What’s the best whole-food diet?
A carefully-crafted plant-based diet emphasizing only nutritious, alkalizing, and energizing foods?
The Paleo diet, based on the eating patterns of humankind over the last two million or so years?
An omnivorous diet of whole foods with high-quality meat and dairy?
Which is best? Undoubtedly, that depends on the person. But it is possible to determine which is best for *me*. Next Friday, I’ll begin an experiment which could potentially take up to 39 weeks: a 12-week trial of three quality whole-food diets in turn, each beginning with a 1-week transition period.
Why? First, I need to lose weight. Although I’ve come a long way in the four years since I began running, I’m still overweight, and I want not to be. More than that, I want to be lean. Running lighter is simply more fun! Although these diets aren’t meant specifically for weight loss, I believe that Thrive’s nutritious vegan approach will very likely help me lose weight. Second, I need to find what best fuels my running. Although I’ve been a near-vegetarian for years, after reading sources for athletes that encourage a lot of protein, I began eating far more eggs over the last year. However, my results were mixed, and I want to investigate. Hence, my three-step experiment outlined below.
Diet I: Thrive-inspired plant-based whole-food diet
I’ll largely be following the plan presented by Brendan Brazier in his wonderful book Thrive: The Vegan Nutrition Guide to Optimal Performance in Sports and Life. Thrive is much more strict than most vegans eat (there are lots of junk-food vegans out there). Thrive is concerned with eliminating dietary stressors, acid-forming foods, and non-nutritious foods. Thus, processed carbs, wheat, corn, and many forms of soy are out, as are high omega-6 vegetable oils, refined sugars, and coffee. Did I really say meat, dairy, eggs, wheat, corn, soy, cheap vegetable oils, sugar, and coffee? Isn’t that at least 90 percent of the Standard American Diet? It is, and Thrive is almost the antithesis of SAD.
What’s left? Nearly all vegetables, all fresh or frozen fruits, most nuts and seeds, plus more exotic fare like sea vegetables, ancient grains and pseudo-grains. Special attention is given to the balance of Omega 3, 6, and 9 fats, and reducing inflammation. Strict as it is, Thrive is still less restrictive than some other diets like Timothy Ferris’s slow-carb diet which eschews all fruits and grains.
However, its restrictions do concern me; sustainability is key for any long-term strategy, so I’m going to allow myself two mild “cheats” per week. These are not going to be a license to eat a pint of ice cream or a half chicken. These will be reasonable cheats, like a sushi lunch). And I’m not a fanatic—I won’t sweat it if I eat a wrap with mayo that might have a couple of grams of egg in it, or have something sweetened with honey instead of agave nectar. Beside the “vegan cheats,” I’ll also allow myself a few optional “Thrive cheats”–foods that, though vegan, fall outside of the Thrive world (white rice, some nachos, etc.)
In spite of my premeditated cheating, I am really looking forward to this exciting approach to eating. Who can resist a recipe called “Wild Rice Yam Pancakes”?
Diet II: Paleo
After I’ve given the Thrive diet a 12-week test, I’ll probably begin a test of the Paleo diet, Loren Cordain’s modern-day adaptation of humanity’s pre-agricultural, hunter-gatherer diet. Paleo consists of meat, eggs (in moderation), vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds only). The condition is that if Thrive should feel so perfect that I can’t imagine eating any other way, screw it—I’ve found what’s right for me. However, if I’m still interested, Paleo is up next. Again, I’ll be emphasizing whole-foods, and will strive to eat the best, closest-to-wild meat, fish, and eggs possible during this time. Looking at Cordain’s recipes, they seem rather, um, mundane compared to Thrive’s, so I’ll likely continue my vegan meals as before, but will incorporate at least one animal-based meal a day, whether eggs or meat. I know some of you are wondering how could anyone have LESS that that, but for me, that will be a dramatic change.
Note: I will not hesitate to end the experiment early if I feel a dramatic loss of energy, or any other strongly negative effects.
Diet III: Whole foods with dairy: omnivore or lacto-vegetarian
Assuming I still haven’t been won over by Thrive or Paleo, I’ll try a third alternative, incorporating high-quality grass-fed dairy, and possibly eggs and meat, contingent on my experience of Paleo. Again, I might cut the experiment short based on my experience.
UPDATE, May 12, 2013
How did it go? Read about it.