On Going Primal

A lot has been said and written about some of the more common diets that people are pursuing, promoting, profiting from. These include the Mediterranean Diet (which emphasizes eating plenty fruits and vegetables, olive oil, fish and lean meats), the Atkins Diet (which limits consumption of sugars and carbohydrates), commercial diets like Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig (which relies on a combination of pre-packaged meals and individual or group support), and the widely popular Paleo Diet.

The latter diet is probably the one that has engendered the some of the most heated and acrimonious debate of late. US News and World Report recently ranked it dead last out of 35 diets that they had reviewed by a panel of dietary experts. On the other hand, there are numerous scientific studies that suggest that adopting a Paleo lifestyle may actually be effective in promoting weight loss, as well as in helping people control blood pressure and plasma cholesterol without medication. Detractors call it dangerous while supporters laud its effectiveness.

As the name might suggest, the idea behind the Paleo diet is that human beings evolved eating only those types of foods that were available during the Paleolithic era, long before the rise of agriculture. Also known as the ‘Caveman Diet’, the Paleo Diet emphasizes eating those foods that would have been consumed by someone living a pre-industrial, pre-agricultural, nomadic, hunting-gathering sort of life. Thus, this approach stresses a diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables and plenty of meats, along with so-called good fats. The more heavily processed foods that are a large part of the Standard American Diet (or SAD, as it is pejoratively known by Paleo followers) are forbidden, as are sugars, grains, dairy, and alcohol). A variant of the Paleo Diet, known as the Primal Diet, allows for more consumption of saturated fats (like grass-fed butter or coconut oil), the occasional ingestion of dairy (particularly raw or fermented dairy), and even the odd glass of wine or shot of tequila now and then.

There are many pros and cons to adopting a Paleo or Primal lifestyle. Yes, they are better described as lifestyles rather than as diets, because both Paleo and Primal emphasize a holistic approach to living. This includes not only eating a diet low in carbohydrates and rich in nutrient-dense foods, but also a fitness plan that focuses on natural movement and strength building, a wellness plan that includes mindfulness, relaxation, and ample sleep, and other changes that are meant to mimic a prehistoric lifestyle in our modern wired and wireless world.

I’ve been following a Primal lifestyle off-and-on for about two years now, my recent hospitalization not withstanding. It was physically difficult to follow the diet, for example, when you are limited to a surgical or soft-food menu. So, it was eat a sandwich or starve during the 21 days that I was in the hospital. The stress of the holidays and of my mother’s passing made it mentally challenging to get ‘back on the Primal wagon’. But I’m back … and the rest of this post is about my brief thoughts as to the pros and cons of the Primal lifestyle.

So what are the cons? First and foremost, it takes a lot of commitment to make the radical dietary and lifestyle changes that a living a Primal (or Paleo) life requires. It’s hard enough to avoid eating sugars, consuming grains, or avoiding alcohol at home, let along when grabbing a 15-minute lunch at work or going out for dinner and a movie with friends. The recent gluten-free fad has helped make it easier, at least when dining out, and there are plenty of recipes and cookbooks out there, but it’s still tough. There are also a lot of naysayers out there – most often your friends and family — telling you why you are wrong and tempting you with pepperoni pizza.

The diet can also be potentially unhealthy, particularly with regard to overconsumption of saturated fats. Contrary to what some critics (and even promoters) have said, this is not a lifestyle in which you are free to eat all of the eggs and bacon that you want.

That said, there are a lot of advantages to this lifestyle. It emphasizes eating high quality foods, particularly those that are locally and ethically sourced. It gets you back into the kitchen, and focused on preparing healthy meals with your family. It gets you thinking about all of the other social factors that influence your health, including improving the length and quality of sleep, reducing stress and anxiety, avoiding the overuse of electronic media and devices, and regular meditation or mindfulness sessions. For those who can make the change, the immediate and long terms benefits are clear, not only with respect to diet and exercise, but also in the relationships you have with your friends and family. More importantly, the lifestyle allows to you make small changes that reap big results over time.

On Keeping My Resolutions – Days 9-14

We’re now two weeks into the new year, which is usually around the time that most people fail with their resolutions. Psychological research has shown that if you can keep a resolution for three weeks, it becomes a habit and is more likely to stick. I’ve got my fingers crossed in that regard.

