Do You Live Paleo, or Just Eat Paleo?

There is a great guest post published today, over at the Free The Animal blog by Russ Crandall, entitled “

>The Difference Between Eating Paleo and “Being Paleo””.

Russ, evidently attended the recent PaleoFX Symposium, and came to a few conclusions about what it means to either “be Paleo” or just “eat Paleo”.

“I can honestly say with conviction that I “eat Paleo”. However, I do not identify myself as “being Paleo”. I think there’s a distinction that needs to be made before we move on.

To me, “being Paleo” means that you are self-identifying with a group. It’s like calling yourself a musician or a video gamer (as opposed to simply writing music or playing video games). The problem with identification is that disidentification – the mentality of “us vs. them”, and a focus on what you are NOT – often emerges. Consider the in-group-out-group bias. This phenomenon can lead to aggression and prejudice, and some suggest that it leads to a lack of productivity, as identifiers take action while disidentifiers tend to just make a lot of talk. (And who is the “them” in this case? Just about everyone else – those pesky grain-eaters that make up the rest of the population, and those cursed Vegans that try and muck everything up!).

While the Paleosphere (thankfully) doesn’t focus too much on the “them” aspect of the diet, there’s definitely an overbearing “us” momentum that isn’t entirely healthy, either. I often see the Paleosphere as being on this slippery slope towards extremism.”

Just for the record, I don’t see a large

problem with extremism. Almost everyone identifies strongly with one group or another. I think there is a fine line between “extremism” and “passion”. It’s difficult for people not become “extremely passionate” about something that has potentially saved their lives, or at least made a huge difference in their health and happiness. Anyway….back to the article:

“As an ever-increasingly-large group of people that eat a similar diet and in many cases hold similar values, I think it’s important we don’t lose sight of the fact that extremists and ideologists often alienate themselves from the rest of society. How are we supposed to make an impact on the nutrition world if we work the Paleosphere up into a frenzied cult status? John George and Laird Wilcox, scholars of fringe movements, have identified the following characteristics of political extremists and ideological contrarians:

1. Absolute certainty they have the truth.”

I’m not certain about anything, other than that no-one knows the entire truth as of yet.

“2. [The belief that] America is controlled to a greater or lesser extent by a conspiratorial group. In fact, they believe this evil group is very powerful and controls most nations.”

I have to admit that I subscribe to this one. I believe that it’s all about the money, and ultimately we will all suffer at the hands of an oppressive totalitarian world government. Sorry, was that weird?

“3. Open hatred of opponents. Because these opponents (actually “enemies” in the extremists’ eyes) are seen as a part of or sympathizers with “The Conspiracy,” they deserve hatred and contempt.”

I don’t really hate anyone. I hate the fact that vegans think that they are doing what they need to do, in order to be healthy. I hate that some people believe that the world was created 5,000 years ago, and we cohabitated with dinosaurs….but I don’t really hate people as such. I guess I just hate stupid ideas.

“4. Little faith in the democratic process. Mainly because most believe “The Conspiracy” has great influence in the U.S. government, and therefore extremists usually spurn compromise.”

Come on now, does anyone really believe that the President has any REAL power, and is anything more than a puppet? Also, I’d love to see some evidence that middle or lower class people voting for a president actually makes any difference at all. Well does it?

“5. Willingness to deny basic civil liberties to certain fellow citizens, because enemies deserve no liberties.”

I don’t think people over the age of 80 should be allowed to drive….does that count? Now if they’re Paleo, it’s fine. I’m kidding.

“6. Consistent indulgence in irresponsible accusations and character assassination.”

There’s nothing irresponsible about my character assassinations. I’m very careful in my choice of characters I want to openly assassinate. Dr. Oz for example…..tell me he doesn’t deserve it!

“Does that sound alarmingly familiar to you? Admittedly, the above characteristics have a major political slant, and the fact that big corporations have major influence on what ends up on our dinner plates may not lead to some of those characteristics (like the willingness to deny basic civil liberties part).

I can’t deny that a relatively extreme diet (side note: it’s sad that the Paleo diet is considered “extreme” in this age of processed/fast foods) will attract people that gravitate towards fringe thinking – as sociologist Daniel Bell put it, for those on the fringe, “the way you hold beliefs is more important than what you hold. If somebody’s been a rigid Communist, he becomes a rigid anti-Communist – the rigidity being constant.” How many ex-Vegans are in the Paleosphere? Lots. (As some would argue: not enough.) An extreme lifestyle will attract extremists, which simply isn’t preventable. My point is this: just because there are crazies in the Paleosphere, we don’t have to listen to them, and we need to keep ourselves in check to make sure we don’t become them. An easy way to prevent this is to continually challenge ourselves to question our dietary standards, and to avoid dogmatism.

