“My Life in a Pyramid” Interview

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A few months ago, I received this email in my inbox:

Hi there, Laura!

This might sound random, but I was just on the phone with your mom, Pamela, earlier today … Basically, I heard her talk at the Dietary Guidelines Press Conference and figured I’d contact both her and Adele Hite to seek advice about nutrition-related career choices. I’m basically interested in two main things: 1) educating the public about what healthy traditional diets actually look like and on how to move gracefully from eating SAD to eating real, nutrient-dense foods, and 2) pursuing an entrepreneurial venture that connects people to their local farms and enables them to make their food choices and purchases easily and smoothly. Having those two goals in mind, I’m trying to understand if a nutrition degree is necessary/important to achieve this, and which kind of degree/specific topic.
 
Your mom had some good advice — she told me basically that your MPH-RD program at UNC is the way to go, and that it’s a good idea to try to build a private practice in order to coach patients based on one’s own conviction of healthy eating, while avoiding having to adhere strictly to flawed government-mandated principles. After sharing her experience with me, she told me about you and urged me to contact you to get your input about the program. She also shared your blog, Ancestralize Me. Looks like it’s a great resource; I’ve subscribed to it and followed your FB page. Looking forward to reading your posts!
 
This is the short bit about me that I’ve shared with your mom: I’ve been a convert to the ‘real food’ way of eating for the past few years after being introduced to Mark Sisson’s The Primal Blueprint and then to Sally Fallon and Mary Enig’s Nourishing Traditions, the WAPF, and a few other books and documentaries that debunk some of the conventional myths surrounding healthy eating, and that shed light on the importance of real foods. I blog about healthy living and share some of my recipes on My Life in a Pyramid, and recently, I collaborated with a friend to start a traditional Middle Eastern food site called midEATS. I thoroughly enjoy blogging, and I probably won’t stop anytime soon, but I want to make a stronger impact within the fields of nutrition, public health, and the local food economy. With a Master’s degree in English Literature and Cultural Studies, I feel comfortable researching and writing about a wide range of topics, but I am wondering whether a degree in holistic nutrition, nutritional science, or food studies might enable me to reach more people with my message. The options for programs are quite dizzying, so I’d love some insight from someone with experience in the field.
 
Oh, also – I’d love to “interview” you for my MLP blog (via email or phone – up to you) to expose more people to Ancestralize Me, if you’re interested! Let me know what you think! :)
 
All the best,
Heba

 

Of course I agreed to do the interview, and after a few email exchanges with Heba, she put together an awesome (and flattering) blog post about me and my foray into Ancestral health and nutrition. I’m so impressed by the article, it makes me sound so professional and well informed! (which I’m clearly not…😉 )

Check it out!! Thanks so much Heba!

Paleo 101: An Interview with Nutrition Student Laura Schoenfeld of Ancestralize Me | My Life in a Pyramid.

Training with Fifth Ape – Day One

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One of the cool things about getting involved in the Paleo community is that it drives you to seek out new opportunities to enhance your Paleo experience. That’s how I found Colin Pistell and his fitness training company, Fifth Ape. I literally searched the word “Paleo” on the Meetup.com website and found his meet-up group, as well as his actual business. (By the way, if you haven’t tried that yet, its a great way to meet like-minded Paleo folk in your area, so you’re not sitting on the computer all day chatting with your ‘friends’ on Paleo-hacks.)

Colin: The Man, The Myth, The.... never mind

If you remember, I wrote a post about a conversation I had with Colin when I first met him about the sheep-like quality of many people who follow ‘movements’, and since then I’ve enjoyed getting to pick Colin’s brain and allow him to keep me on my toes when I start getting complacent and begin baa-ing too much, if you know what I mean. He’s very skeptical of the Paleo movement in a good way. He generally follows it himself, but he’s always questioning things and does his best not to let himself get carried away with group-think and inappropriate idolization.

Fifth Ape = No Sheep Zone

After going to a few free meet-up sessions that Colin led, including a less-than-successful Parkour attempt and a very informative barefoot running tutorial, I decided that I wanted to have Colin help me out with my individual fitness goals. So he agreed to meet with me a few times, discuss my goals and limitations when it comes to fitness, and design a program for me to follow that will maximize my progress. Sa-weet.

