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How to get through college studying on paleo ?

Answered on September 12, 2014
Created November 14, 2012 at 7:01 PM

I'm recently returning from a period of lazy, horrible non-paleo eating. It was really more like a two month bender that brought back dairy, pasta, and all their wonderful friends.

Anyway, needless to say I've gone from 10 percent body fat to something like 18 and I'd like to trim back down to where I was. I would also love to go back to feeling satiated pretty much around the clock, unlike on my heavy carb diet that leaves me hungry within hours of eating.

The only problem I've run into is that I seem to lose some of my mental focus, memory, and general cognitive ability taking away all my carb or at least the ones from grains, rice, and fruit. I'm a college student with a pretty heavy load and I definitely need to study 1-2 hours a day if not more. I don't remember feeling this fogged up and unable to think when I first went paleo back in January. Any thoughts?

Someone recommended BCAA's, but I don't know what that has to do with cognition. From what I understand, my brain is feeling a deprivation of immediately available glucose. Even if I become more fat or protein adapted, I was told it's more "work" for my body to turn use this macros as energy for my brain than normal glucose from sugars or starches.

If there's any way around this please let me know. I would really like to go paleo again because I felt SO much better than I currently do, but I can't afford to look at the same math or accounting problem four or five times without understanding it. I don't have this problem when I eat a higher carb diet. Maybe it's temporary while my body adjusts again? Any supporting studies would be helpful. Thanks.

D05f3050dc3d973b8b81a876202fa99a

(1533)

on November 18, 2012
at 05:55 PM

Haven't looked at the article, but I will shortly. Thanks a lot for this answer ! Looking at the past month I can tell that what you're describing was definitely going on. Three days strong on a fairly strict paleo regime, followed by an attempt at some school work and giving into chocolate or donut. I remember I rarely even looked at those foods when I first tried the paleo diet earlier in the year, but like you said my glucose gets depleted and I'm not yet ketone-adapted and I just crash and burn. I've been doing this every week for a month now. Thanks again for the links !

D05f3050dc3d973b8b81a876202fa99a

(1533)

on November 18, 2012
at 05:52 PM

Thanks! I know people respond differently to lower carb diets so what works for you might not work for me but this is encouraging. I hadn't considered that my fat might be too low. I'll probably throw in some more almonds and maybe an avocado with my eggs. I think that should bring my fat value up significantly. Do you think a 60/40 split on fat/protein would be better than maybe the opposite of that? Obviously I'll continue to get carbs from vegetables in addition to that.

518bce04b12cd77741237e1f61075194

(11577)

on November 16, 2012
at 12:33 AM

Sigh, remember the days when we said "low carb is good for some people, high carb is good for some people, and most people are somewhere in the middle". Now we don't just stop with suggesting changes, that may or may not be useful, we tell people who have different things work for them that they are in denial.

Ed71ab1c75c6a9bd217a599db0a3e117

(25472)

on November 15, 2012
at 03:31 PM

http://www.jackkruse.com/the-change-rx/ Keep at it and do not give up.

1edb06ded9ccf098a4517ca4a7a34ebc

(14952)

on November 14, 2012
at 10:49 PM

You might also want to look into something like the Warrior Diet or carb-backloading. Those strategies allow higher carb consumption in a way that seems fairly efficient and not quite mainstream yet. Basically, eat light during the day (yogurt, soft boiled eggs, berries, nuts, light salads) and then a heavier, starchier meal at night with meat/fish vegetables (emphasis on cruciferous vegetables for the Warrior Diet), and some starchy carbs (like tubers). That's generally how I eat, just I don't include the starchy carbs every night of the week.

1edb06ded9ccf098a4517ca4a7a34ebc

(14952)

on November 14, 2012
at 10:35 PM

No one ever got fat off of berries. Trust me. So if you want to keep some in on rest days, that shouldn't be a problem. Also, if you perform glycogen depleting, intense weight lifting sessions, your body will just turn any extra carbs into energy, allowing more protein/amino acids to be used for tissue repair (which means you getting leaner, which means you can tolerate carbs better, and the cycle continues).

1edb06ded9ccf098a4517ca4a7a34ebc

(14952)

on November 14, 2012
at 10:29 PM

"tubular vegetables." LOL. Yeah man that's good. I hit about 150 grams (1 gram of carbs/lb of bodyweight) on my higher carb days. Works well for me.

D05f3050dc3d973b8b81a876202fa99a

(1533)

on November 14, 2012
at 10:24 PM

Perfect. I'll see how that works for me. I'll probably try to keep it "higher" (in the context of paleo or primal eating) on workout days (MWF) and try to hit maybe 100-200 grams via tubular vegetables and berries. Then on my rest days I think I'll keep it to a VLC standard of 50 or so grams unless I'm feeling bogged down in which case I'll toss back some berries. Thanks.

