Eat food that doesn’t hurt your body. It sounds simple enough but with all the diet dogma that is swirling around the Internet, I completely understand how hard it is to figure out what to do when it comes to how to nourish and care for your body. As many of you know, I was born into the world of nutrition and fitness in the realm of paleo, and I still love what the paleo movement has done for so many people, including myself, but I have some advice for you – this day and age, you must play detective. There are several layers to who you are and following the rules of a diet; any diet will get you into trouble. Always. What I see these days is an abundance of diet games, challenges, along with specific food and/or macronutrient vilifying, and most of all, the extreme marketing that is behind it all. It all can be such a mind f*@k!
Really, let’s think about it. Back in the day, the day in which it was just a few of us talking about this paleo thing, it was all so simple. Cut out grains, dairy, legumes, and sugar for 30 days. See how you feel, experiment, and then add some stuff back in. If any of that stuff hurts you – you probably shouldn’t eat it. Now, someone mentions the word paleo (never mind Google it) and all sorts of crazy can be conjured up. Where. Do. You. Begin? Don’t get me wrong, I do appreciate the advancements also and those who spearhead the movement with solid science, those who are not afraid to say when we were wrong and those who keep moving forward because their best interest is to help YOU and not to only fill their bank accounts.
Looking back again into the past, back when “treats” were considered a hunk of awesome dark chocolate, a Norcal Margarita, or maybe some nachos on the weekend. Now, the scene is absolutely nuts with so many choices that shopping the Internet for how to eat is just as confusing as shopping the diet aisle in the grocery store. I encourage you to think deeper. Look at who you are and what you need to be OK. If what you are doing isn’t working, stop doing it. If it looks too good to be true, it most likely is. Nothing amazing happens overnight but real results do happen all the time so follow people who have been there, done that, and actually help real folks to make real progress. Also, please understand that there are plenty of “experts” out there who figured out how to make a grain free “rule following” cookie and how to market it to the masses amazingly well, but that doesn’t mean that these people know how to cure whatever might ail you nor can they help you to reach your goals, especially if these same people are still stumbling around themselves.
Before you start screaming at me, I’m not implying that it’s wrong or bad or awful that there happens to be an abundance of choice, it’s just obviously way too much sometimes to dig through all the information out there in order to find your right fit; and if you are hearing some frustration in my tone, it’s the compassion I feel for those of you trying to find the answer and it’s currently made extremely hard, especially when you are sick, exhausted, hungry, and confused. Navigating the diet and health circus is like clothes shopping at Forever21 – you might as well give up before you even get started! So, be a smart consumer, and above all else, you must be an advocate for finding a path to health, be an advocate for YOU and not an advocate for what seems like a great way to belong on a team or a way to quickly fit into a pair of jeans.
Ok, so now that I have that out of the way, let’s dig a little bit deeper. There is also plenty of great information available to help you, it’s just harder to find. For example, the autoimmune protocol is helping SO many people uncover what foods are truly hurting their bodies and we are seeing everything from PCOS to MS go into remission or at the very least, this protocol is helping keep symptoms more manageable and quality of life more enjoyable. This is truly a blessing that I am grateful for, especially for my clients who thought there wasn’t an answer.
What I wish for is that the lifestyle components are preached a bit louder. STRESS is killing us, ratcheting up inflammation, and negating any amazing efforts that you might be making in the food department. SLEEP is horrific for most modern day humans and lack of sleep is equally as destructive as stress. For those of us who are not autoimmune, we still can feel totally miserable, inflamed, depressed, fat, and unhappy if we do not address the lifestyle components mentioned above. Finally, we need to find joy. We need to be loved, and we need to give love without feeling like we are being sucked dry. We need to do what makes us happy and avoid being drawn into the rat race, even if it means downsizing, career changing, relationship fixing, soul searching or book club attending. If you haven’t noticed, not a single diet advice giver with shiny marketing material will tell you that you need to love more and live more in order to be healthy because, well, that’s really hard to sell. I am telling you to potentially quit your job, take a dance lesson, or get some couples therapy in order to live longer and that just plain sucks compared to an awesome looking grain free scone recipe.
