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)