We Can Do Better

This article in the New York Times breaks my heart. It tells the story of a disease once called adult-onset diabetes — called that because if didn’t affect children. The disease is now called Type 2 diabetes because children ar the new victims. The really sad part is that Type 2 diabetes is a preventable disease. Now, researchers are finding that children with T2D are more difficult to treat. The first line of drug therapy, metformin, fails in half of the pediatric cases of T2D. The solution? Maybe a diet that doesn’t raise insulin levels? Maybe more school PE. classes. Nah, why bother with prevention. It’s better treatments, say doctors, that are needed. Absolute insanity.

It’s hard to not feel angry with parents who say they find it too difficult to say no to their kids when they want their sugary treats and starchy junk food. I imagine it might be a bit harder to sign the consent form allowing doctors to amputate your child’s leg. Or watching as your child goes blind. Or seeing your child have to give themselves insulin injections. That, I think, would be harder than cleaning up your child’s and your family’s diet, exercising, and learning about proper nutrition.

The blame is not solely on parents. Schools, with soda machines and carb-loaded lunches, share the responsibility. As does the government which continues to push a food pyramid/plate guaranteed to escalate the diabetes epidemic. Until we come to grips with the real causes of diabetes, poor and misguided nutrition, our children will continue to suffer and our country may collapse under the weight of the “diabesity” epidemic.

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Why Paleo?

Our Paleolithic Ancestors Knew How to Eat

Depending on what part of the planet they lived, the majority of hunter/gatherers got the majority of their calories from animal protein and fat (this is slightly modified in areas where fat consumption came from a lot of coconuts). The greatest volume in their diet, again with some exceptions like the Inuit, was vegetation. They ate an astonishing diversity of plant life. This diet was rich in vitamins, minerals, micro and macronutrients, and our bodies evolved to eat this way. Our bodies did not evolve to eat grains, legumes, seed oils, soy anything, processed foods, high-fructose corn syrup, McDonald’s French fries, beer, and doughnuts.

The foundation of hunter/gatherer diets is simple: animal protein and fat, vegetables, certain plant-based fats, nuts and seeds, fruits, and lots of water. As modern H/G, we may also wish to include moderate amounts of dark chocolate, coffee, tea, and/or alcohol. Much of this depends on your personal goals, and your genetics, epigenetics, environment, and existing health challenges.

Why We Should Eat This Way

Our H/G ancestors instinctively knew more about nutrition that we do today. Their survival depended on it. I could take a break right now and give you a few scary statistics. In fact, I think I will. By the year 2030, according to the American Diabetes Association, one in three Americans will have diabetes. By the year 2020, 85 percent of Americans will be overweight or obese (we’re at 75 percent right now). In Colorado, roughly half of the population is overweight and we are the skinniest state in the nation. Health problems? Yeah, we got ‘em. Heart disease, cancer, epidemic levels of gastrointestinal illnesses, rising rates of autoimmune disease, diabetes, depression, and on and on – all related to inflammation, coming back around to unhealthy dietary choices.

Jettison the USDA’s Food Pyramid/Plate Before it Kills You

To change, we have to first accept that maybe we are doing something wrong. Since the low-fat revolution 30 years ago, Americans have only gotten fatter. Since the advent of processed food 60 years ago, Americans have only gotten fatter. Feedlot beef, farmed fish, 12 servings of “healthy grains” a day, fast food, a building boom in health and fitness centers, diet programs, bariatric weight loss surgery, pharmaceutical companies made rich selling drugs for lifestyle diseases – through it all, Americans keep getting fatter, unhealthier, and unhappier.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, the average weight for men aged 20-74 years old rose dramatically from 166.3 pounds in 1960 to 191 pounds in 2002, while the average weight for women the same age increased from 140.2 pounds in 1960 to 164.3 pounds in 2002. Just in the last 10 years, the CDC estimates that number may have crept up between 5 and 10 more pounds.

Need a couple more statistics? One in five women over the age of 50 has osteoporosis (and we pop more calcium pills than any other country in the world); half of women over age 50 will suffer a fracture; one in five American women is on an antidepressant. It’s predicted that after years of ever increasing life expectancy, the generation of children being born now will have a shorter lifespan than their parents.

