Archive for March, 2011

So you insist on being a vegetarian…

What now?

Can you still be healthy?

YES.  Absolutely.

Will you have optimal health, however?

Not really.   It’s just not in the cards– as mentioned below, animal products 1) are quite nutrient dense, 2) contain a complete profile of amino acids,  and 3) lack the nasty phytates and lectins so prevalent in vegetables (yes, concentrated in grains but present still in all veggies) that inhibit nutrient absorption.   This means that eating animals makes it easy to obtain a lot of important nutrients. What’s more, you’ll never balance any omega 6s in your diet if you’re a vegetarian.  This is because the only significant sources of omega 3s in our diets are fish and grass-fed beef.  If you’re a vegetarian, you have got to supplement with omega 3 fatty acids.

But you still really love animals, abstain for religious reasons, can’t get over potentially misguided sustainability arguments, etc.  How do you eat?

You want to still strive for high amounts of fat, moderate protein, and low to moderate carbohydrate intake.  Your fat will be primarily saturated and monosaturated fats, and you will limit your consumption of omega 6 vegetable oils and nuts.  You will probably eat legumes, even though they are similar to grains in structure and can contribute to leaky gut.  Leaky gut is bad, bad news.  It is the common cause of every autoimmune condition, from diabetes to psoriasis to arthritis to Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism and to many, many more.  But this is where you will get some protein.  Your carbs will be vegetables with some “safe starches.”  You will eat a little bit of fruit.  You might eat some dairy, too, so long as you don’t respond negatively to dairy and are safely, positively free of any autoimmune conditions.

The details:


Coconut: Eat coconut cream, coconut oil, coconut meat, coconut milk, coconut water.  Use it for seasoning, on it’s own, as a feature in soups and stir fries.  Make coconut whipped cream (Skim the fat off the top of coconut water and beat it with a hand mixer.  Add Cinnamon, vanilla, or orange zest, and other spices to taste.)   Use coconut oil for as many sauteeing needs as possible.  With eggs is particularly good, as is with a variety of vegetables, such as broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots.  Why?  You want to eat coconut because it is a phenomenal source of saturated fat, and medium chain fatty acids.  Coconut promotes thyroid function, contains the medium-chain fatty acid lauric acid which is excellent at fighting viral infections, bad bacteria, yeast, and fungi, and at boosting the immune system, and promotes hormone balance.


Butter:  Butter is an excellent source of Vitamin A, Vitamin E and seleniumIt also contains lecithin and several anti-oxidants, and components of real butter have anti-cancer properties.   Butter is delicious and is the least risky form of dairy to ingest, since the problematic dairy proteins such as lactose have been neutralized by the butter distillation process.  If you find that butter is still problematic for you, clarify it, and make ghee. All you have to do is heat it some, and the rest of the milk solids are removed.  You are left with gloriously healthy saturated fat, and it is good, good, good for you.


Avocados. Another good source of fat, but not the best.  In one super sized avocado you might have 35 grams of fat.  5 grams are saturated, 4 are polyunsaturated (almost entirely omega 6) and 26 grams monosaturated.  Monosaturated fats are fine, and are in fact the primary fat of olive oil, so feel free to eat avocados all you like.    The same avocado will have 5 grams of protein and 20 grams of carbs.  Most of all, of course: guacamole is delicious.  Eat up!


Olive oil. Olive oil is the one seed oil I give you a green light on.  The rest: get out the front door.  Canola, soy, corn, “vegetable,” — you name it — are all super high in omega 6 fats and are not permissible for anyone at anytime (special occasions fine but I’m still going to be indignant about it.)   Mark Sisson just made a passionate defense of olive oil.  Sure, it’s ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 fats isn’t stellar.  But the totally amount of these polyunsaturated fats is rather low, and the dominant fat here is monosaturated.   Two tablespoons of average olive oil (more more “virgin” it is, the better) gives you about 2.8 grams of linoleic acid, a component of omega 6 fatty acids.  That’s less, according to Mark, than poultry and pork meats.  Just be sure to use olive oil fairly sparingly and to supplement with your good ol’ omega 3s.


