My friend Sandi completed her first Whole30 in January 2013. It took me a year to get my mind ready to take on the challenge myself in January 2014. Today, I am two Whole30’s and one Whole60 into converting my SAD (Standard American Diet) into a much more plant-based, nutritionally dense, locally sourced diet and it’s awesome. It’s amazing how dietary changes, whether you take them on all at once or incrementally over time, can change not only your waistline, but how you look, feel, think, and behave every single day. Following is an interview I did with Sandi about her transition into a Paleo lifestyle, and how it’s helped her. Both of us highly recommend you take stock of your diet, and see if some of these principles could help YOU feel better and be your best self!
Vicy: I’m excited to introduce Sandi Smith, founder of the local food blog “Paleo Greenville.” She has a Facebook community page by the same name, and she’s also a very good friend of mine who I originally met through rowing. (We both LOVE rowing!) So today, Sandi, I thought we could just talk a little bit about what “paleo” is (and is NOT) and what your interests are and how you got started.
Sandi of Paleo Greenville: OK! Well I got started kind of on a dare… It was a good thing that I didn’t know as much about it as I know now probably when I was first beginning because honestly all the information out there is overwhelming! (laughs) So I was talking to some rowing friends that are in a different city and they were all going to do this “Whole 30” thing – that was in January 2013. And so I said I could do a Whole 30, if I knew what that was! So they sent me the website and I kind of read it and I thought, “oh well, you know, it’s only thirty days… like, I could do anything for thirty days.” And the key to me, and I know that we have talked about this before, was that I didn’t feel bad [at the time I took the dare]. At that point, I had already lost probably thirty pounds [by] calorie counting, being really rigorous with my exercise, really incorporating rowing into my life… I was feeling good at the time and did not know how much better that I could feel when I started cutting out some of these inflammatory foods and being really intentional about my eating. So I did [this Whole30 thing] for thirty days and about halfway through it with absolutely amazed at the results that I was getting. Things like I could really breathe in a way that I had never really noticed breathing before. It was like the air was cooling my brain! [laughs from Sandi and Vicy]
I was also sleeping so much better. And it’s not that I felt like I had a problem sleeping, but just soundly like a rock from the minute my head hit the pillow and then waking up five minutes before the alarm every day. So those were some of the changes of my first 15 days. Then acne cleared up tremendously, which was really incredible because that was something I had struggled with for a long time. So I was kind of noticing some of these changes. You’re not supposed to weigh yourself or measure yourself AT ALL during the program. But when it was over, I did see that I had lost thirteen pounds, which was, you know, pretty incredible in thirty days without starving myself or counting calories at all and eating to satiety every single meal. So that was really impressive to me! So that’s how my “paleo” lifestyle started.
Vicy: Awesome! Okay, so can we back up a little bit and you – because I could do this but I would rather have you do it – Can you kind of explain what paleo is (and isn’t)? And since you mentioned this whole30, which I did as well this year as you know and our listeners have heard a little bit about that, but can you just tell people what the Paleo diet is and what that means and then maybe go over the rules of Whole30?
Sandi: Absolutely! So, the term Paleo diet or just Paleo comes from the term Paleolithic. And the idea would be that we would eat a more traditional diet similar to what our ancestors ate and what humans had evolved to eat over the course of us being people. You know it’s only really in the past hundred years that we’ve introduced packaged foods and processed foods. And really since the advent of agriculture, you know, not more than a couple thousand years ago – max – that we started eating crops like grains and growing corn and things like that so this is taking us back to a pre-agricultural human diet is the gist of it. And there’s you know a lot of opportunity to make fun of that! Did a caveman eat a cookie? No. Because, you know, they don’t grow on a tree. Did a caveman have an oven to bake these paleo brownies in? Clearly, the answer is No and I think we’re all aware of that and I would never call it the case. And for those types of reasons, it’s a weird name. But I do think that thinking about what the Paleolithic people ate is useful because the concept is really about seeking a varied diet based on local food that was close to them that was easily obtainable in their environment. [So these are] the types of foundational things that we’re looking for [in the context of “paleo lifestyle” in our modern times.]
