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How much of Paleo eating is a mental/placebo effect?

by (1044)
Updated about 2 hours ago
Created May 05, 2011 at 1:16 AM

Just to note, I fully believe in Paleo eating and its' health benefits and am not in any way trying to argue against it. I just wonder how much our minds play into it as well.

After reading a bunch of stories about people feeling horrendously sick after eating a non-paleo food item such as pizza, I'm beginning to wonder how much of it is actually in our heads. If SAD junk food didn't make us feel that horrible before, why does it now?

To share a similar encounter, I recently decided to cut out Larabars from my diet because I am trying to avoid sugar in all forms, as well as omega-6s. I guess I added them to my mental "bad" list. Note, I never had a problem with eating them before, even while eating Paleo. Yesterday, in a pinch, I grabbed a Larabar that I had left over as a mid-day snack. I spent the next hour with nausea and a headache.

Could this effect transfer over to the items we consider good as well? Does eating grass fed beef or other accepted items feel good because we consider it good? If we found out that it was bad, would we begin getting adverse reactions to it as well?

E5c7f14800c5992831f5c70fa746dc5c
0 · October 15, 2011 at 12:04 PM

i disagree. I've seen this in every health circle, vegans get sick after eating meat and fat, low carbers get sick after eating carbs, paleos get sick after eating grains etc. I would wager most of its placebo especially if you had no noticeable symptoms before.

E5c7f14800c5992831f5c70fa746dc5c
0 · October 15, 2011 at 12:04 PM

i disagree. I've seen this in every health circle, vegans get sick after eating meat and carbs, low carbers get sick after eating carbs, paleos get sick after eating grains etc. I would wager most of its placebo especially if you had no noticeable symptoms before.

Ef2f6c723983d7fe7a06bd57af6adeed
0 · October 14, 2011 at 4:15 AM

So if your mind thinks you are eating healthy all the time, even when maybe technically it may not be, would that be better than eating healthy but thinking it's not?

50637dfd7dc7a7e811d82283f4f5fd10
0 · May 05, 2011 at 7:10 AM

I think this answer is spot on.

91219405abedbfd400ce00dea242a00f
0 · May 05, 2011 at 2:35 AM

Thanks Ed! I searched placebo and didn't come up with anything. Didn't think of nocebo. And completely slipped past that psychosomatic one.

6426d61a13689f8f651164b10f121d64
0 · May 05, 2011 at 2:23 AM

For previous PH discussions of placebo and nocebo effects, see: http://paleohacks.com/questions/15456/what-can-we-learn-from-hunter-gatherer-medicinal-practices#axzz1LR2dgdR8 , http://paleohacks.com/questions/1354/beware-the-nocebo-effect#axzz1LR2dgdR8 and http://paleohacks.com/questions/23782/illness-after-reintroduction-of-certain-foods-psychosomatic#axzz1LR2dgdR8

91219405abedbfd400ce00dea242a00f
0 · May 05, 2011 at 1:43 AM

I feel fitting it into your own framework is the hardest part of being paleo by far and is highly commendable. Reading the part about you eating grain-fed nearly sent chills up my spine from all of the horrible things that I've read about it from the Paleo community. It feels like the more I learn about paleo, the narrower the range of food that's acceptable to me becomes and I'm not sure how to reconcile that with what my body actually wants/needs.

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7 Answers

9759643ce5d97ab8fa649ae954656c4c
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3315 · May 05, 2011 at 1:52 AM

What's happening in your body and mind is definitely not psychosomatic. I think in simple terms, or as an analogy of sorts, the process is similar to other addictions. Are you familiar with how a heroin addict overdoses on heroin? What usually happens is that a fatal overdose follows a period of detox where the user's tolerance is lowered. When heroin is reintroduced to the system at the same dose that the user was previously adapted to, surprise! it's now a fatal dose.

When we eat toxic foods, we numb ourselves, ignore symptoms, or even tell ourselves that we're supposed to be tired and bloated after eating. But after we've had the experience of clean eating and how well we can feel instead of feeling sick all the time, the reintroduction of poisons will be a noticeable shock to the system.

BTW, I personally have great regard for placebo. It's my favorite form of medicine.

E5c7f14800c5992831f5c70fa746dc5c
0 · October 15, 2011 at 12:04 PM

i disagree. I've seen this in every health circle, vegans get sick after eating meat and fat, low carbers get sick after eating carbs, paleos get sick after eating grains etc. I would wager most of its placebo especially if you had no noticeable symptoms before.

