Tuesday, 30 September 2008


Fear must have accompanied our earliest ancestors everywhere. The challenges of unregulated competition (survival of the fittest), battling for resources with other tribes, dangers at the waterhole from parasites and apex predators, defending oneself from fast predators on the plains or hunting some big beast for lunch - all would have got the adrenalin flowing.

Then there is the fear of the unknown. Captain Kid is four years old and currently scared of the dark. I have a theory that this is an evolutionary adaption as walking round at night must have been a risky business - we are poorly adapted to it, or rather there are animals out there with more acute senses of smell, better hearing and sharper eyesight who would welcome a snack should it clumsily stumble through the dark towards them. 'Darkness walkers' would have been the extreme sportsmen of their day and yep, evolution would have quickly harvested them from the gene pool - or rather favoured those who stayed in groups and adopted a more conservative approach to the onset of night.

Fear would also be generated from physical processes such as earthquakes and volcanoes, and a variety of atmospheric phenomena - thunder and lightening in particular. It is easy to see how the seed of theism would flourish and bear religious fruit in fertile minds too engaged in their 'immediate' existence to ponder the deeper validity of such conjecture - and without recourse to scientific methods, any answer would take hold - as long as it was delivered with authority.

(Children come up with reasoning akin to that of the religious. Only recently, Captain Kid was looking in my toolbox and found a collection of screw drivers. She observed that the largest screwdrivers were "Daddy's" and the the smaller screwdrivers were for "kid's".

From a child's point of view, this is obvious as kids' imitation toys are always smaller than those 'real' objects they seek to imitate and so this is an incorrect but logical extension of what they 'know'. Size in Captain Kid's mind is not related to utility, it is a function of the size of the owner - big people have big things, and smaller people have small things. I showed her some precision screwdrivers and asked her "What do you make of these tiny screwdrivers?" To which she replied that the precision screwdrivers were "Silly!" - inferring that they were so small they had no purpose.)

To the unenlightened, it is quite an appealing explanation - that the gods were 'displeased' and so wrought tectonic destruction or a storm by way of punishment. Those that claimed to divine the future or understand such phenomena would be revered - providing reassurance in the face of the unknown, and balm to the cancer of fear. When nobody has an answer, any answer, no matter how poor, can be persuasive if delivered with assurance from a position of authority.

We see evidence of this even now. Even in the 21st century we have super-naturalists proclaiming the end of days, who (particularly with the current economic turmoil), are thriving on anxiety about the 'unknown' and the oxygen of fear it creates. But this post is about a different kind of fear.

War Games

The diet wars will not be concluded any time soon. As paleo eaters, we think we have the issue pretty much licked. The problem is that the low-fat army draws support from the general public. Low fat dietary ideology is firmly entrenched in the minds of the public - reinforced by media bias and the assurance that 'low-fat is best for health and weight loss' from misguided doctors and nutritionists. There is a general belief that the war is over and that the low fat philosophy has won. How can you win a war when only one side is fighting?

Thus the paleo movement actually resembles a terrorist group (stay with me on this one). Paleo eaters are still considered an underground movement - our ideas have not made the transition to general acceptance. Sure everyone knows of Atkins, but this is simply viewed as an 'insurgency' in to public consciousness rather than a coherent assembly, armed with research and a six pack. Atkins himself has subsequently been mired in controversy and the Low-Fat rumour mill has attempted to ridicule his work, his methods and Atkins personally.

As with all resistance movements, paleo eaters are motivated by belief, but it is a belief based upon a growing body of science. They exist as non-centralised coalitions or collectives, without central organisation. There are a few standard bearers who act as excellent filters amongst general dietary noise (Eades, Briffa, Price, Cordain and Devany), and close behind we then have legions of generals (such as Groves, Conditioning Research, Hyperlipid, Weight of the Evidence, Whole Health Source, Livin la Vida Low Carb, IF Life, Modern Forager, Tamir Katz , Lyle McDonald and Marks Daily Apple), who provide a broad range of ideas and interpretations of the paleo mantra.

Who is the Enemy?

It is the sides of a mountain that support life, rather than the summit. And it is lower down in the order of paleo culture that we see some of the more interesting branches of the paleo tree bear fruit. If we continue the war analogy, who is the enemy? Is it public ignorance? The Statinators and Big Pharma? The (low fat) diet industry? The various branches of the medical institutions?

In truth it is none of these. Or rather, there is little point taking the fight to these groups. Let them come to us and fight us on OUR terms. This is where the 'paleo revolution' will succeed. If they come to fight the paleo battle, who will they find as their adversary? They will find a lean opposition with an enviable physical composition, excellent markers of health and athletic qualities (speed , strength and agility). Such mighty opposition will whither the 'will to fight' of any low fat, calorie counting carboholic.

