Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Paleo Skepticism

I am following a Paleo, (or Primal if your prefer), diet for two reasons.  One, the science behind it holds together well.  The best book offering evidence that a diet built largely around fats, and most emphatically ditching carbs is Gary Tabes's Good Calories, Bad Calories: Fats, Carbs, and the Controversial Science of Diet and Health, though he offers the same material in shortened form in Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It.  The second reason is my doctor recommended it.  My doctor, for some reason, has never expressed concern about my weight.  I've never tested as pre-diabetic or shown any sign of heart trouble, but when I expressed concern, he recommended following the diet recommendations in Dr. Gundry's Diet Evolution: Turn Off the Genes That Are Killing You and Your Waistline.  Dr. Gundry follows a basic primal eating plan, though he does recommend cutting back on the animal products and upping the dark green leafy vegetables in your long term diet.

However, I'm a skeptic and a contrarian at heart.  I do have some reservations about the paleo diet, and the primary one is that I do not like eating meat with any regularity.  I'm a Buddhist at heart, and while some Buddhists do eat meat, (I'm thinking primarily of Tibetan Buddhists, but there may be others), most espouse vegetarianism as a means of causing the least suffering.  There is also the very compelling argument that raising meat is more damaging to our climate than raising kale.

Years ago, my wife and I ate raw foods for about four months.  While eating raw food, my weight also fell down into the normal range.  It did so in spite of the fact I was eating a lot of foods that are not hip with the paleo crowd - dates, mangos, oranges, bananas, and so on.  I also ate lots of dehydrated crackers made with sprouted spelt, mangos, orange juice, and cayenne (among other things).

With my skeptical nature, I didn't buy the argument that the reason raw food is good for you is that the enzymes in the food remain intact.  That sounds like rampant bullshit to me.  I would, however, like to hear from the paleo crowd why the fruits and fruit juices I consumed did not cause my insulin to spike and cause me to put on weight, (or at least not to lose it).  You are supposed to avoid, or at least to limit, the sweetest fruit, particularly dried fruit, on a primal diet.  Mark Sisson has a post about what fruits are better in the primal scheme here.

I know there are plenty of vegetarian and vegan eaters out there who are thin and healthy.  Among them, Leo Baubata of Zen Habits.  There are also people who run marathons who don't seem like they are running themselves into the ground.  I also love to go out for a jog from time to time, but I don't know if my running activity really counts as chronic cardio.

I do have to say I have not been hungry over the past few weeks.  I've been paying attention to my body, and I catch myself eating compulsively from time to time, though I try to limit it to two to three peanuts rather than two to three handfuls.  I really want to keep my carbs down as low as possible.  I do not, however, find myself with a growling belly and the feeling that I have to eat NOW!  Normally, I also have periods of extreme tiredness during the day.  At some points, it feels like it is almost bordering on narcolepsy.  I have to struggle to keep my eyes open, and normally, that seems to be during the post-lunch period.  I haven't been experiencing that sensation either, though, to be fair, (and skeptical), that is a condition that seems to come and go throughout the year, and I've never noticed it being connected to anything specific that I'm eating or not eating.

When I was only eating raw foods, I felt ravenous most of the time, and I was eating three to four avocados a day, on top of everything else.  I was also dizzy and weak part of the time.  It got expensive, and it was also disconcerting.  We gave it up as winter came on.  We just craved warm food, and I wanted to have my cup of coffee again.  My weight quickly rebounded from around 170 to around 200, which is where it likes to hover these days when I'm not paying attention at all.

My goal is to keep my carbs down to a bare minimum at least until my birthday in mid-May, to see how it goes.  Every time I regard something like this as a permanent lifestyle change, I become resentful, and the cravings for just one apricot danish or just one croissant begin to occupy me until I find myself down at the cafĂ©.  If I reach my birthday and treat that as time to make a decision for another stretch of time, I believe it might go more easily.  It might also serve as a point where I can think about experimenting with a combination of a paleo and raw foods diet.  Skipping the refined carbs - i.e. Nutella - seems to be a universal recommendaiton.  In the mean time, I just have to comfort myself with the thought that everything we humans do are destructive, from our irrigation practices, (including the organic farms in California's Central Valley), to our enslaving and slaughtering of animals, though I have to say, I had a more difficult time butchering one of our roosters, (the only time I followed through on my "we should be involved with the production of the meat we eat" idealism), than I ever had with cutting some kale out of the garden.  Mainstream meat production is simply brutal, on both the animals and the workers.  I hope to be able to buy more of my meat from local producers as I get our budget rightside up, thought there's a huge difference in price between the Farmer's Market and Smith's.  I feel like a s**t for weighing cost against suffering and going for cost, but that's a reality that we have to face sometimes, particularly when feeding a family.

I'm also wondering if I should set up some sort of reward system for myself for hitting 185 pounds and 165 pounds, but I don't have any good ideas at this point.  What's a good motivator for a skeptical cuss like me?

