OK, you caught me. This isn’t a post about how you can get a marble-cut 12 pack stomach by eating donuts. Although…we do touch on that whole deal in this weeks post. By the way, I’m sure you can…but you can also become insulin resistant and increase your risk of heart disease, depression, PCOS, and more in the process…but I digress…that’s for another day.

Back to today’s post. It’s about that time. Time for another guest blogger on the topic we all love to talk about: Chicks and carbs. This week, I have my friend and NTP classmate, Kim Jordan, owner of Root & Branch Nutrition, talking about how to troubleshoot when you feel like you’re doing everything right but can’t seem to reach your goals. 


 

The Unresponsive Body:
When You’re Doing “Everything Right,” But Nothing is Happening. 

Aesthetic goals—we’ve all got them. While there’s definitely been a movement toward focusing on what your body can do than just what it looks like (yay!), let’s be honest, deep down many of us do care about how we look. Especially when we put time and effort into taking care of our bodies, it’s not crazy to want them to reflect that hard work on the exterior, right? So you bust your ass in the gym, focus on recovery and sleep, and most importantly, eat a squeaky clean paleo diet, full of super nutrient-dense foods and void of processed crap—your body is supposed to change accordingly, right?

What about when your body doesn’t seem to get the memo?
What about when what we think should be happening to our bodies just isn’t? 

It seems this disconnect between doing-everything-right and not-seeing-results is becoming more common—particularly with super active women (often CrossFitters), who’ve been following a paleo-style diet for some time. Well, I’m popping in here to give my take: to discuss my own personal experiences and share some helpful stuff I’ve learned as a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner. 

A little background on me: I started CrossFit in early 2013. I had heard about the Paleo diet: “Eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch and no sugar,”. So I did some more research, and decided I should cut all grains, dairy, legumes, and sugar like, now.  I thought: Maybe the fact that I’m not being super strict with my diet is why I’m not seeing the results I want. Maybe I need something that’s more black and white. And my hypothesis proved to be correct. Almost right away, I noticed I felt better than ever before, despite “eating clean” for years. My energy was sky-high, I became stronger and faster in the gym, my anxiety and terrible panic attacks disappeared, my skin cleared up, life-long digestive issues were gone, and my periods regulated for the first time, ever. (Turns out, I had some food intolerances I never was able to pinpoint!). And…  I dropped fat, fairly quickly—sweet! 

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But fast forward a year or so… I was tired. All. The. Time. I felt miserable, and was no longer progressing in the gym. The uncomfortable and that inconvenient bloating after everything I ate returned. Menstrual issues returned (I’ll save you the details). But worst of all? I actually began gaining fat, especially in my mid-section, despite the “near-perfect” diet I was eating, the high-intensity workouts I was doing, and the 8-hours of sleep I was getting every night. Gaining muscle—that’s supposed to happen when you start CrossFit, right? Nope, not for me, no matter how hard I tried. (A pretty quick way to lose motivation and momentum if you ask me). Why wasn’t I, so suddenly, looking and feeling the way I believed all my hard work entitled me to?

What was I doing wrong? 

It seems like stories like mine are popping up everywhere recently, likely due to the popularity of CrossFit, the paleo diet, and an overall increased awareness surrounding nutrition and holistic health. Without a doubt, it can leave us feeling a little confused, and a lot frustrated. It can make us question what we’re doing, and can even bring us to the point of wanting to give up—hell, maybe you have given up… slid back into old habits, because if all your effort isn’t making a difference, what’s the point? If this sounds at all familiar to you, I bet you’re in need of some reassurance, and likely, even some adjustments made to what you’re used to doing. 

My biggest frustration with this topic is that now so many people—particularly in the sports/athletic performance realms—are quick to bash the paleo diet as the culprit. (Don’t we realize by now that we can’t generalize and blame just one thing?). Suddenly, images of pizza, doughnuts, and ice cream are bombarding us with the message: “Ha ha. You’ve been deceived by your boring chicken, fattening almond butter, and nasty kale — you can actually eat a ton of glamorous gluten and yummy sugar and have a 6-pack.”. Now, the battle is raging on.  

Have we been duped by another fad diet? Is cutting grains, dairy, legumes, and sugar too restrictive? Is it actually not healthy? And most importantly– is it possible to have the body you’ve always dreamed of, while enjoying what you’re eating, without sacrificing your health or mental sanity? Or should we all just ignore what we inherently know about health and nutrition, replace our pastured eggs and butter coffee with cookies and mocha-caramel-soy-whatever lattes, and go back to paying attention to only the quantity of our food, and not the quality?

