Saturday, 1 September 2012

Back to Basics

Sometimes it's the quietest voice that springs the loudest idea.

A FB friend of mine sent me a little private note the other day, asking the simple question, "Are you doing a Whole30 in September?"  It was a simple question, and she was probably just curious, but it really stuck in my head.  Yea, I needed a Whole30.  I needed a 21 day sugar detox.  I needed them both!  This long, hot summer has seen many-a poolside BBQ, drinks in the pool, picnics and lunches with friends and family, days spent boating on the canals, summer parties and long days on the beach. And most of it has genuinely been paleo-friendly, really, but there have been many drinks, many occasions to sneak in an ice cream, or two or three.  Some of them were even "paleo" ice cream--but not all of them.  There have been many treats, many "just this once" moments. Isn't that what summer's all about?  Squeezing every last drop of sunshine and fun into every single day, of quick, easy food and long days in the sunlight with friends.   So, yes, the idea of a Whole30 really stuck with me.  Time for a little "house cleaning".

Over the next few days the voices grew in numbers--the Whole30 and 21day Sugar Detox sprung up everywhere.  It travelled like wildfire through the internet.  It seemed like everyone who wasn't already doing a Whole30 was about to start one.

I guess it makes sense.  We all want to get back into the routine of healthy eating, of proper meal planning, of schedules and school time for our kids.  September is the beginning of a new year for many of us and it is a new opportunity to get things right--or make them better.  We all want to atone for our summer of fun and for our food-filled vacations.  We all had it, this lapse of good sense.  We've all eaten too much of one thing or another.

Now, I honestly didn't "fall off the paleo bandwagon"...  No, I just ate paleo-ified treats every single day.  I ate paleo pancakes every single weekend with real maple syrup and so, so much bacon.  You know, all those grey-area foods that are OK, if eaten in moderation?  I ate them all, and none  of it was in moderation.  I ate yogurt and cheese every day.  I ate nuts by the handful, went through several jars of almond butter over the summer.

And I kept promising myself I would stop.

But I didn't stop.  I ate my way through summer, so to speak.  And I did it while still "being 80% primal".  But it was the worst interpretation of primal/paleo you can imagine, and I know it.  My guts know it.  Oh, Lord, my guts know it.  My heartburn is back.  My headaches are back.  Those are my real barometers of good eating, and they're both telling me its time to stop.

Have you ever read the fine print of the Whole30 program?  Wow, it sounds scary-serious.  It sounds downright militant.  It sounds painful and exacting and while I totally agree with all the principles, I suck at following rules.  Even though the Whole30  is simply a clearly worded black-and-white approach to true paleo eating, it overwhelms me.  It intimidates me, and it does not accommodate my preference for a primal-approach over the more severe paleo approach.

So first, lets go over the basic tenets of the actual Whole30 program
  • No Sugar: this includes the obvious processed sugars, but also honey, maple syrup, and artificial sweeteners including stevia and xylitol.  Even "safe" artificial sweeteners encourage a sweet tooth so let your taste buds re-adjust to real, natural sweet flavours without adding extras into your food
  • No Processed Foods: food should look like the plant (or animal--sort of) that it came from, it should not contain a list of ingredients.  This includes conventional lunch meats and bacon, and also protein shakes and protein bars.
  • No Alcohol:  plain and simple; alcohol is a sugar.  Even paleo-accepted dry red wine.  It has more harmful ingredients than helpful ingredients (unless you're raising teens like I am--then it has a LOT of helpful ingredients that keep you from committing murder).  I know, I know, but this is going hurt me more than it'll hurt you.
  • No Grains: this is a no-brainer.  You know why.  But a Whole30 means NO CHEATS for 30 days.
  • No Legumes: also a no-brainer.  I don't know about you, but the only things I really miss from this category are Kraft peanut butter and soy sauce.
  • No Dairy: if you're more "primal" than paleo, you're going to miss this one.  I know I will, despite being lactose-intolerant.  But the truth is that dairy is insulin-spiking.  Studies have shown that dairy causes a blood sugar spike that is much higher than the actual sugar content within the food, suggesting there is something about dairy that our bodies are reacting to negatively.  Try and see if it makes any difference--just for a month to avoid it
  •  No Paleo-ifying: don't try to fit your old diet into this mold--for just one month, forgo the paleo pancakes, paleo muffins, paleo ice cream and all the other whatnot (sniff, this is where I tend to fall down).
  • No Weighing In: there is nothing more defeating than making a bunch of drastic changes and not seeing immediate results.  But let this process work--and avoid the shock of fluctuations caused by outside factors.

OK, well, fair enough, its not so scary.  All I'd really have to change is stop eating the paleo-ified treats for a month, skip the alcohol for a month, and avoid dairy.  So maybe I just won't make paleo pizza or anything Mexican-inspired this month.  I can handle that, can't you?  Olives, here we come a-snacking!  Scared yet?  Maybe a little.  Maybe because "Whole30" sounds a little like a decree from the heavens....

