The longest day has long passed and the autumn leaves are fast disappearing as well, and on the 28th of this month the clocks go back here in the UK.
Winter is coming.
As the dark, cold and wet(ter) months descend, it can prove hard to maintain motivation. Those of the paleo persuasion face the extra challenges of several festive holidays, the withering of (conveniently paleo friendly…) barbecue season and the challenge of successfully navigating the problem dinner parties, office parties and family gatherings can pose to a paleo diet.
Consider this an attempt to provide you with a guide to surviving – and thriving- over the next few months, and to maintaining and improving upon your healthy paleo lifestyle.
Winter, with its depressing weather, tempting festivities and seasonal treats can be an awkward season to stay true to the paleo diet. For others, it won’t be the type of food that’s the problem, but the amount – more bacon banana almond butter donuts just become far more tempting in the midst of winter, as does a hot plate of seconds of whatever paleo meal you’ve just had.
Keeping a food diary of what you eat is a good means of providing yourself with accountability and a reminder of why you’re eating the way we do in the first place. At the worst, it can be used as a log to show you where you are going wrong – what foods you’re eating the most of when you shouldn’t be and how much and often you’re eating and when. This can be used to make informed changes in your diet.
Learning to cook is something I aim to take more seriously, and I think winter is the perfect time to increase your culinary expertise. Not only are there more excuses to cook for yourself and other people, it can make a great past time in itself if you throw together a meal from scratch with friends or family.
While keeping a detailed track of what you eat, and learning to cook certainly need not be limited to winter, for those who don’t already do so, these can be the perfect constants needed in winter to help you maintain your healthy lifestyle.
Winter is the time for quality over quantity. Respond to the worse weather and increased darkness by getting the most out of the time you are putting into working out. Go for heavier weights and less reps. Swap that jog for sprint work. Replace your casual bike ride with a shorter hill session instead. Decreased time focused on working out does not have to equal decreased results, and on the contrary, can result in the opposite. Shorter weight sessions with heavier weights have been shown to be best for putting on muscle, while the fast and furious four minutes of tabata training are as effective at increasing fitness and longer runs, and higher intensity training can burn more calories in less time through increasing you metabolism.
If needs be, go with the season. Winter could be the perfect time to try your hand at new sports. Outdoor winter walks. Sledging. Skiing. Skating. Ice hockey. Access to these will necessarily be dependant on your location, but with a bit of determination and imagination there is little excuse to miss out on sports over winter. Even if you have to retreat indoors, there’s plenty to pick from. Squash, badminton, swimming, indoor football – give something new a go. Sprints on the track in the rain and hail on a dark winters morning may not appeal to many, but going indoors need not mean consigning yourself to the gym.
Go tribal. Working out with others may add the increased motivation and accountability that you need in winter to keep you on track. Consider enlisting a friend to workout with or try a new sport with – you never know, you may also be able to win a paleo convert!
Use the right gear. Those outdoorsy types amongst you may have heard the phrase “There is no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing.” I doubt whoever said that first had tried maintaining a winter running habit in the mountains of west Wales. However, the right gear does help, and investing in the right clothing for your physical activity of choice makes braving the elements all the more easier.
Train for something. I train hardest when I’m training towards something, and I’m certainly no exception. Look for a winter event in your area to help keep your training focused.
FESTIVITIES AND GATHERINGS
There are two key points to bear in mind when approaching social occasions
- Its okay to say “No.”
- The Six P’s: Prior Preparations Prevents Poor Paleo Performance.
Firstly, saying No. Many don’t like to do, and it can raise some eyebrows in a social gathering when you’re that person that has turned down the spaghetti with the bolognese, or is taking the meat burger but leaving the buns at the barbeque. Often in the past, and sometimes still in the present, social gatherings like dinner parties and group meals out were when I employed the 20% rule, and allowed myself to go with the flow as it were. But I am steadily becoming more hardened in my approach. Friends in my social group who avoid certain foods on religious grounds are not dismissed as following some dietary fad, and the result of my decision to pursue a healthy lifestyle should not be either. In a similar vein, vegetarians rarely have to justify themselves at each sitting, nor is it unexpected to have to cater for their needs.
Now, I’m not saying that I do -or that you should- dictate where to eat with friends, or make self centred demands of the host. Instead, just remember that we are not eating an unusual diet or making strange lifestyle choices – everyone else is. It’s okay to say no to that home made punch, ask to skip those starters, not have seconds or to warn the host you’ll be bringing your own dessert. And this brings me to the second point – Prior Preparation.
There are several things you can do to prepare for any planned social gatherings:
- Calorific restriction / calorific cycling: Lower your food intake the day before and after to balance out your indulgences. For those who intermittent fast, this is an easy one, just throw in an IF day before and after. For those who do not intermittent fast, perhaps winter is the perfect time for you to start experimenting….
