I found this insightful post over at Scribd that looks at Paleo in the lens of commodity fetishism. After almost 10 months on Paleo and now, I'm taking myself off the "Paleo" diet with great results.
Question: Is the paleo diet falling into group-think that refuses to look at the harmful side-effects of the actual diet? Furthermore, is paleo only beneficial in the short-term or for transition periods? My thought is that no single diet can be followed forever and we may be better off using different diets at different phases since we are cyclical creatures.
Do others here follow cyclical diets and if so, what was your next step post-paleo?
asked bypaleohacks (78467)
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on August 04, 2011
at 05:27 PM
i dont really understand all this paleo backlash. the only thing ive found to be consistent with "paleo" is that everyone interprets it differently and i dont really see much that contradicts that. certainly some people are into the reenactment and the grock thing, and some feel best on a super strict autoimmune protocol, and some feel best eating rice and corn....whatever there are as many different versions of paleo as there are people who define themselves as paleo. i eat hominy on occasion but not often because it makes me gain if i eat it too often and im trying to lose. im managing my multiple sclerosis well, but i never have followed the AI protocol. im not a huge fan of meat, and dont eat it more than once a day, sometimes not at all. im not into this bacon fetishism that so many people seem to be. i like protein-free meals, and fruit and dairy. ill eat a big ass bowl of broccoli roasted in olive oil and some nuts and call it a meal. and if i define my diet, i call it "paleo" for better or for worse. i know a lot of people who consider themselves paleo who eat nothing like i do. i love my vegetables. i feel good. i dont eat processed food and my definition of "processed" is probably a lot different than other peoples. i like food and i like to cook. ill eat a corn torto=illa with my carne asada, nut i fond i dont often want to. i have yet to be kicked out of the paleo cult. if some people feel the need to hack their diet within an inch of their life, then more power to them. if someone feels the need to tightly control what they eat, then thats fine with me. if someone wants to use hormonal BC and someone else doesnt but they both want to call themselves paleo or primal or ancestral or WHAT-FREAKING-EVER i dont have any problem with it.
i dont really know what harmful side effects of the diet are. particularly if everyone interprets the guidelines so differently.
this paleo thing, whatever you want to call it, has made me able to feel my fucking hands again. i dont know how many people here realize how high the stakes were for some of us. i was looking at a wheelchair. i slept 16 hours a day. i couldnt parent my kids. i couldnt button my own fucking shirt. i dont know how else i can communicate how much this diet has improved my life. i have two lesions on my brain that are no longer there. MY BRAIN WAS EATING ITSELF. i have no doubt that giving up grains had an enormous impact on my health. i couldnt go for a walk around the block before, and now i can do 50 pushups. i owe a lot to the wisdom of cordain, wolf, sisson, harris, and everyone here on PH. cordain has been kind enough to email with me personally through this journey of mine and has helped me immensely. he has never told me that im not paleo because i ate ice cream, drank wine, or had some birthday cake.
why all the semantics?? eat some lentils. eat some nitrites. eat some ice cream. call yourself whatever you want. i dont think anyone is checking membership cards a the door. i also have never had any interest in deconstructing the paleo paradigm. i just want to be healthy, and im finding the best way to be. ill be on this diet for the rest of my life, even if it might look different month to month.
on August 04, 2011
at 06:31 PM
A couple of thoughts:
1) This is a bizarre usage of 'commodity fetishism'
2) Its account of "nutritionism" seems upside down. Apparently PaleoHacks "displays what Gyorgy Scrinis has identified as the "ideology or paradigm of nutritionism" that is characterised by a reductionism "with respect to nutrients, food and diets" (2008:40)." Now, for one thing, PH seems to me to be resolutely anti-nutritionistic, but that's not important to my point. What I find totally mistaken is the claim that [PaleoHacks'] nutritionism "obscures the broader cultural, geographical, and ecological contexts in which food, diets and bodily health are situated" (2008:40), which leads the author to conclude that "nutritionism is a unique form of commodity fetishism." But this seems the exact opposite of what one would expect: obscuring the "cultural, geographical, and ecological contexts in which food, diets and bodily health are situated" would seem to counter "commodity fetishism" (as idiosyncratically defined by the author). Rather it's the way that paleo culture emphasises the relation between food and diverse cultural, ecological etc. contexts, that serves to allow "imaginary/symbolic relations to be injected into the construction of meaning at a secondary level" (the definition of commodity fetishism being used).
