Why I'm Not a Paleo Perfectionist
Whenever I decline to eat something repeatedly (cake, bagels, cookies) I often get asked why? When I explain that I eat Paleo, I almost always get the response "I could never eat like that." Further delving into the reasons why said person could never eat "like that" often reveals that people don't think they can live without bread, can't afford grass-fed meats, or have been unsuccessful at giving up sugar. These folks are all paralyzed by Paleo perfectionism...and most of them haven't even given Paleo a shot yet!
These are the people that think they will:
- Never be able to touch a grain again.
- Never be able to eat meat that hasn’t been properly raised (grass-fed, free-range, etc).
- Never be able to eat produce that is not organic and locally grown.
- Never be able to eat refined seed oils.
- Never be able to eat sugar - or anything that looks, tastes, or acts like sugar.
They think that if they break any of these "rules," they're doing it wrong, they have failed, and why even bother if you can't do it right...right?
When switching to Paleo it's important to remember that the foods you eliminate as part of a Paleo approach are those that are doing the most harm to your body. Therefore by simply eliminating grains, beans, refined seed oils, sugar/sweeteners, and grain-fed/pasteurized dairy products you are most of the way to achieving optimal health on a Paleo diet.
Paleo is more about eating real, whole, unrefined, unprocessed, and nutrient-dense foods than it is about striving to achieve any level of perfection. Fretting over the more trivial points of hacking every aspect of your diet is probably doing you more harm than good. Even if you are doing everything right nutritionally, stress can undo all the nutritional benefits of a clean diet. Stressing over your diet very likely makes you less healthy than taking a few bites of dark chocolate, eating a non-organic apple, or enjoying a grain-fed steak. Life isn't just about being healthy, it's about actually being able to enjoy being healthy! Just Eat Real Food.
I definitely don't want you to think that I'm saying that eating bagels for breakfast every morning is healthy, because it's not. However, in the context of switching from a Pop Tarts or highly-processed, sugar coated cereal everyday to something that requires a little time and effort to create, is a huge step in the right direction even if it's not Paleo perfect.
My approach tends to be that I do the best I can with what I've got. I try not to stress about the details when they don't matter or are difficult to control. I don't always buy the highest quality meats or organic vegetables (we're on a bit of a budget right now), but I do pay attention to how everything I put in my mouth makes me feel. If I have a bite of something "non-Paleo" and it makes me feel miserable, I'll definitely think twice before I put it in my mouth again.
Right now I'm purposely eating some non-Paleo things as I am following a plan from Christine at Gauge Girl Training. Everything I am eating is gluten-free, but I'm eating some grains (mostly rice, a little GF oatmeal, and the occasional piece of GF bread) and am feeling good. This plan has also been a good exercise for me in paying attention to how I feel as well as not beating myself up over not following my own self-created food ideals.
My Paleo priorities lie first in eating the most nutrient dense, least processed food I can find and second in getting the food that is high quality. I try not to get stressed out over the finer points of Paleo perfectionism because what's the point?!? At the end of the day I need to balance what is good for my body with what is good for my mind (sometimes those things seem very opposite) and not waste precious energy stressed about a perfectionist food ideal that doesn't really exist!