I’m a strong believer that each body has different needs and requirements. From allergies and intolerances, to dietary preferences, to work and sleep habits. Both our lives and our bodies dictate how we should fuel ourselves, and listening to your body is something that you need to learn to do. And that’s why I believe in trying different diets. Not diets as in crash diets - diets as in lifestyle changes that allow you to experience different ways of eating, that give you the opportunity to discover the best and healthiest lifestyle for yourself.
Personally I’ve tried a number of different diets and excluded various foods over the years, from high raw to mostly vegan to gluten-free. I want to feel my best every day - I want to sleep well, wake up rested & not need caffeine to open my eyes, have energy throughout the day, not suffer from headaches, and be alert & able to concentrate. And believe me when I say that it can be a long journey of trial and error to determine what foods will give you all of that.
Today I’m here to introduce Kyle Lawlor, one of the co-authors of the Tumblr blog Eat. Drink. Paleo - Two foodies who fell in love and are now transitioning to a Paleo lifestyle. If you look up “Paleo Diet” in wikipedia or check out the Paleo Diet website you can get a full list of do’s and don’ts, what you can and can’t eat, and why the Paleo supporters think that their lifestyle is the best choice out there. But what those websites won’t/can’t/don’t tell you is how this lifestyle will make you feel, how hard the transition is, what the noticeable benefits and downsides are, and how you will feel on a daily basis.
But Kyle can.
This is his story of discovering Paleo eating, making the transition, joining CrossFit, and how those choices have affected his daily life and outlook:
My journey to a healthy paleo lifestyle has taken far longer than I wish it would. I look back and kick myself for not doing this sooner but as is constant with me, I have to do everything in my own time or I will never stick to anything. I came across the Paleo Lifestyle when I joined American River CrossFit in July 2011. At the time I weighed 280lbs and I still (unfortunately) stand only 5’8 ½”. I was out of shape. I was constantly out of breath from even the simplest of tasks. I didn’t sleep well. I snored like a band saw. And worst of all, I looked terrible! When I started at CrossFit it was terrible. My body hadn’t felt so sore since JV Spring Training for football. My quads hurt, my back was tight, and my shoulders felt like they would drop off at any moment. The funny thing is that at first, a lot of what I was doing in CrossFit was just moving myself. My first month involved very little weight training, except for my own 280lbs. But I stuck with it and kept going. Soon I started seeing improvements. My clothes began fitting better and the pain I felt after workouts transitioned into soreness. The only problem was that my gut didn’t go anywhere and the scale hadn’t changed much. The reason was a simple one, one that I never really shared with neither my trainers at the Box nor my girlfriend, Rochelle. Every night after attending the 6pm class at ARCFIT and working my ass off I would stop at Wendy’s or Taco Bell on my way home and demolish a couple bucks worth of fake food before pulling into my drive way. THEN I would go inside and eat the dinner Rochelle would have prepared for us. To understand why I did this we need to take a quick trip down memory lane.
Fast forward to February 2012! I read The Paleo Solution by Robb Wolf and it changes my life. I had been living a 20% Paleo lifestyle at best while trying to work my ass off at CrossFit. Unfortunately, as we are fond of saying at ARCFIT “you can’t out train a shit diet”. It is so incredibly true! Somehow I expected that if I worked out an hour a day twice a week that gave me permission to eat whatever the hell I wanted. February was a great month for me because it was the start of a lot of life changes for me. The first was the 30 day Paleo challenge Rochelle and I began. We cut out all the grain, all the dairy, all the sugar and all the legumes. And at first it was awesome! NOT! It sucked! But, after the first week and a half all the cravings were gone. Then the amazing things started happening. I began feeling better. I was sleeping the whole night through with much less snoring then before (much to Rochelle’s delight), my pants started literally falling off of me because they were too big, and not to get gross but my bowel movements were noticeably healthier and less frequent than I was accustomed. All in all, my body was beginning to heal the wrongs I had done to it for 24 years.
