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Let’s Talk Paleo

Hello and happy Thursday. I hope it’s been a great day for everyone! Mine has been good minus a small freak out about the paint color I chose for the living room (I second guess EVERYTHING) and the fact that it’s dark and cold at 6 p.m. now…but I’m going to have to get over that.

I receive a lot of questions about the paleo style of eating and how my diet has changed over the past year. Given that we just kicked off a new paleo challenge at Metro CrossFit with a paleo potluck, I thought this would be an ideal time to get you up to speed on my thoughts around it.

Let’s start with what paleo is.

This image shows a pretty accurate picture of the general makeup of the diet although many would put the meat, fish, fowl and eggs on the bottom of the pyramid and move up the veggies and fruits. Basically, you focus on eating the way that people did before processed foods and sugar became mainstream. The general gist of it is, “Eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch and no sugar.” Think the whole hunter-gatherer principle. This style of eating omits many of the common allergens such as gluten and dairy and emphasizes foods that are more nutrient-dense and naturally occurring.

The paleo diet is very popular among the CrossFit crowd although I was very surprised to find that at my CrossFit Level 1 Trainer Course that the ZONE diet is their diet of choice and paleo was given no attention. I’ll go more into detail on ZONE in another post. I can’t knock the paleo diet as many in my gym have had amazing success with it providing huge weight loss breakthroughs and performance gains. I have watched the transformations happen before my own eyes.

That said, paleo is not for me but I have benefited from learning about it.

We hosted our first paleo challenge back in April when I was new to the gym. I decided that I wouldn’t go paleo but that I would cut out dairy, gluten and sugar. At this time I was eating an 80% vegetarian diet and had been for years. My diet was heavy on processed soy, beans and carbs and light on lean protein. I totally changed that and I feel SO MUCH BETTER. I have reintroduced dairy, gluten and sugar into my diet but in more limited amounts and coupled with lots of lean protein and lots of healthy fats. I try to avoid gluten when it’s easy to (although I do not claim to have any sensitivities) but I don’t stress about it. I don’t buy bread anymore (I keep a loaf of gluten-free bread in the freezer). This is huge for me because I used to eat a sandwich almost every day for lunch. I tried giving up dairy but I just love Greek yogurt too much but I dont’ really find that I have a hard time digesting it. I have tried to buy more goat dairy when it comes to cheese and almond milk instead of traditional. And as far as sugar, I still have work to do on that front but I refuse to live life without cookies and cupcakes.

I think that paleo is a good starting point for many people who are struggling with making a change in their diet or figuring out what works for them and what they feel good eating. Paleo allows you to cut out those high-allergen foods and then you can play with reintroducing them and it will be easier to see what your allergens/sensitivities are. I am 100% in the camp of there not being a “one size fits all” diet solution. You have to figure out what works for you and that may be totally different than what works for your spouse, best friend, child, running partner, etc. And it’s easy to take any diet to the extreme and I have seen this with paleo. I loved that in our CrossFit course, they encouraged cheat meals (note, meals…not days!) and encouraged people to act normal around their friends and at parties and not be the weirdo bringing your own food.  Please keep in mind that I am sensitive to those who do have serious allergies. I’m just encouraging you to keep moderation and having a life in mind.

Check out this guide to paleo foods from the book Practical Paleo. I think it gives a good holistic picture.

Okay, now let’s talk paleo food. It’s delicious and I might eat paleo if I always had access to a spread like we had at our challenge kick-off party! YUM! I’m going to share some photos and recipes with you!

I contributed those “Paleo Pizza Bites” that you see in the red dish on the left. It’s a button mushroom stuffed with sausage and topped with marinara sauce. I got the recipe from a fantastic paleo blog, PaleOMG. I took these to the paleo potluck and a friend’s housewarming party and they were gone in a matter of moments at both.

Chicken salad with avocado herb dressing. It’s a spin on this recipe from Multiply Delicious. You must check out Heather’s blog. She’s one of our CrossFit athletes and an extremely talented and creative cook.

