Sunday, 17 May 2015

I'm on the Paleo diet and, unsurprisingly, I'm feeling a bit weird

The reason I haven't done much blogging this past week is that I'm on a diet. I first got the idea from son, who, last time he was home, announced that he was on a low-carb diet, which, from the look of him, was proving a great success. Then, the week before last, I read a book by a Welsh doctor, Sarah Myhill, who is apparently an expert (perhaps the expert) on treating people with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, which she's been doing since the early '80s. She reckons it's all to do with mitochondria, which, apparently, are the "powerhouses of the cells" - if they're not working, you're basically buggered, because your body can't replace the energy it's used at the necessary rate. The science was a bit beyond me, but I understood her central message, which is that you need to get your diet and sleeping patterns sorted before taking any further steps.

Unfortunately, the diet she strongly recommends is the Paleo (or Stone Age) version. Given that the NHS has washed its hands of me (the standard treatment for 240,000 UK patients, apparently), I thought I'd give it a go.

Now, I've been on diets dozens of times, so I'm used to going without my favourite foods. But this would usually consist of swapping out bread for Ryvita, substituting masses of fruit for puddings, and relying on rice and pasta to fill the gap left by potatoes. Sadly, none of these options is available with the Paleo Diet, because (at least with the version recommended by Dr Myhill) not only do you have to eschew the obvious stuff, such as sugar and chips - you shouldn't eat rice, pasta, crispbread (because of the wheat) or fruit. Or dairy products. That's roughly 85% of my normal intake out the window!

What you can eat in abundance is fish, meat, eggs and (most) vegetables. That's pretty much it. The biggest meal of the day should be breakfast, so for the past week I've started the day with bacon, eggs or kippers, which has been fun. Lunch is mainly home-made soup. Dinner is meat or fish, and vegetables. Snacks consist of gluten-free oatcakes and tinned sardines and/or nuts. The good doctor recommends nuts as a late-night snack to stave off hunger pangs, and, despite the fact that I'm usually ravenous around one in the morning, they do the trick. Salt is fine. So are most fats.

The only banned substances I simply cannot do without are builder's tea and the milk I need with it (I tried cutting out tea with milk for a while last summer, but all the substitutes made feel queasy - rooibos tea really is a most disgusting substance).

The theory behind all this is that it's better not to eat anything that our ancestors didn't normally consume, and that many of our current health ailments (including my own) are due to eating stuff our bodies aren't designed to process. Sounds like a bunch of New Age hippy nonsense to me, but, in the absence of any alternative medical suggestions, I decided to give it a go (besides, I'd already accepted that I'm allergic to most fruit, especially apples and pears, so there might be some truth in it). I won't pretend this regime, which is now a week old, has made me feel any better so far - but it apparently takes several weeks before any benefits become apparent. Certainly, without any sort of carbohydrate/sugar rush, concentration is hard to come by. But, apart from that, I don't actually feel any worse. And I've lost eight pounds - which isn't the object of the exercise, but I'll take it.

The odd thing - the really odd thing - is that on any previous diet, I'd have been longing for jam donuts and custard and chips and suchlike by now. But the only thing I crave is a big juicy orange - and I haven't had one of those for months in any case. Strange.

Anyway, that's the reason I'm not doing much blogging, and why the stuff I actually manage to produce might seem a bit... distracted?


  1. I tried the Atkins diet back when it was fashionable in the States. I had no objection to the theory (in so far as I understood it) but I felt about as ill as I've ever felt in my life after after five or six days and had to stop.

    The Paleo diet reminds me of the plan advocated by a doctor called Richard Mackarness in his book Not All In The Mind. He, too, believed we haven't adapted to many of the foods we have added to our diet in recent centuries and that many infirmities come about as a result.

    One thing he did get right is that allergies and intolerances can make you actually addicted to certain foods and that if something features in your diet very frequently, you may have a problem with it. I have proved that right in my own case.

    I'm not saying any of these diet gurus are wrong but I can't help scenting a 'golden age' mythology at work.

    Still, good luck. I hope you don't wind-up as crook as I felt when following the Atkins plan which, I must say, I have seen work for plenty of people. Just not for me.

    1. The only fad diet I quite enjoyed was the F-Plan, because it involved eating large quantities of baked beans and constantly blowing off. It had the merit of being amusing.

      In the unlikely event that the paleo diet works, I promise not to get all born-again and start lecturing anyone.

      Today, oranges have been replaced by toasted cheese liberally sprinkled with paprika. Unfortunately, the only thing I'm allowed is the paprika.