Those of you keeping track know Randy and I are nearing the end of Phase 2 of our Alchemist Eating program. We officially complete 30 days of no-cheat, Phase 2 “food rules” this Tuesday.
Meanwhile, as a quick recap, these were our rules this past month:
1. Stay within primal parameters. This is the baseline diet of Alchemist Eating and is how we eat already, even outside of Phase 2. In brief, eat real, whole food, including meat, veggies, healthy fats and oils, and a moderate amount of fruit, nuts and seeds; avoid processed foods, grains, legumes, added sugar and artificial sweeteners, and chemically altered or otherwise unhealthy fats and oils.
2. Avoid dairy. This means cutting even primally approved dairy, such as full-fat, sugar-free Greek yoghurt, grass-fed butter and hard, raw-milk cheese. For some people, it’s good to cut these things anyway; for us, it’s a Phase 2 thing.
3. Avoid sugar, except that occurring naturally in fruit. Also avoid all paleo-primal baked goods. This means cutting primally approved “sensible indulgences” and sweeteners—even honey. For us, it also means keeping fruit to a minimum.
4. Avoid alcohol. One exception is the trace amount in GT’s Kombucha, which, incidentally, is probably no more than that found in an extra-ripe banana.
5. Avoid increasing our coffee intake. For us, this means holding steady at 1-2 small cups a day.
So…now that the end is near…how’d we do??? And how was it???
In truth, not that bad. And by “not bad,” I mean it was totally fine.
As expected, Week 1 was the hardest. And cravings were still hanging about during Week 2. (For more on what we craved and how we dealt with it, go here. And for support on dealing with sugar cravings, in particular, go here.)
By Week 3, our new-and-improved “food rules” were the new normal. Wasn’t even craving my beloved Greek yoghurt anymore! New comfort foods had firmly taken up residence in my lunchtime repertoire (namely, avocados, which I’ve been eating in abundance alongside my usual eggs, bacon and veggies).
Now, for sure, part of our ease with this process was all the indirect, unintentional “prep work” in the months (and years) prior. We were already eating paleo-primal, so the Phase 2 rules were not nearly so drastic as they are for many. Made this Phase 2 much different than my very first “elimination diet,” that’s for sure (during that one, I was coming off a decidedly non-paleo muffin habit).
This is one reason why, in our Alchemist Eating program, we don’t throw people into Phase 2 straight away. First, we make sure they have all the prep they need in Phase 1—which, in itself, is a super-cool, super-useful place to hang for an extended period. (Learn more about our 4 Phases here.)
Okay, okay, so we get an A+ for sticking with it (yay, us!).
But what was the point? What did we achieve? Most important, were the extra rules worth it?
I’ll start with a short answer to the last question first: Yes. We’re both glad we dove into (and stuck with) Phase 2.
To back up a bit, let’s look at why.
Here’s a short list of our intentions (or goals, if you prefer) along with outcomes:
1. Stepping out of—and bringing heightened awareness to—our usual patterns around eating and food.
With the paleo-primal eating we do normally, we honestly don’t experience a sense of “deprivation” or “restriction.” Indeed, we’re all about abundance (and not at all about “diets”).
That being said, Randy and I actually appreciate a dose of deprivation every now and again. We recognize that it too holds value. Offers a gift.
One way it does so is by lifting us out of us our comfortable, familiar “okay point.” It helps us appreciate things more…and pushes us to look deeper and to ask useful questions: What’s really happening here? What do I really need? What do I really want—and why? Anything else? Yes, and?
Another gift of “intentional deprivation” is that it opens up space. What’s more, the discomfort, investigation and questioning that arise create movement toward filling this space with something useful, something valuable, something needed.
This was my Number 1 reason for doing (another) Phase 2. After years of work, I was already very, very happy with my paleo-primal diet. But the intentional deprivation created heightened awareness about my current eating (and life) patterns…plus opened up extra space, freed up extra energy and created extra momentum for me to tackle new projects (like this website and still-stumbling forays into food photography, for example). This, in and of itself, was enough to make Phase 2 totally worth it.
And Phase 2 did indeed offer a useful reminder of what it feels like to switch up famillar patterns, give up comfortable habits, sit with discomfort and cravings—and, well, take our own medicine!
3. Reducing “dampness” in body and mind.
“Dampness,” from a Chinese Medicine perspective, can take many forms—some more tangible than others. In general, it denotes a particular quality of stagnation and sluggishness in the body-mind. It’s dirty, wet, heavy, slow and lingering and can manifest on physical and mental-emotional levels. On a physical level, weight gain is one possible manifestation. Other examples include acne and excess production of mucus.
