Guest post: Paleo and me

6:03 AM

Dave Grant is many things - my friend, my husband's friend, my wedding photographer, my only connection to Hawaii (he used to live there), a great bonfire hoster, my favourite nurse from BC, and most recently - an awesome food/nutrition blogger! I've really enjoyed following Dave's pursuit of health and wellness on his blog - The Primal Cave Man - and I asked him if he could share about his journey for all the My Idea of Happiness readers. Enjoy... And when you're done reading, click over to his blog for tons more awesome reading, including maple coconut fruit salad, mmm!


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I’ve been asked to write up a post about what it means to be Paleo and what it has done for me and my health.   This will repeat some stuff I have already wrote about, but hopefully it will be a clear succinct picture of my journey so far. 
Where to start I suppose?
I’ve been big all my life.  Not necessarily overweight, but big. Husky as they say.  And by all my life I guess it really happened when I hit puberty, until then I was just a skinny little grom who had way too much energy and loved climbing trees.  When I hit puberty I got big boned. Big shoulders, thick neck, big legs, strong back.  I spent all my formative years running around the hills of Northern Ontario, jumping off cliffs, and generally putting my body through boot camp on a regular basis.  Then one day my built-in male-lack-of-thinking-and-safety was operating in overdrive and I tried to jump a four foot wall while wearing roller blades and my life changed forever.   After that day I went from a fly by the seat of my pants and relying on sheer dumb luck to make it through any issues, to being essentially bed ridden, depressed and packing on the weight quicker then you can say WHATTT????
When I jumped that wall I of course didn’t make it.  I ended up giving myself a good old fashion double spiral compound fracture to my right arm.  This required five surgeries, 2 different plates, 13 screws, a prosthetic elbow and a bone marrow transplant from my hip to my arm, because so much bone had been pulverized.  It took an initial 8 months of surgeries, physio and recuperation to get myself to some semblance of normal and more then 3 years to get some previous normal strength back to that arm.  
During that first year, I became extremely depressed and turned to food and coke and star wars to get me through.  I hid in my basement room, turned the lights off, basked in the soft glow of the TV and memorized the original trilogy front to back.  I drank coke by the gallons and my favorite snack was Doritos or a huge plate of cheese, meat and crackers.  In that 8 months or so I went from a stable, healthy 240 pounds, which I had been for the last 6 or so years with barely any movement, to creeping on 350 pounds.  That’s an estimation because the scale and I were not aquainted for a very long time, simply because my inability to even care.   Years later, when I finally decided it was time to care, I was at 375 pounds, where I stabilized for a few more years. 
During university and beyond I have tried at various times to lose weight.  Most notably would be the year of 2008 where I got myself a trainer and lost 40 pounds, only to quickly put it back on.  Then again 2 years ago where I lost 80 pounds, again only to put it right back on.   I could argue and justify and make excuses, but in the end I simply went back to eating what I wanted, never really thinking about what I was putting in to my body and the weight just settled back on like a long lost friend.
Enter Paleo.  
This time around, since mid March of this year, I have so far lost 70 pounds, and can easily see another 60 coming off and actually getting to my dream of 240 pounds all over again.  Wouldn’t that be crazy?  So what exactly am I doing?
As close as I can describe it I am following the Paleo/Primal/Whole Food lifestyle.   I can’t give it a very clear “it is this specific food lifestyle”, even though I mostly describe myself as Paleo to avoid an over abundance of already numerous blank stares.  Essentially it boils down to this for any of the above mentioned groups:  Eat the best that you can.  Make everything you eat, or at least be able to pronounce and understand the ingredients.  Attempt to have grass fed/grass finished meat, or pasture raised etc.  Eat a lot of veggies, local if you can. And drink lots of water.   You are attempting to cut out all processed foods, sugars (except those naturally derived from fruit etc). Limit carbs and nutrient light foods, opting instead for maximizing nutrient dense foods that your body is tailor made to process. 
The whole Caveman label that comes with being Paleo is a bit misleading.  It causes an image of heavy clubs and mastodon meat smoking in caves and being the main source of food.  Really it is an attempt to give an easy description to a way of being.  The theory is that as humans we are adapted to eat a certain way.  The Farm Revolution began about 10, 000 years, give or take a few, while man has been eating what he could scavenge for a few million years before that.  The theory is that we are evolved to eat meat, nuts and seeds and other foods, while being particularly un-evolved to eat dairy, grains and legumes.   – Authors note: to read a much more in-depth description google the Paleo Diet.
Of course, each one of us is unique and has unique nutritional needs.  If you are loving your pastas and legumes and cheese, I am happy for you. And even slightly jealous.  However, I am finding more and more that I just don’t do well with those things at all.  As much as my mind and my taste buds love a good pasta with meat sauce and parmesan served with butter dripping garlic bread, my stomach says otherwise, and for once I intend to actually listen to it.   For me, especially with weight loss goals that are fairly extreme, I follow these guidelines, which I have sorted out through trial and error and continue to modify as needed:
  • Avoid grains at all costs
  • Limit fruit intake – not that they are bad, but they do have a lot of sugars
  • Zero processed foods. – If I can’t pronounce the ingredient, or know what it is, I probably shouldn’t have it
  • Water and coffee are my main sources of hydration
  • No legumes when possible – not that I always know what a legume is really
  • No dairy.
  • No cheese – I know this is a dairy, but in my mind it is it’s own category. BECAUSE I FREAKING LOVE CHEESE.  It is my kryptonite
  • As of this week no more Alcohol.  Again lots of sugars and empty calories, but oh so tasty.  
I think that is my list.  There may be a few more things, but I can’t think of them right now.  My triggers to not eat the way I should are sugars, cheese and chips.  I try to avoid them at all costs, because even the smallest treat will begin a spin cycle that can last an hour or two or a few days, until I get tired of feeling sick and bloated.   Seriously.  I have a hard time eating just one when it is any of those things  
This lifestyle change has led to some major changes in my life and in the way my wife and I cook and think of food.  On the very practical level most of our cookbooks are no longer applicable, or need some creative solutions – Sorry Jamie Oliver, we love you, but just can’t really open up your comfort food cook book anymore.  This has led to bringing fun back into the kitchen though, at least for me, I can’t speak for my wife, but assume (read: Hope) she feels the same.  I am discovering ingredients I never knew about, finding different taste profiles and combinations, exploring umami and what it means to my cooking and generally having great fun mucking about in the kitchen.
On a health level, I am seeing some very encouraging results.  First, I am slowly continuing to lose weight, and when I am not eating the cleanest, I am at least being successful and keeping the weight off.  I am not going to bed with that familiar lead ball in my gut. Secondly,  I am finding that when I eat clean my moods are more stable, my energy levels are higher and more level and generally speaking I am a much more happy person to be around, being a much less grumpy bear then usual.  
I am also learning to listen to my body and am beginning to understand what it has been trying to desperately tell me for the last number of years.   You know that lead ball after eating way too much pasta? Or that food coma after Thanksgiving dinner?  Those are becoming less, even non-existent.  Sure some of it was from over-eating, but on the days when I allow a little bread or pasta or some other grain into my life, even the smallest amount triggers that feeling.  It’s crazy.  If I feel like that every time I have the smallest piece of bread, that should obviously be some sort of wake up call, shouldn’t it?   It takes a few days to get over having one meal with grains in it.  The same goes for dairy, and I assume for legumes – but again I don’t really know what those are.  
When I don’t drink enough water, I can feel it right away.  My skin dries out, I don’t sleep as good.  My energy waxes and wanes like a bad Shakespeare rip-off.  My naturapath recently informed me that I should be drinking approximately half my weight in ounces. Right now that means I should be drinking 155 ounces of water a day… let me tell you I sure do pee a lot!. But I do notice a difference.  
One of the big things for me, especially while trying to lose weight, is that since I am eating clean, and really only giving my body the things it needs, I don’t have to count calories, or stress about what I am eating.  I keep proportions normal, keep fruit and alcohol out of the mix, and be very sparingly with the added sugars (like honey and maple syrup).  This alone helps with my goals. I don’t live under the guilt of when I do slip up and I don’t work myself into a nervous wreck about what I am eating and how many calories something has.  
Next I have to start working out more, but then again eating right and losing weight and having my energy levels be higher should only help with that next step.
Overall I am happier, fitter and my marriage has even improved.  Since it isn’t a diet, but rather a lifestyle, I should theoretically always be able to keep the weight off. I don’t go to bed with a lead ball in my gut, or gas my wife right out of the room.  I sleep better, love life more, and can do more and for longer.   I don’t stress about calories or what I am eating. I feel full, but not heavy. I don’t suffer from food comas or sugar crashes.  I don’t know what else to say to explain why this lifestyle is working for me.  
Just to reiterate. The caveman diet is not just about meat, although I do have meat with most meals. It is about getting my body what it needs, in a healthy, safe, non GMO or steroid induced way. It supports local growers and sowers and I know exactly what I am putting into my body.  I spend a lot of time in the kitchen experimenting, and since I love to cook that is a good thing.  I eat meat yes, but I eat so many veggies I don’t even know what is happening. I have probably eaten more vegetables in the last 6 months then I have in the last 10 years ( I once weighed my average veggie intake and it was almost 3 pounds).  I am finding the natural taste of my food is more and more rich, with greater depth, then I ever have experienced, and am preferring that over the fake chemical taste, I used to crave so much.    I am gardening, with this year being the first year I am growing my own lettuce and beets and herbs.   
Following Paleo is changing my life.  I am losing weight, becoming much more conscious of what I put into my body and am becoming a better person for it. 
Cheers. 

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