"Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food." - Hippocrates
I love that quote, and I've been thinking a lot about it lately. I’m sure you’ve noticed the lack of recipe posts on this here blog over the last several weeks and there is a very good reason for that. It is because what I’ve been eating has dramatically changed and I am in the learning process of changing how I cook.
I’ve adopted a paleo lifestyle and am in the process of completing an elimination diet. I’m sure by now you’ve heard a little bit about “paleo” other things it’s called are “whole foods”, “primal” or “ancestral” and the basic idea is that it mimics the foods of our ancestors, ie; Eating whole, natural foods and avoiding processed, refined and modern foods. Which sounds pretty simple right?– and it definitely can be, but the idea seems to be daunting for most people and it definitely was for me.
Late last year I had a health problem that although was brief - was pretty traumatic for my body. Shortly after I recovered I began to feel a strong pinching pain in my lower back, it would shoot what felt like small electric shocks up towards my shoulders or down my thighs, eventually it made it impossible for me to sit for longer than 15 minutes at a time. I also started to have some pain in my stomach, sharp burning sensations, isolated to either the left or right side that occurred after I ate. I would feel the pain all the way to my throat. Overall it was an extremely uncomfortable period of time for me. After a few visits to the doctor I walked away thinking I had a pinched nerve or muscle in my back, and a stomach flu. But when months later I hadn’t gotten better, I started doing my own research and found similar stories plus reports of people finding healing through diet. Full disclosure, my sister in law is a holistic nutritionist so I was aware of some of this information already but I didn’t really pay attention until this point in my life.
This story isn’t unique either, if you read almost any account of people who endorse paleo, it usually revolves around some sort of issue that doctors could not solve or figure out (unfortunately doctors are not usually trained for more than a week on nutrition, and are encouraged to recommend the National Dietary guidelines which are misguided) and that was dramatically improved by diet changes. I’m not just referring to gut issues either, switching AWAY from processed foods towards whole and natural has been known to help with autoimmune conditions, depression, chronic fatigue, neurological and heart health, your body’s wellbeing is so largely tied to the health of your gut!
Obviously there are cases where this does not apply completely - and I am by no means an expert in this subject matter, so for more information on the WHYS of paleo I highly recommend both Practical Paleo by Diane Sanfilippo and It starts with food by Dallas and Melissa Hartwig. These books detail the effects of processed foods on our body and why we don't know as much about food as we think we do, as well as, new approaches and recipes to help us out. Diane’s website Balanced Bites is also a great start if you are thinking about going paleo and the Hartwig’s site, Whole 30 is great for those that are looking at doing an elimination diet, which I will discuss shortly. What I would not recommend too much is; Google research, or Pinterest – at least not at first. The problem is that paleo can be a very personal, it can be tailored to specific needs and requirements and the variety of approaches to it that can be found online can be overwhelming and confusing, at least that was my experience of it.
An elimination diet involves cutting out certain foods and reintroducing them one at a time, to see how they affect your body. Many people do a week or two, but if this is the first time you are doing it – I highly recommend 30 days to really reset the bad habits you’ve accumulated over the years. You can find information on the Whole 30 plan that I followed below. The things that are eliminated are sugar (yes all sugar, honey too) ALL dairy and grains (ALL, no corn, no quinoa, no rice). I already know the face you are making. You are thinking – “so I’m going to starve myself”, or “that’s way too hard” or something along those lines and I understand, I was there . But I am currently in my second round of Whole 30 (so I guess it’s a whole 60) and I can tell you, it is not nearly as hard as you think, you can absolutely do it – because if I can, you can and when you are in the good part – you wont ever want to give it up.
I’m not saying there won’t be challenges of course there are, but when you get into your stride, they wont even phase you. I’ve included here a few strategies tips and obstacles that I faced while doing my first 30 days in case you're thinking of doing it yourself; you will see they were less than perfect;
1. Prepare, as much and as long as you need to
One of the biggest rules of the whole 30 is to commit fully and not delay. It is unfortunately in our nature to keep putting things off until they lose their importance. I do think a period of preparation is important for success, but make sure that it doesn’t drag on. I began incorporating a primarily paleo lifestyle about 2 weeks before I began although I didn’t cut any of the not so good stuff out yet. I wanted to familiarize myself with the kinds of meals I would be making and eating and how much money for groceries I would need every week (ill get to that later).
