I started this month by following Paleo as Cordain has spelled it out.  That lasted all of two days.  Everything I ate was bland, I was hungry, and I wasn’t being a very nice person.  Then, I decided to modify it in the ways that other people have or in ways that made it tolerable for me.

Here are the things I eat that don’t qualify as Paleo:

Potatoes – I don’t see any legitimate reason not to eat them, though I’ve only eaten them twice in the last two weeks.
Quinoa- This is frowned upon in the Paleo Diet community, but I need carbohydrates, and eating yams and yucca are just not going to cut it. If you didn’t see Matt the Archaeologist’s comment on my last post, here’s what he has to say about quinoa and amaranth:

“Ok so addmitedly this subject gets me a bit riled up, but when I read that this diet does not allow amaranth or quinoa I think I may have burst a few blood vessels. Here’s the reason: in the southwestern united states the remains of cheno-ams are found in many preagricultural archaeological sites, in fact they are one of the few types of plants that nearly all theses sites across an area covering almost a half of the united states share in common. Amaranth and quinoa are both members of this family and while now days we generally eat larger domesticated varieties they are essentially the same as their smaller wild relatives. Also why forbid honey which Is known to be eaten (albeit sparingly) in modern nonagricultural societies and at the same time allow any kind of processed oils which most nonagricultural societies both past and present had/have no acces to? I would like to propose a revision to the paleo diet that reflects what I beleive to be the views of the archaeological and ethnobotanical communities concerning nonagricultural subsistence, and it goes something like this: eat everything in your environment that is in any way edible except those things which are forbidden by your cultural or spiritual beliefs.
If you want to know LOTS more about what people have been eating throughout history in the wester half of north America (spoiler: it’s lots of things the paleo diet doesn’t allow) check out ‘People and Plants in Ancient Western North America’ edited by Paul Minnis, or for a bit of lighter reading check out ‘gathering the desert’ by Gary Paul Nabhan.”

Honey- I read a paper about pre-agricultural diets (Eaton SB. The ancestral human diet: what was it and should it be used as a paradigm for contemporary nutrition? Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 2006. Let me know if you’d like to read this, and I’ll email you a PDF version), and Eaton says that honey was likely consumed in small quantities (evidence based claim), much like Matt the Archaeologist said, so I add just a smidge to my coffee every day.
Coffee and alcohol- Can’t stop, won’t stop.  I actually don’t see anyone on Paleo cutting these out, but coffee is a bean, which means it shouldn’t be included in Paleo.  Either no one seems to care or there’s some reason I don’t know about that allows coffee consumption. I am a coffee addict, and I used to drink it in the morning (always) and in the afternoon (~3-4x/week).  I’ve switched the afternoon habit to green tea, which is probably for the best. And I still love the occasional glass of wine or a pint of beer.
Salt- I don’t use much salt, but food is BORING without it.  Plus, every nerve impulse and muscular contraction in your body requires sodium, so I’m eating it…in very small quantities.
Dried fruit- This isn’t completely restricted on Paleo, but recommended in small quantities.  I eat a lot of it.

The Paleo rules I follow:

Grass fed beef; free range, organic poultry; fresh caught fish. This is not cheap.
Organic eggs from free range chickens. Also not cheap.
No dairy
No legumes (you have no idea how hard this is for me)
No soy, soy products, etc.  This includes most chocolate, as most of it contains soy lecithin
Lots of fresh fruits and veggies
No grains
No processed foods

A Paleo Caitlin is a Crappy Caitlin
It’s sort of difficult to describe how following the Paleo Diet makes me feel.  The best way to say it, in short, is that I hate it. Yes, I mean I hate it.  Most days, I’d like to trade lives with this little girl, though that would be extremely unfair to her:


The first week was the hardest.  I felt depleted and like I was running on fumes.  My stomach hurt, I couldn’t become and/or remain full, and everything I ate felt boring and like a chore.  Everything I eat, with the exception of fruit and nuts, has to be prepared in some way.  No more hummus and crackers.  No freshly made tortillas with peanut butter and a banana. No Greek yogurt.  No Babybel cheese. But, instead, so so so so much cooking…and for a result that I don’t really even like that much. I always thought that I didn’t like meat that much for a few reasons.

1) Meat requires planning. It’s usually frozen because I don’t eat it often enough to keep it fresh, so I have to remember to take it out in the morning and thaw it.

2) Cross-contamination.  You have to pay attention more when you prepare meat. Don’t touch stuff after you’ve touched meat without washing your hands, cut your vegetables first or you’ll have to wash the knife/cutting board or use two knives/cutting boards, and then you have to wash both of them.

