Paleo Diet – How to lose weight old school
“The Paleo Diet is making a conscience effort to eat old school, like the way our caveman ancestors did. To put it simply; if you can’t hunt or harvest it, you should think twice about eating what’s on your plate. It was as rare then as it is now to see a team of hunters throwing a spear through a box of cereal. Instead, you’ll be having meals like Paleo Spaghetti or Breakfast Banana Pancakes.
The goal is to have as little human interaction with your food as possible, keeping it as close to its original form as nature intended.
Keeping track of calories and how much of each nutrient you need to eat each meal does get exhausting. Not only is it exhausting, we now know that calories are only half the battle. That’s to say that the 215 calories in a Snickers bar doesn’t have the same effect as 215 calories of Blueberries will have on your body.
I may come across a little door to door salesman, trying to sell you a “brand new craze that’s taking over the world”. I promise you, I’m not. It’s helped many people achieve results beyond their wildest imagination, including my amazing wife Alex. You can read her story here.
How does the Paleo Diet work?
You may be thinking that this is another fad or get fit quick scheme, in fact, it’s quite the opposite. In a time long before Woolworths or Weight Watchers, our distant relatives excelled as hunter-gatherers. We are considerably more intelligent than our predecessors; however, our genes are not too different than our caveman predecessors.
Let’s break it down;
The average Homo Sapien then: Lean, muscular, agile, adaptable with plenty of stamina.
The average Homo Sapien now: Overweight, stressed out, poor posture, sleepless and on a myriad of different drugs to keep them functioning on a day to day basis.
Why this happened can be directly linked to Agriculture and progressive civilisation. As humans left the nomad life and discovered farming around 10,000 years ago, our collective health started to decline.
So what’s the big deal?
The problem lies within our genetic evolution. Our ancestors ate a diet abundant in foraged fruits, berries, tubers, leafy greens and hunted wild game for fat and protein. As a result of eating a certain way for hundreds of thousands of years, their gut evolved to process the foods that they ate.
Robb Wolf explains it like this; “Think of a 100-yard football field. The first 99.5 yards is how long homo sapiens spent as hunter-gatherers. So they spent a considerable amount of time tuning their bodies to that lifestyle. The last half yard represents our species after the agricultural revolution, where our diets shifted. So essentially our bodies haven’t had time to prepare for what we eat now”.
Rather than eating a diet consisting mainly of vegetables, meats and a little fruit, we have become a species that is reliant on grains like pasta, bread, cereals, corn and so on. In my post about the traditional diet, I explain how early nutritional education taught in schools sets up the way we think about food.
Currently, 64% of Australians are overweight or obese, and it’s not getting better with time.
There is a disconnect between what we’re taught to be healthy and what is healthy. In the United States, diabetes and pre-diabetes cost the country $322 billion a year. The paleo diet is an attempt to get this epidemic on track. You can think of it as your personal restart button.
What is the Paleo Diet
There was a period long ago where we did not eat grains.
Dr Chris Kresser states the case against grains in his article “9 steps to perfect health“. We see that grains cause an adverse reaction in our system. Grains are made up of carbohydrates, as they are broken down they turn into glucose (sugar). Glucose is one of two sources of energy that the body uses. Any glucose that is not used for energy is stored as fat in adipose tissue.
Here is a quick 3-minute video for the insulin rundown “why you got fat.”
“At the simplest level, a toxin is something capable of causing disease or damaging tissue when it enters the body.” – Dr Chris Kresser
Let’s have a closer look at two culprits, gluten and lectin.
Gluten is a protein that is found in wheat, barley, spelt, rye and many other types of grains. There is evidence stating that a vast majority of people may be gluten intolerant. You would have noticed over the last decade or so, the increase of gluten free products available in the market. Consuming gluten to those that are intolerant can lead to a series of medical conditions, which include loss of libido, joint pain, acne, IBS, acid reflux, and much more. A study conducted by the British Medical Journal found that celiac disease affects 1 in 200 of the population, most of which are diagnosed as adults.
Lectin is a naturally occurring toxin. Plant matter uses lectin as a defence mechanism to prevent being digested. Affecting us human folk by binding to our intestines, tearing holes in our intestinal lining and causing leptin resistance (the signal that tells you that you’re full).
“We do not need grains to survive, let alone thrive. In fact, they are naturally selected to ward off pests, whether they be insects or hominids. I suggest we take the hint and stop eating them.” – Mark Sisson
The Paleo diet all but eradicates added sugar from your diet. Unless you are getting your sugar fix from naturally occurring foods like fruits, honey and berries – it’s a no go. Sugar is like a hammer-wielding 2-year-old in a Lego store, it wreaks havoc causing insulin to spike and crash, plus when it’s not used straight away, it gets converted into fat and stored.
