The “Reverse Challenge”: A Personal Experiment

Recently I convinced Rebecca, my wife, to transition our family to a more Paleolithic style of eating.  I have been on a journey of personal discovery and education while over here in Afghanistan and I figure why not give this a shot, eating paleo that is.  I started this way of eating almost by accident when I came over here, eating just meats and salad, but I still had the whey protein shakes and the egg sandwich on wheat toast.  Once I started reading Robb’s  The Paleo Solution I cut out all forms of wheat, grain, and dairy.

While home on R&R I helped start the transition for the family and after some loud and heated discussions with Rebecca because we didn’t really have the best laid plans for transitioning we had found a footing in the new way of eating.  Rebecca had asked for the Everyday Paleo Cookbook  for her birthday and we started to cook some recipes from it, even though it was difficult at times, not because the recipes were hard, but because some of them didn’t always have the portion size required for the recipe in the recipe itself.  That being said, the recipes found in the book all taste amazing and once some common sense is applied and there is some trial and error, the recipes are easy and fun to make. 

Then to help things along I was able to help Rebecca after I returned to Afghanistan with some very timely posts by Robb about the scalability of paleo – how it doesn’t have to be all or nothing and it doesn’t have to be the most expensive part of a family budget.  After this light bulb moment for us things started to click and going down this road as a family was starting to get easy.  Almost immediately we, meaning Rebecca in person, and me via e-mail, skype, and phone, started to notice a difference in the girls.  They started to act different, a little easier to negotiate with on doing things, fewer tantrums, more responsive to instruction and on the whole just better kids in general.  Don’t get me wrong, there are still tantrums and upset feelings because the TV can’t be on all the time, or they still have to clean up their room and can’t color on the walls, but they calm down faster, listen to reason a little bit better and apologize more freely without prompting.   A quick Bethany story as a side bar:  Bethany went with Rebecca to a friend’s house where there was supposed to be a babysitter, there wasn’t, and there was Standard American Diet (SAD) foods offered.  Rebecca tried her best to wrap the show up and get the kiddos fed a more paleo option but Bethany was starving and really wanted some of the SAD foods at the party.  Rebecca warned Bethany that the food would upset her tummy and that they were going to dinner soon at a different friend’s house that would have some better options. Bethany being a 4 year old chose to snack on the SAD foods and then eat dinner of hot dogs, hamburgers and more paleo choices at the friend’s house.  Everything was going fine until a few hours later when the dreaded “Pukie Bug” showed up.  Bethany was very sick that night.  It may have been some sort of virus or food poisoning, but none of the other 31 at the SAD food party got sick (Rebecca and Charley didn’t eat anything there) and no one from the dinner at the friend’s house got sick either (Rebecca and Charley both ate there).  I am pretty sure that Bethany had a reaction to the SAD foods with the gluten, processed sugars, and whatnot in them.

The story about Bethany is more of a transition than a sidebar, because I wanted to see if someone could become sensitive to gluten in a short amount of time to where they would become sick from eating it.  I decided, since where I work doesn’t offer Breakfast on Fridays and Sundays that I would try to go back to a SAD way of eating for 1 week.  I had been doing strict paleo for 5 weeks, just over the 30 day challenge set forth by Robb in his book, and I figured a week couldn’t be that hard to get through eating “normal” foods. 

I started my “reverse” challenge on a Thursday night because I knew that I wouldn’t have a suitable breakfast option for Friday and it would easy to choose the SAD options.  Thursday I ate an individual size pizza, some cereal with soy milk and some vegetables at Midnight meal.  My stomach felt physically full but my mind kept telling me I was hungry.  I fought this feeling for a few hours, while I was fighting off sleep and the feeling of general apathy.  Then I found myself starving, my mind was telling me that I needed food because it was running on empty, but I still felt like I had this huge rock in my stomach.  I ate anyway because I needed this crazy feeling to go away.  I ate pretty much anything in site, which happened to be Girl Scout cookies, graham crackers with peanut butter, and to make matters worse some ice cream.  That got me through to “breakfast” on Friday morning.  The options were donuts, glazed old fashion, jelly filled, or glazed cinnamon roll, a sausage and cheese English muffin, various cereals, hard boiled eggs (which are ridiculously hard to peel for some reason),  a small assortment of fruits, various Otis Spunkmire muffins, and a couple of different cakes, lemon, blueberry, or double chocolate.  I went with an English muffin sandwich, a donut, some cereal and more soy milk.  I once again had the full physical feeling but my head kept saying it wasn’t satisfied and wanted more.  I added a piece of cake and some juice figuring that maybe the juice would help with telling my mind it was full or something.  Now, I was physically full and feeling horrible, a head-ache had started, I was feeling bloated and disgusting because my stomach was so full.  I went back to work to finish my shift; by the time I got off work and back to my room I felt so lethargic and wiped that I just crashed into bed and tried to fall asleep.  Falling asleep took longer than usual because of the discomfort in my stomach and the headache as well as the hard time breathing I was having.  Not so much labored, but I felt like I couldn’t take a deep breath or catch my breath at all.  I finally fell asleep but was up a few hours later because I was so hot under the covers, was sweating and extremely uncomfortable in my own skin. 