Now, as I mentioned to Colin before we started, I’m a bit “fitness-retarded” in the sense that I don’t really know how to design my own workouts for maximum efficiency. Lately my modus operandi has been to just go into the gym, do a 10-15 minute warm up, throw whatever-the-frack weight around that I felt like at that given moment with no regard to muscle groups, and then do a cool down. Not the worst thing I could be doing, but certainly not the best protocol for someone looking to improve their athleticism. Hence why I’ve employed Colin – I trust him to be able to determine my needs and improve on various weaknesses or limitations I may have developed over the years of improper exercise technique.

As part of the initial session, we discussed my goals. He reminded me that my programming has to take the context of my life into account. For me right now (full-time student, working, dealing with stress, lingering effects of disease, etc.) a Crossfit style high-intensity protocol is “probably counterproductive” according to Colin, and I agree. I can’t tolerate the added stress of a 20-minute AMRAP workout every day, so Colin is going to make sure my routine maximizes fitness gains without causing excessive stress on my already-stressed-to-the-max self.

I know this is really hypocritical in the context of my Paleo Women Are Phat post, but one of my goals is to improve my body composition. I’ve definitely put on somewhat of a cortisol belly this semester, which is not healthy or attractive, and I’d like to work on reducing that (though no six pack or <20% body fat goals, of course).

And I just generally want to be more athletic and mobile. I went to a beautiful ballet performance last night, and I was so impressed to see such athletic looking and not emaciated ballerinas. They looked like gymnasts, and were so graceful and powerful. I know I’m not going to get to that level of fitness per se, but it was inspiring to see women with such powerful control over their body movements. So improving my overall fitness as well as my mobility and athleticism is an ultimate (though ethereal) goal.

I want to start over and become a dancer.

First, Colin checked out my air squatting ability, and had me work on some mobility exercises to help improve my range of motion. I have a history of volleyball playing that seems to have altered my ability to do a normal, balanced squat and I definitely have right leg tightness. Also, I admittedly sit way too much, so my overall mobility is sub-par. He showed me a few different dynamic hip and ankle mobility variations to help improve my squat over time. I’m really hoping to get my squat improved, since its such an important movement as far as functional fitness goes.

We also did a really funky core-stability exercise where Colin had me in a half-kneeling position and using my “deep core” to stabilize my midline instead of relying on my hip flexors. It involved me putting all my weight into my back leg, which was on the floor, and holding my arms straight out in a chop position. Colin then tested my balance and core stability by pushing on my arms in varying directions and degrees of force. I kept giggling because I was reflexively trying to avoid him pushing on my hands, since it was causing me to nearly topple over, so I was inadvertently dodging him at times. I felt like I was filming another sequel to the Karate Kid.

Wax on, wax off. Wax on, wax off.

Then came crawling, which was probably the most socially awkward part of the experience. But definitely worthwhile, since it was the most challenging activity of the afternoon. This movement engaged more core motor control, rotary stability, as well as shoulder stability and motor control. We worked not just on the contra-lateral movement coordination, but also on keeping my hips and lumbar spine from swiveling during the crawl. Also, Colin had me attempt the “classic” Fifth Ape coordination challenge: backwards crawling. Let’s just say the whole ‘gracefulness’ goal is one that I really need to get cracking on.

This is exactly what I looked like during this drill. I swear. What, you don't believe me??

Finally, Colin reviewed high bar and low bar positions for the back squat and talked about hip drive. He had me attempt a few low-bar squats, which was a completely new move for me. I think I actually like the low bar more than the high bar back squat, but as Colin explained, neither is optimal, but both are necessary to practice. I noticed a lot of the guys in the barbell area were watching our workout. Not sure if they were interested in my technique or if they were just distracted by the notion of a female doing back squats. Maybe a little bit of both.

The low-bar squat. Clothes optional.

So that concluded the first workout with Colin. I had a really fun time and I’m looking forward to the next one. I’m hoping that with some time, effort, and a great individual program designed for my needs and aspirations, that I’ll start making strides towards achieving the level of fitness and athleticism that I’d like to have.

