With a simple but supposedly extremely effective premise, the paleo diet originates from the “raw” and “natural” diet our ancestors ate millions of years ago during the Paleolithic era. According to Robb Wolf, who wrote a book on the subject states, it is okay to eat anything our species ate before agriculture. These foods include: fruits, vegetables, meats, seafood, nuts & seeds, and healthy fats. While foods that are not okay to eat include: dairy, grains, processed foods & sugars, legumes, starches, and alcohol (1). Is this diet genius? Or just another Atkins fad that will fade just in time for the next big diet to hit the market?
The Paleo Diet Claims
Just to clear the air, I am not, and have never tried this diet. All the claims and facts in this article are not mine, but I will be interjecting my opinions here and there. Of course I encourage every reader to go and do all the additional research they can, but I will be biased to some degree. That being said, the idea of the paleo diet is good, limiting the amount of processed foods in our diet and emphasizing a high protein intake. With claims that range from immediate weight loss, to seemingly unlimited energy for your workouts, to benefitting or even curing all sorts of ailments including sinus infections, Crohn’s disease, diabetes and more, this diet is starting to sound like it’s too good to be true. For any disease or disorder this diet claims to benefit has yet to be proven, and therefore shouldn’t be attached to the diet until conclusive evidence of helping people who suffer from these physical ailments has been linked or proven.
Paleo Diet For Weight Loss
The main reason why nine out of ten people take up this style of eating include some kind of weight loss goal because they are overweight, and this diet could be a good place to start. But, the reason why almost everybody who can stick to this diet for two weeks loses weight regardless of exercise is the limiting of added sugars. The problem with this is that our western diet has accustomed us to crave sugar from a young age, and it doesn’t take long for these cravings to come back even stronger than they were before starting the diet. And before you know it, the paleo diet becomes a crash diet that lasts only a few weeks until the lack of pleasure foods causes a binge and subsequent quitting of the diet all together.
It is also noteworthy to mention that some types of sugar are allowed in the diet, including honey and agave, and most paleo friendly recipes and energy bars include a lot of these sugars. While these sugars are more “natural” compared to refined table sugar or other processed sugars, most paleo dieters don’t understand that natural sugar is just as likely to be stored as fat if eaten in excess. No matter who you are and how you eat, you will not lose weight if you’re eating in a calorie surplus (or eating more food than you burn off).
A good example of this phenomenon includes the Twinkie diet, where Mark Haub, a professor of human nutrition at Kansas State University ate 1,800 calories (or an 800 calorie deficit) a day of mainly Twinkies, one protein shake and a multivitamin. He ultimately lost 27 pounds and went from 33.4% body fat to 24.9% body fat in two months (2). Of course if he were to continue this diet indefinitely he would become severely deficient in numerous vitamins and minerals, but the numbers don’t lie, he proved that the amount of food you eat is what causes your weight to fluctuate, not the healthiness or “rawness” of the foods you eat. A good point to keep in mind because it is very possible to gain weight and body fat on a paleo type diet if you aren’t accurately counting and tracking your calories (something that the paleo diet states you don’t need to keep track of).
Paleo Diet For Energy
Others who are already at a healthy weight and take up the paleo diet are most likely trying to get more energy or become overall more healthy. These are the individuals who are more likely to stick to the diet, but just like the overweight group trying to eat natural, active individuals will be just as annoyed because unlike the claim that the paleo diet increases natural energy, most paleo friendly foods are low in carbs. And is it well known that low carb diets have an inverse correlation with increased energy.
Unless your paleo diet includes a ketogenic twist where you’re getting your energy from a diet very high in dietary fat (which is a MUCH harder diet to stick to long term), then your energy will not be where it used to be when you were able to eat complex carbs from starches, grains and legumes. End of the line advice for active individuals who would like to try the paleo diet: be warned that your energy will most likely dip and stay there until you replenish your depleted glycogen stores with carbohydrates.
Paleo Diet For Celiac Disease
The last group of people that the paleo diet is marketed towards is individuals with Celiac disease, an autoimmune condition where the immune system – the body’s defense against infection – mistakenly attacks healthy tissue. In cases of Celiac disease, the immune system mistakes substances found inside gluten as a threat to the body and attacks them. This damages the surface of the small intestines, disrupting the body’s ability to absorb nutrients from food (3). Quite uncommon, Celiac disease is present in a little over 1% of the American population.
Unfortunately once this diet and other gluten-free diets came into the spotlight, millions of people without this disease began to cut out gluten in their diet and with the all mighty power of the placebo began to feel better. Prompting a seemingly endless fan base for eating paleo all riding on the gluten-free trend. Unlike the other 99% of the population who does not have this disease, a paleo diet would be a good option for individuals with Celiac to limit any side effects that might arise from eating gluten. But, other healthy foods that are not supposed to be consumed including dairy and starches contain no gluten, meaning even sufferers of Celiac disease shouldn’t strictly adhere to this diet unless they choose to.
Now that we know the only group of people that might be able to benefit from the paleo diet are individuals with Celiac disease (and even then they only really need to eat a gluten-free diet), which diet should the majority of people trying to lose weight do? The first point I’d like to drive home is, stop “trying” new diets. Better yet, stop dieting in the traditional manner all together! Every diet out there has an end, and unless that end includes a photoshoot or bodybuilding competition, there is no need to do it in the first place. The idea of eating in a calorie or certain macronutrient restricted diet is (90% of the time) unsustainable and should only be used by individuals needing to lose a large amount of weight or athletes at an elite level with many coaches and dietitians.
The “best” diet is a balanced one that you can stick to! Most trendy diets exclude food that while not specifically healthy for you (like fatty foods or sugary foods), do keep your craving at bay and make you less likely to binge than when these foods are forbidden. A good rule of thumb is keep 80% of your food nutrient dense and healthy, while the other 20% can be sugary, fatty or ultimately less healthy foods. This technique, called flexible eating is different from other cookie cutter diets because of the versatility of it along with the lack of restrictions. Flexible eating has been utilized by all kind of athletes and everyday fitness junkie to great success. At the end of the day, losing weight always comes down to being in a calorie deficit. While we all have our own opinions on the best way to do so, and whether you enjoy eating paleo, IIFYM, low-carb, high-fat, or flexible, then do it smart and figure out which works best for you, because anyone can start a diet, but only the one that you can sustain indefinitely will turn into a healthy lifestyle to help you exceed your goals.