My N=1 24 Hour Experiment

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Let me begin this post by clearly stating that I am a firm believer in the Paleo template for eating.  However, I think far too often we get lost in the dogma of “well, if our ancestors didn’t eat it then certainly I shouldn’t either,” and forget that the basis of any way of eating should eating foods to which your body responds to best.

I know I’ve been guilty blindly following the dogma, which, in some cases has likely caused me to “over correct” my way of eating without any regard for the personal, social, and health ramifications.

Carb Loading, N=1 Experiment

For my n=1 experiment, I binged on carbs. I also, felt like mud.

Again, this is not a diatribe against being Paleo.  Very clearly, I love being Paleo.  I spend many, many hours per month on top of my normal job and family responsibilities putting together the monthly magazine (which you can get for free by signing up using the form at the bottom of this post, or in the right column of this page) and publishing content to the site.

As far as I’m concerned, I’ll follow the Paleo template until I die (as the oldest person in the history of the world).

So, where am I going with this?

Background

Over the last few months, I’ve noticed that I’ve been a lot more lethargic than when I first started following the Paleo template.  This concerned me because I thought for sure I was eating everything I was “supposed to” be eating: pastured eggs and my smoothie for breakfast, a big salad (kale, carrots, beets, brocc0li, garlic, onions with apple cider vinegar and olive oil dressing) and a decent-sized portion of meat for lunch, and then usually a big piece of chicken or steak and a large side of veggies for dinner, mixed in with healthy snacks (seaweed, uncooked nuts, etc.) throughout the day.

Couple all these meals with my supplements: fermented cod liver oil, probiotics, vitamin C, magnesium, and, lately, even some HCL with pepsin to help with digestion. Heck, I was even doing intermitent fasting (IF) once a day for every other week.

Pretty healthy, right?  Pretty much Paleo by the book!

Well, lately, on top of the lethargy, I’ve developed two spots of alopecia on my scalp, which are essentially two bald spots, one on the top of my head, one on the back of my head.  This is apparently an autoimmune thing, which, I figured wouldn’t be a problem since I was taking such good care of my gut.

Something Isn’t Right

So, the lethargy and alopecia kind of freaked me out a bit.  Again, I was eating as healthy as possible so I should’ve been vibrant with a full head of hair, right?

One day while driving home from work, I was listening to an early podcast by Chris Kresser and he talked about sodium and carb restriction as a problem for people who follow a strict Paleo regiment.  My ears perked up: over the past few months I had made a concerted effort to cut carbs, and banish salt and sugars from my diet.  This isn’t to say that I was purposefully avoiding salt and sugar, rather, I just wasn’t adding any of it to my recipes.

Had I self-sabotaged myself by blindly following Paleo dogma and not thinking to myself, “Hey, dummy, you’ve always felt good when you ate fruits and a little bit of sodium isn’t the worst thing in the history of the world”?

Return to Normalcy

Over the last month, I’ve made an effort to re-introduce carbs into my life, especially via fruit.  I added a half-banana and a bit of sea salt to my breakfast smoothie, a kiwi to my afternoon seaweed snack, and a few frozen strawberries as dessert.  Plus, when I had some bone broth, I would be sure to add some iodized salt to it as well.

I could definitely feel my energy picking up (without lots of peaks and valleys) and could actually feel my overall mood improving as well.

Was Paleo wrong for me?!

N=1 24 Hour Experiment

Let me preface my experiment by saying that even if you 100% believe in the Paleo template, you owe it to yourself to continue researching other diets.  Think of it this way: if you’re in a serious relationship or married, you’re still going to look at other people you find attractive.  You know you’re not going to leave the person your with, but it’s still fun to look.

Anyway, because I was doing well by adding moderate amounts of carbs back into my diet, I started looking at other ways of thinking.  First, I looked at the Eat Right For Your Blood Type diet, which is based on an interesting idea by Peter J. D’Adamo that essentially states there is a specific diet that is best suited for you based on what your blood type is.  I shot this down when I read that, according to my blood type, I do well on grains.  In fact, I do not.  They make me gassy and bloated.

Next, I followed the “eat for heat” idea and read a book called 12 Paleo Myths: Eat Better Than A Caveman, written by Matt Stone.  What got me thinking here was the testimonials from people who had been faithful Paleo eaters, even to the point of almost cutting out carbs entirely — which I really don’t think is “Paleo protocol” — and where exhibiting similar symptoms to what I had been experiencing (lethargy, thinning hair, etc.).

Now, what got me here is that many of the testimonials came from people who had, as I stated before, almost entirely cut carbs out of their diets.  As someone who had quasi-headed down that path, a light bulb went off in my head: I’ve felt a lot better since I rebalanced my diet slightly to include more carbs, so why not see if eating more carbs makes you feel better.

Because I didn’t want to do this for too long, I decided to give myself 24 hours to eat whatever I wanted (something stone recommends in 12 Paleo Myths) and see how I felt afterward.  Granted, I know this is a relatively crappy experiment with a lot of variables,  but, hey, it’s something.

