Interview with New Dad and Avid Blogger: Jared of Paleo Geek

November 30, 2012 in Interview

Hiya! Today I’m sharing a really cool and informative interview I did with super blogger and new dad, Jared. I was trying to remember how I ran into Jared on cyberspace, and then I remembered that he kindly linked to one of my MidEats posts (incidentally, it’s one of the most popular on the site: grain-free petit fours!) and I got the little pingback, which introduced me to his blog. I really love everything Jared shares on his many blogs (you’ll see what I’m talking about below), and on his Facebook page. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m kind of a freak when it comes to reading about health and nutrition. Jared is one of my sources for some of this up-to-date, intriguing health info that I like to share with you guys on Facebook and Twitter, and for that I’m really grateful!

Anyway, the interview to follow is long but really really worth it to read through and click on some of the links. As a new dad, Jared has some incredibly valuable insight on health, parenting, building stuff, and buying organic on a budget. It’s not often that we get to hear from the dads in the health/food blog world, so kick back, relax with your morning cup of mojo, and enjoy the info … It’s certainly fascinating if it’s your first exposure to paleo living, natural parenting, primal fitness, or even if you’re interested in learning to make your own medieval armor — hah, just scroll down if you don’t believe this is in here!

1. Jared, you have not one or two blogs, but five! Paleo Geek is focused on ancestral health and nutrition, Fatherhood for Geeks is a resource for holistically-minded parents about raising healthy babies (from a first-time dad), Mr. Homeowner, Tear Down This Wall is about serious home renovations and DIY projects around the house, Geek Kraft covers cool handmade craft projects, and Geek with a Gun is about … well, guns! What inspired you to start so many blogs? What prompts you to write about all the different things you’re learning and doing by hand?

I’m a glutton for punishment, I guess. Really, it all started with yet another blog, that ended up being partially about food and fitness, partially about general life events, partially about crafts and other hobbies, and overall felt rather schizophrenic. The only people who would ever read it or enjoy it were people who know me personally, and that isn’t all that fun. I read a lot and try to learn new things on a regular basis, and one of my passions is trying to share all my passions with others. Having a different blog for each general interest just made sense, so that people who were interested in health/fitness but not home improvement wouldn’t have to sift through a bunch of stuff they didn’t like to get to the bits they would.

What really cemented my decision to write a blog about my journey into an ancestral lifestyle was coming up with the name for the blog, oddly enough. I love puns, so when “Neanderthal, Dark & Handsome” popped into my head, I couldn’t not write the blog. That’s me, a man terminally enamored with his own cleverness. I don’t know how my wife can stand me, honestly. But I digress. Part of the motivation for blogging is keeping a record of everything so that I can go back later and see what I did. That’s especially the case with my home improvement blog. We had several situations where having that written/photographic record helped us remember something important down the line. It’s also really rewarding to go back to the early posts and see just how far we’ve come. So in a lot of ways, some of the blogs are more online journals than anything, while others really are geared towards helping strangers to understand whatever it is I’m into. I’m just into a lot of stuff!

2. As your blog name, Paleo Geek (or is it Neanderthal, Dark and Handsome?) would imply, you more or less follow the paleo diet. When did you start eating “like a caveman”? What convinced you that eating a lot of saturated fat from good sources and ditching the carb-heavy breads and pastas was the recipe for better health?

I think I probably had a similar experience to a lot of people. I ate like absolute crap, and just slowly got fatter and fatter, despite periodic attempts to try some new diet or exercise plan. I never stuck with them for long, and never had much success. In a few weeks, I’d be back to fast food and candy. Finally, I joined a gym and got a personal trainer to get me in shape for the Tough Mudder, a 10-mile adventure run at altitude. Three months later I’d lost about 10-15 pounds, by counting my calories and going to the gym 2-3 times a week. It worked better than most things I’d tried, but it was a lot of effort, and the trainer was costing me a fortune. I stopped going after the Mudder, and very quickly gained back all the weight I’d lost. That sucked, and was really discouraging. I knew that I could work out and count calories and lose weight, but that’s just not long-term viable for me, you know? I’m a geek, but I don’t want to consult a scale and a spreadsheet every time I eat. So that was sort of how my last “get in shape” attempt ended — with me not just fat again, but also out of a heck of a lot of cash.

