We (those who follow a paleo lifestyle) are viewed as fanatical because we go “against the grain” of conventional wisdom. We are going up against mental filters based on ingrained beliefs; and when something does not jive with a belief system, it is filtered out as irrelevant, misguided, or plain wrong—we call this cognitive dissonance.
I have been in this place; I trained as an allopathic physician where I had two years of medical school dedicated to how we can cure everything with medicine. Nutrition education was relegated to a two-week overview of the food pyramid. In clinicals and residency the emphasis on pharmaceuticals continued.
It used to be that the profession was quick to stone those who dissented or to put them before the inquisition because they were not practicing the “standard of care” when proclaiming nutrition over pharmaceuticals. Fortunately, this is changing and we are seeing physicians and other health professionals coming forward with the notion that maybe there is a better way. I have found that way, in my own life and in my clinical work, to be paleo.
People unfamiliar with the inner workings of the paleo/primal lifestyle cannot help but view it with the cynicism that most have toward cultish type groups. We are, of course, the meat devouring, fitness obsessed cave people that proselytize our lifestyle on any podium we can find during our Parkour, Crossfit, or MovNat workouts. We are passionate about our strength, our body fat, our grain allergies, and our poop. We all have our library of podcasts from Sean, Robb, Jimmy, and Kendall—and if you are in the cult you don’t need last names to understand.
Many, like myself, have come to the paleo movement because it created such a profound and lasting change in our quality of life, reversed some health imbalance, or even cured some chronic disease. Yes, we are passionate because we have found Valhalla and we want to share this playground of the gods with everyone.
So in the strict sense we could be classified as a cult, but a cult of what, what is our message, our meaning, and our purpose?
The answer is: Health.
Our obsession is to remain vital and healthy for as long as we possibly can—in other words slowing or even reversing aging.
I do not fear dying but I do fear aging. I am not talking about getting older; I am talking about the aging process. When I get to be old, like Mark Sisson (I heard he was 104 years old), I want to look like he does with his shirt off on that paddleboard, not because I am vain but because I know that when the external appearance of the body appears that way, the internal aging process is in slow motion.
I have seen what the aged body looks like and it is not pretty. Why is it that some 85 year olds sit babbling in a wheelchair having to have assistance to perform normal hygiene while others are doing yoga, playing tennis, and retaining their mental acuity? Genetics? Not likely, though it does have a minor contribution. The answer is lifestyle. Aging is a progressive accumulation of the side effects of metabolism and we can do things to accelerate or attenuate this accumulation. The paleo lifestyle is one component of attenuation.
My medical practice focuses on physiologic optimization in order to create healthy longevity. The paleo lifestyle is a major component but we also have to look beyond paleo to what else we can do. We need to optimize our stress response, keep our gut health optimal, balance hormonal loses, and strategically manage supplementation in order to balance certain genetic and epigenetic traits.
So why are we paleo? Because we see our human bodies as an amazing gift and we want to keep them running on all cylinders well past the expiration date.