29 Apr Adopting the Paleo Diet: A Primer
As obesity rates continue to rise, those affected are desperate to turn the tide. Countless attempts at dieting have landed many people back where they started, bruising their confidence. While some have begun to lose hope, others have noticed the buzz generated by the Paleo Diet.
Consistent anecdotal and scientific evidence has many adherents reporting significant weight loss after following the precepts set out by this regimen. Is adopting the Paleo Diet the right move for you? We’ve never met in person before, but we are confident this way of living can work for anybody.
What is the Paleo Diet?
In short, adopting the Paleo Diet is a way of living that aims to bring us back to the ways of our Stone Age ancestors. The theory behind this lifestyle contends the human body has not evolved nearly as fast as modern society.
Besieged by grains, dairy, and food additives which only arrived very recently on the timescale of human existence, our digestive system cannot cope adequately when it attempts to digest them.
The inflammation created has put countless people in our society at risk of developing heart disease, cancer, obesity, and diabetes.
The Paleo Diet fixes this problem by having its adherents only consume foods humans have been able to digest properly throughout the history of the species.
By doing this and avoiding processed foods or those which contain grain, dairy, or artificially added sugar, you can finally lose weight, add muscle, and find the energy you’ve been lacking in your daily life for far too long.
Grain consumption leads to obesity
After years of being told that high-fat foods were responsible for rising obesity levels, study after study is now squarely pointing the finger at a different culprit: grains and simple sugars.
How can this be? The answer lies in what happens when grain and sugar are broken down in your digestive system. When compounds like milled grains or high fructose corn sugar are dissolved into their constituent parts, high levels of glucose and advanced glycation end products are released.
Together, these substances cause inflammation throughout the body, causing everything from insulin resistance to reduced leptin production.
Insulin resistance can cause a positive feedback loop where increased glucose levels suppress the effectiveness of the pancreas and liver when it comes to calming blood sugar levels (that is, the ability to release insulin), leading to even higher glucose levels. Eventually, excess glucose ends up getting stored in fat cells, creating the inner mechanism which drives obesity.
Another part of the problem is caused when excess glucose enters the brain. Here, the inflammation it causes suppresses the release of leptin, a hormone responsible for hunger control. When reduced amounts of this compound are produced, the brain kicks off a series of biochemical processes that end up stimulating the vagus nerve, causing hunger pangs.
This triggers you to seek out food even if you don’t need it – over time, this leads heavy consumers of grains and simple sugars on a slow march towards obesity.
What are you allowed to eat on the Paleo Diet?
Now that we know how carb-laden foods have saddled us with the bodies we have today, we can take steps to overhaul what we eat to match what our ancestors used to consume.
Let’s just start by saying you won’t be confined to consuming lettuce and water on this diet – anything your caveman ancestors were able to eat is allowed under this regimen. This means all unprocessed meats, fish, eggs, fruits, vegetables, nuts, most spices, and non-industrial fats and oils are in play.
When overhauling your fridge and pantry, take note of the following: (1) corn is not a vegetable, it is a grain, (2) fruit juice does not count as fruit, as it lacks fibre and often contains sugary additives, and (3) peanuts are not nuts, they are legumes, and thus are banned for those on the Paleo Diet.
What is forbidden by the Paleo Diet?
Many foodstuffs brought into existence from the Agricultural Revolution onward are not permitted for those adopting the Paleo Diet.
Any and all grains are banned, as they contain gluten, a notorious inflammatory agent our bodies have not evolved to digest since we started eating them a mere 10,000 years ago.
All legumes and beans are also excluded, as they contain phytic acid and lectin. Phytic acid binds to nutrients contained in the foods you consume and inhibits their uptake by the body, while lectin is a protein that has been linked to the development of leaky gut.
Industrial oils (that is, oils crafted from seeds versus natural oils sourced from olives and coconuts) have no place in the Paleo Diet due to the presence of Omega 6 PUFAs.
This compound breaks down easily into oxidized fats – this form has been shown to have severe inflammatory effects when exposed to structures in the human body; as such, anyone following a Paleo diet should avoid using these cooking oils at all costs.
When adopting the Paleo Diet, shoppers should stick to the outside of the supermarket as much as possible, as it is along the fringes where most whole foods can be found. However, some goods you’ll need will be located in the aisles, where most forbidden food items are located.
This means you’ll have to get good at reading labels – before buying a seemingly Paleo-friendly product, always check the ingredient label – if there is any mention of fructose, high fructose corn sugar (HFCS), lactose, or evaporated cane juice, it means sugar has been added to the product for flavoring purposes.
These additives can dramatically increase blood sugar, decreasing insulin sensitivity over time, which then leads to undesired uptakes in body fat.
Transitioning to the Paleo Diet
We’re not going to ‘sugar coat’ it: adopting the Paleo Diet is a tough ask for many people. This eating regimen is such a dramatic departure from the typical North American diet that changing ingrained habits will be a task in itself.