Over the next month or two, a couple of friends of mine started having great success with new diets, and I started thinking about trying what was working so well for them. One of them just went gluten-free, was still eating plenty of processed foods and junky carbs, but still felt great and lost a load of weight. Another one started reading Tim Ferriss’ The 4-Hour Body and lost a load with that, too. I had also started reading it and tried the Slow Carb deal but only made it about two days before I failed spectacularly. The giant junk food blowout that I had always done before starting on a new diet lasted longer than the diet! I did subscribe to Tim Ferriss’ blog though, and he posted a section of Robb Wolf’s new book, The Paleo Solution. I loved the writing style and what he was saying made so much sense. I rarely jump into anything without doing a load of research first anymore, so I borrowed Robb’s book from the library and read the whole thing. Then I borrowed Nora Gedgaudas’ book Primal Body, Primal Mind and read that whole thing, too.  I watched Tom Naughton’s Fat Head on Netflix over and over again, and that got me over my fear of fat. I started watching videos on YouTube, listening to podcasts and just absorbing all of the information I could. I started with my 30-day paleo trial in the middle of October 2011, and I haven’t looked back.

My own success was all the proof I needed. That’s the power of paleo, I think. Most other diet books I’d read talked about a 12-week plan, or a 6-month plan, and talked about how hard it is to lose fat, but how you can just willpower your way through it if you want it enough. Robb Wolf and Mark Sisson both just tell you to try it for a few weeks, and see how it works for you. I lost over 15 pounds my first month and started feeling great. My results with an imperfect application of paleo principles blew every other diet plan out of the water, no matter how exactly I’d tried to follow them. To me, that’s a sign of a system that works.

3. When I share with people that I like to make most of my food at home from scratch, I often get the following reaction: “Oh, sure that’s healthier; but so time-consuming! Where do you get the time to make food, and how are you able to afford all the high-quality ingredients!?” I’ll save my own answer for a separate post, but how would (do?) you answer that supremely popular question? Also, do you have some favorite go-to easy recipes that busy parents can use as a guide for making dinner on weeknights?

It’s like anything else, really. You practice a bit and you get good at it. I make a zuppa toscana probably once a week that takes a long time to prepare, but a double batch will mean meals for days. The other thing most people don’t realize is just how much down time there is within most recipes. While my crumbled sausage is browning for the soup, I can be washing dishes or playing with the dog, and while everything is simmering I can go hang out with my new baby or do some laundry. You can even make two meals at the same time, just cooking one in the downtime of the other. Once you make a given recipe a few times, you’ll get comfortable enough with it to leave it alone for a bit so you can go do other things. Also, the double batch here is key. When I cook, I like to make big batches so we can eat leftovers for lunch or dinner for the next few days. It doesn’t take much longer to double or even triple most recipes, and it saves a ton of time on cleanup and everything. I also use my slow cooker a lot. Fifteen minutes of prep before work and I come home to a beautiful meal that will feed us for the next few days.

We also keep some convenience foods around, for when I have to work late unexpectedly or errands take longer than anticipated. They’re not the highest quality stuff by any means, but they’re quick and tasty and will do in a pinch. That’s some of my philosophy regarding the cost, too. You do the best you can, but don’t beat yourself up if you’re not perfect. If you can’t manage pastured beef for every meal, even lean, conventional meat is better for you than a big plate of pasta. I try to eat local, humanely-raised animal products as much as possible, but sometimes you just can’t make it work. Having some flexibility is key to making this thing viable long-term for me. The big things I’m pretty adamant about are gluten and legumes. They just make me really sick, and I’d rather go hungry than feel like a sack of butts for a few days after a gluten dose. I’m pretty flexible on the rest of the paleo stuff, though. I’ll eat white potatoes a couple of times a week (my wife loves them), and I do some grass-fed dairy as well.

