When I first discovered the Paleo lifestyle in February of 2011 I dove in headfirst and completed a strict Paleo eating plan for the first 30 days. My motivation was to figure out if what I was eating might be contributing to my fibromyalgia, fatigue, chronic respiratory infections and depression. I was already fairly lean but not especially healthy and I was frustrated with doctors who could not explain my symptoms. All my tests were normal and yet I was NOT okay. With the new year I am starting another “reset” by going Strictly Paleo© and thought it would be helpful to others to outline exactly what this means.
During my previous “experiment” I discovered certain food groups had been negatively impacting my health. The changes I have seen and felt since going Paleo have been pretty dramatic. If you have any unexplained aches and pains, inflammation, allergies, skin or digestive problems, or other ailments, or if you simply cannot manage to lose weight or keep it off you should seriously consider how the food you eat may be impacting your health. A Strictly Paleo reset may be just what you need to change your life.
What is Strictly Paleo©?
Most simply stated, Strictly Paleo means eating real food that excludes certain potentially problematic food groups for an experimental elimination period of at least 30 days.
What you DO eat:
- Nuts and seeds
- Fats from nuts, seeds, and fruits
Here’s a handy guide to help with shopping.
What you DO NOT eat:
- White Potatoes
The Strictly Paleo Details – Food Dos
Meat includes seafood and eggs. In an ideal situation, your meat would come from ethically raised animals that have spent their lives eating the way God created them to eat. That means wild-caught fish is preferable to farm-raised fish that are fed grains and other products that are not their natural diet. In the case of cows that would be GRASS. Cows are ruminants who were not designed to eat grains. “100% Grass-Fed” or “Grass Finished” beef will contain much higher levels of Omega-3 fatty acids and CLA. In spite of the advertising on egg cartons touting “Vegetarian Feed”, the fact is chickens are not vegetarians! When chickens are allowed to roam free they will eat worms and bugs which means their eggs will be richly yellow/orange and full of nutrition. The fat from these animals is actually healthful for humans to consume. If you are unable to purchase 100% Grass-Fed meats then stick to leaner cuts of conventionally produced meat.
Vegetables and fruits are fairly self-explanatory. You cannot really go wrong eating vegetables in any quantity. However, if you are trying to lose weight you will need to limit your consumption of tubers like sweet potatoes and yams because of their higher caloric count. When it comes to fruit I try to stick with lower sugar varieties like berries and eat smaller quantities of other, higher-calorie types. (Check the Paleo Food Matrix for more details).
Nuts and seeds are great sources of fat, fiber, and other nutrients. If you are trying to lose weight you need to be careful how much you consume. Think about it in terms of a hunter-gatherer. They would not ordinarily chow down on a big pile of already shelled nuts. Nuts also tend to be high in Omega-6 fatty acids. Since one of the goals is to get your Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio more in line with an ideal 1:1 ratio you need to be reasonable about your nut consumption. Check out this quote from The Center for Genetics, Nutrition and Health:
Western diets are deficient in omega-3 fatty acids, and have excessive amounts of omega-6 fatty acids….Excessive amounts of omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) and a very high omega-6/omega-3 ratio, as is found in today’s Western diets, promote the pathogenesis of many diseases, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, and inflammatory and autoimmune diseases, whereas increased levels of omega-3 PUFA (a low omega-6/omega-3 ratio) exert suppressive effects.
Fats that come from nuts and seeds and fruits are ideal when they are in their most natural state and not subjected to high heats and inordinate processing. Avoid things like canola, soy, and corn oils. Definitely do NOT ingest hydrogenated trans fats. Eat your extra virgin olive oil in things like salads and other lightly cooked dishes. Save your high heat cooking for fats like coconut oil, ghee (clarified butter), lard and tallow that have a high smoke point. Eat avocado and unsweetened coconut flakes as sources of healthy fats that are lower in Omega-6.
The Strictly Paleo Details – Food Don’ts:
Grains – Do not eat gluten-containing grains such as wheat, barley or rye. You will also need to eliminate oats, corn, rice, millet, bulgur, sorghum, amaranth, buckwheat, quinoa, or any grain products like bran, germ or starch.
Legumes – Do not eat beans, peas, lentils or soy of any kind or in any form. This includes peanuts which are a legume and not a nut. The only exception is green beans, snap peas, and snow peas because they are mostly pod.
Dairy – Do not eat dairy products of any kind or in any form such as milk, cheese or butter from any animal source even if it is fermented. The only exception is ghee, which is clarified butter because the milk solids that contain potential allergens have been removed.
