This summer I had a bit of a stomach issue. After pharmaceuticals failed to help, a mentor of mine suggested changing my eating habits. I thought to myself, “Change my eating habits? I definitely eat right. I get plenty of protein and lots of starches from potatoes and rice. Sure I could go for a few more veggies here and there but so can everyone else.” I asked him, “How so?” to which he replied, “Try going on the Paleo diet. It’s an extremely healthy lifestyle that I’m sure will help your situation.” So, I went home and did my research.
I found out the Paleo diet also goes by another name: the caveman diet. Let me explain. On a Paleo diet, anything unnatural is to be completely eliminated. Actually, strike that. Anything that humans “were never supposed to eat” is to be eliminated. That means eating Paleo means cutting out gluten, grains, any processed sugar, most nuts, dairy, legumes, and even a selection of spices. The staples of the caveman diet are meat, vegetables, and fruit. That’s it.
The purpose of the diet is to avoid eating anything inflammatory or upsetting to the gut. It means eating whole, clean, and healthy. It means avoiding any food that doesn’t have a non-GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms) sticker slapped on the front. It means reading the ingredients on the the back of everything you buy; and if there is more than one ingredient you can’t pronounce at first attempt, to put the product back on the shelf. Tedious, I know. Eating paleo is also classified as an “elimination” diet. This means eliminating whole food groups (i.e. dairy, gluten, etc.) for three to four weeks, then reintroducing them one at a time to see what affects you negatively.
I decided to give it a shot. On a Monday in early June, I began the diet cold-turkey. The first thing I noticed was how hungry I was after breakfast. I ate four eggs with turkey and a large bowl full of berries. As my day trudged onward I realized my feeling of hunger was never satisfied. Even though everything I ate was clean and healthy, I really didn’t feel good. It lasted for a week.
Actually, my first week on the Paleo diet felt anything but healthy. I was constantly tired, even after a good night of sleep. My mood swings were wildly unpredictable. I was irritable beyond belief. It took me a few days to pinpoint the direct source of this change, but at the end of week one it dawned on me: I haven’t had any sugar.
I mean, I had natural sugar – glucose from the high amounts of fruit I was eating – but nothing processed. No orange juice or sports drinks. No candy bars or ice cream. Besides the obvious, I also had no rice, bread, or potatoes. What many people don’t realize is that the human body breaks down sugar the same way, no matter its form. Because rice, bread, and potatoes are all considered starches, and starches are identified as a combination of sugars, the body digests and processes them the same way it processes a candy bar or a bowl of Fruit Loops. I never realized how dependent we are on sugar. Most Americans have it at every meal! Before eating Paleo I usually had toast or potatoes with my eggs every morning (sugar), a sandwich with a sports drink for lunch (sugar), and a serving of rice or pasta with dinner (sugar). It made sense why my mood swings were so heavily affected after this change in diet. My body was going through a cleanse. I had never craved a light blue Gatorade more in my life than I did my first week of the paleo diet.
Week two wasn’t so bad. I was getting used to eating bland foods, mainly because I have no culinary skills whatsoever. I didn’t crave sugar as much and my mood swings almost completely went away. I didn’t feel tired and my energy was up. The only consistency that carried over from week one was my inability to feel full. Nonetheless, I felt better; and my stomach issues began to ease.
Week three is where everything changed. By then I was in a routine. I was reading labels, learning new ways to cook, introducing new foods I had never heard of before but that were apparently healthy for me, all the while feeling much much healthier. My change in diet caused a change in sleeping habits – I was sleeping significantly better. I would fall asleep an hour or so after sunset and wake up an hour or so after sunrise. I thought clearly all day and rarely had concentration problems. I was high-energy and my overall happiness improved. I completely lost the craving for processed sugar. After 21 days of a sugar-free system, I felt renewed.
It is now mid-September and I am still eating Paleo. Not because I have to, but because I feel better doing so. I’ve had bread here and there since the four-week diet was over, but every time I eat it I feel sluggish. One thing I have reintroduced completely is rice but even that I try to eat only one serving every few days.
How healthy you are is directly linked to your diet. There is no denying it. You can meditate every morning, run five miles every day, and get the perfect eight hours of sleep every night and still be far from healthy. The decision to eat paleo was the most health-conscious decision I have ever made. Not just because of how it makes me feel, but because how much I learned about food, nutrition, and the human body works.