I’ve never been one for labels, clothing or otherwise. Sure I’m not against a nice new pair of designer shoes or a handbag, but I don’t let labels get in the way of what I choose to wear or define who I am.
Sometimes though labels can help. They can help to set a framework on which you can build and expand, much like building a house and then extending on it later. That is what the term ‘paleo’ is for me. It’s a framework which I have been building on and will continue to build as I progress on this path.
Paleo, Primal, Ancestral, Real Food, Weston A. Price… whatever you want to call it, to me these names all have the same underlying message: “eat whole unprocessed foods.” Sure they have their differences, e.g. a person following a Weston A. Price diet can eat grains and legumes if they’ve been soaked, sprouted and fermented according to certain guidelines but those things are avoided on a paleo/primal diet unless the person can tolerate them.
When I first entered the world of paleo it felt like I had a classroom full of children trying to tell me something all at the same time often with conflicting thoughts: “Don’t eat carbs”, “eat carbs but stick to 50-100 grams a day”, “potatoes aren’t paleo”, “don’t eat too much fruit”, “eat more fruit”, “eat more vegetables”, “dairy is bad”, “dairy is good, but only if you can tolerate it”, “eat more fat”…. etc etc.
There is nothing inherently wrong with any of these statements BUT they can’t be applied as a blanket rule to everyone. There are a million variables to consider when wanting to apply these statements to a person, e.g. are they an athlete? are they pregnant? are they trying to lose fat? do they have good gut health? etc etc.
You can build 50 houses to look exactly the same, on the outside and inside but ultimately how the people living there furnish and use the house is up to them, and therein lies the difference.
It took me some time to understand that just because I read X, Y or Z paleo blogger doing something it doesn’t mean THAT something is for me. One of the BEST things I’ve learned so far on this journey is that YOU and only you can REALLY judge what works best for you, but you really have to learn HOW to listen to your body.
I recently wrote about how I first came into cooking and then eventually paleo here. What I didn’t talk about much in that post was the fact that I was very much a mindless eater, I didn’t give consideration as to where my food was coming from or how it made me feel. Food was just food, nothing more… nothing less.
Today food is not JUST food to me, it’s about choosing to eat food that makes me feel good, foods that are nutrient dense, foods that heal and that leave me feeling satiated. Today I care about where my food comes from, I might not always be able to get the best quality form of a certain food BUT I always aim to seek out the next best available option.
Today I have learnt to listen to the cues my body is giving me, I’ve learnt that I can’t eat too much fruit, dairy doesn’t sit well with me and neither does gluten. Chocolate and coffee make me feel sick and sugar even in natural forms like maple syrup or coconut sugar can send me into a downward spiral of excess sugar consumption.
I didn’t learn these things overnight. I learnt them because I STOPPED and took a step back and went back to basics. I stopped eating prepackaged, frozen foods, I stopped eating fast food, I stopped putting boxes of things into my supermarket trolley, I stopped snacking mindlessly and shoving food down my mouth without taking notice of WHAT I was eating, how it tasted or how it made me feel. I learnt to read labels and to put away anything with an ingredient that I didn’t recognise or understand.
The first step for me was to eliminate certain groups of food for 30 days, I did this in the form of a Whole30. No grains, no legumes, no dairy and no sugar (artificial or otherwise). It’s amazing how much you learn about yourself and how your body reacts to things when you eliminate them for a certain period of time then slowly introduce them back. Personally I think everyone should try something like this.
Paleo has taught me a lot about myself, it has taught me that food is only one part of the equation and that things like movement, sleep, stress and emotions also play a MASSIVE role in all of this. For me personally I know that if I don’t get enough sleep the next day I literally feel like a walking zombie with carb and sugar cravings. I know that if I’m upset or stressed I get stomach cramps and a feeling of being severely bloated and I know that getting out in the sun and in nature and going for a walk ALWAYS makes me feel better, even if I sometimes hesitate to do these things.
To finish off I thought I’d share with you how I personally go about this paleo way of life. I’m not perfect and I will never claim to be perfect, I am still learning and will continue to learn as I go on and there is definitely room for improvement, especially in certain areas, but for now here is how I personally navigate my paleo journey:
- I aim to eat meat that’s been raised in its natural environment (i.e. grass-fed and pasture raised).
- I aim to buy organic and in season produce as much as possible.
- I aim to use good quality sources of fat for cooking (e.g. grass-fed butter/ghee or pastured lard).
- I aim to incorporate organ meats into my diet at least once a week.
- I aim to incorporate bone broth into my diet as often as possible (I’m finding this one harder to do as the weather gets warmer).
- I eat the WHOLE egg and almost always start my day off with eggs and vegetables.
- I eat more vegetables than fruits, and stick to mainly berries as my main source of fruit.
- I almost always cook my vegetables and eat them with some kind of good quality fat source (unless I’m making a salad).
- Nearly every morning I start my day off with warm water, raw apple cider vinegar, fresh ginger and cinnamon.
- I eat 3 meals a day (breakfast, lunch and dinner) and rarely snack.
- I eat fermented foods like sauerkraut.
- I take fermented cod liver oil, Vitamin D and magnesium as my main supplements.
- I aim to get 8-9 hours of uninterrupted sleep a night. This doesn’t always happen of course but that’s what works for me.
- I sleep with a sleeping mask on to block out excess light.
- I have f.lux installed on my iPhone to block out excess blue light at night. I need to be better at putting my phone away at night though.
- I aim to walk everyday with my husband, even though he can tell you I sometimes get the lazy bug and try to avoid doing so, even though it makes me feel good.
- I aim to get outside in the sun everyday, when it’s there.
- I aim to get to the gym 3 times a week (becoming better at this one as time goes on).
- I aim to incorporate stretching and mobility daily. This one is on my list for ‘can be improved’.
- I have an app on my phone called ‘Smiling Mind’ that I aim to use everyday when I get up as a form of meditation (another one for the ‘can be improved’ list).
- I aim to use natural products on my skin… I use coconut oil for EVERYTHING!
- And finally, I aim to always be grateful for what I have and to continue to learn, improve and assess as I continue on.
Do you follow a paleo framework or other type of ‘dietary’ framework? And if so what is the most important lesson you’ve learnt on your journey so far?