The Paleo Puzzle

Today’s post is the first in a series in which I hope to connect some dots that have been floating around in my thoughts. As I mentioned last week, Kurt Harris’s immune system jigsaw-piece addition to the whole optimal health puzzle coalesced a few things for me. I’m not sure where sharing this will get me or you, dear reader, because there are truly more questions than answers. I’m hoping it’s merely the opening of a discussion.

I see this unfolding in 5 parts:

  1. Today, my view from inside Paleo.
  2. Tuesday we’ll explore Nutritionism and the role I see it playing in Paleo.
  3. Wednesday we’ll get to Harris’s ideas and what they sparked in me.
  4. Thursday I will connect this to my background in Eastern philosophies, particularly Buddhism and Taoism. (What the…?! Yes, I promise it will make sense.) I’ll also post a recipe as usual, it’s a goodie, so be sure to check it out.
  5. Friday we’ll recap and I’ll share my thoughts on where to go from here.

Now onward.

Paleo Observations

When I first came to Paleo, 15 pounds overweight and desperate for answers, I had no idea what sort of rabbit hole I was diving into. I had no idea it would change my life so dramatically and so completely that I would feel like devoting a large chunk of my attention to it, sometimes to the dismay of my poor husband who puts up with me and helps me decipher the sciencey-science.

I just wanted to lose a few pounds, because nothing else was working. Little did I know that a few other things would change for the better: clearer skin, less anxiety, better resistance to colds, less joint pain. You know the drill. These were not symptoms I was looking to fix, but I was thrilled with the results.

After immersing myself eyeball-deep in Paleo and scouring message boards, it became clear that it wasn’t just about weight loss. Many folks were here via their health issues, ranging from celiac disease to acne to multiple sclerosis. The word “healing” gets thrown around a lot. Here I thought eating awesome, healthful real foods was good enough, but folks were still advocating supplements. Suddenly, I wasn’t sure if I was getting enough magnesium, iodine, vit D, vit K2, or Omega-3s.

Those questions weighed heavily on me when it became clear that going Paleo wouldn’t “fix” everything. This is not my surprised face when I say this (see here), but when you hear miraculous stories, there’s a small hope you’ll have the same results. I’m currently having a bit of seasonal allergies accompanied by a mild outbreak of eczema on my hands. My husband’s chronic eczema is as bad as ever. While I often get a mild sore throat foretelling the onset of a cold which then never materializes, sometimes it sneaks in there and takes hold. The duration and severity seem better than friends’ and family’s, but I’m not completely immune.

Just a few minor examples, but there are folks out there who would be willing to tell me what I’m doing wrong. Fine. But I have a small problem with that—that’s the same thing everyone else hears no matter what WOE is failing them, be it the SAD, veganism, raw foods, low fat, low carb, what-have-you. It seems to me that something larger could be at play, or perhaps many things.

Lately, I’ve been wondering about our immune systems. It seems that in modern times, we’ve come to think wrongly of our immune systems, something like this: We encounter a germ, germ infects us, germ causes symptoms, we’re miserable for a while, then we get over it. I hear you smarty-pantses out there laughing, but I don’t think I’m far off from the popular conception. Which is why they can sell all sorts of tinctures and treatments to allegedly shore up your immune system, because we believe it’s that easy (see also: Magical Pill Syndrome).

But this simplistic view doesn’t account for why two people react differently to the same pathogen. Or why some of us react to gluten and others don’t. Or why, since we’re all “cancering” all the time, some are unlucky and others aren’t. Certainly genetics accounts for some of it, but as we know from the burgeoning field of epigenetics, genetics aren’t everything, not by a long shot. If we were as fragile as all that, we never would’ve made it all these millions of years.

"I can hear all the live enzymes!"

While I was at Paleo FX, listening to lots of smart folks talk about all kinds of smart things, I looked around the room filled with people of all shapes, all sizes, all ages. I remarked to my conference mate, Stephanie of Living Clean, Cooking Dirty, that I hoped we Paleofolk weren’t stuck in an echo chamber like the raw vegans. I mean, what if we’re all getting together, justifying each others’ weaknesses that have everything to do with Paleo and trumpeting successes that have nothing to do with Paleo? My sister was raw vegan for a while, and I watched her weight plummet, her hair thin, and a tooth fall right out of her head. Scary shit. I hope I’m not making the same mistake, all while broadcasting it in a public forum. And seeing how multifactorial it all is, how would we know?

For the record, I don’t think that’s what’s happening. Do I think a real foods-based diet is the way to go? Absolutely. I think it’s a huge piece of the puzzle. Do I think it will fix everything? No, it will not. Seems simple in writing. So why don’t we remember that?

Next, Nutritionism


3 Responses to “The Paleo Puzzle”

  1. I am excited to see where you go with this.

    I always wonder how these kids raised paleo/WAPF will fare. Like if you were delivered vaginally, breastfed, fed nourishing food from a young age, allowed to play in the dirt, etc., etc., would your gene expression be more favorable when you are exposed to toxins?
    I don’t know…it’s just so, so complicated. I had Dr. Ramirez read the Kurt Harris bandaid PaleoHacks feed and she liked it. She agrees diet isn’t everything, but feels you cannot address underlying problems until you get the diet straightened out.

    • It makes sense you’d have to clear out the dietary stuff since there are so many offenders there before you can narrow down the rest of it.

      And yes, we’re all a big experiment, no? I’ve certainly seen a counter-argument or two to Harris’s ideas, I’ll share more about that in Wednesday’s piece.


  1. Crazy Town « Primal Belly - 04/13/2012

    […] here, then go here(read the comments), after that go here and end up here (series of 5). and feel free to go anywhere in between that you are lead.  I know, it’s a lot of going, […]

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