Paleo lifestyle. (Be warned, it’s a bit long!)
A few weeks ago (more like a month and a half) I was asked to write a quick blog post about my thoughts on paleo, why I made the switch and what a typical day is like for me. Well, as can happen, life got in the way and I put it off. When I finally sat down to write the post it took on a life of its own and went from being a blog post to being a small article. No matter the length I am proud of what I put forth and hope someone out there finds it helpful or at least entertaining.
The “friend” that asked me to write it was none other than Caity Shreve, author of Moi Contre La Vie, Celebrating Fashion, Food and Fitness (http://moicontrelavie.com/). Caity is the much better looking half of one of the trainers at my CrossFit gym. As I mentioned above she is also the author of her own blog, Moi Contre La Vie. Now, as a straight man with no ability to back it up I have to admit I love Caity’s blog. I am a bit of a fashion whore and love the looks she finds as well as her writing. Please take the time to check out her blog, you won’t be sorry! Caity is going to be posting an edited version of my post on her blog that, if memory serves, will tie into a set of health and nutrition posts.
Alright, brace yourselves! Here is my post about my paleo lifestyle. Enjoy, and please feel free to offer feedback! I love nothing more than hearing from people!
My journey to a healthy paleo lifestyle has taken far longer than I wish it would. I look back and kick myself for not doing this sooner but as is constant with me, I have to do everything in my own time or I will never stick to anything. I came across the Paleo Lifestyle when I joined American River CrossFit in July 2011. At the time I weighed 280lbs and I still (unfortunately) stand only 5’8 ½”. I was out of shape. I was constantly out of breath from even the simplest of tasks. I didn’t sleep well. I snored like a band saw. And worst of all, I looked terrible! When I started at CrossFit it was terrible. My body hadn’t felt so sore since JV Spring Training for football. My quads hurt, my back was tight, and my shoulders felt like they would drop off at any moment. The funny thing is that at first, a lot of what I was doing in CrossFit was just moving me. My first month involved very little weight training, except for my own 280lbs. But I stuck with it and kept going. Soon I started seeing improvements. My clothes began fitting better and the pain I felt after workouts transitioned into soreness. The only problem was that my gut didn’t go anywhere and the scale hadn’t changed much. The reason was a simple one, one that I never really shared with neither my trainers at the Box nor my girlfriend, Rochelle. Every night after attending the 6pm class at ARCFIT and working my ass off I would stop at Wendy’s or Taco Bell on my way home and demolish a couple bucks worth of fake food before pulling into my drive way. THEN I would go inside and eat the dinner Rochelle would have prepared for us. To understand why I did this we need to take a quick trip down memory lane.
I’ve always been a fat kid. It’s a label I still associate myself with. When I was younger during summer break I would sit at home and do nothing. Watch TV, play video games, stay in pajamas until 4:30 (30 minutes before Mom got home!) and eat. Unfortunately, it wasn’t fruits and veggies I was eating but rather a shit ton of carbs and processed fats. Flour tortillas were always readily available in our home as well as shredded cheese. Quesadillas, sandwiches stacked with cheese, too much mayo and probably some BBQ sauce, chips, crackers, snack mix, you name it I ate it. That behavior carried over into my adult life except instead of it being on summer break it would be during any alone time I had when I was bored. Somehow I mentally associated being bored to binge eating and it only got worse. As I got older it morphed into binge eating when I was stressed. Like many other pathetic fatties I would eat when I was unhappy and then be unhappy because I ate.
Fast forward to February 2012! I read The Paleo Solution by Robb Wolf and it changes my life. I had been living a 20% Paleo lifestyle at best while trying to work my ass off at CrossFit. Unfortunately, as we are fond of saying at ARCFIT “you can’t out train a shit diet”. It is so incredibly true! Somehow I expected that if I worked out an hour a day twice a week that gave me permission to eat whatever the hell I wanted. February was a great month for me because it was the start of a lot of life changes for me. The first was the 30 day Paleo challenge Rochelle and I began. We went ape shit on Paleo. Cut out all the grain, all dairy, all the sugar and all the legumes. And at first it was awesome! NOT! Holy shit did it fucking suck! February in Sacramento is rainy and cold, my favorite kind of weather because it reminds me of Ireland. When I’m reminded of Ireland I want to drink tea. When I want to drink tea I feel that a scone, biscuit or at the very least a piece of goddamn toast should be present and I couldn’t have any of it. Needless to say it was quite an adjustment. But, after the first week and a half all the cravings were gone. Then the amazing things started happening. I began feeling better. I was sleeping the whole night through with much less snoring then before (much to Rochelle’s delight), my pants started literally falling off of me because they were too big, and not to get gross but my bowel movements were noticeably healthier and less frequent then I was accustomed. All in all, my body was beginning to heal the wrongs I had done to it for 24 years.
