52 Days of Paleo – Day 4

An overcooked Egg Cup.

Someone needs to make this easier for new people...

I am experiencing low energy still. At home at five o’clock, work done for the day, sitting on the couch watching the end of Stage three of the Tour of California, I feel lethargic. Not sleepy per se, just lacking in energy. I think this is still part of the process of my body adapting to clean fuel. I hope.

The thing I’ve learned most of all about Paleo so far is that the book I’m following (Paleo in 28 by Kenzie Swanheart of makes Paleo harder than it needs to be. An example, on the first day of my 53 Days of Paleo challenge, I followed a breakfast recipe for twice-baked sweet potatoes. It took 90 minutes to make. 90 minutes! Who has that kind of time for breakfast? The second day, I took the same ingredients and the first day’s breakfast and sauteed them in a pan. It took ten minutes.

I had been looking forward to today’s breakfast and dinner recipes since I saw them in the book on Saturday. Egg cups are scrambled eggs mixed with veggies or bacon or whatever you please baked for ten minutes in a small, round casserole dish in the oven.

I picked up two souffle cups at the store yesterday (they looked closest to the amazing picture of breakfast egg cups in Swanheart’s book). I followed the directions (break an egg, mix in some spinach, scramble, bake). I added mushrooms.

The instructions say to leave them in until the egg mixture is still moist but almost cooked. I couldn’t really tell when that was exactly and waited until the center rose like a cake.

That left the whole dish dry and hard and not a great eating experience. And the whole time I’m eating this recipe I was so excited about, all I could think was that if I just popped those veggies in some oil and scrambled in the eggs, it would have made a perfect and simple breakfast.

And I have a great pan to make just such a thing.

Two years ago, I got to visit the Santini factory with a client. Santini (the Italian cycling clothing company I am a distributor for) was bringing in clients from around the world and sharing new products with them. Over two days, as a way to reinforce their brand values and imbue a bit if Italian culture, they held a number of events and experiences in the local community. My client and I had the choice of bike rides and hikes, yet since we get to ride bikes all the time (and bringing a bike from the US to Italy for a shortish VIP ride is a hassle), we both opted instead for a cooking class.

Held at the nearby Agnelli factory (Agnelli is a world-class chef-grade brand of pans and other cooking tools), the class was led by a master chef. We learned to make Mostaccioli, a local Bergamo pasta dish. At the end of the class, we were presented with a saucepan printed with our names on the side.

I keep mine in its original burlap storage bag and let no-one else in the house use it. I make as many meals as I can in it. It would have been perfect for the egg dish.

I think the book sometimes takes a simple set of ingredients and tries to make them more special than a basic omelet by adding baking cups, or double-baking potato skins, etc.

My journey to Paleo is made harder by these complications. I think it is smarter to look at the guide as just that, a guide. Not a strict plan. Sometimes, I’m willing to invest in the recipe, in experiencing the meal as presented, with all the complicated prep and cooking time it demands. Most of the time though, I think it’s better to take the ingredients and simplify them - in the Agnelli saucepan of course.

Sleep quality: 82%

Breakfast: Coffee, black, sweetened with raw honey. Egg cups (eggs, spinach, mushroom, turmeric baked in a casserole dish).

Lunch: Leftover baked chicken with roasted broccoli.

Dinner: Pork steaks, roasted sweet potatoes, pineapple slices, spinach side salad with currants, pepitas, and homemade apple cider vinaigrette.

Snacks: Banana. Almond butter. Dark chocolate squares.

Exercise: None today.


52 Days of Paleo – Day 3

Is Paleo worth it (having a crappy day)?

Paleo at Chipotle; veggies and double-chicken only.

The meal I order when I go to Wendy’s is a number one; double, no tomatoes or mayonnaise, with a large diet coke (light ice) and either a sugar or chocolate chunk cookie. That’s a Wendy’s double classic hamburger, with cheese, pickles, lettuce, onions, on a plain bun. With fries. I never vary that order. And I’m good for a Wendy’s run at least once a week.

I usually eat Wendy’s in my car. I first remove everything from the bag, then rip the bag in half. I use the upper part, laid flat, as a tray for my ketchup. I use the lower part, propped open, as a trash receptacle for the empty fry container, hamburger wrapper, and napkins.

I eat the fries before any of the other food, two or three at a time. Ketchup dipped (of course).

