Tuesday, December 30, 2014

"You Butthead," and Other Traditional Holiday Greetings

We got home from our Christmas travels yesterday. Everyone's asking, "how was your Christmas?!" Ah, it was pretty crappy, but thanks for asking!

Three-year-old Darling Son #2 had a seizure on Christmas morning.
Hospitals are not good places to spend Christmas. FYI.
It was absolutely terrifying. He was totally incoherent in the ambulance en route to the hospital. He finally perked up as the nurse was taking his rectal temperature--his eyes flashed open and he shouted, "I HATE THIS! YOU BUTTHEAD!"

On one hand, it was very reassuring. Our precious son spoke! A proper sentence! Subject and predicate! And so relevant to the task at hand!

On the other hand, our precious son just called someone A BUTTHEAD. That's so rude. Where did he even learn that word? I don't call people 'buttheads.' At least, not audibly.

Turns out that was just the tip of the iceberg. Over the next thirty hours, poor little potty mouth was poked, pricked and prodded such that anyone who walked in the room was verbally assaulted with whatever hateful vitriol he could come up with. All his 'bad words' were pressed into service, including, but not limited to, 'butt,' 'wiener,' 'stupid,' and 'idiot.'

I kept apologizing for his rudeness, assuring everyone that under normal circumstances, he really is a very sweet little boy! Truly! I'm not just saying that because I'm his mother. Other people think so, too. Except when catheters, blood pressure cuffs and pulse ox monitors are involved.

We did have to cut the DS2 some slack--it was a rough time, and quite frankly, when you're three and this cute:

You can get away with a lot.

Calculating Rudeness Tolerance
The whole thing got me thinking, what's the rudeness tolerance threshold for a grown woman giving up coffee? Because that, Lord help me, is what I'm about to do.

Kicking Joe to the Curb
I've been toying with the idea for a while. Mostly because I know I'm an addict. The thought of giving it up scares me. Last year, I put off getting blood drawn for months because it required a fasted state. I didn't mind not eating, but I minded not having creamy coffee when I woke up. I could have had it black, but ewww....

See, that's the rub--it's the cream. I don't take sugar and I never have. I like my coffee just like me--light and slightly bitter.

But the truth is, I often don't sleep well. And I have to admit, coffee has mastery over me. Should I really be enslaved to a beverage? Especially after I threw off the shackles of sugar earlier this year (which, by the way, I consider to be one of the best decisions I've ever made--right up there with marrying the Darling Husband.) I don't want to be enslaved to anything else.

Honestly, I don't even think it's the caffeine. I couldn't leave DS2's room the morning after Christmas, at least not without a veil of tears, so I didn't have my coffee until a good three hours after I woke up. I had a mild headache, but it wasn't really that bad. It's more the comfortable ritual of my warm, creamy cup.

But after Christmas and traveling and hospital food, I feel quite yucky. I'm feeling the need to do some sort of reset, and the great thing about doing it this time of year is that practically everyone else is doing one, too. There is an element of camaraderie. At least, that's what I'm telling myself.

This time, I'm toying around with doing Whole30, a paleo-type plan that involves eating pretty much any whole food (including fruit) and not eating the usual suspects (processed foods, alcohol, sugar,) as well as giving up grains and dairy.

I've given up grains before, but never dairy. I like dairy. I've never been a big milk drinker, but I like cheese and I *love* yogurt. But I can live without them for 30 days. It's the cream... oh dear.

Apparently I'm not the only one who struggles with this. Whole30 creators Dallas and Melissa Hartwig are pretty adamant that you follow the plan to the letter, and they have a tough love essay on their site, in which they tell us: "It is not hard. Don’t you dare tell us this is hard. Beating cancer is hard. Birthing a baby is hard. Losing a parent is hard. Drinking your coffee black. Is. Not. Hard." 

Oh. Ok. I guess if you put it that way...