No, paleo is not a fad diet. It is very healthy when done right, and it by no means is overly restrictive. This is how people ate for thousands of years before we absolutely destroyed the food supply. We absolutely need to always prioritize health and food quality.  Sorry to those who don’t believe it, but real food always wins. The paleo diet has absolutely gotten that right. Why? In simplest terms, our bodies utilize unprocessed, nutrient-dense foods best. The less processed and refined a food, the more nutrients present per calorie—nutrients every cell in the body needs to carry out functions each day that keep us alive and well. Conversely, the more processed and refined a food, the fewer nutrients available for our bodies to use, and the more additives (sweeteners, preservatives, stabilizers, etc.) present that get in the way of optimal function.

So when do problems arise? When we don’t customize our nutrition for our personal needs—which are extremely unique and always evolving.

What I mean here is that the paleo diet is a framework. It’s a clear-cut way of improving the nutrient content of your diet, decreasing inflammation, balancing blood sugar, improving digestive and immune health, and most importantly—finding out exactly what types of foods are helpful, and which are harmful. For everyone, that is going to be different. All this “I can’t eat that anymore for the rest of my life because it’s not paleo”, isn’t really what it’s all about. Sure, the guidelines of the paleo diet are pretty black and white—but for real reasons… and obsessively following them to the point where you’re avoiding healthy foods, not listening to your body, and not enjoying your life is a problem. 

You see, doing a strict stint of the paleo diet is simply an elimination diet—remove problematic foods for a time period, re-introduce them systematically and take note of how they affect you in order to form a conclusion to shape your nutrition choices. A pretty basic experiment. While many off-limits foods are less healthy and do cause issues for most people (like gluten, refined grains, and processed, pasteurized dairy), some “no-no” paleo foods are okay to eat for some people — maybe every day, maybe once in a while. But I can’t tell you what those are… because for you, it’s different than it is for me. You know what else? There actually are some foods that the paleo diet does include that some people actually don’t tolerate well, such as eggs and nuts.  So, as it turns out the paleo diet does not have all the answers—but again, it’s a framework. It’s always up to each individual to figure out for him/herself what foods work and which don’t. That’s why seeking guidance from a health and/or nutrition professional is also a good idea.

Elimination diets, like the paleo diet, can be therapeutic. What that means, is that they are often meant to be followed as a means to an end. For those suffering from conditions such as blood sugar control issues, inflammatory illnesses, autoimmune diseases, heart disease, digestive disorders, and even conditions like epilepsy, the transition to a paleo-style diet can vastly improve symptoms and even improve imbalances and deficiencies that may be causing/exacerbating the condition.  So essentially, a paleo diet actually can be healing. (Food is medicine ya know…) But often times, when that therapeutic time period is over, foods that were removed can be reintroduced. Which, and when? Again, different for everyone.  I know that’s likely an annoying answer… but it’s the truth.

So where do we go from here? Don’t worry– it is possible to look good, feel good, eat good, and still be a happy human being. That’s actually how our bodies are programmed. But (assuming you’ve got your nutrition, training, sleep, and recovery fairly dialed in), here are the four most common problems I see and how you can troubleshoot:

1) You’re Not Eating Enough 
The whole “you need to eat less AKA starve yourself to look good” phenomenon has become so engrained in our brains (especially us women), that we often underestimate how much food we really need. For example, the more active you are and the more muscle mass you have, the more fuel your body needs. It seems many of us either ignored, or forgot about the part of the famous World-Class Fitness in 100 Words that says “Keep [calorie] intake to levels that will support exercise…”.  Consider this: When you eliminate processed foods (including grains and dairy) from your diet, you usually decrease your calorie intake. Why? Because the less processed a food is, the more nutrients present—meaning more micronutrients per calorie. Therefore, fewer calories will get/keep you full.

But wait: “Eating fewer calories—that’s good, right?” For the general population—overweight, inactive, and eating a shitty diet: yeah, eating less can help with weight loss—especially when there is significant weight that needs to be lost. However, for those of us who already eat mostly real food, are active, and/or have lower body fat and higher muscle mass, eating too little can be detrimental to health, physique, and athletic performance. Adequate nutrient intake is needed to support metabolic rate, fuel workouts, replenish the body, and build and repair muscle tissue. It’s also crucial for our hormones, which have a very complex, yet delicate, relationship. When the body perceives stress of any kind, the production and balance of our hormones will be affected— and not just our sex hormones like estrogen and testosterone, but hormones such as those produced by the adrenals, thyroid, and pituitary glands. It’s all connected. 

