The biggest trend I’ve seen in nutritional blogs in the past year is the growing anti-Paleo movement. Unlike the 2008-2010 period, the attacks aren’t coming from the conventional “whole grains are good and cholesterol is bad” crowd. The attacks today are coming from those that tried a Paleo diet and have abandoned the label. Many even had great success with the diet. The reasons for leaving Paleo vary and I am going to go through some of them in this post.
Personally, I am torn. There are things I like and things I’ve grown to dislike about what it means to be Paleo. In this post, I am going to go through what I dislike and like about Paleo.
Photo by Pascal
Some background. I am not a health professional or PubMed Warrior. I come to health from a finance and programming background. I look for patterns of failure and try to figure out the motivations behind what is often conflicting nutritional advice. Enough disclaimer, here are a few of the problems I see in Paleo.
- Fear of Carbs – I will say that things are slowly improving thanks to Paul Jaminet of The Perfect Health Diet and the attention he brought to safe starches. Safe starches are the glucose sources of carbohydrates that include white rice, potatoes and sweet potatoes. A year ago I wrote my thoughts in the post Dances With Carbohydrates. Other variations of Fear of Carbs include fear of fructose (fruit) or fear of sugar (glucose + fructose). Even though I am neutral on sugar, I think this fear is likely over stated. Regarding insulin, I suspect Krieger is right, not Taubes.
- CrossFit – I think CrossFit is both dangerous and unnecessary to achieve a high level of fitness. The fact it is so associated with Paleo troubles me. See my posts Help Me Understand CrossFit and Responding to a CrossFit Enthusiast for my thoughts. Also check out Anthony Dream Johnson’s post The Cross Fit “Attitude” : A Disease.
- Stricter is Better Mentality – This is a problem with every diet. We make changes and get amazing results at first, but then the results stall or even reverse a little. Instead of recognizing that we have changed, we decide to follow a stricter version of what has stalled. We shake our heads at the vegetarian that goes vegan and then becomes a raw food vegan, yet Paleo followers fail to see the same patterns in themselves. In the Paleo community there are no shortage of blogs that promote a stricter is better message. They work real well for 25 year old mesomorphic males, but then again so does everything else. I prefer a less strict approach. See Loosening the Paleo Collar.
- Male Biased – As a dude, this isn’t my battle, but I can clearly see that a lot of the advice given in the Paleo community that could benefit men might actually make the health worse for women. I was likely guilty of this in some of my older posts. When it comes to intermittent fasting, cold thermogenesis, extended low carb dieting and extreme exercise, I would advise women to do their own research and not take the word of some guy with visible abs, especially if you have thyroid issues, are pregnant or trying to conceive.
- Whole Paycheck Paleo – I love my grass fed, free range, organic heirloom stuff as much as the next health conscious person, but the people in society with the worst health tend to be poor. They can’t afford to spend their entire paycheck on high quality food and (gag) CrossFit gym memberships. I think a lot of people are turned off from Paleo because they see it as a diet for people with a lot of disposable income. Yes, you can try and make the debate that the person will save money on health care in the long run, but the reality is Paleo has an elitism problem. And the truth is the big gains in health come from removing the big toxins (wheat, veggie oils, unfermented soy) and cooking your own meals, not from paying twice as much for groceries,
- Complicate to Profit – I love Matt Metzgar‘s comment on my post Primal Certification? Are You Kidding? He said complicate to profit. There a lot of people in Paleo that have decided to take Paleo in a complicated neurotic direction to make money. I get that people need to pay the rent, but the core message of Paleo is one based on simplicity and empowerment. I’m thankful these hucksters weren’t around when I was first introduced to the diet.
- The Obsession With “Optimal” Health – I believe the quest for optimal health at certain point makes one less resilient and less healthy. I cover that in the post Healthy vs Resilient.
What I Like About Paleo
To me Paleo is more about a mindset. Unlike every other diet that I had been exposed to, this one said I didn’t need to be an expert. Imagine a world 10,000 years ago and what foods would have been available. There is your starting point. Those foods are nutrient dense and you’ll greatly reduce your risk of major chronic illnesses. Paleo taught me to question conventional wisdom. Its root message of simplicity and resiliency appealed to me. It still does.
Paleo taught me to question all nutritional dogma, including Paleo dogma itself. This led me to the opinion that Paleo is a good place to start, but rejecting the last 10,000 years of ancestral knowledge of food would be a mistake. This is why I say The Endgame for Paleo is WAPF. Rejecting the last 100 years of industrial food is still probably a wise idea for most.
Since being exposed to Paleo, I’ve taken control and responsibility for my health. I run my own health experiments and I’ve learned a ton about cooking and food in the last few years.
Am I Paleo?
I’ve drifted so far away from Paleo in the last few years, I don’t know if one could call my diet Paleo. If someone asks me today if I am Paleo, I’ll respond with, I like Paleo only as a starting point. It is a good first step. But I also believe Paleo is unnecessarily restrictive. We have evolved since the Paleolithic era. Melissa of Hunt Gather Love just rejected the Paleo label in the post Breaking Up With Paleo. I’m linking to her post, because her nutritional journey looks similar to mine.
Vegetarian -> Paleo -> WAPF + some Ray Peat, Matt Stone and Danny Roddy.
Unlike her, I didn’t experience any health issues on Paleo. I’ll explain why in a future post. So am I Paleo? Is rejecting wheat, veggie oils and unfermented soy enough to keep me in the tribe?