I haven’t posted on this blog in a while, but now that I am I feel it is time for a change. I decided that the former title, “From Books to Blades”, wasn’t applicable anymore. I am now 25, and left school behind several years ago. The premise of the original blog was to document my attempts to improve my fitness and regain my “athlete” body after 6 years of general malaise, overeating, and my inability to avoid foods I shouldn’t have eaten. But now, I feel it should focus more on how I am CURRENTLY rebuilding my body and life with the help of the paleo diet.
The paleo diet is hot right now, and I have been “on paleo” for years. Bloggers like Mark Sisson (one of the original proponents of the widespread movement) and Julie Bauer at PaleOMG have been promoting the paleo lifestyle for a while, and built entertaining and informative websites around their recipes and advice. A cursory search on Google of “paleo diet” yields over 50 million results. Some are critical of the diet (or lifestyle, as devotees of the practice call it), but others insist that the paleo diet has helped not only with weight loss, but diminished overall health problems (or eliminated them entirely) and even improved the practitioners appearance. Mark’s Daily Apple, written by Mark Sisson, includes a page of Success Stories from people of all ages and walks of life who used the lifestyle to improve themselves.
This is the premise of the diet, as described by Loren Cordain, PhD, who is the World’s Leading Expert on Paleolithic Diets and Founder of the Paleo Movement:
The Paleo Diet is based upon everyday, modern foods that mimic the food groups of our pre-agricultural, hunter-gatherer ancestors. The following seven fundamental characteristics of hunter-gatherer diets will help to optimize your health, minimize your risk of chronic disease, and lose weight.
- Higher protein intake – Protein comprises 15 % of the calories in the average western diet, which is considerably lower than the average values of 19-35 % found in hunter-gatherer diets. Meat, seafood, and other animal products represent the staple foods of modern day Paleo diets.
- Lower carbohydrate intake and lower glycemic index – Non-starchy fresh fruits and vegetables represent the main carbohydrate source and will provide for 35-45 % of your daily calories. Almost all of these foods have low glycemic indices that are slowly digested and absorbed, and won’t spike blood sugar levels.
- Higher fiber intake – Dietary fiber is essential for good health, and despite what we’re told, whole grains aren’t the place to find it. Non-starchy vegetables contain eight times more fiber than whole grains and 31 times more than refined grains. Even fruits contain twice as much fiber as whole grains and seven times more than refined grains.
- Moderate to higher fat intake dominated by monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats with balanced Omega-3 and Omega-6 fats – It is not the total amount of fat in your diet that raises your blood cholesterol levels and increases your risk for heart disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes, but rather the type of fat. Cut the trans fats and the Omega-6 polyunsaturated fats in your diet and increase the healthful monounsaturated and Omega-3 fats that were the mainstays of Stone Age diets. Recent large population studies known as meta analyses show that saturated fats have little or no adverse effects upon cardiovascular disease risk.
- Higher potassium and lower sodium intake – Unprocessed, fresh foods naturally contain 5 to 10 times more potassium than sodium, and Stone Age bodies were adapted to this ratio. Potassium is necessary for the heart, kidneys, and other organs to work properly. Low potassium is associated with high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke – the same problems linked to excessive dietary sodium. Today, the average American consumes about twice as much sodium as potassium.
- Net dietary alkaline load that balances dietary acid – After digestion, all foods present either a net acid or alkaline load to the kidneys. Acid producers are meats, fish, grains, legumes, cheese, and salt. Alkaline-yielding foods are fruits and veggies. A lifetime of excessive dietary acid may promote bone and muscle loss, high blood pressure, and increased risk for kidney stones, and may aggravate asthma and exercise-induced asthma.
- Higher intake of, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and plant phytochemicals – Whole grains are not a good substitute for grass produced or free ranging meats, fruits, and veggies, as they contain no vitamin C, vitamin A, or vitamin B12. Many of the minerals and some of the B vitamins whole grains do contain are not well absorbed by the body.
