For those of you who haven’t heard, there’s this new fad out right now called the “paleo diet”.
Based on the principle that food was a whole lot healthier back before humans started processing it and putting it back together in pretty packages, the diet preaches that followers should eat an abundance of fresh fruits, vegetables, lean meats, seafood, and nuts… and should completely avoid anything processed.
When I first heard about this diet, I thought it sounded pretty similar to the way I have been eating for the past five years. I figured it was the same old story -- some slick person with great marketing skills stumbled upon something that has existed for years & years ("healthy eating"), put a strange spin on it (the "paleo diet" lets you eat insects!) and slaps a name on it to make money. Ha!
But, before you go jumping on the paleo bandwagon, riding off into the stone age, and then posting about it on your twitter accounts… let me warn you: Don’t fall for it, ladies!!!
For, though the premise behind the paleo diet is somewhat admirable, there are actually quite a few major problems with it in practice…
1.For starters, the paleo diet is far too limited (as is the case with pretty much every “diet” that’s trended before it), which makes it highly nutrient-imbalanced and unhealthy.
Specifically, the diet only permits the consumption only of foods that were hunted and gathered by our earliest ancestors -- which means the only options are fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, fungi, lean meats and fish.
While fruits and vegetables are clearly valuable components in a nutritious diet, the paleo’s focus on meats and fish as the primary protein sources can actually lead to an over-consumption of saturated fats, which in turn can cause a whole slew of problems later in life -- such as high cholesterol, heart disease (the #1 killer of women), obesity, and even certain types of cancer! Not to mention mercury poisoning that can occur from eating too much fish if you aren't careful…
I was also very shocked to learn that the paleo diet does not permit any grains (not even healthy complex whole grains). While this extremely low-carb lifestyle may have been OK for the unemployed hibernating cave-person, it simply does not jive with the busy lifestyle of today’s active superwomen. Hence, over time, attempting to follow such a low energy diet such as the paleo will only lead to exhaustion, muscle weakness, and an overwhelming desire to take lots and lots of naps.
Equally disturbing is the fact that paleo diets forbid all dairy products. Perhaps now would also be a good time to point out that only about 20% of all women actually get enough calcium -- and that's on diets that do NOT enforce this ridiculous restriction! In addition to keeping muscles, bones, and teeth strong, numerous studies also show that three to four daily servings of low-fat calcium will also adjust your body’s fat-burning machinery to burn more – and store less – fat. So remind me again why we'd ever want to limit our dairy intake??
2. The strict limitations of the paleo diet are irrational, unreasonable, and only set you up for failure.
Granted, I agree with the notion that you should try to eat as clean and natural as possible, and should stay away from processed foods in general. But to ban these foods entirely to eat like a perfect little “caveman” 100% of the time is simply not realistic in today’s society.
For, cavemen (and women) clearly did not have the same options available to them back in their day. If twigs, leaves, berries and butterflies were the only items on the menu, well then twigs, leaves, berries, and butterflies were all that was eaten! In other words, cave people did not expend ANY energy exercising their willpower to stay on this “paleo” diet, because they didn’t have a freaking choice!
Today, this is obviously not the case. Contrarily, our world is chock-full of options, all made readily accessible at practically all times. We go to the 24/7 grocery store, and marketing throws a million different choices in our faces: 50 kinds of fruit jellies… 3 brands of every flavor of cereal… 14 varieties of cheddar cheese (that doesn’t even make sense)... whipped/Greek/churned yogurt with fruit on the top, bottom, sideways, etc. Then, on your way home from the store, you pass dozens of convenient fast food restaurants, all tempting you to take advantage of their tempting sizzling-this, and sweet-n’-creamy-that, for only 99 cents. Talk about temptation OVERLOAD.
Don’t get me wrong, the choices are not always healthy choices, and I’m definitely not saying we should just buy every package of cookies we see, or pull into every drive-through and buy the entire dollar menu just because it looks so tasty! But I am saying that it takes an awful lot of energy and willpower to resist this temptation 100% of the time, and that we human beings only have a limited supply of this willpower. Hence, part of the reason why trying to eat like a caveman ALL the time is just plain stupid and unreasonable. It’s setting people up for imminent failure, because last time I checked, people aren’t perfect -- so why on earth should we expect ourselves to be?
In other words, we all need a little chocolate and ice cream (or whatever your food fancy) in our lives sometimes… and that’s exactly why I advocate regularly “cheating” on your diet every once in a while. This means that you should eat nutritious whole foods (ahem, excuse me, “paleo diet” foods) 90% of the time, and that the remaining 10% is totally up to you! If you are eating 5 - 6 small meals per day, this 10% wiggle room comes out to about 3 meals per week -- “Cheat Meals”, I call them.
(Just a note about cheat meals: A “Cheat Meal” is REASONABLE in terms of quantity and nutrition. In other words, this is not a “Cheat Buffet” or a “Cheat Mountain of ice cream with chocolate sauce and mm’s instead of dinner”. Your cheat meal should fit reasonably on the same-sized plate as any of your other meals -- like 2 pieces of pizza as your meal, or a nice scoop of ice cream after a healthy meal) :)
So, despite what the Paleo Diet “experts” might want you to believe, straying from the nutrition plan 10% of the time like this will NOT have any negative impact on your progress. In fact, it’s quite the opposite: if you don’t plan on using up your thrice-weekly “cheats”, you’re basically just dooming yourself to complete diet sabotage.
Perhaps the case would be different, if temptations were not so abundant… or, if only we had to hunt and gather our Big Macs and processed granola bars…
3. Lastly, the paleo diet practice of “Feast and Famine” actually causes your body to store fat.
Aside from the diet’s lack of variety and unrealistic severity, the other problem I have with the paleo diet is that it promotes the use of “fasting”. According to the official website,“A feast-famine cycle has been postulated as a healthful lifestyle similar to that of human beings in the paleolithic. Famine & exercise (simultaneously) decrease muscle glycogen and triglycerides stores increasing AMPK and GLUT4 expression. These two proteins are involved in glucose and triglycerides homeostasis, leading to an efficient storage of energy...” Hmm… sounds fancy... but aside from the fact that the Paleolithic Era has since come and gone, they are also forgetting to mention that fasting also leads to an efficient storage of something called FAT. Let me explain…
Ironically, thanks to our cave-ancestors’ terrible practice of feast/famine (they had no choice, as it was actually very difficult to find enough food to eat), it is written into our human genetic code to “stock up” (ie. build fat) when nutrients are scarce (ie. when we “fast”). Becoming more efficient at storing fat is your body’s natural method for survival, and it kicks into gear every time you ignore your body’s nutritional needs by starving it.
Plus, skipping meals also slows down your metabolism, reduces fat-burning muscle tissue, increases belly fat, raises your desire for fatty foods, significantly increases your risk for heart disease, and actually leaves you with no energy to exercise! AHH! Now you can probably understand why losing weight gets harder and harder every time you diet by starving yourself. That is, most fasting-style diets fail because your body becomes increasingly efficient at keeping weight ON.
So, that said, let's save the insects for the hungry spiders, and kick the paleo diet back to the Stone Age where it belongs. Instead, how about trying a little well-balanced 21st Century diet I like to call "eating healthy". :)
Rather than buy into the paleo diet hype, get a nutrition plan that you can actually stick to! Check out my free 2-week quickstart program… or get the complete program to receive an awesome personalized nutrition plan made just for you! -- It's so easy, even a caveman could do it! (sorry, couldn't help myself)