Thanks to one blogger’s experiment with eating like our Paleolithic ancestors, the “Caveman Diet” has resurfaced. Over at Atlantic Life, Alesh Houdek describes how, after several weeks of eating nothing but meat, vegetables, nuts, eggs and fish, he lost weight and found himself feeling more energetic. One of the issues with the Paleo diet, as the author himself points out, is that it’s dangerously similar to the Atkins Diet. Only, instead of avoiding bread and pasta because they’re full of carbs, the dieter is meant to avoid these foods because they did not exist back when man ate only what he could hunt and gather. Theoretically, this is how we are “supposed” to eat, what our bodies are designed to digest.
Never mind the prickly questions of butter, salt and other cooking accoutrements. (Surely, cavemen didn’t season their food and dairy is a no-no because it involves raising livestock, which is decidedly post-Paleo. And no booze? Nuts — and berries — to that.) The real problem with these protein-packed diets is that they require dieters to eat a lot to stave off hunger. In an era when we all know we should be eating less meat because the emissions associated with its production are killing the planet, it’s counterintuitive to turn to a diet that will require you to eat tons of it to stay full. But I digress.
I conducted a little experiment of my own recently. I spent a month in Italy, during which time I resolved not restrict my diet at all. I ate like Italians, which involved daily doses of pasta, gelato and Negronis, much to my delight. Naturally, the pasta, always freshly made by some Italian mama or papa, came in “primi” portions — smaller than your average American pasta portion, but often big enough to not require “secondi.” And afternoon ice cream cones came with just two small scoops. Gelato, unlike American ice cream, is made with whole milk instead of cream, and less sugar, which results is as much as two-thirds less fat than ice cream. Negronis usually clock in at roughly 160-190 calories. I often had two.
I’m not really in need of a weight-loss program, but I am a woman living in New York City and so I’m at least somewhat preoccupied with my weight. I’ve been known to gain six pounds after a single excessive meal. After a month of the Italian diet, I lost two. Not exactly a triumph of weight loss worthy of before-and-after photos, but who knows what I could have accomplished after two or three months of eating this way? Or if I’d added more exercise than hiking to the espresso bar everyday to the equation? Buon giorno, skinny jeans.
Time and again, research has shown that portion control and moderation are the most viable paths to weight loss. (I wrote the “Knack Calorie Counter Cookbook” a couple years ago, so I should know.) I’m not suggesting that daily portions of pasta and ice cream will make you thin; only that eating a in a sane and balanced way will keep you healthy and happy. And any diet that deprives its practitioners of aperitivo is truly barbaric.
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