It still amazes me that a mere 30 days has the power to totally change the course of your life.
Sure, it takes longer than this to completely shake off the shackles of an outdated mindset and useless beliefs about food and nutrition, not to mention cravings and addiction to processed foods.
But 30 days is definitely long enough to change perceptions and habits and to give you a taste of the success and freedom that comes from pushing the reset button on your body and on your mind.
When my husband and I took on the 30-day Paleo Challenge, our mission was to eat real food for one whole month and to completely eliminate any grains, dairy, legumes, sugar and alcohol — essentially any processed foods. For just one month…
To be honest, I actually had absolutely no intention of ‘changing my life’.
In my head I always looked the way I look now, it is funny how your mind plays tricks on you when you are desperately trying to ignore what is staring back at you in the mirror.
The 30 day challenge was supposed to be just that…for 30 days.
A brief sneek-and-peek foray into unknown territory, not a full blown campaign to overthrow the old régime.
I had been doing Crossfit for around 8 months and was curious about Paleo principles, even to the point of trading out my lunch sandwich for tins of tuna and mixed beans with salad.
I had been happy with the results but still rejected the idea of completely adopting Paleo.
When my coach, Sonia proposed a 30 day Paleo Challenge for the box, I saw it as a good opportunity to see how far down the rabbit hole I could go.
With my printout of the Whole30 guidelines in hand, I came home from the box and broached the subject of temporarily eliminating our favourite foods with some trepidation.
I thought it would be hard to talk Andrew into doing it with me and I was fully prepared to cook two meals each night if I needed to. He totally surprised me by convincing me that I would be more successful if he was on board too.
Andrew took the approach of “What have we got to lose by doing this?” …apart from some unwanted body fat.
I had no idea that Andrew was getting to the point where he was was struggling to breathe when he leant over to tie up his shoelaces (because of excess body fat compressing his lungs) and was quietly thinking that something had to change, and soon.
Background Intelligence: Pre 30 Days
Common ‘Ready to Eat Meals’ (MRE’s):
Fresh pasta, chicken & veggie lasagna, supermarket curry sauce with stir-fried veggies on rice, spaghetti bolognese, chicken and bean nachos, BBQ’s, Weetbix with milk, oats or homemade muesli with milk and yoghurt, toast & sandwiches…sometimes toasted sandwiches, beef burgers, quesadillas…
Stock standard array of veggies including capscium, carrots, zucchini, potato, lettuce, tomatos, cucumber, avocado and mushrooms, chicken breast, beef mince, sausages, frozen oven chippies or wedges, wholegrain bread, burger buns, tortillas, parmesan cheese, cheddar cheese, Lindt chocolate, and a ‘Party Cupboard’ in the kitchen corner containing: chippies, Doritos, Shapes & other crackers and soft drinks for mixers.
Commonly Foraged Food:
Fish and chips, Noodle Box, Pizza, Indian takeaway
- Weighed in at around 83 kgs (estimated) with a bit of a belly despite Crossfit and Kickboxing 3–5 times per week
- Energy levels that ebbed and flowed and totally wiped out if training two days in a row
- Slow recovery and always starving the day after training
- Bloating, eczema and acne on my face, upper arms and calves
- Oppressive brain fog, vagueness and difficulty making decisions
- Frequent irritability and nit-picky behaviour with a definite tendency towards pessimism
- Waking up in the night to go to the toilet at least once, sometimes twice
- When blood sugar levels dropped from lack of food or if there was not a visible supply of water…be afraid…be very afraid
- Weighed in at around 120 kgs (estimated)
- Hayfever and Asthma in the springtime (AKA ‘nature boy’ to close family because he seemed to be allergic to the wilderness in general)
- Contact allergies to grasses, so bushwalking was uncomfortable and forget about picnics or camping
- Restless leg syndrome and difficulty sleeping
- High personal standards and expectations for behaviour and communication so was frequently irritable and short with others (AKA ‘the angry man’ to workmates)
1st October 2010 D-Day
I think I might have been more apprehensive about the 30 day challenge than Andrew was, even though my secret weapon was that I had in fact been trying to cut-down on processed foods in the months leading up to the challenge.
Andrew has an amazing amount of willpower, whereas I have always just eaten whatever I wanted to, whenever I wanted to, in any quantity I wanted to.
Even to the point of overstuffing myself…when I was younger an all-you-can-eat Pizza Hut extravaganza ended very badly for me…enough said.
We didn’t throw any of our non-compliant food out, this was just supposed to be temporary after all, and we approached our weekend much as we did any other weekend, with plans to eat out at local cafes and restaurants.
That year the first of October fell on a Friday and, much to our horror, we discovered that there were in fact 5 weekends in October…woe was us!
We figured that ‘fine dining’ would be the most compliant, and it was. We both ended up with some kind of locally caught white fish fillets in a broth with a few veggies floating around…and we walked away hungry and dissatisfied.
