Guest Post: The Difference Between Eating Paleo and Being Paleo


by Russ Crandall

As the Paleo FX Ancestral Momentum – Theory to Practice Symposium (so glad they didn’t go with the long version of the event’s name) wound down last week, it felt like the Paleo blogging world and its faithful audience (hereafter “Paleosphere”) had worked itself up into a frenzy. Over what, I’m not quite sure. It may have just been the gathering of like-minded individuals with strong online presences. What left a lasting impression was the tone of the Paleosphere during the event, and it just so happened that the timely coalescence of paleo personalities and its ensuing social media onslaught brought everything to a head for me.

You see, I’ve been following a paleo way of eating for about 18 months now, and it’s had a profound impact on the way I view the world, how I feel, and (obviously) how I eat. I replaced most grains, dairy, legumes, refined sugars, and seed-derived oils with whole foods and many of my autoimmune symptoms went into remission. I can honestly say with conviction that I “eat paleo””. However, I do not identify myself as “being paleo””. I think there’s a distinction that needs to be made before we move on.

To me, “”being paleo” means that you are self-identifying with a group. It’s like calling yourself a musician or a video gamer (as opposed to simply writing music or playing video games). The problem with identification is that disidentification – the mentality of “us vs. them”, and a focus on what you are NOT – often emerges. Consider the in-group-out-group bias. This phenomenon can lead to aggression and prejudice, and some suggest that it leads to a lack of productivity, as identifiers take action while disidentifiers tend to just make a lot of talk. (And who is the “them” in this case? Just about everyone else – those pesky grain-eaters that make up the rest of the population, and those cursed Vegans that try and muck everything up!).

While the Paleosphere (thankfully) doesn’t focus too much on the “them” aspect of the diet, there’s definitely an overbearing “us” momentum that isn’t entirely healthy, either. I often see the Paleosphere as being on this slippery slope towards extremism.

As an ever-increasingly-large group of people that eat a similar diet and in many cases hold similar values, I think it’s important we don’t lose sight of the fact that extremists and ideologists often alienate themselves from the rest of society. How are we supposed to make an impact on the nutrition world if we work the Paleosphere up into a frenzied cult status? John George and Laird Wilcox, scholars of fringe movements, have identified the following characteristics of political extremists and ideological contrarians:

1. Absolute certainty they have the truth.

2. [The belief that] America is controlled to a greater or lesser extent by a conspiratorial group. In fact, they believe this evil group is very powerful and controls most nations.

3. Open hatred of opponents. Because these opponents (actually “enemies” in the extremists’ eyes) are seen as a part of or sympathizers with “The Conspiracy,” they deserve hatred and contempt.

4. Little faith in the democratic process. Mainly because most believe “The Conspiracy” has great influence in the U.S. government, and therefore extremists usually spurn compromise.

5. Willingness to deny basic civil liberties to certain fellow citizens, because enemies deserve no liberties.

6. Consistent indulgence in irresponsible accusations and character assassination.

Does that sound alarmingly familiar to you? Admittedly, the above characteristics have a major political slant, and the fact that big corporations have major influence on what ends up on our dinner plates may not lead to some of those characteristics (like the willingness to deny basic civil liberties part).

I can’t deny that a relatively extreme diet (side note: it’s sad that the Paleo diet is considered “extreme” in this age of processed/fast foods) will attract people that gravitate towards fringe thinking – as sociologist Daniel Bell put it, for those on the fringe, “the way you hold beliefs is more important than what you hold. If somebody’s been a rigid Communist, he becomes a rigid anti-Communist – the rigidity being constant.” How many ex-Vegans are in the Paleosphere? Lots. (As some would argue: not enough.) An extreme lifestyle will attract extremists, which simply isn’t preventable. My point is this: just because there are crazies in the Paleosphere, we don’t have to listen to them, and we need to keep ourselves in check to make sure we don’t become them. An easy way to prevent this is to continually challenge ourselves to question our dietary standards, and to avoid dogmatism.

So where do we start? How can we make sure that we promote this diet in the most open, pragmatic, unobtrusive, and inclusive way? Here are some quick suggestions:

1. Don’t tell people that you “are paleo””. Hell, don’t even tell them that you eat “paleo””, because the use of labels is in itself exclusionary. Just tell them what you eat, and maybe what you don’t eat. It doesn’t need to be more complicated than that. Look at the Weston A. Price dietary guidelines. It’s very similar to the modern interpretation of the paleo diet, and they don’t tell you what to avoid, even once. Focus on the whole foods, not on yet-to-be-completely-proven-as-evil grains, legumes, etc.

2. Don’t use flawed ideas or gray areas to promote the diet, because it calls the Paleosphere’s credibility into question. Don’t worship bacon, which is likely not good for you, even if it is (was) somewhat fashionable to “baconize” stuff. It’s a useful ingredient in cooking, but it’s not our flagship food. Don’t celebrate “paleo versions” of sweets like Paleo brownies because that’s not helping people overcome their underlying food issues and if anything it’s guiding them towards failure. The last thing we should do is to set people on shaky foundations. Personally, I’m all about Dr. Kurt Harris’ incremental process, because it encourages folks to improve their health even when they’re not ready to dive into a full-blown paleo eating orgy.

3. Avoid dogmatic thinking. Are potatoes evil? What about white rice? What about dairy? Aren’t we supposed to be eating low carb? Remember that human variance, health history, and gut flora are major factors in food tolerance, and macronutrient ratios are highly individualized. This diet is ever-changing (and it should be as scientific study helps enlighten our views on nutrition every day); be open to suggestion.

4. Try not to alienate others by flaunting an overbearing self-identification of “being paleo.” You’re not a caveman, and you’re certainly not living like one, so why label yourself as one? If anything, I suggest embracing what we do have in common with our ancestors – the fact that we’re all on this planet. Go take a walk/hike. Watch a sunset. Spend a few days camping. That’s certainly closer to being a caveman than eating a pound of lean red meat straight out of a slow cooker after a hard day at the office and then blogging about it.

