More and more and I am asked why I chose to follow a Paleo lifestyle (not diet) as opposed to others out there. I have to admit there were definitely some bad habits that helped me come to the decision but also some very good habits. I still stick by my decision one year later and here is why.
The basic principles
The Paleo “diet” if you will, is also referred to as the caveman diet because it is based on the idea that if the cavemen could access it by hunting and gathering, then it is what humans are meant to be eating. Everything else is just filler or even harmful for our bodies. It focuses on lean meats, vegetables, most fruits, and nuts and seeds.
It eliminates all grains – wheat, barley, rice, even corn and quinoa; it eliminates all legumes – peanuts, beans, soy; and eliminates all dairy – milk, cheese, yogurt, etc. My favorite part of all, it eliminates all refined sugars and processed foods. I based my decision on this. I have never been a fan of the processed and premade foods that so many of us have become accustomed to eating. They are always full of sodium, are wasteful when it comes to packaging, and often more expensive than just making the meal or product yourself. Coming from a snobbish family that knows how to cook, I can even argue that most of the time, mass produced, processed foods don’t even taste good. We just eat them for convenience and take all the joy out of food. Which…is what it should be….joyous!
Why not the others?
There are several other “diets” out there that seem similar or perhaps are completely different. There is always an argument that one is actually bad for you others are better. Carbs are good! Carbs are bad! Fat is good! What about cholesterol? The arguments are endless, and most of them are valid arguments. I am not a doctor or nutritionist, although even they can’t agree, but I am living proof that Paleo works. However I also know that it works for me, and may not be right right for others.
There are the classic age old attempts such as Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig. They have been around for ages, cost you money, and while you might have some success on them, you ultimately end up back in the meetings after gaining the weight back. This is likely because you have learned absolutely nothing after following these programs. JC provides meals for you, allowing you to check out mentally for the entire process. It is a meal delivery service at best, and I am curious to know how much sodium and processing is included with those meals. WW is not much better. While you can choose your own meals, you have free reign over what you eat, as long as it fits your daily points values. That means diet sodas are good, and healthy options like almonds, avocados and salmon are high points and often skipped. This then just becomes a numbers game and doesn’t really teach you anything about nutrition and how to listen to your body. The program is designed to keep you there, which is how they stay in business.
Counting macros and the Renaissance Periodization diet is another numbers game but at least it can teach something about balance. However what I don’t like about these counting programs is a constant focus on eating all day long, and having rewards of bad food choices when you have saved your points or macros. It still feels like playing games and for me, gets old really fast.
Keto is an interesting one and is basically a re-branding of the Atkins diet. It is designed to put your body in a state of ketosis by cutting out carbs, and increasing your fat intake. This allows your body to burn fat for energy instead of carbohydrates. We all know someone that had great success losing weight by eating double cheeseburgers without the bun in the early 2000’s. It works, but it cannot be the healthiest option. A big seller for Keto is that there is a low sugar intake, preventing type 2 diabetes, however a high fat diet can also lead to diabetes as well as other life threatening illnesses like breast cancer. I also have a terrible relationship with cheese, in that I love it obsessively, so this option is not one for me.
Whole30 is another big one right now and honestly I don’t have much against this one. In fact, when my father was recovering from his surgery and figuring out the diet that worked best for the new mechanics of his digestive system, I suggested this diet for him as a solution. If you are wondering if it worked for him, then I haven’t clearly characterized my father at this point. He didn’t try it, but did eliminate many of the foods that are restricted on Whole30, so…..
The logic behind this diet is similar to Paleo in that it eliminates the foods many of us eat that provide no nutritional benefit and may cause us more harm than good. No grains, soy, legumes, dairy, alcohol, or added sugars. Once you have completed 30 days you start to add back some of these items to see what your digestive system can handle and what may be causing issues for you. It is a great diet that teaches good habits, trains you to listen to your body, and is effective in weight loss. The only reason I didn’t choose this as my nutritional guide is because I knew for my life, I wouldn’t be able keep it up forever. But I would definitely recommend this diet to anyone suffering from digestive issues and is unsure what is causing them.
“So what do you even eat??”
Now Paleo may seem harsh and impossible but hear me out. There are some great things you CAN eat. For starters, fruits and vegetables galore. I have been through phases of not being a meat eater, a red meat eater, or just simply never thought about it, so meat was not the focus for me at first. But then I remembered…
You can eat bacon. (Pause for applause) I am not talking about that yellow and red packaging kind with the cute song on the commercials. I am talking about the real kind. Watch for sugar added varieties, but most importantly it must be nitrate free. This is where I get serious. Nitrates and nitrites are one of the causes of stomach cancer and since that is what my father had, I make this a top priority. His cancer was likely due to asbestos exposure back when we didn’t know better, but I would just like to eliminate what I can. We wear sunscreen to avoid skin cancer, right? Avoid nitrates!
