what Paleo is, why I love it, and why (maybe) you should try it too
the two biggest questions when I tell people I eat Paleo are: 1) what is Paleo? and 2) why do you do it?
understandably, those are 2 very valid questions, and honestly, I should have addressed this as my first blog post. (which I clearly didn't).
so, what is Paleo?
if you Google "Paleo diet," you'll come up with tons of results either preaching that the Paleo diet is the healthiest way to eat or that it's a scam and will cause you to get heart disease and die. both are extreme. and I'm not here to tell you how you should eat or what is the "healthiest" or "best" way to eat. so I'll give you the raw facts.
(and contrary to popular belief, I do not eat raw steak 24/7 like a caveman. honestly, I don't even eat red meat that often (though people who eat Paleo definitely can — and some do)).
basically, Paleolithic eating is a diet full of whole, unprocessed foods. it focuses eating on fruits, vegetables, lean meats, seafood, nuts, seeds, and healthy fats.
at it's very strictest, you're not supposed to consume dairy, grains, processed food and sugar, legumes, starches, and alcohol.
lifestyle-wise, the goal is to "behave" like our ancestors as well. which means eliminating external stressors, sleeping at least 8 hours a night, focusing on short and intense training sessions instead of over-exercising, and spending time outside being active.
the follow up questions I usually get are: why no legumes? why no grains? I thought both existed in the caveman days? I thought oats and quinoa and beans are healthy for you?
the simple answer is similar for both legumes and grains: they have chemicals that make it hard for your body to absorb.
the more complicated answer, if you care about getting into the nitty gritty of it, is that there are 3 terms you should know about:
- phytic acid: binds to nutrients and make it hard for your body to absorb them
- FODMAP: stands for Fermantable Oligo-saccharides Di-saccharides Mono-saccharides and Polyols (wow, a mouthful); basically they're carbs / sugar alcohols that can irritable bowels
- lectin: type of protein that binds to cell membranes and is indigestible
- legumes contain phytic acid; though nuts also do contain phytic acid, but it's assumed that you don't eat the same amount of nuts as you do beans (it's also recommended that you sprout nuts to increase absorption); the issue arises when you eat mass amounts of legumes without fat to help absorption
- legumes are a high FODMAP food, which can cause people with pre-existing digestive issues to show increased symptoms
- since we don't digest lectin, our bodies produce antibodies, which can trigger an immune response and can cause leaky gut you can decrease the amount of lectin in legumes by sprouting them
- non-gluten grains like quinoa also have phytates (phytic acid bound to a mineral), decreasing nutrient absorption (ex: why vegans should have a higher iron intake than omnivores)
- wheat and other non-gluten free grains are high in FODMAPs; buckwheat, rice, and corn are lower
- grains are up there with legumes in the amount of lectin they contain AKA they're the two food groups that contain the most lectin
if you want a hilarious (and accurate) depiction of what Paleo is, Nom Nom Paleo has a comic book explanation you can read here.
why I do it
my dad actually suggested I start eating Paleo when I told him I was struggling with an eating disorder and had a slew of physical complaints (bloating, digestion issues, etc.). you can read my post here on how following a Paleo lifestyle has helped me overcome my eating disorder, but bottom line is it became a way of life for me.
and as I continued on my Paleo journey, I discovered that it was as easy as breathing. I don't struggle with it. it's just how I live.
besides almost completely eliminating my digestion issues, it also allows me to focus on what I eat. I'm not strict Paleo, meaning that I do eat some of the things on the "no" list in moderation: I eat peanut butter, starches like sweet potato and potato, and corn tortillas, and drink alcohol; I have gluten free bread, white rice, and cheese very occasionally. I do have probiotic foods like plain yogurt and kefir quite often, and use pea protein in smoothies as well.
because through trial and error, I've found what works for me and what doesn't. maybe I'd feel better if I went 100% paleo or did Whole30, but that's the type of restriction that doesn't seem wise for a former ED-sufferer.
how other people react
sometimes people will judge or poke fun. like: "will you die if you eat gluten?"
answer: no. will I be extremely uncomfortable? yes. so when people ask me, "why don't you just eat this bagel just once; it's worth it..." I reply with, "honestly, not really; not to me." and for people who've been eating a certain way for awhile, you learn not to crave certain foods. you don't even miss them. for me, bagels are one of those foods.
others are genuinely curious as to why I would eat this why or what exactly it is. I'm not a paleo encyclopedia, so sometimes I can't answer all their questions. not sure if that makes me seem questionable, but whatever.
why you should give it a try
I'm not going to tell you Paleo is a miracle-worker. I'm not going to tell you it cause me to lose x pounds or gain x pounds of muscle. I'm not going to try and convert you.
but I will tell you that eating a diet full of real food is beneficial to anyone. it shouldn't be looked at as, "oh I have to eat this way." no, it's more of, "oh, I get to eat all these fresh, gorgeous, vibrant fruits and veggies. I get to have this juicy steak or perfectly cooked salmon. I get to eat food that came from the earth and was meant to be eaten."
and if you are looking to change your health, I can tell you my personal experience — it's helped heal a lot of my mystery digestive issues. it's made me a happier person, though I can't tell you for sure it's a 100% correlation without outside factors. and others have shown that paired with exercise, intuitive eating, and de-stressing techniques, eating Paleo (like many other forms of eating) can help you lose weight.
so, what now?
if you're ready to get started on your Paleo journey, take a look online. there's a plethora of resources, but I'm more than happy to direct you in one way or another (and to answer any and all questions you have, of course!).
some resources that I found helpful were Paleo Leap for information (especially this Paleo 101 article), Nerd Fitness's "Beginner's Guide to Paleo" article, and Robb Wolf's Paleo archives. athletes may also find Mark Sisson's (of Mark's Daily Apple) Primal Endurance book helpful.
for recipe inspiration, check out Michelle Tam's blog Nom Nom Paleo, Mel Joulwan's blog Well Fed, Danielle Walker's blog Against All Grain, my girl and fellow Northeastern Husky Hannah Liistro's blog Wholesomely Hannah, and of course, right here on Approaching Paleo!