2. Prepare More
I cannot state how important this part is – it will make your life SO MUCH EASIER. When I say prepare here are the things specifically I’m referring to
- Tell people what you are doing – your friends and family will be supportive, or at least it wont be such a shock to them when you turn down your favourite ice-cream cake.
- Have a bunch of “emergency” foods that you can easily carry with you; some Larabars are acceptable, nuts, an apple, a container of applesauce etc. Put it in your car or your purse.
- Have a list of restaurants you can visit, or meals that you can have while out in the world, because it will come up – its best to know exactly what and where you can eat.
- Have a plan for AFTER, how will you reintroduce the food? What will your diet look like after?
3. If you fail, don’t beat yourself up – but start again
The first week was hard guys, I’m not going to sugar coat it (get it?). My body was definitely having some withdrawal symptoms, which included headaches, moodiness and a little bit of breaking out. So day 3 – I cheated. I don’t even remember what it was that I ate, probably a donut or something. I felt really crummy about caving so early, so the next day, with more determination I started again. I’m so glad I did because that period only lasted about 5 days for me, and then the improvements in my energy levels, skin and waistline were amazing.
4. Fight your psychological triggers as much as possible, and do not substitute.
This will be different for everyone, mine includes 2 things; weighing myself and eating sweets for comfort. One of the program rules is to not weigh yourself for the duration. This is meant to help you break those emotional and psychological connections to food and weight that can be so unhealthy. I struggled with not knowing, so after 2 weeks - I cheated - I did weigh myself, and my numbers were great – BUT – I immediately felt the need to eat food BASED on this number, instead of eating what my body was requiring from me, i thought about food in terms of what would add or reduce weight. I had an even stronger urge to weigh myself the next day. So this time around I am determined, I will not weigh myself again.
With sweets, I realized that a large part of what I missed was not the taste necessarily but the comfort rituals that I had created for myself, such as having a cookie with my tea every night. I made sure not to create substitutes for these rituals, because ultimately this habit of avoiding sugar needs to stick, and what I no longer want is the psychological attachment to it.
5. Keep tweaking the diet to suit your needs.
I have felt some wonderful things from this diet – I no longer feel groggy in the morning, or like I NEED caffeine to begin my day (that’s saying something!) I have more energy during the day, think more clearly, my skin feels and looks better, and I have lost weight. HOWEVER my stomach and back symptoms – while they improved, did not completely go away, until I cut out eggs that is. Because I was paying attention to how my body felt everyday I noticed that my symptoms occurred most often on days that I had eggs, so for the last week or two, I have cut those out as well – and my symptoms are gone. This is why I chose to extend my 30 days to 60, so that I can continue tweaking and testing out how the absence of certain foods makes me feel and to learn to live without them.
6. Remember that it’s only a little bit about self-control.
It’s really important to remember that processed foods are designed and genetically engineered to KEEP YOU HOOKED. Your need to go for those Oreos, is not because you are weak, but because they made them specifically to play with your brain in that way. Changing how you eat will make you feel more empowered and in control. It does take some self-control, especially at the beginning when your brain is still captive to the other stuff. Eventually though, and much more quickly than you think, your brain will return to its normal self and you’ll want those things less and less. So don’t blame yourself for feeling addicted, but don’t let them manipulate you either.
Some other paleo considerations are the cost and the approach. Paleo is more expensive than eating processed foods, but the way I see it – I can pay for it now, for whole healthy foods, or later with medications and a diminished quality of life. I will say, that being a planner helps to keep the costs lower – plan your meals weekly etc. Also in the summer take advantage of farmers markets.
Something else to consider, people generally want to share that which make them feel good - the reason so many people seem to be such vocal proponents of the paleo approach I think is because in some way it has been eye opening and they want to share the experience with others! However, when people aren't asking you for that advice or information... it can be downright annoying! My suggestion to you is to let your progress speak for itself, and if people come to you then feel free to share what you've learned.
Here is a list of some of the resources I mentioned earlier as well as some of my favourite recipe books!
Balanced Bites Website by Diane Sanfilippo
Whole 9 Website by Dallas and Melissa Hartwig
Against All grain Website by Danielle Walker
Whole 30 plan by Dallas and Melissa Hartwig
Practical Paleo by Diane Sanfilippo
Whole 30 (guide to total health and food freedom) by Dallas and Melissa Hartwig
Against All Grains by Danielle Walker
Against All Grains (Meals Made simple) by Danielle Walker
The Paleo Kitchen by Juli Bauer and George Bryant