Have you read about the Paleo diet? This grain-free, whole foods-based plan seems to be popping up everywhere—and now that I’ve given up gluten (more on that later this week)—I’ve been especially interested in the so-called “caveman” lifestyle. Needless to say, when I heard that my colleague Dawn Weinberger had a new website, The Paleo Baby, I was excited to learn more. I asked Dawn, who’s a writer and Paleo mom-to-be from Portland, Oregon, to share the story behind her site:
Camille: What was your motivation for adopting a Paleo diet?
Dawn: I moved toward Paleo in May of last year. I was already working out and running a lot. My diet was exceptional by most standards (low fat, whole grains, lots of veggies), and I kept a close eye on calories. However, I never managed to see a real change in my body and never seemed to move beyond a certain point in terms of strength and endurance.
The owner of the gym I go to (Sweat360 in Hillsboro, Oregon) Robert, kept dropping hints that I should change my diet (realistically, he probably said something two or three times—but I was defensive and felt like he was always bringing it up). He knew that I was obsessed with cheese, and that I often avoided healthy sources of protein, mostly because I just didn’t enjoy handling or cooking meat. I remember saying to him one day “I will never, ever give up dairy.” The funny thing is I gave up dairy that very day! I went to the mall, and had a particularly frustrating shopping experience—it seemed like everything I tried on emphasized my flaws, even clothes that technically fit. That’s when I admitted to myself that Robert might have a point, so I decided to give up dairy for two weeks, as an experiment. Simultaneously, I started eating more protein and cutting out grains. Two weeks later I was already seeing subtle changes, so I decided to keep the experiment going … I was somewhat skeptical at first, but I did a lot of reading and research about the diet and was quickly convinced that it was the right choice for me.
I didn’t really go 100% until October, when Sweat360 offered a six-week Paleo meltdown challenge. I only lost a few pounds (weight loss wasn’t really my goal), but I saw a significant change in my body composition and I felt incredible. At 37, I was truly happy with my body for the first time ever. I decided I would be crazy to go back to my old ways so I adopted Paleo as a lifestyle.
A few months later, my husband Carl and I decided we wanted to have a baby and I got pregnant right away (our daughter is due October 23rd!). I looked, but I couldn’t find a whole lot of info on pregnancy and the Paleo diet and I wasn’t about to start eating dairy and grains again just because conventional dietary advice said I should. I decided to start The Paleo Baby so I could document my experience and hopefully provide some useful information for other women in my shoes.
Camille: How has changing your diet changed your life—and what’s been the biggest challenge of adopting a Paleo diet?
Dawn: In simple terms, I just feel incredible. I used to get headaches a lot … now headaches are rare. My seasonal allergy symptoms are much improved (I still have allergies, but the severity has decreased significantly) and my digestion is perfect (I didn’t even realize there was anything wrong with my digestion pre-paleo). I also no longer experience blood sugar crashes or that “hangry” feeling if I go too long without eating. The afternoon slump is a thing of the past. I’m a lot more confident and more satisfied with how my body looks (even being pregnant). I’m stronger and feel like a person with true athletic potential rather than just someone who goes to the gym to ward off weight gain.
The biggest challenge for me is definitely the planning aspect. It used to be easy to pick up a healthy lunch or snack when I was out and about. Now, I have to bring food with me or figure out in advance where I’m going to stop for a Paleo-friendly lunch. I have to take time to cook breakfast and clean up every morning; it was a lot easier to just pour a bowl of cereal.
Camille: With both of my pregnancies, I found that most of the nutrition advice I received from medical professionals and/or read about was seriously outdated and based on guesses rather than concrete information. What’s your experience been like? Have you received any resistance from your ob/midwife about your diet?
Dawn: I totally agree! Most of the information I hear and read is so general, and doesn’t take into consideration the individual needs/preferences of the mom in question. I actually had to make a conscious decision to avoid certain books, blogs and magazines because I kept reading advice that either made me insecure about my choices or just plain angry (I get a little bent out of shape when pregnant women are told to eat processed white flour products and/or advised to drink sugary soda to cope with morning sickness, for example).
Fortunately, my midwife is very supportive of my diet. Initially she was concerned about calcium (since I avoid dairy), but when I assured her that I take a calcium supplement every day (in addition to my pre-natal vitamin) she gave my diet the green light. I think it is probably pretty hard for any practitioner to legitimately question a diet that shuns processed/packaged foods in favor or veggies, fruits and high-quality protein, especially when the patient feels great, consistently has stellar lab results and reports little to no pregnancy-related discomfort.
Camille: Can you share a favorite Paleo snack or meal?
Dawn: Snack-wise, I love the Hot Pepper Hummus recipe from The Food Lovers Primal Palate (made with zucchini instead of chick peas). Hummus is one non-paleo food that I miss A LOT, and oddly this tastes exactly like it (my husband, who eats normal hummus regularly, confirmed this for me).
I also really enjoy making “noodles” out of yellow summer squash. Simply peel the squash, and then use a carrot peeler or julienne slicer to cut the squash into thin strips. Saute in a bit of olive oil, garlic and fresh-ground pepper and serve with your favorite pasta sauce. Yum!
Camille: Thanks, Dawn, and congrats on your pregnancy!
Svelte readers: Have you tried the Paleo diet? If so, have you been happy with the results?