Our CrossFit gym is going to have a gym-wide 30-day good-health challenge coming up soon. I don't think they have come up with a name for it yet, but it is a pretty cool endeavor, encompassing not just the standard-issue paleo challenge/Whole 30, but an emphasis on stress-reduction, good sleep and smart exercise as well.
That latter stuff I covered pretty recently in this post, but the food angle of a paleo challenge is something I haven't talked about in a while.
Why in the hell would you ever want to do one of these things? I will try and answer that for you, and, maybe, give you an inkling of where your paleo challenge is intended to get you.
Let's start with what it is *not*.
There are, you may recall, ten things that are cool to eat/drink during a paleo challenge, but the goal of this challenge is *not* to mindlessly restrict you to those ten things forever.
I think it is a popular misconception that paleo is a blanket/one-size-fits-all sort of bootcamp-ish exercise. It's not. There are as many permutations to the twists and turns of paleo/primal eating as you choose to insert. Remember, I eat paleo/primal and I eat whatever I want.
But the 30 days of a paleo challenge *are* fairly restrictive, and they are that way for a good reason. The goal is to achieve three things :
1. Detox you by removing all the most common sources of gut irritation from your food. It may be that only *some* of the "no" list of grains, legumes, dairy, shitty seed oils, etc. really bothers you, but, right now, we can't be sure which are really bad for you and which aren't. So we are going to remove them all, and let you detox from whichever ones are a problem.
2. Feed you spectacularly well while you are detoxing. That list of ten things that you can eat is so loaded with animal protein, good carbs and good fats that your body will be doing figurative somersaults and leaps of joy at its nutritional density. All the while the bad stuff is being kept away, the good stuff in those ten things is going to supercharge you.
3. The most important thing of all: let you figure out how to take charge of your food and make it work best for your lifestyle for the rest of your life.
See, I think the coolest realization of paleo -- and maybe simultaneously the scariest too -- is that no one is in control of your health but you. Most of modern medicine is geared towards writing you prescriptions and sending you home to eat whatever you want while you take pills to mask symptoms. The responsibility to eat your way to good health is on you. A paleo challenge is your gateway to figuring that out.
Once your 30 days of clean food is up, your body should be in a pretty great place, simultaneously detoxed and supercharged. You *could* choose to just keep eating that way with 100% perfect compliance, but, chances are, you won't. Very few paleo challengers approach day 31 on out as perfectly as they did the challenge days. Instead, you probably will occasionally go off-road a bit. But there are reasonable ways to do that and bounce back pretty well, and there are ways to do it and end up sick and miserable. Figuring out the difference is a pretty cool thing.
An example: I *love* ice cream, and, unlike liquid dairy, it doesn't completely wreck me digestively, so, while I don't eat it often, occasionally I indulge. What I learned from the paleo challenge was, first of all, that liquid dairy is bad news for me -- whenever I try to reinsert it into my life, I get either digestive issues, major snot buildup in my sinuses, or both -- and, secondly, that if I want to eat ice cream, it works a lot better for me as a part of an otherwise-clean carb reboot, either post-workout or the night before a tough workout day. That is a very cool thing to have learned. It means I can, every so often, make a small spectacle of myself with, say, Coffee Coffee Buzz Buzz Buzz and suffer only minor consequences if I time the creamy caffeine party properly.
And you may figure out something similar with booze or cheese or whatever the non-paleo treat of your choice is. Or you may decide that a strategy like carb backloading or
skipping or delaying breakfast is the thing for you.
In fact, you probably will be able to create a pretty awesome/personalized "Shouldn't versus Don't" list.
A paleo challenge is all about empowering you with the tools to take charge of your own health. Use it that way, and, if you do, following all those rules for 30 days will have a lot more purpose, and, I hope, not seem so onerous. It's not a mindless exercise in ascetic deprivation; it's a very mindful attempt to get you to figure out what works for you for your whole life, so you can have fun *and* feel great for a really long time.
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