By Robert Begley
[My friend Robert recently gave this speech at the Ringers Toastmasters Club in NYC about his transition to the paleo lifestyle. I recently joined the club myself. /CW]
I absolutely love food. The taste of piping hot lasagna, the fresh scent of garlic, the crackling sound of eggs frying on a pan, the feel of a knife going through a thick juicy steak, the red, white and blue sight of strawberries and blueberries topped with whipped cream. Yummy! Put beer in front of me and I yawn. Offer me the most exquisite wine and I will pass. Hard liquor? Forgetaboutit. Freshly ground coffee smells good but as Cyrano says: “No thank you! No, I thank you! And again I thank you!” However, put food in front of me, and I will respond.
Unfortunately, I haven’t always liked the best and healthiest foods. Growing up poor, I developed poor eating habits. With 11 of us around the dinner table, you had to eat so fast you hardly tasted the food. My mother would often tell us, “don’t shovel!” Whenever cake was sliced if it was a sliver larger for one than the rest, there would be outrage about, “he always gets the biggest piece.” The choices were usually inexpensive foods like macaroni (it wasn’t yet called pasta), Italian bread and cereal.
I must admit, when I left home I didn’t change much. Perhaps I added pizza, Stella D’oro cookies to the mixture. Also, if I passed a store that had Breyer’s ice cream on sale, I’d walk in like a zombie and make the purchase.
As a ballet dancer, I’d see myself in the mirror regularly, so whenever extra unwanted pounds appeared, I’d cut out the high carb foods. But, I would drift back to my regular pattern over and over again.
Obviously this is not healthy.
This past March that all changed. One weekend at a family celebration I overdosed on pasta, breads, cake and ice cream, and I felt awful. The following day I attended a friend’s concert. After the performance there was a reception in which they had coffee, tea and Italian cookies. I had one cookie, then another, then chatting with friends I planned to leave and I said I wanted one more for the road. My friend Christian told me that he hadn’t had a cookie in over two years. I stopped. (I didn’t stop munching, I just stopped in my brain.) I wondered if I could ever utter that statement.
Around this same time I had been reading a lot on the internet about the Paleo diet. Paleolithic is caveman. (This is appropriate because my sweetheart often accuses me of having too many caveman qualities.) The principle behind it is that for 9/10ths of human existence, we have survived on meat, fish, fowl, nuts, berries and leafy vegetables. I thought to myself, what’s missing? What ingredients are included in my food addictions like pasta, bread, cereal, etc.? Grains and sugars.
The Paleo theory contends that many of today’s ‘diseases of civilization’ such as diabetes and obesity are wheat and sugar based, and did not exist in the caveman era.
You might think that this sounds like the Atkins or South Beach diets, but I think of those more as fads that don’t necessarily avoid processed foods.
Since the Paleo way sounded rational to me and I agreed philosophically, it was now time to work on the psychological aspect. So, I vowed to immediately stop buying all high carb foods, whether it was on sale or not. The principle being that my health was more important in the long term than any immediate gratification I might encounter. Next came the idea of how to gradually transform my diet. I planned to do one day on Paleo, one day off. The following week, two days on Paleo, one day off. Next week, three days on, one off, etc. Until it became a steady part of my life.
The result? I dropped 15 pounds, have more energy and am waxing! Now at family gatherings I’ll have sausage and peppers or chicken cutlets, instead of six plates of baked ziti. And for dessert I often have strawberries, blueberries, walnuts, perhaps with some whip cream.
In conclusion, I am not 100% Paleo and can’t say I ever will be. But what I am is more aware of my health and I have a system that makes sense and eliminates my food addictions, so that eating is a positive instead of negative part of my life. I don’t crave high carb foods anymore and am fully convinced that I will live a longer, healthier life due to my Paleo conversion.