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Whole30 Paleo: How I Failed But Succeeded

Before I get to the details of my month long experiment that ended yesterday, here’s one of the last meals I made.

P1020530
Texas – Thai Chili Fusion

I had a package of ground beef on hand and suggested to Beatrice that I make a Thai curry with some onion and white sweet potato, or a texas style chili with regular chili powder and cayenne. She opted for the latter. But I decided to do both. Very simple. Cook the ground beef on low and when finished, I added about a cup of beef stock, a cup of coconut milk — perhaps a bit more — a can of diced tomatoes, and a half of chopped onion. Brought it to a simmer, let it reduce slightly — but not too much, because the chili powder thickens — then about 2-3 heaping tablespoons of chili powder, a teaspoon or so of garlic powder, a half teaspoon or so of cayenne and a sprinkle of Italian seasoning and parsley. Let it simmer some more until the consistency was just right, then added the cubed sweet potato, turned it to low, covered and simmered for about the 20 minutes it took for the potato to get soft.

All this can vary to taste, of course. Click on the imaged for hi-res.

P1020532
Garnished with chopped arugula
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One more for good measure

Alright, now to beat myself up about my total failure in trying to follow the Whole30 squeaky clean Paleo plan. Feel free to join in, in comments.

Dallas and Melissa Hartwig do good work over there, so it’s certainly no fault of theirs I didn’t stay perfectly clean (and Dallas was kind enough to offer encouragement in email). The gory details are that I indulged in some booze; and over Thanksgiving while visiting relatives in So Cal, pretty much indulged in some totally non-Paleo things over a two-day period.

Alright, so I confess: perhaps I’m not cut out for the purity thing.

But you know what? I got great results anyway:

  • Dropped 6-7 pounds
  • Dramatically reduced random bouts of sneezing and congestion
  • Totally eliminated random bouts of heartburn (except after one restaurant outing I assumed was “pure” paleo and over those two days of the holiday where things went nuclear
  • Improved skin softness
  • Most curious result: dramatically improved hyperopia (farsightedness)

On that last point, several years ago I found myself having an increasing difficulty reading things up close like the computer screen, a book or text on my phone. Went to the ophthalmologist and she said my far away vision was perfect but that I needed some mild reading glasses which she prescribed. I found that using them for a couple of weeks would in some way correct the problem and I could go a few weeks without.

But over the last few months it got to where that didn’t happen anymore and it became increasingly difficult to read food labels and ingredients (that’s by design, of course) or my iPhone if I didn’t happen to have my glasses with me.

The iPhone is a great yardstick though, and over the course of the month I found it becoming increasingly easy to read when I was out and about. So, coolness.

Ok, so what shall my penance be for not sticking to plan? Here’s what I’ve decided:

  1. Keep to about 95/5 on the food, mainly by starting to use butter and a little cream, occasional white potatoes (but no rice)
  2. Keep alcohol to moderate levels, no more than three days per week
  3. Keep restaurant excursions minimal, no more than three outings per week

I think it’s on that last point that I derived the most benefit. I was eating out way, way too much, usually at least once per day for either breakfast or lunch, and Beatrice and I would go to dinner twice per week on average. Way too much. …Way way way too mucho.

But over this last month I’d say it was more like maybe five total outings, I was as careful as possible with choices and only one outing I can recall resulted in digestive issues like heartburn.

So, my birthday is January 29, just under a couple of months away and I intend to stick with the above three points until then, and perhaps beyond, and I will also take a shirtless photo on my birthday, with the intention of having the best body composition since I began all of this.

A final thought is that while I’m disappointed I’m not able to relate how rock solid my discipline was, the alternative is that I would have continued on a path that was far too lax, and that carried adverse health, well being and body composition consequences. But even though not perfect over the month, I came away greatly satisfied that I gave it a shot, because in terms of well being, I really began to recapture the idea of what it’s all about in the first place: feeling great most of the time. I think that for me, I need to be 90/10 or above most of the time. 80/20 seems to induce a slide to 75/25, 70/30, 60/40…you get the idea.

