Question: Nik, when do you go "off the wagon"?
I routinely go off the "strict Paleo" wagon. Don't get me wrong; I don't zing off-piste willy-nilly. I'm very careful and considered about when it's OK for me to venture outside the land of true Paleo foods.
As an example, I'll talk about when I indulge in a bag of chips.
The idea that any Paleo person will eat potato chips elicits a gasp of horror. "My God, won't chips immediately add 6 lbs to your waistline, tear your guts apart, and reduce you to a quivering mass of modern day human jelly?" For me, no. Here's why:
A few days a week I do a short workout of running up a steep hill with a 35 lb backpack (my paraglider). It's about a 7 minute push, and during that time I'll start to edge my heart rate and general workload up near the top of what I can handle.
Once I get to the top, I'll lay out my wing and launch into the sky, flying for an average of 45 minutes.
This entire exercise taxes both my body (running with weight) and my brain (flying is a sport of complexity and consequence.)
You might think that the physical and mental workout is the only justification for eating a bag of chips, but there's more.
The paragliding community in San Diego is a small one, and on any given day I'll spend 20 minutes to an hour talking to other pilots on launch. We talk about the weather, conditions at the site, the glory of participating in a sport that requires us to be outside in beautiful places.
Without being all geeky and scientific, we're engaging in the human need for community. This social aspect is an additional buffer against going "off Paleo". Being surrounded by friends and actively engaging in enjoyable social interaction decreases our stress and can protect us against less-than-optimal food choices.
The last aspect of "protection" comes from time in nature. We humans evolved to be in nature, to be exposed to the elements of wind and sun. Paragliding requires at least one of those and usually both. Every time I fly I get lots of sun exposure, lots of wind on my face, and lots of general time in nature. We fly with birds of prey, swifts, and enjoy truly magnificent and awe-inspiring views, all things that trigger a positive "time in nature" evolutionary response.
Now, that's not to say you can sunbathe with your bestie and eat a tub of ice-cream without penalty; friends and "time in nature" won't offset something like dairy plus lots of sugar. Still, enjoyable time with others and experiencing nature are powerful allies in allowing you to widen your range of digestible foods.
On some of those flying days, on the way home, I'll get an intense hunger for a bag of chips. I'm pretty sure that's a signal from my body and brain that I need a fast blast of energy plus salt, and I'll listen to that. I've noticed the signal is more powerful on days that require a lot of thought in the sky, whether it's from flying a new site, choosing a challenging "line" to fly, or being in "active air" where you're getting bumped and thrown around more than usual.
As I've written about before, eating is emotional, and this is no exception. The key to indulging emotional eating is to be aware of it and to pair it with more than just an emotional driver. Physical and mental challenge, time with friends, and time in nature is a great combination to both trigger an emotion and react to that emotion.
Admittedly the most powerful aspects are the physical and mental challenges, but friends and and nature are not trivial pieces of the puzzle.
As long as I'm eating immediately after the combination of physical and mental challenge, I can digest a far wider range of food than normal. This was something I learned after consulting with sports nutritionist Barry Murray, although his recommendation was for "healthier" foods.
While it's probably healthier to have a can of tuna, some macadamia nuts, and a handful of berries, it's way easier and basically without penalty (for me) to eat a bag of chips. So that's what I do.
This Paleo thing is more than just a strict list of foods, it's learning to listen and work with the miracle we've been given of 2 millions years of evolution leading to the body we're in.
Enjoy your body, your food, and your life!
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