A Change Will Do You Good

You can change your life and you can help change the lives of the people around you – your partners, your children, and your friends. But right now, you have to start with yourself. Let’s leave all the gloom and doom behind and get started on making you lean, strong, energized, happy and healthy! You will have to have a lot of conviction because you won’t get a lot of support from the government (fats are bad!), your doctor (eat more whole grains!), or your family (red meat kills!).

Here are four principles that help me in keeping a Paleo kitchen and attitude:

  1. In order to eat well, you must cook.
  2. Don’t let the perfect get in the way of the good.
  3. The Paleolithic lifestyle is not a historical reenactment of how our ancestors lived, but rather a foundation upon which to build health and wellness for modern human beings.
  4. If you can eliminate the Four Horsemen of the Dietary Apocalypse from your diet, the rest is just tinkering around the edges – grains and legumes, linoleic acids, dairy, and refined sugars.

When I hear the so-called health experts repeat the mantra “Paleo is too hard and people won’t do it,” I scoff. When people discover how amazing they can feel and how healthy they can be, Paleo just becomes part of their normal lives.

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Paleo and Pets: Consider Making Some Changes to Your Pet’s Diet

Jaz the Dog

Jaz the Dog

When our family embarked on eating a Paleolithic diet, a funny thing happened. Our dog lost 12 pounds. Jaz is a rescue puppy, a mix of Labrador retriever and greyhound is our veterinarian’s best guess, and always was lean and lanky. But, he was packing on a few extra pounds as he approached middle age (he’s almost 10 years old now).

His veterinarian advised that slimming down to 65 pounds would be a good goal for our 75-pound dog. He was already getting plenty of exercise, the only thing left to cut back was food and treats (with a family of four that probably added up to an additional meal or two each day).

Not much happened. Seems like weight is stubborn on dogs, too. But then a funny thing happened. We adopted a Paleo diet and Jaz’s treats changed from the Standard American Diet of crusts under the table, pieces of granola bar balanced on the nose, leftover pasta, a bite of cookie here and there, and became a piece of carrot, a chunk of banana, and whatever else we happened to be preparing. Over the course of six months he dropped 12 pounds.

The next step came when Jaz became severely ill from his dog food. Dog foods with grains in them can be contaminated with a toxin called aflatoxin, a fungus that is allowed at certain levels in dog food.

From DVM Magazine at the time of a December 2011 pet food recall:

Aflatoxin is a naturally occurring mold by-product. Pets that have consumed any of the above recalled products and exhibit symptoms of illness including sluggishness or lethargy combined with a reluctance to eat, vomiting, yellowish tint to the eyes or gums, or diarrhea should be seen by a veterinarian.

We switched Jaz to a grain-free food and noticed that his energy level increased, he acted like a puppy again, and his separation anxiety that he experienced when we went out at night completely disappeared. Curious…

If your dog is experiencing health issues such as osteoarthritis, weight gain, allergies, or behavioral issues a switch to a grain-free dog food may provide you with a good place to start. Raw-food diets are another option, but you need to be sure you meet your dog’s nutritional needs. A grain-free commercial good can be a good first step.

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Does Hatha Yoga Help Women Maintain a Healthy Weight?

Women in yoga class

Yoga may help you stay slim.

The practice of yoga has been around for thousands of years, but it is only recently that the benefits of yoga have been studied using scientific metholodogy. While there was plenty of anecdotal evidence about the power of yoga (and centuries of experience), if the Western medical establishment was to accept the potential benefits of yoga in a clinical setting, science had to happen.

Twenty years ago, early studies began appearing in peer-reviewed journals particulary addressing the beneficial use of yoga to treat depression, low back pain, improve quality of life during cancer therapy, treat PTSD, and more. Recently, studies also have begun to show the positive effects of yoga not only to treat mental and physical illness, but also to gain and maintain a healthy life over te longer term.

One such study was published in July 2011 in the International Journal of Yoga: Increased Hatha yoga experience predicts lower body mass index and reduced medication use in women over 45 years. While most yoga studies look at the effects of yoga over a short-period of observational time, this study sought to shed light on the effects of yoga practiced over two to five decades.

From the abstract:

“Participants had practiced yoga for as long as 50 years and for up to 28 hours per week. There were significant inverse relationships between yoga experience and both BMI and medication load. These significant relationships remained after accounting for age and lifestyle factors. When we computed yoga experience in terms of total calendar years, without accounting for hours of practice, significant relationships did not remain. However, there was no obesity in the 49 participants with more than 25 years of yoga practice. Yoga practitioners were less likely than non-practitioners to use medication for metabolic syndrome, mood disorders, inflammation, and pain.”

