Let me begin this post by clearly stating that I am a firm believer in the Paleo template for eating. However, I think far too often we get lost in the dogma of “well, if our ancestors didn’t eat it then certainly I shouldn’t either,” and forget that the basis of any way of eating should eating foods to which your body responds to best.
I know I’ve been guilty blindly following the dogma, which, in some cases has likely caused me to “over correct” my way of eating without any regard for the personal, social, and health ramifications.
Again, this is not a diatribe against being Paleo. Very clearly, I love being Paleo. I spend many, many hours per month on top of my normal job and family responsibilities putting together the monthly magazine (which you can get for free by signing up using the form at the bottom of this post, or in the right column of this page) and publishing content to the site.
As far as I’m concerned, I’ll follow the Paleo template until I die (as the oldest person in the history of the world).
So, where am I going with this?
Over the last few months, I’ve noticed that I’ve been a lot more lethargic than when I first started following the Paleo template. This concerned me because I thought for sure I was eating everything I was “supposed to” be eating: pastured eggs and my smoothie for breakfast, a big salad (kale, carrots, beets, brocc0li, garlic, onions with apple cider vinegar and olive oil dressing) and a decent-sized portion of meat for lunch, and then usually a big piece of chicken or steak and a large side of veggies for dinner, mixed in with healthy snacks (seaweed, uncooked nuts, etc.) throughout the day.
Couple all these meals with my supplements: fermented cod liver oil, probiotics, vitamin C, magnesium, and, lately, even some HCL with pepsin to help with digestion. Heck, I was even doing intermitent fasting (IF) once a day for every other week.
Pretty healthy, right? Pretty much Paleo by the book!
Well, lately, on top of the lethargy, I’ve developed two spots of alopecia on my scalp, which are essentially two bald spots, one on the top of my head, one on the back of my head. This is apparently an autoimmune thing, which, I figured wouldn’t be a problem since I was taking such good care of my gut.
Something Isn’t Right
So, the lethargy and alopecia kind of freaked me out a bit. Again, I was eating as healthy as possible so I should’ve been vibrant with a full head of hair, right?
One day while driving home from work, I was listening to an early podcast by Chris Kresser and he talked about sodium and carb restriction as a problem for people who follow a strict Paleo regiment. My ears perked up: over the past few months I had made a concerted effort to cut carbs, and banish salt and sugars from my diet. This isn’t to say that I was purposefully avoiding salt and sugar, rather, I just wasn’t adding any of it to my recipes.
Had I self-sabotaged myself by blindly following Paleo dogma and not thinking to myself, “Hey, dummy, you’ve always felt good when you ate fruits and a little bit of sodium isn’t the worst thing in the history of the world”?
Return to Normalcy
Over the last month, I’ve made an effort to re-introduce carbs into my life, especially via fruit. I added a half-banana and a bit of sea salt to my breakfast smoothie, a kiwi to my afternoon seaweed snack, and a few frozen strawberries as dessert. Plus, when I had some bone broth, I would be sure to add some iodized salt to it as well.
I could definitely feel my energy picking up (without lots of peaks and valleys) and could actually feel my overall mood improving as well.
Was Paleo wrong for me?!
N=1 24 Hour Experiment
Let me preface my experiment by saying that even if you 100% believe in the Paleo template, you owe it to yourself to continue researching other diets. Think of it this way: if you’re in a serious relationship or married, you’re still going to look at other people you find attractive. You know you’re not going to leave the person your with, but it’s still fun to look.
Anyway, because I was doing well by adding moderate amounts of carbs back into my diet, I started looking at other ways of thinking. First, I looked at the Eat Right For Your Blood Type diet, which is based on an interesting idea by Peter J. D’Adamo that essentially states there is a specific diet that is best suited for you based on what your blood type is. I shot this down when I read that, according to my blood type, I do well on grains. In fact, I do not. They make me gassy and bloated.
Next, I followed the “eat for heat” idea and read a book called 12 Paleo Myths: Eat Better Than A Caveman, written by Matt Stone. What got me thinking here was the testimonials from people who had been faithful Paleo eaters, even to the point of almost cutting out carbs entirely — which I really don’t think is “Paleo protocol” — and where exhibiting similar symptoms to what I had been experiencing (lethargy, thinning hair, etc.).
Now, what got me here is that many of the testimonials came from people who had, as I stated before, almost entirely cut carbs out of their diets. As someone who had quasi-headed down that path, a light bulb went off in my head: I’ve felt a lot better since I rebalanced my diet slightly to include more carbs, so why not see if eating more carbs makes you feel better.
Because I didn’t want to do this for too long, I decided to give myself 24 hours to eat whatever I wanted (something stone recommends in 12 Paleo Myths) and see how I felt afterward. Granted, I know this is a relatively crappy experiment with a lot of variables, but, hey, it’s something.
So, here’s what I ate starting at 6pm Wednesday going through 6pm Thursday:
- 3 beers
- Fried calamari
- Cheeseburger, the bun, fries
- Breakfast smoothie with 2 Tbs of raw honey added
- Tall glass of full-fat milk, with salt and sugar added
- Tall glass of orange juice
- Big salad with kidney beans, black beans, and corn
- Canned sardines
- 2 bags of Skittles
- Decaf coffee with milk and sugar
- Chipotle bowl with rice, beans, chicken, tomatoes, salsa, cheese
Here’s how I felt:
- Wednesday night I slept like crap
- Thursday morning started off strong until about 10 in the morning, then I wanted to take a nap, so I snacked to wake myself up.
- Thursday around 1 in the afternoon I could barely keep my eyes open.
- On the way home from work I thought I was going to fall asleep.
- By the time I finished dinner at 6:30 I was so irritable and tired I wanted to scream.
- I did feel warm, so the “eat for heat” thing did work.
What Does This Matter?
Again, I know this is a quick and crappy experiment, but the few months leading up to it wasn’t. I had stopped listening to my body and, as stated before, was blindly following what I thought was Paleo dogma: no salt, no sugar, really low carbs, lots of meat, and lots of fat. Turns out, that if I had simply followed my own personal Paleo template, chances are good I would have done the following all along:
- Never would have cut fruit so dramatically. Sure, I would have cut out juices and stuff, but I would have continued eating whole fruits because my body can handle it.
- I never would have completely cut out rice. Again, it’s something my body has always responded well to.
- I would have allowed for a little more salt in my recipes, though, I’ve never gone out of my way to add salt.
- I would have automatically avoided wheat and wheat products because they make me bloated and gassy, which are never good things.
No, What Does This Really Matter?
Why this really matters is you have to find out what your best possible diet is for you. Perhaps that’s “strict” Paleo. Maybe you can allow for things like rice, dairy, more than moderate fruits. Maybe you can even thrive on grains.
The thing is, you have to figure it out for yourself. Learn everything you can, safely experiment, and come up with works best for you!
Ok, so what are your thoughts on this? Have you done something similar? How often to you experiment with re-introducing or taking out foods from your diet? Leave a comment below and share with the community!
Disclosure: The opinions expressed above are 100% my own. This post contains links to an affiliate program, for which I receive a few cents if you make purchases. I am disclosing this in accordance with the FTC’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”