Interview with The Paleo Model, David Sciola

About David Sciola Occupation and location?

Fashion model and creator of The Paleo Model blog. I'm privileged to call New York City my home these days.

What made you become Paleo, and when?

I've been tinkering with my own health and performance since I was a gawky, chubby teenager. At 15 I started on a wheat free, yeast free, sugar and dairy free diet that was very similar to Paleo. This was over a decade before I'd ever heard the term. I guess I officially started following the Paleo diet in 2010.

Health benefits you've noticed after becoming Paleo? Do you recommend this way of eating for everyone?

The biggest interventions for me becoming Paleo was cutting out grains and shifting towards a higher fat, lower carbohydrate diet. At the time I was eating a lot of cereal and other processed carbohydrates to fuel my road cycling obsession - I was clocking up 12-15 hours a week on the bike. I felt like crap, battling constant hunger and food cravings. Once I eliminated grains, cut back on the sugar and focused on healthy fats I saw marked improvements in energy, mood and mental clarity. The biggest difference is experiencing seemingly endless energy and being able to go many many hours without even thinking about food. It was incredibly liberating. I have never looked back, and now I cycle only for transport and enjoyment.

Do I recommend Paleo for everyone? Yes. But there is no one single Paleo diet prescription. It is merely a rough template for optimal human nutrition. If you ask me you can be Paleo and vegetarian, or Paleo and still eat certain types of dairy or drink some alcohol. If you ignore the dogma I think there is a version of Paleo for everyone. You need to find out what works best for you.

Has modeling motivated you to live and be healthier? How has this industry affected your life?

I am really grateful that I fell into modeling some 10 years ago. Being a high achieving A-type personality about to finish a Finance degree in Melbourne I was on a trajectory for a high-stress office job and an unhealthy lifestyle. Modeling gave me the freedom of time and the impetus to keep in good physical shape. I was passionate about nutrition and fitness well before I started modeling but the dynamic of the job - solo travel, ample free time and relatively good money for my age - made it very easy to immerse myself in a healthy "Paleo" lifestyle. I could read all the nutrition literature, buy the best food, cook my own meals, self experiment, train every day, sleep well and get plenty of sun. It was perfect really. I understand that not everyone has that much freedom but now that I'm not just modeling and am busy with various other projects and jobs (and also recently engaged!) I can see that it is entirely possibly to build a demanding career and home life around a healthy lifestyle.

Favorite treat?

I’m currently obsessed with plantain chips at the moment. I get the savory plain ones made with palm oil to avoid excessive polyunsaturated fat from canola oil. I have to be careful because they are hyper-palatable, energy and carbohydrate dense and I can easily polish off a whole packet!

Do you ever have a "cheat" day? What are your "cheat" foods?

Before Paleo I tried the Tim Ferriss 'Slow Carb' diet which had a cheat day every week on Saturday. I think it is a really bad idea to schedule in "cheat days" or "cheat meals". Here's why: you build up this occasion in your mind all week - how crazy am I going to go this time? A whole Cheesecake? Pizza and a pint of ice cream? Then you justify it because you're good the other six days of the week. Invariably you end up feeling like absolute crap and it takes days to recover. I wholeheartedly believe in not being strict 100 per cent of the time. However, you need to take control of your nutrition and your mindset is key here. Calling something a "cheat" meal is creating negative mental associations with the action of eating something "naughty". It is not empowering you but rather giving you an excuse to stray from your goal. It is important to take responsibility for everything you put in your body and to be in control of your food choices. For example, imagine it is a beautiful balmy night, one of the last ones we will probably get this summer. After drinking a few wines you decided to go and get an ice cream with your partner. You treat this as a reward and a pleasurable experience. This is a conscious choice. Tomorrow you will get back to your healthy routine. The difference between this and a pre-scheduled "cheat meal" is small but significant. It is the difference between saying, "I can't eat Pizza" (restrictive) or "I choose not to eat Pizza" (empowering). So in answer to your question, I often eat non-Paleo foods and I don't worry about it because I'm very healthy most of the time and I am human. I have vices. And life is to be enjoyed.

What are some of your go-to snack foods?

