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Wildflower Riot! And The State Of The Paleo Community
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October 12, 2011
6:32 am
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February 22, 2010
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While city dwellers were rioting in the UK, the wildflowers were rioting in the Sierras. Though it arrived in late August, over a month late, we had a truly astounding wildflower season this summer.

Wildflower Riot!

Yes, mountain bikers stop to smell, photograph, and otherwise appreciate the flowers. Riding allows people with families to support, and who don't have time for multi-day backpacking trips, to see backcountry they could never see otherwise...and there are a lot of people with bad knees who simply can't hike long distances anymore, especially with a heavy pack. Someday you'll probably be one of them.

Please consider that the next time you're advocating for wilderness designation, which singles out bicycles for removal while permitting boats, ski touring gear, climbing gear, and commercial horsepacking operations...and often grandfathers in everything from airstrips to snowmobiles to jet skis to operating mines. (Here's a startling list of wilderness 'exceptions'.)

(Some photos were taken by my friend Jeff.)

A Few Observations About The State Of The Paleo Community

  • The first problem with already knowing everything is that we can't learn anything.
  • The second problem is that if new information finally sneaks around or smashes through our protective shield of omniscience, it's difficult to explain why today's definitive, prescriptive advice differs so radically from last year's—and, more importantly, why this year's won't differ radically from next year's.
  • Phrases such as "I don't know" and "That's interesting, tell me more," do not diminish my stature or reputation.
  • If you wonder whether this applies to you, it probably doesn't...and those of us who need to hear it the most won't think it could ever possibly apply.
  • Not knowing everything doesn't mean we throw up our hands and say "Whatever makes you feel good, man." We know quite a bit about nutrient (and anti-nutrient) content of foods, and about how they're metabolized. Just because some people can tolerate suboptimal nutrition doesn't mean anyone should.
  • In my opinion, the best argument for keeping starch consumption to the lowest level that allows you to maintain your health and level of physical activity is that concentrated starch and sugar sources are nutrient-poor (or, in the case of most grains, actively disruptive) compared to animal foods. If you want me to eat lots more starch calories, "well, it won't kill you, IF your glucose regulation is good" isn't a sufficient argument to displace nutrient-rich animal foods like egg yolks from my diet.
  • This is doubly important for people trying to lose weight: we might be ingesting fewer calories, but that doesn't mean we need any less choline, B vitamins, magnesium, or anything else.
  • That being said, I eat a substantial quantity of starch—because I'm regularly out there burning glycogen on a bicycle, on skis, or on foot. Up to perhaps 20% of calories is fine for the metabolically functional...beyond that, we've got to EARN those potatoes.
  • It's easy to put up a wall of citations—but if a hypothesis contradicts observed reality, it's best to take a step back. People didn't suddenly become lazy and gluttonous starting in 1978, and food didn't suddenly become tasty in 1978 either. (Graph here.) And while I'm fond of pointing out that the US government first tried to change our diet in 1977, I don't believe that we became obese purely at our government's command.
  • A final concept for our evaluation and discussion: a "set point" is just a homeostasis we don't understand yet. Thoughts?

Most importantly, I believe the paleo community is stronger for these controversies. Natural selection means that some animals survive and some die—and so it is online, in the world of ideas. The survivors will be those who are willing to do the careful, patient, unglamorous work of reading the scientific literature, summarizing and communicating it in an understandable way, and producing both testable hypotheses and practical advice from it. And while there is much solid work being done, I must give special mention to Paul Jaminet at Perfect Health Diet for his recent work tying together thyroid, diet, and LDL (make sure to follow the links within), and to Peter Dobromylskyj at Hyperlipid (and his commenters, particularly Stan the Heretic) for his recent work on mitochondrial dysfunction. This sort of collaborative investigation is what the Internet is for...

...and it can only be performed by those of us who don't already know all the answers.

Live in freedom, live in beauty.


