I also think the Paleo Diet is a good place for people to start transforming their lifestyle, because really it isn't just about food. It is about getting out into nature again and moving. Going to yoga, meditating, and practicing mindfulness. It is buying diverse foods and cooking them ourselves instead of going out to eat. It emphasizes trying new spices or vegetables whose names we cannot even pronounce! The paleo diet isn't one of those short term diets that we should try for one year to become fit and then we can revert to whatever way of eating we want. Instead, it focuses on finding balance in our life and maintaining that balance for as long as we live. We may fall off the bandwagon, get lazy, not always work out, get stressed, but being Paleo reminds us to return to that place of sanctity.
That is the shortened review of why I think the Paleo Diet is a good place to start, but below are some of the reasons I disagree with the diet:
- The Diet is too selective. I understand that this diet mostly tailors to people trying to lose weight and get back in shape, but there are plenty of others who are already in good shape and just want to make small tweaks to their lifestyle. Take myself. I was already working out and eating pretty healthy. I read this book, The Paleo Solution by Robb Wolf, and decided to stop eating gluten. But then all of a sudden it wasn't just gluten. It was my whey protein powder, and my yogurt, and my beloved fruit because "Oh that's just too much sugar", and so many other whole foods that I treasured and loved. Why did I follow it? Because I thought that cutting these things out would make me feel better. And they did at first. I even tried intermittent fasting for awhile. I had loads of energy and could operate on less sleep. But then, as is typical with many other athletes who follow the paleo diet, I took a dip after 6 months. I was feeling tired, moody, and I wasn't seeing any gains at the gym. In fact, I no longer had any motivation to work out and every gym session was a struggle. I looked for help from other paleo followers and all I got for answers was, "You are probably running on carbs too much. Eat more fat..." or "Try eating more carbs. And more calories." Such conflicting views. And the thing was, I was already eating too many calories, but I still felt un-satiated. So many paleo followers stress being a "Fat burner". They intermittent fast, basically starving off their system for 16 hours to burn that extra fat. And sure this does work. But have you ever tried working out with no carbs in your system? Let me tell you how it goes if you haven't. You have zero energy. Zilch. And since there is no glucose in the system, we cannot replenish those glycogen stores and build muscle. So, alas, no gains. So I tweaked my diet a little, ate more potatoes and white rice. Sure, that helped, but as I struggled further and further I realized this wasn't a way of eating you could just jump into without any help. I felt so stupid for just reading a book and thinking I could change my eating with no adverse effects. I realized that when changing one's diet so drastically we have to consult a doctor, or better yet, a nutritionist who is informed to our specific goals because each person has different needs. I am an athlete and following this plan for overweight people did not work for me at all! In fact, it ruined my cholesterol for awhile, my energy levels, and my ability to train! It made me become obsessed with everything I ate and make sure every food was "pure" of any non-paleo ingredients. I was so obsessed all I could ever think about was food. That was also mostly because I was fasting and could only eat in 8 hour windows. I didn't realize I was torturing my body and what I needed to find, and have found, was proper nourishment.
I now have a really hard time eating meat and the thought of it really makes my stomach churn. I am not a total vegan, but my eating habits have dramatically changed. After some experimenting, I realized that I do operate best on some form of animal protein. I started eating organic, pasture-raised yogurt (the brand I eat is Wallaby's organic Greek yogurt, low-fat) again and found no digestive problems. So, I am still eating yogurt every morning for a good dose of animal protein. I tried cheese as well, but unfortunately it still gives me digestive problems (I think yogurt does not because it has so many probiotics which aid digestion; also I know different types of cheeses can bother stomach depending on the different proteins in them so I am still avoiding cheese). I hardly eat meat anymore, probably 5 times a week, just for dinner. My other two meals are completely vegetarian or vegan. And I feel so much better. I have re-introduced sprouted beans (black, fava, white, kidney, garbanzo, mung, etc.), lentils, gluten-free oatmeal, sprouted quinoa, and brown rice. I've actually cut down on my white rice consumption now. I love the brand TruRoots. I buy my organic sprouted lentils, quinoa, and beans from them. It is so convenient that they come pre-prepared. And man do I feel so much better! I don't get any of that digestive distress paleo followers scream about from all the legumes I consume either. I believe it's because I buy organic and properly prepared sources. I also soak many of my own beans, rice, and oatmeal, which helps break down their lectins for easier digestion of their nutrients. People think this makes life harder, but really it is super simple! Step 1, dump beans in bowl, add water, vinegar, cover and let sit over night! Voila! There are many other soaking and sprouting methods on the internet that are just as simple and will help make these foods more digestible.
So those are a few of my largest flaws with the Paleo diet. This was quite a long article so if I come up with any more ideas, I may just write a second series. Before I leave you, I just want to talk a little bit about my new way of eating. It's been about 8 months since I've been off paleo. I eat my yogurt every morning so I am getting calcium and animal protein. Yogurt is also a good source of zinc. On the paleo diet, I wasn't getting any calcium except for the scarce amount from the leafy greens I ate. My nails were in weak condition. I know that many say calcium has nothing to do with nail condition, but every since I've been consuming yogurt, my nails have been growing faster and thicker and they no longer have white spots on the surface. I still am consuming a lot of vegetables because I love them. For my other protein sources I eat beans and gluten-free grains (yes, I still and always will eat gluten free because I have a major sensitivity). If you have never tried eating gluten-free, I would try it for 72 hours to a week to see if you feel any positive effects. Here is a great website for a starting guide.
Other things that I have changed is that I now eat fruit every day and don't regret it! I have plenty of energy and have picked up running again. I feel great and lightweight, a feeling I never had when I was eating the meat-heavy paleo diet. And just because I am mostly vegetarian doesn't mean I never eat meat. I just don't like eating it all that much. It gives me no satisfaction compared to vegetables. When I do eat meat, it is usually fish, halibut or salmon, organic chicken, and the occasional pasture-raised pork or ground beef added in dishes. I haven't eaten a steak probably in over a year now, though, as I've eased myself off of paleo. My diet is still full of whole nutritional foods, I have just switched my focus to lighter foods that provide me with more energy and fullness. I now don't have to be a paleo nazi because my variety has increased dramatically. And eating out is actually fun because there are so many more options. The stress of eating like my ancestors, has disappeared. Now in the mornings, I smile and take pleasure in eating the healthy foods my Greek great-grandparents ate and lived to be centenarians by consuming. Go Greek yogurt and lentils!
** Before I dive into this one, readers should take everything I've written with a grain of salt (and don't worry, salt is gluten-free). I am not a doctor or nutritionist yet. I only go by my research, studies, and personal experience. Also, as I try to stress all over my website, I am not for one solution. I believe everyone performs on different types of foods. As long as those foods are whole and unprocessed, any variation that works for peak performance for that person is what they should be doing! For me personally, though, eating that much meat was not working.**