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Primal Musings - Northern Light

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  • Primal Musings - Northern Light

    I am just starting, both the primal lifestyle and this primal journal, so it is perhaps more relevant to think and write about how and why I got here, rather than about what I am doing now that I am here.

    The short answer is that I am getting older (52) and starting to feel it and not liking that feeling. I have always had ambitions of living to 100 and doing so healthy and active, but I'm not going to make it if I keep doing what I have been doing.

    But there is always a long answer, and it can be helpful to examine it to figure out what to do next.

    I don't have any serious health problems, but I am severely hypothyroid (Hashimoto's) and take a lot of Synthroid to manage it. Since being diagnosed (over three years ago now) I have attributed my sluggish mornings, occasional light-headedness, shakes, cold-intolerance, caffeine-intolerance, and so on to the ups and downs of Hashimoto's. My thyroid panel is closely followed by my doctor (yay, Canadian healthcare and having a family physician who screens for hypothyroidism!), so my dose is where it needs to be, but day to day, a compromised thyroid gland can still do weird things. I was/am rather resigned to it, because the ten or fifteen years of being hypothyroid and UNtreated was so much worse. (More on that, perhaps, some other time.)

    In my head, I am still the kid who road her bike for hours in the Indiana countryside for the joy of seeing the fields roll by; the girl who spent summers camping, hiking, sailing, kayaking with her family in New England and Canada; the young woman who hiked in the Adirondacks and left some college guy long behind her as she leapt from boulder to boulder down a stream bed; the high-school student who shunned school activities for the riding stable and dance classes; the college student who played tennis against the guys because the other girls were too wimpy. I was never skinny, but I was always strong and fit.

    But that level of energy and fitness is long in the past. My lifestyle has become progressively sedentary as my studies and work took over and my energy was surreptitiously sapped by Hashimoto's. I've been through a few really tough periods professionally (also thyroid related, most likely) and lived to tell the tale. And over time, some 50 to 60 pounds have crept on and stayed.

    Over the years, I have tried lots of things to get back to that feeling of physical well-being. I was an irregular runner for years, doing as little as 5 or more than 30 miles a week. I played tennis off and on, as partners came and went. I took dance, yoga and Pilates/stretch classes whenever I could. I biked to work more often than not. I started playing golf a few years ago when my husband took it up again. And I always walked, especially when I had a dog to walk with. And for most of that time, I felt like I was carrying lead weights. I moved, but not with the joyful abandon of my younger self. And I rarely had those moments of feeling really strong. I now recognize that that lead-weight feeling is a clear symptom of hypothyroidism, and I first felt it when I was barely 30.

    I am now at a very good point in my life: happily married, good work, great place to live overlooking the St. Lawrence River, good friends and generally good health with the thyroid under control. The only problem is not much time and not much get-up-and-go to do the things that I could be doing to enjoy these fortuitous circumstances. I am working on finding the time (hiring someone to handle my work overload) and I would also like to work on finding the get-up-and-go.

    So here I am. Let's see where I go from here.

  • #2
    Why the name?

    Have you seen the northern lights, the aurora borealis? It is magical, powerful, amazing -- no matter how many times you see it. And I get to see this phenomenon several times a year, usually when staying up late or when I get up to let one of the cats in after midnight.

    I'm a relative newcomer to Quebec, having moved here in 2000. So getting to see the aurorae regularly is still like an extra treat I get for moving north. Now that we are heading into real fall, with dryer weather and ice forming in the dogs' water dish overnight, the days are getting shorter and the nights longer -- its aurora season!

    So, aside from the beauty of the northern lights, what does it mean to me? Lots of semiotic meanings, for you English lit types out there. My parents are both Northern Europeans, so my genes are nordic. Most of the family is still in Europe and our home culture was Scandinavian. This has profound effects on diet and exercise. We commonly joked that my dad's favourite foods were all white: white fish, white potatoes (peeled), white cauliflower, white rice, white oatmeal, white bread, white cheese and, if it happened to be green or brown, you can always cover it up with white sauce (made with butter, white flour and milk)! Still, we ate well for the times, with lots of fruits and veggies and very balanced nutrition (my dad was in the field), according to the evolving state of knowledge. So the cuisine I grew up with was northern, but heavy.

