Monday, April 27, 2015

Jamie's Thoughts: I Gained and Lost Weight Eating Paleo -- What Gives?!

I'm not ashamed to admit that I came to Paleo to lose weight. I did.  But I stayed for the nutrient-dense, healthy, happy, super energy-filled lifestyle it affords me.  I feel great.  But--I did not lose weight on Paleo, at least not at first.  

When I started Paleo, I had a goal to lose the same ten pounds I'd been gaining and losing for years.  I followed all the conventional Paleo wisdom.  I did not fear fat.  I embraced grassfed butter.  I ate Paleo treats instead of processed or refined sugars. I refused to step on the scale, trusting my body to tell me I was full.  I started walking more and tried not to overdo the cardio.  I was committed--or so I thought.  

When I stepped on the scale in January this year after one year of faithful, Paleo-proud scale avoidance, I learned that I weighed ten pounds more than when I started.  Wait.  What?  I GAINED ten pounds, instead of losing it.  How could this be?

This revelation caused me to do some self reflection and examination.  Was I eating too many nuts?  Indulging in too many Paleo treats? Not enough exercise and moving?  Should I start lifting heavy things?  Do I need to give up coffee? Was I eating too many calories?  

Fortunately, at the same time I started a boot camp, which I want to detail in a separate blog post.  It's been life changing.  Turned me into a morning person who loves exercise!  But more on that later.  

Ultimately, the boot camp got me on the scale for the first time in a year, and weekly thereafter.  I got in touch with how much I was eating, thanks to some checking in on myfitnesspal.  And eating too much I was.  I was doing so many Paleo no-no's and I just didn't realize it.  Too much sugar, too many calories, not enough sleep.  All of it.  

After I started sleeping well, exercising regularly (got a standing desk at work too!), dialing down the sugar and watching my caffeine intake (read:  off the coffee wagon again), I lost the weight I gained in about three months.  It wasn't effortless.     
Now that I have started following all those lifestyle factors, the extra fat I put on is finally coming off, and is continuing to do so.  So, yea--if you aren't losing weight on Paleo, it really is a good idea to closely examine what you are doing. Because just giving up wheat isn't enough.  

These are the Paleo-friendly new habits I adopted lose the weight:  


It seems like such a cliche to say that we can be our own worst enemies.  I do believe that our inner dialogue shapes our reality though.  And it's just a fact of life that sometimes our minds play tricks on us.  It's important to figure out how to deal with that scenario when it does.  

I made a simple change in my thinking.  Every time I looked in the mirror or told myself something negative, particularly about my self image or physique, I would turn it around.  The way I do that is to remind myself of words of the oft-quoted Henry Ford:  “Whether you think you can, or you think you can't--you're right.” 

So in those  moments when I was telling myself, "you are never going to lose this weight" or "my thighs are always going to look like this no matter what I do" I reminded myself that--if those thoughts were my story, they would always be my reality.  And frankly, I was ready for a different story.  I have found this strategy to be remarkably helpful in staying the course. 


In my mind, this is probably the second biggest thing I've done for my health since going Paleo. I've written about coffee a number of times on this blog, because I love it so.  But it just doesn't work for me.  No matter the amount or time of day.  No matter if I put almond milk and maple syrup in it instead of half and half and sugar.  

You see, some of us tolerate caffeine really well. Some of us don't.  I'm in that unfortunate "don't" category.  My heart starts racing.  I get really tired in the early afternoon.  It affects my sleep, even if I only have one tall Starbucks' Pike Place in the morning. I talk fast.  And if a stressful event occurs later in the day, the taxing effect of caffeine causes me to become the worst version of myself.  I become very reactive.  Here's a blogpost from Melissa Hartwig detailing her similar experiences with coffee:  Caffeine Clean Four Months.  

Coffee increases cortisol production, which can lead to a whole host of negative effects on the body:  higher blood pressure, disrupted sleep, causing circulating fat to be deposited in your midsection, among others.  This is a great post from Sarah Ballantyne on The Pros and Cons of Coffee.  

The difference between then (when I was a coffee drinker) and now (coffee free) is stark.  My sleep is improved.  I don't get sleepy at 4 p.m.  My ability to handle stress throughout the day is drastically improved.  It's great.  There is no doubt in my mind that giving up coffee has significantly contributed to my weight loss over the last few months.  

A few different strategies helped me kick the habit.  First, I switched to tea.  I drink tea now, instead of coffee.  I even drink black tea which does have caffeine in it, but my body handles the caffeine differently.  If I go for a day without black tea, I do not have any negative side effects, like I used to without coffee.  

On occasion, I allow myself to have a decaf coffee.  This admittedly, isn't the most Paleo thing to do.  I know.  But let me explain.  The fear of not ever being able to enjoy the taste of coffee again (and believe me I have tried the herbal alternatives out there, and to me, they don't compare) always drove me to go back.  So, here and there, I drink decaf.  And guess what?  I don't crave it in the same desperate way that I used to because I have an alternative that won't send me into caffeine-overload land.  Allowing myself to have a decaf coffee once in a while (and yes, I am aware that there are many evils associated with decaf), keeps me on the straight and narrow most of the time.  It's not something I recommend drinking daily. 


When I started boot camp in January, I knew that if I was going to attend class regularly, I was going to have to go to bed really early.  Why? Because the classes started at 6:00 a.m. and 6:30 am and there were no other options.  This works great for my work schedule, but I knew that in order to wake up at that time on the regular, I was going to have to go to bed way earlier than I was accustomed to.  

