Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Carb Controversy

Ahhh carbs my old friend! Before primal, not a night went by where my dinner plate wasn't loaded up with you... Pasta, rice, or potato were my staples. But why? Who actually eats these things for their taste? Think about what you like in a pasta dish or risotto. My guess is that it isn't the fettucine or rice that you like, but the sauce and meat which smother it! How often would you sit down to eat a bowl of plain rice or a baked potato (without any of the bacon, cheese, butter, or cream topping it!)?
No, these carbs are just fillers. And it's understandable. They are cheap to buy and cook. They require little preparation. And if you buy the 'healthy' whole-grain version, according to conventional wisdom, they are good for you. I can't blame people for eating them. I was one of those people! And while I have always had issues with indigestion, I never thought they could be the culprit...
Low-carb diets are frowned upon by conventional wisdom. Let me clear something up though. Low-carb doesn't equal no-carb. Fruit and vegetables make up the majority of our primal diet, and they also make up the majority of our carb intake. It really angers me when people hear how I'm eating and liken it to the Atkins Induction diet where you pretty much only eat fat and protein. I could never stop eating fruit or vegetables! I'm not such a big fan of meat that it dominates my diet! I distinctly remember when my dad was following Atkins that I physically felt sick at his daily menu choices. That was never going to work for me. But the Primal Blueprint, with an emphasis on eating vegetables, does work.
I'm sure you could find hundreds of studies warning you of the dangers of eating low-carb. Similarly, you can find hundreds of studies supporting the notion of low-carb eating. An impressive study comparing many different diets can be found by linking through Mark's article "Unrestricted-low-carb-diet-wins-hands-down". The main thing is that you understand the science behind it and find a level that works for you. Some people work better on higher carbs. Some survive in a ketogenic state. My main motivation behind this post is however, to help you understand that the type of carbs you eat are what's important. Quite simply, vegetables and fruit are where pretty much all of your carb intake should be coming from.
Mark's Carbohydrate Curve has been instrumental in understanding how many carbs is too many and how many we should be eating for effortless weight loss. After a couple of weeks measuring the approximate amounts of carbs we were consuming on a daily basis (we were aiming for no more than 100g/day) we quickly learnt how to 'guestimate' our carb intake.
But, I hear you ask, don't you miss the pasta, rice, and potatoes?!?! I can truthfully answer NO! I've made some amazing dishes following this primal plan. A moussaka made with cauliflower cheese sauce is one that stands out. I've had italian meatballs with tomato basil sauce and mountains of vegies and did not miss the pasta one bit! And if I'm hankering for some starch, we have sweet potatoes which are so much tastier and better for you than potatoes. We've discovered amazing combinations, my favourite being lamb and pumpkin together! It's really fun to invent new dishes and discover some of the other amazing bloggers online who post their own recipes. Of course, I will be regularly posting some of my recipes but if you're really excited to see what amazing food is on offer, check out Son of Grok and Girl Gone Primal.
For some final 'light' reading, please see Kat Eden's post on low carb nutrition. Alternatively, for some science behind the belief in low-carb diets, Mark explains it beautifully here.

Monday, August 30, 2010

What is normal?

It's amazing to witness the changes to your body when you start to eat the right foods. Before primal, I was often bloated, fatigued, suffering indigestion, and constantly getting sick. We are raised in a society which accepts that sickness is normal, but is it really?!?! Surely our bodies were designed to be healthy. We are given all the tools to live full and healthy lives, but somewhere along the line, we've become complacent.
I think that a lot of the issue stems from our quick fix pharmaceutical/pill industry. Rather than addressing why we are feeling sick, we pop a pill that masks the symptoms but doesn't actually treat the underlying cause. Is this the way we want to live? Imagine if the answer was simply eating the right foods, getting regular exercise and plenty of sleep...
I can't believe the change that has occurred in me over the last 6 weeks. I've survived a Canberra winter unscathed, which is amazing considering that I've spent most winters in the past either with the flu, or recovering from it. My skin has improved out of sight. I no longer suffer from indigestion after most meals, nor have I seen any signs of bloating (apart from one occasion when I cheated at a Chinese restaurant and had some rice). I have more energy and finally have a reference point for what 'normal' should feel like.
It makes we wonder though, how many people out there are unaware that things could be better. Unless you have a celiac diagnosis, it's unlikely that you're aware that eating grains is a major cause of bloating, gut irritation, and indigestion. And possibly you think it's normal to feel like that after eating! As Kat Eden explains, we need to start listening to our bodies and feeding them the right fuel.
I haven't even mentioned the weight loss that has come with the primal eating plan. In April, when we started on this health journey, I weighed in at 96.9kg. At my weigh-in last week, I was 91.7kg. All but 300grams of that weight has come off in the last 5 weeks. To me, that is incredible! We are openly fighting back against conventional wisdom and winning. I have not felt hungry since we started eating primally. I have more energy to commit to my training sessions. A typical breakfast for me is a 3 egg omelette with ham, tomato, mushrooms & spinach. No shakes or low fat breakfast cereals, I get to eat real food, food that has typically been shunned by conventional wisdom, and I'm losing weight.
While learning all this information was initially daunting, and a little bit frightening, I now feel empowered. For the first time in my life, I feel like I have control over my body. Granted, I've always been in control, but this new way of thinking helps me to make informed decisions. I'm learning what 'normal' really should be!

