I have, of late, taken a bit more of an interest in nutrition than in recent past. I used to work out religiously, and I used to eat cleaner than I have the last couple of years. In part, I started running, and so I ramped up the carb intake a bit. That was fine as long as I was training hard doing martial arts and cardio kickboxing, but when I stopped doing that (and stopped burning in excess of 3,000 calories a week from doing that), the pounds started creeping back on. I went from a "fighting weight" of around 170 to a high of over 200, with my usual weight hovering between 190 and 195. My wife and I decided both of us wanted to do something about our new middle age padding, and so we began researching nutrition and exercise.
Primal, what some folks colloquially call "the caveman diet." This is not, as some people assume, Atkins with a twist. It is a lower carb diet, but unlike Atkins, you can eat potatoes in moderation, and particularly sweet potatoes. You can eat fruits in moderation. No one is saying "don't eat carrots or other sweet vegetables." With Primal living, it is the type of carb that matters, not the fact that you are eating carbs. So we have cut out grains, the sole exception being a VERY moderated portion of rice on occasion, and any type of refined sugars. We allow ourselves up to 1 large potato a day, and we eat fruit in moderation, which we define as "not at every meal, but okay for breakfast or snacks." Like Atkins, this is a high fat diet, but we strive to eat what everyone agrees are the "healthier" fats such as fish, avocado, olive oil, nuts, etc. But we do not worry about eating saturated fat on occasion, and we cook with butter as well as olive oil in lieu of using vegetable oil.
I will say that although the immediate results are impressive -- I am down nearly 7 pounds in right at 2 weeks -- I am not entirely sold on the Primal living philosophy. The exercise program is fine for most people, concentrating as it does on 4 core movements for strength training (pullup, pushup, squat, plank), low intensity cardio such as long walks, hiking, etc., and weekly sprints. Obviously, something like Crossfit or HIT or cardio kickboxing is much better for elite fitness. But while I do believe we eat way too many grains in this country as well, I'm not really sold on the idea that grains are poison and to be avoided at all costs. We still take communion, and we still eat the blessed bread after communion, every Sunday. And I'm sure as time goes on, once we're out of the "lets get in shape" phase and into the maintenance phase, we'll introduce very limited grains back into our diets on rare occasion. However, one thing about Primal living that I am absolutely sold on is eating food.
That sounds ridiculous at first blush. Most people say "well, I eat food." But when I say "food," I don't mean box-packaged, processed, chemical laden garbage that lines our grocery store aisles. I mean REAL food. We have been sold a bill of goods in this country about how red meat and saturated fat, and even fat in general, are "bad" for you. This ignores not only common sense, which indicates that our forefathers lived just fine on animal fat for millennia without issue, but also a growing body of scientific literature indicating that fat, per se, is not the problem. If you look at when our obesity epidemic started, it was right about the time I turned age 10. I remember eating vegetables and fruits out of my maternal grandfather's garden growing up, and real meats and sausages that my paternal grandfather raised and slaughtered himself, and fresh fish that we caught out of the lake ourselves. Chickens were smaller, but still basically a chicken. Beef was darker and uglier, but still basically beef. With the exception of SPAM and bologna, even our cheap food was for the most part decent food like canned tuna or salmon.
Now, chickens and beef are both chemical and hormone laced cocktails. Fish is farm raised rather than wild caught. And "foods" that used to be pulled off the vine or stalk are now boxed with preservatives and chemicals galore. Not only are the foods themselves not really "food" anymore, but eating produce grown across the world out of season means we lose the healthy variety of eating food grown locally in season. I can now eat strawberries year round. But what is done to the strawberries to make them keep so far out of season? Add to that the fact that so much of our diet comes from a box or a bag, and is grain-laden, processed crap, and it is no wonder more than one-third of adults and nearly twenty percent of children in our country are obese. Read labels sometime and look at how much corn and grain are in foods that aren't supposed to have corn and grain. Even healthier alternatives like Moe's Southwest Grill, which offers grass fed beef and farm raised poultry, still use soy marinade and wheat or glutens in much of their offerings. Not to mention the rice content of a simple burrito and the effect that has on insulin production. While I am not at all on the no carb bandwagon -- my favorite breakfast and midnight snack is still berries in Greek yogurt with a teaspoon of honey -- the types of carbs we eat in this country are literally killing us. Put simply, we don't eat food anymore. We eat food plus chemicals, hormones and additives.
What does this have to do with Orthodox Christian living? Quite a lot, actually. Something Orthodox Christian living stresses heavily is simplicity. Living less complicated lives, so that we can concentrate more on living the Christian life in prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Stephanie and I have discussed growing a garden one day. We would love to be in a position to not only supplement our diets with whole, real foods, but to have our dietary needs completely met by such foods. That is easier to do in our society that in recent past, but doing so often comes with a price -- instead of living simply, we go to the Whole Foods market and live out a 21st century, bourgeoisie version of so-called "simple" living. That's not what I'm talking about. We would actually like to grow some of our own food, and where we cannot, support local farmers who grow it for us. In doing so, we recapture a sense of community that is lost in our current, supermarket and shopping mall, global economy driven society. The food I bought today, I bought from my neighbors. People who live near me. This is not only healthy for the body, but it's healthy for the soul as well. If I decide to go to Wal Mart or Kroger to buy the same food next week, then my neighbor may suffer as a result. And if we manage to grow our future garden and have an overabundance of yield, we can do as our friend Daniel from Church did this past week and share with our friends and neighbors.
I have written before that we are saved in community. I am firmly convinced that eating fresh, locally grown and raised food is much more healthy for my body than eating hyper-processed "food" that is shipped all over the world so we can buy it cheaply at the supermarket. But having considered the theological impact of this lifestyle, I am also firmly convinced it is better for my soul, and the souls of those around me as well.