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Paleo and My Mother

First off, my progress. It hasn’t been easy, folks. I’m a full 9 days into eating a full-on Paleo diet, and there have been several yummy opportunities to cheat with a cold beer on a hot day. I resisted, but just barely. On the bright side, I’ve used my inhaler a grand total of 1 time since last Saturday. I’m still at 184 pounds, but based on a couple measuring techniques, my body fat is down about 1.6% (from 18.4 to 16.8). And a couple of my tighter shorts/jeans are fitting better. I’m satisfied. My goal to have high-quality meat (grass-fed buffalo, pastured eggs/poultry/pork) with 90% of my meals has worked out nicely as well, with little-to-no damage to my budget since I’m skimping on some of the more expensive vegetables/side items like coconut manna and (let’s face it) booze.

Now, on to the topic of today’s slightly nerve-wracking blog: my mom. She just turned 63, and is in average shape for her age (compared to other 63-year-olds). 5’4″, about 155 lbs. She has an old hip injury which prevents her from climbing stairs comfortably and affects her balance, but she can walk, albeit slowly. She takes fish oil, Vitamin D, and calcium supplements. She’s been on blood pressure medication for about a year, and has never had problems with her bone density, blood sugar or cholesterol… until now. Her most recent physical showed a cholesterol of 203 (just barely abnormal) and a fasting glucose of 116 (which is known in medical circles as “impaired glucose tolerance” or “pre-diabetes”, though the Hemoglobin A1C, a 3-month snapshot of average blood sugars).

So. With these new abnormal number staring me in the face as she read them off over the phone, I freaked out. I gave her the ultimatum. “If you still have these numbers in 3-4 months, your doctor’s going to put you on cholesterol pills. You have to change something.” She agreed. When we think of diabetes medication and cholesterol medication, we think of my aunt Lalitha (my mom’s sister-in-law, who is about the same age). She’s significantly heavier and has been on a handful of anti-metabolic-syndrome meds for about 10 years now. She carries her prescriptions like scars from streetfights, half-resigned to her fate, half-defiant about her choice to live and eat fully with whatever disease may come her way.

That is *not* my mom. She’s afraid of medications. At every visit, she asks her doctor when she can stop taking her anti-hypertensives. And now, the threat of new medications is looming. What to do? Well, modifying diet and exercise are the first and best intervention for any situation like this, but my mom’s a special case:

Activity: What exercise can a minimally mobile, balance-deficient 63-year-old do? I told her to start slow. Walk every day for an hour. There’s a bodega near her place that’s a 1-mile round trip; she could go and grab the newspaper there every day. Alternately, it’s considered an act of faith to walk a full round around the grounds of the local Hindu temple, and it’s a good little social visit. But exercise isn’t the main focus of my interventions.

Diet: My mom’s an unwavering vegetarian. She eats a high percentage of carbohydrates (oatmeal, rice, chapatis/flatbreads, the occasional pizza), and not enough fat or protein (she may get 20 grams a day from a cup of milk and a serving of yogurt). She used to drink raw eggs as a kid (a ‘shake’ with raw milk, ground sugar cane, and rose essence), thanks to the prescient genius of her biochemist father, but not any more. She probably doesn’t eat enough calories. So I decided to hack her diet.  Gradual changes tend to stick longer than drastic ones but don’t work as dramatically. Also, I don’t want her to be miserable, eating plain old vegetables and yogurt every meal for the rest of her life. The ground rules are fairly loose – no gluten, no processed foods, no sugar except in coffee.

Breakfast options: berries with greek yogurt or cottage cheese
Lunch/Dinner options: small amounts of white rice or rice dumplings/patties, vegetables with olive oil, yogurt, coconut milk soups, lentil or bean soups.
Snack options: string cheese, almonds

So we’ll see how it goes in a couple of months. Gluten-free and sugar-free might be the compromise we reach (with a cheat dessert once a week), since the tide is turning a little bit on white rice and its previous demonization. I’d like her to get 40-50g protein a day and stay under 150g carbs, so I’m getting every-other-day reports on what she’s eating and how much of it. I’ve heard of so many other Paleo and Primal success stories and body transformations. Maybe leaning my mom’s misplaced diet a bit more toward the hunter-gatherer ideal will save her from 20-30 years of medicine-popping achy misery.

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