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Why Are We Here, And What Are We Looking For? Food Associations And The Pitfalls Of The Search For Novelty
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June 6, 2012
5:16 am
Forum Posts: 2045
Member Since:
February 22, 2010
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Yes, I'm serious, and I'm asking a serious question: why are we here?

By "here", I mean "on the Internet, reading paleo and nutrition blogs, almost every day." This describes many of us—myself included—and I had to stop and ask myself "Why am I doing this? What am I looking for?"

Are we afraid that one of our number will turn nutrition completely upside down tomorrow morning—and that a few extra days, or even a couple weeks, of eating as we do now will harm us irreparably? Will a new archaeological find prove that Paleolithic humans subsisted mostly on flowers? Will Harvard researchers…

June 6, 2012
5:57 am

Very interesting article, but I think you underestimate the importance of putting paleo information out there (and "arguing more effectively on the internet").

Many of us frequent these sort of sites looking for some sort of social connection, or the opportunity to associate with people who agree with us, at least on some narrow range of topics. What happens as a result is that we get a skewed vision of the world, much like what I get at work. You see, I write software for a living, and the place where I work is full of smart people, many of whom are smarter than I am. So it comes as a shock to go out in public and encounter a sales clerk who can't reliably make change without the aid of the display on the cash register. Or, as I once encountered, a room full of applicants for a machine operator position, not one of which could figure the average of five 3-digit numbers even with the aid of a pocket calculator.

The reality is that 50% of the population is below average.

In the world of nutrition, there are still quacks like Ornish and McDougall, who are frantically screaming that "Eating fat makes you fat!" (that, BTW, is a quote from McDougall's website). That world is also still full of "research" that comes to whatever conclusion is required by its funding source. The more voices on the other side, the more likely somebody might be led to question the conventional "wisdom" of the USDA, which has led the USA (for the first time in our history) to experience a reduction in average lifespan.

So, what are we looking for? Maybe a consensus, although real science is not done by show of hands (although a lot of nutritional "science" is). I participate in this discussion (through my blog, and comments on others), because I want to be one of those voices that might lead to people challenging the convention "wisdom".

June 6, 2012
6:00 am
Forum Posts: 47
Member Since:
June 14, 2011
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Hi J. Of all those pictures there was only one which immediately drew a reaction - and that was the one of the roast!  As soon as I saw it, it made my mouth water.  Guess I am doing something right.


I too trawl a range of internet paleo sites.  I enjoy the debate and discussion, and it is nice to read how others are navigating the paleo path.  I used to need reassuring about this kind of stuff - hand-holding particularly around the safety of saturated fat and red meat - but no more.  I am now confident with the evolutionary paradigm and how it should be applied.


The science is interesting but I realised a while ago that the science can get way technical and you can quickly found yourself out of your depth at times.  Often the debate descends in to Google-Fu - and there is little value to derive from such an exercise.  There are battle a-raging at the moment, but if you have things dialled-in then most of us should be able to 'keep calm and carry on' no matter what 'next big thing' emerges. 


I am not sure historically that our diets ever changed that radically from day to day (notwithstanding seasonal factors), and really, that should apply to our diets now - as long as you are following an appropriate diet to start with.  It makes no more sense to allow your diet to swing between extremes as it does for the foods in your diet to swing between nutritional extremes.  Food shouldn't be able to change its nutritional stripes and the change in your diet should, I believe, broadly cycle no faster than a seasonal basis - not on a media basis. (Seasonal changes also allow requirements for nutrients that compete along metabolic pathways to be satisfied).


If you live 'close to the ground' then much of what expresses health seems to come your way.

June 6, 2012
6:08 am

Great article! BTW, my understanding is that it's not just the intoxication and fun with friends that helps us learn to like beer. Learning to associate it with wings, nachos, pizza, burgers etc helps a lot too ;).

