Tuesday, 16 December 2008

It really is 80% diet

I have a very sedentary job. Not only is it sedentary, it requires very long hours. And yet, I haven't put on a pound since I started over a year ago. In my profession, this is an almost unheard of situation. Add in the fact that I don't go to the gym; I walk to and from work for my exercise, about two miles a day, and on the weekends I go on longer walks, usually 4-5 hours total on weekend days. I carry my groceries up the steep hill on which I live. My body fat percentage sits consistently around 15%, which is pretty good for a female, and a level at which I am comfortable. When primal/paleo people say your body composition is 80% diet, they are absolutely correct, at least in my case.

I was once a gym rat. I would easily do a hour on the elliptical machine. In fact, I used the elliptical so much I started to get hip pains. I was thin, but I was tired all the time. My body fat percentage was around 20%. I was also constantly fighting hunger.

When I learned about CRON, and really started to analyze both the macro and micro nutritional content of my diet, I was amazed to see my deficiencies. B vitamins. Magnesium. Potassium. And I certainly wasn't getting anywhere near the protein I thought I was. On the other hand, I was eating waaaaaaay too much fiber. 40g and above a day.

For some people, diarying their food is a huge chore. For others, it makes them preoccupied with what they eat to the point of an eating disorder. For me, tracking my nutrition is hugely freeing. I have the comfort of knowing that I am giving my body what it needs. It also helps to guide my choices. I know if I'm low in Vitamin K, I can reach for the romaine, or pork for my B1. I also can see where I consistently have deficiencies no matter what I eat, so I can supplement appropriately. I know which foods give me the most nutritional bang for my buck, er, calorie (e.g. kale) and which don't (e.g. radishes*).

As my nutrition became more balanced, I felt less hungry. And my food cravings, which had been powerful enough sometimes to drive me out at 2 am in the middle of the winter to the 24 hour grocery store a few blocks away, faded away. Any cravings I get now are significantly more mild and manageable.

Then I discovered Mark's Daily Apple. And through Mark, the whole universe of primal/paleo eating. I consider myself to be a pragmatic, rational person, and his approach to diet and exercise struck me as ultimately sensible. And he gave me permission to quit the chronic cardio :). I stopped going to the gym and waited to see if I'd gain weight. Instead, I lost a few pounds. And my body fat percentage went down.

While the primal exercise approach was easy for me to adopt, I was unsure if I could reconcile primal eating and CRON. I have mentioned the dairy conflict in CRON/Paleo. There is also the dietary cholesterol debate (to eat the yolk or not to eat the yolk), and the saturated fat debate.

But in many ways, the two approaches jive. They both advocate eating nutritionally dense, whole, natural foods. They are not trendy, like the Cabbage Soup Diet. They both fly in the face of 'conventional' nutritional wisdom. I have become used to the raised eyebrows I get when I say whole wheat bread is nutritionally useless, that potatoes are the functional equivalent of eating sugar, and that eating meat every day is good for you. Following either approach, you adapt to being viewed as an iconoclast.

In the end the two approaches may only be reconcilable in my own head. I don't care if I'm not 'truly' primal because I eat yogurt and cheese sometimes, or I'm not 'truly' CRON because I eat egg yolks and butter. I have gained valuable insight from both sides. Moreover, what I do works for me, and that's what counts. I know I will eat the way I eat for the rest of my life. Unlike some people who have lost weight, I have no fear I will gain it back because I love both what I eat and how I feel.

*I really like radishes, they're just not nutritional powerhouses!

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