The Six Lessons of Paleo (so far)

Camp food; steak, eggs, and sweet potato slices.

52 Days of Paleo, Day 22

Yesterday, I was three weeks into my Paleo journey (21 days of 52 planned). I’d say that so far I’m about a 6 out of 10 in execution, but I’ve learned several valuable lessons and already seen some interesting changes in my health, my physical body, and my mental well-being:

  1. Follow a guide at first. Following a beginner’s program is a great way to kick off a Paleo plan. Trying to figure out the rules and create meals from scratch on day one is overwhelming. I would have given up in the first week if I didn’t have Kenzie Swanhart’s Paleo in 28. It didn’t have to be her book (there are dozens of Paleo starter recipe and meal plan books), but the pre-written shopping lists, recipes, and a basic understanding of Paleo I got from Swanhart’s book gave me a leapfrog to my first results.
  2. Expect to lose weight, just don’t focus on it. You will lose weight. Please don’t take on a Paleo challenge for this reason alone, but one of the benefits of eating cleanly is that you will probably lose weight on Paleo. You’re especially like to shed a few pounds if you’re coming to Paleo from a traditional Western diet. And yes, I know it’s a tough ask to not make this challenge about weight. I am generally in a healthy weight range, but cycling is my physical passion and the sport can be a weight-obsessed sport. Leanness can equate to performance. So I want to be lean. I just have to work at not letting the inevitable weight loss that comes with eating clean translate into my manipulating my eating to chase it as a goal of its own. My goal is health and fitness. If I do it right, weight loss is a happy by-product.
  3. Expect your blood pressure to improve. I have blood pressure that measures in the pre-hypertension range (just off the high-end of normal at 135/90-ish). On Paleo only three weeks, I’m already seeing reading in the 120/80 (normal) range. There is blood pressure disease in my family history, so the Paleo benefit of improved blood pressure numbers is a sweet and welcome bonus (and one of the things that are keeping me on track).
  4. Expect to get fitter. If you pursue a physical sport, you will see improvement on Paleo. Like I wrote above, I’m a cyclist. But you could be a runner. You could be a triathlete. You could be into CrossFit. It doesn’t matter what your physical pursuit it, exercise and sport are great for your body. Working out is like squeezing a sponge (the sponge is your body). When you work out, you burn up energy stored in your muscles, you burn fat stores, you use up nutrients and oxygen in your blood. When you get your blood pumping and your muscles firing and squeeze the juice out of the sponge of your body, it replenishes and rebuilds itself on the fuel you bring in. Eating Paleo is a great way to ensure that you’re bringing in clean fuel and giving your body the best chance you can to rebuild those strained muscles and cardiovascular system as healthily as possible. On Paleo, expect to recover better, return stronger, and gain fitness.
  5. Expect to have more energy. Eating crap (specifically, eating donuts in the morning and fast food for lunch) would leave me completely drained by mid-afternoon. I would get home at 5:30 or 6:00 and my body would shut down. So I’d pull out the leg extension on the Lazy Boy, click on the t.v., and feed myself the mental equivalent of donuts and fast food. It took a week or two for that feeling to fade away, and I almost didn’t notice it, but now, after a day when I might get up at 5 am to cycle before work, after cleaning up the task list on my two jobs, I’m still fresh in the evenings. I’m writing more, thinking more, and doing more.
  6. Expect that you will struggle at times. Despite all the upside, you will stumble and fall off the Paleo wagon. It’s normal. You can’t beat yourself up too much about it (or worse, convince yourself that clean, healthy eating is not for you because you struggled somewhere along the journey). My first week was great; I followed Paleo in 28 closely and felt great. Then I let a few small non-Paleo foods slip in. I even allowed myself a fast-food cheat meal one day. I am mostly back on track at the three-week mark. I have learned to stock some ingredients to get ahead of any temptations to cheat. And this is my biggest lesson from the first three weeks; taking control over what I eat is essential. I need to prepare in advance. I can’t defer my nutrition, intentionally or by default, to outside sources. Outside sources serve their own interests and the world is constantly selling you on what they want to you to consume because it is their means to their end (profit usually). Adopting Paleo for 52 days was a challenge to take control of my nutritional life. It’s a test. Am I really serious about my health and well being (as affected by how I choose to feed myself)? And if I can choose for my best self in this one area of life, how can I translate that to choosing for my best self in every area of my life?

