When the Paleo Diet becomes just eating

I realized today at lunch with a friend that while I’m still a rather strict adherent of the Paleo Diet, for me, it’s just become eating. I don’t make a big point out of it, and even at restaurants, I just search for the dishes that fit into my diet and select those. With few exceptions, it’s easy to do.

My friend is doing Weight Watchers, commented while we were eating that he felt his diet was easier than mine. When I challenged him on it, he said it was because he could also eat bread. I told him that I could too, but I choose not to. I prefer meat and vegetables, and it fills me up. Better yet, I don’t have to keep track of points, and I just eat until I’m full. I also told him, however, that if it’s working for him, to keep doing it. I couldn’t do it; I tried in the past, and it just wasn’t for me. His perception that the Paleo Diet is restrictive is a common one.

I told him that it isn’t nearly as restrictive as he thinks it is, and that even at the restaurant we were eating at, there were many choices for me that were all Paleo-friendly. He was incredulous, so I pointed out the many foods I can eat that are all Paleo. He was a bit surprised when the list of foods I stated was quite long and included many foods he eats regularly.

Are there foods I can’t eat? Certainly. Anything with grains, added sugar, beans, soy, or dairy, although I will allow some dairy into my diet in small amounts from time to time. He said he likes being able to eat those foods every now and then. I told him that there’s nobody holding me to my diet but myself, and that it’s self-imposed. If I eat off-plan, I answer to myself, and fortunately, I’m at a place in my health journey where I can deal with it both physically and emotionally.

At this point in my life, I no longer crave or want pizza, spaghetti, bread, or sweets. Fortunately for me, I’ve made the transition to accepting the Paleo Diet as my normal way of eating, and it makes my life much easier and healthier.

The easiest way to lose weight is…

…different for everyone. I’d love to be able to say with 100% certainty that if you do what I did, you will lose all the weight you want. It’s just not true. There are many different body types, genes, and other factors involved that make us unique. These unique traits also make our bodies respond differently to inputs.

I’m of Eastern European descent. It turns out that for my genetic makeup, the Paleo Diet works amazingly well. Would it work as well for someone who is Asian, Hispanic, or Sub-Saharan? Maybe. Maybe not. I just don’t know. I do know there are people who are on the Paleo Diet from all different ethnic backgrounds and they are healthy, but again, I know people from different ethnic backgrounds to include my own who didn’t realize the same results. I can’t say there weren’t external factors involved with their not achieving the same results; perhaps they weren’t as strict, or maybe even too strict with portion sizes. Regardless, one size does not fit all when it comes to health and losing weight.

That’s why I advocate finding what works well for you. I know my site is very Paleo. Heck, I’m the PaleoMarine, and this site is PaleoMarine.com. However, I’m not so biased as to think that my way is the only way. I know people who have achieved great weight loss goals through other means. Some of them I think are a lot more work than necessary, but hey, it’s their journey, so who am I to say it’s wrong.

I lost 150 lbs through Whole30, Paleo, and running. For me, it was pretty easy. I’m not saying it was a cake walk (pardon the pun), but in the grand scheme of things, eating delicious food until I was comfortably full each and every meal with running every other day has been a pretty easy way to lose that much weight within 2 years. I know many others who have had to work a lot harder for less than 1/4 of the weight I’ve lost.

Everyone’s story is different. Some people really love working out 3 hours a day and carbo-loading. If it works for them, so be it. It’s just not my thing.

Remember Why You Started

Sometimes, people get into a funk, or fall into a rut, and find that their motivation wanes over time. It’s a horrible feeling, and for some, it marks the end of their foray into eating well, good health, and fitness. It’s almost inevitable that people will feel this from time to time. I have, and I got through it. Here’s how I did it.

I thought about why I started this journey. I looked at photos of me before I got healthy. I made a list of all the things I was able to do after losing the weight and getting healthy that I couldn’t do before. I made another list of all the things I want to do and thought about whether I could accomplish any of the items if I were unhealthy or unfit. Turned out, I couldn’t. Finally, I thought of my family and how distraught they would be if I were to pass early due to poor health that could have been avoided.

When I thought about it, it was a foregone conclusion: I had to grab myself by the bootstraps and get back to it with full intensity. I had to make sure my diet was as strict as before, and that I did my push ups and running as vigorously as ever. Even the pace of my runs had been slowing; that is now reversed.

We all deal with falling into a rut or losing motivation from time to time. It’s natural. Don’t beat yourself up for it. Try some of the things I did to regain my motivation and just get back up and at it. If you have other suggestions, please comment.

