Dare I? Pegging yourself to a diet can be a dangerous choice. People jump on you and assume you subscribe to every dogmatic item that has ever been associated with it. They accuse you of lying and point out the psychos that every single food movement has attracted. It can be even riskier if you are trying to build a future career in the health industry, and it can be intimidating if you are a food lover who enjoys indulgences on every side of the good/bad fence.
Paleo, primal, ancestral, whole foods, traditional eating. Whatever you want to call it. I’ve been involved in the paleo/primal/ancestral health circle for over two years and I’ve never written about it. Never posted about it on facebook, never tweeted and hash tagged #NOMNOM (already making inside jokes, time to cool it!). Have hinted and suggested, been called out based on clues, but never come outright and said “hey folks, this is what’s up with me”. For simplicity, I usually call it “paleo”. For a more realistic portrait of what I eat on a daily basis, it would be better if I called it “ancestral”.
So what is this ancestral thing I’ve been doing for over two years? It’s part philosophy, for both diet and lifestyle, and part science. The biggest diet philosophy for me is eating whole foods. Whole foods, “unprocessed” in terms of no additives, no mystery ingredients, no taking this out and adding this back in. The lifestyle philosophy is the idea of trying to get back to our natural ways of moving and living– lots of walking, some heavy lifting, plenty of time on your feet, and plenty of time getting good sleep. Enjoying the finer things in life, letting the pesky things go, and bringing stress down to a manageable level. This lifestyle part is huge, and something that needs more of my (and a lot of other people’s) attention.
The science part is the aspect that I wrestle the most with. It starts off with these concepts that saturated fats and cholesterol are not the bad guys they were thought to be, moves along to trash industrial seed oil, and brings out the issues of not properly preparing grains for consumption using traditional methods. It twists your mind around the bend, and requires pulling out that biochem textbook you didn’t think you need any more. Any which way you like to approach the science, however, it mostly boils down to eating safe, whole foods properly prepared. Vegetables, fruits, meats, dairy (if tolerated), and some grains (in our case, only rice).
My favourite representation of what myself and other ancestral folk eat is done by Paul Jaminet (astrophysicist and economics researcher) and his wife Shou-Ching Shih Jaminet (molecular biologist and cancer researcher) because it is both graphical and well described below the image. If you are interested in learning more about ancestral eating, I would recommend looking at their website. For an anthropological (and economic/culterual) perspective on ancestral eating, I recommend Hunt Gather Love by the wonderful Melissa McEwan, who will also add to your never-ending list of books to read. Victoria Prince is a MD/PhD student in the clinical years of her degree, and writes a blog called Principle into Practice which is not only well written and engaging, but also has all the proper footnotes and loads of specific information for the science-minded and lay-people of the world. Another doc-related blogger is Primalmeded AKA Anastasia, who represents the Aussies and writes truly funny and interesting posts. A place where a lot of people start their primal journey is with Mark’s Daily Apple– Mark knows how to break things down for just about anybody and has very accessible information. For those of you who like to watch your info rather than read it, Dr. Terry Wahl’s Ted Talk’s video brought a lot of popularity to ancestral eating and provides a nice first-person account of their experience with ancestral eating (plus I think her son is the best). There’s another dietetics student blogging away named Laura who can be found at Ancestralize Me. Emily Deans (MD) looks at the link between ancestral diets and mental health in her intriguing blog Evolutionary Psychology. I could go on, but there is a nice variety of blogs you can check out if you are interested or want to burn some time.
This post is essentially me “coming out” as someone who eats ancestrally and is studying dietetics. I’m sure it hasn’t been some well-kept secret and most people had some idea, but I’ve always been a little ambiguous and never directly addressed it. I didn’t want to be one of “those people”, but at the same time I felt like I wasn’t being completely honest. No, I don’t hate vegans, I don’t think all the grains are out to kill you in your sleep, and sometimes it’s hard to hear all the questions over the sound of my ice cream machine churning out delicious full-fat dairy ice cream made with real, actual sugar. I make my own sauerkraut, drink kefir, brine my pork chops, do my steaks rare, make my corn tortillas, and eat dark chocolate every day. Over the next little bit I’ll explain why I specifically eat this way, why sometimes using a label on it is useful (but still sometimes detrimental), and maybe answer some questions along the way. As long as you like food, eat food, and are okay with me eating the food I like, we should get along just fine. For now, I’ll leave it at that and pick up the conversation at a later date. Enjoy the first few days of September and the big gear up for the school year to come!