Paleo Diet and CrossFit: A Blueprint for Health?
There are a million individual ways in which we can improve health. We can cut out processed foods, join a gym, or even attempt to change a few habits like eating too quickly and getting too little sleep. An honest effort to improve the way we eat, move and live can have a noticeable impact on our health and well-being. But, what if there was a way to combine all these little measures to generate a radical shift in perspective and dramatically improves physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing?
This is exactly what the ancestral, a.k.a. paleo or primal, movement asserts and it might be worthwhile to take some time to consider exactly how it supposes to do so and what, if any, basis there may be for such tremendous claims.
The paleo diet is built upon the constructs of evolutionary science and the idea that we should only eat the foods that were readily available in the time of our ancestors. In the context of an all-to-familiar food guide, the paleo pyramid is built upon vitamin and mineral rich fruits and vegetables; with the bulk of calories from protein-rich animal foods like meat, fish, fowl and eggs; and also including healthy fats like those found in nuts, seeds, and “approved” fats like coconut oil, olive oil, butter, ghee and tallow; and accented with herbs, spices, extracts and certain supplements.
Foods should be grown or raised in a manner that closely resembles the methods that would have been utilized centuries ago. Eating only the highest quality organic, chemical-free fruits and vegetables and ethically sourced, pastured, grass-fed and -finished, hormone- and antibiotic-free, wild, cage-free, etc. animal foods closely resembles the foods available during the Paleolithic era. Considering the dearth of multinational food corporations during the time of Ötzi, season and geography should be considered when choosing which fruits, vegetables and herbs to consume. For example, we should look for more berries, avocados, basil, sweet peppers and tomatoes during the summer months and broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower and kale during the winter.
According to this dietary modality, foods that entered the chain as a result of the agricultural and industrial revolutions should also be avoided. All grains, beans, legumes, dairy, and all processed foods, especially those that contain excessive amount of sugar, salt and unhealthy fats in the form of processed vegetable oils are a no-no. Also, it may be seem like common sense, but the consumption of substances like caffeine, tobacco and alcohol should be minimized or completely avoided.
It is believed that eating this way in a fashion similar to that of our ancestors is able to improve digestion and assimilation of food nutrients to bolster the immune system while helping maintain ideal blood sugar levels that supports energy regulation and maintenance. At the same time, eliminating the processed and fortified ‘food-like’ items that form the foundation of the Standard American Diet will help eliminate the risks associated with consuming these foods like gastric distress, leaky gut, obesity and lifestyle disease (diabetes, cancer, heart disease).
In accordance with the paleo dietary philosophy, movement and exercise and the context in which it is performed are an important component in helping to restore health. Exercise should be natural, unpredictable, and diverse and should mirror the movements that allowed our prehistoric fellows to hunt, gather and outrun predators. In order to conserve limited resources, daylight, movement should also maximize the amount of work done in a short amount of time. Doing so is what allowed our ancestors to survive, grow and adapt in an extremely harsh environment.
Understandably, our current environment is a lot less hostile than that which our ancestors faced and efficient motion isn’t completely necessary for immediate survival. However, adapting Paleolithic movements into an exercise program should, in theory, help us maximize health and well-being so that we can continue to grow and thrive in a fashion similar to our ancestors.
Out of this idea CrossFit was born. An evidence-based regiment built upon functional exercises that emphasize safety, efficacy and efficiency allows those living in a society built on convenience to reconnect with the movements that maximize health. Such exercises include: body weight exercises such as jumps, throws, catches, pull-ups, dips and handstands; Olympic weight lifts like clean and jerk, snatch, squat, dead lift and power-clean; in addition to biking, running, swimming and rowing drills. According to Crossfit.com, “these are the core movements of life, found everywhere, and built naturally into our DNA,”.
There is also an emotional, or behavioral, lifestyle element to the paleo-CrossFit movement, which is predicated on personal accountability and balance. According to Mark Sisson, one of the most-well known advocates for Primal living, a few of the 10 Habits of Highly Successful Hunter-Gatherers include:
- Take responsibility
- Build a tribe
- Be curious
- Trust your gut
- Pick your battles
This list should also include sharing meals, spending time with loved ones, freely giving of ourselves, and making time for fun are all essential if we wish to maximize well-being, minimize the risk of disease, and ensure the “survival” of your community.
A Blueprint for Health
Is the paleo-CrossFit lifestyle for everyone? Certainly not. But could it work for you? Most definitely!
The diet and exercise regiment prescribed by the paleo-CrossFit movement may not be for everyone, but I believe that its principles could and should be applied to every dietary and lifestyle philosophy. Eating high quality, local, and seasonal foods will help ensure that we provide the body with all the essential nutrients needed for optimal health and wellness. Exercising in a way that increases mobility, flexibility and dexterity will allow us to participate in life to the fullest extent well into our senior years. Living in manner that increases mindfulness, openness and a willingness to try new things will help us learn and grow in experience and understanding. We are all very unique in our biological, emotional and spiritual needs, but eating and moving in a manner that improves mindfulness and well-being will allow us to live a happy, healthy, and meaningful life.