Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Pretty Much Paleo

Okay I'll admit it. Even though I don't exercise at crossfit. I do follow the Paleo Diet - mostly.

It was about six months ago when it seemed that a lot of people I knew were talking about the Paleo Diet. 

If you haven't heard of it ... where have you been?  It's even in wikipedia. There are also whole blogs dedicated to the lifestyle including

At that time I had no idea what it was. On a whim I bought the Paleo Diet book by Loren Cordain and the Paleo Diet Cookbook. There is apparently also a Paleo Diet for Athletes but I was thinking that I'm a smarty pants so I could probably figure that part out on my own.

Since then I've read the Paleo Diet book twice. That happens when I read a book that sort of rattles me in a good way. I have also driven everybody I'm related to a little bonkers explaining the diet to them. But let's back up a bit.

My Personal Back Story
I'm pretty fit. Nothing crazy but I've never had my doctor tell me I needed to lose weight and most people are flattering when they speak of my size. Nonetheless after having 2 kids I was stuck at just south of 130 lbs and I'm only 5'4" tall. This is despite my constant running, swimming and biking. So my interest in picking up the Paleo Diet book was (to be perfectly honest) in the hope that I could finally lose these extra 15-20 lbs I'm lugging around.

The Paleo Premise
So, I read the book. It's a little extreme. I mean the base concept is that our evolution as humans has moved faster in the making of processed foods than our bodies have been able to adapt to consuming those foods and therefore if you return to a diet much more like a person in the Paleolithic time period your body will respond more naturally and you will lose weight and be healthier.

In my opinion usually anytime you hear about freezing time ... it's a step toward the kool-aid and it's a bad idea.

The Basic Rules 
Now I'm not a nutritionist so I'm not qualified to talk about the science behind this diet. Also these are from the Cordain book and there are a few different versions of this diet so they might be different.

Okay so if you know anybody on this diet you already probably know the basic rules but here they are from page 23.
  • no grains of any kind (he calls them cereals)
  • no dairy
  • no legumes
  • no processed foods
  • all the lean meats, fish, seafood you want
  • all the fruits and non-starchy veggies you want
What's left to eat? Well that's a good question. The answer is animal products (meat and eggs) and fruits and vegetables.

A Funny Personal Discovery
So, I'll admit after I read this I didn't jump right in. First I spent about a week google-ing random Paleo trivia like: when did man start drinking cows milk, when did man develop fire and so on. Cordain provides a lot of information in his book but not much archeology type history which I was craving clearly. I mean why wouldn't Paleo man eat a potato? They are edible raw and I love them. This was driving me nutty. My husband did probably think I had lost my mind that I would spring up at dinner with tidbits about cultivating cows or goats. But then again he lived through my pinole fascination after I read Born to Run so maybe he's used to it.

At the time I first read the book I would have said that I ate very little processed foods. In looking back, I'll admit that my diet was probably close to a traditional runners diet in that I did eat a lot of carbs in the form of whole grain bread and whole wheat pasta. Lastly, my dad died of heart disease so I am concerned about eating too many eggs and too much red meat.  This was definitely on my mind as I started the diet.
My Paleo Brunch - eggs, steak left over from weekend bbq and rasberries.

Back to the book
Cordain is against cereal grains. It's all through the book. Page 10 he calls them starvation foods for Paleo man. Page 44 there is a section titled: Hello Grains, Hello Health Problems. And this was a stickler for me. I love grains. Years ago when my husband followed the Atkins diet I read it and threw it away because I "knew" that the Atkins Diet was insane because it blocked grains summarily.  For heavens sake I attended the University of Kansas where we "wave the wheat" at sporting events.

But Cordain's point is differently positioned than I had seen before. He explains that without significant processing in the form of milling grains are difficult for humans to digest.  I have actually seen a lot of wheat in the raw.  After all I went to college in the great state of Kansas (Go Jayhawks). I then worked at some very rural newspapers including a tiny town called Chanute. It's a cool place but small. I have a memory of photographing a farmer who was trapped on the side of the road because his trailer had tipped and his pregnant cow was inside. This is news in a small town. He was chewing on a stalk of wheat. I think you can chew on this all day and nothing really happens. It's tough and it's fibrous.  This was the piece of personal anecdotal information that started me thinking hmmm ... maybe I do agree with some of this.

