Earlier this week, I talked about the Paleo diet and what it is in Part 1. Now I want to explain the pros and cons of the Paleo Diet. When you first go Paleo, let me tell you, it’s all pros. Your energy goes up, your skin gets better and your pants start feeling baggier. It’s almost amazing how effortless it seems. And then about 3-6 months after starting, some things start setting in for you that kind of slow you down. You start getting confused by some of the information, and you’re not getting the results other people are, you start plateauing, and then all the Paleo stuff starts to get old and then you’re not sure where you are. Well, I want to talk about some of the good and bad about the Paleosphere so that hopefully, when you are able to give this crazy, wacky life style a try, you won’t hit a lot of the same road blocks that I did.
First off. Let’s talk about the good. Effortless weight loss. Well, not effortless, there’s no such thing as effortless weight loss. But it is effortless in that to lose weight you don’t have to kill yourself at the gym. In actuality, heavy cardio is not usually recommended. There is more and more evidence coming out on how heavy cardio, and I am referring to those who jump on the elliptical for 2 hours everyday, can actually be bad for you and cause fat storage, specially for women. There is exercise involved with the Paleo Diet because it is necessary, but in my opinion it’s fun exercise. Walk often and in the sunshine. Lift heavy things. I’m a huge fan of pull ups, push ups, and squats. Do yoga and meditate. Sprint when you can because getting the blood flowing is good for you. Join a team sport, garden, go swimming, in other words: Go play! And this is a great concept about Paleo. Exercise should be fun and encouraging to adults and kids.
Another great thing about Paleo is the fact that nobody really recommends calorie counting, or fat counting, or obsessing about food till it’s all you think about. We’ve all been there. You need to lose some weight so you tell yourself “Ok, I have time to exercise and burn 1,000 calories, and so that means that I can eat 1,400 calories today instead of 1,200 so that in turn means that I am allowed to eat half of this chocolate cookie and drink a beer and that’s all the food I can have for the rest of the day.” Maybe those aren’t your exact words but it’s easy to get there. It’s easy to turn all your food into calories and grams of fat and grams of sugar and to completely forget what food is for. Food is for life. We should eat and enjoy it. Eat with our families and tribes, and eat the most nutrient dense food possible. Now don’t get me wrong, there are some reasons to watch calories. If you are eating 1,000 calories a day in just almonds there are going to be some problems, but the overall message of Paleo is to eat to love and work with your body, not against it.
Oh my goodness, and the success stories. I love them. I really do. Every Friday, Mark Sisson posts a success story that someone sent in. Some of them make you go “No way!” and some make you tear up because of the paths that some of these people have walked down. The wonderful things is these stories are very rarely ever just about weight loss. A lot of these people are gaining their lives back from chronic illnesses or debilitating allergies. Rarely do people say, “I’ve lost all that weight now I got to get back to eating the standard American diet”. Usually, they are on a life changing journey that they will always be traveling on and I love that. I truly believe that you always need to be going / growing somewhere, whether physically, mentally, or emotionally.
One last pro about the Paleo diet. Don’t worry, there’s plenty more but I plan on talking about a lot of the real pros when I do Part 3 and explain my journey with the Paleo diet. The last one I want to talk about is the sense of community. It’s awesome. And supportive. I love the podcasters I listen to and the blogs I read because each one is personable and lovely. They are realistic and down to earth. They encourage people to shop locally. Support your town, support your local farmer, heck, be a wannabe farmer and build a chicken coop in your back yard. They want you to do your best to stay away from factory farms because let’s be honest, it is clearly animal abuse and there no other way around it. The Paleo community encourages you to plant a garden and live as nature intended you to live. They want you to create your community around you. Yes, if you get enough people like myself who mostly eat organic, do not use shampoo, and refuse to wear shoes then it will start to look like a commune but that’s all right. Build a tribe. It’s what our ancestors did.
Now I want to talk about some of the cons. I know what you’re thinking. “Kayla, after all those great things, why do you want to be such a downer?” Well, I have to be. I want everybody, I mean everybody to at least give Paleo a try. And I believe that the clearer eyed you enter this community, the better chance for success you have. First, let’s just get this out of the way. There are some crazies in the Paleo community, and yes, you get those with anything but it doesn’t stop them from driving me crazy. It’s hard to really generalize these people but for example, I think the cross fit community takes things a little too far. Not all of them, there are fantastic boxes out there but I think a lot of them do. Over training can have the opposite effect you are going for. My favorite crazies are the really self righteous people. I only recently gave up coffee and I read an article on the benefits of drinking coffee. It was a good, open minded article explaining coffee. And so many people in the comment section said “OMG, I cannot believe that Mark Sisson or Robb Wolf or whoever could possibly condone coffee. Caffeine is a drug and I am disgusted with them.” This sort of attitude seems funny but I think that people like that are incredibly discouraging to those of us who choose to take things one step at a time.