As to the Whole30, I’ll kind of go over the rules then quickly and you can take a deeper dive on each of these topics… Some of them are a little bit debatable but the first one would be to remove all grains. We’ve heard a lot about gluten but that really is just part of the reason to let go all grains – even like grains of corn rights etc. Reason being, grains contain elements that are inherently designed to do things like protect their seeds from predators like birds, but they can also wreak havoc on our digestive systems. So rule 1: remove grains from your diet.
Next is to remove dairy. Some people take that to be all dairy or that’s what it takes for them, and some people can tolerate a little bit of cultured dairy like yogurt and cheese and stuff. That’s one of the key distinctions between Paleo and primal which are sometimes lumped together in discussions.
But dairy also has highly inflammatory properties and it’s really for baby cows… You know it’s not something that humans are supposed to eat. You know milk: [it’s supposed to be] human milk for human babies and cow milk for cow babies. Milk is highly charged with all sorts of you know messages from the mother to the baby about how they are developing, what is supposed to form, and what type of antibodies there are… So when you’re drinking cow antibodies, for example, this is very foreign to our system and many people have an inflammatory reaction. Therefore, we would recommend that you take out dairy.
Similarly with grains, there’s also removing legumes [for Whole30], so you know that would be beans.
Vicy: So even soybeans [tofu and what not included], peanuts, which of course include peanut butter?
Sandi: Yes, that includes peanut butter but almond butter…
Vicy: There was a time I really didn’t think I could live without peanut butter! [laughs]
Sandi: I know! It’s funny, but almond butter becomes a perfect substitute.
Vicy: And it’s really reasonably priced, particularly when you make it at home.
Sandi: That is true. And remember that peanuts also develop a mold, which has more to do with processing and stuff, and they’re one of the most highly pesticide laden plants because they have a very thin shell that doesn’t protect them from pesticides in the peanut itself. It’s not something you can wash off. So there are there are lots of reasons that peanuts in particular are not a great food choice. And then other legumes like soy and grain like corn are the number one and number two G.M.O. crops! So you want to stay away from soy primarily because the G.M.O. And when you start looking at private labels it’s just absolutely insidious [pesticides and GMO’s].
Vicy: So, avoid soy in all forms.
Sandi: Yes. And there’s a LOT of it in processed foods. Soy oils, soy powders, and soy proteins are really mixed into most processed foods now. So it’s something to be aware of and pay attention to.
Vicy: The rules so far are no grains, no dairy, no legumes… and only good fats!
Sandi: Yes! Only good fats. So you want to be focused on fats that are easily digestible to your body. Some of the seed oils – like canola oil, vegetable oil, what is marketed as vegetable oil – is just soy oil anymore so there are lots of hydrogenated fats. Obviously then we need to consider replacing those oils with things like pure olive oil (if you know and have a good source for it), certified organic or grass fed butter (that’s been clarified so you can remove the dairy particles and make a product called Ghee, which is the Indian name for clarified butter.)
Vicy: I love ghee! And it’s very easy to make it very easy to make at home inexpensively.
Sandi: Yes and you should opt for grass fed starter, if that’s an option. Kerry Gold is a brand that’s grass fed, and there are some other brands out there too. [Another component of Whole30] is opting for animals and protein sources that are as close to their natural diet so that they fit into your natural diet… Those are sort of the major tenets of the Whole 30….
Vicy: And then that really big next rule becomes the really painful one for most people. Sugar.
Sandi: Yeah, sugar. NO sugar for a Whole30. Sugar has been shown to be more addictive than cocaine. It acts on your brain in ways that you [Vicy] probably know much more about than I do, but it will keep you coming back for more. And part of the processed food industry knows that and they create what, in the book called It Starts With Food, is called food with no brakes. [Great book by Melissa and Dallas Hartwick, which is what the Whole 30 program is kind of based on, but they take a much deeper dive in the book & they tell us all about food with no brakes.] For example, you can start eating a bag of chips and just keep eating until it’s gone and they’re designed to be that way. They talk about crunch-ability, for example, and there’s all these scientists in white lab coats trying to come up with the next you know hot food item that people won’t be able to put down and so when you get into these food with no brakes and you end up eating a bag of Oreos you know you might even feel bad about yourself. But they [processed foods] were designed to make you have that trigger response!
