The Paleo Month, and Everything Else You Could Possibly Need to Know

(Now updated with some stuff I forgot, to make this post even more comprehensive. New stuff in green.) {: .prefatory }

Let’s talk about food. This seems an appropriate week for it.

So do you eat paleo, or what?

If you remember back this far, the last big new thing I was planning was a thirty-day experiment to finally find out what it’s like to actually eat paleo, rather than theorize and talk through my hat about how good it must be.

“Hang on, haven’t you been paleo the last two solid years? I always thought you were supposedly eating paleo but just had terrible willpower.” It’s a fair question. Let me give you a quick history of me and paleo. I first heard about it ages ago, maybe in 2006 or 2007, somewhere in the stuff I was reading back then about primitivism and the critique of civilization. In 2007, while I was at college, I did a brief, half-assed experiment with it, which unsurprisingly didn’t tell me anything interesting, and then I basically stopped thinking about it for several years. I didn’t forget about the concept entirely; it was always there in the background, and had taken solid root as what I thought “healthy eating” probably resembled. It’s just that I didn’t think about healthy eating much: that was the time in my life when I got a lot more interested in cheap and rebellious eating, learning how to dumpster-dive in New York and then carrying that lesson back to Iowa, where it also branched into a love of cooking from scratch because it’s cheap and you can stick it to the Man (the food company Man).

In Korea (that’s 2012), it slowly percolated into my thinking again, partially because I noticed how healthy and natural the Korean food was that I was eating, and I realized it wouldn’t be a far leap to make to something like paleo. I read a little stuff online and thought about starting paleo. But then I realized that I was about to do a lot of traveling and be around a lot of delicious food, and since I didn’t have any immediate health concerns, I’d probably serve myself better by putting off any hardcore thinking about food until I was back in familiar territory (North America) and knew what foods I had to work with. But around then was the time that I consciously set paleo as an eventual thing that I wanted to do.

And once I got back to North America, whenever I could do it during my travels, I actually would eat paleo. For example, when I dumpstered a bunch of pizza at a truck stop (I saw the guy carrying it out, and he told me he wanted me to have it), I only ate the cheese and toppings. Because that’s exactly what our ancestors would have eaten, obviously. My actual dedication to paleo had sharp ebbs and flows while I was traveling. For example, when I went to Crowduck, I was actually in a period of trying fairly sincerely, and even specifically bought myself cider instead of beer for the week. But then I let it fall away because it was stressing out our kitchenmaster, Grandma, and also I didn’t have enough experience to cook Crowduck fish and other cabin food to paleo standards so I could eat with everyone and not feel deprived. Wherever I was in the ebb and flow cycle, though, I never really had a consistent period where I was always eating paleo and could really pay attention to how it made me feel. I was basically eating that way on faith.

After I hung up my backpack, the goal became more immediate, and I started telling people about it a lot more, because I was excited about it. And I also thought it would help a bunch of people I knew, even though I had no actual firsthand basis for claiming that, only a lot of anecdotal data from books and websites I had read. That, actually, was a sizable portion of why I wanted to test the diet. I wanted to be healthy myself, but there were also a bunch of other people I wanted to be healthy, and I was pretty sure I’d found a way they could make themselves so, but I didn’t feel comfortable insisting that it was right until I could point to my own experience and not just the experiences of faceless people online. It’s true that there are hundreds of such satisfied faceless people online, but you could probably say the same of most diets, some of which are almost criminally unhealthy, with the only difference being that the satisfied faceless who had done paleo seemed more well-informed and able to talk about diet on a pleasingly scientific level. Good though that might be, the true test would be how it worked for me. Once I knew that, then I could start evangelizing paleo from a position of authority.

And thus this experiment

And thus this experiment! A few months into living in Minneapolis, after some settling down, the time finally seemed right. My plan was that I would gradually cut out all the non-paleo foods and eventually be left with a pure incarnation of the diet’s principles that I would strictly abide by for a whole month. Then I would know how I felt on baseline, classic paleo. From there I would try out some stuff I had eliminated.

