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Paleo at Six Months: 10 Lessons Learned

Hoca

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image courtesy of Hanna-Barbera/Warner Bros.

Note: this was written in May 2011. Check out my one year recap post here, as well as my three-year recap post here.


So right now I’m hovering around the 6-month mark on my modified Paleo diet (which = “Paleo + some dairy + white rice”), and I thought that I should share a few musings and pointers.

Since starting the diet, I’ve lost a few things (besides fifteen unwanted pounds). Namely, I’ve lost post-meal tiredness, midday tiredness, and stomach issues (read: gas). For better or worse, I’ve also lost my taste for beer and most wines, mostly because they make me tired and give me headaches. I’ve gained a ton of energy, a much more pleasant and positive mood, and lately I’ve been able to exercise for the first time in over six years.

Here are some pointers that I wish I had known six months ago.

1. You will not miss the “finer” things about non-Paleo foods after a while. Simply put, the cravings go away after about a month, provided that first month is fairly strict. Now, candy doesn’t even phase me (although I will smell it from time to time – I know, it’s weird). Many dishes can be made without wheat, and if done right, you won’t notice (or care about) any difference. For instance, pizza is easily replicated with tapioca-starch-and-cheese crusts.

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2. If you can tolerate rice, there’s nothing you’ll be missing out on (except crusty french bread, which I still haven’t found). Rice (or even sweet potato starch) noodles are awesome. You can even find Italian pasta made with rice in most grocery stores. Rice-based breads are hit and miss, but Udi’s white bread and bagels are absolutely perfect, relatively cheap ($4/loaf), and their worst ingredient is canola oil. In fact, I have been drying and blending Udi’s white bread to make some killer breadcrumbs, too. Kinnikinnick hamburger buns (pictured above) aren’t bad either, and Whole Foods makes a good gluten-free hamburger bun as well (you can find them in the frozen food section). Bear in mind that these rice-based breads have an element of processing to them, and probably shouldn’t be everyday items – but they’re great ways to enjoy a meal from time to time without going totally overboard.

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3. Hard cider has been a seamless beer replacement for me. I prefer imported Strongbow (in a can – although I have a sneaking suspicion they use a sweetener in their recipe) which is hard to find in our neck of the woods, so I usually settle on Woodchuck green apple cider. I’ve also stumbled upon a couple organic ciders in the DC area that are great.

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4. If you look hard enough, you can find Paleo-friendly condiments, or something that’s darn close. We’ve found many ingredients that others have told me are impossible to find: liquid smoke, worcestershire, ketchup, mayo, barbeque, ranch, hoisin, and oyster sauce to name a few. Although we prefer to make our own stocks, broths, and rendered fats, I’m not ready to tackle condiments just yet, and I’m thankful that we’ve found all of those things after a little searching.

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5. Although I disagree with the whole idea behind “cheat meals” or “cheat days” – wherein you eat whatever you want – I can see the virtue in an occasional indulgence. But I don’t feel that indulgence has to be completely off the Paleo spectrum. For instance, I eat a little dark chocolate once or twice a week after dinner, and it’s satisfying. Indulgences don’t have to be all-out binges; when you focus on the small sidesteps, you can be indulged without having any overbearing guilt (or feeling lousy afterwards).

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6. Coconut water. This stuff is basically nature’s sports drink, full of magnesium and potassium. I tend to drink two or three a week, and they’re the ultimate pick-me-up on those long afternoons. I like the Naked brand coconut water. Shopper’s hint – if you buy 12 of them at Whole Foods they’ll give you a case discount.

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7. Kerrygold, Kerrygold, Kerrygold. All of their products are grass fed and imported from Ireland. The butter is delicious, and every cheese I’ve tried has been tasty as well. The best thing about the brand is that they actually don’t label their products as being “grass fed” so the prices are reasonable. Plus, you can find them at Costco, Sam’s Club, and BJ’s.

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8. Once in a while my wife and I will have ice cream, and we love Haagen Dazs’ “Five” line. The ice creams contain only five ingredients: milk (lactose reduced), cream, sugar, egg yolks, and whatever flavor the ice cream is (strawberries, for instance). They also happen to be the best tasting ice creams I’ve ever had. Word to the wise, though – many of their “natural” Haagen Dazs ice creams have those same ingredients, but for a better price.

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9. Search around for local farms that sell pastured, grass-fed meats. Many places will sell in convenient sizes (30-40 lb. packs) or a la carte, at prices much lower than what you’ll find at supermarkets. The packs are great because they’ll inspire you to cook new meals using the cuts of meat that you may not usually buy on their own. If you have the room, look into getting an extra freezer – they’re pretty cheap and definitely worth it. Grass-fed meat is usually available seasonally, so stock up when you can get a chance. EatWild is a good starting place to find good meats in your area. I advise against buying meat online and having it shipped because the prices are usually high, you’re not supporting local farms, and it seems like wasting fuel.

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10. I love seafood but I’m not a big fan of fish; luckily, there are ways of getting more fish in your diet without eating a ton of it. Every morning I take two teaspoons of Barlean’s omega swirl which doesn’t taste like fish at all. Twice a week I eat a can of these boneless, skinless sardines in olive oil, which are actually pretty dang good. Also, I try to eat smoked salmon with my breakfast every few days.
 
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