So, I’ve been meaning to do a post on this for a while now, but I’ve been reeeeeeally busy doing, um, ok well, nothing. But sometimes doing nothing just takes up so much of my time I feel like I hardly have any time for anything else in my life. I hope you feel sorry for me.
All kidding aside, I’m really excited to finally reveal some of my thoughts on the subject. I’ve been eating Paleo for about a year now (relatively consistently, as I recently coined the term “part time-over” whilst commenting on a friend’s blog), and can honestly say it’s changed my life in more ways than I could have ever hoped or imagined. This entry is a little peek into what Paleo has meant to me. Also, if you’ve decided you want to try Paleo for yourself, please be sure to read the entire post before starting so you don’t miss anything. Enjoy!
First things first– What is Paleo?
In short, Paleo (short for paleolithic) is a diet based on the foods that our human ancestors ate prior to the agricultural revolution roughly 10,000 years ago. Also sometimes referred to as “the Caveman Diet”, it is essentially composed of foods that can be either hunted or gathered and excludes any and all things processed. We’ll get a little more into the specifics later.
Also, a quick note– I use the word “diet” with a little apprehension due to the negative connotation generally attached to it. In this case, “diet” is used to define the kinds of food that a person, animal, or community habitually eats (thank you Google). Not a bad word. Not even a good word by the same token, just, what is. Okay? Alright, you’re free to continue reading on.
To make a long story short, I started Paleo because around this time last year I was getting more consistent with my diet and exercise activity, and had heard from a friend that eating Paleo could improve my energy, efficiency, and capacity to workout. There, nice, and straightforward.
Hehe, so that’s the short version. Now, here’s the long version (trust me, you’re not going to want to miss some of these picture… HILARIOUS in hindsight). And don’t worry it’s only just short of 8,000 words long– a quick read.
Between you and me, I’ve suffered from body issues for most of my adult life. Now, I’m not asking anybody to feel sorry for me because this is not a plea for help or a cry for attention (lord knows you’re already here, reading, giving me your attention). I certainly recognize that there are millions upon millions of men, women, and children out there who have it much, much worse than I ever did, and feel fortunate that the problem never escalated to a point past emotional self-loathing and into serious self-harm. It’s saddens me to know that former, purely defining words such as “skinny” and “fat” now carry a much heavier (pardon my pun), invisible meaning that, at their core, can determine a person’s worth or whether they’re good or bad people. That, in extreme examples, people will intentionally starve themselves or work themselves to near-death in the gym or on the trail or treadmill to reach what is ultimately, an unreachable state of being, defies a principle of life we’re all bound to as members of earth’s animal kingdom: survival. Furthermore, how can you blame someone for having a certain amount of hate for themselves when we live in a sometimes-ridiculously fucked up society that practically set us up for failure?
On top of spending our physical prime going through the long, painstakingly sedentary hours it now requires to acquire a good education to eventually set up a good job (also now-mostly sedentary), the means of obtaining sustenance for our bodies has lost nearly all significance in a world of supermarkets and microwavable meals, fast-food, and other factory-produced-and-packaged forms of “nutrition.” Above all, media and advertising has become relentless in it’s pursuit of fooling us into the fallacy that skinny is healthy and therefore, skinny is happy. In reality healthy is healthy. Being fit is healthy. Reducing your stress is healthy. Being skinny won’t make you live longer or feel better, but being healthy will. And yes, if you happen to attain an optimal state of health, odds are you’ll likely attain a healthy figure as a result.
My problems escalated when I left for college. Although I was always aware of what I looked like physically, up to that point I never had to so much as consider what I was putting in my stomach because as a kid I was active enough to burn it all off. Even that freshman fifteen was more like a freshman ten; not very noticeable (at least not to me)
as I was still playing basketball as often as I could, skateboarding up and down the hills on campus, and really not yet drinking as much as you’d expect. That’s me on the right there back in 2002, sometime during or just after freshman year. No worries, right?
The next three years, however, were a systematic decimation of my health. Between classes and the little bit studying I did get to, I spent a lot of time at the cafeteria eating cheeseburgers and chicken tenders (both with my all-time favorite: french fries!) and ordering mountains of Domino’s Pizza off of my student meal plan during all-night Halo 2 online multiplayer sessions (ah, the good ‘ol days). On top of that, all of the drinking began to pile up those empty calories, mostly around my midsection and jawline. I began to “fill out” as many politely called it, which wouldn’t have been so bad if I was a giant grizzly getting ready for a winter of hibernating. But alas, I was and am merely human, and therefore, all of this was indeed a problem.
