How many times have we all heard this, or its equivalent?
“Sure, everyone knows soda and candy aren’t good for you…but why should I give up bread, pasta, muffins, and all that other wonderful stuff? I’m doing fine.“
You can substitute any non-paleo foods of your choice, and you can phrase it a different way, but they’re all variations of the same question: “Why should I go to all the trouble to avoid almost everything in the grocery store and at restaurants, when I’m healthy and I feel fine?”
The implication is clear: “Sure, I know you’ve got some health problems and you need to be all weird about what you eat, but that’s because you’re abnormal. The rest of us live on that stuff, and we’re doing fine.”
If I had to communicate one concept to the world at large—one reason to eat like a predator—it would be this:
There is an entire level of daily existence above “I’m doing fine.”
This is not to say that everyone in the world can suddenly stop taking all their medication and flaunt their new six-pack at the beach! What I mean is: there are many, many annoyances we take for granted as part of aging, or part of life, that are actually consequences of an evolutionarily inappropriate diet of birdseed (known as “grains”) and birdseed extracts (known as “vegetable oils“).
Are You Sure You’re Healthy? Half Of America Takes Prescription Medication
First, are you sure you’re healthy? Half the people in America (47.9%) took at least one prescription drug in the last month, one in five (21.4%) took three or more, and the numbers increase each year. (Source: CDC FastStats, “Therapeutic Drug Use”)
We can’t blame this entirely on old people living longer, either: 48.3% of people 20-59 are taking at least one prescription drug, right in line with the average.
These drugs are almost all used to treat chronic disease. The top five classes of prescribed medication are: 1. Lipid regulators (statins and other cholesterol-lowering drugs), 2. Antidepressants, 3. Narcotic analgesics (pain relievers), 4. Beta blockers (blood pressure drugs), 5. ACE inhibitors (blood pressure drugs). (The full list can be found here.)
Are You Sure You’re “Fine”?
Even if you’re not on prescription medication right now, are you really “fine”?
Do you need caffeine in order to wake up in the morning, or not fall asleep after lunch?
Do you still suffer from acne? Headaches? Acid reflux?
How about stiffness and joint pain? Gas and bloating?
Do you sleep through the night?
How quickly do you go through that bottle of Tylenol or Aleve? How about the cortisone, to deal with that random itchy, flaky skin?
Are you convinced that you must continually restrict your eating to maintain a healthy bodyweight—let alone the body composition you want?
What’s that stuff hanging over the top of your belt? Even if you don’t care about your appearance, imagine how much lighter on your feet you’d feel if you didn’t have to carry around that extra twenty pounds.
Can you go more than five hours without food, without becoming weak and shaky?
Biochemical Individuality: Everyone Is Different (within limits)
Not everyone starts with the same problems…and not everyone will see the same improvements. Furthermore, while I’ve never heard of anyone experiencing anything but positive effects from removing birdseed (“grains”) and birdseed extracts (“vegetable oils”) from their diet, it can take months of experimentation and tweaking to find out what types and proportions of Paleo foods produce the best results for you.
For example, we have the ongoing Potato Wars: some people (often the young, male, and/or athletic) radically improve their performance and mood by increasing their starch intake, while others (often older and/or female) find that there’s no such thing as a “safe starch”.
While I personally consume an approximately Perfect Health Diet level of starch, and I view their recommendations as an excellent baseline for beginning your own experimentation, I’m also an athletic male who has never been fat—so I don’t feel the need to evangelize my own potato consumption to those with a radically different hormonal environment.
Frankly, I find the religious fervor somewhat disturbing—and I can’t resist the observation that (with the exception of Paul Jaminet, whose sense of humor still slays me every time) the most vocal proponents of high starch intake tend to be somewhat…starchy. Lighten up! There’s no Low Carb Mafia enforcer waiting to assassinate you, and the Low Carb Boogeyman isn’t going to pop out from under your bed and force-feed you with butter until the Ketostix turn purple.
As for myself, I’m much more concerned with reaching the hundreds of millions of people who still think margarine and whole-grain bagels are healthy.
So don’t be discouraged if your health issues don’t immediately vanish, or you reach a weight loss plateau. It took decades of unhealthy eating to cause your problems…don’t expect healthy eating to fix everything in a week or two. (Or even a couple months…I was still experiencing perceptible improvements after nine months.)
My Own Level Beyond “I’m Doing Fine”
Here are some unexpected improvements I’ve seen in my own life. (Warning: N=1 ahead.)
I used to be “that guy.” If I didn’t get to eat every 3-4 hours, I became cranky, snappish, and no fun to be around. Now I often fail to eat for 18 hours or more, simply because I’m not hungry.
I can’t overemphasize how liberating it is to not have to find and ingest calories every few hours. Not only does it make traveling much easier…I have more useful hours in my day, and when I become engrossed in work or play, I don’t have to stop prematurely because I’m hungry.
I’ve never been fat, but I still lost about an inch around my waist…which must have been visceral fat, because there wasn’t much subcutaneous fat to lose.
After about a year, I noticed that the dark circles under my eyes were gone.
It’s difficult to quantify, but my baseline mood is improved. I am happier and more confident than I’ve ever been.
Result: I’m in the best physical and mental shape of my life. I don’t feel “fine”: I feel great. Some days I even feel unstoppable. And while I still experience all the usual setbacks, like unrequited love, insufficient money, and dysfunctional bureaucracies, they don’t seem to crush me like they used to…
There is an entire level of daily existence above “I’m doing fine.”
