My current quandary started out as a 30-day experiment. I had read Robb Wolfe, skimmed Loren Cordain and was perusing a dozen cookbooks all of which lauded everything Paleo. I have tried pretty much every diet known to mankind so I figured, why not take Wolfe up on his 30-day challenge and give this one a try, too. Granted, there were some aspects of the theory that did not — and still don’t — sit quite right with me, but really, what did I have to lose by trying it out (other than some of my excess poundage and some points on the cholesterol and blood sugar charts)? I was already gluten-, dairy- and sugar-free, so it wouldn’t be that much of a stretch to eliminate grains and legumes as well. I looked through my own repertoire of recipes and realized that a few dozen were already Paleo or easily modified to be so. How hard could it be? I already cook dozens of dishes that fit the bill and anything is tolerable for a finite period of time. I could even put together my own Paleo cookbook while I was at it, I reasoned.
My doctor (who practices integrative medicine and has a Ph.D in nutrition in addition to his MD from Harvard) LOVED the idea. He happily gave me some additional restrictions (only plants that grow above ground, no pork, minimal fruit) and offered up a bunch of supplements and some weight loss medication to help me along. (While I’m not morbidly obese, I could stand to lose a good 45 to 60 pounds though losing as much as 60 pounds feels unrealistic to me. Maybe I am being short-sighted on this but I have no need to be bone thin and if I could drop even 40-45 pounds I would be happy.)
My nutritionist was also on board and set me up with a supplement plan based on the doctors recommendations. Friends and colleagues nodded support if nothing else curious to see the results (or if I could actually stick to the full 30 days). My parents? Not so much. They didn’t out and out say so but how often do our parents need to actually articulate what we know they are thinking?
Heck, my doctor uttered the words “lose up to half a pound a day” and I was there. (I have a closet full of clothes that I am yearning to fit back into!) The Paleo people say my blood work will show great improvements in all of its “western-diet-induced” weak spots — high cholesterol; high triglycerides; not enough good cholesterol; too much bad cholesterol, particularly the sticky kind; A1C3 nearing six; and, high insulin resistance. In short, I’m on my way to having cardiovascular disease and becoming diabetic. I have watched my father live with heart disease since I was 12. With two bypass surgeries behind him, at age 86 he speed walks the treadmill for at least 30 minutes a day and is otherwise in excellent health, so I’m not too worried about the cardiovascular thing. However, my cousin, Scott, died a slow, painful and complicated death after becoming diabetic and refusing to make diet and lifestyle changes to try to reverse or at least halt its progress. The prospect of becoming diabetic has me extremely. The Paleo gurus promise lower blood sugar so bring it on!
Preparing meals and sticking to the eating program was easy because the basic plan is quite simple: Lean animal protein, vegetables, seeds, and nuts. So I made some favorite dishes that I hadn’t had in a while, like braised beef shanks with garlic, seven vegetable stew, and lamb stew with lemon and artichokes in addition to my regular standbys — roasted seasonal vegetables, braised greens and scrambled eggs with truffle salt. I was happy. Missing my brown rice pasta Aglio olio, yes, but happy with my lamb stew and garlic braised beef shanks.
At about two weeks into it, someone suggested that 90 rather than just 30 days would be a truer test. I pretty much immediately decided to go the extra two months. Mostly, I was after the weight loss. As much as I wanted to believe that I could lose 15 pounds in 30 days, I didn’t really believe that it was going to happen, and I figured that on the chance that it might, then maybe I could lose 45 pounds in 90 days and wouldn’t that be dandy. If I could reduce those blood sugar numbers even more then I would really be in the cat-bird seat.
On day twenty-seven I was at the doctor’s office having blood work done (I was going to be out of town on day 30). Upon returning from my trip — during which I was pretty darn steadfast and succumbed to only three small cheats in 10 days on the road — I practically raced to meet with the nutritionist and review what should be great results. Instead, I was dumbfounded. Dumbstruck. Dumb.
Forty-five days on the Paleo diet, I had lost about 10 pounds. Not the half a pound a day I was hoping for; but, not a terrible statistic and at least it is in the right direction. But the rest? Cholesterol, up. Triglycerides, up. Good cholesterol, down. Sticky cholesterol, up. Blood sugar, up. Insulin resistance, up. WTF?
The Paleo people maintain that it is grains and legumes that mess with our blood sugar and ultimately our overall good health. My results seem to be showing just the opposite. It had never occurred to me that my numbers be worse, that eating Paleo would do me harm. While I had some doubts about some of the theory, I was expecting my experience to be similar to that of all those people I had been reading about who saw nothing but improvements from going Paleo. I felt so stupid. Of course, they weren’t going to relate the stories of those for whom the plan hadn’t worked. Now I am hesitant to continue for the additional forty-five days for fear of how much higher my numbers will go. I have three boxes of stuff I cleared from my pantry because the Paleo people said it was doing me harm. Should I go back to grains and legumes and lay off the animal protein? Then again, I did drop ten pounds. There is something to be said for that.
The nutritionist says stick with it, that I still need more time to let the results take hold. The doctor says that other medications I take are honking up my weight loss (why did he not foresee that or ‘blame that’ previously, I wonder) but didn’t seem to have a comment regarding the bloodwork. I’m wanting this thing to work — though not so much wanting to eat this way forever — and wondering how much time is realistic. Thirty days does not seem like long for significant cholesterol and blood sugar numbers to take hold.
So, after receiving the news and spending a few days digesting it (and straying from the plan in moments of despair) I have decided to give it another 45 days. If my cholesterol and blood sugar numbers haven’t improved by then, I’ll be done with Paleo. Meantime, no grains, no legumes, no dairy and no processed food for me. Maybe, if nothing else, I can lose another 10 pounds. Stay tuned.