Nourishing Our Bodies Right, Simply

I’ve never been one for fad diets.  I never did well with the added stress of counting calories, or writing down every particle of food that passed my lips.  I’d always thought that though I occasionally ate “bad” foods, overall I ate pretty well.  I just assumed that my myriad of health issues were the reason my weight kept fluctuating with almost no change in my net calories (ie, little change in my activity levels or my food intake).

This weight fluctuation was not minimal; sometimes it was as much as 20-30 pounds up or down in just  a few months.  I didn’t want to spend every moment of every day being a food tyrant, especially since my behavior seemed to have so little effect on my weight and energy levels.  But I’m finding out that it’s much easier to eat so that my body thrives than I ever thought it would be.

It seems like so many people are gluten intolerant now, but I suppose part of that could just be our increased awareness.  I have a dear friend who found out she is a full-blown celiac, and it has been amazing to see how much better she has felt since she eliminated those grains from her diet.  She is starting her own business making paleo/primal meals (http://www.gourmetcavegirl.com), and she asked if she could use our family as “guinea pigs” so she could get input from people who are not used to eating that sort of diet.

Now, Rob and I have been trying to cut down on our carb intake for a while, and trying (fairly unsuccessfully) to add more veggies.  Katie and I had been discussing trying a paleo diet, partially because she’s been suffering from migraines, and one of her potential triggers is nitrates, which are difficult to avoid in wheat flour.  After trying Michelle’s awesome paleo meal, and asking her LOTS of questions about being gluten free, we decided to take the plunge.

If you don’t know much about the dietary aspects of the paleo lifestyle, in a nutshell it involves eating meats, fats, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds, avoiding grains and dairy, and limiting high-carb items like potatoes and beans.  You are encouraged to get as many of your foods as possible from local and/or organic sources, and to avoid processed foods as much as possible.  Primal is very much like paleo, with the primary difference  that it allows dairy for those who tolerate it.  Anyway, we decided to go primal, because we LOVE our cheese!  We may attempt a dairy-free experiment at a later date (or maybe not!).  At the very least, we knew we wanted to remain gluten free for the first several weeks, minimum.

We have tried several times in the past to incorporate more veggies into our diet, but we’d find them spoiling before we’d used them all (because we’d eat them well for a while, and then they’d get pushed to the back of the fridge and “forgotten”).   But we hoped that with so many appealing recipes at our disposal, we’d be able to kick that bad habit of wasting food.

So we started the experiment a little over a week ago, and I can’t even describe how much better I feel!  I think I must be one of those people who is gluten sensitive without realizing it.  My energy level is way up, and I haven’t suffered from acid reflux.  I know how ridiculous this sounds, but cutting out sugars and most carbs has left me with far fewer hunger pangs, even though I’m sure I’m eating fewer calories.  And it’s nice to not have to measure my foods.  The important thing is that you’re putting the RIGHT foods in your body.

Speaking of measuring and counting calories, although weight loss was not my primary motivation for trying this change, I have lost a noticeable amount of weight in the past several days, without really increasing my activity level. Definitely a nice bonus!

As this will be an ongoing experiment, I’ll post several updates over the course of the next few months.  This is intended to be a permanent change in the way we eat and take care of ourselves, not just a temporary weight-loss attempt.  We’ll be trying lots of new things, and I’d suspect that we’ll like some of them, and others…well…not so much.

Dear Readers:  Do you feel like you get enough veggies in your diet?  What do you think of the idea of tossing grains altogether?

How many of you have tried the paleo/primal lifestyle?  How did you make it work for your family?  How strict are you with the dietary guidelines? Do you have a favorite online resource or book?  My favorite primal lifestyle site is  http://www.marksdailyapple.com/  I know there are lots of other great sites out there.

If you’ve never tried it, what makes you reluctant to give it a shot?  Is this the first time you’ve even heard of paleo or primal?

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Weight-Loss Myths

Weight-Loss Myths

As a scientist, I suppose I am by nature a skeptic.  I tend to be reluctant to give credence to all of the “facts” that people spout off about, and there are lot of those dubious facts out there about weight loss.  Check out this article, passed on to me by my husband.

