Today is the end of my experiment called “No-fucking-up-vember.” And it was a success!
Last Thursday was Thanksgiving and sparing dessert, I stayed full paleo, enjoying turkey, ham, collard greens, cranberry sauce, and sweet potato casserole. I was really happy with how everything turned out–it was way better than Thanksgiving food I’ve had in the past.
I’m going to do a fairly lengthy breakdown in this article, explaining what my take-away was and covering some questions and things that might be helpful to you if you should want to try this experiment for yourself.
How I’m Feeling After a Month
I lost 5 pounds total, my body fat dropped from 19.4% to 18.1%. My skin feels a tiny bit softer. My skin’s appearance… it’s hard for me to say if it looks any different. I took a photo every day in the same light… some days it looked better than other days.
My immune system seems to be better than ever. While others around me are getting sick with colds and flu, I’ve been not even slightly ill or even on the verge of illness.
I feel happier and less stressed. My concentration is improved. On some days, I have more energy than I have had before. Every now and then, I still have days where I feel kind of sluggish, I won’t lie, but those days are a bit more spread out than they used to be.
I don’t have as much DOMS after intense Crossfit workouts as I used to.
I’m posting before and after photos but honestly, I don’t think I look much different… my body fluctuates a bit from day to day… and my body was in excellent shape before this experiment.
Before any CrossFit, April 2014 (a little over 1 month before I started CrossFit–weight around 123 pounds, not sure about body fat or muscle composition but if I had to eyeball it, probably BF 20-20.5% and muscle 32-33%):
Before experiment, During CrossFit, October 2014 (about 3 weeks before this experiment, weight 124 pounds, body fat between 19.2-19.6% and muscle 34.2%):
(I know people are probably wondering what kind of weird asshole I am standing around in hotel rooms taking muscle flexing mirror selfies… and the answer is: the most awesome asshole)
November 30th, after experiment (weight 119.5 pounds, BF 18.1%, Muscle: 34.6%):
Sadly, I didn’t have any penguins to close out my “after” with.
Obviously, CrossFit is the biggest contributor to change, but the month of paleo and those other rules, I see more muscle definition on the whole (namely in my quads , a tiny bit in my abs). In general, I find it unfathomable how people lose enough body fat to get those crazy “six pack” abs that you see on fitness magazine covers.
My thoughts on “diets”, Paleo, and health before this experiment
It wasn’t obvious to me when I started all of this just how bad my previous diet and lifestyle was. I might have thought, “Oh, I eat plenty of vegetables!” because I had broccoli with my lunch or diced tomatoes played a role in my dinner. It’s also easy to use relative comparison to think you’re doing okay. We all know someone whose diet is the worst, who eats junk and fast food all the time, and it’s easy to think, “My diet is so healthy in comparison to theirs.”
It also doesn’t help that our society stigmatizes the word diet and associates it with eating small salads and under-eating. To be concerned with your “diet,” people assume you must have a weight problem or are concerned with short term goals rather than caring about the big picture: your long-term health. I’ve been pretty skinny my whole life, severely underweight at times even, so no one has ever pressured me to care about my health as much, and so I had no idea just how bad I was.
Foods You’re Going to Want to Try
- Sweet potato hash – I made this every Saturday morning, it was that good. It takes a bit of time so it’s not something you’d want to make on a weekday before work, but if you’re not feeding a whole family, you’ll probably have leftovers anyway (or you can double the recipe and definitely have leftovers!). The sausage can easily be subbed with chorizo, turkey sausage, or bacon. Made as is, it feeds 2 people hearty portions with about 2 servings of leftovers.Pro-tip: Skip the step to caramelize the onions to save yourself a lot of time. This recipe works just fine if you sauté them with the sausage.
Curried cauliflower soup - “I’m eating cauliflower? Really? REALLY?” This is a very filling, thick soup. It’s especially great if you have guests or children who are picky eaters because you can very easily play up the flavor with a bit more pepper or add some garlic.
Roasted red pepper and tomato soup - It tastes exactly what it sounds like. Not much effort either. You basically bake ingredients for 35 minutes… then puree them in a food processor and you’re done. As a leftover soup, it turned into a great cold gazpacho that even Barney Gumble wouldn’t tell you to go back to Russia over. Served hot, it kind of reminds me of eating tomato soup as a comfort food on a cold winter day.
