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Seven Successful Habits of a Paleo Eater

For the last several years I have undergone an evolution in my practice.  Believe it or not, there was a time when I actually told patients to consume grains and dairy as part of a healthy diet.  Looking back, all I can say is, “What was I thinking?”  The fact is that I was swayed by classic dogma about diet and nutrition.  Information that I now realize was derived from the food industry with motives behind them.  That motive was money from the sale of their “food”, but not the promotion of health.  Food gives us life, and food choices should be directed towards health and wellness.

My light bulb moment

Trying to be the astute doctor, I watched as my patients got somewhat better, but not completely resolve their healthcare complaints.  Clearly I was missing something in the bigger picture.  Slowly I began to question some of the therapies that I offered.  Eventually this led me back to diet.  While there were many diets being promoted, there were some that seemed to work better than others for promoting restoration of normal human function.  Before long I came across the Paleo Diet.  Have you ever had a “light bulb” moment?  My introduction to the Paleo Diet was one of my most memorable “light bulb” moments and there has been no turning back.

How it changed my patients

I can remember the excitement I had when I realized that I had a new tool in my tool belt to assist my patients.  Imagine my enthusiasm when I began to see the results that the Paleo diet can offer.  Patients were coming back losing weight, what I considered to be a positive side effect.  What I was thrilled about was that they were feeling better, looking more energetic and seemed to have a new lease on life.  All of this was coming from a diet.  And I knew my patients were not just experiencing a placebo effect.  I could physically see the difference.  On top of that, I had jumped into Paleo myself and the results spoke for themselves.  More energetic, efficient fat burning, and mental clarity were just a few of the benefits I personally experienced.

How to stay with it

However, no change is without difficulty, especially when it comes to diet.  Diet is related to more than just food consumption.  For many it has feelings and emotions attached to it.  Therefore the implementation can seem daunting.  But after years of working with the Paleo Diet and helping others implement it into their lives, there are some consistencies that I have noted among those that are able to be successful longer term.  It is these habits that I want to share with you so you too can be a successful Paleo Eater.

1.  Stop viewing the Paleo Diet as a Diet.  It is a lifestyle.

Diets are for those people that aren’t really willing to change, but want to do something for a short time to feel like they are getting healthier.  That’s not you.  You really want to be healthier.  Feeling like you are taking pertinent action is your approach.  You are doing the Paleo Diet or considering it because you want long term changes in your life.  This means understanding the Paleo Diet is not a diet.  Diets have a beginning point and an end.  Think about it.  Most diets as we know it set a goal for you to reach, generally a certain body weight.  What happens when you reach that weight?  Are you then able to begin eating unhealthy choices again?  Or maybe it is suggested that you can have a cheat meal here and there.  How many cheat meals can you get away with before it catches up to you?  What are the effects of those cheat meals?  All good questions.  This does not match the model of long term health.  Weight is not a true measure of health and wellness.  It is a misguided gauge attempting to correlate to body image.  Rather, you want to adopt an eating pattern that is going to stick with you and promote longevity.  When you do this, the Paleo diet is no longer a diet, but rather a lifestyle.  By its nature, the Paleo Diet encourages you to learn about the foods that you are eating, to take recognition of their effects on your health.  Once you have done this, you begin to realize how much better you feel.  You make a positive connection with food and making good food choices becomes easy.  Easy choices then become habits, which in turn helps you develop a lifestyle complimented by healthy food choices consistent with the Paleo Diet.

2.  Eating excessive amounts of protein is not ideal.

You are an omnivore, not a carnivore.  I am a dog lover.  I spend a lot of time with my dogs.  Their teeth are sharp and pointed, specifically designed for tearing flesh. They are clearly carnivores.  If you dare to say otherwise, you have not tried sticking your hand in their bowls at dinner time when raw wild meat in on the menu.  As humans, we were intended to eat meat, but we are not only supposed to eat meat.  If you don’t believe me, just take a look at your dentition.  It is much different than a canine.  Your teeth are composed of two basic structures.  The forward teeth have sharper edges for cutting while the back teeth are flatter and designed for crushing.  The sharper teeth help us rip and cut through fleshy substances such as meats and fish.  In opposition, the flatter teeth are better suited for mashing together harder crunchier plants.  Of course there is some overlap in their actions, but when compared to species that are considered carnivores or omnivores, the dentition is more pronounced.  Again, animals such as dogs which are carnivores have sharp edged teeth throughout their whole mouth.  Deer, cows and other grass plant feeding animals have flat teeth.

