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With all the confusing information out there, it's easy to get a little off track. But if you have been on the Paleo diet for a while and aren't feeling better (and aren't losing weight if that's something you are going after), maybe you are making one or more of these common mistakes?
Thinking it's all about food
Too many people hear the word “diet” and their thoughts and effort immediately stop with food. But the moniker “Paleo Diet” is actually quite misleading. It is more a lifestyle than just a food-based diet. Yes, food is a huge part of it. But if you don’t address the other complementary lifestyle aspects of the diet then you will never see the maximum amount of benefits. When you fully commit to the Paleo diet you also should take a hard look at things like how much of a role stress plays in your life, how much sleep you are getting each night, and how much movement you get in each day. You need to work on fitting in some sort of relaxation, preferably every day. This could be full-blown meditation or something as simple as just closing your eyes and looking away from your computer for a minute several times day. You need to try to get in at least 7, preferably 8 hours of sleep each night. If you wake up in the middle of the night, fine. Try to get a nap in if that is possible or go to bed a bit earlier the next night. You’d be amazed at how much of a difference getting this amount of sleep can do to your overall health and mental state. And if you have a hard time falling asleep, stop using bright blue-light devices for at least 30 min before bed, or at least use blue blocking glasses to shield you and your hormones from the negative effects. You also need to get some sort of movement in each day. This can be walking (what I mainly do), your cardio of choice, lifting weights, dancing, whatever. Just move!
Thinking it's low carb
I don’t know how many times people have asked me “Oh, you do that low carb Paleo diet, right”? While there are definitely people that do low carb ketogenic versions of the Paleo diet, and I have done this myself at several points over the last few years to help with some specific issues I was having, Paleo in general does not mean low carb. I think that confuses many newbies and steers them away from the diet since it makes it so much more restrictive. I think the misconception comes from people calling things like bread and pasta the general term “carbs”. But even though we remove bread and pasta, we eat things like sweet potatoes, squash, fruit, etc – all which have carbs in them. We definitely eat LESS carbs than someone on a standard American diet, who eats cereal for breakfast, a muffin for a morning snack, a sandwich and soda for lunch, an energy bar for an afternoon snack, and pasta with a side of garlic bread for dinner. I mean, that’s pretty much nothing but carbs. But low or no carb doesn’t necessarily describe the vast majority of people on Paleo.
Staying away from fat
Fat is not bad for you. Let me repeat that, fat is not bad for you. If I was writing this post in 2009 I might have written it a bit differently, but now in the end of 2015 the idea that fat is not the villain it was once made out to be has pretty much made its way to mainstream media. So unless you are like my husband and never read the news, you probably have heard at least rumblings of this. But in case not, go read this and this. And if you are STILL not eating fat, why not? If you are worried you are going to gain weight, will me telling you that since I have switched to a higher fat diet I have lost 20 pounds and kept them off with no hunger, no deprivation, and only walking for exercise? Whereas before when I was on a high carb, no fat diet I kept steadily gaining weight or keeping it at an ok-ish place with having to do at least 20 hours of workouts a week? So I personally believe that to lose fat you need to eat fat. And my own cholesterol, blood pressure, etc markers that Western medicine indicates whether we are gonna die tomorrow or not? They all look perfect for me. But they weren’t when I was eating high carb, low fat…. So break out the coconut oil and don’t be shy!
Thinking it's all about meat
There has been a video going around on Facebook where a couple is out on a date and he orders a lemon butter cod over a rice pilaf and she says she wants that (and her face says that too) but instead orders a bacon burger with no bun. When questioned she says she is Paleo and that a guy at crossfit told her it was healthier to eat this way. She says it is the bun that is bad. The guy looks at her like she is crazy, and with good reason. Unfortunately it’s stuff like this that too many people believe. A burger topped in bacon is not healthier than cod. A burger topped in bacon sitting on a huge salad or a ton of broccoli, now we are getting warmer. But too many people believe Paleo is all about meat meat meat. Let me tell you, it’s not, ok? Paleo is about nutrient dense foods. Meat is only just one of those food groups. Vegetables are a VERY big part of this, and one that should play a leading role. Fat (see # 3 above) another. Nuts and seeds, fruits and fish all also important. This isn’t the Atkins diet. It’s all about being well-rounded, getting all the vitamins and minerals you can, reducing all the inflammation you can in your body, and sustaining energy to do what you need to do. In order to do this you need a wide variety of foods.
Not being lenient on yourself
Imagine a scenario where you are out with friends and someone orders a delicious ice cream sundae, complete with gooey hot fudge and rainbow sprinkles – and several spoons. You LOVE rainbow sprinkles and after much internal fighting decide to indulge. You then spend the next week berating yourself and losing self-confidence until you finally just decide you can’t do a restrictive diet. You know what? Stop!!! Eat the damn sundae and then wake up the next morning and smile, remembering how much fun you had with your friends and get on with your life. A cheat or two every so often should NOT derail all your efforts, and is totally normal. I’m not saying do it all the time, but you also shouldn’t kid yourself. We live in a world where there are 203123928131 different kinds of foods. 203123928100 of them are not “Paleo”. You are going to come across situations that will make you want to cheat. If you do, that’s your decision, but just make your decision and keep going. I forget who said it (and if you know, PLEASE let me know so I can give them credit), but I heard recently something like “if you get in a car accident you aren’t going to say, ‘Oh, I might as well just get in 1000 more’”, do you? Same principal applies here. Don’t be so hard on yourself.
Not reading labels
Oh man, this one actually even got me until I was diagnosed with Celiac disease. It got me in the form of “don’t assume something is gluten-free just because it’s not breaded”. Not sure how many times we had gone to the local bbq joint and ordered ribs thinking they were safe. Then after my diagnosis I learned that they are made with gluten and corn. Hmmm… definitely not Paleo. Even some of the snacks I see at places like Whole Foods look SO promising until I get to the “agave nectar” entry. Again NOT Paleo. (And some of them even say “Paleo friendly” on the labels!!). Again, keeping with the spirit of # 5 above, you make the choice on whether you want to eat these things and if you can tolerate them, but if you are coming to Paleo from a desire to get healthy and to possibly stop some health issues, you really need to understand what ingredients cause you problems and stay away from them. So don’t just assume. Find out what is in any packaged or pre-made food you are eating. Question your servers at restaurants. Be informed.