October 12, 2011
7:05 am

Low Carb and Thyroid + LDL Issues

I have been following Eat Like a Predator, Harris' 12 steps, and PHD for about a year with great success. I am a 64 yr. old woman who has fought weight issues all my adult life. I have easily lost 40 lbs. and no longer have cravings. All markers are good except for my latest bloodwork. TSH was over 8 and LDL which had always been low was 164. HDL is still good in the low 70s and triglycerides are up, but still low at 60. So...I had a complete thyroid panel done this week and am waiting on results. I really don't want to up starch because I am afraid I will gain lbs. I have an occasional 1/2 cup rice or sweet potato. I also started taking RDA of iodine by way of kelp about 5 months ago because I have had no processed foods or iodized salt. Maybe this was a mistake if Hashimoto's is the diagnosis.

Anyway, I just wanted to report in as one of those who has found success, but now has concerns about thyroid and LDL. I have devoured every word in your Hunger Series and am eagerly awaiting the sequels.

October 12, 2011
7:20 am
Forum Posts: 47
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Those are beautiful photos.  Its ironic that garderners strive to create the conditions for such vigorous growth and such a riot of colour – and yet here it is, in the wild, with no 'human management', no artificial irrigation, no fertilisers nor pesticides.  And also as it is at altitude (I'm assuming),  you'd expect these plants to be growing in what would be considered poor soil, and in a 'climate' where temperatures can be bitterly cold or brutally hot, often dry or sodden to the extreme.

I understand that at one point 60m bison were supported on the plains of America.  Makes you wonder what would happen if we kicked the crutches from farmland and allowed nature to take over, providing vegetation for farm animals. 

October 12, 2011
7:31 am

Great bullet points. Heh, a wall of citations.

"we’ve got to EARN those potatoes."

I thought Kurt Harris' podcast with Robb Wolfe put this in good perspective. Kurt had to add rice krispies to his diet when doing serious labor as he was actually shrinking away from a calorie deficit. But it took a serious increase in daily calorie use for this to become necessary. There's a lot of nuance and variance as to the proper amount of starch depending on lifestyle and metabolic condition and a lot of different opinions on it all but the controversy is a sign of healthy dialog and skepticism.

October 12, 2011
7:55 am

I was just thinking about this the other day. In order to lose fat, you have to be able to access your own fat to burn it. If excess carbs, fructose, gluten, pythoestrogens or other things are preventing you from using your own fat for energy, no amount of calorie restriction will help you. But if you've fixed all these things (by, say, eating paleo) and can use your fat for energy, then caloric deficits from intermittent fasting and exercise may be exactly what you need to lose weight. But what scientific studies have tested caloric restriction and intermittent fasting under these conditions?

Also, historically, low carb diets were pretty much automatically paleo diets. We didn't really have artificial sweeteners or grain oils until about the 50's, and these weren't really common until the 90's. About the same time, cows started being fed grains. If you just avoided flour and sugar, you were probably good. Now, you could be low carb, eating a ton of soy protein and canola oil filled with trans fat, and face a whole new set of problems.

October 12, 2011
8:10 am
Forum Posts: 47
Member Since:
June 14, 2011
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JS - I'm sure you'll appreciate this link, combining as it does Africa, antelope and a mountainbike:

October 12, 2011
9:06 am

I've been reading through Seth Robert's The Shangrai-la Diet and have really enjoyed learning about his take on the set-point.

I am wondering why little has been discussed recently on Seth's advice to take flavorless calories in routinely in order to help lower one's set-point and suppress appetite for those who are looking to lose weight.

Thoughts on this? Seems relevant with regards to Guyenet's posts.

October 12, 2011
9:07 am

I think it's more important to discuss what actually works to heal people's broken metabolic functions rather than get attached to a man-the-hunter re-enactment fantasy or to dogmatically demonize certain foods. It is odd how people have a tendency to assimilate their dietary choices into a personal identity. Identity politics can be very damaging to both the people who practice it and to getting a positive message accepted by others outside that identity group.

October 12, 2011
9:43 am
Sam Knox

I can't help but wonder if the current controversy isn't just as much strategic as scientific.