So the three basic principles of eating paleo are – No processed foods, No sugar, and no grains. Simple.
Where does my energy come from?
We have been taught from a young age the only way we can get energy is through eating an abundant amount of carbohydrates. Now you’re finding out that eating lots of carbs and certain food groups are bad! So where the heck do you get your energy from?
Fortunately, your body is a highly efficient organism capable of operating on fewer carbohydrates than you are currently eating. When the body starts to run out of carbs as energy, it starts to use stored fat as fuel through a process called ketogenesis.
Low carbs = less glucose which means more fat burning for energy.
Are all carbs bad?
Not at all. There is an abundance of carbs that you can eat that don’t come wrapped in plastic or have a picture of an energetic tiger playing basketball on the box. Carbohydrates still serve a large purpose in a majority our diets it just depends on how insulin sensitive you are.
- If you are insulin resistant, slightly reducing carbs from your diet will have little effect on your ability to cut fat and lose weight. You will need to take massive action to fix the issue.
- If you are sensitive to insulin, you have more wiggle room with how many carbs you can eat. This suggests that you should look at tuning your insulin sensitivity before throwing back the carbs.
Eating naturally sourced leafy greens, fruits, berries and vegetables are the best way to get your carbs. Making sure that you stick to the “is fresh is best” principle. When choosing fresh foods, you are choosing less processed foods (unlike grains which require loads of processing).
The best part about eating fresh greens and veggies is you can eat lots of them without overeating! Five servings (180g) of spinach provides you with 205 calories and 35g of carbs. Now when you eat just one serving of boiled spaghetti (120g) you’re eating 220 calories and 43g of carbs(I have yet to meet one person that eats one serving of pasta).
What does this mean for dairy?
Here is where it gets tricky. The argument is that our palaeolithic relatives didn’t consume dairy 2 million years ago. Therefore, we shouldn’t. I don’t think that this argument is very strong. However, I do believe that many people can’t handle dairy due to other reasons. In Australia, 4% of the population in 2015, were reported to have lactose intolerance.
On the other side of the fence, there is evidence linking the consumption to full-fat dairy to a decrease in cardiovascular disease (CVD) related mortality. Another study shows that when women consumed dairy fat, they had a 26% reduced risk of a heart attack and men a reduce risk of 9%.
The point here is, human clinical studies and the results shown should bear more weight than theoretical arguments of what could happen when consuming dairy.
When it comes to dairy the best way to find out if you should or shouldn’t eat it is by cutting it out for a period and observe what happens when you start eating it again. Simple as that.
Check out this article for “the definitive guide to dairy“.
I eat hard cheese, yoghurt, butter and occasionally cream. All of which are full fat. I tried to add milk back into the mix. I didn’t handle it very well.
So no grains or dairy… What do I eat?
After cutting out grains, dairy and processed food, you are left with these naturally occurring foods like:
- Meat – Grass-fed has a more beneficial nutrient makeup than grain-fed animals. Research shows that switching cows from grain-fed feed lots to grazing the Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacteria found in the gut of the animal drops by 1000 times.
- Game meat – It does not get any better than wild caught game. Period.
- Fish – Fresh, cold water fish are optimal as larger ocean-bound fish have a higher mercury content.
- Fowl – Anything with wings
- Eggs – Omega-3 enriched is the best choice here
- Vegetables – All of them
- Fats – Olive oil, butter, ghee, coconut oil, lard (here’s more)
- Fruits – Think of fruit as nature’s candy. Go slow.
- Berries – Thin skin darker coloured berries are full of antioxidants. They make a great snack.
- Nuts – Go great with berries. They have a high-fat content so limit how much you eat. No peanuts.
- Tubers – Sweet potato, Swedes, Yuka, and Yams are filled with starchy carbohydrates and are great to eat after a workout.
- Spices – The Paleo diet will have you as adventurous as Marco Polo when it comes to spicing up your meals.
Grilled lamb burgers with sweet potato chips, salmon steak with grilled asparagus, Thai beef salad (YUM), Steak and egg breakfast, berries with cashew butter for snacks, the meals and snacks that you can eat is only limited by your imagination! And remember, you can eat as much as you like – just listen to your body.
Won’t I get fat?
You a physically going to find it hard to overeat when you are eating nutritionally dense foods.
If you were to down a large bag of salt and vinegar chips (easy to do), you would be treating yourself to a delicious 1217 calories in that one sitting, and 9 times out of 10 you will still be hungry. Now if you were to aim for the same amount of calories eating the paleo way, you will be eating a truck full of veggies and half a cow… Ok, not half a cow, maybe a leg… You get the idea. Listen to your body, if you are full stop eating!