Focus: The Recipe for Success

No matter what you’re trying to accomplish, if it’s something worthwhile, it’s likely going to take some sacrifice and perseverance. When we’re talking sacrifice, it’s giving up something you enjoyed, liked, or preferred. Think back to school and the choices you made regarding studying versus going out with friends. Maybe it was work-related, and you stayed in to get a good night’s rest before an important early morning meeting versus staying up late to watch some drama or TV show. Either way, you made the decision to give up something and focus more on the big picture and what is more important.

Along the way, you may have found that you preferred the feeling of being overly prepared for that exam, or that the full night’s rest was worth more than the time viewing any TV shows. This is much how I feel about Paleo food now that my wife and I have made the transition. I have found that by focusing on the foods I can eat and in finding new Paleo recipes or restaurants brings me more joy than eating pizzas, hot dogs, and pasta. Sure, those things are delicious, and in the very rare occasions I allow myself to imbibe those foods, I find that they’re still as enjoyable and delicious as they ever were. However, I have also found that broccoli and Brussels sprouts are amazing when prepared properly, and now, I even prefer them to many other vegetables. Asparagus? Don’t even get me started on how much I regret not eating more asparagus earlier in life!

Focus on the foods you can eat, and put the foods you can’t eat out of your mind. Focus on recipes that look delicious, and prepare them. There are many Paleo friendly recipes out there that are very delicious and many of them aren’t that difficult to prepare. By focusing on the new foods and the increasing options for Paleo-friendly foods, you will soon find you are no longer craving the non-Paleo foods, and afterward will find a new appreciation for healthy and delicious foods you never knew existed (or ignored in the past).

Why accept cheating from yourself?

This is something I thought about this morning; why accept cheating on yourself if you would never accept anyone else cheating on you? Cheating in a relationship? Cheating at cards? Cheating in a friendly game? Cheating in a financial transaction? These are all things I can safely say most everyone wouldn’t tolerate. Yet, cheating on a diet seems to be a thing that people not only accept, but seem to employ as a viable strategy when trying to lose weight.

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you’d know that I don’t call it cheating; I call it sabotage. Cheating, by definition, is gaining an unfair advantage over an adversary or competitor. Cheating on a diet does nothing of the sort. There is no advantage to be gained. It’s more like sabotage, which is the intentional destruction or damage to something.

Even though the Paleo Diet is very simple, it takes discipline and perseverance to fully realize the benefits. If weight loss is a goal, then cheating or sabotage is even more troublesome. One cheat day, or even one cheat meal can erase a week’s worth of weight loss, and to me, it’s just not worth it. It’s why so many people who go on restrictive diets realize good losses only to give it back through a cheat day and then lament the fact that they just can’t lose weight like other people.

It’s the cheating, dummy.

Don’t sabotage your efforts. Your time is valuable. Don’t waste it by cheating.

KISS Health and Fitness

This is something we stress a lot in the Marines: Keep It Simple, Stupid. The idea behind it is there’s no need or use for overly complicated plans. Keep it simple if you want to have the best chance of success. The more overly-complicated a plan is, the higher the likelihood of failure.

I took this KISS principle with me when I decided I had to change my life and get healthy and fit. I didn’t want to use any chemicals, patches, powders, pills, medical procedures, or overly-complicated plans to get healthy. I didn’t want to have to use a plethora of equipment or complicated fitness plans to get fit. I wanted to use the simplest plan possible to accomplish my mission of getting healthy and getting fit.

The conclusion I came to was that the Paleo Diet coupled with push ups and running meet all the needs I had and allowed me to lose over 150 lbs and to get fit. I consistently run sub-9 minute miles, 3+ miles at a time. This is important for me as a Marine and as a National Guard soldier.

The Paleo Diet has a very easy-to-follow set of rules: no added sugar, no grains, no beans, no soy, and no dairy. My fitness plan is very simple: push ups (max) followed by a minimum of a three-mile run. I didn’t start with a three mile run or with 80+ push ups every time I run; I worked up to it. But the point is that it’s doable, it’s fun, and it’s simple. No room to mess things up.

I see people who use product after product and super-complicated fitness plans to try to reach their goals. I also watch them work really, really hard to get the results they get, and while successful, they are not nearly as effective or time-efficient as my plan is. Why? Because losing weight and being healthy is 90% what you eat and only 10% exercise.

This goes against what we were taught in school which is why so many people work so hard to lose weight while enjoying only moderate success. What’s worse is that many of these people end up falling off the wagon and giving up because the amount of work necessary to continue to achieve their moderate weight loss is unsustainable long-term.

