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My Paleo Experiment

October 5, 2012

Background

I’ve had an ongoing curiosity about the impact of diet, exercise, and sleep on my mood and energy level. I first heard of the Paleo diet a few years ago when I was attending Quantified Self and similar meetups. Browsing through the Everyday Paleo cookbook at Costco reminded me of the diet and triggered my decision to run a 30-day self experiment.

Hypothesis

Eating a Paleo diet for 30 days will improve my mood.

Method

Beginning September 2nd, I began eating a Paleo diet. Most of my meals were home cooked recipes from the Everyday Paleo cookbook. When eating out, I did my best to choose Paleo-friendly menu items.

I measured my mood on Moodscope. Prior to the experiment I measured my mood every 2-6 days. During the experiment I measured my mood every day, typically in the evening after dinner.

I periodically weighed myself on the Withings scale first thing in the morning.

Results

  1. My baseline mood improved from roughly 35% to 55%.  In addition, the variation in my mood has significantly decreased.
  2. My weight has dropped from 163 lbs. to 151 lbs. and my body fat has dropped from 17% to 14%.
  3. Today, my dental hygienist told me that my gums looked really healthy—not puffy like they have in previous visits.
  4. My wedding ring is much looser.

Image

Discussion

In Everyday Paleo, the author recommended trying the Paleo diet for 30 days and then deciding whether to continue eating Paleo if you feel more alive and energetic. If not, you can always go back to eating the way you were before.  Well, there’s no question that I feel better. I’m especially glad that I diligently measured my mood every day—looking at the graph is much more compelling than simply explaining how I remember feeling.

Unlike many individuals that try diets, my goal had nothing to do with weight loss—losing a little weight (and body fat) was a pleasant surprise. What surprises me is that I have lost weight simply by changing what I eat, not how much I eat. Not once during the 30 days did I withhold myself from eating as much as a wanted.

While I’m absolutely satisfied with the results, I will admit that this required an extraordinary amount of effort and will power. Since this was my idea, I took on the responsibility of cooking for the entire month (typically my wife and I alternate cooking every week).  Rather than eating a bowl of cereal and yogurt every morning, I would make something on the weekends that I could warm up during the week, such as a frittata and gluten-free muffins.

Eating out was also a challenge. I’m very fortunate to live in San Francisco where many restaurants are known for serving fresh, local ingredients.

After completing this 30-day experiment, I’m convinced that eating a Paleo diet is healthier and significantly improves my mood. The challenge I now face is deciding how much effort to invest in continuing to eat Paleo. The question I ask myself is, why did this work? More specifically, what food did I eliminate from my diet that has the most impact? Was it the dairy? Gluten? Legumes? Sugar? Or was it that the foods that took the place of these ingredients were simply more nutrient dense? Or could this all be placebo effect?

Next Steps

I plan to continue to eating Paleo when I have the choice. When I make exceptions, I’ll see how I feel and start deciding what foods I need to avoid.

I want to make it as easy as possible for an individual to identify the smallest behavioral change with the greatest potential to improve a health metric that she cares most about. I am working on clarifying my vision for how to do this and will follow up in another blog post.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 6, 2012 11:56 am

    Fascinating experiment Jeremy. Well done for sticking with it and thank you for publishing your results. I was intrigued by the considerable mood oscillation as soon as you started with the paleo diet, and what could be thought of as an immediate mood drop – which then pretty quickly started to improve. Any thoughts about what might have caused those swings and the tumble? Perhaps starting the new regime was a bit of a pain? Did you perhaps get headaches or something when you started eating new stuff? It’s very interesting.

    • October 7, 2012 12:38 pm

      Hi Jon,

      Funny, I was about to email you a link to this page when I noticed that you had already commented on the post!

      I was wondering the same thing. Here are a few possible explanations:
      1) The mood swings were present prior to the diet change but were not being recorded since I hadn’t started doing measurements daily. It wouldn’t surprise me if I missed some low mood days prior to the change as I may have been less likely to record my mood when it was low.
      2) Given the dramatic change in composition of what I was eating, perhaps this was my body adapting to the change.
      3) I exercised the mornings of the first two high days after the diet change but not on the low days.
      4) I ate out on the evenings prior to the 1st and 3rd low days after the diet change. While I did my best to choose Paleo-friendly foods, I can’t be 100% certain what I actually ate.
      5) There are a couple of other personal comments I made to myself that I’m happy to share privately that may have also influenced my mood during the first few days.

      The question I now want to answer is: of the foods that I eliminated from my diet, which have the most significant negative impact on my mood? I don’t feel like 100% Paleo is sustainable given the effort required. After many conversations yesterday at the Health 2.0 Code-a-thon (http://goo.gl/3SDZp), I have refined my idea for beginning to gain insights into this question. The minimum-viable product would look something like this:
      1) Record the foods I eat (to begin, use an Android app to scan and record UPC codes of the foods as I consume them)
      2) Pull ingredients/allergens/nutrients from http://www.foodessentials.com/
      3) Populate a word infographic (like the Moodscope Triggergram) with the words from step 2

      My hypothesis is that I would gain insights about the underlying ingredients that are problematic (gluten, lactose, artificial flavors, added sugar) for me personally.

      I’d love to get your thoughts/feedback on this idea.

      Cheers,

      Jeremy

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