52 Days of Paleo, Day 16

There was no escaping relentless wind today. I'd like to blame it for my Paleo crash, but the truth is that I just fell off the wagon.

Wind is a bit of a dick!

The wind was the story of my day today. That and a shameful (but temporary) abandonment of Paleo.

We never did make it to Roswell and the International Alien Museum and Research Center. Why? The wind is why. God-damned wind.

Interstate 25 cuts a mostly straight line right up the center of New Mexico. We started our day by pointing the RV North on I-25 and had a glorious tailwind to drive us along. To get to Roswell though, you make a hard right at San Antonio onto Highway 380 and head just slightly south of due East for 150 miles. That tailwind turned into a powerful, gusty, high-volume side wind. I had to steer into it like a pilot trying to land a super-light single-engine Cessna into a crosswind and almost got blown off the road a couple of times.

So we gave up on Roswell and headed North up Highway 54 instead, a route that took us through a procession of towns in various stages of abandonment. That led us to the Interstate gas-stop town of Santa Rosa, where the winds were so strong we were put under tornado-watch at the RV park (asked to hunker in the bathroom until the danger passed).

The whole day was like that; a battle. The wind bullied me like the big kid with the parent issues in a middle-school play yard; it taunted us and shoved us just when we got our balance for a moment, shoved us again. It was stressful and tiring and affected my resolve when challenged to find Paleo options for the day.

I still hadn’t stopped and stocked up on Paleo-friendly ingredients, so I had no options for breakfast and ate the oatmeal we stock in the camper. It’s gluten-free, but even though that’s better than the real thing, it’s still a grain and therefore not Paleo. That set a bad tone for the day. Losing the first skirmish weakens you for the battle to come.

I tried to get back on track by eating nothing for most of the rest of the day, determined to wait for a Paleo meal. But when town after town passed by with no grocery store (it’s a shame, but rural America is served it’s grocery needs by dollar stores and mini-markets), I struggled with hunger. I grabbed a banana and a Kind bar (all nuts and honey, so probably Paleo) at a gas station to try and hold on a little longer.

My last hope was the grocery store in Santa Rosa. Which (and I’m sorry Santa Rosa) had the crappiest produce section I've ever seen. Everything (I mean everything) was past it’s prime. There was nothing fresh or healthy for me to add to a chicken breast to make a meal so we ate out. I had a hamburger with no bun and French fries, trying to keep things close to Paleo, but I win no prizes for today. And after the stress of the constant wind and the tornado warning, I threw out the whole Paleo plan with a slice of chocolate pie and two canned beers as my final meal of the day.

I hope to redeem myself tomorrow. We’re not giving central New Mexico a chance to redeem itself though. As soon as I’m up and ready, I plan to aim the RV West on I-40 and not stop until I hit Oklahoma soil.

We did see one cool, interesting, and unexpected thing.

A satellite image of the lava flow that makes up the Valley of Fires in central New Mexico

Driving across the middle of New Mexico, the terrain suddenly changed from grassland to a field of rolling, cracked lava rock. We spotted a pull-in called Valley of Fires recreation area, paid our five bucks, and took the short guided walk to learn about this strange phenomenon.

I’d recommend a visit to see it in person, but the basics are that 5,000 years ago, lava vents spewed a molten river down this central New Mexico valley. As the river flowed, the outer layers cooled while the core continued to flow. When the vents stopped producing, the out layer of the lava river cracked and collapsed, leaving a forty-five-mile long lava debris field.

The rough black rock is brimming with life and a complete contrast to the rolling scrub-and-grass lands that make up (from what we observed) most of the middle of New Mexico.

This is why we travel this way; to come across things we would write off if we planned the trip ahead and read about them first. You cannot know how much of an impact a local point-of-interest like the Valley of Fires can have on your soul without seeing it yourself. If you want to be humbled by the awesomeness of the world we live on, get away from the city in any direction and keep your eyes open. If there’s something worth seeing (like the Valley of Fires), someone will have turned it into a park, or at least put up a sign to lead you to it.

Follow the signs people.

Breakfast: Black coffee sweetened with raw honey. Gluten-free oatmeal.

Lunch: Hamburger with bacon, Swiss cheese, lettuce, pickles, and ketchup, with French Fries.

Dinner: A slice of chocolate-cream pie. Two cans of beer (lager).

Snacks: A kind bar. A banana.

