As many of you know, my interest in nutrition stems from a life challenging illness (and the way back!). In 2010 I had emergency brain surgery to remove a tennis ball size brain tumor and to reduce the swelling of a melon sized sac of fluid surrounding it.
In the four years since I have focused a lot on what I eat. I was obviously doing something wrong to get a brain tumor in the first place, with only two days warning (a big headache and vomiting) and only two weeks prior having run a 92min half marathon and qualifying for the NYC marathon the next year. I was the fittest sick person my friends, family or neurosurgeon knew.
While doctors couldn’t tell me exactly why (and with no family history of any kind of cancer or tumor), I am more than grateful for medical science’s awesome knowledge and a great surgeon that saved my life. However, I was not waiting every 12 months for the checkup that would tell me I had ‘it’ back.
My scar, the diameter of a tennis ball remained, is now almost immeasurable! My neurosurgeon asked me how I did it! Nice dude.
- I think the first thing was I quit sugar. I saw it’s effects in the hospital, firstly through the PET scan to detect the tumor which lit up bright red on the screen, a radioactive concoction of you guessed it sugar, Next was the chocolate coated nut gifts I was given that set off the alarms warning of a risk of diabetes (exacerbated by the corticosteroids that were holding my inflammatory responses at bay while I recovered). Chocolate?! OMG.
- Next I think it was all about my digestion. The anti-inflammatory effect of the steroids was amazing, hallucinatory ha but also they worked amazingly. My melon sized fluid filled sac equalized within three weeks in the hospital and I was released a week early. But these anti-inflammatories were body-wide and that meant that all membranes were affected, and most notably my stomach! Ouch, eating hurt. Meats and fats and veggies were hard going
- The third thing was increasing my fats, from all areas, namely saturated, omegas and nuts and seeds. We need all three to inflame and anti-inflame our bodies. Ha we can do it without drugs would you believe. And with runaway inflammatory responses now under control, this was my focus. With so many nutrients of what I was eating going to towards making cortisol in my brain, there was probably less and les available to make things further down that pathway’s cascade, like sex hormones. And as a 35 year old woman, that was kind of troubling.
- I am now 5 ½ months pregnant too J
I didn’t realize that what I was doing eating wise is now called a ‘Paleo diet’ – well I think of it as a template for investigating my own body, what works and what doesn’t. It seems a good descriptor for a nutrient-dense, toxin-free, whole-foods based diet that emphasizes animal protein and fats, starchy & non-starchy vegetables, fermented foods, raw dairy (when tolerated) and fruit, nuts & seeds (in moderation). I am not going back and now I am only going forward for my healthy growing baby boy.
In the news:
Too much –
There’s been a lot in the news lately. Namely about Chef Pete Evans of The Paleo Way as being too extreme, cutting whole food groups like grains and dairy and promoting meat and fats, especially saturated fats. I have to say, especially the last thing has worked for me and as our brains are 70% fat, it’s not really surprising (oh, also not surprising, my cholesterol is not high!).
Too little –
There are also those that claim you might not be getting enough to eat on such a diet or enough calories. My personal opinion here is that the way I feel when I eat is to ‘fill up’ on the things I need first, like vegetables and healthy fats, which are especially important in combination because so many of the goodies in vegetables are in their fat-soluble nutrients, and healthy meats, more as a side than a big portion. Chances are many of of us are nutrient deficient rather than calorie deficient!
And we’re all as different on the inside and outside and if someone tells you there’s only one way to et they’re either misguided, selling something or both.
Does it even matter –
I remember a TV commercial as a kid for Kellogg’s Just Right – not too heavy, not too light, Just Right. I think that’s the approach we should all take: right in the middle of where we need to be. We can’t be told what to eat, that’s only landed us in a low-fat swathed disease riddled nightmare. We need to figure it out for ourselves, which is a lot of hard work but you’re worth it! You’ve been in your body for longer that you’ve been born and lots of experts are indeed ‘general’ experts but you are your best specialist!
Paleo code author, Chris Kresser, describes the Paleo type of diet as a template, a place to start our own investigations. I agree with him when he says, ‘I really wish there was a word (other than paleo) I could use to describe a nutrient-dense, toxin-free, whole-foods based diet. Because that’s kind of a mouthful, and it leaves a lot open to interpretation’. I think we necessarily need things left open to investigation though: we are all ongoing works in process. Just as there is no one-size-fits-all diet for everyone, there is no one-size-fits-all diet for you, forever. You change, daily. You need to listen, daily. But you’re worth it.
What about missing traditional foods #morethanpaleo –
One of the things I fully endorse about a Paleo diet is the inclusion of foods to build nutrient density and first. Over fillers, like a lot of breads and pastas. The simplest start to this is to avoid all processed foods, opting instead for whole foods, foods without ingredients, foods you can make from scratch from the best quality ingredients. A lot of these foods contain a lot of numbers sure, but also a lot of sugars and weird fats, that make us want for more food and actually cost our bodies more than they give. They actually leave you hungry and nutrient deficient.
A lot of Paleo arguers focus on what’s been deleted from our diets: grains and dairy. Perhaps we could also look at what needs to be added too – I’m taking mainly green leafy vegetables, fermented foods, organ meats, fat digestive beets and nutrient re-mineralizing bone broths. I’ll be including the whys and the hows (recipes!) for each of these in the next installment of this post, #morethanpaleo.