    Fortunately, my parents both loved being out in nature, which I also attribute to their European roots. These were intellectuals who would pack up the kids, the dog, the cat, the sailboat, the folding kayak and the camping gear every summer and head off to parts unknown. My father would often stay with us a week or so and then head back to work at the university, leaving my mom with four kids off in the woods somewhere for several weeks at a time. Brave lady. We spent all day, every day outdoors. Great way to grow up! The rest of the year we walked, played tennis, hiked, went cross-country skiing (when Indiana had enough snow). Still, going north meant getting back to nature, going a little native, developing a tan that was half melanin and half dirt.

    And then there is the question of light. The magical light of the northern lights is like a grace that nature offers us, just by accident. It is one of those beautiful sights that enchant us but have nothing whatsoever to do with us personally. But humans are very sensitive to light -- in all its forms. In my thyroid-depressive years, I clearly recognized the importance of natural light to my well-being, and I have held to that ever since. I have to be outside every day to stay on an even keel. If I stop getting out, I sink into a funk, mentally and physically. Not good.

    The quality of sunlight is so extraordinary and variable here in Quebec. Now, at 8 a.m. in October, it is a gentle yellow glow under gathering clouds, lighting up the island I see from my office window and making the autumn leaves glow as if backlit. Other days it is a soft, fog-veiled grey, enveloping us with chilly calm. In winter, it is crystalline and sparkles off the snow so you have to squint even with sunglasses. And from our northwest facing windows and back deck, we have a glorious view of the sunset over the St. Lawrence and the mountains of Charlevoix on the north shore.

    So, light. Essential, vital, glorious. And, for me, the other meaning also holds significance: the opposite of weight. I want to feel light again, unweighted. I want the baggage of my familial eating patterns to vanish, the residue of white foods in my body to disappear, the lead-weight feeling of hypothyroidism to be banished forever. I want to shed the weight of worries and stress. I want to be light. I want to glory in being a Northerner. I want to become Northern Light.


    • #3
      So, like a good newbie, I've been wandering around the place soaking up the sights. Quite the mix of approaches here. And a lot of fascinating folks! I've perused the before-and-after thread and am stunned by so many of you. My ambitions are relatively modest (60 pounds to lose, lots of muscle and energy to be gained), so it seems very doable when I read the incredible success stories.

      I find myself falling in with the folks who take a very simplistic approach to things, which seems to include Mark himself. Eat from list A until satisfied. Avoid list B. Move a lot, get outside and make your muscles work in various ways and varying intensities.

      I think I can do that. In fact, I have been doing it for the last four days. I actually find it somewhat easier to eat this way, in some respects. No need to trim fat off meat or skin off poultry. No need to make sure the brown rice gets started an hour before dinner. No need to soak the beans 24 hours and cook them with careful timing. After reading Mark's post on beans, I may add them back in when I have made some nice progress weight-wise, just for the soluble fibre, but no worries for the moment.

      It may be all in my head, but I seem to have an extra spring in my step on my walks with the dogs, which are starting to resemble romps around the hayfields. It seems effortless to break into a sprint now and then, just to get the younger dog to run with me (instead of wandering too far off to explore). I often walk with rubber farm boots (muck boots), because of standing water, field ditches to cross or just heavy dew on the vegetation. Yet there I go, leaping over the taller alfalfa plants (running through tall alfalfa is foot-tanglingly tricky).

      So far, so good.

