Who I Am, and How I Can Help You Live Smarter
Welcome to my new column, “The Livable Lifestyle”. I’m here to tell you how you can live a Paleo lifestyle without cramping your existing style, so you can sleep sounder, exercise smarter, and most importantly, feel better on a daily basis.
I’m not someone who was born to innately embrace the Paleo lifestyle, and I bet you aren’t, either. I’ll start by telling you a little bit about my background, so you know my advice is coming from a nonjudgmental place where I truly understand the struggle to live better.
My Pre-Paleo Life
Before I even heard of the Paleo Diet, I was living a fast-paced, obliviously content life in New York City. I didn’t think much about my nutrition. I had no idea how to cook, and no reason to learn how to do it. Every morning before a long day of work at the office, I went to the same spot in midtown for my bacon, egg, and cheese on a croissant. The grill guy knew my order by heart and would toss me my wax paper-wrapped breakfast sandwich over the heads of the other impatient New Yorkers waiting their turn for quick grub. Then I’d head up to my desk, where I sat hunched over a computer, trying to write reports while stressful emails from bosses and clients steadily streamed in.
I loved it and I hated it. In New York, I felt like all my needs were met without my ever needing to try—but it was also killing me. When I was hungry, I popped into a bodega for a quick snack that I’d eat while walking. My exercise was built into my commute, rushing past hoards of people on the stairs underground to make my subway. When I needed to vent my frustrations, there were more than enough bars to meet up with friends, and if I drank more pints of beer than usual, I could just stagger out into the street, stick out my hand to immediately hail a taxi, and have it drive me straight to my Brooklyn walk-up. (Ah, the days before Uber!)
As much as I loved those carefree days in my 20s, it was a lot harder on my body and mind than I ever realized. I spent much of my time sitting at a desk, eating $1 slices of pizza for lunch, soaked in unnecessary stress from a corporate job that didn’t suit me. I didn’t consider my lifestyle when I started taking Xanax to cope with the rising feeling of dread that I wanted to ignore. My life felt fun and fulfilling, and if that came at a price of unmanageable stress, I was willing to take that trade. Anything but move to the suburbs, buy a house, and be bored!
How I Found Paleo (by Accident)
If I’m being honest, I would have stuck with that unhealthy, fast-paced lifestyle forever—or until it caught up to me. But the truth is that it never did. Instead, I left New York of my own free will to support my husband as he pursued a Ph.D. in Washington. And when I say Washington, I do not mean Seattle. I mean the oft-forgotten, very rural Eastern part of the state that was only a jog (and yes, that means I eventually did learn to jog!) away from the Idaho state border.
I moved to the town of Pullman in the summer of 2013. All my creature comforts of New York gone, I slipped into a depression very quickly. I had no friends to catch up with, no fancy restaurants to visit for 16-course meals on the weekend, no subways to catch. My new life was forcing me to slow down. I didn’t love-hate it, like in New York. I truly detested it.
There were no marketing jobs in that small town, so I kicked the power-suit career and made minimum wage by pouring beers at a sports bar, answering the phone at a counseling center, and, very briefly, even working at the university veterinarian office to maintain a spreadsheet about which local cows from which local farms had mastitis. (I did mention I was living near Idaho, yes?)
Feeling terribly unhappy and sorry for myself, I went to the local library one day in search of some cheering up and found myself picking up “Practical Paleo” on a complete whim. I’m not sure why, but I checked it out and brought it home with me. I think it had something to do with the dessert recipes in the back that I could actually make with my limited cooking skills. No-bake coconut oil melt-aways? Sign me up.
The thing that really intrigued me about these new Paleo ideals was that it challenged so much of what I thought I knew about nutrition and took for granted. Wait, oatmeal was off-limits? But steel-cut oats was one of the few “healthy” breakfasts I’d learned how to make by heart—my mantra of “2 cups of water, half a cup of oatmeal” ringing through my head as I turned on the stove-top each morning.
And no grains are allowed? Isn’t that the whole base of the food pyramid?
In my New York days, I probably would have put the book down and forgotten all about it. But in this new rural life where everything was upside down anyway, suddenly these contradictions made sense to me. Maybe everything I thought I knew was wrong.
All of a Sudden, Paleo Was My New Career
My unfulfilling jobs serving drinks to alcoholics and answering calls from meth addicts at the counseling center seemed hopeless and pointless at the time, but it guided me towards where I wanted to go—a place yearning for mental clarity and physical healing.
I spent my lonely time looking for side jobs where I could start writing again—about anything. A few weeks after I picked up “Practical Paleo,” I saw a posting from PaleoHacks.com looking for contract writers, and I confidently applied with my scant new knowledge about the diet under my belt. I got the job immediately.
So, in my spare time, I wrote recipe compilations, lifestyle articles, and tested Paleo products. After a year of putting in my dues researching Paleo ingredients and the science behind it, they hired me on as a full-time remote employee, saving me from those back-aching hours on my feet at the sports bar. Eventually, I became the editor, and I was the one creating new Paleo content, setting deadlines for the writers and managing the whole blog.
How I Tweaked the Paleo Ideas to Work for Me
If I told you that I went 100 percent Paleo the day my health career took off, I would be lying. I don’t eat bacon, egg, and cheese sandwiches every day anymore, but the way I’ve approached my mental and physical health has switched dramatically.
For me, a lot of it is just being aware. I’m not scarfing down greasy food and multiple cups of coffee while I work through my lunch hour. I take the time to cook healthy food on Sundays so I always have something nourishing on hand. I clear my evening schedule twice a week to go to yoga class. I’m mindful about my stress levels and take my dog for long walks instead of saddling up at the bar until the room feels tipsy. I use an app on my phone that tracks my sleep quality, and I make it a priority to get at least eight solid hours every night.
When I need a good reset, I jump into 30-day Paleo challenges and kick sugar, grains, and dairy for a full month. I’ve met some inspirational women that can “Paleo” way better than I ever could, and they’ve compiled impressive meal plans that make sticking to a short-term goal easy and accessible.
I’m not a fitness fanatic or a diet guru, and I’m not planning on becoming one. But over the last few years, I’ve learned lots of tricks about how to maintain balance in my life, and I’m excited to share my tips with you in the coming editions of “Lifestyle Lauren.”
In Health, Happiness & Mental Hygiene,