Confessions from a Closet Paleo Sort-of-Convert

Even though I have been doing Crossfit for almost two years now, I had long held out on eating paleo, insisting that I love food too much (I still do), and my motto was eat everything in moderation (and it still is, but that “everything” includes more paleo-type foods). I had also apparently convinced myself to believe that I didn’t even give a dang about how much my performance improved in a sport that I thought I was just doing to stay in shape and have fun (it turns out I can be pretty competitive, but of course I still want to stay in shape and definitely still have fun).

I was so averse to intentionally drinking (eating?) the Crossfit kool-aid that I still taste a little word vomit in my mouth anytime I say the word “paleo.”

I think it’s because when I think of the connotation (short for paleolithic) I find absolutely nothing appealing about comparing myself to my unkempt, ancestral homo sapiens, no matter how hard GEICO tried to show another side.

On the other hand, “dino chow” (a term affectionately adopted by Paleo Parents in their new book and blogger and cookbook author, Melissa Joulwan), now that’s pretty badass. I like likening my food choices to those of a dinosaur. Every kid who grew up watching The Land Before Time (and I mean the original, not the 345098134 sequels they produced), held a special place in their heart for dinosaurs. (Let’s ignore for now that the heroes of the film were all vegetarian dinosaurs, and the lone carnivore, Sharptooth, was the bad guy…)

And so, in an effort to do well on the recently-finished Crossfit Open WODs (I finished 298th out of some 1300 in my uber-competitive region – not too shabby!) I made a conscious effort to clean up my eating by secretly adopting a sort-of paleo diet. I didn’t really tell anybody I was doing it, especially since I had long scoffed at the term myself, and since I hadn’t been eating poorly, really, anyway–in fact sometimes I “accidentally” made us a paleo entree because that just happens to be what I had on hand.

But rather than feed you excuses for why it took me so long to give it a shot, or explain to you the ins and outs of the paleo philosophy (you can do that yourself here or here or here), let me tell you what non-diet-related things I have been most delighted to discover, in large part thanks to this book, by Melissa Joulwan (check out her blog here).

Cool thing #1: Planning Ahead
Every chef who has worked in a restaurant (not I) knows the importance of preparing ingredients ahead of time in order to make the dish assembly process efficient and seamless. Home chefs should learn well from this concept. To make eating paleo easier, I can cook a bunch of stuff all in one day (a cooking “workout,” if you will), pack it in super cute glass storage containers (check TJMaxx or other discount stores!), and put it in the fridge until I’m ready to assemble (see below).

Cool thing #2: Minimal Thinking Required
So, now that I have pounds of meat and oodles of half-way prepared veggies in the fridge, I can come home in any state of STARV-ing-ness (to a messy house after a harried day at work and an exhausting workout, no less) and quickly whip up something healthy to stuff my face. Using a simple ratio of 3-6 oz. of meat (depending on what it is) and 2 cups of veggies reheated  by  sauteeing in less than a tablespoon of fat (usually coconut oil or rendered bacon fat, but sometimes butter), the only decision I have to make when I come home is whether I am in the mood for Thai, Chinese, Mexican, American, French, Italian, Greek, or Middle-Eastern flavors, and whip up a simple sauce or seasoning accordingly.

Like this Thai-inspired chicken with coconut-almond green beans:

Or this Asian-y chicken, mushroom, broccoli skillet (that I ate for breakfast?):

Melissa Joulwan calls them “hot plates” and suggests that they make up at least 3-4 of your meals per week. You’d think that one would get tired of eating grilled chicken or ground beef all week. But with as many options as she suggests for jazzing it up (combined with the rotation of fresh veggies that would be in season where you are), I’ve been incredibly impressed so far and would site that (if for no other reason) as the reason that you should check out her book.

Cool thing #3: Yum
It tastes delicious, and Alex hasn’t complained!

Caveat: I haven’t made a total paleo transition, nor do I intend to. Even among the Crossfit community, there is an enormous range of opinions on the benefits and limitations of a strict paleo diet; many of the top athletes do some combination of healthy eating that may include only elements of paleo. We still drink whole milk (from grass-fed cows), bread/gluten are still allowed (though it just seems to work out that we’re not eating as much, down even from the limited amounts we were eating before), cheese and fruits and nuts make nice snacks, and ice cream still ranks among our favorite movie-viewing treats. I still think it’s important to eat locally and in season (I do cringe just a little with all the coconut products I have been purchasing), perhaps even more so than eating paleo, so I am mindful of that. But I just wanted to show you some of the no-fuss benefits to this sort of lifestyle that I’m glad I no longer overlook.

You can do it too. If you want to. I promise. As for us, looks like we’ll be eating this way for at least another month as we both have the honor of competing with our CrossFit team at regionals in early May!

Have you ever tried a new pattern of eating and been impressed with the results? What intrigues/scares you about the Paleo diet? How would you pass the time if you were a neanderthal? (I realize I’m probably woefully inaccurate with my knowledge of prehistoric terminology – please forgive me). What strategies do you use to get a meal on the table fast? Do tell.

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3 thoughts on “Confessions from a Closet Paleo Sort-of-Convert

  1. What would scare me about eating this way is the research that shows that when 10% or more of your diet comes from animal protein, your body becomes very acidic which puts you at risk for more illness. I don’t know much about the Paleo diet, though. Would you say that it’s very meat-centric? Do you eat meat every day?

    • Jessalyn says:

      Good question. Yes, paleo is very meat-centric. I don’t follow the guidelines strictly, and by no means do I claim to be an expert on the diet. But I do know a couple things that might address the increased animal protein concern: first, I am also eating more vegetables than usual so perhaps the increased in take of nutrients counterbalances any auto-immune inflammation; second, I choose lean, well-raised meats from local farms – grass-fed animals have proven to have higher levels of omega-3s, good fats, and leaner quality of meat than factory-farm raised (not sure which type of meat was the subject of the study you reference). But in answer to your question, on average, yes, I eat meat in at least one meal per day. That’s the way I was raised though – little bit of protein, little bit of grains, and generous helping of veggies. I think each individual has to figure out what works best for him/herself because truly everybody’s body (digestion, metabolism, immune, etc.) is different.

  2. Hi, there!

    Thanks for the shout out to Well Fed. I’m glad the Hot Plates are helpful and that you’re enjoying the recipes. YAY!

    Your answer about protein/acidity is right on. Yes, protein does make the body more acidic, but that’s why the Whole30 puts so much empahsis on eating lots and lots of vegetables and on high-quality, grassfed, organic animal protein (which contains more omega-3). But the veg and the high-quality meat make the body more alkaline and put it back in Ph balance.

    Best wishes for more happy, paleo meals!

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