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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
1:35 pm
Cameron, Tx
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September 24, 2011
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Great article, JS.

Reading and re-reading, I think, are vital to forming the positive associations we need. We are reconditioning ourselves- I'm 31 and been paleo for just over 2 years so I've had a lot of conditioning to overcome( fortunately for me, it's easy to get past conditioned ideas once I have legit science or other facts to overturn my previously held conceptions). Long term potentiation is a powerful tool for better, or for worse.

Personally, I also read the blogs and scientific papers and whatnot out of both pure enjoyment and professional education. Then again, I'm a huge nerd. ūüėČ

"Why are we here" is indeed an important question to ask. And we must answer that for ourselves; oftentimes going outside and running around and climbing trees provides all the answers and LTP reinforcement I need.

June 6, 2012
2:07 pm
That Paleo Guy

And this post, J.S., is exactly why you are still in my Google Reader, and still on my blogroll, at a time when I have hit unsubscribe and unfollow on many others.


June 6, 2012
2:17 pm
Miki Ben-Dor

One of the commandments in Judaism is to "contemplate it (the Bible) day and night" the actual word in Hebrew (hagita)also means "think" and "study".
This is quite necessary in my opinion,as to obey hundreds of "Mitsvas" (commandments)on a daily basis is completely unnatural so one needs to be permanently motivated.
To most people, eating Paleo is an experiment in solitude, ie unnatural. A constant contemplation may therefore be a good strategy to stay on course.
Another motivation for people to be present on-line is the feeling that we have found a truth that can save the world and we feel a duty to tell it. I know these are big words and when we see the same motivation and know-it-all style in other people like vegetarians it may look pathetic but there is no sense denying it as it is quite apparent to everyone who reads Paleo blogs.

June 6, 2012
3:32 pm

I'm with Timothy and Howard - self education and community. Now, I'm in an unusual personal circumstance that exacerbates a sense of isolation (I'm an expat and SAHM) so perhaps both of those aspects loom disproportionately large for me. But yeah, you swim upstream all day and by evening want o ta) hang with other tired salmon and b) arm yourself for the next day's struggle. At its simplest, paleo equals JERF. Got it. Move on. But the social and political implications, the history of the alternatives, the reasons smart people speculate that it works... that's good stuff. I'm not at all inclined to preach any gospel, nor to sit in any choir. As Paleo Periodical recently posted, after a while 'is XYZ paleo?' questions digs about arterycloggingsaturatedfats get old. The re-wiring is complete (I associate childhood foods with rancid seed oils, not a hug from the past). What's left is the search for tribe, and knowledge.

June 6, 2012
3:33 pm

Nonetheless, you're spot on that I need to GO OUTSIDE more often!

June 6, 2012
10:42 pm

Always looking for ways to make this information relevant to other people. We have to be vigilant in taking responsibility for our own health.

BTW, thanks for linking your response to my question! Keep up the fantastic work!

June 7, 2012
4:05 am

Clever post.

June 7, 2012
5:55 am

I confess I am utterly bored by most of the paleo stuff out there. I don't read blogs for community or to help others (I find most people do not take kindly to being told they're doing it all wrong). You see, my diet was ok before I stumbled across paleo (I always prefer home cooked food to anything you can buy outdoors).

I don't search for permission to eat whatever the dickens I please nor do I need to defend the way I eat to others. And I'm frankly bemused why some have stumbled down the replication route (coconut and almond flour are awful). Eat the real thing and be done with it. Besides, when you eat real meat, fish, fowl children's food by comparison is disappointing and dull.

It was my penchant for anti-establishment which attracted me initially. Then it was looking at the pics of hot men. It led me down the path to reading Muscle Smoke and Mirrors, watching videos of men using their bodies to do things I would never do. It led me to reading blogs in the manosphere. It gave me a new appreciation for men who are masculine in thought and behaviour; the fearlessness, the daring to do and contradict. Love it. Surprisingly, it is my new love for men which has resulted in me appreciating my body more. And for that I will always raise a glass to the paleo/primal/ancestral health crowd.

