I’ve never been on a diet before. Oh, I’ve given up stuff for Lent in varying quantities since college, and my first college girlfriend didn’t eat red meat so I pretty much didn’t about half the time for three years. And when the Tired Texan closed I wouldn’t eat McDonald’s for a year. And I tend to abide by the dietary limitations of whoever prepares dinner in accordance with their own restrictions. But in terms of serious lifestyle change? Nothing.
Then I had my annual physical and bloodwork, on the heels of the nutritional shitshow that was the February project, and all the numbers were worse than last year. HDL, LDL, triglycerides, ratio, blood pressure, waist circumference, percent body fat, weight, even *height* – all worse. Time to make a change.
Over Christmas break, the wife had me read about the Primal diet, which is apparently a variation on the Paleo diet, which is in line with the eating of unprocessed foods and etc. as our caveman ancestors did, which…eh. Once I got past all the exclamation points (a hallmark of all diet literature, in my experience) and tales of Gonk or Gronk or whatever, it boiled down to a lot of the same low-carb stuff previously pitched as Atkins, or South Beach, or what have you. With an extra helping of “Soylent Green is gluten! IT’S GLUTEN!!” – which, given that my wife’s had a known gluten allergy for fifteen years at least, means it’s probably the smart way to go for her.
Okay, so how does this work out for me? For the first week, at least, hardcore:
* No booze. (Ulp.)
* No more Coke Zero – in fact no more processed soda at all. Just what I fizz up in the Sodastream with some lime juice and/or a dash of bitters maybe. Certainly nothing pre-packaged and nothing with syrups involved. Given the amount of Coke Zero I get through these last couple of years, that’s no small sacrifice, especially in a world of Coca-Cola Freestyle machines.
* No more junk food. Nothing out of a vending machine. Nothing pre-packaged to speak of. No grazing on sweet stuff.
* No bread. No sandwiches, no rolls, no empty calories from starch. (Effectively, for my purposes anyway, this more or less adds up to “no fast food period.”
* No more sweetening the coffee. Honey, perhaps, but no three packets of sugar or Splenda or what have you.
* Permissible beverages: coffee (black), tea (unsweet), and whatever bottled products I can find that use no sweeteners aside from stevia and the sugar alcohol that normally goes along with it whose name escapes me. And more water. Lots more water.
The first week ended up being more like the first 10-12 days, as it turns out. I was forced to actually walk out to the cafeteria to eat rather than run through Chipotle or just subsist out of the “automated convenience store” at work, and I was actually kind of hungry the first couple of days. The first week saw me down 7 pounds, almost entirely water weight I’m sure, because I was legit dehydrated (not least because I was probably drinking coffee in the morning where normally I would have consumed some Zero.) And the toughest part was that it went along with a lot of work bullshit, the sort of thing where I would normally just say “to hell with it” and go get a bottle of Zero or some Pop Tarts and tap out for a while the same way I did at the cigar shop ten years ago.
Ultimately, I think I may do more stress-eating than I realized. The deprivation of that, for me, is less about “I can’t have this tasty pop-tart” and more about “I have enough stress in my life, do I really need to add to it by inflicting this kind of disciplinary deprivation upon myself?” And flying off the handle isn’t near as much exercise as you’d think. Nevertheless, I did power through. It was Day 13 of the diet before I finally broke down and had myself a couple cans of Zero (at the end of a long and frustrating day where I basically served my guests Pork Shoulder a la Crematoria). That’s also the first alcohol I’d drunk the whole way – a glass of a nice cab plus a bottle of grapefruit radler (German biking beer) after the fiasco. (A Bushmills at dinner on St Paddy’s was the only other alcohol I’ve had.) Last night, Day 16, I had In N Out for dinner – 3×2, plain, no fries or salad on it. On two occasions, I broke down and had a nice gelato bar (Rechutti burnt caramel, AMAZING) which itself contains fewer carbs than the burger bun alone. On day 9, I went to an Irish bar for three hours and had no Guinness, no chips, no curry, no apple pie – just unsweet tea, broccoli, and a half-pound hamburger patty with cheddar and Irish bacon and no bun.
I lost 7 pounds the first week and a couple more since, for what that’s worth. But weight was not a present concern for me at all – I want to get two things out of this diet: smaller gut and better cholesterol numbers. So far, I don’t feel like the gut has moved that much, but it may be a gradual thing or may take somebody else noticing. And I won’t know what’s doing with my cholesterol until I give blood and get the basic numbers again to see whether things are declining to a more reasonable level.
Still, as lifestyle changes go, this one appears to be sustainable. Simple blunt rules – no junk food, no fast food, no endless bottles of drink, no loading up on filler, and prefer red wine if it’s drankin’ time. That sort of thing is a lot easier for me to remember and stick to than trying to keep track of total carbs or Points™ or constantly looking up nutritional information and ingredient lists online. Pizza: out, hamburgers: out, burritos: out, Imperial pints of oatmeal porter: out. I don’t have to think too much about it, I just have to abide by the key rules.
The good news: being a platelet donor and able to give them a double-unit every week, it’s pretty straightforward for me to get that blunt-object cholesterol number to match and see what impact the diet is having. After that, it’ll be time to start working in more exercise (not to mention rehab on my bum shoulder) and seeing what, if anything, can be gradually added in. Pints of Guinness, or slices of Big Sur at Pizza My Heart washed down with lashings of Orange Vanilla Coke Zero, are not out of my life altogether – but they’re not going to be a routine feature either.