September 2017

I Am Not a Caveman

Author: Courtney Hampson

Yesterday, at the gym, I partnered with Caitlyn. She’s been coming to the gym for a few months, and sometimes we’re in the same class. Halfway through our series of push presses, I asked her how she was enjoying CrossFit and, in turn, she asked me how long I’ve been CrossFitting?

I answered as I often do, “Five years. I should be thinner. I drink a lot of margaritas and eat a lot of tacos.” I always feel the need to justify, and I don’t know why. I’m not one to make excuses. I often (via these pages) put it all out there. But, even after five years of CrossFit, and watching my body transform into muscle, I still feel this little tug that says, you do all this work, you should be thinner. But, in the end, I also love food. And my commitment to working out really allows me to eat what I want, when I want, without repercussion. I know when I work out less—and I have taken extended breaks over my eight-year fitness journey—I gain weight. To get back to where I want to be, I modify my diet, increase my exercise, and soon I am back to ground zero. I like it there. My clothes fit. I have energy. My legs and shoulders and arms are strong. I’m happy.

I love to cook, I love to try new restaurants. When I travel, I often determine where I will eat each meal before I even book my airfare or hotel. Food is the window to a culture, a place, and it is what connects to me to a destination and to people. We connect over food—we long have. Family meals. Sunday suppers. Thanksgiving feasts. People share good food, good drink, and good conversation. Food is often the underbelly of tradition. And, I embrace that idea whole heartedly.

What I can’t get behind is fad diets, point systems, or drinking shakes four times a day. I struggle with the rigidity of doing something just one way. But, for the sake of the food issue and all I hold dear, I volunteered to be a test subject for the paleo diet. So, here I was. 21 days to deadline and 21 days to attempt to eat paleo.
The premise of the paleo diet is to eat like our Paleolithic ancestors, who were hunters and gatherers. They survived on meat, fruit, berries, nuts. Also, important to point out, they are dead. Anyhoo, this means no dairy, no grains, no alcohol. The paleo diet is basically a pizza lover’s (er, me) greatest nightmare. If I can pull it off, it will be the greatest contradiction of my life.

Eat: Meat, fish, eggs, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, herbs, spices, healthy fats and oils.

Avoid: Processed foods, sugar, soft drinks, grains, most dairy products, legumes, artificial sweeteners, vegetable oils, margarine and trans fats.

Sounds glorious.

Day 1. Tuesday, August 1. I started the day with the 5:30 a.m. CrossFit class and had a yogurt for breakfast. And, I already failed. Greek yogurt is a great source of protein, which my doctor and coach tell me I need, but it is also dairy, and the paleo community is divided on whether it is in or out. And, the contradictions began. It all went to hell from there. When I visited the Canteen at work for lunch, I had the panini of the day (read bread and cheese) and came home and made pasta for dinner. I redeemed myself by taking the dog for a one-mile walk, and added on another two miles for me to assuage my guilt. Maybe I should e-mail my editor.

**Day 2.**I went to CrossFit again this morning and took the dog on what we (the dog and I. His name is Blue and he is practically human) call the “Graceland Loop.” It is a one-mile loop in our neighborhood that takes us past a home tucked behind wrought iron gates with cannons on them. I don’t know that Graceland’s gates had cannons, but alas, it is the Graceland loop to us. I quickly ruined all that hard work by ordering the blueberry pancakes at the Sippin’ Cow for breakfast. These are literally the best pancakes I have ever had, and you need to stop what you are doing right now and go there. I had a salad for lunch, but then cancelled that out with a little team-building event at work, where we had beer and a taco bar. I do subscribe to the Blue Apron food delivery service (blueapron.com) and had a beef taco with fresh veggies for dinner, which was 90 percent paleo. But still, the day was an utter failure by my Paleolithic ancestors’ standards.

Day 3. Rest day. My body hurt. And I listened to it. I also listened to my doctor, not the cavemen, and had yogurt and granola for breakfast (again) and a nice, light salad for lunch. Then I ate a cup of Reese’s Pieces and texted my friend Jake to tell him what I loser I am. He lifted my spirits by telling me he enjoyed that I experiment on myself with my writing. That’s right, this is an experiment, and lots of experiments go wrong! Then the guilt returned when I remembered I was going to my mom’s for dinner and she was making my favorite chicken parmigiana and pasta for dinner. Oh well, there is always tomorrow.

Day 4. I went to CrossFit, came home and poured myself a cup of coffee, added cream and sugar, which I know is not paleo, and already I failed. I’ve come to accept that my yogurt is a miss, but I was certain that my quinoa “granola” and berries were paleo. Wrong. Quinoa, while technically gluten-free and better for than you most grains, is not paleo. Super.

It was half-day Friday, and I was feeling sluggish. So, I bailed on my lunch “meeting” of margaritas and tacos, and went home instead, feeling proud of my willpower. Lunch consisted of strawberries and grapes, and a few spoons of peanut butter. News flash (after I licked the spoon clean): Peanut butter is not paleo. Cavemen ate nuts, but not peanuts. And the hits just keep on coming. I skipped dinner. It was easier that way.

