Monday, 7 January 2013

New Year, New Diet...

Interesting read from a top website, for more advice on health and fitness from Steel Habitat click here.


Rebekah Donovan tells us about the dangers of western nutrition, how the Paleolithic way of eating (commonly referred to as the caveman diet) has changed her life and how it can change yours.

Before we get into this post, if you are unfamiliar with Paleo I advise you have a quick read of Robb Wolf's What is the Paleo Diet? Done? Okay over to Rebekah . . .

I've done more research into this Paleo malarkey more than I've ever done for a way of eating. It’s ridiculous. As soon as one question is answered, another one pops up. I've never been a Science kid but researching Paleo (among other things) has re-ignited my biology flame. When I first started looking into Paleo I was shown straight to a Mr Robb Wolf. I have been a long-term sufferer with my gut so instantly went for the ‘testimonials’ section of his website needing proof this was going to work for me. I would regularly have severe gut irritation, which would last for 24/48 hours at a time. Unfortunately this was happening every few weeks, and with no apparent trigger. I visited the doctor more times than I could count, with no end solution. I went from creating a food diary, to regular blood tests, endoscopy, colonoscopy and guess what? INCONCLUSIVE. I was told I had ‘IBS’ (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) it was extremely common and something I was going to have to live with. So I had been diagnosed with symptoms. I told you my bowels are irritable and you've diagnosed me with it. Brilliant.

I knew something wasn't right and I've only recently discovered how to fix it. Paleo. Taking gluten/wheat/grains out of my diet completely. I am still tinkering with the small print of it. For example, I am currently cutting out dairy due to an increase in acne and sinus issues. I was concerned as none of these had been such an issue pre-Paleo, but, this has been described as “It’s like walking into a room with the volume on the TV turned up really high, as opposed to being in the room for a while and gradually turning it up.” Meaning, my sinus and skin issues were more than likely already there, but having such an issue with my gut health they were not dominant and therefore I didn’t notice them. Overall, I have more energy and my IBS symptoms have completely vanished.

Anyway, I think I’ve attempted to big this Paleo business up enough, down to the science! Paleo is NOT a diet. Wanted to put that one out there. It is a way of life. In fact is has been humanities way of life since we started having one. I am going to include a lot of information from Mr Robb Wolf and a research paper from Prof. Loren Cordain, ‘The western diet and lifestyle and diseases of civilisation’. This paper says everything that I want to say but in a much more knowledgeable manner.

A small thing called the agricultural revolution changed the way we ate. ‘The profound changes in diet and lifestyle that occurred after the Neolithic Revolution (and more so after the Industrial Revolution and the Modern Age) are too recent on an evolutionary time scale for the human genome to have fully adapted.’ Basically, a big percentage of the food that has been introduced into our Western diets since the agricultural revolution, simply haven’t been around long enough for our bodies to adapt to them.

This table demonstrates how much food is available to us now that we consider ‘normal’ when actually it isn’t. Think about it this way. The Agricultural revolution began around 11,000 years ago in the Middle East and then spread around the globe it ‘drastically altered the diet and lifestyle that had shaped the human genome for the preceding 2 million plus years. Some of the more significant dietary changes were the use of cereal grains as staple foods, the introduction of nonhuman milk, domesticated meats, legumes and other cultivated plant foods. Following this, the Industrial revolution and the introduction of everything ‘refined’, sugars/grains/vegetable oils, brought about ‘junk food’. Which is unfortunately now a part of daily life for a significant amount of people.

In the US, dairy products, cereal grains (especially the refined form), refined sugars, refined vegetable oils, and alcohol make up to 70% of the total daily energy consumed. As pointed out by Cordain et al, these types of foods would have contributed little or none of the energy in the typical preagricultural hominin diet.’

Regardless of this being an American statistic, us British citizens are remarkably similar to them in all things obese.

So for a good 2 million years we ate in a completely different way. And by the looks of things (in Science and Archaeology and such) we died a lot healthier than we are now. Morbidly obese hunter-gatherers riddled with diabetes? No chance.

