Paleo is History

It has been almost a month since I stopped eating Paleo. It was a pretty big decision for me to start the Paleo Diet (though I made it rather quickly thanks to my ADD) and almost as big a decision to stop. Philosophically, I struggled with it the most of way through, particularly after the results from the first 30 days. I like to think that despite my tendency for ADD-induced impulsivity I am not all that susceptible to fads and hype. I like to think that I look to my intellect and reasoning abilities to guide my decisions. And I also like to think that I am rational and open-minded enough to give new-to-me ideas a chance.

While the theory of the Paleo Diet didn’t sit quite right with me, the anecdotal evidence of its effectiveness intrigued me. I made a conscious decision to experiment with it, not to endorse and embrace it, but to experience and learn about it. But by the time I finally saw and accepted that it wasn’t working for me, I felt disappointed in a way I hadn’t anticipated. Somehow I became invested in it. While I had intended to merely try it on, by virtue of being fully in it I apparently fully embraced it. Somehow, I came to view the Paleo Diet as my last holdout for a clear, structured solution, probably because I really it to be the answer to my 45-year battle with my weight. When it didn’t fulfill its promise and I felt like I had been jilted by a new lover.

Yes, the facts (some of which I knew from the start were rather dubious) had been right there in front of me, still I felt betrayed. Either the Paleo gurus had misled me or I had misled myself. Ultimately, I suppose the real disappointment comes from the realization that there is no single solution out there waiting for me to find it. I feel kind of how I did when I realized that there is no giant cubby hole in the sky labeled “my life” waiting for me to crawl into it, but rather, that it was up to me to invent my life and carve out my own cubby hole. Here, too, it is up to me to do the work of identifying the dietary patterns that do and do not work for me and then to do the even harder work of remembering what they are and consistently making those choices even though they may not match what my taste buds or my impulses want in a given moment. Now that I see it, it makes sense. I just wish someone had told me all of this at the outset rather than me having to spend all of that time and energy figuring out that I have to figure it out for myself.

This means I have to pay attention to everything I contemplate putting in my mouth, long before it gets within whiffing distance, which, when your brain works as fast as mine does, can be very hard to keep up with. It means I need a plan of my own which also means that I have to constantly work at make sense of the many conflicting messages out there about what to eat. Some might call it being fully enlightened when it comes to my eating habits – thinking for myself instead of relying on somebody else to do that for me. But for me, it is a bit more than just that.

You may be wondering why I am making such a big deal of this and thinking that we all have to learn about ourselves, make choices and act on them so just do it and get over it. I’d very much like for it to be that simple. Alas, for 45 years I have been trying to do just that – and I have tried dozens of prescribed eating plans (aka diets) – only to (still) be frustrated and, um, fat.

Making sense of the conflicting information that we get from scientists, doctors and nutritionists about what to eat is a tall order in and of itself. Even more challenging for me is staying focused on the details of a given eating pattern once I have chosen one and then remembering that big picture – and that there is a big picture – to which the details belong. My ADD makes it harder for me than for most people to remember what I am supposed to be doing at any given time. It also makes it harder for me than for most people to conjure up the motivation to resist immediate temptation for the sake of a long-term goal. This is the nature of my ADD.

To put it another way, the conductor of the orchestra that is my brain is absent and my motivation and reward centers don’t function the way they do in non-ADD brains. Yes, I take medication, but it only regulates neurotransmitters that can help me focus, i.e., filter out some of the random stimuli that vie for my attention at any given time. The medication does not alter my consciousness or my subconscious nor does it directly impact my choices or behavior. It cannot fix my “broken” neurological reward center (i.e., it can’t force my cingulate gyrus into action). It does not help me to recognize when my intuitions are incorrect or when I am being acting impulsively. Yes, all people struggle with this stuff, but it is harder when ADD is part of the equation. Knowing this does not keep the undesired phenomena at bay; I know this and still I forget what I am supposed to remember, what I am supposed to do and what I am supposed to not do.

My working memory, aka the RAM of my brain, doesn’t retain all of the data that has been entered and I never know what has dropped out until it is too late, until I have completed an action that I cannot then undo. My brain is simply not wired to hold on to what I think, learn and decide and I am constantly surprised and frustrated by what drops out of my memory — if I even realize that something has dropped out (but that’s another story). Things that have been there for years suddenly disappear, things that most people learn once (when they are children) and never have to think about, let alone learn to do again. It is almost ten years since I have been diagnosed. As hard as I have worked to learn about it and understand how it affects me (ADD manifests differently in everyone who has it), my ADD continually surprises me and, as my many doctors and therapists have advised me, it always will — and, it will get worse (and harder to manage) as I get older. Oh, joy.

But, getting back to the Paleo thing, I’d like to say that I feel good about having had a curiosity, having done my own investigation and learned the answer first-hand; and, part of me does. I remembered what I was supposed to eat and not eat and followed all of the rules; that in and of itself was an accomplishment. However, being on the other side of the experiment, part of me feels like I got sucked in, distracted by a shiny object – like I should have known that it wasn’t going to work, that there is no easy, prescribed, one-size-fits-all solution and I should not have wasted all of that time and energy. As carefully as I thought I had considered it, part of me feels like I let my desire for an easy solution cloud my reasoning. While I know my decision to try it was not a blind leap of faith, now that I see that the diet is not my panacea, I feel like I made a bad decision and that I should have known better than to do so.

I tell myself that I wouldn’t know for sure unless I had tried even though I thought that the premises of the Paleo Diet were just not right. I ask myself, who am I to deny the validity of people’s first-hand experience for the sake of a set of theories? I want to let myself off the hook for trying and at the same time I feel like doing so would be a cop out. I keep thinking I should have known and that I did know and that I am somehow at fault for not heeding what I knew — even though I didn’t really know.

It occurs to me that what may be at play here is that I want to know what is true rather than to have to choose to believe what may or may not be true, and that I am frustrated with the reality that ultimately we can’t and don’t truly know much of anything. Perhaps it is this dimension of the human condition that is so disappointing to me. Perhaps it is this that I need to make peace with rather than the idea that I may have made a misstep or not tamed my impossible-to-conquer ADD.

So, I did an experiment and it didn’t turn out the way I had hoped or even the way the proponents of the Paleo Diet had led me to believe it would. I didn’t lose thirty pounds in three months; my blood sugar and cholesterol did not drop to normal levels; and, I don’t feel revitalized and full of energy. (Quite the opposite, I feel deprived, off balance and frustrated at having to redo the work of bringing my cholesterol and blood sugar to the lower but still unacceptably high levels they were at before I started my grand Paleo experiment.) Why am I beating myself up for not having been prescient?

Finally, I have decided. It is time for me to stop wallowing in my disappointment in myself, the diet, and the human condition and move on. So, goodbye Paleo Diet; hello grains and legumes! I can’t wait to dig into those lentils that are cooking on the stove right now. Maybe I’ll eat them with some brown rice and – look, a chicken!

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