The reality is, those layers of you that I was mentioning earlier have a lot more to do with figuring out how to live well than overly obsessing about what or which quantity or how often or in what kind of order you should consume food. Yes, food is very important but I personally can eat what looks like a perfect “paleo” diet and feel like absolute death when my sleep is less than sub par and especially when I let stress take over like the ugly monster that it is. So, what does this all mean? It means that I want you to take this in stages. First, let’s look at your food, because in the words of the Whole9 crew, it truly does Start With Food. Are you autoimmune? Ok – you have some answers, and you need to be even more diligent than the rest of us. You need to cut out grains entirely, avoid eggs, nuts, and nightshades, and take it easy on the sweets. All of us need to start exploring ways to heal our guts – pronto; many of us who don’t have autoimmune disease still have poor gut health. Many of you may be like me and ended up in the paleo world because you were generally feeling awful but with no real diagnosis. This is when I suggest you begin with the basic template; cut out grains, dairy, sugar, and legumes for 30 days. If you also need to lose fat (like I did), or recover from major illness, you might have to be a bit more cautious a bit longer until you reach a solid level of leanness or overall great health. Does this mean you have to eat super low carb for fat loss? Heck no. Please don’t do that, especially if you move your body, have a period, or want to attempt to function in this world, and especially if you are alive.
If you are trying to lose fat, you probably shouldn’t eat a ton of starchy carbs at every meal, but in no way should you avoid them all together. You need to find the amount that works for you and keep it simple, put carbs in after your workout, like half a sweet potato, or about ½ a cup of white rice, or some white potatoes, or some winter squash. If you recover well form your workouts, continue to lean out, and feel happy and overall good – than you are most likely spot on with the amount of carbs you are eating. If you start feeling exhausted, you start crashing during workouts, and yet you know you’re eating plenty of food overall and not starving yourself, you most likely need more carbs – just add a bit more in at a different meal and see how it goes. However, I suggest avoiding starting your day with carbs, but with protein instead to get your day going. You’ll feel better and not feel super hungry in five minutes. Of course, this is just a drop in the bucket – it could be that your fitness plan is all wrong and most likely too much or maybe you’re doing nothing at all. This also needs to be addressed! All of this exploration is just diving into those layers; it is called making tweaks based on your needs, and if my little bit of sage advice doesn’t work for you, keep on tweaking until you find what does but you need to stick to something for a while to make sure it is or isn’t working!
Now I’ll discuss my own personal food and health world, as it exists today, and what works for our family after several years of eating real food. I’ll just rattle stuff off as it comes to me and let you ask questions in the comments if you have them. I’ll list the foods I try to avoid as often as possible and never allow within the confines of my home along with a little more info after each item about what we do eat and how we live. Remember this is what works for US and isn’t necessarily a plan I want you to follow exactly. We have a place for you to start that will help get you to where you need to be in the future.
Vegetable Oil – I’ve realized over the years that too much of this evil makes me feel awful. Sometimes I’ll get an instant headache when I eat at restaurants and I’ve traced it to the vegetable oil, not sure which one specifically but I have a sneaking suspicion that soybean oil makes me feel the worst so eating out can be challenging. I also feel generally inflamed when I have a longer stint of vegetable oil consumption, like after traveling for example. Never ever in my home will you find vegetable oil; I cook with lard, tallow, butter, ghee, coconut oil and sometimes I’ll deep fry in palm shortening. I use extra virgin olive oil for salad dressing and to season my food but not to cook with.
Straight Up White Flour Glutinous Bombs of Nastiness – so yes, I generally avoid gluten as a rule, however, I’ve noticed that if I eat anything sprouted or fermented that has gluten present, I don’t feel bad. If I eat even a piece of something like a crappy brownie or a cheap pastry, I want to die. As in jackhammer in my stomach, cramping, heartburn, nausea, bloating, ugh it’s awful kind of want to die. However, a really good piece of sourdough artisan style bread or some sprouted Ezekiel type hippy dippy stuff, and I’m totally ok. This doesn’t mean that I eat these items very often. It’s more like – this for example; I’m in Italy, and this chef just baked me his own sourdough bread from wheat grown in his grandmother’s field dipped in their extra virgin olive oil pressed from his very own tree. Yes, I will eat that. Or, on vacation at a quaint little earthy café where they have French toast made from handmade sprouted grain bread. I will eat that too. It’s called being alive, experiencing joy with my family, and not being a food fearing dogmatic scary person who doesn’t live on this planet. It’s also called – and I remind you – eating food that doesn’t hurt.
