Thursday, June 16, 2011

What the Primal movement gets right, and why they still get it wrong.

Earlier this year, I started exploring the paleo/primal lifestyle philosophies, due to a confluence of factors; my interest in evolutionary biology, rampant candida, and osteoarthritis is my hand that made it nearly impossible to knit. I'd had several friends have great results reducing inflammation by giving up grains and sugar, so it seemed worth trying. I read The Paleo Solution , I read The Primal Blueprint , I skimmed The Paleo Diet because at that point I didn't need to read the same information yet again. I didn't buy everything hook, line and sinker (I have never bought the low carb thing, especially if I am supposed to count them ) from an evolutionary perspective, it made a lot of sense. I  cut out cereal grains, I even tried eating my curries and stir fries without rices. I cut back on beans. I even cut out desserts for a while. I felt candida went away, and I had no hand pain within days. Knowing that the usual culprit is gluten, I added back in rice and beans ( though I do eat less than before). They don't cause me pain, so I decided I would eat them when I wish. I know  the primal community decries the "anti- nutrients" in beans and the brown rice I still prefer ( according to the primals if you're going to consume a grain, more refined is better) ; however, these foods are staples in my cooking repertoire and they don't make me feel ill, so they're staying.

So first off, what's RIGHT with primal:

Emphasis on real food:
When you eat paleo or primal, your food choices are simple: meat (real meat; if you indulge in lunch meat get the uncured stuff) , vegetables, nuts, oils, and depending on whether you're on the low carb kick, fruit). Just the basics, and getting back to these basics is exactly what a lot of first world citizens need to do.

Emphasis on food that is fed what it evolved to eat:
If you're read The Omnivore's Dilemma , you know that grass fed beef is better for you than corn fed beef, which, in short, makes you fat. Getting people to think about what your meat eats can only be good.

People are meant to eat meat :
With all due respect to my veg*an friends, humans are meant to eat meat. Whether you believe in evolution, creationism, or a combination there of, our biology shows us to be omnivores.

People are meant to eat fat :
Our bodies need fat. Unless you have a condition that makes you physically ill from eating fat, avoid low fat diets like the plague.

It makes it easier to give up grains :
If you've read Fat Land , you know that corn makes you fat and gives you diabetes. And evidence is mounting all the time that indicates that the number of people with Celiac's or general gluten intolerance is much higher than we suspect. High enough to make gluten suspect. Paleo and primal show you what TO eat if you give up grains, instead of just saying "Don't eat!"

So, what is the primal community doing wrong ? (And when I say wrong, I mean the internet communities much more than any of the above mentioned authors)

Over thinking it :
The beauty of the paleo/primal movement SHOULD be that you know what foods to eat, what foods to avoid, you eat when you're hungry and you stop when you're full (Wow, sounds like what ANY healthy eating plan should be! ) Yet you can't browse a primal forum without 75 % of the posts being about carb counts, macro nutrients, calories burned, etc. Why anyone would sign up for any way of eating that they felt required them to keep count of all that stuff is beyond me,

Being judgemental toward seekers
Nobody likes it in a church, and the same is true about eating plans. The best way to convince an interested person that all those primal people are a bunch of (grain free, sugar free ) fruitcakes is to tell people "NO NO NO YOU MUST DO THIS 100% PUT DOWN THE COOKIE OR DON'T BOTHER!"

Bacon butter on pork rinds :
In other words, eating tons of fat. This is crazy, goes against everything that makes sense, and would make my physically ill. I know I just said people need to eat fat; but telling people to try and get 70% of their calories from fat is irresponsible.

Telling people to ignore the numbers
For a group of people who seem so into number crunching, these folks get upset if someone posts poor cholesterol numbers. They will then tell those people why everything their doctor tells them about cholesterol is wrong, that high "bad" cholesterol is really GOOD, and the need to keep downing that fat. High cholesterol is not a reason to tell someone to go off primal, but it is a reason to tell them to rethink how they apply it. More veg, some fruit, less fatty meats. Pretty basic but telling people to do this would threaten the gospel of butter bacon.

Being more primitive than thou:
I got my fill of people who don't use soap or shampoo a decade ago on . If you're posting TO THE INTERNET, FROM A COMPUTER about how primally you live, get over yourself.

In conclusion:
I still mostly eat a paleo lifestyle, however; I'm not low carb, I still eat rice and beans and potatoes, and I still love me some sugary goodness now and again. So I probably can't call myself paleo or primal. Gluten free eater of real food might be just about right. I haven't given up on the community completely, they still have a lot to teach me and who knows, I may be able to teach them something.


  1. FABULOUS post. Huzzah!

    I giggled: "If you're posting TO THE INTERNET, FROM A COMPUTER about how primally you live, get over yourself."

  2. FYI - you don't really have to eat meat to be an omnivore. Eggs fit the bill nicely and are much lower on the food chain. Apologies to my carnivore friends, but we evolved on a planet much less crowded by top predators like humans. Eating high on the food chain is only sustainable when the population is sparse - in today's world, it results in starving children. (I don't really feel a need to comment on other people's choices usually, as mine are almost never any better, but when someone says people need to eat meat, this needs to be pointed out - people need to be able to eat - period.)

  3. Given all the grain that rots in American silos while children starve both here and abroad, I don't think it impacts hunger one whit if we eat meat or not ( not to mention finishing those brussel sprouts ;) ) . There is already enough food to feed everyone on earth, we just need to get past the layers of politics that keeps it out of their mouths.

  4. That is not really true, although the waste is horrendous, especially here. Even without it, though, we are using fields that could grow much more affordable grains and beans for people to grow grain for cows that only Westerners can afford. We have reached a tipping point.

  5. I guess we'll have to agree to disagree- especially since I think we serve the hungry better by providing them with food animals that with low calorie grains, which you have to eat WAY more of to be sustained. It's much a more efficient use of a family's space and time to get them ducks/chickens (for both eggs AND meat)than to have them invest in a field.

  6. Grains and beans is the key. The thing is that takes sixteen times more land to produce a pound of hamburger than to produce its nutritional equivalent in grains and beans - therein lies the problem. That and that much beef is being grazed on rainforest land razed for the purpose of beef ranching.

  7. Not that I think everyone should have to be vegetarian or anything - it is all going to be a matter of degree in terms of eating sustainably. For the planet to support this many people, however, diets do need to be plant-based.

  8. About 80% of my diet is plants (mostly greens) and I only buy local beef.