Why I Jumped Off The Paleo Ship: Ideologies vs. Rational Thought

Disclaimer: To set the record straight before we get any further, I do not dislike anything “paleo.” Please do not scan through this post, write a negative comment, or send me a scathing email without reading the article in its entirety. If you criticize me blindly, you are reinforcing my point.

Ideas can be dangerous. More specifically, groups of ideas linked together to form an identity (or ideology) can be dangerous. Think of most identity groups with specific names, i.e. countries, sports teams, political parties, workout systems, religions, and groupings of nutritional rules, they are all concrete examples of naming systems and/or ideologies. They are also examples of things that can have terrible outcomes.

Good newsThere’s a way out. It’s called reasoning and rational thinking. Rational thinking is the antithesis of an ideology. In other words, the more concrete and specific an ideology, the less rational thinking involved. The goal of an ideology is to simplify a foundational rule or belief, however, once it has been grouped based on good intentions, it cracks.

For instance, the idea that you should eat real (organic) foods is not a bad idea, however, the rule or belief that the only way to properly eat is to mimic a hunter-gatherer is one. When you think one specific way, you not only develop a core set of biases, you could potentially limit your ability to improve your knowledge and health (if that’s your goal).

And, as with any ideology, there is a rise and fall, and a birth and death. Well, if I could have it my way, the things I like would never die. But, do you know what can avoid death, and proliferate indefinitely? Frequent rational thinking. If you look at the two graphs I made for this post, you’ll see a defined rise and fall.



Ideologies have the growth curve of an upside-down parabola.

They start off with good intentions and great ideas, but quickly become identities and rule sets. Those identities and rule sets then spiral out of control, becoming emotionally charged, and ending up being potentially dangerous. When you subscribe to a community of “people like this,” who “do things like that,” you’re bound to run into a gamut of judgment, both inside and outside of your circle, as time goes on. As a result, this ideology splits down the seams, taking massive steps backwards from the original idea it was built upon. Rational thinking, on the other hand, has a more or less linear progression. In other words, if you routinely assess whether something makes sense, based upon the current information, but still have the humility to ditch emotional ideological assumptions, you are continuously progressing. Truthfully, it is your choice, however, I’d rather have continuous progress, than an inevitable crash and burn.

Moreover, the idea that you can have coconut milk (that’s harvested and put into a can to be consumed thousands of miles away from the source…smfh), but not have dairy from an animal that grazes upon local grass is based on an ideology or belief system. This idea is based on the belief that humans didn’t have access to dairy at one time in history, therefore, they shouldn’t consume it now. It is important to understand that this idea is dangerous. It not only excludes an entire food group without rational thinking, but can also form extreme biases towards those, who think critically. Most of all, however, it can be incredibly misleading. So, if you are intensely tied to the paleo mindset, you’re most likely going to develop a confirmation bias, where you disprove of the consumption of dairy, so that your “identity” remains intact.

The rational thinking process is a completely different approach. I want to maximize nutrient density. and provide my body with foods that contribute to maximal health. So, I looked at the facts of dairy, weighed the potential positives (it is incredibly nutrient dense) against the negatives (some people can’t process it well), and decided to test this theory on myself. So, I used an n=1 population, and ran some gut tests and other blood markers. I also self-reported how I felt, with and without dairy. Well, I’m here to tell you that the dairy won in a landslide, so now I consume it. If more information becomes available in the future that proves that there are disadvantages to dairy that we didn’t know about, I will re-evaluate the finding, and determine if it is still appropriate for me to consume it. The funny thing is that this doesn’t usually happen in an ideology.

A simple fact: The more intense your identity, the more intense the harder it becomes to accurately judge things, and the even more challenging it becomes to remove emotion, so you can really think about new facts and apply them to your life, when they arise. For example, the identity crisis amongst the various political parties, during this recent election, and/or inability of the general population to see the ever-widening rift occurred over a lack of agreement on what a particular ideology really stands for.

A named set of rules typically involves a bias that prevents you from to accurately using rational thought. Another example is a study that has been replicated time and time again, Democrats (as an example) are split into two groups. One group is told that Republicans have crafted and backed the bill presented to them. The other group is given the same bill, but told that Democrats have written and supported it. Every time this exercise is performed, the identity crisis of a named collection of rules trumps (no pun intended) actual rationalism and critical judgment. One group of Democrats think that the Democrat-backed bill is without fault, and thereby, should be passed immediately, whereas the other group of Democrats think that the Republican-backed bill is an atrocity that should be burned like a witch from Salem. It is the same bill.

Wouldn’t it be best to use rational thought in this scenario? In other words, shouldn’t we look at the bill independently of our confined set of rules, without the judgment of “us versus them,” so we can better evaluate whether the bill provides the best outcome – with all the facts and current circumstances considered? So, you can plainly see that without constant critical thinking, our political system is a complete mess. It is demonstrated on the roller coaster graph displayed above, which is why I believe we’re going to have a lot of turmoil in response to it. I truly believe that thinking is generally a better solution to problems, than relying on emotions. And, just like politics shouldn’t be blindly lumped and categorized because of an ideology, and identity, neither should your lifestyle, workout routine, or the foods you choose to eat.