5. Bear in mind that everyone has their own burden. I’m pretty sure that most people simply cannot afford to eat fresh organic vegetables and grass-fed meats all the time. My family can’t afford it, despite the fact that a huge chunk of our income goes towards our groceries – nearly twice as much as before we switched our diet. Additionally, many people don’t have the resources to find out whether or not they have access to affordable grass-fed meats anyway – online resources are often outdated, and I’ll wager that many excellent farmers are out working and not updating their farm’s webpage and social networking fan pages. Many don’t have access to local, affordable health food markets. This is no reason to make people feel bad for having to make sacrifices to make ends meat meet; instead celebrate the steps that people are willing to take for their health that are within their means.

6. Avoid the fringe, and consider the power of prudence. What is the point of wearing t-shirts that say “Meat is awesome” or “Vegans suck”? Before shouting from the rooftops about how stuff like cold thermogenesis and eating butter straight out of the container is awesome, take a step back and think about how crazy that sounds to the average person. I’m not saying that any of those extreme elements are bad, but they might not be helping the paleo movement along when that’s the stuff we get identified with. When it comes down to it, who better to police the Paleosphere than ourselves?

Lastly, please don’t take this as an insult to anyone that’s exhibited these behaviors. Dramatically improving your health through simple changes in diet is awesome, and exciting. I don’t fault you for telling people that “you’re paleo””. My only purpose in writing this article is to help consider the fact that we need to do what we can to impact those that aren’t lucky enough to know much about sensible eating yet. As much as it may be fun to be part of a cool, elite club of paleo dieters that share cool pictures and sayings amongst themselves, isn’t our energy better spent on refining the diet itself through scientific study and attracting people that haven’t been exposed to the diet yet?

This article was recently featured on the Highbrow Paleo blog. Russ Crandall also blogs at The Domestic Man where he posts many wonderful recipes with lots of high quality photos. Read about his amazing story here.

Update 3/12/14: This is a section reposted from a recent post.

[easyazon_image add_to_cart=”no” align=”left” asin=”1628600055″ cloaking=”default” height=”160″ localization=”default” locale=”US” nofollow=”default” new_window=”default” src=”” tag=”fretheani-20″ width=”128″]

[easyazon_link asin=”1628600055″ locale=”US” new_window=”default” nofollow=”default” tag=”fretheani-20″ add_to_cart=”default” cloaking=”default” localization=”default” popups=”default”]The Ancestral Table: Traditional Recipes for a paleo Lifestyle[/easyazon_link]. Did Russ Crandall come out of nowhere? I’d never heard of him [guess I was wrong about that! -Ed]. He has a blog, The Domestic Man. When he emailed me and asked I take a look, there was a singular message he wanted to get across to me and it’s why I saved his book for last.

So, this is not going to be a one paragraph entry. To my knowledge, this is the very fist cookbook making any reference to paleo, that doesn’t genuflect, kowtow, and get on its knees to pay homage to the ignorance of low-carb paleo, as though there’s nothing else. Beginning in Chapter 4, Starches, here are the recipes over the next 30 pages.

  • Basic Steamed Rice
  • Steamed Basmati Rice
  • Sticky Rice
  • Dirty Rice
  • Mexican Rice
  • Fried Rice
  • Congee
  • Garlic Mashed Potatoes
  • Colcannon
  • Gnocchi
  • Sweet Potato Poi
  • Parsnip Puree
  • Tostones
  • Pão de Queijo
  • Pizza

Accordingly, from here out, last mention I ever give to a Paleoish cookbook that doesn’t have recipes for common starches.

By the way? Fittingly, the forward to the cookbook is by Paul Jaminet, PhD; or, by one ground breaker, for another. Paul, of course, is the safe starch pioneer in our Ancestral/Paleo circles, making it harder by the day for strict low carb enthusiasts to breathe. He blogs at Perfect Health Diet, and he and Shou-Ching, PhD as well, are co-authors of [easyazon_link asin=”1451699158″ locale=”US” new_window=”default” nofollow=”default” tag=”fretheani-20″ add_to_cart=”no” cloaking=”default” localization=”default” popups=”default”]Perfect Health Diet: Regain Health and Lose Weight by Eating the Way You Were Meant to Eat[/easyazon_link].

Go early or go home. paleo is divorcing strict low carb and its waffling, feeling the pressure, now. Mark my words.

“We have no demands to present to you, no terms to bargain about, no compromise to reach. You have nothing to offer us. We do not need you.” — John Galt (Atlas Srugged, by Ayn Rand)

Since Covid killed my Cabo San Lucas vacation-rental business in 2021, this is my day job. I can't do it without you. Memberships are $10 monthly, $20 quarterly, or $65 annually. Two premium coffees per month. Every membership helps finance this work I do, and if you like what I do, please chip in. No grandiose pitches.


  1. Chris Tamme on March 29, 2012 at 13:44

    Living in absolutes is a mental disorder and that is the direction I found myself going with Paleo. I put the brakes on andam much happier now not being paleo. Instead I eat good healthy whole foods and avoid grains, processed oils, and garbage foods. I think I have gotten healthier since I have stopped obsessing about the food I eat.

    • Primal Toad on March 30, 2012 at 15:45

      I’m with your Chris. I’ve been finding myself going in this direction as well and it is time I change. Obsession is NOT at all healthy. It’s vital to not obsess about the little things. Stress plays a huge role in diseases and cancers.

      Smile. Laugh. Play.

  2. Uncephalized on March 29, 2012 at 11:52

    Wow, Richard, what an even-keeled and mellow post. Hardly a curse word to be found. :)

    This is excellent advice in general about getting along with people and living a bit lower-stress, IMO, and can be applied to much more than diet.

    • Kamal Patel on March 29, 2012 at 11:54

      That’s because it’s written by Russ Crandell :) Hopefully some curse words will pop up in the comments though.

      • Sean on March 29, 2012 at 15:03

        Hey Kamal, go fuck yourself, you fucking fuckity fucker.

        Be careful what you wish for ;)

      • Richard Nikoley on March 29, 2012 at 15:16

        My commenters never miss a beat.

        Except Nigel, but he hasn’t shown up yet. :)

      • Nigel Kinbrum on March 29, 2012 at 16:38

        I’ve been at karaoke. Have I missed something exciting?

      • Richard Nikoley on March 29, 2012 at 16:48

        I was a Kareoke star in Japan, doing I left My Heart in SF, back in the day. Got me laid, often enough.