There is a caveat to this statement. If you fall into the trap of eating too many “pseudo paleo foods” (biscuits, sweets, etc.), you WILL overeat. This is because loads of these types of meals come stacked with fruit, honey and other natural sugars that mess with your insulin levels, which is what makes people fat in the first place.
Giving up wheat, dairy and processed foods – it’s not for me!
Easy. Don’t try the Paleo diet.
There is no need to change your way of life if you are looking good, feeling great and firing on all cylinders all day every day! “If it ain’t broke, then it don’t need fixin”. However, if you’re not feeling crash hot, you can’t remember the last time you could swing on a set of monkey bars, or need a coffee every 30 minutes to keep you alive, you may want to reconsider your current situation.
Give it a chance, try it for 30 days and see what happens. If you aren’t getting any benefit from eating the paleo way, stop after 30 days and make yourself a sandwich. It’s honestly as easy as that. You need to make sure that you allow your body to adjust for the full 30 days. It takes between 4 to 7 days for your body to start flushing all the toxins out and switch from being a sugar burner to a fat burner.
If you can’t go cold turkey, that’s perfectly fine. Go slow. Begin by just reducing non-paleo foods that you’re eating day by day. Those that take the slow approach and slowly phase out grains, processed foods and dairy have a greater success rate and tend to stick to making better choices with their diet.
What about Macros?
Have you ever heard of the KISS principle? Keep It Simple Stupid.
- Base main meals around meat – muscles need amino acid abundant animal protein to function.
- Treat Nuts and Seeds as a garnish – nuts are naturally high in calories due to their fat content. By consuming too many nuts and seeds, you will throw out your omega 3-to-6 ratio out and run the risk of overeating. Nuts are also easy to eat lots of without noticing. Trust me, I’m guilty of turning a handful into a bag pretty quick (still, beats a bag of chips).
- Fruit and Starches should be treated as a reward for after training – your body absorbs the sugar from carbs a lot quicker after physical and a brilliant way to get your carb fix.
- Snack on Veggies – By snacking on veggies, you will ensure that you are getting enough nutrients throughout the day. Find a dehydrator and use it to make radish or even kale chips!
If you are going paleo 100% and you find yourself stalling in the weight loss department, check the amount of nuts and fruits that you are eating. It could be as simple as eating a little too much fruit during the day and not enough protein.
Remember: Fat makes you full pretty quick and keep you fuller for longer. Your diet needs more fat!
Come again: I thought fat gets you fat?
Do you have your tinfoil hat ready? We’ve been sold a lie. In my post covering my experiment on the traditional diet, you will find how the food pyramid and national dietary commission were brought into action.
As fat was dragged through the mud, the big food industry provided a “healthy solution” through low-fat low-calorie foods. And we can see that’s worked a treat so far…
I get a little too excited on this topic, so I’m going to pass the mic to Gary Taubes and his brilliant work, Good Calories, Bad Calories. If you have an hour to spare, I highly recommend watching this video on one of his lectures from 2014.
How often do I have to eat?
Eat when you are hungry, don’t eat when you’re not. It’s as simple as that. Our paleo ancestors didn’t have refrigeration or a local store to pick up food. This meant that they would occasionally go for periods of time without food. Fortunately, our body is great at using stored fat as fuel, just for these types of situations.
If you’re looking for a little more guidance – here are some quick tips. Start with your 3 main meals breakfast, lunch and dinner. By keeping your main meals based around meat will keep you fuller for longer.
What are the downsides to eating paleo?
Here is what the critics are saying:
It’s expensive – yes, compared to a $3 burger from the golden arches it is. Eating well can be incredibly affordable when you do a little bit of research. I encourage you to eat locally produced organic fruits, vegetables and meats, which tends to be on the pricey side if you buy it from your local health food store. Markets are a great option to pick up well priced local fruit, veggies, meats and eggs. Not only are you supporting the farmers directly you’re reducing the number of hands touching your food.
Lastly, it’s much more affordable to spend a little extra on good food today than spend thousands on doctors fees at a later point.
There aren’t many options eating out – order the burger without the buns, ask for a big breakfast without the toast, suggest known cafes or restaurants that have items on the menu that are user-friendly. It’s quite easy once you get into the swing of things. It requires a little bit of creativity and a load of determination.
Cavemen lived short lives; we live longer – yep. Science and medicine are brilliant tools. It would be interesting to see how we would fair without science or medicine and vice-versa.
It’s a one size fits all approach – this couldn’t be further from the truth. The Paleo diet is not the answer to everything, however, it provides a baseline for you to reboot your health. A clean slate gives you the freedom to experiment with what works for you and what doesn’t. This is just the first step in a journey to better health.
Awesome, but I’m still not sure it’s for me.