War Story

Recently I was engaged in such a battle. The result? A personal attack (the usual 'following a fad' criticism). There was no attempt to critically address the links to various articles, threads and scientific papers supporting paleo eating. It didn't really bother me as there was no personal weakness to exploit.

If you are going to follow the low fat dogma and attack the paleo philosophy, you need to find a paleo eater who is fat, with high indicators for heart disease. Can you find such a person? Nope. Am I such a person? Nope.

Now my attacker admitted to fluctuating weight, and stuck to the belief of eating less and doing more. I observed that in time, this just makes one hungry. He followed this up with a weak point about eating 'bulky and filling foods' - to which I replied that if the solution to dieting hunger was 'bulky foods', then a definitive model would have been established by now, which it hasn't. (A case in point is eating a 'Chinese'. Often such a meal fills you up, but an hour or so later, once the noodles have been digested, you are ravenous again). My point made, the battle quickly ended.

So in this exchange, I offered an opinion that was targeted for attack. As I was living proof of the success of paleo eating, any attacks were of a personal nature. The usual weapons of 'the relationship between sat fat and heart attacks' were useless, as was the approach that eating fat makes you fat. My return volley that 'eating less and/or doing more' (particularly eating less fat), makes you hungry clearly hit its target. The paleo philosophy remained intact. The low fat mantra was bruised and injured.

Theater of Conflict

My friend Methuselah is one of a growing band of bloggers who have joined the cause and, having seen 'the way' is engaged in a personal mission to tackle non-paleo nutrition from a unique angle. If you have not read is post on Why is there sugar in my Chicken?, then you really should.

What I like about this article is the simple approach. I mean, why IS there sugar in an off-the-shelf cooked chicken? Watching the squirming that followed was a joy. Methuselah didn't start this battle, he just asked a question. M&S continue to writhe as they seek to answer it in a coherent and logical way. This is a fantastic example of passive resistance.

Methuselah is a foot soldier in the paleo wars. Living proof of the benefits of a paleo lifestyle as indeed I am myself. Both of us have progressed from trying to diet and exercise to get to a 'fighting weight'. We have moved on from 'fighting' to be 'fighting fit', in to the calmer waters of the paleo philosophy where there is no fighting when it comes to nutrition or exercise.

The stress and anxiety of eating 'too much', missing a training session or of not getting that protein shake down your neck within an hour of coming out of the gym is replaced with a more harmonious relationship with oneself.

As armies go, the paleo movement is well placed to grow. Not a shot needs to be fired, nor a fist formed. It is politically autonomous, the concept is simple and the results remarkable. It's growth is organic - with converts growing by the week, fired by curiosity and disenchantment with existing dietary mantras. After years of fighting an unwinnable fight, exhaustion brings most of us round to a point where we realise that there must be 'another way'.

Fear and Low Fat

So what does fear and the low fat mantra have in common? Well, people dare not take the (supposedly) risky step of going paleo. Everyone knows that fat makes you fat and that saturated fat will kill you. Thus, even when the evidence points to the contrary, the noise generated by fear drowns out the science. As a paleo eater, you will be attacked - and the attack will be personal because your abs/muscle definition and excellent sub-clinical health will give them little to attack about the physical manifestation of your chosen philosophy.

This thread has gone no where near where I wanted it to. I was going to talk about fear of change....but instead it has evolved into a celebration of the paleo mentality. 'Paleo' is not a jacket that we can take off at weekends, it is our skin and we will die in it. We don't need a call to arms because in 'going paleo' we wear the fight.

As Ghandi observed, "First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then they agree with you."


Methuselah said...

You are too generous...! You can be assured the (passive) fight with retailers like M&S and Holland and Barrett will go on. Only today I received a weak response from H&B to my question about their sugar-laden yogurt coated nuts, which of course will be posted in due course.

On the 'conversion' side, I can report with some satisfaction that in the last 4 weeks I persuaded Mrs M to trial Paleo. Likewise this weekend, after months of careful explanations, my folks have decided to have a go. I have
since been fielding regular 'support calls' about the permissibility of certain foods ;-)

I share your belief that there is power behind the loosely connected cells that make up the health and fitness blogging community. If mainstream medicine and health bodies are not careful they will find themselves marginalised by the margins.

Asclepius said...

I was watching Jamie Oliver on TV last night and he was trying to teach a handful of people to cook a simple meal - in the hope that each one of these people would then teach another group of people to cook and so forth. It is an interesting concept but judging by last night's episode, is not proving too successful.

In contrast, few people whom I have introduced to the paleo philosophy have given it up. Sure, they 'stray' slightly on occassion, but they quickly and eagerly revert to paleo-type. The physical benefits are readily apparent, but better than that are the sub-clinical benefits.

