To Paleo or not to Paleo?

What I learned doing a Whole30

To Paleo or not to Paleo?
To Paleo or not to Paleo?

I mentioned a few weeks back that I was in the middle of doing a Whole30. Basically, that means 30 days of super-strict Paleo.

Well, it’s over now, and I’m here to report back my specific experience on Whole30.

First, let’s talk for a second about WHY I decided to do a Whole30.

Around November, I started feeling really unmotivated to really be careful with my WW plan. I was exercising nonstop and being really strict about my carb cycling, and when you add high-stress situations to that mix (i.e., school and lots of work), it became extremely tedious really fast. I wasn’t getting where I wanted to at the scale, so somewhere that translated to going to Bountiful Bread and getting cake. Like, a lot of cake.

I was exhausted.

I was exhausted of it all.

So I just said screw it. And I did.

Things only got worse over the holidays. I thought that if I committed to a gluten-free diet when home, that would be good enough. I did okay for a bit, but a gluten-free diet in Portland also translated to going and getting a really awesome latte…accompanied by gluten-free brownies or muffins. I mean…really, DK?

Winter turned into trying to maintain after a pretty icky holiday gain.

And then my PDX box decided they were going to have a 30-Day Challenge. I was talked into giving it a shot. But every single day I attempted Paleo, I utterly failed. I refused to give up milk. And I felt sooo guilty every time my friend Shannon asked me about it. It was too much.

And then I returned to Albany. I felt totally lost. I didn’t know what to do. So I decided to re-try the 30-Day Challenge and just start a Whole30 of my own. (I had to go grocery shopping anyway, so why not just get some Paleo foods?)

At first it was fine. I was so good! I asked restaurants if their sauces had sugar in them. I was getting nasty Starbucks Americanos, unadulterated by sugars or creams. I ate eggs for breakfast instead of oatmeal. I lived on avocados, sweet potatoes, and bacon (yessss). I devoutly sent food logs to Dean, and I increased the intensity of my workouts.

After about two weeks, I was seeing clear gains at the gym. Lots of PRs, and I was feeling pretty good. But I wasn’t losing weight…AT ALL. Dean critiqued my logs, suggesting that I work more veggies in, and cut out the sweet potatoes and squash. I did that. And yet, still nothing.

And then came the small cheats. After a while, I just couldn’t do it. Even though I was making strides at the gym and feeling okay. There was just something primal and almost unconscious in the back of my brain, urging me to just stop.

And one day, I was at work, and it was one of those days where you’re just starving ALL. DAY. LONG. And I had already cleared out the food I brought, and what did I do? I mindlessly walked next door, grabbed a frickin’ red velvet whoopie pie AND a double chocolate cookie, and yes, I ate them both, and yes they were delicious. But can I emphasize that I’m not a binge eater? Even when I really want sweets, this sort of behavior is not normal for me.

So of course afterward I (1) felt like shit, and (2) recognized that there was a problem.

I continued on strict Paleo for the next few days, but then ultimately decided to officially quit the Whole30 around day 21.

Before you rag on me for being a quitter or not having the mental fortitude to just “say no,” here are a few thoughts about Paleo:

  1. Paleo is a good way to eat. It emphasizes whole foods, natural foods, healthy foods. Yay!
  2. Paleo, on the other hand, is restrictive. It’s very much all-or-nothing (we’re talking about Paleo, as opposed to Primal, okay?). There is NO space for stevia or whole milk or grassfed butter or whatever.

That being said, here is what I learned about MYSELF in doing a Whole30:

  1. A 100% Paleo diet is not right for me. Before you faint from that, hear me out. As soon as I stopped obsessing over the strictness in my diet, I started feeling better, happier, and actually started losing weight again. While eating Paleo may have helped me improve in the gym, it also took a lot of mental energy. Energy that I didn’t really have to expend on this diet. A restrictive diet is not the right diet for me in the long run.
  2. mostly Primal diet is what I gravitate toward naturally. Since officially quitting the Whole30, you may be interested to learn that my days are filled predominantly with Primal-approved foods. I’ve come to prefer the taste of my homemade almondmilk lattes (unsweetened!); I’ve come to prefer peppers and guacamole as a snack over carrots and hummus (in fact, eating them now!); I would rather eat mashed cauliflower than mashed potatoes. A few days, I’ve looked back in shock, realizing that the ONLY non-Paleo thing I’ve eaten was a nonfat latte.
  3. It’s about being happy with your decisions—making them something you can live with. Like with anything in life, your diet needs to be something you can actually live with. For me, strict Paleo all the time was mostly impractical, and did not settle well with certain cravings. Some people are able to power through cravings, but sometimes it’s just not possible. And I really hate the notion of a “cheat.” It’s food. Stop associating SHAME with food, and you won’t be overridden with guilt as soon as you eat something considered unhealthy. I think the trick, like with many other things, is simply moderation. If you have a sincere craving, have something small and of quality, instead of risking a major binge by ignoring it. Honor the craving. But work it into your day responsibly.
  4. Grains are still bad…for me. It’s true. Wheat still makes me sick. Dairy, however, does not.

