What is Paleo? There doesn’t seem to be one, simple defining set of words, and yet, for years, we tried so hard to fit our ideas of what a healthful diet was into the confines of the term Paleo. That ends today. We are not Paleo. We are Health-Bent, so go ahead and unlike us on Facebook.
We wrote about 80/20 living, X Number of Days Detox Deprivation Diets, and carbs in our book. So this really isn’t anything that’s changed with the way we think (Which is why we get pooped on for having carbs and dairy options in our book). We still eat and believe in the recipes in our book, but there a few things that lie outside the typical Paleo mindset.
I do not have allergies, autoimmune issues, or celiacs, and I’m not overweight, and that seem to be why a lot of people decide to “go Paleo”. So, if you “went Paleo” for any of the aforementioned reasons, some of the things I discuss below may not pertain to you. Personally, I eat for health/quality of life, performance, and to look good naked. The content below is based on my own personal experience. Everyone is different, and we don’t all do/perform/look the same on the same diet. Please be respectful of that. I reserve the right to delete your comment if you’re being an a-hole.
How it All Started
It’s 2006, I was in college, and went in for a colonoscopy, and later, an endoscopy, all so the gastro could tell me I had IBS and here take this pill. I wasn’t impressed. A few months later, Brandon read The Paleo Diet, and thought it could help. I read the book, agreed that it made sense and thus the ball got rolling. We went full-blown Paleo. After years of reading and self- experimentation, we’ve 80 percented our diet as Paleo for almost seven years (That was weird to write, I feel old.). We started CrossFit in 2009, are pretty good at it, and are currently set to open our gym, Base 10 CrossFit, at the end of December.
Let’s Start a Blog & Tell People What We Eat
Throughout those years, we read the blogs and the books, and gave 2 hour long talks at the gym we worked out at. Our talks weren’t about cavemen and only eating what they had available, we talked about the science. Where we got it wrong was where we were looking for the science. We chose to reference the bloggers and books we read, from the people who were picking studies to prove their points; referencing PubMed and studies that, as a layperson, I couldn’t tell the grade A from the grade quack. I rarely (read never) clicked or looked up the reference links to read them for myself, and even if I did, would I even really know what it said (or didn’t say)? Probably not. I just believed the interpretation I was reading. I realized we were cherry picking the cherry pickers, and needed to find/read sources that were selling research, not a diet and a slew of products to along with.
From the very beginning, we always tried to convey ideas of 80/20, moderation, and enjoying the food we prepared and ate. We battled the Paleo Purists, and the “paleo-izing” of our favorite conventional foods & flavors, being told by one popular Paleo blogger that we had “sucrose sweetened venom” running through our veins. Lol. All so now those same dogmatic purists sell the same message, via hypocrisy, in the form of diet books, product affiliations, and cookbooks. Needless to say (but I’m saying it anyway), we don’t participate in the Paleo circle jerk (I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine) and don’t really find ourselves wanting to be associated with people who perpetuate perfection, dogma, treat/carb-shaming, and disordered eating a la guilt and excuse making when they eat “unpaleo” food. Anyway.
Neither one of us are fans of the super strict challenges. Sure it helps people, and I’m happy if that’s what motivated you to make a change and you’ve experienced positive results because of it, but we think those types of challenges are completely unnecessary if you aren’t extremely overweight/obese, suffering from autoimmune/allergy issues, etc. Beyond that, I’ve never understood why craving something is bad. Why challenging yourself not to eat fill-in-blank for x number of days makes things better? What proof is there that some arbitrary number of days is going to “cure” you of those cravings anyway? And if you’re prone to disordered eating (more of us are than you realize), I really think these challenges of eliminating certain groups of food can makes things worse. It’s an unnecessary test of willpower. If the day after the challenge is over and you binge eat on the “not healthy” foods (who wouldn’t), that is proof enough for me that the challenge does nothing to “cure” you of any so-called “cravings” or “bad habits”.
Read it…it’s worth it, I promise. Why “Clean Eating” is a Myth -impruvism.com
Orthorexia/Disordered Eating & Carbs
I came across the website GoKaleo.com and read about her weight loss success and her current diet. She’s vegetarian (I think), and eats a ton of carbs. I died. I couldn’t believe it. How did she not regain weight? How was she so ripped? Carbs are evil!
I was eating a typical paleo diet: lots of meat, vegetables with fat on top (butter, olive oil, etc.), virtually zero nuts, very little fruit, and I looked swollen & puffy, my face was broken out, and I consistently bonked during my workouts. I wasn’t happy.
