Hello and happy hump day! I'm excited to recap the Fall Paleo Challenge I did with my CrossFit box today! Even though I didn't fully finish the contest because I stopped tracking at the end, I did learn a lot and I saw results, too (both in my physique and strength-wise). To recap the experience, I decided to go with a question/answer format. These are the questions I'd ask someone who did the challenge, so I anticipate they are on par with questions you might ask, too! If you have any others, feel free to leave them in the comments.
What was it like getting started? How did you feel after the first week? After three?
The first week was rough because I gave up creamer in my coffee and I love my morning cup of jo! I tried almond milk and coconut milk, but nothing seemed to cut it like Coffeemate Hazelnut creamer! On the plus side, I didn't feel as addicted to coffee as I usually do, craving it all the time. The same was true for my sugar cravings -- they weren't nearly as strong or as frequent as they used to be (hunting for something sweet after every meal!) -- and that was a relief! Almost immediately I felt lighter and less bloated, too.
Mentally I felt really good because I was sticking to my guns and exhibiting self-control. The Paleo Challenge leader says will power is like a muscle, and I totally believe that now. In the first few weeks I felt like my will power muscle was strong and growing! Even though I wasn't perfect, I stayed pretty consistent. Making intentional decisions about what I put in my body day in and out felt great.
Around week three I have to admit I let a few things sneak back into my diet, like the creamer. Even though that was the only thing, I knew that sugary dairy mix wasn't a good way to start the morning. With that said, as soon as I started allowing other non-paleo, sugary treats back in, the harder it became to stay on track. (I believe this is due to the addictive properties in refined sugar, as well as the weakening of the will power muscle!)
Did you feel like you were on a diet?
No, I felt satisfied (and sometimes even excited) by the food I was eating. I didn't feel as though I was depriving myself at all or like I was on a strict diet.
Has this enhanced your CrossFit skills/performance at all?
To be honest, I couldn't tell at first whether this way of eating was making me any stronger. One of my friends says it helped her to be able to do pull-ups (Hi Wendy!!! Way to go!!!) but I'm not there yet.
I did, however, significantly improve my overhead squat one rep max from 65 lbs to 100 lbs and I backsquatted a one rep max of 185 lbs the other day, which shocked me and everyone in the class! (That's much much more than I ever thought I'd be able to do.)
As for other lifts, like cleans, deadlifts, and snatches, I'm trying to go heavier but it's on a case-by-case basis. It really depends on the workout and the way I'm feeling that day so I can't say for sure "yes, I'm stronger," but I have seen some improvement.
What changes have you seen in your body?
I lost weight and inches, and my clothes fit better, but the best part has been seeing my arms and upper body change. I've recently noticed my traps - located at the back of the neck and the upper part of the chest - raised a little. I've noticed more definition in my delts and arms, too and I have a flatter, less bloated-looking stomach.
It's really hard to say whether the paleo diet contributed to those physical changes, but I imagine getting leaner makes my upper body look more appealing. I'd love to do the challenge again and measure body fat.
How much weight did you lose?
I lost about 8 lbs and that was pretty much within the first 3 weeks. At one point (2 weeks ago) I was down 10 lbs but with my recent travels, I haven't kept strict.
I really only wanted to lose 2-3 lbs (to get under 160), but I'm happy I lost more. I can really tell a difference and I'm motivated to keep eating this way. Plus, clothes shopping is so much more fun! :)
Did I lose inches?
Yes. As you can see from the image above, I lost one inch around my waist and another around my thighs. I think if I would have stuck to it, I would have lost more.
Did it stay off, even after 2 weeks essentially off the diet?
Eh, it's hard to say because I was down to 153 and now I'm up to 155 lbs. I don't like to put a lot of stock in what the scale says because it varies so much, but I think overall, for the most part, tTe weight has stayed off. Nevertheless, I think it's very important to make a smooth transition off the challenge in order to maintain.
Would you say this challenge was easy, kinda hard or really hard?
I think the challenge was kinda hard just because you have to prepare almost everything you eat. Besides larabars and plaintain chips, there's not much you can just open and eat. There's usually cooking or chopping, or some form of preparation involved and that gets tough when you're busy or in a rush. Additionally, eating out is really hard. There's so much crap in salads at restaurants today, and most don't even offer oil and vinegar as a dressing... I think it's hard to eat 100 percent strict paleo all the time.
What was the hardest part?
Eating out was the hardest. Even walking into Whole Foods, there's not much to grab and just eat on a strict paleo diet. That's why I'm more comfortable doing it loosely.
Will you continue the challenge? Do you want to keep eating stict paleo?
I'm not going to continue the actual challenge with the points system, but I do want to continue keeping a food diary and eating paleo. I'm really excited to share that I introduced my father-in-law to the lifestyle and he loves it. It's transformed our household and the way my in-laws grocery shop (more veggies, which I love), and having their support is really helpful. Aaron has even expressed an interest in cutting out sugar like I did on the challenge. I'm really excited to see where this lifestyle leads leads our family.
What would you do differently next time?
Next time I would stick to it through till the end! That's something that is really hard for me (to see things through to completion) and I'm kicking myself for sorta throwing in the towel on vacations and in the end.
Next time I would also like to measure my performance better by timing my 400 meter run and maybe doing a benchmark workout at the beginning of the challenge and again at the end, to really see if there's progress.
What would you recommend to others trying a challenge?
Get really involved with those that are leading the challenge. Email them, check the Facebook page, talk all the time if you can. When I slipped out of the habit of checking our group Facebook page, I made more slip-ups.
Also, and probably most important, don't stop tracking! If you're going out of town, ask whoever is going to remind you to do a diary at the end of the night, even if you're not eating strict paleo! I think the #1 reason why I stopped was because I stopped tracking.
Did you learn anything about yourself that you can keep in mind in the future, or that's changed your relationship with food?
My take-away is pretty much the same as what I suspected at the beginning, and that's that sugar is my biggest problem. If you eat really sugary foods, it makes you want more of that same stuff, and sometimes, the cravings are really strong. I need to avoid that trap by avoiding those foods altogether. I thought avoiding sugar was impossible at the beginning of this challenge but now I know it's possible! I need to work on implementing that way of living all the time. I think it's fine to treat yourself here and there, but not with the really bad stuff. One of my favorite snacks was ants on a log, which is very sweet and satisfying. Oh and meal prep! You can't do this if you don't have the foods, and they aren't prepared and ready to eat.
What's your take-away?
Even though challenges aren't for everybody (some people think of them as diets, they're too strict for some people, and they don't last or really help others), I have to say for myself, these types of challenges help me. I enjoy having a start and finish in mind, not so that I can binge when it's over, but so that I can set an attainable goal and strive to get to that point. I do need to work on my transition in and out of these types of challenges, but I'm really happy that I participated. It actually forced me out of my comfort zone and I learned a lot of new healthy recipes to add to my rotation (kale salads, chicken sausage, and banana ice cream)! And I learned that I really love healthy foods! I feel good about myself when I'm intentional about my diet, and acting aware and responsible for my body. Of course it's a day-to-day thing, but at least I'm trying! Trying to find balance and self-confidence in my body and my eating habits is obviously important to me... why else would I have a fitness blog? :)
Stay tuned for a 3-month progress check coming all about CrossFit and the changes I've seen since starting that!
Have you ever done a paleo challenge?
What were your results? Are you still eating that way?
PS: Did you see this artcile on the Top 10 Mistakes CrossFitters Make? I really enjoyed it!