Paleo craze hits Martha’s Vineyard

Ms. Curelli's Paleo lemon-blueberry bread (top) and chocolate chip cookie. — Photo by Kaylea Moore

Fad diets come and go. Atkin’s, South Beach, and Mediterranean are just a few that make their presence known on bookshelves across America.

January is when people usually dust off these book covers and try their hand at losing a few pounds. These diets tell you how to eat a certain way to lose weight and live a healthier lifestyle, by not eating fat or eating bacon by the boatload, by staying away from carbs or focusing on incorporating more whole grains into your diet. One can’t help do-si-do-ing around these conflicted viewpoints, trying on each diet as you would a new pair of shoes, to see if it fits their lifestyle.

Currently, the Paleo diet is all the rage. The idea is to eat like your ancestors, focusing on foods that can be hunted or gathered, a diet based upon lean, grass-fed meats, fish, eggs, healthy fats, berries, roots, nuts, and vegetables. Basically, any food that pre-dates agriculture.

On Martha’s Vineyard, many people practicing Paleo also do CrossFit, a worldwide strength and conditioning program. I have recently joined the CrossFit cult, but have yet to drink the Paleo Kool-Aid, which technically would not be allowed, since you can’t have refined sugar. People swear by Paleo. At Crossfit M.V., 23 members are doing a month-long Paleo challenge, a competition based on combining CrossFit workouts with Paleo eating, where the winner takes home a cash prize.

Some are quick to criticize Paleo, asking why follow a diet of a civilization where the average life expectancy was 25 years. Others question the emphasis on meat, especially the supermarket meat of today, stating that our ancestors weren’t consuming cows fed with grain and processed meats. But some studies have shown increased health benefits of Paleo eating, such as a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, lower blood pressure, and weight loss.

Sarah Hill Mass, owner and coach at CrossFit M.V., has been practicing a modified version of Paleo for the past three years. When she competes at CrossFit regionals, she sticks to six months of strict Paleo.

“When you eat Paleo, you trim down and feel good, breaking the mental barrier. With the 30-day challenge, people understand what it can do. After they are done, they can go back to a modified version,” Ms. Hill Mass said. “People think they will eat twigs, but I don’t feel like I’m wanting anything. The food is really good.”

“I’m over bread,” said Nicole Curelli, winner of the first CrossFit M.V. Paleo challenge last October. “The first challenge you could have one cheat.” This time is different, with cheats losing you points. “This challenge I’ll probably be dreaming of what I can’t eat, but when I do cheat, I’ll have a lobster roll without the bun. You lose the taste for bad things, you don’t want.”

Ms. Curelli recently brought in Paleo lemon blueberry bread, and Paleo chocolate chip cookies made with Enjoy Life dairy- and soy-free chocolate chips, proving that primal eating isn’t all about meat and vegetables. “Other CrossFits may not agree with the chocolate, but we are trying to make it bearable,” said Ms. Hill Mass.

Preparation for Paleo eating is key, both buying food and making sure that you have Paleo-appropriate meals on hand. “I tried Paleo before the first challenge and lasted 36 hours,” Ms. Curelli said. “I didn’t stock the fridge with Paleo foods, I just had regular food.”

“I like cooking ahead,” said Ms. Hill Mass. “Sweet potatoes take forever, so I will dice them up and season them, bake them on a cookie sheet and have a huge amount. In the morning I’ll crack two eggs on top and cook them with turkey bacon.”

A lot of Paleo foods take time to prepare. The grab-and-go mentality of our current food system isn’t always successful with Paleo.

“I have some things ready and prepared when I get ‘hangry’ (the point when you are so hungry you become angry),” Ms. Hill Mass said. “It gives me energy right away that you burn through. The food doesn’t sit in your belly; you don’t get a food coma from Paleo.”

One of her recent meals was spaghetti squash with marinara and turkey meatballs. Usually when “you think of spaghetti and meatballs, you think you have to take a nap,” she said. Not with this gluten-free version.

