Our ancestors evolved over millions of years under specific, oftentimes harsh, environmental conditions. These conditions—which included such things as (just to name a few) the types of available food, sun exposure, a specific quality and quantity of sleep, community dynamics, and natural movement for day-to-day survival—ultimately shaped our collective genome. And while our environment has changed greatly (for better and worse) over the last 10,000 years, the human genome has changed relatively little.
In fact, that our genome has changed little in relation to an altogether novel modern environment requires that we make specific lifestyle choices to optimize health and wellness. The evolutionary perspective implies that our bodies and minds were built not only to survive, but to thrive, under conditions similar to those in which we evolved.
Does optimum health require "a return to the cave and spear"? Hardly. The evolutionary perspective is not about re-enacting the past; it is about finding truths in our evolutionary past, and using these truths to enlighten and enrich our modern lifestyles. Doing so allows our bodies to function in the manner in which they evolved: toward burning fat and building muscle; toward longevity and wellness; and away from fat storage, muscle wasting, disease, and illness.
How does the evolutionary perspective translate to practical guidelines? Although a full answer to this question is extensive and complex, we can offer some suggestions. We call these the Paleo pillars of health:
- Eat real, nutrient-dense food. Eat: meat, fish, and eggs; fruits and vegetables; nuts and seeds. Prioritize (within your means) fresh and local foods. Avoid: Grains, added sweeteners, modern vegetable oils, and other industrial, processed foods.
- Sleep well. Get 7-9 hours of deep, restful, uninterrupted sleep per night, in darkness.
- Move like a human. Incorporate some forms of movement in your routine, including walking and resistance movement. Move not out of obligation but as an expression of your humanity.
- Find joy and purpose. Live in a way that brings joy to your daily life, and connect yourself to a deeper purpose.
- Do what works for you. Treat these guidelines as a flexible template, not a rigid prescription. Find your own path, experiment, think critically, and don’t sweat the minor details.
It’s worth emphasizing the last pillar. We are all different. As individuals, we come from different backgrounds, have different goals, different life circumstances, and different bodies. What works for one person’s health may not for another. There is an expression in the paleo community, "n=1 experiment", used to emphasize that each of us must experiment to find out what works best for us. In health, there is simply no one-size-fits-all approach.
There are many nuances, of course, to this basic overview -- a complete view of human health is large, multifaceted, and holistic. It is informed by newly-emerging science, the rich context of our evolutionary past, a tapestry of social factors, and personal experience. And a complete picture of human health, like science itself, is always a work in progress: as new information surfaces, the picture is refined.
Our intent is to serve as a gateway and clearinghouse for cutting-edge, credible information about health, with perspectives from the brightest minds in the Paleo movement. We invite you to explore our site and learn.
The Bottom Line…
Don't let the perfect get in the way of the good. Make the best choices you can for your circumstances and don't sweat small details. Eat within your own n=1 template and do what works best for you. Don’t worry about what someone else tells you is the best or what they do, as if it's gospel, this is a lifestyle not a religion. Try something new and if it works, do it, if it doesn't, leave it and move on. No harm, no foul. There is no one size fits all when it comes to diet, health and nutrition, you need to find what works best for you. Start within this template and branch out. Strive to be the best human you can be every day and share the message. "Heal thyself, harden thyself, change the world."
Some good resources to get you started:
Information and Recipes:
- Mark's Daily Apple
- Practical Paleo
- Paleo Parents
- Against All Grain
- RobB Wolf
- Whole 9 Life
- Nom Nom Paleo
- Nutrition WOD