We’re on the last overnight on our RV vacation and I have all Paleo ingredients in the RV fridge. I’ll be back home tomorrow afternoon where my first order of business will be to go back to Swanhart’s book and grocery shop from one of her weekly meal-plan lists. Then stay committed to planning a meal or two ahead and always, always taking complete control over what I put into my body.

Can I do it? Will it stick? We’ll see.

Breakfast: Banana. Boiled egg.

Lunch: Banana, boiled egg, plantain chips, dark chocolate.

Dinner: Steak, eggs, sweet potato slices. Licorice-flavored hard candy.

Exercise: A brisk walk through Flagstaff before setting up camp in the Coconino Forest.


Where are all the Paleo Restaurants?

Pork with bacon and mushrooms at Radish and Rye in Santa Fe, NM

52 Days of Paleo, Day 21

We made it to Santa Fe, New Mexico today. I ate light Paleo on the road (snacks of bananas, boiled egg, veggie chips) and saved my appetite for a big dinner. We spotted a restaurant called Radish and Rye that seemed to promise Paleo options and I had pork steak with sauteed mushrooms for dinner. It was pretty good.

Although I’m able to leave off the non-Paleo items at most restaurants and get myself a Paleo meal (like not eating the polenta that came with the Pork Steak), there doesn’t seem to be a full Paleo eating out option; a Paleo restaurant or a Paleo menu within a restaurant. You can find Vegan options in a lot of places. Why not Paleo? Am I just not seeing it? Or do they really not exist?

They should.

Driving across Oklahoma and North into Kansas yesterday gave me plenty of time to think back on my wife’s family history (that we found in the Wagner County History book in the Coweta public library). There’s a lot to unpack about her heritage. First, the text of that article lays credence to a family myth that no-one had documentation to substantiate; that Keli’s family had Native American heritage. Her great-great-grandfather was full-blooded Choctaw Indian.

Some history: Choctaw Indian Nation traces its ancestry to Mississippi and some sections of Alabama. Legends tell that the Choctaw people originated from "Nanih Waya", a sacred hill near what is now known as Noxapter, Mississippi. "Nanih Waiya" means "Productive Mound" and is often referred to as "The Mother Mound".

Culturally, the Choctaws have always honored their women as the head of every family household. They were, and still are today, considered the caretakers of our children, our elders, and the home.

The Choctaws were the first of the five great southern tribes of the United States to be moved to Oklahoma by the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek in 1830. Over 20,000 Choctaws moved on this long journey, with many of the Choctaw people not surviving this removal on what has come to be called "THE TRAIL OF TEARS".

The Choctaws adjusted quickly to their new homeland. Missionaries were sent to Oklahoma Territory representing several denominations, including the Southern Baptists, Congregationalists, and Presbyterians. These missionaries established a good rapport with the Choctaws and early impressed upon the Choctaws the importance and need for formal education if they were to co-exist with the white man.

So who was Gabe Hall, the full-blooded Choctaw Indian and my wife’s Great-great-grandfather? How did he meet and marry a white woman? Was he an educated man, integrated into the emerging cultural west? What was the journey his family went through from before white settlers arrived to disrupt their way of life to his matriculation into a white family? And ultimately beginning the lineage of a black family through his son Sam? Can we find out?

The family article also reflects a story Keli’s father had about her great-grandfather (Sam Hall) having red hair. Which leads to the insight that Keli has Irish heritage.

