Tuesday, July 29, 2014

If I mentioned the word ‘Paleo’ to you back in 2010 you almost certainly wouldn’t have had a clue what I was talking about. Yet today you can barely go a day without running into some Paleo die-hard at the gym or stumbling across an article about this new diet ‘fad’ in the mainstream media.

So what’s with all the hype? Well, it seems that hundreds of thousands of people across the world are seeing amazing results after adopting a lifestyle informed by ancestral health - whether you call this a ‘Paleo', ‘Primal' or ‘Wild' diet. And they can't shut up about it.

A Paleo-style diet seems to work incredibly well at improving all manner of health outcomes - especially those related to metabolic diseases such as obesity and diabetes as well as autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis or Hashimoto's thyroiditis. 

Moreover, it seems to help people look good naked by improving body composition in a sustainable way that still lets you eat plenty of butter, bacon and dark chocolate. 

Scientific research - a costly, lengthy and often biased undertaking - typically lags current real-world results experienced by the health community at large by many, many years. I don’t expect to see solid scientific consensus on the benefits of a Paleo diet for another decade at least. 

Just because Paleo isn't backed by peer-reviewed scientific literature at the moment doesn't mean it doesn't work. It clearly does work. We just need for the science to catch up.

Interestingly the new tide of research coming out now is already debunking many of the dietary myths that have led our health astray since cholesterol and saturated fat were vilified in the latter half of the twentieth century. 

We are starting to see all the health repercussions from the previous decades of terrible dietary recommendations from Governmental bodies recommending low fat diets and eight to eleven servings of whole grains a day.

Either way, science or no science, if you believe all the amazing testimonials from your CrossFit mates, Gary Abblet or the LA Lakers and the idea of a Paleo lifestyle makes sense to you then there should be nothing stopping you from trying it, right? But there often is. 

Here are five excuses I hear all the time from people trying to talk themselves out of Paleo - and why they are lame and easily overcome.

Excuse One: I just couldn’t live without my toast/museli/yoghurt/milk in my coffee.

We precious humans like our little rituals. We get in a big huff when our favorite local cafe decides to close for three weeks over summer to renovate. 'Oh no! Now where will I get my bircher muesli and cappuccino fix?' Sob sob.

We get accustomed to eating certain things day in, day out - especially for breakfast. The thought of giving up our favorite muesli with yoghurt is positively horrifying. 

I went through the same initial resistance when I started eating in a more primal fashion. I refused to give up oats at first. 

Eventually I weaned myself off oats, muesli, yoghurt and milk in my coffee. And to my surprise it was very easy. In fact, not only was it easy but I started feeling a whole lot better when I stopped eating all those empty carbs for breakfast and insulin-spiking milk in my coffee. Within a few months I didn’t miss those things at all. I’ve never looked back.

Humans are incredibly adaptable and so are our palates. If you love oysters, wasabi, kimchi or beer I bet that you didn't like it the first time you tried it. No, you acquired the taste. 

Same goes for adopting a Paleo diet. You’d be amazed how many people tell me they could never stomach eggs for breakfast. Yet six months later and they are smashing omelets and salad in the morning and the thought of a bagel or Corn Flakes is revolting to them. 

So go ahead and give up bread for a month or two and I guarantee the benefits from going wheat-free will far outweigh whatever psychological comfort you used to get from your morning toast ritual.

Excuse Two: I can’t afford to eat this way.

Yes, grass-fed beef is more expensive than corn-fed beef in this country and coconut oil is more expensive than canola oil but it is entirely possible to eat Paleo on a strict budget. I do it myself. I’d love to be able to afford all organic produce and fresh wild-caught salmon three times a week but I can’t so I make some sacrifices that still enable me to eat Paleo without bankrupting myself. 

For example, I buy frozen grass-fed ground beef and frozen wild Alaskan salmon from Trader Joe’s, which is less than half the price of the fresh stuff from Whole Foods. I go to the farmers’ market for local, conventionally grown produce, which may not be certified organic but it is surely far more nutritious and cheaper than most supermarket fare. 

There are many ways you can be thrifty on a Paleo diet - from going in on a third of a cow with mates to growing your own veggies at home. But even if this isn’t practical to you and you do end up spending a little bit more at the supermarket you will end up saving in other ways. 

Most packaged foods, take away and convenience foods are marked up exorbitantly compared to fresh produce that you prepare yourself. Avoiding breakfast cereal, snacks, packaged beverages and ready-made meals and simply cooking more of your own meals will help mitigate the extra cost of eating Paleo. 

Additionally, being chronically ill is extremely expensive. Doctors, medication and sick leave are a huge financial burden, not to factor in the non-financial costs of disease to wellbeing and happiness. 

Taking control of your health and preventing disease through smart lifestyle choices is the best way to save money in the long term. Spend the extra now and you’ll be better off financially in the future.

Excuse Three: 'Paleo is unsustainable and inequitable'.

I’m not going to try and convince you that Paleo is sustainable in our current broken system of mono-crop agriculture and concentrated animal feeding operations. The sad truth is that our food system is set up in a perverse misallocation of resources that makes processed junk foods from cereal grains cheap and accessible while healthy produce is more expensive and inaccessible to the average person. 

