Friday, September 2, 2011

What I learned from 7.5 days on the paleo diet

Hey, so one thing I did during my summer vacation was go on a really restrictive diet! Because why not? It's not like I was going to go out and EXERCISE in that heat, right?

I first heard about the paleo diet a couple of years ago, and I remember thinking, "Huh. That makes sense." And then I promptly forgot about it. But recently a couple of prominent bloggers (Alice and Heather) came out of the paleo closet (or maybe ... paleo CAVE! see what I did there with the OH NEVERMIND) and I took another look at it. In truth, it was Heather's photos of what she was eating that got me. I am down with ANY diet that includes sausage. Just so you know.

So after Googling around and realizing I needed a bit more structured guidance than what Doctor Internet could give me, I bought and read Loren Cordain's The Paleo Diet. And I liked it okay, except for the part where his information on saturated fat was kind of out of date and he was okay with people drinking diet sodas, which I'm pretty sure they did not have back in the paleolithic period, yo.

But the basic info on what to eat and what not to eat was there, and that was what I wanted. To whit:
  • No dairy. Check. I've been dairy-free (with only occasional, always-regretted lapses) for a couple of years now, because dairy makes me all congested and mucusy. You're welcome.
  • No grains. At all. That was going to be tough, not because I'm a carb junkie (I don't think) but because grain is EVERYWHERE. I mean, think about it. We're not just talking low-carb or gluten-free here, we're talking ALL GRAIN. Rice, wheat, oats, barley, quinoa, everything. No pasta, no baked goods, no nothin'. But whatever, I was down with it.
  • No legumes, including soy and peanuts. I forget why, something to do with agriculture blah blah that part of the book was boring. Not a big deal though, because P and H are allergic to legumes (except peanuts) so we don't eat them much, anyway.
  • No potatoes or corn. Say what now? I'm not in love with corn, but potatoes make up a good 30% of my diet, I'm pretty sure. BUT FINE. WHATEVER.
  • No refined sugar. Only the occasional dollop of honey. Alrighty.
  • Lots of meat. Swell! I love meat! And since my body can't utilize non-heme iron, I NEED meat.
  • Lots of fresh veggies. Awesome!
  • Lots of fresh fruit. Okay then!
  • Alcohol is allowed, if you already "enjoy" it. Sign me up!
So I went cold-turkey hardcore paleo overnight. I would like to point out that I did this for no particular reason. I wasn't having any major health issues, was not looking to lose a significant amount of weight, nothing like that. I was just sort of bored. And CRAZY FROM THE HEAT. And as you read these meal descriptions, please know that I did NOT force my family to eat this way with me. I made a grain or potato dish along with all the paleo stuff for dinner most nights; I just didn't eat it.

Day one: Ate eggs, lots of fresh veggies, nuts, chicken legs and giant salads all day. Felt okay. Excited about this new way of eating! Can't wait to go grocery shopping for more meat, fruit and veggies!

Day two: Woke up ravenous with a splitting headache. Egg and veggie scramble for breakfast, spicy tuna wrapped in lettuce leaves for lunch, flank steak and grilled veggies for dinner. Snacked on nuts and fresh fruit. Feeling pretty darn good and getting massively full at every meal.

Day three:  Woke up ready to eat my pillow, P's pillow, and possibly the dog. Had coconut milk yogurt with fresh fruit and nuts for breakfast, leftover steak and veggies with spinach salad for lunch, grain-free meatloaf with steamed broccoli and sliced tomatoes for dinner. Snacked on turkey slices and guacamole. Feeling fantastic, super committed to this new lifestyle! Really need to go shopping, though.

Day four: Woke up with a headache and my blood sugar level hovering somewhere down around my toenails. Ate a peanut-free Larabar for breakfast, washed it down with black decaf tea and nearly passed out in the grocery store. Spent like $300 on meat, fruit and veggies, OMG. Lunch was a small broiled steak and leftover veggies. Dinner was grilled pork tenderloin and a humongous salad. Snacked on beef jerky and half an apple with almond butter, a little closer to bedtime than usual in hopes of avoiding that whole morning hypoglycemia headache thing.

Day five: Woke up without a headache, yes! Breakfast was an egg and veggie scramble, sausages and fresh fruit. Lunch was a massive spinach salad with fruit and grilled pork. Dinner was a massive green salad, also with pork. Snacked on jerky and fresh pineapple spears with chili powder. Getting a little bored.

Day six: Ate paleo. So bored. All this fruit is starting to go bad already.

Day seven: Woke up hungry, got a migraine. Not a terribly bad one, but still. I used to get them all the time but now I only get them maybe once every 12 to 18 months. Stress and hormones are the usual triggers, but neither of those were a factor for this one. Curious. Ate paleo all day, including a delicious pot roast for dinner (with cauliflower puree standing in for mashed potatoes)(discovered I freaking LOVE cauliflower puree).

