Have you been hearing or seeing the buzz about a “Paleo Reset” or the Whole30 diet? Are you inspired by the results people share from their Paleo 30-day challenge and wondering if it could help you too? Whether you’re an athlete looking to take your performance to the next level or an individual trying to tackle some health problems at the root-cause level, a whole-foods, nutrient dense dietary reset like the Paleo 30-Day Challenge could be a great tool to help you identify triggers, reset your body, and get your health back on track!
Why do a Paleo 30-Day Challenge?
First, let’s review what Paleo is:
The Paleo diet is a nutrient-dense whole foods diet based on eating a variety of quality meat, seafood, eggs, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds. It improves health by providing balanced and complete nutrition while avoiding most processed and refined foods and empty calories.Dr. Sarah Ballantyne, ThePaleoMom.com
On the Paleo diet (or during a 30-day Paleo reset), you eliminate the modern, heavily processed foods that have been contributing to rising cases of diabetes, obesity, and chronic illness, as well as some of the foods that people are most commonly intolerant of, or allergic to. In their place, you focus on whole, anti-inflammatory, nutrient-dense foods that can lower inflammation in your body, improve your digestion, balance your blood sugar, increase your energy, and improve your mood. As a side-effect, you might even find that you sleep better, think more clearly, burn more fat, and lose some weight!
|Paleo Friendly Foods||Foods to Avoid During the 30-Day Challenge|
(prefer organic, non-GMO, especially for the Dirty Dozen)
(milk, cheese, yogurt, etc. from animal milk)
|Fruits||Grains & Pseudograins |
(foods made with wheat, rice, corn, quinoa, etc.)
|Meats & Seafoods & Bone Broths|
(prefer organic, pasture-raised, wild-caught, and eating “nose to tail”. Organ meat is actually one of the most nutrient dense foods!)
|Refined & Processed Foods|
(soda, chips, pizza, packaged foods)
|Eggs, Nuts, & Seeds|
(in moderation. Avoid if on AIP. Consider soaking/sprouting nuts & seeds for better bioavailability of nutrients and improved digestion. Peanuts are not allowed – they are legumes, not nuts.)
(exception: legumes with edible pods, like snap peas and green beans are allowed)
|Healthy Fats & Oils|
(oils from avocado, olives, coconut, and organic animal fat – lard, duck fat, etc.)
|Industrial Seed & Vegetable Oils|
(oils from corn, canola, soybeans, sunflower, peanut, etc.)
(in moderation – but may be cut out completely during the challenge)
|Artificial Sweeteners, Sugar Alcohols, etc. |
(sorbitol, xylitol,, erythritol, aspartame, etc. Learn more here)
For more complete details on which foods are included and excluded on the Paleo diet, see Dr. Sarah Ballantyne’s printable Paleo “Yes” Foods, Paleo 101 Cheatsheet, and her online guide to the Paleo Diet. Or, check out Dr. Loren Cordain’s resources at ThePaleoDiet.com
How To Do a Paleo Reset
Before embarking on the Paleo 30 day challenge, you want to make sure you’re prepared. Here are a few things to consider before you start:
- Set the rules – identify which foods are included and excluded on the Paleo diet (see resources below) and decide how you will handle foods that are traditionally allowed in the Paleo diet, but might be best to cut out during the initial 30-day challenge (e.g. alcohol and natural sweeteners like maple syrup, honey, etc.).
- Consider enlisting the support of a friend, family member, teammate, or health coach for the 30-day challenge – making changes can be hard – it’s always more fun to do it together!
- Stock your fridge and pantry with whole, nutrient dense, Paleo foods.
- Familiarize yourself with Paleo recipes, check out Robb Wolf’s Paleo Food Matrix (no recipes required!), or if cooking really isn’t your thing, explore some Paleo meal delivery services to support you. Some people find it helpful to write out some of the meal and snack staples on their current diet, and then re-write them as a Paleo-compatible version (e.g. a dairy yogurt snack could be replaced with unsweetened almond or coconut milk yogurt, fresh berries, and a Paleo nut/seed granola. Steak fajita night could continue, but with Siete’s almond or cassava flour tortillas, Paleo compatible seasonings, and no cheese, sour cream, or margaritas (depending on the alcohol rule you set in step 1))
- Set some goals and choose an app, program, or notebook to use as a journal during the challenge and in the reintroduction phase. What symptoms do you have now that you hope might improve after 30 days? Rate any important metrics like your sleep, energy levels, mood, pain, etc. as a baseline before you start, and rate them again after the 30 days of the Paleo challenge. Use your app/journal to note what you eat and any change in mood, symptoms, or bowel habits as you go.