We shop at Costco a lot for the things we can get there. The one by us carries a lot of organic, gluten-free and even some humanely-raised meats. If you go through produce in a hurry, Costco is a viable way to get a good price on organic fruits and veggies. We also shop sales in our area, and will visit multiple stores to get the best prices on stuff. It takes a little more time, but you’d be amazed at how widely the price of something can vary between two stores in the same town. The same eggs that cost me under $4 a dozen at Vitamin Cottage or King Soopers will run me $5.50-$6 at Sprouts or Sunflower Market. You can also hit your farmer’s market, if you have one. My favorite eggs from the grocery store are Vital Farms, but they’re almost $6 a dozen and we go through two dozen a week. At my farmer’s market there are multiple booths selling eggs from pasture-raised chickens for $4 or less. That stuff adds up, for sure. We also cowpool, and are hoping to pigpool this year. We got together with three other families and bought a whole cow from a local ranch. Each of us ended up with almost 150 lbs of beef, and it ran us about $8/lb. Now that might sound pretty spendy, but that’s $8/lb for ground beef and $8/lb for beautiful bone-in ribeyes. Note that grass-fed ground beef from the store is usually $6+/lb and grass-fed ribeyes run maybe $24+/lb, so $8/lb is an incredible price all the way around. That big cash outlay once per year will keep us in beef pretty much all year long. We got a nice chest freezer and we just keep it pretty full whenever there’s a good sale on anything we can freeze.

Most of my quick recipes are slow-cooker stuff. We make pork tenderloin with BBQ sauce, or chicken with enchilada sauce, or big beef roasts with veggies. They’re so quick to set up in the morning, and then you get home and you pretty much just spoon them onto a plate and you’re good to go. I do make a sausage, potatoes and onions dish that goes together pretty quickly and tastes great. Otherwise my primary method is just to have something in the fridge at all times. Be it zuppa toscana or gluten-free lasagna or whatever. As long as you’ve always got some leftovers in the fridge, you’re never without dinner in a pinch.

4. Buying locally grown foods – are you feelin’ it? Where do you source your ingredients, and how easy/difficult is it to keep your fridge and pantry stocked with paleo-friendly foods that are easy on the palate and on the budget?

Definitely! Last year we even grew some of our own veggies, and it doesn’t get much more local than that. We also go to our local farmer’s market every weekend, and try to source things there. This past week we met a farmer who lives maybe an hour away from us who offers eggs from pasture-raised chickens, raw milk shares, and pastured pork! Buying directly from the farmer feels good, and it can save you a whole lot of money. We’re also lucky, because we’ve got a lot of great grocery stores around us. Most of them will stock local produce, and a few of them even stock local, pastured animal products. Getting them from the store is a lot more expensive than getting them from the market, but it’s nice to have the option. One of the great things about the paleo movement is that it’s got more and more people thinking about where their food comes from. I’ve talked to butchers who say they’re carrying grass-fed meats now because they got so many requests from paleo folk!

5. In addition to your interest in natural health and nutrition, you seem like a hands-on guy who appreciates DIY projects. What sparked the interest in ‘tinkering’? What are some of the coolest items you made yourself? Also, what advice do you have for others who like the concept of making their own stuff (furniture, decor, personal care products, etc), but they’re too intimidated to start?

Honestly, I didn’t really get interested in “making” until college. I got involved with a historical recreation group called the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA), and that’s where I learned to sew, make armor, etc. What it really did for me was to bring these things into the realm of the possible. I’m a huge geek, and all my life I’ve loved medieval and renaissance clothing, armor and weapons. Hanging out and learning from people who just looked at them as weekend projects instead of unattainable objects really helped change my perspective on all of it. The thing I learned pretty early was that my first draft is always going to suck. The second will be pretty good, and the third will maybe look like I want and do what it’s supposed to do. You just learn that failure isn’t the end of the world, and that you learn so much by fiddling with things. One of my favorite pieces is a Nazgul costume I made for The Return of the King movie premiere, complete with real steel gauntlets and leg armor. My first attempt was really rough, but I learned so much that my next attempt went much faster and looked much better. That’s really what it’s about for me. I guess I’ve just failed enough that now I know that if I fail enough times I will eventually figure it out.

My biggest advice for people is just to try it. Pick an easy project (something with a pattern and instructions) and some cheap materials and just try things. If you want some instruction, the internet is positively full of great free tutorials on everything you can imagine. Also check your local library for books or DVDs on the subject or see if there’s a local group that does whatever it is you want to do. Some people learn by tinkering on their own, and others learn best by having some instruction. Try it all, see what works for you, and never be afraid to fail.

6. Congratulations on being a first-time dad! (I’ve really been enjoying your baby-related posts on Fatherhood for Geeks). What are 3-5 things/resources you would share with first-time parents who want to raise their kids in a more holistic way? I know it’s only been a few months since you’ve had your baby boy, but any lessons/tips you’d like to share already?

