Benefits Beyond Weight Loss

When shifting from a conventional diet to a primal style, the major motivation for most people is usually weight loss.  This is understandable.  Most of us have a few pounds to shed and seeing the dial on the scale drop is an easy way to measure how well our lifestyle changes are working.  However, weight loss is an individual response and will take different amounts of time to achieve.  This can be particularly frustrating for those making huge eating and lifestyle changes when they don’t see any pounds immediately disappear.  The motivation to stay with it can easily be broken.

Then there are those who may not need to lose weight and dismiss any suggested eating changes as unnecessary because their weight is under control.

<em “mso-bidi-font-style:=””>Weight is only one indicator of health – a slim body may still be unhealthy.

Limiting the focus of a primal lifestyle to weight overlooks several positive benefits.  While weight loss is one by-product of eating primal, there are several other areas that also improve but may not be as measurable.

1.     Inflammation – This was the prime motivator for changing my diet.  For over 5 years I have suffered from nagging injuries relating to my running and triathlon training.  It turns out that my steady diet of pasta, cereal, bread and beans, and (not to mention copious amounts of junk food!) was contributing to keepingme injured!  An abundance of anti-nutrients in the supposedly healthy whole grains, combined with huge amounts of omega-6 in the packaged foods, was causing internal inflammation and preventing my damaged hamstring from recovering properly.

Within a month of adopting a primal diet my hamstring has improved to the point that I don’t even think about it anymore when I run.  While I’m steadily increasing my training load and intensity as I prepare for an Ironman triathlon this summer, I’m not getting the nagging effects of muscle soreness, swelling and joint pain that I always assumed were normal by-products of hard training.

2.     Reduced cravings – As mentioned above, my diet contained an abnormally high amount of junk food.  My nights usually consisted of a large meal full of “healthy whole grains” after a hard day of training, followed by huge cravings for potato chips, ice cream, candy or pop.  Obviously I knew this was bad for me but the habit was almost impossible to stop. I began to jokingly say that I was addicted to junk food.

Turns out that this is an accurate description! Gluten, a wheat protein, is broken down into polypeptides that produce the same effects in the brain as opiates like heroin and morphine!  Instead of satisfying a craving, each indulgence was spurring me on to eat even more.  Furthermore, my wheat-based diet was creating repeated insulin spikes and crashes, causing me to want to eat again after “healthy” meals.

Shifting to a primal diet has eliminated my day-to-day cravings.  All of the normal vices no longer seem appealing and any mid-afternoon or late-night hunger can be satisfied with veggies, fruit, nuts or seeds.  While it hasn’t had any effect on weight, the benefits of not eating all the sugar, trans fats and hydrogenated oils in the foods I have eliminated are certainly real.

3.     Increased energy – Besides wreaking havoc with my appetite, repeated insulin spikes from whole grains and refined sugars left me drained at the end of the day.  Due to insulin spikes in response to grain based foods the calories from your meals are fast-tracked to fat cells, and therefore not available as energy.  Have you ever wondered why you are so tired mid-morning, mid-afternoon and after work?  It’s because the food you are eating is not getting the chance to be used as fuel.  By cutting carbs and relying more on fats & protein, your energy levels will become more regulated throughout the day.  Instead of peaks & valleys in energy levels you get a sustained, constant use of food ingested – your meals literally take you further!

4.     More Muscle – Study after study has made it clear that weight loss is tied to two factors – diet and exercise.  For a person starting an exercise program, muscle gains can be made very quickly.  While few people would dispute that replacing body fat with muscle is a bad thing, it is important to realize that the quick muscle gains at the start of a program can actually increase overall body weight in the short term.  Again, this can be frustrating for the person focused solely on weight loss.  However, ask this question – if you could replace 3lbs of body fat with 4lbs of muscle, would you do it?  Darn right you would, even if the overall result is an extra pound of overall weight!

These are just some of the non-weight benefits of eating primal.  It really is an all-encompassing body change, both inside and outside.  Measurable, visual changes like weight are easy to see, but that doesn’t mean the less-quantifiable benefits aren’t important.

What changes have you noticed since starting your primal diet?