Enter the Paleo Diet. I knew some other derby girls who followed the Paleo diet, and I know it's the token diet of Crossfitters, but I didn't know much else about it other than that it excluded (among other things) grains, dairy, and processed food - my three main staples. Could I really give those up? Would I have the willpower? I was just so tired of feeling tired all the time, and the testimonials I'd read sounded so great - "All of a sudden, I have all this energy!" - that I just had to give it a try. I was desperate to feel good about myself and my health.
I set my start date, 2/27/12. The entire week before that, I read what I could, bookmarked recipes, and talked to friends (including my fellow PRGer, Saffron Cisco) about their experiences and tried to figure out how I would make this change as smooth as possible.
And off I went! For 8 weeks, life was AWESOME. I had energy, I lost 20 pounds, I was performing better athletically...
Until I had a gallstone attack and had to have my gallbladder removed. (FYI - this was not something triggered by Paleo, but rather something that developed from a lifetime of eating grains and other inflammatory foods, according to what I've read.) I was too sick and too tired to maintain Paleo (which requires lots of prepping and cooking and - subsequently - cleaning), so I went off it for a couple months because I was honestly too exhausted to even think about what I was eating. And it didn't take long for the old feelings of lethargy and crappiness to return. I went RIGHT back to having no energy, gaining weight, digestive issues, etc. And so I knew what I had to do to make my body happy again...
It just goes to show, Paleo was what was right for my body. And thousands of others have the same story - for so many people, Paleo has been the miracle cure. But it's not a fad diet or a quick fix-it - it takes a lot of dedication and effort.
I am working hard at sticking to a mostly-strict Paleo lifestyle. Sometimes I really miss cupcakes and cheese, but my body feels great, and I feel happy. And I wouldn't trade that for the world. (Though, I might occasionally have some cheese on my eggs.)
Below are some of my favorite Paleo resources and recipes, for my own use and for anyone else who is interested in learning more about the Paleo diet. This is a work in progress - I'll keep adding sites as I find them and recipes as I try them.
My Paleo-related posts and such
Sites & Blogs:
Whole30 - Home of the 30-day challenge. Specifically, I like to point people to this post, which explains the guidelines of the challenge, and in particular, this section:
* Dallas and Melissa Hartwig have released a book, It Starts With Food, and it's pretty phenomenal.
The Clothes Make the Girl - Blog from Mel "Melicious" Joulwan, whom I know as one of the founding members of TXRD, the league that helped start WFTDA. LEGENDARY. She keeps a great blog about her workouts and Paleo recipes, and also has a cookbook out called Well-Fed. (I downloaded the sample of it, and there are some GREAT recipes on there!)
Nom Nom Paleo - Probably my favorite blog, for all the great recipes and photos. The iPad app is PHENOMENAL, and well worth the money for all the extra recipe sets. I probably use this the most.
Robb Wolf - He wrote the book The Paleo Solution, which I can't recommend enough! It's a little on the sciencey side (though, I do love that), but it really gets into great detail with explaining how exactly the Paleo diet works, and how exactly the USDA has been screwing you over your entire life. If you've got some time and can handle lots of science language, you can read this excerpt.
The link specifically goes to the Tools section of his website - I REALLY REALLY recommend downloading the Paleo Food Matrix, because it makes Paleo cooking really simple by providing a list of proteins, vegetables, fats, and herbs/spices, and these instructions (perfect for a terrible cook like me):
Paleo Parents - The amazing story of a couple who inspired each other to lose weight, and then transformed their entire family. They are the authors of Eat Like a Dinosaur, a kid-friendly Paleo cookbook
PaleOMG - Wonderful, wonderful recipe ideas here! And fun to read.
Recipes that I have tried and that I like, collected from the sites above and others:
- Walnut & Rosemary Crusted Chicken
- Turkish Slider Burgers (except I didn't use Turkish seasoning, I just used some salt and pepper)
- Roasted Broccoli & Bacon (FAVORITE)
- Paleo chocolate chip cookies - I used "Enjoy Life" chocolate chips (soy-free, gluten-free, dairy-free)
- Coconut banana butter, which I ate just as pictured (on a sweet potato) - AWESOME. Don't use sweetener though.
- Bacon-wrapped smoky chicken thighs - and you even get the recipe for the spice blend.
- Or regular baked chicken thighs if you like to keep it simple.
- Crustless quiche with summer squash, which I actually made with spinach and bacon pieces instead, and it lasted for DAYS. A great pre- or post- workout food.
