The Paleo Experiment (5): Takeaways

This will be the final entry in my Paleo series, and it will deal with how my wife and I have tried to implement the Paleo diet into our lives now that the 30 day challenge is over.

After eating like the Flintstones for 30 days, we felt better than ever.  We decided that we definitely wanted to keep eating this way.

Then we crashed into fiscal reality.

My wife – who was even more excited about the results than I was – sent me an email entitled, “I’m having second thoughts about this whole paleo thing…”  The substance of her angst was the fact that our grocery bill had more than doubled during challenge.  We simply could not keep spending that amount on groceries – it interfered with other key values we hold – notably thrift and generosity.

Incidentally, we decided that there had to be a way to eat healthy within a budget, and that it was worth our best efforts to experiment and make it work.  Practically, this meant  that we would only buy one jar of almond butter per week.  We would use regular honey instead of raw honey.  We would set a limit on the amount we allowed ourselves to spend on meat.  We would use frozen fruit whenever we could.

But the point here is that while we value healthy eating, we hold that in tension with other important values.  Some are simply more important.

When our commitment to health interferes with our commitment to enjoy and serve others, the latter commitment has priority.  This means that when someone invites us to dinner, we eat whatever is set before us.

(For me, that meant eating blueberry cobbler last night.) When out at a restaurant with friends, our most important value is our friends.

Finally, we have tried to build the Christian value of feasting into our lives.  As I mentioned in the last post, feasting is not about gorging yourself at Old Country Buffet but about tasting and enjoying and thanking.

I try to practice Sabbath.  What this means is that I work as hard as I can six days out of the week.  But I set one day a week aside to rest, celebrate and enjoy the gift of life.

I’ve begun to think of other areas of my life the same way.

For example, I want to keep a strict budget – to spend minimally and to save wisely.  But I also want my life to be characterized by instances of outrageous generosity.  There should be times (and will be soon, hopefully!) when I take my wife on a cruise even if it doesn’t make financial sense.

Similarly, I want to eat as healthy as possible. But I also want to feast like one who believes that God made the world, made it good, and made it that way so that its goodness would point us back to him.

Six days a week we try to eat Paleo pretty strictly.  We enjoy it.

But one day we don’t even think about Paleo.  I refuse to call it a cheat day.  It is a feast day.

Question: Any tips for eating healthy on a budget?


Why Having Kids is Foolish

I just read an article entitled “Why Having Kids is Foolish”.

The first paragraph:

All parents know that having kids is a blessing — except when it’s a nightmare of screaming fits, diapers, runny noses, wars over bedtimes and homework and clothes. To say nothing of bills too numerous to list. Some economists have argued that having kids is an economically silly investment; after all, it’s cheaper to hire end-of-life care than to raise a child. Now comes new research showing that having kids is not only financially foolish but that kids literally make parents delusional.

The article goes on argue that parents delude themselves into idealizing the emotional rewards of parenthood to rationalize the financial cost.  It explains how parents tend to be angrier, more depressed and more stressed out than non-parents.

And I’m thinking, lovers are that way too.  Love anyone deeply and there will be regular episodes of anger, depression and stress.  Love complicates things.  I guess by the logic of this article it could also be argued that love of any kind is a delusion (except self-love).

My children are still very young, but it is not difficult to see how having kids requires significant sacrifice and self-denial.  My daughter was colicky and cried almost non-stop during her second month.  It was stressful: my wife and I argued more during that month than the rest of our seven years of marriage combined.

According to the article, the stress isn’t worth it.  We only tell ourselves that it is – it’s nature’s trick to keep us propagating our genes.  If we sane and clear-headed, we would realize that kids cramp our style.

Or is it love that cramps our style?  As a pastor, I’ve watched plenty of young people who I’ve invested in make foolish, self-destructive decisions. Watching students I love hurt themselves and those around them can make me angry and depressed like nothing else.

I’m sure there are any number of occupations that would allow me to avoid this kind of personal investment and heartbreak.

But I don’t want them.

Why? Because the very act of self-giving enlarges the soul in a way that can’t be quantified in a psychological study.

I’m not saying that a person can’t be fully alive without having kids.  But if you avoid the things that cost you blood, sweat and tears, if you avoid anyone who could break your heart?  Your life will be empty.

