When I slipped on my first pair of summer pants this year, something unusual happened. They were... loose. Yes, loose.
Why is this a big deal? Well, more than a year ago I went through *THAT* breakup. You know, the one you deal with by overindulging in terrible stuff. I partied and I ate. A LOT. The late nights, the accompanying take-out and the beer really caught up to me.
Eventually, I got to a point where I didn’t recognize myself and I didn’t know what to do. I was bloated beyond belief, breaking out with cystic acne, getting bad headaches, had no energy and was at my highest weight ever.
My naturopath, who I trust implicitly, was the first to suggest the Paleo lifestyle to me. Paleo-what? I was thinking, meh—this is just another diet, and there’s way too much to know.
Here's why I was wrong.
What is Paleo?
At the heart of it, "going Paleo" means eating the way our our hunter-gatherer ancestors did in the Paleolithic era before the agricultural industry started to introduce corn and mass amounts of grain into our diets. Loren Cordain, a scientist and nutritionist, coined the term when he wrote The Paleo Diet in the '90s, but it wasn't until one of his students, Robb Wolf, wrote The Paleo Solution in the '00s that the diet started to generate buzz.
Paleo is considered “grain-free” or “clean” living. In practical terms, you replace grains and starches with fresh vegetables, fruit and clean meats such as chicken and seafood.
No grains? Yes, you heard that right. No grains and no beans. And this is where some of you may raise an eyebrow.
The reason they're not allowed is because they tend to make you bloated. (Does your belly start to gurgle and bloat when you eat hummus?) According to Cordain, legumes and whole grains are not only inflammatory, they also have some of the highest concentrations of antinutrients, which can lead to a condition called leaky gut (where the lining that protects your gut is damaged and bacteria starts to pour through). Many people are also intolerant to the gluten in grains.
The foundation of Paleo is getting as much protein as you can. (You’ll notice your cravings really diminish when you increase your protein intake.) Protein is great for you because it boosts your metabolism and accelerates weight loss. Cordain says:
"Protein has two to three times the thermic effect of either fat or carbohydrate, meaning that it revs up your metabolism, speeding weight loss. Additionally, protein has a much greater satiety value than either fat or carbohydrate, so it puts the brakes on your appetite. Finally, numerous recent clinical trials have shown high-protein, low-glycemic load diets to be more effective than low-fat, high-carbohydrate diets in promoting weight loss and keeping it off."
What you can and can't eat on Paleo
The grocery list of food you can eat is simple:
- Meat (preferably organic and grass-fed)
- Fish and shellfish
- Fresh fruits and veggies
- Nuts and seeds
- Healthy oils (olive, walnut, flaxseed, macadamia, avocado and coconut)
Here's what you should try to stay away from:
- Cereal grains
- Legumes (including peanuts)
- Refined sugar
- Processed foods
- Refined vegetable oils
And also... I’m sorry to say this, but no more beer.
If you follow Paleo very closely you’re also not supposed to eat cheese, but that’s my "guilty pleasure" indulgence every once in a while. However, I do notice that I get a little more bloated because of its high sodium.
How I make Paleo work for me
When I went to my naturopath in a state of despair, I solemnly told her “I’m bloated.” She was sympathetic and told me that there’s never a good reason to be bloated. You should never dismiss it. Turns out, it was due to my large intake of wheat and carbs.
Now on Paleo, I eat meat, fish, and lots and lots of berries and vegetables—such as kale and beets, but nothing starchy like potatoes or sweet potatoes. You want something that is slowly digested and absorbed and won’t spike your blood sugar level. When that happens (from sugar and carbohydrates) you get a really fast and furious rush and lots of energy, and then... the inevitable crash.
Because I’ve cut back on a lot of unnecessary junk, I’ve also come to love and absorb the great, nutritious food that I wasn’t getting enough of—like almonds, walnuts and avocados. Seriously, this was stuff I didn’t bother with before and now it’s part of my lifestyle and I can just FEEL my body thanking me.
Here's one of my healthy dinner dishes, a simple mixture of brussel sprouts and squash baked and tossed with grapeseed oil and herbs.
And here's my super-easy-to-make spinach salad with tuna, tomatoes, onions and olives.
On Paleo it is recommended that you eat every five hours. I know, I know—my eyes bulged too when I found out . The first three days are brutal. All you think about is your next meal. But slowly, you start to not need that oral fixation every minute.
The reason you're not meant to eat so often is because it takes about three hours for your body to really digest and break up the food. If you can hold off for those extra two hours before your next meal, that’s when you'll really burn up the extra fat! And best of all, it gives your pancreas (the organ that breaks down food and releases it into the blood stream) a rest. With all the food you eat and all the work it does, your pancreas deserves it.
The benefits of Paleo
Here are just a few:
- You really do start to notice your weight dropping and your body getting slimmer as you burn off stored fat (if you don’t cheat too much).
- More energy. I don't go through the day feeling lethargic and tired anymore. Who doesn’t want that when we’ve all got so much on the go?!
- No more of that yucky gut bloating.
- A more restful night’s sleep.
- If you’ve got acne, you’ll see a difference in your skin—mine looks clearer and cleaner.
- More fibre! We all know fibre is good for us—but did you know that fruits contain twice as much of it as grains? Eat up!
- Paleo foods are anti-inflammatory and high in vitamins, nutrients and antioxidants.
- Everything you’re consuming is just fresh, and simple and clean.
I really feel that cutting out grains and carbs and limiting my meals to once every five hours has helped me take control of my weight and my body again. To me, Paleo was never a diet, it was a lifestyle. And to all those who (constantly) ask me "why Paleo?" Well, because it just... clicked. It was that "AHA!" moment. Before this, I spent most of my life obsessed with healthy eating and working out—and even though I was by no means overweight, I was on a constant hamster wheel, losing and gaining weight.
Now, what defines me are the two P’s: Paleo and Pilates. Paleo is 80 percent and Pilates is the extra 20 percent that has helped me get toned. I’m not waify thin, but I’m proud of the definition my body has. And like my Pilates instructor told me, abs are made in the kitchen, baby! I seriously don’t think I could ever go back to how I used to eat.
If you want to learn more
Mandatory disclaimer: This is just my personal experience with Paleo after consulting and working with my naturopath for a year, doing extensive research and reading into the diet. Talk to your healthcare provider first to understand if it's the right choice for you.
If you'd like to know more, here are a few resources I found helpful:
- Empowered Sustenance: This blog is all about eating grain-free and raw! I love it because it shows how you can still make amazing sweet and savoury foods with better ingredients (butternut squash pizza, anyone?).
- The Paleo Solution by Robb Wolf: My go-to book.
- The Practical Paleo Guide to Paleo Foods: More info on what you can and can't eat.
- This research on health problems associated with the Western diet.
- Kale & Coriander: I LOVE this blog for recipes.
Have you tried eating Paleo?
What's YOUR secret to getting more energy, better sleep and clearer skin?
What's your favourite health tip?