I started this month by following Paleo as Cordain has spelled it out. That lasted all of two days. Everything I ate was bland, I was hungry, and I wasn’t being a very nice person. Then, I decided to modify it in the ways that other people have or in ways that made it tolerable for me.
Here are the things I eat that don’t qualify as Paleo:
Potatoes – I don’t see any legitimate reason not to eat them, though I’ve only eaten them twice in the last two weeks.
Quinoa- This is frowned upon in the Paleo Diet community, but I need carbohydrates, and eating yams and yucca are just not going to cut it. If you didn’t see Matt the Archaeologist’s comment on my last post, here’s what he has to say about quinoa and amaranth:
“Ok so addmitedly this subject gets me a bit riled up, but when I read that this diet does not allow amaranth or quinoa I think I may have burst a few blood vessels. Here’s the reason: in the southwestern united states the remains of cheno-ams are found in many preagricultural archaeological sites, in fact they are one of the few types of plants that nearly all theses sites across an area covering almost a half of the united states share in common. Amaranth and quinoa are both members of this family and while now days we generally eat larger domesticated varieties they are essentially the same as their smaller wild relatives. Also why forbid honey which Is known to be eaten (albeit sparingly) in modern nonagricultural societies and at the same time allow any kind of processed oils which most nonagricultural societies both past and present had/have no acces to? I would like to propose a revision to the paleo diet that reflects what I beleive to be the views of the archaeological and ethnobotanical communities concerning nonagricultural subsistence, and it goes something like this: eat everything in your environment that is in any way edible except those things which are forbidden by your cultural or spiritual beliefs.
If you want to know LOTS more about what people have been eating throughout history in the wester half of north America (spoiler: it’s lots of things the paleo diet doesn’t allow) check out ‘People and Plants in Ancient Western North America’ edited by Paul Minnis, or for a bit of lighter reading check out ‘gathering the desert’ by Gary Paul Nabhan.”
Honey- I read a paper about pre-agricultural diets (Eaton SB. The ancestral human diet: what was it and should it be used as a paradigm for contemporary nutrition? Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 2006. Let me know if you’d like to read this, and I’ll email you a PDF version), and Eaton says that honey was likely consumed in small quantities (evidence based claim), much like Matt the Archaeologist said, so I add just a smidge to my coffee every day.
Coffee and alcohol- Can’t stop, won’t stop. I actually don’t see anyone on Paleo cutting these out, but coffee is a bean, which means it shouldn’t be included in Paleo. Either no one seems to care or there’s some reason I don’t know about that allows coffee consumption. I am a coffee addict, and I used to drink it in the morning (always) and in the afternoon (~3-4x/week). I’ve switched the afternoon habit to green tea, which is probably for the best. And I still love the occasional glass of wine or a pint of beer.
Salt- I don’t use much salt, but food is BORING without it. Plus, every nerve impulse and muscular contraction in your body requires sodium, so I’m eating it…in very small quantities.
Dried fruit- This isn’t completely restricted on Paleo, but recommended in small quantities. I eat a lot of it.
The Paleo rules I follow:
Grass fed beef; free range, organic poultry; fresh caught fish. This is not cheap.
Organic eggs from free range chickens. Also not cheap.
No legumes (you have no idea how hard this is for me)
No soy, soy products, etc. This includes most chocolate, as most of it contains soy lecithin
Lots of fresh fruits and veggies
No processed foods
A Paleo Caitlin is a Crappy Caitlin
It’s sort of difficult to describe how following the Paleo Diet makes me feel. The best way to say it, in short, is that I hate it. Yes, I mean I hate it. Most days, I’d like to trade lives with this little girl, though that would be extremely unfair to her:
The first week was the hardest. I felt depleted and like I was running on fumes. My stomach hurt, I couldn’t become and/or remain full, and everything I ate felt boring and like a chore. Everything I eat, with the exception of fruit and nuts, has to be prepared in some way. No more hummus and crackers. No freshly made tortillas with peanut butter and a banana. No Greek yogurt. No Babybel cheese. But, instead, so so so so much cooking…and for a result that I don’t really even like that much. I always thought that I didn’t like meat that much for a few reasons.
1) Meat requires planning. It’s usually frozen because I don’t eat it often enough to keep it fresh, so I have to remember to take it out in the morning and thaw it.
2) Cross-contamination. You have to pay attention more when you prepare meat. Don’t touch stuff after you’ve touched meat without washing your hands, cut your vegetables first or you’ll have to wash the knife/cutting board or use two knives/cutting boards, and then you have to wash both of them.
3) Cooking to the appropriate level of done-ness. Undercook –> food poisoning. Overcook –> jerky. I haven’t mastered this not so fine line that other people don’t seem to struggle with. I understand vegetables and beans much better in this way.