The Wendy’s double comes wrapped in a lovely printed foil that is lined with some kind of waxy paper that makes a great lap-napkin for the inevitable spill from the lugubrious amounts of ketchup they add. It’s a solid and substantial thing, a dense and satisfying mix of grease, cheese, ketchup and vegetable crunch. As the hamburger shrinks, I dip the pointiest part into the remaining ketchup. The cookie is just a topper after all that, a bonus. I’m already full at this point.

I say all this because I feel like crap today. I have low energy. I am moody. I am frigging hungry. My mind has been on that Wendy’s number one all damn day. This idea I had of adopting an all-Paleo diet for 52 days was a giant mistake.

I went to bed hungry last night. I woke up hungry this morning. I've been plagued by the headache that pinged away at me all day yesterday. When I rode my mountain-bike before work, I was unable to summon the energy to push. Work droned. And even though I’ve eaten two of my three meals by now, I am still hungry!

After work, I stopped by the grocery store to pick up these mini souffle dishes I need to make a dish called Egg Cups for breakfast tomorrow. Walking the aisles of the grocery store is a monumental challenge to my will to keep this diet going.

But I am (keeping it going). Mostly, because I know that what I feel today is part of the process. My body is craving. It's testing me, waiting me out, ignoring the new, clean fuel in the hopes that I’m going to grab it some candy, or a donut, or that sweet, blessed Wendy’s number one.

But I am not. Because I committed, for better or worse, to see this journey through. And I've exposed myself to you, my one now or several future readers. You are the only reason I’m not erasing every blog post and tearing the top half off a Wendy’s bag right now.

You’re welcome.

Sleep quality: 61%

Blood pressure: 135/80. Forgive me for posting this today instead of Saturday when I posted my weight (I intend to track these metrics together). This is not a good number. It is above normal and on the low end of the range for hypertension. Of all the improvements I hope to see from forgoing those beautiful Wendy’s number ones, lowering my blood pressure down to an enviably-healthy range for a 52-year-old would be the most-glorious victory.

Breakfast: Scrambled eggs with Turmeric. Two strips of bacon. Black coffee sweetened with raw honey.

Lunch: Chipotle bowl, veggies, double-chicken, pico de gallo, and corn salsa.

Dinner: Roasted chicken thighs in olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper, and thyme rub. Roasted broccoli. Spinach and pear side salad with raisins and boiled egg and homemade apple cider vinaigrette dressing.

Snacks: Banana. Dark chocolate squares.

Exercise: 103 minutes of mountain-biking.


52 Days of Paleo – Day 2

A simple lunch; spinach salad, boiled egg, grilled chicken, pear, apple cider vinaigrette.

Squeeze the sponge.

I have this theory, backed by my standing in the family as the person most willing to guess at medical diagnosis (my wife called my know-it-all-approach to tell people what’s wrong with them when they feel sick, Doctor Medcroft), that the human body is like a sponge.

Not everything that makes it into our bodies is good for us. Or usable. We ingest minerals we can’t absorb, toxins from the air, water, and even from within the food we eat. Then there are the things we put in our body knowing they cannot be used by our systems as fuel; smoking and some drugs are obvious examples, but depending on how your gut biome and basic biology, some foods and other substances that are processed easily by other people could be handled by your own as poison.

For me, that’s wheat and dairy. I am intolerant. My body produces an allergic reaction when I overload it with wheat and dairy. Not a going-into-shock-and-can’t-breathe allergic reaction, but a histamine-and-immune-system response that elevates my blood pressure and weakens my natural protections against stress and potential illnesses.

The human body can take a lot of abuse, but it has limits. There are numerous systems in place in the human body to protect itself from the toxins we take on (and those that are the by-process of the dirty foods we eat). Liver, kidneys, lymph nodes, adrenal glands all play a role. Our gut is another line of defense. Toxins end up enmeshed in other tissue. Let’s not even talk about how crap gets stored in stubborn, hard-to-lose fat stores, waiting like little time bombs waiting to be released when that fat is burned.

Think of your body like a sponge. A dirty, nasty, toxin-filled sponge. What it takes to clean a dirty sponge is to repeat a cycle of squeezing out as much of the filth as possible, then filling the sponge back up with clean water. Repeat the cycle enough and you can get an irredeemably-dirty sponge clean as new.

Exercise, for me, is my way to wring out the sponge of my body. I’ve never been a fan of drastic and questionable detoxifying techniques like fasting, overdosing on water, or reducing my intake to some hysterically-nasty concoction of lemon juice and cayenne pepper. I prefer to wring myself out with exercise.

Exercise, especially endurance exercise, warms the entire body up, increases blood flow, and burns off whatever stored energy you have in your muscles. A good hard workout is like squeezing a sponge. Eating clean is like filling the sponge back up with clean water.

