Blogging is making me fat. Okay, "fat" is a total exaggeration, but the bottom line is that blogging is hindering my weight loss. Not blogging in and of itself. WHAT I'm blogging is the culprit.
In an effort to avoid constantly making clarifications to everything I'm going to say in this post, let me state up front that YOUR version of Paleo is yours. What I'm going to say in this post may not apply to you. This is my personal experience, my personal opinion, and my personal decision. I'm sharing it with all of you because it does directly effect the nature and voice of this blog, and because many of you may associate with what I'm experiencing and find that it does apply to you. I recognize that there are ALWAYS exceptions, and I am not going to spend my time addressing all of those exceptions throughout this post. There is no reason for anyone to get worked up over my thoughts and opinions here, because I do not take a "one size fits all" approach to health. My goal with this post is to get you thinking, and promote change that you personally may feel needs to take place.
My intention in starting this blog was to be genuine, honest, and real about the struggles in weight loss, food addiction and overall health. I find that personal openness is something greatly lacking in the health and fitness world-- Paleo or otherwise. We have a lot of recipe blogs, exercise blogs, people selling the latest health shakes, but where are the people talking about the real life, real food struggle? Blogger fame can cause writers to hide their real self, and rightfully so as privacy can feel invaded. But, when I started my journey over two years ago, I felt completely alone. Completely. I don't want that to be the case for you! I can't lie-- transparency is not easy for me. I am a perfectionist, and admitting flaws and failures is not a part of my emotional protocol. Being emotionally closed off is a defense mechanism and survival strategy for me, but I know that transparency fosters connections; and I want you the reader to feel that we can stand together in solidarity.
Now that I got that out of the way, dare I say it...
Fact: Paleo-fied breads and desserts are sexy, alluring, delicious, and better for you than Standard American Diet (SAD from here on out) baked goods.
Also fact: They will not nourish your body like healthy fats, protein, and vegetables will; and they can hinder health and fitness goals.
I confess! I have fallen into the "Paleo" bread & dessert trap. How? Easily, as a matter of fact. Paleo-fied SAD foods garner A LOT of attention in the blogosphere. I know this because my most viewed, most liked food posts are cleaned up versions of SAD foods-- namely dessert. As a result, I have wanted to post more in an effort to gain more viewership. It's only natural. When you look at Paleo blogs/IG's/Facebook pages, they are heavy on the desserts & breads for this reason. People LOVE them. I mean, who doesn't enjoy biting into moist breads and cakes and cookies? Everyone does, because, dare I say it, we're addicted to grains and sugar and we want to give them up without really giving them up.
Let the hate begin!
I know a lot of people will not like me for saying this, so one last time I'm going to clarify that if you don't feel that this applies to you, that's great! Let me also clarify that I believe the occasional grain/dairy/refined sugar free treat is perfectly fine and encouraged! Or even go all out and eat a glutenous pile of glorious SAD foods from time to time. I don't want to come across as militant here, but I do see a growing trend in over consumption of Paleo-fied SAD foods.
But they're Paleo! Well, that can be argued. As someone who has been following the Paleolithic template for over two years now, I'm seeing quite a shift in its presentation with its new mainstream status. It has become more about just cutting out certain bad foods, leaving the population to believe that everything else is a free for all. Many "Paleo" meal plans don't look that different from the SAD ones, they just use different ingredients.
For me, that is not Paleo.
As someone who has struggled with food addictions and eating disorders (you can read "My Story" here), Paleo means more than just cutting out certain bad foods. Paleo is about getting back to REAL food. Eating as close to nature as possible. Eating to live, not living to eat. In fact, my first year of Paleo, I didn't make a single Paleo dessert or baked good. I would treat myself once a month to a SAD meal & dessert, and that was it. Some of you might be freaking out right now-- ONCE A MONTH??? Yes. And I felt amazing. I was at peace with food. I was at peace in my physical body. I was 40 pounds heavier, yet my gym and life performance were outstanding, and the fat loss was incredibly efficient.
