OA Contributor Beth Buczynski is going paleo for 30 days! This is the first installment in a short blog series that will chronicle the challenges and and benefits of clean eating according to the paleo diet.
"I think I'm gonna try the paleo diet for a month!" My partner rolled his eyes at these words. He's lived through more than a couple of my diet and exercise phases. This time, I'm hoping it's different, and I'm pretty confident it will be.
I'm 32 and have always been a fairly healthy eater (or so I thought). I've also always been fairly inactive and more than a little disappointed with my weight. Not because of any outside pressure or desire to fit into a certain size, mind you, but because I've rarely felt comfortable in my own skin. I'd be fine and happy and going about my day, and then catch sight of myself and think, "Gee, that just doesn't match the person in my head." Recently, I've also been having some minor issues with my gut/digestion. But we don't know each other very well yet, so I'll save those revelations for another time. The point is, I've decided to try eating paleo as a way to address all these things.
What The Heck Is Paleo?
For those who might be unfamiliar, the paleo diet (short for paleolithic) is a style of eating that mimics the eating habits of our ancestors, who had no grocery stores, fast-food restaurants, fields of grain crops or herds of dairy cows. They also had far fewer diet-related health issues. Those who eat paleo tend to avoid processed, refined, nutrient-poor factory foods, including grains, legumes (beans), refined sugar, and pasteurized dairy products. Basically, eat real food instead of all that processed crap they try to pass off as food.
There are lots of different styles of eating out there, and I'm not here to claim the "rightness" of one, or the "wrongness" of another. I firmly believe that when it comes to diet, it's not about one right, but your right. Some people feel best as vegans, some as paleo, some as raw vegetarians, or whatever. Your body knows, and if you listen, it tells you what's right for you. (So please, don't feel offended or write me long emails about why I'm wrong to try paleo.)
My reasons for trying paleo are three-fold: 1) about two years ago I did a fairly intensive fitness program called FXB for 19 weeks. Part of it was a nutrition plan that emphasized protein and vegetables, while limiting carbs, dairy, sugar, and bad fats. I really enjoyed it, stuck to the nutrition plan with minimal effort, worked out, and saw GREAT results. I was feeling great and proud of my body for the first time in a long while. (Unfortunately, we moved out of the area after a few months, and I had to quit). 2) A good friend of mine switched to paleo to address some health issues, and has had amazing success. Along the way she shed a ton of weight without having to exercise constantly (pretty much the best side-effect ever). 3) Paleo is built around eating whole foods, with an emphasis on local and organic whenever possible. This to me has always seemed like the ideal diet anyway.
Try as I might, my current life/work demands just don't make it easy to exercise constantly. And who really wants to do that anyway? The research I've done into the paleo diet pretty much suggests that you can eat your way to a healthier life, which sounds amazing.
Preparing for Paleo
I asked my friend and poked around on the internet, trying to find the websites, blogs, and authors who seemed like they knew what they were talking about. Robb Wolf and Diane Sanfilippo emerged as two well-known paleo authors who made no silver-bullet claims and really dug into the nutritional science behind this approach to eating.
Depending on your normal diet, it's usually suggested that you ease into paleo eating. For me, this meant a few weeks of conscious eating--making every effort to pay attention to my food choices, and to avoid grains, sugar, and dairy whenever possible. Sugar is by far the hardest--thanks to high fructose corn syrup, it's lurking everywhere.
Another super important thing I did to prepare was purge my pantry. This is recommended by every paleo expert, because if you leave all that crap in your cupboards, there will come a time when you're stressed, or depressed, or happy, or just pressed for time, and you'll eat it. Because I live with my partner and a third roomate, I couldn't just donate everything to the local food bank, so instead I got organized. Everything paleo went on the bottom (most accessible pantry shelf). Everything else when on the upper two shelves. I also put a little sign inside the pantry right at face level that would remind me which shelf I should be looking at.
Lastly, as the start date for my 30 days of paleo drew near, it was time to go shopping and get stocked up with the foods I'd be enjoying. Since I work most of the day, I didn't have a ton of time or brain space for coming up with recipes. So, I purchased Diane Sanfilippo's book "Practical Paleo" which includes a whole slew of 30 day meal plans, customized to different dietary needs. The book not only includes recipes for 3 meals a day, but also includes weekly shopping lists as well as a list of things every paleo pantry should have in it all the time, and tons of other tear-out lists and infographic-like resources. Major life-saver.
My Paleo Goals
If I told you I was doing all this for the pure satisfaction of knowing that I'm eating the food my body needs most, I'd be lying. Yes, I'm doing this to hopefully lose weight. And yes, I'm doing this to see if eliminating sugar, grain, and most dairy from my diet will result in better digestion, more energy, healthy looking skin, and all of the other things that so many paleo eaters claim to enjoy. Grad school taught me that there can be no causation without a baseline measurement, so here it is.
I want to lose 10 pounds, get my bowels back to normal, and prove to myself and my body that I can make it 30 days without sugar and gluten. I think the biggest challenge will be sticking to the plan while I'm eating out, and not stuffing myself full of fruit everytime I have a sugar craving (during the Squeaky Clean Paleo 30 day eating plan, fruit is limited to give your body a chance to detox from all types of sugar).
Check back for the next installment and see how my first week went!
Top Image: Amy Selleck, Practical Paleo image taken by Beth Buczynski.