Friday, January 29, 2016

Jamie's Thoughts: What is Paleo All About Anyway?

I have a lot of people ask me what Paleo is.  I’ve gone so far down the Paleo rabbit hole (listening to podcasts, reading books, following blogs, etc.) that I forget not everyone knows.   I’ll start out by telling you what Paleo is not, followed quickly by what it actually is…

1. Paleo is NOT Just About Eating Like a Caveman

A lot of criticism of the Paleo lifestyle is based on a misconception:  That Paleo is all about eating exactly like a caveman; that Paleo attempts to replicate Paleolithic man’s diet before the invention of agriculture.  It's true that a starting point for Paleo includes a diet of meat, vegetables and fruits and excludes dairy, all grains, legumes (including peanuts), refined sugar, corn, soy and seed oils.  

Confusion arises when the news reports evidence of man eating things like oats or grain many years earlier than believed—these reports are thought to debunk the rationale behind the Paleo lifestyle. But in reality, Paleo evolves, incorporating information gathered by modern science.  

2. But it is About Removing Foods that Irritate YOUR Gut

One Paleo cornerstone is to refrain from eating foods that irritate your gut.  And the foods that are not considered Paleo--grains, dairy, legumes, refined sugar, corn, soy, and seed oils are common gut irritants and inflammatory.  Some tolerate these foods quite well, while others may have food allergies or sensitivities. 

That’s why it’s recommended to remove all these common gut-irritating foods from your diet for about a month or even longer, and then slowly reintroduce them and see if you experience any side effects.  Reintroduction of wheat (after going gluten free) may cause severe stomach pain for gluten sensitive folks (This is actually not true for me).  Reintroduction of dairy may cause diarrhea or completely the opposite reaction-constipation. Or maybe after reintroduction of legumes or some refined sugar--skin irritation, painful joints, bloating, gas, headache, anxiety, tiredness or even brain fog develops.  These are all signs of food sensitivity.  And the foods that are considered Paleo no-nos may cause irritation in the gut, leading to a "leaky gut," which may then in turn cause problems throughout the body.  The best way to explain it without going into all the science-y stuff is this way:  If you put bad, cheap fuel in your car, it won’t run well or maybe not at all.  If you consume junk foods (foods that have no nutritional value or that tend to irritate the gut), the same is true.  Your body won’t run well.  It can cause autoimmune conditions, IBS, depression, acne, behavioral issues in children, and a whole host of other health issues we thought were unrelated to diet.

3. Paleo is Not Necessarily Low-Carb

Another misconception is that Paleo is exclusively a low-carb diet.  And when it first came out, it was.  Removal of starchy carbs (potatoes), grains, refined sugars, and limiting fruits necessarily led to that result.  But over time, it’s adapted to meet different needs.  A low-carb approach is not necessarily optimal for everyone.  Here’s a link to a great article from the Paleo Mom about the dangers of low-carb diets:  

4. But it is About Finding a Macro-Nutrient Balance that Works for You

Paleo is a starting place, a framework for you to make necessary adjustments.  And one of those areas that requires tweaking is figuring out macros.  There is not one macro-nutrient template that will be effective for everyone.  Macros are not one-size fits all.  Some people do better with more carbs, others with more fat and protein. Your macro needs may vary depending on your level of activity, your fitness or other goals, or your health history.  It’s about experimenting with what works for you.  
5. Paleo isn’t an All the Meat You Can Eat Diet

When I explain that I eat Paleo, people often ask, “Isn’t that a lot of meat?”  I think for some it’s an excuse to eat lots of fatty cuts of meat—bacon, steak, ribs, whatever.  That may be because of the low-carb, high fat origins of the diet.  But Paleo isn’t all about the protein, or the meat.  

6. But it is About Eating Lots of Veggies and Fruits Too

The other component to Paleo is eating a nutrient-dense diet.  A standard American diet is full of empty calories and woefully deficient in micro-nutrients.  Paleo is not just about what you remove from your food regimen, it’s about what you add to it:  lots of leafy greens and other micro-nutrient packed veggies.  Paleo also means trying out foods like sardines and offal—especially liver and bone broth.  These foods are nutritional powerhouses.  Here's a link to my bone broth recipe: Healing Bone Broth.  

7. Paleo Isn’t Necessarily a Weight-Loss Diet

A lot of people believe that Paleo is a weight-loss diet.  That if you start to follow it, you will immediately lose weight.  I can tell you from experience that this is not necessarily true.  For some, it most certainly is.  But for others, it isn’t. In fact, you can be eating a completely Paleo-friendly diet and still gain weight.  

8. But it Can help with Weight Loss

I wrote a blog post last year about how I gained and lost weight on Paleo.  Check it out here:  How I Gained and Lost Weight on Paleo.  If you don’t eat too many Paleo treats.  If you follow all the Paleo lifestyle factors (sleep, stress management, movement).  If you watch your portions and even check in on your calorie count from time to time.   Dialing it in in these ways can help with the fat loss, especially if your weight loss is stalled.
9. Paleo Isn’t a Short-Term Diet

In my experience, many Paleo newbies begin by doing some sort of 30-day or three-week challenge, like a Whole 30 or the 21-Day Sugar Detox.  I first did a 21-day cleanse recommended to me by a holistic practitioner in 2005/6 that looked very much like Paleo.  While these are useful tools to discover which foods may be problematic, it sets up the mentality that Paleo is only a short-term solution to a lifelong problem.   And that’s the problem with challenges:  they're good because they bring us to better decision-making food-wise and lifestyle factor-wise; but bad because the short-term duration of a challenge sets the expectation that this way of life is not sustainable.

10. But it is a Lifestyle Choice

My experience is that Paleo is a long-term solution. A lifestyle.  A lot of people tell me, “I could never do that.”  Or “Life’s too short to not eat what you want.”   But when you become aware of how your body reacts to certain triggers—be it a dairy/gluten intolerance, or even just too much sugar, lack of exercise, or lack of sleep—you naturally start avoiding those triggers.  You make a conscious choice. And that’s the difference between a Paleo challenge and a Paleo lifestyle. In a challenge, it’s easy to fall into the mental trap of telling yourself, “I can’t eat that,” because I’m on a diet, or I’m doing a Whole 30. But a lifestyle choice is about so much more. The internal dialogue of a lifestyle choice shifts to, “I don’t want to eat that.”  It’s about what you want, it’s about your choices, not about deprivation.  It comes from a more empowered place.  And that's how to set yourself up for the long haul. 

11. Paleo Isn’t about Eating Perfectly all the Time

There is a lot of debate about what is Paleo and what isn’t.  And a lot of folks, especially when they first start, are very rigid about these definitions.  That has become much less important to me as I have moved through my own Paleo journey.  It may be good to be strict at the outset because it takes time to learn about what your body can tolerate and what food-fuel makes it thrive.  It took me one and a half years to conclude that dairy was causing my acne.  (Insert sad-faced emoji here).  But nevertheless, I will from time to time include dairy in my diet because I know that I eat certain dairy products in small amounts without major issues.  And I still continue to learn, tweak, and refine my understanding of those foods that give me energy and those that do not. 

12. But it is about Finding What Works for You

Paleo isn’t a rigid set of rules that everyone must follow or you can't call yourself Paleo.  It doesn't work that way.  As I've said before, it's not one size fits all.  It’s also not about being perfect all the time.  Paleo is all about learning what works for you, and making healthy choices, better choices than before those Standard American diet days.  And if you eat a taco or whatever, it’s also about not letting it derail you.  Because fretting and stressing out about food all the time isn’t Paleo either.  

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