With the New Year, you may have recently embarked on your Paleo journey and are finding it a never ending challenge to transition from your old lifestyle to this new one. You might also be a long time Paleo follower but sometimes find yourself picking away at a fresh loaf of bread, or indulging in some Standard American Fare. It may also just be that you feel as if you are doing everything right, following all the ‘rules’, yet you are failing to see the results in weight loss, increased energy or improved general health.
There is so much contradictory and conflicting information out there when it comes to the Paleo lifestyle and it could happen that you are led to make changes based on some wrong information that may not be ideal for YOU in the long term.
There are some common pitfalls that novices and veterans alike may want to address when their Paleo plan no longer seems to be working for them.
Too Few Carbohydrates.
For many when embarking on a Paleo diet carbohydrates can become associated with instant fat gain. This can result in someone limiting their carbohydrate intake to very low amounts. Fat gain (and fat loss for that matter) is much more complicated than that and humans well adapted to function on both carbohydrates and fat for energy. Even when adequate amounts of fat are consumed to make up for the lesser amount of carbohydrates, limiting the amount carbohydrate consumed by too much can lead to intense cravings and binging on unhealthy foods.
Sources of starchy carbohydrates like those found in root vegetables seem to be especially feared due to their high concentration of this macronutrient. Understanding that carbohydrates are not bad per se and it makes no sense to fear or avoid them. They are also an extremely dense source of nutrients and fibers essential for optimal health. Creating a ketogenic a state from time to time can be very beneficial (and is optimal when treating certain conditions and illnesses), but often, remaining in ketosis for extended periods of time can lead to problems in the long run.
Carbohydrates in general should not be avoided BUT carbohydrates from toxic sources like grains, legumes and refined sugar should not form any part of your Paleo diet.
Too Little Fat.
Many in both the Paleo and conventional dietary spheres still believe that fat in general should be consumed in limited quantity. Those following a Paleo type diet often support this notion by pointing to the leanness of the meat of wild animals. Even very lean animals have plenty of fat tissues around their organs or between their skin and their muscles. Paleolithic man was known to consume the entire animal, organs, connective tissues and all the ‘gristly’ bits. Sadly, eating these delicious delicacies is often shunned today. Modern science also shows us that saturated fat is a great source of energy while too much lean protein can certainly create some health concerns.
Some people limit fat and carbohydrate consumption, the body’s two primary fuel sources. In exchange consuming much more lean protein or less calories overall. For those who end up consuming too few calories, constant hunger and excessive cravings are often felt and the energy levels usually plummet.
Going Nuts On Nuts.
Nuts are natural and were most probably eaten by most of our ancestors to some extent. However, it needs to be noted that nuts and seeds can still be irritating to the gut and many of them have a rather high omega 6 to omega 3 ratio. If you are struggling with your health or weight, limiting or avoiding your consumption of most nuts and seeds until your concerns have been addressed or are under control and your digestion is perfect. If you remove them from your diet and add them back a little later on, you should be able to see if they affect you in a negative way or not.
Going Too Light On Salt.
The excessive salt and sodium content in many modern, processed foods can be a problem. Removing salt from the diet completely can certainly lead to issues as well. For those of you feeling the ramifications of low blood pressure on your Paleo diet, adding a little natural seal salt can often resolve the symptoms with no further interventions necessary. Often the focus on re-creating the environment of Paleolithic man becomes so narrow that the fact that they probably actively created ways to add sodium to their diet (through sea vegetation for example) is overlooked. Humans developed a taste for ‘salty’ for a reason!
Too Much Fruit.
Although fruits are naturally occurring, their sweet taste and high fructose content can be problematic when consumed in high amounts. Just because many fruits are loaded with vitamin C, potassium, fiber and many natural anti-oxidants does not imply that they can be eaten in unlimited quantities. A few pieces of seasonal, locally farmed fruit per day is reasonable but over-consumption is definitely a contributing factor to those failing to lose the desired weight embarking on a Paleo diet.
Vegetables, both starchy and non-starchy should be the carbohydrate source of choice. Starchy vegetables are converted to glucose only when digested so they are the healthier choice for most.
Paleo-fied Foods and Treats.
