Before I begin, I know it has been a very long time, the longest yet, since my last post. While I have been doing new recipes and documenting them, I haven’t had the time or energy to sit down and write them up for you. I won’t go into the details of my absence but it was a combination of work pressures, low mood and general stuff which I will file under ‘life’.
I have been drafting this particular post in my head for a couple of months now, so it will be a fairly wordy, don’t worry the recipes will be following very soon. I wanted to talk about why I do paleo, as I have questioned it myself recently, and also aspects of mental health when it comes to the ‘healthy lifestyle’.
I still get questions from people, mainly work colleagues, asking why I do paleo or why I’m always “eating healthy”. When people offer me sweets or chocolate I will nearly always turn them down, to which they reply “you’re so good”, referring to my willpower in resisting temptation. In truth, I do my utmost to resist temptation but boy is it hard. Those who work in EMS will know tea and biscuits are rife, and people often bring in cakes and sweet things to celebrate a birthday, event or or sometimes just because. Should I turn them down? Why can’t I just enjoy it and treat myself? Now there are a few arguments here:
Life is too short. Yes, this is true life is to short and I am guilty of not realising this. I have had mental battles with myself in supermarkets trying to justify why I want to buy this chocolate bar. Even to the extent where I have picked it up and then had to go and put it back. If you ever see someone staring at the chocolate isle or biscuit isle in a supermarket for a good fifteen minutes, chances are it’s me on a bad day.
Life is too short, and we should enjoy it ‘everything in moderation, including moderation’, as the saying goes. When I first started eating paleo I got it into my head that if you break it you’re not doing it properly and therefore failing. Extreme? Yes, but sadly this was/is how my mind works. I also find that refined sugar is just so addictive, when you have been ‘clean’ off it for so long and then it comes back with a vengeance, often causing a snaccident, and it makes you want to pack it all in and just eat crap again. I believe if you’re going to do something you should do it properly, this is both limiting and hard when it comes to food. That, however, is a personal battle and one that is ongoing, am trying to get better at it but until I get the results I’m wanting, I doubt it will change.
You could get hit by a bus tomorrow. Again yes this is true, you could get hit by a bus tomorrow, making it all ‘worthless’ in trying to stave off disease as even the healthiest person on the planet can’t stop traumatic injuries. My argument is yes you could get hit by a bus, but I take steps to avoid that, like many others. I don’t play in traffic, I don’t cross a road without looking and I don’t get completely blind drunk to where I would take risks such as that. As a result I feel it applies when talking about healthy lifestyle, I don’t want to get sick and obese and not be able to take care of myself therefore I do what I do.
Why do I do it? Well the last line above sets it out fairly clearly but in my job, which unless you do it you will never truly know what I’m talking about, I see people who are existing (sometimes living) with long term conditions attributed to, or made worse by, poor lifestyle habits and it makes me fearful. Losing anyone young is a tragedy but when it seems to be caused by poor lifestyle choices it makes it even worse, as on some level it was preventable. For those in EMS who have also experienced this they will know how it feels when you have to resuscitate someone in their family home who is the same age or younger than one of your parents or your partner. It is a feeling that always hits home with me.
Don’t get me wrong, doing paleo and shift work is hard, sometimes very hard. During my hiatus from the blog I have considered the question of why I bother doing this very carefully. The reason why I started thepaleoparamedic.com was to try and help people, and myself, with meal preparation as that is the key to healthy eating in shift work, whether you chose to follow paleo or not.
Shift work is not good for us full stop. Those working in EMS and other shift work professions know that, and this is just how it is, this is our way of life, we both love it and hate it, the latter more so on occasion.
Why is it so hard? Exhaustion, I would say, is the most limiting factor when it comes to meal preparation and eating healthy. There have been days where I have finished work 3 hours late, getting home at just before 2200 when I should have been home at 1830 where the last thing on my mind is “oh I must spend the next forty minutes making a delicious healthy and balanced meal”. Most of the time when this happens, all I want to do is sit in my underwear and work my way through an entire cake without thinking about anything, knowing that this cake will satiate my hunger, make me feel good (before the sugar rush come down) and, crucially, require 0% effort except for opening a box. Junk food and ready meals are so much easier because they’re just there, requiring nothing more than the pushing of a few buttons. So yes, what I do and try to do is not easy but I’m doing it for the long term gains.
