My 30-Day Paleo/Zone Challenge Experience

I think it was an evening in early November that the coach leading the circle talk/warm-up at my CrossFit box asked us all the question: “Are you interested in doing a nutritional challenge during the month of December?” To which my response was essentially:


I did the Whole Life Challenge last year and lived to blog about it, but I’m tellin’ ya, I barely scraped by. I was hating it by the end and “cheating” left and right. I did NOT want to deal with rules and points again. I’m a fairly healthy eater already, and December? That’s when we all let down our hair and unbutton our fat pants.

But, I signed up. The more I thought about it, the more I didn’t really want to have to unbutton my fat pants on New Year’s Eve. I also realized it wasn’t particularly smart to give myself permission to eat cookies just because “the holidays” and skip workouts when the weather was bad. I didn’t want to go into the new year bloated and annoyed with myself, promising to clean up my act on January 1st. I wanted a running start so I could work on other fitness goals, like strict handstand push-ups, strict ring dips and stringing together some legit toes-to-bar.

The challenge was Paleo/Zone. There was a points system for staying within guidelines, and we also got points for WODs, stretching, sleep, etc. I figured out my Zone blocks, bought a vat of coconut oil and hardboiled a bunch of eggs. I used a food scale and measuring cups to build perfectly balanced three-block meals and one-block snacks. I used MyFitnessPal to record everything I ate.

That lasted about six days.

I know the Zone has worked for SO many people (including some of the people at my box), but I found it incredibly annoying. I’d spent most of last February and March annoyed by food and didn’t want a repeat experience. Also, I was hungry and unable to focus on anything. I figured my body was just “adjusting,” but after a few nights of going to bed with a grumbling stomach, plus one of the least productive weeks I’ve had in a long time, I decided to ditch the Zone.

I figured I could manage Paleo-centric eating and Zone-ish meals. Most days, I filled half my lunch plate with greens, a piece of chicken and couple spoonfuls of guacamole and called it a day.  It was easy and sustainable. And way healthier than the canned soup or cheese and crackers I’d been resorting to out of laziness. I also started cooking more of my meals, ordering out way less, drinking fewer glasses of wine and indulging in fewer treats. (Paleo desserts are a thing, but you usually have to make them yourself.)

Did I cheat? Yes, I did. But, because I knew I’d have to own up to it later, I (mostly) saved my non-Paleo indulgences for the stuff I really wanted. Dry, grocery store cookies sold by the platter? I’ll pass. Freshly baked cake with buttercream frosting from the local bakery? That’s worth the point.

So, one month of eating Paleo-ish? Did it change my life for the better?

In some ways, yeah. It kind of did. Here’s what I got out of this little experiment:

Better sleep. This has been the biggest thing for me. (I actually thought about saving it for last, but most people probably won’t read this post in its entirety, so here goes…) For months I’ve been waking up around 3:20 a.m. (Seriously, it’s that precise. That number in glowing red digits haunts me.) Sometimes I’d be awake for 20 minutes, sometimes it would be three hours. I’d see some improvement when I cut out alcohol, but I still experienced some level of sleep interruption.

Well, about two weeks into the challenge, I started sleeping through the night. Correlation or causation? Not sure, but I’m thinking that reducing my sugar intake by eliminating grains (in addition to sweets and booze) might have something to do with it.

Paleo pancakes. Notice that this is second on the list – they’re just that good. I’ve been telling everyone. 1 mashed banana, 1 egg, ¼ cup of almond meal, 1 tbsp of coconut oil. Cooked in pan lightly coated with coconut oil. So delicious and filling.

The best pancakes in the land.

 Fewer digestion issues. Anyone else just accept abdominal pain and bloating as part of eating? I did. I can’t remember one Paleo meal that left me feeling uncomfortably stuffed. However, I did have pizza last night and felt that familiar belly stretch. That being said, it was really good pizza, so it was sort of worth it. Plus, I live in Brooklyn…above a brick oven pizza joint; it’s not like I’m never going to have pizza again.

 Renewed attention to intake. This happens with any kind of diet, cleanse or challenge. It’s pretty obvious-sounding, but paying attention to what you eat makes you pay attention to what you eat. It’s easy (for me at least) to become a grazing garbage disposal for potato chip bag remnants and random handfuls of trail mix. Establishing some rules or guidelines helps me reset and remember concepts like servings, portions, eating off of a plate…

 -1 lb. Yep, you read that right. I lost about a pound. How’s that for an endorsement? But, honestly, it’s a win for a few reasons. First, I didn’t really have a huge weight loss goal in mind. I wanted to clean up my eating and drinking a bit and maybe gain some definition by reducing my fat layer. Judging from my before and after photos, that did happen. See:


Sike! (Note: I don’t know this person or why he chose USA Today as a visual reference, but good for him.) Yeah, I think my photos are just going to live on my phone for now. Not ready for that level of disclosure. The other win? I normally gain a little flub over the holidays. December weight loss is sort of like dog years. If you think about it, I really lost 7 pounds.

I’m not the only one who saw benefits. There were some challengers who lost over 10 lbs., and one of my teammates achieved a bunch of new PRs. Almost everyone reported feeling and looking better. We decided to keep our little secret Facebook group open and continue to share articles, healthy recipes and product reviews.

Verdict: Ineggffectual

I’ve decided to move forward in a Paleo-ish fashion. I’ve got a bunch of new recipes and meal planning tricks under my belt. I honestly don’t miss having grains and dairy on a daily basis. I’ll probably re-incorporate beans here and there, and if really want something sweet that’s made with flour, sugar and butter, I’ll go for it.

Oh, and pizza. There will always be a time and place for pizza.

2 thoughts on “My 30-Day Paleo/Zone Challenge Experience

  1. What a great article! Not only informational, but filled with honesty and humor! Some good pointers about processed vs. fresh items that make me rethink what I eat. Will I try a Pakeo diet? Honestly, probably not, but I am inspired not to be a “garbage can” and eat the bottom of the chip bag! Again, great article!!

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