Starting the “It’s Not a Diet” Change

Okay, maybe it’s a diet in the most scientific use of the word. It’s the word you look up when you find a baby bird and need to know how to feed it. What is the bird’s diet? In the world of Paleo, diet falls under that same heading. This is the way our ancestors ate. They weren’t trying to lose weight, they were trying to survive, and they did it with the resources they had. When we talk about primal and Paleo diets, we’re taking the idea of the original diet all the way back to the cavemen. Yes, their diet would differ by region and resources, but the idea is still the same. Paleo is not a diet in the modern sense of the term. It is a lifestyle, and it can be very hard to change lifestyles.

Start Slow

When I was first told I needed to adopt a Paleo diet for my osteoarthritis, I went whole hog even though I didn’t know, really, what I was getting into. I thought it would be easy. After all, I had already dropped (or mostly dropped) two of the three Paleo restrictions. I am allergic to lactose, so I had already stopped drinking milk, and I had stopped buying bread when I lived in a shelter because I didn’t have a place to hide if from my hyperactive kitten who loved crinkly bags and would tear open my bread bags. Certainly I could just drop the refined sugar, and I would be on my way to a healthier, pain-free me. I didn’t bother reading anything about the lifestyle. I totally had this.

Except I didn’t. Inside of two weeks, I was miserable. I had no energy. I learned that bread-free and grain-free are two different things. I learned that, as a nation, we put grain and cheese on, literally, everything. And we put sugar even in things that don’t need sugar. I couldn’t figure out where my energy was supposed to come from. And, while I understood that I was supposed to be making a lifestyle change, I was treating it like a diet.

Forget Low Fat

One of the hallmarks of the American weight loss diet is low-fat food. It is so ingrained in our thinking, that the minute we suggest a change in the way we eat we subconsciously start thinking of ways to cut the fat. I was no exception. When I followed up with my doctor and told her the problems I was having, particularly with energy, she had me give a rundown of what I was eating. I explained everything from drinking water to eating salads to trimming fat. She stopped me there and asked why I was trimming the fat from meat. What she told me next changed the course of my diet (ahem…lifestyle change.).

“Do you really think the cavemen trimmed their steaks before they ate them”

I was essentially trimming the energy I needed from my food and throwing it away. Then I spent the days complaining that I couldn’t keep my eyes open. I don’t trim my meat. I eat bacon. I don’t limit myself to egg whites. And, while Paleo is a non-dairy diet, I do cook in butter (I did mention only practically Paleo, right?).

Stop Drinking Your Calories

This is actually a big one, and certainly was for me. I drank a lot of soda. I drank a lot of Starbucks. I drank a lot of juices. Now, unless the drink is a very specific part of my meal, I only drink water, black coffee or tea. While that doesn’t seem all that interesting, that’s just my day-to-day hydration. There are times that I will forgo a piece of fruit for a smoothie or cup of juice. Once in a while, I’ll decide to spoil myself with a non-fat latte. Or, if I feel like I want a soda, I’ll grab and Izze (Check out what I have to say about those here.) Honestly, it’s not as hard as it sounds.

Stop Counting Calories

Stop. Just don’t. And stop measuring things unless you’re making a specific recipe. Eat when you’re hungry, just make sure it’s not dairy, grain or sugar. When I get up and have breakfast, it goes something like this:

“I’m hungry, what’s to eat? I’ll have a couple of eggs, and look! Bacon! I’ll have a few strips of that. I think I’ll sauté some zuchini and have an orange, too.”

I’ll cook that all and have a cup of coffee with it. How much do I eat? As much as it takes for me to not be hungry. Some mornings that’s a breakfast steak, a sweet potato, two eggs and a banana. Other days it’s a hard-boiled egg and a tangerine. Some days I won’t have lunch until nearly 2 p.m., other days I’ll be snacking all day on fruit, nuts, veggies and beef jerky. There is no specified time to eat. There are no hard and fast rules. If you’re hungry, eat. If you’re not, don’t. It’s as easy as that.

Baby Steps

No lifestyle change is going to work if you stop the old one cold turkey and make an abrupt change. Don’t throw out the dairy, grain and sugar and expect to suddenly be Paleo. You’ll be setting yourself up to fail. Years of habits can’t be broken overnight There needs to be creation of entirely new habits and that takes time, 30 days, according to some experts. Start slowly and feel yourself out. How is this lifestyle going to work best for you. If you are someone that just HAS to have hard and fast rules, take those 30 days to make those rules that you want to stick to. There’s no need for detoxes or cleanses to start. Just slowly replace processed foods with clean foods. Slowly change habit into better habits. Making a decision is one thing. Implementing it can be a whole different animal. Don’t just grab it by the horns. It’s easier to sneak up on it first.

Benefits of a Paleo Lifestyle

No one likes going on a diet, yet somehow, we’re always doing it. Resolutions are constantly being made and broken. Weight is being lost and then gained back. A good day on a new diet often results in a sugar and carbohydrate binge the next day. There is something we are doing wrong, and diet gurus are getting rich off our misery as we struggle to reach what seems to be an unattainable goal. And reaching that goal can be worse. Reaching the goal means tying yourself to a maintenence diet for the rest of your life. One of the benefits of a Paleo lifestyle, though, is that it is not a diet. 

Not a Diet

Paleo is a lfestyle. This is not a situation in which you follow a regimented plan, add steps as you are told and get to an end. So many of these situations end with weight regained. Once you’ve reached your goal, you go back to eating the way you had before, and you gain all that weight back. Or perhaps the diet you never lose the weight. Perhaps the diet is just not right for the way your body works. Or perhaps it’s so restrictive you just can’t stay with it. How often are you going to run through that cycle before you give up? 

