Many people have heard of the Paleo diet and many have a modest understanding of what it entails. But what folks may not know is that there is a whole Paleo wellness lifestyle that goes way beyond the food we consume. It includes the way we exercise, play, sleep, socialize, manage stress, and even the kind of shoes we wear.
The Paleo lifestyle is rapidly emerging and is a huge trend in the health and fitness community. Here in Portland, there are restaurants (like Dick’s Kitchen) and food carts (like the Cultured Caveman) that feature an extensive menu of paleo foods. Crossfit gyms (like Crossfit Portland) and kettle bell studios (like the Warrior Room) are popping up everywhere to offer up workouts that aligns with the theories of exercising the way our ancestors did.
The Paleo lifestyle is about much more than dieting and losing weight. It is a health, fitness, and wellness movement, and if you, like many, are on a journey to find holistic harmony in your life, then the Paleo lifestyle is something worth exploring.
When trying to live as close to the way our paleolithic ancestors did, a good first step is with the food we consume. Considering that the modern human genome evolved from millions of years of living a hunter-gatherer way of life, it makes sense that we would do best giving our bodies what they have learned to eat and process. It was only approximately 10,000 years ago (a relatively short amount of time evolutionarily speaking) that we abandoned that hunter-gatherer way of life when agriculture became accessible.
In addition, highly processed foods (products of the Industrial Revolution) have only been consumed in high quantities for about 200 years. Our bodies did not evolve to know how to process the large amounts of grains, legumes, sugars, and refined foods that are now so readily available.
It’s no wonder that many of these foods cause an inflammatory response in our bodies that many of us don’t even know is happening until we experience the contrast of how amazing we feel when we eliminate these things from our diets.
So we know that our modern diet is full of refined sugars, trans-fats, excess grains, and overly processed foods, but what does a Paleo diet include? Simply explained, real food. A Paleo diet includes foods that would have been available to our foraging ancestors: greens and vegetables, berries and other fruits, nuts, seeds, meat, fish, and eggs.
Some people following what is called a “Primal” diet, which is mostly Paleo, allow for small amounts of starchy tubers, a few “ancient grains” like quinoa and wild rice, and high quality, raw dairy products.
Some of the reported benefits of a Paleo diet include:
- Reaching and maintaining your ideal weight, by losing fat and gaining lean muscle mass.
- Allowing your body to function as nature intended, free from disease and ailments.
- Reversing current health struggles such as heart disease, diabetes, autoimmune disorders, obesity, and depression.
- Increased intake and absorption of vitamins, minerals, nutrients, and antioxidants using satisfying foods.
- Improved sleep.
- Mental clarity and elevated moods.
- Increased stamina and energy.
If the way our bodies process food is affected by millions of years of evolution, so is the way our bodies respond when we exercise. Our ancestors probably walked a lot, whether it be foraging for plant food, hunting animals, or living nomadically. You may have heard people say over the years that walking is the best exercise, and this may be why.
You also can imagine that there may have been a lot of heavy lifting involved in daily life: carrying food, building shelters, and climbing (lifting our body weight). A combination of activities like walking, hiking, and cycling paired with a few sessions a week of some form of weight training gives our bodies the kind of strength and stamina we were designed to have, and therefore will help us thrive.
Beginning to implement aspects of the Paleo lifestyle is best done in small doses, like any lifestyle change. Starting with diet and exercise is a good first step. Future articles here at Portland Paleo will highlight more specific characteristics of the Paleo lifestyle, as well as ways to get involved locally.
For further reading on the Paleo diet and lifestyle, I recommend any of the following:
Primal Body, Primal Mind by Nora T. Gedgaudas
The Paleo Solution by Robb Wolf