Testimonial written by: Ray
My name is Ray. I am Lakota and Arikara from the Northern Plains. I have tried dieting. I have tried the Food Guide/Pyramid/My Plate deal, I gave a quick try at vegetarianism, I tried a ten day detox thing, and I have tried counting calories.
I have also been in and out of well-meaning Doctor’s offices. The Doc I was seeing put me on anti-depressants, anti-anxiety, and some stomach medication but did not talk about diet in relation to my depression and brutal anxiety attacks (I ate a lot of microwavable burritos, hot pockets, pizza, ramen noodles, boiled eggs, and mountain dew). I dropped out of college in my last semester and moved home with my parents due to the anxiety. The anxiety would get so bad that I could not leave my room to venture out into my house. I tried substitute teaching when the anxiety would lessen but would get attacks and would have to cut days short which lead to the school finding a sub for the sub. The attacks would leave me exhausted and depressed. There was little hope because the Doctors could not figure out what was wrong with me and the anti-depressants didn’t work. It was assumed my brain stuff – low grade fevers, headaches, rage, depression, OCD and anxiety – were not connected to my stomach issues – pain and discomfort after eating and an enlarged liver (I got an ultrasound). I went to a liver specialist and he tested everything but he could only tell me I was obese and if I lost weight (I was around 295 pounds, up from 205 in high school) that my problems would lessen. I was frustrated because I was hoping for some sort of answer. My blood pressure was routinely around 140/90 at the time.
I mustered up the will power I had and started walking. I tried the Food Guide recommendations of high carb/low fat. I remember eating a lot of egg whites, oatmeal, whole wheat toast, pastas, white potatoes, peanut butter, broccoli, limiting the amount of red meat, and cooking things in vegetable oil. I lost 45 pounds from cutting a lot of the processed foods and Mountain Dew. I was around 250 and my goal was 215. I still had anxiety attacks and problems with my stomach although they were lessened. This is when I met my wife – Lisa, who is an amazing supporter of my health journey. I could not sustain the diet however and would eventually fall back (although not as bad as before) into old habits and gained 15 pounds back and stayed there (265 pounds) for about a year.
In the spring of 2013 I found an app and started calorie counting. I would log meals and it would tell me my caloric intake and to try to stay under 2200 (I think it was 2200, I can’t remember exactly). I ate the same foods I had been eating and drinking the sugar free Red Bull’s (because there were no calories) and started exercising again, this time with some light resistance training and steady state cardio. I lost 15 pounds and was back to 250 but could not get under that. I was not able to sustain the calorie counting lifestyle after a short time and would eventually get back to 276 pounds and would stay at that weight another year. I still had OCD issues, rage, anxiety and stomach pains.
It was at this time (Spring 2014) that my wife came across some information about a chiropractor. My wife brought back the information and said, “You haven’t tried this yet.” I thought no I haven’t, but had my doubts because I dealt with this for so long. The Chiro Doc did my initial assessment. At the end of my assessment he casually mentioned the Paleo diet and asked if I ever heard of it. I told him “no.” He next told me that it’s basically eating what your ancestors ate before the “white man” came.
Being indigenous in today’s age, the goal is often times around emulating our ancestors in a practical way – the way they prayed, worked, their language, our cultural/social systems, – but I had never thought about it in relation to diet. I later found out of course, that the basis behind Paleo leads way further back than pre-reservation days.
He told me about a book, “The Paleo Solution,” by Robb Wolf. I went to the bookstore and bought it, started reading it and it made a lot of sense to me. It laid out why wheat, gluten, and dairy may be problematic, although the dairy thing wasn’t a stretch for me due to jokes surrounding dairy and Natives. It shocked me a little that “wheat” may not be the healthiest thing because the Governments push of “heart healthy” whole wheat. But in all reality, it was not shocking that the Government may be misleading us (again I’m indigenous). The diet also said (at least what I got out of it) that I could eat until I was full, which was a relief because of my calorie counting experience.
I started the diet and for the first two weeks I felt like I was hung over – headaches, absolutely no energy, and I slept a lot. We ate red meats (although we had a tough time finding grass-fed at that time), pork, chicken, eggs, a lot of asparagus and zucchini, bell peppers, mushrooms, cauliflower, and broccoli, some apples and bananas among other things. We also started cooking with olive oil. I ate until i was satisfied.