If you track these lineages, the people moved (by choice or, in the case of Lewis McGinty, not by choice at all). This was the world in the 1800’s; we were just starting to transport goods globally, and mass emigration to the States meant all of us who have a multi-generational heritage in the US can eventually trace yourself back to an immigrant. That immigrant would have been from a place that his ancestors originated in. Meaning, if you can trace a line of your personal history to an Irish national who immigrated to America in the 1700’s or 1800s, chances are every ancestor beyond that was Irish. And likely lived in the same community as the generations before them.

So, we think it would be an incredibly fun experience to see how close my Irish ancestors were to her Irish ancestors. Do we intersect in Ireland? Are we from the same county? The same town? Can we find and prove anything that puts two of our direct ancestors in a place likely to have known each other? Or, are we by chance descended from common ancestors at some point. It would go a long way to demonstrating how small of a world this really is, and how interconnected we all are!

Breakfast: Black coffee with raw honey. One banana.

Lunch: Boiled egg, banana, pasture-raised cheese slices, vegetable chips.

Dinner: Pork chop with mushrooms and polenta.

Snacks: Vegetable chips.

Exercise: None.


52 Days of Paleo, Day 20

A simple steak and veggies. The apples were an inspired addition.

Get The Hell Out Of Dodge

Before leaving Dodge City, (or in the spirit of the old-time radio program Gunsmoke, before we ‘got the hell out of Dodge,’) we found a decent grocery store. And I’m learning that success with Paleo is all about planning a few meals ahead and hitting a decent grocer every few days.

Within the grocer, two departments are key; the produce and the meat department. I stocked up on ingredients that will enable me to stick to Paleo the rest of the week, I didn’t even follow Kenzie Swanhart’s Paleo in 28 week-two meal plan. I didn’t need to. I know what my meals are going to be; a lean protein, some veggies, maybe sweet potato, seasoned right and made fresh in our little RV kitchen. Mix in some Fruit, dark chocolate, and vegetable chips for snacks and I’m set for the next couple of days.

We left Dodge and headed for Trinidad, Colorado. There’s a campground just south, on the hilly shores of Lake Trinidad. The drive, on the two-lane highway 160, was just stunning. I never would have guessed that Western Kansas would be so beautiful. I always thought the high plains and prairies were was miles of flat nothing. But that nothing (field after field of wheat and lush, swaying prairie grasslands brushed with wildflowers, communities clustered around giant grain silos every ten miles or so) was simply breathtaking in every direction. And it served us up one of the random and unusual experience we so cherish.

There were long stretches of straight, golden-silver asphalt where we didn’t see any other cars for minutes at a time. On one section, I spotted movement on the road off in the distance. “Is something on the road up there,” I asked Keli.

“Deer,” she said as we got a little closer. I slowed the RV. We got close enough to see that they weren't deer. Instead, they were three cornfield-yellow Western Kansas Antelope. They stood in the road and watched us. I was prepared to roll to a complete stop and just marvel in their beauty and presence but a touring motorcycle overtook us and they loped off into the nearest field. They stopped a hundred feet away and watched us again.

That eye-to-eye connection with another creature is something special. I don't know what it is that passed between us, but I felt acknowledgment. They were aware of our presence. They regarded us. We occupied space in their minds. If they were reading our energy, they were feeling our admiration for them as well.

It was a beautiful and random moment and exactly the reason we travel the way we do (wander, discover, feel our way along).

We parked up at Lake Trinidad by 5 pm, walked along the ridgeline overlooking the lake, and marveled at the swallows floating and diving on the air like spitfires in world war two dogfights. We also saw a primadonna of a red-tailed hawk, floating along above everyone without a care in the work, big-dicking the whole lake.

I made steak with a sauteed veggie mix of broccoli, onions and bell peppers. I had a zucchini squash ready to go into the mix as well, but at the last moment cubed an apple and threw it in. It lifted the taste of everything on the plate. That’s what I love about Paleo; so long as you stick to the ingredients list, you can’t really go wrong mashing up any combination of veggies and protein. The recipes in Swanhart’s book are great, but the old standby of protein and veggies is so easy, you don’t have to think much (perfect for me).

