Hunt, Gather, Avoid Grains: The Caveman Diet
Ed Note: Our friend Amcstang is a caveman. Or at least eats like one. The Paleo diet receives much praise, and even more criticism, recently ranking “unsafe” at #18 on list of popular weight loss programs. Here’s his pitch on forgoing carbs, living CrossFit and going ancestral.
Only a year ago walking down Wilmington Avenue in Rehoboth Beach, DE at 8 AM, I would have chosen Dave & Skippy’s Gourmet Bagel and Sandwich Shop ten out of ten times for breakfast—promising whole grain bagels, gourmet cereals and fresh wraps—over Gus-N-Gus next door selling fried eggs, sausage and bacon off a flat-iron griddle on the boardwalk. I mean, Skippy’s was clearly the healthy alternative based on years of ‘advice’ from the USDA, FDA, and multi-national food companies.
Fast forward one year and I don’t even think twice about my breakfast choice: Gus-N-Gus with their greasy spoon approach, hands-down. No, I haven’t given up “eating healthy” and no, I don’t weigh 300 pounds and do my dishes in my own bathtub. In fact, I am pretty confident in saying that I am the healthiest and in the best shape of my life at age 29.
Without trying to attach a trendy label to my eating habit, I went Paleo.
The decision, or really first thought, to even consider “going Paleo” came about by getting involved with the CrossFit community. I had always been interested in eating healthy and bought into the standard food pyramid nonsense about carbohydrates and whole grains. After joining a CrossFit gym, which advocates “functional movements that are constantly varied at high intensity,” and being surrounded by athletes who also wanted to eat healthy but were doing so by subscribing to something called the Paleo Diet, was very intriguing. Most of these folks did it for the athletic performance reasons but the health effects, they claimed, were undeniable. So I really do credit this community—some call it a cult—of introducing me to his diet which has been an absolute lifestyle change for the better.
As for what I eat, it’s primarily meat, fish, vegetables, fruit, nuts and healthy fats. I exclude grains, legumes, dairy products, salt, refined sugar and processed oils.
That’s about as far as I’ll actually get into the details of the science behind the “hunter-gatherer diet” but a highly recommended reading source is The Paleo Solution by Dr. Robb Wolf. About only one week after changing from my traditional healthy diet, I felt like a new person. I had more energy, better focus, didn’t crash throughout the day, but most importantly, I was no longer immediately uncomfortable after every meal, was less gassy, and my digestion was remarkably improved. And it wasn’t like I was eating Dorito’s, Twinkies and Big Gulps as a well-rounded meal before.
I was eating what ‘they’ told me was a healthy diet: LOTS of whole grains and carbohydrates. I would eat a bowl of cereal, some fruit, and orange juice for breakfast and a turkey sandwich on wheat bread, pretzels, and an apple for lunch…and felt like shit after each meal. Now a typical breakfast is eggs and/or bacon and/or salmon, some fruit, almond butter, and spinach or other leafy green. Not to mention the small snack I eat before breakfast and before lunch. The clearest evil in my pre-Paleo diet? Wheat and other grains. For an eye-opening, but frightening depiction of how wheat is killing us, read Wheat Belly by William R. Davis.
In short, my wife and I started focusing on the true quality of our real food and immediately noticed undeniable changes and benefits. After a couple of months of training and eating Paleo, we started on a new prescription…Paleo foods according to the Zone Diet which essentially forced us to focus on the quantity of macronutrients (protein, fat, and carbohydrates) we were eating to maximize daily performance and overall wellness. I should mention that performance is not key because I am a professional athlete, but because I am a human being constantly faced with varying tasks, obstacles, weights, and challenges. For more on The Zone Diet, check out anything written by Dr. Barry Sears.
Finding the Paleo Diet, The Zone Diet, and CrossFit have all been positive additions to our lifestyle. Focusing more on foods has allowed us to take a vested interest in where our foods come from, how they are cared for, transported, etc. It has also forced us to simply eat the way humans were designed to eat, and feel so much better as a result.
The CrossFit community, outside of the fact that it has made us the fittest we’ve ever been, has been a great network of friends who support, encourage, and teach us about Paleo and Zone constantly.
Of course we aren’t that crazy…life is still about doing what you want so we don’t rule out the occasional trip to Nielsen’s Frozen Custard in Vienna, VA. Now that we’ve seen what benefits can be enjoyed by following a Paleo lifestyle we really want to take the time and effort to educate our friends and family who are suffering from the Food Pyramid prescriptions, just like we were tricked into following it for most of our lives.
I am in agreement. One doesn’t have to restrict their diet to carrot and celery sticks to eat healthy. We didn’t have an obesity epidemic in this country till recently. Our grandparents ate real food (not all the processed junk food people consume today) and they didn’t have the weight issues so prevalent in our society today. Eat real food in moderation, enjoy the occasional indulgence, stay away from junk food, and you will be happier and healthier for it.
isn’t this just the atkins diet without the dairy?
