Friday, February 21, 2014

31 Days of Paleo

Can't resist happy breakfast...

On January 1, I began a one-month trial of the Paleo diet. I was not daunted by the prospect of cutting grains from my diet since I already eat pretty low-grain, but I had gotten pretty used to eating sweets and ‘cheats’ over the holidays. I was not trying to lose weight, but I knew I needed to get off sugary things for a while to reset my taste buds. If you’re not familiar with the Paleo diet/lifestyle, here is the quick lowdown.

Things you eat on a Paleo diet:

  • Meat - grass-fed beef, pastured chicken, pork, lamb, wild caught seafood 
  • Vegetables 
  • Fruit 
  • Nuts and seeds 
  • Eggs (preferably from pastured hens) 
  • Fats (coconut oil/milk/cream, olive oil, palm oil, ghee, butter from pastured cows) 
  • Optional: raw, grass-fed dairy, including raw milk, heavy cream, cheeses 
  • Optional: natural sugars like honey, maple syrup, coconut sugar       

 Things you do not eat on a Paleo diet:

  • Grains, including corn 
  • Legumes, including soy, peanuts, peas (woohoo!) 
  • Vegetable oils - corn, canola, safflower, etc. 
  • Processed foods with additives 
  • Refined sugar

Grass-fed burger with gouda, caramelized onions, sweet potatoes with butter, and green beans

Why did I want to try the Paleo diet?

I’d been wanting to try a wheat-free diet with my whole family for more than a year. I knew I needed some accountability for it to really work. I did end up ‘cheating’ a few times, and I wish I hadn’t (because I wanted to see if it would help clear up several health issues the boys and I have, such as keratosis pilaris and cradle cap), but overall, we all definitely reduced our gluten intake.

Also, the diet itself appealed to me from a scientific standpoint. It is basically a low-inflammation diet, and, while I don’t have major health issues, I do have achy joints in my hands (which I usually attribute to years of piano playing), the occasional back ache (a.k.a., one of the joys of motherhood), the occasional itchy scalp, and histamine intolerance issues (a whole different story!). Many common parts of the standard American diet (SAD) are major contributors to inflammation: processed flours, sugars, vegetable oils, food additives, etc. Getting all of these out of my diet, even though they weren't a major part at this point, sounded good to me. 

Coconut flour pancakes with coconut cream...on a paper plate (hey, my dishwasher's broken!)

Paleo while breastfeeding

I was a little worried that going off grains completely while breastfeeding my 8-month-old would affect my energy level since it’s easy to accidentally go low-carb when eating Paleo. I seemed able to compensate with other carbs like sweet potatoes, squash, fruit, and even oatmeal once in a while. I let myself have oatmeal just as a guarantee to myself that my milk supply wouldn’t be affected. I don’t think it was necessary, partly due to the tea I drink daily (a blend I make from raspberry leaf, nettle, alfalfa, rosehips), but it was sure nice. ;) (Anyone interested in my recipe?)

The Nursling, trying out broccoli!

Why it worked for me

Here are some blessings that made it easy for me to jump into the Paleo mindset so easily:

  • I already had a freezer full of fresh, grass-fed beef
  • I already had a farmer to supply me with raw grass-fed milk, pastured eggs, and pastured pork
  • I live close to stores like Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, and Woodman’s (large, diverse grocery store)
  • I was already eating a traditional, whole foods diet (explained here)

Paleo chocolate pudding - avocado and sweet potato based (a post to come)

Should you try Paleo?

Yes. I say that without hesitation. Especially if you have any sort of autoimmune or chronic condition, inflammation, or digestive issues. That being said, some people thrive on this diet, but some do not. Everyone's body is different and has a different history of gut- and immune-altering events (antibiotics, childbirth, etc.). I believe it is definitely worth a two-month try, though. (I'll explain why I say two months rather than one in a minute.)

Here are some tips to make it easier.

Figure out what you will eat to replace the grains you usually consume before you start.

Find sources of good quality protein before you start. Not much worse than looking in your fridge for a snack and thinking, ‘Ugh, cheap, questionable deli meat again…” Look for the best quality you can personally afford. Avoid meats with additives and preservatives.

