Today's post came about after watching some very pointed and insightful videos by Derek Woodske. This was one of those “aha” moments I had while watching him rant (very well by the way) about Paleo food and gave me some much needed justification in how I have been feeling as of late about what it means to eat Paleo and exactly how handcuffed people can get by following one nutritional dogma so strictly.
You'll find, if you search long enough, that most successful diets have much in common. The more we consume foods that are not processed and eat a variety and array of fruits, vegetables, meats, starches and fats from good sources, generally the healthier we'll be. The caveat is that if you listen to 10 different experts telling you how to eat, exercise and live they'll all have some conflicting ideas and incorporating them into your life will leave you thinking and feeling trapped.
Some background information: while I don't adhere to a strict Paleo or hunter-gatherer diet, I, like many others in the fitness industry, tend to follow many of its tenants. Eating vegetables? Check. Lean meats? Check. No processed food? Check. Only mercury free tuna and cows that had ten friends and water that is filtered by Scandinavian mountain sediment and yogurt that was blessed by 10 eunuchs? Ugh.
See where I am going with this?
Many people who follow the Paleo lifestyle know the movements founder, Loren Cordain as well as its messiah(sort of kidding) Robb Wolf. I must admit, I really enjoy Robb's podcast and all the research he does and people he has helped overcome sickness and disease as well as how much he has educated the public and brought more light on eating healthy and living an active life. I've listened to dozens and dozens of his podcasts and have learned a lot from Robb and his guests. The thing is, after listening to close to 100 hours of information from his show on the “rules” to follow, I've really noticed something. People are confused, handcuffed and anxious about their food choices. Listeners email the show and Robb answers their questions; some good and some so specific and anxiety-ridden that you can tell the listener is literally distraught with whether or not they are doing even the most minute things “right”.
There are certainly some people that need to follow stricter plans to see results, especially when dealing with a specific disease like diabetes, but for the vast majority, it shouldn't be that hard. Another great movement founder, Paul Chek once said that he works with people who are so stressed out about the food they are eating that they are literally making their health worse from the constant anxiety over what they put in their mouths. While I do not completely agree with all of his spiritual practices, I like how he has people address this: he has them “pray” over their food, telling themselves the food Is nourishing, they are at peace with their choice and they do not judge themselves or have anxiety over the meal. Physiologically this actually has merit, as having chronic stress from worry over food will elevate cortisol levels which is a hormone that frees up fatty acids and stores glycogen(from glucose). Ingesting nutrients, especially carbohydrates with constantly elevated cortisol causes a tendency towards fat storage, as the cortisol wants to store the carbohydrates in muscle or fat tissue and the insulin makes fat cells more apt to take these nutrients up.
In other words, don't stress about your food. Make a definitive choice, assess how you feel and look after choosing a certain dietary strategy and accept your choice. If you buy an ugly t-shirt it doesn't mean the rest of your wardrobe is ruined. Instead, you assess how you look after putting it on, and if its hideous, never wear it again and choose something else from your closet. But we ALL have those days when we try on ten things, hate how we look in all of them and then leave the house feeling like we made the wrong choice. And if you did, so what? It's one day, not the rest of your life.
Food is the same! Your body will tell you how it feels about your choice. Eat some oatmeal for breakfast....feel great with lots of energy or feel like a you want to nap? Don't think you HAVE to eat it because Bob from the Biggest Loser says it's the best breakfast in the universe. This is when your breakfast (or any meal) stabs you in the back. We have a tendency to trust an authority figure, even one like Bob who has no real credentials because he is emphatic and charismatic and says This Is What You Do. Since when do we eat a certain food because someone we don't know told us we have to eat it? Most of us have the common sense to say, for example, “I don't drink dark liquor because it makes me go wild so I stick with wine.” Where did that intuition go when we sat down at the dinner table?
