For almost a year now, I have been recommending the Paleo Diet to my students for fat loss and have slowly become stricter and stricter myself. It always made sense for fat loss because, simply put, it works, and the science behind it makes sense. But after eliminating foods and then adding them back in on cheat days I began to realize what they were doing to me systemically. It has caused me to really think twice before deciding what I put into my body. I would like to share my Paleo journey thus far and why I think we truly should eat the way we have for millions years of years instead of the last 2000 – and especially in the last 50 years where you can’t’ deny that health in America has been on a steady decline.
The basis of the Paleo Diet is to eat the way our primal caveman ancestors ate because that is how we evolved to eat, and a few thousand years isn’t enough time to adapt to be able to properly digest processed foods. I’m not going to rehash the science and the technicalities of this way of life. There are plenty of resources for that. I want to tell you about my personal Paleo journey and I how I have realized that dieting is not only about fat loss, but overall health and well-being.
During Condition’s first fat loss challenge last July, we suggested the participants adopt the Paleo Diet for the competition. It is very effective for fat loss and because there is no calorie restriction is easy to get compliance once over the first couple of weeks of sugar withdrawal. To simplify the Paleo Diet, it just consists of eating meats, vegetables, good fats, some fruit and some nuts. That means no grains, no legumes, no dairy, no sugar, and minimize alcohol (and ideally only wine and tequila.) This diet is inconvenient, but it doesn’t suck: steak and eggs for breakfast, fatty coconut milk in your coffee… Real food is very tasty!
Giving Up Grains
The first thing I did was cut out grains completely – and almost accidentally. I cut out grains and sugar but was allowing a cheat day. I ordered Meal Movement food to give me a jumpstart but kind of by accident, my cheats had a lot of sugar but no grains. I was cheating with Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream, not with cookies. One Sunday cheat day, I decided to get my old brunch favorite: an Atkin’s Park Fried Chicken Biscuit. As I ate it, it dawned on me that I hadn’t eaten a grain in about 4 weeks. On the drive home, I started to feel AWFUL. It was almost like I had a hangover without drinking. I immediately went home and took a nap and I got a big belly for a few hours. At that moment I knew that grains are not something good for me. Before, I would think “I shouldn’t have that because it will not help my fat loss goals” but now I have to think again and realize that if I eat grains not only will it not help my goals but I will feel sick and bloated. Is it worth it? 95% of the time, it hasn’t been.
Giving Up Dairy
The next step was to cut out dairy completely. I wasn’t eating a whole lot of dairy to begin with – just organic creamer in my coffee and the occasional slice of cheese on a bun-less burger. I used to have dry, itchy patches under my chin and on my neck. Two weeks into being dairy-free these patches disappeared completely. On a cheat day a month later I ate some cheese and not only did the patches come back, but my face broke out like a middle schooler. Those symptoms took days to go away. So far, 100% of the time I have said no to dairy because not only is it unnatural to drink the milk of another species but the effects can be seen and felt for days -And no piece of cheese has been worth that.
Giving Up Legumes
I cut out legumes when I cut out dairy. So far, no pea has been tempting enough to make me want to cheat with it, so there’s no verdict on that one yet!
Giving Up Coffee (temporarily)
The next thing I did was cut out coffee for 30 days. Jason and Neely over at The Paleo Plan suggested that we do this for 30 days to see how coffee affects our sleep patterns. I have had some problems sleeping so I decided to test it. After 30 days, I added it back in and nothing changed. That let me know that I can keep coffee in my diet, although I try to rotate one day decaf, one day regular.
The lastest thing I have been experimenting with is wine. I tried the eliminating coffee experiment to see if my sleep patterns were affected by it but it seemed that they weren’t. I still had the same sleep issues without it. I am currently testing to see if the issues were being caused by wine. I LOVE wine. I would usually drink a glass (or two) with dinner and go to bed at a reasonable hour, only to wake up at 3:45AM and not be able to fall back to sleep. Last week, I made the possible connection. Starting this past Sunday, I eliminated wine on “school nights.” My quality of sleep has improved DRAMATICALLY. It was so hard to give up wine solely based on it’s sugar content, but when it started affecting my productivity I no longer had a choice but to test if that is the cause of my sleeping problems.
Where I Struggle Most
The last two things I have to give up are Chocolove’s Dark Chocolate Almond and Sea Salt bars (no dairy) and polyunsaturated fats (PUFA) when dining out. That candy bar is so delicious, and dark chocolate is allowed on many versions of Paleo, but as Dallas and Melissa Hartwig of the Whole 9 say, we shouldn’t have an unhealthy psychological addiction to any food, and I believe that my driving to 8 health food stores over a span of 10 miles the day after Valentine’s Day when there was a shortage to find this bar is slightly unhealthy. PUFA’s are probably already rancid on the shelves and if not, can oxidize in our system, which is a very bad thing. Eating PUFA’s is just a convenience problem that can be solved with better planning (smoked wings at The Albert, anyone?)
How I Cheat
So I said that I never eat dairy and rarely eat grains. What do I do for my cheats? I’ve found that although white rice is a shot of sugar, it doesn’t make me feel bad when I eat it (probably because there is no wheat or gluten) so I will down a plate of Thai food with rice on a Sunday afternoon. Mellow Mushroom in Midtown also has a (ridiculously expensive, but delicious) pizza with a gluten-free crust. They also have Daiya vegan cheese (no soy and no dairy) that is not allowed (mainly because of the canola oil in it,) but tastes like melted mozzarella and passes for the real deal. The goal is to never have these cravings but let’s be honest… that will take a while.
Paleo: Not Just for Fat Loss
“Diets” used to be about losing fat, but after eliminating foods that I don’t believe we have evolved to eat, adding them back in and seeing what they do systemically has made me think twice about what I put in my body. Sure if I eat this piece of pizza I’ll need some extra time in the gym and a stricter eating plan over the next few days, but I’ll also feel like garbage, be bloated for a few hours and have a broken out face this week. It really has changed how I view food and the choices I make on a daily basis. In my book – just like kettlebell training – the Paleo Diet is not a fad and is here to stay.