Starting a Primal Journey Part 2

The first, and in my humble opinion the best, website I discovered was Marks Daily Apple - primal living in the modern world by former marathon runner and all-round legend Mark Sisson. As I read through his 10 Primal Blueprint Laws, I became concerned, then enlightened, then excited! Concerned because a lot of the information in his sight contradicts the conventional wisdom about diet and exercise we have been raised to believe (and, as I have previously mentioned, I have religiously followed for years). Enlightened because he explained, with detailed references to scientific studies and personal experiences, why the food that I have been eating has been making me fat, depressed and sick. Excited because if this primal way of living was going to improve my overall health, assist in weight loss and contribute to a fun and happy life, I was ready to sign up (and encourage my family and friends to do the same)!
Although my husband was somewhat reluctant to attempt what could easily be seen as another one of my crazy "fad diets" he was supportive of me adopting this approach as he could see how depressed I had been getting with our current health and fitness regime. And since I do the majority of the cooking in our house, he was coming along for the ride whether he liked it or not!
Now since I am writing this blog for myself and to hopefully enlighten my family and friends, I'm going to really break down how I've made changes in my life to adopt this primal lifestyle. A lot of the blogs I've discovered online are from people who have already been primal for some time, however I am at the very early stages of my journey. I've got a long way to go to get to my ideal weight so you can share the ups and downs with me!
The most crucial aspect of eating primally comes down to the level that all food you put into your mouth is processed. Let me spell it out for you - it should be unprocessed! We should be eating food just the way nature intended it. If it comes in a box or from a drive-through window, chances are it's not good for your body! If it has an ingredients list longer than your Christmas wish-list, it is not real food.The guys over at Fitness Spotlight cover this one perfectly.
The first challenge I encountered was the notion that grains are unhealthy. Yes that's not a typo. Conventional wisdom has us dominating our diet in healthy grains with a food pyramid urging us to eat 6-11 serves a day. I'd never thought about this before, but should we really be eating 11 serves a day of anything (except maybe vegetables!)? Everything in moderation, or so the old mantra goes! The issue is that we have been duped. Grains are not our friend. Ever wonder why celiacs disease is now being diagnosed at a higher rate than ever before? It's because our bodies, evolutionally speaking, were not designed to eat grains. Cavemen didn't feast on bread, cereals, pasta and the like! They ate real food like meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds. But in a relatively short time (yes 10,000 years is short in the span of human evolution), grains have become the staple of our diets. The issue? ALL grains need to be processed in some form before we can eat them. Ever seen a bread tree? What about a spaghetti plant? Ever seen wheat in its natural state? You can't just go out to a field and eat it! If you do a google search, you will come up with many websites supporting this fact. Mark does it best though here and here.
So, our first stop was to cut out the grains. It was easier than I thought! We really didn't eat much bread beforehand, so certainly didn't miss that. And instead of our dinner plates being loaded up with pasta, rice, or the like, we just piled them high with vegies! We swapped our cereal breakfasts for omelettes or smoothies and our sandwiches at lunch for salads.
Our next challenge was sugar. This was a big one, especially for my husband, who has a very sweet tooth! Sugar is likened to heroin in its addictive nature and I would hazard a guess that most of the world's population is addicted to some degree.  The idea that sugar is what is making us fat is not new, although is certainly not supported by conventional wisdom, which blames fat as the cause of our issues. Once you realise how many foods have added sugar, you start to see how we have been misled for all these years!
Eliminating most added sugar in our diet was made easier by the fact that we were able to substitute sugar for fat. Yes, this one isn't a typo either! Fat is good for us (except for trans-fats and polyunsaturated fats) and contrary to popular belief, eating healthy fats, even saturated ones, doesn't make us fat. It's easy to see how we've been fooled. The idea that fat makes you fat is logical. But ask yourself this. With the proliferation of low-fat, fat-reduced, and fat-free food that is now flooding the market, why are we getting fatter?!?! Obesity is a growing problem and obviously the low-fat diets are not working - I am a prime example! The reason? In laymans terms, all that food, when the fat is removed, tastes like shite, and therefore needs additives to make it taste okay to eat! So rather than eating the natually occurring fat in food, we're stripping all the nutrients out of it and adding sweeteners to make it palatable. Or even worse, we're creating "fake" food as a substitute for "real" food.
So that's basically it. We've cut out grains, reduced sugar intake, and upped our healthy fat intake. I am now cooking meals every night rather than relying on Lean Cuisines (which although are low fat are high in everything else!). We are taking a healthy salad to work for lunch every day rather than relying on the cafe across the road. I only drink water or tea (Coke is a dirty word in our house!). I am conscious of everything that I put into my body. I read labels on foods. We get all our fresh produce (meat and vegies) from the local farmers markets. I ensure that all the meat we eat is grass-fed, that our eggs are free range, and our vegies are free of pesticides. Despite all this, our food bills have gone down, due to the fact that we are not eating nearly as much food (as an added bonus, fat makes you a lot fuller than grains and sugar), we hardly ever get take-aways, and have scrapped the Lean Cuisines (that are actually ridiculously expensive!).
Even if you take nothing else away from this post than to consider switching to just eating real foods, then I think that's a positive!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Starting a primal journey Part 1

