The paleo diet. Many of us have heard about this primal-diet trend, and though it promises better energy, better health, better skin, and other benefits galore, it seems just a little intimidating for those of use who consider cereal a major food group. Practitioners have differing interpretations of the restrictions - it's often thought of as a high protein/fat, low-to-zero carbs diet. Typically, dairy is excluded as well. For those interested in investigating the specifics of the primal and paleo diet, there are many online resources.
Considering our typical bread-and-sugar-laden eating habits, the thought of renouncing carbs (breads, pasta, rice, and some root veggies), legumes (like beans and peanuts), and sweets for two whole weeks seems like quite a feat. And, while this strict food regimen might not be right for everyone forever, it's worth checking out. Three R29 staffers - some bread addicts, some not-so-much - committed to living the paleo life for two weeks. Ahead, how overhauling their diets affected them.
Refinery29Lexi Nisita, News Editor:
Did you have any huge concerns before volunteering to check out the paleo diet?
"When I was originally asked to participate this story, a few questions were required to make sure I fit the bill for a good Guinea pig. One of them was: "Do you love bread?" Oh, where to begin. I thought that cheese would be the hardest thing to give up (I've been known to put away several family-size balls of mozzarella on a good day). But, no. This diet really made me realize I love bread. But, it also made my relationship with my beloved starches more complicated than ever.
How did you eat before starting the diet?"
"Before starting paleo, I would eat the occasional meat dish, a lot of pasta, and a solid amount of fish usually accompanied by rice or couscous (that's dinner). Breakfast was normally coffee or nothing; lunch was a sandwich, a Chipotle burrito bowl, or leftover pasta. Fruit and veggies made their way in there. I wouldn't consider my standard diet unhealthy; I don't particularly crave junk food or candy. My biggest weakness was and is probably salt, but that's a different article. I understood it was to be avoided in large quantities on the paleo diet, which I tried to stick to, but it was honestly the least of my concerns."
What was the hardest part about the diet for you?
"Giving up snacking. I'm neither resourceful nor organized enough to figure out a way to make the diet work for every meal, so I ended up wandering aimlessly around the office for long periods of time, gazing at the candy jar and the cereal boxes and whimpering faintly. At home, too lazy to venture out in search of a steak, I would weep over my computer while looking at Seamless and trying to convince myself that I could order a Cuban sandwich from Pilar and just eat the insides without touching the bread."
Did you find yourself giving into the temptation and snacking on non-paleo stuff?
"Overall, I was quite shocked with how well I held up. I probably ate more sugar than I should have, but I steered clear of bread and even turned my nose up at the french fries that came with my bun-free burger one night out. It sounds sad to say it, but for a while there, I didn't really even want to eat. I am both priviliged and gluttonous enough to approach food purely from a taste perspective, rarely eating out of actual hunger. All that changed when I was limited to mostly meat and veggies. I didn't really want to eat for the taste of it, but come mealtime, I would be starving."
And, how did you feel on the diet?
"I can't say whether I felt better. I was too depressed, emotionally, about being separated from my one true love to notice any physical changes.
And afterwards? Any lasting effects?
"I can say that now, having returned to bread with relative gusto, I feel worse. My digestion is, to put it delicately, sluggish. I've found myself feeling tired to the point of dizziness after meals sometimes. Again, I'm no doctor and can't draw any firm connection, but I know two things: I lost weight even in the two weeks I was on the diet (though I'm sure that would have evened out had I stuck with it), and I never felt that disgusting, uncomfortable feeling of fullness that makes you want to collapse on your bed and sweat out the calories for 72 hours. Still, I don't know if I have the guts to go paleo for the long term. During the two weeks, I repeatedly espoused the philosophy that I would rather die early from whatever bread-induced diseases were coming my way than live a life without it. Now, though, I am not so absolute in my views.
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Refinery29Amanda Saviñón, Photo Assistant:
So, how did it go on paleo? Did you love it or hate it?
"The paleo diet changed my life! Seriously. Previously, I had a considerably healthy diet - a lot of seafood, no meat except chicken, a lot of greens, beans, and really no soda or candy. But, even though I had those healthy habits before starting, the transition was not as easy as it seems. I am Dominican and our diet consists of a lot of rice and beans, potatoes and legumes, so those were deeply missed."
How did you transition your diet?
"During the first days of the diet, deciding what to eat was frustrating. I would be hangry (angry because you're hungry) all day except the couple of hours after a meal. When lunchtime would come around, I would contemplate, sometimes for hours, what to eat. Most takeout restaurant dishes come with potatoes, rice, bread, or pasta, and no substitutions! I had to build the resolve to not give into the pressure your body gives you to just eat, causing you to eat anything you can get their hands on. Daily, I became more and more aware of everything I put in my mouth (as I believe I should be, since it is, after all, going in your body), so eating just anything became much harder. But, since it made me more mindful of what I was eating, I didn't see that as a negative result."
Any times when the diet seemed especially hard? Dining out?