Even as you begin to cut ties with your old eating patterns, though, another problem will arise: sugar dependency.
Suddenly cutting off the flow of sucrose doesn’t come without consequences: side effects will manifest after the first couple days, with hunger pangs, headaches, aches and pains, irritability, and other unpleasant symptoms.
After several days to two weeks after adopting the Paleo Diet, though, you’ll come out the other side in better shape than ever.
To weather the storm, you’ll need a solid plan. Set yourself up for success by plotting out your meals. Keep things simple at first – two types of breakfast, lunch, and dinner per week will simplify grocery shopping and food preparation, the latter of which can often be done in bulk one night per week.
To expand further on the latter point: grab a bunch of Pyrex food containers, set aside a couple hours on Sunday evening, and make enough servings of each meal to last you the week. Divvy up each completed meal in your containers, and put them in your deep freeze.
This way, all you’ll have to do is toss it in the microwave, zap it for a few minutes, and you have a healthy, ready-to-eat dish ready to go.
If you have an exercise routine in place or if you will be establishing one, ensure you are getting enough energy to cover your caloric needs day-to-day.
If you aren’t getting enough carbs to address additional energy requirements, you’ll feel weak and hungry. Not only that, but your body may also catabolize lean muscle in an attempt make up the deficit, which defeats the purpose of working out in the first place.
Avoid this scenario by using an online calorie calculator. Enter your height, body weight, and age, then input the activities you perform regularly during the week. This will give you a baseline number to work with – compare it to the food calories you usually get and make adjustments.
This may mean an additional pork chop at dinner, slices of avocado inside your lettuce burger, or the addition of potatoes/sweet potatoes as a side. Some paleo dieters treat these root vegetables as a banned substance, but with care, they can be used when adopting the Paleo Diet.
Having been around in the wild and used by the Inca for eons before being spread around the world by Europeans, they would have been foraged and eaten by our cave people brethren, making it an acceptable food for those following our dietary regimen.
As you move forward with adopting the Paleo Diet, we understand you might be going it alone. Roommates have no obligation to follow you down this path, and family members may not get your sudden distaste for grains and sugary snacks.
While they shouldn’t feel compelled to change along with you, there are things your loved ones can do to support your new lifestyle choice. Start by getting them to grant you space where you can store Paleo-friendly foods – this will help avoid the temptation caused by cookie bags and packages of pasta as you push them aside to get to your Paleo-friendly food stash.
When you cook for your family or friends, make modular meals. For example, when you make spaghetti and meatballs for the grain eaters in your life, serve the fleshy globes atop regular pasta for them, and atop shredded, steamed spaghetti squash/zucchini for yourself.
Institute one cheat day per week
Adopting the Paleo Diet can be fun if you put enough effort into creating compatible meals week-to-week. However, all but the most hardcore adherents will end up missing some of their most favourite grain/sugar/legume-based foods.
The more you try to suppress these feelings, the more they will expand in your head, leading to an increased risk of relapse. Head off the complete collapse of your efforts by allowing yourself one time per week where all foods are fair game – a cheat day.
You may think this is a counterproductive move and against the spirit of what it means to eat healthily but bear with us. By sending yourself into caloric surplus once per week, you’ll trigger metabolic processes which can downshift when you are restricting calories.
Not only that, but you’ll be giving yourself a psychological release valve that will keep you on the straight and narrow. Craving croissants? Tell yourself you can have it on Saturday (or whenever your cheat day is). By giving yourself a day when you can stuff your face with whatever you desire, dietary adherence becomes much easier.
Worried about temporary weight gain resulting from the sudden spike in simple sugars that are about to hit your system? Before gorging yourself on cupcakes or french toast, grab a bottle of cinnamon and coat their surface with it before digging in.
Studies have shown this spice acts to blunt the effects of glucose uptake by fat cells, so have some at the ready before pigging out.
Make physical activity part of your day
Adopting the Paleo Diet isn’t just about being selective about what you choose to put into your body – it’s also about how you move it. While going to the gym is a noble endeavor, the static movements laid out by the machines within can hold you back from unlocking the true power of your body.
You’ll also want to put your body through the physical rigours your ancient ancestors would have faced on a daily basis.
This means running, going for walks in the woods, engaging in body weight exercises, doing pull-ups using tree branches, lifting rocks, and so on.
In your everyday life, it means picking the stairs over the elevator or escalator, commuting to/from via human power (walking, biking) where practicable, and finding excuses to spend time outdoors at home (e.g. raking leaves, gardening, throwing a football around with your friends/kids).
Picking up one or more sports is another excellent way to introduce different types of motion into your life. Don’t worry about being a novice at sports – everyone starts somewhere. Besides, with lessons for individual sports and beginner leagues for team sports available, there’s a tribe of people just like you out there – join them.