A study in being a true badass: my mother’s paleo journey
Since a lot of you are in the same boat, or have come from similar backgrounds, this exercise probably isn’t much of a stretch for you. Regardless, I ask you to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Transcend! Take a break from your life.
Imagine that you are a 53 year old woman. You are 5’2, and approximately 155 pounds. You have spent the last twenty years of your life working different jobs and raising three children, and trying your absolute damndest to be fit, healthy, and raise your kids with a proper diet, too. You devour health books like it’s your job. You do Atkins, you do Mediterranean, you do vegetarian because the China study is a villainous hack. As you grow older, your metabolism slows. You find yourself able to eat just a few portions of salad greens and fruit per day, totalling perhaps 800 calories, and your BMI stalls out around 30. This is disheartening. You get on thyroid meds, bioidentical ones!, but find that they don’t make much of a difference. Menopause, they say, is a real killer. Your hot flashes persist. You exercise daily to no visible effect. You have numbness in your extremities and odd pain in your legs. Yet the worst thing of all is your knees. Arthritis, they say. Necrosis, which is even worse. You wake in the middle of every night shaking with pain. Slowly you pull yourself out of bed, stretch out your knees, and search for a sleeping position with a pain threshold tolerable enough to permit you to sleep. In the morning, you wake up and go to work, but the thought of standing up after breakfast, getting on and off the toilet, and alighting stairs frightens you. Because of this, you have gone to physical therapists, MDs, alternative medicine men, arthritis specialists, and applied for untested surgeries out in Colorado. You get cortisol injections. Maybe it helps. But it all eventually fades back to pain. Nothing works, and you can barely get by. You can’t afford knee replacement surgery, even with insurance, but you’re going to go ahead and do it anyway, because you can’t live like this. You never complain. You never tell your daughter how frightening and excruciating it really is, despite her being your closest confidant. You smile and you laugh and you say “that’s life!” and the world continues spinning. Tenuously.
This is the story of my mother’s health. I’m going to go ahead and divulge more about my mom because it’ll reveal the truth of how ridiculously badass she really is. My mother grew up on the outskirts of Detroit, in an average family and an average place. She graduated high school and got a job at GM and worked there for 27 years. It was fine, but was it fulfilling? Enjoyable? Contributing to the good of the world? Not really. When the opportunity to be bought out arose, she took it. She had no other experience and no college degrees, and searched the job market. What to do? Eventually she got a gig at Curves for Women, where she got to interact with and help all types of women feel good about themselves and their exercise. Still not quite fulfilled, she found a job as a public school bus driver. This is bomb, and her enormous patience, good will, benefit of the doubt and extreme altruism makes her just about the best bus driver ever. She’s also quite open and hilarious. For example, one day she told me kids on the bus were shouting “Penis!” a lot, and she didn’t understand. I explained to her that this was a game kids play, trying to see who will say it the loudest. The next day, my mom joined in, and won, and officially became the coolest bus driver on the planet. Still not satisfied with her involvement, at 53 years old, my mother founded a business. She bought an ice cream truck, painted it, fashioned some cute ass aprons, and began selling ice cream to local neighborhoods in the summer months. Can you say baller?
During all of this adventure and self-discovery and innovation, my mother was constantly seeking better health. She fears deterioration of her mind more than anything, though she also wants to be mobile and pain free for as long as possible. Without a useless fuck all college degree, without any official training, without “education” for more than 30 years, my mother waded through masses of health material on a scale I have never seen. I cannot tell you how much I admire that. She became enormously well informed, though I daresay my new obsession means we’re quite equal in this regard.
She recalls that Atkins was fairly effective for her and she stops eating carbs immediately. She drops grains and alcohol, too. And she loses … 40, would you say, mom?… 40 pounds over the course of six months. Not stopping there, she pursues more optimal health. She reads about supplements (in addition to all the ones her doctors got her on already). She takes fish oil, eats tons of fat, supplements with vitamin D, and then on occasion with iodine, vitamin K, vitamin C, selenium, magnesium, and calcium, depending on what benefit she’s chasing.
In weeks, her knee pain lessens. A few more and it’s gone. In six months she’s buying a new bike–riding was something she loved enormously but had given up on years before–and in eighteen months she’s buying a hell of a road bike, wanting to push and to fly and to ride and to feel free and exercise her incredibly beautiful, well-running, machine of a 55 year old body. Today, she is bringing home her new bike. I could not, possibly, be more excited.
Moreover, while on the paleo diet, my mother weaned herself off of the replacement thyroid hormones. She no longer has hot flashes, which she did on the old diet and on the thyroid hormones. She is eating far more than she ever did on a higher carbohydrate diet, and getting to enjoy it like crazy. This means she gets to ingest more nutrients , and be fit at the same time! She is also dealing with circulation, problems, we think, but supplementing with iodine is currently helping and all of her research, online and in bookstores, where she just read a million books, and in doctor’s offices is going to lead her to even more optimal health. I know it.
Finally, mom saved my life. She never pushed, ever, but when she saw my deteriorated mental and physical health, she said: “Stef, I know I’ve been pursuing and following all these different diets my whole life, but this one is different, and please, please just take a look at this one book. It might change your life.” And it did.
Today, my mother and I are paleo warriors together. I am beginning my nutrition certification, and she is being certified in physical fitness and wellness for senior citizens. We both believe fiercely in the power of health and of exploring said health, and are stepping into the future armed as well as we can. Moreover, we help each other research each others problems. She helps me with my thyroid and my PCOS, and I help her with more detailed scientific information and all the goodies I get my hands on. We are natural, now, and we are determined, and we are experimenting and learning and growing together. Which is the true name of the game. The lesson my mother teaches the world, here, is that your life is in your own hands. Trust doctors, but trust yourself and your body and your feelings more. Be educated. Experiment. What feels right, and what doesn’t? Don’t stop looking. There’s a reason you’re not feeling well, and it’s out there, and you’re going to find it so long as you don’t give up. My mother is a self-innovator, a lover, a giver, and a fighter. She owns her life, and she owns her health, and I could not, could not, possibly admire anything more.
Grok on, mom. It’s people like you that make the world a rockin’, beautiful place.