Lemon zest poppyseed pancakes – I subbed chia seeds for poppy seeds because who the hell has poppyseeds laying around? Had a sweet lemon flavor to them, not that kind of savory eggy taste that pancakes often have. This also taught me to step up my pancake-making game by no longer committing all the grievous sins of pancake-making.
Baked mediterranean chicken – sundried tomatoes, olives, garlic, and onion? Yase. I don’t normally like eating baked chicken… the texture always seems a bit stringy and flavorless than I want, but this is packed with flavor.
Home-made cranberry sauce – I test ran this a few times, experimented with different ingredients, and turned my kitchen into a science lab to get it just right. Playing with food outside of the context of someone else’s recipe really taught me how to balance flavor. This will make you want to eat cranberries outside of Thanksgiving dinner.
Baked apple slices – So little effort. Slice, core, apply cinnamon, bake.
Home-made ketchup – Not much to say, it’s ketchup but it doesn’t have HFCS in it.
Rosemary and onion sweet potato tater tots – Goes really well with aforementioned ketchup.
Roasted butternut squash soup — The butternut squash and apple in this makes it feel like you’re eating a dessert but you’re actually eating a very healthy, filling, nutritious soup. This is seriously the best soup I’ve ever had.
Things I Didn’t Like Too Much That Kept Popping Up
- “Faux” anything — Faux rice from cauliflower. Zuccheti (spaghetti made from zucchini). Almost anything trying to imitate bread. The only exception here was a garlic stick recipe… but even that was slightly more crumbly than I’d like. Basically, recipes like these just make you feel like you’re on a diet by reminding you that the thing you’re eating really is a poor representation of what the actual thing tastes like. My suggestion: If you miss rice, bread, or spaghetti so much—eat them for your cheat meal. And yes, do give yourself cheat meals. Cheat meals, not cheat days.
- Paleo thai red curry — It wasn’t outright disgusting, but it just had a subtle underflavor that made me feel like I was licking someone’s butthole. Which is not something I want to associate with food. You’d think it’d work well because … coconut… and Thai food… but… no.
- Breakfast pizza — It had coconut flour for crust. Even with garlic powder mixed in, it was gross. If you fancy yourself a pizza connoisseur, I guarantee you will not like this. Pizza is so much about the crust and you just cannot imitate that with coconut flour.
Things You Will Need
You only need minimum basics for cooking BUT I found a few things made it much easier:
- An immersion blender. — great for quick blending soups, batter, and mid-day snack shakes quickly with almost no clean-up involved.
- A low-cost food processor. — your recipe calls for diced onion, peppers, carrots, and garlic? Agh. Slice it and pulse it and save yourself like… 15 minutes of dicing.
- A couple of chef’s knives and a paring knife. — I mean, do I need to explain? You need to be able to cut things. The knives I got were impressively sharp for their cost. I already had a low-cost IKEA knife too, so you don’t need some fancy full set from Williams-Sonoma to chop up a butternut squash.
- A vegetable peeler. — I really cannot imagine peeling a sweet potato without one of these anymore.
- If you want to cook batches, a stock pot. — Mine is comically large and kind of a PITA to wash in my sink, but I use it pretty infrequently.
You shouldn’t really need much more than this, tool-wise. Each of those is a link to the exact thing I use, all of which are cheap and work well. These should be affordable even if you are on a budget. The immersion blender isn’t as much of a must as the others (you can technically use your food processor), but it’ll save you a ton of time.
I keep on-hand supplies of:
- Chili powder
- Madras curry
- Sea salt
- Black pepper
- Red pepper flakes
These things play huge and heavy roles in a lot of dishes—save maybe one or two of those, you probably already have these things in your spice rack because they’re just cooking staples. I bought a rosemary plant. Ordinarily I would have mint and basil plants around but the weather hasn’t been too kind on either in my house so I usually just buy those on demand. If anything, you absolutely need sea salt and black pepper. Your food will taste bland and uninspired without these (common sense to most people, I know).
