I dont mind stealing bread
From the mouths of decadence
But I cant feed on the powerless
When my cups already overfilled
But its on the table
The fire is cooking
And theyre farming babies
While the slaves are working
The blood is on the table
And their mouths are choking
But Im growing hungry
Temple of the Dog, Hunger Strike
This morning, An Intelligent Gal wrote a post about obesity and big-pharma. In the US (at least), obesity has gradually been redefined as an ‘illness’ to be treated, rather than as a lifestyle that does not work. Liz asks:
So there are several questions and arguments supporting and disagreeing all of them. I am concerned about the pharmaceutical companies pushing a diagnosis that looks bogus on the surface so they can sell new drugs. This is called “developing new disease markets.” Do we really want pharmaceutical companies creating new markets? Do we want them writing the guidelines for diagnosis? Can all our problems be cured with a pill?
I immediately jumped in and said NO. But then, I am a huge critique of western medicine (especially of the 21st Century variety), so of course I would say no. It did, however, inspire todays discussion.
Over the last eight years, or so, I have embarked on a journey designed to increase my health and appearance. I started reading a lot on health and nutrition, I began exercising (and I cringe to think how little I did back then. It was hard!) I started to decrease the amount of pre-processed foods I was cooking, and started exploring new ingredients for cooking.
When I first started I immediately lost a good twenty pounds, bringing me to within five pounds of my high school maximum weight. It was awesome. But then I leveled out. Over the years, I would get more dedicated and lose another ten pounds. But then I would get bored, or lazy, or distracted and I would gain it all back (usually slowly. I’d lose it in three months and regain it over a year or more).I also found that the longer this continued, the harder it became to lose more weight. I was so accustomed to exercising and dieting, even, that my body was ‘unimpressed’ with my efforts. I would have to virtually starve myself, while doing intense exercise every day to see any results. After a couple of weeks, even that would not be enough. So I ask, who can live that way forever?
The one thing that I did continue to do through all of these years is to research various ideas and suggestions about food, health, nutrition and exercise. I read up on Atkins: and wondered if maybe ketosis was not terribly healthy (although I did lose substantial weight when I tried Atkins, it was completely unsustainable and I gained most of the weight back immediately on stopping).
I read up on the research of Weston T Price: Price was a dentist that did cross cultural studies on health based, primarily on facial structure and dental health. His work suggests that our modern foods are too ‘sterile’: that the bacterial component of traditional food, from fermented products to wild yeast breads aids in digestion and absorption of nutrients. Made sense so I played around with that for a while. But I didn’t lose weight. And like so many other alternative ideas, it made it really hard to eat out or at the hones of friends and family. I also found myself cooking all the time.
Then I stumbled on the paleo diet. The paleo diet is probably the foundation of Atkins: but it is not a weight loss program, nor is it designed to appeal to the lowest common denominator. It is an intellectual, evolutionary and biologically based analysis of the foods we eat and what they do to our bodies. In a nutshell, the paleo diet looks at the foods we ate as we evolved and then looks at the foods we eat now and compares them.
One of the big differences between our evolutionary diet and our modern diet is the role of grains. Our ancestors almost certainly ate them: seasonally, in small quantities, and probably fermented for better digestion. But in the modern world, we eat grains fro virtually every meal. So the question is, is it good for us?
In fact, all of the grains we regularly eat: wheat, rye, corn, rice, millet, etc, are products of the same plant family: poaceae . They all contain toxins that make them inedible in their raw state. They all contain anti-nutrients (chemicals that impede the absorption of nutrients in our food), they all provide a massive influx of carbohydrates, and wheat: that mainstay of western culture, actually contains a compound that is both addictive and hallucinogenic.
Other neolithic foods that they point at as being problematic:
- (White) Potatoes: potato skins have large quantities of toxins: never, ever eat a potato that is turning green! beans:
- Beans: beans also have large quantities of toxins, making them inedible in their raw state. Cooking does little to reduce the toxins, but sprouting is effective. Before cooking, the proteins and nutrients in beans are also largely inaccessible to our digestive system.
- Milk Products: All milk products contain growth hormones, after all, it is meant to be food for baby cows. Recent introduction of artificial growth hormones exacerbate the problem. Additionally, most of the world’s populations are unable to digest cassien; which is commonly known as ‘Lactose Intolerance’. Studies have pointed to other potential problems with Milk, but I am still skeptical of some of those claims. Raw milk contains enzymes that make milk more digestible and nutrient accessible, but in the US raw milk is illegal. Non-American made cheeses are often made from raw milk, making them much healthier for those of us that cannot give up cheese. (There are also American made ‘raw cheese’ products. These always make me ill, so I suspect that American ‘raw’ cheese is processed without heat, whereas imported cheeses are simply started with raw milk.)
Paleo also emphasizes whole foods: replacing white sugar with honey, fruit juice with whole fruits, etc; variety: any diet composed of only a few foods will necessarily be less nutrient rich than one comprised of dozens (or preferably hundreds) of different foods; multiple small meals all day rather than a few large ones (again, a common refrain amongst diet gurus); and raw foods including meats, vegetables and fruits.
It all sounds a little harsh, after all, we are accustomed to eating bread, pasta, rice or potatoes with every meal. Without them, how do we eat sufficient food to not starve? Just the same, at the beginning of the year I decided to give it a try. I was a little slow getting started: and part of my strategy was to not worry about it. If I slip today, I can correct tomorrow. No recriminations. No guilt. Just a change of lifestyle.
If I went out to dinner and had a little rice, or tortillas, or breading on my chicken salad, it was no big deal. But when there was an option to do without, that was even better. I started eating fresh fruit as a regular part of my daily routine: and after a while I realized I had not had a cold (or worse) since starting the new diet. I ate four ‘meals’ a day (five, if you count my morning coffee with cream and stevia). When I really wanted some desert, I indulged, but I found that the cravings I always experienced seemed to have faded away. I started experiencing cravings for fruit, vegetables and meat instead. And I listened to them.
After six months, I had lost ten pounds without getting back into a good exercise routine and without suffering any hunger pangs. My honey noticed. Next thing I know, he is asking more and more questions about how I am eating. By July, he jumped on board and began following the rules of paleo. He has encouraged me, so we are now back to working out; lifting weights and aerobics. Since then, he has lost almost twenty pounds. I have lost another five. He’s an inch away from a washboard stomach. And all this from the guy that originally taught me to eat pasta.
I can’t tell you if our experiences are typical. I can’t assure you that the research I have linked to is all accurate. And I can’t testify to the fact that the explanations offered are completely correct. I can say, it makes sense to me and its worked for our family. Of course, I like to cook, so home cooked meals are no problem for us. And my honey and I both like vegetables and green salads, fruit, nuts and all sorts of meats. So I guess the best way to look at it is that for others like us, this may be an effective food repertoire, as well.
(Originally Posted September 24, 2006)