1edb06ded9ccf098a4517ca4a7a34ebc

(14952)

on November 14, 2012
at 10:23 PM

I think there's a reason kids constantly crush cans of sugary energy drinks and juice during exam weeks. It actually does provide biological relief to mental stress and allows us to endure more of it before giving up.

1edb06ded9ccf098a4517ca4a7a34ebc

(14952)

on November 14, 2012
at 10:22 PM

I think there's a reason kids constantly crush cans of sugary energy drinks and juice during exam weeks. It actually does provide biological relief to mental stress.

1edb06ded9ccf098a4517ca4a7a34ebc

(14952)

on November 14, 2012
at 10:21 PM

I eat a lot of berries for carbs, but I realize that can be expensive or hard sometimes. I like oranges a lot too. On higher carb days I'll end up eating more fruit (usually in the form of berries and oranges), more things like carrots and beets, and sometimes some starchier foods (whatever, potatoes, sweet potatoes, quinoa, sushi, etc).

1edb06ded9ccf098a4517ca4a7a34ebc

(14952)

on November 14, 2012
at 10:19 PM

OH, gotcha. Well, kale, cucumber, and spinach are very low calorie, so you'll likely have to do more than that. But still, adding more of them is fine, as they do have other benefits besides calories (nutrition). Every carb counts, and the way I like to get my most frequent sources of carbs is through fresh berries, tomatoes, peppers, beets and shredded carrots (make great salad toppings). I also like making citrus salad dressings with lemon juice and olive oil or lemon and orange juice + olive oil.

D05f3050dc3d973b8b81a876202fa99a

(1533)

on November 14, 2012
at 09:45 PM

By study I meant learning new material or reviewing the old - not doing homework, papers, projects, or any type of assignments. That's why I said "if not more" - generally that's a good minimum average daily time for me. On days I have more work, this issue seems even more pronounced. So you think upping my vegetables will help? Maybe kale, cucumber, peppers, spinach, things along those lines?

D05f3050dc3d973b8b81a876202fa99a

(1533)

on November 14, 2012
at 09:42 PM

I was thinking of doing some type of "carb cycle" - I lift heavy Mon, Wed, and Fri so I was thinking of throwing a banana or two in on those days and keeping it standard "low carb" on the rest days. Bananas are probably the most paleo friendly fruit that's going to give me a bump in glucose right?

1edb06ded9ccf098a4517ca4a7a34ebc

(14952)

on November 14, 2012
at 08:25 PM

Oh, okay, I'll just leave it as VLC (high fat) dieters apparently suffer from ego depletion, and leave the denial part out of it.

8d6390b3b8991a9cb653a3d13c1cbf6a

(543)

on November 14, 2012
at 08:19 PM

"VLC (high fat) dieters apparently not only suffer from ego depletion, but also denial." This statement reminds me a bit of the witch trials: if someone was accused of witchcraft, having witnesses saying you weren't even there at the time was insufficient, as such a statement simply proved you must be a witch since only a witch could be in two locations at once. So either VLC folks admit they have a problem, or deny it, which is also evidence of a problem. Fascinating.

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10 Answers

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1
100fd85230060e754fc13394eee6d6f1

(18706)

on November 15, 2012
at 07:07 AM

Once you're keto-adapted, much of your brain will use ketones for fuel. Before you adapt, there is a period when your brain can't access much glucose, but ketone production is still low. That often feels uncomfortable. This will pass quickly, as long as you are keeping carbs low enough. However, if you add some carbs back, it could prevent keto-adaptation, and perpetuate the problem.

You might be interested in my keto-adaptation article. Besides explaining more about the above, there is a relevant aside in the references section about a study on low carb diets and cognition. It shows that except for the part where the researchers were testing something before keto-adaption had had time to occur, the keto dieters had cognitive abilities as good or better than the other, low-fat dieters.

Your brain will still use some glucose, but your body is perfectly adept at keeping your blood sugar in the right range to keep up with those needs. It's not too much "work". It's a normal process.

D05f3050dc3d973b8b81a876202fa99a

(1533)

on November 18, 2012
at 05:55 PM

Haven't looked at the article, but I will shortly. Thanks a lot for this answer ! Looking at the past month I can tell that what you're describing was definitely going on. Three days strong on a fairly strict paleo regime, followed by an attempt at some school work and giving into chocolate or donut. I remember I rarely even looked at those foods when I first tried the paleo diet earlier in the year, but like you said my glucose gets depleted and I'm not yet ketone-adapted and I just crash and burn. I've been doing this every week for a month now. Thanks again for the links !