Here’s me, probably at my worst, senior year in 2006. Of course I have barbecue sauce all over my face. It’s the epitome of everything opposite of what Paleo stands for– you’ve got a pot of rice in the foreground, a beer in the middle ground, and a fat guy with barbecue sauce all over his face in the background. Classic. Every time I look at this picture, I can only help but bust up laughing, as should you. I even blew it up to emphasize the hilariousness of it. Keep laughing. Get it alllll out. My friend, we’ll call him “G” for not-so-obvious-to-most reasons, posted this on Facebook and his caption was, “Ken stop eating.” If I could go back in time I would have told myself the same thing. But then again, me talking to my past self might somehow disrupt the space-time continuum and destroy the world, so maybe that’d be a bad idea. You get the point.
Want to see another one?
Ok, wait for it.
Wait for it….
And BAM! Here’s another one (taken in the same year as the last)!
That’s me trying to sit in a golf cart. I look kind of like an asian treasure troll doll, but fatter.
Anyway, at that point food had become my everything. I used food to celebrate my joys, cope with my sorrows, and sometimes just as a means to pass the time. More than just being undisciplined, I was probably more depressed than I would let myself admit and food was the most effective, short-term, self-prescribed medicine.
Entering graduate school I had finally had enough, as I was constantly surrounded by a class-full of relatively healthy, uber-intelligent, and generally well-balanced individuals. Slowly but steadily, I began to get more active and eat (ahem) slightly better. By the time I graduated, I was back to a figure and a weight that was at least somewhat acceptable, and I got more and more eager to continue the path of progress I had begun. Here I am at graduation in 2009 with two of my closest friends (Not too bad, eh?).
Moving back to the San Francisco Bay Area I started to cook even more and, with fewer fast food restaurants in the immediate area, ate more substantial meals when I did eat out. I started running and going to the gym regularly. Here’s me in 2011, about two-and-a-half months before I started Paleo (I’d call it a slight change from my last year in grad school).
Then, in January of last year (2012), everything changed.
My Paleo Experience
As I mentioned before, I had heard from a friend who had been Cross Fitting for a few months that Paleo was recommended for maximum results from his workouts. I decided to try it to see if it made any difference in the workouts I had recently become more consistent with. Because Paleo restricts most of the foods and ingredients I loved (who am I kidding, that I still love) most dearly, I knew I had to go all-in if I wanted even a shot at success. I decided to give myself thirty days, one whole month, to get an honest idea of what it would be like, and more so to determine whether the sacrifice would be worth continuing. To start, I bought myself a book. After reading reviews, I settled on Dr. Loren Cordain’s book The Paleo Diet. As it stands today, after doing a lot more reading and research on nutritional science and comparing it to different forms of Paleo, I follow a slightly altered version of Dr. Cordain’s plan. I still feel like it’s not only an excellent jumping off point for anyone new to the diet, but if it was the only reference anyone used on their quest to better eating, I wouldn’t object in the slightest. Because so many of the foods we commonly eat are not part of the paleo plan, I found it necessary to prepare just about every meal I ate just to stay faithful, which made my next order of business to get rid of every single thing in my pantry that was not paleo-friendly (again, more to follow on that in a moment). It also made eating out very difficult. However, on the recommendation of the book, I decided to treat myself once or twice a week to a “open meal.” Even then, the effects of changing my diet were beginning to take shape, and when I did treat myself to a open meal, I hardly went overboard and still tried as best I could to stick to Paleo basics.
Over the first one to two weeks, I’ll admit it was very difficult. It wasn’t so much abstaining from certain foods, but more that my body was used to getting most of its caloric energy from calorie-dense foods like grains and sugar. I was so used to trying to watch the amount I was consuming, that when I switched to lower calorie (but in turn better calorie) foods, I wasn’t eating enough, which left me tired and exhausted at the end of each long day at work. It took me the better part of two week to realize that, as Dr. Cordain states in his book, you can eat Paleo in unlimited quantities until you are full, and as often as you want, as well as for my body to self-regulate and adapt to using its new source of energy efficiently.
What transpired over that month was astounding. For one, my sleep improved, I was able to cut out coffee completely, and still generally had more than enough energy throughout the day. I began to look at food primarily as sustenance or fuel, much like putting the correct type of gasoline in your car, and detached the emotional baggage that was once anchored to each bite off the end of the fork. I learned to eat, and even enjoy foods that I had avoided my whole life because of one irrational dislike or another. Because of an increase at work at the time, I actually had less time to exercise. This is important because even with that being the case, when I did find the time to squeeze in a run or a workout I found that my energy level and physical capacity didn’t suffer in the least. What was most astounding was that even in that first month, I could tell that the diet was having an (unintended, but certainly more than welcome!) effect on my waistline. I noticed every few weeks that my pants were getting looser and looser, so much so that I would have to tighten my belt a notch, or sometimes two! Eventually, I’d end up finding that I had to buy a whole new wardrobe to avoid looking like a kid dressed up in his much-older-brother’s hand me downs.