But then I heard another interpretation.  I heard Irish Paleo Girl ask who else will do a Back to Basics with her.  (Ironically, I miss-read it, too, but that's what I took away from it).  Huh.  Back to Basics.  Now that sounds do-able.   That sounds simple.  Just Eat Real Food.  Isn't that the way we should be eating all the time?  Sometimes we forget that tenet.  I myself am constantly trying to turn paleo-safe foods into neolithic-tasting foods; pizza, spaghetti, muffins, pancakes, pies, tacos...  I have to admit, I've tried it all.  And I love the challenge of doing it.   I will continue to do it, too.  But sometimes, we need to step back and hit reset, you know?  Just hit reset for a month.

The truth is, I got tired of my kitchen and my fanci-fied meals weeks ago.  I just got downright tired.  Tired of cooking, tired of cleaning, tired of exercising, tired of going to 5 different places to get all of my different foods.  I wanted to squeeze in every last drop of summer, to not be standing in my kitchen or running errands or even blogging.  I wanted to shove the food into the crock pot and forget about it.  To sit back and read a book, to come home at the end of the day to food that is already waiting for me.  Is that selfish?  I wanted food tastes like the kind our grandparents would make--real whole chunks of meat and simple vegetables, simple ingredients and minimal fuss.  I wanted to steal those last few minutes of summer and hoard them for me alone.

And now that we are into the last stretch, squeaking into September, it is time to hit reset.

It is time to start clean, start fresh.  To remember why we're here, and remember what real food is supposed to be--meats, eggs, vegetables, fats, some fruit, some nuts.  Eat nose-to-tail.  Eat coconuts, not coconut flour.  Almonds, not almond milk from a box.

For the month of September, I'm going to return to the basics.  I'm going to cook a lot of bone-in, skin-on meats and roasts in my crock pot.  I'm going to eat eggs with salsa and avocado for breakfast instead of  yogurt parfaits made with grain-free granola.  I'm going to avoid all baked paleo-goodies and paleo pancakes and sweeteners.  I'm going to cook simple meals that consist of meat and vegetable and spice like its supposed to be done.  I'm afraid there won't be a lot of recipes, but  there might be a lot of "ideas" instead, don't worry.  I'm not going to disappear for a month; in fact, I will take many pictures along the way.  I will try to cook with more organ meats and use a lot less nuts (and those nuts will be whole nuts, not almond meal).  I will not drink alcohol, just for this month (a world without wine is not a world I want to live in).  And just for shits-and-giggles, I will weigh and measure myself only once on day 1, and again at the end of the month, just to see what this all means.

So how is my "Back to Basics" idea any different from the Whole30? 
  • I will still eat butter and use Parmesan cheese.   Don't get me wrong, I AM cutting out dairy.  The Whole30 allows for clarified butter, but who has time for that?  Butter does the body good.  It makes simple food taste better.  The lactose content is almost non-existent.  Same with Parmesan.  You're not eating huge quantities; it is used only in very small amounts to improve food flavour.  It is classified as a fermented product due to its very long ageing process. I promise I will not put 2 cups of it on a meatza.
  • I will still eat fruit.  The Whole30 advocates 1-2 servings of fruit per day.  I'm not suggesting heaping loads of fruit here; I eat 2-3 servings of fruit/day on average.  As long as it stays that way, I'm not going to sweat it. 
  • I will eat ordinary grocery store meats and vegetables.  Yes, you heard that right.  I have not, and likely never will, buy organic produce unless it's on sale cheaper than the conventional stuff or if its by accident because I shopped at a farmer's market.  Sure, I am working on a big grass fed beef and bison purchase, but if it hasn't arrived yet, this is not going to make or break my attempts at eating right.  Cost is everything, and if all I can afford is conventional meat and produce, so be it.
  • I will still eat almond butter.  The Whole30 suggests limiting nut consumption, and they're right.  But they don't say to avoid it altogether, just to limit it.  Its too easy to go overboard on this one, so I will only resort to it in moments of extreme hunger desperation. 
  • I will still drink kombucha.  I don't see it mentioned anywhere in the Whole30 plan.  It does contain sugar, but the sugar is there to feed the bacteria and is mostly absent from the end product.  In my opinion, and understand that my kombucha is home made so I have complete control over what is in it, there are far more good things in kombucha than bad.  It does my body good. 
  • tapioca starch and arrowroot are still OK.  Here's another thing that's not mentioned in the Whole30.  If you're of British ancestry, like me, nothing makes a meal more palatable than a thick sauce or gravy.  It doesn't have to be a complicated one.  I'm only using it as a thickener so I get all the fat juices and broth into me, too.  I'm not about to make a load of tapioca starch bread this month.  I'm only talking crock pot roast beef and gravy served with roasted carrots.  If I can have gravy, I can stick to it.  All the Whole30 recipes appear to have been written with West-Coast taste buds in mind.  You know what I mean.  I must have gravy.

Starting on September 4, the day the kids return to school,  I will adhere to the "kiss" principle.  Keep it Simple, Stupid.  Because "Keep it Clean, Stupid" doesn't make a good acronym.  Back to Basics I go.

Who's with me?

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