How going Paleo taught me life lessons

I’m not here to convert you to Paleo. My life is was ‘Paleofied’, I guess you could say. But I don’t like labels, I don’t like bandwagons… I tend to shy away from subscribing to any one thing whole heartedly. Because I think in everything there’s a bit of truth, and probably a lot that isn’t. Some things just have these things in a different balance.

I’m definitely not Paleo now, though I still love ‘paleofied’ cafes because you know it’s real food.

But over all, Paleo was a convenient catch-all for me, to help narrow down all the information available to something more manageable, when I was learning to take charge of my own health. I started there, both filtering and expanding further for myself.

I’m certainly not saying we should live like cavemen. I’m not saying we should eschew all modern conveniences. I’m not even saying you should be Paleo. (This post is not even about the food, specifically.)

What I am a fan of is balance in life. And I think modern lives are out of balance.

And I am a fan of not just doing things the way they’ve been done without at least looking for ourselves at the reasons why. ‘Cavemen’ times were not some Utopia to return to, but neither is the modern world we live in. I think this bears looking at.

Why do we eat so much sugar? Why is there wheat in everything? Why have we had an obsession with ‘low fat’ and is that actually healthier? (hint: no!) Why do we get everything in packets? Why are we willing to ignore how animals are treated? Why can I buy a fruit all year round that actually only has a 2 month season? 

That’s where I started. With the questions that Paleo began to address. But that’s not where I ended up.

The Paleo diet and lifestyle was a starting point, opening me up to new ways of thinking about life. And I went full-on into it for a while, then swung back the other way, and I am now finding the happy medium.

So I’m not even saying you have to like this lifestyle, or embrace it, or stick to it if you do try it out. I’m the first to say I do whatever works for me, whenever is right for me, and I reserve the right to change my mind at any time. 

I don’t live on a farm. I’ve had phases of loving country life. But right now my focus and priorities have drawn me back to city living. And I’m loving it.

But no matter where I ‘end up’ — because really life doesn’t have a final destination anyway — I do credit my journey into Paleo with a significant influence on shaping my views and path in life.

So this is not really about Paleo at all — but about the life lessons I began to learn as I went through it:


1. Work for It
Once-upon-a-time, we had to expend some effort for our food. If we hunted & gathered it, we had to actually, you know, wander around to find it & run after it.

Or if we grew & raised our food ourselves, there was plenty of activity going on to farm and tend and prepare.

Our love of making things easier, while not always a bad thing, means that fast-forward a little way, and now we can get all our food without even leaving the couch. Punch your order into an app and your groceries & takeaway will come straight to your door. Open a package and apply heat for 2 minutes, and you can have a meal. (A “meal”.)

No more waiting. No more effort. (Except working longer hours so we can pay for it…)

That seems a little screwy to me. And that’s even if we ignore the nutrition implications, and the question of whether this ‘food’ we are consuming can even be classed as such…

We have lost connection with our food. We have lost the deep sense of personal investment.

And the implications of this overflow into our health, our environment, our community, our bank accounts, our attitude towards waste and economy… the list goes on.

So we have all the suggestions on how to change this — avoid packaged food, make things from scratch, grow our own vegetables… This is not new information. Not many people would disagree with these being positive things.

But this is not the lesson I’m wanting to point out from this Paleo principle. It’s not just a matter of expending more effort. Because, lets face it, you are probably at the limit of your effort expenditure already.

And that’s the point. In the process of removing the effort required to have food on the table, we have filled the space with a lot of other things.

The balance has tipped too far the other way. It’s not just that we spend less time personally involved in our food, but all the other things that go with that. The more time working at things that don’t fulfil us, the less time at the table with friends and family, the less time moving and being active, the less time outdoors with our hands in the dirt, the less understanding about the natural processes of food and nature, and the increased acceptance of chemicals & refined substances as substitutes for real food.

This is the balance that a Paleo lifestyle seeks to restore. And it is pretty much impossible – unless we address the balance of lifestyle and how to live in community. We aren’t meant to expend all the effort by ourselves. Food is mean to be a shared connection, with it and with each other.

(BTW: I actually LOVE food delivery services. I go through phases of buying everything from markets and cooking from scratch – and then my focus changes, and I don’t even want to go near a kitchen for a while. Both are okay!

This isn’t an either or. It’s not either, you’re Paleo and out in the dirt, or you’re a junk food addict and never leave your couch.

If we let ourselves think outside of these existing paradigms, that’s where we come up with solutions that actually work — like takeaway that uses real ingredients, delivery services for healthy food, co-ops for food and restaurants, community gardens in cities. And that’s just what currently exists. I believe we can be creative about this – it’s not just the old way or the ‘modern’ way. Let’s make new ways.)


2. Whole Food, Whole Life

Another by-product of having to work for your food is that you place a greater value on it. (And by work, I mean physically and directly, not just earning money to pay for it or for someone else to make it.)

