I’ve never really been a dieter.
Cutting out food groups for me has always been a ‘no-no’ as I love eating everything and anything. Bread, pasta, cakes you name it, I’d shove it in my gob.
But now, hitting my mid-forties and after two children, I’m starting to feel the middle-aged spread.
I knew I had to try something, particularly when I injured my ankle and could no longer exercise for at least eight weeks.
I didn’t really fancy a calorie-controlled diet and the thought of eliminating food groups sent me into depression, but I had to do something.
After some research, I opted for the ‘hunter gatherer’ diet, Paleo, heavily endorsed by Pete Evans, which doesn’t count calories and eliminates grains, legumes, most dairy, most sugars and highly processed foods.
Its premise is that it goes back to the ancient way of eating so you simply have to avoid packaged foods and eat meat, fish, eggs, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, healthy fats and oils.
“This regimen is based on the idea that our bodies do best when fuelled by foods that existed in the Paleolithic era, before agriculture came along 10,000 or so years ago,” says Mark Hyman, MD, of Boston, the author of the upcoming Food: What the Heck Should I Eat?
Apparently eliminating grains and dairy can reduce inflammation as well, making it perfect for those recovering from an injury or suffering from auto immune diseases, although there is little research backing this theory.
And because of the low sugar in this diet plan, Paleo is supposedly good for insulin levels and those that suffer from type 2 diabetes.
What attracted me to this diet was you can still eat things such as paleo desserts, bread, pizza and so forth you just have to ensure you stick to the food groups.
A typical day on the Paleo diet might start with a mushroom omelette, some paleo bread made with seeds, avocado and some greens. Lunch then could be a serving of chicken curry with cauliflower rice and a salad, then dinner could be some grilled salmon with steamed vegetables.
Another sample day could be some Paleo porridge made with quinoa alongside some berries and coconut yoghurt for breakfast, some grilled fish with salad for lunch and a delicious shepherd’s pie topped with sweet potato mash with salad for dinner.
You can even have yummy snacks like Paleo chocolate brownies, made with coconut oil, eggs, maple syrup, almond flour, Macadamia nuts and cacao. I’d make these in batches on Sundays and they’d be my delicious after dinner treat.
The one thing you do need to avoid is alcohol particularly beer and spirits. You can drink some paleo wines and because cider is fermented this is allowed.
I didn’t find I missed too many foods, apart from pasta and spreads that contain legumes such as hummus or lentil dips, but I found that there always seemed to be plenty of paleo recipes which offered alternatives such as zoodles (zucchini noodles) or various paleo dips – so I didn’t feel like I was restricted in any shape or form.
After four weeks on this plan, I lost about five kilos, despite doing zero exercise. I would generally exercise daily before my injury and weighed around 60Kg.
I also found that I ate the same amount of food, just different variations and didn’t experience any lack of energy or hunger.
I previously thought I would be starving without my usual carbs, but I was really full throughout the day.
My muscles appeared to be more defined (I had abs despite no exercise) and my energy levels were much better.
Surprisingly, I didn’t have that afternoon carb slump you might have after a pasta-based lunch or heavy sandwich.
I was actually really impressed with the results and couldn’t find any real cons to the diet to be honest.
I can imagine people who love a rich creamy pasta dish might feel a bit cheated, but with dairy can easily be supplemented with other ingredients and wheat pasta can be substituted for quinoa pasta.
Now four weeks into the programme I don’t have any intentions to go back to my old plan. I feel heaps better.
Once I return to my usual exercise routine, I might feel more hungry after burning extra calories, but I can always eat larger helpings if need be.
As for alcohol I’m more of a wine drinker so it’s easy for me to enjoy the odd glass of paleo tipple. If you’re more of a beer drinker I can imagine being on the diet more restrictive.
Paleo side effects
There are some concerns that eliminating dairy may mean you may not get adequate levels of vitamin D and calcium and can lead to osteoporosis, bone fractures and rickets.
For myself, being lactose intolerant I have always avoided dairy or had limited amounts and consumed calcium rich non-dairy milks or cheeses.
Tips for Paleo beginners
Get yourself a Paleo cookbook or sign up to one of the many Paleo food bloggers out there. You can get plenty or inspiration for meals and ideas for still enjoying your favourite foods.
Always consult a health professional before starting a new diet