The bottom line: if your goal is to live a comfortable life with little risk, few inconveniences and maximum self-gratification, then yes, having children is foolish.

So is getting married. And having deep friendships. And following Jesus. And serving the poor.  And fighting against injustice.

All of these things will profoundly complicate and inconvenience your life.

But luckily, you won’t pass on your genes.

Because the world needs people who know that life isn’t about all about them.

The Paleo Experiment (3): Food or Fuel?

One of the mantras of the Paleo diet is “Food is Fuel!”  In other words, you don’t choose food primarily because it tastes good, but because it makes your body run well.  In today’s post I’d like to examine this mindset.

Dr. Loren Cordain, leading Paleo author, writes:

“Fruits and vegetables provide us with natural bulk and fiber to fill up our stomachs. Because they are low-glycemic, they also normalize our blood sugar and reduce our appetites. The protein in lean meats satisfies our hunger pangs rapidly and lets us know when we are full. Two skinless chicken breasts for dinner may be filling-and two more might be impossible. Can we say the same for pizza slices?… Fake foods destroy our appetites, allowing us to eat more than what we need.”

If food is fuel, then we can compare a human body to a car.  Cars run on gas; put wiper fluid in the tank and it ruins the engine.  Likewise, when you try to run your body on cheese, chips, fatty meats and refined sugar, you are actually destroying your body’s engine.  Paleo is about finding the best possible fuel for the human machine.

So what does “premium fuel” taste like?  Like almonds.

Seriously, the first thing we learned was that almonds are a substitute for almost anything.  For breakfast, we would eat paleo pancakes (one cup of almond butter, two eggs, one banana, fruit on top) with a side of almond milk.

For lunch, we made paleo pizza (almond meal + eggs + rosemary for the crust, fresh vegetables, mushrooms and chicken on top).  Dinner was usually some type of lean meat or fish with vegetables on the side (but at least no almonds).  We would usually eat a small bowl of fresh fruit for dessert.

The very idea of food as fuel, however, defeats the whole purpose of dessert. Dessert is about decadence, pleasure, savoring – taste.   Without sugar, all of the Paleo dessert recipes were disgusting.  We tried paleo candy bars, made with cocoa, nuts and unsweetened coconut.  Then we melted them back down and added raw honey.  A huge improvement.  We tried paleo chocolate cake (sweetened with agave sweetener), and after a couple of bites, it ended up in the trash can.

And yet, we were starting to feel great!  We felt less lethargic.  Prior digestive issues disappeared.  And I started crushing my workouts at the CrossFit gym.  Maybe there was something to be said about putting the right kind of gas in my tank.  And maybe, given enough time, my appetite would adjust.

But there was a problem I couldn’t get over:

Isn’t the human body more than a machine?

And isn’t food more than fuel?

Because the predominant message that the Scriptures give regarding food is this: food is a gift.

Yes, it is a gift with a functional purpose – to fuel the human body.  But like all gifts, it is also meant to bring joy.

Which means that taste matters. But how much?

And that’s the subject of my next post.

Question: How do you keep “good-tasting” and “good-for-you” in balance?

The Paleo Experiment (2): Retraining the Appetite

Update: Dateline NBC recently put together a great introduction to the Paleo lifestyle here (first 6 minutes).

I guess I should disclose from the outset that my wife and I weren’t your usual dieters.  In the almost eight years we have married, we have never owned a scale.  This means that the only times we have even had a clue about how much we weighed were the times we went to the doctor. Our goal in the diet wasn’t to lose weight.  I was interested in something else, and that is the subject of today’s post.

I’ve always been a “meat and potatoes” kind of a guy.  Well, actually, more of a “meat and rice” kind of a guy (I’m half Filipino).  Throw in something cheesy and I’m set.  One Christmas, Melissa and I decided that instead of eating traditional holiday food, we would eat our favorite foods.  I had a steak, Jasmine rice, and macaroni and cheese.

It. was. perfect.

I also have quite a sweet tooth.  Once when I was in high school, I was over at a friend’s house, and his mom had just made cookies.  She put a plate of them on the table and made the mistake of saying, “eat as many as you want.”

I ate the whole plate.

I have more self-awareness these days, but no less of a hunger for cookies.

