Is the paleo diet right for you? My experience with going grain and dairy-free

If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram (you don’t? click on the links to the right to rectify that oversight ;) ), you may have seen a few recent updates that included the hashtag #paleo or #paleo diet.

paleo diet

Now I’m not usually a ‘follow a diet’ kind of person. I eat healthily (most of the time) and know which foods are best for fuelling MY body. But after hearing all the hype about the paleo diet, I became curious and decided to give it a try.

The basics? Focus on lean protein (grass fed beef, free range poultry, eggs and wild fish are best), lots of vegetables, some fruit, and a moderate amount of healthy fats (including nuts, seeds, avocados and olive oil); all the foods that our paloelithic ancestors would have had at their disposal. Avoid grains, dairy and refined sugars (including alcohol); none of which are thought to have been readily available prior to animal domestication and farming.

Really not a whole lot different from the way I typically eat. The only things I gave up were oatmeal (number one on my ‘desert island foods‘ list), Greek yogurt, ancient grains bread and brown rice.

My reasons for trying the paleo diet?

  • I’d noticed that I’d been eating starchy carbs and sugary treats more often than normal; both of which give me that ‘3 months pregnant’ look (and I’m definitely NOT pregnant…)
  • I was tired of feeling hungry all the time (increasing fat and protein and decreasing grains and sugars is supposed to help keep you feeling full longer)
  • recently read William Davis’ book, Wheat Belly, and am alarmed at how different ‘modern’ wheat is from it’s ancestral form and how negatively it affects many people’s blood sugar levels (I worry about blood sugar regulation; there is a history of diabetes in my family)
  • I kept hearing about all the amazing changes other people experienced after they switched to a paleo diet; who doesn’t want to feel more energetic? have shinier hair and clearer skin? boost their libido?

What did I eat?

Breakfast was usually eggs and veggies. Somedays I had what I refer to as ‘fake cereal’; hemp hearts, fruit, nuts, coconut flakes and almond milk. Almost like granola, but not quite. I also experimented with ‘grain-free’ oatmeal. Cooked quinoa flakes are almost as good as the real thing. And pumpkin pancakes rock (although I think I tend to over-do it with the maple syrup, undermining the even-blood sugar goal of the paleo diet).

paleo diet

Lunch was always fresh veggies, fruit and lean protein. Some days I added leftover sweet potato or quinoa to the mix.

Dinner resembled lunch. Veggies, lean protein, some fat (in the form of avocado, olive oil and nuts) and some evenings, more sweet potato or quinoa.

paleo diet

I snacked on single serving tuna fish, hard boiled eggs, dried or fresh fruit, sliced veggies and my home-made nuts and seeds mix.

After 21 days of relatively strict adherence (I kept the non-fat milk in my morning latte), here’s what I noticed:

  • an almost complete loss of belly bloat within 4 days. I didn’t lose any weight (nor was I trying to), but I no longer looked pregnant. On the two occasions I indulged in wheat (whole grain tortillas on mexican food night and some super fresh, Italian cheese bread with another dinner, mmm…I can still smell it!) I experienced indigestion and bloating within the hour
  • reduced cravings for sugary treats by the end of the first week (I have eaten only 1 handful of chocolate chips in three weeks)
  • no desire at all for alcohol (thank goodness hubby is off wine these days too; alcohol is really a social thing for me)
  • occasional feelings of dizziness or vertigo. This was not at all related to needing to eat, as it was as likely to happen before a meal as after. Nor time-of-the month hormonal changes.
  • increased mid-morning hunger. Regardless of how big my breakfast was, I kept finding myself famished by snack time
  • decreased mid-afternoon hunger, resulting in less snacking before dinner time (hooray!)
  • general crabbiness and irritability for the first week to 10 days. I really wanted to blame it on PMS and my kids’ behaviour, but honestly, neither of those things had anything to do with it.

The verdict?

  • I liked how (almost) following the paleo diet kept me from eating pre-packaged foods. It’s amazing how much of what we eat has wheat or some other grain in it
  • I was thrilled to see my ‘wheat belly’ disappear
  • I loved eating more fat than I usually do!
  • I disliked the dizzy spells and low energy during my morning workouts
  • My family didn’t appreciate ‘grumpy mommy’
  • I loved not feeling like I ‘needed’ something sweet with my coffee

In general, the paleo diet seems to work well for me. It’s certainly sustainable, but with a few minor tweaks. Over the next week or so I’ll be slowly adding oats (and Holy Crap cereal!) back to my morning meal. I’m hoping that the added energy and satiety they give me will not lead to belly bloat and carbohydrate cravings.