As to the actual questions:
Is the paleo diet falling into group-think that refuses to look at the harmful side-effects of the actual diet?
Inevitably: the most prominent examples being the insistence that grassfed beef carries significant health benefits in the absence of any evidence and the recent, largely unargued switch from low carb being optimal for all but athletes interested in performance, to moderate-high carb being preferable for any-one without a broken metabolism or substantial weight to lose. I think from reading various mainstream (or other minority) diet blogs, that the paleo diet is still substantially more reflexive than most other groups (probably because it's not mainstream and has a big focus on being evidence-based and has largely avoided a highly moralised culture (contra veganism).
is paleo only beneficial in the short-term or for transition periods?
I'd be shocked if this were so. The only reason for thinking this that I can imagine, is that one is construing paleo as a fixed diet rather than as a heuristic. Paleo is a very broad school and I can't imagine any circumstances where gluten grains, vegetable oil, high fructose or dairy would be necessary for health.
on August 04, 2011
at 05:05 PM
I don't know what a paleo diet is, quite frankly. Nor do I care particularly. I have never followed a "paleo diet." I suspect many of us that sort of fall under the paleo umbrella find it useful as a construct. I enjoy reading the blogs and getting ideas.
The people/blogs that I've read that really resonate with me have followed the same path, elimination of gluten for celiac and then elimination of other foods and continued experimentation. This is the hallmark of whatever plan I'm working. I'll quit experimenting when I'm dead.
I've never bought into this, "can I eat cheese?" or "can I eat x number of eggs?" I'm going to do what I want to do based on my own outcomes. In the meantime it's nice that there is a community of people doing similar things--I struggled with finding enough things to eat and the paleo community has been very helpful in providing ideas and menus and the like. Could not have done this otherwise, at least not as smoothly.
Frankly I don't know or care much about "commodity fetishism" either. I'm not much into the deconstruction of paleo.
I eat real food because it has fewer ingredients and therefore fewer, and identifiable, allergens. I don't get any points for purity for its own sake.
on August 04, 2011
at 05:28 PM
Paleo for me, is not a diet, it is a Lifestyle based on what we are naturally meant to eat and do. A diet comes with rules & restrictions and failure. I live & eat for Life. I follow a Human Diet if you will, eating as we were designed to eat and if I find something does not work well for me I change it, the rest is in the hands of the Universe.
I don't get hung up on labels, the only thing I want to be labeled as is 'human'.
on August 04, 2011
at 05:22 PM
What an interesting question and also paper that you link to. (I wonder what grade the student got!) My rambling response:
My impression of this site thus far, and I'm assuming that this site is representative of the Paleo movement as a whole (I think that's a reasonable assumption), is that the participants lie on a spectrum of sick/fat to healthy/strong/lean and what's needed for one isn't right for the other. The questions and answers on the site don't consistently account for that and so information is given from one perspective that might not be helpful to the questioner and reader. Or could even be hurtful, in some circumstances.
The group-think here seems to exacerbate any shortcomings Paleo may have. The comments make it impossible to discern for example how to treat carbs and calorie counting and exercise and ketosis and supplements under the Paleo diet if you are on the sick/fat side of the spectrum. In fact if one uses the word "diet" that's frowned upon, and I even see some frowning upon people who use the word "Paleo!"
And then there are the different writers and books and blogs, each of which seems to be a flavor-of-the-month or even flavor-of-the-year and then superseded by the next flavor, making it difficult for the newbie to discern which books are helpful and which are to be ignored.
If all else fails, the community resorts to, "listen to your own body, it will tell you what it needs." But that in my experience is a total fallacy if the person is "metabolically deranged" as I've heard writers and posters refer to it (and that term seems to fit what it's describing). People who are healthy or on the road to health may be able to listen to their bodies and do what their bodies want. And others should ignore their bodies because their bodies are telling them to eat bad things or eat too much of good things. (And yes, in my opinion it is possible to eat too much of a good thing.)
I also think there is a significant but unaddressed gender divide here, confounding the site's usefulness further. That's another topic that has been discussed a lot in other posts albeit not really to my personal satisfaction.