After one month, I was feeling better than I had for as far back as I could remember. I had already dropped about ten pounds, and at that point there was no question that there was no turning back and that I was going to continue to give Paleo the best effort I possible could. The days turned to weeks and weeks to months, and by March (two months later) I was still feeling great and about 2/3 the way to getting back down to my high school weight of one-hundred-and-forty-five pounds (here in March 2012, about twenty pounds lighter)! It was nothing short of a miracle. Eventually, I did begin to ramp my exercise activity back up, and today I’m feeling nearly as fit as I did ten years ago when I was still a teenager. No calorie counting, no starving myself, no special pills or weight loss supplements. My weight stabilized and I stopped shedding pounds. Today I suffer from less lower back pain, I haven’t had an issue with the plantar fasciitis that once plagued me every morning upon my first step out of bed, and I’ve even developed the strength to regularly perform pull-ups as part of my workout (it really helps when you don’t have the extra weight of a small child weighing you down).
Here’s me again in June 2012, roughly five months after I started Paleo (with my super cool, trendy yellow plugs and skinny back tie! They’re coming back into style you know… like two years ago, but still)– looking younger, fitter, slimmer, and overall much happier. But most of all, healthy (except for the drink in my hand). Yay, me!
Over the past year, I can freely admit that there have been times (most notably around the 6 month mark) that I’ve strayed from Paleo or when circumstances have made it difficult to stay consistent. The key was that I didn’t get too down on myself, knowing that I’m only human, and avoided spiraling down back to the depths into the hopelessness that once imprisoned me. Nevertheless, each time I could both feel and see the difference in myself, which has always been great motivation to get back on the horse and ride onward.
In reflection, Paleo has been much more than a simple diet for me. As a healthcare provider, it’s not only important for me to be an advocate for my patients, but I also firmly believe that true health is an intersection between the mind, the body, and the soul, and Paleo was an avenue that helped navigate both my body and mind to that crossroad. In many ways, Paleo released me from the grip food had always had over me, and has allowed me to appreciate it while no longer abusing it. And, by taming one aspect of my life I previously thought impossibly un-tamable (probably made that word up), it allowed me to seize control of my life as a whole. It taught me what kind of hard work, dedication, sacrifice, and patience is involved in anything worthwhile, and that the feeling of personal accomplishment in the face of adversity is well-worth it all. I can say with certainty that if it weren’t for the incredible and immediate positive effects it had, I don’t think I could have stuck with it which is why, compared to other diets I’d previously tried and failed at, I truly believe in Paleo.
Even better, what started out years ago really as a mere means of getting skinnier has come full circle the point where being healthy is now my ultimate concern. I’ve realized that you can have all the money, all the materials things, and even all the friendships in the world, but if you don’t have your health you won’t get to experience any of those things to their greatest potential. Similarly, those you share relationships with won’t be able to experience you to yours either.
So, after a year on the diet, to answer the question of the previous section: Why Paleo? For one, it can boost your immune system, energy, and recuperation, and even prevent the onset of many metabolism-related maladies or diseases like obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and hypertension that can plague even the most seemingly healthy of individuals. Paleo naturally takes into account many of the foods that must be avoided by people with the most common food allergies such as lactose, gluten, alcohol, and peanuts, to name a few. Combined with the right exercise and modern medical knowledge, it’s what can carry us gracefully into old age, rather than with an arthritic limp and a whimper. Because it’s the most natural stuff you can put into your body, composed of the foods that you were designed to eat through hundreds of thousands of years of genetic evolution and adaptation.
Most of all, because it’s the healthiest choice you can make for yourself.
Let’s quickly recap the advantages I found with Paleo:
1. Energy – I had more energy throughout the day, and during workouts.
2. Besides the restrictions, there are no restrictions – I could eat unlimited amounts as long as it was Paleo, and no calorie counting!!!
3. Weight loss – Lost around 30 pounds and 3 waste sizes, without increasing my exercise activity.
4. I developed an appreciation for the natural taste of natural food.
5. It taught me discipline, which translated to other areas of my life.
6. I feel healthy!!
Here’s me one last time, in September 2012, just before leaving on a trip to Peru. A few pounds heavier, but still just as healthy. And look how happy he is!
Um, great Ken, I don’t care about you and your history of personal problems, I just want to know how I can try Paleo.
Fair enough. My intention for laying out my personal experience with Paleo was for those of you who think controlling your diet is a hopeless or worthless effort bound to end in miserable failure. Hopefully, some of what I’ve written resonates with some of you at some level, and after reading this post you’ll realize that you’re not alone, nor should you be embarrassed about your troubles with commanding respect from yourself, what’s on your plate. So, when it comes to actually doing the deed, here are a few things to keep in mind.