So we'll see how it goes. I'm sure I'll blog about it. At least if I call you a 'butthead' you'll know why.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

We Don't Need an IV Drip: A Holiday Art Show Rant

I just got another email from the PTO president from Darling Son #2's school--we still need people to bring refreshments for this morning's holiday art show!! I can't stop off to get refreshments. I have to take DS#1 to school before coming to the show. Stopping off at Dunkin' Donuts will get me to the show with only fifteen minutes to peruse my budding little artist's oeuvre d'art. I feel badly, though. Poor PTO president is doing a job I would never want to do in a million years. God bless her.

The whole thing got me thinking... why do we need refreshments at the holiday art show? It's 8.30 in the morning. Didn't everyone just eat breakfast? Why do we need food at every. single. function?

Back in October I went to the doctor. The practice treats children, too. As I was checking out at the desk, I noticed a plastic orange pumpkin filled with lollipops. Really?? We're giving out lollipops at the doctor's office? My kids get a lollipop at the barber shop, and somehow that doesn't bother me. I guess because it's just the barber. It's not a supposedly health promoting enterprise.

Later that week, I notice another health blogger has seen lollipops at the doctor's office and ranted about it, and I read the comments. Everyone agrees it's ridiculous to offer lollipops at the doctor's office, but one commenter says, "They should offer fruit!"

Certainly, fruit would be better, but why do they need ANYTHING!?? It's the DOCTOR'S OFFICE! It's not a restaurant! Why do we have to have food everywhere we go? It's everywhere.

People don't need to be hooked up to food and drink every waking hour of the day. I've been reading about this lately, and it's quite interesting. When we eat, our blood sugar rises. Especially when we eat carbohydrates. Elevated blood sugar is toxic (this is why diabetics have problems), so the body pumps out insulin to lower blood sugar. Then all is right with the world again. But if we eat constantly, over time, our bodies start sticking their metaphorical fingers in their metaphorical ears. Lalalala, insulin, I'm not listening! This is called insulin resistance and it's a precursor to diabetes.

We don't need to eat all the time. We really don't.

But the poor PTO president... everyone's sticking their fingers in their ears. LALALALA! I don't want to go to Dunkin' Donuts before the art show! So I tell her, I have clementines. Is that ok?

At least it's fruit??

Friday, December 12, 2014

Thoughts on Paleo

Ever since I first gave up sugar back in April, I've been learning more and more about the interesting and somewhat cultish world of Paleo living. I say 'living,' because while most people focus on the diet aspect, it really is a way of life. I'll admit, I was not favorably predisposed to Paleo from the start. It just seemed too restrictive, too isolating, too expensive.

For those unfamiliar with Paleo, it's a lifestyle that's meant to mimic our 'paleolithic ancestors'--before they settled down to grow crops, before sugar was processed down to neat little white cubes, before animals were husbanded, etc. Paleo typically eschews all grains, legumes, dairy and most sweets, but it's reach extends beyond the kitchen. Delve deeper into the Paleo world and you'll start slathering your body with coconut oil and doing CrossFit in the noonday sun in Vibram five-fingers. And maybe going to bed earlier than your kids.
Image: paleogp.com

Honestly, there is a lot of wisdom and good hard science in many of these practices. It just seemed like such a radical departure from normal life. How can people live this way?

Well, I decided to try it.

Over the summer I did a little Paleo experiment. I can't say I went whole-hog primal. There will be no oil-in-the-noonday sun for this very white girl with a history of skin cancer, but I did eliminate grains for a while. I whittled my dairy consumption to a splash of (grass-fed, raw) cream in my coffee. I took greater pains to source local foods. I read Paleo books and cooked from Paleo cookbooks and listened to Paleo podcasts. I went outside for limited periods without sunscreen and went to bed at sundown. I didn't trade the barre for CrossFit, but I still learned a lot.

Things I REALLY like about Paleo:

The emphasis on whole, real, unprocessed foods. This seems to be the heart and soul of Paleo, and it's wonderful. I think it's pretty safe to say that just about everything is better as close to it's natural state as possible--healthier and better-tasting. I have come to redefine what I even think of 'processed foods.' Truly, I suspect the lion's share of most people's health transformations on Paleo is due to ditching all the refined, processed foods.... even those we don't think of that way.