Solution: If you’re not feeling and performing at your best, it’s imperative to determine whether or not you’re eating enough. A good way to find out is to track your calorie intake for a trial period (a few weeks is ideal) to see where you’re at. Use an equation such as the Harris Benedict Equation to figure out a ballpark idea of how many calories you need each day. Keep an eye on things like the scale, the mirror, and how clothes fit to determine if you may need less or more. This way, you can make sure you’re eating enough (it’s likely more than you think) to support your health and performance , while still improving body composition. Being more aware of your food intake will benefit you in the long run. 

2) You’ve Turned Your ‘Paleo Diet’ into a ‘Very Low Carb Diet’
If you study the actual origins of today’s “paleo diet,” which is based on the concept that our bodies are not biologically adapted to modern foods in our diets like processed dairy, refined grains and sugars, you’ll see that the macronutrient ratios (amounts of carbs, proteins, and fats) actually varied greatly amongst the native groups studied. The travels and findings of Dr. Weston A. Price show us that some groups were eating the majority of their calories from vegetables and even grains, while others were eating mostly fats (like whale meat, oily fish, and butter). Despite the range in diets, all of these groups were clearly healthier, stronger, and happier than their processed-food-eating counterparts!  This is the takeaway. Not one fixed macro-nutrient ratio for all, but rather unprocessed, real food is better for health than the processed and refined ‘foods of commerce’.

Somehow, the “Paleo Diet” as most people know it today has turned into a very low carb diet thanks in large part to wide span misconceptions and misinformation. No, carbs are not inherently “bad”: context matters. The war on carbs has come about because almost all of the carbs consumed today come from refined grain, high sugar, fake foods. Plus, most people are eating over 60% of their calories from these crappy carbs.  So, when someone who is used to eating bagels for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch, pasta for dinner, and cookies for dessert, cuts out grains and sugar, they automatically drastically lower carb intake. For the majority of Americans, this is beneficial. 

Now, for those of us who are active, there’s a need for sufficient amounts of glucose (carbohydrates) to use as fuel during exercise. Removing all grains, sugars, legumes, and starchy veggies makes getting those needed carbs pretty difficult. If you’re new to the paleo diet and have recently dropped grains and sugar from, vegetable sources of carbs are way less calorically-dense, so you could also unintentionally not be eating enough in general on top of too-little carbs

Solution: Get over your carb fears. Don’t be scared to eat a banana because it’s “high” in sugar. Don’t be afraid to experiment with some gluten-free grains (white rice, when well tolerated, can be helpful to those who are very active and struggle to get enough carbs). Consider your macronutrient ratios. Especially if you have aesthetic and/or performance goals, try tracking. Monitor things like sleep, workouts, energy, recovery time, digestion, etc. (If you’ve never worked with macros, the recommended ratio by the CrossFit dietary prescription is a great place to start:  30% of calories from protein, 40% calories from carbs, and 30% of calories from fats).

3) You Haven’t Dug Any Deeper.
All the hours in the gym and the most nutrient-dense diet on the planet cannot override dysfunction within the body. Sometimes we forget to respect the connection between health and outward appearance. If there’s one common theme that keeps surfacing, it’s that being able to see and feel the results you’re after (whether related to your health, performance, aesthetics or a combination) is actually deeper than just what you’re eating—it’s about how what you’re eating is affecting your body. What that will look like for you will be different than how it looks for someone else.

As NTPs, we work to figure this stuff out by putting more emphasis on returning the body to health and proper functioning by seeing symptoms not as things that need to be quieted, but as signs of a deeper issue going on within. Lack of energy, poor sleep, bloating after eating, irregular periods, painful menstrual cycles, belly fat gain, etc.—these are all symptoms. And guess what? Struggling to lose fat and/or gain muscle, slow recovery time, and decreased strength and/or endurance during workouts are symptoms as well. NTPS respect the bio-individuality of each person—what that means, basically, is that we all function differently due to things like genetics, lifestyle, and even geographic location. 

I’ve got news for you: Your body is going to do what is wants to do. No, I don’t mean you’re going to lose control of voluntary movements. What I mean is that if something is going on inside—low stomach acid, an overactive immune system, high or low cortisol, liver or gallbladder stasis, whatever it may be—it is going to affect not only how you feel, but how you look and perform. Fat storage, muscle building, water retention—these are all things that are ultimately controlled by processes our bodies carry out.  Since the human body prioritizes survival over all else, if you’re struggling to say, digest and assimilate food or fight allergens, things like fat loss and muscle tissue synthesis are certainly moving down on the priorities list. If our bodies can’t properly do what they gotta do, maintaining a svelte body composition is put on the back burner.

