For those of you interested in eating Paleo, I applaud you. It’s a wonderful theory and, if followed correctly, will make it 100% possible to lose fat. Now that the sweet-talk is done, let’s get right to it.
You know what else can show similar results? The Atkins diet. And most of you already know the Atkins diet fails in the long-run. That’s a good comparison, Joel. I’m glad I thought of that, Joel.
Something that sounds too good to be true usually is. Advocates for the Paleo diet make some pretty impressive claims: “You’ll lose fat,” and “it’s natural,” or better yet, “I can control my diabetes with it.” Hey folks! That’s amazing. You know what else helps you lose fat? Exercise. You know what else is natural? Veganism (And we’ve already discussed that.) You know what controls your diabetes? A structured program from a nutritional professional. However, before you jump on me about why the Paleo diet is so much better than the Atkins diet and shame on you for saying that, here’s four reasons why choosing Paleo is a dead-end pursuit.
1. There are too many restrictions.
The Paleo diet is sound in theory, but flawed in practice. I’m not a Masters student, don’t have a Doctorate, and can definitely not compare myself to the expertise of Dr. Cordain. So my opinion could mean jack-all to anyone. With that said, entertain my logic and maybe learn a thing or two about your body.
There are 4 basic macronutrients that food is comprised of: Fats, Carbohydrates, Protein, and Alcohol. Thanks Ron Swanson for reminding me that, “Clear alcohols are for rich white women on diets.”
The Paleo diet is focused on only eating foods that are deemed “accessible” to our ancient ancestors. These foods include all meats, fibrous vegetables (broccoli, celery), nuts (Almonds), low-sugar fruits (Avocados), organ meats (no explanation needed. Ick.), and certain other natural products are allowed (Coffee? I wonder how much Starbucks’ had to pay to get that allowed.) If you’re interested in more sources, check out: http://paleologix.com/about/dietary-guidelines/
As you can see, processed food of any kind isn’t allowed. Grains aren’t allowed. Starchy vegetables aren’t allowed. Alcohol isn’t either (but coffee is. Go figure.) So you start eating Paleo and your body changes dramatically. This is to be expected because it’s definitely true that processed foods are extremely fat and sugar dense. Anyone that’s read a nutrition label can see that. Processed food is an addiction (Maybe my next article will be “Reasons Twinkies are like Crack.”)
To summarize, the Paleo diet is a high-protein, high-fat, fiber-dense, low-carb diet (despite sweet-potatoes being an option). Your body will respond to this by utilizing the long-term energy of the healthy fats and the constructive properties of the protein, and keep your insulin response pretty evened out throughout the day since you’re not spiking your carb intake frequently. THIS SOUNDS AMAZING, because frankly, it is. However,
2. High-Protein/High-Fat diets are extremely calorie dense.
For some reason, sausage is an allowable food in the Paleo diet. Now, I doubt Caveman-Man gutted an animal, stuffed a bunch of ground-up gristle and fat in its own intestines and burnt it over a fire. He probably had some gazelles to hunt before considering the finer-details of culinary arts. As you know, with all the crap that goes into sausage, it’s pretty damn bad. This is an allowable food in Paleo because it’s “natural” and fits in the profile. As you can assume, it doesn’t exactly have a favorable macronutrient ratio. Fats are wonderful additions to food and are great for cholesterol, but too much of a good thing is a bad thing. It’s like when you make it half-way to the bottom of the ice-cream pint and say screw it, you’re not a quitter.
This trend in Paleo has actually resulted in some interesting results. Paleo has been shown to reduce body-fat, but at the same time increase good cholesterol (HDL), bad cholesterol (HDL), and triglycerides. That’s entirely bonkers. (http://kb.osu.edu/dspace/bitstream/handle/1811/54660/E_Trexler_Thesis.pdf)
Your waistline shrinks, your good cholesterol increases, but you also clog your arteries with bad cholesterol and thicken your blood with fat (thanks, triglycerides). You know what else increases your triglycerides? High carbohydrate diets. You’ve made your body respond to fats the way it responds to carbohydrates, the whole time rejecting a high-carbohydrate diet. What.
