Okay, let's get real. I am human just like you. I didn't cook that chicken; I bought it. I feasted upon New York Style pizza last weekend and ate half a pepperoni and bacon pie myself. And I enjoyed every delicious, cheesy, bready moment of it. I also am addicted to chocolate. I stray from paleo-eating at least once a weekend to varying degrees--a mocha here, corn chips there, creamy raw cheese when I can get it... I buy at least a few no-cook meals a week at the grocery store. I am human. Does this make me a bad person or someone unfit to write a paleo blog? I don't think so. Life is a journey and by sharing my travels, I hope to give you ideas and recipes to take with you on your journey :)
So let's take a step back and get real about living paleo-style, which incorporates Paleo, Primal, and Zone eating ideas as well as physical (and mental) activity, like CrossFit. I'll go into more specifics about paleo-style as I slowly make my way through the Starter Series, but for now, let's take a detour to clear up some questions and get real.
Is paleo-eating livable?
Yes. It is possible to nourish your body by feeding it what it needs. Meat and veggies, nuts and seeds, and fruit are available everywhere in some form or another. However, it is unrealistic to think the whole world can change or that paleo-eating is even possible for everyone. YOU can make the healthiest choices for you and your family. That much is possible. I never said it was easy, though.
Additionally, just because paleo-eating is livable doesn't mean I live that way each and every day. For sanity's sake, I indulge. I cheat. It reminds me of why I don't live my life like I used to because I feel so crappy afterwards. I fall asleep from my carb hangover and wake up bleary-eyed, puffy, and nauseous. If I can't sleep within a few hours of eating, I am cranky and tired for the rest of the day. I feel like I am set back inside myself, looking out through diaphanous curtains. There is zero clarity and energy. I am also either full enough to explode or hungry within a couple hours. Usually both. When Hungry Again hits, I get "snacky" and have to keep chomping on something, anything. Sometimes it is hard to stop once I've started. And if you've ever cheated or read any other paleo blogger, you know these results ARE typical. I am not alone. The saddest thing is that I used to live this way 24-7 before I changed my diet, and MOST people are still living this way day in and day out. So you ask me why I get passionate about food? I want to help those still living in their carb comas.
Does paleo-eating work?
Yes. I believe this or I wouldn't dedicate my time and effort into making it work for my family and passing on important resources to the community. There is a wealth of medical information showing how grains and sugar wreck havoc on your digestion and metabolism, leading to all sorts of fun side-effects like disease and death. This isn't fringe science. The facts are out there if you are willing to look. Bogged down by the science? Use N=1 to see what happens when YOU make the change. Do you feel better? Perform better? Look better? Give it time and you'll see positive changes. Cheat and you'll experience the side-effects. Why would you want to go back to that life?
Is paleo-eating easy?
No. It gets easier, but it is never easy to give up what 99% of the world eats. It is a test of your willpower, resourcefulness, and financial situation to make it work. But I believe it can be done by anyone. The real question is: Is potentially living a longer, healthier life worth the effort of changing your diet and getting more active? To me, it is. I say you aren't giving up as much as you are gaining.
Does paleo-eating change your life?
Yes. You'll see positive benefits to your health if you maintain dietary diversity amongst meat, veggies, nuts, seeds, and fruit and get your fish oil and vitamin D. You need protein, fat, and carbohydrate. It will take some tweaking to see what works best for your body, but this is fine tuning in the bigger picture of revolutionizing your diet. You WILL see results. But I'm no doctor, so think for yourself.
You will also never be able to see food through innocent eyes ever again. Try shopping at regular supermarkets and reading labels. Look around at those shopping blindly around you, especially overweight families. It is depressing. You can never go back.
But you are not alone. Paleo-eating can help you build friendships and lasting bonds with those sharing your worldview. There are many of us in cyberspace and at your local CrossFit box.
However, also be prepared that eating so divergent from the rest of the world WILL alienate you from them. Accept this as a reality. It's not worth the effort and stress to try to convert everyone. Trust me, you'll lose more than sleep if you get too personally invested. When I get frustrated, I think of what happened in the Shawshank Redemption when the main character called the warden "obtuse." It didn't go over well. While the rest of the world may seem "obtuse" at times (like what the hell is HFCS doing in FRUIT juice?!?), I try to take a deep breath and remind myself how much paleo-fanaticism parallels religious fanaticism. We both feel like we have something so profound and life-changing to share and want everyone else to join us in this revelation. We both believe we are saving lives. Doesn't that sound a little creepy and intrusive? Zealotry is zealotry, even with the best of intentions. Instead of preaching, lead by example and chat about your diet when it's brought up by others. If they are open to change, they will find you for help. This is a lesson I am still learning myself.
