So Easy a Caveman Can Diet

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“What does Paleo mean?”

When I discuss the changes I’ve made to the way I eat or when I post pictures of my culinary efforts on Facebook, this is typically the first question.

The premise is pretty straightforward, our DNA has only undergone minor changes in the last 10,000 years — or, put another way, our genes have been essentially the same for anywhere from 200,000 to 4 million years — and our bodies are best suited to operate on foods present before few millenia.

I try to be brief, but often wander into an explanation of evolution and human physiology.

I love discussing the simple mechanisms built in to the body and how we can use them for our greatest benefit. My hands move around constantly, grabbing and stacking and transporting imaginary packets of nutrients in front of my audience. I jump from topic to topic in an effort to create a full, coherent picture of the elegant symphony governing our lives and making this hunk of meat a worthwhile host for our magnificent souls.

In the end, people want to know something basic:

“What did you change?”

“Everything” seems an appropriate, if intimidating, reply.

That said, it’s also inaccurate.

Redefining a lifestyle often seems more colossal than it really is, whether in the way we eat or how we move or what we think. Monumental change is the result of basic choices magnified by the effect of repetition over time.

If someone is giving up cigarettes, they decide against lighting up for an extended period. That’s it. Eventually, the desire goes away. There are some physical and emotional challenges in the process, of course, but they are overcome as long as the individual refrains from reaching for a pack of Marlboros and a lighter.

With that in mind, eating like a caveman is built on three simple principles:

1. Shift sugar
Candy and other substances loaded with refined sugar are put aside, obviously, as well as grains (read: bread, rice, pasta) and high-starch vegetables like potatoes and corn join them. In addition, fruits take on less importance. These foods spike blood sugar and unbalance the complex harmony of our endocrine system.

The idea is to consume carbohydrates which have a diminished effect on insulin — a hormone that wreaks all sorts of havoc when unregulated. By managing glycemic load (the amount of glucose in our blood after a meal) better, biochemical processes for fat storage and inflammation are blocked, decreasing the likelihood of a range of cardiovascular conditions such as high blood pressure and stroke.

2. Lean protein
Our ancestors were, generally, hunters dining on whatever creatures they managed to track down. Though this has predominantly meant fish for a large portion of human history, the prized portions of land-based animals were organ meats — the heart and liver, for example. These tissues have a fairly low fat content and deliver necessary amino acids into our system with little difficulty.

In modern days, we are more accustomed to turkey breast than deer innards (which may be our loss). Regardless, the optimal proteins improve tissue strength and rebuilding, whether in muscle, bone or elsewhere.

3. Finding fat
Though lipids have been demonized over the last few decades, they act as the building blocks for much more than the excess weight we carry around our waists and thighs. The key is to take them in with proper measures of omega-6 and omega-3 varieties. Some of this will come from fish, as is often seen in the news, yet other products — oils (olive, flax, e.g.) and nuts (almonds and walnuts), mainly — help us to achieve the kind of balance we seek.

In the short term, this creates a feeling of satisfaction lasting much longer after mealtime. Further, as days eating like this become weeks, energy is used with greater efficiency, producing a cascade of wide-ranging positive effects — everything from a slimmer waist to better sleep and quicker recovery from exercise.

Better food fuels peak performance.

Why do we put gasoline in our cars instead of coal?

Because it’s what the engines are designed to run on.

Doesn’t it make sense to do the same with our bodies?

Once you understand, it’s easy to be like a caveman.


2 Responses to “So Easy a Caveman Can Diet”

  1. 1 I Lost Over 100 Pounds March 7, 2011 at 7:28 am

    Refined sugar, high fructose corn syrup and their offspring soda pop are one of the key reasons for the explosion of obesity.

    I never had tons of treats around the house when I was growing up but I drank tons of coke and had access to tons of coke.

    Plus the combination of massive amounts of sugar then cause your body to store all the fat you eat so even though fat is not nearly as bad as we once thought, the combination of heaps of sugar turns the fat into a timebomb.

    The Grumpy Man

    • 2 Jason Eichacker March 7, 2011 at 7:20 pm

      EXACTLY! Foods high in refined sugar, like soda and candy and pasta, spike insulin — and keep it elevated for a long time. As a result, we end up storing a lot of the excess carbs as fat and our cholesterol shape is altered. It’s amazing how avoiding these substances can make such a big difference.

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