Paleo diet experimentation

Three days ago, I stopped eating my usual breakfast: steel-cut oatmeal topped with fruit and nuts and maple syrup. I’d been eating oatmeal almost every day for breakfast for about 15 years.

This is the beginning of a gradual experiment toward more of a Paleo diet.

What is this “Paleo diet”, and why am I doing it, and why now, and how?

What’s a Paleo diet?

I first heard of the “Paleo diet” an entire decade ago, back in 2002, from the book of that name by Loren Cordain. The concept is much more popular now, with very passionate communities revolving around it, than it was then.

The basic idea is simple: that our hunter-gatherer ancestors were healthy and that the Neolithic era, in which agriculture altered our diet (and our lifestyle) was the end of true human health. OK, I’m exaggerating, but that’s the idea in a nutshell: that we suffer from “diseases of civilization” because of eating stuff that we are not really evolutionarily adapted to, such as grains, beans, sugar, dairy, etc.

I’m not going to enter the debates over the evidence or the ideological tinges, because I’m never a “true believer” in anything anyway, and am an opportunist: I like to use interesting ideas and test whether they work for me.

What did I do in 2002?

In 2002, I was still not very far removed from my one-year vegetarian experiment in 1999 (which included a couple of months of veganism). I was in drastically better health and fitness than prior to 1999, having lost 30 pounds, but knew that I could not simply chalk it up to my mostly-vegetarian diet. The fact that I was not eating junk food and processed food and crappy take-out, and had finally learned to really cook most meals for myself, clearly made a difference.

But I was still having blood sugar issues, which I attributed to heavy consumption of refined carbs.

I found it hard to buy Cordain’s ideas completely. Speculation based on evolutionary “just so” stories has a long history, after all. Still, they were interesting ideas. I did find some better carbs for myself, e.g., losing the white rice and bread, going to brown rice, going to whole wheat bread, and eventually even getting away from whole wheat bread to Ezekiel sprouted grain bread. This was all based on self-experimentation, of course, not ideology.

I also eventually switched from old-fashioned oats to steel-cut oats, once I got a rice cooker with a timer and multiple settings that could make my steel-cut oatmeal for me every morning.

Around 2007, finding out that I was definitely allergic to soy changed aspects of my diet also, since I had depended a lot on “vegetarian” type food that involved soy.

In no way was I eating paleo yet, however. It just seemed too radical a change from my routine.

Why am I trying this now?

A year ago, the paleo diet came to my attention again in a big way, thanks to Tim Ferriss’s blog post about it. So I started thinking about it again.

Also, I’d come across books such as Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon from the Weston A. Price Foundation that had their own take on “traditional” diets.

And in March 2011, Abby and I attended “Farm to Table”, a local conference that happened to be dominated by Weston A. Price people.

Abby experimented with reducing her own consumption of cereals and breads and noticed some real benefits for herself. She actually has gone more paleo and more quickly than I have, so I have to confess that this makes it easier for me to also do my experiments, such that we’re not having major food incompatibilities eating together! For example, she gave up oatmeal almost entirely months ago.


Since I’ve been eating oatmeal so long, phasing it out for at least two weeks (my plan) will surely tell me something interesting about what it does to me.

I still remember when I was having health problems in college and it took months to figure out, only by accident, that all that had happened was that I had become lactose intolerant, and so my eating Cheerios with milk every morning was causing me problems.

So self-experimentation is a great way to figure oneself out. Books and experts can’t do that for you. They can only give hints and possibilities. We are all different.

Changes so far

First of all, I’m not going all-out paleo (according to whatever school of thought on paleo: there are quite a lot of different interpretations of what is permitted or forbidden, as with any other “movement”). I still find it hard to believe that I should really be banning a whole lot of food I am used to eating.

I’m starting with small but real experiments, to see what happens.

First, it is easy to get rid of oatmeal. I’ve already gone three days just fine. Instead, I eat an egg or two with a bowl of veggies (I especially like broccoli) and some nuts and olive oil and spices. I believe I already detect a much more stable morning energy level as a result.

I have a habit of eating too much pizza, as a result of going to seminars where pizza is inevitably served. Maybe I’ll pick off toppings and skip the bread, but I admit that sounds kind of unappetizing and weird.

Meanwhile, I have been eating brown rice for years, so it’s kind of hard for me to just give it up entirely. I’ll plan to reduce it.

To make up for the lost carbs, I expect to eat more vegetables and meat than in the past.

Side effects so far

Rapid loss of weight. I do not want this! I am already light. I want to gain strength and vitality, not lose weight. I’m near the height and weight of Bruce Lee. What I’d like is more muscle, not lost weight. So I need to eat more fat to make up the caloric deficit of losing oatmeal.

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