It seems there are those in the Paleo community who want to distance themselves from "low-carb" diets purely for marketing reasons. Low-carb is old news, after all, and they want Paleo diets to be seen as something new, not a variation on an old theme.

The thing is that even a "high-carb" Paleo diet is low-carb by SAD standards, and it may never be possible to determine if it's the quantity of carbohydrate or the quality that makes the difference.

October 12, 2011
9:53 am
eddie watts

as sam knox says, there is a distancing going on between the paleo/primal eaters who seem unwilling to be "tarred" with the same brush as the low carb eaters.

i think Andreas Eenfeldt made a good point at the end of his speech about how both sides have a good deal to learn from each other.

as for the metabolic set point: i can well believe that it exists and bypassing it is hard. i can effortlessly maintain weight just by eating low-ish carb with no processed foods, but actual fat loss requires some work both in dietary strictness and exercise.
whether this is because i am largely sedentary (i have to drive to and from work which is office based) is of debate. i think this is likely to be the case as i used to walk to work and back when i worked elsewhere, this equated to 20 miles walking a week.
although i am stronger now than i was then, reduced low intensity exercise also helped me get stronger.

good update, thanks!

October 12, 2011
11:59 am

Nice short post, JS, and thanks for the pictures, too. Good comments so far from everyone, so thanks to all of you. Please forgive the length of this comment. (Long time listener, first time caller ...well, not quite.)

My 2cents worth on the controversies (I've read everything, pretty much, on the Interwebs as well 30-odd books, and counting, on this subject during the past 3 years of paleo):

In the most useful, catchall sort of way, the so-called carbohydrate hypothesis seems to pretty much trump everything else, at least in societies where people have grown up eating grain-based diets, which is to say, in most of the world. Certainly, this is true in the fattening part of the world which is, again, a great portion of it (the non-starving parts are mostly all fattening, to be sure). The reason it is trump is that there is such a broadly acknowledged suite of health benefits to simply eliminating sugar and flour (simple to write, at any rate) that there's no real point, practically speaking, to go beyond that. It is more than weight loss and often addresses alleviating many of the metabolic insults that, in all likelihood, were caused by an overconsumption of carbs in the first place. Paleo usually ends up low carb-ish by default, because the floury and sugary foods are gone. It will also cast aside most of the rest of the non-foods and opt for things that fly, swim, or run, or that are green. There are lots of fuzzy edges around all of this, of course (ie: dairy, nuts, seeds, starchy tubers) but by-and-large, non-politicised paleo is the most obviously healthful way to eat. If an eating system requires supplementation, willpower, caloric restriction, or dependence on Man-made foods, things found only in the deepest oceans or remotest New World rain forests, or any other such corruption for an extended period, then it can't possibly be optimal, by definition.

Palatability? Nyeh! Whatever. Every food I can think of that can be considered as a reason people are fat or fattening has carbohydrate AND fat together, with the preponderance being carbs, I'd say. (Breads, sweets, etc. are mostly carbs.) Many people love prime rib of beef, for example, and find it very rewarding and palatable, yet no-one in his/her right mind blames that sort of food on the fattening of the world. Except, of course, government agencies and other (medical) bodies who consider hamburgers and pizza as being "meat". (These are mostly carbohydrate, especially the pizza). Anyone can eat a pint of Haagen Dasz Ice Cream, no? I've done it. Said pint is about 50% sugar and 50% fat, by weight, but I doubt anyone would be remotely compelled to eat half a pint of sugar (or, say, honey) or half a pint of butter, in one sitting. But, put 'em together and you've got a party! Again, carb hypothesis, basically, trumps.

So, to me, the food reward view approach is kind of like building a door to nowhere. That is, why bother? As an intellectual exercise? Perhaps. But, for practical use it is as likely to work as "The Biggest Loser" techniques.

So many critics and commenters on websites who routinely pillory Gary Taubes or some paleo writer advocating carbohydrate restriction are, oddly, often on a low carb diet themselves. But, of course -- ahem, er -- for all the right reasons, not those wrong ones such as -- fill in the name here -- is suggesting!

thanks for staying with me (those who have)
Keep up the great work, JS, and I know many of your readers have awesome blogs, too.