No ballet shoes required.

The Phenomenal Adele Hite

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The first thing I want you to do is go read this article by Heba Saleh, interviewing Adele Hite.

Seriously, read it. Go on. I’ll be here when you come back.

Better keep an eye on this one...

Now that you’ve read it, my commentary might make more sense. I’m going to pick out a few lines that I found particularly important, or relevant to the work I’m trying to accomplish in my own nutrition career.

1. “I would recommend my program at UNC, and for good reason. I recommended it to Pam’s daughter – she wouldn’t want her daughter to go through a program where Laura’s opportunities to learn and inquire are squashed at every turn. That is not the way that UNC operates at all.”

I think this is a really important distinction that Adele makes, and I’m so glad she went to the trouble of listing all the reasons why you might select the best nutrition program for your career goals. Often times, despite my obvious frustration with much of the material I’m presented in my program, I find myself constantly defending the RD credentials to people who think all RDs are mindless ADA (AND) drones who have no ability to think for themselves. I hope this article convinces you all that this is simply not true, and that there are RD programs available that do not ‘squash’ your opportunities to ask questions and delve deeper into topics. That’s something I love about UNC, and I’m really glad I am attending this program. I’m learning so much about nutrition, as well as the way nutrition policy works in the U.S., and overall the education I’m receiving is invaluable to my future career as a (hopeful) game-changer in the world of nutrition and public health. So if you’re looking for an RD program that supports an inquiring mind and encourages some level of dissent, I’d say UNC is a pretty good place to attend if you get the opportunity! I’m sure there are other RD programs out there as well that are open to students’ questioning of the material.

2. I was also one of these people; I was obese, struggling to lose weight, eating less and exercising more, and just being marginally successful at best. And people would give a most discouraging reaction, like “you must not be trying your best” or “you must be lying to yourself or others about what you are eating”. These statements are not only condescending, but also devaluing of another person’s human experience. 

This comment really hits home with the message I brought up in my post about struggling with your body weight. Even though Adele wasn’t taking a Paleo approach to her lifestyle, she was still working as hard as she could at doing what she believed was right. For people to write her off and say ‘you’re not trying your best’ is a really ridiculous statement that I think comes up a LOT in the nutrition and health world. I think even people who are eating a perfect Paleo diet and exercising adequately may still never attain their ideal body weight. We’re not living in a diet and exercise vacuum here. Other factors play into body weight such as epigenetics, maternal nutrition, exposure to environmental toxins, gut health, chronic infection, inadequate sleep, and chronic stress. As much as you may try to imitate the hunter-gatherer lifestyle, the truth is that none of us will ever be immune to external forces that may play a role in our health. So the idea that someone would criticize someone for ‘not trying hard enough’ when they’re doing their absolute best to be healthy is just unproductive and, in my opinion, unjust.

3. This is what makes being a nutritionist really important — to tailor advice to peoples’ needs. Well-trained nutritionists can help people evaluate the science, see how it applies to them, evaluate their own body’s messages, because that can be an art by itself. We haven’t been taught as Americans to understand what the body is trying to tell us.

This is something that I think will play a huge role in your success (or failure) as a nutrition professional. I think sometimes people tend to forget that blanket nutrition prescriptions for everyone rarely, if ever, work. Granted, I think the general Paleo/Weston Price guidelines are a great starting place for most people, but truthfully, there is a HUGE range in what people can tolerate in their own diets based on their genetics, lifestyle, and exercise choices. I hope that those ‘experts’ who are in the business of demonizing macronutrients or providing blanket recommendations for all people, regardless of extraneous circumstances, will consider this point when making dogmatic statements about what all humans should or shouldn’t be eating.

4. We do see a lot of zealotry or moralizing about food in the world, and I think it’s interesting especially when we’re looking at ancestral ways of eating. Do we look at the far, far past — the caveman’s diet? I’m taking a food culture and anthropology class and one of the things we know is that we ate a lot of insects and grubs when we were at sustenance-level eating, but I don’t see anybody zealously defending eating bugs!