I’m also willing to break with the paleo diet to enjoy the occasional piece of chocolate cake and glass of wine; goodness knows I could have used one last week with all the back to school and activities chaos around my house!

P.S. I didn’t notice any change in my hair, skin or libido. I’ll keep you posted!

Have you tried the paleo diet?

I’d love to hear about YOUR experiences with it (and reasons for following it)!

Comments

  1. thats pretty much how I eat too.
    and YES
    I giggle I FEEL AWESOME—but really do still have craptastic hair and nails!
    whats up with that?! :)
    MIzMiz recently posted..Role model Monday: It’s how I do.My Profile

    • Oh, the nails! Mine suck too (I will SHOW you this weekend!). I haven’t really noticed a change in the hair as I have always had fabulous hair (and the ego to match???)

  2. Really interesting. I was waiting to hear how you felt about this diet. So many on it. I am not one to cut out whole food groups. Personally, I don’t think it is healthy to do that but to each their won. I know for me, I would not be able to adhere to this diet as much I I do stick to my own food plan. :-) I know that when rated by professionals out there, it is not rated well due to the exclusion of food groups but again, to each their own is what I say. I think the bloat might be due to cutting out the food & then eating it after not eating it too.. kinda like when you have carbs after a low carb diet & the people gain weight back…

    I think you can take any diet plan out there & modify to make it your won & what works for you & that you can sustain long term which sounds like where you are headed.

    THX for sharing!!! Very interesting. Me, not going to do anything as restrictive unless a doc says I have too! :-)

    • The funny thing is, Jody, it really doesn’t feel all that restrictive! Very close to the way I usually eat. Have a great day!

  3. OH crap – my Gratitude link did not show up – not sure why…. here it is
    Jody – Fit at 54 recently posted..Gratitude & another HAPPY BDAY!!!! Thanks;Happy New YearMy Profile

  4. This was really interesting to me to read. I definitely think it has its merits. I do wonder if you get enough carbs to sustain marathon training. Keep us posted!
    misszippy recently posted..I’m alive…My Profile

    • I like the general idea too. No idea how well it works for endurance athletes. There’s got to be somebody out there who’s tried it!

  5. FACT: paleo makes me feel so good. The one thing I always say is don’t knock it ’till you try it! And the funny part is so many of us already incorporate a bunch of these foods into our diet and don’t even realize. xoxoxo!
    Katelyn recently posted..Rest Days = Eat-My-Body-Weight-in-Food Days.My Profile

    • Katelyn, yes! I was so surprised that I really didn’t have to change very much. And it’s kind of fun looking for a new genre of recipes to try out! I’ll be sticking with it (mainly), but adding my morning grains back into the mix. I hate feeling hungry early in the day…

  6. I eat paleo about 95% of the time with the exception of my protein powder, stevia and my weekly cheat meal. I love it, there are so many great recipes out there now, it is hard not to love eating paleo! Paleo is helpful for me because of my allergy to soy and my lactose intolerance, both of those are nearly nonexistent in the diet yay! Have you checked out any of the Paleo podcasts such as Balanced Bites or the Paleo Solution? AMAZING! I listen to them every time I’m on the train. Keep up the great work, I look forward to hearing more about your progress!
    Amber @ExSoyCise recently posted..My First Hot Mess Pilates Class at Sacred BrooklynMy Profile

    • Amber, thanks for recommending those podcasts. I hadn’t heard of them before. I love to listen to radio shows and podcasts while I’m cooking! Even better when they’re about food!

  7. AWESOME experience! I’ve noticed the same – far less belly bloat and way less cravings. Greek yogurt is the hardest for me to give up, but I love how great I feel and like to follow a “modified paleo” diet most of the time

    • I didn’t mind giving up yogurt, probably because it’s only been a staple in my diet for the last year or two. But morning oats? Torture! Adding them in (a little bit anyways). Thanks for stopping by Clare!

  8. Thanks, Tamara, for taking the time to try this and thoughtful review. As a confirmed vegan, I doubt that it is for me, but with all the hype I’ve been a little curious, at least about cutting down on some of the grains that I eat.

