Words I have spoken over the years:
“I don’t have a problem with food.”
“I’ve never had an eating disorder.”
“I enjoy what I eat, eat only as much as I need, and don’t stress out about it.”
“I don’t believe in diets.”
Words I found myself saying in my doctor’s office last winter
“Oh, also I have joint pain, muscle aches, general body stiffness, constant fatigue, trouble thinking clearly, and difficulty sleeping. Is that normal for an early-thirties mother of two?”
The words my doctor said that I never saw coming:
“No, it’s not. I think you should try a paleolithic diet.”
You want me to eat dinosaurs?
I had sense enough not to speak that last line out loud, but it was my honest-to-goodness first thought after I got over the initial shock of being told I should try a specific diet. This is not who I am. This was not what I wanted. I was thinking more along the lines of a vitamin or supplement I could gulp down every day on the way to eating whatever the heck I wanted.
What does paleolithic even mean?
Well, I’m glad you asked. It refers to a pre-historic time period (no dinosaurs, but there were woolly mammoths!) where humans were hunter-gatherers and ate mostly meat (eggs included), seafood, berries, nuts, vegetables, and fruit. No dairy, grains or beans/legumes. Of course, we don’t live in that era any longer, and so there are a few modern foods that have slipped into the list, and you will find a whole hoard of foods that fall into grey areas–like plain Greek yogurt (which I still enjoy), and couscous, which is the duck-billed platypus of food (WHAT CATEGORY DO WE PUT IT IN??!!!). And of course , just as in anything, there are adherents that fall on all sides of the spectrum. Hard core paleoists will only eat grass-fed beef, organic pork and chicken, fresh caught seafood and local, organic fruits and veggies. Others are open to eating simple carbs like rice or baked potato every so often, and adding butter here and there. But the overarching goal, as Michelle Tam writes in her Nom Nom Paleo cookbook, is this:
1) Prioritize whole, unprocessed, nutrient-rich, nourishing foods, and 2) avoid foods that are likely to be more harmful than healthful–foods that trigger inflammation, cause digestive problems, or derail our natural metabolic processes, such as grains, legumes,sugar, and processed seed and vegetable oils.
Going back to the time of that doctor visit, I knew next to nothing about the paleo diet, what it was, what it did, and how it would affect me. Heck, I didn’t even know how to pronounce it correctly (“pay-lee-oh”). I came out with mixed feelings. I was tired of dealing with my particular health challenges, I wanted to trust my doctor, but I really didn’t want to deal with a lifestyle overhaul and the public reactions that would follow. So I did what any normal person would do. I whined about it for a weekend, just to be sure people knew that this wasn’t my idea. Then I set a start date and got to work.
First, I combed Pinterest and Facebook for help with recipes and meal plans. Then, I made a menu for the week on Monday and set my plan in action. I would allow myself three regular meals for the first few weeks, but otherwise I’d be pretty strict going into it. I’ll never forget what followed. My first dinner was an organic chicken roast recipe slathered with a blend of honey, spices and fresh pressed orange juice and then marinated and low roasted for several hours. I pulled that baby out of the oven and I knew that my life was not over.
Part of the anxiety going into this diet change was whether or not I would feel deprived, but I found that just the opposite was taking place. I was unlocking a whole new trove of flavors and spices that I had never experienced before. Thyme salmon, almond flour biscuits, Asian meatballs with cucumber sesame salad, and lettuce wrap burgers with sweet potato fries soon followed. I learned how to use almond flour, flaxseed meal, tapioca flour, palm shortening, ghee, coconut oil, coconut flour, coconut crystals, coconut aminos, and many others. I learned how to soak and dehydrate raw nuts to make my own granola. There was a lot more hands-on time in the kitchen, and some weeks I just couldn’t hack it, but more and more I was discovering quick meals as well. Simple modifications like lettuce instead of tortillas were easy to put together and produced similar results. And every so often, we got a pizza and called it good.
One day, I realized I had gone all week without feeling like I needed to take a nap. I also realized that every time I ate a meal I immediately felt energized, rather than lethargic. A few days later, I realized that I could move my shoulders without my muscles hurting. Then I realized that my brain fog was clearing and I was sleeping deeply again, just as I had slept in my youth. I honestly couldn’t believe that a diet change could be that effective, and I wondered if it was all in my head, but the pattern continued and I have no reason to doubt it any longer.
