Reflections of a Paleo Diet

26 Jan

I’t been a few  days since my last post and I guess I’ve been so focussed on my countdown to the end of my first month as a reformed hunter-gatherer that I’ve been finding it difficult to think of something interesting to write about. So today I thought I’d give you a couple of observations about the change in diet and how my body has responded to it.

Hunting & gathering

Finding food to eat isn’t as hard as people think it is at first, and is a lot easier than any of the other more restrictive dietary approaches. I had a nutritionist comment that she believed that the Paleo diet is too restrictive, but I suspect she hadn’t really done her homework and decided this based solely on the foods that Paleo removes, rather than looking at all of the really healthy foods that remain in the diet. This reaction seems to be the same no matter who I mention Paleo to, as if milk, bread, potatoes and breakfast cereals are all there is to eat!

If you go into any supermarket, you will find perhaps 20 to thirty rows of shelves filled with food items. Of all of those items you would perhaps buy less than 1% of the total choices available to you, with your decisions based on cost, quality, and whether those food items are of any interest to you. I’ve found that shopping for Paleo foods is no different, except that the emphasis is shifted towards the 4 or 5 aisles of fresh and frozen foods, and away from the other 15-20 aisles that are dedicated almost entirely to processed foods.

It is said that variety is the spice of life. It is also the key to eating a healthy and nutritious diet, and what has surprised me is the variety of fresh foods that are available for the average hunter-gatherer if you’re willing to shop around. We get the majority of our fruits and vegetables from one store, and the rest from another. Meats and nuts/seeds from yet another store. It seems like a huge effort, to shop at many locations rather than simply at a single supermarket, and yet this is really the best way to ensure we get the widest possible variety of available produce, and at prices that ensure our Paleo lifestyle isn’t any more expensive than the way we used to eat.

Tantalised Taste-buds

Perhaps I am imagining a causal relationship where one doesn’t really exist, however after nearly 4 weeks of eating it Paleo style I feel as if I’m actually starting to taste food. There are many fruits and vegetables that I haven’t tried for years because I didn’t like the taste of them – even having tried many of them only a few months ago – and yet now it seems that I am looking forward to many of the different flavours that I used to have an aversion to. Some of the foods that used to taste a little bland now seem sweeter or stronger in their flavours (in a good way), and my “go to” foods have become things like apples, carrots and bananas rather than potato crisps and sweets.

It’s almost as if the removal of grains and starches – and therefore the reduction in a previously excessive carb intake – has allowed my metabolism to reset itself so that I crave the sweet foods less and so that I can actually taste more of the subtleties in the other foods that I eat. Take Kale for example. It tastes like cabbage, and yet it also tastes less like I’m simply eating something generically green, and more like a subtly unique flavour so that I can now taste the difference between a classic cabbage head and Kale leaves, rather than it all simply being “cabbagey”.

Cauliflower no longer tastes bland, stone fruits now taste rich and sweet, classic game-meats taste flavour rich rather than strange. My wife is so surprised in the changes in me that she remarked to my mother the other day how nice it was to see me enjoying fruit, because in the 3 pre-paleo years that  we’ve been together she hasn’t seen me eating fruit more than a mere handful of times. Food is no longer simply a distinction between fuel and sweets to me. I’m really starting to enjoy mealtimes, and I look forward to preparing and eating healthy and flavoursome meals.

Strange Aversions

One of the really difficult things about giving up on the non-paleo foods is that it can be easy to really crave the missing carbs. I’ve always really enjoyed breads and cakes, I love a baked potato, I’ve always had a terrible sweet tooth, I drank gallons of soft drinks, and pasta would affect me like cocaine does a crack whore. Yet the strange thing that I found myself missing the most where the Uncle Toby’s Vita Brits (wheat biscuits) that I would have in the mornings with a splash of milk and a nice big dollop of jam. When I found myself feeling hungry in the mornings because I had waited longer than I should have before eating, I’d find myself really craving that simple and easy breakfast.

In the past, whenever I went shopping for food, I’d always have a meal beforehand to avoid the impulse purchases of desserts, sweets, and biscuits, and even then I used to find far too many of the “naughty” foods in the shopping trolley. When I was doing the grocery shopping last Wednesday, I noticed a strange thing happening. I hadn’t eaten for several hours so I was feeling a little hungry, but I knew I needed to shop because there was very little to choose from in the fridge, but instead of needing will power to avoid the temptation of some of those old food favourites, I found myself feeling as if I would be ill if I were to eat them.