Breakfast: Coffee sweetened with raw honey.

Lunch: None. Just snacking along the way.

Dinner: Chuck steak, vegetable mix with broccoli, bell peppers, onions, and apple.

Snacks: Banana, Gala apple, some Terra vegetable chips (taro, sweep potato, batata, parsnip, yucca, ruby-dipped vegetables). Oh, and some Licorice-flavored hard candies I bought in Dodge City.


52 Days of Paleo, Day 19

Dinner yesterday. Instagram-worthy bacon and eggs.

Back on the wagon train

Today was a day to get back on the Paleo wagon. We’re still traveling in the R.V. and temptation and habit are trying to take me off course, but I was diligent. I ate very lights all day (I ate a boiled egg, a banana, and drank lots of water). When we reached our destination for the day (Dodge City, Kansas, because I wanted to see the town that inspired the Gunsmoke radio show from the ’40s and ’50s, of which I’ve listened to every episode several times), I fixed a full Paleo meal rather than fall prey to the temptation of whatever the nearest restaurant offered. I finished the night with sweet potato and eggs. It was a good day for my 52-day challenge.

Going back to our trip to Red Bird and our stop at the Coweta library to research Keli's family history, I was so excited to find a section in the Wagner County History where families had submitted short personal histories. This section made up the bulk of the book. I don't know this for a fact, but I would guess a family paid a small fee to be listed (the book was a business). The family names were not indexed or organized in any way (I assume family histories were added as they were submitted). There were several Hall families, but none that matched Keli’s history with Red Bird or any of her known family first names. Page after page, a hundred or more, I flipped through the book.

Pictures were supplied with some entries and ranged from hundred-year-old photos to something recent to the 1980 publication date. The listing spelled out lineage, accomplishments, and sometimes an anecdote or two. I was losing hope as I got closer to the end of the book. Then I found it.

Hall, Sam and Lula

Sam Hall was born to Gabe and Lydia Hall on February 29, 1879. Sam was one of nine children. The others were Mack, Annanias, Gabe, Jim, and Jerry. Sisters were Minnie, Pearl, and Rebecca.

Sam’s father was full-blood Choctaw Indian, and his mother was one-half Irish and one-half white. They were all born and raised in Navasota, Texas.

Lula Hall was born to Lewis McGinty and Nancy Louder, September 15, 1879. Lewis came to America from Africa in a ship. Nancy McGinty was of Indian heritage. She was also a slave. Nancy was born in America. Lewis and Nancy had other children; George Robert, Charlie, Jessie, David, Carrie, Peggy, Taylor, and Mary.

Sam and Lula Hall had six children: Jimmie Lee, Lillian, Synia, Hattie Lee, Booker G., and George. Sam and Lula moved to Red Bird, Oklahoma in January 1921.

Sam served on the school board during the time professor Haynes was principal.

Both Sam and Lula are deceased but their three daughters live in Red Bird. Jimmie Lee, Synia and Hattie. Lillian and Booker are deceased and George lives in Compton, California.

We immediately shared the article with Keli's family. It needed to settle in our minds for a day, but it opened a number of questions about the people Keli is connected to through time.

More on that tomorrow.

Breakfast: Black coffee sweetened with raw honey.

Lunch: Grilled chicken breast with sauteed asparagus, mushrooms, and spinach.

Dinner: Sweet potatoes and eggs.

Snacks: Licorice hard candy. Dark Chocolate. Banana.

Exercise: Nope. None. Didn’t do anything. Just drove and visited the Boot Hill Museum in Dode City, Kansas because I’m a nerdy fan of the old-time radio show Gunsmoke.


Red Bird; one of Oklahoma’s original all-black towns

52 Days of Paleo, Day 18

I had a pretty good Paleo day (see below for details), but the mission today was to see, in person, the mythical (in our family) town of Red Bird and connect Keli to some of her family’s history.

