Last weekend, DiabetesMine posted about the Paleo diet and linked back to a post that I had written a few months ago about my experience with Paleo diet and the Whole 30 challenge (30 days of strict Paleo eating). Because of that, a few people left comments asking if I was still doing that, and even though I don’t write for DiabetesMine anymore, I thought I would follow up on that experience in case anyone out there is curious.
The main question is, “Are you still eating Paleo?” to which the answer is, “No, I am not.”
My husband Erik and I lasted probably 3 months on Paleo eating before slowly and surely going back to old ways. But there’s a lot that did stick around! We do cook almost entirely Paleo and/or gluten-free at home. There are only a handful of gluten items that we buy (namely English muffins) because my blood sugars don’t tolerate the gluten-free versions very well. But it’s not like I eat English muffins everyday, so it’s not really a huge part of my diet. Many of our meals that we cook at home are Paleo, because we still use the two Paleo cookbooks that we bought in January quite often. The recipes really are delicious!
Eating out has probably been our biggest backslide. We don’t specifically order with any diet in mind, just whatever we feel like at the time. This has its pros (it’s tasty) and its cons (usually messes up my blood sugars). We also buy a lot of ice cream, because it’s basically our favorite dessert. But we buy Ben and Jerry’s, so at least it’s semi-healthy.
Because of this, my blood sugars and A1C have not really improved. They did improve quite a bit while I was on the Paleo diet, but I also just ate less in general while I was doing the Whole 30 because the protein really did fill me quite well. That and not consuming a lot of carbs meant that my blood sugars had less fluctuations.
However, this is something that I have noticed on similar low-carb and low-calorie “diets” that I have been on in the past. I don’t think this is shocking to anyone, but when you eat less carbohydrates, your blood sugar fluctuates less. There’s nothing really ground-breaking in that statement, but sometimes I think people forget that’s how it works. Yes, you can eat whatever you want, and your blood sugars will eventually do what you want if you take enough insulin, but there is a direct relationship between more carbohydrates and a more difficult to manage diabetes, in my experience.
Now does that mean I eat low-carb? Heavens no. Have you met me? Or seen a picture of me? I clearly love my food, and I find it very difficult to moderate the foods that I love. It’s an ongoing struggle for me. But I also hate deprivation, which is why the Paleo diet didn’t work very well for me either. To be honest, I’m not sure what is going to end up working for me. I know that the Paleo diet seemed too restrictive for my needs. As far as I can tell, I don’t have terrible GI reactions to gluten or dairy. The only reason we eat gluten-free foods is because we do believe that it’s not the best stuff for you, and also because we happen to like eating a lot of gluten-free food (I know, we’re weird).
I don’t find anything inherently wrong with the Paleo diet, nutritionally speaking. Yes, cutting out grains can be challenging, but I don’t believe the body needs them the way you need the essential amino acids that your body doesn’t make at all. There is nothing you need that you can’t get from the Paleo diet in one way, shape or form. Sometimes it takes a bit of creativity to get enough carbohydrates so that you feel good, especially if you’re an athlete, but it’s certainly possible. As with all diets or any kind of restriction on food, it has to be something that you want to do. It has to be something you feel called to do. If you feel forced into it, you’re more likely to rebel against it and it will be unsuccessful. The people who are Paleo and stick with it believe in it, they see the results, and they like it.
For me, I didn’t see it as being a sustainable way of life, but I do appreciate what I learned from my experience on the Whole 30 and the exposure to different types of recipes. Some of my favorite things to eat are entirely Paleo! I’ve learned to appreciate different cuts of meats, the kinds of substitutions you can do with vegetables (try spaghetti squash instead of pasta!) and the magic of spices.
Just like Meatless Monday has made the rounds, I would also advocate eating Paleo a few meals a week to get a stronger variety of fruits and vegetables that you might otherwise not get. Too bad there is no day of the week that begins with P!
And finally, try not to get too hung up on the “history” or “legitimacy” of the “caveman diet.” Almost everyone who actually follows the Paleo diet recognizes that it’s not historically accurate. It’s not meant to duplicate any kind of historical diet that our ancestors ate. What it is trying to do is get us to eat clean, natural and unprocessed healthy foods. There are a variety of reasons why they advocate a no-grain, no-legume, no-dairy diet — all of which you can read about in this book or by searching the Internet — but in the end they just want people to eat foods that are healthy and won’t cause any digestive harm. Not because they want to be a caveman.