Yesterday marked my first full week of adhering, however imperfectly, to the paleo diet. So far, things have been going pretty smoothly. There have been some definite struggles but also a few positives that I’ve noticed during this first week.
(An awesome paleo breakfast of scrambled eggs and avocado salad.)
After a few days of eating strictly paleo, I “cheated” on the diet with grains. On Thursday night I had some cereal and on Friday night I ate some fried rice. I’d been craving something crunchy and peanut buttery on Thursday night and decided to say, “Fuck it,” to all things paleo. I took a few bites of cereal and was disgusted by how sweet it was. I ended up throwing most of it out and felt bloated and lethargic afterwards. Likewise, on Friday night I went to Hibachi for my sister’s birthday. I literally felt like I had no control over what I could eat, as it’s essentially family style. I ended up eating quite a bit of fried rice and some veggies/meat sauteed in some sort of vegetable oil and felt like crap afterwards. I literally went to bed around 8:15 because I felt that crappy.
The longer I’ve been on this diet, the more I’ve been thinking about how sticking my diet under a label affects me. Do I need to associate myself with this particular diet to feel “healthy?” Do I need to abide by all the specific rules and regulations of the paleo diet and cut out all dairy to consider myself a true paleo adherent? No. I don’t think so. Mark Sisson emphasizes the benefits of adhering to an 80/20% principle. Eighty percent of the time you consume primal foods and the last twenty percent is up to you. I think that this principle will be imperative to me if I want to continue this diet long term. I need to recognize that as a 20 year old, with less than optimal financial means and living in a house where the majority adheres to the Standard American Diet, it is unrealistic for me to expect 100 percent self-compliance with any specific food guidelines. Oh yeah, and there’s also that thing about me having an eating disorder that I need to worry about too.
(An amazing and huge salad made of red leaf lettuce, avocado, green olives, tomato, onion and diced grilled chicken.)
Expecting myself to eat one specific way and only that way will lead me into dangerous territory. Even at this point in my recovery, where I’m feeling quite stable, setting up “rules” about food is not a good idea for me. There is a fine line between a healthy diet versus a restrictive diet for me, and I need to stick with the former. As my boyfriend explained to me, I should think of the paleo/primal diet as a guideline and not a rule. I need to evaluate if this is the right thing for me in light of my history and ongoing struggles with food/body image.
Although I’m generally enjoying eating in a paleo/primal fashion, I’ve decided to weigh the benefits against the negatives of paleo eating to help myself find some clarity.
(So satisfied by paleo egg salad –avocado and evoo instead of mayo– and some roasted asparagus with sun-dried tomatoes!)
1. Better digestion. I no longer feel super bloated after a meal. Instead, I feel simply satisfied and when I do feel full, the fullness goes away within an hour, as opposed to the 2-3 hour timeframe it takes me to feel better after a carb-heavy meal.
2. TMI WARNING. Better bowel movements. I used to have really loose stools but I’ve found that eating more protein and less carbs helps me pass waste in a more, uh, comfortable fashion.
3. Stabilized hunger. Instead of feeling like I’m about to pass out when I get hungry, I feel less hungry and more consistently energized throughout the day. I don’t have any real tremendous bursts of energy, but I don’t feel super sleepy either (I’m looking at you, 4 p.m. carb-induced nap time).
4. I feel satisfied for longer periods of time. Satisfied, not full. This is good for me especially on work days when I need to wait 3+ hours for a lunch break.
I’ve yet to notice any improvements in my skin or energy levels, but it’s only been a week and it’s unrealistic to expect results that fast.
1. Eating out can be quite difficult. There are very few 100% paleo or primal meals out there, much less restaurants. It makes me anxious to be surrounded by a bunch of non-primal foods and not partake. For instance, just last night I went out to dinner for my grandmother’s birthday. Garlic bread was served for everyone and I didn’t grab a piece. It smelled so good and I was offered the bread basket a few times. I felt really out of place and I felt like everyone was looking at me, thinking I wasn’t eating the bread because of my eating disorder. And yes, I felt very eating disordered for restricting something from myself that everyone else seemed to enjoy. When my Grandmom passed ME AND ONLY ME a few cookies that my aunt had made for her, I felt very put on the spot. And so I ate them. And they were good. But I also felt a bit guilty for consuming them and that is something I don’t want/need to worry about at this point in my recovery.
2. I miss peanut butter. I really do. I just want a good spoonful of peanut butter to go with my banana, that’s all. The raw almond butter I have sitting in my pantry just isn’t cutting it. Peanut butter is a survival food for me. I ate peanut butter and an english muffin every day for three months when I was inpatient in Sheppard Pratt. Of course I eventually got sick of the combo, but peanut butter still comforts me and makes me feel safe.
3. Sometimes I feel like I don’t have options. My family generally doesn’t keep 100% primal/paleo foods in the house and so when hunger strikes at an odd hour and I don’t feel like cooking something, I don’t always have an easy fix to turn to.
4. Prep time + cost. It takes a lot more time and money to create a paleo meal than it does to slap together a sandwich. I sporadically get tired of eating cold salads for lunch and often crave hot alternatives. This requires cooking and prepping and shopping (grass fed meat is expensive!) And while I love to cook and prep meals and shop, I’ve been doing a lot more of all three lately. My bank account isn’t happy.
(What I did end up getting while out to dinner: a surprisingly delicious cobb salad that beat out all the other entrees on the table in terms of color and balance.)
So where do I go from here? I obviously wrote a lot more about the cons than the pros. But it’s only been one week and I’ve yet to give this experience a chance to seriously affect me. I think that from here on out I’ll align myself more with primal eating (80/20, moderate dairy allowed) and add some previously restricted items like yogurt and peanut butter back into my diet. It feels too cold turkey to cut them out completely. Allowing these foods into my diet feels like the healthy and mindful thing to do at this point.
Despite the negatives, I really enjoy creating different sides such as carrot fries and avocado salad. I feel good eating them and I feel good making them. I get seriously excited trying out new things and also repeating recipes from my own site that lo and behold were already paleo friendly! In the last two days I have made oven-roasted tomatoes, kale chips, and quiche (this time crustless), which are all things I have made and enjoyed immensely in the past.
(Raw zucchini pesto “pasta.” So good and primal to boot!)
One of my goals for this week includes eating less processed meat. I relied on breakfast sausages last week to get in some protein and it’s time to tackle my fear of raw meat. I also want to take this week to chill out and listen to my body. It’s telling me I want peanut butter. I should feed it some.
Here’s to week two!