Barefoot Monologues

A Journey of the Sole


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Paleo vs. Vegan: The Politics of Diet

As we are all coming off the high of this insanely partisan Presidential election, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the equally partisan views that many folks have between the two big fringe dietary models of our current time: Paleo and Vegan.

For those of my readers who may not be familiar, I’ll take a moment here to explain my understanding of the differences between these two diets. Veganism is almost exclusively a plant-based diet, utilizing the carbohydrates that vegetables, fruits and grains provide for energy, with the added proteins and fats from nuts, legumes and fatty plants such as avocados. Vegans stay away from any animal product, protein or meat, including by-products such as milk, eggs, cheese and animal-derived oils. They also generally avoid heavily processed items, anything that has so many ingredients that it stops becoming real food.

The Paleo, or Caveman diet is often construed to be the opposite of Vegan. By definition, it is not at all. The Paleo diet contains any food that is naturally derived and completely unprocessed – that is, anything that would have been consumed throughout most of human history as we evolved to what we are today. This diet contains all forms of unprocessed meat (preferably grass-fed and not drugged-up), fruits, vegetables, eggs and nuts, and strays away from processed animal by-products like milk and cheese. Paleo also excludes any form of grain – wheat, oats, rice – because it must be processed for consumption. Legumes (beans, lentils, peanuts) and potatoes are also out because they were not a part of the diet early on in human evolution.

The reason I titled this post as such is that the people who follow one of these diets tend to feel strongly for their choice, at the total expense of the other. For example, earlier this year I decided to try a 30-day Paleo challenge, and was subsequently chewed out by a Vegan friend on Facebook. Fact and fiction alike was littered about the conversation, and there was even some namecalling. It felt like a political campaign, or hell…even a little like a religious argument.

Personally, I find that I generally tend to stay away from the side of any argument that feels dogmatic to me, and lean toward the side that feels more based in historical or empirical evidence. This is probably why I tend to lean left in my political beliefs, and non-denominational in my thoughts about life after death.

While both Veganism and Paleo tote around plenty of evidence for bringing on good health, and even though, like most religions, they aren’t all that different from each other if you look at the fine print, there’s just something more dogmatic to me about Veganism.

In my experience, many people who promote Vegan eating do it for moral or ethical reasons (i.e. meat is murder). Now, certainly this is not the case for all Vegans, but there is a good portion of that argument in there, anytime you touch on the subject. Conversely, Paleo devotees almost exclusively follow the diet for health and well-being, discarding the subject of morality entirely. I’ve always leaned toward the Paleo way of thinking because in my opinion, the nourishment of my body has nothing to do with ethics or kindness to animals (or plants either, for that matter). Coyotes eat rabbits because their bodies are evolved to need them. Cows eat grass for the same reason. I like to take my cues from science and evolution. But hey that’s just me, and this is my blog.

That said, I have seen some excellent empirical arguments made recently by friends of mine for the Vegan diet, laced with interesting anecdotal evidence (my favorite kind, heh). It’s times like these where I appreciate the sort of people I surround myself with because they are generally open-minded and intelligent, which is an excellent combination of qualities, especially because I love to learn from people and be inspired to think differently. Many of my smart, science-y friends have been testing (and loving) the Vegan diet for its ability to cleanse the body of toxins and promote overall good health. Most of them are runners as well, and they have boasted huge improvements in their performance since switching to the plant-based diet. And probably the best news of all, each of them has reported significant weight loss where needed.

Being that Paleo has always been the better fit for my political compass, I resisted these findings for quite some time. Sure you can go on a Vegan diet for awhile, but how long until you just need to go chew on an animal? How long can you really resist the general diet of the average human in 2012? Other than for out-of-the-ordinary people like Scott Jurek or Pat Sweeney, Vegan always seemed more temporary to me than even the likes of other diet systems like Weight Watchers, Atkins or South Beach. There’s just so much you have to take out of your diet, it just didn’t seem worth bothering.

But I’ve come to a crossroads. I’m struggling emotionally and physically with the weight that I’ve gained in the last four years. I don’t like the way I look in my clothes (or out of them). I run anywhere from 10-30 miles per week, I fill my house with all sorts of high quality foods, yet I still struggle with losing this extra weight. And I believe that the extra weight is the only thing keeping me from my running goals. Genetically pre-dispositioned, I’ve been somewhat overweight for most of my life and even though I’ve been moderately successful on some low-calorie diets before, I’m tired and bored of them. I need a different challenge, I think. It might be possible that going Vegan for awhile could offset that boredom enough to help me discard that unnecessary weight.

So I’m putting some thought into switching to Vegan temporarily, at least until the Across the Years 24-hour race that I just signed up for. I’m thoroughly ecstatic for this race, but I’ve been worried that my body isn’t up for the same challenge that my mind is itching for. It’s possible that changing my eating habits now, just shy of two months beforehand, could bring my body closer to meeting that challenge.