What I have come to realize over the last year, specifically in the last 4 months, is that through taking care of myself I have become a happier person. 6 months ago, someone who knew me well might consider me a good friend but hateful of just about everyone else on the planet, and that’s putting it mildly. To be plain, I had been unhappy with my life for the past few years, and despite being moderately intelligent I could not see that the problem was staring back at me every time I went to McDonald’s for breakfast, Jack in the Box for lunch and perhaps Taco Bell for dinner. These foods had a hold on me. If I’m honest, I’d say they still do. While I rarely, if ever, crave some kind of fake burger from a fast food joint, I know that if I succumb to weakness at any time and have one I will be hooked once again.
When Rochelle and I began the 30 day Challenge in February, I didn’t think it would stick. I figured I would find someway of returning to old habits. However, since we decided to eat only the foods listed in the 30 Day sample menus I was stuck. I would actually have to follow the rules on this one and see where I could go.
My life is much different now. I do my best to go to the gym 5 days a week and I don’t drink as often or as much as I used to. I wake up at 6:30am, which is early when you consider the fact that I don’t have to be at work until 10am every day. I look at the WOD (Workout Of the Day in CrossFit speak), weigh myself, prepare myself to leave the house and head to the gym for the 7am class. When I get to the gym I feel like hell. My body and mind haven’t quite adjusted to being upright yet, there’s usually loud music on and in a couple of minutes someone I consider a friend is going to tell me to go run around the building, row 1000 meters, do pushups, or wall balls, or air squats, double-unders, burpees, and what the hell go run around the building again. At that point I’m warmed up. My morning headache is gone, my back has loosened up, and my hips are just about opened to where I need them to be in order to do whatever is planned for the day. Depending on the program I’m on there will be skill work before the WOD (ie pull ups or muscle ups) or weight lifting and then the WOD. I do my best on skill work and WODs, sometimes do a second WOD, foam roll, then drive home. The maximum amount of time I am ever at the gym is 2 hours, and those are days when I’m bored and Rochelle hasn’t given me a honey do list while I’m off on a weekday.
Time for some real honesty. Life happens, accept you may eat off diet and adjust accordingly (ie work your ass off the rest of the week) Sometimes you’re at your mom’s place and she’s making spaghetti and meatballs. You clean the plate and ask for seconds. Also, sometimes you’re in a hurry and forget your lunch. Does that mean you get to hit up McDonald’s for a Big Mac? NO! Think smarter. Is there a Thai restaurant near your work? If so, do what Rochelle does when she forgets lunch, call them up, order a red curry with beef, no rice, go back to your desk and eat something delicious and most likely entirely paleo. No Thai place? Craving fake Mexican food? Chipotle. I know, it is all that is wrong with this country but sometimes you want to eat fake Mexican food. A burrito bowl with no rice and beans will do the trick. Smile and ask politely for the person behind the counter to hook you up on peppers and onions. You like real Mexican food? Fine, hit up that taqueria by your work and grab a half pound of carnitas with a side of guac. No, you don’t need to order the rice, beans or tortillas! And finally, what about a good old American hamburger? All I can say God bless In N Out and Habit burger for lettuce wrapping their burgers, they can be a life saver! Have I done all these things? Yep! Am I proud of it? Not really, but I’m still going to eat and live my life. The difference is now when I eat things that are absolutely terrible for me, my mentality is different. Gone are the days when pasta made me think wistful thoughts of Rome. Now all I can think about is how much I just poisoned my body and how soon I can get it out of me. Funny how much things can change in 4 months.
My girlfriend and I constantly talk about how different my life has become in the last 4 months, none of it negative, and the one thing we always point out is that it started with my nutrition. When I got serious my life got better. Now I don’t usually like to look to the divine in such moments, but the timing sure is coincidental.
Please note that this is a shortened version of Kyle’s article, you can see the unabridged version here which includes great recipes and more details about Paleo eating.
