Professional caveman John Durant makes a pretty convincing argument for eating like hunter-gathers. "Anybody with a lot of inflammation, rheumatoid arthritis, allergies, they would do very well on the paleo diet. Anybody overweight, I mean, name your medical problem-I feel like a snake oil salesman." Cure-all or not, it doesn't hurt that Durant himself is outgoing, energetic and fit, a kind of walking advertisement for his lifestyle. He is the author of the blog Hunter-Gatherer.com, and is writing a book with the working title Live Wild: A Survival Guide to the Modern World.
The basic idea behind the paleolithic diet, also known as the caveman diet, is that humans are best adapted to eat and live like hunter-gatherers before the time of the agricultural revolution. "If you look at these hunter-gatherer cultures, in reports that date back to the 19th century and early 20th century, they're actually remarkably healthy," says Durant. Followers of the paleo lifestyle argue that the agricultural revolution led to a marked decline in health, in part due to less diverse sources of nutrients. "Our diet became very narrow, very quickly. We went from eating a wide variety of animal foods and plant foods driven by seasonal eating, to a very narrow set of foods."
By modern standards, some might find the paleo diet limited to a narrow set of foods as well. Those following the paleo diet eschew sugars, grain, processed foods, legumes, and most fruits. However, this leaves a diversity of vegetables, tubers, meats and seafood. There are no recommended serving sizes and no calorie counting. Instead, followers are advised to pay attention to their body's signals of hunger and thirst.
Durant has been eating this way for about four and a half years. After taking his first desk job out of college, he began to have trouble staying awake and his weight crept up. "I was falling asleep during the day, my energy level would spike and crash," he says. "Not just my energy level but my mood." He began looking for a healthy way to improve his energy level, when he read an essay by Art De Vany, one of the founders of the paleo movement. "I started implementing it and I got very good results."
Among these good results, Durant lists an improvement in his complexion, dropping about 25 pounds over the course of about two months and an improvement in his mood. "My energy evened out and got higher, that took about a week."
Going paleo involves more than just changing how you eat, it involves embracing a "wilder" lifestyle. For a man who lives and works in New York City, this means getting plenty of sleep, regular exercise and some sun exposure. Durant recommends doing a variety of physical activities to "use lots of different muscles and vary things." He does CrossFit training in addition to going to the gym, and also enjoys barefoot running in Central Park.
After giving me a recommendation for upgrading my barefoot running sandals, Durant explained why he likes the real deal more than huaraches or Vibrams Five Fingers. "It requires you to be in the moment a little more. A lot of runners really run to zone out," he says. "That's enjoyable too if you want to zone out and not think about anything. If you're barefoot running you're much more likely to zone in, and focus. Very few or I would venture to say no barefoot runners run with headphones on." For anyone new to barefoot running, Durant recommends that you take it slowly, run less than a mile at a time, and pay attention to foot pain. "You actually get good feedback from your body. If you land on your heels, it will hurt, it won't feel good. That pain is a signal to say, 'don't do it that way.' "
While working on his blog and book, Durant uses a counter as a stand-up desk, which can be also be fashioned from stacked tables. Like barefoot running, it may take some time to adjust to standing for several hours at a time. The diet, however, shouldn't be done gradually. Durant says that it's easy to find caveman food at the local grocery store, just as long as you stick to meats and whole veggies. "I don't venture into the inner isles, that's the pit of death."