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About what I've been eating

Back in January, I began looking into my food choices. Which I had always considered fairly good, but then I made the mistake of taking some jerk's advice and actually writing down what I was eating, and I discovered that my diet consisted of good food bookended by total crap. So it would go like this: HEALTHY BREAKFAST then cookies HEALTHY LUNCH maybe more cookies or chocolate or hell why not both HEALTHY SNACK which I should probably add chocolate to HEALTHY DINNER with some wine, duh, then dessert than maybe more dessert before going to bed because let's not deprive ourselves.

I began looking into said diet because I suspected I could feel better, and also I had one of those scary doctor's appointment moments, wherein they weigh you as an afterthought and you look at the scale and you're all WHAT THE NO THAT CANNOT BE PLEASE GOD HELP.

I was already thinking about the connection between food and emotional health, anyway, because I could certainly tell that eating too much sugar had a negative effect on my mood (and yet I couldn't stop, dear God no). I had read  "The Mood Cure"  some years back, and the author made a pretty interesting case about sugar being bad and fat not being as bad as everyone said it was, but there was all this talk about supplements and then I got sleepy or something shiny distracted me for a few years.

But anyway, there I was, feeling kind of gross from my post-Christmas cookie binge, not to mention my post-cookie-binge flu, so I began to do some research about diet and its effects on mood. By "some research" I mean a ridiculous amount of reading. I read books and then I read the studies cited in the bibliographies of those books and then I read more books that those scientists wrote and then and so on. (I highly recommend Gary Taubes' "Good Calories, Bad Calories"  and "Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It" Oh! And Robb Wolff's "The Paleo Solution.")

I was convinced that I should try out the paleo/primal diet, which essentially recommends cutting out grains and sugars, and focusing on meat, fish, and vegetables. Oh, and not avoiding saturated fats because the whole idea that saturated fats are the devil is simply untrue. If you're interested in the full scoop, you can go here.  (A strict Paleo diet, I should note, also eschews dairy, but I wasn't quite ready for that in the beginning.)

Now, if you've read this blog for any length of time, you know, because I keep telling you, that I'm a sugar addict. I like sugar. A lot. But I bought a shit-ton of vegetables and meats, I depleted our supply of Christmas cookies via my mouth, and I told myself that I would try this out for one week. Just one week! And then I could have a cheat day, and then I would tough it out for another week. And so on.

But a week passed, and I realized I didn't feel like cheating. So I continued for another week. And then a month. And then another month. I actually liked eating like this, it turned out. And I didn't see any reason to stop.

Now, I wasn't Super-Paleo, which means VERY LITTLE FRUIT and NO DAIRY, and for all I know ONLY ORGAN MEATS THAT HAVE BEEN FRESHLY TORN FROM THE ABDOMINAL CAVITY, GRAARGH. But I had definitely renounced all grains, and I realized that they held no real allure for me. I didn't even want pasta. And I used to eat pasta every other day. I liked pasta, my friends.

But I felt good. I noticed that my skin improved, and my energy levels were much higher. I also, incidentally, lost a few pounds. But while I was never tempted by grains (this was reinforced for me when I had a few bites of birthday cake at one point and felt like I was being punched in the gut for the next several hours), I had definitely cheated. With chocolate. And ice cream. And yogurt slathered in maple syrup. For instance.

Then I read about this Whole30 program, which was right in line with what I've been trying to do. And because I was already 80% of the way there, I thought, what the hell. 30 days isn't all that long. 30 days of absolutely no dairy (not even milk in coffee). No sugar at all. Not even artificial sugars. Not even sugar-free gum. Oh, and no alcohol. COULD I DO IT?

I am here to tell you that I COULD, and I DID. And I had no problem with it. I felt great. I lost more weight (about 15 pounds in all). And it was during this Whole 30 Program that I managed to get off of some of the meds I had been struggling with. It was kind of fantastic.

(My only problem was what happened when, once I was done with the 30 day program, I tried out some of the foods I had renounced. Because I never intended to shun them forever and ever, amen. I still wanted to live a little. (Except I'm done with grains. Especially wheat. I don't know whether I have an intolerance, or what, but my body has sent me a clear message that wheat is not my friend.) Anyway, here's what happened in my head, every time I tried one of the foods I had been pining for, however mildly, during those 30 days:

1. Well, this isn't as good as I remember it being.
2. I should eat it anyway. Because I CAN.
3. Aaaand now I feel horrific. I am a goddamn genius.

This has so far been my experience with frozen yogurt, regular yogurt (I really like(d) yogurt), several desserts, alcohol in all its myriad forms, and cheese in all its many wondrous incarnations, including -cake. Oh, cheese! I always loved cheese. It now is just disgusting to me. I'm not trying to be smug or self-righteous when I tell you this. I am mourning the loss of cheese. It's like seeing an old boyfriend you once were desperately in love with and now all you can think of is how he smells like something that's been in the fridge too long.)

