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How that primal diet’s going

Been two weeks now since I started that primal-paleo-neanderthal-caveman-evolutionary diet. (Someone really has to settle on a good name for this thing.) Some folks offered helpful advice and some asked to be kept posted on progress, so this seems a good time for a check-in.

To recap, a primal diet (primal nutrition really, since it’s not something you just do until your waistline shrinks) consists mostly of vegetables, meat, nuts, animal and vegetable fats, and limited amounts of fruit and dairy (depending on which “expert” is talking).

It excludes nearly all grains (a bit of corn and rice allowed, but no gluten grains at all), all sweeteners whether natural or artificial, lentils, and all oils and fats derived from grains or legumes. Technically, it’s high fat, moderate protein, and low carb — though since the idea is that you can eliminate all the darned calorie-counting, carb-counting, etc. once you’re eating the right foods, it’s not usually put in those terms.

I’m “going pure” on it for a month, though I’m sure I’ll modify it after that (some lentils and sweeteners will return, I’m pretty sure).

Anyhow, here’s how it’s going:

The Good:

  • From day one, I’ve felt “lighter” in some way I can’t explain. At first I thought that might just be a psychological effect. But it’s lasted too long to be an illusion.
  • My energy level has slightly, though definitely, increased. I find myself wanting to move around more, pushing myself farther and harder on walks through the hills without any sense of drudgery.
  • Although neither the scale nor the tape measure are telling any super-dramatic stories (couple of pounds down, half inch off the waist maybe), I’m clearly getting some shape back. The “cottage-cheesy” look is melting out of my middle.
  • Virtually every digestive problem I’ve ever had has disappeared. This isn’t entirely due to primal nutrition. The small miracle of discovering lactobacillus acidophilus earlier this year was a bigger factor. But the combo of the two is heaven-sent. No grains seems to mean no bloating, among other things.
  • I’m expanding my food horizons and doing more cooking with fresher foods.
  • One of my off-grid friends has pointed out that virtually every part of the primal diet can be produced by small homesteaders. No vast fields or specialized equipment needed. Just the right climate, soils, space for animals, etc.

The Bad

  • No comfort food! No crackers, no strawberry shortcake, no fried Cheerios, no quick-grabbing of something out of a box, no sourdough bread, no malted milk balls or Andes mints, no honey or stevia or brown sugar in my tea.
  • Similarly, none of the “staples of life.” Like pizza. Or sandwiches. Or Chinese restaurant food with “mystery ingredients” in it. When friends want to get together for a meal, I’ve now become one of those difficult people who can’t eat this or that. (Hopefully this will diminish after my month of being “pure,” but I don’t expect ever to eat many grains again.)
  • The first few days, I was light-headed and grouchy from being denied any quick sugar hit. It passed quickly, though.
  • Because of having no sweet or cakey things to top off a meal, I often feel hungry after eating, even when I’ve had plenty.
  • Many of the snacky things that are allowable — for instance, bacon, beef jerky, or a cupful of straight heavy cream (for the fat more than for the dairy) … well, I just cannot convince myself they’re long-term healthy choices. Others are simply unfulfilling. Blueberries? Fine for breakfast, but not in the league of a big slice of apple pie with ice cream. But what the heck. If you take away my Canelas (Mexican cinnamon crackers), I’ll accept a cup of straight whipping cream as partial compensation — for now.

The Ugly

What ugly? There is no ugly. I’m getting rid of my muffin top. And I feel “en-light-ened.” That’s beautiful.


  1. jellydonut
    jellydonut June 22, 2010 4:15 am

    I have given up on this one. Pasta, rice, bread and potato products have returned to my dinner plate.

    On the other hand, soda, candy, sugar, fruit juice concentrate and table salt have stayed out, so I guess I am at least healthier.

    For snacks I eat roasted almonds (ordinary almonds would be better but they taste like sand so I’d rather not) or dried fish. The dried fish unfortunately contains salt to prevent it from rotting before it dries, but other than that it is insanely healthy and nutritious. Loads of protein, and omega 3 too.

  2. Suzan
    Suzan June 22, 2010 4:52 am

    It’s very difficult at first, but the carb/sugar cravings do subside in time. Whipped cream on berries is a very nice dessert. I still use stevia in my tea, and for my whipped cream.

    Have you tried incorporating coconut milk into your diet somehow? (Smoothies, in entrees, soups, etc.) It’s delicious and filling. If you are still hungry after eating a meal, it usually means that you aren’t eating enough fat. We use butter and coconut oil for our cooking fats.

