In the build up to this mobilization, I’ve gotten interested in working out and being fitter again. I had started reading a lot about various workout schemes and weightlifting regimens. The more I read, the more I kept bumping into discussions about the proper diet to fuel a workout, build muscle, burn fat, etc.
“But I just want to work out so I can eat what I want, when I want, in whatever quantities I want!” I thought at first.
Sadly, my research has led me to the conclusion that the human body simply doesn’t work that way. At least, mine doesn’t.
The eating style I hear referred to most often was called Paleo, so I read an excellent book that lays out why it works and how to do it. The book was The Paleo Solution by Robb Wolf, and I’d recommend it to anyone who’s interested in improving their health, fitness and quality of life.
The Paleo lifestyle is built around three main premises:
1. Cut grains out of your diet. Mainly, this refers to wheat, barley and oats, but also includes corn and rice, which are grains. Cereal grains present a double whammy against your body. The most dangerous is gluten. Gluten is always associated with people suffering Celiac’s disease, but Robb Wolf argues, quite convincingly, that even if you don’t have Celiac’s disease, you probably have a gluten intolerance. Basically, glutens are shaped in a way that they cause little tears on the inside of your intestinal tract. If they get bad, whole particles of food leak out, and are attached by the body’s immune system, causing an allergy to that type of food. When your GI tract gets torn up by glutens, it doesn’t digest efficiently, becomes inflamed, and causes all sorts of other problems. So, glutens are nasty business, but I mentioned that grains presented a “double” whammy. The second whammy is sugars.
2. Cut sugars out of your diet. Robb Wolf explains that at the end of the day, eating excessive sugar is what makes people fat. When sugars are eaten, the body responds by releasing insulin. The body reads sugar and insulin as a “sign of plenty”, so it tells the body to start storing fat. Grains are bad because they contain two things that are bad for you: gluten and sugars.
3. Eat simple, whole, real foods. Meat, vegetables, a little fruit. No grains, legumes or dairy. At the grocer, keep your shopping to the perimeter: produce, butcher, frozen; skip all the stuff in the middle.
Some would say it sounds gimmicky, which it does to an extent. Especially when you hear some of the claims: reversal of diabetes, people suffering from Crohn’s and Colitis able to stop using their medications just by controlling their diet, ditto for other autoimmune diseases like Grave’s disease and arthritis, steady, permanent weight loss… but there were two things that made me think it’s not a gimmick. First, there’s nothing to sell. Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig both say “buy our meals, and we’ll help you lose!”. Not this eating style. Sure, there are Paleo branded products on the market, but no one says you have to buy them to be successful. No supplements, or shakes, and any other garbage like that. Second, Robb Wolf promotes a pretty scientific approach to this. If you listen to his podcast, he frequently says “Try it for 30 days, see how you look, feel and perform, and then make a decision.”
My wife and I decided to give it a shot for 30 days, and went strict Paleo. Cutting all grains was tough. Spaghetti and penne pasta were regulars in the lineup. Cut bread, pasta, donuts, cookies, brownies, etc. We cut dairy. And, horror of horrors, I cut out all beer.
The results? About a week of serious sugar cravings. That part was tough. But, making good meals out of meat and veggies and a healthy fat (olive oil, avocados, cocnut oil, etc.) filled us up pretty well. The numbers on the scale changed, but not crazy fast. What was crazy to me were the other changes. After just two days, I was sleeping better, had more energy, and my waistline started getting smaller. The most immediate change was I no longer got that mid-afternoon slump at work.
Now, we do about a 80% Paleo; we allow some cheating here and there. If a special occasion calls for cookies or cake, so be it. And I still have an occassional dish of lasagna, a long-time favorite. But mostly, it’s good lean protein (meat), healthy fiber with a little carbs (veggies) and some fat.
The Army’s helping with this. At an Army dining facility, you can always count on getting a meat and a veggie and a starch. For me, that means meat and veggie and skipping the starch, and making a salad. The downside is the Army has soda fountains in the dining facility. I have a huge weakness for mountain dew and pepsi, and every meal there’s a bottomless well of it just sitting there. I usually pour myself about 2 ounces for “dessert”… and I’ve been eating this way long enough, that it’s starting to taste like maple syrup to me, just too cloyingly sweet.
Anyway, that book made me get more interested in how the body burns fuel to run. And that’s part of the reason I take pictures of my food…
Special thanks to my lovely wife Beth for the idea for this post!