House Beautiful

The Paleo Diet: How it helped, how to “cheat” without cheating, and how not to lose your #@%!&! mind

Let me start by saying that I don’t do fad diets.  I genuinely believe that the only real, healthy and sustainable way to make a positive change in your body is to make a long-term, positive change in your lifestyle.  And with the exception of holidays, the rare occasion that I wake up with cookie dough in my hair, and the freezing Midwest winters that make me wanna drive straight past the gym and straight over to the Olive Garden, I generally eat very clean and try to make good choices.  But alas… last winter took a real toll on my waistline, and Matt wasn’t thrilled with what happened to his 24-pack, either.  We’d been working on whittling down the winter sludge for awhile but before we knew it, June 1 rolled around, and we weren’t quite back to where we wanted to be yet.  So after having cocktails with some good friends in Chicago over Memorial Day – who had had some very good success with Paleo – we decided, “meh, why not see what all the fuss is about?  Let’s take it for a spin.”

If you don’t yet know what Paleo is, you can read all about it HERE.  But you’re basically eating only things the Cavemen would’ve had access to:  fresh fruits & veggies, lean meats, nuts & seeds.  No dairy, no grains, no beans, no sugar, no additives.  Hold the salt.  No processed anything.  Basically, everything you eat should be fresh – as if you just picked it from the vine, shot or caught it – so that means nothing that comes in a package or a wrapper.  Here’s a snapshot:

Doesn’t sound so bad, right??  Okay maybe it sounds exactly like rabbit food…  but our thought was this:  It won’t be a huge adjustment because it’s not that far off from what we eat anyway.  The only difference being, Matt is kid-at-Christmas giddy for his oatmeal in the mornings, and I love my PBJ toast.  I put feta on my salad, Pecorino Romano in my pesto, and could eat butter with a serving spoon.  And at night, I guzzle about 2 giant glasses of milk.  Also, my hair looks just like that in silhouette.

But even when I say to myself, “Mkay.  Today I’m going to eat SUPER clean,” when I don’t have any explicit rules in place about what I can and can’t have, it’s a little too easy to reach for the Triscuits when I’m hungry as opposed to a handful of almonds. It’s almost like that, “when you fail to plan, you plan to fail” thing.  And when you have no plan, it’s hard to say no to fro-yo on hot summer nights…  cuz just one little scoop doesn’t hurt, right?  Surely not.  But all those little things probably added up to the last layer of sludge we were still trying to shed.  I think anything in moderation is fine, but for us, we needed to re-introduce a little discipline back into our diets, and this was the vehicle to do it.  Plus, once you get used to it, they say you’re supposed to have more energy, optimized health, minimized risk of chronic disease, and weight loss.  Giddy up.  So, we skimmed this book and on June 1, set off on a 30-day trial of eating Caveman (chest pound). Here is how our paleo experiment went down, and what I learned along the way…


1.  Cocktails – 1 allowed per day.

Cuz otherwise, we’d throw in the towel on Day 2.  We love a good stiff drink right around 7pm every night on the patio.  One drink a day is good for your HDL, right?  Is HDL synonymous with sanity?

2.  Saturdays = Cheat Days.

We knew this was 100% necessary if we were going to have any success at all on this diet.  Plus, I just read that the people who conceived the Paleo diet even say you can have 3 non-Paleo meals per week.  BANG.

3.  Half & Half in coffee = A-OK

This one is mine – Matt is a little lot more disciplined than I am.  I only have a few vices…  one is my baby blanket.  The other is cream in my morning coffee.  I tried to drink it black for the first two days, and it tasted like a dirty diaper.  I was literally distraught.  Then, the smartest girl I know that we went to high school with (what up, Laura!) told me that Half & Half isn’t awful on Paleo because it’s less processed.  Or something.  Whatever, I’ll take it!


1.  Fatigue

We were already dragging when we woke up the first few mornings.  Getting through a workout was like trying to heave a ton of bricks up the treadmill.  Luckily, this went away after about day 4.

2.  Feeling full but never really satisfied after a meal

This does pass, but the first week after a meal – even a hearty one of grilled chicken and tons of veggies – we would look at each other like, “hmmph.  Is that it?”  Full but not satisfied.  I can’t even talk about the time we had a cookout that first weekend, and while Matt & I were mowing down watermelon, heirloom tomato and mint salad (sans feta), the kiddos were throwing back tater tots.  I was foaming at the mouth just dreaming about licking the bowl.