    You might want to check out the forum over at Mark’s Daily Apple website for additional tips to help with the negatives you mentioned. Good luck!

  3. Bob L
    Bob L June 22, 2010 6:28 am

    Not sure if this fits into your diet, but I find berries etc in plain, whole milk yogurt a good substitute for a sweet desert.

    Bob L

  4. Pat
    Pat June 22, 2010 6:40 am

    I’m confused about the use of cream. If dairy is so limited… is cream used just to get the fat? Is cream the only dairy product allowed?

    Beef (or buffalo, venison, chicken, turkey, lamb) jerky should be OK if you jerk your own and know what you’re putting into it. It should be lean meat anyway.

  5. Matt
    Matt June 22, 2010 7:46 am

    Congratulations on the nutritional change. Maybe the feeling lighter is because you body is purging the excess chemicals and by-products in the processed foods, especially the way we process most grains and carbs. I most definitely agree with eliminating the carbohydrate heavy diet most of us seem to live on. The Carb withdrawal is an interesting event, but normally it is short in duration.

    Good luck!

  6. Victor Milán
    Victor Milán June 22, 2010 9:37 am

    My congratulations too. All success to you!

    Might it be useful for us to examine our concepts of what constitute “healthy” food? A lot of what many people (and the government, and pretty much the whole MSM) call “healthy” or “unhealthy” is based on superstition that somehow become ascendant during the Seventies, and which science has largely failed to support, if not outright refuted.

    We have that “fat-is-bad” belief system to thank for trans fats, carcinogenic polyunsaturated fats, obesity, and oh yeah, a global explosion of Type II diabetes.

    Having been diagnosed myself with Type II in the spring, I’ve religiously followed the low Glycemic Load diet, which is similar to the caveman diet. Its rules amount to: avoid all starches as much as possible, no HFCS, and no fruit juice. Non-starch carbs are fine, including judicious amounts of honey and even sugar. Artificial sweeteners are allowed.

    Everyone’s mileage, of course, will vary. With necessity to drive me I’ve had little trouble sticking to the diet. I’ve kept the 70+ pounds I lost off and have slowly begun losing again, although even now that’s not a priority. And my blood sugar stays easily within bounds.

    I don’t promote low-GL as better than the caveman diet. I wouldn’t presume, and anyway it would be irrational; we’re too biochemically individual. They’re both observably superior to what the FDA wants to feed us in its “food pyramid” scheme. I only present it as a possible alternative.

    What I will suggest is that the best diet for any given one of us is one that doesn’t just help us lose weight, but that we can stick to.

    And, seriously (since we’re all heretic rebels at heart), why not reexamine our concepts of what’s healthy and what isn’t while we’re at it?

  7. Claire
    Claire June 22, 2010 11:21 am

    Thanks for all the excellent comments. Thanks Victor for the voice of experience on diabetes type II. You seem to be a prime example (along with, sadly, millions of others) of the perils of a conventionally “healthy” diet. You’re not the first person to mention the low-glycemic-load diet here; I followed some links provided by another commentor & it makes a lot of sense.

    Pat, I admit I don’t fully understand the cream bit myself. As a partly paleo friend says about what she perceives as some nonsense in various versions of the diet, “Surely ancient humans were boiling wheat before they were sucking milk out of animals.” Anyhow, in the version I’m following right now, a little dairy is allowed, including moderate amounts of cheese and those big, decadent cups of cream. I don’t think anybody is encouraging cream-chugging. It’s more as if they’re saying, “If you’re craving something for dessert or a snack, it’s better to chug a cup of animal fat than to yield to the desire for wheat or sugar.” And so far, that’s working out for me.

    Haven’t made any of my own jerky the last few weeks, but I do like doing that.

    Matt, I think you might have pegged the reason for my feeling of “lightness.” Whatever the cause, it’s a great feeling.

    Bob L. and Suzan … I’m definitely right there on the idea of berries and cream. And yes, berries and unsweetened, whole-milk yogurt are definitely “allowed” (it seems so strange for somebody like me to talk about eating what’s “allowed”). I’m just not sure I could face unflavored yogurt. Yet. 🙂

  8. Kevin Wilmeth
    Kevin Wilmeth June 22, 2010 11:44 am

    I experimented with the raw-foods concept at a point in my life when it was reasonably easy to do so. Freshly and unexpectedly single, it was a Good Thing to give my brain something positive to chew on for a while.

    I make no claim to be any sort of raw-food expert (some of that crowd is far more about The Movement than they are about any matter of actual personal health) but I learned a lot that sticks with me to this day.