Other than nitrate free bacon, I eat a ton of eggs, chicken, seafood, grass fed beef (another important one – if your cows are eating grains, then so are you!), avocados with ZERO guilt, almond butter with apples, every vegetable minus corn, typically cooked in olive oil.
I didn’t find this one to be very important at first, but the longer I am in this the more I see the benefit. Blended vegetable oils, canola oil, corn oil – these are all bad choices for your body. Those corn oils are full of GMO’s and blends have all kinds of things we don’t even know about. Stick with the healthy kinds like olive, coconut, avocado and grapeseed. You don’t need more than that for any baking or cooking scenario. And your skin will look great!
The only exception I make here is when I am eating out. I was a server in a past life and I cannot bring myself to be that person who brings their own oil and asks if the kitchen can use it. If I had an allergy that would be one thing, but c’mon. It is bad enough that I have to ask if there is cream or flour in the sauces, if they can swap the bread for an alternative…I just pick my battles.
Maple Syrup and Honey
As long as they are 100% pure, organic products, these are allowed when following a Paleo lifestyle. They sweeten everything that would otherwise have sugar. Coconut sugar is another sweet alternative which tastes just. like. sugar. This is not hard!
The borderline foods
Depending on which articles you read on the Paleo lifestyle there are a few foods that may or may not be included. Odds are, I have accepted these foods as part of my diet. Wine is a big one. It technically shouldn’t be a Paleo item, especially white wine, but I go ahead and make this exception.
Bananas are another controversial item since they have a high level of carbs, however it is acceptable for those that are very active. I have always turned to bananas as a filling snack that is easy on the stomach and am a religious CrossFit addict so bananas are still in the mix.
Potatoes are not on the list, with the exception of sweet potatoes in moderation, however this is a food that I have added back into my diet over time. It does not cause any digestive issues for me, and I find the additional carb does make a difference in my workouts so I welcome the exception.
The survival products
Going into this I figured out just a few things for survival. If I really wanted bread, I could make Paleo bread. I always cook with olive oil anyway. There were options for coffee creamer. Wine is allowed! That was it. Everything else that I have become passionate about has developed along the way. Those few things are what I know I would have needed to make it through the trial period.
There are a few brands of Paleo products that I frequent making life a little easier. In fact, if there were an awards show for the most successful diet plan, and I got to accept the award, I would thank these brands. For none of this would be possible without them!
Simple Mills – They are full of Paleo friendly options that make life easier for me. I bring their almond flour crackers with me to every family party, their chocolate chip cookies are better than “real” cookies, and their cake mixes. Seriously.
Siete – It took me a while to find these and once I did…all was right with the world. Corn was harder to give up than I thought it would be. My brother and mom are gluten-free but they are still able to eat tortilla chips and substitute bread for corn tortillas often. I didn’t have that option and was seriously missing some Taco Tuesday action. Siete makes their tortilla chips out of cassava flour, and are completely grain free! Their tortillas are great too. Game on!
Cappello’s – I will never forget standing in the frozen section of Whole Foods when I saw it. Certified Paleo…..linguine. I actually became teary eyed over the pasta alternative. Being a busy single mom, pasta was often a quick meal I could whip up last minute and it would feed a litter for little money. While I could still feed my kids on buttered noodles when I just didn’t have it in me to be creative that evening, and still be left figuring out an option for me. This was a great find. They run about $10 a pound though, so this is still a rare occurrence.
The reason I don’t like to refer to Paleo as a diet is because I don’t view it as one. I don’t pay a subscription to eat healthy. I don’t follow a certain plan, or count my food, or even think about food in a diet like way. I am just making better choices for my body and fueling it to perform well. I prefer organic products. I would rather cook a simple meal from scratch than dump out the contents of a frozen meal into a pot. I recognize how some foods make me feel and choose not to include them in my daily routine so I can continue to feel good. In the same way that people have a favorite brand of cereal, I prefer coconut milk over milk from a cow. It is just a matter of making better choices for myself without creating an obsession over how much I have eaten that day, feeling guilty for eating too much or deprived when I am still hungry. I just eat what I want, sticking to the foods I know are good for me. That simple. And that is why it works.