LeBron James' 67-Day Diet Wasn't Extreme — You Should Try It For Yourself
People are going nuts over the news that LeBron James ate nothing but meat, vegetables, fruit and nuts for 67 days. They're calling it a "modified Paleo diet" which makes it sounds like LeBron went foraging for berries in rural Ohio for two months and emerged a leaner, meaner version of himself. Words like "intense" and "extreme" have been thrown around to describe James' summer.
But you know what? The "Paleo" diet -- I believe James was on the "Whole30" which isn't exactly Paleolithic, but whatever -- isn't that extreme, but it's clearly effective. In fact, you should give it a try. I did it myself this summer, and it was one of the best decisions I ever made.
I didn't go for 67 days, but for a whole month, I had nothing but meat, vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds. That means no grains, no dairy, no sugar, no legumes, no soy, no alcohol. For a superstar millionaire celebrity athlete, going 30 days without those things, or even 67, is no problem: They can afford to have every meal prepared for by expert chefs. For the layman or woman, it's a little bit more difficult, but certainly not impossible.
Let me clear up a few things about the "Whole30" diet:
1) It's not "no carbs." LeBron misspoke when he said he didn't have carbs during his 67-day experiment -- he probably meant grains. There are carbohydrates in vegetables, for example, and you can get plenty from things like carrots, broccoli and beets.
2) It's not "no sugar." Again, there are natural sugars in the things LeBron ate, particularly fruit. He meant no processed sugars -- no Captain Crunch, no coffee sweetener, no chocolate chip cookies.
3) It's not about overloading on protein. The more we learn about protein and fat, the more we realize we've ostracized important elements of a healthy diet in the name of cutting calories. Sure, eating a handful of potato chips might seem like a healthier option than a whole steak... until you realize you've eaten the whole bag of potato chips. Grains shouldn't replace protein on your plate, and the Whole30 shows you that you feel more full, for longer, when you eat good fats rather than empty carbs.
4) You won't be missing out on important vitamins and minerals. I'll let the Whole30 people explain this, since they're better at it, but basically: You can get almost everything you need from meat, fish, vegetables and fruit. And just because you're drinking milk doesn't mean your body is using the calcium the way it should.
5) The toughest part is the social aspect. Ever been to a party where everyone is drinking except for you? It's tough. I spent a few weekend nights carrying around an empty cup, just to feel more comfortable. And when you're out to dinner with friends, you might feel foolish to be the one saying "The salad... is there cheese in that? And what kind of dressing is it? Can you put that on the side? No croutons, right?" But you'll find yourself cooking at home often anyway, and anyone who can't go a month without alcohol should probably get help of another kind.
5b) And then there are the haters. Another social obstacle comes in the form of naysayers or skeptics. "Ya know, cavemen wouldn't get food from Trader Joe's" or "How can you live without cheese?" or "I feel like that's just a fad." I usually heard these things from people who were either too lazy to do their own research or were self-conscious about their own lack of self-control. If eating non-processed and chemically-laden foods is a fad, consider me the kid rocking UFO pants with a Neopet my pocket. And I lived without cheese just fine, too.
Here's what I liked the most about the Whole30: There was no "calorie counting" or restrictions. I ate as much as I wanted -- of the good stuff -- and with moderate exercise (I went to the gym maybe once or twice a week during those 30 days), I lost weight and felt better than I had in years. On the 30th day of the program, I woke up without an alarm and almost skipped to work. That's not a joke, and I was not paid to say that. It's just the truth. LeBron felt the same way:
James said that the initial plan was to cut back for a month, but that he opted to keep going because his body felt so good.
I didn't do the Whole30 to lose weight. Full disclosure: I was getting heartburn all the time and wanted to try something that claimed to cure a lot of society's common ills. And it worked -- my heartburn issues decreased significantly. But I also lost weight (between 10-15 pounds) and it never involved me stressing about eating too much, or not enough of one thing. I was able to stuff my cravings for cookies and cakes down under fruit platters and bacon-wrapped asparagus. Not bad.
Of course, none of this was "easy," but once you get into the groove (around day 15 or so), most of the cravings and Cookie Monster dreams fade. And then you're left with good lessons for the future, once you segue back into "normal" life (err on the side of veggies rather than bread to fill up; read labels; try new things; understand exactly what you're putting in your body on a daily basis).
So for those of you who think LeBron's "diet" (and I really never called it a diet -- it's more of a lifestyle alteration) is something that only rich people with nutritionists on call can do, I recommend checking out the Whole30. I'm now off the program, but I eat a lot less dairy, grains and sugar and don't miss them at all. And I'm not even trying to win an NBA title next year.
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