Thursday, February 2, 2012

An Introduction!

So, I'm Jen, I'm 42, I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, and I'm the mom of 3 kids and stepmom to 1 son. A week ago I started on a new way of eating in order to optimize my health and overall well-being. I'm following the Paleo diet, and it's been so fascinating that I felt compelled to start a blog about the process, partly for my own use as a place to jot down all the relevant information I've been learning, but also to share what I've learned with others who may be seeking answers. So here goes.

I wanted to start off with some background on how I got here. The rest of this post is plagiarized from something I wrote about four days ago, with appropriate updates from the last three days. It's long, and personal, and contains a whole lot of TMI about upper respiratory mucus. Please do not read if you're squicked by endless talk of snot.

Background: I've had upper respiratory issues all my life, starting with asthma and allergies in childhood and continuing to the present day. I've also always had a sweet tooth, and was raised on lots of dairy and carbs, yummm. My dad was always smart about food, but I had more of my mom's side of the family's fondness for dairy and anything that was bread-like in nature. (And anything fried. Mmmm mmm good.)

Over the last 20 years, I've done a looooot of research about nutrition and its impact on health. Like, a lot. There is not much in the way of nutritional information that you can tell me that I haven't already read about at least in brief, and some of it in great depth. I've embraced healthier diets on and off many times over the years, and they've always been a good thing, and resulted in improved health and weight loss. But ultimately the things that impact my respiratory stuff the most -- dairy and sugar -- are the ones I find it hardest to give up. (That also goes for grains and grain products, which I've been learning a lot about lately.) Addiction is a bitch.

So for the past couple of years, I've pretty much been eating whatever I wanted. The good thing is that it hasn't particularly made me gain weight, probably thanks to the fact that I've been skating roller derby for the past two years. But I've had to start coming to terms with how much it's affecting my health in other ways.

This past September, I wound up with a sneeze-fit (possibly an allergy attack) that turned into a sinus infection. That's not at all unusual for me, and for the first couple days I didn't think much about it. But when it lasted for an entire week, I was surprised. When it had dragged on for THREE weeks, I went to the doctor (finally, I know), and they put me on antibiotics… which totally failed to cure it. Eventually I went back to the doctor, this time to an allergy specialist, who diagnosed it as a chronic sinus infection, and prescribed various remedies to get the snot moving. But I was lazy about the remedies, and when I finally used them, they made me feel ten times worse.

Meanwhile… the sinus issues have been present for FOUR. SOLID. MONTHS. This is a new one for me. Nothing like this has ever happened to me before. I constantly sound like I have a really bad cold. And I haven't been singing *at all*, which if you've ever lived with me you'll know is very strange. The sinus thing has impacted my mood, my relationships with others, and the things I've wanted to do with my time.

As if that weren't enough, I found out from Alex (the husband) that I've been exhibiting sleep apnea. The snoring I knew about -- that's nothing new. But apparently I now do the thing where I stop breathing periodically during the night. I only found this out last week.

In the wake of all this, I finally had to say: OK. Dairy and sugar and bread addictions be damned… It's time for a change.

So I completely revamped my diet. Three days ago.

Alex was the one who pointed us in the right direction. His girlfriend C had started on the Primal diet last year, and by New Year's Alex had decided he wanted to try Primal too. I read up on Primal, and realized that its close cousin, Paleo, would be better for me, because the Paleo folks generally say no dairy, which works perfectly for me.

So my new regime is the Paleo diet. This means: meat, veggies, full fat, no grains, no dairy, no refined sugar, no processed foods.

Below is an absolutely wonderful video by Robb Wolf that pretty much explains the basics in a no-nonsense way. I urge you to give it a watch if you're curious about this at all. The first 20 minutes should be enough to tell you whether you want to watch the rest. (Listening to the audio only without video will get the job done too, I believe.)

So yeah. That's the story. I've been keeping a close eye on the science of it all, and I'm impressed with what I've seen so far. I'm also reading The Paleo Answer by Loren Cordain. (As I understand it, Robb Wolf is a student of Loren Cordain's. Between the two of them, they're considered the go-to guys on Paleo as of right now. Mark Sisson of Mark's Daily Apple is the go-to guy for Primal.)

I have some conflicting feelings about the meat. I love the taste of the stuff, especially beef, and I agree that the protein is good, but the fat still scares me (even though the science I've been reading makes sense), and the rotting-carcass-in-my-gut factor makes my inner vegan hippie cringe. But I'm trying to branch out slowly. (Last night I had ahi tuna! A first for me. More on that later.)

I've been 100% compliant (I think) about having no grains, no dairy, no refined sugar (except that the otherwise-very-organic bacon I ate this week was cured with sugar, as apparently most of it is... need to figure out what I think about that). I've had almost no processed foods (I had some lentil chips on days 1 and 2, and they were yummy, but I'm off those now), no artificial sweeteners.

All I've been drinking this week is ice water, hot tea, and coconut water. It's been perfectly satisfying. I bought a couple of new boxes of herbal tea, and hot tea is now my around-the-clock go-to beverage.

Days 1 and 2 of the new plan -- a week ago -- were pretty sucky. I was still super congested, and on top of that I felt very detoxy all day, thanks probably to the caffeine withdrawal (and possibly the sugar withdrawal as well). Congestion, a headache that lasted all day, and detox-fatigue. Not pleasant.

Going to derby practice at the end of Day 2 helped, as it always helps everything. I never quite felt well -- the headache lingered -- but I did alright, and by the end of practice I felt almost human. (Besides the usual healing effects of derby, the exercise opens everything up and I can breathe easier for a while.)

Went out after practice with friends after practice on Day 2, and was frustrated by still having the raspy, phlegmy voice that I've had on and off for the past 4 months. I'd like to be able to talk to my friends without sounding like Harvey Fierstein. And I slept badly that night, waking up frequently with sharp headaches. And waking up the next morning was characterized by the same attempting-to-wake-from-the-dead feeling that I've had quite a bit lately.

But as of sometime in the middle of Day 3, something shifted. Things... loosened. There was still plenty of snot -- even now on Day 8, I can feel it in my nasal sinuses if I sniff, and my ears still crackle when I swallow my tea. Elvis is still in the building. But… it seems to be moving a bit. It's looser -- not nearly so cement-like. On Day 2 through Day 4, I got a bit of a cough, which kept me up at night for a couple of nights. This sounds like a bad thing, but somehow it didn't actually FEEL bad. For me, coughing is usually a good sign, in a way. It means that the upper respiratory infection I've had has finally traveled as far south as it's going to go, and is about to be over. And this was the first time *in four months* that I've had a cough. FOUR MONTHS this snot has been sitting in my nose, not going anywhere. So at this point I considered the cough a very good sign.

I have a some of my voice back. On Day 3 things started to open up. There's snot around the edges of it, but some things are resonating that usually haven't for a while. I'm a singer, but I hadn't bothered to sing hardly at all during the past four months, because I was so congested. But now I can sing again. Bliss! As of yesterday, Day 7, I still sound congested when I have a conversation with someone. Conversation makes the congested-sounding voice kick in, actually. It's frustrating. I am waiting and trying to be patient.

I definitely have renewed energy. On Day 3 I started to feel like I could tackle the world again. I had a let's-go-get-'em sensation for the first time, one that I hadn't felt in a long time. When I went to practice on Monday night, end of Day 6, I felt FANTASTIC. It was a whole new experience. It really was the best I'd felt on skates at any time in the past two years. Astonishing.

So we'll see what happens next. I'm looking forward to sharing knowledge, recipes, photos, anything that is important to me and may be important to someone else out there.

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