Honestly I don't snack much because my meals are so substantial and nutrient-dense that I am not hungry in between. But I love sprouted almonds, organic carrots, 85% cacao dark chocolate, shredded coconut or even a spoonful of coconut oil.

Do you cook for yourself or eat out?

I used to cook nearly all my meals but living in New York City I seem to be eating out a lot, which is not ideal but I do my best. I often make my own salads from the Whole Foods salad bar.

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What do you recommend to people wanting to begin a healthy way of living?

First and foremost you need to have a pure, internal motivation. Wanting to lose 10 pounds or get a six pack is not a good enough motivation for most people. If you have emotional issues that cause you to self-sabotage achieving a healthy physique, for example, you have to address these first. Once you have the motivation though, it can be relatively easy. There are many, many ways to be healthy. You need to strike your own path. But let me give you an actionable answer. Here are three steps to forging a healthier lifestyle:

  1. Find a couple of simple, easy to follow practices you can do that will improve your health. It might be as simple as eliminating soda from your diet or doing 5 minutes of yoga every day upon waking.
  2. Do this every single day, without fail, until it becomes a habit. This may take 30-60 days. Be disciplined.
  3. Slowly build up other healthy habits and try to eliminate or minimize unhealthy ones and over time - this may take years - you will forge a healthy lifestyle that is completely sustainable. Eventually this will become your identity and being healthy will simply be a matter of course. You are no longer a soda drinker.

Do you believe that ones diet is just as important as exercising? 

I believe nutrition is the most important lifestyle factor by far, followed by sleep, stress management, exercise, play, sun exposure, healthy relationships, etc. Of course these factors all overlap but nutrition is the foundation of any healthy lifestyle. For a laugh you can read my ‘diet vs exercise analogy’.

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How do you incorporate exercise into your life? What are your favorite activities?

My current ideal formula that works for me looks something like this:

High intensity weight/circuit training - similar to CrossFit [once or twice a week] 

Yoga - Typically Ashtanga or Vinyasa, NOT hot yoga [once or twice a week if time permits]

Sprints - On a track, 8 x 10-20 seconds of max effort [once a week]

Low intensity cycling - For transport [20-60 minutes every day]

Play - Such as Frisbee, body surfing, hiking, golf, etc [when I get the chance]

This may seem like a lot but I incorporate movement into every day so it doesn't seem like exercise. Also this is an "ideal" week - I can get away with a lot less. My minimum requirement to maintain a healthy physique is only about one hour of gym time a week and maybe a 15 minute sprint session thrown in. I don’t count riding my bike as exercise.

What are the top foods that you believe are harmful in any diet? 

  1. Industrial vegetable and seed oils such as canola, sunflower, safflower, corn, cottonseed and soybean oil. These high linoleic acid polyunsaturated fats are unstable when heated, inflammatory, have zero valuable nutrition and I believe they contribute to heart disease.
  2. Wheat. I believe wheat is potentially problematic to most humans and even if not, there aren’t many compelling reasons to eat it. Like most grains, wheat is nutrient poor compared to seafood, meat, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds.
  3. Anything that comes in shiny packaging and is advertised on TV should generally be avoided.

What are the top foods you believe people should include in their diet?

Eat more fat! I believe our reliance on cheap, refined carbohydrates and our vilification of dietary fat is at the root of our current obesity, diabetes and heart disease epidemics.

(Non-starchy) vegetables are fantastic in terms of nutrient density and we should eat as much of these as possible. But let’s be honest - leafy greens and cruciforms are energy poor. One ounce (10-12 kernels) of macadamia nuts has the same energy as one pound (two bags) of raw kale. I believe natural, whole food fats are the preferred fuel source for humans and this should constitute the majority of our diet (in terms of percentage of calories, which is very different to percentage of food by weight). I eat mountains of salad but I make sure I add fat - extra virgin olive oil, avocado, tuna, raw almonds, shredded coconut.

So scrap the 6-10 servings of “healthy whole grains” recommended by our biased government and eat more wild-caught seafood, grass-fed beef, pastured eggs, coconut products, raw nuts, etc. We still require some carbohydrates but these should come from mainly from roots and tubers like sweet potato and carrots and some whole fruits and berries.

"Eat Paleo. Train. Live life." - The Paleo Model.

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