Cauliflower Carrot Herb Mash. This recipe was also from Multiply Delicious and crazy addictive.

Vegan Sweet Potato Casserole. Recipe coming soon. I’ll update the post with it. I went back for seconds.

Pumpkin pie bars. I’m also trying to track down this recipe for ya.

This is just a small taste of all of the amazing food that we had at the party but I thought it would be interesting to share. I would love to hear your experiences with paleo and thoughts on the diet. Also, if you have any recipes to recommend, please do!

{ 23 comments… add one }

  • Ally November 8, 2012, 8:00 pm

    All these food photos are making me hungry! Looks like a veritable feast. I appreciate your approach to diet. One size definitely doesn’t fit all. The way I eat has also changed dramatically over my life, but it’s from a place that feels right, addressing ever-changing needs, convictions, etc. It’s also interesting to think about a “Paleo,” or diet of pre-Industrialized peoples. Both within and between diets, there was, and is, huge variation rather than a single “type” of diet. Interesting stuff (I’m an anthropology student :))

    Now, can you please send me that for dinner? P.S. Someone just gifted me with the new Smitten Kitchen cookbook (I remember you saying you’re a fan of hers…) I”m impressed so far…

  • Hayley @ Running on Pumpkin November 8, 2012, 8:13 pm

    I like learning about different diets but for me it doesn’t work to put a label on the way I eat. I try to just have everything in moderation, and I don’t want to give up my overnight oats or sugar! But I definitely believe it can have amazing benefits and work great for some people to be completely paleo, just not for me. I also have tried a few dishes from paleo cookbooks and they were all really good.

  • Jessica November 8, 2012, 8:23 pm

    What a feast! Our box does potlucks like these and it’s always so awesome to see so many Paleo goodies in one spot, and to share them with others who follow the same lifestyle.

    My husband and I have been ‘mostly Paleo’ for about a year. I say ‘mostly’ because we strike about an 80/20 balance with our meals, with that 20% encompassing our 3 cheat meals for the week (still healthy, just with non-Paleo ingredients in them) and some beer/wine thrown in there. It’s done wonders for us, and coupled with CrossFit, my life looks completely different than it did a year ago, and is still getting better all the time.

    Even if you don’t think you can do Paleo, working toward a clean, whole, unprocessed approach to foods and eating will be well-rewarded with good health.

  • Michelle November 8, 2012, 10:16 pm

    I just got the results of a cholesterol test this evening — I’m a 115 lb 34 year old who has exercised 5-6 days a week for decades and my LDL cholesterol is borderline high.

    I’ve been eating a lot more protein in the past 3+ months (I’ve had very low tests in the past) and wonder if this, specifically all the farm fresh eggs I’ve been eating, has contributed to my high number. It’s funny because the advice I was given by my doctor is fairly anti Paleo — drop the fats and proteins and up the whole grains and fibers. I’m not sure what the long term result of this will be but I think there’s a lesson here somewhere? I do hope I can lower my number “organically.”

  • Anne November 8, 2012, 10:17 pm

    I just got the results of a cholesterol test this evening — I’m a 115 lb 34 year old who has exercised 5-6 days a week for decades and my LDL cholesterol is borderline high.

    I’ve been eating a lot more protein in the past 3+ months (I’ve had very low tests in the past) and wonder if this, specifically all the farm fresh eggs I’ve been eating, has contributed to my high number. It’s funny because the advice I was given by my doctor is fairly anti Paleo — drop the fats and proteins and up the whole grains and fibers. I’m not sure what the long term result of this will be but I think there’s a lesson here somewhere? I do hope I can lower my number “organically.”

    • erin November 9, 2012, 9:23 am

      When I first got my cholesterol tested i was 28, training for a marathon, in the best shape of my life and eating a healthy diet. Still my cholesterol and specifically LDL was high. I wasn’t surprised as it runs in my family. At the same time my HDL was also high (it is increased by exercise.) My doctor at the time actually mentioned taking cholesterol drugs to me. i refused. Years later I learned that the ration of LDL to HDL is also important and for me that ratio is well within the healthy range. So definitely look at that number to and ask your doctor about it. I am obviously not a professional. Just something to think about.

