Written by Jessica North
My decision to complete a 30-day Paleo challenge was a journey in itself. It was not a one day, “I want to try it,” kind of decision. I spent over a month contemplating, researching, reading books, talking with Jon, speaking with friends that live a Paleo lifestyle, and mostly convincing myself that it was something I could and wanted to do. Coming from a weightlifting culture, any form of dieting or restricting what a person eats outside of cutting for a meet is taboo. To be just considering Paleo, I had gone off the deep end in the eyes of my peers. That is why not only for myself, but for all people really scratching their head as to why I chose to do the 30 day challenge, I feel it is important that I share my story. I am the brave hunter and gatherer that left the feast on the platform, and ventured off into the forest alone, and this is my story.
What is paleo and why did I do it. Paleo, as I understand it, is short term for eating as though a person lives in the Paleolithic era. It consists of 4 main food sources: meat; vegetables, with the exception of corn, peas, beans, or items with high starch content; spices; and natural healthy fats such as avocado and coconut oil. Paleo is widely believed to not be a diet but a change in lifestyle. It is lifestyle change that I wanted to try. I strongly believe that if a person does not love their life, they should change it. It takes bravery to change old habits and especially ways of living one’s life, but I have learned through my short 25 years of life that change is a good thing and worth trying if it leads to a better life. My health since I was a child has always been on a ledge. The issue that affects me the most is that I suffer from chronic migraines. One of my earliest memories is at an outdoor sidewalk fair with my sister, maybe 5 years old, walking down the street, and being struck with a migraine so rapidly that I lost sight, hearing, and then fainted on the sidewalk. I have been tested for diabetes along with many other diseases with no avail. Migraines are a part of my weekly routine. Of course this is something I strongly wanted to break free of, and having done my research, I believed it to be possible with Paleo. Another reason I wanted to try Paleo is my energy levels. Living life on at least one green Monster a day, I felt pretty spunky, but I desired more of a natural energy that did not send me up and down so much. Many days I felt my energy was like a roller coaster, and timing it right to be up in energy for training was off. Most days I felt the most tired going into training, and that is not good. Cosmetically, I entertained the idea of a little weight loss as well. Although it was not the strongest motivating factor, I had hoped that going Paleo would help define my muscles, get rid of what I think of as my love handles, and slim down my face. I am not the typical woman that stresses over the number on the scale. Being a weightlifter, I learned to be happy as long as I maintained where I needed to be in my weight class, which is 75kg. 8 months ago, I was in the 69kg weight class, but having switched to weightlifting as my full time job, I naturally put on muscle mass and increased in weight. As my squats went up, so did the number on the scale, which was a good thing for my height, being 5’ 10”. I would say that I maintain between 73kg and 74kg, which did not bother me. The one thing that I had trouble with looking in the mirror was the fullness of my face. I am sure people in my daily life did not even notice, but when I looked in the mirror I saw chipmunk looking back at me. Along with finding a cure for my migraines, balanced energy levels, and slight trimming up, I desired to feel an overall improvement in my strength and wellbeing. Since it is commonly believed that “you are what you eat,” I decided that Paleo was a worthy endeavor. I figured at the very least, I will do this 30-day challenge, and if I hate it, I will have just eaten healthier for one month, and there is no harm in that.
Each person in life has their “go to food”, the one comfort food that is hard to let go. For many people, that food is something sweet or a dessert. My food is all things wheat. Before Paleo, I could live on Frosted Mini Wheaties, the orange box, breakfast lunch and dinner. I love granola. I am a sucker for bread. These were the hardest things for me to say goodbye. The day before my Paleo challenge, Jon and I went to Cracker Barrel and I had a going away party for my food. I ordered a hearty plate of French toast, another favorite, ate at least two biscuits, had a tall glass of orange juice, another food group I would miss, and I am pretty sure I had a big bowl of cereal when we got home as well. Other items like desserts, fast food and so on was not as an adjustment for me like it is some people. I had already cut the majority of those things out of my diet. Before going Paleo, I believed myself to have lived a pretty healthy lifestyle of eating. I did not eat fast food. When Jon stopped by Bojangles for a snack during the day, I never indulged. Most dinners out I ordered a steak and passed on dessert. I served a vegetable with every dinner, although it was almost always corn. My dad taught me growing up that potatoes would make me strong, or as he put it, “Grow hair on my chest!” I thought that eating a granola bar, as a snack was a healthy choice. I rarely drank soda, but when I did it was a clear one like Sierra Mist or Sprite, which I believed was better for you. All in all I think that it took me so long to change, or try something new because I felt I ate above average for a typical American. Little did I know that what I thought was going to be a small adjustment, changed everything.
After completing all of my research and finally convincing myself to do the 30-day challenge, I decided to follow Diane Sanfilippo’s Practical Paleo. The book was recommended to me by a fellow athlete, and after ordering it, I really found value in its unique layout. In the book, she not only shares her story in a way that very much related to me, but there is the research and science of course, many recipes, and what I found to be most helpful, a variety of 30 day specific meal plans based on your goals or conditions. For example, there is a plan for cancer recovery, a plan for weight loss, a plan for thyroid problems or chron’s disease, and several others. I followed the athlete’s specific plan.
