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Grok in Central America (songhuntr's Primal Journal)



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  • Grok in Central America (songhuntr's Primal Journal)

    ¡Hola! I'm Erica, a 20-year-old student living and working in Central America. I'd really like to eat primal; I ate almost entirely Paleo last summer and last fall, but once I moved here, it was very difficult to eat that way.

    I have PCOS and, at 5'4", weigh about 200 pounds or a hair more. (I don't have access to a scale here. Suffice it to say that while I gain my weight in an hourglass form, I definitely have about 50 pounds I could stand to lose.) My primary goals are to control my PCOS symptoms and to be functionally fit. There are no gyms around and no workout equipment, so I have to (get to?) make do with body weight exercises and walking or running.

    Part of my issue is this: as a student living with local families who are often near the poverty line, in areas often without grocery stores, how can I eat as close to Paleo as possible? I feel so great when I'm entirely off grains. Also, I'm gluten-intolerant, so I just don't eat the sweet breads or buns or sandwiches that everyone else sees as their mainstay. Here are the local foods that I am usually offered:

    corn tortillas, all day everyday: water mixed with corn flour
    scrambled eggs... obviously a good choice when they're available
    refried black beans: good protein, but leaves me gassy and has lots of carbs
    chuchitos: tomato sauce and a little pork chunk covered in 1-2 inches of corn dough, boiled in a corn husk
    fresh fruit: cantaloupe, pineapple, bananas, occasional apples
    carne asada: thin steak, well-done, slathered in tomato sauce; this is a rare treat
    rice: white rice without any sauce
    chicken: this is definitely the most common meat, almost always served as a bone-in wing on a bed of rice, and usually covered in a brown sauce that's spicy and sweet

    So. Today I went to a restaurant... last day in the big city!... and ordered a bacon omelette. Tried to substitute salsa for beans or fried potatoes, but they messed up my order and gave me a honkin' side of fried potatoes along with my omelette and a bowl of fresh local fruit. I devoured the omelette (full of cheese, but what can you do) along with the fruit. Ordered an iced coffee with milk, but they filled it with sugar, too. So I had a sip of that. I left the half-plate of potatoes untouched, feeling like a terrible person. I feel pretty good about breakfast.

    Lunch was a little more difficult. Our group went to the house of one of our leaders and they prepared a sumptuous banquet, complete with gluten-free lasagna and spaghetti with pesto. By sheer willpower and a few half-hearted excuses, I managed to eat only salad with balsamic vinaigrette and a bowl of chicken with pesto! Woo-hoo! I will be fueled for when our group packs up and moves to the town in the mountains later today!

    I know this isn't a lot to go off of, but I'm hoping that posting on this forum will keep me motivated to actively seek out options that are closer to Paleo eating than not. Any suggestions (either for food or good bodyweight exercises) would be absolutamente fantástico! And support would be great, too -- I'm with a group, and they all are of the low-fat whole-grain high-cardio mindset. It's a little discouraging. But I'm excited to see how this works!

    ¡Que les vaya bien!
    Last edited by songhunter; 04-29-2012, 02:54 PM.

  • #2
    Herro again! Supper was good. We ate at a little café in the town of Magdalena. We were served white rice, fried potatoes, refried black beans, guacamole, and thin well-done steak. I drank water, ate my steak and guacamole, and was able (amazingly) to trade my fried potatoes for another girl's steak and guac. Holy mother of I-won-that-trade. She told me, "My body basically just runs off of starches." I nodded and smiled and broke a little bit inside. They brought out strawberry ice cream for dessert... I ate it, because it was about half a scoop and I was feeling peer pressure. I gave away the cookie that came with it, though. Obviously. Gluten is non-negotiable for me. It's about an hour later now, and I'm not feeling that sugar rush and crash that I usually get.