The goal with this reintroduction wouldn’t be to see how close I could get to eating Easy-Mac every night without getting sick. I was looking to choose among a few closely allied diet philosophies. There’s paleo, which is the one that gets talked about the most (and has a surprising amount of vitriol thrown at it). But there are a few other big ones that don’t get as much talk, possibly because their names aren’t as catchy—like the Weston A. Price Foundation diet (which I’ll mention again in a minute) or the Perfect Health Diet. They differ in allowing some things that strict paleo doesn’t, like certain starches or fermented grains. More than that, though, paleo is a nebulous concept that gets defined slightly differently by everyone who eats that way. Under the umbrella of paleo, you’re free to decide whether or not to: exclude dairy; make use of fermented legumes (like tempeh); allow yourself leeway to eat modern “treats” (for anything from 1% to about 20% of your diet); eliminate the class of vegetables called FODMAPs1 to treat your inflammation—and so on ad infinitum. I figured strict paleo made a good baseline, since it had the fewest dubious things. From there I’d decide how far to expand and in which directions.

Well, the first discovery I made as I tapered off the excluded foods, before the experiment even started, was that I’m not very good at gradually tapering things off. A month after I had decided to do all that tapering off, I was still waiting on the opportune time for a couple classes of foods. Opportune times were in short supply, because there was always some potluck or house dinner or free Chipotle coupon offering something that looked so tasty, and I would decide that giving up, say, dairy could wait one more day. So all in all, it’s probably a good thing that the Minnesota State Fair happened.

I went with a friend of mine from college, Jacob, the guy I skinned a rabbit with, who happened to be in town. We caught up with each other’s lives, while walking around and boggling at the vast collection of absurd food-based creations. Both of us are the types who think a lot about food and what’s healthy, but Jacob admonished me that today was just not the day to try to be healthy. “The Minnesota State Fair comes but once a year,” he said. I protested that I didn’t want to ruin my data, so I’d eat certain things, like the bacon-wrapped shrimp skewers, but not others, like the wheat-based cheesecake on a stick. I held out, I really did. But gradually the French fries and the chocolate-dipped bacon and the ice cream and the jalapeño-dusted popcorn piled up, and the exceptions became the rule. I was following maybe 70% of the letter of the law for what I had eliminated so far, but as for the spirit of it, maybe 10% at the outside.

Once Jacob and I had made our grease-saturated rounds of the exhibition hogs, the butter sculptures of prom queens, and the weird breeds of fowl, I biked home and decided that the visit to the fair would be a good way to mark a sharp cut-off point. And so I started the experiment all at once the next day and didn’t look back.

What did you eat?

It was a tasty month. I made lots of omelets and Thai curry and kimchi soup and guacamole and fried cauliflower-rice and everything delicious. Some of my favorites were an Indian recipe for mashed eggplant (begun bhartha) that our housemate Urmila taught me (before she moved out to live excitingly in Italy), and a porkchop I got at the farmers’ market from a place with pastured pigs, topped with applesauce I made myself from a bunch of apples I had around. Urmila—whose family is from India, lived for decades in Malaysia, and raised her there and in the US, thus giving her a basically perfect background for knowing every one of the world’s tastiest foods (and incidentally like seven languages)—also turned me on to kangkong belacan, a Malaysian dish of stir-fried kangkong greens with foul-smelling but very flavor-enhancing shrimp paste; this was one of the tastiest things ever, and when she came home to the smell of me making it, she said it took her instantly back to Malaysian street markets full of steaming food and hawkers.

I got creative for things that don’t have a good paleo substitute. Like chips for the guacamole: I read that you can slice up jicama, and it turned out to be true. I also have a pretty tasty recipe for almond flour flatbreads. Lettuce is an excellent taco shell.

