Have you had the opportunity to rest and reset this holiday season? Typically, this is not a priority amongst American families, especially this time of year. Winter used to be a time that our ancestors would hibernate, restoring physical and emotional functions after a long summer season involving plentiful social interactions and physical activity. Somewhere, amid the creation of the industrial age, our focus on periods of rest was completely lost. The desire to pack as many activities into a small period of time become the norm. If only we could step back to when rest was a necessity, but alas that is something we all must work on every year. And, unfortunately, sometimes rest just is not possible.
As we enter the new year, I know we will be bombarded with fad diets and weight loss plans, and for myself personally, the only way I can conquer this season with a healthy mindset is by being fueled by rest. Rest while you can, and we will be better armed to take on this nonsense head on! First and foremost, I want to decipher the differences between paleo and keto, and debunk the myth that keto is better for you than paleo. Controversial, I KNOW! Check out the reasons why paleo is best for a whole encompassing healthy lifestyle, below!
What is Paleo?
The Paleo diet is a nutrient-dense whole foods diet based on eating a variety of quality meat, seafood, eggs, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, herbs, spices and healthy fats. It improves health by providing balanced and complete nutrition while avoiding most processed and refined foods and empty calories.
The Paleo Diet has become extremely popular in recent years, with some several hundred million google searches on the topic every year. It is an incredible diet for improving energy, mood, and health conditions. Yet it may perhaps be so famous and so beloved because it is an excellent tool for weight loss. Perhaps the best diet for weight loss around today (even the scientific studies say so.)
There is no emphasis on calorie counting in the paleosphere, only eating when hungry and stopping when you are full. Hence why this is such a fantastic option for anyone that may have had a history of disordered eating.
The paleo diet is more than just a diet, it is an encompassing mindset and lifestyle plan. With paleo, eating whole and unprocessed foods is a large part, but also included in this diet are lifestyle modifications to reduce stress and inflammation on the body. These key principles differentiate keto from paleo, making paleo a great option for those suffering from chronic inflammation, stress, or autoimmune conditions. One of the reasons I was drawn to paleo initially is because getting high quality and adequate amounts of sleep was a pillar. Struggling with insomnia and PCOS, I was looking for help beyond just weight loss, and no other fad diet was providing any successful options.
Paleo helped me maintain my health, sanity, and wellbeing until I was healthy enough to start stemming from the paleo principles into creating a plan that worked best just for me.
What is Ketosis?
I am going to steer clear of giving you a long, technical definition of ketosis. I do however think it’s worth learning the biochemistry if you plan to experiment. In that case, I highly recommend Dr Peter Attia’s posts or Dr Chris Masterjohn’s.
In short, ketosis is a state the body enters when there is an excess of molecules called acetyl groups over oxaloacetate. This happens when there is a shortage of glucose supplied to the metabolic processes that create energy, like when you eat a very low carbohydrate diet. Yet interestingly enough the body will also produce ketones when medium-chain fatty acids enter the metabolic processes.
So then, when there is this excess of acetyl groups relative to oxaloacetate, the body produces something called ketone bodies. Ketone bodies come from fatty acids that the body has liberated from fat tissue, which can be used as an alternative fuel to carbohydrates. This is important because the body (and specifically the brain and heart) literally need carbohydrates or ketone bodies in order to function. When carbs are gone, basically, ketone bodies step in to do their work.
People typically achieve ketosis by fasting or by eating diets very low in carbohydrate (high fat, moderate protein). This calls for at least fewer than 50, and maybe more like 20, grams of carbohydrate a day. This depends on your age, body type, activity level and the like.
You can verify how deeply your body has gone into ketosis by peeing on a stick, which reveals the level of ketone bodies being circulated in and used by your body. Ketosis has blown up recenetly, becoming the top searched for weight loss plan. So what’s the deal?
Similarities Between Paleo and Keto:
Although different, there are a handful of important similarities between paleo and keto.
- Grains are not allowed, specifically glutinous grains.
- Both plans emphasis consuming healthy fats like nuts, seeds, animal fats, and coconut oil.
- Each plan encourages eating quality animal protein (grass-fed, organic).
- Both plans eliminate legumes like garbanzo, black, and pinto beans.
- Refined sugar is not allowed on either plan.
- Both technically encourage eating plenty of non-starchy vegetables and leafy greens, however most non-paleo keto diets do not encourage this because the quantity of carbohydrates in leafy greens.
Key Differences Between Paleo and Keto:
- Paleo is not a strictly low-carb diet. Although, it is easier to accidentally end up low carb on paleo .
- A crucial part of keto is limiting and understanding exactly your macro-nutrient quantities. Often keto strips are used to test levels of ketones in the body, a somewhat simpler way to understand if your body is in ketosis or not. This testing can result in encouraging negative patterns for those with a history of disordered eating.
- Paleo is eating and embodying a lifestyle similar to that of our ancestors to reduce inflammation, promote healthy circadian rhythms, and encourage a healthy physical and emotional lifestyle.
- Keto is often utilized as a tool for weight loss or to assist in reducing symptoms or effects of medical disorders or conditions. See my post here for more info on this.
Why Paleo is Better, IMO
Sustainable Paleo Weight Loss:
Because the paleo diet provides general guidelines for an overall healthier lifestyle, people tend to have more luck sticking with it long term. One of the most important things I learned when I embarked on a paleo journey was understanding the composition of my food, how different foods effected my energy levels and sleep patterns, and learning what micro-nutrients my biochemistry needed from the food I was consuming.