First, don’t kid yourself into thinking that this is not a huge commitment. Because it most certainly is. It’s a lifestyle change. Initially, and until it becomes a part of your every day routine, it will be time consuming to plan and cook each meal, to pack your lunch, to by your groceries so you know exactly what’s going into the food you eat.
Since, in our ass-backwards society the most natural food, healthiest food is now the most expensive food, and because organics are a part of the foundation of Paleo, it will be more costly than your normal grocery bill entails. Try to think of it as an investment in your own health (which, as we all remember, is the most important thing you can call your own, right?). If you’re the economist-minded type, think of it as a way to save in the long run in terms of the endless amounts of time and money that’s spent on dealing with unsympathetic insurance adjusters, going to medical (or even better, physical therapy!) appointments, or paying for expensive equipment that could have all been avoided.
(On a side note: If you determine that you simply CAN NOT afford all-organic food, concentrate on at least buying organic, grass-fed meats and give yourself a pass on the organic fruits and veggies. Try growing your own herbs and/or veggies in whatever size garden your living situation permits–it’s sustainable, organic, and economical! In other words: Make. It. Work.)
Second, remember that to me, the goal isn’t necessarily to figure out how to simply get around the Paleo-restricted ingredients so that you can still eat all of the poor foods that have been apart of your regular diet, the idea is to alter your thought so that Paleo-friendly foods become the foods you normally eat. Example: some Paleo books or references will tell you to replace regular wheat or white flour with almond flour so that you can still make cookies and pancakes and whatnot, or to go for almond milk instead of cow’s milk. While I’m not against using these methods as temporary stop-gaps on your way to eliminating the products they’re replacing, I’d urge you to focus on the intention of simply letting go of said foods altogether so that you can eat the Paleo foods in their most natural state possible. The best part however, is that no one’s forcing you give up these foods entirely. YOU CAN STILL ENJOY PANCAKES (every so often)! But remember, it should be the exception, not the rule, and done with as much restraint as possible.
Okay, now that that’s out of the way, without further adieu the following is a little bit on the form of Paleo I tend to follow. As mentioned, it’s loosely based on the recommendations from Dr. Loren Cordain and his book, The Paleo Diet, but modified accordingly after reading Gary Taubes’s, Good Calories, Bad Calories, and Dr. Mary Enig’s, Know Your Fats. I’m not going to get too in-depth with the science behind all of it, because, A) I honestly only understand it as a superficial level, and B) you can do all of that research on your own if you care that much.
In my eyes the main concept is hunter-gatherer: What would we have eaten before the invention of farming, animal domestication, and other forms of cultivating and processing food? To me that means fresh, sustainable, and nutritional foods that promote a high but healthy caloric intake:expenditure ratio. It also means few, if any, packaged products as possible. That means if left outside of the fridge/freezer it doesn’t have the potential of going bad in the week after it’s picked, caught, or killed, it’s probably not what I’d recommend.
Remember, these can be eaten in abundance, to you heart’s (or stomach’s) content.
Free-range, organic, grass-fed meats:
To me, it doesn’t matter the cut (although Dr. Cordain recommends lean meats only), or the type of meat, as long as it’s free-range, organic, and grass-fed. That means, NO GRAINS. A lot of organic meats may be advertised as “All-Natural.” This can often indicate that the meat is either fed organic grains, or grass-fed for the beginning of the the animal’s life, then grain-finished to cut down on cost and to regulate the taste of the meat. This, is not okay.
When I started Paleo, I ate lean meats by the TON. Not only is it a great way to create longer-term satiation of appetite, but it was the only way I could have stuck with the diet in the early going. Now, I try to go easy on the meat and focus in on things like veggies, and to an extent, eggs (easily gathered, therefore lower caloric expenditure… more on eggs to follow).
For all of you vegetarians out there, I could care less whether you eat meat or not. But just know that meat contains all of the essential amino acids your body needs for optimal function, and in abundance no less. While it’s true you can get these from vegetables, not all vegetables contain all essential amino acids, so there’s a chance that you’re missing out on some of the nutrients necessary to build muscle and produce red blood cells and a healthy immune system (which is perhaps why some vegetarians look “soft,” and some have told me personally they went back to eating small amounts of meat because they were always getting sick. Perhaps indeed.)
On a side note, if you’re a hunter, or know a hunter, to me it doesn’t get any better than being able to bag your own wild game every so often, as it’s probably the closest thing to the animals our ancestors ate (wild, relatively lean, grass-fed, organic, etc.). And remember, when it comes to hunting your limit, for sustainability’s sake, only bite off (kill) as much as you can chew (eat)!
