Thursday, June 2, 2011

9 Steps of Paleo Adoption

Like grief and love, changing your diet has various emotional stages that one has to pass through.  Not everybody experiences each stage to an equal extent - some people breeze through one or more stages, while many get stuck, or arrested, at some stage.  In case you're wondering how far you've come and how far you have to go, here's a brief description of the process:

1.  Awareness:  It's hard to believe it now, but there was a time when you'd never heard of a paleo diet.  At some point you ran across Art De Vany's blog, or Mark Sisson's, or, God help you, Richard Nikoley's, and you became... aware.  You probably lumped it into the part of your brain where you store information about the grapefruit diet, that popular French diet, and a bunch of others that have come and gone over the years.  You've taken the first step towards a Paleo lifestyle.

2.  Skepticism:  Now you're hearing more about the Paleo diet and you have a knee jerk negative reaction.  After all, we aren't cavemen, are we?  Why should we eat like them?  Should we give up vaccines, cars, internet porn, and shaving while we're at it?  Are these people crazy?

3.  Tentative steps:  You've heard many reasoned, well thought out arguments in favor of the paleo diet.  Maybe you're coming from the low carb world and you're wondering if maybe mayonnaise shouldn't be the cornerstone of your food intake.  Maybe you've been living the low fat dream and are starting to wonder why bagels make you ravenously hungry.  Maybe you're reading more of the science and are wondering if maybe increases in intestinal permeability really could be causing an inflammatory response... 

Intrigued, you start cutting back on grains, even (gosh!) whole grains.  You cut seed oils out of your diet.  You stand in front of your freezer, throat tightening with grief, and carefully spoon the contents of your last pint of Ben & Jerry's into your piehole, sucking back every last drop, even the last few melted drops, salty and bitter with your own tears.

4.  Success:  Now you're cooking with gas.  Your food cravings have diminished.  You can see your toes without a mirror for the first time in years.  Your asthma/ arthritis/ acne/ erectile dysfunction/ whatever has cleared up and you feel good, perform better, and are healthier than you've been since a teenager.  You are once again a proverbial kid in a candy store, and your candy store is life.

5.  Anger:  You start to wonder why you spent 5, 10, 15, or more years stuffing yourself with whole wheat pasta and margarine (hopefully not together) on the advice of your doctors.  You think about obese/ sick/ diabetic/ dead family members who do or did the same, starving on a low fat, grain based diet as they got sicker and sicker, following the conventional wisdom to the best of their ability, all because the medical authorities are so deeply in the pockets of big agribusiness that they can't see the sun anymore.  You hear stories about impoverished hunter gatherers enjoying relatively good health and look around a mall and notice how rare good health is in America... and you get angry.  Really angry.  You start to give your baker the evil eye.  You spit on the sidewalk in front of your local Subway.  You might even drop a few f-bombs on your blog.

6.  Zealotry:  High on your newfound health and quality physique you now understand what needs to be done:  if the medical community, the government, and the conventional wisdom won't force people to eat the right way, it's all up to you.  You start by "suggesting" that co-workers and family members skip the bun and just eat the hot dog and casually e-mailing links to U.S. Wellness to your friends and neighbors.  Soon you're yelling at people for buying you a birthday cake, assaulting the guy who drives the Hostess delivery truck, and frothing at the mouth when your co-workers bring in boxes of Duncan Donuts to share.  You tell everyone within earshot - every last man, woman, and child, whether they're sharing your elevator or sitting in a stall next to yours in a public restroom - how they ought to be eating.

You have, in short, become an asshole.  It's okay, you're not the only one.

7.  Stall:  Your initial progress starts to slow.  Perhaps you're just eating too much food as your cooking skills gets better, or you've gotten all you're going to get from the reduction in inflammation.  Maybe your cortisol is high from eating too little food (gosh darn it, paleo food is satisfying!  It can be hard to eat enough!)  Whatever the reason, you're doing well... but not as well as before.  You might even be losing a little of your urge to proselytize as you realize that you might not, in fact, have ALL the answers (just most of them).

8.  Tinkering:  This is where you begin to add foods back in that may not be strictly paleo (some people start this stage early).  It starts with dark chocolate and often slides into raw dairy, modest amounts of sugar, then larger amounts of sugar, ice cream, and eventually... Rice Krispie Treats.  Oh, the horror!  At this point you might find that as long as you stick to a core paleo diet - mostly paleo, completely avoiding a handful of really harmful foods - you do okay.  And you remember just how delicious Rice Krispie Treats are (if you're not in this stage yet, then trust me, they are delicious - really, really delicious).

9.  Lifestyle:  As you settle into a long term eating plan you might find yourself continuing to tinker - trading one fat for another, eating more or less coconut, eating more carbs, having some white rice once in a while, maybe even drinking a Diet Coke when the mood is right.  If you're lucky (and disciplined) you stay close enough to an ideal diet to maintain the body composition you want and perform as well as you want without letting your health markers get too far out of whack.  You're also able to indulge, at least a little bit, in treats you had been avoiding like the plague - as long as you stay away from the Big Bads, like gluten.

So where do you stand along the 9 steps?  Post to comments if you think I've missed a step.  I'm somewhere around 6 still... but I've always been slow to mature!

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