This morning I ate some bananas with blueberries cooked up to resemble a scrambled pancake! Still experimenting. Yesterday I went for a 40 minute bike ride and did about 20 minutes of weights, and I plan on an evening walk with my wife later today when the weather cools from the expected 38C. It’s been about 3 hours and I’m not feeling hungry. I plan to have lots of fruit and veg today, and some lean chicken breast with the evening meal. I’m also busy hunting down recipes to find ways to avoid grains and dairy as much as I can and I will add some of the better links which I find to my Paleo pages in this blog. I’m learning that switching to a Paleo diet needn’t be difficult if I think a little laterally about how to prepare the things I eat, and about when to eat them. Seriously, who said that breakfast needs to be… well… “breakfasty”!! Salad with a meat salsa for breakfast anyone?
Change can be difficult at the best of times, and yet it can be made so much more difficult when the change requires a person to break the habits of a lifetime. Diet in particular is hard to change, because we all have our favourite foods – our “comfort” foods – which we often find are the fastest/easiest to prepare, or simply the most convenient. I have two foods which have been my personal comfort foods for almost my entire life. Pasta and chocolate! I am so used to these things that I almost consider them a separate and personalised food group! So when I decided to look seriously into pursuing the Paleo Diet, you can imagine my dismay when I learned that my favourite foods are now no longer supposed to be on the menu.
Pasta is out because it is made from grains – usually Durham wheat – which the Paleo Diet considers bad for humans and best left for the birds. I can even understand the reasoning behind this. Cereal grains don’t contain much in the way of vitamins and minerals, and what they do have isn’t particularly balanced. While they do contain some proteins, grains are predominantly carbohydrate based and yet they don’t contain a good balance of the “good ” carbohydrates which human bodies really need. To make matters worse, cereals and legumes contain “anti-nutrients” which disrupt the body’s ability to absorb the required nutrients, and which can disrupt kidney acidity, induce the loss of muscle mass and leach bone minerals with ageing These “bad” carbs are also kind of like dietary “Crack”. The more we consume the bad carbs the more we crave them, and yet they never seem to satisfy our hunger no matter how much of them we eat. There is an age old saying, that “Man can not live on bread alone”. With all of these bad compounds in them it’s no wonder, and perhaps the saying should be revised to “Man should not be eating bread at all”!!
OK, so I get that my favourite pasta is bad for my health and will completely screw with my body chemistry, and while I’m sad to see my 12-minute flavoursome meals disappear, I’ll get over it. So why can’t I have CHOCOLATE!!! Well, it turns out that chocolates are loaded with predominantly refined sugars, and depending on which part of the world you live in, those sugars may even be the high fructose corn-starchy variety. Regardless, these processed sugars are just not good for us. I think that if your average dentist had his way, sugars, sweets, sodas, and all of those other goodies would be banned so that we wouldn’t get so many cavities. The real danger with sugars though isn’t the cavities. It’s that our bodies handle excesses of sugars by producing more insulin, and the risk is that insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome diseases might develop. Not to mention closely related problems which can ensue, such as obesity, heart disease, hypertension, and diabetes.
Ok, so this is all scary stuff. My knee jerk reaction might be to say that I will never eat any of these “bad” foods ever again. The problem though, is that I am a creature of habit, and even though it’s not going to be a case of denying myself my comfort foods if I’ve been “scared away” from them, I’ll still find them hard to give up when I am feeling like a lazy cook, or a just want to nibble on something sweet.
So day one of my Paleo journey began on January 1st with a small amount of trepidation. How will I break my bad dietary habits enough to help me to actually pull this thing off?! Well, it turns out that the diet itself may be the answer to any sugary cravings that I might have. First of all, the diet isn’t intended to be a strict abstinence of everything that is naughty for me. The idea is to be honest with myself and accept that if I do have the occasional naughty treat, it won’t kill me if I am maintaining an otherwise healthy diet. This will allow me to transition to a Paleo diet gradually if I wish it. This is something I know that I can do as I weaned myself off table sugar and table salt years ago simply by gradually reducing the amounts I used until I didn’t need them any more. Most diets give you cheat days to reward yourself with, but in the Paleo diet it’s more a case of simply trying to be as Paleo as you can, and not worrying if a few things are out of whack at first just so long as you try to wean yourself off the bad stuff as soon as you are honestly able.
OK, so that all sounds like the Paleo diet is just “designed” to be cheated. Maybe I can have all of the Pasta and Chocolate that I want!! Well, perhaps not!
Here’s the real genius behind going Paleo. It turns out that by eating a higher ratio of good lean proteins to the good carbs, the body will naturally suppress both hunger symptoms and cravings. Why? Well, it turns out that getting an adequate level of protein will satisfy hunger, while eating fruits and vegetables will supply all of the carbs which the body needs without causing insulin levels to spike abnormally. Here’s an example. Have you ever eaten a large piece of meat and found that you couldn’t finish everything on your plate, and yet you found you could eat an entire large pizza?
I kicked of my first Paleo day with a kind of pancake. I was experimenting with various ingredients which involved using no grain or dairy to try and create a kind of cross between a pancake and an omelette. This first attempt ended up tasting a little dry because I had some coconut I wanted to use up and ended up using too much. The pancakes themselves tasted quite good though, as they were predominantly egg and almond meal. The amazing thing that I found however was that I only ate a couple of pancakes and found that they were quite filling, so I wasn’t tempted to have seconds. I even ate the pancakes without syrups or jams, and with an undressed side salad. For breakfast!! It was so filling in fact, that I didn’t feel like eating anything again until almost 8 hours later. I didn’t crave any sweets, I didn’t go looking for chocolate, and I wasn’t interested in snacking between meals. Wow, the first day wasn’t over and the new dietary approach was already feeling like it is going to be a success. All went well until the next day, when I had a wrap filled with good Paleo ingredients. Surely a nice whole-grain wrap wouldn’t create any problems, right? WRONG!!! 2 hours later, I was cruising the pantry and finding myself tempted by some of the sweets left over from Christmas. Looks like those naughty carbs are trying to teach me a lesson.
Now, I know what you’re probably thinking. Perhaps this is all in my mind. A kind of Placebo-like effect based on my expectations of how I believe this diet is supposed to work. Perhaps you’re right, so what I will do is trust myself to continue on the path I have chosen, reserve my judgement for now, and to give it a good go before I make up my mind entirely. Still, things are looking pretty good even though it is early days. I’m not hungry, I have plenty of energy for exercise, and I seem to be less wakeful at night. I’ll keep you posted and let you know if this is a pattern that will continue or change.