Wild, fresh, seasonal, fish and seafood: Do you know how farmed seafood is raised? Well, have you ever had a goldfish before, and not cleaned it’s cage in for a few weeks? It’s kind of like that, except that there are thousands of fish swimming around in a mixture of their own shit, other dead fish, and the grains they’re fed, all within the pens they’re raised in. Seriously, gross. And if one happens to contract a parasite or bacteria, guess what, it’s going to be difficult for the other fish in the tank to avoid the same fate. Either way, seafood is an excellent source of protein and super-high in those Omega-3 fatty acid thingys. You know, the ones that you can only get from your diet because they’re not naturally produced by the body and that, among other benefits, ultimately help reduce small vessel inflammation and improve cardiac and neurological function?
Also, try not to go too heavy on the larger, more predatory deepwater fish like tuna, swordfish, shark, etc. Keeping in mind what can be hunted and gathered, it’d be pretty hard for a Paleo man or woman to catch a 600 pound bluefin. Now that I think about it, it was probably not until a relatively short while ago that humans started sashimi’ing this delicious beast into raw gold, which is sad considering that the world’s tuna population (especially the bluefin) is dwindling at a rate almost guaranteeing extinction at some point in the not-too-distant future. A clear fail in the sustainability department. I mean, don’t you want your kids to grow up in a world in which they can pay way-too-much for way-too-little at a way-too-trendy restaurant? I know I do.
Also, you know what they say: “Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he’ll eat for a lifetime.” In other words, same concept as above– if you’re able to catch your own dinner, it’ll allow you to bypass the market and not really have to worry if your sauteed lake trout it actually from a lake. Ridiculously sustainable.
Cage-free, organic, Omega-3 enhanced eggs: Whoo-boy do I love eggs! As I mentioned above, eggs are a great source of protein. Omega-3 enhanced eggs come from chickens (see, you learn something new every day) who themselves are a fed a diet high in Omega-3 fatty acids, like flax seed. In terms of quality calories and fat, coupled with minimal effort to gather, eggs fit well-within the scope of our hunter-gatherer criteria. If you’re worried about cholesterol, don’t be. You can scroll to the bottom where I address some common fallacies regarding Paleo and, furthermore, what the big, bad, scary government wants you to think in regards to heart disease and what many scientists continue to ignore despite what the research says (or, to be more precise, doesn’t say). When cooking eggs, do your best to avoid cooking them at high heat, sticking to low and slow methods like poaching and hard boiling. Supposedly cooking mediums like frying changes the chemistry of the nutrients in the egg and makes it less, uh, good for you (for lack of a better phrase) than otherwise. As a caution, remember that these eggs are expensive. If you have the space and means to buy a ‘lil hen and raise her in the back yard, do it, and farm your own eggs!
As for me, when I started Paleo I’d hard boil a whole carton of eggs and eat them throughout the week as snacks with a sprinkle of black pepper, cayenne, or paprika for a little taste. Now a days I make a lot of omelettes, or I’ll poach an egg and break the yolk over a salad of greens or a lean steak to give it some of that yummy, gooey texture and yolky flavor. Yuuuuum. I’m getting hungry now.
(pretend there’s no bacon in that salad…)
Seasonal, organic, fruits and non-starchy vegetable: This one’s pretty self-explanatory. In the spirit of our hunter-gatherer ancestors, think whatever can be picked and eaten directly from the earth. Focus on a lot of leafy greens, as they’re loaded with many of the good nutrients listed on the back of almost every food label, including essentials like fiber, vitamins A, C, and K, calcium, folate, and carbohydrates (the good kind), to name a few. As far as fruits go, Try not to go too crazy because they do contain a lot of sugar that, if eaten in excess, can lead to other problems (I generally eat it as a snack or as dessert after each meal). With fruits, go for all the colors of the rainbow to get nutrients like fiber, licopene, vitamins, and loads of anti-oxidants.
Recently I’ve personally made a conscious effort to try to eat more mushrooms. Is it because fungi have proven to be better for you than other vegetation? Not necessarily. Is it because they can provide a super-cool, psychedelic experience that makes you see the world in in ways you never dreamed possible (usually for the better, especially if done right)? Maaaaybe, but no, not the ones I’m talking about. The way I look at it is that mushrooms can grow under a very versatile range of conditions, and therefore, were most likely an abundant source of nutrition for our Paleo ancestors. Again, they are also an easily gathered commodity, with good nutritional value, further exemplifying the type of food that were likely eaten, and perhaps even relied on (and sometimes died from, so be careful with the wild ones).
Nuts: I can feel that this section is going to produce a whole smorgasbord of double-entendre. Anyway, as always try to stick with organic nuts, raw (versus roasted) if possible. Nuts provide a small source of protein, as well as Omega-3 fatty acids. However, not all nut’s contain fatty acids and they do carry a high fat content, so go easy on them will ya? As far as the best, most commonly found nuts for you, walnuts take the cake. Others that you can eat without regret include cashews, macadamias, pecans, and almonds (although almonds do not contain Omega-3s). And, in case you weren’t wondering, peanuts are not nuts. They’re beans (legumes), which are illegal on Paleo, so don’t even think about it.