Every day scientists are finding out new things about our bodies. We are incredibly versatile and adaptable beings. As such, I don’t think that in my lifetime we will find the answer to perfect health. What we do have though is current science and information that could possibly stop, if not reverse our current health epidemic. We have a chance to learn.
Before you pass judgement or dismiss it completely, give it a go. Try it for 30 days and see how you feel.
Here is an example how changing something as simple as a diet, saved this doctor’s life (must watch). After you watch this, you chose if 30 days is worth your while.
Have a go for 30 days – start eating more seasonal veggies and fruits, eat more sustainably sourced meat. Cut out grains, dairy, refined sugars, cigarettes (you’re not doing yourself any favours) and slow down booze, see how you fair at the end of 30 days. See you doctor and get your blood work done at the beginning and the end of the month to put some numbers behind it before you pass judgement.
Lastly, take a photo on day 1 and another on day 30. You may get a shock!
Seans 2 Cents on the paleo diet
As a species, we have evolved considerably over the last 2.5 million years. As a result of drastic development over the last 10,000 years since the agricultural revolution, we find ourselves at a critical junction. Our genes have not had sufficient time to evolve in order handle our new “preferred” dietary staple. Which consequently is leading to a global health epidemic.
I’m a fan of the paleo diet format as it provides the necessary foundation for building a better lifestyle. You have the flexibility to eat loads of meat and veggies while losing excess fat and keeping your blood sugar in check. Plus I find that I am rarely hungry. Most of all I like the paleo diet because it’s simple.
I know that the foundation of this diet works. It’s helped me on my journey and changed the lives of those around me.
Despite your feelings about grains, I’m sure we can agree that through eating more natural foods and less processed foods we can make a healthier world.
Want even more info?
If you’re hungry for more information about the Paleo Diet check out the links below. The info within each site is free and links are books available for sale on Amazon:
- Robb Wolf – Robb is a switched on biochemist at the forefront of the Paleo revolution. Check out the “what is the paleo diet” post and save this shopping list.
- Marks Daily Apple – An incredible wealth of information resides within this site. Mark writes an article every week about all things paleo. Your best bet is to start with the “Primal Blueprint 101“.
- The Primal Blueprint – A fantastic resource to teach you how to primalize your life. Mark is a massive promoter of bringing back play into your everyday life to reduce stress and just have fun.
- Chris Kresser – Is one of the smartest guys getting around on the interwebs and named one of the top 100 influential people in health. Chris is a functional medicine practitioner who is consistently on top of the latest research which enables him to provide us with the best current information. Check out his new post “Should you really be taking fish oil“.
- The Paleo Cure – A road map to personalise your paleo diet. Chris is going to take you on a deep dive into your health and help you tailor a diet that is most beneficial for your current needs.
Hungry to get stuck into Paleo but don’t know what to cook. I’ve got you covered. Here are some of my favourite sites to get your mouth watering.
- Marks Daily Apple – learn how to make easy paleo meals, from appetisers to desserts all for free in Marks kitchen.
- Paleo leap – The team at Paleo Leap break down mouth-watering recipes for you to enjoy.
- Wake Train Fuel – Yep, you can find Paleo tick meals right here.
Ready to start, but want to go slow?
Firstly congratulations for choosing to give it a go – Easing into something new will increase your chances of sticking to it for the long haul. If you’re not ready to cut grains out of your diet completely, start by choosing one meal each day that you won’t eat grains with. Each week that passes choose another meal to swap grains out of, eventually you will have adopted a new way of eating without feeling like you have made drastic changes.
Another popular approach is the 80/20 approach – The 80/20 approach is eating 100% Paleo from Monday to Friday then eating whatever you want on the weekend. I’m not the biggest fan of this approach as it implies that eating clean natural foods is a chore and you get to “reward” yourself by going silly on a weekend.
There is a place for refeeding or “cheat meals” which I will cover in another post. However, when you first start out, it’s a good idea to learn what your body can and can’t handle. Without going berzerk on a weekend.
CLEAN OUT THE PANTRY – If you’re more of the type that jumps into the pool without testing the water first, get rid of anything that will tempt you. Your body isn’t going to go quietly, there will be times that your inner sugar demon is screaming for more carbs as you transition from a sugar burner to a fat burner. The transition from one to the other will take a couple of weeks. Cleaning out the pantry will help you stay focused and keep on target.
What’s your say?
Here is where I pass the mic over to you.
Have you tried going paleo? What was it like? Do you have a point that you would like to raise on anything I didn’t cover? Is there anything that you would like to add? How about paleo friendly recipes that you may like to share? Let’s hear about it.
Let’s just keep it PG and civilised – We want to encourage a friendly discussion based on fact, citations, links and personal experiences.
Don’t take what you read as gospel – free your mind.