Embracing Paleo

I grew up the way many people my age probably did, in the era of fast, convenient, ready made everything. From food and drinks to entertainment and lifestyle, most things I have ever wanted have been made extremely accessible and “easy”. I ate Pop tarts and cereal for breakfast, drank diet coke and microwaved most of my meals all the way through college. I would plunk down at night and watch TV, play video games, or occasionally hang out with friends doing something similar indoors.

After college, I did try and get healthier – I joined a local gym, started to buy vegetables (although the frozen, already cut up kind), and even tried an Atkins diet. I have never been what one might call “overweight” but I definitely not healthy. I have been lucky to avoid major illnesses and my biggest problem growing up was some eczema on my legs that would become better or worse depending on the season or how stressed I was – or so I thought at the time.

When I moved to Florida from Connecticut to attend graduate school for social work, the amount of free time I had led to many nights out with friends filled with excessive drinking and poor food choices. I was becoming unhappy with how I felt about myself and how I looked more each day. During this time, I visited a friend in New Jersey and noticed that they had a brand of toothpaste I had never heard of – Tom’s. When I asked about it, my friend began to loosely describe what I would later learn was the Paleo diet. Later, he sent me Robb Wolf’s, The Paleo Solution, which I quickly consumed.

I was extremely intrigued by the message in this book and told some more of my friends about it. The response I usually received was the same one I felt at the time, “that is waaaaayy too hard!”. So even though I had this knowledge and felt like it made sense, I still did not embrace this new lifestyle right away. My story, which I hope will be similar to other people’s stories, is one of embracing the paleo lifestyle over time.

While still in grad school, I tried to clean up my diet but still ate pizza every Friday night. After graduating and getting a job, I would bring a healthy lunch to work, but eat desserts and treats whenever someone brought them in. At potluck events, I would make a paleo dish but then also eat the non-paleo dishes my coworkers brought. I finally found CrossFit in 2011 and talked with other people who were trying to get into Paleo, whether doing 30 day challenges or trying to follow an 80/20 approach. This helped push me to be less lax about what I was eating though I still was far from perfect.

I stated to read Paleo blogs and follow Paleo feeds on Facebook and Instagram. This helped me discover recipes I wanted to try, as well as the difference between grassfed and grainfed meat, among many other tidbits about organic vegetables and fruits, etc. As a social worker, however, I did not have the budget while living on my own to purchase the higher quality foods that I desired. But, I did the best I could with what I had. I started cooking all of my meals and made sure I had leftovers to bring with me to work and started giving into the temptation of treats and sugary-snacks less and less.

I started to post my food on Instagram and got positive feedback from friends about what I was making (as well as some food picture hate but what can you do?). I still had drinks on the weekend and made questionable decisions about what I was eating, but I had found my 80/20 balance that so many people strive for.

When I joined a new CrossFit gym, I was able to achieve some of the goals I had for my nutrition and lifestyle. I had access to an organic farmer who delivered grassfed beef, pasture raised pork and chicken, and other high quality products to CrossFit gyms in the area. By buying the packages he offered that were discounted for CrossFit gym members, I was able to actually save money. I met my now husband, Jared, who ate very similarly to the way that I do and as we started dating we fell into a routine of cooking healthy, paleo meals for each other. We promoted paleo in the gym by encouraging others to challenge themselves to head towards a more paleo lifestyle. I obtained my CrossFit Level 1 Certificate in July 2013 and was able to coach our members to get better at fitness, but also at nutrition.

Jared and I moved in together and were embracing a Paleo lifestyle more and more. We bought a deep freezer and shared a quarter of a grassfed cow with another couple at our box. By buying in bulk, we were able to eat grassfed beef at an extremely affordable price. We continued to order other meat from the organic farmer and attended farmer’s markets in our area to purchase organic, locally grown vegetables. We decided to forgo getting cable TV in order to spend more of our money on things that would benefit our health.

About a year into coaching CrossFit, I left my full time social work job in order to run our CrossFit gym full time, and have since spent a significant amount of time learning even more about a Paleo lifestyle. I learned about swapping out conventional household products like cleaners and paper towels for products that are made from naturally occurring ingredients, and I don’t just mean products that say the word “natural” on them. I have thrown out chemical-ridden hygiene products in order to either make my own or purchase products that I can actually identify what is listed on the labels. I make my own toothpaste, face wash, and have embraced oil cleansing. My eczema has been in complete remission since cutting out all of the junk I was eating and from moving away from products with harmful chemicals.

Jared and I invested in a small vegetable garden and supplemented our food purchases with our own homegrown veggies. We even raised two laying chickens in our yard that we fed all of our vegetable scraps as long with a non GMO, soy-free feed. We have even dabbled with adding in organ meat like grassfed beef liver, probiotic foods like raw sauerkraut and drinks like kombucha, we make our own bone broth, and will occasionally try to get some wild caught sardines down.

Becoming more sustainable and self-sufficient has become one of my main interests and I am constantly trying to implement new ways to optimize my paleo journey. One of the most exciting things is that there is a constant flow of information from a ton of well-educated Paleo bloggers, podcasters, writers, and chefs that is easily accessible to anyone who is willing to take the time to look for it.

I wanted to write this post to illustrate that my initial reaction to this way of eating and living was “wayyyyy too hard” turned out not to be true. Looking at everything I have built up to, it does seem overwhelming. But this process did not occur all at once for me. I didn’t drain my bank account and go into debt trying to buy all organic veggies, grassfed beef, all natural products, and raising my chickens when I first found paleo, this transformation has taken time and is best approached by taking one step at a time. I still don’t think I’m doing everything “perfectly”, nor do I ever plan on it, but I do plan on striving to continue to better my life and maintain my health goals.

My goal has always been to help people, and I have pursued that goal through social work and CrossFit. I now want to use my knowledge and experience that I have accumulated over the past few years to help others achieve their own goals – one step at a time.