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Is the Paleo Diet Healthy or a Hoax?

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Here at The Institute for the Psychology of Eating we do NOT endorse or promote any particular diet or nutritional lifestyle. We do highly encourage that each person openly explores the wide variety of nutritional approaches and dietary strategies that are available to them. We see nutrition as an ever changing journey. We believe that a healthy relationship with food and a well functioning metabolism is possible when we can each be open to what works best for ourselves, and others. We believe there’s a nugget of wisdom to be found in just about any diet that’s been designed with care in mind for people and planet.

Each year, new (and old) dietary theories get their time in the nutritional spotlight, each one led by devout researchers, and offering up convenient and scrumptious cookbooks, help forums, support groups and life-changing testimonials. Over the last few years, one in particular has been making headway, despite its controversy and strong opposition from other tribes.

While it’s been around for quite awhile, it was most recently brought back into vogue by Loren Cordain’s The Paleo Diet. Short for “Paleolithic”, eating “paleo” is a whole other way of viewing food, nutrition and modern human life, with a focus on the evolutionary health of our hunter-gatherer ancestors. So, even though it’s about eating like our ancient forefathers, it’s still kind of like the cool new kid in school.

The most dominant feature of this dietary approach is its recommended removal of the major agricultural influences of the Neolithic Age (which began approximately 10,000 years ago), in particular: dairy, grains, pulses and legumes, and processed sugars.  However, if you subscribe to primal vs. straight-up paleo diet, you will therefore include organic and/or raw dairy.

Otherwise, these “foods of agriculture” remain prohibited due to their high lectin and phytate content, which have been show to negatively influence gut and brain health, digestion, skin, absorption, behavior, leaky gut, inflammation, and many other issues. Instead, paleo adherents are encouraged to take in whole foods that promote proper growth and development of the human body: meat, fish, eggs, vegetables, tubers, fruits, nuts, seeds and quality fats, such as coconut, lard, avocados and olive oil (and butter, ghee, cream, etc.)

The objective of the paleo diet is to bring our human bodies back to an ideal state of health and wellbeing. This is more easily achieved free of the chemicals, toxins, and preservatives so often consumed today in the fake “food-stuffs” sitting processed and packaged on grocery store shelves, and had no place in our nutritional past.

Today, there are many, many people who have experienced tremendous results by maintaining a paleo or primal diet, and more and more science is revealed that justifies or sheds light on why this may be the best and most healthy way for humans to eat.

So is the Paleo Diet Healthy or is it a Hoax?

Here at the Institute for the Psychology of Eating we don’t promote or condone any one style of eating. We find that for every article, professional, or study on the one side, there will be just as many backing up the other side, with great passion.

So what does one do? How do you know if you are evolving nutritionally?

We strongly encourage our tribe to educate themselves in their own Bio-individuality. For the truth is often that each and every human has a unique blueprint for the way his or her body works best – this is a mixture of genetics, emotional history and psychology, or what we call Mind Body Nutrition.

We support everyone to educate themselves with as much information or nutritional knowledge as they wish, and then to listen closely to the most reliable nutritionist in the room: the nutritionist within!

We’re more interested in the relationship you’re cultivating with your body on a number of levels than diet alone. This is at the heart of our Eating Psychology Coach Certification, where we offer training in the growing fields of Mind Body Nutrition and Dynamic Eating Psychology. So when it comes to trying out the pale diet, you need only answer the question that matters most: does paleo work for YOU?

Here are 5 Points to Consider if you’re interested in exploring the nutritional worldview of the Paleo-Primal enthusiast:

1. How’s Your Thinking?

Studies have shown that the elimination of grains can create a clearer thought process in many people, (take the work of Dr. David Perlmutter for instance). This is where you might benefit in experimenting with elimination.

Amongst the paleo crowd, there’s been common testimonials to the fact that energy may dip when they’re first removed, but soon after the body seems to adjust, and a few weeks later reports abound of a feeling of clarity and clear thinking, as though a fog has lifted. However, some find that after so many months, they begin to dream about rice or corn tortillas or bread.

Depending on your energy, your heritage, and your own body, you may actually think better when you include some grain-based carbohydrates on your plate. Maybe your issue is gluten, among other possibilities, and not all grain after all.