It cannot be a coincidence that when I started introducing Paleo baked goods into my diet the fat loss slowed down. I started eating mug cakes, paleo breads, Enjoy Life chocolate chips...you name it! Not all the time, but often enough to slow things down. It has been even worse since starting this blog. I eat what I make because I'm not wasteful. Thankfully, I'm not the only one here to eat it. My kids and husband are happy to share the burden, but I'm consuming more than I should for my personal health and wellness goals. My body works most efficiently on a high fat/ high protein, low nut/low sugar diet, which is the case for a lot of people who struggle with obesity and slow metabolism. Unfortunately, Paleo baked goods just don't fit into that kind of diet.
The purpose of the Paleolithic template is to fuel our bodies for efficiency. It's about good sustenance and peak performance in the gym, and in life. This being the case, where do Paleo-fied SAD foods fit into this template? My opinion is that they don't. This is not the same as never eating them. I'm simply saying that they should be the exception, and not a part of our weekly menu plan.
Feel free to hate me even more now! I never said this was going to make me popular. Ha!
So, here's the big moment of truth...I'm going to stop posting as many desserts. GASP! I might lose blog views and social media fans, but I cannot justify posting them as often as I have been, because I don't believe we should consume them as much as we do. The last several times I have posted a dessert I have actually felt guilty, like I am misleading you all. To me, that is a clear indication that I shouldn't be doing it. This is totally personal. I do not fault any Paleo blogger who posts mostly desserts, but this blog needs to be a reflection of who I genuinely am and what I believe; and I don't believe we should be consuming Paleo-fied SAD foods with such frequency. I have to be true to that, not only for my health, but for my peace of mind.
So, why do I believe this?
1. It's not just about ingredients and weight loss.
Eating Paleo baked goods is not about the ingredients. It's about the mentality that goes along with eating them. Like I said before, we want to give up grains without really giving them up. We want to FEEL like we're eating SAD foods.
Is that the point of the Paleolithic lifestyle? Is that healthy? Does appeasing our desire to feel like we're eating something we shouldn't really promote a healthy relationship with food? I think these are valid questions we need to be asking ourselves. Your answer may be different than mine, but I encourage you to really stop and be honest with yourself when answering this question.
Of course, there is the age old, "but they're made with better ingredients," argument. This is an argument made in the SAD world as well. It's true. They are made with better ingredients, and I take the view that if you're going to treat yourself, treat yourself Paleo-- especially people like myself who suffer gluten sensitivity. The key words here being IF and TREAT. I fully believe that when we think something is made with better ingredients, we over consume it. I don't mean in one sitting, I mean in the frequency with which we consume them. This goes back full circle to my first point here.
If you ask yourself that initial question, and your answer is that you can have a healthy relationship with food and you feel amazing eating Paleo pancakes every morning for breakfast then have at it! I have no issue with someone eating raw honey or coconut sugar or blanched nuts everyday as long as they are consuming an appropriate amount for their body and their personal health and fitness goals. My concern is in the "how" we are consuming it. I have very little problem with someone drizzling their raw apple with a little honey, or using honey with balsamic vinegar on their salad, or putting a little coconut sugar in their tea. However, I would argue that for many people the consumption of Paleo-fied SAD foods has more to do with an emotional connection than a desire to eat raw honey for it's health benefits. That is not heathy, and I think we need to reassess our consumption of Paleo baked goods for this reason. I know I have needed to do this!
Now, that being said...
2. Ingredients are an issue...to a certain extent.
Paleo baked goods are usually made from a high amount of nut flours and sugars.
First, I want to address nut flours. Almond & coconut flour are both really popular in grain free baking. Nuts are a great source of healthy fats, among other benefits. However, there is a reason the original Paleo diet recommends you eat very little of them (just 1-2oz a day). Nuts, including coconut, can be extremely high in phytic acid. Phytic acid is a problem for several reasons that Chris Kesser explains here. One of those reasons is that it can bind to essential nutrients and eliminate them from our body, which can ultimately lead to a micronutrient deficiency, which I will discuss a bit later. While made from blanched almonds which can slightly decrease the phytic acid, almond flour has a high concentration of nuts. A cup of almond flour can contain almost 90 almonds! If that delicious Paleo bread calls for 2 cups of almond flour, and you make 8 slices, that means each slice can contain 22 almonds. Which is the recommended amount for daily consumption. So, that being the case, if you can stick to one slice of that bread and not have any nuts or nut butter the rest of the day, you'll be fine. Can you do that? That's a personal question.
