I’m a huge fan of food. Pizza, watermelon, and craft beer are a few of my favorites.
I’ve also been known to complain about being overweight. I’m 5’7” and wear a size 10 to 12 depending on the brand, but even when I’m at my happiest weight, I comfortably wear a 10. I’ve got hips; what can I say?
But no month-long pizza binge goes unpunished. In September, I purchased a pair of size 10 jeans from my favorite store online that were ~perfect~ for fall.
When they arrived, I realized that I’d either picked the wrong size or I’d officially downed enough beer and pizza to make putting on my go-to size nearly impossible. (Spoiler alert: It was the pizza.)
So, I decided that for 30-straight days, I would dive into the Paleo diet, which bans all forms of dairy, grains, soy, and legumes. I also pledged todrink less and avoid added sugars and artificial sweeteners.
This wasn’t my first clean eating endeavor. I’ve made two attempts at theWhole30 diet (which is basically the Paleo diet with stricter rules). My first trial lasted 10 days and the second attempt lasted 30 (minus eight cheat meals). So I figured 30 days of Paleo would be a walk in the park.
But I invite you to close your eyes and visualize Donald Trump leaning into the mic because boy oh boy was I WRONG!
Here’s what I learned during my month-long journey:
The rules for Paleo can be super confusing. I’ll explain more later, but there are a lot of blurred lines on what you can and can’t eat on Paleo. This is probably because there’s no official Paleo authority who defines the guidelines. When I tried the Whole30 diet, I really appreciated that the program had super-rigid rules. If I was ever uncertain about being able to eat a specific food, I could use their guidelines to determine if the food was compliant or not. With Paleo, bloggers and Paleo followers on social media seem to like to make up their own rules, which leads me to my next problem…
One Pinterest search for “Paleo desserts” had me scrolling through photos of Paleo cakes and fudge that were technically in line with the diet. But they were also loaded with natural sweeteners, like coconut sugar and maple syrup. I ultimately decided to skip baking Paleo treats.
I’m already a fan of making my meals ahead of time since it makes planning what I’m going to eat for the week so easy. So I spent my first Sunday researching recipes, grocery shopping, and cooking meals I knew and loved from my rounds of Whole30. One meal I found myself coming back to throughout the month was this one-pan pesto chicken and veggies recipe that Iprepared with a Paleo-friendly pesto. It was a great lunch or dinner option.
After learning that Paleo bacon is a thing (it’s just sugar-free bacon) I made lots of Paleo bacon and asparagus egg cups for weekday breakfasts. It was a nice change from not eating breakfast, ever.
I was surprised that the Paleo diet offered no set recommendation for portions. As long as I stuck to the basic outline, I was free to eat as much as I wanted. This felt kind of like a trap. It didn’t take me long to realize that I was bound to overeat without portion recommendations in place. I tried to keep myself from overdoing it by dividing up Paleo blog recipes into the servings they was supposed to make and stowing the rest away. But when it came to snacking, I often went back for a second apple in the afternoon or an extra serving of veggies and guac.
From what I can tell, Paleo die-hards don’t want to tell you not to drink. Some sources say it’s fine while others leave the decision up to you entirely. Since no Paleo guru insisted I quit booze, I still ordered cocktails at dinner and said yes to beers with friends after work as usual.
Like, really frustrating. Before date nights with my boyfriend or dinners out with friends, I’d obsessively comb through restaurant menus looking for Paleo options. More often than not I had to plan some substitutions like asking for a different side or to hold the parmesan sprinkle. And even with all of that preparation, the reality of not knowing every single ingredient in my food started driving me crazy. Was the chicken cooked with canola oil? Did my veggies contain any soy? By the time I hit day 15, I’d decided to stick to eating only the food I’d prepared at home for the rest of my experiment.
Sticking to food I’d prepared for myself meant turning down brunch invitationsand staying in on Saturday nights to avoid temptation. It was kind of a bummer, but I started getting used to eating all of my meals at home and grew confident in my ability to make better choices and avoid alcohol. Toward the end of the month, I allowed myself a couple of nights out, but I stuck with drinking seltzer and lime.
Part of my nightly routine was a snack after dinner. I’d chow down on Pop-Tarts, chips, cheese—you name it, I craved it before bed. I didn’t want to change every part of my daily routine, so I kept myself stocked up on green apples and bananas and snacked on them with a side of almond butter. I was expecting to miss the crazy sugar rush, but was actually surprised to find that my pre-bedtime ritual was a completely mindless process. I could have gotten the same satisfaction from grazing on apples all along. For my post-workout snack, which was usually a protein bar or sugary sports drink, I was able to find a Paleo-friendly protein bar that quickly became a staple on my weekly shopping list.
Once I finally stopped drinking, it only took about three days for my waistline to start looking smaller (right around day 13). Toward the end of the experiment my roommate said, “Your face looks skinnier.” Win!
After a couple of weeks of nixing cheese and grains, I actually got to a point where I wasn’t craving pizza constantly. (Seriously, I craved pizza every day.) I also didn’t miss other junk foods that I’d mindlessly toss into my shopping cart, like bags of chips or blocks of cheese. I’m not saying that I didn’t complain when I could smell free pizza in my office or when I checked my boyfriend’s fridge forsnacks and found half a leftover pie from the night before, but I consider the disappearance of my urge for ‘za to be a major accomplishment.
When I finally made it past 30 full days, I knew my victory meal would be a pepperoni pizza (obviously), plus some pasta to split with my roommate, and a bottle of wine. But even with all the hype, I have to admit that the first bite didn’t taste as amazing as I remembered. I still ate and enjoyed three slices, but the flavor didn’t seem as strong as it had in the past.
The bottom line: I don’t think that Paleo is an easy fix for losing weight or a lifestyle change that anyone can make quickly, but at the end of my experiment, I lost 3.2 pounds and was able to pull on my jeans without having to shimmy around my room. They were still a smidge tight, but I was happy to see that the waistband wasn’t cutting into my sides. And my roommate seems to be right. If I look in the mirror at the perfect angle, my face does in fact seem to be a bittrimmer.
Since I discovered that I can easily change my eating habits and that it ispossible for my tastes to change, I would consider going Paleo again. But I’m not sure this is a realistic way for me to eat every meal (I can’t quit you, cheese). Instead, I’m going to keep up my meal prepping habits so I’ll always have healthy options on hand. I’ve also upped my exercise game (my nemesis) from precisely zero trips to the gym per week to at least four. Oh, and I’m also proud to say that my bed has been and shall remain Pop-Tart-free.