*Disclaimer: I am by no means saying paleo (or any other diet plan) is good or bad. I am hoping to convey what I have learned about “dieting” as it may help you reach your goals.
I gained a lot of knowledge and changed my eating habits immensely from doing a Paleo Challenge a few years ago. Focusing on every little thing that went into my body taught me to pay attention to ingredients and spend an extra few minutes at the grocery store to find items that did not have so much unnecessary crap added to it. Dried fruit for instance is perfectly delicious on its own without having to add sugar to it. Prior to Paleo, I dreaded cooking and rarely did it. Paleo reminded me of the value I would gain from making Sundays my food prep day so that I would have healthy options for the week.
Paleo also helped me to recognize what foods fuel my body versus the ones that deplete energy from it. I lost a few pounds and inches when I did Paleo and I kept them off. I also then hit a plateau about a year into it. I had to reevaluate my diet once again just like I did when I started paleo. I enlisted the expertise of my sister this time who is a registered nutritionist. While I was eating paleo about 80% of the time, I was getting into bad habits. I tracked my diet for a week and had her look at where I was getting unnecessary calories and what changes I could make. The short version of the findings is that I was eating a lot of Paleo approved foods but too much of them like dried fruit (dates for instance are high in calories) and nuts (which are heart healthy but I was consuming too many). I was also snacking way too often which was indicative of not getting enough substance in my meals to keep me sustained for 3 hours in between meals. As a result I made small tweaks like giving up dried fruit and nuts and adding more servings of veggies. I even started reintroducing Paleo forbidden foods like chic peas. I managed to lose about 9 lbs of fat and reduced my body fat percentage by 3% over 5 months. (This may seem like a disproportionate amount to lose over the time span but keep in mind I’m only 5 foot. Every pound I lose is a lot of hard work).
Then, over the last few months I slowly noticed my weight on the scale was starting to creep up. In a panic, I went and had another BodySpec scan (this is a whole other blog post worthy topic) and was pleasantly surprised to learn I gained 3 pounds of muscle. I had also been a few weeks into a new workout regime that followed Invictus competitor programming and had an increased appetite. I was trying my hardest to not succumb to it and when I got the scan results, I was able to relax a bit. I knew I needed to change my diet to keep up with my workouts. Here was another key time to reevaluate my diet.
My workouts start at 5:30 in the morning and I was finding that eating what I always did (a banana) an hour before the workout was not making the cut. I would be so hungry about a half hour into my workouts and my energy pretty much died out shortly after. Also, I was typically eating a salad for dinner with a lot of veggies and avocado. I instinctively knew that I was not nourishing my body with what it needed to get me through an hour and a half intense, high volume workout. With the permission and sense of my sister, I reintroduced carbs into my dinners. Eating pasta with mixed frozen veggies and homemade sauce has made a huge improvement in my energy level. (Carbs are not always the enemy!)
The most important lesson I am learning is that no diet is one size fits all. Also like other things in life, diet is something that should be flexible and change with your lifestyle’s twists and turns. Paleo, or any diet for that matter, is not cookie cutter and I find it a bit alarming when people jump on any bandwagon without properly understanding what it is they are signing up for. I am guilty of this. I still don’t quite understand what harm a chic pea can do that perhaps a green bean doesn’t? I subscribed to the rules of Paleo without properly learning the “why” behind them and if they truly made sense for me.
I know a lot of CrossFit gyms promote Paleo Challenges and other healthy eating challenges. I am by no means saying these should not be encouraged. I just think prior to signing up participants should do their homework and whenever possible talk to experts (i.e registered dieticians). While people who have done Paleo can definitely offer their own expertise and tribal knowledge they have acquired, it is really up to you to ensure that you are following a plan that suits you.