Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Losing grains, keeping empathy: Paleo and fat acceptance

Welcome to the November 2013 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Feeding Your Family

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have shared recipes, stories, and advice about food and eating. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

Hobo Mama wants you to know she's a professional blogger! Look at how professional she's being!

A year ago, Sam and I gave up grains. In June, I recorded this video blog about our decision and my hesitance to talk about it, and I'm finally sharing it here.

Here's the too long; didn't watch summary for you:

Losing grains, keeping empathy: Paleo and fat acceptance
Whee! I'm not eating grains!
And I'm still fat and happy!
I read some information that was really convicting for me that grains were doing my body no favors — that even whole grains elevate blood sugar levels and weaken the body's response to insulin, screwing up the body's ability to use glucose for fuel and not fat storage. Based on my own studying of the subject, grain consumption — across cultures and time periods — is linked to all our modern ills: heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, autoimmune diseases, tooth decay, even acne.

And obesity. And here's where I get uncomfortable as a blogger and as a still-fat person who's very much concerned with promoting size acceptance and various truths, among them:
  • Fat people can be healthy. Thin people can be unhealthy. Weight, in fact, is not a very good predictor at all of health, despite our culture's oh-noes hand-wringing over The Obesity Epidemic™.
  • Fat people, even if they are unhealthy, are allowed to be fat. It's no one else's business. No, don't throw arguments about health insurance premiums and blah blah blah. Fat people can eat what they want and look how they want. That's just how it is.
  • Being fat is not immoral. I'm shocked I have to state this.
  • Diets do not work. Not for something like 97% of people, not long term (as in past a few years, or even less). Let me repeat that: Diets do not work. "Lifestyle changes" do not work. "Everything in moderation" does not work. "Portion control" does not work. Exercising more doesn't work. Fat people stay fat people, overwhelmingly. The data support this conclusion, no matter what anecdotal evidence or hopes and dreams people present as fact. To be brutally clear, diets are worse than ineffectivethey make people fatter. After a diet, weight regain is, statistically, higher than before. And yet whenever someone is fat, all anyone can recommend is trying to lose weight.

So here's me, being a fat person, and a realistic person who's read all those studies about how pursuing weight loss is pointless, and yet I also was at a time a year ago where I wanted to be a little less fat. And when I lost about 30 pounds, effortlessly, after giving up grains, I have to admit I was gratified.

Now, since then, no further progress down the scale has been made. I guess my body kind of likes being the plus size it is. (I've been round about my current weight for the past decade or so, barring pregnancies and the postpartum lack of weight loss after Alrik's birth.) But I still believe so strongly in the health benefits of not eating grains that Sam and I are continuing to stick with this eating style (a sort of paleo / primal / low-carb hybrid), and we'd love it if our kids came along, but they are not there yet.

If I talk about my weight loss, then, I do so under the shadow of knowing (a) statistically speaking, and considering my own personal history, it's likely fleeting; (b) it can be triggering for people who struggle with weight issues of their own, because mainstream conversations about weight loss are very black & white with fat = yuck and thin = yum; (c) I'm still considered obese. So some people will think "Good for you!" (but why? I didn't count calories; I'm not hungry; I'm not even exercising right now) and some others will think, "Ugh, lose some more." When, truly, I love myself; I've learned self-acceptance over the past several years, and it's a beautiful thing. And I never want to unload a heap of you-shouldn't-accept-yourself on anyone, inadvertently or not. Weight is a thorny subject, for sure.

My questions in the video are along these lines:

How does a person talk about a way of eating she finds beneficial — and that also, incidentally, led to (some) weight loss — without having the conversation revolve around that? Is it possible to discuss new eating habits without contributing to our culture of fat shaming?


