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Paleo Challenge Round-Up: Week 5

The paleo challenge is supposed to last for 30 days, so technically, it ended on Tuesday. However, as I mentioned early on, I plan to continue to eat with the “challenge” restrictions for as long as possible. There will be a few “cheats” here and there, but nothing taking me off the paleo reservation—just off the highly restrictive challenge rules.

Over the past week, things have continued to change for the better. I took the initial four weeks off from the gym, as a way of forcing myself to remember the importance of nutrition as party of a healthy lifestyle. This is one of those things that I know, but I also knew I needed both a reminder and a clear demonstration of the results. Even though I haven’t done any regular weigh-ins or anything like that, I did weight myself about three weeks ago, and again one week ago, and I’d lost about five pounds. Over the total month of the paleo challenge, I’m not sure how much weight I’ve lost, but I can tell you this: (1) I’ve gone down a full belt size, (2) my shirts and pants no longer stretch taut when I sit down, and (3) my flexibility and physical movement has dramatically improved (it was reaching a point where tying my shoes was becoming a Sisyphean task). So I don’t really need concrete numbers to see that it’s working.

Well, last week, I added going to the gym back to the equation. I made it three days for cardio (could’ve gone for four, but the bike at my gym really makes my butt hurt, and until I’m a little bit more used to the workout, I’d prefer to keep doing the bike rather than risking hurting myself on an elliptical or rowing machine, which are basically the only other machines I can do). I lost another five pounds between last week and this week, which may be unhealthy on some level, but it’s on pace with the first time I did this paleo challenge. This time, for the sake of curiosity and finding a reason why intense hunger pangs and cravings pushed me off the paleo bandwagon time and again, I’ve kept track of my caloric intake. I’ve been surprised to see I’m generally in the 2300-2400 calorie per day range—so I’m not starving myself by any means, yet I’m still “losing weight” (I don’t like putting everything into those terms, and honestly, my goal is better nutrition, so I am looking at “weight loss” as a positive side effect rather than the main purpose), a sign my body is adjusting to eating better foods and utilizing them better. (And as you’ll see, some of this week’s meals included non-“challenge” “treats” for completing the 30 days—and yet I continued to feel better and keep losing weight.)

Another positive side effect is this feeling swelling within me (that’s what she said!). I’m not sure I’d call it yearning, exactly. Maybe restlessness. In any case, I have had quite intense desires to just…get out and do things. I’m not exaggerating when I say I haven’t felt anything this strongly since the last time I started eating clean. Once I started veering off a clean diet (and I’m not talking non-“challenge” rules; I’m talking getting candy bars or fast food or whatever), I slowly but surely lost that fire. Until now, I thought that had a lot to do with things happening in my personal life. Until now, I genuinely thought I’d kind of deluded myself into thinking paleo influenced my brain with all the good vibes, but I’m starting to see that the chicken-versus-egg issue here is that eating paleo gave me the incentive to seek out good vibes (in the form of a social life, forging good friendships, and dating), in part because I feel really, really good and want to chase that “high” by finding fun, engaging, possibly perverse ways of burning off the extra energy.

I didn’t feel good then because I had a social life and feel bad now (until recently) because I didn’t; I felt good then, and I both felt compelled and had the energy to start doing the things a person needs to do in order to cultivate a good, rewarding life. When I first started the paleo challenge, I was coming off a toxic relationship, several bad dates, and a period of intense depression that left me questioning whether or not any of my friends were actual friends, or if we were just mutually using each other as emotional crutches because we were too miserable and cowardly to take any actions without running them by the committee.

I made a friend, by way of two dates that were, in retrospect, pretty bad. She was interested in fitness, running, paleo, CrossFit, and she unlocked that entire world for me, for which I will always be grateful. But I came around to thinking that a lot of the good vibes—maybe all of them—were a result of this combination of worship and, let’s face it, sexual desire for my friend. She “inspired” me, and I thought I wanted to succeed just to impress her. Now that I’m doing it all again, I’m seeing that while those things were true at that time, my desire to impress her was sort of a “Dumbo’s feather” situation; I was still putting in all the work myself, and all the positive changes physically, emotionally, and mentally came from within—from the positive results of great nutrition and intense exercise—rather than the external worship/crush feelings.