White Sugary Corn-syrupy Processed Stuff in any forms unless it’s chocolate ice cream – I feel crazy when I eat too much sugar. It doesn’t even taste good to me. Even when I was a little kid, before I knew anything about nutrition, I simply couldn’t do it. It just made me feel awful and is still does. I do not like candy, I never have, and I never will. The things I used to love that made me sick all those years ago were the salty, processed, floury, savory foods that also now do not appeal to me. I do however like chocolate as in dark chocolate, and really good chocolate ice cream. I just don’t eat it all that often. This one is more about my body composition. Sugary stuff makes me put on fat faster than anything else I might eat. Sugary stuff I only really think about when paired with lack of sleep and yucky stress and sometimes all of those things combined make a perfect trifecta that my body despises so I try to avoid this threesome but now and then, I’ll snuggle up with my family and have an awesome glass of wine and some awesome chocolate – because now and then it doesn’t hurt my body to do this.
Crappy Dairy Out, Good Dairy In – I avoid the garbage, highly processed, from feedlot dairy for all sorts of reasons, mainly ethical and of course health. I want to support good farming practices and in my community we have a few local dairies doing an awesome job so I’ll buy some local cheeses and heavy cream. I also stock up on kefir and yogurt for my kids and use it in smoothies for them or just to drink or eat. It’s real food and nutrient dense and delicious. A favorite kid bedtime snack in my house is full fat Greek yogurt with frozen blueberries and a little bit of honey. Dairy isn’t a huge part of my diet but we do enjoy a bit of it because there’s no evidence by any negative reaction to tell us that it’s hurting us. Jaden, my 11 year old son, who used to have really bad eczema, will have a bit of a flare up if he eats a lot of dairy but when I buy the good stuff and stick to fermented dairy, he does OK.
Paleo or Grain Free Treats – I rarely make them. I need all my time and energy to make real food for my family. I kind of hate/love them if you want to know the truth, but often hate more than love unless someone else makes them for us or I buy them. I want to feed my family awesome nutrient dense foods and I’m stretched thin as it is so but to also feel the pressure to have to bake paleo bread, paleo muffins, and paleo cookies makes me want to scream and I don’t want YOU to have that pressure either. Now and then I will make a muffin or something like that for special occasion and ever so often, my kids will think about the only cookie recipe I ever make from Elena’s Pantry, or if I just happen to be in the mood sometimes I’ll bake and you’ll find the kind of “treats” that I make in the very tiny dessert section of my books – these desserts are SIMPLE and full of fat and good nutrition, and not a lot of fluff. So, when it comes to the baked treat type stuff, this is how we roll: if we want a sandwich I’ll just buy some gluten free bread or go to our local café that offers gluten free bread and we will eat a sandwich and move on with our lives. If we want a sweet type of treat I’ll go to our local bakery that makes these awesome gluten free coconut macaroons and we will all share a few and then be done, and move on with our lives. No mess, not expensive crazy grocery bill that’s nut flours and sweeteners, and no battles at home with my kids or my own will power with cookies or other baked goods on the counter. This is what works for US – no judgment on how you might do what you do, but if this all is seeming really hard or cumbersome or you are still as neurotic about food as you used to be, maybe try a simpler approach, like don’t make the treats a staple in your home, and see how things go. Also, too many “grain free treats” hurt me just as badly as the real deal so not making them a staple is better for all of us all around and especially better for my mental health.
Other things we DO eat that you might have thought we didn’t:
Rice: My little active crazy Fragoso boys need the carbs and so do we. I eat rice probably 2-3 times a week and usually with our evening meal and on days I workout.
White potatoes, red potatoes, purple potatoes, all potatoes: We like them. They are a great source of starch and we can make them a million ways and it’s nice to have variety.