I’m not promising anything, I think, but I’m putting some serious consideration into the idea. I expect I’ll have my decision made by the end of this week. I welcome any thoughts or advice that my readers may have on the subject. Especially the free-of-politics kind. 🙂

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The NEW New Goals

One thing to know about me is that while I’m really good at setting goals, I’m not always too spectacular at keeping them alive. Kind of like if you bought a really pretty bonsai plant for your house and then only watered it for a week. Some goals are just impossible for me to complete without first getting bored or otherwise distracted.

Sometimes my goals are met, though, at least partly if not fully. As planned, I completed my first 50K race this year. Also I ran a better half marathon. And in about two weeks my husband and I are moving across the country to San Diego, a goal we have had in mind since sometime around forever. Not too bad for 2012, I’d say.

And then there’s the goals I never completed: lose 30 pounds before the Pineland 50K. Finish a 20-mile training run. A 30-day running streak. 100-ups. The Paleo diet. Learn to love gardening.

All of these things were somewhat of a failure. And I think that’s because they were all things I thought I should try, rather than what I really wanted to do. They are all similar, though, in meaning: a way of working toward self-improvement, and added self-awareness.

(Well, except for the gardening stuff. I’m never going to learn to love mowing the lawn and planting flowers. Forget it. So instead we are hiring a gardener to deal with the new place.)

It is a good thing to always aim at improving yourself. No matter where you are in life, there’s always room for a challenge or a change. So I have revised my short-term list of goals, based on my own current version of self-improvement and upward change. It’s not your list of goals, or Scott Jurek’s, or Vanessa Runs’…it’s mine. It’s not a long one, either. And I think that is why it just might work.

1. More Ultras

This one is simple. I want to run more ultras. 50k’s, 50 miles, and perhaps beyond that. Or perhaps not. Thing is, I don’t have a set time goal for any new distances (beyond 50K), because that’ll just set me up for stress and ultimate failure. Also I haven’t signed up for anything at all, yet. And I still like my half marathons and 10k’s, so I’m not sure I’ll ever completely eliminate them from my repertoire like some of my ultra friends have. I just know that I have so much more to learn from the ultra marathon, and I’m finding that I very much look forward to the experience.

2. Trails + Hills

This year I fell in love with the trail, which is very awesome. But I am still really fucking bad at running up and down hills. It’s not that I can’t do it. I really just don’t do it. Not very often, anyway. There aren’t a lot of hilly trails near me, and I don’t spend much time looking for them, either. So as a result, when I do find myself at the bottom of some hills, I run out of gas pretty quickly. But I can get better, I know it. I am strong and enduring. All it will take is some practice and some dedication to the other goals I’ve got listed here.

3. More Challenges

I have a lot of very talented mountain-running trail monkeys as friends. Shelly and Jason Robillard, Jesse Scott, Mr. Shacky-Shackleford, Vanessa Runs, Pat Sweeney, et al. Contrary to what you might think, I don’t want to be them. I don’t care if I run as fast or as far as any of them, ever. But, what they’ve shared about their journeys is very helpful to me. I have learned a lot about myself by watching them, following the goals they have achieved, and even by getting to run with some of them. I want more challenges, I want to experience more of the things that running can offer me, and I want to grow as a person because of it. I want to be faster, fitter, and to enjoy longer runs. And once I get there, hey…I guess I’ll have those crazy monkeys to thank for it.

4. Healthier Eating Habits

Yeah, I say it every day. I really gotta stop eating pizza and chocolate. Start counting calories again. Get back on Paleo. Maybe try vegan. Soon. Next week. Once we move. before my next ultra. Someday. Blah, blah.

Blah.

It never works. So, to hell with diets. It really just time for me to grow the fuck up and stop eating like a twenty year old. I’m 33 now. Pasta makes my belly fat and my belly fat keeps me from running fast. With the rest of my goals shifting towards better training and ultras, this is my goal to eat for the purpose of running fuel. Chances are, if I do this right and run as often as I want to, I’ll lose weight reasonably fast. And then I’ll finally be able to run reasonably fast.

5. Cross-Training

I am notoriously bad at cross training. I tell people that I don’t run for exercise, because if I did I’d probably only run twice a year. I don’t do well with exercise for the sake of exercise. It has to be a challenge, a game, or an art form for me to even consider wanting to do it regularly.

But I really need to get stronger to become a better runner. Something has to change. So next week I am cancelling my gym membership in Boston, and I’m not getting another one in San Diego. And I’m not joining any expensively ridiculous Crossfit gyms, either. Nope. Instead I’m buying myself a mountain bike, and I’m going to ride it on off days and for simple errands to cut down on gas usage. And I’m going to make myself a slosh tube (thanks for teaching me, Jason!) and get better at things like burpees and squats. I don’t need a gym membership to cross train. I just need some fucking motivation.

And that concludes my list. My hopes are that the change in scenery, the complete overhaul of my work hours and lack of commute, and my ultra-badass friends living nearby will all be helpful motivating factors. If nothing else I’ll be totally out of excuses.