It has been one month since I first started living the paleo lifestyle and I am converted. I realised I was converted when, like all good paleo zealots, I started calling it a lifestyle not a diet. But it's true. It feels like a natural progression for me with my focus on developing and improving myself on both mental and physical levels taking me to explore new things. I started the diet simply as a test and the experience has been so positive that it now feels unnatural to be doing anything else. So I'm a paleo convert and maybe you will be too after reading my in-depth review of my first paleo month.
Let's start with the cold hard stats. I am a self confessed numbers geek so even though I feel and look better living the paleo lifestyle I like to verify it with numbers. Numbers can't lie can they?
Weight: 77.6kg (-2.4kg) Biceps: 32cm (no change) Chest 98cm (+2cm) Waist: 72cm (-2cm) Hips: 82cm (-4.5cm)
For those that know me in person they would say I am, and always have been, fairly thin. To have dropped 2.4kg and a few centimetres around my waist and hips it has to have been all fat that I lost which is amazing as most people, including myself, would not have thought I needed to lose any. But I have definitely trimmed which means that my body fat percentage must be approaching single digits and my abdominal muscles are starting to be visible again, for the first time in a few years. And I haven't even been doing any ab exercises!
The weight loss mostly happened in the first two weeks which makes me think my body was adapting to my new eating regime and has now found a more natural body composition. Initially I was worried as I did not want to lose any weight but I feel if I add a more determined exercise effort (including good post-workout foods) I can gain some muscle fairly easily now.
My dedication to exercise has been lacking over the past few weeks. I have still managed the odd primal style exercise (lifting sandbags, pushups, chinups, squats) at home but it all felt a bit random. Even when I did make it to the gym my workouts were all over the place and I could not get into a good rhythm. But I may have rectified that on my last visit.
I have decided to stop using resistance machines and move to a workout which combines free weights and interval style training. I start the stopwatch when I arrive and then go through a series of exercises (box jumps, squats, deadlifts, lunges, pushups, shoulder press, bicep curls, chest fly, chest press, shoulder fly) and attempt to beat my previous time for the overall workout. There is no set rest time between sets so I just push myself until my body needs a rest. I have only done this workout once but I felt great (and worn out) so I think there is potential there.
That is the plan from here on in, so stay tuned for a future update on that but for now let's get back into dissecting my first paleo month by looking at some of the difficulties I faced.
I faced a handful of difficulties implementing a paleo eating plan but none were insurmountable. The biggest challenge was the increased preparation time for meals. Before going paleo my breakfast consisted of cereal and milk with a total preparation time of 10 seconds, and my lunch was nearly always bought from a store. My new breakfasts and lunches take anywhere from 5 - 15 minutes each so I had to find up to 30 minutes of preparation time each day to stick to the paleo diet. Luckily I am good at managing my time.
After that the difficulties faced were small. Sure I had an itch for sugar but that was to be expected, and I had to learn to appreciate drinking vodka, lime and soda instead of beer or wine, but these changes were easy to make. When I decide to do something I get highly motivated so sticking to the plan was not hard.
However, after living a week following the Paleo Diet rules strictly I did decide to make a few minor modifications.
By modifying the diet I am not saying that I know better than those spruiking the benefits of paleo living but just that I saw things that would improve my own experience and increase my chances of success without much of a trade off on my health. The two biggest changes I made were to include a couple of things that I enjoy as "treats", and being more lenient on some naturally occurring foods.
The treats were simple. It wasn't about adding processed foods and sugars again but more about establishing a lifestyle where my eating habits are mostly paleo but with a few bonuses I enjoy. The bonuses I chose are things that I used to have without negative consequences for my body. Milk is the number one example and I have only decided to use it to allow me to drink coffee because I love the taste of good coffee but cannot stand to have it black.
I have been drinking milk for a long time and have never had problems with it so adding a little to my diet for me to enjoy a coffee seems like a nice trade off. It's still much less than the LOMAD (litre of milk a day) I was guzzling on the Geek to Freak routine earlier this year.
The other modification I made was to be lenient on all natural foods, even if they are not strictly good paleo foods. For example I have, and will continue to, add the odd serving of potatoes to my meals. My theory is that naturally occurring is still better than anything processed and my focus is now on eating when hungry instead of being too strict to the rules. I think this will help stabilise my weight and perhaps even help gain muscle without detriment to my health. It's not like I will be eating bread every meal!
What To Do When Paleo is Impossible?
During this past month I found times when it was physically impossible for me eat enough food to satisfy my hunger and still keep within the paleo rules. I faced a dilemma. Do I go hungry and wait for a better opportunity to present itself, or do I just make the best choices from what I had available. The latter is what I went for.
Following the paleo rules strictly is obviously needed (and recommended) for those seriously overweight and/or sick but for me, a thin and healthy young man, I decided that regular eating was better than being a paleo nazi. After all, a cave man wouldn't starve himself if food, albeit strange compared to his normal diet, was available would he?
So when faced with these impossible paleo solutions I made decisions to choose the most natural foods I could, eat lots of protein, and avoid highly processed carbs. When in doubt eating is better than starving.
Falling off the wagon
But that motto of choosing the best food available was not the reason why I fell off the wagon over Easter. It was all my own choosing and I am glad to have done it. Kind of like a mini-experiment within an experiment to prove that the original theory is still valid. With nearly a month of paleo living elapsed I decided to relax my "best food available" rules and included some naughty things. I'm looking at you chocolate.
I am not much of a chocolate person so it wasn't anything to do with cravings or willpower. It was just a test. I decided to opt-in to Easter with my family and I ate my white chocolate bunny, drunk too many vodkas, and under-slept 3 nights in a row. The result? Bloody terrible.
I woke up the monday and I was sneezing up a storm, my nose wouldn't stop dripping, my head felt fuzzy, and my body had dull aches all over. Turns out that was the best I was going to feel all day.
Later, when I was curled up on the couch feeling a little sorry myself (and finishing my easter chocolate) a thought occurred to me: "What if I am sick because my body is telling me to stop treating it like crap?" I put the chocolate down, ate some fruit, grabbed a handful of nuts and shifted back to a paleo focus. 24 hours later I was feeling fine. No medicine, no antibiotics, and no crazy tonics made of moon dust and unicorn hair. Just a simple diet change. Coincidence? I don't think so.
Need for Sleep
Getting enough sleep is still the hardest lifestyle change for me to implement. I have so much going on in my life that I end up squeezing sleep in instead of allocating enough time. I think this is a common problem for many people, a by-product of our society and the structures we have in place, but that is a discussion for another time.
The point about sleep is that I am still not maximising my potential, especially living the paleo lifestyle, because I am not resting adequately. I am considering going to biphasic sleep where I add an afternoon nap but I will hold off on this for now. One experiment at at time. For now my focus is on increasing both the quantity an quality of my current sleeping patterns.
One Month Summary
The paleo lifestyle is great. I lost some fat, I increased my energy levels, and I now have a new passion to annoy all my friends with. What's not to love?
Seriously though, I do not think words do it justice when explaining the positive feelings experienced. I believe that removing a lot of the crap from my diet has resulted in my mindset becoming even more positive than before. I feel that I am seeing dramatic improvements in myself both physically and mentally just by living this lifestyle. Now the next step is to buy a big block of land, learn to farm, and grow a big wooly beard. Keep an eye out for that article!
Paleo for life. I'm convinced.