A little backstory…
In 2009, after experiencing unexplained weight loss and undergoing thorough testing, Steve was diagnosed with Barrett’s esophagus. (The disease presents much like GERD but is more severe and increases the risk of developing esophageal cancer.) He was prescribed medications to ease his symptoms, advised to avoid exacerbating foods and drinks and told he would have to undergo routine endoscopies and biopsies to monitor for precancerous and cancerous cells. Steve has a family history of esophageal cancer so the news was especially, well, hard to swallow.
He followed the doctor’s orders but after a few months nothing had changed too much, and emerging research was showing that some of his medications could have complications after long-term use. It was then that Steve started seeking alternative treatment options which included drastically changing his diet. (I’m over-simplifying his efforts to avoid a post with a 2,000 word count but…) Over time his symptoms disappeared and, eventually, he was able to stop all meds. His last endoscopy showed no signs of Barrett’s or even GERD. (!)
Fast forward several years. A friend at work introduced Steve to Crossfit which ultimately led him to discover the paleo diet. He took to both – Crossfit and paleo – and nowadays follows a *mostly* paleo diet *most* of the time.
I, on the other hand, do not. While I’m all for cutting out processed foods, I’ve found it difficult to do entirely. (Not that I’ve actually tried. I can’t even commit to starting a paleo diet.) Also, I’m no vegetarian (hello, Five Guys), but I’ve never been much of a meat eater. There are times when just thinking about chewing meat makes me cringe. That doesn’t bode well for eating like a caveman. I tend to subscribe to everything in moderation, although dairy and I haven’t been on good terms since I went dairy-free when Mabrey was a newborn. No cow’s milk for us; I buy unsweetened almond milk. Most of my time in the grocery store is spent shopping the produce, meat and natural foods sections…and telling the kids no to donuts, candy and fruit snacks. We eat a lot of eggs and fish.
Since we’re in the Midwest, quality seafood can be hard to come by without paying a pretty penny at a gourmet grocery store. Instead, I order Blue Apron meals that incorporate fish. Their Alaskan sockeye salmon is wild-caught, sustainably sourced and is rated “Best Choice” by Seafood Watch, a company that helps consumers and businesses choose seafood that’s fished or farmed in ways that are minimally invasive to natural habitats. Blue Apron avoids overfished species. Their seafood is always raised within natural ecosystems or sustainable farms without the use of antibiotics and added hormones. You can read more about the company’s mission here.
Over the years readers have asked how we meld Steve’s diet with mine and the kids’. Honestly, it takes effort and some days it doesn’t happen. Some days the kids and I eat something completely different for dinner. Either I make a separate meal for Steve, or he’ll make himself something. (During the week, he often gets home after we’ve eaten anyway.) Some days I don’t have the energy to make more than one meal for everyone, so I’ll make something tried and true that I know everyone will like that also happens to be paleo. Some days I don’t have the energy to listen to my kids whine about how much they don’t want (insert healthy paleo food) again, so I’ll make pizza, light on the cheese.
Even though the kids and I don’t identify as paleo, by association with Steve, we do eat more paleo meals than we would if we were left to our own devices. Thanks to picking up simple and effective cooking tips from Blue Apron, I’ve become pretty good at throwing together quick meals or tweaking recipes to fit Steve’s dietary needs. I have twinges of optimism where I think, “Hey! I could maybe do this paleo family thing.” Then one of the boys comes home with a bag of Doritos from their grandparents’ house or a sucker from a classmate’s birthday party, and I roll my eyes and give up too easily.
I thought it might be
helpful fun to share a few things I’ve noticed from living with a paleo spouse…
*SO. MUCH. GREASE. Maybe it’s just what Steve is choosing to cook and his preparation methods but, holy cow, nearly everything is pan-fried in olive oil, coconut oil or butter. And when your spouse cooks like he’s on the set of a cooking show (meaning he uses every dish, pan and utensil EXCEPT for a lid and doesn’t have time for a thorough cleanup), oil and grease end up everywhere…on the stovetop, countertop, backsplash and even the island pendants. I’ve been known to throw open the kitchen window on the chilliest of winter days to air out the Denny’s smell. Sometimes when I leave the house, I can smell fried meat and onions on my clothes and I’m paranoid that I smell like the old people at the pharmacy who smell like fried food. Lots of grease here, folks.
