What Is Paleo?
The Paleo diet and lifestyle is an approach to food and well being that emphasizes nutrient-dense foods and overall health and wellness. It is definitely more of a lifestyle than a “diet” in the usual weight loss sense (though many, including me, have easily lost weight while following this lifestyle as well). It is based off of the idea that we as humans have been on this earth for 160,000 years, but we have been eating grains for only 10,000 of those years. And then for only 50-100 or so of those years we have been eating processed foods full of strange chemicals and non-food items. While there have been some small genetic changes in our makeup since then, we are essentially the same species that hunted and gathered for our food 160,000 years ago. So as a result, the introduction of grains, and then subsequently processed foods have been a major detriment to our health.
The main focus of the Paleo diet is on whole foods such as pastured-raised meats and eggs, organic vegetables and fruits, seafood, nuts and seeds, and healthy fats. We avoid grains, legumes, dairy, and processed foods. We also emphasize vegetables over everything. All of those stories you hear of Paleo people eating meat, meat, and more meat are exaggerated. Most of us eat vegetables as our main emphasis with portions of meat and fat to complement them.
My approach to the Paleo diet:
There are some who strictly abide by every rule laid out (not even sure where these rules are laid out) and also detractors who say prehistoric humans basically ate like sewer rats, grabbing anything and everything they could. While I don't know exactly what early humans ate, I honestly don't care. I also don't care if I follow it to the exact letter of the “law”. I believe in a version of a diet that emphasizes whole foods, foods that were grown or raised as close to nature as is possible in this industrial age, and shunning most things that are processed and adulterated. To me, this diet makes total sense. I don't need any “studies” to tell me that X is going to kill me or make me live longer. It's REAL food, so I'm pretty sure it's going to support my health and wellness. Plus, for me personally, eating this way is the way I feel best.
I believe in following an approach that works for you. I personally am Celiac, so I stay away from gluten at every cost, dairy gives me awful gas and bloating, and quinoa causes terrible stomach pains – but on special occasions like a vacation I might indulge in some gluten-free baked goods or corn tortillas (and sometimes.. ice cream or cheese – just don't be downwind of me for the next 24 hours :-). I also buy some processed foods like almond milk or Heinz Organic Ketchup, since I am a busy working mom of 2 young kids. I need to compromise on some things, but that's a choice I am willing to make and it doesn't seem to effect us all that much. But for the most part we make our own meals and snacks.
I also believe that relaxation and sleep are HUGE components of this diet/lifestyle. When I let either of these slip I can feel it. If you think about it, primal humans spent most of their days foraging for food in a largely stress-free environment. A random tiger might chase them and cause momentary STRESS!!!, but once the person survived they would most likely go back to their stress-free life. However, in today's day and age we have the proverbial tiger chasing us several times a day, if not more. You get up and rush to get ready for work so you aren't late. A car swerves out and almost hits you on your commute to work. You are running up against a deadline at work and your boss throws another task on your plate. So on and so forth. It never ends! This leads not only to us feeling frazzled all the time but also leads to huge and chronic health issues. And sleep is our mechanism to repair from the day, to detox from all the things that threaten us in our environment, to refresh, and when we skimp on that it just leads to a cascade of health issues as well. Relaxation and stress are extremely important.
Things I do that are “Paleo”:
- I eat vegetables, meats, nuts, seeds, fruits, fats, and natural sweeteners (like honey and maple syrup)
- I make most of my own beauty products. You can see the ones I have shared here
- I get at LEAST 8 hours of sleep a night
- I no longer work out in a “chronic cardio” manner (more than 30 min of medium to high intensity exercise) each day. I walk a lot, run every so often just because i enjoy it, do short 10 minute HIIT (high intensity interval training) exercises every few days, do Barre, yoga, and Pilates, and do lots and lots of planks
- I go outside without sunscreen! (Vitamin D deficiency is a very big problem)
- I meditate, do yoga, get massages, acupuncture, and otherwise relax as much as I can
- I wear blue light blocking glasses at night when working on the computer or watching tv
- I eat grain-free baked goods and desserts
- I help grow my own food in our garden, participate in a CSA with our local farm, and buy meat from farmers who I know and love
- I eat delicious vegetables doused in healthy fats like bacon fat, lard, coconut oil, and ghee (no bland steamed broccoli for me!)
- I use essential oils as part of a balanced, natural approach to healthcare
- I constantly am learning as much as I can about health and wellness
- I share what I learn and know with others
Things that I do that are NOT “Paleo”:
- I wear nail polish. I don't care, I have ugly hands, nail polish is the only things that save them
- I watch Real Housewives of Beverly Hills (pretty sure there isn't a single natural thing about that show)
- I eat white rice (this is considered to be ok in some circles of Paleo though)
- I work and raise 2 kids under the age of 9 (stresssssful)
- I have lots and lots of electronics in my life.
- I eat gluten-free baked goods on occasion
- I use Aveda shampoo (I've tried no-poo and not so bad “poo” and just haven't liked any of it)
So as you can see, I'm not perfect, nor do I strive to be. I believe the Paleo diet to be a balance of trying to figure out what works for you and what doesn't. It is not a doctrine of what you can and cannot do and what works for me might certainly not work for you! I am constantly tinkering around trying to find out what makes me feel my very best, and it is so very worth it to me. So many people think that feeling “just ok” is normal and it's NOT!!! There is hope, and I can personally attest to that. You should feel GREAT and if you don't you are only cheating yourself. Is that croissant really worth it? Or is being able to run around with your kids day in and day out and to be able to meet your grandchildren more important?
Read more about my story here.
Ready to jump into the Paleo diet?
If you are just searching for some recipes, see my Paleo recipes here.
If you are the visual type, see all of my short, no-speaking video tutorials on my YouTube Channel.
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If you want to learn more about the Paleo diet I recommend these resources:
Favorite Beginnner Paleo Book to read: Practical Paleo by Diane Sanfilippo will give you a great overview of the Paleo diet, why it works, and several delicious recipes to get you started
Favorite websites that tell you why Paleo works:
Primal Blueprint and Mark's Daily Apple – great websites by Primal living expert Mark Sisson that gives all kinds of health and wellness tips and why the Paleo/Primal diet works
Chris Kesser – this functional medicine practitioner has a very open minded view of the Paleo diet and how it should be customized for each individual
The Paleo Mom – jump into the science behind the diet with Sarah. Also a wonderful resource if you have an autoimmune disease and want to use diet to help reverse it. I followed her “The Paleo Approach” Autoimmune Paleo Protocol in 2014 to help me recover from adrenal fatigue and the damage I did to my body from the Hashimoto's Thyroiditis and Celiac Disease