3) Cooking to the appropriate level of done-ness. Undercook –> food poisoning. Overcook –> jerky. I haven’t mastered this not so fine line that other people don’t seem to struggle with.  I understand vegetables and beans much better in this way.

These may seem like silly reasons to not cook meat, but they have always been very real barriers for me.  Now that I cook meat ALL THE TIME, I have been reminded that these things still bug me, but more importantly, I just really don’t like to eat meat that much. I’m also not very good at cooking animals, with the exception of chicken and salmon.

Breakfast and the Carbohydrate Conundrum
I realized my main problem is not enough carbs (go figure).  Before this month, my breakfast every morning was toasted cinnamon swirl bread (Trader Joe’s. Check it out. It’s awesome.) with a nut butter of sorts and a piece of fruit: carb heavy.  When I switched to Paleo, I sautéed a bunch of veggies (shaved sweet potato, kale, broccoli, bell pepper) and baked it with some eggs.  Every morning I would just cut out a piece of that egg bake for breakfast.  I think part of the reason my stomach hurt so much was all the eggs, not meat. It’s recommended to eat no more than 7 eggs/wk, and I ate over a dozen in week one.  I’ve cooled it on the eggs, and my stomach feels better…maybe I have a minor digestive allergy to eggs. Maybe I’m just not supposed to eat that many.

This week I made a week’s worth of quinoa “oatmeal” on Sunday.  I cooked it with almond milk instead of water, added pumpkin pie spice, pumpkin puree, a little maple syrup, and a diced apple to the mix.  I eat some of that every morning, and it’s incredible how much better I feel… because your body needs carbs to function.

Exercising and the Carbohydrate Conundrum
I decided to go for a run last Saturday. I haven’t been going much, and I want to get back into it because it’s a good way for me to clear my mind.  I felt fine during my run, but about an hour later, I crashed, and I crashed hard.  I felt exhausted, like I hadn’t slept in about 40 hours.   All of my muscles ached.  I would eat something (like fruit, because I was too tired to cook anything) and feel better for about an hour until I crashed again.  I wrote in my journal “Feeling tired, frustrated, irritable, confused, can’t focus…” My roommate told me I was “off,” which is probably a nice way of saying that I was acting crazy.  It’s clear that my glycogen stores were completely depleted, and running was a bad idea.  How do people follow Paleo and exercise? What are the secrets? Because I honestly have no idea how anyone could do it.

My Mood and the Carbohydrate Conundrum
This is a pretty personal thing to write about – to expose the inner workings of my now crazy brain is a sensitive subject, but maybe other people have experienced it too.  If there are people who see me regularly and think that I haven’t been myself lately, maybe this will explain some of it.  So, let’s talk about it.

Like I said, I feel exhausted, irritable, and frustrated a lot of the time.  My thinking isn’t as methodical as usual, and I find that I speak/text/write without considering what I’m actually saying.  I’m more reactionary than I usually am, and I have a very short fuse.  I also feel like I don’t have much control over my emotions.  On Saturday, the hellish day, I started crying for no reason.  Maybe some reason – I was trying to work on my dissertation and I kept writing sentences that didn’t make sense.  Then I’d lose track of what I was doing.  Then I’d stare at my computer screen for 5 minutes without forming complete thoughts, and I just started crying.  Crying is not the right response to that situation.  Eating a snack is. Tried it, didn’t work.  Exercising is a solution. Oh wait. That caused the problem.  Doing something else is a solution, but I was too tired to think of anything to do and the TV was boring me.  Then I just gave up and took a nap…like a child.

Granted, my life is stressful right now (developing a scientific manuscript, writing a dissertation, preparing for an out-of-state move for the first time in my life, amongst the normal day-to-day responsibilities), so maybe it’s not fair to blame it all on the diet.  But all of that stuff was going on in January too, and there hasn’t been a point in my life for the last 4 years that would be considered less stressful than what I’m doing now.  I have just always been pretty good at dealing with it.  Now, it seems that my ability to cope with stress is significantly diminished.  I blame this on my lack of carbohydrate intake (remember: the brain’s metabolic substrate of choice is glucose).  The days that I focus on eating more carbs (usually quinoa “oatmeal” for breakfast, 3-4 servings of fruit for snacks, starchy vegetables like squash at dinner), I feel a lot better and I’m focused and productive throughout the day.  But seriously, I hate having to plan my food intake so much to just feel OK.

