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Dear Mark: New Parent Issues, Corn, and Pain’s Purpose

For today’s edition of Dear Mark [1], we’ve got a three-parter. First, I draw on my experiences as a parent and observer of the new generation of Primal parents to tackle a big topic: how to maintain a Primal mindset as a new parent beset by all the crazy, often unreasonable demands of modern parenting. It’s not as bad or as hard as you think. Next, I discuss whether or not corn tortillas are really an issue for someone who enjoys eating them for her 80/20 [2]. Are they as problematic as other grain-based foods? Finally, I explore the purpose of pain.

Let’s go:

Hi Mark,

I’ve been searching your archives for some advice for new parents – and I’ve found a ton of great advice on breastfeeding, co-sleeping, and babywearing. I am sold on those, as well as the need to eat primally in the first year. However, I’m also interested in your perspective on adapting the Primal Blueprint principles to the new parent lifestyle – the sleep deprivation, the sense of isolation so many new parents deal with, the anxiety-producing competitive nature of parenting these days, as well as the general stress of protecting a tiny new person from harm (and the even greater stress when they finally do, inevitably, get hurt). I can see all that stress (even in moms without PPD or PPA) definitely impacting the best way to implement Primal principles in practice with a new baby. A Dear Mark answer or Definitive Guide would be so much appreciated! Thanks so much for all you do!

Kelly

Yes, the diet aspect of pregnancy and early parenthood is fairly straightforward: you just make and eat the food. Finding time to cook can be hard, especially early on, but the act of cooking [3] and eating itself isn’t any different from before. Same with baby wearing [4], co-sleeping [5], and breastfeeding. These are things you just do (well, the last one can be trickier than many people expect) or do not.

But having precious sleep snatched from you? Feeling the prying eyes of parent peers judging the way you’re holding your kid, how big your kid is for his or her age, whether he can talk or walk [6] or crawl or make eye contact? The loneliness when you’re the first of your friends to take the plunge into parenthood and it’s just you and your spouse entering into this whole new world without any real guidance save for a few blogs and books? The crushing realization that the fate and well-being of your progeny rests entirely in your hands? Those are dynamic and totally new for all of us. There are no easy solutions.

Sleep: First of all, the disrupted sleep of a new parent is (hopefully) a temporary situation – a couple weeks of really messed up sleep, a couple months of spotty sleep, and several more months of “merely” suboptimal sleep. This isn’t a decade of staying up late watching bad TV deep into the night. You’re doing what you have to do. You have purpose. You’re not drifting. Although I haven’t seen any research to corroborate this, I suspect that infant-induced sleep deprivation isn’t as detrimental to your health as other kinds.

That said, you can work with your situation. Scale back on your workouts [7]; they’ll be less effective and even too stressful [8] if you’re going on little sleep. Eat fairly clean Primal [9]; sleep deprivation will make you more insulin-resistant than usual. Eating cassia cinnamon (say, in your coffee) on a regular basis can counter some of the sleep loss-related insulin resistance [10]. I’m sure you’ve heard this a thousand times, but it’s true: sleep [11] when the baby sleeps. And don’t forget, biphasic sleeping [12] may be more common and normal than most of us are led to believe.

Isolation: Yeah, it’s tough. We by and large no longer have “the village” or the tribe [13] or even the extended family at arm’s reach to help out and shoulder some of the load. That’s a huge deficit in the modern nuclear family set-up. I’m not sure it can be replaced, not completely. But we don’t have to be completely isolated.

If you’re the first of your crew to have a kid and you worry about falling off the face of the earth, well, don’t. Friends that are actually your friends won’t shun you. Sure, you can’t go out to the clubs or that one great dive bar with the best jukebox that still lets people smoke inside (even though you don’t smoke, it’s worth it), but you probably don’t want to do that stuff anymore anyway. You can still have dinner parties, go on hikes [14] and camping trips [15], hit your favorite restaurants, have picnics [16], go to concerts and festivals. You can still do most of the same things you guys used to do. Just do them with a baby hanging on your arm/breast/hip. You’d be surprised at how agreeable most infants are to new situations if you just bite the bullet and take them places. It’s not that bad. Besides, if you’re co-sleeping [17], baby wearing/holding, and breastfeeding [18], chances are your kid’s going to be very easy going, comfortable, and secure in new situations.

Too many new parents assume the worst will happen if they take their infants out in public. They imagine exploding diapers, bodily fluid geysers bursting from orifices, endless crying, and hateful looks from everyone around them. That doesn’t really happen much. It’s probably all you can remember of those childless days when you’d be waiting in the Trader Joe’s checkout line with a bawling hellion three spots back that you swore was screaming directly into your soul. But there was that time at Whole Foods when a two month old slept on her dad’s chest two spots back from you, never making a peep. Or the four month old in the bookstore just staring wide-eyed agog at everything, totally silent, from the baby carrier. You never even noticed because we only notice the loud ones. They’re not all like that. Most of them just sail under the radar. Yours probably will too.

Check out Meetup.com [19] and search for “parenting” or “kids” or “children” groups near you. There are lots of other people in your same predicament.

