• The #1 Thing to Ditch From Your Diet Right Now

    The #1 Thing To Ditch From Your Diet Right Now | stupideasypaleo.com

    Go ahead. Take a guess at what the #1 thing to ditch right now from your diet is.

    Is it gluten? (Surely, since it damages the gut lining.)

    How about sugar? (Must be it. It’s the one thing we know we should limit.)

    Dairy? (Inflammatory for so many folks.)

    Legumes? (Lots of carbs with less nutrition.)

    Alcohol? (All the calories with none of the stuff that makes us healthier.)

    While I’d argue that the food listed should be avoided from your nutritional approach on a daily basis, there’s one that’s worse. The #1 thing to ditch from your diet right now is….

    STRESS.

    Stress over food choices. Stress over being food-perfect. Stress over every little thing that goes onto your plate. (Let’s all take a deep breath, shall we?)

    Recently, I wrote an article called Paleo On A Budget and couldn’t get over how many people expressed RELIEF after reading it. RELIEF! It was like they were absolved of the need to be perfect or live outside their means. Food choices are literally stressing people out. Who really wants to live that way? Of course, if you absolutely cannot eat a certain food for physical reasons or you’re doing a 30-day clean-eating plan such as Whole30, the point is to buckle down in certain areas so you can learn about yourself. But that’s not a way to live long-term, especially when you feel stressed as a result. Before we talk about how to shift your perspective to a healthier one, let’s investigate a bit more about stress.

    When You Think Stress, Think Cortisol

    Hormones carry chemical messages throughout your body, and their balance is critical. One of these, cortisol, is often nicknamed the stress hormone. And while you often hear about it in a negative context—as in being too high, it’s a hormone important to a normally functioning body. You want it to work correctly at the right time.

    What’s cortisol responsible for? It’s released by the adrenal glands—they sit on top of our kidneys—in response to stress of the physical AND mental variety. When you experience something stressful, whether it’s a car wreck, a fight with your spouse or a really hard training session, cortisol increases in response. It’s not responsible for the immediate “my heart is racing” feeling adrenalin produces. Rather, it’s a response that takes minutes to kick in. Normally, these temporary bumps in cortisol help make small amounts of glucose (through a process called gluconeogenesis), ramp up your immune system and help you focus mentally. Why? If there’s truly a dangerous or threatening situation present, your body needs to mobilize to deal with it.

    [Aside: Also, cortisol levels are closely tied to our 24-hour circadian rhythm. Normally, it ramps up as morning approaches and reaches its peak, which helps us feel alert and awake. Then it tapers off mid-morning and should be at its lowest in the evening as melatonin—the hormone that helps put us to sleep—is at its peak.]

    When It All Goes Wrong

    Our bodies are designed to deal with an acute stressful event and then to come down from that heightened state. Get stressed. Relax. Repeat. Here’s the problem: In our modern lives, we are constantly under stress, both real and perceived, physical and mental. We aren’t designed to endure stressful events with such frequency—and here’s the kicker—without letting ourselves decompress.

    When cortisol is elevated long-term (chronically), a burden is placed on the adrenal glands, and all sorts of undesirable conditions result. (Think decreased bone density, accumulation of belly fat and dysregulated thyroid to name a few.) This chronic elevation of cortisol is also what gives you that “tired but wired” feeling at night when you can’t wind down.

    The Diet Connection

    Not only can food choices / behaviors affect cortisol levels—intermittent fasting and very low carb approaches are just two examples—the simple act of how we THINK about food can be a form of psychological stress. If you’re worrying about what you eat (and that stress occurs often), you’re creating a completely unnecessary cortisol response.

    “But, Is [Insert Food Here] Paleo?”

    It’s a really common question readers ask, and one that causes stress if it’s something folks focus on as they live a Paleo lifestyle. After all, Paleo’s not meant to be a quick fix diet with rules like, “Drink X ounces of water with X tablespoons of lemon juice and X teaspoons of maple syrup.” (By the way, that diet is dumb.) You want a general Paleo framework to figure out how to navigate your life and help improve your health and well-being. I get that. But stressing out about whether every morsel of food that passes your lips is Paleo really sucks. Please hear me clearly: I want you to make the best possible choices long-term and select foods that are whole and nutrient-dense on a daily basis for optimal results. What I don’t want you to do is to stress out that you heard balsamic vinegar isn’t Paleo so now you worry every time you put it on your salad.

    What About Other Types of Food Stress?

    Can’t afford grass-fed meat so you eat lean cuts of conventionally raised meat instead? That’s fine. Can’t shell out for pastured eggs so you eat regular eggs? Good. I’d rather have you eat them for the protein than relying on legumes as a protein source. Do the best you can with what you eat based on what you can reasonably afford. Stressing out because the highest-budget foods are out of reach is not contributing positively to your health. More on budget here.

    If you come from a background of traditional dieting—you know, that thing of where you’ve been on a diet for most of your adult life—worrying about the number of calories you’re eating or the amount of fat on your plate (oh, the horror!) is definitely a form of stress. If you’re looking and feeling better with Paleo, stop obsessing about every bite that goes into your mouth. Take all that energy and pour it into something positive. Your life will improve tremendously. (I speak from personal experience on that one.)

