Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Paleolithic Diet Again

The first time I ever needed to lose some weight coincided with my discovery of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's  Gulag Archipelago. The author writes quite a bit on the topic of food (or lack thereof) in Soviet prison camps during the 1930's, 40's and early 50's. Prisoners were expected to do work that burned many calories each day but were fed only small amounts of bread and watery soup. Under such circumstances, a potato, even a rotten one, was worth fighting for.

I tend to become deeply emotionally involved in books I'm reading, especially if the writing is vivid. After the unsettling experience of reading Solzhenitsyn's descriptions of putting in a long day of heavy physical labor and being given watery cabbage soup and a small hunk of bread, I could sit down to a meal of broccoli and lean meat and feel very, very lucky. Now and then I might walk past a restaurant and feel deprived. I vividly remember walking past Trudy's on W. 30th in Austin one wintery afternoon, smelling the enticing fragrance of warm Tex-Mex fare with longing. I had to remind myself: "That's not for the likes of me." But most of the time, I was happy with my low-cal meals, because they were so much better than the prison camp food I was reading about.

The Gulag Archipelago consists of three rather thick volumes. I was a grad student and also working during the period when I was reading it. There was not much time for extra-curricular reading, so it took quite a while to read all three volumes, long enough to lose 20 pounds or so.

I've used the Gulag method of weight loss a few times since then. I have read about many situations in which people did not have enough to eat -- people in prisons, people who were shipwrecked, people who were lost in the woods or whose plane crashed into a remote area. Please understand, I do not mean to make light of anyone's suffering. I have been deeply moved by these books, especially the ones about innocent people being imprisoned and starved. I am inspired by these people. Their strength in surviving their ordeals gives me the strength to get through a few weeks of a healthy calorie-restricted diet, even though my body figuratively cries out for carbohydrates.

So now the time has come again when I need to lose some weight. I am reading Alexander Dolgun's Story: An American in the Gulag and listening to an audio version of Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption

Alex Dolgun's American father went to Moscow to work as an engineer during the depression of the 1930's. Dolgun, in his early 20's, was working at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow when he was arrested. He spent the following eight years in closed prisons and prison camps and was in the general amnesty after Stalin's death. 

Louis Zampirini was an Olympic runner who became a bombdier in World War II. His plane went down in the Pacific Ocean, and after spending 47 days on a raft, he was picked up by Japanese and held in various prison camps from 1943 until the war ended in 1945.

This time around, after reading Michael Rose's blog I am doing a modified Paleolithic diet. I intend to eat lots of berries and nuts and roots and meat. No refined carbohydrates. Only small amounts of whole grains. My goal is not only to lose 10 pounds, but, more importantly, to get rid of the round belly I've grown over the last several years. I hate the way it looks, and I've read that carrying around abdominal fat is unhealthy. So far, losing weight has not helped much with the belly. A year or so ago, I went from 170 pounds down to 142 and thinned down everywhere except for the belly. I've remained at 142 but would like to return to my young-adult weight of 132. 

It will be interesting to see if the modified Paleo diet helps. The reason I refer to it as modified rather than strict is that I plan to eat a little yogurt and cheese, and possibly some milk and ice cream (I like to blend berries with yogurt and a bit of ice cream), and also olive oil and condiments such as vinegar. I'm close to 100% sure I'll lose weight on the diet. Since I've already dropped 28 pounds last year, I know it can be done. If I still have the belly when I get down to my desired weight of 132, I'll try a strict Paleo diet and see if it helps. I also exercise, of course -- working in the garden, pedaling a stationary bike, and doing Pilates mat exercises.

So here's my first meal of the diet: Salmon cooked in olive oil with chopped garlic and fresh basil and parsley (from the garden) and sliced tomatoes with oil & vinegar. Lemon juice sqeezed over all. It was delicious. The basil leaves were surprisingly wonderful. I threw them into the oil in which the fish was cooking, and they came out crispy. 

I can't truthfully say I'm not a little hungry, but it's certainly not unbearable.

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