Is paleo-eating worth it?
For me, YES. For you?
But I am busy. What if I don't have the time to cook my meals?
Then don't. There are other options. Most people from the outside looking in think changing your diet takes a ton of planning and cooking, both of which are in high demand in our busy lives. I can understand the intimidation. I know I should be cooking bulk meals on the weekends, and then Sunday afternoon rolls around and I would rather be enjoying myself than cooking. Weeknights come up suddenly with no food in the house and absolutely zero gumption to cook. I know. I have been there. But I can still make paleo work. Here is how:
1. Grocery store meal shopping.
2. Having a few go-to restaurants for paleo-friendly dining. (we'll tackle this one in another post coming soon!)
Today, I am NOT going to give you a recipe. Recipes are all good and well for those with the time and inclination to cook. What about the rest of us who don't have time or energy at the end of a long day to go through the effort of cooking? Can we still eat paleo-style? Yes!
Shopping For Your Meal
It's as easy as hitting the local supermarket on the way to work, at lunch, or home from work. Since they are almost everywhere and have great hours, they make a great meal option. Just put together some meat, veggies, fruit, and fats from the lists provided below to feed yourself and the whole family with little or no prep. Again, this is "in a pinch" eating, not ideal paleo, but it'll help you get by when you don't want to cheat but feel out of options.
There is actually a WIDE variety of foods you can eat in the supermarket. Seriously! But you need to read labels and know what to avoid*:
- sugar in all its devious forms (play it safe and avoid any sweetener and unpronounceable ingredients)
- grains (also devious since many food additives are made from them, like the citric acid from corn that is in almost everything!)
- soy (you have never challenged your sanity until you've tried finding chocolate without soy lecithin)
- legumes (peanuts too)
- dairy (assuming you're taking that road)
- vegetable oils (like canola, sunflower, safflower, corn, soybean, and "vegetable" oil)
*Exception: Remember to be human. Don't sacrifice your sanity for your diet. You are trying to make paleo work, so if you really freakin' NEED your chips and the only ones available are made with canola oil, then don't start crying. Be a paleo rebel and buy your chips. Don't beat yourself up over every deviation from ideal paleo. What is "ideal paleo" anyway? Few of us can only eat seasonal, local, unprocessed, organic foods. The rest of us are just trying to feed our bodies healthy fuel while keeping our sanity. Make the best choices as much as possible and you'll get the results you seek. Also, know the hierarchy of what makes you feel bad. Personally, gluten and grain-fed dairy impact me the worst. Listen to your own body. Make compromises you won't regret.
Here are paleo or paleo-friendly foods you can find at the grocery store:
- Rotisserie chicken
- Prepared meats in the Hot Foods section as long as they come as close as possible to paleo-style (remember grain and sugar are everywhere, if unsure, ask about the ingredients)
- Hard-boiled eggs
- Lox and canned/bagged cooked/smoked fish (check ingredients for hidden sugars and try to stick close to the Seafood Watch Guide and wild-caught fish)
- Deli meats (not ideal, but hey, better than most fast food frankenmeat. Look for whole roasted chicken/turkey breast or roast beef made at the store.)
- Jerky (most supermarket jerky is highly processed and filled with salt and sugar, and even soy and wheat depending upon seasonings. For real jerky, seek out a meat market or make it yourself.)
Very Little Cooking Required Meats:
- Eggs (heck, you can even microwave them)
- Fish (a fast, toaster-oven-while-you-get-changed meal)
- Steak (searing only takes a hot pan or grill and less than 15min start to eating)
- Pre-cooked sausages (check ingredient lists closely!)
- Bacon and cured meats (I haven't found a sugar-free bacon yet, but I still indulge every once and awhile. When I do, I try to buy organic, avoid nitrate-containing products, and minimize ingredient lists and sugar.)