I think JO's task is hard as it is rather one-dimensional - learning an excellent skill, but one that is time consuming and arguably expensive, despite its obvious benefits to health over packaged and processed foods.

Paleo eating goes much deeper than that - it quickly makes you look better and feel good, and is bloody simple. What more could you ask?

I hope to hear more of your folks' paleo journey!

Scott Kustes said...

Bravo! That was simply an incredible post Messiah! I think it does come down largely to "fear of change" and I look forward to seeing that post. I think another thing is comes down to is that Paleo is hard, or at least hard to get started with.

The thought process seems to be akin to: "No bread? How do I make a quick meal (i.e., sandwich) if I can't eat bread? How do I throw together a quick meal if I can't just boil some pasta? And cheese! But I love cheese?"

Perhaps part of our responsibility as the Paleo Army is to help people understand that, while it is a touch harder and perhaps not as quick as most Western meals, the benefits are worth it. Further, we can teach them ways to make the time requirements less and teach them how to fit time requirements into the lifestyle.

In time, I think most people that adopt Paleo stick with it. It's impossible to ignore the feelings of health and wellbeing. Sure, we all adapt it to our own lives and desires...for instance, incorporating raw milk and cheese, alcohol, and chocolate, to name a few. But the basic guiding principles of meat, vegetables, nuts, fruits, and tubers remain.

Scott Kustes
Modern Forager

Asclepius said...

Thanks Scott. Paleo is hard - but only because it involves change, and we all know that it is CHANGE which is hard. We get used to routine and are comfortable in our habits. We like 'known knowns'.

I think once you get over the notion of change, then for sure, paleo living does become pretty easy and you find the weight/fitness battle is won. Our high carb, low fat, calorie counting colleagues are in a battle that they can never win.

Doomed to defeat - now THAT is something harder than change!

Keep fighting the good fight...

Mark Sisson said...

Fantastic post, Messiah. Every day I see new evidence that the paleo (or as I like to call it, the Primal) movement is taking hold. But the steps are small. We are up against years of misinformation and, worse, disinformation about diet and exercise. I like to think we are leading a new zeitgeist in the world of health and well-being, and I'm confident we are headed down the right path.

Keep up the great work!

Asclepius said...

Hey there Mr Sisson! Wow, it's great that you swung by my humble blog!

A am a regular lurker on your site and you have certainly earned your place in my list of name-checks.

Chris said...

Great Post.....

General Chris
(Conditioning Research)

Asclepius said...

General Chris, as with the other guys - you deserve your place on the list! I visit your site daily and the content is always excellent.

I like the fact that the paleo diet and exercise model cannot really be marketed/branded/commodified the way other diet and exercise plans are. No one person or organisation can really own it.

Paleo 'living' has integrity and it is supported with genuine enthusiasm. I think that is what makes those sites I listed, including yours, so 'sticky'.

Feel free to give me a shout if you ever come down to do some walking or climbing in the Peak!


susan said...

I am interested in eating paleo but have not yet switched yet. Can you give me some good links to intro articles? I appreciate your passion and will be back soon. Thanks.

Asclepius said...

Hi Susan. There are two steps you need to take to 'going paleo'.

The first is to seek medical advice to convince yourself that this is actually a healthful way to go! I am no doctor and so am not qualified to give advice. I will say that I have 'gone Paleo' and find it an easy nutritional (and lifestyle) way to live.

A good starter is 'The Protein Power Life Plan' by Dr Michael Eades. Eades' website and also that of Dr John Briffa are useful resources. You should also talk things over with your own doctor to accommodate any personal medical constraints.

Once you are convinced that you can/want to 'go Paleo' then there are plenty of sites with good adice in the article above. I have personally collated a 'top 10' of diet tips here (http://www.naturalmessiah.blogspot.com/2008/05/healthy-eating-in-10-steps.html).

When I started paleo, I followed something like this:

Breakfast - Bowl of fresh fruit (chopped) and nuts.

Lunch - Mixed (seasonal) salad and fish (Mackerel, Tuna etc...)

Teatime - Roasted (seasonal) vegetables and half a roast chicken or large piece of steak.

In addition I would make some vegetable soup to freeze and use when time was short.

Don't get too hung up on seasonal vegetables. Eat until you are full. If you need to snack, choose nuts and some fruit (limit bananas). Avoid fruit juices.

Supplement this regime with two physical training sessions a week. Try this cycle:

Sprint 10 seconds,
Press ups for 10 seconds
Lift a weight above you head for 10 seconds
Pull ups for 10 seconds (if too hard, put your legs on a chair for support to start with)
Rest one minute.

Repeat for a total of 5 times.

The weights should be sufficient for you to just about complete the whole circuit.

The session should be short and intense. Less is more. Stop if you experience pain. Rest for as many days as you need to make a recovery.

Good luck.