Forget SAD, get MAD. Developing a Mongolian-American Diet!
I'm about to leave Mongolia, where I have been enjoying tons of grass-fed everything and a pretty self-directed work regime, and go back to New Jersey, where I'm going to have to stay strong at all the restaurants and work events I'll be at with my friends when we aren't spending a ton of time (trying) to write, do research, and get grants and jobs in our windowless office space. I'm a little intimidated, so I'm doing the 21-Day Challenge to solidfy and further develop good habits! For example, I finally started exercising "Primally." I surprised myself by knocking out 5 pushups! Ah well, at least I'm pretty good at squats. Hopefully by the end of the month, when I'm in NJ, I'll have my Mongolian American Diet "dialed" as Mark calls it.
I actually started doing "Paleo," "Primal Blueprint" etc. a few months back. My boyfriend watched Lustig's "Sugar: The Bitter Truth," met someone doing a Paleo-style diet, read up a ton, and started talking to me about it and gave me some Kindle gifts. He said that he was partly receptive to it because it seemed to match alot how I currently ate (lots of fatty meat and root vegetables in my diet, eating infrequently/rarely feeling hungry), and had already been seeing results from cutting down sugar. Also I'm a student of anthropology we talked about what Cordain, Robb Wolf and Mark mention and I confirmed what I hadn't already tried to bang into his head. This was especially the notion of "The Original Affluent Society" and that the elderly as well as good times are very much around in what most Americans consider to be "nasty, brutish and short" type societies past and present. But I was also powerfully reminded of the archeological evidence about not only height loss but bone "trumpeting" in early agriculturists. And it even came back to me how my biological anthropology professor was so into South Beach!
Growing up in "red states," my family always ate a lot of meat, even quite a bit of wild meat (mostly elk). I have had two great-grandmothers and even a great-grandpa live well into their 90s, and one is still going pretty strong at 102 swearing by no processed food, cooking with butter and lots of garlic. My mom has always been a healthy food fanatic and is an amazing cook, so I didn't have any aversion to cooking with veggies and such. It also probably helped that when we were picky kids she always made us have fruit and vegetables every day, even when we only ate carrots and apples! Unfortunately she hits the artificial sweeteners and low-fat cooking sprays, but that was nothing, at least in the short term, compared to how SAD screwed me up in university.
In high school I hit fast food places pretty often for lunch with friends. I had pretty bad acne but weight wasn't a problem I thought. I was also able to engage in some lighter athletic stuff like hiking or marching band. By the end of my college freshman semester though, I had gained fifteen or so pounds and I felt huge and terrible. I was able to reign things in a bit by being a little more selective in the dining hall (we had pretty awesome omelete and salad bars) but was still feeling ten or fifteen pounds overweight. I know for alot of people this sounds like nothing, but it's enough for your clothes to not fit anymore but not enough that you don't just want to suck it up and deal instead of go out and buy new stuff! Now my clothes are too big; I definitely wasn't trying to lose any weight but this spring I've lost a lot of fat, gained some muscle and my pants will not stay up under to my newly hard stomach without a belt (a nice Mongolian leather one).
ACNE AND TENSION HEADACHES
In my second year my acne got really bad. That summer I did an intensive academic program and got really bad tension headaches-- bad enough that they did send me to the MRI machine and neurologist. Basically the amount of time bent over the desk, probably crap muscle tone, and stress made my shoulders and neck need muscle relaxants and some cortisone shots before I could even start doing stretches and icing to get things back. (Thankfully I finally ended up at my hometown doctor and he knew exactly what to do.)
I very occasionally get tension headaches and ice my neck and shoulders but hopefully by the time I get to doing a real pullup I won't have problems anymore. My acne is still a work in progress, but the last couple of weeks I've been working on it and it seems that caffeine has a big effect. I've cut out coffee and black tea, which I was drinking a lot of, and my face is healing up nicely. I should probably lose the dark chocolate too though...
I didn't get back to a comfortable weight and see my skin clear up until I went to study in Moscow. I didn't have the money to really spend on pop, and I lost the cravings pretty fast. I did eat quite a bit of oatmeal, pasta and grechka (buckwheat) but I also hit the meat, cabbage and apricot pirojki (sort of filled buns with a very thin dough) as well as beet and other salds pretty much everyday at lunch in the super cheap student cafeteria and made that my main meal of the day. The semester after that I went to Mongolia, and since then my MO has been spend several months in the US and then head to Mongolia for a few months. I thought that I felt better in Mongolia, but just wrote it off as more stress in the US with the pressure to write proposals, help teach, etc. I did get to the point though that I couldn't eat "normal" meat in the US, it just tasted terrible.
ENERGY AND SLEEP
This time I've been in Mongolia mostly uninterrupted since May last year. I started getting unsatisfied with my energy levels and sleep especially. I had been eating oatmeal every day, and once I cut that out after looking into Paleo-style eating I starting feeling a lot better. I used to sleep until 11 or 12 if I just let myself. Now (with the combination of using candles after the sun goes down) I only "sleep in" until 9. I'm still trying to make 10 my bedtime but I've seen alot of improvement so far. I also used to have the occasional sugar binge and crash but for the past couple of weeks two attempts to have processed cookies and ice cream have actually made me have intense acid reflux, to the point that I threw up the sugary stuff.
Besides being able to get out of bed much more easily, with implementing an at least 80% Primal Blueprint I feel like I have a ton more energy. I always hated competitive sports and going to the gym. I could never get myself in to the "take it for the team" mentality and the gym just bored me and felt like a total waste of time. The idea of "jail workouts" and low-tech stuff like that appealed to me but I didn't implement it. I did also start walking everywhere in Moscow and I saw big benefits, but still want to improve my upper body strength especially. With the 21-Challenge I've especially been focusing on doing the PEM workouts and sprints (which were especially scary for me). I've got a little muscle soreness but can't sit still! I decided I was too sore for my PEM workout the other day, but ended up moving some appliances and furniture and doing some serious floor cleaning. Now my arms are sore too!