For me, the whole point of eating clean for an extended period of time is to clean my system. I want to be healthy. I want to be fit. I want to have energy. This is the promise of Paleo to me; that it offers a way for me to honor my body by bringing only clean, digestible fuel. I want my body to stop stressing over the crap we’ve been sold as food, and revert to it’s best, most natural and healthy state.

Sleep quality: 99%. 8.5 hours in bed. A bunch of time in a deep sleep. Although, I went to bed with the beginning of a headache and woke up with what I would call a mini-migraine.

Breakfast: Black coffee sweetened with raw honey. Bacon. Sauteed cubed sweet potato, onions, and garlic powder in bacon grease. Eggs scrambled into whatever bacon grease was left.

Lunch: Grilled Chicken and Pear over spinach salad with spiced cider vinaigrette. Looking back on the meal, it was excellent, but could have used some crunch; pinion nuts maybe? Or crumbled bacon.

Dinner: Shrimp sauteed in butter and garlic with zucchini noodles.

Snacks: Banana with nut butter (Almond - kind of oily. I may look for a better option). Dark chocolate squares.

Exercise: 90 minutes of road cycling.


52 Days of Paleo – Day 1

Right off, one of the challenges of the 52 Day of Paleo is the effort involved in making food. I thought I chose an innocent start to the adventure, a breakfast recipe called Twice Baked Sweet Potatoes. I bought ingredients last night and woke up excited to make it through the first Paleo meal on my journey.

An hour later, my breakfast is still cooking and I’ve not yet eaten. The potatoes had to be baked first (50 minutes). Other ingredients (bacon, onions, garlic) needed ten minutes on the stove top. The final step (adding an egg back into the sweet potato skin and baking it) is ten minutes in with no end in sight.

Planning. Thinking ahead. This is an immediate opportunity for failure. I could have baked these potatoes last night to be ready for quicker meal prep this morning. I could have modified the recipe (used the same ingredients but sauteed them). I could have, could have. Either way, this way of making food is a struggle compared to grabbing something pre-made or already prepared and throwing it together. Or, simply skipping breakfast for a lovely chocolate and sprinkles covered donut (sigh).

But oh crap, it was worth it. I am frigging stuffed. That sweet and salty combo was so filling, I don’t anticipate needing lunch. We’ll be out all day and I’m not ready to face packing and prepping food for the day so the plan is to skip lunch and hit a Paleo-friendly restaurant for dinner...

It’s evening now. The day is done. I took Keli for a motorcycle ride to Canyon Lake. We rented a speedboat and tooled around a bit. We stopped and ate dinner on the way home.

Paleo dinner - chicken and vegetables

The plan to not eat lunch backfired. My body is craving sweets. I had to push through that until dinner and even after a full plate of Paleo-approved foods, I am hungry. And it’s playing tricks on my mind. I’m going to go to bed hungry.

The lessons from Day one are to 1) include lunch in the daily meal plan, 2) buy some Paleo-approved snacks and keep them in the house, 3) I can eat radishes (I never would have picked radishes in any form for any meal but they were included in the vegetable mix with my dinner and they were amazing), and 4) don’t buckle to the never-ending mental chatter telling me to forget this whole thing and have one of the donuts my son left in the kitchen.

Sleep quality: 91%. I use an app on my iPhone called Sleep Cycle. It acts as an alarm that once set, monitors my sleep (detecting sound and vibration from under my pillow). Every morning, I get a graph that maps how long I slept, when I was in deep versus light sleep cycles, and which produces an overall rating for the night. The app tracks your sleep quality over time and gives you comparisons for bedtime, waking time, sleep length, sleep quality scores, snoring, sleep quality affected by lunar cycles, air pressure, etc. against general population data. It can also pull in heart rate and activity data if you use your phone to track activity during the day and show you the correlation between how active you are and how well you sleep. I’ve been using it for a while and find it helpful to track the quality of my rest and recovery.

Weight upon waking: 178.8. I weighed in today, to set the benchmark for how Paleo affects that part of my human experience. I’ll only weigh myself in once a week, and at the same time of day (first thing after waking up). If you’re embarking on your own 52-day Paleo challenge, I don’t recommend you weigh yourself more than once a week. Or, in fact, think of this as a weight challenge. If I follow the plan (that’s a big if) I expect to get a little leaner. That’s the promise of correcting your nutrition in this Paleolithic way. But if I make this about weight, I could be tempted to chase the number and make unhealthy daily choices to produce a weight-centric result.