So there you have it. You may now commence beating up on me.

Richard Nikoley

I'm Richard Nikoley. Free The Animal began in 2003 and as of 2021, contains 5,000 posts. I blog what I wish...from health, diet, and food to travel and lifestyle; to politics, social antagonism, expat-living location and time independent—while you sleep—income. I celebrate the audacity and hubris to live by your own exclusive authority and take your own chances. Read More

37 Comments

  1. Debbie on December 8, 2011 at 10:27

    you rocked it Richard. your ‘slips’ were minor IMHO. And losing weight anyway shows that. I wish I could stop buying .99 cent store reading glasses and stashing them everywhere. 🙁
    Good Job!
    deb

  2. Doug on December 8, 2011 at 10:29

    I am the same way with the 90/10 thing for actual success..I put on about 5 Lbs (after losing 60 since February) since the Thanksgiving weekend. i know I can take it off again quickly but letting things go for 2 weeks makes getting back to 90/10 for weeks at a time tough again. I figure I’ll maintain through New Years and get back on the weight loss wagon after the holidays…i need to lose another 15 Lbs for my goal. Paleo makes it so much easier to readjust though. i told my wife “Yea…I gained some weight but took it back off the next week by sticking to my chicken wings, broccolli, and butter diet!”….

  3. Kim C. on December 8, 2011 at 10:37

    I think you have the right attitude about the whole experience. Instead of feeling guilty for not completely complying with your intended plan, you have found insight in the experience and figured out a new path that will hopefully be the right fit for you. As you preach, it’s all about self-experimentation and self-reflection.

  4. Justin on December 8, 2011 at 10:38

    I think you’re totally right, it’s about feeling great more than anything else right?

    Continued success…

  5. Brett Legree on December 8, 2011 at 10:40

    Congrats Richard – I find that 90/10 or 95/5 (I’m somewhere in there) tends to work best for me as well.

    I never have done the ‘blow out days’ since I started this whole thing almost two years ago. I just didn’t feel like I needed to, I guess – and it has made it so much easier.

    Because as you say, when doing 80/20, it can become so easy to slide… my wife has been trying to go this way, and it is the slide from 80/20 that keeps getting her.

    Especially this time of year, with Christmas parties, it can be so easy to say, ‘just tonight, I’ll eat poorly and drink a lot’ and then suddenly it is 8 nights like that…

    Your experiences with your eyes mirror mine as well – my left eye has been hyperopic and my right eye myopic for years. About a month ago at my last eye examination, my optometrist sent me away with a letter to take to the licence bureau – 20/20.

  6. Dallas @ Whole9 on December 8, 2011 at 10:58

    Richard,

    I’m glad you recognized the success in your “failure”. Ultimately, you did not “fail” due to some extrinsic set of factors. You made a conscious choice to eat/drink stuff that you know does not make you healthier. That’s not “failure” – that’s a *choice*. There is no guilt in that, or shame. It’s simply consequences to your actions. Did you allow yourself the opportunity to learn as much as possible during your 30 days? No. But did you learn things? Absolutely. So while we think that you need more than a couple weeks of strictly clean eating to develop keen insights into which foods you do and do not tolerate, there is no “failure” in quitting early. You simply chose to not learn everything possible. Melissa wrote an article that’s published in the current issue of Paleo Magazine that details why we don’t think that the holidays are a good time to do the Whole30, and I think you might have stumbled onto the exact reasons why we make that case. Nonetheless, we’re glad that you recognized value in giving yourself the opportunity to learn from squeaky-clean eating, and hopefully you’ll use what you’ve learned to make progressively better choices over time. So, like you wrote, your post-partial-Whole30 95/5 path is waaaay better than before, and that’s all that matters. See, that beating wasn’t so bad, was it? 😉

    Dallas

    • Richard Nikoley on December 8, 2011 at 11:35

      Hey Dallas.

