The Inaugural Black Box 30-Day Paleo Challenge (January 2010)

ADDENDUM: If you’re reading this and it’s already past January 1st, you can still “buy-in” to the 30-Day Paleo Challenge. Just start today, right now, and go for 30 days straight. It’s that easy. So don’t let the fact that you missed the start date stop you. Join in the fun. Start posting to comments about how your eating and cooking are going, any questions you have, etc.
Starting January 1st, any and all readers of this blog (whether members of the gym or not) are strongly encouraged to join us in the Black Box 30-Day Paleo Challenge.
The idea is behind this challenge is to encourage everyone to go strict paleo for 30 days straight, no cheats (planned or unplanned). What a “strict paleo” diet does or does not include can be debated on its subtler points (and we’re happy to answer those questions), but the basics you need to know are the following:
ENCOURAGED FOODS: meats (preferably grass-fed), poultry (preferably pastured), fresh fish & seafood (preferably wild), eggs (preferably pastured or at least omega-3 fortified), vegetables, fresh fruit (& limited dried fruit), nuts & seeds (preferably raw and unsalted). (The organic versions of these foods will allow you to avoid pesticide residue.)
FOODS TO EAT IN MODERATION: minimally processed oils & animal fats (e.g., olive, avocado, walnut, coconut, lard, beef tallow–be aware that some of these are not meant for high-heat cooking but should be used raw) black coffee, tea, wine, beer, spirits, dried fruits (no more than 2 oz./day), nuts mixed with dried & fresh fruits (no more than 4 oz. nuts & 2 oz. dried fruit).
FOODS TO AVOID: dairy (e.g., milk, cheese, yogurt, butter, whey protein powder), legumes (i.e., beans, lentils, chickpeas, soy & soy products, peanuts, green beans, peas), cereal grains & cereal grainlike seeds (e.g., corn, wheat, wheat germ, barley, oats, rye, rice, corn, buckwheat, quinoa, amaranth), starchy vegetables (e.g., starchy tubers, potatoes, sweet potatoes), salt-containing foods (e.g., commercial salad dressings & condiments), fatty meats, soft drinks & fruit juices, sweets (i.e., candy, honey, sugars [sucrose, molasses, high fructose corn syrup, fructose, agave nectar]), diet sodas, refined vegetable oils (especially corn, soy, & canola), foods containing artificial sweeteners, chemical food additives.
For more info on what paleo-style eating is all about, check the following articles:
Great intro to the paleo lifestyle
Detailed shopping list of foods (includes do’s, don’ts, and in moderation) (tremendous number of web resources linked here)
OK, so the next question is, what are the rules of this challenge? Well, that’s kind of up to you. While I think you’ll get the most benefit from going strict for 30 days (you need at least that much time to notice the changes in how you look, feel, and perform), we’re not trying to exclude anyone from partaking in the challenge. So if you want to do “moo-paleo” (i.e., paleo plus dairy), we still want to hear from you. If you’re just cutting out grains, we want to know how it’s going. If you’re giving up dairy but still eating dessert, don’t be afraid to chime in. Some people thrive on a black-or-white approach, others need to baby-step their way into better eating strategies.
If you’re already paleo, what’s in this challenge for you? Plenty. When was the last time you tried a new type of meat or a new way of preparing a vegetable? Can you dial in your diet even further by shifting towards more grass-fed beef while cutting out the occasional lunch meat? Perhaps experiment with a low-carb or very-low-carb paleo approach to see if your energy levels change? Or play with your macronutrient ratios, a la the Zone and see what happens (whether weighing and measuring or simply eyeballing)? We want to hear from high-level paleo people such as yourself–you’ll serve as great inspiration to the paleo noobs, believe it or not.
Wherever you are, if you find yourself making an unplanned cheat, do your best to shake off the mistake and get back on track. Don’t let black-or-white thinking let you jump completely off the rails. Use the support of our virtual (and real-life) communities to get you through the rough spots. However you proceed with this challenge, if you choose to accept it, just be honest with yourself and track what you eat.
I highly encourage food journaling, where you either photograph or write down everything you eat. Do it on a blog. Do it in a composition notebook. Do it in a word doc on your computer. Private or public is up to you. But take the time to journal your food intake and reflect on how you feel physically, mentally, crossfit-performance-wise, and just generally.
Not only that, try cooking (more often, or for the first time). Try new types of foods, herbs,and spices. Try new restaurants (although beware of hidden ingredients–ask your server when unsure). The more you share these discoveries on the blog with others partaking of the challenge, the more we can help one another find the joy in this endeavor, rather than focus on the deprivation.
Check in with the blog every day. I’ll be posting paleo-related links Monday through Friday (don’t worry, I’ll still have exercise/fitness links, too) that you should consider required reading. I’ll try my best each day to have a range of links for newbie, intermediate, and advanced paleo people.
Whether you’re looking for body composition changes or not, I’d strongly suggest a before-and-after photo session where you’re shirtless (guys) or in a sports bra (ladies). No one has to see these photos but you. The power of said photos is that you see yourself every day, and it’s near impossible for you to notice body comp changes because of that. So take some photos with back, side, and front views. Shoot both before and after shots in the same clothing and under the same lighting and in the same location so that you can best see the differences.
So if you’re in, please declare your intentions in the comments on this post. Let us know if you’re going strict or partial, but decide what you’re going to do and stick to your guns!
Lastly, I’d like to encourage some real-world group activities during the month (and perhaps at the end of the 30 days to celebrate). I’ll leave that up to you guys to discuss in comments here and throughout the month via blog comments since so much of this challenge has been reader-driven. Thanks for being such an intelligent, curious, thoughtful community of folks.
When your friends and family ask “paleo what?!”, send them this:


