Warning: I talk about weight/BMI using objective data in this post, so if that bothers you, please avoid!
On August 28 in 2014, I decided to try “going paleo” for a month. Cameron was 6 months old, and Annabel was not yet 2 and a half. I was still breastfeeding but had just stopped pumping. (Of note, just thinking about that makes it seem FOREVER ago! Also, I am still slightly giddy when I think about never having to deal with a breast pump ever again.)
I was feeling eager to get back to my pre-baby size and physique, and progress seemed to be stalled. I felt like I needed a change. A little back history is warranted here: I have never been even close to the medical definition of overweight, as defined by BMI. And I had reasonable weight gain weight gain with each pregnancy: ~20 lbs with Annabel, and ~27 lbs with C. However, I am very petite with a small frame, and a small # of lbs can make a huge difference (to me, anyway) in how I look/feel. I had a BMI of ~19.5 prior to getting pregnant with Annabel, gained to ~21 in efforts to get pregnant, and then went back to ~19.5 afterwards — for about 1 month before getting pregnant with C.
In August last year, I was stuck closer to the BMI = 21 mark, and didn’t really like it. In retrospect, I recognize that I was not being very patient. However, I had remembered things moving faster post-A and was just very ready to feel ‘normal’ again. I was also still rather sleep deprived, as C was juuuuuust starting to sleep a bit better but still wasn’t making it through the night consistently.
So, I decided to try eating in the paleo style, and initially considered it a month-long trial.
As it turned out, paleo had some benefits. Most of them are detailed in this post. To summarize, I felt less hungry/more satisfied, had more even energy throughout the day, and lost several lbs — back to a BMI ~20 where I felt good. Notably, however, this was during a period that I had stopped pumping (!!!) and Cameron had started sleeping through the night. So it’s a rather terrible experiment with a lot of uncontrolled-for variables. (Important ones!)
I did enjoy the food, and really didn’t miss non-paleo fare. I found that fruit and 88% dark chocolate began to taste deliciously sweet, and more conventional treats were cloying. I also noticed that my runs were slower for a while, but this did improve after >1m of my body getting used to the new eating style. I did find myself needing a little snack prior to running in the morning (usually 1/2 banana and almond butter) and that helped.
I had some fun with it. I discovered paleo podcasts (Balanced Bites and Nom Nom Paleo) and blogs. I expanded my paleo cookbook collection.
For the first ~6 months, I really enjoyed going all in and didn’t feel the need/desire to “cheat” much. I still drank red wine and ate dark chocolate, but that was about it. It was fun. I maintained my weight pretty easily (though I never got quite as low as I had gotten post-A — perhaps because I didn’t breastfeed as long due to C’s preference for the bottle).
The honeymoon was over
A few months ago, for reasons that are unclear to me, I just started “cheating” more. Sweet potato and plantain chips (yum) are gluten-free, but are definitely not truly paleo, and I was eating them fairly regularly. I started ordered paleo muffins from a local baker, and while they are truly delicious, they cannot really be considered unprocessed. My chocolate consumption increased and wasn’t limited to the 88% stuff. None of that sounds too bad, but basically I just wasn’t eating as ‘cleanly’ as I was in the months prior.
Aaaaand unsurprisingly, I found myself with those few extra lbs creeping back on. While “paleo”.
When we went on vacation, I had some pizza. And it was delicious. And this, as well as noting that some of my clothes were tighter, triggered some objective thinking about my paleo experience. I came to the following conclusions:
1) Paleo eating — for me — is not a magic bullet. It is not “effortless” weight maintenance or loss, because it takes effort in the form of consistently clean paleo eating.
2) I hadn’t done so badly the first 34 years of my life while not eating paleo. Taking an eating tour of NC reminded me of all of my non-paleo favorites. And I was not in any way “unhealthy” while I lived there, nor did my weight even fluctuate all that much. I ran 4 marathons, finished a residency and fellowship, and don’t recall having low energy or any other terrible symptoms from eating grains and dairy and gluten. This really gave me pause.
3) It is significantly more convenient not to be paleo. While traveling, at work, and when out and about, in particular. I missed being able to grab a Starbucks oatmeal at the airport, for example.
4) Honestly: I missed cheese. And beer. And peanut butter. And toasted cinnamon raisin Ezekiel english muffins (yes, specific). And other things, too. And looking at restaurant menus with an open mind (what am I in the mood for, what looks good?) rather than a limited on (what “can” I have?).
5) I realized that life is short. (It is. Gretchen Rubin may call this a loophole, but I stand by this line of reasoning.)
6) I decided that I could incorporate some of the things I learned while paleo without being so restrictive. There were things I really liked about paleo eating (here’s a sample day, if you’re curious). Higher protein breakfasts, not restricting fat (!), limiting processed foods and sugar. But I can still do those things without going all in.
