Santa Barbara is often described as a slice of paradise. From its sandy shores to the palm trees that line its streets, those who visit our beautiful home believe we live in a place of eternal summer. But to Santa Barbara natives, we know that’s not true. Our home experiences vibrant and delicious seasons just like any other city – and for those of us who make healthy living a priority, Santa Barbara – with its seasons – is the perfect place to do so.
One way in which Santa Barbara natives can embrace the seasons is through the Paleo lifestyle and diet.
Paleo is the understanding that our bodies are ancient, that they have been shaped by millions of years of evolution, and that they have not changed in the last forty thousand years. Consequently, evolution and the seasons are inextricably intertwined. Evolution describes our ancestor’s response to environmental pressures, and seasons contribute to that pressure.
Of course, today, we find ourselves in a drastically different world with our bodies still expecting the same conditions our ancestors evolved in.
For one, our circadian environment, the signals our bodies receive about the light and dark, is impacted by our technological advancements. Circadian rhythm is the set of biological processes within our bodies’ that run on a 24-hour cycle. These processes enable our internal systems to perform specific functions depending upon the hour, like metabolism and production of energy during the day and muscle tissue repair at night. A well aligned circadian rhythm is vital to our basic bodily functions.
As Jessica Prentice, author of Full Moon Feast, observes, “Today electric lights are so ubiquitous that cities and suburbs suffer from a constant level of light pollution; urban dwellers are shocked at all the stars they can see when they get far enough away from civilization” (259). Because the circadian clock is greatly influenced by the light-dark cycle, you can reset your’s by exposing yourself to bright light during the day, and avoiding lights like those created by your TVs and phones at night, while sleeping in a cool and completely dark room.
Then there is our social environment, which no longer consists of small tribes. In fact, within the last few centuries, humans have begun to live in larger communities, both physically (cities) and virtually (social media). Despite the amount of people in these modern communities, they only create the illusion of connection, leaving us feeling more alone than our ancestors.
Expert in social connection, Brene Brown, Professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, notes that we are “biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong.” (Seppälä 2012). As we are social creatures, when we experience positive social interactions, we stimulate the release of hormones that benefit our entire biological systems.
Next, our physical environment no longer requires the need to exert energy while hunting and gathering food. This means that our modern bodies no longer receive as many physical challenges, and therefore have lost touch with basic movement patterns and become more sedentary.
Paleo exercise is the incorporation of movement into your entire life. And it is based on one simple principle: move as you are designed to. Rather than using exercise machines, which isolate individual muscles and maintain a disconnection of natural activity patterns, research has found that humans benefit more from the emphasis of natural movements, such as squat, lunge, and twist.
The practice of these exercises in an interval fashion, along with low intensity activities like hiking, swimming, and walking, provides the closest approximation of exercise to our genetic blueprint, and allows us to take advantage of our physiology as it was designed to be: lean, fit, and healthy.
Finally, our nutritional environment is now characterized by the mass production of food, resulting in seasonal foods being available year round. For at least us here in Santa Barbara, this is beginning to change. We’re becoming more conscious of our choices, looking for more sustainable options, like locally raised meats and vegetables.
Thus, by following the Paleo diet, eating grass fed beef and locally grown produce from farmer’s markets, “we put our diet more in line with the evolutionary pressures that shaped our current genetics, which in turn positively influences health and well being,” says Loren Cordain, PhD, professor of Health and Exercise Science at Colorado State University and author of The Paleo Diet.
What does this mean for those of us who live in Santa Barbara?
By getting back into seasonal rhythm and embracing the Paleo lifestyle you will almost immediately begin to have more energy, but more importantly, a general feeling of overall health and well-being – enabling you to fully enjoy the paradise we get to call home.
As a personal trainer, with a fitness studio on State Street in downtown Santa Barbara, I have helped hundreds of Santa Barbara natives to align their bodies with the Paleo lifestyle, one season at a time.
Let’s take autumn for example, from the varying hues of falling leaves to the delicious smelling seasonal candles at Plum Goods on State Street, it’s easy to embrace Santa Barbara’s crisp weather and shorter days into my paleo lifestyle.
To align my circadian clock with the changing season, I like to settle in early with a good book, reading it by pumpkin spice candle light, before going to bed. And to prepare my body for the cooler weather, I stop by the local Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings to pick up some immune boosting foods like apples, pomegranates, and butternut squash that are rich with Vitamin A and C.
And in the winter, Santa Barbara slows down, giving us the ability to refresh and restart with the New Year. I like to take this time to slow down too, and really appreciate my home and my body.
For my mental health, I connect with friends at Savoy’s Cafe & Deli on Figueroa Street for some farm fresh and paleo friendly lunches. While for my physical health, I focus my energy inside my studio, using high intensity interval training with kettlebells.
Moving into spring, it’s time to shake off winter – and Santa Barbara makes that easy. Between it’s beautiful weather and blossoming earth, it’s hard not to feel refreshed for the coming months!
With the longer days and better weather, I like to take some time to enjoy our beautiful trails. San Ysidro trail is my favorite. Following winter, the streams that zigzag over this trail are overflowing, allowing me to get an abundance of natural light while using vital primal movements.
Finally, with the arrival of summer, Santa Barbara comes to life. And with the smell of salt and the colorful array of people meandering down State Street, it’s hard not to feel alive.
This is my favorite time of year to go camping, which is a great way to reboot my circadian clock. Other things I like to to do include stopping by the Harbor to check out the Santa Barbara Fish Market, and gathering a group of friends for a Paleo friendly dinner at the Lark on Anacapa Street – either way, my days are filled with amazing foods and laughs.