Sunday, February 05, 2012

How & Why Paleo Eating Works for Me

Have you heard of the Paleo diet? If you are a normal American, you most likely have no clue what the paleolithic eating is. In a nutshell, it is the belief in eating like our ancestors did for the millions of years prior to agriculture. This style is similar to Atkins as carbohydrates have a low profile. Carbs from bread, pasta, cereals are shunned, but carbs from fruits and veggies are OK. Think of how hunter gatherers ate, and you will have a good picture of the daily routine for paleo eaters. In recent months I have toyed with it, but after the holidays, I tried a modified paleo approach to my food. It has had a tremendous impact to my daily well being. I am not a strict paleo eater, and this has helped me best balance health with happiness in my daily diet.


As background, I consider my physical state to be in excellent condition. I'm in better shape now than 5-10 years ago w/more body fat, but I'll never duplicate my 2-4% college days. Even if it is a flawed measurement, my BMI is 24, and because of muscle I have no fear of it slightly passing 25. I work out multiple times a week with weights, do a small bit of walking or biking multiple days, eat a good balance of food, drink very little (occasional glass of red wine or liquor), and I am not a tobacco smoker. I considered paleo eating because research, news articles, and a desire to eat more 'real' food felt like a nice experiment. Plus, a paleo diet read like old weightlifting or bodybuilding eating regimens. I definitely feel sugar spikes when I consume high sugar foods. I also felt that I needed to do something to help my digestive system, which was signalling to me issues even if I looked great. Paleo and the writing of Gary Taubes helped me seek an alternative. Each january, I give up soda for at least 40 days, sometimes 160. When this January rolled around, I thought, "why not go quasi-paleo and give up soda".

I believe in the 80-20 principle, so can't fully commit to paleo eating, but I run my own paleo system. I have to sacrifice some time at night to plan for the next day. My morning meals used to be eggs + some oatmeal/english muffin/granola bar (like a 20-20g or 30-30g protein/carb ratio). I now focus on eggs & a tablespoon of honey in my tea or plain greek yogurt & cantaloupe. I'm skewing towards protein. My lunch has changed significantly from steady sandwiches or a meal out to salad with a modified sandwich or cooked meat in a separate container. Multiple times now, I have taken a hearty stew or chilli to work. My modified sandwich is a sandiwch of the same amount of meat as before but on one slice of bread. Once again, skewing towards protein and limiting my carbs. My post-lunch snack is a carb reduced protein bar (not paleo but protein heavy). My dinner is whatever  is cooked with the meat & vegetable receiving my attention with the starch (potato or rice) occupying a small portion of my plate. Dinner is my biggest wild card, but I feel that my paleo method is a pretty good cousin to true paleo eating. Is it expensive? No, as my breakfast costs no more than $3 daily. Money is not an object if you take the time to do your research.

The results are pretty obvious. I have slightly more energy. My body does not experience intake spikes or food induced comas. My digestive system is obviously in favor of this as my stomach feels full longer and does not send hunger signals. My stomach does not feel bloated, and trips to the bathroom are quick & easy. In comparison to my old lifting food regimen, this is much much easier on my stomach. This is also challenging me to try some foods out of my normal routine (face it we all get in food ruts) like goat cheese and different types of salads. Stews, soups and chilli are regularly entering my meal plans. Diversity of food has definitely been a nice change. I'm a creature of habit, so this change has forced me to think differently. Control over my food as well as reading and researching my food and ingredients has been a nice change. It is a sacrifice of time and effort, but shouldn't we all deeply care about what it is that is sustaining us? Shouldn't our food matter?

Will Paleo eating work for everyone? Should everyone do it? Should paleo eaters act like vegetarians and vegans who spread the Veggie Gospel like secular Tim Tebows? No. I don't necessarily buy the hype that agricultural products like corn, wheat, cereals, pasta and bread are bad. Not all current medical evils should be laid at the feet of farming. For 10,000 years, people farmed, and it built and sustained a magnificant European culture that grew and spread to raise the rest of the world out of misery. If I were to theorize on anything, it would be that paleo eating is a positive because current farming is so divorced from pre-1980s farming. The obesity percentage in America was 5% or less prior to 1985, and nutrition gains were great up to that point in Anglosphere history. Farming was feeding us then. Something happened recently with our food, and before I go deeper down the rabbit hole, that is the subject for another post. Paleo eaters all seem ot brag about its positive effects. The paleo promoters have probably stumbled onto something brilliant physiologically because their method unplugs you from modern factory farming (think McWorld or Food Inc.). If you've been considering it, try it. Worst thing that can happen is you go back to the standard American diet or return to a normal eatign style but with some paleo tweaks.

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