Thursday, 14 May 2009

First 2 Weeks of Transitioning to Paleo Diet: A Case Study

This is a guest post by Straight to the Bar's Scott Bird.

Scott Bird. Artwork by Vince Palko.
Yes, I love the deadlift.
Although my diet's been gradually getting cleaner for about 5 years now, it wasn't until Methuselah wrote the superb Transitioning to a Paleo Diet that I decided to investigate the Paleo approach. And following a weekend of intensive research, I decided to make the switch two weeks ago.

Here's a look at the result of my first two weeks of Paleo eating, and the many benefits I'm already experiencing. Fantastic.
Making the Decision
When it comes to making major, life-changing decisions like this, I typically fall into the 'obsessive and single-minded' group that Methuselah mentioned. Aside from anything else, it's much easier to go 'cold turkey' than to make small changes over a long period of time. In my case, anyway.

Following the abovementioned weekend of intensive research, on Monday morning I decided to banish three major elements from my diet. These were :
  • grains (all bread, cereals & pasta),
  • dairy products, and
  • legumes (including peanuts, which are - strictly speaking - in this category)
The first two of these were fairly obvious and simple to avoid; the third took a little thought on a a few occasions.
What do I Have in Place Of ...?
The first few days were filled with 'I usually eat this, what should I have instead?' moments. The most notable of these came with breakfast, as I've been eating cereal+milk & toast for years now. What could I eat instead?

This bothered me for a while, until I remembered two occasions when the 'cereal+milk' thing was not an option. These were :
  • breakfast in an Edinburgh cafe, which consisted of scrambled eggs and slices of salmon
  • breakfast in an Amsterdam hotel, which consisted of herrings, fruits, juice and coffee
These meals were both elegantly simple, and both rank high on my 'great breakfasts' list. Problem solved.
Grocery Shopping
I found myself shopping for groceries almost a week later, and wondering what to get. In the end, the changes were fairly minor.

The first difference was the fact that I instinctively selected a much great variety of foods. In addition to staples such as chicken and beef were various organ and game meats, my usual purchase of 5-6 pieces of fruit became 5-6 varieties, and the cans of sardines became bags of fresh mussels.

Best of all: although I'd been bracing myself for a massive increase in cost, the difference was actually quite reasonable.
Take-Away Food & Restaurants
The day after shopping was Mothers' Day, and I ended up going on a 600km journey with my parents. Not only was this an ideal opportunity to explore a small rural town, it also forced me to rapidly adapt Paleo eating to both take-away and restaurant menus.

First up was a franchise of the ubiquitous McDonalds. Although I rarely eat there (perhaps one meal every 2-3 years), it was early Sunday morning in a country town. There was nothing else open.

After staring at the menu for several minutes and wondering why the Big Breakfast is no longer on it (in that store, at least), I elected to start with an Egg & Bacon Roll, and simply remove the roll. Not bad, considering the options.

In fact, I'd probably stick with this 'remove the roll' mentality for a number of things on the menu. That applies to any fast-food restaurant of this type.

Lunch was a little easier. Take-away food in Australian country towns focuses on a mix of hamburgers, pizzas and seafood. I opted for grilled fish and fish cakes, which avoided the 'remove the roll' thing entirely.
For the first month or so of the transition, I'm putting my usual collection of supplements to one side. This is simply as my nutritional needs are likely to change considerably with this style of eating (particularly my intake of Vitamin C and Omega 3), and I'll find out exactly what my requirements are at the end of the first four weeks.

One thing to note though, my intake of Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin) has obviously increased dramatically. As the excess comes out in the urine (turning it a brilliant, pale yellow in the process), it's extremely easy to spot.
Unexpected Benefits
Sleep, Glorious Sleep
Sleep, Glorious Sleep.
Better Sleep: since I changed over to Biphasic Sleep in 2006, the quality of my slumber has been fantastic. In fact, before switching to Paleo I was doubtful whether I could improve it much.

However, after only a few days of Paleo eating, I noted that I was getting markedly better sleep. Factors such as a constant loud noise or a particularly hectic day were having less of an impact, and I awoke feeling refreshed regardless of the starting point.

This change alone has major carry-over benefits to other activities throughout the day.

