What I didn’t know is that, by so doing, I was essentially committing myself to eating like a paleolithic hunter-gatherer for the next six weeks. Turns out “Primal” is more than just an abstract, fit-sounding word that an over-the-top gym throws around: It’s actually a fairly stringent version of the faddish “paleo” diet that has recently taken the fitness world by storm. The basic theory appears to be that humans evolved eating meats, fruits, certain veggies, nuts and berries — and nothing else, especially not refined sugars, grains, legumes, dairy or French pastries. Accordingly, in order to be optimally fit, we should stick to that evolutionary diet and eliminate all those
delicious bad things that make us happy fat and ill.
At first I thought it wouldn’t be that big of a deal: After all, I could try it out and, if it didn’t work for me, I’d just go back to my normal diet. But then the other shoe dropped: I was on a team. We were keeping score. IT WAS A COMPETITION.
Which meant I had to win.
So I went to the seminar and
got indoctrinated learned the groundrules of the paleo diet. In certain respects, I was already very close: I already ate fresh meats and vegetables, with very little sugar. But I also ate a fair amount of dairy and starchy carbohydrates like breads and potatoes, and all of that needed to go. After the seminar I went out for one last burrito with beans and rice, and then went to the grocery store to stock up on things like almond milk, almond butter, coconut milk, eggs, avocadoes, nuts, bananas, bacon, chicken, tomatoes and other things that fit within the rules.
That was all ten days ago. Since then I’ve strictly adhered to the diet. I’ve discovered that I love almond milk and almond butter. I also love the robust breakfasts of eggs, bacon and avocado that I’ve started to eat in lieu of cereal or toast. And in terms of how I feel, I like how this low-carb/no-sugar diet has nearly eliminated the blood sugar highs and lows of a more ordinary diet: Gone are those starving hunger pangs and those postprandial “food comas” — the day proceeds in a much more even way (which is an effect that I’d approximated for years simply by not eating; this strikes me as a better way to get there).
I’ve also discovered that the paleo diet is not for the poor or the time-strapped. So far my grocery bill has tripled (these specialty, non-processed foods are expensive!), as has the time I spend in the grocery store. When you have to read every single label to make sure it doesn’t have sugar or grain or legumes or dairy, or when you have to go to three different stores just to find “coconut aminos” to replace your soy sauce, there’s no longer such a thing as a quick run to the grocery store. And I’m starting to tire of what feels, at least lately, like a meat- and fat-heavy diet.
Still, I’ve lost three pounds (which wasn’t the goal, but there you have it). I feel great (it helps that eating “paleo” isn’t the only thing we’re doing: we get points for workouts, for getting at least 7 hours of sleep each night, for setting goals and achieving them, for experimenting with new recipes). And, of course, my team is winning.
Speaking of my team, that has been the best part of this whole project so far. It’s a good group of people (both men and women) who are enthusiastic and supportive. We have a private Facebook group where we share recipes, ask questions, and encourage each other. For example, this happened the other day:
In a world where I often feel conspicuously out of place and eons behind everyone else in the gym, this is the first time I have ever felt this sort of community and support from fellow gym-goers. That, alone, is enough to make this paleo challenge worth it.
The contest runs through the first week of March, and I’m planning to stick it out. I’m not quite as convinced by the diet as some of my teammates are, but I figure six weeks of it can’t hurt me, and maybe I’ll become a true-believer — or at least pick up some good ideas along the way.
In any event, I’ll keep you posted.