Thanks! It’s an adventure, for sure. Being a dad is amazing and intensely rewarding. We absolutely love Dr. Sears’ books, and have probably a dozen of them on all different topics. We’re also big fans of Mama Natural, who takes a very WAPF-oriented view on things. Speaking of which, we’re also big fans of Weston A. Price Foundation (WAPF) and all their resources. Green Mountain Diapers is an awesome resource if you’re cloth diapering, too. Really, it’s mostly about a philosophy of being as natural as you can be. We try to use cloth diapers and wipes, but sometimes disposables just make more sense for a given situation. Again, just like with the diet, that flexibility really keeps you from going crazy.

A couple of tips about birth that I think are very valuable:

1. Do at least an hour of skin-to-skin contact after birth. That is precious bonding time with your baby.

2. Also, as far as the hospital goes, remember that you’re in charge. If you don’t want them poking and prodding your baby, you can tell them not to.

3. Finally, I think it’s absolutely essential for babies to get breast milk. If something is keeping you from breastfeeding, look into donor programs. Your hospital might have donor milk, or your local chapter of La Leche League might be able to help. If you can’t do that, look into the WAPF recipes for raw milk formula but please don’t give you baby powdered soy formula. Their early life is so incredibly important for their health throughout their lives, and starting them with breast milk instead of chemically-deodorized bean juice gives them the best chance for long-term health and happiness.

7. What are some things you wish you knew before becoming a dad? What topics related to baby health and development are you most drawn to, and why?

We were almost ludicrously prepared for parenthood, I have to say. My wife has been passionate about pregnancy and birth her whole life, and long before we ever got pregnant, we were already studying. Once we actually got pregnant, that just ramped up. We read a load of books, attended classes, watched videos, talked with a lot of friends and family who’d had babies and just studied everything we could on it. Most importantly, we’d raised an Australian terrier about a year before. All through the pregnancy we kept telling our friends that Winifred (our dog) had prepared us for parenthood and they’d just laugh like we didn’t know what we were talking about. It turned out to be totally true! Gryff is an absolute angel compared to our little girl, and we learned some really valuable lessons with her. Biggest one is patience. We’re big on positive reinforcement dog training, so we had this intensely feisty, energetic little ball of teeth and barking, and we didn’t yell at her, or swat her, or lock her in a crate to discipline her. It was a lot of work and I wanted to tear my hair out sometimes, but I’m so grateful to her, too. She taught me more patience than I ever thought possible, and it has already served me so well with Gryff. I know it sounds weird, but that dog taught me more about being a good dad than any of the books I read!

The biggest things I try to focus on with him is making sure that he gets enough milk, and that my wife is eating quality foods. We also try to get him into the sun for at least a few minutes every day, so he gets his Vitamin D. It’s easy to overdo it because his skin is so sensitive, but we’re careful not to let him burn. I’m really conscious of his gut health, because I think all good health starts in the gut. My wife takes probiotics and breast milk transfers good gut flora, so I think he’s getting everything he needs. He’s certainly growing, and that’s the best indication that he’s getting proper nutrition.

8.  I always love the posts where you include interesting links that you’re coming across! Since you’re so well-read, I’d love it if you can share some of your favorite online and print resources in the following categories: natural/holistic health, nutrition, parenting, paleo-friendly recipes, and DIY home renovation projects. 

Thanks! Sometimes I feel like I’m mostly just posting a blog to say “Look what I found!” but as long as people are getting something out of it, that’s what matters. I’m subscribed to dozens of paleo/primal/ancestral pages on Facebook, and dozens more RSS feeds, so I get a constant stream of new info coming across my screen.

My favorite health/nutrition/recipe websites are Robb Wolf, Mark’s Daily Apple, My Life in a Pyramid (obviously), Chris Kresser, Whole 9 Life, Gnolls, the Healthy Home Economist, Whole Health Source, Zoe Harcombe, Eating Academy, PaleOMG, Mama Natural, Gary Taubes, Health Bent, Balanced Bites, FatHead Movie …I could go on. There are so many amazing resources out there, all just giving out fantastic recipes, insights, suggestions, and ideas for free. I don’t necessarily agree 100% with everything that everyone posts, but they always make me think, or give me a different perspective, or give me a chance to flex my mental muscles a bit and try to figure out why I don’t agree and whether or not I can support my position. I also listen to RobbWolf’s podcast, as well as Chris Kresser’s, and I’ll throw some Jimmy Moore in there every so often, too.

