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Pete Evans: "12 ways to reclaim your health"

“Reclaim your health.” That was the message promoted by chef and My Kitchen Rules judge Pete Evans during his The Paleo Way tour, a national junket with ancestral health expert Nora Gedgaudas, personal trainer Luke Hines and singer Wes Carr.

The chef, 40, spoke about his transition to a paleo diet in 2011. After his former way of eating left him anaemic and lacking energy, Evans started researching alternative health movements and was introduced to Gedgaudas’ book Primal Body, Primal Mind. He started experimenting with paleo principles – first by eliminating grains, then dairy, then sugar – and has never looked back. He's now just spent two weeks travelling across Australia presenting to thousands of people about why he believes paleo is the way to go.

I was in the audience of the Perth leg of the tour and was blown away by how many people attended the talk (on a very cold winter's night) to hear him speak. Pete was funny, charismatic and incredibly passionate about changing the way people think about food and what a “healthy” diet is.

Pete packed a wealth of information into his half-hour talk, but here are some of his best tips about how to start eating and living for optimal health.

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12 tips from Pete Evans 

1. Reclaim your health.

“We all have a personal responsibility to take charge of our health. No-one’s coming to save us. The government isn’t going to change its recommendations any time soon. It’s a requirement that childcare centres, schools, hospitals and aged care facilities all follow the food pyramid. I’ve been called many things – an ‘alarmist’, an ‘extremist’, ‘unAustralian’…! People say I’ll give my kids psychological problems. They say that I should “let kids be kids”. That it’s “everything in moderation”. Well, it’s everything in moderation, until it’s not moderation any more. With all the science and technology and medicine we have, we’re still getting fatter and sicker. Our next generation is getting weaker. The average life expectancy is decreasing – for the first time in history, our children will die earlier than their parents. More and more kids develop allergies. Rates of autism are skyrocketing: in 1974, one in 10,000 kids were diagnosed with autism. In 2014, it’s one in 50. We need to make sure our families are fed the best food possible. People interested in their health aren’t extremists – we’re informed. And it’s up to us as individuals to reclaim our health.”

2. Consider your priorities.

“On average, we will eat 90,000 meals in our lifetime. That excites me as a chef, but that can be scary if we’re eating the wrong types of things. We’re deceiving ourselves if we think our food has no effect on our health. What we eat accumulates and forms habits. Choose wisely what you decide to eat and what you decide to feed your loved ones.”

3. Change your mindset.

“We will in a world where ‘food’ is anything you find in a supermarket. It’s become about convenience. We need to start seeing food as medicine or poison. As Hippocrates said, ‘Let food be thy medicine and let medicine be thy food.’”

4. It’s not expensive to eat well.

“Some people will claim that eating this way is expensive. It’s not. Most people find it cheaper. You just have to be smart about it. Shop at your local farmers’ markets. Get a chest freezer and go in with friends or family to buy your meat in bulk. It can be a bit pricier when you’re transitioning and stocking up on pantry staples, but just do that in stages. A little bit here and there.”

5. Paleo isn’t just about meat.

“Some people will claim meat is bad for you. It’s not. But the way most of it is farmed is horrendous. Find a butcher local you can get to know and trust. And ensure the meat you’re eating is high quality: grass-fed (and grass-finished) meat, wild-caught fish, and free-range organic chicken. That said, paleo isn’t about a huge consumption of meat. It involves a moderate consumption of high quality meat, lowering your starch and sugar intake, having an abundance of green leafy veg, and including good quality fats. It’s not a requirement to have a big steak for every meal.”

6. Don’t use food as a reward.

“Food shouldn’t be a reward. This is especially important for parents and grandparents. Kids don’t come to you for those treats you keep in the cupboard. They come to you for love attention and to be nurtured. Not food. What you feed them in their formative years will create lifelong habits. What’s the point of saying, ‘if you eat all your vegetables, you can have some ice cream’?”

7. Spend your money where it matters.

“A great thing about paleo is that the big corporations can’t profit from it. It’s the people doing the right thing that benefit – the farmers and fishermen and small local businesses. Find a butcher who stocks grass-fed beef. Find a grower that doesn’t use pesticides or chemicals. We need to develop relationships with these people and spend our money with them, which encourages them to keep doing the right thing.”

8. Build a community.

“Use social media and connect with people on Facebook or Instagram. Make little communities. Get together. Promote restaurants or suppliers doing the right thing. And share your story! We don’t see enough success stories out there.”

9. Don’t replace one bad habit with another.

“I see a lot of people making fancy desserts that are gluten-free, refined sugar-free, you name it. But guess what – they’re no better for you than the crap in supermarkets. The individual ingredients may be better for you, but do they strengthen you? No. They perpetuate the sugar cycle, the up and down, the dependence on sweet foods. You don’t need them.”

10. Embrace a paleo lifestyle.

“Paleo is about being balanced. This extends past food and is about embracing what it means to be human. This means movement; getting outside; being barefoot; getting some sunshine. We shouldn’t be afraid of the sun! Yes, we should respect for it. But we need the vitamin D. I love getting outside and surfing, but I have a healthy respect for the sun and I don’t get burnt. And for those of you wondering – no, I don’t use fake tan!”

11. Educate your kids.

“My daughters are aged eight and nine. Recently they went to a birthday party and asked if they could eat the lolly bags they came home with. And so I told them this story: ‘Imagine you had a bunny. And if you fed that bunny water, carrots and grass, it would be healthy happy and live a long time. And if you fed it anything else, it would become sick and not live as long. Would you feed it anything else except water, carrots and grass?’ When they answered no I said, ‘Well, you’re my bunnies. I want to feed you food that will keep you happy and not make you sick.’ Kids want to learn. They just need awareness.”

12. Be strong.

“You will encounter resistance. Your family and friends probably won’t agree with you. They’ll be scared of you changing. And paleo does scare the shit out of people – because you getting healthy makes people think that they might have to step up to the plate. But hang in there. Paleo has changed my life dramatically over the past three years, both physically and mentally. I truly have reclaimed my health, and you can too.”