Archive for the ‘Paleo Success Stories’Category

GUYS. I’m BACK.

For a while, anyway.

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Hi.  I’ve missed you.

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted.  For the last several months, I’ve had my nose to the grindstone in my philosophy program, and holy crap, I’ve never been happier.  I love what I do so much I think my heart might explode.

That isn’t to say it’s all been puppies and candy canes.   I’ve had several of those “aha!  I’ve finally figured it out!” moments with respect to my acne and my PCOS, and it’s been frustrating to continually realize how wrong I was.  I’m here writing a lot because I’ve continued to learn a lot over the last several months, and I think it’s important that I get as much information out there as possible.   All that said, I’ll be on Jimmy Moore’s podcast in February, and I’m going to be contacting some other paleo bigwigs about paleo and PCOS.   I probably won’t have time to write all that much after this brief stint, but I’m going to do everything I can to reach out to the PCOS community in the upcoming weeks.

So posts about PCOS are forthcoming.  I also have one thrown together that I’m really excited about, summarizing what I think are the most important factors and tips in dealing with disordered eating.  These’ll all be out within the week.

For a personal update, in case you’re interested, what follows is a brief play by play of my own health from the point at which we left off this summer.

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You’ll recall that I left this summer, around July, experimenting with stress and carbohydrates.  I had thought that adding some carbs in would ease any cortisol issues I had, and would help increase leptin signalling to my hypothalamus (which it probably did), but ultimately I had very little success.  I was still getting acne, too.  WTF?  What I did find, by the end of the summer, was that eating meat and chicken was causing me acne.  I ended up realizing that land-raised, conventionally farmed animals are injected with hormones.  I discovered, moreover, that scientists are divided on whether these levels of hormones are significant.   I conducted a controlled experiment.  They certainly make a difference for my acne.

I went to Boston eating vegetables and fish.  Through experimenting with a couple of Clif bars and some tofu I realized that soy was a big problem for me.   It gave me acne, too.   This didn’t make sense: my problem was a lack of estrogen.  Everything on the internet says that eating soy would help with that problem.  Why didn’t it help me?  I didn’t understand.

Another thing I ate for a while was legumes.  I enjoyed lima beans and peas in particular.  After a week of feeling really good on them, I got a big break out and panicked and never ate them again.

Then I learned about BPA and eliminated it from my diet as much as I could.  This meant I’d stop microwaving my plastic mug, but I also had to cut back on canned fish, my only source of protein.  It was hard times for a woman who ate nothing but vegetables and fish.  At points, avocadoes were 80 percent of my calories.

I read that cruciferous vegetables were good for liver health.  I increased my intake of those.   Things seem to be going decently, now, with my acne much diminished, but with no other indicators of hormonal health returning.  Finally, I turned to medication.

After doing some reading, I realized that my hormone system might be too messed up to fix itself on its own.  The first drug I seriously considered was Metformin, which is designed to increase insulin sensitivity.  This has the added bonus of lowering testosterone production in the ovaries.  I decided to try it.  I felt great for a week, then woke up with a big cyst on my face and cried and cried and cried like I never have.  I didn’t know, at the time, that it was clinical depression.

A week later I decided to try the Metformin one more time.   Any number of variables could have messed it up the first time.  After two days, taking the lowest dose prescribed, I experienced the biggest breakout of the most painful cysts I have ever had, and plunged into a depression that lasted for an entire week.  I barely had the motivation to pick up my phone and text a friend to come take care of me.  WHAT.   Why didn’t this innocent, never-anything-but-helpful drug work for me?

I was maybe a little bit frustrated.

The thing is that I think it did work.  I think the Metformin worked really well.  It seems as though it made me ovulate.  During ovulation, testosterone levels (the ones that make acne) peak, and estrogen levels fall.  I already had low estrogen and high testosterone, so perhaps that just made it worse.  It’s good that I ovulated, despite all the nasty side effects I experienced, but I didn’t have a period.

I came home for the holidays and got a blood test and learned a lot more.  My testosterone was decent but my estrogen was lower than ever, as was my thyroid.  Clearly I wasn’t doing well “naturally” and “on my own.”  (Guys, don’t try this at home.   Don’t be a moron.  Get blood tests.  Know what’s going on.  Take care of yourselves.)  After doing a lot of reading, this is what I’ve deduced:

Phytoestrogens such as soy and legumes act as estrogens, but not in precisely the same way.   They can ease the pain of menopause symptoms such as hot flashes, but they are not true estrogen, so they won’t help with my ovaries or with pituitary signalling.  They don’t fit quite right in the receptors.  They are, in fact, harmful, and decrease levels of true estrogen.  This is why legumes, soy and BPA (similar to a phytoestrogen, but not quite the same) are so nasty for PCOS.

Cruciferous vegetables are “good” for liver health, but they increase the activity of a cytochrome that clears estrogen from the blood stream.  By eating pounds of them each day, literally, pounds, what else was I going to eat?, I may have been lowering my estrogen to dangerous levels.

