AnnieC (and for anyone looking into Paleo) you should really check out Stephanie Rupurt's Paleo for Women blog: www.paleoforwomen.com
The thing about Paleo and why I like Stephanie so much, is that women are different creatures than men. And much like Mark S. and even Robb W. and others out there, they are focusing on MEN. The studies are usually done on MEN.
Women have a different set of requirements.
Stephanie warns, through her observations and review of studies, that women need more carbs -- but NOT cake or cookies! -- than men do in order to reach reproductive health.
She has PCOS as well and just recently came out with a book about PCOS and Paleo.
She does recommend eating more carbs and not going below 90 carbs a day (I think, I would check that number out) in order to not go into adrenal failure.
Personally, I eat 150 - 100 g (whole, not net) and I can lose weight slowly comfortably.
If I go any lower, I can't handle it. And if I go much higher consecutively, I maintain or gain.
You will have to experiment on your own body to see what works -- you may be able to eat a lot less carbs and later have to increase it.
Initially, I lost weight by simply eliminating everything but fruit, vegetables, and starchy vegetables like sweet potato and cassava. I had no problems eating a whole sweet potato -- that didn't affect my rate of loss.
Right now, I'm just maintaining, so I can't offer you more advice because I'm overwhelmed with work and school and I just need to finish before I can concentrate on my weight loss again.
I eat salads but I only put on balsamic vinegar and olive oil (if any) on my salads, so I don't bother with salad dressing, period.
I legumes every once in a while but infrequently. My body can handle a lot of legumes, but I was eating them twice a day for a while and THAT was too much. Paleo made me realize I had to find the right amount, which is more like twice a week, if that often.
As for dairy, I don't eat dairy -- I know Paleo allows for small quantities of dairy if you want it, but I have developed an intolerance for it. And no, it's not the lactose. I break out in a rash!
My philosophy on Paleo and any diet, really, is that you have to do what you can and do it slowly. Doing the Whole30 has a specific philosophy for it, but you have to be ready for that mentality/plan. I was doing Paleo before I ever did a Whole30 (back in August/September of last year). I needed to ease into it slowly and not give my body/mind a shock like that -- and I was eating healthy already, it wasn't like I used to eat when I was 200 lbs.
If you can make small changes, that's what I would do -- gradually change something here or there.
Personally, I started changing my diet not by ELIMINATING stuff, but adding
to it. I told myself I had to eat 5 servings of fruit and vegetables every day. I could go over calories, I could eat cake, but I still had to eat my 5 servings. It was weird at first, to be eating so much, but it was also really healthy and I realized that some of my cravings for sweets were really cravings for fruit and fresh vegetables. Isn't that weird? So, I was satisfied eating those fruit/veggies and I found myself craving less cake and other sweets.
You need to figure out what you can do easily and change that now, and what may take a while. I gave up soda three years ago, but I switched from sweeten soda to diet soda to finally sparkling water. I couldn't do it cold turkey because I like bubbles!
I also learned to cook a lot on the weekends and freeze. A great book to help you out with the pre-planning and stuff for eating Paleo is "Well Fed" by Melissa Jouwan. I think her recipes are GREAT, but it's not my type of food (it's very Mediterranean) but they are easy to follow, she has great cooking tips, and they freeze well.
I agree with you that it takes a lot to cook at home and I hate to cook. But I also find that the more I eat at home, the less I like restaurant food and processed/convenience foods. I used to drive by fast food places for snacks and now, even when I'm starving and that's all I have as an option, I would rather wait to get home. It's amazing. I used to never be able to pass up McD's french fries and now I think they're kinda gross.
Oh and to answer your question, I'm not strict Paleo 100%. I do put 1 teaspoon of sugar in my coffee, I eat legumes twice a week, and I go to restaurants and not drill them about the ingredients in their sauces or dressings. (That's only for Whole30 or if you have a severe allergy/intolerance!)
The goal is not perfection! Don't get caught up in perfection because you'll miss out on all the benefits of being 90% or 80% or 75% or even 50% compliant.