paleo postmortem

I did it! I went paleo for a whole month. Yesterday marked the end of 30 whole days of cavewoman-style breakfasts, lunches and dinners sans grains and dairy, minus the three days I let myself cheat due to extenuating circumstances (like birthdays and races).

I can’t help but feel a little victorious. I’ve never tried any sort of “extreme” diet before, and always wondered if I had the willpower. Turns out I do. This single fact probably means more to me than the supposed benefits of the diet—the fact alone that I resisted chips and salsa, popcorn and Greek yogurt for a whole month shows me that when I put my mind to it, I can do anything.

OK, now we’re getting a little cheesy. Seriously though, overall, it was good mental training. Sometimes, food can get the best of me, consuming my thoughts and leading me to false paradises that I then regret visiting. Going paleo helped me narrow my diet down to the absolute bare necessities, the most nutrient-rich, unadulterated pure foods I could possible load up on. And you know what? After the first week’s mental fog passed (likely from the significant reduction in carbohydrates), I felt great. I slept well, had tons of energy, and rarely experienced that mid-afternoon energy slump.

But. Yes, there’s a but. After all is said and done, I simply missed the variety a truly balanced diet offers. Don’t get me wrong, when you come home from two hours of hill repeats at 7:45 in the morning and your husband has bacon and eggs ready for you, you don’t complain. But after days upon days of eggs, boiled, fried, steamed, poached and in omeletes, eggs get old. No matter how much you love them and no matter how good for you they are. I just wanted to sink my teeth into a soft, chewy, crusty piece of good old-fashioned TOAST.

So yesterday morning, that’s just what I did. After my hour Masters swimming workout, I bolted to the market near our house and grabbed a loaf of Bread & Cie’s Fig and Anise bread. Came home, popped two slices in the toaster, and slathered them with butter and honey. Delicious. I wasn’t satiated for as long as I was on my prior paleo breakfasts, but it was worth it.

Here are a few things I learned while trying the paleo diet that I’ll carry over into daily life:

1-Eat your veggies.

I always knew this in theory, but I wasn’t practicing it to the extent I should’ve been as an active person. Carrot and celery sticks don’t count. I have learned the joys of sauteed greens as a quick side or even breakfast. I will continue to eat plenty of easy, broiled yam fries before long weekend training sessions. Mark and I joined a local CSA (Community-Supported Agriculture) and somewhat ironically, our first pick-up was last night. (I can see a “Stuff White People Like” post emerging: “Picking up their organic veggies at Lululemon. Ugh. Oh wait. It already is one.) Our first box was impressive, as the spread in the first photo attests.

2-Protein, in moderation.

The paleo diet pushes the consumption of animal protein at every meal and snack, an approach I find not only unecessary, but also bad for the earth. Even when done 100% organic, it’s still just not necessary for us North Americans to hog all that meat-production energy for ourselves. (Yes, I used the word hog in a paragraph about meat. Hey, it’s a blog not a thesis.) I will continue to implore Mark to make the delicious roast beast on a regular basis (his second, rosemary-rubbed version, above, was even better!) and poached salmon has become a staple.

3-Food is worth it.

Meat costs money, yes. Fresh, organic veggies cost money. Big surprise. Paleo has taught me to really stop worrying so much about cost and invest my income in the food that keeps me alive and thriving.

4-Balance is best.

In the process, I’ve re-discovered Mark Sisson’s Daily Apple blog, and though it has some propaganda-esque tips that probably exist to build his publishing and supplement empire, contains some really good, moderate advice. Like this tidbit:

“We often say, “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” And for good reason. The target of (paleo) is deep-seated: the long haul of a healthful life, not a brief stop off for cosmetic fixes. The necessary approach, then, is centered around sustainability. One hundred percent compliance with (paleo) principles is ideal, sure, but consider it the ultimate representation – a consummate form rather than typical daily function. The PB is rooted in life, not just research, after all. A practical baseline is this: if you align your life with the PB principles 80 percent of the time, consider yourself on course.”

I love that. Eighty percent I can do. Perhaps even 90. But I simply enjoy certain foods too much to warrant their elimination from my life.

5-Go with your gut.

I know I just argued for balance, but now I’m going to argue for personal preference. Paleo changed my adviser Nell’s life and triathlon training. It works for her. It worked for me, too, but not in that same life-altering way. To me, taste, pleasure, and variety matter far more than some long-term nutritional benefits I’m not yet convinced of anyway. As a LAVA contributor writes on her blog, “by focusing on your own needs, it’s very simple to find enjoyment out of consuming a balanced diet where no food is off limit.” And while you won’t see me loading up on gummy bears anytime soon, I don’t want to live a life where I have to say no should I ever crave them.

All in all, going paleo for a month reaffirmed that while I love being healthy and fit, it’s more about putting life in my years than years in my life. I know I said this in a prior post, but it seems to be the theme of this whole exercise in pseudo-madness. VG’s doughnuts, here I come…

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one week to go

It’s not that I dislike this whole Paleo thing, it’s just that after three weeks, it has started getting a little, well, old. Maybe this is  because I just spent six days living out of a car, hotel fridge, and whatever small-town American diners I could get my hands on. That would tire anyone out, rookie Paleo forager or not.

