Friday, June 25, 2010

A week in the life of a paleo-dieter

What follows is a very detailed account of my life food-wise the last week. My apologies in advance for the length and feel free to skim!

Day 1
"The Beginning"
7:00 AM -- After carb-loading as if I were running a marathon Sunday night and several "but this is the last ice cream I'll have for a week, so I deserve two scoops" scenarios, I start Monday feeling very ready for a nice cleanse of sorts.
7:15 AM -- Breakfast goes off without a hitch. According to most Paleo diet literature (can you call blogs literature?), breakfast is the hardest meal to transition for most people because we tend to eat a carb and dairy heavy breakfast full of toast and cereals and yogurts. For me, breakfast was probably the easiest meal. In the summer, I usually just make a smoothie for breakfast. A few weeks back when I started trying to eat less dairy, I replaced the yogurt and milk in my smoothie with just ice and juice. Normally, I'd toss in a hunk of tofu, but as heavily processed soy was not part of the caveman diet, I just cook a couple of eggs for my protein fix.
11:00 AM -- Feeling peckish, eat a banana.
12:30 PM -- Lunch! The night before I'd prepared some catfish, which turned out okay, but no matter how many other spices were on it--I certainly miss the salt. This will become a theme of the week. I also have an arugula salad with a little homemade grapeseed oil based dressing.
5:15 PM -- Afternoon trip to the farmer's market and Whole Foods yields a healthy bunch of kale, several snacking apples, a jar of almond butter (it would later be one of the week's most profound regrets that I chose the smaller jar), and some lean steak. Hunters and gatherers never had it so easy.
7:00 PM -- Dinner of steak pan "grilled" with some chipotle-based seasoning blend (as luck would have it, I'd happened to have previously purchased, probably erroneously, some salt-free seasoning) and some kale steamed and then sauteed in lemon juice, olive oil, and garlic. Dinner verdict: needs salt.
7:30 PM -- Dessert "milk"-shake that I'd dreamed up earlier: bananas, coconut milk, a touch of almond butter, a little ice, and some cinnamon. Creamy and delicious!

Day 2
"The Climb"
7:15 AM-- Same breakfast sans eggs (because I realized I'd run out)
7:30 AM-- Decide to make kale chips with some of the remaining kale for a snack later. Put bite-sized kale leaves in the oven with a little olive oil drizzled on them. In 10, minutes they are perfectly crisp chips. For those of you non-paleo dieters out there considering making these for a healthful snack, I would definitely recommend the addition of salt.
10:00 AM-- Already hungry, no doubt because of lack of protein with breakfast. Fix myself up with an apple dipped copiously in almond butter (my nut butter of choice, for the week, now that legumes are out).
1:00 PM-- Meet friend in the park for lunch with my leftover steak and baggie of kale chips in tow. The kale chips grow old after I've eaten about half of them. Again, I think salt could really help here. Friend asks about my food choices and I have to tell her about the diet. I realize another theme of my week is lying to people rather than telling them about my diet because it tends to lead to too many questions, and I feel like I start to sound a little whack-job.
4:00 PM -- Birthday party for friend on the 5th floor at my office. I don't attend, but due to my ravenous sugar gorging in the past, my absence is noticed. I receive a concerned message from someone upstairs promising me there are more cupcakes left. Rather than get into the whole thing, I lie and say I have too much work. I eat a banana to console myself.
7:00 PM -- Dinner: I still have some leftover steak (as someone who normally eats almost no red meat, I wonder if this will have the biggest impact on my dietary change this week), so I toss it on a salad with some avocado and spinach with a lime juice based dressed. Tastes like a breezy (saltless) summer!
8:00 PM -- For dessert, a more experimental smoothie: Because I have half of an avocado left and have heard that is sometimes used to add creaminess to ice cream, I throw that in along with the coconut milk for a base. I add peaches, bananas, and strawberries for flavor. Verdict: kind of tastes like avocado, but not still pretty good.

Day 3
"The Decline"
7:00 AM -- Smoothie and a side of scrambled eggs.
8:15 AM -- Every week someone on our floor is given $20 from the company to buy bagels for the floor. The girl whose week it was this week was away on conference, so she'd asked me if I'd switch with her. I couldn't say no, which is how I end up purchasing and setting out delicious bagels and scones for the consumption of everyone but myself. I'd brought along a kiwi and banana to get me through this first real trial.
10:00 AM -- Receive instant message from yesterday's birthday girl reminding me that there are still cupcakes available. She gives more details than my friend from yesterday: they are mini red velvet cupcakes from the Cupcake Truck. I tell her I'll try to stop by later, and then eat a spoonful of almond butter straight from the jar to steel my resources not to.
12:30 PM -- Lunch is broiled salmon with a little lemon juice and garlic and a spinach salad.
1:00-4:00 PM -- A blur of fruit and almond butter consumption.
7:30 PM -- For dinner I make a "chicken satay" which basically ends up being (surprise, surprise) under-salted chicken with an almond butter based sauce. I make a little more steamed kale to accompany it. I decide I really don't like kale. For dessert, I make a blackberry cobbler, a recipe I found on this handy blog: Lesson learned: you cannot make an edible cobbler without sugar and salt. No, not even if you add a "drizzle of honey." Probably one of the more disappointing meals of the week.
9:00PM -- Near breakdown is kept at bay by a strawberry kiwi smoothie.

