Why I stopped eating a “clean” Paleo diet

My introduction to the Paleo diet came around the time I started CrossFit in December of 2010. I wasn’t new to exercise or eating healthy, so a diet comprised of things I perceived as “healthy” already (meat, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds) seemed interesting. I saw girls like Camille Leblanc-Bazinet and wanted to be just as fit and strong as her. I figured if I ate the way most CrossFitters did I could achieve this by increasing the quality of my food.  I started on my 2+ year path of eating paleo at the end of 2010. I ate what I considered within the paleo guidelines for the first year and met my husband in 2011. It turned out I wasn’t AS paleo as I thought I was and there were ways to be even better at this diet! He increased my awareness of what was okay and not okay to eat, and I also pretty much stopped drinking all together.

However, over the duration of my paleo eating, I was still unhappy. I was unhappy with my performance and watching girls newer than I was hit PRs bigger than mine, but most importantly I was unhappy with my appearance. My weight and body composition stayed relatively the same even though I was training hard 4-5 times a week and eating as strict paleo as I could. I spent hours researching the healthiest things to eat and yet I fell short of looking like Camille.

Last year in preparation of our wedding, I wanted to look my best on our big day. I tried eating as strict paleo as I could with little to no results. I heard about Carb Nite early in the year which I was deathly afraid of because I couldn’t even grasp the idea of once a week eating everything paleo was against – grains, processed food, and sugar. I leaned out a little bit doing this for a few months but nothing too noticeable. In August of last year, I started working with a nutrition coach who balanced my food out and was the beginning of a new way of eating for me. From my posts now and my posts then, I’m sure some of my friends think I have lost my eating way. However, now looking back at my time spent eating paleo, I wish I would have never done it. Here are some reasons why I’m happy to not call my diet “Paleo” anymore:

  • Restrictive eating made me crazy – At the time I would have argued that paleo is a non-restrictive diet but now looking back it is extremely restrictive. No grains, no added sugars, no legumes, no white potatoes, no soy, no corn, no dairy etc etc. I would try to eat the majority of my meals at home where I could control what was in them but life gets crazy and sometimes you have to eat on the go. My husband and I at one point loved that Freebirds had free range chicken but then found out that the meat had trace amounts of soy, there goes that option. I would read EVERY label at the hot food bar at Whole Foods to make sure the food didn’t have added flour, wasn’t cooked in canola oil, and so on. Then I would notice that everything that even looked appealing to me had something I COULDN’T eat on paleo and I would have to eat a plain salad with vegetables and cold tuna or chicken or hard boiled eggs. If I did happen to eat something on the “do not eat” list, I would feel terrible about it after and beat myself up for it, then try to go back to super strict. My husband and I got into an argument at one point because I was making paleo cookies for an event and couldn’t find the soy free/dairy free chocolate chips and he told me I COULD not  feed his friends the “regular” kind. If you’re throwing down on a million “Paleo” chocolate chip cookies anyway.. the trace amount of soy and dairy in the chocolate chips is probably the least of your problems…
  • Paleo was not sustainable for me – No matter how hard I tried, I could never eat paleo and much less “strict” paleo (no sweet potatoes, no fruit, no natural sugars like honey or maple syrup) 100% of the time. Even with the addition of paleo versions of things like bread or cookies, I would always end up having a cheat here and there, and then beating myself up for it and punishing myself by getting back to super strict.
  • My binging was at an all time high – I would not only binge on non-paleo things when I would cheat but also on the paleo things a well. If I made something delicious, I probably ate it in enormous amounts because I figured that the quality of my food negated anything else. If I did happen to cheat or we went on a vacation, I would go on day-long if not weekend long benders of eating anything and everything. Once again, after that was over I would feel like a terrible person and then attempt to get myself back to normal by restricting my food once again.
  • My performance and body composition got better once I stopped – This one is huge for me, especially with my transition into competing more in the sport of weightlifting. Weight matters, and if I want to be competitive I need to monitor my weight to make sure I am well within range of my desired weight class. When I was eating paleo, I ate “higher quality” food because I believed that the quality of my food outweighed the importance of the amount. But that is untrue, it’s the basic science of calories in vs. calories out. Without any idea of how much I ate, I had no idea of how much protein, fat or carbohydrate I ate on a given day. Once I started monitoring my macros is when I started dropping body fat, increasing my lean mass and most importantly all while maintaining or INCREASING my strength numbers.
  • I enjoy eating MORE now and am overall happier – I enjoy food, and I like eating A LOT. Nowadays I am happier with my eating and don’t let my food choices make or ruin my day. If I want a damn donut, I eat it. I plan the rest of my food to make sure I get enough protein, and eat enough vegetables. If I go to a social event I don’t have to panic because of the food that might be served. If I go off-plan, I don’t beat myself up about it or feel terrible, and I for sure don’t think eating one “treat” here or there is going to set me back on all my gains.

Don’t get me wrong, I still eat a lot of Paleo foods. My diet is still comprised of a lot of meat and vegetables. However now that I am not restricted to eating only those foods, I eat a more consistent balanced diet that has helped my performance and appearance greatly and engage in less binging. Both my husband and I have turned away from eating/calling ourselves paleo. I would say that I am just as healthy now as I was before, but most importantly I am 100% healthier mentally.