I am a child of the ’80s, and we dieted. It’s just what we did whether we needed to or not. I remember that my mother and my sister went on a day that was so restrictive that they were only two days into it and my sister was in tears. She wanted food she could taste. She wanted to eat enough she didn’t feel like she was starving. She wanted to eat meals with eveyone else and not feel like she had to hide so she didn’t see us enjoying our meals. That’s not to say you don’t give things up for Paleo lifestyle, but you certainly don’t deprive yourself. 

It’s Not Tasteless, It’s Clean

Another benefit of the Paleo lifestyle is that it’s just good clean eating. There is nothing anywhere that says it has to be bland and tasteless. There is also nothing anywhere that suggests food has to be spicy to hide the fact the food just isn’t good. When I first told one of my customers that I was going Paleo, her first comment was, “I feel sorry for you. I’d rather eat food that tastes good.” The crazy thing is that I’d had a steak, a baked sweet potato and a salad for dinner and nothing there was tasteless. 

Clean just means it’s real — okay, some people do take the term “clean” further than that, but, really, we’re just talking about real food. A steak under the broiler, a salad of real food items. A potato, an apple, a handful of pecans. Nothing I’ve just mentioned is tasteless. And the fact I’m going to broil that steak with onion, garlic and maybe some sage guarantees I’m not eating anything bland. What I’m not doing is opening a box of prepackaged food and throwing it in the microwave.

It’s an Anti-inflamatory and Autoimmune Protocol Eating Plan

The biggest benefit I have gained from my Paleo lifestyle is the loss of pain. My doctor recommended the “diet” (a word she used with the most scientific of meanings) to help alleviate the pain of osteoarthritis. The things I was eating before — the breads and muffins and refined sugars — was causing the inflamation that caused my pain. Removing those things from my diet would help, at the early stage at which we caught my disease, keep me from daily medications. People with autoimmune deficiencies also benefit from a Paleo lifesyle. Those with diseases like Rhumatoid Disease, Lupis, HIV and AIDS, for example, benefit from this lifestyle for the very same reason I benefit with my osteoarthritis. The clean eating removes inflamation and pain and other issues caused by autoimmune problems.

It’s Vitamin Rich

Everything in our lives tells us we can’t possibly get all the vitamins we need by just eating food. That’s not true with a Paleo lifestyle. The foods are vitamin rich. I was told I needed extra calcium due to my osteoarthritis, not by my doctor, but by every other thing I read on the disease when I was diagnosed. So, imagine my surprise when I ended up in the emergency room with a calcium-based kidney stone. Why? I was taking too much calcium. With almond-based flours and milks, spinach and citrus, I was actually getting all the calcium I needed from my food. Instead of a finger dish full of vitamins every morning, I take only two in addition to my regular mutivitamin. A Paleo lifestyle can, indeed, provide you with all the vitamins you need. 

The Lifestyle is the Benefit

I mentioned before that the Paleo lifestyle is not a diet. It’s not a set of crazy rules and preset meals. Yes, there are going to be some restrictions, but, in a perfect world, they are restrictions we would already have been making. Paleo is fresh and real. Does it take a little more work? Yes. Is it going to take some practice? Yes. But at the “end” of this race toward a goal, there is no maintenance plan. There is no fear of stepping out of a restrictive regimen and regaining weight. The biggest benefit to Paleo is that it is a lifestyle that can be lived by the individual’s needs. There is no portioning, no fat trimming, no measuring, no watering down. Paleo is stepping away from the world of processed foods and eating food the way we were meant to eat it.


Nobody’s Perfect

As I write this, I’ve got a fork in one hand, and I’m wolfing down the most beautiful pumpkin mousse cake. Paleo? I think not! In fact, I know not. 

So, why am I eating it? Mostly because I just wanted it, but it was a last minute convenience. And because the only person I have to answer to is myself. 

Thanksgiving kind of threw me for a loop, and I’m slow in getting back into the swing of things. Two weeks living at the hotel didn’t do me any favors, but I didn’t even try for Thanksgiving. I’m regretting it, and I’ll get back on track over the next week. 

What I don’t have to worry about next week is a food coach or weigh in where someone is going to ask for an account of what I did wrong. I know what I’m doing wrong, and, yes, I have to fix it. But the fact is, I’m fixing it because I WANT TO, not because I’m afraid of what someone else is going to say to me. 

One of the things that is important is that I don’t look at my Paleo lifestyle as a “diet.” I am not going to reach a goal and then go on some maintenance program that ensures I don’t gain my weight back. I’ve actually gained 15 lbs. over the past month and a half. Yeah, it sucks, but I know what I need to keep that weight off. I know what I need to do keep my arthritis from bothering me, to keep my blood sugar down. But, I’m not perfect. I’m going to have those day (weeks, months) when I just don’t do as well as I should. 

I haven’t fallen off of a diet. I’ve only let myself down. I will pull myself back up. What is important, though, is that I realize I’m not perfect and that I don’t beat myself up over it. If I did that, I might be able to convince myself that I can’t get back on plan. I answer to myself, and I have learned that I need to be my own life coach, not my own critic. 

A Practically Paleo Life is for everyone, but it is especially for those who know they’re going to fall down. There is no judgement here. We’re all human, and there is nothing on earth more imperfect than that. 

Excuse me, now, though, while I finish my cake.