Eggs. Sort of vegetarian, I know.  But they are enormously nutritious.  Please consider eating them.  An egg is a precursor to an entire organism, so it contains a complete profile of amino acids (so complete, in fact, that the quality of egg protein is the standard against which all other proteins are measured), some saturated fat, lots of cholesterol (which is NOT a bad thing so long as you eat a proper anti-inflammatory diet), and lots of nutrients.  These include: vitamins A, E, and K, as well as a selection of B vitamins including B12, B2, biotin, choline, folic acid, pantothenic acid and niacin.  Eggs are one of the few foods that are a good source of naturally occurring vitamin D, which is important for the development of bones and teeth.  Important minerals in eggs include zinc, iron, selenium, phosphorous and iodine. Eggs also contain small amounts of calcium, magnesium, sodium and potassium.


Macademia nuts. Over others.  Nuts are not ideal.  Nuts contain lectins in their sheaths and are generally high in omega 6 fats.  They are often sold “roasted” which oxidizes their omega 6 fats and wreaks havoc on our tissues.  Oxidative stress accelerates aging and tissue decay and harms every type of cell in your body.  Omega 6 oils are bad. Omega 6 oils heated (as well as omega 3s) is worse.  (This is why deep frying is so bad).  So: don’t eat nuts.  At least not too many.  You want to keep your overall polyunsaturated fat intake low, and to balance whatever omega 6 intake you have to incur with omega 3s.  However: since there is no source of significant omega 3 in your diet, you want to limit your omega 6s as much as possible. This is why I said: eat macadamia nuts.  A lot of people can’t seem to live without nuts.  Also, they are a fair source of protein. Macadamia’s have virtually no polyunsaturated fats in them, and are instead mostly monosaturated and saturated fats.  What’s more, they contain some antioxidants.  So eat up!  They’re not too bad.


Vegetables. They are made primarily of carbohydrates, but a lot of this carbohydrate is tied up with fiber, which is good for you in moderate amounts, and the rest of it is glucose.  Glucose is the “safest” form of carbohydrate to consume.


Safe starches and carby veggies. These include: potato, sweet potato, yam, taro root, beets, and squashes.  You may even have some white rice, though it is completely without nutritional value and is considered a filler food only.  Glucose, when digested, spikes blood sugar, but so long as your insulin pathway is functioning properly, and your weight is under control, the sugar is shuttled happily away to your fat cells for storage.  This is a much, much safer form of carbohydrate consumption than fructose, so given that your vegetarian diet almost forces you to increase your carbohydrate intake to meet your caloric needs, this is the way to do it.  Plus, they are delicious. I highly recommend sweet potatoes, which have a great nutritional profile compared to other starches.  Sweet potatoes have almost twice the recommended daily allowance of vitamin A (or, I suppose, vitamin A derived from beta carotene), 42 percent of the recommendation for vitamin C, and is also fairly rich in dietary fiber, iron and calcium.


Berries. Other fruits, yeah, I guess, go ahead, but really.  I am a big, unashamed fructose hater.  Berries are the fruits lowest in fructose, and highest in antioxidants, so have a field day with them.  (No, don’t, just a serving a day is more than enough.)  Fructose, unlike glucose, is not released into the bloodstream but is instead sent directly to the liver to be converted into fatty acids.  As such, it adds stress to your liver and makes you fat.  Fructose is a big contributor, researchers are beginning to realize, to fatty liver disease.  Bad news bears.  What’s more, fructose fucks with leptin signalling, and can create feelings of hunger and deprivation unlike any other food.   Gross.  So eat berries and cherries if you’re craving fruit.

Maybe eat if you’re absolutely autoimmune free:

Dairy.  Best is raw, unpasteurized dairy.  Pasteurization kills natural enzymes such as lactase in the dairy which aid in digestion, and antibodies which bind with lectins and would otherwise naturally remove them from your body.  Pasteurization also enables quicker spoiling of the products, which means that pasteurized goods are often heavily preserved with unhealthy chemicals.  However, all dairy products will still contain 1. lactose, which is a sugar that can cause inflammation without proper lactase activity, and 2. casein, a protein similar in structure to gluten which many have trouble digesting.  Check out this post on dairy for more information re: perils and benefits.  Fermented forms of dairy such as yogurt and cheese are also more innocuous, as the added bacteria help you break down the potentially harmful proteins.  Note also that dairy is highly insulinogenic, so if you are watching your insulin levels or hoping to lose weight, you probably want to steer clear.  Finally, on dairy, I say this: try a month without it and see how you feel.  Does re-introducing it cause any problems?  Listen to your body and do what feels right.  Dairy can be a good source of protein and fat if you exercise caution and eat the right stuff.

