Soli here. Welcome to my first guest blogger! Dana has been a friend for several years now. Originally we met while camping in the middle of the country, then our paths crossed when I went to California a few years ago. Since then she’s moved to this side of the country. If only we could have just traded places so I could live out there. But that’s another story.
Dana has shifted her eating to primal/paleo, a movement I didn’t even know of a year ago. I had learned about it from an online acquaintance on the other side of the world (and hope to have her here for a guest post too). Primal eating seems very complimentary to traditional food. Dana recently wrote an essay about why she made the switch, and she has graciously agreed to let me share it here. Enjoy and happy eating!
The internet, magazines, newspapers, and water cooler gossips are all talking about the Primal and Paleo lifestyles; it’s a hot topic and getting hotter every day as people wake up and realize that there are choices to be made about how they live and eat. We do not have to do the same old same old, and in fact, science and just plain common sense are showing us every day that some of our choices over the last few hundred years have been just plain bad for us. By us, I mean the human race, that brilliant, versatile, funny, crazy *animal* that learned to use tools, communicate in thousands of languages, travel to the moon, and many other wondrous things. That’s not to say we are perfect. Oh no, I’ll be the first to tell you that human beings are fallible, arrogant, narrow minded, aggressive, and sometimes just stupid. But wether you believe in divine creation or evolution we are pretty darn fantastic! We are complicated, loving, gregarious animals that are on top of the world. Personally, I believe that with our position comes responsibility. I believe we are stewards, not owners, and that we need to live in harmony with the world around us. This belief, as well as health issues, is what originally brought me to primal living… but so much more has kept me around.
First off, let me be clear. I am not a doctor, or a scientist, or a nutritionist, but I am smart, rational, have great common sense, and am able to think for myself. This essay is about my choices and my experiences, it is not meant to be gospel, a scientific study, or evangelistic in any way. I just felt like sharing what I think Primal is, why I am going Primal, what I am getting out of it, and I hope to make you think about the choices you make in life. I’ll include links at the end for those who do want to go see what the experts say. By now I hope you have realized that I have not used the word diet. I hate that word. It makes me think of restrictions and feeling deprived. Primal living is about choices… active choices, not about deprivations, guilt, and restrictions. In fact, it isn’t really about losing weight, although many people find they do lose weight, it is about living in a healthy way that works with nature, not against her. It is a lifestyle choice not a diet and it is about so much more than food. It is about exercise, and recycling, and supporting small local farms, and living in community, and being responsible to the Earth. When I use diet from here on out, I mean it in the holistic sense of what I eat, not in trying to lose weight.
Most people get into the Primal lifestyle because of the food choices the diet recommends; who doesn’t love the idea of bacon as a health food! Some of us, like myself, do have weight issues. We’ve tried diet after diet and nothing has worked. We limit ourselves and eat “healthy.” We follow the government’s recommendations for grain servings and fruit and veggies. We avoid fat at all costs. We exercise our hearts out, hour after hour of cardio or weight training. We don’t feel fat inside, we don’t want to be fat, and certainly most of us don’t fit into the stereotype of the fat person who sits at home eating bonbons all day. I’ve always been a meat and potatoes kind of gal. A rare steak and mashed potatoes – yummy. Sweet tooth, not so much. I love bacon, but almost felt guilty when I would indulge in it. Then one day a friend on Facebook posted a link to Mark’s Daily Apple and talked about how Primal living had changed their life. The next day another friend, from the other side of the country, posted another link to Mark’s site. I was curious, I clicked the link, and my life changed. Here was a man saying we had it all wrong, that the American diet was bad for you, that the science behind the American diet was crap, and that we needed to rethink how we live and eat. I was flabbergasted and hooked. I started reading everything on his site. I followed the links to scientific studies and read them myself. I discovered Loren Cordain, PhD and many other scientists determined to uncover the lie of modern living. A bell went off, and I thought wow… I have got to try this. And here I am.
