I started following a Paleo diet - more or less Kurt Harris' version of the diet - a little over two months ago, and, unfortunately, I had a hard time discerning any benefits because of the stress and anxiety I've had over more than a few things in my life, all demanding things, should we say. I realized recently that willpower is a limited resource, and at this point in my life I'd rather eat somewhat unhealthier if it saves me the spiritual energy to do other things, like, find a better job. (And, living with my family now, I hated having to either interrogate my stepmother about what kind of oil she cooked my dinner in, or avoid the family function altogether.)
Fortunately/unfortunately I've been so convinced and impressed by the Paleo-affiliated research that there's no way I can go completely back to the Standard American Diet knowing what I do. I still avoid white bread, no sugar in the coffee, no cooking in veg oil if I can help it, etc. But at the same time, I'll now allow myself a mango or some other sugary fruit, or a slice of pizza now and then, and if I'm traveling, whatever the local fare is, for the sake of experimentation and avoiding social heresy. And I stop asking my stepmom so many questions.
So, finally, the question is: are there some gains of the Paleo diet made null and void by letting some parts of the SAD back into my life? Or, worse, are any high-fat Paleo eating habits (5 eggs a day, drinking cream, etc.) made dangerous with too much fructose or gluten or linoleic acid in the system? For instance, I thought of Dr. Harris' comment on dairy only being potentially harmful when gluten is also in the diet. Are there similiarly dangerous Paleo-Neo interactions that I should be aware of?
I guess the core question is: is a half-assed Paleo diet still better than nothing?
Can my body be effective at burning both carbs AND fat? Do I have to pick a side?
Or should I just stop asking so many questions and return to the Matrix?
Any time you bypass high fructose corn syrup for carrots and spinach, you are doing your body good. The two big ones that I have heard are combining high saturated fats and high carbohydrates can lead to heart issues and I've heard about the gluten/dairy argument as well. But this is more of a long term issue rather than an isolated incident issue. Are you doing damage to your body by eating a cheeseburger? Sure you are, but considering how many americans live off that stuff and live reasonably healthy lives, I don't think that a single cheeseburger will kill you. If you are eating a cheeseburger a week, well now things are getting more dicey.
I am suffering from the same issue you are. Work has FINALLY slowed down and my diet fell apart a bit during the busy season. I ate great for breakfast and lunch and a few dinners a week but the rest of dinners and usually the weekends were just bad news bears. I'm getting back up to 80% again but it's tough living at home and being able to save money by getting free meals a few times a week. I'm also 25 and I like to go out and have fun with my friends, which sometimes involves a lot of whiskey and a 2AM trip to Burger King. I accept that I am not perfect and not super strict but I enjoy my life and wouldn't want to trade friends and experiences with anyone. If I fall off the wagon for a weekend, I don't feel guilty about it. I dust myself off and eat a great egg breakfast the next day and I spend some time cooking a delicious primal meal for lunch. By stressing out over "bad" unpaleo food choices, you are doing more damage than the one off slice of pizza. For me, my choice to go paleo is to give me some direction to make better life choices and be more aware of what I am putting into my body. I am doing that and I feel better now than I ever have in my entire life. And I don't feel good after going on a carb binge so that negative reinforcement makes me want to choose more salads over burgers. But I was an emotional eater growing up so I have more work to do with ice cream and pizza.
It depends on how half-assed you get.
Every time you eschew a grain or legume food, you are probably doing your body good, and you should definitely celebrate small victories. On the other hand, I think there is a tipping point of healthy eating.
Before you get to that point, you will always be suffering; the unhealthy foods will drag you down, add to your stress, and prevent you from reaping tangible benefits. Moreover, it can be very difficult not to find yourself on a well-oiled slippery slope. You had pizza yesterday, why not have some of your sister-in-law's birthday cake today, etc. Special occasions are ubiquitous.
On the other side of that point, your health begins to improve and build on itself. I'd even bet the the stress and anxiety, which are, after all, an internal response, will improve, even with a hectic life, thus giving you more stamina to sustain your values under adversity. The positive feedback loop starts to go in the direction of health.
Where this point falls doubtless varies per person. Maybe you could be 80%-assed about it and be fine. My advice is to get as strict as you can, feel how good it can be, and then experiment with what indulgences you can tolerate without losing the benefits. You could also go gradually, but it may take years to discover how truly wonderful you can feel, or you may never get there at all. Going strict at first allows you to see what is really at stake.
I'm sure swapping some elements of your SAD diet with real, whole, natural foods must be a good thing. In addition, you can set that as a base on which you can build towards a more complete paleo approach when you have the time and energy to do so. Definitely a step in the right direction.
Perhaps also worthwhile trying to cut the worst bits of the SAD out first - which you seem to instinctively have done given your comment on flour and sugar. Good luck!
