Someone close to me is going through some health and digestion issues. They decided to give a full-on Paleo 30 day reset diet a chance. I thought I would give it another go myself to give them some company, support and to clear up some issues that have crept back into my life.
To give you some context on with regards to detoxing from a western diet, I will rewind 6 years. I am 235 pounds of what I thought was muscle covered in a layer of fat, it turns out to be just fat covered in more fat. Becoming aware of this was like getting socks for Christmas. My mornings consisted of pills for my anxiety, another for depression, the last for my heartburn and a pack of Tums in my pocket just in case.
My diet at the time consisted of normal home cooked meals (meat, starch, and vegetables). A typical western diet coupled with the occasional fast food. Ok, maybe more than the occasional fast food. Food I grew up eating and food my parents grew up eating and so forth and so forth. Up until this point I went in cycles. I would eat low fat, high carb diet (chicken, rice or, whole grains and avoid fat like the plague.) When at my most diligent with this diet, working a construction job and working out five days a week, I managed to get to decent body composition. But I still felt like crap. Heartburn, daunting mood issues, excessive sweating, and adult acne, the list goes on. Remember that I said cycles, I was never actually able to maintain the regiment for more than six months. Each time I fell off the wagon, I would fall to a new all-time low.
After watching a documentary on juicing (which I don’t condone as a sole food source), I decided to make a change. So I gave the juice cleanse, the documentary recommended, a shot. I dropped some weight and was feeling good about myself. I wanted to keep the train running. The documentary recommended I eat a low fat higher carb diet again once I was done. I knew from experience that would put me back as I was. That was when I stumbled upon the book Practical Paleo by Diane Sanfilippo (the best starter book into paleo I have found to date).
I wish I would have found her book first. In it, I found a much gentler approach to what the juice cleanse accomplished without depriving myself of essential nutrients found in healthy fat and meat sources. I embraced her book and fast forward eight months and you find a whole new me. Down a bunch more weight, 59lbs total. to be exact and...que, getting socks for Christmas. But what I also got was, no heartburn, renewed energy, missing sweat stains (I could finally wear a coloured t-shirt. imagine a closet with nothing but black and white shirts). More importantly, I felt no need for any pills. My depression and crippling anxiety were almost none existent. I was feeling on top of the world. That is when I started to make a vital mistake.
I became a Paleo fanatic. Everything had to be Paleo 100 %. It became more about being Paleo then about being healthy. I don’t blame myself, look what paleo gave me, I went from feeling like I was hanging on for dear life to feeling on top of the world. But what being a fanatic did do was stop me from realizing that Paleo is just a template. A starting point. For some people, it is a great place to stay, for others they need a more customized method for fueling their body. After reading books from Robb Wolf (Wired To Eat, The Paleo Solution), Chris Kresser (The Paleo Cure) and experimenting with my own eating plan, I have come to realize the truth in what they say. Paleo is the starting point, the template.
I have found for myself; I do the best with a lower carb approach to Paleo. (Paleo is not synonymous with low carb. You can be on a high or low carb Paleo diet. For a more in-depth explanation of what Paleo is, please check what Robb Wolf has to say here https://robbwolf.com/what-is-the-paleo-diet/.
For a short answer. It is prioritizing nutrient dense foods while at the same time removing potentially harmful foods. It is also about testing whether said food is harmful by eliminating and then re-introducing said food (this was an eye-opener for me). If the food is harmful, cut it out, if it shows no signs of being harmful to your system, eat it. If it is a crappy food, limit how much you eat or don't eat it at all. For example I have found I don’t have severe issues with dairy. (I do have issues with acne when I consume too much). So I limit how much I eat, but will still indulge in the odd dairy product. I do have severe issues with gluten, oats and most pseudo grains, so removing them is essential for me.
I do my best to follow what Ben Bergeron laid out in his podcast, Chasing Excellence -Nutrition Simplified, large men eat 4 plates a day, and small men and ladies eat three. No seconds and no snacks. Each plate should consist of a palm size of the protein, three fingers of starchy vegetables (Example sweet potato), one thumb size of added fat (olive oil, butter, or coconut oil, etc) and the rest of the plate is none starchy vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, etc). I have found for cognitive function I skip the starchy veg during the day (starchy carbs drop my IQ points) so I save it for the last meal of the day. I add a little extra fat during the day which helps to combat cravings for empty calories. I also follow these rules to the best of my ability:
I never eat anything I have proved harmful to my system (still testing dairy)
I eat for nutrient density. For example, when given two choices of a , say sweet potato or a gluten-free bun. My choice has already been made. I eat the sweet potato. ( I could write another letter just about the benefits of pre-making decisions)
FOR ME all is NOT GOOD in moderation. For those who have an addictive personality like myself. Abstaining is a better strategy, or as close to abstaining as possible (check out the book The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin for more on this)
I will not let another’s annoyance dictate my health. For example, I will not order something harmful for fear of being a pain to a waiter; I will decline food at parties (always pre-eat and or have snacks aka- truck tuna (inside joke). My health is more important to me than hurting someone's feelings at a family dinner.
Each time I eat, I have a protein, carb, and fat.
I read the labels.
I don’t let myself get hungry. Bad things happen when I get "hangry". (Reason for having said "truck tuna")
These are all lessons learned by trial and error. Unfortunately, there is no one size fits all approach. Each of us is a little different. There are some general guidelines we have to follow to be healthy and effective, but there is a lot of room for individualization in between. Some things to keep in mind:
Don’t put the cart before the horse, if you are not eating clean natural food (meat and veggies, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch and no sugar or wheat) in the ballpark as listed above. You should not be trying to add shakes and carb supplements to fuel your workouts or any activity for that matter. Think of it this way; we don’t build a house from the top down. We start at the foundation, the same is true for fueling your workouts. Start with Ben Bergeron's recommendation of Quality and Quantity and once you are at your desired leanness with nutrient dense nourishing food, only then consider adding more carbs around your workouts. Letting how you feel and the absence of weight gain dictate how much.
Weighing and measuring when done with a health and performance ( Keyword HEALTH) mindset can work well. But if the act of doing it is providing more stress then you can handle, is it worth it? If it fits your lifestyle tho, All the power to you.
If you are not making the progress that you want in the gym and have not done anything with your nutrition that is the first place to start.
Food is a powerful thing, done wrong it can be the cause of our ills or even what kills us. Food done right can be what cures us and propel us to thrive all the way to old age. It is the biggest proponent to our health and fitness. Each time I find myself adding pounds or a health issue creeping in, I look at my food and see I have become lax in that department. If we think of our health and fitness as a car, exercise is adding horsepower and maintenance to the engine; nutrition is the gas in the tank. Without it, you get a large yard ornament.
We will be getting back to you with more on nutrition.
Thanks for your time,
PS Check out these references, you'll wish you had sooner.
Robb Wolf / robbwolf.com
Chris Kresser / chriskresser.com
Matt Lalonde / The Science of Nutrition