I can hear you saying, “That’s all fine and good Dana, but what is Primal living?” First, let’s just get the whole Primal vs. Paleo thing out of the way. Both are lifestyle choices, not just eating plans. Both want humans to live closer to how our pre-agricultural ancestors ate; they both try to honor/replicate the lifestyles of a hunter/gatherer society. As I understand it, (which means – hey I am not an expert, am pretty new to all this and I could be dead wrong here) the big difference comes in what modern conventions they allow into the plan. Neither Primal nor Paleo want you to ditch the house, move to the Asian plains, and start living naked with a spear (although that might be fun). But there are many post hunter/gatherer foods that lie somewhere between Primal/Paleo and Agricultural societies. Dairy and chocolate both come immediately to mind. These are food that probably entered the diet after we started to settle a bit, but before we became dependent on agriculture. Do you allow milk, cheese, chocolate, coffee? Primal seems to be a bit more forgiving than Paleo in allowing these foods into the diet, and for me, that is the big difference. I love my milk, can’t drink coffee without it, love my coffee… and chocolate? Get away from my dark chocolate! That’s mine! I self identify as Primal, although many people use them interchangeably, and I have used Paleo, especially when I was new to this. What you need to know, is that they both want us to live like a hunter/gatherer society.
Why? Evolution, that’s why. If you look at history, humans have been around for a very very long time. For most of that time, we lived in small communities that were mostly nomadic. We followed the food. The herds of deer, the seasonal plants, the ancient humans were right behind them. It was how we survived. It’s how we evolved. We spent all those years evolving from our distant primate ancestors into hunters and gatherers of food. We didn’t go to the local supermarket and pick dinner from a bright picture on a box; we worked for our food. It has only been for the last couple millennium that agriculture has been the base of our societies… and for many areas of the world it has been a lot less time than that. Now, I can imagine many of you thinking, “Why would we want to live like that?!? Short lives, harsh conditions… we are so much better off now!” This is where the science comes in. This is where you have to throw everything you learned in school out the window. This is where you have to stop believing what our government has told us and start thinking for yourself. Can you do that? It’s not easy, but you’ll find the results well worth it.
I’m not an anthropologist, but I have read many of their works. I am not a doctor, but I have read a lot of the latest studies. I am not a nutritionist, but my common sense tells me this makes sense. I’m not going to spout facts and figures… this is not a research paper or a medical document. I am going to try and answer some of the most common misconceptions for you….
1. “But we live a lot longer now because of how we eat!” “Do we?” I respond, one eyebrow arched mysteriously…. Anthropologists (or archeologists or both) have done studies on modern and ancient cadavers. What they found was astonishing. Yes, life was harsh, and yes, you had a good chance of dying young due to accidents or some other hazard of life. But they have found hunter/gatherer remains that died at 60 or 70 years old. And not just one or two, but enough for them to conclude that it was *common* for ancient hunter/gatherers to live that long. What actually seems to have happened was that we lived a long time, switched to an agricultural society, started dying younger and have been slowly working our way back up to longer lives. Much of that increase in life has come post-Industrial Revolution. Not because we are healthy, but because more of us are living past infant age. As infant mortality dropped and advances were made in medicine, we started living longer again. Keep in mind the reduction of infant mortality and the medicinal advances have all happened in the last 200 or so years.
2. “Okay, okay, but you have to admit with all our medical advances, we are more healthy now than we could have been then!” Again, what we thought was true, and what science is proving are two vastly different things. Do you like the TV show Bones? I sure do. Imagine Bones standing before three sets of human bones. Two were about 20 when they died, the third was in his 70s. Two sets seem remarkably healthy, no signs of metabolic diseases (like diabetes- more on that later!) or other systemic illness. One set has early signs of serious illness: arthritis, diabetes, and osteoporosis. Two of the bone sets are very old, from ancient hunter/gatherer humans and the third died last year. Who’s who? Would you be surprised to learn that the bones with all the signs of problems came from today? Your response might be, “Of course not, everyone has issues when they turn 70.” But the modern body is one of the 20 year old corpses! The ancient 70 year old has little or no signs of illness. Maybe we are not so healthy after all?
