FROM STRICT PALEO TO REALITY
How to find a new balance
First of all, congratulations on completing your 30 day challenge! Do you feel better? Do you perform better? Do you recover better? Do you look better? Are your friends still your friends? Do you still have all your fingers? For some of you it was a breeze (not too different from what you were already doing) and for others… it was a nightmare undertaking (you gave up so much and worked so hard and missed out on all the fun!). Where ever you are on that spectrum… you no doubt have lined up some tasty treats to devour as soon as the clock is up. After all, you deserve it right?
Well, not exactly. You don’t deserve to slip back into old habits. You don’t deserve to feel worse, recover worse, perform worse, and look worse. You definitely deserve a break. You’ve used a steady supply of will power these past 30 days. You’ve changed habits (shopping, cooking, prepping, eating, socializing) and your normal life has been disrupted (for the better I hope). But I need you to understand the unique situation you are in right now.
You have a dietary clean slate, and I cannot overstate how powerful that can be, if you use it correctly. You’ve cut out every food that can potentially have a negative impact on you or your goals, and you’ve done it long enough to become sensitive to their effects moving forward. When you follow typical diet patterns, you simply reduce the amount of questionable foods (sugar, grains, dairy, booze) but when you follow strict paleo, you completely remove them. These foods are questionable because some people handle them well and others don’t. The ONLY way to truly answer the question though, is to cut them out for an extended period of time (like you just did) and then plug them back in. Then you’ll be able to feel, see, and understand their effects on you. The kicker is that you must plug them back in ONE AT A TIME!! If you eat any combination of sugar, grains, diary, and booze then you lose the ability to decipher their individual impact. You’ll essentially waste the last 30 days and walk away just as confused about food as you were before. The only difference is you’ll know that strict paleo works, but is too hard to maintain.
We don’t expect ANYONE to maintain strict paleo habits beyond 30 days. This was just a reset. A chance to see the full power of food. Now you have to find a new balance. Hopefully it’s some ratio of paleo to non paleo like 90/10 or 80/20 and not 50/50, but that is what we are outlining now. How to find the new balance.
I suggest you think long and hard about what food group you miss the most (sugar, grains, dairy, booze, legumes) and then you only add that group back in. I also suggest you do it with gusto. You want dairy? Go nuts. Milk, cheese, yogurt…pile it on. But don’t mix it with grains (like a pizza) because then you muddy the water. When you wake up tomorrow with a stomach ache, was it the dairy or the grains? When you gain 4 pounds in a week, was it the dairy or the grains? You owe it to yourself to make the most of this clean slate. It’s all relative to you… maybe you plug one of these foods back in and feel great (which does happen). The point is, this is a great opportunity to figure out how these foods impact you. You just have to be smart about it. There is no need to continue logging everything you eat. I would suggest however, that you track all the non paleo things you eat. This will be a powerful tool for analyzing the results of your tests. You may also want to consider tracking other markers of health (energy level, how your clothes fit, performance, recovery, how your joints feel, sleep quality, and the scale). I would just choose the markers that most apply to you.
Example: This is my history with the 30 day challenge. I did it once just to test it. Felt great but hated all the cooking and shopping and planning. When the 30 days was over I threw EVERYTHING back in. Booze, sugar, grains, and lots of dairy. Shit, I deserved it, right? Well, I felt horrible. I felt like death was coming for me. Recovery took a big hit and I couldn’t breathe to save my life. But I had no idea what it was.
So a few months went by and I decided to try again. Another 30 days strict… once again felt great but loathed the cooking and the cooking and the cooking. This time, I asked myself what I missed the most. It was milk and cheese. I plugged those back in with full force. My stomach felt great, but my nose started running like mad. I have had allergies my whole life so a runny nose shouldn’t have struck me as odd… except it felt odd because it hadn’t been running the whole time I was doing strict paleo. I didn’t connect those dots during the first 30 days but after 3 days without dairy… nose stopped running. Drink some milk, nose runs for 2 days. Turns out, nasal congestion is a common reaction to dairy. I was heart broken (I love milk) but I continued to test the impact. I can eat small amounts of soft cheeses with no impact, but milk kicks my butt. So now that I know this, most of the time I avoid diary. But sometimes, I say screw it and dive into a milkshake. I fully understand the dynamics of my relationship with dairy so I can make an informed decision.
Then I added back in grains. Once again, my stomach was fine. I slept ok. My finger nails didn’t fall off. Everything seemed to be good… but workouts seemed to make me sore for 2 or 3 days longer? Couldn’t be the bread. Could it? Pulled it back out and within a week I could literally beat the crap out of myself in the gym and be ready to do it again tomorrow. I couldn’t make myself sore. Blew my mind. Added grains back in and workouts left me aching for 2-3 days. So digestively, I’m fine with bread, but it destroys my ability to recover. So if I don’t have anything that I’m training for and my wife makes some yummy spaghetti, damn right I’m going to eat it. But when a competition is coming up and I’m pushing harder in the gym… no grains in my body. I fully understand the dynamics of my relationship with grains so I can make an informed decision.
I haven’t been as thorough testing booze, but I know I handle clear liquor better than beer or brown booze. Sugar seriously screws my energy levels up throughout the day. Beans (legumes) have no identifiable impact on me.
I know it’s tempting to just “be done” but I encourage you to use the clean slate from your last 30 days to answer your own questions about food. It must be done one at a time to be effective. Relax on the food log, but remain diligent on all fronts except the single food group you miss the most. Plug that back in and monitor it’s impact. You deserve it.