After a lot of thinking, and researching, and talking, and reading, I’ve come to the conclusion that I just can’t be paleo anymore.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m still eating lots of paleo food. Mostly paleo food, actually. I just don’t feel like I can rightly continue to use the title of paleo, or even primal, and I want to talk about why.
When I first started getting interested in paleo food, it was when I swore I would never again diet and from here on eat just what I wanted. I kind of stumbled onto paleo at that point, because I wanted to eat rich, savory, fatty foods, and so many paleo recipes were just that. I also found myself having to limit dairy during that time period, because I was nursing Freja and it seemed to upset her tummy when I ate too much of it. So when I searched for dairy free recipes, the yummiest looking ones were all paleo recipes. Then as I was eating them, I felt good. Really good. So it kind of began to reinforce itself, until I was trying all kinds of paleo replacements, almond flour instead of grain flour, coconut wraps instead of tortillas, pork dust instead of bread crumbs, etc. As I got into it all, I told myself that there was a way I can do it and still maintain a Health at Every Size philosophy. And it worked for a while.
But I can’t anymore.
The paleo community can be pretty weight loss centric and sizist. Not everyone, of course (Stacy and Matt over at Paleo Parents are notable examples) but most of the stuff coming out of the paleo community focuses on weight loss, weight loss, weight loss. When I signed up for paleo news letters, intending to get recipes, articles on health matters, and product reviews, I tended to get a barrage of articles with titles like “Why your weight loss has tapered off on paleo”, “How to get those last 15 pounds off with paleo”, or “How to maintain weight loss on paleo”. I would love to read articles about the other benefits of a paleo lifestyle, improvement of health conditions, increased strength, feeling better, and environmental impact of food choices, but those were few and far between in a sea of weight loss propaghanda.
Even more rare was discussion of true flexibility within the paleo lifestyle. Oh, I heard talk of finding a balance fairly often, but that balance was usually pretty restrictive. It was always punctuated with more rules, more restrictions, like “You can cheat, but absolutely no gluten ever” or “You can cheat, but only with paleo treats”. The most hardcore paleo enthusiasts advocated for almost never cheating, pushing a level of perfection that borders on orthorexia. they had no tolerance for balance, flexibility, or god forbid, cheating. They looked at it as a sign of weakness of character or will. They maintained that if you could get to a state of dietary perfection, like them, all problems would be solved. These are the people who would call people like me out for not being 100% paleo, or would insist I refer to myself as mostly or partly paleo. It struck me as eating disorder-ish, and I didn’t like it.
Of course, the same could be said of vegetarianism, and no one would tell a vegetarian that they cannot have a HAES philosophy. Plenty of people use weight loss as the primary vehicle to sell vegetarianism, but ultimately there are other reasons one could choose to be vegetarian, so it was totally possible to be vegetarian and still maintain a HAES philosophy. Surely, the same could be said of paleo.
The more I have thought about it in recent months, the more I have come to the conclusion that that isn’t true. Just as vegetarianism and veganism is defined by the absence of meat or animal products in the diet, paleo is defined by the absence of particular foods in the diet, or in other words, restriction. HAES is not really compatible with restriction that is done for reasons outside of strong moral beliefs (which vegetarianism or veganism qualifies as) or medical reasons. While their are moral justifications for many paleo principals, buying certain types of meat and local, organic produce has plenty of moral justification, that same morality can justify buying organic grains and beans. There is no moral justification for restricting those foods in particular in the paleo lifestyle, or any lifestyle, as far as I am aware. This is why I’ve been very open about the fact that I’ll never be 100% paleo. I have no moral or medical justification for completely eliminating grains and legumes from my diet. I feel better when I eat less of them, yes, but I am not convinced that it is for sure because those foods are bad for me, maybe it’s because eating less of them means eating more fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats.
So then I have to ask myself if I can claim to be part of a movement while refusing to ever completely dedicate myself to it? Well, could I ever claim to be a vegetarian while still eating some meat? No, probably not. I could be a pescatarian (a person who only eats the meat of water animals, but no meat from land animals), or a flexitarian (a person who doesn’t eat a lot of meat, but does eat some), but I couldn’t call myself a vegetarian unless I had completely removed all meat from my diet. Similarly, many would argue that it’s not fair to call myself paleo if I’m willing to abandon all paleo rules whenever I’m eating at someone else’s house, or out at a restaurant, or just because I feel like eating a creamcicle from the ice cream truck with my son.
Lets face it, I am not paleo. I could maybe get away with calling myself mostly paleo, but to do so implies that there is a higher state of paleo to which I am or should be aspiring to, and the fact is I am not. I do not believe it is good for anyone to adopt dietary restrictions that would limit their social life or restrict their life experiences (as no longer being able to have dinner at my inlaw’s house or enjoy a quintessential summer moment with my son would), and I have no intention of pursuing the paleo diet to a state of borderline (or straight up) orthorexia to prove how great my willpower is. The way I am eating now is fulfilling and gratifying, and I have no need to change it, and don’t like implying that it can or should be so.
So I am quitting paleo. This doesn’t mean that I am changing the way I eat, much of which can still qualify as paleo or primal, but I am not going to label myself as paleo any longer. I will still use paleo hashtags, so that others who are looking for that stuff can still find it. But I want to focus more on the body positive health reasons for eating the way I do, the ethical reasons for eating the way I do, and lifestyle reasons for eating the way I do. Further, I want to talk about how my lifestyle as a feminist, an environmentalist, and a homesteader ties in with my dietary choices. So I’ve decided to give the dietary path I am choosing to follow a different title. It may seem like a silly distinction to you, but I no longer feel that I can ignore it. Because what I’m doing here is not paleo. It is not primal. It is not merely a a portion of a way to some ultimate goal. It is complete in and of itself. It is radical, and intentional, and revolutionary.
It is Subversive Health.