It baffles me that a factory produced packet of Skittles with tens of ingredients, inputs and chemicals shipped and trucked from all over the world costs less than an organic local apple that literally grows on a tree, naturally. 

It is true that us Paleo folk are consuming more than our fair share of resources to be able to eat coconuts from the Philippines, bananas from Ecuador and lamb from New Zealand. 

It is also true that developing countries do not have access to many Paleo staples and that billions of people subsist on grains and legumes for survival. As I’ve said before, Paleo is an elitist diet - not everyone can afford it. (Ironically, as hunter-gathers we used to all eat this way but now only the wealthy can). 

But should the fact that Paleo isn’t equitable or sustainable stop you and I from eating an optimal diet if we have the means to do so? This is a philosophical and moral issue that is far beyond the realm of this blog. It is up to you if you want to take the moral high ground - but you won't get much encouragement from me.

I would hazard a guess that if you’re reading this blog post then you would be a massive hypocrite to avoid a Paleo diet for ethical reasons of sustainability or equality. 

Why? Because I guarantee that, assuming you are a relatively wealthy Westerner like nearly all of my readers, your current lifestyle is NOT sustainable. 

Your flights to holiday destinations, your iPhone, your air-conditioning units, driving through traffic to your parents house for dinner, the hundreds of take away coffee cups you dispose of annually, the machines that wash and dry your clothes for you... None of these things are sustainable or equitable when you consider the seven billion person population of the world today and how our scarce resources are unfairly divided up among them.

Call me cynical if you want, but unless you are willing to go off the grid, make your own hemp footwear, build yourself a mud hut out in the wilderness and hunt game with crude tools then please don’t use sustainability issues to avoid eating a Paleo diet. I won't have it.

Excuse Four: 'I like beer too much'.

I posit that you are better off eating Paleo and still drinking beer than not eating Paleo and still drinking beer. Paleo doesn’t have to be 100% strict. Any improvements in your lifestyle are worthwhile, so don’t let perfection get in the way of improvement. 

Excuse Five: 'I’m worried what Nonna/mum/my friends/partner will think of me'. 

If your diet gets in the way of your social life then you are doing something wrong. I think some people can get so obsessive and neurotic about food and dieting that they allow it to impinge upon their lives and detract from their happiness. If this happens to you it is likely a sign of deeper emotional issues, insecurities or a desire for control in your life. That I can't help you with.

A normal, healthy Paleoista should be able to go to restaurants, work functions or family gatherings without an ounce of anxiety knowing that you can wholeheartedly participate and enjoy yourself with some minor tweaks to what you put in your mouth. 

Yes, you may have to make some annoying requests like ‘can I get my burger with no bun and wrapped in lettuce’ or explain to dear Nan that, ‘your sponge cake looks lovely but I choose not to eat wheat anymore so I’m going to pass, thank you’. 

Hey, you may even choose to bend the rules once in a while to try some of Nan’s sponge if you think it’s worth it and it may be one of your last opportunities to do so. 

There is no such thing as ‘cheating’ in Paleo if you ask me. Cheating involves dishonesty so if you are honest with yourself then there is nothing wrong with eating non-Paleo foods on special occasions. 

Have some fun and get back to being healthy the next day. Given that you aren’t just trying Paleo as a temporary weight-loss diet and you’ve committed to the long term then you have the rest of your life to eat healthy. 

Consequently, I simply cannot accept societal pressure as an excuse not to live a healthier lifestyle. If friends or even your partner cut you down when you lose a bunch of weight and are suddenly a leaner, more energetic, more productive, better version of yourself because this makes them feel inadequate or threatened then alarm bells should sound. 

If people close to you can see your success but are not willing to participate, support or encourage you then you should consider getting rid of such toxic people from your life. I truly believe you end up being like the five people you spend most of your time with. If they are unhealthy, lazy slobs with a defeatist attitude you better watch out. 

So don’t let a few negative people stop you from achieving your health, fitness or weight loss goals. Worse still, don’t blame others for being a bad influence, tempting you to eat crap or dragging you down with them. 

Your health is your own responsibility and no one else’s. You’re not a foie gras duck - no one can force you to eat a bad diet. 

The best way to counter the negative talk from others or from yourself is to take control and take action. When you start to look, feel and perform better than ever your doubts will subside and it will become easy to put up with some odd looks from waiters and friends alike. 

Success is a self-fulfilling outcome: it will enable you to see that you are worthy of taking care of yourself by taking control of your health. 

Ultimately, if the premise of the Paleo diet doesn’t sit well with you or you honestly don’t want to try it then that is completely fine with me. Each to their own.

However, if you are interested in a Paleo lifestyle but you are letting lame excuses like those above stop you then I am giving you permission to stop sabotaging yourself and give it a crack. 

It may seem like you're climbing up a rocky hill in bare feet at first, but keep going. The view from up there is pretty damn sweet. 

'Form a habit, forge a lifestyle.’ - The Paleo Model. 

If you want some actionable resources to get your started with Paleo I recommend Robb Wolf’s guides

Thanks for reading and please share.

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