What is the Paleolithic (Paleo) Diet? Experts Dr. Loren Cordain, Robb Wolf, Mark Sisson and many others can give you a professional definition, easily accessible online. In my own simple terms: the Paleo Diet eliminates grains, dairy, refined sugars and processed foods from your diet. Paleo eaters choose a high protein diet of meat, fish, and eggs alongside a wide assortment of vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds and healthy oils/fats.
A year ago this month my husband and I decided to give the Paleo Diet a try. A year later, we’re still “Cave-eaters” and we love it so much we can’t imagine turning back now. The Paleo lifestyle has helped us look and feel better than we’ve ever felt in our adult lives. It’s been a positive experience for our children, too.
I’ve been quiet on my blog about our Paleo journey because I wanted to make sure we actually liked Paleo enough to stick with it for the long term before “coming out of the closet,” so to speak, about our crazy food journey.
I’ll share our family’s Paleo story in a mini blog series this week because it’s truly impacted our lives in a BIG way. Some may consider our story is a bit unique in that we don’t fit into many of the usual “molds” people try to put Paleo eaters in.
- The Paleo Diet is based on the concept of returning to the way our “ancestors” (read: prehistoric cave dwellers) lived and ate. Paleo dietitians cite “research” and assumptions of what prehistoric man was munching on with his cave partner and their cave babies millions and millions of years ago. Yet my Hubs and I weren’t interested at all in what Cave dwellers ate millions of years ago.
- The Paleo Diet is also a favorite of those who have gluten or dairy allergies, a gluten intolerance, a hyperactive response to sugar, an illness or disease related to an unhealthy gut, or Celiac’s disease. Yet no one in our little family has ever had a negative reaction to any food or food groups. We’re not intolerant of gluten or dairy in any way.
- Paleo is often considered a “not very Christian diet” because it does not look favorably upon grains – including wheat, the means by which Jesus the Christ chose to give Himself to humanity in the Sacrament of the Eucharist. Yet my family and I are committed Catholics who believe Jesus does comes to us under the appearance of gluten-filled bread, and we worship and honor Him as the “Bread of Life.”
- Paleo is frequently labeled the latest “fad diet.” If you know the Hubs and I well, you can testify that being the latest greatest “fad” is the least possible reason we’d ever choose a more radical food lifestyle. We’re major foodies at our house, not fad followers.
Several developments sparked the Hubs and my interest in the Paleo Diet. First, we both wanted to lose some weight. The Hubs recognized that his sweet tooth was causing him to consume too much refined sugars and starchy carbs and he wanted to form better eating habits. I still had postpartum baby weight to shed so I was willing to try any lifestyle change that could help me do so.
Secondly, we were perplexed by so many of our friends and relatives developing a gluten intolerance in their adult years. A tremendous number of my college friends, who were not gluten intolerant while we were in college, were now forced to live entirely gluten free. Three of my sisters also developed gluten allergies in their 20s.
Dr. William Davis’ research in the popular book Wheat Belly also intrigued us: was Dr. Davis’ discovery that modern wheat had been so modified at the molecular level during the 20th century that it was wreaking major havoc on our digestive systems actually true?
But the most compelling reason we became interested in Paleo was the amazing results and feedback we received from close friends who had tried the Paleo Diet. All of them reported weight loss, increased energy, better sleep, and overall happiness with how they felt living grain, dairy and sugar free.
Giving up dairy and sugar and yummy white and starchy carbs was not something my family naturally gravitated towards. We love all that stuff. But instead of completely dissing the Paleo Diet for being “too strict, too complicated, too expensive and too just plain ridiculous” (as we were naturally inclined to think), we decided to accept the “30 Day Paleo Challenge” (which is basically to eat strictly Paleo for 30 days and see how you feel at the end of the month).
At the end of the month, my Hubs and I agreed that we’d evaluate how we felt, how we looked, how we liked the change, and THEN decide if the Paleo lifestyle could be a way of life for our family.
In Part Two of this mini series I’ll tell you how we transformed our fridge and pantry into a “Paleo kitchen.” It wasn’t hard, but it did take some discipline to get things set up for cooking and eating according to a new way of life.
The first two weeks of Paleo eating were hell-ish. Our bodies craved sugar and grains and starchy carbs like you cannot believe. We felt hollow and hungry and moody because we were craving so many things we couldn’t have. The honest truth is it was utterly miserable as our bodies and especially our insulin levels learned to adjust to a new normal.
Yet by the end of those 30 days, the results of our 30-Day Paleo Challenge utterly. completely. blew us away.
- The food was delicious. Like REALLY delicious. Some diet and food lifestyle transitions can be filled with gross recipes or really not fun food. But we were shocked at how tasty and delicious Paleo recipes were.
- Our pallets were opened to new worlds of foods and spices with Paleo. We learned that Paleo relies heavily on spices to flavor foods (instead of salt and butter and processed ingredients). So our spice cabinet and our taste buds experienced a whole new world of flavors. Which made it really fun!
- The Hubs lost 20 lbs.
- I lost 10+ lbs.
- We both experienced increased energy.
- Better, deeper sleep.
- Better performance during workouts.
- Healthier gut and intestinal track (including no gassiness).
- Clearer skin (especially for me, who struggles with adult acne and oily skin).
- My period was MUCH less painful that month than it normally is.
- Sugar cravings disappeared (this took at least 2-3 weeks) and we gained a new appreciation for naturally sweet fruits and foods.
- Our children ate better: they became willing to try a much wider range of foods once we took them off the toddler dairy and grain staples. (My 2 year old ate fish for the first time during our 30 day challenge. Only the Hubs’ stern look prevented me from jumping for joy around the kitchen when it happened – I was so shocked and thrilled).
- No feelings of bloating. One of my Paleo girlfriends had described it to me this way: “You know that 10am pudge you get in your stomach after you’ve had oatmeal or toast or a bagel for breakfast? That doesn’t happen with Paleo – you’re stomach stays flat after meals and you don’t have the bloated feelings or the post carb crash.” She was totally and completely right – this became our family’s experience with Paleo too.
- Food became much more of a family affair in our house. My Hubs loves to eat, but he’s not a cook. And yet with Paleo he spent much more time helping in the kitchen with food prep – and he took more interest in the process. Everyone’s shared interest/involvement made Paleo really fun for all of us.
In a nutshell, we felt “clean” and healthy and happy and energetic – in a way that we didn’t know was possible to feel when we were eating a grain/sugar/dairy rich diet.
The negative factors of Paleo were TIME and MONEY. Since Paleo requires cooking almost everything from scratch, my time in the kitchen soared through the roof. I felt like I was cooking all day every day in those first few weeks.
The second biggie negative was how much our food budget soared. Staples like almond meal and coconut milk (the real stuff in the can – not coconut milk beverage in the dairy section) is uber expensive compared to wheat flour and cow’s milk. We chose to purchase grass-fed proteins and organic vegetables, and now that our diet consisted mainly of those ingredients, the ticker tape on my checking account felt a million miles long.
Even so, one month on the Paleo Diet turned into two…five…ten…and now a whole year. We felt so good that, despite the negatives of time and money, we learned how to make Paleo work for a growing family in a long term way.
Later this week I’ll share what we’ve found to be our secrets to successfully staying on the Paleo Diet, the resources that helped us get started, and I’ll share some of my family’s favorite grain/sugar/dairy free recipes that are kid-friendly, totally yummy, and easy to make.
If you have any questions about the Paleo lifestyle – particularly as it applies to family life with small children – please do feel free to post them in the comments, and I’ll do my best to address them as I tell our family’s Paleo story.