Inching toward a Paleo Diet: My Ongoing Effort to Eat in Balance with Nature

by Mark Miles

This blog post may seem to be a departure from my usual stories, but it nonetheless relates to nature through that most intimate and personal relationship which all of us have: our relationship with food. When you realize that everything on your plate originates from the natural world either directly or indirectly–plants grow directly from soil; animals feed indirectly on soil through the plants and animals they eat–it’s easier to understand how the food on your plate changes the way you perceive and engage with the natural world. Additionally it’s important to maintain some degree of health and fitness if you plan to do any amount of serious hiking, making the topic of food and diet relevant in that way as well.

With that said, I should explain that I haven’t always been fit and healthy. On the contrary, I’ve struggled with obesity, binge-eating disorder, and prediabetes more than once in my life, especially in my early twenties. Thankfully I have few photos to show of my obese former self, but if you could have seen me at twenty years of age weighing 250 lbs. with a 40” waist and the jowls of an old man, you’d realize where I’m coming from. Nonetheless, I did manage to become fit and healthy around twenty-four due to a complete reconfiguration of my diet and exercise regimen, and I remained fit and healthy from twenty-four until thirty-two years of age, during which time I adopted a gluten-free, low-sugar diet that drew a great deal of inspiration from the paleo diet.

Then in 2016 I went through a terrible breakup–which I’ve written about at length in a previous blog post–and found my self-esteem absolutely shattered. After Bobby disappeared, I questioned whether anything I was doing in my life was right, and in the process I ended up undoing a great deal of the progress I’d made in my physical fitness. Above and beyond anything else, I started eating refined sugar, which I had avoided almost entirely for eight solid years. At the time when I started eating refined sugar again, I rationalized my decision by telling myself that I needed a break, that I needed something different in my life, that I needed a change. Unfortunately the change I made was unquestionably for the worst.

From March of 2016 until May of 2017, I indulged in basically every sugar-laden sweet treat which I had avoided for nearly a decade. I started baking and eating pineapple-right-side-up-cake, brownies with chocolate frosting, and my favorite of all: chocolate-peanut-butter-oatmeal cookies. For fourteen solid months, I allowed myself to go downhill. And it wasn’t long before I started noticing that my pants didn’t fit as well as they used to, that there was the beginning of a gut hanging out where my abs used to be, and that even my face was starting to look positively plump.

Finally I woke up one morning in May of 2017, got out of bed, looked at myself in the mirror, and didn’t recognize my own face. It may sound like an exaggeration, but the fat which I was accumulating was easily visible everywhere, including my face, and altered my appearance so much that I considered applying for the job of Pillsbury doughboy. At that point I knew I had to do something, or the changes I was experiencing would have soon become frightening and irreversible.

So I cut the refined sugar along with processed foods in general, increased my consumption of natural protein and fat, and added a whole host of fruits to compensate for the loss of sweets. I had done it for eight years previously, so I knew I could do it again. But it was still frightening when I considered giving up so many of my favorite foods all over again. Fortunately some awareness of the paleo diet lingered in the back of my mind, and even though I had never fully implemented it I decided that I would use it as an inspiration for my attempt to regain balance in my relationship with food.

Amazingly the act of cutting refined sugar/processed foods, increasing protein and fat, and adding fruit was much easier than I thought it would be. It was also a huge relief. Within a week of my dietary reconfiguration, I was feeling more energetic, focused, enthusiastic, and positive about my life. I started losing weight around my gut noticeably within a month, and within two months my face was once again recognizable in the mirror. I knew I was on a good track, and I’ve persisted with that track to this day.

But I realized recently that I still have further to go. What instigated this was my reading of The Paleo Solution by Robb Wolf. I had the vague recollection of hearing about the book when the paleo diet started to become popular several years ago, but I never took the time to read it until recently. To my surprise, within the first hundred pages I found the motivation to finally eliminate three food groups that have remained in my diet despite the changes I mentioned earlier. These are dairy, legumes, and grains.

Dairy:

I’ve always loved milk. From my earliest childhood, I can remember pouring a plastic jug of watered-down skim over my prefabricated imitation of breakfast known as cereal. Despite having the nutritional value of a cardboard box and the addictiveness of a mild opiate, I loved that milk. Even after I gave up processed food, I still loved and adored whole milk as well as butter. I still love butter in fact. Until a matter of days ago, I used it to fry my eggs in the morning and make stir-fries on the weekend.