"Recently, I was at a buffet-style diner with friends and I decided to order an omelet. The man taking the order was also the chef so the cooking station was open and visible. I ordered, "broccoli, spinach, tomatoes, no cheese, yes, onions and ham, please. " The chef then says, "Okay, anything else?" I said, "No, that's all." He then grabbed a small punch ladle and scooped melted butter from a pot (butter is not allowed unless grass-fed) and into the same pan with the veggies and eggs, merely because it was part of his omelet recipe. After this, I realized the only way to know what exactly is in your food is to cook it yourself."
So true. I feel like a lot of people on the paleo diet cook for themselves quite regularly.
"Yes, because of paleo, cooking is now a part of my daily routine and eating accordingly is easier and no longer frustrating. This also helped my wallet because going out to eat on this diet is far from cheap - between constantly buying fresh fruits and vegetables and meats and seafood - it's a lot more expensive than buying, say, a loaf of bread to last you all week. I've also found eating paleo-style is also more focused; it is all about eating to get energy and a boost for your next task. When I cook now, I eat everything straight out of the pan and even the cutting board because I get too hungry and excited to wait!"
So, what were the main changes you saw in yourself while on the diet?
"The main physical change I quickly became aware of is the consistency my body craves thing on paleo. This affected everything from the amount of sleep I get, to the time of day when I have breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Hunger strikes a mere two-to-three hours after each meal since starting the diet. However, my portions are smaller. After heavy meaty meals, I never feel "stuffed," merely satisfied.
Snacking was the hardest part, at first, because what else can I snack on besides kale chips and nuts? The answer ended up being A LOT of different things, actually, and this same curiosity is what has propelled me to continue the diet. Beverages were also a bit difficult because most drinks have added sugar. As a result, I drank a lot of water which cleared up and hydrated my skin. This diet has a domino affect: Your body starts taking care of its different parts one by one."
Any takeaways from your two weeks on paleo?
"During the beginning, while doing some research, I learned it also goes by the name "The Caveman Diet," which was very interesting to me as I am a cave baby at heart. I don't take any kind of medication, I don't like tampons, I've never been on birth control, and I hate shaving. Now, my diet connects to my already very natural ways and I feel expansive. Whether the feeling has something to do with the great energy I receive from the natural oils and fats I've been consuming or this truly being a big step toward cleaner eating doesn't matter - the paleo diet is kick-ass."
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Refinery29Hayden Manders, Editorial Assistant:
What were your thoughts before you began the paleo diet?
"I should begin this recount by saying I had the absolute worst diet - the absolute worst. This isn't anything new to me, though. I've been well aware of my extreme pickiness for most of my little life. I, for one, do not eat fruit. Like, none. I don't know why. I have no reason to not eat it; I just don't. According to Manders legend, I simply woke up one day as a toddler and stopped eating it. My relationship with vegetables is pretty much long distance; I eat them when I can/feel like it, and dairy merely exists in my fridge to fill space (often going bad before I can finish any of it). Ironically, my doc says I'm in tip-top shape. Whatever.
So, there was a lot to cut out when you started paleo."
"Well, this left the dietary realms of meat, grain, and sweets - all of which I consume on the daily. Honestly, give me food in a box, frozen or not, and I'm a happy camper. Anyway, I had heard rumblings of the paleo diet before I was presented with the challenge, and was intrigued. Eating meat 24/7 sounded like a dream! Cutting out bread, however, did not."
Was cutting out bread the nightmare you expected it to be?
"It was. Cutting out all things grain from my diet was a nightmare. I realized that bread was more than a staple of my diet, it was my diet. Going cold turkey into paleo resulted in the worst withdrawal symptoms I've ever experienced."
What was that like?
"Well, prior to this experiment, I liked to think that I was immune to addictions. After a few days and an unhealthy amount of self-loathing later, it was clear that I was addicted to carbs. Not only did my body feel more lethargic, my mind felt wasted. Physically, I noticed my body was slimming (I was thrilled with this), but mentally, I just wanted bread. I wanted bread all the time. Even after I found a way to still get my Chipotle fix (fun fact, a bowl of just chicken costs $2.50!), I still wanted a snack. My daily breakfasts of eggs and bacon gave me energy, but not in the immediacy I craved. Come dinnertime, the greens and meat portions filled me up, but I always went to bed early to stave off those carb cravings."
Did it get any easier as the weeks went on?
"Paleo was hard. The second week became a little easier despite my incessant exhaustion. I fell into a pattern that was bearable, but I always found myself in a debate come evening where I'd go back and forth about whether or not I wanted to "cheat" and do carbs that night. Which, putting it in the context of an actual drug, makes sense. Carbs, cocaine - they might as well have been the same thing."
And, results after the diet?
"For two weeks I fiended for carbs like a junkie. And, now that I've eased myself off of paleo, I can't really have them as much. My body rejects certain grains, while rice (luckily) is okay. If paleo taught me anything, it's that a) I can commit to something (my ex-boyfriends would be proud) and b) that there is a smart way to approach eating carbs. I'm still learning what that smart way is, but I can tell you it begins with exercise. It's a personal course from there."
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