Those are all good points. I have had huge binging/emotional eating problems as well. Many seem to on LC paleo. Check out Methuselah's epic binges at Pay Now, Live Later. As you point out it's usually followed by a short period of strict dieting, then again by a binge, and the vicious cycle goes on. I think this is why my dad has been successful -- he has great willpower and never overeats, even though he still eats some bread, peanut butter, rice, and potatoes. Just one scoop of almond butter can send me into a 2000+ calorie nut binge.
Pretty recently, I stumbled across the zero carb people at Zeroing in on Health, and had a sort of revelation. Ultimately, they believe ZC is superior because of its appetite suppressing effects. Check out this thread: http://forum.zeroinginonhealth.com/showthread.php?tid=1987
As Matt points out: "Zero Carb (for me) = no hunger, no cravings. Very Low Carb (for me) = cravings which turned into cheating."
I've been experimenting with ZC myself (err, eating all animal products, with some onions for organ meats) recently, and indeed can confirm this: no cravings whatsoever, in contrast to LC, where food is constantly on my mind. I'm just starting this myself so I can't really say how it will pan out long term, but for now I really like it and am going with it. Any carbs in general tends to give me acne, especially fruit and potatoes, so that's only more evidence, for me, that ZC is the way to go.
This probably isn't what you wanted to hear, as ZC is that much more socially egregious, but I recommend trying it out. You just gotta stop the emotional eating/binging, and that's where it may help. People seem to be getting some really great results on it. Even KGH calls it "right for the wrong reasons."
I dunno, just stick with it. I've been paleo dieting for almost a year, and have had many problems and doubts along the way, but am ultimately glad that I kept going and experimenting. Even if you can't always eat paleo, you should get results if you crack down on the binges.
It is definitely healthier. You really have noticed no improvements?
My Dad is doing a half-assed version of PaNu (I'm working on him), and has lost lots of weight and feels much better regardless.
Stress and traveling always make maintaining a diet more difficult. It could help to let your family know how you want to eat. If it's a non paleo meal, just scramble up some eggs and pick out the paleo stuff from the main meal. If you keep eating this way eventually it becomes second nature and not a matter of conscious will power.
But yeah, don't go back to the matrix. Eat healthy when you can.
Yes- 80/20 80 on 20 cheat- we are humans after all. Cutting out the grains like white flour/bread is a HUGE step in the right direction. Same for Sugar. Now increase fat intake and you are well on your way.
This is mostly a reply to Kyle, but thanks to everyone else for your replies and encouragement.
I didn't notice many improvements, but that was the fault of my own, not the diet. I was pretty heavily constipated at first, which can also be attributed to stress. And I think I made the mistake of over-importantizing the bowel movements, you know, after four or five days of nothing, starting to try and force it with coffee, laxatives, and generally giving my bowels stage fright by putting so much pressure on it to perform. Once I stopped worrying so much about it, it got better on its own - a lesson that can be taken away to many other things in life, I imagine.
Perhaps the biggest problem was, and still is, the tendency to overeat, or emotionally eat, which Paleo did nothing to stop, as intellectually appealing the idea of "it was sugar's fault all along!" was. So, I was eating healthier, Paleo foods, but too much of them in response to life's stresses. (Doing better now.) Then there was my perfectionist problem, which tried to incorporate Paleo at its best, all at once: the intermittent fasting, the avoidance of industrial meat (without the money to buy quality meat), achieving a good fat/protein/carbs ratio. Of course, trying to do everything at once usually leads to failure, and so with my stomach hurting from overeating or my body abuzz with a blood sugar spike my father would look at me and see perfect justification of his educated notion that the USDA knows best and my diet needed to be more "balanced." Sorry, guys, but I think I gave Paleo a bad name...
This brings up an interesting thought I had - that going on a Paleo diet, or any low-carb diet, is great, healthy decision, but can be downright dangerous for certain types of people - perfectionists, emotional eaters, low self-control, all of the above - who can't stick with it. These folks, okay, US FOLKS, go through a rollercoaster of self-discipline, then binging, then reactionary buckling down, then more binging (as author Geneen Roth points out, all "dieting" in the sense of self-punishment and restriction eventually ends in a binge) which cannot be good for our bodies. We gradually get our insulin sensitivity through a few weeks of good behavior, then flood our system with it during the inevitable binge. I've read before that these dramatic blood sugar spikes may actually have worse health implications than just maintaining the constancy of the high-sugar, high-insulin metabolism. But I'd love to be shown otherwise.
It is in this way that I really do miss "the Matrix" of the SAD, because it's as if my body had a more versatile metabolism when I was eating like everybody else. Now I'm more sensitive to certain foods, and I think wistfully of the days where I could eat anything.
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