- Use a BMR and Mifflin St. Jeor calculation to gauge your personal calorie needs – not because you want to be counting calories during the reset, but because when making such a big dietary change, it can help to have a ballpark idea of your body’s needs. Then, determine the best macronutrient ratios for your health situation and activity levels. This will help ensure you get all the carbohydrate, protein, and fat you need, even as you make (the sometimes major) changes to what you’re eating. Remember, the goal of the Paleo reset is NOT to count calories – it’s to focus on real, whole, nutrient dense foods and to listen to your body. If you count anything during the next 30 days, read labels and count ingredients!
There are TONS of Paleo resources out there. Here are a few of my favorites to get you started:
- What is the Paleo Diet? (Dr. Sarah Ballantyne, aka The Paleo Mom)
- Twenty Things You Didn’t Know About Paleo (ChrisKresser.com)
All-In-One – Cookbooks, Reference Guides, & Meal Plans:
- Paleo Principles by Dr. Sarah Ballantyne (affiliate link)
- Practical Paleo by Diane Sanfilippo (affiliate link)
|Websites||Cookbooks (affiliate links)|
|Danielle Walker – Against All Grain||Meals Made Simple|
Eat What You Love
Celebrations.. Paleo for Every Occasion
|NomNom Paleo||NomNom Paleo Volume One|
NomNom Paleo Volume Two
|Paleo Running Momma||Paleo Principles|
|Robb Wolf’s Paleo Food Matrix – Build your own quick and easy Paleo meals – no recipe required!||Practical Paleo|
So what happens after you complete the 30 day challenge? Whether you’re feeling a lot better or still haven’t achieved your health goals, you’re not done yet. To make the most of your experiment, it’s time to either start reintroducing some of the more nutrient dense foods you eliminated during the 30 day Paleo challenge, or, if you’re still not feeling as good as you’d like, start digging deeper.
While there are some processed “foods” that should likely never be reintroduced to your diet, the point of the Paleo Challenge is to provide a reset, not to restrict your diet for life. If you’re feeling better after 30 days of eating Paleo foods, that’s great! You’re now ready to move towards creating and customizing your own Paleo template, reintroducing some of the whole, nutrient-dense foods you eliminated during the challenge. Things like organic full fat dairy products (kefir, yogurt, cheese, milk, etc.), legumes (lentils, beans, etc.), and some grains or pseudo-grains (rice, quinoa, buckwheat, etc.) can play an important role in your diet – if you tolerate them.
To see how well you tolerate each food, you’ll reintroduce them one by one, giving each reintroduction at least 2-3 days, before moving on to the next food. During this time, you’ll want to keep a food/symptom journal to track what you ate, how much of it, and how you felt. Food sensitivity symptoms don’t necessarily happen immediately – some take 2-3 days to manifest, so you’ll need to be patient and go one food at a time – e.g. start with a plain, unsweetened, dairy-based yogurt. If you’re still feeling good after 3 days of incorporating the yogurt, you can move on to the next food – maybe a hard cheese, like cheddar. If symptoms return after reintroducing a food, remove it from your diet and wait for your symptoms to return to baseline before re-introducing the next food.
What if Paleo Didn’t Help?
If you’ve done the Paleo diet for 30 days and haven’t achieved your goals or noticed major improvements in how you feel, that’s ok. We know there isn’t one perfect diet for everyone, everyone has their own triggers and sensitivities, and some bodies just need a little more time to reset and recover. Take time to celebrate your accomplishment of completing the 30-days and ask yourself if you’re ready to dig a little deeper. This is where a food, mood, environment, & symptom journal can be incredibly helpful. Depending on your situation, you could try to:
- Continue with Paleo for another 30 days to see if you notice any further improvements in your symptoms.
- Take it to the next level by moving to the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) diet, which eliminates additional groups of potentially inflammatory foods – like nightshade veggies (tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, etc.), eggs, nuts, and seeds.
- Look more closely at specific food triggers. We all have unique triggers – are there some specific foods – like chicken, celery, or sunflower seeds – that flare your symptoms?
- Watch for patterns with groups of foods that cause symptoms – like those that are high in histamine, oxalates, salicylates, or those in the FODMAP family.
- Examine your stress levels and your environment. Maybe your trigger isn’t a food – maybe your GI symptoms or headaches flare when you’re under extra stress, or maybe it’s something in your environment – like mold in your home, school, or office; dust mites in your bedding; EMF exposure from cellphones, WiFi, or wiring errors in your home; toxins in your water, etc. that’s triggering your immune system and exacerbating your symptoms.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, I understand; I’ve been there too. If you haven’t already, it might be a good time to reach out to a nutritionist or functional medicine health coach for support, or to talk with your doctor about doing some gut testing to rule out conditions like SIBO/SIFO, H.pylori, parasites, or dysbiosis.
Whatever you decide, the exciting thing is, with a little more tracking, awareness, and investigation, you can figure this out! And once you identify and remove your triggers, imagine how good you will feel!
We all have the power to be better. What would being “better” mean to you?