So in the end, I decided I was ready to move on. And so — I officially quit. I didn’t last a full year, but almost — 11.5 months! I STILL want to lose a couple of (total vanity) lbs. But I am not willing to draw hard lines in what I can/cannot eat, at least right now. I still think paleo can be a great way to eat — especially for those eating a lot of processed foods, or people who struggle with weight issues that are real and not just vanity. There is a huge supportive community and tons of resources online, which is a nice feature. Temporary paleo eating can also serve as a great reset (I wouldn’t rule out trying another Whole30 again someday, myself, even though the first time was a fail)
One odd benefit of eating paleo — for me — was that I found that my itchy reactions to mosquito bites (and I get PLENTY of those living here!) were much less severe. I do wonder if there is some weird cross reaction with something (peanuts? wheat? dairy?) and might consider getting an allergy test. I’d love to isolate the component so that I could limit just whatever-that-thing-is rather than everything.
So that’s it!
Any other questions? Feel free to ask. Has anyone else experimented with an eating style and left it behind? Would love to hear your experiences.
When I eliminated dairy, soy, & gluten while breastfeeding K (almost paleo), I noticed my seasonal allergies disappeared. Weird. 😉
I’ve looked at things like paleo or Whole30 and thought, "I should try that!" So many people sing the praises of the diets, mostly in regard to how much energy they have and how they feel better. At times, I think it would be great to give it a go, but then I think about how much good food there is out there – and it’s not like I’m unhealthy! My mom has had Celiac and diabetes for as long as I can remember, and I think watching her be required to follow a strict diet really makes me appreciate the ability to choose what to eat. (I also feel like I’d get a major side eye from my mom if I told her I willingly went gluten-free, ha.)
This is totally my opinion, but sometimes I think these diets/lifestyle changes work for people because they’re given a set of rules to follow. Just saying, "Eat healthy! Don’t eat too much crap!" is quite vague and hard for people to follow. Is ONE glass of wine okay? What about a little dessert? Giving defined rules where you "can’t" eat certain things takes the guessing out of it. And the common sense side of me thinks that anything where you eliminate total food groups can’t necessarily be the best for you. (That’s opinion, not fact.) But given all that, if people want to do it, then I have no problem with it.
Um, so, I was just at the grocery store wanting to get some Ezekiel bread and decided to try the cinnamon raisin English muffins on the basis of your recommendation…they are delicious! I enjoy the bread as a ‘healthyish’ bread, but these are really good! -Emily
I’ve been really curious about your decision and how you came to it, so i’m glad you got this post out! I think paleo has a lot of merits, in particular the attention to fats and proteins. It seems like you learned a lot from the experience, at any rate, and have figured out the best way to fuel your lifestyle.
I’ve frequently considered cutting out some refined grains. I have replaced some of our weekly meals that used to include rice/pasta with things like potatoes and sweet potatoes, and we’ve always regularly used whole grains like quinoa, freekeh, millet, and bulgar as part of our meals.
I can completely relate to feeling like small amounts of weight gain can contribute disproportionately to how I look/feel. I’m currently at a BMI of 20.6 and I much prefer when it’s 20 or below. That being said, I am now solidly in my 30s so perhaps that’s my new normal 🙂
In Hungary there is a big fanbase of the paleo lifestyle. They are hardcore, very agressive with those that don´t follow it to a T. There is a hungarian writer(Szendi Gábor), who brought all the research together in a few books. They are great books, but not even he, is as hardcore as this population.
What I like better about this lifestyle in the States, is that there is not the need, to imitate the normal, grain abundant lifestyle. They eat natural, unprocessed. At list I think so. But here in Hungary, they try to imitate every baked good, or, really everything they ate, prepaleo. Even the hardcore ones do. There are a lot of flours(almond, coconut, tapioka, arrowroot, a combination of these, that you can already bake with, without adding much to it, and these are expensive). And it is pretty processed. Why go paleo, if you don´t eat pretty much natural things?
I liked your post, because, although paleo, I will do it, until I feel good, and will not deprive myself of good things, on the rare occasions, we meet our friends, etc. I will do what will come naturally to me 🙂
Great post! I have experimented with paleo but found that any restrictive diet is not good for me mentally. It can become obsessive. However I agree with you on things you learned. I’d credit it with changing the fat free mentality and focusing on real foods but I still eat oats and corn tortillas and Ezekiel bread. I more concentrate on eating clean and incorporating plenty of protein, fruits, and veggies rather than "paleo" and certainly don’t think of foods as those I’m allowed or not. I know I feel better with less processed crap in my body which I learned from paleo but also that some cheese or a piece of good whole grain bread isn’t going to cause me issues and if I want to go have a beer and a good brick oven pizza or burger with my husband, I’m going. Not driving through McDonald’s but what the hell is wrong with a good quality burger with a BUN once in a while. Balance.