      • Nigel Kinbrum on March 29, 2012 at 17:25

        That’s rubbery! :-D

      • Richard Nikoley on March 29, 2012 at 18:38

        I’d call it slippery.

    • Richard Nikoley on March 29, 2012 at 11:55

      You did note that it was a guest post, didn’t you?

      • Uncephalized on March 29, 2012 at 14:07

        Ah, no I did not. Mystery explained.

        A good article nonetheless.

      • Monica on March 29, 2012 at 14:22


  3. Kamal Patel on March 29, 2012 at 11:53

    So many gems in here:

    -“Absolute certainty they have the truth.”
    -Try not to alienate others by flaunting an overbearing self-identification of “being Paleo.”
    -consider the power of prudence. What is the point of wearing t-shirts that say “Meat is awesome” or “Vegans suck”?

    Russ, you are an insightful writer. Best sociological commentary I’ve seen about paleo so far!

  4. Amy B. on March 29, 2012 at 12:00

    “Go take a walk/hike. Watch a sunset. Spend a few days camping. That’s certainly closer to being a caveman than eating a pound of lean red meat straight out of a slow cooker after a hard day at the office and then blogging about it.”

    EXCELLENT post, Russ. True on many levels. Labels can be iffy — whether because of what we, ourselves mean by them or what others *think* we mean by them. Either way, we’re *all* probably a little off the mark.

    I eat good food. I stick to myself and don’t preach to others. If they happen to *ask* for my advice or opinion, I’m happy to share it, but I feel no need to advertise or proselytize about anyone else should or shouldn’t put into their mouths. When they’re ready for a change, they’ll seek one. (Mind you, I’d LIKE to knock some sense into people when I see what’s in their shopping carts or on their plates, but it’s not my place to do so. You can drop ideas on people like anvils, but until they’re ready to look for different ways themselves, they’ll bounce right off.)

  5. brittany on March 29, 2012 at 12:03

    Great post – it’s always wise to take a step back to evaluate our intentions. Truly, we eat the way we do to promote health… the focus should always be around that – others will be attracted to adapting these healthful eating habits for this reason only…not to join a cult. I especially like this line “This is no reason to make people feel bad for having to make sacrifices to make ends meet; instead celebrate the steps that people are willing to take for their health that are within their means.

  6. Jules on March 29, 2012 at 12:07

    Great post Russ, and thanks Richard for featuring it!

  7. Tom Mountjoy on March 29, 2012 at 12:07

    Too true bro. The best way seems to just be well, look healthy, move about and be an altruistic person. People will pick up on the fact that your behaviour isn’t found mirrored on a talkshow, and maybe be curious.
    I can sympathise with people wishing to make a shoutout when they discover something cool or beneficial, but, like the elitism of a certain circuit training trend, you’ll end up looking like a dick, and stop eating butter from a packet on the bus home in your skinny calf warmers.
    Paleo is no mantra with a bumper sticker, it’s a template for tweaking your individual way of living life. Being natural hardly requires advertising!
    Good post, again.

  8. John Briffa on March 29, 2012 at 12:09

    This is a fantastic blog post, Russ. Wish I’d had the imagination to write it!

  9. A bit of a reality check from Russ Crandall | Mark's Daily Apple Health and Fitness Forum page on March 29, 2012 at 12:35

    […] makes some great points about the actions and behavior of some in the "paleosphere". Guest Post: The Difference Between Eating Paleo and Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who has said it, no matter if I have said it, […]

  10. aretae on March 29, 2012 at 12:43

    Tiny corner comment, not related to 99.5% of what you wrote:

    Re: George + Wilcox point 4:

    There are some very good and valid reasons to have little faith in the democratic process. If accompanied by the other 5 characteristics, I find the analysis fine…but I find the inclusion troublesome, as it groups a valid position critical of democratic politics with many epistemologically suspicious other positions.

    • Johnny on March 30, 2012 at 18:43

      Yes, the rest of the essay is on the spectrum from fine to very good, but “faith in the democratic process” can fucking suck it, and it’s not because I’m a disillusioned extremist, or whatever I am in the author’s estimation by virtue of not having faith in the democratic process.

  11. Brent on March 29, 2012 at 13:09

    “Go take a walk/hike. Watch a sunset. Spend a few days camping. That’s certainly closer to being a caveman than eating a pound of lean red meat straight out of a slow cooker after a hard day at the office and then blogging about it.”

    That cracked me up… because it’s true.

    Excellent article. A lot of it is stuff I’ve been dealing with myself. I think the whole, “OMG, Richard is eating potatoes!” thing brought the dogma and identity issues to the forefront.

    I’m definitely starting to embrace Chris Kresser’s idea of “paleo” as a template as opposed to Paleo(TM).

    • Ann Marie @ CHEESESLAVE on March 29, 2012 at 13:13

      Ha! Paleo(TM)! That’s funny. Would make a good t-shirt.

      Reminds me — Chris Masterjohn made a comment once on Facebook about using “gluten goggles” to analyze the historical record.

      • Primal Toad on March 30, 2012 at 15:12

        This cracked me up as well. And, you are right, that would make an excellent t-shirt. I’d wear it for sure because, well, it just makes me laugh.

        I agree with this whole-heartedly…

        “Go take a walk/hike. Watch a sunset. Spend a few days camping. That’s certainly closer to being a caveman than eating a pound of lean red meat straight out of a slow cooker after a hard day at the office and then blogging about it.”

        I’ll add…

        Dance. Build. Grow your own food. Crack open a coconut. Create. Sit and do nothing. Slow down.

        Live. Your. Life. The way YOU want to!

        Paleo. Primal. It’s a template. A template that you need to create for your own unique life.

  12. Ann Marie @ CHEESESLAVE on March 29, 2012 at 13:11

    Superb! This was my favorite sentence of the post: “Before shouting from the rooftops about how stuff like cold thermogenesis and eating butter straight out of the container is awesome, take a step back and think about how crazy that sounds to the average person.” So funny!

    Sally Fallon Morell, founder of the Weston A. Price Foundation, says at the end of every one of her lectures, “Don’t make food your religion.” The first time I heard her say that, I didn’t understand why she said it.

