Lessons Learned From My Paleo Diet Experience

In my previous post, I wrote briefly about the Whole30 and some of the reasons to (temporarily) adopt a very strict version of the Paleo diet. After 30 days, I came to several realizations that I feel would apply to anyone trying to stick to food guidelines for various reasons -- be they Paleo, gluten-free, vegetarian, or local. Here’s what I learned:

  1. I have complete control over what I eat. Although it can be inconvenient, time-consuming, and difficult socially, anything I put in my mouth at any given time is a decision I've made, for better or worse. This seems obvious on paper, but it's something that I often forget, choosing to succumb to convenience. No matter what food choices I make, it's empowering to know that they are, in fact, choices... I am not a victim to my environment or circumstances or the choices of those around me.
  2. Many of my food cravings are based on habit, not desire. Do I really want to eat jellybeans? Or do I just buy them because I’ve gotten used to eating them every Wednesday while watching the same TV show? Do I really want popcorn? Or is it just that I’m at the movies and am used to eating popcorn at the movies? More often than not, I’d indulge out of habit, not desire. This is important to realize because it is easier to break the habit, if that’s what you want to do.
  3. Taste buds can be recalibrated. After avoiding artificial sweeteners, even almonds and celery taste very sweet, not to mention fruit. Soda, on the other hand, tastes sickeningly saccharine. Taking a month off from certain snacks can really change the way they taste (and make their effects more obvious.
  4. Moderation? What’s that? 30 days with no cheat meals makes me realize that I was never really eating junk food in moderation -- even though I thought I was. Eating large quantities of chocolate in some form every day is probably not moderation...
  5. Wants vs. needs. If you’re eating enough nutrient-dense, healthy, and tasty food … you don’t really “need” anything else. I’m not a fascist and would never tell people not to ever indulge. I don’t think this is healthy or desirable. But playing with the hold that certain foods have over me has been a positive experience.
  6. Speaking of “wants” vs. “needs”… Being aware that there are ways to reward or pamper myself if I’m working really hard or having a horrible day -- ways that don’t involve food -- has been very empowering. Riding my bike, going outside, reading a great magazine, getting acupuncture, taking a bath, playing music I like, going to live comedy, lifting heavy things, etc. are all good pick-me-ups for me -- and don’t have any of the negative effects of poor food choices.
  7. How much is really worth it? Realizing how much certain foods (wheat, grains, artificial sweeteners, etc.) throw me off both physically and emotionally definitely makes me hesitate before I eat them -- even more so than the results I saw on a strict Paleo diet (improved digestion, sleep, energy, recovery, body composition, and overall well-being). Trying to figure out how closely I need to stick to healthy food choices while retaining my sanity and still getting the results I want will be an ongoing experiment for me.

Yael Grauer is a freelance food writer and managing editor of the Performance Menu: Journal of Health and Athletic Excellence. She has a penchant for chocolate and steak. Check out her latest blog posts and writing portfolio at Yael Writes.