Paleo Has Jumped the Shark
Whisky. Tango. Foxtrot.
Paleo water. It’s not a joke; it’s an actual thing.
And it makes it official. Paleo has put on its leather jacket, strapped two hydrodynamic boards to its feet, and caught air over top a carnivorous fish.
Perhaps you recall my last post about low carb / paleo and religious zealotry. In that post, there was a section called “Follow the Money” where I discussed how Mr. Livin’ La Vida Low-Carb Jimmy Moore couldn’t escape low carb dieting despite adverse affects to his health because his entire business was all about spreading low carb gospel.
I’m not trying to be mean to Jimmy here, but holy crap. You seriously need to go and check out this link, which is “As recommended by Jimmy Moore of Livin’ La Vida Low-Carb.” (Update: Ad was changed and Jimmy’s endorsement removed after publication of this piece.)
One of the marketing claims is that this paleo water is, “…as close as scientifically possible to the water our genetic blueprint demands – but no longer receives. Today’s chemically treated ‘pure’ water is so far removed from the water we lived on for thousands of years.”
Yes, today’s chemically treated water is way different from what we drank for millennia, and that’s a good thing! Clean water is probably THE most important health advance humans have ever made. This so-called “paleo water” is about extra hydrogen something something, but the reality of our Paleolithic ancestors is that most of the water they drank was contaminated with stuff like parasites, E. coli and poop. Ever hear of giardiasis, AKA “beaver fever?” You don’t want to get it, but if you do, at least you can take antibiotics to cure it. Cavemen didn’t have such medicine. Their lack of clean water sometimes killed them.
At first, I thought this had to be a joke, so did a lot of people on my Facebook page when I linked to the paleo water advertisement. Maybe some vindictive vegans had created a fake page to discredit paleo and Jimmy both. But nope, I have confirmed that these guys are serious, and that Jimmy Moore did indeed endorse it, as per comments yesterday on his Twitter account.
This company is trying to marketing spin the popularity of paleo to sell a system that infuses hydrogen into water. (Again: or something). Does that actually do anything? I have no clue, but this chemist seems to think it’s a load of crap. Speaking of crap, want some real paleo water? Find a pond, take a dump in it, then have a drink.
Here’s another marketing claim from the paleo water company:
“When our clients taste PRIMAL WATER a common comment is that their body ‘knows’ this water. It ‘remembers’ it.”
Excuse me for a moment.
But you know what? Whether or not infusing hydrogen into water is worthless or worthwhile is not my point with this post. My point is to take a deeper look at paleo as a marketing gimmick.
I knew an exchange student from Africa when I was in university who had river blindness. He had permanently lost his sight due to a lack of clean water. I wonder what he would think about REAL paleo water vs. clean water that wasn’t full of stuff that could blind or even kill you.
Yes, paleo is nothing but a marketing gimmick, and a damn effective one judging by how many it has sucked in. I should mention I have an MBA a dozen years of sales and marketing experience. I know a scam when I see one.
If you read my last post, you saw part of a rejection letter for my book (which IS being published by Random House April 1, 2014) from a major publishing house that didn’t think my program was “salable” because it was “sane, levelheaded, with proven advice.”
Gimmicks and scams are what sell.
Paleo is an awesome gimmick, I’ll give you that. It just sounds really cool. Our lives lack adventure. We commute in tin cans through traffic jams, sit in cubes and get performance reviews by people with double-digit IQs, have to obey all sorts of rules and laws … those cavemen had it made. Living the Paleolithic life must have been awesome.
Paleo advocates like to use the term “ancestral health,” but I’m going to burst some bubbles and point out why that term is an oxymoron.
First, let’s start off with the most shocking revelation that is something everyone who wants to lose weight must understand. You ready? This is the most important part of this post. Here goes.
Starvation has killed more people throughout human history than any other cause.
Has that sunk in? Good, because what it means is that our ancestors had no sense of moderation, and with damn good reason. Being a glutton is a major survival skill. When you spend a lot of time starving, and for a brief period of time there is an ample supply of food, you eat until you’re ready to burst in order to put on as much fat stores as you can in order to survive the next famine. This is a well-studied phenomenon called post-starvation hyperphagia. Just FYI, “hyperphagia” means “pigging out.”
And not only that, but you went for the highest calorie stuff you could find. Green leafy vegetables were a last resort. If something sugary or fatty was around, you gobbled that stuff down like it was antidote to fast-acting poison. All you wanted was a metric shit-ton of calories in order to survive long enough to procreate.
And just FYI, meat was a rare treat. Most of our troglodyte ancestors ate a largely vegetarian diet. I’m sure they loved their meat, but it was hard to come by; hunting was risky and burned lots of calories that they needed to preserve to survive. (Cavemen didn’t like to move around too much if they didn’t have to.) Not only that, but they didn’t have refrigeration so it didn’t take long for meat to start getting maggoty. I guess maggots are extra protein though, right?
