Sunday, June 29, 2014
So you think you want to do a 30-day "paleo challenge," huh? Here's a suggestion.
You have seen the headlines lately: 30-day paleo challenges like the Whole 30 are getting really popular.
And you are thinking about trying it.
Good for you. I think there is a huge value in staying super squeaky-clean with your food for 30 days. When you emerge from that month, you feel great. Then you can then do a little tinkering (emphasis on "a little") over the next few months to figure out how you really want to eat for the long haul -- continuing to feel great, but probably departing somewhat from the super-strict template of the challenge in ways that work for you.
You may recall that one of my favorite phrases is: "I eat whatever I want." For me, that means eating in a way that makes me feel good day-to-day. So, yeah, I'm almost entirely paleo. All my meals start with animal protein, a lot of vegetables, good fats and maybe some fruit. But I also eat a little bit of full-fat dairy and enjoy a non-gluten alcoholic beverage, and every so often (a few times a month) I even eat things like white rice, beans or corn. What I don't ever eat are horrible vegetable oils, soy, grains (other than that occasional white rice) or processed foods. The key for me is not ascetic perfection; it's eating extremely well in a non-inflammatory and sustainable way. So I buy very high-quality animal protein, almost as high-quality vegetables and fruits and try not to ever regret food choices.
And, as a result, I feel good.... Really good.
I assume that's also why you are thinking about doing a Whole 30 or some other similar paleo challenge: you want to ditch the bad food and feel good. For good. Not just for 30 days.
So let me make a suggestion that flies in the face of our "Here! Now!" instantaneous-gratification world: if you want it to last, take your time with the change.
There may be a few tough folks out there who can credibly and sustainably shift overnight from a Standard American Diet (SAD) of Pringles, pizza, KFC and beer to full-on paleo for 30 days, and then comfortably loosen things up ever-so-slightly thereafter to a still-non-inflammatory/non-SAD way of eating that they sustain from there on out.
But those people are really rare.
I'm finding that the most successful paleo transitions over the long haul generally happen a lot more slowly. Conversely, an awful lot of people who do a 100% full-on high dive into paleo straight from SAD-ville end up leaving the paleo way of life just as quickly. They torture the living beejeezus out of themselves by going all-in right away, spend 30 days in that frazzled state, and then party like rock stars once the 30 days are over.
That approach is kind of the exact opposite of "sustainable." In fact, it just sort of sounds like a "diet." And diets suck. And fail.
So what about that 30-day challenge? Didn't I say there was a huge value in it? Yeah I did, but I think that value is best realized when you are really ready for it.
Everyone's different, and every individual is going to have a different struggle with a transition to paleo, but for many of us the biggest hurdle is to stop eating grains. So, a long time ago I did an article called "How to Start Eating Paleo." The point of that one? Take a step-by-step approach. Ditch grains first -- completely. Then, when you are fully comfortable with that change, get rid of something else, like legumes, or dairy, and piece-by-piece over the next few months you will get where you need to be.
Because, yeah, where you want to end up is with 30 clean days, like a Whole 30, after which you can customize paleo to fit your own individual needs. But if you high-dive your way into a Whole 30, I worry that you may leave the program on as dramatic and precipitous of an exit ramp.
Remember, the point of paleo is successfully and sustainably improving your whole freaking life by permanently bettering all of your food choices. A Whole 30 or other 30-day challenge is a nice way to seal the deal on that kind of permanent change, but it probably is more than you can handle right off the bat if yesterday (and all the days before) you were eating like complete crap. If you want your shift to a non-inflammatory/paleo/primal lifestyle to actually last, consider tackling the individual aspects of "getting to" a clean 30 days over a period of time that really works for you.
And that rarely starts by diving headfirst into a 30-day paleo challenge. Work your way into it. Then do that clean 30 days when you're really ready. Not when your friends or your gym tells you to -- when you are really ready for it.