Day eight: Ate paleo for breakfast, lunch and snacks. Was blindsided by a MASSIVE migraine at dinnertime. Two migraines in two days in the absence of my usual triggers? For me, that is statistically significant. The ONLY thing I have changed has been going on the paleo diet. Hmm. Maybe I'll just eat this handful of whole-grain tortilla chips and see what happens. And maybe also these Pringles.

Day nine: Woke up feeling fantastic. No trace of a migraine hangover. Ate whole-grain toast with fruit for breakfast, a whole-grain tortilla wrap with turkey and veggies for lunch, stir-fried shrimp with veggies over rice and a big salad for dinner.

And I have been fine ever since going back to my old diet. No more waking up with low blood sugar, no more migraines.

One could probably argue that I didn't give it enough of a chance. That my body just needed time to adjust. To that I say: sorry, man. Two migraines in two days is a deal-breaker. I would not willingly subject myself to that for ANY reason.

Since going back on my regular diet a couple of weeks ago, I've had time to reflect.

On the one hand, this experiment was worth doing. I've been on restrictive diets before for health reasons, and what they tend to do, for me, is bring my awareness to what the heck I'm putting in my mouth. I like to think my usual diet is pretty healthy -- moderate amounts of mostly pastured meat and eggs, fresh veggies, mostly whole grains, a bit of fruit now and then -- but the truth is I had veered a bit into Processed Food Land this summer. Also, I eat a LOT of grain, boy howdy. I do still think there is merit in the philosophy behind the paleo diet, so I've been trying to be aware of and cut down on the processed crap and the non-whole grains since I went off it. That probably wouldn't have happened if I hadn't cut them out entirely for a few days.

On the other hand, WHAT THE HELL WAS I THINKING?! Putting myself on a restrictive diet! Being the person who walks into a restaurant, looks at the menu, and thinks, "Well, I can't eat ANY of this!" Or worse yet, doing that at someone's HOUSE when they have invited me for a meal. OMG. I pride myself on being willing and able to eat almost anything. I am seriously the least-picky person you know when it comes to food, probably. I AM somewhat annoying in that, if we are going out for a meal, I will always insist YOU pick the restaurant, but that's because I am literally up for ANYTHING. Italian? Mexican? Indian? Thai? Ethiopian? Japanese? Burgers? Sandwiches? Salads? Vegetarian? Yes, please! I will go anywhere and eat anything, it doesn't matter to me. I love it all, and I have no idea why I suddenly decided to stop eating some of it. Sheesh!

So yeah. That happened.


  1. Yeah, I have always thought of you as a bold and healthy eater. Even what you ate on Paleo is more interesting than anything I'll eat today. I, should try it and, of course, never will. Too lazy.

  2. Just the phrase "paleo diet" is off-putting in the extreme. Makes me think of big, malodorous cavemen gnawing on mastodon bones. Yuck!

    But it gave you something to blog about, YAY!

  3. I'm still stuck on the doc okaying folks drinking diet soda. Does nobody care about what all that aspartame does to your body! Gawh! Just continues to prove my point that doctors aren't any smarter than me or you.

  4. Giving up those carbs can suck! I know. Did the same, and continue, for my health. Now, not so bad. Cut out about 90%. I have also discovered the joy of cauliflower - if I can just remember to make it before it goes bad.

  5. I am SO with dear Poppy on this one. But kudos to you fo trying and enduring the migraines!

  6. It is so refreshing to have someone actually say the Paleo is crap!! Gold star for your bravery!

  7. I did the anti-candida diet a few years back. Either a) it brought on ME or b) it caused me to ignore the symptoms of ME until they got worse because the book SAID I would feel like that. Either way. I still kind of blame it for a year off work.

  8. Looks like you've got it sussed. Wish I had. blessings

  9. Glad you are off of it and at least you survived. It is way too weird for me.

  10. Paleo diet, despite its yucky name, appears to be quite similar to Atkins, which I tried years ago and ended up throwing up after eating about 40 shrimp out of the container (cooked) on the way home from the grocery store because I was so freaking hungry. OTOH, I applaud you for trying to shake things up diet-wise and inspiring me to get off my (fat) ass and do something similar since I have let this become the Summer of Fat and Carbs, a slothful, indulgent season that undid all my pre-knee replacement weight loss and exercising.

  11. How freaky that grain denial caused migraines. We pretty much live on grains and carbs at our house, which I only really noticed when my sister stayed with us after losing a massive amount of weight by giving up carbs after 6pm - pretty much all I served up for dinner was carb-centric. Not that I changed it mind.I've got my routine, you know.

  12. I love that the heat made you do it. I totally get that. And also, there's this thing called progres...paleo was perfect in PALEOland.