Please note that neither Kyle nor I are a doctor, dietitian, or nutritionist. I recommend speaking with a professional prior to making any dramatic changes to your lifestyle, diet, or exercise regime to ensure that any changes you make are done safely.
When you work long hours and try to simultaneously maintain a consistent workout regime, eat healthy and get enough sleep, doing your grocery shopping on weekends can be a serious life saver. Many people plan their meals for the week and write their grocery lists accordingly, which is an especially great strategy if you’re cooking for a family, interested in making sure no food goes to waste and/or sticking to a budget.
I tend to be a bit more lackadaisical when it comes to grocery shopping for a couple of reasons: (1) I’m only cooking for myself so I have more flexibility with my meals, which means that if I want to eat nothing but sugar snap peas and jalapeno hummus for “dinner” no one can say anything! (2) I try to eat seasonally as much as I can so I like to see what’s available in stores/at the Farmer’s Market before deciding what to eat. (3) I get a CSA basket every other week so I have to factor in its arrival when I consider what I’ll need for a given week. (4) Finally, I only spend every other weekend in San Francisco since I spend the other half in Sacramento with my boyfriend, and obviously if I’m coming back on the train at 7pm on a Sunday there’s no hope of grocery shopping.
In all of the situations above its great to have some basic staples and emergency items in your pantry. Just in case.
I like dipping.
Hummus is a non-negotiable staple in my life and I usually have a couple store-bought varieties on hand at any given time. I also like to get sprouted garbanzo beans at the Farmer’s Market to make my own hummus, though I that I must warn you, sprouted hummus has a very distinct flavor. I’ll also dip virtually anything (including a spoon and/or my finger) into nut butter, so I usually keep a jar or two of sunflower seed butter in my pantry (and under my desk) as well as cashew butter.
Healthy raw or dried snacks and canned goods that can easily be added to/used as the base of a meal are also good to keep around.
If you’re interested in the food world you’ve probably heard at least something about gluten-free eating. My introduction to this topic was brought about somewhat abruptly by a diagnosis of gluten-intolerance in February of 2009. My post-collegiate diet primarily consisted of processed and pre-made food and suddenly I was being told that I couldn’t eat those foods anymore.
Gluten is a protein composite that can be found in wheat and cereals, in addition to being an additive in a huge variety of other foods where it is commonly used as a thickening agent (ketchup, beer, salad dressings, soy sauce…). Gluten intolerance is a condition where the body cannot digest gluten. The recent increase in diagnoses of gluten-intolerance is thought to be the result of over consumption, essentially the American diet is so heavily saturated with gluten in this day in age that our bodies are starting to reject it.
A great summary on this subject can be found on The Fitnessista – Reader’s Request: Gluten Freedom.
There are varying levels of intolerance to gluten and the symptoms can range from an upset stomach to malnutrition. The most severe form is Celiac Disease, where the body’s inability to process gluten causes the villi of the intestines to atrophy and sufferers cannot consume any gluten. The form of gluten-intolerance that I have is called DH or Duhring’s Disease and I get mild to severe eczema following the consumption of gluten.
After I was diagnosed and thrown into the gluten-free world with a long – And I mean LONG – List of foods I couldn’t consume I was stunned to find not only a community dedicated to this lifestyle, but also a small group of people voluntarily eating this way.
Why would someone give up bread and pasta if they didn’t have to?
I must have asked myself that question a dozen times my first week without gluten. I was hungry. I was cranky. I was devastated that this was going to be my life from now on. I even, gasp, had to learn to cook. And then a funny thing happened. I started to… I started to feel better. My eczema went away. My frequent nausea and random stomach pains went away. My headaches went away.
I was officially a convert!
I researched mercilessly online, I bought cook books, I purchased my first set of knives, I started to learn my way around the kitchen, and I also discovered the wonderful wide world of food blogging. This was a hugely developmental stage of my life. I went from eating like a college student (i.e. forgetting everything my mother ever taught me about nutrition) to learning to cook, cutting out gluten, transitioning (slooooowly) to veganism, experimenting with raw foods, and most importantly, rediscovering the art of listening to my body.
