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It’s been almost 6 months since I completely changed my eating habits, so I thought it might be time for a check in.
A little recap: I noticed in March that I’d gotten a little spongey around the mid-section (okay, a lot spongey) so I tried an experiment I’d been reading a lot about called the Paleo Diet. You can see what it’s all about here, as well as some truly mind-blowing success stories like the one below, here (yes, that’s the same woman).
It’s all about evolution
The diet is based on an interesting theory of evolutionary biology: For maximum health, we should follow a diet and exercise regimen as close to our caveman ancestors as possible. The big idea genetically-speaking, is that humans have not changed much from our early ancestors and are genetically optimized to eat what they ate — a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts, lean meat and yes, fat.
What we are NOT genetically-optimized to eat is a diet heavy in grain-based carbohydrates (cereals, breads, pastas) — the staple of the American diet, and a diet that has really only come into existence in the last 10,000 years.
The historical and archaeological theories for all of this are actually quite interesting and go something like this:
Harvesting wild grains was most likely a hugely inefficient way for our ancient ancestors to get calories, so they probably didn’t do much of it. Collecting, processing, harvesting, grinding and baking them would have been a painstakingly slow process. The return on energy invested (EROI) probably wasn’t worth the effort.
Our ancestors needed dense calories and they needed them quickly… If Oog and his bride Uggette spent their time painstakingly picking wild grains of wheat rather than focusing on taking down the nearby mastodon or harvesting more calorically dense fruits and vegetables, Oog and Uggette got ejected from the gene pool.
That’s the simplistic explanation… A diet rich in fruit, vegetables, lean meat and fat was what we were genetically programmed to eat. It wasn’t the most efficient system (Oog got trampled or gored occasionally), but it did help us evolve from swarthy club carrying Neanderthals to comparatively refined sophisticates.
Things changed dramatically about 10,000 years ago when agriculture burst onto the scene. Suddenly, the EROI for harvesting grains increased. As importantly, those calories became cheaper to consume than chasing down wild animals or hiking hither and yon in search of a few berries or a banana tree.
A diet heavy in grains became a much larger part of what we ate because grains were cheaper and easier than the alternative. Even so, while we were still not genetically optimized to digest them, we continued to stay relatively healthy because agriculture was still very physically demanding.
Today, processed foods are even cheaper. We can feed a planet of 7 billion people with massive industrial farming operations and highly processed foods that drive down the cost per calorie.
But a diet that is primarily grain-based (or worse, processed) comes with other costs, namely the explosion of “affluence” diseases like Type-2 diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and a host of other illnesses directly related to the crap we eat.
It’s actually a double-whammy: We eat crap and — unlike early farmers who still had to bust their asses for their calories — we lay around on ours. A recipe (pardon the pun) for disaster.
We only THINK today’s food is cheap
In a nutshell, our food is dirt cheap, but the real costs of our disastrous diet have been externalized… Higher health care costs; lower productivity; premature death.
The surefire way to avoid these uglies is to simply follow the script that our ancient ancestors gave us about how and what to eat.
In my case, I shed 20 pounds effortlessly. I did it without counting calories, without excessive exercise, and while eating as much fruit, vegetables, nuts, meat and fat that I wanted. And I’ve kept it off.
The other reason for this little diet experiment is because much of the evidence suggested that a grain-based or processed food diet causes serious inflammation problems throughout the body. As someone who suffers from back pain, I was interested to see if a change in diet helped… And it helped immensely. No more back pain.
Eating real food has now become a way of life. That’s probably the biggest benefit of all. I no longer crave processed foods and on the rare occasion I do eat them, I end up with bad indigestion and feeling like a slug. In fact, now I crave the alternative — real food.
If this all sounds too good to be true, I challenge you to try a Paleo diet for 3 weeks and see for yourself. I was as skeptical at the outset as you may be, but this one really works as advertised.