Posts Tagged 'diet'

So Easy a Caveman Can Diet

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“What does Paleo mean?”

When I discuss the changes I’ve made to the way I eat or when I post pictures of my culinary efforts on Facebook, this is typically the first question.

The premise is pretty straightforward, our DNA has only undergone minor changes in the last 10,000 years — or, put another way, our genes have been essentially the same for anywhere from 200,000 to 4 million years — and our bodies are best suited to operate on foods present before few millenia.

I try to be brief, but often wander into an explanation of evolution and human physiology.

I love discussing the simple mechanisms built in to the body and how we can use them for our greatest benefit. My hands move around constantly, grabbing and stacking and transporting imaginary packets of nutrients in front of my audience. I jump from topic to topic in an effort to create a full, coherent picture of the elegant symphony governing our lives and making this hunk of meat a worthwhile host for our magnificent souls.

In the end, people want to know something basic:

“What did you change?”

“Everything” seems an appropriate, if intimidating, reply.

That said, it’s also inaccurate.

Redefining a lifestyle often seems more colossal than it really is, whether in the way we eat or how we move or what we think. Monumental change is the result of basic choices magnified by the effect of repetition over time.

If someone is giving up cigarettes, they decide against lighting up for an extended period. That’s it. Eventually, the desire goes away. There are some physical and emotional challenges in the process, of course, but they are overcome as long as the individual refrains from reaching for a pack of Marlboros and a lighter.

With that in mind, eating like a caveman is built on three simple principles:

1. Shift sugar
Candy and other substances loaded with refined sugar are put aside, obviously, as well as grains (read: bread, rice, pasta) and high-starch vegetables like potatoes and corn join them. In addition, fruits take on less importance. These foods spike blood sugar and unbalance the complex harmony of our endocrine system.

The idea is to consume carbohydrates which have a diminished effect on insulin — a hormone that wreaks all sorts of havoc when unregulated. By managing glycemic load (the amount of glucose in our blood after a meal) better, biochemical processes for fat storage and inflammation are blocked, decreasing the likelihood of a range of cardiovascular conditions such as high blood pressure and stroke.

2. Lean protein
Our ancestors were, generally, hunters dining on whatever creatures they managed to track down. Though this has predominantly meant fish for a large portion of human history, the prized portions of land-based animals were organ meats — the heart and liver, for example. These tissues have a fairly low fat content and deliver necessary amino acids into our system with little difficulty.

In modern days, we are more accustomed to turkey breast than deer innards (which may be our loss). Regardless, the optimal proteins improve tissue strength and rebuilding, whether in muscle, bone or elsewhere.

3. Finding fat
Though lipids have been demonized over the last few decades, they act as the building blocks for much more than the excess weight we carry around our waists and thighs. The key is to take them in with proper measures of omega-6 and omega-3 varieties. Some of this will come from fish, as is often seen in the news, yet other products — oils (olive, flax, e.g.) and nuts (almonds and walnuts), mainly — help us to achieve the kind of balance we seek.

In the short term, this creates a feeling of satisfaction lasting much longer after mealtime. Further, as days eating like this become weeks, energy is used with greater efficiency, producing a cascade of wide-ranging positive effects — everything from a slimmer waist to better sleep and quicker recovery from exercise.

Better food fuels peak performance.

Why do we put gasoline in our cars instead of coal?

Because it’s what the engines are designed to run on.

Doesn’t it make sense to do the same with our bodies?

Once you understand, it’s easy to be like a caveman.

Feeding the Horse

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Here’s a startling fact: exercise won’t help you lose weight.

Though we’ve been told otherwise for years by doctors and fitness professionals alike, it’s unfortunately a fallacy. It is logical to assume moving more and eating less will help us shave off pounds — the simplicity is difficult to argue with.

Our bodies just don’t work that way.

Sure, in the short term, we get a benefit from this unbalanced equation. The initial shock of extra activity without a matching rise in food intake causes the body to grab fuel from the most reliable source it has: excess body fat.

The quick disappearance of five or ten pounds is more from physiological surprise than the effectiveness of the new regimen, though.

Once the body recovers from the scramble to provide energy, it will adjust within (at most) a few weeks.

The endocrine system is finely-tuned to ensure survival however possible. By acting to accommodate varying conditions, stuffed or starved, it keeps the body going — whether we do so at an optimal level is a question for another day.

When push comes to shove, we either increase our intake or decrease our movement.

The body is designed with fail-safe mechanisms to make sure the calories in is as close as possible to calories used.

As a result, choosing to decrease portion sizes or skip meals altogether leaves us lethargic and groggy. As time wears on, we lack the pep to tackle our regular daily tasks, let alone hit the gym and slam some weights around. We naturally downshift to conserve energy for vital processes — the workings of the brain, heart and lungs, for example.

On the other hand, if we run 15 miles a day, we make sure to ingest enough to do so. The chemical signals for appetite ramp up our drive to find food. Regardless of how much we try to stay away from the fridge, we end up tearing through a buffet like the Tazmanian Devil.

This is unavoidable.

If we work like horses, we can (and will) get hungry like them, too.

This is Healthier

Four Weeks' Difference: 1/16 (l) and 2/13 (r)

Some things we have to see to believe.

Four weeks ago, I wrote a revealing post about my desire to shift my body composition in subtle ways by paying more attention to what I eat.

I gave up sweets and focused on eating more meat, seeds, nuts and leafy vegetables.

I decided to work out again — in the way I always told myself would be ideal.

The change is evident.

First and foremost — because I know you’re wondering — I did lose a fair amount of weight. I was 170 pounds when my brother, sister-in-law and I did “before” measurements on January 16th, four days into adopting the Paleo lifestyle.

I clocked in at 155 on February 13th, fifteen pounds lighter — a misleading number, for the record. A nasty case of stomach flu tore me apart that weekend, leaving me either in bed or on the toilet for the better part of 30 hours. After a snack early Saturday afternoon, I was unable to eat or drink anything until Monday morning.

It was Tuesday before I returned to full strength.

Dehydrated and starved, my weight skewed downward.

The next evening, after eating three meals more like my normal intake, the scale hovered at 160 — what I played soccer at in college. I consider this “unofficial,” as I stepped on the scale merely to reassure myself (as I said before, my intent is to be lean, not emaciated) and skipped taking other measurements.

Looking at the pictures, you’ll notice the differences in two spots, primarily: the face and abdomen.

A comparison of the jawline highlights the change: it is far more apparent on the right than left. Though it would be unfair to say I was chubby before, a distinct streamlining has occurred in a highly-noticeable area. This is why I advise anyone tracking weight loss to take up-close-and-personal facial photos — when the rest of the body seems to lag behind, those pictures tell the (encouraging) truth.

Now, notice the beltline. My waist slimmed by two inches, a portion of which must be attributed to my inability to take (or even sniff, really) a bite of food at the time. Still, the visual is telling: an increase in tone and decrease in, ahem, “softness” at the area most men stealthily begin packing on pounds after college.

Despite being very pleased, I have to admit the pictures tell a small part of the story:

  • Sleep feels deeper and more refreshing
  • Energy levels are more stable throughout the day
  • Meals satisfy appetite longer
  • Exercise recovery seems faster

This weekend, we decided to incorporate some of our old favorites back in. I had some pizza, a couple beers and some of the desserts I used to enjoy again.

The fast food was bland.

The fries turned my stomach.

The cookies were unbearably sweet.

I look forward to my next slab of meat and handful of baby spinach more all the time.

This is Not Healthy

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