Another stressful week at work, including a new self-proposed project which may or may not yield any useful results. Still, I am doing well so far. Since my last summary I’ve been able to:

  1. Continue with my plan to take a full hour for lunch, although on Thursday I did have a lunch meeting. To make up for that, I made sure to take 30 minutes before and 30 minutes after for personal time.
  2. Meditate for at least 15 minutes daily, except on Thursday because of the crazy schedule that day. I’ve slowly been increasing the duration of my sessions as well, and hope to average 20 minutes a day starting next week. I’ve also been taking advantage of the new meditation and mindfulness techniques I was researching last week. I will admit, however, that during one session I did fall asleep.
  3. Sign up for a random class on Udemy.com, taking advantage of one of their promotions to sign up for a 45+ hour business course for only $10. I’ve also been spending a couple of minutes very morning and every evening looking at some of the brief tutorials on Curious.com to learn something new every day. I now have a new found appreciation for Ethio-jazz.
  4. Go out for dinner and saw a movie (Rogue One, finally) with my husband and some friends. We’ve been trying to get together for a while, but various holidays, family obligations and illnesses kept getting in the way. The hubby was a total trooper, given that he’s still fighting his nasty head cold.
  5. Speak with my father, my sister, and a dear friend from New York City on the phone this week. The latter is an actor with whom I occasionally work, and some of the conversation focused on upcoming courses at the University, but we did spend a good 15-20 minutes just shooting the breeze (albeit largely complaining about how crappy 2016 was).
  6. Again post something positive to Facebook every day, ranging from links to Ethio-jazz songs to funny videos and inspirational quotes.
  7. Get to the gym a couple of times. I even started back in a Crossfit-type class that I particularly enough, although I had difficulty walking the next day.
  8. Continue the experiment to determine which, if any, of the meal delivery services are the most cost-effective, time-saving, nutritious, and tasty. We’ve now tried Blue Apron and Hello Fresh and will be making the first of three Home Chef-provided meals tonight.
  9. Kept my cool when some of my work colleagues annoyed me by failing to complete tasks or forgetting to show up to critical meetings. I’m still a little frustrated that they haven’t bothered to apologize, as I would have, but am working on letting that expectation go.
  10. Writing something every day, even if it is not something that is shared publicly or professionally.

As with my last summary, there have been a couple of failures this week. I’m still not getting my diet locked in because of various stressful events that trigger strong cravings for sugar and carbs (or that require a shot of alcohol). I also was unable to stick to my plan to batch emails, only answering them three times a day. Some of that was due to issues at work that required an immediate response, but other times I simply fell into my old pattern of behavior. That might be something worth addressing more actively, perhaps by using a computer program designed to block my access to email except for certain times of the day. Finally, because of some unexpected bills from various doctors and specialists, I had to dip into my savings or use a credit card in order to meet my financial obligations in a timely fashion. However, I plan to replenish those savings and pay off the credit card in full this month.

On Keeping My Resolutions – Days 5-8

Although 2017 has gotten off to a bit of a rocky start – the professional challenges at work keep coming and I’m feeling perpetually behind on my work – I feel like I’ve been doing fairly well in managing the stress and in keeping to my non-resolution resolutions for 2017. In the past four days, for example, I have been able to:

  1. Stick with my plan to take a full hour for lunch, during which time I will focus on the personal rather than the professional.
  2. Meditate for at least 15 minutes daily.
  3. Engage in some reading for pleasure, including listening to some books on tape while walking to and from work and researching some new meditation and mindfulness techniques.
  4. Nurse my husband through his nasty head cold with calm and grace, even when his clogged sinuses make him snore so loudly that the whole bed shakes.
  5. Do some random acts of kindness, including a sympathy card for a friend who lost her cousin unexpectedly and a ‘just because’ romantic card for Dan.
  6. Talk to one family member or friend on the phone every day, including a person that I haven’t spoken to in nearly six months.
  7. Post something positive daily to Facebook (and totally independent of the snarky running commentary that this year’s awards season always inspires).
  8. Cleaned up the blog’s website a little bit to make it a little more user-friendly.
  9. Get to the gym a couple of times, with a plan to increase both the length and duration of my visits over the next month or so until I am back to where I was before my hospitalization.
  10. Carefully plan a financial experiment to determine which, if any, of the meal delivery services like Blue Apron, Hello Fresh, Home Chef, and Plated are cost effective, time saving, nutritious, and tasty. Expect a blog report on that in about two weeks time once we receive, prepare, and eat a representative sample from each.
  11. Transferred a $500.00 gift from my dad into the Barcelona fund, and also applied for a couple of grants and consulting gigs. I’m also looking at ways of monetizing my personal and professional writing activities.