Paleo has a toxic reputation for being a euphemism for “I just like to eat piles of meat for every meal”, but that’s a bad misconception, and paleo people will be very quick to point out that vegetables are equally or more important. I loved vegetables, like the kangkong and the eggplant, and they featured in all my stir-fries; the guy at the farmers’ market who sold cauliflower got to know me as a regular. (I would food-process it up into a delicious rice stand-in.)

It wasn’t always easy to stay on the wagon. For example, house dinners. When a bunch of people all know each other’s dietary preferences and cook for each other, the food that you end up with tends to be the lowest common denominator. Since a few people in the house are vegetarian or close to it, there usually seems to be not much meat and plenty of lentils and rice. I hadn’t even noticed it before, but during this month I discovered that of the three big components of food—fats, carbs, and protein—what we ate at house dinners tended to completely leave out fats and let carbs fill in their hole, so I always ended up craving something greasy.

And yes, there were things I missed—though not actually all that many. Once I’d given up anything with added sugar, the thought of eating sweets just didn’t interest me all that much. Partly it’s probably because I knew I wouldn’t be eating them, so there was no point in thinking about them. But largely I think it’s because the main thing that makes me want to eat sugar is: eating sugar. Give me one slice of angel-food cake, and pretty soon I’ll have eaten the whole cake. But if I judiciously leave the first slice alone, and have a glass of tea or wine or something, I can more or less forget that the cake is there.

Wheat products weren’t a problem for me. Even though, it’s true, I’d never really been eating paleo, I’d been thinking paleo for a pretty good while, and that meant that bread and other stuff made of flour had just sort of dropped out of my food vocabulary, especially since I’d been living on my own, and I didn’t even think about them as something that can be eaten. I remember seeing Carrie (who had recently moved into the house) making some toast, and thinking how odd it was to consider actually eating bread. I knew bread existed, but it had somehow become as remote to my mind as containerships or rhinoceroses or scythes, something that just didn’t figure in my everyday life. The very idea of a food that can be shaped however you want it to be, like a cookie or a donut, instead of just being in whatever shape it is when it comes out of the ground or off the animal, seemed odd and novel.

I guess the main stuff I missed was dairy. I fantasized about what extremely cheesy thing I would use to reintroduce dairy and find out how I react to it. I wanted my morning kefir and I wanted butter on my squash and sweet potatoes. But even so, it wasn’t a constant nagging or deprived sensation. It was more like, “I could go for some butter on this sweet potato, but coconut oil is pretty delicious too.” The nice thing is that even on orthodox paleo, a lot of people say dairy is fine so long as you know you tolerate it. But even if I weren’t allowed to have dairy forevermore, I’d be sad, but I’d get over it.

Okay, so how did you feel?

Now how about the results? That’s supposed to be the main point here, after all. I wasn’t eating paleo for thirty days to prove it’s possible, Of course it’s possible. I was looking to figure out what made my own anecdotal body tick better. Did paleo?

I may as well start out with hard numbers, since I have a few of them. The end of my month happened to coincide with the annual Native American Day Celebration, which was a huge gathering next door to the farmers’ market with at least a couple drum circles and plenty of dancers, not to mention a free lunch catered by Famous Dave’s, because Dave himself lives in town and is Native and is apparently a nice enough guy to cook lunch for three hundred people. Another thing they had there was free blood testing by the Indian Health Board, and from them I found out the following rather nice statistics:

  • Blood pressure: 97/52 (recommended: under 120/80).
  • Blood glucose: Either 79 or 69 mg/dL, depending on which test was more accurate (recommended: 70 to 100).
  • Total cholesterol: 177 (recommended: under 200).
  • LDL cholesterol: 116 (recommended for those not at risk of heart attacks: 100–129).
  • Triglycerides: 50 (recommended: under 150).

All this after a month of freely eating red meat and as much saturated fat as I could find, but not a single healthy whole grain.