Recently, as a test I decided to do the opposite of how I normally eat. As of late I generally keep most of my meals high in protein and fat with lots of vegetables and then eat carbohydrates before and after my workouts. This is a very simplistic overview but you get the point. Breakfast for me is usually eggs or even chicken with vegetables etc. Instead, for a week I ate a big 'ol bowl of oatmeal with protein powder, shredded coconut and cinnamon mixed in. My next meal or two were protein with some sort of rice or potato and then I would not eat any carbohydrates at night. All this did for me was make me sleepy in the morning after eating all those carbs and I can tell I actually gained some bodyfat from ONE week eating like that. Now take into consideration that I was only totaling around 150 grams of carbs a day like that compared to how I normally eat with 200-250 grams of carbs eaten around my workouts. Less food, at the wrong times was so much worse than more food at the right times. My breakfast literally betrayed me.
So how do we assess how a meal makes us feel? This can be tricky because so many people are used to feeling lousy all the time that they have forgotten what feeling good is. Dragging through your day, relying on coffee for energy, no desire to exercise or be productive after a day's work or feeling like work took everything out of you. These are signs. Others are lethargy after a meal, bloating, gas, being hungry again very soon after eating, feeling like you need caffeine after a meal, feeling the need to eat something sweet after a meal, brainfog, bad breath and anything that deviates from feeling energized, focused and satisfied.
I have made the suggestion to countless people to try eating a higher protein and fat breakfast to see how it makes them feel in place of their norm. This idea of cereal, juice, coffee and a bran muffin for breakfast has so permeated our society that it seems almost impossible to reverse. If you read John Kellog's bio (of Kellog's cereal) he was originally a vegetarian and Seventh Day Adventist who believe in the abstinence of many things, including meat, to reduce sexual desire and other lusts. Is that really what we still believe? Are we still eating cereal and oats for breakfast because some zealot decided eggs and bacon would make young men storm the woman's locker room in their gym class? I'm not saying that you can't have toast or an English muffin for breakfast, but if your current strategy isn't working, maybe its time to do something different. Don't worry what the commercials say, or what people will think of you eating “so much protein”......instead just try it and see how you feel.
And this brings me back full-circle to the video posted by Derek Woodske. He recounts somone emailing him saying that blueberries are making them sick. Apparently, in an attempt to be truly hunter-gatherer, this person ate so much of a limited selection of food that they had developed a severe intolerance to it. This can and does happen. Case in point, one month ago I stopped eating eggs altogether. This past year, in an attempt to continue eating healthy while adding some muscle mass and eating “Paleo”, I developed a ridiculous reliance on eggs for protein and calories. We are talking 8 every day, for months. After a few months, I was getting tired, bloated, gassy and brain-fogged anytime I had an omelet or over easy eggs etc. It took me a while to pinpoint because I was eating no dairy or protein powders or refined starches. A really smart trainer I know told me to go off eggs for a month and see how I feel. What do you know, I instantly felt better. Also I replaced that protein source with some whey protein powder, tuna and other selections. Paleo? Nope. But I was trying so hard to fit this very specific window of“approved” foods that I could afford on my budget that I had no wiggle room for LIFE.
And I gave myself the same spiel I am giving here: I accepted my choice of replacement foods, Paleo or no and decided to judge based solely on outcome. And the outcome was that protein powder and tuna didn't kill me and I feel better and am so much less stressed because of it. I cheated myself and chose to blindly follow what someone else told me with no discernment or assessment of how it made me look and feel and whether it was even doable in the long-term. In this case, I stabbed myself in the back. I ignored what my training partners suggested and tried to get all my carbs from sweet potatoes. I avoided rice, I ate low-carb, I lifted on an empty stomach. Stupid stupid stupid. The very week I added a pre and post workout meal of rice and meat and drank some protein and carbohydrate powders during my training sessions, I got stronger.
Please be truly honest with yourself, so rarely in life will anyone do that for you. Ask yourself if what you are doing is working and don't be afraid to try something different. But when you do, stick to ONE change, give it some time and assess the outcome. If you ask someone for help, don't listen to someone that says “Well, I Do This and This and This.” This person is judging everyone based off their personal experience. They may share their experience with you as an example (the way I did) but it should not be the bottom line.
In other words, I'm not putting on yoga pants just because YOU look good in them.