… that — as always — is the question. Well, at least that’s always the question running through MY head at least.
I wasn’t one of those chosen few blessed with a metabolism that allows me to eat food of all sorts and quantities and not gain a pound. No, I’m more the person who gains a few pounds just being in close proximity to ice cream. It’s like magic, I tell ya. Black magic.
This past summer, with the whole not really racing thing going on, I also wasn’t training much, but still eating as if I were. And the outcome? Pretty predictable — a 10+ pound weight gain. Just like that — POOF! And I felt pretty awful, both mentally and physically. So, what did I do? I turned to food for comfort, of course (logical, I know). Hellllooooo additional 5 pounds on top of all that.
But then I started to get ducks in a row (my “life ducks”, as it were). Getting more sleep. Training more. Feeling better all around. And yet? I was still shoveling crap into my mouth with abandon. Yes – I had an out-of-control duck in the house, quacking up all over the place.
Drastic measures were called for — I needed to jump-start a new nutrition plan. After some incredibly careful and time-consuming research (read: I read a forum post), I decided to try out the Paleo Diet for a month. The reviews universally stated that it was hard for a few days, maybe a week, but then the results sounded like an informerical: lose weight! have more energy! sleep better! I mean, if everyone was having such great results with it, why shouldn’t I try it, right?
A brief definition of what Paleo is: fruits, vegetables, lean meat and eggs. This is not a low-carb diet by any stretch because all fruits and most vegetables were on the list. What Paleo is NOT: dairy, grains, potatoes and processed food of any type. The basic theory is that our bodies, for millions of years, were built to process only these foods. It hasn’t been until the last couple hundred years or so that we started adding dairy and grains to the mix. And so – logically – our bodies aren’t as good at breaking those foods down.
Right from the beginning, I wasn’t sure that I bought the pseudo-science behind the theory, but I knew a number of people with lactose-intolerance issues as well as gluten-intolerance issues, and thought it wouldn’t hurt to cut out those two things and see if it made a difference. So – game on! Not only was I getting my last nutrition duck in a row, but I was making it march, lockstep, with the others.
The weekend before the Monday that I was starting immediately put this in sharp perspective: this diet was many things, but it was certainly not a diet of convenience. As I mentally reviewed the menu for the next week, I knew I needed to cook and cut and chop and portion out a whole lot of food. I gamely spent most of the day Sunday in the kitchen: I grilled up lunches and dinners, cut up fruit and vegetables for snacks, even made a batch of bison chili to freeze in lunch-portions. One black mark against the diet already: I had to spend a chunk of time devoted just to getting it ready.
But – onward. With a refrigerator full of fruity tupperware and foil-wrapped meat, I was ready to rock and roll.
Breakfast was probably the toughest meal for me. I was used to oatmeal with a greek yogurt chaser — both on the No Way In Hell Can You Eat That list. The new generation breakfast consisted of eggs and some turkey with avocado. Which – actually – wasn’t bad, though I did miss my usual stuff. Lunch really wasn’t much different than my normal I-grilled-last-night lunches. And dinner? The only downside was that by the time I got home, I rarely wanted the leftovers that were in the refrigerator (quite satisfying at lunch – but didn’t want it for dinner). And was far too lazy to cook up something that met the guidelines. Noting this trend, I started eating more during the day, and then at night I’d be satisfied with some frozen grapes or applesauce or perhaps a hard-boiled egg, not really needing a real dinner.
The first 3 days were awful. Actually, almost beyond awful. I felt crappy, I was hungry all the time (but still eating more calories than I ever had!) and generally lacking energy and motivation. I took it easy these days; I backed off my training and just tried to stick to the diet. And I managed to survive without chewing my arm off (which – ironically – would have totally been on the meal plan). By Thursday of that first week, I was back to feeling like myself, though no better than I had felt before I started the craziness.
After two weeks of the diet, I started getting better at the prep work. I still dedicated an hour or so over the weekend to get things ready (grill some stuff and cut up some fruit), but I was spreading it out a little more, making sure I kept at least one weeknight open to do some restocking.
And so the month went. One week I spent in class (rather than at the office) and because I wasn’t bringing in my own food, I definitely strayed — a bagel here, some pancakes there — but for all of my “I’m eating like crap!” laments, I was still eating a lot more healthy than I had been in months.
Other than that week, though, I didn’t cheat at all. I really wanted to give this a fighting chance.
After the month was over? The results weren’t exactly overwhelming, to be honest. I lost a little weight (a few pounds) and about 4″ total. I was feeling leaner, though, so that was good. My personal opinion? I don’t think there’s a reason for a person who doesn’t have some kind of food allergy to cut out entire food groups. I decided that the gains I made, I could have done while still including dairy, grains and potatoes. Just like a lot of things in life, everything in moderation — I don’t think that bread is evil, but eating an entire loaf in one sitting is (which I could totally do, truth be told).
So, my takeaway from all this? I’ve added greek yogurt back into my diet — I felt I needed the extra calcium, since osteoporosis runs in the family. I have pasta once a week or so. And I’ve added two guilty pleasures back in: Diet Pepsi and the occasional Pop-Tart. Neither of these are going to send me to an early grave, as long as I don’t intend on surviving on those alone (and for arguments sake? I would choose pizza and ice cream if I had to choose only two).
There are a few things that I’m definitely continuing: lots of fruits and vegetables. Instead of supplementing my diet with bars and low-cal “juices”, I’m going for whole foods. And while Pop-Tarts aren’t exactly borne from nature, I’ve cut out almost all other processed food. I don’t know for sure that it’s better for me, but it sure does SEEM like it ought to be better for me. I’m also keeping with the very light dinner on most nights — I find that I’m just not as hungry when I get home as I used to be, which is totally awesome by me — I’m too lazy to be anything but happy with less work in the kitchen when I finally get home.
With the month over, I’m continuing to drop a bit of weight, and the 15+ pounds are just about gone. I’m still sticking to eating healthy 95% of the time and feeling good about it. And now that my running and training volume is up? Yup – I totally deserve a treat like Pop-Tarts, don’t you agree?