In the next few months, I would dive head first into this Paleo/Primal diet concept... I found Robb Wolf's podcast, I read Dr. Cordain's original Paleo Diet book, I discovered several paleo-related blogs... I began to immerse myself in the paleo world. I even wrote a research paper for a class I was taking in Italy in my study abroad experience, called "The Health Benefits of Eating a Paleolithic Diet". No question, I became a paleo machine. I even started this here blog soon after; it all began as a place where I could express my contrarian opinions thoughtfully and back it up with scientific research. I felt like I needed to prove I was right, because everyone in my world thought I was wrong. (I never took on the "paleo" name though... it's as if I knew my position might change some day)
It was around this time when I went full paleo... I made a conscious effort to avoid grains, legumes, and to some extent dairy for nearly two years. With promises of "perfect health"... some sort of vast utopia, free of ill health and disease, including even the pesky day-to-day maladies like seasonal allergies and headaches... I set out to feed my body only the foods that we had "evolved" to thrive on. I shunned anything else; no rice, no beans, no oatmeal, no bread, no soybean oil, not too much fruit, limited starch and carbs, no pasteurized dairy. I avoided gluten like the plague, because obviously, it's downright evil. I even went through a phase where I thought nightshades might be killing me.
Every day I would go to school and sit in my conventional nutrition classes thinking... "Man, I just don't understand how these professors could dedicate their lives to teaching and researching nutrition and still have their facts so wrong!" As if I, at 25 years old, knew far better than someone who's been at this for twice as long. I couldn't wrap my head around it. How could they not see it... carbs and grains are killing us! Ugh.
The truth is, when you stop and think about how people eat around the world today, none of this paleo stuff makes a whole lot of sense. If gluten were really as bad as the paleo folks say it is, how would we have cultures like the Italians and the French who eat it on a daily basis and experience far greater health than we do in America? If legumes are indeed the scourge of the diet world, then how on earth are all of these Latin American countries not extinct? How do they stay so thin? If carbs really make us fat, then how is it possible that nearly every human being on this earth eats a high carb diet, yet most maintain a healthy body weight?
But perhaps most importantly of all... how can most of the world go on eating what they like, without a shred of doubt and guilt, and without knowing anything about nutrition, yet maintain a thin, healthy body?
These are all question's I have struggled to rationalize through the paleo lens.
|Smile. You can eat neolithic foods and not die.|
And then I would think about my own experience. For the first 24 years of my life, I ate a high-carbohydrate, gluten-full, typical American diet. Did I experience digestive distress? Rarely, if ever. Did I have chronic mental fog? Nope. Did my athletic performance suffer? Not at all. Did I struggle with my weight? Not once. Did I have trouble sleeping at night? Definitely never.
What did I expect to happen when going paleo? I don't quite know. But whatever it was, it didn't happen. I've never needed to lose any weight. Maybe I expected to feel better, and to think more clearly, and to sleep better, and to feel happier. These are all things that are supposed to happen. I was told, "You don't even know what it's like to have so much energy and feel so great all the time! Your mind can't comprehend it... you're just so used to feeling tired that it feels normal!" Really? I can't believe I ever fell for that. This may be true for someone a little older and a little more metabolically broken, but it wasn't true for me.
I already felt great. I was already thinking clearly. I had already been sleeping eight hours a night. I was perfectly healthy. I felt no different before or after. In fact, I feel even better now because I have a healthy relationship with food. I love food. I don't fear anything.
It was scary the first time I let myself have a slice of pizza at a family party. The first few times, I was convinced I was making myself sick, having imaginary "reactions" to gluten. It wasn't until I let my mind get out of the way that I realized... eating pizza at a party with people I love is a good thing. No, pizza isn't the most nourishing food, but that's not the point. The point is that it tastes good, and that it brings friends and family together. I don't stress anymore over eating a bite of cake, or enjoying a slice of my grandmother's delicious apple pie. Life is too short not to enjoy all that it has to offer.
Paleo is a great place to start. I still believe that the cornerstone of any healthy diet should be fruits, vegetables, and animal foods. Perhaps paleo would be best as a short-term, temporary diet to kickstart a lifestyle change. But in the long-term for most of us, we have nothing to gain by eliminating entire food groups, especially if we've been eating them for most of our lives with no ill effects. Most people will be perfectly healthy including rice and beans in their diet... and the same can be said for oatmeal, corn, potatoes, cheese, yogurt, and even bread. These foods taste good. And let's not forget about the indirect health benefits of eating food you like! Never forget what your personal experience has taught you, and trust yourself first. No one knows what's best for you like you do.
Are there people who really would benefit from eliminating grains, legumes, and dairy long-term? Probably. But these people are few and far between.
Anyone who tells you paleo is the only way is either A) straight up lying to you, or B) completely ignorant. The nutrition/health world is much more expansive than what can be encapsulated into one catch-all phrase. As a dietitian, the principles of the paleo diet function best as a tool in my tool box. Nothing more, nothing less.
|Plus, now I can eat fried butter balls at the fair :)|