In my last post, I shared how I got by en route to Utah, but once those snacks were gone, I had to work a little harder. If I were to choose this as a way of life, I would have to be much better prepared. I’ve said that a lot, I know. Am I just lazy?!

I also think it would also be easier to do Paleo on the road if I’d been solo. I enjoy eating with my husband–it’s something we share–and it’s hard to enjoy a mini vacation when “doing breakfast” means sitting at a grocery store deli table eating cold cuts. Yeah, no. So here’s a little glimpse of the foods that helped me get by, with the help of Flickr’s Creative Commons for all but the Grind salad. I kinda forgot about the blog this weekend. It was a busy one!

Photo by inazakira

We arrived Thursday afternoon and hit up a Mexican place, were I managed to order a decent salad with chicken. Thankfully, there was a grocery store right across from our hotel for Thursday’s dinner: yay for rotisserie chicken eaten with your hands in your hotel room. Now that’s entertainment.

On Friday morning, I passed up fake eggs and greasy sausage patties care of Best Western, and we headed to a Grind cafe in Cedar City for breakfast and a few hours of work. Their spinach salad (above) came Paleo-fied with eggs and bacon. That evening we tried out the local BBQ joint Sonny Boy’s, channeling our Dinosaur BBQ love. It was good, but didn’t hold a candle to the Syracuse mainstay. I had brisket, ribs, a side salad, and their fried cauliflower. Not exactly what you see in the picture, but more or less.

Photo by VirtualErn

Saturday, race day, I cheated. Though I did manage to do Paleo for breakfast at a local diner. This we count as our Utah dining disaster #1: cold coffee and an omelette that took so long we were on our way out the door when it finally arrived. Just your basic ham and veggie omelette, nothing to write about here. But during the intensely difficult 100k/61m trail ride that took me the better part of the day, I just couldn’t stick to my Paleo plan. Gels? Yeah right. Give me chunky trail bars, gummy worms and pb&j. (Click here to read about my full experience at this awesome new race.) I cheated after the race and had a pulled pork sandwich, but after a few bites the bun didn’t really appeal to me and I just pulled all the meat out. That night, I indulged in two beers (paid for it at altitude with a nasty headache) and Thai food, of which two of the dishes were Paleo. Not bad, I say.

On Sunday morning we hit up a really cute local diner, the only place that was open. I had an avocado bacon tomato omelette that was quite delicious, and got it with sweet potato fries (Paleo!) instead of the toast and hash browns. It didn’t look exactly like this one (ie: no cheese), but you get the idea.

photo by Jinx McCombs

Then we were off to Hurricane, Utah, just 45 minutes away and our home base for exploring Zion National Park. We couldn’t check in until 3 and we arrived at noon, so we spend a couple hours in McDonald’s using they’re internet and drinking best-you’re-gonna-get coffee. It cracks me up that the three times I’ve been there in the last oh, five years, have been to use their Internet. “Lunch” was random Paleo snacks and fruit, and for dinner in Hurricane we hit a ghetto Chinese place. I had a greasy chicken and vegetable dish that looked kinda like this, sans the black beans and with more vegetables. We hit up the movie Horrible Bosses in the evening, and bought strawberries from the local grocery store for a mid-movie snack.

Photo by FotosVanRobin

Monday, hiking day, I had cauliflower, carrots, and broccoli from the grocery store (with Craisins) in the hotel breakfast nook while Mark enjoyed some toast and Froot Loops. I think I got some weird looks on that one. I managed to subsist on nuts, and dried and fresh fruit for the duration of our 6 hour hike, but boy was I ravenous when we finally hit up Oscar’s Cafe in cute little Sprindale. I had their “Maui Burger” without a bun, which was a (slightly overcooked) beef patty topped with a slice of grilled pineapple. Our server didn’t charge me to replace the fries with a garden salad, which was nice. I snuck a few fries though, to dip in the delicious chipotle-aioli sauce.

Photo by Jennifer Chong

That night, I caved and we got frozen yogurt. Sometimes little things happen in life that only food can fix. Because of our broken air conditioning, we left Hurricane at 4 a.m. to beat the heat, and I enjoyed a mushoom and spinach egg-white omelette at Denny’s, served with turkey bacon and fruit. Not bad, Paleo peeps, not bad. We got home around 10:30, napped, and then it was back to work. Mark grilled up some fresh Ono and roasted some broccoli, mushrooms and red onion for dinner, rounding out a “work-cation” (my new term) that was, except for a few minor deviations, mostly Paleo.

So it’s true, you can do Paleo on the road. You just have to be prepared to spend a lot unless you’re prepared, and start developing a taste for packet tuna. It was a great trip of new endurance feats, and I’m sore and tired to tell the stories. Happy to be back in gorgeous San Diego where the market is only a stone’s throw away and our fridge is always stocked with good things.