I can’t get away from it. The Paleo. It’s everywhere. My natural grocery store has a display devoted to Paleo cookbooks and reference texts. The blogosphere is all but saturated with titles like Paleo Hacks, Paleo on a Budget, Everyday Paleo, and The Paleo Plan. My damn Pinterest feed is littered with Paleo affirmations. Hell, I’ve even tried to cash in on the fad, labeling some of my recipes as “paleo/primal friendly.” But no matter how often I see the “benefits” of the Paleo diet spewed about from various sources, frankly, it seems like a crock. And as far as I can tell, it is:
5 Reasons Why Your Paleo Diet is Pathetic
1. It’s not the be-all, end-all of eating styles. One could probably notice the same benefits with any change of diet. “There’s this tendency to want to find the normal human diet,” said Randolph Nesse, professor of psychiatry and psychology at the University of Michigan, who might be called a father of evolutionary medicine, in a recent interview on NPR.org. “But every single diet you pick has an advantage of some sort. Humans have lived in all kinds of places and we have adapted to all kinds of diets.” Basically, there is no one perfect solution to all of your eating dilemmas.
2. Paleo could very well be harmful to your body in the long-term. A strict Paleo diet can be labeled as a “ketogenic diet,” meaning it is high in fat, low in carbs, and contains an adequate amount of protein. However, this type of eating could be robbing your body of essential nutrients and taxing your organs. Additionally, those who are prone to eating disorders could suffer even more. Scott Abel, a prominent online health and fitness coach, posted this warning on Facebook in response to the popularity of keto diets: “Let’s be clear here. I’ve been coaching clients with eating disorders for well over a decade now. And while all diets and long-term attempts at calorie deprivation run the risks of begetting eating disorders, certain diet “styles” are riskiest. Far and away the riskiest diet styles for turning into eating disorders are diets that severely restrict carbohydrate – keto-type diets in particular. Of my experience with eating disorders, I’d say over 80% of clients with eating disorders or suffering metabolic consequences were triggered by “keto” type diets and associated carb-restricting attempts. For people who already have the psychological traits associated with eating disorders, these types of diets are like putting a lit match to a gasoline tank. Do with that information what you will–but at least consider it! That “diet” may feel to you like its working “for now,” but there may be serious and long-term consequences ahead.”
On top of that, it is now common knowledge that consuming too much red meat can lead to health problems, namely, heart disease. NPR reported on this downfall of the Paleo diet in June 2012.
3. Paleo was founded on a myth, and cutting out entire food groups just doesn’t make evolutionary nor scientific sense. Paleo-philes seem to operate on the notion that our ancestors were a particular type of person, hunting and gathering a specific type of diet, and that our bodies are “designed” to process only certain types of foods. Barbara J. King, a biological anthropologist at the College of William and Mary, reported on NPR in October 2011: “Here’s where science most forcefully speaks back. First, ancient hunter-gatherer groups adapted to local environments that were regionally and seasonally variable — for instance, coastal or inland, game-saturated or grain-abundant (eating grains was not necessarily incompatible with hunter-gatherer living). Second, genes were not in control. People learned what worked in local context for survival and reproduction, and surely, just as in other primates, cultural traditions began to play a role in who ate what. In short, there was no single hunter-gatherer foraging strategy, and genes no more “designed” our eating behavior than they designed our language or our ways of relating between the genders.”
To further this point, Jane Lear, in her article, “If You Believe in Science, Don’t Go Paleo,” contends, “As far as I’m concerned, the idea that there is essentially one Paleo Diet is up there with the equally ill-founded notion that there is one cuisine that defines India, say, or China. Proponents [of the Paleo diet] may put forth clear and logical—thus easy to understand—arguments, but that doesn’t necessarily make them correct. (Before you get your knickers in a twist, think about the Flat Earth Society. And the Tea Party.).” Ha!
4. It’s expensive. And exclusionary. Paleo isn’t for everyone; it’s for the upper-class. I couldn’t find any good demographics for the typical Paleo eater, though this survey came close. Essentially, the typical Paleo is an American, between the ages of 21-40, who is college-educated, and married without children. The survey linked above didn’t ask about race nor income, but I can assure you, as a person who tried to adhere to this diet, it’s freakin’ expensive. When you’re buying nothing but grass-fed, local meats, substituting tons of produce for your formerly-found-in-grains fiber, relying on nuts to fuel you, and investing in expensive ingredients like coconut flour and the like, the grocery bill adds up. Restrictive diets like veganism and Paleo exist only where they CAN exist. People who can’t afford to make distinctive choices about which food groups they eat simply don’t consider these diets an option at all–in the U.S. nor anywhere else.
5. Individual bodies have individual needs at any given time. One of my favorite nutrition gurus, Annemarie Colbin, writes in Food and Healing, “…there is no one diet that is right for everyone all the time. It is crucial that each person contemplating a change in diet monitor his or her body’s feedback, the feelings it emits of “okay” or “not okay”(10). I felt a bit hypocritical in typing this piece, since I have test-driven many diet styles from veganism to even Paleo. Friends will tell you that I’m borderline insane in my efforts to stop people from imbibing so much dairy. Yet, when my son was born and we began breastfeeding, and my body was taxed of calories and fat, I knew I had to give up on being vegan. I allowed meat back into my diet. Then some dairy. And now, you could call me a regular omnivore. I listened to what my body needed, and this should always be the case.
[box] It’s extremely hard to figure out whether or not something is good or bad for you based on purely intellectual reasoning. … even with things that we can all intellectually agree is unhealthy, such as a meal at McDonald’s, there will be literally thousands of people that read this book who are freezing cold, or haven’t slept through the night in years, or who are suffering from anxiety, yada yada. And most of those health-conscious people wouldn’t DARE eat at McDonald’s. But, to their surprise, they might find almost immediate relief from their health condition(s) if they were to go pig out on 2-3 double Cheeseburgers, an apple pie or two, and an ice cold Coke from none other than the infamous Mickey D’s. Why? Because the calorie-density, digestibility, and salt and sugar-heavy load of a McDonald’s meal is unparalleled. And for someone in a really low metabolic state, this can literally be the most therapeutic of all combinations. You might heal faster eating at McDonald’s than trying to do it on organic, unrefined, wholesome, and nutritious food because such food is not as calorie-dense, has a higher water content, has more fiber, and is just too damn filling and unexciting to foster the same level of calorie consumption. So the unknowns about what is and isn’t healthy for an individual at any given moment are so vast that they are beyond our ability to neatly file into categories of “good” and “bad.” … You need to move on from this overly analytical way of thinking. For health reasons.”[/box]
So, ultimately, is the Paleo diet bad? No, not if that’s what you feel your body needs to be doing at this time. I can attest that a vegan diet introduced me to the idea that my body functions best without too much dairy. I learned how to cook new foods in different ways. I got educated about the horrors of factory farming and our food supply. But when my body needed a change, I listened, and I was informed, and I broke the rules. That is how a health journey begins, by breaking a prescribed doctrine and doing what is right for YOU.
Want another great resource? I glean so much info, inspiration, and insight from Amber the personal trainer behind GoKaleo.com. A couple of my sources in this post were found originally via Go Kaleo’s Facebook page. If you’re looking for a simple philosophy about health, “eat well, move, get enough sleep,” and powerful motivation to boot, I urge you to follow Go Kaleo. She’s pretty badass and one of my internet heroes.
Do you adhere to a Paleo diet? Have you tried it?
What are your thoughts on the Paleo fad?