The Paleo diet refers to an eating plan that mimics what was likely eaten during the Paleolithic era, when our ancestors were hunters and gatherers.
The diet is made up of foods that could be hunted or gathered such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds. The belief behind this style of eating is that foods like grains, legumes, and dairy are associated with the onset of chronic disease. Therefore, these foods are eliminated from the eating plan. Because it does not allow processed or pre-made foods, the Paleo diet limits sugar and sodium intake.
Not all Paleo diets are exactly the same. Many people eat variations of the diet, stick to it only during the week, or incorporate free days where they may eat anything they want. Others follow the guidelines strictly.
Even critics of the diet recognize that there are benefits with the reduction of sugar and sodium and with the increase in fruits, vegetables and healthy fats from fish, nuts, and seeds. But many health professionals are still concerned that excess meat increases saturated fat intake, and that the diet limits nutrient-rich foods. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, research still links the fiber from whole grains with a decreased risk for heart disease, cancer and diabetes, and dairy may play a role in weight loss.
According to the Mayo Clinic, limited short-term clinical research conducted with small groups has shown that a Paleo diet may have moderate benefits when compared to eating plans that include whole grains, legumes, and low-fat dairy. There is evidence of increased weight loss, improved glucose tolerance, better blood pressure control, and better appetite control.
Larger, long-term studies are still needed. It’s possible that similar health benefits can be achieved with exercise and a balanced healthy diet, eliminating the need for such severe food restriction. Critics also argue that the basis of the diet may be oversimplified, leading to more confusion about healthy eating. Some archaeological research suggests that grains may have been present in the diets of our ancestors before the onset of farming. If this is true, it complicates the justification for eliminating them that is associated with the Paleo diet.
As always, when exploring new eating plans, check with your doctor or a registered dietitian. He or she can help you find the best eating style that will give you the nutrients you need based on your health history and long-term fitness goals.
Your goals will be your number one priority when you set out to adopt healthier habits. As time goes on, without constant reminders, you may lose sight of why you started. To stay motivated and persevere, it’s important to keep the focus on your fitness goals.
Hang them up
Physically keeping your goals in plain sight helps you make smart choices when you are faced with tough decisions, like what to eat and whether or not to skip the gym. Write down your goals and use them to help guide your choices at the moment you need to make a decision. Stick them on the refrigerator and the snack drawer, list them on your daily calendar, hang them near your computer monitor, or set regular reminders on your smartphone.
A strong support system is important for reaching your fitness goals. Don’t keep your goals to yourself. Share them with those who you know will support you. These people can help cheer you on when you feel discouraged and join you in celebrating your successes.
Add short sessions of meditation to your day that allow you to focus on your end goal. When you visualize yourself accomplishing it, this can boost your confidence and motivation to keep you on track.
Incorporate regular rewards
Don’t let small accomplishments go unnoticed. Incorporate rewards for each small step you conquer towards your goal. These rewards serve as reminders that you are working towards something worthwhile and continuing to make progress.
Revise them when necessary
Your goals should change as you do. As you lose weight, drop clothing sizes, or run further you will need to continue to set new goals to stay motivated. It’s also important to remember that the goals you set when you first start out may not be a good fit for you as you progress. Perhaps a scheduling conflict makes it impossible to attend a fitness class, or it turns out you’d rather jog than walk. Revisit your goals often and make sure they are challenging enough to keep you motivated.
While it’s tempting to drastically reduce calories in an effort to lose weight fast, research has shown time and time again that this is not an effective approach to long-term weight loss. While it’s important that you control the number of calories you consume, too much restriction can halt your progress.
How many calories do I need?
The number of calories needed for weight loss is determined by several factors, and varies from person to person. MyFoodDiary uses the information you provide such as age, gender, and current activity level to determine a safe and effective number of calories to eat each day to reach your goals.
As you decrease calories, it’s important not to drastically cut food intake. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that women eat no fewer than 1,200 calories per day and that men eat no fewer than 1,800 calories per day. These numbers can change based on the individual. The Mayo Clinic recommends talking with your doctor about the minimum number of calories that are safe for you. Any intake lower than these recommended amounts should be closely monitored by your medical professional.
What happens if I don’t eat enough calories?
Extreme calorie restriction affects your health and your ability to lose weight. Low calorie intake reduces the amount of food you can eat and may prevent you from getting all necessary nutrients. Research shows that calorie restriction reduces leptin, a hormone that helps to regulate appetite. Low levels of leptin can lead to hunger and overeating. Research also shows that low-calorie dieting increases stress and the release of the stress hormone, cortisol. As a result of this stress response, the body conserves energy and the metabolism slows to combat the risk of starvation. While you might think that drastically cutting calories is sure to result in weight loss, these changes in stress levels are actually associated with weight gain.
How can I reach my goals if I can’t reduce my calorie intake?
