Paleo for Programmers

Over the last few months, quite a few programmer buds have been asking and talking about paleo. It's a lifestyle I've been following for a couple of years now, so I'm going to share my experiences. I don't want to sound like a know-it-all (I'm far from it! Still learning a lot), but I may have some interesting points and resources for those new to the idea. Also, this isn't specifically for programmers, but you guys do seem to be taking this up in droves.

This isn't an introduction to paleo lifestyles though, and I'm not trying to convert anyone. I'm assuming you're coming to this having already made a decision and learnt a little. It's more about a few perspectives to get started and some local (to Sydney) resources. Also, I'm not particularly interested in debates about whether this is a good lifestyle. It works fantastically for me, and I'm assuming you've either had good results, or want to run a self-experiment to find out.

What is "paleo"?

Essentially it is a health philosophy that says a lot of modern health issues stem from our lifestyle, from what we eat to how we spend our days. These philosophies also go by the terms "primal" or "archevory". I also seem to need to point this out explicitly: food and diet are just part of the lifestyle.

Why choose a paleo lifestyle?

You're interested in your health, perhaps you're not feeling as well as you know you should, you've got some weight to lose, or you see the trajectory that most people's health takes and decide you want a different future for yourself (that was my inspiration).

How did I come to this lifestyle?

I've always been active - playing intense competitive games of basketball 3 to 4 times a week since my teenage years, I've also been into running, and have worked out with weight bearing exercise at varying levels of intensity over the last ten years. So for me, my current health was not an issue, but I was worried about my future health. I wanted to be an active, healthy dad to my son (now two sons), throughout their lives, I wanted to keep playing basketball competitively into my thirties. I didn't want the seemingly inevitable middle age bloat, and other associated health issues.

At the same time, I'd been working out with some Olympic rings recommended to me by a photographer friend. These are great devices if you are on the road a lot (like him) or time poor (like me), since you can train anywhere. These rings were from Aaron McKenzie of Origin of Energy, down in Bondi.

I eventually visited Aaron for training advice. Over a few months he told me what I should be eating, and how I should train and treat my body - he was ALWAYS a treasure trove of information. I just wish I lived closer to Bondi so I could visit more often. Origin of Energy is highly recommended. Get in touch with them at:

While researching some of Aaron's advice, I came across Mark Sisson of Mark's Daily Apple. I quickly ordered and demolished his Primal Blueprint book. It was the final piece of the puzzle for me, filling in gaps in my knowledge and convincing me this could truly be a long term lifestyle.

Tips for starting out

I don't think it matters whether you just dip your toe in or go the whole way (like I did), either way, just get started. A nice way is to commit to changing one meal: take a salad to work every day this week. A salad is easy to make (15 to 20 minutes max), can pack a bunch of variety, and it can teach you a lot about fresh whole food. Just make sure there is plenty of protein in there (large can of tuna/sardines, grilled chicken/steak, boiled eggs), and a decent amount of olive oil in your dressing as a fat source.

Speaking of fat, if you're cutting your carbs, you're going to need a lot of fat to keep your energy up. I rely on olive oil for salads and butter or coconut oil for frying or cooking (olive oil burns at too low a temperature to safely cook with).

Make your proteins from as good as source as possible. While the concepts will hold with non-organic meat in the short term, in the long term my reading on the subject suggests that organic, grass fed meat is best (please refer to the resources below for more details on this). Get organic meat from your supermarket (but, remember if it is in a supermarket, it is likely produced in a way to maximise the return, even if it carries an organic label.) For Sydney-siders, try a more boutique source such as Feather & Bone or GRUB. I use Feather & Bone, and while prices are more expensive than a supermarket, it is top notch and you can reduce the cost by getting mince, and cheaper roasting meats which work great for a slow roast.

For produce, nothing beats an organic grocer. In Sydney, I use Lettuce Deliver - (they do meat too, but I prefer to get my meat from Feather & Bone). They have great free range pastured chicken eggs from Clarendon Farms, and Paris Creek cultured yoghurt.

Training

I don't have any advice different from the experts. Just do short intense workouts. I can say, once I gave up distance running, I felt much better. I run really hard at basketball and lift weights three times a week (up to 250 pounds on squat and deadlift! Not world beating by any means but I'm pretty happy).

I started serious training with just the Olympic rings and a chin up bar. Since then, I've added:

  • Kettlebells (24kg pairs) -- pushing and pulling two 24kg kettlebells simultaneously is a great workout! Gym Direct do some with rubber bases that work well for home use.
  • Medicine ball
  • Skipping rope
  • Swiss ball

Not much more equipment needed. I'd love to be able to squat and deadlift at home, but I'm still reliant on a gym for that stuff. I just don't have room for Olympic barbell exercises.

Then I moved on to Mark Rippetoe's Starting Strength, which is a fantastic program for really getting strong with barbell training. Definitely get the DVD when you buy the book too. Well worth it. The small amount of weight I lost around my waist when moving to paleo dropped me from size 34 pants to size 32. Then working with Rippetoe's program made my thighs big enough that I needed size 34 again, just after I'd got rid of all my size 34. Arghgh!

Other parts

  • Get enough sleep! 8 hours a night minimum. Of course I don't get enough sleep myself, goddammit, but I do try.
  • Meditation is good. I've actually cut this from my schedule till my Masters studies finish in a couple of months, but I suspect this is a false economy, and that I should have kept it up.
  • Reduce stress. For me, meditation and thinking "stoically" are good for this, as is my wife and kids.
  • Sunlight. Get outside, especially if you're in front of a computer all day. I'm pretty bad at this, but in the warmer months, I try and play outdoor basketball 2-3 times a week.
  • No caffeine after 1pm. That means no tea, no dark chocolate etc. You'll sleep better. You shouldn't drink soft drinks of any sort, so caffeinated drinks like Coke / Diet Coke etc shouldn't even be on the menu.
  • Get used to spending a lot of time in the kitchen. I spend probably at least 90 minutes EVERY DAY. There's really no substitute here for making your own food, knowing all the ingredients. You can get by with a well chosen take away or restaurant meal here and there, but make your own food and you'll have much better control.
  • I order my coconut oil in bulk from an eBay seller.
  • Don't get too caught up on "rules", but if I was to highlight the most important ones: don't eat grains, eat good animal fats and a variety of plants, get good sleep (no late night computing!), workout short and hard.

Sample meals

  • Salads - so easy, so many variations
  • Slow roasts - pop a big bit of meat in the oven on 80/90 degrees for 12 hours
  • Curries/stir fries - exactly the same, just don't eat rice, or use blended cauliflower instead (doesn't take long to get used to)
  • Smoothies - cultured yoghurt, coconut oil, fruit, cinnamon (anti-inflammatory). Lots of possible variations. I also add raw eggs to mine.
  • Bolognese - make it a bit soupier and forgo the pasta
  • Omelettes and frittata

Example Snacks

I mostly try to avoid snacks, but I do end up with a small amount of dark choc every day, and usually half a handful of pecans.

  • activated nuts - soak nuts, then dehydrate them in the oven to remove phytates
  • non-sugary fruit - kiwi fruit, berries
  • 20g or less of 85% dark choc
  • celery & almond butter
  • hard boiled egg
  • kim chi

Resources & Links

Questions?

I've no idea if this is interesting or useful, please let me know. Also happy to answer any questions you have.