Lessons we can all learn from a Paleo lifestyle

lessons paleo lifestyle

I’m not here to convert you to Paleo. My life is ‘Paleofied’, I guess you could say. But I don’t like labels, I don’t like bandwagons… I tend to shy away from subscribing to any one thing whole heartedly. Because I think in everything there’s a bit of truth, and probably a lot that isn’t.

Some things just have these things in a different balance. And I tend to lean towards Paleo because it has a larger balance of things that I agree with.

Paleo is a convenient catch-all for me to help me narrow down all the information available to something more managable. And then I can start there, filtering further for myself.

But there is something to be said for this movement. I have no doubt there are people taking it to faddish lengths, but for people who have researched and lived it for all the right reasons, it is no fad.

It truly encompasses nutrition and lifestyle principles that I think everyone can benefit from.

I’m not saying we should live like cavemen. I’m not saying we should eschew all modern conveniences. I’m not even saying you should be Paleo. (This post is not even about the food, specifically.)

What I am a fan of is balance in life. And I think modern lives are out of balance.

And I am a fan of not just doing things the way they’ve been done without at least looking for ourselves at the reasons why. ‘Cavemen’ times were not necessarily some Utopia, but neither is the modern world we live in. I think this bears looking at.

And I think that, beyond just the food, there are a lot of principles in a Paleo lifestyle that could restore some positive things to our lives.


1. Work for It
Once-upon-a-time, we had to expend some effort for our food. If we hunted & gathered it, we had to actually, you know, wander around to find it & run after it.

Or if we grew & raised our food ourselves, there was plenty of activity going on to farm and tend and prepare.

Our love of making things easier, while not always a bad thing, means that fast-forward a (scarily) little way, and now we can get all our food without even leaving the couch. Punch your order into an app and your groceries & takeaway will come straight to your door. Open a package and apply heat for 2 minutes, and you can have a meal. (A “meal”.)

No more waiting. No more effort. (Except working longer hours so we can pay for it…)

That seems a little screwy to me. And that’s even if we ignore the nutrition implications, and the question of whether this ‘food’ we are consuming can even be classed as such…

We have lost connection with our food. We have lost the deep sense of personal investment.

And the implications of this overflow into our health, our environment, our community, our bank accounts, our attitude towards waste and economy… the list goes on.

So we have all the suggestions on how to change this – avoid packaged food, make things from scratch, grow our own vegetables… This is not new information. Not many people would disagree with these being positive things.

But this is not the lesson I’m wanting to point out from this Paleo principle. It’s not just a matter of expending more effort. Because, lets face it, you are probably at the limit of your effort expenditure already.

And that’s the point. In the process of removing the effort required to have food on the table, we have filled the space with a lot of other things.

The balance has tipped too far the other way. It’s not just that we spend less time personally involved in our food, but all the other things that go with that. The more time working, the less time at the table with friends and family, the less time moving and being active, the less time outdoors with our hands in the dirt, the less understanding about the natural processes of food and nature, and the increased acceptance of chemicals & refined substances as substitutes for real food.

This is the balance that a Paleo lifestyle seeks to restore. And it is pretty much impossible – unless we address the balance of lifestyle and how to live in community. We aren’t meant to expend all the effort by ourselves. Food is mean to be a shared connection, with it and with each other.


2. Whole Food, Whole Life

Another by-product of having to work for your food is that you place a greater value on it. (And by work, I mean physically and directly, not just earning money to pay for it or for someone else to make it.)

Economy goes beyond just the money. When you’ve worked hard for your resources, you want to make the most of them. You appreciate their intrinsic value.

And so you use the whole animal. Make things out of the skin and fur and wool, eat the organs and the meat, use the bones in stock. Eat the whole vegetable, use the off-cuts in stocks, use the scraps in compost to enrich the rest of the vegetable patch, or to feed the chickens who then give us eggs. Almost nothing has just one purpose or use.

This way of living is not just the fate of people who can’t afford to just buy the fancy stuff. It’s actually healthier – for us and the world – because it’s balanced. The nutrition you get from eating all parts of the whole animal is much more complete. And there is far less waste compared to just taking a few parts and throwing the rest away. And as a result, each resource goes further. And it encourages us to be creative.

This “whole” principle is something everyone can benefit from. For our health and for our entire approach to life. (Look into Permaculture as a whole life principle for similar ideas.)