- Sauteed fennel and carrots - can you believe that this was really the first time I'd ever cooked fresh carrots? Before this, I'd only ever had frozen carrots (like, that were added to pasta or fried rice or whatever) or carrot sticks dipped in ranch.
- Sauteed red cabbage with apples smelled SO GOOD, because there's lots of cinnamon. (But ouch, it hurt to inhale because of the vinegar.)
- Raw cookie dough delights - siiiiiigh
- Bacon-wrapped dates because OMG bacon and dates!!!
- Cocoa-rubbed steak
From Well-Fed (in addition to the free recipes that were linked above):
- Stovetop Pork Carnitas (This is the same as "Citrus Carnitas" in Well-Fed)
- You're the Top tuna salad (I think this is also in Well-Fed, but I can't remember the new name for it at the moment)
- Coconut Almond Green Beans - so, so yummy
- Olive Oil Mayo (this might also be available on Mel's blog, actually)
- Chocolate Chili
- Best Stir-Fry Sauce Ever
From the Nom Nom Paleo iPad app:
- Crispy Smashed Chicken (FAVORITE)
- Slow Cooker Lemongrass Coconut Chicken
- 2x4 Strawberry Banana Ice Cream
- Mango Salsa
- Oven-Baked Sweet Potatoes (FAVORITE)
And non-specifically, I'll sometimes just make an easy stir-fry or some red curry with coconut milk. When in doubt - piece of meat on a bed of salad greens :) I also like to make eggs. And coconut milk smoothies.
Tips for success (from my Day 30 blog post):
- Do your research and prepare yourself mentally. Paleo is kind of hard to just launch into - I read blogs and catalogued recipes and stuff for a WEEK, then had a "last hurrah" weekend before I finally started. I needed to be in the right frame of mind. Paleo is not something you can do reluctantly, because then it will suck a lot, and you won't stick with it. Motivation and knowledge will be important here. You have to WANT to do this, or else, you won't be able to. Seriously.
- Plan your meals... but also learn how to cook on the fly. It doesn't have to be meticulous, down-to-the-minute planning, but at least have a list when you go grocery shopping, and have some stand-by, go-to meal ideas for when you have no idea what you want to make, and just feel like throwing stuff together that you find in your fridge. Having adequate ingredients, and a good variety to boot, means that you'll be more likely to stick to Paleo meals rather than being like, "I can't find anything to eat or I don't feel like a huge elaborate meal, so I'm going to In n Out." Have some good basic items on hand (spices, chicken stock), freeze some meat, etc. Also, having good cooking equipment is a major help too - I ended up buying a slow cooker and a food processor, and I'm VERY glad I did. :)
- Read the ingredients label. Get to know the names of some of the other common forms of sugar and preservatives. Not all brands of coconut water are the same, for example - some are straight-up coconut water, others have sugar and "natural flavoring" (whatever that means). When you go to restaurants, comb carefully through the menu's descriptions and order substitutions when necessary. It's important to be hyper-vigilant about the food you buy, and sometimes it's a pain, but it's worth it.
- Eat mindfully and deliberately. If you're the sort of person who kind of mechanically just shoves food into your mouth just because it's sitting there on the counter, then STOP. Repeat this to yourself: Everything that you eat is a choice. Your brain had to send a signal to your hand to pick up this food item and put it in your mouth, so you can't say, "I couldn't help it" or "it was an accident!" Eating is never an accident. Just remember that when the cravings hit. If you "cheat," it's because you chose to.
- Leftovers are awesome. I've been cooking big dinners at night, and packing leftovers for lunch the next day. It's one less meal to worry about. And get used to eating non-breakfast foods for breakfast.
- Don't judge others, but do be ready with knowledge. Other people will ask you about Paleo. They'll want to know about it, and they might judge you. They might concern-troll you. I say, answer their questions and lead by example, but be careful not to make them feel bad. If you bust out with a whole "wheat is evil" sermon, they might resent you for it, especially if they're already feeling guilty/helpless about their eating choices. Be knowledgeable about Paleo, understand WHY you're doing what you're doing, but be cool about it.
- You don't have to do this FOREVER. As I said earlier, some people switch to a more manageable 80%-Paleo lifestyle after their first 30 days. You need a strict 30 days so you can detox, but after that, you can gradually re-introduce some foods if you really CAN'T live without them. (Do it gradually, because your body WILL be irritated with you.) Just don't go back to the way you were before. You should still be pretty judicious about what you will allow in your body. But you can breathe a little after. If you totally feel like you need to have a mocha frappucino, have one. Just not every day, okay?