One of my favorite past times is to go to the local health food store, buy a bunch of different types of nuts and maybe some unsweetened dried bits of fruit (like goji berries), and mix ‘em all together to make my own trail mix of sorts. That way, I can grab a handful and snack on them once in a while or throw ‘em in a baggie and take them on a hike. And yes, I realize that it being one of my favorite past times makes me a complete loser. Well then, it’s a good thing I don’t care about what you think of me, isn’t it? So, HA!
Water: Do I seriously need to explain water to you? I know water is tasteless, and I know water is void of any substantial nutrition, but for heaven’s sake, it’s probably the most pure substance we can put into our bodies (at least pure water is, not that additive-filled chemical wash that comes from our taps). It’s value can be quantified through the mere truth that the body can survive days on end without food, as long as you have water, but not the other way around. Do your best to avoid juice, as you generally miss out on the fiber that’s the real prize when drinking fruit-derived beverages. Do you think cavemen wandered upon a stream and turned their heads in disgust in favor of carefully squeezing out a fresh cup of OJ? I can’t say for certain, but probably not. No, I’m guessing they gobbled that shit up at every chance they got. Carried it in leaves and dried-out buffalo stomachs and whatnot. Water is our lifeline. It makes our food universe go ’round. It’s what helps purify us. Drink it, and stop complaining.
As far as things like coffee and tea are concerned, most Paleo sources will tell you to take them in moderation. I agree, as that’s what I do myself, but every now and then I’ll go a few weeks without either and just stick with water. Also, if you’re the type to put cream and sugar in your coffee or tea… well, you’re screwed.
That’s it for the Do’s. Now, here are the Don’ts
Again, I’m not going to get too in depth into why you shouldn’t eat these things, you can get that information on your own time. Just as the foods listed above were most likely those that were on the menu during Paleolithic times, the ones listed below were, most likely, not.
The white stuff (salt, sugar, and flour):
Salt- Giving up salt was probably one of the harde sacrifices I’ve ever made. In fact, the only way I could do it was by avoiding eating out, and throwing any and all salt containing products from my pantry. Some publications will tell you a little salt is okay. This may be true, but to me, no salt is better. For one, you’ll get all of the benefits of salt through what’s naturally found in your diet if you follow the rules listed above. Second, I’m pretty sure the majority of people in the first world countries are addicted to salt due to it’s presence in just about every processed food we eat. And third, let’s be honest, there’s no way in hell that salt, the way we know it, was around in Paleo times.
Controlling my salt intake was not only a key figure in overcoming my addiction to food, but it also allowed me to actually re-learn and experience what real food naturally tastes like. Surprisingly, when I occasionally go back to eating some of the foods I used to eat regularly before Paleo, I find that some of it now is almost unbearably salty. I consider that one for the win column.
Sugar- Much like salt, sugar is present in a large portion of the processed foods we eat as well. That means that even if you cut out the obviously sugary substances from your diet like soda, or desserts, you could still be getting cavities from the sugar in your salad dressing, or your caramel macchiato, or even your dried fruits. As with salt, I had to throw away all of the sugar-based items in my pantry, and now stick to getting the sugar we all do need by occasionally snacking on fruits, and usually eating them for dessert in place of the Tiramisu.
Flour- Listed here because it is one of the “white stuffs,” flour falls under the restricted list as a byproduct of cereal grains. Obviously, this also means no products derived from flour itself, foods like bread, pasta, pancakes (as we’ve already discussed), cookies, tempura, bloomin’ onions, etc, etc. Flour was also a tough one to give up but, like all of the restricted foods, I definitely do indulge on occassion. Why? Because life is too short not to, especially as long as it’s done with care and restraint.
Starchy vegetables: Starchy tubers, potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, etc. Why you ask? Foods that are high in starch are really just concentrated sugars, as starch is what’s known as a simple sugar that, when broken down, can cause spikes in blood glucose levels and over a long period of time, can lead to insulin resistance, the same thing that causes type-II diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease.
I love potatoes. It’s no secret. But for god’s sake, if I can put the french fry down, you too, can put the french fry down, and back away, slowly.
Cereal grains: Corn, rice, wheat, barley, rye, oats, and all byproducts (also, check labels in your spices for citric acid, which can affect those with yeast intolerances). This group includes some of the yummiest foods of them all, essentially staples of almost all modern cultures known to man. Things like corn, rice, and wheat. Again, as a person who comes from two cultures where just about every meal comes with a side of rice, I can tell you that this was a hard one to give up too (admittedly though, not as hard as salt).