I think that’s a good thing for me to realize, emotionally. Even though these days, it’s harder for me to get down on myself, it still happens, especially when I have what seems like “evidence” of a shortcoming. When I was in full “worship” mode, it was so, so easy to eat well… Afterward I was out of “worship” mode, it got harder and harder until I just plain stopped. And I told myself it wasn’t worth the effort, because I had nobody to impress. What happened to the good old self-motivated D.B.? What happened to the guy who used to see Ayn Rand characters as inspirational figures, instead of impossible fantasies? That D.B. imploded.

But he’s clawing his way back, and astoundingly, a lot of the credit must go to nutrition. I can’t under-emphasize this relationship between the physical (what you put into your body and how you use it) and the mental/emotional. It can be so easy to lose sight of, especially if you’re like me and enjoy “comfort food” and emotional eating, but this shit is not magic. It’s also not an accident; I eat better, I think better, I feel better, I work harder, I stay sharper, and instead of a downward spiral of eating like garbage and feeling like garbage, there’s an upward spiral of eating great and feeling great, which leads to greater and greater achievements in all areas of life.


Cinnamon Bun Muffins

This was a “cheat,” to reward myself for making it through the 30 days. It’s technically all paleo, but it’s heavy on the fats and sweeteners, light on any more substantial nutritional content.

I’ll give the recipe credit: it does taste like cinnamon buns. I have to deduct some points because the recipe suggests using grapeseed oil (a liquid) or palm shortening (a semisolid, at room temperature roughly the consistency of cold butter), and agave nectar or honey. I used what I had on hand, palm shortening and honey, but I think Elana Amsterdam anticipated the preferred ingredients—the first ones listed, not the “or”—rather than the alternates, because the directions seem to think the recipe will turn out much more liquidy. Mashing up palm shortening and mixing it with honey does not yield a viscous or versatile result, so it proved annoyingly difficult to mix the “wet” and dry ingredients, or to make the topping.

I can’t argue with the results, which were pretty delicious. Okay: yes, I can. I’m going to make an assumption that the grapeseed/agave combo has less weight than the shortening/honey combo, because the topping ended up causing the center of the muffins to cave in. All’s well that ends well, because the cave-in spread the “cinnamon flavor” deep into the bowels of the muffin…but I don’t think that was supposed to happen, and is maybe another reason to use the preferred ingredients. (And a note to recipe authors: don’t supply alternate suggestions unless you’ve used them to prepare the recipe.)

I don’t mean to sound like I’m crapping all over this recipe. It tastes great, and Amsterdam has a ton of other great recipes. But as someone who is not a great cook, who has to follow a recipe for everything (especially baking), I think recipe authors could hold off on presenting alternate ingredients unless they are proven to work.

Scrambled Eggs & Smoked Salmon

This recipe couldn’t be simpler, and as a result, I have virtually nothing to say about it. Do you like scrambled eggs? Do you like smoked salmon? Then you’ll probably like the two of them combined, since that’s all there is to this recipe. It’s great if you like those two things.

The most useful part about this recipe was tracking down smoked salmon that is not filled with additives (I know this will shock you, but a lot of “smoked salmon” just has smoke flavor added; even the ones that don’t typically list brown sugar as an ingredient). A company called SeaFare Pacific makes a delicious wild-caught smoked salmon with only one added ingredient: sea salt. (Although based on the grammatical error in the ingredients list, it’s possible the #1 ingredient in this “smoked salmon” is Alaskan meat. But hey, if Soylent Green is paleo, surely this must be, too.)


Buffalo Chicken Salad Lettuce Cups

Full disclosure: instead of doing “lettuce cups,” I mixed it in with some leftover Romaine.

This recipe is damn near perfect if you’re looking for a variation on chicken salad with a bit more flavor. The amount of Frank’s RedHot seemed like a lot at first, but it adds a great kick to the chicken. I don’t have much else to say, as this is a very simple, flavorful recipe.