We’re practical enough to know that connecting with one branch down one line of one of our family trees is not a definitive exploration of what it means to be who we are, but I enjoyed what I was able to contribute to the exercise.

We started at the nearest library, in a town called Coweta. I hoped to learn a little more about the town’s history, if possible. The librarian wasn’t sure what she had available when we asked for anything that might tell us about Red Bird, but she pulled a memoir written by a local rancher, a listing of all the cemeteries in the region, and a book called the Wagner County History.

A thick reference guide, the book was produced in 1980. It was full of short articles about local social groups, county and city governments, churches, schools, and the like. Each listing was comprised of at least a paragraph. Some were pages long. I assume these articles were supplied or produced by the guides’ staff. They represent a snapshot of the country at the time, and a record of the highlights of history to that point as the people who wrote it saw it.

Also included in the book were sections about towns, including several columns of text on Red Bird. The town, it turns out, was formed by black men with a vision, and a business plan.

Constructed on a section of land owned by a Creek Indian native named Fus Chata, which means Red Bird, the land was first settled at the end of the 1800s by two families; the Barbers and the Ruffins. More families joined them and a community formed. E.L. Barber founded a church and became Justice of the Peace and eventually Mayor, coalescing the community. The railroad came through the land, a post office was opened, and a development company formed (spearheaded by Barber) promoting investment in what would be one of thirty all-black towns in Oklahoma. This was all before Oklahoma became a state (the town was officially in Indian Territory).

The Red Bird Investment company promised land and opportunity to free blacks escaping the deeply-racist south. It’s sales agents, who traveled the South promoting the town, drew 600 people from sixteen different states to the grand opening (August 10, 1907).

Over its history, the town has prospered, faltered, then stabilized. Today, Red Bird is home to something like 200 people. Over the course of its history, Red Bird built and ran its own small schools and properly incorporated in 1963 to get loans to add services the town needed. There are many descendants of the towns founding (or early settler families) still living in Red Bird today.

The town as we found it is a checkerboard of disintegrating white/gray roads lined with dense forest. The streets are made up with one part sweet, small and well-maintained homes, one part abandoned and overgrown buildings, and one part mobile homes on debris-strewn lots.

We walked the local cemetery, looking for familiar family names. We spotted those of a line of my wife’s cousins, but none from her direct ancestors.

At the center of town are a couple of cinder block buildings that make up the town's infrastructure. One building is city hall, a one-room, two-window structure with steel mesh grates over the windows. The other is half post-box cluster (the post office was decommissioned some time ago and mail service is now dropped to the old post office building but delivered to individual mailboxes), and part utility office. That’s where we met Ms. Wilma Mosley. I guess her age somewhere between 75 and 90. When my wife mentioned her family history, Ms. Mosley knew of it. And had stories of Keli’s Grandmother and Keli’s Grandmother’s sisters. She even had a story about a character Keli met when she visited Red Bird a few times as a child; a precocious adult that courted her grandmother and who drank and made enough of a fool of his harmless self that two women a generation apart both had stories that connected them.

There is a metal sign mounted just in front of what I assume is an abandoned court of jailhouse (it has two rooms, one with thick concrete walls and a steel door). It told us more about the history of the town. It speaks of how freed black men came together in farming communities when fertile land became available in the Indian Territories. Towns formed around these communities. The movement for all-black towns developed as a way for these communities to self-govern, but Jim Crow laws suppressed the rights of African-Americans to vote and stifled these communities’ ability to flourish. Many, as did Red Bird, stagnated. The communities and towns formed during this era still exist, and signs like the one in Red Bird are the last reminders of this amazing history.

What I found next made the trip worthwhile.

Breakfast: Turkey slices, apple, banana, coffee sweetened with raw honey.

Lunch: Meatloaf, twice-baked potatoes, corn and a sliced muffin at a diner.

Dinner: Gluten-free cauliflower flatbread with ground beef, sweet pickle, and cheese. French fries. A homemade snicker-doodle cookie.

Snacks: None.

Exercise: None.