For my first blog post, I am sharing my story, to set the scene for the beginning of my journey...

I am exhausted.
For years, I have religiously followed the conventional wisdom mantra of eating a low-fat diet and (albeit not as religiously) working out in excessive cardio sessions at the gym. But it hasn't worked! Since leaving high school 10 years ago I have gradually gained excess weight to the point that the Wii Fit now scolds me for being "Obese". What's going on? According to conventional wisdom, my low-fat, calorie controlled diet combined with regular aerobic exercise should have had me losing weight until I reached a healthy goal.
My latest quest for health began in April when my husband and I signed up to a personal training program at a local gym. This included two 1hr sessions per week with our personal trainer, regular gym sessions on alternate days, as well as a calorie-restricted healthy eating program.
We worked hard. We ate carefully. All our food was measured and portioned. All our workouts were hard-core. If we weren't hurting a couple of days after, we hadn't worked hard enough.
We both really improved our fitness levels. I started not being able to sprint above 7km/hr on the treadmill and I can now push 14km/hr. I can do twice as many pushups and even manage a couple 'man' pushups (proper ones on my feet instead of my knees). I can run the full 5 flights of stairs at the gym rather than plod up only 3 flights. Great results yes?!
There was one problem. In 8 weeks I had only lost 300grams. My weight, which had been measured on a weekly basis, had fluctuated up and down, but I hadn't even been able to crack the kilo mark! My husband, who granted had more to lose, had only managed a loss of 1kg over the 8 weeks. Obviously fitness is important, but my goal was weight loss and I expected at least some results.
After working our butts off (figuratively, not literally obviously) for more than 2 months, we were pretty much at the same size we'd started. No weight loss! No body fat loss! How was this possible? I was working harder than I ever had in past 10 years, and had drastically changed my eating habits. Most days I was averaging about 1500 calories. I was always hungry and generally didn't have the energy to put my all into training sessions, but I powered through, confident that conventional wisdom would come through in the end.
It didn't.
By month 3 I was over it. I couldn't understand what was happening. I had practically given up eating any food that was "bad" for me, even though they were the foods I enjoyed eating the most! I was dragging myself out of bed in the freezing cold winter conditions at 6am to flog myself in the gym before my day had even started. It was completely depressing and difficult to see a way through it.
An off-the-cuff comment that I remember my mum making last time I had been visiting up north was my turning point. She had mentioned a "Caveman" diet philosophy. I understood this to mean eating like they did back in caveman days. Before McDonalds, Lean Cuisine, and Light & Easy meals dominated our weekly menu, these caveman had access to natural, wholesome food. Could their way of eating be my answer?
As I could only guess that diet was the issue in my lack of weight loss, I set out to do some research to see what information was available about this way of living. And that's where the revelations began...