This was when I began to realize that a.) I was eating too much and b.) I may have a tinge of disordered eating. Even with my disdain for 30 day detox deprivation diets, I realized that I was afraid to eat carbs. I didn’t vilify carbs per se, but how many carbs I ate took precedence over everything else. With no measurable results of my own, except that I wasn’t as lean as I used to be, I chalked it up to CrossFit and muscle (that you couldn’t see very well, because it was covered by a cushion). With all the hard work I was putting in to the gym, why wasn’t I happy? If calories don’t matter then why don’t I look the way I want to? That’s when I realized maybe I have this all wrong.
Energy Balance & Looking Good Naked
Let me be very frank here: If you don’t look good (my idea of good), I’m not particularly interested in taking your advice. Shallow? Snarky? Maybe. But if you don’t walk the walk, then, to me, you have have little credibility–I don’t care how many letters you have (or don’t have) after your name. And within the Paleo community, there are very few “credible” looking female figureheads. In other words, I’m not really inspired by many female paleos.
“Recently on the Internet, a common meme is that the application of thermodynamics to the human body is incorrect. This usually comes out of people talking about something that they clearly do not understand in any way shape or form which is the energy balance equation.” – Lyle McDonald via http://www.bodyrecomposition.com/fat-loss/the-energy-balance-equation.html
This is totally me (and most of us, I think). Paleo says don’t worry about calories, they don’t matter. Keep your insulin & blood sugar low, and you can eat all the meat, fat, and vegetables you want. That’s what I did. And that did not work for me (see above). I don’t have a science background, but I have enough common sense to know that if I’m doing what I’m told and I don’t like the results, then it’s time to stop, reevaluate and try something different.
“You have to be in energy surplus to gain weight and deficit to lose weight. There are some dietary factors that dictate how much of that weight is fat vs. lean, but this appears to be largely dependent on protein and activity. And it’s a lie that carbohydrates + high insulin favors energy storage as fat while fat + low insulin favors energy usage. In the end, our carbohydrate stores are so small as to be negligible in determining long term energy balance. We get fatter if we eat more calories because fatty acids have high energy density, and we store them in fat cells because that’s what they are designed for. When you are in caloric surplus to the tune of 3500 calories, roughly one pound of lipid is deposited, hopefully in your fat cells. How this exactly equates to a pound of adipose tissue or other tissue it might be deposited in and/or associated water weight is where the fuzziness comes in, but this doesn’t change the nature of calories and energy. There’s no magic.” -Evelyn via http://carbsanity.blogspot.com/2013/07/calories.html
“One of the biggest misconceptions regarding insulin is that it’s needed for fat storage. It isn’t. Your body has ways to store and retain fat even when insulin is low. For example, there is an enzyme in your fat cells called hormone-sensitive lipase (HSL). HSL helps break down fat. Insulin suppresses the activity of HSL, and thus suppresses the breakdown of fat. This has caused people to point fingers at carbohydrate for causing fat gain.However, fat will also suppress HSL even when insulin levels are low. This means you will be unable to lose fat even when carbohydrate intake is low, if you are overeating on calories. If you ate no carbohydrate but 5,000 calories of fat, you would still be unable to lose fat even though insulin would not be elevated. This would be because the high fat intake would suppress HSL. This also means that, if you’re on a low carbohydrate diet, you still need to eat less calories than you expend to lose weight. Now, some people might say, “Just try and consume 5000 calories of olive oil and see how far you get.” Well, 5000 calories of olive oil isn’t very palatable so of course I won’t get very far. I wouldn’t get very far consuming 5,000 calories of pure table sugar either.” -James Krieger via http://weightology.net/weightologyweekly/?page_id=319
“Carbohydrates get a bad rap because of their effect on insulin, but protein stimulates insulin secretion as well(ZING!). In fact, it can be just as potent of a stimulus for insulin as carbohydrate…The bottom line is that insulin doesn’t deserve the bad reputation it’s been given. It’s one of the main reasons why protein helps reduce hunger. You will get insulin spikes even on a low-carb, high-protein diet. Rather than worrying about insulin, you should worry about whatever diet works the best for you in regards to satiety and sustainability.”-James Krieger via http://weightology.net/weightologyweekly/?page_id=319 (my zing, not James’)
