How many times have you heard it?
“I tried Paleo and it didn’t work” or “I couldn’t stick with something that required me to eat so much meat”. How about my personal favorite, “I got bored because there are only so many ways to eat broccoli”?
All of the above comments can certainly be grounds for terminating any dietary approach, let alone a Paleo-style diet which seems to be more misunderstood than many others, in my experience.
Before we foray into the grey area of how often to have a cheat meal or eat a food that’s not exactly Paleo, let’s first understand what a real Paleo diet actually is.
Often, when misconceptions are cleared up, the need to include foods that are less than healthy options seems to clear up too.
An authentic Paleo approach is simply a diet based on the types of foods presumed to have been eaten by early humans, consisting chiefly of meat, fish, vegetables, and fruit, and excluding dairy or grain products and processed food.
While you may have read this description time and time again, it’s easy to lose sight of what it is, when you’re fixated on what it isn’t.
So, let’s rephrase and hold off on using the word “Paleo” for just a moment.
How about if I suggested to you that a breakfast made of a couple of farm fresh eggs cooked in coconut oil, over a bed of garlicky sautéed broccoli topped off with avocado and lime would be a great way to ensure a satisfying, energy boosting start to the day?
And perhaps what might hit the spot for lunch is a crisp, mixed greens salad with diced onion, bell peppers, olive oil, wild salmon and a handful of blueberries.
Dinner? Hmmm… maybe some grass-fed flank steak, grilled with Portobello mushrooms and asparagus, served on a bed of wild arugula, finished with some cold-pressed olive oil and lemon drizzle?
Call it fresh.
Call it balanced.
Call it what you may; this is Paleo.
No need to go on for pages about what it’s not when we think in terms of keeping it simple.
The key, however, is to remember that simple needn’t equal boring. Who wants to feel bored with what they’re eating?
I certainly don’t.
After all, if eating weren’t the multi-sensory experience that it is, we’d all simply swallow a pill and be on with our day.
But it’s not.
Food should not only provide us with nutrition, it should taste good, smell good, look good, and feel good in our mouths! And as such, here is where getting a little kitchen creativity into the mix becomes invaluable.
Don’t like to cook?
Don’t have time to cook?
Not good enough.
I recognize that not everyone likes to cook, just as not everyone likes to draw, write music, or take part in any other potentially creative outlet- but this is one which stands apart from all others.
Because we all need to eat.
How odd that we’ve gotten to a place in society where we’re so disconnected from what we eat and how what we’re eating makes us feel, that it’s become the norm to ‘not have time to grocery shop, cook or even eat!’.
Here’s where we have to go way back to basics.
Even the busiest of calendars can fit two, one-hour sessions during the week to prepare enough food to last at least a few days for ourselves and our families.
Hold a family meeting, a roommate meeting, or a meeting with yourself during which you can outline and prioritize where you can fit in just a couple of hours each week, dedicated to nourishing your family and yourself.
Once you’ve got that lined up and have begun to get the hang of how a real Paleo approach can not only be easy, but delicious, you can then begin to venture into that wiggle room of percentages. Or how much you might want to include foods for sheer joy or pleasure rather than their health benefits.
Here’s how I work with clients: for the first month we map out a plan which is completely Paleo and anti-inflammatory, but not boring or low fat or unsavory.
Then, if there are foods which the client wishes to test out, we add them one at a time. Just as long as there are no medical reasons not to do so (such as a person with Celiac thinking they should test out gluten or dairy.)
if, for example, a client determines that the 2 tablespoons of full-fat, 100% grass fed dairy in their morning tea keeps them in complete balance the rest of the day, so be it.
Or perhaps it’s that glass of red wine enjoyed with their spouse during a Friday dinner after a long week. If it allows them to enjoy one of life’s simple pleasures without emotionally feeling they’ve done something ‘wrong’, so be it.
This doesn’t mean that dairy or wine are Paleo, but that sometimes a bit of flexibility or wiggle room can be the sole determining factor whether or not someone maintains a mostly Paleo approach to eating or ditches it after a week due to one of the many excuses that abound these days.
So how much is too much?
Hard to say.
Only you know how your own body feels, so the best way to test the waters is to clean it up for a month, test things one by one and let your body’s reaction be your guide.
If you test out hummus and veggies and end up with bloating and gas, give those beans a miss.
If you carry on feeling fantastic, you’re doing something right!