I am not a paleo romantic. I don’t believe life was better when we were roaming tribes. I don’t care that my ancestors had more muscle and less fat. I live in a post-modern society that values science as a means to explain the world around me and I have no intention of looking like our buddy in the picture above. So why do I recommend that a person eats very similar to a paleo diet?To elaborate, a paleo diet/caveman diet/primal diet follows the idea that our ancestors evolved to eat in a certain manner: whatever they could hunt, gather, pick, and find before the days of agriculture. If you pack all of human history into a year, we ate hunter/gatherer for 364 of 365 days. This is often the argument for eating this way, along with the notion that, since fruits were rare or citing the intake of Inuits, a paleo diet controls insulin and, since insulin “drives fat storage”, keeps calories from being indiscriminately stored as fat.
This is wrong. Or at least, it is inaccurate.
- There is no “1” hunter gatherer diet. Inuits eat blubber, Masai drink blood, and American Indians ate tasty, tasty bison. If your heritage is South Pacific, you ate a lot of fruit, got your fat from coconut milk, and protein from fish, all of which would never been seen by Plains Indians.
- Your body is redundant, and with good reason. Storing fat for the coming winter would be impossible for Inuit if there was only one mechanism for driving fat storage. I’ve discussed ASP before, showing how it stores fat in the total absence of insulin, but instead of trying to reinvent the wheel, I’ll let Conciliator, a poster on Lyle McDonald’s forum, explain it for you:
You need to understand that there are a multitude of enzymes that are involved in triacylglycerol synthesis and lipolysis. “Insulin” is not a pathway. It’s one of several hormones that have an effect on the enzymes that comprise the actual pathways. What enzymes am I talking about? For fatty acid uptake, there’s FAT/CD36, FATP-1 to -6, and FABPpm. For fatty acid synthesis, there’s fatty acid synthase. For glucose uptake, there’s Glut1 and Glut4. For esterfication, there’s GPAT, PAP1, and DGAT1 and DGAT2. For lipolysis, there’s HSL, perilipin, and Protein kinase A.
What “regulates all this?” It’s definitely not just “insulin”. That’s an incredibly simplistic, insulinocentric view. You know what else has an effect on these lipogenic/lipolytic enzymes besides insulin? There’s angiotensin II, the adrenergic receptor (catacholamines), FoxC2, PTP1B, and last but not least ASP.
- Finally, there is no metabolic effect to eating paleo, insofar as burning calories or increasing food absorption. The fact is that paleo diets up protein intake by default, and once protein is sufficient, shuffling fat and carbs makes no difference if energy intake is consistent. Further, individuals tend to underestimate calories on a high carb diet by a substancial margin. It has also been pointed out that people on low carb diet spontaneously under-report calories, which happens when you attempt to remove an entire macronutrient and replace it with more sating alternatives.
So why do I generally follow a paleo diet and encourage my clients to do the same? For my clients, it is for the reasons I listed above: increased protein and fat lead to a spontaneous reduction in caloric intake. On top of this, most people are eating a shit-tastic western diet to begin with, so any move toward preparing food themselves whilst eating more fresh fruit and veggies is a step in the right direction. Once they’re prepping their food, a person learns what real portion sizing is, reducing their crappy food chemical consumption, and, sometimes, learn to like different foods they never considered. A nice side effect is that people seem to unlearn the notion of “clean your plate”and stop eating when satisfied.
As bizarre as it sounds, a little esoteric romanticism goes a long way in this case. Kant was right about “Grown-up idealism.” Some of my clients aren’t motivated by “eating what your great grandma recognized as food” but go hog wild for “this is what you evolved to eat.” In my line of work, I don’t care what tackles their fincy; I only care that it does. When I have clients complaining they’re too full and losing weight, I don’t care what mythology I built to get there.
There’s nothing magic about paleo diets: increased fats and protein mean increased satity. Increased fresh ingrediants, better food prep, less processed crap. There’s no metabolic magic, no matter how low your insulin. Your body is smarter than you. Really.