“As I mentioned earlier, people seem to confuse blood glucose control and insulin control. It is the management of blood glucose itself that is partly responsible for the health benefits of low-glycemic carbohydrates, or reducing carbohydrates, or increasing protein intake, or consuming dietary fiber, or consuming fruits and vegetables, or consuming whole foods over processed foods. It is not the control of insulin; the control of insulin ends up being a byproduct of these other behaviors through improvements in insulin sensitivity (how responsive your cells are to insulin) and reductions in blood sugar swings.” -James Krieger via http://weightology.net/weightologyweekly/?page_id=459
More about insulin and how it works in the body: Insulin…More of a Traffic Cop Than a Storage Hormone: http://weightology.net/weightologyweekly/?page_id=571
“It is clear that dairy products are extremely insulinemic, moreso than many high carbohydrate foods. Thus, if the carbohydrate/insulin hypothesis were true, then we would predict that a diet high in dairy products should promote weight and fat gain. However, studies fail to show any relationship between dairy product intake and weight gain…The evidence is overwhelming that dairy products do not promote weight gain, and they actually inhibit weight gain in animal studies. This is despite the fact that dairy products produce very large insulin responses, as much or greater than many high carbohydrate foods. Thus, it is clear from this article, as well as my previous articles, that the carbohydrate/insulin hypothesis is incorrect. Insulin is not the criminal in the obesity epidemic; instead, it is an innocent bystander that has been wrongly accused through guilt by association.”-James Krieger via http://weightology.net/weightologyweekly/?page_id=536
And also, The Carbohydrate Hypothesis of Obesity: a Critical Examination via Stephen Guyenet: http://wholehealthsource.blogspot.com/2011/08/carbohydrate-hypothesis-of-obesity.html
Context, Dose, and Logic
“So why is it in the field of nutrition and training that the majority seem to think in absolutes where the context of the situation is never taken into consideration? Because as often as not, it isn’t. Rather, individuals will state in absolute terms, regardless of context that such and such is good, or bad, or best, or worst. Squats are good, squats are bad, carbs are good, carbs are bad, saturated fats are good, saturated fats are bad. Pick a topic and you’ll find extremist, absolutist viewpoints on all sides…Because what might be perfect for a given situation could be the absolute worst choice for another situation. Whenever someone starts speaking in absolutes, it’s clear that they aren’t thinking about the situation, they’ve ignored the context. In their mind, there’s only one answer (usually what works for them or whatever propaganda they’ve absorbed to the point of repeating it without thought) and the context be damned.” -Lyle McDonald via http://www.bodyrecomposition.com/fat-loss/the-importance-of-context.html
“Yes, Kale does contain chemicals, all foods do. In very large amounts or in certain vulnerable people could cause problems. Many of the studies I chose involved animals with a diet almost completely based on kale, which I think anyone will agree is a bad idea. Most also involved varieties not sold for human consumption and consumed in ways that humans might not consume- uncooked, un-marinated, etc. A lot of the rest involved just scary language about various chemicals and studies involving isolated chemicals.” -Melissa McEwen via http://huntgatherlove.com/content/just-kale-me-how-your-kale-habit-slowly-destroying-your-health-and-world
Read the article. It’s satirical, but it makes a fantastic point–any food can be made to look unhealthy. It’s dose. Replace “kale” with “gluten” or “fructose” and this sounds like every excerpt I’ve read from someone tying to sell Paleo. Animal trials (I am not a mouse, and neither are you), or human trials on sedentary, overweight and deconditioned/untrained people (which I am not), dosage administered way beyond a normal intake, sometimes through the brain (I like to use my mouth to eat), and isolating the nutrient/food/chemical.
A few other interesting points from Alan Aragon via: http://www.nsca.com/uploadedFiles/NSCA/Inactive_Content/Program_Books/PTC_2013_Program_Book/Aragon.pdf:
“Comparitive research favoring Paleo diets have failed to match macronutrient intake, making it impossible to isolate the inherent benefit of Paleo-approved foods.”
This includes calories, and should immediately raise your critical thinking flag.
“It’s impossible to universally define the diet of our prehistoric ancestors due to widely varying intakes according to food availability and geographical location.”
We’ve said this many times. Think about it.
Claim: “Grains contain phytates and oxalates, which are antinutrients (designed to protect the plant), reducing the bioavailability of essential minerals”
Evidence: “Phytates and oxalates are not exclusively contained in grains. They exist in a wide range of plant foods, including green/leafy vegetables…Selectively claiming that certain plants should not be eaten because they were designed to resist consumption is as illogical as claiming no one should eat animals with defense against predation.”