    The first time our group was in Magdalena (at the beginning of February) I was huffin' and puffin' up the hills (it's basically built on a 45-degree angle). After chilling in Antigua and walking 30-60 minutes a day, and incorporating some jogs and bodyweight exercises into the last two weeks, I'm not as beet-faced as I expected to be. Lugging my suitcase and giant backpack and little travel backpack up the hill to my host family's house was a breeze. I could have jogged. Okay, maybe not, but I definitely slowed myself down to stay with my roommates. That's really satisfying. Also, someone told me today that I look fabulous and oh my gosh and have you lost weight? That was also satisfying.

    As a side note, one of my roommates just looked over my shoulder and said, "Are you blogging? Are you blogging?" The other one replied, "No, she's posting on a forum. About Paleo." So I got to explain in a nutshell what Paleo eating is. The response was "Hm. Paleo." Shmeh. It's going to be hard to change my eating now, after three months of bingeing on corn tortillas and palitos (popsicles) and occasional smoothies. I'm not worried about the actual food-changing; I can alter what I eat and control myself fairly well. It's just the responses that psych me out. I like being a free spirit and unique and all that; as an introvert, though, it's hard to make a change this big when people are going to be constantly looking at me funny and insisting that I eat the potatoes or the tortillas or the what-have-you.

    But really, what's more important? My health or their opinion of my dietary habits? I'm already strange because I can't eat bread. And hey, this is probably entirely in my head. My group is super friendly and supportive, and just likes to poke fun at people sometimes. I'm going to power through this next week as best as I can and see if Paleo is even possible for me right now.
    Last edited by songhunter; 04-30-2012, 03:37 PM.


    • #3
      We're here for support. Welcome Sounds like you've had some adventures. Don't give up though!
      Don't let nobody try and take your soul. You're the original . --Switchfoot- The Original

      GW: 135 SW: 156.8 CW: 156.8


      • #4
        Welcome! Sounds like you are doing about the best you can under the circumstances. Corn, white rice and potatoes are not terrible, and they are supported by some paleo gurus such as Kurt Harris. As long as you can keep your carb intake low enough, or your activity level high enough, they shouldn't be to much of a problem. If you ease into it, you might adjust to them. I would avoid telling anyone that corn (non-GMO), rice, potatoes or beans are unhealthy. Of course, I don't believe they are.
        Ancestral Health Info - My blog about Primal and the general ancestral health movement. Site just remodeled using HTML5/CSS3 instead of Wordpress.

        My MDA Friday success story - Stubborn Senior's Testimonial


        • #5
          Oh Shoo! Guatemala! I just spent two years there (got back about a month ago). If you don't mind me asking, what are you doing there? I actually had friends who trained in Guatemala for a

          Anyways, I discovered primal sometime around this time last year and it was definitely difficult there - especially with the ridiculous amount of nasty sugar bread I was offered. I found corn and beans to be okay because they were prepped traditionally, but understand the gassy feeling. It's awful. I definitely understand the not wanting to offend people as well. Yes, your health is important, but in a culture like Guatemala it's also hugely important to not offend people. I found not drawing attention to it was enough. Complimenting what people do right (This meat is delicious! Can I have more?) and subtly passing on other things without drawing attention to it worked best for me.

          Anyways, I'll be following your journey and living vicariously through you. Loved Guatemala and hope you enjoy it as well!

          And chuchitos are delicious when done right, but usually they just taste like corn meal paste with a hunk of boney chicken. Tamales were not my favorite either, but have you tried pan de elote? Don''s like crack to me


          • #6
            ALSO if you're ever on your own cooking lard is readily available at local pig butchers. I found it the best a cheapest source for cooking oil and people actually use it quite a bit.


            • #7
              Thanks for your responses, guys! They are really motivating!

              Alessandra, thanks for chiming in! I really appreciate the encouragement.

              Hedonist2, I appreciated your comment about corn, rice, and potatoes. It's good to hear that there's some debate about them, rather than "THEY WILL SHRED YOUR INTESTINES AND KILLLLL YOUUUUUU." Er. Yes.

