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.