Monday, August 13, 2012

evolution vs toast

In my ongoing effort to improve my nutritional status so I can be the bestest roller derby-er I can be, despite my stunning lack of natural abilities (see nearly all previous posts) I have been looking into the ways that athletes and super healthy people fuel themselves.  One particular way has popped up more than its fair share and that is the paleolithic diet.  I know you've heard of it and if you haven't you've got access to Google, so I'm not going to describe it beyond saying that it involves no grains, just meat, vegetables, fruit and nuts.

Paleo has caught my eye because I know a half dozen people personally who have claimed that paleo eating and lifestyle has changed their lives.  And I've seen them undergo changes, becoming healthier, fitter and happier.  Paleo is like the magical unicorn of diets. 

Reading about it, there is some good guys (Robb Wolf seems pretty knowledgeable plus he says swear words) and some questionable science guys (Gary Taubes) but still, for the most part, I find myself in agreeance with the paleo sellers.  This would be the point that I, given my penchant for turning my whole life into a science experiment because I'm curious, interested and always eager to find things that help me be healthier, to yell giddy up and spend a few weeks re-learning how to eat. 

The reason why I'm hesitating to adopt this paleo diet is a set of arguments I waded through about fifteen years ago stuck to me and turned itself into a firm and clear ethical basis from which much of my identity and life is constructed.  I am vegan.  I like being vegan.  My children are vegan.  I don't want to eat animals.  When it's me vs. the mythical bunny on the hypothetical desert island I would Not Eat the Bunny.

I get that grains are not so good for our bodies.  I live that one out with wheat all the time.  I love toast.  I have gone so far in the recent past to say that I fucking love toast.  But toast doesn't fucking me.  Toast, which is so good, so tasty turns into an evil bitch in my stomach and makes me suffer for every bite.  Toast is a frenemy.  Good bye (*sob*) toast.

The paleo kicker is that it is impossible to construct a strictly paleo diet while also being vegan.  Legumes and grains form an important part of vegan nutrition, as they contain larger doses of protein than vegetables.  It is possible to construct a diet that is paleo-esque but includes some legumes and seeds like quinoa, amarath and hemp.   Brendan Brazier is one such vegan athlete guru and, I'll admit, I've been consuming his yellow pea/hemp/veggie magic powders for years.  (I've actually, I've come to crave the odd taste of Vega products, which I like to blend with a bit of banana and almond milk.)

I like Brazier.  I follow him on Facebook.  But Brazier's diet is not strictly paleo and, according to Wolf, I shall never get the benefits of becoming a slick, lean fat fuelled machine if I bastardize the paleo diet and sneak in some quinoa. 

This little vegan vs paleo debate has been tearing me up for a little while.  It's the worst of both worlds right now, since I can't figure out what to make for breakfast and my entire day goes to shit after that.  I mean, if I shouldn't eat toast or oatmeal or pancakes, then what the fuck do I eat?  Broccoli with my coffee?  That is not breakfast fuel, my friends. 

Then, this morning as I made oatmeal because I have to eat something, it occurred to me that perhaps I've had my head up my ass long enough.  Here is the thing with our culture: we have so much time, energy and resources that we can afford to self indulgently narrow our choices down and grow into neurotic dietary puritans.  I have unlimited food sources from all over the world, I do not have traditional foods prescribed nor do I live with religious tenents that dicate my lunch choice.  To decide that I will be vegan (and maintain with admittedly good health for fifteen years with the exception of two pregnancies) is a luxury of my time and place.  To decide to only eat like our paleo ancestors is another luxury item.  To sit here and dither over which one is best is even more self indulgent.  I am damn fucking lucky to have this choice.  So I will not suffer over it anymore.

I remember reading study that looked at all the paradoxical ways of eating, trending fads, diets, and longer term commitments, like Seventh Day Adventist vegetarians, that claimed to maintain health (and weight loss) with foods that conflicted with one another.  The South Beachers could lose weight and maintain based upon denying themselves foods that the Greeks eat daily (fat, fat and more fat).  We have the French paradox and the Chinese paradox and how can all these conflicting ways of eating still work to support healthy human life? 

The study concluded that all of the diets that did indeed improve human health had one common feature: large portions vegetables, particularly green leafies, as cornerstones to their menus.  A part of me wondering is that it's not so much the meat that makes paleo so successful, it's actually the inclusion of large servings of vegetables.

Another part of our evolving species is our big, heavy, pelvis busting brains.  See, if it's me vs the rabbit on the island, the knee jerk reaction of our species to a desperate situation is to kill something and eat it and, sure, I could do that.  I could go all paleo all over the bunny, eat the little prey, and go to sleep when the sun goes down.  Or, I could sit my ass down and think about it for a minute and it will probably occur to me to wonder, what the fuck is the bunny eating? 

We are omnivores.  We sustain our lives on all sorts of foods.  We eat from the sky, the ground, the sea, and we cook it all in the sun, hot springs and in lava pits.  We carry around super computers in our skulls.  The choices we have is our predicament, they make us crazy, but they are also our way off of crazy island and all the hypothetical scenarios that are not going to happen to this prairie living girl.

I don't know if being vegan is the ultimate healthy sort of way.  I can't say that paleo is either.  I know that eating a shit ton of vegetables is a good thing and that I must painfully, with great sorrow, end my love affair with toast.  I also know that I've got a lot of other things to do with my life than sit around tinkering with my diet. 

I'm not sick.  I do have energy and health.  I am also pretty lazy and can afford to be lazy.  It's much more fun to read books (with swear words) about my self indulgent food choices and endlessly tweak my lifestyle than to go do something that matters.

