Monday, March 10, 2014

40 Paleo Days and Nights

Yesterday marks Cindy's and my 40th day eating according to the Paleo Diet.  

Cindy's long-time friend, Beth, gave us this book after we'd joined her and another good friend, Jill, for dinner and breakfast.  Beth (and Jill, for that matter) is slender and apparently in good health, and she enthusiastically attributed both her health and weight to having cut grains out of her diet.  She'd read several books on the idea, and she gave us the one she thought was the best.  It's Mark Sisson's The Primal Blueprint.  You can see it there in this picture from our visit!

Beth, Jill, and Cindy

I tend to be pretty skeptical, and I'm not naturally quick to jump on the band wagon for things.  But, Cindy read the book, and she was keen to try its diet plan.  Everyone knows that if you're going to change the way you eat, it's miserable if your family doesn't change with you.  Besides, my weight slowly fluctuates by 10 or 15 pounds, and I can almost always stand to trim down a bit.  So I read the book next, and here we are.

I was sort of confused at first, because Mark (Cindy calls him by his first name, and she's got me doing it too - as if we're all friends!) doesn't just talk about diet.  He talks about 10 "Primal Blueprint Laws" that are supposed to at least point you in the direction of a healthier, happier  life than you might already have.  
Those laws are:
1. Eat Lots of Plants and Animals
2. Avoid Poisonous Things
3. Move Frequently at a Slow Pace
4. Lift Heavy Things
5. Sprint Once in a While
6. Get Adequate Sleep
7. Play
8. Get Adequate Sunlight
9. Avoid Stupid Mistakes
10. Use Your Brain

Mark goes into detail with at least one chapter per law.  I think the majority of them will be fairly obvious to most people.  But there are a couple of things that require further explanation for the purposes of this post.  #1 is obvious.  But #2 is slightly more nuanced.  It's obvious we should avoid things like poisonous snakes or, frankly, toxic people.  However, Mark makes the case that grains, processed foods, sugar, and legumes are also poisonous.  More on that in a minute.

Numbers 3, 4, and 5 all deal with exercise.  Personally, I can't stand working out for the sake of working out.  I'm happy to work.  I'm happy to ride my bike or run to get from one place to the other.  But Cindy, on the other hand, LOVES to work out.  She runs circles around Prospect Park, she happily takes 90 minute Bikram Yoga classes  several times each week, and she lifts weights for hours in the gym.

Mark's assertion is that we get ourselves trapped in insulin surge/crash cycles and weight gain with our high-carb, processed food-based diets.  So we either slow down and get far less exercise than we need (me), or we work out so much that we get more carb cravings, only to eat more high-carb food (Cindy).

The "primal" or "paleo" approach to this problem is to eliminate (or greatly reduce) foods that would not have been available to our Paleolithic, pre-agriculture ancestors.  The thinking is that our bodies have not evolved to handle the type and quantity of carbohydrates and chemicals we consume in the typical Western (a.k.a. American) diet.  So we will do much better by eating foods that are closer to what our ancestors ate.

The Primal Blueprint recommends turning the US FDA food pyramid on it's head (that thing is a joke, anyway), cutting way back on carbohydrates (but NOT eliminating them!), and adding more healthy fats into your diet.

Mark Sisson's Primal Blueprint Food Pyramid

Essentially, what Cindy and I have been doing is trying to keep our carbohydrate counts to between 50 and 100 grams per day, protein between 70 and 85 grams per day, and fill in any additional calories we need (whenever we're hungry) with fats like avocados, nuts, full-fat yogurt, etc.

For me, I've made no change to the amount of protein I eat from when I was on the Zone Diet years ago, but in the past year or so, I have cut back on soy significantly.  I mostly get my protein from eggs, yogurt, fish, and foul.  I've even discovered some delicious ostrich and pheasant at the farmer's market.  The only 4-legged animal I eat is the venison my mother gives us every year (Cindy adores pointing out,  "She shoots it with a bow and arrow!").  Cindy also eats pork, bison, and beef occasionally.

