Saturday, October 5, 2013

Day 5: The Paleo Spectrum

I first became aware of Paleo when I started seeing Whole30 badges on some of my favorite health and fitness blogs last year. It seemed like the next logical step to me after my gluten-free experiment and research, so I filled my Kindle and Google reader (remember when they had that?) with books and blogs and read all I could. 

Ultimately, I decided to forgo my own Whole30 because I was deep into training for my first marathon and I was afraid it would affect my workouts, which were hard enough already! But it was something I had every intention of trying after the big race. With the holidays coming up, I thought it would be wise to wait until after all the temptations of multiple family gatherings and many, many pies were behind me before jumping into something as restrictive as a Whole30. 

Then, when I got injured a month after my race (ugly, ugly high ankle sprain) and couldn't exercise at all, I thought taking baby steps toward a Paleo diet would help me not gain double digits spending the holidays eating and not moving much.

Well, I never got around to my Whole30, and now that I've done more research on Paleo and other alternatives, I'm not sure if I ever will. Of course I want my diet to be as healthy as possible. I want to have the energy to play with my kids and do the things I love. I want to lose the weight once and for all. I want to fuel my body for all the activities I enjoy. I want to be happy. 

But I also love food! I want to be able to eat a treat without beating myself up. I want to be able to have pizza once in awhile without a guilt spiral into a binge weekend. I want to be able to live my life without thinking about what I should or shouldn't eat every. single. minute of every. single day. 

So I say I'm working toward a Paleo(ish) diet, but what will that look like? In truth, it will probably look different week to week and month to month, sliding back and forth along the "Paleo spectrum" depending on what's going on in my life at the time and what my goals are. 

Based on the research I've done over the last year and in the simplest terms I can manage, this is how I define the spectrum:

Paleo gets its name from the fact that it is based on the diet and lifestyle of our paleolithic ancestors and includes modern foods that emulate the things they ate: meat, fish, fowl, vegetables, fruits, roots, tubers, nuts and seeds. Foods to avoid include dairy, cereal grains and grain-like seeds, legumes, and sugar.

That said, there are differing opinions even within the Paleo community as to how restrictive the diet should be when it comes to sweeteners, starchy vegetables, fats and oils, and lean meats versus high quality grass-fed or wild-caught meat and fish.

Two of the most popular Paleo authors are Loren Cordain (The Paleo Diet) and Rob Wolff (The Paleo Solution). The first book I read was It Starts with Food by Dallas and Melissa Hartwig, creators of the Whole30. There are other excellent books, cookbooks and blogs out there. 

Will grow up to give you tasty beverages
Primal is basically Paleo with dairy (raw, fermented or high-fat, not pasteurized, low-fat commercial dairy products). 

Mark Sisson from Mark's Daily Apple wrote The Primal Blueprint, and this is another book I read early on. (I actually purchased The Paleo Diet and exchanged it for this once I learned this one allowed dairy. I just love me a glass of cold milk with...anything! And butter. Definitely butter.)

Potatoes...feel the love

Paul & Shou-Ching Shih Jaminet are a husband and wife team with serious smarticles (seriously, he's an astrophysicist and she's a molecular biologist) who published Perfect Health Diet after tweaking the Paleo diet to overcome Paul's chronic illness. The PHD recommends "safe starches" like white potatoes and rice over forcing our bodies to to derive energy mainly from fats and proteins through a low-carb diet.

They originally self-published their book and it was so popular, it was recently republished. I heard about this as they were making the rounds on many of the podcasts I listen to and purchased it the day it was available. It is very heavy on "science-speak" but also incredibly thorough. Right now, this is the model I am following.

Before I read about the "evils of gluten" I read several books on the Real or Whole Food movement, including Real Food: What to Eat and Why by Nina Planck, which I stumbled upon by chance at the library. This was the book that really started me thinking about what I was putting in my mouth and encouraged me to start avoiding processed foods and move toward local, organic, natural foods, including whole grains. 

The Weston A. Price Foundation is also a great resource. Price was a dentist who traveled to isolated places around the world in the early 20th century to study native diets uninfluenced by Western civilization. His goal was to research good dental health, but his discoveries were much more far-reaching.

If you've done any amount of reading about health, diet & exercise, you know that everyone has their own opinion and those opinions tend to get fiercely defended. When that happens, sometimes the most important thing gets lost, and that is that the best lifestyle for YOU is what works for YOU...what makes YOU feel your best and healthiest. If something isn't working, change it. Tweak it. See how you feel. Tweak it again. When it comes down to it, you are the foremost expert on you ~ you just need to learn to listen to what your body is telling you!

I hope this was helpful to those of you that may not be familiar with Paleo and its cousins. My biggest piece of advice is do some research, make small and consistent changes, and discover what works best for you.

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