I always thought I had the sleep thing pretty dialed in.  I went to bed on weeknights at 11:00 p.m. and woke up at 7:00 a.m. with regularity.  I didn't stray from that schedule often.  That's about 8 hours of sleep right, give or take a few minutes?  Wrong. It's just not the same.  

I started going to bed anywhere from 9 p.m. to 10:30 p.m., depending on which classes I was going to attend the following day.  Surprisingly, I started waking up more alert and with more energy when I went to bed earlier.  

All 8 hours are not created equal.  There is a huge difference in sleep quality if you are sleeping from 1 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. versus 10:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m.   The difference is that more non-REM deep sleep occurs in the evening and very early morning hours from 11 p.m. - 3:00 a.m.  This type of sleep allows the body to heal itself.  On the other hand, more REM, lighter sleep occurs from around 3:00 a.m. to 7:00 a.m. and is not as restorative.  Chris Kresser does a great job explaining this:  Chris Kresser on Sleep.  


Unless you are the Good Wife, which I am not, being a lawyer is largely a desk job.  I sit on my butt to write documents.  It's heady work.  

I need body movement to balance out the cerebral exercising I'm doing all day.  Enter:  boot camp.  I cannot say enough about getting up early and doing some challenging exercising in a group setting.  I definitely get the appeal of Crossfit.    

While I aim to do a post on the boot camp I joined at the beginning of this year, moving/exercising everyday, especially at the start of my day, has been immensely helpful to me.  I am more productive throughout the day as a result.  I find that I do not get drowsy at 4 p.m. like I used to. And of course, I'm just generally in a happier mood no matter what comes my way.  Plus, working out in a group offers the added benefit of community and camaraderie--a great way to start the day.  

Now, I know that Jason Seib and Sarah Fragoso, the Paleo fitness gurus, definitely don't advocate daily exercise.  As I understand it, Jason talks about the people he trains as doing two weight-lifting days with lots and lots of walking in between.  That sounds great too.  I mainly just try to listen to my body.  If i'm tired and haven't slept enough or well enough, I try to go outside and walk and enjoy the weather, instead of doing some high intensity workout or whatever.  

I was telling one of my boot camp buddies that one of the things I love most about exercising at the start of my day is that no matter what happens later, I already feel like I had a successful day, because I prioritized myself and had fun at the outset.  It's a great feeling, and I know that this new found love of early morning exercise has helped me lose those extra pounds I packed on last year.


I'll be the first one to admit that I have to watch myself with sugar.  Diabetes runs rampant in my family, and I know that I am pre-disposed to have problems with sugar.  

When I started Paleo, I operated under the mistaken belief that eating natural, unrefined sugars was just fine--that I could eat Paleo treats until my heart was content, because hey--a Paleo brownie is far better than a twinkie, right?  Well--yes and no.  

Sugar is sugar is sugar is sugar--even when its from a natural source like honey or maple syrup. It still acts like refined sugar in your body and it needs to be consumed sparingly.  

So, I cut way down on my consumption of Paleo treats.  Now they truly are a "treat" instead of a regular ritual.


After hearing some of my favorite authorities in the Paleo-sphere talking about resistant starch, I took notice.  

Resistant starch acts a lot like fiber because it passes through the digestive tract--you guessed it-- undigested.  Resistant starch can have health benefits like aiding weight loss, because it can help in insulin sensitivity, lower blood sugar levels, and help with satiety among other awesome benefits.  

Resistant starch is found in a raw potatoes, plantains, green bananas, and potato starch.  It's also found in cooked and cooled potatoes and rice, among others.  This list is by no means exhaustive.  

So to this end, I started eating cooked and cooled potatoes. And I can personally attest that it has aided in digestion and helps with satiety.  For this reason, I believe it's aided my weight loss over these few months.  


So many of these new habits go hand in hand.  I found that when I was drinking coffee--I would drink much less water throughout the day, which would leave me dehydrated, especially since coffee is a diuretic.  No coffee for Jamie = Jamie drinking more water.  Yep.  Just another benefit of being off the coffee drinking roller coaster.

I also find that working out in the morning gets me drinking more water too--since when I'm breaking a sweat I naturally gravitate towards drinking more water to replenish.  Drinking more water in the morning usually sets the tone for the rest of the day for me, too.  So, I get plenty of water all day long.


I don't have the good fortune to be part of a real life (and by real life I mean not internet-related) group of like-minded, real-food-loving, Paleo folk.  So I listen to Paleo-centric podcasts on my commute to and from work and when I am doing my weekly cook ups.  And I love it.  I find that listening to these podcasts not only helps me learn a ton of new information and keeps me well informed, but it also gives me a sense of community.  I feel like i'm not on this Paleo journey alone--and that's important, because in a world filled with SAD (Standard American Diet) food options, it's helpful to be reminded that there are others who feel as passionately about eating real food as you do.  

Some of my favorite podcasts are the Balanced Bites Podcast with Diane Sanfilippo and Liz Wolfe, the The Jassa Podcast with Jason Seib and Sarah Fragoso, and of course, The Paleo View Podcast with Dr. Sarah Ballantyne and Stacy Toth.  

I hope sharing my story and these newly developed habits helps some of you struggling to lose weight on Paleo.  

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