As an online doctor,* I get a lot of questions about diet, especially this time of year when everyone’s trying to lose weight in time for wearing wedding formal wear and swimsuits. Which diet works best, which one’s healthiest for you, which one requires the least math, which one lets me eat the same shit that made me fat in the first place, etc.
So, rather than answer every single letter, I’m going to devote the next several Dr. Snee columns to reviewing fad diets. Together, we (but mostly I) will explore a trendy diet:
- What it claims to do.
- What it really does.
- How you’re probably being mislead with — what we call in the medial community — bullshit.
This week’s fancy diet is the Paleo Diet.
Before we begin, let me just say outright that you can pretty much lose weight on any diet, so long as you have either consumed fewer calories than required for daily sustenance or burned enough calories to meet that threshold through exercise. Case in point: the guy who lost 27 pounds by eating nothing but junk food just by controlling how much he ate.
The real question is whether your diet is just a means to lose weight or if you’re changing your eating habits to become healthier. And believe it or not, those two criteria can be different goals. Yes, healthier people generally aren’t overweight, but not being overweight doesn’t mean you’re healthy.
So, if your goal is to lose weight, then congratulations: chances are that, if you follow your trendy diet and somehow reduced your caloric intake, then your trendy diet worked. But if you think your trendy diet also makes you healthier than a boring old Health-class diet? Then it’s time to evaluate what you’re really eating, in today’s case, as part of a balanced Paleo diet.
What is the Paleo Diet?
If you know somebody training for a Tough Mudder, then you’ve probably endured countless lectures about how everything we eat and do is wrong based on what humans ate and did 10,000 years ago.
Short for “paleolithic” (you’ll find that most diet names are shortened, probably because the advocate’s blood pressure is too low to say whole words), this diet focuses on eating and exercising as our hunter-gatherer ancestors did. That means you can’t eat anything that’s been processed in an agrarian sense or even grain-fed animals. Also, you have to work out like everything in existence is trying to kill you from all angles.
The Paleo diet is kind of a diet family, in that — like vegetarianism — there are many variations on it depending on which other diet trends you happen to believe in. So, there are high- and low-carb Paleo diets where, in the high-carb version, you can eat some of root vegetables like potatoes. There are also those who prescribe to a raw version where even changing a food’s chemistry with cooking is considered too new for your ancient mammalian digestive system.
Of all the diets, this one is probably the most accessible, provided you can find stores that stock meat from grass-fed livestock. But, it can’t hurt to only eat all natural foods, right?
Why the Paleo Diet is Bullshit
As soon as a diet bases its health claims on cave art and museum mannequins, you know you’re diving into the shallow end of nutrition.
1. The idea that hunter-gatherers had this long healthy life-thing figured out is pretty ridiculous when you consider that the average life span was 33 years old. Even in modern hunter-gatherer societies, you can make it to 54 … so long as you survive to 15 first. You know what we say at people’s funerals when they die at 54 of natural causes? “Well, at least they outlived John Candy by 10 years.”
2. Early hominids did get cancer. So did dinosaurs, and they didn’t even have fire to inhale smoke from.
3. As for deciding what is original Human Chow and what isn’t, choosing the Paleolithic era as the cutoff, while understandable, is still arbitrary. Considering that we aren’t the same animals we were 10,000 years ago (and neither are the plants and animals that we eat), why not go back to an earlier ancestor? Why not the mostly-plant based diet of our pre-hunting ancestors? Probably because being a gatherer-gatherer isn’t as sexy as wearing animal skins and running obstacle courses.
4a. We have no evidence that there weren’t fat cavepeople, anyway. While the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum has many great and educational exhibits, focusing on the models is probably the only way to walk through it without learning anything useful. Besides, who did we get our fat genes from?
4b. As for cave paintings, you know how we hate it when magazines airbrush muffin tops off of our favorite actresses and models? That’s not a new trend.
The Greeks loved the idealized human form so much that they even gave their male models smaller baby dicks because those was more aesthetically pleasing than old man veiny cocks with bristly pubes. (And the classically-obsessed Renaissance artists brought it back.)
If anything, the idea of not editorializing the human form in art is a relatively new idea that, when practiced, has hardly won any fans because it turns out we’re not that into ourselves. It’s kind of the basis to all cosmetics and self-improvement.
So, for a diet that’s supposed to be rooted in science and human history, it’s mostly the kind of science and history you hear when your drunk racist uncle starts working out in his garage again.
The other problem is that the Paleo diet is very high in meat (65 percent) and low on everything else (35 percent). So, if you fall off the workout wagon, you will die of congestive heart failure by, oh, 54 years old. But, at least you’re not eating Twinkies or hamburgers.
Oh, and did I mention that you’re not supposed to drink alcohol? I guess could have skipped all of that previous analysis, because that alone makes this whole lifestyle bullshit.
The Paleo Diet is a new idea masquerading as an old idea. It’s part and parcel of the latest white-people-getting-back-to-their-roots fitness craze along with running barefoot, eating only organically-grown food and pretending that breeding plants isn’t genetic modification.
As a weight loss plan, this diet is probably the most likely to keep you fat because its entire focus is on what you eat, not how much. And while certain foods are healthier than others, believing that one of them will make you skinny is like believing in magic. Hey, just like our ancient, inbred, slave-keeping ancestors!
But, health-wise? Because it focuses on eating natural foods, it’s probably the most nutritious of all the latest dietary fads. So, while the Crossfit program it comes with is a cult, it’s a cult full of toned sexy people with stupid ideas about evolution. And that never goes poorly, right?
*Rick Snee is not, in any way, a licensed medical professional or an actor that plays one on television. His only qualifications are high school and college biology (101 and 102), reading Men’s Health (2001-2003), and a systematic exposure to almost all health hazards (1981-present), but no medical training whatsoever. He’s just really opinionated, which is good enough for blogging. To submit yer own questions to Dr. Snee, Guynecologist, post comments below or email the good doctor.