I was mostly interested in the mucus reduction bit. I’m not super-snotty…but dislike the feeling of immediate mucus production after eating dairy or sweets. As expected, cutting these during Phase 2 meant a significant reduction in mucus…and “dampness” in body-mind overall. (Randy reports similar results here, but feels slightly weird discussing his snot status in a public forum—really can’t imagine why.)
4. Getting better, sounder sleep.
Whether you’re doing a Phase 2 or not, primal and Chinese Medicine lifestyle principles encompass far more than a set of “food rules.”
Eating well is a core part of wellness…but so is adopting other habits and patterns that help us thrive. These include getting the right balance of exercise and rest.
Sufficient sleep, as one aspect of this, is a Really. Big. Deal. For mood and cognition, for metabolism and digestion, for immune function and healing…for pretty much all workings of body and mind.
So Randy and I set the intention of getting at least eight hours of sleep a night during Phase 2. Did we manage it? Um, sort of. I guess we did a little better, on average, than usual. But still fell pretty short.
I’d give us a C, as in “C”learly more work to be done here. Sleep truly does affect everything.
5. Finding out whether body composition would change (for me) and trying not to lose weight (for Randy).
For us, Phase 2 wasn’t about weight loss.
Still, I was curious whether and how my body composition would change. And Randy was intent on not losing weight (because our usual paleo-primal eating pattern keeps him thin without trying).
Well? I don’t think Phase 2 eating altered my body composition in any significant way (and I don’t use a scale, so couldn’t tell you whether my weight changed).
One thing I’ll share is that during my 20s (when I was a vegetarian carb-sugar-and-cardio addict running an hour a day), my weight was pretty much the same as it is now (probably around 95 pounds, at 5 feet tall). Back then, I was trapped in a horrible cycle and literally exhausting myself and my body to hold my weight steady.
Now, at age 40, I eat paleo-primal and my only real form of exercise is yoga. I’m the same weight (but with improved muscle tone), and I don’t have to exhaust or fight myself to maintain it. Plus, I have far more energy and far better health and resilience than I did i my late 20s.
Do I still have body image issues? Absolutely! But I share this “success story” because I know firsthand how hard it can be to step out of the sugar-carb-cardio cycle….and what a transformative impact doing so can have on body and mind. (For me, it took a “health crisis,” but there are much gentler ways—we can help with that.)
As for Randy (who, remember, was trying not to lose weight), he seems to have succeeded. One help was adding in plenty of primally approved carbs, such as sweet potatoes and yams, along with a healthy amount of nuts. (Anyone wanting to lose weight during Phase 2 would want to limit these.)
6. Going 30 days without added sweeteners and with minimal dietary sugar.
For me, one aspect of this was supporting Randy in reducing sugar and getting to the next level of eating and health—he’s made amazing changes over the past two years and was really ready for this next step.
Why give up sugar? For starters, it takes a serious toll on body-mind health in the immediate and long term. For more on that—and overcoming sugar addiction—learn how to get a free guide here.
How’d we do? Really, really well. And honestly, it wasn’t that bad (even for Randy, who greatly reduced his consumption of fruit and paleo treats—not to mention forgoing his beloved grain-free waffles).
Since transitioning to paleo-primal, I’ve not been so keen on the sweet stuff anyway…except, um, on my 40th, when I ate four desserts in one sitting (in my defence, they were delivered to our table, and we just couldn’t let them go to waste).
But during Phase 2, my after-dinner desserts shrunk even further…reaching espresso-cup size. Usually, this meant a date, a spoonful of coconut butter and, like, five blueberries. Because I had eaten plenty of protein and fat at lunch and dinner, this teeny serving of sweets still felt like too much.
Even on a purely mental level, it feels amazing to go a full 30 days without added sweeteners and with minimal dietary sugar. That is, after all, what humans did for generations upon generations, back when sweets were a rare treat for extra-special occasions.
(Dessert, Phase 2, Espresso-sized serving, no added sweeteners)
So, that’s where we’re at—perhaps leading you to wonder…
What’re we eating next week, especially on Day 31???
(Randy, Phase 2, Day 27)
To find out, check back this Sunday for our cook-up post!
Have any “food and eating” intentions, success stories or places of challenge to share? Please do so in the comments!
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