This post and video aren't meant to debate the merits of eating grain-free and light on carbs and sugars (or, as another route, only traditionally grown and prepared grains) — that would have to be a separate post, if I even have it in me. For the moment, I'll refer you to some resources I've found helpful, including those mentioned in the video:


  • Good Calories, Bad Calories, by Gary Taubes — I loved this book, though it is really, really dense and long, so be forewarned. I gobbled up all the links to research and came away reeling with shock and anger at the duplicity and sheer and willful ignorance of the scientific community in collusion with the government (or is it the other way around?) to sell us all on the lie that eating low fat (i.e., high carb) is the panacea for all our ills … when really it's the freaking other way around. Grr. Really compelling book with a lot of historical comparisons of people who ate grain-free or grain-light and then switched to grain-heavy and what sorts of illnesses followed. This isn't a "diet" book, but that's one reason I liked it.
  • Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It, by Gary Taubes — This is the shortened, layman's version of the former book. If you want the same information condensed, reach for this instead! The title and cover are obviously trying to sell copies, but this, too, is not a diet book, per se.
  • Refuse to Regain!: 12 Tough Rules to Maintain the Body You've Earned!, by Barbara Berkeley — This is the first book I read on the subject. It's a little odd in that it's aimed at weight-loss maintainers, but it explained succinctly and in an understandable manner the way our body's fat storage system can be overridden by excessive carb intake in people who are prone to that.
  • The Paleo Solution: The Original Human Diet, by Robb Wolf — I read several paleo and low-carb diet books, and most of them turned me off or had noticeable flaws, but I really enjoyed this one. Robb's sense of humor is engaging, the facts are laid out clearly and in simple language, and there's not the overriding tone of "lose weight to be acceptable" you often get in diet books.


Articles about being fat and paleo


  • Mark's Daily Apple — inspirational and informational
  • Paleo Parents — if you want some camaraderie from a paleo family
  • The Paleo Mom — same!
  • Refuse to Regain — Barbara Berkeley's blog on weight-loss maintaining, with helpful articles on the science and efficacy of primarian eating (her term)
  • RobbWolf.com — a lot of testimonials and success stories, if you believe in such things…
  • Everyday Paleo — recipes, podcasts, and more
  • Wellness Mama — general healthy, natural, green family living from a primal perspective

Fat acceptance

  • "These are the Fat FAQs" at Love Live Grow — soak in this Q&A, and read the (heavily) linked research if you question the conclusions
  • "21 Things to Stop Saying Unless You Hate Fat People" at Love Live Grow — good reminders, all. I just love the way Issa spells things out! Poke around on her site for more goodies.
  • "Diets don't work, but…" at Shapely Prose — on the myths we tell ourselves to ignore the salient fact staring us in the face: "Diets do not lead to permanent weight loss for the vast majority of people."
  • "Minnesota Starvation Experiment" at Wikipedia — diet (as in, restricting calories) = starvation; your body does not know the difference. Watch what happens.
  • "Proposed" at Shakesville — "I would like to put forth the radical notion that, if a fat person is fat by choice, it's okay."
  • "Calories In/Calories Out? Science Says No" at Dances With Fat — debunking the law of thermodynamics as it would (not) apply to people's bodies
  • "When does it stop becoming a paradox?" at Junkfood Science — part of a fascinating series on "obesity paradoxes" in which being overweight is shown to be protective rather than the reverse

Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be updated by afternoon November 12 with all the carnival links.)