    It was, by far and bar none, the healthiest time in my life. I simply ate as much fresh fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds as I wanted. (And I did.) Within an absurdly short time I shed an impressive amount of personal poundage, but what impressed me even more is that the weight stabilized after a drop, as though I had found my “natural weight”. And even better than anything having to do with an arbitrary measure like mass, the improvement in mental acuity and alertness was remarkable. It’s impossible to explain without sounding like an idiot, but it was real. And after about two months, I realized I had simply stopped thinking about “trying to stay on it” but apparently had been pulled in on my own.

    All in all, I was almost entirely raw for about six months. (It came to a gentle end when I met the woman of my dreams and a shift in priorities. Not complaining!) What I took away from the experience includes:

    – I think the raw foodists are on to something important when they advocate for the concept of altering your food (usually with heat) as little as possible. The closer to its living, natural state, the better. (They lose me completely when they go beyond that and try to make some connection to the cosmic one-ness or some similar form of spiritual chest-thumpery.) This strikes me as a sound principle that can be applied to whatever foods you may have available.

    – There is much among “serious” raw-foodists that can probably be simply discounted as bolt-on propaganda to an otherwise sound principle. For example, I still fail to understand the prejudice against natural meats and milks on any basis of body health; that sure smells like garden-variety political propaganda to me. If the “less alteration is better” principle is sound, then that means that my love of “as rare as you dare” meats (where I am certain of the processing) is just as valid as my preference for sprouted grains over bleached, dessicated, strip-it-all-away-then-artificially-put-it-back-in, processed foods. Dairy seems to be a little bit more complex, but again I fail to see how the principle, which seems sound in every case I’ve seen it work, in any way suggests no dairy on health reasons.

    – There’s a buh-zillion programs/plans/diets/systems/etc. out there, and many of them seem to have a nugget or two of something really useful in them. Unfortunately, in the zeal to sell it as a “total solution” for your body or, worse, your cosmik soul (sorry, I’m apparently on the space-cadet theme today), most of ’em then either get wrapped with a package of other junk, or emphasized so completely out of context that any benefits of the good part are lost.

    I suspect that there’s a lot parallel with your “primal food” experience here, Claire, and hope you have as good a time with it as I did with mine! 🙂

  9. Claire
    Claire June 22, 2010 11:56 am

    Kevin, so far so good. And I enjoyed reading your experiences from the raw foodies’ world. Kinda reminds me of the observations made by a friend who went vegetarian for several years. “The ovo-lacto vegetarians dis the meat eaters. The ‘pure’ vegetarians dis the ovo-lacto vegetarians. And the vegans dis the pure vegetarians. And then there are the fruitarians who …” and on and on. And they all yell at each other online for not being “pure enough” or for being overly purist. Or whatever.

    LOL, we humans are a strange, strange breed. I think this happens in every area of endeavor, but lordy, especially in religion, fringe politics, and health.

    You and Victor Milan got it right. There are no “total solutions” for every body. Just a matter of finding out what works for you. And that, alas, can take a lifetime.

  10. Winston
    Winston June 22, 2010 12:46 pm

    If yogurt is allowed…have you ever had greek yogurt?

    Well, my parents have gotten hooked on it and wouldn’t shut up about how great it is, so I got some and it turned out they were right. I have never bothered to figure out how yogurt works, but basically greek yogurt is just regular yogurt that’s been processed/strained/whatever about 3 times what they’d do with regular yogurt. Of course, it’s a bit more expensive since it requires about 3x as much plain yogurt to make thicker Greek yogurt. It’s thick, at first it’s like eating smushed up cheesecake…I never really ate yogurt because they make it so “light and healthy” these days that a cup of it is about as filling as a single junior mint to me, but greek yogurt actually manages to hold me over for awhile.

  11. Kent McManigal
    Kent McManigal June 22, 2010 1:57 pm

    I can eat a very primal diet when I am living a primal life, but force me into “modern society” and I want Dr Pepper and other junk like that. It’s about the only thing that makes “society” tolerable. Not saying that it excuses it, but that’s just how it is.

  12. Claire
    Claire June 22, 2010 3:49 pm

    Winston, it sounds really interesting! Unfortunately, the only grocery store within an hour of here is so feeble that I often leave without being able to buy such basic items as lettuce or mushrooms (they have them, but they’re frequently well on their way to turning black). So Greek yogurt? Well, I guess I could ask a friend to look for it in the Big City. Any idea where such a thing might be found? Or what brand name to look for?

