I Tried The Paleo Diet for Seven Days. Here’s What Happened.
There are two things you should know about me: Bagels are my favorite food and I consider a spoonful of peanut butter or Nutella (or both) to be a sufficient snack. So, naturally I decided going Paleo—cold turkey—was a good idea. This is my seven-day TruePaleo™ Challenge.
Why I Tried The Paleo Diet
There isn’t a simple answer as to why I chose to try The Paleo Diet. For one, as an employee of The Paleo Diet®, I felt that I should have personal experience, not just book knowledge, of this lifestyle.
Since I’ve read just about every article on thepaleodiet.com, I was persuaded by its immediate and long-term health benefits like weight loss, clearer skin, more energy, better sleep, and a decreased risk of chronic disease. I was open to give it a go.
Recently, I was diagnosed with lactose intolerance. I also noticed that I have a sensitivity to tomatoes. I was curious to see if the diet—and conscious eating in general—would help me feel better.
How I Went Paleo
What is TruePaleo™?
There are two components of the TruePaleo™ Challenge. First, you must eat Paleo 100% of the time: This means no cereal grains, dairy, legumes, or processed foods. It also means no added salt, refined sugar, or vegetable oils.
Normally, The Paleo Diet supports the 85/15 Rule, however, given I challenged myself to only seven days of Paleo eating, I wanted to maximize the potential benefits and set myself on a strong course for a continued healthy lifestyle. After all, if I can do 100% Paleo for a full week, then 85% should be much easier to continue.
Since I was eating Paleo 100% of the time, I avoided on-the-fence Paleo foods such as honey, maple syrup, and pure cacao. While they can technically serve as Paleo ingredients to be enjoyed in moderation, our hunter-gather ancestors did not frequently indulge in them because they were hard to find and difficult to acquire. I don’t think our hunter-gatherer ancestors were great at beekeeping!
I also did not drink alcohol. While Dr. Cordain has said moderate alcohol consumption is consistent with The Paleo Diet’s health goals, research has shown that hunter-gatherers during the Paleolithic era did not consume alcohol, so neither did I.
The Importance of Planning
Throughout my young adult life, my friends (i.e., parents and other adults who “know best”) have stressed the value of meal prep. I never listened until now. And now I echo their sentiments.
Cereal, bread, chips, crackers, and pasta are convenient, but they are not nutritious. While Paleo foods often require preparation, they’re packed with nutrients and keep you full longer. If you have some meals prepared for when hunger strikes, it is much easier to resist temptation.
I suggest you plan out all your meals in advance with a few snacks so you will always know what to eat. Additionally, a variety of different meals and flavors will help keep your palate refreshed.
If you’re kitchen-lazy like me, it is also helpful to have quick meals on hand. My suggestion: turkey meatballs and zoodles. You can find frozen zoodles at the store to make preparation even easier. Try to cook more food than you can eat in one sitting so you have leftovers for future meals. I also planned dishes with similar ingredients so I could buy food in bulk to save money and time in the kitchen.
If you need help with meal planning for the week, see our series “What to Eat This Week” for inspiration!
The Challenges I Faced
Fighting the “Flu”
Whenever you drastically change your eating habits, your body is going to react in some way. While everyone’s body is different, many people report headaches, fatigue, and irritability, or the “low-carb flu,” during the first week.
This is because your body is accustomed to using carbohydrates for energy before anything else and, initially, doesn’t want to break that habit. However, a Paleolithic diet promotes metabolic flexibility. Once your body realizes your diet has changed, it will shift to using more fat and protein for energy.
Don’t be mistaken though, The Paleo Diet is not a no-carb diet and doesn’t have to be a low-carb diet either. Carbohydrates can comprise up to one-third of your calories as long as they’re sourced from whole foods like fruits and vegetables.
For me, I had headaches and felt fatigued in the afternoons at the start of the week. However, my headaches subsided on the fourth day and I was already feeling more energetic by the end of the week. One way I fought the “flu” was to keep complex carbohydrates like sweet potatoes and butternut squash on hand for when I was feeling especially irritable. I prefer these vegetables roasted with chili powder. Plus, they served as a great snack when I was craving something crunchy.
Keep in mind, jumping immediately into Paleo is going to front-load these side effects. (Though this also means you’ll be over them faster.) Don’t be scared away by some of the horror stories you may read on the Internet. Listen to your body, prepare for the slumps ahead of time, and remember the long-term benefits outweigh the short-term symptoms.
Tip: Invite your friends to do the 7-Day TruePaleo™ Challenge so you can motivate each other!
Learning to shop, prep, and cook
I find grocery shopping to be one of the worst chores of mankind, though, I suppose I would be less fond of hunting. Since it was extra hard to shop during the pandemic, I only wanted to make one trip to the store each week. This proved to be a challenge as I learned avocados go bad quickly and cooked eggs should not be left on the counter. (RIP my breakfast casserole.)
My best advice: Plan to eat first those foods that will spoil soonest and know how to properly store foods so they have a longer shelf life.
