This is the final post of a four-part series documenting my transition towards a paleo/primal diet. For previous/related posts in the series see:
Paleo Diet: Week One.
Paleo Diet: Week Two.
Paleo Diet: Week Three.
Today marks my fifth week of following a primal diet. Of course, I meant to update last week to mark my fourth week and first full month of going primal/paleo, but I guess I was too distracted by ice cream and avocados to really care. Anyway, it’s been an entire month and it’s high time for me to reveal my full experience so far on this diet.
1. Improved digestion. This is a no brainer. I am rarely overly-full anymore and any fullness that I do experience goes away within an hour or less. This is huge for me, as the feeling of “full” really affects me. Since I’m in recovery from an eating disorder, it’s extremely important to me that I don’t feel like my stomach is going to explode. I guess this is important for anyone…I don’t know anyone who really enjoys that physical sensation, but being free of the “full” feeling has helped me feel better about my body and eating habits.
2. My hair is growing! My hair has seriously never been as long as it is now, even though it’s only shoulder length. I’ve always had relatively short hair because my hair doesn’t grow fast, or seemingly at all after a certain point, but after a month of consuming more protein, fat, fish and fish oil supplements, my hair appears to be getting longer. It’s also very shiny and generally just looks/feels good. My improved hair health/appearance could possibly be due to the fact that over the past few months I’ve reduced the amount of times I wash it in a week from 6-7 to 3-4 and try my best to prevent breakage (fewer towel turbans). Also, I rarely blow dry or flat iron my hair, and never dye it. Even with these preventative measures, my hair looks a lot better than it ever did when I was eating grains with every meal.
3. Improved skin. Although I’m still experiencing some mild acne on my forehead, I must admit that my cheeks, chin and nose have been almost completely pimple-free since I started this diet. I still experience blackheads quite regularly but pimple inflammation is gone everywhere except my forehead. Through lots of internet research I’ve discovered that dairy is a prime culprit of acne and that lots of dietary-related acne occurs on the forehead. I’m considering reducing the amount of dairy I consume to see if it makes a difference, but at the same time restricting my diet even further does not appeal to me. I rely on butter and heavy cream (and sometimes ice cream!) to pack quite a few calories each day and I also find the flavor of coconut oil too overpoweringly sweet for savory dishes. Perhaps nixing the daily yogurt will show me some improvement?
4. Kitchen creativity. On days that I don’t have work, I’m in the kitchen at least once a day creating something delicious and jam packed with nutrients. Some favorite paleo/primal dishes so far include bacon sauteed kale, apricot curry chicken salad, and of course, crustless quiche. In fact, I roasted a whole chicken and made a quiche lorraine today! I’ve definitely breached my comfort zone by dealing with raw meat and also trying new foods such as sardines and kimchi. I love that the paleo diet encourages you to try new, healthy, sustainable foods.
5. A growing wealth of knowledge. I learn so much every day just by researching and reading about the paleo/primal diet. I’ve discovered farmers markets as a result of wanting to consume fresh, seasonal produce. I’ve been buying pasture raised eggs because they are farmed using sustainable practices. Incorporating what I’ve learned about nutrition and sustainability into daily practice makes me feel like a thoughtful consumer. Of course, the best thing for me to do would be to start producing most of what I eat, but for now, with my limited time/space, I can at least forgo store bought soups, nut butters, and whipped cream in favor of making my own.
1. Societal response. I’ve experienced quite a bit of backlash from my sister recently about the changes in my diet. She consistently calls what I’m eating “bird food,” even if it consists of roasted chicken with roasted carrots on the side, followed up by strawberries and fresh whipped cream for dessert. I don’t think that birds eat themselves, and honestly, it’s my body. It’s my choice. I understand that with my history of an eating disorder it’s difficult for her to look past the strides I’ve made in my health, both physically and mentally, and only see that I’m restricting grains. Until she understands why grains aren’t the best food source, there is no point in arguing. But it’s frustrating and I’m tired of being nagged about the fact that I enjoy cooking and eating real, whole foods.
2. Costs. Grass fed meat, organic chicken and pasture raised eggs all come at a cost. Before this diet, I never spent money on meat or eggs. I only ate those things if they were in the house already. I’m trying to remember that the cost of eating this way will repay me doubly in terms of health.
Overall, I’ve really enjoyed trying out a paleo/primal diet and don’t plan on adding grains back into my diet any time soon. Will I eat cake on my birthday? Of course. But I find in general that the benefits of not eating grains greatly outweigh the stomach bloat and social acceptance that comes with eating grains.
One thing I really did not experience on this “diet” was increased energy. A lot of people who start the paleo diet seem to gain tremendous energy just from changing the foods they eat, but I haven’t noticed much of a difference, if any at all. Perhaps this is because I had a pretty decent diet before paleo and consistently ate superfoods such as organic kale, spinach and quality butter. I’ve also been very lenient about natural sugars such as maple syrup and honey while introducing the paleo diet and I’ve also enjoyed a few pints of quality, but sugar-laden ice cream. I can’t say that I’ll be reducing my sugar intake any time soon, but further down the road maybe I’ll see if reducing my sugar intake equates to increased energy. Furthermore, I’ve noticed no improvement in my sleep patterns. This could very much be due to the fact that it’s summer and on most days I have the chance to sleep in and stay up late. I would like to try getting my body back into a sleep schedule to see if that improves my energy.
What I’ve really learned about the paleo diet during this four week trial is that it is definitely more than just a diet; it’s a lifestyle, a way of being. Eating fresh, local produce and meat helps sustain both the body and environment. This “diet” for me has never been about losing weight, but rather about improving my health. I’m happy that along the way I’ve been supporting local farmers and reducing my carbon footprint by purchasing locally produced and transported goods. Ice cream aside, I’ve never felt denied or hungry on this “diet.” I eat plenty of fat, protein and yes, even carbs via vegetables and fruit. I’ve even eaten muffins and pancakes and plan on making paleo almond flour bread when funds for the almond flour are available. It’s not about what I can’t eat, but rather the wealth of options that are now available to me, as well as the experience of creating delicious, homemade food.
In the next few months I hope to continue experimenting with paleo recipes and meal ideas. I’d really love to visit a local farm and pick up fresh produce and eggs. It’s something so simple that now seems so special to me. Now that this first month is over, I may update every months or so about how things are going for me in terms of energy, acne, what works and what doesn’t. I love that through nutrition I am learning what works for my body — in areas that I never knew were related!