Why Still Paleo- How My Family and I Are Eating Now- The 80-20 Rule

Back in July I shared with y'all that despite originally being somewhat opposed to the whole concept of the Paleo diet, because I don't buy the dogma about "eating like hunter gatherers" (especially since I am pretty sure, as a forager, that hunter gatherers/foragers DID eat grains), I did get convinced by Chris Kresser's book, the Paleo cure, to try the Paleo diet for thirty days, specifically because he didn't try to sell the diet based on "this is how cavemen ate" but rather based on solid and sound science, as the diet is high in nutrient dense food and low in inflammation causing foods, so if you have health issues you may find that you feel better without grains, dairy, added sweeteners, legumes, and processed food in general, and that many people find they lose weight when going Paleo.

After 30 days, I updated on how I felt on the diet and after reintroducing these foods, as well as how my family did both on and off the diet. To recap, I felt better physically on the diet, almost all my stomach issues gone, but I didn't lose much weight, if at all, which was frustrating for me. And that I noticed after the thirty days, I was reacting to certain foods that I hadn't realized I'd reacted to before, such as rice, buckwheat, potatoes, and aged cheeses. I also mentioned that I thought my family was reacting to rice, corn, and sugar, but I wasn't sure.
Anyhow, after that, a few months have passed, and I wanted to share how our family is eating now, how those 30 days of Paleo affected our family's eating habits in general, etc...

So, firstly, I wanted to say that for the most part my family is no longer eating Paleo. They're eating cereal for breakfast, corn cereal sweetened with coconut sugar and with milk, and no one seems to be reacting. I don't think corn affects how they feel or behave and that is great. After a month off rice, though, I've noticed that my kids are no longer fans of it- they'll eat it here and there, but not in the quantities that they used to eat it- for meals they prefer other foods like fruit, veggies, and proteins instead of grains. And that is pretty cool- they're getting used to better eating habits. I don't see them having sugar melt downs and crashes after eating rice like I saw at first, so I'm happy to see that as well- it makes my life easier.
After 30 days completely off grain, my oldest son, Lee, who I hadn't seen a specific gluten reaction in (my younger three certainly react to gluten), decided to try gluten again, first a bit and then a lot, and zero reaction. Which means that he's probably one of those few individuals that actually is totally gluten tolerant. According to Chris Kresser (sorry, can't find the link that discusses this- really frustrating!), there are some people with a severe gluten intolerance, a majority of the people somewhat sensitive to gluten, in varying degrees, and a minority that actually is completely tolerant to gluten, no problems. It seems that Lee is in that last category, especially since after completely cutting it out for a month, he was reaction free after reintroduction. Fortunately he's got no physical health issues, nor behavioral or emotional issues, so I think it's safe to say he's totally ok with gluten.
So he actually has gluten every day for breakfast- Mike found some gluteny cereal at the grocery store that is cheap, with relatively innocuous ingredients (assuming that you aren't gluten sensitive) that he and Lee enjoy, so the two of them eat that daily. Not quite Paleo.
The other kids do pretty decently on their corn based cereal. Not Paleo either, but gluten free.

But what about myself?

Well, after my 30 days of Paleo and not losing weight, I reread what Chris Kresser says about weight loss, and he mentions about trying to do lower carb to lose weight, if you've never attempted low carb beforehand.
But the thing is- he doesn't have the same approach to low carb as most people do- he only counts fruit sugars, added sweeteners, and starchy veggies like sweet potatoes and white potatoes as carbs, but doesn't count veggies like tomatoes, zucchini, onions, carrots, beets, etc... towards your carb count. He says to aim for between 25 and 50 grams of the first group of carbs per day, and not to limit the second group, so that is what I've been attempting to do.

And it paid off!

 photo before and after_zpsyfmegboy.jpg

Ok, well, I don't know if just that. Because at the same time as going lower carb, I also was pretty sick for a week, and barely was able to eat anything, and at the end of that week, I went down from 175-180 lbs that I was at the end of my 30 day paleo reset, to 165 lbs! And people told me "Oh, you'll gain it all right back once you start eating again!" but you know what? I didn't. I actually lost more weight and got down to 161.7 lbs, even once I was back to eating my low carb Paleo!
At the moment, I am not being as strict with low carb paleo as when I first started.
I am doing this as a lifestyle change, and not a temporary diet which isn't sustainable, which is why I am not guilting myself if I want to eat something not allowed.
So sugar is what I eat with the least reaction, other than slight weight gain. So I do eat things with sugar sometimes, like chocolate, or banana chips like I had the other day.
Then there's things like aged cheeses, which don't give me a headache anymore either. They may or may not make me feel a little more sleepy- haven't been able to ascertain that for sure- but I have it anyhow sometimes, as a treat- and it is worth every bite for me. I just try not to do it so often.

