Printer icon

Building Resilience with Paleo

Gut shield

The point of eating Paleo isn’t just to eat Paleo for its own sake. That’s silly. The point is to make you healthier – and a big part of health is resilience. Resilience can mean a lot of things, but for health purposes we can simply define it as the ability to manage stressors. A stressor could be…

If you’re a video game fan, think of building resilience like collecting hit points. The more resilient you are, the more damage you can take before you break down. Real life is an unpredictable and occasionally dangerous game; you want all the hit points you can get.

You might think these things have nothing to do with Paleo – how is food going to help you through a night in the airport? But actually, this is one big way that Paleo can improve your life: by helping you build the resilience you need to tackle these kinds of challenges.

“Resilience” is both mental and physical, and it’s silly to try to separate the two. Having a strong body gives you more mental energy, and makes it easier to think clearly, even if you don’t have to face any physical challenges (as you very well might). So here’s how to use Paleo to build up your resilience – mostly from a physical perspective, but in ways that cross over into the mental.

Building Resilience, vs. Chronic Stress

 

Resilience vs. chronic stress

Building resilience means that in the long run, you’re increasing your ability to handle stressors and challenges. You can do this in two ways:

Are You Building Resilience?

Here’s a simple test to see whether Paleo is really helping you build resilient strength: if you’re strong and resilient, you move spontaneously.

Sometimes, you dance around the kitchen while you’re cooking because your favorite song is on and you can. Sometimes you go for a walk because it’s a nice day outside and you just want to enjoy the evening. You may not always be totally raring to go to the gym or head out for a run, but it’s not a constant battle every single day just to haul your aching and exhausted body off the couch.

Moving spontaneously is a sign of energy, mental and physical. If you have that extra energy, it’s a reasonably decent sign that whatever your diet/workout/recovery/stress management routine is, the energy you invest in it is coming back with interest, and giving you spare energy for all kinds of other challenges.

If you’re so run-down from chronic calorie restriction and/or over-exercising that every form of movement is a chore, you never move unless you have to, and your workouts leave you so exhausted that all you want to do the rest of the day is sit down, you’re not building resilience. You’re just overtraining and beating yourself down – and making yourself vulnerable to any other stressor that might come along. The same is true of beating yourself into the ground by any other means (a long string of late nights, a chronic pattern of horrible days in the office…pick your poison).

The “move spontaneously” test isn’t perfect, but it’s a reasonably good way to get started.

Levels of physical activity

Building Resilient Strength with Paleo

If you’re not quite as resilient as you want to be, here’s a guide to getting there. The basic idea is simple:

Seek out the good stress.

Hormetic stress is stress that makes you stronger once you recover from it. The classic example is exercise.

The entire point of hormetic stress is the recovery. The stress itself is just something that will initiate the recovery response. Which brings us to…

Nourish yourself and avoid stressors that just tear you down.

Even hormetic stress can tear you down if you can’t recover from it. And some stressors aren’t hormetic at all – like chronic sleep deprivation. There’s just nothing useful about it.

Consistently getting enough food and sleep builds up your strength, so you’ll have it ready to go when you really need it.

Summing it Up

Resilience is a kind of strength, but it’s not about how much you can deadlift. It’s about how much life you can handle. You can build up your resilience with good sleep, good food, and stressors that you can recover from.

A good test for whether it’s actually working that way is spontaneous movement: if you enjoy moving your body and do it willingly, you probably have energy to spare.

Paleo should help you build your resilience and give you a stockpile of energy that you can use as “hit points” when life gets tough. This is the way that it really goes beyond a “diet” for weight loss, and turns into a way of eating that improves your whole life.