Then there’s the intermittent fasting argument. When I first started Paleo, I thought intermittent fasting was fantastic for absolutely everyone. It was recommended to everybody and everybody had good results. The intermittent fasting goes hand and in hand with this whole low carb thing. Most people call Paleo a low carb diet. It technically is if you are comparing it with the Standard American Diet, but I think most people, myself included, go really low carb when they first start Paleo. Then I read Stefani Ruper’s blog, Paleo for Women, and she talks about both of these things. Her post on intermittent fasting made some big noise in the Paleosphere. It was amazing. People were starting to really make a conscious effort to look at the differences in dietary needs between men and women. You would think that would already be a given, but it’s very easy to forget the different biological needs of both genders.
I highly recommend reading the article but I will give you a brief overview.
- Most studies that have been done have only used men and post-menopausal women as their subjects
- Studies that have been done on female rats have had negative side effects
- Young women biologically are designed to bear children, and if their bodies are not receiving their caloric and nutritional needs, the female body will limit it’s ability to reproduce.
Intermittent fasting and too low carb can be amazing for some people and it can be incredibly terrible for others. Even though I think Paleo can be helpful for those with eating disorders because of it’s encouragement to not micromanage, it can also turn into it’s own kind of monster when you lose sight of the things that are important.
This all goes with the extremists that I mentioned at the beginning of the cons. So many people make such a huge deal on how you can’t eat fruit. It’s too much sugar. You can’t eat starch because it’s too many carbs. You can’t eat this and you can’t eat that. And when we start getting down to those minute details about the amount of sugar in an apple versus a banana, we are really losing sight of the important part. Yes, it is true that if you are trying to lose weight and especially if you are metabolically deranged, it may help you to limit your fruit and starch intake and only get your carbs from vegetables. That is absolutely true. But the part that you should be asking yourself is: “Did I enjoy that fruit? Did I feel sick or bloated after eating that sweet potato?” If your answer is yes, I did enjoy that fruit, or no, I actually had more energy after I ate the sweet potato, then by goodness, eat and enjoy your food. Listen to your body always.
Another big mistake that people can make with the Paleo diet is how they get their calories on a daily basis. We are a dessert society. We love it. I love it. After a bad day at work, I want to just come home and eat some cake (I can’t because of my allergies but it doesn’t stop me from wanting it). So the Paleo recipe writers give the people what they want. Paleo treats. Treats that use almond flour or coconut flour instead of wheat. They use organic honey instead of refined sugar. You get to use 80% dark chocolate instead of the milk and soy based Hershey’s chocolate. But you always have to remember that just because you throw the word Paleo on it all willy nilly does not necessarily mean that’s it’s good for you all the time. Do I think it’s a better choice than white cake with white frosting and ice cream? Sure. Do I think that your weight loss will probably stall and you will likely risk gaining some of the weight back if you eat a Paleo treat 5 times a week? Probably. You would be amazed at how quickly a handful of almonds turns into eating an entire bag. For me, it sort of goes back to the concept of looking at what our ancestors probably did. And I’ll bet, since nuts are not easy to shell, that they didn’t eat a pound or two a day.
Lastly, I just want to talk about a pet peeve of mine that in the grand scheme of things is probably not that important but yet still irks me for some reason. It’s this whole concept with some in the Paleosphere that have this attitude that one cannot be Christian and believe in the legitimacy of an ancestral diet. I actually stopped reading a few bloggers, one especially, because whenever he brought up anything with religion (which was too often in my opinion), it always seemed to be with this condescending tone toward Christians. It was almost like he was saying “That people who believe in God are too stupid to believe in science.” And that really bothered me a lot and probably helped to scare off people who were new to the Paleo scene. I find it frustrating that because I don’t believe we evolved from monkeys that in turn means that I don’t believe in evolution within a species. I absolutely believe in evolution within a species. I believe that my God did such an amazing job creating us that He knew in that all-knowing, all powerful head of His that we would need to evolve to survive. That the world would change and we would change with it in order to continue on in this world. If anything, I think that as a Christian it’s incredibly important to take care of your body because it is the one that God gave to you. Eating and living in a way that is healthful, happy, and thankful to God and nature is incredibly spiritual and important. And let’s not forget the people who believe in Intelligent Evolution. If someone believes their God created man, and the heavens and the earth, then why couldn’t they believe that God set evolution up too.
The most important thing that I need to say is that this life style is all about your personal journey. Just because some things work for some people does not mean that they will work for you. And that doesn’t mean that something is wrong with you. It means that even though milk is “not Paleo” doesn’t mean that if you tolerate it well, that you shouldn’t have it. There will be an explanation of milk and why it is “not Paleo” and why I am still a supporter of drinking it in Part 3. I personally cannot have many of the things that Paleo people can. That doesn’t make me broken, just different. In Part 3, I am going to talk about my personal journey and the things that I learned along the way. I want to show some before and afters and really help to show people that even though I have been eating this way for over a year, I am still learning new things every single day.