Again, another whole week since I’ve posted! My post frequency is tapering out to an asymptote. This leads me to the inevitable conclusion that I may, in fact, be winding down on my obsession with paleo nutrition. I’m not quite sure if this trend will continue, but I have fair evidence to believe it will. Some truly revolutionary changes have taken place for me. I think they’re sticking.
These few developments have been absolutely wonderful, for a variety of reasons. First: I have a grand, if somewhat embarrassing, announcement to make. I have figured out the source of my acne! This is grand because it means my life is about 100 x better than it was before, but it’s embarrassing because the answer is a giant smack on the forehead. Here’s why: Even though my doctor and my dermatologist both insisted that my acne was due to my PCOS, I didn’t develop severe acne until about six months into my PCOS-induced amenorrhea. What did change in my life at the exact time the acne started showing up was that I added significant amounts of dairy to my diet. I suspected dairy, and I “went off” it for days or even weeks at a time, but my efforts were half-assed. Because I didn’t see immediate results eliminating the dairy, I often went back on it or just indulged from time to time and assumed all was fine. Plus, when I eliminated the dairy, I only ever cut lactose, and never even considered cutting casein (in butter).
Because of the PCOS and my body’s inability to produce estrogen, my doctor told me that putting on weight would cure my acne, and that losing weight would exacerbate it. While I did see some improvement with the acne while on a weight-inducing (twelve pounds in three weeks!) estrogen pill, I still saw one cyst come up while on the pill that was so large and painful I still have a 5 mm diameter scar on my face. That was five months ago. Something that I ate right before it popped up was a slice of kraft cheese on my mid-flight meal with Asiana airlines. Hm. I also noticed that my skin conditioned worsened while I was losing weight. I initially thought this was because I was lowering my BMI–and therefore my estrogen-producing fat cells–and I despaired at the injustice of having to choose between being fat and having acne. However, I was eating incredibly “cleanly” in these time periods. I intended to lose weight efficiently and to manage my acne. The method? Eating mostly vegetables cooked in butter! Butter!
More evidence for my butter intolerance showed up when I arrived in Taiwan. The Taiwanese don’t cook with butter, and I don’t imagine they ever will. My skin began clearing immediately. I also began eating high quantities of omega 3 fats and seaweed, which I thought was helping. I still do think it helped. Anyway, about half way through my time in Taiwan, I got violently ill. Afterwards my stomach lining was ulcerated, and I needed to eat “cleanly” again. Unfortunately, after I started doing this, my face didn’t necessarily get too much worse, but it did stop getting better. Old scars looked angrier and new cysts, if small, came up every couple of days. I was not a happy camper. More than a year of dealing with this shit and I still didn’t have it figured out? Jesus hates me, and I’ve always known it.
Then it hits me. Every time I’ve eaten “clean” my skin has gotten worse. What gives? I decide to try giving up butter. And in days, for real, days, the angry red inflammation in my face disappears, and I don’t see new cysts. Or, many. You’ll recall that I claimed clear skin on this blog about a month or two ago, but that was before I began eating “clean” again and seeing the inflammation resurface. Hopefully this time it sticks. I’ve noticed, additionally, that scars that have lived on my shins and knees for years have begun to fade. Years. And my keratosis pilaris, those angry red bumps that show up on so many people’s arms, is also gone. For the first time in my entire life. I attribute this both to having giving up butter and also to including lots of fish in my diet, which is both high in omegas and in vitamins A and D. My skin is prettier than it’s been in twenty years, and it’s all because of one food tolerance hiding among a vast array of variables. What’s more, I’m also at a lower BMI than I’ve been in–I’m not sure, maybe ever–and both my acne and my PCOS symptoms (see below) have improved. Clearly the estrogen-fat-cells-phenomenon isn’t my issue, and my doctors can happily fuck themselves.
This year-long experiment of mine, I think, points to an important set of lessons. First: self-experimentation works, but, god damn, it can really take a long time. There is a reason something is going wrong in our bodies, and it takes all kinds of information and tests and experiments to figure it out. We shouldn’t ever give up on them. Why settle for poor health when an answer is lying right inside of us? We have to be patient. We have to give ourselves time to find the answers. And we have to be prepared to deal with the medical establishment and to turn to them for help, in addition to accepting the fact that some of our prognoses might not be the happiest endings. But nothing happens without cause (ignoring Hume), and we really can work out the answers in good time.
Another important take-away is this: our bodies require time. After going paleo, and after graduating from university, it took about six months for my hair to stop falling out. After losing thirty pounds about a year and a half ago, it has taken me about a year and a half to figure out the best (or a decent) way to eat to be both satisfied and healthy. After losing a lot of muscle mass in that time period, it took me about six months to achieve simultaneous leanness and muscularity. After removing all dairy save butter from my diet, it took three months for me to see a difference, and after removing butter and including a lot of good vitamins, I imagine it’ll be another six months before my scar tissue fades and my skin normalizes.
