The Six Lessons of Paleo (so far)

Camp food; steak, eggs, and sweet potato slices.

52 Days of Paleo, Day 22

Yesterday, I was three weeks into my Paleo journey (21 days of 52 planned). I’d say that so far I’m about a 6 out of 10 in execution, but I’ve learned several valuable lessons and already seen some interesting changes in my health, my physical body, and my mental well-being:

  1. Follow a guide at first. Following a beginner’s program is a great way to kick off a Paleo plan. Trying to figure out the rules and create meals from scratch on day one is overwhelming. I would have given up in the first week if I didn’t have Kenzie Swanhart’s Paleo in 28. It didn’t have to be her book (there are dozens of Paleo starter recipe and meal plan books), but the pre-written shopping lists, recipes, and a basic understanding of Paleo I got from Swanhart’s book gave me a leapfrog to my first results.
  2. Expect to lose weight, just don’t focus on it. You will lose weight. Please don’t take on a Paleo challenge for this reason alone, but one of the benefits of eating cleanly is that you will probably lose weight on Paleo. You’re especially like to shed a few pounds if you’re coming to Paleo from a traditional Western diet. And yes, I know it’s a tough ask to not make this challenge about weight. I am generally in a healthy weight range, but cycling is my physical passion and the sport can be a weight-obsessed sport. Leanness can equate to performance. So I want to be lean. I just have to work at not letting the inevitable weight loss that comes with eating clean translate into my manipulating my eating to chase it as a goal of its own. My goal is health and fitness. If I do it right, weight loss is a happy by-product.
  3. Expect your blood pressure to improve. I have blood pressure that measures in the pre-hypertension range (just off the high-end of normal at 135/90-ish). On Paleo only three weeks, I’m already seeing reading in the 120/80 (normal) range. There is blood pressure disease in my family history, so the Paleo benefit of improved blood pressure numbers is a sweet and welcome bonus (and one of the things that are keeping me on track).
  4. Expect to get fitter. If you pursue a physical sport, you will see improvement on Paleo. Like I wrote above, I’m a cyclist. But you could be a runner. You could be a triathlete. You could be into CrossFit. It doesn’t matter what your physical pursuit it, exercise and sport are great for your body. Working out is like squeezing a sponge (the sponge is your body). When you work out, you burn up energy stored in your muscles, you burn fat stores, you use up nutrients and oxygen in your blood. When you get your blood pumping and your muscles firing and squeeze the juice out of the sponge of your body, it replenishes and rebuilds itself on the fuel you bring in. Eating Paleo is a great way to ensure that you’re bringing in clean fuel and giving your body the best chance you can to rebuild those strained muscles and cardiovascular system as healthily as possible. On Paleo, expect to recover better, return stronger, and gain fitness.
  5. Expect to have more energy. Eating crap (specifically, eating donuts in the morning and fast food for lunch) would leave me completely drained by mid-afternoon. I would get home at 5:30 or 6:00 and my body would shut down. So I’d pull out the leg extension on the Lazy Boy, click on the t.v., and feed myself the mental equivalent of donuts and fast food. It took a week or two for that feeling to fade away, and I almost didn’t notice it, but now, after a day when I might get up at 5 am to cycle before work, after cleaning up the task list on my two jobs, I’m still fresh in the evenings. I’m writing more, thinking more, and doing more.
  6. Expect that you will struggle at times. Despite all the upside, you will stumble and fall off the Paleo wagon. It’s normal. You can’t beat yourself up too much about it (or worse, convince yourself that clean, healthy eating is not for you because you struggled somewhere along the journey). My first week was great; I followed Paleo in 28 closely and felt great. Then I let a few small non-Paleo foods slip in. I even allowed myself a fast-food cheat meal one day. I am mostly back on track at the three-week mark. I have learned to stock some ingredients to get ahead of any temptations to cheat. And this is my biggest lesson from the first three weeks; taking control over what I eat is essential. I need to prepare in advance. I can’t defer my nutrition, intentionally or by default, to outside sources. Outside sources serve their own interests and the world is constantly selling you on what they want to you to consume because it is their means to their end (profit usually). Adopting Paleo for 52 days was a challenge to take control of my nutritional life. It’s a test. Am I really serious about my health and well being (as affected by how I choose to feed myself)? And if I can choose for my best self in this one area of life, how can I translate that to choosing for my best self in every area of my life?

We’re on the last overnight on our RV vacation and I have all Paleo ingredients in the RV fridge. I’ll be back home tomorrow afternoon where my first order of business will be to go back to Swanhart’s book and grocery shop from one of her weekly meal-plan lists. Then stay committed to planning a meal or two ahead and always, always taking complete control over what I put into my body.

Can I do it? Will it stick? We’ll see.

Breakfast: Banana. Boiled egg.

Lunch: Banana, boiled egg, plantain chips, dark chocolate.

Dinner: Steak, eggs, sweet potato slices. Licorice-flavored hard candy.

Exercise: A brisk walk through Flagstaff before setting up camp in the Coconino Forest.

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