First of all, let me make it clear that in NO way am I an expert on nutrition. This article is just an attempt to pique your interest on the subject of the Paleo diet–I expect you to do your own research and not just take my word on it. Besides, this is not an “Everything you ever wanted to know about Paleo” kind of article–it’s my own personal experience with it.
I should also point out that this is a work in progress for me. I thought about putting off this article until I was down to my target weight, but I think it’s better to start now, then have future articles possibly expand on it.
But I’m getting ahead of myself–let me first tell you about how this started. However, I’ll spare you the whole “I’ve been overweight all my life and no diets have worked” spiel because … if you’re reading this, I’m going to guess that you’ve been there (or are there right now maybe) so you probably know where I’m coming from.
But everything kind of came to a head late last year–during that time I’d been focusing on keeping my calories down and exercising as much as I could … and it barely made any difference. I was losing MAYBE a pound every few months. Of course, it’s unhealthy (and temporary) for weight to come off too fast, but with it coming off that slowly, I had to have been doing something wrong.
Clearly a drastic change in my diet had to be made–I didn’t know what, but I was beginning to worry I’d have to switch to vegetarianism before my body would finally give up and start releasing all that weight that needed to go.
I lamented about this a bit on Facebook (in the form of saying I might try going low carb AND low fat, which I was not really looking forward to), and a friend was kind enough to recommend a documentary which ended up being a turning point for me.
(Yeah, he wasn’t kidding!)
It starts off as a response to the famous documentary Supersize Me, where Morgan Spurlock went 30 days eating exclusively at McDonalds where he allegedly gained a ridiculous amount of weight and had a lot of health problems. In Fathead, Tom Naughton attempts to go 30 days eating exclusively at various fast food restaurants, BUT he puts a strict limit on calories and carbs and continues to exercise.
But the response to/parody of Supersize Me is really just the show’s gimmick–what it’s really about is the belief that saturated fat and cholesterol causes heart disease, and how that’s a myth, and how a lot of the health problems thought to be caused by saturated fat are actually caused by sugar and carbs. But I’m not out to do a complete review of Fathead–I do recommend it, but what I wanted to point out is that this is what got me started.
Armed with some new knowledge, I decided to rework my way of eating. I ditched the bowl of Raisin Bran with skim milk I was having every morning and replaced it with bacon and eggs. I took the ham and cheese sandwich I was having for lunch and replaced it with a lettuce wrap with basically the same ingredients, just minus the bread.
And, best of all, I finally got myself to cut down on sugar–this was the thing I never thought I’d be able to do, and didn’t even want to try. Most kids outgrow their sweet tooth, but I never did. What was really hurting my attempts at weight loss more than anything, I think, was my affinity for a super-sweet cup of coffee first thing in the morning. I really didn’t think that one little vice could make that much of a difference, but according to MyFitnessPal.com, I was using up all of my allotted sugar and carbs for the day before I even ate breakfast!
I don’t even know how to explain how I did it–I guess at some point, I just realized how ridiculous it was and made up my mind that I would either find a way to drink coffee with little-to-no sugar or just give up the stuff completely. And I’ve been a daily coffee drinker since I was like 8 or 9 and a creature of habit to boot (borderline OCD-ish, in fact)–you’ve NO idea how crazy it is for me to even consider giving up my morning cup of coffee.
What I ended up doing was breaking down and getting some Truvia (I generally dislike artificial sweetener, but Truvia is the least bad of the four big ones, IMO) and using just enough to take the bitter edge off the coffee and add a little sweetness. Coffee didn’t taste all that great to me like that, but it was palatable and I eventually developed a taste for it. Would I like it better with a ton of sugar? Even now, very likely … but I don’t think I could bring myself to drink it that way again.
Fast forward a few months. I’ve been following Tom Naughton’s blog and he recommended two books by Mark Sisson about the “Paleo” way of life–the one I zeroed in on was The Primal Blueprint, which focuses on the diet and exercise aspects.
(And now I’m finally getting to the Paleo part of this story)
The Primal Blueprint is a difficult read at times, but it’s worth it–it goes into all the science of exactly why all these newer pre-processed foods are unhealthy and why anything containing wheat is unhealthy. A little hard to get through at times (like a science textbook), but it’s information that is important to know.