Breakfast: Coffee, black with raw honey. Twice-baked sweet potatoes from page 78 of Paleo in 28, which are essentially potato skins made with eggs, bacon, and chopped onions.

Lunch: None.

Dinner: Half-baked chicken with roasted vegetables at Covenant in Scottsdale. Water.

Snacks: None today.

Exercise: None today.


52 Days of Paleo – Day 0

My last non-Paleo meal for the next 52 days - Habit Burger, double with cheese and fries.

I feel like crap. My gut is bloated and puffy. My joints ache. I sleep restlessly. I get lethargic in the middle of the afternoon. And I know that all of this is avoidable if I just ate better. But I love the taste of fast food. I crave all things sweet and cakey. I drink soda by the liter. And it 52 years old, these things are all catching up with me.

In contradiction to that, I also exercise frequently. I train on and race mountain bikes. I (less frequently) get into a pretty good gym routine. And I feel that I am healthy and fit for my age.

So how do these two contradictions balance against each other? If I exercise a lot, can I just burn off the junk food?

Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way. Crappy gasoline can gum up even the most finely-tuned engine.

When I’m not eating well, my blood pressure is higher than normal, I have allergy-like symptoms almost constantly, and I am prone to sinus infections. I get fatigued during the day, and can rarely stay focused and alert into the evening. I sleep fitfully at best. I also suffer more when I exercise; coming off a workout on the bike sore and tired and needing days to recover.

When I eat cleanly, most of the symptoms go away in two weeks or so. I’ve had times in my life where I’ve gone on a roll of decent and clean eating for a month or so, and gone from riding my bike in a group just hanging on to the back and suffering like a dog, to riding at the front and winning sprints against my faster, fitter friends. I remember riding on a group ride after six weeks on a clean-eating plan and feeling so good that I kept going after everyone else went home. I rode over 100 miles that day, A distance I would normally have to train for months to achieve. And I felt great the next day.

When I look back at those times when I have these rapid improvements through clean eating, the Paleo diet is the structured food plan that always works for me.

The concept behind Paleo is to stick to whole, natural foods. The idea is that the human gut biome, the human digestive system, is not yet evolutionarily adapted to modern food processing. Paleo strips your diet back to things that could’ve existed 10,000 years ago when the human being was fully developed, but it not industrialized food production. Paleo removes all grains, legumes, dairy, and processed foods from your diet. You eat lean meats, fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, and healthy fats.

the Paleo diet is the structured food plan that always works for me.

So I am fed up with myself. I need to make a drastic change. And I don’t want to just dip my toe back in, ear we’ll for a few days, tell myself that I’m feeling better, that I’ll be fine if I just have a one or two crappy meals, and be right back where I started. I want to see if I can actually stick to a Paleo diet. So I’ve set out a challenge for myself.

52 days of Paleo. Starting tomorrow. And every day, I will write about the experience and share it so that I have the specter of public shame over my head if I fall off the plan.

Today is day zero. I allowed myself to eat as crappy as I want. I went to town on McDonald’s for breakfast, sub sandwiches for lunch, and a double cheeseburger with fries for dinner. We’re going to also stop by a Sonic on the way home for milkshakes. I’m sure I’ll go to bed moaning about how awful I feel. But it’s all in the name of science. I need a baseline. I need a place to start so I have the comparison every day of how I’m feeling compared to how I feel today.

We’re at a Barnes & Noble picking up books. I say we, because Keli, my wife, is going to put her self on a similar plan. Although she’s vegan, so she’s looking for a vegan-based version of the Paleo diet. Together, we’re going to grocery shop, prepare meals for ourselves, hopefully, prop each other up when we lose motivation or get tempted to stray from the plan.

I picked Paleo in 28 by Kenzie Swanheart of I’ve been skimming through the prologue while Keli browses the shelves. It seems like it’s just what I need; a primer to remind me of the rules of Paleo and a 28-day meal plan covering everything I need for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

I’m excited to get started. What I hope to gain is to quickly correct the malady’s plaguing my body right now, get my energy back, empower my cycling so I can be strong and fast. To that end, I’m going to look for a physical challenge I can tackle on day 52 of the plan, a test to see if the investment in time and commitment were worth it.

I commit every day to track my general physical state, list what I ate, what exercise (if any) I completed, how I slept the night before, and any challenges of successes of note from the day. I also pledge to track my weight and blood pressure weekly. And finally, I pledge to post my progress publicly to prevent me from backing out for fear of public embarrassment.

Check in tomorrow and see if I make it through day one.