What does it mean to eat Paleo?
What does it mean to eat Paleo?
By Ivy Thompson, Paleo in Melbourne
I’ve often said that Paleo is not only a way of eating; it’s also a lifestyle. After a while, the line becomes a tired-but-still-true cliché, like most things that get repeated many times over. As the ‘Paleo label’ has become more mainstream, I find there are several misconceptions about Paleo and exactly what it means to eat and live this way. I have eaten Paleo for three years, and during this time I’ve learnt that the label of the way I eat is less important than what I choose to nourish myself with. For me, and most people who have successfully eaten Paleo long term (or any other real food diet with an ancestral tweak), this means choosing a nutrient-dense diet consisting of mostly whole foods.
Eating a whole foods diet means I choose local, seasonal, sustainable, fresh, organic when possible, free range, nose-to-tail, grass fed, natural, wild and, most of all, real food most of the time. Food that our great grandparents would recognise as food. Food that reduces inflammation rather than increasing it.
Sadly many people are so far removed from the concept of real food that they prefer to add a label to the way they eat. This is exactly how I stumbled upon Paleo back in 2011. I was desperate for a solution, a trick that could finally set me free and sort out all my problems (Paleo pretty much did, but that’s another story). Following a specific diet, no matter how wholesome it may be, gives you set guidelines for what’s allowed and what’s not. It makes it easier to stick to. Sometimes the way you eat turns into a religion and above all an all-consuming passion (umm... yes, totally guilty of this). Until you eventually get sick of the rules and start breaking them. Consistently tweaking the guidelines until you can no longer remember when you stopped eating one way and replaced it with normal, modern convenience yet again. This doesn’t benefit anyone physically or emotionally. Food should be about joy, not deprivation. Food that makes you thrive makes you feel more joyful. Being happy makes you glow. Is there a better trick to beauty than a good, healthy glow? Choose to eat food for nourishment, not punishment.
The real problem seems to stem from the total disconnect with the concept of real food: where it comes from, how it’s raised or grown and your ability to prepare and cook it. It might seem daunting, scary, inconvenient, time-consuming, difficult and hard. Truth is, it’s not. It’s quite simple. Maybe not at first, but with a bit of practice it’s not tricky to become a ‘real-food foodie’. Not that many years ago I honestly believed an Up’n’Go on my way to work was a healthier choice than three eggs and half a ripe avocado. That’s the power of marketing, mis-education, media and nutritional lies. And years of believing advertising rather than listening to what made my body tick. Quite frankly, I had no idea what made me feel good. If you asked me I would’ve replied “Cadbury Dairy Milk” or a “Macca’s sundae”. Not only was I a victim of severe ‘real-food disconnect’, but suffering a complete and utter disconnection from feeling healthy and well. Too many people go through their entire lives never experiencing true wellness.
There is no magic or special trick involved when you choose to eat real food. You learn, adapt slowly and apply what works for you. I was one of those people who jumped head first into the deep end, never looked back and enjoy every second of my Paleo journey. It’s had its ups and downs, but by far mostly ups. It means that I might meet friends for a coffee armed with some preservative-free coconut milk in my handbag. It means that I no longer buy canola oil. Over time it meant that I replaced conventional cosmetics and make-up with natural, organic and more gentle products that didn’t add to my daily load of toxins. It means that I shop at farmers markets and mostly browse the organic and fresh produce aisles at the supermarket. It means that I load up on whole foods from my favourite online suppliers, too.
These are choices I have made over time, while slowly learning what works for me and my family. Through my own experimentation I quickly figured out that Paleo didn’t make me feel good without a regular intake of bone broth and liver. Most nights I cook dinner in less than 20 or 30 minutes, freshly prepared from whole foods like vegetables, herbs, spices, healthy saturated fats, protein and some starches like tubers or rice. I’m not a wizard in the kitchen and my cooking may be simple, but it’s nutrient dense, filling, healthy and wholesome. It tastes good and it makes us feel good.
That’s what eating Paleo represents for me. Eating real food, every day. Food that makes you healthy enough to tackle real life whether it involves physical trauma, illness, too much red wine, a sprint or a non-Paleo meal at your favourite restaurant (trust me, your restaurant choices will change over time, but only for the better). No magic or gimmicky tricks, just real food.