I was kind of a lanky kid; my calves were always humongous, but I was still lanky. We were pretty active back then, but also well fed despite there being so many of us. My mother cooked well-balanced meals for dinner every night, and nobody was going hungry in our house unless by choice. On the rare Mc Donald’s visit, I traded in Happy Meals for Big Macs early on, and bragged about it like it was the equivalent of winning a gold medal (my sisters, on the other hand, were winning actual gold medals in their park district gymnastics league). So that became my relationship with food. I could proudly eat a lot of it. I could down a Big Mac or an entire king size chimichanga, and I was fortunate enough to be able to ask for seconds at the dinner table. I could pretty much eat whatever I wanted, and when grown-ups told me it would catch up to me one day, I didn’t really understand what they meant.
I’m not quite sure where this idea of overeating as a sense of accomplishment came from. Neither of my parents did anything in excess, and my mother is the beacon of portion-control. Maybe it’s the result of having so many siblings and wanting to be good at something, anything, to set me apart from my siblings, or maybe it came from not being allowed to leave the table until I ate everything on my plate (I can’t confirm the actual amount of times this happened, if any, but it seems like something my dad would have said). I can come up with a million theories, but that’s not the point of this post and I don’t really have time for that.
Anyway, I’m turning 29 this year, and after gaining a bunch of weight, then losing a bunch of weight, and gaining a little bit of weight back, I finally understand what the grown-ups meant. Oh, so I probably shouldn’t eat everything on my plate if I’m not hungry anymore? Got it. My whole life is a lie (not really, but doesn’t being an adult feel that way sometimes?). I’m not one for diets. Don’t tell me I can’t eat a cupcake. I want a cupcake, and I’m eating two. But that’s not really sustainable. What is sustainable, is finding the right balance that works for you, your lifestyle, and your activity level. Balance is going to look different at various stages in your life, and that’s perfectly okay. For me, I appreciate the general guidelines of paleo, but I’m by no means saying, “OMG EVERYONE NEEDS TO EAT PALEO, IT’S ABSOLUTELY THE ONLY WAY TO EAT EVER.” I didn’t say that, so don’t quote me on it.
For good measure, here’s what I enjoy about eating paleo (take from it what you want, but don’t call it paleo unless it really is paleo, because (some) paleo people get mad about that):
1. Have you ever seen #JERF? It stands for “just eat real food,” and it just about sums up paleo. You’re not eating processed food, and let me debunk the myth right here and now, you’re also not sitting around eating meat all day. No grains (this includes quinoa, corn, and rice), dairy (eggs are not dairy), or legumes. Keep yourself full by adding a normal serving of meat/protein to your plate. Eat all the vegetables your heart desires. Snack on nuts and seeds. Consume healthy fats (avocadoavocadoavocadococonutoilavocadoavocadogheecoconutoilavocadooliveoil… did I mention avocado?). It’s that simple. The moral of this first point is, I love avocado.
2. My diet actually has MORE variety now. How is that possible, you just eliminated EVERYTHING? First of all, this isn’t kindergarten so I’m really not buying that “veggies are yucky” business. Each season brings about its own wonderful bounty. I’m eating many different varieties of squash these days, and recently picked up a purple sweet potato (aka Japanese yam). I can’t wait to find recipes for that one. I get to try new things and experiment, and then find new ways to make the old things I love. My sister told me she’s going to experiment with making paleo pie crust, so I just might need to book a ticket home over February break.
3. I don’t have to count calories. This works for some people. It doesn’t work for me. I like to keep math in my classroom.
4. If I’m tired, I know it has nothing to do with what I just ate. I’m no stranger to the itis. Any of my friends can tell you it’s not uncommon for me to fall asleep anytime, anywhere, especially if I’ve just eaten. Ask Chui about the time I couldn’t walk down Ashland after eating the absolute most at Los Comales; he loves that story. The fact I’m getting all my nutrients from eating real food helps me be more in tune with what’s going on with my body otherwise. If I’m tired, I’m not in a chemical-laden food coma, I probably just need more sleep. I’m working on that next.
5. All the cool kids are doing it. I’m just joking. I wanted to see if you were still paying attention. I first heard about paleo from Jamie when we were marathon training, but didn’t think much of it until October when I went to New York to do the Rock n Roll Brooklyn 10k with my sorority sister, Krystal. At brunch after the race she casually mentioned she hadn’t been eating grains, and explained her reasons without being pushy about it or trying to sell it to me. Now we constantly share tips, recipes, and helpful articles. Having a friend to bounce ideas off of doesn’t make me feel like a weirdo (like today at the staff meeting when I got excited there were oranges on the snack table when everyone else was reaching for the chips and taco dip).
What does a balanced diet mean to you? Do you have any guidelines for healthy eating?