      Today I will see what I can do with the Primal Fitness plan. I posted another thread about everyday movements as exercise, and someone told me it was rather silly to try to get enough muscle workout from everyday activities (by doing them consciously and deliberately getting more muscles involved). Probably right, but I still think that it doesn't hurt to do squats when folding laundry or do relevés while doing dishes. That said, we will tackle four of the five exercises today (nothing resembling a pull-up bar in this house or in the yard).


      • #4
        Hello Northern Light, and welcome. If this is the way you are going to write then I am really going to enjoy reading your journal!

        I grew up in Finland where we could see the aurora borealis fairly often in the winter. Sometimes really amazing colours and movement. Truly magical, like you say.

        Wishing you the best of luck with your plan and goals and looking forward to more beautiful writing from you.
        Well and happy - Journalling a primal life in London


        • #5
          Thanks so much, Pineneedles. Someday I will get to Finland -- maybe the next time I visit the European family I will make a detour.

          I saw an amazing aurora display once before moving here, back when I was living in Wisconsin. It must have been a level 5 event because literally half the sky was blazing, all the way to the zenith. I haven't seen anything so dramatic here, but what may be lacking in intensity is made up for in frequency. The only problem is that we are early-to-bed, early-to-rise types, so midnight viewing opportunities are limited.

          When you think about it, star-gazing (and hoping for aurorae) seems a great way to get primal. My dad used to try to get us interested in using the telescope and such, which can be very cool. But I have always been more interested in simply lying on my back in the grass and watching the heavens whirl slowly above me. That sense of primitive wonderment is automatic!


          • #6
            This is remarkable!

            This business of eating breakfast before 8 a.m. and not being hungry again until 4:30 or 5:00 is something else!

            I haven't been able to go without lunch or at least a snack for years, all the while thinking that meal-skipping wasn't healthy. Today I simply got busy (catching up on all the work I didn't get done while getting acquainted with this site, etc.) and didn't really think about food, but just now my stomach reminded me that it has been over eight hours since breakfast! This is far from IF, but an incredible change nonetheless.

            So now I have two primal symptoms: more energy for bounding around with the pups and less need for regular/frequent meals. I have a feeling I'm heading for good news on my one-week weigh-in on Monday. After that, I will put the scale away and check only at monthly intervals.

            This is great!


            • #7
              Off to a good start: down three pounds at the one-week weigh-in! Just 57 to go! (45 would get me to a healthy BMI, but 57 would get me to high school weight.)

              Mr. Light is back from his golf trip, and brought with him a doozy of a flu, with a hacking tracheal infection, fever, nasal congestion, the works (a gift from one of his golf buddies, who got everyone sick). Even so, he has embarked on the primal journey with me, as of Saturday evening. It is a good thing I have a head start, because he will soon start melting away before my eyes. I know how well he does on diets and I have promised him a 10 to 15 pound weight loss in one month. Needless to say, he does not object to bacon and eggs for breakfast, and is even willing to eat the breakfast veggies if he gets the bacon! He has been eating very high fiber (30 to 50 grams a day) for a couple of years, so if I am going to deprive him of his Fiber 1 for breakfast, I better get some veggies into him. I may put him back on Fiber 1 if he has "issues". He has far less to lose (maybe 20 to 30 pounds max), but he wants to get rid of his residual belly to improve his golf. He had some problems with high blood pressure, high blood glucose, high cholesterol a few years back and with the help of South Beach, high fiber and lots and lots of golf (and snowshoeing in winter) dropped about 20 pounds and got his stats down in the good range (don't know about the breakdown of his cholesterol numbers). He has since regained about five or ten pounds, however, so he is ready for a restart.

              Lots of work to get done in the next few days, but at some point I am going to write about watching animals move.
              Last edited by Northern Light; 10-17-2011, 07:37 AM.


              • #8
                In typical fashion, Mr. Light has already dropped three pounds in four days and is feeling energetic despite the tail end of his flu lingering on. He finds that our meals are enormous, but he saw the difference in me so he is more than willing to get with the program.