But the sad fact is that milk contains lactose, which is a significant allergen that can contribute to the development of irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis, and Crohn’s disease. Additionally most milk is derived from cows who’ve been progressively poisoned with antibiotics, hormones, and grains which they were never intended to eat. This invariably affects the quality of the milk and its impact on anyone who consumes it. Consequently I will now be eliminating milk and dairy in favor of coconut oil, which is incredibly tasty and stable at high temperatures, making it ideal for cooking.

Legumes:

A very close second in terms of difficulty will be the elimination of legumes, specifically peanut butter. I’ve loved peanut butter for as long as I can remember, but over the past ten years it’s really become a staple for me. The simple reason for this is that I adopted vegetarianism for a few years in my early twenties and needed to find a good source of protein from a vegetable source. But it turns out that peanuts–which are legumes–are rich in phytic acid, an antinutrient that inhibits the absorption of micronutrients in the gut. Peanuts also frequently contain aflatoxin, a carcinogen which has deleterious effects on the liver and can be particularly harmful to children. In place of peanuts, I’ll be consuming almonds and walnuts, the latter of which is rich in omega-3 fatty acids.

Grains:

Though I do love a slice of fried toast in the morning with my eggs, grains in general and wheat in particular will probably be the least difficult to eliminate of the three food groups listed above. I’ve already substantially reduced my intake of wheat over the past ten months, and there’s no meal in the course of my day that depends on it to a disproportionate extent.

The reason for eliminating wheat and grains is that they can contribute to the development of serious digestive complaints, including irritable bowel syndrome and celiac. Grains also have a tendency to accumulate in the lining of the gut, where they interfere with nutrient absorption and increase the likelihood of unhealthy weight-gain.

So those are the big three that I will be eliminating for at least the next month. I haven’t decided yet if I’ll try reintroducing any of them after a month; that depends largely on how successful I am with cooking and meal preparation using the paleo staples of meat, fish, eggs, fruit, and vegetables. I’m not a huge carnivore, so there will certainly be a degree of transition for me, but I’m excited about the prospect of finding a way to eat that’s consonant with human prehistory, physical fitness, and the health of the gut.

Hopefully this will also be an inspiration to you to attempt something similar with your own diet. If I could make a recommendation from personal experience, I would start by eliminating refined sugar entirely and replacing it with fresh, dried, frozen, or pureed fruit. Just make sure whatever fruit you get is free of additives, since sugar is commonly used to enhance the flavor of fruit, defeating any beneficial qualities it would otherwise possess.

Along with preservatives, artificial colors, flavor enhancers, and the above-mentioned toxic food groups, the presence of sugar in the industrial food supply demonstrates the degree to which agribusiness is intent on keeping all of us addicted to harmful products which do nothing but enrich the wealthy at the expense of health and life for millions. This situation is sick, deranged, suicidal, and downright evil, and it’s also ubiquitous in modern, industrialized societies where food is no longer an embodiment of our relationship with the natural world but merely a commodity for sale to the highest bidder. But this situation–as sick and twisted as it is–is also the greatest possible motivation to get off your couch, get angry as hell, and make a change in the world that your future self will be proud of.

References:

Aflatoxin,” Wikipedia, accessed February 8th, 2018.

What’s Wrong with Beans and Legumes?”, Paleo Leap, accessed February 8th, 2018.

Wolf, Robb, The Paleo Solution: The Original Human Diet (Las Vegas, NV, USA: Victory Belt, 2010)

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33 thoughts on “Inching toward a Paleo Diet: My Ongoing Effort to Eat in Balance with Nature

  1. Graham February 10, 2018 / 8:40 am

    Hi Mark. Interesting post. Well done! I’ve been trying to go much healthier as regards eating for a while although not to the extremes you mention but I have given up coffee and switched to Soy milk and am trying to eliminate palm oil for conservation reasons. These kind of changes aren’t easy though eh? Manufacturers are nothing if not deliberately vague.
    My missus doesn’t like the Soy milk so much which doesn’t help. 🙂
    I’ve noticed since we came to NZ from the UK that over time we eat a lot less processed food which I am convinced is great for health and I’ve even learned to cook a bit which is good too…especially baking…😊

