Two weeks ago I embarked on an experiment to figure out if there is any truth to the Paleo diet (as in “daily intake of food” kind of diet, not just a way to lose weight). This diet piqued my interest because the guy i heard it from (Adam Ticknor) is a personal trainer/retired Marine scout sniper and was in great shape. No diet has ever sucked me in before because they are not geared toward athletes and feature emaciated models who probably don’t eat anything. You can learn some more about it on Adam’s blog and decide for yourself.
To give you perspective, my diet has always been “great” as considered by current advisories of nutrition. I eat a lot of whole grains, fruits, veggies, and low fat milk. All of it is organic, and I never eat fast food or cokes.
But before I go over the results, here are some of the highlights of the theory behind Paleo, so that you can have a brief idea of what it’s about:
* The rules are simple: you can only eat meat, veggies, fruits, and nuts. No dairy (until your gut heals), grains, (Yes that includes OMG WTF!?! WHOLE GRAINS TOO!?!?!?!?!?!) or legumes.
* The USDA food pyramid is horse crap. Bear in mind it was produced in 1994 and modeled on research older than that. It’s produced by the United States Department of Agriculture, the regulatory body created to ensure that the U.S. agricultural commodities (like corn, soy, and wheat) are profitable (small conflict of interest?). It is this same body that is responsible for most of the “nutritional” information being taught.
* Grains and sugars are generally high glycemic foods that trigger your body to release insulin, which signals the body to store fat and slowly increase insulin resistance (you may have heard of a “rare“disease called Type II diabetes here in the US).
* Many foods (grains especially) contain gluten, a protein that appears in many grains (and an astonishing amount of everyday foods). Gluten aggravates the native flora of your intestinal tract/gut (see celiac disease), causing a variety of problems until the gut can heal itself. Many autoimmune diseases and bowel problems (Chrohn’s, IBS, celiac, etc..) have been completely resolved by following a Paleo diet.
* Here’s an illustration to understand why grains are bad: most fruits “want” to be eaten. Why? Because when the animal (or American fatso) eats them and takes a crap, they’re spreading the seeds (which are protected from our stomach acids and enzymes) and even are so polite as to fertilize them. Grains are the opposite. If they are consumed, that is the end of the road. They will not survive the stomach and will be rendered inert in the feces. Thus, the grains have natural toxins in them to discourage being eaten (Most of you will see the word “toxins” and think, ‘well gee, I haven’t rolled over dead from poisoning.’ Not those kind of toxins; think “irritants”). Notice how organic meat is grass fed instead of grain fed? The principle is the same.
* Eating fat does not make you fat, and it is in fact both beneficial and necessary. It is the carbs from grains that cause this. Carbs, whether complex or simple are ultimately turned into glucose, which again causes increased insulin levels and storage of fat. Notice how most people eating low fat/lots of whole grains can’t lost any weight?
* Your body can use both proteins and fats to make glucose (rather than carbs), which is necessary for brain function.
If you know anything about nutrition, you know that the previous highlights are the equivalent of telling a mathematician that 2 + 2 does not equal 4; it is both shocking and difficult to believe.
That is why I have offered my body up as a human experiment.
I began this experiment weighing in at 180 pounds. I was not in very good shape (by my standards), but certainly not overweight at 6’1; most people would call me “skinny”.
Within 7 days I hit 172. Yes, that is 8 pounds dropped in 7 days.
My initial instinct told me it was merely water weight, but that proved to be incorrect.
Not only did my weight stay there, but as the diet continued, I lost even more weight eventually bottoming out at 170 at the end of the 2 weeks. A concerted effort was made to eat similar portion sizes in order to be getting the same number of calories, and I also abstained from exercise.
How did I feel?
The first few days were rough, I won’t lie. No matter how much food I ate, I felt constantly hungry. I didn’t have much energy, and my head felt cloudy. If you’ve ever fasted it was very similar in nature.
Obviously it is difficult to withhold yourself from most of your favorite foods. In The Paleo Solution, Robb Wolf discusses that there are receptors that are bound by carbs that are the same ones that bind heroin and cocaine, so you can be literally addicted to those foods. This definitely seemed true because of how crappy I felt. According to Robb, this is also the period that your gut is healing.
After several days of this, it seemed to clear up. I felt great, I wasn’t tired after work, and I was sleeping well. My pooping became very regular, and was always firm and required no toilet paper (I still wiped just to be sure ;).
Don’t say I was never real with you….
Toward the end of the diet, my body began adjusted, and I was craving healthier foods.
As a point of interest, I did violate the diet once. Just over a week into the diet, I ate at a dinner that was being held for my cousin, and not wanting to be insulting, I ate a couple rolls and some grits.
Guess what happened?
Within an hour of the meal I had fairly intense bloating, which was followed by loose stool. The day after I catered a wedding. I had to poop 4 times during it, and with 0 being “the meat in that burrito looked really undercooked” and 10 being “did someone just hit me in the balls with a baseball bat?” my stomach felt somewhere between 8 or 9.
The biggest overall problem is the sheer shock of trying to view food completely differently. Cooking is pretty easy when you can always make a casserole, throw some meat and cheese on some bread, or throw a pizza in the oven. Your menu significantly shrinks when you can’t have grains or dairy. I had no clue how many carbs I was eating, not just on a daily basis but every meal.
I found myself eating a lot of plain veggies, fruits, meats, and nuts. Water gets old after awhile. Sharing a fridge with people that are not bound by the same rules makes it even more difficult. As you eat your broccoli, asparagus, squash, and trout while everyone else is eating burritos, burgers, and pizza, it is a bit demoralizing.
I purchased a Paleo cookbook and have learned some new tricks about trying to spice things up (literally). I found that if you prepare a lot of your food over the weekend, you’ll be a lot less tempted to crumble when you come home from work hungry and tired.
What are the implications?
I was blown away by the amount of fat I cut (and that was without exercise). I was consuming more meat than usual (and thus more fat), and still lost weight. I think the information about high glycemic foods is fairly obvious and is even available on Wikipedia. It’s a simple logical deduction that if something makes you fat, it’s probably not good.
My system is probably a bit more sensitive than most (my Grandmother has Celiac disease), so maintaining a 100% strict Paleo diet is maybe not necessary for some. However, I would advise everyone to try it for 30 days and see how you feel. You’ve got nothing to lose.
Personally, I enjoyed the discipline of it (I have some sadistic tendencies), and I know I felt better. Since the trial stage of the diet ended, I found myself desiring foods with grains less, as my body almost seemed altered from the experience. I plan on starting the diet back soon and will post an update about my progress soon.
*As a caveat, it is of interest to note the reactions of individuals that I have discussed Paleo with. Most people react with obvious shock at the intensity of what the diet requires. Some are brave enough to admit they aren’t willing to give grains up, which is in line with most Americans (and we’re seeing how well that’s working out). It’s sad that a lot of people constantly complain about their weight, how they feel, being depressed, and when presented with an option that could help them, it is dismissed because it’s “too hard” or “it can’t be right to not eat grains.”