Thursday, October 27, 2011

Top 5 Questions (and Reactions) About Eating Paleo

As a CrossFit coach and nutrition nerd, it's sometimes hard to take a step back and look at things from an outsider's perspective. For instance, I had always heard of the infamous question from women "Won't lifting weights make me bulky?" but it wasn't until recently that I actually got that question. (the answer is a resounding NO) Similarly, I can sometimes take for granted questions about diet, nutrition, and paleo. There are some folks who know their stuff and others who simply have no clue what's going on. 

looks like pasta? nope, spaghetti squash

It can be confusing to hear about the Paleo diet since it goes against all conventional wisdom. And I'm not just talking about "magazine" conventional wisdom. I'm also talking about "stuff you hear from most doctors" conventional wisdom. However, through research and self-experimentation, we know that this stuff WORKS and this is why I cringe when I hear someone wants to lose weight, but is doing 5 metcons a week, restricting their calories, and sticking to whole grains and low-fat. NO BUENO! There have recently been a lot of discussions about nutrition at our box, so I thought I'd compile a "top 5" list of common questions from paleo newbies. Here we go:

1. What do you mean "calories don't matter?" I need to lose weight!
99% of clients that walk through our door want to "lose weight." I ask them to clarify that statement since I could theoretically cut my arm off and "lose weight." What they really mean is that they want to get rid of their excess body fat. So while a few people have come in wanting to improve performance, most priorities have to do with looking good naked. 
In order to do this, you need calories! Ok, I admit, if you have 6,000 calories a day, you will probably gain weight. But restricting your body to 1200 calories a day is just a bad idea. Your body doesn't realize what you WANT and all it KNOWS is that it's starving. So it preserves body fat as an emergency response. How many people do you know that have been on Jenny Craig or Weight Watchers for years? Fat loss should NOT be hard and definitely not take that long. Focus more on QUALITY of food and less quantity. If you eat real food that grows and dies (protein in the form of meat, fish, or fowl; fat in the form of meat, coconut, avocados or some nuts/seeds; and carbs in the form of vegetables or some fruit) then you are pretty good to go!

buy real food and 90% of your battle is won

2. Isn't fat bad? I don't want to get fat or have a heart attack!
This is probably my biggest pet peeve question when it comes to paleo/REAL food eating. It seriously disturbs me that there are millions of people out there that think eating fat will make them fat. Is fat calorically dense? Yes. Will eating a steak with fat in it make you fat? No way! Nor will it contribute to CVD (cardiovascular disease). You NEED fat and cholesterol for brain health, bone/joint functioning, and overall well being. It is hormonally NEUTRAL unlike sugar and carbohydrates which spike insulin levels which in turn signal the body to STORE excess sugar/carbs as fat. There is just too much to write about this, so check out these links for in-depth reasons how and why fat is not bad and in fact, it is GOOD for you: Mark Sisson on Saturated Fat; clip from Fat Head the movie

I love fat!

3. How do I get my calcium? I need strong bones!
 Similar to fat, dietary calcium is not always the same as bone calcium. Also true for calcium supplements. Studies have shown that supplements actually create calcium deposits in the bone in concentrated areas instead of the desired effect of spreading out along the bone. To get good bone health, eat calcium rich foods such as kale and more importantly, do load bearing exercises such as back squats and impact exercises such as box jumps. Get good vitamin D (either from the sun or supplement) and don't be so neurotic about your bones!

did I make it? what do you think??

4. But what do I do about breakfast? I need my cereal!
I think it's really funny when people find out about the paleo diet and comment that it doesn't give you a lot of choices, but then they eat the same cereal every single morning. What the...?! The biggest paradigm shift here is to think about breakfast as just another meal aka another lunch or dinner. If you love breakfast for dinner, how come you can't have dinner for breakfast? Steak and eggs are one of my favorite, or if I'm at work, I'll heat up some chicken sausage or leftover meat from the night before. Fruit is fine, but not too much. And depending on how compliant you are with the quality of food and body composition, intermittent fasting (IF) could be a great way to reset the body's insulin sensitivity (plus it's a sneaky way to restrict calories over time without the detriment of a program like Weight Watchers). If I were a politician, my campaign would be MEAT FOR BREAKFAST! .....or something like that.

breakfast, lunch, or dinner? if you can't tell, that's a good thing!

5. What about eating out/birthday parties/etc.? I need to let loose!
This is a sticky one, but for most people who can control themselves, eating a "non-paleo" item every once in awhile will not be the end of the world. I wrote about the 80/20 rule as one of my original posts, and for the most part, my stance has stayed the same. I think you should basically not PLAN a cheat day or cheat meal, but if it just happens to come up, then just don't go crazy and eat half a birthday cake. If you are going out to eat, don't eat the bread and order a slab of meat (steak is always a good go-to) and some veggies. Order a burger without the bun. I also think that as your body becomes accustomed to eating clean, it reacts worse when you go off the rails. This creates a natural aversion to ordering pasta for your dinner or having pizza and beer at a party. On the other hand, there are some people who just should NOT stray. Just like drug addicts or alcoholics, even just a bite of a cookie could send that person 100 steps backwards and create an avalanche of food disaster. You need to be the judge of how strict you want to be and what your goals are. Most people do fine with a 30 day challenge which allows them to see the full benefits of going Paleo. (fat loss, energy gain, better complexion, etc) Only after that would you maybe consider looser guidelines for your way of living. 

chicken, green beans, and apples with non-paleo glaze on them

What other common questions do people have when starting or learning about Paleo? 
How has your views of Paleo evolved over time?  


  1. Awesome post.

    I'm slowly transforming my co-workers into healthy eaters. At first they all laughed because they thought the "caveman diet" was retarded. Now they see me -35lbs later and are starting to ask questions.

    Is crow Paleo?

  2. When I first started crossfit, I thought that there would was absolutely no way I could take on the paleo diet! It only took me a few months to really start to embrace the lifestyle and I can say that I am probably 85% paleo (I can't give up my love of good, craft beer every once in a while or a little cream in my coffee!) and I couldn't imagine going back to eating grains/gluten on a regular basis. I absolutely love how I feel!

  3. Great post. I also find that even if a calorie deficit is your goal, it's not too hard to do that going Paleo. After 7-10 days of strict eating, most people find that they are not hungry, to the point where they actually have to *make* themselves eat.

    I've recently dialed my diet back in quite a bit, and I used to think that I craved carbs because I leaned out, but it turns out that I craved them because I wasn't eating as clean as I should.

    That being said, I will be having some of my buddy's home brew this weekend. It's all about balance.

  4. Great post. The calorie restriction thing makes me crazy. I know people who try to lose weight and who by 1 PM have only eaten 1-2 hard boiled eggs. Their bodies are in starvation mode at that point -- not exactly the way to drop excess body fat.


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