*SO. MUCH. SUGAR. By far, the biggest thing I’ve learned is that sugar is hidden in just about everything. I read labels and search for products without added sugars. (Food companies like to hide them in all kinds of forms, in all kinds of foods.) I favor fresh ingredients over boxed foods. I’m much more aware of sugar content. I think that’s the biggest takeaway.
*When in doubt, add sweet potatoes. Many Blue Apron recipes are paleo-friendly with little to no tweaking. I’ll use almond milk instead of buttermilk, almond meal instead of flour, etc. I’ll forgo non-paleo seasonings on one serving of meat or fish especially for Steve. If I’m looking for a side substitute for Steve, I’ll roast sweet potato coins. Slicing coins is so much easier and quicker than peeling/dicing. If I have more time, I’ll make mashed sweet potatoes. (The first time I made mashed sweet potatoes was from a Blue Apron recipe and I couldn’t believe how easy it was.) Or I’ll throw them into stews and use them as “filler” in salmon patties, too.
FYI – The kids aren’t keen on standalone sweet potato dishes but they’ll eat them when I sneak them into things like salmon patties. Or I’ll just bake diced gold potatoes for them. Again, we aren’t paleo perfect.
*Platters > personal plates. One thing I’ve found helpful is serving meals (usually lunch or dinner) on a big platter and letting everyone fill their plates themselves instead of plopping down plates specifically catered to each family member. I choose what goes on the platter. The kids and Steve choose what goes on their plates. It feels less divisive, less restrictive. Luckily, seafood is one thing everyone in our family likes. Collard greens? Not so much.
*Inspiration > resentment. Truthfully, when Steve made the choice to go paleo, I was annoyed.
“What? Is my prosaic menu not good enough for you?”
“Why do I feel like this is going to be more work for ME?
“Well, of course, you can eat healthy. You only have to worry about feeding yourself. You aren’t at home all day with three little people who have very opinionated taste buds.”
“If you’re going to eat like a caveman, then I’m going to shave like a cavewoman.”
But you know what? I was taking it way too personally. He’s being proactive about his health in order to be the best husband and father he can for the longest time possible. He’s inspiring me to eat healthier and setting a great example for our kids. (He packs the boys’ lunches most days.) He’s healthier and happier, and he looks pretty damn awesome. #handsoff I’m so proud of him. Even if he won’t eat my really awesome spaghetti ;)
Do you follow a paleo diet or know someone who does? Do you have any tips for cutting out processed foods or favorite paleo recipes to share? If your family is committed to a paleo diet, how do you handle school events and family get-togethers? I find those situations the most difficult to control. Sometimes I’ll make a paleo dish and bring it to a family function to share, but the host is noticeably offended. What then?
If you’d like to start incorporating more fresh food into your meals, you can give Blue Apron a try by clicking here. The first 50 readers will get two free meals on their first Blue Apron order!
P.S. – How I clean the globe lights.
UPDATE: After reading through the comments, Steve was compelled to share his thoughts:
Hi, everyone. Steve here. So many great questions and insights. I thought I would try to comment on as many as I could in hopes that it helps someone out. First off, my Barrett’s did not present the typical symptom of heartburn. The only thing I ever noticed was occasional indigestion and the need to clear my throat after I ate. So the diagnosis was a real shock to me and my doctor. I found out later, through my own research, that my symptoms were consistent with LPR or silent reflux. I’ll be honest, when they told me I had Barrett’s, I was freaking out on the inside.
