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Paleo Purpose, Macronutrients & Weight Loss

To start this section, we need to clear up one very important fact which influences everything that we believe and want to portray about the Paleo diet.

THE MODERN PALEO DIET IS MACRONUTRIENT AGNOSTIC

What does this mean?

It means that, despite what you may believe and/or have read, the macronutrient ratios aren’t specified when you approach a Paleo diet – the ‘prescription’, so-to-speak, is entirely to do with food types, food quality and MICROnutrient density NOT macronutrients.

 

Where did the Myth of Paleo being ‘Low-Carb’ and Best for Weight Loss Come From?

 

Loren Cordain (the godfather of Paleo) began the whole Paleo contemplation by studying anthropological history. He reflected on the lives of ancient hunter-gatherers and did, in fact, write an original paper which stated the ratios of macronutrients in hunter-gatherer societies. His researched ‘proved’ that the hunter-gather diet upon which the first Paleo templates were based contained roughly 30% carbohydrate, 55% fat and 15% protein.

However, Cordain’s paper was subsequently debunked – deemed to be non-reflective of actual ancestral hunter-gatherer tribes because it included dietary data from modern tribes who may live a more ancestral lifestyle, but who hunted with modern guns. Several books which specified macronutrient ratios based on Cordain’s original work began to look suspect. Many naysayers sought to debunk the whole macronutrient estimations and rubbish the Paleo concept because of this.

However, this is not the nail in the coffin for the low-carb version of Paleo. Parsing the data of actual hunter-gatherer tribes has been done, and luckily for Cordain et al, eventual averages were actually roughly the same as those quoted originally. In fact, possibly even lower carbohydrate intakes were consumed. You would think that these more accurate figures would be good news for those promoting Paleo as a low-carb approach.

And yet this data was interesting because it highlighted something very obvious:  the eventual averages arrived at ‘low-carb-ish’ but the raw data showed that individual tribes varied widely in their macro ratios – and the term ‘hunter-gatherer’ society does not suffice. Hunter gatherer tribes weren’t all the same: they were diverse because nutrition was only acquired locally and so was largely determined by geographical and seasonal availability rather than desire.  Nobody in ancient tribes cared whether they were eating carbs, fat or protein – everything was literally just food. And the food they found was entirely contingent on their terrain, the weather and luck.

All of which brings us to deeply evaluate the whole ‘hunter-gatherer’ concept.  Whilst it is an interesting starting point to comprehend the evolution of human biology, it in no way forms a complete picture of the evolution of man.

This is why we at Paleo in the UK aren’t approaching Paleo by seeking to recreate ancestral lives (see our “What do We Mean by the Word Paleo” section on our About Paleo in the UK page for more).

So why does anyone care about the macros in Paleo?

Paleo is based on natural, whole food sources of nutrition and this focuses intake on calorically dense meats, fats and protein sources. It also includes a broad array of starchy and non-starchy vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds – providing carbs, fats and proteins in varying degrees.

A Standard American Diet (SAD) is filled with refined grains, sugars, cereals, baked goods and flavour-enhanced foods. In the SAD the bulk of calories comes from carbohydrate and fat sources – often refined carbohydrates and processed, hydrogenated or saturated fats.

The end result is that transitioning to a Paleo diet makes it highly, highly likely that you will drop your carbohydrate intake, sometimes quite substantially in comparison to a SAD. In comparative terms, the Paleo diet is within the lower carb range.

It must be reiterated that this is a consequence of the focus on nutrient-dense foods and NOT a prerequisite for being Paleo. In practice, sweet potatoes, even white potatoes (read this page here for why), starchy vegetables and piles of fruit are all carbohydrates which can be liberally consumed on the Paleo diet. It is perfectly possible to have a medium consumption of carbohydrates and still be Paleo.

Which brings us to another point we must make about Paleo and overall caloric consumption. There is no ‘limit’ or even ‘restriction’ on the quantities consumed when following a Paleo diet. As pointed out above, the Paleo diet at its heart has nothing to do with counting and limiting and everything to do with guiding the choices of foodstuffs.

If you are using a basic Paleo template to construct on top of that a specific nutrient ratio for other goals – be they health, longevity or body composition based – then this is an adaptation and a progression on top of basic Paleo. It is nothing to do with the Paleo template.

It is very easy to abuse a Paleo approach by going too low carbohydrate for your health and activity needs. We are not going to debate ketogenic diets here (though will cover this on the blog at some point) and yes there are other ways to fuel which aren’t just carbohydrates. However, if you are suffering from overt health issues we would never recommend embarking on a ketogenic or higher fat approach without first understanding that metabolic flexibility is a luxury borne out of healthy baseline functioning. Cutting the carbohydrates of someone with compromised health may result in exhaustion, tiredness, fatigue and brain fog – along with reduced energetic output potential and diminished performance.  For women especially, the hormonal shifts that can take place as a result of too few carbohydrates can wreak havoc.

To lower carbohydrates is a perfectly legitimate approach to nutrition which, when used appropriately and in the right context, can be invaluable. However, caloric and/or macronutrient prescriptions are not part of the Paleo diet itself. Which brings us on to a vital question about Paleo – Your Purpose for Choosing this Diet and Lifestyle…

YOUR PURPOSE FOR CHOOSING PALEO

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These paragraphs are some of the most important and challenging to write on this whole website.