  • Emerson

    I am in! I am going strict for the whole month of January and both of my non-crossfitting rooommates are going to try it with me! We are incredibly excited!

  • Allison Bojarski

    I’m in for the challenge (duh). I’ve been paleo since early November. Before that I was paleo plus daily yogurt (and occasional cheese) for about a year and a half.
    My goals are the following:
    1) More home-cooked meals.
    2) Try new recipes and foods–I already own a ton of great cookbooks.
    3) Cook and eat more grass-fed/pastured meats/eggs and less industrial meat.
    4) Eat more wild fish/seafood and avoid farmed fished.
    5) Continue with intermittent fasting (14-16 hour fasts on a daily basis) because it works for me.
    6) Avoid overindulging with sweets (albeit natural ones).
    7) Turn off the computer earlier and GET MORE SLEEP, especially in the winter months–sleep that syncs up with the light/dark cycles of our natural environment.

  • Carlos

    I’m going strict. The only foods that I’ll have at all from the “FOODS TO EAT IN MODERATION” list are olive oil and black coffee.

  • Jonathan P

    I’m in for the paleo challenge. I’ve been pretty strict paleo since August. I ditched the standard dairy in October, but I might occasionally have some raw grass-fed milk, just maybe not this month. It seems like it might be more paleo than a lot of meat I can find at the store. I’ve been keeping a log and might take pictures of the better looking meals I make this month. This challenge I will: drink more water (But Not During The WOD, I’ve been bad about that). I also want to gain (been at 155 down from 160 since September) and can’t miss the heavyweight workouts this month. It’s possible for me to do any number of speed WODs in my neighborhood (151st), but I can’t miss the low rep sessions any more.
    Emerson, I wish I could get my two roommates to join! One is a chef, and I bet he would do amazing things with it.

  • Dan

    Do you have to stop smoking?

  • Carlos

    Dan, you have to at least switch to American Spirit organic. ;)

  • Adam Rashid

    I’m in. I already bought some Paleo kits (jerky/nuts/fruit). I suppose I’ll have to start cooking too. No doubt that people will have some great ideas for creative Paleo dishes. It should be fun.

  • Lenny

    I’m in. Kinda excited to see what will happen w/ a strict paleo. I have been eating Paleo + Dairy since June. So no dairy for me. Shouldn’t be too bad.

  • kj

    I’m in!
    I have been dairy free since 2001, and have been aiming for 90% paleo for a while. I want to be strict for the next month, but I have some questions about what is outlined above.
    I’ve heard tubers placed in the “occasional” category before, and thought that strict paleo was no alcohol? I’d prefer to have the occasional sweet potato and forfeit the occasional coffee, wine, or beer for the next 30 days, unless anyone wants to outline why that wouldn’t be a “fair trade” so to speak.