Rice and buckwheat and corn, I don't do so well with. I have them sometimes, but they bother my stomach a little bit, and make me feel bloated for the next few days after eating them, as well as causing the number on the scale to bounce back up, so... I try not to eat items made with gluten free grains- if I want to, I remind myself how it makes me feel, and sometimes I decide it is worth it, but most of the time I don't. Again, knowing how it makes me feel- not amazing, but not terrible either- gives me the freedom to make that decision and feeling comfortable with it. Most of the time I stay away, but here and there I make exceptions for myself.
As for legumes- I seem to be totally 100% fine with green peas and green beans, but split peas bother my stomach. Aquafaba, whipped desserts made from chickpea water didn't seem to bother my stomach either fortunately. I still haven't tried peanut butter, and I tried lentils but I'm not sure, so I have to try again, but for now I'm staying away mostly from legumes.

There's a concept called the 80-20 rule, which basically means that you should eat well, do the healthy thing 80% of the time, and the rest of the time, 20% of the time, you can live normally and not feel guilty about it. I wouldn't say I am eating paleo 80% of the time, more like 95% of the time, but I don't feel bad about eating my less than perfect stuff here and there- because it means it actually is sustainable to stick to this lifestyle- and why I fully support the concept of SWYPOs- healthy alternatives to junk- because I don't feel like I'm missing out by eating predominantly paleo.

Essentially, when I stick to lower carb paleo, the scale has been around 165-166 lbs (sometimes a little lower, even, if I've stuck to it for a while), and has been consistently there, other than when I eat grains or overdo the carbs- then the numbers start creeping back up, and if I start eating lower carbs (and also try not to overdo the nuts), after a few more days I'm back at 165/166.

And I feel really awesome!

Also physically- though not as perfect as I was feeling when I was doing 100% super strict paleo. (I know if I did want to feel 100% perfect, I could cut out all those non paleo things I'm eating, but that's the choice I'm making.)
But also emotionally.
Finally managing to lose weight- those 10 lbs since the beginning of the summer, and a total of 41 lbs since I started my weight loss journey in May of 2014, and more seriously in October of 2014 (wow, didn't realize that was just 18 months!) and it really has effected how I feel about myself.
For the first time in like, ever, I look in the mirror and I am happy with what I see. Yes, I wouldn't mind losing maybe 10-15 extra pounds tops (my ideal weight range is 150-165 lbs, and since I'm at the upper end of that, I wouldn't mind getting to the lower end), but at the moment, I am feeling confident and beautiful and it is just really special. Not that I wasn't beforehand, but when I weighed more, it was hard for me to feel that confident, I felt just like a fat blob.
Now I feel good.
Also for how I look, but even more than that, for my self control and my managing to finally take the bulls by the horn and have self control when it comes to food and not constantly overeat and overeat and eat the wrong things, like I did my whole life until this point. Literally until this summer, I never managed to stick to a "diet" for more than 2 or 3 days. The fact that I have been sticking to this since July- already 4-5 months- means a huge deal to me, that I am not letting food control me like I did in the past.

I haven't actually been exercising- just living my day to day life- and while I would like to start exercising, I am realizing that at this point in time, I don't have the emotional energy or the time to do so (whatever time I have is usually at 10-11 pm at night, when I'm tired and just want to veg out) and that's ok too- maybe at some point soon I will start exercising again, but for now, diet is the only change I've made, and I'm glad that I disproved everyone that was saying that I'd gain all that weight back, wouldn't manage to keep it off.

P.S. I should add that one other thing I've done is started drinking coffee- I giant glass in the morning sweetened with coconut sugar- since I heard it helps both speed up your metabolism and also works as an appetite suppressant. And I think it is working, because I feel I am not overeating nearly as much as I used to...