    Then I got to know the WAPFers and saw how crazy we can get. You can’t eat in a restaurant with many of them — they won’t eat the butter because it’s not grass-fed, won’t eat the fish because it’s not wild-caught, etc. etc. That is if they will eat out at a restaurant AT ALL!

    But I’ve eaten french fries in a restaurant with Sally. Someone asked her, “Sally, what were those fried in?” She said, “Eh, soybean oil. They’re really good.”

    Me, I prefer not to be a shut in. I enjoy food too much. I do prefer the best quality food but you do the best you can.

    • Amy B. on March 29, 2012 at 13:41


      • Amy B. on March 29, 2012 at 13:42

        HA! I should have added: no pun intended!

      • Ann Marie @ CHEESESLAVE on March 29, 2012 at 14:33

        HA!!! :-D

    • Celia on March 29, 2012 at 14:00

      Yes! I personally can’t have gluten, and that’s enough restaurant anxiety for me. I am not going to go out of my way to ask if the bacon is cured with sugar or nitrites when I go out to eat (which isn’t often). “Don’t make your food your religion” is excellent advice for everyone.

    • Primal Toad on March 30, 2012 at 15:14

      The fact that I am studying about the WAPF principles and just watched the 5 hour lecture by Sally Fallon makes me smile over this fact that Sally ate some french fries. It calms the storm for sure.

      I think this post is the greatest post I have ever read on a primal/paleo blog ever. I’ve easily read over 1000 blog posts.

  13. Merr on March 29, 2012 at 13:18

    Nicely done, Richard. This is the approach I’ve been taking as well. I really like following what Harris wrote and am glad you mentioned it. The list is a really thoughtful and dense set of directions. For me, it takes the “pressure” off, if you will. I try things and see what works.

    • Merr on March 29, 2012 at 13:20

      Lol and whoops. Didn’t notice this was a guest post. I’ll restate, “Nicely done, Russ”.

  14. rob on March 29, 2012 at 13:47

    I remember a long time ago here when the subject of grass fed versus regular store meat came up a poster told me I was eating poison by eating the beef that Publix sells, lol.

  15. julianne on March 29, 2012 at 13:51

    Fantastic thanks for this post. I am studying nutrition (post grad) as well as eating paleo. You highlight a number of things that really annoyed me about the ‘paleo’ identity – and bacon. (I tell you I have been inwardly fuming about the whole ridiculous bacon lovin’ thing.)

    As far as I am concerned – I do this for health, no other reason, not to re-enact some caveman past. If I come from the question – “what makes me healthy?” The answer is entirely different than if I asked the question “What would a caveman / hunter gather person eat?” Or “is this paleo?”
    Nutrition science is evolving by the minute – at least in terms of the information in nutrition studies. I did undergraduate in 2008, skipped a couple of years – and what is being taught now has moved 2 years on.
    WE need to embrace it all – be informed by our evolutionary past, epigenetics, epidemiology, and current short and long term nutrition studies.

    (This is part of a post I am in the middle of writing, after I finish my assignment on saturated fat!)

  16. Celia on March 29, 2012 at 13:52

    Thank you for this post. I’ve felt similarly for a few months now, after beginning to eat [mostly] paleo last summer. I didn’t comment on Richard’s previous post because so many other people stated my feelings more eloquently than I would have. Anyhow, I think the move towards extremism is unhelpful and I don’t identify myself as “paleo” anymore because of the very strong “us” mentality. I used to be vegan and am beginning to see some of the paleo community be just as judgmental and hateful as the judgy vegans. It’s frankly disheartening, since I’m enjoying a lot of the science behind evolutionary/ancestral eating.

  17. Isabelle on March 29, 2012 at 13:52

    I just started reading your blog recently and I like what I am reading. Thanks for saying this. It needed to be said. Could be applied to other diet camps as well. Let’s talk about what works for us and stop dumping on others and insisting that what works for us is the best for all! Let’s not make food our religion.


  18. julianne on March 29, 2012 at 14:05

    Oh and the other thing I get really annoyed with is the attitude of ‘as long as I’m not eating grains, legumes, dairy or sugar, I can eat anything else’ leading to the absurb pseudo “SAD” food – almond meal, coconut sugar etc based muffins, pancakes, etc.

    • Monica on March 29, 2012 at 14:21

      Yep. Drives me nuts. No pun intended. :)

    • Primal Toad on March 30, 2012 at 15:49

      Right on. Went I went “primal” 2 years ago I was curious about all these baked foods made with almond flour and coconut flour. I thought… this can’t be that much healthier. I’ve used coconut flour a few times but have never used almond flour. This does not mean I won’t ever. I will experiment with almond flour for sure. But I saw people eating foods with these products almost daily!

  19. Monica on March 29, 2012 at 14:20

    Totally, totally awesome. Agree 100% with this outlook.

    However, I knew instantly this wasn’t you, Richard, after reading about a paragraph past the picture. The picture would have been totally “you” though. When are we going to a rant with multiple F bombs? Come on, man. :)

  20. katie on March 29, 2012 at 14:22

    I hope this post gets read by the whole ‘paleosphere’! Great job!

  21. Ron on March 29, 2012 at 14:32


  22. Sean on March 29, 2012 at 14:58

    As the Paleo FX Ancestral Momentum – Theory to Practice Symposium (so glad they didn’t go with the long version of the event’s name)…

    Russ, you had me with the first sentence, that made me laugh and a sense of humor is the first sign of intelligence. Good stuff.

    The basic problem, in my opinion, is that dogmatism is basic to human nature. I think that this might actually be a hunter-gatherer selected trait, that we are good at making judgements based on patterns and this is an advantage in an HG environment where one has spent a lifetime observing patterns but a disadvantage when it comes to figuring out how the Universe actually works. Hence the need for the scientific method as an important methodology to help us stop fooling ourselves.