Point of order, Robb Wolf isn’t a doctor (not an MD, not a PhD). He got a science bachelor’s degree and spent a few years working as a biochemist, but he isn’t medically trained outside of being a competitive bodybuilder.
Barry Bogan (PhD, anthropology; on the editorial boards of several topical journals) is one of several (many?) in the field who argue against the presumptions underpinning Paleo Diet(s). He led a panel on this at an American Public Health Association meeting a couple of years ago. He noted that, in addition to the semi-psuedoscientific rationale for such a diet, no randomized controlled clinical trials have shown support for this kind of dietary restriction. Correlative data supports mild connections between this diet and qualitative measures like weight loss, but not on a scale that sets it above any other exclusionary/restrictive diet. And, as always, correlation does not imply causation (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Observational_data).
I guess what I don’t understand about the science/nutrition behind the Paleo diet is that plenty of cultures rely on rice, beans and legumes as a staple, yet do not near the obesity crisis of this country. Ideas?
Interesting…. I mean I get the idea of trying to “go back” to what some of our ancestors did back when we were less of industrialized-food society. I understand the impulse and I am a big supporter of whole foods (not the grocery store, but rather unrefined foods that haven’t gone through a shit ton of processing – fruits, veggies, unpolished grains, beans). I think the Paleo diet might be skipping step – we don’t have to go back all the way to the hunter gatherer days… there was a time when humans were part of sustainable agricultural societies that allowed us to supplement a diet previously more like that of the black-bear (berries, fish, small game) with a diet that gave us more control over our food supply with the advent of the Neolithic Revolution. An interesting fact I recently read that may in fact support some version of the paleo-diet (or at least supports eating better, less processed foods) is that humans became overdependent on processed grains after to Neolithic Revolution. While people were no longer starving, they became undernourished in other ways because they were not prioritizing foods that gave them the kind of vitamins and minerals that build strong erect and healthy bodies. Malnutrition was a leading cause of maternal morality many times because the pelvis of undernourished women were misshapen and collapsed because they’d been eating bread only – no veggies, no fruit, nothing that conveyed sustained and robust nutrients to bodies.
Nutrition in earlier Neolithic societies may also explain a reduction in life-expectancy and height after people moved from hunter-gatherer to agricultural societies.
all that to say… @gans – it’s not the rice and beans but the other things that make us fat… lots and lots of processed calories that require us to chow down in order to eek out any nutritional values (ahem, pass the french fries please)
Gansie, I’d also add that there’s a reason certain diets are labeled ‘faddish.’ In many (or most) instances, it’s because all of the collective changes recommended by a given diet can be summed up as ‘cut out huge sources of caloric intake’ and/or ‘induce a biological mechanism that promotes weight loss as a preference to nutrition.’ The former is basically every diet ever, and the latter is a more recent discovery to the tune of Atkins, Paleo, etc. (e.g., promoting a phsyiological state of ketosis). Both can be very effective in the short term, but that’s about it. The latter, over the long term, can be considered a pathology (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ketogenic_diet#Adverse_effects for a short list of Things This Approach Does To Your Body That Look Like Disease But Make You Skinny).
The cultural nutrition you mention, in a very simple way, balance overall caloric intake with physical activity. There’s no greater magic to it than that. Cultures like our own have an absolute overabundance of foodstuffs, and that creates an easy market for diets that aim to tackle the easy availability of foods without a concurrent acknowledgment of appropriate portions, energy expenditure and so on. On this note, the Paleo Diet (and others) miss the mark completely: our distant ancestors, especially prior to agriculture, were very hungry nomads who had to follow food in season to get enough. That has never struck me as an attractive approach to nutrition in an era that includes our ability to understand it–and optimize it–objectively.
hey everybody! i think i should have qualified in the post that my main intent of trying this ‘diet’ was not weight loss (in fact, by playing around with the Zone portion of our approach, I’m actually trying to gain weight) but rather to shift a focus towards quality of food input. i think that one of the faults that most Americans place on evaluating ‘diets’ is in the word. a diet, in my definition here, is an approach to nutrition, not the goal of losing weight. that being said, i DO agree that there is no right way to eat or that this is a ‘must’ for all people to go out and start adapting to. a point that i’d like to make though is that, for the most part, we (as Americans) do not question the way we’ve been taught/told to eat via the Food Pyramid created by a Government organization whose focus is agriculture. by the way, Gansie can attest to the fact that i’m no hippie and love America so for me to question this is valid! a final point, using Zone, a breakdown of calories for any meal or snack would roughly equate to 40% carbs, 30% protein, and 30% fat where carbs are thick leafy greens when available and fruit otherwise…for the most part. Thresher, my bad, Wolf is no Doctor…not sure where that came from and i do apologize.