Live in freedom, live in beauty.
Yes, this is what being human is supposed to feel like.Help me out, readers: what unexpected improvements have you seen, and how can we best communicate this to others? Please leave a comment—and consider forwarding this to anyone you’ve been unable to get through to by other means. The share widget is below.
An alert reader (Michael Plunkett, mpix123) sent me the following scan from the “National Nutrition Edition” of a Kerr Canning Co. booklet published in 1943. (This was the height of World War II.)
“Every Day, Eat This Way”
I recommend clicking on the picture below so you can read the text.
Click image to read at full size
Can you imagine the phrase “vitamin-rich fats” in any government or mainstream dietary recommendation today? I can’t either.
Just for fun, let’s figure out how many changes we have to make in order to turn this chart into a guide to functional paleo. Let’s see…delete the “bread and cereal” box…pull corn out of the “vegetables” box and peanuts out of the “spreads” box…demote dairy to “use dairy fats sparingly”, and strike the phrase “or fortified margarine”…I think we’re done!
And even in its original form, we still have a diet whose fundamentals are meat, eggs, a wide variety of vegetables, and butter.
Death By Pyramid
Pyramids are never a good thing.
From Egypt to Central America, pyramids have meant endless, grinding, grain-fueled slavery for the glory and enrichment of the ruling class. In modern America, they mean…
Are we surprised that replacing “Every Day, Eat This Way” with a pyramid based on birdseed has helped produce a fatter, sicker America?
Bonus Feature: Meat Planet! The Lost Episode of Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos”
Click for sizing information, and to order.
The gnolls on my mailing list have already received their Gnollwear™…and now it’s available to everyone!
Furthermore, you can solve all your holiday shopping problems—and support independent authors and publishers—by taking advantage of my publisher’s offer of free gift-wrapping and drop shipping on all signed books and T-shirts. (Offer has expired, though signed copies are still available…sign up for my mailing list so you don’t miss any more special deals!)
Live in freedom, live in beauty.
(Yes, I’m still on hiatus…this is a bonus update. Enjoy!)
My series-in-progress, Why Are We Hungry? (part II, part III), will return after the Ancestral Health Symposium. I’m anxious to continue, because we’re just starting to dig into the meat of the problems with Part III)—but due to conference preparations and unexpected workspace issues, I simply don’t have the time to do it justice right now.
I’ll be signing copies of The Gnoll Credo at the Friday evening author event—so if you’re attending AHS, make sure to stop by and introduce yourself!
Also, if you don’t see me update next Tuesday, rest assured I’m on a mountain somewhere in the Eastern Sierra.
For reasons I’ve explained at length in What Is The Paleo Diet, Anyway?, I believe the term “paleo” is sufficient to encompass the entire online and print community. The foundation of a paleo diet is our multi-million year evolutionary history as hunters and foragers, and we all understand that humans are poorly adapted to a diet of grass seeds—which we’ve been eating for perhaps a few thousand years.
However, though we as individuals can choose any point on the continuum, the print and online literature divides itself reasonably cleanly into two schools of thought. The traditionalists emphasize re-enactment of their perception of Paleolithic foods, make very specific claims about Paleolithic nutritional composition, and stress avoidance of all foods they view as Neolithic. In contrast, the new school claims that re-enactment is impossible, many claims of Paleolithic nutritional composition are either unsupported or implausible, and that we must evaluate foods, even clearly Neolithic foods, on their nutritional merits to present-day humans—though within our evolutionary context.
I believe we need a simple, descriptive term that distinguishes the pro-fat, dairy- and potato-tolerant “new school” of Paleo from the lean-meats-nuts-and-veggies traditionalists, without being pejorative to either.
To that end, I propose the term “functional paleo” to describe the new school.
Eating foods that best support the biochemistry of human animals with a multi-million year history of hunting and foraging, primarily on the African savanna.
Avoiding foods, such as grains, grain oils, and refined sweeteners, that actively disrupt the biochemistry of these human animals.
In other words, “functional paleo” is based on the biochemical function of food within the human body. It is informed by evolutionary context, but not limited by it. (Or, most likely, a contested interpretation of it.)
This functional definition carries its own risk: we can mistakenly see “food” as a collection of nutrients, an approach that ignores the many constituents of Real Food (meat, eggs, vegetables, root starches, fruit and nuts) that haven’t yet been isolated, recognized, or classified as nutritional. That way lies “meal replacement shakes” and madness—and that is why we must keep our evolutionary context in sight.
Questions like “What would Grok do?” and “Imagine yourself in the woods, or by the ocean or on some fertile plain, with nothing but your own wit. What would you be able to eat?” are mental shortcuts to evolutionary context.
However, the functional definition allows us to avoid silly arguments like “Paleolithic humans regularly ate rotten meat, so why don’t you?” and “An archeologist found starch residue in one cave in Africa, so that means cavemen ate bread and grains are paleo.” It also allows us to understand that though nuts and honey were certainly consumed in the Paleolithic, that fact alone doesn’t make them healthy to eat—especially in large quantities. I find this to be a worthy tradeoff, and I hope others agree.
Functional Paleo: Who’s In?
Here is a non-exhaustive list of sources I consider to be “functional paleo”.Please let me know if I’ve missed you or miscategorized you, or anyone else: I’ve erred on the side of caution by not mentioning any source I’m not reasonably sure of. (Leave a comment, or contact me directly.)
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