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From saboteur to connoisseur

September 6, 2012

Many thanks to the boy for taking some time to write a guest post about how he got started eating paleo (and why he stopped trying to sabotage my go at it!) and what positive effects he has experienced as a result – most notably in performance!

When my wife told me she was going to participate in our CrossFit gym’s Whole30 paleo eating challenge, I felt betrayed.  Not betrayed in the Macbeth kind of way, but still a little hurt.  For months we, together, mocked the paleo diet and all the people who so annoyingly sang its praises and benefits.  We laughed at its advertisements as a cure-all for inflammation, leaky gut syndrome (whatever that is), hormonal imbalances, and seemingly every other disease out there.

So, when she decided she was going to compete in the Whole30 challenge, I developed two courses of action: 1) Complete sabotage 2) Beat her in her own challenge.  I considered my diet fairly good and fairly paleo friendly anyway.  I thought I ate the basic Crossfit diet: I ate lots of protein and some vegetables, nuts, and fruits and I didn’t eat many grains or sugars (or so I thought).  I assumed she would have a much harder time with the shift to paleo and the cravings from the lack of sweets and breads, so I went with course of action No. 1…complete sabotage (I know, a$$hole move).  However, after a few days of heavy drinking and eating Swedish Fish by the handful, I could see I wasn’t going to tempt her (she’s way too competitive for that) and the effects on my body were anything but positive.  So, I decided (especially after she started to lose weight so quickly) that I would reluctantly give paleo a try.

I didn’t do the Whole30 challenge, but took a week or so to ease my way into a Whole30-esque paleo diet.  I finished the milk in the refrigerator, but pledged not to re-stock, I quit drinking alcohol, and started reading labels and figuring out “the rules”.  With my wife already committed to the strictness of Whole30, reading labels, and not deviating whatsoever (at the risk of losing a competition) made starting the diet significantly less work.  She was already making (and I was already eating) the paleo meals anyway.

The boy, fitter at 35 than ever before, on our trip to the Bugaboos.

Once I began, it didn’t really seem that difficult, and I kind of liked the diet anyway.  I knew I would miss drinking milk everyday and a nice gin gimlet, but those were my only concerns.  The meals we started to make are some of the best meals we have ever eaten.  I don’t think they were delicious because they were paleo, but because we were changing our diet and we looked for new and creative ways to cook.

The JB Burger Special from PaleOMG. This will knock your socks off, it’s so good!

After a week of pseudo-Whole30 and two weeks of strict Whole30, I could already notice changes.  Although I was still skeptical about the advertised reduction of inflammation and the decrease of recovery times, I figured it couldn’t hurt and in three weeks I already lost 15 pounds.  My bigger, practical concerns were a potential loss in performance and strength.  When I initially started the diet I experienced a two-day energy low, but quickly recovered back to normal energy levels.  And, as the diet went on I found that I had significantly less energy spikes and crashes throughout the day.  My energy remained more constant; I slept better and more soundly, and felt like I could work out harder.

Weight loss is not the goal of the paleo diet, but it is a nice side effect and I saw it as an indicator of the proper use of fuel for the body.  I knew I probably had 15 pounds to lose, but I was surprised at how easy it was.  I didn’t change the volume or quantity of food I consumed, I just changed the quality.  I didn’t change the amount I worked out either.  I previously heard the adage, “you can’t out work a bad diet.”  Apparently, that’s what I had been attempting to do for years.

Swedish Fish-infused vodka. A former ‘staple’ at our house.

One thing I really liked, as I read It Starts With Food and The Paleo Solution is that all the authors acknowledged that the science of the diet was anecdotal, and that there was “evidence” for both sides of the paleo argument.  However, they recommended trying their diet for 30 days and making a self-assessment.  If you thought you felt better, then keep going.  If you thought it didn’t work, then go back to what you were previously eating.  It’s only 30 days; the potential benefits were significant, and the downsides were non-existent and I liked their boldness about the experiment.

While overseas for four weeks, I continued a strict Whole30 diet (or as close as I possibly could) and worked out hard.  In the first six weeks, not only did my strength not diminish, but I PR’d on consecutive pull-ups, air squats, 1 rep max deadlift, and 1 rep max clean and jerk within six weeks.  I have maintained my initial 15 pound weight loss, and I like to tell myself that I am now trading body fat for muscle and performance.   Within two days of returning to the office I had a dozen people ask whether I lost weight.

The wife and I both agreed we are going to continue with not only paleo, but pretty close to the same strictness as Whole30.  We will deal with challenges (travel) as they arise and do the best we can with the choices available.  We will plan ahead and minimize putting ourselves in a situation where the choices are garbage fast food or starving.  Our decisions to deviate for a snack or treat will be conscious rational choices and not impulsive emotional decisions.

Although the Whole30 is intended to be a 30-day cleansing cycle, before you maintain a more sustainable paleo diet, I am looking forward to a Whole360-ish diet. I like the strict black and white rules of the Whole30.  For me, the once-in-a-while allowances are a slippery slope.  Even if I still think that some of the science is hogwash, why would I want anything different?  I feel better than I ever have.  I am in quantifiably better shape than I’ve ever been.  I’ve lost weight and leaned out.  I have constant energy throughout the day.  I sleep better at night.  And the food is some of the most delicious food I have ever made or eaten (Thank you PaleoOMG and Nom Nom Paleo).  What are the downsides? No milk or gin seem like relatively small sacrifices for the benefits gained.

Retrospectively, I think what initially turned me off to a paleo diet is the people who literally pushed the paleo diet, just as some do their own religion.   Much like CrossFit-ers, I felt that many paleo-people I had interacted with were so in your face about how their diet was better, and if you weren’t on their diet, you were probably going to die in a month.  And honestly, they don’t do a very good job marketing the benefits, at last to me…inflammation, hormonal stability, leaky gut, and chemical imbalances weren’t concerns of mine.  However if you told me that all I had to do was give up alcohol, sugar, dairy, and grains for delicious home cooked meals of meats and vegetables and in 30 days I would feel better than ever and be stronger, faster, and leaner than ever…what’s the risk?

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