June 7, 2012
9:32 am
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I agree that it's important to have a diverse chorus of voices -- if only to make it clear to anyone new to paleo that it's not just the same fifty people congratulating each other.  

However, instead of trying to present something new each day, my approach is to maintain an index that makes my previous work easy to find.  There's plenty of gold in the archives of many paleo bloggers, but it's several years old and therefore difficult to find (Dr. Eades is a great example).  This is a limitation of blogging in general: it takes extra work to maintain any structure but "the latest thing is the important thing" we fall into the novelty trap.

Yes, 50% of the population is below average.  The simple fact that my articles run several thousand words means I'm not going to reach everyone.  That's fine: none of us can stuff knowledge down anyone's throat -- and most people simply end up doing what everyone else around them does, no matter how "smart" they are.  Lead by example, never give up.


Exactly.  If we keep ourselves centered on basic principles, e.g. "Eat close to the ground," or my own "Eat foods you could pick, dig, or spear.  Mostly spear," it's much more difficult to be knocked off-center.  

I really like your parenthetical aside "(Seasonal changes also allow requirements for nutrients that compete along metabolic pathways to be satisfied)."  That's a solid insight, and I'd like to see you explore it further!


You're right.  Certain foods become associated with each other by being consumed together so frequently: it's a self-reinforcing cycle.  Pizza, wings, nachos -- "bar food" in general -- gets associated with beer.  Etc.


I'm glad I could provide some insight!  Thanks for the kind words.

More soon...


June 7, 2012
12:36 pm
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"Perhaps I no longer need the support, having embraced the predator within."

That's the place I'm trying to help people get to.  Plenty of places can tell you how to eat paleo: what's necessary is a change in identity, from "I'm on a diet" to "This is who I am now."

"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."

Eat Like A Predator tells you everything you need to know about what to eat.  I'm more interested in exploring the science behind it: why it works as well as it does, and how it changes us to function optimally.  As a bonus, the more we know about why this is indeed the natural diet of humans, the less likely we are to be swayed by the next diet fad…and the easier it is to convince the skeptical.

"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."

You can open the door, but they've got to walk through it on their own.

"Cold Thermogenics seems to be a hot topic right now. I'd be interested in your take."

I haven't done enough research to make any definitive pronouncements.  

That being said, I do not agree with the currently fashionable view that cold is purely a hormetic stressor: there are effects on thyroid function, just to choose one example.  Maybe I'll take a look at it once all the controversy isn't so fresh…right now it feels like picking at a scab.


"Once a waitress even complemented my "healthy" choices."

It's currently quite fashionable to dump on Atkins ‚ÄĒ but he was willing to stand up and take arrows in the back for decades. ¬†I respect that. ¬†

While I'm not low-carb myself (relatively speaking…I tend to eat a Perfect Health Diet level of starch), I don't feel it necessary or find it productive to dump on low-carbers.  Frankly, if it weren't for the previous efforts of the low-carb community, we'd have a much harder time convincing people that it's OK to eat a lot of meat and eggs.

Thank you for the vote of confidence!


I'm glad you appreciate what I do!  

I'm not interested in telling anyone else what they should or shouldn't be saying or doing.  I'm just reminding us to ask ourselves "Am I furthering my own goals by reading or participating in this?"  


Keep doing what you do. ¬†I hope I made it clear that I'm not telling¬†anyone not to argue ‚ÄĒ because it's necessary to weed the garden of ideas. ¬†

As I said to Jan, each of us needs to ask ourselves if it furthers our own goals to participate.  Sometimes I get sucked into it myself.


"Being new to paleo has given me such exurberace in every aspect of my life, I can hardly sit still anymore."

Hearing comments like yours helps justify all the time I spend on writing and research!


More to come!