So where do we start? How can we make sure that we promote this diet in the most open, pragmatic, unobtrusive, and inclusive way? Here are some quick suggestions:

1. Don’t tell people that you “are Paleo”. Hell, don’t even tell them that you eat “Paleo”, because the use of labels is in itself exclusionary. Just tell them what you eat, and maybe what you don’t eat. It doesn’t need to be more complicated than that. Look at the Weston A. Price dietary guidelines. It’s very similar to the modern interpretation of the Paleo diet, and they don’t tell you what to avoid, even once. Focus on the whole foods, not on yet-to-be-completely-proven-as-evil grains, legumes, etc.”

I think this is solid advice. Unless you’re actively going for the shock value, or a “what’s Paleo?!” reply, it’s best not to use the word “Paleo”, or even “Caveman diet”, as that certainly tends to put people off, before you ever get your extremist foot through the door.

“2. Don’t use flawed ideas or gray areas to promote the diet, because it calls the Paleosphere’s credibility into question. Don’t worship bacon, which is likely not good for you, even if it is (was) somewhat fashionable to “baconize” stuff. It’s a useful ingredient in cooking, but it’s not our flagship food. Don’t celebrate “Paleo versions” of sweets like Paleo brownies because that’s not helping people overcome their underlying food issues and if anything it’s guiding them towards failure. The last thing we should do is to set people on shaky foundations. Personally, I’m all about Dr. Kurt Harris‘ incremental process, because it encourages folks to improve their health even when they’re not ready to dive into a full-blown Paleo eating orgy.”

This is great! I’ve never been a fan of “paleoizing” highly palatable treat foods like brownies and cakes, and we know that bacon is not optimal meat at all. Everyone likes to wave the fact that low-carb and Paleo/Primal people tend to eat a lot of bacon, in people’s faces, but it’s more of a shock and awe move than anything else.

“3. Avoid dogmatic thinking. Are potatoes evil? What about white rice? What about dairy? Aren’t we supposed to be eating low carb? Remember that human variance, health history, and gut flora are major factors in food tolerance, and macronutrient ratios are highly individualized. This diet is ever-changing (and it should be as scientific study helps enlighten our views on nutrition every day); be open to suggestion.”

I change my mind as often as I change my underwear, which is typically at least once a week. Don’t let the dogma creep into your mind. Don’t forget that just because something works for you, it doesn’t mean that it will work for everyone else on the planet.

“4. Try not to alienate others by flaunting an overbearing self-identification of “being Paleo.” You’re not a caveman, and you’re certainly not living like one, so why label yourself as one? If anything, I suggest embracing what we do have in common with our ancestors – the fact that we’re all on this planet. Go take a walk/hike. Watch a sunset. Spend a few days camping. That’s certainly closer to being a caveman than eating a pound of lean red meat straight out of a slow cooker after a hard day at the office and then blogging about it.
5. Bear in mind that everyone has their own burden. I’m pretty sure that most people simply cannot afford to eat fresh organic vegetables and grass-fed meats all the time. My family can’t afford it, despite the fact that a huge chunk of our income goes towards our groceries – nearly twice as much as before we switched our diet. Additionally, many people don’t have the resources to find out whether or not they have access to affordable grass-fed meats anyway – online resources are often outdated, and I’ll wager that many excellent farmers are out working and not updating their farm’s webpage and social networking fan pages. Many don’t have access to local, affordable health food markets. This is no reason to make people feel bad for having to make sacrifices to make ends meat meet; instead celebrate the steps that people are willing to take for their health that are within their means.
6. Avoid the fringe, and consider the power of prudence. What is the point of wearing t-shirts that say “Meat is awesome” or “Vegans suck”? Before shouting from the rooftops about how stuff like cold thermogenesis and eating butter straight out of the container is awesome, take a step back and think about how crazy that sounds to the average person. I’m not saying that any of those extreme elements are bad, but they might not be helping the Paleo movement along when that’s the stuff we get identified with. When it comes down to it, who better to police the Paleosphere than ourselves?

Lastly, please don’t take this as an insult to anyone that’s exhibited these behaviors. Dramatically improving your health through simple changes in diet is awesome, and exciting. I don’t fault you for telling people that “you’re Paleo”. My only purpose in writing this article is to help consider the fact that we need to do what we can to impact those that aren’t lucky enough to know much about sensible eating yet. As much as it may be fun to be part of a cool, elite club of Paleo dieters that share cool pictures and sayings amongst themselves, isn’t our energy better spent on refining the diet itself through scientific study and attracting people that haven’t been exposed to the diet yet?”

