This is part one of a series in which I attempt to take on four different lifestyle diets in four weeks. For the past few years, I've dubbed myself a flexitarian -- I don't eliminate anything from my diet and enjoy all types of food in moderation. However, I think it's time for me to assess what foods actually work well with my body -- and what foods don't. As always, talk with a doctor before undergoing any rapid change in diet.
It was one of those 3 a.m. ideas that I had to act on. And that was to go paleo... for a week. Could I handle this almost-absurd change in my diet?
To be honest, I tried out a similar quest a few years ago when I embarked on an anti-candida diet for the same amount of time. Various products were forbidden, so I experienced significant withdrawal from potatoes, fruit, etc. Burgers, roasted veggies and hummus became a diet staple while bread and other delicacies were laid to the wayside. It was my first step in trying to understand how different types of food reacted with my body, and with the recent popularity, rants, and raves associated with going paleo, I thought I'd give it a try.
So, what is Paleo?
First off, the amount of conflicting information on the paleo diet is somewhat startling: Potatoes or no potatoes? Dark chocolate or no chocolate? There was one random list that included butter -- only to find several dos and don'ts lists decrying it. It was all rather mystifying, since there is really no set food list to follow.
However, there were some things I could enjoy that everyone seemed to agree on:
- meat and seafood (organic, grass-fed, or line-caught always preferred)
- nuts and seeds
- certain oils for cooking (such as olive oil and avocado)
It didn't seem like such a daunting list -- until I actually realized that I wasn't to eat grains, dairy, potatoes, anything with processed sugar, legumes (including soy) for a solid week... or imbibe alcohol.
The first morning, I had a grapefruit and pecans dusted with cinnamon. After I consumed this "meal," I internalized a sad face and thought: I can't believe I am doing this. And now I'm craving a bagel.
Later that day, I attended a family event that served the exquisite cuisine of my heritage -- Greek food -- which reportedly is one of the healthiest diets in the world. However, there were a few problems. I couldn't eat the pita bread. I couldn't eat the hummus. The spanakopita sat on a plate taunting me, but I managed to tack on a mini rack of lamb and some shrimp to my plate. While riding home that night, I caught a whiff of fried food, and my olfactory sense went into overdrive. I was not prepared for how much my body was actually missing my two loves: grains and cheese -- and also the potential to fry anything. It all seemed to be a visceral temptation: Wow, I can't eat that. Or that... Yup, nix that too.
Since the aim of this was to remove as much processed food from my diet, I decided to be as strict as possible, even forgoing my regular fridge essentials like almond milk and sweet potatoes. I even caught myself opening the fridge a few times at night looking for my regular goods to snack on (i.e., cheese for crackers) only to shut it in sorrow.
However, all was not lost. I started to innovate.
Breakfast became a pastime filled with fruits and nuts. Smoothies were my godsend -- hey, I had to keep one modern essential while on this culinary adventure. Almonds and nut butter were my go-to snack, along with pecans. Grapefruit, bananas, strawberries, apple, pears and other assorted goodies filled my produce drawer. I had officially become a frugivore. My meals turned into a sea of colors compared to the two-color-palette pasta dishes I was used to making.
Within a few days, I noticed some interesting changes in my body. My mind felt less "cloudy." Bloating was non-existent. I felt more awake for some reason, even though I had banned coffee and was only consuming water with lemon or lime. I had also lost weight. However, my mind's clarity was the most unprecedented change -- could removing all this unprocessed food from my diet be the key to optimal health?
Chicken and vegetable "fajita" lettuce wraps: organic free-range chicken, romaine hearts, onions, bell peppers, jalapeño, cilantro, lime juice and chili powder
Needless to say, having one's palate and one's body do a 180 in a week's time is quite interesting. The ability to savor fruits and vegetables like never before will stick with me as I continue on my quest to find out how my body handles certain foods.
My final thoughts on living the culinary life of a caveman? It might just be the most beautiful hell I've experienced gastronomically.
Stay tuned for my take on what happens when I become a lacto-ovo vegetarian next week.