June 7, 2012
1:05 pm

wow. your writing is very enlightening.

i can think about few negative associations for most Americans, at least for my husband. (he is not that young either!

despite being on lacto-paleo diet for ~2 years & having lost most of his sweet tooth, there're few things that he has not acquired a taste. they just gross him out.

. _strange_ animal parts (like bone, organs, skin, eyes, blood, shell fish, fish with bones, animal with face/eyes, etc)

. animal fat or fatty meat

. fermented vegetables

. fermented fish/shrimp sauce

. sea vegetables

his idea of animal food is very American (meat have to be in very civilized --- cut into neat piece, no skin, no bones, no fat, no eyes/face/ears, etc, etc)

below are his "positively association" food that are impossible to break:

. soft drinks (sweet & bubbly)
. chips/crackers

so i try as best as i can.

since i did not grow up in this culture, i have an easier time. we dont' eat very civilized food.

i always found American boring & tame, even before i switched diet. most is "in want" of palatability.

most fermented food seem an acquired taste.

(i soy milk is also an acquired taste. i don't mean those flavored boxes in US grocery.

a lot of us prefer soy milk "salted (w/ soy sauce & vinegar + toppings).


June 8, 2012
2:04 am

Great post!

"I think that a primary reason paleo eaters‚ÄĒparticularly those of us new to paleo‚ÄĒspend so much time online is to build positive associations with our new way of eating".

I agree that this explains, at least in part, why so many spend so many hours online. Though, i think this is natural human behavior - we often search for information that supports our beliefs. Marketers say that this helps avoid post-purchase dissonance; after we buy something, we look for things to reinforce our purchase. The same can be said about almost anything we do.

The pic of you on the mountain is awesome. Where exactly is that?

June 8, 2012
12:22 pm

Thank you for this article. I have been waiting very impatiently for you to post a new one. Like others I stumbled across you - MDA being my first Paleo/Primal site and the beginning of an "experiment" since I had already been successfully "dieting" for the previous six months. I like "This is who I am now". I've been trying to think of a way to describe it since it is no longer a diet and that is perfect: "It's who I am." My additions? Being treated like I'm still "on a diet" when I've been doing this for more than a year. And why am I "on a diet" when I've lost my weight and I am healthier? Thank you for the perfect answer. And thank you for this wonderful site.

June 8, 2012
1:21 pm
Forum Posts: 2045
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February 22, 2010
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I agree: I'm definitely here to learn.  The trouble is (as previously mentioned) that as the knowledge base of the community continues to grow, it's more and more difficult to unearth anything new to teach people!

Don't worry, I've still got plenty to say...but my articles are, shall we say, labor-intensive.

I agree that we're in a nutritional Dark Ages, so to speak...all the advice from governments and "experts" has actually managed to make the not-so-great agricultural diet far worse than before.  The advantage we have, as predators, is that we're not in the dark: archaeology and ethnology tells us a lot about what's healthy to eat while we're waiting for the science to explain exactly how it all works.  

And you raise a good point about inspiration: "I could do that/be like that" can be a powerful motivation.


Having done many years in the corporate trenches, I can sympathize.  Keep in mind that most of my photos are taken on weekends...

"Plus it will be 100+ outside every day for the next three months…"

That's what the days around full moons are for: exploration by night!  And even without the moon, headlamp technology has got to the point where bike riding at night is completely doable for under $100...let alone hiking, which is trivial by comparison.  Contact me if you want some pointers.

Also, keep in mind that every day is "Bring A Kettlebell To Work Day."


Touche!  I'm partial to Edwardo's myself, even though they're not old-school enough for a lot of Chicago folks.  But I won't turn down Malnati's, either...frankly, I think of Giordano's, Lou Malnati's, and Edwardo's as the Big Three of Chicago pizza.  (Gino's has apparently fallen off somewhat in recent years AFAIK.)  And none of the "Chicago-style" pizzas I've ever eaten outside Chicago have been even remotely Chicago-style, with one single exception: Zachary's in Berkeley.


You're welcome!