What do you think?  Were you surprised that some of these common statements were unsubstantiated?

Random Reflections: The Power of Touch

One concept in the long list of things that I am learning (re-learning) from the youngling that I babysit is how valuable it is to just sit and snuggle.  She’s just on the verge of walking, and is usually pretty active: play, play, play harder; fall asleep.  But she still quite frequently likes to climb up on my lap and just snuggle.  In that moment, I don’t care that the furniture needs dusted, or that the laundry needs moved over, or that there are a few dishes in the sink.  I just contentedly sigh and sink into the snuggle for as long as it lasts.

I feel blessed that my own children have always been snugglers as well; my 20-year-old son still occasionally curls up on the couch with me, and my 16-year-old daughter does so regularly.   I suppose that’s probably because their parents always liked to snuggle with them. Those of you who know me know that I am a very “touchy-feely” kind of person.  I have been known to actually ask a particularly tentative person for permission to give them a hug, but most people just get used to my hugging them goodbye when we part ways.  It’s important to me that the people in my life know I care about them.  And there is no more direct way to do that than through touch.

In our hectic, busy lives, do we forget to take those extra moments to touch the people we care about?  Do you find that when you let “busy-ness” keep you from connecting to loved ones, that you are more likely to let the little irksome things they do get under your skin?  Do we give our spouse a quick peck as we part for the day?  Hug our children goodbye when they leave for school? Even just making brief contact in passing taps into this resource; a quick touch on the shoulder as you walk by shows someone that even though you’re busy, you want that connection with them.  It’s a boost for the relationship, as well as an emotional and physiological boost to you both.

I challenge you to find little ways to “reach out and touch someone.” Even just the briefest contact can help us reconnect, when the frantic activity of the day causes us to detach from those around us.  I’m not talking about office harassment here, people! I’m talking about strengthening relationships, reducing stress, and finding ways to truly enjoy life. Get out there and give someone a hug!

Take Time to Enrich Your Mind

Having recently cared for my husband’s 90-year-old grandmother with dementia for the last nine months of her life, I find it more important than ever to find ways to continually stimulate my neurons, in the hope that they will keep firing well into my advancing years.   I am a firm believer that “use it or lose it” applies quite aptly to mental acuity.

There are many things that I find intellectually stimulating, including reading (non-fiction AND fiction), word/number games (crosswords, anagrams, sudoku), creating things (knitting, making greeting cards, building something out of wood), playing board games or card games (strategy, cooperation, competition, even “card counting”) and now even reading others’ blogs and writing my own (it is a mental exercise in itself trying to find exactly the right words to express what I’m trying to convey). Learning a new skill is a great way to stimulate your brain by creating new pathways.  Stimulate your imagination!  In many ways, using your brain is just like using your muscles.  Anything you can do that challenges your brain will strengthen it.

Likewise, if you allow yourself to become intellectually “sedentary”, you will find it harder and harder as you age to retain new information, recall memories and skills, and eventually even to perform basic tasks.  Again, I must stress that I am not anti-TV (although I would suggest that the time we spend in front of the TV can often crowd out other worthwhile pursuits) and I’m obviously not anti-computer.  But I see it like this:  in much the same way that our bodies will survive but not thrive when they feed them nothing but junk food, so our minds respond to their daily “diet” of activities.  I suspect it’s all about balance and moderation, which are two words you’re likely to hear often from me.

If we want to keep our minds sharp, then, we should try to find things that we enjoy that also challenge us mentally.  What kinds of changes could we make?  I’m all for humorous TV programs (laughter is great medicine!), but there are also some fantastic educational programs out there, on nearly every topic imaginable–find the ones that interest you!  And if you find yourself falling into the couch potato pit, try to replace some of those hours with something that is making your brain work, not just vegetate.  I would propose that even the oft-maligned video game incorporates valuable aspects such as strategy, cooperation, and creativity (again, as long as it does not completely obliterate other activities).

One last thing I would like to put forth as an intellectually stimulating endeavor:  respectful debate.  I think that this is a disappearing skill in our society, unfortunately.  If we do not approach a discussion with an open mind, and at least make an attempt to see the other side of an argument, we are not truly participating in a debate, only spouting what is already in our own minds as a (very often, disrespectful) monologue.  But that’s a post for another day.

