There are many people who don’t understand what Paleo or Primal means or why people choose to eat and live this way. Hopefully, this page will clear a few things up in addition to explaining my take on these lifestyles. I’m not a nutritionist or certified trainer, I just love to share information I dig up!
*Many of my opinions are shaped by Mark Sisson from Mark’s Daily Apple. He is responsible for a fantastic approach at life called Primal Blueprint, and you should absolutely check out his site or order his book through Amazon!
My Paleo & Primal journey began in November 2013 when I was reading about nutrition and various dietary lifestyles…which is something I do more often than I’d like to admit. I’m always looking for answers. I felt like when I was eating “right,” I was really just plain hungry. I was getting in the “right” nutrients and calories, but I still wanted to eat. all. the. time. It’s sad to think that if I want to be healthy and strong well into my 80s, I have to be hungry. I worried about losing baby weight (even though I have no desire to have kids for about 5 more years) and the natural weight gain that even the healthiest people experience after the age of 50. It’s not fair. If I’m trying really hard and doing the “right” thing, then it’s not fair that I would just inevitably gain weight and lose muscle mass when I got older. When I discovered the primal lifestyle, it was an “Aha!” moment. Everything that has been shoved down our throats on health and nutrition is wrong and not at all based on scientific research. Here’s what I learned, and if you want to learn more, I’ll have an extensive list of links at the end!
Basic Principles: Consume whole, natural foods that have been around for hundreds of thousands of years. Move often and lift heavy things.
What We Eat: We eat meat, vegetables, fruit, nuts, and naturally occurring fats. (I personally add in dairy on occasion, the full fat kind.) We focus on nutrient dense foods. These foods decrease inflammation in the body (caused by grains and processed vegetable oils like canola, corn oil. sunflower, safflower, etc.), which is a major cause of many bodily ailments.
Calories: It’s not about calories. It’s not a low calorie or high calorie “diet.” We pay close attention to hunger signals, eat until we’re full, and we do not eat when we’re not hungry. Fat is not the enemy, especially when it comes from sources like coconuts, avocados, and olives. Fat keeps you full, and you’ll eat less food overall.
Energy: We do not need a high amount of carbohydrates to “fuel” a workout. Fat has been man’s fuel of choice for most of our species’ existence, and it worked out beautifully until our diseased recent history. When we consume healthy fats and keep our carbohydrate levels in check, our bodies become fat adapted. A fat adapted body burns fat from the moment you wake up. Also, remember when you were told that you need to workout for at least 20-30 minutes before your calorie burn is actually burning fat? Paleo and Primal lifestyles allow for fat to burn more quickly and efficiently.
Exercise: Cardio has its place, but chronic cardio does nothing for your health. Basic human exercises like push ups, planks, pull ups, squats, lunges, and sprints are our best tools for staying strong and healthy. We should move as much as we can throughout the day. For teachers and doctors, that’s not really a problem. For those with desk jobs, it’s an enormous problem.
80/20: This is a principle of these lifestyles that emphasizes not beating ourselves up over slip-ups or treats. It means I’ll have a beer or a chocolate chip cookie every once in a while with my husband. If my restaurant meal was cooked in canola oil instead of butter, I won’t sweat it. Eating well most of the time will help correct any minor “cheats.” It doesn’t mean “I’ll eat well for 80% of every day.” It means “I’ll aim for 100%, and the occasional slips won’t get me down.” It’s not supposed to be an exact paleo/non-paleo math problem. It’s an idea, a mindset.
A Happy Eater’s Take: Why would I choose this lifestyle? Why would I give up certain foods? Well, I have struggled with “eating right” in a balanced, healthy way for nearly a decade. It takes a toll on you. I’ve tried calorie restriction, vegetarianism, veganism, and just a regular “I eat what I want” attitude. It didn’t work. It caused me stress. I never felt good about myself. Some of those problems are not entirely related to food, but that doesn’t mean I can’t find an answer from food. Food is medicine.
Paleo and primal foods are nourishing. They feed and heal your body and your brain. The reason why I am adamant to stick with this lifestyle is because I FEEL BETTER. Apparently, I had some “gut issues” that I didn’t even realize I had. When I eliminated certain foods, I noticed a change. It’s kind of like the first time you wear glasses and you think I can actually see things! I grew up with bodily dysfunctions I didn’t even know were dysfunctions until they went away last year. (I will spare you the details!)
I was also thrilled to hear that I was justified in not enjoying a daily running schedule. I love activities that align more with gymnastics, and I love feeling strong. I’ve tried a few times to get into long distance running, but I have never been able to create a solid running habit. And that’s okay. We don’t have to be cardio bunnies.
You’d be surprised at how much more efficient strength workouts can be. Mark Sisson, Primal guru, himself said he wanted to look as good as he can with as little effort as possible. A primal lifestyle is about being an active person: playing with your kids, running around the park with your dog, playing frisbee with friends, going on a hiking trip, practicing your daughter’s dance studio choreography with her, racing to the edge of the yard with your spouse and kids…it’s about moving. When you move more, and lift heavy things every once in a while, your body will respond better and look better than it will after hours on a cardio machine.