3.  Spending more time on meals

Gone are the days when you can just pop a piece of toast in the toaster for breakfast.  The best thing you can probably eat in the morning is a veggie omelette, and that entails chopping and cooking, etc..  I also realized last night when I just wanted some &*#$% soy sauce to make my homemade stir fry sauce (soy sauce has wheat and soy – both no-no’s) that in order to “make” homemade soy sauce, I was going to have to buy Ia Kombu leaf (scuzzi?) to soak in Coconut Oil.  Say what??  That is where I draw the crazy line.  I think a splash of the occasional condiment cannot possibly be the end of the world.  But nonetheless, plan on devoting a little bit more time to meal prep.

4.  Spending more money at the grocery

You can certainly also expect to spend a little more coin at the grocery, because you’re doing almost all your shopping in the fresh produce / meat sections.  And you can TOTALLY justify this increase in spending because it’s an investment in your health and well-being.

5.  Feeling like everything tastes cardboard

Because no salt, no butter, no bottled marinades, no condiments (yeah, no ketchup or mustard), no soy sauce, no honey and basically no-nothin’ leaves things tasting REAL bland.  I ate this salad for lunch one day last week, licked the styrofoam searching for any small morsel of flavor and was like, “is that it??”  The only thing that saved it from tasting like I was munching on the leaves from the tree in my front yard were the jalapeños and the copious amount of pepper I put on it.

6.  Upside: Feeling trimmer

I’m sure the results are different for everyone, but I *literally* felt tighter after only a few days.  I lost 3 pounds the first week…  uh, my weight hasn’t moved off the ounce in a month, despite plenty of running and eating relatively clean.  So that did not suck.  Trying on dresses after that first week was also a little less painful than usual.  That’s probably mostly mental, but I’ll take it.  (Susana Monaco on the left, Rory Beca on the right).

7.  Upside:  Feeling fuller, faster

On our 1st cheat day, I made egg white pancakes for breakfast (oatmeal + egg whites + cinnamon + honey).  I remember feeling really full pretty fast.  And in the weeks after that, thank goodness, I felt far more satisfied after each snack/meal.  Things also didn’t taste as bland.  Thanks heavens.

8.  Upside: Being excited to get back on board after cheat day

The thrill of the Saturday cheat was AMAZING – probably because we felt like we had worked hard and really did earn it.  But as fun as it was waking up on Saturday morning and realizing we were free to dump the contents of the pantry down our throats, we felt Josie Grossie when we woke up on Sunday.  Probably because we *each* ate an entire pizza on our way home from having Mexican for dinner.  Hey.  Go big or go home!  But getting back into the swing of things on Sunday felt surprisingly great.  Work hard play hard.

9.  Upside: More energy

After about 1.5 weeks, my workouts felt fully fueled again, I had more pep in my step, and I was never dragging through certain parts of the day like I used to.

10.  Upside: Better skin tone

I crap you not, my skin looked healthier after the first week.  Okay that’s not me, but seriously.  It was a very noticeable difference.  Cuz when you’re drinking tons of water and ingesting all those good vitamins & nutrients & stuff, it shows.

11.  Upside:  Say Goodbye to Gas

I can’t believe I forgot to include this before.  It’s all the processed gunk and things that end in -xorbizide and dairy that upsets your stomach and makes you have to hot box your significant other.  Well, you can say goodbye to that discomfort – of the physical and embarrassing variety – if you go on this diet.  Not a fart for 1,000 miles I tell ya.


1.  Adding hot peppers.

Adding a little heat with jalapeños, habaneros and banana peppers will spice things up and help ’em from tasting so bland.  They’ll also help take the place of the salt that you’re not supposed to be eating too much of.

2.  Cooking with herbs.

Fresh ginger + cilantro in the food processor adds a lot of flavor to (plain) stir fry veggies…  Pesto (without the parmesan) is great on zucchini, sundried tomatoes and chicken…  Really express yourself in the fresh herb aisle at the grocery if you’re gonna give Paleo a whirl.

3.  The buddy system.

Works the same as the workout buddy.  If you have someone to do it with, you can help keep each other motivated and hold each other accountable.  I found that Matt and I haven’t really been tempted to cheat cheat because we feel like we’d be letting each other down.  It’s also nice to have someone to commiserate with when it feels like a handful of nuts just isn’t cutting the mustard.

