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.
- I don’t fall asleep after lunch anymore.
- Acne is rare. So is itchiness.
- I sunburn far less easily.
- My dental health has improved dramatically.
- Life is more enjoyable when I don’t feel guilty for eating delicious food.
- 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…
…and that’s why I still eat like a predator.
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.
I’m proud to have a diverse and erudite collection of fans and regular commenters. This essay (and the discussion it spawned) was originally posted in the Talk forum. It’s a fascinating glimpse into the life and thoughts of someone who’s lived a foraging existence in the modern urban world.
Shedding And Rejecting Material In A Material(istic) World
A strong point of commonality between my way of thinking and the way of the Gnoll is outlined flawlessly by “If you can’t eat it, wear it, wield it or carry it, leave it behind.” This phrase caught my eye upon reading the teaser online. The idea strongly resonated with me. It echoed the way I had lived my life, and continue to live it even to this day.
From my sixteenth year well into my thirties, I lived out of a bag.
I toured the world incessantly. My tongue has tried to speak every language. I gazed with awe at Mt. Fuji, marveled at the summertime thunderstorms in northern Italy, held clumps of black volcanic ash sand in my young hands in New Zealand, stared into the eyes of a white rhino in South Africa, felt Moscow’s snow chill my face, walked the streets of São Paulo during Carnaval, spent hours playing speed chess in Germany, hugged drowsy koala in Australia, got snowed in on the Swiss Alps, watched countless desert sunrises and mountain sunsets and swam in the waters of almost every ocean. The winds from every direction pressed against my body on every continent…
I found peace in freedom from material concerns, and also developed a very clear idea of what a person “needs” versus what a person wants. Nothing was a worry because I owned nothing and thus didn’t fear for its loss. My focus was on finding food and shelter, making connections with others of like mind and like pack, and recording the lessons I learned along the way. I punched no clock. I answered to no man. I was lean, often hungry, sometimes miserable but always, always my own person and free to do as I would at any time. If I was tired, I slept. If I was hungry, I “hunted.” I found mates where they were to be found. I thought freely, wrote consistently, collected nothing, held on to nothing and gave just about everything that my hands could hold away to others. What was worth hanging on to was already in my head anyway.
I can honestly say that I lived “in freedom” and “in beauty.” How rare. Not a day goes by where I don’t appreciate my good fortune to be bold enough to reject what all others around me were quick to digest and become—common life for common thinkers. I compare my life now with the life of my “peers” who elected the way of comfort and certainty and I haven’t seen one person who I’d rather be than myself. What contrast! I’m still lean, still sharp, still hungry. I stand proud with fire in my eyes, strength in my spine and springs in my legs. Most everyone else who chose the submissive life are now weak, fattened, gray, miserable, without desire, without drive and absolutely devoid of the spirit of the hunt. They’ve submitted.
They’ve laden themselves with countless items of useless trash in a “home” too big for their budget but far too small for their ego and their want of appearances. They collect keepsakes for the memories they trigger because they’ve forgotten how to remember things on their own—or their experiences are so shallow and insignificant that they’re hardly worth remembering at all. They pack their refrigerator and cupboard with colorful, odd-colored boxes full of what can only be called food in the academic sense—material that poisons their heavy bodies rather than nourishing them. They buy things they can’t afford on a whim because they’ve been fooled into believing they’ll will make them happy, fill the void in their lives. They buy books not for the love of the printed word, but because they think they’re buying the time to read them. The keepsakes crowd the dusty surfaces, the boxes of poison pack the shelves, books cramp each other in the study, yet their owners are none the richer for having collected them and remain lonely, frustrated and confused as they persistently stare at a computer screen for hours on end, oblivious to the beautiful daylight burning away outside.
They’ve fallen prey to their own materialism, imprisoned by their possessions—slow, easy targets.
Better them than me.
Sounds callous and harsh, but from a simplistic perspective, so is nature itself. Are we, bipedal animals, really that divorced from it? Perhaps some more so than others.
Nowadays I’m slightly more settled, outposted in one city or the next in the Northeast United States, working for myself in an instructional capacity. I still punch no clock. I make my own hours. I still travel often, and when I do it’s light and fast. For me, it’s the only way. Have I tried doing the standard 9 to 5 “normal” routine? Sure. I’m open to all things. Was it for me? Decidedly not.