    Set Yourself Straight

    Look yourself in the mirror and ask if the way you’re managing your nutrition is causing you stress. If you’re trying to micromanage it to the point that eating feels stressful, there’s a good chance you need to change your approach. Yes, be aware and do your best daily. Yes, prioritize good food choices. Yes, check yourself when suboptimal food choices outweigh the optimal ones. But when you feel such a sense of perfectionism that you’re unable to do Paleo in a more healthy, less stressed manner, it’s time to step back and reassess.

    When what to eat causes you stress, it can’t possibly help you support the best possible health.

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    Sources

    • http://www.psychosomaticmedicine.org/content/57/5/468.short
    • http://press.endocrine.org/doi/abs/10.1210/jcem-33-1-14
    • http://biomedgerontology.oxfordjournals.org/content/54/9/M479.short
    • http://press.endocrine.org/doi/abs/10.1210/jcem-63-6-1257
    • http://europepmc.org/abstract/MED/8680455

    What do you think? Leave your comment below!

    Steph Gaudreau is a certified holistic nutrition practitioner, weightlifting and mindset coach, and the author of the best-selling Performance Paleo Cookbook. Her recipes and expert advice have been featured in SELF, Outside Magazine, Elle, and Greatist. Steph loves barbells, cats, and anything Lord of the Rings. She lives in San Diego, CA.

    46 thoughts on “The #1 Thing to Ditch From Your Diet Right Now

    1. OMG OMG OMG this has to be one of the best non-food articles you’ve sent my way! In reading it I have just experienced that ‘off the hook’ feeling, that feeling of relief you talk about, a feeling of forgiveness and redemption at not being perfect. I am a perfectionist by nature, I’m unfortunately a 100% or nothing gal, it’s a good thing in some areas and a terrible attribute to have in others. I love how you put your posts together but sometimes with these websites the reader can feel inferior to the blogger. I don’t know about others but I can sometimes feel that I’m not as good as them, can’t do it as well as them, struggle to figure it out and have all the answers like them, they are like the righteous gang that I’ll never belong to. So with a huge UK hug from me I thank you for this blog that seems to connect with me, the reader, at a level where I’m not intimidated and preached to. I got a lot from this at a time when I really needed it. Hope you miss us here in Olé Blighty, take care of you Steph. With love Janine x

    2. I love this post. This is what I keep trying to convey to friends and family and you have said it so eloquently. Thank you! I am going to post a link to this on my blog.

    3. Thanks for this post. I think everyone needs this reminder at some point during their journey. Initially I found myself obsessing about where my meat came from when I ate out at restaurants. This took all of the pleasure out of the experience for me. I have since learned that all I can do is educate myself and make the best possible choices with what I have. The world isn’t going to end because there is conventionally raised chicken on my salad. In other aspects, I have found that paleo has set me free. I am free from worrying about things like counting calories and fat grams, and what the number on the scale says. Years of struggling with my weight and self-esteem seems so silly now. All I had to do was listen to my body.

    4. What do I think? 🙂 That you’re absolutely amazing! FANTASTIC Sunday read! I could read about our bodily hormones all day! Thanks for the great post again, love 🙂 <3

      xoxo

    5. Great article! I haven’t made my full transition to paleo just yet but it’s happening this month. After reading your article, it put me at ease a little bit as far as doing what I can and to be okay with it. By no means do I think I will be a perfectionist in paleo (college fashion student here, gotta have wine at times), but I plan to try and commit as best as I can. I truly love your website and I’ve been learning so much from all the content you put on here!

    6. This was written at a perfect time for me! I just had a meltdown on Friday about what to eat and was so stressed this put it all back on perspective for me and remember what’s important! Thanks for the advice!

    7. I agree- perfectly timed post. As part of my re-setting for this year, I attempted a paleo-type detox (…). (I’ll add that I roughly adhere to a paleo-type diet the last 1.5 years.) It was stressing me out SO MUCH I had to stop. I knowingly ate a burrito, and it was so effing good. I recognize my stress in all areas of life and this article again highlights why despite my clean eating, I am still not living for optimal health. (I also know that my stress-levels are way to high for the actual life situations I am presented with.) Now I have to figure out how to address and alleviate this stress. Tips for that?? Thanks for a great post, as always!

    8. Thank you for this! I follow you on Instagram, but rarely check your blog! I am so glad I did today because I did stress about the fact that I made a poor food-choice this afternoon. I decided to re-do a whole30 just to reset myself and NOT stress about little cravings.

    9. you noted that long term elevated cortisol effects/lead to such things as accumulation of belly fat….my wife and I try our best to follow Paleo and my wife works out daily, but over the last month or 2, she has been gaining weight, specifically her midsection. the only thing we can think is that high levels of stress (she is studying for the bar exam) is jacking with her whole system and this is how her body is responding. I am having a hard time finding research on how how long term elevated corisol levels can effect metabolism and accumulation of belly fat. do you know of any research on this? we both believe her body will return to normal once she is done with the bar exam but it would help if there was research/data out there to support our theory . thanks!

