Even before I had ever set foot in a strength and conditioning gym, the Paleo Diet was on my radar. The diet, often referred to as the “Caveman Diet,” is based around getting back to our nutritional roots. Meat, vegetables, nuts, seeds, fruit and some starches are included. All grain, dairy, legumes, sugar and alcohol are off limits. When I first heard about Paleo, it sounded a little out there. However, the more serious I got about my health, the more appealing this way of eating became.
Initially I dabbled with 80/20. This means that for about 80% of the time I followed Paleo principles and for the other 20% of the time, I was more flexible. How this panned out usually was that Monday-Friday I adhered strictly to the plan and at the weekends I relaxed a little. I got some good results in the beginning and of course, started thinking, well if 80% is good, surely 100% would be better? This is where trouble set in! Those of you who know me, or have read some of my posts will probably know that I don’t do things by halves. Once I set my mind on something, I am all in. In some aspects of my life this can be a good thing, unfortunately nutrition is not one such aspect.
So, there I was, following a strict Paleo regime. Bacon and eggs for breakfast. Fruit with coconut milk mid-morning. Chicken and salad for lunch. Pre-training snack was an apple and almonds. Dinner was meat of some description and veggies, some times, but not always, I would include some sweet potato. Notice anything? Well I certainly didn’t. I did not realise how chronically low my carbohydrate intake had become. Paleo is not designed to be a low carb diet per se, but my interpretation of it meant there was little room for this macro-nutrient.
You see, in order to be fulfilling my carbohydrate requirements from the types of food I was “allowed” to eat, I needed to be eating a hell of a lot more food than I was. Coming from a background of Weight Watchers, I was never going to be comfortable loading my plate sky high with veggies (or anything for that matter) while trying to lose weight. My mind wouldn’t allow me to join these dots. At this time I was training 5 times a week, for a minimum of 2 hours a night. It’s not terribly surprising that this combination of high energy output and low carbohydrate input started to have a detrimental effect on me.
Yes, I lost weight, but I did not look lean. I looked pale and gaunt around my face. My hair fell out in clumps and my skin was in terrible condition. I stagnated in the gym. I felt I couldn’t make any progress and gutted through each workout feeling like I was dragging ass. Luckily I knew the solution to that, why, more training of course! I honestly felt that I needed to be training harder and dieting more strictly in order to get back on track. I toyed with the idea of incorporating morning cardio, and researched everything I could to try to get back to making gains.
My diet had a profound impact on me socially as well. I have never exactly been a social butterfly, but strictly adhering to Paleo made it all but impossible to interact with other people socially. Even going for lunch with colleagues was awkward. I would be enormously restricted with my food choices and would spend half of my lunchtime trying to explain why the hell I was eating my lunch out of a tupperware. Even a trip to my mother’s house would mean packing my own Paleo approved snacks.
Of course, I got funny looks from my colleagues and friends. Naturally, my family were very concerned. They saw how obsessive and unhealthy my behaviour had become. They tried to get through to me, but I just brushed it off. They just don’t understand what it means to be dedicated! They just don’t get it! This is what I told myself. My mother went so far as to include multi-vitamins in my Christmas stocking. She was worried that the hair loss would become permanent before I came to my senses!
I had done, what so many others do. I had taken something healthy to an unhealthy extreme. My “all or nothing” personality meant that I couldn’t follow Paleo, or any regime, kinda. In the end, I was very lucky. As I wrote about in The Accountability Network I underwent some big changes in my life last year. I was so busy trying to get to grips with a new job and new everything, that I didn’t have the bandwidth to be a Paleo purist. I had to let go of it, and looking back it was the best thing for me.
Not long after joining The Performance and Fitness Academy, I started working with one of the wonderful coaches on my nutrition. It was only then that I began to realise just how under fueled I had allowed my body to become. I started tracking macros. Eating more carbs actually helped me to drop body fat. What was even better, was that I now had the energy I needed to get through my workouts. I was alert and energetic in work. My mood and emotions were more stable and I started feeling happy, for the first time in a long while.
Please don’t misunderstand me. This article is not meant to malign Paleo. I know there are a lot of people for whom it is a wonderful tool. I am just not one of them. I love that Paleo encourages people to eat whole, minimally processed food in as close to its natural state as possible. This is something I still try to do, and always encourage others to do. However, the restrictive nature of The Caveman culture is not something I can endorse. I have learned, the hard way, that Paleo is not something I can safely do. The older and more experienced I get, the more I have learned to accept my limitations.
Perhaps the most important thing I have learned through this experience, is that people who love and care about me, only interfere when they think it’s in my best interest. Sometimes we are so entrenched in the situation, we lose all perspective. Other people see things which we are blinded to . I am determined to listen to conscientious objectors in the future and I urge you all to do that same. Be well xxx
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