I had already been subscribing to a similar diet; since I had so many food intolerances, (which you can read about in detail in the tab about my diet history), I had avoided gluten, dairy, sugar, and artificial colors and flavors since I was 12. However, I still enjoyed plentiful gluten free bread and baked goods, processed “healthy junk food”, beans, lots of nuts, “vegan cheese/meat alternatives”, and soy. I was vegetarian for a while as well, and I actually gained weight. This was, I’m sure, due to my increased consumption of carbs/grains, as I was ALWAYS hungry. I know now this is because I was eating so many carbs, my blood sugar was spiking and crashing, making me more hungry. The paleo followers would say I was a “sugar burner”, meaning my body was using sugar rather than fat to burn as fuel. I was irritable, bloated, tired, and always craving sugar during this time. Worst of all, I was supplementing with occasional visits to Starbucks, bakeries, and chocolate shops, which made me even hungrier and heavier.
I discovered the paleo diet a few years ago, seeking a diet that would help me shed some extra pounds and make me feel better. I had started to feel even worse, suffering from depression, mood swings, exhaustion, and other issues, so sought a specialist to help me. This was a few years after I was diagnosed with and “cured” of adrenal fatigue. The doctor told me that I would always have to be vigilant and not go back to the same behaviors that got me there–overtraining, overabundance of caffeine, and poor dietary choices being the causes of the adrenal fatigue–while improving my lifestyle even more. She encouraged paleo as we were already almost to that point.
Sadly, I did not adopt strict paleo right away, but the past year has been much better than ever before. I had one or two slip-ups, but I haven’t been binging on junk food anymore, I am more in tune with what I am eating (and not over-eating), and I feel I have very minimal cravings for some of my favorite “trigger foods” like chocolate, baked goods, or Starbucks. I have seen my body slim down, bloat disappear, and I have more energy. While there are still some kinks to be worked out, (I have to see a doctor about some lingering fatigue issues, and to see if I am indeed “allergic” to certain foods not previously realized), I feel ten times better than I did several years ago when I first heard about the paleo diet. To be fair, I don’t follow this plan “to the letter”; in some ways, my mom and I are stricter than other practitioners.
Here is what the paleo lifestyle means to me:
- Protein with almost every meal. But we eat less than recommended by many paleo sites. The protein we do eat is grass fed/finished and locally sourced.
- No sugar, grains, dairy, artificial anything, processed foods, high sugar fruits, and minimal caffeine/chocolate.
- Organic fruit and veggies.
- No coffee. Since coffee is a bean and is inflammatory, Cordain recommends paleo adherents not indulge. This is fine with me, since I can’t tolerate coffee anyway.
- Lots of water. By “lots of water” I mean high-quality water, like the kind we get from our local spring, not bottled water.
- Exercise every day.
- Vitamins and supplements.
- We use the most pristine body care products, not using anything with ingredients that we don’t understand or that doesn’t have a natural basis. I have found that I have sensitivities to scents, preservatives, chemicals, and additives found in typical cosmetics or body care products so it’s especially important.
- We want to know where our food comes from. We try to purchase only local, organic food from farms we know and trust.
This diet has been great, and contrary to what many say about the paleo diet, I would like to share my experiences briefly.
I CAN, and do, live without processed carbs like pasta, bread, and cake.
Despite what most insist, you don’t need processed carbs to survive. The carbohydrates from fruit and veggies is fine, and a lot healthier. I hardly ever have cravings for these foods since I “gave them up”.
You don’t have to eat massive amounts of meat
Many also seem to think that paleo denotes a diet of nothing but meat (or mostly meat but very few veggies). That is incorrect; paleo encourages MORE protein but not at an unsafe level. Of course, everyone’s body is different and some might feel they can’t eat the recommended amount of animal protein (I found, for example, that I feel heavy if I eat too much meat, no matter who kind). So if that’s the case, reduce the amount of protein. It’s about what makes your body feel the best, not what any strict guideline tells you to do. However, make sure not to overload on fat either, as that is a tendency.
Paleo will help you feel lighter/more energetic/slimmer (if done correctly)
I have found that the benefits of paleo far outweigh the cons. I feel much better without the processed carbs and sugar I had before. I didn’t realize what effect grains had on me until I gave them up. I believe everyone could benefit from this, especially athletes.
So from now on, this is what I will be writing about, and I hope it proves informative and interesting.
Is anyone reading also on the paleo diet? How has it helped you? Please feel free to leave a comment!