These may seem like silly reasons to not cook meat, but they have always been very real barriers for me. Now that I cook meat ALL THE TIME, I have been reminded that these things still bug me, but more importantly, I just really don’t like to eat meat that much. I’m also not very good at cooking animals, with the exception of chicken and salmon.
Breakfast and the Carbohydrate Conundrum
I realized my main problem is not enough carbs (go figure). Before this month, my breakfast every morning was toasted cinnamon swirl bread (Trader Joe’s. Check it out. It’s awesome.) with a nut butter of sorts and a piece of fruit: carb heavy. When I switched to Paleo, I sautéed a bunch of veggies (shaved sweet potato, kale, broccoli, bell pepper) and baked it with some eggs. Every morning I would just cut out a piece of that egg bake for breakfast. I think part of the reason my stomach hurt so much was all the eggs, not meat. It’s recommended to eat no more than 7 eggs/wk, and I ate over a dozen in week one. I’ve cooled it on the eggs, and my stomach feels better…maybe I have a minor digestive allergy to eggs. Maybe I’m just not supposed to eat that many.
This week I made a week’s worth of quinoa “oatmeal” on Sunday. I cooked it with almond milk instead of water, added pumpkin pie spice, pumpkin puree, a little maple syrup, and a diced apple to the mix. I eat some of that every morning, and it’s incredible how much better I feel… because your body needs carbs to function.
Exercising and the Carbohydrate Conundrum
I decided to go for a run last Saturday. I haven’t been going much, and I want to get back into it because it’s a good way for me to clear my mind. I felt fine during my run, but about an hour later, I crashed, and I crashed hard. I felt exhausted, like I hadn’t slept in about 40 hours. All of my muscles ached. I would eat something (like fruit, because I was too tired to cook anything) and feel better for about an hour until I crashed again. I wrote in my journal “Feeling tired, frustrated, irritable, confused, can’t focus…” My roommate told me I was “off,” which is probably a nice way of saying that I was acting crazy. It’s clear that my glycogen stores were completely depleted, and running was a bad idea. How do people follow Paleo and exercise? What are the secrets? Because I honestly have no idea how anyone could do it.
My Mood and the Carbohydrate Conundrum
This is a pretty personal thing to write about – to expose the inner workings of my now crazy brain is a sensitive subject, but maybe other people have experienced it too. If there are people who see me regularly and think that I haven’t been myself lately, maybe this will explain some of it. So, let’s talk about it.
Like I said, I feel exhausted, irritable, and frustrated a lot of the time. My thinking isn’t as methodical as usual, and I find that I speak/text/write without considering what I’m actually saying. I’m more reactionary than I usually am, and I have a very short fuse. I also feel like I don’t have much control over my emotions. On Saturday, the hellish day, I started crying for no reason. Maybe some reason – I was trying to work on my dissertation and I kept writing sentences that didn’t make sense. Then I’d lose track of what I was doing. Then I’d stare at my computer screen for 5 minutes without forming complete thoughts, and I just started crying. Crying is not the right response to that situation. Eating a snack is. Tried it, didn’t work. Exercising is a solution. Oh wait. That caused the problem. Doing something else is a solution, but I was too tired to think of anything to do and the TV was boring me. Then I just gave up and took a nap…like a child.
Granted, my life is stressful right now (developing a scientific manuscript, writing a dissertation, preparing for an out-of-state move for the first time in my life, amongst the normal day-to-day responsibilities), so maybe it’s not fair to blame it all on the diet. But all of that stuff was going on in January too, and there hasn’t been a point in my life for the last 4 years that would be considered less stressful than what I’m doing now. I have just always been pretty good at dealing with it. Now, it seems that my ability to cope with stress is significantly diminished. I blame this on my lack of carbohydrate intake (remember: the brain’s metabolic substrate of choice is glucose). The days that I focus on eating more carbs (usually quinoa “oatmeal” for breakfast, 3-4 servings of fruit for snacks, starchy vegetables like squash at dinner), I feel a lot better and I’m focused and productive throughout the day. But seriously, I hate having to plan my food intake so much to just feel OK.
I get headaches ~5x/week. I used to get them maybe once a month. I’m tired. I’m tired of having to cook everything I eat. I don’t like eating meat this much. I haven’t cooked one meal yet that, afterwards, I thought to myself, “mmm mmmm, that was delicious.” I had that with almost every single meal I ate as a vegan. I really only look forward to the 3 non-Paleo meals/week that I can eat. But I’m not going to give up on Paleo yet. As long as I focus on carbs (particularly on the days I work out), I’m fine and not nearly as crazy as the days that I don’t.
I genuinely have so much respect for anyone who can successfully and happily follow this diet. Are we built differently in that I inherently need more carbohydrates to function? Are you just better at this than me? Are you less of a cry baby than me? It’s all very difficult to tease out.