The first night I cooked for myself, while I had hoped to eat dinner by 6 p.m., I didn’t sit down to the table until almost 9 p.m. Here are a few tips that will help you forgo the same mistakes I made:
- Read the recipe in advance so you know to factor in time for marinades, chilling, and preliminary baking.
- Remember to thaw your meats a day in advance.
- It always takes longer to chop fruit and vegetables than you think.
This week was not just about eating Paleo for me, it was also about learning to cook. I just graduated from college this past spring and I’ve only been moved out of my parent’s home for a few months. My kitchen skills are, um, still forming.
I used to shy away from cooking anything but chicken recipes. In fact, the first time I fried a steak I left it on the stove for over 30 minutes. (Apparently, I didn’t have the heat up high enough.)
If you are an inexperienced cook like me, brace yourself for these bumps in the road because a large part of learning and living The Paleo Diet involves cooking.
Think of it this way: Every overcooked or burnt meal is a learning lesson. The better you get in the kitchen, the easier and less stressful each meal will become. At least, that’s how it worked for me!
The Benefits of The Paleo Diet in Just Seven Days
Everybody is different, and the results you’d see from a challenge like this will likely vary from my own personal experience. While we can all expect the same benefits on The Paleo Diet eventually, the changes we experience while getting there will arrive at different times and at different paces.
After just one week on Paleo, I noticed a fairly dramatic change in my weight, sleep, and energy.
I Lost Five Pounds in Seven Days
At the start of the week, I weighed 123 pounds. (I am only 5’2” so this is already a healthy weight for me.) By the end of the week, I weighed 118 pounds. This decrease can mainly be linked to a loss of water weight. That being said, the immediate results of feeling, and looking, less bloated motivated me to keep eating healthy.
Since The Paleo Diet supports healthy and sustainable weight loss, if I were to continue to eat Paleo food, my weight would likely drop further before leveling off at my natural body weight.
Eat, Sleep, Win
I felt as though I slept better after just the first day! Research has shown that processed foods can negatively impact sleep. Eliminating these foods, as well as managing caffeine and alcohol intake, can improve your quality of sleep.
Paleo foods have a lower glycemic load so they have less of an impact on your blood sugar and insulin levels. This means your energy won’t dip and spike as it does when you eat sugary foods. This also helps with steady sleep to leave you more refreshed in the mornings!
I used to have restless nights and wake up feeling groggy, but on The Paleo Diet I felt full of energy first thing in the morning. By the end of the week, I was also falling asleep easier and staying asleep all night. Sleeping better naturally helped my energy levels improve during the day, which led to another good night of rest. It was a positive loop that got me out of a coffee rut!
Will I continue eating The Paleo Diet?
I never “dieted” in the past because calorie-focused diets always seemed too restrictive for me. The Paleo Diet, however, is not really a diet, it’s more of a lifestyle. I wasn’t counting calories or forcing myself not to eat, I was merely eating foods that were good for me, and quite honestly, they tasted pretty good!
When you eat the food you were designed to eat, the results happen naturally. It was amazing how much better I felt even after a short amount of time. I could not only see my body changing for the better, I also felt it.
If you have any dietary sensitivities like me, I recommend eating an elimination version of The Paleo Diet. Even though tomatoes are Paleo, they’re not healthy for me, the same can be said about some people with egg sensitivities. Maintaining a Paleo Diet even without these foods, though, means you won’t be neglecting any important nutrients they offer because you’ll still be eating a wide variety of whole foods.
The Paleo Diet has countless other benefits besides weight loss, sleep, and increased energy. Short term, it can also help people clear up acne, improve insulin sensitivity and gut health, and have a stronger immune system. Additionally, studies have shown a healthy diet will decrease the risk of various chronic diseases like cancer, cardiovascular disease, and neurodegeneration. Plus, these benefits will be visible even if Paleo foods are eaten just 85% of the time.
Will I still be indulging in a bagel with Nutella spread on top? Yes. Will I be doing such as often? Definitely not.
Go Paleo! Take the 7-Day TruePaleo™ Challenge
Are you looking to improve your health and wellness? I challenge you to go Paleo! Try the seven-day TruePaleo™ challenge, or if you want a slower transition, check out our Paleo 101 section and challenge yourself to 30 days of eating Paleo at least 85% of the time! A good day to start: January 1, 2021!
Emily’s Seven-Day TruePaleo™ Challenge Food Log
Check out my food log with recipe links below! Some of my favorite recipes from The Paleo Diet were:
- Protein-Packed Breakfast Casserole
- Banana Pancakes
- Marinated Steak Taco Bowl
- Mexican Chicken Stuffed Peppers
- I used ground turkey since I also needed turkey for the meatballs
- Zoodles with Turkey Meatballs
- Crispy Chicken Thighs with Kale and Red Onion
- I actually used chicken breasts. You can cut the chicken into bite-sized cubes before cooking to speed up the process and it’s easier to tell when the chicken is cooked through this way.
- Butternut Squash Risotto
- I added chicken to mine for more protein. I would also recommend doubling the spices for extra flavor!
Emily Rumsey joined The Paleo Diet® in the summer of 2020 and then was promoted to Website Manager. She graduated from the University of Colorado, Boulder with a BA in Journalism.More About The Author