Sometimes eat maybe I’m not sure no don’t eat them:

Legumes. While not quite as bad as grains, legumes are still high in lectin content, which, as mentioned above, promotes intestinal permeability and depletes healthy gut flora.  If you are at all at risk for autoimmune conditions, or inflammatory conditions, or are overweight, or have any type of disease of civilization, no legumes for you.  However, if you just love chick peas and feel like you need more protein and are unconcerned about your high carbohydrate intake and your gut health (consider supplementing with a high quality probiotic) occasional legumes won’t kill you.

Sometimes eat maybe I’m not sure no don’t eat it:

Quinoa. People ask me about quinoa often.  Quinoa gets the same answer, practically, as legumes.  No gluten, sure, but plenty of lectins to go around.  What’s more, people exhibit the same inflammatory reactions to quinoa as they to do wheat, despite the fact that it contains no gluten.  Because quinoa has “complete protein” as so many vegetarians are happy to tell you, if you must reach for a wheat-type substance, and safe starches are not in the running, you may reach for quinoa instead.  Do not forget, however, that while delivering some protein, quinoa is still primarily a carbohydrate, and enormously high in carb content.  Same, again, as legumes.

 And that’s it!  Stuff on the “don’t eat” list remains the same:

Don’t eat:

Vegetable oils.  Refined sugar.  Too much fruit.  Any fructose.  Too many nuts.  Processed goods.

Get as much fat and protein as possible, and fill in the rest with your beloved veggies and safe starches.

Huzzah, friends! 

My hard drive just crashed but I managed to crank this out on a computer in my Taiwanese University’s basement regardless.  Better edits and information may follow in time. 


03 2011

Is vegetarianism an eating disorder?

No.  But Time Magazine certainly likes shocking article titles.

What this Time article covers is a study performed in Minnesota back in 2008. Researchers at the University of Minnesota and the University of Texas observed that young vegetarians are at increased risk for binge eating and unhealthy weight control behaviors.  Ick.

Using the results of Project EAT-II: Eating Among Teens, researchers  analyzed the diets, weight status, weight control behaviors, and drug and alcohol use of 2,516 adolescents and young adults between the ages of 15 and 23.  Participants were identified as current (4.3%), former (10.8%), and never (84.9%) vegetarians. Subjects were divided into two cohorts, an adolescent (15-18) group and a young adult (19-23) group. They were questioned about binge eating and whether they felt a loss of control of their eating habits.

In the younger cohort, no statistically significant difference was observed with vegetarianism and weight status.  Among young adults, however, current vegetarians had a lower average BMI.  They were less likely to be obese than never vegetarians.   Off the top of my head, I would guess that this has to do with discipline and more sincere adherence to the vegetarian diet.  Many who convert to vegetarianism in young adulthood do so during “enlightenment” at university.  I suspect that a lot of vegetarians in high schools, on the other hand, lack the moral steadfastness, supportive community, and resources of university students.  In fact, a 2001 study in the Journal of Adolescent Health revealed that the most common reason teens gave for vegetarianism was to lose weight or keep from gaining it.

Among the younger cohort, vegetarians engaged both in more extreme unhealthy weight control behaviors and in bingeing behavior when compared to never vegetarians.  Among the older cohort, a higher percentage of former vegetarians engaged in the same disordered eating habits.  This seems to indicate that adolescents who practice vegetarianism are at greater risk of all types of disordered eating throughout their lives.

