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Going Primal

I know every new post starts with me apologizing for not blogging, but what are you gonna do? I’ve reached a strange point where (gasp!) writing about me doesn’t interest me much. I keep wanting to turn back to Cannon reviews in lieu of boring personal essays, but I never find the time to sit down and watch a movie.

That leaves me posting only when I have something new to report, instead of straining for subject matter or writing about unfortunate first dates. Luckily, I have something new.

Two weeks ago, I started a 30-day challenge version of the paleo diet. This was designed by a CrossFit trainer and passed along to me, by no means a CrossFit trainee, as a method for detoxing from my unhealthy, gassy lifetime of consuming delicious starches and processed foods.

My weight has always kind of fluctuated, on account of the heady combination of laziness and deliciousness, but let me tell you a little story about the depression-induced binge-eating shame spiral. Because it sure seems fun and gratifying in the moment, but the aftermath is never pleasant.

Sometime in 2008, I injured my left wrist. I’m left-handed, and as it happens, everything I enjoy doing involves steady use of that wrist. At the time, I was writing professionally anywhere from two to 20 pages a day. So, that was a problem.

I went to see my physician sometime in November. I described my symptoms—consistent throbbing on the side of the wrist nearest the pinky, weird veins bulging on the palm side, tingling and numbness in the pinky and ring fingers, and an occasional shooting pain that radiated up to my elbow—and he gave me his expert diagnosis: “It’s probably Carpal Tunnel, although it’s strange because usually CTS causes tingling and numbness the index and middle fingers… Hmm, I guess it’s a sort of reverse Carpal Tunnel. [uneasy chuckle]” He gave me a cheap wrist brace and sent me on my way.

The wrist brace made the pain feel about 1000 times worse, but I stuck with it for about a week, under the “No pain, no gain” principle. Then I got annoyed, self-diagnosed myself with tennis elbow, and started doing a bunch of weird exercises recommended by nutsos on the Internet.

Nothing helped, so I finally went to an orthopedic specialist. After rubbing my wrist, he immediately declared, “You don’t have Carpal Tunnel or tennis elbow.” He X-rayed my wrist; announced his suspicion that I tore the triangular fibrocartilage complex that, as he described it, essentially holds all the bones and muscle tissue in my wrist together; stabbed me full of cortisone; and sent me on my way.

Three weeks later, I was back. He sent me for an MRI, tried the cortisone again, and announced the very real possibility that I’d need surgery to either repair or clean the injury. (I’m sure “cleaning” isn’t the proper medical term, but he made the suggestion that if it couldn’t be repaired, they could basically scrape away the dead tissue, which is what caused the pain as the joints rubbed together.) I didn’t realize it at the time, but the MRI was basically a map for him to use during the inevitable surgery. He confirmed his diagnosis, but he didn’t want to rush into anything. We tried the cortisone one last time, and when it failed again, I scheduled the surgery.

I spent the next three weeks in a haze of Vicodin-induced weirdness. It’s all sort of foggy now, but I distinctly remember four things: unwrapping the bandages for the first time and nearly vomiting at the site of the wounds, making more banana bread than one man should ever consume using only one hand, driving under the influence to my first physical therapy session, and beating off to I Really Hate My Job on IFC at two o’clock in the morning.

I felt a small pang of the ol’ bait and switch when I couldn’t figure out why I was still in excruciating pain after three weeks. My doctor had told me it’d be fine—I’d have the surgery on Thursday, use Friday through Sunday to recover, and be back to work on Monday. So why did I miss almost three weeks of work and have to do a week of physical therapy just to lift a half-pound dumbbell? Because the “easy” version was the cleaning—the repair required the intense pain and hard work to recover its strength. What the fuck, man?

I went through about nine months of intense recuperation, during which time I reached possibly the lowest point of depression I’ve ever experienced. Because I felt the very real possibility—reinforced by the mildly terrifying physical therapists—that I might as well just write off my left arm, because it was no longer of any use. I’d never play guitar again, I’d never be able to write properly (I could dictate, but I’m much better at putting thoughts down on paper than speaking them aloud), and—perhaps worst of all—I had to train myself to beat off with my right hand, using an old bedsheet I thought of as a drop cloth since my left hand was too useless even to hold a semen-catching tissue or sock. That’s right, close personal friends of mine: you are now thinking about my semen. You’re welcome.