So, here’s what I ate starting at 6pm Wednesday going through 6pm Thursday:

  • 3 beers
  • Fried calamari
  • Cheeseburger, the bun, fries
  • Breakfast smoothie with 2 Tbs of raw honey added
  • Tall glass of full-fat milk, with salt and sugar added
  • Tall glass of orange juice
  • Apple
  • Banana
  • Kiwi
  • Big salad with kidney beans, black beans, and corn
  • Canned sardines
  • 2 bags of Skittles
  • Decaf coffee with milk and sugar
  • Chipotle bowl with rice, beans, chicken, tomatoes, salsa, cheese

Here’s how I felt:

  • Wednesday night I slept like crap
  • Thursday morning started off strong until about 10 in the morning, then I wanted to take a nap, so I snacked to wake myself up.
  • Thursday around 1 in the afternoon I could barely keep my eyes open.
  • On the way home from work I thought I was going to fall asleep.
  • By the time I finished dinner at 6:30 I was so irritable and tired I wanted to scream.
  • I did feel warm, so the “eat for heat” thing did work.

What Does This Matter?

Again, I know this is a quick and crappy experiment, but the few months leading up to it wasn’t.  I had stopped listening to my body and, as stated before, was blindly following what I thought was Paleo dogma: no salt, no sugar, really low carbs, lots of meat, and lots of fat.  Turns out, that if I had simply followed my own personal Paleo template, chances are good I would have done the following all along:

  • Never would have cut fruit so dramatically.  Sure, I would have cut out juices and stuff, but I would have continued eating whole fruits because my body can handle it.
  • I never would have completely cut out rice.  Again, it’s something my body has always responded well to.
  • I would have allowed for a little more salt in my recipes, though, I’ve never gone out of my way to add salt.
  • I would have automatically avoided wheat and wheat products because they make me bloated and gassy, which are never good things.

No, What Does This Really Matter?

Why this really matters is you have to find out what your best possible diet is for you.  Perhaps that’s “strict” Paleo.  Maybe you can allow for things like rice, dairy, more than moderate fruits.  Maybe you can even thrive on grains.

The thing is, you have to figure it out for yourself.  Learn everything you can, safely experiment, and come up with works best for you!

Ok, so what are your thoughts on this?  Have you done something similar?  How often to you experiment with re-introducing or taking out foods from your diet?  Leave a comment below and share with the community!

Disclosure: The opinions expressed above are 100% my own. This post contains links to an affiliate program, for which I receive a few cents if you make purchases.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the FTC’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Comments

  1. Louise says:

    Yup; after a year of pure paleo, our family slowly and cautiously started adding a little raw milk, with no adverse effects. Now that we’re sure we can all digest it properly (likely because the year of paleo has helped our leaky guts to heal), we drink it freely. That process of slowly trialling a new food took about 4 months of tiny portions, slowly increasing, so that we could monitor the effects. Now we’re doing the same with sprouted rice. So far, it seems to be working — no flare-ups of our family’s issues (reflux, eczema, chronic fatigue, etc). I do think it’s important to go “pure paleo” for a reasonable time before trying to add in carbs, dairy, “safe” grains, etc, in order to re-establish proper function of your digestion.

  2. Jason says:

    I started following Keifer’s Carb Back-loading protocol back in Dec and it has been a huge boost for me (energy, happiness and muscle gains). Timing intense workouts around social gatherings has also allowed me to blend in a little better. The only issue I have it trying to keep my Back-loads as paleo as possible, which means a pile of bananas or potatoes. I often tie the back-loads into cheat days though, which means that once a week or so I’m eating a hamburger bun, corn chips, pastries, white rice or something else that I have avoided for a long time. I’ll be interested to see how this has affected me blood work and I’ll be taking a look at it next month.

  3. heather says:

    Check out metabolic typing, it is all about what your body needs, not a one size fits all. But what is right for you. Check it out. Let me know if you have any questions

  4. Sam says:

    I know what you mean when you talk about being too strict. I think the important thing to highlight is one must experiment to find the right balance.

    I cut out a lot of fruit (never really a big fan of juice), and recently I started eating more, and I only feel better. Same thing with salt, except now I use Himalayan rock salt (not the iodized stuff) and not only is it a new dimension for food, but it has helped me with bladder control problems.

    More important than following doctrine is listening to your body and trying to do what is best for it because you are right: we are all different. (Although I would never condone eating “food” out of boxes or any of that white bread stuff)

  5. Laura says:

    Absolutely! We are all different. What I always tell folks to do is when they change their eating that they should also keep a journal of what they are eating, when and how they feel throughout the day. Eventually you will start to see what foods are good and bad. Also, if you want to test something, do what we do for babies. If you are eating it, take it out of your diet for two weeks. Then add it and see what happens. Glad you have found more of your WOE (way of eating) woohoo!