Another shocking fact about living in the caveman era: There was a good chance one or more (or all) of your kids would die. Are you parent? I am. The thought of such a thing rips my heart in two.
Also, a mere scratch could become infected and kill you. There was no effective treatment for pain (have fun in childbirth, ladies), there were no doctors or dentists, indoor plumbing or toilet paper … Heat came from a fire instead of a furnace, so your cave was often full of smoke, and air conditioning didn’t exist at all. Razor blades, waxing and laser hair removal didn’t exist, and neither did deodorant. Lice existed though. They existed a lot.
I’m pretty sure our ancestors didn’t do CrossFit either. Their exercise regimen was mostly walking, gathering stuff, making stuff with their hands, occasional chasing stuff, as well as occasional being chased by stuff, and sex done doggie style. Speaking of the latter, I expect women didn’t have too much say in when they had sex or even whom that had it with.
But you want to live paleo, so you book your trip to the PrimalCon Vacation in Tulum, Mexico. You drive a car to the airport, fly high in the sky in a big silver bird, drive in another (air-conditioned) car to your not-a-cave air-conditioned hotel, drink clean water and eat maggot-free food. And instead of wearing clothes you stabbed and skinned yourself, it’s something light and comfortable that was made by a child in a faraway land and purchased for a reasonable price at a department store. You can relax by the chlorinated pool and later on watch your hero Mark Sisson give a presentation using software called PowerPoint delivered via some weird technology called a computer. Way to Grok.
And don’t worry about your kids. They’ll be well looked after with almost zero chance of being eaten by a saber-toothed murder beast.
And speaking of Sisson, I’m pretty sure our ancestors didn’t have supplements. Mark will sell you some, though.
I have a feeling if you went back in time and really lived paleo for a week you’d hate it even more than I hate Nickelback.
Listen, I get the idea behind paleo, and I am all for living a life less processed. I think Michael Pollan was right with his basic advice of, “Eat food (meaning stuff that isn’t processed to hell). Mostly plants. Not too much.”
But why create a mystique around ancestral living when it’s mostly based on a lie? Marketing, that’s why. Again, it sounds cool.
Want to know what is more cool? Critical thinking. I challenge you to not follow the herd and make rational decisions about your diet and exercise regimen that aren’t based on flawed dogma. Don’t demonize food groups because someone says our genes haven’t changed – they have! The genes of much of the population has adapted just fine to dairy, because there were plenty of famines where those who couldn’t consume dairy starved to death and were removed from the gene pool. Same goes for eating grains. Being able to digest a wide variety of foods is a major evolutionary advantage that has been naturally selected for over the years.
Sure, there are things about modern society that sucks. I don’t like there being mercury or PCBs in my fish. I don’t like the way factory farms treat animals. I don’t like pollution or rising sea levels. I don’t like people who text when they drive. I really don’t like nuclear weapons. When I was a teen I was certain Ronald Reagan was going to get us all blown into radioactive hellfire and I would die a virgin.
But there are great things about being alive right now, which is why I think romanticizing ancient times is foolish. One of the big reasons I’m keen on modern society is healthcare. Here’s a great quote from Dr. Paul Offit, who is Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases and the Director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia:
“People have been living on earth for about 250,000 years. For the past 5,000 healers have been trying to heal the sick. For all but the past 200, they haven’t been very good at it.”
Most of us don’t have to worry about dying from minor or even serious injuries, or a host of nasty infections, because of modern medicine. I wouldn’t trade that for all the hairy cave sex in the world.
Your Paleolithic carnal experiences may differ.
Yes, we have rampant obesity, easy access to heavily processed food, and sedentary lifestyles. Just because you don’t want to play that game doesn’t mean you should embrace a gross misinterpretation of ancient humanity. Think for yourself, and figure out what is right for you in our mostly wonderful modern world.
While you’re figuring things out, here’s a tip on how to get rich, if you think that will make you happy. Figure out the next big diet gimmick, because paleo has jumped the shark and won’t be around a lot longer. It will go the way of the blood type diet (over seven million copies sold) and the [insert place where rich people live] diet.
Get your thinking cap on and come up with a cool idea for a diet that can be romanticized in some way, and you’ll make a fortune.
My cut is 10 percent.
This piece was first published on my old website on September 30, 2013. It was very popular, being shared on Facebook 4,400 times.
James S. Fell, CSCS, is an internationally syndicated fitness columnist for the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times and AskMen.com. He is the author of Lose it Right: A Brutally Honest 3-Stage Program to Help You Get Fit and Lose Weight Without Losing Your Mind, published by Random House Canada.