How Paleo/Primal Are You?
I thought it was about time I pulled together a single resource that could be used to guide for newcomers, a summary for the curious and a reference for the already inducted.
What is the Paleo / Primal Lifestyle?Also known as the hunter gatherer, caveman, ancestral, evolutionary lifestyle.
In one sentence:
We have been evolving for 2,000,000 years, yet we have made profound changes to our activity patterns and the composition of our nutrition in the last 10,000 years; whilst there may have been some small genetic adaptations in that time, we are still, essentially, built to eat and behave as our earlier ancestors did.
Where’s the evidence?
Don’t take my word for it – the blogs, books, podcasts and videos listed in the Further Reading/Listening/Watching section contain a wealth of detail, including scientific references, to help you make up your mind.
I won’t pretend it’s easy - proving what’s best for the human body is one of the most complex challenges we face. No one has all the answers, but the material in that section is produced, for the most part, by fair minded and intellectually rigorous individuals with a more transparent agendas than many who influence mainstream advice.
EatingThe Paleo/Primal ‘diet' is what people tend to hear about first and is usually the first thing they try.
In a sentence:
Paleo/Primal food is so much more nutritionally dense and so much more in tune with our genes than the typical modern diet that a radical improvement in wellbeing is almost inevitable when you switch from one to the other; you will feel better, look better and minor ailments you had taken for granted will often disappear.
In a quote:
Plants (vegetables, fruits, seeds and herbs) and animals (meat, fish, fowl, and eggs) should represent the entire composition of your diet.
- Mark Sisson, The Primal Blueprint, 2009
In a nutshell:
Paleo in a Nutshell Part 1: Food video.
Changing what you eat to fit the Paleo/Primal model can be quite a challenge. This guest post I wrote for another blog provides some ideas on how to go about it.
If you want to see what I am eating every day, follow me on Twitter or if you just want to see the photos, they automatically appear on this page.
I sometimes post the recipes for my favourite meals, which you can see here.
ExerciseThe diet and exercise aspects of the lifestyle cannot be truly embraced in isolation. Our bodies evolved to function optimally with a certain kind of nutrition, with a certain range of patterns of activity.
In a sentence:
Our ancestors had short, intense bursts of activity when hunting, fleeing or climbing, along with extended periods of low level activity when tracking animals, foraging or playing; so either getting no exercise, or doing regular, long, hard sessions is out of tune with our evolved past and affects our wellbeing adversely: fitness and health are not the same thing – otherwise Olympic athletes would not catch colds.
In a quote:
An evolutionary activity pattern is mixed and varied. It contains brief, intermittent episodes of highly intense physical action mixed with languid periods and play.
- Art Devany, Evolutionary Fitness essay, 2000
In a nutshell:
Paleo in a Nutshell Part 2: Exercise video.
For ideas, you can follow my own workout diary on Train Now Live Later.
Other ThingsDiet and exercise are the big ones – but there is more. There are other things our bodies evolved to expect, but which modern life deprives them of.
Here are just a few:
Sun exposure: we got a lot more before. Many of us are vitamin D deficient as a result (read here and here for my experiences.)
Paleo in a Nutshell Part 3: Sunshine video.
Cold water exposure: we would have swum or bathed in cold water regularly. There are significant health benefits to doing so – yet we avoid it.
Sleep : we used to get more of it, get more naps, and be woken naturally. Modern sleep habits can affect our health more than we may think.
Medicine: we didn’t take any. Modern pharmaceutical drugs can save and improve lives - but many of us happily consume daily cocktails of drugs without realising how they affect our wellbeing.
How Paleo/Primal Are You?Try this quiz to see how your current Paleo/Primal credentials stand (but don't take it too seriously!)
Further Reading/Listening/Watching- Blogs & Websites
There are almost too many good blogs and websites to list – but these are the ones I visit most:
Free the Animal – no holds barred discussion of the science and research that sometimes misleads – covers mostly the diet aspect. Richard also posts some of his excellent recipes.
Michael Eades – one doctor who DOES get this – he doesn’t always blog about Paleo/Primal living but it’s an underlying theme. He is great at ruthlessly tearing apart bad science and exposing the conflicts of interest that lead to poor mainstream advice.
