Going Primal

I’ve always thought diets were stupid and gimmicky. There has certainly not been a lack of fad diets over the past several years upon which I have focused my derision: Atkins, South Beach, and most recently the Maple Syrup diet. Don’t get me wrong, I’m absolutely not against eating well in order to lose weight, I just have a problem with these shortsighted attempts to give a sudden surge of weight loss at the sacrifice of actual healthly living. A large percentage of these fad diets do just result in a short-term drop in weight followed up with an immediate jump back up to near — or worse then — original weight.

So when January suggested early last month that we give the “Paleo diet” a chance, I naturally rolled my eyes. I rolled them in a complete 360 rotation, because there are few things I find as absurd as these fad diets. It doesn’t help that my inner hipster can’t stand a large number of things that are popular with the mainstream, simply because of their popularity. This is true of Vampires, Lady Gaga, and certainly extends to fad diets. But January persisted in her suggestion that this would be a good thing for us to do, so I took the time to look into it.

As I said, it’s not the attempt to live healthier and lose weight that I have a problem, it’s the myopic way in which it tends to be done with fad diets. I’ve always been of the mindset that if you want to be healthier and lose weight, you should change your lifestyle to one that promotes better health rather than just change your diet to some radical set of components that are supposed to magically burn away the fat. So imagine my surprise when I did research the “Paleo diet” a bit to discover that, really, a lifestyle change is exactly what it is.

Without getting into all the details, the proposal that the paleo diet makes is that many of the foods we eat today are — in their raw state — actually poisonous to our bodies and without being cooked or processed in some way, them are very harmful. The fact that we have to cook and process them to eat them makes them slightly more agreeable to our systems, but they are stil at their core harmful to our bodies and should be avoided. Think beans, potatoes, grains, and to a possibly lesser extent dairy.  So at the basic level, the paleo diet is really less of a diet in the traditional sense and more of a realigning of the way we think about food to train us to avoid these foods that our bodies don’t process well. Everything else is on the table, and there are no points to count or boxes to check. Simply “eat this” and “don’t eat that.” Or at least “eat this” and “try to avoid that.”

So during the month of August, January and I are both committing to adjust our lifestyle a bit to fit into this mindset. Specifically, we’re going to be following a superset of the paleo diet known as the “Primal Challenge.” My friend and colleague Bob Ewing has it outlined in more detail on his web site, but It’s basically the dietary component of the paleo diet, along with a few other lifestyle changes designed to simplify your life a bit. The basic guidelines are:

  • Spend time outside every day — At least 15 minutes, not spent working or staring at technology. Just enjoying being outside. Preferably barefoot (Hippies, amiright?)
  • Watch one sunrise and one sunset — I’m not sure how reasonable the sunrise part will be this time of year with a six-month-old, but we’ll see
  • Get lots of sleep — Preferably 50+ hours per week. No “glowing rectangles” in the bedroom. This means no TV, no iPhone, no glowing alarm clocks. Just darkness.
  • Get your basic measurements — Weigh in at the beginning of the month, and find out your body fat percentage and BMI if you can
  • Follow the 80-20 rule — The 80-20 rule basically says to follow the rules 80% of the time, but leave 20% free for going off the plan. This is a lifestyle change, and lifestyle changes don’t always stick to a set of hard and fast rules. Nothing wrong with “cheating” occasionally.

These are the basic principles January and I will be sticking to for the month of August, and possibly thereafter if this results in the expected drop in weight, uptick in energy, and overall better health. 

Now, I’m sure this is very much against the spirit of paleo and the Primal Challenge, but nevertheless January and I spent this past weekend getting mentally prepared for what we would be giving up by indulging in our favorites one last time: Graffiti Burger, Papa John’s, Chipotle and Aladdin’s were somehow fit into the past two days. It was a delicious — if not regrettable — way to mark the end of the period in our lives when we value convenience over what’s actually good for us. So here we go on what will hopefully not be just a “fad” in our life, but a refocusing on how we live and what we choose to put in our bodies. Stay tuned!