Posts Tagged 'healthy'

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.

On The Road Again

It’s been four months since I went for a run.

Well, it had been until yesterday. Inspired by the fascinating book Born To Run by Christopher McDougall and the story of the Tarahumara (tah-rah-oo-MA-rah) people of northern Mexico, I picked up a pair of Vibram FiveFingers KSOs and began training furiously last November.

I’d set a goal of eclipsing my personal record of 5:15 in the mile on New Year’s Eve.

I’ve been an athlete all my life and enjoy exercise. I relish the feeling of pushing myself to the limits physically and mentally. I’ve had more than a handful of moments where I asked myself if I was going to die so, just as I always had, I went out and did what felt natural. My body would tell me when to stop.

The thing is, there’s a lot of learning that goes with running barefoot.

From the get-go, my body was completely in shock. I found out very quickly how undeveloped the stabilizing muscles in my feet and lower legs were. I shuffled around like an old man for a couple of weeks as they became acclimated to being used and eventually found a groove. My mileage pushed up and I began to feel like I was getting back into the kind of cardiovascular shape I’d been in before.

Then I injured my foot.

Yes, I’m a man.

No, I did not read the directions.

When making the changeover from Nikes to nothing, beginning on forgiving surfaces (i.e. not concrete) is highly recommended. In all my genius, I had been pounding pavement for six weeks and the little niggle in my left foot became a full-blown “hurting mother.” (Medical term.) I opted to lay off it for a while instead of pressing on to a stress fracture.

After fifteen or twenty days of healing, I was out of the habit and indulging in the holiday smorgasbord.

This brings us to yesterday. I decided to get back on the wagon when one of my best friends told me he’d dropped some weight. (No, we’re not competing for bikini season.) The long layoff had to end, as exercise may be the magic bullet to reduce the frustration of my day-to-day life.

I decided to try ChiRunning, having picked up the book at my local bookstore and read through it a few weeks ago. I will admit to some trepidation at the thought of changing my running style, focusing on moving my feet faster and landing differently.

I was mistaken.

The technique is built around “forms,” simple concentrations that aggregate to create an efficient and effortless stride for mile after mile. I chose to focus on cadence, the pick-them-up-and-put-them-down pace which is the constant in ChiRunning, a staggering 85-90 cycles (170-180 steps) per minute.

It was easier than I anticipated.

Using a simple beeping metronome MP3 I prepared using Audacity, I quickly got in sync with the proper rhythm and went for a few minutes. I took a breather for a couple, then began again, really absorbing the movement and programming it into my brain. I even switched over to my regular tunes for awhile and tested myself to see if I could maintain the “one-two-one-two” tempo.

It felt great.

Despite the fact my core must be strengthened, my legs seemed to melt away. I felt little in the way of knee or ankle pain I’ve had before. My muscles seemed more responsive and snappy with each step, like fatigue was a distant memory. I’m looking forward to putting some miles on this body again.

First time I’ve said that in way too long.

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