I’ve also never liked vegetables.  My parents once had me sit at the table until I finished my green beans.  When they went to the other room, I stuffed the green beans down the floor vents.  (My son has inherited my disinclination towards veggies, so I will be watching the vents.)

I always thought I was a healthy eater until I started meeting with a personal trainer.  He made me keep a food log, and he would circle all my cheeses, starches and refined sugars and say, “crap. crap. crap.”

I improved my eating habits mainly to get him off my back.  But there wasn’t really a desire to change.  After all, I wanted to enjoy food.  Life is too short, I reasoned, not to eat snicker-doodles.  Amen?

So when I decided to go Paleo, the main question in my mind was this: can my appetite be retrained to want what is healthy?  Or is it simply about discipline: denying my desires and choosing what is better?

Can hunger be rewired, or is health mainly a matter of self-denial?

Now as a Christian, I believe that human beings are more than just bodies: we are bodies and souls.  I further believe that body and soul are inextricably linked.  So this question resonates with me on a far deeper level.

Because I find that so many times my problem is not that I can’t do what I want.  The problem is: I want things that are bad for me.  I have an appetite for selfishness, laziness, and pride.

Can my soul’s appetites be retrained?  Or is it mainly about self-denial?

Question: What do you think?  Is health – whether physical or spiritual – mainly a matter of retraining the appetite or a matter of self-discipline?

The Paleo Experiment (1): How To Eat Like A Caveman

My wife and I just finished a 30-Day experiment with the Paleo diet. In today’s post, I’d like to explain the diet and why we decided to do it.

Paleo is short for paleolithic, which is a fancy way of saying “Stone Age”.  The basic idea is that the human body is naturally adapted to the kind of diet that is common in pre-agricultural, hunter-gatherer societies.  In other words: lean meats, fish, vegetables, fruits, seeds and nuts.

There are a lot of evolutionary assumptions here that continue to be debated among nutritionists and anthropologists. These may come into play later in the series, but for now I’m not really interested in that side of the debate.  My concerns are much more pragmatic.

For now, I think I can draw parallels between the Paleo Diet and the Barefoot Running movement, which argues that the human beings are “born to run” barefoot: the modern innovation of running shoes is unnecessary.  Paleo proponents argue that the human body is “born to be run” by certain types of food, and modern civilization has actually led to the diseases of affluence that are common in modern society: obesity, heart disease, and various types of cancer (which are rare among hunter-gatherer societies).

So what can’t cavemen eat?  Processed food, refined sugar, grains and dairy. Specifically, cavemen can’t eat deep-dish pizza or lasagna, my two favorite foods.  Cavemen can’t consume cookies, which I eat like it’s my job. Cavemen have a hard time eating out; in fact, it’s nearly impossible.  Cavemen can’t drink diet Coke, sweet tea, lemonade or pretty much anything other than water and almond milk.  (Black coffee is allowed, alcohol is forbidden.)

I heard about the diet at my CrossFit gym. They were challenging us to take something called the Paleo Challenge, a 30-Day experiment with the Paleo lifestyle.  “Try it,” they said, “and see if you’re not better, faster, stronger, happier.”  Now I’m always skeptical about these kinds of promises, and yet I’ve seen such great results from CrossFit (which made similar promises), that I decided it might be worth a try. I wondered, could Paleo do for my health what CrossFit did for my fitness?

My wife had to sign off on it, especially since she does 99.9% of the cooking at our house (I make eggs for breakfast once a week).

I was surprised at how quickly she agreed to it.

I am a person who likes to experience things from the inside whenever possible rather than as a “detached observer”.  I didn’t think it would ultimately change the way I eat, but having never dieted before, I wanted to see if I felt as good as advertised.  Plus, it was only 30 days.  How hard could it be?

We told a family member who has diabetes about our experiment.  She said, “So basically, you have to eat like a diabetic.”

Yep.  For thirty days.

Question: What would be the hardest thing for you about the eating like a caveman?

Church of Crossfit (4): The Local Church/Gym

It is now time to turn to describing my experience at the local Crossfit gym.  If you’re more interested in the lessons I’ve learned on my journey and not so much on the process itself, you can skim or skip this post.  But it will be helpful in providing valuable context.

After returning from my trip to Peru, I returned to XSport and began doing various workouts that I learned from Scott on my own.  It wasn’t long, however, before I was bored to death. The gym seemed like one of the most dis-connected places I had ever been: as I have written, it was like a giant shopping mall for fitness, where everyone was alone together, chasing after an illusive image of buffness.

