A friend recently contacted me and asked for a menu for a week’s worth of primal meals because she “want[s] the energy I have”. Fact is, I do have a lot more energy after radically changing the way I eat. More energy and less crabbiness, headaches, drowsiness, etc. Yet my first thought was that this involves far more than just diet. More on energy and other benefits of primal later.
If you’re thinking about trying primal/paleo you may hear people say to you, “Why try another diet?” or, “You don’t need to be on a diet”, etc. Well, the first thing to understand is that whether the diet is formal, categorized or not, it is still a diet. Most people in the USA, eat The Standard American Diet. What exactly is it? Just walk through your local Publix/Kroger/Safeway/Wal-Mart and see what’s on the shelves: Baked goods, cereals, bagels, snacks, candy, and so on, and add some meat, fruits, and veggies for good measure. All you’re doing on Paleo/Primal is changing your already existing diet.
Eat Real Food! That means stuff that hasn’t been processed. And yes, there is a gray area. One of Michael Pollan’s “Food Rules” is that if a product has more than 7 ingredients it can hardly be called food. Things like chicken breasts, ground beef, veal, avocado, sweet potatoes, kale and spinach are all real foods. In other words, most things on the outer ring of your grocery store are totally fair game. Most things inside that ring are not real food – though they are likely marketed as such!
Ok, the next thing to understand is that primal is wholistic, involving much more than diet (i.e. how you eat), though that is a significant element. So what else is there?
Sleep! Next to eating well, giving your body the sleep it needs is probably the most important thing you can do for yourself physically. Robb Wolf devotes an entire chapter to explaining this in his book The Paleo Solution. Suffice it to say sleep is mega important. Good benchmarks to know if you’re getting enough are:
- Avoiding looking at a bright, rectangular screen within the hour before bed.
- Being able to wake up without an alarm. (this may be hard at first while your body catches up on sleep it’s been wanting and you realize it needs more sleep than you’d like to give it).
Play! Take some time once or twice a week to play. Hockey, ultimate frisbee, basketball, whatever, just get out and play with some others. Have a good time. No need to shoot for PRs or first place. Just have fun.
Exercise! Mark Sisson summarizes this as: 1) lift heavy things and 2) long, slow movements. What might that look like? Benchpress 250 lbs (or work up to that) a couple times a week; Go for a 60 minute walk. Again, no need to set PR’s here. Just set out on a walk at a comfortable pace and enjoy the scenery and the relaxation of body and mind that results.
Sunlight Try to get 15 minutes of direct sunlight a day. It makes sense to do this on a walk or while exercising or playing. This can be hard in the winter months, especially depending on your geography. We at The Primal Challenge also recommending watching a sunset or sunrise once a month. Sounds kind of easy doesn’t it? I was surprised…it’s much harder than I thought. Mainly because I really have to get somewhere else to be at a vantage point where I can observe the sun rising or setting.
Mark Sisson has a nice chart with all this here.