In part 1, Paleo at its Best I waxed lyrical about the joys of being 100% tuned into the Paleo lifestyle.
A couple of years ago I went for months on end without a single lapse; but last year, thanks in no small part to a seemingly endless procession of celebrations that demanded full immersion, I fell off the wagon often enough to understand the profound differences between Paleo at it's best and 'Pseudo Paleo'.
Not Breaking the Emotional Food Ties
For me, Pseudo Paleo is characterised by a failure to emotionally let go of non-Paleo foods. This recent article on PāNu makes the point well. Kurt talks about the culinary alchemy with which we try to approximate non-Paleo foods using ingredients which, taken in isolation are each technically Paleo.
A good example is my recipe for Paleo/Primal chocolate, posted last summer. It seems highly unlikely our ancestors had the time, materials or inclination to process, assemble and create the ingredients for those chocolates - especially since they could spend a fraction of the time preparing just as tasty (in a different way) at a fraction of the energy cost. Survival is, after all, about the trade-off between the energy required to acquire and prepare food and the energy it provides.
I have no evidence that these pretend Paleo foods are less healthy in any tangible or immediate way; but what they do to me is much more insidious - they maintain the emotional ties with the non-Paleo equivalents. I may be eating chocolate made from concentrated coconut cream, cocoa powder and dried blueberry, but I am thinking about real chocolate.
Junk Food Stand-Ins and Impostors
As I mentioned in Paleo at its Best, when I am truly Paleo, I genuinely relish eating nothing but meat, vegetables, eggs, fish, nuts and seeds. The powerful emotional associations formed in childhood (I talk more about that here) fade away and I am utterly content with the joys of real food. That joy takes weeks to develop and is sabotaged when I instead seek pleasure from junk-food stand-ins and Paleo impostors.
In fact, concentrated versions of technically Paleo foods are my main weakness. When I am in Pseudo Paleo mode, I keep jars of tahini, and nut butter in the house, along with bags of almond powder and dessicated coconut. I routinely plunder these stores after a meal, eating large spoons full at a time and returning several times. My nut binges, too, take on a new dimension, ending only when the reality of my stomach's disquiet becomes clear, after which I invariably spend the night in mild gastric discomfort.
Hunger control is a crucial part of being truly Paleo for me. Low-carb eating and especially Paleo eating give you a better chance of responding to your appetite the way nature intended... but in my experience, Pseudo Paleo foods inflame the appetite in a way that truly Paleo foods do not.
Admittedly Pseudo Paleo foods do not inflame the appetite as badly as real junk food - but they inflame it nevertheless. When I am in Pseudo Paleo mode, I cannot let go of the idea that each meal is an opportunity to guzzle until I am more than satisfied. True Paleo meals don't lend themselves to gluttony - overeating meat and vegetables feels counter intuitive. Overeating nut butter is supernaturally hard to avoid.
In pseudo mode, I seek smoked fish and salted meats; supermarket-sold pre-cooked chicken with its perplexing additives are something I become fixated with. I find that foods laced with these flavour enhancers, despite technically adhering to the low-carb and broad Paleo ethos, play havoc with my appetite.
In Pseudo Paleo mode my fasting works in reverse. I am always playing calorie catch up. I skip meals because I gorged on half a jar of tahini the night before, not because it feels like my body would benefit from a fast and I would like to emulate the experience and benefits of temporary food shortage.
I feel like one of those guys who always owes money. Instead of earning my meals with activity and fasting, I am paying for them with interest by skipping planned meals and going for unnecessary walks around the block.
Taking the Easy Way Out
Finally, I take the easy way out more often than I feel I should.
Instead of following through with a planned, savage, painful workout, I may move it to another day. Perhaps I had a bad night's sleep or decide my body needs a rest. Clearly there is a line to be drawn between what is sensible in a stressful modern life, and the need to buckle down and take the pain so that at other times you appreciate the easy life. In Pseudo mode, I stray too far from that line into easy street.
Then there's the coffee fasting. A 24-hour fast is a cinch when you load up on caffeine - at least that's the effect it has on me. Part of the value of the fast is to experience the hunger. I see coffee as cheating and find the evening reward is diminished when in Pseudo mode I resort to it.
And finally, cold showering, that paragon of the discomfort model - of how exposure to fleetingly uncomfortable stimuli can help you cope more easily with the milder discomforts of day-to-day life. In Pseudo mode I find reasons to shorten the cold section at the end of my shower, or avoid it altogether. I lose the resolve and the appreciation of the payback.
In my case there are factors at play relating to identity, pride and control. Everyone, I am sure, is different. It's possible that some of the elation and well being I talk about in Paleo at its Best are diminished in Pseudo Mode partly for psychological reasons. It's in my nature to be 'all or nothing' and I love to evangelise. No doubt these are important to my identity and my state of mind plays a part in my perception of overall health.
But enough psychobabble. The fact is that most of the time I am not in Pseudo Paleo mode - and just now I am at the right side of a good 6-week run. Bit too much coffee, but otherwise good.
The joys I talked about in Paleo at its Best are not easily earned - last year all it took was one week out of every six in Pseudo mode to strip away much of the buzz. The only way to find out whether Paleo at its Best is worth the extra effort for you is to put in the work required to get there, then decide for yourself.
A Hymn to the Lifestyle - Part 1: Paleo at its Best