If you're a follower of the Paleo diet, you've been asked what it is, why you don't eat bread and if you are a crazy person. Why don't we go over some of the things that people in the Paleo/Primal community do differently. Not everyone follows exactly the same lifestyle and diet, some things (i.e. dairy, starches) work better for others. Some will find they need to avoid them.
Without the addition of lifestyle changes, proper stress management, quality exercise and sleep, you are cutting your results very short. We will focus on the key points in each of those categories.
Consume high-quality meat and seafood - We've discussed some Paleo lifestyle terminology, it's important to remember that grass-fed beef is higher in B-Vitamins (something a large percentage of people are deficient in), Vitamin E, Vitamin K and some of the most important minerals for the body such as magnesium and selenium. Avoid conventionally raised beef, chicken, pork and deli meats if possible.
Another important aspect of consuming grass-fed beef is it's content of conjugated-linolenic acid (CLA). This is found in roaming, grazing animals, which explains why conventional warehouse meat doesn't cut it. Taking a CLA supplement or consuming quality meat can increase your body's ability to burn fat. You can read more about why mainstream concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO) are bad for the environment and your health.
Consume large amounts of protein and good fat - The mainstream SAD diet is wrong. What's displayed on food labels considered to be healthy? low-fat! Along with starting your day with rice krispies, oatmeal, bagels and poptarts, this low-fat trend has gotten us in a lot of trouble.
Consume healthy oils including coconut oil - It's 92% saturated fat, the average person would think you were crazy for consuming such a thing. That's why you are healthier than them. These fats are not an issue for your body when you are consuming the right amount of carbs. If you recall, it's the amount of carbs that determines if this fat will be used for energy, or stored as fat. Fat is good.
I wanted to give some extra detail when it comes to dairy since it is just an infamous topic in the Paleo community. Here are some guidelines for cheeses, milks and other things you will encounter and what type of quality you should consume.
Milk - If dairy works for you, that's fine. Make sure your milk is organic, non-homogenized and grass-fed. This is the most nutritious and delicious.
Alternatives to milk - Organic Rice Milk, Organic Almond Milk (Whole Foods 365 Brand is organic, and unsweetened), Hemp Milk, Coconut Milk (Trader Joes). Watch out for evaporated cane juice (sugar) and carrageenan (MSG) added to many of these. Sometimes hard to avoid.
Yogurt - Organic, grass-fed, non-homogenized is best. Trader Joes has some pretty good organic yogurt. Watch out for Weight Watchers, Yoplait and yogurts that add extra sugar to them.
Sour Cream - Organic is best. Fat-free sour cream is just plain weird, chemically alternated and should be avoided.
Cottage Cheese - If you consume, once again, organic grass-fed sources are best. Lookout and avoid corn starch and dextrose.
Cheese - Opt for organic, grass-fed cheese. See a trend? Avoid your Kraft "American cheese" sliced or shredded, Canned cheese whiz (yuck).
Butter - Organic, grass-fed butter is best. Avoid margarine, especially that earth balance "butter" and I can't believe it's not butter. This is probably common sense to you, just wanting to clarify.
Eggs- Organic, pasture-raised eggs are best, preferably High omega-3 eggs. Local eggs should be incredibly easy to find. Avoid liquid and powdered eggs. Did you know iHop uses powdered eggs?
Avoid soda and fruit juices - If you've made it this far, you know to avoid high-fructose corn syrup, agave nectar, refined sugars, and the toxic diet soda chemical aspartame. Generally avoid fruit juice unless it's freshly juiced from whole fruits. Drinking fruit juice bypasses the digestive process of consuming fruit which lacks the fiber that eating fruit supplies. Imagine eating the amount of apples it takes to make a glass of your kids 100% apple juice, you couldn't do it.
Drink water, tea and coffee - The beauty is that coffee and tea are coming from natural plant sources. Opposed to an old habit of drinking Sunkist; it had nothing to do with the sun, I promise. Brewed tea is incredibly healthy and calming. Just stay far away from the Lipton Green Tea with citrus, look closely, it contains aspartame. Coffee is a favorite among everyone. Just be aware of dependency risk and enjoy high-quality, shade-grown, organic coffee whenever possible.
There are other specifics to diet that are important including proper sleep, stress management, exercise and rest.
