I did it! I went paleo for a whole month. Yesterday marked the end of 30 whole days of cavewoman-style breakfasts, lunches and dinners sans grains and dairy, minus the three days I let myself cheat due to extenuating circumstances (like birthdays and races).
I can’t help but feel a little victorious. I’ve never tried any sort of “extreme” diet before, and always wondered if I had the willpower. Turns out I do. This single fact probably means more to me than the supposed benefits of the diet—the fact alone that I resisted chips and salsa, popcorn and Greek yogurt for a whole month shows me that when I put my mind to it, I can do anything.
OK, now we’re getting a little cheesy. Seriously though, overall, it was good mental training. Sometimes, food can get the best of me, consuming my thoughts and leading me to false paradises that I then regret visiting. Going paleo helped me narrow my diet down to the absolute bare necessities, the most nutrient-rich, unadulterated pure foods I could possible load up on. And you know what? After the first week’s mental fog passed (likely from the significant reduction in carbohydrates), I felt great. I slept well, had tons of energy, and rarely experienced that mid-afternoon energy slump.
But. Yes, there’s a but. After all is said and done, I simply missed the variety a truly balanced diet offers. Don’t get me wrong, when you come home from two hours of hill repeats at 7:45 in the morning and your husband has bacon and eggs ready for you, you don’t complain. But after days upon days of eggs, boiled, fried, steamed, poached and in omeletes, eggs get old. No matter how much you love them and no matter how good for you they are. I just wanted to sink my teeth into a soft, chewy, crusty piece of good old-fashioned TOAST.
So yesterday morning, that’s just what I did. After my hour Masters swimming workout, I bolted to the market near our house and grabbed a loaf of Bread & Cie’s Fig and Anise bread. Came home, popped two slices in the toaster, and slathered them with butter and honey. Delicious. I wasn’t satiated for as long as I was on my prior paleo breakfasts, but it was worth it.
Here are a few things I learned while trying the paleo diet that I’ll carry over into daily life:
1-Eat your veggies.
I always knew this in theory, but I wasn’t practicing it to the extent I should’ve been as an active person. Carrot and celery sticks don’t count. I have learned the joys of sauteed greens as a quick side or even breakfast. I will continue to eat plenty of easy, broiled yam fries before long weekend training sessions. Mark and I joined a local CSA (Community-Supported Agriculture) and somewhat ironically, our first pick-up was last night. (I can see a “Stuff White People Like” post emerging: “Picking up their organic veggies at Lululemon. Ugh. Oh wait. It already is one.) Our first box was impressive, as the spread in the first photo attests.
2-Protein, in moderation.
The paleo diet pushes the consumption of animal protein at every meal and snack, an approach I find not only unecessary, but also bad for the earth. Even when done 100% organic, it’s still just not necessary for us North Americans to hog all that meat-production energy for ourselves. (Yes, I used the word hog in a paragraph about meat. Hey, it’s a blog not a thesis.) I will continue to implore Mark to make the delicious roast beast on a regular basis (his second, rosemary-rubbed version, above, was even better!) and poached salmon has become a staple.
3-Food is worth it.
Meat costs money, yes. Fresh, organic veggies cost money. Big surprise. Paleo has taught me to really stop worrying so much about cost and invest my income in the food that keeps me alive and thriving.
4-Balance is best.
In the process, I’ve re-discovered Mark Sisson’s Daily Apple blog, and though it has some propaganda-esque tips that probably exist to build his publishing and supplement empire, contains some really good, moderate advice. Like this tidbit:
“We often say, “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” And for good reason. The target of (paleo) is deep-seated: the long haul of a healthful life, not a brief stop off for cosmetic fixes. The necessary approach, then, is centered around sustainability. One hundred percent compliance with (paleo) principles is ideal, sure, but consider it the ultimate representation – a consummate form rather than typical daily function. The PB is rooted in life, not just research, after all. A practical baseline is this: if you align your life with the PB principles 80 percent of the time, consider yourself on course.”
I love that. Eighty percent I can do. Perhaps even 90. But I simply enjoy certain foods too much to warrant their elimination from my life.
5-Go with your gut.
I know I just argued for balance, but now I’m going to argue for personal preference. Paleo changed my adviser Nell’s life and triathlon training. It works for her. It worked for me, too, but not in that same life-altering way. To me, taste, pleasure, and variety matter far more than some long-term nutritional benefits I’m not yet convinced of anyway. As a LAVA contributor writes on her blog, “by focusing on your own needs, it’s very simple to find enjoyment out of consuming a balanced diet where no food is off limit.” And while you won’t see me loading up on gummy bears anytime soon, I don’t want to live a life where I have to say no should I ever crave them.
All in all, going paleo for a month reaffirmed that while I love being healthy and fit, it’s more about putting life in my years than years in my life. I know I said this in a prior post, but it seems to be the theme of this whole exercise in pseudo-madness. VG’s doughnuts, here I come…