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Paleo Challenge Recap

Posted Feb 12 2013 1:08am

I hope everyone had a great weekend! My mom and I enjoyed a nice afternoon yesterday seeing the movie, “Lincoln,” which was really good and indulging in some frozen yogurt!

Anyhow, as most of you know, Friday was the last day of our 30-Day Paleo Challenge . My husband was beyond thrilled to be done with it. His first non-Paleo meal was a hearty plate of Mexican food, all complete with rice and beans. As for me, I was excited to consume dairy again (starting with my morning latte on Saturday!), but my meals really haven’t changed too much.

If you aren’t familiar with the Paleo way of eating, it is basically eating like our ancestors (cavemen) in the Paleolithic era, only consuming what was available at the time: fish, grass-fed meat, veggies, fruit, mushrooms, seeds, roots and nuts. The diet excludes grains, legumes, dairy products, potatoes, refined sugar, salt or processed foods. Depending on what you read, some experts will even advise you not to eat root vegetables, because they contain too much starch.

The reason my husband and I decided to do a 30-Day challenge was to see what all of the hype was about. Within the CrossFit community, you hear a lot about eating the Paleo way because it helps to improve performance, provide energy and build lean muscle mass. I’m not keen on cutting out whole food groups, but after hearing about it so much, my husband and I wanted to see if we experienced the results as everyone talks about, conducting our own little experiment.

Here is my take on the Paleo diet:

Was it difficult to eat Paleo? Since we eat “clean” on a regular basis, consuming fruits, veggies, lean protein, dairy, nuts, legumes, healthy fats, few whole grains and little to no processed food, it wasn’t really difficult at all. The hardest part was replacing my morning latte with almond milk and not being able to add feta, goat or Parmesan cheese to my salads, roasted veggies and Italian dishes.

Was it hard to come up with Paleo meals? I had a lot of fun creating new recipes! Being on the challenge forced me to be creative and break out of my mold with our “usual” dishes. I now have fantastic hearty and healthy pancake and muffin recipes, as well as simple slow-cooker meals and main dishes. I will continue to make these dishes on a regular basis.

Tonight, I made our "Paleo-friendly" meal of Mediterranean Chicken in the Crock Pot (except with pork) over a bed of Spaghetti squash and sprinkled feta cheese on top!

Tonight, I made our “Paleo-friendly” meal of Mediterranean Chicken in the Crock Pot (except with pork) over a bed of Spaghetti squash and sprinkled with feta cheese on top! It was SO good!

Did I see an improvement in my energy levels? I sort of did, but not until the last 7-10 days of our challenge. Prior to doing Paleo, I would typically feel the “afternoon low,” and would usually drink caffeinated green tea with my pre-workout snack prior to CrossFit. In the past 10 days, I haven’t really experienced my usual tiredness. Although, I have been going to bed a decent hour and getting 7 1/2 to 8 hours of sleep at night, so I’m not sure if my improvement in energy levels is due to the sleep or food.

Did my workout performance improve? In the middle of our challenge, I got a cold, which set me back a couple of days in regards to my training and then shortly after I was feeling better, I was in a team competition. My training this past month wasn’t really typical, since I was gearing up for competition and was sick for a few days. In the past week, I finally feel like my body is back and my strength is improving. For example, today, I PR’d on a clean and jerk, at 125 lbs, and if I had more time, I felt like I could have at least done 10 more pounds! A few months ago, my PR was 115. Again, I’m not sure if this is due to eating Paleo, or just my body getting back into the swing of things, again.

Did I have any cravings? Unlike my husband, I didn’t crave anything eating Paleo. I missed my cheese and cow’s milk, but I didn’t crave it. Since I bake with almond flour and coconut flour on a regular basis (starting way before our challenge), I didn’t miss regular baked goods with refined flour and sugar. We only use raw honey and Xylitol in our house, so I certainly didn’t crave any sugary foods.