This is another great point that Adele brings up. Not that I think grains are an ideal component of the diet, and Adele seems to agree that there is no obvious nutritional benefit to including grains in the diet, but I think some people tend to demonize certain foods in general. A good example of this is dairy: some people do great when including dairy in their diet, and others have horrible symptoms and side effects. And others will argue that ‘paleolithic man didn’t eat dairy, so why should I?” Does this mean dairy is evil? No, but dairy is one of those foods that is not universally tolerated by all individuals, and people need to determine whether or not they want it to have a place in their diets. I’d even argue that no food can be considered “universally tolerated,” so again, we’re back to the whole ‘individualization’ thing. Funny how that happens, right?

5. As long as the USDA and the HHS own the definition of “healthy”, there is so much we are unable to change — our agricultural food supply structure, the labeling of products, the advice we give people in medical care and health care systems, the information distributed in the media, our health educational system, all funding for studies — each one of those is tied back to the guidelines.

This is something that I think is so important that Paleo people start discussing. Part of why I’m getting a little tired of the ‘perfect diet’ discussions is that they’re way too narrowly focused on individual goals, and not nearly enough on the kinds of changes that need to be made in the way America eats and produces food. Sure, we all might have access to the Paleo foods we want now, but what happens if the government decides to enact a saturated fat tax like the one in Denmark? Or if health insurance companies start charging you a higher premium because your blood cholesterol is higher than 200 mg/dL?  Or the government shuts down your local raw milk provider? If the Paleo community is too busy arguing amongst itself about ideal carbohydrate intake and the pros/cons of intermittent fasting, we’ll never have any impact on those important big-picture issues that may one day affect our access to the foods we consider healthy.

6. The best thing as I’ve said before is to join forces — those who are in the slow food movement, the agricultural reform movement, WAPF, paleo, low-carb, healthcare reform movement … all these people, if they came together as one and were willing to simply agree on the fact that what we’ve been doing up until now is not working, we can start to push for things to change.

This is the kind of work that will be undertaken by groups like the Healthy Nation Coalition in the (hopefully) near future. However, I think it’s super important that people in the Paleo community, who are already so passionate about healthy food and nutrition, start getting involved in political action that supports our vision for a healthy future in our country. As Robb Wolf said at PaleoFX, “We’re going to either make a policy shift on our own, or it is going to shift for us in the form of a failed state.” I think it’s getting to be that time where Paleo people start thinking more about the global impact of their dietary choices, and whether or not we live in a world that will support our right to choose healthy foods for much longer.

If you read the article (which I seriously hope you did by now), what did you take away from what Adele had to say about nutrition and food policy?

Chime in with your comments!!

ALL my PaleoFX notes, as promised!

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First off, I’d just like to say thank you to all the women (and men!) out there who left me such beautiful comments and messages following my last blog post. I had over 20,000 views on it since I posted it last night, which is completely astounding to me!!

I’m not sure what I said that resonated so strongly with so many of you, but it was really touching to hear that I’d made such a big impact on many of my fellow ‘cave girls’. I guess what I said has been on the minds of many women who weren’t feeling so great about themselves based on a lot of the messages being circulated around the internet regarding what a ‘Paleo’ woman is, and what she should or shouldn’t look like.

Wanting what you don't have... Paleo?

I’m all for a super fit, lean woman, as long as she is happy with the amount of time and energy it takes to maintain that physique. I’m glad that certain women are naturally lean and yet still make the wise decision to eat healthy food, even if they’re not trying to lose weight. But most of all, I want to remind everyone that health and happiness come first. If you’re struggling with your body image in spite of doing all the ‘right’ things with your diet and lifestyle, I hope this last blog post will encourage you to figure out what truly matters in life, more than what you look like. It’s something that I struggle with myself, but I hope as a community we can all encourage each other to move forward and embrace our healthy lifestyle for what it really gives us – health and vitality – and not get hung up on the image goals.

So, without further ado, here are the rest of my PaleoFX notes from the conference. Thanks so much for helping me reach 2000+ fans, and I hope you enjoy! Read the rest of this entry

Paleo Women are Phat

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Disclaimer:  this is not a post meant to be saying that lean women aren’t healthy or fertile. I just don’t like the fact that intelligent women who aren’t lean, but are also quite healthy, are afraid to educate others about nutrition because they don’t ‘look Paleo enough’. If you choose to pursue your ideal body type, then right on! Just please don’t judge other women for not having the same goals, genetics, or life circumstances for achieving the same physical appearance. Thanks for reading!🙂

This post has been a long time coming, so excuse the rant. 

