First Timer’s Diary: The Paleo Diet

One unsuspecting foodie's experiment and experience with the new gastronomical fad... and whether or not she'd recommend it to the wary dieter.



Besides juice cleanses, organic and local produce and elimination diets, another health trend resurged from the 70s with the promise of a healthier lifestyle and weight loss: the Paleo diet.

The Paleo diet—or the Caveman diet—is based on those foods available that were to cavemen 20,000 years ago. At that point, there were no grains, legumes, potatoes, dairy, processed oils and food, salt, or refined sugar. The only stuff available was fresh, unprocessed food like grass-fed meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, seeds, tubers, roots, and nuts. In other words—natural food.

In the past couple of months, the Paleo craze has been dominating social networks—not only with thoughts and feelings about it but also pictures of what people eat. Even though I’m a morning sugar-free soy latte and oatmeal kind of person, I decided to accept the challenge and dive in—toes first—in this five-day Paleo experience. My experience and whether or not I—with the help of some nutritionists—think the Paleo diet is worth trying:

Day 1

Morning: Two scrambled eggs; lemon tea; one cup of mixed berries
Afternoon: Sashimi; carrots; green salad
Evening: Sashimi; sautéed veggies

I woke up this morning with enough time to do my work out. By the time I was done, I was a little skeptical if my decision of endeavoring on the PD was the right one. In fact, I was already regretting it when I looked at the clock and only had 20 minutes to eat breakfast, pack lunch and snacks, and head out the door to go to the office. Oh! How that soy latte and high-protein cereal bowl make all the difference for an on-the-go kind of morning. At 4 o’clock, I realized I wasn’t prepared nearly enough to keep on track with this diet, and I was already thinking about dinner. After my nightly workout and dinner, I realized that, if I wanted to be successful in this Paleo world, I would need to do more than just think about what to eat; I needed to prepare my meals and have a plan of action.

Day 2

Morning: Two egg-whites; one whole-egg omelet with turkey bacon; lemon tea
Afternoon: Cobb salad (no dressing)
Evening: Chicken, asparagus wrapped in bacon; baked sweet-potato fries

My second day without coffee wasn’t as bad as I thought it'd be, but I was moving slower than usual. All I wanted all day was to take a nap; I didn’t even have enough energy to work out after the office. And by noon, all I could think of was a juicy porterhouse steak, which is (very) weird because I don’t eat much red meat. By the end of the day, I was snacking way too much on fruit and not enough on protein. I made it through day two, but barely.

Day 3

Morning: Eggs (again!); decaffeinated green tea
Afternoon: Baby carrots, banana nut chocolate chip protein muffin; watermelon
Evening: Unsweetened coconut shrimp; baked sweet-potato fries; salad with lime juice

Enough is enough! Today’s goal was to step up my protein and veggies game, so I went around the web and to stores looking for Paleo options. It’s amazing how well-stocked and resourced they are, and how little information I had on it. Because my cravings and bad mood—I get very moody when I’m hungry (feed me!)—were driving me insane, I looked up Paleo recipes for the thing I crave the most: dark chocolate. I found some awesome Paleo-friendly recipes for banana-nut chocolate chip-protein muffins (made with coconut oil, almond flour, raw honey, protein powder, walnuts and bananas) and Paleo-friendly protein fudge (made with almond butter, coconut oil, raw honey and cacao powder). As long as the chocolate is milk-free and at least 70-percent cacao, you’re good to go. Raw honey is always a good sweetener if you don’t love the bitterness of the chowacao—which I do. I also got a natural-, vegan-, gluten-, sugar-, and dairy-free protein powder, which would be a great add to my smoothie the next morning.

 

Day 4

Morning: Chocolate protein smoothie (made with coconut milk, cacao powder and protein powder)
Afternoon: Grilled hamburger (no bun); salad
Evening: Steak salad with balsamic vinegar and Dijon mustard

I was happily on the road toward success. I was told that if I really wanted to see results I had to do this diet for a month, but my stomach is happy, I feel less bloated, and I feel less hungry. I feel healthier, full of energy, and daring. After work, I went for a three-mile run. It was dark, and I didn’t have any reflective gear on, but the daredevil side of me took over, and it felt awesome. An effect of the Paleo diet? Let’s hope not.

Day 5

Morning: Scrambled eggs, bacon; fruit
Afternoon: Four shrimp with pineapple; chicken breast filets with mango sauce; Filet Mignon
Evening: Salmon salad

The easiest day of all: Saturday! It is awesome when all you need to do is to get out of bed. No rush, nowhere to be, just be. Scrambled eggs, bacon and a side of fruit with cinnamon became my “no brainer go-to” breakfast. I had a bridal shower to go in the afternoon, and I was already picturing the torture, but luckily they actually offered Paleo-friendly options. Unfortunately, though, they only had string beans as a side dish, so I didn’t have any sides with all the protein I ate. I didn’t have to think about food until 8 o’clock, when I met friends for dinner and ordered a salmon salad.

My experience with the Paleo diet was great, but I’m not sure if I would keep it up for a long period of time. It did make me more conscious of what I was eating, which is always a good thing, but my body functions better when I have healthy grains in my diet. I am not an athlete, but I am very active, and during the first three days, I was running in low-energy mode.

According to Elyssa Hurlbut, a registered dietitian and nutrition counselor in Westchester, athletes—or any active people—“need a good source of carbs to build up their glycogen (energy) store and use it while they exercise.” However, the Paleo diet only offers the kind of carbs found in fruit. 

 Another point to this diet is that, it is mainly for people who are looking for eating healthier and have to start somewhere. “If a person has too many calories and processed foods and not enough vegetables and fruit, then switching to Paleo is an enhancement on their intake,” says Elizabeth DeRobertis, registered dietitian and director of the nutrition center at the Scarsdale Medical Group.

However, because this diet excludes completelydairy products, nutritionists are concerned with the amount of calcium that Paleo dieters are getting. “We are living longer and are more likely to experience osteoporosis,” says Hurlbut. “We have to do whatever we can to prevent that.”

DeRobertis agrees with Hurlbut and adds that many researches show that non-fat dairy such as cottage cheese, low fat mozzarella, and Greek yogurt is very satisfying, offers calcium and vitamin D, and enhances the fat metabolism. “This diet has some nutritional values, but it is too restrictive,” she concludes.

Another registered dietitian and consulting nutritionist in Westchester, Roberta Gershner, says not to believe in diets that cut out a whole group of food. “It has great aspects,” she says, “but it is not a healthy diet to be sustained on.” According to Gershner, unrealistic diets are the main reason why people drop them after a while.

People should be aware of the amount of protein and fat they are consuming while on this diet. “Stick with lean protein,” says DeRobertis. “If you eat too much fat, it results in high cholesterol.”

The Paleo diet’s just another high-protein/low-carbs diet that allows for fruit and chances to experiment with greens and expand your palate, “but if you really want to mimic the caveman diet,” says Hurlbut, “you have to be more physically active.”