One Year of Paleo Eating
July, 29 2008
It has been a year since I first tried the Paleolithic Diet, also known as The Caveman Diet, or Evolutionary Diet. I am pleased with the result. It isnít a diet; it is a new way of living. It has changed my life for the better. Let me tell you at length.
The first thing most people want to know about a diet is how much weight I lost. Not much, but I was not seriously overweight. I am 5í 10Ē (1.78M) tall. I weighed 158 lbs (72 KG) when I started. Within the first two months I dropped about 13 Lb (6 KG) to 145 lb (66 KG). That is what I weighed when I was 20, I am now 58. Other people who are more overweight report larger weight losses.
The big benefit of Paleo eating is getting healthier. The basic premise is that we are physically still the hunter-gatherer, tool making primates that we were in the Late Stone Age, and farm foods are not our natural diet. Being omnivores, we can exist on almost anything, but we are evolved to live on a diet of animals, fruits, vegetables, leaves, nuts, and berries. We are ill suited to a diet where the majority of our energy comes from grain, dairy, beans, refined sugar, and processed vegetable oils, AKA Neolithic or Neo foods.
I could go on at length about the details of why you should stop eating Neo foods, but this is a report about how Paleo eating affected me. In the link section, look for ďIntroduction To The Paleolithic DietĒ, By Dr. Ben Balzer. It is an excellent introduction to the reasoning behind the Paleo diet. Far better than anything I could write.
As with anything, you can take Paleo eating to the extreme and claim that it is only Paleo if you are eating fresh killed, never refrigerated, wild game, and fresh harvested natural foods from the forest. If that is your thing, go for it. But, there is a whole sliding scale between that and eating exclusively at FastBurger and the Donut Shoppe. Just changing your life to where you have made a 90% reduction in your Neo food consumption will make a major improvement in how you feel.
My own implementation of Paleo eating has been moderate. I still eat standard grocery store butcher shop meats and processed packaged meat such as cold cuts and hot dogs. I still buy the same standard fresh produce I always did, but I eat a lot more of it now. The big items I cut out were bread, crackers, cheese, peanut butter, chips, and putting half & half in my coffee. I would say I have gone from an average of 10 to 12 portions of Neolithic foods a day to 4 or 5 a week. I still have a bun & fries with my weekly grilled burger, and I still have spaghetti, and we still have burrito night with refried beans, tortillas, and tortilla chips, and I still have a bowl of ice cream a week. I eat those few Neo foods I really love in moderation.
The result other than the weight loss has been what has sold me on this as a way of life. I just feel better. My teenage daughter has reported the same effect. My mood is better in general and all the maladies of advancing age that are accepted as inevitable have improved.
The great bane of my life has been my hay fever, allergies to almost every airborne particle. Pollen, dust mites, mold, and cat dander. I was in the habit of living on over the counter anti-allergy medications from April through October. I hated taking them and the way they made me feel, but it was better than the constant sneezing and nose blowing. Last year I began the Paleo diet in mid July. It did seem like my allergies were better within a few weeks, but they were still evident to some extent. This year has been amazing. I have literally not taken a single allergy pill this season. In the past I took Claritin daily all summer and boosted it with Sudafed during the worst periods. We also ran the air conditioning from mid may thru mid September 24/7. Those few cool days where we turned it off to save money, I would usually be so overwhelmed by allergies that we had to turn it back on within a day. This year has been cool and the air conditioning has been off more than it has been on, and I have had no attacks. I even survived an overnight at a relativeís house filled with cats, without medication and only slight itchiness in my eyes & nose. The short version is; my hay fever is effectively cured. As well as I understand it, this works because most of us have a low level allergy to dairy and wheat. We can tolerate these foods, but they aggravate and over stimulate your immune system, causing it to be hyper reactive to what should be minor irritants. Remove the long term irritants and it settles down and works more normally.
