I simply thought that Paleo was too restrictive, too unrealistic. And, why should we eat "like cavemen" when our bodies have evolved significantly since the Paleolithic Era? Why should we cut out dairy, legumes, grains that are healthy for us? After all, as long as I count calories and take in the appropriate ratio of macros, I should be just fine.
First, let's talk about what Paleo is:
- "The Paleo Diet is based upon everyday, modern foods that mimic the food groups of our pre-agricultural, hunter-gatherer ancestors" (Loren Cordain, Ph.D.)
- "The Paleo Diet is an effort to eat like we used to back in the day…WAY back in the day. If a caveman couldn’t eat it, neither can you. This means anything we could hunt or find – meats, fish, nuts, leafy greens, regional veggies, and seeds" (Steve Kamb)
- "In a nutshell, the Paleo diet (or, as I like to think of it, the Paleo template—the word 'diet' tends to mislead folks into thinking this is nothing more than a temporary weight-loss program) is based on the notion that for optimal health, modern humans should go back to eating real, whole unprocessed foods that are more healthful than harmful to our bodies" (Michelle Tam)
Essentially, eating Paleo means eating a lot of animal proteins (meat, eggs, etc.), vegetables, healthy fats (coconut oil, olive oil, ghee, etc.), and small amounts of fruit, nuts, and seeds.
In addition to eating the aforementioned types of food, people who eat Paleo avoid eating added or artificial sugars, grains, dairy, certain oils, legumes, and anything refined and/or processed.
This is particularly why I thought that Paleo was restrictive: I focused on what people who eat Paleo don't or can't eat, not what they can eat.
Furthermore, I thought that people who ate Paleo ate too much meat and fat, which did not at all sound healthy to me. And, I thought that Paleo certainly wasn't for me since I am not a huge meat eater to begin with: I mean, I was a strict vegetarian for five years and then a pollo vegetarian for about five years after that. Even in the years following that ten-year period of vegetarianism/semi-vegetarianism, I didn't eat a ton of meat and definitely didn't like preparing a ton of meat.
Back in November when I cut out wheat and dairy (except for yogurt and cottage cheese) for a couple of weeks, I read Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, and Find Your Path Back to Health and started changing my opinion of the food industry and what we as consumer put in our bodies. However, I was not yet totally convinced, and when I went to the baby shower and then celebrated the holidays with my family (and baked up a storm), my thoughts on omitting wheat and dairy flew out the window entirely.
When I started Whole30, which is an extremely restrictive rendition of Paleo, three weeks ago, I did a ton more research, including (as I've mentioned probably 1,000 times before) reading It Starts with Food, every document I could find on the Whole30 website, and tons of other blogs about the topic.
Melissa and Dallas Hartwig (the founders of Whole30) -- and the bloggers that I followed -- really broke it down in a way that just made sense. It Starts with Food gives a ton of scientific background as to why we should limit/avoid dairy, grains, etc., but they also give anecdotal evidence and "real-life" explanations that are easy to understand.
While I'm not going to get into all of the details as to why it made sense (since I cannot intelligently speak on the science behind everything), please check out It Starts with Food -- it was invaluable to me.
Recently, I came across this article on MindBodyGreen that identifies ten things that everyone should consider about Paleo, regardless of what one thinks about that "diet" plan. I really connected with the article and am going to expand upon a few things here.
1. Eat like your great (or great-great) grandparent: Essentially, don't eat packaged food. I do 95% of my shopping at the perimeter of the grocery store in order to avoid overly-processed, refined food and to instead focus on the nutrient-rich produce, seafood, meat, and eggs.
2. Cut the sugar: Since I started Whole30 and have been reading labels like crazy, I am in awe of what contains sugar -- pretty much everything. It is nearly impossible to find bacon, sausage, condiments, etc. without sugar. Even pre-packaged garlic, salsa, and kimchi contain different types of sugar.
3 and 4. Ditch dairy and wheat: As is well-explained in It Starts with Food, both of these food groups instigate systemic inflammation in a high percentage of people. And, even if you're one of the lucky ones who is relatively unaffected, the processed ingredients (specifically gluten) essentially promote addiction to and over-consumption of the product. I, personally, do not want my food to have that kind of control over me.
5. Stop counting calories: I mentioned this before on the blog, but I have felt such a sense of freedom in not having to count calories, track macros, measure ounces or cups or portions. When you are eating nutrient-rich food, those things do not matter. Furthermore, the adage "a calorie is a calorie is a calorie" that has been drilled into my brain is absolutely not true. A 100-calorie pack of cookies is not as nutrient-dense as 100 calories of sweet potato or broccoli or grass-fed beef. (And, let's be honest: a 100-calorie pack of cookies is not just not as nutrient-dense but is really just not at all nutrient-dense.)
6. You can't out-exercise a bad diet: I think this has been my problem in the past. I thought that I was exercising so much that I could eat whatever the heck I wanted (as long as it fit into my macros). If I needed 35 grams of carbs at each meal, it didn't matter if those came from cookies or from an apple or from rice: I just needed 35 grams of carbs.
7. Don't fear the fat: The whole purpose of Whole30 is to become fat-adapted rather than a sugar-burner. (This involves a lot of science that I am not really comfortable discussing intelligently, but basically the goal is that by eating healthy fats rather than quick-burning carbohydrates, the body will learn to burn fat for energy. Read It Starts with Food for a much, much better explanation.)
8. Eat as many vegetables as possible: I have been eating a shit-ton on Whole30. Like, I have not been hungry at all because I am filling every single corner of my stomach with loads and loads of nutrient-dense veggies. It's ridiculous. And awesome.
9. Enjoy treats in moderation: While I have not been enjoying "treats" on Whole30 (with the exception of super-sweet fruit, dates, and almond butter), I will be adding these back in after my 30 days are over -- eventually. But, I am not really feeling super deprived right now, so I truthfully don't know how much I'll actually be adding in...
10. Move: Exercise, exercise, exercise, but make it fun and enjoyable, not a chore.
I cannot say enough just how good I feel when I am eating this way (Whole30). I have energy throughout the day (even though I'm just drinking one go-cup of coffee each morning), I am sleeping so well (falling asleep quickly and staying asleep and waking up feeling well-rested), and I am happy and hardly irritable/stressed/anxious. I just. feel. good.
And, I think it's all connected to diet. Seriously, yo: try Whole30, try Paleo, try just cutting out one "bad" thing and adding in more vegetables, and let me know what you think. I am confident that you'll love it and that you, too, will feel far from deprived.