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My track record with diets really isn’t great. I think it’s my short attention span and is also what I blame for why I’m not very good at online dating – apart from Tinder which I see as man shopping with the added frisson of coming across someone I know (should I say here’s hoping? *chortle*).
I lasted a mere 2 weeks on the 5:2 diet; the extreme hunger on those two days made me extremely angry, something I don’t like to deal with alongside the extreme tiredness of you know, day-to-day life with two small kids. So I gave up on diets and joined the gym.
Let me to segue off to say this: I freaking love the gym but having wasted money on multiple unused gym memberships in my lifetime this is a very weird feeling. It must be the endorphins or something but I look forward to the sweating, getting puffed out and the red face. An hour at the gym always feels like such an accomplishment and I look forward to my workouts. WEIRDO.
Anyway, after starting at the gym I became hyper aware of the food I was putting into my body. Our bodies are like cars, right? We wouldn’t think of putting petrol in a diesel car (unless you’re my mum ;) so I wondered, why was I continuing to feed my body with fuel that it doesn’t process well? My food troubles mainly originate with wheat and stodgy carbohydrates – they exacerbate my mum tum which I’ve been desperate to get rid of – so it made sense to eliminate these from my daily diet.
Baked aubergines, quick salsa verde, feta and salad.
Just as I was having these thoughts I came across the Paleo diet. Harking back to the caveman days, this is a diet that focuses on grass-fed meats, seafood, organic fruits and veg, eggs, nuts and seeds. You eliminate everything else: wheat (bye bye bread and pasta!), sugar, anything processed, dairy, legumes (beans, lentils etc) and focus on clean, freshly made meals. It was Google’s most searched diet in 2013 and by many is seen as more of a lifestyle change; it seems to be very popular in Crossfit circles. So I decided to give it a go and two months in am still going strong.
There are lots of ‘Paleo Purists’ out there who might say I’m not sticking to the diet as I should; I’m still eating dairy (but in fairly limited amounts) and I allow myself to eat whatever the hell I like 20% of the time. Eating out would be a complete nightmare otherwise. But I’ve found the term ‘Paleo’ seems to refer to any variation of this diet; some followers include limited dairy like me, or perhaps a couple of grains here and there. It doesn’t matter, it means different things to different people.
Incidentally, I think that one of the best things about this diet is that it means every single thing I eat is made from scratch and from fresh, non-processed ingredients. Some of these ‘Paleo Purists’ I’ve seen get very funny about including dairy yet they eat copious amounts of bacon and sausage, two of the most processed proteins out there. I’d rather have a touch of milk in my tea and feta in my salad and only eat bacon once a week, thanks very much.
Eating this way I thoroughly expected to miss my favourite foods: white bread, spaghetti carbonara, chips, mash, roast potatoes. But I’m finding that the effects of this diet, the way it makes me feel really light and never bloated, mean I don’t crave stodgy foods or sugar at all. In fact, every time I do ‘treat myself’ (side eye last week’s takeaway Chinese) the bloating feeling I get afterwards leaves me feeling so unpleasant that I don’t want to do it again.
Two and a half months on this diet and the results have been great. My problem area, the mum tum, has completely gone and it’s been amazing to see how my body shape has changed (though I’m not sure how much this is down to going to the gym 2/3 times a week rather than diet). I’ve lost a stone and a half and gone from a 10-12 in jeans to an 8. My bra size has gone down from a 34 to a 32 back and I’m now 8-10 in tops. Slightly frustrating that most of my jeans don’t fit anymore and all my tops are baggy, but hey, I’m not complaining. It might sound funny but it surprises me daily the difference this diet has given to my shape.
Puffed-out gymface selfie. Love you, Instagram filters.