So those foods work really well! Just the way there were designed in a lab to work! Therefore, the Whole 30 does require you to cut out ALL added sugars and sugar substitutes, if you will. But you’re welcome to eat fruit, even if it’s a date or a high sugar fruit. You know we don’t mince words there. Nobody ever killed themselves by eating two apples a day. That kind of REAL sugar is not what we’re talking about but anything with any sweetener – and I’ve got a list that’s got seventy different names for hidden sugar like maltose and dextrose and you know there’s cane sugar beet sugar and even artificial sweeteners can still have some of the brain effects. That includes stevia, which I know is a popular right now. Agave syrup, even though it’s quote “low glycemic index.” Any of those sugars need to be removed from your diet and what that does is not only reset your brain connections, but it helps reset your palate!
And so I can remember being about fifteen days into the Whole 30 and eating a strawberry. This was in January. I was eating a strawberry and I told my husband, “this is the most succulent and delicious strawberry I’ve ever had,” and he looked at me as like this [funny face] and said, “those strawberries really aren’t even very good. It’s January!”
So I think when you do you dial your sugar receptors back and you take your palate back to a much less hyper stimulated state, you pick up the nuances of food. I mean food really does become a whole different experience!
Vicy: It really, really does! I can definitely vouch for that. OK So the basic rules are to spend thirty days with NO sugar or sugar substitutes, removing all the possibly inflammatory foods we’ve already talked about, and the purpose of this is to give you an opportunity to ultimately reset everything: reset your metabolism and reset your palate. And as Sandi said, it kind of resets your whole relationship with food.
And then after that 30 days, then you can kind of play with adding things back one category at a time. You can look back and begin to see how your body responds and have a better sense as to how food is actually making you feel, which has been really eye opening for both Sandi and myself and really everybody that either of us have talked to that have actually done this 30-day process. It does take a certain level of commitment to do it.
So at this point you are pretty strictly paleo and your husband has in turn become paleo as well and you have three children who are off to a good paleo start, too, yes?
Sandi: Yeah! There seems to be two kinds of ways to start “being Paleo.” It’s funny because my husband does say, and it’s true, I’m a Band-Aid ripper… I just want to get things over with! So the thirty day very strict program was perfect for me. It helped me wrap my head around this thing. It gave me insights that I probably wouldn’t have gotten otherwise. The second way is, you know, in a slow progression type of way. But since we’ve been on this paleo journey and started PaleoGreenville.com and really started talking to more paleo people, I think there are kind of two camps. You know there’s a Band-Aid rippers that do it all in one and then there are the people that slowly phase things out over time. Like, you know, all the crackers in the house are gone, so I’m not going to buy any more crackers, etc. And so we really did kind of a combo approach in my household even though I went very fast and strict. When there had been some great results I was having and he [my husband] so those, he was on board within a couple months and then and I just feed him what I eat, so he has less choice in the matter! He’s pretty strict too in that regard. And then the kids: we have kind of transitioned a little bit more slowly, and so on some levels and I’m ashamed to say that I let them eat up all the crackers, and then all the chips you know whatever was left in the house and then I just haven’t been replacing them. And so I’ve kind of gotten to a point, as the primary food shopper, that I’ve decided, “if I’m not eating it I’m not buying it,” and they’re young enough – eight, seven, and four – that that they don’t have a lot of consumer power. [Laughs from Sandi and Vicy]
So it might seem wacky at first, but they eat pretty much you know eat what we eat. They still eat some dairy and you know it’s debatable there are certainly other great sources, primarily vegetable sources, of calcium in things but you know they’re still growing so they eat the whole milk yogurt and cheese and some cultured dairy I should say. A couple of them were almost vegetarians, so they eat beans.
The beans and black beans have persisted in their diet but they seem to be tolerating them very well. So that’s something that we’re looking for in terms of you know just stomach upset or indigestion or problems that they don’t seem to be having problems with it… They’ve been eating certain things since they were babies and it’s something that their bodies are used to eating.
