What do we talk about when we talk about Paleo? For many people, it’s all about the rules. Eat this, not that. For others, the word encompasses a larger lifestyle shift, one that calls into question conventional methods of eating, certainly, but also conventional healthcare, work environments, fitness modalities, consumerism and mindset.
No matter where someone lands the spectrum, it can still be all about rules, or at least all about the “right way” of doing things to be the Paleo-ist of the Paleo-ers. I’m here to say once and for all that isn’t what Paleo is about.
Paleo is a framework, a tool.
It’s a way to start changing perspectives. It’s a way to start conversations about why we’ve been doing something a certain way for so long, and how to change it. Most importantly, it is entirely individual.
I’ve met some people who think of Paleo as strictly a diet. The word describes the way they eat, but its influence upon their lives ends outside of the kitchen.
For myself, it has changed the way I think about and look at nearly everything in my life.
Sure, it began with a diet change – and I’m not about to rewrite the rules on what foods are acceptable on a Paleo diet – but slowly my broader definition of the term Paleo has seeped into my personal care routine, my fitness regimen, my perspective as a consumer, and the way I spend my time, among many other things.
Here’s what Paleo means to me, and how it has changed the details my life:
It encourages simplicity. I started eating Paleo a little over two years ago. At first I was entirely overwhelmed by the wealth of information available about nutrients and food quality, not to mention all of the recipes and all of the blogs, but the more I’ve done this the more I realize how simplicity is at the root of the ancestral health movement. It is about connecting to the old, slow ways of doing things. Instead of piling on all of the gadgets and powders and life hacks, my Paleo is about stripping down. This doesn’t start and end with food – I’m bringing simplicity to every aspect of my existence. I am learning to value life experiences and physical/mental health over possessions, and the simplification of my home and my schedule is, to me, part and parcel of my Paleo experience.
It emphasizes community. Whether you think of our “ancestors” as the early humans roaming the African plains or your great-great-great grandparents on their family homestead, the common denominator of all ancient tribes was the concept of community. Togetherness. Inclusion. Family – defined here as blood relatives as well as close friends and neighbors – meant the difference between survival and death back in the old days. And research shows that, in modern times, when our online friends are abundant but our real-time interactions are sparse, we are suffering physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Combine this with a move toward simplicity, and the value of experiences (including relationships) over tangible objects, and you have another irreplaceable aspect of my Paleo.
It is playful. Being an adult can be so unnecessarily serious sometimes. We need more joy, more laughter, more fun. My Paleo helps me to look for play in new situations, from a romp around the yard with my dog to a few minutes on the neighborhood swing set when I’m walking to the mailbox. It’s not difficult to find opportunities to play, but it does require a perspective change; namely, that we adults are no longer “allowed” to play, now that we’ve transitioned out of the realm of childhood. I refuse to acknowledge that as truth. Instead, I’ll find a tree to climb while out on a hike; I’ll jump on any trampoline I come across; I’ll play soccer with my husband after work one afternoon; I’ll pull out my watercolors and playfully paint a card to send to a friend instead of buying one. Play can encompass so many modalities, and it doesn’t have to be physical – it’s a mindset, one that my version of Paleo encourages.
It values life outside of work. In my life, I’ve always been an achiever. I am a goal-oriented, people-pleasing, recovering perfectionist. As far as on-paper achievements go, this has served me well: I was president of every club and the valedictorian of my high school class; I received a full-ride fellowship from the University of Arkansas, and graduated cum laude from the Honors College. I won academic awards and professional accolade, even while I was running myself ragged. Although I’m grateful for those experiences and proud of what I’ve accomplished, I see now that all that chasing was not always what I wanted. I was reveling in my busy-ness, and there was glory in it. Now, I believe in working hard, but I believe even more strongly in prioritizing self-care. My Paleo is a departure from conventional culture that says we must always be doing and achieving – but to what end? Instead, I value my health and my enjoyment of life over a well-padded resume or a slick salary that is achieved at the expense of everything else. I am not a slave to my career, nor am I a slave to my addiction to stress. (Ever heard of that? It’s a thing.) I believe that every day should be enjoyable, and that your job should not take precedence over the rest of life. Because our lives are our jobs. Our jobs are not our lives.
