September 18, 2012

3 Steps Forward, 2 Steps Back: Where's That Leave Me?

Hello to any and all who choose to read this post--hope you had a great summer.

First, if you came to this blog expecting a "pure Primal/Paleo/Ancestral" point of view, you'll need to read posts dated April 2012 or earlier or go elsewhere. From now on, I will only claim to be Human. I'll communicate what's going on and how I react.

If I had found the paleo community in my 20s, which assumes it would have existed then, I truly believe I could have followed that lifestyle all my life. Due to the conditioning from 40+ years of binge/starve eating cycles, plus the stresses life will always include, I'm not able to manage ancestral eating on a sustained basis although I continue to respect and admire those who can.

My current eating pattern seems to be supporting my health and well-being but it doesn't fit any of the above labels as I stress whole/real foods but also compromise around my entrenched emotional cravings. This post was hard to write as it's a confession of weakness, including a much-dreaded new mugshot.

In April 2012, I celebrated a full year of "ancestral" eating. The first 3 months were Primal, the next 6 were Primal plus fermented water kefir/yogurt, and the final 3 incorporated occasional processed treats. In March 2012, I believed I had achieved a permanent healthy regimen and was no longer an out-of-control binge eater. I was down at least 30 pounds from my starting weight and I felt better physically than I had in 20+ years.

BUT, on the emotional side I was not so good. I'd already suffered weeks of severe family-related stress and frankly it was stressful to consistently avoid processed foods. My stress and performance grew worse in May but I tried my best to hold on. The underlying problems were that I couldn't solve the ongoing family stresses and I was in denial that I could avoid all junk food forever. While many claim there's no such thing as food addiction, my symptoms are pretty damn close--it's always been all or nothing. In mid-May I cracked, people. Folded, collapsed, lost control. Yes, I finally found comfort but I found it in the old familiar standby, binge eating of processed junk foods.

As always, binge eating of processed foods made me feel like total crap and trust me when I say my loss of control and rapid weight gain did nothing good for my self-esteem. For about 2 months, I'd say I was clinically depressed and in addition to eating mostly junk food I instinctively avoided people--not just in person but by avoiding email and Facebook--all human contact. Not only did I shy away from writing blog posts, I stopped reading my extensive list of health/diet blogs.

The somewhat-good news is that I didn't settle into the junk food binge for long this time. In the past I would've wallowed in my misery for years. This time, I thought and thought and thought about what had gone so well for a whole year, what had gone so wrong in May and where that left me. I was also less tolerant of the heartburn and other physical symptoms of eating junk.

So, where I am now?
My current mental health is good because I'm pretty clear on who I believe I am--or, should I say, who I am not.

I am not comfortable with a plant-exclusive eating pattern. My natural lifestyle is clearly tilted toward meat although I truly enjoy greens, veggies and fruits. My emotional cravings insist junk food is all I need/want but that's a guaranteed ticket to GI issues and malaise.

I am not a social butterfly. Put bluntly, I am an introvert and while I am naturally positive and serene when surrounded by Mother Nature, and companion animals, I am easily stressed by contact with the negative energy frequently surrounding other people. I love my family and friends but can only handle them in positive situations or limited doses. Bottom line: I am an emotional wimp.

To feel my best, I need nutritious food such as salads, fruit and beef or oily fish, but emotionally I can only handle that as a pure regimen for 6-12 months using maximum willpower. In order to avoid explosive junk food binges, I appear to need reasonable daily doses of the items my lifelong conditioning defines as "comfort."

Exactly what am I doing, you ask? I sip a couple mugs of coffee each morning--coffee that includes CoffeeMate liquid creamer. I'd prefer to use organic whole cream and quality honey but can't afford it. I've found coffee depresses my appetite for several hours and is soothing. For the remainder of the day, I drink ice water or carbonated water or 1 cup soda diluted into a 3-cup mug topped with water.

In late morning, I eat a meal that's usually 3 courses: fruit, salad and entree. My meals include meat but otherwise are some combination of vegetables, tubers, legumes and grains. Since my fruit and salad portions are large, my main meal portions are generous but not huge. I use oil and vinegar on my salads and thankfully that's my personal preference.

Within 2 hours after my meal, while I am physically full but subject to emotional cravings, I have a treat. One week it might be chips or pretzels, another week it could be mini-Snickers bars and another week ice cream. In other words, whatever I'm most craving but only one kind of processed food and I must be full when I eat it.

I limit myself to one coffee--meal--treat cycle per day. I don't feel physical hunger but I do (at present at least) still feel strong cravings for junk food in late afternoon and evening. I try to shift the cravings into anticipation of the next day's food and that's been working well. Discipline is still required, but not extreme willpower and not for extended periods--like forever.

The result of this compromise--so far--is that my GI tract is again happy, my energy level has rebounded and I'm not obsessing about a massive junk food binge. After all, I'll be having another treat tomorrow.


  1. Welcome back Nance! Glad to hear you climbed out of the dark side of a slip (been there, done that too) and have found something that's working for you.

    1. Thanks, Beth! As you know, the future's always a question. We know I can't permanently binge or go "pure." We also don't know yet if I can be permanently in between the extremes. Time will tell.

  2. Kathleen Conway3/30/13, 7:42 PM

    Nance! I saw your reply on Paleo Hacks just now. I noticed Travis Culp was pleased to see your comment. Me too! I have missed your blog so much. As soon as I saw your Paleo Hacks reply, I went to your blog. I had stopped checking it when you wrote that you were no longer going to post. I went to your Facebook page and clicked Friend Request. So if you see a request from a Kathleen Conway, you will know who it's from.