              AbigailLyn, that's fantastic! I'm glad there are other Guate people on this forum. What were you up to in this part of the world? (And what were your friends training for? I think you unintentionally censored yourself there.) I'll add a few details about life here as well, rather than just food, to satisfy your cravings for vicarious life. Also, chuchitos can be amazing or awful. I feel you on that one. I haven't tried pan de elote; I asked once and they said it had harina de trigo in it. So I longingly passed on that. My crack of choice these days is a chocobanano. :3

              Today has been a pretty good day; I've been tired, since it's Monday and our first day back at ministry sites, but I've been less tired than I would be if I had eaten all the glutenous and sugary options available! For breakfast I had a big scoop of scrambled eggs, a few slices of fried plantain with black bean purée drizzled over the top (SO GOOD!), and a mug of lemon tea. After that, my team (of three guys and me... so much testosterone) hiked up and down hills in Magdalena doing home visits for our loan program, and then we traipsed through the streets of Antigua, collecting money from the fair trade greeting card business we oversee here. I'd say I probably walked for three hours today. We eat packed lunches every day, but since I'm one of them gluten-free peoples, I get a special lunch (i.e. not a sandwich, hallelujah!). I got a generous helping of corn chips, a cup or so of white rice, and a chicken breast fried in oil. There's a big basket of "extra" sandwiches that the other students can grab, so I sneaky-sneaky-like grabbed a sandwich and took out the deli ham and cheese inside of it, surreptitiously stuffing the proteiny goodness into my tupperware. I ate the chicken with a little mustard, the ham and cheese, and drank two bottles of water. It's about 4:30 now and we don't eat supper till 6, but my stomach sounds a bit like Winnie the Pooh's, so I'm going to dig into my precious supply of pistachios. ¡Que tengan una buena tarde!

              Edit: The pistachios were delicious. I had a handful, but I'm trying to preserve them, since they are a treat I have to buy in town. For supper, I had a decent-sized chicken wing in mole sauce (brown sweet and spicy tomato-based sauce... not an underground digging fiend) on a bed of rice. I wasn't going to eat the rice, but after demolishing the chicken (and gnawing on the bones), I knew that wasn't going to be enough. I ate most of the rice, which had some cooked veggies mixed in with it -- bonus! We got a canned peach each for dessert, so I shook all the syrup off of it and devoured it. Oh well. Compared to how I was eating a month ago, that's nothing. Small changes.
              Last edited by songhunter; 04-30-2012, 06:55 PM.


              • #8
                Today has been kind of rough, food-wise. Breakfast was great -- a huge scoop of scrambled eggs with diced tomatoes. My group and I walked around all day vaccinating chickens (261 of them, to be exact). I've definitely worked on my uphill walking and my squats today. We were all famished when it came to lunchtime. I was given two slices of deli ham, two thin pieces of cheese, some refried black beans, a large handful of tortilla chips, and an apple. I snarfed everything in about two minutes. As we were getting ready to head out and vaccinate more chickens, we passed by the kitchen where some of my friends were making caramel popcorn. They offered, and since I had the delicious tortilla-y taste of carbohydrates in my mouth (and not much food in my stomach) I took them up on a small handful of caramel corn.

                It's so hard to eat well here. I don't have to eat everything I'm given, but that's all I have to choose from. After the work day is done, I have in my room a small bag of pistachios and a jar of extra chunky Jif peanut butter (it's like gold around here, I'm telling you... heavy and expensive). I'm just hoping I can burn off the extra carbs that my body is demanding. I don't want to eat that stuff, especially sugary junk, but the people of Magdalena (and Guatemala in general) are used to eating less than we estadounidense students are. I know a calorie deficit isn't a bad thing -- I've got some chunk around my waist that could get me through a long day -- but when it's hot and sunny and I'm walking up and down hills for 4-6 hours, I think it's wiser to eat potentially a little too much than not enough.

