Disclaimer: I’m only 6 months into my own Paleo/Primal experiment. I’m not as strict as many adherents. I follow this diet the same way I am a Buddhist—I understand all the rules, but I also know that I have to live in the world as it is, not as I want it to be. Which is to say, whatever I choose for my life must be realistic and sustainable. Some people do fine within tighter parameters, and to that I say, “Good on ya!” But it ain’t my way. And I, myself, am curious what the long term consequences of Paleo will be. All I can say is that the path feels right to me right now, because the CW way I was going was sending me straight into despair.
So what’s going on here? What strikes me about Don’s parting shot is the same thing I see on Paleo/Primal message boards and sites like PaleoHacks.com, which is a total devotion to the science and the theory until it goes wrong. I see a lot of people finding Paleo out of sheer frustration with everything else. They’ve already tried Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, Curves, and the grapefruit cleanse, but for some reason, they think Paleo is the one. Or they have intestinal issues, diabetes, arthritis, and migraines and they’re fed up with their doctors’ non-answers. Or whatever has brought them here. And in the beginning, it’s seductive. There’s a ready-built community of like-minded folks just waiting to help you. Paleo has a Fuck-The-Establishment vibe to it, which I personally love, but can attract all kinds of folks who are a little too comfortable being paranoid of everything. And, of course, Paleo lets them down someday, just like everything else has.
I didn’t come into Paleo expecting it to cure me of everything. In fact, I didn’t expect Paleo to cure me of anything except maybe a few pounds. There were some results I had read about which made me wonder if they would happen for me and they haven’t. Conversely, there have been some wonderful side effects that I didn’t see coming.
I understand that Paleo won’t have the same results for everyone. But some of Don’s results just aren’t jiving with me, and are actually the opposite of my experience. Let’s take them one-by-one, following his list:
- Skin: My skin is no drier than it was before and this seems to vary for me seasonally. My husband had chronic patches of eczema before Primal dietary changes and he continues to have this issue. I occasionally get flare-ups of eczema, but also did pre-Primal, and these also seem seasonal. I still have an occasional issue with dandruff, but—you guessed it!—it seems seasonal and of such little consequence that I use a special shampoo about twice a week and forget about it. Primal hasn’t been a cure but it also hasn’t been a cause. In addition, my struggles with lifelong acne are over, see here for more on that.
- Allergies: This season, mine seemed a bit better than usual. My husband seems to be having the same amount of trouble with his. Again, no causation, no correlation.
- Intestinal Distress: Mine has been about 90% cured. Sugar and gluten are obvious triggers for me, and when ingested now, well…let’s just say the difference is obvious and my husband dreams of inventing a wearable diaper vacuum device for our bedroom. My friend Juliann was also having intestinal troubles and hers have been eliminated as well on Primal, see here for her story.
- Elimination: There was a transition period for me, but it wasn’t uncomfortable or constipating. Everything was back to normal on that front within a matter of weeks.
- Lipomas: Don’t know nothing ’bout no lipomas.
- Stiffness and Cramping: Don’s previous post about blood coagulation was extremely controversial within the Paleo community, so I’m not sure his theory is based on any hard data. For my part, I’ve not had any issues with stiffness and cramping beyond what I experienced pre-Primal. If anything it’s the reverse. I had a knee injury at the same time I went Primal and after a few months of rest, it hasn’t been heard from since.
- Anxiety Attacks: I can say with absolute certainty that my anxiety has been improved anywhere between 80 – 100% on Primal. This has been the biggest surprise to me and the biggest gift. I am considering no longer wearing my dental nightguard because I don’t clench my teeth anymore. Needless to say, Don’s issue with this is surprising.
He also seems pissed at low carbing. But here’s the thing, and some of you may not know this: Paleo/Primal nutrition is not specifically low carb. Technically, it’s all carb neutral. The Paleo Police don’t care how many carbs you eat. Your intake will be determined by your goals. If you’re trying to lose weight, you’ll need to be on the lower end and if you’re an endurance athlete, you’ll take in more. The goal is to obtain those carbs in the form of natural carbs like fruit and starchy vegetables. “Carbohydrate” in and of itself is not a bad word, they just aren’t all created equal.
So all this begs the question: What exactly are we trying to “cure” with our diet? What result will be good enough? Do we keep searching for a dietary answer to all of our ills?
Or do we accept that there is a limit to our understanding? That what we eat isn’t the answer to everything. That sometimes shit happens because the body is a funky, imperfect, mysterious thing. That even though we eat according to Paleo/Primal guidelines, we may still be ugly, dumb, and poor. Or whatever our issues are. It won’t fix our marriages, it won’t make our kids behave, it won’t be a genie in a bottle waving away all our fears. There is still real life to contend with. So how do we know where the line is between a perfectly imperfect life and true physical ailment brought on by nutritional choices?
Why are you looking at me? I dunno. But it starts with keeping our expectations in check. And my senses tell me that approaching food as the sum of its component parts, as macronutrients and such, is not the way to go. Maybe in a few years I’ll feel differently, and if I do, I’ll let you know right here. But my hunch is that whatever happens to you when you’re eating honest-to-goodness real food is probably just the symptoms of a normal human body.
We assume that pain or discomfort or dysfunction means something is wrong in the body. I would agree with you. But who said we get to go through life without pain or discomfort or dysfunction? Who said that Paleo was a magic bullet for everything that ails us? If we could go back in time and ask our ancestors about this, they would probably laugh at our whining about dandruff and show us the botfly larvae trying to eat its way out of their leg. It’s the expectation of absolute comfort, total serenity, and perfection that will drive us mad.
If you think diet will cure you of everything, I’m not sure that position is any better than other people thinking there’s a pill or medical solution to their problem. Sometimes there just aren’t solutions.
So yes, folks. You’ll still get warts. You’ll get the flu and dry skin and cavities and ingrown toenails. And worse. We are human, after all. And what’s more primal than that?