Why I Left Paleo Behind, and Why I’m Returning
When I got into Paleo, I came through Mark Sisson’s Primal Blueprint. The MDA community was never exclusively about diet, but focused on a lifestyle of health, vitality, and playfulness. Sure it was a bit tongue-in-cheek and insular, but it was a community with plenty of room for whatever your views might be. There were the hardcore, live-in-the-woods-naked eco-warriors, and there were those who simply wanted to sneak their Vibrams into their cubicles.
After that, I thought I ought to grow up and go Paleo. Primal seemed like a softer version of the real deal. I attended a Whole9 workshop at my CrossFit box. It didn’t entirely mesh with what I knew about nutrition at the time from my study of Weston A. Price principles and the Primal Blueprint, but I signed on (since then, our beliefs about nutrition have come closer together). As my whole box went into it together, I was swept into the world of Paleo eating and CrossFit exercise, two movements totally divorced from a holistic view on life.
I’m sure the blame lies in how I implemented things, not in the methods themselves, but the way I saw the methods being presented, it didn’t seem like there was much leeway. The segment of the community I was in, which I took to represent all of it, was decidedly narrow-minded.
The way we pursued health suggested it could exist totally independent of anything else. You could somehow be healthy and happy as a cubicle drone, viewing the world as a rat race for a bigger paycheck, totally ignoring the natural world. We believed you could get all your exercise in a twenty minute bout of insanity and all your nutrition from socially expensive coconut products and grassfed beef shipped halfway across the country. We only slept to do better on the workouts. We ate with no concern for realistic, or even comfortable, eating behavior. Looking back, I was in the grips of a full-fledged eating disorder. There were Paleo energy bars, Paleo shakes, and Paleo desserts. I found myself forgoing homebaked bread for cheap salted nuts simply because they were Paleo-approved.
It had become shallow and commercial. I had become shallow and conformist. It was just another South Beach Diet, something I’d vowed never to be involved in, and here I was, drowning in it.
I finally got out and ran for the hills. While I still believed in the basic tenets of what makes Paleo (and CrossFit) effective, I refused to apply the labels to myself. I was happily doing my own thing.
Then I saw this article on Exuberant Animal, and I realized there were people out there who felt exactly the way I did, people who saw more in the Paleo movement than expensive, healthy diet habits for those with the time and money to indulge their eccentricities.
Since Paleo was originally the name of a diet book, perhaps it was unfair to expect it to be anything more than an approach to food, but we’d seen what could emerge from the confluence of natural movement, barefoot living, wholesome eating, and low-stress lives. The community had co-opted the term; Paleo, for some of us, meant much, much more than how we ate.
There were people, like me, who lamented the loss of its holistic approach to lifestyle and the call for us to reconnect with nature. It had so much potential to create real change, and it was being squandered.
What Frank at Exuberant Animal pointed out was what I had felt all along. I thought the problems with Paleo were inherent in the community, but I now saw that they were simply what happened when the potential for profit became clear. Paleo was being conveniently packaged to fit into the lives of white middle-class America, simply because that is where all the money comes from. As a result, it was losing its integrity, and for me to be a part of it, I had had to give up my integrity.
Now that I see there are those of us who want something more out of Paleo, I am cautiously returning, like a Warrior returning from self-imposed exile, taking up his shield again to join the other Warriors in leading their tribe back to the right path. I’m discovering that there are more allies than I realized: MovNat, the Weston Price Foundation, paleo and natural movement gyms all over the world with a wider, more holistic view on human vitality.
Maybe we need a new name. Paleo is too strongly associated with the diet. The Primal Blueprint, for all its comprehensiveness, is clearly meant to be loose enough to let anyone feel like they belong. Even the term Ancestral Health limits the view to personal health, and the ideas extend to ecological and social behavior as well.
Whatever we end up calling ourselves, I’m back in this fight.
I’ve written a book about what I learned on this journey to find health with integrity. If anything in this post resonated with you, please check it out.
(Photo credit: DeCyner on Flickr)