Young vegetarians and those who have practiced vegetarianism in their youths experience an increased risk for disordered eating. This points to something pretty obvious.  Vegetarianism serves as a means, if a poor one, at losing weight (recall that there’s no statistically significant BMI difference) for young adults.   Those who battle body image and self esteem turn to vegetarianism to help them.  It is a means to weight loss.  But it is also a mode of restriction.  Whether or not this indicates life-long disordered eating and restriction patterns, or whether it indicates that this behavior in high school encourages lasting feelings of deprivation and restriction is unclear.  What is clear is that vegetarianism masquerades as a healthy option for young adults, and helps them restrict without broadcasting to those around them that they may in fact be in trouble.  I do not like this, friends.  Not one bit.

Writing in the article, Ramona Robinson-O’Brien, Assistant Professor, Nutrition Department, College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University of the University of Minnesota states, “Study results indicate that it would be beneficial for clinicians to ask adolescents and young adults about their current and former vegetarian status when assessing risk for disordered eating behaviors. Furthermore, when guiding adolescent and young adult vegetarians in proper nutrition and meal planning, it may also be important to investigate an individual’s motives for choosing a vegetarian diet.”  Yes.  Word!  Furthermore, stop promoting deprivation-inducing eating plans as healthful.  Ack!


Breaking news: vegetarianism is lame for many reasons

Hi friends.  What follows is not a well-researched, heavily linked article on the perils of vegetarianism.  I would like to write one of those, but it might take ages, and I also have limited access to academic journals, not currently enrolled in an American academic institution.  It is, instead, a bit of a personal statement against vegetarianism.  Most paleo dieters are aware of the arguments I make here, but others that I sometimes direct to my blog, such as my family and friends, are less familiar with typical vegetarian versus non vegetarian arguments. I am more than happy to get into grittier details with people if they want.  Please email me on the contact form, or prod at me in the comments section.

This is just the surface, and–if you can’t tell–an emotionally charged one as well.  However, I want to append that caveat with another caveat: I believe that my strong emotional response to vegetarianism follows the arguments– I see the logic and I get pissed– not the other way around, where I feel angry and then rationalize my anger.  I myself was a vegetarian for many years, and I understand how absolutely compelling it is.   I was emotionally attached to it.  However, once I took a look at the statistics about sustainability and at the information on human health, I was forced, logically, to change my stance and my actions.  As such, I believe that vegetarianism is extraordinarily well-intentioned but ultimately misguided.  What follows is why.


Gods.  Vegetarianism makes me sick.  I.. haha.  Is that true?  I think that’s true.  It wasn’t always.  The reason I feel that way is because saying “I’m a vegetarian” has all these moral implications, and I remember wearing that title as a student and using it as a means of identification and validation and moral superiority.  Who am I to say I’m better than you because I don’t eat animals?  That’s not okay, especially if others around me are making the best choices they can with the information provided, too.  Let’s not forget that vegetarianism has ascetic and religious roots, and that the idea of abstaining from something appeals to people for psychological and sociological reasons beyond ‘good for the planet.’

And YES, while as a vegetarian I was certainly acting on the best knowledge I had, and definitely trying my best to be moral, it was, essentially, wrong.  My vegetarianism wasn’t helping the environment as much as I thought.  Still eating eggs and dairy?  Fish?  I wasn’t, but many vegetarians do.  If you practice vegetarianism because of animal rights, consider that consuming milk is probably more abhorrent than consuming meat itself.  Milk cows are subject to an entire lifetime of soy products, digestive discomfort, extreme udder discomfort, hormone disregulation, and crowded, dirty, indoor (and, in fact, in-stall) living conditions.   On the other hand, if you practice vegetarianism because it is supposed to be more sustainable, consider that while your meat cost more energy than your grain or soy products, the transportation costs of the grains are still enormously high, and your grains are still destroying the incredibly tenuous soil resource.  Still eating plants from far away?  Bad news bears for transportation costs and pollution and the horrific environmental impact--especially soil depletion--of large scale monocultures.  While true that eating meat in excessive amounts is, well, excessive, eating meat to obtain sufficient protein from a local source is, I think, in fact a healthier course of action both for the environment and for our selves.  The books Meat: a benign extravagance and The vegetarian myth are excellent rebuttals (or, at least, alternative viewpoints) to contemporary environmentalism.   Also, check out this website on the book Against the Grain, which gives a concise summary of the most pertinent arguments against, well, grains.