Day 4
"Liquid Cheating"
7:15 AM -- Breakfast is the usual smoothie. I know this sounds boring, but I do mix it up with different fruits every time. I think this diet would be next to impossible to accomplish in the winter.
8:00 AM -- Pile up a distressing amount of Tupperware into my tote bag. I'd promised to meet a friend who's moving for a drink after work and don't want to be tempted by bar foods.
10:00 AM -- Tragedy strikes when I realize I've depleted my almond butter reserves. Sulk through a plain apple instead.
12:00 PM -- Because most of the higher ups are gone at a sales conference, my floor decides to go out to Olive Garden for the unlimited soup, salad, and breadstick lunch. I don't find this too great a temptation to resist and tell them I have to meet a friend for lunch. To validate the lie, I meet up with a friend on another floor to eat my leftover chicken satay and salad. Friend also asks a lot of questions about the diet, and I realize I don't like talking about it that much (except on my blog, of course!).
5:00 PM -- Dinner of salad with avocado and a little more red meat eaten at my desk.
5: 30 PM -- Meet boyfriend (who I should point out was kind enough to mostly follow this diet with me this week) and his friend from high school for a couple of glasses of wine. His friend points out the nitrates in wine are probably just as bad as refined sugar. On the paleo diet, alcohol is considered something of a gray area (they would have had access to fermented fruit, right?). It is suggested to only imbibe in moderation.
7:30 PM -- Leave and meet friend who is leaving town at a bar in the East Village. I order a beer reasoning, at this point, that somehow fermented grain is okay whereas normal grain isn't. Completely pointless distinction.
8:00 PM -- Friend knows the bartender who keeps refilling my beer. I realize that even though I feel full, proteins don't really do their part to soak up alcohol the way carbs do.
10:00 PM -- Friend orders a pizza and offers me a slice. I pretend I'm too full from earlier. Despite all the liquid cheating, I feel like this is my greatest accomplishment of the night.

Day 5
"The Relapse"
8:00 AM -- Wake up hungover. Planned summer Friday beach trip is pushed back in order to sleep in. I'm coaxed into eating a granola bar (processed, refined sugar-filled, salty, delicious), but as hangover foods go, I could have done worse.
8:15 AM -- Make a smoothie with orange juice, banana, and ice. Drink a fair amount of water
2:00 PM -- Eat a salad. It's too hot in my apartment to make anything else.
5:00 PM -- It's my boyfriend's brother's birthday and the family is going out to dinner. I don't want to skip real occasions because of this diet, so I look online for paleo information about eating out at restaurants. One blog suggests using "unavoidable" dinners out as an opportunity for one of your "intermittent fasting" days and just drink water with lemon in it. Because I'm not psychotic, I immediately discount this option. Another blog offers some sensible advice about choosing well. We're going to a French restaurant though, so it's mostly a moot point. I ultimately decide to just call this meal a wash and order whatever I want.
7:30 PM -- Eating corn meal crusted grouper in a light white wine cream sauce over a bed of asparaus and carrots. I don't even feel guilty.
8:00 PM -- Dessert: one of those chocolate lava cakes with white chocolate ice cream on it. Still no guilt.

Day 6
"A Salty Day at the Beach"
8:00 AM -- Awake to make food for postponed beach plans. I've decided to go ahead and include sea salt in the menu today. My reasoning is threefold: 1) I'm a coastal-living caveperson...wouldn't I have access to sea salt? 2) I don't fully know the science behind it, but when it's super hot (say, at the beach in summer) and you sweat a lot, isn't it important to replenish your salts? 3) This chick does it sometimes:
9:00 AM -- Assemble a cooler with a killer fruit salad (blueberries, strawberries, oranges, apples, bananas, and peaches), some guacamole and plantain chips (just sliced plantains fried in a little coconut oil), and some delicious pecan crusted chicken fingers. The chicken fingers I got from here: She totally redeemed herself for the whole tasteless blackberry cobbler incident. I basically followed the recipe except that I substituted chicken tenders for the whole breasts (reasoning that they would make for easier beach eating). They were delicious even cold (probably due to the addition of sea salt), and I'll likely make them again even when I'm back to eating grains.
11:30-2:30 PM -- Constant gorging on snacks and beach lounging
6:00 PM -- Early dinner of salmon cakes (recipe here: Normally I'm opposed to canned fish because it reminds me too much of cat food, but these things came out pretty tasty.
8:30 -- Fry a banana in hazelnut oil with a touch of cinnamon. Not quite as good as banana fritters, but still a decent dessert.

