Weight loss dieting is big business in the United States. In fact, it is estimated that Americans spend around $35 billion each year on dieting and diet products, making it one of the most lucrative industries in America, and with new fad diets for quick weight loss popping up all the time.
However, the best diet plan to lose weight fast is not always the best diet plan to keep weight off, and even though the “next big thing” may have your attention for now, you may not be quite so enthusiastic in 3 weeks when you simply cannot take the sight of yet another grapefruit–or whatever it is the latest miracle diet prescribes you eat WAY too much of.
And, as we know, what usually happens after losing a few pounds through a torturous diet is that we celebrate our newfound discipline–usually with a slice of triple-chocolate fudge cake and a few bags of potato chips (and don’t forget the diet soda!).
But what is the reason for this continual cycle of losing weight, only to regain it?
Simply put, we have trouble breaking from our Standard American Diet (SAD), with all of it’s processed sugar, fats, sodium and manufactured chemicals. Even though we can muster up the gumption to stay away from it for a few weeks or a month, we always seem to return to our SAD little world, which puts us right back where we started.
Part of this is that we as a nation are busy, and therefore hooked on the quick fixes–the lose-weight-in-your-sleep diet pills, the fat blockers and laxatives. What we are typically looking for is the easiest, most convenient way to shed pounds without ever having to break stride in our daily habits.
So when a diet comes along which not only promises easy weight loss, but also allows us to increase the consumption of things we like the most–such as bacon–we tend to perk-up and ignore the fact that it may very well be too good to be true.
Enter the latest diet craze–the Paleo Diet–with all of its meat-loving attraction. Those who swear by it say there is nothing better.
However, there are also those who report low energy, cravings, painful kidneys and fatigue.
Is it the real thing, or is it just another tease which will have us all groaning over the idea of consuming yet another low-calorie one-note meal three weeks from now?
Let’s take a look.
What the Paleo Diet Does
Much like the Atkin’s Diet, Paleo induces ketosis–or the burning of fat as the body’s main fuel source. This is accomplished by limiting the consumption of carbohydrates, while increasing the intake of fats and proteins, leaving the body with fat (rather than carbohydrates) as its main fuel source.
The theory is that we were all once roaming the earth, killing wild animals and subsiding only on meat and perhaps a few grasses and fruits to fill in the gaps, which has left us genetically adapted to performing best on a diet heavy in animal proteins and fats.
However, science and anthropology show us that the diets of our ancestors likely varied from region-to-region, making the “one size fits all” argument a bit more complicated than we first thought.
We also find that there is strong evidence that we are still evolving, and that the influence of grains, dairy and legumes in our diets which began thousands of years ago with the onset of farming has not been so catastrophic as some may lead us to believe.
Having said that, there are merits to the Paleo diet, since it encourages the consumption of unprocessed foods, grass fed meats, organic vegetables and wild-caught fish, all of which are far healthier than that bag of potato chips you have your hand in!
The Many Diets of Our Ancestors
So let’s first consider how our various ancestors ate.
Most were foragers, and most were opportunistic. This meant that our ancient relatives may have spent long periods of time living on starchy tubers, fruits, and grass seeds harvested from the savannas when there was no meat available–something which may have been far more common than we first realized.
In fact, even after the invention of such weapons as bows and arrows, it is estimated that ancient hunters were only unsuccessfully something like 50% of the time, meaning that prior to such sophisticated weaponry, meat may have been even more scarce.
There is also regional availability of foods to consider, since in some parts of the world fish may have been a primary source of calories, while others may have relied more heavily on fruits, nuts, berries, insects, and possibly even legumes–despite what we are told about legumes not being a food source until after the onset of farming.
Factor in too that the farming of grains, legumes and dairy has now been around for over 10,000 years, which science shows us may well be plenty of time to evolve and adapt to these “new” food products. This is in addition to the strong possibility that ancient diets did indeed contain grains and legumes, contrary to what we first may have thought.
What this tells us is, whether we like it or not, there is no perfect “one size fits all” diet when it comes to eating according to our genetic upbringing.
In fact, this also tells us that merely running out and purchasing everything Paleo may not be the best thing to do either!
A Little Something About Eating LOTS of Meat
One other thing which should be noted about the Paleo diet and it’s recommendation for a diet high in animal protein is, there is growing scientific proof of a connection between consumption of red meat and cancer, particularly amongst those aged 50 or younger.
Oddly enough, younger adults are shown to be at higher risk (as much as 4 times higher) for cancer when more than 20% of their daily calories come from protein, as opposed to older adults, who tend to do better on diets of higher than 20% protein.
In fact, research suggests that adults over 65 have a decreased risk of cancer when their diet consists of moderate protein (10% of calories), to high protein (20% of calories).