    • Leo desforges on March 29, 2012 at 19:59

      I agree with the basic premise of what you have said, adding that the categorization of thoughts, images, items, etc is also a basic mechanism of the brain to organize the world around us without having to constantly redefine everything we see/feel/hear. That would be so damn unwieldy that we would never be able to do anything, ever. Categorizing things is a necessity of the human brain.
      But, I would also argue that just because we categorize things does not mean that we are inherently dogmatic. I categorize things every day that I hold no dogma around: that’s a bus, there’s a tree, etc. That explanation is the one used to justify any type of bigotry under the sun. ” of course we denigrate women: they’re different than us men and were scared of different things!”
      We are dogmatic because we are afraid (and the reasons we are afraid are so numerous that I’m sure a blog post from Richard on the elements of a fear-governed society would be appreciated… Panopticon anyone?), we are afraid of being alone, of being wrong, of being a “failure” and dogmatism gives us a nice little cushion to sit on, a nice safe bubble from which to live life. “what would Paleo man do? What would mark sisson do?”. Thinking about what Paleo man would do means you never have to think about what YOU should do. It’s easy, safe and thanks to the paleosphere, kinda cool! It’s like being in high school all over again. I’m a jock. I’m Paleo. I eat meat and have good toe splay, therefore I AM.
      Dogmatism is life, but made simpler, easier and lazier. many of us choose easy.
      Dogmatism helps to make us feel less afraid of the unknown, which is beyond understandable. This shit is scary, life that is.
      Don’t let fear close your eyes too tightly, you might miss some of the coolest shit life has to offer.
      I’m glad that we are realizing how far out of hand this has gotten.

      • Leo desforges on March 29, 2012 at 20:12

        by the way, fear has been owning my ass for a long time now, and i predict it will for the rest of my years. I’m just trying to give it the ol’ middle finger on the way.

      • Nigel Kinbrum on March 30, 2012 at 01:53

        “I must not fear.
        Fear is the mind-killer.
        Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.”
        From Litany against fear

        Mind you, it’s different for girls ;-P

      • DH on March 30, 2012 at 17:00

        “…(I) have good toe splay, therefore I AM.” lol

  23. Mike on March 29, 2012 at 15:10

    A very sensible and intelligent article.

    The issue with naming things (identifying as Eating Paleo) is a double edged sword though. Giving something a name helps to make it identifiable, and more easily recognized in the future. Saying “I eat a Paleo diet” can be more succinct than “I eat whole, unprocessed foods and avoid grains and vegetable oil”.

    The flip-side is that it can put people off, or give them pre-conceived ideas of what that might mean. Their imagination might fill in the gaps given the term “Paleo”. It’s possibly where the misconception that a Paleo diet is an all meat diet comes from.

    Ideally Paleo would be Zealot Free

    • Richard Nikoley on March 29, 2012 at 15:25


      Astute observation. For example, people bemoan the state of ‘Capitlism’ which in the most fundamental way is merely private ownership and direction of capital resources.

      But we have nothing like that because everything is regulated. So do we dump the word in favor of a neologism, or make distinctions?

      I’m solidly with Ayn Rand on this point. You don’t keep moving the goal post forward, you stand your ground, and you make the distinctions as long as it takes.

      Good luck to the Communists (to head off an obvious objection).

  24. Kristin on March 29, 2012 at 16:05

    This post is so full of intelligence and plain good sense. It more or less describes the point of view I intend to hold as I work towards an RD credential: this style of eating is not about identity or absolutism. It’s about a movement towards eating whole, real foods and finding out what works for our own individual bodies.

    • Leo desforges on March 29, 2012 at 20:04

      I wonder what Kurt would say to this affirmation of broscience. Seriously, Kurt?

      • Richard Nikoley on March 29, 2012 at 20:45

        Kurt is actually trying to get in comments, but there is some issue with some browsers on the Mac, so far as I can tell. I can get in on Safari, but not on Firefox or Chrome. Kurt can’t get on on Safari. Emails are out to my tech people on Europe. Hopefully they’ll be up on a while.

      • Russ Crandall on March 30, 2012 at 03:16

        Comment issues are resolved for me, must have been the quotations. Thanks for the fix.

  25. bim on March 29, 2012 at 16:21

    I’m very lucky to never have been paleo though I find that narrative fascinating , my eating philosophy can be summed up as ” don’t fear food , eat it”.

    I don’t think extremists are looking for advice though.

    • Richard Nikoley on March 29, 2012 at 16:27

      Oh how very lucky you are, bim.

      Thanks for stopping by to let us know how much you don’t care about how superior you are and had it right all along.

      • Sean on March 29, 2012 at 17:00

        When I was in music school it was a cliché that a great musician must learn the rules and then forget them. Easier said than done. But I think the same could be said for something like paleo, learn the framework then go beyond it. There’s never going to be a shortcut like, okay, just eat this way, we’ve finally figured it all out.

        Arguments about food reward, healthy starches and so on, might seem obtuse or confusing to the neophyte but that doesn’t mean they aren’t interesting or important to those of us who’ve been following this for a while.

      • Leo desforges on March 29, 2012 at 20:08

        This reminds me of one of my favorite concepts: the stages of human social evolution via Ken Wilbur.
        We can not simply skip stages in our development as humans. Same can be said about progression/regression in almost every facet of our existence. Progression and regression are both viable options.

      • Richard Nikoley on March 29, 2012 at 20:50

        I’ve read sme Wilber myself. I disagree with that. It’s individual.

        Observer how some vietnamspese boat people can integrate and become multi millionaires in years. It can be speculated that in fact, raw intelligence WITHOUT trained social baggage in a foreign social enviro can be a huge advantage.

      • Leo desforges on March 29, 2012 at 21:08

        What makes you think that they weren’t advanced in many ways already. Or maybe they progressed vey quickly through the levels. Also, can’t we say that this is a bit of an outlier? The boatpeople that is.

      • Richard Nikoley on March 29, 2012 at 21:14

        That’s my point. The evolutionary drive to survive won out over the commies. But it was still a very foreign enviro when the arrived, unlike anything they had ever seen, recalling the absolute blackout of everything American on the 80s, pre-Internet.

        I understand. This argument can go only so far. A chimp can’t integrate, nor could we possibly, with “humans” 4 million years more advanced.

        But that’s red herring, because we only live to about 100 max, and in that span, most can adapt to completely unknown human social situations.

      • Leo desforges on March 29, 2012 at 21:24

        While the boat people may have lacked in certain domains, they may have been more highly skilled/evolved in others or just plain hardworking and smart and maybe lucky too.
        I’m really not disagreeing to vehemently here, but I’m not convince either.
        Another example: you can be an absolute A hole, and still be operation on a basic “might is right” philosophy and still dominate over millions of people, a la many of the worlds great historical bad guys. You don’t need to be “socially advanced” to be very very “successful” or powerful.

