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Breaking Up with Paleo

back squat PR

This post has been coming for a long time. If you’ve been reading Guilty Kitchen for more than a couple days, you’d know I’ve gone through just about every “lifestyle” diet there is, from Atkins to Vegan, to Paleo and back again. You’d also know I’ve been anorexic, overweight and everything in between. But if you follow my social media, you may have noticed lately, that I’ve been breaking up with paleo.

About two years ago, I started the Paleo Diet, which fuelled my rise into the world of being a multi-published cookbook author, but it also coincided with my first foray into CrossFit, weightlifting and worlds of fitness and strength I had never even heard of. I thrived on it for the first few months. My constant dieting and Beachbody cardio had brought my 5’4″ frame down to a measly 115lbs, but after 2 months on the paleo diet, I was back up to 130lbs. Most of that was not muscle, even though I was doing CrossFit 6 days a week, I still put on mostly fat (though I did gain some serious muscle too).


One of my very first CrossFit WODs

What a lot of people will tell you, when you first join paleo, is that it’s “hard to gain weight” on the paleo diet because you can’t eat too much of all the calorie dense foods. To this a call supreme bullshit. Chris Kresser, on his blog, states that, “…a Paleo diet is more satiating per calorie than both a Mediterranean diet and a low-fat diet. That means it’s more filling for the same number of calories compared to other popular diet methods. This is crucial for weight loss, since it helps you eat less without fighting hunger or counting calories.

He also states that “Not only do you not have to count calories, you don’t have to purposely restrict fat or carbohydrates, though you’ll naturally eat fewer carbs, simply because Paleo eliminates the highly processed and refined carbs (like flour and sugar) that are such a big part of the Standard American Diet. But there’s no need to strictly avoid any particular macronutrient.”

So there I was, a former obese teen who’d also been anorexic, transitioning to a paleo diet to feel better and to avoid having to count calories. I wanted to be an intuitive eater once again, as I had always found that to be something out of my reach (I tend to eat for any and all purposes). So I ate intuitively with Paleo; big breakfasts of butter and coconut oil drenched coffee or bacon, eggs and bacon-fat sautéed vegetables, our dinners were along similar lines. I will admit that I felt sated most of the time and didn’t snack. In the evenings though, I did snack on nuts, dark chocolate or roasted coconut. Eventually, I noticed the weight gain but did not want to restrict myself. This was, after all, the diet best suited for weight loss…or so everyone says.


This selfie was taken in the last two months

But I was also working out a lot, lifting heavy and also crushing huge metabolic conditioning WODs. So we also ate sweet potatoes and plantains for carbs, as I did not eat that much fruit, this was my starchy carb source. After a year of CrossFit and Paleo though, I had made a disappointing amount of strength gains and  managed to put on a bothersome amount of fat. This was around the time I started looking into Lyle McDonald’s Intermittent Fasting Protocol and carb cycling. I would have high carb and low carb days as well as eating a large portion of carbs at night for backloading (Google it). I added in morning cardio for fat loss and an additional core strength routine three times a week all while still doing our afternoon Invictus WODs.

By the time 18 months had rolled around, I was getting pretty annoyed with my lack of progress. I had managed to up most of my lifts, but only by tiny amounts compared to others of my age, weight and ability level. I was also up to my eyeballs in sweet potatoes and plantains and was for sure emptying my mental bank of things to do with them. I also became less creative in terms of recipes, as most paleo meals are a veg, a starch (or not) and a protein. I didn’t blog as much, but I was also writing two cook books, so I’ll blame that.

pork chop and rice

Most of my dinners look like this

It was about November 2013 that I started paying to be a part of the Eat to Perform team. Immediately, I noticed that all of the newbies in the forum were on Paleo diets or were “clean eaters”, whereas anyone who’d been on ETP for more than a few months did not restrict many foods and were, most definitely, not paleo. ETP was more macro based, which I had been following since looking into Lyle McDonald and had also done before when doing all the Beachbody programs. I began my own experimenting with white rice at first, then eating wheat once every couple weeks. Then I had some oatmeal, then cereal, then fruit, then corn and sugar. Oh my. I’d completely cannon balled off the paleo bandwagon and on to what I will call: Eating for Life. 

apple fritter

My preferred form of preworkout

When I started Paleo, I had no medical reasons to eat that way. I’d had digestive issues with dairy and some gluten containing grains (or so I thought), but that was it. My only condition that I thought might be bettered, was alopecia areata, an immune disorder where my hair thins and falls out, leaving bald patches. Initially, my hair did all grow back after starting paleo, but about a year in, my hair was falling out again, even though I was still eating the same way, taking the same birth control and doing the same training. I chalk that up as the result of going from a 1500 calorie/day diet to more like 25-3000 when I started Paleo…but what do I know?

