No, this is not a naughty post. Get your mind outta that gutter!
I’m talking about how to put this Paleo stuff to work in your life. Do you rip the band-aid off and go whole hog all at once? Or do you ease in, check the water temp with your toe before wading in?
I’m not going to pretend there’s an ideal way to do this. It’s a life change, not a recipe. Things don’t always go according to plan and sometimes the results aren’t what you expected. It will probably also depend on what your entry point was and what your goals are: CrossFit gym, Robb Wolf, Mark Sisson, Lierre Keith, Gary Taubes. Performance, weight loss, health issues, disordered eating. But from my perspective, there are some compelling reasons for the gradual introduction.
I remember quite clearly what it was like being on the SAD side of the fence. This felt DRASTIC. Extreme. Scary. When I found myself on Mark Sisson’s forum, asking questions and reading answers, I discovered there was so much more to this ancestral lifestyle than mere weight loss. People were talking about Omega 6-Omega 3 ratios, whether or not it was acceptable to eat sweet potatoes, phytates, HIIT, FODMAPS, probiotics, lacto-fermented whatchamacallits, CrossFit, nightshades, lectins, leptin, Tabata sprints, yadda yadda yadda. It was mind-numbingly complex and too much all at once. Luckily, I knew this stuff would unfold for me over time, and just as predicted, it has. I only bit off what I could chew at any given time, I’m still eagerly learning, and I’m not burnt out.
Here are my concerns about the all or nothing approach:
- It sets people up for failure. This was less of a concern for me, because I tend to see life as a series of learning experiences, not a linear set of right and wrong answers. I regret little and rarely categorize things as a “mistake”. But I see this attitude all the time out there. My fear is that folks will “try” Paleo, and then when it inevitably “fails”, they will conclude it doesn’t “work” for them. This is affectionately called a false start. Then their Paleo attempt gets tossed into a mental dustbin buried in neurological scar tissue. Maybe even accompanied by the attendant emotions of shame, disappointment, and defeat. If we lose folks to the shame chasm, we’ll never get them back.
- It sets up an either/or dynamic. This is similar to the above point, but I mean it more in relation to the food. Some people set up planned cheat days or meals. Some have health issues that preclude them from cheating. Others just roll with it, citing the 80/20 rule. But some will see any deviation as a “failure” and will then consider it “proof” of the WOE‘s unsustainability, especially if one cheat leads to a week’s worth of pizza, bagels, and cereal. We’re probably all going to give in sometimes, but it’s important to either simply enjoy those foods for what they are or learn from their effects on us (both physically and mentally), not beat ourselves up about them. It’s all process, baby. We are all citizens of the world, and for the majority of us, that will probably include a few forays into SAD foods.
- Start with gluten and sugar. These are the biggies. In fact, I would argue that if everyone in America eliminated these from their diets, we could virtually erase the majority of health problems we’re seeing. Trust me, this is likely to feel like enough to start.
- Clean out your pantry, fridge, and freezer. Yes, even those Flax-Health Colon Cleansing Waffles in the back. The bags of flour, sacks of sugar, boxes of cereal, tins of cookies, packs of pasta. Out. If you need some added security, put it out of sight in a closet until you’re certain you won’t need it again. It’s especially helpful if you have someone in your life who can’t stand to see anything go to waste. Give it to them or donate whatever unused bottles and packages you have. If you don’t buy it, you can’t consume it.
- Try to convert the whole family. If everyone’s not on board, that means there will be stuff around to tempt you. Meals will be contentious. Your significant other/spouse and kids will begin to loathe your self-righteous silent, but perceptible, condescension. Do not push, but try to find an entry point for them. I’ve often wondered how many parents would get less flack from their kids if they never announced the change and just made the switch quietly. It might help to butter them up with treats from Elana’s Pantry or Paleo Parents.
- Give it some time, then tackle the others. Once you’re comfortable and perhaps sold on the whole thing, take aim for the rest of the grains, legumes, vegetable oils, condiments, beverages, and whatever leftover processed foods you have left. If that feels fine, you might want to kick out the crutch of pasteurized dairy.
- Now you can fine-tune and tinker.Try adding some lacto-fermented kraut or kefir for the probiotics. If you’re okay with dairy, seek out local sources of the raw stuff. Maybe it’s time to try some supplements, but be sure to do your research first. Test your vitamin D levels and aim for more sun exposure. Consider giving up or having less alcohol and/or caffeine if it’s not working for you anymore. Push yourself by trying new things: organ meats, different fish and sea foods, kombucha. Whatever floats your boat.
- Now see what everyone else is talking about. There are many tangential subjects that seem to go along with ancestral eating: barefoot running/minimal footwear, CrossFit, holistic dentistry, non-toxic personal care products, MovNat, legal/political issues surrounding food, Objectivist philosophy. Careful, it’s easy to slide headlong into full-on Conspiracyville, but it sure is fun here.
What the gradual approach can’t do is save you from your own lack of commitment or wishy-washiness. Know thyself. If you need parameters and discipline, then go for it all at once. But otherwise, do what feels right for you without allowing yourself to get overwhelmed. Aim for sustainability. That’s how real change is made.
So what worked for you? Are you a band-aid ripper or an ease-into-it-er?
*If you’re a band-aid ripper and want to get started, I highly recommend Whole9′s Whole30 program. True to my ease-into-it-iveness, I didn’t attempt one until nine months into Paleo/Primal eating.