Category Archives: Paleo Lifestyle

The Degeneration of the Paleo Movement…?!?

Well, I should probably be more specific and clarify that I’m referring not to the Paleo movement itself, which is booming, but to the Paleo market. Over the last few months I’ve noticed several products, especially books, that sell under a Paleo tag when in fact they tend to distort the very core of the Paleo concept. So, I’ll be taking a critical look at some categories of products that have been cropping up.

 

Paleo Baking

That’s an oxymoron if I ever heard one. However, since we’re not actually trying to live as cavemen, I guess there’s some leeway we can play with. Paleo baking should come with a huge Buyer Beware warning as, more often than not, the ingredients used are best avoided. There are two things to look out for here: the “flour” and the sweetener used.

The two kinds of “flour” used most often in Paleo baking recipes are nut flour and coconut flour.
The latter is the more benign choice, though anything you bake with it will have a distinctive coconut-y flavor – it’s up to you whether you like it or not. As for nut flour, you might think that since nuts are allowed in a Paleo diet, why not grind them and use the flour? Nuts are rich in pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids, and for that reason we should avoid eating them in large quantities, such as what would be needed to make baked goods. Nowadays, we can buy nuts in bags, already shelled, and tend to munch on them mindlessly, but if, in order to eat e.g. walnuts, you had to harvest them straight from the tree and then crack the shells, I doubt you’d have more than a handful at a time. I only bake once or twice a month or so, but prefer gluten-free flour (not Paleo, I know) over nut flour for savory bakes, and coconut flour for sweet bakes.

The issue with sweeteners is actually pretty simple, but I’m constantly amazed at how convoluted it tends to get. To keep it simple, the only sweetener that is truly Paleo is raw honey. The same caveat as nuts applies here as well: consume only as much as you would if you had to harvest it yourself, climbing trees with angry bees attacking you ;p Think of honey as liquid gold, and use it sparingly. The one alternative I’m willing to consider is Stevia, and I do mean the actual plant, not chemically processed extract or little white tabs that come in a box. Of course, this would only be applicable in recipes that use water, which you would sweeten with the leaves prior to mixing with the rest of the ingredients. Even so, it’s a valid option.

 

Paleo Desserts

I’m amazed by the amount of recipes out there for Paleo desserts.Some of them are legit, while others don’t even come close. What I dislike about the plethora of Paleo dessert cookbooks is that they create the false impression that eating dessert on a regular basis is perfectly acceptable, when in fact it should be considered a treat to indulge in no more than once or twice per week. For example, say you get a book with 100 recipes; it should take you 2-3 years to taste every single one of them!

My idea of dessert revolves around either fruit or high-quality dark chocolate. When I prepare dessert for myself, I’ll just grab a piece of fruit or melt a chunk of chocolate over a handful of nuts, and that’s it. When I want to serve dessert to my family, I never prepare fruit platters, though, since people tend to overeat. Instead, I’ll opt for something like poached pears with chocolate fudge or baked apples with a little nut streusel. I avoid adding any sweetener (everything I wrote in the previous section still applies) as the sugars in fruit caramelize as they cook and provide enough sweetness, while the dark chocolate already contains some sugar.

Use your imagination and play around with spices and combination, or follow a recipe. In the end, however, be reasonable as to how often you eat dessert.

 

Food Makeovers

Often, the food we eat comes with its very own emotional baggage. If we’ve associated a certain dish with happy memories, we want to eat it again to relive those euphoric feelings. Although the concept has been widely conventionalized, I find that comfort foods are highly personal, simply because each individual has unique experiences tied to certain dishes.

For example, two or three times a year, my family makes manti (mahn-TEE), tiny meat-filled dumplings, served in thin tomato soup, topped with tzatziki sauce (full-fat strained yogurt with crushed garlic) and sprinkled with sumac spice. It’s a time for the whole family to get together, and I’m willing to forgo my Paleo eating for a day and simply enjoy the experience. I know I could try making the recipe with gluten-free flour, but decide not to bother since it’s only a couple of times a year anyway, and my body can handle it thanks to eating Paleo all the rest of the time.

