At the Midpoint of an Inadvertent Eating Experiment, the Data Are Fairly Clear

Sunni's picture

As I’ve mentioned a time or two in this space, for a couple of years now I’ve been eating more or less primally (for those who don’t know, it’s a variant in the paleo approach to eating and health that says dairy products are fine to eat if an individual has no problems with them). Because of his relaxed, “try various things and go with what works for you” approach to eating, I’ve made Mark’s Daily Apple a site I visit daily, and one I regularly check for food inspiration.

But the large backlash against the paleo approach set me to wondering if my results were fortuitous—due more to other factors than my change in foods. After reading the Atlantic’s lengthy (and somewhat sour-grapesy) article on the subject—This Is Your Brain on Gluten—I decided to turn my recent dietary slide into something of a case study.

Let me back up and fill in some details first. Since October, I’ve been particularly preoccupied with pursuing a possible major change in my life (this one I will talk about here once I know how it’s going to play out in the short term), and especially how that will shift things in my household. I wouldn’t say that I’m worried, per se: it’s a big enough change that I think a lot about how I’ll handle it, and especially how the snolfs will need to adjust as well. So with that occupying a good chunk of mental space, I’d become a little too lax about my eating habits. I could tighten it up for a week or so, but then one of the kids would make a donut run and ask me if I wanted something, and I’d say yes, or on impulse I’d buy a sixpack of hard cider...

The aforementioned Atlantic article was published the day before solstice; and as I read it that morning, I decided for the rest of the month, I’d step off the food rollercoaster I’d been riding. I reasoned that over the week that the dojo would be closed because of Christmas, some of my nagging joint pain would have a chance to heal; and if gluten and sugar weren’t so bad for it, they would have no effect on that process nor on other aspects of my functioning. So here’s what I did: I ate whatever I wanted, without overindulging more than I usually do. If I wanted bread, I bought excellent, locally made real sourdough bread and ate that; I enjoyed making desserts more often and ate my second servings rather than giving them to the snolfs; and I didn’t say no to white carbs if that’s what I wanted (by that I mean popcorn, white potatoes, and rice). I didn’t stop eating vegetables, nor did I start consuming loads of packaged, processed foods. I just increased my carb intake via the white carbs, alcohol, bread, and sugar.

Since this experiment didn’t really have a definitive starting point, I don’t have a pretest weight. My best guess is that I’ve gained just six pounds, though. That doesn’t seem so bad... but the effect of those pounds and the foods I’ve been eating couldn’t be clearer.

My face and abdomen are constantly slightly bloated. Rather than my mildly complaining joints recuperating, they have stayed the same, while new joints (and ones with no prior history of injury that I can recall) have become stiff and uncooperative. I didn’t think it possible, but my sinuses are even more plugged up. Despite continuing the oregano-oil treatment on my arm, that itchy patch mildly flared a time or two (that seemed to happen after higher levels of alcohol intake). I will spare you the litany of digestive symptoms... suffice it to say that despite eating sugar-free yogurt nearly every day (as has been my longstanding habit), my guts are not terribly happy right now.

Because yesterday did actually mark a major change in our lives, I celebrated New Year’s Eve with the snolfs. We trained at the dojo (open practice, so it wasn’t as brutal for me as it will be tomorrow), then had a steak dinner accompanied by a lovely prosecco. Despite the enjoyable evening, I couldn’t help but notice how uncomfortable I am with my body right now.

Starting today, my plan is to be on a fairly strict primal regimen for the next 30 days. Even though dairy is allowed and I have no problems at all handling lactose, I’ll do my best to be completely dairy-free during this time as well (I often forget about butter), to see if that makes any difference with my sinuses. My activity level will stay relatively unchanged; it fluctuates from day to day, of course, but I mean I’m not going to add any new exercise to my varying routine. Rather than eating yogurt for probiotics, I'll be eating the excellent Bubbies sauerkraut while I get my own fermented veggies under way.

It’ll be an interesting month, to be sure! I hope that each of you has had a great start to the year ahead.


Hi Sunni, good luck with your experiments. As you know I've been experimenting with my sleep patterns of late. I admit that I'm pretty lax about most everything health-related (food, sleep, exercise, etc.), although I do avoid large amounts of sugar and alcohol, and I stay away completely from processed foods. Looking forward to hearing about your results ~30 days from now!

Positive Changes Are Already Afoot

I’m quite interested to know how those experiments are going for you. Since I need to be up and working fairly early, I don’t think I have a lot of wiggle room on that variable.

I weighed myself before training this morning, and have lost three pounds already. I’m sure that’s practially all water weight, as my bloat has receded noticeably. More important, I’m already feeling better in a lot of ways.

How's it goin?

Just wondering how you are doing and if your new program is going well. I just sent for some kefir grains, and will experiment with that combined with yogurt. It sounds like a lot more work to make the kefir, but it has other properties not found in the yogurt and so was worth looking into. I'll send you some kefir "grains" later, if you like. If you take care of them, you won't ever have to buy any more.

Slow and steady.

Thanks for asking, Mama. I wasn’t able to stay off dairy the entire month—going off yogurt had some unexpected consequences—but other than that, the month has gone well. Unfortunately, because of resuming consuming it, I have no information regarding the effects of dairy on my sinus issues, so I’ll retry that experiment soon.

I think I’ve lost about ten pounds and am feeling better. The bloat is gone, for which I’m very thankful. Now to work on getting my endurance back.

What kind of kefir grains did you get: water or milk? I’m planning on getting some of the former, so I can resume the no-dairy experiment but have those probiotics daily. For those who are curious, as I was, here’s an excellent summary of some differences between kombucha and water kefir.


I have zero problems with milk, wheat or much of anything except garlic - and I'm even tolerating more of that lately. :) I do not care for fermented foods such as sauerkraut, except rarely and in very small amounts, so the kefir and yogurt seem to be a better idea for me.

I'll be experimenting to see if I can use the kefir grains along with the yogurt culture to produce a more diverse bio product, since I don't want to be making kefir every 48 hours because I simply can't consume that much.

First I'll make kefir, then add it to the yogurt just before I put it in the jars. We'll see how it goes.

Oh, and it is not at all necessary to heat the milk for yougurt to 180 degrees as most directions suggest. I heat it to about 120 for only a few moments, and then culture it. Not as thick as store yogurt, but plenty thick enough for my taste.

But the water kefir might just replace the yogurt for you very well.