Paleo is more than just a diet…
While the popularized Paleo diet over the past decade has been primarily focused on eating real foods humans thrived upon before agriculture, the Paleo “diet” is really all about the Paleo lifestyle. (In fact: the latin meaning of “diet” is “a way of life”).
Paleo is not just about avoiding junk food.
It’s about unlearning all the unhealthy lifestyle practices we’ve been fed by mainstream Western culture—replacing the Standard American Diet AND the Standard American Life with lifestyles that mimic our ancestral heritage—the Paleo “Way of Life” Lifestyle.
Just as the Standard American Diet destroys our physical and mental health, the Standard American Life destroys our physical and mental health.
The Standard American Life is Making Us Mentally & Physically Sick
- Half of all Americans will have a mental illness in their lifetime
- 1 in 6 Americans take an antipsychotic drug—mostly anti-depressants (Moore & Mattison,2017)
- 1 in 5 people has an anxiety disorder (NIH, 2017)
- And stress is the #1 driver of all disease—responsible for the majority of all medical visits alone (The American Institute of Stress, 2017) and America spends $300 billion a year in stress-related medical bills and lost productivity, earning stress the title as “health epidemic of the 21st century“.
We don’t see these rates of mental illness or the same impacts of stress on human health in hunter-gatherer societies; the modern condition is to blame.
Modern Day Stressors
Any of these sound familiar?
- Working in cubicles from 9-5
- Staring at computer and phone screens upwards of 8-12 hours per day
- Sitting in rush hour traffic
- Calling packaged protein bars and shakes “food”
- Eating burgers and fries, or takeout salads in our laps, on-the-go
- Disconnecting from community and in-person interactions—in favor of video meetings and e-mail exchanges
- Drinking tap water, contaminated with carcinogens
- Produce laced with pesticides, like Roundup
- Daily intensive spin classes, yoga with weights and CrossFit WODs (or not working out at all)
- Sleeping 5-6 hours each night
- Working harder and longer hours for more success
- Begging kids to play outside or ride their bike and bribing them with “screen time” as a reward for hard work or good behavior
- Being “busy”—all the time—and overbooking our social calendars
- Daydreaming about a new job, but not making a move because of our “security”
- Making a long bucket list of things you want to do—one day—when you have more time, money and energy (and “one day” never comes)
Our bodies (and minds) were NOT designed and wired for the domesticated lifestyles we’ve been leading—like zoo animals. Take away our cages, and our atrophied brains and bodies would scarcely know what to do.
Although Ancestral living IS your birthright, it is a birthright most Americans know nothing about, simply because the stressors of modern time are part of our daily “way of life.”
The good news?
We CAN get back to “being human”—or “more” human and Paleo-like with a conscious Paleo Lifestyle! (And no, it doesn’t mean living in a bubble).
How to do it?!
I’ve heard that before…nothing new! you say.
True, while you may know all about stress-busting techniques like:
- Getting 7-9 hours of sleep each night
- Eating fresh veggies and fruits
- Using toxin-free beauty, chemical and food cookware products
- Deep breathing & meditation
- Establishing a regular exercise routine—but not overtraining
- Using blue-blocking, orange-tinted computer glasses
- And even bio-hacks, like hot-cold showers, float tanks, infra-red saunas and Bulletproof coffee
…Here are 3 unique essentials to living like Our Ancestors Did (in our modern time).
3 Essentials to Live Like Our Ancestors Did (in our Modern Time)
Paleo Lifestyle Essential 1: Play
Before there were “play dates,” kids just played.
They went outside, ran around with other kids, played impromptu games, waded through streams, made forts in the forest, got wet and dirty and scraped, and came back inside by dark.
Nothing was scheduled or pre-planned, parents didn’t hover or micromanage, and the human race survived for hundreds of thousands of years with children “allowed” to be free.
Over the past few decades, a lot has changed.
Our culture is so scared to let kids outside by themselves that we now see arrests of the rare parents who let their kids play in local parks unsupervised on local news. People are terrified of abductors, of accidents, of nature. And kids are screen-bound by choice.
Statistics Aren’t Pretty
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the average American (including kids) spends 93% of their time indoors —neglecting outside play and the innate human design to be “wild and free. ”
In addition, in a study of Americans’ relationship with nature—parents of children 8 to 12 years old said that their children spend three times as many hours with computers and televisions each week as they do playing outside (The Nature of Americans, 2017).
