Lately I've realised how much difference to how I feel the level of Paleo adherence makes.
I always knew others chose their own interpretation, but until I'd experienced it myself, the implications were not clear.
From 2007 until early 2009 I was, with the exception of one or two spectacular lapses, pretty much 100%. Last year, things went a little awry.
To some extend inspired by Dr Dan's recent fightback on At Darwin's Table, I thought I'd tell you what I've learned. In part 1: Paleo at its Best.
At its best, it can be transformational. When I am 100% dialled into the Paleo/Primal lifestyle, there are days when I feel fantastic.
Mentally, I am alert and able to think clearly - some of my most inspired and productive moments at work have come on days like this.
My digestion feels brand new - it's as if I've outsourced digestion to someone else, such is the low profile kept by my innards. Intestinal wind seems like a distant teenage memory, like acne or warts. When the need for ablution comes, it does so expectedly, regularly and takes place with such effortless routine that I feel like calling a friend to celebrate.
I feel fit. Not just in a raw, VO2 max sort of way, but in a rounded way. My exercise sessions are brutal, but brief and functional - mainly bodyweight, sprints and swimming - things that feel like they have a purpose. I find myself semi-consciously tailoring the frequency, variety and setting to match a vague notion of the kind of environment I was built to exist in. This is not romanticism, you understand - simply an objective analysis of the most appropriate way to behave if I want to be in tune with my genes.
My joints, muscles and tendons are free from significant stiffness and feel ready to take on a range of demands. When I'm walking to work I look out for tree branches to briefly swing from or steps to jump up to or down from. I almost clutch at the ground with my Vibram Five Fingers, seeking uneven areas on which to relish the stimulus and gain extra traction with the toes.
Elsewhere, the sense of power over my environment is heightened by uncomfortable experiences I happily put myself through. I quickly learn that to feel truly comfortable in my environment I need to experience some hardship. I start my showers cold, moving to hot water only after 30 seconds, then finishing with another 30 seconds of cold at the end. Sometimes I have an opportunity to swim in the wild, where the more extreme cold makes the shower seem like a breeze; it's no fun.... but it is fun, because when it's over, I feel more alive than ever.
Hunger, satiation and my body's hormonal balances seem to be in perfect harmony. Again semi-consciously, I regulate my eating to reflect the imagined availability of food to a hunter gatherer.
I eat more on workout days, because it feels instinctively right. I go into sessions a little hungry and emerge with the righteous appetite of the successful hunter. I spend more time hungry than not. This feels right. I earn my food. I eat slowly, savouring every mouthful.
There's nothing on my mind but the Paleo fundamentals. Animal and vegetable. I fall asleep thinking about roast chicken and daydream about slow-cooked tongue with steamed vegetables.
My mindset is so fundamentally Paleo that overeating is scarcely an issue... and my hunger is so in tune with my requirements that even when I do have a hearty meal, I skip the next one without thinking about it. Once, twice or even three times a week I throw in a 24 hour fast, dealing with the mild hunger with total control - not a cross word in sight. I look forward to dinner, yet do not crave it.
I feel lean, I look lean. I box in front of the mirror. I look stupid, but I feel great.
I get tired early when it's dark, and in the morning I wake up early. My mind is alive with ideas. Sometimes I don't get enough sleep and feel tired - but one day in three I sleep like a log.
I imagine this is how I was meant to sleep. I console myself that whilst modern man may have the luxury of being out like a light for 8 hours, maybe sleeping light, alert for danger, is the truly Paleo way. I learn to function happily on the bad days after poor sleep because I know that on the good days I will be stalking the modern landscape like a panther.
Zzzzzzzzt!...sound of needle scratching off record.
If only this were the reality. Yes, I have achieved Paleo at its best for months at a time; but I have also, especially recently, spent months at a different level. The irony, of course, is that the knowledge of what could be sullies what is. Many would kill to feel as good as I do at the moment; but having felt so much better, I am not impressed. It's not that I don't do everything I described above. I just don't do them all at the same time...
A Hymn to the Lifestyle: Part 2 - Pseudo Paleo