Vicy: Yeah so maybe can you tell about what you CAN eat on Paleo and maybe, on an average day for you, what’s on your plate?
Sandi: Well that’s a really good question because I get a lot of responses when I talk to people like, “I could never do a Whole 30 because I couldn’t give up X, Y, or Z.” You know, for example, say, “I can’t give up my morning oatmeal,” or “you know I do yogurt every day at work at lunch,” and so it is always kind of funny to me now because I think “that’s so silly,” but you know people are very set in their ways and then you know there’s the other response which is like, “oh my God! What do you eat or what can I eat? You’ve taken everything away from me!” And I would argue, and many paleo cookbook authors and all the paleo blogs in the entire Internet would say, that that is simply not true. There’s still a lot to eat! So I have not been hungry at all.
So I started eating that way and I think you can focus on the things that you can eat and we even encourage the kids by saying you can have all fruit and any vegetable and all protein sources lean or fatty we don’t care. You’re going to have good fats and that really opens a world of possibilities. You know sometimes you end up with a whole lot of ingredients and not, you know, maybe, what used to be considered food at your house. So there is some prep and some cooking involved. You can look at Michael Pollan and some of the other pundits out there. I think you know cooking at home and cooking for yourself is part of the next revolution.
So for my typical day: I would start with breakfast and we do eat a ton of eggs so you know I definitely have eggs and I need more vegetables. So at every meal if I can get those veggies, and practice cramming more vegetables in my day, so I would add spinach or mushrooms and whatever vegetables were left over from last night – cook up kind of like an egg scramble. Sometimes I’ll have like a bacon and sausage with it and then I always try to have some fruit with breakfast, too, because I enjoy that. And then for lunch, you know I’m on the go a lot and so I pack my lunch and I either make like a whole roast and have some throughout the week from there, or I like to make homemade mayonnaise so I know what all the ingredients are and even if you’re out and about you know you can always do a chicken with you know salad or something equally easy. And then dinners: we grill a lot and do maybe a sweet potato, a meat, and a vegetable.
I try to make vegetables kind of the main course so I might do three veggies, and apportion it to me and my husband, and the kids. So that’s really, I think, the key is filling your plate with fibrous vegetables. They give you all the good fiber and vitamins and minerals that you need and then you just kind of fill in with protein.
Vicy: I know you and I’ve talked about the fact that some people need more protein than other people. For example, I suspect that I eat a good bit more protein than you do, but I tend to have longer workouts.
Sandi: Sure. Everyone needs to think about their own needs.
Vicy: One thing is that, though you can’t see us, I’m 5’ 8” tall with broad shoulders, athletic build, and Sandi is only 5’ 1” and a very petite build, so we don’t have the same needs.
Sandi: Exactly. You have to think about these things! For example, with my petite build and so that was something even with my husband and me at first. When we first started this, I’d kind of split the food up evenly between two plates until I realized that he’s, you know, a lot bigger than me! So now I’m trying to do the two thirds one third because I don’t need to be eating as much food as he does and he needs to be eating a little more! So that that’s kind of how we do our portions. Over time, you just kind of learn what you need.
Vicy: YES! You know, one of the fascinating things to me just in general was learning better what my body’s actual hunger signals are and how I had responded to that versus how I’m responding now: it’s drastically different. So this is a topic that I’m very passionate about and as you can hear in her voice so is Sandi, so we will be revisiting this. But I just wanted to give everyone sort of an introduction to Paleo and the Whole30 program, and if you’re interested, you can learn a lot about this topic via Sandi’s blog http://www.paleogreenville.com/ You can also find her on Facebook and she has lots of beautiful pictures of the food that she makes and having gotten to try a lot of it, I can tell you it is delicious and she does a lot of linking to other people that have recipes and what not and then if you’re interested in any more than that you can contact her or you can contact me!
We appreciate your being here so much! Thank you for joining us Sandi.
Sandi: Thank you!
Note: All photos are from Sandi’s lovely Paleo Greenville Facebook page! Thank you Sandi! 🙂