April 12, 2011

Part Six: Transitioning to a Paleo Diet

This is a continuation of my weight loss series.  If you missed The Prologue, Part One, Part Two , Part Three, Part Four , or Part Five check them out first. If you are not into this kind of stuff, here is your warning:  Go ahead and skip this one.

When we last left off, fresh of the great results of my allergy diet I had begun to research Paleo eating, and a lot of information was clicking for me.  I had seen great results, felt better than I had in ages, and had a ton of energy.  But friends and family were definitely giving my dietary changes a raised eyebrow.  Transitioning to a Paleo diet requires an open mind at first, I'm not going to lie.  Especially when people start calling it a Caveman Diet, because honestly -- HOW DOES THAT EVEN MAKE IT SOUND APPEALING?  Have you seen the Geico commercials -- using cavemen for comparisons don't always make something look more appealing.  But I can honestly tell you that for me, it totally changed my life and simplified the way I cook and eat.  For those who are interested, here is the scoop.

The main reason Paleo eating requires an open mind is that it goes against A LOT of conventional wisdom that you learn growing up.  I'm not talking about eating worms or anything crazy, but if you were raised anything like me you grew up thinking low fat and low calorie diets were the secret to good maintaining your weight, and as long as you just ate "everything in moderation" you would be the picture of health.  Paleo is not about any of these things, so for me overcoming a lifetime worth of what I knew was a challenge.  Also, there is the small fact that the science of nutrition is relatively young.  We are all kind of guessing at it -- scientists and consumers alike. There is always research on both sides -- I thought Linda's post on this topic was accurate and succinct. It's a lot of noise, so you have to find what works for you, not what works for everyone.

What ended up working for me was eliminating grains and sugar completely and increasing my fat/vegetable/protein intake.   I don't have any conspiracy theories, and I won't tell you that the grain industry is playing puppet master in our lives or anything that dramatic.  But after doing a significant amount of reading I do believe that the food pyramid is bullshit, and so for me I decided to do some experimentation and Paleo has felt phenomenal.  I think anyone exploring a new way of eating needs to do that.  Immerse yourself in whatever you choose for at least 30 days.  See how you feel, go from there.  My diet currently emphasizes consumption of vegetables, fruit, animal protein, nuts and seeds while eliminating all refined grains, sugar, and dairy (though I still eat a bit of dairy here and there).  If you are considering going the Paleo route, here are some places to start. 

I feel like I need to give a quick disclaimer that Paleo is NOT just a typical Low Carb Diet, which I think it sometimes gets incorrectly billed as.  It also doesn't involve any weighing, measuring or counting.  You don't track carbs or calories.  I've lost over 70 lbs not regularly tracking anything that has gone into my mouth.  Sure there have been times where I have used a tool like Fit Day or Fat Secret to check in that I am meeting my nutritional goals, but those times are few and far between because frankly -- that's a pain in the ass.  And to me, having to write down everything you put in your mouth is the first sign that something is a temporary fix and not a change in your lifestyle.  The elimination of sugar and high glycemic foods allowed my body to reset itself so that my hunger signals were working correctly again.  I no longer have major cravings, and when I'm not hungry, I don't eat.  It was something I could never get the hang of while eating sugar and refined carbohydrates and there is a great chapter in Robb Wolf's book The Paleo Solution that really breaks down exactly why that happens in the body.  I can't recommend that book highly enough if you've ever had trouble losing weight or had any type of illness at all.  Incredibly illuminating!     

So, Paleo is not about eliminating carbohydrates but more focusing on the nutritional density of the food you are eating along with eating foods that doesn't cause inflammation in your gut. I think this explanation  clearly explains how excess carbohydrate consumption affects your health better than I ever could, plus it has a very cute video at the end of it which is worth watching.  And if you are interested in understanding how grains affect your gut health, definitely check that article out.  When you eliminate refined sugars and grains, your diet by default does become lower in carbohydrates than the Standard American Diet -- but "Low Carb" is not the point.  The point is -- get in tons of nutrition efficiently from foods that don't cause inflammatory problems in your body.  

So how does one do this in real life?  For me, Step One was eliminating the grain element of my dinner and replacing it with another vegetable.  We always had some type of protein in our dinner, plus a veggie, plus some rice or bread or pasta.  This is pretty common, no?  So to begin with I just started making our proteins with two vegetables -- which actually was kind of fun.  I roasted, steamed, braised, bought new spices, tried new veggies and tried to keep my plate to mostly vegetables with a nice serving of protein. At first this was terrifying, I used to be a total bread addict!  As a kid I used to hide left over dinner rolls under my bed at night -- I was that dedicated.  How gross is that? 

Step Two was examining what we were eating for breakfast and lunch -- and wouldn't you know it was pretty heavy grainy fare -- cereal, sandwiches, pasta, etc.  I used to think I was doing myself a favor by eating lots of grains because I was getting so much fiber and that would fill me up.  But the truth is, vegetables are largely more fiber dense and don't cause an insulin response that interferes with your body's own hunger response.  Instead of grains in the morning I started trying to include a protein source in each of those meals.  For breakfast I began making smoothies like this one here, or grabbing a hard boiled egg or two.  For lunch I started packing enormous salads with chopped chicken or steak, or I'd bring leftovers from dinner the night before.  These were pretty easy changes and I started to think the transition was going pretty smooth.  

The Third Step was paying attention to the details.  What was I snacking on?  What types of fat was I using when I cooked?  I learned exactly how saturated and unsaturated fats are broken down in your body.  I bought a few new cooking staples.  As far as what to stock in your kitchen, I think AndreAnna's post on what is in her pantry is one of the best I've ever seen.  She has been an incredibly inspiring mentor to me throughout this process, so I highly encourage you to look around over there if you are considering making a similar switch.  Paleo cooking is actually super simple because you are basically picking and choosing various protein sources, fats and vegetables and the combos are endless.  Robb Wolf has a great food matrix that makes it pretty easy to get up and running with tons of ingredients to make healthy meals. 

Every once in a while I would think about how I missed sandwiches, or get sad over the fact that we never hit up our favorite local pizzeria anymore.  But the truth is, I wasn't actually craving these foods, which I think is important to note.  It was nostalgia, not an actual food craving.  After about a week of not eating grains at every meal I didn't really miss it.  And I still don't!

In Part Seven I'll share with you some meal plans if you're interested.  I definitely started my Paleo transition by making "Paleo" version of my favorite grain based treats.  But eventually I have left those behind too in favor of simpler food.  I'll give you a run down of what the two of us eat in an average week and share some of my favorite recipes!


Amy said...

I'm consistently surprised at how EASY Paleo is. With a little planning, I think it's just as easy or maybe even easier than "normal" meal planning was. Great post, and once again, so inspiring!

Maureen said...

I am very interested in these posts, thanks for writing them! I am thinking of giving Paleo a try, and it is good advice to stick with it for 30 days, to give it a chance. I think I am most leery about giving up dairy, just because I make myself a latte every morning, and I would really miss that. I tried to make one with unsweetened almond milk, and didn't like the taste at all. You have had wonderful success, congrats!

AndreAnna said...

Thanks for the link love as always my dear!!

At the risk of sounding douchey, I really am proud of you!

Jessica said...

Wow, I don't know if I could do this. I think the hardest part fo rme would be going out. Do you just order a meat-based meal and ignore the grain that comes with it?

Changes said...

I'm loving this series and was happy to see today's post. I relate with your story and value the advice.
Thank you for putting yourself out there.

Robin said...

Great post Holly! I just came across your blog today by following a post on Chowstalker. Glad I found your "corner" of the internet!

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