By now, you have heard the term “paleo diet”. It has other names like the hunter-gatherer diet, the caveman diet, the primal diet, or the ancestral diet. But Paleo is so much more than a “diet”. It is a lifestyle that allows you to lose weight and be fit while enjoying a happy, healthy life. It’s really that simple! It’s about learning from the past to help define YOUR future. It’s about having a diet of whole foods; being active physically, mentally and socially; resting appropriately and – most of all - having FUN!
Let’s back up for a second and talk about the origins of the Paleo Diet. The “Paleo” part of the name refers to the Paleolithic era of human history. This is the period of time where we used stone tools - it literally means The Old Stone Age. Stone tool use began with humans about 2.6 million years ago. It ended with the advent of farming starting in the Middle East twelve thousand years ago (Neolithic or New Stone Age). Farming provided an easier, more stable source of food and allowed for the ability to build permanent homes. It quickly spread around the globe, practically erasing the hunter-gatherer way of life. Today there are very few hunter-gatherers left.
The “Diet” part was defined by our use of stone tools. These tools gave our omnivore ancestors easier access to some really good foods! We were able to eat more animal flesh and take advantage of every delicious morsel. We cracked the bones of prey and extracted the fatty, nutritious marrow and brain tissue. Now I know you may not be thinking YUM! But this is just giving you some historical backdrop. Just know that this direct ingestion of fat enjoyed by our ancestors is what some scientists believe contributed to the development of our large brains - which rely heavily on fat to grow and thrive. We became fat burning machines. It also allowed our guts to shrink, as we did not have to ferment as much plant matter into useable dietary fat.
So know we know the Paleo and Diet parts, but as we said it’s really a lifestyle and this lifestyle can be traced back to our ancestors too. It encompassed all the things we used to do to find food and survive. Prior to the advent of farming, our main job was looking for food. We walked for hours and this is what our bodies came to expect. We had no artificial light, so we slept at night in near dark. We ran away from predators sometimes. We carried our kills back home. Since we had no domesticated animals, there was no dairy. We did not farm, so grains were a non-factor in our diets. There were no processed foods. Collecting food did not take an incredible amount of time, so there was ample R&R with our community. Our genes still expect these things today. While twelve thousand years may seem a long time, it is not enough for meaningful genetic change. Our bodies still expect this environment. It also expects foods that are high in sugars and easily converted into energy to be SCARCE. So when we avoid healthy fats and have things like pasta, bread or sugary foods, we begin to convert the extra sugar to fat to store as an emergency energy source (like running from a bear!)
You may ask how I know what anyone was doing two million years ago? There is ample fossil evidence consisting of: The remains of tools, the remains of bones with cut marks, the remains of vegetable matter we ate, fossilized feces and even the remains of fossilized dental tartar. We have radiocarbon dating and radio isotopic studies that tell us where our food was coming from. But most importantly, we have many accounts of recent cultures that were mostly Paleolithic hunter-gatherers like the Inuit (Eskimos) and the Aborigines.
PALEO PRESENT - pioneers
Now we have an IDEA of what was going on all those years ago, so lets get current. In 1985 Dr. Boyd Eaton wrote a paper on Paleolithic Nutrition for the New England Journal of Medicine. Professor Loren Cordain noticed this article. He heavily researched the topic and in 2002 wrote “The Paleo Diet”. The book did well originally and then skyrocketed again in 2009. Mark Sisson modified the original concept a little and introduced the aptly named “Primal Blueprint” which encompassed the idea of lifelong wellness. Robb Wolf (a student of Dr. Cordain) followed, spreading the word of Paleo to the Crossfit world and beyond. The concept has helped thousands of people get lean and healthy. Many healthcare providers are adapting the principles into their everyday practices often using the terms “Ancestral Health” or Ancestral Medicine”.
PALEO for YOU and YOUR FUTURE
So what does all this mean for you? First, you should think beyond Paleo as just as a “diet”. Remember that it encompasses more than what you eat. It is an IDEA that you can use as a template for a HAPPIER HEALTHIER life.
Here are some simple rules based on what we learned worked for our paleo ancestors
EAT REAL FOOD that is food by virtue of its existence. These are foods that are naturally found on earth – that truly nourish
AVOID processed foods like pasta, industrial seed oils, and sweeteners of any kind.
MOVE around all day
RUN fast now and again
Maybe you have heard other Paleo “rules” . The truth is that just like there are different people, there are different types of Paleo. There are those who preach “strict Paleo” or the “high fat version”. There is the “high carb” one with lots of sweet potatos or “raw”. Some say more exercise than others, etc, etc. All this fine-tuning is getting away from the original, basic IDEA – which is why we like to stick to the rules above. So while people have commonalities, we are all unique and may respond in different way based on accessibility, adaptations and environment. There is no one cut and dried Paleo. There are many ways to live the Paleo lifestyle successfully. Explore this website and discover what works best for YOU.