I try and keep my freezer stocked with meals I’ve prepared in advance for ease because being lazy is just so much easier. It is so much easier to come home after a shift with a takeaway that you picked up on the way and just sit there and eat it on autopilot before crawling into bed to wake up the next day at 0400 for a 0600 start. With meals you’ve prepared in advance and frozen though all you need to do is take them out and reheat them, simple as.
Yes people who work 9-5 have other stuff going on, yes we all have stresses in our lives, but the one thing we can’t help is exhaustion. I don’t plan to be 3 hours late finishing, but if the patient needs me, they need me and I don’t care how long it takes as they are who I do the job for. I don’t believe people willingly join EMS nowadays for an ‘easy life’, as it is anything but. Preparing meals on your days off time consuming, but I try to make recipes which are simple or have a period of time where they can just be left to cook on their own without you having to do anything. Soups are great for this.
So, why do you do it? I continue to do it because looking back at where I was and how I felt before I started the blog and before I started doing paleo, I don’t want to be back there. I feel much better from doing paleo, even if it isn’t 100% paleo 24/7/365, I still feel better. Is paleo the only way to eat? No, of course not, I just found it worked the best for me when it came to shift work. I would advocate people trying the paleo diet for 30 days and see how they feel. I did, many years ago, thinking “sure, we’ll see how long this lasts” and I was amazed at the difference. Even now when I have cheat days, more often than not I don’t feel the best the following day.
You mentioned mental health? Yes, I did. I’ve touched on some areas, such as my supermarket battles and wanting to eat cake in my underwear, but I do want to talk a bit about mental health when it comes to the umbrella term of ‘healthy eating’.
The term ‘mental health’ seems to carry a dark, dirty undertone to it, it’s the thing we all have that no one ever talks about. This may apply only to the UK but have you ever stopped and counted the number of times in a day you have said:
“Hi mate, how’re you?”
“Good thanks, how’re you?”
“Not bad thanks”
I counted once and I said it eleven times in an eight hour period, most of the time without thinking. Occasionally I would see what happened if you substituted ‘not bad thanks’ for ‘great thank you’ or ‘really good thank you’ to see if it prompted any more of a response, but it didn’t. If we actually stopped and said “actually I feel like shit to be honest”, it may prompt more of a conversation. As long as people are ‘okay’ or above on the emotions scale that means they’re doing fine. How often do we say we’re ‘okay’ when we’re not? I’m just as guilty as the next person.
How is this relevant to paleo? Well, I, like many others, have struggled with aspects of my own mental health, in particular low self esteem around body image. When you ask a non-athlete why they are eating healthy, they will generally say it’s to lose weight or to just be healthy, often meaning losing body fat or toning up; this was certainly the case for me and paleo.
Being obese is not good for you, any health professional will say the same. You don’t have to look like an underwear model to be healthy either, because the chances are they’ve been photoshopped within an inch of their life before being published. If you’re wanting to change your lifestyle for the betterment of your own health, the hardest obstacle to overcome is your own belief in yourself that you can actually do it.
Any diet or lifestyle change that advises you to eat more vegetables and avoid processed foods and sugar is always going to be good for you, paleo is just one of these, it’s not the answer for everything or the only way you can be healthy. I advocate paleo because it really helped me, I found my mood improving, I slept much better and adjusted between shifts better (which is the key in EMS) and just generally felt better. Paleo is not the answer to everything and is not the only way to be healthy, it is one of many, this is the one which worked best for me and I would advocate trying it for 30 days as per the book by Rob Wolff.
I hope this has been insightful to at least one person, feel free to comment below on your experiences and whether you can relate with anything talked about here as I would love to hear from you. If you think I’m talking total crap then feel free to tell me that too. New recipes to follow very soon.
Love to my readers and followers as always,
The Paleo Paramedic