I think vegetarianism is misguided (duh).  Sure, gorging ourselves on grains and not eating cows might help sustainability for another couple decades or so, but when it comes down to it, large scale agriculture is going to destroy the planet just as easily (if not quite as quickly) as raising livestock.  Vegetarianism is a band-aid, and a bit of a shitty one, at that.  The real answer to sustainability issues is local, cradle to grave husbandry.  Grow some plants, pick them, grow some grass to replenish the soil and keep it in place (something large scale agriculture doesn’t do), have cows eat the grass and poop on it to fertilize it (something large scale agriculture doesn’t do) and eat the cows then grow plants there again.  While impossible with America’s current subsidy and large-farm system, this type of ecosystem maximizes the health of the planet and our foods and our bodies, while minimizing negative impacts.

Something else to consider when we’re discussing environmental impact of foods is the level of processing.  If you’re a vegetarian and still eating foods out of boxes, you are consuming combinations of vegetable oils, different compounds, and all sorts of poisons (hyperbole? perhaps) that required transportation to the facility, manufacture, packaging, and later transportation.  Legitimately, very, really, legitimately, if you’re eating foods out of boxes your environmental impact may be much higher than someone eating a whole cow once every couple weeks.

What’s more, American culture tends to prize just a few cuts of meat.  This is ridiculous.  Organs and other less-celebrated cuts of meat are incredibly nutritious.  In fact, the lack of organ-eating in contemporary culture has been attributed to all sorts of nutrient deficiencies, particularly vitamin A, vitamin B12, iron, copper, folate, selenium, zinc, and CoQ10.  If people begin eating WHOLE animals, and stopped wasting so much of them, their environmental impact would go WAY, way down.  I eat a lot of meat, sure, but my favorite meals are chicken stomachs, chicken hearts, beef liver, and beef tongue.  I eat all the parts other people throw away.  Does this mean I have “zero” environmental impact?  Not really.  But it’s a hell of a lot better than eating just a part of an animal and throwing the rest of it away, or even eating, as I mentioned before, anything grown on a monoculture or produced in a factory.

A lot of the literature on vegetarianism comes out of universities and the like, and a culture of sustainability dogma (most of which I’m all for, so long as it’s free thinking).  A lot of this sentiment, however, and the cultural zeitgeist comes from industry.  We all hear vegetarians talking about the evil powers of the meat industry, but what about the evil powers of the wheat, soy, and corn industries, which are vastly larger than the meat industry, and on which the contemporary meat industry actually depends?   American culture with regards to food, sustainability, health, and funding is a giant clusterfuck, and there’s no way around it.  The best way, imho, to say ‘fuck you’ to that giant machine is to eat as locally as possible.  Or, instead of in my opinion, but in my practice, it’s to move to Taiwan and daily eat a duck Wang Peng butchered and deep fried this morning.

Finally, there are about eight million health reasons to eat animals.  Here are a few:

Complete protein, for one.  You won’t get it from plants or legumes no matter how much vegetarians tell you otherwise (fuck quinoa!).

Getting enough healthy fat in your diet is another problem with vegetarian diets.  Vegetarian diets tend to be low in fat in general, which is BAD for your metabolism, your brain, your blood sugar, and your hormonal function.  What’s more, the content of the fat in vegetarian diets itself is high in omega 6-rich vegetable oils, which raise systemic inflammation and leads to all sorts of inflammation related diseases including heart disease, arthritis, diabetes, cancer, and alzheimers.

Another big one is nutrients.  Contrary to popular opinion, which is nuts, by the way, meat is full of vitamins and minerals and is in fact far and away more nutrient dense than grains.  One important nutrient is iron. Others are zinc, selenium, folic acid and phosphorous. Red meat is rich in vitamins A, Bs (12, the biggie), D, E, and K.  B12 is particularly important since it is found in no plants.  If you’re a vegetarian and you’re not supplementing, you’re in big trouble.