Alright, numbers are swell, but the real question is how I felt. And wouldn’t you know it, I also felt—with a few caveats—pretty good. I wasn’t granted superpowers, but I was only kind of expecting that. I’m going to break it down compare-and-contrast style, but I’m actually not going to compare the paleo month to all the time before it that I ate SAD (Standard American Diet) food. I’m going to compare it to the couple months since I finished. That’s when I reintroduced the forbidden foods one by one, all of them suddenly (in order to get maximum contrast to the previous month). For example, when I had my first dairy after a month, I didn’t just have a sip of milk. I ate big helpings of cheese for all three meals of the day. That way I’d actually be able to tell the difference. Also, in this time since, I’ve been paying much more attention to the connections between certain foods and certain feelings, and I’ve noticed that the paleo month trained me to be able to notice much subtler differences.

So, first off, the reintroductions.

Starchy stuff: Famous Dave’s gave me a sanely sized portion of mashed potatoes, and after I ate them I felt fine. Perhaps a modest influx of energy to the head. Since then, though, I’ve noticed that with big amounts of starch I get this strange rushing feeling, where it seems like a river of energy is flowing through my brain, but far too fast for me to make use of any of it. It’s not as pronounced as the sugar rush (next on the list), but it’s the same sort of thing, since it’s all carbohydrates.

Sugar: (Note that in this post, “sugar” means added sugar, not the natural fructose in an apple or lactose in milk.) When I have sugar, that energy goes right on rushing through my head, even faster than with starch, and flows out through my fingers and legs by way of twitchiness. It also makes my sleep arrhythmatic and less effective. And makes my gums feel less healthy, and my whole body a little creaky and seedy. Also my spit gets thicker and my breath gets bad. And yet it just makes me want more. In the last few years a doctor named Robert Lustig has gotten a fair amount of publicity for asserting that sugar is essentially a chronic poison, and now I’m finally starting to pay attention to the symptoms of the poisoning and realize how bad it is.

Dairy: Cheese three meals a day, and I felt fine. Way too much cheese makes my stomach gurgle, but I suspect that’s true of basically everyone. Kefir makes me feel awesome.

Vegetable oil (industrial ones like canola and soybean oil): I ate a big old bag of thick-cut potato chips. In addition to the modest starch rush, I noticed that I felt greasy and nasty inside. I’ve noticed it anytime since when I’ve eaten something made with lots of vegetable oil, like fries or donuts. I think it also contributes to a weird feeling of acidity that I’ll get to further down. Vegetable oils just really do not belong in my body, or anyone’s for that matter.

Rice: About the same as potatoes.

Other grains: Before I get into these, let me take a quick little excursus about teeth.

Weston Price, the namesake of the diet I mentioned earlier, was a dentist who spent some time in the 1920s traveling around Asia and Africa studying the teeth of indigenous peoples eating non-Westernized diets. What he found was that basically wherever he went, the indigenous people had strong, white, rot-resistant teeth, and wide dental arches that allowed all their feet to fit in with no yanking of wisdom teeth. Since the body is an extremely interconnected system, he took those teeth to mean the people’s whole bodies were healthy. You could say that’s because he was a dentist and thought about teeth too much, but let’s not get too cynical.

Anyway, what he found goes counter to paleo wisdom (which hadn’t been invented yet anyhow): lots of these cultures were eating grains (oh no!)—but they were processing them first. Pretty much every culture that had a staple grain also had a traditional way of fermenting it or soaking it or something. Scientists later took a look and discovered that these processes got rid of a lot (but not all) of the most harmful stuff in grains, the stuff that the plant puts in its seeds to keep animals from eating them. The ancient peoples who invented fermentation of bread dough probably didn’t do it intentionally to make the grains more digestible, they just kind of started doing it accidentally and then decided that they liked it better. But they hit upon it all over the world, all independently, which I think is pretty remarkable. Europe: sourdough. Eastern Africa: injera from fermented teff flour. East Asia: white rice, with the hull removed. Mexico: masa flour made from corn soaked in lye. Whatever the grain, there’s an ancient traditional preparation for it that, if Weston Price and the researchers who’ve carried his torch are right, makes it way better for you.

Excursus over. Back to those other grains.