4.  A little variety.

If you try to eat the same veggie omelette for breakfast each morning, the same grilled chicken salad for lunch and the saaaaame fish and veggies for dinner, then we’re gonna have to put you in a straight jacket cuz you’re gonna go nuts.  And it’s easy to get stuck in a rut.  So click here for a buncha good recipe ideas.  Trade recipes with other people who are on it (Facebook ANYTHING about Paleo and you’ll get 1.5 million responses, I swear).  And keep in mind that everything that claims to be “Paleo” that comes up in a Pinterest search isn’t necessarily right – a lot of the ingredients in those are fulla bad stuff.  Also, a variation of the recipe I blogged about below last week on Rent the Runway is also paleo friendly.  Just cut the parmesan out of the cauliflower mash and you’re good!


It’s probably just the placebo or the texture that fools me into thinking I’m cheating with these things, but I’m really not.  You do still have to do everything in moderation…  I think the rule of thumb is that for each meal, you need to fill 1/2 to 2/3 of your plate with veggies, then a piece of lean meat the size of the palm of your hand, THEN fruits/nuts etc.  But a little bit of any of these goes a long way to making things feel a little more normal.

1.  Mashed Faux-tatoes

Roast cauliflower florets (a head’s worth) in the oven at 400 degrees with a drizzle of EVOO, 1-2 cloves of smashed garlic and a dash of salt & pepper for 15 minutes covered with foil, and another 15 minutes without.  Transfer to a food processor, add a splash of chicken stock to give it a creamier texture.  BANG, you’re done.  Plus the roasting gives it tons more flavor than you would’ve had if you’d steamed it.

2.  Sweet potatoes

Who knew that sweet potatoes were on the Paleo diet?  And it’s a good thing, because they’re packed fulla nutrients.  They were also the only thing that kept me sane during week one.  You have to do ’em in moderation though, because you’re probably missing the point and won’t make any gains if you’re eating one with every single meal.  But I think a half a sweet potato each day or every other day isn’t bad.  And if it keeps you from lunging at a bag of Lays, then it’s well worth it.  I shredded half of one up and baked it like hash browns (sprinkled with olive oil & rosemary) to go with hard boiled eggs one morning…

And when we had people over to grill out the other night, I cut sweet potatoes with a mandolin and baked them – again, with rosemary & EVOO.  Nomnomnom.

3.  Almond flour – er – tortillas

I thought surely anything with the word “flour” in it couldn’t be good.  But it turns out almond flour is truly just made of almond dust.  Furthermore, you can make pretty satisfying “bread” out of it. Mix 2 eggs with 2 cups of almond flour and a teaspoon of olive oil…  then roll the batter into 1 inch balls and flatten ’em with your hand (I tried a roller – it’s too sticky)…  then bake it for 4 minutes on each side at 350 degrees, it makes these pretty little things.  I made them originally trying to sub taco chips for taco night the other night, but had a leftover little guy with my eggs at breakfast yesterday and it was divine.

…and then I had another the next day with some strawberries as a dessert-snack of sorts.

I’m certainly no expert, but that was our experience during our first paleo stint.  I realize we did a loose version of it, but my pants got loose after 2 weeks (lost 6 lbs in 4 weeks total) and I felt 100x better physically, so it can’t be all bad, right??  The moral of the story is, it takes a hot minute to get used to it, and you have to do it in a way that works for you in order for it to be sustainable.  If nothing else, it has made me far more cognizant of what I’m putting in my body…  and that’s just not awful. Do you guys have any tips, tricks or recipes you love??

bon appetit!  (ehhh…  sorta)

Photo credits:  Click on each pic to be directed to the original source.

18 Responses to “The Paleo Diet: How it helped, how to “cheat” without cheating, and how not to lose your #@%!&! mind”

  • Thank you so much for this post! I have been too afraid to try it until now, but it’s good to know it can be manageable and that you guys had some success with it! Thx again, Ally

  • Can’t wait to try those almond flour biscuit things!

  • This is my favorite paleo salad – I can’t get enough. The avocado makes up for the lack of condiments. I’d cut the salt though, it is a bit much in the recipe.

  • Thanks Steph. I feel like it gets a bad rap! And really the health benefits are huge. You just highlighted so many good things about what this way of life does for people. It really has changed mine.

  • Laura – LOVE IT! Thank you – I just started it again on Monday, so I’ll have to add that into my lineup! Ally & Katie D – great!!! So glad it was helpful. Paleo Freak – that is awesome. hi5 buddy.