I think the Paleo community needs to take a step back and reevaluate our priorities as far as health and fitness go – specifically for women. I was horrified to see this comment posted by an anonymous internet user on Nom Nom Paleo’s blog post  during our trip to Austin for PaleoFX:

“One question, and I know this will likely come out wrong and I may even regret going there, but I have to put it out there: I can’t help but notice that, while the men all are lean and mean, most of the female Paleo figureheads aren’t, well, quite so lean.What do you think? Am I way off the mark? If not, why do you think this is?”

So me being the excessively opinionated, doesn’t-take-sh*t-from-anyone type of person I am, I decided I had to respond:

“Maybe because women aren’t designed to be lean. Otherwise why would they lose the ability to ovulate when they drop below a certain body fat percentage? I’m pretty sure fertility is a pretty significant measure of health in a woman. Your comment is extremely ignorant.”

Ok, so maybe I got a little too sassy with that response. But seriously, I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately and that post just put me over the edge.

I don’t consider myself to be ‘lean’ whatsoever. Sure, I work out a fair amount and eat extremely nutrient -dense food, but I’m currently a size 8 and probably about 10-15 pounds heavier than my (completely superficial) ‘ideal body weight’. For a long time, it really bothered me that I was constantly struggling with that last 10+ pounds. I’d lose it, maintain for a bit, and then something stressful would happen and I’d just gain it all right back. Totally frustrating, and very disheartening. It really made me very self-conscious about the way I look, considering I purport to have a high level of nutrition knowledge.

These kind of “why aren’t Paleo women lean” comments are extremely hurtful to people like me who work really hard to not only be adequately nourished, but also spend more time reading and writing about nutrition than we spend working out or weighing and measuring our food. Not everyone has the time it takes to dedicate oneself to achieving a ridiculous level of fitness. And yes, for most women, getting a six pack generally takes an extreme level of dedication to restrictive eating and consistent intense exercise.

Is that a 14 pack? Can't say I've ever seen a woman in real life who looks like this...

The sad part, though, is that this extreme level of criticism about women’s bodies has been enough to stress me out about attending events like PaleoFX or becoming more prominent in the Paleo community, because I’m concerned people are going to judge me for how I look. As much as I was excited to attend PaleoFX, I was also really nervous that people would see that I wasn’t in perfect physical shape and therefore discredit the knowledge I have regarding nutrition and health. It was something that made me extremely self-conscious as I was preparing for my trip. And I’m not the only one who feels this way either; Diane and Liz discussed this issue on their most recent Balanced Bites podcast. Despite the fact that Liz is one of the most gorgeous women I’ve ever met, she still feels like she doesn’t fit people’s expectations for the way a ‘Paleo’ woman is supposed to look.

So, does it bother anyone else that women like me and Liz have anxiety attending events like PaleoFX because we’re worried about people judging us for our body size?

Is this what we want, for intelligent women to be afraid of getting involved in leadership roles because they don’t feel like they’re lean enough to fit the part? I think it’s really ridiculous that people would espouse a diet based on evolutionary biology, and yet not understand why the women who follow the diet would have a visible level of body fat. Considering how many female athletes and body builders don’t menstruate and are therefore unable to bear children, we’ve got to realize that the notion of a woman having a six pack is probably not biologically appropriate. And isn’t the whole point of this Ancestral diet to support optimum levels of health, vitality, and ultimately fertility?

Ancient fertility art. No six-pack here!

I don’t care if a woman has a certain body fat percentage goal that she’s working towards, as long as she realizes the sacrifice in fertility she may be making. And I’m aware that certain women have the genetic propensity to be very lean and muscular. That said, I think people in the Paleo community need to start acknowledging the fact that a woman who is healthy and fit for pregnancy is ultimately going to have a decent amount of body fat, which ideally should be around 26-28%. That’s a decent amount of junk in the trunk.