While doing the Whole30 challenge, food makeovers were out of the question. I was eating Paleo-only meals, without being allowed to make Paleo versions of my favorite or most often consumed dishes. The point was to free my mind of mindless attachment to certain foods, and it worked for the most part. Post-challenge, the goal is to eat clean 95% of the time in order to fortify the body so that it can deal with that 5% deviation. It really gives a new meaning to the phrase “special occasion”.

Junk food, though, is a completely different monster. If you’re used to buying your food ready-to-eat, then chances are you’re addicted. David Kessler made a great point about the addictive nature of processed foods due to the addition of fat, sugar, and salt a few years back – click here to see an interview (it starts at around the 12-minute mark). The fact is that your homemade makeovers will never match the taste you’re used to, and ultimately your addicted brain will rebel. The solution is to eschew any dish you’re possibly addicted to, and use completely new flavors to stimulate your taste buds. Once you’ve been “clean” for a while, you may start thinking about making Paleo versions of formerly-addictive dishes. It’s a risky experiment; you may find that consuming Paleoified dishes is not that pleasurable after all and simply shrug them off, or you may get a hankering for the “real thing”.

 

In conclusion, I find that Paleo writers and bloggers trying to carve a slice out of the Paleo “pie” have been giving too much emphasis in the above categories when they should instead be trying to help people wean themselves off such foods. True, there is a time and place for makeover dishes, desserts, and bakes, but their part in a Paleo diet is too small to justify the time/effort put into creating the amount of recipes one can track down both on the Web and in bookstores.

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Paleo Weight Loss

Being a chubby child that turned into an overweight adolescent who then grew up into an obese adult, I’ve been struggling with my appearance from early on. It wasn’t until I found Paleo that slimming down became truly effortless. So I’d like to take a few moments to point out how Paleo can help with weight loss. [A short recap: going Paleo means eating animal protein, vegetables, tubers (such as yams), gourds (e.g. pumpkin), and fruit, while avoiding grains, legumes (i.e. beans), and dairy.]

 

Managing Hunger
First of all, forget about counting calories, carbs, points, etc. Obsessing about staying within predefined numerical limits puts you under unnecessary psychological stress that could ultimately hinder weight loss. Instead, you should follow the signals your body sends you, and eat to satisfy your hunger. In fact, when eating Paleo, you’ll be feeling positively stuffed most of the time.

The reason for this is that a Paleo diet contains a good amount of protein (though not as much as people tend to think) and lots of fat, both of which are highly satiating, making it practically impossible to overeat. Think of it this way: how soon would you be hungry after eating a bowl of pasta? What about after eating steak? I don’t know about you, but I could scarf down a couple of bowls of pasta and still feel ravenous two hours later. A good Paleo meal will keep me going for at least five hours – on average, I tend to get by with two full meals, and sometimes a snack, every day.

So, you’ll be naturally eating less, without really trying to do so, and you won’t be feeling hungry, which is a pretty nifty bonus imho.

 

Going Low-Carb?
A lot of people have the misconception that Paleo is low-carb. In truth, it’s lower carb than a conventional diet due to the exclusion of grains, but the point of eating Paleo is not minimizing carb consumption. In fact, your Paleo eating plan could be as high or as low in carbs as you need it to be.

For weight loss specifically, it is better to limit carbs (see Gary Taubes’ Why We Get Fat), and, unless you’re packing your plate with potatoes or wolfing down scores of fruit every chance you get, you’ll be able to do that without having to worry about it. What worked best for me was having a piece of fruit with my breakfast and/or a fist-sized portion of starchy carbs with my lunch, while adding some nuts here and there.

Ultimately, there’s no real need to keep track of carb grams or anything like that. Just be aware of what is on your plate and keep things reasonable, e.g. consuming no more than two fist-sized portions of fruit per day, or not eating fruit and starchy veggies/tubers during the same meal.

 

What About Exercise?
I feel that Mark Sisson has summarized a Paleo approach to exercise and fitness in the best possible way, so check his article here for an overview.

Personally, I favor a cycling weight loss model, going through a muscle-building phase, a weight loss phase, and a “reset” phase, staying in each for 4-6 weeks. Both being obese and losing weight are highly stressful on the body, and I feel that cyclic programming is the healthiest, though not the fastest, way to produce results.