  • Nut Free Desserts for the Holidays — Becky at Crafty Garden Mama will be talking about navigating the holidays with peanut allergies in the family.
  • Making Peace with My Picky Eater — Once upon a time, there was a boy who would try anything. And then he turned 3. Thus began the dinner chronicles at Dionna at Code Name: Mama's house.
  • Foodie Morphed by Motherhood — Rosemary at Rosmarinus Officinalis reflects on the changes of her family's food culture since becoming a mother, and shares a snapshot of their current food rhythm.
  • Introducing First Foods — Wondering what your little one should take a bite of first? That Mama Gretchen explains baby-led weaning/baby self-feeding and answers a number of questions that may come to mind!
  • Feeding Your Family — Coconut Oil!!! — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama is a coconut oil devotee. In this post, she shares her favorite ways to include coconut oil in her family's diet as well as why she feels it is important to do so.
  • We Thank the Earth for its Food! — Terri at Child of the Nature Isle spends hours in the kitchen each day trying to make medicine in the form of food.
  • Focusing on Healthy, Gluten-Free Foods for My Family — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now shares what her family is doing to eat healthily along with her recipe for gluten-free peanut butter oat bran muffins.
  • Intolerancesustainablemum laments the misunderstanding surrounding food intolerances.
  • Don't Let Food Sensitivities Ruin Your Holidays! — Rachel, the Titus 2 Homemaker, talks about ways to enjoy the holidays even if you wrestle with food sensitivities.
  • Losing grains, keeping empathy: Paleo and fat acceptance — Lauren at Hobo Mama vlogs about her family's decision to cut grains to improve health — and hopes she can retain her position as a proponent of size acceptance even as she loses weight.
  • Easy Homemade Crockpot Mac & Cheese — Amy W. at Me, Mothering, and Making it All Work, shakes off the blue-box blues with an easy crockpot mac-and-cheese recipe with no artificial dyes or excessive preservatives … just creamy, delicious, comfort-food goodness.
  • Extended Family Dinners — Shannon at Pineapples & Artichokes talks about sharing family dinners with housemates and why it works for her.
  • Five Suggestions for Eating Healthy During the Holidays — No need to feel powerless when it comes to our highly sugared/processed food culture during the holidays &emdash; Andrea at It Takes Time offers tips to stay on track.
  • How to feed your family — no food required! — Jessica at JessicaCary.com is kind of obsessed with food. But, lately she's realized there's more to nourishment than what she cooks up in the kitchen.
  • Food as family medicine: living gluten-free and beyond — Jessica at Crunchy-Chewy Mama sticks to her gluten-free guns but sees room for improvement in her pursuit of a real-food family table.
  • Feeding My Family — Challenges and Growth — Susan at Together Walking shares what has been most challenging about feeding her two kids and how she has grown in the kitchen since becoming a mother.
  • How I Lost 75 Lbs — What I Eat & My Top 5 Tips — Abbie at Farmer's Daughter shares how she and her family became healthy, happy and active.
  • The Weight of Motherhood — Revolution Momma at Raising a Revolution rethinks her relationship with food after struggling with post-pregnancy weight gain.
  • Geek Food: Pumpkin Pasties — While Jennifer at True Confessions of a Real Mommy and family might have food sensitivities, their geekery knows no limits. So, when faced with a desire to recreate Pumpkin Pasties from Harry Potter, they do not shy away!
  • Pumpkin Harvest Muffins — This summer Mama is Inspired and family grew pumpkins, and this autumn they are baking scrumptious, healthy muffins out of those pumpkins.
  • Reintroducing Meat to the Vegetarian Tummy — Ana at Panda & Ananaso shares some of the considerations she explored before transitioning from a vegetarian diet to reintroducing meat as a protein source and a few tips on making it an easy one.
  • Thanksgiving Meal, Thankful? — Jorje of Momma Jorje has never felt terribly thankful for Thanksgiving itself. Perhaps that could change if she's a little more invested?
  • 5 Ways to Use Healing Bone Broth — It's that time of year again, when unpleasant little bugs make their way into our homes. For Megan of The Boho Mama, guest posting at Natural Parents Network, homemade stock or bone broth is a natural remedy.


Dionna @ Code Name: Mama said...

I have *not* studied the paleo diet, so your mention of the fact that grains are linked to a variety of health concerns is eye-opening for me. Heck, I'm pretty uneducated about the paleo lifestyle in general, even though it has exploded all over the internet in the past couple of years. I'm glad, though, that it is making YOU feel better. Aside from weight loss, do you feel healthier? If so, then kudos! Do what works for you! <3

Unknown said...

We've been more or less paleo for the past 5 years. We do eat grains on occasion, when we're out or eating at someone else's house. We're not extremist about it.
I feel much better when I'm eating paleo, my hair and nails sure look better. I have more energy. But like you, I do not shed crazy weight. I have never been skinny in my life. I lost a lot of weight once doing a crazy diet and dropped down 21 kg from what I am now. Even then, I wouldn't have been considered skinny.
I don't necessarily see myself as 'fat' though. I know I am healthy.
Yes, often I wish I was skinnier, but I also know that's culture whispering in my ear. Heck, a hundred years ago, I must have been the epitome of sexy ;)

Paleo is said to bring you to the ideal weight, without diet, and it does. But the ideal weight can be different from what we've been made to believe should be it.

You are a gorgeous woman. Hugs

Olivia said...

I did not read your whole post because "diet talk", even if it is not about weight loss, makes me anxious. Any attempt to cut something out of my diet is not mentally healthy for me. I just want to say I appreciate your writing about FA.

I've been around the same weight for nearly 10 yrs (since my last re-gain after dieting). No matter what I eat or how much I exercise my pants fit the same. I wouldn't say it is my natural weight because I believe I'd be about 50 lbs lighter if I had never dieted.