Corn: I had some tortilla chips and some popcorn, and I noticed a sort of gasification and indistinct feeling that they were being harsh to my digestive system. A few days later I had a tamale and a taco, made with masa, and I was back to feeling okay.

Oatmeal: Oatmeal has never made me feel great. Does it make anyone feel great? Is there anyone who eats oatmeal without feeling like they have a ball of clay in their stomach for several hours afterwards?

Teff: Hey, we go through a lot of injera at our house, because one of the housemates is actually very gluten-intolerant in a feel-terrible-afterwards way, and we live among a lot of people who came from Somalia, where it’s the staple. Injera seemed to sit about as well with me as rice, though I like the taste better (it’s like great sourdough).

Wheat: Regrettably, after I’d reintroduced that many things, I started eating in a much more uncontrolled way, and kept forgetting to have wheat again, and by the time I accidentally slipped up and had some, it was a night when I was eating lots of other dubious stuff, so I didn’t get much in the way of good data. But I’ve been eating a fair amount of wheat since then, and I’ve noticed it’s the most effective food besides sugar itself at triggering a sugar rush. White bread actually gets converted into pure blood glucose even faster than straight-up table sugar does. I never realized pizza gave me a sugar rush, but now that I’m paying attention, it’s impossible to ignore.

Beans (the kind you can buy dry): “Hey, beans aren’t grains!” No, but they behave similarly. They’ve got the same kinds of chemicals, which can be somewhat neutralized by traditional fermenting or long soaking. If you eat them unsoaked, they’re actively poisonous—a friend of mine told me about a party where a lot of people got sick from eating badly prepared black beans. Beans give me gas. They give everyone gas. But I reintroduced beans around when I reintroduced wheat, after I’d lost control of the experiment, so I can’t say anything much deeper about them.

And in general: There are a lot of things that are hard to pin down to any one food or even any several. First, on paleo I felt more rhythmic. I woke up every day feeling about the same, and I went through the day feeling about the same as that. Some days I was tired or lazy, but that was usually a pretty straightforward result of how much sleep I’d had the previous night. Now, eating muffins and donut holes, one day might be totally fine, and another day I might wake up feeling like warm shit and be unable to improve the situation with any amount of coffee. Sometimes I fall asleep just fine, and sometimes I’m inexplicably awake for an hour or two in bed, which is awfully boring. My energy level fluctuates plenty—a lot of the time it’s average, sometimes I’m almost manically peppy and I parkour from point to point, and sometimes I just drag ass for hours.

And the other strange thing is that, now on SAD food, I often feel acidic inside. It’s difficult to describe. It’s not localized to any one place; it’s just a general thing. Maybe think of a very low-level heartburn, but not in your esophagus, just sort of diffused throughout your body. Or maybe creakiness or seediness is a better word for it. It’s nothing acute or even constant, just sort of a feeling of everything being not quite up to snuff.

There are some a few little things too. My hair was more robust; cuts healed quicker. Oh, and I lost some weight. I guess that should’ve been near the top of the list, but I was never really focused on it. I didn’t actually weigh myself because I didn’t have a scale anywhere handy, but I noticed I had to cinch my belt tighter, and my muscles were more visible. So that’s nice.

But! I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention some things that suggest that for me, strict paleo isn’t the final correct answer. One is that I didn’t feel very energetic. It was a steady level of energy, but it was a low one. I didn’t feel like hopping around and climbing rocks and running a 5K. Sometimes I just wanted to sit. I wasn’t sure what to make of it.

And another thing is that I got dizzy when I stood up. I think the two things are probably related, and have to do with that blood pressure number. I think it’s just too low. I was eating plenty of salt, which is supposed to be the deadly stuff that raises that number into the bad zone, but, well, there it is anyhow. I suspect the answer is that my body does best when it has somewhat more starch than I was getting, which was basically none. So I think it just means that modest amounts of potatoes and rice are in order.