Day 5. It was Saturday, and Saturday CrossFit workouts are always the toughest. Today was no different. I walked the dog after and then had a late breakfast of eggs (win), bacon (win) and half of a whole grain muffin (better than white flour, so suck it paleo diet). I had a snack in the afternoon of cashews, but they were honey roasted, which felt like a fail But, no matter, I went to Cotton & Rye, in Savannah for dinner, so knew it was all about to go out the window. My better half (BH) and I shared a charcuterie platter (which included lots of meat and veggies to balance the cheese) and wings (chicken, good), I had the scallops for dinner, which were phenomenal, and we shared a black tea banana pudding for dessert. Bananas are fruit, so there. Wine is also made from a fruit, but not paleo. Baby steps.

Day 6. Started the day with a 30-minute sprint workout and a gallon of water. The hardest part about working out in the morning is wanting to eat breakfast, and let’s face it, trying not to throw up. I combined breakfast and lunch and snacked on grapes and a plum, and cheese (fail). For dinner, we grilled shrimp and roasted potatoes. Potatoes are on the “not really paleo, but in moderation they are okay list.” So, the day (sans the cheese) felt like a win.

Day 7. I went to CrossFit and immediately knew I should have rested today, as I came home and iced my knees. BH brought me some coffee (with cream and sugar), so I drank it. It would have been rude to give it back. More non-paleo yogurt and quinoa granola for breakfast. I was beginning to ask myself if I was even trying anymore.

For lunch, I had the leftover mac ’n’ cheese from BH’s Cotton & Rye dinner Saturday night. I knew my stomach wouldn’t agree, and I was right. I spent the better part of my afternoon in the restroom. At work. Of course, today was the day a crew was working on the HVAC system, which is in the attic, the access for which is across from the ladies’ room. So, two men got to watch me go back and forth to the bathroom for a solid 30 minutes. This may be too much information, but it is important information. Cream plus oil plus cheese is not good for your gut. And, one point for paleo.

We made another Blue Apron meal for dinner, which was 98 percent paleo. We grilled chicken and corn (grilling it in the husk retains 100 percent of the flavor and is a game changer) and made an heirloom tomato salad. We took a two-mile walk after dinner to forgive the mac ’n’ cheese sin of earlier.

Day 8. Rest day. I had a bowl of Honey Bunches of Oats cereal for breakfast, which was a total fail, and a mixed green salad with chicken for lunch, which was spot on until I added the Caesar dressing. I grabbed some cashews around 3:30 on my way to a meeting so I could have at least one meal/snack that was actually paleo.

When I got home, I walked two miles with Blue and then boiled some Blue Apron Gnocchi (pasta, bad), from a recipe that I’d already scavenged all the other ingredients from, added homemade sauce (good), sprinkled it with cheese (bad). The beauty of Blue Apron meals is that the portion sizes are pretty modest. Of course, I was home alone, so I ate both portions. Bad.

Knock knock.

Who’s there?

What’s the opposite of paleo?

Courtney!

Day 9. This was my day. CrossFit. Check. Paleo breakfast. Check. One over-easy egg and one piece of pork roll. Paleo lunch. Check. Grilled chicken and an avocado. Paleo dinner. Ground beef and pork burger nestled between two huge tomato slices with lots of pickles. Corn on the cob, grilled in the husk (so good!). Check. Check. Check.

Knock knock.

Who’s there?

What is paleo?

Courtney!

Day 10. I slept in and skipped CrossFit, which wouldn’t be a big deal except I still had to go to the gym because I was meeting Bill from Alljoy Donut Company there to pick up three dozen donuts for a work event that afternoon. Of course, as I pulled up, my coach came out yelling, “Don’t you dare eat one of those!”

So, I had a Kind® nut and fruit bar for breakfast, and a salad for lunch. Mixed greens still good, chicken still good, that horrible Caesar dressing, still bad. And then, the witching hour. We hosted a “Donut Forget Us” farewell party for our three summer interns. So, not to be rude, I ate two donuts.

To assuage the guilt, I made a very rare appearance at the 5:30 p.m. CrossFit class and quickly remembered why I go in the morning. One, I am not awake enough to realize that my car is already driving me there. And two, it is 20 degrees cooler in the morning. Here is the perk of CrossFit in the evening though: I am too nauseous to eat dinner. The dog didn’t care how I felt, so we still logged a mile walk, and I went to bed.

Day 11. I don’t care what is happening, I am not going to CrossFit twice in 12 hours. I had a breakfast meeting at Corner Perk and ordered the Sandbar Smoothie, which is packed with kale, pineapple and other super foods that are paleo-friendly and good for the body.

Half-day summer Fridays are still in effect, so I snuck out early and enjoyed grapes and cheese for a light lunch, and lounged in the backyard. Then, I had pizza and ice cream with my nieces.

Why am I still writing this story?