That last point it one of the most impactful points of the bunch, in my opinion. It is fun to be part of the Paleo group, but let’s not lose sight of why we got into this whole thing to begin with….because the science just made sense! What you believe to be “the truth” today, may very well not be what you believe to be true tomorrow, or the next day. In the face of new and emerging information, we HAVE to all be ready to change our minds in an instant. Even if that means performing a complete 180 degree turn. Don’t say “that’s not Paleo” or “you shouldn’t do that” to others….after all, who are we to make that claim? How do WE know what’s Paleo and what isn’t. How do we know that some of the evolutionarily novel foods that we eat today aren’t actually BETTER for us, than some of the foods we were eating in Paleolithic times?

Not getting stuck in Paleo dogma means not excluding information sources that might actually bring additional health and joy to your life. Take Dr. Ray Peat for example….I really enjoy reading his work, and I get a ton of value from it. Some of it goes completely against Paleo principles, some it goes directly hand-in-hand. Why would anyone want to believe what other so-called “authorities” say about someone else’s opinion? Go read this stuff for yourself, and then make up your own mind. What do you have to lose? If you don’t “buy it”, so what? Now you know WHY you don’t buy it, and it’s not just because someone else said it was bunk.

Personally, I now think that Gary Taubes isn’t as “right” as I used to think he was. It now seems like his hypothesis of carbohydrate driven obesity and disease is too simplistic, because we keep discovering more pieces of the pie, that increasingly have no place within his beliefs. Sure the whole “too many carbs cause diabetes” was a great explanation at first, but it hasn’t really stood the test of time.

I enjoy reading the blogs of Danny Roddy, and Evelyn (AKA Carbsane) because they are still doing what I love to see happen….and that is rocking the boat! We say that Paleo is thinking outside the box, but if you want to think outside-outside the box, check out those blogs.

I originally got into this whole nutrition deal, because I loved all of the controversial information that just made a lot of sense, and totally flew in the face of conventional wisdom. But now, even standard Paleo is getting a little too “conventional” in my mind. It’s stagnating. Why are so many people swearing off Dr Jack Kruse? Well his writings may be a little hard to follow, but his ideas are definitely worth looking into. Don’t listen to what Melissa McEwen has to say about Jack Kruse, go read the material for yourself!

Do you live Paleo, or just eat Paleo?

This is your journey, and sometimes you just have to make up your own damn mind, as intelligent and free (for now) people.

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One Response to Do You Live Paleo, or Just Eat Paleo?

  1. Ken O'Neill March 30, 2012 at 11:05 am

    What a timely & wonderful article, certainly one given due consideration by means of unraveling the complexities as well as undertaking analysis outside of the Paleosphere.

    Just prior to Paleo FX I, too, published a blog article dealing with some of the issues I see confronting “Paleo”: Beyond Paleo (http://transevolutionaryfitness.wordpress.com/2012/03/12/beyond-paleo/). Paleo FX seemed to underscored those points insofar as it turned out to be more of a Paleo Fair than a bona fide conference. During the Fair, an interesting discussion occured between half a dozen of us, all with at least 50 years personal and professional Iron Game/Physical Culture experience: consensus was the conference was an interesting fitness fair, not overly unique since we’ve been to versions of them for decades. What is unique for those with an historical perspective is that for decades Physical Culture’s twofold foundation has been (1) robust exercise and (2) a nutrient dense diet of whole foods; with solid Paleo, we’re all delighted to witness validation of the foundation of our lifelong way of living upon a solid, newly emerging science expressed in Paleo. As for the exercise component, all agreed with my Beyond Paleo observation that Paleo is over run with commercialized, Pre-Paleo theories of training making the same wild-ass, half-true, otherwise irresponsibly misleading claims as always. As the most perfect human diet, there’s little question of the efficacy of Paleo: as a lifestyle, the jury’s out since the science is not in. Claims of Paleo exertion ported over to exercise requirements simply do not jibe with anthropologial reporting, more likely than not grapped on to for cooking the books in favor of under training. Hence, Paleo has a lot of room for growth to become a sustainable next chapter in Physical Culture – at least that’s the view of those of us who’ve lived versions of it all our lives, hence are far from gullible or desperate.
    Thanks for including George & Wilcox characterization of fringe groups. The tendency to uberglauben always runs high. Insofar as both the HIT and CrossFit movements have invaded Paleo with laughable claims of being ‘paleo fitness’, we have in their presence two well established fringe groups bringing with them unhealthy habits of mind.