    • Mark Miles March 14, 2018 / 3:07 am

      Glad to hear of your interest in eating in a way that’s healthier for yourself and the planet, Graham. It’s very challenging, and you should expect to encounter setbacks from time to time. But the important thing is to move in the right direction, away from processed and refined foods and toward fresh fruits, vegetables, and healthy sources of protein and fat. (Eggs are tasty, amazing, cheap, and versatile, so I hope you can manage to incorporate them into your diet.)

      Keep up the good work, my friend.

      • Graham March 14, 2018 / 4:07 am

        Oh yes. I have eggs in mainly for baking purposes but they’re great for when you need a quick meal or to add to things too!

  2. vronella February 10, 2018 / 9:39 am

    Good decision Mark. Having been a follower of Paleo for many many years and now go predominantly with AIP I know the benefits of eating a good clean nourishing diet with as little altered by ‘man’ as possible. I am healthier now than I ever was with few of the gut issues that plagued me for a good part of my adult life. Hope it goes well for you and I am looking forward to your future posts about your progress.

  3. Jane Sturgeon February 10, 2018 / 10:47 am

    You look very healthy Mark. Thanks for sharing, as this is helpful. x

  4. mariamayfleming February 10, 2018 / 11:18 am

    Mark,
    I read you post with great interest. I am on a similar journey myself and have cut out all grains, legumes, refined foods and basically all sugar for the last ten years. Maybe you would like tahina, the sesame seed paste as a sort of replacement for peanut butter? I also grow my own Stevia plants and dry for the rest of the year for adding sweetness to my food. You might find a lot of inspiration on dietdoctor.com a site started in Sweden but now with English translation. Many great recipes and discussions can be found there. All the best of luck and thanks for this great blog post. Maria 🌹

    • Mark Miles March 14, 2018 / 3:10 am

      Thank you, Maria. I haven’t tried tahini, but I haven’t ruled it out either. For now I’m trying to stick with very simple foods that are readily available in my local grocery store. And I’m certainly interested in growing my own stevia as well, though I’ve had desperately little time lately to devote to gardening.

      Thank you again for your kind words and solid advice.

  5. ellie894 February 10, 2018 / 11:29 am

    Very inspiring. I’ll be anxious to hear how it goes for you. Am tempted to try to make some changes of my own. Good luck! 😊

    • Mark Miles March 14, 2018 / 3:13 am

      Thank you, Ellie. It’s been challenging but rewarding so far. If you do try to transition to a Paleo or similar diet, I would recommend eliminating one food group at a time. It’s a good way to see which elimination provides the greatest benefit without burning yourself out all at once.

      Best of luck to you.

      • ellie894 March 15, 2018 / 8:20 pm

        Thank you 😊

  6. Carolina Vann February 10, 2018 / 3:18 pm

    I admire your commitment to your new diet. You look wonderful. Keep it up. Ten years ago, I had Radiation to treat cancer in my throat. Since then, I’ve been unable to tolerate most solid food, so I have had no choice but to live on six bottles of ENSURE Plus a day. That’s a lot of dairy, but the trade off is no refined sugar, no bread or pasta, and also no meat or seafood. Even eggs don’t work for me. Other than having elevated triglycerides, all my numbers are good, and at age 70, I maintain a constant weight of 165. I’m 5′ 9″, and I spend four sessions a week at the gym. Do I miss eating, of course, but the trade off is a healthy system, and a muscular physique. In my situation, dairy works.

    • Mark Miles March 14, 2018 / 3:18 am

      Yeah, there are obviously situations in which personal tradeoffs need to be made to sustain health in the long run. Personally I love dairy, and I may reincorporate some amount of it after a few months to see if I can tolerate it without side-effects. We’ll see how it goes.

      In the meantime my hat is off to you for maintaining your health under such grueling circumstances. Your efforts are brave and admirable, and I wish more people would take their health as seriously as you do yours.