When first beginning a Paleo diet, many people spend countless hours trying to research and figure out the best ways to recreate comfort foods and non-Paleo favorites like cookies, lasagna, and bread. There is a plethora of amazing recipes available in books and online. It needs to be noted that although made with ingredients that may fall into your eating plan, these foods are not, by any means and constantly trying to re-create old favorites rather than creating new, more nutrient dense, whole food dishes could be sabotaging your health and fat loss goals! Your diet is probably predominantly composed more of nut flours, honey, and chocolate than veggies, seafood, and meats. You can guess which of those foods is healthier and more likely to help you feel and look better.
If you want to eat Paleo cookies and cakes every once in a while there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Life needs to be fun and delicious. If the majority of your meals look like the Standard American Diet but with ‘Paleo’ ingredients, then it may be the time to reconsider your diet. You may want to revisit your mindset and your motivation behind your choice to go ‘Paleo’ feel like you are constantly depriving yourself of the foods you really want. That is not a fun way to live.
‘Paleo’ re-creations should be the exception and not the rule.
In simplifying your diet and purging processed foods and carbohydrates from your pantry, you can expose yourself to staples like meat, eggs, fish nuts and a whole market of new-to-you vegetables. You may have certain reactions or intolerances to some of these foods. This can cause low levels of inflammation throughout the body, making it difficult to feel energized, have well-working body functions and an efficient metabolism. Eggs, nuts, soy, corn, wheat, and dairy are the most common allergens found in food, but if embarking on a Paleo eating plan has left you feeling less-than optimal, or even worse, it is advised to seek the support of a professional to rule out or work within your body’s responses to certain foods.
Furthermore, certain illnesses, autoimmune conditions, medications, bacteria and parasites can have an impact on the functioning of any of the cells and systems in your body. These can express themselves and food intolerances and reactions along with a host of other symptoms ranging from pain, bloating, nausea, lack of energy, weight gain and general lack of function. Working with a qualified health care professional will help you rule out or mitigate any physiological mechanisms contributing to your on going feelings of dis-ease and less than optimal health.
The Paleo Lifestyle.
While diet is the central point of Paleo lifestyle, other lifestyle factors play a very important role in your health and need to be addressed. The three main other lifestyle factors to keep in mind other than diet are movement, stress and sleep.
Failure to have healthy habits in one or more of these lifestyle factors can greatly limit or hinder your results. Bad sleep quality or lack of sleep can be especially harmful and no amount of healthy food is going to make up for it. Stress management is vital in creating a healing and nurturing environment for your body to reach its optimal state of health.
a. Sleeping Too Little
Other than diet, sleep is probably the single biggest factor in your overall health.
When it comes to sleep, the science is completely unanimous. Lack of sleep significantly increases your risk of developing obesity, diabetes, heart disease, mood disorders, and just dying sooner. If you are hoping to lose fat, not sleeping enough could be your biggest obstacle. In one excellent study, participants lost almost 3 times as much fat when they slept 7.5 hours per night, compared to when they slept just 5.5 hours per night.
I understand that you really need to check Facebook and post your daily meals on Instagram until 3am, but be warned, if your Paleo diet seems to not be working, this could be a huge reason why.
b. Exercising Too Much.
If you are sick, overweight, or just unhealthy in some way, then it is almost inevitable that your body has a lot of stress and inflammation. You might be eating bad food, getting too stressed out, sleeping too little, or even have a gut pathogen. All of those things will stress and inflame your body.
Another thing that will stress and inflame your body, though, is exercise – particular intense exercise. Walking is good because it puts relatively little stress on your body. Intense exercises like running, cycling, and others, though, can create a large load of stress on your body.
I am sure you are well aware of the wonderful benefits of intense exercise, but there are two big caveats. If you are participating in very strenuous exercise every day, it is probably too much. If you have any health concerns, you may want to reduce this even further. Once you get everything else in your body working properly, then your body will once again be able to handle intense exercise.
Walking and slow consistent movements throughout the day are foundational in the Paleo lifestyle and are supportive in reducing stressors, rather than contributing to them.
If you are currently feeling challenged with either achieving your desired health results or simply with sticking to the Paleo principles of diet and lifestyle, addressing one or more of these factors may support you in creating your own personal template for your diet and lifestyle choices. Keep in mind that your body is unique, what works wonderfully for me, may be less than optimal for you. Constantly re-assessing is important, Paleo is not meant to be a one-size-fits-all approach. While the journey can sometimes seem long and hard, changes always seems easier when looking back.