Some of you may have already come across this article, either from Art’s Evolutionary Fitness site, or straight from the New York Times.

I think the article’s author (Marlene Zuk) may have misinterpreted the precepts and/or goals of a Paleo/EFit lifestyle. Most adherents of this lifestyle realize (at least, I hope they do) that our mirroring of a Paleo diet is not undertaken in a mindless vacuum devoid of any thoughtful manipulation of “modern” variables. “Paleo” is a benchmark, yes; a launching pad. However, we adherents test out hypothesis against an array of hard measurables (in the way of blood tests, physical performance, lack of disease, etc.). And by all perceivable measures, our “way” has thus far been proven superior. Will a better method/lifestyle come along? Hey, I’m open to all ideas and will consider all possibilities — I wear no blinders, and I’m married to no single philosophy — but any “upgrade” had better be able to produce superior results to what we have achieved with the Paleo way. Build a better mousetrap, prove it to be such with sound science, and I’m in.

And then there’s this amusing blog post from shapely prose – a blog which, by the way, carries the following purpose line: urban, liberal, feminist, latte-drinking, overeducated, intellectual, unapologetically p.c. american patriots. I’ll forgo casting judgment as far as that is concerned, in lieu of a quick musing on the particular post in question.

My first thought is, that all concerned here need to define both the “rapid” — as in “rapid evolution” – as well as to what the specific degree of “evolution” is here, that we’re talking about. Those of the Paleo mindset readily acknowledge the “rapid” evolution, under the sharp dietary pressures precipitated by such things as the transition to agriculture, the cultivation of livestock and the widespread disappearance of certain species of fauna. Remember, however, that there are always biological trade-offs for every evolutionary advance. For instance, the ability by some to effectively digest the lactose found in dairy products does not come free of consequence. The immune system must still mount a defense to the novel (to our genome, at least) proteins found in dairy. This is just one example. There is a huge difference, in my opinion, between an organism’s mere surviving and that same organism’s thriving.

And I whole-heartedly subscribe to the notion that evolution does not stand still. It marches onward, in fact, in spits and starts – and, yes, at times it races ahead. It is wise, though, I believe, to consider what these terms are relative to. Racing ahead, leaps-and-bounds, leap-frogging – relative to what? 50, 000 years of human evolution has produced something like a .2% change in the human genome. Just keep that in mind when cruising the grocery store aisles.

So yes, the ladies are correct — evolution marches on. And I suppose that it is within the realm of consideration that in 50, say, or 100 thousand years, the human species will have evolved to the point of thriving on grains and HFCS, and that the human body will have morphed proportionally to the point of resembling a queen ant. That’s all fine and well, and far be it from me to stand in the way of those who choose to “take a needle for Team Human” in the advance of that evolutionary inevitability. And call me a selfish prick if you will, but I, for one, opt out of that noble pursuit. Just gimme a steak, some berries and leaves, and let me be with my selfish, caveman self.

In Health,

Keith

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Keith Norris is a former standout athlete, a military vet, and an elite strength and conditioning expert with over 35 years of in-the-trenches experience. As a serial entrepreneur in the health and wellness space, he is an owner, co-founder and Chief Development Officer of the largest Paleo conference in the world, Paleo f(x) . As well, Keith is a partner in one of the most innovative lines of boutique training studios in the nation, Efficient Exercise. He’s also a partner in ARXFit training equipment, and a founding member of ID Life. In his spare time, he authors one of the top fitness blogs in the health and wellness sphere, Theory To Practice.

17 COMMENTS

  1. I think you said it pretty well in response. The blog post author’s bio says she’s never been thin. Hmmm…

    And I’m not sure about those who say it, but I wouldn’t actually know if there were fat cavemen. It’s doubtful, but I’m guessing there probably were. There could be lazy men in the pack, right? To me it’s all about what you said – performance, feeling great, blood work, and health. And of course I like to look good, too. Putting it together the right way, for the optimal advancement of the species. I think there is a lot more to it than just saying well we adopted agriculture and we are adapting to it. Not everything is good for a species. Of course, you already said that.

    And sloths are slow, thus there would be no need to run from them – indeed, we killed many of them off. So much for that theory.

  2. I think you skewered her arguments (most of which weren’t arguments at all but simple conjectures) very effectively.

    As paradigms shift, those embracing the old paradigms often grasp them more tightly, even when confronted with increasing amounts of contradictory evidence.

    But as you pointed out, this paleo paradigm is not expert-driven, or at least not expert-dependent. Unlike the structure of DNA molecules, or the speed of light, it’s possible to directly experience the effects of a paleo-based approach.

    So as long as we can get our meat and berries (and coconut milk), who care what the authorities think?

