Paleo Parenting: Trusting Your Guts

This morning, Chelsea (who moderates the community page on Facebook with me) announced she is “going Paleo”. It’s something I’ve become interested in lately, having seen it pop up in the profiles of some of my twitterfriends (Hi, Brian!) and in a few discussions among (real-life) friends, (Hi, Jess!) too.

Now that it’s made its way to our little community, (have you joined? We’re pretty awesome…) I figured I’d let you know what I know and ask you to share what you know, too- a pretty old school way to get good information- and likely the only method actual Paleo parents used… but I’m getting ahead of myself.

What does “Going Paleo” mean?

Is she going to grow deadlocks and start speaking in grunts? (I’m already doing the latter. Can someone bring me my coffee?) Is she going to club her husband in the head and drag him into her womancave (hey, now…) when she feels frisky?

What does it all mean? 

According to

“The Paleo Diet mimics the types of foods every single person on the planet ate prior to the Agricultural Revolution (a mere 500 generations ago). These foods (fresh fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and seafood) are high in the beneficial nutrients (soluble fiber, antioxidant vitamins, phytochemicals, omega-3 and monounsaturated fats, and low-glycemic carbohydrates) that promote good health and are low in the foods and nutrients (refined sugars and grains, saturated and trans fats, salt, high-glycemic carbohydrates, and processed foods) that frequently may cause weight gain, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and numerous other health problems. The Paleo Diet encourages dieters to replace dairy and grain products with fresh fruits and vegetables — foods that are more nutritious than whole grains or dairy products.”

The Paleo series going on over at The Other Baby Book defines says this:

Paleo: a simple, whole foods way of eating that focuses on meats, vegetables, fruits, and fats. It is also a lifestyle that places importance upon restful sleep, functional movement exercise, and interacting with and enjoying the outdoors.

Sure, there are things to embrace about modern living (Have I mentioned I love my coffeemaker? And my car? And my toilet?) but there are still ways to exist in a modern society with values and a diet that uphold the way our bodies and minds are made to function- and thrive. Modern – progressive, if you will- parents like Chelsea are seeing the wisdom in ages past and applying them to modern life for the holistic health of self, family and planet.

A return to simpler times has already been reflected in headlines, books, magazines and blogposts galore. “Crunchy” or “Attachment” parents have already began to adapt parenting styles that reflect a Paleo-philosophy; being attached to one’s child is no new fad.

As humans, we’ve spent aboout 99% of our history behaving this way- the newer, bigger, better, faster, more! style of living has only blossomed in the past few generations. Hospital births, infant formula, strollers and other commonplace items in the lives of most American infants are conveniences parents have done without since the dawn of time- until the last century.

Darcia Narvaez, PhD, a Professor at University of Notre Dame presented three studies in a 2010 symposium entitled Human Nature, Early Experience and the Environment of Evolutionary Adaptedness that support the idea that ancient hunter-gatherer models of parenting are the most effective strategy, especially during the early years. 

“What is done to children, 
they will do to society
Karl Meninger

Our children and our bodies are sick, overburdened and overstimulated by a fast-paced, instant gratification world. Convenience foods have replaced foods that nurture and fuel the body; convenience parenting has replaced the role of parents as participatory tour guides, hiking along the trail of childhood. One only needs to look around to notice that a return to simpler ways is being craved like a fresh salad after too long after spending too much time being a super sized, fast food nation.

We need slow food. (Slow enough to catch, a caveman would say!) We need to slow down with our children; to be patient with their growth and focus instead on our own. Monkey see, monkey do evolved right into Munchkin see, munchkin do, people. They learn to eat, crawl, walk and talk all of their own accord in a matter of months- I think it’s safe to trust them with the rest. When’s the last time you mastered so much in so little time?