Monday, February 23, 2015

Paleo Budgeting - Fasting to Stay on Target

Update -  My weight is down to around 201.9 now.  It's coming down slower than usual.  I've gone from 5-6 pushups at a go to 15, and I'm doing 20 situps and 20 squats every morning.  The big problem with calisthenics, I've decided, is they're boring.  After about 3 squats I'm ready to do something else.

I've devoted a good part of my life to trying to live frugally.  I've always valued time over money, (and it shows).  My disciplined approach began with reading The Complete Tightwad Gazette.  These days, I get most of my inspiration from Mr. Money Mustache.

The thing that's always seemed to do me in, and to create the most depression and anxiety is the grocery budget.  In the best of non-paleo times, we eat mostly vegetarian, lots of beans and rice, etc.  Low budget used to mean pasta, and lots of it, interspersed with rice and something.  The pasta is pretty much gone, except for occasional pasta for the kids.  The rice is becoming scarcer, and I'm totally avoiding it while I try this experiment with strict paleo.

Lately, I've been eating two eggs for breakfast, (instead of my favorite steel cut oats), maybe a little bacon.  I've been having an apple or maybe a salad for lunch.  I get home early and have a snack, usually some sardines or salami, some cheese, almonds, olives, and a little red wine.  I've been skipping dinner more often than not because often it is a non-paleo meal - burritos, tamales, etc.  I do like to have a little frozen fruit and some yogurt.  It's homemade yogurt, so it's not as low in carbs as the recommended Greek yogurt, but so be it.  I'm not perfect.

We're working together as a family on the budget now, and we are particularly trying to keep the food budget in check.  Mr. Money Mustache recently had a post "Killing your $1000 Grocery Bill".  They manage to feed their family of three on about $80 a week, (and he thinks he is extravagant with his purchases).  My *ideal* budget has always been $400 a month.  My compromise with the real world budget is $600 a month.  My extravagant budget is $800 a month.  What do we usually spend?  Many months it creeps up to around $1100.  That's $700 more than I would like to spend.  The funny thing is, I don't know how it happens.  I don't really know how we can be living off eggs and beans and rice and kale and still spend $700 more than we should.

After our family meeting this Sunday, we tried to go out and stick to the $25 we had left in the budget for the week.  (We missed it by about $30.  $15 of that was trail mix, but that's often all I can get the kids to eat during the day).

Consequently, there really is none of the food I like to eat.  I have a sliver of salami left.  The frozen fruit is about gone.  I'm out of wine.  There's none of the cheese I like.  Last I checked, we were down to 15 eggs.  There's no olives.

To stay on budget, therefore, I am approaching this week as one of near-fasting.  There's still plenty for me to keep going on.  There's a steak for tonight.  I'm going out with some friends on Wednesday.  There's some cucumber, cheese, about a half cup of almonds, a bag of peanuts.

I'm going to start skipping breakfast though.  We only have an average of a little under three eggs a day left for the week.  I'm about out of lunch apples.  I'm hoarding my three cans of sardines for when I'm really hungry.

I hope making these sacrifices gets our budget back on track, (after a dog surgery, our home insurance bill, and our tax bill).  I'd still like to get the grocery spending down to $400 a month, and working together as a family, we might do it.  How does Mr. Money Mustache do it?  It's still not clear, even with the article.  I go into Trader Joe's for a block of tofu and come out $125 poorer.  Do I just lack discipline?  The weekly grocery shopping literally makes me sick with anxiety because of the difficulty I have staying on budget.  I wish the literature on both frugality and primal/paleo eating was a little bit clearer in the budgeting for food area.  After all these years, I'm still lost in that regard.  And we're pretty much smack dab in the range of median income for the U.S.  What do the truly poor do?  Food buying is a frustrating mess.

I'd like to buy more local, organic meat from the Farmer's Market, but I think that's just going to have to wait.  How do other people combine a frugal diet with paleo sensibilities?

Thursday, February 19, 2015

I Don't Like to Exercise

I am a reasonably active person.  For eight years through my late thirties and early forties, I bicycled everywhere.  I love to hike and to backpack.  When I plan a hike, I tend to suggest things like, "let's go over those three mountains, drop down into the valley, and then come back to the parking area the long way round."  (It always takes longer than I think it will in the morning.)

I think I'm in relatively good shape.  As I said in the original post, I certainly don't think of myself as obese, and to tell the truth, I think that whole BMI thing by height is a little off. When I imagine myself weighing right in the middle of those charts, 155 pounds or so, it seems scary.

Still, I need to push my weight back down in that direction, and all the websites I follow and the books I read mention exercise.  Specifically strength training and short bursts of intense activity like sprinting.  Jogging is supposedly out, and I'm going to tackle that topic another time.  I somewhat enjoy jogging.  I have absolutely no interest in sprinting.

So I'm trying to do some strength training.  With all of the bicycling and hiking, my lower body is in very good shape, but it segues into a somewhat soft upper body.  I tend to think if you cut the picture off around my rib cage, the whole picture would have a somewhat mushroom effect.

I have to say I'm no fan of strength training either.  I associate it with vanity and with body building.  I don't want to be muscle bound. I just want to have less fat on my body.  Of course I wouldn't mind looking better.  Everyone likes to be attractive.  I just don't want to look like I've been spending time in the gym trying to look more attractive.