      • Richard Nikoley on March 29, 2012 at 22:01

        So you’re changing your original premise? Or, do you need to clarify it?

      • Erika on March 31, 2012 at 13:21

  26. Jay Jay on March 29, 2012 at 19:04

    Pretty good, until you totally f’en blew it in the last paragraph. Eespecially the last half of the last sentence.

    “My only purpose in writing this article is to help consider the fact that we need to do what we can to impact those that aren’t lucky enough to know much about sensible eating yet. As much as it may be fun to be part of a cool, elite club of Paleo dieters that share cool pictures and sayings amongst themselves, isn’t our energy better spent on refining the diet itself through scientific study and attracting people that haven’t been exposed to the diet yet?”

    That’s pure evangelism, no different from a Jehovah’s Witness, Mormon, or other “let’s go save uneducated souls” type.

    Yes, by all means, tell your family and loved ones what’s working for you. But don’t assume it will work for everybody. And for god’s sake, don’t try to preach to the uneducated masses. Let them live and/or die by their own choices.

    • Richard Nikoley on March 29, 2012 at 19:07

      Oh bullshit Jay Jay. So fucking lame.

      That last is an implicit mea culpa for the gauntlet laid down in the foregoing.

      Don’t be a fucking moron. Have a little more elegance,

      • Jay Jay on March 29, 2012 at 19:58

        I don’t see the lameness. Seems like he is out to save the world there at the end.

        But I’ll agree to disagree. It is generally correct, IMO.

      • Richard Nikoley on March 29, 2012 at 20:37

        He cares about the world and that paleo advances in a sane, measured manner, so it’s a word of caution.

    • Russ Crandall on March 30, 2012 at 03:46

      Jay Jay I can concede that there’s an element of evangelism in that last sentence. I have a general concern for my fellow human and would like to see them nourished with whole foods, as bright-eyed and optimistic as that sounds. Just look at our health outcomes over the past 50 years in regards to instances of auto-immune, type 2 diabetes, etc – of course I am concerned – but here I am preaching to the choir. Sure it won’t work for everyone, but chances are it will help more than harm and it’s better than current dietary norms.

      I’ll make no qualms about it, there’s a selfish streak in my desire to spread the word about eating sensibly. Less instances of disease means lower health care costs, which means money better spent elsewhere. It also lends a hand to the focus of preventative care versus treatment, which will also go a long way towards keeping us from throwing more money away into the healthcare realm. Lastly, an increase in demand for whole/organic/clean/whatever produce and grass-fed meats will hopefully increase supply of these foods into the market and eventually drive down costs for everyone. So hell yeah, jump on the boat.

      When someone searches “Paleo diet” and stumbles upon a style-over-substance site screaming at them to buy the latest cool pair of bacon socks, I have a real problem with that. Did any of us reevaluate our eating habits because we wanted to be part of the Paleo cool kids’ club? Probably not. So why is that element becoming so prominent? Why are we circling the wagons already and pushing ourselves towards faddishness?

      • Jay Jay on March 30, 2012 at 09:19

        OK, that makes sense,and I don’t disagree at all when you put it that way. Thanks for providing the additional insight.

    • Leo desforges on March 30, 2012 at 05:31

      I think that I was not clear enough in my original post about the stages of moral development. Much like: the great musician must learn the rules before she can forget them. I believe that humans learn to operate in different moral frameworks, each next framework being dependent on the last. We must (or at least do) often travel through similar stages of thought. The early stages: paleo rulez!! Latter stages: paleo rules, here’s why. And then: paleo is great, but… And then: paleo is good but so are other diets. And ultimately: all diets coexist, but I am too wise to wast my time convincing myself or other what to do.

      My example of the the tyrant was just to say that it is Often the loudest, most fervent believer that gets heard, but it does not mean they are the ones we should be listening to… But we still do.

    • Uncephalized on March 30, 2012 at 11:26

      If you have evidence and can show results, it can’t really be called evangelizing in the religious sense.

      People might still think you’re annoying, and might not want to hear it, but that’s an issue of tone and people skills, not content.

  27. Meredith on March 29, 2012 at 20:02

    This is tough – I’ve ‘eaten Paleo’ now for 3 months or so… my version of course, I won’t let anyone tell me what to eat… and I’m hopeful that everyone can think critically about their own food choices rather than just going along with the loudest / most popular voices. I have to admit, I kind of feel scolded here…

    I don’t think there’s any shame in letting people know that you choose to ‘eat paleo’. Particularly, if paleo is guideline – meaning natural, unprocessed, pre-agricultural-ish fare.

    I’ve been doing a lot of research lately, on wheat or on how particle size of grain might effect human digestion, on leptin-this, and amino-that… trying to figure out how to hold a conversation with my medically trained mother-in-law about leaky gut… it’s soooo difficult, because nutrition really isn’t a science… it is so anecdotal – and maybe that’s too harsh… it may be a ‘science’, but there is a curious lack of rigorous human-focused scientific method… and it’s only fueling my personal guinea-pig-hood. Did you know that ‘they’ know exactly what grain-size they should feel pigs? Hmmmmm….

    Don’t give up on spreading the word about this sustainable healthy diet, no matter what you call it… (and I’d call it paleo) and don’t confuse the ‘tribe-building-social-media’ with your above-average-extraordinary human beings who know that they are mammals just like many other mammals out there – and should play by the same rules to reap the most rewards.

  28. Bay Area Sparky on March 29, 2012 at 20:54

    Outstanding essay.

    Self-aware, thoughtful, good depth and very well-written.

    Great job, Russ!

  29. Richard Nikoley on March 29, 2012 at 21:57

    Alright folks getttting comment notices via email; in copy/pasting the title with the quotes, the quotation marks got included in the post link, making it impossible for many, depending on platform and browser to see comments. Had no choice but to edit the post link. Don’t know how that will affect things going forward.

  30. Steven Sashen on March 30, 2012 at 00:35

    I have to share one of my favorite moments at PaleoFX that highlights a few points in this post.

    The location of the event had a museum that featured a wonderful exhibit on the history of “Physical Culture” in America (bodybuilding, fitness, strength training, etc.).