So yes, that's how I am eating now, and I think I can do this for life. Because I am not feeling deprived. I am getting my treats and keeping my weight down as well. And I feel amazing!
And as for my kids- they see how I eat, they can eat how I eat if they want to. And if they want to have their cereal and milk every morning instead of the veggies and protein I have, they can as well. I provide healthy foods for them, with the occasional treat, and they're learning healthy eating habits by example.

If you're attempting to lose weight or did lose weight in the past, what method are you trying to use/what did you use successfully?
If you've tried going Paleo, either for health reasons or for weight reasons, what effect did it seem to have on your body? Have you stuck with it?

Penniless Parenting

Mommy, wife, writer, baker, chef, crafter, sewer, teacher, babysitter, cleaning lady, penny pincher, frugal gal


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  1. This is amazing. I love how you discovered what will work for you and your family.

  2. You look fabulous. I had my 2nd (and last) baby at age 42, a few years ago. In Jan 2014 I finally started losing weight (I'd yo-yo'd before then, due to stress and lack of sleep). First by calorie counting, and then by using the 21 Day Fix plan by Beachbody. It's like calorie counting but easier. Each food group has a "color" of container, and a size of container. You get a certain number of each per day.

    So I'd get 3 servings veg, 4 protein, 2 carb (and they are small), 2 fruit, 1 fat, some oils, 1 seeds. It's easier than counting calories.

    It worked pretty well, though I was resistant to cutting carbs so much at the beginning, because I was used to eating much more. Then I read a book called "What to Eat" by Luise Light, and that was very helpful. I got better at lower carb cooking, because I ate 5x a day but only got 2 carbs.

    I went from 168 to 151. Then last November I did what I call "NOvember". I gave up alcohol, wheat, and sugar for a month. I lost 7 lbs that month, and prior months was losing only 2, and December lost only 2. My calorie level did not change. For my carbs, I ate potatoes, rice, corn, beans, popcorn, etc. But no wine, no sugar, no bread, no pasta.

    Then after December I stalled at 142. For a long time. (I gained a few pounds in March due to work stress but lost it again). I decided to do NOvember again. I'm 2.5 weeks in (started a few days early) and have already lost >5 pounds, under 137. Wheee!!

    I think I will do NOvember every year for sure.

    1. Awesome! So glad you found what is working for you! The containers and colors and all sounds super confusing to me!

  3. That transformation is amazing!! I personally am losing nicely via myfitnesspal. Are you still on it? I would love to friend you on there. There is a whole group of us women from the same background as you on there, and we would love to have you join our group!

    1. I do use myfitnesspal occasionally, but i cant really add all the meals i make like if i make a pot of something for my family, i cant calculate the general count for each serving so i dont always bother. But i do use it to get a general idea of how much carbs, fats, calories, etc... there are in each meal to help me not overdo the carbs, etc... send me an email to pennilessparenting@yahoo.com and i'll check out the group.

  4. Inspiring! My ideal weight is 10-15 pounds down from what i am, and i too struggle with stomach issues. I have been attampting paleo but am soooo bad at sticking with diets. Makes me feel good to know you are too but stuck this one out. Maybe I can really do this! I also love the 80-20 rule you mention. That I can still allow myself the occasional treat will help me get through. Thanks!

    1. Thank you! I find having healthy paleo treats also really helps me to stick to this. Though I said i eat chocolate, I sometimes try to find paleo alternatives to that either- the other day i mixed some cashew butter with cocoa powder and mint extract and a little mint to make myself "mint chocolate" instead of eating real chocolate, and it satisfied that craving and still was paleo.

  5. I love the photo you are gorgeous!!! Wow! Thanks, you are motivating me to loose weight!

  6. You look fabulous! Don't focus on the numbers... (maybe you're not) cause I wouldn't have guessed your weight ... I would have guessed well under!

    1. Thank you! Keep in mind- I am 5'9.5 with a broad frame, so those numbers look different on me than they would on a shorter person or someone with a smaller build. I am also looking at the parts of me that are still jiggly- that's why I want to lose some more if I can.

