If the age-old saying “You are what you eat,” is true, then I’m currently a grilled organic chicken breast strewn across a cooked bed of leafy kale.
Since I was in my early teens, I’ve always loved trying different kinds of diets. This wasn’t just because I wanted to lose weight, however, that was of course a part of it (how could it not be in one’s teenage years?). But the bigger reason for my food experiments was because I was fascinated with how much nutrition affects our well-being. We can change how we look, feel and even think by the foods we put into our body. From a raw diet to that strange lemon juice and cayenne pepper cleanse, I’ve put my body through many experiments, but thus far all have been temporary.
However, recently, I’ve been trying a new way of eating that could be here to stay. A mainstream name for it is the paleo diet. My latest eating regimen was instigated by a good friend of mine. She started attending school for nutrition and needed guinea pig patients to work with. Being the low-key nutrition nerd I am, I eagerly volunteered for the position. The work with her started in May with a lot of questionnaires about how I was feeling and what I wanted to work on. I also had to keep a food journal, which included recording details about my bowel movements, digestion, sleep, and overall mood. Needless to say, my friend and I have gotten much closer during this heavily-detailed process.
“Diet” is a bad word to use because it insinuates certain restrictions that will eventually be lifted. Plus, it adds a negative connotation by telling the dieter that they can’t have certain things. My friend has urged me to think of this way of eating more as a lifestyle change. So, anyway, this “lifestyle change” is focused around whole foods. A normal meal should consist of 30 percent proteins, 30 percent fats and 40 percent carbohydrates. However, the carbohydrates I have should not include bread or rice or other kinds of starchy goodnesses. The appropriate kinds of carbohydrates that should be filling my plate are, in fact, vegetables. And, when I say 30 percent fats, I don’t mean vegetable oils or other kinds of saturated or trans fats. I’m talking about coconut oil, butter, olive oil, duck lard, beef tallow – the good, hearty fats. So, essentially, I’m eating meat and vegetables. And, from time to time, I add in some raw cheeses, legumes and fruit. Added sugars and processed foods are what I’m trying to avoid. It may sound challenging, and many days of the week it certainly is, but it’s also a meal plan filled with real, fresh foods that are cooked in delicious fats, so what’s not to love?
Before I started this diet I had certainly heard of paleo before. I had even dabbled in it a few years ago when it started gaining popularity. But I’ve never been fully invested like this before. Now that I am paleo, I’ve realized just how big of a scene it is. It’s practically cultish. Everywhere I look I see something new about paleo, be it recipes, products or tips. I’ve stocked up on just about every healthy magazine I can find that sits proudly at the counters at Whole Foods. From Clean Eating to Thrive to Paleo Magazine, there’s no shortage of literature on ways to eat whole foods. I’ve also subscribed to several podcasts such as Well-Fed Women, The Paleo View and Balanced Bites. There are even recent documentaries on this way of eating, such as The Magic Pill and We Love Paleo. This all may sound excessive, but I find when I’m making big changes in what I eat, it’s helpful to have support. And, for the paleo diet, there’s tons of it.
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I’m definitely drinking the Kool-Aid when it comes to this diet, except not actual Kool-Aid because that has a lot of sugar, it’s more like a cold water with lemon juice. However, the challenges to avoid processed foods and sugary desserts is real. The other day I accidentally came head to head with a chocolate chip cookie. I hadn’t eaten enough that day and, in a ravenous panic, I suddenly shoved the whole thing into my mouth, vigorously chewing the chocolate and doughy deliciousness down to liquid. But, just when I went to swallow, I realized what I was doing and spit the entire treat into the trash. It definitely wasn’t my proudest moment. Or, last weekend, I realized I couldn’t live without a slice of pizza. I ended up ordering an entire pie and consuming three pieces of it. That was also not my proudest moment, but it was admittedly a delicious one.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I really love this new style of eating. My energy is better, my focus has improved, and overall I just feel like a healthier version of myself. But finding balance and also the ability to break the rules is what’s important with paleo, and any type of healthy eating lifestyle. If I decide to have dessert one evening or an extra glass of wine at dinner, getting down on myself or being disappointed in my actions is not helpful. As my friend/future nutritionist tells me often, getting mad at yourself about eating things that aren’t good for you can be the start of an unhealthy relationship with food. The goal is to make the right food choices the majority of the time. But when a slice of pizza or a cookie presents itself, sometimes it’s OK to take a big bite.
Still, if I am what I eat, I’d rather be a healthy slice of meat than an overly sweet muffin.
Barbara Platts has been on the paleo diet for nearly three months and shows no signs of slowing down. Reach her at [email protected] or on Twitter @BarbaraPlatts.