Of course, I would be lax after the first week of 2017 if I didn’t note a few failures, including my inability to stick to the Whole30 (largely because some work- and family-induced stress [my most common triggers] resulted in bingeing on some chocolate and needing a stiff drink), not making much headway on the budgeting stuff, and the fact that I haven’t had time this week to work on the book. Will get back on the eating healthy and writing professionally wagon soon. At least I can say that I’ve gotten back into the habit of writing every day through this blog, my NPR commentaries, and other personal and professional activities. I’d forgotten how cathartic writing can be.

On Keeping My Resolutions – Days 2-4

Things I’ve done over the past three days to meet my 2017 resolutions:

  1. My husband is still quite sick, so I’ve been letting him sleep, running to the pharmacy to get over-the-counter meds, and ordering his favorite Wonton-Egg Drop soup from our local Chinese take-out restaurant.
  2. Called my sister to follow up on some legal issues, but also to inquire about the progress she’s made on hunting for a vacation home on the Oregon coast.
  3. Randomly called my friend Andrea (a professor in the Washington, DC area) to see how she was doing and to have a Seinfeld-esque conversation about nothing.
  4. Posted a picture of my husband and myself at Niagara Falls from our chilly Boxing Day visit, a YouTube cover of Van Morrison’s “And It Stoned Me” by a favorite artist (Passenger), and a link to a video dance tribute to the Pulse Nightclub shooting to Facebook. #MyOwnHappinessProject.
  5. Saw my therapist for my bimonthly mental tune up. I’ve only been going to her for a couple of months now, since my mother’s passing, but have already come to appreciate her Jewish grandmother-hippie-Eastern philosophy based-approach to mental wellness. For our agreed upon approach for the near term, we’ve decided to try and develop positivity rather than dwell on old hurts. I’ve got a nice reading list and a suggestion to continue daily meditation.
  6. Stuck to batching my work emails, checking them only first thing in the morning, right before lunch, and just before I leave for the day.
  7. Got a 90-minute massage and hit the gym twice.
  8. Sat with my colleagues and chatted socially at lunch rather than responding to student inquiries.

On Keeping My Resolutions – Day 1

Things I did today to meet my 2017 resolutions:

  1. Let my husband sleep while I took down and stored all of the indoor and outdoor Christmas decorations. We’re both fighting a nasty sinus infection, but he’s been hit a lot worse and slept poorly last night.
  2. Called my father to wish him a happy 77th birthday.
  3. Posted a comic from one of my favorite sites – The Oatmeal – to Facebook with the hashtag #MyOwnHappinessProject
  4. Created a new budget for 2017 using the online tool YNAB (You Need A Budget). Although it is a paid service, unlike Mint and other common budgeting tools, it is more intuitive to me, offers a 34-day free trial, and has a number of handy workshops on personal finance and professional development.

On Starting Off the New Year Right

2016 was a very tough year for me. I had to deal with lots of personal and professional changes, including the merger of my College with Clarkson University, two hospitalizations for a life-threatening bout of peritonitis, and the sudden passing of my estranged mother. All of this has thrown my physical, mental and financial wellbeing into a complete tailspin.

All of this has thrown my physical, mental and financial wellbeing into a complete tailspin. I’m working more and more hours but still falling further and further behind. I’m unable to make progress on my own writing and research projects, spending most of my time doing administrative tasks.  I’m neglecting my husband, my family, my friends,  and my cat. I’m sleeping less and skipping the gym. I’m facing over $200,000 in medical bills, of which I am responsible for $5,000 under my current insurance plan. I have an additional $5,000 in funeral and legal costs following my mother’s death. Finally, I have a $4,500 bathroom remodel that is about to start, a $25,000 kitchen remodel that needs to get done, and additional and expensive upkeep to do on my 1835 Colonial-era townhome.

No wonder that I’m always tired, hungry, grumpy and anxious.

I need change! I need to regain my balance and focus on what is important: my family and friends, my physical health and mental stability, and my long-term financial goals. This is the year that I plan to do this — the nasty sinus infection that I woke up with not withstanding.

This blog is my chronicle of my successes, failures, progress, and setbacks. Here’s to a happier and healthier 2017.

Although I don’t normally do the resolution thing, I’ve decided to break publicly my no-resolution rule. In the coming year, I pledge to:

  1. Show (not tell) my husband that I love him every single day.
  2. Take a full hour-long lunch break at work, during which I will step away from the computer and read for pleasure, chat socially with colleagues, meditate, or go for a walk.
  3. Call my sister, my father and one random friend every week.
  4. Post something daily to social media that makes me smile, happy, grateful, thankful, or some other positive emotion under the hashtag #MyOwnHappinessProject.
  5. Make headway on my long-delayed book project.
  6. Earn and save and additional $20K this year, which will be used to jumpstart our ‘Retirement/Vacation Home in Barcelona’ fund.