In Summary

I get headaches ~5x/week.  I used to get them maybe once a month.  I’m tired. I’m tired of having to cook everything I eat. I don’t like eating meat this much. I haven’t cooked one meal yet that, afterwards, I thought to myself, “mmm mmmm, that was delicious.” I had that with almost every single meal I ate as a vegan. I really only look forward to the 3 non-Paleo meals/week that I can eat. But I’m not going to give up on Paleo yet.  As long as I focus on carbs (particularly on the days I work out), I’m fine and not nearly as crazy as the days that I don’t.

I genuinely have so much respect for anyone who can successfully and happily follow this diet.  Are we built differently in that I inherently need more carbohydrates to function? Are you just better at this than me? Are you less of a cry baby than me? It’s all very difficult to tease out.

24 responses »

  1. This was a great post, thanks for sharing! I tried Paleo once a few years back because so many of my friends were trying it and I wanted to see what it was like. It made me a horrible bitch, I lasted two weeks and I found I had to eat constantly to even feel slightly human, I couldn’t run without feeling like I was going to die there on the side of the road, and like you said – everything tastes bland, it takes so much time to cook, think what you are going to make, and really by the end of those two weeks I wanted to smash every veggie I saw with a hammer and I love vegetables. I am not glad, per say, that you are having troubles with this, but it somehow makes me feel better. Because all the people I know who did it, or still do are functioning adults who still run and work out and don’t want to kill everyone they see.

    Pocketing that quinoa breakfast idea. You probably couldn’t do this, but may be when you do gluten-free I found a great recipe, that I don’t really follow the directions on, but it’s orange polenta and it awesome!

    • Oh my god, I’m so glad I’m not the only one who feels/has felt like this. Everyone I know who’s doing Paleo feels great all the time! I don’t get it at all! The quinoa breakfast takes a little getting used to, but now I really like it – make sure to mix lots of stuff into it because it kept reminding me too much of dinner at first. I’ll definitely hit you up for the polenta when it’s time to go gluten free!

  2. You were smart to choose the shortest month for this one, then. You’re 76 minutes shy of half finished with this crucible. Might as well tought it out for the sake of science. Good luck – honestly.

  3. This is very interesting to read! I met with a paleo group last weekend, and I have to say they all felt fantastic and very happy. I am not sure if they were not as “strict” as you are trying to be..or maybe paleo, like many things, is great for some and awful for others!

    I myself was a raw vegan for 2 years… and now have paleo tendencies (i don’t care for grains and milk at all, so I don’t eat them anyway; I try to avoid processed foods most of the time, and if I eat animal products I do my best to get organic/grass fed). I feel so much better than on raw vegan. Then again, I also eat dark chocolate daily 😀 haha

    P.S. I commented on your previous post about meeting Dr. Eaton (the “father” of Paleo) and he himself is very relaxed about the specifics of the diet- he is OK with adding legumes, or whole grains if you’re healthy (see my post I described what he calls the “weak” version of Paleo), which I found interesting considering some strict cavemen dieters cite him.

    • That’s really interesting about seeing Dr. Eaton speak. I’m sure I would enjoy that. I’m glad to hear that he’s not so extreme about this diet, as I don’t think the extremes are ever necessary or beneficial.
      And I don’t know how you did raw vegan for TWO YEARS! Hats off to you! I think you’re absolutely right – this likely works for some and not others. I’m part of the “not others” group, I think. Glad that you’re doing well with what you’re doing…sounds very healthy, and as long as you’re happy, I say stick with it! 🙂

      • Honestly, his description of what he recommends to eat sounded like a mediterranean diet!

        I think some folks really love specific direction and believing that certain other foods are evil or addictive (I know, because i’ve been there :D).

        I’m really enjoying your blog, by the way! Too bad this month is so tough for you :[ If you did not care about sticking to Cordain’s version of Paleo, maybe you’d feel better on the “weaker” Eaton’s version? But I understand you go with the one people are most likely to hear about and follow.

  4. Bummer!! I’m so sorry that you are not enjoying the Paleo diet, but don’t for one second think that there’s something wrong with you for it! I’m a firm believer that nutrition and diet is highly individualized and what works for one person may not work for another. As you’ve pointed out, you felt totally healthy before starting this journey, so it’s not like you were trying to fix something…you were obviously listening to your body and totally happy & healthy already!

    I think that Cordain really emphasizes the “low carb” aspect of Paleo which I don’t neccessarily agree with (also “low fat” which I can’t STAND, though I’ve never read anything that he’s written, to be honest). I eat sweet potatoes, winter squashes, rutabagas, etc all the time to ensure that I am taking in enough carbs. I’ve gone through the “extreme” zero carb phase and, trust me, it wasn’t pretty. Mama needs her carbs, though I try not to overdo it because my body gets mad when I do (finding balance is key).

