As a large runner I spend quite a lot of time focusing on food and diet. My aim is to establish a diet that makes it easy for me to maintain an acceptable weight, feel satisfied and still provides sufficient levels of energy for me to live my life with abandon.
My dietary program has been heavily influenced by three excellent books that have a similar theme of simplifying food and eating.
My first recommendation is Savor, a Buddhist guide to mindful eating. This book attempts to fuse nutritional advice with the Buddhist concept of mindfulness through the discussion of the four noble truths and a series of exercises or meditations that encourage a focus on the present.
The eating messages I’ve taken home are:
- Eat at the table
- Avoid multitasking – so no TV, work or magazines
- Appreciate your food by use of all the senses
- Chew and take it slowly
- Quality not quantity
I’ve turned to Michael Pollen for the sort of down to earth advice succinctly wrapped up with the maxim: Eat Food, Not Too Much, Mostly Plants. Homespun advice that would make your mum and grandmother nod their heads in appreciation.
In Defense of Food, contains Michael Pollen’s manifesto for eating and attempts to find the commonsense lost in the nutritional world that has become hijacked by commerce and the food industry.
In addition to the Eat Food, Not Too Much, Mostly Plants advice you’ll find tips such as:
- Only eat food your great grandmother would recognise as food
- Avoid products with unpronounceable ingredients or more than 5 ingredients
- Avoid food with health claims
Both of these books suggest a common sense approach to eating and food, but slightly more prescriptive advice can be found in the next book which advocates the diet of our ancestors.
The Paleo Diet by Loren Cordain
From an evolutionary time frame our digestive systems remain as they were in paleolithic times. The agricultural revolution has brought about many changes in our eating habits but our bodies have not yet had time to catch up.
By reverting to our ancestral food types we can achieve many health benefits and reduce a number of inflammatory or allergic reactions that are associated with modern foods such as wheat and highly processed foods. I mentioned in passing recently that I’ve had a lot of success treating plantar fasciitis with the paleo diet.
Acceptable Paleo foods:
- All low starch vegetables (so potatoes are excluded but you can substitute with sweet potato)
- Meat (preferably lean) and fish
- Olive Oil
- Nuts (not peanuts which are legumes)
- Berries and fruit
- Red Wine (some would argue)
The Paleo Avoidance List – No Grains, No Sugar, No Processed Food:
- Processed foods
- Rice and grains (and flour products)
The Paleo Diet really is a very easy diet to follow. I’ve already listed out the rules in the space of two paragraphs. That’s all there is to it. I find it a very acceptable way to live, I may have to plan ahead sometimes but Paleo food is quite accessible – just stick to the edges of the supermarket where you’ll find the fresh produce aisles, then snack on fruit, nuts and cooked meats.
Because it’s an easy way to live, that’s the way I see it – a way of life. That enables me to let myself off the hook from time to time. Some may call it cheating but it does mean that if I visit friends for dinner, I can join them without feeling the need to educate them on my current eating habits. I just return to Paleo tomorrow.
Many Paleo advocates call this the 80:20 rule – get it right 80% of the time and you’ll be alright. Julia Buckley would say “Mostly good, most of the time”.
I’ve had great successes on the Paleo Diet, I lost 6lbs in the first week, 3-stone in the first year and I have been on a steady decline since then. It could be considered a boring diet but it has the great effect of reducing my cravings. So while I may feel hunger I’m actually not that bothered by the feeling, it can rumble away for a while before I need to satisfy the pangs. That is incredibly unusual for me, before the Paleo diet I would say I practically lived in fear of hunger, I would anticipate the feeling and ward off the onset with fairly regular snacking.
The Paleo diet has a lot of similarities with the GI diet, they don’t necessarily recommend the same food types, as the GI diet includes whole grains which would be avoided on the Paleo diet, but they both impact on and stabelize insulin levels in the body. I think it is this that stops the cravings and the emotional highs and lows with traditional dieting.
If you’d like to kick start your Paleo lifestyle I can highly recommend the Whole 30 challenge which is a 30-day uber strict paleo diet challenge. It’s a great way to detox and determine if you have any food intolerances but its also a useful way to familiarise yourself with real foods again.
The Whole 30 food list is even simpler than the Paleo one from Loren Cordain’s book:
- NO milk
- NO alcohol
- NO bread
- NO sugar
- NO pasta
- NO grains
- NO pulses
- NO flour
It may feel strange to avoid grains which have for a long time been touted as a health food pillars but they are relatively recent intruders into our diet. If you look at the Paleo Diet with its lean meats and fish, its abundance of veg, salad and the delights of fruits, nuts and berries, you can rest assured that you are eating healthy and nutrient laden food.