Day two of the “reverse” challenge: I woke up on Friday evening and still felt physically ill from the day before.  I told myself that I was going to try and make it the week and day one was just an initial shock to the system and I would be better today (yes, it felt extremely weird to convince myself to keep up with the challenge knowing what I was eating was bad for me).  I went to dinner.  Friday is always steak night.  I had a steak and a side salad with it, not too bad of a dinner and actually pretty paleo.  I can’t eat much of it because even though my body was hollow and empty, when I did put food into it I had a sudden aching pain in my stomach.   I make it to work feeling like I have some sort of illness.  I am now getting hot and cold flashes, whenever I stand up I get dizzy, I feel out of breath, and know I am bloated and swollen because my watch is starting to get tight on my wrist.  I think maybe I am not drinking enough water and start to hydrate. The act of putting something, anything, even water into my stomach immediately sends aching pain through me.  Things start to settle down as I focus on work.  I go about four hours without food or drink, then head to Midnight meal selecting some chicken noodle stir fry.  I keep it light because while I still want to try the “reverse” challenge I don’t want to double over in pain and feel like I was punched in the stomach all night.  Guess what happens?  Yup, I still get the same punched in the stomach feeling and my head keeps telling me that I am hungry and need to eat more.  It’s a sickening feeling being completely full but not feeling satisfied.  I make it to breakfast and have some cereal, soy milk, a breakfast burrito, and some scrambled eggs.   The meal resulted in the same feelings I had been having every meal since starting the “reverse” challenge.  I go to bed the second night and like the first sleep horribly and wake up feeling groggy.

Day three starts the same way day two did.  I am starting to think that I can’t make it a whole week.  I decide to see how the day goes and assess the next morning.  I decide to go for broke and see what happens eating traditional junk food, grain, dairy and all the other stuff.  I do this because everyone at work has been receiving Halloween candy and treats.  I was tired of constantly refusing them feeling like I was hurting people’s feelings.  So I start with some candy pumpkins, candy corn, and chocolate chip cookies.  I also add a “healthy” Trader Joes Chocolate chip granola bar into the fray as well.  Needless to say that day three ends the same way that days one and two ended. 

I wake up on the forth morning and feel worse than ever.  I feel like I had been on an all night drinking binge that was joined by the flu, which happened to bring old age with it.  I call it quits on the reverse challenge and decide to see what damage I had done to my body in the three days of eating whatever I wanted wanted.  I did the only thing that I really could do – weigh and measure myself.  Before the experiment I was 168.2 pounds with a 31.5 inch waist after three days of the “old” way of eating I was 181.7 pounds and had a 33 inch waist.  I didn’t think that I had done that much nor did I think that I had eaten enough food to put on 13 pounds of weight and 1.5 inches; but the proof is in the pudding… With the new knowledge that I have a long road to return to my pre-experiment measurements, I set off one step at a time.

I start with my first meal back on track, two hamburger patties and salad.  I felt so horrible from the past three days that even eating the hamburgers and salad hurt my stomach.  I was hoping that it wouldn’t be long before I felt like myself again.  I see no change in my state except I feel full and my head isn’t saying that I am still hungry.  This is a good sign.  I make it to midnight meal and have scrambled eggs, bacon, cucumbers, and bell pepper slices.  I have consumed about 3 liters of water by this time and have gone to the bathroom a number of times.  I am starting to feel more like myself and not as bloated or out of shape as I did just the day before.  Breakfast comes and I have my scrambled eggs to order with chopped onions, bell peppers, and bacon along with a side of strawberries, pineapple, and watermelon.  I go to sleep having taken in about 2 gallons of water over a 14 hour period . I have also managed a trip to the bathroom almost every hour on the hour.  Just to back pedal a little here.  I was constantly thirsty during the challenge but so physically full that any time sipped water or any fluid I thought I was going to regurgitate.  By the time I was ready for bed, after one day of being back on track, I felt pretty close to normal.  My breathing wasn’t labored.  I did not feel like I had a distended stomach, my mind wasn’t telling me to eat all the time, and I had energy and motivation to take care of myself again.

