As I try to reboot my fitness via low heart rate training following the Maffetone Method, I have also now spent 25 days cutting carbs on the Primal Diet to get myself on a healthier nutritional path and hopefully drop some excess body fat. Here is an update on how the Primal Diet has gone the first few weeks.
TRYING NEW THINGS
Going Primal is not just about eliminating processed foods and carbs from my diet, but it is also about trying new things.
We eat quite a bit of Mexican food at our house, and I have been making weekly quesadillas since college. Unfortunately store-bought tortillas are not Primal, so I have been experimenting with alternatives. If homemade cauliflower tortillas sound disgusting, they taste better than they sound, however I could not get them to bend like flour tortillas, meaning I just used them for open-face tacos. There are a few different versions of cauliflower tortillas online, but of the 2 recipes I have tried so far I liked this one from recipegirl.com the best.
Another carb-heavy staple in my diet has been pizza. Pizza was my go-to carb load meal the night before long runs and marathons, and we are a Domino’s family. My mother-in-law is a Franchisee, and I work part-time for her. Jennifer works for her stepdad’s insurance agency whose main customers are Domino’s franchisees (see mydominosinsurance.com). In other words, we live on pizza in more ways than one here. Sometimes I make a slight compromise and just eat the toppings from the pizza and throw out the crust, but I also have been looking for homemade pizza options. So I used one of my cauliflower tortillas as the crust for my own primal pizza, and it was actually very good.
We often make fajita chicken (onion, peppers, Rotel and chicken) that we use for quesadillas and nachos. The fajita chicken itself tastes great and fits the Primal Blueprint, but I needed a new way to use it. Besides putting it on my homemade cauliflower tortillas above, I also made salad with it. I topped it off with salsa instead of dressing, and it was surprisingly good.
I stocked up on Pam Cooking Sprays (canola oil) a couple months ago during a Publix B1G1 sale (read my comparison between shopping at Publix vs Walmart), and then I found out that canola oil is not one of the healthy oils on the Primal Diet. Apparently vegetable oil and canola oil are among the worst things to ingest, so I have had to buy some new cooking sprays and oils including coconut oil, red palm oil, olive oil (already had this one) and sesame seed oil.
I also have been trying various ways to cook vegetables since it gets a bit boring just sautéing them in butter everyday, so I have baked them, grilled them, sliced them into chips, etc. I have even tried eating more raw, uncooked veggies.
The first week of the Primal Diet, which cuts out all processed sugars and carbs, put me in a detox state. I have never had a drug, alcohol or nicotine addiction, so I cannot speak from experience concerning what it would be like to go through detox from any of those highly addictive substances. My closest experience to carb detox comes from quitting Coke (the drink not the drug). I have given up Coca-Cola multiple times in my life, and the first few days always leave me with headaches, crankiness and cravings. I most recently quit Coke at the New Year, and while it was rough for the 1st week or two, the craving did go away. Over four months later I rarely consider drinking Coke, although certain foods just seem to match up with Coke perfectly and bring about slight cravings.
Detoxing carbs was actually much worse than quitting Coca-Cola. The pains and cravings went far beyond my head and stomach, as it left my entire body screaming for sugar! The 1st 2 weeks I was very strict about my intake of carbohydrates, the only sources being fruits, vegetables and 1-2 small squares of dark chocolate (86% cacao) per day.
Combine the drastic cut in carbs with running 40 miles that first week, and my body was basically in shock. Running felt absolutely terrible, and the hours following runs and upper body workouts left my body feeling deprived. My muscles felt like they were not recovering after workouts. You know when you have the flu and your entire body just aches? That is how I felt for a solid week, and it worsened after every workout. All I wanted to do was lay in bed all day. The major carb cravings did eventually go away, and now it is not so much the carbs I miss, but the flavors of certain carb-heavy favorites.
One unexpected effect of quitting carbs was the way it affected my sleep. I found myself falling asleep much earlier at night, and I was taking naps everyday. I do not know the science behind this phenomenon, but it left me with the impression that my HIGH carb diet often had me on a sugar high that disrupted my sleep and made me artificially stay awake longer than I should have. I have often had insomnia throughout my life, and it is normal for me to go on 5-6 hours of sleep per night. Without carbs it was like I couldn’t get enough sleep, and I felt drowsy and achy all the time.
