October: Paleo Experiment
I mentioned setting some resolutions in October in this blog post. First, I resolved to floss my teeth. Second, I resolved go primal – a.k.a. follow the paleo diet.
Patients come to me with questions about new diets like the Paleo all the time. Unfortunately, it’s hard for me to give them meal advice and help with recipes unless I have been through it myself. Rather than be an inadequate dietitian, I take on these “projects.” By going through these lifestyle changes, I can determine how much change is necessary. Is it an easy or hard change to make? What cost is involved? What is the effect from the changes?
These are things my patients need to know and understand before setting a goal to “go Paleo.”
Paleo Experiment Rules
The idea behind the paleo diet is to eat like a caveman, or as close as you can. While I did not go out and spear my food, I did limit myself to foods that we’ve eaten for thousands of years. Those foods consisted of:
- Any kind meat
- Lots of Eggs
- Fruit, in moderation
- Lots of Vegetables (excluding legumes and potatoes)
- Trace amounts of honey. I probably only had about 2 teaspoons for the whole month. It’s not everyday a cavewoman would stumble across a bee hive!
No milk or dairy products. No grains. No processed foods. No beans, peanuts, or other legumes. No sugar. No alcohol.
You’d expect I would have lost some weight on that kind of diet – wouldn’t you? I didn’t. I actually gained 5 pounds.
You’d expect me to feel a lot better. I didn’t. I was hungry all of the time. Not real hunger, but perceived hunger. There were too many foods I had to cut out. This made me feel a bit crazy.
I desperately wanted to be able to say, “It was worth it. I feel so much better!”
But, that wouldn’t be true.
I believe some people feel better – if they had a gluten intolerance or if they had a really unhealthy diet to begin with. For these individuals, the paleo diet is certainly a step in the right direction. For a person with no stomach problems and a healthy diet, I think it can be a step in the wrong direction.
Healthy eating and physical activity is not new to me. I ate healthy before. I lifted before. I ran before. I experienced no GI discomfort or constipation from my diet.
I am not in need of a radical diet change/restriction.
Evolution happened overnight.
I went to bed on October 31st a cavewoman and woke up in the twenty first century. A world with grocery stores, milk from cows, conventional ovens, the discovery of beans and legumes. It’s a miracle!
I can eat whatever I want. I’m allowed to have cookies and milk. I’m allowed to have bran flakes. I’m allowed to have oatmeal. I’m allowed to have beans. I’m allowed to have potatoes. These are all things I missed.
The weird thing, because I can have them – I’m eating less.
An Opportunity to Learn
However, I will say ONE good thing for projects – they push you outside your comfort zone. Here’s a quick list of things I learned:
- New food combinations. With new dietary restrictions, I had to find a way to fill up plate. I turned to winter squash and fruit. I think I fell in LOVE with butternut squash, apples, cranberries, raspberries and greens.
- Nuts have less calories than you think. During October, I developed an unhealthy dependency on nuts. I ate waaaay more than I should have. My nuts were adding an extra 1000 calories per day, but I was not gaining any more weight. I told my dietitian co-workers, “I think the calories from nuts probably aren’t as high as we thought they were…” They thought I was crazy; until we found out I was a genius… because a few days later this article came out with the same claim.
- It’s a bummer to be restricted for reasons that don’t make any sense to you. So many people lose momentum on diets when they feel like they’re getting the short end of the stick. That’s why it’s so important to learn how to cook HEALTHY and DELICIOUS food so that you aren’t prone to resent your dietary changes.
- I learned I could turn myself orange. Trust me – I’m a white girl. There is no reason why I should have this kind of “glow” in the late fall. My friends thought I was using sunless tanner… nope. I have been eating lots and lots of vegetables, though. Beta carotene from vegetables can actually give your skin that healthy glow. Observe below.
This is a picture of me and my mom. We’re typically about the same coloring, but the other day we noticed this difference. I’m orange. How cool is that? I’m going to start judging my patient’s diets by the color of their palms.
White palm? Try harder next week. Not enough vegetables. :)
For a lot of people, the Paleo Diet can be a step in the right direction. However, I DO think some of the diet restrictions are unnecessary.
This is not a diet that I would follow for a long term. But, some of the principles are really great starts to healthy eating:
- Filling your plate with vegetables EVERY SINGLE MEAL
- Making carbohydrate choices healthy
- Limiting added sugar
- Cutting out processed foods
- Drinking water
- Adding protein and healthy oils to balance meals
I’m going to keep doing all of those things – BUT I’m going to make a few changes like allowing beans, oats, whole grains, and delicious splurges every once and awhile.
Afterall, I’m living in 2012. In the time since our cave years, I think some of our progress has been good and some bad. I don’t want to miss out on all of the good things by making the mistake of overgeneralization.