  • JennTang

    I’m going with strict Paleo for the 30 days.
    I consider myself a ‘Foodie’ – that is, I cook all the time and love going out to new bars and restaurants around the city, so this is going to possibly suck for me, but I’m interested to see how my body will re-act to the change. I have, however, started making my own beef jerky for snacks! Pretty excited about that; it’s the little things…
    I also bought a Paleo book with some good recipes if anyone wants to borrow.
    Question: are we not allowed to continue to take supplements, ie vitamin D and fish oil? I’m assuming early man didn’t have a Vitamin Shoppe…

  • Jess L.

    I am in for the paleo challenge, mostly for weight loss (and am hoping performance will follow). I will continue to drink black coffee in moderation (1 cup in the morning) and probably use olive oil or coconut oil in some cooking. Everything else is going to be a complete, strict 180 (no dairy, no grains, no sugar, no booze…).

  • Lisa

    Happy New Year to all the great people at Crossfit.
    I am in for the 30-day challenge strict Paleo, the goal is no cheating, lose weight, lower body fat %.
    Already took the before photos.
    Looking forward to hearing everyone’s progress.

  • jacinto


  • Hari

    I’m in with the following caveats:
    1) I’m not cooking anything, period.
    2) I intend to ignore all claims of organic, free range, grass fed, no hormones added, etc. As far as I’m concerned, none of these claims are verifiable.
    3) I will maintain a running count of the total number of drinks I have for the month. I strongly suspect that I have consistently fooled myself into believing I drink less than I do.

  • Stephanie

    since i started CF i’ve been doing paleo maybe 80-20…except ever since t-giving it’s been more like 20-80. so a challenge sounds just perfect!
    since the challenge is a little bit DIY, my 30 day challenge is going to be the *42 ways to skin the zone* principles, but i’ll keep it paleo.

  • Kirk

    Hari, when you say you aren’t “cooking anything” does that mean you will be doing a “raw food” thing, or does that mean you will be eating out for 30 days…?
    I’d like to echo Jenn’s question: What about supplements? In particular – fish oil and vitamin D. Thoughts?
    My goal is tightening up my Paleo (I have a bad habit of sharing cinnamon rolls and cookies with my kids…) – Absolutely no grains, no dairy, no processed foods, no alcohol. Cut my coffee to one cup of black coffee, or an espresso, per day.
    I am also going to pick up on Hari’s other challenges: better (read: more) sleep, continuity with my WODs and making more time during the day for personal/ creative work (my weakness). First step: I have canceled/ postponed all work travel in January for these Challenges!
    It’s going to be an interesting January.
    Happy New Year, Everyone!

  • Adam L

    I am in for all, strict paleo for one month
    wod challenge
    i am confused about the pull up challenge
    the sleep challenge will only be able to be done when i dont work night shifts.
    january is going to be interesting

  • Matt P.

    I’m in for the Paleo Challenge.
    I’m also gonna aim for 8 hours of sleep every night and to do more WOD’s.
    Should be a great month.
    Happy New Year everyone!

  • Lisa

    I am really looking forward to this. As well as posting here I have told my family and my boyfriend which helps ensure no cheating. Nothing like pride and saving face to make sure I stay strict :) and their support helps.
    I will have one black coffee per day, no alcohol or dairy but going without chocolate will be (I think) the toughest challenge.
    I just weighed in at 143.2 lbs. Online calculators put body fat % at 24-32%. However, as long as these same calculators show a reduction in 30 days’ time I am not going to get caught up in the numbers.
    Heading out soon to hike up a mountain and ski down it at midnight by headlamp. I like to start every New Year outdoors and exercising :)

  • Hari

    That should have been, “I’m not cooking, period.”

  • Hari

    Box will be open tomorrow from Noon to 2:00 or 2:30.

  • Jai

    As stated before, I’m in. And will post further about a possible Paleo Potluck Party. I’m a little sad about Cindy tomorrow; I was hoping I’d have another week to work on my pull ups. I’ll still try it Rx’s, it’ll just be a little less awesome than it could have been with a bit more time. :)
    Happy new year! I’m tipsy and I hope you are too! The challenge doesn’t start until I sleep and wake up to a new day!
    Also, side note for those who might find the sleep challenge rough: If insomnia is truly a trouble for you, I know some helpful doctors and can give you more info about various treatments and sleep studies and whatnot.