So where does that leave me? I guess I’m back where I started, but down a few pounds. Last week, I sat in a diner with my friend Jennifer, who is back on the tracking train. I think it was watching her laboriously track a grilled cheese sandwich and an order of french fries, with her meager 26 points per day, that made me realize what I need to do. I’m not saying that I was pretending or making things up, but it sort of shook some sense into me. Stop cycling. Stop doing Wendie. Stop the madness. Go back to the basics. Be honest with yourself. Make good choices. Indulge once in a while. But for god’s sake…frickin’ track, lady!

And I am. And I am much happier for that.

Be healthy!


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Exuberant photographer, artist, writer, designer, wannabe chef, and Crossfitter.

15 thoughts on “What I learned doing a Whole30”

  1. I love this. I love this because I went through the same thing last summer when our box did a Paleo challenge. I was never a binge eater, but my “cheats” turned into eating 4 or 5 cookies instead of the 1 that I normally indulged in every once in a while. Paleo was bad for me for the same reason that it is good for others — it is so restrictive that I felt like I was going crazy. I especially appreciate this comment:

    ” And I really hate the notion of a “cheat.” It’s food. Stop associating SHAME with food, and you won’t be overridden with guilt as soon as you eat something considered unhealthy. I think the trick, like with many other things, is simply moderation. If you have a sincere craving, have something small and of quality, instead of risking a major binge by ignoring it. Honor the craving. But work it into your day responsibly.”

    I’m so glad I’m not the only one who feels this way. Thank you!!

    1. Thank you so much for your words, Meg! I was honestly a little scared that this would be received with a lot of criticism by Paleo die-hards. This blog includes a lot of Paleo recipes because they’re healthy, but I’m clearly a bigger fan of a more balanced and mentally doable eating routine. 🙂

  2. I feel like we’re on the same wavelength a lot with this paleo thing. I completely fell off the wagon a couple days ago and have had more than a few gluten bombs I don’t care to admit. I had a day very similar to yours last week where I was starving all day and then, on the drive home, was so low on energy I could feel myself starting to feel dizzy and light-headed on the way home. Immediately I realized I was on SE Division, stopped at Los Gorditos and got a goddamn fat burrito (minus the beans, even in my hunger haze I still felt NO LEGUMES DAMMIT). Felt I could’ve eaten like two or three of them. This happened to me last time I was full out paleo and it’s freaked me out enough to make me fall off the wagon completely both times. It’s one thing to feel better when not eating grains, legumes, etc. but it’s another to be so hungry you pass out. Primal is really a good compromise and I like that Mark Sisson stresses the 80/20 balance as well as that there are certain “safe starches” (like white rice, potatoes) that aren’t possible in a Whole30 paleo diet. I’m fairly convinced as well that strict paleo is for people who really don’t see food as something to enjoy but rather as fuel for their bodies, you know the kind I’m talking about- being fit is everything, body is a temple, etc. etc. Fuck that. Sometimes you gotta enjoy a pizza the way it was meant to be. Hell, I think it was the PaleOMG girl who had a rant recently about people who criticized her for not being strict paleo either. Good for you for listening to your body as well as your mental health.

    1. Thank you so much for that, Leo. I agree with you on all of that. Part of my history and relationship with food is that I NEED to enjoy it, to be EXCITED about it. I have gotten better at looking at food as fuel, and to treat my body like a “temple” by taking care of it, but part of taking care of it includes avoiding unnecessary binging, which can be staved off, for me, by not having quite so strict a diet. Sometimes, you just need Los Gorditos. Sometimes, I just need some ice cream, ya know?

