By the way, the working title for this post was "There and Back Again: A Paleo Tale." Because as you'll see, this whole change in the way of thinking about eating has taken a looooooong time, with many stops and starts. Fortunately, there weren't any trolls.
The purpose of this post is not to analyze the benefits of the paleo/primal/evolutionary diet, and I am by no means an expert and can't quote you many health statistics. For information about that kind of stuff, and to read about it if you're trying to decide about the diet for yourself, check out Modern Paleo or any of the excellent blogs and websites that MP links to. So anyway, I'm not going to try to prove to you that it's the best diet for humans. Accept it as given that I think so, have been thoroughly convinced of this lo these past many years based on my research and personal experience.
My first introduction to what I'll refer to as "paleo" for this post (though I much prefer "evolutionary" diet) was through Kelly, who sent me to the Weston A. Price website once upon a time. Ryan was about a year and a half old. Mind you, I don't agree with all of the diet recommendations by WAP (for example, eating sprouted grains), but they were my first resource, and a good one. (Please, if you go there, ignore the breastfeeding advice. They do offer excellent nutritional advice for pregnancy though.)
I read through WAP, picked up Nourishing Traditions, read some more, started to become overwhelmed at the amount of cooking and stock-making that seemed to be required, panicked, calmed down, and decided to make incremental changes that would be relatively easy and painless.
One of the early changes we made was staying on whole milk. Since Ryan was still a toddler, this was what we were drinking anyway, as the AAP recommends (our pediatrician certainly does) that babies drink whole milk until age two. (In fact I expect them to tell me to switch Sean off of whole milk at his next checkup.) This was an easy change to make, and it made sense to me--the vitamins in milk, I had learned, are fat-soluble, which means that when you drink less than full-fat milk, it's harder for your body to get the nutrition out of the milk. Also, babies need fat, even medical doctors recognize that! Unfortunately they think that children need to go to skim milk at age 2 years, 1 day. (They also think that children ought to be weaned off of human milk by that age, but that's a different post, I think.)
Other early changes: butter, more yogurt, cheese. In other words, I was no longer worried about having fat in our diet. We knew from Brendan's experience as a diabetic and from an early foray into Atkins that too much sugar is bad, and in fact, the body converts it to fat. Sugar is what makes you fat, not fat. Another early change: switching to sea salt. Oh! And another one: switching from fluoridated water to non-fluoridated water (we drink bottled).
Then Ryan had the Big Peanut Kaboom, and honestly, that was at the forefront of my mind for the next couple of years. Nearly all of my thinking about what we were eating was focused on peanut avoidance. If two years sounds like a long time, it was, but keep in mind that part of this thinking wasn't just about peanuts and finding hidden sources of peanuts and identifying companies we could trust. Some of the thinking was processing emotions about the allergy, dealing with the fear, the logistics, and basically managing a paradigm shift when it came to food and Ryan's safety. The world was rocked and would never be the same again. And when the Rocking of the World involves a threat to someone's life, there are a lot of emotions to process and re-integrating you need to do. Living with the allergy is second-nature to me now, but getting to that second-nature point takes a while.
Even so, I was making more changes toward eating in a more paleo way. I started looking for sources of grassfed beef and tried some of the online places, which are good but expensive. I went in on a grassfed cow with a friend for the first time when Morgan was about two. That, in my opinion, is the ONLY way to go! It's fresh, cheap, and then you have meat and meat and meat for months. I also started making more of an effort to avoid soy and legumes, and to consume more eggs. I tried a friend's raw milk, but still have yet to make the switch fully (which I'll explain later).
I was also switching away from processed foods, and learning to prepare real food from real ingredients. I started to look in my copy of the cookbook my grandmother used to use for recipe ideas. Instead of laughing at the authors, like my sister and I used to, for often listing lard as an ingredient, I started to look for ways to obtain lard. :o) And through Kelly and our friend Jessica, I sampled some delicious food and learned some cooking tips! (In fact, Jessica is giving a paleo cooking lesson at MiniCon and you should go because she's the best cook ever!)
The other major thing I was doing consciously at this time (beginning around four years ago perhaps, once I kind of got through the peanut business) was introspection. I was slowly but surely beginning to identify some bad premises I was holding regarding eating in general, not just diet. Because as I was slowly trying to commit to eating in an evolutionary way, I was realizing that I couldn't stick to my commitment. That's a whole other post, though, and one that I am planning to write soon, because I finally am ready to talk about the psychological aspects of eating, my struggles with it, and my successes at changing my premises (and losing lots of weight in the last few months!). But still, know that I was thinking thinking thinking about diet and food and how to be strong and healthy.
By the time I got pregnant with Sean, in October of 2007, I was pretty far along the path of getting better premises and had made more and more incremental diet changes for myself and the family. I found it easier to eat in a healthy way during that pregnancy, and cheerfully ignored the dietary advice given to me by the obstetrician and midwife. With his consent, though, I set out not to gain a lot of weight during the pregnancy, as I started off very overweight to begin with. So I gained 10 pounds with Sean (8 pounds of that was Sean!), compared to 27 and 23 pounds with the other two. I did this by snacking on cheese and kefir and lots and lots of grassfed steak. :o)
In the last two years, I have gotten over being afraid of The Sun, and even gasp! let the kids run around the pool and beach last summer without sunscreen! The only time I used sunscreen was on long days at the beach, and only after we'd been exposed for at least 30 minutes. We are supplementing with fish oil, but that's a little problematic still because we are not going to expose Sean to fish/shellfish for a while. And in January of this year, I decided to finally give up wheat, my last big hurdle.
So now here's what paleo eating looks like at my house. We regularly eat:
- Full-fat yogurt when possible (and as of today, kefir!)
- Whole milk
- Grassfed beef (we're getting another quarter of a cow in a couple of weeks)
- Bacon (mmmm....bacon)
- All kinds of meat, really
- Lots of veggies, usually smothered in bacon grease
- Pastured eggs
- Peanut-safe almond butter
- Liberal use of coconut oil, especially in scrambled eggs!
- Some fruit (mostly the kids eat that, but I do, too) such as berries and apples and grapes
- Cheese (cow and goat)
I have learned how to cook, even have homemade stock in the freezer! I know, go me! And I've found that cooking with just a few ingredients in the simple old-fashioned way my grandma used to is quite easy and very delicious! For this weekend, I'm going to roast a chicken, and roast red peppers and asparagus (covered in bacon grease), too. It'll take me 10 minutes to prepare that yummy food, and everyone will snarf it down and drink the fat. And I'll feel like a good mommy and wife. :o)
Oh yeah, we haven't switched to raw milk yet. Most of the reason has to do with personal logistics. It's illegal to buy raw milk for humans to drink in Georgia, but you can buy it for your pet. How dumb is that? The upshot of that silly law is that you either have to get your milk from across the border through a milk-buying co-op, or buy milk for your "pet" from a local farm. And since it's a Herculean feat for me to get to the grocery store on a regular basis, going out of my way to get raw milk just isn't worth my time. None of us are big milk drinkers. Sean is still nursing quite a bit, and I'm of the opinion that human milk is best for growing humans anyway. However, I'm beginning to think about making the effort to get some raw milk on a semi-regular basis because I'm interested in learning how to make our own yogurt and kefir.
So anyway, that's my paleo story! I am stronger and healthier than I was ten years ago (and weigh less, too). I think eating in this way makes good sense and it has definitely changed our lives for the better. In future posts, I'll address some of the premise-checking I did, and how the kids eat paleo, and how we're still transitioning over (we're not quite 100% yet).