2
3491e51730101b18724dc57c86601173

(8395)

on November 14, 2012
at 10:57 PM

Getting carbs out of my diet and replacing them with fat has cleared my mind and enhanced my focus. Plus, without the insulin spikes and the blood sugar roller coaster, I didn't have to constantly interrupt my studying with constant hunger, low blood sugar mood swings, and need to eat every few hours. I can go HOURS without a break, at full tilt, because my blood sugar stays steady and even. I got through a doctoral program on very few carbs and graduated second in my class.

If you aren't feeling satiated, you might want to check to see that you're eating enough fat and not excess protein (which can be metabolized to glucose if you eat too much protein).

D05f3050dc3d973b8b81a876202fa99a

(1533)

on November 18, 2012
at 05:52 PM

Thanks! I know people respond differently to lower carb diets so what works for you might not work for me but this is encouraging. I hadn't considered that my fat might be too low. I'll probably throw in some more almonds and maybe an avocado with my eggs. I think that should bring my fat value up significantly. Do you think a 60/40 split on fat/protein would be better than maybe the opposite of that? Obviously I'll continue to get carbs from vegetables in addition to that.

2
1edb06ded9ccf098a4517ca4a7a34ebc

on November 14, 2012
at 07:52 PM

Actually, there are studies on ego-depletion that suggest our system II brain function (the part that makes us human- responsible for complex, calculated, and deliberate thought) is highly glycolytic. In fact, in repeated System 2 tasks, people drinking splenda lemonade significantly underperform against their glucose-lemonade drinking test group. Quite simply, they experience what is called ego-depletion- essentially they get mentally lazy and give an intuitive (system 1) response that needs to be overcome to achieve the correct answer (which can only be provided by tapping into system 2 brain function).

So, if you can't concentrate or learn at the rate you wish on a low carb diet, the latest scientific research suggests a logical reason for it.

For more information on ego-depletion, you can read some of Roy Baumeister's or (Nobel Prize winning) Daniel Kahneman's work.

VLC (high fat) dieters apparently not only suffer from ego depletion, but also denial.

P.S. 1-2 hours is not a heavy workload for a college student. Also, the reason you probably felt so much better eating lower carb was because you were eating more protein and vegetables and less fake and refined things. Just keep quality proteins and vegetables in your diet all the time, and and replace some of the extra fat that you were adding before with extra produce (carbs).

1edb06ded9ccf098a4517ca4a7a34ebc

(14952)

on November 14, 2012
at 10:29 PM

"tubular vegetables." LOL. Yeah man that's good. I hit about 150 grams (1 gram of carbs/lb of bodyweight) on my higher carb days. Works well for me.

8d6390b3b8991a9cb653a3d13c1cbf6a

(543)

on November 14, 2012
at 08:19 PM

"VLC (high fat) dieters apparently not only suffer from ego depletion, but also denial." This statement reminds me a bit of the witch trials: if someone was accused of witchcraft, having witnesses saying you weren't even there at the time was insufficient, as such a statement simply proved you must be a witch since only a witch could be in two locations at once. So either VLC folks admit they have a problem, or deny it, which is also evidence of a problem. Fascinating.

1edb06ded9ccf098a4517ca4a7a34ebc

(14952)

on November 14, 2012
at 10:22 PM

I think there's a reason kids constantly crush cans of sugary energy drinks and juice during exam weeks. It actually does provide biological relief to mental stress.

1edb06ded9ccf098a4517ca4a7a34ebc

(14952)

on November 14, 2012
at 10:49 PM

You might also want to look into something like the Warrior Diet or carb-backloading. Those strategies allow higher carb consumption in a way that seems fairly efficient and not quite mainstream yet. Basically, eat light during the day (yogurt, soft boiled eggs, berries, nuts, light salads) and then a heavier, starchier meal at night with meat/fish vegetables (emphasis on cruciferous vegetables for the Warrior Diet), and some starchy carbs (like tubers). That's generally how I eat, just I don't include the starchy carbs every night of the week.

518bce04b12cd77741237e1f61075194

(11577)

on November 16, 2012
at 12:33 AM

Sigh, remember the days when we said "low carb is good for some people, high carb is good for some people, and most people are somewhere in the middle". Now we don't just stop with suggesting changes, that may or may not be useful, we tell people who have different things work for them that they are in denial.

D05f3050dc3d973b8b81a876202fa99a

(1533)

on November 14, 2012
at 10:24 PM

Perfect. I'll see how that works for me. I'll probably try to keep it "higher" (in the context of paleo or primal eating) on workout days (MWF) and try to hit maybe 100-200 grams via tubular vegetables and berries. Then on my rest days I think I'll keep it to a VLC standard of 50 or so grams unless I'm feeling bogged down in which case I'll toss back some berries. Thanks.

1edb06ded9ccf098a4517ca4a7a34ebc

(14952)

on November 14, 2012
at 10:35 PM

No one ever got fat off of berries. Trust me. So if you want to keep some in on rest days, that shouldn't be a problem. Also, if you perform glycogen depleting, intense weight lifting sessions, your body will just turn any extra carbs into energy, allowing more protein/amino acids to be used for tissue repair (which means you getting leaner, which means you can tolerate carbs better, and the cycle continues).

