I haven’t eaten a Pop Tart since high school, and that does not make me a better human than anyone else. In every consult, I make sure to tell my clients that we cannot be attached to “Paleo.” Instead, we have to be attached to nutrient density and finding a diet that they can digest, assimilate, and eliminate without immune burden, and adhere to long-term. To start this journey we generally start with Auto-Immune Paleo, which is very restrictive and without taking a look at the big picture can lead to some really weird and unhealthy eating patterns.
Paleo is not flank steak and spaghetti squash for 4.75 days of the week and then a weekend of margaritas, corn tortillas, and making it rain Pop Tarts. That’s called partying.
What bothers me most in the Paleo community is the complete disregard for caloric density by authors and physicians. Yes, in a Paleolithic world, our hunger may have been more regulated, and we would go through periods of famine and plenty. But this is not the supermarket world we live in now, and to infer that if we go back in time with our diet, all of our hunger issues and cravings from blinking lights and constantly driving by Chik-fil-a will evaporate is a poor hypothesis. Environment matters, probably more than anything else. We have to educate our clients why Auto Immune Paleo or some other elimination diet is the best place to start. Then we have to give them a plan and make sure they don’t stray into a field of bacon with rivers of coconut oil, because otherwise shit like this happens.
How Paleo Made Me Fat…and Pop Tarts Got Me Shredded.
Here is where selection bias comes in. Dr. Layne Norton and I have the exact same degrees, yet he sees people who want to get shredded and are likely fairly robust. The resilience of the people I see varies immensely, but most of them have GI symptoms. I have copious amounts of respect for Dr. Norton and all those that can drive people to the bounds of their potential. There is always a cost, and I will never be the guy to get you insanely lean for a body building show, and if you want to do that, you should seek out the best. That degree of control and type A-ness is not where I live. What wakes me up in the morning is individualizing dietary and lifestyle protocols to drive health and performance.
“I am on day 18 of Auto Immune Paleo, supplements, 8 hours of sleep, less screen time, lots of water, and mindfulness. I feel really good! I officially have gone a week without any diarrhea for the first time in my life, and have constantly weighed 152 the last few days! I think the most life changing thing so far has been my anxiety! It has drastically decreased. I feel like I can function like a normal human now, and a pleasant one! Can’t wait to continue this journey. 🙂 Oh and for the first time in my life, these things people call abs have started to peak out. Thanks for everything you’ve done so far!!”
Pop Tarts and “cheating” were killing her. So what gives?
The above quote is from a 24 year old female with a family history of Autoimmune Disease and GI Symptoms. (She is also immune reactive to multiple epitopes of gliadin)
Let’s look at immunoreactivity testing.
Now let’s flip it. A 22 Year Old with No Family History of Autoimmune Disease and No GI Symptoms (I advised she not run Cyrex testing)
Let’s check out some others.
The panel above from a 17 year old with no GI symptoms, BUT 5 out of 8 of his immediate family members have an autoimmune condition and his fraternal twin brother has been diagnosed with Celiac Disease.
This last one is me. My father has Celiac Disease, my mother has Hashimoto’s, and my grandmother has MS. I am lucky. I pounded grains and other potentially reactive foods until I was about 22 and had constant GI symptoms. The conventional medical model wanted to put me on Prilosec forever. I have not knowingly consumed gluten in seven years, however I do absolutely fine with dairy (genetically and physiologically), rice, and corn. And these items have shown up consistently in my diet on training days when it is difficult for me to meet requirements with tubers and leafy greens (possible, but my jaw hurts, and I won’t adhere long-term). On non-training days, I eat “clean” and take all the grains out, not because of how it makes me feel, but because it naturally lowers my carb intake on the days where I don’t need as much. It works for me, and it has for a long time.
I am not naïve enough to think that what works for me is the answer for all mankind. However, I do believe in the elimination and reintroduction process. I also believe that those with consistent GI symptoms should not be eating pop tarts, and that the risks of pop tart consumption far outweigh any potential benefit for those with an autoimmune disease or family history of auto-immunity.
You might think that this may not be a lot of people, BUT more than 60 million Americans have chronic constipation, 136 million suffer from a GI infection, and 20% of the country has reflux symptoms, and over 50 million Americans have an overt autoimmunity. That’s a lot of people whose only benefit from pop tarts is getting to look normal in our current environment. The risks involve contracting or flaring a life long disease or never letting your GI tract heal. On the flip side, with avoiding pop tarts, there is also the risk for building a disordered eating pattern, which comes from an attachment that somehow moderation of sugar laden wheat is healthier or needed. If you are reactive, you can not have a little bit of anything that causes you symptoms or you are immunoreactive to. Maybe down the line (3 to 6 months), once immune tolerance is re-established and borders are sealed, you can re-test or play a bit more.
The elimination approach is the gold standard in research, and even the food antibody testing modalities above will not pick up all food intolerances. For example, you could have a carbohydrate, FODMAP, sulfur, etc intolerance for many other reasons. You could also have an IgE response like a post nasal drip from dairy or death by peanuts, which would need to be investigated via skin testing. Or you could not do well with protein because your meal hygiene is atrocious or you have low HCl due to mitochondrial damage or a sluggish thyroid.
My goal of this post was just to present the other side, and to applaud the validity of the point that not everyone has food immunoreactivities, and that someone could in fact get very impressive results without a “Paleo” approach and that many DO! If you want more info on the immunoreactivity side, read everything by Aristo Vajdani and Alessio Fasano. I have also wrote a two part series here.
The testing above is from Cyrex Labs. I make no money on ordering food immunoreactivity panels, and I have no financial connection to Cyrex. Furthermore, I only ask patients to spend the money on this type of testing when the need is there. This testing also does not take the place of a proper elimination and reintroduction protocol. The ultimate goal is always eating the highest quality, nutrient dense food that we can afford, and for some people, a pop tart post training may not even rock the ship, but for others it could sink them into an immune tail spin for 3 to 6 months.
The Auto-Immune Paleo Approach propagated by Dr. Sarah Ballantyne is amazing, it involves eating real food, hopefully mostly plants, and then appropriate portions of protein and fats. There is also the Supplemental Paleo-Mediterrean Diet founded by Dr. Alex Vasquez which may be a better starting point for folks who are less at risk.
Paleo is the starting point, it could also be the end, but that all depends on the individual. What foods they react to, their training regiment, their health history, and what they will adhere to realistically long term.