    1. LOL, you crack me up, Kara! Paleo has some very good ideas and a loose interpretation of it is nice—whole foods, healthy foods, lean foods—it’s a good routine to get into, but the strictness of a Whole30 will not work for me long-term, obviously. 🙂

  3. I tried too to be strict Paleo too and a few weeks into it, I realized I was “Googling” the wrong questions. Am I allowed this? Am I allowed that? I came to the conclusion that following the diet strictly was not the point. The point is to feed my body healthy food that will make me feel better. I feel better not eating pasta, pizza & bread even if I love it and CRAVE it! I do not feel any benefit in not eating diary. I actually think I feel better when yogurt is part of my diet. Trying to follow the diet was not in vain, I feel like the Paleo diet thought me to listen a lot more to my body. You know what? If my body doesn’t like bacon (FML!) even if it is allowed, I won’t eat it. Let’s not just follow “someone’s” plan or diet. I’ll do what’s best for me!

  4. Danielle – this is a great post and this has come up a lot lately at the Box I own since we just finished a 6 week Clean Eating Challege…I started to realize how even if you are being strict and making great healthy food choices, you can start to become obsessive which leads to more stress and then the inevitable binge “cheat” you mentioned which sends people over the edge. Everyone needs to find a balance and what works for them and eliminate the guilt in a weekly slice of pizza or ice cream or whatever it is they want to eat or however many times they eat it. Everyone has different goals in life – if it’s to make it to the CF Games then that might be your motivation to eat clean all the time or if you have health problems where diet can help with your symptoms, but if you just want to workout to feel good about yourself and then end up beating yourself up about what you eat then what is the point? I keep telling my members to educate themselves on what they are eating, make the best choices possible for them but most importantly – enjoy your life! Thanks again!

    1. Amen, sister! It’s a really difficult dichotomy for me, because on the one hand, like I mentioned, I do really well at the box if I’m eating strict, but then there’s the mental portion that tends to get me every time! I gotta figure out how to stay motivated as well as navigate the mental side. 🙂 Thank you for sharing!

  5. Just finished reading your whole blog start to finish this morning. Thanks for sharing and being honest with us. Too many times I’ve read weightloss type blogs and everything is painted so rosy that I think to myself maybe I’m doing it all wrong. Maybe I’m a failure because it is so hard for me. I’ve been faithfully working out since Jan 7. The scale has moved a lousy 6 pounds in all that time. I’m getting stronger, My clothes fit better, ect, ect, but the dang number will NOT GO DOWN! I appreciate your honesty. It has really helped me out. JoAnn

    1. Thanks for the words, JoAnn. Keep on working! It’s true…weight loss is definitely not all rainbows and unicorns, but I promise that even if that scale doesn’t move at all for the next two months, but you’re still getting stronger and healthier…you’re better off then than you were two months prior, ya know?

  6. DK Please Come Back! I know that we haven’t known each other very long, but I miss you already. You are the reason I joined Crossfit last Monday. Thanks.

  7. lI just saw your CrossFit video on You Tube.. and WOW!! Congrats on the weight loss… simply inspiring!… I found CrossFit and Paleo about 10 weeks ago and have lost 41lbs.. My coach asked me to try Paleo (as described in the Robb Wolf book) for 30 days (which is not as strict as Whole9 thank goodness).. and I sorta flippantly said “ok”… thinking it was just another diet I’d try and fail … just like all the others.. but I have found the holy grail in Paleo in that my constant dark gnawing hunger has completely disappeared (I blogged about it here… I keep thinking the other shoe is going to drop and I’m going to wake up starving and experience the cravings I have had forever.. but so far so good.. (fingers crossed).. as for tracking.. I track every morsel that crosses these lips.. I hope someday I’ll be able to just eat and “trust myself” enough to not have to log.. but when you start out at 326lbs.. well.. desperate times call for desperate measuring! HA… Anyway, I’m glad I found you… and look forward to catching up on your blog..

  8. I spent the whole day yesterday looking for your youtube video. We (my husband and I) came across the video by accident I must say, because we were just trying to look for some motivational video of ppl who has lost the weight and doing exercises but normal ppl, like you and me. But then we kept looking after looking at your video. But yesterday I was by myself on the computer and wanted to look at it again. I couldn’t find it. Finally around 6 I think I found it.
    You are truly an inspiration. To just start and like you said, you sucked at everything, and still you kept going!!!! That for me was a push. Not that I suck at the trainings, but I’m very hesitant when going to the gym because of all the healthy and beautiful ppl walking around all trimmed. I didn’t do cross fit as yet, but I’m thinking about starting. Pls keep blogging and post some picture/videos as well to lets us see the progress you’re still making. Thank you for sharing and make it possible for others to understand that, we are not alone, others struggle the same way to get where they want to.

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