      Lots of great insight. It makes me recall that I got into all this back in the spring of 2007 in a gradual manner, over many months getting a bit better until I was probably 90/10 or better most of the time. I slipped away in an equally gradual manner and now find that at day 31 I perhaps feel just as enthusiastic in really keeping things pretty clean most of the time and actually getting better over time, a thing here and a thing there.

      Continuous improvement process.



    • xtremum on December 8, 2011 at 19:25

      I didn’t think that you were consulting with the Whole 9 puritans before you started this, but maybe I missed it, or maybe it was a secret. Anyway, when I read Dallas’ comments above, I don’t hear anything constructive, I just hear condescending. It sounds like the same old (religious?) guilt trip to me. Not to mention the whole “learning about yourself” sounds like some woo woo bullshit to me.



    • Richard Nikoley on December 8, 2011 at 20:37

      Well I didn’t take it that way at all.



  7. Nicola on December 8, 2011 at 11:19

    This is more inspiring than you know … well done

    2 x typo alert “ground been” but we all knew what you meant

    • Richard Nikoley on December 8, 2011 at 11:36

      Thanks.

      “damn you auto correct.” 🙂



  8. Lute Nikoley on December 8, 2011 at 11:21

    I wouldn’t beat myself up for not staying at the 100% for all 30 days. What you did is close enough. Good job the way I see it.

  9. Erik on December 8, 2011 at 13:01

    Nice to see you’ve discovered the fallacy of fixed eyesight problems.

    I’m nearsighted, not terribly, but enough to need glasses. Until those glasses were washed away after falling into a river this summer, while I was living on an organic produce farm, eating pretty pure… I’ve been consciously “exercising” my far vision since and often wake up with crystal-clear vision in the morning. Later in the day, as it gets dark and I’ve spent more time looking at things up close, it declines, but it’s improving all the time.

    Since no one profits off people improving their own vision via diet and exercise, I wouldn’t expect to see it in the news for a while. Someone will have to write a controversial bestseller first or something.

  10. Patrik on December 8, 2011 at 13:14

    Ive experienced a similar thing after changing my diet completely, still not paleo, but working on it.
    For over 4 months Ive had blurry vision on my left eye, small “watery” spots in the centre as well. Went to two different doctors as well as the local eyeglasses store, noone could find out or suggest what it could be.
    Three weeks ago, almost to the day I stopped eating sugar and wheat, as well as pasta, rice and bread. The blurred vision started disappearing after a week, and today Im almost back to “normal” vision.

    Of course, telling people around me that it was sugar doing it just made them go “nah, probably not, must be something else.”

    • Erik on December 9, 2011 at 04:12

      I imagine they’re probably trying to point out that you were deficient in vitamins V (Visitstoapriceydoctorsoffice) and P (Pharmaceuticals).

      Everyone knows that wheat and sugar are great and only loonies would disagree.

      (I am currently the loony working on a close friend with ulcerative colitis, severe autoimmune issues and numerous food allergies… all of which draw a straight, bold line to low gluten tolerance. She’s fed up with medical advice, period, too many bad doctors)



    • TMS71 on December 10, 2011 at 22:31

      Let us know if your friend goes Paleo and her condition improves.



  11. Alex Good on December 8, 2011 at 15:19

    Don’t worry, I won’t beat on you… I like a challenge 😉 .
    But the next time you make stew try out cayenne pepper, cumin and cinnamon for the spices (as well as the basic salt and pepper). It is really good.

    • Richard Nikoley on December 8, 2011 at 16:18

      Yea, I’m a fan or all those. Not sure if I’ve tried them together, but I’ll have to.

      I’ll have to someday do my mom’s recipe of “Sweedish meatballs,” secret ingredients being cinnamon and cocoa powder.



  12. VW on December 8, 2011 at 18:20

    I say you did fine, Richard. Guys who drive hard can be tough on themselves at times. Good on you for being moderate in this regard after the 30-day program.

  13. LXV on December 8, 2011 at 20:51

    Interesting. I’ve noticed a similar improvement in my eyesight when I’m eating clean. I’m hyperthyroid so I’m prone to pressure behind my eyes that mushes them out of shape and gives me double vision. When I eat and sleep the way I should (and make an effort to rein in the stress in my life) then the pressure goes away and I don’t need my prism-glasses. I wonder if it’s a similar mechanism that affected your vision.