Question: “Are there some populations of people that you believe are extremely maladapted to Neolithic diets and therefore should avoid grains and legumes altogether?”
Answer: “I don’t think it’s practical or even accurate to assume population-wide extreme intolerance to grains and legumes. The issue with grains inevitably boils down to some level of gluten intolerance. The most current estimates of celiac disease prevalence fall below 1% of the population. As far as non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) goes, a very recent study led by Daniel DiGiacomo of the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University estimated that the national prevalence of NCGS is a smidge over 0.5%, which is about half the prevalence of celiac disease. I’ve seen higher gluten sensitivity prevalence estimates in less reliable literature, but the bottom line is that the gluten-tolerant fraction of the population is likely to be well over 90% of us. So, it simply makes no sense to view gluten-containing foods as universally “bad.” Adding to the illogic of banning foods that are tolerable by the vast majority of the population, the traditional Paleo diet doctrine selectively ignores the fact that ‘Paleo-approved’ foods (i.e., nuts, fish, and shellfish), have a combined prevalence of allergenicity comparable to – and by some estimates even greater than that of gluten-containing grains. Another amusing fact is that 4 of the 8 “major food allergens” designated by the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act are Paleo-approved.” -Alan Aragon via http://paleomovement.com/alan-aragon-paleo-critic/
Claim: “Cow’s milk is good for baby cows, but not humans. We are the only animal that drinks the milk of other animals.”
Evidence: “…Who gets to decide which parts of the cow we should consume? It’s perfectly Paleo to eat the cow’s muscle, but not the milk that laid the foundation for the growth of those same muscles?”
“So, is fructose really the poison it’s painted to be? The answer is not an absolute yes or no; the evilness of fructose depends completely on dosage and context. A recurrent error in Lustig’s lecture is his omission of specifying the dosage and context of his claims. A point he hammers throughout his talk is that unlike glucose, fructose does not elicit an insulin (& leptin) response, and thus does not blunt appetite. This is why fructose supposedly leads to overeating and obesity. Hold on a second…Lustig is forgetting that most fructose in both the commercial and natural domain has an equal amount of glucose attached to it. You’d have to go out of your way to obtain fructose without the accompanying glucose. Sucrose is half fructose and half glucose. High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is nearly identical to sucrose in structure and function. Here’s the point I’m getting at: contrary to Lustig’s contentions, both of these compounds have substantial research showing not just their ability to elicit an insulin response, but also their suppressive effect. on appetite [3-6].” -Alan Aragon via http://www.alanaragonblog.com/2010/01/29/the-bitter-truth-about-fructose-alarmism/
Performance & Fat Adaption
“Low-carb diets have never gained a foothold in professional sport for one simple reason; professional athletes are expected to perform consistently at a high level. Their very livelihood depends on it. If their performance suffers, all hell breaks loose. Sports columnists start writing savage critiques, fans start calling for their heads, sponsors start wondering whether they should continue with lavish endorsements, and team selectors start sizing up other promising athletes as potential replacements. So, apart from the occasional wayward Joey, low-carbohydrate diets are avoided like an infectious disease in the upper echelons of sport. Given that they’ve been repeatedly shown to kill performance in glycogen-dependent activities, it’s little wonder that top-flight athletes and their coaches avoid them like a bad smell…The bottom line is that both zero-carb and low-carb diets are a disaster for those engaged in regular strenuous exercise. And for anyone with a sound knowledge of the biochemistry of energy production, this is no big surprise…If you want to train, perform and look like a serious athlete, you better damn well eat like one. People who perform vigorous exercise have no business eating a diet best suited to diabetics and sedentary soccer mums.” -Anthony Colpo via http://anthonycolpo.com/why-low-carb-diets-are-terrible-for-athletes-part-2/
“So what we have from Phinney’s study is sprinting performance that promptly went down the crapper, worsening endurance performance in 2 of the cyclists even at low exercise intensity levels, no significant change in another of the cyclists, and extremely unlikely increases in “endurance” in the remaining 2 that are most likely an artifact of test familiarization. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the pinnacle study from which we are supposed to conclude that low-carbohydrate dieting will not hurt endurance cycling performance.” -Anthony Colpo via http://anthonycolpo.com/why-low-carb-diets-are-terrible-for-athletes-part-2/
“During an interview at the [CrossFit] Games every individual athlete was asked who follows a paleo diet, and not a single one raised their hand.” -Talayna Fortunato, CrossFit Games competitor, via http://wodsuperstore.com/blogs/news/9623173-top-10-mistakes-crossfitters-make
Sidebar Figuring Out My IBS
Issues with my gut would wax and wane over the years. Sometimes I felt okay, sometimes I was pumped up like the Hindenburg. It wasn’t until 2011 when I read about FODMAPs and realized what MY IBS was…I can eat a meal full of gluten, grains, sugar and dairy (pizza and ice cream is my particular favorite) and wake up the next morning with a completely flat stomach, and no bubble guts (you know the gurgle noise your tum-tum makes) to speak of. What really sends me running for the bathroom and gives me a food pooch rivaling a 2nd trimester pregnancy are vegetables. Not all vegetables, but certain FODMAPs (pdf). Bloat sets in after I eat cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, brussel sprouts, eggplant, kale, raw zucchini, beets, most dried fruit, and chicory root or inulin. So, I avoid most of this stuff. It’s so funny to me the things that are unarguably Paleo are the things that mess me up the most.