There are, of course, a few limitations in this study which the authors acknowledge including how participants were enrolled in the study (leading to a positive pool of participants), and asking participants to estimate the total number of hours spent practicing yoga (participants who are very adherent in these types of retrospective studies often overestimate their “good” behavior, while those who are not tend to underestimate).

Nonetheless, the strong correlation between increased hours of yoga practice and lower BMI/medication use, was strong and worthy of scientific study over the longer term.

For those who combine the practice of yoga with a modern hunter-gatherer diet, who knows what the potential benefits could be. We are exploring a relatively new paradigm in wellness and I hope your experiences have been as positive as mine.

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Welcome to OmPaleo

Welcome to the home of OmPaleo!

If you have found your way here I imagine that you, like me, are interested in living a life that is defined by wellbeing, free of illness, filled with love and laughter, enriched with friends and family, and sustained by a deep and abiding passion for the world around us. Let me tell you a little bit about where I am, how I came to be here, and why I think I have something to share.

I’ve always thought of myself as a healthy and happy person. But as I look back, I see that even in my teens I began to have health issues. They weren’t lethal or even debilitating, so I never really thought I was that different from anyone else. Over the years, I developed chronic tonsillitis, then keratoconus (a disease of the eye), severe seasonal allergies, Graves disease (a type of hyperthyroidism), tinnitus, and lymphocytic colitis, and most recently endometriosis. That’s quite a laundry list!

But, I was healthy! I rarely missed work. I never got the cold, flu or other crud people got. I ate a “healthy” diet. I exercised and stayed at a healthy weight. I had healthy pregnancies and two healthy babies. I considered myself, all in all, a healthy person. Denial, anyone?

Through this all, I did work that I loved. I worked as a science writer, became a yoga teacher, and raised two beautiful children. I fed my family what I thought was healthy food, then watched as they began to develop health problems similar to my own.

When I was diagnosed with lymphocytic colitis, my physician prescribed a steroid as treatment. No one ever talked to me about diet. After a month on the steroid, I was a little better but my illness came back in full force shortly after the steroids stopped. I was prescribed a two-month regimen that made me so sick I had to stop after three weeks.

It was then, in a round-about way, the ancestral (hunter-gatherer or Paleo) diet came into my life and changed my health and the health of my family forever. My colitis cleared up within three days of my diet change, and so many other things improved, too. In time, we’ll visit many of the health issues addressed in the Paleo diet.

I have come to make my way to adopting this hunter-gatherer lifestyle, but I am a bit of an outlier. In the yoga community, vegan and vegetarian diets are encouraged, sometimes even demanded. I’ve tried both and my body rebelled. I don’t quite fit well into the established yoga dogma. In the Paleo community, lifting heavy things and Crossfit-style workouts dominate. Because my mind-body work of choice is yoga (along with hiking, biking and other activities), I don’t quite fit into the increasingly common Paleo dogma. I also value good science, and in science it’s difficult to find (but not impossible) support for either yoga or Paleo. That is changing, thankfully.

This is my outlier community — a blend of yoga, a mondern-day hunter/gatherer diet, and good science. OmPaleo is my public platform, where I can be a tub-thumper for what I believe can lead to fully living your incredible life. OmPaleo also is my business. Through OmPaleo, I do private kitchen deconstructions (taking your kitchen from the Standard American Diet to a Paleo paradise); day-long group seminars on transitioning from SAD to paleo; workshops on Paleo cooking; and teach yoga classes and private yoga lessons.

My fulltime job is as a science writer, where I get to indulge my passion for science and learn from some of the brightest minds around. Not too bad!

Here are a few other things about me:

  • I’m addicted to TED talks.
  • I will go out of my way to step on a crunchy looking leaf, crispy bit of snow, or thin ice.
  • A cup of tea, a great book, and a rainy day — my idea of bliss.
  • I strongly associate palm trees with vacations (not unusual for land-locked Coloradans).
  • I think Neil deGrasse Tyson (astrophysicist) is really sexy (no worries, Neil, I’m happily married).
  • My dog knows three yoga poses.

To Your Health and Happiness,


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