How do YOU enjoy stretching your mind muscles?

Easily Clean Produce

Easily Clean Produce

I thought this was a great tip to easily clean produce.  I’ve even seen these scrubby gloves at the dollar store!

Simple Ways to Save Money: Automated Discounts

Simple Ways to Save Money

I don’t know about you, but as much as I would like to save money, I don’t have the time to be a rabid coupon clipper.  I KNOW you can save tons, but it’s just always seemed like a lot of work to me.  This site has some practical suggestions for getting some automated discounts; after all, every little bit helps, right?

Do YOU have a favorite way to save money, or a favorite site for discounts and coupons?

With the Eyes of a Child: Re-learning to Play

Something you’re probably going to hear me talking about a lot is becoming more child-like in my view of the world.  This past summer, I became a full-time nanny of one of the most delightful babies I have ever known.  She was just a couple of months old at the time, and is now 10 months old, just on the verge of walking.  The more time I spend with her, the more I realize how “old” I have become, not in years, but in my attitudes.  The simple way that children approach the world is so easily crowded out by the stresses and sheer busy-ness of modern life.  I will be a far better nanny, mom, and wife if I can remember how enjoyable it is to view the world through the eyes of a child.

Kids don’t care if there’s a little dust on the furniture, they just want you to play with them.  Unfortunately, most of us have forgotten how to play just for the sake of playing.  What we really need to do is simply hop, skip, dance, be silly.  Most adults work all day (or work at being at home moms) and then in their rare free time, they generally tend to do one of two things:  veg in front of the TV, or participate in competitive sports.  Now, I’m not knocking sports, but if we’re talking about stress reduction, competition is not really conducive.  I’m talking about playing just because it’s FUN!  How often do we do this?  When we don’t, why not?  Is it because we’re too busy, we just don’t have the time?  I would like to suggest that it’s a vital element that has been slowly crowded out of daily life, and we need to make an intentional effort to reestablish it.

I also don’t want to sound like I’m trying to vilify TV.  I understand the desire to unwind in front of a favorite show after a long day.  But I’d like to ask you this:  could you take just a half hour of that time and spend it doing something fun?  It doesn’t have to be extremely energetic, or “cardio”, but getting up off the couch is a great thing.  If you can get out and enjoy nature, that’s even better!  I’ll talk about some indoor/down time alternatives in a later post.  But the trick is this:  You can’t feel guilty about taking the time to do this; that’s just adding another source of stress.  Consider it an investment in your physical, mental, and spiritual health.  We can apply ourselves so much better to the things that we HAVE to do if we are occasionally recharging ourselves by doing something just because we enjoy doing it.

I have a challenge for you this week.  Over the next several days, try to spend some time doing something fun.  You don’t want it to be something where you feel pressure to be productive.  Don’t worry about whether you’re burning calories, or accomplishing a specific goal.  Remember, this should be stress reducing, not stress inducing.

If you have kids in your house, or young relatives that live close, this is even easier to implement, because they will be happy to teach you how to play again.  Turn on the music and do a silly dance.  Go outside (if weather permits) and play a game of tag, or even climb a tree, if you’re able.  Go to a park to swing and go down the slide!  Maybe even make a mud pie!  Don’t watch the clock, just enjoy being in the moment.  If you don’t have a kid of your own, or one nearby to borrow, a dog would be happy to play with you!  Throw a ball, bone, or frisbee, chase the dog and let him chase you, just have fun!

If you don’t have access to kids or dogs, try to find another adult, preferably one who HASN’T forgotten how to play!  Try a round of frisbee golf, a pick-up game, just don’t forget that a little bit of competition is fine, but too much ends up being more stressful, which defeats the whole purpose of this challenge!

My favorite ways to get moving and play like a child:  dance party with the baby and Katie, chasing my new puppy, hiking in the woods while taking time to enjoy the beauty.  What activities do you like to do, just for the sake of doing it?  What can make you smile and get you relaxing and enjoying the simple life?