You will also want to buy: coconut flour, almond flour, and coconut oil. These things will last you weeks despite how often you use them, I swear. There will be an initial sticker shock in price of food (your grocery bill for the first week might suddenly be $200) but understand that this is just a base cost (mine was eventually down to $50-70 a week and I buy all organic). The cool thing is… you will have a lot of control over your food budget suddenly once you start planning and having leftovers. If I really, really tried, I could probably get my all-organic food budget down to $30 a week, but it’s not a huge concern of mine so…
The best part is that your grocery cart will look crazy simplistic.
Would I recommend my rules to others?
This is a hard question! Mostly because all of my rules sort of tie together—that’s the reason I made them. I’ll go through the original list and explain:
1. Drink a gallon of water a day.
I don’t know that I would recommend a gallon of water a day to everyone. I know that sounds weird, like, “Aimee what could it hurt?” but I think drinking half your weight in ounces is fine enough. I found drinking that much water, all it did was make me pee a ton and often the pee was totally clear instead of faintly yellow (which means it’s not actually helping my body at all). Basically, you should drink enough water… and your body will tell you when you’re drinking enough because you’ll start peeing like crazy.
2. No beer or liquor. 1-2 glasses of wine a week max.
I’d recommend the no liquor thing easily, maybe extending it to “only on special occasions and I don’t mean ‘my dog graduated obedience school! shots time!’.” NPR recently had an article that explained that most people who think they are “moderate” drinkers are actually “excessive.” HOWEVER, I somehow messed up my understanding of my own rule so I was having more like 4 glasses of wine a week (1-2 with both cheat meals). This was fine, I think. I am, by technicality, a moderate drinker, and if I’m going to be drinking alcohol, you can’t go wrong with all the resveratrol and heart-healthy antioxidants found in red wine (which is where I tend to swing since I like Malbecs and Riojas).
3. 2 cheat meals a week
I definitely recommend cheat meals. Again, just 1-3 a week total, nothing huge. Don’t do “cheat days” because you’ll feel like shit. I do 2 meals a week. One of those usually falls on Friday night and I like to do it right after I’m done with CrossFit so I’m in a position to eat like crazy. I usually do this meal solo and it’s sort of a very peaceful experience for me because I get to relax by myself and enjoy my food.The other one I keep open for social gatherings with friends but if nothing pops up, I’ll just invite my boyfriend to join me. My cheat meals were never anything seriously bad for me. For example, I’m not getting delivery pizza or Chipotle.
For most people, sure, I’d recommend paleo. I’m more likely to say “just eat clean,” but I mean… for a lot of people, they have no idea what that means exactly, so paleo is a good starting place. I call bullshit on the whole history and philosophy behind it and think certain aspects of it are crazy (no legumes), but… the point is, you should be eating less processed foods and more fresh fruits and vegetables.
I would not recommend paleo if you have cholesterol problems. You’ll eat a lot of eggs and meat. I didn’t get bloodwork before this experiment so I’m not sure what my cholesterol was (I imagine it wasn’t great). Anecdotally, my heart feels healthier than ever, but I don’t know what my cholesterol levels are so it’s kind of hard for me to recommend it without numeric data to back things up.
I also wouldn’t recommend it if you have nut allergies, because you’ll be eating a lot of nut-based flour (almond flour).
But… I think people who currently have excess weight that they’re looking to shed would generally see significant weight loss from eating this way. I read many stories of people who lost 10-25 pounds in a month going paleo.
If you’re more like me, you might enjoy paleo for more ethical, personal, and scientific reasons. If nothing else, I have learned a lot about sustainable agriculture, the politics of GMOs, and have involved myself more in media regarding medical science. I’ve also gotten better at picking up on dietary-related propaganda from both sides of the table.
Common sense tips: Your first week of Paleo could potentially be stressful for you since you’re going to be detoxing from processed foods. Pick a week where you don’t have much going on to start it. Don’t pick like, the week you’re moving to a new state, starting a new job, getting married, going on vacation, or having a child–you might feel more tired than usual for a couple of days to start and you may have mood swings. If your diet has been just bad and you know it, ease in to Paleo, maybe go halfsies for a week or two. I don’t want to scare anyone off though so let me point out that very likely things will be totally fine and at worst, you might have an afternoon where you just feel kind of hungry–understand that you’re probably not actually hungry but are just craving things that are bad for you.