What I Do Now
Within my routine below, there is some context that is important to know: I do CrossFit 4 times a week and want to eat to fuel performance, look good naked, and for overall health and enjoyment (that’s really important to me). I don’t have very much weight to lose, but I gain weight very easily–I’m the “last 5 pounds” kind of person. I have to work pretty hard and be very “present” about the food and quantities I eat to remain lean. My personal goal is to be a little bit leaner, not 6-pack ab- body builder lean, just leaner. It’s completely cosmetic and superficial, I know, but that’s what I want and I’m not ashamed of it.
1. My priorities are: Calories > Protein > Carbs > Fat
2.Within that hierarchy, I want to eat a varied diet, made of whole foods, most that I prepare myself. That’s nothing new.
3. Calories. Calories do count. I believe that. First week, I weighed most of the food I ate (and I continue to do that off and on), so I could see what 4 ounces of meat looked like, or 1/2 cup of a rice, and stayed around 1800-2000 calories a day. I do CrossFit once a day, just whatever Brandon programs at the gym… strength, skill, and conditioning components are always there, but it’s a total of an hour of work, tops.
4. Protein. Most mornings I eat low-fat plain greek yogurt of low-fat cottage cheese for breakfast, mixed with sweetener like maple syrup or jam or a few eggs with some sort of toast, or very occasionally I’ll eat plain oatmeal with peanut butter and a banana. Lunch is leftovers or a salad with quinoa or a rice tortilla filled with meat and some cheese, snacks are vegetables (mostly cukes and red peppers) dipped in a yogurt dressing I make, fruit and/or a protein shake, and dinner is a lean protein, a veg, and some form of starchy carb.
5. Carbs. I eat a lot more of them now. Things like potatoes and sweet potatoes, but also non-paleo things like: quinoa, rice, rice noodles, and really good sourdough spelt bread with lots of butter. I don’t completely eschew gluten, but I don’t eat it everyday either.
6. Fat. It’s lower than it used to be, for sure, not because I think it’s bad, but because it’s not helping me reach my goals. I don’t eat bacon very often. I’m kind of sick of it anyway. I stick to leaner cuts of meat and add things like sour cream, cheese, avocado, etc. on top of the meat, so I can have greater control over the amount of fat I eat, because the #1 priority for me is calories.
7. Breaks. Once or twice a week (sometimes more) we’ll go out or make and eat whatever we want. It’s usually pizza and either Ben & Jerry’s or Häagen-Dazs. Yum.
Simply put, I’m eating fewer calories, eating food that I like, and food that makes me feel full. It’s been really easy.
That’s how things have been for the last 6 months. I lost 6 pounds easily, and have kept it off for the last 3 months, all without feeling deprived. I look better naked, my clothes fit better, I feel and do better in the gym, my skin has cleared up (with the exception of a minor blemish here and there) and I eat what I want when I want, in moderation. I feel really good. What else could I ask for?
At the end of the day, we started this blog and called it Health-Bent, because that’s what we are. We’re not Paleo-Bent. We want to eat the way that makes sense to us, even if what makes sense changes. We don’t know what we don’t know, so that’s why we believe it’s paramount to continue to read, learn, experiment and keep an open mind.
Resources: Who I Linked To & Who I Read
Alan Aragon alanaragon.com
Lyle McDonald bodyrecomposition.com
Melissa McEwen huntgatherlove.com
Evil Sugar Radio evilsugarradio.com
Armi Legge impruvism.com
Go Kaleo gokaleo.com
Whole Health Source wholehealthsource.blogspot.com
Anthony Colpo anthonycolpo.com