Going Paleo, for 365 Days.

An article by David Brooks on July 1, 2014


This is hard, so I’m just going to say it. Today (July 1, 2014) is day #1 of a personal 365 day challenge wherein I follow the Paleo diet.

Now, with that out of the way, and it feels a bit lighter on my shoulders, here’s the backstory.

The Backstory

In High School, I was a runner. I could eat like most teenage guys. My grandmother always joked about how I was so slim that couldn’t keep pants up. It was true. I was naturally thin, but not ripped or anything. More like a pole. A skinny flagpole.

During College, to focus on academics (Okay, I was just lazy and overly-social), I stopped running for the most part. Those guys were running 10K per race and that just wasn’t my thing at the time. The Freshman 15? Easily done. By the time I was in my Sophomore year, I was about 190 lb, closer to 20 more than I was in High School (and senior year I could have stood to lose a few… But, I could eat a whole pizza. So that’s something.

When I jumped into the ring in Martial Arts, my weight was such that I was put in what I lovingly called “the Grizzly Bear Division.” I weighted just enough to get me out of the standard College-age-guy divisions and right into the older, heavier guy division. They had me by about 50+ lb. Again, I was lazy, so that suited me fine. (The College guys were faster, these guys were slower, and while I couldn’t actually move them with my kicks the pace was much more enjoyable for my non-competitive nature.)

At the end of College I took a mandatory health and nutrition course which I couldn’t avoid. I avoided every single other requirement with a better elective, but unless I wanted to actually do exercise stuff I was stuck. During that class, I had my BMI read and to my surprise I was marked as obese.

I wasn’t. I was only about 200 lb and was 6’ 3”. It was a mistake on the part of the person measuring me, but nevertheless, it wasn’t exactly the greatest news. I laughed it off for months.

After College, I went on to Seminary where I had yet another meal plan. Also, they didn’t have soft-serve ice cream, it was the hand-dipped stuff. Loads, and loads of hand-dipped ice cream with waffle cones. For every, single meal. But I worked out, so it was okay.

Except that it wasn’t.

In the last year of my time in Seminary I took my first job as a web designer and developer, and as you’d expect from someone who had never done web design and development before, I was stressed.

When you pair that with an all-you-can-eat buffet for three meals a day, a never-ending supply of Mt. Dew and hand-dipped ice cream, it wasn’t a great thing health-wise. When I got married the next year, I was about 210 – 215 lb..

During my time in that job, and I loved that job, I started getting chest pains. I went to the doctor and they ran some tests, declared it Reflux Disease and sent me away. Cool, no heart issues! I had already self-diagnosed that I was most likely to get chest pains when I drank a lot of Mt. Dew. So I just cut back on Mt. Dew and the chest pains went away. Mostly.

Two years ago, BT challenged the world to try a month of clean-eating. Basically, it was a Paleo challenge without those words being added in. I did it, and it was awesome. At the end of the month I felt great and had lost quite a bit of weight. I even started running the next month. And then someone offered me cake.

A few months after that we moved to Costa Rica and I lost another 20 lb. on Paleo and running. (There’s a huge difference between running in Indiana and San Jose Costa Rica.) Then we moved back to the States. A year and a few months later I’m back up to 230 lb.

That’s 50 lb. gained back in a year and a couple months. I’m not a teenager anymore.

The Now

Most of the time I’m basically sedentary. My three-and-a-half year old daughter keeps me busy enough, but it’s not running marathons. Where we lived in Michigan during the last year had zero access to running trails, and while I was somewhat on Paleo here and there, I’m still hovering around 230 lb., feeling pretty mediocre, and wishing I could Ultra Run. (Yeah, I actually would love to do that.)

But there is something different. I want to live better. We recently figured out that my wife is sensitive to Gluten, and when we were in Costa Rica I noticed that when I stopped cooking things with Gluten, a few of my own oddities stopped. The whole Gluten conversation aside, I’m generally eating terribly and I’m suffering every day.

My grandmother and great grandmother on my mom’s side both had diabetes, my dad’s aunt had it, my dad’s sister has it. There are a few other more subtle things that show up in both sides of my family that I’d love to avoid. Basically, if you can gamble with health, I’ve been doing it for years.

I want to change because, well, I have a family that I love and want to spend as many years as I can with them. This isn’t about weight, it’s about health. I know I mentioned weight quite a bit in the last number of paragraphs, but it really has nothing to do with that. Weight, to me, is just a number. BMI is more important, but even more importantly is general quality of life.

I’m not a teenager anymore. I can’t just eat a whole pizza and not regret it. I’m also not “old”, but that’s not the point. I may have been lazy throughout College, but it doesn’t mean I have to be lazy as an adult.

