Depending on who you ask, these terms provoke confusion, dismissal, anger, or cult-like loyalty. It doesn’t matter what you call it – they all boil down to the same general idea: that we should eat like spear-wielding cavemen.
It’s true: our genetics are nearly identical to those of our hunter-gathering ancestors. Your Stone Age body still thinks that you are chasing wooly mammoths around the savanna, dodging saber-tooth tigers and browbeating your enemies into submission.
People often ask me if I eat like a “caveman.” I take it as a compliment, because I certainly wouldn’t want to be accused of eating like a “Standard American.” That would be harsh.
It’s no secret that I am a proud advocate for a diet that approximates the nutritional composition of what we were genetically designed to eat. I encourage my clients to experiment with the LeanBody System’s Neo-Paleo approach to eating and lifestyle, and I am active in the Paleo and primal communities. While I tip my hat to folks who follow these diets and think they are light years ahead of conventional wisdom, I prefer a more nuanced approach to eating and lifestyle.
Mainstream stiffs love to poke fun at paleo (but they’re just jealous)
The Paleo and primal approach is often pushed to the fringe, mostly due to the fact that critics misunderstand it, are afraid of change, are complete morons, or have some ulterior motive. There are also the die-hard cavemen who take the primal approach to the extreme by refusing to use soap or toothpaste… or by participating in weekly bloodletting parties. These are the ones who get attention.
But most Paleo folks are more mainstream. You might not even notice that they’re all around you (except for the fact that they are lean, strong, attractive, and glowing). People may ridicule the approach, but there is no doubt that the Paleo diet works.
And no, eating like a human is not a fad.
What I created with the LeanBody System is an approach to lifestyle that is informed by the ancestral considerations of nutrition but works for the everyman in today’s modern world. I refer to it as Neo-Paleo. I also call it Paleo 2.0 when I’m feeling cheeky.
Not everyone wants to live like a caveman. I get that. But everyone can be informed by how our ancestors lived and thrived in their environment. In the same way that a giraffe is perfectly adapted to its environment (to an almost comical degree) with an enormous neck and long, sticky tongue to lap leaves off of tall trees, we are perfectly tuned to thrive in the environment of the hunter-gatherer on the foods available to him/her. So it naturally follows that the more we can approximate the nutritional composition of the hunter-gatherer diet and lifestyle the more we will thrive.
Are there issues with eating like a hunter-gatherer? Sure. For one, there was no cookie-cutter “caveman” diet – it was enormously variable depending on geography, season, etc. But I can assure you that they weren’t eating ho-hos.
So How is my Neo-Paleo Different than the “Caveman” Diet?
I like to focus on the things I have in common with the Paleo, Primal, and Ancestral approaches (because there IS so much in common) rather than differences, so let’s start there. I consider foods that are able to be consumed in nature – right from the tree, ground, or carcass – to be better than foods that require manipulation or refining to be safely digested. When you take a step back, that is an enormous similarity.
I am not interested in squabbling about if eating sprouted lentils once a day or drinking a glass of wine will lead to dietary disaster. But for the sake of clarity, let’s go over some of the differences between the LeanBody System’s Neo-Paleo approach and living like a caveman.
I don’t encourage bloodletting. I don’t live in a mud hut, dress in bearskin, or eschew all modern comforts and technology… obviously.
If you hunt and gather all of your own food, then I salute you. Invite me out sometime – I’d love to wrestle a boar. But let’s face it, although our genes haven’t changed, our lifestyles have. I enjoy jumping out of planes, shooting aliens in Halo, racing my Porsche at the track, sleeping on a pillow, sipping scotch, blogging, an occasional Cuban cigar, and countless other modern things. Not everything is bad just because it’s new. And in nutrition, very few things are black and white.
As such, the LeanBody System is less strict than the Paleo/primal diet. Here are some things that are generally frowned-upon in the Paleo lifestyle where my approach is more nuanced:
- Enjoy a cheat day (including carb-feeding to increase workout performance)
- Drink caffeine
- Drink alcohol (especially red wine)
- No required fasting (although experimentation is encouraged)
- Eat lots of fat (even saturated fat)
- Eat fatty meats (e.g., minimally-processed ribs, lamb, sausage, bacon)
- Eat dairy (raw and fermented is preferable, as is goat)
- Eat properly-prepared legumes in moderation
- Eat salt, especially sea salt
- Eat plenty of pickled/fermented foods (sauerkraut, kimchi)
- Eat foods containing yeast (occasional sourdough breads, beer in moderation)
- Eat occasional properly-prepared gluten-free grains and slow starches (wild rice, quinoa, buckwheat, teff)
- Eat occasional protein supplements (whey protein, egg protein)
- Use vinegar
- Use occasional plant-derived sweeteners (stevia, xylitol)
LeanBody returns the body to its optimal fat-burning state by following the natural human diet but still allows for some modern exceptions. I recommend this principle: eat plenty of whole and naturally-edible foods and be skeptical of manipulated, processed, and invented food products. And bloodletting… Be skeptical of that, too.
It’s worth mentioning that paleo as a movement is becoming more flexible. Folks like Robb Wolf, Mark Sisson, and others have softened the approach since Loren Cordain released The Paleo Diet. It will be interesting to see where it goes in the next few years. I’ll sure be along for the ride.
To you paleo/primal folks out there, thanks for stopping by. And the yet-to-be-converted, stop making fun of paleo and give it a shot. You’ll be ripped as a caveman in a jiffy. Seriously.
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