Lessons learned: testing being non-Paleo

Over Christmas I decided to try an experiment.  From Christmas Eve through to Boxing Day I was completely non-Paleo.  Chris’s Mum bakes the most amazing Bakewell Tart and Mince pies (and also some brilliant little Coconut tarts too) so this was a perfect opportunity to see what happens to me (if I tried to do this experiment at home I can guarantee that I would fail dismally to be properly non-Paleo).

What I ate for Christmas

I started out gently, accepting mince pies and mini chocolate logs when offered to me over the last 3 days of work, leading up to Christmas Eve.  I also treated myself to mugs of hot chocolate at home and other, usually banned, substances.

From Christmas Eve to Boxing Day we stayed with Chris’s parents and the meals were roughly as follows:

  • Breakfast – I continued with the usual eggs routine, though I had bacon instead of broccoli.  Still Paleo, though not great for the acid/alkaline base.  I just couldn’t bring myself to start the day with Crunchy Nut Cornflakes or toast. 
  • Lunch – This was generally cold meat, cheese and salad, but also with a slice of bread, piece of pork pie, homemade sausage roll…
  • Snack – A couple of little tarts here, either mincemeat or coconut jam, some Kettle Chips there.   And finally, a bowl of mini candies (Roses, Heroes and Quality Street) nibbled at liberally throughout the festive period, especially while spending many hours of Boxing Day afternoon watching World’s Strongest Man (1980s repeats and documentaries making it a full afternoon of viewing).
  • Dinner – In principle these were again largely Paleo, with roast meat and vegetables, but I also had a couple of roast potatoes with my Christmas dinner, some chips with my Christmas Eve steak, some Dauphinoise potato with my Boxing Day dinner.  Then, of course, there were more little tarts for pudding on Christmas Eve, Christmas Pudding with Brandy Cream on Christmas Day and the Bakewell Tart with ice-cream and cream on Boxing Day.
  • Drinks – I’m not generally a big drinker anyway, so I didn’t have much, but there were still a couple of Gin & Tonics before dinner on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day (I was driving on Boxing Day) and a couple of glasses of wine with my dinner.

What happened to me?

Well apart from the obvious result of gaining quite a bit of fat in a short space of time, I became a moody Christmas Witch.  Here are my observations of how I felt:

  • Groggy – this doesn’t quite go far enough in explaining the general sense of lethargy and exhaustion that flooded over me throughout the week while I ate all the wrong things.  In fact, I had more energy in the few days after this once I was walking in the Lake District on a clean diet again.
  • Queasy – I started every day feeling fine.  While I was usually feeling a bit groggy by mid-morning, by mid-afternoon I was also feeling queasy and really quite ill by the time I went to bed.  Which in consequence usually then meant I didn’t sleep well for the first half of the night.  This reached a climax with 4 sessions in the bathroom loosing the contents of my stomach during the night after Boxing Day. 
  • Irritable – Perhaps I’m just not good at the festive spirit thing and perhaps the excessively icy conditions outdoors that kept me inside and off the bike had something to do with my temper, but I was most definitely moody and out of sorts for the majority of the test period.
  • Hungry – Despite eating more calories than usual I was frequently hungry due to the insulin spikes I was getting from my food.  I was trying my hardest to keep my calories at about the right level, but grains pile on the calories.  No matter how little you eat, you are taking in buckets of calories every time and the most unhelpful thing is that a little bit of grain-product doesn’t fill you up.  Instead you just feel the need to eat more.  And more.  And yet more.

Possible other causes

Let’s give the grains a fair hearing here.  There are a couple of other possible causes for how I was feeling:

  • Stomach bug – There was something going round at the office during the fortnight before Christmas so perhaps I had it too.  My only suspicion with this theory is that I felt fine every morning and then went downhill as the day progressed.  I was also in excellent walking condition the day after Boxing Day and had no problems with 4 days of hard walking.  If you’ve been ill, that sort of walking really tears you down.
  • Raw meat – Noticeably the three times I felt most queasy were when lunch or dinner had involved nearly-raw meat (a couple of joints of beef and some lamb).  There is a big argument in favour of eating meat raw instead of cooked so this goes against the experiences of others – I’ll do a post about the raw v cooked debate sometime.  However, we did also both feel a bit off the weekend before at my parent’s when we had had a joint of beef that was quite rare in the middle so perhaps there is some support for the theory that it was caused by the raw meat (despite raw meat never having caused a problem before).  Staying at my parents we had had a fair amount to drink too, so it could have been the alcohol that time.
  • Alcohol – I’ve dismissed this as a cause of feeling rotten at the end of each day since the day when I was worst (Boxing Day) was the day I was tee-total.

Recovering from the test period

Recovery was rapid.  We went straight into the walking holiday the day after Boxing Day.  We both felt a bit bad that morning, mostly from lack of sleep due to me being sick and a very early start, but by the middle of the day we were both lively and happy again having eaten nothing but nuts, extremely dark chocolate, cold meat and cheddar cheese since the previous evening.

Out on the hill and feeling better

Out on the hill and feeling better

So it’s not caused any long-term problems (other than weight-gain of course).


Having been through it all, the most sensible conclusion I can reach is that my body is no longer adapted to eat grains or potatoes.  In itself that also suggests to me that my body was never really very happy processing grains and potatoes if it could so quickly lose the ability to process them.

Perhaps I’m seeing that because it’s the conclusion I want to see, but it certainly makes most sense to me.  Do you think I should be reaching a different conclusion?


2 thoughts on “Lessons learned: testing being non-Paleo

  1. Pingback: Blog-watch: low carb diets

  2. Mark Simpson

    I am an intermittent Paleo eater, try my hardest but much of my life and family life is filled with opportunities to revert back to grains.

    I am writing to you after just finishing a slice of bakewell tart and whilst still drinking a hot chocolate.

    Whatever the conclusions from your non-Paleo period, I think a little indulgence now and then is probably ok. I’m sure Grok would approve (especially of the TV shows 😉 )


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