I haven’t tackled a lot of serious nutrition topics yet on this blog, mostly because I think that topic is more than adequately covered by people are much more qualified than I to do so. Don’t get me wrong: I know a lot about nutrition, and a lot of the fallacies that conventional wisdom has tried to push forward as fact when the entire starting paradigm is wrong. But there are people who can give you many more specific ins-and-outs than I can. So while I want to learn more on this topic, I am more than happy to push you into specific directions to give you answers.
What I can wax most philosophically upon is how the act of cleaning up your diet can make you feel, and why I think that one of the most valuable tools for getting to feeling really healthy is a Paleo-style on-ramp program.
Warning: there will be discussions of what some people will consider TMI about digestion in this post: farting shall be a topic. If you can’t handle discussions about cutting the cheese with giggling uproariously (like my kids), then this might not be the best post for you.
Warning #2: I am not going to address the ethics of meat-eating concerns at any level. While I am not discounting their validity, ethics are not a universal like nutritional science, and I really am not interested in taking on that topic since there’s so much opinion wrapped up in it.
Okay, with those disclaimers out of the way, let me start:
I have a lot of reasons why I think a 30-Day Paleo Transformation, or Whole30, or Primal Blueprint 21-Day Transformation, or any of the other ancestral diet programs are the best ways to clear out your system and reset your body to really understand the foods that your body can or can’t handle well.
The primary reason is this, however: getting rid of the most inflammatory foods to the human body – namely grains, legumes, industrial seed oils, added processed sugar, and as many of the preservatives and other chemicals as is humanly possible will make you feel better. Period.
Unlike many people who take on a diet like this, I started from a point of view where I was already in pretty good health. I played soccer regularly, mostly ate well (according to conventional wisdom combined with a fairly low-carb bent), wasn’t horribly overweight (maybe a tad), and didn’t have any inflammatory diseases or anything hanging over me. I was just looking for what was best for me. I had read a lot of material on the improvements that people on a grain-free or high-fat diet felt from a neurological standpoint, and since there are neurological issues in my family history I wanted to try to alleviate them now before they attempted to rear their ugly heads.
I knew personal things like too much pasta gave me awful gas. I knew that I’d always liked eating the fattier cuts of meat. I knew I felt better when I didn’t drink too much pop. Some of the simple stuff.
But I was not prepared for what I discovered when I first went on a low-carb diet (notice I didn’t say Paleo or ancestral here) – I lost a bunch of weight with very little effort. My mental clarity was increased a lot. I just felt good. Only thing was that I felt hungry a lot of the time… probably because the plan I tried didn’t mention upping the fat content in the diet to increase the feeling of being full.
That was the missing piece for me in “going Paleo.” Once I added in the fat and totally removed grains, legumes, etc. I was much happier. Aches and pains in my joints went away – including some arthritic feeling that I regularly felt in my hands. Mental clarity increased even beyond the previous level with the low-carb diet I’d tried.
But here’s the kicker: once I introduced the old foods back into my diet, boy, did I know it. By going “cold turkey” and jumping right in with both feet on this plan, my system reset itself quickly and my body healed itself nearly completely. I was feeling close to the way my clean-eating ancestors felt on a regular basis. And when I did step out of line, oh, the gas and diarrhea issues I felt. Bloating. Headaches. Bad sleep. It was not good.
And that’s the real BIG strength of doing a cold-turkey challenge like this without “easing into it,” in my opinion: you feel the effects of eating poorly very strongly. Your body knows what it wants and doesn’t want, to be sure. When you ease into it, you feel these effects much less because they come more gradually. .
I’m not saying, mind you, that “easing into it” doesn’t work. My personal opinion is that it may not work as well. If a gradual approach is what gets you to the point where you are eating and living properly, then go for it. But do me a favor: try the jumping-in approach once. You may experience the “paleo flu” as your body resets itself to stop existing on cheap carbs and forces itself to run on healthy fats, but that’s part of the deal for many people. Gut it through. It’ll probably be the last time you have to gut your way through a diet challenge because once your body resets, you won’t want to go back.
If you don’t succeed with jumping in, then back up and go gradually. Here’s the key thing: YOU WILL LOSE NOTHING BY TRYING THIS.
Some folks feel the “low-carb flu” (basically your body detoxing and getting over the addiction to carbs and the addictive proteins in grains) much more strongly and it’s just too painful to go through the 30-day strict challenge. And if you discover you’re one of those people, then by all means, go easy. Eat some potatoes or rice as needed, and gradually get those carbs levels down. I would still advise going without the grains, legumes, etc. as I mentioned above because getting those anti-nutrients out of your system is the key factor in cleaning yourself out and healing your body.
But at least try it.