Step Out of the Paleo Echo Chamber

This weekend when I learned that 12 Paleo Myths by Matt Stone was available for free on Amazon Kindle until Feb 20th, I reached out to several of my Paleo friends. Although each message was different. The general point was I found this to be a well-written caring critique of some of the Paleo beliefs. Not every point will apply to every person, but it can’t hurt to be aware of them. At a price point of FREE, why not grab it and give it a skim?

The response so far has been disappointing. Not a thank you. Not a piss off. Nothing. One person hinted that I should leave the local Paleo group. And these are people I know and care about.

I like Paleo. I like the narrative as a way for people without science backgrounds to embrace a less neolithic diet. What I don’t like is the narrow definition of Paleo preached by a handful of influential bloggers as gospel. You know the low-carb, almond flour, CrossFit, sugar-is-evil posse.

Many Paleo adopters seem to have forgotten that at one time they were open-minded enough to rethink their diet. They stopped fearing saturated fat, dietary cholesterol, and salt. And that was a good thing. But the lesson that we might not know everything and we might get some things wrong seems to be lost.

Some of the attacks on Paleo have been downright silly, but that doesn’t mean all criticisms are invalid. Wouldn’t it be wise to be aware of those potential downsides, especially if you are preaching this knowledge to others? But Paleo has grown increasingly cultish.

This was never more clear than after Sally Fallon’s critical review of The Paleo Solution by Robb Wolf. Many Paleo bloggers and commenters went nuts and felt the need to preach “But we’re on the same team”. Paleo and WAPF have a lot in common, but I fully agree with Carbsane. The article had valid criticism. The fact that Robb has been supportive of WAPF is not relevant to the book review. The fact the book was a few years old only becomes irrelevant if and when a new edition is published.

The way to make Paleo better is not to ignore or dismiss critics, but to listen and learn from them. You know evolve. For over a year now I have used the term “Post Paleo” on my Twitter profile. As much as the Paleo cheerleaders annoy me, the haters annoy me even more. They fail to see the enormous benefit a Paleo narrative – flaws and all – has on the health of many people. So “Post Paleo” is a way of saying I respect Paleo as a starting point or foundation, but I’ve moved on.


Add yours

  1. I really dislike the term and never use it to describe my eating, both because it suggests an impossible reenactment-style approach to diet, and increasingly because of the co-opting of quasi-related elements/behaviors as “paleo” (your Crossfitting, low-carb, bacon-at-every-meal, almond flour example) — when really they are just correlated.

    I think Matt’s style and lack of scientific support get in the way. I haven’t read this book but I’m uncomfortable, for example, pursuing his approaches when they counter, say, that of the Jaminets.

    But moreover the difficulty, I think, is that to really be ‘paleo’ is to embrace the evolving, as you say — which is not really a fun place to be. It’s much more comfortable to be certain. But I don’t think we’ll ever have the perfect diet figured out (although I’d love to see some longitudinal studies involving long-term prison inmates get fired up to help!), so good luck with all that.

  2. I like what I read on Mark’s Dail Apple this morning: We don’t know for sure what our ancestors ate,
    but we do know what they didn’t eat…

  3. Thanks for letting us know about this book. I will give it a read.

  4. Thanks, my Paleo Experience was pretty similar to his. When it started to go south my response was “I just need to try harder” and it only got worse. It was definitely a big positive overall as it got me off the processed foods, but you have to be careful not to go to far down the rabbit hole.

  5. My issue with MDA’s latest article is the implication that natural is better. While that might be true for many things, it doesn’t hold true that it is optimal in every case. A modern world has modern stressors. If we go back on this blog you can see how a clean diet left me underweight. I couldn’t stop losing weight until I added ice cream to my diet. We know Paleo dude never had ice cream, but maybe Paleo dude would have had a better outcome with some Haagen Dazs at the end of a hunt? We don’t know.

  6. @John D – My only issue with Matt and many others in the nutrition field is they rarely preface their advice with whom they believe their audience to be. Projection bias is rampant in the blogosphere. Although I am clearly not the researcher others are, I always try and preface reasons why I do something with a little background about myself. And as bad as nutritional bloggers are with projection bias, the fitness community is even worse.

  7. I’m interested and will give it a read but my limited exposure to Stone, by way of your recommendation, left me quite willing to discredit him on bad form alone: Really? You want to use the word “douche” in your opening chapter of Eat for Heat? I left those personalities behind in high-school. The writing is atrocious, credentials scarce, and little evidence that what he espouses works, in his own physique or those of clients or other persons.

    If there’s good information to be gleaned, then I’m game (please do us the favor of distilling it into something digestible, as you manage to do well here). But I suspect his revelations are in themselves unoriginal and better packaged elsewhere besides. From an amazon review “while there is a bibliography, there are no specific references to the many claims made in the book”.

  8. @Justin – I actually like Matt’s writing style. It is refreshing to me in the age where bloated writing is seen as more credible. I like the fact I don’t need a graduate degree in health to comprehend the ideas in it. I’m scanning the book now and I see links to studies as well as further reading ideas. Not as much as many books, but there are some.

    To me this book helped explain some of what happened to me and what I saw happening to others. I used the term “stacking stressors” earlier this week in another post. Taken separately many healthy ideas are indeed healthy, but do them simultaneously and continue doing them simultaneously and problems can surface. This book helped me understand this better.

