A few years ago I decided I wanted to get fit. I wanted to lose some weight and get a decent time for a 10k.
I’d go to the gym 4 times a week, and every now and then I’d go for a 40 min jog. My running improved, but I wasn’t making the progress I felt I should be given the effort I was putting in. I wasn’t Brad-Pitt-Fight-Club-ripped. Not even close!
I decided I needed a new strategy. This period of reflection led to bigger questions: What could I do be doing differently? Am I making he most of the resources at my disposal? What is fitness? What is “health”?
The first area to address was diet. I had been a picky eater as a kid. Most of my meals included cheese. As I got older my diet expanded, but not much. My typical day was cereal and toast for breakfast; a chicken sandwich, fruit and a muffin for lunch; a chicken curry or fish and potatoes for dinner.
I didn’t know what the ideal diet was, but I was sure this wasn’t it. I had never researched nutrition. I had never consulted an expert, so it wasn’t surprising that I was clueless.
I asked a gym bro for some pointers. He told me to check out Charles Poliquin’s website. I read this post, and bought this book. It turned out that a healthy diet comprises loads of vegetables, particularly green ones, meat and some fruit. There was a little dairy. Bread, and grains in general, did not feature. It turned out that this diet was roughly a “Paleo” diet.
I cut down on the toasted cheese sandwiches (which I loved ). I started eating more meat and veg. I even ate pork chops for breakfast. The first thing I noticed was how much fuller I felt. If I ate a couple of pork chops for breakfast, I wouldn’t be hungry until 2pm. When I ate bread and cereal for breakfast I never felt as satiated. I took this as a good sign.
After a while I decided to go 100% Paleo. Before I started I went to a Poliquin Biosignature coach to get my bodyfat measured. I ate Paleo for two months and had my bodyfat measured again afterwards.
Removing the grains and processed foods had some interesting results. For the first couple of days I felt very dizzy. I had to grip the banister going down the stairs. Later my coach explained that my body was changing from burning carbs to burning stored fat. I was going through what runners call “the wall”; that point when our stored energy (glycogen) runs out and our bodies start burning fat.
Over the month my bodyfat dropped 3pp from 12% to 9% (I can’t remember what my weight loss was) and there was finally some definition in my abs (which is really what we’re after!). This was the most significant fat loss I had ever seen. For me this was solid evidence that the “Paleo crew” knew what they were talking about. This was also my first n=1 experiment.
Since then I’ve been researching Paleo and the lifestyle that goes with it, and I’ve been heavily influenced by the talking heads in the Paleo community. You can get their backstories here: Robb Wolf, Chris Kresser, John Welbourne, Mark Sisson, and Terry Wahls . They tend to be a mix of high-level athletes, academics, bio-chemists, and high-performers in general.
So what is the Paleo Diet?