The takeaway

So the last question is where I go from here. I’m definitely not going to keep eating the way I have been the last month, where my almost explicit goal has been to eat tons of bad stuff and see how I feel (or occasionally, to eat bad stuff because I have this window where I’m giving myself a free pass to eat tasty stuff no matter how awful I feel afterwards). But by the same token, I don’t want to feel too restricted at potlucks and gatherings and such.

Possibly the most useful information I got from the experiment was: The foods that make me feel the worst are sugar, refined starches (especially wheat), and vegetable oil. So I can just build my eating around that. But how, exactly?

One thing I’ve put a little effort toward figuring out is: How necessary is it for me to be strict about what I eat? Different authors say different things. Nora Gedgaudas says you have to be constantly vigilant because even a little slip-up, especially with wheat, can erase months of progress; but Robb Wolf says it’s important to recognize that paleo is a lifestyle and any lifestyle that feels restrictive might diminish your returns through the very real effects of stress hormones, which are big but overlooked cause of health problems, so allowing some indulgences is fine now and then. One of the interesting tenets of paleo is that there’s no one-size-fits-all answer, so it’s up to me to decide where I fall on that spectrum.

I think my own personal psyche will do it best on a mix of moderating some things, so as to prod myself, and forbidding some other things outright. Remember how at the beginning I discovered that I’m bad at tapering? Well, relatedly, I’m also often bad at moderation. For example, when I reintorduced sugary stuff, I should have eaten it in moderation. This is what sane people do because they know it’s bad for them. But when my company’s landlord dropped off a box full of cookies and peanut brittle, I, feeling somehow invincible, snarfed down way more than my share, enough to make me feel nice and lousy. A little sugar leads to a lot for me, and anyhow Dr Lustig says sugar is best avoided in any quantities, and my housemate Maddy brings up the excellent point of how the sugar cane harvest is tied in with the oppression of Latin American countries, so I figure it’ll be best if I rule it out entirely. I would be bad at eating just a little sugar.

Now what does that look like? What happens if I want to eat some stir-fry that has a couple teaspoons of sugar in the sauce, or if, heaven forbid, I discover that the secret ingredient in the ham I just had was the sugar in the glaze? I guess this: small amounts, the kind of amounts that are just enough to give a little zing, will be the sort of thing that I selectively indulge in, and if I eat sugar accidentally, as will inevitably happen, well, I’ll just drink lots of water, because I’ve noticed that’s a good remedy for the worst of the effects.

(For those who’ve known me as a guy who eats lots of sweets, it sounds like I’m dooming myself to a crushingly bland life of turnips and kale. Not really, though. Mostly I’m going to be working on not having a sweet tooth, and that’s something I know I can do, because I’ve done it. For most of the paleo month I didn’t care much about sugar, But if I do decide I want that taste, there’s always fruit, or in extreme cases where the sugar is irreplaceable, stevia or the odd teaspoon of honey. You know what I discovered a few days ago? One of the greatest desserts is plain old fruit with cream. No fanciness required. Try it. It tastes so pure, like the most elemental of indulgences.)

The same forbidding goes for vegetable oil. It crops up insidiously in most things you get at a restaurant, but the strange thing is that I find myself going out to eat maybe once a month in Minneapolis, because there’s just so much stuff I want to cook, and so many days of leftovers that I get from each recipe. So if I have a few smidgens of it accidentially with my tandoori at the buffet, I can deal with it.

I’ll probably split wheat. I’ll moderate sourdough—if I’m offered some good, fermented sourdough, I’ll probably accept, because I think gluten turned out to be a much smaller issue for me than the refining that the flour goes through to make it into something that becomes immediate sugar. As for refined wheat, I think I’ll toss it right out. Sure, it’s the basis for over half the processed foods in the grocery store, but I have no interest in those anyway.

