For those of you who follow me, you probably know by now that Steve and I are trying the Paleo Diet. We are on a 10 day “detox”, where we are eating strict paleo which includes no rice, potatoes, sugar, sweetener (EEK!), bread, oatmeal, milk products, beans, peanuts (yes, no peanut butter!) and many other things we love.
Although that may seem scary to some of you, the truth is, we don’t eat much of those things anyway, but to go TOTALLY without – now that’s a whole different story. But, as I go Paleo, I am learning a lot along the way. When I try knew things, I’m always thinking about my client and members. I think of what they will like about it, what they will struggle with, and how they could mess it up – to the point the diet doesn’t work well at all for them. Here’s what I mean…
Red Flag #1: Paleo doesn’t count calories
Not everyone needs to count calories, HOWEVER, if you have a problem with your weight, you should be managing calories – just like if you had a problem spending money, you should closely manage your bank account. Just because I tell you to shop at K-Mart instead of Macy’s doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll spend less money. The same goes for diet. Just because the Paleo diet is healthy and it doesn’t allow for a lot of high-calorie carbs doesn’t necessarily mean you’d lose weight on the diet if you aren’t purposeful about where you are getting your calories. It’s one thing to eat Paleo because it’s healthy, and it’s another thing to go Paleo and eat all the Paleo approved foods you want and expect to lose weight.
The reason I’m waving the red flag on calories, is to remind you that just because something is healthy doesn’t mean you can’t eat too much of it. I would suggest counting calories while on the Paleo Diet if you are trying to lose weight. Once you learn what Paleo items are higher in calories, and which ones are not, you’ll be able to snack better and eat smarter.
Red Flag #2: Paleo allows for a lot of fat
Unlike the Adkins Diet, Paleo fats are super healthy and energizing. They aren’t the kind of clog-your-artery fats that kills people. The problem with this is there are more calories in fat than there are in carbs and protein. And, if something is high in fat (even if it’s good fat), it high in calories. Now, to an athlete, those calories are likely burned up in hours of practice and/or intense CrossFit training. BUT, the common person who dabbles in training (like most gym members), and aren’t training for your best FRAN, heaviest Dead Lift or a marathon, high-calorie fats need to be rationed.
For instance, pumpkin seeds, cashews and almonds are all allowed on the Paleo Diet – BUT, if you are a heavy snacker this could be setting you up for a big FAT failure if you aren’t careful. 1 cup of Cashews (which is NOT a lot!) is a whopping 786 calories and 63 grams of fat, so you can see how easy it would be to rack up the calories. (Read my article on Beware of Going Nuts for Nuts) I’m raising the red flag to bring your attention to the dangers of not limiting your fats. Healthy fats are fantastic – in moderation.
Red Flag #3: Paleo doesn’t allow for food alternatives
100-calorie snack packs and artificially sweetened drinks are not allowed on a Paleo Diet. This is a good thing when it comes to your health, but can be a bad thing if you don’t have a go-to snack to satisfy cravings. After just 2 days on the diet, I was craving sweets like a Diabetic – and I don’t even normally care about sweets! I tried eating fruit, but that didn’t cut it. Knowing this was trouble in the making if I didn’t find a solution, I went straight to the health food store and bought all the ingredients I needed to make some Paleo snack bars. I also bought other approved foods, like plantains and sweet potato, which I knew would help satisfy my cravings for sweet carbs. After I ate my sweet potato last night I was golden.
We are so used to being able to grab a snack in a pinch, or enjoy a sweet flavored drink to fight a sweet tooth. Whether it’s a bar or a pack of pretzels, when those items aren’t there we freak. The red flag I’m waving here is to remind you that if you don’t find a solution to your craving you will fail, or quit, this diet – or any diet for that matter. It’s crucial you keep troubleshooting until you find the solution for you. Just because your favorite item is not on the list, like I’m totally crushed I can’t have corn (and POPCORN!), doesn’t mean I can’t find something else I like equally. It just may take some time to find them, and adjust my habits.
Red Flag #4: Paleo cult members can lead you astray
Like many diets groups and fitness organizations, it forms a cult-like following – and they LOVE to tell you what to do. And, if they are completely ripped and have a body of a greek god, it’s easy to want to do everything they say. I watch some of my Paleo friends woof down tons of food while still maintaining a six-pack, but is that realistic for me? We can’t all expect our bodies to respond like someone else. I know some of my friends train 3 times harder than me. Some of them have already biked 12 miles, ran 4 miles and hit a WOD before I even woke up. I also realize some people are naturally gifted with beautifully shaped physiques even before they made them more beautiful with intense training. You have to know your own body. You have to know your own cravings and weaknesses. So, the next time someone decides to tell you what to eat (even if you don’t think it’s best for you) notice the red flag, listen to them, and then do the appropriate research needed to make an intelligent decision for your body.
To sum it up, my answer to the question “Can the Paleo Diet Make You Fat?” is “Yes, BUT…“.
YES, you can get fat on almost any diet IF you aren’t eating in moderation. It would be very hard to get fat on the Paleo Diet because it limits starchy carbs and sugar, but it would be irresponsible of me to not warn you to watch your overall calories if you are trying to lose weight until you get the hang of things. So far, I am really liking eating Paleo. It’s forcing me to avoid things I know I eat too much of, so it’s good for me. It’s also hard to argue that it’s not super healthy. It totally is very healthy, improves performance, promotes recovery, balances hormone levels, reduces tissue inflammation, lowers body acidity, and increases energy. Just don’t get excited about the whole “Paleo people don’t count calories” thing, because that doesn’t mean YOU don’t need to. It just depends on your goal. If you only care about performance and health, don’t worry about it. BUT, if you care what you look like, you gotta do what you gotta do to get you closer to your goal.