3. Tune In

One of the main reasons a lot of people start on Paleo or some derivative of it, is because they feel like something isn’t right in their bodies. Perhaps it’s specific diseases that set them on the path, or perhaps it’s certain intolerances, or maybe it’s just a general feeling that the way they are eating and living just isn’t letting them be their best selves.

Whatever starts it, the common thread is that people are listening to their bodies. They are tuning in. And that continues, even more so, after starting on the Paleo path.

The whole lifestyle encourages you to tune in. To listen to your body. To understand what is going on inside for yourself, and address it yourself. You start listening to how you feel when you eat or do certain things. And then you respond. You adjust.

And this might continue forever. You experience might change over time, as you respond to bodily feedback.

That might seem like hard work. And it is – at first. Because it’s not really something we are used to. The irony of the surfeit of information available to us these days, is that we tend to rely on other people to understand it for us. We rely on ‘officials’ to tell us what to eat, doctors to tell us when we are sick and what to do about it, governments to control what is even available to us…

We have turned off the feedback system.

And so turning it on again is a learning curve. First we have to learn how to listen. Then we have to learn to interpret what we are hearing. And then we have to re-learn what we can do about it. All while recalibrating to understand what health and balance actually feels like.

And this is a principle that we could all benefit from. Not just in food, but in all areas of life. In taking care of the earth, our families, our careers and passions…

We have forgotten how to trust ourselves. We have forgotten that everything is connected & can work together if we let it.


4. Fire

This might seem like a bit of an abstract principle, and not one that I’ve necessarily seen espoused in the Paleo world. But it something that just felt right to add here.

There is something about fire that I think we are missing in our lives. Something that I think has been instinctively known, historically or culturally, and naturally incorporated.

So am I going literally caveman on you, here?

Sort of. I’m not going to say you should start cooking everything on a open fire – though I’m not not saying that either.

But there is more to it…

Fire is cleansing, purifying. It clears out rubbish. It is a catalyst for new growth. It provides warmth, light, energy, comfort, entertainment – who hasn’t been mesmerised by a campfire? There is something magical about it that can absorb you for hours.

Something changes about a space when physical flames are present.

I’m not going pretend to back this up with scientific research. But there is something elemental about fire that I think we need in fundamental ways, just like we need water and air.

It challenges our desire to control everything, to have instant everything. It’s raw and natural – and, honestly, beyond most people’s understanding. What exactly is fire anyway? Why is fire?

And it draws people. Brings people to sit side-by-side or across the fire from each other. It slows us down and draws out conversation, reflection, celebration, ceremony. We all connect to this source-of-life feeling it provides.

So light some candles. Light your open fire. Gathering around a brazier on your patio. Build a fire pit. Go camping and watch the flames.

Connect, value, tune in. And tie it all together with fire. Those are the principles of life that we can all benefit from.

Why a year without Buying Clothes had nothing to do with The Clothes

A Year Without Buying Clothes Experiment | jessiecostin.com

When I decided to try going a full year without buying clothes – not even second hand or op-shopping – it was motivated by a discovery. I came across a small cupboard in my house. It was in the living room. At the time, it was serving as a makeshift TV stand. Even though my husband and I had been teachers for a few years at this point, we still hadn’t graduated out of impoverished student mode, where your furniture is mismatched and make-do, and not infrequently claimed off the side of the road during hard rubbish season. (Which I still do, anyway…)

So I’d like to point out, that even at this stage, I was living within my means. I didn’t consider myself a materialistic person.

But then, in the process of packing up the house to move, I came across this small cupboard. And apparently I hadn’t opened this cupboard in a while, because I had completely forgotten what might have been inside it. I think that’s why it shocked me. I wasn’t mentally prepared for the discovery of this cupboard’s contents. I wasn’t even aware I could forget my own possessions so entirely.

And before your imagination completely runs away with you, the cupboard contained… shoes. Perhaps ten pairs of shoes.


I know. Not a big deal?

Firstly, I already had a cupboard of shoes I didn’t wear. That on it’s own was a conscience prick – how much do I really need these things if I could forget them for months and not miss them? But it’s not just that I’d forgotten the number of shoes I owned.

And by many standards, it was not an excessive number. I’m certainly no Carrie Bradshaw.

What really made me pause was a story I’d just read.