The Disappearing Cough: for the past five years I've had a regular, yet minor, cough. After this length of time I'd forgotten all about it, as I'd long ago put it in the 'mildly annoying, yet easily ignored' basket.

It was only after a week of eating Paleo that I noticed it was changing - becoming far less frequent. After only two weeks it has almost disappeared entirely.

Perhaps the cough was due to a mild intolerance to gluten, or possibly casein. Whatever the case, it's fantastic to be finally getting rid of it.

Craving for Fruit & Veg: perhaps the most unexpected - and wonderful - change was in my desire to eat fruits and vegetables. Previously I ate fruit only occasionally, and a small amount of mixed veg with meals; now I have an undeniable craving to eat every piece of fruit in sight.

I suspect that a large part of this is simply my body looking for carbs & sugars (now that other sources have been taken away); whatever the cause, I welcome the change.
Final Thoughts on the First Two Weeks of Paleo
Overall, I cannot recommended it highly enough. I certainly have no plans to change anytime soon.

Given that my starting point was a reasonably simple, healthy diet; I'm amazed at just how big a difference the Paleo approach makes. If better sleep, greater nutrient intake and faster recovery (from training) are things you'd love to have, give it a go. Superb.

Scott is the editor of strength-training site Straight to the Bar, and all-around fitness enthusiast. When he's not in the kitchen stuffing his face, he can generally be found engaging in cruel and unusual punishment in the backyard.


Asclepius said...

Scott - glad to read about yet another person having a good time going paleo!

For what it is worth, here is my two penneth worth!

It can take around six weeks to run efficiently on ketones (see research by Phinney) - so you need to consider this an experiment until about the two month mark. Stick with it 'coz it things WILL change.

It took me about six months (IIRC) to be able to go comfortably through 24hrs fasted. This was a fucking revolutionary phase in my approach to paleo. No gnawing hunger pangs or hunger shakes - and the ability to train hard on an empty stomach. Truly I felt my body could cycle its fat stores efficiently.

As an aside, you might want to watch your fruit intake 'coz of fructose - and you may find excess nuts can lead to stomach ache and loose stools.

On the upside, coconut is fantastic snack food. The 'chunky' texture is VERY satisying and the milk is delicious (thanks Methuselah for this particular recommendation).

In summary - the best is yet to come, you'll get leaner/ripped. Remember, you can eat as much as you want (of the right food groups), you will increasingly find you can go without food for extended periods. Might be anidea to ultimately moderate fruit and nuts.

Vin - NaturalBias said...

Welcome to Paleo life Scott! :) I've been eating this way for several years and the benefits have been great.

I bet you'll see improved results in the gym now that you don't have grains and dairy potentially hammering your immune system.

It's interesting that you mentioned biphasic sleep in the same discussion as the paleo diet. One of the major hesitations I have about it is that it doesn't seem natural, and if it's not, it contradicts the philosophy of the paleo lifestyle. Or perhaps biphasic sleep is natural? This is something I've been wondering for a while.

Unknown said...

Cheers guys, look forward to the changes. Sounds as though there are plenty of benefits yet to come.

On the biphasic sleep thing - it's extremely natural, in fact if you've ever taken an afternoon nap, you've probably already done it. All I'm doing is adding a bit of structure to the process.

Also, take a look at the number of times humans sleep as babies. Multiple sleep periods are very much the norm, and monophasic sleeping doesn't begin until considerably later.

Anonymous said...

Just started doing paleo myself... and strength training... and cutting out alcohol... a lot of changes, but I feel I'm finally ready to take myself seriously. :)

I know what you mean about the vegetables. It's like all the sugar and grains were blunting my taste buds or something. I went from only liking well cooking red pepper to eating them like an apple (more than 2 times the vitamin C of an orange!).

It's awesome. I already feel so much more in tune with what I'm eating. It's enjoyable, but not in a I NEED IT kind of way. Bang, eat, yum, on to other things.

Can't wait to see how my life is going to change this summer!

Barry Kraft said...

The Paleo diet looks a bit like the Atkins diet but healthier,from now on I’m quitting bread sugar,crisps,rice etc.I think as you get older you should eat less carbs anyway. I’m looking forward to showing off my 6 pack in the summer. What a fantastic post and a great introduction to the Paleo diet. thanks for the wonderful entry.

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