What’s a paleo? And why I’m no longer vegetarian.

So I’ve made a big change in my life in the last month or so that I feel I need to share. You ready? I am no longer a vegetarian. Ahhh…..there, I said it. Let me say that it feels good to be back on the carnivorous side again. So backing up a little, let’s talk about how I even progressed to vegetarianism in the first place. I went completely vegetarian back in 2007 following a vegan discussion in one of my college philosophy classes. Just 3 years before that in 2004, I completely cut out all red meat and pork. Therefore, the change to vegetarianism wasn’t that drastic for me. In fact, I didn’t struggle at all. I have always been on a limited diet most of my life. As a child I had severe allergies to several foods and food dyes. Then around 5th grade or so, I started experiencing some unusual and constant digestive issues. Doctors medicated me for an ulcer, enzyme deficiency, and I also saw a chiropractor on a regular basis for several years. Nothing worked and at the end of it, I had just started to learn to avoid foods that didn’t sit well with me. It wasn’t until 2004 that light was shed on my stomach related issues.  After a series of testing, we found out that I had some minor, but notable…well, let’s call them “digestive challenges.”  I thought vegetarianism would fix it all. It sounded so wonderful when you think about all of the ridiculous factory farming practices with the hormones and antibiotics. Oh my!

The good side of being a vegetarian is that I started to cut out a lot of the processed food I was used to eating. I grew up eating out a lot as we were a very busy family and would often eat on the run. When I became vegetarian, I stopped eating a lot of that kind of food. However, I had to either eat a ton of vegetables and fruits or find some high-carb foods to make me feel full. I was eating all the time, and I would have deep spikes in my level of alertness and sleepiness. I would start craving food. I was often exhausted by constant eating.

I wasn’t necessarily fed up with my vegetarian habits. I just didn’t feel completely healthy. I got to the point where my stomach would feel like it was eating itself after a bowl of oatmeal or snack of whole wheat crackers and cheese – those are all supposed to be good for you, right?  I was constantly bloated and didn’t understand why all of the apples I ate didn’t help “keep things moving.”  Well, then I came across a discussion about how cutting grains and sugar out of your diet can actually improve your seasonal allergy symptoms. (Yes, I am a Nasonex user. Can’t get away from this pollen.) Then another discussion popped up about how that can also improve your cholesterol numbers and decrease digestive issues by cutting out gluten, which you definitely need to read up on if you haven’t already. It seemed like one article after another pointed to the same thing.

I couldn’t help but continue my investigation, and that is when I stumbled upon the paleo or primal diet. I had heard a little on this diet due to CrossFit which was starting to gain my interest for a workout philosophy.  In simple terms it’s a diet made up of meat and vegetables, some fruit, little starch, and no sugar.  All foods should be as natural and organic as you can get them.  No processed foods whatsoever! After a bit more investigation, I really started to believe and feel this was the right way for me to go – so I took the plunge (slowly) and began eating meat again once a day, starting with fish and then branching out to chicken, pork, and beef. I ramped up my vegetable intake incorporating lots of greens like spinach and broccoli, and staying away from starchy foods like potatoes. One of my favorite blogs to read is Mark’s Daily Apple by Mark Sisson. I made a quick reference list of the many nutrition topics he discusses on his blog in relation to primal eating:

meat don’ts
cured meats: sausage, bacon, lunch meats, hot dogs
cold cuts
ground meats
grain-fed beef
non-organic meat
 
Fruit do’s
berries: blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, huckleberries, salmon berries, gooseberries
cherries
apples and pears
grapefruit
apricots and peaches
figs
 
Fruit don’ts
melons
mangoes/papayas
pineapples
 
Definite no’s all the time
sugar
grains
legumes
processed foods
vegetable oils
 
Dairy
Raw milk is best: and milk is best post workout of any time, shouldn’t drink too much
Organic, hormone, and antibiotic-free dairy (full fat) – avoid homogenized milk, and pasteurized milk
For coffee: half and half/ heavy cream are fine
Milk has lactose – for growing babies, and casein – acts much like gluten
 
150 carbs a day max, 100 would be perfect
carbs should come from vegetables and fruits

So how have I been doing with all this? I have to say that I thoroughly think this is a step in the right direction for my nutrition.  It’s amazing when you really start thinking about what you eat, where it comes from, and if that’s the best choice for your body. Granted I’m not strictly paleo at the moment, but I’m well on my way there. I firmly believe that any major lifestyle change should be done gradually so you are able to adjust along the way. I’m about 6 weeks into this and am already feeling a ton better. I eat less times a day – feeling much fuller. I’m not bloated all the time. My acid reflux has actually drastically improved without the help of my usual medication. I’m alert for much more of the day. When I wake up, I’m awake. I almost feel as though I do not need a cup of coffee in the morning, which is something I have had everyday if not more than once a day for the last 7 or 8 years. I don’t have deep peaks and valleys in my level of alertness and sleepiness. I don’t have severe cravings as much for food. All in all, I really do feel great and every day I think more and more about what I eat and plan my meals – which is more fun than I expected.

I highly recommend Googling paleo or primal diet and see what you find there (other than the many articles I’ve referenced in this post.) I think you’d be surprised. I’ll be periodically posting updates on my progress with this. As this is a new passion of mine, I’d love to hear from others who are following this diet or are fellow CrossFitters (go CrossFit Ktown!). Feel free to ask me any questions on this kind of stuff any time. I love talking about it. Grok on!

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