Okay, so I’m not really sure if this is actually my great great great grandma, but there is a good chance that she is, as I found this picture in my great grandma’s ooooold photo album. But really, its not that I want to be like her or her mom, because I honestly know very little about what her life was like, but since she lived on the prairie in the midwest, I can only assume that it was hard. I just want to live a life free of modern diseases like obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, auto immunity and cancer, and give my kids the same possibility.
Last year, I spent four months working on my master’s degree thesis, researching like crazy. I learned a lot about the gut microbiome and its impact on obesity, among other things. As part of my thesis, I put together a study that can be sent out to practitioners to test the effects of an ancestral diet and lifestyle on the modern gut.
When I finally finished school, at the beginning of this year, I decided that I needed to become the first participant in my own study. Four years of schooling, while homeschooling my kids, among other things, took a toll on my weight. After spending several months working on improving my hormone and metabolic markers, it was time for some more drastic measures. Now obviously, my participation doesn’t allow for any kind of double blind study, which is a gold standard for scientific accuracy. But the real question is the impact of a change in lifestyle on the microbiome and that can be tested in a lab without any researcher influence.
Here is what I know:
My ethnic background is a little vague. We don’t know a huge amount about our family history beyond just a couple generations. I know I am part Italian, 3rd generation born in the US, part English, and then a mishmash of other Eastern European genes. At least 3 generations of my maternal family lived in the midwestern plains. While that all matters epigenetically, I am too much of a mesh to be able to pinpoint a specific ancestral diet. My husband, who is embarking on this study with me
completely mostly willingly, is Chinese, though I haven’t checked to see if his family is from the coast or inland, near a river or in the mountains. It matters, but since we are combining diets, it matters a little less.
This is what we decided to do:
- We will be experimenting for three months (or 12 weeks). This is plenty of time to change the microbiome, but it also gives us enough time to notice major differences in our body, if it occurs, and it is enough time to form new habits. It also easily allows for enough data collection to make some correlations.
- We are going mostly “Paleo” with a focus on fiber rich veggies, wild or purely grass fed meats, and sourcing locally as much as possible. We are allowing for some rice, though we are cooking with oil and cooling to increase the resistant starch levels for microbial feeding. (I am not planning on eating as much rice as hubby and the kids, as I do not have any Asian genes to help me out.) The compromise is that it will be included about once a week. I will be using the fiber chart I created to help to increase our fiber intake to at least 50-60 grams/day.
- I am walking regularly. The goal is to hit 15,000 steps (measured via fitbit) at least 5 days a week. Hubby, a teacher, has a couple months before he can focus on increasing his ancestral exercise. I have actually already been walking for several months and have potentially lost some weight. (I stopped weighing myself a couple years ago.)
- I will be increasing my natural movement. This includes squatting instead of sitting in chairs, climbing trees, doing yoga and flowing type movements and using cooking appliances like a mixer much less often. I have NOT committed to sleeping on the ground, or on a grass mat, though I would love to be able to wake up refreshed from such an arrangement.
- I will be digging, barehanded, in my organic garden regularly. This will get me interacting with good microbes in the soil. My garden is still pretty new, but I am working to have a permaculture focus, so should have some nice microbiological diversity already.
- I will be sleeping better. This sounds a lot easier than it actually is. The goal is to sleep at least 8-9 hours each night, though I wake up regularly at 6am. Because I like to wake with the sun, we won’t be getting light-canceling shades, but I reserve the right to change my mind on that, as we DO live inside an urban environment and some neighbors leave their lights on all night. The goal is also to get all electronics, if not out of the bedroom, at least 10 feet away from where we sleep.
- I will be off of alcohol. There are unquestionably tons of alcoholic beverages that are ancestral. It is one of the ways that people in the past avoided tainted water at times. However, most wines available today are not made using ancestral methods and even the organic wines in CA (local) were recently found to be contaminated with glyphosate, the active ingredient in weed killer.
How I plan to measure progress:
- I will be testing my gut bugs. I already sent in my first Ubiome kit to test my gut microbiome as a baseline. At the one and three month marks I will be testing again. (FYI, if you want to get your own kits you can use coupon code CRUMBS to get a nice little discount! You’re welcome.)
- I will measure my weight and inches lost on at least 3 parts of my body. Measurements have already been written down. And no, I’m not telling you what they are. Check with me again at the end of 3 months. I might share then.
How I prepared for this experiment:
- I let myself go. In the month before the experiment, I allowed myself lots of foods that I don’t normally eat. I had beer about once or twice a week, (gluten filled!), I bought pastry treats at whole foods once or twice a week, and I ate out at least once a week. I even bought coffees from local coffee shops with at least a little chocolate in them. And I enjoyed it ALL! I knew this would shift my gut microbes, but I wanted a baseline that was more in keeping with someone who eats clean only about 80% of the time, which is a much more normal ratio. (And yes, this is a little tongue in cheek, as I recognize I am a bit on the extreme side of clean eating.)
- I planned some meals. While we have been gluten free for a couple years due to allergies in the family, we haven’t really gone strictly paleo before. I did a little research to make sure I had some good ideas for fiber rich meals that the kids would like and did some shopping.
I know it seems like a lot. Maybe it looks like a big lifestyle change. But in reality, it isn’t that different than our normal life, with just a few tweaks to make it more microbially focused. Do you ever think that your life needs a few little tweaks? What are YOU doing about it?
UPDATE: See results after 4 weeks.