Now I may or may not of had the best approach to Paleo following this 30-day plan because I followed it so strict. What I mean is that whether or not I liked a food or had even tried a food before, I followed exactly what I was supposed to eat for each meal according to Diane Sanfilippo’s athlete meal plan. This made for many poor moods because the joy of food was often taken away. For example, only two days in and Day 2’s breakfast was left over flank steak with onions and peppers from night one. I did not enjoy eating steak for breakfast at all being that I was such a breakfast (cereal, French toast, eggs) type of person, but I sucked it up and ate it. Then Day 2’s lunch was canned salmon. Yuck! My mom said to never use the word hate, but I hate seafood of ALL kinds. I plugged my nose and got down a few bites swallowed whole, only to gag the rest of my lunch. Dinner saved my spirit with turkey legs and sweet potato pancakes. Not to make it all sound bad, but I greatly struggled with many meals. The bright side though is that each day was a new discovery and a time to try something new. I found many foods that I would not have ever known I enjoyed, for example, beets and fennel, yum. I learned new ways of cooking. I mastered many new recipes and flavors, even making my own spices with the recipes provided in the back of Practical Paleo. One of my favorite changes in habit is now using coconut oil to cook my foods. It adds wonderful flavor to any meat or vegetable, allows me to cook at a higher temperature without burning, and is so much cleaner to eat. I always used vegetable oil before, and I will never go back.
My spirit to complete the challenge remained strong despite all of the temptations around me. My tests at the time were very hard, but now looking back are funny stories. Beginning a challenge like this definitely takes a support structure and someone else rooting you on. I explained to Jon beforehand my reasons and goals, and he supported me 100 percent which was very important. I appreciated him dearly for rooting me on, although without realizing it, he also made it very difficult at times. My first test, having said goodbye to coffee and energy drinks, was Jon making his daily stop at Starbucks. Now I knew that I could do without the coffee and if necessary I was allowed green tea, so I was not too concerned with my will power, until Jon came out holding a brown treat bag along with his coffee. The second he got in the car I could smell it. Apple fritter. Test two also involves a doughnut. Traveling in the airport is a weekly part of my life and what I found having turned Paleo is that airports do not offer healthy food whatsoever. I really struggled with my first trip, and went hungry rather than cheated. Jon, however, indulged even more than usual, whom at the time was maddening but like I said before, is now funny to look back on. He stopped at an ice cream shop and added Butterfinger, syrup, m&m’s, and other heart attacks to his bowl. Then he made a quick trip down the terminal to get some pizza and ate it right next to me. Once we landed in the next airport he made another stop at the Duncan Donuts for a powder-covered doughnut and 6 blueberry muffin tops, and a coffee. By the time we got in the cab I wanted to throw a pie in his face. Like an animal in a new environment for the first time, I learned to adapt though and my will power never waivered. By making extra each meal and always having food packed for times I was not home to cook really made my life easier.
On to the more specific pros and cons of my journey. I quickly saw results in my body shape. I started to trim in the mid section after just a few days. Not only my belly, but also my arms, back and legs showed more definition. Last but worth the wait, I saw a decrease in my chipmunk cheeks. My energy levels definitely felt more even. Although very low and nowhere near what I was hoping to achieve, I did not feel the up and down like I had before. Eliminating the sugar, except for one piece of fruit as a dessert each night, I really noticed a difference. My insulin did not spike and I was using my natural energy on a consistent basis. It took until week three, but my overall health started to improve. I maintained my usual schedule of migraines, until week three when they subsided to what I would call headaches instead. Something unexpected is that my skin even noticeably cleared. Also unexpected is that my vision changed. I do not know for the better or worse, but by week two, I started to notice that my sight was different. Focusing on small things took an extra millisecond, but I was seeing them in more detail. Call me crazy but it is true. Despite all of the positives, I could not help my mood swings. I developed very poor mood swings through week two. The thing I attribute it mostly to be the lack of energy. As I said I was more even, but I evened out at a very monotone, low. My strength decreased as well. By week two, I was having nightmares of trying to run but I could not lift my legs to even walk they were so heavy. It was awful and a very hard adjustment that made me really grumpy. Week three this improved slightly, I do not know if it is because I just adapted in my mindset, or my energy levels really did pick up a little. The last negative, which I am not claiming any cause and effect because I am not certain, is that since the end of week one through the rest of the month, I have been ill with a horrible cold. I do not know the science of it. I could have simply caught a bug, or the changes in my body could have affected my immune system, I am unsure. What I do know is that I have had the cough from hell for over three weeks, stopped up sinuses, and for the first time in my life, multiple nose bleeds. I will not blame it on the Paleo, but the coincidence is very high that one week in this plagues me and will not go away. To end on a high note, the last positive that I want to share is recovery. Having not been taking my supplements this whole month such as creatine and protein, I have not found the need for them, as my body is naturally recovery on its own which is a significant blessing.
It is said that 20 days is the magic number for something to become a habit. For example, that is the proven reason of 20 cigarettes in a pack. Once a person finishes one pack, they are supposedly hooked by habit. I found this to be true for my journey as well. Once I reached day 20, everything became much easier. I did not have to think about every detail of what I was eating or how to cook it, or even how I felt. My new routines slowly became my habits, and I settled into my new lifestyle. Paleo transformed from a diet and my 30-day challenge, to my way of living. How I will go forward with my newfound relationship with food will continue to be an exciting journey. On day 20, I experimented, not because a lack of will or surrender to desire, but as a true experiment. I cheated for the very first time. I ate a single crouton that was served on my salad at a restaurant, and took a large drink of Jon’s Sierra Mist. Although delicious going down, within seconds of them hitting my stomach, I wrenched in pain. Experiment complete. What I had thought would last only 30 days, is now lasting longer one day at a time. If you are wondering what I did to celebrate day 30, I cooked a Paleo blueberry pie, and it was delicious.
Day 1: 73.5kg / 161.7 lb
Day 30: 68.27kg / 150.2 lb
11.5 Pound Loss Total (first 10 pounds were lost by day 15)
Love Your Life or Change It