For lots of people, going paleo is motivated by a desire to lose weight, gain fitness or otherwise change their body. Success stories and before-and-after pictures are all over the paleosphere, and they’re certainly inspiring.
But in my opinion, all this talk of slimming down and hitting CrossFit PRs tends to drown out some of the paleo lifestyle’s most profound and long-lasting gifts.
The impact of my primal shift extends far beyond my physical self. Since I made my jump into the paleo world, I’ve noticed some profound changes to my mental, emotional and even spiritual health.
Here are just a few of the ways going paleo is helping me grow.
1) It’s made me more mindful.
Our modern world is built around convenience and efficiency, which of course enables us to do some pretty great things. (Poop indoors for example.) But convenience can also breed complaisance, and even ignorance. This is especially true when it comes to our food.
For me (and I suspect many others in my generation), the food chain has always begun at the grocery store. I grew up trusting what food packages told me was healthy and had very little concept of what it meant to eat “real food”. Even when I became more health conscious, I was content to remain in the dark about all of the mysterious unpronounceable ingredients in the “Frankenfoods” I was eating.
But once my focus shifted toward healing my digestive system and eating foods that my body was meant to eat, it quickly became clear how ignorant I’d been.
Some of the greatest takeaways of my shift to paleo have been the tools it’s given me to understand a) the way foods affect my body, and b) the way they made it to my plate. It’s encouraged me to question what’s presented to me, and to make active, intentional decisions about how I eat.
This intentionality has spilled over into other areas of my life as well. From the media I consume to the people I spend time with, I’ve noticed myself becoming more aware of how each “input” affects my energy and well being. As a result, I’ve become more selective about what I interact with and how I spend my moments. This mindfulness is something I’ll take with me for the rest of my life.
2) It’s cultivated gratitude.
Hand in hand with increased mindfulness has come a heightened sense of gratitude, starting with my meals.
I find myself enjoying and savoring my food much more than I ever used to. No longer is it popped out of a bag or scooped from a plastic container; it’s the result of serious time and elbow grease, not to mention a considerable financial investment (grass-fed beef ain’t cheap!). You can bet I’ll be picking every morsel off of my chicken carcass…and then boiling the rest for stock.
It’s given me a renewed appreciation for the natural world, too. Realizing that what comes from the earth will always trump what comes from a box is an important reality check (even though it’s kind of a no-brainer), and it’s made me so much more grateful for the way the earth was designed to support me. Mother Nature is pretty rad.
3) It’s empowered me.
Embracing the paleo lifestyle has influenced my self-confidence and sense of autonomy as well.
For one thing, the paleo philosophy is definitely one that encourages self-reliance. It asks us to sidestep many modern conveniences and to take full responsibility for how we feed ourselves. Food can no longer be an afterthought. If you’re hungry, you better be prepared to cook.
The paleo movement is also lucky to have numerous dedicated and well-educated thought leaders (Mark Sisson, Robb Wolf, Liz Wolfe, Diane Sanfilippo and Sarah Ballantyne are my faves) who have taken on the task of interpreting and sharing nutritional research with the rest of us. They’ve created an amazingly powerful body of literature that enables people like me to take control of their health.
Thanks to their work, I’m proud to say that I truly understand the way different nutrients affect my body, the reason grass-fed meat is more nutritious than conventional beef, and why being a conscientious omnivore is better for the planet than avoiding animal products.
For the first time in my life, I feel prepared to make informed ethical choices about the foods I buy and the industries I support, and I feel equipped to explain and defend those choices. I’m no longer a passive recipient of what the food industry presents to me, but a more active and empowered force in the world. Look out!
4) It’s taught me balance.
Though some may call the paleo lifestyle extreme, one of the greatest lessons it’s taught me is balance, beginning with my diet but extending far beyond it.
Food-wise, eating paleo has brought me back in tune with the natural rhythm of my body. Sounds hokey, but hear me out. Toward the end of my vegetarian days, I’d gotten into a routine of overeating at meals and snacking almost all day. The foods I was eating weren’t properly fueling me and I was constantly hungry and tired. My snacks were relatively healthy, but their high volume and low nutritional value were majorly stressing my digestive system. Before long, I began to completely lose touch with my body’s hunger signals.
To make matters worse, all those carby snacks were putting me on the infamous “blood sugar rollercoaster”. I’d go from feeling overfull to being lightheaded and “hangry” in just a few hours.
Paleo nipped that in the bud by finally giving my body the nutrients it had been craving, and by encouraging me to slow down and make mealtimes more sacred.
My body’s natural hunger signals are now back to normal, which is having a domino effect of awesomeness throughout my life. My sleep cycle is more regular and natural, as are my energy levels throughout the day. My mood is better and much less delicate, too. All in all, I find that there’s a comforting rhythm and balance to my life now that was missing before, perhaps for a long time.
5) It’s taught me trust.
Stepping away from my former definition of “healthy food” and leaping headfirst into an entirely new eating philosophy has cultivated renewed respect and trust between myself and my body.
It may seem counterintuitive that adopting a “restrictive” diet has encouraged me to relinquish control over my body. But the 180-degree shift from low-fat vegetarian to full-fat carnivore forced me to let go of the health food doctrines I’d been clinging to and put my faith in my body to guide me.
I’m embarrassed to admit that it was a scary jump. Before going paleo, I was happy to let my brain rather than my body decide what was best for me. Now I understand that my body doesn’t need (or want!) me to pump it full of fiber, superfoods, supplements or chemically-concocted “health foods”. It wants me to be a teammate rather than a coach.
Thanks to this paradigm shift, I now have an increased respect for my body’s wisdom, and a newfound trust in its ability to keep itself healthy.
The whole package
The paleo “diet” was the catalyst that sent me down a path of natural, balanced living – a lifestyle driven by value rather than convenience. It’s encouraged me to interact with the world in a much more fulfilling way, and it’s enlightened me to a rhythm of life that I’d let slip away, or perhaps never knew. As my connection to this natural rhythm gets stronger, I not only feel more healthy, but also more whole.
So what has your paleo journey taught you? Let me know in the comments!