  6. Kara says:

    I think people need to pay attention to their thyroid also, as foods containing a lot of iodine or goitrogentic agents (broccoli/peaches/cauliflower to name a few) can either crash or intensify thyroid activity. The above sounds like an underactive thyroid due to a lack of salts, selenium and b vitamins – paleo does not mean keto – you can definitely eat carbs on a paleo diet – just not the potatochip and cookie kind.

    • Brian says:

      I’ve started taking selenium lately, thanks to some reading I did on Chris Kresser’s site. I agree, I was probably dealing with an underactive thyroid.

  7. Ella says:

    Yes! Exactly this: dogma has no place in health, listening to the body is key. I was trying the autoimmune paleo elimination diet for 30 days, but had to up my intake of grains just to keep up my milk supply. Thankfully the effects of a diet are easy to distinguish when breastfeeding.

  8. Erin D. says:

    When I first stated paleo I definitely noticed hair loss, which was pretty sucky being a girl and all. I’ve noticed that I do fair better when I keep a reasonable carb intake on a regular basis. No glutens or legumes and keeping sugar to minimum seems to be the key for my family and I. I notice I break out a bit if I consume a lot of dairy for consecutive days, so I try to be picky.
    Thanks for devoting time and energy to this subject.

  9. Carrie says:

    I agree with many here on a number of counts:
    1. We all have to tweak and expiriment and find out what “version” of Paleo works for us. It’s template is sound, yet we are all individuals and have to figure the individual part out for ourselves.
    2. Too many carbs, probably not a good idea. As low as you can go carbs, probably not a good idea. A key, I believe is where they come from. (ie. not processed, grain based, legume based foods on a daily basis)
    3. If you are not as healthy as you want to be, or start feeling worse with whatever nutritional approach you follow, some tweaking is in order. And, in my opinion, nutrition is the first place to start. There are other places to go if that’s not enough or doesn’t work, but IMO nutrition should be step one.
    Thanks for your work and your magazine, Brian!

  10. The problem with “dogma” of any kind–Paleo or not–is that nothing works perfectly for everyone. I was a strict vegan and juiced every day, and all I got out of it was hormonal disruption, amenorrhea, and the worst acne of my life. I went Paleo to fix it, and while I feel better than I have in YEARS, I haven’t solved all of my health problems. I’ve done autoimmune, I’ve done FODMAPs, etc. etc., and I’m realizing that it’s not necessarily about following someone else’s protocol but rather finding out what works and experimenting around the theme. Now I’m mostly low carb, but I still have fruit after I work out, and I make sure to get salt in my diet. I’m supplementing with maca to fix the hormonal issues, because it just don’t work with food alone–and I’m sure there are people out there who would balk at my use of phytoestrogens (I’m not happy with it either, but if it works, then it’s better than shoving synthetic estrogen into my body…)

    Anyway, all of that to say: thanks for raising a little bit of awareness around the concept of n=1. I think it’s something we all intuitively know, and mostly actively ignore. But finding the thing that works for each of us as individuals is really the only way to health…

  11. Paula says:

    Totally, I relate to this. I went through a similar slump after months of barely consuming any fruit. I (reluctantly) decided I should start to remedy the situation by adding one piece of fruit a day to my diet and (yipee!) that brought me over the hump and back to life.

  12. Chris says:

    I cut out plain iodized salt and added “Maine Coast Sea Vegetables Organic Kelp Granules Salt Alternative” (that’s the title of the stuff on Amazon, lol). Anyhow, I found a salt (normal, trace minerals, etc) I prefer and just add this stuff to a meal at least once a day.

  13. Janet says:

    I was 2 years into Paleo, love it and have done great. Found out gluten/wheat was an issue. Not celiac but sensitive and explained much of my depressions, mood, brain fog, sinus infections, and more. I was LC and VLC all that time. This fall and winter not feeling as great and got a rash which looked like eczema. I am 65 YO woman and never had rashes before in my life. Nothing helped it. I frankly did not want to begin a AI protocol. I began adding some fruit, safe starches and resistant starch as a prebiotic and a couple of probiotics (one soil based like Prescription Assist and a lacto + biff brand plus one L. plantarum which was recommended over on Heisenbug site for eczema).

    I now feel much better and believe that I did not have anything for my gut bugs to eat with the low carb life. The prebiotics (in the form of powdered raw potato starch) and probiotics are key here I am learning. BTW–my eczema improved within a couple of days of probiotics and completely away in a couple of weeks. Also, I was on vacation the last week and indulged in lots (for me now) gluten, excellent bread, a few amazing desserts and I have felt the same as before I left–no issues at all. I believe my gut healed of some issues with my n=1 experiment and made me more tolerant. That is good to know as I am going to Ireland in the fall and the bread there is fabulous. LOL. Hey, life is short and a few treats won’t hurt. I do plan to add some black beans also into my diet. There are some exciting directions going on in Paleo now and this has spurred me forward.

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