As is the case with many of my blog posts, this one is originating from a great article that I came across via a friend who sent it to me (thanks, Jim!). The article, called “Eat Like A Predator, Not Like Prey” is written by J.S. Stanton. For those of you familiar with the Paleo style of eating, the article advocates such a diet…but in a more gentle, nudging, coaxing kind of way (which is so unlike the general reputation of Paleo advocates). But first, let’s back up a little bit so we are all starting from the same base of knowledge…
Before we get started, a quick disclaimer ~ I do not claim to be an expert or even close to one on the Paleo way of eating…I know I am simplifying and glossing over details, but in the end, I think the background is less important than the actual implementation…so with that, let’s get started.
First off, the use of the word “diet” in this context should be viewed as “the foods eaten by a particular group,” not as “a weight loss plan.” Going “Paleo” is about adopting a different way of eating for a lifetime, not as a short-term solution to that bulge around your middle. As is the case with any “new” way of eating there are as many methods of the Paleo Diet as the market will bear. If you type “Paleo Diet” in the search bar on amazon.com you will be rewarded with 358 results. Everyone wants to make a buck.
What does Paleo refer to and why would we want to eat that way? Paleo refers to the paleolithic era, a period of time beginning when humans first started using stone tools, about 2.6 million years ago, and extending to about 10,000 BP. The paleolithic era, significantly, is the period of time before the advent of agriculture. Paleolithic man (and woman) were hunter-gatherers who led a nomadic lifestyle. Dairy and grains (such a wheat, oats, etc) where not a part of their diet. Therefore, following a Paleo diet typically involves removing these food groups. Some proponents of this way of eating place further restrictions on carb intake and eliminate starchy vegetables like potatoes and yams; legumes are also generally omitted. Others are less restrictive and not only include these types of vegetables but also allow for some limited dairy (which I think is more of a Primal diet). Most also eliminate the use of vegetable oils and instead advocate the use of olive, coconut and nut oils (peanuts are not a nut ~ they fall into the legume category). A Paleo diet revolves around protein (meat, poultry and fish), copious amounts of vegetables, nuts & seeds and some fruit.
But why eat like Paleo man, whose average lifespan was somewhere around 30-35 years? Wouldn’t today’s average lifespan of 78 years indicate that modern nutritional advances are superior to whatever our Paleolithic ancestors ate? Actually, no. Advances in life expectancy are primarily due to medical advances, in particular reductions in infant mortality rates. We have better prenatal care and we save so many babies and small children who in the past would have died. This has a significant impact on life expectancy statistics. Generally it is medical advances (saving babies but also things like the introduction of antibiotics and other modern medicines, understanding the importance of hygiene during surgeries, etc) not nutritional advances that have allowed us to live longer. What has changed, for the worse, is that despite our average lifespan of 78 years we are not a healthy bunch. Paleolithic man did not suffer from diabetes, heart disease, hypertension and cancer.
I could go into much greater detail about the various “authors” of some of these Paleo variations and their discussions about how our body has not evolved to eat things like grains and dairy, but it isn’t really the point I want to make with this post. I am generally not a fan of eliminating any particular food and labeling it as “bad” (with the exception of refined sugar and highly processed foods, well and I guess vegetable oils, see here). When I first started hearing about the Paleo diet I thought it seemed a bit ridiculous. And I guess in its strictest form, I do think it is over the top. It doesn’t help that many Paleo proponents are a bit dogmatic. It tends to turn people off.
However, over the last several months, I have begun to recognize that a Paleo style of eating has a lot of good about it. You don’t have to really concern yourself with what Paleo man did or did not eat; you don’t have to “buy” the argument that our bodies have not evolved enough to handle grains ~ you just need to recognize that in many ways a Paleo diet is a JERF diet ~ Just Eat Real Food. A lot of what this style of eating is advocating is very, very healthy. Personally, I think man was meant to eat meat, poultry and fish (although I have nothing against those who adhere to a vegetarian lifestyle, and I recognize that it works for a lot of people). I think our bodies do well with protein from these sources. I also think the emphasis on vegetables is terrific. Most of us do not eat enough vegetables. Fruit is included, but in moderation…another win in my book. And I have to admit that the more I read about grains, wheat in particular, the more I am siding with the Paleo folks (I will be blogging about that more in a future post after I finish reading “Wheat Belly,” but I did talk about it to some extent here and here). Does that mean I have eliminated dairy and grain? Not entirely. But I am working on making changes in the direction of eliminating wheat and reducing dairy.
But back to the article that I told you was the actual reason behind today’s post. I want to share JS Stanton’s “Eat Like a Predator, Not Like Prey” because it focuses on steps to take that, while ultimately leading you to a more Paleo lifestyle, are actually just positive, healthful steps to take. As the author states at the beginning:
Here it is: a step-by-step guide, roughly in order of importance. Make progress at whatever pace you can. Don’t stress about perfect adherence, or obsess about making it all the way down the list: any progress you make will most likely improve your health, mood, and physical fitness.
The steps incorporate nutrition, exercise and other sage advice that goes a long way to improving how you live. I like that the author does not shove the whole Paleo lifestyle down your throat nor does he insist that you change your entire life in a day. He prioritizes what, in his opinion, are changes to make in order of importance. He invites you to try to make changes in a thoughtful, gradual manner. Really in line with what I have advocated in the past, taking baby steps when incorporating change in your life. Make one small change, make it a habit, then consider making another change. How’s it working for you? Do you feel better, are the changes becoming second nature? Make another change. The author encourages you to work down the list, to the level you are comfortable, with the idea that incorporating any of these changes are a step in the right direction. Which is why I absolutely love this piece. I have sent it to a number of people I know and have gotten great feedback (I sent it to my strength coach, who posted it on his blog too). So thank you, JS Stanton for writing this, and thank you Jim for sending it to me. I hope you all enjoy it, and I would love to hear your thoughts.