Butter, cream, cheese, yogurt, and kefir: I already covered this one but thought I would mention it again. This works great for us in moderation and it adds some extra flavor to dishes that sometimes become a bit boring.
Beans Occasionally: Rowan and I and sometimes Jaden are ones who even really like beans so occasionally, as in maybe once or twice a month, I’ll add some beans to a dish that I make or I’ll eat them if we go out to Mexican food. They don’t hurt my body in small amounts, so if I’m in the mood I go for it.
Finally, here’s the secret to what really keeps me at my healthiest. I make every single day an awesome attempt at loving my life. When I work out at a smart, consistent, and safe manner I feel great. I lift heavy 2-3 times a week and usually have one metabolic conditioning session thrown in there that never lasts more than 10 minutes. Crossfit nearly killed me and now that I know I have nothing to prove, I’m able to maintain a baseline of strong, capable, and happy. Most importantly, I try to get outside and play and walk everyday.
I make a mean attempt every night to go to bed early so I have time to read before I fall asleep. I love to read, I need to read, I neglected reading for pleasure for years when I was writing books, and that was a very bad idea. Now I nurture that need by getting into bed in plenty of time to read at least a few pages of whatever I have on my kindle at the moment. Usually it’s something mindless, or sexy, or fun, or thrilling, or mysterious so I can just get lost. And going to be early means SLEEP and enough of it. When I was killing myself with Crossfit I was also doing so while incredibly sleep deprived. This is a very bad combination.
I also eat enough food. I always make time to enjoy my food and to be grateful for it. I’m so thankful that I now know how to feed myself in a manner that helps me thrive. Every now and then I still get all neurotic and think something nuts like, OH I should go low carb for a while and get a bit leaner – LAME SARAH, LAME, but then I learn the hard way and get back to just eating what I know my body thrives on and loving my awesome capable big booty body and muscly arms and loving just how I am right now because damn it, I respect ME enough to feed ME enough to be healthy enough to really live. And that’s a good feeling.
I take a lot of deep breaths and exhale every bit of air in my lungs several times a day. My dear friend Jason Seib likes to remind me to breathe more, so I listen to his voice in my head and I do just that as I also hear my other dear friend Lucy Hendricks reminding me of the importance of EXHALING!
I laugh everyday about something. I read something funny; I play and laugh with my boys, I laugh at my husband because he is always doing something silly. It’s so good to laugh and when I do more laughing and less bitching, I feel so much better, healthier, and vibrant.
I attempt to look good. I wear a lot of gym clothes (because I own a gym) but everyday I try to make an effort to look damn good. A little makeup, some hair product, something cute on my body, and I keep it simple because I am simple and to me, simple feels sexy. A daily attempt to look good makes me feel better, even when I don’t feel great, and I don’t care how vain this might sound but caring about my appearance even on my worst days helps me stay healthy inside and out.
I meditate or at the very least, close my eyes for a few minutes each day and just focus on my breathing. It’s a must. I have to or I freak out because life is freaky. If I do all of these things in a consistent manner, I can keep my adrenal fatigued past at bay and I am happy.
I cry when I’m sad. When I realize that time is flying too fast, that my kids are growing up and I can’t remember all the details of their lives, when I’m angry and frustrated because sometimes life can just be hard, when I miss my mom, or when I wish I could turn back time, I let myself cry.
All of these things make me whole, make me healthy, and it all began years ago with figuring out what foods don’t hurt me.
The moral of this very long story: Be your own detective. Ask the difficult questions and ask for help if you need it. Evaluate your life and make the changes you need to make if what you are doing isn’t working. Sometimes those changes are huge changes, and for example, I reevaluate my own life when I feel like things are slipping, in order to decide if I need to do something different so that I can capitalize on my one life that I have to live. You need to eat food that doesn’t hurt your body and worry less about what rules those foods may or may not be following, just as long as what you are doing is making you healthier and not worse. Eat enough food to sustain your life. Low calories sucks. Low carb is usually bad. No sleep and zero stress management is the worst of all. Start slow and baby step your way to good health. You can do it and I’m here to help.
For more information on all of this craziness and how to make it easier and doable in a manner that is entirely fool proof you can also check out The JASSA Method.