Before I speak one word on paleo dieting, let's get one thing perfectly clear:
THIS IS NOT AN ANTI-PALEO POST.
Nor is this a PRO-paleo post.
Nor is this post attempting to be binary in any way. I am neither coming out in favor nor in admonishment of paleo dieting. So please – please! – do not attempt to color me as having a standpoint of absolution on this topic.
No seriously – ARE WE GOOD ON THIS?
You "get" that this is not a sour rant nor blind praise?
All clear? Yes?
And breathe . . .
Now, the reason I need such an exaggerated disclaimer is that few dieters present themselves with the righteous certainty of those who cling to the "paleo diet." Paleo dieters are almost as bad as peanut butter lovers, among whom if you don't claim to live for their food of choice will all claim that you're somehow completely against the very existence of peanut butter and are the great enemy. There is no middle ground for peanut butter lovers; if you do not yearn to smear it all over your nethers, then you hate it. There is no such thing as peanut butter neutrality. And it seems paleo dieters are very similar. If you do not agree deeply with their principles, then somehow in their ears you are refuting them.
Well, guys: I'm not. I know you love to foist behind yourselves millennia of human experience which claims that you alone are eating "the way the body was meant to eat." I know you feel the divine hand of Darwin has touched you above all others in our species. And I know the rest of us "have it wrong: in your eyes. I get it. But really, I just wanted to point something out:
You may have sort of forgotten one vital organ in your evaluation of what a "whole body" is about. More specifically, paleo dieting seems to overlook the brain in it's understanding of the human eating experience.
I am not saying that paleo dieting is bad for the brain. Not at all. In fact, the way paleo diets are run I would imagine it is rather good for the organic matter of the brain. Paleo's emphasis on clean fats and robust protein could only service the neurology. No, I am not arguing paleo dieting has forgotten the brain's physical health. I am suggesting paleo dieting may have forgotten the brain's role in it's very creation.
Check this out:
How do we "know" how paleolithic man ate? Research, of course. Anthropology, archaeology, genetic research and all sorts of sciencey stuff is what has helped us discern the eating habits of early man. Myself, I sort of tend to side with well-vetted science. So I buy it. We got a pretty good clue as to what helped man evolve and survive and kick some major saber-tooth tiger ass.
However, where did the science come from? Well, the technology used to determine these paleolithic standards involves all sorts of microscopes and chemical tests and fancy equipment, doo-hickeys and goo-gags to get the work done. And all that gear had to come from a lot of humans doing a lot of thinking.
Likewise, the bankrolls behind all that science and technology bad-assery relied on a lot of people doing lots of math and running a lot of big think tanks.
And we know that this sort of science and money and research and exploration has been going on for a long time. Thousands of years when you think about it. From the Phoenicians through the Greeks and Romans; through the Far East and in China; even across parts of the Americas, and certainly through Europe's Renaissance and Industrial eras; there has been a lot of thinking and studying going on. And all that thinking and industry and science wonkery over the years allows us to see into the past and know what was up, all the way back to caveman times.
So, really, paleo dieting wouldn't have come to anyone's mind unless there was the ability to be scientific. And that ability very much depends on not hunting and gathering. Pretty hard to run lab tests on genetic strains when you got to forage for seven hours a day for some wild raspberries or spear a few carp before sunset. One of the reasons the paleolithic men couldn't know what their own ancestors ate was that, well, them bison ain't gonna hunt themselves!
Paleo dieting could not exist without the onset of agricultural civilization. And we know what horrible crimes arose from farming and cities. That's right – you guessed it – farming led to (gasp!) non-paleo eating!
Oh, the horrors!
That's right. The minute we stopped eating pale, we began developing the skills to discover how we ate before we stopped eating paleo. The scientific discoveries on paleo eating rely directly on humans aggressively insisting on not eating a paleo diet.
In other words: paleo dieting would not exist, even as a concept, without thousands of years of non-paleo eating. Paleo eating was, in a sense, a failure of human evolution, not a success. Sure it allowed some jungle daring-do and probably helped spear a walrus or two, but overall it limited humans ability to use their most vital evolutionary edge: their brains.
Our brains are what have allowed us success. And like I noted before: paleo dieting was great if you want to live in a cave and never create telephones, baseball or archaeology. But most humans sort of like the things their minds can create. And indeed, like eating in ways that can help that happen.
The very industries which have allowed the spread of the paleo diet theories – the bajillion dollar "fitness" industry and the umpteen-bagoogle million dollar media industry – were the both the result of a whole lot of non-paleo eating. My friends, you wouldn't have known paleo even existed unless millions of humans eagerly refuted paleo dieting.
And herein lies the logic flaw behind paleo diets. They only describe the body as if it were not attached to the brain. And our brain is sort of, well, what makes our species unique from others.
Indeed, some scientists (so I've heard somewhere) actually believe it was the ability to make better food (read: the predecessor foods to non-paleo eating) which caused our evolution from homo erectus to homo sapiens. In other words, what made "thinking man" was his ability to not have to eat like a paleolithic wretch. Our evolution was caused by the very urge to not eat paleo, not by the adherence to such eating. The more "desirable" humans for mating were actually the ones who would gradually evolve to make cinnamon rolls and pork dumplings, and not the goons who wanted to do burpees and eat raw mushrooms.
When evaluating the paleo diet it's vital to understand it's principles as opposed to convert to it's church. Such dieting would have never existed without lots and lots of non-paleo eating habits. The very foods and habits paleo dieting condemns are the same habits which allowed us a window into paleolithic eating to begin with.
It is a mobius of logic; a palindrome of dieting principles. In order to come up with any argument in favor of paleo dieting one must engage in a whole lot of non-paleo dieting to arrive at the conclusion.
And this is what I share, as a coach, to the countless people who ask the flat, bland question: "So, XN; what do you think of paleo dieting?"
My answer is that the "thinking" is often not the part considered, and if we want to be purist about being human than we sort of have to uphold the brain's role in our construction of eating habits. I'm not saying that we should all go eat bread and bacon until we bust a spleen – that would be a binary notion, and we already cleared up that issue in the opener to this article. I am merely saying that the principles of healthful eating with whole foods from natural sources is a phenomenal and vital concept for improved performance and healthy weight maintenance, yet can not unto itself sustain your own personal evolution into something other than, well, a caveman.
Which is why this is not an anti-paleo diet post. This is an anti-cavement post, perhaps, but not anti-paleo. It is merely pro-thinking; pro-homo-sapiens. The brains which allow us to understand paleo dieting , and the great feats which gave us to tools to discover paleolithic man's habits rely on a whole lot of non-paleo noshing.
This is merely your reality check, folks: paleo dieting wouldn't even exist without "anti-paleo" eating.