Against the Grain
An Overview of Eating Clean and the Paleolithic Diet aka Paleo or Caveman Diet
(Disclaimer: I post this, not to state that one method is better or more correct than another however I primarily want to highlight how important it is to make thoughtful choices when it comes to what we eat especially when thinking about losing fat and gaining muscle. I am not an expert (yet), Just sharing my thoughts and experiences. I apologize in advance for the lengthy-ness of this post.)
First, a little about my journey to clean eating:
In 2010 I decided to take action to lose weight but didn’t really know what I should be doing or eating. I realized after a few months of working out I was not seeing any changes that I’d hoped I would. I knew I wasn’t eating healthy all the time; stopping through the drive-thru for french fries after meeting with my personal trainer or eating nothing but (instant) white rice and broccoli for dinner among other not so healthy choices had me spinning my wheels.
March 12th 2011 (yes I remember the date) I was bored at home …surfing Netflix. I came across the documentary Super Size Me and decided to watch it. For those who may not know, the documentary follows this guy Morgan Spurlock as he eats nothing but McDonald’s for 30 days. During the course of the film we watch his health deteriorate [as expected] and we follow his investigation of the obesity epidemic and the fast food industry’s influence. After watching and returning to the main menu in Netflix, I saw a different documentary suggested to me because of what i had just watched. This documentary is titled Fat Head and I believe this has been instrumental in changing my life and how I think about food. This film is a rebuttal to Super Size Me and follows director Tom Naughton as he similarly eats only fast food for 30+ days however he also exercises and winds up losing weight. How was that possible? Click here for a more in-depth synopsis, or watch it for yourself. He further explored the politics behind the nutrition guidelines set by the government and encourages the viewer to “follow the money” to begin making sense of why we are told to eat certain foods in their dietary guidelines. This in particular was one major take away I had. The food pyramid created by the government and instituted in the 1990’s dictated that a large portion of our dietary intake should come from grains, pasta and other high glycemic [processed/refined] carbohydrates…however prior to the development of agriculture we did not eat many of these foods. So why should we now? These foods in particular spike our insulin levels and encourage fat storage. No surprise that this coincides with the nation’s obesity epidemic.
Towards the end of the documentary and at the end of his experiment Tom went on to cut out most of the sugar and starch from his diet and saw even more health benefits.This is when I had a light bulb moment. I took to the interwebs looking for low carb food options/ideas. I had heard about low carb… clean eating and other diets but now after learning more of the science behind fat storage, things were really starting to make sense. I came across the Atkins program and it seemed like a good fit for me. This is where I began. I signed up and received the Atkins starter kit full of samples and information. I followed this plan for several weeks. I began noticing weight dropping off immediately as I began cutting refined carbs from my diet!
Here are a few excerpts from the film Fat Head:
Big Fat Lies:
Why You Got Fat:
WWCD?: What Would Cavemen Do?
As I continued my own research, I came across what people were calling the Paleo, Paleolithic or Caveman diet and was intrigued. The Paleolithic (Paleo) Era refers to a point in time when man was a nomadic, tribal hunter and gatherer. Essentially, in this environment you subsisted on what you could find or kill. Within the Paleo diet/lifestyle the focus is on non processed clean foods such as animal protein, vegetables and fruits. Dairy, grains and sugars are not included in this diet/lifestyle. While there is debate over what exact foods might have been available during the Paleolithic Era, this approach to food made sense to me. (Nooo… I don’t hunt animals or forage for fruits and veggies lol) I decided to switch from the Atkins approach to the Paleo or Caveman diet/lifestyle. This is not to say that the Paleo/Cavemen lifestyle is the best as there are variations that might be a better fit. The ultimate goal is to eat clean as often as possible! I feel that the Paleo approach takes a lot of the guess-work out.
Overwhelmingly we are bombarded with commercials/advertisements for “healthy” food products. Many times if you look at the ingredient list of said product you might be surprised at what you see. So much of our “food” is processed one way or another— preservatives are added to lengthen shelf life… colors are added to make food look more appealing. Sometimes chemicals are added to alter the nutrients of a food to make it more marketable. Sometimes ingredients are added to modify the consistency of a product. For example, if you grind peanuts you get peanut butter, however if you look at the nutrition label of a non organic jar of peanut butter you will see a lengthy ingredients which often include sugar!! I could go on and on and will likely be posting a separate article on nutritional labels and how to read them.
So now, you may be asking… what should I eat and how do I find it in the supermarket!? If you recall earlier I made mention of high-glycemic carbohydrates (refined/processed flour, sugar, honey and other sweeteners, some fruits and veggies among others) which spike insulin and encourage fat storage. Foods with a high glycemic index rating break down quickly and send a surge of sugar into your bloodstream. It makes sense that if these sorts of foods encourage fat storage, we should limit them in our diets to burn/lose fat. I really suggest avoiding pre-made/processed foods and opt for things that exist in nature as is. Below is a link to a list of foods and where they fall on the glycemic index which should help you choose low glycemic foods. Also below is a video of Gary Taubes brilliantly explaining why we get fat… way better than I ever could attempt. I encourage to watch it when you have an opportunity.
I am hoping that now you are beginning to have a clearer idea of what to eat. Now, you may be wanting to know how to approach the supermarket. Of course not all supermarkets are identical but most are set up similar to the diagram to the right. My suggestion, shop the perimeter of the store and limit the food items you obtain from the aisles. The foods you find in the aisles are likely processed versions of the fresh food you could obtain from the produce or meat sections of the store. Buy fresh fruit and veggies opposed to their canned alternatives (food should not be non-perishable in my opinion). If you can avoid frozen fruits and veggies, I would suggest that as well. Many of the nutrients we need to survive are obtained from food so the goal is to eat foods that are the most dense with nutrients. As organic, non GM (Genetically Modified aka GMO; Genetically Modified Organisms) and untouched with pesticides is the optimal way to go. With regards to meats the same is true, organic and grass-fed are preferred.
I know this is a lot of information and its easy to become overwhelmed! Relax!! I encourage small gradual changes… which are easier to stick with long-term. If you are interested in making a change to your diet/lifestyle… do your research and devise a plan. Set a goal to gradually make the change you desire and I believe you can accomplish it!! I also encourage you to live life. Cake, Ice Cream, Pasta etc in moderation is OK! Enjoy life. As my coach says, 6 meals a day for one week is 42 meals; if 2 of those meals are not the healthiest, you still had 40 great ones! 🙂
Other Helpful Info:
- Gary Taubes -Why We Get Fat – Very informative overview of why we get fat and how fat tissue regulated in the body– knowing how and why fat is stored helps to give additional insight on how to essentially burn fat. This video is a little over an hour long but is jammed packed with so much information!!
- Glycemic Index of Common Foods
- Visual of Good Carbs vs Bad Carbs
Clear as mud right!? 🙂 There is so much more I would like to talk about but will save it for another post! Feel free to reach out to me anytime if you have questions!
Thanks for stopping by! (Don’t forget to vote for me!)