                I completely forgot my thyroid pill until after lunch yesterday, which appears to have resulted in a jittery, weak afternoon and a restless night. I know that serum thyroxin levels are supposed to be pretty stable even with a varied dosing schedule, but that is not my experience at all (nor for my two sisters who are also hypothyroid). If I mess with the timing, I always feel some consequences. So this has put a crimp in my primal well-being today, but I am sure I will bounce back.

                In spite of feeling draggy, I will take the dogs out for their morning and afternoon romps. These are usually 20 to 30 minutes each, and my opportunity to watch how dogs move.

                Little Black Devil Dog is about 20 months old and is one of the most energetic and athletic dogs I have ever seen. I thought that our 11-year-old blond Extraterrestrial (ET) had been a great and fearless athlete, but Devil Dog is extraordinary. ET had become quite the staid grande dame, having outlived her Newfie companion. Under the influence of Devil Dog, she has regained much of the verve of her youth. Her joints don't always approve of the increased activity level, but she ignores their annoying chatter for the most part.

                Another nickname for the Little Black Devil Dog is Gumby. Any other dog would have been in for surgery for dislocated joints, torn ligaments, and slipped discs many times over, but she seems to be made of rubber. When Devil Dog and ET play fight, which they do for as long as I have patience to supervise at least once a day, Devil Dog's body goes through a series of contortions that normal canine anatomy should not allow. Rearing up to face ET and getting pushed over flat on her back can be gracefully converted into a sort of twisting roll that puts her on top of ET's back. I don't understand how she manages. She will race around at top speed, effortlessly leaping over ET when cut off as she rounds the big spruce in the middle of the yard. Diving somersaults, spiralling jumps, dancing dodges, twisting dives for ET's feet... the variations are endless and would be much easier to appreciate in a video. All of this is so far beyond the 5 Essential Movements it's embarrassing! ET outweighs Devil Dog by 72 to 40 pounds, respectively, which is the only reason she can stand her own when faced with the onslaught of Devil Dog's energy. Her poor old joints get quite a workout in any case. Sometimes Devil Dog lands her leaps on ET's back, deliberately or otherwise, which is not kind to 11-year-old hips.

                Devil Dog is currently agitating for her morning walk. This has nothing to do with having to do her business, which was taken care of well over an hour ago. This is purely The Need to Move. And this is where my thinking goes very primal. Devil Dog cannot behave like a nice quiet domestic dog for more a few hours at a time. She needs to move and she will give me no peace until she gets her walk. Or rather her romp. We have access to our neighbour's fields by simply walking out of our yard and there are no other dogs who get walked in the area, so we go off leash. This means that ET and Devil Dog set the pace they want, go where they want (within sight and ear-shot) and generally behave like natural dogs. At night, the fields are criss-crossed by the local fauna -- skunks, porcupines, foxes, deer, coyotes, the occasional moose and myriad rodents -- so there is plenty of news for the dogs to catch up on each day.

                ET trots along at a nice clip and occasionally runs off a few dozen yards in pursuit of an interesting scent. She rolls in (probably disgusting) things she finds in the field. She crosses the various field ditches by going down one side and up the other. If I run, she runs with me.

                Devil Dog, on the other hand, sprints all-out in great looping arcs, coursing as far ahead or to the side as she thinks she can get away with. When she comes across some interesting scent, she typically does a sliding somersault into the source, or -- in the case of a scent trail -- goes blazing off into the distance until the trail goes dry or she thinks she might get into trouble. She flushes birds and gives chase as they fly away. She leaps headlong across ditches, sometimes landing among the lower branches of a mountain ash or chokecherry, and is totally unfazed. If I run, she runs in circles around me, leaping up to eye level as she crosses in front to urge me on.

