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And After a Month of Paleo…

February 1, 2012

So the month is up. First, overall reaction. I noticed minor benefits over what I had when I was eating good but non-paleo. I think the biggest benefit, for me, was the discipline not to eat bad. I noticed consistent energy, stayed full between meals, had energy to workout even when my muscles were sore, few digestive issues, and lost some weight (172.5 lbs on Jan 1, 167 lbs on Feb 1). But I think only some of that is actually attributable directly to paleo. A lot of the weight loss was just a case of never overeating and having no sugar or alcohol in my diet along with more disciplined workout habits (ok, that was only a marginal difference because I was already good on workouts). I’m not really sure if my energy levels were any better than pre-paleo. I mean, they were definitely better than pre-paleo when I ate bad. When I had sweets or a huge plate of pasta and breadsticks, I noticed the energy spike and drop like anyone else. But I’m lucky. I don’t have a big sweet tooth. So I already rarely ate sweets, I regularly ate grains, but mostly whole grains and in moderate portions along with large servings of vegetables (over summer, I would go through a medium CSA box in a week on my own, and still get more produce sometimes). My energy levels might have been a little better by the end of this past month, but it’s close enough I can’t say for sure. I’ll pay close attention to that as I shift off of paleo.

But I’m still glad I did paleo as strict as I could for the month, even if I did not notice as big a difference as some people do. I made my exceptions for greek yogurt, cheese, and legumes because I needed something as a vegetarian, but beyond my planned exceptions did not cheat at all. Not once. I even tried to minimize my fruit and load up on my veggies. I’m now in a much better position to weigh the trade-offs in eating paleo v. non-paleo. For some people, paleo might be viable long term. For me, because of being vegetarian and wanting to spend money on other things (like ironman coaching — so don’t tell me my health is the most important thing to spend money on!), strict paleo is not really viable long term at this point. Let’s face it. Grains are sometimes cheaper and more convenient. But I’m in a better position to weigh the compromises I choose to make.

At least for my body, I think most of the benefits come from eliminating refined sugars and all the other super-processed foods, from avoiding huge plates of pasta and bread, and from focusing on lots of fresh veggies. But I’ve realized that some of the benefit of paleo is not from the diet itself, per se. Sometimes it’s just a lot easier to follow a hard-and-fast rule than a sliding scale. For example, when I had dinner with a friend who was visiting Chicago, he ordered a slice of carrot cake and asked if I wanted to split it. I’m lucky that I’ve never had a huge sweet tooth, but normally I would still have dessert when it was offered. And in the past, a bit might have easily become half the slice, even though I didn’t even want it to start with. But this time it was easy to just say, “no, I’m on paleo, I’m fine.” And it didn’t bother me. At all.

I guess it’s similar to being vegetarian for me. I became vegetarian because of environmental sustainability issues, and because I don’t like the American sense of entitlement to meat (even when I don’t ask others to give up meat, many of them attack me when they hear I’m vegetarian). Based on these reasons, I could theoretically justify the occasional piece of chicken, or even the very rare piece of steak. But it’s just easier to be entirely vegetarian. It’s easier for me psychologically and it’s easier to explain to others. I do have fish, less than once a month. And I’ll tell people that if they ask, but I don’t jump to broadcast it. I don’t want people assuming I will eat fish at any given meal. And to be honest, after six and a half years as a vegetarian, I guess it’s also partly about how I feel about myself. It’s just easier to think about meal prep when I always eat vegetarian. It’s easier to avoid social pressure. It’s just something I don’t even need to think about. So I’m fairly strict as a vegetarian, even though I might be able to justify the occasional meat meal based on my concerns.

So maybe paleo makes sense for the same reasons. Even if the majority of the benefit is from avoiding simple sugars and processed foods. Even if moderate portions of quinoa or brown rice might be fine. It might just be easier to follow hard and fast rules.

So where does that leave me going forward? I was reflecting on some comments from people at my gym, suggesting dairy might still be a hang up for me. So for February I’m going to reintroduce some grains. Specifically, oatmeal, quinoa, and rice (all gluten free!), and whole grain pasta only if I get really desperate. But only in moderate portions, and I’m going to eat at least one or two grain free meals a day. And I’m going to give up dairy for February, or at least until Chicago Indoor Rowing Championships right near the end of the month. This is closer to what could be a sustainable long term diet. I will probably still want dairy, but I could see limiting my dairy a lot more than I presently do. And this will let me see what components of paleo do / do not work for me as a vegetarian.

As I reintroduce grains to my diet, I will be carefully paying attention to my energy levels. I guess it’s possible I’ll notice that paleo made more difference than I thought. In which case I might rethink things. But right now I think the biggest benefit was the discipline to eat right every single day. The discipline to be constantly buying fresh produce. The discipline to make sure my lunch was ready the night before so I could bring it with me to campus. The discipline to at least throw together a salad, even when I’m tired. And that discipline is nothing to laugh at. I might not be planning to stick to paleo, but there is a lot I learned this past month that I do want to incorporate into my diet (and I also picked up some tasty recipes along the way, and a newfound appreciation for coconut milk, that I will definitely keep!). I took some photos of meals over the last week of January that I’ll try to share soon, just to show people that my meals can still look tasty and filling!

As always, I love comments!

291 days till Ironman Arizona.

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From → diet, life

4 Comments
  1. Thanks for sharing! Very interesting to read… and congrats on sticking to the plan and not cheating at all! That is impressive. Looking forward to seeing some of the meal pics!

  2. Great way to make an informed choice…and thanks for sharing what you have discovered from your Paleo experience.I read another good discussion on nutrition over at Chuckie V’s blog. Seems to me like even though there are a whole lot of different options the main consensus is that fresh and natural is best. Another good reason to throw out a lot of the processed foods we eat. One of the more difficult ones though I find is how to substitute the gels and sports drinks during races for a better option. I going to check out some sports products offered by a company called vega ( http://myvega.com/ ). Hopefully they will be a better option.

  3. jbkosbie permalink

    Long workout / race nutrition has been at the back of my mind also. It’s something I plan to experiment with once I’m doing the longer workouts later in the year. In the past I haven’t thought twice about using my gu and shot blocks. But I want to try something more natural. I use Nuun for hydration, which I love. I’ll probably stick with that. Not sure what I’ll use for energy. Something like Vega is an option. I might also play with making my own bars of some sort, maybe with oatmeal and peanut butter or something.

    • Yes…home made is definitely an option. I’ve made my own lara bars which were tasty but a little messy on the bike. I think finding packaging that works for homemade nutrition is a little challenging too…but not impossible. Have a great weekend 🙂

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