October 12, 2011
12:09 pm
Wayne Johnson

This will be the first (and probably last) fan mail I've ever sent to anybody. I am very impressed with your "Why Are We Hungry" series and am anxiously awaiting the next (last?) installment. Whenever I read the blogger squabbles about theories of obesity, I am struck by the number of times that hunger is not even mentioned.

Anyway, you have become my most highly-regarded blogger, and I'm certain your number of readers is destined to increase significantly (p<.0001).

October 12, 2011
12:41 pm

What Wayne Johnson said. ditto

October 12, 2011
12:45 pm

asking questions is just as important as answering questions. i try to question everything. i also get on everyone's nerves because of this. "why can't you just leave stuff alone?" or, "why do you think about this or that so much?" silliness. i think and i probe and i question BECAUSE I DONT KNOW. or at least i think i might know something but i want to find out for sure. so i check and recheck. if solid evidence to the contrary should raise its head, i'll change my ideas. i dont mind being mutable, and i can't stand the thought of being ignorant.

October 12, 2011
1:11 pm

@Juan: well put.

@Wayne: Indeed. Let us not forget that falling blood sugar is a major driver of hunger - and that has little, if anything, to do with reward & palatability…

JS: I love your penultimate point, that foods did not suddenly become hyper-palatable in 1977/8. I think both the LC and Paleo communities lose out when myopically focusing on obesity. What about the consequences of elevated blood sugar? (AGEs, glucotoxicity, glycolated LDL, etc.) My girlfriend did a ketogenic diet with me and all of her measurable health markers improved, but she didn't need to lose weight and lost maybe 5 or so pounds - so these improvements can't be attributed to losing weight. I attribute them to the absence of carbohydrate. Or in the palatability/food reward world, does delicious food cause health problems as well? Following Hyperlipid's emphasis, I'd love to know the MECHANISM for heart disease risk factors and elevated blood pressure due to food tasting good. Belaboring my point, optimal diets are larger than preventing or curing obesity. And perhaps the ancestral health community needs to be clear about differences between those two categories - prevention and cure.

October 12, 2011
2:24 pm
Halifax, UK
Forum Posts: 364
Member Since:
June 5, 2011
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That penultimate point is interesting.

I've had a really good time this evening with my step-son talking through all sorts of things, not least … diet. Britain is very different to the US, but catching up … and it was interesting that I talked about the '40s as being one of the major changing point in the standard diet – we had rationing, where meat and butter were not available in quantities we would have liked.

I think the '50s brought in grains and cereals and the '60's processed foods and even fast food restaurants, which were largely something "we" only saw in American movies until that point.

Yes, the governments are dictating our diets.

Now, we find it difficult, cumbersome and even financially impossible to eat real food, take real meat, real veg and make a meal. It is very frightening that a family can be "fed" for £10 at KFC, yet that amount of "food" would need more like £30 to make a real meal. In these economic times, that equation is a simple one. Alas, it is not the right one.

In a previous post, I said something along the lines of "those of us who can afford" can do this now and hopefully line a path for those who cannot yet … so long as they can bring something to the table. There will be casualties.

Back to the top of the post – yes, our peasants are revolting! These are very poor times and with a frightening number of people being pushed under the poverty line we think we must do something about it … but, I started out my adult life in very similar times in the late '80s and dragged myself up out of it. Those people seemed to think that they were owed something, that they could have something for nothing. No! Every man is only worth what he can bring. Rioting is a very valid and purposeful reaction to oppressive regimes; theft and looting is not that.

Living in the Ice Age

October 12, 2011
2:57 pm

"If you wonder whether this applies to you, it probably doesn’t…and those of us who need to hear it the most won’t think it could ever possibly apply."

HAHAHAHAHA - best blog comment I've read this week

October 12, 2011
3:42 pm
Keoni Galt

This was the perfect answer to all sides of the debate.