                This whole experience of living and working (and eating!) in Central America is definitely helping me retrospectively appreciate how easy it was to eat primally in the US. Really, there is absolutely no reason to cheat on that way of eating. Even if it's more expensive than things like pasta or sandwiches, primal food is available, fresh, and in so many different easy-to-access locations. Unless you're in the mountains or something. And then you could just go spear a mountain goat. Really, though, I'm excited to get back to the States at the end of July. Meat will be so much easier to get. Nom nom nom. I know that I won't be eating consistently primal until then, judging by the last few days. And later this month, I will move to Honduras and teach at a home for street kids there, where the food choices will apparently be even sparser and more carby. But hey. I'll do what I can, and I won't worry about that time until it comes. Today, I am going to not let a little caramel corn or a few tortilla chips get the better of me. I needed them to work safely and healthily. I will drink lots of water and I will be productive with the rest of the day.

                Edit: well, that whole thing about the day being rough food-wise was a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Despite my motivating words to myself on the forum, I was still feeling down about my eating choices. We had a class session this afternoon, and beforehand I downed four or five spoonfuls of peanut butter to stave off hunger. During class, we were offered snacks, so I had a handful of raisins and a bigger handful of potato chips. I think I'm really craving fats. That was confirmed at supper, which was actually marvelous! My host mom made a soup, but accidentally put noodles in it, so she just pulled out a chunk of chicken from it and covered it in the broth, and put a slice of güiskil (green squash) and another of an orange squash on my plate, along with a quarter of a corn cob and three small potatoes. I ate everything except the potatoes... took a bite of those and the bland starchiness just turned me off. The chicken was SO GOOD. It was bone-in, so the broth had all that delicious goodness, and the meat still had a layer of fat on it. Holy buckets. I scarfed that down like nobody's business. Now to find ways to incorporate fat into my diet.
                Last edited by songhunter; 05-01-2012, 08:03 PM.


                • #9
                  Oh well, caramel corn happens! Plantains and bean puree are delicious. Damn it I miss home cooked black beans.

                  As for Mole - be careful, there's usually chocolate in there and often they use the less than great 85% we find here and it's more often than not sugary crap (and probably not even really chocolate). It's delicious on top of fried plantains though.

                  Interesting that you find it more difficult there. I definitely would've when I was eating and living with a family (as it sounds you are) but if you ever get the chance to shop and cook for yourself you'll find (I think, especially around Antigua) that fresh veggies are plentiful and cheap and meat is generally more conciously raised than in the US (just by default...smaller scale usually). Obviously it still is variable, but that's what I found. Live it up, whenever I met volunteers (I was in Peace Corps by the way...sorry for being vague!) from Honduras they salivated over our markets. Apparently Honduras is a food lover's Hades. If you can get out at all I'd recommend hitting up the market for some snacks. They have a lot of dried fruit and seeds (Prunes and toasted pumpkin seeds were my favorite) as well as veggie snacks that would probably do better than tortilla chips fried in oil (unless they use lard, but they've kind of rejected that old habit for the most part. Still use it in bread though as far as I know)

                  And hedonist convinced me about a year ago that corn and beans were not as bad as they are made out to be. Glad to see you're still spreading the delicious word Hedonist! I agree, as long as the preparation was good, which it generally is in Guate. Just be careful of the oils.

                  Gah! Sorry for the book, it's just wonderful reminiscing.

                  Edit: ALSO! Right outside Antigua is a fabulous Macadamia Nut Farm and they sell all sorts of macadamia nut products - butter included! You should hit it up if you can! It's in San Miguel Duenas (you can take the Duenas bus from Antigua and tell the busdriver) and is called Valhalla. It's a pretty spectacular and delicious operation and they do macadamia nut pancakes, although I'm sure there's flour in there unfortunately. Field Trip!


