I’m a Whole30 experimenter. If you haven’t heard of Whole30, you will, eventually. It’s a paleo regime aimed at detoxing your body and switching over your carb and sugar-burning engine to a fat burning one. I have to say, I was a little skeptical at first, especially since I’m doing this with likely less grease than most, but here I am on day 10 and it’s been an eye-opener.
Do Without. Let’s get the restrictions over with: Whole30 requires that you give up, for 30 days, all forms of sugar (except fruit), dairy, grains, and legumes (this last one kills me, because that’s been our major source of protein for years.) They also prohibit you from jumping on a scale. I figured that wasn’t going to be enough of a boot camp for me, so I threw caffeine onto the contraband pile. Day 3 was the biggest migraine I’ve had in years. My daughter’s grumpy face when I try to take her picture is how my head-in-a-vice-grip felt all day. Truth be told, Pete had to give me a dexamethasone, to prevent me from heading to the hospital for an i.v.
The thing is, it’s all it’s cracked up to be. How do I feel day 10? Pretty damn great. I’m sleeping better than I have in years, my aches (which likely comes from inflammation) in my joints has disappeared, and a knee and hip injury that I’ve been dealing with for 2 years is feeling a bit better. I’m likely losing weight, but who knows? There’s a lot of fat in this diet, more than I’ve ever eaten on a daily basis, so I could be the only person to have ever gained weight on a Whole30 month-long experiment. But this isn’t necessarily about weight. I decided to do this to address my insomnia, pain in my right knee and hip, and my migraines.
Whole30 meals: So, what do Whole30 peeps eat, you ask? Protein (eggs, fish, meat of all kinds), veggies, nuts and fruits. There’s no snacking. So, at each meal you can eat as much as you want. After a few days, you lose the desire to snack as the meals are very satisfying, high in fat. Coconut in every form is used as much as possible. Avocados, too.
But here’s the thing: It ain’t really paleo. Full disclosure here, I haven’t actually bought the book (part of my ethic of buying no commercial propaganda when trying out a lifestyle change. Luckily, everything you need is available online. If it seems to resonate with me as a generally worth-while change in my world-view, I’ll buy the book!) So, I don’t know the extent of their paleo claims. But, if you watch my friend, Tina’s TED talk, you’ll come to learn that Paleolithic peoples didn’t really eat as much meat as these paleo diets propose.
In our nearly 10 years of archaeological climbing expeditions in Nepal, we recover the bones of ancient people out of high cliff caves and then the teeth go to Tina’s lab where she not only extracts DNA from them so we can learn much about the people’s origins and genetic makeup, but she also studies their dental calculus (the plaque) and determines much about their diet.
Tina has looked closely at the dental plaque of early peoples and she can state as fact that meat was not a huge part of most paleo diets. It would have been a big protein source on occasion for humans who had access to meat, but nuts, berries, and wild vegetative matter, fruit, and especially legumes primarily made up their diet.
Maybe a Tad Too Much Meat: I’m fascinated by what is involved in taking dairy and grains and sugar out of my diet. So far, my sense is that the elimination of all sugars is probably the best thing I’ve done in years. (And, I think removing the caffeine has been great for me, too.) But as a mostly vegetarian, I’m struggling with the meat equation in this diet, because I know any meat Paleolithic peoples would’ve eaten was extremely lean. Today’s market meat is bred for fat. (Eat local chicken in Nepal and it tastes like wild pheasant.) I know what a toll meat production takes on our environment, and I also believe that plant-based diets are the most healthy diets we can have. I look forward to introducing beans and lentils back into my diet as my main source of protein while being restrictive on the wheat, especially GMO grains and flours.
These are the debates going on in my head, knowing what the archaeological and sustainability communities have to say about “paleo” diets. I’m a forager at heart and my sense is that if we eat what’s abundant around us, growing in the very ecosystem and climate where we live, than those are the organic foods that are going to be best for us. But, for now, I’m letting eggs and mostly white meat enter my digestive tract to see if the protein and high fats can help me with my lack of wheat, sugar, and dairy. So far, it is. I have no hunger between meals. And the physical changes are mostly for the better.
Over the course of this month, I’ll be posting my thoughts on this diet, my own experience, and some of my own recipes that I’ve cobbled and know will be staples on our simplefoods menu in the future.
Have you tried Whole30? How was your experience and have you incorporated much of what you’ve learned about your body’s reaction to dairy, wheat, sugar and legumes into your everyday life?