    Kent … Yeah. Civilization. It’s enough to drive a body to pizza and ice cream …

  13. Clay
    Clay June 22, 2010 8:03 pm

    Enjoy your posts. As a type 1/2 diabetic I will put my two cents worth in (if you don’t mind). If you have a blood sugar meter you can see how each food affects you. The idea is to eat foods that raise your blood sugar slowly. My experience has been that everyone responds differently to different foods. For me, ice cream raises my blood sugar slowly( the higher the fat content the slower the response). Rice is the worst. In my conversations with other diabetics, they have different trigger foods for raising blood sugars quickly.

  14. Ellendra
    Ellendra June 22, 2010 8:23 pm

    Claire: For unflavored yogurt, smoosh some berries, mix them in, voila, the yogurt is no longer unflavored! :p

    As for greek yogurt, if you can find or make regular yogurt you can turn it into greek yogurt. Just spoon it into a cheesecloth or clean hankie, set in a colander and set the colander in a bowl (or hang the yogurt like a jelly bag) and let strain several hours.
    (I’ve used this as a substitute for cream cheese when making cheesecake)

    Kent, I think you just described that perfectly! Pepsi and pizza help make civilization tolerable.

  15. Ragnar
    Ragnar June 23, 2010 7:51 am

    I’m on that caveman diet. Haven’t seen a caveman yet, let alone kill and eat one. So far I’ve lost 37 pounds.

  16. Claire
    Claire June 23, 2010 9:54 am

    Ragnar, don’t worry; I understand those cavemen are tough and stringy, anyhow. 😉

    Thirty-seven pounds. Good for you.

    I’ve never had to lose that much. I’m always a bit in awe of people who lose 30 or 40 or (in the cases of two of my friends), 100 pounds. I’ve always been lean, but in the last few years have had to deal with an extra 10 pounds that sneaks up mostly on my middle when I’m not watching. The first five just comes off easy-peasy. The final five … I never get there. I’m stalled out again right now — same spot as always. I look and feel good enough at this weight that I can usually say, “Well, that’s that. Guess I wasn’t meant to get quite back to high school weight.” Which would be okay … except then when just five more pounds sneak back on the waist, it ain’t pretty and I have to start all over again. I’d like to get back to my long-time equilibrium weight (125-127 or so), both so I’d look and feel better and so I’d have a little latitude — so I could gain five pounds without starting to look blimpy around the waist.

    But losing 37. Or more. That’s a very big deal.

  17. Victor Milán
    Victor Milán June 23, 2010 10:21 am

    Ha! I can top all your weight-loss stories! I dropped over 50 pounds in less than two weeks. Seriously.

    I call it the “Almost Freakin’ DIEt”!

    You. Do not. Want. To. Try it. I am glad to have lost the weight; it helps me now, a lot. But no one’s going to do that voluntarily, nor should.

    In other news I think Clay makes an especially good point: we all have different sensitivities, and different things that don’t hurt us a bit. Most diabetics probably have blood-sugar testers. These are our friends, since judicious use can help us figure out exactly what foods spike our blood sugar, and which don’t cause problems with it.

    And yeah, fat is our friend, from a blood-sugar standpoint, as well as fiber. Both help slow the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream.

    Quick warning: watch out for low-fat yogurt. Aside from the fact there’s no point to it (or low-fat anything) for most of us, check the packaging. You’ll find it often contains at least as many calories as yogurt with fat -and worse, from my POV anyway, it’s often bulked out with starch.

  18. Ragnar
    Ragnar June 23, 2010 10:37 am

    I was just joking about the 37lbs… I could stand to drop 10lbs but that would probably require lessening my adult beverages on the weekends and I can’t have that.
    My brother did lose around 120lbs over the past year just by watching calories and moderate exercise.

  19. Claire
    Claire June 23, 2010 10:56 am

    Hah. Ragnar. When dealing with Ms. Density, maybe you need to add some smileys. I got the bit about eating cavemen. But …

    Oh well. Sometimes I’m a moron.

    Good for your brother, though.

    And as I glug down the last of my Bloody Mary (antidote to a 100-degree day), I sympathize about the adult beverages.

  20. Marlana
    Marlana June 23, 2010 2:56 pm

    Okay, this may be off the point of the post but what are fried cheerios?