                  • #10
                    I'm enjoying your journal so far It's like a little view into another place, thanks!
                    Don't let nobody try and take your soul. You're the original . --Switchfoot- The Original

                    GW: 135 SW: 156.8 CW: 156.8


                    • #11
                      AbigailLyn, plantains and black beans together are basically the nectar of the gods. No big deal.

                      And thanks for the warning about mole -- I had no idea there was chocolate in there!

                      Yeah, I'm living with a family here, so I don't have a lot of freedom in what I eat. My daily meal situation these days is breakfast with my family, a lunch my family packs for me, and supper either with my family (Tuesday/Thursday) or at a little café called Café Mi Cafecito. I would love to just stroll around to the carnicería and the mercado and fill my pantry with locally raised beef and pork and goat and locally grown, just-harvested avocado and lettuce and spinach and peppers and kale and plantains and mangos and... yeah. In an ideal world.

                      But while my living situation is quite comfortable, realistically, the family I'm living with doesn't have the financial resources to feed me steak and avocado every day. So far, cobbling together a decently high-protein set of meals hasn't been difficult, but like I mentioned earlier, it's the lack of fat that's getting me. At home in the US, I usually eat about 50% healthy fats (that's a very, very rough estimate), and that's the level where I feel the best. Nom nom nom... next time we go into town I'll try to pick up some pumpkin seeds. I love those, and hadn't really thought about buying them in the market.

                      And hey, don't apologize for the book! It's good to have someone else's opinions and insight. And thanks for the word about the macadamia nut farm -- I have an awkward transition time after my group leaves and I go to Honduras, so that'll be something to fill a day with! Awesome.

                      And Alessandra, thanks for reading! Glad to foster your escapism. Seriously though, this is an awesome experience and I'm glad people are enjoying reading about it. If you're interested, feel free to check out my blog at


                      • #12
                        Oh herro there, primal friends. Today has been an interesting day! I ate a 3-egg omelette with diced roasted red peppers and some melted white cheese for breakfast at 7 am. I was going to just have that and my mug of lemon tea, but I knew from being hungry yesterday that just eggs wouldn't hold me, so I had a banana as well.

                        My morning consisted of leading a Bible study for a group of poor women, and then walking up and down the steep roads trying to find specific houses. It's a hard life... Seriously though, it was a gorgeous day. Probably 80 and blindingly sunny.

                        By 11, I was ravenously hungry, so I had a snack about then. The lunch I was given today was the ubiquitous serving of tortilla chips, half of a steamed corn cob, and about a cup of ground beef. From my post yesterday, I was pretty sure that I needed to incorporate more fats into my diet. At this point, I can't discriminate between healthy and non-healthy fats, so I grabbed two packets of mayonnaise before I left in the morning. Around 11 am, I mixed the two packets of mayo into the ground beef, and ate about half of that concoction with 4 or 5 tortilla chips. I was completely and utterly sated until we officially ate lunch at 12:30. I finished everything else in my tupperware (the beef with mayo, corn cob, and tortilla chips).

                        And guess what?? I didn't need to snack between lunch and supper today!! I think it's the fat that did it! What do you think of mayo in packets? Is it better to put that nastiness into my body in the name of eating less and being more satisfied, or should I eschew it and just be hungry?

                        Anyway, we ate supper at 6. I had two chile rellenos (chiles rellenos?), about a cup of white rice with red pepper and onion, and a corn tortilla and a half; everything was liberally smothered with bland tomato sauce and green super-picante sauce. Except for a half-slice of cantaloupe I had for dessert. The half-tortilla was a bit of a dare after supper... the eight of us at our table had demolished everything on top of it except for one tortilla and about two tablespoons of super-spicy picante sauce. So I split the tortilla with the guy next to me and we went at that picante. I'll have you know, I beat him into the dust. But it was at the cost of my dignity, because it involved me turning maroon and licking the rinds of other people's cantaloupe to soothe my fiery tongue. Alas. But I WON that non-contest. And that's what matters.