I’m the type of person who reads, researches, digs and occasionally obsesses over things. It only took about 15 minutes on WebMD and the recent death of a loved one to esophageal cancer for me to mentally seal my own fate. If you only take away one thought from this reply, recognize that stress and digestive health are intrinsically linked. There’s a reason we have expressions like “having a gut feeling” or “butterflies in the stomach.” This is not groundbreaking news, but I didn’t realize the full connection back then. Gradually, the increased stress resulted in worsening symptoms and on it went. I tried to do everything right, but perfectionism only exacerbated my anxiety. I can still remember standing in the grocery store after I had been told I should cut gluten, eggs, yeast, dairy, and nuts from my diet thinking “What the f*ck am I going to eat?” Thankfully, I’m in a much better place now. It’s been a long journey, but it was necessary for me. A few things I’ve learned…
Be your own guinea pig. I’ve tried just about all of the diets. And each time I’ve learned something about myself and my specific needs. Don’t be afraid to do the same. Some people say dairy is the devil, and other’s do just fine with it. Everyone is different to a degree. Ultimately, you will most likely settle on something that doesn’t fit perfectly into someone else’s definition, but rather suits your individual needs. Keep in mind that this will take time. Remind yourself that with each little experiment, you’ll be moving closer to what works best for you.
Be easy and honest with yourself. As I mentioned before, the more gravity you put on this, the more stress you’ll create. That’s not going to get you where you want. Treat each experiment with some lightness or a sense of curiosity about your body. Allow yourself to slip up or indulge once in a while. The only way a donut will kill you is if it becomes lodged in your throat which could just as easily happen with a piece of broccoli. That being said, don’t allow yourself to make excuses either. Eating half an ice cream cake every Wednesday is not an occasional treat. It’s a pattern. Again, it’s about balance and honesty.
Quality > calories. The quality and nutritional value of our food typically has a much larger impact on our overall health than just a calorie count. It’s not as simple as some would lead you to believe – calories in versus calories out. This explains why eating a low calorie/high carbohydrate diet often causes people to continue to gain weight. As a rule of thumb, we try to make the bulk of our groceries organic foods that are perishable.
Forethought is your friend. Consistently eating clean takes some planning. When starting to make a change, you’ll need to think through your week and make a rough meal plan. Winging it is not a good strategy. Make sure you have quality snacks and go-to foods if you get in a jam. Don’t let this overwhelm you though. I promise, it becomes very easy after a while. Soon you’ll know exactly what you want when you go to the grocery store…or roll into Chipotle ;)
Eat! There are so many wonderful foods out there that are perfectly nutritious. Don’t focus your attention and efforts on what you’re cutting out. Look at all those wonderful foods that you can eat and dig in.
With those tidbits in mind, there were quite a few questions about my diet specifically. I don’t even like to refer to it as a “diet” because I think that term comes with baggage. It’s just the way I eat. It’s a combination of Paleo principles, Zone diet principles and what I’ve found my body needs. If I had to put some words around it, I would pull them straight out of the Crossfit Journal. This mantra is easy and makes sense to me, “Meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch, no sugar.” Typically, I eat a big breakfast hash that consists of some or all of the following: pulled pork or grass-fed ground beef or egg, sweet potatoes or Jersey yams, mushrooms, onions, cumin, coriander, salt and pepper to taste. It’s awesome. I drink a green juice most days as well (one primarily made up of vegetable juice). I have a snack around 10:30 a.m. of a protein, fat and carbohydrate. This is often canned tuna in olive oil, a piece of fruit or some carrots and some nuts. Then I work out. I supplement with a clean protein shake immediately afterwards. I eat a late lunch salad about an hour after my workout. My salads are epic and often the envy of my co-workers: romaine or spinach, chicken, sliced apple, peppers, carrots, cucumber, a few raisins, pecans and an oil and vinegar dressing. I have another snack in the evening before I head home (again, protein/fat/carbohydrate). Dinner at home usually consists of a piece of chicken or pork, steamed broccoli or cauliflower and grass-fed butter. If I want something sweet before bed, a date and a handful of almonds hit the spot most nights.
I hope this provides some help to anyone looking to feel and perform better. It’s a commitment, but it’s completely doable as long as perfection is not the goal.
*This post sponsored in part by Blue Apron. In order to remain transparent, I would like to mention that I pay out of pocket for my own subscription. Blue Apron provided the meal seen in this post. Thank you for supporting the brands that support this blog!
images: Dana Miller for House*Tweaking