I was stunned a year ago when my doctor mentioned that I should lose some weight. Compared with most Americans, I thought I rated on the thin side, except for a gut that refused to melt after I quit smoking, for the first time, about 15 years ago.
I probably wouldn’t have tried to lose weight, except that the idea of the Paleo-type dietary regimen seemed to make sense, gut or no.
For me, it wasn’t as though I had been a slouch physically. After quitting smoking the second time, about eight years ago, I started building a healthier lifestyle. I cut back on red meat, started limiting fast food, added more vegetables, legumes and lots more fish to my diet and started a moderate weight-lifting routine. With in-line skating, bicycling, canoeing, kayaking and lots of walking, I figured I already did enough cardio.
Then I read Loren Cordain’s book The Paleo Diet. Following it strictly on weekdays and more loosely on weekends, I cut back dramatically on grain and dairy products, and quit adding salt or sugar to anything. As with my religion, I simply tried to get it mostly right but forgave myself easily.
The hardest thing to give up was wheat grain. It never had dawned on me how often most of us eat wheat, especially refined grain such as pasta, pastries and white bread. I still allowed myself whole-wheat toast and jam on weekends.
My diet primarily became three heaping bowls of fresh vegetables daily, lots of fresh and frozen fruits, especially berries, plus sardines, salmon and low-sodium turkey. Sparkling water became my beverage of choice, but I also had plain water, coffee and unsweetened tea. Sugary soft drinks didn’t pass my lips. Wine and the occasional martini did.
Within two weeks I was down 9 pounds. Within six weeks I was down 15, to 150 pounds. Over the next couple of months I drifted even further down to 145 and plateaued there. At a height of 5 foot 7, that still –unbelievably – puts me on the high end of my ideal Body Mass Index, at 22.7, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Nevertheless, my gut vanished, leaving me with a waistline I haven’t seen since college: 30 inches, down from 34 when I first went mostly Paleo four months ago. All obvious fat under the skin is gone.
My cholesterol after three months on the diet was a total of 153, with HDL at 60 and LDL at 76. By most measures, that’s fantastic. My highest reading in total cholesterol was about 220 right before I quit smoking the second time.
Now my energy level seems boundless. My weight-lifting goals in repetitions are much easier to reach than before. Even running, which I never really cared for, is fun.
Maintaining the diet has become easier, once I figured I could find all the vegetables and fruits I want on nearly any salad bar. Trips to the grocery store still tend to feel like an alien experience, but I’ve learned to ignore all my previous loves, especially Lucky Charms.
In fact, now I burn excess calories simply by rolling my eyes at all the processed foods that are offered to us as sustenance.
Oh, yeah, I’ve also gotten a little preachy.
Chicago Tribune staff reporter