                When ET was younger, she was more like Devil Dog, but her creaky joints have made her more prudent. She no longer leaps headlong off six-foot boulders, but she still loves a good romp or a wrestling match with Devil Dog. The energy and spontaneous joy of both of these dogs puts my own sedate pace to shame. My occasional sprints are inspired by their lust for life. I admire their freedom and lack of inhibition. And even if I am far younger than ET in terms of human years (she would be 70-ish), I am far less free in my movements than she is in hers. I am determined to follow her example and let this primal lifestyle rejuvenate me, as living with Devil Dog has rejuvenated her.
                Last edited by Northern Light; 10-19-2011, 06:08 AM.


                • #9
                  I posted this elsewhere, but thought I would include it here:

                  While out with the pups just now, we witnessed the largest flight of geese of the season. Literally thousands of birds forming hundreds of "V"s across the sky. The massive flock above us was aiming toward the salt marsh of the Ramsar (international wetlands protection treaty) site a couple of kilometres from our house. In the distance, I could see other groups heading in from other directions. There must be a major convention going on at the marsh today!

                  These birds fly from the arctic tundra to wintering grounds on the eastern seaboard or points south every fall and return every spring: that's 3000 to 4000 kilometres. They commonly travel 500 to 1000 kilometres without landing. They draw on their fat reserves to fuel the hours and hours of non-stop flight.

                  The marshes along the St. Lawrence are a staging area for them, where they feed up (carbo-load) before heading on to the U.S. They also feed in the fields where wheat, barley or corn have been harvested, having adjusted their diet over the past 50 years to include grains rather than just the roots of marsh plants. They have been keeping pace with the increasingly high carb SAD. In their case, it seems to be resulting in a population increase, as it is easier to lay down their required layers of fat reserves on a high-grain diet.

                  Kind of makes you think: unless you are planning a major migration twice a year, maybe all those grain-generated fat reserves are not really necessary.


                  • #10
                    Just came back from running to the village grocery store for eggs, butter and cream for breakfast, as well as a few dinner ingredients. I was repaid by seeing the aurora borealis as I got out of the car at home. Very diffuse, not very bright, but the first aurora of the season! And I saw it before 8 p.m., which is unusual. I will keep an eye out until bedtime, as it might get brighter.

                    No progress in weight loss since last Monday, but I do feel stronger. Mr. Light has stalled also, but in his case the flu bug has been a problem. He seemed almost over it and got hit with another nasty wave that has now lasted four additional days. Nonetheless, he says he feels less weak than his usual fall bug makes him, and he thinks eating primal might be responsible.

                    Ordered all four of Mark's books today. Looking forward to immersing myself in them when they arrive.


                    • #11
                      It turns out that the aurora display the other night was seen very far south. I just heard a report from an astronomy professor in Georgia, for whom it was the first time seeing the aurora. I hope that some of you got a glimpse of this rare event. It got a bit too cloudy here for a great display and last night we had heavy cloud cover.

                      Have made a couple of changes. I have upped my dose of Synthroid on a trial basis (without doc's approval, yet), because I was feeling lead weights in my legs and arms again. This is a key sign of being hypothyroid for me, and as my goal is to thrive, not just survive, I took the initiative. For those of you in the same boat, my doc is one of those who believe that a TSH in the neighborhood of 3.0 mIU/L is just fine, even if you feel like crap. I am still working on him to target a TSH of 1.0 of lower. Anyway, yesterday I took the extra 20% and felt much better when I got up this morning, compared to the last week or so. Sorting out what is due to thyroid problems and what is due to removing carbs from my diet is not always easy, but the increased dose seems to be helping.

                      We have also cut back on the volume of breakfast. I think we had gone a bit wild with eggs and bacon and ham (and some veggies, don't worry). So we are being reasonable, eating to satiety but not being excessive.


                      • #12
                        Just a quick update: 6 months in and 15 pounds down.

                        Spring is coming along and I am getting more active, so continued strengthening is likely.

                        Mr. Light is down about 7 or 8 pounds. He never had the dramatic loss I expected him to have, but he is not as low-carb as I am.

                        So far, so good!