    I walk into one of the rooms which featured a dozen pictures of Clarence Bass. If you don’t know Clarence, he’s one of the fittest guys ever. Been at under 6% bodyfat for about 35 years. I think he’s 75 now and he looks GREAT… and a number of the photos were from when he was 70.

    I mention to two Paleo-peeps who were admiring Clarence’s photos that he was the “anti-Paleo dude” since his diet is high-carb, low-protein, low-fat.

    There was a long pause… and then one of the people I was standing with said, “I wonder what he’d look like if he was Paleo?”


  31. Gene on March 30, 2012 at 02:20

    Let me see, “Don’t identify with being Paleo”, but please stop embarrassing poor ol’ me with your T-shirts and bacon. Maybe Crandall needs to concern himself with simply “eating Paleo” and not worrying so much about how other people show their enthusiasm?

    • Russ Crandall on March 30, 2012 at 03:59

      Gene, this is my diet too. My concern with how people show their enthusiasm is that they are quite possibly ignorant of the fact that some of those behaviors are cliquish and borderline extremist. I expect and encourage enthusiasm about the diet, as well as a sense of community within the Paleosphere. But I also hope to see some prudence and a sense of inclusion from Paleo voices, not the overbearing sense of identification and downright dogmatism that people have been picking up on lately.

  32. B on March 30, 2012 at 02:21

    I’ve never considered myself “paleo” mainly because of items this article brought up. I like to read blogs like these, and every now and then I browse the Marks Daily Apple forum. But browsing that forum is often a real chore where you get sentiments like “big pharma and grain produces are controlling the government” and “all grains are terrible, its a fact! wheres my evidence…? UH WELL I KNOW IT SO IT MUST BE TRUE!”. So yeah, I eat “paleo” but I would never identify myself as paleo.

  33. Steve on March 30, 2012 at 03:09

    I don’t know how many people are of a similar mind to me about Paleo and I’ve long since stopped caring. To me it seems to break down between those that actively seek new ideas, try them on see what happens but all the while actively seeking further information to better their understanding. I’m describing an innate curiosity, one that does not consider allegiance either group or idealology as an acceptable position to take. The other group is more tribal, exclusive. “I’ve picked my team, and I’m sticking with it until the bitter end”. Dogmatists, damn near impossible to shake from their beliefs and as annoying as hell. Dogma, leads to little progress and a “Dark Ages”. I think paleo may have reached its enlightenment phase……. Now, if only someone would do the same thing to Crossfit…….

    • Leo desforges on March 30, 2012 at 05:53

      Well said. In regards to Crossfit and “fitness” in general also strongly agree. It’s actually part of my current 2 year business plan as a small strength facility owner: tap into the masses of those who have been lead astray by the cult of Crossfit and actually provide them with a well though out plan, not just some mishmashed WOD. Seriously, can someone explain why you would do 50 snatches in a row?!

      • Chris Tamme on March 30, 2012 at 09:05

        I have a friend that wants me to get into crossfit. I keep telling her that fitness is not a sport and that what xfit proposes is way too intense for the masses. Everyone needs more intensity and less time at the gym. Go find another hobby if you have nothing better to do.

  34. Jon Cole on March 30, 2012 at 03:59

    So what you’re saying is- I CAN have the roast duck… with the mango salsa?!?!?

  35. Geoff on March 30, 2012 at 04:16

    The irony to me is that “Paleo” actually WAS an extreme, fringe “cult” for so long. It’s only recently that this way of life attained such a level of mainstream acceptance that issues like “How are we supposed to make an impact on the nutrition world if we work the Paleosphere up into a frenzied cult status?” are even sensible topics to discuss. Back when “Paleo” really was on the fringe (before magazine articles, best selling books from big publishing houses, podcasts, and such) there didn’t seem to be such concern about whether the “Paleo” way of life was perceived as a fringe movement. So perhaps the fact that we can now express misgivings about actions that could create a public perception that “Paleo” is “fringe” or a “cool, elite club” are really signs of the movement’s maturity, a sign that “Paleo” is finally taking hold in the public consciousness in a meaningful way.

  36. Παλαιο on March 30, 2012 at 06:17

    Best Paleo article EVER.
    I love reading people who love thinking twice before yelling.
    Thank you both for this collaboration!

  37. Slough on March 30, 2012 at 07:02

    I’ll let Milan Kundera convey how I feel about identifying oneself with any ‘movement.’
    The ‘she’ is a Czech woman…

    “A year or two after emigrating, she happened to be in Paris on the anniversary of the Russian invasion of her country. A protest march had been scheduled, and she felt driven to take part. Fists raised high, the young Frenchmen shouted out slogans condemning Soviet imperialism. She liked the slogans, but to her surprise she found herself unable to shout along with them. She lasted only a few minutes in the parade.
    When she told her French friends about it, they were amazed. “You mean you don’t want to fight the occupation of your country?” She would have liked to tell them that behind Communism, Fascism, behind all occupations and invasions lurks a more basic, pervasive evil and that the image of that evil was a parade of people marching with raised fists and shouting identical syllables in unison. But she knew she would never be able to make them understand. Embarrassed, she changed the subject. ”

    • Sean on March 30, 2012 at 09:39

      Nice stuff.

      I got kind of sick of Kundera, started to find him too pretentious a long time ago, but he certainly has his moments and that’s definitely one of them. I also tend to believe that he did turn in Dvořáček.

    • Uncephalized on March 30, 2012 at 11:31

      I find myself uncomfortable and self-conscious whenever I’m in a crowd of people and cheering, jeering, and other “mob” behaviors are going on. I just seem to be incapable of “getting into the spirit” of team sports and other mass-crowd stuff. I count it as an advantage personally–I’ve never “lost myself” in a crowd or been unable to pull away and disengage when bad shit starts going down.

      It kept me out of trouble in school more than once, too, when I quietly slipped away from frenzied groups in the schoolyard and avoided detention or other punishment by not being there when the fuzz (teachers) showed up.

      Maybe it’s cowardly, but I’ve always looked down a little at people who can’t seem to retain their own minds and willingly give up their autonomy to crowds and authorities.

  38. Franziska on March 30, 2012 at 12:08

    Outstanding post! Thanks to Rich for publishing it on your page and to Russ for expressing many of the feelings I’ve had over the past few months. Very happy that I did not attend Paleo FX, as I would have been cringing much of the time.

