My Primal Nutrition Routine And The '80% Rule'
I want to focus this blog on my nutrition routine, which I believe is the most important part of a healthy lifestyle. In primal/paleo circles, the rule of thumb for optimizing your health is to focus about 80% on nutrition, 10% on exercise, and 10% on other factors (sleep, sunlight, socialization, meditation, etc.). This is similar to the Pareto Principle, or the 80/20 rule, that states that roughly 80% of the effects are due to 20% of the causes. But you get the biggest bang for your buck from the dietary component.
I have been on a Primal/Paleo diet for the past 5+ years. When I first read “The Primal Blueprint” by Mark Sisson, his hypothesis made tons of sense to me, so I decided to go for his dietary recommendations and give them a try. In my mind, I was going to adopt about 80% of these, but allow myself 20% of my dietary habits that I did not want to give up. I did that for a few months with great results - pounds came off effortlessly, I got more definition and lean muscle mass, and I felt great! Today I am about 98% Primal. Let me tell you what I do on a day to day basis when it comes to my nutrition.
First some theory on what it means to eat a Primal/Paleo diet. Many people I talk to about this say, “so you eat tons of protein and nothing much else, right?” Wrong. This diet is primarily a high-fat, low-carb diet. Another way I like to describe it is a no grains, no sugar diet.
That gets people thinking - “so I can’t have any bread?” Nope, no bread. “What about pasta, or pizza?” I don’t eat pasta or pizza, except on the occasion that I am stuck at a birthday party for my son or daughter I eat the tops off the pizza and throw the rest of it out. “But what about whole grains in cereal, those are good right?” But what nutritional value do you get from a grain? And what are the negative effects of eating them? Check out Mark’s blog on this topic. I have eliminated ALL grains from my diet. I also try to significantly limit my sugar intake too.
Once you eliminate grains, most sugar sources, processed foods and/or toxic foods covered in pesticides, and industrial seed oils (which cause inflammation) from your diet, there is a caloric gap. The question is, what can you eat - how do you stay satiated?
That’s where the healthy fats come in. Dr. Mercola has a few articles on what healthy fats are here and here to give you some ideas. The best part about eating more fat is that it keeps you feeling fuller, far longer. You can actually skip meals without your body craving something sugary quick.
Fat is the building block of your cells, and you need high-quality fat to manufacture these. Here’s another unintuitive statement: you have to eat fat to burn fat. Did you catch that? If you are on a low fat diet and getting fat, this is part of what you may be doing wrong and the key to weight loss.
If you want to supercharge your weight loss, then you can go into Ketosis - think of this as a tool to accelerate the fat burning machinery and transition faster to a fat burner. You can also experiment with intermittent fasting (IF). The way I incorporate IF into my nutrition plan is with intention: every Thursday, I skip my breakfast (only coffee) and take a shake with me to work. The time between my last meal (we eat early most evenings and are done around 6 pm) and my first (may be 12 pm or later the next day) is a fast - and your fat burning engine kids into overdrive.
So they key is to make an effective transition from fat burner to sugar burner, and this is a metabolic transformation you will need to undertake. Make that transition by eliminating sugar and grains (the latter are converted into glucose causing an insulin response), and adding in lots of healthy fats and moderate amounts of high quality protein sources (organic, grass fed, free range if you are meat eater). Then get your carbs from organic fruits and vegetables.
What are some of the healthy fat sources that I incorporate into my diet? Here are a few: oily fish, high quality animal fat (protein source but I don’t shy away from the fat), avocado oil, avocados, olive oil, seeds (hemp, chia, flax, etc.) nuts (many types including almonds, cashews, pecans, walnuts, etc.), nut butters (I favor almond butter), grass fed butter, eggs (protein source and healthy fat), coconut oil, brain octane oil (Bulletproof product), dark chocolate (85-90% dark is far higher in fat and very low in sugar), high-fat dairy. There are many others I am likely missing but these are some of the essentials.
I buy many of these great foods and supplemental nutrients from Thrive Market. Please check out Thrive if you want to get amazing deals on a wide variety of Primal/Paleo products!
If you are trying to make the transition from sugar burner to fat burner you will need to eat larger meals during the transition phase, and keep many great healthy snacks around. I like nuts and nut butters mentioned above as well as Epic meat bars to keep me going for my snack foods.
What does my daily nutrition routine look like today? Here is a snapshot:
- Bulletproof coffee (two cups daily) served with healthy fats, including coconut oil, Brain Octane Oil (a Bulletproof product), grass fed butter of ghee, collagen hydrosolate, and a pinch of Himalayan sea salt. Check out Thrive for some of these products.
- I love my daily shake that I make in the Nutribullet, made with berries or other fruit, avocado, spinach, olive oil and/or avocado oil, butter, almond butter, almond milk and/or coconut milk, whey protein, nuts (cashew, almond, pecan, or walnut), seeds (hemp, chia, flax), powders (cocoa, Maca), two raw eggs (free range), and sometimes dark chocolate.
- I may eat this any time from 7 am to 12 pm.
Lunch/afternoon “snack" routine:
- Epic meat bar - these guys have an amazing support for animals raised on open pastures, sustainable land use, and make a great quality product
- Nuts - usually roasted cashews (I roast these myself in avocado oil and add Himalayan sea salt)
- Sometimes a small salad with mostly veggies and with olive oil and a splash of balsamic if I am more hungry
- This is more of a snack than a meal, and is really just to get me through to the bigger dinner meal
- I generally stay away from most salad dressings which are full of industrial seed oils and can be rancid and/or highly inflammatory.
- Most nights there is a “high-quality” meat protein source, we shop a lot at good quality groceries for chicken, fish, steak, pork, turkey, etc. - these are typically grilled with a coating of avocado oil and some spices, or baked with coconut flour and spices.
- We always have a vegetable, and we do grill often, usually coating the vegetable in avocado oil and spices, but sometimes steamed or as part of a dish like Vegetti (vegetable pasta). Try grilling fresh squash, eggplant, onions, peppers, or asparagus in a grill basket and experiment with the spices!
- We used to but no longer serve a starch, as a way to cut back on grains and/or carbs that we no longer find very useful.
- I end most dinners with a scoop of almond butter and a small scoop of ice cream (this is my 2%), as well as a couple of squares of ultra-dark chocolate.
- I will also drink a glass of high quality, no sugar, no additive dry farmed wine with dinner most nights.
So how does nutrition play a role in your life? What sorts of dieting experiences have you had that worked well for you? Feel free to leave a comment below.
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