Ask a Health Coach: Pre-Diabetes, Detoxes, and What’s More Important, Diet or Exercise?



Woman meal prepping chopping vegetablesHey folks! Erin back to answer more of your questions. If you’re struggling to keep your blood sugar balanced, just coming off a 30-day challenge, or want to know the real solution for long-term weight loss, stick around for this week’s post. We love getting your questions, so keep them coming in the comments below or over in our Mark’s Daily Apple Facebook group.


Devin asked:
“I just got blood work done and it came back that I’m prediabetic. I don’t eat much sugar (I’m not a dessert kind of person) and follow a paleo diet about 70-80% of the time, so I’m confused. What else could be at play here?”

Sugar is sneaky. It’s everywhere in our culinary culture and not just in the places you’d expect, like cookies, cakes, and $6 coffee drinks. The average person consumes up to 66 pounds of added sugar per year.1 That’s added sugar, not naturally sweet foods like fruit, or foods that convert to sugar, which I’ll talk more about here in a sec.


Is Prediabetes Bad?

When you’re a chronic consumer of sugary foods or foods that turn to sugar, your body begins to become insulin resistant, meaning the cells stop responding to the insulin your body pumps out (which keeps blood sugar levels in check). Your doctor already informed you that you’re pre-diabetic, which doesn’t mean you’ll develop diabetes, but it doesn’t mean you won’t – especially if you continue to eat the way you’re eating. But to answer your question, there are lots of factors that can impact your health status other than food.

Things that impact insulin resistance:

  • Genetic factors/family history
  • Chronic stress and cortisol spikes
  • Being sedentary or sleep deprived
  • Altered gut microbiome

Where Sugar is Hiding

But let’s assume it is something you’re eating. Food manufacturers use sugar, and yes, even fat, to make food hyper palatable, so they’re hard to resist and easy to overeat. Maybe you’ve been duped by foods claiming to be low in sugar, only to find out that these “healthy foods” are loaded with ingredients like maltodextrin, dextrose, and rice syrup. Processed food is a huge culprit for hidden sugars — everything from soups and salad dressings to ketchup, nut butter, and deli meats.

Not only that, a diet filled with refined and processed carbohydrates will digest more quickly and cause a spike in your blood sugar. And if you’re in the spot you’re in now where your cells stop responding to insulin, certain foods will continue to put you on the fast track to chronic illness.2

In your 70-80% paleo diet, are you eating any of these with any regularity? Even non-sugary foods and non-sweet items turn to sugar in the body, including:

  • Oatmeal and breakfast cereals
  • Bread (even gluten-free bread)
  • Pasta and rice
  • Beans
  • Pastries and baked goods
  • Low-fat yogurt
  • Crackers

Your best bet is to opt for whole, real foods that don’t come with a label, get a good night’s sleep, and recheck your labs in a few months.

(By the way, when I received my prediabetes diagnosis 12 or so years ago — which is what inspired me to go Primal and never look back — my doctor implicated my highly stressful job as one of my insulin resistance triggers. Lifestyle factors add up too!)


Ellie asked:?“I’m wrapping up a 30-day detox this weekend and was hoping for some clarification on how to reintroduce regular foods back into my diet. I know I shouldn’t go out and eat a whole pizza right away, but is there a formula for how to do it?”

With summer and this push for “summer bods” right around the corner, I feel like there are a lot of cleanses and detoxes happening right now. I’ve never formally done one — well unless you count “cleansing” myself of grains 12 or so years ago — but maybe that doesn’t count, since it wasn’t an official *thing* I was doing.

What’s Wrong With 30-day Challenges?

It seems like everyone in my social feed is going sugar-free for 30 days. Or attempting a dry month of 30 days without alcohol. The problem with doing a plan like this, is exactly what you mentioned, Ellie. What happens when you inevitably bring those foods (or drinks) back in? 

When I eliminated grains from my diet, I did so with no intention of ever reintroducing them as part of my regular nutrition, seeing as there are no good reasons to include them. That being said, some non-primal foods do make sporadic appearances from time to time: pizza included (of course).

Why Do an Elimination Diet?

I do, however, encourage my clients to try an elimination diet for a set period of time, not to jump start their metabolism or drop a bunch of weight, but with the expectation that they’ll get a glimpse into how much better they can feel without grains, sugars, and their usual rotation of snacky, crunchy, creamy foods.

You will eat pizza again. Of course you will! But before you do, pay attention to what changes you’ve noticed over the past 30 days. Maybe you’ve noticed that you:

  • Sleep better
  • Experience fewer aches and pains
  • Are less bloated
  • Have fewer cravings
  • Have more sustained energy throughout the day

These 30-day challenges always give me pause because, what happens on day 31? The invitation to go back to your old patterns until you feel the pinch of your symptoms creeping back in? Or a friend coerces you to join them for another no sugar/no processed food/no alcohol challenge that springboards you, temporarily, into better health? I think these challenges can be incredible springboards into health; I just want folks to consider the staying power of what they’ve learned over the 30 days.

Connecting to what feels better in your body is an incredible motivator to anchor to. From there, consider Mark’s 80/20 rule to conceive of how you’re going to live the rest of your life mostly following the Primal philosophy, with some well-thought-out treats thrown into the mix.



Angela asked:
“What’s more important for weight loss, diet or exercise?”

As I like to tell my health coaching clients, I’m not really in the business of weight loss. For me, weight loss is a wickedly awesome side effect of getting your metabolism working again. When your metabolism is doing its job, you don’t have to rely on chronic dieting or exercise — it just happens.

How to Speed Up Your Metabolism

You’re probably familiar with the old calories in/calories out conversation, or the popular “abs are made in the kitchen.” Both are tragically oversimplified, and in some cases, flat out wrong. If all it took to lose weight was to simply eat less and exercise more, it’s possible we wouldn’t be suffering the scourge of an obesity epidemic.

Diet culture tells us there’s something wrong with us if we can’t move the number on the scale. As if that number was a reflection of our self-worth. On top of that, the stress brought on by obsessive measuring, tracking, and calorie counting, can actually cause weight gain.3 Or cause weight loss resistance at the very least. The real secret to getting your metabolism working again is to get your hormones working again.

So to get back to your question — does diet exercise impact fat loss more, or does exercise? — the answer is that both diet and exercise are important, but possibly not in the way we’ve been taught to think. Like I mentioned earlier, overdoing it at the gym or starving yourself (which is different from fasting) will only cause more cortisol, more insulin, more elevated blood sugar, and more stored fat.

Out-of-whack hormones have an impact on weight, not to mention mood, energy, and tearing someone’s head off when you’re hangry. And the *easiest* way to start getting them back in line is to implement a sensible mix of diet, exercise, and lifestyle inputs. 

3 tips for balancing hormones:

  1. Eat protein and fat. Start your day with a protein-forward meal that includes healthy fats. Think bacon and eggs, full-fat yogurt, leftover ribeye…
  2. Manage your stress. Not all stress is bad, but when it’s chronic, it can be a problem. Consider swapping your high-intensity spin class for a yin yoga session.
  3. Move daily. Get out of the habit of counting calories burned or committing to a full hour at the gym every time you go. Instead, get out for a walk, do some gardening, or just move your body in any way that feels good. Your body, your hormones, and your metabolism will thank you.

Agree? Disagree? Tell me what you think in the comments.

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Primal Kitchen 7 Days, 7 Salads Challenge


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