Unfortunately, aside from avoiding fermented foods and liquids, the fact that almost all alcohol beverages are derived from cereal grains makes them off limits on Paleo. I myself did not give up drinking when I started paleo, although I did do my best to cut back. What I did notice, and maybe this is unique to my experience, was that I wasn’t suffering from the same hangovers I used to after drinking large quantities of alcohol the night before. My belief is that, much like recovering after a tough workout, the recovery from six or seven shots of Jameson and five or six Heinekens became accelerated after starting Paleo. Just a hunch.
Legumes: No beans, of ANY kind. This means peanuts too. It also means bean products, like soy (and soy products like tofu and soy sauce) and peanut butter. But Ken, beans are high in protein! You know what else is high in protein? Meat and eggs.
In all honesty, Dr. Cordain’s explanation behind not eating legumes is not as strong as some of the other restricted Paleo foods, only stating that, like dairy, they actually contain anti-nutrients, or, substances that prevent you from absorbing other, more beneficial nutrients. Either way, I stay away from them.
Dairy, and dairy products: Milk, cheese, butter, yogurt, etc. I love the reasonings behind restricting dairy products. But we’ll get into these later.
Well, there you have it. A mostly-complete list of all of the foods you should, and shouldn’t eat in attempting a caveman-like existence. As I’ve mentioned a million times, try not to perseverate on the things you can’t eat and focus on the things you can eat, it’ll make the process a whole lot easier. You may have other questions, which I will attempt to answer below.
1. Why can’t I eat cereal grains? They’re high in fiber, it says so right on my box of Special K! I’m sorry to tell you this, but you’ve fallen prey to yet another advertising scheme of the cereal grain industry. Like all of the restricted foods, any positive nutrients you can get from them can be found, often in abundance, in the Paleo-friendly foods without the negative substances. In the case of fiber, while some cereal grains are high in fiber, you’re going to get more than your share through the fresh fruits and vegetables consumed on Paleo, in addition to other essential vitamins, minerals, and nutrients.
2. No dairy?! What gives?! I NEED MY CHEESE! Okay, let’s try to go about this reasonably. First, can you name another animal on the planet that continues to drink milk past the age of one or two years old, let alone the milk of another species? Like it or not, we are apart of the animal kingdom and unfotunately, we’re not above some of the general laws that govern it.
Second, as a Paleolithic man or woman (before tools mind you), what are the odds that you’d be able to wrassle down a wild mommy cow, much less get it to stay still long enough to squeeze all over its supple teets to get at its baby food? In truth, outside of the milk drawn from the mothers of our own species, it was unlikely milk was consumed regularly until the domestication of animals. Also, a note to all you teenagers out there, there is a good chunk of research supporting the elimination of dairy from your diet to reduce, or even cure acne. In other words, toss that ProActive in the waste bin (trust me I tried it, religiously, and it doesn’t work).
3. But isn’t eating red meant and fat bad? The short answer– No, fats are fine. As mentioned numerous times throughout this post, for an more complete and in-depth look at the fallacies related to fat, cholesterol, and heart disease, check out Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes. Think back to the premise of Paleo: That which can be hunted and gathered. If a group of Paleo men and women took down a buffalo or other form of large, wild game, odds are they ate the whole thing from snout to tail. There’s no way in hell they came to the fatty areas and said, “Ewwwwwwwww!” Especially because fat adds its own particularly delicious flavor to food in general.
Furthermore, fats are a substantial part of our physical makeup. The speed at which our brains and the rest of the nervous system process and send signals to different part of our body is reliant on the lipids that encase each and every neuron within us. Fat is also the primary fuel source for metabolic processes required for specific types of normal human activity.
However, like all things in life, eating fats in excess surely can be bad for you. Still using the hunter-gatherer example, it’s more likely that the animals humans did hunt back in the day weren’t the lazy, over-sized cattle and swine that we find in stores today but more likely their lean, wild ancestors that burned much their fat stores in the pursuit of survival. In this sense, it does make sense to at least limit the amount of fatty meat versus going Kobe-style at every meal (Plus, I’m pretty sure cattle back then weren’t fed beer and given massages by hand, but that’s just a hunch).
Okay, those are probably the three most common questions I get, so I’ll leave it at that for now. Feel free to post other questions in the comment section below.
And there you have it! You’ve now got just enough information to embark on your own Paleo journey. Here are a few finishing recommendations (some are repeats), emphasized to help promote your own Paleo success!
