Is Switching From Low Carb to Paleo Enough for Long Term Diet Success?

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Exercising on the Beach

It does my heart good to see more and more people embrace the concept of eating a real food diet, putting their health and their families’ health first.  Many people have encouraging stories of overcoming ailments, seeing lifelong problems improve by cleaning up their diet.  But some people have another experience when “going Paleo.”

Some people that have been on a low carb diet and then embrace the Paleo diet stalls in their weight loss. Some even experience weight gain.  I have talked to many people that are discouraged when they switch from a low carb diet to a paleo diet because they thought they were doing the right thing only to experience a set back.  Here is what I have learned on my own low carb diet to paleo diet journey:

When people begin to learn about the Paleo diet, they are usually excited to hear they can add in fruits and a few starches. Some people can add sweet potatoes and seasonal fruits with no problems, but others cannot handle the extra carbohydrate intake.  In my case, I learned that I could eat a few peaches without negative side effects.   However, I was also running upwards of 30 miles per week and training for marathons. Most of us are not expending that much energy on a daily basis.  To lose weight, we need to be low carb, even if we are eating “real food” when we switch to the paleo diet.

As Gary Taubes explains in Good Calories, Bad Calories and Why We Get Fat And What To Do About It, obesity is a hormonal problem.  When you eat carbohydrates, your body converts them into sugar.  Your body then releases insulin to clear the sugar from your blood stream, storing that sugar as fat.  To combat this, we must minimize our intake of foods that can be converted to sugar so that we can then turn to stored body fat for fuel.  No matter how “clean” our diet is, if we are sending hormonal signals to store fat, we will have to fight harder and harder to lose weight and possibly to even maintain a healthy weight.

The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate PerformanceIn The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance, doctors Phinney and Volek make the case for a low carb / high fat (LCHF) diet for endurance athletes.  In about three weeks on such a diet the body will start to efficiently use fat stores as the preferred fuel source.  I experimented last summer with upping my carb intake to improve my exercise endurance.  While I did get a short-term boost in energy and stamina,  I started falling back into the traps of constant hunger and food cravings.    The vicious cycle that I had worked so hard to break came right back.  More recently I have found that upping my fat intake and keeping my carbohydrate level lower causes a more even supply of fuel without the dramatic ups and downs.  I am training for a half marathon in November and am training specifically very low carb and very high fat.  I hope to set a new personal record on November third.

I am one of the biggest “real food” advocates that you will ever meet.  I am also one of the biggest low carb advocates.  I have learned that the two are not mutually exclusive.  

Yes, eat real food, but make sure that you are not cancelling out the progress you have made by adding in “clean versions” of food that you have already determined to be detrimental to your weight loss efforts.

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