At the same time two other things happened. One is simply that as a result of reading the Paleo Diet book I noticed how much of my diet was grain. Oatmeal for breakfast, sandwich for lunch, pasta for dinner it was a lot. The next thing was that I was watching the food network or the cooking channel (don't remember) and they were doing a piece on an artisinal flour or bread maker. Watching how many steps the grain went through before it even became flour and then so many more until it became bread fit into my Paleo questions perfectly. All of a sudden I thought ... hmmm bread is a processed food. Wait maybe flour is a processed food. Perhaps they aren't as processed as salt and vinegar potato chips but they also aren't the unprocessed heathly ingredient I'd been treating them as.  This was a massive thinking shift for me and after I made this mental shift I committed to trying the diet.

An empty plate
Without toast and pasta and oatmeal the first few days were kind of weird because I wasn't sure what was left to eat. Sadly the cookbook is filled with recipes that were not much help. But quickly I figured out that where there was bread there can be fruit. So instead of a turkey sandwich I would have a few pieces of turkey, a small salad and some fruit. 
Yummy salad: lettuce, tomatoes, avocado, onion and homemade pesto because I had an out of control basil plant and really what else can you do with a lot of basil?

Well, I lost weight. I've lost 10 pounds and I'm happy with that. I'm really happy with that. Also I will say I am eating probably 10 times the fruit and veggies I was before I made the switch.  And just removing salt from my diet has made a big difference in my daily puffiness factor.

Also with the emphasis this diet puts on eating protein I added a lot of protein for my diet. Wow! I think I was really shortchanging myself on protein before. I could almost feel the difference immediately in long practices that I had more strength. I also pretty quickly got arm muscles and people started commenting on my strong legs. That was kind of bizarre but good, I guess.

I named this post pretty much paleo because I want to be honest. I'm not 100% this all the time. In fact I'm not even sure I do a good job of following the diet. I think it's quite a challenge actually to keep this up all the time. Plus if you go totally Paleo you can't ever have a Blizzard from Dairy Queen  (and that is unacceptable).  I'm also not going to go to nutritional supplements like protein powder specially ordered over the internet so it has no sugar in it. Who has time for that? Also I don't make my own mayonaise ... again, who has time for that?

I have used it to reframe how I put my meals together. It is a little extreme so like anything extreme - like say oh I dunno - a marathon  - you have to keep it in perspective. I don't freak out or go hungry if I'm traveling and the only thing I can find is a sandwich. I also have a rule that when somebody makes birthday cake it's rude to not eat a slice. Lastly and sadly, I've never met a chocolate chip cookie I could ignore. But with all of that I still lost the 10 pounds.

A note for Athletes
I never read the Paleo Diet for Athletes book. But I would guess that it says roughly if you are running, 10 or 20 miles today you can eat extra carbs. So I do eat oatmeal before my long practices and I do usually eat pasta the night before and I eat Gu (or drink Gu whatever it is you do with Gu ...slurp maybe?) during long exercise sessions.

In closing - I think the Paleo Diet is worth a read. It's definitely not for everybody. Then again neither is being a vegetarian I mean I've tried that and failed at least five times. And the Paleo Diet like all extreme diets does have some crazies that follow it. But I think it's worth considering some of the points that they make. On the flip side I would skip the Paleo Diet Cookbook as I did not find anything in the cookbook that I'd want to make.

So all this is just my opinion. But if you want - read the book yourself.

1 comment:

  1. AHA! I love it. I love finding out that more and more people are trying Paleo. Your process was a lot like mine, however, I have to say that it was the cookbook that really kicked it into gear for me. I read Paleo for Athletes last summer, then put it down because it didn't really have a sample menu that I could follow (I do best with directions). Once I got the idea, I took off from there. I love to cook and have tried a lot of the recipes in the cookbook (the curry is awesome) and tailor my favorites to be Paleo.

    I've been about 98% Paleo since March. I've lost almost 20 lbs, leaned up, and PR'd my last tri by 40 minutes. Can't say it was all diet, but it helps. We eat a lot of Paleo dinners at my house (hubby and MIL), so they are benefitting from it too (although I do add potatoes/rice/pasta for them from time to time).