There was a man who owned only two pairs of shoes. And then a friend, in trouble and needing help, came to him with none. No shoes. His feet were bare. So this first man gave away one of his two pairs of shoes. And the second man, the recipient of the shoes was a criminal. And one who was in trouble with other criminals and on the run.

And then I open my cupboard and see my shoes. My (in comparison) excessive collection of shoes.

And that was it. I couldn’t get this story out of my head. And I started looking at my whole wardrobe full of clothes and wondering.

Wondering, what is all this stuff compensating for?

Because clothes are never just clothes. Excess is never just about the stuff.

Why did I think I needed all this?
How could I still go to my wardrobe and declare I’ve got nothing at all to wear?
If someone in need came to me without shoes or a coat, would I give them mine?

Would anyone even come to me? Did I even know anyone in need?

And so it began…

The year-without-buying-clothes-experiment was born of a pricked conscience and a desire to explore so much more than just an overstuffed wardrobe – but the clothes was a practical place to start. The only place I knew to start.

Everything else was just murmured whisperings at the back of my brain at this stage, unarticulated but unrelenting.

The actual experiment itself ended up being entirely unscientific and life had it’s own plans – as life tends to have.

When I decided to do this, it was near the end of 2011, so I planned to start in January, 2012 just for the cleanliness of the deal. But once I’d decided to do it, I couldn’t just ‘stock up’ in advance. That would defeat the purpose, if I just did 12 months of shopping in one weekend. So it really ended up being about 15 months in total.

But, also, pregnancy happened. So I broke my rule for a few stretchy skirts and maternity pants. But then add into that: horrible morning sickness, exhaustion and the fact that I couldn’t buy normal clothes anyway, and shopping was really the last thing on my mind.

And all the grand experiments and additional projects – or even blog posts – I’d envisioned went out the window.

So I don’t even know if what I did qualified as an experiment. It was just, kind of, life.

And it affected everything…

In the way that nothing is ever just one thing, this was the start of rippling change through every part of my life.

It turns out I’m not the life-experiment type. Not in the way that some bloggers are, starting projects and following them through, with actual rules and accountability and all that jazz.

Set plans and me, well, we don’t jive.

But my whole life is a social experiment. Isn’t everyone’s? And even the failed, fizzled projects that don’t seem to go anywhere have profound effects on our future. Even if it takes years to see it.

From here, from this vantage point of the future I couldn’t even imagine back then, I can see how it was my mind and not my wardrobe that was going through the biggest changes.

Since that time, we (the Mr and I) have have shed our skins – metaphorically, emotionally (and, well, literally but don’t think about that…) – in so many ways, so many times over.

Downsizing, unpacking, lightening the loads. We have moved from a four bedroom, two-storey house to a two bedroom flat. We have donated, sold or thrown out trailer loads and trailer loads of our stuff.

And still we look around and wonder why we have so much that we really don’t need.

We are still in process.

And then, we are going to be moving back to the bigger house we still own… but with a lot less stuff and a completely different lifestyle.

And the real issues appear…

Because in the middle of this process we are realising, it isn’t even the stuff that’s the issue. Stuff is just an outward symptom of what’s going on beneath our skins. The emotional baggage we are shucking is a whole ’nother thing.

And at the same time, exactly the same thing. Everything in life is intertwined, inextricably. Too many shoes, too much fat, too much negative thinking, too much unprocessed trauma. It’s all the same thing.

Cause and effect isn’t as simple as we think it is.

Life is the big experiment. We don’t know half of what we think we do. But at the same time, we are in tune with far more than we think. And in every moment we are doing our best, even when our best looks like someone else’s worst.

So, you want to try and stop buying clothes? Be prepared to feel like your whole life doesn’t even make sense any more.

Want to deal with that emotional pain? Be prepared for that shopping addiction you didn’t know you had to rear it’s glitzy head.

If you’re actually doing somethng right, everything might just feel like it’s all falling apart for a little while.

Just let it be. The destruction has to come before the reconstruction. The demolition before the rebuild. Sometimes you have to take something apart to put it back together the right way.

And your life is a complex construction. It’s never a simple process. Every thread, every cog, every coil of experience, personality and belief is wound and tangled with every other. If you start picking at one thing, get ready for everything to feel a little raw.

But don’t go digging. That’s the best part. You don’t really even have to do anything most of the time. You don’t have to have a hundred-point, colour-coded, five-year plan with sub headings.

You just have to be willing to live one moment to the next.