      1. Hi Dan,

        Do some searches in Google Scholar…you’ll find lots of primary sources that discuss the effects of cortisol 🙂

    10. Thank you – this was done just the other day!! I had a call from my GP. I have been working with him to lose the extra baggage I have been carrying around: high cholesterol, high blood pressure, extra pounds. Have gotten the cholesterol down where he wants it – off meds; BP is normal, off meds; now my blood sugar is up to pre-diabetic and weight is NOT coming off no matter what I do. I told him this and that I was just going to take a breather then start again hard. Well, when I lost the stress, 5 pounds came off just like that. I did not change back to a crazy stupid eating lifestyle but just did not watch closely what I was putting in like I had been. Got on the scales and 5 pounds! wow. Now I was thinking perhaps plateaus are just stress??? and we need a breather? That is what I am thinking. Anyway, thanks for a thought provoking message.

    11. Wonderful point! Thoughts come first. I would suggest though that it’s worth budgeting a bit extra for the better food choices. Cook at home to save money. Eat the healthier choices, whether you want grass fed beef, or raw foods, whatever you feel is right for your body. It really pays in the long run to eat healthier it’s a worthy investment.

    12. Thank you for this post. I am just starting on my journey towards Paleo, and I have been feeling very stressed about it. I LOVE bread and cereal. That’s what sounds good in the morning to me. Not eggs and veggies. So breakfast time is stressful for me. I almost don’t want to eat it because I dread having to eat what I don’t want to. I just want to a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast or pancakes on the weekends with my kids. I would like to transition to Paleo though because I have a lot of digestive and constipation issues, and I would like to see if Paleo helps. Any thoughts on transitioning without stressing myself out?

      1. Hi Katie! Yours is a common concern for sure, and I assure you, no foods are “breakfast only” or “dinner only”…we’re just conditioned to believe that by our culture. The good news is that with some baby steps, you can probably turn your digestion issues around because the grains you’re eating may be making that worse. Check out my article here about how to ease into things: http://stupideasypaleo.com/2014/02/16/going-paleo-cold-turkey-or-gradual-change/. Wishing you the best!

    13. It’s funny because I work in nutrition but I end up addressing stress with every single client, it’s such a huge part of getting people healthy. I have continually been impressed by the changes people make in health and fat loss when addressing sleep and stress!

    14. Excellent article; I really need to relax. I just completed Dr. Hyman’s Eat Fat, Get Thin 21-day Plan and I feel great, but I am stressing about gaining back my weight. Maybe, someone can explain the use of raw honey in this diet. I am really looking forward to transitioning/practicing Paleo food choices, but once again, I am stressing about the sweets. Help?

      1. Sometimes sweeteners are okay when used in moderation. If I were going to choose one, it would be raw honey because it’s the most unprocessed…and that’s why I recommend it in my recipes to help balance flavor.

        That’s the tricky part about any 21- or 30-day diet or plan…it makes you dependent on the rules to relieve stress for you.

        The way to lower the stress about deciding whether to make sweets is to decide not to make them. Simple. If you’re trying to build your health back up, they don’t really have a place as a regular feature in that pursuit anyway.

        Also, I’d challenge you not to focus on weight loss in the first place, but rather, gaining health. Which feels more / less stressful? Read more about it here: http://stephgaudreau.com/weight-loss-health-gain/

    15. For the first time in my life I’m not stressing out about my diet. I’ve made a change. I don’t even know if it’s technically “Paleo”, but it’s working for me. I’m trying to eat grain and wheat free with lots of veggies, lean meats, fruit here or there, and a little stinky cheese for good measure. All that being said I’m not freaking out or being militant about it. This weekend I didn’t notice that rice came in the salad I ordered at lunch. I ate around it as best as I could, but feel fine with the little bit of rice that snuck in my bites. 🙂 I’m also not trying to go crazy gourmet every day and every meal. Batch cooking works for me. This week I’m not getting to batch cooking until Monday night rather than Sunday night. Oh well! It all works. We all had healthy salads we could throw together for lunch, and I whipped up a big batch of eggs and turkey sausage for breakfast. I wanted to have peppers as well, but my 5 year old won’t eat them so I compromised. 5% of possible “wrong” food is not going to undo the 95% of mostly “right” food I’ve eaten all week! Stress-free eating is definitely the way to go.

    16. Love, love, love this messaging. I think the focus on eating perfect is becoming almost religious like we think we’re actually better humans if we clean up our diets. It’s also bad on the flip side of people blindly eating foods that are labeled Paleo and thinking it’s healthy even though it’s cookies or a doughnut. Which isn’t bad, but understanding what food really is and what it does in your body is more important than the label we’ve given some food. Excellent post.

    17. Great article!!! I was recently diagnosed with inflammation of the large intestines. The doctor told me it was colitis, but don’t know what caused it. Since then I have been cutting out gluten & dairy as part of an elimination diet, and then will work to test out foods. It has been easier than I originally imagined, but still stressful when trying to pick places to eat and not be “that person” to your friends & family. Great article! Agree with it on so many levels… you can’t fix everything overnight, but one step in the right direction every day is something that can easily be accomplished!

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