You ingest 9 calories per Fat gram. In comparison, you ingest only 4 calories per Protein gram, and per Carbohydrate gram. This is why most professionals advocate a lower-fat diet, because fats are calorie-dense foods. Believe it or not, you can eliminate carbohydrates from your diet and still ingest too many calories per day since your fats are too high. This includes too many healthy-fats! This can’t be sustainable. And as the Atkins diet proves,
3. Low-Carb diets aren’t sustainable.
Everyone, no matter your age, gender, or weight, will see weight-loss with a low-carb diet. This is natural. To make it simple on you: carbohydrates are the simplest, easiest to digest unit of energy that you can consume. Since it’s energy, if you’re in an energy surplus (too many calories and not enough exercise) whatever’s left over is stored as fat on your body (like having a gas-can in your trunk when you run out of gas). Any macronutrient can do this, but carbohydrates are usually the first to go. It breaks down into simpler sugars in your body, your insulin regulates it, and bam; energy or storage.
So, the theory behind low-carb diets is that your insulin responses stay consistently lower than usual, you don’t have energy spikes and lows, and if your insulin responses stay consistently low, you’ll reduce the risk of developing diabetes and excess fat retention. Again, to summarize, anyone that changes their intake to a low-carbohydrate diet will lose weight.
But just like anyone who has ever tried a long-term low-carb diet will tell you, it doesn’t work. You will plateau. After a fashion, you can’t physically lose any more weight. You can always try going lower on carbs, but guess what? You’ll get light-headed, lack energy, get weaker, lose muscle-mass, your hormone levels will plummet, and this can even, unsurprisingly, trigger long-term illnesses.
Now, I may be less credible than Dr. Cordain (hell, I am). I am also grossly ignorant of some of the human anatomy. What I can tell you is look at bodybuilders: it’s been a common theme since the 70’s and beyond to decrease carbohydrates in increments until stage-time to get in the leanest form possible. Of course it is, because it works. However, as any bodybuilder will tell you, decreasing carbohydrates makes them weak, they lose muscle mass, their sex-drives plummet, and by stage-time they feel like zombies. That’s why they rebound after a show; it’s unsustainable to stay that way and perform at a high-level within those constraints. Speaking of which,
4. You will never perform at a high-level in the gym, or on the field.
Lower body-fat percentages and increased muscle-mass have benefits in any sport; you’re most likely faster, have more power output, you can probably jump higher, and if it’s a competition where weight-classes are important, this helps perform higher in lower weight-classes.
Gatorade is loaded with sugar. Athletes crave this and suck it down after an intense bout of exercise. Why? It helps you recover. The sodium, potassium, and fluid itself help towards this, but the simple-sugars in it spike your insulin. When your insulin spikes, other hormone levels spike too, resulting in an immediate recovery response. Yes, yes, it may sound like “broscience.” Of course the way I phrased it gives credence to that term. However, it’s commonly studied that aerobic and anaerobic exercise influences cortisol levels (breaks down muscle), growth hormone (self-explanatory), IGF (insulin-like growth-factor), exocrine and endocrine functions, and a whole lot of other things I don’t have time to discuss. Check this link for more information: http://www.depts.ttu.edu/hess/mccomb/documents/ess3305/ppt/chap05.pdf
Just because Caveman-Man didn’t have Gatorade doesn’t mean his body wouldn’t love to have it. I know if I finished chasing down a lion and were on the brink of death, I’d probably curl in a ball and cry, reaching for a cold-one or three. But I’m sure he’d appreciate a Gatorade if that were a choice.
With that said, insulin is extraordinarily important in the regulation of these other hormones. You are a high-performance machine that requires a high-functioning insulin response to help recover, build muscle, get stronger, and stay leaner. A practiced, tried-and-true constructive diet plan with proper macronutrient ratios (including fast and slow digesting protein and carbohydrates) leads to higher performance. Any professional athlete and their doctors and coaches will tell you carbohydrates are imperative. A successful high-performance diet isn’t so restrictive as Paleo.
What I can say is Paleo is a wonderful construct to promote a whole-food diet. Whole-food diets and lack of processed food is usually the most natural and functional diet towards performance and overall health. I tell everyone, “If you can kill it, pick it off a tree or out of the ground, or it comes from something you can kill, eat it.” So if you choose to go Paleo, know that I commend your effort and hope you learn something. However, keep in mind that it’s not sustainable and you can be severely lacking in constructive nutrients. If you expect to exceed your strength, power, and physical potentials and are strictly using Paleo as it's set up to do so, you will fail. Please don't try chasing down any lions while on Paleo. Please. I'd rather you do Crossfit. And don't worry, you'll hear how I really feel about Crossfit soon enough.