1. Educate yourself. I know high school/college was a long time ago, but they’re called books people, pick one up once in a while. Knowledge is power. Once you have all of the information, it’s up to you what to do with it. A lot of Paleo resources on the web want you to buy a bunch of shit you don’t really need, don’t fall into this trap. My recommendation is to maybe buy one book as a reference, or just borrow it from a friend or rent one from your local library. Whatever you decide to do, here are a few excellent references you can check out to help answer some of the other questions you may have regarding Paleo:
The Paleo Diet, Dr. Loren Cordain
Good Calories, Bad Calories, Gary Taubes (A personal fav)
The Paleo Solution, Robb Wolf
The Primal Blueprint, Mark Sisson (He says salt is okay. I disagree)
Nerd FItness, www.nerdfitness.com – Also great for starter fitness tips. One of my favorite resources available on the web.
Mark’s Daily Apple, www.marksdailyapple.com – Same guy as The Primal Blueprint, above
Robb Wolf.com, www.robbwolf.com
Hunter, Gardener, Angler, Cook, www.honest-food.net/ – A really great website for preparing wild game and seafood. Focus on the recipes that don’t use too many non-paleo ingredients, or just kick ‘em to the curb where you can, along with the salt)
2. Don’t just take it from me, read about others’ stories of success! For me, there was nothing more motivating than reading the plethora of stories of people whose physical condition was light year’s worse than mine, but still managed to turn things around. There are thousands of stories out there, from physicians and house moms, to former athletes and seventy-year-old grandparents, all describing varying degrees of success on Paleo. People of all different backgrounds, ages, and body types, report both descriptively and visually what their personal Paleo journey was like. Odds are, if the circumstances surrounding my story isn’t in line with what you’re currently going through, someone else’s out there are. Success stories can be found in most Paleo books such as the ones listed above, or online. Just type “Paleo success stories” into your Google search engine and start reading.
3. Give yourself at least 1 month. If you give it your all, going Paleo for thirty days will give you just enough time to decide if it’s right for you or not.
4. Toss out all processed and packed foods, and other non-Paleo items from your fridge and pantry. Like an alcoholic might toss out all of the half-empty scotch bottles laying around, so too can you get rid of the temptations that torment you in order to live a clean, healthy lifestyle. And for god’s sake, after you do this, don’t go to the grocery store and just start replacing them.
5. Try Paleo with a friend or loved one. That way, you can keep eachother accountable. In reverse of that, I’ve been told that it can be very difficult to stay faithful to Paleo when the people surrounding you eat nothing but junk. Luckily for me, I was living alone when I started it, so I had no one to pass the blame or congratulations onto besides myself.
6. Combine with moderate exercise for best results. A good mix of cardio, calisthenics, and resistance training will promote the optimal level of health and fitness. The keys are balanced activity, and knowing your limits to avoid injury and steady progression. Check out the link to Nerd FItness listed above for good ways to get started and eventually progress.
7. Document your progress! Some people take pictures of themselves in the mirror every month on the same day. Others step on the scale (I hate scales. This is not my recommended form of charting progress. In fact, I’ve probably only stepped on a scale five or six times in the past three or four years combined.) Others, like myself, just go by the “belt measurement.” It looks like this (not my hands, by the way):
If you happen to be on medication to control certain disorders, or if you know you suffer from a disease like hypertension, high cholesterol, or diabetes, consult your doctor before you begin Paleo and get lab work done for comparison’s sake further down the road (this may include things like blood glucose, cholesterol, insulin, etc.). Take self-measurements of your vitals (blood pressure, heart rate) regularly to track improvements. Remember, Paleo is about using natural food as medicine to regulate your body and, therefore, should allow you to wean yourself off many medications that help treat food-related or nutrient deficient illnesses. (Although, according to a lot of what I’ve read, and even heard directly from others, many physicians are still either on the fence about Paleo, don’t know enough about it to recommend it one way or another, stuck in the outdated medical paradigm that is the food pyramid and other FDA recommendation, or would rather prescribe you medication to help regulate your problems, so tread carefully when bringing up the subject to your physician. But remember, it’s your body, and ultimately it’s up to you to treat it the way you want.)
8. TREAT YOURSELF EVERY NOW AND THEN! That is to say, don’t be too hard on yourself. One of the keys to my success with Paleo was allowing myself to indulge every now and then. I’d say when I first got started, 9 out of every 10 meals (that means once every 3-4 days) or so was 100% Paleo. The other one? Well, maybe I treated myself to a burger and fries, maybe it was just a burger. It might have been a bag of chips or a cheese plate and a glass of wine at a restaurant. Life’s just too damn short not to partake in some of it’s gastronomical pleasures. The key is that when you do feel like you’ve earned yourself a break, to still do it with some restraint and moderation.
To quote Forrest Gump, I guess that’s all I have to say about that. To everyone who decides that Paleo may be right for them, I wish you good luck, and great health. To those of you who don’t, I still urge you to reconsider, dip that cup into the kool-aid (okay it’s really just water), and take the Paleo plunge. Do it for your future self’s sake! Feel free to post any questions/comments you may have below!