Exercise: None today, unless you count the 1/3 mile hike on the walking path at Valley of Fires State Park.


52 Days of Paleo, Day 15

Grilled Chicken wrapped in bacon, with bell peppers and onions and sweet potato mash.

Traveling Paleo

Today was the first chance I’ve had to eat Paleo while traveling. I lacked imagination and neglected my preparation, but I got the job done.

We are on vacation, the wife and I. We loaded the RV and pointed it East. We are on the road for eight days and the fixed destination we have is a small town in Oklahoma where Keli’s father has ancestors.

I’ve heard about Red Bird, Oklahoma, most of my adult life (I got married at 23). It’s always been a little mysterious and romantic to me. My wife’s grandmother and her grandmother’s ancestors are from there. Her father has told us a few times a story about visiting cousins in Red Bird when he was a kid and remembering it as a strange experience (he and his brother being a city boy, Red Bird being the natural home of the country mice in his family).

We picked Red Bird as a destination just because, for no other reason than we’re curious. We want to experience that alien-ness Keli’s father spoke about for ourselves. We want to meet these cousins. We want to connect with Keli’s father through this drive.

We also picked it because the distance seemed about right for an eight-day wander in the RV, a trip that has only one goal, but dozens of opportunities to explore and discover a bunch of other hopefully unique and interesting along this swath of the country.

For our first day, we wanted to bust out of Arizona. That meant a long drive and an overnight in Elephant Butte, New Mexico, which, it ends up, looks and feels too much like home to be exotic). Tomorrow, we are headed for the International Alien Museum and Research Center in Roswell, New Mexico before crossing into Texas to hunt for an interesting, never-been-there-before campground for the night.

Traveling always puts a burden on a healthy eating plan. When I travel for work, I revert quickly to the junkiest of eating. Breakfast comes from the food-shaped products at whatever hotel I’m staying in (how do they manage to make eggs, a naturally-occurring superfood, taste like they’re made from an artificial substance?). Mid-day meals come from gas stations. Dinner is handed to me out a drive-through window. Traveling by RV at least gives me the luxury to stock a cupboard and refrigerator with ingredients, and a kitchen to prepare and cook my own meals.

I was lax in preparing ahead of time (closing out all open work in both my jobs so I could leave for a week without feeling like I was burning both businesses down on my way out the door) meant I didn’t take time to shop. I started the trip with whatever I had left at home from my first two week's meal planning.

And although I’m getting a little burned out on bacon, sweet potato and eggs, I know we can hit a grocery anytime and re-stock, so I brought along Kenzie Swanhart’s Paleo in 28 for inspiration. I'm determined to not let a little road trip break my 52 Days of Paleo.

Breakfast: Black coffee sweetened with Sweet N Low. Sweet potatoes, onions, bell peppers and eggs, scrambled. Bacon. Again.

Lunch: None.

Dinner: Grilled chicken breast, wrapped in bacon, with onions and bell peppers. Sweet potato mash (butter, salt, pepper).

Snacks: None.

Exercise: None today (today was RV-driving day)


52 Days of Paleo, Day 13

This. Was. An. Amazing. Breakfast.

Not winning at Paleo

There is a tendency with this kind of writing to emphasize the positive and de-emphasize the negatives. I'm on a journey to clean up my nutrition in support of my goal of health, vitality, and longevity. Being public about a personal goal like this one brings up (for me anyway) issues about wanting to appear put together, strong, capable. This leads to a tendency to only share when things are going well.

But I’m sharing this journey only because I hope to help someone else who struggles with choosing food that makes them feel terrible for all the wrong reasons and wants to follow an example of someone who got themselves clean (so to speak). To be completely honest, at Day 13 of my 52-Day Paleo pledge, things aren't going as perfectly as I might have led you to believe. And it's all my own fault.

My youngest son finished 11th grade today. My wife got us all together to take us to lunch. His choice. Unfortunately, that choice was the kind of place where no matter how hard you try, there were no Paleo options. It was a Louisiana Fry restaurant.

I ate chicken strips and French fries. Chicken strips battered in white flour. With ketchup. I limited myself to that, but none of that menu (except the chicken itself) fits into the Paleo structure.

It’s not the only time in the last thirteen days that non-Paleo food has crept in. I've eaten lunch a couple of times at fast-casual restaurants where the lean-protein-and-veggies bowl I chose also came with rice. Rice is a grain, and all grains are to be avoided in a Paleo lifestyle. I've eaten at a couple of other restaurants where the sauce that came with the meal couldn't possibly adhere to Paleo ingredients.