I’ve always used food as a cure-all for depression (cured meats, especially), but here’s the thing, all you depressed dopes out there: It doesn’t work. I felt better for the time I stuffed my face, and felt infinitely worse afterward. Worse physically, worse emotionally. Because I was both eating junk constantly and not exercising anything except my frail wrist, I gained about eighty pounds, which I’ve been struggling to work off ever since. Struggling and mostly failed, because frankly, although the straight-up binging lessened, my consumption of too much disgusting food has not.

Over time, the pain decreased. I’m in a better place emotionally. After a long period of uncertainty, I’m moving in the right direction. But there’s all that nagging blubber to deal with. What to do?

Enter the paleo diet. I’d never heard of it before three months ago. I may alienate hardcore paleo enthusiasts by saying this, but it seemed to me like a variation on Atkins. I have a friend who dropped a ton of weight with Atkins and kept it off, but I didn’t take that plunge. The paleo variation makes slightly more sense to me, solely in terms of its variations from Atkins: the emphasis on the purest ingredients available on our broken planet, and the idea that there’s something ancestrally rational about the lifestyle. I mean, think about it: did the first guy who crushed a bunch of wheat, mixed it with an egg, and let it lay in the sun until it looked edible do that to have fun or to stave of starvation? I can’t even imagine the thought process between the first knucklehead to look at a suckling baby, look at a suckling calf, and then say, “Yeah, let’s drink that!” It’s ingrained (no pun intended) in the culture, but the food that we’ve been raised to think is the best for us doesn’t make any fucking sense.

I’m a little uncertain of the science and anthropological data supporting it. I don’t have the expertise to know whether or not it’s a radical interpretation of the bones to say our paleolithic ancestors were big, strong, and suffered fewer dietary health problems than their agrarian descendents. But there’s something that just makes more sense to me than anything I’ve ever been taught about nutrition—and frankly, that hasn’t been much, which is another part of the problem.

But the diet isn’t an easy transition. The first day was fine; the four days after that were grueling. My body exhausted itself physically trying to figure out what the hell it was supposed to do with all the meat and vegetables. “Where the hell’s all the sugar?” it shrieked. It made me crave everything in the free world, from things I love to things I hate to things I’ve never even eaten before.

I stuck it out for five days, and when I woke up on that Saturday, I felt like I was suddenly infused with the energy of three cups of coffee. I leaped out of bed, did my grocery shopping for the following week, and spent the remainder of the day preparing foods to last me throughout the week. I felt awesome, even though the cravings still overwhelmed me.

On Sunday, I came very close to cheating—not on paleo, per se, but on the stricter 30-day challenge. I frantically rushed off to Whole Foods to buy a few missing ingredients for an almond pancake recipe I found on the Internets. Whole Foods was out of both ingredients, which I took as a sign not to cheat. So, I went home and had a salad. I haven’t cheated since then.

Over the course of the past week, I’ve noticed strange changes:

  • The cravings have mostly left me, and they certainly aren’t overwhelming. Perhaps more strangely, I’ve noticed myself less interested in food. I used to be the sort of pig who would be planning/anticipating his next meal/snack while eating his current meal/snack, but I barely think about eating until it’s time to do it.
  • I generally have more energy and have felt oddly happy. I have more mental focus, even when I’m tired from staying up too late the night before. To that end, I’ve been insanely productive (just not on this blog).
  • My stool has gone from thick, brown sludge to a super-compact, snake-like consistency that resembles a mossy log. I also don’t fart at all except one terrifying rip a few hours after I eat eggs. Unfortunately for the very fabric of reality, I eat a lot of eggs now.
  • I no longer have to squeeze to get my hands into my full pockets. In the past two weeks, I’ve lost about 15-20 pounds. That’s right.

I’m becoming a new man, ladies and germs. Maybe, someday soon, I’ll even stop talking about poo and jizz.

Maybe.

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