For print stuff, as far as health goes, it’s going to be The Paleo Solution by Robb Wolf; The Primal Blueprint by Mark Sisson; Primal Body, Primal Mind by Nora Gedgaudas; and Why We Get Fat by Gary Taubes. I have a giant stack of books on my shelf that I’m not getting through, unfortunately, but those are the ones I’ve read and enjoyed and recommended to others so far. For parenting, we love Dr. Sears’ books: The Baby Book, The Attachment Parenting Book, etc. I also have a tiny book on parenting written by Mr. Rogers that I really love. He had such an amazing respect for children and childhood that I don’t see from most other people.

My home improvement book collection is pretty varied, and which one I pick up depends heavily on which one is closest when I’m working. I love Taunton Press for anything to do with woodworking, as they’re always extremely thorough. I’ve got a few “Complete guide to” type books that end up being almost useless, so I would avoid those. The problem with trying to be a guide to everything is that you end up spending about a sentence on each topic, so there’s not enough information to be useful in most situations. Maybe it’s worthwhile to have one just to give you some rough ideas? Mostly I’d recommend hitting up your library and loading up on a bunch of books specific to the task at hand. Find which one you like and then go buy it.

9. Let’s talk about fitness – how do you feel about long-distance running? Interval training? Sprinting? Weight lifting? Yoga? What are your favorite fitness routines and outdoor activities? 

I’m not a huge fan of long-distance running the way most people do it, but I think there’s a lot of evidence that humans are extremely well-adapted to that sort of thing. The problem is that most people who are running long distances are fueling that exercise with a bunch of refined, trash carbs, and then aren’t giving themselves enough recovery between training sessions. I run a 10k road race once a year, and do some long hikes/adventure races (12+ miles), but that’s every so often, and with plenty of recovery afterward. I love interval training and sprinting, and try to get in a couple of sessions of that per week. I enjoy weightlifting but with a new baby (and major home remodeling projects before that) it’s hard to get to the gym with any regularity. I’m big on bodyweight exercise, since that’s pretty easy to do at home, but I also love my kettlebells. I’ve done yoga a few times with my wife, but it’s not really my jam. I can enjoy it while I’m doing it, but I never get all amped up and excited to go do it like I do some sprints or some Tabata KB swings.

I just started following Paul Wade’s Convict Conditioning plan, and I’m enjoying it a great deal. It’s all bodyweight exercises, starts very slow, and it’s forcing me to focus on my technique. It’s great for busy people, or for people who feel like they’ve got some weak spots. I’ve always been really bad at moving my own bodyweight around, and this appeals to me because it really feels like I’m building a good foundation of technique and strength.

10. I saved the hardest for last: How do you deal with family members or close friends who are in complete denial that the paleo or primal diets work for losing weight and becoming healthier? Do you argue with the naysayers, or just keep to yourself and refer them to your blog? 

I’m pretty feisty about it. I love a good scrap, and I tend not to back down from a confrontation, especially when it’s something I’m passionate about. I haven’t had anyone try to tell me that paleo won’t work for weight loss, because I’ve got a pair of fat pants I will happily show them proving otherwise. Unfortunately this has inspired a few of my relatives to start wondering how long it will be until I get sick because now I’m “too skinny”. Jeez. You just can’t win. Most folks are open to it, I’ve found, because most people I know aren’t happy with how they look and feel. When you can say “I dropped 10% body fat in four months” that gets their attention and gives you credibility.

I think the biggest thing, and the thing I struggle most with, is just being a resource, and not trying to force people. If they’re ready to change, and you’ve been cool to them, they’ll come and ask for help. If you’ve been harping on them or making fun of them or just pestering them, then they won’t ask for help even when they’re ready to change. So that’s the thing for me. Trying very hard to rein it all in. I put all my fire and my passion into my blog, and in person I try to be much more measured and laid back. I don’t always manage it, and I’ve got more than a few friends with whom I stay as far from diet conversations as we do from religion and politics, but overall I like to think I’ve found a balance.

Who is Jared?

Jared is a blogger, a geek and a new father. He’s interested in health, natural living, parenting, and just about everything else! He loves reading and writing, and sharing his passions with others. This is him in what he calls his “fat pants” — awesome proof that he lost weight and got healthy on an ancestral diet! Follow him on Facebook – he always shares really interesting stuff!