And be open. Just be open. Be open to the little promptings and signpost in your life, one step at a time. The things that need to come to the surface, will – in their own time. In their own way.

When I responded to the prick of conscience over my forgotten shoes, I thought I was just assessing my spending habits. Maybe my generosity – or lack of it – if I dug a little deeper. Maybe my social awareness underpinning that.

Little did I know I was follow a thread that would lead to the unravelling and reworking of my entire philosophy of life and existence. (Several times over.)

But that was the way it was meant to be. I wasn’t ready then to think about everything I’m navigating now. I was ready to not buy clothes for a while. And the next step and the next, and the next, followed naturally at the right time. Like peeling an onion layer by layer. (With just as many tears.)

So take your next step. Even if that means donating one piece of clothing this week. Or clearing out one cluttered cupboard. Or learning one cake recipe without sugar. Or meditating for one minute tomorrow morning. Or reading one book on that topic that’s been playing on your mind but you’ve been too afriad to think about it.

Just do that one thing, and let it be. Don’t pre-empt where you’ll go next. Don’t beat yourself up for what you should be doing, or compare your life to someone elses.

A short exercise:

Don’t censor yourself. Don’t think too hard. You can change your mind later and it doesn’t have to be noble, lofty or world changing – no-one’s assessing you. Ready?

  1. Take a deep breath.
  2. Pick up a pen and a piece of paper. (Or the digital equivalent.)
  3. Now I want you to write down the first thing that you skim off the surface of your mind in answer to the following question:

What’s pricking your conscience right now?

Just let that sit for a while. I want you to think about how you are feeling about that thing you wrote down. Are you feeling guilty? Tired? Annoyed? Agitated? Afraid? Like you need to do something?

I want to tell you right now, you don’t have to do anything more with this. You don’t have to act on it. You don’t have to start a project. You are not supposed to feel guilty. You are not obligated to care about it at all.

If you do act, if you do care, let it come from a place of freedom and choice.

If you’re not ready to make any changes yet:

Let it be. Let it percolate or simmer. Let it come into your life or fade away as it needs to. Just wait. Just live.

If you are ready:

You can. You have permission. You are allowed to have this passion, this desire, this energy to act. You are allowed to fail. You are allowed to succeed. You are allowed to enjoy it. You are allowed to take a step then change your mind. You are allowed to make big plans. You are allowed to experiment, make mistakes, learn the hard way and start without knowing what the hell you are doing.

And you are allowed to be great.
In fact, you already are. You just might not know it yet. And that’s okay.

Life is a great experiment. We hope, we dream, we imagine, we create – but we never quite know. And so we trust our gut, we read the stars, we make lists, we weigh the options, we play the odds. But it’s all an experiment.

And big or small, whatever is in your focus right now in life, it’s yours to play with. It’s yours to discover. It doesn’t have to make sense or seem sensible to anyone. Not even yourself, sometimes. Because not even you know where this next little step might take you. Not even you know the extent of the intertwining parts of your life.

But trust yourself. Trust your instincts. Trust that little whisper that tells you this is something you need right now.

Be open. Let it be. Live.

What’s your word for the year? (And how to pick one.)

In a word header image

I’ve never made new years resolutions. I’ve always known I won’t stick to them – I can’t stick to these kinds of resolutions for one day let alone a whole year. And most of the time you are just setting yourself up to feel like a failure.

I’m not opposed to goal setting in general, but just the flipping over of the calendar from one day to the next is not a good enough reason to me to bully myself into change.

And so when I heard about the idea of choosing just one word for your year, that really sat well with me. It’s about picking a word that sums up the overall focus, theme or ‘feel’ of the year. It can be like an anchor point, something to come back to when things start to get haywire. Unlike resolutions it’s not a box to tick, it’s a statement of intention. It’s like infusing a certain flavour or fragrance into your life. Continue reading

One Word: Freedom

I had already unconsciously done this, named my year, claimed a word. I’d been thinking about for several months at the end of 2013. I was making a fundraising calendar for Girl Talk and when it came to naming the calendar, 2014: A Year of Freedom just seemed right.

Today I read about One Word 365, and it made sense. I’ve never done New Year’s Resolutions. They make me feel like a failure before I’ve even started because it just reminds me of all times I’ve set goals and fallen short – way short – before. That little voice says ‘You’re never going to change’.

But this makes sense to me. To choose just one word.

Continue reading