Two years ago, my husband and I joined a Crossfit gym. Our desk jobs left us desperate for activity, so at the time it just seemed like the thing to do. Yet something didn’t feel right to me. Sure, I was getting stronger physically, but I couldn’t stop the tears from pouring down my face after each workout. I was constantly starving, and my body would seize up with pain despite following a mostly paleo diet. It’s all part of it, though. We were a community and we told each other to push harder, lift heavier, and hey, a little puking never hurt anyone. In fact, we loooved it when people puked. It meant they worked hard, they were strong, PRIMAL. We were warriors.
But we were missing a key piece of the puzzle. The paleo lifestyle means following in the footsteps of our ancient ancestors. And sure, ancient hunter-gather societies meant surviving off of (what else?) hunting and gathering. Men were hunters, warriors! But what about women? Women weren’t out running, hunting, and beating their chests with the men. They stayed at home to raise the next generation; to feed, clothe, and heal the tribe. They were revered as mothers, nurturers, goddesses. Yet somehow when cavemen made their way to modern society something got lost in translation. We focused on the warrior archetype and forgot about the goddess.
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Human beings are omnivores, which means that (in theory) we can eat just about anything we want! So why do we want to stick to one thing? Why do some people become emphatic about forgoing all animal products while others recommend bacon for every meal? Why do some folks claim raw food is the only way to go, while ancient healing practices, such as Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda, place a heavy emphasis on cooking?
The fact of the matter is we were meant to eat in all sorts of ways. We absolutely should be vegans, but also carnivores. We should eat our food raw, but also cooked. Why take the extremist route and focus on eating one way? In truth, you need to eat different ways at different times. So let’s take a look at which eating styles will benefit you best and when!
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If you’ve heard of the Paleo movement you know that followers pride themselves on “eating like our ancestors.” They take a hunter/gatherer approach to diet and health believing that as human beings we haven’t evolved to eat the way that we do. They are right about evolution, we certainly aren’t eating what we were meant to, but they take the same extremist approach that all other diets do: One method for everyone. Once again, we wind up with a diet that works for some and not others. And just like other approaches, it’s easy to fall off the wagon.
The Problem with Paleo
The reason for this is simple: we are not all created equal. Even modern-day hunter/gatherer societies differ among groups. The Tarahumara people in Copper Canyon, Mexico for example, run 50 miles per day while eating a vegan diet primarily made up of corn. This is vastly different from societies focused on game abundant to the region in which they are living. How can we believe we are any different? A person living through the long, dark winters of Scandinavia has very different needs from a person who endures the heat and humidity of the jungle. This is the reason for our differences in skin color. Pale pink shades of skin soak up as much Vitamin D as possible where the sun is scant. The closer to the equator you get, the less D you need and the darker your skin must be for protection against the sun’s harsh rays.
Eating for Evolution
Up until the last couple hundred years, we ate one way passed down from generation to generation. It was highly unlikely to meet an Italian woman enjoying the delicacies of Japan or sampling the cuisines of India. Today we live in a culture where we can enjoy tacos for lunch and sushi for dinner. No wonder our bodies rebel! Thankfully our bodies know intuitively what to eat, we just haven’t been listening for awhile. In order to enjoy the true vitality that a nourished body provides, you must first recognize your own bio-individuality: Namely, how to eat for your own body. This science is called Metabolic Typing. Metabolic typing uses physical characteristics such as skin, eyes, and hair to determine a person’s metabolism and thus the best way to find nourishment.
Eat Like your Ancestors
If you already know your own ancestry, you already have a head start to knowing the diet that would work best for you. I, for example, am of Northern European descent and know that fish, cold weather vegetables, and warm, rich foods are best suited to my metabolic type. I also know that 70% of northern Europeans can’t tolerate gluten. Which is no wonder since wheat is known to have originated in warm fertile climates such as the middle east, and eventually the Mediterranean. If you don’t know your ancestry you can still heed this advice and uncover the foods that work best from you. A good starting place would be keeping a food journal and notice how you feel after eating certain foods.
