You’ve heard about the paleo diet and wonder what the fuss is all about? Look no further, this will be your SHORT intro to it! I’ll go over the basic idea as well as the questions I get all the time from friends who wonder why I don’t eat bread (OMG!!! ;-)).
OK, so let’s start with the fundamental question: WHY would you want to change your diet to something a caveman might’ve eaten? Well, the short answer for most people is “to lose weight”, or “to look better naked”. And that’s perfectly valid! Once they start the paleo journey though, most find that they also become healthier overall, have better digestion, feel more energetic and generally kick more ass. Good things in my book! I’m not trying to convince anyone though – if you’re interested in these benefits, just give it a shot for a month and see for yourself.
So what is this paleo thing?
The paleo diet, or rather, ‘paleo template’ as I prefer to call it, is a way of eating (and, eventually, living) that tries to approximate the way we ate (…and lived) during the bulk of human evolution, using the foods and tools we have at our disposal right now.
This is not to say that everything back then was perfect, but according to current evidence, people in the Paleolithic era were free of diseases of civilization (obesity, diabetes, heart disease, etc.) and were much fitter physically than the average joe and jane in the western world nowadays.
Just imagine for a second you had NO idea what to eat at all (not a stretch, given the amount of contradictory diet advice in the media). Wouldn’t it make sense that our best, initial guess would be to focus on what “man” has eaten during its evolution and use that as a starting point?
This is exactly what we’re going to do. That means we’ll avoid processed foods in general, as well as most or all grains and dairy products, industrial seed oils and possibly legumes (they are kind of a grey area to be honest, not a deal breaker either way though).
We WILL put our focus on eating fresh and unprocessed vegetables, meat, fish, eggs, some nuts and seeds, and some fruit. We may optimize some details later to reflect our individual goals and tolerances (everyone is different!) but this basic list should provide a solid starting point for most people.
To be honest, if you never read another sentence on paleo but just stuck to this list, tried to sleep 8 hours a night, and walked around outside for a bit every day you’d probably be fitter and healthier than 80-90% of people out there right now.
OK so now we’ve covered the general idea, let’s get to some “frequently asked questions”…
No bread, pasta or cereal?? What DO you eat?
There are incredibly many paleo recipe websites and books now. Just to give you an idea though, a typical day for me looks more or less like this:
- Breakfast: Scrambled eggs with avocado
- Lunch: Big salad with tuna and some nuts, no dressing (just olive oil, maybe some balsamic vinegar)
- Afternoon snack: Apple or banana, maybe another egg or some nuts
- Dinner: Meat/Fish and veggies, maybe add some sweet potatoes
…Sounds pretty reasonable, right? You can get much more fancy if you like, but this is what works for me.
Can you still eat out at restaurants?
Absolutely. Depending on how “perfect” you want to be it’s actually super easy. Almost every restaurant will offer steak with veggies, or a salad with chicken breast (hold the dressing and bread! ;-)). Ask them to replace fries / pasta with more veggies. Yes, maybe they’ll cook everything in vegetable oils, etc. – if you don’t eat out 3x per day, every day, this is probably not going to kill you. If you do, just ask them to prepare everything with butter or coconut oil. No big deal.
So this is low carb, right? And do I need to count calories?
Well, not really. Look, it basically comes down to viewing your food from a quality vs. quantity perspective. Most diets have a very “quantitative” focus in that they aim for a certain number of calories or some ratio of macronutrients (protein, fat, carbs). As long as you stay within those parameters you are supposed to be fine. However, while this may work in terms of short- to medium-term weight loss, it is cumbersome (who wants to count calories??) and it also ignores the quality of the food you are eating.
Eating “Paleo” focuses on the QUALITY of the food you consume. By eating “real foods” that are unprocessed and have lots of vitamins, minerals, etc., your body will get more of what it really needs and will – over time – go back to regulating its food intake automatically. That means you get the benefit of a healthy bodyweight (and looking good naked) without having to count everything you shove into your mouth. High-fives all around!
So where can I buy Mammoth meat? I can’t find any at my local supermarket!
Nice one! I’ll admit that the fruits we can buy at the supermarket are not the same they used to be and we rarely (OK, never) eat buffalo or mammoth meat. But that doesn’t mean we can’t aim to stick to unprocessed, natural foods instead of going for Oreos and Skittles. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good!
But people back then lived short, brutish lives! Right?
Yes and no. It’s true that they had fewer comforts and the average life span was indeed much shorter. However, this was in large part due to high infant mortality and death from disease. Once hunter gatherers reached a certain age they actually lived pretty long and healthy lives. And they kicked ass until they dropped dead. Which is something I feel we should all aspire to!