If you’re reading more than one of the many great sources of information on paleolithic nutrition, you’ve probably noticed something: there isn’t one uniform recommendation for how to implement this diet. But, this is a good thing! You get to customize your choices to reflect your needs, your tastes, and your goals. I am still playing with my own implementation, but I have learned some very important aspects of this diet (at least for me) in my short time experimenting. I want to share my own experiences here, in case they help you decide how you will implement paleo for yourself.
As I mentioned before, it was health issues more than desired weight loss that brought me to paleolithic nutrition. I realize now that even though I was successful in losing weight with the low carb diets I tried before, I wasn’t successful at dealing with high baseline inflammation in my body and my insulin sensitivity was terrible. This is also why my first implementation of paleolithic nutrition needed adjustment.
My initial transition to paleo was actually really easy. I went cold turkey and started eating a strict paleo diet (including only a little heavy cream in my coffee and some butter in my cooking and also allowing for the gray area foods of nuts and nightshades; more on these in a later post). I didn’t feel terrible at all (and many people feel low energy for 1-4 weeks due to a shift in their metabolism). In fact, I had more energy, lost some weight, and was able to go off the Irritable Bowel Syndrome medication that I had been on for twelve years within the first two weeks! My acid reflux disappeared and the only migraine I had was the morning after my one and only cheat (some 60% chocolate with milk ingredients right before bed). I decided then that I LOVE this way of eating and resolved never to eat grains again.
But not all the health conditions that I knew could be addressed by a paleo diet resolved. Specifically, I was still having issues with asthma and lichen psoriasis, which was still spreading! And, after the initial spurt of weight loss, my weight stabilized again. As I dug deeper, I discovered that the continuation of these health issues could be attributed to a few remaining bad habits. I snacked constantly all day until a big meal at supper instead of eating three distinct meals (under the long held misnomer that eating frequent small meals is better for you. It isn’t!!). I also ate relatively soon before bed (terrible habit for weight loss and sleep quality). I relied heavily on nuts as a convenient food to satisfy those snacky cravings (so I was consuming too many omega-6 fatty acids) and I was eating alot of fruit to satisfy those sweet cravings (the fructose content was making me feel hungrier!).
So after the first month of strict paleo, I made more changes to really address cortisol levels, insulin sensitivity and leptin regulation. I started eating three BIG meals a day. No more evening snacks. I eat a variety of veggies at every meal. I limit nuts to a small serving once or twice a week (and eat more coconut instead). I limit fruit to 1-2 servings a day. I limit my coffee to one large cup in the morning. I go to bed half an hour earlier. I increased my vitamin D3 and started taking magnesium and zinc supplements. I was more mindful to balance omega-3 to omega-6 intake. And this is where my body had an adjustment period. Actually, THIS WAS HARD! It took me over a week of trying every day to not snack and to limit caffeine before I actually succeeded. I felt awful for at least another week. I felt stuffed after eating such big meals but then hungry an hour later. I chewed my fingernails practically to my knuckles. And then, it all clicked and I felt great! I felt EVEN MORE ENERGETIC! I stopped feeling so hungry all the time. I started taking more enjoyment out of those big meals. My asthma stopped acting up. My psoriasis started to resolve. My sleep quality improved. I started losing weight again. I started making milestones in yoga class. Everything started coming together.
My plan is to just keep this up for a few months, maybe with some paleo baking through the holidays. When I know that everything is in place, that my body is as lean as it should be, that my health is great, THEN I will play with adding back in some more fruit, nuts etc.
My take home message is that there is a transition period for most people. How tough and how long depends on how you ate before and how you are trying to implement paleolithic nutrition for yourself. And you can continue to adjust how/when/what you eat until you achieve those goals of better health. You WILL get through it and the prize at the end is AWESOME!