So that's the deal, and I highly recommend checking it out, if you're at all interested. But I'm not saying you're an idiot if you don't, you understand. I hesitated to even bring up this topic, because I didn't want anyone to think I was judging their food choices. I realize this is intensely personal, what you put in your face-hole. I'm not saying that you should all eat like this. I'm only telling you what works for me. I like eating this way. I feel good. And who knows? Maybe it would work for you as well.

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Reader Comments (71)

Very cool!! I would love to drop some of my meds by changing my diet, although I know, of course, everyone's different. Can you give me a little more detail about how you knew you were at a point to discontinue them - did you do little tests by decreasing one at a time or...? Thanks!

July 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAlly

Ally, I pretty much had to stop the Remeron because of the side effects, but it was a necessary drug for me for months and then during the Whole30 it wasn't. Which may not be a direct relation. I stopped Klonopin and the sleep meds just to see if I could, and I could! Of course I did all this with my psychiatrist's input.

July 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAlice

This is a fantastic post, but I just looked at the Whole 30 program and am afraid I could never do it. No beans? No oatmeal? No cheese or peanut butter? Those alone make up 95% of my diet. I'm intrigued, though...

July 18, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterwhoorl

APPLAUSE! I've been obsessively looking into my dietary choices too over the last nine months and I've become super vocal about it...I just feel so amazing! 40 lbs lost without even exercising (not that I don't...but I didn't need to for the weight loss) and my asthma and horrible apathetic moods gone! It's amazing how much food influences our health...but why should it be otherwise? If you can put a pill in you that makes a change in your body, why shouldn't food be able to also?

July 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLilana

So, I'm not sure I understand the whole "no grains" thing. I've read several food/nutrition/diet type books and the message I've gotten is whole grains = good, white flour = bad. So it's only processed grain products made from white flour that we need to avoid. Whole grains should be good for us. So what am I missing? Could you explain why the paleo diet recommends cutting them out?

July 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterM

Your humility with talking about food choices is brilliant. Because it is true that you could find a diet that could make you levitate, and people would actually see you levitating, and still they would be all like, "Meh, I don't really want to levitate all that much. I much prefer cheese and bad moods."

Changing food choices WORKS. I've done it. All that stuff. Clear skin, weight loss, energy in abundance. Hard work with big payoffs.

I'm not doing it now...I don't even love all the foods (except wine, love wine) so much as I love convenience. And not thinking about food. Because that kinda gives me anxiety, which is as bad for me as the bad foods. So I've gone the spiritual route and started praying. I know it sounds weird, but it's working as well as the food choice thing. It's taken some time and letting go of obsessing about everything I eat. But it works. I'm just as happy and healthy and energetic as when I was controlling every little thing I put in my mouth. I just pray that the food I eat gives me what I need to do the stuff I need do to be a loving mom to my four kids and a loving wife to my husband and the best ME I can be and still be tolerated by the rest of the world.

Not sayin' you should try it, just sayin' it works. I never pay attention to what I eat, just keep a fair amount of good healthy stuff around.

Also? I'm very inspired by your courage to write about your personal life. And you always make me laugh.Thanks!

July 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLynn Bissell

cheese...? sigh.
i'm oddly fascinated with the whole30 thing - it looks like something i could try.

July 19, 2011 | Unregistered Commentermagpie

I recently changed my diet and have been eating psuedo Paleo for a while. The thought of giving up all grains and cheese (cheese!) kind of kills me, but I have a feeling my body will definitely benefit from it.

Bye bye cookies :(

July 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAnge

Everyone, I'm not qualified to fully explain why grains are a no-go. There are a TON of excellent sites that explain it in great details, including the whole9 site (home of the whole30 program), the Mark's Daily Apple site, and Robb Wolff's site. I know from my personal experience that quitting grains made it infinitely easier to cut out sugar.

Lynn, I find this way of eating causes me a lot less anxiety about food choices! I agree, anxiety and obsessing is kind of not the point--being healthier is. So however you can do that is excellent, in my book!

July 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAlice

Alice - so happy that you've found a diet that works for you! Years of working (and reading) in public health has left me with no doubt that food choices are responsible for many ills - including mental ones. You highlighted the addictive nature of sugar, the power of which is understimated by many, and touched on the problems with wheat. Many, many people have an intolerance to wheat or have undiagnosed celiac disease. Either condition can manifest itself in many ways - yes, including mental issues such as anxiety and depression. I have high hopes that your new clean diet will be beneficial in many ways. Please keep us posted as you move forward with it. Best wishes! Amy

July 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAmy

oops: "Years of working in public health HAVE left me...

July 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAmy

Could it be the sugar and wheat are leaving me apathetic to the need to change my diet? It seems like too much effort even though I crave more energy and a clear head. Can someone please just do this for me so I can get the benefits and then have the energy and mental capacity to handle it on my own?

July 19, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterkate

I'm a paleo convert, too. I have a ton of food allergies, (and allergy-allergies) and when I eat completely grain-free all the allergies I have to paleo foods go away entirely. I can eat fruit! And veggies! And not cook them to death first! I also have constant, awful acid reflux on grains. Grains gone, zero burning chest and throat. It's pretty awesome. Also, my toddler is 92% less a-holey when he doesn't eat wheat. Phew!