What this means is that it may also be a good idea to consider one’s age when deciding whether or not to go Paleo.
But Should I Try Paleo?
As stated above, there is a lot of good with the Paleo diet–it just may not be the perfect diet for you and your personal makeup, at least not in its purest form.
However, this does not mean that Paleo–or nearly any other diet, for that matter–cannot be “tweaked” in order to better accommodate one’s personal needs.
Let’s start with Paleo’s good things, which are that the diet discourages foods which are processed and unhealthy, while encouraging the consumption of organic vegetables and grass fed meats. This is just the direction which healthy eating should go, albeit maybe not with quite so many restrictions, such as no potatoes, rice or legumes.
This brings us back to the whole root of the diet problem, in that when a regimen is iron-clad and strict, things get old, and reward centers are left unsatisfied.
And, when reward centers are left unsatisfied, we cheat (at least a little), and cheating leads us right back to where we started–a vicious circle, if there ever was one.
It is the same with a diet which preaches as few carbohydrates as possible. Go without your carbo’s for a few weeks, and it feels as though you have “worked” hard enough to earn a reward, which then becomes a slippery slope–one with a big slice of triple chocolate fudge cake and two bags of potato chips at the bottom!
But What Diet WILL Work For Me?
So, rather than radically altering your entire diet, consider working on altering small things in your diet, one thing at a time, and forming better habits as you go along.
You see, it is these “habits” which once developed, will help you stay the course and avoid any slippery slopes which lay ahead!
Learn to Enjoy Healthy Eating
Try this: Take the good parts of the Paleo diet, and begin there. Start with whole foods which are minimally processed (if at all), and develop the habit of eating these kinds of healthy and (preferably) organic foods. Don’t sweat counting carbohydrates or anything like that just yet–just start learning how to enjoy eating well for now.
This is actually a relatively easy step, since there are many natural alternatives to foods found in our SAD which are great tasting and good for you, and make it less of a shock to your palette and reward system than going all in with something you ultimately don’t enjoy.
Now, work in another step–such as reducing the daily amount of added sugar consumed, and even replacing sweets containing added sugar with nice healthy fruit. The idea here is not to completely avoid all sugar all at once, but rather, do it slowly, tapering your consumption and getting in the habit of buying fewer and fewer foods with added sugars. Reduce the amount until you are down to around the recommended 25 grams for a healthy adult female, or 37.5 grams for a healthy adult male. Better yet, go lower, although it does take discipline (we all know you can it!).
Again though, don’t completely deprive yourself, although do commit to a long-term reduction. Setting a goal is best here, and if you have a spouse or close friend interested in doing the same thing, consider doing it together, perhaps even placing a bet with each other to decrease the likelihood that either of you will abandon the goal.
Next, do the same thing with carbohydrates–keeping in mind that it is not necessarily true that a complete reduction of carbohydrates is what is best for you! Instead, avoid simple carbohydrates, such as those found in white flour, sugar and potatoes, and go with more complex carbohydrates, such as those found in whole grains, legumes and vegetables .
The reason for this is that short chain, or “simple” carbohydrates are digested more quickly and easily than long chain or “complex” carbohydrates, causing an insulin response and a spike in energy and blood sugar, leaving us craving more of the same as we “come down” (AKA “sugar crash”).
With complex carbohydrates, the digestion process is longer, and energy is more slowly and evenly metered out, thereby alleviating the fast ups and downs caused by carbohydrates in their more simple form.
Now comes the fun part–pushing the plate away, and getting some exercise! No, we do not mean becoming a gym-rat-workout-freak who lives on 300 calories a day, or signing up for any 30 mile foot races or any other such nonsense.
Instead, just take an hour or so out of your day, and move! It can be as simple and enjoyable as a nature walk, or even doing things like avoiding the elevator and taking the stairs, walking rather than taking the bus, or going for a nice, relaxing swim.
Getting a dog to walk isn’t such a bad thing either. You get a best friend who needs a walk every day–talk about a great way to form a habit!
Along with daily exercise is portion control, which may be as complicated as counting your calories and sticking within certain guidelines, or as simple as only eating until you are 80% full.
“Only” 80% full, you ask? Why yes–doing something as simple as leaving yourself slightly hungry when you push your plate away can mean the difference between gradually (and safely) losing pounds, and merely being frustrated every time you get on the scale.
The surprising thing is, even though you may still “feel” hungry when you push your plate away at the 80% point, give it five minutes, and you will be just fine–better, in fact, since you won’t feel so stuffed!
Try it–you will likely be pleasantly surprised, and it is not as hard as one would think, it just requires a tiny bit of discipline.
And that tiny bit of discipline can make all the difference in the world!