IMO, some participants are looking for a trade-mark stamped, scientific-community credentialed, confirmation they can make a name with by neatly explaining the obesity epidemic of the last 20 years. It is a quest for achieving a higher status of prestige in a selective, intellectually-elite community.

These folks that have this motivation, are missing the forest for the trees.

You, JS, have got them all beat when it comes to the big picture:

"Eat like a predator, not like prey."

This has become my personal mantra, and all the mental reinforcement I need when confronted with the temptations of an artificially manufactured FEED product offered to me.

Would a predator eat a concoction of partially hydrogenated soybean oil, high fructose corn syrup, artificial coloring and bromated and enriched grain flour? Or a tuber or grain dehydrated, reconstituted, immersed in heat-damaged and oxidized linoleic acid "vegetable" oil and than liberally coated with iodized - sodium chloride?

And would such fare offer enough sustenance and vigor to my body to enable the necessary energy expenditure in the successful pursuit and harvest of the next kill?

I laugh at my younger self...when my boar hunting was defined solely as nothing more than a recreational pursuit to engage in with my friends. I did not understand what I was really experiencing by participating in the most primal act of being alive. The experience of fulfilling the naturally ordained role of the human as an omnivorous predator.

I used to pack my bag full of chips, nuts, candy, crackers, granola, energy bars, and gatorade, and have to continually snack while hunting Hawaii's mountainous rain forests to keep my energy levels up to deal with the rigors of hunting boar with a pack of dogs in rugged terrain.

Now I hunt with only water in my pack. Like other predator species, I hunt hungry. To think an idea so simple -- that a primal diet is optimal to engage in the most primal of pursuits -- eluded me all those years as a young hunter. My former ignorance speaks to the level of propaganda and misinformation in our culture and its influence regarding our self-awareness of being a predator species.

I was acting like a hunter, but still eating like prey.

We live in a world socially engineered to indoctrinate the masses to make them ignorant of our species' ecological niche as an omnivorous predator in the cycle of life.

Instead, we are inculcated into a mindset of being cattle in the great domesticated herds of "civilization."

While hunting taught me the skills and knowledge to kill, clean and butcher prey, I did not embrace the logical conclusion of the hunt. I was squeamish about eating game when I had been raised on a lifetime of factory-farmed, manufactured feed products. I would only cut the most desired cut of meat from the pigs we caught (the tenderloin) and feed the rest to the dogs (they still get there share as their reward for catching it...but I take way more portions for my own family's use now), and throw the offal and bones away. I used to use heavily flavored and sweetened sauces to try and mask the game flavor of the meat.

I was a squeamish hunter that did not truly relish the fruits of labor from the hunt.

Now, I harvest the liver and heart. I boil the bones to make stock. My only seasoning on the cuts of meat I harvest, is salt and pepper.

I relish the life sustaining harvest of the land.

As an omnivorous species, we all have a choice to make: eat like a predator, or eat like prey.

And really JS, the phrase you came up with - that has become own mantra to guide my dietary choices - fits in perfectly with another timeless maxim:

You are what you eat.

Mahalo nui for your mana'o.

Imua kakou.


October 12, 2011
3:55 pm

JS, you live in paradise. But you deserve it because you never take it for granted, and you share it with the rest of us.

Those striped seed pods look like Nepenthes. I did a double-take. If I was up there with the snow melt I'd be tempted to find a place to introduce some Darlingtonia Californica. Never could get it to grow in cultivation.

I believe you're right to prioritize nutrient density above other considerations. I've just recently started eating grass-fed beef liver, and in terms of nutrition per calorie, it seems like the perfect food. The resulting energy and body comp improvements have been amazing. But what I can't wrap my head around is: if beef liver is incomparably nutritious, why does it taste so vile?

October 12, 2011
6:20 pm

@keoni: nicely put. I've mentioned this before as well that the paleo community is missing the forest for the trees. Besides Peter and Paul, JS is the only other one to really get it in the big picture. That's why is my favorite blog-there isn't any BS or obvious attempts to sell me vitamins. JS doesnt push propaganda, just the truth.
BTW, your blog rocks too.

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