So, I'm going to go do some shit, eat some veggies for lunch and fail to worry about it.  And then I'm going to get ready in my specialized clothing designed by modern day scientists to maximize my movement potential while drawing sweat away from my body and hunt down an opposing jammer deer while helping my jammer gather up some points in roller derby practice.

It is what I am evolved to do.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

action items

I find derby hard.

I am not a natural skater.  It is a lot of work for me, physically and mentally.

I am not a natural athlete.  I don't think of my body very much and prefer to keep my mileage low.  Given time on my own, I will crawl into a ball and use only my arms to hold a book.  Well, maybe the occasional walk to the kitchen to make more tea.

When I was in high school, I had a friend tell me that he could see me spending my adult years laying on a couch, yelling at my kids to fetch mommy more bon bons. 

So, despite this derby thing being terrifically difficult, I think I'm doing pretty good.  Difficult is do-able.

But to make difficult do-able, I need to take care of the things I can at home with my body so that do not merely survive a hard, ass kicking practice in the heat but actually learn a few things too.  Surviving isn't enough.  I want to excel.  I have to work extra hard in the rest of my life in order to make the time and effort I put in at practice count.

Which means I have to be thoughful when I care for myself nutritionally.  I must workout outside of practice.  I must treat myself as the athlete I aspire to be.  At least I can have that covered so that my sucking at derby won't be further exaggerated by poor diet and lack of muscles.

Still.  I'm not perfect.  And when I slip, I fall down much further than I expect.

My birthday, bless it, past recently and suddenly there was cake and a celebratory Chinese dinner and, omg, ice cream and chocolate bars for treats.  Going to the movies instead of working out.  Old habits never quite disappear and it doesn't take much to have them take over again, eroding a lot of hard work.

Then the carb cravings ramped up and I started having toast for breakfast instead of the preferable hemp protein and almond smoothie.  And then toast for snack before bed and a glass of wine instead of mint tea.  And then cake for lunch.  And more toast.

I love toast.  I fucking love toast.  And bon bons.  Kids, bring mommy her bon bons!

But toast and wine and bon bons do not love me.  They make it harder for me to do the things I want to do.  Toast makes my middle swell and look like I'm hiding a beach ball in my jersey.  And wine gives me cankles to match my swollen belly.  And bon bons make me angry and tired.  And when I feel down, it seems so. much. easier. to go get another piece of cake than to make a salad.  All that chopping and stuff... ugh.

I've read in several places that it is better to never have another cookie again than to reward oneself for good nutritional choices with a once a week cookie treat.  It seems our bodies will, after a few days without a narcotic substance (and sugar, wheat and all the delicious white stuff is) kind of forget about it.  Your body will crave what you give it.  But a little bit of the super sweet stuff is like a super stimulator and even a tiny amount will overload your craving center, until all you can do is think about getting just one more cookie.

Or piece of toast.

(Hmmm... toast...)

They also say it is best to have a balance of foods.  All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy and all nuts and protein powder and no dark chocolate Aero bars makes Malady a sad bore.  But I don't really do balance well.  Toast is a gateway to large bars of chocolate and entire bottles of wine.  There is sweet stuff that I can have a little bit of and not want more.  Like fruit.  Good stuff, feels great to eat a bit, won't go crazy about it, you know?

I don't believe I can do balance well.  Not at this stage of the game anyway.

So how do I drag myself back out of this pit and start behaving like an athlete again?


The above was written last night right before a two and half hour travel team practice, including an off skates warm up with a run and three rounds of 5 pull ups, 10 tuck jumps, 15 bicycle crunches, 20 inverted push ups, 25 box jumps.

3(5+10+15+20+25) = 225 reasons not eat another fucking bon bon ever again.

Working out and practice always improves my nutritional choices for 24 hours afterwards, because I remember how hard it is to move around all this poundage plus a ball of (vegan) ginger beef in my belly.  Athlete, do what?

Action item #1: Workout at least once every 24 hours.

Workouts don't need to all be super stair running and plyometric intervals.  Some days, just going to the playground with the kids gets my heart racing for half an hour or more.  And getting myself to more practices is just helpful all around.


This morning I went to the post office which happens to be located beside a walk in medical clinic.  Nothing like a load of sick people to encourage you to pass by the pasta and chop that salad.  And then run some stairs for bone health.

Motivation is a funny thing.  When there is an immediate consequence, say touching a hot stove, you learn quickly and easily not to do things that harm you.  When consequence comes hours, weeks, or years later, we forget that things can be harmful for us.

The trick is to mentally invoke a consequence that may not happen for years in order to motivate your behavior now.  Green things are good for me, sugar things are not, and as I age my diet and habits of movements will increasingly show themselves. 

Action item #2: Remind myself frequently of the consequence of good health. 

For me this means a lot of people watching, something I like to do anyway.  Check out people's carts in the grocery store then try to gauge their relative health.  Hang out where people work out.  Go the the mall for fresh veggie juice while checking out the food court.  Get really, really (quietly) judgmental about people.


What this all boils down to is choices.  I am not lacking information about nutrition, I know what is good for me.  I know what makes me feel like an awesome kung fu ninja and what makes me feel like I've been dropped in the pit of despair and I'm too fat to scale the walls back out again.  I'm not dumb.  But I do make poor choices sometimes.

Action item #3: Remove the choice.

Bye bye leftover birthday cake.  Later bon bons.  Ciao loaf of bread.  Heelllllllo greens.


There are many, many other small actions I can take to encourage better choices if I'm going to remain an athlete as I cruise into middle age.  But, for me, these are the big ones.  I know these ones have overriden my poor habits from the past and that a week or two of good choices will dimish my cravings and tendency to sloth greatly.  These three actions are my lifestyle equivalent of being a jammer up against a strong front wall, knowing that if she can just stay upright and keep pushing then eventually either the wall will break or she'll push them out of play. 

Then she'll be free to run.