One month on: discoveries, victories & thoughts

Vitamin D = happy Maria 🙂

Maria writes…

Although it’s been a slow month here on Our Paleo Month, it’s been far from quiet in real life.  In the last month I’ve moved back to America, had some exciting job offers, caught up with old friends, and started learning to kiteboard, all the while maintaining an 80%-ish Paleo diet.  Here are some key points to bring you up to date:

  • I’m off my meds, for the most part.  All I’m taking is 2.5mg of desipramine every other day, as well as using topical acne treatments Differin & Clindamycin/Benzoyl Peroxide as needed.  My skin is mostly clear.  I have no nausea (!!).  I have no stomach pain.  I can’t quite believe it!  Seriously.  I still have diarrhea sometimes, but I think I’ve pinpointed it to:
  • I’m definitely dairy-intolerant.  Boo!  I was so looking forward to adding yogurt (especially laban, which is the Lebanese yogurt that my family have been making for centuries and is loaded with probiotics), but alas, even the smallest amount gives me cramps and diarrhea.  I even tried making yogurt from raw milk, but unfortunately all dairy is out for me for now.
  • I think I’m wheat-intolerant.  I’m not 100% sure because I’ve not eaten that much wheat over the last month, but when I do, I get diarrhea.  This also seems to happen when I eat other grains like corn/polenta, but interestingly NOT white rice.  It’s amazing what you can tell about the health of your intestines by the quality of your poop.  I think that will have to be a separate post.  But grains (and fiber?) are definitely not my friends right now, which leads on to…
  • The GAPS diet.  When I got home I started half-heartedly following the GAPS diet, which is a slightly different/more intense version of the Paleo, meant for people with serious digestive  problems (as well as a host of other chronic conditions).  I made beef bone broth, which is a staple of the GAPS diet and very healing for the guts.  But I didn’t do the intro diet, and I haven’t been following the full diet for two reasons: (1) I wanted to hit the ground running, so to speak, and didn’t want to spend lots of time thinking about what I can/can’t eat, and (2) Eating Paleo and maintaining a social life is hard enough, but doing GAPS would be even harder.  Plus, while I’m living with my parents right now…
  • Maintaining a Paleo diet is really hard if you share a home with non-Paleo people!  My parents actually eat fairly well compared to the Standard American Diet.  They eat relatively little processed/junk food, and even don’t eat that much wheat.  However, my dad likes his pastries, and when they sit out on the counter begging me to eat them, I can’t always resist!  I don’t feel guilty when I cheat, but my stomach certainly doesn’t appreciate it and I usually pay for it later by having diarrhea.  I really can’t wait for David to join me here so we can move into our own place.  Update: My mom has just decided to try eating Paleo for a month!

All in all, it’s been an interesting experiment over the last month since ending our Paleo month challenge.  I feel like I have more freedom to move away from the Paleo ‘label’ and more towards figuring out which foods work for me and which ones don’t.

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Future of the blog

The five loyal readers of this blog (one being my mom :)) will be pleased to know that I’ve decided to continue blogging about our paleo diet and lifestyle changes.  It will likely be me (Maria) mostly, with the occasional contribution from David.  It will also likely have a new web address, so watch this space.

Thanks to all of you for reading and supporting us.  The adventure is only just beginning.  [Man that sounds cheesy!]

Before & After photos: Maria

A few things to say about these.  My stomach is noticeably less bloated in the ‘after’ photos, although the ‘before’ photo was taken the day after a major carb-fest, so I guess that’s to be expected.  Several days ago David remarked that my arms and shoulders have noticeable muscle definition.  Whether that’s to do with eating Paleo for a month or not, I can’t tell.  I think my arms and shoulders look slightly more muscly in the ‘after’ photos, but then I can’t tell if it’s just the angle of the photo or not.  I suppose teaching BodyBalance three times a week doesn’t hurt either. 🙂 I still need to take a close-up of my face to compare before and after.

Before & After photos: David

I think it looks like David has lost a little bit of weight around his middle; he doesn’t think there are any changes between ‘before’ and ‘after’.