  21. Claire
    Claire June 23, 2010 4:23 pm

    LOL, Marlana — fried Cheerios are never off the point. 🙂

    They’re just what they sound like — dry Cheerios very lightly fried in a skillet with salt to taste and loads, and loads, and loads of butter. Best movie-watching snack in the world. Better than popcorn. But … um, not health food. And definitely not primal. 🙁

  22. Winston
    Winston June 23, 2010 8:01 pm

    Well, it can be a little bit hard to find. The nearest wal-mart sometimes has a cup or two laying around, but if you go to an “nicer” grocery store like Harris teeter or Lowes foods they almost always have it.

    The only brand I have had is Oikos, just because that’s what I can find at normal stores (the hippiemarts sell other brands, but they mark it up to like $4 a cup, which is nuts). Honey flavor is my favorite. Oh yeah, and Dannon. Apparently they make it too, but I haven’t tasted theirs.

  23. Andrea
    Andrea June 23, 2010 9:57 pm

    I tried this diet (“way of eating” or whatever else you wanna call it) and I gained weight like c-r-a-z-y!! Let me say that, even before this diet, I never eat sandwiches or drink fruit juices or drink cow’s milk. I don’t very often eat sweets and definitely don’t eat 3 meals a day… it’s usually two, and often one. But I could stand to lose about 15 lbs. so I thought what the heck… I’d give this a whirl. Well, I “unwhirled” real fast when the scale kept going up & up. I felt full all the time… satisfied… but I also felt “heavy” or “weighed down” from all the fat in the food I was consuming. I also felt very unhealthy in some way… not sure how to explain it but I just felt unhealthy. I started getting constipated and when I would have a bowel movement, they smelled really icky & lots different than before. I dunno… I just did NOT like this diet at all & stopped it. The weight came off almost as fast as it went on so I’m glad about that, but the same 15 still needs to come off. I can see the logic behind it (carbs turning into sugar in the body & that’s the reason for all the diabetes in our nation, blah-blah-blah) but what I can’t see is that somehow all that fat that’s being consumed isn’t going to ultimately make it to the lining of the arteries and the colon! But hey, it didn’t work for me but if it works (aka: feels right) for somebody else, I say “go for it”!! Everybody’s different! 🙂

  24. Jeffrey Quick
    Jeffrey Quick June 24, 2010 8:08 am

    Here’s a snack food, especially good for Lent if you do that: Chinese dried anchovies. They look like little dried salted minnows, head and all. Gross-looking? I guess. But tasty and nutritious. Sold in your local Chinatown (sorry Claire, I guess that leaves you out.)

  25. Phssthpok
    Phssthpok June 24, 2010 9:31 am

    Some years back I helped a friend kick his habit of putting CUPS of sugar in his iced tea (pitchers) by replacing one bag of Plantation Mint brand in his brew (2 bags ‘regular’ tea, one bag mint tea)

    The result was not overly minty, but was just as sweet (with only a tablespoon or two of sugar per pitcher as opposed to CUPS) but also more ‘cooling’ on those hot summer days due to the natural menthol oils.

    Perhaps you could grow some mint plants for ‘sweetening’ your tea without any actual ‘sweeteners’?

  26. Dave
    Dave June 24, 2010 7:25 pm

    Check out as well, and his recipe section.

  27. Lila
    Lila January 25, 2011 12:16 pm

    I have found the primal diet to cause weight gain. Not for me but for my husband. We are both on the diet but my husband, who tries very hard to stick with the diet, has a hard time letting go of the breads, cookies, pastas, popcorn, fruit, etc. and winds up having a little each day. When you are allowing yourself to eat the high fat foods but give in and also eat those high carb starchy foods you set yourself up for weight gain. So, basically my warning is that the primal diet can be very fattening if you are not going to follow it religiously.

  28. Claire
    Claire January 25, 2011 1:17 pm

    Lila, thanks for the input. That’s something I hadn’t heard or particularly thought about. Definitely something to keep an eye on, too.

    I wonder, though, how much of those starchy foods your husband eats every day, to keep gaining weight.

    I find that I’m able to stick pretty well to the primal diet in summertime when cool, crispy veggies are a treat, but in winter when my body craves the “warmth” of potatoes, breads, and (my big weakness) crackers, I also yield to temptation. And blessedly, it’s really not fattening me up. I’m seriously primal at breakfast, and keep primal in mind, but do give in to ham and cheese on rye and crackers with cheese. I have gained a couple of pounds, but I’m still under my usual winter weight — and wonder of wonders, for the first time ever, the extra weight hasn’t just blobbed around my waist. It’s more evenly distributed.

    I know everybody’s metabolism is different. But is it possible your husband is consuming more carb calories than he thinks he is? Maybe also, rather than emphasizing the high-fat, meaty aspect of the primal diet, he could do better by consuming more veggies?

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