I’m no scientist or health nut, but…
I have learned a few things about what paleo does. 1) It reduces inflammation. Carbohydrates and omega-6 fatty acids are the main cause of inflammation in your body which can lead to all sorts of health issues (some doctors have said that cardiovascular disease is primarily caused by inflammation, though there are more studies needed to confirm this theory). I would be willing to bet money that that was why my muscles and joints ached so much. 2) When you take carbs and refined sugar out of your diet, your body’s metabolism kicks in and you start to burn the good fat you’re consuming, like the natural saturated fat from meat, and also butter, coconut oil and avocado oil. I actually lost weight on this diet while eating as many healthy full-fat foods as I wanted, like full-fat plain Greek yogurt. The most recent cover story of Time magazine was entitled “Eat Butter” and is about this very issue. If you don’t have a subscription, you can read about the article content here.
If you want more research into the science behind paleo living, there is a really great blog by Sarah Ballantyne, who has a Ph.D and is a self-titled “scientist-turned-stay-at-home-mom”. She breaks everything down so that it’s really intelligent and really intelligible at the same time. www.thepaleomom.com
I’m fairly certain that this diet is not for everyone. There are so many genetic variables from person to person that it cannot be the same across the board. However, putting down the Cheetos and picking up an apple–or some other food that is natural and healthy–is something we can all get behind. It involves self-discipline, patience and grace for when you allow yourself to stray a bit. I have found that this one act of treating my body with respect has yielded so many benefits and has contributed to my holistic health, which honestly is not something you hear a whole lot about in the Christian world.
Favorite Paleo Recipes
There is much more that could be written, but I will save that for a later date and leave you with a sampling of my favorite paleo recipes thus far.
Paleo Fluffy Pancakes (from The Paleo Effect cookbook & website) These are the best pancakes, paleo or not, that I have ever had. Plus, you don’t feel gross after eating them. Ingredients
2 large eggs
1/3 cup pure maple syrup
1 Tbsp pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup water
2 Tbsp coconut oil (melted)
1/2 tsp coarse sea salt
1/4 cup golden flaxseed meal
1 1/4 cup almond flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 Tbsp arrowroot powder (similar to corn starch)
Coconut oil for frying
Fresh fruit/berries to top (favs are strawberries or blueberries)
1. Combine the eggs, maple syrup, vanilla, water, sea salt & coconut oil in a bowl (or blender) until incorporated.
2. In a separate bowl, combine flaxseed meal, almond flour, baking powder and arrowroot powder.
3. Mix dry ingredients with wet ingredients.
4. Heat skillet to medium low heat (about a 4 on an electric oven), then add a dab of coconut oil to coat the pan.
5. Pour about a 1/4 cup of batter on the hot skillet. Keep them small since they’ll be easier to flip that way. Tilt the pan to create a thin pancake. Flip when golden brown. It may take a little bit to get the hang of this.
6. Serve with fresh fruit or berries. No syrup needed, since it’s already in the pancake!
Tip: Use a little coconut oil each time you fry a pancake. This will keep them a little crispy. Also, if you have leftover pancake mix, stick it in the fridge and fry it up the next day!
Chipotle Orange Chicken (from Elana’s Pantry) I thought it only fair to share with you my (aforementioned) very first paleo dinner. Ingredients
1 whole chicken (2-3 pounds)
3 cloves garlic, pressed
1 Tbsp herbes de provence or Italian seasoning
1/4 cup honey
1 tsp celtic sea salt
1 Tbsp chipotle chili powder
1 cup orange juice, freshly squeezed
1. Pat chicken dry with a paper towel.
2. Place in 9×13 dish.
3. Combine garlic, herbes de provence/Italian seasoning, honey, sea salt, and chipotle chili powder in a small bowl.
4. Pour orange juice over chicken.
5. Rub spice mixture all over chicken.
6. Marinate chicken in the fridge for up to 3 hours, time permitting.
7. Bake at 350 for 1.5-2 hours or until roast reaches an internal temp of 165.
Note: If you have a different sized chicken, check here for correct roasting times.
Honey Nut Greek Yogurt A simple Naomi Boyer original. I eat this many evenings when previously I would have eaten ice cream.
Plain full-fat Greek yogurt
Any combination of nuts (except peanuts, since technically they’re legumes)
Optional: Berries, or bits of dark chocolate
Peel banana and break in half to fit into a bowl. Put about 3/4 a cup of Greek yogurt on top. Drizzle with honey and top with nuts, berries and/or chocolate. Enjoy!
A few other noteworthy blogs are as follows:
www.againstallgrain.com — Also my go-to cookbook
My paleo page on Pinterest — For my own ongoing recipe finds and failures