Victories

Maria writes…

Although a month of changed eating habits is not a huge amount of time to see major health changes, there are a few small victories to report:

  • I’ve gone down from 10mg to 2.5mg of citalopram, and I feel great!  This is a fairly big deal for me, because before I used to start feel nauseous at 5mg and have pretty frequent diarrhea.  I’m hoping to go down to 2.5mg every other day and gradually taper off completely.
  • I’ve stopped using clindamycin/benzoyl peroxide (prescription topical acne cream) on my face, and I haven’t really noticed any difference (‘after’ pictures coming soon).  My skin still has a few papules here and there, but it’s definitely not gotten worse (hooray!).  No painful nodular acne under my skin either.  The real test will be when I come off Yasmin, which I’m planning to do soon.
  • My mood has noticeably improved.  I feel happier, calmer, and have more even energy.  On the days when I didn’t eat enough, my mood wasn’t great, but now that I’m getting the hang of what and how much to eat, things have evened out.

I plan to continue eating mostly Paleo with occasional dairy and white rice added in, and it will be interesting to see how I feel after several months.  For me the real test will be the stomach issues and acne.  If I can successfully come off the rest of my medications within the next 12 months, I will be thrilled.  I believe that what I put in my body has a big effect on my health and well-being; I’d like to believe that my health issues can be solved/cured through diet.

David writes….

In about two hours, it will be March, and I shall be free to return to toast, to yoghurt, to porridge, to beer.  But will I return?  Here are a few thoughts as I dip for the finishing line.

i. Breakfast has been boring, but has done its job.
It’s the most important meal of the day, and there’s no denying that a paleo breakfast fills you up and keeps you filled for longer.  That part of the experiment has been unequivocal.  However, in spite of living a month of epic bacon, mushroom, egg, & bacon mornings, I have discovered that, in terms of breakfast options, very little variety has been available to me.  And variety is the condiment of existence.

ii. Talking of condiments…
One of the great absences when eating paleo is not so much the bread/crackers/oatcakes, but the things that go on top of them: tapenade, cheese, piccalilli, clotted cream, jam, chutney.  I haven’t really missed potatoes at all, but the melting butter, the cheddar, the cream cheese?  Oh yes.

iii. Stomach Capacity.
Due to the amount of meat we have been getting through (affected by Maria’s need to increase her calorie-intake), I have now got very used to eating quite a lot.  This is one of the peculiarities of paleo – stuffing your face does not pile on the pounds.  But I don’t want to eat a lot just because I can.

iv. Sweet Potatoes.
If you are considering going paleo, you will realise very quickly that the freedom to consume sweet potatoes is an absolute Godsend.  We have eaten TONNES of them, not including using them for muffins (a success!) and pancakes (not so much).  We could not have survived otherwise, which proves to me that eating paleo and eating local (for someone in Britain at least) is a near-impossible combination at times.

v. Energy.
I am a morning person, but one built for a siesta culture – I tend to crash in the afternoons.  But eating paleo, I haven’t.  Simple as that.

——

So, what now?  I was not doing this month to PROVE the validity (or otherwise) of a paleo diet, but just to have a go; to experiment.  And now I’ve had a go, what am I taking away?  Well, I am pretty convinced that the whole scientific basis for paleo – that our systems are far better suited to the hunter-gatherer diet than to one built on grains, starches, and other staple foods – is on solid ground.  As a result, I will not be returning to my previous levels of consumption of those foods, but neither will I be cutting them out completely – I’m far too much into the theory that it’s ALL good, in its right place.  So a scone here, an oatcake-with-cheese-and-chutney there, but in general, quite a different diet than that which has been my norm until now.