What does all this screen-bound indoorsiness do to a developing mind and body?
Cognitive development research shows that kids need active spontaneous unsupervised unstructured play, particularly outdoors, in order to develop to their full potential (Wen et al, 2009) (Gill, 2014) (Ulset et al, 2017).
Without this sort of play, depression, decreased executive functioning and mental acuity, metabolic dysfunction, and anxiety are more likely.
Adults Need Play Just as Much as kids
The same thing goes for adults.
The average American adult spends upwards of 12 hours sitting each day (JustStand.org, 2017 )—much of this at screens or in traffic—detracting from time spent playing, moving and stimulating our brains (in other ways outside data spread sheets and social media posts).
Although play is easy to recognize in children and animals — such as a game of freeze tag or pretend play— play as adults is a little less clear.
What does play look like for grownups?
In layman’s terms: play is something fun, enjoyable, easy and at times, spontaneous.
While adults don’t play with Play-Doh or dress up, types of adult play may include things like creative play (drawing, painting, writing, crafting); to social play (spending time with people); game play (board games, challenges, playing games); fitness, adventure, outdoor or movement play; and entertainment play (concerts, movies, experiences).
7 Types of Play
The National Institute for Play identifies 7 types of play:
- Attunement Play
- Body Play & Movement
- Object Play
- Social Play
- Imaginative & Pretend Play
- Storytelling-Narrative Play
- Creative Play
Similar to kids, when adults incorporate play (i.e. respite from the grind of daily life), play relieves stress, boost creativity, improve brain function, and improves relationships with other people by fostering trust with others.
Win. Win. Win. Win.
The Simple Solution
The solution to our lack of play (and movement) problem?
Free your kids, and let them play, and… take YOUR recess breaks too!
Re-learn how to play as an adult, and be a positive role model. As for more learning on play, check out the book, Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul.
Paleo Lifestyle Essential #2: Connect, Date & Mate
Man (and woman) were not meant to be alone.
The human condition craves people—which is why the vast majority of humans connect with other humans (or desire to do so), both socially and romantically throughout their lives.
Biology supports this. Based on observation alone, mammals are more socially connected than reptiles, primates more than other mammals, and humans more than other primates.
We are wired to connect in all areas of our lives—and without this desire or innate wiring, you nor I would be here today (thanks mom and dad!).
Research also backs this up.
Research & Social Connectedness
Social connection is as rewarding as more money.
Studies show that feeling liked and respected in the workplace activate the brain’s reward system in the same way that financial compensation does—and that social rewards might be at least as effective as money in motivating workers.
Social connectivity helps us learn better.
U.S. students’ interest in school tends to wane when they reach the seventh and eighth grades — an age when humans become extremely social. Research also suggests that students are more likely to remember information when they take it in socially. Schools could apply that lesson by having older students tutor younger ones. (Lieberman, 2013).
Social connection is a natural anti-aging booster.
Social connectedness lowers anxiety & stress.
Social connection is a buffer for genetic and environmental vulnerabilities and gives us more resilience to withstand stress, possibly via its effects on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical (HPA) system, the noradrenergic system, and central oxytocin pathways (Ozbay et al, 2007).
Social connection is like green juice, bone broth & probiotics.
People without strong social ties are more at risk for a host of inflammatory conditions, including development and progression of cardiovascular disease, recurrent myocardial infarction, atherosclerosis, autonomic dysregulation, high blood pressure, cancer and delayed cancer recovery, and slower wound healing (Ertel, Glymour, and Berkman 2009; Everson-Rose and Lewis 2005; Robles and Kiecolt-Glaser 2003; Uchino 2006). In addition, a survey showed that lack of social connectedness predicts vulnerability to disease and death above and beyond traditional risk factors such as smoking, blood pressure, and physical activity!
Social connectedness helps us feel more in control, motivated and confident.
Social ties enhance personal control (our belief that we can control our life outcomes through their own actions), perhaps through the support we get through it. In turn, our own personal control is advantageous for keeping motivated with our own health habits, as well as self-esteem, and all-around mental and physical health (Mirowsky and Ross 2003; Thoits 2006).
A Silent Epidemic: Disconnected
Nevertheless, there’s no question that human connection— friendships, family and romantic connections—have experienced a dramatic shift, particularly over the past decade.
