Basically, there are several camps in the ancestral health movement: Paleo, Primal, Gary Taubes, etc. Paleo prohibits grains, dairy, and legumes. Primal allows dairy but prohibits grains and legumes. Taubes emphasizes low carb. It can be really confusing trying to decide which one is right.
But one thing that they all agree on is self-experimentation. Basically, experiment on yourself to see how different foods make you feel. Because everyone is different, so what works for one person might not work for you. But with any well-designed experiment, you need a control and treatment. Unfortunately, I do not have a clone (x6 for adequate replication) that I can experiment on. So, the best way to do this is with a clean slate. That's why I support the Paleo 30-day or Primal 21-day challenges and the Whole 30, because they act like a control and give really clear guidelines on the foods to eliminate. After you eliminate the most common allergens and energy-zappers, you can slowly add in foods (treatment) to see how they make you feel compared to how you felt during the elimination (control).
When I was first diagnosed in May, I went strictly Paleo. At first, I felt really great. But after a couple of months I started feeling anxious again. I realized that I felt especially bad after drinking black coffee, eating fruit, and eating chicken breast or fish. But I felt really good after eating a fatty pork chop from John Crow Farms.
After doing some research into it, I came upon Mark Sisson's Primal Blueprint and Gary Taubes' Good Calories Bad Calories. Gary Taubes' book was the most important book I have ever read in my life. It basically debunked the 'calories in, calories out' and lipid (i.e. fat is bad) hypotheses that I had been a slave to all my life. After that, I increased the fat and reduced the fruit by incorporating cream in my coffee, eating mostly berries, and focusing on fattier cuts of meat. I felt consistently better (no anxiety).
But then a weird thing started happening: I started waking up at 4:30 am. The first morning it happened, I had tons of energy and felt really great. I thought, 'Hey, I could really get used to this!' But after a few more days of that happening, I felt awake but like I hadn't gotten enough good sleep. It started feeling stressful. I got clued into what might be causing it after attending Robb Wolf's Paleo Solution Seminar when this big buff guy went up to the microphone and asked Robb for advice because he was waking up super early in the morning. Robb told him to eat more carbohydrates but offered no further explanation.
This piqued my interest, so I began looking into it. It turns out that waking up early can be a side effect of going Very Low Carb (VLC). Our bodies can make glucose from proteins and fats in a process called gluconeogenesis, so theoretically you don't need to eat carbohydrates. But what I found out is that cortisol is involved in this process. According to Wikipedia, cortisol is a steroid hormone whose primary function is to increase blood sugar through gluconeogenesis. Cortisol levels also increase and decrease during the day, peaking in the morning and decreasing throughout the day. It's also involved in the awakening response, which means cortisol is released when you wake up really early in the morning. Cortisol is also released in response to stress, so too much can be bad.
So this is what I think is going on: when people eat few carbohydrates (~less than 50g per day), their body has to use cortisol to produce glucose from protein and fat. For some people, this extra cortisol can cause side effects like waking up early and insomnia. And when you wake up too early, the situation is made worse because even more cortisol is released in the awakening response.
Herein lies the conundrum: I should eat more carbohydrates, but in order to reach the 100-150 g recommended (and I really do sleep better at this level), I could eat fruit, most of which gives me anxiety (especially if I eat it without fat). Or I could try sweet potatoes (ok on Paleo and Primal but not every day, but not to Taubes), which are a glycemic nightmare.
Like this weekend, when I decided I was going to try this out on myself. I cooked up a sweet potato in the microwave for lunch and smothered it in butter. At first, I felt great. All the stress went away. But later (even with some roast beef thrown in in the meantime), my blood sugar started doing a nosedive and I was craving sugar like nobody's business. So much so that I had to buy a chocolate bar after being out in the field. When I got home, my roommate was his usually super talkative self but I was so irritable that I locked myself in my room. The good part was that I slept REALLY well that night. But it just brought back memories of where I was a year ago (including the locking myself in my room frequently) that I don't want to go back.
What to do? Well, I'm going to experiment. I am going to try to eat more veggies with some fruit and sweet potatoes again, only this time make sure to eat them with enough fat and protein. Or, gasp!, this could possibly mean jumping off the Paleo and Primal bandwagon and incorporating low-carb breads into my diet.
I encourage you to also experiment! Because everyone is different and what might work for me might not work for you.
But whatever ends of working for us, these things should not change: eating 'real food' and fighting diabetes and heart disease!