It also occurred to me recently that I’ve been giving out a lot of “you should totally try Paleo” comments for a guy who isn’t actually on the Paleo diet. Honestly, it was always a thing where it just slipped in because it was pertinent. But…

The Logistics of Paleo

If you ask 20 people about the Paleo diet, you’ll get 20 different answers about what it actually is. I’m not a big fan of following diet celebrities or particular extreme methodologies based on one person’s preference. I’m actually not trying to score points in a particular health community or whatever. Here’s what it means to me.

What I love about the Paleo diet is that it’s actually a lifestyle, not a diet. People often say “if a caveman could eat it, so can you.” Is that what it’s about? Not exactly, but mostly. The idea is that people living in caves didn’t just wander to the McDonalds and grab a burger. They also didn’t spend a ton of time sitting down to mill grains and make bread. They ate what was important, meat, vegetables, fruits, and nuts.

Their diets were higher in fat and their bodies had no reason to stockpile carbs for later.

To give you an idea, a typical meal for me will be something like a well-cooked meat, a vegetable side, and some fruit, or even another vegetable instead. (Eating too much fruits is still not a great idea since it’s high in sugar.)

Won’t I be hungry? When I actually stick with Paleo, the first few days are a nightmare. I want to eat everything in the house. After that, my reliance on sugar/carbs/processed foods dies down and I feel a lot better. Sugar and processed stuff doesn’t want you to quit eating it, your body is addicted, hence why I have trouble saying “no” to soft-drinks and cupcakes.

But, I digress. While I’m planning to do (at least) 365 days of Paleo, I’m not going to be absolutely crazy about it.

For example, if I have no other option, I’m not going to starve myself. If I go to a friend or family member’s house, I’ll do the best that I can to eat within the rules of Paleo without offending anyone. So if the only option is Spaghetti, I get to be creative about it. (Maybe only meat sauce over vegetables.) Forced to eat a burger? I’ll do it without the bun or the cheese. (That’s actually Paleo any which way you look at it, assuming there’s not a sauce snuck into the meat.)

A lot of Paleo advocates go so far as to say you have to eat grass-fed meats. And I agree with them! But I also don’t “make bank” every week. As at every other point in my recent life, I’ll get the best quality meat, vegetables, and fruits I can. But it won’t be grass-fed Kobe. I’ll prioritize quality meats, if I can, and any of the standard budget meats are just not getting put in my cart anyway.

Originally, I was going to give myself a weekly “cheat day”, but I’m not going to do that. Why? Because I know myself. It’s torture. I’ll eat a piece of cake on Sunday and long for it until Wednesday. I’m much more likely to buckle under pressure if I don’t go in 100%. But, I will allow myself a cheat day on special events like birthdays and Christmas. I’ll still probably be about 90% Paleo, but I might just eat a cupcake or some cake. Especially when my daughter turns 4.

Records, Data, and Other Life Adjustments

So, here’s where my engineering and science tendencies kick in. Because I’ve been living the standard American lifestyle, eating the Standard American Diet (SAD, ha!), I’ll be jumping into Paleo almost overnight. That means it’s the perfect case to watch the data and see what happens to someone who does get in on the Paleo diet and sticks with it. (Note, we’ve been mostly gluten free for awhile now, so some of the things I would be reporting in that category are already done. The weird bumps on the back of my arms are gone, for example.)

Again, I’m not worried so much about weight, but my scale records BMI and I’ll be taking notes about how I’m feeling throughout the year. I have a few theories about what will happen to me, but I don’t want to spoil the fun up front.

I’m also not jumping in with exercise. I’m not doing anything athletic right now, and I want at least the first bit to report on the diet itself. (It’s also ridiculously hot in Georgia right now, and running just isn’t happening.) In the future, I’ll probably run again, lift weights, something. But I’ll be recording all extra actives I do so that you’ll know where it impacts the data. For science, I may just wait until the Paleo data calms down, but we’ll see. I do want to be out walking more with my family.

When we first moved to Georgia, I started working standing up. I lost weight in the first week because I had been sitting for 40 hours a week. We took a vacation back to Michigan and Indiana for six weeks, and I sat almost the entire time. Two weeks ago, we returned to Georgia and I’m back to standing up full-time. So, I’m bound to lose a little weight just because of that.

To Wrap it Up

In the last few days I ate all my favorite foods, had my favorite drinks, and prepared myself for this next year. My 32 ounce Mt. Dew is gone. Am I ready? No, but I really won’t ever be. Will this be hard? Yeah, it will. But I’m convinced this is a good thing for me. I very well might fail, but I’m not going to beat myself up about it. If I do fail, you’ll see it reported, which sometimes makes for more interesting and obvious data. So follow along, this should be interesting to say the least. 365 Days on the Paleo Diet

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About David Brooks

David Brooks is the owner of the small creative studio, Northward Compass, based out of Orlando, Florida. He writes electronic and ambient music as Light The Deep, and fantasy stories about a place called Elerien.

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