What I have come to realize over the last year, specifically in the last 4 months, is that through taking care of myself I have become a happier person. 6 months ago, someone who knew me well might consider me a good friend but hateful of just about everyone else on the planet, and that’s putting it mildly. To be plain, I had been unhappy with my life for the past few years, and despite being marginally intelligent I could not see that the problem was staring back at me every time I went to McDonald’s for breakfast, Jack in the Box for lunch and perhaps Taco Bell for dinner. These foods had a hold on me. If I’m honest, I’d say they still do. While I rarely, if ever, crave some kind of fake burger from a fast food joint, I know that if I succumb to weakness at any time and have one I will be hooked once again. To me, it’s a lot like alcoholism, except without all the fun stories and loose women.
The other aspect to my eating habits is that I am a self-proclaimed foodie and a born snob. For God’s sake, my favorite food is foie gras, literally fattened goose liver! I have wined and dined with the best of them. I can, with vivid description, recall the first time I ate pork belly or go into great lengths about different varieties of mushrooms. Don’t begin to get me started about the merits of a properly made risotto and so help me God, take away the butter from proper French food and I will gut you with my Messermeister paring knife! You see, there was a time when I wanted to be a chef. Financially I saw myself kicking Bobby Flay and Emeril off of the mountain, stylistically I saw (and still see) myself as Anthony Bourdain, hard-drinking and loud mouthed with a penchant for profanity and tattoos. However, physically I was beginning to look a lot like Gerard Depardieu, which is how I have always viewed chefs. The problem is that Gerard is French and therefore a natural born charmer, whereas I am a nerdy kid from California who has read Harry Potter way too many times. My foodie background has always been a blessing. It has, I think, allowed me to be more daring with my food. Over ripe and stinky cheeses? Bring ‘em on! Raw wagyu beef? Yes please! On the other hand, it prevented me from cooking in a healthy way. I felt that to deny myself certain foods was a punishment that I would not put myself through. Who in the blue hell thought it was a good idea to try making mashed potatoes without copious amounts of butter, cream and coarse salt?! Tell them I said to go to hell! The problem is this; while the meals I ate at Botega, The Kitchen, Mulvaney’s, The Rose Pistola, La Victoria Bakery, Tuli Bistro etc were delicious, and great experiences with those closest to me, they kept me from true happiness. No one will ever get me to say that I regret eating the two servings of Maine lobster carbonara with duck broth and crispy pork lardon at The Kitchen last March. However, they will hear me say, quite often, I wish I had been eating better leading up to and following that meal.
When Rochelle and I began the 30 day Challenge in February, I didn’t think it would stick. I figured I would find some way of returning to old habits. However, since we decided to eat only the foods listed in the 30 Day sample menus I was stuck. I would actually have to follow the rules on this one and see where I could go.
My life is much different now. I do my best to go to the gym 5 days a week and I don’t drink as often or as much as I used to. I wake up at 6:30am, which is early when you consider the fact that I don’t have to be at work until 10am every day. I look at the WOD, weigh myself, prepare myself to leave the house and head to the gym for the 7am class. When I get to the gym I feel like hell. My body and mind haven’t quite adjusted to being upright yet, there’s usually loud music on (unless Larry is coaching, then I get gentle 80’s music) and in a couple minutes someone I consider a friend is going to tell me to go run around the building, row 1000 meters, do pushups, or wall balls, or air squats, double-unders, burpees, and what the hell go run around the building again. At that point I’m warmed up. My morning headache is gone, my back has loosened up, and my hips are just about opened to where I need them to be in order to do whatever is planned for the day. My hips and lower back are the two areas I have to be careful of, an injury back in November sidelined me for too long and I’m cautious during warm ups not to let it happen again. Once the warm up is done I tend to become more social. Basically, I make more dick jokes than I did before the warm up. Depending on the program I’m on there will be skill work before the WOD (i.e. pull ups or muscle ups) or weight lifting and then the WOD. I do my best on skill work and WODs, sometimes do a second WOD, foam roll, and then drive home. The maximum amount of time I am ever at the gym is 2 hours, and those are days when I’m bored and Rochelle hasn’t given me a honey-do list while I’m off on a weekday.
