To Paleo or Not to Paleo… Or, Where the Journey Began…

Paleo-Chart

No way… That can’t be good for you… Wait, you mean you don’t eat any bread or pasta or fill in the blank??? I can’t tell you how many times those words have come out of my mouth when the subject of the Paleo diet came up. To each their own I figured, but I definitely knew it wasn’t for me when the idea was introduced. With a vastly wide range of clients under my watch, many have asked me about the Paleo diet and other low/no carb diets so I wanted to get this info posted.

Where did the Paleo Diet come from?

While the Paleo diet has been around since the early days of the human story before the dawn of agriculture, the modern understanding of it was published in 1975 by a gastroenterologist named Walter L. Voegtlin after studying anthropological evidence of Paleolithic eating habits in an effort to discover methods of treating modern ailments such as Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome and colitis. His research pointed to evidence that our ancestors diet consisting mostly of proteins, fats and whatever fruits and vegetables could be gathered was effective in treating many of these conditions. Fast forward to present and there is an overwhelming amount of information being made available on the subject from the likes of Gary Taubes, Robb Wolf and others from print to podcast.

What is the Paleo Diet?

Without sounding too much like a Geico commercial, it’s simple… If a caveman could find, catch or kill it, it’s Paleo. Basic rules:

  • Lean meat, fish and seafood
  • Fruits and vegetables
  • No cereals or grains
  • No legumes
  • No dairy
  • No processed foods

Why Paleo?

Without getting too deep into the exact science behind it, let’s stick to the basic theory for this post. I will get into further breakdowns in future posts or you can read “Good Calories, Bad Calories” by Gary Taubes or “The Paleo Solution” by Robb Wolf. The modern human genetic code is believed to be 99.9% the same as it was 10,000 years ago, several thousand years before the dawn of agriculture. Contrary to what our friends at the American Dietetic Association have to say on the need for grains and complex carbs in our diets, our bodies not only are not made to efficiently process these products, many of the same grains that our tax dollars are spent subsidizing each year are actually making us fatter and sicker.

It essentially comes down to reestablishing hormone balance in our bodies, specifically insulin. Think of insulin as a parking lot attendant controlling incoming traffic, or in insulin’s case the processing and storage of glucose from carbs.  Glucose is processed into glycogen in for storage in the muscles and liver for future use.  Just as the lot attendant has a limited number of spots available, the muscles and liver can only hold so much glycogen. When the lot is full, drivers begin looking for other less desirable places to park such as side streets and alleys. This additional glucose begins being stored in fat cells.

Does it work?

This is a good point for me to tell the rest of my story. As I said earlier, when first introduced to the Paleo Diet, I was 100% sure that it was not for me and skeptical of what results, if any, could be seen from such a drastic nutritional change. But, because I wanted to be able to speak from experience when consulting my clients I committed to a 30 “trial” to see for myself. I figured what the heck, 30 days of suffering and then celebrate with some homemade pasta to carb back up when it was all over.

The first week I almost caved. Around day 5 I was really dragging, trying to focus in class was a struggle and had next to no motivation in the gym. Somewhere in the next couple days I started noticing a significant change in my energy levels, most immediately in my energy when I would wake up in the morning. I keep a pretty crazy schedule between my job, being a full time student, weekly volunteer work at a local hospital and duties in the Guard. If there wasn’t some form of caffeine in my system when I woke up, I was a zombie for the day. This changed almost immediately around that one week mark. I actually felt awake when I would wake up. The next change I noticed was a more sustained level of energy during the day. Does that mean I am bouncing off the wall every day? Absolutely not. What it does mean is that the amount of energy I feel when I wake up is typically how I feel at the end of my day and directly attributable to the quality of sleep I got the night before. Most noticeably, the ups and downs in energy during the day were gone.

Physically I lost 7 lbs immediately in the first week. This was not my desire and was a huge factor in me almost quitting the trial before I lost any more weight. Right around that same 1 week point, I began putting the weight back on and getting back to my normal 172-175 pound range, but I had droped my body fat percentage by 4.5%. I did not notice any noticeable increases in any 1 rep max lifts, but this also could be attributed to the fact that my schedule during the 30 day trial did not allow me to work out more than twice in any given week. I did notice an increase however in my cardiovascular endurance as well as my muscular endurance in pushing for additional distance and reps.

Should you go Paleo?

A better question to ask is, are you committed enough to go Paleo. First and foremost, as I tell every client, get your diet CLEAN! If you are not disciplined enough to maintain a clean diet, you shouldn’t even consider Paleo because you will not commit to it. There is no kinda going Paleo. Prior to my 30 day trial, my diet was clean. If I had a cheat meal it was a loaded baked potato or lasagna, not a trip through a drive through window. Get your diet clean first.

So should you try Paleo? I would recommend it to anyone without hesitation. Only you can decide if it is right for you, but commit to a full 30 days and don’t cheat. Only then will you get a clear picture of what results you will receive. Remember what I said about hormone imbalance. If you cheat in the middle, your body will readjust back to storing fat. Be committed for the full 30 days and then decide if it is right for you.

Famous last words…

No way… That can’t be good for you… Wait, you mean you don’t eat any bread or pasta or fill in the blank??? My 30 days have come and gone and my 30 day “trial” has become a lifestyle from which I can’t imagine going back to my old ways. I’ll let the results of commitment to a strict Paleo Diet and 1-2 days in the gym a week speak for themself…

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