Joe B:

"External viewer of self" is a great analogy.  It's good to take that step back sometimes and ask ourselves "Am I making progress towards my goals by doing this?"

And yes, associations are extremely powerful -- particularly those made in younger years, when our heads weren't already full of knowledge and experience.  We're continually building the future out of our past.

I have no intent of telling anyone else where they should focus their own attention, and I have no intent of abandoning my search for new scientific knowledge!  However, there's plenty of information already out there -- too much for anyone to comprehend.  My skill lies in presenting that information so that you and my other readers can understand it.

Meanwhile, I will continue to present a narrative of being human that lets us live in freedom and in beauty.  That's what The Gnoll Credo does, among many other things, and that's what I'm doing here.  Diet and exercise are just the beginning.


More soon!


June 8, 2012
1:51 pm
Forum Posts: 2045
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February 22, 2010
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Exactly.  If we don't know what humans are, how can we hope to figure out how humans should live?


That's what I'm going through in the Big Brains series: what evidence do we have for how our ancestors lived and ate?  The narrative has changed remarkably in recent years: for instance, knowing that bipedalism preceded both cranial expansion and our departure from the forest makes it clearer how our transition from forest to open woodland and savanna-dwelling could have happened, and how our diet would have changed as a result.

I'm not sure what you mean by "things other than hunting or gathering", though, as that covers such a wide range of dietary strategies.

Live Free Or Diet:

That's true.  It's funny how people will eat the same things we're eating, plus a whole bunch of junk, and then claim we're the ones who are going to die.  So if I threw the hamburger away and ate nothing but buns with mayonnaise (e.g. soybean oil), ketchup, mustard, and pickles, I'd be healthier?  Let's think about that for a moment.

My favorite one is the claim -- advanced to me by someone with a published nutrition book -- that "Nothing can be burned for energy without being first converted to carbs."  Um, no,'re beta-oxidizing fat right now, unless you just ate.  The level of general ignorance is astounding...

...but it's not usually their fault.  It's the fault of a system of education and governmental advice designed to make us consume the giant surpluses of chemically monocropped corn, soy, and wheat that our agricultural policy rewards Big Ag with, to the tune of billions every year.  

Keep being healthy, happy, and proud.  Those with eyes to see will ask questions.


Absolutely.  As I said before, the more we know about why eating like a predator works, the less likely we are to be bamboozled into abandoning it.

Jamie/That Paleo Guy:

That means a lot, coming from you.  You're one of the few people who continues to advance the knowledge of the paleo community with careful, patient, hard work.  I look forward to seeing you at AHS!




June 8, 2012
9:22 pm

Makes me happy and confident to read that it happens to you and others as well... I mean, going back every day to the same paleo websites. In spite of having reached a point where I already feel awesome, and of being convinced I already know everything one needs to know about how humans are supposed to eat, to exercise, to think, and to understand life, in spite of all that I keep coming back online, most of the times to find nothing "new", naturally.
If you ask my opinion, I think that this habit continues to happen because this movement, Paleo or whatever you like to call it, it goes so f*cking deep into our existence, into our soul and into our history as a species, it¬īs so huge, that once you discover it, it¬īs like you are BORN again. Remember the Matrix? The red pill? Exactly that is how I feel, I was born again. So now I dont want to go back into the lie, the matrix, who could? I want to stay in touch with you, real people who live the real way, the human way, our way, the paleo way, I want to read your thoughts, reassuring my knowledge in the meantime. I want to keep reading and learning about real life and I really dont mind if they are always the same things written in different words. I love life and I thank Paleo websites for loving it too and for spreading truth.
I wish there were real "paleo" people, or real "paleo" meetings around me, but there aren¬īt. Maybe I should start them. But until that moment comes, here I am, always coming back to our own paleo meetings at gnolls. org.
Thank you, JS, for hosting them.
That is the reason I¬īm here.

June 9, 2012
12:35 pm
Forum Posts: 2045
Member Since:
February 22, 2010
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"To most people, eating Paleo is an experiment in solitude, ie unnatural. A constant contemplation may therefore be a good strategy to stay on course."