  • In recent years, the “paleo diet,” a diet based on the perceived eating habits of prehistoric people has become wildly popular. But, says paleontologist Christina Warinner, this diet is based on an incorrect view of how early humans lived. Using modern day research, Warinner traces the roots of the human diet to discover what we can really learn from the food of our ancestors.

    Science Debunks the Paleo Diet—Again

    The Paleo Diet Is Uncivilized (And Unhealthy and Untrue).

    If the Paleo Diet fad is so healthy and responsible for brain growth, then why didn’t the Neanderthals survive and thrive? They had 300,000 years in Europe following the diet to make themselves into “Einsteins!” Speaking of Albert Einstein, this is what he had to say on the subject of health and survival: “Nothing will benefit human health and increase the chances for survival of life on earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet.” &

    You get better results with a vegan lifestyle, without the high risks of cancer and heart disease, which most cavemen didn’t live long enough to experience. It’s eliminating processed foods and eating veggies that make you healthy!

    • jc, I am with ya on the veggies and eliminating the processed stuff! re: paleo, I think it was a good thing for us – looking back – in that if nothing else, it made us cognizant of what we were ingesting. It made me read more labels and not really want to eat anything with 18 words I couldn’t pronounce. And it made us fill our plates with produce. We were also very mindful of the fact that if you are eating red meat every night and “faux” paleo pasta, for instance, you’re not really doing it justice. So we tried to always do lean meats, tons of greens, etc etc.

      I didn’t read enough about it (we skimmed the paleo instructionals / books) to understand why dairy is so awful. Or beans. So I’ve still gotta do that. I’m no expert; this is just how a 30-day trial went for us 🙂

      Thanks for weighing in!!


  • Haaa love reading ur stuff, def entertaining. Brad and I did this after I had Blake (just a shabby 55 lb weight gain) no shit.. lost 38 lbs week she was born, just wait till u ahead kid;) anyway, last 8lbs in 4 weeks…lots of chipotle….couldn’t do it much longer than a month! Anyway, I am creeping on 30 lbs with 7 weeks left…thx for te post!

    • J-nard! Try Hard Menard, what up girl!! Yeah, it is hard to sustain, I’m with ya. And DAMN that’s some killer baby weight loss! Good for you girl. And, we could never have gone 30 days without 3 cheat meals a week. I dreamt all week long of fettuccine alfredo and PBJ’s 😉 Hope to see you soon!!!

  • omg love love love this post. well played, paleo. well played.

  • We made the blog! Thrilled Katie and I inspired you.

    Well done and congrats on your results!

  • Thanks for the paleo carbs tips woman! Forgot about caulimash. Made it tonight for dinner and hardy devoured it. Added onion to your recipe and some drops of Frank’s too … because what honestly doesn’t go with Frank’s. Need to make that paleo bread with the almond flour I’ve had for weeks now… #paleoduringfootballseason ;oO

  • very good post about your experience with this kind of diet. It makes me wanna try that one too. But I am soo addicted to some sweets and carbs I cannot imagine.

  • hey! just wanted to say this was a great site! i was busy searching the net to see if people on the paleo diet have a cheat day because i seriously need one in order to keep going strong and also having a day to look forward too! happy to know im not the only one who needs one and a stiff drink 😉

  • Stephanie, I was searching “how to cheat on Paleo” and your article came up! I loved hearing your story and it was very entertaining too. I started Paleo (as best as I can) at the beginning of August (mostly due to a thyroid condition that led me to Paleo in the first place). I am overweight by about 25 pounds and when the weight started melting off, I was sold! Not to mention the energy and feeling good about what I was eating! The melting off didn’t last too long (I lost about 8 pounds in August, but I’m a little stuck right now, tweaking the red meat, nuts, ummmm…red wine 🙂 etc..). Anyway, thank you for sharing your experience. I hope to see more writings from you in the future… BTW..I do find some of the informatiion on line a bit…contradictory! (some Paleo followers eat butter, Kefir, Greek Yogurs, while some say it’s strictly prohibited) Uggghhh! Be well and healthy!

  • Looooove your article Stephanie! See I come from Italy and believe me going paleo is HARD,for this pasta and cheese lover!Believe it or not,my weight gain is not just from eating mozzarella,but from quitting cigarettesI so want to give paleo a go!ciao Bella!

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