I really took the time to learn all about macro and micro-nutrients, the different chemical compositions of foods, and gaining a general knowledge on nutrition. This evidence based knowledge helped me continue to make choices I was okay with, even when it felt like I wanted to eat a million cookies – I didn’t. The fact that I knew I could have the cookies, but that they really made me feel awful, was the clear difference between holding onto paleo as a fad diet versus incorporating it as a lifestyle change.
I know I am not alone in this field too, many of you have reached out to me to share your stories on how understanding our food has made it easier to consume what makes us feel better in the long run. Paleo, for us, is about understanding balance and your bio-individuality, not just loosing weight.
Because You Are Eating High Quality Food, Healing Inflammation, and Eating When Your Hungry:
The best ways to keep any unwanted weight off is to reduce inflammation. If we are inflamed, our bodies lowest priority is dropping any weight. If anything, the body holds on to weight when inflamed and stressed as a way of protecting us. By consuming high quality food and eating when you are hungry, two important pillars of the paleo diet, you are working towards reducing overall inflammation in the body. Kept as lifestyle factors long-term, both of these are easy ways to not only feel better, but to maintain the weight your body is supposed to be.
We have all seen the pinterest keto diet pics, showing cheese and bacon breakfasts, bulletproof coffee, etc. It seems like it is too good to be true, does it not? Well spoiler alert, it is. Keto does not always emphasize high quality foods, and often people will stick to processed foods that are low carbohydrate but high in fat and protein. These types of foods are often full of unhealthy saturated fats and processed chemicals that increase the bodies levels of inflammation. Therefore those on the keto may loose weight from this low carbohydrate approach, but the results often are not sustainable as inflammation is prominent most of the time.
I am known for my honest opinions on “diet freedom” AKA, this doesn’t exist when you are on a fad diet. With paleo, I believe this is a true possibility. When I first started a paleo protocol, I had all of my food groups planned out precisely, but quantity was not an guideline. I was not limited to one apple a day; I ate as many apples as I wanted which allowed me to grow a healthy and non-restrictive mindset towards food. Food was no longer something I controlled, but rather I consumed when I wanted too, and it had the potential to make me feel good! Which was such an unknown concept to me at the time.
Paleo set me up for a long-term, sustainable healthy relationship with my body and with food, and that is something that I do not believe keto is capable of. I believe this because the obnoxious amount of monitoring that must be completed to understand when the body is in ketosis reallly forces you to track every single detail, which in return is known for enabling restrictive eating habits.
Learning More About What Foods Actually Work For You:
Instead of setting little strict boxes around various macronutrients quantities, paleo emphasizes overall food quality without restriction (at least these days it does. At one time, paleo was very restrictive but the community has grown to eliminate this dogmatic approach). Because you are able to experiment with higher carb, lower fat, or high fat and lower carb while using high quality foods you are able to understand which foods really work best for you without judgement. If you want to eat starchy carbs in the morning and higher fat at night, you CAN. And because paleo gently forces you to be in tune with your biochemistry it becomes a bit easier to understand which foods may not work for you.
For instance, I went a long time eating higher carbohydrate in the morning because it was what I had been taught on the standard american diet protocol. I also coincidentally struggled with extremely low energy levels in the morning for many years of my life. After understanding how my body processes carbohydrates in the morning, I was able to switch my macronutrient levels and discover I maintain much higher energy levels with a lower carbohydrate diet.
Instead of restricting your intake to just high fat and low carbohydrate, you are given the freedom with paleo to experiment with what actually works with your physiological needs.
Focusing on Lifestyle:
Important researchers in the paleo community have shown us the importance of exercise, sleep, and stress reduction in unison with eating whole foods as a trifecta for success. For instance, Sarah Ballantyne, the Paleo Mom, dedicated much of her time pulling together research on why sleep quality is absolutely necessary for a healthy lifestyle.
Figure out your underlying issues by taking stock of your body. What symptoms do you experience? When? For how long? How long have you had them? Take your answers to google and to the doctor. Get some tests done. Paleo is fantastic for healing, but a more targeted approach can help heal you all the faster. Then, the faster you heal your underlying problems, the faster you can lose weight.
Not Contributing to Negative Society Ideals of Weight Loss:
Paleo no longer is about “Loosing Weight” and more about how to maintain some balance amongst the world we live in today. How do we eat, live, breathe and move in a way that is about taking care of ourselves and our bodies, instead of damaging it to the extent where it looses weight out of pure stress? If you are ready to close the door on unhealthy lifestyle patterns and disordered eating, keto may not be for you.
In sum, keto is a restrictive diet approach that lacks informative long term studies proving its sustainable effects on weight loss. Those on keto most often will loose weight at the beginning of the diet; this is typically from water loss not fat loss. While having some positive benefits on physiological symptoms of disorders like epilepsy, we don’t have enough research to know that keto is safe long term. Keto also lacks the lifestyle factors that makes paleo the best and most sustainable option for weight loss. Paleo takes into account your lifestyle, encouraging mindset changes that make a long term impact vs the short term fad diet approach of keto.
I am always in favor of doing what is right for your body, and maybe keto is that option. However, for myself and most women I talk to, paleo teaches you the tools you need to live a healthy life, outside of making loosing weight the ultimate priority. When we step back, is the reason you are considering keto purely for weight loss? If so, I encourage you to understand where this need or thought to loose weight is coming from. Is it your own ideals, or are you listening to what society is trying to tell us to do? If it is the first, then I suggest checking out my program before diving headfirst into keto. You can read every one of my weight loss accelerating tips in the program I finally packaged together for you, Weight Loss Unlocked, here.