I’m not a marathon runner (though I wish I could be). I’m not a gym rat (though I admire those who can push themselves that hard for month after month). I’m not someone who jumps from product to product to try to maximize their health gains. I stick to a very simple, easy plan and I’ve been rewarded with steady, solid results and fitness beyond my wildest dreams.

I never thought I could be so successful at weight loss. Were it not for Whole30 and the Paleo Diet, I would have likely have given up by now. People assume I had to work very hard for my weight loss. Whenever I show people my before and after photos, typically their first response is to congratulate me on the hard work. I smile and tell them that while it wasn’t easy, it was simple and honestly, not that hard. I just had to use discipline, stick to the diet, and stick to my easy fitness plan. The weight loss and fitness came pretty easy after that.

Don’t think you need to sweat all the weight off. You don’t. All you have to do is eat right and move for 30 minutes a day for a minimum of three times a week. I’m living proof that this plan works, and that it’s all you need to do. Don’t buy into the marketing hype that is the fitness industry. Eat right and move. That’s all it takes. Oh, and avoid sodas, alcohol, and pizza. That helps.

Vegetarian isn’t better than Paleo for weight loss

I hear this a lot, and I see it a lot from people who haven’t researched weight loss. I understand people who are vegetarian for ethical reasons. Hell, I even respect that. Restricting one’s diet to such a strict degree due to ethical beliefs is admirable. I have tried being a vegetarian once, and my body didn’t react well to it. I don’t want to go into it in detail because it’s not what this article is about. It’s about perception.

We’ve been brought up believing red meat and fat is bad for us while whole grains and dairy are good for us. It turns out that the exact opposite is true, but the beliefs persist because it’s hard to unlearn things. Due to this horrible nutrition advice and brainwashing via our education system, I see people turning to vegetarianism to lose weight due to a misguided belief that eating vegetables and eschewing meats will somehow give them a boost in weight loss.

This is false.

I know people who were obese as vegetarians. I know people who were unhealthy as vegetarians. I know people who struggled to lose weight as vegetarians.

If you want to lose weight, you have to get rid of added sugars, grains, beans, and soy (as a vegetarian). This restricts your diet quite a bit if you are trying to be a vegetarian and do Paleo at the same time. It’s not impossible, but it is more difficult. Eggs will likely play a large role in your diet if you try this, but otherwise, if you’re looking for losing weight utilizing a diet you can adopt for the rest of your life comfortably and (in my opinion) ethically, then Paleo is a good way to go.

I want to reiterate that I do not think that being a vegetarian is dumb. It’s not. There are people who do so for reasons important to them, and it makes sense to me, too. I have adopted the Paleo Diet not to lose weight, but to be healthy. Ethically, I prefer it, too. But to become a vegetarian because you think it will help you lose weight? That’s dumb because it’s stupid.

After Two Years…

I still feel like I’m living in the body of a much younger person. Well, except for those running injuries I get every now and then, I feel pretty darned amazing.

I find myself feeling sorry for anyone who isn’t healthy, and while I used to feel compelled to tell people about Paleo and Whole30, these days, I keep to myself a lot more. Sure, I keep this blog up, and I’m very passionate about health and fitness, but I no longer feel like speaking to anyone without being asked for my opinion is something I’m comfortable doing.

Invariably, when eating with friends, they will order something non-Paleo and begin apologizing. Even after two years. I have to remind them that I’m not the Paleo Police, and I don’t care what they put into their own bodies. That’s not exactly true: I do care. The people I surround myself with are people I love, and I want them to be healthy and to be around as long as possible. But I do not want them to feel judged or guilty for eating food they want to eat. As long as I’m not forced to eat the same, we have no problems.

I make much better decisions, not just with my health, but in life overall. I have found that once I took control of my health, it became easier to control other aspects of my life. The discipline I learned through making wise food decisions has crept into other aspects of my life which has resulted in a much more fulfilling life. I feel I’m much more calm now, as well, since I have a lot less stress than I did before.

Being active has allowed me to take part in activities I never though I would be able to do, let alone enjoy. Running has become something I enjoy, and if I am unable to do it for any appreciable amount of time, I get cranky. I’ve also been able to do things like hang gliding, riding in a NASCAR race car, hiking, and even going back into military service as a soldier in the National Guard. Who’d a thunk it?

I’m in an area that defies the odds: I’ve kept the weight off for over a year now, and I continue to stick to the Paleo Diet. I’ve done three Whole30’s, and I can see me doing another one after the holidays. I can never see myself going back to eating anything and everything, and I can’t see myself without fitness in my life. I just feel too damned good now, and it’s nice to not only feel good, but to look good, too. I don’t want to give any of this back. Ever.