Here are some of the ways ‘going Paleo’ is synonymous with the “crunchy” “natural”, “attachment” or any of the other “new” styles of parenting gaining popularity today:

  • Natural birth: It goes without saying that there were no cesarean surgeries before the last century. Mothers trusted their bodies- and were accompanied by the help of a midwife, if not completely unassisted during a home birth. Women accepted labor as a rite of passage instead of fearing it as an obstacle in the road to birthday parties, cute outfits and sweet smiles.
  • Breastfeeding: In ancient families, babies were breastfed for years, not months, for nutrition, comfort and bonding- all intrinsic and important part of a young child’s healthy development; then (this is where the diet part comes in) drank water (not milk from another species) for hydration, receiving nutrition from a wide variety of foods instead.
  • Babywearing: Think about it: we’ve all seen gorillas -our ancestral next-of-kin, carry their young. On the move? Toss the baby on your back! Though little humans lack the muscle strength to cling to us, the idea of carrying babies is gaining popularity once again and there are tons of options available. (One of my original posts was on wearing The Moby Wrap!) Wearing baby makes breastfeeding even easier, keeping baby and breast within reach of each other and promoting bonding though touch.
  •  Gentle discipline: Hunter-gatherer parents used touch in a positive way, to build up, not break down children’s spirits. Professor Narvaez also points out that, “Our distant ancestors spent much of their time being held and caressed by their mother, forming a close bond. They were not spanked.”
  • Cries as Communication: Parents -or caregivers- responded to babies cries. Crying was still regarded as an infant’s method of communicating discomfort and needing attention- say, a method of calling attention to itself and surviving if the parents didn’t return from hunting and gathering… or calling for help needing food, comfort or rest.  Professor Narvaez describes this as meeting a child’s needs before they get upset and the brain is flooded with toxic chemicals.“Warm, responsive caregiving like this keeps the infant’s brain calm in the years it is forming its personality and response to the world.”  This same style of attentive parenting is still used in parts Africa today and is touted as much of the reason why African Babies Don’t Cry. These parents read their babies, not books.
  • Community: Ancient parents are the reason for the saying, “It takes a village to raise a child”. Neither adult nor child were isolated for hours in front of a screen, but active and integral members within their villages or tribes. Other people, not gadgets and google, were sources of information and assistance. Knowledge from experience was passed on from person to person instead of passing judgement and opinions from strangers to stranger.
  • Play-based learning: Children learned new skills through play led by themselves, older siblings and neighbor-kids, not by flashcards, fancy schools and tv shows. I can’t imagine a neolithic helicopter parent, hovering over a child’s every move! Play was the job of the child. Adult energies were best spent elsewhere- like figuring out how to cook whatever meat is in season so that all of the kids will eat it. Not that they didn’t attend to their children, which leads me to the next point.
  • Holistic Health: There were no Paleo Pilates, vitamins or even gyms! Staying fit was an integral part of daily life-walking for travel, running to hunt, squatting in the garden and lifting children, building supplies and dead animals, not barbells. (I’ve always said baby lifting/carrying  is its own resistance training that builds as you go- I’ve never gone to a gym (so shoot me) and you should see my guns! 🙂 They used herbs and food to heal and balance bodies, not a pills (painkiller, antibiotic or multivitamin) to cure their ills.
  • Eating local, organic food: (that also ate local, organic food) Our ancestors couldn’t hunt and gather what they couldn’t find! This meant they were always eating seasonal, fresh vegetables (they grew in personal or communal gardens) and what meat could be caught- not necessarily even a portion at every meal or even every day. It goes without saying there were no genetically modified crops and that pest control was effectively done using organic methods.

Factory farming is to blame for a large portion of the lack of health in our bodies and on our planet. Shifting to a more vegetable-based diet would mean less pollution, less global warming and more food for healthier families. Companies like Sustainable Table, Eat Local and many other companies are getting behind what Scientific American referred to as a “Low Carbon Diet”.

Obviously the fact that they were hunter-gatherers means that they were omnivores and ate meat- but there is a huge difference in both nutrition and global impact when it comes to the source of the meat we consume.

I encourage anyone seeking progress in their own health, relationship with children, community and planet to read more with me about eating Paleo and how making simpler choices can help save the world.

We do not inherit the earth, 
we borrow it from our grandchildren.
Native American proverb
Which Paleo-philosophies do you already find yourself living? 
Have you made any recent changes to your parenting or diet?
What prompted your change and how has it helped?

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