What Paleo Means To Me
1. Eat Real Food
People often become obsessed about the nuances of a particular diet whilst forgetting the bigger picture. Remember to eat real food.
Generally speaking, if what you’re putting into your mouth bears a passing resemblance to how the food looked when it was part of nature, then there’s a good chance that it will be healthy and nutritious. If the can of gloop that you’re eating glows in the dark and has an ingredients list as long as your arm, it’s best left alone.
People can debate about the benefits or problems of a diet high in fat or low in sodium, but almost everyone agrees that a diet comprised of real food is good for you.
The paleo diet seems to appreciate the importance of eating real food more than any other way of eating does.
When you start to eat real food, you often start to pay more attention to what you buy, where you buy it from, how you cook it and how it affects your body. I think spending more time thinking about and focusing on food can only be a good thing. It’s only recently that people have been able to give so little attention to what they put into their bodies whilst still managing to survive. When you view meals as an inconvenient necessity which should be time-optimised, to allow you to get on with something more important, then this vital connection with food can be lost.
2. Move You Body
Exercise is essential for life. It’s incredible how often I see patients who don’t see exercise as a necessary part of health. From the ultra-marathon runner to the octogenarian practicing getting up from a chair, everyone needs to exercise to preserve health. If you spend all day sitting, eating and sleeping, then your heart and lungs will become conditioned to only support these activities. When the time comes to run from beneath a falling building, or fight off a chest infection, your physiological reserves will not be able to cope.
The paleo philosophy stresses the importance of exercise and helps provide a template for the best way to move; from guidance about the correct period of time to wait between work outs, to the best ways to counteract the detrimental affects of a sedentary office job. All aspects of movement and posture are analysed. Evidence from research is taken into account and a useful filter of common sense is applied to come up with sensible and practical advice on how to move your body.
3. Avoid Medication
Medication is something which is not commonly mentioned in paleo circles, presumably because for those without medical qualifications, it might be regarded as potentially libellous to give medical advice.
From my point of view however, medication and the misuse of it plays a huge role in many of today’s health problems. Antibiotics, especially in childhood play havoc with the gut microbiome. Antidepressants often work by placebo affect only and often have nasty side effects and further problems when you try to stop them. Painkillers and stomach acid suppressants interfere with the bodies’ attempts to fix a problem, and allow people to maintain a lifestyle which is causing them damage, without dealing with the unpleasant effects.
The pharmaceutical industry has done some fantastic things, and I have no problem with medication use when it is absolutely necessary. Unfortunately, the current culture which believes all of life’s problems can be fixed with the right pill, is encouraging people to relinquish their responsibility towards their own health. The pharmaceutical industry only serves to perpetuate this belief. They’re a business so it’s difficult to blame them. What’s needed is for individuals and doctors to consider what other possible cures, such as a change in behaviour or a nutritional supplement, could be used before reaching for the box of pills.
4. Question Everything
To quote the late great physicist Richard Feynman, “It doesn’t matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn’t matter how smart you are. If it doesn’t agree with experiment, it’s wrong”.
Research is vital for finding out the truth. If something doesn’t stand up to research then it’s necessary to question it. A good scientist will come up with a theory and then spend the rest of his life trying to prove it wrong. A bad scientist will come up with a theory, announce that his theory is true, and spend the rest of his life carrying out research which confirms him to be right.
The paleo philosophy is counter to so many ideas accepted as fact. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s correct, but at least it’s asking the questions and challenging the people who claim their theories are true.
Before I started to question the medical doctrine I’d been taught at university, I believed people needed to avoid eating fat, that wearing running trainers were necessary to avoid injuries, that more time in the gym meant faster results and that sunlight was bad for your skin.
Everybody that tells you anything has their own agenda. Whether they’re trying to sell you something, convince you to joint their club or even just to nullify their own doubts, there’s never a neutral statement.
You should question everything, including anything I say. Imagine both sides of any given statement to be true in turn, consider the evidence and use your own intuition and then arrive at a conclusion.
5. Use Evolution As A Guide
Everything in the natural world makes sense, once you view it through the lens of evolution.
The foods which are most healthy are the foods which our ancient ancestors would have eaten. We are less likely to be adapted to eat foods which have been recently added to our diet, such as grains, refined sugar and processed seed oils. Other foods such as alcohol and dairy products are also recent additions to our diet but there is some research to suggest that in moderation, these are less harmful to us. Ultimately everyone is different and everyone has different levels of acceptable tolerance and deprivation of what foods they are happy eating and what foods they can go without. I personally find that dairy products don’t seem to have any detrimental effects on me, whereas grains often leave me feeling bloated and sluggish. I enjoy alcohol but try not over do it. I’ve managed to remove grains, sugars and seed oils from my day to day diet and now I’m so used to eating this way that it doesn’t feel like an effort. However, on occasion, I still eat these things, whether it’s for a meal out or at a friend’s house.
Humans evolved to move. They did not evolve to sit down all day, to wear massively cushioned running shoes, to spend hours every week jogging on a treadmill or lifting up a weight and putting it down again. Thinking about the way in which our ancestors lived gives us a useful perspective on the way in which we should try and move or bodies, and opens up avenues of research to pursue to help confirm or disprove this.
Low levels of stress, adequate sunlight, plenty of sleep, meaningful social connections, time to play, mindfulness and a leisurely pace of life. These are all things which our ancestors would have taken for granted. For all of it’s conveniences and technological progress, modern society does not value or encourage these things as much as it should. By accepting ourselves for who we are and not thinking we can outsmart evolution, we can adapt our modern lives to promote longevity, health and happiness.
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