Now, SUGAR. Sugar is the DEVIL-- I say this somewhat facetiously. You don't have to be in the fitness and health circuit long before this is made known, and it's now even permeating the mainstream media. I am glad it is, because refined sugar needs to be dealt with. But, is all sugar the devil? Yes and no. As a society are we addicted to sugar? Yes. Is it good for people to do a hard core, sugar free detox like Diane Sanflippo's 21 Day Sugar Detox to break the negative cycle of sugar addiction and reconnect with our body's natural hunger cues? Absolutely! Does everyone need to subscribe to a sugar free lifestyle on the regular? No. HOWEVER, daily sugar consumption should be limited.
"But honey, coconut sugar, and maple are great sources of carbohydrates on the Paleo diet." They are each A source of carbohydrates, but they should not be our ONLY source. If you need 80-100 grams of carbohydrates a day, getting them all from natural sugars is not wise, for all the reasons too much sugar consumption is not wise (which is discussed in depth in Diane Sanflippo's 21 Day Sugar Detox book). While raw honey, coconut sugar, and maple can all have great health benefits, our bodies still respond to them as sugar. Bottom line: we need to be careful. If you need to consume a higher carbohydrate diet, I would suggest that you get most of those carbs from roots, tubers, vegetables and some fruit because they are not only a source of carbohydrates, but also a source of micronutrients, which actually leads me to my next point...
3. We should be concerning ourselves with micronutrient consumption more than we are.
Unfortunately, this is something that tends to take a back seat to macronutrient consumption in the health and fitness world because macro counting is such a big part of "leaning out." Macronutrients are just that-- the macro (large in scale) nutrients (nourishing things) we need for growth and development. I.e. protein, carbohydrates and fat. Micronutrients, you can then assume, are the smaller scale nutrients we need for growth and development-- vitamins and minerals that we consume on a smaller scale.
Micronutrient consumption is very important because, while we don't consume them in higher quantities, a deficiency in micronutrients can lead to a number of health problems, from the most basic (lack of energy) to the more extreme (cardiovascular disease).
So what does eating Paleo baked goods have to do with micronutrient consumption? Let's use some common Paleo meals as examples:
3 coconut flour pancakes
Drizzle of pure maple
2 Tbs almond butter
2 slices of pastured bacon
coffee with honey and coconut milk
Paleo sandwich with
Homemade protein bar
For all intents and purposes, this is a Paleo food diary-- No gluten, grains, dairy, refined sugar, soy or bad fats. It also has been meticulously planned out to fit the amount of fat, protein, and carbohydrates this person needs to reach their fat loss goals. However, the fact is there are not enough vegetables. We have to eat our vegetables people!! And we have to eat a wide variety of them! Most of our micronutrients come from vegetables, and we get a variety of micronutrients by eating the rainbow of vegetables. Not only is this diet plan lacking in micronutrients, but it's also high in nuts, which are high in phytic acid, which will remove some micronutrients this person does consume. It's a recipe for disaster!
My concern is that many of us are filling our bellies with Paleo baked goods, and not leaving enough room for micronutrient rich vegetables-- including tubers and squashes which should be our main source for carbohydrates.
Okay, now that you're all hating me...
I don't want to be a Debbie Downer here. I said it once, I'll say it again: treats are okay! The frequency with which you eat them is a personal decision. However, I think we all need to stop and occasionally reassess our diets, especially how much Paleo-fied SAD foods we are eating.
Have you reached a plateau in your weight loss or fitness goals? Are you feeling a bit foggy and sluggish during the day? When you come home tired from a long day at work, are you immediately reaching for that Paleo brownie and justifying it because it's "Paleo?" If so, perhaps you should stop and get back to the basics of what Paleo is about-- eating real, nutrient rich, colorful foods. Sticking to the Paleo Pyramid of pastured (or lean) meats, vegetables, some fruits, nuts and seeds. You might find that a simplified approach to food is exactly what you need to get back on the track of optimizing your health.
I'm doing this myself starting NOW. If you'd like to join me, I'll be posting some amazing recipes that fit this criteria! It's not about deprivation, it's about sustenance. It's about eating foods that nourish you both body and soul. That is what this blog has been, and will henceforth be about!
Much love to you all!