Archive for September, 2009

The Paleo Diet Experiment: The Results

Saturday, September 12th, 2009

Recap: OK, in case you need the back story, I spent six weeks participating in my gym’s challenge of follwing CrossFit HQ workouts (3 days on, one day off), and following the Paleo diet (meat, vegetables, nuts, seeds, some fruit, little starch, no sugar).  I’ve chronicled how it went along the way, and here’s the post to describe the end results.

Weight Loss: 6.6 lbs.  I didn’t embark on this challenge because I wanted to lose weight, I was just more curious to see how it felt following this regimen and to see if “eating right” really did seem to make a difference in how I did and felt in the gym.  Still, from everything I’ve read I believe that leaner is healthier.  I knew I might lose weight on the Paleo diet, and I was OK with that prospect.  I feel like I lost most of this weight pretty quickly (first 2-3 weeks) and then leveled off.  I was pleased with the weight loss.

Body Fat Loss: 2.1%.  My hope was that I would lose body fat and gain muscle.  Again, I wasn’t unhappy with the starting point, but I wasn’t going to complain about losing some body fat.  I was pretty impressed with this result after 6 weeks of eating as much as I wanted (of Paleo foods)

Lean Mass Loss: 2.4 lbs 🙁  At the beginning and end of the 6 weeks, I got my body composition measured in the Bod Pod.  I was very disappointed to learn I lost 2.4 lbs of lean mass – that almost definitely means muscle.  I was surprised, and annoyed about losing muscle.  The trainers at my gym said I simply needed to eat more.  I can honestly say I wouldn’t want to eat any more frequently than I did.  I felt like I ate all the time.  While I wasn’t trying to bulk up, I didn’t want to lose muscle.  This is the one result that made me think this diet couldn’t be sustainable for me in the long run.

I didn’t measure my cholesterol at the beginning of the 6 weeks, but during the challenge I started to wonder what effect all of the meat  and eggs were going to have on it.  I had kept some historical cholesterol levels and I figured I could just get it measured again during the last week of the challenge.  Results are below:

Feb 2007 Aug 2005 Aug 2009
Total Chol 166 160 175
LDL 100 97 97
HDL 57 58 69
Trig 45 26 47

My take is that the diet had no adverse effect on my Total, LDL, or Trig, and the exercise (or diet and exercise) had a very beneficial result on my HDL (good cholesterol)- nearly a 20% increase!  I’m glad I thought to have it measured again.

What I learned: I’m very glad I tried the diet for a little while and I  feel like I learned a lot.  First thing: fruit is awesome!  Since I was restricted on what types of food I could eat, it made me explore fruits and vegetables a lot more than I normally do.  Cherries, blueberries, strawberries, bananas, clementine oranges – I ate a lot of them and I really enjoyed them.  I will definitely make an effort to buy and eat more fresh fruits and vegetables.

I think the philosophy behind the diet is that #1 processed carbs  are bad and should be minimized in your diet, and #2 just about everything you could replace them with is has a higher nutritional value.  Insulin levels are supposed to be much more even throughout the day, and you should get a higher nutritional content from all the “whole foods.”  I definitely felt really good during this six weeks.  My body felt good for every workout – I really felt like I had few aches and pains, and was able to perform well on every workout.  I also felt like my energy level was high and steady all day – I almost never had that post-lunch lull that I often get when I pay no attention to my diet.

Going Forward: I don’t think I’m willing to comit to the Paleo lifestyle for the long run.  I think the experience will impact my diet for the better, but it takes too much planning to adhere to the diet all the time.  Also, if I did try to stick with it longer I feel like I would lose more weight, which I don’t want.

The most hardcore CrossFitters try to follow both the Zone diet and the Paleo diet.  I’ve become more curious about the Zone, and watched some very interesting videos which got my curiosity up enough to read Dr. Sears’ first book on the Zone.  It makes some amazing claims, seems to have hard science to back it up, and seems to have enough flexibility built in to make more of a sustainable lifestyle out of it.  I think the next experiment will be with the Zone (with a loose paleo leaning).

Beyond that, who knows.  The longer I do CrossFit, the more I “drink the Kool Aid.”  Luckly, I think it’s a good cult to belong to.