Note also that all of the vitamins and minerals contained in plants are less readily absorbed by our guts than those found in protein and fats.  This is because they are tied up with fiber and must first be broken down by gut flora.  Vegetarian literature often espouses that you not only can but SHOULD get all your vitamins and minerals from plants.  This is ridiculous.  Common vegetarianism asserts, for example, that you get your vitamin A from carrots, but this just isn’t true. Carrots instead have beta carotene in them, which is converted to vitamin A by bacteria in your gut, but only at a rate of, at maximum, 30 percent. There is WAY more vitamin A in animal fat and in animal livers than in plants, and its readily available to use.

Any vitamin that you digest in plant form must first be handled by your gut flora, and then absorbed, but the thing is that plants–especially wheat–often have lectins in them, which inhibit nutrient absorption.  This is potentially responsible for all sorts of nutrient deficiencies in developed countries, particular Ca and Mg.  Think you have osteoporosis because you don’t eat enough dairy?  How come Americans, who consume more dairy than any other country in the world, have the highest rates of osteoporosis in the world, too?  How come cultures that have never come in contact with dairy have perfect bone health?  That’s because (I assert!) they eat a natural, high fat, relatively high animal, no grain, no sugars diet.  For serious.

What about antioxidants?  Forget it.  You “need” antioxidants to fight free radicals, which are produced primarily by carbohydrate metabolism. If you’re not putting shit like grains and excessive sugars in your body, then you don’t need antioxidants to fight them.  Why dig a hole in the ground for your ladder so you can paint your basement windows?

Oh, and as a final remark, if you want to be a vegetarian for religious reasons, be my guest.  That’s cool.

And that might be about it for right now, friends.  I’m sure there is plenty more.  Have more to add on my side?  Drop me a line.  Want to fight about how poorly cited my diatribe was?  Please respond with some links in kind.   I 800 percent acknowledge that you might beat me silly with a good argument, so go ahead.  I want to be smarter, and I want you to open up my mind.

That said, vegetarianism was so 2008.


03 2011

A study in being a true badass: my mother’s paleo journey

Since a lot of you are in the same boat, or have come from similar backgrounds, this exercise probably isn’t much of a stretch for you.  Regardless, I ask you to put yourself in someone else’s shoes.  Transcend!   Take a break from your life.


Imagine that you are a 53 year old woman.  You are 5’2, and approximately 155 pounds.  You have spent the last twenty years of your life working different jobs and raising three children, and trying your absolute damndest to be fit, healthy, and raise your kids with a proper diet, too.   You devour health books like it’s your job.  You do Atkins, you do Mediterranean, you do vegetarian because the China study is a villainous hack.  As you grow older, your metabolism slows.  You find yourself able to eat just a few portions of salad greens and fruit per day, totalling perhaps 800 calories, and your BMI stalls out around 30.  This is disheartening.  You get on thyroid meds, bioidentical ones!, but find that they don’t make much of a difference.  Menopause, they say, is a real killer.  Your hot flashes persist. You exercise daily to no visible effect.  You have numbness in your extremities and odd pain in your legs.  Yet the worst thing of all is your knees.  Arthritis, they say.  Necrosis, which is even worse.  You wake in the middle of every night shaking with pain.  Slowly you pull yourself out of bed, stretch out your knees, and search for a sleeping position with a pain threshold tolerable enough to permit you to sleep.  In the morning, you wake up and go to work, but the thought of standing up after breakfast, getting on and off the toilet, and alighting stairs frightens you.  Because of this, you have gone to physical therapists, MDs, alternative medicine men, arthritis specialists, and applied for untested surgeries out in Colorado.  You get cortisol injections.  Maybe it helps.  But it all eventually fades back to pain.  Nothing works, and you can barely get by.  You can’t afford knee replacement surgery, even with insurance, but you’re going to go ahead and do it anyway, because you can’t live like this.  You never complain.  You never tell your daughter how frightening and excruciating it really is, despite her being your closest confidant.  You smile and you laugh and you say “that’s life!” and the world continues spinning.  Tenuously.