The food with which you choose to nourish your body is vital because it will be used to make part of you, it is the raw fuel with which you will run your entire life. Everything from your basic biological cells to your thoughts, your emotions, relationships and behaviours will emerge out of the choices you make when it comes to food, sleep, exercise, mindfulness and environmental or emotional stressors. One of the most controversial and debated areas of these is food.

Food choices are typically made according to many factors and are based not only on the information we possess but also in our relationship to our body, to our social grouping and to our sense of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. Many people change their dietary intake in order to achieve some physical end point. This can be doing something because you think it’s the ‘right’ thing, and it can also mean choosing to change nutritional styles based on aesthetics, not just on health.

At Paleo in the UK we have no objection to people wanting to look and feel better, more comfortable in their skin, more capable in their bodies. However, there is a fine line between desiring vitality and wellbeing, versus aspiring towards an artificial and arbitrary societal standard of beauty that is unattainable and unrealistic.

In truth, putting any information out there around diet, nutrition and exercise will always be a risk. It can always be misconstrued and misappropriated by those promoting diet culture, thinness aspirations and restrictive eating as a way to manipulate body shape, weight and composition.

We have fought long and hard internally here at Paleo in the UK. We know the dangers of recommending restrictions to individuals vulnerable to developing neuroses around nutrition. The challenge incumbent upon nutritional professionals is to promote health, not to endorse any individuals’ lack of self worth or physical self love.

 

Moreover, we are not wishing to promote physical health as the only metric that matters and validates anyone. You do not need to prove your worth with your body: through its shape, its energy levels, its lack of illness or ‘conditions’ and/or its longevity or vitality.

However, we are all allowed to hope for the sensation of feeling good within our own bodies. This level of comfort and settledness within our form is not a static and fixed destination – but it is a feeling to which we are all allowed to aspire.

 

If, for any reason, the wheels have fallen off our wellness (with a resulting manifestation of pain, symptoms, discomfort and dysfunction) then obtaining good nourishment can be fundamental to helping us remedy our physiology (and, quite frankly, our psychology). We cannot dismiss the science that diet can instigate inflammation and systemic disruption, simply because the psychology of restrictions can be triggering and challenging to some.

 

For many people, dietary eliminations allow for the clearance of clouds of inflammation and dysfunction and can literally bring their lives back.

 

This is why we built this resource. And this is why there are no references to weight loss and/or fat loss and/or the insulin hypothesis and/or recommendations for body mass control anywhere on this site – except where the concept is being discussed from both sides, dispassionately dispelling any myths around it.

We have always acknowledged that diets are powerful tools for therapeutic intervention. Sometimes, for the obese and overweight, for the pre-diabetic and for those with metabolic syndrome, the therapeutic need is for calorie- or macro- controlled approaches which address adiposity and excess weight due to its damaging health impacts in that specific patient.  That does not in any way mean that every obese or overweight person is unhealthy, or that weight bears any relationship to health outcomes because the science shows us that this is simply untrue.

However, in those for whom excess weight is creating adverse physiological consequences, caloric or macronutrient restriction may be appropriate. This can be done within the umbrella of a Paleo framework – but it is not an ingrained part of the Paleo diet.

Several times during the inception of this website we almost completely abandoned it due to the fact that, in the wrong hands and when used for the wrong purposes, the restrictions proposed by Paleo and Autoimmune Paleo can be damaging, self-destructive and absolutely dangerous for the psyche, emotions and for relationships with food.

However, more than one patient population exists. For those with many chronic, debilitating and destructive illnesses, the low inflammation, nutrient-dense approach of a Paleo diet can literally transform health and in so doing transform lives.

And yet, despite this ability to be used for good, one vital and important fact MUST be expressed from us all at Paleo in the UK.  Paleo may not be the end point of your health journey. Even for those who experience drastic health improvements using Paleo, living within a ‘system’ or ‘structured’ eating plan may not be the end result.

Paleo, as far as we are concerned, is a route to wellness. It absolutely might not be the destination. Removing inflammation and symptoms is a doorway into potentially reintroducing nutritional freedoms and to the start of better practices. Paleo can – and should – be a foundation from which you expand.

Additionally, Paleo may not be enough – it may not be a panacea. There are so many facets to physical health and comfort within our own skin. Our blog will hold many types of articles on this very topic. Because whilst food may be a foundation, sometimes it must be acknowledged that life is not always there to be ‘hacked’, our bodies not always destined to be ‘fixed’.

Our purpose with this site is not to promote weight loss, restrictive or disordered eating or neglectful food practices. We hope that if you are choosing to go Paleo you are doing so because you love your body and want to nourish it, rather than because you hate your body and seek to change it.

We are not responsible for the way people choose to implement the Paleo diet or represent its power or use beyond the realms of this website. However, we are here to help.

We have witnessed many individuals claim to be ‘free’ of disordered eating when they have found Paleo, when realistically they have simply used this eating style to legitimise their disorder or diet mentality.

If you suspect that your motivation to ‘do Paleo’ is yet another iteration of your previous dieting mentality and restrictive food behaviours, we encourage you to reach out to us to seek help. Victoria, our founder, is expert in the complex psychological and emotional trauma associated with our relationship to our body and to the food we eat. We would be delighted to help you navigate your path through Paleo – and we will be completely honest about whether attempting to ‘be Paleo’ is the right thing for you in your life at this time.

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