I told Scott about my gym fatigue and he advised me to make the switch to the local Crossfit gym, less than a mile away.  After pondering this for a couple of months, and visiting once, I signed up for 10 sessions at the Crossfit box.

So what is a Crossfit box like?  The first thing I noticed is that the gym was not built around my workout preferences but rather around the Crossfit philosophy.  There was no day care for my kids.  No televisions anywhere.  No smoothie stand.  No expensive treadmills and ellipticals.  No weigh machines. There weren’t even any showers.

Instead, there was a large, rather empty warehouse space littered with barbells, bumper weights, Russian kettle-bells (that’s Lance Armstrong with one above), and 20 lb. medicine balls.  Gymnastics rings and heavy ropes like the one you climbed in 3rd grade hung from the ceiling.  There were a couple of truck tires and sledgehammers sitting against one wall.   Whiteboards on the walls listed the day’s workout (which everyone would do a version of) and other announcements.

All the workouts are done in groups/classes, supervised by an certified/ordained Crossfit coach.  The group might be as small as 2 or as large as 12, but the togetherness element is one of the most critical pieces of Crossfit DNA.  I’ll delve deeper into this in my next post.

The liturgy for the workout is divided into three basic movements.  The first 15 minutes is spent on warm-up, which by itself can be pretty intensive for newbies. They have a shirt that says, “our warm-up is your work-out.”

The next part of class is usually spent working on form and technique for the lifts, which are mainly Olympic lifts, like the snatch and the clean and jerk.  These are explosive lifts: difficult to get the hang of at first, but pretty fun once you get used to it. Here’s a video if you’re interested.

The final part of class is spent on a workout designed simultaneously to challenge your strength and endurance.  The workout might be anywhere from 2 to 15 minutes, depending on how fit you are or how heavy you’re lifting.  On special days, we’ll do a workout that lasts around 30 minutes (see below), but these are rare.  The reason for this is because most of the workouts involve maximum output and very little rest.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that this would be a very different workout experience.

Friday: Church of Crossfit (5): “Invite Your Friends to Experience Our Community”

Question: What intrigues or interests you most about Crossfit as I’ve described it?

What’s In a Name?

So I thought I would write a quick post explaining the reason why I have called this blog, “Meditations in a Toolshed.”

First, the picture in the header is of the shed in my backyard.  Since we moved in, I’ve hated the shed and wanted to tear it down. The doors are about to fall off.  The prior homeowners left a ton of garbage in it.  Skunks moved in for a month a few summers ago.

But when our friend Irene came to visit, she took this picture of the shed, and since then it has grown in my estimation.  It looks like a place that has a story, character, and mystery.

In other words, sometimes it takes another perspective to open your eyes.

But the main inspiration for the title comes from the title of a short C.S. Lewis essay entitled, “Meditation in a Toolshed.”  In the essay, Lewis tells of a time when he was in a toolshed and began to look at a beam of light shining through the door. He then moved into the light and looked along the light, up through the door, through the trees and into the sun.  His conclusion: “looking along” is very different than “looking at”.

He goes on to describe that the view is very different when you are inside an experience (“looking along”) than when you are outside of it looking in (“looking at”).  He writes:

A young man meets a girl. The whole world looks different when he sees her. Her voice reminds him of something he has been trying to remember all his life, and ten minutes casual chat with her is more precious than all the favors that all other women in the world could grant. lie is, as they say, “in love”. Now comes a scientist and describes this young man’s experience from the outside. For him it is all an affair of the young man’s genes and a recognized biological stimulus. That is the difference between looking along the sexual impulse and looking at it.

For the person in love, the world is alive for the first time.  But the person looking at it from the outside picks the experience apart, reduces it it, demythologizes and debunks it.  “All it is,” he says, “is hormones.” He might be right.  But he is looking at the world as an outsider.  He unable to really see, since he is not in love himself. He knows how to look at the world from the outside, but not from the inside.  And so he is blind.

My goal is to see the world, not through the eyes of a detached observer, but through the wide eyes of wonder, entering in, drinking deeply, not merely knowing but tasting.

Perspective. Wonder.  These are my meditations from the toolshed.