      • Anne November 9, 2012, 2:32 pm

        Thanks, a couple of people have mentioned this; I need to make sure I understand the numbers!

  • Paige @ The Balancing Act November 8, 2012, 10:18 pm

    Thanks so much for doing a Paleo post…I’ve been hearing so much about it that it’s good to finally know some basic facts. It sounds very intriguing, and I like that it focuses on whole, unprocessed foods–too many diets seem to cut out certain foods or food groups, only to replace them with highly processed products with lots of artificial ingredients (protein shakes or bars, low fat/low carb/low sugar variations with lots of added “ick,” etc.) However, I don’t think a totally Paleo diet will ever be for me, since I’m still a firm believer in the health benefits of whole grains and dairy (for those without intolerances, of course). I also try to keep my meat intake to just a few times a week for both health and environmental reasons. (Plus, I’m a college student, and alternative protein sources are just so much cheaper!) That said, I love hearing about how other people eat and trying new foods, so thanks for the recipes! I eagerly await the one for the sweet potatoes. :)

  • Michelle November 8, 2012, 10:18 pm

    Whoops. My computer said my comment had already posted so I tried again with my middle name. But my comment did post twice. Sorry!

  • Joanna November 8, 2012, 10:21 pm

    I was really nervous when I saw the title for this post pop up on my newsfeed… I though oh NO! The PB runner gone Paleo :( But you did a great job of explaining how I feel about it too. CF opens your eyes to lots of extremes and this is one of them. I agree that no diet(plus I hate that word) is right 100% for everyone. Clearly what you are doing works, that is how I feel. If you give up on the cookies I will stop reading… okay that was an extreme joke but still… I have always LOVED that you BALANCE all these great things in your life. Everyone can be on an extreme diet phase for a while but it takes more to balance a little of everything. Keep it up :)

    P.S. Peanut Butter isn’t Paleo… whhaaaaat. and I will NEVER give up PB so forget about it ;)

  • Heather @ girlyeverafter November 8, 2012, 10:52 pm

    I’ve tried the paleo diet before and it’s not for me either. I love the idea of it and I try to go for a slightly modified version, but I’m all about carbs. I admit I didn’t give it a fair try so I won’t say I’m totally against trying it again, especially after seeing all this great food.

  • Leora Brody November 8, 2012, 11:18 pm

    I switched from being a vegan to paleo in Aug 2011 and haven’t looked back. I was feeling lethargic and had constant sugar cravings as vegan and felt almost instantly better when I started eating animal protein again.

    Paleo doesn’t have to be low carb or high fat/high protein. Paleo just translates into food choices. You can choose the macro-nutrient ration that best suits your lifestyle. I lead a pretty active lifestyle and eat a moderate amount of carbs from sweet potatoes, rice and fruit.

  • Nicole November 9, 2012, 1:40 am

    Thanks for posting this! It completely answers my question about why you buy gluten free bread.

    I have been doing CrossFit for about 4 months and have moved into Paleo eating little by little. I won’t be giving up dairy at all and there’s no way I won’t have sushi (with rice!) every once in a while, but I do feel better when I’m eating this way. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that I’m focused on getting the right nutrients into every meal, as opposed to grabbing a piece of toast on my way out the door. In any case, I think your approach is great and that balance is something I strive for as well.

  • Alexis November 9, 2012, 1:55 am

    As an MS, RD, I am pretty strongly opposed to Paleo. I’m sure that since you work at a crossfit, that you have tons of Paleo followers, so I’m definitely not looking to get into an argument! I just want to say that any diet that limits one of the main food groups is not a balanced diet. I’ll let the research and the professionals do the rest of my soap box shpeal:) http://health.usnews.com/best-diet/best-overall-diets

    Yes, Paleo is ranked LAST, even behind Atkins. And I’m confident (hopeful?) that this will soon go the way of Atkins, being remembered as an extreme diet that was popular for a short time.