Was I hungrier or more satisfied while on the challenge? My husband was hungry all the time, despite not being calorie-deficient. We figure it was more mental, or just the fact that he wasn’t able to snack on cheese! For me, I increased my healthy fat intake, eating a half of an avocado with my lunches, consuming more almond butter and nuts, using a little coconut oil in my breakfasts and continuing to cook with olive oil or coconut oil, so I actually felt more satisfied. Prior to our challenge, I consumed healthy fats, but not nearly enough, so the increase in fats kept me feeling full for longer periods of time. As I write this, this might be a factor in why my energy levels started to improve the last 10 days of our challenge…

Did I experience any changes in weight or body composition? My weight remained the same, but my body fat percent went down by 1%. I’m not sure if it was due to food, or just increasing my training the past month. I didn’t count calories, I just ate intuitively, as I always do (eating when I was hungry and stopping when I was full).

How did my digestive system react to the challenge? One major thing that I noticed, was I wasn’t as bloated the past 30 days, as I usually am. I’m pretty regular, so there was no major difference in that department (sorry for TMI!), but prior to the challenge, I would experience bloating every few days or so. I was never able to pin-point what caused the bloating, whether grains, dairy or just certain foods, but I certainly noticed a difference while eating Paleo.

Will I continue to eat 100% Paleo? Eating strict Paleo isn’t for me. I am an advocate for eating a well-balanced diet, eating whole foods and little to no processed foods and refined sugar. Although I agree with the pillars of the Paleo diet, it is not something that I can stick to for a lifetime. I enjoy having cheese every now and then, specifically aged ones, I love cow’s milk in my morning latte (which is barely a 1/4 of a cup), I also enjoy eating quinoa or whole wheat couscous and whole wheat pasta every now and then (not every day), so I don’t want to be restricted to only being able to eat certain things. I come from a big Italian family, so only being able to eat certain foods makes it difficult at family gatherings when pasta, homemade bread and desserts are of the plenty. My personal motto is “Eat to live, not live to eat,” but I believe we need to also allow ourselves the occasional splurge here and there to truly live life to the fullest. If you are traveling to Italy, would you not eat pasta? Absolutely not! Part of the Italian culture is based upon food, so I definitely want to experience it.

Do I recommend it for others? For those who eat poorly on a regular basis, eating fast food multiple times a week, frozen dinners and twinkies, then yes, try the Paleo diet. It will certainly give you the results that you are looking for in regards to weight loss and body composition, but do I recommend it as something long term? No. I still believe eating “clean” is the best approach, shopping the “perimeter” of the grocery store, avoiding processed foods if at all possible, consuming healthy fats and eating in moderation (watching portion sizes) is the best approach for a leading healthy lifestyle that lasts a lifetime.

Where will I go from here? Both my husband and I will continue to eat “clean,” as we usually do, allowing ourselves to splurge on dessert or a hamburger and fries every once in a while. But, I will continue consuming a good amount of healthy fats at every meal, making 98% of our meals grain-free, and possibly using a little dark chocolate almond milk in my morning latte on occasion!

As for my husband’s experience, he is definitely back to consuming cheese and beer, but the Paleo challenge taught him how to snack differently, consuming almonds, dried fruit, fresh fruit, instead of always reaching for a chunk of aged cheddar cheese. Aside from that, he didn’t really notice a difference in improved energy levels, workout performance, body composition or digestion. His only difference was feeling hungry most of the time. Although he continued to snack throughout day, in addition to having good hearty meal, I’m not sure why he was constantly hungry. If you are interested to read more about my husband’s experience, let me know and I’d be glad to answer any questions or send over his recap!

Questions: 

- Have you ever gone on a drastic diet, cutting out certain food groups in order to reach a health and fitness goal? If so, what foods did you cut out?

- How do you eat? 

**REMINDER: There is still a couple of hours left to enter a chance to win a sampler pack of  Drink Chia ! Thirteen lucky readers will win!! Contest ends ontonight at midnight PST! To enter,  click here .

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