“Paleo is not a religion”
- Robb “Holy Cats” Wolf
I was so glad to hear Robb say this in the intro to his Paleo Solution Seminar talk, but had to resist yelling out an ironic “Amen, Brother!” I have a hard time convincing people that Paleo is not a religion or based on some mythical way of eating. The concept of a “Paleo Diet Creation Myth” has saturated the media, and though we, the more vocal proponents, fight these stereotypes and logical fallacies, we really have no one to blame but ourselves. What I (and others) must call for now is a movement to propel Paleo beyond strictly anthropological explanations for food choices, and to instead incorporate biochemistry and physiology into the model.
Most of us are aware that our Paleolithic ancestors really did provide the inspiration for the modern Paleo lifestyle. But in reality we just don’t know enough about how they lived and what they ate without being able to interview them ourselves. At best, we have a group of hypotheses, that while today are sound, have the potential to be disproven at any moment. And that’s pretty poor criteria for changing the entire way you live your life.
All the counter points I’ve seen to the Paleo lifestyle seem to hinge on the logical fallacy that we eat what we eat because it’s what our ancestors ate. Look at white potatoes; the average Paleo person will say that potatoes are verboten because of what they’ve been told, but can’t point to a sound reason. Our Paleolithic ancestors likely did consume potatoes in small quantities because they would eat whatever they could get their hands on to survive. Modern man shouldn’t eat potatoes because of the high saponin content in the skin, high lectin load, and high insulin response. But if you tell someone that you don’t eat potatoes because cavemen didn’t, then you’re just adding fuel to the fire. The critics have fixated on this point because we laid it out there; Loren Cordain and Art DeVany’s work is heavily based in ancestral diet but the average person misconstrues their work in evolutionary biology with strict anthropology. The two fields are related, but you can’t use anthropology to make dietary recommendations. That work is exceedingly important in helping us understand where we came from and how civilization and some neolithic foods are killing us and it’s important to understand the distinction.
To me, we should be more interested in conducting scientific experiments to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt which foods are healthy to eat and which aren’t. So while it’s convenient to use “Grok”, “Caveman”, and “Paleo” to describe the movement, it’s important to qualify the approach with science-based intention. Some of the people who do this the best are Melissa and Dallas of Whole9 Life, who make no mention of “Paleo” or “cavemen” in their workshops at all. Also, Dr. Kurt Harris changed his blog name from PaNu (a portmanteau of Paleo and Nutrition) to the far more badass Archevore for similar reasons.
The critics of Paleo are easy to defeat if we just draw the conversation away from historical reenactment and focus it on hard science instead. Not that science is infallible or immune to data cherry picking, but it certainly creates a different set of rules in which to conduct ourselves.
So what do we call ourselves?
Well, I still plan to use the Paleo/caveman paradigm because I find it entertaining. But let me recommend an approach that I use myself whenever I talk about Paleo to non-Paleo folks:
- Talk about what you eat first, before you talk about what you don’t
- Use phrases and words like “whole food”, “unprocessed” and “fresh.” Sean Croxton over at Underground Wellness coined the term “Just Eat Real Food” and I’m a big fan of that
- Remind people (and yourself) that this isn’t a diet, it’s a lifestyle that you maintain
- Always think critically when it comes to articles, books, tv shows that you see. An investigative mind will always prevail.
- Arm yourself with enough science to be able to discuss the topic intelligently. It’s ok if you don’t have a science background, there are plenty of us who try to make it straight-forward for everyone, but please don’t follow us blindly either.
Here are a few of my favorite posts on the subject: