March 01, 2016
Sometimes I think about deleting this blog. After all, I started it to talk about “paleo,” a diet I no longer follow. Largely I eat what I want now. I eat a lot at restaurants and when I’m not I eat a lot of simple satiating foods– full fat yogurt, cheese, crispbread (I like the rye kind from Finland), pickles, jerky, smoked fish, that kind of thing. I get a lot of exercise from walking (usually 2-6 miles a day) and do some body weight workouts and yoga nearly every day.
But I can’t say the diet didn’t impact me, for better and worse. Six years after starting this blog, here is both the good and bad of it:
When a lot of my health problems turned out to be related to anxiety, it probably wasn’t a good idea to dive deeply into something that turned out to be very much about anxiety. Particularly taking a few mostly irrelevant studies and turning them into anxiety about particular foods without any larger scientific or individual context.
I had bad associations with the word psychosomatic because growing up that word in my family meant “it’s actually your own fault and you can fix it by sucking it up.” It meant you didn’t get treatment. But a lot of conditions people do struggle with and try to use paleo to fix do have a psychological component, which I think dieting can actually make worse by increasing obsession and anxiety. They can also be socially isolating. Then there is some fear- mongering about things like psychiatry coming in from the guru side of things. But on many levels I understand why people go that route and why I did, because it provides a level of perceived control over your problems. You really feel you can fix yourself, even if that’s totally wrong.
Paleo became very much about charismatic individuals who seemed to care more about selling stuff than about people. It became absorbed into larger cultures of dieting for weight loss and pseudoscience. And what really seems to sell for these people and garner them a following is fearmongering. Selling the idea that plenty of normal foods are “evil.” With that comes an excessive emphasis on elimination without considering the true costs and benefits. Is eliminating something like chickpeas worth it based on 2 studies? In their books, yes. Oh and then they sell you $$$ supplements because your diet has become so limited.
When it turned out my triggers were relatively simple, I stopped caring so much about who ate what in what era of human history and more about enjoying my life. Enjoying your life is something I think too many diet books don’t seem to account for.
For me, eating meat was tied with me finding sources of meat I felt were responsible to both animals and the environment. I also really strongly felt that there was a revolution happening in terms of sourcing this way on both the consumer and food business level. Unfortunately the infrastructure wasn’t really ready for it and I also think a lot of damage has been done by “humane washing” sub-standard products. What we have left is a patchwork of very non-transparent sourcing and consumers that are so confused. Covering the upscale restaurant industry I was struck that people couldn’t even make this work on a level where the consumers are quite wealthy and relatively informed. So I really think that while on an individual level a difference can be made, I’m more excited about alternatives to animal products than I was in the past. I think if they can be made tastier and healthier than they can make a bigger difference for animals and the environment than a few dedicated consumers willing to spend the considerable time and money to work with truly good farmers.
If you like Crossfit and it works for you that’s great. But I don’t think it’s the best form of activity for the vast majority of people. It’s too high impact, expensive, and time-consuming. Luckily a lot more people are talking about alternatives like HIIT and body weight exercise these days. But I still think there is a big gap in the low-impact category of exercise. When people tell me they are starting to work out it’s always something like Crossfit, HIIT, or long distance running. The vast majority of people can’t stick with these things. They’d be better off walking long distances, swimming, or something else less intense.
Which I continue to wear. I bought some high heels for work recently and only wear them in the office, but even for that short period not even walking far, I can see and feel how damaging they are. And since walking has become my primary exercise and method of transportation, it’s important I keep my feet healthy by wearing shoes that are good for them.
Anyone who follows my Instagram knows my diet isn’t exactly the posterchild for any conventionally healthy diets. But what’s missing from my diet is the packaged stuff I used to rely on and frequently overeat just because of how that stuff is designed. It also had a lot of ingredients it turned out I’m sensitive to which I’ll get to in the next item. I had a busy week at work recently and had a day when I basically ate when I ate before eating vegan and paleo, which was a lot of packaged snacks and then pizza and soda. I had stomach issues for days afterwards.
With mixed results from paleo with my stomach problems, I discovered FODMAPs, which made it easier to refine my triggers and thus avoid them. I have a few major ones which haven’t been too hard to avoid: some vegetables particularly raw or undercooked cruciferous vegetables, whole grains in large amounts (especially wheat) and fiber additives common in “healthy” packaged foods like inulin (also called chicory fiber). The only things I have issues avoiding and have gotten major stomach aches from are cauliflower (two words: gobi manchurian, which is like Americanized Chinese food made with cauliflower, but I can only have a few) and sunchokes (the best ones are silky and buttery sweet). Turns out I really like those and want to eat a lot of them for some reason, who knew? I just have to be careful I track when I eat these things and don’t have too many on one day.
I don’t think cooking is as magical a panacea as so many other people think. But it’s a good skill to have and can be quite empowering. I don’t cook every day, but I know if I want to I can. I think what’s really neglected here is more general household management. It was easier for me to learn to make food taste good, much harder to learn how to plan and budget meals. In fact I don’t think I’m still very good at that, because often I do eat out even when I know I’d rather be cooking and it would be cheaper and better.
I think the paleo crowd spends too much time talking about food, but there are also plenty of people who emphasize other conditions our species is adapted to. And yes, we can adapt to many things, but most of us don’t do well without a good level of sleep and activity. And no matter what I eat I always try to stay on top of sleeping as much as I need and getting in a lot of walking.
HuntGatherLove was a site about food, agriculture, evolutionary bio, and diets inspired by evbio (paleo, etc.). It is now archived.