A couple of weeks ago, there was a guest post on Mark's Daily Apple by Al Kavadlo.  He's a big fan of calisthenics and using body weight instead of weights and kettle bells.  I prefer simplicity, and I've never wanted to exercise at a gym, (doing so brings back nightmares of being the shy asthmatic kid in the middle school locker room).  More importantly, Al does not look like a body builder.  Ironically, when he first started out, he was trying to look like one and spent a lot of time trying to bulk up.  I want to bulk down.

I bought his book, Pushing the Limits! Total Body Strength With No Equipment, and I've been trying to work some more exercise in to each day.

When I started, I found that I could only do six pushups.  He doesn't include crunches in the book, at least not as far as I've read, but I can do about fifteen of those.

I'm not being whole hearted about it, but I'm trying to work toward his recommended beginner workout:

Pushup 3 sets of 20 reps
Full Squat 3 sets of 20 reps
Split Squat or Lunge 3 sets of 10 reps (each leg)
Lying Leg Raise 3 sets of 10 reps
Straight Bridge 3 holds of 30 seconds
Headstand 3 holds of 30 seconds

For now, it seems like a good enough goal to get up to 20 pushups.

As the title of the post says, I don't like exercise, and to find joy in exercising, at least in this fashion, is going to take some fundamental shift in the way I experience myself.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Early Dinner Feb. 18, 2015

Here is my dinner of canned herring and homemade sauerkraut. Would I rather have ravioli? Yes I would.


For years I wrote the Carfree Family blog, which I took down in a moment of existential crisis after we purchased a car following our eight year run bicycling our children around Santa Fe. My daughter was accepted into a charter school a good distance from our house.  We had become tired of bicycling up in the dark and the snow and the ice during the winter.  I wanted to backpack more.  Still, it has been more difficult having a car than it was not having one in the since that we lost one of the organizing facts of our family life.  I wish that I had not taken it down now.  I continue to run into people who say they were inspired by the blog.  It may still be glimpsed, I believe, by searching for it on the wayback machine.

Lately I've been wanting to write again.  I particularly want to write more short stories and fiction, but I have packed the typewriters away and have been using this computer mostly for Netflix and for budgeting, or at least a semblance thereof.

At present, instead of putting my energy toward being carfree, though we still bicycle a great deal.  I have been facing down the fact that, at 48, I am moving into the second half of my life.

I want to be healthy during this second half, and I want to be happy, and I want to do all the things I've been saying I would do since I was 12.  I want to write more stories.  I want to travel more.  I want to get down to a healthy weight.  I want to play music and learn languages.  That, pretty much, is the gist of it.  My desires are not complicated in their beginnings.  It is only in my fantasies that they begin to seem difficult to achieve.  "Remember dear, that year we spent in Rome while I was working on my sixth novel, and how they loved me to play my accordion in that little cafe near the Acropolis and our long bike trip to Portofino?"  I suspect that it is the distance between the beginning and the result that has always discouraged me.  Playing "Go Tell Aunt Rhody" on any instrument is a far cry from a house gig in Greenwich Village, let alone a decent income as a busker.  I give up too easily.

Lately, I've begun to attack my weight, once again, hence the title of this blog.  I have no "big loss" story.  My weight creeps up, just like most people's.  I had been eating mostly paleo a year or so ago, after my mother's death, when I began to become concerned about the brutality of dying when you are not in particularly good shape, though of course it can be brutal even when you are in good shape.

At the time, I noticed my weight had crept over 200 pounds.  That is a warning sign for me.  I never thought of myself as being particularly overweight, but I thought I would check my BMI, (my height is 5'8"), on the internet - that reassuring source of medical information.  According to the tables I found, my BMI was 31, which put me squarely in obese land!  That was a shocker.  If anything, I thought I was slightly overweight.  According to the tables, for my height, I should be between 125 and 155.   That is almost unbelievable, and I did take the radical approach of asking my doctor, who said if I was concerned about my weight, I should aim for around 175.

Anyway, I got my weight down to around 185 before I got bored with weighing myself all the time.  I grew concerned lately because, among other things, I was dipping into the jar of Nutella in the cabinet.  I thought I might be creeping up above 190 again, so I weighed myself, and I came in at 207.  That was another shocker, so I'm trying to take some measures to make a real push to get my weight down to 175.  I want to make sure I enter the second half of my life healthy.  My father had a heart attack sometime in his mid-fifties, (though his life was ended when I teenage driver slammed into my father's pickup truck.  For what it's worth, my father was not wearing a helmet.  The big bicycle helmet debate is one of my pet topics, and I fall on both sides of it, so you'll never know if you will see my with a  helmet or without one).

The thing is, I love Nutella.  I love apricot danishes and cherry danishes.  I love spaghetti.  Pasta, red wine, and romance all go together for me, and I'm nothing if not a romanticist.

Next week, I am going to try to set this blog up more formerly with links, another post, etc.  But I thought it would be best to get started.  "Well begun is half done" as Mary Poppins says.