So here’s the thing. I wouldn’t recommend CrossFit for just anyone. In fact, I’m more likely to say you shouldn’t do CrossFit than you should. It’s super intense and super intense just isn’t for everyone.
You can very easily get in just as good shape doing free weights in a normal gym. You just have to have a lot of dedication, a lot of patience, and you have to be a giant bully to yourself, because that’s what CrossFit is good for… accountability and not being allowed to make excuses. The thing about CrossFit is that everyone’s story is different–but no matter where you come from, it will be a brutal start because you’ll be working out alongside people who have been doing it for years. You will be standing next to a girl who is 2 inches shorter than you who can deadlift 300 pounds more than you. You will be flummoxed. But you will change, rapidly.
I’m not as much of a CrossFit junky as others are. A lot of people do 5-6 days a week. I go 3 times a week because that’s just all I can fit into my schedule (I take studio art classes on Monday nights and Pilates on Wednesday nights, meaning I only have 3 days open), but I can tell you that the difference between going to 2 days a week and 3 days a week is huge. So believe me, every little bit of effort you make? It counts.
I finished Barbara (for time, 5 rounds of 20 pull-ups, 30 push-ups, 40 sit-ups, and 50 air squats) on Friday in 27:42. I don’t think I would have finished it 6 months ago and if I did, it would have been significantly scaled.
I think everyone should be exercising and really busting their balls doing so, but I think you should do whatever makes you happiest. If that involves doing power cleans, awesome, but maybe you’d be just fine doing a 40-mile heavy breather on your bike instead. I’m not here to judge.
6. 8-9 hours of sleep a night.
YES. Not only that, but improve your sleep. Unwind before you go to sleep. Don’t go to bed stressed out. Find a way to organize your sleeping arrangements so you are most comfortable. Clean your bed sheets regularly. Get ear plugs if you need them. Sleep in a dark room. All these things. Getting enough sleep makes gigantic strides in your brain’s ability to perform throughout the day. I always thought my brain was just fine until doing this experiment and now I realize I was actually lost in a perpetual state of brain fog that just never quite cleared up until I actually got enough sleep. 8 hours is generally fine, but if you’re working out regularly, 9 is so much better.
7. Do pilates every week.
Pilates is kind of funny. It’s such a “girly” activity, like yoga, but it’s so helpful and so not girly really. If you sit at an office desk all day, there’s no question that you probably have very tight hip flexors. Going to pilates will loosen you up a lot. It’ll also make you stronger in your core, which means you’ll probably have better posture as well. It means you’ll be able to perform better lifting weights. The trick to pilates is to ignore all the stupid new-age-y bullshit people try to say in pilates studios and just focus on you.
8. Daily fish oil and Vitamin D supplement.
I’m not really sure if I recommend this. In theory, if you’re eating well, you shouldn’t need either. But a lot of people are vitamin D deficient, new studies are showing that vitamin D blood tests are kind of ambiguous right now too. If you can afford it, at least supplement the bare minimum (400 IU).
9. Ride 20+ miles per week on a bike.
I recommend you find something you love, something that makes you feel liberated and like there’s nothing but you and it… and do that. That’s all. Biking is that for me. I do it even when I’m sore. Even when I’m tired. Even when it’s cold. People say I’m crazy, but that’s the point. It’s something you love so much you don’t even care if you look crazy.
So I’m done… but am I? Nope! I’m planning on sticking to a mostly paleo diet. I don’t like to say my experiment is really “done” because it sounds like I am free from it… I am way too happy with the results to walk away from it. I may occasionally have a beer or something outside of the rules, but for a majority of my meals, I plan to stick to it and I plan to stay clean. I’m going to be in Iceland for a little bit this winter (leaving next weekend, yay!) where the fish flows free, the water is clean, and Crossfit is a commodity, so I know in the short-term, eating clean should not be a huge dilemma.
Anyway, tonight will be my first beer in over a month! I have no idea what it will be, but I’m stoked! Thanks to everyone who has followed me during this time, encouraged me, and supported my choices! If you are interested in trying out this experiment for yourself, let me know–I’m more than happy to give further advice, recommendations, and general support.