(Just for reference, at the end of my Paleo eating streak I was around 130+ lb, 22% body fat and a size 6, weightlifting stats: snatch 48kg/105lb, clean and jerk 61kg/133lb, for a total of 109kg/240lb. Today I am around 121lb, about 16% body fat and a size 2-4, weightlifting stats: snatch 54/118lb, clean and jerk 65kg/143lb, for a total of 119kg/262lb)

6 thoughts on “Why I stopped eating a “clean” Paleo diet”

  1. I absolutely love this! I think people should eat as they wish within reason of course. When I heard of paleo and found out peanut butter was a no go, I hated it immediately lol. My opinion was made up that peanut fat rivaled other nut fats and the protein was just as high. Maybe I am way off but that is my opinion. I love that you live a little without worry 🙂

    1. Thanks Richie! I agree, life is about moderation. At least a happy one lol, if you’re happy eating a completely strict diet then by all means do it. But for me personally I didn’t get the results I wanted or enjoy it.

  2. Nice write-up Trina. I would have thought that potatoes would have come under the “some starch” category as opposed to being eliminated from the menu altogether. Unless I misread something. I came across the term”paleo” when I first learned about CrossFit also and while it made sense on paper, I figured reducing things like packaged and processed food products with their high sodium and preservatives and just eating “cleaner” would be easier for people to come to terms with.

    When I would tell people what the paleo diet was about, they would look at me like I had a 3rd eye. I was just conveying information. Not necessarily a follower. Like I mentioned, it conceptually made sense. Hell, I don’t think the majority of CrossFitters follow a strict paleo diet if you ask me. I’ve seen a ton of interviews and most them just eat clean the majority of the time with the ocassional ice cream, pizza, donut or what ever. Their body composition is largely determined by their genetics in my opinion. Look at guy like Froning. He’s definitely an anomoly. He drinks milk like crazy, eats what ever and only when he’s hungry which may mean only a couple times a day because of his schedule. The Chan’s micromeasure every block of food (zone-speak) they put in their mouths and Matt and Rich pretty much look the same in terms of conditioning. They both perform at an extremely high level with Matt a little ahead on strength maybe. He’s been nursing an injury so who knows where he’s at now. When it comes to Metcons between the two, I think Rich gets the nod there. But the point is, they have different approaches and still get to the same place. The same applies to all high level athletes.

    It’s good to know you’ve thrown off that anchor. Something like that can drive a person crazy. It takes guts to put yourself out there but I think it puts things in perspective. I’m sure others have come to that same conclusion when they dissected their respective “paleo” menus. I think the paleo dieters we come across are conceptually paleo. They follow a pretty paleo plan but don’t get too caught up in the details. It can be maddening. Also, it’s not for everyone. I like bread, ramen and cheese way too much. I just eat less of it.

    Having spent a couple years at competitive bodybuilding and having to drop 30# in 4 months getting ready for a show, I believe it’s not just about what you eat, but largely portion control. That’s my downfall today. Even if it’s better quality, I eat more than I should. I’m working on that one. I don’t believe denying what you like works either. Just don’t eat it every day or every week. I look at those guilty pleasures as rewards. So they don’t get consumed as often. I still have my cookie dough ice cream and my ramen. Just once every few months. Again, “trying” to exercise portion control there too. Not winning

    1. Thanks James! I am definitely glad that the CrossFit community is getting away from strict Paleo. Food is fuel especially if you want to perform. Eating a low glycemic, low carbohydrate diet that is high in fat is generally not in the benefit of an athlete.
      I think in some ways, with the constant feud between crossfittters and globogym/body builders, in respect to nutrition crossfitters have fell behind. I definitely think body composition is largely portion control, but paleo seems to push a quality vs. quantity mentality that isn’t beneficial for changing or fine tuning body composition. Sure I think if someone goes from a typical Western diet to Paleo they will lose weight even not by tracking or measuring their food but I think largely this is because Paleo will naturally put them in a calorie deficit. However after a while and once the person has been training and eating “clean” for some time I think it can be highly beneficial to fine tune the macronutrient content of their diet to be as consistent as their training.

  3. I think that when the word “clean” started being used a lot in relation to the paleo diet, it was kind of a danger sign that the whole movement was getting off track.

    After all, the basic idea of paleo is extremely practical and pretty conceptually sound… basically it is “eat the kind of things that your body is designed to process”. That rules out Twinkies and Hot Pockets right away — basically anything that is highly processed. It makes people eat more actual vegetables and meat. And that is good for people.

    But when raw or lightly processed foods (fruits, peanuts, milk) get taken off the list, it starts to suggest that some other, more uptight value system is involved. Somebody is reaching for some kind of moral perfection (I fear they’re going to start telling me I need to make an appointment for a “cleanse”). Sure, it’s true that some people have reactions to those foods, but it doesn’t automatically mean that they’re wrong for everybody.

    Let me put it this way: I highly doubt a cave man would turn down a piece of fruit. And if somebody told him it wasn’t “clean” he might (quite justifiably?) hit them with his club. 🙂

  4. What do you think about the paleo diet for children? I work for a gluten free family who recently switched to the paleo diet.

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