It's January, the time of year when a lot of people go on diets. Eager for a quick fix, we'll try cleanses, juice fasts, and low-carb trends like South Beach and Atkins. But they don't tend to be very sustainable. And the trendiest of the trendy diets right now is the Paleo diet. On Paleo, you can't eat any processed foods, no complex carbohydrates, no sugar, no legumes like peanuts and lentils, and in most cases no dairy. They call it the caveman diet, because you should only eat foods that our big-browed brothers of years past would eat. And I don't think Fred and Wilma had access to ice cream.
In Seattle, there is a Paleo food truck, I spotted a Paleo magazine in Whole Foods, and there are countless blogs, books, and cookbooks, many of them written by people who are also Crossfit devotees. So I assumed this was just another fad diet. But according to Polyclinic Internal Medicine doctor, Greg Sharp, it's a super healthy way to eat.
"From a clinical standpoint I've noticed a tremendous benefit for my patients, as far as getting their diabetes under control, losing weight, getting their blood pressure under control, their cholesterol, believe it or not, despite following a high fat diet. For the first time in my clinical career here, I actually take people off their medications a lot more regularly than I put them on."
Dr. Sharp follows the Paleo diet himself and says there is no calorie counting.
"I think the standard, conventional wisdom dietary advice is to eat less and exercise more and follow a low-fat, calorie restricted diet and all will be right with the world. But, low and behold, it either doesn't work or it's not sustainable."
He said the only diets that actually make people healthier, lose weight and feel better are low or no carb diets. That fat is not the enemy and eating bacon is a-OK. For the Ron & Don Show diet challenge, we decided on a minimum of 21 days, since some experts say that's how long it takes to change a behavior.
"Is there something magical about 21 days, from a habit change or behavior change standpoint? I think that there's pretty compelling evidence in the behavior science and psychology literature that suggests that's more of a myth than a reality."
But he did say it takes between two and four weeks to lose the serious cravings and to start to really see results. After two days I can say that the Paleo diet takes some effort. You have to cook or at least chop if you're not relying on any packaged foods.
"This is not a simple plan to follow because it does take more planning and thought. But at the same time that's what we need to do to get back to eating real food. I wish there was some easy way around that. But there isn't always. We just need to get back to learning to prepare more meals and not relying on the freezer section of the grocery store."
Years into the diet, Dr. Sharp swears he doesn't miss crusty loaves of French bread or umami coated to-go containers of chow mein. But over here on Day 2, I'm pretending that my dinner of soup and salad and dessert of icicles and air was just as fulfilling as a big old bowl of spaghetti and meatballs.