Fast forward to the beginning of 2014. I started eating for my performance goals, which include strength, power, endurance, balance, and having a physique I love to show off (sorry, but anyone who states otherwise is just plain lying). My diet again began to include wheat, doughnuts, sugar, corn, oats, and pretty much anything I could get my hands on (except soy and legumes). I have had zero problems with my digestive system (which I attribute to eating more fermented foods like kéfir and kombucha) and continue to pack on muscle and hit huge PRs in the gym. Since adding more carbohydrates back in to my diet, I have put 15lbs on my back squat, 10lbs on my front squat, 25lbs on my bench, 15lbs on my clean, 25lbs on my jerk and 10lbs on my strict press….all in the space of about four months.

hotel swelfie

Loving life

For those reading this that think I just eat doughnuts all day long, I do have something to say as well. You’re choices are just that, your own. I make my adult decisions based on my own life, the way my body reacts to everything I put in it, my children, my tastes, what I’m doing that day and whatever the fuck else I want to use to make decisions for myself and my family. What I found most painful about the Paleo diet was not being able to eat during travel, holidays or dinners out because of the inability to consume many of today’s most popular foods. Having to say “No thank you” at every single kids birthday party when I was offered cake probably made me look a) anorexic or b) a snob.


I still maintain a mostly paleo diet, but I continue to eat high carb, moderate fat, because that has been what has helped me attain my goals quickly and without restriction. I am aware of all of the so-called health benefits of eating grain-free, but my love and obsession with science tells me that until there is more research on the subject, I remain an impartial observer to those who wish to experiment on themselves. I will always adhere to a mostly organic, locally sourced diet but it will include the things I love to eat the most and exclude only those things that cause me health issues or taste yucky. I will continue to post mostly paleo recipes, but I will not be bullied into thinking that changing is a bad thing.

Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything. – George Bernard Shaw

Without change there is no innovation, creativity, or incentive for improvement. Those who initiate change will have a better opportunity to manage the change that is inevitable. – William Pollard

Have you broken up with the paleo diet? Would you? Why or why not?


30 comments to Breaking Up with Paleo

  • Mr. Guilty

    well said! Its not breaking up, its just growing the relationship.

  • robynski

    Funny, I have a nephew who is morbidly obese. He swears by paleo yet hasn’t lost an ounce in three years. I appreciate your narrative on intuitive eating. If we’d all listen to our own bodies instead of signing up for mass trends I think we’d all be better off and healthier.

    Thanks Liz!

  • Atta girl!! I ADORE your honesty and candor and I’m so glad you wrote this post. I think too often we’re policed – or bullied – into eating, being or doing a certain way because of pressure from friends, communities, etc… You know what I mean. And I fucking love that you’re writing your own story, sharing it with us and giving us all the balls we need to make our own choices…

    …Speaking of choices. I hate that I use the term “balls” for being gutsy or strong. My inner-feminist is screaming right now.
    Kristy @ She Eats recently posted..Dark Chocolate Dipped Cherry Basil Margarita PopsiclesMy Profile

  • Good for you!! I “broke up” with paleo last year too… I eat a lot more fruit and starches when training hard and I’m less worrie about being 100% compliant all the time. That said I am sensitive to gluten so will do anything to avoid it. No soy, rarely legumes… A bit more dairy (fermented) here and there too. Check out Nate Miyaki and Ray Peat (if you haven’t already) – their work has really helped me… Keep it up! 😉

  • Yeah girl. I love grains too. I’ve gone without them for patches of time, but I know they cause zero negative reactions and without them I feel extremely deprived. Brown rice is DA BOMB.
    Madelyn Moon recently posted..20 Practices That Will Set You FreeMy Profile

  • Jenn

    Thank you for writing this. I’ve been paleo for 4 years but so upset I have all this body fat. My workouts are tough and my food is paleo to a “T”. I’ve been playing with macros but I think this gives me the push I need to to try it for 6 weeks and see where I’m at. Thanks!

  • joanna

    I was actually surprised by your post since I had no idea you used to do paleo! I always see you post pictures and most of it is not paleo. I’m glad you have found something that works for you and disregard labels. There’s no point in doing a diet if you don’t see improvements.

  • I always enjoy reading about ‘breaking up with Paleo’ blog posts, as I went through the exact same thing a year ago. Initially I lost some stubborn inches and was overjoyed that I could eat without abandon, work up a light sweat and reach my aesthetic goals. Fast forward about 6 months later – no gym membership, a pretty lazy attitude about fitness (because it’s 80% what you eat right??) and I’m gaining weight like crazy. Worst of all I could barely run a 5k without wheezing uncontrollably. I freaked out and immediately went into the ye-olde anorexic mode that I thought was behind me; restrict more and carbs are the devil! Luckily I had had enough and slowly re-introduced gluten into my life. I never looked back.