Sugar – Do not eat added sugar in any form. That means no table sugar, brown sugar, molasses, agave, maple syrup or honey. You should also not eat artificial sweeteners in any form such as Splenda, Nutrasweet, Sweet n Low, xylitol or stevia. The only exception is fruit juice when used to sweeten a dish – as opposed to drinking glasses of highly caloric and nutritionally sparse fruit juice.
White Potatoes – White potatoes are extremely high in carbohydrates. We tend to rely on them as a filling starch rather than eating more nutrient-dense vegetables and fruits that are lower in carbohydrates and calories. Additionally, white potatoes are in the “nightshade” family of foods which is suspected to exacerbate autoimmune disease in some persons. While this is not a nightshade elimination diet (otherwise we would cut out tomatoes, eggplants, and certain peppers too) it is just one more reason the Paleo diet eliminates white potatoes as a general rule. (Check out this post for details about the nutritional content of potatoes.)
What to Expect
When I was first starting out I was the only one in my family interested in going down this path. Because I am the one doing the shopping and cooking, everyone in my family essentially had little choice to come along for the ride – at least in part. Even so, it was not long before my husband was on board and the results he saw and felt caused him to become a believer in the Paleo way of eating. But for many of you, there may be a few obstacles in your way. While there is some wisdom in a gradual implementation by slowly eliminating certain foods/food groups, the Strictly Paleo Plan is meant as a more abrupt change that forces you to adjust your eating all at once.
The first couple of days for me were rough. I made it until the afternoon on the first day before I was leaning over the kitchen sink stuffing a cinnamon roll in my mouth! I started again the next day and did well until I got up in the middle of the night and scarfed down two bowls of cereal. In spite of the inauspicious start, I began the third day determined to stick with it and I did. After about 72 hours I got a headache that lasted a couple of days and I did not have much energy. It turns out this is what is known as “Carb Flu”. It only happens to some people but is a type of withdrawal symptom from certain foods and food additives. Within a couple of days, the Carb Flu had subsided and my energy level was much higher than it had been before I started.
For me, it was much easier to go “cold turkey” than to try and ease into it. Just knowing I WOULD NOT eat certain foods forced me to find new recipes and ways of cooking. It led me to websites with lots of hints and tips and recipes. And once I started feeling better the motivation grew and I eventually found it fairly easy to be compliant. After 30 days of Strictly Paleo eating, I was not tempted to go back to my old ways.
The Dairy Dilemma
Dairy is the only major category of food I have eliminated that is still a source of temptation. Keep in mind the idea of the Strictly Paleo Plan is to eliminate these foods for at least one month in order to determine if they are causing you problems. Many people are lactose intolerant or have an immune reaction to casein in milk they do not even realize. I strongly recommend you completely eliminate dairy for the first 30 days. Add it back into your diet after that time and see how you feel and perform. If or when you do add dairy back into your diet I recommend sticking with full-fat varieties such as cream and butter and some cheeses. If at all possible try to consume dairy products from pasture-raised animals. The prices are higher but the nutrition is also much higher. There are several kinds of butter on the market (Kerrygold is one) that come from pastured animals and the options are growing as consumer demand increases. Even if you decide to give dairy a try after the Strictly Paleo reset I would advise you to seriously limit the amount of milk you drink. Milk is very high in lactose which is a sugar and if you want to lose weight or maintain your weight you are better off sticking with smaller additions of cream, cheese, and butter.
Prayer Will Help
Rather than easing into the Paleo way of eating, the Strictly Paleo Plan is a more drastic change to your life. There will be many temptations, especially initially, and times when you are discouraged and want to stop. As with anything that requires strength, commitment and determination I believe prayer will help. When I started eating this way I prayed that God would give me extra motivation and commitment so that I could see it through the first 30 days. It seemed like a last resort to figure out what was at the root of my health issues. I believe God helped me stick with it. It was a blessing to be able to finally determine some of what I was eating had been detrimental to my health. So even though it will not be easy God can help you make it through.
The idea of the Strictly Paleo reset period is to COMPLETELY eliminate these potentially problematic foods. Remain determined to avoid slip-ups or “cheats” during this period of time. It is only 30 days after all. Tell yourself you can eventually have the occasional corn chip or Paleo-friendly dessert. (I have some on this blog after all!) But for the next 30 days, you will be STRICT. Just remember, even if you do fall off the wagon, pick yourself up and start again. You will need to go back to the beginning and restart the clock to make this a true elimination diet. Anything else and you will not be able to fully know if or how these foods might be impacting your health.
Best wishes for all success!