Cheating hurts, but the joy is back

Maria writes…

Well it’s certainly been an eventful couple of days as we near the end of our month-long challenge.  On Sunday we had two (intentional) cheat meals, and as both were social occasions, we didn’t want to go through the bother of explaining our diet (although meal #2 was a non-Paleo meal with semi-Paleo friends).  This might come as a surprise </sarcasm>, but people usually raise their eyebrows when I say I’m doing a diet, and sometimes it’s just easier not to say anything at all…

Meat cheat #1 was vegetarian chili with baked potatoes and creme fraiche on the side; I wouldn’t even consider this a full cheat because there was no wheat involved.  I had to laugh to myself, because this meal included nearly every food I’ve been trying to avoid while still staying within Paleo boundaries (not including beans of course).  I’ve been consciously avoiding ‘nightshade’ vegetables (tomatoes, peppers, white potatoes, eggplants), partly because I don’t really like the taste (with the exception of eggplant), they give me ever-so-slight reflux, and also because they’re thought to promote inflammation in the gut.  This meal included nearly every single nightshade vegetable on the list.  Plus lots and lots of beans, which of course are not allowed on Paleo.  What was interesting about this meal was that this was the first time since starting the diet that I felt really full (like full up to my esophagus), but it wasn’t a pleasant feeling!  Right after I finished eating, I felt really sleepy, like I could have fallen asleep sitting up.  It was a strange feeling, and all I could think about was going home and going to bed, not wanting to relax and hang out with my friends.

Meal cheat #2 was delicious (non-Paleo) French crepes, both savoury (ham, cheddar and egg) and sweet (chocolate sauce and blueberry compote).  Unfortunately my enjoyment did not last long, because I soon started to get stomach pain.  Really bad stomach pain that came in waves and kept getting stronger and stronger.  I’m not sure how I held it together, but I managed to have bits of conversations with our friends before we had to cut our evening short.  As soon as I stepped out of the door and started walking back to the car, the pain became so intense that I could barely walk.  David had to carry me several hundred yards to the car.

Now I’ve dealt with IBS pain before – it’s similar in nature, but has never been even remotely as intense as this.  This felt like a cross between someone taking a knife to my intestines and someone tying my intestines in knots, then tying each end to a firetruck and having the firetrucks drive in opposite directions as fast as possible.  I’m not exaggerating.  I was literally screaming in agony the whole car ride home, while a very pale-faced David held my hand and prayed in tongues.  We very nearly ended up going to A&E, but I knew that if I got home and took some medicine, I would be okay.

There’s not a doubt in my mind that this was directly related to food I had eaten earlier.  Whether it was the beans, the wheat from the crepes, or the cheese, I’m not sure.  The fact that it happened several hours after lunch could indicate that the beans may have been the culprit (any scientifically-inclined people care to comment?).  I’ve never been able to tolerate beans very well at the best of times.  Thank God that we had some codeine from an old prescription – the pain subsided enough for me to get to sleep (and stay asleep).

My stomach felt pretty tender the next day like it had been through some trauma, but the pain was gone.  I never wanted a Paleo meal more in my life than I did yesterday!  I made sure to eat soothing foods like butternut squash and bananas, and to generally take it easy on myself.

Looking over the last two days, part of me is glad that I got to cheat (although I would never want to relive that pain – I can only hope that childbirth isn’t much worse than that!).  In going back to eating the foods that I’ve been eliminating, I now have something to compare with how I feel on a Paleo diet.  And I can say with 100% certainty that I prefer to be slightly hungry on Paleo than full on a ‘normal’ diet.

Hear me out – I don’t think it’s healthy to be starving on Paleo.  I definitely think it’s better to eat something than not to eat anything (and maybe I should have cheated on those days where I was starving).  But when I eat Paleo and get enough to eat, I feel right.  I feel a ‘clean’ type of satiated (or is it sated?) – I have energy, my mind is clear, my mood is happy and calm.  When I feel full from a non-Paleo diet, I feel stuffed, lethargic, foggy, and my mood is slightly down.

Tomorrow is the last day of our month-long Paleo challenge.  I’m looking forward to being finished because I’m looking forward to having the freedom to try different foods and to add or subtract as needed.  I feel that this month of following a strict Paleo diet has given me a good starting place, and now it’s up to me to experiment further, and to eat to my heart’s (stomach’s) content.  I still need to do a lot of tweaking and find what works for me personally, but the Paleo joy is back, and hopefully it’s here to stay.