    Unfortunately I still have a bit of carbphobia, but I’m working on it. I actually have trouble getting in enough and it’s probably why my lifts are stalling. Pasta and I just need a good couple’s counselling session in the form of carbonara. 😉

  • Good for you for figuring out what works better for you 🙂 I tried paleo for a long time too, but never felt any progression with it – even though I was working out 5 days a week. Now, I’m half paleo/half not and that seems to work better for me. 🙂
    Natalie recently posted..10 No Bake Desserts!My Profile

  • Brook

    Excellent post.

    What people fail to realise is that the “paleo” diet was never meant for crossfitters – however crossfit can probably take some of the praise for sending it mainstream. What is the Paleo diet good for? Its good for general lifestyle choices when eating and giving people a template to live on. As all the experts say, do it for 30 days – see how you look, perform and feel and then reintroduce certain foods. test and re-test.

    it was not meant for the hard charging wodding crossfitter. people will breakdown on a strict paleo diet or not see the benefits. i learnt this the hardway too, and i started crossfit over 5 years ago and actually “found” paleo before that.

  • Yeah, I don’t see why we should label everything. Sometimes I eat rice and buckwheat and dairy and sometimes I eat meals suitable for a paleo diet. It’s about what suits me personally, not about other people. So if some other diet is better for you, then I am so glad to hear you’ve found it. Also I sort of hate how people demand an explanation why someone decided to change their course of eating. As if someone’s diet was their business.

  • Awesome post and well said! I wrote a similar post a few months back and experienced the weight gain, lack of performance gains etc that you did. I’m happy to see others that come from a crossfit background straying away from paleo.

  • Well you know I am behind you on this one: when you know better, you do better. I always enjoy reading about what you are up to, Liz!
    Winnie recently posted..Quick Tomato Sauce + 50 More Tomato RecipesMy Profile

  • ps- time for a new header? paleo-ish shmaleo-ish.
    Winnie recently posted..Quick Tomato Sauce + 50 More Tomato RecipesMy Profile

  • I love this post – thank you for your honesty. We all have to find what works for us. I think we all know that what works for one may not work for another. I avoid gluten when I can because it makes me exhausted {or, so it would seem after a few months of trial and error}. But, if presented with birthday cake that is absolutely the best birthday cake EVER, you bet your bottom dollar I’m going to have a piece. Anyway, all that to say, I’m glad you broke up with Paleo – it’s all about the journey.
    Calista recently posted..Fun Friday Five!My Profile

  • Katy

    Thank you for this post!!! I follow a lifestyle where I tend to eat about 80% truly paleo and the rest of the time “what I want”. If I want to have a beer with my husband, I do and do not feel guilty for it! I appreciate this post so much because I am SURROUNDED by militant grain-free/dairy-free followers who are constantly telling me that I will get better results if I go 100% all the time. It makes me feel a lot better that I am not alone in feeling that I can listen to my body, eat whole foods and occasionally eat something “bad” and still be healthy.

    Thank you thank you thank you!!!

  • Mindy

    This is the first time I’ve stumbled upon your blog (looking for healthy snack recipes) and this post immediately caught my eye…your honesty is great and well-stated, and I 100% agree. You’ve got a new reader 🙂

  • NativeAtlantaGirl

    I have lost over half my bodyweight while on Paleo – but I didn’t go on it to lose weight. I was dx’d with MS and it was suggested as an alternative treatment – I went on the more “rigid” Autoimmune Protocol Diet.

    Chronic joint pain and insomnia disappeared in 3wks. I counted carbs, calories, fat grams for eons – thought I ate healthy eating Greek yogurt and whole wheat, etc. Also, cravings for bingey-type foods and sweets disappeared.

    I haven’t found eating this way restrictive socially, usually I can get a steak or grilled fish and veggies. Have gotten some flack from people, but they have drooled over my own meals (I backpack and prepare my own dehydrated meals, etc) I never tell people I eat “Paleo” because most people associate it (no-offense intended) with “hypocritical Crossfit assholes”. I haven’t “cheated” once in 2yrs. Haven’t felt a desire at all – my “motivation” is a bit different than someone attempting to achieve fitness goals.

    People ask what the “secret” or “trick” to my weight loss is – I usually just say I eliminated all processed food and sugar. They only “trick” is finding a healthy way to eat that you can stick to for life and don’t feel deprived.

    And my health has improved exponentially – I backpacked across Colorado and Utah for 4wks, followed by kayaking thru the Grand Canyon for 18 days – kicked the ass of 4 guys in their 20s thru the trip.

    Happy you found a way of eating that works for you and continue to evolve.

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