During the muscle building phase, you do just that: build muscle. Don’t expect to lose much, if any, weight during this phase. The goal is to strength train intensely and stimulate your muscles into building new fibers; this will facilitate weight loss during the next phase. Two important factors that will determine your success are rest and food. You need to allow your body adequate rest between training sessions, and make sure to provide it with enough nutrients, especially protein, to act as building blocks.

When you enter the weight loss phase, you need to drop strength training and focus on light exercise, such as walking and yoga. At this time, you want to keep your hunger under control without completely immobilizing the body, so try to avoid strenuous activities (no power-walking or hot yoga!). You’ll be naturally eating less, and thus losing fat and some muscle mass – the latter is hopefully offset by the muscle gains made during the previous phase and the light stimulus provided by yoga during this one.

Finally, the reset phase is when you establish a new balance point for your body. Do maybe one or two strength training sessions, go for a jog, take a vinyasa yoga class, maybe even do an interval training session, all while eating to satisfy your hunger. Notice what happens to your body. You should be neither losing nor gaining weight, and you should be feeling energetic instead of tired – modify your exercise intensity, sleep, and food intake, especially starches, accordingly. For example, if you’re feeling like roadkill, are you getting enough sleep (8 to 9 hours)? Are you eating enough starches? Are you simply exercising too much or too hard? Use this phase to honestly evaluate your habits and find what you need to do to be in a balanced state.

 
There is a lot more information out there about losing weight on a Paleo eating plan, including the nuts and bolts of why things happen as they do (you know, the nerdy stuff), but what I’ve described above is what worked like a charm for me, making my life – and weight loss – much easier.

Cocoa Rubbed Pork Chops

Pork chops are a staple in my diet, and although my all-time favorite way to cook them is to pan-fry them in clarified butter with some black pepper, oregano, and grated lemon zest, I’m always game for trying out new things.

I’ve enjoyed cocoa-rubbed beef in the past, and I couldn’t think of any reason why the flavor wouldn’t work with pork. Here’s the recipe:

  • 1 tsp cocoa powder
  • 1/2 tsp ground red pepper (the really spicy kind)
  • 1/2 tsp oregano (because I can’t think of pork without it)
  • a couple pinches of salt *
  • 2 tbs clarified butter
  • 2 pork chops

Mix spices, and rub the chops on both sides. Heat a pan to medium-high, melt some butter, and cook the chops 3-4 minutes on each side. The ones I used were not even 1 cm thick (less than half an inch) so they were cooked really fast, but you may need to adjust temperature and cooking time depending on thickness.

About a minute before turning off the heat, I threw some crushed hazelnuts in the pan, and served them on top of the chops. Added a really nice crunch to an already delicious dish 🙂

* About salt: I usually avoid adding salt to anything other than meat, and since I don’t eat processed foods, my daily intake is on the low side. There is some controversy about whether the use of salt is an acceptable Paleo practice, but I find the amount I use in just one meal per day enhances my quality of life too much to give it up.

Yoga Challenge Day 2!

Just finished my workouts for the day, and I’m feeling a bit like roadkill.

My Yin Yoga routine this morning was focused on the spine, warming up in Caterpillar, then moving on to Butterfly. Although Butterfly is often used as a warm up pose, it gives me a deeper stretch in the sacrum area, which was exactly what I was aiming for today. On the other hand, I get more of an upper back stretch in Caterpillar due to the size of my belly; still, I find that when I let my head hang in this pose, the stretch extends down to the base of the spine. I followed up with Banana, Twists, and Corpse pose. All in all, a highly satisfying practice, especially since it helped loosen the pinch I woke up with in my lower back.

