On a recent work trip, I got completely spoiled with a 9 course meal with so much gastronomical fantasticalness, that I’m not even going to attempt to explain what the dishes were made of (see pictures above and below). I do know, however, that there was plenty of beef, duck and chicken liver (I think?). My coworker approached me after we had left the clients, with a very concerned look.
"Are you okay? I saw you eat every dish!" she said. I asked her why that was a problem, and she said, "I thought you didn’t eat meat?"
I proceeded to explain to her that I’m not vegan; I’m paleo. When I got blank stares in response, I realized something.
Not everybody knows what paleo means. DUH.
I get so sucked into my own little world that sometimes I forget that paleo is still in many respects under-the-radar. SO, this is my long-overdue post to you on what it means to be Paleo. You ready? Here we go…
WHAT DOES ‘PALEO’ MEAN?
Paleo is an abbreviation for Paleolithic. People who follow this lifestyle eat foods that pass this test: Would our ancient ancestors have eaten this food?
But, for me, Paleo is really about eliminating the foods that cause inflammation (and indigestion, and stress, and feeling like crap), and enjoying the ones that don't.
WHY EAT WHAT OUR ANCESTORS ATE?
People ask me this question all the time. Why would we use the caveman as our model of health? They died at like…30. Welp. Cavemen also didn’t have modern medicine to cure their ailments or heal their bones. What they DID have was real, whole unprocessed foods that served them well: plants, meats, seafood. For about 2.5 million years, humans biologically adapted best with these foods.
Then agriculture came along. And with it, came wheat, sugar, and chemically processed vegetable oils and seed oils. Crazy coincidence – it wasn’t until this time that diseases such as autoimmune disorders, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and…wait for it…OBESITY came into our lives.
Yes, cavemen died earlier than us. But they were dying because they starved to death or were mauled by animals. NOT because of heart disease and obesity. Although we may be more evolved than our ancestors in a lot of ways, they’ve got us beat in the food department. And since our basic biochemical responses pretty much work the same as theirs – maybe, just maybe, we should follow their lead at the dinner table (not in a eat-with-your-hands-scratch-yourself kind of way, of course).
WHAT DO YOU EAT?
- Grass Fed Meat & Poultry
- Wild Caught Seafood
- Pasture-Raised Eggs
- Fruit – mostly berries
- Nuts, in moderation
- Seeds, in moderation
WHAT DON’T YOU EAT?
- Gluten-containing grains
- Processed foods (i.e. 80% of the food in the center of the supermarket)
WHY DON’T YOU EAT THOSE THINGS?
As I said before, agriculture didn’t come into our lives until about 10,000 years ago. Foods like grains, beans, dairy and Doritos were new to our bodies. And research shows that humans have not been able to adapt fast enough to properly digest and metabolize these foods. Again, it was only after we started eating these foods did we develop obesity, heart disease and diabetes.
This is where I could get super detailed and research-heavy with you. And I have done that in other posts like my happy stomach series and my processed oil post. But for now, I would just like to say that sometimes, it’s as simple as listening to your body. Think about it. How do you feel after you’ve eaten a cheesy pizza? A bean burrito? A bowl of sugary cereal? A box of cookies?
Okay, I know that some of you with stomachs of steel are going to say you feel fine. But I know that once I eliminated gluten, sugar and processed foods from my diet (I never ate much dairy to begin with), I felt and looked a whole lot better. Not very scientific, I know. But it’s the only evidence I need.
WHY WOULD SOMEBODY GO PALEO?
For a variety of reasons. To lose weight is obviously one of them. But more often than not, people with autoimmune diseases and digestive related problems turn to the paleo diet when they realize that medicine is not making them feel any better.
People with diseases like…
- Crohn’s disease
- Celiac disease
- Ulcerative Colitis
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Interstitial cystitis
- Multiple Sclerosis
Are improving, and sometimes eliminating their symptoms with the Paleo diet1.
WHY DID I GO PALEO?
I have always been a health nut. But for me, the definition of “health” has changed a lot over the years. For the better half of my life, my goal has always been to lose weight. That’s all I ever cared about. Being thin. That meant a lot of low-fat, non-fat, fake sugar, diet-packaged crap. As “healthy” as I thought I was, I was never happy with my weight, often unsatisfied with my food, and almost always in uncomfortable digestive pain.
My now-fiancée introduced me to the paleo diet, back when I was closer to vegan than anything else. I was frustrated with my weight, as my initial weight loss from eliminating all meat and dairy from my diet had worn off. My stomach was bigger than I wanted it to be, and often, in pain. But most of all, I always felt like I was restricting myself. I wasn’t really enjoying food.
I slowly started following some of the paleo guidelines. I switched to unprocessed oils in my cooking. I started eating grass-fed meat. I reduced a little, then a lot, of gluten. And most importantly, I threw away anything low-fat, non-fat, and let good fat back into my life. It took no longer than a couple weeks of these small changes to immediately feel and see results. And now, almost two years later, I can’t imagine eating and living any other way.
- Allowed me to eat ridiculously delicious and satisfying food
- Encouraged me to listen to my body rather than a book or a blog (Ha! Ironic)
- Inspired me to fall in love with cooking and start making more food from scratch – it tastes sooo much better!
- Got my body looking the best it ever, ever has
- But most importantly, feeling the best it ever has
Digestive health is so much more connected to our overall health than any of us ever realized. Yes, I think it’s great for people with Celiac Disease or Colitis, but I don’t think you need to “resort” to paleo. I think it can and should be something that we can all learn from. As you may have guessed from my 9-course meal above or some of the dishes I post on my instagram feed, I don’t live and die by the paleo rules. That's why I'm paleo-ish. I listen to my body and eat real food. Whether you accept it 100%, 80% or even 20%, we can all benefit from eating more real, whole, homemade food. It’s hard to argue with that.
WANT TO LEARN MORE?
This is obviously an oversimplification of a very complicated, slightly controversial topic. I don't pretend to be an expert on it, but I do know a few people who are. If you're interested in learning more about the paleo diet, I highly reccommend checking out Sean Croxton's podcast, Underground Wellness, Mark Sisson's blog Mark's Daily Apple, and Chris Kresser's site on functional medicine (i.e. connecting what we put in our body with health and disease). These are people willing to go the extra mile to tell you everyhing you need to know about the paleo diet and how we can use it to improve our health. Plus, they'll give you all the nitty gritty research that I don't have the time, the patience, or the expertise to cover here. But I hope, at the very least, this was a good start.
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