I asked some friends on Twitter what paleo means to them. I got some really great responses:
McGrok - Eat things that flew swim or ran, came out of the ground, or fell off a tree. lift heavy things, run around a lot.
Tcita - Living from the source
FeastingFitness - Eating what nourishes, not harms.
What I feel is the most important part of a paleo lifestyle is living as naturally as you reasonably can. Whether you believe we came from Eden or the Big Bang, there is no arguing that the way we eat today (especially the kids in that picture) is not exactly the way we were intended to.
For me, there is only one simple rule: Live your life the way we were intended to.
This issue is that nobody definitely knows what that means. To me, it makes sense that we would be adapted to eat whatever was available thousands of years ago. That's when we came into our present role here on Earth. Nobody can contest that. It stands to reason that what those people ate is what we are supposed to be eating today. The people of that time period lived off of the land. They didn't work the land...yet. That means they ate plants, some nuts, some seeds and animals. A paleolithic food pyramid would be similar to this:
If you want to return to that original way of eating, here are some simple suggestions:
- Don't eat processed food.
- Don't eat sugar that doesn't come from fruit. Aside from fruit, sugar was not a part of the daily food intake. As for honey, I find it hard to believe that people thought honey was worth a couple hundred bee stings.
- Don't eat grains. While companies that profit from sales of grains would have you believe that grains are an essential part of your diet, there isn't a single thing in grains that isn't in vegetables and fruit. Check out my article here for some proof.
- Stay away from starches like white potatoes and beans. These would not have been eaten frequently by people 10,000 years ago.
- Stay away from dairy. This is an area of debate that I've discussed before, but for at least your first month or so of eating paleo, steer clear of all dairy. You can try reintroducing some full fat butter, cream, or cheese after a month to see how your body reacts, but it wasn't around 10,000 years ago and shouldn't be in your belly for now. I have found that I can tolerate small amounts of dairy and have decided to use small amounts in my cooking. This will be a personal decision for you to make after allowing your body to live without it for at least a month.
- Move. We weren't meant to sit around for hours on end. You should move (walk) at an easy pace frequently and at an intense pace (sprinting, weightlifting, biking) infrequently.
- Relax. Our stress levels are off the charts. The biological changes that happen to a person are alarming and will actually make you fatter. I can't wait to do a post on stress, but here is a quick overview of what can happen to your body with prolonged stress.
- Eat when you're hungry. I'm rarely hungry when I wake up, so I skip breakfast a lot. I'll eat right before bed if I'm hungry. I don't eat when I'm bored, upset, or anxious. On a related note, I don't eat 6 small meals a day. It's a pain in the butt and isn't manageable for most people. That frequent eating also conditions you to look for and think about food constantly. Follow your gut on when to eat. On a related note, don't eat until you're stuffed. It's hard to do with paleo food. Trust me, I tried.
- Buy the best local food you can afford. We aren't all made of money, so you'll have to use judgement here.
- Some research has shown that organic produce may not be much better than regular produce, so I usually won't pay extra for organics. Instead, I'll spend an extra minute washing the chemicals off.
- When it comes to meat, you have to be careful. While eating fat is a big part of being paleo, you need to make sure you're eating quality fat. This means eating grass fed livestock, wild caught seafood, game meat, free range chicken, and free range eggs. For those of you with a lot of money, this won't be a problem, but for some of us it is. I'm eating about 1/2 quality 1/2 traditional meat at this point. I'll do a post about how to save money as I delve into my cowpooling program. In the mean time, you can partially make up for lower quality meats with extra vegetables and some extra omega 3 fats from fish oil or flax seed oil.
So in a nutshell: No grains, sugar, or starches, but as many veggies and much meat as you want to feel satisfied. Have some fruit, nuts, and seeds in moderate amounts.
An important thing to remember is that you will not follow these rules 100% of the time. A good rule of thumb to remember for these types of things is the 80/20 principle. If you legitimately stick to these rules 80% of the time and fail 20% of the time, you should still see results. My initial goal was to go 100% for 30 days and I came close. I saw incredible results and haven't looked back. I suggest you do the same. Here are some videos to help reiterate my points: