, and holidays, and alcohol and organ meats.  It’s a process that is constantly revolving and refining for me, and I enjoy that.  I have eaten an ancestral/paleo/primal/traditional foods diet for about 13 months now and stay off my medication and in a total remission with no new disease progress.  I have a new neurologist who supports my choices a hundred percent.  I no longer consider a wheelchair to be a part of my future.  I have a passion for sourcing, cooking and eating Real Food, and helping people, particularly people with chronic health conditions and people with children, transition to a traditional foods diet.  I’m also honored to know my fellow blog collaborators, who are some of the kindest, most knowledgeable and hilarious people I have met.  Truth.

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