  • Stephanie R

    I’m in for the Paleo Challange! (thanks for the nudge Hari!)
    As an elements alum, I’ve recently eased back into CF workouts, looking to climb back on in 2010. Kitchen cabinets cleared; I’m ready to go.
    My family’s traditional New Year’s day Italian dinner today will be my inaugural challenge. One day at a time, one day at a time…

  • Naveen

    I’m in for the challenge. I’ve been pretty strict paleo+beer since mid-September, but ready to take it up a notch with some weighing-and-measuring/macronutrient strategy.

  • Naveen

    And btw, my paleo results so far have been great; after the first couple weeks during which appearance changes were unnoticeable and workouts felt a little off, everything clicked and every day since has been better than the day before (still). Good luck to all!

  • Stephanie D.

    Since it’s still day 1, I’m revising my challenge to strict paleo! Oh and I’m in for the pull up challenge!

  • Brian M.

    I’m in. Strictly encouraged foods with 2 caveats that I hope won’t wreck stuff. 1) 8oz of yogurt daily and 2) 2 packets of low sugar instant oatmeal daily.

  • boxer and cats

    Why is it that your blog looks a lot different in google chrome than it does in internet explorer? I have just installed google chrome and all the webpages like youtube and google look the same but your site looks a little different. It looks like the font is a bit smaller and its different type of font.

  • Mike K

    Lots of good comments and questions on this. I’ve been eating generally paleo, sometimes with dairy, for roughly the last 8 months or so, being more strict at times less so at others, and wanted to share my thoughts. Basically what got me on paleo was a few weeks around when I moved where I was eating like crap and as a result felt the same, and I also saw a decline in performance doing WODs, which had been steadily increasing up to that point. My diet was pretty good by paleo standards beforehand so it wasn’t a massive change, but it made a huge difference.
    I think its more important to decide what the change or changes you are going to make and really stick with it for the 30 days. Just trying to follow the most idealistic paleo diet you can think of can seem restrictive and get even more confusing depending on what you think and read. Look at Kitavin and Inuit diet for examples, both at completely opposite ends of the spectrum. But the 30 days is important in that it gives the digestive system time to heal from potentially irritating foods (grains, legumes, dairy, etc), and it gives the body time to adapt to the changes, primarily burning fat as a main energy source. After that, you can reintroduce things and see how you feel with them and start tinkering with stuff… but give yourself 30 days.
    In my opinion, 30 days as stict as possible will give you the best results and will let you learn the most about how you interact with different foods and what works best for you, but be dilligent about staying stict for whatever you’ve decided to do, even if its just a small change now.
    Remember, food is fuel, and if you don’t get enough, you won’t be able to hit your WODs as hard and will slow your progress as an athlete. Its not uncommon to feel sluggish the first week or 2 as your body gets used to the changes, but after that people usually feel and perform much better. Its easy to get caught up in the details and grey areas and forget about the big picture.
    For instance, sweet potatoes were mentioned, in my opinion, I wouldn’t make them a staple for the month if you are being really strict, but a good time for them would be after a long metcon, like Filthy 50, on a day when you might have less rest before your next WOD (ie- Fri night to Sat morning). In that short time, you may not replenish muscle gycogen stores enough from meat, fat, and veggies to hit the next WOD hard. So if you can go 30 days adding them in like that, which will probly only be once or twice over the month anyway, I wouldn’t consider that a cheat.
    On Whey protein, my personal experience both pre-Crossfit and now, is that I always felt better, got stronger, and was leaner when I got protein from real food. I still use it sometimes, but not regularly, if you leave it out for a month it really shouldn’t cause much of a problem. Especially since other aspects of paleo, like improved acid base balance, help prevent muscle wasting and lets the body more efficiently use the protein you eat. I’d recommend trying the month without it, plus real food tastses better.
    This has already gotten too long, so I’m stopping here, but I’m happy to discuss the topic in greater detail anytime if people have questions or want to kick around recipe ideas or whatever. Finally, have fun with it!
    Personally, I’m working on improving my sleep. I got about 10 hours 2 nights ago which was awesome, and about 7 last night just because I woke up this morning and wasn’t tired.
    My diet obviously had more leeway around the holidays, so I’m avoiding desserts and sweets (paleo and otherwise), and aiming to bring lunch to work more often.

  • Janel G

    I’m in…summer is right around the corner!