August 25, 2011

Eating paleo

by flickr user Stephen Rees
Maybe you've heard of Paleo (paleolithic diet), maybe not. If not I encourage you to check our Robb Wolf's blog (or buy his book, it's informative and entertaining), he has been researching this diet for a long time and knows all the details. I'm a newcomer to it and I'm passionate about it because scientifically it makes sense, and it's given me great, sustainable results in a short amount of time.

What paleo is
Paleo is eating lots of tasty lean meat, a variety of fruits and veggies, and the right kinds of fats. It's a commitment to eating whole foods, not highly processed ones. By eating the foods that humans evolved to eat, you can eliminate many of the 'diseases of affluence": obesity, diabetes, heart disease. Paleo is backed by lots of reproducible studies from several different researchers from around the world. As I scientist I was convinced to try it because not only does Robb Wolf discuss the science behind Paleo in his book and blog, he provides pages and pages of references to the journal articles that document the relevant studies. Besides the diet, the Paleo lifestyle sets a goal of reducing stress and getting adequate sleep every night. There's no counting calories either, when you're eating this way you naturally feel fuller faster and end up eating few calories without even trying.

What paleo isn't
I wanted to start with what you can have, because when I list the things that Paleo restricts you from eating most people I talk to sort of freak out and say "I could never do that!" Strict Paleo says don't eat grains, dairy, or legumes. It's a short list, but when you consider the standard American diet it eliminates most of the foods I grew up on and used to eat every day until 14 weeks ago. No pasta, no bread, bagels, muffins, milk, cheese, beans, peanuts. Why, you ask? Have you ever heard of coeliac disease? (It's ok, go read the wikipedia page, I'll wait.) Coeliac is an intolerance to the protein gluten which is found in wheat, rye, barley, and a similar protein is found in oats. For you geeks out there, gluten is very rich in proline, so it makes it through the stomach and intestines undigested. In the intestines it is able to pass into the blood stream and your body's immune system attacks it as the foreign invader it is. Over time this can worsen and lead to systemic inflammation which has enormous repercussions for the rest of your body. It turns out that many of our native proteins are similar enough to gluten that the antibodies raised against it can start attacking our own tissues, leading to autoimmune diseases. Sounds pretty nasty right? Well guess what, dairy and legumes don't have gluten in them, but both have proteins that act in similar ways to it, not to mention how many people have an intolerance to lactose in milk.

My experience with starting Paleo
Look. I could dedicate post after post to this lifestyle in hopes that you'll believe all the science behind it. In the end, the best proof you can have is just to try it. That's how I started, it sounded good but I wanted to know if it actually worked, so I conducted a little experiment. 30 days, that's it. Go strictly Paleo with your meals for 30 days and see how you look, feel, and perform (Robb even has a 30 day meal plan in the back of his book to get you started). In my first 30 days I lost 8 lbs, my chronic heartburn subsided, I felt more alert and energetic. I felt so good that I haven't looked back. Sure, I'm not perfect and I've given in to having a cookie or some excellent Mexican food complete with beans, rice, and cheese occasionally. But it's my life, and I own my diet...there's not some Paleo police that will come knocking on my door and tell me I've been bad, but my stomach sure was upset after that cookie. Mainly I think it's important to learn what works for you, if you can tolerate dairy occasionally without feeling like crap then go for it! Gluten all around is just a bad idea though...when I indulge I go gluten free and it's still delicious.

Where I'm at now
I'm totally a Paleo girl. After 3 months I've lost 20 lbs effortlessly, just by changing my diet. That's right, I haven't been to the gym once. (Don't get me wrong, my eventual goal is to start working out and get some tone, but drastically changing your diet like this takes some effort, and I want to make sure I get that right.) I've been able to stop taking my acid reflux medication completely, and my heartburn is gone. I wish I could just post this and then it would spread like wildfire and everyone in America would try it out and we'd be a healthier nation. I know that will never happen, but maybe I can change a few lives. My brother helped change mine by introducing me to Robb's book. I was at a point where I knew I needed to make a change, and this has been better than I could have hoped. If you're at that point too, take this as the push you need: get the book and try it for 30 days.

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