January is a time to reset, regroup and recommit and many people choose to adopt or revisit a Paleo Diet for multiple reasons.
A Paleo 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.
Whether it's medical issues, weight loss, or simply because you want to try and improve your health, understanding your reasons for Choosing Paleo will keep you encouraged throughout the process and help you define your guidelines when following the diet and create sustainable and effective lifestyle changes.
Food plays a huge role in your health. The nutrient dense approach of the Paleo diet supplies all of the essential and non-essential nutrients needed by the human body. Paleo eating encourages your plate to contain healthy animal protein (grass-fed or pasture-raised meats, lean meats from conventional sources, fish, shellfish and eggs), healthy, naturally occurring fats (both animals fats like grass-fed tallow and plant fats like coconut oil and avocado oil) along with seasonal, local vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, herbs and spices. The Paleo diet also eliminates potentially problematic foods, including: grains (like wheat, barley, rice, and corn), dairy products (especially low-fat conventional dairy; grass-fed dairy is sometimes included), legumes (like soy, peanuts, and kidney beans), refined sugars and oils, fast food, highly processed food and junk foods of all kinds.
Although making better choices by choosing Paleo foods is important for supporting overall health, diet is only one aspect many processes that work together to support the health of your body. Various lifestyle components, including sleep, stress management, exercise and movement, getting outdoors, and connecting with others, play crucial roles in optimizing health, controlling hormone levels, stabilizing mood, regulating the immune system, and gut microbiome.
Even though these small lifestyle changes seem may appear easy, you might find yourself putting them off or avoiding them altogether without realizing the huge impact they can have. If you want to optimize your results and create lasting change, creating a Paleo lifestyle is vital.
The foundations for a Paleo Lifestyle include:
This embodies committing to following the foundation and ideology of a Paleo diet for the rest of your life. This includes mindful indulgences and understanding that there are some food products in the modern world that can enhance your life. Embrace the ideas of Paleo nutrition with the flexibility to grow, adapt and evolve.
The basics of Paleo eating are:
- Eat well sourced, humanely raised animal proteins
- Add some naturally occurring, well-sourced animal and plant-based fats
- Avoid cereal grains, wheat, dairy, nasty seed oils, processed sugars and processed foods. If it comes in a box or a bag it probably is not good.
- Eat seeds and nuts (sparingly)
- Eat locally grown, seasonal vegetables.
- Eat some fruit too, although be mindful if fat loss is one of your goals.
No time to cook? Get this week’s menu delivered to you, no apron required.
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 you are well rested is noticeable. Sleep helps regulate your cortisol levels, modulates your immune function and manages your appetite and metabolism.
The single best thing that you can do to prioritize sleep is to have a regular bedtime. Having a bedtime is such a simple thing, but it can be one of the toughest for adults to implement. Everything seems to be more important than sleep. Prioritizing sleep is essential not simply as you try to reach your goals, but to maintain them for life!
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. Your body was not made to sit all day.
There are many opportunities to add movement to your day, but the simplest strategy is to set a timer to go off every twenty minutes during the part of your day where you typically sit (at work or in front of the television is common for many). When the timer goes off, get up and move around for two minutes. You can jump rope, do some push-ups, stand and stretch, or do some yoga poses. Find something that works for you! Two short minutes of movement for of every twenty that you’re sitting is all it takes. You can also, if possible, include things such as treadmill and bicycle desks.
There are tremendous health advantages to walking. Walking helps build muscle, improves cardiovascular health, strengthens bones, helps improve resilience to stress, improves brain health (everything from mood to memory to cognition) and reduces risk of problems like dementia, improves hormone health, and can even help you sleep better! If all you do is make time for a thirty-minute walk every day (in addition to moving every twenty minutes throughout the day), your health will be improved.
Vigorous or more challenging exercise is important to, but cannot replace the need for regular, daily movement
Chronic stress increases the risk of depression and anxiety, cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes, autoimmune diseases, chronic headaches, memory problems, digestive problems, and infections and is linked with poor wound healing. Stress also has a direct impact on immune system function.
Do what you can to manage reduce your stress levels. Go for walks (see above). 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!
One of the most important shifts in your health is to spend time outdoors so you get sunshine. When sunlight hits the skin, a process begins that leads to the creation and activation of vitamin D.
Sunlight is a nutrient. When your body creates vitamin D, your immune system is stronger and more resilient as well as the ability to prevent osteoporosis, cancer, heart disease, depression, and a host of other conditions. When you’re outdoors getting sun and vitamin D, your body also produces more of the feel-good hormone serotonin, which helps you relax and regulate your circadian rhythms leading to better quality sleep!
Connecting with others - a spouse, child, friend, family member, or pet – supports the regulation of hormones and neurotransmitters that directly impact inflammation. Plus, this social bonding improves resilience to stress and generally improves mood, which makes every other change you’re working on seem a bit easier.
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.
Focusing on lifestyle can make a huge difference in terms of the ease of transition to and long-term success of a Paleo diet because lifestyle factors affect your food choices and behaviors. When you are able to sleep adequately and manage stress effectively, you become less likely to crave refined sugar and are more able to regulate hunger. Stress tends to increase cravings for energy-dense (and readily available) foods while depleting your body’s of nutrients including vitamin C and magnesium. Daily movement improves insulin sensitivity making carbohydrate tolerance better. When the focus is on lifestyle, it becomes easier to make major or difficult changes to your diet.
On the other hand, focusing on diet can support lifestyle factors. Studies show that a deficiency in omega-3 fats exaggerates stress responses and increasing consumption reduces cortisol secretion in response to stress. Eating a serving of slow-burning carbohydrates with dinner can improve sleep quality. Consuming adequate amounts of quality protein aids in muscle recovery after workouts and helps preserve muscle mass while losing weight
This year make your Paleo lifestyle about more than simply nutrition. As you embark on or recommit to your Paleo journey, focus on 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.