3. “So what causes all those metabolic diseases?” Pollution? Industry? Stress? Diet? Take your pick. And that is why Primal Living is about the big picture. It is about making choices to improve your health and the world around you. But I do want to delve into modern illnesses and how they might be or are tied to agricultural diets. Let’s look at obesity. It’s a huge issue (moan, groan, yes the pun was intended). Why are so many of us struggling with our weight? Why is it that so many people do lose weight on the Primal diet? It ties into diabetes, so let us look at them together. We know that diabetes is a metabolic disease that is tied to the body’s inability to process/create insulin correctly. We also know that grains and carbohydrates spike the insulin in the body. Imagine insulin as a yo-yo going up and down, up and down, up and down– faster faster every time you eat grain or sugar. Dizzy yet? So is your body and it produces fat to try and fix things. We ingest such large amounts of grains, processed sugars, and other carbs that our bodies can’t keep up. The production line speeds up and the little worker cells can’t keep up, and just like on the classic “I Love Lucy” episode where they can’t keep up with the chocolate assembly line… it all falls apart. The “it” being the human body. Primal avoids all grains and legumes, and most carbs, including high carb foods like white potatoes. The idea is to keep insulin production and usage nice and steady, allowing your body to return to burning fat for energy. Obviously this is a much simplified version. With insulin normalized and the stores of fat being burned instead… people lose weight. It’s not a quick fix, but the results are often amazing. If you want to see an inspiring amazing example, click on the link to Dave’s incredible story at the end.
4. “But fat is bad! We need to eat lean meat and only non-fat dairy!” Bad fat is bad, but good fat is good. And most animal fat is good. It’s even better if it comes from animals fed grass, not grain, and organic is even better. It’s all about balancing your Omega 3s and 6s. I always get confused on this one, so I’m not even going to try discussing the difference and ratio, but I will tell you this: animal fat is needed to help build neurotransmitters and pathways and all the other things that make our brains work. I may not fully understand the science, but it fascinates me that the rate of childhood ADD, ADHD, Depression, and behavioral issues has increased dramatically as the consumption of animal fats has decreased. And childhood obesity has increased with the increased consumption of grains, carbs, and processed foods. I think getting our kids off soda and letting them drink real milk, full fat, organic, grass fed milk would change the next generation for the better. The fact is this, we need fat to be healthy.
5. “Surely grains, especially whole grains are good for you?” Maybe not so much. Mark has a great piece on why grain doesn’t want you to eat it on his website. You should go read it (link below). But this what I think about when I think about grains, I think about my friend Erin, and how he has Celiacs disease and gets sick with just the tiniest amount of gluten. I think about how after 5 months of no wheat I had a little and I broke out in hives. I think about how as we eat more and more whole grains Celiacs is on the rise. Celiacs is a gluten intolerance. It basically kills the villi in your intestines and is a nasty immune disorder. I think about how I get fewer headaches now that I am wheat free… I even think about how much less gas I have. (I never said there would be no TMI). I’m convinced that grains, and wheat especially, are not good for the average person.
I’ve bombarded you with a bit of this, and a lot of that… now let’s get a little bit more personal. Why did I decide to dive in, and has it worked for me? I’ve always been a big girl, never been able to get the weight off, I slowly go up then down, up then down. I’m active, strong, and for most of my life I have been pretty healthy. I do have chronic depression – I first got it 12 years ago when my fiance died, and have been fighting it on and off since then, but it runs in my family so I’m not surprised I got it with it. I also have a heart condition – PVCs. Basically it means I have a regularly irregular heartbeat. Not too abnormal and not life threatening, but I am also one of a lucky minority of people who can actually hear and feel their hearts beat all the time. The combination gets my silly brain involved. Imagine this…
Heart: beat beat, skip skip, beat, skip
Brain: OMG what was that! A heart attack! OMG release the adrenaline!!!
Heart: beat, SKIP, Beat, SKIP, SKIP, SKIP OMG what is that stuff?
Brain: It’s not working! It’s not working – give me more adrenaline!!!!
It becomes a vicious circle that actually made me think I was having a heart attack and gave me a very lovely stay in a hospital last year. When my heart was being monitored we realized it was a good stretch if I had 3 or 4 regular heart beats, followed by 1 or 2 PVC beats. It is not fun.
I also have a rare, but getting less and less rare in this day and age of high fructose corn syrup, allergy to fructose. It’s never been severe, but too much and I get amazing hives. I had already stopped eating the majority of processed foods. Most of them irritated my belly at best, and gave me a week of huge hives if I forgot to read labels and what I ate had lots of HFCS. I have been shopping the edges of the supermarkets for the last few years. But I was still addicted to Diet Coke.