I wake up on the fifth day and want to see how the recovery process is going.  I weigh and measure again.  I am down to 177.6 pounds and amazingly, my waist has shrunk to 32 inches.  I am on the mend.  I am sure that it will take me more than three days to undo what I did in three days but I knew that going into the “reverse” challenge.

I do not want to turn into “that” guy about this whole way of life, but now that I have tried it, gone back to the old way, and come back to it; I must say that there is something to it.  I personally know now that if anyone gives this lifestyle change a try and then returns to the old way of eating he/she will more than likely share my experience.  I am glad that Rebecca and I have made this life choice.  My family and I thank you all for everything that you do!


Categories: General, Paleo Diet Basics, Paleo Testimonials


Robb Wolf’s 30 Day Paleo Transformation

Have you heard about the Paleo diet and were curious about how to get started? Or maybe you’ve been trying Paleo for a while but have questions or aren’t sure what the right exercise program is for you? Or maybe you just want a 30-day meal plan and shopping list to make things easier? Then Robb Wolf’s 30 Day Paleo Transformation is for you.


  1. Zach Powell says

    I just read your post. I cheated on my paleo diet last night and as I sat in bed tossing and turning I was thinking about how I felt like I had been on a 3 day bender. There is nothing like cheating to put your whole eating habit in perspective. I ate horrible yesterday but I do it from time to time to help my sainity. I love paleo though I have lost 85 lbs on it in 8 months. The 13 lb increase will go back down after a few days its mostly swealling and your body having a hard time digesting all that stuff. Good article though. Are you in the military just curious I was in for 8 years

    • Adam says

      Thank you for the comment. I am in the military currently finishing up a 1 year IA to Afghanistan. I normally am a F/A-18F WSO out in CA but now I am wearing an Army uniform and working a staff job.

  2. Michael A. says

    Pretty terrifying to read about. My family has been primal/paleo since the beginning of September, and been very happy eating and living that way. We had previously already cut out junk foods and most sugars, so transitioning to primal was easy for us. In the two months being primal, my wife had noticed several times that when she ate anything with even trace amounts of gluten in it she felt very uncomfortable and had bad stomach aches for several days afterwards. She will be going to get tested for a gluten intolerance soon, and unfortunately, to get proper results you have to eat gluten. As a result, we’ve been eating more gluten the past few days. Let me just say that going back to glutens and wheat after two months of none whatsoever is truly hard and uncomfortable. I can very much identify with Adam’s story. Several days ago we had a pizza, and each of us had four slices. I felt like I had a basketball in my gut for about 4-5 hours afterwards, and was constantly drinking/sipping water to try to somehow alleviate the bloated feeling. We’ve often had similar amounts of primal food at mealtimes, and there is no bloated feeling at all. If the previous two months without gluten and wheat hadn’t convinced me, this small experiment definitely would. Eating the SAD way is not worth it.

  3. says

    Insane story, but relevant. I know quite a few people who look at Paleo as a potential “diet” that they can quit when they reach their ideal size and weight. This type of testimonial can make that enlightening, but then again, it may frighten people away from trying Paleo. I have already had that protest of “well, if this stuff makes me feel like crap once I’m not eating it for awhile, I’d rather just not stop eating it so that I feel ‘normal’ every day.” Needless to say, that soldier was a lost cause.

    I know when I cheat I feel lousy, even if it’s just a slice of exotic fermented bread or extra sugary foods, so I couldn’t imagine doing it for any extended periods of time. Hope you’re feeling 100% by now, and best to you and your family. If you are military, as your article suggests, thank you for your service. I’m Army National Guard myself and look forward to remaining Paleo on deployment.

