Tuesday, May 14, 2013

My uncensored thoughts on the Paleo Diet

I constantly get questioned from friends about "how did you do it," in reference to my dramatic and sustained weight loss in the last year and half. I attribute a lot of it to changing my diet and adhering to the Paleo diet starting last May 2012 when I participated in my first Whole 30 (adhering strictly to the Paleo diet for 30+1 days for the entirety of May) with Crossfit Palo Alto. Now that I'm two weeks into my second Whole 30 this May, I thought it would be timely to reflect on my thoughts about the Paleo Diet and why I still do it.

Let's start off by addressing the elephant in the room: do I buy into the anthropological philosophy behind the Paleo diet? Absolutely not. If you've heard about the Paleo diet before, you've probably heard that it's a diet where we only eat foods our ancestors ate because that's what our bodies are evolutionarily designed to eat. As such, the Paleo diet does not allow any processed foods (including processed cooking oils), no grains (pre-agriculture), no dairy (pre-domesticated cows), and no sugar. I can buy that... but then, the Paleo diet throws in other rules that I find a bit arbitrary, such as no legumes (including soy or peanuts) or white potatoes. Most critics tend to question the validity of our knowledge of the actual Paleolithic-era diet. In this regard, I tend to agree with the critics. I know nothing about how Paleolithic-era people ate, and frankly, I don't think anyone can legitimately say for sure that they do, so I'm not sure we can accurately reflect a paleolithic-era diet. Then, it begs the question, if I don't believe in the basic idea of the Paleo diet that gives it the namesake, why am I still Paleo?

I've stayed with the Paleo diet, because for me, the point of the Paleo diet isn't to eat what we're evolutionarily adapted to eat, but instead, self-empowerment to make healthy decisions regarding what we eat. That's the real reason I do Paleo. I originally did Whole 30 just because I felt like I had nothing to lose in trying it. I didn't know when I embarked on it last year that it would entirely change my life by changing my relationship with food.

Being strict Paleo for a month changed my eating habits dramatically. In order to adhere to the diet's strict and seemingly odd rules, I had to do several things: 1) Plan my meals so I always had compliant foods available, 2) Prepare my own meals using fresh ingredients, 3) Be extremely conscious of what was in the foods I was purchasing to ensure there were no forbidden ingredients/chemicals, and 4) Exercise self-control. For me, I think these were the benefits of doing a Whole 30. By adhering to these rules for a month, I learned how to be an active participant when choosing what to eat in order to stick to the diet. It was no longer about eating what was around, but eating what I wanted to eat. This meant turning away food and alcohol all the time, not being shy at restaurants to control what I was eating, and checking everything I buy at a supermarket to make sure the ingredients I was using were Paleo compliant. I had gotten so used to these habits, that even after my Whole 30, it became common place for me to try and make smart decisions. At restaurants, I still customize dishes so they are as healthy as possible, such as switching out french fries for a side of vegetables. I still say no to random junk food sitting around and don't eat it just because it is available. I still plan and prepare my meals. The Paleo diet provided me a structure to develop these healthy habits.

You'll see lots of claims on the web about the Paleo diet leading to better sleep, more energy, more normalized insulin levels, less inflammation, and other health claims. I'll get back to you on that. At this point, I don't know if the composition of the Paleo diet is what makes it healthy, and I'm trying to do some reading to make my own informed opinion. However, I do know that I still believe in the Paleo diet because it is what I used to become an active participant in my diet that resulted in jump starting and sustaining my journey towards a healthy lifestyle.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Traveling Healthy Strategy 3: Breakfast is the Most Important Meal of the Day...

Most of the people around me have gotten used to my strict diet, but part of having a sustainable lifestyle change is making your lifestyle reasonable. That means, there has to be times that you allow yourself to let loose, enjoy life, and in doing so, you improve your own mental satisfaction with your lifestyle choice and improve chances for long term sustainability. That's exactly what I did in Taiwan, I allowed myself to enjoy myself and let loose, not for every meal, but moreso than I usually would for my own mental health. Here are my recommendations for things worth trying, even if it isn't Paleo, if you ever find yourself in Taiwan, and also a post to show I'm not a paleo robot

Front Counter and menu at 阜杭豆漿

Stairs leading up to 阜杭豆漿, and line coming out door on weekends
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and Taiwanese breakfast is particularly special. My favorite spot for Taiwanese breakfast in Taipei is 阜杭豆漿, (2樓之28No. 108號, Section 1, Zhōngxiào East Rd, go to Shandao Temple Station, take Exit 5, turn right on Shaoxing St, and you'll see stairs like the one in the picture, and if you go on a weekend a line out the door. Go up to 2nd floor. Hours are 5:30am - 12:30pm.) A picture of a typical Taiwanese breakfast is below. The sweet variety (豆漿, tian doe jiang) comes in cold (reng), warm (woon) or hot (ru), and the salty variety (咸豆漿) is always hot, and includes fried dough, pickled vegetables, and other goodies (the top bowl on the right). Next to that is a egg biscuit (餅, dan bing), which is kinda like a rolled egg pancake. To the left is a rice ball (飯糰, fan tuan) filled with fried dough, pickled vegetables, and shredded meat. To the left of that is the fried dough that's being used in everything else, called literally "oil stick" (油條, yo tiao). Finally in the middle is a thick biscuit with egg in the middle (you can also get it with...surprised, fried dough... see I made some healthy decisions by using egg instead of fried dough? yeah?) (加蛋, ho bing jia dan (egg) or 油條, ho bing jia yo tiao). Anyways, I added the chinese and my version of phonetics to help people order, but in the end, I would highly recommend playing dumb, pointing, and using English, someone will help you, Taiwanese people are quite friendly.

Typical Taiwanese Breakfast
Ok, I'm going to keep these "Traveling Healthy Strategies" going, but after a short break. I might want to call them "Traveling (un)Healthy Strategies" as I keep going because as time went on, I found that my rules just got laxer and laxer... and though I didn't gain much weight during the trip because the portions in Taiwan were smaller, when I came back to the U.S., I had lost a lot of my self-discipline. I just went crazy. I had a hard time saying no to anything, and would have tons of desserts all the time and unhealthy foods. It wasn't so much not being Paleo while traveling, it was coming back after losing my ability to self-regulate, and then being surrounded by tons of unhealthy American food waiting to be gorged on in huge portions. And for that reason, I am embarking on a Whole 30 again in May with Crossfit Palo Alto and will blog about that first in as much realtime as I can... and THEN, I think we should go back to fun foods in my month of earned indulgence.