Are we all just sheep?

Today I attended a Parkour meet up session, organized by FifthApe, an organization that teaches Parkour classes, martial arts, strength training, and barefoot running just down the road from me in Chapel Hill. Colin, who owns FifthApe and is well versed in the Paleo/Primal/Weston Price lifestyle, led the meet up today, taking us around campus and teaching us how to run, jump, land, and roll effectively.

Of course I got too ahead of myself trying out some of the new moves, and got a bit caught up trying to scale a railing on my non-dominant side. Definitely a stupid idea, especially considering it was a bit wet today. I totally miffed it, and banged up my chin in the process (On a side note, I think I need to invent a chin guard. I must just have a sharp mental tuberosity or something.) I learned my lesson quickly, and didn’t attempt anything well beyond my comfort zone. Pity it always takes me injuring myself in order for me to be more mindful about my limitations.

I believe I can fly.

The workshop was fun, and I ran around and played with a guy I know from back in NJ (hi Eric!), practicing different natural movement techniques. I definitely need to work on my proprioception and bodily awareness. Perhaps I would be less clumsy if I worked on my agility more often. I might try to throw some more agility training into my regular workout schedule. Eric and I are planning on meeting up and running up and down the football stadium stairs, not just forward but sideways as well, to work on quickness and agility. I think it would be good to practice more lateral movements anyway. I’ve missed moving sideways, since I used to do it all the time in volleyball. So doing that more often will build up my agility and movement skills.

I digress.

After the meet up, I hung out with Colin to chat about his philosophies on health and fitness, which he seems to have pretty well developed. I had ‘tweeted’ him a few times in the past regarding Paleo and Crossfit, and was interested to see what he had to say about those topics since I can tell from his blog that he’s got a lot of mixed feelings about these ‘movements’. (Maybe his feelings aren’t so mixed…)

We chatted a lot about the fact that movements like this tend to have a cult-like following, where people tend to focus on information that supports their philosophies and ignore the information that might be contradictory. Those that follow the movement tend to do so blindly, without questioning their ‘gurus’ and the information these figureheads provide.

In other words, people can often turn into sheep.

"Can't Hardly Wait" - 90s classics are my favorite.

Now, I obviously need to make some clarifications with this statement. I don’t think everyone that eats Paleo or does Crossfit is a sheep. If that were the case, I myself would be a “pot calling the kettle black” to the extreme. However, I have noticed that there seems to be an intensity and obsessiveness that comes out of these philosophical camps at times.

People argue about optimal macronutrient ratios. They insist that simply because a food wasn’t around when humans evolved as hunter-gatherers, it automatically means that humans are not meant to eat that food. Foods like dairy and legumes are thrown under the bus, and grains are seen as pure evil. Hardcore fitness fanatics compete with each other to see who can be the more extreme in their physical capabilities. I know this is a gross generalization, but I’m sure many of you can agree with me that this is the image of intensity and hardheadedness that often emanates from the louder members of the community.

Colin pointed out a lot of this to me during our discussion. While there are definitely circumstances where people need to avoid certain foods due to health problems, it is a bit of a stretch to assume that everyone will suffer from eating non-Paleo food items. And the definition of a ‘Paleo food’ is still evolving: we’re still waiting for foods like dairy products, rice, and properly prepared legumes to escape nutritional purgatory.

Why does everybody hate me??

People tend to reduce food down to the sum of its biochemical parts and forget that there is much more to food than just providing the body with the exact ratio of chemical substances that it needs to survive. We forget that food also signifies culture, tradition, and pleasure.

We agreed on the fact that there is a huge range of dietary variability that can support human health (though I fought him on the idea that veganism could work for someone, I don’t think veganism is sustainable or optimal for anyone.) We also agreed that it gets a little precarious when people start taking the words of ‘gurus’ as undoubtable truth and stop questioning anything for themselves. And unfortunately, modern nutritional science still has a long way to go as far as ‘proving’ anything. So while there may be a lot of great evidence in support of the Paleo diet, it is still a dietary “theory” and should continuously be questioned, even by its supporters.

