Your New Year’s intentions of shifting your eating habits towards a Paleo diet, or recommitting to your Paleo lifestyle are huge undertakings. Either will, no doubtedly, involve multiple decisions every day. Your old habits existed for numerous reasons including convenience, enjoyment, availability, cost and marketing. Modifying the habits that these conditions created means hard work and requires dedication to a cause.
Understanding that this is a true lifestyle shift, on many levels is the foundation for a successful transition or a comfortable revisit. I’m not convinced that concern for the health of your body years in the future is sufficient, nor do I feel the promise of modifying your appearances is enough to keep you committed. The neurologist Viktor Frankl wrote in Man’s Search for Meaning that the key is to avoid the temptation to pursue happiness (as are expressed in the quick fix narratives of many new year deals and resolutions) but to rather pursue meaning. Research has definitely shown that a sense of purpose is a central to long, healthy life.
A Paleolithic lifestyle is about more than just nutrition. It is about living and embodying a way of life to support you, your family, your community and your environment for now and generations to follow. When you approach your life this way, you are addressing both your short-term and long-term health as well as your longevity.
There is purpose to be had in what you eat and how you eat, in how conscientious you can be, how minimally you can disrupt the world for those that will come after you and those working to produce and procure your food. I believe living Paleo to be a sustainable and worthy resolution for a healthier way to not only eat, if you’re intent on making one, but to live. It works for the mind and body at once, and, most importantly, not just your own.
This is where everything comes together so you can feel great and continue to feel this way for years to come.
Emulating the lifestyle behaviors of your ancestors within the context of a modern world will achieve similar and lasting benefits to those currently experienced by the communities still managing to maintain elements of their hunter-gatherer history. These include
- Health – lack of non-communicable disease and maintaining the best possible levels of health
- Energy – having the physical capacity do all the fun things life has to offer and not feel like you are dragging at any point during the day.
- Happiness – going through life depressed or miserable is far from ideal, purpose and reasons for living allow you to take on all the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.
- Leanness - to be in a metabolically balanced state where you burn off our excess or stored fat, find a point at which you have enough fat to be healthy, and rarely (or never) store any more additional fat.
- Strength – having a body composition not only looks good, but serves you well in allowing you to move, play, and stay balanced throughout that movement. This means well-balanced strength with proportional muscles.
- Alertness - full access to your mental faculties, to be bright and alert, creative, focused when appropriate and have more than adequate short and long-term recall abilities.
- Productivity - feeling as if you are contributing to yourself, your family and your world.
Evolutionary biology teaches that our ancestors exemplified many, if not all of the above traits. Those may or may not have been their stated goals, but those attributes certainly allowed them to survive the rigors of a hostile environment and be in a position to pass their traits along to the generations that followed, until today.
The foundations for a Paleo Lifestyle include:
This embodies committing to following the premise of a Paleolithic diet for the rest of your life. This includes mindful indulgences and understanding that there are some food products in our modern world that can enhance our lives. Embrace the ideas of Paleolithic nutrition with the flexibility to grow, adapt and evolve.
Prioritizing good quality sleep and aiming for at least 8-9 hours every night is vital for optimal health and longevity. Your brain and your body need this time to repair and to recharge. The difference in your energy level and mood when are well rested is marked. Sleep helps regulate your cortisol levels, modulates your immune function and manages your appetite and metabolism.
Your body was not made to sit all day. Movement is vital and it is extremely beneficial to include as much low-strain exercise as you can in your life (like walking, hiking, playing, gardening, swimming, etc.). In addition to this adding in some strength conditioning and short duration cardiovascular bursts will provide the strength, flexibility and endurance necessary to maintain health.
Do what you can to manage reduce your stress levels. Go for walks. Meditate. Try yoga. The stress hormone cortisol works against you in almost everything you are trying to achieve with better nutrition. Getting enough sleep, eating diet rich in whole, nutrient dense foods, eating a 1:1 omega-3 to omega-6 ratio, and making sure that your exercise is sufficient but not excessive will all help lower cortisol. The basics of the Paleo lifestyle all support and impact each other. Perfectly symbiotic!
There are so many benefits to be had from simply being outside, the most impactful of which is the vitamin D that your body makes exposed to the sun. This can help fight depression, regulate your stress hormones, and regulate your circadian rhythms leading to better quality sleep!
New research is finding that one of the keys to longevity is to have a strong, active support network. This includes relationships with your family, your friends, your co-workers, your neighbors and your religious and community groups. Maintaining this network and many of these relationships is more challenging than ever with how many people move away for school or jobs or how others prefer to communicate through the non-verbal, lack of human communication that social media platforms provide. These modern conveniences can also prove to be beneficial in maintaining connection through video calls and appropriate social networking.
You may discover that living Paleo is a constant work in progress. It is for me and I know it always will be. What matters is doing your best, maintaining your efforts, accepting your limitations and challenges, and being both positive and empathetic to yourself.
Understanding that everything you do, eat, think and breathe can impact your quality of life and that of those around you is imperative when choosing a Paleo based plan. This is a choice for life, a lifestyle, a way to face and treat the world and those in it. Paleo is so much more than just a diet. Live Paleo.