  3. Great article Keith. The blog post on Shapely Prose is pretty interesting. Seems to be like she is trying to con herself out of the fact that we are largely unevolved when it comes to diet. Sure we can handle a bit of dairy, grain etc every now and then but the stuff should never become a staple in our diet, its just too calorie dense and nutritionally devoid to even bother. Plus unless topped with something our sauteed most grain/starchy (pasta, rice and bread) foods taste like crap. The same goes for dairy apart from a good cheese and like Parmesan, Ricotta or a nice chunk of brie which are all full of flavor and low in lactose. Things like yoghurt/milk are tasteless and need to have sweetners added in order to become palatable. Give me some Meat, Fruit, Veg and Nuts any day.
    And if we have adapted to the current agricultural food then why do most people who eat whole grains and all the other “healthy foods” look like crap. Whereas those who eat a 80% paleo diet and train hard and intense like say Craig Ballantyne have great physiques which correlate with good health. I think I’ll stick tot he tried and proven formula and let others experiment.

  4. I think the ladies from shapely prose mount their arguments from a certain perspective: it’s ok to be fat. I don’t know if anyone else felt those undertones, but I did, and I can’t say I agree. The idea that “I’m just meant to be chubby” is one that many people who have failed many times trying to lose weight have accepted, and it’s tragic. If you are ok with how you look and feel, than that’s great, but I’d guess that at least a simple majority of obese people would rather be thin for a number of reasons. From an evolutionary standpoint, there’s a reason the leanest, fittest girl or guy catches your eye at the beach. It’s because you evolved to hunt out that person and mate with them. That hasn’t gone away, because we are meant to be fit cavemen!

  5. Regarding the shapely prose rebuttal: Let them eat cake! This is another twist on denial. With the logic that are bodies are adapting to power down Krispy Kremes for more efficient fat storage.

    Some people will never get it, despite the best intentions.

    • I think the main issues these folks (the aniti-Paleo crowd) simply out-an-out dismiss revolve around the the proven health benefits provided by the Paleo lifestyle. It does smell of the anti-science, anti-evolution stance of the fundamentalists. This crowd paints their argument purely in the tones of the anti-narcissist; they seem to be casting stones at more so at vanity, while assuming that the Paleo lifestyle is no more than vanity’s simple-minded handmaiden. Hey, I’m all for someone feeling totally comfortable in their skin — in fact, (this is just personally speaking) I’ve always found that attribute to trump even physical attractiveness — but there is so much more real and positive benefit to the Paleo lifestyle than just the (admittedly wonderful) outwardly visible effects.

      Which begs an interesting question. I wonder how many Paleo adherents would remain “on board” — or would have ever come on board to begin with — had this lifestyle only produced inward, non-readily-visible, health benefits. Of course, those of us “in the know” realize the inner and outer benefits go hand-in-hand. It is an interesting philosophical question, though.

  6. Wouldn’t the cavemen or women who put on fat in the summer and fall have been more likely to make it through a tough winter? Body fat, at least to some degree, used to be considered much healthier than it is now.

  7. This is a very interesting conversation. I find the whole carb vs. paleo argument fascinating, and I would like to submit this link to an excellent on-going discussion (http://www.imminst.org/forum/index.php?showtopic=27113).
    I chose a paleo lifestyle just over a year ago, and for me it has proven to be an excellent choice, especially when combined with a HIIT type workout regimen. In our increasingly modern sedentary lifestyles, it seems to me that the nutritional data and the evolutionary science in support of a paleo lifestyle are very solid indeed.
    Where it gets really interesting to me is in the area of carb sensitivity among individuals and groups. In the above referenced link, there are several comments pointing to numerous long-lived cultures that consume a relatively high carb diet. So, from a lifespan aspect, there seems to be some variance. Do you think that cultures like this are more evolutionary advanced because they have evolved the ability to metabolically process a relatively new food source that is also more abundant? Are we paleo types evolutionary throwbacks of some kind? Kind of a rhetorical question, with tons of variables, but interesting to reflect on.
    Regarding the shapely prose post and the “it’s ok to be fat” attitude, I learned along time ago that the “live-and-let-live” mentality is the best place to be. I have several obese relatives that other family members tried to “help” over the years with dietary advice and whatnot. All that unsolicited help ever did was to make them miserable, and further erode their self-esteem. Additionally, I don’t promote the paleo lifestyle in my day-to-day life unless someone directly asks me about it. “Why are you not eating pizza with everyone else?” is usually met with the response “I’m just really sick of pizza”. When people are ready to hear the truth and make a change, then they will ask the right questions and the change they are seeking will come to fruition. Just my .02 cents.
    Thanks again for place to come and hash all this out!

  8. Keith,

    As an unabashed liberal, gourmet-coffee-drinking (although I despise lattes; it’s all about pure black coffee) over-educated, feminist-in-that-I-don’t-care-about-your-gender-or-color: These people are an embarrassment.

    The blog article you linked to was amusing, as is the whole site. Apparently, the site utilizes the central axoim that being fat/overweight is a normal, natural, acceptable condition. Therefore, discussion regarding any diet that claims to “remedy” that condition or otherwise confer ANY health benefits whatsoever is banned, as it could be construed as bashing the central point of the site.

    As you can see, that renders any logical discussion about any possible health benefits of the paleo diet impossible. Instead what we’re treated to is a collection of half-baked hypotheses about how we “may have” already evolved enough to see Frosted Flakes and Bloomin’ Onions as optimal food sources, with no mention of any studies linking the modern food supply with any number of serious, debilitating ailments.