  7. Cassie February 10, 2018 / 3:59 pm

    Good luck 🙂

  8. Kristin February 10, 2018 / 8:53 pm

    Wow, just a week to feel better! Way to go, Mark!

  9. Roberto Peron February 10, 2018 / 9:41 pm

    Mark I think what you are doing is fantastic and I support you all the way!! Keep going because health is highly important. Please keep us updated on your progress too.

    • Mark Miles March 14, 2018 / 3:19 am

      Thank you. You’re absolutely right that health is important. It’s what keeps body and soul together.

      Take care, Roberto.

    • Mark Miles March 14, 2018 / 3:20 am

      Congratulations, very glad to hear it.

  10. melissabluefineart February 18, 2018 / 2:40 pm

    Thank you for laying this all out so clearly. I’ve been struggling with weight and have been removing grains, sugar and dairy from my diet. I’ve also been having a growing list of allergies appear, which scares me because tree nuts can be a huge allergen. Hopefully as I remove butter (!!) from my diet, my system will be less inflamed and therefore less reactive to nuts. I still bake sometimes, with almond flour and stevia. Not losing the weight yet, though, so perhaps this is not ok?

    • Mark Miles March 14, 2018 / 3:30 am

      Hi, Melissa.

      I’m not a medical practitioner, so I can’t give advice specifically attuned to your situation. But it sounds as if you’re on the right track. I had also started experiencing what seemed to be food allergies, and since my elimination of grains, dairy, legumes, and nuts I’ve had much less of a problem. (I eliminated nuts after a reaction to almonds, but I’m hoping I can reincorporate them at some point. I do love nuts.) An elimination diet can be very helpful if you continue to have issues with inflammation.

      Wishing you all the best on your health journey.

      • melissabluefineart March 14, 2018 / 3:14 pm

        Hi Mark. Like you it seems I have a marching list of new food allergies, and I’m nervous that will include almonds. I still do a bit of baking, and almond meal is a big part of that. Hopefully both of us will get by with it in our diets, at least once in awhile.

  11. pennygadd51 February 18, 2018 / 6:11 pm

    I agree whole-heartedly about cutting out refined sugar; it’s a killer!

    • Mark Miles March 14, 2018 / 3:31 am

      Absolutely, Penny. Refined sugar is one of the worst culprits out there.

  12. Kelly February 25, 2018 / 5:54 am

    My husband and I tried this a few years ago and had great success. Had a string of really bad luck and tried to medicate the easy way–sugar, alcohol, sweets. We are ready to go back to Paleo. Thank you for posting and helping to get us motivated!!! (I love the book “The Primal Diet”–pretty easy to follow).

    • Mark Miles March 14, 2018 / 3:33 am

      Glad to hear you’re moving in the right direction again. It’s so easy to be sidetracked when advertising and junk food are absolutely ubiquitous in our culture. Best of luck to you.

  13. autumnoutdoors February 27, 2018 / 11:15 pm

    I love all of the information that you supply Mark.
    I tried going on a survival trip in the middle of Autumn when starting a diet. HAHAHA 😛

  14. PixieGurrl March 16, 2018 / 5:33 am

    Currently doing something similar, working paleo recipes into our diet and just trying to eat overall healthier. Sick of how being overweight feels and the only way to fix it is to take action.

  15. Diana March 19, 2018 / 5:10 am

    Great post Mark,
    Can totally relate to the emotional eating phase that arises post break up. Even if I initiated the break up, the guilt of hurting another decimated my ego and I needed to reward myself with sweets. Not that anyone could tell what my behaviours were at home… I went from super slim to slim and my pants only minimally fuller.
    I’ve cyclically been gluten free (gluten is just foul, for all of us …. for me it affected my bowel wall, reducing iron absorption) and taken on some wonderful paleo habits.
    Congratulations to you for the choices you are making!

  16. Henry Lewis April 15, 2018 / 6:36 am

    I can see you’ve been on quite a journey Mark. Being diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in 2005 while living in Thailand as well as being a vegetarian, I completely identify with your challenges and struggles. After lots of research and trial and error, I was able to regain my health and energy levels and have remained abroad now for 15 years. I’ve found the fruits, veggies, eggs etc in many developing countries to be much more flavorful and easier to digest, probably due to being naturally organic or free-range. All the best!

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