E5c7f14800c5992831f5c70fa746dc5c
0 · October 15, 2011 at 12:04 PM

i disagree. I've seen this in every health circle, vegans get sick after eating meat and carbs, low carbers get sick after eating carbs, paleos get sick after eating grains etc. I would wager most of its placebo especially if you had no noticeable symptoms before.

Ef2f6c723983d7fe7a06bd57af6adeed
0 · October 14, 2011 at 4:15 AM

So if your mind thinks you are eating healthy all the time, even when maybe technically it may not be, would that be better than eating healthy but thinking it's not?

50637dfd7dc7a7e811d82283f4f5fd10
0 · May 05, 2011 at 7:10 AM

I think this answer is spot on.

21fd060d0796fdb8a4a990441e08eae7
5
24523 · May 05, 2011 at 1:31 AM

Huge!!

People assume that only medical treatments can have placebo effects. Wrong. Dietary placebo is where it's at. In fact, dietary nocebo is also where it's at.

Case in point: I have no acute problems from eating wheat, but do have acute problems from eating too many eggs. After starting paleo, I'd do some elimination type experiments to see what the effect of different foods were. I convinced myself that wheat was making me sleepy at times and excitable at times, and eggs were only bad because my gut was damaged.

Now I know that this is wrong. Eggs and me just don't go well together, and my Indian ancestors must have been adapted enough to wheat to keep me safe in the short term. What happened is that I was hypersensitive to what physiological changes were going on because I was doing personal diet experimentation. That kind of bias is what led to the development of things like homeopathy, which stemmed from a single German dude's hypersensitivity bias.

These are things that I now realize to be true for my body that don't fit into what I desired for a personal "paleo" framework: grain fed beef tastes better to my tongue, nuts don't jive with my body, too many green veggies don't jive with my tummy, corn is a-okay acutely, I don't need much water at all, etc etc.

It is hard to be objective when you've read what works for other people, and when that coincides with the evidence. But our bodies are all so different, and our brains are so strong, that placebos are hard to distinguish even when they are right in front of us, on our plates.

91219405abedbfd400ce00dea242a00f
0 · May 05, 2011 at 1:43 AM

I feel fitting it into your own framework is the hardest part of being paleo by far and is highly commendable. Reading the part about you eating grain-fed nearly sent chills up my spine from all of the horrible things that I've read about it from the Paleo community. It feels like the more I learn about paleo, the narrower the range of food that's acceptable to me becomes and I'm not sure how to reconcile that with what my body actually wants/needs.

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420 · May 05, 2011 at 1:30 AM

I could eat a peice of pizza or a burger, fries and shake without any problems aside from the "food coma", but I got that nappy feeling on SAD too. Paleo hasn't effected my ability or desire to eat crap foods from time to time I just know that it's not good for me.

Eeb593d6b6d7a939fdd5469b69347d5f
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1037 · May 05, 2011 at 1:32 AM

I don't think my horrific acid reflux is psychosomatic. It's a pretty obvious indicator to me of when I'm eating something that I have digestive problems with and it's very consistent regardless of what I think about particular food.

32f5749fa6cf7adbeb0b0b031ba82b46
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41268 · October 15, 2011 at 2:57 PM

I came to paleo very skeptical. While I'm sure many seek out paleo for some relief from some condition, I did so purely out of curiosity. No placebo effect for me, if anything I'd see the nocebo effect in action (in other words, mind over matter, I'd convince myself that paleo has zero effect on me). After 4-6 weeks however, I started feeling better overall. I started feeling the effects of neolithic foods.

I couldn't convince myself that paleo was just a placebo effect, I'm damn sure it's real.

1fce94592c61f5078055ae6398ef486d
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15 · October 15, 2011 at 9:47 AM

I was wondering about this too! My friend insisted we buy a lamb curry ( no dairy, but with vegetable oil) and I had mental fog, lethargic and couldn't think properly. Anyone experience this?

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8757 · May 05, 2011 at 12:33 PM

Actually after reading about this very topic in several posts, I'm concerned. I will be traveling soon and worry about what a non-paleo eating situation might do to me. I already have numerous food allergies and tummy issues (working on that now), so anything could set me off.

When did eating get so scary?

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