Before I continue to sing the praises of a life without gluten and give you a peek into my cupboards, let me remind you that prior to making any major changes in your diet you should speak with a professional. There are right and wrong ways to go about any changes in your diet and speaking with a nutritionist, doctor, dietician, RN, or naturopath can help put you on the right path so that you stay healthy through your transition. I am a firm believer that there are very few blanket nutritional rules out there, every single body is different and needs different things to perform optimally. I’m just sharing my experiences and my insights, and they will not be applicable to everyone.
Now for the good stuff.
Yes, if you go gluten-free, the breadbasket at restaurants will taunt you for the rest of your life, Italian restaurants will become a dim memory, and you will have to explain your needs to every waiter or waitress you encounter. That being said, discovering that there’s more to life than white flour will give you a greater appreciation for food than you can imagine. Prior to my diagnosis I’d never tried the nutty deliciousness that is quinoa, I’d never considered the possibility of brown rice, seaweed or spinach pasta, and I’d never even heard of amaranth, millet, or tempeh. Not only am I healthier now, I am better educated and more knowledgeable. Can’t argue with that combination!
So what do I eat when I have good old-fashioned cravings?
- Pizza - I am a pizza girl through and through, and have spent many a night dreaming about cheesy, delicious pies and waxing nostalgic about my favorite pizza place (Za’s, if you’re curious). Luckily I have managed to find ways to circumvent this craving over the last two years. First, I love me some mini pizzas as a snack, which I discuss here. Second, I discovered Amy’s Non-Dairy Rice Crust Cheeze Pizzas. Score! And finally, I learned to make amazing socca flatbread pizzas. I started experimenting with socca after reading the Socca Tribute by the twins over at Pure 2 Raw and have been a devotee of the garbanzo bean flour delicacies ever since (Gluten-Free Vegan Pizza). Coat with hummus and cover with sautéed veggies and you have yourself an amazing, albeit unorthodox, pizza masterpiece.
- Pasta - All of my usual shops carry a variety of different types of gluten-free pasta choices. Trader Joe’s has brown rice pasta in multiple styles. And both Whole Foods and Real Foods carry quinoa pasta, brown rice pasta, spinach pasta, and other specialty types like kelp. I also invested in a spiralizer which allows you to make spaghetti-like pasta out of squash and zucchini. Gluten-free + a serving of vegetables, that’s a win-win situation, so check out my Vegan Mac n’ Cheese recipe.
- Bread - I’m not much for sandwiches (they make me uncomfortably full so I usually stick to wraps) but on the occasion when bread makes an appearance in my life (ahem, stuffing) I always reach for Food For Life’s Brown Rice Bread.
- Baking - I swear by Bob’s Red Mill flours and grains. The Real Food’s in Russian Hill has a great selection and I always run over to browse the choices whenever I have a baking project in the works.
While going gluten-free in order to manage a medical condition is obviously a necessity, there are those who voluntarily limit or exclude gluten from their diets. The Paleo Diet encourages its devotees to avoid gluten grains, citing them as potential factors in modern societies with high incidences of Celiac, Type 1 Diabetes, MS, arthritis, and other diseases. Even fad diets like Atkins tout the benefits of eliminating bread from the diet.
In addition to discussing your choice with a doctor or other health professional, I would caution those who exclude gluten from their diets for weight-loss purposes to avoid subsisting on processed and pre-made gluten-free foods as much of the nutritional value of these foods has been striped out. Your diet should focus on the consumption of organic fruits and vegetables, whole grains and plant-based protein sources like brown rice, quinoa, amaranth, millet, nuts, beans, tempeh, soy and tofu, and meat and low milk-fat or goat milk dairy products (as applicable to your lifestyle).
Tell me – Have you ever gone gluten-free?