                        I feel pretty good about today. I love that my host mom makes me scrambled eggs in the morning, but I'm a little concerned that they're not holding me for more than a few hours. I snuck a peek and saw that she cooks the eggs in Crystal Farms Light, whatever amalgamation of low-fat chemical butter substitutes that is. It tastes weird, that's for sure. But hey, I'm not complaining. My roommate (gleefully) ate three white-flour pancakes drenched in syrup. Poor dear. And then she wonders why she's always hungry. Oh well... hopefully I'll start seeing results soon in fitness and stamina and weight loss. But I don't know if I'll see results at this point with all of the random junk I eat here. Time will tell!


                        • #13
                          ¡Buenas noches! First things first, I have been struck down by the evil cold monster. Not the shivering, bring-me-a-blanket cold monster, but the faucet-nose, whistle-breathing, gurgle-coughing cold monster that has me going through kleenex packets like some people go through potato chips. You can't use just one. So work today was a bit of a trial.

                          That said, some pretty awesome stuff happened! I got to drive for the first time in three months (and it was a stick shift!), but I had managed to forget which pedal was brake and which was the clutch. I figured it out pretty quickly, though. I also removed an old doorknob and replaced it with a new one. I helped one of my coworkers with a prospective loan interview when he couldn't understand the lady, so I ended up translating the interview and part of another one for him (that has nothing to do with paleo but everything to do with my self-worth for the day :P). Walking up and down hills was also a big part of my day, which finished with a spectacularly dramatic 30-minute uphill hike.

                          This is me, just chillin' at work and lifting some sacks of concentrado (animal food). That's pretty primal, if you ask me!

                          All told, I feel like that was pretty good for a miserably sick day. And now, to food.

                          Breakfast, 7 am: two fried eggs with jiggly wiggly orange yolks, smeared lovingly over 5 slices of fried plantain and a small scoop of black beans. This held me for so long. Nom nom nom.

                          Lunch, 12:30 pm: one slice of deli ham, one thin piece of white cheese, a very small baked potato, and a large handful of tortilla chips. Seriously. I don't want to eat this crap, but it's all they give me! And I don't want to ask for more meat and cheese, because I don't want to be more of a financial burden than any of us already are.

                          Snack, 4 pm: one HempPower banana and peanut butter bar! I don't know what the heck that thing was, but my trip leader provided a snack for our group during class time and this was the gluten-free option. And hey, hemp! O__o

                          Supper, 6:30 pm: random chunk of stewed beef in tomato sauce. Came with half of the bowl filled with white rice, and there was a baked potato in there too. I cut the beef up (there was a strip of fat on it! drool...) and ate that with the tomato sauce, sometimes getting a little white rice in a bite, but usually not. Had one bite of the baked potato to satisfy my host mom. She gave us a chilled pitcher of water with lime slices floating in it; I was so ridiculously excited! I love flavored water, and nobody ever serves it here! I poured myself a huge glass of lime water, took a swig, and just about spit it back into the cup. It was the weakest, most sugary limonada I have ever tasted in my life. Yuck. Yuck yuck yuck. I then gratefully accepted a mug of hot water and had some lemon tea, because I was super thirsty but literally could not down more than a tiny sip of that sugar-water at a time.

                          I wasted so much food at supper today, but I could not eat any more! I don't understand. I was so full after supper -- I was painfully full. I left over half of my food untouched at supper -- all of the rice (half the bowl!), minus the few grains I caught up with the meat, and the baked potato minus a bite, and 3/4 of the glass of limonada. I went back to my room after supper and curled up on my bed and made dying noises while my stomach threatened to do a number of terrible things to me. After a few stabbing cramps and some suspicious gurgly noises, it was done, and at this point (1.5 hours later) I think my stomach is happy again. Maybe it was the hemp bar? Serious staying power, then, in that tiny little thing. Maybe it's a parasite. I sure hope not. This cold is enough for me to deal with right now.


                          • #14
                            Hey! Just wanted to check in and see how everything was going down south! Hope you're doing well!