Why I had to quit Paleo, and what I learned from it...
I was hardcore into the Paleo lifestyle for about 4 years. It appeared to answer all of my problems and challenges. I overcame chronic yeast and candida issues. My digestion improved. My energy increased. My skin cleared. I felt more positive and happy. I was 100% convinced that sticking with Paleo was the ONLY way to stay healthy and live a long life.
In full disclosure, I was also very arrogant about how right I was that the Paleo plan was the only truly healthy way to be eating. I really, really, love to be right.
Fruit?! Hah! Who needs all that extra sugar?
Sugar cravings are for the weak! Just eat an avocado!
The real problem is all these carbs people are eating!
So imagine my shock and embarrassment when I went to the doctor for a glucose test glowing with confidence and pride that my blood sugar levels would be stellar.....and found out that I was in fact insulin resistant. With a blood sugar level far too high to be healthy.
WHAT?!!!!! How could this happen?
What about all my years of living without carbs or sugar, feeding on protein, fats, and vegetables? What about my perfectly planned meals with the proper ratios of each?
I had to question everything that I had learned and everything that I was doing with my diet. And it was a slow process. Just when I thought I had everything figured out, I was back to questioning and examining each step of what I was doing for my health.
And here is what I learned.
1) Too much protein and animal fat actually creates insulin resistance.
The first change that I made in my new plan, was to slash the amount of animal protein I was eating in a day. I went from 3 times per day, to 1 meal per day. I increased plant based proteins, such as green-pea protein or hemp protein in my morning shakes and black beans, garbanzo beans, or pinto beans with my lunch. I prepared more meals that focused around heavier vegetables rather than animal protein, such as spaghetti squash, butternut squash, and sweet potatoes. And I increased the amount of plant based fats I was consuming and replaced many of the animal fats; olive oil, flaxseed oil, coconut oil, and avocado oil.
The result of this was that my liver began to function more freely. And when my liver function improved, my pancreatic function improved and my insulin resistance went down as my body was able to uptake and process the complex carbs I was consuming. My digestion, which has always been sluggish, improved even more and I experienced an increase in lightness and clarity.
2) I started eating fruit. And it did NOT elevate my blood sugar.
This shocked me the most. Using a glucometer, I started tracking my blood sugar both fasting and after meals. I started experimenting with eating fruit on an empty stomach. Often as a smoothie for breakfast, or a snack between meals. The first day I went all out and made a smoothie with two bananas, 1/2 cup of blueberries, and 2 dates. It tasted delicious. And one hour after drinking it, my blood sugar remained at a very moderate 95 mg/dl. For those of you unfamiliar with tracking blood sugar levels, a healthy blood sugar after a meal is under 140 mg/dl. A healthy FASTING blood sugar is under 100 mg/dl.
From the many books and studies I've now read, the problem with consuming fruit sugar lies in the fact that when combined with a diet high in animal fats, it can increase cholesterol levels. So it is important to consume fruit on an empty stomach, away from heavier meals. When I began adding fruit, the first thing I noticed was relief from sugar cravings. A lifelong addiction to chocolate fell away. And while I had effectively resisted sugar during my Paleo years, when I did indulge I found it very difficult to stop. Eating fruit more regularly put an end to sugar cravings completely. Refined sugars no longer appealed.
3) Dietary needs change as we do. Just because one plan works in the present, doesn't mean it's the only way to eat forever.
I've always believed in bio-individuality. That there is no one diet that is perfect for everyone. Our dietary needs change over time. Yes, the Paleo diet worked very well for me as I worked my way out of chronic health challenges. It was a jumping off point. I still find it to be very helpful for people who struggle with similar challenges. But one of the greatest tools we can master is learning to listen to the way our body is communicating with us. To translate our body's individual language. One of the first signals our body sends us is in the form of cravings. I've heard this often from clients who have been vegan and resisted cravings for red meat, only to find out that they are anemic.
I resisted sugar cravings for years, priding myself on my ability to deprive myself. Only to discover that what my body actually needed was more sugar, in a form that it could utilize and maximize. When my blood work showed the solid evidence, I had to be vulnerable and go back to review what I was doing and how it was actually working for me. It's easy to become dogmatic about nutrition. It can become another religion that we preach to those around us and use to convert more followers. The truth is, that every body has different needs and different challenges to overcome. A body that needs to shed weight is going to have different priorities than a body battling candida or IBS. A body struggling with emotional eating is sending different signals than a body dealing with arthritis.
Listen and respect the messages your body is sending you. Try to see health challenges as an opportunity to deepen your self-awareness, and to open a new experience. Experiment with the foods that make you feel good, and begin to cut out the foods that drain you. Healthy living is not just about willpower. Allow yourself to evolve.
One year after studying and implementing the changes above, I went back for a second set of blood work last week. My blood sugar levels were normal. My HbA1c (which is a snapshot of my average blood sugar level over a 3-month period) had dropped significantly and was back in a healthy range.
I share this with you in full disclosure because I want you to know that I too, struggle at times. I love the magnificence of the human body, and it's ability to send signals that can point us in a new direction. I love the power of food, and how real food can heal and bring about not only physical change but emotional, spiritual, and circumstantial change as well. And I love that the Universe provides us with access to these foods all day, every day. All we have to do is decide to listen, to act, to respect our body by giving it the best care possible.
Love to you all.