Truth-be-told, you’re robbing yourself of rational thought and continuous progression, when you subscribe to paleo, as an ideology. Each issue should be thought of separately, with how it applies to your current position. In other words, instead of lumping dairy into something that “isn’t paleo,” and scoffing at those, who adhere to it, why not look into the facts and thoughts rationally? But, what if you have made an emotional, ideological decision that dairy is not a good thing to put in your body? Well, for me, I’ve researched the pros and cons, and found that it consists of very nutrient dense foods – foods that I tolerate. Therefore, I have chosen to incorporate those foods into my daily diet.  For others, however, when they can think more clearly, they are better able to determine, if it is right for them.

Individual conclusions require individual thinking.

So, do humans base their thought processes on rules and emotion? Well, I recently made the realization that a lack of deep and critical thinking is “paleo.” Think about the guys and gals running around, as rugged hunters and gatherers. Let’s be honest, they had more pressing problems, and needed simple heuristics to follow, so they could avoid being eaten alive by a lion. These individuals had to band together and assume similar identities, to coordinate activities, and prevent having their heads smashed to bits from large stones and jagged clubs, wielded by other tribes, who formed the same way (Does this remind you of our bipartisan political system?). In this case, ideologies before rational thinking likely helped the true paleos tremendously.

Ideologies don’t help us now.

Now, we have air conditioning and heat in our lion-free homes, copious amounts of food that goes to waste every day, life-saving medicines and vaccines, and brightly-lit, and hand-held screens that we use to instantly access information. It is important to understand that country borders are tribal artifacts. They allow most humans on the planet to interact freely, exchanging reason in real time. Truth-be-told, we have simple lives complete with an extraordinary amount of time, as compared to 100 years ago, so if we have time to “Netflix and Chill,” then we should make time to think deeply.

Still, unfortunately, I can already hear the naysayers defending the simple heuristics of paleo.  “People don’t care about thinking, though! They just want us to tell them, in simple ways, what foods are good and bad!” If that really is the case, then I would argue that the real problem isn’t nutritional choices, rather, it’s a lack of rational thinking and learning. And, if that’s your excuse, well, maybe, you should work on educating others on how to think more clearly, instead of just encouraging  this lack of insight.

But, wait – before you grab your stones and clubs, and chase after me, let me explain something —-

Just like another extreme ideology, CrossFit, the paleo scene has a fabulous community that contributes a lot to humanity. Truth-be-told, the charm of paleo is that it is filled with some of the most generous, supportive, imaginative, and intelligent people I’ve ever had the fortune to come across. And, I have no doubt that there are great people within the paleo community, who present the facts, allowing others to decide for themselves what they believe is right (I’m looking at you Robb WolfChris KresserDianne SanfilippoSteph Gaudreau, etc.), but unfortunately, others have a “hive mind,” which is detrimental to the cause.

That is why I believe (demonstrated on the curve I drew above) that paleo is on the roller-coaster ride and on its way up. In other words, it’s nearing the top. You can already see the fissures of certain paleo people, who constantly pester the “paleo police” over pointless problems. You can also see it from the outside with other non-approving groups, who have their own anti-paleo ideologies (beliefs). I bet you’ve seen all of this before and it’s nothing new. So, let’s be honest – paleo will come and go.

The unfortunate part about all of this is that there’s a lot to learn from paleo advocates – the ones behind the scene, doing the dirty work of reason and rational thought, but sadly this will fade, as well. And, as a result, when the ship eventually sinks these people and positive ideas will go down with it. I know this sounds harsh, however, what I’m telling you is true. Some of this excellent work will be dismissed, as being associated with a certain ideology. Remember the work Atkins did? Well, a lot of his research and conclusions went down with a sinking ship, which is now slowly being excavated and rediscovered, just like treasures in a pirate ship from hundreds of years ago. So, I’m abandoning paleo and subscribing to the continuous progression model, aka “rational thought.”

I know how tough it can be to let go of certain identities and admit that you’re wrong; in fact, I’ve been wrong many times. However, admitting that you were wrong, and now you have new information isn’t considered a weakness, rather, it’s considered a strength. This omission allows you to keep acquiring new knowledge and making progress.

So, what should the end goal be? Well, I have chosen continuous knowledge and growth, over bickering about minutia and judging those, who don’t belong in your self-manufactured echo chamber. So, my suggestion is to routinely challenge your ideas and beliefs, and use the present information to make informed and individual conclusions. Yes, it takes time and effort, but you do it – with determination and effort.

Therefore, my personal goal is to identify more of these ideologies, then happily split them down the middle. I believe this will lead to less discrimination, and more rational thinking. In other words, the more we subscribe to an ideology, the less progress we will make.

So, what are you going to choose? An inevitable rise and fall, or continuous growth?  

I chose continuous growth.