  4. Jenn says

    My son and I tend towards the same experience your daughter has: we puke. My parents weren’t convinced of my need to go paleo back when I did, and I had a hard time getting them past the “moderation” comments. Well, fine, I did a reversal trial as well, just to show them. We were visiting over my Mom’s birthday, which is also Valentine’s day, so crappy food abounded. Lasagna, sugar cookies, cake, you name it, it was there. I felt so horrible that I went to bed early, and couldn’t contain the sickness on my way to bed. I made a believer out of my folks when they had to help me clean up, and could see how visible sick I was. Some of us are more sensitive than others, and for those of us that are there is no going back!

  5. says

    Thanks for the post. I can identify with how rapidly and quickly my children’s behavior changes (negatively) when they eat non-paleo. We attempt to stick to Paleo 80% of the time because in reality life, sleepovers, etc., keep the kids from eating Paleo the way our house rolls most of the time. My kids allergies come back immediately and they all complain about loose bowels and feeling sick to their stomach when they eat non-Paleo. This dietary change for our entire family was a tough sell for the kids initially, but now they recognize how that glass of chocolate milk or muffin or bread makes them feel afterward and I’m out of the finger wagging business. They self govern (most of the time). It’s a relief. Great post. Thanks for sharing.

  6. says

    Good post.

    I’ve been Paleo for 6 months. Two weeks ago decided to have some of my wife’s 100% home made from scratch apple pie with everyone else after a big “harvest dinner” at our house (The dinner was 100% paleo, except for the dessert).

    Up to that point during dinner, I had almost two servings of everything – grass fed and finished Tri Tip, roasted veggies, salad, etc. I announced to everyone at the table (1/2 of which are doing paleoish too) that I was gonna break down and have some pie. So I did. Let me tell you, the apple pie tasted OUTSTANDING….Ben and Jerry’s vanilla ice cream AND raw heavy whipping cream from our cow share too (I eat VERY little dairy if any most of the time).

    Long story short, within 30 minutes, it hit me and hit me HARD. Thank goodness the guests left shortly after dessert, because I occupied the restroom for a good 20 minutes, then just about every 45 minutes throughout the night! In a way, I was almost relieved to have had that happen to me. Now I know what if feels like. I am DEFINITELY sensitive to wheat and gluten. I also think I had a heightened reaction because I’ve been “clean” for so long. I also know that 80% of us are likely sensitive in varying degrees and don’t even realize it. Amazing.

    My hope is that over the next 3-5 years, we’re going to see some great changes in our food consumption and how we look at what we’re putting in our bodies. Speaking about Americans in general.

    Paleo on!


    PS. I also broke down and had about 8-9 pieces of Halloween candy last week. MAJOR headache/sugar rush, a little gas, but not much else. Came back to “normal” the next day.

  7. Stephanie says

    I had a recent “gluten wake up call” while vacationing in Ireland. On the third day I caved in to a (very small) piece of bread with some delicious Irish butter plus I am sure there were other small doses of gluten in some of the other food. One brand of Ketchup even had wheat flour as an ingredient.
    Anyway, I lost about half a day of my vacation due to a bad stomach ache and all that entails.
    Since I have removed grains from my diet I know that I am sensitive to them and cannot tolerate them. For me this means that they were not doing me any favors in the first place and I need to be vigilant about keeping them out of my food. (I was also recently diagnosed with Hashimoto’s, so this further reinforces the need to keep my diet gluten/grain free)
    I can see how some people might use this as justification to keep the grains in the diet instead of seeing them for the poison they are for most humans.

  8. Cindy says

    Great post, Adam. I’ve been Paleo for two months now and am hoping to convince my children, children-in-law to adopt as well. I’m taking my granddaughter (21 months)to Florida for the next six months or so while her mom is in school and plan to “paleoize” her to reverse the effects of her daddy watching her while her mom was in recruit training for the military. She has always been an athletic and skinny little thing, until August 20th when her mommy left. With dad in charge (a skinny-wiry-sugar burner), and the neighbors helping out, I’ve watched my lithe little “A” sprout a big belly and become much more sassy and lethargic at the same time. Lots of noodles, pretzel snacks, cereal at breakfast, are the staples right now.

    My plan is to give “all my children” the 3 book set for Christmas, and get my granddaughter back to the more paleo foods we fed her before August. Here’s my only problem, she’s allergic to eggs. I know there are lots of options, but breakfast is a challenge. What do you guys recommend those allergic to eggs?

