Paleo Challenge: Week 1 Wrap-Up

I meant to write this post over the weekend (you know, so it would seem like a wrap-up), but technically Sunday was actually Day 7, so I’m giving myself a grace period.  While I’ve been posting daily about what I’m eating (both good and bad), I haven’t gone into a lot of detail about the diet itself or what I think of it, especially as a soon-to-be dietitian.

Background:

We’re actually following Mark Sisson’s 21-Day Primal Blueprint Challenge.  He blogs at Mark’s Daily Apple about a primal lifestyle.  According to his website, http://www.primalblueprint.com, he says “The Primal Blueprint is based on lifestyle principles that have governed human health, evolution and peak performance for over two million years, and supported by respected research in the fields of epigenetics and evolutionary biology. The Primal Blueprint principles challenge many elements of Conventional Wisdom that are deeply flawed, and are making people fat, sick and burnt out – even well-meaning fitness enthusiasts who are trying to do the right thing.”  He basically asserts that a lot of things we’re doing (i.e. not getting enough sleep, playing on our phones, etc…) and eating are hurting us, and that we can be healthy by adopting a different lifestyle.  He provides TONS of easy-to-read ‘guides’ at his Primal Blueprint 101 page.

Paleo vs Primal:

As for the difference between ‘Primal’ and ‘Paleo?’  Perhaps the best explanation is here, on LIVESTRONG’S page.  Paleo seems to just be an eating plan (avoid grains and dairy), whereas Mark’s Primal Blueprint is a way of life, including stress management, sleep and exercise.  There are some diet discrepancies, which he blogs about here.  Basically, the original Paleo diet was simply an eating plan that eschewed refined sugar, grains, legumes, and dairy, as well as saturated fats.  Primal permits some full-fat dairy such as yogurt and kefir (both of which have live cultures good for our guts), as well as some soy, rice, quinoa, potatoes, red wine and dark chocolate.  Primal also embraces the health benefits of saturated fat, and the Paleo movement has in recent years, as well.

My Opinion:

Removing an entire food group is an immediate red flag for me that says ‘fad diet.’  The Paleo movement, at it’s strictest, is certainly what I would call a fad diet.  Grains, dairy and legumes all have health benefits that should not be discounted.  However, after doing some further reading, I understand some of the reasons these items are excluded.  Both eating patterns strive to eat foods that haven’t been processed, such as things that would have been available in Paleolithic times.  No matter what your beliefs about evolution are, there weren’t any Cheeze-Its in the hands of neanderthals! Wheat must be processed to produce flour and dairy has been pasteurized. Both wheat and diary are the culprits of allergies and intolerances, such as Celiacs and lactose intolerance.  Also, the eating pattern relies heavily on protein and fat, both of which aid in feeling full and satisfied longer than carbohydrates.  Also, by removing grains and dairy from you diet, you are inherently removing a lot of sugar you didn’t even know you were consuming.  Even plain yogurt has sugar!

Despite their ‘fad diet’ status, both Paleo and Primal are much more ‘lifestyle’ to me.  Think about who you see on the diets.  Cross-Fitters.  Athletes.  Fit people who care about what they put in their bodies and how their bodies function.  You don’t see fit people doing Atkins, just like you don’t see skinny people ordering diet soda at McDonald’s.  Paleo and Primal both embrace real, non-processed foods without depriving you of carbohydrates your body needs.

My personal opinion would be to incorporate small amounts of dairy (we’re talking plain yogurt, kefir and some milk) and quality grains (rice, oats, quinoa, wheat breads) in smaller amounts.  The American diet is FULL of sugar, both natural and hidden.  Instead of having toast, yogurt and fruit for breakfast (sugar, sugar and sugar), try toast, eggs and bacon (sugar, protein and fat).

Methodology:

If weight loss is your goal, a Paleo or Primal approach is an excellent way to eat.  Our bodies run on energy, which is derived from glucose, which we get from carbohydrates.  Protein builds muscle, and fat provides essential vitamins and minerals needed as well.  They’re all important.  However, when we eat too much of anything, it gets stored as fat.  However, if we constantly give our bodies a steady stream of carbs (grains, dairy, fruit and vegetables), we never have a chance to dip into those fat stores and burn them off.  When you decrease your carb intake, your body responds by turning excess fat into energy.  That’s why the Atkins diet works so well–in the beginning.  However, a no-carb approach isn’t healthy or really very practical.  Paleo and Primal eating patterns incorporate higher-quality carbs and seek to time them with daily exercise.

How easy is it to follow?

Well, it’s super easy at home!  If you’ve been following my daily posts, you can see that our meals at home have been spot-on.  I’m not going all-out and pitching half my fridge and pantry, as I plan to re-incorporate beans, grains and dairy after the challenge, just in smaller amounts.  I’m also not throwing away my soy sauce, ketchup or mayo–it’s just not practical for me (at least not right now) to attempt to make everything from scratch.  Neither Andrew nor I have a gluten intolerance, which is the main ingredient you’re supposed to stay away from.  Is it possible to whip up a simple salad dressing each night with some oil and vinegar?  Sure, but you aren’t taking my Wegmans Yogurt Ranch away from me.  Going forward, I may try to make different choices in the items I buy as I replace things in our fridge and pantry, such as coconut aminos instead of soy sauce.  But maybe not.

We’re basically having some sort of meat at just about every meal, along with eggs or produce.  I’ve been using Practical Paleo for almost all my recipes at this point, and I’m loving it.  A typical day would be eggs and bacon for breakfast, canned salmon on salad with fruit for lunch, and flank steak with peppers and onions and maybe a starchy veggie like cauliflower for dinner.  I’m loving ‘cauli-rice’!

Unfortunately, eating away from home is another matter.  Sometimes, it’s a matter of circumstance.  If I’m at someone’s house and there aren’t any Paleo options, or very few, I’m not going to be rude or go hungry.  Again, I don’t have a gluten allergy, nor am I lactose intolerant.  I CAN eat just about anything, and I’m not such a die-hard Paleo follower that I’m going to refuse beef and barley soup.  Other times, my sweet tooth gets the best of me.  For the challenge, I probably haven’t been as dedicated as I thought I’d be, but I think we’re fulfilling it about 80% of the time.  It’s already gotten Andrew and me thinking in a new way, so I’d say it’s working!

How I feel, weight loss, energy, working out, etc…

I feel amazing!  The higher protein and fat content of my meals keeps me full (but not heavy-feeling) without having to snack.  In just three or four days I felt a change in the shape of my body, and after getting on the scale, I saw a FIVE POUND weight loss!  Obviously not all of that is body fat, but it’s a step in the right direction.  I’ve noticed I have more energy in my high intensity kickbox classes; I’m kicking higher and punching harder.  I’m sweating more–or at least I think so–which could be indicative of greater water loss.  Or I just sweat a lot.

About a year ago, I tried to go wheat-free for a couple weeks as an experiment.  I felt fatigued and didn’t lost a single pound.  This is totally different, which is why it’s embraced as such a ‘lifestyle.’ I haven’t read The Primal Blueprint yet, but I’d like to.  It seems to really make a lot of sense–get sleep, get exercise, eat real food, and manage stress. What more could we want?

I’m sure I’ve left some things out, and feel free to ask questions! Check out the links and do your own research; I’m still learning, too!

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