And finally: I stopped menstruating about eighteen months ago. I haven’t had a period since. I am sure that this happened to me because I lost about thirty pounds, but I am not at an unhealthy weight and I refuse to become chubby again for the sake of reproduction (something I do not want in my life regardless.) I have been told by scores of people since that I should put on weight, but I’m not sure this would solve the underlying problem. Certainly, the estrogen my fat cells produce would help my lazy ovaries, but the fact is that I have lazy ovaries, and this is almost certainly due to underlying hormonal imbalance and adrenal stress (re: Ancient Bodies, Modern Lives, by Wenda Levathan). I have noticed, particularly since I started intermittent fasting a couple months ago, interestingly, that my sex drive has begun inching back, that my vagina is, as I so happily stated before, no longer as dry as Oscar Wilde, and I have hope that my periods will return. I think that my body is both adjusting to it’s new body fat percentage–hovering around 20–and also healthfully finding some hormonal balance. I am less stressed in general, no longer over-training, sleeping better than I ever have, and, I think, increasing my insulin sensitivity and righting my androgen production with IF. It’s taking time. It’s taking a hell of a long time. But I can wait, and what has happened up to this points leads me to believe that everything will normalize in due time. A lot of people hang out on paleo hacks and forums and wonder why nothing is working for them. The answer, I think, is a combination of my above two experiences. Sometimes there are mysterious things going on in our bodies that we don’t yet understand, and we need to troubleshoot them. We also need to give ourselves time to heal. It may take a while, but so it goes.
Today I am acne-free (ish), happy with my body and it’s performance, feeling healthy, and, moreover, eating in a satisfying manner. I have learned, through years of trial and error, and bingeing and self-loathing and forgiveness and love and hate and so many other emotions, a pattern of eating that works for my body and that works for me. I have a lot to say about disordered eating, if you haven’t already been able to tell, but I have recently let it fade from my mind. There is a feedback loop at play here, and honestly I don’t know which way it runs. I think (and blog!) about food less, and I obsess about food less, and I eat food less. Along with my physical problems, the mental ones are fading, as well.
I had originally thought that, in place of my old obsessions, I would continue to fabricate and obsess over “new” problems. But that’s actually not happening. In the place of my obsessions is descending a blank, peaceful space in my mind. It is as though I am, every day, walking into a large room with vaulted ceilings and high, arching windows, and it is quiet. What do I think about? What do I do? Why is it bright and breezy in here, instead of dank and dreadful? Why do I feel at peace, and why are there no demons sitting on my shoulders? This is a very new feeling for me. I have talked about mental freedom before on this blog, and certainly I discovered more mental freedom once I went paleo, but this is something new entirely. I don’t have anything pulling at me. I don’t hate myself in any way. Before, I loved myself in all ways but one. Now I love myself (not unconditionally) in all the ways that matter. I don’t have anything to dwell on. No foods, no men, no women, no social pains, no future worries… well, I worry about my stocks… but the point is: with little pressure in my life, both external and internal, I can breathe more deeply than I have in many years.
The final component to all of this is another puzzle of causation. While it has been absolutely crucial that I solve all of my physical conundrums, another important event has happened to me. I have come home to America, and I have final begun actually walking down what I feel is my right “path.” What I mean by “path” here is almost exactly that. I have a dream. I have something about which I have been passionate my entire life. And I am, miraculously, beautifully, intrepidly, inching towards it.
I have never shared the true “purpose” of my life with you, for the obvious reason that it really has nothing to do with this blog whatsoever, but it really is the driving force behind my life. A complex set of steps both on and finding this path defined my experience at Dartmouth, defined the choices I made working and living abroad since then, and has lead me through Harvard and Leiden and Oxford and Venice and Copenhagen and Taiwan to where I am today: sitting cross-legged in front of a bay window in suburban Detroit, with dozens of philosophy texts towering over me.
I have dreamed of being a philosopher, as the result of an existential crisis, since I was five years old. I became a iconoclast instead, and therefore attempted to find purpose in the pursuit of science. While at university, I managed to show that bacteria can survive at higher temperatures and pressures than previously hypothesized. This was cool, and it had interesting implications for the origin of life. But I felt empty. I wasn’t engaging the crux of my five-year-old’s issue. I wasn’t in profound or metaphysical enough a field. And I loathed working in my laboratory. As such: in September of this year I am starting my graduate work at Boston University, with some of the world’s most badass scholars in the field of Religion and Science. I specialize in critical analysis of the contemporary scientific paradigm, and hopefully, some day, I will find something meaningful to say about our metaphysical existence.
I threw that paragraph in here because I would, a) like to share some of my true self with you, and b) show you the depth of passion and love that drives me in my work every day. I am, in fact, so fiercely committed to my path that I effortlessly think about food less often, naturally have great focus, and completely ignore the paleo blogosphere without caring in the slightest. The reason this activity has increased as of late is because I have renewed access to materials, having finally returned to this country. Of course, as I stated before, it has been necessary for me to exorcise my demons, first. But now– I have this big, lofty room in my brain. I have serenity. And I am filling it with peaceful, mind-expanding, existential thoughts. I couldn’t be happier. I am liberated from the thorns in my body, and I am liberated from obsessions in my brain, so I am re-oriented towards my future and my soul, and I am free. Free, free, free!
This means I write less. I will probably continue writing and stay in touch, but for the time being I am in absentia. And from this whole experience I have learned that actively solving my physical problems, giving my body the time and forgiveness required to heal, and having new, exciting, and time consuming projects is great for my health. I remain here for you, as always. Please write me if you have need or desire, especially if you’re an old/friend client, and you want to re-connect.
Excitedly, freely, and warmly yours,
These guys popped up when I googled “existential crisis.”Tweet