  • Carrie @ Fitness and Frozen Grapes November 9, 2012, 7:16 am

    The love the concept behind the Paleo diet–eating whole foods and cutting out the processed junk–but that eating approach won’t work for me. I *love* Greek yogurt too much to cut it out.

  • erin November 9, 2012, 9:51 am

    I am all about the diet that works for you and make you feel your best. I think everyone can agree that no one truly feels their best on a diet full of sugar and processed foods. I like aspects of the Paleo diet. I think focusing on lean proteins, veggies and healthy fats is important. I also think there is nothing wrong with whole grains in moderation and that diet also depends on your goals. As I have read health blogs over the years I have learned that there are a lot of extremes and people who believe that they have to be extreme to be healthy. That use to mean everyone thinking they had to be vegan to be healthy, now it’s Paleo. I think part of it is that “healthy living” also brings out a lot of obsessive people who have control and eating issues. Being extremer gives them that control. Jen- I have always appreciated your balanced approach and the fact that you don’t back yourself into any corners but rather do what works for you at the time and makes you feel your best physically and mentally.

  • Mary Beth November 9, 2012, 9:52 am

    It amazes me at the many different approaches to diet there are out there, and how strongly people in each camp feel about ‘their side’. We’ve done South Beach and Paleo and are now eating a plant based diet in an attempt to reduce some significantly high cholesterol/LDL levels. I think the thing I’ve gained most through it all is just an increased awareness of the food I put in my body, being mindful of avoiding processed foods and increasing our fruit and veggie intake- and giving thought to why and how our American diet has become so dangerously unhealthy. I appreciate your balance and perspective!

  • Bess @ Bess Be Fit November 9, 2012, 9:58 am

    I MUST make that Chicken Salad with Avocado dressing! That looks to die for. I love your approach to eating. I’ve cut probably 95% of gluten out of my diet and my tummy has never been happier with me. I couldn’t give up dairy either though…I love greek yogurt and skim milk too much, although almond milk is a staple in my diet as well. Thanks for sharing pics and recipes! Everything looks great.

  • Katherine November 9, 2012, 11:18 am
  • Addy @ Six-Kick Switch November 9, 2012, 12:02 pm

    Looks like delicious food, and thank you for explaining the whole Paleo mystery! I think I eat more like you, Jen – I don’t eat a whole lot of flour or gluten, but I just can’t live without a bit of sugar! I think the meat-heavy aspect of Paleo might be a bit too much meat for me, but I do like the emphasis on unprocessed foods and fruits/vegetables. Where does Paleo stand on whole grains, like barley, brown rice, and quinoa?

  • Lisa November 9, 2012, 3:48 pm

    Thanks for posting about this. I’m always curious about different diet types and it’s great to know more information. It all looks delicious. I don’t think I’d ever go paleo, but I do like incorporating different lifestyle choices like vegan meals, paleo meals, vegetarian meals into my daily routine. Just to switch it up.

  • Caroline November 9, 2012, 6:56 pm

    I really like the way that you keep an open-minded view in the way you approach diet and food choices. Over the years, I have tried just about every eating style and fad diet under the sun and nothing really worked. When I follow the diet that the USDA recommends, full of low-fat items and whole grains, I feel bloated and lethargic. I have been mostly Paleo for nearly a year and the way that my body responded, not just by weight loss but the way I feel, makes me realize that this isn’t a fad – it’s a dietary lifestyle that, while it may not be right for everyone, works for me.

  • Holly November 9, 2012, 10:11 pm

    Gosh I feel like a horrible reader! Until you mentioned this I hadn’t realized/noticed your lack of open-faced sandwiches! Nice summary on the diet and what you are doing. A book I read that I thought was really good and realistic is called “The Maker’s Diet.” Advocates biblical-based eating as opposed to this caveman stuff. Very interesting!

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