Over the past few years, the Paleo diet has really gained in popularity. Even though some magazines and articles say that it’s “unrealistic” and “challenging”, most people can’t deny the fact that it makes them feel really, really GOOD (and spoiler alert- it’s really not that hard!). My journey to the Paleo diet started about 5 years ago. I came out of college feeling pretty rough; mostly from drinking too much, eating too little, and (literally) running my body to the ground. I went to a holistic doctor and she ran a bunch of tests. While most of my health markers came back in the normal range, my thyroid was underactive (hypothyroidism), my cortisol levels were tanked showing adrenal fatigue, and my hormones were non-existent. I left her office with a brand new protocol: stop the running, sleep more, and change your entire diet.
Up until this point, I thought I was pretty healthy. I ate a low fat diet, used soy milk in my cereal, and tried not to eat too much meat. I didn’t feel that well, and was having significant digestive issues, but I attributed this to other things besides my food. My wake-up call was the fact that my period became non-existent (I’ll go into this in more detail in future posts) and I knew I needed a change.
Without even running food allergy tests on me, my doctor recommended I give up dairy, soy, and gluten. I was at a point where I was desperate to try anything, so I came out of the appointment and immediately started researching just what the heck I would eat. I was used to cereal or yogurt for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch, and some sort of stir fry for dinner (usually with a low calorie sauce). Snacks included special K bars or fruit. So while my doctor made it seem like these were simple instructions to follow, I was terrified.
When I started reading about different diets, the Paleo diet came up immediately.
What is the Paleo Diet?
- The Paleo diet emphasizes specific foods that our ancestors used to eat and that we, as humans, are specifically adapted to. It removes the foods that cause inflammation such as dairy, soy, sugar, corn, beans, and gluten and replaces them with vegetables, meat, fruit, nuts and seeds. The Paleo diet also has a strong emphasis on eating high quality meat and high quality fat (specifically saturated fat!) like coconut oil, ghee, olive oil, and grass fed butter.
- What is the philosophy? The Paleo diet is our best attempt at mimicking the diet our ancestors ate thousands of years ago (even before the agricultural revolution). It emphasizes those foods that are easily found in nature and takes out those that have been processed or altered with chemicals. Back then, there was no pasta or bread, and the Paleo diet believes our bodies were never fully adjusted to eating this many grains. Our bodies are still about 99% the same as primitive man, so we haven’t yet developed the systems for properly digesting all of these grains.
- The Paleo diet also reduces common allergens. Often times we may not even realize we are allergic/ sensitive to a food until we stop eating it. You may just think you are bound to always have that pesky acne on your face or bloating after meals, and that is just normal for you. But it may just be your body reacting to the foods you are eating EVERY DAY! A Paleo diet removes these common triggers and adds in foods that your body needs on a macro and micro nutrient level.
I really like this graphic from Rubies and Radishes to tie it all together:
An important point I want to make though is that this is just the beginning. Usually a person will start off eating a “strict” Paleo diet because we are trying to identify food allergies and intolerances. When you remove a food you are reacting to, your immune system gets a break from working in overdrive. Then, you can try out the food again after a few months and see if you are still reacting to the food, or if you can eat it, but just not every day. After a few months of eating this way, I encourage people to start adding in some foods again. For example, I am able to tolerate dairy every once in a while, so I am totally fine adding some goat cheese on a salad, or having some good quality ice cream as a treat. I can also tolerate non-gluten containing grains like rice, corn and quinoa. However, I know that for me, if I eat gluten on a regular basis, my digestive problems return and I do not feel well.
While I am calling Paleo a “diet”, I really think it’s a template. It’s a great way to remove irritating foods from your body, to gain a new understanding of your hunger cues (because once you start eating good quality fat, you will be amazed that you aren’t starving every two hours!), and changing your taste buds. Some people stay eating this “strict” way forever, and that’s totally great! But for me, and for most people, I use Paleo as a template for my meals, but then I know I can add extra things in that don’t bother me and that make me feel happy while I’m eating. But, at certain points when I maybe have strayed a bit too far from my usual foods (Thanksgiving and Christmas I’m looking at you!) I also know that I can take 21-30 days and go back to the basic Paleo template to once again feel my best.
Any additional questions about Paleo? Has anyone tried it and loved it? Or tried it and hated it? Leave your comments!