It was a summer during which I experienced a lot of firsts. I got my first true 9 to 5, a full-time position at a newswire. I moved to New York City for that job, and it was my first time living in a big city. That summer was also the first time I committed to an eating plan, resolving to try a Paleo diet for the two-and-a-half months I was in the Big Apple. My primary motivation for trying Paleo was that I had heard it would give me boundless energy. I wasn’t too concerned with weight loss—as a member of the rowing team in college, I was already the fittest I had ever been. But I had never kept up a workout regimen while also having a full-time job, and I was worried I wouldn’t have the energy to exercise before or after work. So, I hoped Paleo would be the solution.
I’m a creature of habit when it comes to breakfast. I can eat the same thing every day for months on end and never get bored. I am also a slave to efficiency, and to a full eight hours of sleep—so for me, Paleo-approved protein bars with 20 grams of protein and no sugar were the perfect AM meal. I would buy 10 or 15 at a time in flavors like chocolate brownie and creamy peanut butter and grab one on my way out each day to munch on my subway ride. Lunch was usually a salad—I would hit the nearby chopped salad spot for my favorite cobb, minus the cheese, or bring a salad from home, usually topped with hard-boiled eggs for protein. In the afternoon, I snacked on an apple or some nuts.
I was not yet an experienced cook at the time and taking the time to cook dinner every night would have made it even more difficult for me to get to the gym, which was my priority. So most evenings, I went to the nearby natural foods store and made up a plate of pre-prepared food. First I would choose an animal protein, like chicken or steak, then two different vegetables as sides. It probably wasn’t the most cost-effective method, but it was a fast and easy way to put together a tasty Paleo meal. It was pretty easy to order Paleo suppers at most fast-casual restaurants as well, simply forgoing cheese and substituting greens for rice or beans.
I’m not sure how quickly it happened, but my energy levels definitely improved. I’m not a morning person, but I managed to attend a spin class before work once or twice a week and head to the gym in the evening most days, either to take a total body conditioning class, jam out in a dance fitness class or spend some time on the rowing machine. I even remember getting a compliment from one of the instructors after one evening class on my energy and fitness!
Sitting at a computer for eight hours should have been a drag, especially considering it wasn’t a lifestyle I was used to, but my energy rarely dipped and I never felt groggy. I did cheat occasionally with a sugar-free vanilla latte from the coffee shop downstairs, but never more than once every two weeks or so—and rarely in the afternoon as a 3:00pm slump-buster.
Thanks to rowing, I was already pretty built, with broad shoulders and muscular thighs, so I didn’t notice much of a change in my body. If anything, all the protein helped me easily maintain the muscle mass I had. I love vegetables so I did enjoy eating so many, but I started to get a bit bored of the proteins—most of the options at the store were grilled, so I wasn’t getting much variability in preparation. Plus, it was admittedly painful to turn down the hamburger bun and most of the sides when I did make it back home for family cookouts.
I didn’t keep up with Paleo after that summer. But today, when I cook almost every meal on a daily basis, I often find myself choosing Paleo meals–like burrito bowls filled with ground turkey, peppers, onions, guacamole and cauliflower rice, or bun-less bacon burgers smothered with sautéed mushrooms, onions and peppers–simply because they are delicious. I’m not sure I would go back to the eating plan full-time, since I do eat a lot of legumes and whole grains. But if I ever decide to train for, say, a triathlon, I would jump right back on the Paleo train!
Note: The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author(s) and contributor(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the publisher and editors of WholeFoods Magazine.