This post is not meant to degrade the Paleo movement or any of its figureheads. I think people like Robb Wolf, Chris Kresser, Mark Sisson, and Chris Masterjohn are brilliant and really well versed in the literature and historical evidence that supports the Paleo diet on the whole. I generally trust the majority of what they say, and think they have a lot of great information to share with the American public regarding optimum nutrition.

That said, I do also think that those of us who are following the Paleo/Primal diet and lifestyle need to constantly remain skeptical of any information we read. I know I am personally prone to idolizing, but it’s important that I don’t let myself slip into ‘sheep mode’ and just assume anything and everything these guys say is correct. 

Fortunately, I think those who are ‘leading the Paleo movement’ are pretty open to criticism and disagreement, and I’ve often heard people (like Robb Wolf in particular) openly admit when they had been mistaken in the past. I don’t think that they make mistakes often, but when they do, at least they are forthcoming about admitting their error.

 

I didn’t agree with everything Colin said. But I do feel that he had some good points about staying curious and never taking anything for a given truth. He also emphasized the importance of listening to your own body when deciding what to eat and how to live. No one can tell you what the best way for you to live is, and everyone has a somewhat different and unique response to different biological stimuli.

Moral of this long-winded story? Use your own brain. Figure things out for yourself, keep reading, and don’t take anything anyone says as 100% truth. Continue educating yourself, keep questioning your own knowledge, and trust your gut intuition. Stay curious.

“Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.” - Hindu Prince Gautama Siddharta, the founder of Buddhism, 563-483 B.C.

What do you all think? Have I completely lost it after philosophizing in the woods with Colin for an hour?

  • Sarah

    Thanks for this post, Laura. I was skeptical of the paleo “movement” at first – I didn’t buy into the argument that humans have not evolved to eat grains. There are OTHER reasons grains and processed food are bad for you, but plenty of people tolerate them just fine. I give some pretty lukewarm reasons for not eating grains, dairy, and legumes on my nutrition blog for my gym.

    Then I forgot my scientific skepticism while I experienced the benefits of NOT eating grains. Then I recently watched Mat Lalonde’s presentation at the Ancestral Health Symposium, and found again some healthy skepticism. Thanks again for a reminder.

  • http://thejourneyoftwo.wordpress.com Jessica

    I really like this and I completely agree that it is important to always question everything, to keep learning, to adapt to new information, that philosophies and theories can be fluid and ever-changing.

    Your post is reaffirming to me after recently getting an anonymous comment on my blog flaming me for using the word paleo to describe a meal that included dairy and a couple of minor ingredients that were not raw or organic. I was told my ingredients were “toxic and unnatural” and that “don’t you know dairy is not paleo?”, among other things. Of course I didn’t approve the comment and the person chose to not provide me with a legitimate email address; clearly they didn’t want to have a conversation about the varying degrees of paleo or primal. I personally use both terms loosely. I don’t believe in exacts. As you say, each person has individual needs and responses and may choose to follow different levels of grain-free, sugar-free, legume-free, what-have-you. Some paleo people eat raw meat, and yet others may not. Each person must find their own path and this takes us back to learning, questioning what you learn, and experimenting.

    On a side note, my husband loves to use the word “sheeple” to describe those who blindly follow without questioning. He is constantly debating with people, on a multitude of topics, challenging them to think for themselves. Often, it’s a fruitless effort. Some people are just made to follow. They want the red pill, the one-size-fits-all solution, the “do A + B to get C” answer to their question, rather than taking the time to critically think about something and form their own opinions or solutions.

  • http://www.leegertrained.com Josh

    Nice post Laura. The one thing that irks me about the Paleo movement is that it seems to be geared toward super-market-shoppers (or worse, Trader Joe’s shoppers). A more accurate “paleo” movement is simply one that relies on foods within a 100 mile (or less!) radius of your current location.

    Keep up the good work!

  • laura h

    People generally ARE sheep. It’s natural. :)

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