Thursday, September 02, 2010

Paleo Diet Diary

I've been on the paleo diet (though with many interruptions for trips, meals in impossible restaurants, etc.) for about a month. That's the one that allows no grains, legumes, or dairy, but reasonable amounts of lean meat, fish and seafood, fresh fruits and vegetables, and nuts. It's also known as the primal diet and the hunter-gatherer diet. It's the original diet of genus homo.

I thought I'd write down a few things I've learned about it, in case someone out there is thinking of doing it.

So far, it works. I've lost about twelve pounds. I admit that's not spectacular, but as I said before, it is painless. Anyway, diets that do work fast are bad for you.

Oddly enough, you don't get hungry that often. There are days when I just forget to eat lunch. In my old high-carb regime, that would have been unthinkable.

Though you don't get hungry, you do get thirsty. I find that I drink a lot of water now. I have no idea why.

Though it is painless, this diet is not trouble-free. I have to prepare every meal I eat from scratch. Canned or frozen foods (as distinguished from canned or frozen ingredients, like tuna or strawberries) never seem to fit the diet. Hormel chili is off the menu. All the lazy, college-student-type foods: ramen noodles, pork and beans, canned hash. Gone. You have to start thinking and get to work.

For that reason this diet will probably be a tough one for people who hate to cook (and don't have domestic servants).

It is also expensive. As I said in my earlier post, the reason humanity went on the other diet, beginning about 10,000 years ago, is that it is based on cheap starchy staples. If you go back to the original diet of the human race, you are eating in a way that most of the people on the planet simply cannot afford. The most expensive, exotic legume at Whole Foods is cheaper per pound than the cheapest cut of beef at Bill's Food Center. On the other hand, though the ingredients I use are more expensive, I find that I eat more at home, spending less on restaurant food, so do I save some money there.

However, though it's a bad diet for people who hate to cook, it is a very good one for those who like to cook, and fortunately that includes me. It's challenging to have to re-think traditional foods and menus. Also, I find that I use a lot of new ingredients: kohlrabi, avocado oil, New York strip bison steak, many varieties of squash. If this keeps up, if it's not just a consequence of the switch from one regime to another, it'll be fun!

Finally, I can express my parting observation with just two words: less flatulence. Enough said?


Andrew Schwartz said...

I am surprised you say "lean" meats. I have been eating paleo for several months, and it's been my understanding that fat is important on this diet, as it is the fat that replaces the carbs as the primary energy source. I didn't really stabilize in terms of my energy until I began eating copious amounts of bacon. (I also make sure to cook with plenty of lard and coconut oil.)

Since you are one who is on this diet at least in part to loose weight, I would think it's possible you are currently getting a good deal of energy from the fat you already possess. I myself am an "ectomorph" (i.e., very slim), so have almost nothing in reserves. If I ate lean meats without lots of lard, coconut oil, and bacon, I'd be a goner.

I say all this partly for the benefit of others who might have an interest in trying this diet for reasons other than weight loss. And there is reason to have such an interest. I suspect for many people, carbs are a major source of energetic instability; they act like a turbo-boost rather than real fuel, such that when you run out, you need a "fix" to get the same artificial high. That's what eating was always like for me - fraught with a bit of a "junky" feeling .... and I'm talking about rice and potatoes! My relationship to food is much more balanced now. And I've not lost any weight...which for me is a good thing.

In any event, it's fun to read your posts about this! The more I learn about how to make myself happy on this diet, the more appreciative I am of it. So I look forward to hearing how it progresses for you.

Lester Hunt said...

The diet I am on is that of Loren Cordain, prof of nutrition at Colorado State. A lot of his ideas are apparently based on his own research (and that of his research team).

This is by no means a low fat diet, but it does involve avoiding too much animal fat.

He gives two kinds of argument for this.

The evolutionary argument is that though our ancestors ate a lot of roast beast, the animals they ate had (like modern bison and venison) about half the fat of modern beef. For the second half of its life, a modern cow is fed an unnatural diet of pure grains, deliberately turning it into a monster of obesity. This makes it quite different from the the items on the menu of "man's original diet."

The nutritional argument has to do with avoiding too much saturated fat and achieving the right balance between omega 3 and omega 6 polyunsaturated fats. He claims that eating too much animal fat makes this impossible.

So ribs and bacon are off the menu, as is, believe it or not, chicken dark meat. Also, you have to skin your chicken before you cook it.

As to the energy level situation, I experienced low energy for the first days of the diet, but that cleared up fairly soon. Apparently, my body was getting used to getting calories out of protein -- which Cordain thinks we should be doing more of.

However, your diet sounds like it is definitely working for you. If your health checks out (incl. blood pressure and cholesterol) I wouldn't change a thing!

Andrew Schwartz said...

Ahhh, very interesting. I guess different theoreticians have different approaches ... and it sounds like what you're doing is working for you too.

I myself have done next to zero reading on this topic - just enough to get the basics (at least of the approach I've been following) - but perhaps I'll start investigating a bit more.

In any event, happy eating. :)

Max said...

My wife and I are also on the Paleo diet. We've been doing it about three weeks, and we love it! We're also using Cordain's book.

Ann said...

Interesting report, Lester, and it sounds like it's working well for you. Have you noticed any changes in your metabolism? I continue to be quite happy with my intermittent fasting - I could not give up dairy - i LOVE cheeses, yogurt, milk too much. I also love grains (hot homemade yeast bread!) and legumes, but I cook these from scratch. With up-day-down-day, there are no banned food groups. For me, that aspect turns out to be important. Also, I'm not a big meat eater, although I certainly do eat it.

Lester Hunt said...

Actually the Cordain version of the paleo diet, though rigorous, is not as tough as I've made it sound. It allows "open meals," in which you can eat whatever you want (provided you don't just pig out), and how many you have a week depends on which "level" of the diet you choose to be on. If you are trying to lose weight, you must be on "Level I," which only allows one open meal a week. That's the one I am on. Level III, the least rigorous, allows three.

Come to think of it, my last open meal was last Friday, a chili relleno and soft pork taco and Restaurante El Pastor in Madison. ¡Muy sabroso!

As you see, after five days I still remember what I ate!

Anonymous said...

Don't forget eggs and berries
(anything a caveman might find, you can eat)