I’ve had a few people in other places ask about this, so I thought it would make a good article/blog post. The Primal/Paleo diet focuses on the belief that we should all be eating like our ancestors from 10,000 years ago did. Lots of vegetables, meat, some fruits. No grains, legumes, pasta, sugar(aside from what you get in your fruits and veggies), and no processed foods. The reasoning behind this diet is that because farming is such a recent invention in terms of biological time, our species hasn’t yet adapted to properly digesting a lot of farmed products, like wheat and gluten, and it’s doing Bad Things to our bodies.
There are several resources available if you’re interested in trying the diet/lifestyle. Mark Sisson and Robb Wolf have both written books on the subject. Mark’s “The Primal Blueprint” and Robb’s “The Paleo Solution” go into details and on the reasoning and the science behind it, much more than I can. Mark’s Daily Apple is a great resource for those living the primal lifestyle, and he posts every day with helpful articles relating to diet, exercise, and life in general. Robb also has other resources available – I believe he does a weekly podcast and being Paleo.
For my wife and I, going Primal was easier than it might be for some. We had already been reading about real food diets; eating organic foods, staying away from processed products, cutting down on sugar, and generally trying to eat properly. When we decided to go primal, we’d already ditched 95% of the non-Primal foods in our pantry and fridge. A large part of why we went with real food and then Primal is because we’d been reading about how screwed up the food industry is right now. Corn is in almost every processed food on the grocery store shelves. The list of corn derivatives is as long as my arm, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to avoid. Corn also gets into your meat, because that’s what’s fed to cattle, chicken, pork, you name it. But this isn’t a post about corn, it’s about being primal.
As I said, by the time we went primal we’d already been visiting the farmer’s market regularly and sticking to as much organic food as possible. When we went primal at the beginning of September/late August we pretty much did it cold, from one day to the next. For me, all it took was reading the success stories on Mark’s Daily Apple – once a week he posts a success story sent in by a reader. Most of these include before and after pictures, and the transformation over as little as six months was astonishing. People report the disappearance of life-long health problems, improved energy levels, an ability to get better sleep, etc. It’s pretty amazing.
I used to drink my coffee with two teaspoons of sugar/mug, and stopped doing that cold turkey. It took me about a week and a half to get used to black coffee with just cream, but now I love it. I also thought I would miss bread and baked goods… but I don’t. I get hungry less often, and feel full for longer after meals. I’ve lost about 10 pounds since we started, and my utilikilt is getting too loose on me. And that’s in just a month and a half, give or take a week. People who offer up success story to Mark often report losing 60 or more pounds in half a year, while getting more toned up at the same time.
There is a small difference between the Primal and Paleo diets, in that on a Primal diet some dairy is ok – you’re going to want to go for the best dairy you can, so stick with whole milk, heavy cream, that sort of thing. Each diet also has what’s called the 80/20 rule; it’s ok to indulge every now and then in something non-primal, as long as you try to stick to the diet about 80+%.
It’s recommended that when you first try the diet, you go full in for a few weeks to see the changes in your body. That means no non-primal food for anywhere from 2 weeks to a month, because that way you can best see the changes in your body/energy levels/sleep/etc. Then, if you like, you can try reintroducing grains and such. The thing is, the body digests and processed your food completely differently on a primal diet, using energy the way it’s meant to use energy. I’ve read parts of the science behind it in both The Primal Blueprint and The Paleo Solution, and while I sort of understand it, I just go by the success story pictures I’ve seen as proof that it works.
What about exercise? Again, you’re going to try to emulate what our ancestors did. That means a lot of casual walking, with just a little bit of heavy lifting and sprinting thrown in. Apparently 10,000 years ago Man managed to “work” only about 10 hours a week – hunting, gathering food, and so on. He may have lifted heavy stuff, but he didn’t do it every day. Nor did he run every day. Kathryn and I have been walking about an hour a day 5 days a week. Recently we’ve slacked off a bit because she’s been working a lot of closing shifts. I keep meaning to start doing push-ups, but I keep forgetting…
Food-wise, you’re going to want to go with grass-fed beef, organic chicken and pork, and so on. The fewer chemicals in your meat, the better. Beef is meant to eat grass, not corn. Grass-[i]finished[/i] beef is better than grain-fed, while grass-fed is best of all. Grass-finished means that the cattle are fed grains and corn for most of their lives, and then switched to a diet of grass for a few weeks right before slaughter. As in every food chain, you are what you eat – so the grain-filled diet your beef eats also affects your body. And I know beef isn’t cheap; while grass-fed is best, if you can only get regular beef from the store while sticking with the primal diet, it’s better than nothing. We eat lots of veggies and salads as well – lots of greens, carrots, broccoli, kale. A big thing for those who are primal is coconut oil and coconut milk. While it might not strictly be what our ancestors ate, it’s really good for you. Go for the regular stuff, not the low-fat. On a primal diet, fat is good; our ancestors would have gone for the fatty cuts of meat before the lean ones, because fat provides energy.
I’m getting a bit tired, and I think I’m starting to ramble a bit, so I’m going to wrap this up. Let me finish by saying that there are lots of resources out there for eating and living in a primal fashion. We’ve found several great websites for Paleo recipes that are both healthy and delicious. I’m actually going to see if I can find some recipes for paleo pumpkin muffins/pie soon.
Feel free to ask questions, and I’ll try to answer as best I can.
Books: Mark Sisson just came out with a new book, the 21 Day Total Body Transformation. Apparently it’s pretty much exactly that, and it tells you exactly what you need to do/eat to be primal. He’s also got some free stuff that you get if you order the book. I’ll link to his website in the next section.
The Primal Blueprint, by Mark Sisson
The Paleo Solution, by Robb Wolf
http://www.marksdailyapple.com/ – Lots of great articles and advice. Updates daily.
On Mark’s Daily Apple, you’ll want to start here. Seriously. It’s the name of the tab:
http://robbwolf.com/ – Robb Wolf’s website. The podcast is worth looking into. He also does good articles.
http://nomnompaleo.com/ Nom Nom Paleo. Delicious food. ’nuff said.
http://everydaypaleo.com/ Everyday Paleo.