This is the story of my mother’s health.  I’m going to go ahead and divulge more about my mom because it’ll reveal the truth of how ridiculously badass she really is.  My mother grew up on the outskirts of Detroit, in an average family and an average place.  She graduated high school and got a job at GM and worked there for 27 years.  It was fine, but was it fulfilling?  Enjoyable?  Contributing to the good of the world?  Not really.  When the opportunity to be bought out arose, she took it.  She had no other experience and no college degrees, and searched the job market.  What to do?  Eventually she got a gig at Curves for Women, where she got to interact with and help all types of women feel good about themselves and their exercise.  Still not quite fulfilled, she found a job as a public school bus driver.  This is bomb, and her enormous patience, good will, benefit of the doubt and extreme altruism makes her just about the best bus driver ever.  She’s also quite open and hilarious.  For example, one day she told me kids on the bus were shouting “Penis!” a lot, and she didn’t understand.  I explained to her that this was a game kids play, trying to see who will say it the loudest.  The next day, my mom joined in, and won, and officially became the coolest bus driver on the planet.  Still not satisfied with her involvement, at 53 years old, my mother founded a business.  She bought an ice cream truck, painted it, fashioned some cute ass aprons, and began selling ice cream to local neighborhoods in the summer months.  Can you say baller?

During all of this adventure and self-discovery and innovation, my mother was constantly seeking better health.  She fears deterioration of her mind more than anything, though she also wants to be mobile and pain free for as long as possible.  Without a useless fuck all college degree, without any official training, without “education” for more than 30 years, my mother waded through masses of health material on a scale I have never seen.  I cannot tell you how much I admire that.  She became enormously well informed, though I daresay my new obsession means we’re quite equal in this regard.

Enter 2009.

My mother stumbles upon Nora Gedgaugus’s book Primal Body, Primal Mind.  Duh, she says.  Duh.

She recalls that Atkins was fairly effective for her and she stops eating carbs immediately.  She drops grains and alcohol, too.  And she loses … 40, would you say, mom?… 40 pounds over the course of six months.  Not stopping there, she pursues more optimal health.  She reads about supplements (in addition to all the ones her doctors got her on already).  She takes fish oil, eats tons of fat, supplements with vitamin D, and then on occasion with iodine, vitamin K, vitamin C, selenium, magnesium, and calcium, depending on what benefit she’s chasing.

In weeks, her knee pain lessens.  A few more and it’s gone.  In six months she’s buying a new bike–riding was something she loved enormously but had given up on years before–and in eighteen months she’s buying a hell of a road bike, wanting to push and to fly and to ride and to feel free and exercise her incredibly beautiful, well-running, machine of a 55 year old body.  Today, she is bringing home her new bike.  I could not, possibly, be more excited.

Moreover, while on the paleo diet, my mother weaned herself off of the replacement thyroid hormones.  She no longer has hot flashes, which she did on the old diet and on the thyroid hormones.  She is eating far more than she ever did on a higher carbohydrate diet, and getting to enjoy it like crazy.  This means she gets to ingest more nutrients , and be fit at the same time!  She is also dealing with circulation, problems, we think, but supplementing with iodine is currently helping and all of her research, online and in bookstores, where she just read a million books, and in doctor’s offices is going to lead her to even more optimal health.  I know it.

Finally, mom saved my life.  She never pushed, ever, but when she saw my deteriorated mental and physical health, she said: “Stef, I know I’ve been pursuing and following all these different diets my whole life, but this one is different, and please, please just take a look at this one book.  It might change your life.”  And it did.

Today, my mother and I are paleo warriors together.  I am beginning my nutrition certification, and she is being certified in physical fitness and wellness for senior citizens.  We both believe fiercely in the power of health and of exploring said health, and are stepping into the future armed as well as we can.  Moreover, we help each other research each others problems.  She helps me with my thyroid and my PCOS, and I help her with more detailed scientific information and all the goodies I get my hands on.  We are natural, now, and we are determined, and we are experimenting and learning and growing together.  Which is the true name of the game.  The lesson my mother teaches the world, here, is that your life is in your own hands. Trust doctors, but trust yourself and your body and your feelings more.  Be educated.  Experiment.  What feels right, and what doesn’t?  Don’t stop looking.  There’s a reason you’re not feeling well, and it’s out there, and you’re going to find it so long as you don’t give up.  My mother is a self-innovator, a lover, a giver, and a fighter. She owns her life, and she owns her health, and I could not, could not, possibly admire anything more.