The real grain of wisdom here is that we are not all created equal. The journey now is taking the steps to bettering your own health. And that is very unique to you.
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Paleo diets have been popping up everywhere. Based on the idea that human beings could not have evolved in the 10,000 years since we were hunter-gatherers, the paleo diet (also known as the Primal or Caveman diet) advocates an eating style sans grains, dairy, and sugar. The thinking behind this diet is to eat the way humans ate before the dawn of agriculture, which advocates say was mankinds’ downturn. Crossfit gyms, athletes, and many others are finding out what this eating style can mean for their health. I believe there may be a reason for its success for some individuals, but a one-size-fits all approach might be taking it a bit too far. In my opinion, there are two flaws with the caveman diet: 1) It assumes that all human beings on earth evolved the same way, which is simply not true. And 2) Modern day hunter-gatherer societies do not eat this way. So why does the diet work?
Many claim that the Paleo diet enables a life free from inflammatory and digestive conditions as well as eliminates pain and/or more serious conditions such as cancer and heat disease. However, this may be attributed to a simple problem faced by up to 12 million Americans: Food allergies. The caveman diet eliminates two of the most common food allegens: Dairy and Gluten which could explain its success. That leaves an important question: Why do we have food allergies? Is it because we have not evolved to be able to tolerate the agricultural advancements that milking cows and milling wheat has provided to us? On the contrary, I think it is because America enabled people of every ethnicity to mingle. The famous melting-pot of America meant that people from all of the world, who were evolutionary predisposed to eat they way their ancestors had eaten for generations, were suddenly combining forces and creating a culture full of foreign foods no one had eaten before.
Until fairly recently different cultures ate one way, passed down from ancestor to ancestor. You can bet that in 1900 you wouldn’t have caught a Spaniard eating raw fish for breakfast- yet that is what those native to Japan did daily. Different customs and rituals surrounding food were largely separate for the majority of human history. Now we live in a culture of cultures. I can eat a European breakfast of radishes with butter and a baguette for breakfast, sushi for lunch, and have a Mexican feast for dinner full of corn tortillas, peppers, and tomatoes. No wonder our health has suffered!! 90% of African and Asian people are lactose-intolerant. 70% of the population in Finland are gluten-intolerant. Introducing new foods to a belly that doesn’t know how to handle them can create a digestive system that is constantly on the defense. This could be the primary reason behind food allergies and intolerances, not to mention a host of horrible diseases.
In addition, the Tarahumara people who live in cliff dwellings in Copper Canyon Mexico are modern-day hunter-gatherers and eat a diet of mostly vegan foods rich in corn and local spices. Not only are the Tarahumara healthy and thriving, they can run 60 miles a day without any problems! Maybe the one-diet-fits-all approach isn’t the right plan of attack.
Food intolerance is hereditary, which makes sense considering that you are of the same genetic makeup as your parents who evolved to be able to digest the foods common to their ancestral heritage. Knowing your genetic background could mean major differences in your health. The book “The Jungle Effect” while not specific to food allergies, gives insight to eating like your ancestors for better overall health. My heritage is mostly Northern European so I’ve been working to get more fish into my diet as well as other traditional delicacies (which explains why I can’t tolerate dairy, gluten, and eggs!). After three years of a lot of pain and suffering, I finally found answers by doing an ELISA blood panel (more info here). The blood panel can give you insight into which foods your body is rebelling against. Abstaining from those foods can bring you a whole new world of health! (It has for me!).
I don’t follow the Paleo diet, but I do abstain from eating gluten, eggs, and dairy after I received my panel results which is pretty similar. Find out what works for you, not whatever diet trend is the new thing. My motto for health remains the same: Lots of plants and water, a sprinkle of sunshine, and avoidance of your allergies!!
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