It’s been 40 months since I accidentally found out about the Paleo diet. That day, I committed to an ancestral way of eating and never looked back. I’m not saying I’ve never cheated. A number of pieces of cake have crossed my lips since that day. But the vast majority of my diet has been made up of protein and vegetables. And when I ate the cake, I enjoyed the crap out of it.
Is sticking with a healthy diet hard? Sure it is, but not just because you have to eat different foods. That’s just the beginning. There are so many other unexpected changes and habits that come along as part of the package.
Here are ten quirky realities that I’ve observed over my three-plus years of a holistic lifestyle:
1. Shopping becomes a pop quiz
Shopping for food becomes a lot easier in some ways, because it’s a simpler exercise. You hardly need to penetrate the inner aisles of the supermarket. But there are still a lot of questions to be asked, labels to be read, and knowledge to be recalled.
Before you know it you’re standing in the middle of the aisle blocking shopper traffic asking yourself…
“Which of these veggies are on the Dirty Dozen list? Is it okay to buy farmed oysters? Are organic or free-range eggs more of a priority? Which type of coconut oil is the healthiest?”
There is so much to know, and you’ll never know it all. But learning as you go is all part of the fun!
2. You will start judging other people’s grocery carts
When you finally get to the checkout, you’ll feel so satisfied with the amazing good quality stuff you’ve stocked up with, you won’t be able to help but glance over at what the next person is loading onto the conveyor belt. Six bottles of soda and processed “snack packs” for the kids? Loaves of white bread and boxes of frozen fish sticks? Yuck!
Try to resist the urge to cast any disparaging glances or make a “helpful” comment.
3. You will get asked a lot of questions
When you’re doing something different from the mainstream, you’ll be met with a lot of the same questions. The questions often reflect a person’s own struggles, or lack of knowledge.
“Really, you don’t eat any bread? Can you eat wraps? What about crackers?”
“What do you have for breakfast? Lunch? Dinner?”
“What do you feed the kids?”
“Aren’t you always hungry?”
(Looking at what you’re eating) “What is that?!”
It’s easy to get frustrated, but this is your role now. You’ve managed to achieve an admirable feat that many others want to achieve too, so you must share your story and sage advice.
4. You will develop instant response scripts
Along with the curious questions come your pre-programmed answers, which you will hone over time. The goal is to satisfy the asker’s curiosity with a punchy answer that is short enough to not make their eyes glaze over. They’re not looking for a monologue about the merits of fermented foods, after all. Hold that back until they ask a couple more questions and show a deeper interest.
“Nope, bread is just a vehicle for the good stuff! Wraps, crackers, pitas, rolls, couscous, naan are all made of wheat, too!”
“Food! Meat, vegetables, healthy fats, fruit, nuts!”
“Real food! Kids don’t actually need pre-packaged sugary and processed things to survive. They behave and feel a lot better with more nourishing food.”
“Nope, real food is actually super filling, and I can eat as much as I want!”
“It’s my homemade sauerkraut/kombucha/bone broth/coconut kefir/liver nuggets!”
If they look horrified, just smile. Your glowing skin and pearly whites speak for you.
5. There is no more guilt about eating
When everything in your fridge, pantry and freezer is wholesome, you don’t need to feel guilty about chowing down on any of it. This is actually extremely liberating — there is no more counting, weighing, stressing or obsessing. Just pile it on and enjoy every nourishing bite!
6. You’ll get to know your body
I remember when I first dropped wheat, the next day I woke up thinking “Oh my word! So this is what a stomach is supposed to feel like!” It felt light, limber and content, rather than the bloating and soreness that I hadn’t even necessarily noticed before, but which I had been living with for years.
Eating the good stuff dials in a new connection with your body and makes you appreciate truly feeling good. You’ll notice how a few pimples pop up the day after you have that beer and nachos, or how you get under-eye circles from those treats at a birthday party.
You’ll also probably develop a newfound fascination with what’s in the toilet. When you’ve been steady with your probiotic foods: “Ooh, that sauerkraut gives me great poops!” Or when you’ve fallen off the wagon: “Wow, gluten really stops up the works!”
7. You will want to help everyone… but they might not listen
I really feel like devoting myself to eating real food is the best thing I could have ever done for myself. I’ve put the brakes on a number of chronic conditions that were starting to creep up on me, and I’ve never felt better.
Since I’ve been able to help myself heal, I find it very difficult to watch people I love suffer with increasing numbers of issues, such as skin rashes, headaches, heavy periods, fatigue and high cholesterol. My holistic health knowledge tells me that these chronic illnesses can be rectified with simple diet and lifestyle changes, so naturally I have the urge to push loved ones to adopt better habits.
However, they don’t always want to listen, for any number of reasons. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. So I’ve learned to just bite my tongue when they complain about this ache or that ailment, but I still can’t help but send them occasional emails with tons of links to useful articles. This passive gesture helps me feel like I’ve done my bit to give them hints toward solutions. This is a challenge that you might also have to face after you’ve “seen the light” with real food.
8. A knife and fork will be your best friend
On an ancestral diet, you can’t just shove your lunch in a resealable bag (like in the bygone days of eating two sandwiches every day without fail). You’ll need to invest in some good quality food containers and bring some utensils along whenever you’re taking food on the go.
Bread really is just a vehicle for the good stuff, so now that you’re only eating the good stuff, you’ll need to be dining in a more civilized fashion from a vessel with a knife and fork.
This is sometimes less convenient in certain situations, such as eating in the car or during a meeting, but need I point out that this type of mindless eating isn’t healthy anyway?
9. Be prepared for a wave of crunchiness
Once you uncover the evils of the mainstream food industry and upgrade your nutrition, you’ll start to hyper-analyze everything else in your life, too. This includes things like toothpaste, deodorant, hair products, moisturizer, dish soap, lipstick, and even windshield washer fluid. Yup, I’ve made my own clean, green versions of all of those things! It’s a crazy journey making DIY versions of every product you’ve ever bought, but you’ll come out the other side a whole lot healthier! Your detoxified organs will thank you.
10. The fear will go away
As I became an adult, I felt a creeping paranoia. I was afraid of growing old, of getting sick, of having to get surgeries and take medications. I didn’t want my health to degrade and my days to pass in discomfort and decrepitude.
Committing to a high-quality, real-food diet has erased this fear. If you take care of yourself to the best of your ability (with diet being a major component), you’ll know that you’ve lived life to the fullest and enabled yourself to have as many wonderful experiences as possible.
I am no longer afraid to forge through life, nor do I feel like a victim, because I know that there are no incurable diseases.
— Liivi Hess
Liivi is an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach and is training to become a doula. She inspires women to find peace and personal power by taking control of health and fertility naturally. Liivi‘s passion is ancestral nutrition and primal lifestyle design. She and her partner Will live between Toronto, Canada and Queenstown, New Zealand.