Thursday, July 11, 2013

Top 6 reasons people fail on the Paleo diet

I've worked with quite a few clients to help them change from a Standard American Diet to the Paleo Diet.  While the change is often difficult at first, many get the hang of it within a month or two.  This does not mean that everyone attains their goals and part of the reason is how blurry the lines are as to what a Paleo Diet is composed of.  I know I don't speak for everyone, and how anyone chooses to apply their diet to their lifestyle is totally up to them, but in this blog I will go over the top 6 reasons people fail on the Paleo Diet.  I am not simply defining "fail" as having anything to do with weight, I am including failure to attain health goals as well.  So here they are in order.

6)Not tracking data
However you choose to go Paleo, whether you go 2 months strict Paleo or just 80/20, it's important to pay attention to how food affects you.  It is unlikely that you will find foods that you are sensitive to if you don't go strict for at least 4 weeks, but you can still identify trends.  By paying attention to things such as energy levels, GI discomfort, how you sleep, and mental clarity you can tinker with your diet to identify what's optimal for you.  While the basic template of what we should eat is the same, there will certainly be a significant amount of individual variability based on genetic differences.  Most people feel that if something doesn't give them a stomachache then it's fine for them to eat.  This is certainly not the case.

5)Avoiding supplements
When Robb Wolf and Chris Kresser came out with their line of supplements for the Paleo Diet several months back, they were eviscerated by people on the web and on Facebook.  For some reason, people equate the Paleo diet with meaning that the need for supplemental nutrition doesn't exist.  News flash...people in the Paleolithic Era often died of malnutrition/nutritional deficiency.  The only reason we know anything about the RDA for vitamins and minerals is because people were contracting diseases of nutritional deficiency such as rickets and scurvy.  The healing potential of food has been around forever but that doesn't mean that eating an all natural diet such as the Paleo Diet won't lead to a nutritional deficiency.  Furthermore, the RDAs for most of the nutrients we know about were determined during a different environment with regard to the soil the food was grown in as well as the environment we live in.  I take krill oil, iodine, magnesium, and vitamin D3 all for different reasons.

1)I take krill oil because it 's a good source of DHA that isn't tainted heavily with mercury.
2)I take iodine because both the environment and our food supply have a lot of goitrogenic compounds and I have no way of sourcing seaweed in a way that would guarantee that it hasn't been tainted with radioactive iodine.
3)I take magnesium because I believe the soil our food is grown in is deficient in it and I drink alcohol and coffee which increase magnesium loss via the urine.
4)I take vitamin D3 during the winter months because where I live doesn't get D3 from the sun during that time of year.

Face the facts, our environment is not optimal and some supplemental nutrition is probably necessary for everyone unless they grow their own food and live in a bubble.

4)Not getting enough physical activity
I've discussed the negative effects of being sedentary on genetic expression in detail here, so I won't rehash all of the science.  What everyone needs to know is that both limiting daily sitting time as well as getting 10,000 steps a day are bare minimum physical activity requirements that cannot be replaced by exercising 6 hours a week.  In fact, getting those requirements in drastically reduces the amount of exercise you need to do at the gym to about 60-90 minutes per week.  Even if follow the Paleo Diet 100% of the time you need to move your butt!

3)Avoiding carbs
I like the ketogenic(low carb) version of the Paleo Diet and often do it for a couple of weeks at a time to lean out.  Going low carb is not a bad idea in and of itself if you are going to stay that way and you know everything you need to do to successfully implement a ketogenic diet.  The problem is, if you do it improperly you can hammer your thyroid and adrenals pretty badly.  In addition, if you are going low carb you need to stay low carb for an entire stretch for it to be beneficial to you.  No binging on the weekends, no higher carb day, no beer, no wine, no 80/20.  The problem with looking at carbs as the enemy is that people will have zero carbs for a stretch which will induce physiological insulin resistance and then binge on carbs in this state which is terrible for you.  Carb-phobia is a bad thing; don't focus on macronutrients, just focus on the food source.

2)Still eating processed foods
It seems that this would be common sense but it's not.  One of the primary tenets of the Paleo Diet is that processed foods are bad for you, at least in their current incarnation.  Somewhere along the line, people decided this processed food avoidance only pertained to processed foods high in carbs so processed foods high in fat such as nut butters, nut milks, and nut flours were perfectly fine.  This is an offshoot of the anti-carb paranoia I guess, but it is a bastardization of the concept of processed food avoidance.  The reasons you should avoid processed foods are because they are hyper-palatable which will cause you to overeat them and they are uber-doses of things you shouldn't be uber-dosing.  I wouldn't say you need to completely avoid these things, just count them as your 20 and not your 80.

I feel that this one is merely the pendulum swinging too far to the opposite side.  While being bombarded with propaganda to avoid fat for the past 40 years has certainly contributed to our current spate of health problems, we need to be careful not to overcorrect.  Most of us eating a Paleo Diet do so to avoid the gut inflammation caused by eating grains.  For some reason, to some people, this means that we should bombard ourselves with lots of fat.  You obviously have to replace some of the energy you lose from carbohydrates by eliminating processed foods with fat, but this doesn't mean you should be eating fat ad libitum.  There is plenty of evidence that eating a high fat diet will lead to gut microbiota changes that will increase intestinal and systemic inflammation (1, 2, 3).  While some of this can be reversed by eating foods high in prebiotics(aka fruits and vegetables), just eating fat for the sake of eating fat is a bad idea.  In addition to the inflammatory factor, calories do matter.  Just because counting calories isn't an effective way to be healthy or lose fat doesn't mean that eating a ton of calories won't pack on the pounds.  So if your breakfast is a cup of bulletproof coffee you may want to reconsider.