Monday, October 24, 2011

Confession of a Meat-Eater

Often when I meet someone and tell them I'm a foodie and quasi-environmentalist, they eventually, with great hesitation, get around to asking me the inevitable question "So, uh, are you a vegetarian?". Well, that is unless I've already regaled them with tales of my lamb dinner in Vermont or shared my 'bacon makes everything better' philosophy. In any case, I find the assumption that environmental-foodies are likely to be vegetarians quite an interesting one. In most cases, when I assure the questioner that I am, indeed, a meat-eater, I note a slight look of relief wash over their face. This is particularly so if the person is a male and possibly interested in dating me.

I have no shame in admitting that I am an omnivore. Recently I spoke as part of a panel on environmental issues. I discussed the importance of strengthening our local food system and developing sustainable agricultural practices. During the Q & A period, a woman in the audience asked me what my opinion was on the environmental impacts of the Western world's obsession with meat eating. I'm not always clued in to whether someone has an agenda when they make a query, but it was pretty obvious that this woman was a vegetarian and had a particular dislike for the meat-eating ways of most North Americans and, indeed, most humans. And in some respects, I can completely relate to her stance. The way we are going about raising most livestock for consumption these days is, at the very least completely unsustainable on an environmental level and, more notably, disgustingly inhumane. The current system is terribly unhealthy to the animals that are being fed foods they were never meant to eat, given excessive antibiotics, and made to exist their entire lives in deplorably cramped, dirty conditions. This state of unhealth and sickness is then being transfered to those of us that choose to eat meat from these cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys, etc. And this meat is everywhre, it is pervasive. It's not just the meat you get at fast food restaurants, it's the meat you get in the frozen foods section of the grocery store as well as the fresh meat section.In many cases it's even the meat you get at some butcher shops, and 'real' restaurants.

All of that being said, I still believe there's a place for meat in our diet. This post is a sort of 'coming out', a confession to eating habits that I've been afraid to admit to for the past few weeks. You see, I'm testing out this new way of eating, most commonly referred to as the Paleo diet.

In a nutshell, the Paleo diet requires the elimination of all grains, legumes, refined sugars, and dairy products from one's diet. It emphasizes vegetables (minimal tubers like potatoes), meats, fats (from meats and certain other sources), along with consumption of ltd quantities of fruits, nuts, and seeds. The basic thesis behind this diet is that we have not genetically changed since our predecessors, the hunter-gatherers roamed the Earth. Homosapiens have been around for over 2 million years, we've only been farming for (at most, in certain parts of the world)10,000 years. That's a pretty short time in the spanof human history and for some people (e.g. native tribes, Western europeans), farming took hold much more recently or not at all (e.g. Inuits). So how is it that over the past 50 years or so, some scientists have determined that the optimal diet is rich in whole grains and low in fat? It doesn't really make sense to me, so I'm going against the grain (pun intended) and trying Paleo thing on for size.

But I've been reluctant to announce it to the world. I don't mind admitting to being an omnivore, but for some reason admitting I've cut out grains and eat animal meats high in fat seems to throw people off. A lot. Also, I've discovered, through keen observation of lunchrooms, dining rooms, etc., that people don't like to have their own food choices questioned. While I'm happy to have my choices questioned, even the mere mention of my choices could make someone else feel that I am judging their food choices to be subpar to mine. This is a tricky thing. As a budding holistic nutritionist, I naturally want to help people become informed about foods (although, of course, it must be noted that at this point, my nutrition decisions are not being formed from my nutrition program, as I just started this week). On the other hand, I don't want people to have a negative attitude towards eating/food or feel discouraged that what they 'think' is healthy for them, might not actually be all that healthy for them. So, for the most part, I've kept my diet choices to myself unless necessary to inform a dining partner or if someone directly asks me why I'm eating spaghetti squash instead of pasta.

I'm coming out now as a meat-eater, because I just don't feel like hiding it anymore. And because I think it's important not to feel guilty about eating a diet that, at first glance, may seem indulgent and environmentally unsustainable. But therein lies an important part of the Paleo diet. Adherents are meant to consume meats and vegetables that have been raised in natural ways, which would equate to free-run chickens who get to eat whatever is on the ground, grass-fed cows, pastured pigs, organic vegetables, etc. It is imperative to differentiate between a diet that is merely high in meat/fats (remember the Protein Power Plan), and one that emphasizes naturally raised/grown foods.

