Last night I had the pleasure of participating in a lecture which served as the start of an 8 week Paleo/Crossfit challenge for 6 patients who have undergone successful bariatric surgery. To be considered a success you must lose over 50% of your weight so they have all undergone significant transformations. That said, they were all selected for this program by their surgeon because they have stopped losing weight and have not reached their goals. They came into the night with no clue what lie ahead or any knowledge that the Paleo diet would be recommended for the program
As William Albritton (CrossFit Alexandria Trainer) and I presented the information, the reaction was typical. They did not understand why the Paleo no-nos are bad for you, and wanted explanations of how many of these supposedly “healthy” foods are bad for them. As we talked to them, I started to think about how I would react when presented so much information in so little time. I could see intimidation in their eyes as we checked off every common kind of food they could no longer eat. This got me thinking on a grander scale about some of the negative that Paleo can bring out in people. Yes, I think there is in fact negative that can come from Paleo! So, here are some of the things I consider to be the negative side of Paleo.
Stress: Nobody in life is perfect, and even the person you consider to be the most amazing follower of Paleo there is does in fact eat the wrong things at times. Sometimes people overtly cheat, but often we will cheat with things we are not even aware of. I think it is vital not to obsess about being perfect when you were in fact created to not be. When I first started Paleo I was quite guilty of this. I worried so much about cheating that even on the odd occasions when I would, I would almost get depressed afterwards for losing my discipline. I eventually realized that the pressure I was putting myself under was a major stress in my life, and it was quite frankly unhealthy to live with that kind of stress. To the contrary, part of the Paleo lifestyle should be about minimizing the stress in your life in order to maximize the hormonal environment in which we live. By constantly micro-managing my life and my diet I was defeating one of the most vital parts of this lifestyle. On top of that, I was pretty much not making it as fun as it should be. When I think of Paleo I think of fun, varied, energetic, delicious, simple, healthy, freeing…all things you can only experience if you don’t stress about perfection.
Turning Others Off: Ok, it’s one thing if you obsess and stress about your own diet, but have you ever been around the Paleo guy who has a seizure when you put Splenda in your coffee? I see you out there! I think it is so important to be supportive of your fellow Paleo brothers and sisters with a great deal of understanding. In my house for example, I will confess to all of you that I can in fact be….a little annoying about the Paleo thing. (I’m certain my wife will make herself available for interviews on this topic if needed 🙂 I was so crazy about it the first few months that my wife has since confessed to me that the reason she did not get on board at first is that I was smothering her with Paleo talk and I may, although I’m not completely accepting this, have looked at her a little funny when she ate certain things. Who wants to deal with that?!
Don’t make that mistake, and luckily I think I figured it out pretty quick. One of the things I emphasized during our talk last night was that we are all humans and that I certainly was not 100% on Paleo. I do in fact try my best to eat clean, but it’s not worth alienating others over. When people follow the Paleo lifestyle for some time I find that they start to feel proud to be a little different, proud to know that they are making a difference in their long term health with their diet. That said, care must be taken not to look down on others for either not following Paleo, or not following as “well” as you do. Don’t be that guy!
Missing the Big Picture: If you do it, why do you follow Paleo? To lose weight? To look better? To get stronger? To get faster? As a doctor I think your answer should be simple…to be healthier. When you are trying to talk to others about the lifestyle it is easy to get off track. Just last night during our “Introduction to Paleo” talk here are some of the tangents we went on: How the food industry manipulates foods to trick us, fast food companies targeting kids with advertising, the use of “heart-healthy” labels on foods such as cereals, what does “cage free” really mean, are artificial sweeteners healthy, are green beans really Paleo, are cows treated humanely in typical slaughter houses? Now look, each of these questions are important in certain conversations, but I personally don’t think they belong in an intro to Paleo talk. Paleo comes down to two simple lists: what you can eat, and what you can’t eat. You eat these things and don’t eat these things in order to get healthier. What can topics like these do? What could they easily have done last night? They quite simply get in the way of Paleo’s basic message. Several times during the talk I could see people’s eyes start to glaze over with too much information. One lady asked where in the grocery store she could find “omega-3s”. We were emphasizing them too much and it was getting confusing. Topics like these are details that are less important than the big picture with Paleo. Don’t get lost in the forest of Paleo facts and politics, just eat real food and get healthy!
Making Paleo an Idol: “You shall have no other god’s before me.” Exodus 20:3 (ESV) I don’t want to get biblical here on you…well ok, yes I do…but this is really important. Your life ultimately needs to be about God, family, love, relationships; things that matter more than others. Not ten days into changing to Paleo I told my wife that I feared it was becoming an idol for me, and that if I could not separate myself from that I may have to give it up. Obsession with Paleo can be a major battle for many, just like obsession with exercise is for others. Following Paleo cannot become more important to you than your spouse, or your kids, or your family. Before you dismiss this, think a moment and I’m sure you know someone who fits this mold. It may even be you! Know anyone who won’t go to family get togethers because the rest of the family doesn’t eat Paleo? Have you completely shut off friends from your life because they eat bread?! Paleo cannot and must not stand between you and the important things in life. If Paleo is an idol in your life don’t panic, just take a step back and evaluate how it is affecting those things you love the most. Make it important, but make a list of things that must always go ahead of it. Stick to your list and all will be well.