Anyway, for all those people who have been quizzing me on Instagram and Twitter about how to get started on your own version of paleo, this is for you. Here’s how I think you can become a paleo convert:
– Find your staple meals
Sometimes when I’ve had a long day at work or with the kids, the last thing I want to do is cook. At these times my go-to meal was always a Spaghetti Carbonara or jacket potato, both of which are off the menu now. Instead, I make sure I have a repertoire of quick and simple meals I can throw together. Chicken with tinned artichoke hearts, capers and lemon is one (with my current favourite veg: roast broccoli, yum). Sweet potato and cabbage cakes with raita and a fried egg is another. You can do so many unbelievably easy things with a courgette or aubergine (oi oi!) it’s crazy.
– Pack your food with flavour
Flavour and texture seems to be something I crave much more in this diet; herbs, capers, spices, flavoured salts, garlic. Make sure you have them to hand.
– Plan as much as you can
Each week I sit down with Pinterest and a pile of recipes I’ve found in various cooking magazines and I plan what the whole family will eat. This means I don’t have any slip ups, there are no occasions where there’s no food in the house and I end up eating a pile of buttered toast for lunch (lovely lovely toast…) and as a bonus the children eat way more fruit and veg than they ever have before.
Salmon with capers, aubergine and red onion, coriander, greek yoghurt and pomegranate.
– Find substitutes for your favourite foods
You can make a most incredible Béchamel out of pureed cauliflower and chicken stock and once you eat sweet potato chips for a while you won’t even miss the real thing. Fried onions give great crunch on top of a salad (forget croutons!) and so many veggies can be used as a base for spag bol. Once you’ve found substitutions that taste just as good you won’t even miss pasta and bread.
– Don’t skip breakfast
This is the same as on every diet I imagine, but don’t skip breakfast otherwise you’ll want to snack. I tend to go for a green juice 4 or 5 times a week with a couple of egg-based breakfasts thrown in: a mashed up banana, whisked egg and shake of cinnamon make the most incredible pancakes. Serve with berries. Scrambled egg and thyme roasted tomatoes is another go-to breakfast for me.
Paleo makes me feel more active, it makes me want to exercise more. Because I exercise I feel happier, healthier, have more energy and (slightly) more get up and go in the morning. I sleep much better and my skin has never been clearer – though whether that’s the amount of water I drink on this diet (about twice as much as before), all the fresh fruit and veg or exercise I just don’t know.
Homemade chicken and cauliflower passanda with raita
– Use your cheat days
I find that on the days I allow myself to ‘cheat’ I make better choices than I ever did before, while still enjoying the fact I’m deviating from the diet. Instead of a sandwich I’ll have a wrap, instead of snacking on crisps I’ll have a handful of popcorn. But I think it’s important to let myself have a little bit of what I fancy, even if what I fancy is a big bowl of chips. The key is that 80/20 balance.
– Get inspiration from Pinterest
For me, Pinterest is the backbone of this diet. It’s where I get my recipe ideas, inspiration and information. The wealth of Paleo info on Pinterest is awesome and if you’re giving this way of life ago I’d recommend it 100%. Here’s my board to get you started.
– Everything in moderation
THAT MEANS YOU BACON! It can be easy to find a few dishes you like and to eat them over and over again but I’m trying to mix it up a bit. Eating salads in this weather feels slightly masochistic but I mix it up with chargrilled broccoli and chicken salad with avocado, warm aubergine and courgette salads with pomegranate… they can be more warming and filling than you think.
What do you think? Could you go Paleo?
There are some absolutely amazing resources and blogs out there for those thinking about going Paleo. These are my favourites:
– PaleOMG – I love this blog! It has a feature that highlights recipes with only 5 ingredients, a great idea. The Pizza -Spaghetti Squash Pie is one I’m trying this week and looks like something the kids might enjoy too.
– Nomnom Paleo – I think this might be the biggest Paleo blog out there. A great resource.
– Let Her Eat Clean: Why I love to hate the Paleo diet – worth a read
– Paleo Jess – A blog by someone who’s been eating Paleo since 2011
– The Healthy Foodie – not all strictly Paleo but some really gorgeous recipes
– Civilized Caveman Cooking – some great Paleo-friendly baking goes on here!
– Paleo Effect – the most recent recipe on this blog is chocolate mousse. Enough said.