Get Quality Sleep
Did you know sleep burns fat? Researchers at the University of Chicago found that dieters who were well rested lost more fat — 56 percent of their weight loss — than those who were sleep deprived, who lost more muscle mass. Source
Sleep is one of those things that can get put to the back burner. You focus so much on diet and exercise that your health should be fine, right? You still realize you aren't getting the results you want. There could be underlying issues stemmed from the lack of quality sleep, along with many other factors such as hormones and thyroid function.
However, quality exercise and diet are irrelevant if you don't have quality sleep. Sleep should be at a minimum of 7 hours, preferably closer to 8 or 9 hours. The timing of sleep is common sense, but you should be getting up with the sun and going to bed with the sun. Those that work 3rd shift or swing shifts, you have it hard. Your hormone levels including melatonin are probably not right. Working third shift for 2 years taught me one thing, you can get the results and operate at as high of a level when living completely backwards from what your circadian rhythm expects.
The creation of electricity is a double-edged sword for our ancient sleeping patterns, these shifts wouldn't have been possible until very recently. That's why you hear of the term "shift-work disorder". Let me tell you something, the FDA cannot legally create drugs to "treat" such "disorders" unless they name them. It's actually just, "you're not supposed to be awake and working when it's dark, but you are" disorder. Anyways, back to sleep.
You can operate on 5-6 hours? Okay, I bet if you made your room completely dark, drapes over your windows, removed any and all LED lights, alarm clocks, or other flashing lights in your bedroom, that you would easily sleep longer.
Quality sleep is when the release of growth hormone and regulatory functions take place. This is the time when stressors that occurred through the day are analyzed and sifted from short-term to long-term memory. Sleep is one of the most powerful stress-management tools. Stayed up way too late or didn't go to bed at all before? Remember the irritability and delirium that occurred? Your brain didn't have time to heal.
While sleeping in an ultra dark environment, going to bed relatively soon after sunset and getting around 8-9 hours of sleep, eating quality fat before bed is very helpful in keeping your blood sugar and cortisol levels near normal levels for the morning.
Focus on Reducing Stress
We just talked about sleep being one of the most powerful-stress management tools, but we can't always just lay down and sleep our stress away. Driving and working in an environment where there is tension between coworkers or you just simply don't like your job are two very common chronic stressors. It's the chronic, long-term stress that kills us. We were built to respond to short-term stress, which explains why you can feel your system fire up when getting in a disagreement, close encounters with a car wreck or injury or other short-lived issue.
In an ancestral view, when would you have dealt with 50 years of stress not knowing if you were going to be able to afford your shelter or quality food? Well, the monetary system fueled by debt we have today would have been laughed at, this is part of the reason the first American central bank was a failure. Seemingly off topic, our financial structure is the cause for such stress, which is why I encourage you to try working out on a farm for a day in exchange for organic food. It's easy and realistic to do, at least some of the time.
What we can change is how we respond to stress. Stress is about how you react and respond to it. We can't necessarily prevent or stop stressful situations from occurring. With all of the worries, anxieties and fear that you carry on a daily basis, what is the benefit to you? Do you benefit from worrying about these things? How many of your worries manifest and come true?
Some stress busters for those that would prefer short term solutions to stress are below.
- Drink Green Tea - Green tea contains an amino acid known as L-Theanine, Take 200mg of L-Theanine in capsule form if needing relief from some overwhelming anxiety. During extensive traveling, family emergencies or any other event that drives you into a nervous frenzy, green tea or L-Theanine in pure form will help.
- Exercise - It's no surprise that stress can be relieved by exercise. It's easy to skip exercise when you are stressed, this is a bad idea. If you need a 2-minute fix, try 10 pushups and 10 jumping jacks. Going to the gym or your exercise group may seem like such a far away place from your current mental state, but, how many times have you finished a workout and been unhappy with yourself?
- Play - Ultimate frisbee, bike riding, longboarding and kayaking are just a few of many fun and exciting ways to exercise and relieve stress. The combination of play, competition and exercise are a trifecta for optimal health. Play isn't just something you watch your kids do. Join in, muster up the energy and have fun!