    I agree with Jody above. I’m not sure if it is sustainable for the long term, unless there is a medical need for it. Cutting out whole food groups is difficult. I’ve also heard that some of the amazing results that people report are due in part from cutting all of the processed food out of their diets, which is certainly a good thing in any case.

    Thanks again for the report. I’ll continue to read to see how it is going for you.
    Debbie @ Live from La Quinta recently posted..Sweaty Saturday: I Lied. It’s About Cross CountryMy Profile

    • Debbie, I totally agree. That was my primary reason for giving it a try. For me, having a list of foods to watch out for (wheat and grains, in this case), really make me pay attention to product labels and think harder about choosing a muffin or scone at the coffee shop!

  9. I am glad you tried this to see for yourself how being off WHEAT affected you.. and it looks like in a positive way.

    I am the opposite of you with breakfast. When I eat eggs only or egg whites cooked with ground flax, I can go till noon… if I add carbs to my breakfast, I need a mid morning snack.

    I am so so much better off the fewer grainy/starchy carbs I eat… even whole grains.

    Well-written post, Tamara. Really enjoyed reading it.
    Elle recently posted..Chocolate Protein PopsMy Profile

    • Ha, ha! I KNEW that you would like this post Elle! Yes, Wheat Belly scared the pants off me. I’m trying to work some paleo baking into my children’s diets now too. They do love their wheat…

      Do you remember that I also reviewed the book The Metabolic Effect Diet? Their prescription diet for me was very similar to paleo, with the exception of eliminating oats and rice. According to that diet, my energy levels would be stabilized by about 5 bites of starchy carbs with each of my 3 main meals. Pretty much exactly what I experienced in my 3 weeks going Paleo. Coincidence? Maybe not!

  10. I’m so glad to see this post. I had already planned on doing some Paleo research this morning! I can’t take the bloat anymore either. I cut out gluten a while ago and it did help although not completly. The only grains I ever really eat are brown rice or quinoa and my oats and oat flour. I hate the idea of eliminating them completely but I’ve considered trying Paleo for so long now. Thanks for the info, glad you are liking it!
    Kristin @ My Mission Impossible recently posted..Sweet Potato Pumpkin BreadMy Profile

    • Kristin, I found that almond flour is really a great substitute for whole wheat. And I’ve been using quinoa flakes instead of oats for my morning oatmeal. There are tons of great recipes out there, so you don’t have to experiment (and fail!) yourself!

  11. Thanks so much for sharing your experience with the Paleo diet. I have one male friend who swears by it, but haven’t heard much about it from the cool ladies in my life. I appreciate your candor in describing all of its impacts, grumpy mommy, and the way you plan to move forward in moderation. Can’t wait to see you at fitbloggin!
    Shira recently posted..Frankenstein Foods – When Culinary Mash-Ups Go Really WrongMy Profile

  12. Great review of the diet!!! I have been curious myself an lived what you had to say :)

  13. I have not tried the Paleo diet, nor will I. For me, what works best is just eating in moderation and making healthful choices overall. Sure, I’d love a smaller tummy, but not enough to eat meat and give up my beloved baking. Diets aren’t for me; general awareness is more my style.
    AlexandraFunFit recently posted..Tips to Look Super Cool and Totally Hot on CameraMy Profile

    • Totally agree that awareness is key! For me, making some small tweaks to my diet was all about becoming aware of what works FOR ME and what doesn’t! I enjoy meat already, so not a problem there. I love baking too, just not what it does to my belly!

  14. I guess I have an inherent problem with diets that cut out whole food groups, as if those foods are flawed in some way (agreeing with Jody here). This just strikes me as sensational and faddish. I stay away from demonizing foods as a whole, though I myself probably demonize refined sugary and fatty foods with no nutritional value. I could never, and wouldn’t want to, eliminate Greek yogurt and cereal unless I was violently allergic. I AM willing to tweak my diet however, and hopefully people don’t make ridiculous sacrifices in order to “follow” a rigid, restrictive diet. Obviously as a health & fitness professional you have a good perspective on this already Tamara.
    Suzanne @WorkoutNirvana recently posted..Making Clean Eating Work for You, Not the Other Way AroundMy Profile

    • Like you Suzanne, I’m not really one to follow diets, faddish or otherwise. I just want to know what works for my body and what doesn’t. I’ve noticed huge changes in the past 5 years, in terms of what I can eat and maintain the body I want (and what I can’t). This test was just another of many of the little tests I’ve performed on myself to see what happens when… And what I learned was YES, I need some starchy carbs to keep me happy and sane (but limiting them makes it easier to say no to baked and processed foods too!).