These are just a few of the thoughts that I jotted down during our talk last night. I have lived through some of the negatives of Paleo myself, and I want to warn others of the dangers! Our goal must always be to spread paleo to as many others as possible with the hope of making them happier and healthier. If people see you more stressed than you were before you went Paleo, if you turn others off by being critical of their diets, if you miss the big picture and concentrate instead on minor aspects of the lifestyle, or if you make Paleo an idol that stands before your beloved friends and family; you likely won’t make many converts!
Paleo is good! If there are any areas of your life where it comes to Paleo that are negative or bad, address them and change them!
Jessica Morris McClure
June 25, 2012 at 1:47 am
In the same week I’ve read this post and the following. http://www.passionatehomemaking.com/2010/01/can-natural-living-become-an-idol.html
I feel really convicted about making paleo and natural living an idol. I don’t put it before family or relationships, but I obsess about it more than I should. I do believe we are created to eat this way and living in a natural way (rather than a man-made way) honors God, since it is only when man starts to try to improve upon Gods design that we harm ourselves. (eg artificial sweeteners) Thanks for the post and staying grounded and true to your beliefs!
June 26, 2012 at 10:26 am
Love this….especially regarding making Paleo an idol. I spend way too much time thinking, reading and talking about food in general. Perspective is the goal, isn’t it?
June 26, 2012 at 6:58 pm
I agree! Especially when you first get into it, it can easily become all-consuming. I want to be healthy to enjoy life, but if all of life is about seeking health then you aren’t winning.
June 26, 2012 at 7:51 pm
Hi Dr. Garcia! Found your blog via ThePaleoMom.com and love it! I too am here in LA (the NOLA area). Interesting perspective on not making Paleo (or healthy eating) an idol as I just gave a talk at our state homeschool convention about nutrition (Paleo basics) and, in my opening comments, I admonished my audience not to make good nutrition an idol. Hmmmm…great minds think alike? Would love to correspond with you or your readers paleo from a Biblical (rather than evolutionary) perspective.
June 26, 2012 at 10:37 pm
Ashley and Ernie, I have been thinking a lot about Paleo from a biblical perspective. I have a lot of friends who can’t quite make the leap to paleo because of their beliefs and the use of bread so much in the bible. I would love to work with someone in creating a resource for paleo christians, such as a website with info on paleo from the biblical perspective and such. I’m not a scientist, doctor, or expert. Just a paleo geek and christian. 🙂
August 28, 2013 at 11:23 am
I think your resource idea is great! I have recently started eating Paleo and was thinking just the other day about it becoming an idol; how easily that can happen!
July 4, 2012 at 9:28 am
Love this post. As much as I love the health benefits of a paleo lifestyle, I’m very much a Christian. Paleo as a religion, no thanks. For me, it has more to do with navigating a polluted food supply. The bread of Jesus’ time….not what you find in the stores today.
August 13, 2012 at 2:47 pm
You address many of the issues I’ve encountered. A couple of strategies that I’ve come across that may be of interest to you and your readers include:
* Using “paleo” as a framework instead of as a guide. A rough analogy is a sonnet: total freedom to create and emote within the structure of the sonnet.
* Treating Paleo living as a perpetual experiment. When things don’t work, the failure is simply noted as a negative result and provides direction for future research (grin). This takes the guilt factor out, and at least for me, it helps as I try to establish and cement new habits. Mistakes are the norm and not the exception – expect them and keep moving toward the new habit.
*Acknowledging upfront that paleo living/eating is not a cure all panacea. In my own case, my labs and physical findings are golden. But most of my most intrusive/functionally limiting symptoms haven’t budged. Additionally, I’m doing this entirely on m own as I haven’t yet found a physician who incorporates paleo principles or is even familiar with them. PubMed and the blogosphere is where I go to for the science and anecdotes from people who are trying/living within a paleo type frame. However, I’m also serving as a healthy control in a few nutrition studies conducted by the “big boys” – nationally known researchers. My baseline labs have been so many std deviations off the SAD norms that several PIs have interviewed me, and I’ve been pleased to share Paleo info with them. The sacrifice has been that the study diets all contained the no-nos: processed foods, grains, added sugar and industrial seed oils. The study indicators showed a decline in my values – but if this is what it takes to get researchers to pay attention and eventually influence food and nutrition policy and practice, then it’s worth it.
August 13, 2012 at 9:51 pm
Thanks for all the great information, and we all appreciate your commitment to science! I love your idea of Paleo as a concept or framework, not a defined box. I wish the word Paleo didn’t exist some times! It just complicates things.
Thank you for interacting on my blog, and I hope your own personal Paleo study continues to be a success. Sometimes all you need is an N of 1!
September 3, 2012 at 3:47 pm
” Paleo comes down to two simple lists: what you can eat, and what you can’t eat.”
I realize that doctors are in the habit of prescribing, but might it be better to talk about foods that are desirable to eat and undesirable to eat instead?
September 3, 2012 at 3:53 pm
“Paleo comes down to two simple lists: what you can eat, and what you can’t eat.”
I realize that doctors are in the habit of prescribing, but might it be better to say that some foods are desirable and some foods are undesirable?