Between increased screen time; decreased in-person interactions; automated operators; convenience services that save us time and replace socializing (like Instacart home grocery delivery, or at-home, no-gym-required workout videos); dozens dating apps; and overbooked, overworked task-filled calendars and to-do lists, our 21st century connection is a stark contrast to the days of old—a time when all people ate, slept and breathed life with others.
1. We Have Less Friends
A 2004 study showed that the total number of close confidantes (i.e., people with whom one feels comfortable sharing a personal problem) Americans claimed to have in 1985 was only three. In 2004 it dropped to one, and an additional 25% of Americans said that they have ZERO (no one) to confide in. In other words: one in four people have no one they call a “close friend.” These stats may explain the decline in social connectedness along with reported increases in loneliness, isolation, anxiety and depression.
2. We Are Trying to Find Love…Online
As for dating and mating, according to the U.S. Census, more than one-third of all American adults are single. The answer? Swipe right (or left).
Technology is dramatically changing how we court. Match.com asserts that “1 in 5 relationships start online” (Match.com, 2011).
Rather than periodically learning about one or two potential partners who could be interested in meeting people to date, users of dating sites, especially users of self-selection sites, can learn about hundreds or thousands of potential partners within hours.
However, while men and women now have access to a “sea of fish” in the world of dating apps and online programs (and seemingly LOTS of connection), research shows that many of us actually feel MORE disconnected.
Despite the strength of people’s motivation to keep their options open, many studies have demonstrated that a large degree of choice can overwhelm people, undermining their ability to make good decisions and sometimes producing a state of choice overload, in which people simply avoid mak- ing any decision rather than exerting the mental effort required to compare and contrast so many options (Iyengar, 2010; Keller & Staelin, 1987; Malhotra, 1982; Redelmeier & Shafir, 1995; B. Schwartz, 2004; Simonson & Tversky, 1992)/
In the words of one online dater, “You’re constantly evaluating…” (quoted in Heino et al., 2010, pg. 437).
We are connected…but still disconnected.
3. We Have to Pencil in the Time
Lastly, one more shift in the way humans “do relationships” within the context of a significant other.
Half of all marriages end in divorce; the average debt incurred to fund a wedding outlives the actual marriage by five years, 60% of all men admit to adultery (in anonymous surveys), and 60% of women admit that they would end their marriage today if they could be assured the same level of financial security post-marriage.
The heteronormative monogamous “happily-ever-after myth” that Americans learned from Disney movies doesn’t exist.
Even for those couples who are connected, time together like “date night” is often viewed as more of a to-do or obligation in the schedule.
It goes something like this:
- A once-a-week or biweekly schedule is selected in advance.
- Take turns each week to plan something fun
- On the selected evening, she wears something tight and fancy, he shaves and puts on cologne. Go to a nice restaurant
- See a non-Disney movie afterwards
- Go home, pay the sitter, and have some sex
- Look forward to next week, when the same thing happens all over again
Our ancestral heritage reveals that humans—significant others—did life together daily. Not just one night per week to catch up and connect. They sweat together. Both raised the kids together. Slept in the same bed together. Shouldered the loads equally together. Had fun together. Cooked together. Did everything together.
By no means does this mean being attached at the hip, but observationally, our significant other relationships are greatly different to say the least than Fred Flinstone’s day.
The Simple Solution
Connect. In meaningful ways. With all people in your life.
Psychology theory shows humans really only have the capacity for 5 really close friendsin their lives—so who is your posse?
Outside of this network though, we still have the capacity to interact, energize and connect with people in all sorts of spheres!
Where are you plugging in (and disconnecting from your screens?)
Here are some ideas:
- Join a gym or fitness endeavor with other people doing the same thing—CrossFit, yoga studio, bootcamp, etc.
- Connect to a faith group
- Check out MeetUp.com
- Start your own “meet up” group with people who like like-minded activities or have similar goals/interests
- Join a Master Mind
- People watch at a local cafe—meet 2-3 new people
- Engage others—smile, compliment, ask questions
- Go on an adventure—a trip, rock climbing escapade, retreat, etc. with others you don’t know. Meet people.