Exactly.  Instead of being associated with eating alone and being "that guy" at social occasions, we're trying to associate paleo with positive social interactions...even if they're just on the Internet.

"Another motivation for people to be present on-line is the feeling that we have found a truth that can save the world and we feel a duty to tell it. I know these are big words and when we see the same motivation and know-it-all style in other people like vegetarians it may look pathetic but there is no sense denying it as it is quite apparent to everyone who reads Paleo blogs."

I'm not sure we can save the world: it doesn't want to be saved, and I'm reasonably sure it's beyond saving anyway.  But I think we can provide information that will help some people save themselves.


"What's left is the search for tribe, and knowledge."

That's a great summary, to which I don't have much to add, except that I'm doing my best to provide both.


Thank you!  I do my best to write articles that are understandable to everyone, not just people who are already Paleo, so that my readers can help others understand why they eat the way they do.

I'm glad you found my response helpful!


What do you mean by "clever"?  


"Surprisingly, it is my new love for men which has resulted in me appreciating my body more. And for that I will always raise a glass to the paleo/primal/ancestral health crowd."

A Standard American Diet of packaged, processed foods, made from fertilizer and pesticide-soaked GMO grain and soy products, is a great way for a man to lower his testosterone and become estrogen-dominant...which has profound mental effects as well as physical effects.  Eating like a predator changes one's attitude as well as one's body, an effect particularly noticeable as one exits one's 20s.  (You can get away with almost anything when you're people get older, it starts becoming obvious who's figured it out, who's bought into the conventional wisdom, and who's just said "the hell with it".)

Men are not defective women (the feminist fallacy), women are not inferior to men (the masculinist fallacy), and neither "should" be more like the other.


Almost done!


June 9, 2012
1:10 pm
Forum Posts: 2045
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February 22, 2010
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Great observations!  One characteristic of packaged food, including "fast food", is that it doesn't look anything like real food.  A surprising number of kids don't understand that hamburgers are made of cows.  (The only exception I can think of is KFC, which is obviously chicken parts.)

Particularly in America, we have this idea that babies must be fed "baby food" and kids must be fed "kid food" (e.g. bologna on white bread, mac and cheese, applesauce, etc.)  I think this is what leads to the fastidiousness you report in your husband, and which most Americans have to some extent: their "comfort foods" are all mushy, homogenized things that don't look like food at all!  

In contrast, if you feed your child real food, they'll eat it...sure, they'll complain at first, but about two hours later they'll be hungry enough to eat anything.


"i think this is natural human behavior"

Absolutely!  That's why so many of us are doing it.  We're social animals.

The picture is from Genoa Peak.  It's actually a miserable grind to get up there on a bike...the road is mostly too steep to be rideable.  We did it because, well, we'd never done it before, so why not?


"My additions? Being treated like I'm still "on a diet" when I've been doing this for more than a year. And why am I "on a diet" when I've lost my weight and I am healthier?"

Exactly!  Um, perhaps because you like being healthier?  People are so used to the concept of "dieting as temporary misery" that they don't understand it's possible to make a real change for life -- not just to look good in a swimsuit on vacation.

That's what is about: saying "This is who I am now."


That's both profound and touching, and I have nothing to add.  Welcome home.


I'm caught up!  Thanks, everyone, for your thoughtful comments.


June 9, 2012
1:37 pm
Halifax, UK
Forum Posts: 364
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June 5, 2011
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I'm here because I'm home ... this is one place I can slide in, put my feet up in front of a great fire and listen to folks who have assembled wisdom from what it is they have read, heard and encountered. I can also be one of those people who do just that for other sliding in and putting their feet up.

We are a disparate people now, no longer tribal, no longer family even. We do need to take that back.

Living in the Ice Age

June 13, 2012
9:46 pm
Jeffrey of Troy


Neo: why do my eyes hurt?

Morpheus: because you've never used them before..

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