In the first month I was strict about the no dairy, no wheat, no added sugar thing except when I had cheat meals. I had four cheat meals. I started off cheating that first Sunday but realized I would be of no use on Mondays because of how I felt. So I changed my cheat to Saturday night, that way I could recover all day Sunday. I lost around 20 pounds that first month. I got really excited when I dipped under the 250 mark because I could never seem to get under that. Everyone seemed to notice my change and would give me compliments on my weight, my mom even told me that my complexion was a lot better and looked like I was “glowing” which made me laugh because they usually tell expecting mothers that.
I remember looking at one of those weight receipts saying 238 and I thought I should start exercising again so I started some cardio on a treadmill.
The weight kept coming off and it took a couple months to realize that I had not had an anxiety attack in a long time. I was blown away by that after all those attempts to get well and it just sort of happened. My blood pressure lowered to the suggested range of 120/80, its routinely 115/75 now. My weight would eventually get to around 205.
Lately I’ve been into strength training and have gotten stronger. I gained 10 pounds of lean muscle working with my buddy Nate. It takes a lot of eating and sweet potatoes to gain weight.
After my initial 30 days on the diet, I tried to introduce some foods back in. I realized I can tolerate dairy pretty well. Gluten and Wheat (including corn) give me low grade fevers, headaches, and stomach aches. I also realized I get a reaction to coffee, high fructose corn syrup, and occasionally spinach and broccoli. Been off coffee for about 10 weeks as I write this, although I’m feeling better I don’t know if I plan on giving it up for good yet or not, coffee is a tough one.
When I cheat, I still don’t like to eat wheat because it’s not worth it. I am sort of held in check to my diet due to my sensitivity to foods which is a blessing and a curse. I also do not have a set cheat meal every Saturday like I used to and am not so hard on myself when I do cheat. We have a grass-fed meat guy now, got involved in gardening, and did the bountiful baskets thing this summer. We have a hunting season here on the Rez so we get deer and antelope, fish for walleye, and try to get buffalo meat as much as we can. We eat organic when it works out and cook with olive oil, or coconut oil, and/or grass-fed butter.
It’s cool when people ask for help with their goals and diets. I’m no professional or expert, and let people know that, but just tell them what worked and works for me. I’ve been on this new way of eating now for over a year and some of my family and extended family have been dabbling with paleo. We’ve had a daughter – Henley – and since she got into “human” food we’ve been trying to have her eat in relatively the same way. Hopefully eating healthier will be easier for her.
Another thing I’ve tried to concentrate on is getting more quality sleep at night when I can. I learned that before the invention of the light bulb, which extended the day, people slept a lot more. I try to get to sleep as early as I can and do not feel guilty on sleeping in when I can, although this can be a struggle.
I reflect on our culture and what our ancestors ate, not Paleolithic but pre-Reservation, and I believe that they ate low carb/low sugar except when they had seasonal fruits, the corn they ate was not genetically modified, they did not eat wheat (other than traditional corn) or dairy, they used every part of an animal so I imagine they ate a lot of nutritious organ meats (which I have not yet put in my diet – still a little nervous on that). They probably slept a little more than we do today and they also did not have high rates of diabetes, cancer, and many mental health disorders, although I’m sure they had some health problems. I remember seeing some pictures of Lakota people living into their late 90’s and was blown away by this because I think the life expectancy of an indigenous man now is either late 40’s or early 50’s.
I believe that if we can emulate a little bit of how they ate and slept and get away from the USDA Government recommendations, I think it will help our people a lot. I know eating more in line to what’s natural to me as an Indigenous person has helped out a lot. I do understand, however, it is impractical to think we can eat exactly how they ate; we can at least model their macronutrient levels and eat without as much chemicals and genetically modified foods as we can. Let nature feed us and not scientists, although I understand that this is an ideal because most of our foods are messed with in today’s age. I also understand that one’s economic security and location can come into play with eating healthy (it comes into play with us). It’s much cheaper to shop price/calorie and not price/nutrition but investing in one’s health is important.
If I had to give anyone advice on diet it would be to earn your carbs but don’t be so hard on yourself, find out what works for you (don’t take someone else’s diet or views on diet as oath-including my story), give up wheat/dairy for a month and reintroduce it to see how you tolerate it. Keep trying even if you fall away meals, or days, or weeks, or months, or even years at a time, and if whatever you are doing is working for you-keep doing it.