My thyroid has always been low, but now it is lower than ever, possibly because of natural decay, or maybe because of all of the goitrogens I was eating.  In any case, supplementation with T3 (I have plenty of TSH and T4) has resolved problems I have had my whole life that recently got a whole lot worse, and that I never really thought about: the low, gravelly voice that prevented me from singing in the last couple years has been replaced by a high, smooth, natural one; my perpetually frozen feet are now perfectly fine in the house, even though it’s winter time and normally that gives me sores from the cold; I no longer have to wear jackets inside; and my food cravings have decreased, too.  My doctor says this will also help with my skin.  Most importantly, treating hypothyroids almost always makes an anovulatory woman ovulate.

Another medication, called Spironolactone, is another class of testosterone blocker and might be a better medication for me than Metformin.  It prevents androgens from binding to receptors, and also blocks some of the production of androgens, such that it is virtually a miracle cure for hormonal acne.  Which is what  I’ve been experiencing, huzzah!  I was only on Spiro for about 36 hours before I started seeing improvement.  Also, spironolactone lowers blood androgen levels over time.  It makes PCOS patients ovulate.  Double win.

Since the summer, I have taken a turn for medications, and I couldn’t be happier about it.  But more importantly, I have begun taking the intricacies of the endocrine system seriously.  I’ve studied texts.  Many.  And come to appreciate that there aren’t always easy answers.    Whatever answers there are, I’ll be sharing over the next few posts.  In the meantime I am happy to be back.

02

01 2012

Paleo Success Part 3 of millions

Pamela is an enormously beautiful 23 year old soul from Michigan who rocks my world.  She’s a humor-writer, so she writes a blog on cool stuff and smart things she thinks.  She has just started paleo and is writing a series of posts on her journey.  What I love about it is that she’s totally geeked on her progress, but also realistic about the way it’s changing her relationship with food.   Like Pam, I admit, too, that my “problems” with sugar, cravings, and overeating didn’t really get going until I got thin/healthy/paleo.    I think that has a lot to do with (outside of the biology of cravings) drastic dietary change, stupid norms, and deprivation in our society of wicked abundance.

In any case.   With great care, awareness, and kick ass passion, Pam is happy and healthy and moving forward like a champion.

30

04 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.

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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.

19

03 2011

My Paleo Journey

Perhaps a good way to start out with my blog is to share my past. This should demonstrate why Paleo eating and living is so important to me. And perhaps, if you’re new to all of this, it will convince you to give it a shot, too. That would be wonderful. I’d be happy to help you get started.

And finally, please, as always, take everything I have to say with a NorCal ™ margarita full of salt. I try my best to be fair and to make sense of life. But that’s a giant challenge we all struggle with, so use your judgment as best you can.

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My story began in adolescence. I was…not quite fit. Perhaps 30 pounds overweight. Cute enough. Clean enough. Happy enough. And certainly productive enough. But I loathed myself. I loathed my body, and I loathed it even more because I should have been able to control it, but I couldn’t. What  I lacked, I thought, was willpower. I ate as healthfully as absolutely possible (with the occasional binge thrown in) but it didn’t make a difference. Special K cereal in the morning with skim milk, grapes and yogurt and a bagel for lunch, and salad or pasta for dinner. Seemed like a good idea at the time. But I was always grazing, never satisfied, and perpetually deprived. I hated myself for eating that much. Clearly, I lacked the control necessary to be truly beautiful.

So passed the years of 2002-2006.

I got to college in 2006 and my friends told me to love my body. Okay. I was a bit too busy running all over the world and getting pissed in fraternity basements to really be disgusted anyway, but still I lumbered on with my loathing. Moreover, for environmental, ethical, and health reasons, I became a vegetarian. (More wrath re: vegetarianism later). I needed to be stricter to be healthier. And I was. I ate virtually zero fat, with an avocado perhaps once per week and an egg white omelet perhaps once per week. I ate tofu. And I ate oatmeal, and I ate salad, and I ate approximately my weight in dried fruit. Also, continuing my habit from adolescence, I killed myself on cardio machines at least once per day (I was a college student and went to the gym at six AM: wtf?). Today I am appalled at the kind of damage I was doing to my adrenal system, to my liver, and to my brain.

Three years later, I wasn’t any smaller. I’m 5’2, and at the time I wore sizes seven and nine. And in September, miracle of miracles, I got a stomach flu. In my opinion at that time, this was the greatest thing that could have happened to me. It gave me momentum to keep losing weight. And now I’m really strict, but it’s working. I was eating perhaps 1300 calories of carbohydrates and cycling at least an hour each day. I dropped weight FAST. 30 pounds in three months. And I loved it. Of course it was hard as hell, and of course I craved food every second of every day, and of course I felt monstrously deprived, but at least I didn’t hate myself anymore.  I had control. My friends were terrified. Everyone was voicing disordered eating concerns. They convinced me I Had A Problem, and I panicked even more. How do I be healthy? How do I maintain weight? How fucked up am I really? Will I ever stop being hungry?