I'm with you on your style of diet evangelism, too. If someone cares, I can go on and on about all it's done for me, but I have no desire to be a paleo-pusher. Excellent post!

July 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKim

This is extremely similar to the Specific Carbohydrate Diet, which is sometimes recommended for people with Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. There are a number of cookbooks for that diet that I bet you'd find useful, and I've also found that cookbooks aimed at diabetics have great sugar-free and grain-free recipes.

July 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLeigh

I've been doing the exact same thing for about six months now. It has worked wonders and I love it. I do not, however, love that I can't stray without those terrible stomach cramps. Best of luck!

July 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterChristen

I read this yesterday, went to the Whole30 site last night, and decided to start doing it today. I found that gorging myself on peanut-butter-filled pretzels and Lindt chocolate balls last night totally did the trick for making me feel like I was ready to just go ahead and do it. I'm looking forward to seeing how it works out. Will I make it longer than a week? I hope so.

Thanks so much for the little push I needed to stop eating cookies for lunch and just dive into something better.

July 19, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterfindingmagnolia

Thanks for posting this, Alice. I've been experimenting with Paleo for about a year now. I avoid wheat and most grains and starches... although I still struggle with potatoes and corn. You've reinvigorated me! I also do crossfit, and I've never felt better, or been stronger in my entire life (I'm 36).

I noticed that eating sugar is a slippery slope, at least for me - small amounts of dark chocolate are fine, but anything else is trouble. One small "treat" and I've got sugar on the brain - looking for more like a junkie looking for my next fix.

I've had some recurring low level anxiety lately - your post makes me think that maybe it's because I haven't been very careful about my diet lately. Time to rededicate! Thanks!

July 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAndrea

Hurray Alice! My husband and I are in love with Gary Taubes. Like if we met him, we might fight on who gets to ask him out first.

I think we're on the same path as you are. We've cut out almost all grains and sugar (can't seem to get away from cereal in the morning though!) but I can't give up cheese and milk. I'm sure I'll get there but steps! I do feel a lot better and I love not feeling hungry any more.

I'm also trying to lose the weight that I've seemed to put on as I approach 30. Nobody told me about that, by the way. Like when you approach a new decade, your body approaches a new set of 10 on the scale : 130, 140, 150. 150 was my breaking point and the catalyst for the diet change.

For those looking for AMAZING veggie recipes, I have one word for you: Ottolenghi. He's a London-based chef who wrote veggie recipes for the Guardian. Best cookbook: Plenty. The photos alone will make you drool.

July 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKate

Kate, I am now back to the weight I was in high school. And I'm 42. I think cutting out cheese is what finally did it!

July 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAlice

Alice--this came at just the right time for me. I've been trying a bit of an elimination diet as well due to constant stomach aches/bloating and a general feeling of being tired and run down. For the past 2 weeks I have not had alcohol or dairy, and have begun to eat gluten free as of Sunday, so we'll see how that goes. I felt better within a couple of days and continue to improve each day. While I haven't eliminated sugar completely, I've cut back a ton--a Lara Bar or bit of dark chocolate here and there, and I still eat natural sugars like berries, apples and other fruits. All of these changes are adding up to a general feeling of well being that is pretty new to me, probably since before my oldest (now 9) was born. Thanks for the links--interesting things to think about.

July 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterHeather

Ok, Alice, you've put me over! High school weight beats out dairy ANY DAY. Checking out the Whole30 program tonight!

July 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKate

I have a paleo-like diet idea for your cat. I call it the Incredible Journey diet. You "accidentally" leave your cat 500 miles from home, then let her find her way back to you. (Don't worry, Bastet will guide her.)

(I'm just at the moment avoiding keeping my promise to my kids that we would do chores together when I got up from a nap and I'm SURE that has nothing to do with the passive-aggressive tone of the this comment.)

July 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterZina

Also, Lynn's comment made me laugh, because I'm pretty sure I would not give up cheese to levitate. Fly, maybe, but just levitate? Meh is right.

July 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterZina

Go ALICE! I'm a cook, by profession and confessed carb-aholic.
I went paleo/primal Easter this year and I have NOT LOOKED BACK. I feel a thousand times better.
I too think I must have had a wheat allergy, imagine an Italian allergic to pasta, and I already knew some grains were not my friend no matter what 'the professionals' kept telling me. I now surpress the urge to indoctrinate everyone I know, scream from the rooftops to tell them how much better I feel and how they really could feel better as well. Instead I quietly blog my paleo recipes and hope little by little someone will catch on.
I've been quietly reading here for years and I am just so thrilled to see that you found this on your own AND that you are willing to tell the masses. You and I both know the looks we get when we tell people how we eat and especially that we eat FAT sometimes.

July 19, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterjo

Alice, this is totally inspiring. I kind of half-believe in the blood-type diet, and am wondering if you are type O? My mother eats like this and is type O and has stayed the same weight for like 30 years...I wonder if it would work for other blood types as well?

July 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJackie

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