- Boost your metabolism: Its impossible to outrun your appetite, but you can help counter indulging in excess food by increasing the amount of calories your body burns by firing up your metabolism through short, sharp and intense workouts. (Sprints, or a heavy weight session for instance).
- Line your stomach: If the social gathering isn’t revolved around eating, help stop hunger pangs fuelling a desire for unhealthy snacks, and pre empt that post night out craving for food by preparing something for when you get back. In the darker days of university where I made my first foray into the paleo lifestyle I’d have some food I’d set aside from dinner that can easily be reheated.
- Speak with the host: Invited to dinner? Be considerate of your host, tell them not to factor in you when making dessert / cooking rice etc.
- A good guest never arrives empty handed: Warning the host if necessary, bring your own starters, snacks or desserts to complement -not to detract from- their efforts. Same with alchol, grab a quality bottle of red for your host.
- Be an active eater, not a passive eater: Keep and eye on portion size (or, if you’re more like me this time of year, portion number…), fill up on healthy foods if available (think protein and fat rich meats to keep you full), pace your alcohol intake with non alcoholic drinks.
- Pre emptive strike: Host your own paleo feast to celebrate haloween, thanksgiving, christmas, new years… Win converts to the cause!
Having written the above, I’d want emphasise one last thing. You only live once, and completely unwinding with friends and family over Christmas should not be something that makes you feel guilty, regardless of how many Yorkshire puddings you had at dinner or how much wine helped wash it down. Everything in moderation. Including moderation.
Not to state the obvious – but alcohol can take it’s toll on your body, and some of the negative effects include:
- Lowered inhibition: Perhaps the biggest threat, and not just because it causes you to confess your love for the girl you met just two hours ago after half a bottle of red wine. With your inhibition lowered, it can be a struggle to maintain the self discipline to avoid the temptations on offer around you, from the pastry party snacks to that greasy meat feast pizza as you make your way home.
- Stimulates insulin production (similar to grains and sugars): Worse when you consider most alcohol beverages are essentially liquid grains and sugars.
- Impairs hormone regulation and interferes with circadian rhythms: Alcohol consumption can effect your sleep patterns and can impact your body’s hormones
- Increased calorie consumption: While the paleo diet isn’t focused on micromanaging calories, when it comes to alcohol it is very easy to consume a large amount of calories in a very brief period of time, and hard to keep track of how much exactly you are consuming.
It is not all doom and gloom though, and there are some positives to mild alcohol consumption. However, I won’t go into details – let’s face it; we’ll rarely be drinking alcohol simply because there are some health benefits. They’re a nice side effect of mild alcohol consumption that we will be having primarily for social reasons.
Apply honest and common-sense when it comes to alcohol intake. Drinking, like most things related to health, diet and exercise is a highly individual variable. You know your limits and you know your own personal health goals. More crucially, you should be aware of why you have adopted, stick to and enjoy the paleo lifestyle. Be honest with yourself. It’s not just those facebook photos that reveal the truth of last nights misadventures but extra pounds, wasted mornings, impaired metabolism and impaired fitness as well.
What to Drink? Think simple, think natural – Mead, red wine, unflavoured distilled spirits are most suitable on the paleo diet.
VITAMIN D INTAKE
Humans need sunlight – it is our main source of vitamin d and critical to human well being. It is more than likely that the majority of people reading this in Britain exhibit one of the most obvious adaptations the human body has made to its environment on our journey across the globe – fair skin that is better adapted to absorbing vitamin D, sunlight being less reliable and intense in the colder northern climates of Europe than on the plains of Africa.
Aiming for at least quarter of an hour’s sun exposure a day, while not the most convenient advice in winter, is nonetheless recommended.
What are some of the benefits of Vitamin D?
- Improves your immune system
- Can help combat inflammation
- Boosts psychological well being
- Promotes natural sleeping patterns
- Protective factor against a range of cancers
- Boosts heart health
- Crucial to maintaining bone density
- Regulates levels of calcium and phosphate in the bloodstream (Grains can interfere with your bodies ability to utilize calcium, increasing your need for Vitamin D. As if you needed more reasons to cut grains from your diets.)
Winter, with reduced hours of (natural) light, and less outdoor-frinedly weather to entice you outside can end up freeing some time from your day, which can be turned to your advantage by presenting the opportunity to engage in some lifestyle experiments. Why not adapt to the season accordingly and experiment with the following activities, each complimenting the conditions of winter and coming with real health benefits:
- Intermittent Fasting
- Cold Showers / Cold Baths
- Modify your sleeping patterns
- Reduce fruit intake / eat seasonally
- Try becoming a “locavore”,only eating food produced in your local area
Ontop of this are small little changes that can make a cumulative difference. One I’ve already touched on earlier is keeping a health diary of the food you’re eating and the exercises you are doing – it can help you log progress and maintain accountability.
And why wait until New Years to make those new healthy resolutions you’ve been considering?
With that said, is there anything you feel I have missed? What keeps you on the straight and narrow in winter and what advice would you share with others?