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My 30 Day Paleo Diet Experiment: Why?

NEW! Click here for my one year update!

Vegan to paleo: the journey of a lifetime:

I'm the gal whose tried just about every version of vegan/vegetarian and raw food diets. I know that world inside and out. That was the universe I lived and breathed for many, many years.

Click here to find out why I made the decision to resume eating animal products.

Many people go veg as a diet experiment of their own and end up drifting back to meat within a couple of years, because they don't feel well, maybe they're pressured by family members to give up the diet, and many simply lose interest.

As for me, I took it all the way, baby. I went as faaaaaar as you can go with veg. You can read more about my dietary evolution here.

Vegetarianism was the go-to solution back then if you were concerned about your health, animal suffering and the environment...

I came of age in the '80's and '90's, when going veg was considered the height of health consciousness. I staked my claim with the veg camp at the tender age of 22, a mere college girl. I pitched my tent and wouldn't leave it for another 14 years. I'm like the pitbull of diet. Once I've got really got my teeth into something, I just won't let go.

Some deep inner need kept driving me on through all the different phases of this diet, from vegetarian to vegan, I was even pescatarian, eventually culminating in three years on the raw food diet, including one year's infatuation with fruitarianism. I left no stone unturned in that world.

I was skinny on veg...

Here I am in 2005 in San Diego):

Paleo Diet

And I was chubby on veg...

Here I am on a trip to Aruba in 2008, having gained 30 pounds from the massive meals of brown rice, beans and tofu I was always shovelling in):

Paleo Diet

This chubby picture was just before I ushered in the raw food diet, which brought about some wonderful health improvements, including the complete erasure of moodiness, brain fog, blood sugar swings, nagging fatigue and those annoying little health complaints we've all got, enough to motivate me to keep on with it. My Raw Infatuation eventually led me to Fruitarian Land, where I began eating almost all of my calories from fresh, ripe, raw fruits and vegetables.

My first year and a half on raw I lost 20 pounds:

Paleo Diet

My last year on raw, well, I gained it all back, plus another 10 pounds for good measure. I was THRILLED about that.

Paleo Diet

I chubbed up when I became so hard-core about being a fruitarian, and during the phase of time when, ironically, I was most successfully following that diet.

Of course this contradicted everything I had been told about the svelte little figure I could look forward to as a raw vegan fruitarian. And to quote a smart new friend: when the evidence contradicts the belief system, smart people believe the evidence and ditch the belief system.

Here I am after years and years on veg, and then three years on the raw food diet (all the while maintaining a vigorous exercise regime of lots of running, running and more running):

Paleo DietPaleo Diet

Soft all over, with no muscle tone, and no longer fitting into the only bathing suit I own, purchased during one of my skinny phases. I've gone and gotten myself a belly, from all those huge meals of fruit (p.s. I was always told by raw leaders that the belly would become flat again soon after eating, no matter how much fruit I was cramming in. Never happened).

In the interest of ditching the belief system because it had begun contradicting my personal experience, I stopped listening to the advice from Fruity Land, and started listening to myself, finally. I cut back on the sheer volume of fruit I was eating, introduced small amounts of animal products for the first time in years, and felt things start looking up.

Here I am in March of this year, lighter and happier, eating a high raw diet and feeling good in many ways (certainly much better than my years pre-raw):

Paleo Diet

Now, truth time:

In spite of the reintroduction of animal products into my diet last fall, I have to admit I've rarely eaten them, and in fact the only non-vegan food I ever prepared at home was occasional steamed fish. I was still saturating my brain (no pun intended!) with information out of Veg Land and all of the low fat/high carb writers and thinkers I had been following for so long.

I continued to eat massive amounts of carbs in the form of plain steamed potatoes and fresh fruit, and, by "listening to my body," felt satisfied eating this way. I only consumed meat during a rare trip to a nice restaurant. Then I would give myself license to eat the saturated fat my brain was probably screaming for: delicious red meat, prepared by gourmet chefs.

So Fruity Land doesn't work out for me so well (unless you count 25 extra pounds, no energy, brain fog and a "what's the use" mental outlook as "success"), and I reintroduce small amounts of animal products. I see marked improvements in my health, and right away, too (no more brain fog, a slimmer figure, enough joyous & positive feelings to keep a family of six feeling chipper, and way more energy).

And yet I don't heed these signs and I allow myself to slip back into high carb/low fat eating, gradually, commending myself all the while because I don't eat any processed food or junk at all and haven't for years.

And as this happened, I began to notice a very subtle, gradual downshift in my energy that started taking place when I resumed rarely eating animal products. I truly, honestly believed that my body did not crave them.

I know, of course, that the body craves whatever is in the bloodstream, which means, whatever you've been eating lately. If you eat a junk food diet, then by golly, that's what you're going to crave every day: junk food. 90% of my diet was fresh fruit, vegetables and plain steamed potatoes, so that's exactly what I craved on most days. I didn't stop to think about replacing these things with meat, because I saw no reason to. I was still a firm, solid believer in the high carb/low fat diet and couldn't see past it. And why would I? I was inundating myself with all my usual sources of info and nothing else: emails, books, podcasts and blogs from the same old people I'd been listening to for years.

