DIARY: Back on the paleo (diet?)

Long-time readers will remember that I dabbled with a lot of what is common-place now back in 2007/2008 – the paleo diet, Chi Running, and Vibram FiveFinger shoes (primarily because I live by Mark Twain’s dictum that if I’m on the side of the majority it invariably means I’m wrong, so time to change…).

Much of this fell by the wayside because I did not have the knowledge and skill, or discipline, to see it through or because I found the method to be incomplete for my purposes (as in the case of ChiRunning, which I wrote somewhat naively about in 2007 – before Tony made me aware of the deficiencies it had put into my stride – but that’s a story for another time).

Eating Paleo food, however, coincided with my lowest ever racing weight (65 kg, I’m 1.81cm tall, or 5’11’’) and overall energy levels and I returned to it in brief several times over the years. I had read “The Paleo Diet for Athletes”, a very enjoyable and easy to read book with plenty of insights to chew on. Unfortunately, I did not stay the path but that has now changed.

New Years changes

Shortly after New Years, Aoife and I “went back on Paleo” with the goal of being completely strict for 30 days and then allowing a few random concessions after that (e.g. saying “yes, thank you” to the cake offered by your soon to be mother in law!).  If you’re only interested in my results, scroll right down to the bottom of this article:

The West Hampstead approach….

After meeting Tony Riddle (in 2011) and Ben Medder (in 2012) and their holistic natural approach to training and living, the paleo diet became an interesting topic again. Yet, the two Londoners had a more grounded view on it: a) they didn’t call it a “diet” (just as they don’t like to talk about “work” but prefer “activity”) and b) they had a simpler rule – “if you can’t pick it, pluck it or kill it, it’s not food”. Getting rid of the word “diet” makes sense to me because I’m not looking to lose weight – to me its not a sensible goal in itself – getting healthier and performing better athletically is the goal. Having a good body composition is simply something “that happens”.

For those looking for some reading I found that Chris Kresser,a medical doctor from the US, summarised a more flexible approach to Paleo quite well on his site “Beyond Paleo”,  and it is more or less this approach I use right no. Chris Kresser labels it a “Paleo template” and one of the key points is “variation” (e.g. “we are not robots”). This mirrors the advice I took from “anti-fragile” – for instance, much suggests that while we are not perfectly adapted to eat meat, we seem adapted to “irregular meat eating”.

Food poisoning, flu and general health disturbances…

After my December with food poisoning, poor food over Christmas and a short intense bout of flu, I knew it was time to clean up my act. I needed only look in the mirror and the state of my skin, aged by years, to know that health wasn’t good. Chris Kresser points out in his “9 steps to perfect health” what the ancient Greeks already knew – healing starts in the gut (you have more bacterial DNA in your body than human DNA, so you need to look after the little buggers). So putting a paleo template back in place in my life seemed the best way to supplement the natural movement we practice with Tony and Ben.

Paleo template results

It’s been just about two weeks and results have been amazing. I’ve de-aged 5-10 years, feel healthy again and have reached my lowest weight in x months at 67.5kg. I also have the best body-fat measure in a long time (8.5% versus 11.1% at its worst) and highest ever muscle-percent (45.8% of total body mass). More and more muscular lines begin to sneak out which is of course great for vanity but mainly interesting because it shows superfluous fat stores are melting away.

Last year saw me having some stomach problems. All of these have improved greatly. Looking at trending, this is my lowest weight and body-fat percentage since I began recording regularly on 3rd January 2010 and probably the lowest since 2008. I carry around only 5.7kg of fat now (compare to 7.94kg at its worst). My muscle mass is actually slightly lower than at it’s peak (30.92kg versus 31.8 in September 2010 but that’s a small loss and I am definitely stronger today). Bones, water etc. amount for 30.85 kg of my total weight. Also the lowest recorded showing that perhaps I was always “semi-bloated” from too much processed food in the intestines (especially bread would be culpable here).

My most effective race ever measured was with Emma Cutts in 2008 (65 kilos and 6% body fat). It’ll be interesting to see if the Paleo diet will again “normalise” me around this level. My feeling is I could go lower even if I continue to increase muscle-mass through the natural movement and many elites have body-fat percentages of 2-3% in our sport, which I think I’m genetically well disposed to replicate (e.g. I was “always skinny as a rake” as a child).

Standard day’s food intake

At the moment a normal day can look like this:

  • Breakfast: Big bowl of nuts, raisins and seeds with coconut milk and some pineapple and melon or berries (alternative: omelette fried in coconut butter and made with coconut milk with salad)
  • Lunch: Hot meal from the canteen without any sides of rice, breads etc. Often – chicken with mixed cooked vegetables and a vegetable soup as side
  • Dinner: Piece of steak with salad and olive and walnut oils and spices/Thai green curry with turkey meat

Snacks tend to consist of small portions of nuts or an apple. As “emergency food”, I purchase “Naked bars” as they consist only of natural ingredients mashed together. My favourite is the cocoa-orange! I also take my daily serving of Beet It (beet root juice). I find that while this diet is much lower in carbs than my previous it does not affect me as long as I allow myself a spoonful of honey in the morning if I feel mentally drained.

In my next post I’ll look at the perplexing topic of “keto-adaptation”, whether it’s suitable for endurance and how the brain can seemingly learn to run “without sugar”…


Tim said…
What kind of portion size would you be having on the steak for example?
How do you find it for convenience? More shopping more prep times?
Renny said…
hi Tim,just this week, one one occasion I had a 200g rib-eye. At the other occasion I had two lean mince burgers (about 200g as well). But I don't weigh it out carefully. One day I had two turkey fillets, another just one for dinner. I find I do less shopping and am saving a bundle so far - a lot of the junk is actually pricey once you add it up! The food takes planning because it's new at first but once you're over that it's actually simpler because I visit less sections (I'm basically buying salad/vegs, meat, eggs, nuts/seeds and fruit). Where it can take longer is preparation if you're having meat and salad in the morning but i solve that by just doing nuts and seeds with coconut milk and some fruit.