Backpacking through South America five years ago, I met an Adonis.
As I arrived at a whitewater-rafting trip one early morning, I stared in awe at a tall, shirtless blond who was smiling and buzzing with energy. Unlike my typical crushes, the object of my admiration was not a woman. It was a Greek god.
The man was an eccentric pharmacist from the United States named Kirk. He was an enigma – super scientific, but also kind of a bro. I felt drawn to him.
I was bursting with questions about how he possessed such a muscular and lean body.
Kirk and I became instant friends, and we traveled together for the next few weeks through Colombia. During meals, I watched him pass on the majority of refined carbohydrates that he was offered. Instead, he ate fistfuls of meat, plates of vegetables and tablespoons of butter, which he consumed like ice cream. I was confused yet intrigued.
Kirk became the first person to educate me about the importance of eating healthy fats and obtaining butter and meat from grass-fed sources. He also taught me about negative effects of grains on the body. He fed me scientific and evolutionary reasons for all of his puzzling choices, and I was hungry to learn.
Without either of us realizing it, Kirk was inspiring my current approach to nutrition: the paleo diet. I had heard of the diet before but had thought that it sounded – like many other diets out there – stupid. It focuses on fats, proteins, fruits and vegetables and eliminates dairy, grains and processed foods. No bread, no rice, no candy and no fun!
A Body Transformed
The paleo diet defied most of what I had heard about nutrition. For years, I had followed popular recommendations: I ate plenty of carbohydrates, a moderate amount of protein and limited quantities of fat.
My physique was average, and my energy levels varied daily. I lifted weights multiple times per week but had little to show for it aesthetically. Like many others, I had limiting beliefs about my body and health. I assumed that I lacked the appropriate genes to look and to feel fit and vibrant.
I was wrong. When I started to eat more like Kirk, I began to transform.
I am a why guy. So when I hear about new ways to approach eating or exercising, I want to know whether they work and why. For me, the paleo diet has worked.
Why the paleo diet has worked for me:
I had been calculating my diet using a popular equation: Eat more calories than you expend, and you will gain weight. Eat fewer calories than you expend, and you will lose weight.
This strategy is flawed. If it were effective, millions of Americans would not be overweight, and preventable diseases would not be at an all-time high.
The key is that a calorie is not just a number that you can plug into an equation. What you eat affects your body more than the number of calories that you eat.
I had been eating a lot of calories to gain weight and muscle, but I did not look or feel strong because most of them had come from processed foods. As a result, my strength, energy, performance, immune system and brain functioned below par.
Processed foods, such as bread, pasta, cheese and ice cream, tend to be calorically dense, meaning they pack a lot of calories per gram. They fill your stomach but offer little nutritional value for your body to thrive on.
Removing highly processed foods from my diet forced me to replace them with new types of calories. I began to fuel my body with minimally processed and nutrient-dense foods, such as lean meats, vegetables and healthy fats.
Within a few months of replacing the types of calories that I was eating:
- My body composition drastically changed. My body fat decreased, while my muscle mass increased. I began to look physically different.
- My immune system strengthened. All my life I had suffered from constant colds and illnesses. In the past five years, I have had only a few minor colds and have not touched antibiotics or flu shots.
- The terrible acne on my back disappeared. My skin looked healthier, younger and more vibrant.
- My strength increased. I was able to put on more muscle and to recover faster from workouts.
- My ability to focus improved, and my mind got clearer.
At 32, I am stronger, leaner, healthier and more energetic than I was at 22. You can be too.
I have guided various wellness clients through transformations similar to mine. Rather than restrict their calories, they learn how to seek them from nutrient-dense foods.
It is funny now to think that I was surprised by the results of shifting my focus from calories to nutrients. But I get it. We are told that processed foods are not that bad for us and that we can eat poorly and still expect to feel OK.
I also get that undoing this belief can be challenging. Eating healthily is simple, but that does not mean that it is always easy. Here is what easy will get you, though: a hard future. It is easy to not eat well. It is hard to live with the results.
Putting in the work now to transform how you fuel your body can be hard in the short term. The decades of vibrant health that your work will yield, however, will make your life easier. Also, I was just kidding about the no fun part.
Focus on nutrients rather than calories in your diet, and notice what changes. Every body is unique, so experiment to find the combination of foods that supports how you want to feel and to look. It may not mirror Kirk’s diet or my diet. But know that you are capable of finding the diet that transforms you and your health.
The choice is yours: Choose to transform now and reap the benefits later. Or, choose not to. In my experience, the hard path now will become the easier path later. Which path do you want to follow?
If you crave the path to transformation, contact me today to schedule a free 30-minute phone consultation about your health goals. I am currently offering a 30-percent discount to new clients who enroll in my on-line wellness coaching program that incorporates improved nutrition.
Nick Palladino-King teaches students and clients how to reduce stress, to increase happiness and to elevate health through yoga, wellness coaching and strength training.