Paleo diet: the stupid and the saving
Sunday, March 02, 2014
The philosophy behind Paleo is a load of bull. The idea is that if we revert to a lifestyle similar to our cavemen brethren (except with iPads, coconut butter and sunscreen) we will be living The Most Natural Life Possible. This is a load of crock. Biologically, humans are omnivores and historically we thrive from our adaptability. Our bodies are made to eat a variety of goods and process them for energy. Cultures have been raised on rice, grasses, meats, berries, nuts, seeds, bread fruit, whale blubber, and weird fermented things buried under lye. We cannot process sunlight for energy or digest fiber for nutrients (unlike bovines who have enough stomachs to process that kind of stuff) but we can pretty much eat anything that isn't directly poisonous.
Restricting a diet to the meats, nuts and vegetables available in our grocery stores (which are not seasonal, rarely local, and uniformly processed--think about the last time you had to forage for your berries or skin your bison burger) is a charming but ridiculous proposition if your intention is to be a caveperson.
But I'm not here just to badmouth paleo living. The philosophy is faulty and drives archaeologists up the walls with its pseudo-science religious zealotry, but the methodology is sound. The output of a paleo lifestyle (ideally) is one of increased vegetable intake, diversified plant-based foods, attention to meat quality (as well as other animal products such as bones, gelatin, fat, organs) and paying close attention to the feedback your own body is giving you. Furthermore, much paleo living demands mimicking a physically active lifestyle to whatever capacity you can: standing at your desk, going for walks, taking up hobbies that involve play, sunshine, sweat. This is not a bad thing.
When I was living a "strictly primal" diet (primal allows dairy for bodies that don't mind it) I was rarely hungry, often energetic, and felt confident turning down snacks that weren't particularly special. I had checks to my otherwise mindless system of eating and a gentle excuse if I didn't want to partake in junk, "I'm sorry, I'm off grains for now." I bought better groceries, did better, more thoughtful cooking, and was generally happy.
I "fell off" the wagon, as is expected. But what is unexpected is that, despite my disapproval of the philosophy, I want to return to the lifestyle. It is easier for me to think of it as a metaphor than as writ truth. Theoretically, I would like to mainly consume products which I think I could make or prepare myself. This means I would like to one day kill, pluck and gut a chicken. But it has processing limits--I will never, not ever, go through the rigors of making nut flour, pressing oils, or collecting honey. That's okay. I'm more concerned with my ability to take down and slaughter a whole cow. If that gives me pause, maybe I shouldn't be eating beef.
And so, with caveats and asterisks, I will return to a paleo lifestyle. I do not think I will actively align myself with the paleo namesake (nor primal nor Grok) or ever declare myself gluten free, bean free, low carb. But I will return to careful discrimination of products. I ate Doritos yesterday and they were delicious, but they also hijacked my system. I have been hungry, wrought with cravings, nervous and needy ever since. Something as formulated and marketed as Doritos have a profoundly horrific effect on my self-control. Something kinder and more loving like homemade bread nevertheless sends me into an eating spiral of hunger, appetite and nervous chewing.
Here's to a return to the grain free living.