I'm not trying to raise the whole Vegetarian vs. Carnivore/Omnivore debate. I respect that each of us has to make diet choices based on our own health beliefs, values, cultures, etc. That being said, I expect I will return to the topics of meat-eating, grains, and vegetarianism at regular intervals in the future. There is much to be said and much to be questioned about the conventional wisdom surrounding diets and what is good/bad for us. I'm looking forward to being further educated via my holistic nutrition program of study. For those that want to learn more about the Paleo diet, here are some resources to get you started:! (check out the resource links on this site)

As a final note, after 3 weeks of eating 'mostly' paleo (I don't believe in being so strict about eating that it takes away the joy or makes socializing difficult), I have noted the following:
  • Elimination of sugars and grains has resulted in having no hunger pains. Ever.I have gone 7 to 8 hours after eating a relatively light lunch (perhaps 4 oz of pork tenderloin with a large salad) and felt no stomach growling or pains to signal hunger. This is, I reckon, due to lack of blood sugar highs and lows that result from eating foods with high glycemic load (e.g. sugars, breads, rice, pastas, etc.)
  • I don't feel tired at all during the day. Actually, this hasn't been a problem for me much in the past five or six years, as I've not tended to eat a lot of grains at any one sitting. There were, however, times when I would eat a lot of sugar and then feel sooo tired after a couple of hours.
  • I've lost a few pounds. Some people lose quite a bit of weight when they start eating paleo, but the fact is that the past 3 weeks have been extremely stressful for me, and I often cling to weight when stressed, so am not surprised my weight loss has been minimal.
I am sure there would have been more noticeable effects of my switch to paleo if I'd previously been a carb-addict and went from eating toast at breakfast, pasta at lunch and a stiry fry with rice at dinner to my current regimen of eggs for brekkie, a salad and meat for lunch, and sauteed veggies and meat for dinner, but I really didn't eat many grains/starchy carbs before. For me, the transition has mostly been about eliminating sugars from my diet and getting away from the oatmeal breakfast.

I have a feeling I'll see more results in my body as time carries on. Now that I'm back at the gym, I'm hoping for more muscle definition and, ultimately, more fat loss. It's hard to report any health impacts, because I have a clean bill of health, thus this way of eating is a preventative measure that I'll not necessarily ever be able to measure the impacts of (since 'not' acquiring a chronic disease is hard to attribute to a certain lifestyle choice on a case by case basis.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Never Say Never

I'm going back to school.

Wow, I really never thought I'd utter those words again. But here I am, waiting on the arrival of my new Visa Aerogold credit card so I can reap some Aeroplan rewards from this slightly daunting decision. Yes, that's right, I'm actually fronting my own cash for tuition, which is a first for me. And after watching too many episodes of 'Til Debt Do Us Part', I figured I'd best find a way to make the outlay of money work for me. And given that I have a rather extensive list of travel destinations for 2012, collection of aeroplan miles seemed rather fitting.

To cut to the chase, the end goal is to become a Registered Holistic Nutritionist. The program I am enrolling in is through the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition and students have the option of doing the program in class or through distance ed. Since there are no classes held on PEI and since I think it's *probably* wise of me not to quit my job again to go back to school, I've opted for the part-time distance ed option. I'll be starting my first course the week following this and I am beyond excited. Indeed, I daresay I'm ecstatic.

I've been thinking about this for awhile now, probably with real seriousness since the past winter. Unlike my other degrees, which I sort of jumped into in Las Vegas wedding-style (let's hope for the best!), I've actually spent time researching this decision and thinking a lot about whether this type of career path is right for me. I visited a career counselor. After our first hour-long meeting, she basically told me that I was not in need of counseling (career-wise anyways), as apparently I'd already done most of the exercises she would have recommended. I told her my Myers-Briggs type was ENFJ, which apparently made me ahead of the game as that's a test they recommend people do. So she looked up my type in one of her many career books. Listed amongst the professions that would be of interest to my personality type was 'holistic health practitioner'. I also spoke with two of the most well-established RHNs here in Charlottetown, as well as one that I used to visit in Kingston and all of them were extremely encouraging. The two who knew me as a client seemed to think it was a great fit (but, of course, what else would they say right?!) Still, I was encouraged, especially when I learned that they all did their program through the same school as me.

I think this is going to be a great adventure, both career-wise and personally. I'm really looking forward to studying the linkages between mind, body and spirit. It will be such a fantastic opportunity to apply what I learn to my own health journey. But what really served as the deciding factor in my decision to pursue this career path is that I now know that in order to be happy in the workplace, I need a job where I am working with people and helping them. I am motivated by a desire to help others reach their full potential. In my every day life I seem to gravitate towards counseling, educating and/or motivating others. It's something I don't even realize I am doing most of the time, but it is definitely where I get my energy and drive from. It only makes sense that I embark on a career where I am able to educate and counsel people who want my help in becoming healthier.

So, there you have it. I'm going to be a student yet again. When I finish this degree, I'll have 9 years of post-secondary education to my name. Hopefully, 9 is the magic number that leads me to a career that I will enjoy and excel at!

Oh, and as a final note, it is also my intention to start posting more regularly here over the coming months. Some posts will serve as reflections on my course and what I am learning, but for the most part I'll aim to continue blogging as per usual, but perhaps with more brevity (is it obvious that I'm attempting to turn over a whole bunch new leaves at once ? if it's not clear, it will soon become abundantly so).