Day 12. Another CrossFit Saturday. I rowed a 10k (6.2 miles) with two partners. It is never good when the next class is showing up while you are still working out. BH met me afterward, and we headed to Sippin’ Cow for breakfast, where you already know I couldn’t resist the blueberry pancakes. But (bright spot) I was so exhausted and wilting from the heat and the workout that I barely ate one pancake. That is a victory. Plus, it had blueberries, so it was half paleo.

Lunch was a hard-boiled egg and a peach. One hundred percent freakin’ paleo.

And then, then it got bad. We went to the Palmetto Bluff Artist in Residence “Find Your Flavor” ice cream workshop. You know what happened next. Then, we went to Agave and had chips, salsa, margarita, tacos, etc. Were there cavemen in Mexico?

Day 13. This morning I repented for my sins with a 2.5-mile sprint workout and a plum. I screwed it all up by eating two pieces of leftover pizza for lunch, and then redeemed myself with a dinner of roasted kale and tomatoes, and salmon. Now that is a paleo meal, complete with a super food! I may have done a little dance in the kitchen.

Day 14. 5:30 a.m. CrossFit, followed by strawberries for breakfast (that were floating in a bowl of non-paleo cereal, but that is neither here nor there). I had tuna fish for lunch, that I scrapped from between two pieces of bread (that is a win), and two bites of BH’s panini. For dinner, we made turkey burgers (no bun) with mango salsa and spinach—beat that—and then even went for a two-mile walk.

Day 15. Rest day. More no-paleo yogurt. I am getting sick of yogurt, but my doctor tells me I need protein (I am old now, you see). For lunch, I made a salad of kale and mixed greens with tomato, cucumber, olive oil and lemon juice. I hadn’t put one bite in my mouth before I texted BH and asked if we could please skip paleo dinner and go to Taco Tuesday at Jim ’N Nicks instead.

Alas, he had already bought and cleaned some May River shrimp, so I blistered some cherry tomatoes under the broiler, added to a pan with olive oil onions and garlic until those softened. Then I added fresh basil and the shrimp and sautéed until the shrimp was pink, adding a little jar sauce (chock-full of sugar and preservatives, I am sure) at the end. I needed some substance in my system, so I skipped the planned “zoodle” (zucchini noodles) and made pasta. And, it was delicious. If it isn’t clear yet, I have given up on being a caveman.
As we took our two-mile post dinner walk, I realized something, but I will tell you that later.

Day 16. CrossFit and a near-paleo breakfast of one slice whole grain bread, smashed avocado, one over-easy egg with a little salt and pepper. I fell off the wagon at lunch, and ate the shrimp and pasta from last night. For dinner, my plan was the leftover turkey burger and mango salsa, but ended up being just mango salsa for me and a turkey burger for the dog.

But, then I made zucchini bread to use the zucchini from the failed zoodles episode of the night before. And then I ate two slices. In the win column, I am successfully cleaning out the fridge.

Day 17. I was in the home stretch, which would be a bigger deal if I was actually eating 100 percent paleo, I presume. I hit the 5:30 a.m. CrossFit class and then met BH at the bagel shop. We used to do this a lot when we first started dating and he was getting off shift at 8 a.m. It still feels like a fun morning date, so bagel and butter bad. Cute fireman good.

For lunch, I just had a salad (Google “Eddie Murphy I’ll just have a salad,” and this will be funnier) because I knew dinner would be the most opposite of paleo. We had dinner with friends, and it included lots of bourbon and fried pickles. Sorry. Not sorry.

Day 18. I slept in (last night was late), which felt fabulous. Toasted a piece of whole grain bread (not ideal) and smeared it with peanut butter (bad nut). Fun fact: Sprinkle some paprika and cinnamon on your peanut butter toast for added flavor (it does not increase the paleo quotient). I had tarragon chicken salad for lunch (sans bread), and it was fabulous. We had dinner with friends again—Meg’s ribeye fajitas with peppers, mushrooms, onions and homemade salsa were fabulously paleo, the queso and margaritas decidedly not. The Mexican brownies I made, definitely not. But, the conversation beat anything the cave men ever talked about, I can guarantee you that.

Day 19. Today was day-one, week-one of Savannah Rock ’n’ Roll Half Marathon training, so I got a four-mile run in early (it was still 90 degrees and 83 percent humidity), and followed that with a 1.5-mile cool down walk with Blue. I had a piece of zucchini bread for breakfast. By the way, I have a great paleo zucchini bread recipe, which uses almond flour. I didn’t use that recipe, but I do have it if you want to borrow it.

Lunch was grapes and lots of water, followed by a couple hours in the shade reading. And for dinner, I made a mixed green salad with fresh mozzarella (if you haven’t figured it out yet, I am not giving up cheese), tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and a light olive oil and vinegar dressing.

Day 20 and 21. I was hit by a stomach virus and in bed for the better part of 30 hours. I ate basically nothing, and for the first time in three weeks, the numbers on the scale moved. Go figure.

So, here is what I learned. It is quite simple: I burn a lot of calories when I work out, run, walk, and I cannot sustain myself on vegetables, berries, and meat alone. I know my body. And you know yours. I don’t want to be a caveman.

Life is short. Exercise. And, for God’s sake, eat the cake.

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