I have never shared my personal experience during any other nutrition challenge we’ve done. There’s a reason I’m sharing this time. Hopefully it doesn’t bore you to death and you will see why I’m sharing at the end.
Kyle and I have eaten paleo for almost 4 years now. I would estimate we are about 85% paleo. All our meals during the week are paleo and we don’t really have any non paleo foods in the house, but we may splurge one or two times out on the weekend. We’ve had many great side effects from this lifestyle which is why we’ve stuck with it. When it came to strict 30 day paleo challenges at the gym we’ve always participated with our members, but I never really saw any different results from my usual paleo lifestyle. I always assumed it was because it wasn’t that different from the way I usually ate with the exception of the few cheat meals I did not allow myself during a challenge.
So this year I chose the 21DSD for our nutrition challenge. I chose it as much for myself as I did for you guys. Even after 4 years of paleo, I struggled with daily carb and sugar cravings and I felt hungry all day long. I used fruit to satisfy these cravings, which resulted in WAY too much fruit consumption. Diane’s program intrigued me because she promised to banish many of these issues. Never the less, I was suspicious that it would actually work for me.
To my surprise, one week in I hadn’t had a single sweet craving. I had lost 4 lbs, 1 inch off my waist and 1 inch around each thigh. Whoa. This was certainly a different experience from the challenges I had participated in of the past. Usually at this point, I was literally dreaming of cookies, cakes and everything sugary that I wanted to eat when the challenge was over. Even at this point, 2-1/2 weeks with no sugar or fruit (with the exception of the daily apple or banana) I have only had a few small cravings here and there and they were minor. I haven’t even contemplated what I will eat for my first “cheat” meal when the challenged is over. Mainly because I feel so good right now that I don’t really even want a cheat meal. I don’t look forward to that carb bloat, sick from overeating, hung-over from shitty food feeling that cheat food gives me.
So why am I telling you this? Because I don’t want any of you to transition to a paleo diet and make the same mistakes as me. Now more than ever, I am certain that all my food issues from before (hungry constantly, carb and sugar cravings, few extra lbs I could never lose) were all a result of high, unbalanced insulin levels stemming from high consumption of fruit and too many paleo sweeteners. These 21 days were super strict. I don’t expect anyone, including myself, to eat that strict long term. But you know what I won’t be doing after these 21 days? Going back to my old days of eating tons of fruit and lots of maple syrup and honey.
So many of you have told me of the awesome benefits you’ve seen since you started this challenge. I’ve heard everything from pounds and inches lost, to better energy levels, cleaner feeling teeth (yep, people told me that), no afternoon slump, no sinus congestion, improved skin, etc, etc. I hope that you will transition to a way of eating that allows you to maintain many of these benefits. When you do that, don’t overlook the fact that the majority of those benefits came from controlling your insulin levels. Don’t make the mistake of avoiding processed foods and eating a mostly paleo diet (all good things of course), but allowing yourself tons of fruit/paleo sweeteners like I did for the past 4 years. Because most likely you will not keep the benefits you are currently enjoying.
Many of you have asked me about life post challenge and making a plan for your eating. I think having a plan is the only way to NOT slip back into your old ways of eating and feeling. My plan is to continue eating paleo like I always have, but keep my fruit to a minimum, 1 to 2 pieces or servings per day. The same should be said for honey, maple syrup, stevia and all the “paleo approved” sweeteners. Small amounts in moderation are fine, but most of you probably noticed how it’s easy to find sweeteners in almost every food we eat. and you can see how it quickly adds up if you don’t pay attention. A great example is the barbeque sauce that I buy from Whole Foods and love. I’ve always assumed it was fine because the ingredients are good quality, but I noticed during this challenge that 1 serving has 8 grams of sugar. I can easily eat 1 serving and probably closer to 2 on a hamburger, pork, chicken etc. 16 grams of sugar just from a sauce is crazy. and if you blindly do that a few times a day with other condiments, salad dressings or fruit you can see how it’s easy to consumer 30-50 grams of sugar without even realizing it!
Everyone’s plan will be very individual depending on their own goals, experiences, etc.
Here are my suggestions:
1– Don’t have a giant splurge fest on day 1 post challenge and gorge on pizza, ice cream, beer, etc. – while it sounds tempting, you will regret it. I promise. You can read Diane’s experience with that in the link I included below.
2 – If you are interested to see how your body reacts to eating any of the foods that you eliminated during the challenge, Diane explains how to reintroduce them correctly in the link below. Some of the most common “problem foods” that you would want to do this with are grains (including corn), legumes, dairy, soy and peanuts.
3 – Continue to read labels and pay attention to what you are feeding your body. Check for added sugars, low quality oils, preservatives, additives, soy, etc.
4 – Continue to avoid all refined and artificial sweeteners. If you’ve kicked a diet soda habit (or any other artificial sweetener habit), don’t let yourself go back there. It’s like crack -one is all it takes and you’re hooked again!
5 – Continue to focus on protein, vegetables and good quality fats! These are your nutritionally dense foods.
6 – There are some paleo-approved foods you may want to add back in like fruit, natural sweeteners, etc – use them IN MODERATION.
7 – Continue to avoid grains containing gluten (wheat, oats, barley, rye, etc). There are not any redeeming qualities to these and they cause an array of health issues for most everyone. Plus they are just empty calories taking the place of other more nutrient dense foods you could eat (meat, veggies). The same is true of commercial pasteurized dairy. Even gluten free grains cause problems for many and they are still full of empty carbs/sugar so I recommend eating in moderation.
8 – Live a little and let yourself have a splurge meal once or twice a week. I think that’s important, but I also think it’s important to keep it in check and not completely derail.
Diane has some other really great tips and info on transitioning after the challenge here. http://balancedbites.com/2012/01/after-nutrition-paleo-challenge-elimination-diet.html
Lastly, I received a few questions via facebook about the transition. Here are the answers to those:
1) What’s good to reintegrate into your diet (ie fruit) and how much vs. what’s not allowable (grains? fake sugar, other carbs, etc)
I think I covered most of this above, but just to reiterate: keep the fruit in moderation if you want to continue to see results. Same goes for other foods off the high dense carb list, although I think it’s important to continue to eat a serving of those on the days you WOD. Foods I would avoid forever include: fake sugar (a.k.a splenda, aspartame, nutria sweet, etc), low quality fats like vegetable oil, margarine, any hydrogenated oils and seed oils. You’d be better off to avoid grains containing gluten and commercial pasteurized dairy all together, but at least keep them to an extreme minimum. If you chose to eat and can tolerate dairy, buy the best quality (grass fed, whole fat, minimally processed) you can find and eat in moderation.
2) We have never done paleo so basics would also be helpful
If you did Level 3 for the past 3 weeks, you’ve completed 3 weeks of strict paleo! Congrats! The limitation on fruit and no sweeteners made it a strict paleo. If you want to make this a lifestyle, I would continue to eat exactly as you have (meats, vegetables, good fats, eggs & nuts) and allow yourself a few more fruits and sweeteners as you see fit. If you are new to the paleo lifestyle, I highly recommend Diane’s book Practical Paleo. Not only is it a great cookbook, but the first half of the book explains paleo very clearly. She also includes many meal plans, and different paleo plans for different goals and/or issues. I have several other books and many paleo blogs that I love and think are great resources. If you are interested I’m happy to pass them along.
Final note: I am really impressed with how many of you really committed to this challenge and had amazing results. It makes me really happy to see people changing their lives through nutrition. I am always happy to help you with your nutrition goals, whether that is answering your questions at the gym/through email or meeting with you one on one. Just let me know!