- Check out opportunities to connect through your community center
Paleo Lifestyle Essential #3: Listen (to Your Intuition)
Before 9 to 5 cubicle life, daily DOW updates (stock market) and the game Monopoly, humans didn’t think (or stress) so much about “what to do.”
They listened to their gut intuitions, and less to rationale, excuses or fear in their heads As for day-to-day living, when they were hungry, they ate; tired, they slept; energetic, they played; they listened to their bodies.And. had they had the same life decisions we do today—like what job to pursue, who to date (and mate), what to wear or how to spend their time, they would have followed their heart.
By nature, humans are intuitive.
We Aren’t Listening to Our Gut & Heart
Unfortunately, today, just like we’ve become disconnected with nature, play and other people, we are also disconnected with our ability to listen to our gut and follow our heart.
We create bucket lists with “dream” checkboxes of things we want to do—like travel to Europe or learn to play guitar.
We know we don’t feel great when we eat eggs, or we wonder if our low energy is related to under-eating—but we keep eating the same things most days anyway.
We think about taking up yoga, or photography, but resort to channel surfing and overworking instead.
Our 5 a.m. alarm goes off like it does everyday, and without question, we’re out the door for our usual 6-mile run or HIIT workout—even if we slept 4 hours or haven’t taken a day off 10 days in a row.
We say “tomorrow” we’ll make a change, or “when we feel more stable then we’ll look at other career paths,” but…we often stay stuck right where we are at.
Habits, excuses, fears and disconnection dominates—taking the magic and spontaneity of our ancestors’ out of our life-arcs, and reducing our deepest passions and innate longing to “go with our gut.”
We Hate Our Jobs
In fact, a total of 85% of people dislike going to work (Gallup, May 2017), and yet they spend a majority of their days working (47 hours each week https://www.bls.gov/charts/american-time-use/emp-by-ftpt-job-edu-h.htm), so that one day they’ll be able to “one day” do something they love, retire and play golf or check items off their bucket list.
We Don’t Do Things We Love
What we do when we’re not working? Of the 4 hours devoted to activities outside work and activities of daily living (like cooking, eating, hygiene, commuting and laundry), most Americans devote at least 2 to 3 hours of those to leisure “screen time” (TV, computer)—defined as the number one hobby of most adults. What about the sports, creative arts, dance, outdoor play and socialization with others? A mere 30-60 minutes at most.
Without time for leisure and play we miss the benefits of having passions. A study (Pressman et al, 2009) of 1,400 people found that people who said they engaged in enjoyable leisure activities had lower blood pressure, total cortisol, waist circumference and body mass index.
The Simple Solution
If you’re yearning for something, do it now. Like today, tomorrow, or maybe in a few months if you really need to wait. Don’t put it into a special “bucket list” category or wait for a special occasion or until you have “enough money.” Every day we are alive is equally special and there is always enough money for the things that really matter or we value.
Note: When you find yourself yearning for culturally-prescribed materialistic things (particularly those things that cost a lot of money), really look hard at those, because they may not be as important to you, or as impressive to those around you, as you think. Just because mainstream culture says something is important or desirable does not mean that it is. We spent hundreds of thousands of years evolving in an environment with no money, no personal belongings, no jet-setting travel, and no showy shelters. We need to relearn how to find primal happiness, and modern consumption is not the answer.
The Standard American Lifestyle is wreaking havoc on our health. Mindful intention to reconnect to our own innate human nature—such as with these 3 lifestyle essentials—is a triple threat to the modern way of living:
- Play and connect to nature
- Connect to others
- And, listen to your gut and heart
Oh yes, and don’t forget real food, plenty of sleep and movement.
About the Author:
Dr. Lauryn Lax is a Doctor of Occupational Therapy, Nutritional Therapy Practitioner, Functional Medicine Practitioner, author and speaker, with over 20 years of clinical and personal experience specializing in gut health, intuitive eating, disordered eating, anxiety, hormone balance and women’s health. She’s based in Austin, Texas, and operates a virtual Nutrition & Functional Medicine practice, Thrive Wellness & Recovery, LLC, working with clients and patients around the world. In addition, Dr. Lauryn is a published journalist and speaker, and her work has been featured in Oxygen Magazine, Women’s Health, Paleo Magazine, Breaking Muscle, CrossFit Inc, USA Today, ABC and CBS News, and loves nothing more than helping others “quiet the noise” in the health food and fitness world.