If you read my prior post, you know that I gave Paleo a try for the month of January. Now that it is over, I have decided to post my observations on the experience. In an effort to be an authentic writer, I must take an honest approach with this and explain why this isn’t the diet for me.
First of all, there is nothing inherently wrong with the Paleo diet. The premises are all genuine, with healthful intentions. The theory is that our paleolithic ancestors ate more naturally than we do today; they were hunter-gathers and ate as humans were intended to eat. They had no agriculture, processed foods, or storage facilities. They ate mostly plants and fresh meat and fish. And they were healthy; they had no obesity, no cancer, no heart disease, etc… so far as science knows. This style of eating as a modern day ‘diet’ has been around for at least 30 years, but just recently (in the past 6 years or so) has gained more popularity among athletes.
There is nothing inherently wrong with the values of this style of eating.
Scientific evidence supports one of the main premises, that eating an influx of highly processed, high-glycemic foods, and refined sugars is unhealthy.
However, what I learned is that the diet is confusing and exceptionally limiting. The Paleo diet recommends eating mostly meat, followed by select vegetables, healthy fats, and some fruits. According to the Paleo diet, our bodies are not designed to digest ‘toxic’ foods such as root vegetables, dairy, grains, and legumes. I do not agree with neglecting to fully understand these ‘modern day foods’, and their genuine health benefits. This diet is potentially great for those of us who have allergies to gluten or other digestive issues, but choosing it as a lifestyle otherwise is simply not the healthiest, in my own opinion.
So, how did I feel?
To be honest …..the first week was fantastic. But following that, I actually felt lower levels of energy, low motivation, and somewhat despondent, possibly due to a change in hormonal balance. I saw no athletic or fitness improvements; in fact running was a bit more challenging. My boyfriend had a similarly poor experience – he struggled with his allergies much of the month. As for acclaimed skin benefits, I saw none, and to boot an unexplained rash formed across my abdomen for about 2 weeks.
My issues with the diet ….
I understand the gains of consuming lean meats as a source of protein. However, the Paleo diet recommends a much higher amount than what I now know my body can consume. Meat is extremely acidic and slow to digest. Grocery store meat often brings with it growth hormones, bad bacteria, antibiotics, and high levels of omega-6 fatty acids. And I will not pretend for a minute that I am going to go to the expense of eating organic, grass-fed meat and wild fish, at the rate that this diet requires. It makes much more sense to consumer smaller amounts of meat & fish so that you can afford to buy higher quality. Meat is not bad, there are numerous health benefits. But it should not be relied upon as heavily as the Paleo diet suggests.
Meat is an excellent source of protein, but there are other options for healthy sources of protein, including beans, whole grains, and dairy. This brings us to the next issue. I realize the value in cutting back on high-glycemic, acidic grains. However, there is a multitude of health benefits associated with the consumption of cooked beans and certain, cooked grains – benefits, with little detriments, that I simply cannot ignore. Beans, whole grains, and root vegetables are high in fiber and protein, as well as essential minerals, which enhance production of good bacteria in our digestive system, balance hormones, and provide our bodies with needed carbohydrates.
At this point, I am going to take this experience as a lesson learned, but get back to eating the way my body dictates – without frantically and guiltfully wondering if it falls into what is accepted as Paleo.
Some of the Paleo recipes I found are actually quite tasty. So I may still occasionally cook and eat Paleo meals. Other times I may have meatless meals – I may actually have entire meatless days, if you can imagine that. And yes, there will be times, every now and then, that I will eat a big bowl of delicious pasta, or a frothy dark beer and enjoy every bit of it, guilt free – because that is what runners do.
What do I recommend?
Try out the Paleo diet and other diets that make sense to you for yourself. Experiment. See what your body responds to positively, and what it responds to negatively. And then listen. If you are struggling with digestive health, consult a doctor. And then create an eating plan with few, simple, easy-to-remember rules, that you can feasibly live by. And write it down, holding yourself accountable.
Here is the plan I will now be using:
– Eat mostly plant foods, especially vegetables and fruits, but also to include: well-cooked whole grains, legumes, and root vegetables.
– Consume moderate amounts of healthy fats, oils, nuts, and seeds, and lean meat and fish
– Limited dairy intake, no processed milks or cheeses
– Significantly restricted amounts of refined sugars, processed foods, and breads
– Be knowledgeable about the foods I am eating. Be intentional about eating mostly foods that don’t come with labels, and reading and understanding the labels of those that do.