Learning to think outside the grain box.
I've really enjoyed making 'rice' from cauliflower, 'noodles' from zucchini and carrots, and putting sauce over spaghetti squash rather than actual spaghetti. Yes, it's more work than boiling a pot on the stove, but it also yields significantly more nutrients for far fewer calories. And speaking of calories...

I haven't even thought about calories. Once you remove grain and most sugars from your diet, you can pretty much eat your fill of what's left without fear of putting on weight. In fact, you might even lose some. There are lots of great Paleo cookbooks to help you put together some really delicious dishes.

Using the whole animal. Last time I talked about nose-to-tail eating, and it's is one of my favorite things about ancestral diets. And we don't have to go back far in history to find people using the whole animal. It really breaks my heart when I think of all the good food that has been wasted by our picky, fat-phobic society over the years. There are minerals in those bones! Crazy concentrations of nutrients in those organ meats and skin! We could probably end world hunger if only we could get back all the egg yolks that have been flushed down garbage disposals. Nose-to-tail is healthy and so efficient, all of which you become aware of when you are...

Buying local, quality, and yes, somewhat more expensive food. Paleo introduced me to far more high-quality food, all the nutritional benefits contained therein, and the advantages of getting it locally. So much of the food in our big supermarkets is not from local farms, which is hardly surprising given the short growing season in New England. But shipping food here from California is hardly sensible or efficient, nor is it likely to be especially fresh. I've been amazed how much longer the local produce lasts. I've actually stopped buying produce at all from Trader Joe's. So much of it has been spoiled, and they were selling cranberries shipped in from Wisconsin. Really?? Massachusetts is the largest cranberry producing state in the country, and we're getting cranberries from Wisconsin? Ridiculous!

Also, buying local contributes to the local economy and reduces fuel use. The farm from which we've been buying our milk estimates that 68 cents of every dollar spent at the farm goes right back into the local economy, versus only 14 cents for milk bought from the grocery store. Let's face it--no one running a small-scale local farm is getting rich. They do it for the love of it. I love supporting them, and getting fresher, better quality food.

Things I don't like about Paleo:

The Dogma. Like any movement, there is dissent in the paleo ranks. Some adhere rigidly to the most minute tenets of the faith, while others are open to a degree of wiggle room. I have pretty much no patience for the purists. I mean, that's fine if that's what they want to do, but I really don't care what cavemen ate. The idea that everyone should eat this way because we're not adapted to a host of common foods strikes me as absurd. My food landscape and way of life is so radically different from that of a caveman. I just can't get worked up over restricting myself to what cavemen ate. Or didn't eat. Which brings me to...

The Restriction. Yes, Paleo is restrictive. There is so much to eat on Paleo that you might not even consider, but you're still limited, far more so than I feel the need to be. As it turns out, there are very simple ways to prepare certain grains and legumes, making them both easier to digest and more nutritious, which I'll talk about another time. I find these preparations work great for our family. So why would we not expand our diets to include them? Maybe I'll revise my opinion on this point someday, but for now, I see no need to completely eliminate all grains or legumes.

Many of the Paleo authors and bloggers I've read have very dramatic stories of healing and wellness thanks to adopting a Paleo lifestyle. A lot of people have gotten their lives back--sometimes quite literally. I would strongly encourage people with digestive issues, autoimmune conditions or other health challenges to try Paleo for a couple of months and see how they do. It is a radical departure from the way most people eat, but it is doable, and there are so many great resources out there to help.

However, our family is mercifully very healthy. I do still limit our grain consumption, simply from a nutrient density perspective. I'd rather fill us up with lots of vegetables than grains, no matter how properly prepared they may be. But we do not struggle with digestive distress or any other particular condition. We can eat a wide variety of whole, unprocessed, properly prepared foods (yes, even beans and rice!) with no negative effects, and for that, I am very thankful! But I'm glad I tried Paleo. I've acquired a collection of great recipes that are now in regular rotation.

Has anyone else really given Paleo a fair shot? Any thoughts?