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Primal living: How to optimise your health with nutritional expert Pauline Cox

By Irene Caswell  |  October 11, 2020
Image Credit: Pauline Cox/Sow and Arrow

The need to take personal responsibility for our own health has become glaringly clear under the bright spotlight of the pandemic. It has never been more apparent that the food and lifestyle choices we make impacts directly upon our health and wellbeing.

Taking control of our own welfare, however, has become more complex than simply losing those few extra ‘lockdown pounds’. Self care now involves a comprehensive package of daily practises. Social media is awash with messages urging us to meditate, de-stress, grown our own vegetables, embrace our community, and get out into nature. It is quite a tall order. How do we begin to implement changes in order to not simply be well, but to positively flourish?

Pauline Cox, BSc. MSc. believes that a good place to start is by examining the beliefs that have been ‘drilled’ into us since childhood, from our own families, at school, on television and in the media. Many of us believe we are living a healthy lifestyle and making good choices about our food and lifestyle but they may not be the right choices for us as individuals.

Primal beings

Cox’s new book, Primal Living in a Modern World is essentially a how-to health guide with simple recipes and easy-to-understand science. Cox aims to inspire everyone who has attempted to diet or live more healthily, and felt ‘miserable, deprived or a failure’ when the results did not meet our expectations. The basic premise is that our efforts are not simply about motivation or willpower but rather that modern lifestyles work against our primal blueprint.

 Pauline Cox is co-founder of Sow and Arrow and a passionate advocate of anti-inflammatory, low-carb living, using food as medicine. Image credit: Suzi Bird of Sunlight Photography

Human DNA is hard-wired to survival and if we are not feeling one hundred percent, it means that our body is telling us something needs attention. The unique physiology of human beings means that we are able to burn sugar for instant energy in times of stress, and ketones produced by the liver from fats for more sustained energy.

Sugar-burning results in more free radicals in the body whereas utilising ketones is more efficient and causes less damage. Free-radicals in large quantities bombard our cells, cause premature ageing with cellular damage to the mitochondria, and inflammation. All of which can result in disease in the body.

A modern lifestyle

Despite our bodies being overfed with constant snacking we can also be undernourished, even when our body weight appears in the accepted normal range. Without the times of famine experienced by our ancestors, the body’s energy producing cells typically utilise glucose for fuel. The effects of this lifestyle include disruption to our biochemical signalling, altered metabolic hormones, mismatched gut bacteria, and fluctuating blood sugars.

In addition, separate research has shown that pesticides and additives in food play havoc with our endocrine systems. It is also claimed that many prepared foods, as opposed to real or clean food as it has become known, are often developed specifically to produce an addiction to certain foods to ensure increased consumption.

Cox believes that trying to diet or manage our food has gone beyond willpower and discipline as we are constantly bombarded with messages from our brains to ‘eat like your life depends upon it’.

A blueprint for survival

Primal Living in a Modern World is essentially a ‘how to’ health guide with simple recipes and easy-to-understand science

After giving birth to her second child, Cox, a health professional for many years, found that despite feeding her body on what she thought was a healthy diet, she was experiencing a range of unwelcome symptoms. These included episodes of fatigue, shortness of breath, palpitations, erratic heartbeat, and a short fuse when it came to everyday life.

Anger, guilt and frustration were just some of the emotions she struggled to manage. Finally recognising that there was a problem, Cox began researching with the aim of rediscovering homeostasis, the state of wellbeing achieved when our bodies are provided with all the necessary components. The first thing she discovered was that she was a sugar addict.

Cox began self-experimenting with a bespoke approach to health and wellbeing, working to stabilise her biochemistry and balance out metabolic hormones and began the transformation from sugar-burner to fat-burner.

Primal does not present a definitive diet plan to follow but instead outlines the scientific facts based on research and shares some of Cox’s own experiences as she worked to change her thinking and lifestyle. There are tips on how to swap high-carbs for low-carbs and a recipe section to get you started, as well as ways to improve daily habits to support your goals.

Cox argues that creating a magnificent version of ourselves is not vain or self-indulgent but a duty to self care. It is certainly true that modern lifestyles means we need to be the very best versions of ourselves not just to cope but to possibly to survive.

Top tips

All recipes in the book are low carb and gluten free

Look objectively at what you are eating, sugars, for example, have a destructive impact on our cellular physiology. Even though Cox was eating a vegetarian, gluten-free diet, she realised this was over-reliant on carbohydrates such as oats, grains, brown rice, dates, and anything else sweet she could ‘dress up as healthy’.

Implement a diet overhaul with a three-step testing approach of remove, repair and reinstate to find the foods that work for you and improve your microbiome. Cox noticed that small but lasting changes quickly showed improvement.

Deal with the frustration of your efforts. Rather than seek a short term solution, address the relationship with yourself with self care and prioritise your health and wellbeing. Serving yourself first puts you in the best position to serve those you love.

Become the gatekeeper of your own health destiny. Accept where you are with your health and make peace with yourself. You are in control. Challenge old paradigms such as aches, pain and exhaustion and weight gain come with ageing, or are ‘just a part of life’. Work to eliminate the inflammatory visceral fat including around the waist that is now known to be detrimental to health.

Draw a line under the past and begin afresh. Open your eyes and your mind and let go of old habits to establish new ones to create lasting changes that work for you. Believe that eating well is an act of self-love, a form of self respect. Think of the effort you put into your job or your house, or time spent deciding which new phone to buy. Your health comes before any of these things, so redirect some of that time and energy.

Sugar burner to fat burner

Implement a diet overhaul with a three-step testing approach of remove, repair and reinstate to find the foods that work for you and improve your microbiome

Cox believes that when we understand our primitive beginnings, the human story of how we evolved and what we need to thrive, we are no longer a slave to our metabolism or to poor health.

Eight years on and Cox says her body is stronger and healthier, and functions at a level she would never have imagined. Despite a new outlook on life she admits there are still ‘bad days’ but a well nourished brain enables her to move quickly beyond minor setbacks.


Pauline Cox is co-founder of Sow and Arrow and a passionate advocate of anti-inflammatory, low-carb living, using food as medicine. She has two Bachelors of Science and a Masters in Nutrition from the University of Bristol.⁠

Primal Living in a Modern World is a step-by-step guide that will teach you why we are sick, how to reverse and heal and how to safeguard you and your family’s health and is available to purchase for £28.95 from

Food images courtesy of Pauline Fox/Sow and Arrow