I’m not usually one to show pictures to demonstrate ‘what a woman should look like’, but I know we all like throwing around Marilyn Monroe as a prototype for the ideal. Well, judging from these pictures, would any of you say that Marilyn is ‘lean and mean’?

Back squat perhaps? Get it, girl!

Fortunately, I’ve noticed that when I bring this topic up to the more intellectually evolved men in the Ancestral health movement, they seem to agree that women are generally most attractive when they’re ‘festively plump’. At PaleoFX I had a pretty long conversation about this with George from Civilized Caveman, and I was shocked (and impressed) that he was adamant about women looking better when they have a decent level of body fat to speak of. Truthfully, from my own experience, I always had the feeling most men have this idea that a woman is only sexy when she has flat abs and thin, toned thighs, but it’s great that there are reasonable men out there that understand and appreciate what a woman is biologically designed to look like.

My final point in all of this is that regardless of what a woman looks like, I think we all need to take a step back and think about what is worth pursuing in our lives. I think its really easy to get distracted by chasing a certain level of attractiveness, but at some point we need to realize that there is so much more to life than looking amazing. And I personally am trying my best to move past being self conscious about the way I look, and realizing that I have more to offer the world than a ‘perfect’ body.

 To emphasize that point, here is a list of all the things I would give up having a perfect body to have in my life, inspired by my favorite ‘Ancestralized’ women:

  • Having the ability to understand complicated nutritional biochemistry (while still looking 20 years younger than she actually is) like my mom, Pamela Schoenfeld.
  • Being courageous enough to be bold about demonstrating an awe-inspiring level of passion for public health and nutrition, like Adele Hite.
  • Having a wonderful husband who not only is a good man, but absolutely adores me, like Liz Wolfe.
  • Being strong enough to crank out a muscle-up, like Diane Sanfilippo.
  • Being able to make anyone laugh with an infectious sense of humor, like Nom Nom Paleo.
  • Having the knowledge and ability required to run my own sustainable, organic farm, like Diana Rodgers.
  • Being able to raise beautiful children, in spite of former life set-backs, like Stacy Toth.
  • Having cooking skills worth writing a cookbook about, like Hayley Mason.
  • Being able to take down any know-it-all scientist (or vegan) using science based epidemiological logic, like Denise Minger.

All I’m trying to say, ladies, is that there is so much more we have to offer the world than our looks, or our bodies. I’m still struggling to get past my own self-consciousness regarding my less-than-perfect appearance, but I hope all the women out there reading this post will join me in working towards valuing our brains, our strength, and our loving friends and family much more than we value our physique.

And for the general Paleo community, let’s take our intellectual capabilities up a notch when deciding what we think women are supposed to look like. If you respect nature and evolutionary biology, you should respect the fact that women are designed to have a certain level of body fat, and it’s 100% acceptable for the female Paleo figureheads to not look like Sports Illustrated bikini models.

I look forward to hearing comments from you all regarding this serious issue in the Paleo community!

Even more PaleoFX notes…

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Since I just hit 1600 fans on Facebook, I wanted to publish another round of notes! Woohoo!

The first is the Whole Foods Versus Supplements panel with some of my favorite practitioners, focusing on the important nutrients that are ideally obtained from food but often times need to be supplemented for a variety of reasons. We may have severe deficiencies that need to be corrected, or certain lifestyle issues that deplete us of more nutrients than we can replace simply by eating nutrient dense foods. It’s good to know what supplements the experts recommend taking!

The next set of notes is from Mark Sisson’s “Primal Blueprint Theory to Practice” lecture. Mark explained how he developed his Primal Blueprint, what he’s recently learned about health and nutrition, and describes the best method to optimize your health based on your personal goals. He emphasized having clarity on the implications of your choices, and realizing that there are certain trade-offs that need to be accounted for when making decisions about how you want to run your life. You may make health sacrifices to succeed at things that are important to you, whether that be competitive athletics, a successful career, or even a happy family – and that’s ok!

Hope you enjoy this next round of notes! Remember, share my Facebook page with your friends, and once I hit 2000 followers, I’ll put up the rest of the 28 pages I wrote during the conference!

Read the rest of this entry