We were hungry and grumpy for most of the first week. October became known as “sad-tober” & “crap-tober” as hunger and cravings took their toll.
Then we realised that when we subtracted the non-paleo food items from our meals, we hadn’t actually beefed up the proportions of meat and veggies to compensate…things became much better when we actually started eating a decent amount of food!
Around a dozen recruits in the box started out on the Paleo Challenge but quite a few didn’t make it through the first couple of weeks.
Energy levels plummeted and WOD times blew out.
Those of us that stuck with it relied heavily on the support of Sonia and each other. Every day we would swap tactics and intelligence and were always asking each other:
- “What are you eating?”
- “What did you have for breakfast/lunch/dinner today?”
- “That sounds good, do you have the recipe?”
- “How are you feeling?”
At the start of Week 2, I bought the Paleo Cookbooks.
With heaps of recipes for seemingly everything, including meat, snacks, omelets, salads, breakfast and desserts, these 4 e-books opened my eyes to all of the culinary possibilities and really got me through that first 30 days.
Mission Hyjacked by Sausages & Apple Crumble
As we counted down our time in the trenches, we did come up against many challenges and leaned on various crutches to help us get through.
It amazes me how far we have come since this!
Yes, we did give paleo pizza and paleo sorbet a whirl (neither of us particularly liked having our veggies slide off the distinctly hard, biscuity base and we actually broke the tip of one of our knives in the sorbet that had set like concrete…so we decided not to go there again).
We ate a lot of sausages…like a LOT of sausages. In our household the Paleo Diet became known as the Sausage Diet (Paleo Cookbooks came to the rescue here…Can anyone say “Sausage Salad?”)
And…I baked a lot of apple crumble (Yep, Paleo Cookbooks again). I was eating a couple of helpings of apple crumble a day [facepalm].
Dallas and Melissa of Whole9 would have probably put me in the stocks and pelted me with hydroponic tomatoes for that one.
We were clinging to anything that could or would give us that dopamine hit we craved.
I am pleased to say, that we managed to eventually disentangle ourselves from the overload of sausages and apple crumble, but it took time.
You can’t jump the trench, advance your position and obliterate the enemy all in one hit.
It takes time.
You just need to listen to your body, be strategic and celebrate the little victories along the way.
The Tide Turned & We Won the War on Processed Foods
Amazingly, as time when on, it got easier.
We began to really enjoy the time we spent in the kitchen creating food that we were increasingly finding to be super tasty.
Cravings for processed foods receded into the background and those ‘food-like substances’ suddenly seemed much less edible.
- We were getting used to feeling pretty good, having more energy and sleeping better.
- Our moods had improved and we were generally happier with a more positive outlook on life.
- Our body composition was changing dramatically. Andrew lost around 10 kgs in that first month alone. I lost around 7 kgs and was far less bloated.
- My acne and eczema were starting to clear and even Andrew was getting comments about his ‘glowing skin’ (a little disconcerting for him as this came from a male workmate!)
- Andrew’s asthma, hayfever and restless legs disappeared (everyone was talking about how bad the pollen count was that year and Andrew was amazed that he hadn’t actually noticed!)
- Our tastes were changing, we were really starting to notice how tasty different foods were, even to the point where carrots suddenly seemed to be incredibly sweet.
- Andrew was no longer known as the ‘angry man’ or ‘nature boy’
- Our family, friends & co-workers were all noticing and commenting on how good we were looking and how happy and energetic we seemed to be…and wanting to know what we were doing.
We had a strategy meeting and agreed that if we were looking, feeling and performing better after just 30 days, why not stay the course and just keep going?
We would be mad to throw it all in and hightail it back to the safe zone after advancing so far.
It was at this point that I prepped for the long-haul and cleaned out my cupboards, throwing out all of the ‘edible food-like substances’ that were hulking in the back corners.
A Debrief on Tactics if you are game to join the Fray
My tips for a successful 30 Day Paleo Challenge:
- Rally the troops. Get your family on board, talk your friends and gym buddies into it. Support and a shared experience is key for success. You will be able to share recipes and ideas for snacks, meals and prep. It also helps just to have someone to talk to about it all.
- Plan & Prepare your campaign. Work out what you will need to buy for provisions, what you are going to eat for breakfast, lunch & dinner and how you are going to co-ordinate cooking & mealtimes. Check out some Paleo recipes.
- Make sure you have enough rations to keep up supply to the recruits. Chop extra veggies and put them in the fridge for snacks or easy prep for the next meal. Cook extra so you will have MRE’s for breakfast or lunch the next day.
- Take Action. Don’t put it off. Prepare yourself to go over the top and just do it.
- Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. Stick to the guidelines for 30-days, if you muck it up, don’t dwell on it, just move on. Keep it simple. Just meat and veggies, every meal, it is as easy as that.