That winter I suffered a number of anxiety attacks. Have you ever gone an entire seven days without sleeping? I can’t explain to you how horrific it was. I wasn’t in control of my emotions at all, and I was barely functional. My hands never stopped shaking. There were some other hard things going on in my life, aside from the food issue, but clearly something wasn’t working. I remember one night when I couldn’t sleep, going downstairs and eating an entire carrot cake. It was blissful, and I don’t think I’ll ever forget it.

My mom finally got concerned, catching wind of the whole disordered eating deal even though she was seven hundred miles away. She had been eating Paleo for about six months, and she voiced her opinion to me. “Stef,” she said, “I don’t want you to take this the wrong way, but I want you to read this book.” It was Nora Gedgaudas’s Primal Body, Primal Mind. I was a scientist, and it was a principle of mine to be as open minded as possible. Fine. I’d do it. But I was not happy. “Mom,” I choked out on the phone, trying to get some privacy in a packed student commons “even if it turns out that it’s healthier for me to eat animals, I won’t do it. It’s not right, and I’m not willing to make that sacrifice.”

Well, I did. I read Nora’s book and marked with sticky notes where I thought she was wrong. But by page 60 I stopped that hyper-sensitive, unfair nitpicking. I had studied evolutionary biology. I had read popular science books. And I had common sense. My life became a series of Duhs. I lived in a house full of vegetarians, and I began trying to get them to read Mark Sisson’s Primal Blueprint, which I had also read, and loved fiercely. One of my roommates suffered anxiety issues the same way I did, and I thought that fat imbalances and nutrient deficiencies might be messing with her brain like mine. I didn’t really know, but it was possible. All the sudden, I had all these changes I needed to make. Fast.

Immediately I jumped into eating “Paleo.” Admittedly, I didn’t quite make it. I was still afraid of fat. If I, someone who was feeling hugely deprived, wanted to enjoy food, and to eat a lot of food, conventional wisdom told me to eschew the foods with the greatest caloric density. And of course I knew that one grape has two calories and one teaspoon of oil had one hundred and five. But my efforts were better than nothing. I cut the dried fruit I loved so dearly; I cut the cereals that had been a pillar in my life since I was five years old; I added in the animals. Thus, I stopped obsessing over food. The sugar cloud floated away. I breathed freely. I thought clearly. My shoulders drooped. I fell asleep each night with a degree of peace I hadn’t known before.

Since that day in March, I have eaten a huge variety patterns within the parameters of paleolithic diets, including a few weeks in Europe when all of my calories came from canned tuna and cheese. Today, I eat a lot of eggs, seafood, organ meats, seaweed, cruciferous veggies, and whatever interesting tidbits Taiwanese night markets have to throw my way. I have maintained weight without hating myself. (Well, for the most part. More on that later). I still struggle with sugar. I still struggle with binge eating. Sure, these days it might be a whole head of cabbage instead of a whole box of cereal, but that still isn’t ideally healthy. And I do still struggle from time to time with body image. Someone once told me that you can never condemn a disordered eater for their habits, because the actions they are taking are the best ways they know how to deal with the demons inside them. Wise. I like being (need to be?) thin because it’s the best way to keep out the loathing. But MOST importantly: the degree of my neuroticism is perhaps 10 percent of what it used to be. Cool!

Eating paleo is a weapon against demons. Mine are practically vanquished. I feel like Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Be gone, soul-suckers! Paleo works, And it works brilliantly. I am satiated when I eat, now, and I have better memory. I sleep seven hours a night for the first time since I was a young child. My hair has stopped falling out in frightening chunks. It grows faster. My skin is brighter. I work out less often, and when I do I enjoy it more. I forgive myself for my lapses because I know that all of the foods I am putting in my body are healthful. I no longer have excruciating pain in my knees and hips. I never feel the need to take naps. I have energy, and it fucking rocks. I can work for hours at a time without stopping. Did I say this rocks? It rocks.

There are other aspects of the Paleolithic perspective that have also altered my life. I have a different understanding of technology and of relationships, and as a result of reading the fantastic book Sex at Dawn, I think more benevolently of mankind. I think community is important, now, and I think more openly about sexual relationships and fidelity. I have read books such as Meat: A Benign Extravagance and realized that vegetarianism is not a catchall solution. I have identified the ways in which our modern world is at particularly strong odds with some of my natural inclinations, and I have done my best to manage those desires (eg: I will watch one EPISODE of House on my laptop, not one MARATHON of America’s Next Top Model on a TV.) I recognize the importance of play. And, while a lifelong workaholic, I try my best to live slowly and deliberately.

I like stopping. And I like smelling flowers.

I have never worn shoes. And I never will.

Paleo is for me, therefore, all about liberation. It is about the healthfulness of my body, the freedom of my mind, and, because of those two things, the peace in my soul. I love this life like it’s my job, and while there are elements of my life and the paleo world that I still struggle with, it’s a beautiful, evolving journey. I have nothing but whole heaps of adventure and vitality to look forward to.