It is natural. I was inspired by Stefani Ruper’s post on this one – my Paleo emphasizes the natural route whenever it’s appropriate. This, of course, applies to my food choices, but also applies to the products I use on my skin and body. I use chemical-free cleansers, moisturizers, shampoos, makeup (with the exception of mascara…I just can’t find a good alternative to my beloved Maybelline Full & Soft), and the like because I know that my skin is my largest organ, capable of responding to and absorbing the chemicals found in most modern, synthetic products. My natural perspective also applies to what I wear and how I wear it. I aim for clothing and footwear that allow my body to remain in a free, unencumbered, natural state, which usually looks like wearing minimalist/barefoot footwear and underwire-free bras. I try and move in a natural way whenever possible, meaning I walk a lot and over a variety of terrain; I sit on stools and on the floor and in different positions to help maintain proper alignment, rather than remaining in a single chair all day; I lift weights and climb things and move around in ways that feel natural to my body, instead of confining myself to some sort of movement machine. The concept of “natural” also applies to my perspective on beauty, which I recognize as an entirely individual concept. But to me, I feel the most beautiful when I am naturally me, without a ton of face paint or binding undergarments or restrictive clothing or footwear. I feel the most beautiful with my hair in its naturally curly state, with a sun-kissed face full of freckles, in bare feet. (Thankfully, my husband agrees.) It also applies to my relationship with technology. As a freelance writer and an online student, I’m bound to my computer for work and school, and I’m grateful for the life it affords me. I really like Instagram and Pinterest. I would be lost – actually, physically lost – without the GPS system on my iPhone. However, I recognize that there is a time and a place for technology, and I do not allow it into every aspect of my life. I like to set boundaries for technology use so that it doesn’t take over my life – namely, because the Internet is not real life.
It inspires informed consumers. The Paleo diet is so much more than how much of what kind of food to eat – instead of placing the emphasis on calories, it focuses on food quality. As I have become more aware of the impact quality food has on health, I’ve become a more informed consumer in the food system. However, in my Paleo, my role as an informed consumer goes way beyond sourcing grass-fed meat. I believe that ethical fashion and environmentally sound purchases should be a part of the larger Paleo movement, and they factor prominently in my own version. I have this mental mish-mash of the Zero Waste movement, the minimalist movement, and the slow fashion movement that combine in a weird way to color my day-to-day purchasing, consuming life. What does that look like for me? It means that I try to buy locally when I can. I bring reusable bags to the grocery store, and try not to purchase plastic storage when glass jars will do. When it comes time to purchase clothing, I seek out small designers or ethically made products, or I buy secondhand. It’s not in the least bit about moral superiority - “I’m a better hippie than you are” – but, instead, it’s about an awareness that there are people behind every purchase, and that my dollars are either harming or hurting with everything I buy. The Paleo movement at large is moving toward a more global perspective, emphasizing sustainability over aesthetic goals, but only in relation to the food system. I’d like to see it encompass everything, and to turn this massive community of people into a legion of intelligent, informed consumers who make the best choice when they can with what they have. Because, hey, nobody is perfect. I buy from department stores whose shirts are definitely made in sweatshops. But I do the best I can and, in my opinion, mindset is half the battle.
(I’d like to write a full post on my version of the ethical fashion movement, as well. There’s a tendency to automatically associate ethical/fair trade/responsibly sourced clothing with hemp and linen items in flowy cuts and earthy tones. I assure you, that is not what I'm all about.)
There you have it – a taste of my version of Paleo. It touches every part of my life to some degree, and it has been a journey to come to these conclusions over time, to develop my own opinions and perspective in a tsunami of information. I encourage you to find your own perspective.
Find it. Keep it. Own it.
Be flexible and allow for growth and change, but be unyielding in the pursuit of the life you want to live.
Open-source image from Unsplash.Com
Shout-out to my friend Nadine of Gluten-Free RN for encouraging me to write this post!