  39. Cecilia on March 30, 2012 at 13:43

    Great article. There are times lately when I look at those around me in the ‘paleosphere’ and think “I got to get out. No one will ever consider eating as I do if they see this BS”. Thats when I remember and revisit my ‘core elements’ – Kresser, Harris, perhaps Masterjohn . I just added Nikoley and Crandall. Almost feel I should apologise for not visiting sooner. My thanks to Paul for linking me here. Intelligent discourse trumps dogmatism. Where it doesn’t is where I worry. It’s funny, writing of this standard excites me even if I disagree. (I don’t in this case btw)

    • Katherine on March 30, 2012 at 14:44

      ITA Cecilia. Some really bizarre (newish) paleosphere elements cause me newfound embarassment to use the term. But I think of Kresser, Harris, Jaminet, J Stanton (, Masterjohn, Minger and feel the sanity wash over me.

  40. Tai on March 30, 2012 at 14:02

    Thanks. This rings with wisdom and is much appreciated.

  41. Mountain on March 30, 2012 at 16:50

    Actually, I’ve found Paleo to become LESS dogmatic and MORE scientific as it grows in size and momentum. Anyone else feel the same?

    • Craig on March 30, 2012 at 23:50

      That’s what I think too. Maybe it’s an individual thing. If you become less dogmatic yourself, it’s probably going to be reflected in the way you see the diet.

    • Cecilia on March 31, 2012 at 04:41

      Mountain you must be lucky enough to not be reading some of the ‘paleo’ claims I have seen lately. I agree there is some great scientific exploration of diet and lifestyle underway. Unfortunately there are some others, both writers and readers, who cannot discern between science, opinion and rhetoric.

  42. Mo on March 31, 2012 at 18:45

    I agree with you Mountain. “Paleo” is growing in size and influence because there are so many intelligent, science-based original thinkers who are also excellent writers blogging now. Cecilia, there always will be “some others, …who cannot discern between science, opinion and rhetoric”. They can be ignored, or refuted when necessary.

    This piece just rubs me wrong. Judginess , self-righteousness, and a sense of superiority abound. “Gene, this is my diet, too,” and ” we need to do what we can to impact those that aren’t lucky enough to know much about sensible eating yet.” I don’t think I “need” to do anything of the sort. You do what you want.

    And why the dig ate a blogger who writes about his slow-cooking beef? How do you know he’s not also camping, or taking walks, or enjoying the sunset? Maybe he doesn’t need you to tell him to do these things. And just maybe he’s at a stage in his life where he’s working like a dog and is excited as hell that he’s finally learning to cook good food for himself. Who are you to criticize his enthusiasm and desire to blog about it? Where’s the compassion for that guy?

  43. Mo on March 31, 2012 at 18:47

    “at”, not “ate”.

  44. LCForevah on April 1, 2012 at 04:14

    Off topic: Dr Robert Lustig is going to be featured on a “60 Minutes” segment tomorrow the 31st. The segment is about the toxicity of sugar!

  45. Chris on April 2, 2012 at 05:09

    Rich – I’m digging the new mellow ‘tude, and what better way to exemplify it than with a post examining extremism in the Paleosphere? This is a much-needed, and well-written, post on a trend I’ve noticed: an emerging retroactive worldview that seems to idealize ‘olden times’ – a dangerous worldview that ignores evidence and focuses on halcyon fictional realities that never existed. I suppose this is the way of people; but as a transhumanist, if you will, I have to keep in mind that embracing ‘Paleo’ isn’t about adopting any extremes of a movement – not for me at least – but about adopting those elements which work for me and which lead to my personal optimization. But for some, I suppose, the extreme ideal IS the optimization. I dunno – the important thing is to keep thinking and evolving. Great post!

  46. MountainDew on April 2, 2012 at 18:20

    Wow, Russ, just checked out your blog and I’m loving the recipes. No offense, Richard. Hey, you guys should do a cookbook together or something.

  47. I Eat Paleo on April 5, 2012 at 21:08

    […] Crandall (Domestic Man) recently wrote a post called “The Difference Between Eating Paleo and Being Paleo”, which was featured on Free The […]

  48. The Primalist on April 5, 2012 at 21:11

    What started out as a quick comment turned into a post ( In a nutshell… I agree that we should be conscious of not becoming dogmatic. But I feel that not telling people that we eat paleo chips away at all the progress that the paleo community has made.

    • Mo on April 6, 2012 at 10:32

      I enjoyed your post and agree with much of what you say. As for this guest post:

      If you think certain words or behaviors are harmful, be specific about who, what, where and when. Then we can have a useful discussion. Russ‘ post is full of vague, dark warnings about “extremists”, “extremist groups”, and dangerous “tones”. He sounds like the Dept. of Homeland Security.

      He has trouble distinguishing the harmless from the hurtful. A t shirt that says “Meat is awesome” is harmless. A t shirt that says “Vegans suck” is hurtful. Calling yourself “paleo” is harmless. Calling everyone who doesn’t eat the way you do “ignorant” and “unlucky” is hurtful. And when do you suspect that someone is “worshipping” bacon? Are those “I love bacon” socks the first clue of a false god?

      Take a guy who is trapped in the ill-effects of the SAD. In Russ’ words he is “unlucky” and “ignorant”. Russ is unhappy with him because, among other things, he is driving up the cost of Russ’ health care.

      But our guy hears about the “paleo” diet and decides to give it a try. He starts to feel better than he can ever remember. You’d think Russ would be thrilled. But no! Russ is still unhappy with our guy, but now for a different reason. In his newfound excitement our guy was overheard referring to himself as “paleo”, and was spotted at the farmers’ market sporting socks expressing a certain porcine preference. Both no no’s in Russ’ book. You just can’t win with Russ, unless you are eating, dressing and speaking in his approved fashion. Dogmatic and extremist?

      I believe that Russ believes he has good intentions. But we all know where that pavement ends.

  49. […] Guest Post: The Difference Between Eating Paleo and Being Paleo […]

  50. Issue #10 | Paleo Weekly on July 26, 2012 at 15:26

    […] Guest Post: The Difference Between Eating Paleo and Being Paleo […]

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