So, yeah, if this site is indicative of the community as a whole then in my opinion there is a monolithic group-think that compromises the effectiveness of the diet for any one person who is new to it and hasn't yet found where they are on the spectrum and what will work for them individually. Each person's hormonal and metabolic profile, whether due to nature or nurture or both, is wildly different. For most people like me who want to lose fat (and I think a lot of the people new to the diet are in that category), most likely the diet itself really only works if calories and carbs are restricted, and exercise is approached carefully and non-traditionally, which is a practice that most on this site would maybe find laughable and ignorant.
I personally, wanting to lose the last 10 lbs of fat, am compelled by the posts of people who have gone VLC to accomplish just that, and/or who monitor their ketones daily to get feedback as to whether their bodies are using fat as energy. But that's the exact opposite of what I think the group as a whole would recommend. And probably the group as a whole would say that this is not even "Paleo."
I am hoping that Paleo isn't something that works only in the short-term, but rather that differing approaches to Paleo can be recognized as appropriate for different people wherever they are at in the spectrum, and that as someone goes from unhealthy to healthy they have ideas under Paleo for what might be good to transition to, like more carbs for example.
The question I guess, then, to really address your question, is WHAT IS PALEO. Everyone agrees on a very general description of what foods should be avoided and what foods (and quality of foods) should be eaten (with a few exceptions around fruits and starchy vegetables), but beyond that it gets extremely fuzzy.
on August 04, 2011
at 09:09 PM
Didn't think I would ever see a Marxist critique of the paleo diet. I wonder what grade this paper got?
Anyway, it seems like the implication is that those eating an ancestral diet are starting from a point of anti-consumerism and then spinning The Wheel of Subculture Diets and choosing whichever one the arrow lands on. I may be going out on a limb here, but I think nearly all of us are first and foremost trying to be healthier (though we may use different metrics to measure that). If being healthier means that my food budget doubles, then so be it. Historically speaking, Americans spend much less on food as a percentage of income than they used to, though our taxes feed the subsidies, so maybe it's at least partly a wash. The truth of it is though that the cost doesn't really go up, and that the only difference is that you tend to spend more time preparing your own food and your grocery bags get heavier.
The author seems to think that our food actually isn't of better quality and that we are unable to know where it comes from or how it's produced. In some cases that's true, but a lot of the farms that create the food I eat welcome people to come visit them and see how everything runs. I'm tempted to delve into minutiae of why the food is better here, but to speak generally, an ancestral diet isn't a fad diet, it's a form of nutrient acquisition that more closely matches what our DNA "expects" as a result of millions of years of evolution. The last 10,000 years have been, evolutionarily speaking, a series of fad diets. "Paleo" is simply a minimzing of toxins and a maximizing of nutrients. There's nothing totemic about it, it's the most obvious route.
That all being said, I think ZC and VLC are terrible dietary missteps that most people who think they know what paleo is would ascribe to the diet. I feel like ultra low carb is kind of like "pork" that has been slipped into a paleo bill before congress. I think nearly all of the problems that people encounter, whether they be new health issues or simply a lack of fat loss, stem from this in one way or another. Eating the minimum number of grams of carbohydrate needed to replete glycogen stores has always seemed to me to be the obvious choice. Relative to the SAD, this is technically "low-carb" in most cases however.
The term "paleo" is such an easy target, but its only importance in my opinion is as a thought exercise initially. "You know your idea of food that you've held dear your entire life? It's only 10,000 years old at most and it's not actually food."
I think people like this author are assuming that there is an evolving set of arbitrary edicts being handed down that people are checking their diets against constantly, but we're actually taking the knowledge at hand (gleaned from scientific papers and anecdotes) and finding the safest way to eat. I think most people are unaware of the sheer magnitude of the average person's daily toxin load. We're exposed to huge amounts of toxins pretty much no matter what we do. Without relocating, we can't really control the multitude of airborne toxins we breathe constantly. We try to filter our water and eat foods that aren't dense sources of toxins. The bioavailability, such as it is, of the many heavy metals, (fat soluble) persistent organic polluntants etc. and our bodies' lack of mechanisms for excreting them is a woeful thing indeed. That's to say nothing of the more "natural" toxins such as WGA and gluten that are linked to a whole host of diseases. Who knew that plants would be pissed if you ate their method of reproduction? It may not be enough and we all may still get cancer at some point but I'll fucking be damned if I'm gonna give up without a fight.
