By: Ashley Rogers
I have always found the Paleo diet intriguing because it is one the most disciplined, structured and time-consuming ways to fuel your body.
It also requires constant planning, adaption and in my case, limiting your normal lifestyle to achieve results. Why do people opt for this uber-restrictive, arguably fad, lifestyle of nuts and vegetables?
Well I found out after 30 days.
I wanted to see why people make this seemingly crazy, restrictive life choice. And to be honest, I was intrigued if I’d see any physical or emotional results because of it.
Without a doubt my 30-day Paleo challenge was one of the BEST learning experiences of my life. Not because of the results, but because I actually felt like I LEARNED about food and health.
I learned how to read labels.
Not just the calories or grams of sugar – no – I learned to really read a label.
Did you know there are over 60 hidden names for sugar? And did you know that those names are in almost EVERYTHING you put in your food? And not just what you put in your food – they are already in your food. I found sugar in everything from bacon, to a jar of roasted red peppers to organic dried cranberries. Everything. Sugar, sugar everywhere. So what does that mean, you ask? (Don’t worry, I asked too).
Your sugar intake can be easy to maintain… if you know what amount sugar you are taking in. But if you are consuming foods all day that have added sugar, how are you supposed to know what your intake is? You can’t and you don’t.
Here’s what I suggest for those thinking of going on a Paleo Diet for 30 days:
Step 1: Always assume SUGAR unless the label proves otherwise.
In a normal grocery store I dare you to find anything outside of the produce aisle that doesn’t have sugar or one of these other names for sugar in it. While you are at it, try and find a recipe you have saved in the past 6 months that doesn’t have a form of sugar in it – or cheese – or bread – or pasta – or nitrates – It’s virtually impossible.
I was left with nothing to do but research and rebuild my menus.
I spent the first 2 hours of searching completely overwhelmed. What were these ingredients?! Arrowroot flour? Coconut Oil? Plantain Chips? Not to mention – I may as well forget any store bought sauce or dip – it looked like I was making my own ketchup!
Step 2: Find FIVE Recipes That’s Don’t Have Unfamiliar Ingredients
Start with three main dishes, two snacks and a breakfast dish. Pin them to a newly formed Paleo Pinterest board and consider that your first week meal planning. Here are the ones I chose:
Step 3: Assess Your Progress
After that week, assess what you liked and didn’t like – and consider repeating any dishes you enjoyed later in the challenge. This is especially helpful if you have a partner or spouse that is not challenging and you are hunting for meals for two lifestyles.
Step 4: Try New Things
Pick 4-5 more recipes but this time start by incorporating 1-2 unfamiliar ingredient recipes in half of them. In order to make it more cost-effective pick a few recipes with the same new ingredient. My first “weird” ingredient was arrowroot flour that I used to make baked sweet potatoes fries and homemade ketchup. They were slammin! Even my non-paleo husband liked them – and I’m not sure if I will ever eat store bought ketchup again.
Step 5: Success!
As the weeks go on, you will get better at pinpointing the restricted ingredients in ‘normal recipes.’ For example, at first, unless the title said “Paleo Chicken” I would never give it a second look. Now, if the recipe said “Chicken Casserole” I may take a look to see if I can substitute.
At this point, you start to get a feel of what is off limits and how to substitute it. Peanut Butter? Nope – Try Almond Butter. Canola Oil? Nope – Coconut Oil. Cornstarch? No way. Try Arrowroot flour or Coconut Flour.
Once you start to get it down, your world starts to open up to new and healthy ways of eating some of the same things you used to love (and miss!). This is when you should feel most satisfied with your challenge. For me, it was seeing that I loved a banana, mixed with almond butter, coconut oil and cocoa powder as much as I loved any store bought dessert. It was an amazing rich, healthy dessert that made me forget all about my daily Snickers cravings.
What I Learned:
At the end of my 30-day challenge, I took a lot away from the experience. I ended up losing 6 lbs., which was great, but the part I really took with me was more about food and nutrition.
I know what hidden sugar looks like.
I know why a refined carbohydrate is bad.
I know not to be afraid of fat.
I know that low fat often means MORE of something bad. I’m educated. I feel empowered to make smart decisions. I may not choose to live Paleo as my lifestyle – but I certainly can tell you that I know exactly what I’m willing to accept into my body for fuel and why I make those decisions.
— Ashley Rogers