We'd previously been in the habit of eating very little processed food, and we've nearly eliminated it all now.  The only thing I can think of that I would consider processed is some frozen yogurt popsicles that Cindy likes.  I suppose you could make an argument that the dark chocolate we eat is also processed.  But that's not going to stop us from eating it, so you might as well shut your pie hole.

We're 40 days in, and you might be wondering how do we feel!?  Well, we feel great.  I notice that my neuropathy symptoms are basically non-existent.  I'm not getting energy slumps in the afternoon, and I'm not stressing about when the next time I'm going to eat will be, because the type of hungry I get doesn't make me crazy or hangry or desperate.  In fact, it feels like the kind of hungry I got when I was a kid, when I could ignore it or not, depending on how interesting things were at the moment.  This, for me, is a revelation.

That said, I do have a couple of things to which I haven't fully cottoned.  First, no legumes?!  The reason why Mark advises against them is because our Paleo ancestors wouldn't have been able to collect as many in the wild to make up a significant part of their diet, and because they are higher on the glycemic index.  I don't know how much I buy that.  I've never been a big bean-eater (they had the texture of tiny bags of chalk to me as a child), but they look so cute and harmless...  Besides, who can really say what our Paleolithic ancestors ate or didn't eat?  I'm sure they ate a lot of things; they lived in a lot of places in a lot of seasons, after all.

Second, bread.  Now bread is a slippery slope for me, because I love bread.  If I allow myself to eat as much bread as I want to, I find myself right back in the throws of my sugar addiction, and that's never a good thing.  After all, given my health history, if I don't play my cards right, there will be one piece of bread in my future that is the one piece of bread that finally turns me into a diabetic.  I would like to play my cards right.

But, Michael Pollan, food guru for us enviro-hippie liberals (and hopefully everyone else, too), made news by taking issue with Paleo. And, while I quibble with a couple of things he's quoted as saying in this article (the Paleo diet doesn't mean you have to eat your food raw, nor is it the Atkins Diet), I think his other points are valid and applicable to the conversation Cindy and I have about how we want to eat - particularly what he says about microbes.  

Although the fact that a person could live on bread alone does prove that there is nutritional value in grains, Cindy and I haven't stopped reading and investigating after The Primal Blueprint.  We're now on to a new book called Grain Brain, by Dr. David Perlmutter.

We're taking turns reading a few sections at a time to each other, and I love it.  We're about half-way though, and he has a lot to say about adding fat to your diet that jives well with Paleo.  I know confirmation bias is probably at work here, but I think there is a lot of value in knowing about the research described in this book.

One of the main things that hits home for me is the idea that the low-fat/high-carb American diet is not only contributing to (causing?) the huge rates of diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, and cancer in this country, but it is also contributing to or causing strokes (one of which a dear friend recently suffered) and Alzheimer's Disease (which killed my beloved grandmother).  As we read our book together, I can't help thinking of all the people we may have lost due to misguided dietary choices.

Winifred Henning (1918-2005) and Lory Henning (1971-)
We're only half-way through the book, and according to this review, some of what I suspect are going to be Dr. Perlmutter's dietary restrictions in the second half of the book (including largely eliminating fruit from our diet) aren't appropriate for us.  I'll update you when we get to the end and discover how it turns out.

I'm also reading (not out loud) a really fascinating book by Jared Diamond called, The World Until Yesterday.  It's a comparison of tribal, hunter-gatherer and early agricultural societies with modern state societies from all sorts of perspectives (such as war, religion, language, conflict resolution, etc).  The next chapter is going to be about diet and nutrition, and I can't wait to see what this guy has to say about tribal societies' diets!

In the meanwhile, I sure hope Cindy and I are on the right path with our diet and education; I want to live to be 100 years old, so we've got to last for another 58 years at least.   

Oh, and one last thing.  If you're interested in learning more about Mark Sisson's Primal Blueprint, you don't have to buy the book.  You can find everything you need to know on his excellent website.

1 comment:

  1. I think if people followed even one of the laws you have mentioned here, they would be able to lead a pretty healthy life. But, of course, it's obvious that you must try to follow all of the laws to achieve the desired outcome.


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