Grains in general I think I’ll moderate. I’ll allow myself some starch each day (I expect to frequently forget) in the form of traditionally prepared grains or starchy root vegetables like potatoes and sweet potatoes. I haven’t decided just how much—actually, I think my next experiment will be to dial that number in to where I feel the most awesome. Not like I’m going to carry a measuring cup around for it. I’ll eyeball and I’ll only be a little strict. But I have to make sure I set some real rules, or I’ll end up eating like four rounds of injera in a sitting. That stuff is delicious.

And lastly, there are some things I’m interested in that aren’t strictly to do with paleo, but I think are important to add into the mix.

I’ve noticed that one thing that can make me feel almost or just as bad as eating the wrong kinds of food is eating too damn much, which anyone who knows me will attest is something I do plenty. I’ve decided that it’s really time to rein in my tendency to eat huge meals. There’s no reason for me to eat that much besides pure gustatory avarice. My body mostly doesn’t pack it on in the form of fat, so I give the appearance of being able to burn it all, as if I have an absurdly fast and inefficient metabolism. But what’s actually probably happening is that when I eat too much I’m just digesting inefficiently. A lot of the time when I overeat it’s ostensibly to save food from going to waste, but if I’m not getting any more energy out of the excess than I would normally have and use, then it’s actually just going to waste anyhow. It’s just going through my gullet first.

Aside from the ethics of wasting high-quality food when I could toss it in a tupperware for later, there’s also this: biologists have discovered that animals that eat fewer calories live longer. Their telomeres—the end caps on DNA strands that wear away with age, and cause aging processes as they get more scant—stay intact longer. So it’ll be good for me all around—it’ll just require a little adjusting of how I think about food.

Relatedly, there’s fasting. I have no interest in starving myself to lose weight, but research, millennia of tradition, and a bit of interesting logic all say that you can actually do your body good by periodically not eating for a while. The logic bit is that hunter-gatherers clearly must sometimes have had to go a day or a few without eating, so our bodies must be adapted to that; consistently having three square meals a day without a let-up would actually be the exception. The science bit is that diet researchers have tried that out on animals and humans, and found that a bit of fasting now and then is one way you can keep those telomeres intact, as opposed to the strategy of eating fewer calories you need and then becoming starved and enervated. It’s gotten picked up in paleo circles, where it takes a couple guises—one is skipping breakfast, thus creating a daily 16-hour fast between dinner and the next day’s lunch; another is periodically not eating for a whole day.

And the tradition bit is that several major world religions have traditions of fasting. The early Christians fasted; fasts are part of several Muslim holidays; Hindus have been fasting for thousands of years. This last I learned from my housemate Sucharit, who’s a yogi and knows a lot about ancient traditions of India. He fasts for a day every two weeks (twice a moon cycle); the traditional day for it, which was hit upon as the best day for it by devotees way back in the beginning, is the eleventh day after the full and new moons, when there’s supposedly the most imbalance in the body from the moon’s gravity. Whether or not that’s true, a fast every two weeks sounded like a nice frequency to me, and I’ve done it once already. It wasn’t difficult. I drank a lot of tea. And I felt good. It was like letting my digestive system sleep for a little while, so it could repair itself and perk up a bit. I liked it a lot. I’m quickly becoming convinced that a little sleep once in a while for your stomach is something it needs almost as much as the rest of your body needs nightly sleep.

I also want to mention “mindful eating”, which is something I haven’t read about in anything longer than a quick summary, but the gist of that summary was: you eat what you feel like eating. That’s different from eating whatever you want, because you pay attention to what your body is telling you it’s craving, rather than just eating whatever sounds tasty. It takes some practice, from what I hear, to start being able to pick up on the signals, but once you can, I imagine you’d feel much more at one with your body. I can see how it would work. I know that sometimes, after a deficit of them for a while, I’ll just yearn for vegetables, or fat, or whatever. And when I eat them, it feels amazing. The idea is that your body has mechanisms for knowing what it’s lacking, and it can tell you, but most of us don’t realize it, so we tune it out. I want to tune back in. And I guess we’ll just see where it takes me. </span>

And that’s about it. Here’s the super-short version that will eventually come in handy for anyone who wants to cook for me, though as far as an exact start date for when I’ll get on this program, I don’t know what to tell you. Probably soon, I’m thinking before Christmas.