Consider this. 100 years ago the gentleman on the left, Frank Williams, was considered fat enough to be part of a circus freak-show. Today? You’d see a number of men and women this size doing your weekly shop in Tesco.

The counter argument is that we are now living longer than we ever have. This is very true. But, are we healthier? Definitely not. We are living longer because of the advances made in Western medicine. We find something wrong us and find a pill to make it all go away. It’s not all our fault. These things have been made too easily available. We pop to the doctors, they give us some medication, we get on with our day. Hunter-gatherers lived shorter lives, but they didn't have the medicine we have available now and their lives were much more brutal. But they died without diseases such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease and epithelial cell cancers. ALL of which are increasing in younger and younger members of the population.

Grains, Gluten and an unhealthy gut in general are linked to ALL auto-immune diseases by way of gut permeability.

Food irritants e.g gluten + genetic predisposition = damage to the enterocytes (the gut wall)

This leads to inflammation due to pathogens escaping into the blood stream, also referred to as ‘leaky gut’.

Basically, bad stuff happens when you eat gluten. So don’t. Think about the defence mechanisms all species have. We can run, throw, climb, hunt etc, the same for animals, but plants do not have these abilities. They had to develop ways to defend themselves from US. So grains and such start a whole host of events that break down our gut lining, their defence mechanism.

When you eat bread/pasta do you ever feel bloated, uncomfortable, get cramps? That’s their attack. So, cut these things out and you won’t feel that way anymore. It really is that simple.

There are a number of other influential factors within the life of a ‘caveman’. For example, they didn’t have electricity. They went to bed when the sun went down and woke up with it in the morning. Which is another pressing issue. None of us sleep as much as we should. Our ancestors did not have jobs in the same sense we do. They worked, but they worked to maintain life, hunting, building etc. Exercise wasn’t exercise. It was life. They ‘worked’ a fraction of the time we do and spent the remainder of their time socialising, seeing family and maintaining social links. So, the introduction of artificial light and the pressure of the 250 hour working week (exaggeration, but you catch my drift) means we’re not sleeping the way our bodies want. Artificial light creates ‘summer’ all year round. In summer hunter-gatherers would take advantage of longer days to prepare for the winter. Appetite therefore increased to prepare their bodies for the scarcity of food coming in winter. You have less control of your appetite than you think. It’s been ‘built-in’ for a pretty long time.

Artificial Summer = lack of sleep = increased insulin resistance = screwed metabolism = increase in appetite = we get fatter


Paleo is not hard. Changing your lifestyle so you actually think about what you’re putting in your mouth is the hard part. I have discovered that no matter how much exercise you do, if you are not fueling your body in the right way, you will never be healthy. Never.

Would you expect a petrol car to run efficiently with diesel fuel in it?

Robb Wolf has always stated “try it for 30 days, anyone can do anything for 30 days”. If you see an improvement in the way you feel, inside and out, and the way you look. Carry on with it and be healthy. If you think just going ‘gluten free’ is the way to do it. Meaning, going to your local supermarket’s ‘free from’ section and buying all the stuff that says gluten free, you’re being an idiot. It completely defeats the object.

Take into consideration that Paleo may just be the starting framework for you, as it has been for me. I have had to do a lot of little tweaks and I’m still experimenting to find the perfect ‘ingredients’ for optimal health. Everyone is different and it turns out I’m intolerant to a lot more foods than I initially thought. But that’s ok. I've accepted it and realised that if I want to live to be 100 without alzheimers, diabetes, obesity, arthritis etc etc (and yes it definitely is possible) hard work to change my western diet is the only way. Gluten is something that hits pretty close to home for me as my little sister is Coeliac, my parents aren't the healthiest folk and diabetes runs in my family. I want people to start thinking about their health the way I have, start looking after themselves and the people they care about.

Just give it some thought and decide where you want to be in 50 years.

Rebekah Donavan has recently made a transition from occasional gym goer to a health conscious trainer and eater, is reaping benefits of living a healthy lifestyle. Read more from Miss Donavan at her blog Squattin-elle and Follow her on Twitter @BekDonavan.

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