    I think the main “problem” with the Paleo diet (and this is coming from a loyal Paleo-eater) is there are certain levels of “Paleoism”. Some people eat white potatoes, most people actually drink coffee (I never knew it was off limits?!), use honey/maple syrup as a sweetener, have dairy (organic, sometimes raw, if tolerated) & as far as I know, use salt liberally(sea salt or pink Himalayan). Some even find no problem with drinking red wine or tequila. There are just some people out there who are so extreme that they make the whole diet/lifestyle more of a chore than a sustainable way to live, which is a huge no-no in my book.

    So to answer your question about how us Paleo people live on the diet, and this is just my opinion based on my experience and the experiences of people I know who eat this way, is that we use it as a platform to find the way of eating & living that works best for us. It’s all about finding balance. The real message that people SHOULD get from this way of eating, and really ANY way of eating is that health starts with knowledge of what you’re putting into your body and how YOUR body reactes to it. Learning to eat mindfully and peacefully and to not treat food like a best friend or an enemy, but as an ally in reaching optimal health and happiness.

    I hope the rest of your experience isn’t as horrible as the first half! The prep work can be a pain so I feel you on that! But I say keep listening to your body during this experiment so that you don’t end up totally miserable. Eff the “standards”…if you want potatoes, you eat potatoes!!!!! 😉

    • Thank you so much for saying all of that! The last two weeks, I’ve seriously been thinking “How is Jessica doing this? She’s so good at it and happy! Is she Superwoman?” I love what you said about finding what works for you, and using food as an ally. That is so spot on, and something that we try to teach to people all the time. I’m probably going to steal your terminology 🙂 Everything takes time to figure out the balance, and I’m just not there yet. It took less time with vegan, but that’s probably because it wasn’t such a stretch for me to start eating that way. Thanks for your support — I feel better about making Paleo my own and not being too hard on myself about the rules!

  5. Hi, I’m following your blog because it looked like a very interesting experiment, and I am particularly interested in the paleo aspect. My husband and I started following this plan after noticing how much fitter a friend was looking and finding out she had “gone” paleo. This is a woman who works out a lot and runs marathons regularly, so noticing a change in her physique was a significant change. We had already been following a pretty clean diet of brown rice and baked chicken, for example, for dinners. Yet my husband would still awaken in the night coughing with acid reflux-like symptoms. And, after menopause, I had a little thickening around the waist, even though I was very careful with my food intake and ran and worked out with weights. Almost immediately upon going paleo, my husband’s reflux problems disappeared, and we both lost an average of ten to fifteen pounds of noticable fat (mine all off the middle!). It does take some getting used to because much more planning is needed in food preparation, but some of the very simple recipes we have found very delicious! For example, spaghetti squash with sauce and meatballs. Breakfasts are more challenging. Sorry for such a long post, but for us it did take about a month to adjust, both with how your stomach feels and the right a ount of food to fuel long runs.

    • Thanks for following, Vivian! I’m glad to hear that this has been a change for the better for you two! Do you follow Paleo very strictly or are you fairly liberal with your interpretation and application of it?

      • We are not totally strict; we have two to three cheat meals per week, and drink coffee and the occassional beer. I also use a little salt in my cooking, though very little. The cheat meals seem to keep us from feeling deprived and more ready to keep with the general program.

  6. I am far behind you on the expertise in nutrition, so keep that in mind. I also must confess I am eating more Primal than Paleo right now. I am definitely not a success story material for this diet and I admit I have been exhausted the last few days despite eating right. But I am also pregnant and I have a toddler, who makes a point to wake me up at night. So there’s that affecting me.

    I did do a month of Primal eating just before I got pregnant and I saw a huge difference in some of the health areas that I have had problems with for years. But I didn’t feel awesome overnight and while I think I eat even better now than I did then (I am closely tracking everything I eat because I have to monitor my blood sugars), I am still not feeling “great.”

    But from what I have learned since tracking everything I eat is that there is a balancing act to maintain. And until you find it, I think you’re going to feel like crap. I felt like crap those first few weeks and so did my husband. And I was so sick of eggs by the end. I do a lot of cooking in our house and I was beginning to grow bored with everything we were doing.

    I would try to find what works for you. If that means quinoa, then it eat quinoa. If you do exercise more, you also probably can burn more carbs than someone like me who has a desk job and isn’t really active. I found this article ( recently and read only the first part so far…at some point he addresses the difference between someone who is very active and his caloric needs vs someone more like me.