    • Amy Kubal says

      Eggs aren’t a MUST – meat for breakfast is AWESOME! It takes a bit of getting used to – but I love leftovers for breakfast! Try mini-meat loaves (made in muffin tins). Kids will think these are FUN!

    • Missy says

      Is she allergic to eggs or to the soy that the chickens ate? Some folks have found that they can eat REAL eggs from well-fed chickens.

  9. Peggy Holloway says

    My son switched to a low-carb diet 4 years ago (I have been low-carb for 12). We have been transitioning to a more and more paleo version, with excellent results, which for my son has meant managing of severe ADHD. He is taking yoga teacher training and works at a Whole Foods store, so the pressure to go vegetarian or even vegan is pretty strong. Last summer, he attended a 10-day retreat where the only food available was provided by the retreat and it was vegetarian. He had some difficulties, but did manage to “survive” the ten days and took a 50-day vegetarian pledge at the end of the retreat. By the end of the 50 days, he was completely ready to get back to his paleo diet. His co-workers at Whole Foods were begin to comment on how grouchy, “testy” and easy to anger he was becoming. He realizes that he has not evolved to handle a grain-based diet and that he will need to eat animal products and find the most humane and ecological way to do so.

  10. Adam says

    Thank you to everyone for commenting on the post. All of your comments have been inspirational for me and helped me stay motivated as I finish out my deployment in Afghanistan. I can totally agree with all of you about how making less paleo choices when eating can have an instant effect on you. One thing I did forget to put into my testimony was how I felt my first ever sugar “rush” while doing the “reverse” challenge. My heart started pounding and I thought it was going to explode, I really felt like I could have sprinted a marathon, and that lasted for about 10 minutes then when it was over all I wanted to do was crawl under my desk and nap. Just further proof that this gluten and super refined sugary stuff is really powerful food and has some ill effects. Again thank you all for your comments, and thank you to Robb and Amy for posting my testimonial.


  11. says

    Even though I follow strict Paleo+yogurt and whey protein, this makes me a little bit questioning of the philosophy given that someone may seem to be fine, and then going paleo and then ‘cheating’ makes life unliveable, it seems that sticking with the initial state might be worth while for some. just a thought

    • Susan says

      The problem with that is that damage is still being done to your GI tract by the gluten, as my friend found out at the age of 36 when she was finally diagnosed properly with Celiac(at her own insistence)– but not until she was anemic, osteoperitic, had lost most of her hair, had thyroiditis and was so weak she couldn’t walk ten feet. What you don’t know can hurt you!

    • says

      I would agree with you, expect for the immediate increase in health that happens within the first weeks of a paleo diet. I decided to start paleo after feeling so crappy after a week of breads and delicious birthday cake. Once you are on paleo and eating clean, its amazing how good you feel, after a few months you take it for granted. I guess if you don’t have any health problems and no gi issues it wouldn’t matter, but rarely do I meet people who have none.

  12. paleoslayer says

    i try not to “cheat” but if i do i try to avoid the gluten part as much as possible. gluten free pizza every once in a while or a banana split. usu this is followed up by a good 16-18 hr fast which puts me back on track w minimal disturbances.

  13. says

    This is a great post because it really mirrors my own “full but hungry” experience I had recently when I went off paleo for a few days. After being paleo for a year now, it is fascinating and horrifying to realize just how much of a mind game grains and refine sugar play on me. I could literally eat 4000 calories of grains and sugars and still be ravenous. That is just SCARY.

    And my recovery was a mirror of of yours as well; it took *days* for my body to fully process the poison and spit it out. I felt terrible, had the first acid reflux experience I’ve had since I went paleo, and slept irregularly. It was a nightmare.

    I thought maybe it was all me but I see from your post and the comments here that this isn’t so unusual. Just more motivation for me not to make that mistake again!

    Good luck and I hope you return to your family soon! Thanks for your service to our great country!

  14. Joan Gosselin says

    Thank you Adam for your account of what our bodies try to tell us NOT to eat! My Husband was an IA in Afghanistan in ’08-’09. He is retired now from the Marine Corps. He had a Staff job there in Bagram… I am starting this journey with the whole family. It is amazing how great you do feel and then how terrible when you think you want to eat the processed , candy junk! We will be having our first Thanksgiving Paleo Style!Here’s to you and your family! God Bless you for your continued service! And for your Family for they “Keep the home fires burning”! Ooh Rah! And as you all say in the Army Hooah! :-)

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