Be willing to experiment with new foods. I baked with plantain for the first time. I will probably use it from now on as I found it to be a tasty and versatile starch. I found out tapioca flour is easy to bake with and can help baked goods taste more 'gluten-full'. I made zucchini noodles, spaghetti squash with tomato sauce (WOW, I was missing out on that one), and varieties of fish I'd never tried.

Eat more vegetables than you used to. I used to think my plate looked unbalanced if there wasn’t some sort of carb on it that wasn’t sweet potatoes or squash. (Thanks a lot, Food Pyramid.) Now I eat more than one vegetable in one meal (Gasp! What??), like salmon, broccoli, and zucchini noodles. I’ve come to realize the importance of vegetables, not only in terms of nutrients, but also as vehicles for butter and coconut oil. ;)

The birthday present that came to tempt me during Paleo month

The results 

Honestly, I failed miserably. If this month had been a Paleo test, I'd get an F. I ate something non-Paleo every single day but ONE. However, those non-Paleo things I ate were not leftover wheat- and sugar-filled birthday cake or fast food fries or deep dish Lou Malnati's (hey, it was my birthday!). It was a handful of rice crackers or black beans in my taco salad or white potatoes in my soup. The foods that are naturally high in nutrients (with the exception of rice crackers) that can definitely hold a place in a healthy diet. I think I "cheated" with those foods because I wasn't convinced I didn't need to eat them. They helped me get used to not eating sprouted or sourdough bread and rather to depend more on sweet potatoes, squash, and fruit for my carb-intake.

I neither gained nor lost weight. (I exercised not a stitch.) 

My keratosis pilaris (bumps on the backs of the arms) got significantly better and my head stopped itching. My two oldest boys' cradle cap started going away. My energy levels were more even (as long as I went to bed before midnight the night before), and I felt calmer and could think more clearly.

Almost Paleo

When February rolled around, I felt no inclination to stop. The ball was rolling, and I was feeling good. Every day got easier and easier. Wheat? What's that? (Well, not quite.) Now, three weeks into February, I usually have completely Paleo days. I started exercising lightly (Pilates or elliptical 'sprints' every other day or so) and I've lost 2 pounds. I don't crave sugar. I crave sweet potatoes. It's crazy. When I finish eating, I don't feel stuffed, but I feel full, calm, and even-tempered. I almost never want dessert. It's almost disappointing sometimes, but then I make some Paleo treats and eat a few too many, and that kick-starts the sugar cravings again. (Eating sugar just makes you want more sugar! Even natural sugars...)

If I crave sugar, I know I can just eat something high in protein or fat, and the craving will go away. If I finish a meal, and I can't stop thinking about my maple sugar candies, I usually realize that my meal wasn't high enough in fat. So I eat some coconut oil.

This is why I said to try it for at least two months. Give yourself a month to get used to it and to wean yourself off of whatever you have to give up to make your diet Paleo. Unless you're good at giving things up cold turkey. Which would not work for me because...I really like food. 

Poutine is not Paleo. But WELL worth it!

Thanks for letting me share my experience with you! It has been a thoroughly enjoyable experience for me and I look forward to developing more Paleo and almost Paleo recipes.

I will leave you with a quick run-down of my first month of Paleo in the form of 10 Pros and Cons.


1.      I ate more vegetables.
2.      I didn’t crave grains or desserts or sweet snacks.
3.      I really felt better.
4.      I felt more aware of how my body reacted to foods.
5.      I was forced to become more creative with cooking, which I enjoyed.


1.      I drank more coffee (maybe getting used to the lack of morning toast?).
2.      It’s expensive. 
3.      It can be tricky when eating out.
4.      It can be hard to do when others in your house aren’t doing Paleo, too.
         and last but most importantly,
5.      I had nothing to spread cream cheese or butter on …

(I guess Paleo bread is my next experiment!)

Take care!

-- Christine 

Have you ever tried the Paleo diet? Do you have anymore tips?

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