By now you’ve probably heard of the Primal or Paleo lifestyle, but is there more to it than eating like a caveman?
Well, of course there is! A lifestyle is more than a small change in your eating habits. Think total life makeover.
In a nutshell, Paleo means going back to the basics. For me, this means eating meat, veggies, fruit, nuts/seeds, and healthy fats. Some people that are Primal consume dairy. I’ll occasionally have some baked Brie or full-fat Greek yogurt about once a month, but beyond that, I’m dairy free. I chose to eliminate dairy because when I eat too much of it, I tend to break out.
As for exercise, I keep things simple here too. I focus on “Essential Movements” like push-ups, pull-ups, squats, lunges, and planks. I also like to lift heavy things, but because I don’t have a gym membership, I have to improvise. One of my favorite ways to do this is to lift, squat, and carry heavy rocks in my front yard. (Yeah I know, insert caveman joke here!) Beyond that I also sprint every once in a while.
In addition to diet and exercise, the Primal lifestyle includes important factors like sun, sleep, and play. Living in Los Angeles, California makes it easy to get adequate sunlight. I like to spend at least 15 to 20 minutes a day soaking up some Vitamin D. (I have a fairly dark complexion, so 20 minutes of sun is safe for me—for those of you on the more fair side, 10 minutes is probably enough.)
Sleep is an aspect of life that a lot of people tend to overlook. Do you really know what it means to be fully rested? Odds are you don’t! Lifestyle, stress, diet, environment, and a lot of other factors can really wear on your relationship with catching some quality zzz’s. For me, I’ve set a regular bedtime (anywhere between 10-10:30pm), I’ve eliminated extra light and noise that can enter my bedroom, and I’ve excluded alcohol and caffeine from my diet. I wake up every morning on top of the world—and when I stay up too late, sleep somewhere too bright or noisy, or have a glass of wine at night or a cup of coffee in the morning—I always feel groggy the next day.
Play is another puzzle piece that makes my life feel full. More often than not, as we mature we tend to think playing is something for kids. I went through that phase myself. I stopped running around, spinning in circles, climbing trees, and playing hide-and-seek with my friends barefoot in the woods. Now that I’m more in touch with my ancestral roots, I’ve brought this spirit of play back into my life and am happier and healthier than ever.
What has all of this taught me? I’ve never been so in touch with my body, mind, and spirit. I know exactly how I’m going to feel when I eat certain foods (good or bad), I can feel what exercising does for my body, and I know the importance of other life factors like sun, sleep and play. Being this in tune with my body empowers me. It helps me make positive decisions and I’m never caught off guard by a random cold or painful period. Yes—you read that right. My periods are 100 percent pain free!
I didn’t always have the best history with health. I was a yo-yo dieter for over a decade and really damaged my body. This includes my reproductive health. In 2005, I was diagnosed with cervical dysplasia (abnormal cell growth on the surface of my cervix) and had to have a Loop Electrosurgical Excision Procedure (LEEP) to removed damaged layers of my cervix. In 2012 a doctor discovered about a dozen cysts in my left ovary (one of them the size of a grapefruit, or over 10cm large) and I again had to have surgery.
During the procedure, the doctor discovered massive amounts of Endometriosis (when cells from the lining of the uterus grow in other areas of the body). She did her best to remove what she could, but because she had only prepped the surgery for cyst removal, she didn’t have a laser on hand to remove all of the Endometriosis. She explained to me that to get the pain under control from the Endometriosis, that I would likely need another surgery in the future.
But why have another surgery when I was so sure I could control this issue with my diet?
Ever since high school, I have had very painful periods—to the point where I would miss school about once a month because I couldn’t physically walk. I thought this was normal! All those years I spent suffering, unaware that if I were more in touch with my body that I could control everything that I didn’t like about it. That’s when I really started to take the Primal lifestyle seriously and focus on making my body as healthy as I could. I was sick of the pain, being overweight, feeling sluggish, and really cared about my reproductive health because I plan on having kids one day!
So how does a Paleo diet help period pain and issues related to Endometriosis? I’ve got one word for you: inflammation. A Primal or Paleo diet is an anti-inflammatory diet, and the pain you experience from your menstrual cycle and Endometriosis come from inflammation. See where I’m going here? If you can reduce the inflammation in your body, you can ease or remove cramps from your life entirely. I did!
One point I want to stress is that everyone’s chemistry is different. While one thing may work for me, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll also work for you and vice versa. That’s why I encourage everyone to treat their bodies like a science experiment until they figure out what works best for them. You can read fact after fact and go over all kinds of scientific studies, but until you test the waters yourself, you’re never going to know how something makes YOU feel.
That’s why I decided to write my first book Paleo Girl. I hope to encourage and empower girls to take control of their lives and see what makes them feel their best. In this book, I cover all the topics I touch on here more in-depth, as well as puberty (and importantly using The DivaCup as opposed to using tampons and pads), peer pressure, eating disorders, motivation, friends, boys, and life. It’s truly a lifestyle guide for teen girls written just for you!
For more information about Paleo Girl or myself, visit my website leslieklenke.com, or you can find me on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.
Leslie Klenke is an author, designer, health enthusiast, and voiceover artist living in beautiful Los Angeles, California. Originally from Dayton, Ohio, she graduated from Bowling Green State University with a degree in Visual Communication Technology and a minor in Entrepreneurship. Leslie merges her love for art and health with her first book Paleo Girl, which she proudly wrote, photographed, and designed. She shares her passion for “good food and a healthy life” on her popular Instagram: @LeslieKlenke. Leslie is happily married to her best friend, AJ Wilson, and the proud owner of two goofy Boston Terriers, Olie and Harlow.