Previously I outlined why I converted Paleo, and now I’ll dive into the basic principles of the lifestyle. The following is a personal rendition of its key components, as stated in my own words.
To explain how to lead a Paleo lifestyle, I have outlined a few key suggestions, versus telling you exactly what you should and shouldn’t do. I am not professionally trained (at least not yet), but I have done plenty of research, am constantly learning, and I know what works for me. I have also included helpful links to give the perspective from other influencers in the Paleo world. Get your pencil and paper ready, school is in session!
Photo by: Patrick Tomasso
First and foremost, Paleo is NOT a diet. This is no fad, or something you experiment with to lose 50 quick pounds or to instantly cure all your health issues. This is a lifestyle choice, something you have to work at, want, and be patient with. You embrace it and make it your own. When you come through on the other side, you can reverse disease, you can lose weight, and you can feel like the best version of yourself. This is all about helping your body function optimally, by addressing your specific issues.
So what is it exactly? In laymen’s terms, Paleo is eating the way nature intended. Or at least, closer to the way our bodies were designed to eat. This means removing heavily manufactured foods, most packaged foods, and anything processed or refined. These items are damaging to our systems, and the cause of numerous health conditions. Instead, focus on eating foods in their original form. Makes sense, right?
Being a science geek myself, I am always interested in the science behind any health claims. For those who want an in-depth overview of what Paleo is, I love this simple breakdown from a well-known registered dietitian and Paleo supporter.
And for those who want to jump right in, let’s get to it!
Learn What Paleo Means To You
- Most often people assume Paleo is the “caveman diet.” Although the roots of Paleo do focus on how our ancestors ate, there is much more to it. We obviously are not living like our ancestors did, so we can, and should, make adjustments.
- This is not a one size fits all lifestyle. There a million different variations from the base line, and you should customize it to you personally after you learn the fundamentals.
- Focus on fueling your body, by eating what it recognizes and needs to sustain optimal health.
- By now most people have heard about the importance of a healthy gut, and its connection to our overall health. But what many may not realize, or want to accept, is that the very things most industrialized societies are eating are damaging their systems.
Eat Whole Unprocessed Foods
- Deep down we all know that processed and refined foods are unhealthy. Yes, those donuts taste phenomenal, and yes, heating up a frozen dinner is far easier and quicker than making dinner from scratch. And yet, there is a shift in our culture where health/wellness is on the rise. We are learning what we once thought was healthy, is actually not. This is especially true for the foods we eat.
- Whole foods mean naturally occurring foods, nothing from a box or package that includes preservatives and unrecognizable ingredients. Think fresh vegetables and fruit, wild fish, grass-fed/pasture raised meats, healthy fats, and nuts and seeds in moderation.
- Most people struggle with cutting out gluten, grains, sugars, refined oils, legumes, and dairy. These are the key items we have been eating for most of our lives, but they are the most harmful to our systems.
- Despite numerous misconceptions, it is not more difficult to incorporate whole foods, it just requires a shift in thinking. Case in point, grabbing an apple is, in fact, easier than unwrapping a candy bar.
Understand The Why and How
- Do you have an autoimmune condition? Are you sick of fad diets and want a template you can stick with? Are you tired of dealing with multiple medications and their side effects? If you are interested in this lifestyle, more than likely you realize things need to change.
- The first step is determining what your specific issues are. For instance, you have constant digestive distress, but you cannot pinpoint exactly what is causing the distress. In which case, a personalized elimination plan, removing all offenders, may be best for you. Address your why, then move on to the how.
- Generally, I feel people fall into one of two types when it comes to changing their lifestyle. The all or nothing or the slow and steady. The all or nothing are those who work best by going all-in and eliminating everything at once. The slow and steady folks do best by introducing a few substitutions at a time, and working up to a total elimination. Know what works for you, then adjust your expectations.
Be Patient and Remain Positive
- A big portion of successfully transitioning to a new lifestyle is mental. Being in the right head space will make all the difference. If others are anything like me, I had to completely readjust my thought process, beliefs about fitness and health, and learn to take care of myself.
- Eating healthy is one thing, and extremely important, though it is really only one piece of the puzzle. Addressing other physical and emotional hindrances such as your relationship with food, body image, positivity, stress, sleep, and exercise, are all key elements to getting healthy.
- For instance, you can be eating clean 100% of the time, yet constantly stressed out at work, exercising too long or too hard, and sleeping fitfully 5 hours a night, and you will struggle to reach that healthy state. It is imperative, especially for women, to strike a balance in all these areas. We can do this by practicing a few key principles.
- Nourish yourself inside and out. Focus on physical and emotional improvements.
- Take it slow. This transition will take time, and changes will not happen overnight.
- These changes are significant, and depending upon how extreme your personal conditions are, healing takes time. Be patient, things will improve.
On our resources page, I included some of my favorite Paleo sites. Below are additional resources that I found extremely helpful when I first got started.
Sites and Articles
Robb Wolf’s meal plans, customized to your needs.
A definitive guide to all things Paleo, specifically for women.
Mark Sisson’s expansive list of guides & nutritional plans.
The original and most well-known elimination plan, Whole30.
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