Monday, April 30, 2012

The Spirituality In Paleo

Living a Paleolithic lifestyle, while maybe not 100% possible in a modern world of ease and convenience, extends far beyond eating habits. In fact, in the last two years (my year spent weening down from dairy, gluten, and processed foods, and my year eating as full-on Paleo as I can), I've discovered that it is far more a spiritual experience than a simple "diet".

Yep, these are living things, too
Paleo v Vegan:
Vegetarianism/Veganism gets a lot of notoriety for being a "socially conscience" lifestyle. After all, many Eastern religions discourage the eating of animals for several different philosophical reasons. The other day, I read an article putting Paleo up against Vegan, as these two trends have been skyrocketing in the public's awareness. One line from it, a shot fired from the Vegan side, went something like this: "There is a cycle of life (and death) of which we all are a part, and my way of eating honors that." To qualify as "vegan" means to eat absolutely no foods produced in any way by animals (meat, dairy, eggs, all shades of gray in there). I can understand why this makes sense to this nutritionist, but I can't in good conscience agree with her. First, just because meat is being avoided doesn't mean that a Vegan is eating good food or a balanced diet, and may be eating higher quantities of foods with strong defense mechanisms (grains, legumes, soy), effectively ruining any purported health benefits of the diet. Second, in order for living things to survive, they must at some point consume something else that was or is living, and to assume that plants do not fit into the category of "living things" is, frankly, naive. Plants too have a process of growth, absorption of nutrients, production, and death, and they too have a role to play in The Universe. So why are they okay to eat, but not animal products?

Paleo, by its virtues, touts ethical and humane treatment of any animals that serve as "food suppliers", with the understanding that if the animal ingests something chemical and/or unhealthy, it will make its way into us, and cause just as many problems for us as it did them. That is what has led many of my friends that engaged in Vegetarian/Vegan eating habits to transition to Paleo without looking back. They learned how to eat without guilt, knowing the ins and outs of their animal products. Humans are omnivores; we have teeth and digestive systems built to consume both animals and plants. Deal with it. Instead of believing that all animal meats and foods are bad for you because of chemicals or "bad cholesterol" or whatever antiquated 1950s-Eisenhower-heart-attack-era attitudes that have burrowed into you brain tell you, how about you do a little research into who's supplying your food and how your body will really use that food? Instead of denying your body the fuel it needs because you feel guilty for eating an animal you've anthropomorphized into a Disney character, how about you focus instead on making your Life as balanced and virtuous as you can, thereby honoring the Life you had to take from someone/something else?

A Spiritual Understanding:
Fasting in particular has always had spiritual, mythical, or religious overtones to it. When applied to Paleo, it has specific health benefits (brain function, nutrient absorption, detoxification, even weight loss). In my experience, Intermittent Fasting is about deciding to do something (or in this case, not do something) for a specific amount of time that forces me to think in different ways and examine more closely what I'm trying to ignore or forgetting completely by distracting myself with the act of eating. That leads to some pretty startling revelations. Before Paleo, I wouldn't have dared a fast for fear of how awful I might feel without food, but once I started understanding what foods were making me feel bad all the time anyway (grains) and what foods I should be eating to sustain myself during the time I have no foods coming in, I approached my first fast with some excitement, and have made it a regular part of my life. It's become a treasured routine, time I can spend coming to new conclusions about certain things...

What a Paleo lifestyle, fasting included, has offered me is a unique and yet universal insight into the nature of Life. There is a finite amount of Energy that exists, and any of it being used at any given time must come from someone/something that is no longer using it. What makes it worth it is when that Energy is being put to good use. It may seem as mundane as "eating the right foods to properly power your workout", but peeling the layers shows how much goes into that:

  • The Energy you expend during your workout is preventing a litany of health problems-- you could use your Energy to move your ass now or use it to fight cancer later, but you're going to use it at some point
  • The interactions you have with people through your exercise may lead to drastic changes-- I've gotten job offers because I was in a kickboxing class with particular people and struck up conversations. I've also been motivated to improve parts of my life because others around had found a way of being happy and successful all at the same time
  • The money you save from not eating grains/gluten, dairy, soy, legumes, and processed garbage (all of which tend to be addicting, thereby costing you even more in the long run) goes directly into the budget you have for eating grassfed meats, vegetables, fruits, nuts, berries, fats, and spices
  • The circumstances that provide you money to fund your food budget may need to be examined under a harsher microscope-- my old job was making me absolutely miserable, adding a layer of stress into grocery shopping and even eating food. I have since quit that job and am pursuing new ways of making my original passions financially practical

The Take-Away:
Living Paleo has, for me, become about the larger picture: the quality of food I eat (and in many cases, the quality of food my food was eating); the amount of waste I can prevent (think of all the food in your pantry that's in a box-- that box has to be thrown out at some point...); the job I want to have to pay for my food; the energy I'll have from eating well and how I can apply it to The World. For as much discipline and introspection as it takes to understand how Your Body performs on a daily basis, Paleo presents an opportunity to see all the things that support You.

Does Slim Fast do that?

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