I am also Heathen. This means I follow the ancient indigenous pre-Christian religion of Northern Europe. Yes I pray to Thor and Idunna, Frey and Freya. It is my faith. I believe in honoring my ancestors, living in and for community, having honor, being truthful, taking responsibility, loving fully, and honoring the Earth and all her spirits. I believe all life is beautiful and sacred and that all of us: humans, animals and plants of all shapes, sizes, colors, and backgrounds are wonderful and that we need to live together with respect and dignity. For me, Primal makes sense. If you eat little or no processed food you control what goes into your body. You can take it further and choose to eat only what is locally produced. Shop at the farmer’s market, buy into a CSA, get a freezer and cow-pool with friends, it is all Primal and it fits into my life philosophy. So going Primal felt like the natural next step in my progression to living my life in a way that fits all of me.
Has it worked for me. Yes. It’s funny, when I went to the doctor for my annual physical they said I gained 6 pounds. I was shocked and angry. I’ve worked so hard. And wait! I’ve gone down a couple sizes. How is that possible???? The scale may say one thing, but my clothes and my mirror tell me another. It’s not so much that I am getting smaller, at 6’ tall, I will never be petite.. and I will always have the frame of a German Farmers’ wife, but I have noticed that my shape is changing. I look good. More importantly, I feel good. I am sleeping so much better at night. I have kicked the Diet Coke habit. The fight against my depression is so much easier. I’ve stopped craving wheat. I do wish I had the dramatic weight results that some others have had, but I am satisfied with my results. Besides, I love what I am eating and I feel like my life has become much more holistically in-tune with who I am. I find that I am less hungry, that occasional fasting comes naturally. I have so much more energy, and I think I am enjoying more of life. Best of all… my PVCs are decreasing. The other night I laid in bed and counted over 20 normal beats before a PVC. It was awesome.
Remember bacon as a health food… well maybe not so much if it is store bought and full of nitrates. I am learning to smoke my own meats, including bacon so I know it is nitrate free. I am buying a freezer next week to put in all my berries and veggies from my garden… and the 1/4 of a grass fed cow I will be getting this fall. I’m excited about grilling veggies. I can eat a lot more fruit now before I react, so I know my body’s chemistry is changing. I had a Reese’s peanut butter cup a few weeks ago, it didn’t taste good. I tried my old favorite Butterfinger and it was gross. But eggs with fresh herbs and mushrooms… delightful. My taste-buds are so much more sensitive now. I use less salt, and I taste more. I was out to dinner with my sister and tried a little crust of bread – it was okay but not great, I was fine with just a taste.
I still have a long long way to go. For one, my exercise is not all it could be. And don’t get me wrong, exercise is a big part of being Primal. Out is hours of cardio, in is trying to constantly move, slowly but surely keep your body moving. Movement is good. Walking barefoot is good. Gardening is good. Playing catch with my dogs is good. But I have yet to do sprints or heavy lifting. I think I may be a bit intimidated by that as I have never been incredibly athletic. But one of my favorite things about this is that it is also guilt free living. Because the most basic tenet of Primal living is be conscious in your life. Be aware of your choices and realize you do have a choice. Be aware of how your choices affect those around you. Live as part of the world, not against it.
I hope I have made you laugh, got you curious, and I hope that if you are not already trying it, that you will explore Primal a bit. I’ll continue to share as I learn, and I would love to hear about your experiences and your Primal life.
Links: (Go here!)
Mark’s Daily Apple you should subscribe to his emails… really you should.
The Unconquerable Dave at Mark’s Daily Apple you want to see transformation! This guy is an inspiration.
Why grains are unhealthy says it better than I ever could.
Cordain et al’s study of metabolic disease – fascinating.
another Cordain et al article.
Primal Girl great blog!
Living Paleo don’t know this one well, but it is the Paleo side.
(and one from me I’ve been enjoying of late is Hunt, Gather, Love -Soli)
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I’m sharing this post at Traditional Tuesday, Real Food Wednesday, Fresh Bites Friday, Fight Back Friday, and Monday Mania.