    Anything, I suppose, to justify the central assumption that extra weight is good.

  9. Couldn’t agree more with the last poster. That article is amusing but the comments suggest the readers are mostly overweight man-haters. I genuinely feel sorry for them (I’m not being sarcastic!). I hope some of them find the paleo way and a better lifestyle

  10. Keith,

    Great site you have here. I do find it amusing that people whom hear of someone using a “Paleo-style” of eating assumes regressionism, as if we’re going to abandon all tech and go and kill our food outright. Spiritual gurus like Ken Wilber speak of the “Pre/Trans” fallacy, where someone dismisses higher level mystic/spiritual events as regression/precognitive ie infantile narcissism. We’ve come to this understanding with a high, high level of research and experience which, if you’ve not done that, only seems like we wish to bonk our wives on the head and drag her into a cave…it looks too simple if you’ve not been through it.

    Best,
    Skyler

    • Skyler,
      What I find ironic here (vis-a-vis, the shapely prose folks), is that, in my experience at least, it is the mark of the un (or anti)-intellectual to discount as being the “lunatic fringe” those things that are both (or either) not understood and/or that are in opposition to what is considered “bedrock knowledge”. Again I have to compare this to religious fundamentalism’s wholesale opposition to (or distrust of) science.

      Ryon,
      As an unabashed, liberal-leaning Libertarian (say that three times fast), I whole-heartedly agree 🙂 And I suppose I am a prick for not doing my part to advance Team Human’s decent into a fattened, carbo-utopia, but…well, you get the idea —

      Rylan,
      Thanks for the link, and intro into the interesting discussion therein. And I’m with you on the “evangelize only when prompted” sentiment. My feeling has always been, when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.

      nonegiven,
      My feeling is that hunter-gatherers hunted throughout the winter months (following herds as need be), did not “hibernate” as such, and therefore had no need to stock-up on extra fat reserves to carry them through the winter months. If anything (and if my own appetite is any indication), I consume more calories naturally, throughout the winter.

  11. So many morons, so little time.

    It doesn’t have anything to do with paleo-fantasies or regression. We get fat because we eat too much and sit around most of the time. There is no romanticism to living in earlier times… people lived hard, short lives. Babies often didn’t live. Hygiene sucked and diseases wiped out entire populations.

    There is a big movement back to eating real, whole organic foods, with paleo/evo just being one facet of this larger picture. Everyone has to find what lifestyle suits them best. Personally, I LIKE being connected to local farmers who raise what I eat rather than going to the grocery store.

    I didn’t think I could sustain a high fat/protein and low/carb lifestyle with no dairy or grains, but then I found out I was a lot more energetic and alert and not puffed up like the Staypuff Marshmallow Man. And IF made me feel even better. In fact, I had breakfast this morning which I haven’t done in quite some time and I actually felt crappy the rest of the day. You can’t argue when your digestive system feels better, your brain is de-fogged, and you are much leaner and more energetic. The science just backs up your own experiment. When I was in my 20’s I could eat pancakes, pretzels, animal crackers, and plain bagels (no, no butter or cream cheese.. too much FAT!) because I was running 5 days a week. At 44 that sort of thing just doesn’t work.

    I’m not even gonna get into the liberal feminist blog, or try to make sense out of their rant. You’re right, Ryon, they are an embarassment in some ways.

    Fact is, I was the one who was unhappy when I was fat, so I did something about it that works for me at this particular stage of my life (I don’t feel like running marathons or 8-hour bike rides right now). What disturbs me is the fact that Americans are becoming not just overweight, but so big that bariatric patients are becoming the norm. In fact a woman is suing a local hospital because she is 5 feet tall and about 275 pounds and had to get an MRI and she wouldn’t fit and they told her she had to go to the zoo to get an MRI. I mean, sure, maybe that wasn’t particularly sensitive, but for me that would have been a definite wake-up call.

    TG

    • “In fact a woman is suing a local hospital because she is 5 feet tall and about 275 pounds and had to get an MRI and she wouldn’t fit and they told her she had to go to the zoo to get an MRI.”

      I knew I should have gone into law. You just can’t make this stuff up! 🙂

  12. Keith,

    Did not have such a laugh in a while as I go through the blog of those not-so-smart-but-think-that-they-are girls 🙂 Obviously no education in biology whatsoever…but I also have to point out that you unintentionally raised their profile by linking to their bullshit ( a term they use very liberally about others)…

  13. As a strong leftie, over educated, urban patriot feminist AND paleo eater (hence the lack of latte drinking 😉 ), I can vouch that the two positions are not irreconcilable. Gotta love information cascade–if you’ve been told something for a long period of time, it MUST be right. But it’s not only the overly intellectual latte drinkers who strike out against Paleo. FDA, anyone? Shapely Prose and the NYT reflect the prevailing attitude, that those who reject the common sense are radicals who simply haven’t read enough. They used to say the same thing about this crazy dude who thought the world was ROUND.

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