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It is rare, but occasionally someone will say “eating paleo/primal really doesn’t work for me”. And if this was some crazy tightly prescriptive diet like this one or this one, I’d say “sure, well not every diet works for every person. Fair enough”. We are all different, in terms of energy output, metabolism, life-style, food tolerances etc, so it makes sense to say that one size doesn’t fit all.

Which is why I would never attempt to prescribe one diet for everyone.

And, whilst I hesitate to use the words paleo/primal (as I explained in this post) because they sound so much like a “diet”, what I mean by paleo/primal eating is the following:

Eat nutrient-dense, unprocessed food and avoid processed, nutrient-poor, inflammatory foods.

It is not a “diet”, it is a way of eating that eschews processed crap in favor of nutrient-dense, whole foods.

So when people say it is hard, I fully acknowledge that it will be – especially for someone who is used to eating processed foods like cereal for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch and pasta for dinner. It will probably be dreadfully hard. But to say it “doesn’t work”, in terms of making you healthier, is like saying that quitting a heroine habit is bad for you. Complete nonsense. Yes, you may go through withdrawal and feel uncomfortable for a while. You may find it tough to get your head around eating food that is not out of a box, you may not feel amazing right away, and maybe you won’t instantly shed pounds, like most people do. But you will be getting healthier. Period. And depending on how damaged your gut was, or how out of balance your hormones were before you started, it could take anything from 2 weeks to 2 years to feel any real improvement. Typically, most people will feel great after 30 days – this is why most elimination programs, such as the Whole 30, run for this amount of time – but for people with more severe health issues, this will not be enough time to really undo years of poor eating.

Doing a Whole 30 is really only the start. It will begin to reset your body and give you a good starting point for changing how you look at food. It will also show you which foods you do well with, and which you’d be better off without. But it is only the beginning. There is absolutely no point doing a Whole 30 if you then go back to eating how you ate before. You may as well save yourself the hassle and not put yourself through it in the first place. Now, I’m not suggesting that staying on a super strict Whole 365 is the way to go – I don’t do that myself. But I am suggesting sticking to the basic framework this gives you (sticking to whole, unprocessed foods) and making informed decisions about which foods to reintroduce once you are done, based on how you feel when you eat them. I am referring to gray-area foods like dairy – If you feel great eating it (you don’t get bloated or have any adverse effects), it’s probably fine to add high quality sources back in. If you’re ok with unrefined sugar, and are not looking to lean out, some honey is probably ok once in a while. And if you have a healthy gut with no issues with any foods (I know very few people like this btw), maybe you wanna kick up your heels and indulge in some nutritional off-roading once in a while. But this needs to be kept within the limits of what YOUR body can handle.

I, for example, have an auto-immune condition (Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism), which means I do not touch gluten. Ever. Even a small exposure can mean that my condition flairs up and this can last up to 6 months each time. I would advise the same for anyone with any gut issues or auto-immune conditions (these are surprisingly common by the way). Sham, on the other hand, is way more hardy than me and can handle the odd gluten exposure with only minimal discomfort, so he is less crazy strict about it. But still, overall, we stick to the basic premise of eating whole foods in our day to day lives.

Grains, even non-gluten containing grains such as quinoa, corn or rice, contain very few bio-available nutrients (they are high-calorie, nutrient-poor foods), and still contain gut-irritating compounds, so, if you have any gut issues whatsoever, I would highly advice against them. If you did really well on the Whole 30, your gut feels amazing, you are at your desired body composition and you reintroduced some, say, white rice with no issues, then go ahead and have it once in a while. But if you didn’t do well on the Whole 30 and still have gut issues, going back to eating those things will pretty much undo any beginnings of healing that might have started to take place. This all takes being smart about your body and understanding how food works for you.

SO, if you saw no improvements during your Whole 30, there are 2 possible reasons (assuming you stuck with it 100%):

  • Firstly, your gut is so sensitive that even some whole, unprocessed foods can irritate it. This is often the case with people with severe gut damage or those with auto-immune conditions. Foods like eggs, processed meats, nightshade vegetables, sugary fruits etc, whilst being whole, clean foods, can irritate many people and so, unfortunately those people would need to
    eliminate those as well to allow for thorough healing to occur. I did this protocol for my first Whole30. I’m not going to pretend it was easy – I LOVE eggs – but it was amazing for my body.
  • Secondly, your gut was so damaged to start with that 30 days is not nearly enough to truly heal from years of poor eating. Many people will only see results after 45-60 days or even longer. I only really saw a complete turnaround in my health about 6 months after 100% giving up gluten.
  • And for those people who are “hungry all the time” or who have “lost too much weight” eating this way: EAT MORE! If you are eating adequate amounts of nutrient-dense protein, enough fat and healthy carbohydrates (especially if you CrossFit) you will not be hungry or lose anything but excess body fat/water, I guarantee you that.

    So, what I’m trying to say is this. Eating real food and avoiding inflammatory processed foods will ALWAYS make you healthier and ultimately feel better. It will also ultimately get you to your ideal weight and body composition. BUT, it takes time, and understanding that, whilst the overall framework does indeed work for everyone, within that you may need to tweak things depending on your body. If you are CrossFitting 5 days a week, you will probably need more carbohydrates (sweet potato, pumpkin, plantains etc) than someone who is less active. If you have an auto-immune condition you may need to avoid other commonly allergenic foods like eggs, nightshades, or maybe even FODMAPS for a while.

    But, when it comes to the overall frame-work of eating real, unprocessed foods – yes, one size DOES fit all, and the paleo framework really does work for everyone. Especially in conjunction with a healthy life-style – ie. getting enough sleep, avoiding stress and getting sufficient healthy exercise.