Mark's Daily Apple – the blog of Primal Blueprint author Mark Sisson – probably the blog where you will find the most comprehensive set of guidance for Paleo/Primal living.
Natural Messiah – ranter extraordinaire, and the thinking person’s Paleo/Primal blogger. Also the man who introduced me to Paleo a few years ago.
Primal Wisdom – my most recently added blog favourite. Don covers mostly diet and the science behind it – seems to know his stuff.
Arthur Devany - his Evolutionary Fitness blog was my first ever resource. He is fiercely intellectual but can get quite technical.
The Paleo Diet - Loren Cordain’s website - he is a researcher of some distinction, and applies his study of the living patterns of our ancestors to form the basis for his dietary recommendations. Author of 'The Paleo Diet' and 'The Paleo Diet for Athletes'.
TBK Fitness - I have spent almost no time on this site, but Tamir B. Katz is seen as one of the early innovators in this area and often gets mentioned, so it would be remiss not to give him a mention.
The Weston A. Price Foundation - I haven't spent as much time on this site as I'd like, because it seems to be a fantastic resource. Price was a dentist whose investigations into the diet of non-industrialised cultures led him to many of the conclusions about nutrition that underpin the Paleo/Primal philosophy.As I say, there are many more – if you spend time reading the comments on these sites or looking at their blog-rolls, you will soon discover other blogs and sites.
Sometimes it’s hard to glean the information you need from archived blog posts. If you’d prefer to read a book on the subject, here are my recommendations:
Specifically Paleo/Primal Books I have read:
The Paleo Diet, which I have not read, is worthy of bible status. If pressed on a single recommendation, I would say The Primal Blueprint - it's a great all-rounder and covers just about everything you need to know.
A new book, sure to be good, but that I have not yet read: The The Paleo Solution by Robb Wolf.
Body by Science – Doug McGuff and John Little. This is about a particular approach to high intensity short duration exercise. Depending on your point of view you may not see it as strictly Paleo/Primal in nature, but the spirit of the protocol and the recommended diet is definitely in tune with the philosophy. There is a summary of BBS on Train Now Live Later, here.
The Great Cholesterol Con – Malcolm Kendrick. People who are suspicious of Paleo/Primal eating often cite the dangers to the heart of a high fat diet. Kendrick does a great job of dismantling the supposed evidence for this.
Good Calories Bad Calories – Gary Taubes. Gary debunks the myths and bad science that led to the current mainstream misconceptions that eating fat is bad. It is regarded as a seminal work on the problems with processed carbohydrate consumption, and so provides important support for the value of Paleo/Primal eating . I have not read this book but a borrowed copy awaits my attention.
This resource would not be complete without a mention of some superb podcasts Jimmy Moore has done with thinkers in this area. Here is a selection of the most relevant:
Dr Loren Cordain (website and book author - see above)
Mark Sisson (website and book author - see above)
Doug McGuff (book author - see above)
Sally Fallon (member of the Weston A. Price foundation - see website above)
Tom Naughton (filmmaker - see below)
Gary Taubes Part 1 (book author - see above)
Gary Taubes Part 2
Gary Taubes Encore
Two great lectures from Gary Taubes, the author of Good Calories, Bad Calories, mentioned above.
The Quality of Calories - What Makes us Fat and why Nobody Seems to Care - Gary Taubes lecture at Berkeley
'Big Fat Lies' Lecture - Gary Taubes at the Stevens Institute of Technology
Fathead - Tom Naughton (reviewed here, trailer here) - not strictly about Paleo/Primal, but like Taubes' work, its efforts to undermine the fundamentally flawed mainstream advice on diet makes an important contribution to understanding the benefits of Paleo/Primal.
Tom Naughton's original short video - which is one of the best ways to explain to people in 3 minutes why the modern diet is wrong.
Your ResourcesRead below in the comments for more resources. Please do add a comment of your own if you know of relevant blogs (including your own!), books, websites or any other media.
What is the Paleo / Primal Lifestyle?
How Paleo/Primal Are You?