  7. Hi Penny,
    You look amazing! I've been struggling for over a year with up and down, up and down. I am about 20 pounds more than I want to be. I do find that low carb works best for me too, It's difficult being vegetarian. I feel like I eat too much cheese and eggs and therefore I go back to beans. Then I begin to gain again. I am 165 right now and need to be 150 at the highest ( 5'6) . Thanks for the inspiration. Very helpful

    1. Yea I think vegetarianism causes people to gain weight often. I know someone who was a vegetarian for years thinking it would make her healthier, but she packed on 40 lbs in a short time, and then she switched to paleo, a low carb version, and the lbs slipped right off...

  8. Loved your post and your sharing your story. You truly look (and feel) wonderful. I'd like so much to give paleo a try. It's probably the only thing I haven't tried during a lifetime of weight struggles. Susan

    1. Thank you Susan! Did you have anything that you tried that did work? Is there anything holding you back from trying paleo?

  9. You rock Penny! In about 2 years I've lost 30lbs and part of that was doing 2 Whole30's (several months apart). Diet has such control of us until we decide to take control of it. I have been doing the 95:5 like you, but my struggle is with hypoglycemia and brain fog. If I stick to paleo 100% (or maybe 99%) I don't get the blood sugar crashes and the brain fog is mostly kept at bay. My main problem is sugar and that is so hard to avoid. Thanks so much for taking us along on your journey--it's fun to see how you shop/cook/manage your diet/etc. FWIW, I feed a family of 4 mostly gluten-free, mostly paleo (one of my kids doesn't eat GF) on about $600/month and my food budget has actually gone DOWN from around $900-$1000 since I started meal planning and budgeting weekly. Keep up the great work--you look fabulous!

  10. I don't believe that only a minority of people have no problems with gluten. I think gluten free is a fad, and people might convince themselves they feel better gluten free, but I don't think most people have trouble with gluten. I have a huge family and huge circle of friends and acquaintances, and we discuss these food fads sometimes - I know exactly 2 people who have some trouble with wheat. Not all gluten, just wheat. Yes, I believe there are some people out there who are truly sensitive to gluten, but I really think a lot of people have jumped on the gluten free bandwagon because it's a fad, and they feel better because being gluten free probably means you're being more careful with what you eat,less junk, etc.

    1. I know a few people who have wheat issues - from Celiac to just intolerance/ digestive issues. I don't have a wheat problem, per se, except that I really like it.

      In general I think gluten free is helpful because it eliminates pasta and bread. The carbo load in those, and their effects on blood sugar, are fairly well known.

  11. Personally, I'm not a fan of cutting out any food group entirely and legumes are so cheap and nutritious! But it's easy for me to say because I am not sensitive to any type of food (that I know of). The most I do is cut down on the simple carbs and processed food I am eating. Congrats on the weight loss, Penny!! Glad you figured out what works for you that makes you feel good but is healthy.

  12. Wow, you look great!

    I've been following your Paleo saga with interest. For the first time in my life I no longer have my cast-iron stomach (former motto: I can eat rocks). Now very little food is appealing and I was slim to begin with. (Yeah, I know. I'm losing too much weight? Oh cry me a river.) My doctor thinks I've had young-onset Parkinson's for ten years or more but it's only now starting to affect my digestion. So for the first time ever I have to make every calorie count nutritionally.

    Paleo is interesting because it's nutrient-dense. I'll eat stews of vegetables in the morning (often making a stew out of something you posted about; it's easier than thinking it up for myself :)) My old mainstay Ezekiel bread sometimes. Beans sometimes. Chocolate pudding made with homemade soy milk, more often. It's not all Paleo, and I'll never go over completely, but it's a guideline and that makes things easier sometimes.

  13. You look great!
    I've myself been yo-yoing all my life with my weight... 175 to 120 to 200 to 140 to 200 to 150 to 230.... yep, all that in the last 20 years. Now sitting at 227.5 as of this morning, and I'm only 5'4.... it's though. But I am working on it once again, this time making life changes (or the always heard "it's a new lifestyle, not a diet") and not taking on something too drastic that won't last. Cutting out desserts and sweets + chips, eating gluten-free at home and gluten-conscious outside of the home (for other health reasons, mainly joints pain), and only having fresh fruits and veggies as snacks (if needed) Not rushing it, not obsessing about it, just integrating it to my day-to-day life and giving it time. Would like to go back to 150 pounds.

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