It’s all about balance

Even beyond the difference in dentition, meat is only able to provide a few nutrients.  The most common nutrients associated with protein are B12, iron, zinc, selenium and phosphorus.  There is also the advantage of consuming a high biological value protein source, contrary to plants which are low biological value proteins.   Humans must gain their nutrients from the food we eat.  We are not able to synthesize them.  The nutrients that we are unable to derive from meat come from plants.  This suggests that a balance must exists between the two regarding consumption.  Equally as important is that excessive protein consumption has an acidifying effect on the body.  Higher amounts of protein must be complimented by the alkalinizing effects of vegetables and fruits.  This allows for proper balancing of the pH and an overall reduction in inflammation, a risk factor for chronic disease.  While adequate protein is critical, excessive protein is not ideal.

3.  Being adventurous with food selection is key

There may be numerous foods out there that you would like, but you just don’t know about them.  Do you know why?  It is because you are stuck in a dietary rut and aren’t trying to break out of it.  For many, grains and dairy is such a staple of the diet that they feel if they are not eating foods containing these ingredients that they are not eating real food.  Talk about monotony.  People eat grains and dairy at every meal sometimes.  Not only is this not healthy, it is boring.  Where is your sense of adventure?  The grocery stores are stacked full of different health food choices.  Just consider the produce section.  How many different vegetables and fruits can you find in that area alone?  The options are plentiful.

Diversity in your foods is key

Additionally, the more you consume a particular food, the more likely you are to have a delayed food sensitivity against it.  I see this frequently with my patients.  They will eat the same food day after day, some even knowing that it is not good for them.  Yet they tell themselves, “Ah, that little bit I consume every day is not an issue”.  For most of my patients, the very food they don’t want to give up is the one that is hurting them.  That food is an issue and the reason that it became so is in part related to frequency of consumption.  The more interaction the immune tissue in the gut has with a particular food, the more likely it is to react.  If you are not consuming the same foods all the time, the immune system does not “stay on guard” so to say.  The diversity of the diet is protective.  Pop out of your rut and become adventurous.

4.  Successful Paleo Eaters ask for food to be prepared to their needs

Let’s face it, we have to interact in a world that is not Paleo oriented.  Rather it is focused on delivering food fast and cheap.  Neither of those favors Paleo.  Thus, if food is overly cheap, say for example the dollar menu at a fast food establishment, or delivered faster than you can pull out your wallet to pay for it, you should not be ordering it.  If you are not preparing your own food, there are much better options.  When you go somewhere, realize that with very few exceptions, you are going to know far more about food than the person serving you or preparing your food.  This means that you have to take charge to stay Paleo.  Most people feel like they have to stick to the menu as they see it.  Don’t fall into this trap.  You can dice a menu at a restaurant any way you like it.  If you see a food you would eat, but it is not prepared like you would like, ask them to make it your way.  You are a paying customer and they will do it for you.  They want you happy so you will give them repeat business or tip them well.

If you aren’t sure, ask.

Also, ask your server what ingredients foods contain.  If they are not sure themselves, they should go back to the kitchen and ask.  This will not take much of their time and most of them are happy to do it for you.  It is better to know that foods contain non-Paleo ingredients than to eat it and suffer later.  No one wants to spend money on a meal and feel bad after eating it.  When talking to wait staff, let them kindly know that you have dietary restrictions and that you would like to see the grain and dairy free menus.  Many restaurants are starting to introduce these.

5.  Remember, Vegetables are your friend

When going to a Paleo Diet, the majority tends to be good at eating protein and fats, but fiber sources seem to lack.  That is unfortunate as plants offer the most diversity in the diet.  Just think about the number of options available in the produce section when you go in the grocery store.  The options are endless.  Moreover, the addition of vegetables allows you to greatly diversify your food choices.  Eating the same foods not only can create health problems such as food sensitivities, but also limits the amount of nutrients you consume.  If you make a decision to eat a different vegetable daily, you will be eating different dishes for several days.  Additionally, eating a diet high in vegetables gives you several different food meal options, even with the same vegetable.  For example, think of the number of ways that you can eat sweet potatoes.  They can be baked, mashed, cut into fries and chips, and even graded to make hashbrown-like patties.