With Paleo you also need to develop new shopping habits, such as sticking to the outer walls of the grocery store. “Eating paleo is a lot more expensive,” said Ms. Curelli. “I go off to Trader Joe’s once a month to shop” (see her shopping list below). She follows users, and likes the books “Against All Grain” and “Practical Paleo” for recipes and ideas.

For those who don’t cook, eating Paleo proves to be more difficult. “Back in the day, I would get a rotisserie chicken and a bag of carrots for dinner. I learned from my wife how to cook some awesome food,” Ms. Hill Mass said. “If from the Paleo challenge you learn how to cook, and that’s all you get out of it, it’s a life lesson learned.”

CrossFit M.V. provides a platform for those wanting to eat Paleo. “We have a great community of people coming in, sharing recipes and bringing in food to try,” Ms. Hill Mass said. She encourages people to stay with it, sharing that the first few days are usually difficult. “You put your mind to something and anyone can do it. People are stuck in their routines: ‘I can’t give up cheese, I can’t give up bread.’ You think of it as an experiment, and in three to four days you feel it immediately.”

Jenn French eats Paleo, but does not belong to CrossFit. She is doing it to get ready for vacation. “I feel a lot better,” Ms. French said. “I feel like I have more energy.” She started eating Paleo last year when a girl she worked with, who did CrossFit, recommended it. “I lost a bunch of weight in two months,” she recalled, but then, “I started cheating and it phased out.”

This time, Ms. French is doing it with her boyfriend, Seth Abbott, as a competition to see who can lose the most weight. “I think it definitely helps to have someone doing it with me,” she said. “And I’m definitely winning.”

For breakfast Ms. French eats eggs, omelets with vegetables, smoked salmon, fruit, bacon, and sausage. “Almost everything we eat has some sort of bacon on it, you are allowed to have it and it makes everything better.” She gets a lot of her recipes on two websites: and

Lunch and dinner usually consists of salad with meat or a protein, and lots of fish. “I miss having cheese sometimes,” Ms. French said. “If I’m going to cheat, I’ll have a piece of pizza. We also cheat with little things, like canola oil. The brand of nuts we like has a little.”

If you have a food craving that’s not allowed, there is usually some Paleo version of it. For rice and mashed potatoes, Ms. French recommends substituting cauliflower. “You can make stuff with Paleo-friendly foods that aren’t exactly as good, but you can satisfy your craving.”

Flourless Mocha-Bacon Brownies

Courtesy of “Practical Paleo” by Diane Sanfilippo


4 ounces dark chocolate (85% cacao suggested)
1/2 cup butter or coconut oil, melted and cooled
1/2 cup pure maple syrup (grade B is best)
3 eggs
1/2 cup + 2 Tbs. unsweetened cocoa power
2 Tbs. very strong coffee
2 Tbs. fine coffee grinds
2 slices baked bacon, chopped


Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine melted dark chocolate, butter or oil, maple syrup, and eggs. Slowly sift the cocoa powder over wet ingredients, whisking it evenly. Add coffee and grinds and stir until well combined.

Line a 9×9 inch square pan with parchment paper and fill pan with brownie batter. Top batter with chopped bacon pieces and bake for approx. 25 minutes or until a toothpick in the center comes out clean. Do not open the oven door until you absolutely have to check them.

For more information, visit

Nicole’s Paleo Grocery Essentials

Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Coconut oil
Coconut spray
Almond flour
Coconut flour
Nuts of your choice
Lara Bars
Meat of choice
Sweet Potatoes
Every vegetable (no potatoes or beans)
Almond milk
Coconut milk
Grass fed butter or dairy/soy free butter
Honey in the raw
Maple syrup
Enjoy Life chocolate chips

Paleo dishes CrossFit M.V. members are making
Sausage and spinach stuffed Portobello mushrooms
Sweet potato brownies
Stuffed acorn squash
Slow cooker roast chicken with gravy
Cauliflower carrot and parsnip purée
Roasted Brussels sprouts with bacon
Chicken salad with grapes, apples and cranberries
Apple, date, and almond hot cereal