Paleo Stories – Vivian Cheng from TheRealFoodGuide.com
Vivian Cheng is the founder/editor/writer/designer behind The Real Food Guide. You’ve probably seen our review of her fantastic Paleo ice cream recipe book, and you’ve probably also seen (and maybe already tried) her guest recipe – Not my Mama’s Cha Siu (Chinese BBQ Pork). So, we thought you’d like to know a bit more about this amazing woman!
In this post, Vivian shares with us some of her Paleo story, including how she came to Paleo, what she found most challenging about Paleo, and her best tip for maintaining a Paleo lifestyle. And please visit The Real Food Guide for more of Vivian’s fantastic recipes and articles.
1. What’s your name and where are you from?
Vivian Cheng. I’m from Ottawa, ON, Canada.
2. How did you first hear or learn about Paleo?
About 5 years ago, my husband and I had been trying to get in better shape and we’d read about the ‘Zone’ diet. From there, we’d found Robb Wolf’s ‘Paleo Zone’ modifications, and started reading up more about this whole crazy ‘Paleo’ thing. We weren’t really invested though, and sort of just played around with reducing the amount of carbohydrates we were consuming. My husband has never had a weight issue – if anything, his weight is on the lower end of ‘normal’ weight. For me though, after having had my son, I’d found that the post-baby weight just wasn’t disappearing.
3. When did you first start Paleo and what made you do it?
I ‘officially’ went Paleo in September 2011. For a month. That was really, really hard. It was for completely vain reasons that I went Paleo. My son had turned 5 and I really had no ‘baby weight’ excuse any more, since he certainly wasn’t a baby! Of course, I fell off the wagon after that first month. And then the holidays came and went. And finally in January 2012, after a big Chinese New Year feast, I resolved to go Paleo all the time. It was only then that I discovered the other health benefits from dropping grains and processed food.
I’ve had eczema all my life. As a child, I remember always feeling itchy. As a teenager (and beyond), I’ve battled not only ‘regular’ acne, but also cystic acne. It seems so obvious now. It wasn’t just about what laundry detergent I was using (I’d dropped the scented, grocery-store detergents and opted for the sensitive-skin, fragrance free stuff), or washing my face with specific medicated solutions (not a good idea), it’s also about what I was eating!
Eating the conventional wisdom’s version of a ‘healthy’ diet, with low-fat versions of dairy, watching my fat intake and getting my whole-grain cereals didn’t do anything for my skin and certainly didn’t help the bloating I regularly felt. Since going ‘Paleo’, my skin is much better, I don’t feel itchy as much, and gone is the embarrassing forms of gas that I used to experience.
4. Do you do Paleo strictly, or are there some foods you allow yourself still (e.g., dairy, legumes)?
I’m now pretty strictly Paleo. Being ‘Paleo’ now, and avoiding all grains, legumes and dairy is easy-peasy. Last year, after getting some scary-high cholesterol numbers, I ended up seeing a naturopathic doctor to help me get to the root of the problem. From everything I was reading (I even bought Chris Kresser’s High Cholesterol Action Plan course), I wasn’t afraid of dying of a heart-attack at the age of 38 – I was concerned that my cholesterol numbers were high because of inflammation in my body. It made sense, because around the time of my testing, my skin was on fire! I get eczema flare-ups on my face (usually my eyelids), neck and arms.
My naturopathic doctor suggested food intolerance testing, and we used those results as a guide for the foods I should eliminate. Eliminating my long list of foods wasn’t terribly bad, because many of these foods are eliminated on a Paleo diet anyway. On my list were all grains, dairy, casein, and many legumes. However, also on my sensitivity list were eggs, tomatoes, potatoes and eggplants (i.e. nightshade vegetables), and just about every nut they test for. This was the push I needed to do the Paleo autoimmune protocol.
For months, I had considered doing it, to see if it would improve my itchy skin, but I was resistant. I’d followed The Paleo Mom’s story about how she went AIP, and felt sorry for her lack of chocolate. I’d read Robb Wolf’s version of the Autoimmune Protocol too, but I resisted. After all, eggs for breakfast are SO convenient.
It’s still a work in progress though.
5. What was the most challenging thing about going Paleo?
Before I went Paleo, I was a big carb-fiend. So the biggest challenge in going Paleo at first was giving up bread and baked goods. Despite the criticism that some bloggers face about posting a lot of ‘Paleo-fied’ breads and treats, I certainly think there was a place for those things as a good transition for me to going full cave-woman.
6. What do you eat for breakfast most mornings?
Dinner leftovers. If I could wish away anything, it’d be the idea that there are “breakfast foods”, especially for anyone who has to do AIP to improve their health. You’re not going to eat cereal when you’re Paleo, and there are no eggs for breakfast when eating AIP. My breakfast today was some leftover bacon coleslaw stir-fry and some turkey salad. Good food, that’s good for any time of day.
7. What’s your favorite Paleo recipe?
I don’t know if I have one single favorite. I have lots of ‘treat’ favorites, but a favorite new staple is a char siu (Chinese BBQ pork) recipe that I made that is AIP-friendly (no nightshades, no seeds). It tastes very close to the ‘real’ thing, and Chinese food is a comfort food for me.
8. Do you exercise regularly? If so, what do you do?
I don’t exercise regularly in the conventional sense. A few years ago, my husband and I made the decision to not replace our car that had just died. So in the spring and summer months, we exclusively use our bicycles as transportation: everything from taking our son to day camp to getting groceries.
Aside from biking, I try and play outside with my son as much as possible and take regular walks, but I don’t do any sort of formal workouts any more.
9. Have you ever fallen off the Paleo bandwagon? If so, what caused it, and how did you get back on Paleo?
I don’t really fall off the Paleo wagon any more, since going AIP. Instead, when I cheat, I cheat on AIP. I might sneak a cherry tomato, or a bite of egg. Unfortunately though, I usually see the after-effects of my ‘cheat’ for days. Lately, my eczema has been bad enough that I’m trying harder to rein in the cheats.
10. What’s the biggest improvement that Paleo has made to your life?
Overall, I think going Paleo has made me more aware of the effect of food and lifestyle on health. I’d read so much about nutrition ‘for fun,’ that two years ago, I decided to formalize all the reading and get my Registered Holistic Nutritionist designation, which I just graduated from this spring.
11. What’s your best tip for maintaining a Paleo lifestyle?
Go slow, and take baby steps in a way that works for you. One cheat doesn’t make you a failure.