Thursday, February 10, 2011

Paleo Challenge 2011

So today marks the final day of Pure Athletics’ month-long Paleo Challenge, a dietary challenge where you eliminate certain ubiquitous food groups from your diet and eat the types of foods our Paleolithic ancestors ate.

So for the past month, Elizabeth and I have cut out all grains (and grain-like foods like quinoa), dairy, beans and legumes, salt, vinegar, sugar, and anything and everything with complicated scientific sounding names.

And for the past month, we’ve been diligently cooking at home, taking leftovers for lunch, packing snacks of custom-made trail mix and fruit, and continuing with our daily lives as normal (which for me, of course, also means a lot of training).

When I tell people about this challenge, I usually get the following two questions:

Question #1 – Why?

I have come across lots of different people who take on the Paleo Challenge (or other dietary challenges) for various reasons: weight loss, allergy concerns, GI tract things, performance benefits just to name a few. For those who know me (especially from the triathlon community) will probably understand that I accepted this challenge because it was there. Swimming 50 times in 50 days, running to work and back, riding back to Squamish after doing the Whistler GranFondo – sometimes I do crazy/stupid things just cuz.

Plus, if I logged my meals and my workouts, I might be eligible for cash and prizes!

So, let’s address some of the main reasons for specific diets

1. Weight loss – well, I began this challenge at 150 pounds, and currently tip the scale at 146.5 pounds. This was one part of the challenge that I was kinda scared about when I started, because at the worst of times I don’t really have a lot of weight to lose (swimming in anything but warm water is daunting when you don’t have a lot of body fat to keep you insulated). Pretty sure that all the nuts I ate helped me keep the body weight on.

2. Allergies – I’ve gone through my life without any known allergies, and we’ll see as I re-introduce non-Paleo foods if anything manifests itself.

3.GI issues – see allergies – never really been a concern

4.Performance benefits – this is a tricky one, and certainly deserves a bit of thought.

How have my workouts been over the past month is a big question. For one, I’ve definitely felt more fatigued than in November and December, but that might simply be because I’ve been training more frequently and more consistently. I *think* I’ve been hitting my key intensity sessions fairly well, although I know that I’ve missed the convenience of multi-ingredient-easy-to-consume post-workout recovery drinks (in fact, my entire Sports Nutrition shelf has gone untouched for a month).

So, let's call this one a draw - workouts aren't any better, nor have they suffered

Question #2 - Why can't you eat (insert generally accepted-to-be-healthy food-type here)?

Okay, let me be clear on this: there are many foods that are not on the Paleo diet that I (and many others) still consider "healthy" - so long as you define what "healthy" means to you. I know there are many that would look at the quantities of fruit (full of fructose), nuts (high fat), and eggs (while shown to contain cholesterol, have not actually be shown to raise the level of cholesterol in your bloodstream), to be quite high. I personally believe that whole wheat grains, beans, and even yummy cookies have a part to play in the diet of active people.

So long as you don't eat an entire box of cookies in one afternoon while playing Playstation (yes, it has been known to happen)

I was also somewhat confused that coffee (so long as you don't add sugar, cream, or soy milk) is allowed on the Paleo diet - but hey, I'm not going to complain.

The Paleo Challenge (for me) was simply that - a challenge, where I was given a list of things to eat, and things to not eat. Call it willpower, call it stubbornness, I just followed the rules as best as I understood them.

If you've made it this far, you deserve some pictures. Here are some of my most favourite creations:

This breakfast scramble wasn't exactly new, but still a favourite staple in my diet

Take 1 cup of Coconut milk, 1 tablespoon each of Almond Butter and Tahini, heat in a pan with chopped leaks, onions, celery, whatever else you like, and you've got a delicious sauce that can pretty much go on anything

Chicken Fessengen - actually a recipe that my mom brought back from Iran when she taught there before I was born. Pomegranate paste and walnuts - yum!

I prepared this "Snowshoe Salad" for my trip with the TriScouts up in Whistler. Basic greens and fresh veggies and chicken, but unlike the salads at Whole Foods, it didn't cost $17.

So that's the end - here are some lessons I've learned

1. Don't be afraid to try new things in the kitchen. Rather than adding butter or sugar, see how coconut oil, diced apples, or dried cranberries can flavor a recipe.

2. Try to dedicate some evenings each week to cooking up a storm. Make leftovers to take for lunch (I've bought lunch at work once this month, and take all my own snacks too).

3. Cleaning the kitchen sucks, especially when you are using multiple pots and pans for every meal. I'm definitely looking forward to the return of some "one-pot" dinners

4. Fill your grocery cart with real foods from the perimeter of the grocery store. By the time I'm through the produce, bulk nuts, meat, and refrigerated sections, I hardly have room for the boxes foods found in the aisles

5. Absolutely restricted diets aren't sustainable for most people, but don't beat yourself up for slipping either. I hear about people "cheating" on their personal dietary challenges, but in my opinion thinking that way can be very damaging. As I mentioned earlier, cookies aren't bad, unless they're eaten by the box-full.

6. If there was ever any doubt, I am truly addicted to coffee. But at least I can drink it without cream and sugar

~ liquid

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