Pondering Paleo: Reflecting on a 5 Week Challenge to Eat Like a Caveman

The Paleo Diet has hit the diet and nutrition industry like a hurricane. If you pay attention to diet fads and trends you probably have heard about the Paleo Diet. The concept is simple. Eat like a caveman would.

Caveman-computer

The "True" Food Pyramid according to Paleo enthusiasts.
The “True” Food Pyramid according to Paleo enthusiasts.

Starting March 4th, I put the Paleo Diet to the test. My second attempt to go Paleo succeeded, unlike the previous one. As I shared in a previous post, maintaining paleo was an uphill battle. That battle ended in my falling and rolling all the way to the bottom of the hill. So, I picked myself up, brushed myself off, and tried again. This challenge, I fared much better.

Challenge Specifics:

This challenge was done as a part of Crossfit Kings Point. The challenge spanned from March 4th to April 7th. We challengers agreed to the following:

I will eat:

Meat, vegetables, nuts, seeds, some fruit, little starch and NO SUGAR OR SWEETNERS.

I will NOT eat:

Grains, corn, dairy, potatoes, legumes, soybeans, yeast products, pickled foods, vinegar, salt or honey.  NO SUGAR OR SWEETNERS.

Results:

Starting the challenge I weighed an even 194 lbs. At the end of the challenge, I weighed 176.4 lbs. I lost 17.6 lbs in five weeks. I shed 9 lbs in the first week alone. I visibly have less body fat. Unfortunately, I did not take body size and composition measurements.

During the first and final weeks of the challenge, we performed a workout that would serve as a benchmark to help us determine our improvement. The workout included 1,000 meter row, 50 wall balls with 20 lbs at 10 ft, and 20 pushups. First time around, I scored 10 minutes and 23 seconds. After five weeks of paleo, I scored 7 minutes an 59 seconds.

How did Paleo create these changes?

I believe eliminating processed foods and increasing my reliance on whole foods played the most influential factor on my recorded improvements.

Diet diversity played another critical role in helping my body operate more effectively. Almost all foods we eat today have corn, soy, or wheat. These three ingredients seem inescapable. Even when shopping at Whole Foods, the majority of the products contain at least one of these three ingredients. Agreeing to the challenge terms compelled me to find nourishment from alternative sources.

Eating with said restrictions also eliminates endless snacking. Often, I would find myself eating lots of little things between major meals. Doing so sneakily increases the caloric intake. By placing rigorous restrictions on what I can eat, I found that acceptable snacks came in short supply. I believe this important change contributed to the weight loss.

How would I do this differently?

If I were to do the challenge all over again, I would have recorded body measurements and body composition. Unfortunately, the electronic scale that tells me my body composition does not provide data with enough reliability to track. Progress becomes more exciting with more data since it gamifies the process. Data causes us to consider how decisions will affect the “score” and helps to make decisions in tune with the objective.

For people engaging in athletic (especially anaerobic) activity, I would also maintain some carbohydrates in the form of basmati rice or starchy root vegetables like potatoes. I don’t feel that fruit sugars fully provide what’s necessary to support muscle repair. I will have a greater insight whether or not a serving of rice or starchy tubers improves performance after I test Nate Miyaki’s Samurai/Intermittent Feast formula.

I would not eliminate vinegar. Moderate vinegar offers some health benefits, which Mark does a good of describing.

Lastly, I would make room for one cheat meal a week. I feel that providing a weekly blow-off valve makes the diet more sustainable and increases likelihood of adherence. Moreover, flooding the body with sugar and crap helps keep the metabolism burning and the body resilient. Plus, I genuinely enjoy letting go of the reigns and spending time with people every now and then.

Mythbusting

I remain skeptical regarding the paleo craze. Christina Warriner gives an interesting TED talk about Debunking the Plaeo Diet. I found it particularly interesting that much of what paleo encourages technically should be categorized as neolithic. Regardless, the paleo diet provides a simple framework to help a modern human navigate the realm of dietary decisions.

I do feel that paleo is a low-carb (or better worded carb-conscious) diet in disguise. Atkins, South Beach, and Gluten-free, all provide relatively similar frameworks of eating.

When considering my results, I do not believe eating paleo accounts entirely for the near 25% improvement (2 minute 24 second) on the  benchmark workout. I believe the majority of that improvement can be attributed to modifications in practice and strategy on the wall ball component of the work out. Nonetheless, eating better certainly helped.

Most importantly, I wonder what might be the long-term ramifications of a diet that emphasizes consumption of meats in the way paleo does. What should one believe with contradictory information like that of Forks Over Knives, which proclaims that animal and meat consumption have given rise to the modern dietary epidemic?

In Conclusion

We can only find answers to questions like that through experimentation and personal experience. I don’t think any one person can provide dietary salvation. The best we can do is test the waters (or foods) for ourselves.

 

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