Guest post written by: Nathan Riley
A few recent headlines have set the paleo-sphere ablaze. In December, 2013, US News ranked the paleo diet dead last in its Best Diets Ranking for the second consecutive year. Just a few weeks later, Mother Jones published an interview with Michael Pollan, the author of two of my favorite foodie books, The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food, in which he appears to disagree with a few important principles of the paleo diet.
While I feel that both pieces were misinformed, this is not a rebuttal to those headlines. Robb Wolf, Mark Sisson, and Diana Rodgers are among the many who have already stepped up to defend your way of life. Just a year ago, a similar criticism came from the TEDx stage when Christina Warriner, Ph.D., attempted to “debunk” the paleo diet. Paleo tweeters and facebookers reacted as if they had just discovered that The Origin of Species was written by Dr. Seuss. Robb Wolf saved the day with a critical, but respectful, dissection of her talk, and the paleo world let out a collective sigh of relief. Fast forward to January, 2014, and we are watching history repeat itself. The jab-cross combo of the updated US News Diets Ranking and the Pollan interview has recalled everyone’s doubts from last year.
Similar criticisms are bound to arise repeatedly over the next ten years, and it will behoove the paleo community if its followers step up to the plate in defense of their lifestyle. When these headlines appear, many turn to one of the movement’s perceived leaders to develop a rebuttal. I would have published a rebuttal of my own on the Sweat and Butter Journal when I saw the US News rankings, but I wrongly assumed it inconceivable that so many people could possibly allow their personal success with the diet to be drawn into question by an arbitrary news headline. You have all of the evidence required to refute claims from the media that the paleo diet is ineffective for weight loss or that it is too difficult to follow, so it is discouraging that negative headlines such as these can so easily undermine many dieters’ confidence.
The advantage that you face as a living human being is that you are experimenting on yourself with every barbell you lift or piece of food that you swallow. When US News ranks paleo dead last in 2015, do not impulsively reach for the panic button. Instead, ask yourself, “Am I content with my results?” Adoptees of the paleo diet often report that they have reached their weight loss goals, their bowel movements have normalized, they are lifting more than the Incredible Hulk at the gym, or their wife or husband finds their lean body irresistible. These are data, and the individuals developing the US New Diets ranking cannot touch any of these things. Many researchers will remain focused on elucidating the optimal way to eat or exercise based on normal human physiology and biochemistry, but new findings – for better or for worse – can not devalue your personal experience.
As I wrote in a piece for Robb’s blog a little while back, my often long-winded defense of this diet has attracted negative criticism from my academic evaluators. It has also required me to anticipate at every turn inevitable questions regarding the American Heart Association’s or American College of Cardiology’s viewpoints on saturated fat and cholesterol. It is particularly difficult for the nation to change its mind about a diet based on evolutionary theory when only 40% of the U.S. population believes in evolution. Yet, despite these difficulties, I defend our beloved lifestyle because of the positive results that I have observed in my own life and the lives of my Crossfit clients and curious patients. I do not need the purveyors of top paleo blogs and podcasts to validate my diet, which is corroborated by scientific evidence, because I have seen it work wonders for its loyal practitioners.
Members of the paleo community need to transition from passive observers to steadfast advocates. Anecdotal evidence is likely more useful to the general populace than scientific evidence, so continue to share your success stories online. We also need more individuals to become comfortable using PubMed to track down the journal articles cited – and often misinterpreted – by the media, so that you can draw your own conclusions. After all, this is precisely what the most influential members of the paleo community do when they are encouraged by their readers to post yet another rebuttal to a news headline that contradicts your dietary principles. Our movement needs you to saddle up and take control. The weight of paleo’s influence is far too heavy to remain strapped to the shoulders of just a few, and the leaders of the movement will not be able to endure indefinitely without some help from you.
Nathan Riley is a 2014 MD candidate at Temple University School of Medicine pursuing residency in obstetrics and gynecology. He writes about food, movement, sleep, relationships, and stress in order to bridge the gap between his patients and evolutionary theory and clinical evidence at the Sweat and Butter Journal, an editorial project of his health coaching company Sweat and Butter. You call follow him on Twitter @BeyondtheMD. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also connect with him on Google+.