"I will NEVER go Paleo."
Those are the words I repeated over and over to my CrossFit coach, members in my morning class and anybody else who found success with the highly controversial diet that is a throwback to the Paleolithic days. "If cavemen had access to corn, potatoes and dairy, they would have eaten it!" I believed every word of what I shared with people.
[Read: Paleo Diet Menu & Nutrition.]
A brief introduction to a Paleo lifestyle includes the premise that people must move a lot and eat fruits, vegetables, lean meats, eggs and nuts. It excludes dairy, legumes and the typical Standard American Diet recommendation of several servings of whole grains. There is a lot of food in those three exclusions. The reason behind such exclusions is based on the theory that our bodies were never meant to digest these foods. I often enjoyed a laugh or two at the crazy people who advocated such a diet.
This laughter came to a screeching halt when my celiac disease symptoms ramped up to life-altering proportions. After eliminating gluten and finding instant relief, I turned my attention to the many highly processed gluten-free products such as corn, potato and rice-based flours, baking goods, pastas and bread. In a few short months, I was enjoying a life without crippling gluten symptoms, but I was severely overweight, tired and bloated. When I went back to my doctor, he advised me to cut the processed foods and stick to plants and lean meats. I remembered the success of several people with the Paleo diet and decided to try it, even though I was extremely doubtful that it could help me.
[Read: Paleo Diet -- What You Need to Know.]
I started with a strict elimination-type diet in which I removed all grains (including corn, since it's a whole grain), dairy, sugar and legumes for 30 days. I'm still surprised that I was able to put the corn-based pasta, breads and granola away for 30 days, but I did. After 30 days, I slowly added foods back to my diet to measure my body's response. I was amazed at how my body reacted to rice. It was similar to an allergic reaction. My face, fingers and neck started swelling. I added 7 pounds of water weight overnight. Corn was the next source of inflammation. I felt extremely tired and achy -- plus bloated -- after eating corn. Legumes and potatoes had little effect upon reintroduction. I was also surprised that some dairy products, such as milk and ice cream, caused more digestion issues. Hard cheeses and yogurt did not cause any noticeable reaction. At the end of my 30 days, I was 18 pounds lighter. Since then, I've lost an additional 25 pounds and have kept it off for six months using mostly Paleo guidelines. I said I would never go Paleo. Now I'm saying I will never go back to the Standard American Diet (gluten-free version, of course).
[Read: Foods That Cause Bloating.]
The Paleo diet is not for everybody. I am fully aware that this is a highly controversial approach to eating and nutrition, and may critics believe it's lacking in vitamins, high in saturated fats, low in fiber and too calorie-restrictive. However, the Paleo lifestyle has its merits, ad I've greatly benefited from it. Here's how the Paleo lifestyle works for me:
1. I move. A LOT. I am a runner first and foremost. I supplement my running with cross-training through CrossFit. Being sedentary is not an option for me.
2. I make sure I eat enough. I do not graze often, because I'm not hungry often. When I do eat, I make sure I have enough protein and higher carbohydrate plant foods.
3. I keep the high-calcium plant foods in rotation. Kale, collards, broccoli and cabbages are great sources of calcium.
4. I rely on high-carbohydrates to fuel my longer running and heavy workout days. Instead of a grain bar or bread, I eat sweet potatoes with almond butter or bananas and cashews.
5. I don't use "cheat" or "treat" days. I just eat. If I eat a potato or cheese, I enjoy every bite.
Through this past year of adopting a Paleo lifestyle, there's one thing I strongly stand by: I leave the labels and nutritional religion talk for people who value such a thing. I don't spend a lot of time defending my way of eating. I use Paleo to describe my personal eating guidelines that I adhere to most of the time. However, during football tailgating season and the upcoming holiday season, I will definitely enjoy some non-Paleo foods. Do I know which foods will cause inflammation? Yes. Now that I know, I can make better decisions about what to enjoy or what to leave on the buffet table. Do I look at them as cheats or treats? No. Food is food. I choose to eat more of the foods that do not cause inflammatory reactions, and I choose foods that support my active lifestyle. In the words of Michael Pollan, my main philosophy towards nutrition is "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."
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Katrina Plyler is a full-time teacher and part-time runner, blogger and amateur photographer. She is a regular contributor to the Cooking Light Blogger's Connection and has been featured in Fitness magazine. Her food photography is regularly accepted in Tastespotting.com and Foodgawker.com galleries. For more information on the daily adventures of teaching, running and cooking, check out her blog, Katrina Runs for Food.