Many months ago, I became part of an online fitness community which has been a great place for me to learn and build my knowledge as a fitness enthusiast. It’s where I learned the great feeling of picking up heavy things and then putting them back down. It’s where I got advice and encouragement as I ran my first 5K last year. But another thing they are always willing to give advice on is nutrition.
Many members of the community there are proponents of “The Paleo Diet”. I won’t go into all the details, but the premise is that we should be eating like cavemen did for so many years. Like hunter-gatherers, not like agriculturalists. In general, this means no grains, no refined sugars, no dairy. the historical origin behind it seems a bit dodgy to me, but I like the way Whole9 put it:
We eat real food – meat, fish, eggs, vegetables, fruit, healthy oils, nuts and seeds. We choose foods that were raised, fed and grown naturally, and foods that are nutrient-dense, with lots of naturally occurring vitamins and minerals.
This is not a “diet” – we eat as much as we need to maintain strength, energy, activity levels and a healthy body weight. We aim for well-balanced nutrition, so we eat animals and a significant amount of plants.
Eating like this has helped us to look, feel, live and perform our best, and reduces our risk for a variety of lifestyle-related diseases and conditions.
I’ve never been a big fan of any sort of diet that completely disallows any food. And, seeing as one of my other hobbies is baking, having no grains and no sugars is like… blasphemy. But there is a lot that makes sense to me about a Paleo-style diet. Meat and veggies really are dense in nutrition, so it makes more sense to base most meals around this than basing it around rice or pasta or cereals.
But when it comes to nutrition, there’s so much information and misinformation on both sides of the fence that it’s almost impossible to figure out what’s really the truth and what’s hype. However, enough people I respect live by these rules that I decided to give it a try, through the Whole30 program. Thirty days of ‘paleo’ – meat, veggies, fruit. No dairy, no legumes, no grain, no sugars. It’s just 30 days, and then I can form my own opinion.
And so I did it.
And you know what? It wasn’t that hard.
I replaced my weekday breakfast cereal and weekend pancakes with hard-boiled eggs and omelettes with fresh veggies. My lunch was usually leftovers, a meat dish and two servings of vegetables. At dinner time, I replaced our usual “starch” side (pasta, rice, bread, etc.) with a second veggie dish. I ate lots of tasty avocados. I gave my Friday office treat to someone else.
And while I didn’t notice any sort of amazing energy boost or health improvements that I had been promised - I did learn a lot:
- I don’t need grains and dairy to survive, despite what the government says (as I put on my conspiracy hat.) I made it 30 days without either, and I feel at least as healthy as I was before.
- Holy crap, there’s sugar in everything! I mostly cooked for myself during this adventure, but going through my cupboards and the grocery store isles it was amazing to see how much stuff I never thought had sugar in it that really does. Same goes with soy products. Packaged chicken stock? Sugar! Ugh!
- There are lots of vegetables, and a dozen ways to cook them all! I worried that I would get bored with vegetables. While I did eat a lot of raw baby carrots and broccoli, I cooked with some new vegetables and some new methods which are sure to stick in my standard recipe book.
- It’s ok to say no. I planned my Whole30 to take place during a time I knew there would be no holidays or major social events for me to worry about, but still, there were times I had to pass on free lunches and baked goods. Take it as an opportunity to share what you’re doing, or just lie if you don’t want to get into details. Either way, no one is going to shove that cheese croissant down your throat for you – it’s a choice.
- It’s important to make healthy eating an open discussion with kids. Over dinner during this experiment, we talked lots about why sugar isn’t good for you. Why you don’t really need to eat grains. We made a game of “Guess if this food has added sugar!” We asked the kids to think about how they would eat if they gave up sugar for a week. And while they’re still eating dessert most nights and asking for junk food at the grocery store – it’s clear that they are starting to really think about their eating decisions, which I think is really awesome.
This experiment gave me a lot to think about, and really did change my perspective on food. Although it was not really my intention, I did lose weight during this experiment, but I think what I gained in insight was much more important!
Now that it’s over, I plan to continue eating mostly this way. I’m going to have treats, I’m going to have sugar and grains and dairy, but not all the time – I will eat them because they are tasty treat, not because I think I need to.
And I’m totally having pizza for dinner tonight.