I have had arthritis for some time. One of my large toes, the joint where it attaches to the foot is swollen and hurts if I walk too much. For years I took glucosamine and chondroitin, which helped, but I also took a lot of ibuprofen to cover the pain. I also had a lot of general back pain, and aches and pains in my joints on most days. This I ascribed to growing old. All these conditions are much better this last year. I am off glucosamine and chondroitin, and seldom take ibuprofen any more. I still have aches and pains, and my toe still bothers me some, and I still get a sore back from snow shoveling, so I have not reset the clock to when I was 20, but all the above is much better.
I also was afflicted with a mild case of IBS. If you are not familiar with it, IBS is Irritable Bowel Syndrome. In my case, I would often have either constipation or diarrhea, but not to where it was not life altering. It ranked third, behind the two above, but still was a bother. It is all but gone from my life.
The health improvements I described have collectively made a major improvement in the quality of my life, and I attribute this directly to the Paleo Diet. I now firmly believe that Humans are not made to eat grain, dairy, or beans, and the industrial process sugars and oils which are in so many of the foods we have these days. It is not just that these things will make you fat, but they will make you old before your time, and cause or at least aggravate the minor afflictions so common to older people.
The transition has not been completely trouble free. I have a family, and while they agreed to try the diet, they were often unhappy with what they called boring a repetitive meals. We are eating healthier, but many family favorites are history. They have gotten used to the new menu and admit that they are feeling better.
The switch to all fresh vegetables was well received, but the removal of green beans and peas cut down the variety of vegetables. They are beans, not vegetables, but had always been counted as veggies at our table and had been popular.
Removing the grain from meals was a lot harder on them. Our three courses now are meat, veggies, and fruit, or more veggies. In the past, every dinner included rice, pasta, or potatoes.
The solution to the above problems was to not be 100% pure, but to still have some of the old favorites as a treat.
Another problem to be solved was snacks. We are a family of snackers. Before the Paleo era, our main snacks were crackers, with cheese or peanut butter, or tortilla chips. Now it is fresh fruit, sliced meat, sausage, dried fruit, pistachios, and chocolate chips. Yes, I know the chocolate violates all parts of the Paleo Diet, but a life without vice is boring.
One thing I did find was that fresh produce got much more expensive in Winter, and often times was so low quality that I quit buying many items. It could just be that they had a bad winter season in the South where all our produce comes from in winter. Iíll have to go through a few winters to find out what is typical. In the past I bought mostly frozen veggies, so I never noticed.
I had been in the habit of drinking two beers and sometimes a shot or two of bourbon before I went to bed. I decided that they were made from grain and began looking for a substitute. I started out drinking vodka. It is totally flavorless and I have always drank my spirits straight. I didnít like it. Next I tried aged dark rum, which is made from sugar cane. Rum is much better, has a nice flavor, and is cheaper than whisky of a similar quality. I now get a major hang over from a single beer. I think it is the effect of the liquid grain, or it could all be psychological. Whatever it is, I used up the last of my beer to boil bratwurst and donít miss it.
I had always used butter and olive oil when I cooked. Now I have stopped using corn oil and replaced it with lard for frying things. Butter, lard, and olive oil are the traditional cooking fats recommended by the Price Foundation, have been used by humans for thousands of years. My food tastes better. I am pleased with the switch.
These days I am eating mostly whole foods, prepared from their natural state. I get most of what I eat from the edge of the store where the refrigerated display cases are. I only visit the center of the store where all the boxed and canned products are to buy soap, and paper products, and the coffee, tea, and chocolate I am still addicted to. I doubt Iíll quit them any time soon. How do I rationalize this? Easy, theyíre drugs not foods. (Wink) As I said at the top, the first 90% gives most of the effect. How you deal with this is up to you. I am just reporting my actions and results. I am not a zealot, just an impure believer.
I am sold on Paleo eating. It isnít a diet; it is a new way of life for me. I do not have to struggle to stay on it, but rather get annoyed when I have to go off it. I am feeling younger and more energetic than I have in years.
All you can do is try it and see if it works for you.
As with any diet or change in lifestyle, you should consult a physician before you start. (Donít be surprised if your doctor isnít a big fan of this diet. They are all locked in on the little meat, but lots of grain, beans, and more grain diet that has made America fat.)