This article was written by guest contributor Helen Williams. She is a freelance healthcare writer.
You’d have to be living under a stone (or in the Stone Age) to have missed the hype about the Paleo Diet. The Paleo premise is simple - humans should eat the foods which we evolved to process best. If our hunter-gathering ancestors did not eat it, neither should the Paleo-dieter. Refined sugars, processed foods, dairy products, and grains are out; unprocessed meats, fruits, and nuts are in. The theory runs that, although we’re omnivores, our bodies spent much longer evolving the ability to deal with the latter foods than with the former - meaning that we can metabolise them with greater ease and glean more nutrients from them. This theoretically means that those on the Paleo diet can lose a good deal of weight. In an era that is seeing health services buckle under the weight of our obesity crisis, anything that promises to not only reform our eating habits, but also shave our excess poundage has to be good, right?
Does It Work?
Many embark on the Paleo diet in an effort to lose weight, but whether this is because of Caveman Metabolic Magic (as some would have you believe) or because of a more complex set of factors (both physical and psychological) is another story. Sensible Paleo diets emphasise non-processed foods, and a high content of fruit and vegetables along with meat. In general, this kind of high-fiber, high vegetable diet is healthy. It’s no secret that improving the quality and balance of your nutritional intake can bring many benefits to your health. However, while the general quality of a balanced Paleo diet can bring many health benefits, it’s not going to help you lose weight unless you pay attention to the science of weight loss. Simply eating like a caveman isn’t going to cause the fat to magically melt away! However, if done correctly, this diet can be a great help for the circumferentially challenged.
Losing Weight On The Paleo Diet
Lots of people love the Paleo Diet, and it’s easy to see why. It feels like a positive, non-calorie-counting method of weight loss. However, there is a tendency for some people to follow an "unbalanced" Paleo plan. Meat is a wonderful thing, and we love it! The Paleo diet also loves meat and, in fact, it lets you eat a lot of it. However, the reason that we love meat is because it was reasonably scarce for our gathering-hunting ancestors. We love all the things which used to be scarce because we needed extra motivation to obtain those things. Sugar, salt, fat - all of these things are needed in moderation to keep us alive, but they used to be pretty hard to obtain. Evolution primed us to seek these substances out by making us crave them. Compared to the above mentioned substances, vegetables and fruits were available in relative abundance, so evolution felt less of a need to fill our brains with vegetable cravings. This doesn’t mean that fruit and veggies are less important. Quite the contrary - they’re, if anything, even more important. It means that they were the mainstay of our ancestor’s diets, which nobody had to risk discomfort (at best) and death (at worst) to get.
The bottom line is that a true Paleo diet should be high in fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, and berries, and low on meat. Modern Paleo dieters who prioritise the meat over the other foods aren’t doing it wrong, per se, but they aren’t likely to see the kinds of results they might expect. Similarly, people who snack all day on only nuts and avocados may still be consuming a hefty payload of calories. If you truly want to lose weight and feel great on the Paleo diet, you do still (unfortunately) need to keep an eye on the calories, and make sure that you’re heaping your plate with a healthy dose of vegetables, as well as meat.
The Importance Of Lifestyle
Nutritional evolution is obviously a complex topic. Most good Paleo plans understand this, which means that, when done correctly, you can lose weight and feel healthy on this diet. However, Paleo diets work best if pursued as a lifestyle change rather than as a faddy, unbalanced weight-loss initiative. Don’t just eat like a caveman - walk as much as a caveman did, sleep as regularly as they did, live an active lifestyle, and make sure to get plenty of vegetables in your diet! And of course, try not to get killed by a saber-toothed tiger! While death by a giant pre-historic carnivore is great for short-term weight loss, it’s not a brilliant long term health strategy.