Weathering the Pleateaus

I’m not in a plateau right now, but I have been there many times throughout this journey. I know people who are currently working on losing weight, and some are feeling disheartened because they aren’t seeing the results they are expecting or hoping for. I know how that feels; I’ve been there.

Where I succeeded and many others have failed, however, is that I didn’t give up when the scale stopped showing me smaller numbers. I knew that it was a long-term process, and that losing the amount of weight I wanted to lose wasn’t something that could be done quickly or even easily.

A lot of people forget that when you plan on losing 100 lbs, that last 10 lbs will be pretty difficult to lose. Not because it’s the last 10 lbs, but because while 100 lbs is hard to lose, when you begin, it’s easier to lose a lot of weight because overall, it’s a small percentage of the total weight you need to lose. If I weighed 300 lbs and wanted to lose 150 lbs, that first 15 lbs is only 5% of my total weight. When I’m at 160 lbs, 5% is only 8 lbs. So, losing 15 lbs in a month at 300 lbs is the same as losing 8 lbs when you weigh 160 lbs. That’s just simple math.

But there’s something else to consider as well. When you first start losing weight, your body sheds excess water that it retains as part of a poor diet. When you start eating properly, your body gets rid of a lot of this false weight very quickly. After the first month, the weight you’re losing is more legitimate weight. Once you near your target weight, however, your body has adjusted to the better quality food and it is getting more efficient. It no longer uses the stored energy in your body in the same way it used it when you weighed more because it requires less energy the smaller it is. Walking is easier because you are carrying less weight. Stairs are easier to go up for the same reason. That equates to fewer calories burned.

The first thought most people have at this point is to reduce calories. For most, this is the correct thing to do. However, you need to be careful to not cut too many calories. You can’t starve yourself long-term into losing weight. What’s worse is that after starving yourself for weight loss, there’s a tendency to over-eat afterward negating any weight loss and even resulting in a net weight gain past anything you lost. I’ve been in a situation where I was eating too few calories which resulted in my body holding onto and storing every bit of food I took in. To lose weight, I had to eat more. It seems counter-intuitive, but I’ve experienced this no fewer than three times.

Today, I’m in more of a maintenance mode than anything else. From time to time, my weight may creep up which puts me back into weight-loss mode, but those periods are shorter and farther in between. As I write this, I’m in weight-loss mode for 3-5 lbs before I go back into full maintenance mode. How different is that from weight-loss mode? Not much different except that I can allow myself the occasional drink or dessert without guilt or weight gain.

Plateaus can last a long time. I’ve had some last as many as five months. The key is to get past them by thinking of the long-term consequences of your diet decisions. Eat right for life, not for losing weight, and you will be happier while keeping your focus on what’s really important: your health (and not the numbers on the scale).

Just like that, the weight drops again

I wrote last week about my struggles with weight gain during my active duty time for Hurricane Harvey relief efforts as a member of the National Guard. While I didn’t eat a lot of non-Paleo food, I did eat a lot of food, and it caused me to gain weight. I also discussed what it would take to lose that weight, and the mental hardness I would need to get it done. Well, I’m happy to report that things are working out in regards to my weight exactly as I had expected.

The weight is coming back off. Yesterday, I weighed in at 165.5. Lbs. That’s within my happy range.

The lesson here for anyone trying to lose weight is that I have been dropping the pounds through diet alone. I haven’t been able to run for over a week due to a knee injury, and my weight loss has been 100% due to my diet. What’s more noteworthy, however, is that in the past week, I’ve had alcohol three times and even some bread pudding on Saturday night. As someone who is typically very strict with their diet, this past week has seen me imbibe things I would normally only allow over a period of months, not days. Yet the weight is coming off. How?

When I am eating my meals, I stick to portion sizes that allow me to feel satisfied, but not stuffed. I also stick to foods that are Paleo: no added sugar, no grains, no beans, no soy, and no dairy. This is what my body likes, and when I eat right, my body responds quickly.

It’s nice to step on the scale and have it smile back at you with a weight within the range you are happy with. Well, okay, I’d like it to read 3-5 lbs less, but that’s easy enough to do. I expect to be there within the next week or two. And that brings me to my next point: it doesn’t matter if I hit my goal in a week, two weeks, or a month. I will get there. Fortunately, I get to eat delicious food until I’m satisfied at every meal, so I never feel like I’m suffering to lose weight.

We all have fluctuations in our weight. Sometimes we know why the weight goes up, while other times, it makes no sense. It’s a natural cycle, and as long as we’re managing it and looking for clues as to why the weight does what it does, we can learn to control it and find a healthy balance.