On the drive home I begin thinking about breakfast. It’s somewhere between 8-9:15am and I’ve been up for a while and haven’t put a single thing in my stomach yet. I eat eggs every morning, never fails. Eggs are one of my all-time favorite foods and can eat them in just about any preparation (this includes raw eggs). I usually make some type of scramble wit 2-3 veggies (I always have spinach, mushrooms and tomatoes in the refrigerator box) and sometimes a meat source. Lately, I’ve been eating a sweet potato with my breakfast for the natural sugars and because they fill me up. Lastly, I usually eat some kind of a berry with breakfast on days I don’t eat the sweet potato. Kitchen prep work comes naturally to me and at this point my endorphins are on high so Pandora is on, probably The Black Keys of Edith Piaf, depending on my mood. Heat the pan, start breaking down mushrooms, teaspoon of coconut oil in the pan (we have non-stick pans but the oil helps sauté the mushrooms nicely and add good color). Pan is hot, in go the shrooms. Season with pepper. Start breaking down the tomato, flip the mushrooms. If there is a meat source with breakfast that goes in next. From there, I wait for golden brown on the edges of my mushrooms and then the tomato and spinach go in. Season with a light amount of salt and more pepper. Crack eggs into the bowl and scramble, wait for spinach to show first signs of wilting, in go the eggs. Cook to desired doneness, plate and eat.
The rest of my day is simple. For snack I always eat an apple (the fiber helps keep me regular) and lunch is usually left overs. Today it’s Paleo Chicken Tikka Masala over steamed Cauliflower. Filling but not hitting the spot today. The Greek yoghurt I packed won’t be hanging around long. Throughout the day I drink over 128 ounces of water, keeping me full and feeling clean. In writing this I realize I’m slacking on fresh vegetables at lunch. I’ll go back to eating sliced bell peppers and blanched broccoli this week. Dinner is always fun. Since paleo doesn’t have complete mainstream attention people have had to become very creative in how they eat paleo while still making delicious and creative foods. Tumblr, Pinterest and other blog sites have become my second home. Tonight however, I’m eating a concoction of my own design. I call it Paleo Carne Asada fries but Rochelle just calls it Tigger.
Sometimes I miss that full bellied feeling you get when you eat one more serving of pasta that you know you don’t need. Well, this meal gives it to me without all the crappy foods. Preheat your oven and line a baking sheet with foil. Bake your favorite sweet potato fries. If you make your own and love the finished product more power to you, I get home at 8:30 everyday and want to eat within 30 minutes so a frozen fry is in my future. Next, get a pan on full heat on the stove. Pull out the carne asada from the fridge. Season with salt, pepper, cayenne and cumin. When the pan is screaming hot, put the carne asada in, flip after 45 seconds. Your meat should be thin enough to get color on the outside while remaining rare to medium rare in the middle. Once your meat is cooked, set it off to the side to rest. In a small sauce pan slowly heat your favorite salsa verde. Check the fries. 2 minutes away from done? Perfect! The carne asada pan should just be coming down in temperature. Throw it back on medium heat, use your favorite oil or none at all, and crack in a couple of eggs. Season with pepper, and put a lid on it. Next, slice the carne asada and pull the fries out of the oven. Begin assembling your plate. Fries on the bottom, thinly sliced carne asada next, perfectly cooked runny egg over both and top it off with some salsa verde. Eat that on a day when you’re having a bad craving and tell me it doesn’t go away!
Time for some real honesty. Life happens, accept you may eat off diet and adjust accordingly (i.e. work your ass off the rest of the week) Sometimes you’re at your mom’s place and she’s making spaghetti and meatballs. Don’t ever be an asshole to someone who has made you a meal by saying you’re on a diet. You clean the plate and ask for seconds, always. Also, sometimes you’re in a hurry and forget your lunch. Does that mean you get to hit up McDonald’s for a Big Mac? NO! Think smarter! Is there a Thai restaurant near your work? If so, do what Rochelle does when she forgets lunch, call them up, order a red curry with beef, no rice, go back to your desk and eat something delicious and most likely entirely paleo. No Thai place? Craving fake Mexican food? Chipotle. I know, it is all that is wrong with this country but goddamn it, sometimes you want to eat fake Mexican food. A burrito bowl with no rice and beans will do the trick. Smile and ask politely for the person behind the counter to hook you up on peppers and onions. You like real Mexican food? Fine, hit up that taqueria by your work and grab a half pound of carnitas with a side of guac. No, you don’t need to order the rice, beans or tortillas! And finally, what about a good old American hamburger? All I can say God bless In N Out and Habit burger for lettuce wrapping their burgers, they can be a life saver! Have I done all these things? Yep! Am I proud of it? Not really, but I’m still going to eat and live my life. The difference is now when I eat things that are absolutely terrible for me, my mentality is different. Gone are the days when pasta conjured wistful thoughts of Rome. Now all I can think about is how much I just poisoned my body and how soon I can get it out of me. Funny how much things can change in 4 months.
My girlfriend and I constantly talk about how different my life has become in the last 4 months, none of it negative, and the one thing we always point out is that it started with my nutrition. When I got serious my life got better. Now I don’t usually like to look to the divine in such moments, but the timing sure is coincidental.