  9. My experience on a low carb paleo “diet” matches up quite a bit with what Matt Stone talks about in his books. I do feel better eating more carbs. The one thing I have trouble with is his advice to drink much less water. I feel much tighter when I cut way back on water. Have you experimented with this?

  10. @Bill – I found drinking less water (and tea) resulted in better sleep and warmer body temperature. Both pleasant. Maybe I was a little tighter now that I think about it. Will pay attention more to that now.

  11. “If we go back on this blog you can see how a clean diet left me underweight. I couldn’t stop losing weight until I added ice cream to my diet. We know Paleo dude never had ice cream, but maybe Paleo dude would have had a better outcome with some Haagen Dazs at the end of a hunt? We don’t know.”

    MAS: Once you get old enought, you kind of dream of the days you were “underweight”…like a lean, mean, fighting machine. And don’t get me wrong cause I have a passion for ice cream….it is my downfall….but in most instances I see modern man’s food inventions as a bunch of garbage…I don’t think man can improve on God’s perfection…

  12. @Gman – Ice cream saved me from being underweight, but in the process I developed a sweet tooth where before I had none. Only later would I discover dairy kefir, which I now consider an equally good food choice with far less risk of over consumption.

  13. MAS – Your “Post Paleo” branding reminds me of Kurt Harris’ decision to self-apply the “Archevore” label, a wise and honest move. That being said, I incline to @JohnD’s point about labeling – I try not to apply a label to my way of eating because of the connotations that words like “Paleo” have for others. Words like that are also just too limiting.

    Of course if a word like “Paleo” is to have any meaning, then there needs to be some shared consensus about the boundaries of the concept. Sure, the “the low-carb, almond flour, CrossFit, sugar-is-evil posse” draws an overly narrow definition of “Paleo”, but, to my mind, the really funny stuff is the mental gymnastics that posse will undertake in order to include alcohol, coffee, and concentrated supplements like fish oil in their fundamentalist approach. Still it’s also fair to say (and I think you would agree) that there’s probably no meaningful definition of “Paleo” big enough to include ice cream.

    So let’s do what you did: Get real. Stop frittering around with pointless labels and work the underlying concepts.

  14. @Geoff – I agree about ice cream not being Paleo. Their loss. 😉

    The most complete label for myself would be a mix of WAPF + some Ray Peat ideas. But I’m always changing as new info unfolds that makes sense to my situation, which itself it often changing.

  15. Some day we will come to the conclusion that man can flourish on a highly varied diet, and all
    he really needs is plenty of low key movement with the occasional burst of speed and strenght,
    good sleep, good sex and a pint of IPA….

  16. @MAS, overall I find your approach good. There is now way too much arguing in the Paleo world. I remain interested in the ideas, but not the drama.

    Unfortunately I see Fallon’s article as contributing to the mess. I like WAPF, am busy rereading Nourishing Traditions, and have a huge amount of respect for it. It is head and shoulders above any Paleo cookbook I’ve seen. However, it’s clear to me that Fallon and her group believe that they already have all the answers that matter. They seem to disdain Paleos as Johnny-come-latelys who have popularized their work and dumbed it down, instead of recognizing that many people know about WAPF only because of Paleo.

    I’d love to read Fallon on what the Paleos get right, especially if she considers two of the best regarded Paleo diets, Perfect Health Diet and Primal Blueprint.

  17. I keep running into some serious Paleo controversy on the internet. I’m a newbie. So far, I have enjoyed my paleo eating. I’ve made fresh foods with fresh ingredients that are real food that my family will eat. I’m thrilled. When I look for new recipes, I often find some article complaining about the complaining about paleo.

    I came straight from a McDonald’s diet to a paleo diet. As you can imagine, all of my results are positive. But, I’m not gung-ho. I did replace my chemical coffee creamer to coconut milk, and it is creamier. But my coconut milk does have guar gum. And I’m not going to sweat it. Guar gum has got to be better than my diet of McDonald’s.

    What I have learned by learning the paleo ideology is that everything truly is okay, in moderation. If I want a break for a meal, I have a pulled pork baked potato or pizza. Sometimes I eat store bought croutons on a salad. I do paleo 80% of the time, and I just don’t get freaked out the rest of the time.

    I have also learned to listen to my body. I know now when I am hungry. I know when I am full. I know that one cup of coffee is okay. My body does not like two cups. I know that bacon is too greasy for me to eat too often, and my gut says no. I know that I have zero problem eating eggs or aged cheeses. I know that my body loves vegetables, but it does not like sugar. When I eat sugar I flush up in my cheeks.

    I have noticed improved health, steady weight loss, better skin, more energy, no cravings. I have abandoned McDonalds altogether.

    And that bag-of-Doritos-a-day habit – gone.

    The one thing I like most about paleo is that after you learn the basics, it seems to be all about finding what works best for your body, your metabolism.

    Personally, I like Paleo for Dummies. I read Robb’s book. *yawn* *yawn*

    Paleo for Dummies – great recipes, cut and dried, a little science, a LOT of “now take this information and here’s how you apply it.” That’s what I’m talkin’ about. Gimme the bottom line.

    Big Tex – IPA’s suck! Haven’t had an Irish Pale Ale yet that I enjoyed. Fat Tire tho…..Yum.

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