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What I Learned From a Strict Paleo Challenge

Posted Mar 10 2013 9:38am



Hi all, I’m Gabby and I’m excited to take over Ericka’s blog today while she is out of town! Ericka and I met at FitBloggin where we were roomies and had a ton of fun talking blogging, crossfit, and making videos. Anyways, let me tell you a little about myself. I’m a 24 year old relatively newlywed who lives in Richmond, VA – I’m a professional recipe developer and food photographer for a gluten-free magazine, an avid Crossfitter, and lover of all things gluten-free/paleo and I blog about all of it over at Gabby’s Gluten-Free .

At the beginning of the year, I decided to embark on a Whole30 (strict paleo) challenge with a few people from my gym as an effort to clean up my diet (I’m mostly paleo anyways) after holiday splurging and help eradicate some bad habits (like too much chocolate and wine!). I recapped my entire experience in detail week by week and I learned A LOT about myself, my relationship with food, and my habits. Here are some of the major things I learned:

Habits are tricky:The first week or so of the challenge was tough because I just wanted something sweet after dinner. I would be completely full but still crave chocolate out of pure habit.  I feel like I’m fairly aware of my habits but it really hit home when I caught myself reaching to taste some cookie dough for a recipe I was testing – I didn’t even realize I was doing it until I nearly ate it! Overall, I became more mindful and more aware of what I was doing out of hunger and what I was doing out of habit. This definitely stuck with me after the challenge and I think learning about my habits was the biggest benefit I got out of the entire experience.

Food has a huge impact on sleep: One of the things that shocked me the most was how well I slept when I completely cut out sugar. I slept through the night and had so much energy throughout the day that I was downright hyper at times. I never realized how much sugar impacted my system until I completely cut it out. I also learned that any alcohol too close to sleep makes me sleep poorly – something I wouldn’t have figured out if I didn’t cut it out for 30 days. 





Food boredom is real, it sucks, but there is a silver lining: I always used to think that it would be impossible to be bored with food – I cook for a living and my husband is a chef so there is no lack of creativity in our household – but  I got majorly bored on the challenge. Instead of giving up, I made a conscious effort to try some new recipes each week and discovered a ton of delicious recipes that we now keep in regular rotation.

Nutrition is hugely individual: I ended up losing 8lbs on the challenge and unfortunately, it was all muscle. I switched over to doing mostly weightlifting instead of normal “crossfit” WODs around the same time the challenge started and didn’t anticipate how much food and carbs I would need to keep my strength gains. I never thought I would have an issue with eating enough food but I did and now, I have a better idea of what I need to fuel my life and my training.  Looking back on the challenge, I was eating a lot but a good portion of it was veggies which, while they are necessary and obviously good for you, aren’t terribly caloric dense. While I was eating plenty of caloric dense foods like avocados, coconut, meats, etc., I may have been skimping on the critical carbs needed to help fuel my body. Nutrition is such an individual issue that following guidelines didn’t produce optimal results from me but it did teach me what doesn’t work for my body.


 


Detective work is critical: I’ve always been an advocate of doing “diet detective work” by tweaking things, paying close attention, and seeing what does and doesn’t work but this challenge took it to a whole new level. I was tracking my progress daily so I was really able to see what worked and what didn’t work for me. I also learned that for me, “strict” may not be the way to go – I didn’t have optimal results but I wouldn’t have known that I needed to up my calorie and carb intake if I hadn’t done the challenge.

I learned what my priorities were: Going into the challenge, I was really excited to feel better and possibly get a little leaner. For my entire life, like most women, I have wanted to lose weight and get lean – but then, I lost muscle and I was ANGRY. I reacted in a way that completely shocked myself – normally, I would be excited about an 8lb. loss but instead I was frustrated, angry, and unhappy. It dawned on me that when given the choice of leanness or strength – I wanted strength and I was truly surprised by that. This challenge and it’s results were the proverbial coin toss that I needed – once I forced to choose, I knew exactly what I wanted.

Overall, I learned SO much from my strict paleo challengethat I would not have learned otherwise. The biggest lesson I learned is not to underestimate the habitual nature of food – after two weeks of going without sugar, dairy, legumes, grains, soy, etc. I didn’t want it, crave it, or really have any interest in it. I simply ate real, whole foods without having to think about or overanalyze what was going in my mouth – I formed new habits while eradicating some less beneficial old habits.

Currently, I still maintain a pretty paleo diet (with chocolate and wine of course) but I’ve learned that strict may not always be better and that nutrition is incredibly individual. Now that I’ve done some detective work and figured out what doesn’t work and what does work for me. So if you’re contemplating taking on a challenge that focuses on real, whole foods and changing habits , you may surprise yourself with what you learn when you dive in!

 Anyone tried a challenge -- Paleo or otherwise? Tell us about it!
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