2. Are Carbs the Devil?

While the earlier paleo prescriptions that re-emerged in the 70’s were very strict about eating lean protein and severely limiting carbs, modern paleo gurus understand that carbs are not intrinsically evil. There’s been quite a bit of growth around the inclusion of appropriate carbohydrates.

Where originally potatoes and fruit were often stricken from the list – they have moved back into the good graces of those who feel best with their inclusion. Many have confused low-carb as synonymous with a Paleo diet, but the truth is, while one can eat low carbs and focus on proteins and fats, others do much better with a higher amount of carbohydrates in their belly than just piles of animal protein.

Paleo is not one-size fits all. Thankfully, there’s room for everybody. For instance, should you compare the diets of the Masai in Africa and the Kitavans of Papua New Guinea (or other diets traditional to Polynesia), their nutrient ratios will appear hugely oppositional. Yet, they both experience astounding and robust health. So what’s really going on? Maybe we just need a new definition of metabolism.

3. Listening is an Ancient Skill

A healthy relationship between the mind and body is just as important as a healthy body, if not more so. Being in tune with our bodies is by far one of the most ancient and useful practices that we have let fall to the wayside. The practice of Dynamic Eating Psychology is a profound entry point to really discover what’s behind your most tired food issues, because, in reality, it’s not always about food at all.

If it’s not ultimately about what we choose to eat, how can a Paleo diet, or a vegan one for that matter, help us at all? Choosing the highest quality foods can have a tremendous affect on your body, inside and out.

Ninety days on the paleo trail to newcomers often leads to a clearer thought process, increased energy levels, regular bowel movements, clearer skin, no tummy bloat, and the disappearance of achy muscles and joints. But what if you dive in and everything happens in reverse? You feel worse, run down, and your digestion is being put through the ringer…?

The key to truly “listening to your body” doesn’t imply we intellectually analyze our time or energy after a bacon-loaded breakfast plate, or take anyone’s opinion (diet guru, professor, author, study, or mother in law) as gospel, especially when it comes to what we eat.

Instead we’re invited to pay attention to what the body is saying.

How we feel physically is but one rung on the ladder, what about the kinds of thoughts and feelings that are coming up inside to be addressed? While we can logically think our way into just about anything, the body rarely lies.

So, the question is: what doorways have we chosen not to walk through because we’re ignoring the call to cross a threshold in our lives? This is personal evolution at its most powerful. By the way, this is some of the same key great material that we dive into in our premiere online program for the public – Transform Your Relationship with Food™.

4. Quality is King

In the days of our hunter-gatherer ancestors, there was only real food available. You hunted and foraged your food, and there was no burger joint or coffee shop on the corner. This means that our ancestors had only one quality of food available to them: natural. This is why the paleo diet strongly emphasizes consuming the highest quality foods you can afford, and that includes meat and fish.

When you’re considering the source of your animal protein, knowing where your food comes from is key. Conventionally farmed animals (the norm in his country) are injected with a variety of growth hormones, treated with drugs and antibiotics, confined to cruel quarters and are themselves fed a diet that no cow (or chicken, or pig) was meant to eat, all to ensure a plump figure and a quicker slaughter date.

Many leaders in the paleo field stress the importance of grass-fed meat or organic at the very least. If you find the paleo price tag a bit hard to swallow, getting involved with your local food chain is always a better bang for your buck. Check out meat share options at your farmer’s market or go in with a friend on buying from a local rancher.

There’s something very important about the metabolic power of quality when it comes to our health – so choose wisely and do your research! It can make all the difference.

5. The Power of Relationships

For some people, a diet can be more passionate than their human relationships. There is something so life affirming about belonging, and feeling understood. For people that believe their diet is more than just a diet – it becomes synonymous with who they are, it’s a religious practice and a day-to-day identity. In these cases, it often seems that only others also eating this way “get” them, and nobody else understands.

Here at IPE, we understand that finding your best diet can be a truly life-changing experience. It can solve a variety of problems that took up so much energy beforehand. But with this new found passion for life, the question then becomes, are we eating to sate ourselves or are we eating for a higher purpose?

In the end, while the paleo diet may be the answer supreme for one person, it might turn out to be a hoax for another. It’s truly up to you, The Eater, to hear the call of the body, to listen, and take action accordingly.

Remember, the body never lies.

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