Crock Pot Rosemary Citrus Chicken

Full disclosure: I didn’t see the bit on the recipe about needing orange slices, so I grabbed two spare Cuties and sliced them up. In addition, I doubled the recipe. I poked around the internet to see if doubling the meat in a slow cooker recipe required doubling all ingredients; I couldn’t find a clear answer, so I went with my gut and doubled it all.

That may have been a mistake, as the final result proved incredibly tart. I can’t imagine the Cuties would create such a dramatic effect, so I’m going to blame it on doubling the ingredients. I have the feeling this recipe has potential—only partially because lemon chicken, orange chicken, rosemary chicken, and various combinations thereof are global staples—so if I make it again, I’ll use the liquid proportions for 1 lb. of chicken even if I double the recipe, see if that improves the flavor at all.

Lime-Marinated Grass-Fed Skirt Steak

Full disclosure (last time, I promise): I went to high school with Marisa Moon, so I may be biased when I say everyone should follow her blog and Facebook. I’m not sure I’ve seen anyone so passionate about the paleo lifestyle, not even Robb Wolf or Mark Sisson.

It just happened I was browsing her blog (actually looking for a different recipe I wanted to try), and I noticed this skirt steak recipe. Coincidentally, I had a skirt steak in the freezer that I didn’t know what to do with (left over from that unfortunate Thai-Style Steak Salad), so I decided to give this a shot.

I reluctantly admit, I substituted the basil (couldn’t find fresh, so I used 1/4tsp of dried). For the chili pepper, I used a red Fresno pepper. My initial assessment was, spicy. Don’t get me wrong; I love spicy, but I didn’t know what to expect from the Fresno pepper (first time I’ve bought one), and I’ve already discussed my surprise at just how much of a kick red pepper flakes can add. When I see “lime-marinated,” I’m dumb enough to ignore all the ingredients and assume it’ll have a sort of sweet-and-sour flavor.

After I realized what I was in for, spice-wise, I really enjoyed this, both as a marinade and a salad dressing. Frankly, I’m not a big fan of the skirt steak as a cut of meat, even with the acidic marinade melting down its tough exterior a bit. That said, I think this marinade would go well with a wide variety of steaks, with the possible exception of the tenderest cuts (e.g., filet mignon), which generally don’t need marinating, anyway.

One side-note is to actually read Marisa’s blog post leading up to the recipe itself. It’s full of useful information, and she is not fucking around when she says the citric acid speeds up the marinating time. I’ve made that mistake in the past, and fortunately have learned from it. Grass-fed steak is too expensive to accidentally ruin!

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  • Thank you for the shout out! I’m happy you tried the lime-marinated steak, and even happier you read the post, haha! I even debated changing the recipe because people don’t notice the details about the acid-based marinade; but I decided not to because that’s what makes this such a quick and easy recipe! People see “marinade” and think it’s going to take a lot of planning. This recipe flows pretty nicely as is, and tenderizes the steak perfectly. Thank you so much for your kind words Derek! What a great challenge you faced. Inspiring.

    Marisa Moon 5 years ago Reply Link

    • I think it’s a great tip to use acidic liquids to speed up the marinating process. What if you changed the title to something like “30-Minute Marinade,” so people will see that, go “Whaaa…?” and want to read to learn why the marinating time is so short? Just a thought.

      As for my challenge/journey/etc.: yes, I’ve had a lot of ups and downs. Screwing up my ankle really hurt my fitness/nutrition momentum and emotional state (which, as I rambled in my post, are very obviously linked). But even though I can’t do all the things I used to physically, this experience is reminding me that I don’t need to run five miles and then do CrossFit in order to feel good. Good nutrition is such a huge component. That’s one thing I really want to start emphasizing with these paleo challenge posts: it’s not about going to the gym in order to enable yourself to eat crap; it’s about taking care of yourself by doing the best thing(s) for your body, to the best of your ability. (All right, this soapbox is getting creaky.)

      D. B. Bates 5 years ago Reply Link

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