Eat the colors of the rainbow

In addition, vegetables are where many of the benefits of the Paleo diet are derived from.  The Paleo Diet is often stated has having the ability to help combat disease and prevent autoimmunity.  Inflammation is the hallmark of disease.  However, we cannot significantly affect inflammation without taking in antioxidants.  Concentrations of antioxidant are not found in protein sources, but rather in plants.  We have all heard that you should eat the rainbow of colors in your diet.  Those colors equate to antioxidants.  The more vibrant the colors, in general the higher the phytonutrient, or plant-based antioxidant, content.  If you are not eating vegetables and diligently trying to expand the number of vegetables that you consume in your diet, you are missing out on some of the best attributes of the Paleo Diet.

6.  Explore resources

Being successful means having the tools to become successful.  In my years of working with the Paleo Diet, I have found that it is important to have good resources.  There are a couple of resources that you want to have at your disposal.  The first resource you want to find is like-minded people.  You may not realize it, but there are others in your area similar to you.  They too are trying to change their eating habits and improve their health.  Having friends and family with the same goals and aspirations as yourself is a constant reinforcement of why you need to stay Paleo.

Get a Paleo Cookbook

The second is a good Paleo Cookbook.  You will likely eat many of your meals at home.  Having a Paleo Cookbook helps you preplan what you will be having so that you are scrambling for food options.  The more prepared you are, the more likely you are to make a good dietary choice.  Let’s face it, our environment is not set up for Paleo.  We have to work at it some.  Therefore, if you are taking the time to develop your pantry and refrigerator with food items that are real and unrefined, you will significantly increase your success.

Research, plan & prepare

Lastly, you have to find food resources.  You should look for two.  The first is a supermarket that carries the food items that you want to consume.  Don’t forget to look for food co-ops either.  These can be excellent sources of wild or grass-fed meat as well as provide you with a good supply of in-season vegetables.  The other resource to have at hand is a restaurant or two where you know you can make appropriate selections.  You are going to get busy at some point and life will get hectic.  Taking the time to prepare a meal is not always an option.  But if you know ahead of time where you can go and pick up quality food, again you are not likely to make a poor dietary choice.  If you are unsure of where to go, ask others that you know that are making the same dietary modifications as you are.

 7.  You are different, Embrace it

If you don’t know about something or are not willing to embrace, the easiest thing to do is ridicule it or make it seem less desirable than it actually is.  This is true of the Paleo Diet.  I once heard a gentleman say, “If you are not up on it, then you are likely to be down on it.”  That seems about right.  Think about the reaction you might have gotten if you told someone that you wanted to go Paleo.  They probably looked at you with an “eye of ridicule” and questioned why you would want to do that.  However, think of the background of the person questioning your decision.  Do they have a nutrition education?  Do they get their information from lay publications, hearsay or unproven dogmatic principles?  The truth is that most are not willing to make the dietary changes to improve their health.  Rather than face their short-comings, it is easier to scoff at what your decisions.  Have faith, you are making the right decision.

Dare to be different by being healthy

How can I be confident you are making the right decision by being Paleo?  It is a matter of simple statistics.  As our society has consumed more refined foods and drifted further away from the eating habits of our forefathers, we have seen a parallel in the rise of chronic disease.  Diseases that never existed several centuries ago are the leading causes of death.  While many things in the environment have changes, by far the most dramatic is our food.  You are going to be different when you eat Paleo.  Yet, you will not have the same risk factors as others when it comes to the “diseases of lifestyle”.  Dare to be different.  Your body will thank you.

Bonus Tip:  Non-Traditional Breakfast Foods for Breakfast

Clearly if you have made it to this point, you are dedicated to making Paleo a consistent part of your life.  For that I want to not only congratulate you, but I also want to continue to support your healthy lifestyle by giving you an extra bonus.  You deserve to have one more tip to help you remain successful.

My bonus tip for is breakfast does not have to be eggs, bacon and sausage.  Nothing wrong with these foods of course, but there is no reason to limit yourself to these food selections.  Think about our forefathers.  Did they only consume traditional breakfast foods for breakfast?  Of course they didn’t.  They consumed the foods they had available to them.  We do should do the same.  An option I have found successful for many in the morning is to use protein shakes.  These are quick and easy and help you get out the door so you can start your day.  Another excellent option is to make something in the crock pot.  When you get up in the morning, turn it on.  By the time you have finished getting ready, your food will be warm and you can have a good meal to start your day without a lot of time invested.  Just like with other meals, we don’t want to get stuck in the habit of eating the same foods all the time.  Rather, we want to maintain a diverse diet with as many real, unrefined food selections as possible.

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