“Paleo” is a popular buzzword that many people have misconceptions about. Misconceptions like “Paleo means just eat more meat and eliminate carbs,” or “Paleo is just a higher carb version of the Atkins Diet,” to “Paleo means gluten-free and eating whole foods.” All of the above are misguided and uninformed misconceptions. Let me clear them up.
For starters, the terms paleo, primal, ancestral health, evolutionary health, caveman diet, and hunter-gatherer diet are all synonymous. Anyone can internet search a list of paleo foods and adjust their grocery list accordingly — and they would be better off for it. However, truly adopting a paleo lifestyle is more than picking meals from a list of foods — it is the ultimate way of honoring our human DNA and the genetic blueprint all of us were born with, while achieving optimal health and a lean, strong physique.
Can you even remember the last time you or someone you know went 6, 8, 12 or more hours without eating and didn’t have a noticeable drop in mental focus, mood, and overall physical energy? Are you hungry upon waking and hungry or tired after exercising? Do you struggle with energy levels and keeping weight off? Are you constantly looking in the fridge and feel like you are food-obsessed? If you answered yes to any of these, then you are right in line with a huge section of the population – living as a carbohydrate dependent sugar-burner. This means that your body is primarily burning glucose to fuel itself, versus the preferred fuel of fat that our human DNA dictates.
Truly becoming paleo involves reprogramming our ancestral genes back to their original function — burning fat to fuel the body. When one becomes fat-adapted by retraining the body to burn fat as its primary fuel, drops in energy, alterations in mood like being HANGRY, and sugar cravings become a thing of the past. Food addictions fall by the wayside. Through adopting an ancestral lifestyle and diet, I have never experienced a faster, more sustainable and efficient way to lose excess body fat, reverse insulin-resistance and type 2 diabetes, optimize thyroid function, cure food addictions, eradicate sugar cravings, and much more!
One of the most common objections to the Paleo lifestyle is that our hunter-gatherer ancestors didn’t live long, so they can’t possibly be healthy role models. Contrary to popular belief, our hunter-gatherer ancestors lived very long, healthy lives – that is, the ones who made it past birth, puberty, and managed to escape a lion attack without the help of a nearby hospital. Hunter-gatherer dietary habits can be evaluated from stool samples dating back 50,000 years, as Gary Taubes, the author of Good Calories, Bad Calories and Why We Get Fat, explained in his books. The nutrient-dense plant and animal diet of our ancestors is in sharp contrast to the modern diet of regimented meals that are wildly excessive in processed carbohydrates. In a nutshell, adopting a paleo lifestyle honors the genetic blueprint we were all given in order to sustain a happy and healthy body.
Where to start?! Diet, exercise, and ensure you get proper sleep. A Paleo eating strategy is high fat, moderate protein, and low carb (less than 150 grams of total carbs per day, unless you are a professional athlete and if you are a small female, you might want to start at 100 grams of total carbs per day to start, and adjust down or up from there). No grains, no legumes, or dairy.
Humans have been evolving for more than 2 million years. Experts have studied the remains of our hunter-gatherer ancestors who lived 60,000 years ago and claim that modern diseases like cancer, autoimmune diseases, diabetes, thyroid conditions, and more arrived on the scene when humans unknowingly strayed away from our naturally intended fat-burning diet through the advent of agriculture.
The human body is designed to burn fat as its favorable, primary fuel. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors naturally functioned this way before the advent of grains 10,000 years ago, dairy 7,000 years ago, and sugar 250 years ago. This is why grains, sugar, legumes (and most dairy) are not a part of the paleo eating strategy.
Use a calculation derived by Dr. Phil Maffetone (180 minus YOUR AGE): Keep your heart rate below that number to ensure a fat-burning workout versus a glycolytic, sugar-burning one. Elevating your heart rate beyond that for a HIIT sprint session or workout once or twice a week can be beneficial, just make sure not to do it EVERY DAY because the body can only store about 200 to 300 grams of glucose in our organs. Therefore, if you are an avid daily runner or chronically exercise above the Maffetone maximum heart rate, you are regularly depleting your glucose reserves. This process ignites cravings, which leads you to eat more sugar, thereby igniting the production of insulin and subsequently fat storage. In contrast, when we exercise in the fat burning zone, we are primarily burning fat (which is usually the intention of the exerciser to begin with).
Elle Russ is a writer, speaker and show host of the popular Primal Blueprint Podcast. She is the 5th person in the world certified in Ancestral Health and is the leading voice of thyroid health in the Paleo, Primal, and Evolutionary Health movements. Elle is the author of the bestselling book The Paleo Thyroid Solution and writer of the award-winning documentary HeadHunt Revisted, and much more. She lives and plays in Malibu, California. You can learn more about her and her work at ElleRuss.com