Economy goes beyond just the money. When you’ve worked hard for your resources, you want to make the most of them. You appreciate their intrinsic value.

And so you use the whole animal. Make things out of the skin and fur and wool, eat the organs and the meat, use the bones in stock. Eat the whole vegetable, use the off-cuts in stocks, use the scraps in compost to enrich the rest of the vegetable patch, or to feed the chickens who then give us eggs. Almost nothing has just one purpose or use.

This way of living is not just the fate of people who can’t afford to just buy the fancy stuff. It’s actually healthier — for us and the world — because it’s balanced. The nutrition you get from eating all parts of the whole animal is much more complete. And there is far less waste compared to just taking a few parts and throwing the rest away. And as a result, each resource goes further. And it encourages us to be creative.

This “whole” principle is something everyone can benefit from. For our health and for our entire approach to life. (Look into Permaculture as a whole life principle for similar ideas.)

I don’t do all this myself, obviously.

For a while I was making almost every single food item from scratch down to the condiments. And I dabbled in sewing and clothes making. I did a Permaculture Design certificate, and I started flirting with the idea of homesteading in some form.

I didn’t stick with all that. Now I’m dabbling in being a city-slicker, and I’m travelling so I clearly don’t grow my own food right now — but experimenting with it, paying attention, learning about it and growing through it… it all shaped me and the way I view everything now.

Now I’m looking out for creative new ways of living that take the best of all worlds, the old and the new. Again, it’s not either/or. And I don’t have answers — but I have new ways of framing my questions.


3. Tune In

One of the main reasons a lot of people start on Paleo or some derivative of it, is because they feel like something isn’t right in their bodies. Perhaps it’s specific diseases that set them on the path, or perhaps it’s certain intolerances, or maybe it’s just a general feeling that the way they are eating and living just isn’t letting them be their best selves.

Whatever starts it, the common thread is that people are listening to their bodies. They are tuning in. And that continues, even more so, after starting on the Paleo path.

The whole lifestyle encourages you to tune in. To listen to your body. To understand what is going on inside for yourself, and address it yourself. You start listening to how you feel when you eat or do certain things. And then you respond. You adjust.

And this might continue forever. You experience might change over time, as you respond to bodily feedback.

That might seem like hard work. And it is — at first. Because it’s not really something we are used to. The irony of the surfeit of information available to us these days, is that we tend to rely on other people to understand it for us. We rely on ‘officials’ to tell us what to eat, doctors to tell us when we are sick and what to do about it, governments to control what is even available to us…

We have turned off the feedback system.

And so turning it on again is a learning curve. First we have to learn how to listen. Then we have to learn to interpret what we are hearing. And then we have to re-learn what we can do about it. All while recalibrating to understand what health and balance actually feels like.

And this is a principle that we could all benefit from. Not just in food, but in all areas of life. In taking care of the earth, our families, our careers and passions…

We have forgotten how to trust ourselves. We have forgotten that everything is connected & can work together if we let it.

(And that’s why in the end I ‘abandoned’ strict Paleo, because all set systems have their limits, and I choose to leave the labels behind in favour of listening to myself and observing the feedback system in my own body and in life. I’m still on a journey to learn this lesson — and always will be. That’s the point.)


4. Fire

This might seem like a bit of an abstract principle, and not one that I’ve necessarily seen espoused in the Paleo world. But it something that just felt right to add here.

There is something about fire that I think we are missing in our lives. Something that I think has been instinctively known, historically or culturally, and naturally incorporated.

So am I going literally caveman on you, here?

Sort of. I’m not going to say you should start cooking everything on a open fire –- though I’m not not saying that either.

But there is more to it…

Fire is cleansing, purifying. It clears out rubbish. It is a catalyst for new growth. It provides warmth, light, energy, comfort, entertainment — who hasn’t been mesmerised by a campfire? There is something magical about it that can absorb you for hours.

Something changes about a space when physical flames are present.

I’m not going pretend to back this up with scientific research. But there is something elemental about fire that I think we need in fundamental ways, just like we need water and air. (And I don’t think it’s a co-incidence that fire, water & air are all metaphors for Spirit.)

Fire challenges our desire to control everything, to have instant everything. It’s raw and natural — and, honestly, beyond most people’s understanding. What exactly is fire anyway? Why is fire?

And it draws people. Brings people to sit side-by-side or across the fire from each other. It slows us down and draws out conversation, reflection, celebration, ceremony. We all connect to this source-of-life feeling it provides.

So light some candles. Light your open fire. Gathering around a brazier on your patio. Build a fire pit. Go camping and watch the flames.

Connect, value, tune in. And tie it all together with fire. Those are the principles of life that we can all benefit from, no matter who we are, where we are, or how we choose to live.

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