The gradual downshift in my energy took place so slowly that I only really noticed it in the back of my mind. I was aware but not wanting to be, seeing but not wanting to see. It's amazing how we can blind ourselves so willingly to the truth, how a belief system as deeply rooted as high carb/low fat was for me, can insidiously work to keep us from perceiving what's happening right in front of our faces.

I can't blame myself entirely, because I did continue to enjoy many of the health improvements that raw food introduced into my life: I felt mentally clear, focused and upbeat on most days. It was my physical energy level that began to concern me, because, as devoted a runner as I had been for so many years, I became aware that entire weeks were stretching out now without me feeling the energy to exercise. This was new, and I didn't like it.

Also, undeniable to me was my hair. And my nails. I may have been able to blind myself to some things, but hey, I'm a girl. When we start having bad hair days every single day, we notice. My hair and my nails had become thin and brittle, and in hindsight I am able to see that I was often pale and tired-looking, too. Hmmm.

Check out this photo. You can see how brittle and thin my hair became, shortly after the period of time when I was a "successful" fruitarian:

Paleo Diet

Finally, on impulse, I decided to pick up a book that would change my life, and will literally go down (for me) as one of the top five health & nutrition books ever written. Now, this book has been kicking around my book shelf for some months, and I have only skimmed it here and there. I had never taken the time to really sit down and absorb its message.

That book is The Vegetarian Myth by Lierre Keith. I hope I get to meet this lady someday because I will shake her hand and thank her profusely for finally being the catalyst to get me to SNAP OUT OF IT! and realize that the high carb/low fat diet is never going to result in optimal health for many of us, and that in fact grain agriculture is destroying the environment and is certainly not the answer to the world's problems.

For anyone interested in this subject (or who thinks what I'm saying is radical and crazy), well, first you should read the book, but for a quicker fix, I direct you to this fabulous post. This woman, who was one of the internet's most successful vegan bloggers, sums it up pretty well.

I won't try your patience by detailing here every revolution of mind I've gone through lately, but suffice it to say that things have been radically shaken up in my little world, and in a very good way. Many old beliefs have been dusted off, brought into the light and analyzed for the first time in years (like, we're talking YEARS) and have been put out for the junkman because they don't work for me anymore.

Life, for me, is nothing if not a constant striving to learn and to grow. My mind feels like fertile, wonderful, wet soil and I am soaking up like a parched root so many new ideas, and these new ideas are flowering wonderful new thoughts about subjects I honestly didn't really understand before (and that I would argue most of us city-dwellers know little about), things like nature, biology, anthropology, sustainable farming practices, and the importance of eating locally.

And now I am ready to take it to the next level...

And wouldn't you know it, right on time the next level is opening up in front of me, like a hidden door I never knew was there.

And what's on the other side of that door I call Paleo and Primal Eating? Who knows? We're going to find out, you and I, over the next 30 days.

For those of you unfamiliar with this lifestyle, it centers around meat, fish, vegetables, fruits, and nuts, and excludes grains, legumes, most dairy products, salt, refined sugar, and processed oils. It attemps to mimic as much as possible the diet enjoyed by our Paleolithic ancestors, who were hunter-gatherers before the dawn of agriculture (the period of time from about 2.5 million years ago until 10,000 years ago).

Why eat like our Paleolithic ancestors? Because archaelogical and anthropological records show, across the board, that these folks were in tip-top shape and free of the diseases that plague our modern world (cancer, heart disease, diabetes, etc.). They were doing something right, and the best way we can attempt to enjoy the levels of health that they did, is to eat like they did.

I'll be a human guinea pig for 30 days...

We've all got a few talents in this life, and one of mine is being an excellent guinea pig. So I am offering myself up here as a Human Guinea Pig for the Paleo/Primal lifestyle (inspired by one of my favorite writers, Steve Pavlina, whose been a guinea pig many times over and lived to tell us all about it). Over the next 30 days I will chart each day what I'm eating (including mouth-watering photos!), and write about the changes I'm experiencing in my body and mind, good or bad.

I've been thorough about this. I've even gone out and gotten myself a wonderful coach - the fabulous Katie over at Wellness Mama, whose blog is a wonderful treasure trove of information for those of us interested in primal & paleo eating.

I'm not expecting this trial to be easy. I'm coming from too many years to count on a high carb/low fat diet, and teaching my body how to run on fat instead of carbs may prove to be challenging. But baby, I am up for this challenge! My personal quest has always been about learning how to eat in a way that makes me look and feel my best, and I can sense with every fiber of my being that it's time for a diet upgrade.

So I invite you to come on this journey with me, dear readers. I think it's going to be fun...


Click here for Day 1.

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October 2010

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