June 6, 2012
6:35 am

Thank you! I often feel a bit foolish for "reading the internets" about a subject that I feel pretty bought into but now I have a better idea why and what I'm looking for. Maybe in 10 years I'll have built up enough positive, prime rib associations that I won't need the extra support.

The internet squabbles on other sites are off putting and depressing, as soon as one starts up, the site is usually taken off of my RSS reader. 🙂 I appreciate that you keep your site free of most of the BS.

June 6, 2012
6:45 am

For me it may have started as a search for new and positive associations with this life-style choice I've made, but that had faded with time. Where I used to visit MDA damn near daily, now I might stop by once a month to see if there's anything new. Perhaps I no longer need the support, having embraced the predator within.

Gnolls is different. I stumbled here from MDA, probably looking for more of what I found there, but discovered something else. I'm not sure how to describe it; this 'community' just feels different. I think you wind up here after you've lost the weight but are still interested in learning more. Where MDA posts daily (and frankly, at this point it's mostly fluff and filler) at gnolls you may have to wait weeks to see something new. It's always worth the wait.

Negative Food Associations: Early on in this diet (back when it might have been a 'diet' instead a way to eat for the rest of my life) I mentioned my 'cave-man diet' to friends. A year later they still bring it up every time I won't eat bagels or birthday cake. Of course here they are, fatter than last year.

Cold Thermogenics seems to be a hot topic right now. I'd be interested in your take. My own reading has suggested it's probably mostly bunk, or at least far less effective than people claim. I find I can't get beyond the thought that, really, who wants to lay in a bathtub full of ice water?

Anyway. Another great read. Keep up the good work, and I'm looking forward to the next one.

June 6, 2012
7:27 am

I started my internet career with a forum for low-carb support. Now I think there's actually hope for me to optimize my health and live well. I don't take anything at face value, but I weigh everything I read. There are so many seemingly well-informed people who dig for science and answers out here! I don't even pick up health magazines in the waiting rooms any more.

I've been able to shed poor eating habits, poor health advice and a sedentary lifestyle that will, hopefully, allow me to grow old gracefully. I don't care if I have to get picky at restaurants. After ten years, it doesn't cause any eyebrows to go up. Once a waitress even complemented my "healthy" choices.

I appreciate the Gnolls site for the education I get here. Keep up the good work!

June 6, 2012
7:39 am
Jan's Sushi Bar

THANK. YOU. Like Dakota, I find the recent round of squabbling - well, more like backstabbing and bitch-slapping - in some quarters extremely off-putting. Some of the paleo gadflies, ahem, aren't worth the time and energy it takes to "debate" them. I find it sad that some bloggers whom I usually find interesting and relevant waste so much space giving credence (yes, just acknowledging them gives them credence) to those who have made it their mission to belittle and ridicule people they disagree with. It is just not worth it and, as you pointed out, extremely counterproductive.

June 6, 2012
9:05 am

Good stuff JS.

Now if you'll excuse me I have some negativity to breed 😉

June 6, 2012
9:38 am

Being new to paleo has given me such exurberace in every aspect of my life, I can hardly sit still anymore. Thanks again for your provocative communication.

June 6, 2012
9:46 am

Good stuff, JS! The process of learning and studying is itself rewarding, even when it turns up nothing. Heck, nothing's more compelling than a good variable reinforcement schedule. I'll learn nothing nine times out of ten... but what if this time is number ten! And in fact the rate of reinforcement is much higher on this blog.

One effect of constant primal trawls is to raise my own standards of what is possible. This girl lifts heavier than me; this guy has made a more incredible transformation. If I compared myself only to those in my local milieu, complacency would dog me. But in the wider world there's always somebody to admire, emulate, and try to one-up. So I never lack motivation to conquer my goals and set new ones.

Most of all, as you put it so well in a previous article that I never tire of linking, we don't know everything about nutrition. We know even less about anti-nutrients. Nutritional science today is about where astrophysics was in the 17th century. I want to know more! Not just for practical reasons, but to better appreciate the infinite elegance and beauty of the human animal.

June 6, 2012
10:09 am

Why am I here?

