My Crossfit gym had a Paleo Diet challenge that I felt compelled to enter, just because I’ve pooh-poohed Paleo for so long. I wanted to try it so I could say how it made me feel tired and weak and virtually impossible for me to get through my workouts. I couldn’t wait to bash it, not only from a lack of scientific evidence to support its ridiculous claims, but also from a more practical personal experience of trying to follow it.
Eating Crow..Sort Of
Much to my dismay, I was surprised with how great I felt on our interpretation of the Caveman’s diet for 40 days. I ate almost completely Paleo for the first 20 days, but then it got harder, I would have some milk or yogurt, I ate bread once or twice, I grabbed granola out of the box when I was hungry and I used milk in my tea when I ran out of almond milk or when I was traveling for business.
We did the same pre-test workout and a post-test workout before and after the 40-day challenge and my time on the post-test improved by more than two minutes. For an 18-minute workout, that’s a significant improvement.
While I didn’t monitor my body weight or percent body fat before and after the challenge, I didn’t need to. I was tighter all over. (I was training during the entire 40 days too so the body composition changes would be from the combination of diet + exercise and not the diet alone.)
At the same time, my niece and fellow RD colleague, Kelly Plowe, MS, RD, also followed a CrossFit Paleo Challenge at Crossfit LA. She did a pre and post-test of underwater weighing and was able to drop 5% body fat over the course of her challenge. She has since continued to follow much of the Paleo approaches of limiting packaged foods, eating a protein-rich and carbohydrate-poor breakfast and trying to avoid added sugars as much as possible.
We both agree that some core principles of Paleo eating are worth doing and can help improve your diet…especially if you’re a carb-craver and lover of all things sweet like we
How Paleo Improved My Diet
What I gained from the experience was that I learned that we all generally overeat carbohydrates because they’re just so easy to overeat. Cereals, breads, crackers, pasta, sweets are so readily available, satisfying and comforting it’s really hard to restrict them. However, when I didn’t eat them, I suddenly realized how much of them I would eat here and there during the day and as snacks. With them gone, I was forced to eat more filling options like fruit (dates are my new BFFs) and nuts.
I enjoyed eating more eggs and egg-based dishes and expanding my repertoire for cooking lean cuts of beef. I used many recipes from Everyday Paleo and I found more ways to love cooked veggies, including my own kale chips, roasted veggies and even grilled greens.
My Post-Paleo Challenge Diet
Because I realize that Paleo would not be a diet that I can live with for life, I wanted to get back healthy foods I missed pre-challenge that have real health benefits.
I immediately put back in my diet included low-fat cottage cheese and Greek yogurt. As some of the best sources of protein, they were necessary. I also added back beans, potatoes and whole grains because they too have too many health benefits to be shunned from my diet.
I haven’t added back bread and other overly processed grain-based foods (with added sugars and/or saturated fat), but do have moderate amounts of whole grain side dishes with dinner.
I’ve also tried to keep added sugars or artificial sweeteners to a minimum in my diet. I have found that without them, my cravings for carbohydrates and sweets are controlled, and for someone with a major sweet tooth, that’s a great thing!
Paleo Principles Worth Adopting
I’m not a Paleo advocate by any means, but there are some core principles of eating Paleo that can provide health and nutrition benefits.
* Eat whole, natural foods instead of those that are highly processed
* Enjoy plenty of fruits, vegetables, nuts and limit refined grains and sugars.
* Increase consumption of omega-3 fatty acids from fish, fish oil, and plant sources
* Avoid trans-fats and limit saturated fats by eliminating fried foods, hard margarine, commercial baked goods, and most packaged and processed snack foods.
* Substitute monounsaturated and polyunsaturated (ie, olive and canola oils) fats for saturated fats
* Increase consumption of lean protein, such as skinless poultry, fish, wild game and lean cuts of meat.
* Avoid high-fat dairy and fatty, salty processed meats such as bacon, sausage and deli meats
* Hydrate with water.