- Broth (check ingredients and sodium closely)--a great starter to a quick soup you can microwave, just add in cooked meat and grilled/roasted veggies from the prepared foods area--or you can boil it, turn off the heat just as you add a fine drizzle of lightly beaten eggs, and stir gently in one direction to make your own Egg Drop Soup--freakin' delicious!
- Pre-seasoned meats and fish can save some time, but 99% of those I have ever looked at contained grain, soy, or sugar, so I don't even bother looking anymore
- Salad greens (serve as a salad or eat unadorned like romaine hearts, which I rinse and snack on like chips)
- Carrots (although processed, "baby" ones are ready to eat and conveniently sized)
- Prepared cut raw veggies (or cut celery, carrots, peppers, cucumbers, etc. yourself in little time)--think you need dip, try nut butter instead!
- Prepared Hot Foods veggies (just, again, check the ingredients)--grilled and roasted veggies are usually good options
- Salsa (check ingredients)
- Tomato sauce (check its ingredient list carefully, you may have to compromise on the citric acid, but don't on the added sugar)
- Canned artichokes, hearts of palm, tapenades (technically fats) can all work if you check their ingredients closely
- Kelp noodles (these can make a hot or cold salad really fast with the addition of some meat, other veggies, and flavorings. You can also make my Noodle Nosh with pre-cooked meat for a really fast meal.)
- Sweet potatoes can be baked in the microwave and are delicious with some butter or coconut oil slathered on after. These are best for a recovery meal after high intensity exercise since they are so energy dense and high glycemic.
- Frozen sweet potato fries are okay, but they usually take way too long to cook and often include sugar, wheat, and soy. Not really a quick, go-to meal. You can cook shredded hash browns quicker, in the pan, but browning takes forever and potatoes aren't ideal since they are so high glycemic. If you really crave them, go for it, though! There is worse you could do for your body than eat a potato...
- Sweet Potato, Beet, Cassava, Plantain, or Potato chips made with non-vegetable oil like olive oil or avocado oil (avoid canola, sunflower, or safflower oils)--definitely NOT ideal or for every day, but heck, once in a while live a little without straying too far from paleo ideals
- Raw choices like apples, peaches, pears, plums, berries, mango, banana, etc. (note: try to stay as low glycemic as possible so that they are more filling and less sugary, unless you are recovering from a bout of metabolic activity). Microwave sliced fruit for a warm alternative (add some Ceylon cinnamon for spice!)
- Lemon juice is great to use for salad dressing (along with a fat, see below) or add to water (especially sparkling mineral water for a delicious soda-replacement--no sugar necessary!)
- Dried fruit if you are in a pinch (remember it's very sugary, and check ingredients to avoid those with added sugar and sulfites)
- Kombucha (You know I don't like fruit juice very much, but the probiotics overbalance the little juice in there, promoting healthy digestion)
- Coconut water (weird that the coconut flesh is a fat, but the liquid is almost all carb with a lot of potassium and good electrolyte replenishment)
- Applesauce if unsweetened
- Frozen fruit can easily be microwaved to defrost and heat if desired. Add some cinnamon and you have a meal!
- Nuts (watch the ingredients in seasoned nuts since sugar, soy, and wheat are often used; also avoid peanuts--a legume)
- Seeds (ditto)
- Nut butter (remember peanuts are legumes, so stick with almond butter, cashew butter, decadent macadamia nut butter, and the rare find of coconut butter)
- Coconut oil (extra virgin, unrefined)--yes, you can eat this from the jar!
- Guacamole (check ingredients)
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil (drizzle it on!)
- Nut Oils (like walnut, hazelnut, almond, etc. great on salads!)
- Animal fats like butter, ghee, lard, pork fat, bacon (who are we kidding, it's more fat than protein), etc. for quick cooking meals like eggs
Examples of Grocery Store Meals:
- Breakfast: hard-boiled eggs, fruit, and nuts
- Lunch: boxed salad greens, lemon for dressing, handful of nuts or avocado, Hot Foods meat or deli meat or smoked fish (don't forget a fork! lemon juice stings when you eat with your hands!)
- Dinner: rotisserie chicken, romaine hearts, guacamole, and salsa for quick chicken tacos
Easy! And don't worry. We've all been there. Eat mindfully and try to stay paleo-style as much as possible to reap the rewards. And the rewards truly speak for themselves. You aren't giving up as much as you are gaining. Trust me.