These symptoms lightened after the 1st week, but week 2 still had me feeling sleepy and achy on lesser scale. I stayed faithful to the Primal Diet for 2 solid weeks before I cheated.
CHEATING WITH BIRTHDAY CAKE
After 2 weeks of very few carbs and nearly no processed foods, my parents came in town for the weekend for my son Sam’s 4th birthday. The 1st 36 hours of their visit I was good. We ate lasagna Friday night, and while the noodles in lasagna are obviously high carb and very processed, I worked around that. I pulled all the noodles from my lasagna, just eating the meat, cheese and sauce. I am sure the sauce is not perfectly Primal, but I was staying very close to the Primal Blueprint.
Then we had Sam’s birthday party, and I tried really hard to be good. While everyone else was eating tortilla chips with rotel dip, along with other crackers and dips, I just snacked on nuts and berries. Then we sang “Happy Birthday” and served everyone cake and ice cream. I had been debating it all week, but in that moment I decided to eat one very small piece of birthday cake to celebrate Sam’s birthday. Just as I suspected, one small piece of cake led to much more cheating over the next week.
The 1 small piece of cake was not initially a big deal, but unfortunately when the party ended and everyone went their different ways, we were left with most of a huge sheet cake at our house. I ate another small piece after dinner that night. Then I ate another piece the next day. Days 2 and 3 after the party I ate even larger pieces because it just tasted sooooo good.
My diet was still majority Primal during week 3, but that birthday cake really was taking me in the wrong direction. The day after we finally threw out the remainder of Sam’s birthday cake, it was my wife Jennifer’s birthday. I had my share of chocolate cake all week, but for Jennifer’s party she got her favorite cookie cake from Great American Cookies. This is also one of my favorites, so I ate way too much sweets for 2 more days. I have always had quite the sweet tooth, and my will was not strong enough to just eat one little piece of cake at each party and stop.
WEIGHT LOSS PLATEAU
The first 2 weeks I dropped a few pounds pretty quickly, but then after cheating with birthday cakes for a week, the weight loss stopped. It maybe even went back up a couple pounds. My eating habits were still mostly good, so I suspected that the daily cake was messing up my metabolism. The week of cake had me feeling more hungry all throughout the day, and even though I was mostly eating well, I was probably overeating. This makes sense because it has been shown that eating processed carbs makes you more hungry. I can say that is definitely the case for me based on this experience.
Not only was I eating lots of cake that week, but we went out to eat at restaurants basically everyday with different family members for different birthday celebrations. I did well at Cracker Barrel, eating just bacon, eggs and country ham. Chick-Fil-A is difficult, but I compromised and just ate chicken and salad (no waffle fries). The chicken there does not have excessive carbs, although I know it is full of unhealthy oils and preservatives. The same thing was true for Zaxby’s chicken.
Chipotle tasted the best of all the restaurants that week, but it was the worst for my diet. I ended up eating rice in my burrito bowl, along with some tasty tortilla chips and even part of my son’s quesadilla. With self control I could have done better, but I ended up eating way too many carbs that night. So week 3 was a bust for me on the Primal Diet, but I was eating well enough (plus it helped that I ran 45 miles in the fat burning zone that week) that I at least did not get back up to my original pre-diet weight. I basically ended up just staying the same that week.
BACK ON TRACK
This past week was my 4th on the Primal Diet, and I got things back on track. I have not yet eaten any bad sweets or restaurant foods this week, and a couple days removed from all that cheating, my weight started dropping again very quickly. I have really been loading up on huge plates of sautéed veggies this week, mixed with various meats and seasonings. My running mileage is a bit lower than last week, and I have been very full after meals. But I have dropped several pounds.
It is always hard to tell my exact weight because my water weight fluctuates drastically throughout the day from running and sweating in the heat, followed by rehydrating all day, but in all I have lost around 8-10 lbs in 25 days on the Primal Diet. That’s not bad considering that I cheated for all of week 3! For the 1st time in a year I have stayed consistently in the 170’s for multiple weeks, and I hope that if I can keep it up a few more weeks I can get back to 165 lbs, which was my weight when I ran PR’s at every distance from 5K to marathon in spring 2015. If the Primal Diet is a miracle diet, maybe by the end of summer I can get back to 148 lbs, my weight at 22 years old when I met Jennifer. I am rather doubtful that any diet or workout routine will get me under 150 lbs without starving myself, but I think adherence to proper nutrition and healthy exercise should get my body to its naturally preferred healthy weight.