I thought I’d step out of the beaten path for at least a couple of workouts per week and do something other than Yoga. Although I have a stationary bike (yes, I have found ways to enjoy a nice ride indoors), I wasn’t that keen on using it today. So, I opted for a body-weight workout instead. I did Vinyasa with lunge and Warrior variations for about 15′ to warm up, and then went through 2 rounds of 5 exercises performed back-to-back at 12 reps each. It took me no more than 10′ but it was pretty intense. I picked the exercises from Mark Lauren’s Body By You – pulling, squatting, bending, perpendicular pushing (e.g. push-up), and in-line pushing (e.g. overhead press) movements. Although I’ll probably follow the progression as presented in the book, I did adapt the workout format (I favor circuit training over the suggested straight sets). I finished with some static stretching, but I know that I’ll be feeling it tomorrow. Better schedule some restorative Yoga.

Non-violence and the carnivore Yogi

A comment a reader, Renee aka n9vember, made about hard-core Yogis being vegetarians due to ahimsa (i.e. non-violence) got me thinking: how do we Paleo Yogis (or any meat-eating Yogi, for that matter) fit that principle into our lives? I won’t be tackling our practice of ahimsa towards ourselves (how often do you castigate yourself or push your body beyond its limits?) or even towards others. I will, instead, focus on non-violence in the way we feed ourselves.

One important aspect of the relation between ahimsa and vegetarianism lies in Yoga’s origins, that is a culture that supports the reincarnation of the soul, be it in a human or animal body. In that framework, killing and eating an animal that acts as the vessel to a human soul would be perceived as a morally reprehensible act.

This cannot be applied to those of us who don’t believe in reincarnation, though. As we must respect those who are vegetarians for spiritual reasons, so must we be respected for choosing to eat meat since we have no moral/religious reason not to do so.

That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t practice ahimsa towards the animals that nourish us. One way of doing just that is hunting our own food and respecting the animal by using every part of it, including nutrient-rich organ meats and bones (e.g. to make broth). Another way would be to make sure the proteins we consume come from humanely (an oxymoron, but there you have it) treated animals.

When you hear most Paleo experts suggest eating meat from free-range/grass-fed/wild-caught animals, ahimsa is naturally not taken into consideration. The fact of the matter is that the meat such animals produce is superior to what the average consumer is used to eating. And I simply believe that as Yogis we have an extra incentive (i.e. practicing non-violence) to follow those suggestions.

Flavors of Paleo

I’ve mentioned before that Paleo is not a cookie-cutter nutrition (and lifestyle) plan. We all need to find what works best for us and follow that path. People new to Paleo – or complete strangers to it – may not be aware of all the options, though. So, I’d like to take a moment and provide a brief description of what I think are distinct “flavors” of Paleo, and list some available resources:

Basic Paleo
This is the starting point for most of us. It’s as simple as eliminating grains, legumes, and dairy from one’s diet, but there are several sidenotes to that, such as removing vegetable and seed oils as well as sugar. For further information, check out the following:

  • Robb Wolf’s book and site. His book is easy to read, but you may need to keep notes as it’s packed full of technical details. You can find a multitude of helpful articles, as well as his excellent podcast, at his site.
  • Loren Cordain’s books  and site. Although The Paleo Diet is a must-read, it is a rather controversial book, and Loren has revised several parts of it in more recent blog posts. I’d suggest starting out with The Paleo Answer instead.
  • Melissa and Dallas Hartwig’s book and site. Their Whole9 program is what got me into Paleo. 🙂 When I first came upon their site and read the instructions, I beat a hasty path out of there – it looked impossible to implement (and people may have the same reaction to any entry-level Paleo plan). A year later, I decided to read their book, and everything they were suggesting finally clicked. It is an excellent read, detailed but approachable. I gave the Whole9 a go and to my surprise discovered it was far easier than I thought it would be.
  • Nora Gedgaudas’ book and site. A challenging read, probably more appropriate for people who want to delve deeper into Paleo.

Paleo for Specific Conditions
The basic Paleo guidelines are good enough for most people to play with, but if, for instance, you suffer from an autoimmune condition, you may need to add some restrictions. Some examples include removing nightshades (tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, peppers, etc.), sources of FODMAPs (onions, garlic, etc.), or eggs from the diet. Consider consulting with a Paleo/Primal physician to help with this:

If you want to discuss a Paleo approach with your current physician, you could read and pass along Diane Sanfilippo’s book as it provides nutrition plans for several conditions. You also can find a multitude of articles, recipes, etc., and her podcast on her site.