Worst of all, yesterday, I didn't eat breakfast and made it all the way till about two in the afternoon, when hunger overtook me and bought an eight pack of mini Donuts at a Circle K gas station. Mini, chocolate-covered donuts are definitely not Paleo.

The point of Paleo is to eliminate processed foods from our diet and allow our body, which is only evolved to the point when we can easily process foods that appear in the natural environment; vegetables, nuts, and seeds, lean proteins, tubers like sweet potatoes and parsnips, fruit, etc. Paleo is pretty much any whole food and no grains, sugar, or heavily processed foods.

There’s all kind of dialogue online about whether or not to mix in a few non-Paleo meals when adhering to a Paleo diet. The original book, The Paleo Diet by Dr. Loren Cordain, addresses it by saying that as long as the majority of your meals are Paleo, you’ll reap practically all the benefits. On the website, they put it this way:

If the occasional cheesecake or ice cream sandwich helps you stick with a mostly healthy diet for the long haul. 95% Paleo for good beats 100% Paleo for 2 weeks before you give up in despair. In this case, non-Paleo food is actually benefiting your health in the long run. If the food is a central part of an occasional social, cultural, or religious experience that’s important to you. In this case, the food is benefiting your mental and emotional well-being.

The bottom line is this: be kind to yourself, do the best you can, and stick to your Paleo plan as much as possible, but accept that perfection is unattainable. If you make a misstep, correct it on the very next meal.

Breakfast: Black coffee sweetened with Sweet N Low. Two eggs, over medium, sausages, country potatoes, and a cup of fruit at the Black Bear Diner.

Lunch: Chicken Strips and Fries at Flavors of Louisiana.

Dinner: None.

Snacks: A Base Culture Cashew Butter Blondie. A banana.

Exercise: 150 minutes of intense road cycling.


52 Days of Paleo, Day 11

Today's lunch. Rice is non-Paleo, so I skipped eating that part.

Does everyone struggle to do the right thing for themselves?

This is going to be a short post and I am writing it with my tail between my legs.

You'll notice that the title of this post is 52 days of Paleo, day 11. There is no day 9 and day 10 post. This is because the last two days have been a struggle, and I'm embarrassed to admit that I don't have my life completely together.

Over the last 48 hours, I have been stressed, overworked, and feeling a lot of doubt about this program I put myself on. I've had severe cravings for junk food sugar and I’ve almost given in to them a number of times. It is taken tremendous will to not pull through the drive-through at a Wendy's and order my habitual number two double with a chocolate-chunk cookie.

I fought and (barely) held on (caveat - I dipped my toe outside of the Paleo pool twice in the last 72 hours when rice was added to my lunch at a fast-casual restaurant both times, but I count the fact that I limited myself and only ate a little rice as a win).

I'm smart enough to realize that emotional stress is one of my triggers for junk eating. I eat my feelings when I feel a bit overwhelmed, overworked, and pulled in too many directions. I also can get locked into an emotional mental spiral that says I'm not getting anything productive done, so I should feel guilty about not getting the important things done, and consider myself a failure. In the past, I would simply give in to the pain of these feelings and soothe myself with an ice-cream-and-candy Blast at Sonic, or a double-quarter pounder meal with two strawberry cream pies at McDonald's, or a double-Whopper with Cini-Mini bites at Burger King (anywhere I can buy a bag full of grease and fat and sugar to rot out the inside of my gut with).

My body and mind threw everything I could conjure at me to pull me off my Paleo plan. Justification. Hunger Pains. Cravings. I fought the battle against these cravings and I'm happy to report that I won. This time. So I'm back, putting myself out there, sharing the frailty of my commitment to eat clean. And if I can fight through the inevitable challenges you are going to face when you're putting yourself on a clean program, you can too.

Breakfast: Black coffee sweetened with raw honey and banana.

Lunch: Wasabi Grill; grilled chicken, steamed vegetables, a bit of brown rice (the meal came with it but avoided it to keep the meal as Paleo as possible.

Dinner: Tacos; gluten-free soft tortilla shells, ground turkey, pinto beans (these are non-Paleo I now realize, dammit!), lettuce, gluten-free taco sauce.

Snacks: Banana. Gluten free chocolate chip and raisin cookie from Coyote Oaties. A Base Culture Cashew Butter Blondie.