Because desk jobs are boring, and I'm not allowed to just go outside for 4 hours in the middle of the day if I want to keep getting paid. Plus it will be 100+ outside every day for the next three months...

June 6, 2012
10:12 am

Good sound thoughts. I think you're probably right that it has a lot to do with a drive to find reinforcement for our choices.

Have to point out though that the real deep dish to lust after is Lou Malnati's!

June 6, 2012
10:26 am
Jason Seib

Fantastic, as usual. Thanks J!

June 6, 2012
10:34 am
Joe Brancaleone

Well written thoughts here.

There is lots to be said about exercises in being an "external viewer of self". This is like soft information in science applied.

I suppose I could think of my past sum experiences as a mixed bag; there are in fact associations reaching back that are useful to re-purpose in a new context of diet and well being. I don't mean that search to imitate old associations of comfort foods with new lesser ones, but to draw upon other areas in my younger years.

I think everyone has certain memories that stand out if you really think about them; where intuitive notions fit so well with a situation at hand. Positive associations were made and one's understanding of self grew in some way. It may take years and wisdom to allow us to evaluate which of those are kept and can be drawn upon in other disciplines, say newly cultivated intuition as a discipline.

Maybe it was a combined sense of adventure and connectedness on a road trip; maybe it was successfully taking apart and rebuilding an engine to make it run better only by learning to see how the parts are designed to work together; maybe a certain film gave special insight into the causality of human behaviors and passions. The sorts of things that can contribute to how to build a mindset for a newly adopted way of living, practically effecting even food choices (without going manic).

June 6, 2012
10:40 am
Joe Brancaleone

And just to piggyback more on that point, I think your post implies that is where the focus needs to go. Away from the search for new divinations from research of the hard information, and towards the soft information of describing the edges of the narrative we are participating in, how to think about what we think and why we implement the things we learn in the ways that we do, individually and collectively.

June 6, 2012
10:48 am
Joe Brancaleone

Or even within the research of the historical, the questions could shift to more difficult but interesting ones-- going from "What did culture X eat, how often and what did it do for them?" to q's like "Can we put together a causative model that explains their patterns of thought?"... so in turn, what were the underlying reasons and circumstances to bring about *their* positive associative connections, such that inferred dietary patterns among other practiced cultural traits?

June 6, 2012
11:17 am

For me this has very little to do with eating right and being healthy per se, its more of a scientific insight into how humans work best, and how we were meant to live. Its like learning family history, but this is the history of our species.

June 6, 2012
11:19 am

i think i still get into my spurts of internet-ing for paleo discussions 'cause i know there is, in fact, no ONE paleo diet - very likely many many variations on the theme (of which we can only "know" the probable basics...) and i look for those who have been creative with those possibilities.

yes - conformational bias drives all of us to dig around at moments i think, but to see how others do and reason out the paleo path is (still) quite interesting--

recently i have been ruminating on the assertions of the likes of Graham Hancock on the very real possibilities that we have not had this nice linear evolutionary path (that is rather universally assumed by paleo discussions for lack of better confirmed information) and been considering what previous dietary diversions our species has played with and how they affected our diet. is it hunter-gatherers all the way down (like the turtles...) or have we had longger genetic-influencing episodes of very different dietary intake?

the question then becomes what exactly are we genetically adapted to? i believe again, certain basics can be postulated but the possible variations prior to the historical record (for which we have a shaky grasp more than a couple thousand years back)- clearly hunter-gathering is the apparent dominant genetic influence, but what else is lurking in our adaptations long laid dormant?

June 6, 2012
12:40 pm
Live Free or Diet

"Do you have any additions to these lists?"

Go to a big get-together with friends or family. Sit down to the meal, pile up the same meats, cheeses, vegetables and fruits everyone else is eating. Listen to the "band" sing the hits: "You'll gain your weight back that way."
"That Low Carb crap is going to kill you."
"People neeed carbs for energy."
"Fat isn't even a food group."

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