Body by Bedrock

Chicago Tribune’s RedEye, April 23, 2011

Collin Korab gets teased a lot by his co-workers. They don’t understand why he has chicken carcasses on his desk after lunch. They don’t get why his friends run barefoot and toss around 20-pound medicine balls.

No wonder his colleagues call him Caveman Boy.

Though Korab doesn’t carry a club or live in a cave (he lives in Wrigleyville), there is some truth to the nickname. He’s a follower of the Paleolithic — or caveman — diet, which means he only eats what he could hunt or gather.

“People often don’t understand why I do it,” said Korab, 26. “They try to poke holes in the theory, which doesn’t really bother me.”

The basic idea behind the paleo diet is that food production has evolved much faster than our bodies have. Therefore, paleo people say, we should try to mimic the eating habits of our ancient ancestors, sticking to lean meats and vegetables and skipping bread, artificial sweeteners and alcohol. Devotees say they lose weight and feel great.

“It works for many people, particularly if you hold onto a lot of belly fat,” said Chicago nutrition consultant Sherry Belcher.

She says the diet also can help lower cholesterol and blood pressure, as well as offer other health benefits.

“Removing any and all of these [nonpaleo] foods will have nothing but a positive effect on the body,” said Sheena Lawrick, a former Olympian and coach at Windy City CrossFit in Lakeview, where members are encouraged to combine a paleo diet with their workouts. Lawrick also notes that paleo isn’t so much about counting calories — it’s about feeding your body good food.

“A well-respected nutrition expert once told me, ‘Food is fuel, food is not reward.’ That stuck with me,” said Jon Callahan, 39, of Andersonville, whose whole family — including his wife and three children, ages 3, 5 and 8 — eats paleo. Callahan says he is sharper and has more energy since shifting to a paleo diet two years ago.

For some, paleo is more than food. It’s a lifestyle that has them bragging about way-old-school gym routines in which they scurry through the underbrush on all fours and stocking their refrigerators with liver and other organ meats. Some go even more hardcore, eating raw meat and giving blood to replicate their ancestors’ scuffles in prehistoric battles. That seems a bit extreme to Lakeview caveman Jon Dolias: “Nutrition is one thing, draining yourself of blood? I’ll skip that.”

Dolias, 26, has been following the paleo diet for more than a year but admits his resolve is often tested. “I’m a sugar addict, so giving that up was a huge challenge,” he said. Traveling also tempts him. “Louisiana tests me every time!” Dolias said. “Sure, I could have grilled Gulf fish, but I could also chow down on etouffee, and how often do I get to have that?”

Even so, he says the sacrifices are worth it. “I have more energy, I feel better, I look in the mirror and I’m happy with what I see.”

Belcher warns that paleo is not for everyone. “People who take a lot of medications or have a complicated health history many times need a little bit more of a special diet,” she said.

But for those interested in learning more, devotees suggest starting with paleo godfather Loren Cordain’s website, thepaleodiet.com, and books, including “The Paleo Diet Book.” Also: Robb Wolf’s robbwolf.com and “The Paleo Solution.”

Then prepare for lots of questions from friends, family and co-workers.

Korab cheerfully withstands the taunting and sticks with his caveman philosophy in part because he’s dropped about 20 pounds since going paleo a year and a half ago. More and more, he says, he’s been watching disbelievers join his tribe. “My roommate, who was a big critic of the paleo, recently started [the diet] and has lost 23 pounds in five weeks,” he said, smiling widely. “So the proof is in the paleo pudding.”

Find out which Chicago restaurants are good for a paleo diet HERE.

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