My name is Camilla and I follow a Paleo diet. Paleo is, simply put, lots of naturally sourced meat, fruits, veggies, fats (including natural sources of saturated fat), nuts and seeds. It excludes all grains, legumes (including peanuts and soy), most dairy, and processed food. Finding new and creative ways to cook Paleo-friendly food has become the purpose behind my blog (TGIPaleo.com), where I hope to provide a little culinary inspiration for both the hard-core Paleo-ites and folks who are just looking for a good meal.
I think Paleo gets a bad rap when people try to explain it as just “another diet,” because it’s so much more than that—it’s a lifestyle. Virtually every aspect of modern life has been touched upon in some way by the “Paleo” or “Ancestral Health” movements and there is more curiosity (and skepticism) about it than ever before. Obviously I wouldn’t be making the effort to live this way and destroying my kitchen on a daily basis to create new recipes for my readers if I didn’t think it was worth it.
What I’d like to do is just tell you a little bit about what it’s done for me—why I drank the Paleo Kool-Aid and how it’s been working out so far. Disclaimer: it’s not all sunshine and rainbows.
I was first introduced to Paleo almost three years ago when I was stationed at Fort Hood and first met a good friend while she midway through a Paleo challenge for her Crossfit gym here in Austin. The seed had been planted, and a few months later my boyfriend suggested we try a 30-day Paleo challenge to see what all the fuss was about. Worst case, I’d just lose a month without some of my favorite food, right? The results were amazing…so much so that I really started questioning everything I thought I knew about food and decided to learn as much as I could.
While Paleo has changed my life in so many ways for the better, it’s been extremely challenging at times, too, and I feel like a lot of the “hard-core” Paleo resources out there aren’t always so up front about it. The “just do it” mentality only takes you so far when you’re choosing a lifestyle that flies in the face of nearly every piece of conventional dietary wisdom around.
For one, Paleo is based on a lot of science and can be complicated to explain. I’m not going to try and get into all the gory scientific mechanisms behind it here, either (there are a ton of super-smart people out there who can do that better than I ever could…just Google it), because I’ve had to learn the hard way that the best solution is to just keep your mouth shut sometimes. If my body composition, clear skin, and increased performance don’t speak for themselves (despite eating huge amounts of…gasp!…red meat and zero “healthy whole grains”) and give some reassurance that what I’m doing is working, then nothing will.
Another point is that it’s not always convenient. Eating out is an adventure in menu-reading and harassing the waitress (“No, really…do NOT put croutons on my salad!!!”). I pack my breakfast and lunch to take to work EVERY DAY. Holidays with family can be rough when you have to insist that no, you don’t want a plate full of noodles or bread or cookies. While I was on a year-long deployment to Iraq in 2010, I managed to avoid wheat and gluten (in most Paleo circles, gluten is the Antichrist) but clearly didn’t have access to the fresh produce and grass-fed meat that sustain me at home.
Finally, the Paleo diet is made up of some relatively simple concepts, but for most people it’s just an intense lifestyle change, plain and simple. If you already have an unhealthy relationship with food you’ll want to be especially careful. I have a very “colorful” history with eating disorders and poor body image. In college, my only purpose in life was to stay skinny, so even though I was running 25-50 miles a week and eating food I thought was healthy (albeit not very much of it), my life was consumed by anxiety and hyper-awareness of my diet and activity level. When I started eating Paleo I managed to undo a lot of physical damage left from poor nutritional habits, but my state of mind was just as messed up. I started getting paranoid and anxious that my food was “contaminated” with “bad stuff”—in a world of processed and packaged food there’s soy, gluten, and milk derivatives lurking everywhere…not to mention all the wacky color and preservative agents that go into anything as soon as it leaves the farm. One time I flipped sh*t at my fiancé after I caught him putting Worcestershire sauce (it’s got soy in it) in a meatloaf. Having worked so hard to make the transition, I was convinced that even a speck of the stuff would undo everything and I’d be weak, pimply, pale, skinny-fat, and miserable for the rest of my life. Even though I looked and felt better than I ever had in my life, I was also freaking out about the weight I’d gained (12 lbs) and having to buy new pants to accommodate my now muscular legs and perky butt.
No matter what you choose to eat or not eat, you’re human and you’re not going to be perfect all the time. I’ve slowly become more accepting and appreciative of my body and what it can do, especially when it’s fueled with high-quality food. I don’t have to weigh and measure anything I put into my mouth anymore…I don’t let myself count calories or grams of fat because it doesn’t matter if your food is straight from the source. If I just calm down and listen to my body, I can give it what it needs—after this much time eating the way I do, it really just comes naturally.
I’ll admit to anyone that adopting a Paleo diet wasn’t easy—in fact, it was downright tragic to give up some of the food I loved (bread!! CAKE!!!!). All I can say is that I honestly believe it’s worth a try for anyone…the standard pitch is to give it a month and see how it goes, see how you look and feel. Sure, you’re in for a bumpy ride at first but there’s a ton of resources available (**insert shameless pitch for my blog HERE**), especially as Paleo is gaining in popularity. Like I said, worst case scenario is that you just lose 30 days of eating grains, legumes, and dairy…I used to think I couldn’t live without them, either. My trip down the rabbit-hole started with a “what-the hell” attempt to try something “crazy” for a month, too, and I’ve never looked back.