There are tons of misconceptions about the Paleo diet. I even wrote a blog post criticizing it's perfectionistic and dogmatic "rules" that discourage people from following it's nutrient dense template. What comes to mind when you think of Paleo?
Hundreds of aesthetically pleasing containers of meal prep - a la instagram?
Ripped dudes in a cross-fit gym talking about PR's and protein?
Whatever comes to mind, there's no question that this way of eating is a popular trend, and although it can be rigid and restrictive, I believe that Paleo, when modified to fit your nutritional needs and goals, is the best way to nourish your body and mind.
So, just to clarify, when I use the term "Paleo", what I really mean is: a diet based on eating nutrient-dense, real food ingredients in order to nourish your body and mind. "Paleo" just happens to be much easier and shorter :)
What does the Paleo diet include?
- Grass fed meats
- Pasture raised eggs and poultry
- Wild caught seafood
- Healthy fats like olive, coconut, avocado
- Plenty of veggies and fruit
- Nuts & Seeds
What does the Paleo diet exclude?:
- Processed foods
- Addes sugars
Do I follow these recommendations to a T? Hell no. I like to think of the Paleo diet as a road trip, with (Insert health goal here) as the destination. Eating strict Paleo is probably going to be the fastest route, but if you drive straight through without stopping to pee, or stretch your legs, or get a snack...you're going to lose your f***ing mind.
Besides being proven to prevent diseases like diabetes [source], parkinson’s, and alzheimer’s (which is amazing) I find that most people are more concerned with current, chronic symptoms that will unfortunately get dismissed by your MD or given a bandaid to cover up.
These are things like fatigue, digestive problems, weight gain, anxiety/depression and acne. Although seemingly insignificant compared to something like Alzheimer's, daily symptoms such as fatigue or depression can seriously lower a person's quality of life.
In mypersonal experience (and experiences with clients) the most effective way to alleviate these symptoms (without a rx) and greatly improve your quality of life is first through a Paleo -style nutrition plan. Here’s why:
Think of a “healthy” Standard American Diet (SAD): Whole grain cereal for breakfast, sandwich for lunch, pasta for dinner. You eat a diet similar to this, day in and day out, and wonder why you can’t seem to function in the morning until a verrry large coffee hits your lips. So what’s going on? Every time we consume a meal high in refined carbohydrates, blood sugar levels (glucose) increase rapidly (think sugar rush). The pancreas responds by releasing insulin to bring blood sugar levels back into balance. Without energy-sustaining nutrients like fat and protein, this balance does not last long. Soon enough, the liver becomes involved by releasing glucagon in attempts to bring blood sugar back up.
Glucagon provides a quick surge of energy, followed by another crash, leading us to reach for more sugar, caffeine, and refined carbs. Once again, insulin is released in the bloodstream to bring blood glucose levels back into balance. (Repeat this process multiple times a day for all the years you have been alive, and it is easy to see why your body is pissed off!) Unfortunately, processed carbohydrate meals (like in the SAD example) do not keep us satisfied for long, and soon enough after the initial energy “spike” we are back to where we started, craving more sugar or caffeine or highly refined carbs in order to get on with our day.
Additionally, our adrenal glands often have to step in to combat these insulin surges with an output of cortisol. When cortisol rhythm and other adrenal hormones become out of balance, an entire cascade of hormone dis-regulation results….and it ain’t pretty. This often looks like hormonal acne, infertility and thyroid disfunction, but most commonly, the result is crippling fatigue, aka all-I-wanna-do-is-watch-Netflix.
Eating a Paleo-style diet full of healthy fats, proteins, and nutrient dense carbohydrates will take you off of this blood sugar rollercoaster for good, allowing your adrenals to heal, your hormonal balance to become regulated, and best of all - your energy to return!
2. Poop problems
If you’ve ever gone to doctor and been diagnosed with IBS, you know the frustration of having a weird combination of constipation, bloating, and diarrhea. Unfortunately, there is no “cure” for IBS, besides figuring out which foods are triggering unwanted digestive reactions, and/or determining other areas of dysfunction like low stomach acid or stagnant bile flow. This is why one of my first digestive protocols is a simple elimination diet (basically, a strict paleo diet) that gets rid of gluten, dairy, soy, alcohol, and added sugars. I know this sounds intimidating, which is why my podcasting cohost and fellow NTP, Andrea, created a Free 7-day course that will break down EXACTLY which foods to eat, as well as the “grey area” foods I mentioned before. (Enroll below)
Our skin cells regenerate every 27 days, which means that the foods we eat become the raw material necessary for creating beautiful skin. When we continue to consume inflammatory foods like refined oils, processed food and added sugars, the result is lackluster skin with an excess or absence of proper levels of skin sebum, which often leads to painful acne. Incorporating a wide variety of Paleo foods is the best way to get the appropriate amount of skin healing nutrients like zinc, vitamin A, Vitamin K2, selenium, collagen and essential fatty acids.
4. Weight gain
Did you know that weight gain is actually a symptom of a greater issue, rather than just a problem in and of itself? Often times, our weight will fluctuate based on what our hormones are doing (our hormones control everything from energy levels to fat storage to sex drive). For example, estrogen levels that are too high in relation to progesterone (due to certain foods, alcohol consumption, or environmental toxins) actually encourage amounts of fat storage, particularly around the butt and thighs. Weight gain can also be indicative of the body’s impaired ability to detoxify. When all avenues of detoxification are not working to expel toxins properly (the digestive tract, skin, etc.) these toxins must be stored in fat cells, thus causing increased fat storage -> weight gain. Luckily, eating a Paleo diet has not only been proven as an effective method of balancing hormones, it also provides the adequate nutrients such as choline, antioxidants, and amino acids for proper liver detoxification.
One of best kept-secrets of the Paleo diet is that it actually can be used as a therapeutic approach to heal anxiety and depression. I've talked about my experience with this before, too)
How is that possible?! Neurotransmitters such as GABA, Serotonin, Norepinephrine, Endorphin and Dopamine are directly responsible for our personal brain chemistry - meaning lack or imbalance can lead to things like anger, depression, hyperactivity, memory loss, drug/alcohol cravings and bad moods.
The levels of these neurotransmitters are directly affected by our nutritional choices; including intake of amino acids, essential fatty acids, vitamins and minerals. This is where intake and absorption of high quality protein is essential. Sources like pasture raised eggs, grass-fed beef and wild caught fish are all great options.
Sounds awesome right? I know nearly every single one of us has struggled or is still struggling with at least one of these symptoms.
...So what's holding you back?
For most people, there is a disconnect between wanting to change your diet, feel better...
...and not wanting to spend hours per week meal prepping, cooking, or turning down social events out of fear you want be able to find anything to eat.
- What's your biggest Paleo misconception?
- What's holding you back?