The Challenge Is Over. Now what?

So the Paleo Lifestyle Challenge at The Fort CrossFit is over. You feel amazing; you’re crushing WODs, your body has changed, and you’re getting more sleep. WONDERFUL! But now what do you do? Keep going; go back to your old ways; try to stay on the wagon when you can? How do you find a balance between eating paleo and the temptations that will surround you in real life? In other words, how do you stick with it when you’re not in a competition; where will the motivation continue to come from?

I have a few suggestions and depending upon what kind of person you are, you might find some more appealing than others. Remember, figure out what works for your, find your balance. It might take some time – it’s a process.

Percentages of the Day
If you stick to the paleo diet 85% of the time, you will feel and look better. Dr. Loren Cordain said this when I saw him speak back in February and I agree. You will be much better off eating paleo 85% of the time than not at all. That last 15% can be used at your discretion. In this article, Mark Sisson talks about the 80/20 Principle. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. Every now and then we do challenges to eliminate the last 15-20% and usually end up feeling better and looking better as a result. We realize that those little things add up. We chose to add things back in wisely. This is part of the learning process.

Time Frame
This option might work well for those who lean more toward the “all-or-nothing” mindset. With this scenario, for example, you allow yourself to eat or drink non-paleo foods on Saturday nights from 6-10. This allows you to plan a dinner out or a night with friends knowing that you can choose to eat what you want and not feel restricted. Once 10:00pm rolls around, though, all bets are off, you’re DONE! These planned cheats work well for many people and it could be used to motivate your goal of staying strict the rest of the time.

Cheat Day
Some people use a whole day each weak to “cheat” on their diet. I tried this briefly and it does not work for me. I found that I would go way overboard and end up feeling like ass for 2-3 days as a result of the full cheat day. It was doing more harm than good and I was having trouble getting back on the wagon after eating such a large quantity of junk. This is when I began to realize that I am more of an all-or-nothing person. I guess it works for some people.

Use “Paleo” Cheats
If you’ve been eating paleo for an extended period of time you know how a bout of crazy cheating will make you feel – pretty dang terrible. I’m talking about a steady stream of pizza, beer, ice cream, soda, etc. You do your best to avoid those kinds of foods, but every now and then you really want something naughty. Usually all it takes to find a paleo replacement for a favorite treat is a simple Google search. So, if you want brownies, type in “paleo brownies” and about 10+ recipes should pop up. Get yourself some coconut milk ice cream and you’ll be good to go – brownie sundae “paleo-style”. You’ll get a substantial sugar spike, but much less than if you were to eat grain/gluten-filled brownies and dairy ice cream. My note of caution here would be to not get in the habit of having paleo cheats everyday. Maybe once a week, maybe! Once every other week or once a month would be much more favorable.

Some other observations about this topic:
Try not to allow your diet to become your obsession. Unless you are an elite athlete whose performance goals warrant being obsessive or a person whose livelihood depends on your body composition, an obsessive frame of mind will set you up for feelings of guilt and failure. There needs to be a certain level of commitment here, because if you were not committed to this lifestyle you would not stick to it; it’s a lot of work! It’s so worth it though, right?!

Over time you will learn your limits. I have been eating this way for almost 3 years and it’s taken me almost 3 years to understand what I can and cannot do. I tend to avoid gluten like the plague because it completely wrecks me. I get achy, depressed, and fatigued. I am a little more lenient with sugar and dairy, but my acne flares up if I go overboard with those. Over Memorial Day weekend, I drank alcohol (vodka and tequila and wine) on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. The booze was my cheat, not the food. By the time Monday came around, I felt pretty crappy – tired and bloated. On Monday I made the commitment to get back on the wagon; I drank tons of water, took extra fish oil, and tried to eat a lot of good food. I have no problem getting back to “normal” because I know how much better I feel when I eat well, get enough sleep, and mobilize consistently. Also, when I am staring at a table of non-paleo foods, I literally think to myself, “If I eat that right now, how will I feel in 20 minutes?” I then weigh the options and consider whether dealing with the aftermath is worth the pleasure of eating whatever is staring at me.

I also keep my goals in mind. Although I am not an elite-level CrossFitter I feel an obligation and desire to be the best I can be. I know I will not reach this goal by cheating on my diet every chance I get. I also have body composition goals that will not be achieved or even maintained by constant slips. Additionally, I need to lead by example and continue to be my own n=1 experiment. I cannot in good conscience tell people they should be doing something when I don’t even do it myself.

Making the decision to “go paleo” is one you should be excited about. There will be ups and downs as you navigate conflicting information and opinions, and battle societal norms by going “against the grain.” Commit to fighting the good fight; stand by your lifestyle and be proud that you’re making healthy choices for your body. When it comes to moments of weakness, remember why you began this process in the first place. When you falter, forgive yourself and know that there are always people in your corner, waiting to catch you, and here to support you the whole way through.

Here’s to good food!

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