I refer to my paleo experiment all the time, but I never actually blogged about the experience, so here it it.
First, let me explain why I tried it! I switched to a whole foods, plant based diet 3 years ago and my results were amazing! I lost 80 pounds (although I lost the weight because I remained conscious of portion size and my energy requirements, not directly as a result of the diet change), reversed several nagging health problems, and just generally felt great and full of energy. As I learned more and more about paleo, I saw that it echoed many of the fundamentals of healthy eating I’d embraced, namely that food quality is vitally important, processed food isn’t helpful in the human diet, eating locally and with the seasons is good for health and the environment. The main area it differed from my diet was it’s inclusion of lots of animal products, and it’s minimization of carb intake. So I though, well hey, this is clearly a philosophy that merits exploration! Lets see if it might be even better than what I’m already doing! Also, my crossfit coach had been riding me pretty hard about eating meat, claiming that my strength gains were hampered by my diet and that I’d see amazing performance gains if I included meat in my diet (FTR, I was no slouch. I was deadlifting 250, squatting 155 (at 5’10…long levers folks, long levers), posting very respectable WOD times, and generally beating the pants off girls half my age in most areas. Yes, there were a few women who were outperforming me, but hey, I was old. And tall. And I’d been sedentary for 35 years).
Here’s what I did: completely eliminated the few servings of grain I was consuming (most days it was none, at most 2-3 in a day), included animal protein at every meal and snack (primarily fish and eggs), cut my carb intake from 400 grams a day to 200-250 grams (still pretty high carb by paleo standards) and increased my protein from ~125 grams a day to over 200 grams, stopped eating legumes, and ate less fruit (went from 7-9 servings a day to 2-3). My vegetable intake remained the same (impressively high) and my fat intake was about the same (100+ grams a day) but skewed more toward saturated fat than it had been, as I was getting more from coconut and animal sources. Before paleo my fat had come from avocados, nuts and seeds, olive oil and chocolate.
I ate this way for 4 weeks.
My results: I gained 7 pounds. My recovery period after workouts slowed to a crawl, I had DOMS virtually every day for 4 weeks. I regressed on several lifts (I assume because I wasn’t recovering well), and stagnated on the others. My energy was in the toilet and working out felt like an unpleasant chore, not the joyful celebration of strength and power I was used to. I didn’t enjoy my food.
I think a lot of what was wrong was that I wasn’t getting enough carbs. But I also had a sense that the meat was weighing me down (not very scientific, lol). I just felt heavy and slow. Everything felt slow. I felt weary. Again, probably more due to the carb restriction than the meat, but at the time that was my mentality.
So I went back to eating mostly plants. I felt better almost immediately, and dropped the weight fairly effortlessly. My lifts got back to where they’d been and working out felt good again.
Don’t get me wrong, I still think paleo has it right. Health comes from eating quality whole foods, that are sourced locally and sustainably. But the high meat thing didn’t work for me. My diet is still high quality, local and sustainable. The vast bulk of my diet is locally and sustainably grown vegetables, leafy greens and fruit. I fill it out with organic sprouted legumes (they work for me), nuts and seeds, and an organic sprouted seed based protein powder to meet my protein needs when my diet falls short. Other than the legumes, there’s nothing there that isn’t paleo. And it’s plant based! And I feel GREAT on it. I perform well on it. I look pretty good too.
Moral of the story: paleo’s right about eating quality food, eating locally, eating seasonally, avoiding fake foods made from industrially grown plants and animals. Some people can do quite well on minimal animal foods (nothing against animal foods, eat ‘em if that’s what floats your boat, but good health is possible without them).
So there’s my totally subjective, N=1 experience with paleo. As with everything, YMMV, and if what you’re doing is working for you, keep doing it!!