Paleo-ish: What I Took Away From Being On A One-Month 'Caveman Diet'
Anyone who knows me knows I have a pretty serious relationship with food: I love it. There’s close to nothing I don’t love about it.
That being said, anyone who knows me also knows diet changes. Diets, in general, are my Achilles heel because I dwell on the thing(s) I’m giving up, constantly thinking about how I must have what I can’t (shouldn’t) have.
So, me being me, I thought it was a good idea and the perfect time to conduct a little experiment of self-improvement during the month of June.
I’d willingly go “paleo,” just for fun. Well, not just for fun because diets are NOT fun.
A few friends of mine decided to eat healthier after binge-eating a ton of great food during their recent trip to Vancouver.
My significant other also encouraged me to be healthier with him since we tend to frequent Little Caesars for crazy bread and little Mexican holes-in-the-wall for tacos on a weekly basis. Plus, I’m pretty sure he was tired of listening to me complain about how my jeans didn’t fit like they used to.
All in all, these were the events that led up to this month-long food purgatory -- I mean, nutrition challenge.
The Basics: aka, What You Can and Can’t Eat During a Paleo Stint
A lot of the time, the term “paleo” is associated with Neanderthals and CrossFit, both of which are totally appropriate associations. The whole premise of paleo is the only things you put into your body are those that the cavemen would’ve lived off of.
Paleo experts argue this is how our bodies are programmed to run most efficiently, to stay lean, energetic and, most importantly, healthy.
I don’t know if I agree with this 100 percent. I can make a pretty strong argument for caveman figuring out how to milk prehistoric cows and goats, leading to the production of cheese (aka, the greatest food known to humankind).
Despite my disagreements with the whole “no dairy” rule, overall, general paleo criteria is pretty easy to abide by for those who aren’t faint of heart, or possess mere ounces more of self-control than I do.
Paleo’s major downfall is it can be a bit pricy to maintain this lifestyle, as it is so much more cost efficient to eat like crap. For some reason, organic food costs an arm and a leg, as well as grass-fed everything (but you really can taste the difference).
There are also hardly any paleo options if you don’t have time to meal prep and want to go out to eat. This makes meal prepping crucial.
Meal prepping can also be extremely time-consuming. Some people dedicate entire evenings just to weekly or biweekly meal preps.
Thumbs up! Eat these: organic vegetables, grass-fed lean meats, seafood, organic fruits, nuts and seeds and healthy fats
No go! Avoid the following: dairy (drat, my favorite!), grains (double drat, I love rice!), processed foods and sugars, legumes, starches and alcohol
A Day in The Life of a Paleo Palate
An average day of meals typically goes as follows:
- Two eggs topped with salsa and a bit of avocado
- Two to three slices of bacon
- A generous handful of berries (raspberries quickly became my favorite morning berry)
- A tall glass of water
- The occasional serving of veggies (like Brussels sprouts cooked in bacon fat)
- A lean protein, like lean ground beef
- Mashed cauliflower (this quickly became my arch nemesis)
- Sweet potatoes cooked in bacon fat
- Brussels sprouts or cucumber and yellow squash
- Half an avocado
- A tall glass of water
- A handful of almonds
- The occasional bit of almond butter (which actually turned out to be a huge treat)
- A tall glass of water
- Chicken fajitas with white onions and bell peppers (I also made my own marinade, which consisted of lime juice, avocado or olive oil, minced garlic, chili powder, salt and cilantro.)
- More prepped vegetables (i.e. mashed cauliflower, sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts or cucumber and yellow squash)
- A tall glass of water
In the past, whenever I’ve done something like this, the first couple weeks were always the most difficult. Because I cut my intake of most carbohydrates besides veggies, I experienced a bit of lethargy that doesn’t have anything to do with a lack of sleep.
For this reason, during the first week, I didn’t cut all the rice from my diet to save myself from crashing.
I also relied heavily on good hydration to help me feel full when my three square meals a day and light snacking weren’t cutting it.
I made it a goal to drink 100 or more ounces of water a day, especially on days I planned to work out.
I completely cut all consumption of dairy and processed foods when I began the challenge, and seriously limited the amount of fruit I ate.
Prior to the challenge, I regularly snacked on a lot of fruit because I figured it was healthier than eating chips and cookies and other junk food. However, to paleo standards, one should limit one’s fruit intake.
Therefore, during June, I only ate fruit in the amount I could fit in my hand and only ate it in the morning with my breakfast.
Cutting dairy felt like cutting a limb off my body. Why? Because I love cheese. It is one of my favorite foods in the world, and I could probably live off it.
You know what else falls into the “dairy” category? Yup, you guessed it: ICE CREAM. I also love ice cream; it is my all-time favorite dessert.
Sweets were also pretty much off the menu, unless it was a fruit, which I was only able to eat a little bit of.
I Actually Found It Beneficial!
Despite my constant cravings of cheese, ice cream and Hot Cheetos, I won’t begin to discount the several benefits of eating paleo I experienced.
It’s helped me cut body fat and is probably the most effective method I’ve used in terms of leaning out.
It’s probably simultaneously the hardest because of my daily struggles with self-control, and easiest way for me to get my body fit.
However, I don’t know if I leaned out because of my temporary paleo diet or because I subconsciously -- and consciously -- became tired of the monotony of eating paleo, primarily the vegetable fillers that were necessary to make myself full.
It was likely a little of both.
In addition to leaning out, I also found my overall performance at the gym (I do CrossFit) improved as well, at least in terms of endurance and speed.
I typically worked out four to five times a week, and at least once a week, I would do back-to-back workouts.
Even though I put in all this hard work, I didn’t notice any improvements in the area of gains with the barbell.
I wasn’t too heartbroken over this because these are changes that require more than just a month of eating healthy to be noticeably significant.
Although, I do believe my one rep max bench press has increased significantly, due to multiple rep testing at pretty heavy weights (and by heavy, I mean heavy for me).
Physically, I did feel better when eating paleo versus when I’m eating whatever the heck I want. For example, I recently consumed a Double-Double from In-N-Out with a Chick-fil-A sandwich inside of it (one bun removed so as not to have an excess of bread).
This was paired with a side of Chick-fil-A’s yummy waffle fries and lots of Chick-fil-A sauce and some animal-style fries. I woke up the next day feeling truly horrendous, like I needed to do a week’s worth of workouts to work off that meal.
Mentally, I felt slightly unhinged because more often than not, I was thinking about the food I loved and missed. My sleep patterns improved while I ate paleo as well.
When I don’t eat at least semi-clean/semi-paleo, I constantly wake up multiple times in the middle of the night for no apparent reason, besides the fact my body finds it fit to punish me that way.
Eating weird/unhealthy foods for dinner or before bed tends to affect my sleep cycle, and not always in a food-coma way that induces a food-coma-like, fitful sleep.
Paleo is a lifestyle, one that is definitely not for everyone, myself included. Based on this challenge, I can consider myself a “part-time paleo-ite” at best.
I don’t know even know if I can consider my eating habits as 80 percent paleo, 20 percent all the other good non-paleo foods because I love non-paleo food so much, and find excuse after excuse to eat whatever I want.
Maybe I’ll eat paleo on the weekdays and treat myself on the weekends. Perhaps, the next time I attempt to make such drastic diet changes, I’ll try a more primal approach and challenge myself again to see if I reap more benefits going down that route.
But, before that time comes, and as a reward for making it through my (mostly) paleo June, I’m going to enjoy some celebratory treats.
This includes but is not limited to donuts and ice cream, and maybe some donuts filled with ice cream, the genius concoction that is pizza dip, deep dish pizza and gourmet mac and cheese.