  14. gallier2 on December 9, 2011 at 05:19

    Excision doesn’t mean what you think it means. In the way you used it, it would mean that you would stop not going to restaurants.

    But as a French, the word ticked me especially off, because its main meaning in French is female genital mutilation (a meaning that it can also have in English but much less frequently).

    • Richard Nikoley on December 9, 2011 at 07:52

      gallier:

      Well, it’s another damn-you-auto-correct moment. I had to go searching ’cause I had no idea what you were talking about.

      The word was supposed to have been ‘excursions,’ not excisions. 🙂



  15. Kevin Hughes on December 9, 2011 at 07:00

    Well done Richard. I was right there with you, but I stayed close to 100% clean. It’s easy for me as I don’t drink, but I do use cream in my coffee, and that’s been my one real, constant digression. I am down almost 10 lbs. The biggest difference to me is how good I feel in the morning. When I wake up I am raring to go. I don’t feel like lying around doing nothing.

    I am glad you did this. It was all the inspiration I needed to get back to clean. Thanks.

  16. Pauline on December 9, 2011 at 07:03

    Hi Richard, such honesty is what we all need. I like your thoughts on how easy it is to slide into poor eating habits, once you have too many meals that include things which stir up cravings etc. I watched this month with interest and was looking forward to your results, I am not disappointed. I was not ready to try it to go 100% paleo although I wanted to but I am always somewhere in the middle, trying to clean up and trying to still have a good time. I like your thoughts about trying to cut back alcohol to a few times a week, I got used to a glass of red wine with dinner but have this month reduced that and find my craving for it is gone almost completely. I am trying to cut back chocolate, and coffee down to one a day now (I have to have mine with milk and sugar). I have been reading so much on thyroid and especially uk Dr Barry Durrant-Peatfield’s book on Your Thyroid and How to Keep it Healthy. My eyes too are not as sharp but hoping as I clean up my eating on a more regular basis that would improve. Have you read Dr Brownstein’s book Iodine, Why You can’t Live Without It? My partner and I are both on natural dessicated thyroid Armour since September, and have felt great improvements all right. Both a lot warmer this winter (in UK) than normal and more energy. I am doing research on the Iodine drops to find out more. I find your openness to experience and share the best part of this blog. Thank you.

    • Richard Nikoley on December 9, 2011 at 08:10

      “Have you read Dr Brownstein’s book Iodine, Why You can’t Live Without It?”

      To tell you the truth, there is so much conflicting info on iodine and thyroid that I have no idea what to think. I’m hypo myself, used to be on synthroid, dropped it entirely during most of my weight loss and seemed to feel fine. But my labs had pretty elevated TSH, so I went back on meds a couple of years ago, but Armour this time. I don’t feel much difference. I also take 1/2 tablet of Iodoral a couple of times per week.

      I’m considering finding some sort of seaweed or two at a local Japanese market I like and eating that instead of the supplemental iodine.



  17. Erin (Primalvore) on December 9, 2011 at 07:30

    Psh, sounds to me like you did awesome. Best thing about a Whole 30 is that it makes you reevaluate your current plan and opt for a road a bit more strict than before…but not as insane as the whole 30 itself.

    Yours truly was also born on January 29th. Trying to tighten up the diet as much as possible so I can give myself a few allowances on Christmas and the B-day. Good luck with your new plan :0)

    • Richard Nikoley on December 9, 2011 at 08:17

      Hi Erin:

      Lot’s of good looking food on your blog. Cheers.



  18. Pauline on December 9, 2011 at 08:26

    Yes we are on natural dessicated thyroid – Armour 2 x 1 grain (60mcg) a day. We import from USA International Pharmacy and have found our skin feel moisturised and soft, nails are stronger, body feels warmer from the inside, more energy generally. We are self-diagnosising and treating symptoms to see if will work as we both have elevated TSH but UK NHS’ preferred treatment is pharmaceutical thyroxine only. Your previous comments on Thyroid supplementation in your blog also helped in my search.