Exercise: None today (too many work meetings and other obligations).


52 Days of Paleo – Day 8

The Kitchen Sink Salad - everything in the fridge I can throw into a salad.

Here’s the thing about weight loss

I weighed myself today, and my body is already going through a radical change from eating Paleo for only one week.

Now, I want to preface this whole thing by saying that I did not start this journey to lose weight. Losing weight is not my primary motivation. I am on this journey to be healthy. I want to live for a long time. And mostly, I want to get fit enough to really enjoy myself when I pursue the sport of my passion; cycling.

Six months ago, I signed up for a full season of mountain-bike racing here in Arizona. That’s six races spread over four months. I haven’t raced this series in probably 15 years.

In my 30s, during peak race season, I weighed 155-pounds. In high school, I was 142 pounds my junior and senior year and didn’t gain anything until after I graduated. Neither of those numbers is reasonable for a 52-year-old man with two jobs, a family, obligations, a reasonably healthy appetite, and who needs to carry some muscle into the third season of their life.

The trap of making weight loss the primary goal when trying to correct bad nutrition habits is that you’re more likely to manipulate your nutritional intake just to produce the outcome of weight loss rather than making sure you’re fueling your body for optimal health and vitality.

I’m eating Paleo not as a weight-loss diet, but as a way to fix my nutrition. I make every meal myself, with ingredients I selected and purchased myself (whole vegetables, fruits, lean meats, nuts, seeds, healthy oils, lots and lots of eggs, etc.). I am exercising regularly. I expected to see some changes in my weight, just not such a radical shift. I was surprised when I stepped on the scale this morning.

In order to prepare myself for the mountain-bike race season, I signed up for Weight Watchers. I’ve signed up for Weight Watchers in the past. It’s a great system for gaming weight loss. If you follow it carefully, it will produce the results of weight loss. But on Weight Watchers, I was so hungry so often that I gave up on it. Well, I cheated on it first. And then got frustrated with the lack of weight loss. And then gave up on it.

I race with a group of guys my own age, with similar experience. I did five of the six races over the season. I was consistent. At each race, I finished in the back 10 or 15% of the field. I wasn’t disappointed with this. It was my first year back. I’m carrying some extra weight (in cycling, an extra 15-20 pounds can put you at a disadvantage against someone equally skilled and fit who is leaner), and I did not make the decision to race months ahead to give myself time to train specifically. I knew I would not be competitive. My goal was simply to put an entire season together, make it to every race, and learn from every race to make improvements to set myself up to be competitive (goal next year is to get into the top 10 on a regular basis).

Losing weight is part of that picture. Which is why committing to Paleo in a serious way has been in the back of my mind.

My 52-day journey is eight days in. I stepped on the scale this morning with little expectation that I would see any change in my weight from last week, which was 178.8 pounds. When the number 173.8 flashed back up at me, I got off the scale, turned it off, turned it back on, and went again. Sure enough, 173.8. I had lost 5 pounds in one week by just eating clean! No dieting. No calorie-constriction. No tracking every milligram of food I took in. No over-doing the cardio trying to burn as much energy as I could every day. Just clean eating.

I expected some weight loss. I knew that once I committed to clean eating, the bunch goofy crap that was gumming up in my gut would clear out, as would some of that watery, blubber fat on the outer layer of my body. But I’ve got a lot of work to do to melt that brown, inter-organ fat tissue that I carry in my torso. But still. Losing five pounds in the first week is pretty freaking cool.

I don’t expect this weight-loss pace to continue. And I keep saying, Over and over, that weight loss is not my goal. But damn, it is nice to achieve weight loss anyway. In the back of my mind, As much as I don’t really want to look at it, I am secretly really happy that it’s away last week. I can admit that I’m vain enough to care about getting leaner, and I really want to get down to my former bike-racing weight. So I will watch this number and I will be hopeful every Saturday when I step on the scale.

Sleep quality: 100%

Weight: 173.8

Breakfast: Smoothie: Almond milk, bananas, strawberries, almond butter.

Lunch: Leftover baked spaghetti (from yesterday’s dinner).

Dinner: Kitchen sink salad; spinach, romaine, and iceberg lettuce, shredded carrots, mushrooms, avocado, onions, currants, pepitas, boiled egg, grilled chicken, homemade apple vinaigrette dressing.

Snacks: None.

Exercise: 109 minutes of road cycling.