Paleo for Weight Loss
Although I consider obesity a medical condition that should be dealt with as such, I thought I’d give it its own section since a lot of people (myself included) come to Paleo for the express reason of losing weight. I’d like to point out, though, that Paleo is not a weight loss plan. Weight loss is a side effect as the body is allowed to work its way towards a healthy, balanced state.

You could be following a basic Paleo plan and losing weight without further intervention. If that doesn’t work for you, you may need to cut back a bit on carbs to egg your body on. This doesn’t mean aiming for a zero carb approach. A general approach would be to first try to limit fruit consumption to no more than 2 fist-sized portions per day. If you stop seeing results (assess primarily your body fat percentage and the fit of your clothes before obsessing over the number on the scales), restrict your starch consumption to post-workout meals only.

You can find more on most resources mentioned in this post, but might want to particularly check out:

  • Gary Taubes’ books. Although not strictly Paleo, you should get at least one of them. They are both very enjoyable to read (or was that just me?) despite being long. The shorter, easier read of the two is Why We Get Fat.
  • Stephan Guyenet’s blog for an alternative, high-carb approach.

Always, the key point is experimenting and finding what works for you.

Paleo for Athletic Performance
Although now popular mostly in CrossFit circles, Paleo has been promoted for a while among endurance athletes by top trainer Joe Friel (you can follow his blog here) with the support of Loren Cordain (check out their book).

If you’re into general fitness or a strength-based sport, Robb Wolf’s blog has more appropriate resources. You can also find an excellent nutrition plan for athletic performance in Diane Sanfilippo’s book.

Other Approaches
As long as you don’t have any sensitivities to dairy, you could try going Primal. This is a variation allowing the infrequent consumption of fatty and/or fermented dairy in small quantities. Check out Mark Sisson’s awesome site and books. Mark Sisson’s and Robb Wolf’s sites are probably the biggest hubs of Paleo/Primal activity, so be sure to bookmark them and subscribe to their feeds.

Another possible approach is Paul and Shou-Ching Jaminet’s Perfect Health Diet, which allows the consumption of both full-fat and/or fermented dairy and white rice. Check out their site and book (revised version) for more.

This isn’t meant to be an exhaustive list, but I believe all the essentials are here. If there’s something you believe I’ve missed that should absolutely be mentioned, feel free to point it out in the comments.

Is going Paleo your New Year’s Resolution? Tips for a smooth transition

So, you read up on it and decided it would benefit you to switch to a Paleo lifestyle. Most sources suggest going cold turkey for 30 days and seeing how you feel/look/perform. However, this may be easier said than done, especially after the holidays (I’ll be honest with you: it can be a bumpy ride even under perfect conditions). So, here are some tips you can use to make things easier on yourself.

Right after the holidays, you’re probably on sugar overload, so Priority #1 is taking care of that. During the first week, remove anything that tastes sweet, except fruit, from your nutrition. This includes: white/brown sugar, honey, fructose, stevia – all sorts of sweeteners, whether natural or processed – and anything containing such ingredients. In short, if it tastes sweet, don’t eat/drink it! The only exception is whole fruit (not juiced), but limit them to 2 pieces per day. You should feel okay after going 1 week sugar-free, but if you need more time in this phase, feel free to take it.

After that, it’s time to eliminate grains, legumes (i.e. beans), and dairy. Depending on your body, choose the most damaging food group and remove it from your plate first. Every 1-2 weeks, eliminate one more group until you are eating 100% Paleo. If you have other sensitivities – to food groups such as FODMAPs or nightshades – get rid of them in a similar manner.

In my case, for instance, I don’t eat legumes anyway, so I ignored them, and I’m not lactose intolerant, but I am sensitive to grains. Therefore, the latter was the first thing to go for me after getting rid of sugar. I still ate cheese for a while until I felt ready to eliminate it.

If you transition this way, by stages, you probably won’t experience any withdrawal symptoms. However, if you’re feeling spaced out, lightheaded or dizzy, your body may need more salt, more carbs, or more of both. So, add a baked sweet potato and a little bit of salt to your plate, and enjoy 🙂