Sidling up to the putrid trough of the SAD is not an option.
on August 04, 2011
at 06:04 PM
Thank you for this thread and for the link to the paper!
A) Cyclical diets may be a smart way to go, IMO. The beneficial effects of diets such as Atkins, raw foods, even veganism seem best in short doses, not as lifelong ways of eating. In the short term they can reverse chronic conditions but long term they may lead to deficiencies and orthorexia. It seems to me that if we have access to this incredible variety of food in our modern lives then we should make use of that. HGs and other native populations made the most of what they had access too (whether that was eating mostly seal blubber or mostly sweet potatoes) and we can do the same. For example, avoiding fruit because HGs didn't have access to the types that are grown nowadays and we're scared of fructose means we miss out on cheap, easy and delicious sources of important vitamins. Healing myself so I can tolerate and properly digest a wider variety of foods is my goal, NOT life-long avoidance.
B) Paleo has become a post-modern religion/commodity fetish. As the article suggests, "food for Paleo adherents becomes representational of something more than fuel for the body. It becomes a political and social statement,representative of the values and tastes of both individuals and the group that adheres to the diet." Bacon worship comes to mind. Also, guru (blogger) worship. And the religious fervor with which I see people bemoaning their encounters with "unenlightened" eaters who just don't "see the light" scares me because religious fanatics scare me.
on August 04, 2011
at 05:02 PM
Your obviously disenchanted with this as a "diet". Thats fine...heck when going through school I had a nutrition teacher who was "natural hygiene" that presented a very good case for how he lived and treated some of his patients. I even went vegetarian for a few months. Felt light and airy, but not necessarily healthy as a lot of my fitness markers fell (my point is i've eaten in a variety of manners also). The nuts and bolts of this diet are sound, the theory is interesting at least, the physiological effects are measurable and positive when done in the form of elimination and reintroduction from what I can tell. We avoid toxins and give the body necessary sufficient nutrients. Of course its caused a niche market, but do you need any of that crap? If you wanna make faux bread, maybe but I've done without most/all of it myself....piece of protein and veggie at every meal...how easy is that? But for me I've stopped chasing "diets", eat well get some exercise stay positive and health will continue to improve.
on August 04, 2011
at 04:58 PM
I went through a lot of different nutritional phases while losing weight. I started off typical SAD low calorie/low fat and did great on that, lost around 60lbs. I learned more about nutrition and changed to a more moderate carb, higher protein protocol and continued to do well and lost another 40lbs. Again, through my research, I learned to eat more whole foods and less processed foods, this made me healthier, but didn't really affect my weight. Paleo was a natural transition and after 10 months, I am healthier than I ever have been.
I have noticed no harmful side effects while eating a Paleo diet, except possibly to the pharmaseutical industry, now that I no longer need to take a bunch of pills to make myself "healthy".
I am not a die hard supporter of any particular plan. I take what works from me in each protocol and apply them to what works for me and my body. I don't find it necessary to give it any particular name.
If I find new nutritional information that I think applies to me, I will give it a try.
on August 04, 2011
at 09:05 PM
Insightful, hardly. 'A case study of how commodity fetishism manifests in a diet sub-culture' - having read it, I am none the wiser. The title itself is as hard to digest as plate of pancakes and syrup. I'll stick with paleo.
on August 04, 2011
at 05:34 PM
The psycho-social effects described in the article do apply to the paleo communitiy, as they do to any group of people who communicate with each other and engage in similar practices while working toward a common goal (in this case, healthy living). Humans are social creatures. We are affected by what our neighbors do and say, and we are all subject to the effects of advertising.
But the effects of the paleo approach are measurable, testable and repeatable. That's the cool thing about science. It works whether you believe in it or not.
As for the Marxist rhetoric, the entire persuasive point of the article is founded on the assumption that people are happier when they're not trying to be happy. If this were actually true then there would be no need for "paleo" literature. Indeed, there would be no literature, and no other kind of diet. We would all still be 100% paleo. And most of us would be dead.