Day 7
"The End"
10:00 AM -- Breakfast smoothie. Just threw in some of the leftover fruit salad with juice and ice.
12:00 PM -- Lunch of leftover salmon cakes and a small side spinach salad.
3:00 PM -- Start preparing dinner for friends. I should, at this point, admit that I never intended to make it all the way to Monday, and that Sunday night had always been my official end point. I had told my friends I was hosting a dinner party this Sunday long before I decided on this project. And it seemed too cruel to subject people who traveled great distances to eat in my un-air-conditioned apartment to full-on paleo food. That said, to suit various food requirements I did make vegetarian and vegan options. I very nearly made a vegan dessert because my roommate is vegan, but luckily she told me she couldn't come before I bought all the ingredients. I instantly scrapped the whole idea and made a cheesecake.
7:30 PM -- Dinner time. I chose to make pizza because it seemed the easiest thing to make both meat and vegetarian options in. Final menu: pizza with sausage, balsamic caramelized onions, and goat cheese (meat option); margherita pizza with fresh mozzarella, fresh basil, and tomato sauce (vegetarian option); pizza with tomatoes, artichoke hearts, spinach, and mozzarella flavored soy product (vegan); Caesar salad with shrimp (brought by a friend); arugula salad with tomatoes and balsamic dressing (vegan); lemon blueberry ricotta cheesecake; almond cake (brought by a friend). Delicious way to end the week.

Okay, so I admit, I didn't really make it the whole way. Also, everything I read said that you shouldn't go cold turkey when starting the diet. I was mostly just interested in seeing how possible this was, and it did seem way more tenable than I would have thought. The main thing I learned was how easy it is to make a lunch before work which, for economic if not health reasons, is certainly worth making more of an effort at. Overall, I didn't really feel that different, but most people say it takes 4-6 weeks to really feel a change in your energy level. I did feel kind of tired this week, which at first I attributed to the diet; however, my roommate felt very tired too despite no dietary change, so now I think it's more because of the heat wave making it very difficult for me to sleep. If you thought this was at all interesting and want to see more paleo diet eating, check out this guy: He did not a week, but a full year of this business. I'm definitely a paleo diet amateur.


  1. Fascinating and funny! Very wise of you not to forgo good French cuisine -- you'll still be suffering over it. I am going to check out those other blogs because I think the whole idea is pretty stupid and someone must make a very good case for it or you wouldn't have tried it. Are you planning to make any long-term changes based on this experience?

  2. I think these diets are a bit silly too, but only because people have been telling Americans forever to eat more fruits and vegetables and less food from bags that is so lacking in nutrients it lasts for 10 years or so processed that it takes 2 minutes in vat fryer or microwave of a McDonald's to prepare and costs $1! But if the concept helps more people be healthier that's awesome! And yeah, go ahead and cheat, you don't have diabetes and 100 pounds to lose like that year long diet guy. In conclusion: vegetables are friends!!

  3. Frenchteacher--It was actually Alexa who made the best case for it, but if you read the last post of that year long paleo blogger, he/she makes a pretty good case for it too. I am going to try to snack on grains less and eat more fruit to stave off hunger. I'd still rather eat tofu than that much red meat though. Nevertheless, I think I'll try to eat more fish.

    Carolyn--Thanks for the old blog shout out! I agree with what you're saying about conventional wisdom over dieting for the most part, but I would like to cut some grains (even the whole kind) from my diet because I tend to fill up on that and then eat fewer vegetables.

  4. I stand in awe of your efforts, Susan! I could never ever do this diet. I tried to be just plain anorexic once to lose weight but gave up after 3 hours. I need sugar, fat and salt constantly!!!!!

  5. Thanks, Sarah! It was made easier by the fact that Chris hasn't updated his candy bowl in months!

    Have you moved yet? I hope you're settling in! Welcome to the Astorian dream!

  6. Interesting, well-written and well-researched experience presented in an amusing way. From one who loves and eats too many grains, my hat tips to one who made it through a week. Frenchteacher sent me the link and I've thoroughly enjoyed your postings.