A health movement making inroads across Kansas City asserts the key to a healthy future lies in man's primitive past; specifically, a return to caveman ways from the Paleolithic era.
Like most food plans, the Paleo diet includes a strict list of do's and don'ts. But those who follow it and find success with the program can't stop raving about the benefits of their new lifestyle.
Civilization has come a long way since cavemen roamed the earth. Some argue humans have strayed too far from Paleolithic times when it comes to what we eat and how we exercise.
Michael Rutherford is the owner of Bootcamp Fitness KC in Prairie Village, KS, a gym offering workouts based on the primal moves of early man. The squatting, lunging, pushing and twisting of these CrossFit sessions are meant to mimic the daily activities of our hunter-gatherer ancestors.
Rutherford's return to a Stone Age way of life began more than 20 years ago, when his son was born with a gluten allergy. In a show of support, the entire family stopped eating gluten. Rutherford says making the switch to a grain-free life bred positive results.
"The way I felt, slept, my body composition changed dramatically," Rutherford said.
Then five years ago, after taking a closer look at available medical research, Rutherford decided to make a full return to ancestral eating habits, what's known more commonly as the Paleo diet. Followers like Rutherford, get their daily calories from meat, vegetables, nuts, seeds and a little bit of fruit. Grains, dairy, sugar and alcohol are off limits.
"It's the way we're intended to eat," Rutherford said.
Rutherford has made believers out of most clients who work out at his gym and take part in his 30-day Paleo challenge.
"We've found the most difficult part is not the 30 days, it's the 6 inches!" Rutherford said, pointing to the space between his ears.
Shawnee Mission, KS, resident Zach Fletcher went Paleo six months ago. Now lighter by 22 pounds, he describes the diet as life-changing.
"You realize how much you enjoy eating fresh, natural, well-cooked food," Fletcher said. "It's been great!"
Members of the medical field agree. According to Dr. James O'Keefe, a cardiologist with St. Luke's Mid-America Heart Institute, "Not only am I not opposed to it [the Paleo diet], it's pretty much what I follow."
O'Keefe says the Paleo diet provides a lifestyle that optimizes how you feel, look and perform.
"If you want to thrive without taking a bunch of medication and going to psychiatrist, you have to do what our ancient ancestors did. Eat that way, exercise that way and sleep that way," he said.
For O'Keefe, the most important component of the Paleo diet is the elimination of all wheat products.
"The enemy is really processed carbs like grains," he said.
However, O'Keefe is quick to point out a life without grains is not an open invitation to eat all of the meats and nuts available. He says portion size and calorie control are both very important.
Lean meat portions of red meat, chicken, seafood, pork or poultry should measure about the size and thickness of the palm of your hand. Grass-fed animals are preferred. In addition to the protein, the diet includes a small handful of nuts per day, and a few berries. The rest of your plate gets filled with colorful vegetables.
Jennifer Quick turned Paleo a year-and-a-half ago. The teacher was looking for a way to sustain her energy through an entire school day. Quick says the Paleo diet solved that problem and, as a bonus, cut her clothing size from a size 14 to an eight.
Quick says the change wasn't easy. She had to battle through some pretty intense cravings.
"I really did have some carb withdrawal," Quick said. "I dreamt I was in a bathtub full of Skittles one night."
Quick managed to get her kids on the program. While daughter Adelle was not a fan of the changes, the 9-year-old now says she feels better, and enjoys her snacks of almonds and dried cranberries.
While the Paleo diet may sound difficult, O'Keefe insists it gets easier over time. He says the decision to cheat with a donut or plate full of pasta will only happen a few times because of how bad it makes the body feel.
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