That said, having experience the extra weight gain after dieting I do not want my body to change at all. I don't want to gain nor lose weight. I choose to stay fat. I wish society would accept that.

Shannon said...

Thank you for your well put ideas about this subject. It is hard to talk about any type of diet change without weight shaming coming in to it.

Jessica said...

I love this conversation! When I first started working as a food-based health coach nine years ago, most people thought my work was all about weight loss. And that's not what it's about at all. It's about finding a way of eating that helps you feel the most energized and well-fed. That's different for each of us and is totally independent of the number we see on the scale.

I'm hopeful -- I think it's more and more possible to talk about food and eating habits without getting sucked into the fat shaming vortex. From veganism to Paleo to macrobiotics, I think people are starting to get that what we choose to put in our mouths can be for physical, mental, and soul-based reasons, not just to decrease our pant size.

I've got direct experience with this too, because of chronic auto-immune digestive issues I got rid of grains, fresh milk and refined sugar last year too. And while I definitely had to deal with comments about my weight, I tried my best to convey that my food choices were making me FEEL better and that I wasn't doing this to fit into a different jean size. It helped steer the conversation away from weight and toward health.

And thanks for all these great links! I can't wait to check them out.

Lauren Wayne said...

@Dionna @ Code Name: Mama: I feel exactly the same as before, which is to say just normal healthy. I've never felt any different eating different ways, the way that some people say they feel (more energy, etc.). So I'm concentrating more on what I see as the long-term health effects, the kinds of things that would crop up as I age.

And I agree — I ignored paleo for years as way too out-there for me! :)

Lauren Wayne said...

@Lauren Wayne(Says the woman who uses family cloth and had an unassisted home water birth… Slippery slope, I tell ya.) ;)

Lauren Wayne said...

@mamapoekie: I'm so glad to hear your perspective! There are a lot of — well, I call them "jocks" — in the paleo movement, and there's therefore a ton of emphasis on being "lean" and ripped and so on. But I really do have to imagine that in any traditional tribe of people, there would have been people of different shapes and sizes and body composition, even as they were all eating traditional foods.

So, right back at ya: You are a gorgeous woman, and we're giving our bodies what they need, not what some out-of-line culture dictates.

Lauren Wayne said...

@Olivia: I totally understand and apologize if I've made you uncomfortable. It's perfectly acceptable to bow out of reading things that aren't right for you!

The only way I've ever been able to cut something out of my diet (fast food several years ago, and now grains) is because I deeply wanted to, not because someone else was telling me I should. That always backfires. When I was pregnant with Alrik, my midwife kept telling me to cut white flour and sugar, and it turned me into a paranoid, nervous wreck who felt like she had to starve herself (while pregnant!).

Coming to terms with who I am, and the size I am, has been so important and healing to me. When I call myself fat, I often get people denying it with a nervous laugh, but I attach no stigma to the label. I am fat, and it's totally fine. Hugs to you.

Lauren Wayne said...

@Jessica: That is lovely. I was interested when I read your carnival post to learn more about your health coaching — very cool! I'm glad you have that same perspective of choosing food that nourishes health. There's so much tiresome emphasis in the general culture that if your food choices aren't making you ever thinner, you're doing it wrong.

mold recovery said...

Going grain-free helped turn our family around. I love your perspective.

Deb Chitwood said...

I guess my family's diet is almost the opposite of a paleo diet, since we're vegetarians who often eat vegan foods. But I truly believe families need to discover what works for their own family. And I totally agree with your thoughts about promoting size acceptance ... an important cause of mine, too. :)

Olivia said...

@Lauren Wayne

No need to apologize. I know what I have the mental energy to read and what I don't which is why I didn't read your whole post. I'm in a mostly good place with my body and have taken to calling myself fat, too. It's just a descriptor. :)

Unknown said...

We also have not studied the Paleo diet, nor would we ever in a zillion years go grain-free (all four of us love grains too much to do that!) however, I really do stick to my dedication to make most of the foods that we eat from actual FOOD and our family has made great progress in moving away from processed foods.

This is an amazing post, Lauren, full of truth, and fact, and heartache, and I am in awe of your bravery and honesty in saying "Many people are fat. It doesn't make them unhealthy" There really are more scientific criterion for health than the objectified images in our consumer culture.

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