    Like I said, I am no expert, but I think there is something to be said about finding what works best for you and your body and tweaking the diet to get the most out of it.

    • Hi Amy! I just checked out your blog and followed it. Your recipes look very tasty 🙂 Balance is definitely the key, and I have not gotten even close to it yet. But it’s good to hear that I’m not the only one who has struggled with it (though I can’t say that I’m happy that other people feel miserable). I’ll check out the article! Thanks for sharing!

      • Thanks! I wish I had the time to create more recipes, but ah, well.

        While I know more about my body now, I still can’t claim to know everything, but I think sometimes we feel like crap because our body is used to running on carbohydrates and when we stop or greatly reduce the amount of carbohydrates we eat, our bodies hate us for it.

        I started eating gluten-free and then tried to be more primal around the time I had to start monitoring my blood sugars. Eating a lot less carbohydrates is probably why I didn’t do so stellar on my glucose tolerance tests. It was recommended that I have a certain amount of carbohydrates throughout the day and after two days I had to cut back because I felt like crap for too many carbohydrates! So I went back to be being primal and my blood sugars came down and I felt a lot better. I also have been playing around, seeing how foods affect me (physically as well as my blood sugars).

        So the opposite is also entirely possible!

        This will not be an easy month. At the end if you decide to add some things back into your diet that may not be paleo but don’t cause you problems like dairy or potatoes. I would say add them back slowly to see how many you can have without problems. I have a full-fat yogurt every morning with some sausage and that is all the dairy I have in my day.

        I digress…but thank you for your response. 🙂

  7. The first two weeks are the hardest. You are essentially detoxing. My husband and I just completed a 30 day challenge where we went pretty hardcore. Week two was hell for me. After that week I started to feel the best I have ever felt. The paleo diet can be tweaked for sure and it’s actually encouraged. A lot of people follow a paleo + dairy diet. I wish you luck and hope you stick with it. And as far as the eggs go. My daughter, 15 months old, eats 2 – 3 eggs every morning!

  8. Look into paleo as defined by Robb Wolf. He has a great knowledge base ( at least it sounds like he does on his podcasts) and he has what I see as good reasoning on his “modifications”. I personally view the paleo diet by Loren Cordain as an Ancient version (no pun intended). Over the last 5 years especially, the diet and its followers have changed and adapted to make it more livable. There are many groups within the Paleo following that each believe in a slightly different diet similar to the different rationales of psychology. Jon and I try to be paleo most days of the week and to us that means meat, veggies, some seeds and nuts, and some fruit. We eat butter and season our foods and I love quinoa. We stay away from whole grains and legumes unless sprouted and added sugars (hard for me and my sweetened coffee vices).
    Unlike other diets established by large entities, Paleo can really vary household to household. I think it is important to understand each rational and decide which ones are important to you.

    On another note, I’m loving your blog and your view points. Can’t wait to read more 🙂


  9. Check out the paleo diet for athletes to address your questions about exercise. My main takeaway was that they ARE NOT COMPATIBLE. Basically, “follow the paleo way of eating, except hours before, during and hours after exercise.” Oh…what? You mean, follow it never? Good luck pushing through!

  10. I would very much like to see the eaton paper, and I’m glad that you liked my previous comment enough to repost it, I should tell you it was very difficult to keep it from turning into a multi-page rambling rant. I think if you want to eat legumes then you should, people were grinding mesquite pods into flour and eating the wild ancestors of tepary beans long before agriculture, so they get the archaeology stamp of approval. I’m afraid I can’t endorse the alcohol though, that would have been extremely tough to come by in pre-ag times, tougher than salt for sure, probably as difficult as minimally processed oils at least. On the other hand hitting the bottle may help you make it through this, so cheers. Sorry paleo is kicking your butt.

    • Ha, yeah I figured alcohol was probably a no-go, but I just don’t care. It seems to be the only source of dietary joy for me right now, so I choose to imbibe. What’s your email address? I’ll send you the Eaton paper, and a couple others I’ve skimmed through.

  11. Maybe try a lowcarb diet and start slowly with only breakfast and increase slowly if it’s a long term solution you’re looking for. And you’ll start really enjoy Binge day and get you favorite food 😉

  12. Pingback: It isn’t easy | Honest Food with Amy

  13. I posted about something similar today…sometimes it’s hard! We’re 45 days in on Paleo and finally feeling good and happy about what we’re experiencing. I’ve never stuck anything out for 45 days. My hubby had a hard time at first and we figured out he was too low carb. Added in a few starchy veggies and he’s been great. Glad to have the connection on here.

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