  19. Jason on December 9, 2011 at 09:54

    Richard,
    I remember you saying you’d keep your fasting routine through this experiment. As you came closer to the 90/10, did you find it easier to fast? I find when I’m closer to 100% (not that I’m ever there), the fasting period is much more tolerable. Just curious what others experience.

    j

    • Richard Nikoley on December 9, 2011 at 11:48

      Jason:

      I can’t recall how I had planned to fast but it turned out to be very intermittent. Some days I’d eat at 8am, some days 11, and some days not til the early afternoon or in some cases, just dinner. Essentially, when hungry. Once I started eating then I would pretty much eat a meal and then graze, like medium boiled eggs, sardines, smoked oysters, stuff like that.



  20. dr. gabriella kadar on December 9, 2011 at 12:36

    Welcome to Presbiopia! Far sightedness improves, near sightedness decreases. Unfortunately it all happens rather suddenly. Focus on the lines in your palm and see how far you need to hold your hand to focus.

    I’ve been sleeping in the hammock for months now. I put a wool duvet in it so I fold it over myself and stay nice and warm. Breathing is better and it is utterly comfortable. I realize that the concept of sleeping in a hammock is a major paradigm shift for most people, but the native people who invented the thing were very smart.

    cheers,

    g

  21. Madbiker on December 10, 2011 at 04:54

    Nice Job, Richard. The 80/20, 75/25, &c is the same slide I always fall down. It starts with a bit of rice with a stew, or some sourdough bread at a party, and ends with pizza and ice cream, sometimes topped off with chocolate chip cookies.

    You’ve inspired me to do the Whole30 too, but I have to wait until after Christmas. Well, I don’t “have” to wait, but as Dallas said, I’m choosing to wait, because my birthday and Christmas are fast on the approach and I’m not sure I can keep it 100%. In fact, given my predilection for cheese, I know I cannot do it. 75/25, maybe. Just keep the pizza out of my sight!

    We’ve never been big New Year’s party types, so I think after we get our good night of sleep on Dec. 31 while the rest of the world parties into oblivion, I am going to be aggressively Paleo. Watching Dr. Wahl’s TEDx speech is also inspiring. My trip to the grocery store today will serve one purpose: load my fridge with veggies and liver.

    Thanks for this post and the honesty. The results, especially the bit about eyesight, are impressive.

  22. TMS71 on December 10, 2011 at 22:44

    Laying off the favorites, like pizza and alcohol is definitely the hardest part about Paleo eating. Paleo food is fine, GOOD even but saying no to pizza is still hard sometimes. Its best to admit to yourself that its hard so you don’t feel like something is wrong with you when you have to fight yourself to lay off your faves. Its much easier at home when you don’t keep it in the house. Actually thats no trouble at all. Eating out is hard – the temptation to order what you really find most delicious is hard to resist.

  23. Mark on December 17, 2011 at 13:47

    Any particular reason you are laying off rice?

    • Richard Nikoley on December 17, 2011 at 13:58

      No particular reason. I’m just intereststed to continue the purish paleoish. 🙂



    • Mark on December 17, 2011 at 14:03

      10-4. I’ll be going with more sweet potatoes than white going forward, and looking to limiting rice in general. It’s amazing how much longer they (sweet potatoes) satiate than regular, although I still enjoy white more (more food reward?).



  24. Jake on December 27, 2011 at 00:29

    Just made the chili. Damn. That was ridiculously good!

    Subbed yellow potatoes for the sweet potatoes, and didn’t have any italian seasoning. So it was 3 heaping tablespoons of chili powder, some cumin, cayenne, and salt and pepper.

    This is going into the recipe rotation. Planning on making it at least once a week. It took 10 minutes of work. Super simple. And the payoff was good.

    I think the hard part about a primal/archevore lifestyle for me is the sheer amount of work in the kitchen. But I have no excuse now. I’ll just keep some leftovers in the fridge! 🙂

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