  15. Thanks for posting on this. I’ve heard the term, too but haven’t really buckled down and read about it, so this was very helpful. I agree–not a whole lot different from a recommended healthy diet, and a lot of it makes good sense. I still don’t do well with depriving myself of anything, though, so I’m glad you were the guinea pig in this. :)
    Carrie Rubin recently posted..The Seneca Scourge Is OutMy Profile

    • I think the key is whether or not you feel like you’re depriving yourself. I have clients who feel like giving up chips and pop and chocolate and fast food is deprivation! I didn’t ever feel deprived, although I missed certain foods (if that makes sense).

  16. Like Suzanne, Alexandra, and some others who have commented, I can’t get behind paleo. In fact, people in various regions of the world have successfully adapted to many different kinds of diets (e.g., whole milk, blood, and beef for the Masai tribe; vast amounts of dairy for Scandinavians). Simply put, there’s no such thing as a single “best” human diet.

    Moreover, there’s zero scientific basis for the demonization of carbohydrates, the body’s preferred fuel. Oats, brown rice, potatoes, sweet potatoes—these are ideal foods for athletes. It goes without saying that protein and fats also have to be adequate and of high quality.

    What makes us gain fat is surplus calories, full stop.

    If paleo works for you, I salute you. But it’s not something I will ever recommend to my clients or indeed to any athlete.
    Mary C. Weaver, CSCS recently posted..Why slow weight loss is the faster solutionMy Profile

    • Mary, thanks so much for your thoughts. I agree, that we don’t need to demonize carbohydrates, but I don’t think that’s what paleo does. Sweet potato, squash, quinoa, fruits and veggies are all carbs, as you know, and part of the paleo approach.

      Most of the people I know who’ve tried paleo do it for 1 of 2 reasons; because their bodies can’t tolerate milk and wheat products or because they’re curious to see if making changes in their diet will make them feel and look better.

      I would never recommend this (or any other diet) to a client either. Rather, I would suggest that they journal their food and record how their body responds to those foods. A diet that they can tolerate and stick to for the long term, is the best diet for them!

  17. Love how open you were about this little experiment! I tried paleo one time and could never get past the initial phase of adjusting. It made me really mean and I work with too many people to be like that :/
    Liz @ Southern Charm recently posted..Fall Buys, Round One.My Profile

    • Ha, ha! Yes, the grumpiness was definitely a down side. That’s why I’m re-introducing small amounts of oats and brown rice back in to my diet!

  18. I tried out paleo last week and also found that I experienced that vertigo. I also got headaches and I am chalking this all up to the “carb flu”. I enjoyed the diet overall, but would likely add soaked legumes back in and whole grains on occasion. Plan to do the Whole30 after my half marathon to flush the system.
    Jacki (@JackiRHayes) recently posted..Solve Problems With JournalingMy Profile

  19. This is a lot of what I eat, minus the oatmeal. I love oatmeal.

    Really interesting post. Thank for sharing your experience!
    Kierston recently posted..5 Tips: Easing The Pain in Fitness Competition Heels!My Profile

  20. Yesyesyes! I am so glad you had a positive experience with paleo! My own first month was similar. After eliminating wheat, I IMMEDIATELY (within 3-4 days) noticed my bloaty belly disappear, and now when I DO indulge in the occasional (flour- or sugar-based) treat, my digestion quickly reminds me why I feel better without those foods.

    I didn’t have any grand skin improvements, maybe a somewhat improved complexion? But mostly that my small recurring hand eczema disappeared when the wheat/grains/everything did. Win!
    Meredith @ DareYouTo recently posted..Make your own SauerkrautMy Profile

    • Meredith, that’s great to hear that it helped clear up your eczema. I think that figuring out what works for your body is key, regardless of the name of the diet and what other people might think!

  21. I really like this post. I tried going paleo earlier this month and had a horrible time with it. I’ve discovered that my stomach hates most animals…with the exception of eggs or occasional grass fed beef. I did however notice the belly deflate within the first few days as well…so I did take the gluten/dairy concept away and am working on applying it to my normal diet.
    Christy recently posted..#MotivationalMondays- 3…2…1 WorkoutMy Profile

    • I think it’s great that you’re learning what works best for YOUR body! Sometimes it takes lots of trial and error to figure out what the ‘best diet for you’ is!