Competition: The opposing mom’s eyes narrow as she scans your child for characteristics that hers has surpassed or has yet to reach. You hear her brain whirring and running the numbers until she concludes that yes, her child is more advanced. “Oh, she’s not walking yet? Kayleigh was doing ballet at 10 months.” The obsession with “milestones.” False politeness, too-cheery smiles, subtle digs. The tendency to assess another person’s child like a pig at a county fair. “He’s got some meaty haunches, doesn’t he?” It’s so strange. I suggest you ignore it. Don’t get wrapped up in the competition, and don’t take anything to heart. Most parents hate that stuff, too, and only do it because they think they’re supposed to care. Be the one who stands up and refuses to engage; others will follow.

Some kids walk earlier than others. Others talk earlier. Your kid might exclusively crawl until he’s 13 months and then suddenly start walking. He’ll be no worse off than the kid who walked and talked at 10 months. Maybe even better, as all that crawling [20] will establish neuromuscular efficiency and good shoulder and arm strength. Whatever course it takes, they’ll develop on the schedule ordained, or maybe suggested, by their physiology.

Worry: Newborns are fragile, helpless things that depend entirely on you. But then, after a few months, they’re a little less fragile. They can hold their heads up and make faces at you. They might even start to smile. And the first time they flip over onto their back, their oversized bald head leading the way directly into the floor, you cringe and prepare for tears – but they just laugh. That’s when you realize kids are tougher than we think. After all, you survived the skinned knees, the broken bones, the dodge balls to the face. They will too. And once they get hurt and bounce back, your stress [21] levels will drop as you realize it’s not so bad after all.

How about the scary outside world teeming with sexual predators and leering kidnappers? It’s actually not. Most of those sexual predators either urinated in public or consensually slept with their 16 year old girlfriend when they were 18 [22], and the vast majority of child abductions occur at the hands of someone the child knows [23] – like a family member. The world is safe.

But here’s my question. What specifically is wrong with corn itself? And even if I keep corn tortillas within an 80/20 framework, what is that corn doing in my body that is potentially harmful?

I see, yes it’s carby, yes it’s a grain (and not a vegetable!), and certainly primal man did not eat it. But I have scoured the internet for in-depth information from the paleo community on corn, and mostly I turn up criticism of corn syrup, which is a different beast than corn. It’s like we’ve got great explanations on beans and soy, industrial oils and gluten, but then we get to corn and say, “Yeah, that’s a grain. And HFCS is bad.”

I know you get a lot of mail, but I hope you’ll consider answering this one on a podcast or in a blog post! Thanks for your time.

Jamey

I’m not very worried about corn tortillas, for several reasons.

The corn used to make them undergoes nixtamalization, or lime (calcium hydroxide, not the citrus) treatment. This makes corn more nutritious, creates a more favorable protein profile, increases the bioavailability of niacin/vitamin B3, and imbues the tortilla with a decent dose of calcium [24] (from the lime) that you can actually absorb [25]. Nixtamalization allowed preindustrial native Americans to survive and even thrive on a largely corn-based diet. If you try such a diet without nixtamalization, you end up with pellagra – severe vitamin B3 deficiency. Nixtamalization does reduce the phytochemical content of corn [26], but that’s what blueberries are for [27].

Zein, the corn prolamine that’s been likened to gluten, probably isn’t as bad as gluten. Few people even report issues with corn, let alone zein, and in people with confirmed allergies to corn, zein isn’t even the most common offending protein [28]. Unless you have a definite reaction to corn, I wouldn’t worry too much.

They’re often vehicles for delicious, nutritious passengers, things like avocado, diced onions, pickled carrots, chiles, carne asada, carnitas, as well as more exciting/unique (at least to gringos) items like cow tongue, goat face, and chapulines (crickets [29]). Don’t just judge a food’s worth by its weakest, most disagreeable link. Consider the strong points, too. I’d argue that all that nutrient density outweighs the presence of corn. Tacos everyday? No (unless you’re visiting Mexico [30]). But quality tacos with quality ingredients surrounded by quality corn tortillas are an excellent justification for the 80/20 rule [31].

When I get a headache, I take a nap. I always wake up feeling better, no pills needed. I suspect that Grok had limited access to painkillers, and allowed his body to heal on its own by resting. Could there be a benefit to being mindful of pain as a cue to take it easy as opposed to dulling it away with analgesics?

Juan

People born without the ability to feel pain – congenital insensitivity to pain, or congenital analgesia – have to take special precautions throughout life. They can feel warmth, but not extreme temperatures. If they reach into a pot of boiling water to retrieve a dropped spoon or bite the tip of their tongue off, it doesn’t hurt. But their flesh still burns and their tongues still need healing [32]. They can’t really depend on their nervous system to assess threats and determine damage. They have to learn how to avoid injury and then consciously remember the lessons in real time. That’s tough [33]. Without early intervention (and cautious, watchful caretakers), people with congenital insensitivity to pain suffer terrible injuries and a reduced life expectancy [34].

So yes, pain is important. Pain is helpful. Pain is information. Avoid it, but don’t always dull or ignore it.

Thanks for reading, everyone. Let me know what you think in the comment section!