The 5 Lessons You Can Learn From The Paleo Diet To Improve Your Life

At Paleo f(x), the hunt (and gather) is on for clues to the next stage of human evolution.

Lou Schuler |

This wasn’t what I expected to find at paleo f(x), the world’s largest gathering of paleo enthusiasts (people who harvest habits from the past to avoid the diseases of modern civilisation). The youth and vitality of the attendees was the first surprise. There would be more revelations from trainers, chefs, and doctors. What they all had in common: a hunger for the latest info on fitness, nutrition, weight loss, and health. Here are five wild takeaways:

Related: 6 Weird Things That Happen to Your Body When You Go on the Paleo Diet

Lesson 1: You Are What You Don’t Eat

Arthur De Vany, a retired UC Irvine economics professor, is just shy of his 80th birthday when he takes the stage at Paleo f(x). But he looks much younger. De Vany developed his own version of the paleo diet in the ’70s – the Stone Age of nutrition – and is one of its most charismatic advocates. “My diet hasn’t changed in 40 years,” he says. “The first ingredient is nothing.” It’s not really nothing; he might have a turkey leg and a slab of honeydew melon for breakfast, and a steak and salad for dinner.

But it’s those eight hours without food that De Vany says does the most to slow his biological clock. Eating triggers the release of insulin, which – among many other functions – helps your body store carbs, fat, and protein. But when your body is in storage mode, it can’t effectively break down the old or malfunctioning proteins that clutter our cells. For that, De Vany says, we use a class of proteins known as FOXO (short for Forkhead box O, which, yes, could be the name of your weird cousin’s garage band).

Related: 8 Fatty Foods You’ve Been Warned Against, But Should Definitely Eat Anyway

FOXOs are the Star Chamber of cellular metabolism, acting as judge, jury, and executioner to choose which proteins live and die through a process called autophagy – cells eating other cells for the benefit of the organism (you). “Aging is damage that isn’t repaired,” he says. Much of that damage is self-inflicted, the result of eating too much and too often, with too little time between meals for cells to recover. The obvious solution is to eat less food and fewer meals. But how in the world do we do that?

Lesson 2: Eat Less By Filling Up More

Menno Henselmans of Bayesian Bodybuilding is a Dutch trainer with less body fat than a stick figure. His presentation focused on eating less without counting calories. The best way to beat the hungrier angels of our nature: eat foods that are more filling, and practise mindful eating.

Step 1: enjoy your food, and don’t eat in front of the TV or your computer. Henselmans’ surprise: you can’t just eat more protein and expect to eat less of everything else. He says protein, if you’re exceeding the recommended intake (1.2 to 1.4g per kilogram of your target body weight daily), is not always more satiating than carbs or fat. A good tactic is to eat meals that fill your stomach, activating its fullness sensors without a lot of calories. A hearty soup loaded with fibre-rich vegetables is a good example. Consistency also matters. The thicker something is, the more filling it will be, even if the calories are the same. Example: a bowl of cottage cheese fills you up more than a glass of milk.

Related: William Banting’s Belly Off Diet

Lesson 3: Run On Empty (But Lift Full)

Another downside of high-frequency eating is that we give our bodies less of a chance to use stored fat for energy, says exercise physiologist Mike T. Nelson, whose presentation promised to turn attendees into “fat-burning beasts”. Nelson recommends doing low-intensity cardio on an empty stomach, preferably first thing in the morning. Start with a 30-minute walk or jog and build up from there. A new study in the journal Sports Medicine notes that fasted cardio burns more fat while you’re doing it than unfasted cardio; plus, over the long term, it trains your body to use more fat for energy.

Lesson 4: Go Negative For Positive Results

The biggest challenge at Paleo f(x), with 100 speakers and 230 vendors, is figuring out the best place to be at any given moment. Every choice precludes all the other choices, not to mention the opportunity to bump into someone randomly in the labyrinth of booths and workout spaces.

Case in point: I’m watching a Brazilian jiu-jitsu demo when I see exercise scientist Jonathan Mike. I’d missed his presentation on eccentric training (also known as negatives, or the lowering phase of a lift) because it was at the same time as De Vany’s talk. (Coincidentally, De Vany is a big proponent of negatives.) Mike gets me to try the ARX machine, which trainer Chris Bever describes as “a magic barbell that gets as heavy as you need it to be” on the eccentric portion of each rep. Feeling my muscles strain, and watching them shake, shows me just how hard negatives can be.

Related: How To Set Weight Loss Goals

The benefit, Mike explains, is that negatives activate more satellite cells in your muscles, leading to greater muscle gains and more strength. Additional muscle fibres are recruited for heavier loads during resistance training. “You can manipulate the eccentric component with just about any exercise,” he adds, although it’s easiest with lower-body machines like the leg press, leg extension, leg curl, and calf raise. One example is the 2/1 technique: just lift a relatively heavy weight with both legs, and then lower it slowly with one.

Lesson 5: Embrace The New Until It Gets Old

In a session titled “Advanced Brain Hacking for Cognitive Performance”, Ben Greenfield, an endurance athlete and human performance consultant, runs through a mind-blowing collection of technology, chemicals, and practices that might make you smarter – if you have all the time in the world to try them. But what resonates is his advice: seek novelty. Paleo f(x) is, if nothing else, a three-day celebration of the new, under the auspices of a movement deeply invested in a time when brain hacking was something you did with a blunt object. (Next year the name will change to Health f(x), perhaps for that reason.) And nothing was more novel than my encounter with the pregnant camel.

Remember the old joke that a camel is a horse designed by a committee? Show me a committee clever enough to bioengineer a half-ton animal that can not only survive in the desert for long stretches without food or water, but also help smaller, weaker creatures like us survive by producing a uniquely probiotic-rich milk. Thanks to Desert Farms, an Los Angeles company with a network of camel farms across the United States, I got my first taste. It wasn’t the only novelty food I tried that weekend; I also had wild boar jerky, along with meat from just about every animal you can plausibly claim to be grass-fed, hormone-free, and never forced to wait in line at the traffic department.

Related: 6 Easy Ways to Lose Weight Without Counting Calories

But nothing hit the spot quite like that pint of camel’s milk,  which was lighter and sweeter than I expected, with no aftertaste. At R300 for 500ml, camel’s milk is out of my price range, along with a lot of the other stuff I saw or tasted. But it did give me a chance to imagine a future with abundant options. And it inspired me to try something new every day – or as often as possible.

  • Head ‘Em Up!: Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’: Attendees of Paleo f(x) race on stationary bikes at the Drinkmaple water booth.
  • Drome-Dairy: Desert Farms sells pasteurised camel milk, plus camel milk kefir and colostrum from pregnant camels.
  • Balanced Meals: Like Mom said, “Drink your vegetables!” Bonafide Provisions also offers a range of bone broths.


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