- Think Happy - It doesn't take a genius to realize that your thoughts produce your reality. You know that negative spiral that happens when self-doubt, fears or a hint of insufficiency fills your brain? It's easy to think this way when you are constantly reminded what you are supposed to be like. Tune that crap out! Realize that you are in control of your emotions, even when it feels otherwise. Don't let others influence your thoughts, and don't be afraid to be weird. Paleo lifestyle is weird to people, they are the ones missing out.
Get High-Quality Exercise
One of the most ingrained things in our genetic code is exercise. Except, the exercise we get now is kind of funny.
Can't make any judgments; gyms and fitness classes are a great place to find a support group, exercise when the weather is bad, and be able to have a variety of toys at your disposal. However, we are really designed for natural movement. Makes you wonder how confused we are from our roots when we create classes to reteach people how to move naturally!
If we use the ancestral lens to look at fitness, we would have moved slowly pretty much all day, gathering food. When it came to hunting time, this is where the High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) you hear about came into play. That's why a moderate amount of slow exercise, combined with a short amount of very intense training produce the best results in body composition.
Is this starting to make sense now? We are recreating the ancient exercise and eating habits we've had throughout history. For good reason, interval training has been proven to burn more fat in less time. We won't go into intermittent fasting combined with fitness in this article, focusing on the basics consistently is still a problem.
Basically, intermittent fasting simulates the action of not having food through a period of many hours until it was hunted or gathered. In the meantime, you are consuming high quality fat to prevent yourself from withering away in between meals. IF is so effective because it's the opposite way of thinking when it comes to meal scheduling. In todays society, the abundance of food is almost sickening. Ever seen the movie Wall-E?
For the most effective exercise, you don't want to workout more than 1 hour! Aren't you glad to hear that? If you work out intensely enough, you can get a full workout done in about 5 minutes! How? Sprinting as fast as you possibly can for 30 seconds, resting for 1 minute and repeat 3 times.
You can also try 30 body squats, 30 lunges, 30 burpees and 30 pushups. Granted, 30 pushups is hard! Do what works for you, these are just general numbers. The main thing is, you are giving up when your body wants to, not when your brain says. Your brain wants to give up much sooner.
For those new to exercise routines, GO SLOW, do your research and don't expect to become a super athlete in less than 6 months. You can injure yourself with these intense workout classes, crossfit included. When you are put with others that have more experience, strength and better bodies than you, it's natural to feel crappy and insufficient. You will progress with consistency, not overtraining. We don't want stress buildup to eat your muscle away, remember?
To sum Paleo/Primal exercise up in one sentence, progressive increases in weight, reps and speed is the goal. Use your body weight in things like pull-ups, pushups, lunges and burpees. If you are wanting to gain muscle or burn fat, body weight is a great way to start.
Having upper body strength is important for men and women alike. If you can't do a pushup, use the wall as a starting point and gradually increase your angle by pulling your feet further away from the wall until you are ready to move onto the real thing.
If you are currently incapable of sprinting, pull-ups, dips or other body weight exercises, that doesn't matter! Having a partner to aid you in these exercises will make the process a breeze. I've helped people accomplish their first pull-up after a few attempts at lifting some of their weight for them, it's an awesome moment.
Get Plenty of Rest
We are an instant society. Diet changes and lifestyle changes can be instant, but the results are much slower to come. If you feel like working out 6 days a week for 2 hours is going to get you fit by bikini season, you are on the path to injuries, chronic fatigue and muscle loss. You should be familiar with the 8 signs of overtraining.
Getting adequate rest doesn't just mean sleep, it means engaging in a slow-pace walk or performing some gentle yoga or stretches in between heavy lifting or intense workout days. Men need stretches too, this whole process is about creating functional bodies capable of bending, squatting, lifting, pushing and pulling.
If you are dead tired after every workout, go to failure every time you exercise, or simply just push too hard for your personal limit, you are doing more harm than good. Exercise is about going one step further than last time, slowly and incrementally improving your pace and lifting strength and then resting. Take baby steps and include plenty of mental and physical rest in between.
After all, rest is when your hard work pays off. Sleep creates muscle growth.
If you need more specific recommendations for dealing with stress, essential oils work wonders. Hot baths, deep breathing, and acupressure can change your life. I also wrote about some common Questions and Answers in Paleo Health and Fitness.
Let us know what has worked for you, how your progress has developed and what you want for the future. It will help everyone to hear your wins and losses, we all have them!