It wasn’t that I have entirely stopped craving sweets, but more that I found myself not wanting any of those foods that I used to go to as an easy out. I wasn’t even tempted to buy anything remotely like a dessert or bread and I didn’t feel as if I needed to avoid any of the aisles where the old “entrapments” are stored. Now my cravings are muted and seem to steer me towards the fresh food aisles. I picked up a pomegranate the other day, and even though I have never eaten one ever before I just had this urge to eat one. I now keep a container of the seeds in the fridge as a quick snack for when I have a sweet craving.

Don’t go there… Ok, maybe for a moment…

Ok, skip this section if talking about digestion or the thought of faeces makes you feel squeamish, and yes, I’m really going to go there. Stay with me if you believe like I do that being informed and being able to look at these sorts of things objectively is more important than having a poo-topic aversion. Seriously though, I believe that if you want to understand how your diet is working for you, you need to understand better about how it affects your production of waste and how that waste production can impact your health.

When I was 39, I was diagnosed with Diverticular Disease as a result of an acute bout of Diverticulitis that had become a recurring problem for me for many months. I was a little young for this problem which is usually seen more in people when they reach their late 50’s and early 60’s!! The disease had most likely come about because of the low amounts of fibre given I barely ate fruit, mild dehydration given I drank less than the average camel, and as a result of a very sedentary lifestyle. This all adds up to frequent constipation and a very slow moving digestion system, and I would be lucky if I had a bowel movement more often than once every 3 days, and faeces were hard and painful to pass. Do the math, and that adds up to being very unhealthy.

Fast forward to today, and the change in digestion has been remarkable. I haven’t noticed any symptoms of Diverticulitis since I went Paleo and starting being more active. My digestion is much faster. So much so that I find myself eating more and passing it out of my system as often as twice to 3 times per day. Food is passing through my GI tract very easily and painlessly without any constipation or embarrassingly large volumes of gas.

Even with the increased food volumes I find myself needing to eat more often and yet I’m still effortlessly burning off the fat without any noticeable signs of muscle loss. This Paleo business seems to be the ultimate rapid detox diet, and puts all of those other detox-quackaries to shame, because no matter how much these detox diets claim to remove toxic stuff from your body, if your digestion is slow and remains unaffected by the diet you can’t possibly be detoxifying because the stuff that goes on in your GI tract is the most important part of the body’s detoxification processes.

I’ve lived with an awful and embarrassing disease for over 6 years now, and the only thing that seems to have worked to deal with it effectively has been to eat the way that human beings are genetically predisposed to eat. Now I’m not claiming that Paleo cures the body’s ills. What I do believe however is that by eating properly and by avoiding toxic processed cereal based foods, perhaps the body gets it’s best chance to do what it is very good at, which is healing itself at a cellular level.

A final thought

This post is really just about my own personal Paleo journey, how it has been affecting me and some of the thoughts and observations that I have made. I can’t say that the same impact will be felt by every person who legitimately tries Paleo, however I would be surprised if anyone suffered any detrimental effects, and even more surprised if a Paleo diet didn’t help to improve a person’s health in some way. For me this approach has been something that I have been looking for for a very long time, both in how the diet is helping to improve my health, and in how it is something that I can do without really trying.

I’ve read several books about Paleo, and loads of blog posts, and there has been this theme throughout that you need to plan ahead, and plot out the course of your diet.  I haven’t found this to be the case, and in fact it’s been quite the opposite. The only big change in my organisation has been to shop weekly instead of monthly, and to be sure that I get a very wide variety of different foods. As I am also starting to experiment with baking, having certain foods available as substitutions means sometimes thinking ahead that I might need a few extra ingredients, but I haven’t needed to create meal plans or anything crazy like that. By freezing foods that I know won’t be eaten immediately, and by working systematically through all of the foods that I have in the pantry and fridge, I have been able to come up with quick, simple, and nutritions meals at a moments notice and based on the ingredients that I have at hand, so I haven’t really changed my approach to meals so there have been no major planning dramas.

I’ve been snacking between meals, eating lots of sweet foods, having large meals, not counting my calories or sizing my portions. I’ve simply been enjoying my food, and because I’ve been eating healthy and well, I am starting to really reap the benefits in terms of my overall health and well being. As I said, this has been working for me, and I hope for those of you who are willing to try it, that it is something that ends up working for you too.



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