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I always hear the phrase you should listen to your body.
- “It will let you know when you are hungry.”
- “It will let you know when it’s time to eat.”
- “It will let you know what you need to eat.”
- “If you are craving something you probably need it.”
Well, bologna! Or roast beef if we want to stay paleo here. In some instances, it may be smart to listen to your body.
- When you are working out and something physically hurts… in a bad way. Such as tweaking your neck in a clean and jerk or pulling a muscle while sprinting. Or hearing a pop when you dead-lift.
- When you are not making any gains in the gym, your body composition is staying the same, you are in a bad mood, you are not horny, hungry, or happy! Basically, you’re exhausted. It may be time to rest up or cut the volume a bit in the gym
- When you are bored with a routine. Maybe in life or in the gym. Might be time to shake it up a bit.
However, when transitioning to the Paleo diet or a lower carbohydrate diet (under 100 grams a day) you may experience a few rough weeks as your body adjusts itself to utilizing fat as its primary fuel source. This rough stretch coupled with friends, family, and fools telling you that your protein-rich diet will wreak havoc on your kidneys, the fat you are taking in for energy will make you fat, that the energy you are missing is due to the lack of carbohydrates is dead wrong. I’ll try my best here to outline a few of the rough periods you may experience transitioning into the Paleo diet, why you are experiencing them, what you can do to overcome them, and why you will feel and look good naked after soon thereafter.
Adaptation… what’s going on!
Dr. Micahel Eades gives a great example when dealing with the difficulties as you transition into your Paleo nutrition plan. He likens it to when a smoker wishes to quit smoking.
You’re three days into your stop-smoking program. If you listen to your body here, you’re screwed.
He’s absolutely right. Of course, your body is going to tell you to smoke. It is something you have been doing for years. It is now a habit ingrained in yourself and your body expects it on a daily basis. How often to you drive to work and sort of zone out and not really think about what you are doing or even how you are getting there? It’s just natural. The next thing you know you are at work. It’s because you have been doing it for years, over and over. You’ve developed a habit. The same holds true with your nutrition. Our diets have transitioned from having to chase down our food or pick it from a tree or the ground to opening a wrapper, eating grains, taking in added sugar. It has become what your body is just used to.
Depending on the individual adapting to the Paleo nutrition plan it can take anywhere from a day to a month, with most people falling into the 2-3 week range. The following is a list of common adaption symptoms.
- Foggy brain
- Craving for carbohydrates especially sweets
“Well shit,” you might be saying right now. Why the hell do I want to go through all that jazz? Because after getting through this rough stretch it is almost euphoric. An increased sense of well-being, energy, mental clarity, and no more cravings will be seen. This rough stretch is simply the time it takes for your body to switch itself from using carbohydrates as its primary fuel source to the more efficient fat as its primary source.
Because your body has been using to taking in an elevated amount of carbohydrates for fuel an increase in the enzymes to turn those carbs into energy has also been created within the body. Once you start taking out the carbs and adding in the healthy fats your body now has to adapt and utilize the proper enzymes to convert to using fat for its primary energy source. Your body is simply confused. Think about it like this. A baker goes to work tomorrow and is ready to bake a cake. Then his boss says, “Hey bub, no cakes today. You’re going to make Sushi.” The baker would be totally lost and it might take him a little bit to figure out how to make Sushi.
Cool… so ummmmm, how do I deal with that crap.
The easy answer here… eat, eat, and eat some more fat. I just heard you gasp. Yes, eat fat ya dang fool! If you do not and just stick with a high protein diet while your carbs are low your body will convert protein into glucose (sugar) by a process known as gluconeogenesis. Don’t not ask me to pronounce that. This essentially keeps those carbohydrate enzymes in your body working because it thinks you are still taking in sugars.
Easy ways to up your fat intake are to take in fattier meats. Nothing crazy but maybe some 90/10 or 93/7 ground beef. Instead of the 99% fat-free turkey just go with the 93/7-ground turkey. Choose chicken thigh over chicken breast. Use at least a tablespoon of oil for every 4-6 ounces of meat that you cook. Save some of that bacon grease and use it to cook up some meat and veggies at a later point in the day. Another fat source is Coconut oil. One of my favorite and simply delicious.
Start slow: You may be a die-hard all-in kind of person. If so, by all means, do it! If this is the case, keep those carbs under 50 grams or so for the first 2-3 weeks. These carbs should all come from vegetables and mostly green vegetables. I recommend taking some baby steps and easing into it. Maybe start with one meal a day. Breakfast could be bacon and eggs, with a normal lunch and dinner. After you have established consistency with the paleo breakfast maybe you can next make changes to your lunch. Maybe a big ass salad. You get the idea here. Some steps to take to make the switch. Bullet point style!
- Day by day and log your progress Sometimes when you think of the goal over the long haul it can be a little overwhelming. I remember when I first started to workout consistently. I would often think to myself “Wow, am I really going to do this 4, 5, even 6 days a week for the rest of my life! Great, if you weren’t thinking those thoughts already I probably just put them in your head. My apologies. Take it one day at a time or one meal at a time if you must. After it becomes a habit and you are not even thinking about it anymore it will be extremely easy.
- Keeping a food journal will also help to keep yourself accountable. Try writing all of your meals down in a notebook or on one of the many great websites like FitDay or The Daily Plate. Don’t forget to log the water you are drinking, sleep, and stress that may be occurring in your life at the same time. You may find that the transition into your new nutrition plan is not the cause of your fatigue. Maybe you have only been sleeping a few hours or have some work-related stress. It is also a great resource for you to look back on to serve as motivation to how you overcame challenges.
- Take-er easy man, taker-er easy So you are a little fatigued, having trouble recovering from strength workouts or sprinting sessions. Tapper back the volume a little bit until your body has transitioned into the Paleo or lower carbohydrate swing of things. I know you crossfitters out there are shaking your heads and saying “yeah right dude!” But trust me, as a crossfitter myself you don’t have to rest completely. Maybe just do 3 rounds instead of 5, work at 80% intensity instead of 100%. If you are not a crossfitter but more of a general weightlifter or runner you can tapper those back as well, a few less sets, a couple less miles. Maybe just take an extra day of rest.
- Patience young grasshopper… Patience Paleo nutrition is not another fad diet or quick fix. It is our body’s natural way of eating. The foods, quality of food, and macronutrients our bodies were designed to eat as suggested by our ancestors the Cavemen and women. If you are trying to transition and having a tough time, stick with it. If you screw up and eat a loaf of bread then just accept that you engulfed a load of carbs but hop back on the wagon immediately. Before you know it you’ll be feeling like a million bucks.