Desperate times call for desperate measures. So far, in my life, I’ve avoided diets. I’ve always used increased activity and workouts to lose weight. But after letting myself fall out of fitness, I came up against the tyranny of time. At a certain age, just adding in a few more walks or hikes is not going to do it. So I carefully reviewed about a dozen or so of the most popular eating programs where I actually knew of people who’d had results with them. Let me just clarify, by “carefully reviewed” I mean I went through them to see which one would force me to give up the fewest things.

I settled on the Paleo plan, which you probably know advocates that we eat as our Cro Magnon ancestors did. Going down the list of what I couldn’t eat, it seemed relatively painless.

  1. No dairy. Well, that’s easy. I’m lactose intolerant.
  2. No grains, refined or unrefined. I’m not a big eater of bread and pasta, so that seemed doable.
  3. No sugar. Surprisingly, I have no sweet tooth. A box of cookies can sit on my counter unmolested for weeks. If I have dessert, it’s usually some dark chocolate. But I could give that up, no biggie.
  4. No legumes. Now this one I didn’t understand. Besides the fact that I love beans, aren’t beans incredibly healthy for you? And long before humans learned to farm, they were gathering wild beans and eating them, so for me, this didn’t fit the Paleo story. Okay, I decided, I’ll do without beans for awhile but probably phase them back in after a month.
  5. No alcohol. Yeah, I know that this is probably where my extra calories are coming from. And I know I should cut way back. But Paleo says I can have a little as long as the alcohol comes from fruit not grain. HOORAY! Wine is in!

So armed with a couple of Instant Pot specific Paleo cookbooks I headed for a brave new eating world. That was a couple of weeks ago and I’ve already fallen off the wagon. In fact, I never went more than three days in a row on the program. Here’s what tripped me up:

A simple bowl of beans becomes sublime with some aged Asagio cheese. Not to mention a protein powerhouse. What does Paleo have against beans?
  1. You are allowed pretty much unlimited protein, fruits and vegetables — and Paleo doesn’t make some vegetables — like Sweet Potatoes and squashes — second class citizens. Sounds good, but it wasn’t that simple.
  2. You don’t count calories and you can have any kind of protein, but with rice and beans banned, that leaves you with a lot of meat. I love fish, but I couldn’t eat it every night. And without something filling like beans, I felt like I was leaning too heavily on red meat to give me that “full” feeling. And that’s even when I had three vegetables on my plate.
  3. Because you are eating clean, everything is cooked from scratch. EVERYTHING. There is no ready prepared or frozen emergency supplies you can lay in for those times when you are ready to gnaw off your own arm and you just want dinner now. My go-tos in the past have been those Indian frozen dinners. They all come with rice and naan bread, though, so those are out. Scratch a cornmeal crust pizza. Throw out any frozen individual portions of lasagna. Also everything preprepared has sugar or some sort of sweetener in it.

Perhaps the greatest shock was seeing how many of the foods I thought I didn’t care about I actually do eat. In fact, the foods that are banned are what tend to make the foods that aren’t banned worth eating. Sure you can have a big steak. But you can’t have it with horseradish sauce because it has dairy and sugar in it. Go ahead, make that big pot of beans. But you won’t be topping it with shredded Monterrey Jack. Forget Teriyaki chicken, that’s got sugar and soy in it. Ad infinitem.

It was my third bowl of plain beans and my second pot of potato cauliflower soup (without Chinese fish sauce and all the other special ingredients that elevate it to the next level) that I decided this wasn’t working.

So I’m reaching back to a very special hunter/gatherer Paleo ancestor. I’m thinking of perhaps the Timbisha Shoshone who happily occupied Death Valley for centuries and considered it a land of plenty. They gathered wild grains and mesquite beans, which, along with tubers and greens, actually do exist in the hottest place in the United States.

One thing I discovered visiting Death Valley during its recent super bloom: there’s lots of life — and edibles — in the desert.

And hey, when miners showed up in Death Valley, some of them must have been Scottish, so I’m guessing the Timbisha Shoshone had a passing acquaintance with oatmeal. Porridge is back in. Mexican and Italian miners must have introduced beans with some queso, so a tiny bit of dry aged, low milk fat cheese like Asagio, aged Monterrey Jack or Parmesan is now on my menu.

I did notice on the days when I had absolutely no grains, I did experience less bloat. But I found that to be true if I had something other than a sandwich for lunch. You see, an egg and bacon breakfast can’t be done without an English muffin or a piece of toast. It may be psychosomatic, but I’m convinced the breakfast with the muffin carried me at least an hour longer than the breakfast without the muffin. And with the muffin, I was happy with one piece of bacon instead of three.

So, I’m going to try to eat like my imagined Timbisha Shoshone role model. But I’m going to recognize that even he or she probably would walk an extra mile across the desert for a good piece of Indian fry bread.

Of course, this is all predicated on upping my exercise to the point where my Timbisha Shoshone role model would call it a “rest day”. For that push, I’ve got present day friends. I was just contemplating my abject failure at dieting when a friend from New Orleans emailed to propose that we should sign up for the Saint Patrick’s Day Half Marathon through the desert near Lake Mead. At my present level of fitness, that’s going to mean a scary level of preparation.

I think my Timbisha Shoshone imaginary forefather would approve.

I won’t exactly be running through the Valley of Fire. But close to it.