Solution: Get in tune with your body—get it to work right internally, and the exterior will reflect that. Best way to do that? Eat real food. Whether or not you want to label it as “paleo” is up to you—but know that it is beneficial to cut out inflammatory grains, dairy, legumes, sugar, and alcohol from your diet, even if just for a trial period to test the waters. It is healthy to add in more real, unprocessed foods, and stop relying on convenience/packaged foods, bars, and shakes—no matter how “clean” the ingredients are. And as much of a pain as it can be, it will benefit you—forever—to learn how to cook. Above all, it is well-worth learning about the quality and sourcing of your food— eating more seasonal, local, pastured, organic, and sustainable food will improve the nutrient content of your food tenfold.

4) You Haven’t Identified Your Real Goals
Visible abs, leanness—is that really the ultimate goal? Is that really all we care about? I know it isn’t. Yes, we have aesthetic goals—we do what we do, sure, to be healthy and feel amazing— but come on, we want to look good too. But most importantly, we want to be confident and happy in the body we’re in. When that body is kickass and is a result of hard work and dedication—it feels even better. But 6-pack abs? Isn’t it more fun to focus on how awesome we feel? How much more weight we can lift? How much faster we can run? Making progress is not just about how you look… it’s definitely a component, but most certainly not the only one. 

If do you want to focus on aesthetics, there’s nothing wrong with that! However, we really need to stop setting goals for ourselves by comparing our bodies to those of others. Every body is different. Not just in terms of our physiology, but also physical build. No, we’re not slaves to genetics—we’ve definitely learned that. But genetics do predispose us to certain things—including your body shape and how your body is going to respond to external factors like nutrition and exercise. You can do everything you can to see your 6-pack, but if your body isn’t built in a way to have visible abs, it’s going to be near impossible to reach that goal. Don’t believe me? Just look at the bodies of different female CrossFit games athletes—you will see every shape and size, from Lauren Brooks to Elizabeth Akinwale to Andrea Ager. These women train and eat similarly, and clearly have similar capabilities or they wouldn’t all make it to the Games—you’re going to tell me genetics doesn’t play into this a bit? It does. Whether that’s disappointing to you, or comforting, it’s true.

We often fail to realize that for most of the women we compare ourselves to, fitness is their life… it may even be their job. So unless you’re putting the same time and effort into your training, recovery, and nutrition, it’s highly unlikely that you will look like them. 
(and it’s okay if you don’t!)

Solution: Set goals that are meaningful and realistic… and then work your ass off to achieve them. Give your body what it needs to be healthy—physically, but emotionally and mentally, too. It’s especially important to decrease the stress in your life as much as possible—including stressing about how you look. Stress, from whatever source, sucks—it all has the same negative effect on the mind and the body (and inhibits things like fat loss and muscle gain). Eat well, but enjoy yourself—treat yourself occasionally as long as the decision is yours, you understand the impact, and make the decision that it’s worth it to you. Above all, focus on you— how you feel, how you perform, how you look. Do what makes you happy and healthy. Fear, guilt, and shame have no place in any healthy lifestyle. 

Most importantly, don’t give up. Perhaps I forgot to mention the most important factor: patience. These things take time.  It’s easy to get frustrated, especially when you feel you’re doing all you can and aren’t reaching your goals. There are so many answers out there waiting to be uncovered, and it may take some time and a little experimentation, but the end results are worth it. Remember, life is too short to not enjoy…. especially because you feel shitty and/or are unhappy with the way you look. Shift your focus, modify your approach, be patient, and you’ll change your body—and maybe your life— as a result. 

Kim Jordan is a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner, CrossFitter, and nature-loving hippie whose second favorite F-word is “food.” Through her holistic and functional approach to nutrition and health, Kim aims to provide others with the tools they need to feel, look, and be their healthiest, happiest selves.  You can learn more about Kim, get in contact to work with her, or find out more about her ‘Thrive” classes by visiting her website at www.rootandbranchnutrition.com 

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References:

http://www.westonaprice.org/health-topics/abcs-of-nutrition/principles-of-healthy-diets-2/#about

http://robbwolf.com/2014/02/20/females-carbohydrates-hormones/

http://theathleticbuild.com/top-20-fittest-bodies-of-crossfit-2014/

http://www.crossfit.com/cf-info/start-diet.html