May 24th, 2013

So Easy, Cavemen Did It

Our Eater and author, Tessa, with a heaping plate of her Paleo lettuce wraps with mango.

I first heard of The Paleo Diet when we were living in Guam. I’d started going to a Crossfit gym, desperate to lose stubborn baby weight, while balancing a baby and a full time job. Trying to be a good mommy on a remote island on a diet certainly had its challenges. I figured Paleo was worth a shot.

Named for the Paleolithic era, the diet prescribes eating as a caveman. You eliminate processed products, nourishing your body with foods from the earth. Think of it this way: If it didn’t exist 40,000 years ago, it shouldn’t make it into your grocery cart.    

It sounded hokey to me, but after seeing how fit everyone at the gym was, I decided they must be on to something. After making one meal — unremarkable at best — I went back to my somewhat appalling eating habits the next day. We left Guam for Virginia shortly after, and I traded in my Crossfit t-shirt for round two of maternity clothes.

Being back in the good old continental U.S. of A. certainly had its perks, and I gained 40 pounds on top of the residual weight from my first little one while indulging in fabulous 21st century foods. After my son was born last June, one of my favorite Guam-now-Virginia girls brought us a Paleo dinner. Both the food and my friend, Andrea, looked fantastic.

Despite the wonderful meal, nothing about the diet appealed to me: no gluten, no dairy, no refined sugar no legumes, no rice, no beer? I just kept thinking, “No wonder everyone on Paleo is so thin: you can’t eat anything!” This diet was not for me, the girl who could live on bread alone. So, when my friend asked if I was interested in giving Paleo a second chance, my response was a polite, “Hell no.”

Tessa’s daughter, Lucy, likes helping pick fresh chives from the garden for this recipe.

Several months later, we talked again about how truly unhappy I was with my weight. I was logging all of my foods in an app on my phone and getting frustrated at how inefficient it was. If I didn’t get to the gym, the guilt blanketed me like a nice warm tortilla. If I did make it to the gym, the guilt of leaving my children after being at work all day smothered me like a mole sauce. I was damned if I did, damned if I didn’t.

As a former NCAA D1 athlete (springboard/platform diving, woop woop!), “overweight” for me was a couple of pounds. Not 30. I ran a marathon pre-babies, but this past January, I couldn’t run up the stairs without feeling like I needed an inhaler. It was a dark spot.

Hearing my lament, Andrea brought me Sarah Fragoso’s Everyday Paleo cookbook and encouraged me to at least think about it. The proof was in her gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free pudding: she looked fantastic, and she swore up and down she enjoyed the diet.

To my amazement, the food in the cookbook looked delicious: “spaghetti” (squash) and meatballs, burgers, muffins, quiches, fried “rice” (cauliflower). I began focusing on all of the things I could eat — like fruits, nuts, veggies, bacon, coconut milk, honey, bacon, meat, and fish — instead of what I couldn’t. Did I mention bacon? I was intrigued, and committed to eat strictly Paleo for two weeks.

The first step? Research. I needed to know everything about the diet and had to have recipes that would stand on their own as good, not just “good for being Paleo.” My favorite two websites to date are Sarah Fragoso’s Everyday Paleo site and this nod to human ancestry’s eating style, with upscale recipes like “Chocolate Bacon Almond Butter Bananas.”

I spent the first two weeks making wonderful meals, never logged a morsel and wasn’t hungry. I lost nine pounds. Hooked! Since then, I’ve lost nearly 40 pounds and feel better than ever. I’m thinner now than the day I walked down the aisle almost six years ago, have more energy to play with my kids, and recently won Biggest Loser at work. And I’m telling you — I eat giant proportions of great food. It can be done! Alas, if the allure of weight loss and compliments doesn’t do it for you, maybe this recipe will.

When I told my husband I was going to try Paleo, he was supportive of the weight loss goal, but less than ecstatic about what that meant for him. I believe his exact words were, “Sooo … no bread or cheese for dinner?” He remembered that Paleo meal in Guam that left us both with a little PTSD. Thus, for my first blog post with We the Eaters, I let him decide which meal I should feature. His response was Chicken Lettuce Wraps — “hands down.”

I’ve taken several of my favorite versions, combined them, and added a few things of my own. I believe I’ve perfected them. They are easy to make, delicious, and will magically help melt the fat off your body.

Paleo Chicken Lettuce Wraps
This recipe was inspired by a recipe on for P.F. Chang’s Lettuce Wraps and some Paleo-focused chicken wraps on Cavegirl Cuisine.

1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 pound ground chicken
1/3 cup shiitake mushrooms, diced
1 tablespoon chopped green onions
1/4 cup almonds (I prefer slivered)
1 tablespoon ginger, grated
1 tablespoon garlic, minced (about 4 cloves)
3 tablespoon coconut aminos (available at Whole Foods)
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne red pepper (nice amount of heat, adjust to taste)
1/2 teaspoon celery seed
1/2 teaspoon ground mustard
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon honey
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 head Bibb lettuce

Heat the sesame oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add ground chicken, garlic and ginger. Cook for several minutes until chicken is almost done. Add the rest of your ingredients (except lettuce). Stir until well combined and chicken is finished cooking. Spoon mixture onto your lettuce leaves, and voila: a little vessel to get this goodness in your mouth. I like to serve these simply with sliced mangoes. Seriously easy. Seriously good. And seriously Paleo.

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Posted in Dear Diary
4 comments on “So Easy, Cavemen Did It
  1. Amanda says:

    I’ve been intrigued by the paleo diet since I heard about it. It makes a lot of sense that whole, natural, raw (except meat – eek!) foods would be healthiest for us. I’d consider this diet, but would include some legumes like chick peas, green beans, peas, and black beans. And I’d have to have some cheese and ice cream once in awhile. Thanks for the recipe! 🙂

  2. Rose says:

    Looks delicious! Can’t wait to try these and would love to hear more about this lifestyle. And super cute kiddo!

  3. Sarah says:

    Jim and I are actually attempting a modified version of paleo. His acupuncturist recommended cutting gluten and dairy in an attempt to combat his stuffy noses, allergies and tummy upsets. While it’s really challenging at first, it’s helping him ease the symptoms! When we’re bad and eat pizza…he definitely feels the affects. It’s also helping us lose some weight too. Added bonus!

    Thanks for writing this, Tessa! It’s inspirational and informative. Maybe we’ll give this a real go and see what happens!

  4. Alessandra says:

    Tessa – This post is so you and I love how candid you are with the whole process of finally “caving in” HA! When I saw you last February in Tahoe, you inspired ME to be more aware of the way I nourish myself. You are hands down truly a beautiful person inside and out even before the Paleo switch. To all you posters/bloggers out there this is one hot mama 😉 So proud of you Tessa and your beautiful family. Thank you for sharing this 🙂 🙂