1edb06ded9ccf098a4517ca4a7a34ebc

(14952)

on November 14, 2012
at 08:25 PM

Oh, okay, I'll just leave it as VLC (high fat) dieters apparently suffer from ego depletion, and leave the denial part out of it.

1edb06ded9ccf098a4517ca4a7a34ebc

(14952)

on November 14, 2012
at 10:19 PM

OH, gotcha. Well, kale, cucumber, and spinach are very low calorie, so you'll likely have to do more than that. But still, adding more of them is fine, as they do have other benefits besides calories (nutrition). Every carb counts, and the way I like to get my most frequent sources of carbs is through fresh berries, tomatoes, peppers, beets and shredded carrots (make great salad toppings). I also like making citrus salad dressings with lemon juice and olive oil or lemon and orange juice + olive oil.

1edb06ded9ccf098a4517ca4a7a34ebc

(14952)

on November 14, 2012
at 10:23 PM

I think there's a reason kids constantly crush cans of sugary energy drinks and juice during exam weeks. It actually does provide biological relief to mental stress and allows us to endure more of it before giving up.

D05f3050dc3d973b8b81a876202fa99a

(1533)

on November 14, 2012
at 09:45 PM

By study I meant learning new material or reviewing the old - not doing homework, papers, projects, or any type of assignments. That's why I said "if not more" - generally that's a good minimum average daily time for me. On days I have more work, this issue seems even more pronounced. So you think upping my vegetables will help? Maybe kale, cucumber, peppers, spinach, things along those lines?

1edb06ded9ccf098a4517ca4a7a34ebc

(14952)

on November 14, 2012
at 10:21 PM

I eat a lot of berries for carbs, but I realize that can be expensive or hard sometimes. I like oranges a lot too. On higher carb days I'll end up eating more fruit (usually in the form of berries and oranges), more things like carrots and beets, and sometimes some starchier foods (whatever, potatoes, sweet potatoes, quinoa, sushi, etc).

1
028e70a250f38bd61fa81b0e0789bb6e

on November 15, 2012
at 12:00 PM

Paleo isn't all about low-carb. If you do well on safe starches (rice and potatoes), do so. Get their 'wonderful friends' off first.

1
8d6390b3b8991a9cb653a3d13c1cbf6a

(543)

on November 14, 2012
at 08:16 PM

How long since you restarted paleo? There's a definite fog for the first week or two when your brain is shifting from being a pure glucose burner to also using ketones for fuel. If it's less than two weeks, I would try just waiting.

0
88a6f4dce2dae192841bb573631be6c2

(0)

on November 15, 2012
at 02:28 PM

I have the very same problem! Especially when I have to study for midterms. I have been paleo for 4 months now and have noticed a definite decline in my ability to process information in comparison to last semester when I wasn't paleo. That said, I feel physically better (less cravings, more satiety, happier). I had two midterms on Monday and what I ended up doing was eating an enormous apple and some other dried fruit to buzz my brain a little. I don't eat much fruit on a day to day basis so that was enough to give me the boost I needed. For studying, I have just added more butternut and spaghetti squash for a little higher carb. Once midterms pass I go back to less carbs (simply because I feel better with satiety on lower carb).

0
Dc594d9b86218d0a54baf964fd39496c

(594)

on November 15, 2012
at 11:50 AM

If you really can't handle your workload due to a lack of focus and concentration, you could always wait until winter break and get back on track. If you're like most other college students, you'll have three to four weeks from early/mid December until early January. Take that time to eat clean, exercise and get rid of the SAD hangover.

0
4b9077bdc5240ddeb48b2125c1bd6265

(158)

on November 14, 2012
at 11:45 PM

"Supplementing" with fats particularly coconut oil has kept my brain running even whilst fasting. Not a tertiary education workload but definitely sitting in front of a computer for hours ding stressful stuff.

0
F38f19b6ec74b2c6bf49531fe5dae567

on November 14, 2012
at 08:12 PM

I don't think you need to remove all fruits from your diet. Adding them back in might eliminate or improve your mental fog.

D05f3050dc3d973b8b81a876202fa99a

(1533)

on November 14, 2012
at 09:42 PM

I was thinking of doing some type of "carb cycle" - I lift heavy Mon, Wed, and Fri so I was thinking of throwing a banana or two in on those days and keeping it standard "low carb" on the rest days. Bananas are probably the most paleo friendly fruit that's going to give me a bump in glucose right?

-1
64c85f364ef0a306f68b34e947b4622a

(-10)

on November 15, 2012
at 09:31 AM

I been using http://getnow.org/paleo cookbook and it cost me very cheap. Lost ton of weight and gained muscles!

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