I recently had an opportunity to test drive a diet at the magazine where I work, Family Circle. I chose the paleo diet an dI was on it for two weeks. Here’s how it went:
Let me start by saying I’m from an Italian family. In other words, pasta and bread were like a religion when I was growing up. Since my folks were from the north, in addition to olive oil, butter was used liberally and, of course, cheese was on most things we ate. My mother, from Florence, used to say people from her fair city were called “mangia-fagioli”—bean eaters, so those were on the menu a lot. And don’t even get me started on the vino!
To go on the Paleo Diet I would have to give up all that—grains, dairy, beans, alcohol—in addition to sugar and anything processed or pickled, like salami and peperoncini! You might say trying the Paleo Diet would be a form of foodie suicide. Me being on this diet would be pretty much like dropping a giraffe in the middle of the Antarctic to see how it fares.
So why did I choose it? I wanted to see if I really would feel different if I eliminated dairy and wheat from my diet. I wanted to lose a little weight, have more energy and try to lessen some stomach problems I’d being having on and off. Plus I just love a foodie challenge.
The first week, as prescribed by the book, was all about getting into the right mindset for the big change. I almost skipped this part, but since it was going to be so daunting I thought I’d better take the opportunity to psych myself up. As suggested, I started a Pinterest board and filled it with images that represented what I wanted in my life; photos of activities I look forward to, such as hiking and open-water swimming; and favorite inspirational quotes, like this one from Marcus Aurelius: “When you arise in the morning think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive—to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.” I wanted to get a good night’s sleep and wake up in the morning refreshed.
The cover of Paleo for Beginners promises “117 Paleo foods you can eat.” Since I can probably name that many cheeses I like to eat, I knew I would feel limited and was going to want to eat as many of those foods as possible. In addition to more than the usual amount of seasonal (and organic) vegetables, my shopping list included some things I wasn’t used to, like quinoa, coconut oil, plantains and almond milk.
With no sugar allowed, I wanted to make sure I could satisfy my sweet tooth, so I stocked up on fruit. I went for snackable fruit, like cherries and berries. Knowing that I would be eating more meat on this diet, I was excited to try some of the game that’s mentioned in the book, including ostrich and alligator. Although a local grocery listed these items on their website, when I got to the store I found you had to special order them, so instead I went for grass-fed beef, free-range chicken, bison and lamb. Those meats were more expensive, but my grocery bill wasn’t higher than usual since I skipped all the chips, drinks and other packaged foods I would normally buy.
Taking a lead from the recipes in the book, I came up with my own versions. My first breakfast was something I’d never made before: plantains fried in coconut oil sprinkled with flaky sea salt. I had fun experimenting with almond milk, which I put in my coffee along with honey. I was slightly put off by the curdled look, but it tasted fine. I made a side dish of sautéed kale with walnuts and red onion, and had my husband grill marinated lamb. I made a cold salad of quinoa with toasted almonds and dried cranberries. I was so proud of myself that I started sharing my #paleo experiments on Instagram and Facebook, and it wasn’t long before friends were asking me if I was painting bison on the walls of my basement (inspired by Paleo’s other name, the Caveman Diet) or posting “What’s for dinner tonight, Wilma Flintstone?” on my Facebook wall.
As long as I planned ahead, I didn’t have that much trouble sticking to the diet. The challenge was being out and about, like when my daughter wanted to go to Five Guys Burgers and Fries and I had to eat my burger with no bun. No bun = no fun.
Afterward we stopped at Starbucks. I had a black iced coffee while my daughter slurped up her whipped-cream-topped cookie-infused Frappuccino. Also not fun. After working late one night, I was running through Grand Central and trying to grab dinner for the train. The only Paleo-friendly thing I could find was shrimp cocktail.