What it comes down to is that we are genetically nearly identical to our pre-agricultural ancestors who mostly lived on meat, eggs, vegetables, fruits and nuts–therefor we can’t properly digest relatively “new” foods and they cause us to gain weight, along with other health problems. This is the basis of the paleo/primal way of life–it’s not about emulating cavemen to the letter, but trying to take some of those concepts and apply them to modern life. I mention this partly because paleo is just recently starting to get enough attention to attract skeptics who like to laugh at the idea as if we’re all running around with a spear and a loincloth–yeah, that’s not what it’s about. At all. Just sayin’.
But I digress.
There are a couple of rules I knowingly break–dairy and peanuts are not recommended. As I understand it, it’s based partly on the idea that a lot of people are lactose intolerant and a lot of people have peanut allergies, due to the fact that peanuts are a relatively new invention that need to to go through a lot of processing before they become edible, and milk was not consumed by adults until agriculture started, so it’s best not to consume that stuff. Well … I’ve never had a bad reaction to either, and I believe that both are a good source of healthy fat and protein, so I continue to enjoy both.
However, I have cut all bad oils and fats from my diet–I cook with butter (NOT margarine), olive oil, or coconut oil now, and I try to avoid pre-processed food as much as I can, or if I do buy pre-processed food (it is cheaper) I make sure it doesn’t contain canola/soy/etc. oil, sugar, and HFCS. This meant that I had to give up mayo, which is another old vice of mine. I tried making my own for awhile, but could never get it to turn out right. Honestly, since I no longer eat sandwiches, I don’t really miss it–it was partly the dryness of the bread that made me feel like sandwiches “need” mayo.
Speaking of bread … it’s pretty much gone from my diet. And I really don’t miss it. Bread is mainly a vehicle for much tastier food (meat, cheese, etc) and you’re better able to taste it without the bread anyway. Same with pasta and rice. Which is not to say that I don’t indulge once in awhile–maybe once or twice per week and special occasions, but it’s no longer a staple of my diet.
I also ditched that powdered creamer from my morning coffee (it contained sugar and soybean oil) and replaced it with full-fat heavy cream … the only downside is that real cream in coffee tasted funny to me with the artificial sweetener, so I now use one spoonful each of Truvia and sugar to take the edge off. Might seem like a step back, but it’s still a huge improvement over the 4-5 spoonfuls of sugar I used to use–I think this is a pretty reasonable compromise, and at least it’s more natural.
So I am not following Paleo to the letter. Mark Sisson suggests 80/20, as in “try to be paleo 80% of the time and try not to splurge more than 20% of the time” (even Mark admits to adding a pinch of sugar to his coffee). I don’t know if I’m doing even that well (especially with all the dairy I consume–I could probably stand to cut down on it, to be honest), but I am definitely doing well the majority of the time. When I do splurge, I try to make it something I really love and I try to eat it slowly and make it a point to appreciate it. This is why I hardly ever bother with bread, but I’ll make the occasional exception for sweets.
Speaking of which, unlike a lot of people, I have not lost my taste for sugar–but consuming it less often has made me appreciate it more and I think of it as more of a treat than the staple it used to be. I enjoy a Pepsi Throwback or two on the weekends, for example, but I generally avoid it during the week–it tastes so much better to me than it used to because of that.
But even with all these little exceptions I make to the “rules” of Paleo, I am enjoying success in the form of weight loss. At the point I’m writing this, I’ve lost nearly 25 lbs since I first started changing my eating habits in November 2012, averaging about a pound per week since then. My clothes have gotten too big, and this week I’ve been getting a lot of compliments from my co-workers. I still have a long way to go, and I’m sure I will hit a plateau at some point, since this normally happens with any weight loss attempt–when it does, I will probably bear down and try to follow it more strictly.
But for now, I’m enjoying the benefits of doing my own little version of it without feeling deprived–in fact, I rather enjoy it for the most part. Learning that our bodies NEED fat, and the reason so many diets fail is because people end up feeling hungry and deprived due to lack of fat and protein, that conventional wisdom is completely wrong in the belief that all fat is unhealthy, has really turned everything around. Fat and protein leaves you full and happy and it’s not unusual for me to simply skip dinner because I’m just not hungry in the evening. And it’s great being able to enjoy the high-fat stuff that I used to try to avoid like meat and cheese.
So that’s my experience with the Paleo “diet” so far. Feel free to ask any questions–maybe I’ll address them in a later article.