Losing weight at a rate of 1 to 2 pounds per week has been found to be the most effective method to keep it off for good. In order to lose weight at this rate, you will need to reduce calorie intake by 500 to 1000 calories per day. This reduction could put some people below the recommended 1,200 and 1,800 calorie minimum. This is one reason that exercise is an important tool for weight loss. The calories burned during exercise contribute to the calorie deficit you need for weight loss. By combining reduced food intake with regular exercise, you can still lose weight without severely limiting your calorie intake. This will prevent your metabolism from slowing and ensure your rate of weight loss remains steady.
Eating to improve health is a positive change, but sometimes a focus on food and controlling body weight reaches extreme levels. When healthy habits turn to an obsession with food, restricted eating, or excessive overeating, it’s important to take action. The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) provides helpful tips for identifying eating disorders and provides guidance for seeking help.
Types of Eating Disorders
The NEDA recognizes three main eating disorders -- Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, and Binge Eating Disorder. A fourth group is titled, Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder, or OSFED. Disorders in this category have similarities to those mentioned, but may not fit the specific requirements to be diagnosed and classified under them.
While all three involve eating patterns that can lead to life-threatening results, each has unique practices and characteristics. Anorexia Nervosa is marked by self-inflicted starvation that leads to concerning weight loss. Bulimia Nervosa involves binging on large amounts of foods and then purging in some way, such as by self-induced vomiting. Binge Eating Disorder involves binging on large amounts of food, but there is no purging component, which can result in excessive weight gain and obesity related diseases.
Warning Signs and Symptoms
It’s important to know the warning signs and symptoms of eating disorders so that you can identify when healthy habits and weight loss have gone too far. Both Anorexia and Bulimia can include a strict exercise routine, along with a withdraw from family and friends. Additional signs of Anorexia include inadequate food intake, an obsession about body weight, and an extreme concern over specific components of food, like calories or fat grams. Being fat is a common complaint, and all these practices persist despite reaching a healthy weight. Over time, the severe food restrictions and over exercise lead to a dangerously low body weight.
With Bulimia, large amounts of food are consumed at once and eating may be followed by frequent trips to the bathroom. In addition to vomiting, other forms of purging can include the use of laxatives or diuretics. Major concern over weight loss and food control become evident, and the binge and purge cycle becomes a ritual that disrupts normal, daily life.
Binge Eating Disorder also involves eating large amounts of food and is associated with feelings of being out of control. Eating is associated with shame or guilt. Those affected eat until they feel discomfort and often eat when they are not hungry.
Ways to Help
Eating disorders can affect anyone regardless of age or gender. These disorders have many underlying issues that can vary by person, which makes them challenging to treat. It’s often difficult for a person suffering from a disorder to see the need to get help. As a friend or loved one, it’s important that your concern be expressed in a loving way and that you remain supportive. It’s also important to take action as soon as you notice that there could be a problem. The longer eating disorders persist, the more dangerous they become. Once medical tests are conducted to diagnose the disorder, a path of treatment can be outlined to help patients return to better emotional and physical health.
Overcome your unhealthy eating habits once and for all. The key is to identify the small things about your daily routine and your environment that contribute to unhealthy food choices.
Change Your Routine
Grabbing an unhealthy snack or fast food for dinner results from a failure to plan ahead. You might be a night owl who wakes with barely enough time to get out the door for work. Maybe you engage in time-wasting activities you don’t realize, like browsing the Internet or checking social media accounts more often than necessary. These habits take away from the time you need to plan and prepare healthy meals, leaving you to fall back on your old unhealthy eating habits.
Take a few minutes at night to prep a healthy breakfast like no-cook apple oatmeal. Double the amount of healthy foods that you make, like soups and salads, so that you have leftovers for lunch. Take better control of your time and set your alarm for 15 minutes earlier so that you can eat a healthy breakfast or pack your lunch. Set limits for your screen time. Saving small blocks of time throughout the day will quickly add up so you can plan ahead for healthier eating.
Empty Your Wallet
Vending machines provide many unhealthy snack options that are convenient on a busy afternoon. If these snacks tempt you to ruin a good day of healthy eating, get creative with ways to make obtaining them more difficult. Get rid of the spare change in your wallet and desk drawers. If you carry cash, leave smaller bills at home. By making these snacks more difficult to access, you will be less likely to make an impulse purchase, while also giving yourself time to think twice about grabbing an unhealthy option.
Be Prepared When Hunger Hits
Part of creating a healthy relationship with food is to eat when you are truly hungry. If mid-morning or afternoon hunger hits, don’t deny yourself if you need some fuel. Always have a healthy option available. Fruits and nuts are ideal shelf-stable options, but if you have a fridge, consider keeping hummus and veggie sticks, yogurt, and nut milks nearby. A balance of carbohydrates and protein will keep you full and restore your energy.
Turn Off the Screen
All types of screen time lead to mindless eating. When your attention is on something other than the food you are eating, you are more likely to overeat and make poor choices. Whether it’s the television or your smartphone, step away from the electronics while you are eating. By taking just a few minutes to give your meal your full attention, you can control your portion sizes and enjoy healthy foods more often.