Lately, a lot of the coaches have been getting asked questions about nutrition, most of them along the lines of “What do YOU do?” We hear your pleas and once per week on Wednesday, we'll have a coach giving their viewpoint on nutrition. The key part of that sentence is “their viewpoint,” which leads me into my contribution to the nutrition discussion.
The trick with nutrition is, there is no one right answer that is perfect for everyone. That might seem obvious in the broader sense, especially if you go to a book store (okay, Amazon, you young whelps) and see the gigantic “diet” section out there. And it's not just that there are a million different broad-spectrum ways to eat “healthily,” whether it's Paleo, South Beach, Atkins, Grapefruit Diet, Vegetarianism, Vegan, Mediterranean, 17 Day, Weight Watchers, Dash or any one of the seventy six THOUSAND books you find on Amazon when you search for “diet book.” Even within each diet, there are a myriad of ways to do that diet.
This is especially true with paleo. You get the 80/20 folks, the 100% folks, the 120% folks, the Primal folks and all the people that fall in between. Each one has their own rules and regulations as to what constitutes “paleo” and most of them are quite vehement about it. I wouldn't be surprised to hear that blood was spilled in a discussion over whether or not vinegar was allowed.
The biggest thing to keep in mind is this: the thing that works for you is the only perfect solution. That might take some time and trial and error before you find what that perfect mix is. It might be something that constantly evolves and changes over time. Take everything you read or hear about nutrition with a grain of salt (hopefully sea salt, because all other salt is THE DEVIL) and do what we always we do in CrossFit: test, perform, re-test.
As for me, I hate food. Okay, “hate” might be too strong of a word. I grew up on fast food and processed crap, so I never really got a chance to experience the joy that many others have with food. To me, food is fuel and the quicker and easier it is to obtain that fuel and get it in my body, the better. You can imagine how tough paleo can be for me. In the past, I've gone for vast lengths of time at 100% paleo and lost close to 40 pounds as a result. More recently, I've been off the wagon and have had a tough time getting back on.
I've been through the ups and downs of both sticking with paleo and falling off the wagon, so my best advice is on the starting and re-starting since that's where most of my practice lies. The first step in starting a new diet, whether paleo or otherwise, is knowing yourself. Like everything, this can take some experimentation. In my mind, there are three primary ways of making a diet change, each with its own risks and rewards. If you're one of my On-Rampers, a lot of this will be very familiar, so feel free to skim as needed.
- 100% cold turkey. You decide that when you wake up tomorrow, you're going to be 100% paleo, whether it's for the next 30 days, 60 days or forever and ever amen. The biggest advantage to this is the toxin flush. Stick with your program 100% for long enough and you'll drive all of the bad things you've been trying to avoid out of your body. Then, if you're going for a shorter period of time, you can bring back in some of the “bad” stuff a little at a time and see what effect it has on your body. The biggest disadvantage is that it can be hard to stick with a 100% solution. It's certainly possible, but it gets really difficult around the holidays or when you're out with friends. It can also be easy to fall off the wagon hard, especially if you're doing a 30 or 60 day stint. At some point you start telling yourself “when this is done, I'm going to eat a whole cheesecake.”
- 80/20. With this one, you get the best of both worlds: a good shot at your new diet, plus a chance to let off some steam. Basically you have one “cheat day” per week or something similar. You won't necessarily go whole hog on that cheat day and eat everything in sight, but if there's something you're craving, you hold off until the appointed day to have it. One thing you find with this method is that your “cheats” become higher quality. If I want to have a cheeseburger with a bun and I only get once chance per week, I'm not going to go to McDonald's. I'm going to find the best cheeseburger in town. You also find that eventually, if you can keep the craved foods out of your mind, you'll go a little less crazy on your cheat days over time. You still have that license if you need it, but you'll find you need it less and less. The main disadvantage would be that you're still putting the bad stuff into your body, though a side benefit to that is you'll feel awful afterwards and be less inclined to do it next time. Yay, negative reinforcement!
- The SqWatts Solution. What usually works best for me is a modified form of the 80/20. I'll be pretty strict paleo, but if I have a sudden craving for, say, Cheetos (probably because the word “cheat” is right on the package) , I'll go get the tiny little single-serving portion and quell the craving right then. Boom, done. If I were to do a regular 80/20 and I think of Cheetos on Monday and have to wait until Sunday to eat them, I'll buy a Family Size bag on Sunday and eat the whole thing by myself, crying in front of the TV. If I put out the little fires when they pop up, I don't have to deal with a forest fire later on. This doesn't work for everyone and, to continue the fire metaphor, it just serves as fuel on the fire and makes them want to eat more and more and more. If it works for you, it can be your ticket to 100%. The more you put out the fires, the less fires there are.
So there's my contribution to the nutrition discussion. Just remember that what works for one person might not work for the next, so experiment! You're going to be alive for years and years, so even if your experiment doesn't work, what's the big deal in playing around with your diet for a month or two? Tune in next week as another coach steps up to the bat and will probably talk about actual food and such.