What makes me feel good

  • Not eating sugar, industrial wheat, and vegetable oil.

  • Eating just some starches (including traditionally prepared grains), fruit, and maybe beans now and then.

  • Eating decent amounts of meat, eggs, kefir, and cheese.

  • Eating loads of vegetables.

  • Fasting sometimes, and paying attention to cravings when I notice them.

Simple as that. Maybe now you wish you had just read this last section instead of all that. But this way you know where it came from, and maybe, just conceivably, it’ll sound like something you’d try.

  1. “Fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols”: you see why they use an acronym. 

File under: food


Anonymous

History

Welcome to the Atkins diet. I've known too many people who make it work long term. I don't think I could do it. I love bread too much but I DO agree that sugar, and more specifically syrup is at the heart of the obesity epidemic.

Anyway, your final formulation basically summarizes an Atkins diet at the end, after the weight is lost. You basically give up sugar and processed starches forever.

Dave

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Chuck

History

I don't know the specific tenets of the Atkins diet, but I believe I'll probably be closer to the Weston Price diet in the end—I don't think Atkins made any mention of fermented stuff like kimchi, sauerkraut, injera, and kefir, or of the importance of high-quality meats, but the Weston Price Foundation explicitly does. Come to think of it, I didn't make any explicit mention of that either. There are several things I forgot to put in this post—and here you all must have thought it was already longer than it could possibly need to be. I believe I'll add a bit to it soon, and I'll mention which things are new.

Seems like over half the people who eat bread believe they could never give it up because they're just in love with bread. I've seen a convincing case made that bread is actually physically addictive because some of its proteins get converted into endorphins. After I'd been off it for a few days, I stopped wanting it nearly so much. Now when I eat it I actually notice the impulse to eat more and more of it. It's weird to realize that's there. Mom said once she could never give up bread, and she hasn't really, but I remember that for a while she did, and she mentioned that after a while it stopped seeming like anything close to as big a deal as she'd always thought it was.

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Anonymous

History

Let me summarize: Eat what makes you feel good and do not eat what is good and makes you feel bad. Those fooda that are good and make you feel good are ideal. G. Pa.

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Chuck

History

Dan, there's a difference between "I'm going to fast because Jesus said so" and "Look at that, science and logic say fasting is good and so do a bunch of different religions". I'm mentioning religions not because of any spiritual aspect of them but simply because they're old, continuous traditions. Traditions, especially the ones that really endure, tend to have some basis in sense, and when several traditions all hit upon the same thing and it's backed up by research, that seems like grounds for paying attention. Even Sucharit doesn't fast while saying, "Lord Krishna, please witness my supplication and bless me." He fasts because he feels that it gets toxins out of his body. Dude's not just a yogi, he's also a neuroscience postdoctorate fellow.

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Anonymous

History

That is ny profession(Dave). Fasting works well for me and a large portion of the world. The post modern westerner sees no validity in fasting. In a fit of chronological snobbery, much of the world now only believes in objective truth. I believe, and most all of our ancestors believed in objective AND subjective truth. I am firmly in the camp that the universe has a theme that can't be explained by objective truth only, it is explained by both objective and subjective truth. I don't believe that living in the ūp to date parsing of knowledge brings revelation to much of anything(recently bias, or chronological snobbery if you wish). Mostly what I see is bread and circus(Rome), avarice, technological obsession, and an insatiable thirst for novelty and entertainment(more bread and circus). It's nice to see you searching for truth, not much of that happens anymore. 100 years ago or more, casual conversation likely centered around philosophy, religion, the search for truth. Now a philisophical conversation brands you an outcast. It's not proper small talk in mixed company. The sad part is, nobody even realizes how far we've deviated from 'normal' as measured by the last 2000 years.

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Anonymous

History

Normal! Who gets to define normal. Every culture and subculture will have their normal and there will disagreement with that. G.Pa.

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