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!