Grok on, mom.  It’s people like you that make the world a rockin’, beautiful place.


03 2011

The number one reason you should exercise

Exercise is lauded for a number of reasons in contemporary society, and for once the masses seem to have it right.   Exercise increases lean muscle mass (perhaps the best indicator of longevity), bone density, respiratory health, physical fitness ability, weight loss, insulin sensitivity, neuronal plasticity and memory, stress mitigation, ease of sleep, sexiness, stamina (!), confidence, energy, and loads more!   Three cheers for exercise, in almost any form.

However– the one effect I didn’t mention, while implicit in some of the characteristics I listed above– is increased dopamine levels.  Exercise, both of the aerobic walk-to-the-store and up-the-stairs type and of the anaerobic carry-a-piano-to-the-store and-up-the-stairs type, is strongly correlated with higher dopamine levels in the brain.  This happens both in rats and in humans, and we know this from decades of neuronal testing.  Moreover, we see the effects in every day life.  Recall that dopamine is a pleasure hormone, and closely tied to the production of the other primary pleasure hormone, serotonin.  Because exercise increases dopamine levels, it can put a bounce in our step, heavily relieve stress, contribute to catharsis, and generally make us feel more serene, empowered, and happy.  I recall a time just a few days ago when I was feeling unusually stressed and depressed about some choices I have to make for my future, so I made a conscious effort to exercise.  After 5 minutes of sprinting, I was feeling better.  After 15, I didn’t want to stop.  By 30, I felt great, and was heading home orders of magnitude less frazzled.

Recall, also, that I recently wrote a post about food addiction and brain chemistry.  Food, like other drugs such as alcohol, cocaine, and amphetamines, can create a conditioned dopamine response in the brain.   At first, we get a slight dopamine hit from eating.  Later, through habituation, we become addicted to this hit.  We need more, more and more food over time in order to receive the same amount of pleasure.  Suddenly we find that the foods we are eating are way more hedonistic, way less healthy, and in way bigger quantities than they were before.   Old, healthy habits don’t suffice.  And we find that we are, truly, addicted to food.

Exercise (so long as we don’t become addicted to this, too!) is the healthiest way to increase dopamine levels.  Feeling the need to binge?  To snack?  To graze?  Do 50 push ups.  Or six, whatever.  Go for a quick walk.  Jumping jacks.  Or do what I do: jump on a bike–stationary or not–and crank until you can hardly stand.  In the healthy, feel good sort of way.  I promise, boy oh boy, do I ever promise, that afterwards you’ll feel less like eating.  With increased dopamine from the exercise, you don’t need it as much from your typical sources.

Exercise also has the effect of making us feel like we’ve done something GOOD, made some decent progress, and therefore makes us want to keep up momentum.  I’ve talked about momentum before.  Momentum is psychologically important for weight loss and for maintaining healthy relationships for food.  Use exercise not just as a way to increase dopamine, but also as a way to increase your positivity, your momentum, and your confidence.

Exercise often, then, if you need to.  Daily.  Vary your routine so you don’t get bored.  Make sure that you always feel good after you exercise, and never exhausted, depressed, or anxious.  You want to be bouncy and happy!  And let that dopamine flow.  By constantly restoring dopamine levels, daily exercise can inhibit your need to eat on a day to day basis, huzzah!  And by kicking up dopamine when you really need it, spontaneous exercise can curb bingeing desires.  In both cases, you win. So be good to yourself, and use exercise intelligently.  Leave space in your schedule in case you need it, or make space if you have to!  Prioritize appropriately.  If you don’t do it often, give it a shot.  Just one!  Or two.  If you do it a lot and you like it, keep it up.  And keep it in your arsenal, if you need to use it against addiction problems.

Check out this comprehensive post by Mike T Nelson nutrition PhD about dopamine and movement.


03 2011

Self Compassion Saturday!

A link, and my favorite poem:

Self Compassion: Why forgiving yourself actually makes you eat less.


Wild Geese

by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting–
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.


03 2011