  22. It’s all about finding what works for you. Thanks for sharing you experience!
    Pamela Hernandez recently posted..BetterU Challenge: Small Changes Yield Big ResultsMy Profile

  23. Thanks for the through recap! I’ve been moving more towards the paleo concept, I’m not a “diet mentality” fan either. I do feel better after cutting out processed carbs & sugars. I am thinking of doing a more strict paleo for a few weeks to see how it goes. Thank you for the “Wheat Belly” recommendation as well.
    Katie @ KatieEnPursuit recently posted..Hugs Not DrugsMy Profile

    • Your welcome Katie! Just make sure you get enough carbohydrates via fruits and veggies. I think that was what led to me feeling dizzy and experiencing vertigo.
      Let me know how it goes!

  24. Hi Tamara,

    I find it interesting that your belly got smaller. I notice that when I eat foods with wheat that I feel bloated and when I don’t eat it as much that I don’t have that problem, so I’ll be cutting back a lot.

    Glad you shared your experience.

    Take care,

    Evelyn

  25. Great post, thank for sharing. I have been considering Paleo and this was jsut what I needed to decide!

  26. @RunLisaRun1 says:

    Great start to your paleo adventure. I have been paleo for quite sometime. It is best to really educate on the lifestyle. Practical Paleo is a great book in addition to Wheat Belly. I hate to see people google paleo and think they know what it is. There is alot to learn. I do dairy…raw milk is best and milk in its fermented form is best especially from a good source. I make my own greek yogurt and flavour with honey or fruit puree etc. Sweet potatoes and tubers are good for an extra energy source should you need it for endurance sports. I dont feel that i have eliminated whole food groups that were neccesary for my health..just because its a food group doesnt mean i needed it..my blood work is stellar, bone density scan same. I ate the way I was taught as we all were, whole grains, low fat, etc..but , I personally thrive eating a more ancestral/paleo/primal/pre processed food way. Not trying to convince anyone..just my experience. Education is key.

  27. Nice post. I was checking constantly this blog and I’m impressed! Very useful information particularly the last part :) I care for such info a lot. I was looking for this certain info for a very long time. Thank you and best of luck.
    paleo Diet recently posted..paleo DietMy Profile

  28. Great post! It really liked seeing your thoughts at the end about how things went and how you felt through the process. I switched to Paleo (about 80/20 Paleo) a few months back. I am allergic to about 75-80 foods, so Paleo is a little bit difficult since some of the staples are out for me – beef, tomato, eggs, most veggies. But, I’m allergic to all grains except for rice and oats, dairy, and tons of other non-Paleo foods, so it was kind of natural for me to go this route. I’ve found that I’m almost never hungry and I don’t crave much of anything any more – I used to crave sweets and carbs ALL THE TIME. Also, I’ve lost about 8lbs, which totally wasn’t the goal since I don’t weigh all that much to begin with, but I think I still look healthy regardless. Thanks again for sharing!
    Erica recently posted..Menu Moday with linky – Week of 6/10My Profile

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  34. You noted “grain fed beef” which is actually really bad for you. The best beef for you would be grass fed. Cows aren’t intended to eat grain. Cows that are fed grain are commonly on antibiotics to fight the infections their bodies create due to poor nutrition. They use grain to plump them up quick then butcher them.

  35. Giselle says:

    Sorry. Just wanted to point something extremely important here (and i haven’t read the whole article or all of the comments so apologies if u have already addressed this), but it’s grass-fed meat and not grain fed. Grains are what paleo cut out of the diet and is a big NO-NO.

  36. I have tried several diets and I can tell by my experience that the paleo is the best one,atleast for me!
    Although it is very hard on the begining and a little expensive to be on paleo diet,I think
    it pays off.
    Mirza recently posted..Truth about calcium absorptionMy Profile

    • Mirza, you hit the nail on the head when you said ‘at least for me’. There are so many approaches to weight loss and healthy living. Figuring out what works for YOU and your body is the key to long term success. Congrats!

      • That is what I meant Tamara.When I was on on another healthy “diet” I had problems with gluten,lentis and bens,but I know people that eat those without any problems.
        Let say that the problem with paleo can be if you are busy person it is very hard to organize and eat these way all day long and some people will think you are weird.
        Thats why I stopped explaining people what is my diet.
        But like you said we are all different so what works for me,might not work for other.
        Mirza recently posted..Why do we need magnesiumMy Profile

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