I suppose I owe J.S. a debt of gratitude for translating into succinct text the lessons Gryka* and her pack have to teach us—even the ones who live a lot like Gnolls to begin with.
Do I keep anything at all? Sure. The memory of those I love, the places I’ve been, the feelings I got from the lessons I’ve learned along the way so far…I keep them in the head and in the heart where they belong. To try to trap these moments with photography and frame them for display betrays their beauty.
Some of the greatest moments of my life cannot be proven to have existed.
Does it matter? Decidedly not.
*: Gryka is the protagonist of The Gnoll Credo.
**: “Hazrah nachti” is a Gnollish phrase which is difficult to translate succinctly. I’ve done my best in the book.
As these are not my words, I hope Rob will choose to answer your questions about them!
Yes, I’m still on hiatus. I’m working on other projects and enjoying the time off. Meanwhile, I tip my hat to Asclepius (of Natural Messiah) for his excellent review of The Gnoll Credo. (Many more reviews here.)
Live in freedom, live in beauty.
From a mailing list I’m on:
> These long life diet plans always make me think of the Ninja warriors
> in Hollywood films who train daily for twenty years, then meet the
> American hero who pulls out a gun and shoots them dead. So much for
> their twenty years training!
That’s why I enjoy and advocate a more paleo-centered diet: because for me, and apparently for others, it results in an empirical increase in quality of life right now. I am leaner and stronger, my mood and attitude has improved dramatically, I don’t suffer food coma, I can skip meals at will, and I am both more creative and more capable. Any long-term life extension benefits are just a bonus, like avocado slices—though I am pleased to note that the research is pointing towards such effects.
Standard low-fat diets (Ornish, Pritikin, the “food pyramid”) basically eschew everything that tastes good. Sure, candy and donuts aren’t paleo: but prime rib, bacon and eggs, and a side of sweet potato with avocado slices most certainly are—and they beat the hell out of tofu, lentils, and brown rice. I deeply regret the year I spent trying to be vegetarian, and the decades I spent not eating the delicious food I eat now because it was ‘too high in fat’.
Are you a rodent...
...or a human?
Most diets involve substantial suffering: eat seeds (‘grains’) like a bird or rodent, and force yourself to ‘do cardio’ on machines that go nowhere, like a hamster on a wheel. “You have to work hard and give up your vices if you want to live longer,” their proponents say, as if boredom and misery is the healthy and natural state of humanity. (Vegetarianism is religious in origin
It’s dispiriting to shop in a ‘health food’ store. I see gaunt, prematurely aging supplicants carefully filling their shopping carts with the nutritional equivalent of Styrofoam peanuts (‘rice cakes’, ‘low-fat’ yogurt, ‘high-fiber’ cereal), buying crumbly, unsatisfying accretions of industrial products designed to simulate real food (‘soy milk’, ‘veggie-burgers’), and seriously obsessing over which variety of processed, extruded birdseed soaked in diesel fuel (i.e. ‘crackers’, ‘granola’) is ‘better’ for them.
They are buying these food simulations and eating them. How do they live on that stuff? It’s not even junk food…it’s not food at all! Are they even the same species as me?
But then I remember: that used to be me. There are uncountable billions of dollars devoted to subsidizing and advertising non-food, and I myself was bamboozled for years. I wish I could retroactively vomit up all the soy nuts and Kashi I ate.
“Paleo” is not just a diet or an exercise program. It is living as humans have lived for millions of years, and doing the same things that shaped us from apes into humans. Go outside, climb trees and mountains, chase animals and people. Play in the sun and the snow. Make and fix things with your hands. Sprint, lift heavy objects, eat meat. This is fun! If it’s a chore, you’re doing it wrong.
I reject the bizarre concept that millions of years of evolution has selected us to enjoy only things that kill us, and to avoid everything that keeps us alive and healthy. I reject the false dichotomy that we must be either sybarites (“Live now, pay later”) or self-flagellants (“Pay now, live later”). I propose a more accurate and joyous maxim for the paleo movement:
Live now, live later.
(And I’m reasonably sure that the gnolls agree with me.)
Live in freedom, live in beauty.
(Interested in trying it yourself? Start with my motivational guide “Eat Like A Predator, Not Like Prey”, and my Paleo Starter Kit.)
“Live now, live later” is a trademark of J. Stanton. Not that I intend to sue anyone, I just don’t want to see it stolen for the title of someone else’s cheeseball diet book.
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